Meet the Movement
Iced in up in upstate New York, Mary-Howell has taken
a moment this month to reflect on the people she and
Klaas have gotten to know who are all part of the groundswell
of change in our relationship to food and the land that
has been labeled the organic movement.
We here at New Farm feel it, too. Something big is
happening. A collection of small dreams are coalescing
into a major shift. Around the world, organic principles
are beginning to influence the debate over agriculture’s
future—among kiwi growers in New Zealand, small-scale
vegetable farmers in Kenya, Buddhist monks in Thailand,
urban farmers in Cuba, and on farms and in communities
across the U.S.
We feel it at each conference we go to. Young couples
are bringing new ideas and energy to conferences like
the Upper Midwest Organic conference, and the Pennsylvania
Association for Sustainable Agriculture conference.
Of course, there are frustrations and setbacks, personally
and politically. Dairy farmers despair. With congress,
it’s one step forward and at least one step back
in terms of funding and support for organic agriculture.
But we sniff the perfume of change.
We welcome your comments on any signs of change you
have seen in your own communities, and among the farmers
you know. Why don’t you share them with other
readers by posting them on our new discussion forums?
You’ll need to go to the TALK
home page and register as a member first
before you can participate (it will only take a minute).
The Martens' Farm
Location: about 60 miles southeast
of Rochester, NY, on the western shore of Seneca
Important people: Klaas and Mary-Howell
Martens, Peter, Elizabeth, and
Daniel. Plus Robert Hall (employee/asst farm manager)
Years farming: We've farmed this
farm together since 1991. Klaas has farmed all
Total acreage: 1500
Tillable acres: 1300
Soil type: Honeoye Lima silt
Crops: corn, soybeans, spelt,
wheat, barley, oats, triticale, red kidney beans,
sweet corn, snap beans, cabbage, edamame soybeans
Livestock: sheep, pigs, chickens
for our own use
Regenerative farm practices:
diverse long term crop rotations that incorporate
legumes and small grains, under seeding all small
grains with red clover, actively increasing soil
Marketing: corn & small grains
are sold to Lakeview Organic Grain LLC, our organic
feed business. Soybeans, red kidney beans, and
spelt sold to brokers and processors. Some spelt
is sold as kosher organic spelt. Sweet corn, snap
beans and edamame are sold to processors who freeze
them under brand name labels. Cabbage is made
into sauerkraut and packed under the Cascadian
Farms label. Some of the oats, wheat and barley
are being grown from Foundation Seed to produce
Certified Organic Certified Seed.
||"There are many doors into the
organic community. Some folks come in through their alternative
lifestyle, some come desperately seeking ways to save
their farms, some are merely attracted by high organic
soybean and dairy prices"
The other night, our new friend Henry leaned comfortably
back in his chair at our table after a good meal of our homegrown
pork, and captivated us with wonderful stories about his experiences
as the Peace Corps country director for Mali in the 1960’s
and of the interesting people he has met since as a horticultural
journalist. Tales of African dancers performing for President
Jimmy Carter’s mother blended vividly with descriptions
of artists, mechanics and others he has met who share a common
love for organic gardening.
In the morning of that same day, Adam and Kimberly came into
the mill with some terrific news. For the past several years,
they have struggled hard to make their hill-farm pay, but
the soil and location are simply not well suited to organic
row crops. They’ve spent the winter renovating their
barn, just the two of them to save money, and finally their
first shipment of organic milk was picked up this week. Kimberly
said that when the milk inspector came last week to approve
their barn, they received a score of 100% for the milk house
they’ve worked so hard on. I commented, “I bet
that makes you feel good.” Kimberly’s round face
glowed, radiant as a child at Christmas, her strawberry blonde
hair bobbing up and down, and joyfully she breathed “I
just bubbled inside!”
Over the past 5 years, our cup has been filled with so many
wonderful people. People who have sat at our table and shared
our food, our children, and our home. People who have shared
their food, their children and their homes with us. People
we have met briefly, people we have had the privilege to get
to know well, and many email and phone friends we have never
actually met face to face.
There’s Lisa and Carl who are building a log cabin
by hand and from scratch in the woods with their two small
children and sharing countless hours teaching others how to
There’s Mike and Gayle who grow just about everything
on their 1500 acre organic farm but somehow still find time
to homeschool their 7 children, and despite major challenges
and setbacks, are always so cheerful and appreciative.
There’s young Menno who is invariably optimistic when
he comes into the mill, interested in trying new things on
his small organic dairy farm and confident in success.
