I will remember 2015 as the year that our efforts at The Berry Center to rebuild an economy that will support a diversified land conserving agriculture took a manageable shape. We have worked hard for the last four years laying a framework. There was plenty I didn’t know about running a non-profit when I started The Berry Center but there were a few things I was sure of. I knew that we had abandoned farmers to the free market or left them dependent on entrepreneurial farming. I could see that the countryside was suffering and that we were losing farmers at an ever-increasing rate. I knew that I needed to talk about rural problems in my speaking and writing. If only 16 % of us live in rural places and of that number less than 1% of the US population farm it is not surprising that rural places are forgotten. We will not see the changes we want in agriculture or land use without paying attention to the health of our countryside and the prosperity of the people that we entrust that land to. There are signs that what is has been a food movement that ignored agriculture is changing. I know that in the gatherings I am attending the questions from the audiences are better and that the attendees are getting younger.
The most uncomfortable piece of this work has been the “irrational exuberance” of people of good intention who think that something has happened to agriculture that simply hasn’t happened. The evidence tells them that because farm markets appear to be doing well and that “local” and “organic” is showing up everywhere from cosmetics to food to furniture this local food movement has become a cultural change. I know because I am a farmer, married to a farmer, living in farm country that no such change has taken place. When I see the country where I live begin to look better, young people able to farm without onerous debt and with half a chance to pay back reasonable debt, and I see the little towns near us become prosperous again then I will know that the change we so desire and believe to be necessary will have taken hold.
It is important to be truthful about the struggle we are in to improve land use in this country; to accept no damage to the ecosphere. This will require a population of people who know what they are looking at. People able to recognize damage when they see it. The Berry Farm Program at St. Catharine College along with other sustainable agricultural programs across the country are addressing this problem. People need to be taught to look and to know something about what they are looking at.
The most essential piece of this work is the part that will allow farmers to be able to afford to farm well. And this is where I believe we are making progress in our work to bring about a modern iteration of The Producer’s Program. We have some partners stepping up to incentivize farmers’ transition from conventional to organic production. Business people who see that it is in their best interest to have a stable local supply of product and are willing to pay for good husbandry to get it. I look forward to keeping you up to date on our progress to have again the kind of local, stable, farm economy that The Producer’s Program provided.
And so friends, Happy New Year to you and thank you from my family and the staff of The Berry Center for your interest and support of our work.