Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thoughts from a local farmer

A guest blog entry today, from Dan Kent of Kent Family Growers, with some thoughts on farming...

"Words are perceived to be stolen sometimes. Some small farmers feel that 'Organic' has been purloined by certified mega-farms who have perverted the word to meet their evil corporate needs. I don’t feel this way, but discussions around this issue have posited a thought-worthy idea, where small, 'real' organic farmers abandon 'organic' and adopt a more meaningful word. 

"'Durable' was suggested. Though you’re not going to catch me saying, 'Me? I’m a durable farmer' or 'Yup, all our produce is certified durable,' I find the word to be packed with layers of meaning worth digging into. A close cousin to another word that gets tossed around in our world, 'sustainable,' durable connotes something about the people involved in keeping a small farm going through the years. Two stories have developed here this year that highlight this.

"I sold our draft horses earlier this year. After several years where I was using our horse team less and less for farm work, allowing tractors to replace them, I managed to find a young, idealistic vegetable farmer to buy them and put their unique skills to use on a farm in the Rochester area. Great, until an e-mail arrives after only three months where the fellow says, 'I’m selling the horses, the equipment and getting out of farming, do you want them back?' (after answering no, he then finds another young, idealist to take them). On the heels of this exchange comes a call from the family to whom we sold our previous farm in Depeyster, NY. This family bought our old farm six years ago with a great deal of back-to-the-land fervor motivating them. Our organic certification, our use of horses, the orchard we had planted, all gave them the idea that they could step in and carry on what we had begun and realize their dream of being self-sufficient rural folk. After a bit of perfunctory small talk, the caller says, “We’re selling the farm. Do you know anyone who wants to buy it?”. The difficulties associated with heating with wood, weeding a home garden, snow removal, etc. had worn them out in 6 years and they were hoping to flee to the Albany area before snowfly.

"I would love to see some numbers on how many small farm enterprises begin, versus how many last for more than a few years. It likely compares well to the rate at which many types of rural enterprises succeed and fail. However, I feel that there is something different with the would-be farmers where their bright, shining idea of agriculture runs into the hard realities of actually doing it. To put it as simply as possible, I think it's the way their ideals overpower the need for a business plan. Idealism is a powerful force in America. We celebrate many great advances in our society borne of those with with high ideals. Less acknowledged are the many ideals that lie dead or dying along the trail to a more perfect union. Let’s give these folks a hand for trying though. I think they serve us all by keeping a general spirit of advancement alive and end up giving real support to those of us who do manage to be durable."