Monday, November 30, 2009

Sustainable Farming is Local Farming

I wasn't a farmer when Earl Butts said,"Get Big or Get Out". He was President Nixon's secretary of agriculture in the early 70's and the USDA made sure that America's farmers answered the call to flood the global market with American commodities.

In 1974 I was a witness to this policy. My dad and I drove east from California. And as we drove for days from the eastern slopes of the Rockies in Colorado, through Nebraska and all the way to the eastern seaboard, we passed through the biggest corn crop America had ever produced. I wonder now how many farms went bust trying to sell 100 acres of corn that year.

Now that a generation has passed, a new generation of farmers and ordinary consumers, environmentalists and foodies are looking for ways to revive and support what was lost in the heady days of the "Green Revolution". Local food, Slow food, Organic Food, Sustainable Food, Clean Food, Safe Food. It's all in the same basket and a new revolution is under way.

When we bought Willie Dunn's farm in 2000, we had no idea what we were doing. But we had an inspiration. We would begin with an organic certification of the land. Organic pioneer Michael Abelman had told us to jump in. But when we asked him what to do and how we would do it, he said, "You'll just do it. You'll figure it out." It wasn't too comforting. But what I've learned from Michael and from my own experience is that each morning you go out on the land. You walk. You look. You feel. You taste. You touch the soil and you read the weather. You wait. And nature speaks.

After 10 years I feel we are just beginning our farm. We're just now gaining the confidence and the skill to get bigger. And we're looking for knowledge that will help us to continue to grow in the right directions. I already know that for us, "MORE CORN!" or "MORE POTATOES!" is not the answer.

As I've shared with you before, my goal in California this winter is to harvest as much "input" as I can to fertilize our dreams at the farm. I've been searching out technology and business ideas and I've reviewed our farm plans and improved our prospects. And I've found a great resource to help water our dreams.

In December, I'll be staying on the Orella Ranch which has been hosting a series of educational programs on sustainability. I'll be attending a workshop there with farmer and author Joel Salatin. His workshop is entitled, "Pathways to Localization".

I'm lucky to be in Santa Barbara now, to attend this workshop. I've been lucky to have mentors like Michael Abelman and the inspiration of his friend, Alice Waters. I feel I'm in the right place at the right time. And I can't wait to share more with you.

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