Note from Scott: I started this quite some time ago. I have been thinking about it almost constantly. This, as you will see, becomes a note very much directed towards our immediate neighbors. A neighborhood who has almost entirely rejected our farm. Rejected as in supported in a meaningful way, as in purchases from our farm. Support as in, we love what you do, and will enjoy it, but only as long as it's free. Well you get the idea about how I feel on that. I'm not sitting here thinking about saving the world. I'm sitting here thinking about how I create a small world here in which my children WANT to stay here. And that of necessity includes "off the farm" - our neighbors. So back to what I wrote some time ago, and then finished here this windy, rainy March morning. - Scott
This winter continues to drag on; I think even the snowmobilers and skiers are sick of it by now. A long, cold winter. I think spring will be extra celebrated this year; much frolicking. I must again dispel the rumor that the Trautman Men at dusk of the first full moon of spring, will whoop and holler and run the perimeter of the farm naked in celebration. Simply not true. But I sure like the idea of people talking it up. So carry on.
So other than honing our sense of humor, keeping warm, taking care of animals, what do we do. Not, unfortunately, taking vacations; not this year anyway. I can speak for myself, and I read, and I plan and I dream. What I choose to read affects my plans and dreams, and I do plan for my dreams to come true -- if only 20 years into the future. Maybe further. I don't spend a lot of time on doom and gloom, I can get that almost anywhere. I choose to put my thoughts towards the future I want. While the general attitude is one of gloom, I am hopeful. So are many others. Not coincidentally, many of them are organic farmers.
My friend Willi Lehner taught me to "not invest yourself in any particular outcome". Which the more I thought about it, is an adjunct to my existing philosophy of "not being invested in any particular idea", which I have said time and again in regards to our farming experience. I use it to refer to the deep groove of thinking many have -- ideas they accept without question, that form the foundation for the rest of their ideas (about farming), which all makes sense -- IF you accept the initial premise. And one deep societal groove of thinking is: Small Farms Don't Work. Get Big or Get Out. That last part can be attributed to one of the great evil people, surely boiling in hell if there is one, Earl Butz. He was owned by the agricultural businesses; the processors and the fertilizer and chemical makers. Imagine that; what he said sounded folksy and had a certain jingle to it, but the effects (he was the driving force behind what continues to be very, bad farm programs/policy) continue today.
Which isn't to say I believe, either, that as farmers we should be propped up to do whatever damn fool thing we want because it is somehow a right, when we're talking the 'family farm', to do stupid things and be paid well for the privilege just because it's a family farm. No, we DO need to adapt, and the age of the incompetent, dull farmer being propped up are indeed over. There have been and will be smart people with dreams and a willingness to work hard to take the place of the dullard and the whiner. They will be businesspeople, they will have ideals, they will like people, they will care about the earth, their community, their families and their own dignity. They will do what it takes to preserve the right to say NO. No, that is not what I want for my farm. NO, that is not good advice from you university jackasses, NO I will not take that price, NO I will not crawl in on my belly and take what you give me. We will have mutual, long term benefit or we will part ways.
Three important principles need be implemented to make sure we are in a good negotiating position -- and that is the ability to say NO.
1. Soils that produce plenty without aid of yearly fertilizers/chemicals. Soils that have been invested in to bring them back to near the quality of our native, fertile soils. Humus rebuilt, balance regained, soil life abundant and diverse. There is no quick solution, but we know how to accelerate the system. Come to our farm to see what 6 years of work can do. Then think out 20 years. And 30.
2. Minds that are always yearning for the truth; a culture of learning and honesty with each other that things just don't "happen", we take responsibility for them. We will find we don't need the crutches agribusiness offers us, for shorterm gain and longterm poverty. We will have the wisdom to think out 20 years, and beyond this single season. We will question those that have brought us to this place: the flunkies at the universities, agribusiness who's sole heartless goal is to take all the money they can. The ability to intellectually say NO, I don't buy that idea, it is contrary to nature. I trust nature got it right the first time. I need the humility to listen.
3. If we truly embrace the above, this will be easy. That is 'putting aside': putting our money away, not spending it like agribusiness would like, every last penny, every year, but putting aside to provide us the leverage to say NO. One can't say no, if one can't stick with it. It's empty and those we 'negotiate' with know it. They smile, and pretend along with us that we're important, but they know, and we can't escape the reality in the situation around us that farmers cannot say no to any price offered us. We need the money.
The community I dream of -- here -- in Stoughton, WI -- is one that celebrates our agricultural heritage and practitioners as it once did. Well that's living in the past! It was a good past -- and it was pulled from us by us. We decided on mass production over people, here and now over people, illusion of wealth over people. Our current economic situation -- and surely situations yet to come -- are a giant cosmic two by four to the head. What will it take to convince the mass of us that what we've been doing isn't working? The blows will continue to come until we figure it out or we are swept off this planet. But there are signs of hope. It isn't just a bunch of 'crackpots' anymore that don't accept the conventional idea of our non-functioning agriculture and communities. Real, sensible people look beyond right now and don't like what they see of the future, if we don't have courage to act in even small ways, now, to change it.
Right now - here -- there is our farm. And a couple more that dare farm 'differently'. But I'd say we, and shall I narrow it further to say "I", am the only one to speak of a vision -- that where there is 1 farm today, there can be 10 in 5 years, and 50 in 20, and that our farms are intricately weaved into our cultural identity, we are respected and valued, not pitied and romanticized as the legend of the 'family farm' currently is. We will not be poor; we will not be viewed as 'farm hicks' not really of this world or community, but active leaders. Our future will be won when no one has to shrillly scream "No Wal-Mart!", but instead the entire community says "what point is there to a Wal-Mart here? We have what we want already".
