To Teach Next Generation of Farmers, We’ll Need Role Models–How Michael Schmidt Inspired a Class

I have long felt that one of the keys to breaking through the regulatory roadblocks to easily accessing nutrient-dense foods like raw dairy is for farmers to flood the market with products the regulators want to keep from us. For that to happen, though, there need to be enough farmers willing to make the commitment and take the risks.

Farming has been a dying profession for many years, though. How are would-be farmers to be attracted away from all the career options available to take up sustainable farming? One way is for role models to emerge who can set the kind of example that inspires others to want to do the same.

In this guest post, Rutgers University professor Joseph Heckman describes how Michael Schmidt, in one appearance at Rutgers, became such a role model.

Michael Schmidt and Joseph Heckman recently at Rutgers University. As many of today’s farmers approach retirement, one wonders about the next generation. At Rutgers University, where I teach several courses in agriculture, I have responsibility for providing meaningful learning experiences for future farmers.
My most popular course, Organic Crop Production, attracts a diversity of students ranging from biology to liberal arts majors. Very few students have an agricultural background.  Last semester, out of the 47 students in my class, 10 said they want to go into farming, and among those future farmers not one grew up on a farm.  Without preconceived notions about the ways of the farm, students are perhaps more open to alternative ways of farming, like organic.

When I teach Organic Crop Production, I cover the requisite subject areas of composting, soil fertility, crop rotation, and organic cultural practices for production of vegetables, fruits, grains, and forages.  Standards for organic certification and the USDA-NOP are also covered.

When organic farming pioneer Albert Howard wrote that “Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock,” he knew that animals were indispensable to organic farming.  Since there is no comparable course offering in organic livestock production at my institution, I also include animal agriculture with a special emphasis on pastured livestock production.
Other lecture material introduces students to homeopathy, traditional food systems, and the history, philosophy, and sociology of organic farming.  I also introduce students to great writers and their influences on alternative agriculture.  Classical writings include selections from Eve Balfour, Albert Howard, Walter Northbourne, Weston Price, Wilhelm Reich, Jerome Rodale, J. Russell Smith, and contemporary writers include but not limited to, Wendell Berry, Sally Fallon Morell, Michael Pollan, and Joel Salatin.

Under traditional organic farming, a great diversity of subjects are open for learning and discussion.  Whenever possible I include field trips to working organic livestock and CSA vegetable farms, and I invite guest lectures to cover areas beyond my expertise. 

For example, last November I took advantage of the opportunity to invite Michael Schmidt to give a lecture on Biodynamic Farming.  This was right after he was a speaker at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Wise Traditions Conference. 

Hosting Michael Schmidt was a most memorable experience because the student response was so overwhelmingly positive.  Michael began his lecture by providing an overview of Biodynamic Farming.  He also talked about his raw milk cow share model.  This was followed by a showing of the documentary Milk War, which relates a lone farmer’s struggle to win approval for raw milk in Canada, and for food rights and human rights in general. 

At the end of the film, students thundered with applause.  Michael answered questions and lead a discussion.  Comments from students included, “Before I listened to him I never thought I would even contemplate raw milk. After listening to Mr. Schmidt, I felt very comfortable with the idea”. And “Best Talk EVER!  It was like having a celebrity in class.  He was so smart and well-spoken and very inspiring.  I felt energized when we left.  I would love to visit and maybe intern on his farm.”

The most exciting organic trend is teaching young people about the emerging economic opportunities in farming.  Not teaching commodity farming, where one must “get big or get out,” but artisanal farming.  It is here where community supported agriculture, cow shares, and other direct farm-to-people relationships have opened up new business opportunities.  It is being spurred on by human hunger for farm fresh foods of exceptional quality.

September headlines in The New Jersey Farmer called on State Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher to “halt dairy exodus from state”.  The report on raw milk in Vermont illustrates the significant economic opportunity that awaits young farmers, where public policy allows it.  And now New Jersey legislation, that would establish a raw milk permit program, has potential to open up new opportunities for young dairy farmers in the Garden State.  ?

