My Farming Friends

Wesleyan students laying down plastic to fend off weeds. Credit: Wesleying
As I got ready to leave college for the summer, I noticed a new trend among my friends when it came to summer jobs. Many bright, young kids were passing on the white collar internship this summer and choosing instead to get a little dirt under their fingernails at the farm. In exchange for room and board and, of course, delicious fresh produce, teenagers around the country are lending a hand at local, small-scale farms to learn more about sustainable agriculture.

Wesleyan University, where I go to school, has a close relationship with Long Lane Farm, an organic farm that borders on our campus and supplies vegetables for our cafeteria. Many students love strolling over to Long Lane to spend a peaceful afternoon surrounded by greenery, but a group of student volunteers also help out with the growing year-round. Some are even taking it a step further by living in Middletown this summer to put in full-time work on the farm.

Lots of kids have gotten involved with farming in their home states as well. My friend Zoë Mueller is working 60 hours a week at a farm in Massachusetts. "I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe soil," she says, "but it’s engaging and feels worthwhile! Plus, the produce looks and tastes fantastic."

Two of my friends from high school, Dema Paxton-Fofang and Ben Eckersley, lent a hand at Waldingfield Farm in Washington, Connecticut last August and told me all about their experience. Dema’s uncle Patrick helps run the organic family farm and invited the two boys to join the young crew of farmers for a few weeks. Dema and Ben explained to me that though working on the largely unmechanized farm was rewarding, it was also a bit of a reality check. Sometimes we environmentalists tend to idealize the vision of small-scale, organic farming operations, they pointed out, without considering the practical realities of this labor-intensive process.

"Being bent over backwards for half-an-hour picking a giant mess of weeds for one measly basil plant makes you understand why organic costs so much," said Ben. But Dema assured me, "the intensity of the labor and the consequent bonding was really fun."

Getting to know the farming process up close and personal might not always be pretty, but it seems to provide an understanding and appreciation of food that is otherwise unattainable. "While working made organic frustrating," says Ben, "it definitely didn't shake my belief in creating a kind of agriculture that is more in tune with the actual ecology of earth. It also gave me valuable insight into what kind of a life would drive you to want to load up on all sorts of toxic chemicals (and that was only after a couple of weeks' work!) Overall, it was an enlightening experience."

After hearing my friends’ stories, I can’t wait to experience farming firsthand myself over at Long Lane next year. If you’re a young person out there getting involved with sustainable agriculture, let the us know! Check out The Seedling Project, NRDC’s new wiki where the new generation of green-growing youth can connect with each other and share tips and stories.

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