In Minnesota today, the number of small-farms is declining. In addition, very few young people are entering the agricultural profession, and the average age of farmers in Minnesota (55 years old) is steadily increasing. Many liberal arts students are interested in addressing these issues, yet they do not know how to work or run a farm, and they are unprepared for this demanding career after college. Today, it is imperative that young people are trained to think critically in order to carry out the sustainable intensification techniques needed to combat climate change while producing more food to feed a growing population.
The Heart of the Heartland (HoH) is an educational non-profit summer program that launched in June, 2017 designed to address these problems by training the next generation of agricultural leaders. Students in this program study the politics and biology of agriculture while also gaining technical skills through hands-on learning on small farms in Rice County, Minnesota. Weekly themes focus on water quality, soil health, farm business management, farm technology, and food systems justice. The Heart of the Heartland program exposes students to the rigors of hands-on farm labor, as well as supplementing this work with academic instruction, allowing students to be better equipped to apply their liberal arts education to an agricultural setting.
By pairing students with farm mentors for the summer, and supplementing hands-on education with formalized workshops, HoH will enhance participants’ understanding of agricultural policy, biology, and sustainable farming practices.
Heart of the Heartland will inspire the next generation of agricultural leaders by allowing students to learn about and experience the intellectual and physical demands necessary to propel the agricultural sector forward today.