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“Our school is unique in that we reduce theoretical teaching in favor of practice. Students are almost always working on a farm,” director Jan Jícha describes to me the way of education in the Farming School – Higher Vocational School of Organic Agriculture.
He guides me through the Jednorožec farm in Roblín-Třebotov, one of the places where students gain experience. It is a warm November morning, animals are running around in the vast enclosures not far from us, and the smell of the rain that stopped a while ago lingers in the air.
Nearby there are insulated greenhouses with flower beds and a smaller hut, where you can go to get water or make coffee.
“We guide students to the fact that a sustainable method of agriculture must be a combination of plant and animal agriculture without the use of heavy equipment or chemicals,” Jícha explains the main principles of the teaching.
Currently, the school has approximately 50 students and cooperates with more than 40 farms throughout the Czech Republic. The vast majority of students are on the classic full-time course and spend most of their time working on farms.
Roughly a fifth use the option of distance learning, where they have an individual plan. These are most often those who already farm on their own farm, but want to learn new, more ecological methods.
We enter one of the greenhouses, where several students are currently working. Twenty-year-old Doubravka Štěpánka Hájková is among them. She says that agriculture has always been one of the few fields in which she could imagine herself. However, she was not satisfied with the way in which schools approach education in this area.
“I was thinking about some kind of agricultural field, but I wasn’t satisfied with the feeling that I should sit in a desk and listen to theoretical lectures. I just didn’t think it was enough,” explains the student, while cultivating the bed in which she will later plant spinach. “I’m just having a lifelong environmental crisis and I need my work to give me deeper meaning.”
Although, according to her, many people around her are starting to think the same way, she feels that work in agriculture is still perceived as inferior. “One of the problems is the status quo. People who work with their hands are often defended as inferior, when this is not the case at all. I respect everyone who works with their hands and their head equally,” confides Doubravka.
She also sees a big problem in the expectations on the part of parents, who, according to her, usually envision their children in fields such as law or medicine, rather than in agriculture. “I was lucky that my mother supported me in everything, but that is not the case for everyone. Young people who don’t yet know what they want are often under a lot of pressure to choose one of the classic well-paid fields, and then they do a job they don’t like,” he sighs.
Lack of practice
Viktor Procházka also decided to devote his life to agriculture. He is 22 and discovered his passion for agriculture and farming in his childhood. “I loved our cottage with the meadows and fields around, where I spent whole days, or the flower beds in the garden. I don’t like anything else as much as this,” he describes.
He therefore decided to study at an agriculturally oriented secondary school, but he was not very satisfied. Like Doubravka, he sees the problem as a lack of practice.
“I left school, but I wasn’t satisfied with the system, because the teaching was almost only theoretical,” Viktor points out, adding that the practical experience he is now receiving as part of the farm school is extremely valuable to him.
However, unlike Doubravka, he feels that young people are very interested in organic farming and, according to him, it has a bright future. “Our grandparents had a very different conception of agriculture, but their influence is waning and people my age perceive it differently. On the contrary, I think people are more and more attracted to it. After all, food is always needed, and we farmers are therefore the foundation of society,” he adds.
From translator to farmer
“I made a living as a translator, but that didn’t fulfill me at all, and at the same time I had the feeling that today is the time to get involved in the field of the environment,” explains 30-year-old Benjamin Žiak about his journey.
“I knew very little about agriculture, and this is an absolutely essential experience for me, which helped me find a profession in life that makes me happy and meaningful,” he praises.
According to him, the reason why there are not many young people in agriculture is simply a lack of information.
“I don’t think it’s the case that young people don’t really want to go into agriculture. At least for me, it was more about the fact that I didn’t really know anything about agriculture and nobody ever taught me about it in school. I had to get to it after my own axis,” he says, adding that he doesn’t see his future anywhere else but on a farm.
But not all students are working on a farm as a top priority. This is the case of 22-year-old Amália Vystávelová, who would rather focus on more complex matters.
“I was part of the climate movement, which was already very challenging because I was only exposed to negative things. I was looking for something different and I found organic farming,” she says, while carrying a box of spinach seedlings into the greenhouse.
“I’m interested in all of that, even on a larger scale. An example is the method of storing carbon in the soil, which helps the climate, and other similar techniques. I can imagine doing something with this surplus in addition to farming,” she muses.
“At home they expected me to go to university. They didn’t care where I went, but they wanted me to get a university degree. They were probably quite surprised when I went here, but I stand by it,” she adds with a smile.