Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future
“Good luck. You will need it.” These words by Will Harris, a fourth-generation farmer in Georgia, are perhaps the perfect summary of Letters to a Young Farmer. The 36 pieces collected here are a loud call of good will for the half-million beginning farmers in the United States.
These letters and essays lay bare the costs and struggles of running a farm, honor the emotional weight of feeding a nation, acknowledge that corporate input has changed the way that generations of farmers have worked – and not for the better.
Through all the warnings in these pieces, however, there persists the central wish – the urgent need – for young farmers to be successful, and the gratitude owed to anyone willing to work the soil. Author Barbara Kingsolver praises young farmers with this reminder: “…however calloused your hands, however grimy the uniform, however your back may ache, you are a professional. Your vocation is creative, necessary, and intellectually demanding.”
If you’re reading Letters to a Young Farmer, you probably already know: we’re all in this together. Farmers growing food for their communities, grown with sustainable practices and sold at farm stands and nearby farmers markets – this is a trend we all must support for the health of the land and ourselves. This book is a wonderful tribute to those who have volunteered to take hold of the future and nurture it.
Enjoy this excerpt from Alice Waters’ letter – a grateful expression of how a farmer and a chef came to work in harmony.
“Dear young farmer,
I want to start by saying “thank you.” Thank you for choosing to be a farmer and for choosing to take care of the planet. Thank you for dedicating yourself to feeding us all. And thank you, too, for being the inspiration for my restaurant—indeed, for my life’s work. You are my partner in change. Forty-four years ago, when I first opened Chez Panisse, I could never have imagined that my restaurant would be anything more than a small neighborhood place for my friends to gather and talk politics.
Fifteen years into the life of the restaurant, we began to feel the need to connect more deeply with a farmer and were looking for a farm of our own. We were incredibly fortunate that Bob Cannard, a gifted farmer, wanted to work with us alone. By committing to buying everything that he grew, we were able to guarantee his livelihood. In turn, he taught us to treasure the land; from him we learned about real nourishment, about the rhythms not just of the seasons but of the years.
We became extensions of each other—what Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, calls “coproducers.” Petrini also believes that farmers are the “intellectuals of the land.” They have the practical experience and rarefied knowledge to choose just the right seeds for a particular place, to plant them in the most advantageous way, and then to tend the plants and bring them to their perfect moment of ripeness.
This is what taste is all about. And it is taste fundamentally that makes my work irresistible and your work vital. I always say that farming is at least 85 percent of cooking, because it is taste that will truly wake people up and bring them back to their senses and back to the land.”
Alice Waters is a chef, food activist, and the founder and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California. In 1995 she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project. She went on to conceive and help create the Yale Sustainable Food Project at Yale University and the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome. In 2015 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.
Excerpt from Letters to a Young Farmer used with permission from Princeton Architectural Press, ©2017.