swiss cheese

When most of us think of Swiss cheese we think of creamy, holey slices on our ham sandwiches. The truth is, Swiss cheeses are as diverse as cheeses anywhere else, coming in all shapes, sizes, forms, and textures. Most common are the traditional Alpine varieties that come in gigantic wheels of sweet, nutty, calcium-rich, deliciousness from which we in America have singularized into those "Swiss" sandwich slices. Recently, photographers Fabian Scheffold and István Vizner have been tromping around the beautiful Swiss countryside photographing these cheese makers. Their description of the cheese landscape in Switzerland sums up the attitude of most artisan cheese makers anywhere:

"The Book about Swiss Cheese Makers began as an editorial project for a journalist friend. " I expected this to be an agricultural trip, meeting people who make a living through the production of cheese in a more or less industrial way, " Scheffold confesses."But fare(sic) from it: I met unorthodox lateral thinkers, visionary fellows, modest canny and successful people living and working in some of the most spectacular landscapes of Switzerland. Some sell their products abroad, inventing a new cheese every other month, some work exactly as they have learned from their fathers, now sometimes just selling to hikers visiting their remote location by chance. But all of them seemed to follow an individual vision they are not willing to betray for growth and money."

I believe that this quotation is an example of an excellent and honest observation of the appeal of artisan cheese making and artisan farming in general (not just in Switzerland) and why so many young people are drawn toward it as a valid career option. We have become terribly jaded by the consequences of an endless pursuit of money. I recently watched the 1980's film Wall Street, made by Oliver Stone as a kind of modern morality tale about the perils of big money. Despite the creative intentions for the film, the reaction of most young, upstart business people at the time was that the film's villain, Gordon Gekko, was a hero, calling out to young businesspeople and showing them the unqualified pleasures of making gobs of money, regardless of the shady ways and shaky ethics this pursuit necessitates. I wonder now, though, in a world with Etsy in it and the New York Times doing pieces on people like this as real business, if Gordon Gekko's famous quotations would fly: "I don't create, I own."

With some, it probably always will, but it seems that the incoming generations are placing a higher value on the benefits of the qualitative aspects of life: a vision that is uniquely their own that attempts to define what a good product and process is over which product and process gives the most economic gain. There is a strong pull among young folks to create for a living over creating money in pursuit of owning for a living. Along with this notion comes the idea that a business is more than a money-generating enterprise. It can have multiple bottom lines. Businesses are accounting for triple bottom lines more and more, looking out for things like impact on people and environmental impact alongside profits. Multiple bottom lines can generate a variety of tangible and intangible values that the business creates and is responsible for; it is at once more complex and diverse than the simple profit bottom line, and yet can yield a drastic cut in the chaos of running a business. It can force it to slow down and can limit the business in helpful ways. In other words, multiple bottom lines can close doors to certain options, making the path that the business needs to take much clearer. One thing this means is that a business often has to be clear about how big it will get from the outset: when a business has unchecked growth it is often at the expense of either people, the environment, or both. We've seen the results of the illusion of infinite growth both in economics and in agriculture. It ends in disaster. That an entrepreneur and business person can draw a hard line about how big his or her company can grow and still be hugely successful and economically viable isn't a new thought in America, but the increased traction is. And it's encouraging. Let's hope we can all become Swiss cheese makers.

With these thoughts in mind, I leave you with a lovely piece from the website Civil Eats, the Young Farmer's Manifesto:

Many of us never meant to become farmers. We had ambitions to enter the world as accountants or lawyers or teachers or some other clean, respectable professional. We never really thought about the origins of our food; we always knew that the supermarket shelves would fill themselves, that food came in boxes or cans ready to serve and that farmers were simply one dimensional photographs in the mix of a hot new marketing campaign.
Farming was at best some idyllic retirement scheme, never a seriously considered career possibility.
But then something happened. In the previously steady route of our lives, a shift occurred. The soil moved under us somehow, got stuck in the creases of our pants, in the ridges of our shoes, in the lines of our palms. Suddenly white picket fences, situation comedies and mutual fund returns didn’t seem so interesting anymore…(Read More)

The Mad Farmer Liberation is happening…

so, apparently, we're living the dream

At least according to the Huffington Post:

