“Elbow Deep in Soil for $10 an Hour”: NYT features Recent Wesleyan Graduates, Farming

“Farming appeals to me, and probably to other people, because it’s simple and straightforward work outdoors with literal fruits from your labor,” Abe Bobman ’11 said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re a part of an oppressive institution.”

Yesterday, the New York Times published a piece about the growing trend among young college graduates to pursue the age-old profession of farming. Two Wesleyan alumni, Abe Bobman  ’11 and Jordan Schmidt ’08, are featured, along with a number of other Northeastern liberal arts college graduates.

The article sets the tone at the beginning with an image of well-educated young people who, moved by their ideals and values, have chosen to work the land from dawn to dusk, “elbow deep in soil for $10 an hour.” It focuses on young farmers on two small organic New York farms and makes a point of emphasizing that none of these young graduate farmers come from farming backgrounds. Through snippets of these farmers’ mishaps and misadventures and statements of how their parents feel about their profession, the article looks into the issues of coming to agriculture from a well-educated, non-farming background.

An interesting figure brought up by the article is from the Agricultural Census: “The last Agricultural Census in 2007 showed a 4 percent increase in the number of farms, the first increase since 1920, and some college graduates are joining in the return to the land.” One may wonder why this phenomenon has occurred, a question the article dances around but does not addressed directly. From the quotes, it would seem that these young people are attempting to live out their morals and be personal manifestations of their ethics.

A very similar NYT article from 2008 called “Leaving Behind the Trucker Hat,” which also featured a Wesleyan graduate farmer, Owen O’Connor ’07, ventures to give a bit more of an explanation for this boom in college graduates on Northeastern farms.

Steeped in years of talk around college campuses and in stylish urban enclaves about the evils of factory farms (see the E. coli spinach outbreaks), the perils of relying on petroleum to deliver food over long distances (see global warming) and the beauty of greenmarkets (see the four-times-weekly locavore cornucopia in Union Square), some young urbanites are starting to put their muscles where their pro-environment, antiglobalization mouths are. They are creating small-scale farms near urban areas hungry for quality produce and willing to pay a premium.

Later in the article: “maybe they went to liberal arts schools and read Michael Pollan [P’15].”

At Wesleyan, almost all farming recent graduates worked at our on-campus farm Long Lane Farm while students here, as well as other food activism outlets on campus. For instance, Abe was heavily involved with Food Not Bombs in his time here and Jordan was a part of LiveWolves! Co-op, the predecessor to the local co-op today. To name a few graduates not mentioned in the article, Tess Parker ’10 runs her own farm Common Hands, with help from Eric Sherman ‘10 and Aaron Greenberg ’11. Sophie Ackoff ’11, founder of the student group WesFRESH, works for Young Farmers’ Coalition. Class of 2013 is promised to add some of our own to the mix as well.

If you know of any other young grads who are farming or working on food activism, let us know about them in the comments.

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