Ohio traveler debuts “global grassroots” network of farmer-correspondents

By Greg Bowman, New Farm Online Editor

February 21, 2003, Kutztown, PA: Building a regenerative farming web site at The Rodale Institute® in 2003 is a deliriously daunting task. This is not because we have to think up good things to do. Rather, it’s because we have to be stern, self-disciplined and resolute to push back the lists of tantalizing possibilities to focus on what is even remotely humanly possible to accomplish.

Fortunately, the yearning to find a young journalist traveling the world, reporting on organic agriculture, got catapulted via serendipity from concept to reality before it was consigned to our long list of “things to do.”

A casual mention in Virginia to my wife’s cousin triggered a response from a family member another generation down the line in Ohio. “I think I’m really going. I can write. Will you have me?” Jason Witmer wrote early last autumn as he began his post-college life.

It is this kind of confident exuberance that we hope to tap from farmers and farm-supporters around the world. We are laying the groundwork for a network of grassroots correspondents—writing when they can about whatever shapes their farm and world—that will populate NewFarm.org with diverse and authentic global voices.

We in North America know woefully little about the joys, struggles and situations in most nations. Western corporate media outlets seldom make space or time for real world news at the popular level.

Global from the get-go
The regenerative farming movement has been global since its start, when English and then U.S. writers began to “discover” the traditional farming wisdom of India and the Orient. We now have a rich network of collaborating organic, farmer-based, appropriate-technology, fair-trade, community oriented and bio-regionalized efforts. These entities have been galvanized to be pro-active for their mutual survival as the local impacts of the commodity-based globalization become locally apparent.

Just as all politics is local, all popular movements derive energy from the power of human stories to personalize both hope and struggle. Our site is in English, so we are dependent on folks who can speak our language, or find somebody who can. We want to nurture our correspondents from innovative farms, farmer-based research centers, niches in food marketing and positions in agricultural advocacy or education. Sometimes they will speak from a life-time of experience in one place—other times they will bring an outsider’s curiosity and perspective to their writing.

We want especially to hear from young people. Winter organic and sustainable ag conferences are remarkable for the number of youth present. They bring a reverence for their elders, yet dare to ask irreverent questions about what is yet to be. They bring energy and vision. Those who last will also bring a willingness to listen and reflect. Watch for their words here.

Sharing experiences
Witmer’s assignment is to sketch the outstanding people he meets as he heads from Thailand to India to Spain to who-knows-where until June. He and Derek Kratzer—his fellow-Ohioan, cousin and traveling companion—planned their sojourn through the auspices of WWOOF, World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This group helps volunteers to connect with organic farmers who welcome the help for their operations.

Find out a bit about Witmer in his self-introduction. Read about the icy-cold seats of his dad’s beloved orange pick-up, and just how dangerous it is for restive young men to spend too many hot hours picking sweetcorn and wondering “what if…?”

He left January 8 for Thailand. His first dispatch describes his training in a localized use of adobe in a small hamlet. His teacher is an innovative, dynamic organic farmer already making news far beyond his own fields.

We’re serious about a network of global correspondents. Help us find farmers from many nations willing to tell their stories in small doses over time, as their lives unfold and their farms develop. Or volunteer, if this sounds like you. Either way, just email Greg Bowman. If you’re interested in a writing sojourn, send a sample background essay (up to 500 words) and a list of at least five possible topics or themes. Attached photo files help. If you have contacts with farmers or others, provide email (when possible) and other contact and background information.

Now, on to Thailand!