Summer Sustainable Agriculture Reflections, 2011
by Amanda M. McClelland
When I was a kid, there used to be a huge empty field next to my house that I spent the majority of my childhood in. It wasn’t a pretty field; the grasses were brown and dry and the soil was hard from the long, hot summers in the central valley of California. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the one place around my house that I could ever hope to call ‘wilderness’, or ‘nature’. I spent every afternoon after school catching insects and playing in the dirt, or carving out my sanctuary in a large bush in the corner of the field, where I would sit and read for hours in the shade, secluded from all passerby. In the winter, I would come home drenched and muddy from splashing in the puddles in that field, and in the summer I would be covered in scratches from the hard dirt or mosquito bites from staying out too late into the evening.
And then one day, my field was flattened. There were no more weedy grasses left, and my hideout was chopped down. Flags and markers were put up, port-a-potties and sun-weathered men appeared. My field began to shrink, as house after house was put up. I held on to the last patch of empty land, hoping they wouldn’t build a house there. But soon, a foundation was placed, forever covering the soil, and wood was raised—the final house was being built. I continued to play around the house while it was being built, but my field was tainted. There were no longer fascinating critters, or any plants, and fast food wrappers and soda cans littered the ground, left behind by the construction workers, day after day. And it happened all over my town. Most of my hometown used to be beautiful farmland, but nowadays, I would be hard pressed to find a farm in Elk Grove that hasn’t been developed by the real estate companies. And so many of those houses sat in waste, disgustingly the same, as foreclosure after foreclosure happened.
For most of the time I was living in Elk Grove, I constantly thought about leaving. I couldn’t wait to get to college, I was bored in high school, and angered by all the people living the same dull life. It took me until the middle of high school to realize what was missing in Elk Grove. No one I met truly had a passion for anything. So many people had so many things, but they didn’t have anything substantial. This past year, being involved with farming for the first time, I have learned so, so much, and I think I have met the most passionate people in the world. Every farmer I have met has expressed the most love and continual excitement about what they are doing with their lives more than any other people I have met. I think that is what is so beautiful and inspiring about the sustainable agriculture movement. Everyone involved is just so in love with everything important—the environment, communities, health, and most of all, good, wholesome food. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to this community of farmers. My childhood was lacking in most everything that exists within so many of the influential people I have met in the last few months.
The question is though, and I have been asked this quite a lot the past few weeks, do I want to be a farmer? Honestly, as of now, I don’t have an answer to this question. I continuously go back and forth between replies. On the days I answer no, I’m thinking about the years of non-stop work I would have to put in before I even managed to make a slim profit. Where would I ever get the money for land, or for farming implements, or even for employees? It seems like such a huge investment in something that I could very easily fail at. I also consider what that kind of choice would mean to my family. My brother would probably laugh, my dad would tell me I need to use my college education to do something where I’m going to make more money, and my mom would tell me I’m probably being unrealistic. In a way, all of them would be right. Starting a farm would be an enormous leap of faith, both faith in people to continue to believe in the organic movement and to continue to support it, and faith of my own knowledge and my own abilities. I would be terrified of failing, but it seems like an unavoidable aspect of farming. And lastly, if I said no, I would be thinking of everything else I could do to change our food system. There must be other ways I could create more change and effect a greater number of people than if I just had a small, organic farm. Because how I see it, huge changes need to happen across the world in how we treat the environment and how we get our food. And it needs to happen soon, as in five, ten, or fifteen years, or else I’m not sure the world will be a very good place to live in anymore. So do I spend my life trying to affect change across the world--which I have no idea what I would do to do that--or do I do what I know and love, and be an organic farmer?
Now, on the days I answer yes, my mind wanders to how absolutely in love I am with farm work. During the school year, I was so excited every single time I went out to work at Zena. And here, living at the farm, I am happy every day I wake up, to know that I get to work in the field, or feed my chickens, or breathe in the rich smell of soil in the greenhouse. I think all of the work and effort I have put into Zena so far has been the most rewarding work I have ever done. Right now, I feel that making Zena a successful, thriving, student-run farm would be the best thing I could do at Willamette. I can’t even put into words how happy planting seeds, watching the plants grow, and then harvesting food makes me. I love the work because I always get to be outside, which I think I would choose over almost every other job. Even if I was making a million dollars, I wouldn’t be able to stand sitting at a desk, day after day—I would much rather be dirt poor and working hard outside. I also think owning and cultivating land is one of the most raw and natural things a person can do, and I think it is deeply ingrained in people to want to work the land and subsist off of what we can grow with our own hands. At least, for some strange reason, it is ingrained in me, and seeing the fruits of my labor literally materialize right before my eyes brings an unbelievable amount of joy to me.
So, I guess as of now, I could see myself doing this forever, but who knows where farming will take me. I am so excited to see Zena grow, and I am so happy that I get to be here to watch it transform into a successful farm. One thing I find incredible about farming is that the wealth of knowledge never seems to end. There is always something new to learn, and every single piece of land is completely different. There are so many different ideas and farming techniques surfacing in the growing organic movement, and I am so enthralled to be a part of that. I sure hope the world is changing fast enough to come around to the idea of agriculture as a beautiful, rewarding, and intellectual occupation, and truly, all I want is for the entire world to be able to enjoy fresh, clean, delicious food as I do. People need to have a desire for and demand good, wholesome food and only then will the agricultural system really change. I can’t wait to see that change happen.
- "Into the Woods" - Kristin Light
- "Farming, eh" - Amanda McCLelland
- "Thinking of Sustainability and the Future" - Yoshio Nakayama
- "Journal Entries for the Zena Farm Program" - Yoshio Nakayama
- "A Brief Anatomy of Zena Farm" - Sarah Spring
- "Real Food: My Lifelong Quest for True Flavor" - Michelle Tynan