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Seattle-area urban/suburban farmers make headlines

Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2661
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  71
A smaller Seattle-area (Eastside) newspaper headlined with Your Neighborhood Farmer: The new generation of urban farmers are bringing the farm back home.

This article makes urban/surburban farming sound rather difficult and not very profitable. It featured, however, conventional organic farming and CSA models which are based more on annual vegetable crops and not so much on food forest systems.

I took away three cool things:
1. the CSA farmer is diversifying to include grass-fed beef and local grain crops - this is encouraging to me in that this farm is moving closer toward a systems-feeding-systems design approach
2. our local extension agency (and maybe others in other areas?) are offering support and education about urban farming - maybe they always have, but I think these programs are growing
3. Nathan Rausch (of the first family farm featured in the article) was a permaculture design course classmate of mine who I know is incorporating more and more sustainable design into his system so it will be exciting to see his progress and success.

One disappointing thing is the CSA farmer perpetuating the myth that organic gardening can't feed the world - and he's an organic farmer!

Despite that, I'm heartened that we're getting more and more local food, and innovative farmers providing wonderful examples to learn from.

I would love, love, love to see and have featured in the media more profitable, self-sustaining-style farms and food forest systems. Some of the food forest and perennial vegetable crops are relatively unusual to a lot of folks (and I must admit, I'm one of those!). Could that be part of why they are still not so prevalent?


Hands-on workshops in all shades of green - Cascadia & Seattle Eco Events Calendar | QuickBooks Consulting and Accounting Services - www.jocelyncampbell.com
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
I took away from it that if I'm ever going to make it in farming, I'm going to have to work in a tech industry first.  and I'm going to have to put good business ahead of everything else.

I guess I'll give up on farming and try to find a job as a professional malcontent.


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Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2661
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  71
Dang, Tel. That is a bleak response.

Maybe I try a little too hard to see the bright side at times, but what about the problem is the solution?

Think about it this, too: good business is ultimately care of the people and care of the land. At least that's how I see it, because if you're working with the land, it only makes sense to keep building the soils and systems instead of depleting them. Depleted people are no fun, either. To me, good business goes hand-in-hand with permaculture practices. In fact, I think they're inseparable.

So, back to the solutions, or perhaps learning by what NOT to do.

First problem opportunity: the media wants to write about this stuff, they just don't know enough about it, so the articles come out skewed. The good news is that folks are ripe to learn more. That's a niche that needs filling, eh?

Second problem opportunity: organic small farms are laboring INTENSELY instead of stacking functions, planning for succession, using all the permaculture design systems that increase yield with less labor AND extension agencies are offering educational programs. Looks to me like ripeness for permaculture instructors to jump in and be a part of the solution.

Third problem opportunity: as far as I can tell, these were individuals, or nuclear family farms, which is in contrast to the farms that have a broader community whether it be through WOOFers, interns,  cohabitation, etc. Wouldn't it be interesting to compare and contrast an individual-style model to a community-style model? Or maybe these could even places for newly trained Groundbreakers workers to gain employment. I think one family (was it the Rauschs?) bemoaned not having farming communities like in the olden days. There's opportunity just in writing this article to bring local farmers together.

Any way, I haven't been on the forums much at all this past year, and perhaps my point view is a bit naive compared to others. I'm okay with that. I admit/agree that there was a lot that was bleak in this article, though I think seeing more and more farming and local food articles is a fantastic step in the right direction. Actually, more local food is fantastic, in and of itself, too.

Any other thoughts out there? Am I the only Pollyanna seeing opportunity here?
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
sorry, Jocelyn.  I had the sarcasm turned way up and didn't give anybody any warning about it.

I think the positive things you pulled from the article are right on.  I don't disagree with any of them.

the sarcasm came from a few years of watching the rise of a weird sort of boosterism surrounding small-scale farming in popular culture.  it has been very exciting to me to encounter folks who are interested in promoting what I do for a living, and then really obnoxious to hear those same people try to tell me how to do my job because they read an article or the latest Michael Pollan book.

anyhow, that was some misplaced aggression on my part, and I don't think you're being Pollyanna at all.
Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2661
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  71
Oh, I can see how that would be beyond tiresome! From the quality of some of your posts, that sounds akin to someone at a kindergarten level trying to tell a grad student how to do things.

