By Patty Mattern
Bicycles usually aren’t considered farm implements, but for three CFANS alumni, they’ll be a useful tool for promoting farming.
The team wants the tour to raise awareness about the future of farming and to generate more interest in farming among young people. So they will meet with farmers of all ages and gather their stories as they pedal their way along the Mississippi River route. They will visit with people in youth-led agricultural endeavors in each of the 10 states connected to the Mississippi River and convene four multi-day intergenerational dialogues that engage a host of food system participants to discuss common values and create community action plans.
“We want to hear what change older farmers have seen on the landscape and what their advice is to the next generation of farmers,” says Newell, who plans to integrate art-related work into their meetings.
The team will then share what they learn and the stories of farmers through frequent videos, photographs and blogs. “We need to target the stories at young people,” Simons says. “We really need more young people to become farmers.”
Simons and Newell are loosely modeling their bike tour after the Minnesota River/Lake Pepin Friendship Tours, which fostered a dialogue between conservationists and farmers about water quality in the lake and the river.
On their tour, Simons and Newell will connect with people on the Mississippi River downstream and upstream to learn about their hopes for the future of farming. They see the trip as an opportunity to explore the intersections of environmental sustainability, youth development and agriculture.
Two other cyclists will join them on the tour. Nate Joseph, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 2011 with a degree in environmental studies, lives in New Orleans and will bike the full journey. Another CFANS alum, Kiley Friedrich, who graduated in 2012 with a major in environmental sciences, policy and management and a major in global studies, will begin cycling with the team once they get to Prairie du Chien, Wis. Prior to that, Friedrich will be doing technical support while the team travels.
They see themselves as farming advocates. Many young people today may think of farming as a career track that their grandparents were on without ever considering it themselves, Simons says.
“We want to motivate young people to think about careers in farming for themselves today,” Simons says.
Some young people still are becoming farmers, of course. For example, Friedrich has worked on an organic community farm in Massachusetts. She’s excited that the Fresh Forks effort combines three of her loves: fresh water (the Mississippi River), food and cycling.
“I hope our journey generates conversations for people in our region about sustainable agriculture,” Friedrich said.
To learn about Fresh Forks efforts, go to: http://www.freshforks.org/