To Teach Next Generation of Farmers, We'll Need Role Models--How Michael Schmidt Inspired a Class

I have long felt that one of the keys to breaking through the regulatory roadblocks to easily accessing nutrient-dense foods like raw dairy is for farmers to flood the market with products the regulators want to keep from us. For that to happen, though, there need to be enough farmers willing to make the commitment and take the risks.

Farming has been a dying profession for many years, though. How are would-be farmers to be attracted away from all the career options available to take up sustainable farming? One way is for role models to emerge who can set the kind of example that inspires others to want to do the same.

In this guest post, Rutgers University professor Joseph Heckman describes how Michael Schmidt, in one appearance at Rutgers, became such a role model.

Michael Schmidt and Joseph Heckman recently at Rutgers University. As many of today’s farmers approach retirement, one wonders about the next generation. At Rutgers University, where I teach several courses in agriculture, I have responsibility for providing meaningful learning experiences for future farmers.
 
My most popular course, Organic Crop Production, attracts a diversity of students ranging from biology to liberal arts majors. Very few students have an agricultural background.  Last semester, out of the 47 students in my class, 10 said they want to go into farming, and among those future farmers not one grew up on a farm.  Without preconceived notions about the ways of the farm, students are perhaps more open to alternative ways of farming, like organic.

When I teach Organic Crop Production, I cover the requisite subject areas of composting, soil fertility, crop rotation, and organic cultural practices for production of vegetables, fruits, grains, and forages.  Standards for organic certification and the USDA-NOP are also covered.

When organic farming pioneer Albert Howard wrote that “Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock,” he knew that animals were indispensable to organic farming.  Since there is no comparable course offering in organic livestock production at my institution, I also include animal agriculture with a special emphasis on pastured livestock production.
 
Other lecture material introduces students to homeopathy, traditional food systems, and the history, philosophy, and sociology of organic farming.  I also introduce students to great writers and their influences on alternative agriculture.  Classical writings include selections from Eve Balfour, Albert Howard, Walter Northbourne, Weston Price, Wilhelm Reich, Jerome Rodale, J. Russell Smith, and contemporary writers include but not limited to, Wendell Berry, Sally Fallon Morell, Michael Pollan, and Joel Salatin.

Under traditional organic farming, a great diversity of subjects are open for learning and discussion.  Whenever possible I include field trips to working organic livestock and CSA vegetable farms, and I invite guest lectures to cover areas beyond my expertise. 

For example, last November I took advantage of the opportunity to invite Michael Schmidt to give a lecture on Biodynamic Farming.  This was right after he was a speaker at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions Conference. 

Hosting Michael Schmidt was a most memorable experience because the student response was so overwhelmingly positive.  Michael began his lecture by providing an overview of Biodynamic Farming.  He also talked about his raw milk cow share model.  This was followed by a showing of the documentary Milk War, which relates a lone farmer’s struggle to win approval for raw milk in Canada, and for food rights and human rights in general. 

At the end of the film, students thundered with applause.  Michael answered questions and lead a discussion.  Comments from students included, “Before I listened to him I never thought I would even contemplate raw milk. After listening to Mr. Schmidt, I felt very comfortable with the idea”. And “Best Talk EVER!  It was like having a celebrity in class.  He was so smart and well-spoken and very inspiring.  I felt energized when we left.  I would love to visit and maybe intern on his farm.”

The most exciting organic trend is teaching young people about the emerging economic opportunities in farming.  Not teaching commodity farming, where one must “get big or get out," but artisanal farming.  It is here where community supported agriculture, cow shares, and other direct farm-to-people relationships have opened up new business opportunities.  It is being spurred on by human hunger for farm fresh foods of exceptional quality.

September headlines in The New Jersey Farmer called on State Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher to “halt dairy exodus from state”.  The report on raw milk in Vermont illustrates the significant economic opportunity that awaits young farmers, where public policy allows it.  And now New Jersey legislation, that would establish a raw milk permit program, has potential to open up new opportunities for young dairy farmers in the Garden State.  ?

Rules for animal traceability, formerly known as NAIS, will be published on the federal register in April.

FYI

Professor Heckman,

In your opinion, are college ag programs generally effective at making farmers? My sense is that, at best, academic programs are a back-up plan, a distant second place to learning farming from fathers and uncles and local community mentors. Seems to me that the family/local approach would be more likely to both instill a love of farming, and a more functional, working knowledge than would a didactic program with practical lab infill.

I have a young friend for example who graduated from Berea Colleges ag program. Berea is a private school that appears to allow more individual expression than perhaps a land grant university might, yet he is the only one from his graduating class who is farming. Most everyone else took government jobs in ag support or in the farm regulatory bureaucracy, or with industrial ag corporations. Some simply left agriculture for other occupations.

