Growing up, I always was interested in animals and growing things. As I matured, I harbored an inner interest in being a farmer. But this was put away on a shelf, as all my perceptions of what a farmer was, how one did farming and how you could possibly get there. I spent many summers in West Virginia and my extended family there were farmers. Coming from a farming family, all the grand children, who were my rural cohorts, had the option of that as a future. Everything around them provided an option or opportunity for the training. There was FFA (Future Farmers of America), 4-H, and just plain living on the farm. But if you didn’t have that setting, your path most likely would never converge with farming.
My cousin Andy is my exemplar of this model of the path to farming. He followed all the above steps and now farms cattle and corn in a small valley in West Virginia. He has the John Deere hat and the farmer’s tan. And most of all, the humble, likable demeanor of many I’ve known in West Virginia. He may know everything in the world about farming, but he’s hesitant to state anything as fact but only what he has experienced himself. He’s not quick to rush into anything. He’s not going to brag or point out what you may be doing wrong. (Once, my recent-arrival dad was having trouble getting a small tractor out of the mud, and Joe, Andy’s brother remarked, ‘well you may find that it could work better if you put the back tires on the other way’ – dad had mounted the tires with the tread going the wrong way so they weren’t getting traction.)
So, as I began to explore locally sustainable agriculture, I was surprised to find different kind of people: hipsters who were a cross breed of activist and farmer, focused on growing organic food on a small scale. These were not Andy types. They were most likely not born on a farm, just as likely had college degrees in environmental studies as agronomy. They may have sideburns or dreadlocks, wear bandanas or Tevas. They have done tours of WOOFing, bounced around working on farms for food and experience. They are passionate about sustainability in farming practices. They attend Young Farmers conferences and are the type of new generation defining group the USDA is aiming to meet on its start2farm.gov website.
They had beaten the stereotype pattern that had kept me locked in. I thought it wasn’t possible to farm anymore, with the economics of scale needed, the ground up training, and especially as someone with someone with no land. But they are seeing things differently, putting passion and voice into small scale community based farm techniques that are highly applicable to this region. They are seeing niches and possibilities in vacant lots, small scale farming practices, and especially the tremendously rich potential for the market here with area consumers inbred orientation for supporting local and organic food.
With admiration for this group, I saw that things were possible, which led me onto my journey today. I may not own a piece of land, but I can pursue farming in my own way. Young? Not so much now. Hip? That’s someone else’s determination. Ag? I think it may now be possible. – Amanda