By Stuart Oke
It has been a quicker transition then one might think: suburban-raised kid to organic farmer in 5 years flat. The image of me manhandling the walk-behind rototiller, my sound dampening headphones on with my earphones tucked underneath, symbolizes that change. I plunge myself into a reality-muted Led Zeppelin concert with Robert Plant singing me praises for my crop rotation and ecologically-minded farming practises…
I’ve seen and done plenty in the last 5 years but one thing that I’ve learned through the various apprenticeships, meetings, and conferences is that in 10 years time I’m not going to be the only farmer with a hoe in one hand and an Ipod in the other.
Through organizations like Cooperative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training(CRAFT) the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) and the National Farmers Union (NFU), I’ve met young people like myself by the wagonload and no matter where we’ve come from be it the city, suburbs, or country we all have one thing in common. We want to farm, and we want to do it organically.
We’re a generation raised in this ever more fast paced world but with an earnest desire to hold onto something tangible in our increasingly intangible world. I know for some the desire to farm comes from their own family farm, while others flock to farming as a refuge from a suburban upbringing, while still others look upon the world with increasing concern and strive to enact change. The reasons are as numerous as they are varied. However, no matter the reason it can always be agreed that to be an organic farmer is not just a question of career but one of lifestyle as well. Once during an internship interview, I asked the farmer how he had gotten into farming and he responded that, after a decade or more as a political activist, organic farming was the most influential political statement that he could make.
Five years ago as a brand new member of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), I stepped upon my first organic farm in Ireland with nothing more than the desire to have a new experience. I was a small town kid who’d been on farms only a handful of times and I knew nothing. My experience has not just been of technical knowledge gained but one of personal understanding as well. I’ve found 6 hours weeding can do as much to ‘recharge your batteries’ as having a beer with some friends and my field has played therapist to my problems on more than one occasion.
From almost the moment I started down this path, I’ve felt drawn along by something I can’t quite see. No work has been so personally liberating, no lifestyle so surprisingly compatible and no ideology more resonant with my personal beliefs than farming. When I wake in the morning, I feel good about myself. When I walk in my fields I see the positive effect on my community and environment. It is my belief that the more people see of their food system, the better equipped they will be to make intentional choices about what and from where they buy their food. My drive to farm comes not just from my passion for growing but from my desire to help to inspire change in others who meet me and interact with my farm.