The following paper was written for Effecting Social Change, a semester-long course attended by the fellows and scholars of the 2007 Reynolds Program, and taught by NYU Professors Rogan Kersh and Margaret Scott. The course focused upon three modalities of social change: the individual, the institution, and the movement. The assignment for this final paper was simply to address these three elements within the subject considered.
The Choice to Farm: Of Five Farmers, and the Movement They’ve Joined
Over the past seventy-five years, the industrialization of agriculture in the United States has included widespread farm consolidation, expanded commodity production, the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides, the genetic modification of seeds, and a considerable drop in the percentage of Americans’ disposable income spent on food. Government agricultural policy has decisively disregarded the environmental, social, and health-related implications of the large-scale agricultural practices it continues to encourage and support. A long-standing resistance to the practice of industrial agriculture has recently gained momentum, through an increasing popular awareness of climate change and the limits of natural resources, and has developed into a full-fledged movement for the agro-ecological cultivation of food.
New and aspiring farmers, particularly those under fifty years old, fundamentally contribute to the social movement gathering around sustainable agriculture. The declining number of farm operators, the ongoing loss of farmland, and the increasing average age of farmers in the United States all constitute an urgent need for a new generation of farmers to emerge.
The Choice to Farm: Of Five Farmers, and the Movement They’ve Joined is a small research paper devoted to the stories of farmers whom the author identified as college graduates with former non-agricultural careers or ambitions. This criteria was chosen to narrow the pool of farmers consulted to those individuals who decided to start farming even while they had every opportunity to do something else. The Choice to Farm tells the stories of five farmers who have recently made this choice. The paper concludes with a brief analysis of new farmers as part of a national community working towards agricultural and food policy change, and the force of this community’s momentum as a social movement.