I study agriculture/food policy at Rutgers University, a large land grant school in New Jersey. Most of my peers in plant science related disciplines are focused on studying turf grass management and have little interest in pursing fruit and vegetable production as a career. More extension research dollars go to studying turf and ornamental nursery crops. Recently, especially this past semester, there has been a noticeable increase in, as one of my professors likes to refer to it: ‘real farming.’ The head of my department tells me that the university is offering courses that they have not taught in decades: courses like orchard fruit production and grain crops. I think my university is still a ways from offering a pomology major again, but there is definitely a new awareness of sustainable agriculture and organic farming. The key is finding a way to not only get young people interested and exposed to agriculture but help show them how to grow fruits/vegetables/cereals and make that a desired career.
There is interest, but not necessarily know-how. I manage a ‘student’ garden club of fifty large plots. The reason ‘student’ is in quotes is that the club only has two (not including myself) undergraduate student members. Instead, most club members are international graduate students, faculty/staff, and alumni. As a result, our gardens have an interesting mix of plants from different cultures and many different languages are spoken. The only demographic that is most visibly missing is the white, dreadlocked, vegan college student. Every year, I get requests from students with no gardening experience asking for plots. Once I give them a plot assignment and the reality of weed and pest pressure sets in, they disappear. Now a lot of this is my fault in not really teaching new, inexperienced members. I promise that this Spring I will do a better job of working with my peers. There is whole generation of young people interested in sustainable agriculture, but they have a lot to learn.