Glamorous and Sexy

Jun 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

So over Feb Break this past winter I went on a MALT trip down to this urban farm in a dilapidated New Orleans neighborhood with some friends. The owner of the farm was this 40-something year old opinionated guy who did not have health insurance or car insurance or a stable food or income supply but who felt very real compared to most people I meet. Anyways, he said a lot of things over the course of the week, mostly rants against the education system and the food system and national/local governments. The one thing he said that stays with me 4 months later is this: “We have to somehow convince thousands of bright college seniors (like ourselves) to open up farms after graduation instead of going into Wall Street or non-profits or wherever else people take jobs nowadays.”

Reading Berry’s Amish principles and defense of family farms, I cannot help think back to this man’s comment. It is tempting to extoll the benefits of life as a small agriculturalist and living healthily for both the natural environment and the people living in it. But choosing farming means very specifically not choosing other life paths. For me, and millions of college students like me, these other life paths have been ground into us from pre-school: “Do well in school so that you can go to a good college and get a good job and provide security for your family and don’t forget to be a good person.” Farming does not provide a predictable paycheck. Farming is not glamorous or sexy (according to many Americans). How do we convince graduating seniors to to pick it up as a lifestyle? Even if they all read Wendell Berry, they will not be convinced because they do not want to be convinced. Presenting these graduates with the logic of the family farm will do nothing. It is like any other social movement: the image of farming must been changed so that people will be more receptive to it. How to do this I haven’t a clue.

3 Comments to “Glamorous and Sexy”

  1. Elizabeth Oyler says:

    2 cents from someone who’s majoring in creative writing because I believe it can be powerful– profoundly, tangibly– and who loves literature in part because of how frequently I can feel it change and expand my mind. Everyone interacts with art forms differently, but Kyler, I think that a piece of writing absolutely could provide that career or life path-altering “visceral experience” you mention. Berry’s written voice may not be so resonant with every one of his readers, but I think that if we strive to make environmental writing (all kinds! all voices!) available, even actively present (particularly in educative and political communities, I feel), we at least increase the chance of literature– or any art, for that matter– serving as that decisive experience, or functioning as some kind of catalyst.
    And Ben– I would argue that the writing we’re talking about doesn’t have to beautify or glamorize its subjects in order to be successful. What are your thoughts?

  2. Benjamin Harris says:

    Kyler, I’m definitely with you on this one–it’s pretty difficult to change such ingrained thinking. I’ve heard some astounding statistics that suggest that many, if not the majority, of seniors graduating from the country’s best universities/colleges choose to go to Wall Street. I feel like a good place to start is with someone like Wendell Berry. I’m sure that a lot students haven’t heard of Berry, or for that matter, are very unfamiliar with food literature as a whole. It’s not only environmental writing–and we know that environmentalism still has its strong skeptics–but it’s also a subcategory within environmental writing. In a sense, agricultural and food systems writing is then a niche within a niche genre, which makes it difficult for the average person to access. But I feel that the role of literature is so important when it comes to farming and food because it can give glamor to agriculture through the power of words–for example, metaphors can make anything sound more appealing, and lyrical poetry beautifies even the most mundane aspects of life. So somehow, we need to start spreading the work of the people who can turn farming into poetry. And who doesn’t feel an appreciation for good food after reading about it in a book?

    • Kyler Blodgett says:

      I hope you’re right Ben, but I’m afraid that I’m more cynical. Even if students are exposed to perceptive, logical literature such as Berry’s on farming, I fear that I doubt if it will change their minds. I challenge you to think back to a time when your mind was changed on an important issue (such as your career/college choice).

      For example, a computer scientist could write the most flowing, entertaining, and accurate review or poem of why computer science is the singular true art of the world and all college students should pursue careers in compsci. Will I recognize the compulsion of his argument? Probably. Will I change my major to computer science? Probably not. The reason is because I have not had a visceral experience pushing me towards computer science, and I have not been raised in a society where I have been fed the values of computer science from birth by my parents, friends, or media. Same with farming. How often are the benefits of small-scale farmers made clear in presidential addresses, commercials/movies, or non-rural life in general? Not often. Instead, our society amps up the sciences, military careers, and business jobs; all fine occupations, but farming, to use Berry’s words, does not have a place at the table.

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