Magazine article Psychology Today

(Agri)culture Shock

Magazine article Psychology Today

(Agri)culture Shock

Article excerpt

WHEN PEOPLE ASK Robin Apton what her two sons do, she happily tells them that one is a lawyer and one is an organic farmer. "They're all intrigued by the farmer," she says."Nobody asks me anything about the attorney?'

But when Max Apton initial ly announced that he had quit his job in journalism to farm-in Hawaii, then in Vermont, now in an exurb of New York-she didn't speak to him for two weeks. And that was after Robin "finally stopped crying on the kitchen floor," she now admits. Her emotional response had more to do with the fact that he was moving far away than with what he was planning to do there, but she was plenty concerned about that, too: "To be perfectly honest, I was just hoping he wasn't going to Hawaii to learn how to grow pot."

Max is one iff a fast-growing group of young people from professional-class families who, schooled at elite colleges that pour graduates into law, medicine, and business, are now looking to make their lives from the land. Parents often respond with surprise, confusion, and a lot of skepticism. After all, many have been hyperinvolved in their kids' schooling for a long time and nurtured entirely different dreams of their success.

It's just that the values they often instilled-independent thinking, creativity, passion, commitment to others-are play i ng out i n a way they never expected. Once they get over the shock, they often come through with support.

Apton was converted when she visited her son in Hawaii and then on a farm in Vermont and saw both his happiness and his deep commitment to the work. "This is someone who grew up in a very nice home in Westchester County," says Apton, herself an Ivy League graduate. "I was like, 'Wow, you're living in a trailer with no electricity. You must really want to be learning what you're learning.'"

Max, a University ofWisconsin grad, is now field manager at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, the epicenter of the farm-to-table movement in the East.

For many parents, the initial reaction stems from fear of the unknown. Without agriculture in their past-or with it at least a few generations removed-the typical concern for a child's well-being is refracted through traditional notions of farming: It's risky, physically demanding, and not notably lucrative or socially respected, although that is changing.

"It's not the easiest job in the world to make a living at," saysjacqueline Allen, whose daughter Danielle has farmed for 13 years. When it became clear that Danielle was set on her career path, Jacqueline mostly just wondered how it was going to work. "I didn't have farmingin my background, and I didn't know anybody who was a farmer," says Allen, who spent three decades in corporate marketing. "This is all new territory."

Danielle, who grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, sees the same attitude in the parents of friends and of the apprentices she hires. "They're not openly disapproving; they just don't totally understand."

Other parents fear exactly what they know all too well. Leah Penniman owns Soul Fire Farm with her husband, Jonah Vitale-Wolff, in upstate Grafton, New York, where they use the land as a vessel for social change by bringing diverse communities together. …

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