Search the loop!

Elders of organic farming share stories, secrets and anxieties

2017-12-08 10:12:32
Enjoy this interesting and important article from an elite gathering of our "founding fathers" of sustainable farming, including OCL's own Nash Huber Reprinted of a NY Times article as featured in the Seattle Times.
“I’m 72. I love what I do, obviously, I can’t keep doing it.” But young people “don’t have the financial resources to make it happen,” he said, with land in his area going for $26,000 an acre. “And they don’t have the knowledge yet.” - Nash Huber
BIG SUR, Calif. — Among the sleek guests who meditate and do Downward Facing Dog here at the Esalen Institute, the farmers appeared to be out of place. They wore baggy jeans, suspenders and work boots and had long ago let their hair go gray. For nearly a week, two dozen organic farmers from the United States and Canada shared decades’ worth of stories, secrets and anxieties, and during breaks they shared the clothing-optional baths. The agrarian elders, as they were called, were invited to Esalen because the organizers of the event wanted to document what these rock stars of the sustainable food movement knew and to discuss an overriding concern: How will they be able to retire, and how will they pass their knowledge to the next generation? Michael Ableman, a farmer and one of the event’s organizers, said the concerns were part of a much larger issue, a “national emergency,” in his words. Farmers are aging. The average age of the American farmer is 57, and the fastest-growing age group for farmers is 65 and over, according to the Census Bureau. During their meetings, some of the farmers worried that their children would not want to continue their businesses and that they might have to sell their homes and land to retire. Esalen is the birthplace of the human potential movement and a stunningly beautiful spiritual retreat overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When they were not in conference, the farmers wandered among floating monarch butterflies through Esalen’s farm and garden, rich with Calypso cilantro, tatsoi and flamboyant orange marigolds. ~~~ Weeds and crops When he was younger, Bob Cannard, 61, sprayed DDT and malathion, he said, and he passed out “many times” while working for his nurseryman father. Now Cannard lets weeds grow in harmony with his crops and is the main herb and vegetable grower for Chez Panisse in Berkeley, a temple of organic cuisine. Ableman climbed out the window of his parents’ house when he was 16 and ran away. He was soon managing a 100-acre orchard, and then a 12-acre farm in Southern California, which grossed close to a million dollars. He now farms on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, and travels to Vancouver to oversee urban farms he developed for people coping with addiction and mental illness. They are paid to work the land, and they sell their food to 30 restaurants and at six farmers’ markets. Amigo Bob Cantisano’s dreadlocks dangle below his knees; he is tie-dyed down to his socks. Cantisano, 63, is the only one of the group at Esalen who has regular contact with industrial organic farmers. Some of them are Republicans in cowboy hats, he said, but they overlook his nonconformist appearance. He consults with companies like Sun-Maid, Sunkist and Earthbound Farm on how to improve yields and practice better sustainable agriculture. Morton, who sells seeds through his Wild Garden Seed catalog, discovered at age 6 that food could be free but digging was hard. As a teenager, he said he “came to the realization that seed was the key to wealth and independence.” Some related their marketing tips. Coleman, who sells his produce to 10 restaurants, said the endive variety called Bianca Riccia da Taglio would not sell until he renamed it. “Within two weeks, every lobster salad was sitting on a bed of golden frisée,” he said. When farmers changed the name of Mandarin Cross tomatoes to tangerine tomatoes, sales soared. A farmer who had trouble selling her misshapen potatoes labeled them “Ugly Potatoes” and cut the price. They sold. Retirement And many came looking for answers to the conundrum of retirement. Some have put their farms into land trusts; others said they had tried to negotiate similar deals but failed. Like other family farmers around the country, some are finding that their children do not want to carry on their work. Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farms in the Capay Valley in California was one of the few farmers whose children had returned to the farm, with their own ideas. A son is doing farm weddings and dinners. A daughter is operating a summer camp and running farm tours. In true hippie style, Rivers said: “I don’t want to die with one thing to my name. I want to give it all away. We have to do that to regenerate.” So she will give the farm to her children. Norbert Kungl, 58, who farms in Nova Scotia, is concerned about the future of his land, which he says produces enough income for only one family. “I can’t find a cushion,” he said. “What options do I have other than selling to the highest bidder, which I do not want to do? These are questions that I have no answer for.” Willey, 65, said he had called a family meeting with his three children. “We made clear to them we have a very profitable business,” he said, but none was interested in carrying it on. He understands why. “Farmers often work seven days a week and as many hours a day as the sun is up,” he said. “Young people looking into agriculture are not willing to make that drastic a sacrifice.” Huber, who owns 25 acres and farms more than 600 acres on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, said, “I think we’re looking at models that don’t work anymore.” “I’m 72. I love what I do,” he said. “Obviously, I can’t keep doing it.” But young people “don’t have the financial resources to make it happen,” he said, with land in his area going for $26,000 an acre. “And they don’t have the knowledge yet.” (Read the full article at: )