Eight years ago, when I began in earnest to return to my farming roots, I got a jump start by freelancing for New Farm Magazine. In its hey day, New Farm’s stable of writers included agrarian poet Wendell Berry and Ohio farmer activist Gene Logsdon. Later, when it switched from a subscription-based magazine to a free, online newsletter it lost readership and status but I was grateful to have the chance to interview organic farmers and learn some of their secrets.
When Robert Rodale started New Farm Magazine nearly 30 years ago, he understood that sustainable farms of the future – if they would have one – needed to be a new kind of farm. Fixing conventional farming wasn’t the solution; indeed, its essential principles and practices defied a long-term solution.
To thrive, Rodale’s New Farms had to combine the best of pre-chemical, pre-industrial farming with the best of modern technology and marketing innovations.
Despite the rapid growth in U.S. organic agriculture, there are only about 10,000 certified organic farms today — small potatoes when you consider there are nearly 2 million “farms” in this country. Something about organic farming is still not resonating with most new and beginning farmers.
Despite all its benefits and improvements, organic farming is still an extremely hard to way to make a living. All farming is difficult but organic farming is especially labor intensive and demands constant attention and much skill. The differences between conventional and organic farming are greater than most people appreciate. It’s kind of like the proverbial difference between lightening and a lightening bug. Conventional is lightening fast — it zaps, burns, kills. Organic is lightening bug slow – natural, easy to miss, and quiet.
Too quiet, you might say. Organic farmers still have no big-name lobbyists, foundations, or academic powerhouses that are pushing its agenda or researching its advantages. The USDA gives organics more lip service than sustenance when it comes to time and money.
Indeed, the barriers to successful organic farming are so great that Erin and I have made it our personal mission to help give beginning farmers a leg up. We don’t want it to be as hard a row to hoe as it was for us when we got started. This month we officially launched New Farm Institute with the goal of better promoting and enhancing the educational efforts we’ve provided at Green Gate Farms for the past five years. Hundreds of people have participated in activities including: field trips, volunteering, camps, tours, demonstration workshops and special events.
We’re looking forward to adding to this roster on our recently purchased 33 acres in Bastrop County. Four years in the making, our careful and patient search paid off with land that will provide us good soil, adequate water, and, hopefully, a supportive community. We now have the room and resources to not only grow more food but also grow more farmers, like our first incubator farmers, Travis and Neysa, who started their own farm – Roundtable Farm – this year on Green Gate’s Austin “Urban Farm.”
We hope you can help us celebrate five years of farming at our new farm and our New Farm Institute June 4th at our First Annual Hootenanny. You’ll find good food and music, cool recreation, and a great cause.
America’s farmers are growing old. We need new ones. Now.