More than One Way to Manifest a Dream

cameron_tomales_farm_9x12_oil

The Pastoral Dream

What does a modern farm look like? Just about anyone can close their eyes and conjure up an idyllic image of a farm – The big red barn, the rolling pastures, and acres of crops shining under the summer sun, and the happy animals munching on the grass and frolicking with one another. These pastoral pictures are never too far from the front of my consciousness. My heart has ached for a farm of my own ever since reading the moving novels of famed author Wendell Berry. I could get lost in his text for hours on end, as it magically transformed into acres of beauty in my mind. I often daydream and wish I spent my days baling hay, picking crops and feeding farm animals. I know this is what I want to do with my life.

When Reality Hits

Given the opportunity we would jump at the chance to own a big farm. However, it is not as easy as just wanting it and getting it. Access to farmland is an issue that many people, who would like to farm, are facing. First of all, most farm land is exorbitantly expensive. Secondly, there is the issue of the massive student debt that millennials are saddled with. The cumulative student debt recently surpassed $1 trillion. This debt burden has many negative effects on the generation carrying the load, and restricting access to farmland is just one salient side effect. However, it is vitally important that younger people break into farming because the average age of the American farmer is creeping up on 60 years of age. Who will fill the shoes of these farmers when they retire?

farmageddon
Industrialized Farming

The Necessity of Change

There is another serious aspect to the current agricultural landscape that needs to be considered when thinking about the farms for the future. Over the past 100 years American farmland has become severely industrialized. Many farms have become monocultures which require heavy doses of pesticides to combat infestation problems, and the animal farms have been forced to adhere to strict industry guidelines which pits farmer against animal and is a breeding ground for animal rights abuses and inhumane treatment. On his show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discusses the plight of the America chicken farmer, and his argument crystallizes pitfalls and drawbacks of the industrialized model that is so prevalent in this country. Watch the clip here.

Many people – ourselves included – are passionately attracted to farming as a lifestyle. But, we do not want to sacrifice our values or our health – or the health of our animals – to reach that goal. Not many people would voluntarily sign up for a life of debt and contracts with big agriculture companies that want to dictate how you treat your crops or care for your animals. Perhaps that is the real reason why there is a generation gap in farming – we see that the current model doesn’t work for the farmer, and honestly, it isn’t working very well for the consumer either.

While making a living is an obvious objective, the true goal for progressive agriculture is to farm in harmony with nature, and to have a diversified and sustainable system that focuses on soil health, crop quality, and animal husbandry. This is an attainable goal, but we may all have to think a little bit outside of the box to make it happen.

Eagle Street Roofto Farm
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Manhattan

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

Don’t let a lack of space restrict you from pursuing the garden of your dreams. Many times, living in an urban location restricts the amount of yard space you think that you have to grow on, but that is not the end of the story. There are creative alternatives that can bend and reshape how we understand the modern farm. We can break out of the pastoral view of the farm where acres upon acres are necessary for agricultural pursuit.

Creative Approaches to Modern Farming:

  • Vertical Growing – Growing up instead of out can help maximize smaller spaces
  • Container Gardening – With adequate watering, many crops can grow great in pots
  • Roof Top Farming – Converting an unproductive roof into a lush green-space can be profitable and help insulate the building
  • Hydroponics – The process of growing plants in gravel and water, with added nutrients but without soil.
  • Aquaponics – Growing plants and fish together in a process of aquaculture where the waste produced by fish supply nutrients for plants grown hydroponically. The plants suck up the nutrients and in turn purify the water for the fish. This is a highly productive and sustainable method that conserves most of the water in the system.
  • Diversified Land Acquisition – Partnering with land owners to grow food on various plots of land in exchange for a share of the harvest, this method is community driven and helps to cut costs.

building a plot

Manifesting the Dream

Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming of expansive pastures, the breeze rustling the leaves on the many trees, animals frolicking in the field, and I feel completely content in those dreams – I long for that place. But when I wake up, and find myself deep in the city I remember that I can have a farm now – but it will look different than the one in my mind’s eye. In our case, it is a farm spread across miles – various plots of land that when added together make up some significant space! It is a farm that is always trying to think outside of the box – to leverage technology to our benefit and grow tons of food in relatively small spaces. Creativity is crucial for a young person who wishes to jump off the corporate ladder and dive into an agrarian lifestyle. I refuse to let my student debt prevent me from reaching my dream – I will create a farm now using what resources are available to me. I have no doubt that one day we will make it to our farmstead with rolling pastures, and wooded lots and maybe even a pond or a river! But when we get there we will hopefully be a little less green than we are today. I consider our urban farm adventure to be the lab in which we are learning how things grow and how to protect the harvest and also how to turn a profit doing what we love!

I invite you to think outside the box, and consider new ways of manifesting the age old pursuit of agriculture. How do you imagine a modern farm for a sustainable and healthy future?

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Sources:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Newsroom. “Student Debt Swells, Federal Loans Now Top a Trillion.” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Web. 8 June 2015.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “The Rapidly Aging U.S. Farmer.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 June 2015.

One thought on “More than One Way to Manifest a Dream

  1. gardenerstouch2012 says:

    Good for you – start your “alternative farm” now!! I live about two hours North of NYC and I too, get lost in the dreams of red barns, lush green pastures, and of course those beautiful silver silos. I’m very lucky to live next door to a farm like that and sometimes I like to daydream that it is mine, but in the meantime, my small plot of land will have to suffice. Happy gardening.

    Liked by 1 person

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