state to kick off prototype structure for dynamic farmer-based
By Greg Bowman
One effort to strengthen farms in the middle is the
developing concept of a national Association of Family
Farms. This farmer-driven “value chain”
within the food system would be loosely organized into
flexible associations at interlocking local, state and
Leading advocacy for the AFF concept has been Larry
Yee, director of Ventura County’s Cooperative
Extension in California. He will soon complete a year’s
temporary assignment in Washington, D.C., with the Cooperative
State Research Extension and Education Service (CSREES)
of the USDA. He has promoted this concept around the
country for comment and refining, finding broad interest
from many corners of the U.S.
By providing a nationwide brand and logo -- while depending
on creative and entrepreneurial bottom-up organizing
by farmers using sustainable methods, processors, distributors
and others – farmers could both pass on more value
to consumers and maintain greater control over the process,
More and more consumers want an emotional connection
to their food, a trend that gains strength with every
new disclosure of the vulnerabilities of our current
industrial food-production model, he has found. Starting
local to build partnerships that link together across
the country in common cause can bring “farms in
the middle” into contact with these consumers
like never before, he believes.
In a brief visit to The Rodale Institute® this
week, Yee admitted there are many things to work out.
Farmers working with others in the food chain in their
regions are the best people to do this, and the work
is about to get serious later this month.
Washington state ag and food interests will meet Feb.
25 to confirm their plans to establish the first prototype
of this local-food friendly, vertically integrated ag
sector effort. Hosting the session is the Institute
of Rural Innovation and Stewardship (IRIS) at Wenatchee
Valley College. http://www.iris.wvc.edu/about.html
Kent Mullinex, IRIS director, said Washington proponents
of the AFF concept decided to focus on a single crop
to establish a base. Little surprise, the crop is apples.
“The goal is not to make Washington apples more
dominant across the country,” he assures apple
growers in the rest of the country. Efforts will probably
go toward increasing per capita consumption in apple-growing
areas, using regional and perhaps even national promotions
that will promote the many benefits of apples grown
close to home.
He expects family-scale apple growers at the Feb. 25
meeting, as well as other “food-system stakeholders”
including packer/shippers, apple marketers, marketing
business specialists, state department of ag leaders,
and state economic development experts. Those attending
recognize the current marketing system for apples is
not working for family farmers, and are willing to work
While the food system needs wholesale change, farmers
have to start where they are. “We’ll begin
with returning profitability to the farmer,” he
predicts. Imagining how an alliance family farmers and
supportive regional business and other supporters can
change the bigger picture will come next.
For background on the AFF concept, contact Yee (202)
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