Let’s take a break from cooking and look at some aspects of local food, small farms, and getting back to the way things used to be—growing vegetables that taste good, are bought by local people, and which show respect for the land and the people who grow the food.
At the recent Good Food Festival Conference held in Chicago, fans of organic and local food learned of DIY workshops about preserving garden bounty, growing and making healthy food, and the policies affecting our food systems.Tom Spaulding of Angelic Organics spoke about the farm’s training program for new farmers. Angelic Organics is known for “Farmer John,” John Peterson, the founder, who is featured in the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John.
Peterson was considered a “hippie farmer,” and was suspected of running a free-love farm where secret murders happened. But the truth was, no one understood that he was simply a man trying to do something new with his family’s farm--which almost failed from traditional means int he 1980s farm crisis. All he wanted to do was raise organic crops and make a living. Spaulding spoke of the current-day operations of Angelic Organics, where they run a popular CSA and have a training program for wanna-be farmers who have no experience. Spaulding said, “Half of all new farmers in our training program are women.” Of the 120 graduates of the training program since 2005, he stated, 70 percent are operating working farms. Peg Sheaffer of Prairie Crossing Farms of Grayslake, IL, affirmed that. She stated that she has three active kids between age 6 and 8 and she has run a farm and will continue to do so.
Gene Mealhow of Tiny But Mighty Popcorn told his amazing story of searching for the perfect popcorn, and finally finding an elderly farmer who’d had a strain of popcorn that their family had grown for four generations. He no longer farmed, but still had an ounce or two of it in a jar. Mealhow tried, tasted, and immediately propagated this strain of popcorn, creating what some say is the best popcorn they’ve ever tasted. He has also used corn waste to heat his home for only $149 a year!
Michael O’Gorman of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition informed the crowd that, "Support for beginning farmers is better now than ever in the past."
The Farmer-Veteran Coalition was founded by farmers and food industry leaders with long histories in overcoming the agricultural, managerial, financial, and marketing obstacles to be successful in their work. The goal of their work is to share experiences with recent military veterans and to assist them in using their many relevant skills to create a new generation of innovative, ecological, and financially successful young farmers.
They combined two urgent facts: the age of the average American farmer is 57 years old (according to the 2007 census), with two farmers retiring for every one entering the field. Juxtaposed with that is the high unemployment rate and lack of viable career opportunities among American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a plethora of young people searching for jobs.
O’Gorman informed the crowd that "Many vet farmers are disabled and growing only organic produce,” and that “Your asset isn’t your market or your land—it’s your knowledge."
He concluded with this eternal truism that had a lot of heads nodding: “Most people wake up and go to work. If you’re a farmer, you wake up and you’re surrounded by work.”