Noted journalist, author and chef Mark Bittman pens a provocative opinion piece for the New York Times. He identifies an issue most of us are concerned with – the aging of the American farmer – and explores some of the policy ideas under discussion to increase the number of young farmers. Access to land is clearly critical. The scale of agriculture involved is a key discussion point in this piece. A great read.
A bill being proposed by Representatives Joe Courtney (CT: D) and Chris Gibson (NY: R) – developed with input from the National Young Farmers Coalition – would forgive “the balance of student loans of those who spent 10 years as farmers and made loan payments during that time. The bill would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which includes “police officers, prosecutors, nurses and others, so perhaps its best aspect is the cultural shift it represents, grouping farmers with others in public service.”
“Conceptually, this isn’t radical or symbolic,” says Courtney. “It’s recognizing a huge work force need.” And, as Gibson says, it addresses megafarming: “In the five years from 2007 to 2012 we only gained a little over 1,200 farmers. Since we aren’t going to stop eating, we have to reverse that trend, or we’ll see even more consolidation, more corporate farms, or increasing food imports; none of that is in our interest.”
Bittman also says this, and it’s a critical point:
“Farming is — or should be — a social enterprise as much as a business, one that benefits all of us and uses the land conscientiously and ecologically. Thus in the long run we’ve got to expand our vision to include some kind of land redistribution that would give those who want to work the land for our mutual benefit the ability to do so.”
Check out a new video series hosted by Mark. “Take a Walk on the Wild (Edibles) Side” is the first in California Matters. This episode follows Philip Stark and Tom Carlson as they collect edibles in their urban area. They hope to boost awareness about urban foraging and the nutritional value of wild edibles found throughout neighborhoods in the East Bay. You can also read a fascinating Q&A with Dr. Stark here.