The Farmer

From Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia on the passing of his brother, a farmer. So beautiful.

The Farmer

My brother Don, the farmer, died last Sunday morning—in his home on the family farm. He was born on the farm, lived his whole life on the farm, and died on the farm—the same farm. I have just returned from attending his memorial services. This meant a trip to some of the places where I grew up in southwest Missouri. His burial was in the cemetery at Eureka Church, a small country church that my family attended while I was growing up. I completed grade school in the two-room schoolhouse that once stood near the cemetery. There were five kids in our family, three boys and two girls. Our older sister died in her early 30s. Don was in his early 20s when he took over the home farm after the death of my Dad. The rest of us all had other things we wanted to do with our lives. Don never wanted to do anything other than be a family farmer. He succeeded, both as a dedicated family man and as a farmer.

I was always proud of Don. He was actually able to do the things I wrote and talked about as the challenges and opportunities for small family farmers. I knew it was possible to have a good life on a small farm because he was doing it. I knew him and I knew the farm—personally. The farm was about 200 acres in total. Only about half of that was cropland, which he eventually transitioned into pasture for rotational grazing. The rest was timbered hill sides. It had been a dairy farm since the 1950s. He had once tried to feed and milk something close to 100 cows, but eventually concluded he could do better milking less than 50 on grass. Don knew that cows were simply a means of turning sunshine and grass into a marketable commodity. He also knew that family farming is more than a way to make a living; it’s a way to make a life. He lived and died on the farm that he loved with the people he loved. Who could ask for more from life?

I won’t attempt to tell any more of Don’s story. His wife, Sue, wrote a poem about him that does much better that I could hope to do.

The Farmer

He has been a farmer all of his life,
Long before he took a wife,
He knew he was meant to work the soil.
His days on this earth would be spent in toil,
Planting the crops and clearing the land.
This was all part of the Master’s Plan.
As in his father’s and grandfather’s days,
For generations this had been the ways.
In which they would work the land and the sod,
Drawing nearer to nature and communing with God.
To each of his neighbors he lent a hand
They worked together to farm the land,
In autumn when the harvest came,
Each one in turn did the same.
All through the week they labored each day,
But on the Sabbath they gathered to pray.
To thank Him for His blessings and love,
What they gathered on earth had come from above..
When his children were born he watched them grow.
He taught them the lessons so they would know,
And learn the ways of country and farm,
Of love, truth, respect and to do no harm
To creature on land or those in the air,
And to be good stewards of the land in their care,
He watched them ride horses and float down the stream,
But he knew that their future could not be his dream.
This farmer he realizes that he has wealth beyond measure,
Because here on this farm he has found all his treasure,
With his family around him, for wealth there’s no need.
With all of His blessings he’s a rich man indeed.
His breed is a rare one, it’s becoming extinct,
With this world’s busy lifestyle, there’s no time to think.
Life’s becoming too hectic and people miss out,
On all of the beauty that lies roundabout,
This farmer can see it as he goes through his days,
From bird’s nests to sunsets, each free for the gaze.
The path that he’s taken is different than most.
He’s content in his heart and has no need to boast.
His drumbeat is different but he follows its sounds,
With his dog by his side he walks over this ground,
Of the land that he loves, he will do it no harm,
The place of his birth, the old family farm.

Sue Ikerd

Eat with the fullest pleasure this Thanksgiving

People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating….The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak….A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.

Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

-Wendell Berry

Moving forward with markets

For the better part of the last 20 years, I have devoted my energy to the field of farmers markets, designing and running them, writing and analyzing them with the goal to expand all of its hyperlocal community energy into something that resembles a community of practice that can reduce burnout, increase support, and embed best practices and resources for its organizers. That in turn will help assist meet its true focus: build support for the farmers and small businesses that make up these markets, who are gambling their skills and talents, their bodies, and their futures to ensure their place is still there. If we succeed, we will offer our communities a true alternative to the backwards and crippled dominant systems that are killing this earth and life on it.