Im sure a good academic ag program provides important knowledge of basic principles such as soil conservation, micro and macro biology, etc., which would be useful for any farmer. But is that how good farmers are made? Or does that approach tend more to make employees?

By the way, I applaud you for all you do for your students, including bringing Michael Schmidt in as a speaker.

I would also like to applaud professor Heckmans efforts. It is because of objective free thinking individuals such as him that a light still flickers at the end of the tunnel.

http://wallstreetpit.com/8497-food-spending-at-its-lowest-level-ever
Someone should tell those jokers from the Wall Street Pit (above) that they are living in a make believe fantasy world. Although their statistics are probably correct their interpretation is extremely narrow minded as to why those statistics are what they are. Low food prices are clearly a reflection of our obsession with cheep food and the destructive approaches and policies we have adopted in order to achieve such a goal.

North Americans have got their priorities half ass backwards and if they want quality food they had better be prepared to pay for it rather expecting farmers to subsidize the food they eat with off farm income. If technology is indeed responsible for lower food costs why are there an increasing number of farmers having to acquire off farm income in order to survive?
http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2011/02/12/17252796.html

Ken Conrad

Dave,

I agree that there are better ways of learning how to farm than from college agriculture courses.

One effective farmer training program offered at Rutgers University is internships in a student run CSA farm. This 4 acre CSA organic (but not certified) vegetable farm run by students and has about 300 subscribers. Essentially none of the student interns start with any farm experience. Some student interns have after graduation successfully gone on to start their own vegetable farms. Unfortunately, we have no similar training program for livestock farming.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in student numbers interested in farming. And almost none of them have grown up with any farm experience. I think Joel Salatin, Michael Pollans Omnivores Dilemma, Slow Food, Weston A. Price Foundation, and the organic movement account for some of this trend. I think being city raised and having no prior farming experience may actually enable these young people to approach farming with fresh ideas and open eyes.

I think it is very exciting how the return to food quality, artisanal, traditional foods, organic, CSA, raw dairy, pasture raised, direct marketing, etc. is creating new economic opportunities for young people to enter farming as a career.

I contrast this with the 1970s when I was a college student in agronomy. The thinking at that time was unless you inherit a farm, forget about farming.

It is not necessary to own the land if a long term lease can be secured. It is not uncommon for me to get calls from New Jersey landowners looking for someone to farm their land like Joel Salatin they have been reading about.

In 2003, there were about 10,000 dairy farms in Pennsylvania and about 25 with raw milk permits (2003 first edition of Untold Story of Milk was published). In 2010 the total number of Pennsylvania dairy farms decreased to 6,800 while dairy farms with raw milk permits increased to over 150.

In 1990, when I came to New Jersey there were still about 250 dairy farms operating in the state. In 2010, the number of dairy farms has declined to only 87. Zero farms here with raw milk permits. If current raw milk legislation just passed in the assembly were to pass the senate and get signed into law, there is an excellent opportunity for new dairy farms to start up in the Garden State.

As I have argued on numerous occasions, on-farm raw milk sales would spur direct marketing opportunities for cheese, eggs, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Sales our farmers now lose to out-of-state farms that sell raw milk. New Jersey is a highly urbanized state and is therefore a great place for direct marketing. Many CSA vegetable farms have waiting lists for subscribers. Legalizing raw milk sales would be a great opportunity for new young farmers. I enjoy teaching the next generation about real food and farming.

http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2011/04/01/Silk-Switch-Campaign.aspx

Pasteurized milk is dying. Deans Foods is abandoning it and taking a knife to the throat of the heart of Wisconsin dairyland. Silk SoyMilk....is on the attack.

Watch out....here come the man boobs, premature juvenile puberty, he comes micro testicles and lumpy breasts and voices in men that sound like little girls....

Thanks Deans Foods..... Beans do not have Teats....You are guilty of raping dairymen ( as described by the $30 million dollar DOJ settlement last year ) and gross dairy treason.

Mark

Great work Joe!! (is it alright if I call you Joe?)

Mark, very troubling indeed. Wisconsin is in peril of losing our many small dairy farms thanks to the corporate monopolists in the Dairy Business Association and WI cheese makers association.

There used to be a cheese factory at every crossroads in rural Wisconsin, and literally hundreds of thousands of small dairy farms. The CAFO's are slowly starting to edge their way in as more and more people turn to soy milk because of disgust with the dairy industry.

But a raw milk rebellion is in the works! We will rock this establishment to the core!!! Raw milk truth earthquake and tsunami!!!

