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
- 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
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