October 14, 2018

A post every 18 months is better than no post at all, right? All right!!

Life has taken a series of twists and turns, as should be expected. The last post – from Feb 2017 – is from prior to when we bought Prudent Produce and moved it out to our farm. Now that we have many aspects of that operation running fairly smoothly (always some kinks!), it’s on to the next part of the endeavor: converting our 50-acre field that has been conventionally farmed for generations to organic production.

We have lots and lots and lots of questions about what this will look like in practice… what mix of livestock, grains / row crops, vegetables, and ?? should be included? A derivative question: who do we trust to help us arrive at answers to all of these questions? As a recovering academic, I know how able people are to be convinced that they are absolutely right about something, but the accuracy of their knowledge and expertise are limited by their own experiences. There is a great value in what experts can contribute, but their contributions alone are not sufficient to transcend broken systems.

This is very much on my mind as we consider pursuing organic certification — a marketing tool that in many ways is being / has been co-opted by the big boys. With Prudent Produce, we rely heavily on organic certification to know that the produce we deliver to our customers is free of synthetic chemicals, and therefore want to support that which we rely upon. At the same time, we do not want to support a process that is losing its focus and intent.

Engaging with government agencies and state universities — both of which are home to much knowledge, experience, and bureaucracy are also great limited by the status quo, and due to reliance on government funding and industry support, are largely unable to innovate at the speed required to achieve the types of systematic change in our agricultural systems that I want to see in my lifetime. Yet these institutions are critical in the pursuit of systematic change. How to partner in a way that is beneficial for all?

Other innovative farms provide much inspiration – including many members of Practical Farmers of Iowa – and the mentorship, inspiration, and lessons from these colleagues and friends is critical to success.