Getting food from farms to our tables has a big effect on the environment. In fact, food production eats up 10 percent of all the energy used in the U.S. and a big portion of our fresh water, too. Most food in the U.S. is farmed and manufactured in ways that cause serious environmental problems. But sustainable farming and food production, which is good for people and the planet, are helping change that as well.
Jobs in this field can be very rewarding. They can also be very hard to come by. So here’s a tip: Whether you’re interested in becoming a farmer, starting your own food business, or working at a not-for-profit organization that helps bring healthy food to people who need it, volunteering or working as an intern is usually an important first step toward getting a job and learning the lay of the land.
You might wonder exactly what sustainable food and agriculture is. It is food that’s produced without dangerous chemical fertilizers and pesticides and, ideally, is produced close to where it is eaten. That way, there’s less pollution from transporting it, it’s fresher, and we help make sure local farmland isn’t turned over to other uses, like housing developments or shopping malls. Once that happens, it rarely turns back into farmland again. For things like meat and poultry, it means that animals are raised in places where they can roam freely in pastures, for instance and aren’t given antibiotic drugs that can breed dangerous bacteria.
More and more supermarkets, stores and farmers markets sell this kind of food. And more and more farmers are raising it. Restaurants are getting in on the act, too, buying local produce, reducing their energy use, composting their kitchen scraps, and making sure good food doesn’t go to waste.
Many people are working to make fresh food more available in poor neighborhoods. They teach kids about gardening and farming and how to cook and enjoy vegetables and fruits. Not-for-profit groups like City Harvest are making sure that healthy food that supermarkets, restaurants, cafeterias and farmers’ markets don’t sell is collected and shared with people in need. Not-for-profits are organizations that have been set up to carry out a mission, instead of simply to make money.
People who work in the sustainable food and agriculture field can do a wide range of jobs. Some jobs include vendor, produce manager, business owner, educator, farmer, lawyer, advocate, organic food certifier, waiter and gardener.
The field is small, so far, with many small employers. The biggest are probably supermarket chains that sell a lot of sustainably-produced food, like Whole Foods Market, and organic food companies like The Hain Celestial Group. It is located just over the Queens border in Lake Success, NY. It makes Earth’s Best organic baby food and Arrowhead Mills organic baking products, among other things. Other New York-area food businesses that are environmentally friendly include restaurants, cafeterias and other food-service businesses that are members of the Green Restaurant Association.
More and more non-profit organizations work in this field, too. In New York City, they include City Harvest, Just Food, Food Corps, and GrowNYC. GrowNYC is in charge of many farmers markets and farm stands throughout the city.Its website lists jobs with GrowNYC, along with jobs with farmers and other farmers market vendors. To find jobs with non-profit groups, check out Idealist.org. One of the great things about the website is that it allows you to search using terms that make it easy to find jobs in the fields you’re interested in.
There are some local, state and federal government jobs in this field, too. The US Department of Agriculture is focusing more on sustainable agriculture and food production than it has in the past. So is New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets. Both agencies are also working hard to help farmers and others prevent pollution, save energy, and create energy using pollution-free wind and solar power. New York City’s government has some jobs in this area, too, in the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, the Department of Education and other agencies.
There are also a growing number of people interested in starting their own sustainable food businesses. Luckily, New York City’s government offers a lot of resources in this area. One of them is its Food Businesses Resources webpage. It can help you find kitchen space and business advice. It can also teach you about the many rules and regulations that New York City food vendors need to follow.
Other resources in the city include a growing number of very small farms. A bunch of them are located on large roofs. Some of them work with community organizations; others supply restaurants. Still others sell their food in local stores. These farms have few full-time jobs but they’re almost always interested in volunteers. Volunteering at these farms can help you learn about what you might need to know to become a farmer.
For more information about some kinds of jobs available in sustainable agriculture and food production, and the training and education you might need to work in these fields, check out the Agriculture and Forestry page of the Green Careers center at CareerOneStop.org. The federal government put CareerOneStop.org together to help people find work. CareerOneStop.org can also help you learn about salaries and benefits, along with other helpful information.
To begin your job search, check out the websites below. Some of these webpages don’t list jobs, but they provide important information about how to get involved in this growing and exciting field.
Sustainable Farming Internships, Apprenticeships, and Educational Opportunities
NYC Urban Farms