Sharing in the good word
As we mentioned in our note yesterday, we just got back from the annual Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture convention in State College, PA. For me, this was my fourth PASA conference, and it's always one of the most enlightening and energizing experiences of the year. The three days are full of highly specific technical workshops on everything from troubleshooting Quickbooks, to selecting tomato varieties for a warming climate, to improving your margins on pastured swine. These always provide valuable take-home nuggets, but the bigger feeling is one of re-connecting with a robust, energetic, and growing community.
In 2017, Pennsylvania surpassed Washington to become the second largest producer of organic crops by sales in the US, behind only California. And unlike the California organics model dominated by several large producers on thousands of acres each, the Keystone State is a community of hundreds of producers of varying sizes. Seeing so many of them in one place (plus many of our friends and neighbors from Maryland and Northern Virginia) is a powerful and inspiring reminder: for every challenge and hurdle we face on our farm, and for every risk we take or crop or tool we gamble on, there are many other farmers, families, and communities who do the same. While it's easy to feel isolated on the farm and become lost in the stress, it's a important to remember that we aren't doing this alone. Hearing the "big" guys in PA, like Jim Crawford of New Morning Farm, or the Brownback family of Spiral Path provide the wisdom and reassurance that we can succeed further underscores this truth.
In between the workshops and the time to meet and chat in the hallways, there are also opportunities for bigger lectures from celebrated individuals in our little community. These speeches feel a bit like secular sermons to the collected farmer masses. Several of this year's speakers, especially Chris Blanchard of the Farmer to Farmer podcast and Exec Director of PASA Hannah Smith-Brubaker, used this stage to remind us to remind ourselves of all the good reasons we do this work. There are as many reasons organic farmers continue to grow as there were farmers in the room. From inward to out, we work to provide for ourselves and our families, to feed people and engage our communities in a rejuvenated local economy, to create real, gainful employment for others, to preserve our waterways and air, and ultimately to save the world. It's no joke that if just 15-20% of the world's 700 million farmers adopted basic soil-building sustainable best-practices, it would sequester enough long-term carbon to begin reversing the effects of climate change. It's true that not all these farmers are in America, but it's also true that American farmers are the best equipped to change course in meaningful ways. If we can continue to grow the market for sustainable, appropriate-scale products--while also building on successful policy models that reward good behavior like Maryland's widely used payments for watershed protecting-practices--this isn't some moonshot idea. It could really happen.
Re-hashing this isn't just meant as a self-important pick-me-up though. Chris Blanchard borrowed the wise words of a former guest to suggest, when we're all on our farmer deathbeds, we need to be able to look back and say more than "Wow, that was a lot of gardening." We need to leave ourselves time to stand back and grow ourselves. We also need to create time and opportunity to reach out, to grow our tent, and to participate in the life of our community while we invite them to participate in ours. It's a tremendous signal that if it all seems too difficult, we only have to look at the continual growth and success of an organization like PASA and its members to remember that change in the food system is possible. It starts on farms like ours and in the willingness of people like you to support us. So, thanks. We're very excited for the future near and far, and hope you are too.