Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Grad School, oh my - Visiting Boston University

While WWOOF-ing gives me something to plan for in the short term, what about one or two years down the road? Unlike Mr. Adam Greenman, I cannot afford to spend a decade WWOOF-ing the world, as much as I'd like to.

What I plan on doing is attending grad school. I'll probably apply, at the latest, next fall. Getting my Masters degree (and eventually, perhaps my doctorate) has long been a dream of mine. No, not even a dream, to be honest... I've always just taken it for granted that it would happen. It was just a question of finding the right course of study. And I've researched a ton of them, from Dramaturgy to German to Arts Administration to Non-Profit Management to Environmental Policy. Enough to know, certainly, what I was getting myself into by delving into a new area of post-baccalaureate investigation.

But I lucked out. Food Studies is an emerging academic field, and relatively few schools have programs devoted to it. Those few include the Steinhardt School at NYU, Tufts University, Boston University Metropolitan College, and Chatham University, to name a few. (Incidentally, the Association for the Study of Food and Society has a pretty comprehensive list of such programs, which is not limited to the United States.)

While I feel I can cross a few of those schools off the list (for example, Tufts University seems to have a decided scientific bent, which is not really what I'm going for), I am now in the process of starting a more intensive round of research... visiting them. And I had my first grad school visit last week, at Boston University.

To be honest, I didn't think I would like BU's program, which offers a Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy. It was started by Julia Childs and Jacque Pepin in 1989 (I think), and I figured it would be a more "culture and history" oriented kind of deal. Au contraire. I left the campus quite impressed with the diversity and scope of their program, as well as the changes that are coming down the pipes to make the degree more applicable to a wider range of Food Studiers.

For example, in my meeting with Professor Rachel Black (the woman who runs the program), I asked whether she felt that being in a city hampered students' ability to learn about agriculture and the more 'hands on' aspects of Food Studies. She told me about her plans in that direction, saying that she would be teaching an Urban Agriculture class next summer, which would be followed by an Urban Agriculture conference at the college in the Fall. She says she also encourages students to get internships at farms during the summer (as evidenced by an article about farm internships taped to her office door, with a note that said, "See me for more information!") She's also looking into working with BU to get land for the Gastronomy department to use as a garden, and/or creating an urban rooftop garden on top of one of the dorms.

While this remains something of a concern of mine, it's heartening to see the steps the department is taking. Plus, one of the big reasons I plan to WWOOF is to get practical experience, after all. Rather like an extended internship of my own design.

At any rate, I think it's safe to say that Boston University is in the running for me. More than in the running, really... I think I would be quite happy there. But more grad school visits are in the offing - I have plans to drop by Chatham University on my way home from AmeriCorps NCCC in November - and who knows how I will feel about them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Game Plan

So now that I have decided to actually WWOOF, the next year and half or so are starting to loom in a rather alarming way. I've made the big decision (What do I do next?) and now I have to start making those annoying little logistical ones (So... how do I actually do this?).

Frankly, the task is a daunting one. Let's start at the beginning: first and foremost, I need to decide where the heck I'm going. There are 195 countries in the world, give or take one or two (do we count Taiwan? What about Vatican City?), and 99 of those host WWOOF-ers. But while I would love to backpack my way across international organic landscapes, learning how to say "permaculture" in seventeen different languages , there are two big reasons why I won't.

First: the money. I do not have much of it, and I would like to not spend all of what I have. Second: I am interested in learning about the issues surrounding the agricultural systems of this country, where I intend to live and work and play and eat for all my days. So it makes sense, financially and for my future career, to stay here in the US of A.

Not that this simplifies things, really. I go to the WWOOF USA website and what do I find but a giant map of the Fifty Nifty United States. Fifty. Five-Zero. That's a lot of states, people. And while I may pretend to be whimsical and happy-go-lucky in my day to day meanderings, there is no way I'm pulling a Doctor Doolittle and going wherever my finger blindly falls in the atlas.

Rather than approaching this from the outside, I think I need to take it the opposite direction, and examine my own needs. What are my reasons for WWOOF-ing? What do I hope to gain? If I identify the "why" for myself, I can use that to whittle away at the myriad farms and organizations out there, and find the ones that address what I'm specifically interested in.

So here are my thoughts, such as they are:

Variety is the spice of life. I don't just want to plant corn for a year (although I do love corn). I want to sample a broad swath of what's available the organic agriculture horizon, working in a multitude of different areas. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Ranches (or anywhere with livestock, really)
  • Dairy farms
  • Orchards
  • "Traditional" farms with your average produce
  • Winery
  • Apiary (a.k.a. a bee farm)
  • Wherever I can tap trees and make maple syrup
Being skilled and savvy. Related to the above is another list, which grows longer daily, of skills I'd like to learn along the way. How to make cheese. How to can tomatoes. How to build a fence. Increase my upper arm strength by chopping wood. Learn the basics of gardening. Dry herbs. Milk cows. Collect eggs from chickens.

Increase my organic know-how. Well, that's the whole reason I'm doing this, after all. Ultimately, I want to get my Master's in Food Studies (more on that eventually). What better way to learn about the issues facing today's organic farmer and the industry of organic and sustainable agriculture than to actually go out and do it? By WWOOF-ing, I will meet people who are invested in this industry and this movement. I can talk to farmers and the future leaders of the organic initaitive, make connections, and learn first-hand what is out there and what needs to change.

Gotta sow those wild oats. I'm young and limber (ish). I can handle sleeping on the ground and spending a few weeks bent over a row of beets. Plus, I need stories to tell my grandkids.

So - new game plan:
  • Make list of the types of farms I want to visit and learn more about (started above)
  • Defile the snowy-white screen of my untouched farm spreadsheet with information about interesting-looking organic farms
  • Contact farmers and learn more - what kind of accomodations are available, what tasks will I do, are there cows around (I like cows), are there cats (I like cats too), etc.
  • Create a loose itinerary that takes into account all of the above