So this is a pipe dream? Many will say that that accept what they are told, sit zombie-like in front of their bad news delivery vehicles: papers, TV, radio, and assume the world is going to heck. Why would they not? Why they would not would come to seeing -- to start -- a single happy farm family -- prospering, talking openly about ideas -- and succeeding far beyond the time when any curmudgeon's excuse will fail. "Sure their fields look green now, but...". "Give it another 3 years, they'll get tired of all the work", "they must be cheating for it to look that good". We've heard it all, but there is an energy -- a positive energy flowing out of us, out of our farm, of health, vitality -- of hope -- of wealth -- not necessarily of the monetary kind -- but as you investors in the scam market (stock market, did I misspeak?) know -- THIS is REAL wealth, not an illusion to be snatched away.
This dream takes years -- but the work has already started. First is to actually HAVE a dream -- a vision of the future to think about, but then to put forth both thinking and effort and words towards it. The initial investment for us has been in our soils. The money -- quite a lot of it -- towards minerals and 'fixing' 50 years of mining by well-meaning but duped farmers. We have now EXCELLENT fertility -- we have WEALTH in our soils, most of which other farmers would have a hard time grasping - or valuing. The only way they would, would be for us to fail, them to get our land, and for them to vaporize all the good we've done, have fantastic crops, not know why, for a period of time, before they mined it back to what the rest is. Huh. Guess it was a fluke.
Specifics of The Dream of this NE area of Stoughton:
- acquire a reputation for excellent farmers. "There's just something about those Stoughton farmers - they're happy, they're soils are great, their animals are happy, their farms are beautiful, it is such a treat to visit them -- those people that actually live by them are so lucky..."
Sorry folks, but it's going to require importing farmers. Farmers willing to learn. Young families that desire multi-generational legacies, and are willing to work - hard - towards it.
- a community of non-farmers that gets it -- and sees, understands and values the farming community -- and their own place in the larger community. Farmers working together to help each other. Neighbors helping each other. All of us understanding "love thy neighbor" doesn't mean we have to be best pals, but that we have to look out for each other and support "the bigger picture" of what's going on around us. Otherwise it is imposed upon us, and it will not be what we would want.
For example: Few people can afford land these days. The Few that can: Are developers. And developers develop, and that's not what people around here want. But they believe nothing can be done. Wrong answer. A community of people -- neighbors with a common interest in seeing our neighborhood survive, thrive according to OUR vision, not some developers: Each of us can contribute, say, $5000 into a REIT -- Real Estate Investment Trust -- which can then purchase strategic farmlands as they come for sale. Then the community of investors -- which is hopefully just the community -- in owning the property -- has the right to decide how it is used. Then the work will start:
- Make a plan for the land, with a mind towards beauty, recreation, habitats, ecology. And possibly development -- on our terms.
- Plant trees, encourage ponds/wetlands, not farm fencepost to fencepost.
- Be creative in gaining grants et al program monies for "doing the right thing". You'd be surprised how much is out there.
- engage an organic farmer longterm to improve the soil and bring visually interesting things to the land. Such as pastures, and animals. Give them the ability to make money; a lower rent for the first couple years, then a rent that everyone can live with, higher than the 'just farmland' price, to reflect the investment made. Everybody wins: farmers, investors, neighbors. How about that?!
And the community has an investment in the farms and land. Why, we had better purchase from those farms, and work on our investment, right? Right! Keep the money in the community, feed our community high quality food, give them a constant good feeling from their surroundings. What is that worth?
Neighbors of mine: There could well be such an opportunity that I know of. To start a new farm -- or should I say, bring a farm back from the dead. One farm - ours - does not a movement make. But two. Then a third, how long before there is a real momentum, a tipping point? Yes I know -- years away -- maybe even a generation away.
But the things we can do now - invitations from the community, to progressive farmers. We want you here. We'd like you to farm here. We have a plan. We know what we want this to be, and you're an important part of making that happen. We support our farmers, and they most surely support us. "mama isn't happy, aint nobody happy" -- mama nature aint happy, or farmers aint happy -- well, at least lets experiment with what if farmers WERE happy, HERE.
Folks, I read. I dream. I plot. I observe -- even and especially the enemies of the world we'd like to see. How do they do what they do? What if we used their 'tactics' for good instead of evil, to benefit the whole instead of the one? And the biggest what if we have: What if we gave a damn about each other and trusted each other and worked -- in this small way in this small place towards a better future.
So it's hard to shut me up, if you can't tell from what I've already written. Joel Salatin put it best, he describes himself as an evangelist. I would say so am I. It is easy to say of me, oh he's just so much talk. Funny thing, though, is I've been talking this same way since we moved to the farm, about what we were going to do here, with this farm. And funnier still, it's all happened as I said it would. LOOK at our FARM and see the words put into action. Now it's time to go beyond our farm. Same deal? He's just talk? I know what I'm capable of.
But what about this community, right here? What are you capable of? I can see the possibilities -- I saw it real clear during the August 2005 tornado cleanup. This community CAN come together, but it takes one helluva 2x4 up side the head to do it. And then the natural entropy is to drift back, leaderless, to our homes, our little world, life as usual.
How did you feel, folks? How did it feel to come together and know you were really making a difference, and you weren't running a tally in your head about who was doing what and who you liked and who votes different than you do, but you just for a brief moment, loved thy neighbor as thyself. How did that feel? How'd you like to feel like that all the time, only without having to have wholesale destruction to get it? Do you have the courage?