Letters to Young Farmers

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE DAILY BEAST

The reference of the title isn’t lost on us, for the “everyday act of creation”, of coaxing bounty from the soil, is a form of poetry. We applaud both the advisors and the ears on which the advice falls.

Letters to a Young Farmer is full of good counsel for the next generation from the likes of Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and the noted novelist Barbara Kingsolver.

Dear young farmer,

Let me speak to you as a familiar, because of all the years I’ve cherished members of your tribe. Of course, I also know you’re only yourself, just as I remember the uniqueness of every intern, WWOOFer, and summer weed-puller who has spent a season or two on our family’s farm. Some preferred to work without shoes. Some were captivated by the science of soils, botany, and pest management. Some listened to their iPods, or meditated, or even sang as they hoed and weeded, while others found no music among the bean bee­tles. A few confessed to finding this work too hard, but many have gone on to manage other farms or buy places of their own. In these exceptional souls I invest my hopes….

It probably goes without saying that you’ll need to study, keep good records, keep your eyes open, and respect the complexities of your profession. It’s a bold business in which you will partner with your ecosystem in every­day acts of creation. People have been doing this for as long as we’ve called our­selves civilized, and that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That means your profession has a history, a philosophy, a body of science, and whole libraries of accumu­lated wisdom. As the world changes, you’ll have to learn not just the old ways but new ones, how to cope with new kinds of droughts and floods, the critical importance of sequestering carbon under your crops and grass-finished live­stock. You can read the modern innovators—Eliot Coleman, Joel Salatin, Wes Jackson, among many—who are rescuing your profession from decades of mis­takes that masqueraded as modernity. And the scientist-philosophers whose wisdom exhorted us all along to avoid those mistakes: Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Lady Eve Balfour, Masanobu Fukuoka, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry. You’ll have to work these into your curriculum between the more urgent readings of veterinary manuals and tractor repair guides. I hope you didn’t choose this job because you disliked school. You’re still a student, and your homework will never end.


Letters to a Young Farmer, a project of the Stone Barns Center, is for everyone who appreciates good food grown with respect for the earth, people, animals, and community. Three dozen esteemed writers, farmers, chefs, activists, and visionaries address the highs and lows of farming life as well as larger questions of how our food is produced and consumed in vivid and personal detail.

Click here for the entire excerpt as well as information on the project and its participants.

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