I think it is very exciting how the return to food quality, artisanal, traditional foods, organic, CSA, raw dairy, pasture raised, direct marketing, etc. is creating new economic opportunities for young people to enter farming as a career.

You are sure right about that. Maddeningly, there are so many needless barriers, no I take that back, punitive barriers is what I meant to say, to growing and selling high quality food.

Last night I moderated a discussion group at a local university about the effects of global business and centralized planning on local culture and economy. To kick things off we watched a new documentary, The Economics Of Happiness (a film you should all see if you get a chance www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org) and then talked about related issues. One of the students there described her family's efforts to sell organic, home-grown food in local markets, especially farmers markets. She was extremely passionate about good food, and equally frustrated over government fees and permits and other bureaucratic impediments that made the job of getting it to her community so difficult. Sounding much like Robyn O'Brien, she wondered why she must be forced to pay fees to prove that her product is NOT the crap government currently subsidizes.

We are a nutty society indeed, brainwashed by a massive, money-grubbing sales machine, and it's nowhere more evident than in our food choices. That a growing grassroots movement sees fit to thumb its nose at the bureaucracies and businesses that perpetuate the problem is simply wonderful; even more so that many in the movement are young, intelligent, and energetic.

Lastly, may I say that last night was the first time in 20 years that I have had the privilege of teaching a group of college students, if unofficially, and it was a sincere and intense pleasure. Watching the light go on in a student's eyes is something everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy. It makes an old fart feel young. In that, I envy you.

Great post! Any idea where one could view Milk War now?

@Dave Milano: Here's one little data point for your inquiry: My beef farmer is the son of a farmer and studied Ag at UConn, Storrs. So, in this case, it's a little of both. He raises Black and Red Angus as well as Herefords. Two years ago, he moved to entirely grass-fed (from seasonally grass fed).

For those of you who liked the Robin O'Brien information, here is a personal interview with her. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7q4jcBN1WI&feature=related

Mary

Over at http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/ there is a 385 word post on Money, Power, and Equality. It offers this: A government stripped down to essential functions offers fewer opportunities for the power-hungry.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

The question is not whether to "strip the government of power." The question is how we organize and empower common people to take control of their lives and of society, thus rendering the coercive aparatuses of the government irrelevant!!

If any of the fence sitters have ever had any reservations about the FDA....yes...they are truly fascist. They are lower than snakes in dirt.

http://farmtoconsumer.org/fda-answers-judge-kennedy.htm

They have officially answered the question posed by the Federal Judge regarding interstate commerce of raw milk for personal consumption. They have officially said that soccer moms with ice chests that cross state lines with raw milk for their kids ...are criminals.

It is time to start a public outcry. Who wants to go sit in the FDA offices in DC and pour raw milk on ourselves and decry these bastards for what they are.

They have said...that Americans can only drink highly allergenic processed milk from CAFO operations....milk that causes lactose intolerance in 35% of the population...milk that is listed as two of the top ten most risky foods in America ( Pasteurized icecream and pasteurized cheese are on the top ten most risky foods list ). Milk that has been identified by the medical community as THE TOP ALLERGENIC FOOD IN AMERICA FOR KIDS!!

There is no dealing with fascists or PMO extremists....they have dead milk on the brain and dead milk money in their pockets. In Afganstan our government calls in drone strikes on these kinds of inhumane extremist fascists. This is kid torture!!

What the FDA is doing is an intentional act of intentional poisoning of Americans by denial of access to food that does not cause severe allergies or severe GI upset. This is a sustained commercial bioterrorism attack by our own tax paid for FDA.

Mark

Mark et al......

Did I read the response correctly? Is this the logic of the FDA response? A legal hypothetical: Raw milk legally purchased in State A by a consumer who lives in State B where raw milk may also be legally purchased returns across the state line back to home State B , with her legally purchased property, where having such property is legal.........has committed a crime........

Not only are there better ways to farm, there are also many technologies for which there are patents that are no longer enforceable that would provide further help in growing richer food that uses either less to no pesticides (organic or conventional).

One key focus should be to show the utter uselessness of the FDA and USDA in terms of food safety and farming as a commercially and environmentally sustainable activity. We must also not forget the discriminatory practices by the USDA against blacks, indian, hispanic and women farmers that have also cost us billions in compensation for suits brought against the USDA.