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25 Comments on "To Teach Next Generation of Farmers, We’ll Need Role Models–How Michael Schmidt Inspired a Class"

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Barney Google
April 1, 2011 10:02 pm

Rules for animal traceability, formerly known as NAIS, will be published on the federal register in April.


Dave Milano
April 2, 2011 12:32 am

Professor Heckman,

In your opinion, are college ag programs generally effective at making farmers? My sense is that, at best, academic programs are a back-up plan, a distant second place to learning farming from fathers and uncles and local community mentors. Seems to me that the family/local approach would be more likely to both instill a love of farming, and a more functional, working knowledge than would a didactic program with practical lab infill.

I have a young friend for example who graduated from Berea Colleges ag program. Berea is a private school that appears to allow more individual expression than… Read more »

Ken Conrad
April 2, 2011 2:03 am

I would also like to applaud professor Heckmans efforts. It is because of objective free thinking individuals such as him that a light still flickers at the end of the tunnel.
Someone should tell those jokers from the Wall Street Pit (above) that they are living in a make believe fantasy world. Although their statistics are probably correct their interpretation is extremely narrow minded as to why those statistics are what they are. Low food prices are clearly a reflection of our obsession with cheep food and the destructive approaches and policies we have adopted in order… Read more »

Joseph Heckman
April 2, 2011 6:35 am


I agree that there are better ways of learning how to farm than from college agriculture courses.

One effective farmer training program offered at Rutgers University is internships in a student run CSA farm. This 4 acre CSA organic (but not certified) vegetable farm run by students and has about 300 subscribers. Essentially none of the student interns start with any farm experience. Some student interns have after graduation successfully gone on to start their own vegetable farms. Unfortunately, we have no similar training program for livestock farming.

In recent years there has been a… Read more »

Mark McAfee
April 2, 2011 7:26 am

Pasteurized milk is dying. Deans Foods is abandoning it and taking a knife to the throat of the heart of Wisconsin dairyland. Silk SoyMilk….is on the attack.

Watch out….here come the man boobs, premature juvenile puberty, he comes micro testicles and lumpy breasts and voices in men that sound like little girls….

Thanks Deans Foods….. Beans do not have Teats….You are guilty of raping dairymen ( as described by the $30 million dollar DOJ settlement last year ) and gross dairy treason.


Bill Anderson
April 2, 2011 8:55 am

Great work Joe!! (is it alright if I call you Joe?)

Mark, very troubling indeed. Wisconsin is in peril of losing our many small dairy farms thanks to the corporate monopolists in the Dairy Business Association and WI cheese makers association.

There used to be a cheese factory at every crossroads in rural Wisconsin, and literally hundreds of thousands of small dairy farms. The CAFO's are slowly starting to edge their way in as more and more people turn to soy milk because of disgust with the dairy industry.

But a raw milk rebellion is in the works! … Read more »

Dave Milano
April 2, 2011 9:22 am

I think it is very exciting how the return to food quality, artisanal, traditional foods, organic, CSA, raw dairy, pasture raised, direct marketing, etc. is creating new economic opportunities for young people to enter farming as a career.

You are sure right about that. Maddeningly, there are so many needless barriers, no I take that back, punitive barriers is what I meant to say, to growing and selling high quality food.

Last night I moderated a discussion group at a local university about the effects of global business and centralized planning on local culture and economy. To kick things off we… Read more »

Sophie Lovett
April 2, 2011 6:35 pm

Great post! Any idea where one could view Milk War now?

@Dave Milano: Here's one little data point for your inquiry: My beef farmer is the son of a farmer and studied Ag at UConn, Storrs. So, in this case, it's a little of both. He raises Black and Red Angus as well as Herefords. Two years ago, he moved to entirely grass-fed (from seasonally grass fed).

Mary Martin
April 2, 2011 11:29 pm

For those of you who liked the Robin O'Brien information, here is a personal interview with her.


Ingvar Odegaard
April 3, 2011 10:15 pm

Over at there is a 385 word post on Money, Power, and Equality. It offers this: A government stripped down to essential functions offers fewer opportunities for the power-hungry.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Bill Anderson
April 4, 2011 8:05 am

The question is not whether to "strip the government of power." The question is how we organize and empower common people to take control of their lives and of society, thus rendering the coercive aparatuses of the government irrelevant!!