So no biggie; it’s just…well, everything.

The first ten years I did this work as Market Umbrella’s Deputy Director and its Marketshare Director. Beginning in 2011, I became a consultant at Helping Public Markets Grow, and then since 2015, a part-time staff person at the only national organization devoted entirely to supporting farmers market operators and networks, Farmers Market Coalition.

I am pleased to announce that I am beginning a new iteration of this work as Farmers Market Coalition’s Training and Technical Assistance Director. This will allow our team to dive much more deeply into the underlying issues that stymie direct-to-consumer channels and also add more components and layers of support for operators within FMC and among market partners. Those partners are increasingly realizing that markets are truly a place for innovation, for incubation of new ideas, and remain the most visible and democratic center of dynamic local and regional food systems. What they may still miss is how much work it takes to make it all add up to system change.

To make all of that balance for everyone’s needs while properly stewarding the resources given to me and use them all in the right order, is the puzzle I am trying to figure out; if you have ideas, feel free to drop me a line.

In this blog, I’ll keep focusing on the big topics and try to use this to continue to inspire but also keep my eye on the local community that I actually live in, where I am constantly inspired by the next generations putting it all out there, even as I am worrying that all of our work will come to naught. Sound familiar?

To keep you entertained, may I send you to my farmers market book group? It has been dormant for some time, but needs to be revived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greta Thunberg to UN: How Dare You

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you! For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than 8.5 years

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that. The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. Maybe 50% is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity. They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences. To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years. There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. 

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Veg variety expands acceptance with kids

Australia: Increased acceptance for multiple vegetables was noted during the five weeks of one study and sustained at the three-month followup. Following the study, parents reported that offering the vegetables was “very easy” or “quite easy” with the majority following the instructions provided by the study.

This study recruited 32 families with children between the ages of four and six where low consumption of vegetables was reported. Parents completed an online survey and attended an information meeting prior to participating.

Study data was collected in several ways: two dinner meals served at the research facility during which children could eat as much of the broccoli, cauliflower and green beans as they wished; changes to actual vegetables consumed at home, childcare or school recorded through food diaries; and parents reporting on usual vegetable consumption. Families introduced one vegetable served broccoli, other families tried multiple vegetables. Parents were provided with a voucher to purchase the vegetables and given instructions on portion size and cooking instructions along with tips on how to offer the vegetables. Children were served a small piece of vegetable three times a week for five weeks. A sticker was given as a reward to children trying a vegetable.

Families that offered multiple vegetables recorded an increase in consumption from .6 to 1.2 servings, while no change in consumption was observed in families serving a single vegetable or families that did not change their eating habits.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190909123713.htm

1619 and (Food) Justice

On August 20, 1619, a ship carrying about 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. 

If you have somehow missed the rollout of the New York Times 1619 project, I hope you will find time to get a printed copy, listen to the podcasts, or find  another way to catch up. This project – groundbreaking, truth-telling, and comprehensive – is a tremendously collaborative endeavor, created and led by brilliant journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones that offers a wide base of knowledge about America’s entanglement with enslavement, and how our systems have been designed to continue to subjugate people, using the construct of race. The other great point made across the essays, the photos, the podcasts, and more is how deeply felt the patriotism is among black Americans who continue to patiently reach out to their compatriots to try to explain what must be fixed.


Nikole-Hannah Jones:

At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans. 

(This statement’s profundity made me slowly draw in my breath:)

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?


The reason this is featured on my public market blog is that our work is really about equity and requires an investigation of the systems that underpin food, farming, and sovereignty.  If the sum of what we accomplish are lovely little pilots and projects that don’t interfere with the dominant system, then we are doomed to irrelevance. But I do have the belief that our work will have results that ultimately change what is broken in food and agriculture by focusing on local control and civic inclusion made real and long lasting by having a reckoning with the past to build the new. One reason I have that belief is the ongoing work and the leadership of black justice organizers willing to address the systemic issues in our work. Examples abound: including Cooperation Jackson, to Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s decades of work, to Karen Washington’s refusal of the term food deserts:

What I would rather say instead of “food desert” is “food apartheid,” because “food apartheid” looks at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics. You say “food apartheid” and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty. It brings us to the more important question: What are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?

