U prof’s book says farm careers chosen with family in mind

The book focuses on students whose families have backgrounds in sustainable agriculture.

Britt Johnsen

For University graduate Katie Fernholz, family values are important when choosing a career.

Fernholz said she was not pushed into agriculture, but her career choices reflected her family’s history in the industry.

Fernholz is one of the 11 current and former Minnesota college students – ages 18 to 29 – interviewed for a book on students who make critical career choices based on their family’s background in sustainable agriculture.

University environmental ethics professor Beth Waterhouse, the book’s author, said she has concluded that career choices are impacted by parents, even if it means students leave behind a career in art, theater or anthropology.

“Some people left the farm hoping they would never come back,” Waterhouse said. “It’s that whole idea of knowing what makes you happy.”

Speaking in Borlaug Hall on the St. Paul campus Wednesday, Waterhouse talked about her inspiration for the book and the students affected by their parents.

“I wondered Ö what is the motivation?” she told a group of fewer than 15. “Were they influenced by the parents’ decision?”

Fernholz, who received a bachelor’s degree in forest resources, said she is the only one of four children who decided to go in to a profession related to agriculture. She said a person’s career choice – whether “following in footsteps or completely revolting” – is affected by family values and experiences.

Paul Timmins, lead career services coordinator in the Career and Community Learning Center, said he has seen many students make career choices based on their families’ opinions and history.

Timmins said he always encourages students to make personal choices that will satisfy their values, interests and abilities. Ultimately, he said, it is up to the students – and not their families – to direct the future.

“It’s up to them to decide,” he said.

However, some argue that influence is important, and if the influence is for a good cause, it should be supported.

The decision to continue in sustainable agriculture, for example, can be beneficial, said JoAnne Rohricht, chairwoman of the board of directors for the Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture.

“The health of our land and food supply is a foundation for everybody,” she said. “I think it’s a very positive influence.”

Fernholz said she hopes the book, which the University will publish in May, will make people think about their past and future choices.

“I hope (the book) causes personal reflection,” she said. “Believe in your own instincts to follow your dreams and ideas. Life’s short; don’t deny yourself.”