To Farm or Not to Farm?
In an era of climate change young people need to think carefully before trying to make a living off the land
Beginning this spring Eliza Milio will be this page’s junior staff writer. Funded through a fellowship from The Safina Center, Milio worked as an organic farmer in California through some of the toughest conditions the planet could throw at a young grower. She’ll be writing here about the intersection of climate and agriculture on a regular basis. Here is her first post.
In 2021 I quit farming. You would have never seen that coming if you’d scrolled through my Instagram in the years preceding my decision. Back in my early agricultural days, in my 20s, my account was thick with images of colorful vegetables and smiling, tastefully dirty farmers. It was a glamorous depiction of a modern farming lifestyle and there really was a certain satisfaction gained from buying into it.
But it was also a depiction that requires some explanation.
People love to glamorize farming. In the past when I was asked, “What do you do for work?” the answer “I’m an organic farmer” would prompt gushing responses: “Wow, that must be so fun,” or “I’ve always wanted to be a farmer.” It’s a fantasy I once shared: the peace of working outside all day, hands caked in soil, reaping the bounty of hard work, eating a diet rich in freshly picked fruits and vegetables. What could be bad about that?
If my first farm internship experience was summer camp, then managing a farm was boot camp.
It was those starry-eyed notions that led me to take my first job on a farm (read: unpaid “internship”). And even though this was a pretty humble way to get into the “business” of farming, when I look back on it it’s possible that these were my glory days. They certainly were the salad days.
Naïveté and novelty kept a smile on my face despite my sunburnt skin, sore legs, and the 4 am wake up time. And I really did revel in the aforementioned peace of working outside, hands caked in soil, etc. There was something righteous about the simplicity of the daily toil, using my body and mind to coax the land into producing real food. I felt as though I’d…