With every generation, change comes. New people, new ideas, and new technology. Old paths are reshaped and redefined as new travelers pass through. In agriculture, the paths we walk are 15,000 years old, but some have become unrecognizable due to the changes we’ve made. The path of agriculture in the U.S. seems more like a conveyor belt now. We quickly move from seed to plant to fruit, without having time to appreciate the intricacies of our beautiful, fragrant tomatoes or our strong, hardy potatoes. Technology has given us the means to produce more than ever. It has certainly streamlined our agricultural experience, but has it improved our agricultural experience?
To be honest, I’m just as attached to technology as the next twenty-something. I email to stay in touch with people, I text plenty, and I’ve probably spent a few too many hours searching the web for things I don’t really need to know. The technology we have today is an incredible gift for communication, information sharing, and even growing food. But as we become less conscious of this technology or begin abusing its uses, it begins to shape the way we think. Having a conversation face-to-face becomes a hassle. Giving our full attention to someone becomes much more difficult.
Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, is a psychologist who studies the way technology affects how people interact. She says we’ve learned a new type of interaction—being “alone together” (see her TED talk video). We have the incredible ability to communicate with everyone and anyone, no matter our physical location. I could be eating dinner with a friend, but my mind could be connected with another friend across the country. Turkle says we might even end up “hiding from each other,” since we prefer to have control of what we say and when we say it, instead of having an improvised conversation.
What’s this have to do with farming? Well, I think the same thing is happening in our food system. As technology replaces the farm worker or food processor or chef, we become less and less connected with the food we eat. A lot of people in this country have begun to hide from their food. They no longer know about food, how it was grown, or where it’s from. This is understandable, because technology has replaced our connection to food. Even the average farmer is becoming more distant from the food (s)he is growing! Instead of kneeling close to the plants and putting their hands in the soil, they’re high above the plants in computerized tractors.
Many folks say this detachment is worth the huge amount of food grown on these thousand-acre farms. I’m just asking how far are we willing to go? Personally, I think an authentic connection to the food we eat and the people we meet is an important part of life. Growing food is a process that calls us to be present. It’s a time to connect to the land. It’s a time to communicate with each other. Not everyone can farm, but perhaps everyone can learn a little more about farming. As we’re doing in this blog, maybe we can use technology as a medium to talk about food or what it takes to grow food! We can create online networks for gardeners and farmers to support each other. With hydroponics and other technologies, we can even bring farming to the urban classroom.
To me, The New Farmer is someone who seeks a balance between old and new ways of growing food, using technology not to replace our connection with food, but to enhance it.
I would love to open a discussion around this topic, so if you’d like to contribute your thoughts, feel free to comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.