Meet Andrew Mayo
We want to introduce Andrew Mayo, a young man who began helping us on the farm in May, and who we have come to rely on as a prime mover in ensuring the success of our growing and marketing efforts. During his interview, Andrew pledged to come to work each day with a can-do attitude, and he has more than fulfilled that promise. But first, let me put into context the importance of folks like Andrew in transforming our food system.
Just prior to World War II, we had some 31 million farmers. With the Post-War advent of industrial agriculture, we are now down to 2 million with the average age of 55. Machines have largely replaced farm labor, and cheap fuel and subsidized irrigation have resulted in our food coming from further and further away. Nineteen percent of our total fuel consumption is from agriculture, and 50 percent of our fruit, vegetables, and nuts come from California – a state suffering from prolonged droughts and threatened with devastating earthquakes. Clearly, this system focused on efficiency to create cheap food is not sustainable, and in the process of building this system we have sacrificed taste and nutrition.
Reflecting on the ten years since the publication of his Omnivore’s Dilemma, food author, Michael Pollan champions the changes that have taken place regarding the question of where does your food come from:
There are now more than 8,000 farmers markets in America, an increase of 180 percent since 2006. More than 4,000 school districts now have farm-to-school programs, a 430 percent increase since 2006, and the percentage of elementary school with gardens has doubled, to 26 percent….Sales of organic food have more than doubled since 2006, from $16.7 billion in 2006 to more than $40 billion today.
If we are to build a sustainable food system, we will need millions of new farmers willing to engage in the labor-intensive methods employed by small, sustainable farms. We will need well-trained young people who can engage in the complicated tasks that sustainable farming entails. They will need to be both intelligent and idealistic, but they will also need the tenacity to weather hot, grueling days, outsmart unwelcome farm pests and varmints, and overcome low margins. We don’t have millions yet, but there are lots and lots of young people interested in farming. A dozen or more have helped us get the farm up and running, and we have encountered hundreds of others at sustainable farm conferences and workshops and tours of our farm. Moreover, student farms are springing up at traditional liberal arts schools like Duke, Wake Forest, Elon, Guilford, and Appalachian State, and pioneering student farms are still flourishing at Warren Wilson and Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.
The prestige of local farmers is rising as their pictures are featured on the walls of up-scale grocery stores and their farm names are on the menus of prestigious restaurants. Again, Michael Pollan:
One of the most popular internships among college students today is to work on an organic farm. Most of these aspiring farmers will no doubt decide farming is not for them, but even those will emerge from the experience with a keener appreciation for what it takes to be a farmer and a greater willingness to pay a fair price for the important work farmers do. But some of these novices are evidently sticking it out: The total number of farmers in America, which had been in free fall for most of the 20th century as agriculture industrialized, has begun to rise again for the first time since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping track. This is encouraging news, since it’s hard to imagine creating a more sustainable and diversified agriculture without a great many more farmers on the land.
Andrew is one of those farm interns who gained experience at several farms and has returned to the land to pursue his passion and to live out his principles. It was at Central Carolina where I first met Andrew when we took classes at the nationally recognized Sustainable Agriculture Program. He had just returned from a summer working at a pioneer farming program in rural Japan learning traditional agricultural techniques and food ways. He graduated with honors from Central Carolina and worked at a Pittsboro sustainable farm that utilized bio dynamic techniques. Andrew went on to Appalachian State’s Sustainable Development program with a concentration in Agroecology* where he graduated with highest honors and assisted several homesteaders and farmers in the area.
Following his graduation Andrew moved to Durham where he became a bread baker at Loaf and among other duties sold for them at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market. There was a pull to get his hands in the soil again and to be in a more serene, rural environment that led Andrew our way.
There’s a lot that can be said about the day-to-leadership that Andrew brings, but it’s the higher elevation view of the role that Andrew is playing and that sustainable farms like ours need that I would like to emphasize. We need both intelligence and skill in working the land – this work is complicated and challenging. We need the nose-to-the-grindstone persistence in good weather and bad as well as the amiable qualities that engender teamwork and good customer relations. We need strategic thinking as well as attention to detail. These are all attributes that Andrew brings.
As our farm makes progress with the help of a person like Andrew, our nation’s transition to a sustainable food system also needs to progress. To get there we will need a lot more sustainable farms and a lot more Andrews.
According to Andrew, “One of the exciting things of being involved in this farming endeavor is seeing up close the many ways our food system is changing, from the rapid multiplication of small farms, to the growing number of inspired peers I have met, to the principled and enthusiastic support of customers. The career path of farming does not look like it used to, and hasn’t quite stabilized in a new way; we are all learning how to make these new models of food production and distribution viable.
*Agroecology- the ecology of the farm, studying agriculture in the context of its biological, chemical, and social science.