|Hello [name]. Hardship,
eloquence and joy. All of you who haven’t yet
sampled our new farmer journals are in for a treat. These powerful
accounts of life in a new farm venture document the inner lives and
outer labors of those crazy, passionate, beautiful folks who’ve
taken the plunge. For older and more experienced farmers, their journal
entries are reminders of the vertigo and magic of just starting up.
For new and dreaming farmers, they’re both cautionary tales
and profound inspiration. Here’s just a sample of what you’ll
find in Kristen Kimball’s first journal entry from the farm
she and her husband work in upstate New York: “What did I learn
that first season? That insomnia is not among the farmer’s afflictions
.... That some farm days end in high-fives and others in tears.”
(For links to these journals, see below.)
I’d like to thank
New Farm editors Dan Sullivan and Amanda Kimble-Evans for all the
hard work that went into selecting and preparing these entries.
And I’d like to thank the 62 readers who offered to chronicle
life on their new farms, and bare their errors and their souls.
Sorry we couldn’t include you all. However …
starting in March we’ll be creating a forum for all those
interested in talking together about life, problems and solutions
on their new farms—including all of you would-be journalists.
Here’s another idea we haven’t tried, but have the software
for: a New Farm blog (web log). Any interest out there in such a
blog, either as a reader or a blogger? If so, send me an email:
Sorrow in Santiago Atitlan.
Santiago Atitlan is a Mayan city in Guatemala, perched on the edge
of a deep lake that fills a giant, steep-sided caldera. It is surrounded
by still-active volcanoes, and it’s steep streets wind chaotically
up the mountainside. I was there with my son last summer while on
an archeology dig 40 miles away, over the volcanoes as the crow
flies. So, when I opened and read Don Lotter’s collective
interview with old women in the city I was both stunned and deeply
moved: stunned that I knew so little about the hard lives of the
people I encountered, and moved by his uncompromising portraits
of women who have lost so much over the past 50 years—husbands,
children, farms—and yet have accepted the losses with such
extraordinary fortitude. Don’s photos capture every hard year
of life these women survived, and his interviews capture what civil
war and rich gringos have done to their lives and to their ability
to produce food for themselves and their families. Check
it out now.
Humbled and happy.
You know, sometimes all of us here at New Farm are amazed by the
stories we get to share with you. Sitting at home this past weekend,
reading over the stories you’ll soon be enjoying, was one
of those moments for me. I couldn’t believe it as I was touched,
inspired or awed by one story after another: Jim and Carol
Thorpe’s late life dive into ranching in New Mexico,
to which they’ve brought discipline, determination, ethics,
ecology, and a passion to learn. Moie Crawford, who’s
been selling at farmers’ markets in Washington, DC for over
30 years and makes a passionate case for serving city markets—a
case that’s not primarily economic, but rather communal and
personal. Dan Specht, whose 500-acre farm in Northeast
Iowa is a creative mix of older sustainable practices, grass-based
livestock production, open-pollinated corn research and innovative
marketing arrangements. Enjoy them all, and much, much more in this
issue. (See below for more details.)
A note about Senegal.
For those of you who don’t know, The Rodale Institute,
which publishes New Farm, has been working as a nonprofit in Senegal
for over 20 years, researching sustainable production methods (for
a region with an eight-month dry season) and communicating them
to farmers through direct outreach. We’re currently in the
midst of reevaluating our work in Senegal, and so a group of us
spent 10 days in early February meeting with government officials,
non-governmental organizations, farmers’ groups and funding
agencies, mostly in the capital, Dakar, to try and get a handle
on what our mission there SHOULD be. We’ll be spending another
10 days later this year, meeting with more farmers’ groups,
food entrepreneurs, NGOs and researchers, but we’ve already
gotten the picture, and it’s remarkably like the view you
get when talking to farmers in this country: It’s
the markets, stupid!
That’s right. In an impoverished country, where one third
of the population now lives on less than one percent of the land,
and where water is a real problem, the thing people want to talk
about and get energized by is the issue of market access—local,
regional, international. They’re tired of studies, and techniques,
and teaching that doesn’t lead to markets, and who can blame
them. So we’re trying to put together a plan for work that
does just that—especially access to organic markets in Europe
and the U.S. If you have any insights about any business or person
in the U.S. who might be interested in helping us develop markets
here in the U.S. for unique, organic Senegalese products, let me
know. We’ll keep you informed about our progress there.
P.S. In case you didn’t notice, journalists
have a problem. They’re addicted to alliteration (notice the
small headlines above). They’re also addicted to really bad
puns—but those have been outlawed in this shop. Thank God
for small favors, and live with the alliteration.
Chris Hill, Executive Editor
New farmer insights: learning
that animals aren't at all like furry people.
For more, see at left and below.
50 years of sorrow and loss
Don Lotter speaks with the women of Guatemala's most Mayan city,
Santiago Atitlan, about the brutal impact of civil war on farming
and family life.
See at left for more.
Herding hogs in Iowa
"Pigs do really well on grass," says Dan Specht. And for
a little treat, they like his open-pollinated corn varieties too.
See below for more.
Every month 6 new farmers share their tribulations, triumphs, and
moments of quiet joy and desperation. This week:
Essex Farm, Essex NY
Writer Kristen Kimball met her future husband
over a row of broccoli while trying to research a story, and now
she's becoming a farmer--learning first hand the meaning of fatigue,
and small failures ... and utter happiness. (She never finished
that story she was writing.)
Your Farm, Hilmar CA
A deep desire to continue farming family-owned
land led Mele Anderson back to her father's organic almond farm,
but old parent/child patterns made her realize you really can't
go back home again. Then land owned by a cousin came up
for sale, and here she is, raising mixed veggies on a few acres
with her boyfriend, building tilth in the sandy soil, and in the
Growin' Farm, Buena Vista CO
After five years of wwoofing, reading, interning
and dreaming, Joshua Flowers is in the saddle, growing vegetables
and raising goats and chickens at 8,000 feet. He's getting a crash
course in farming lesson number one: Sometimes the best-laid plans
need to be adjusted to fit reality.