There’s Steve who, in his retirement, is energetically
organizing discouraged farmers in Indiana to consider alternative
approaches and ideas.
There’s Sister Miriam who makes everyone near her feel
good, healthy and strong through her deep calm faith and her
belief in the unity and goodness of nature.
There’s Regina and Brent, who supplement their organic
dairy income by giving sleigh rides through their Vermont
woods during the winter.
There’s Beth, Ted, Anu, Laurie, Karen, Steve and many
others who are working within the Cooperative Extension and
university system to help organic farmers do a better job
and to quietly and subtly convert die-hard conventional farmers
to see the organic light.
There’s Ronnie and Brett who we have delightedly watched
grow in confidence and ability as they see that their conversion
of 3000 acres to organic really works, to the astonishment
of doubting family members.
There’s Mike and Maria, who are renting out their organic
farm for a few years to volunteer Mike’s agronomic skills
and Maria’s medical skills as missionaries in Nicaragua.
Our children’s world has also been greatly enlarged
by other organically-connected children, places and ideas,
from tow-headed Jamie who has spent a week each summer for
the past few years on our farm, to the two little girls that
our kids bounced around the hog barn with at the state fairgrounds
in Lafayette, Indiana this past February, contra-dancing with
a bunch of hopelessly inept but laughing adults.
The list could go on and on. We’ve met so many great
people through organics, and we are truly enriched by all
those who have touched our lives even briefly. For the most
part, these folks are not the ‘names’ of the organic
community -- they are simply good organic farmers, researchers,
educators, inspectors and processors who are trying their
best to do a good job and help others. These are not folks
for whom “everything has always gone right.” They
have had their share of disappointments and challenges, but
they are optimistic, they are happy, and they share their
success with others. These are people who, for the most part,
do not measure their success in money alone, and we are incredibly
wealthy ourselves by knowing them.
||"Sometimes I look around at the
group of us and realize how blessed we are to be here,
now, as organics grows, as our opportunities increase.
How fortunate we are to be in the center of the exciting
geometric growth of this new industry."
We are especially privileged to be part of the truly remarkable
and egalitarian team at our feed mill and on our farm -- Daniel,
Norm, Chuck, Robert, Lester, Shawn, Todd, Greg, Clark, Kevin.
We range in age from 18 to 70+, our education level ranges
from 8th grade in a one-room Mennonite schoolhouse to Cornell
graduate school – and everything in between.
None of these differences matter much as we enjoy each other
as people and friends, equally contributing our different
experiences and skills, and working together toward a common
and worthwhile mission. Sometimes I look around at the group
of us and realize how blessed we are to be here, now, as organics
grows, as our opportunities increase. How fortunate we are
to be in the center of the exciting geometric growth of this
new industry, with such neat people sharing the experience.
There are many doors into the organic community. Some folks
come in through their alternative lifestyle. Some come desperately
seeking ways to save their farms. Some are merely attracted
by high organic soybean and dairy prices.
This is a community that is growing and changing. Increasingly,
the new organic farmers are conventional farmers seeking more
profitable approaches, but we have also been truly impressed
by the number of young people we met this winter at organic
conferences who are not from farm backgrounds. Let’s
hope that as we get to know each other and learn from each
other, we will realize that our similarities are far greater
than our differences.
The calendar says that it is now spring, though as we write
this column, it is the first week in April and we are encased
in an ice storm, the trees are glistening, cracking and breaking
under the weight of the ice, the fields are sodden, and no
field work has started in New York. We have had only a few
days of that wondrous early Spring warmth, that feeling of
an ‘incredible lightness of being’ when the air
is soft and gentle, coats are shucked, the earth is spongy
and richly fragrant, the apple tree buds swell, and at night,
the tree frogs make a deafening roar down by the pond. Impatiently
we wait for the weather to break, for we know all too well
how much work needs to be done.
The days of Spring will come, though. They always do, and
we are ready. The seed sits in the barn. the equipment that
Robert and Klaas have been working on all winter is ready
to go. When those days come, the fieldwork will take precedence
over everything else, and our days will run very long. Farmers
everywhere will leave their community with other people and
will sit alone on their tractors, deep in that silent, intense
communion with the soil, the air, the seeds, and the sun.
The soft whoosh of the grain drill, the muted jangling of
the corn planter, the smell of freshly turned warm earth behind
the plow, the warm sun on our backs. It is the primal Spring
urge that defines a real farmer, that irresistible urge to
merge ones’ very soul with the soil and start the process
all over again.
Those days will come, very soon, and we will be ready.