Last Saturday, Green Gate Farm hosted an education event for Holistic Management International, a leader in regenerative agriculture. More than 40 aspiring farmers and ranchers spent the day touring the city farm, learning HMI practices and tools, and hearing from three sustainable farming experts.
Those experts — Edwin Marty, Robert Maggiani, and Ronda Rutledge — were asked what was the single biggest challenge facing the local food movement. Their answers were: lack of mindful consumption, a food system that is culturally and ecologically unsound, and the inability of small family farmers to make a decent living.
We spent the afternoon using HMI decision-making tools to come up with solutions to those pressing problems. Overcoming the mindless consumption of unhealthy food gained traction as the first place to start. Yet what began as a simple and fairly obvious strategy soon grew complicated once we got down into the weeds of HMI’s list of considerations, such as root causes, logjams and unintended consequences.
Sitting in our Children’s Garden, feeling the unseasonable heat rise as the afternoon wore on, we all began to appreciate why consensus is so hard to reach on an issue as multifaceted and entrenched as Big Food. If the path to change can’t find traction at the political level, the only alternative is at the grassroots. But where to begin? Who will be our leader? How will we sustain the movement?
As if mirroring the competing demands and considerations we faced, our outdoor classroom was interrupted by a cacophony of voices — this time from the creatures with whom we share the farm: a vociferous mockingbird perched on a branch a few feet above our heads; a rooster on the perimeter who wouldn’t stop crowing; guinea hens racing around the barn; and two dogs digging in under the picnic tables to keep cool.
“Suddenly a lot of competition,” said Peggy Seachrist, HMI’s Program Manager, trying to turn our attention back to fixing the logjam that has kept local food consumption at only 1% in Central Texas.
Why was that mockingbird carrying on, boldly taking center stage as if its message were so critical it needed constant repeating. What was that rooster crowing about in the middle of the afternoon? And what were the dogs to make of these record-breaking temperatures that were making them pant in Spring?
That very moment, thousands of enlightened citizens were marching in cities around the country, protesting our president’s attack on climate change initiatives. The following day, meteorologists would note that the first four months of this year were the hottest on record for Austin.
HMI’s Open Gate On-Farm Learning Program was a success by all measures. Making both business and personal decisions based on the health of the soil and understanding how biological wealth relates to financial wealth is an important message for our times. Unless that message gets louder and bolder, until we start digging and taking a stand, the climate might end up making those decisions for us.