Farmers (and others) walking the sustainable path

Why we at The New Farm® have set ourselves the ambitious goal of gathering together 1000 stories of values-based farming

It takes more than a vision, a business plan and a persistent urge to make significant changes in agriculture. It takes confidence – enough confidence to overcome inertia, doubt, fear and social pressure. It takes the ability to believe in an ending you can live with.

Stories give us tools for our imagination. Real accounts put stories into shoe leather, and enable us to think more concretely about how things might work for us if we tried out an improvement or adaptation on our own farm.

Bob Rodale traveled the world to meet farmers and scientists who were using their innovation skills to improve their communities and their countries. He went and really listened, then shared the energy and good ideas of inspiring people with his readers. Together, they created a new stream of thinking about agriculture, giving and borrowing from other streams that were also seeking positive new ways to farm. He founded the Rodale Institute’s experimental farm to apply science to his vision, choosing to confront skeptics of regenerative thinking with the people and the data.

NewFarm.org will continue to keep alive Bob’s agricultural curiosity and his tireless collection of new true tales of community, farm and biological regeneration. We also pay tribute John Ikerd -- one of today’s leading advocates for sustainable family-scale farming – by committing to post 1,000 stories (or more!) that illustrate holistic, values-based ways to farm.

Ikerd is professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri. Since retiring from his campus role several years ago, he’s been criss-crossing North America to evangelize for the rights and hopes of honest family farmers. He’s also been challenging forward-thinking agricultural communicators to publicize “1,000 ways to sustainably farm.”

Making a downpayment on his call in 2001 was the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA. This pro-farmer group published 50 stories of U.S. farmers and ranchers. They worked from a carefully drafted series of questions that Ikerd worked on with Craig Cramer, former New Farm® magazine executive editor. Each story follows the same content sequence to help readers analyze each operation.

With SARE’s permission, NewFarm.org kicks off our “1,000 stories” with their 50 accounts, plus the stories we’ve run so far. We’ll also gather in stories printed elsewhere that readers find helpful, and assign great writers to pile on example after example over the months and years. In our gathering and assigning, we want to target a wide variety of routes to walking the sustainable path.

What kind of diversity? Geographical variation from dryland to muck, urban farms to endless prairies. People variation from 10-generation land-holders to brand new farmers, large families to single operators. Scale and method variation from 1,300-acre certified organic spreads to vegetable-flower-herb fractional-acre farms. Enterprise variation from corn, beans, clover and hogs to mushrooms and raspberries. For starters.

We’ll add published stories written by others that we feel have lots to offer. We’ll ask writers to gather a full set of information for our new interviews, then tell them to fit in all the facts that help tell the story the best. In the end, we want our readers to come away with something to hang their hats and their hearts on. Something that satisfies their soul.

You can use these stories to befuddle the nay-sayers if you want. Anyone who thinks that high-capital, mega-tech, corporate-backed, export-dependent, agriculture is the only way to go will find the 1,000 stories series a brisk – but not a rude – awakening.

The folks we’ll feature are focused on the future, looking for cooperators and always developing options. They will be committed to stewardship, community, economic viability and an improved quality of life, in all ways, for all concerned.

If you’ve read a story like this, let us know. If we have the particulars, we’ll try to get permission to add it to the list. If you’ve got a story that will help others, or know of a farm or ranch that NewFarm.org readers need to know about, let us know that, too.

Thanks Bob, and John, for setting your sights high.

We’ve got some work to do, and no one’s going to be looking back.

Now, on to the stories . . .