The last Agricultural Census in 2007 revealed that, for the first time since 1920, the number of farms in the US increased by 4 percent. Even more, some twenty-somethings are trying to make farming their career.
In the US, former physics and environmental science students are choosing to drive tractors, dig up sweet potatoes for $10 an hour and collect eggs at farms including Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley and Quail Hill farm in Amagansett on Long Island. Experiences working in restaurants and grocery stores, and seeing how much food was wasted, has impelled some to forgo PhD programs to work in the fields, says the New York Times. As Abe Bobman, who graduated with a degree in sociology from Wesleyan University, explains:
Farming appeals to me, and probably to other people, because it’s simple and straightforward work outdoors with literal fruits from your labor. It doesn’t feel like you’re a part of an oppressive institution.
Another young man who graduated with a physics degree from Princeton University said he’d feel he was missing something if he were inside all day working and having a “city lifestyle.”
One could cynically dismiss these college graduates’ interest in farming as temporary. But those interviewed in the New York Times said they are planning to make a life-time career in agriculture. Kathleen A. Merrigan, the deputy agriculture secretary for the US Agriculture Department, indeed said that she senses that farming’s appeal as a profession is on the rise.
In Greece, more and more younger people are going “back to the soil,” though, in many cases, because they have few other choices, says Reuters. Greece is in its fifth year of a recession that seems endless with unemployment hovering near 25 percent and around 50 percent for those in their 20s. A general strike earlier this week turned violent. Doctors, judges, teachers are among those who’ve gone on strike and more of the same seems likely as the Greek government announces and implements austerity measures involving wage and pension cuts and the elimination of jobs.
Reuters details 32-year-old Spiridoula Lakka’s decision to return to live with her parents in the rural village of Konitsa, near the Albanian border. A web designer by training, Lakka left the village 13 years ago. She held office jobs and waitressed while living in Athens but after her temporary contract working in the office of the state social security fund was not renewed, she decided to return home.
50 years ago, half of Greeks were employed in farming. These numbers declined as Greeks left their villages in droves in the 1960s and 1970s for the cities: Athens, Greece’s capital, is home to 4 million of the country’s population of 11 million. But the ongoing economic crisis means that more people are looking to return to the villages, where they will not have to worry about having a place to live and can grow their own food.
The reverse migration to villages is not without tensions; at least half of the villages’ populations is often over 60 years old. Farmers in Greece receive subsidies from the European Union and complain that these have been halved in recent years. Social tensions seem inevitable as Greeks line up to take seasonal jobs doing farm labor; previously, migrant workers from countries like Morocco had held these.
Lakka seems mostly resigned to a future of farming. She is certainly keeping busy, growing vegetables, cultivating herbs that she hopes to sell one day at a roadside stand and tending to beehives.
The Latin words for “farmer” (agricola) and “field” (ager) are two of the first that I teach my students because, well, back in the days of the ancient Romans, farming was a common occupation. Farming has long been the last thing most college students have in mind for a career but, whether by choice or circumstance, its benefits are more than apparent again.
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