Sarcasm and frustration understood. Let's just give them (and me!) milk and cookies and a nap, and maybe in 20 years they'll know a little more.
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
I here what your saying Tel! I have been to a few local food meetings that amounted to a bunch of middle aged middle managment types all discussing how to get college kids interested in farming.After all,with our educations and current positions as decision makers,it wouldnt make sense for us to grow our own food so get to it everyone else!Oh and make sure its sustainable or I`ll complain.


There is nothing permanent in a culture dependent on such temporaries as civilization.

www.feralfarmagroforestry.com
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
It always makes me  annoyed when anyone objects to any farming plan not revolving around chemicals with :"but  it can't feed the world". How many people have died of starvation in the last twenty years?.. and it is NOT getting any better.
http://www.wfp.org/hunger
People are quick to dismiss any alternatives as though chemical farming has not only failed to solve the problem, but actually made it worse by stripping the soil of the ability to produce food without chemicals.
Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2661
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  71
I truly meant this to be a positive thing, not a rant thread.

More local farms is a good thing. People making a living on small farms is good, too.

tel jetson wrote:
...and then really obnoxious to hear those same people try to tell me how to do my job because they read an article or the latest Michael Pollan book.


Tel, have you found a good way to take their "advice" and use it as an in-road to deepen their understanding?

My jesting about them being kindergartners was only partially flip. If you think about it, we are much more likely to have patience and understanding with questions from a five-year-old than we would with an adult. A five-year-old just hasn't learned very much yet. If we are gentle with their questions and advice, they will keep asking and exploring. If we shut them down with a harsh or angry response, they might stop learning.

Mt.goat wrote:
I have been to a few local food meetings that amounted to a bunch of middle aged middle managment types all discussing how to get college kids interested in farming.


Mt. Goat, I think the kindergartner analogy works in part here, too. Though with "big boys" like this, I think it can be fair to ask what they are doing to grow their own food. Even in a condo or apartment, someone can grow mint in a window.

In permaculture, the problem is the solution: their interest is a good thing, if misdirected. How can that energy be nudged to flow down the right path? What are some questions to ask to help nudge it? (Be kind, think kindergartner, remember!)

Pam wrote:
It always makes me  annoyed when anyone objects to any farming plan not revolving around chemicals with :"but  it can't feed the world". ...People are quick to dismiss any alternatives ....


Pam, what's your response when they do that? Do you write to the editor? If it's in person, do you give examples of how organic CAN feed the world?

I'm seriously looking for ideas here, because I think lots of us face [s]idiots[/s] kindergartners like this almost every day.

Rodale Institute has been conducting a Farming Systems Trial (FST) since 1981 that proves organic production equals and sometimes exceeds that of conventional/chemical farming methods. Their FST has been repeated and verified by several institutions and organizations. Let alone the recent WSU study on organic vs. conventional strawberries.

I just read of another study (was it in Michigan or Minnesota--dang, I couldn't find it again!) that showed equal to or better than production from organic farms as compared to conventional.

I think a lot of typical big ag-type organic food production is still far higher energy (and less sustainable) input than a well-designed permaculture system would use, but it's a start. Maybe it's even moving up past kindergarten to the secondary school level.

Nudge, nudge. Enough with the ranting, where's the solutions and strategies?
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
sorry to have sent the thread in a nasty direction early on.

I'm really not the most diplomatic person in the world, but the occasions I was complaining about do tend to work out alright.  occasionally, somebody just refuses to believe that I might know something they do not.  it's annoying, but it's sort of funny, too.  once upon a time (apparently as recently as last week), I might have really gotten upset about it.  more recently, I'm more willing to let people be ridiculous.

you're right, though: it can be an opportunity for discussion.

as far as more folks making a living on small farms: yeah, that sounds like a good deal.  I'm resisting my tendency to talk about the problems.
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
One difficulty lies in the fact that the multinational chemical companies have been building on a number of psychological factors for so many years, and the people on the other side are trying to respond with logic.  People want farming to be easier, quicker, more profitable, less worrisome. The chemical companies promise all of that, and in the very short term, they tend to deliver, which makes the farmer a convert. Then when things go downhill, as they will as the soil becomes more depleted, since the evidence was that chemical stuff worked in the first place, it is relatively easy to convince the farmer that more chemicals will do the job again. Soon farmers cannot do without them AND they have an emotional investment in what they are doing being right...as what is the alternative really?

