I’m not easily impressed…but today, I’m impressed! Our contribution was a relatively small thing, but it was a contribution we could make. Last evening we hosted a local gathering to introduce our neighbors to Matt and Lily…our friends who are the farmers at the Shooting Star Farms Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm near us. Matt and Lily are a 20-something couple who have decided to make a difference with their hard work and positive vision. They’re dedicated farmers…and I know what kind of commitment that requires from my limited experience, working on our family farm in my younger years. I am not only impressed…I’m inspired!
Farming involves long hours and hard work with many uncertainties. When any one grows up on a family farm, these realities shape everything in the farming lifestyle. This is one of the reasons that during the past few decades many young people have chosen to develop other careers rather than to continue in farming. Trends toward corporate farming and global out-sourcing of food have destabilized family farms in consistent and deep ways. It’s easy in light of these changes to wax nostalgic about the loss of local farming in many areas, superimposing an image of farming from ‘Lassie’ or ‘The Waltons’ over the harsh realities. Choosing a lifestyle in farming these days, therefore, is not a natural decision, even for young people who are fortunate enough to inherit good farmland and all the necessary farm equipment.
Last evening, we were able to hear a brief story about Matt’s choice to be a CSA and ‘farmers’ market’ farmer. In 2003, he was in the Army, looking for Saddam Hussein in the Tikrit area of Iraq. As he traveled around the countryside, he noticed many small-plot farms…and he noted that the local markets seemed to have adequate food for the local population. In war-torn communities that were pretty much isolated from any external food distribution system, life was supported by local food production. These observations had a profound effect on him. When he was leaving the military and was planning his next steps, his greatest interest was in becoming a participant in a similar food system…but to do so in his own country. He chose to learn small-plot, organic farming with a local marketing focus. Now, he and Lily are partners in the business and lifestyle of farming…to make a living, and to make a difference in people’s lives.
I’ve shared my feelings about the dominance of big business in our current economic systems…and they come back into the picture when we’re considering food production and distribution. Our current methods and continued trends are neither healthy nor sustainable…and they are actually dangerous. The nutritional value of much of our food has decreased in the past couple decades. Our dependence on transporting products thousands of miles is unwise and unsustainable. Our out-sourcing of food production can actually become a national security threat if it continues to diminish our own capacity to grow enough diverse foods to sustain a healthy diet…even in times of political turmoil or war. I believe it is essential for our country to revive the profitability and respect of family farming. This is why I’m so inspired by Matt’s story…and Matt and Lily’s choice to enter farming as a business and a lifestyle.
We need to have conversations with our local farmers. As I shared in a previous post, small business owners face tremendous challenges…and we need to talk with them to find ways to stabilize their ventures in our communities. Family farmers are small business owners with unique challenges…but their businesses also provide us with the essential commodities we need to survive. I’m interested in supporting local farmers…particularly those who are entering farming for local markets rather than for corporate processing. I’m hoping others might have some conversations also about who grows our food, how much nutritional value our food has, how far our food has to travel, and how secure our food system might be. And…I hope Matt’s story might inspire others…so it can be ‘food for thought.’