The New Farmers

Rotation Farming

Rotation Farming

Boutique and larger scale farming is beginning to look like a very fertile field indeed for job seekers. Ask Chef/restaurateur Michel Nischan, who  has long been a crusader for sustainability in fishing and farming. He is an advocate of pasture-fed beef and lamb and foods that are raised humanely and grown responsibly.

“I never intended the pursuit of healthful, organic cooking to be my lifelong endeavor, much less my passion,” he wrote in his first book, Taste Pure and Simple. “But I am passionate about it: passionate about achieving balance in every meal, about eating what is ripe and best in its season, and about enjoying the pure pleasure of eating simply and eating well.”

Of course, to eat well, the food must be grown well. A Newsweek article written by Tara Weingarten and Joan Raymond describes Bob Jones’ Chef’s Garden:

“They are on their way now, by overnight express, nestled in tissue paper and custom-designed boxes, to any place where restaurant menus take more than a dozen words to describe a $14 salad. Peacock kale and baby red Brussels sprouts, butterball turnips, bull’s blood beets and all the greens, micro-and otherwise, plus 17 kinds of potatoes, in five sizes. From the unlikely neighborhood of Huron, Ohio, where the temperature drops to 18 degrees and below, vegetables from Bob Jones’ Chef’s Garden are in the air, bound even for places like Los Angeles that are perfectly capable of growing their own salads, challenging the reigning orthodoxy formulated by the great advocate of fresh, season, local produce, Berkeley, California restaurateur Alice Waters though when Waters said, ‘We should try to eat from within a range of an hour or two from where we live,’ she meant by truck, not jet.”

Bob Jones uses no pesticides and only vegetable compost and cover crops to fertilize his rich sandy loam. Greenhouses and cold frames extend the growing season almost year-round. Bob Jones has become a model farmer and like every great visionary, he is gathering legions of admirers.

Everywhere children are learning how to grow and cook the harvest from vest pocket gardens. The Web site farmtocollege.org lists more than 100 college buying programs. Local farms are supplying such places as Harvard and the University of California.

The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities reports that in New York, “local buying programs are in place at Vassar College, Hamilton College, Skidmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).” (The CIA annual budget for local produce exceeds $370,000 for the purchase of everything from milk and melons to mushrooms.)

Grasshoppers Distribution in Louisville, Kentucky sells the produce of 100 state farmers to 75 restaurants and schools. We can clearly see a trend is forming a rainbow of opportunities for culinary graduates, career changers and food lovers!

A recent press release from Bon Appetit Management Company in Palo Alto, California reported: “As a new crop of college graduates worries about finding that all-important first job, and students flock to internships in food and farming, Bon Appetit Management Company  has established a program that brightens new graduates’ job opportunities. The sustainable food service leader has created three new career boosting paid fellowships for young campus activists involved in sustainable food and social justice. The new fellows will work directly with farmers around the country to assess overall sustainability, including labor practices in agricultural operations that supply the company’s 400 kitchens in 29 states.”

Chef Dan Barber who grows and raises his own food for his restaurants, Blue Hill New York in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, says, “As a chef, if you are chasing after flavorful food, which is what chefs should be doing, you are by definition an environmentalist and you are a nutritionist and by definition, you are an activist.”

But if you think of yourself as none of these, you may still find work on a farm as an accountant, public relations person or any number of other specialists that are needed to ensure the success of a thriving farm.

Think of these whisperings as the genesis of a fast growing new movement: young farmers are planting sustainable farms in land surrounding housing developments, spas, restaurants, and wherever people live — and eat. They are even converting abandoned warehouses into vertical farms, heated and cooled by geothermal energy.

There is more to say about farming in America today. I’ll be introducing you to two different people who became unlikely farmers, yet love the FOOD JOBS they developed.