ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
Good farming values good neighbors
Cultivating community is just as important as cultivating crops.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager


Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

 

September 1, 2005: Some folks repeat the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I say, good neighbors are cultivated just like the crops we grow. No matter where you farm or what you grow or raise, good neighbors make all the hard work infinitely more enjoyable. You can’t put a price tag on the feeling of being part of a community. That’s what rural life is all about.

However as farming is changing, so is the fabric of rural life, and that can put pressure on the relationships we have with our neighbors. Today farms are either getting bigger or getting smaller. Farming “in the middle” is increasingly tough. This means that many of us are either tenants or landlords. In some areas, competition to rent good farmland is fierce. Over the last 30 years, as farms have grown in size, one operation eats up another in an attempt to remain profitable. This growth often occurs by renting land that someone else has chosen not to farm.

How can we manage these new relationships to preserve the integrity of our communities? Good neighbors are still good neighbors and long-term relationships are as important today as they were 30 years ago.

In our area alone, there are many different types of landlord-tenant relationships. Some landowners--including older, retiring farmers without children to take over--rent out all their land. Some smaller growers, particularly vegetable growers, have more land than they need so they rent a portion of their farm out to another farmer. Other farmers rent ground to farm even as they lease away small pieces of their own property. These can be good situations for CSAs or other small-scale start-up operations.

At times I’ve fallen into all of these categories. Over the years The Rodale Institute has occasionally rented land from other farmers in our neighborhood. Currently, we rent land out to one of our neighbors, John Brubaker.

From my point of view I can tell you that the long term relationship I have with the Brubakers is worth far more than the money that changes hands. We often share equipment, labor and even a lunch or two. We have formed a partnership to market our products that benefits us both. By combining our commodities we can reduce our trucking costs and better supply our customers with the quantities and time schedules they need. We’ve been working together for 30 years now and we both have benefited greatly from the relationship.

Building long-term relationships, whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, is even more important if you are farming organically. Improving the health of the soil takes many years of patience, hard work and observation. Getting fields certified takes time and energy. No one wants to put that time and energy into a piece of land only to lose it to some other use. As farmers we need to be clear with our landlords about what we do, how we do it, and why we’re in it for the long haul, not just for short-term profits. Many land owners are enthusiastic when they discover that organic farming can actually increase the value of their property, that their soil is being improved and that, as organic farmers, we are interested in a long-term commitment to them and the land. That’s being neighborly. Honesty and fairness are still highly valued in rural communities.

Neighbors can be as close as the next house or as far away as the absentee landlord in some other state. Either way we have a responsibility to share with them the news of the farm. Cultivate your neighbors and work hard to stay in touch with them. You’ll benefit, they’ll benefit and ultimately—since every stitch in the fabric of our community is important—we all benefit.

How is the relationship you have with your neighbors changing, and how can we continue to support each other? Drop me a line and let me know.

From One Farm to Another--or perhaps I should say, From One Neighbor to Another

Jeff