Or Dr. Raja’s concise assessment of the problem:

 Who actually owns the means of production? Who owns the business? Who controls the wages in grocery stores? We can describe the physical absence of retail stores in the best possible way, but that’s still a partial analysis of the structural problem that we face. My concern is not just that the term [food desert] doesn’t fully capture what is in the food retail environment, but that it doesn’t tackle the question of agency at all.

More leaders inspiring words here

What is vital about the 1619 Project is that even as its writers and artists educate on the unrelenting degradations visited upon generations of people of color, that same group is also firm in its belief that solutions are possible. That this rising tide of systemic analysis and activism can lift every boat, especially  if white allies do not allow those others who are deeply invested in white supremacy to submerge it this time too.

1619 Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 data collection strategies-South Champlain Islands and Capital City Farmers Markets, Part 2

from Part 1

For the last few years,I have worked on an FMPP-funded project under the supervision of NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator, Erin Buckwalter. This project will aid in building a culture of data collection at Vermont’s farmers markets and has included resource development, evaluation strategies for all market types, and direct technical assistance and training. Because of this, I added a second annual trip besides my usual winter conference attendance. And lucky for me, it was scheduled for the summer rather than the usual winter trip, which, although very lovely, is somewhat limiting for this Southerner and means I see few markets.

Erin suggested that we create a team of market managers, agency leaders, and market volunteers to gather data for markets in August. The goals were multiple:
1. model good data collection habits
2. network markets interested in data collection
3. test out some methods for different types of markets
4. look for opportunities for needed resource development on evaluation
5. see more markets and make a direct connection with market leaders
6. collect some data!

She sent out an email to a few markets to nominate themselves. Obviously we needed to be able to do them in a short span of days, the successful applicants needed to have a use for the data, and they would have to have some capacity to assist the team.

We ended up with 2 excellent choices: Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero, held Wednesday afternoons 3-6 pm, and Capitol City Farmers Market (Montpelier) held 9-1 pm Saturdays.

They were wonderful choices because they were so very different, and they have enthusiastic leadership that are very interested in the data.

Capital City Farmers Market-Montpelier

The team:
Jennie Porter, NOFA-VT’s Food Security Coordinator
me
Dave Kaczynski , Montpelier FM board member, VTFMA board member
Sherry Maher, Brattleboro Winter mkt leader, and NOFA-VT’s lead for in-state data collection strategies on this project
Alissa Matthews, VT Agency of Ag, Food and Food Systems (VAAFM)
NOFA-VT alumni Jean Hamilton and Libby MacDonald
Elizabeth Parker from Sustainable Montpelier Coalition who offered to stay and help when we approached her as a shopper that morning.

Dave and his fellow board member Hannah Blackmer were our leads for the this farmers market collection. This required a very different plan than South Hero, as the Montpelier market is much larger and is situated on a busy shopping district street. As most Vermonters know, this beloved market has been around for 40 years, but has already had to move locations more than once, and will have to do that again after this year. So questions about location had to be added to this survey which meant a flurry of emails and even some refinements to the survey on Saturday morning- thankfully, there is a copy/print company right down the street that was open.
And because this market was on a Saturday morning, market leaders who were interested in doing team data collection could not help, as most were either running their own market or working another job.
So because we had a smaller than necessary team, and the survey would take longer, we decided on a different and relatively new method for collecting the visitor count. We used a method that works better for small teams and for less busy markets: the Sticker Count.
The idea is to give each adult who enters the market a sticker to wear, telling them that we are counting the attendance that day, and then count how many stickers were given out to assess the number. And by wearing the sticker, we won’t double count them.
This method can be fun and less taxing to counters than clicking entries, but it has its own issues, such as:
1. The community has to be aware of this activity beforehand and know to take a sticker but only one.
2. Since counts are estimating potential shoppers, kids are not usually counted. That can be difficult when kids cannot take one of these stickers as they are often the only ones who want to wear a sticker. (Our solution was to stick those stickers to the back of our paper that someone had refused to take to be able to give kids one of those. That way the child’s sticker was not adding to our count. Another way to solve this will be to have kids-only stickers to hand out.)

