HOMEGROWN Life: Utility or Useless?

Reader Contribution by Farm Aid And Homegrown.Org
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People wonder what exactly farmers do in the winter, and oftentimes, they assume there isn’t much of anything for a farmer to do during the cold months at all. While it’s true that wintertime is the perfect season for farmers to take a vacation, literally (many farmers choose this time of the year to go out of town and have some fun) and figuratively (winter offers a nice respite from the year’s hard work), my experiences of urban farming in the cold months so far have been full of labor. 


The weather this year in particular has been freakishly warm in our area. Our mustard greens and other brassica stayed fresh in their beds as the frosts we suffered were mild in their severity. Sixty-degree days in December and January meant that we were outside working the soil, installing fence posts, weeding, harvesting, and repairing equipment.

Winter’s also the time we spend doing a lot of research. Right now for instance, we’re flipping through library books on dahlias and cut flower production. If we want to grow new varieties of any plant, flower, herb or fruit, it’s necessary that we research thoroughly how to grow it, and anticipate what could potentially go wrong. After all, we’re not only spending our money on these seeds, plants, tools and infrastructure – we’re also spending our time and hard work.


But is this effort worth it? The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that it’s not. They recently released a study naming Agriculture as the #1 most “useless” college degree, with Animal Sciences and Horticulture making the list at numbers 4 and 5, respectively.

I confess that I went to a college with a stellar Agriculture program, but honestly, back then all I did was chuckle at the country bumpkin hicks who flocked to that program. My attitude now however is significantly different.

While I don’t believe that anyone necessarily needs a degree in a farming-related field in order to successfully farm, I certainly wouldn’t classify studying courses like “Ethical Issues in Sustainable Agriculture” as useless.

Clearly the NACE considers “useless” degrees to be ones in which pay is low and availability of jobs is scarce. However, shouldn’t measuring the usefulness of an education take into account the actual benefits bestowed upon the person doing the studying? After all, I can’t think of anything in life more useful than honing the skills necessary to feed not only oneself, but the community-at-large as well.

  “I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, we grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”