After attending the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association conference and two Rural Action farm workshops in the past weeks, I am overwhelmed with new knowledge. Cattle health, soil remediation, winter growing techniques, food safety practices, farm enterprise analysis, and climate change impacts are swirling in my head and filling my notebooks. As my brain contends with content overload, I feel a renewed admiration for the modern farmer.
Growing food demands so much more than planting a seed and stewarding it to fruition. Farmers must have a firm grasp of agricultural practices and ecosystem health, yes. But they must also be good businessmen, employers, salesmen, and visionaries.
Last week, a group of farmers and interested individuals gathered to learn from farmers Becky and Kip Rondy of Green Edge Gardens. Their model of growing greens through the winter offers a way for consumers to eat fresh, local produce every month of the year. They believe that we cannot create a sovereign and local food system for only six months of the year. We must produce food and offer farm employment year-round. Their creativity and tenacity in the face of an industrial food system that subsidizes destructive practices, awes me. As we stood in the warmth of a greenhouse and learned from their 30+ years of farming experience, I saw the breadth of their expertise.
As builders and handymen, they install greenhouses and watering systems.
As employers, they manage payroll for 8 employees.
As salesmen, they market to dozens of restaurants and grocery stores throughout Ohio.
As innovators, they devise practical solutions to the problems our food system faces.
As biologists, they develop intimate knowledge of growing conditions and soil health and water conservation.
They are today’s renaissance men and women.
A few days later, 45 farmers attended a workshop on Good Agricultural Practices at the Triple Nickel Diner. Every chair was filled and even the owners stuck around to learn from OSU Extension agents Chris Penrose and Suzanne Mills-Wasniak about minimizing food safety risks. The number of factors to consider was endless: manure piles and potential run-off, properly managed compost, frequent water tests, wildlife contamination, adequate fencing, cleanable equipment and surfaces, traceable food labels. But the farmers in the room were not fazed. Many could spout facts like the exact number of days a manure pile must compost before spreading or the precise square footage of a quarantined area that must surround a contaminated item.
I walked into Rural Action’s office this morning and thought about the operations of a typical business or non-profit. Tasks are allocated to many different departments: finance, human resources, advertising, customer service, sustainability, communications, legal services, business / mission planning. On a farm, the farmer plays every part.
In the book, Letters to a Young Farmer, Barbara Kingsolver speaks directly to farmers about the respect they deserve. She writes:
“In exchange for your efforts, we will learn to respect the art and science of your work. We’ll be grateful for your courage and your vision. Prepare to rectify one of the most ridiculous, sustained oversights in all of human existence. When we told our youth that farming was a lowly aim compared with becoming teachers, doctors, or lawyers, what were we thinking? We need teachers for just a few of life’s decades. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a doctor only a few times a year, and a lawyer even less. But we need farmers every single day of our lives, beginning to end, no exceptions. We forgot about that for awhile, and the price was immense. Slowly, we’re coming back to our senses. Be patient with us. We need you.”
All of this to say, we are grateful for the growers who sell at the Chesterhill Produce Auction and all of the farmers in our region. Thank you for sustaining us every day.
Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.