Mark McAfee
April 4, 2011 10:16 am

If any of the fence sitters have ever had any reservations about the FDA….yes…they are truly fascist. They are lower than snakes in dirt.

They have officially answered the question posed by the Federal Judge regarding interstate commerce of raw milk for personal consumption. They have officially said that soccer moms with ice chests that cross state lines with raw milk for their kids …are criminals.

It is time to start a public outcry. Who wants to go sit in the FDA offices in DC and pour raw milk on ourselves and decry these bastards… Read more »

Ron Klein
April 4, 2011 7:23 pm

Mark et al……

Did I read the response correctly? Is this the logic of the FDA response? A legal hypothetical: Raw milk legally purchased in State A by a consumer who lives in State B where raw milk may also be legally purchased returns across the state line back to home State B , with her legally purchased property, where having such property is legal………has committed a crime……..

John Boyd
April 4, 2011 7:33 pm

Not only are there better ways to farm, there are also many technologies for which there are patents that are no longer enforceable that would provide further help in growing richer food that uses either less to no pesticides (organic or conventional).

One key focus should be to show the utter uselessness of the FDA and USDA in terms of food safety and farming as a commercially and environmentally sustainable activity. We must also not forget the discriminatory practices by the USDA against blacks, indian, hispanic and women farmers that have also cost us billions in compensation for suits brought… Read more »

Mary Martin
April 4, 2011 8:48 pm
Bill Anderson
April 4, 2011 11:47 pm


While we're at it, why not cross-breed the human-milk cow with the skim-milk cow:

April 5, 2011 12:26 am

The article Mary posted on transgenic cows says 38% of those calves died in the first six months. Probably because the milk is engineered for humans, not calves?

Sylvia Gibson
April 5, 2011 1:31 am

I think this may be related to Mary's link. I don't see all this genetic modification as a good thing. This is not "natural" and I would not want it for myself or my children.

Dave Milano
April 5, 2011 2:20 am

The question is how we organize and empower common people to take control of their lives and of society, thus rendering the coercive aparatuses of the government irrelevant!!


Wrong-headed majorities are a coercive force, which is why the founders gave us a republic, not a democracy.

There is no such thing as a coercive government or an evil corporation, for governments and corporations are simply inanimate tools. Evil is imparted by the people who wield them, and people, of course, are people, whether common or not, and cannot be trusted to always do good.

That is why we must avoid creating… Read more »

Bill Anderson
April 5, 2011 2:50 am

Unfortunately for us, Dave, the weapons have already been forged. The military-industrial complex is this weapon. Name any advanced civilization or empire throughout history which was not based upon military might? You'd have a hard time.

I do not think you can seperate a technology or industry from the intentions of its producers, or from the social structure of the institutions which promote its use.

For example, GMO's are designed so that a few agricultural corporations can dominate the land and the populace. You can say that a corporation is not inherintly evil, but that is like… Read more »

Bill Anderson
April 5, 2011 2:55 am

Dave, are you familiar with Frederick Douglass' 1857 speech:

Words of wisdom!

Ingvar Odegaard
April 5, 2011 9:04 am

Class warfare.

Yes, this class warfare must stop.
Especially the sophomores must stop picking
on the other classes and stop misleading the freshmen.
I am in complete agreement.
But what is this about youth in Asia?
Thats not part of ObamaCare is it?

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Bill Anderson
April 5, 2011 10:19 am

Interesting historical document, about the Boston Medical Milk Commission:

Sophomoric? You tell me…

Bill Anderson
April 5, 2011 10:25 am

And the movement for social justice continues:

The class war will not stop, no matter how much we pretend otherwise. We can choose to fight back, or we can choose to take it sitting down. The choice is ours. I choose to fight!

Ingvar Odegaard
April 5, 2011 2:57 pm

Bill, I applaud you.

The energy to fight is a very valuable commodity -treasured, neither stifled into a swamp nor unleashed into a flood. A force for life inside those deathly bounds.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard