When 13-year-old Birke Baehr says he wants to be a farmer, he is only telling half of the truth — he also wants to change the way the world farms.
A homeschooler from Knoxville, Tenn., Birke is devoted to teaching kids and adults about the problems in America’s industrialized food system and the benefits of local, fresh and organic.
At eight, Birke first drew a connection between what was in America’s food and the companies that produce it when he became shocked by an article about mercury levels in high fructose corn syrup.
He promptly gave up drinking soda, and encouraged his family to do the same.
Soon after, he dove into learning about genetically modified foods, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. “I got so frustrated that we allowed these companies to almost sneak behind our backs to do these things,” he says. “It’s why I started speaking about it.” His first appearance was at the 2010 TedX Next Generation Conference in Asheville, N.C.; although he was nervous, his straightforward and genuine manner in advocating for sustainable food was a huge hit.
He has since given dozens of talks across the region to kids and adults alike, and was interviewed for the upcoming documentary, “Bite Size,” about childhood obesity. He has visited farms all across the country — and one in Italy — to learn as much as he can about sustainable farming, and this year published “Birke on the Farm,” a children’s book advocating for healthy foods and farming.
Birke practices sustainable gardening by growing okra, collard greens and other vegetables in a small 10 by 10-foot garden. He hopes to make a career out of public speaking on the subject, but his biggest goal is to own a small farm and actually provide people with fresh, organic food.
“If you have something close and dear to your heart and you feel strongly about it, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” says Birke.
“If I can do it, why can’t you?” — By Jamie Goodman