Farming isn't easy, but it could be free

Farming isn't easy, but it could be free


Atlanta Sustainable Agriculture Examiner

The future of sustainable farming relies on a growing crop of organic farmers.  In the southeast, the movement has struggled to pull together.  As the sustainable farming movement finally starts to get real traction here, so grows the resources available to farms and potential farmers. 

In speaking with two local WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms) and one farming intern, there were some striking revelations.  Two of the three were male, two were recent college graduates, two were heterosexual, one had served in the military, and all of them voted.  In speaking to them at length, they were all very articulate, outgoing and optimistic.  They all appear to be hardworking and two of them were downright hilarious.  This bodes well for the future of American agriculture.

The arrangements between them were also exceedingly different.  The intern I spoke to was quite literally working for free.  There was an agreement between the farm and the university giving the intern college credit for their internship.  The only cost to the farm was room and board for one intern.  The farm got a young farmer already well acquainted with current trends in organic vegetable production.  In turn, they worked for five months and the farm certifies all their paperwork for the participating university.  This type of "farming for credits" is also a great way for potential farmers to ensure that this is what they want to do. 

The arrangement with the WWOOFers was even simpler.  Farms who wish to participate can create an account at WWOOF USA (see link below).  They enter basic information about their farm and the type of person they're looking for.  From there, interested candidates contact the farm.  Some WWOOFers receive a small stipend, but in almost all cases room and board is provided.  Some WWOOFers work for as little as $100 per week.  There is no age limit on WWOOFing and you needn't be a college student.

These types of strategic partnerships serve two essential functions.  First, they allow new farmers to gain invaluable experience under the supervision of a more experienced farmer.  They get the opportunity to see the inner workings of the farm up close.  This also provides a primer in sales, customer service and marketing targeted to the industry that may not get formally covered in any other arena.  The second and potentially more important function is that these partnerships help to keep small organic farms competitive and viable.  Most of these farms can't afford to have a fulltime staff all year long.  In this way, they can have an affordable staff year round, or simply during the peak season if they choose.  For those who are wondering as to wheter or not this is taking advatage of eager youth, fear not.  WWOOF has a rating system in place to help farms and WWOOFers alike and universities are increasingly more protective of their students.

Future farms are going to need future farmers.  More and more sites are popping up just to connect those who want to farm.  New farmers markets are still being set up.  The network of local farms and farmers is finally starting to grow together.  For all of us, there is still hope on the horizon.  Maybe it's even free.

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