3. Complex layouts can also make this hard (although complex layouts make ALL counting hard!) and CCFM has ONE fascinating and complicated layout:

 

 

In terms of the survey, we decided to have more ways to complete them as we had a goal to get over 260 completed surveys:
• “intercept” surveys, which means a surveyor asked questions and wrote the answers on their form

•  self-reported surveys under a tent, where people could fill out the forms on their own on paper, or on one of our laptops set up for that;


•  having signs with a QR code for smartphone users to snap a picture using their smartphone which takes that phone to the form online.


The tent was ably staffed by Alissa Matthews, who we decided to have there because she has been involved with this relocation process and could better answer questions about the possible locations and is always calm and cheerful . Dave set the tent up beautifully, both by adding eye-catching signs and table coverings. He also knows how to make tables comfortable for those reading or writing by adding leg extensions which helped as well. His survey work is also stellar; he is a natural at it.
The tent was constantly bustling, Alissa aided by me or by nearby Sticker Queen, Libby McDonald.

One issue at the tent was that the online form was designed to require an email address, which is helpful to ensure only one response per email, but it seemed to freak out those at the computer. The reason the online survey was also included was partly to gather more responses next week after market day, because the location issue is significant for the entire market community to be able to weigh in. Oddly, those doing the self-reporting paper surveys at the same tent were less concerned about the email request on their form and even when we told people they didn’t have to fill out their email on those forms, they often did, saying they would be happy to learn more about the market or the relocation process. (And those doing intercept surveys don’t ask for emails at all.) Another issue was that the printed self survey had a few areas that confused people (the frequency of visit choices were too close together so many people circled more than one choice, and lots of folks missed the other side!) One last issue that I noted a few times were both members of a couple were filling out surveys, which means their economic contribution that day would be doubled. I don’t think any of these damaged the day’s data in a major way, but these are the issues that can arise with allowing self-reported survey completion.

 


The sticker counting started off extremely well, with aforementioned volunteer Libby taking the entrance near to our tent as her stickering responsibility. We worked out language around that, as brandishing a sticker at someone entering a market could seem off-putting, and the market had less time to let folks know beforehand that we’d be doing this.

Instead of “Can I offer you a sticker? The market is counting everyone attending..” which offers an easy chance for a NO.

we settled on:

“here’s a sticker for you (putting it gently on a shoulder or handing to the person) ; the market is counting everyone attending by giving each adult a sticker. The good news is if you wear it, we’ll not bother you again!”

3-5 of us were constantly handing out stickers (and the surveyors also had stickers if someone they stopped had gotten past us), all strategically placed near entrances or busy areas. We also had signs at all of the vendor booths and also explained what was happening and asked them to steer anyone without a sticker to one of us.

Our estimate was that maybe 20% were not stickered, especially later on when larger groups started to show up and we couldn’t get to them all. That part is still a very rough guess, but with more trials, we may get better at it.

Still, it was a cheerful, participatory way to do counting and many people were intrigued by the idea and one person even said enthusiastically to one of our team when asked if she had taken a sticker: “Yes,  I was counted today!”  Honestly, that made my day.

Overall, the numbers of surveys far exceeded our goal (we even had to go print more surveys for people to fill out!), our count felt as if was a good test and the team felt relatively confident about the numbers.

 

The Cap City Team: Me, Dave, Sherry, Jennie, Jean, Alissa, and Libby (sorry to miss Elizabeth who had left.)

Part 1