Get Your Farming On

  • January 31, 2008

Today we have a guest blog from HSC Intern Dennis Fiser. Dennis recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in environmental studies and is pursuing a career in sustainable food systems.

Part of the Healthy Schools Campaign’s mission is to promote healthy food and discourage the low-nutrient, high-calorie (“junk”) food that has become widely available in schools. Fresh fruits and vegetables are just what school cafeterias need, and all the better if fresh produce can be purchased from local farms.

But even though “locally grown” is all the rage, there are surprisingly few farms growing food for people to eat. Much of our farmland is filled with corn for animal feed, food additives and biofuels, along with soybeans for biodiesel, food additives, and animal feed – which doesn’t sound very appetizing.

So here I am, working at HSC on farm-to-school policies; but what is there to do when there simply aren’t many local farms growing food, and even fewer which can supply enough ingredients to feed the thousands of Chicago students who eat school lunch every day?   I’ll go do some farming myself, that’s what.

In the past couple of years, there has been growing awareness [pdf] of the need for younger people to get involved in farming. Many farmers are nearing retirement and there aren’t many younger farmers to take their place.

But there are plenty of opportunities for those of us who do want to get involved in farming. It’s a great way to help build a sustainable food system from the ground up, literally. And the food is absolutely delicious.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) helps people find opportunities to gain hands-on farming experience. WWOOF publishes a directory of organic farms for dozens of countries, and in return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts (farms) offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Specific to our region are programs like the Collaborative Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), which serves northern Illinois and Wisconsin (but has chapters in all areas of the country), Stateline Farm Beginnings, Central Illinois Farm Beginnings, and Farm Beginnings for Wisconsin and Minnesota, among many, many others.

And if farming isn’t going to be your occupation, many farms welcome visitors for a short stay – you get to do some good work and eat some good food, and then return to your normal life. Check out Local Harvest to find a farm close to you.