Pad Thai and Farming: Can a Modern Woman Really Have It All?

by Dayna Burtness, Midwest Fellow

            During my first few weeks as a fellow, I made the
somewhat painful decision not
to return to manage the college farm I co-founded
at my alma mater, St. Olaf
College in Northfield,
MN.  STOGROW farm is in its
fifth successful season selling produce to the Bon Appétit cafe on campus, but
its development is limited by the five student farmers having to stretch
themselves between farming and classes during the spring and
fall.  I was
all set to move to Northfield–a delightful
small town an hour south of Minneapolis–at
the end of my fellowship, help the farm expand up to several acres, and live
happily ever after selling veggies to Bon Appétit as the STOGROW lead farmer.
            The only problem was that even though Northfield is home to
great people, an awesome co-op, and two Bon Appétit college cafes, it's still a
small town.  There’s no Thai food, no salsa dancing hotspots, and
more importantly, none of my best friends or family. I'm very much a
twenty-something, so while farming is my dream, there are certain things about
city life I'm not willing to give up just yet. So even though it's my baby and
I miss it, I gave up returning to STOGROW for at least a few years.

            I can't be the only young farmer who feels this
tension between city and rural living.  Maybe the recent deluge of twenty-
and thirty-somethings practicing urban homesteading, rooftop agriculture and
aquaponics is the result of others trying to satisfy their green thumbs and
feed their pad thai addiction. I know I've already hatched plans to start a
rooftop farm on top of my apartment building!
            How young people make a home for themselves within
agriculture is important given that the average age of farmers is 57, up from
55 in 2002.  Bon Appétit has been buying from local farmers since 1999 through their Farm to Fork program and
encouraging student farmers, so I hope
to spend time thinking about how Bon Appétit can support innovative, young growers
in the city. Urban ag is certainly here to stay!