Of COURSE changing over to organic farming will almost definitelycost yield to start out with...just as a starving calf won't gain right away on good feed, neither will a field yield up to it's potential after being abused for years. Many farmers these days are operating very close to the line as it is and would see a major drop in production as a short route to losing their farm. What do you say to people in that situation?  Try to encourage them to put SOME of their land into alternative types off agriculture? Being upfront what the short term results are likely to be for those areas, but stressing long term   values? How many people think in those terms in these days of fast food and instant messaging and immediate pain relief etc.?

Companies such as Monsanto are very clever with their marketting and continue to use the same basic messages..fear..the grasshoppers  or rampant wild oats are coming to GET you but WE are here to help you beat those badboys and together we will WIN(extremely powerful)  and a somewhat less successful but still potent claim that orgainc farming practices will permanently cut into their bottom line. This one is not so much a reactive type of promotion but on putting a positive (if technically questionably true)spin.."Twice the yield with GM (whatever it is"  etc.  NOW  farmers are beginning to dig in their heels a little but the problem then switches to lawmakers, many of whom likely could be convinced chocolate milk comes from brown cows, they have so little concept of what is involved in producing the food they eat.

Many lawmakers are where the farmers were almost a generation ago, and they don't see why anyone should fuss about making land yield more faster and with less effort. Combine that with the fact that Monsanto has been convicted of bribing ag officials in at least one country to help them avoid the laws which might delay or even stop the use of their products. In any case chemical agriculture has an extremely well organized and active lobby group plus media people ready to leap into any discussion..99% of the time without identifying their affiliation or even claiming to have none, and the earnest serious organic  lobbyists are hard pressed to respond in any effective way.

I for one, would love to see a campain started with "It's Not Your Fault" and "You CAN Do It"as  slogans  for people trying to reach out to farmers. I have been reading One Straw Revolution and it is discouraging that even in Japan, a very small land mass country that every one should be able to SEE what he is managing to do; still hasn't converted the naysayers. Malabar Farms in the States, also took totally worn out depleted land and turned it into a lush prosperous farm. Many many people went to see it and marvel..but they go home and don't change. It has to be an EMOTIONAL appeal as well as logic or it won't ever get very far.

In these days of instant and conflicting information, people tend to go with whatever they feel is familiar and therefore more comfortable, and pressing them on it may make them just dig in their heels and become more committed than they actually are. I strongly suspect tht many farmers have an uneasy twitch from time to time when they are told to don protective gear to spray a field of food crops with poison, but they honestly don't FEEL they have a viable alternative. That's what needs to be addressed.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
the myth that organic gardening can't feed the world - and he's an organic farmer!


I think a fair case could be made that "organic farming" and "organic gardening" as most people use those terms (i.e., industry-centered methods are copied with the small adjustment of replacing synthetic chemicals with some combination of biological substances, mail-order predatory insects, and extra work) cannot feed the world.

I was shocked to learn that Ireland was a net exporter of food throughout the potato famine. Even with significant crop failures due to blight, it produced more than enough food to feed its population, each year. So whether or not farming for the global market is capable of feeding the world, I'm convinced that, in many cases, it prefers not to do so.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2661
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  71
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I think a fair case could be made that "organic farming" and "organic gardening" as most people use those terms (i.e., industry-centered methods are copied with the small adjustment of replacing synthetic chemicals with some combination of biological substances, mail-order predatory insects, and extra work) cannot feed the world.


In terms of sustainability I agree with you, Joel; however, I think most (or at least many) people, when saying organic methods can't feed the world, are saying that organic production per acre can't compete with conventional methods. The implication being that if all farms converted to organic we wouldn't have enough food. From what I've read (Rodale's trials, etc.) organic production is equal to, or is even greater than, conventional.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what you mean is that "big ag" organic practices are still overly reliant on oil-based industries, might cost more, etc., which means they cannot be sustained over the long term, and in that sense "organic farming" cannot feed the world. I agree with that in the the long-term, big picture. In the short term, however, and for those who think conventional big ag is better at feeding the world than organic big ag, I am compelled to disagree. Organic, even the big ag version, to me, is a huge step in the right direction and a viable possibility--for now.

