In the urban setting of Arlington, Virginia where I grew up, there is little attention paid to farming. Most residents only think about food in terms of tidy packaging at the grocery store, or served on a plate at their favorite restaurant. So it’s no wonder that my family and friends react with surprise when I share my interest in studying agriculture. The two questions that everyone asks are “Agriculture? As in, farming?” and “Huh, how did you get into that?”.
I was first introduced to an actual farm during summer camp at a dairy farm in an idyllic valley in Pennsylvania. It was an unexpected interest, considering that at twelve years old my biggest experience with cows was counting them outside of car windows. Nevertheless, my parents humored me, and off to camp I went. Throughout that summer, I learned how to care for a wide variety of animals, ranging from chickens to cows. It was at this camp that I first realized the importance and dedication of farmers.
During the subsequent school years, I missed my connection to the farm. I began searching for further opportunities to explore agriculture. In the spring of last year, I discovered that a new farmers’ market was opening at my old elementary school. I contacted the project leader and joined the market committee; a group of volunteers who organized all the logistics of the market. I was the most inexperienced member, as well as the only person below the age of forty, but I was eager to learn and contribute as much as I could. During my time with the market, the presence of a community that supported sustainable and organic farming inspired me. However, I also became concerned by the obstacles facing this community, such as providing greater accessibility to local produce for low-income residents.
My involvement with the farmers’ market grew my desire to experience working as a field hand on a farm. In June, I was able to have that opportunity as an intern at an organic flower and herb farm in Lancaster, PA. During the four weeks I worked there, I was involved in all stages of production, including planting, weeding, harvesting, and packaging. I was able to work in a drying room as well as a field, as this farm crafted and sold their own herbal medicines. Despite expecting plenty of hard work, I was still surprised by just how much knowledge, care, and labor was required to ensure the success of the farm. While at the farm, I not only learned about widely applicable concepts like organic weed control, but also more niche practices pertaining to herbal medicine.
I had the opportunity to intern at SoAR this summer and was introduced to yet another side of agriculture: research. I have learned of scientists’ ability to aid farms like the one I worked on by increasing their efficiency and decreasing their environmental costs. The challenges to food security that the world will face in the coming years due to growing population and climate change can only be addressed through scientific research. SoAR’s mission to increase federal funding for researchers directly addresses the need for innovation and progress in agricultural systems.
Working at SoAR, as well as farming and volunteering, has shown me just how little I know about domestic and global food systems. For this reason, I am thrilled to begin studying Environmental Management in Agriculture at the University of Florida.