Another key focus should be the work of these organisations in conjunction with the US Congress providing liability cover for large industrial firms who, push unhealthy frankenfoods raised in Auschwitz type environments for fowl and cattle or either embedded with genetic toxins or doused with roundup ready which has been known for decades to cause serious health issues. There should be work to eliminate this liability cover since why are we paying to provide insurance for something that provides us with absolutely no benefit whatsoever?!? Every company and/or organisation should be fully liable for every product or service that it puts out on the market. If they want liability cover, that can properly be assessed by insurance companies, not members of congress. This would create an environment where the safest and healthiest products would have lower liability costs compared to GMO and Auschwitz farm type products. Second is for all foods to have full traceability. This would allow for people to make informed choices as well as doctors assessing someone illness to determine whether the diet or food choices played any part in the onset of their illness.

Finally, we need to push for a free market in agriculture, food and health services. Our present situation (government working in combination with corporations otherwise known as fascism) provides us citizens with no benefit and has lead us to our country being bankrupt with runaway food and health costs. This happens primarily because of the huge subsidies provided to agriculture and especially corn and second because of the attempts by the FDA to suppress non-allopathic types of medicine. With no competition there is little or no incentive for anyone to innovate in such a way as to provide a better service at a lower price.

This environment would not require the massive amount of funds presently wasted on the FDA and USDA, and would leave us in a position where we would have more control over our lives. In fact, if one knows the constitution, it is clear that the only way that the federal government is able to put us in our present situation is by ignoring or subverting the language of the constitution. Nor was it ever intended for federal judges to have the last word on all things constitutional. We need to reaffirm and reassert the principles of the constitution in order to take back the country from those who are seeking to subvert it to their own ends.

Mary-

While we're at it, why not cross-breed the human-milk cow with the skim-milk cow:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/6700129.stm

The article Mary posted on transgenic cows says 38% of those calves died in the first six months. Probably because the milk is engineered for humans, not calves?

http://www.slashfood.com/2011/04/04/genitically-modified-cows-produce-human-milk/

I think this may be related to Mary's link. I don't see all this genetic modification as a good thing. This is not "natural" and I would not want it for myself or my children.

The question is how we organize and empower common people to take control of their lives and of society, thus rendering the coercive aparatuses of the government irrelevant!!

Bill,

Wrong-headed majorities are a coercive force, which is why the founders gave us a republic, not a democracy.

There is no such thing as a coercive government or an evil corporation, for governments and corporations are simply inanimate tools. Evil is imparted by the people who wield them, and people, of course, are people, whether common or not, and cannot be trusted to always do good.

That is why we must avoid creating big, powerful systems. Once the weapon has been forged you can bet somebody will do big evil with it, perhaps even with noble intent. The only hope we have on this earth is that an evil man will never become so powerful that his brothers cannot knock him down. Build a Utopian government system, and all you will have done is grease the wheels of evil.

It is tempting to look for big solutions to big problems. But big solutions ARE the problem. What we need instead are myriad, diverse, CHANGEABLE, little solutions.

Unfortunately for us, Dave, the weapons have already been forged. The military-industrial complex is this weapon. Name any advanced civilization or empire throughout history which was not based upon military might? You'd have a hard time.

I do not think you can seperate a technology or industry from the intentions of its producers, or from the social structure of the institutions which promote its use.

For example, GMO's are designed so that a few agricultural corporations can dominate the land and the populace. You can say that a corporation is not inherintly evil, but that is like saying that a nuclear bomb is not inherintly evil... I just don't buy it.

You speak of the founders giving us a republic, but consider who they were -- rich white men, many of them slaveholders -- and what their agenda was in creating the republic -- to get rid of the articles of confederation because they were too democratic, and too establish a national bank & government so they could charter corporations and begin economic development.

What is the solution? We must organize and fight for our freedom and for local democracy! I ask you -- What right of the common people has ever been won without a struggle?

The rich classes enjoy raw milk -- the royal family of the UK and the Rockefellers here in the U.S. are consumers of raw milk. But the common people should not be able to enjoy it?

This about more than just an individual's right to choose. This is about class war!!

Dave, are you familiar with Frederick Douglass' 1857 speech:

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress

Words of wisdom!

Class warfare.

Yes, this class warfare must stop.
Especially the sophomores must stop picking
on the other classes and stop misleading the freshmen.
I am in complete agreement.
But what is this about youth in Asia?
Thats not part of ObamaCare is it?

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Interesting historical document, about the Boston Medical Milk Commission:

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM191304241681705

Sophomoric? You tell me...

And the movement for social justice continues:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_eee08510-5f27-11e0-bc16-001cc4c03286.html

The class war will not stop, no matter how much we pretend otherwise. We can choose to fight back, or we can choose to take it sitting down. The choice is ours. I choose to fight!

Bill, I applaud you.

The energy to fight is a very valuable commodity -treasured, neither stifled into a swamp nor unleashed into a flood. A force for life inside those deathly bounds.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard