What factor will play the biggest role in impacting our future food system? My bet’s not on carbon emissions, sustainable energy or genetically modified foods, though those things will play a big part. Where I’m banking, and where I hope you will too, is in our young farmers. They’re beliefs and practices will have a huge impact on what we find on future aisle shelves and ultimately our dinner plates.
When I was growing up, the idea of becoming a “farmer” seemed as far out and unrealistic as joining some colony on the moon. Farmers bred farmers and my parents were middle-class suburbanites. Even if I had grown up on the farm, that kind of underpaid back-breaking work was just not my cup of tea. Unfortunately, my sentiments have been mirrored by several others as we’ve seen the decline of the family farm over the past 25 years.
Now, thanks to Michael Pollan, movies like Food Inc. and King Corn, and maybe just a shift in the public conscious, kids are slowly making their way back to the farm. At least that’s what I heard yesterday when officers from the National Future Farmers of America visited our offices. “Farming has become cool again,” said Chase Rose, who at the age of 20 has more insight than the boys I remember during that forgettable period in my life. Rose is the central region vice president for the organization and studying agriculture business and commercial aviation at Montana State University. Joined by Randa Braune , the group’s western region vice president studying agricultural education at Texas A&M, my colleagues and I got up to speed on on the FFA.
Basically, here’s the deal. The organization started with 33 farm boys in 1928 has since grown to over a half-million students across the country with connections to Japan and soon Africa. The FFA is mostly donation based and those donations play a big part in sponsoring “proficiencies” or areas of study. Right now, there are 47 “proficiencies” (think, agricultural processing, beef production, dairy production) but not one that’s organic specific. Adding an organic proficiency is possibly on the table for next year, but this will be determined (I think) by money. Right now who’s a top sponsor? You guessed it. Monsanto.
If natural and organic farming practices want to make a dent in the future, we need to put our money in the right places. Additionally, the FFA’s annual competition which draws the best talent from across the country is a head-hunters paradise for big companies like Monsanto. These kids are looking for jobs. Companies are looking for good hires. Organic producers need to get in on the feeding frenzy if we're going to see more organic farms down the road. Sure, a lot of these kids may not have experience in organic techniques, but they’re looking for opportunities and I’m sure not all tied to conventional ways of farming.