I realized, after receiving worries from a future-hopeful-interview subject that we were out to portray farmers negatively, that our blog posts thus-far have not represented the great people we've met so far.
It's been hard to keep up with tasks like creating video blogs of our visits (like we were planning to do with the T.D. Willey farm visit), and starting off through the central valley skewed our output, and we might have ended up portraying farming as a wasteland of huge agribusiness with no care for anything but the bottom line.
Let me be clear: this is not the case!
So far, we have been happy to meet:
Shawn Harrison, Executive Director of Soil Born Farms in Sacramento. He told us all about their educational programming, current expansion into a larger parcel of land on the American River, and collaborations with immigrant Hmong and Laotian communities to create a thriving farmers market in a predominantly low income area. You go, Sacto!
Christine Turner, Dan Macon, Joanne Neft, and many many others in the Placer County area, who have been working for years to promote local agriculture in Placer County, promoting ag tourism which has increased the amount of land in mandarin production (even with major development pressures). You can check out some of their work at placergrown.com and flyingmulefarm.com.
Mark MacAfee, of Organic Pastures Raw Dairy, who shows that growing food through tending cattle doesn't have to be extractive and polluting. He creates healthful products while increasing soil quality and respecting the animals he cares for. He also has a lovely family and graciously hosted our visit for multiple days. Thanks Mark and Blaine! I think other dairies in the area should tour Mark's operation and see that one can turn out a great product, and be ecological, socially responsible, AND PROFITABLE all at once!
Tom Willey gave us a great run-down of his year-round vegetable growing operation in Madera. The best two things, I thought, that Tom brought up:
1) Even he, using organic processes and no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, does not claim to be completely "sustainable". He says that "agriculture is a 10,000 year old experiment" and that it hasn't yet been proven to be able to exist in perpetuity...interesting thing to ponder, especially when coming from one of the most productive organic farms we've seen so far!
2) Regardless of the "sustainability" factor, Tom can claim that his labor practices are more equitable and righteous. He plans what veggies he grows in order to have as many year-round, full time employees as possible. He wants to have dedicated, connected employees who are payed well enough to contribute to their local community. As he wisely pointed out, the more part-time, itinerant labor a farm uses, no matter how cheap the produce comes out costing, the more expensive it is in total when one considers all the externalized costs of welfare, crime, publicly-funded healthcare, and other outcomes of poverty that occur in the communities of these laborers. The costs to society are such that, to Tom, it makes more sense just to treat 'em right from the get-go!
Tom Mulholland, citrus grower extraordinaire, has a whole beneficial insect breeding operation (two whole buildings full of banana squash and laboratories!), in order to minimize his use of pesticides. Here is a great example of a totally-conventional grower who loves to promote a better way! And he makes money selling these insects to other growers (which come out cheaper than the alternative: chemical pesticides)!
So you see, not all is bad in the world of Ag, but there is a ways to go if we all want to eat with a clean consciousness!