Organic choice can impact relationships with family, friends, neighbors
Change that feels good to you may feel like rejection to others; to build bridges, stay in touch while you openly share the joys and struggles of your journey.

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

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611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

August 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 earth-shattering.

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 good enough.
  • those who don't change aren’t quite as smart or progressive.
  • 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 grandpa’s place.

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 more generations.

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