Hanging around with children at our summer camp or during a field trip full of preschoolers, it is evident that few of them aspire to be white collar workers when they grow up. They naturally look for concrete, authentic roles to emulate....they want to be brown collar, they want to be farmers. The children who visit the farm connect most closely with our small assortment of livestock, sometimes more closely than with other people. And, I think it is safe to say, many adults still harbor a little of this brown collar aspiration as well. What holds people back from this dream, from any entrepreneurial dream for that matter? In our country, at this time, I think the answer to this question and the jobs crisis in general lies in affordable, accessible health care for all.
As our interns prepare to move on to other ventures with the approaching cold weather, they are also approaching the age when they will be released from the roles of their parent's health care policies. This presents them with a myriad of challenges. At the age of 27, they are eager to consider farming as an occupation. However, they are drawn to institutional farming jobs that offer benefits, which are few and far between. Mom and Dad's encouragement to make certain they continue to maintain health insurance weighs heavily. Starting a farm business feels unattainable.
If access to non-employer based affordable health care is realized, I can only imagine that the number of small entrepreneurial businesses, like farms, will increase, allowing for the real possibility that agriculture can be looked upon as a legitimate career by the white collar parents of our young interns (not to mention our own parents when we where at that crossroads in life). As we continue our personal boycott of the insurance industry into another year (doesn't that sound so much more righteous than saying "we can't afford health insurance?") I look to Massachusett's Health Care Reform Law and The Vermont Health Bill, H202, as models for how states can take the lead, growing the potential for entrepreneurship, and allowing creative individuals to innovate without concern for leaving behind the security of a employer-based health benefits.
In the national discussion of job creation, rarely do you hear the mention of affordable, non-employer based health insurance access mentioned as a driver for new business. Our current model creates a paradigm in which workers are functioning as indentured servants to corporate America as a means to cover themselves in the event we have a personal health incident. If the employed individual in a family is the one to become ill and needs to leave work, the insurance only works as long as they are employed, and healthy, as many have come to find out the hard way.
If you followed along this far and you are still wondering why thoughtful folks like us don't have health insurance or maybe saying something about how foolish we are, let me say it is not without many hours of figuring, number crunching and discussion. It may not be for everybody but it works for our family. Health insurance companies have also spent countless hours number crunching and they seem to do quite well on their end, claiming profit year after year.
What I want to see is a society where parents and teachers and mentors espouse a sincere support to their children when they announce they want to be farmers. "That's nice, honey." Feed that love by planting school gardens, using sheep to mow and fertilize the playing fields, build greenhouses to allow for student research and learning about alternative heating methods and 4 season crop production, keep schoolyard chickens. Embrace the potential for a legion of brown collar workers that will grow our food, in our community, preserving open space as farmland and providing us with a secure food system as we move into the uncertainty of the future.
When I grow up, I'm looking forward to retirement. But, in the meantime, I'm going to keep on being a farmer, with the insurance of good food on my table and a hope that Obamacare kicks in and saves us from some untimely health care incident that may be in our cards.
This week's harvest:
Edamame (fresh soy beans)
Blessings on the meal,
(Photos are from a wedding at Kinglsey Pines where our flowers and design graced the tables)