10, 2006: August already and judging from the national
weather map it’s probably hot wherever you are. While
we wind down from the rush of spring and early summer, but
before we get into the rush of late summer and fall, there
is time for reflection. My wife calls it the August doldrums.
We’ve had several successful field days this summer
where we showed hundreds of farmers new technologies and organic
production methods. But there’s a lot more to organic
agriculture than learning about crop rotations, cover crops
and grazing. Many farmers must also deal with the loss or
straining of significant social and family relationships when
they change the way they farm.
Transitions of any type can be traumatic. When they involve
not only your business, but your home life, your extended
family, your friends, your congregation, business associates
and your relationship to your community, transitions can be
For those in your community or family who don’t understand
what you are doing or why you are interested in farming organically,
there may be the implication that:
- the previous way of doing things—their way—isn't
- those who don't change aren’t quite as smart or
- the ending of long-standing, multi-generational connections
with implement, fertilizer and farm-chemical sales people
and applicators is a personal rejection of them, too.
When these perceptions set in, former friends can begin to
avoid you, necessary conversations can become strained, and
things can get a little weird during the family reunions at
This prompts the question: How can you explore new ideas
and make changes in your operation in a way that brings new
avenues for success into a family or community, without raising
suspicion and doubts about loyalty and respect for the past?
These are not issues to be considered lightly where relationships
are historic and interconnected. We’ve been farming
the land of The Rodale Institute organically for over 30 years,
and still there are suspicions and concerns in the neighborhood
about what we are doing.
Keep in mind that transitions on the farm affect the entire
family. Ideas that you have thought about for months or even
years may be new to your family and friends. You’ve
had experiences, talked to new people and looked at your situation
in ways they maybe can’t imagine. Many family members
who’ve been involved in the operation for years probably
won’t see the need for the changes you’ve made
or will need to make when farming organically.
It’s important to stay in touch with folks in your
community and let them know you’re still the same person
you were before the transition to organic.
If you’re new in the area, join the local grange or
stop by the same coffee shops your neighbors go to. The best
way to remove suspicions about you is to be open and transparent
about the type of farming you do. Host a field day event,
plan a neighborhood picnic or just invite folks over to see
the farm—anything to let them know that you’re
part of the community.
Just the fact that you make yourself aware of their concerns
will empower you to make the proper response. While not everyone
will share your enthusiasm initially, once they see your willingness
to test new ideas and some positive changes in your operation,
they’ll hopefully come around. Of course the ag-chemical
sales folks will never understand your decision. You may convince
the fertilizer dealers, however, to help you find the materials
you want on the organic side of the fence. And the seed sales
people may be interested in helping you find organic sources
for seeds and cover-crop material—especially if you
introduce them to a network of organic farmers expanding their
need for certified seed. It isn’t that organic farmers
don’t need ag businesses or the community—we probably
need them more than ever, just in a different way.
We also need the support of our families—those currently
involved in the operation—as well as those who worked
the land in the past. We’re not throwing away the past
or saying it was all a mistake. We’re building on it
in a positive way that, with hard work and a little luck,
will make the farm sustainable and keep it in place for many
As I think these issues through and how they affect my own
life, it makes me wonder how the transition process has or
is working for you. I’d
like to know, if you’re willing to write. We all
benefit from shared stories and shared struggles. That’s
how we all move forward.
From One Farm to Another