Quarantined in my cramped college apartment in the city, my mind drifts back to my considerably more spacious roots. I grew up on my family’s grass-fed beef farm, nearly 300 acres of lush, permanent pasture and preserved prairie and woodland in the drumlin region of Southeastern Wisconsin.
I cherish those childhood farm memories; everything from the cool summer evenings I spent helping my mom put up fences and move cattle to the sweltering afternoons trimming invasive species out of our prairie. Not all my farm memories are picturesque or rosy, but every one of them taught me a lesson that I’m better off for learning.
I wasn’t always so grateful to be a farm kid. Middle school, especially, invited a lot of animosity. I was jealous of my friends who could walk to each other’s houses or to school – what luxury! Not to mention the faster internet and smaller chore list. But what I couldn’t see then was that my time outside on the farm was teaching me so much more than four bars of LTE and the free time to use it ever could. The obvious lessons were how to work hard and be practical, but that’s on the resume of every farm kid. My most valuable realization was that our food system is complex, and that it’s strongest when supported by small and mid-sized family farms producing food that’s good for people and planet.
That realization brings me to where I am today, studying Environmental Science, Policy, & Management and Journalism to prepare myself for a future in agricultural policy. Beyond that, I want to work with farmers, legislators, and scientists to create an agricultural industry where farmers earn a fair price for their products so farming can once again be a viable lifestyle for small and mid-sized producers. That also means creating policies that encourage sustainable farming practices so we can rely on our natural resources far into the future.
It turns out that after a childhood immersed in agriculture, I can’t uproot myself from farming. I’m too aware of the problems within our agricultural and food systems to step aside. At the grocery store, I think about how the farmers who produced the milk are struggling to keep their operations afloat. And what about that cereal; did nutrients from the corn fields where it originates leech into and compromise ground or surface water?
Of course, it’s not just the problems that inspire me, it’s love. I’m passionate about family agriculture and believe in the power of regenerative farming to grow food that benefits farmers, consumers, and our environment. I want generations of children after me to grow up on farms and be empowered by the value of food and the people and land that produce it. After all – whether in times of prosperity or crisis – empowering youth is key to discovering the solutions we need in our food systems and beyond.
Written by Guest Author, Jessica Jurcek who is studying Environmental Science, Policy, & Management and Journalism at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.