Is Becoming a Farmer the New American Dream?
by Makenna Goodman

In the post-Omnivore's Dilemma reality, where farmer Joel Salatin is known far outside his county, it doesn't take a genius to say it: farming has totally blown up.
What I mean is, alongside the cultural idolization of growing your own, there has been a notable increase in college graduates who opt to spend their first year out of college on a farm. These, mind you, tend to include (but are not limited to) folks who could otherwise get jobs in the film, art, banking, engineering, psychology, academic, etc. worlds--if they need a job at all. But more than just recent graduates; there is a growing number of young people opting out of school altogether, or on the flip side, actually up and leaving the corporate world after years to start farms, collectives, co-operatives, and even communes. There are kids quitting their high-level jobs in the city, moving to small-scale farms or homesteads in Vermont, and haying their butts off for no pay other than a roof and food (like my friend who worked at the #1 restaurant in NYC, and now picks squash blossoms in South Royalton, VT). And there are a number of flush youths who are cashing in their trust funds--in some cases--for cows. But why? Because unless you invest in a big-organic company that sells to WalMart, there's not much money in farming. It's a touch-and-go kind of life, incumbent on the weather, commitment, responsibility, and hard work. In this economic climate, especially--look at all the dairy farms going under--why is farming becoming a desirable life for young people who have the luxury of choice?
Some might say it's a passing trend, like flannel shirts in Williamsburg. Some might say it's because there's a dearth of "real" jobs, and farming is a good interim experience until the economy perks up. But perhaps it's something more profound: you know, a deeper desire to get back to the agrarian life. Or, a more emotional reaction--a re-establishment of home values, a switch in the long-term goals of the entitled, and a deepening need for connection to one's food, and work ethic. Perhaps we're looking at a new world of homesteading, manual labor, and life on the land. A life of farming, in other words.
But are these kids real farmers? Because alongside manual labor, some of them might also be writers. Or painters. Or teachers. Some of them might not even sell their food; they're just into living off the earth's bounty.
According to Gene Logsdon--to whom Wendell Berry refers as "the most experienced and best observer of agriculture we have"--the answer is yes, they're real farmers. If they're serious about it. If they love it. If they work hard. In his book Living at Nature's Pace: Farming and the American Dream, he talks about this very issue:
It seems to me that, living at nature's pace on our little farm, I come closer to making my living from farming in a literal sense than "real" farmers. Carol and I raise most of our food including our meat, and some for other family members, keep a garden almost an acre in size, produce half of our home heating fuel from our own wood, derive most of our recreation and satisfaction from our farm, grow corn, oats, hay, and pasture, keep a cow and calf, two hogs, twenty ewes and their lambs, a flock of hens and broilers, and sell a few lambs and eggs. I'm sure I spend more time living on our farm than any industrial farmer in our county does. When they are not golfing in Florida or fishing in Canada, they spend a lot of time in the coffee shop or in my office telling me how farming is going down the drain....But urban people are also bringing agrarianism back to the cities. Developers build subdivisions that look and function like yesterday's villages or neighborhoods. Gardens and home businesses are planned into the landscape, as are nearby retail and service shops. Some communities even utter the almost forbidden words, "neighborhood schools" again. New neighborhood houses of worship in the ghettoes, small and humble and unassuming, return in the shadow of the abandoned cathedral-like churches. A surge of market gardening and farmers' markets recalls those years not so long ago when thousands of tiny truck farms, using horse manure for compost in their hotbeds and coldframes, supplied their cities with vegetables and fruits nearly year-round. The term "urban farming" turns out not to be an oxymoron. Chicago is even encouraging animal husbandry as part of its urban farming projects. In the heart of Cleveland, in the shadow of skyscrapers, horses plow garden plots. And with the returning agrarian spirit comes its wonderful offspring, agrarian ingenuity
I think I hear a faint rustle under the blacktop of shopping center parking lots, under the abandoned animal factories of yesterday and those yet to be abandoned tomorrow. Not only are the weeds pushing up through the cracking pavements, making way for the trees, but the irrepressible agrarian impulse is pushing through too. As long as humans are free to follow their hearts, there is hope.

I've already spoken at length about my feelings about this trend-cum-movement among the young, educated, and well-resourced. Yes, there are some who aren't cut out for farming and who are in it for the "romance" or the desire for a meaningful, post-college "experience." These folks will either become disappointed and move on to other things, or they will fall in love and spend their lives in the service of that love, no matter the hardness of the work. I'll say it again, current farmers must be willing to teach their craft and engage the young and talented. To quote Joel Salatin, "if we don't romance the next generation into farming, no one is going to do it." We as farmers must be receptive to the wooing of our many suiters.