Around 20 years ago, the French university system was revolutionized with the aim of rejuvenating the aging teaching body, which had been causing problems not just related to employment, but also to a whole culture and vision of teaching. In a few years the system renewed itself, benefiting everyone.
Now, European agriculture is in a similar situation: few operators, with a high average age, a culture tied to past decades and scant prospects for the future. Now, add to this the increasingly depressing statistics on youth unemployment. It would seem like a classic case of putting two and two together: agriculture needs young people and young people need work. It seems logical that the first concern of policies should be to assist young people (but also those in their 40s and 50s who have been stagnating without a job for years or who have recently lost a position previously considered “safe”) get into agriculture.
Attempts are being made by some. For example, two graduates from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo. One, Nicola del Vecchio, returned to Molise to start a business on his family’s land, and the other, Carlo Fiorani, went back to Lombardy to restart an abandoned farm based on criteria of sustainability. I don’t know when they will start to break even, but I know that seeing them sell their products (bread, vegetables, fruit, cheeses and cured meats) or offer them for tasting and hearing the pride, mixed with amazement, in their voices when they say “I made this” gives me a sense of a solid future being built with tangible, extraordinary efforts, as well as courage and audacious dreams, in this era in which dreaming can be seen as an activity for losers.
Among the young people, some start from zero: no farming family behind them, no land, no capital. Sometimes even no skills, but plenty of curiosity, passion, faith, humility and gratitude towards anyone who can help out, teach, join in a network. Perhaps this is the ace up the sleeve of the younger generation: they network together, ask for training and information, use neighbors or social networks, and in the end they manage to work out why they shouldn’t have pruned when they did or why they shouldn’t work the bread in that way. And most of all they know many different things and decide to dedicate themselves to agriculture, bringing what they know and receiving whatever anyone wants to teach them. The new economy is strengthened when these young farmers know how to work throughout the whole production chain.
In order to respond to their needs, in the coming months the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo will be starting apprenticeship courses for cured meat producers, microbrewers, bread bakers and cheese agers.
Because it is by taking food as a starting point that we can change the world, improving the environment, our health and the quality of life for everyone.
From La Repubblica, January 18, 2013