Growers-to-Growers Shared Value Network
by Pamela Boyce Simms
|Photo by Jim Peppler.|
Why preach to the choir? Climate change isn’t selective about who is affected, so reaching out to everyone, the “unusual suspects” included, is key to Transition environmental work. Embracing those who rarely attend Transition events is a challenge for Transitioners determined to be inclusive as they move communities toward resilience.
Farming is central to Transition’s mission of developing thriving local economies, yet farmers are classic…unusual suspects. The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) is therefore reaching out to support farmers.
Grower Support Systems
Once upon a time New York State growers could set their watches by the regular visits of the USDA Soil Conservationists (USDA NRCS) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) agents who often became like extended family. As George Sisco, a 30-year plus veteran of USDA NRCS put it, “Agents frequently checked in with growers around the kitchen table to plan and budget based on soil capacity, crop and livestock inventory etc. Growers benefitted from the experience of seasoned agents armed with hundreds of farming techniques and practices.” Agents brought with them a big picture perspective on New York farm businesses, trends and most especially, they were consistent, friendly visitors; “company” who understood grower challenges.
CCE began to scale back agent visits in the late 1980’s, and USDA farmhouse-calls were few and far between by the late 90’s. Steady, frequent, easy access to expertise from comprehensive agricultural support systems eroded. As large scale mechanization and mega-competition edged out small farms, the root system, the social and professional infrastructure that provided relief from the isolation and sun up to sundown work-demands of farming life shriveled.
The current landscape of New York farming is a kaleidoscope of shifting trends; witness the emerging patchwork of organic, conventional, grassfed, permaculture, biodynamic, and urban farming movements. Pockets of lively farmer-support activities areon the upswing. However, one size does not fit all.
Transition Growers-to-Growers Shared Value Network
Growers who thriveare those supported by strong peer-networks, and/or an extended family social infrastructure. Cultivation of such non-hierarchical, purposeful grassroots networks drives the spread of the Transition movement. So this winter, the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) will seed a Growers-to-Growers Network that:
• offers growers peer-resource counsel on farm business practices,
• invites small growers groups to define their needs, share resources, and collaborate on projects that are of collective benefit.
• facilitates growers intentionally holding the space for peers to form, or deepen support networks specific to their own needs.
The Network pairs clusters of farmers with master-growers and grower-champions in their agricultural sector who mentor fellow farmers in kitchen table groups.
The strength of kitchen table groups lies in: collaborative leadership cultivation, trust, compassion, communication, and unconditional mutual support. The goals are purposeful relationship development, community-building, local self-reliance, more farmer revenue and an excellent quality of life.
A No-growth, Networked Farm
The Growers-to-Growers Network welcomes members with various small and micro farm business models who value ecological sustainability and non-competitive community integration. We take our lead from grower-champions who have made it work.
Imagine a farm business that has deliberately decided not to grow; having repeatedly walked away from moneymaking ventures, opportunities to scale up operations and expand its land base. That would be Sap Bush Hollow, a family farm where a fortunate set of farming conditions and thoughtful decision-making has yielded a high grower quality of life.
Farmer and author of Radical Homemakers Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm relates that for starters, “There are markets and relatively inexpensive land in our part of Schoharie County. We raise grassfed livestock on hilly, rocky, marginal land that was fortunately skipped over during the industrialization era.” So, with a supportive farm community intact, cohesion and collaboration among neighboring farms on projects over the years was successful. Farmers in her area “…know they need each other. We wouldn’t dare touch each other’s markets. We exchange and draw from each other.”
Three generations of Shannon’s family live off of a 160 acre tract of land. She homeschools two daughters and markets the farms products. Her dad manages the livestock with the assistance of her husband Bob, while her mom handles farm bookkeeping and the wholesale accounts.
Shannon’s family will keep the farm small, “going deeper into what they already have rather than expand.” They are stress free because they’re debt free, having resisted the temptation to scale up to sell wholesale. They produce and sell enough to maintain a good life for themselves.
In response to the Growers-to-Growers Network Shannon notes, “Endemically there is little or no interaction between various types of farmers. Farmers need extended family or networks of people in their lives who act as family support systems. A husband and wife alone cannot make it happen without sacrificing relationship. The urban farming movement is a model for how to bring people out of isolation into community to live ecologically sustainable lives. We need to regain relationship skills lost.”
Boiled down to its elements, the Growers-to-Growers Network is about cultivating relationships which become an interconnected root system that supports farmers; Transition’s unusual suspects whose work has always supported us.
“You can never awaken using the same system that put you to sleep in the first place.” –Gurdjief
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Certified Transition Trainer
Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), of Transition US