The myth that our food is grown on Old McDonald’s Farm is true in one respect: the “Old.” In 2002, the U.S. Agricultural Census reported that the average age of American farmers is 55 years. Generations of farmers’ sons and daughters have seeped out of rural communities in search of more prosperous lives. The next food crisis is fast approaching: we need millions of new farmers, food artisans, distributors, cooks, retailers, educators, agrarians and activists. We need them all to be creative, eco-literate and socially responsible, because they’re going to have to fix our broken food system and steward our ailing planet back to good health.
That’s a big task. They need our help, too.
Students and young workers are taking the lead in teaching their generation the origin and value of their food. It’s early to name this trend a full-blown “Youth Food Movement,” but the seeds are being sown. Aspiring farmers are searching for apprenticeships on the small farms of other families; Severine Fleming is documenting them in a film, The Greenhorns. Guerrilla teams of urban gardeners are reclaiming vacant lots for food. Green for All is building jobs for young people in the “green economy.” The Center for Land-Based Learning, Alemany Farm and others give urban and rural youth experience-based education on farms. The Real Food Challenge and the Student/Farmworker Alliance are organizing national campaigns to improve the purchasing practices of colleges and universities and are linking with larger movements for community justice. Slow Food on Campus is thriving. The theme of fall’s Terra Madre 2008 is the Youth Food Movement; 500 youth “delegates” will be convening at Slow Food’s headquarters in Italy for the event, and the largest and most ambitious delegation is young people from the U.S.
For this generation of young people, Slow Food Nation is a learning opportunity. The program to support the Youth Food Movement at Slow Food Nation aims to develop these networks of young people, provide them with new resources and link them to mentors in the greater food movement. Youth “delegates” are coming to Slow Food Nation from universities, farms and NGOs in every corner of the country. Their hope is to share that “A-ha!” moment when the impossible notion that there are others working, struggling and striving to bring slow food into schools and onto tables is suddenly an inevitable reality. Those who have a stake in the future of food are ready to take hold and plant it firmly in the ground.
The program to support the Youth Food Movement at Slow Food Nation will feature workshops, training sessions, social gatherings and a track through broader events like the Taste Pavilions and Changemakers Day. To learn more, please write Gordon Jenkins at gordon [at] slowfoodnation [dot] org.