Sustainable Food and Farming Jobs

annaliseIf you listen to the news these days, everyone is talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.   And indeed opportunities in some fields are up!  Still…. for graduating seniors from colleges and universities, the stress of finding work remains high – particularly given the cost of their education.

Students are (appropriately) asking if the value of a college education is worth the cost.

I’m one of the academic advisers for students in our Sustainable Food and Farming program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and I often get asked – so will I be able to get a job when I graduate?

My response is “yes”  and here is a link to some guidance on how to find work – but more importantly… when students graduate from UMass they will be prepared to create good work that is needed on the planet.  There is a difference between simply “finding a job” and creating good work, and this is true for traditional students who graduate from our on-campus program as well as career-changers who graduate from one of our online programs.

We are, in fact, finding more and more students interested in online education, so we now offer a fully online Associate of Sciences degree and fully online Bachelor of Sciences degree, along with our 15-credit Certificate.  “Getting a job” is of concern to all of our grads and we support them in their search.  At the same time, we ask them to think more deeply about the difference between a job and creating good work.

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You may earn a college degree on campus or online


Getting a Job

There’s a difference between “getting a job” immediately after graduation and creating good work.  A senior searching for a job may or may not find immediate employment in their field of study.   But a “job” may not be the best choice for everyone!  In fact, many of the jobs we will be doing in ten years may not even exist today.  The world is changing fast and opportunities are being created all the time.  “What job will I get after college?” is an important but incomplete question.

A more important question is “….how are we going to live?” And especially, how are we going to live in a world in which the industrial food system is collapsing?  Students in our program learn to see crisis as an opportunity for creating their own good work.  And the emerging local and sustainable food system is a great place to create good work!  While many of our grads are focused on food production and marketing, even more are focused on farm-based education, public policy and community development.  This is indeed an exciting time to imagine new possibilities!

Creating Good Work

goodworkThe great British economist, E.F. Schumacher, author of the classic text Small is Beautiful, wrote a lovely little book called Good Work about this topic.  According to Schumacher, good work needs to provide for three things.  It should:

1…provide a decent living (food, clothing, housing etc.).
2…enable the worker to use and perfect their native gifts.
3…allow the worker the opportunity to serve, collaborate and work with other      people to free us from our inborn egocentricity.

Finding a job may serve the first need without addressing the other two.  When I ask my students if their parents are happy in their work, there is often a hesitation.  I often hear that “Dad seems okay and makes a good living – but you know he always wanted to …. (fill in the blank).

I’m sure many adults in the workforce are fulfilled by their work and challenged in a way that “frees them from their inborn egocentricity.”   But frankly, many are not.   We need good work to provide us with a reason for being and a sense of belonging if we want to be happy.

Robert Frost wrote in “Two Tramps at Mudtime”

My object in living is to unite…

My avocation and my vocation…

Our dream should be to unite our avocation (that which we love) and our vocation (that which we do).  While some students are trained for entry level jobs, students who want to learn to thrive in this new world learn how to learn.  They meet entrepreneurs who have followed their own dream and are busy creating new businesses, non-profit organizations, or are self-employed.  They are introduced to systems thinking, grant WWOOFwriting, and holistic decision-making.  They are awarded academic credit for apprenticeships or for gaining experience by “wwoofing” in  the U.S. and around the world.

This is not to deny the value of a job that “provides a decent living.”  But money is not enough.  Even during the Great Depression when the unemployment rate exceeded 25%, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stated in his 1933 presidential inaugural address:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.  The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of …. profits.  These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.”

To Minister to Ourselves and Others

I encourage students not to sell themselves short but to articulate and pursue their dream.  I encourage them to think about how they might be useful – to themselves and their families – but also to others and the planet.  I often share a hard hitting essay by Derrick Jensen titled Who Are You?, in which he quotes an old friend of mine, Carolyn Raffensperger, who advises us to ask what is the biggest and most important challenge we can address with our gifts and skills.  Like E.F. Schumacher, Carolyn recognizes that to be fulfilled and happy we must not only provide for our own living – we  must “minister to ourselves and others.

Good work will provide us with a living, allow us to perfect our gifts, and perhaps most importantly…

…good work will allow us to be useful to others and the planet.

There is much work to be done on a planet facing the “perfect storm” of climate change, peak oil and global pandemic.  Business as usual is not enough.  We know that crisis creates opportunity for those willing to try something new.

At a time when the federal government seems intent on stimulating the economy by encouraging new industrial jobs – we need to learn how to create good work by following our heart as well as our intellect and focusing on what is needed to create a more sustainable world.


For more thoughts on finding good work after college, see:

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