There has been a lot of coverage in the news lately about how hard it is to find a job, especially as a college graduate with less professional skills than someone who has been laid off with ten-years of experience. I have been thinking about this issue since I recently finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts. Unlike the discouraging new stories and conversations with friends who have also graduated and are unable to find work, I am overwhelmed with how many exciting opportunities are available out there.
Why is my situation different from other young adults? We all receive the same degree when we leave college, just from different areas of study. So, why do I have more options than my peers? I think it is because of what my interests are, the kinds of skills I have, and how I plan to approach life after college. My focus is unique because I designed my own major and labeled it Sustainability and Environmental Justice.
Four years ago when I told a family member that I planned to study the environment in college, he laughed and promised me there was no money to make with my interest. I took his suggestion with less than a grain of salt and steadily pushed forward onto a path driven by idealism, passion, hope, and a supportive community. I had a feeling deep down that my decision to learn how people can live in harmony with the Earth was not only crucial in order to turn around a culture addicted to consumerism, but also fundamental for staying true to myself in an academic environment.
As the economy is collapsing and President Obama is pushing to rebuild it with green jobs, I am giving myself a pat on the back and feeling proud of the direction my life is moving in. It is becoming more obvious that if a person’s line of work does not have an environmental motive, it may not be very successful in the long run. Having a vision for the future is how I landed my career.
I never thought I’d say, “I am going to be a farmer when I grow up,” but this profession fulfills me. I started working for a small goat dairy in Monterey, MA called Rawson Brook Farm the day after classes ended. Growing up in the Pioneer Valley, I was surrounded by exciting potential jobs on CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), orchards, trail crews, community gardens, and green landscaping crews. If I didn’t want to physically exert myself or I needed a job for the winter months, there were always vegetarian cafés, writing for newspapers, taking photos for magazines, or working for a non-profit that was in some way related to sustainability (there are countless). I am confident that my skills, time, and ideas will always be valued in the workplace regardless of the national economic situation.
Saturday May 23 The New York Times published an article titled, “Many Summer Internships Are Going Organic.” The article highlights the increase of students working on organic farms in the summer who are “armed with little more than soft hands and dog-eared copies of Michael Pollan’s ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma.’” I am one of those young farmers who plans to start my own farm someday so I can eat fresh food, live closely connected to nature, and create social change through my actions. Sustainable agriculture unites many of my passions and allows me to live a holistic lifestyle without relying as much on exploitative systems wrapped up in greed for profit.
I can relate to many of the young farmers interviewed for the article, although we all have different reasons for farming. We are part of a movement that demands healthy, fresh, affordable, sustainably raised food. Many social movements have been rooted in food and this one has potential to make massive social change. I have found something I feel connected to and I know I am a strong leader in this movement. It is very empowering to finish college and be somewhere I am valued.
Listening to Colombia University graduate Emma Jacobs’ tell her story on NPR about not being able to find a job and feeling exhausted is hard to hear when I know there is so much work that needs to be done. I am not urging everyone to pick up a pitchfork, grab a wheelbarrow and start a garden, but I do have some ideas for my peers who are discouraged with the job market. I know I don’t want an office job where I sit at a desk from 9-5 Monday through Friday. I want to work outside and use my body to accomplish tasks with visible results.
Echoing President Obama’s words during a speech at a graduation ceremony this spring, we’re going to have to take our attention off salaries and focus more on what really matters. I urge people to ponder what is meaningful to them after college so they can figure out how to follow their hearts, rather than money. I hope someday the jobs I seek in agriculture and sustainability will be equally valued as doctor, lawyer, and CEO positions. All jobs are important, but it is time to re-evaluate how each one can contribute to a sustainable future where people are paid livable wages doing what they love.
My advice to young people is to think outside the box and just do what you are passionate about. If there isn’t a job that fits your interest, then create one. As young people, we are able to see the big picture and hold onto our idealism to lead future generations. We can work with adults and elders to build an economy that is socially just and ecologically minded. The world depends on our bold thinking, new ideas, and brilliant minds. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”