Letters to a Young Farmer
An agricultural revolution is sweeping the land. Americans from all walks of life are recognizing that the things we value most – like a resilient and safe environment, healthy and high-quality food, a nation of thriving and diverse communities – all depend upon networks of robust, sustainable local farms. But farming is increasingly difficult in this country. The overall number of farmers has shrunk 4 percent in the last five years, and the average age of the American farmer is now over 58. Fortunately, a new generation is rising to the challenge and choosing the farming life. Beginning farmers – defined as those who have operated their own farm for 10 years or less – now number over a half-million people.
The book Letters to a Young Farmer 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. One such contributor is Alice Waters, who is a chef, food activist, and the founder and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California.
In 1995 she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project. She went on to conceive and help create the Yale Sustainable Food Project at Yale University and the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome. In 2015 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.
Here is her letter:
Dear young farmer,
I want to start by saying “thank you.” Thank you for choosing to be a farmer and for choosing to take care of the planet. Thank you for dedicating yourself to feeding us all. And thank you, too, for being the inspiration for my restaurant—indeed, for my life’s work. You are my partner in change. Forty-four years ago, when I first opened Chez Panisse, I could never have imagined that my restaurant would be anything more than a small neighborhood place for my friends to gather and talk politics.
Fifteen years into the life of the restaurant, we began to feel the need to connect more deeply with a farmer and were looking for a farm of our own. We were incredibly fortunate that Bob Cannard, a gifted farmer, wanted to work with us alone. By committing to buying everything that he grew, we were able to guarantee his livelihood. In turn, he taught us to treasure the land; from him we learned about real nourishment, about the rhythms not just of the seasons but of the years.
We became extensions of each other—what Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, calls “coproducers.” Petrini also believes that farmers are the “intellectuals of the land.” They have the practical experience and rarefied knowledge to choose just the right seeds for a particular place, to plant them in the most advantageous way, and then to tend the plants and bring them to their perfect moment of ripeness.
This is what taste is all about. And it is taste fundamentally that makes my work irresistible and your work vital. I always say that farming is at least 85 percent of cooking, because it is taste that will truly wake people up and bring them back to their senses and back to the land.”