GOOD

Germany is preserving the tradition of family farming by helping farmers branch out.

Germany's fresh markets bring me to my knees. From Heidelberg, where I live, I can get on my bike and, in 10 minutes, find myself surrounded by stalks of brussells sprouts, heads of snow-covered savoy cabbage, and rows of crisp, yummy leeks. And I can purchase them directly from the farmers. Many farms have proper brick-and-mortar storefronts adjacent to their fields. Smaller ones have stands that operate on the honor system. I can get fresh m√Ęche greens, homemade preserves, herbs, flower arrangements, nuts, and even wine by throwing a couple of Euros into one of the post boxes that serve as ersatz cash registers.My love of the fresh food in Germany has developed into an interest in regional agriculture-and has become a frequent topic of conversation. Before long, I discovered that some friends happened to know people in the Chamber of Agriculture (Landwirtschaftskammer). Naturally, when they offered to introduce me, I leapt at the chance.That's how, early on a crisp, semi-frozen February morning, I left my home in Heidelberg for Bentheim County, on the border with Holland, to spend two weeks learning about regional farming practices and to experience firsthand the daily operations of a German farm. I wanted to learn more about German farmers, their operations, and the product of their labor: the food that I so deeply enjoy. What I discovered was that I needed to first consider how a farming system works from the inside out. Sustainable agriculture must first sustain the agrarians. This is something Germany seems to have figured out: By investing in farmers' educations and helping them adapt to new environmental realities, Germany is ensuring that its farming traditions can survive-and thrive-amid today's challenges.What makes the German model so interesting is how distinct it is from the that of the United States. German farmers not only endure robust training and certification, they also receive strong support from the government. Of course, some of these support systems also exist in the United States. Each U.S. county has a County Extension Office that serves as a technical and home economics hub for rural families. And many areas have agricultural youth organizations such as Future Farmers of America and 4-H. There are also a number of well-established-even elite-agricultural colleges and universities.But historically, farming in America has been an individualistic enterprise, shaped by the notion of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer-a model based on practical education, self-sufficient hard work, and rugged independence. American farms are less independent today than they once were, but one thing is for sure: Our training and education for farmers is nowhere near German standards. I was eager to see how the new generation of farmers is working within the country's solid traditions, and the Averes family would prove to be the perfect hosts.

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