Inspiring the next generation of farmers — Joseph Heckman on raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt as guest speaker

From The Complete Patient blog:

Michael Schmidt and Joseph Heckman at Rutgers University a few months ago. Photo via The Complete Patient blog.

“I have long felt that one of the keys to breaking through the regulatory roadblocks to easily accessing nutrient-dense foods like raw dairy is for farmers to flood the market with products the regulators want to keep from us. For that to happen, though, there need to be enough farmers willing to make the commitment and take the risks.

Farming has been a dying profession for many years, though. How are would-be farmers to be attracted away from all the career options available to take up sustainable farming? One way is for role models to emerge who can set the kind of example that inspires others to want to do the same.

In this guest post, Rutgers University professor Joseph Heckman describes how Michael Schmidt, in one appearance at Rutgers, became such a role model.

As many of today’s farmers approach retirement, one wonders about the next generation. At Rutgers University, where I teach several courses in agriculture, I have responsibility for providing meaningful learning experiences for future farmers.

My most popular course, Organic Crop Production, attracts a diversity of students ranging from biology to liberal arts majors. Very few students have an agricultural background.  Last semester, out of the 47 students in my class, 10 said they want to go into farming, and among those future farmers not one grew up on a farm.  Without preconceived notions about the ways of the farm, students are perhaps more open to alternative ways of farming, like organic….”

“….Hosting Michael Schmidt was a most memorable experience because the student response was so overwhelmingly positive.  Michael began his lecture by providing an overview of Biodynamic Farming.  He also talked about his raw milk cow share model.  This was followed by a showing of the documentary Milk War, which relates a lone farmer’s struggle to win approval for raw milk in Canada, and for food rights and human rights in general.

At the end of the film, students thundered with applause.  Michael answered questions and lead a discussion.  Comments from students included, “Before I listened to him I never thought I would even contemplate raw milk. After listening to Mr. Schmidt, I felt very comfortable with the idea”. And “Best Talk EVER!  It was like having a celebrity in class.  He was so smart and well-spoken and very inspiring.  I felt energized when we left.  I would love to visit and maybe intern on his farm.”

The most exciting organic trend is teaching young people about the emerging economic opportunities in farming.  Not teaching commodity farming, where one must “get big or get out,” but artisanal farming.  It is here where community supported agriculture, cow shares, and other direct farm-to-people relationships have opened up new business opportunities.  It is being spurred on by human hunger for farm fresh foods of exceptional quality….”

Read it all on The Complete Patient blog.

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