Sustainable agriculture jobs after college?

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If you listen to the news these days, everyone is talking about jobs, jobs, jobs (the lack of them).  Although the unemployment rate is dropping, it’s still a pretty depressing picture for recent college grads (as well as anyone else just entering the workforce).  Students (and parents) are asking if the value of a college education is worth the cost. 

Good question!

I’m the academic adviser for students in our Sustainable Food and Farming program at the University of Massachusetts and I often get asked by parents – so will my kid get a job when they graduate?  My response is “maybe” – but if they graduate from UMass they will be prepared to create good work that is needed on the planet. This may not be the most satisfying answer for a parent – but in a rapidly changing world, its honest.

Getting a Job

There’s a difference between “getting a job” after graduation and creating good work.  We know that there are not enough jobs for everyone in the U.S. who wants to work today – but there is plenty of good work that MUST be done.  A graduating senior searching for a job may or may not find employment.  Those who graduate with a degree in Sustainable Food and Farming have had some luck searching these lists:

So, there are jobs in sustainable food and farming.  Interestingly, one of the options suggested in the blog post “Can’t find a job? Six alternatives” is working on a farm.  Some of our students in fact, do want to farm, but many are also interested in education, public policy, advocacy and community development related to food and farming.

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.What job will I get after college?” is a self-limiting question.  A more important question (that is addressed in an article about “Jobs of the Future“) 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.

Creating Good Work

The 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).  We should “love what we do and do what we love.”

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 writing, 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%, Franklyn 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… 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 and others.”

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 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 economic crisis.  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 focusing on what is really needed.  This will require creativity, sacrifice and the willingness to learn from our mistakes.  But what other choice do we have – really?

For Part II of this blog, see http://johngerber.world.edu/2015/01/06/future-work/

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See “Finding Good Work” for more links to work opportunities and internships.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts.  To get a college degree see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming or earn a 15 credit Certificate from UMass.