As Pam was saying, people and farmers go with what they're familiar with and have bought into the promise that chemicals make farming easier, more efficient and less costly. I just think organic isn't that difficult and I'm hoping that more and more successful, local, organic farms will start to overshadow the other brainwashing.
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I was shocked to learn that Ireland was a net exporter of food throughout the potato famine. Even with significant crop failures due to blight, it produced more than enough food to feed its population, each year. So whether or not farming for the global market is capable of feeding the world, I'm convinced that, in many cases, it prefers not to do so.

For years there has been starvation in some parts of the world while food in other parts of the world is wasted or farmers even paid NOT to grow crops. A couple of years ago the Canadian gov't paid farmers to slaughter their brood sows  by the thousands because of the price of pork, and most shamefully, apparently NONE of the meat went to famine areas as that would have violated  trade agreements.
There have been programs in the past where farmers in the States were paid per acre for land not in production so as to maintain the value of the crops produced. Now, however, I understand that the world food reserve stockpile is reduced to a minimal level and major crop failures around the world would very soon become a matter of serious consequence and not just for  "third world" countries.
I didn't know that Ireland exported food during the famine there; if that is really so, then it just underlines how profit motive  counts more than people's lives.
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I think a fair case could be made that "organic farming" and "organic gardening" as most people use those terms (i.e., industry-centered methods are copied with the small adjustment of replacing synthetic chemicals with some combination of biological substances, mail-order predatory insects, and extra work) cannot feed the world.
I am not at all sure I agree with you on this. I think that organic farming has much more going for it than the small adjustments you mention.  The commitment to having healthy, biologically active soil is an enormous difference between organic and chemical/industry centered methods and I am astonished you would discount it this way.

Also, data I have seen suggests that organic farming practices  can most certainly over time perform as well or better than chemical based  farming. The thing is, if the chemical farms suddenly switched, the dead soil they have abused for years of course would not be able to produce  in the short run what the chemicals have managed to force out of the ground. Basically most food is now grown sort of hydroponically but in vast acreages..if the chemicals were not now added it would take a while for the soil to become healthy/fertile again and in the meantime the yields would absolutely be diminished. THIS is what chemical companies use as evidence to show that organic  practices are not competitive.

I think it's unfortunate when  we don't celebrate and support  the people who are heading for the same goals but perhaps are using a slightly different route to get there. Not all land was covered with food forests  and that which didn't ..the prairies or great plains in N A the pampas in S.A etc still had a widely diverse and successful healthy ecology.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
Pam wrote:
I am not at all sure I agree with you on this. I think that organic farming has much more going for it than the small adjustments you mention.  The commitment to having healthy, biologically active soil is an enormous difference between organic and chemical/industry centered methods and I am astonished you would discount it this way.


the trouble is that very many nominally organic operations, even relatively small-scale and local outfits, have traded chemical destruction of soil life for mechanical destruction of soil life.  I don't know that it's valuable to argue over which of those is better or worse for the land.

while many would argue that the true spirit of organic practices isn't reflected by farms like I describe, that is the current reality that Joel may have been thinking of.  in this case, it isn't an issue of not celebrating folks with goals similar to ours, it's an issue of calling out businesses that cynically co-opt and distort an important idea in order to maximize profit.
                        


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
I have seen  quite a few posts in these forums talking about people with a minimal knowlege of permaculture "masquerading" as permaculturists and thus doing damage to the future development of the "real" thing.  I would argue that that is exactly what is happening here. Taking people who are NOT organic but who CLAIM to be organic and holding them up as an example of how "organic" is really not much different and no more sustainable than chemical based industrial agriculture is, imo,  neither accurate nor helpful.

tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
unfortunately, the organic produce that is most widely available is likely what's sold at major chain grocery stores.  and that produce is likely to be grown on farms that fall into the category that might appropriately be called "industrial organic."  it's valuable to compare because it's reality: two deeply flawed industrial models held up as the only options.  we know better, but not everybody does.
 
 
subject: Seattle-area urban/suburban farmers make headlines
 
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