Farm News

A Decade of Hope

Pak Choi bunch image

It’s quite something for me to be back at my early morning writing station, tapping out this note which kicks off a new decade of April Joy Farm community supported agriculture. In some ways I still feel very much like a beginning farmer, and in other ways, I surely do not. I continue to be delightfully fascinated by the everyday miracles of seeds and soil. But just as certain, my legs, shoulders, and mind are strong from climbing the uneven terrain of each and every past season. Thankfully, both my methods and mindset have been weathered and shaped in very profound ways which no doubt prepare me for the journey ahead.

Paralleling my farming journey is a national conversation around farmland, the ethics of seed production, how we as a country intend to feed future generations of Americans and who we trust to do so.

Across the states, new agricultural organizations such as the National Young Farmers Coalition and the Rogue Farm Corps are cropping up to support eager beginning farmers. Likewise, there are now farm incubator programs for college students, inmates, inner city youth, and veterans. One can even find undergraduate and graduate level degrees in the field of Organic Agriculture. These changes are good and necessary and as far as I’m concerned, can’t come too quickly. It sure felt lonelier when I was getting started.

In my own small way, I too have been mulling over what the NGF (Next Generation Farmer) will need in his/her toolbox to overcome the mounting challenges of growing food in resource depleted times. This year, woven in among a passel of musings I’ve planned, I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the kinds of bright, determined individuals we desperately need to undertake farming as a career. It’s good to hear Barbara Kingsolver highlight in Letters to a Young Farmer, the exact conviction I’ve carried in my heart from the beginning.

“However calloused your hands, however grimy the uniform, however your back may sometimes ache, you are a professional. Your vocation is creative, necessary, and intellectually demanding.”
—Barbara Kingsolver

I’ve always put it more bluntly: dirty hands are not indicative of a dumb mind. By sharing my experiences and exposing the biases I have personally faced, I hope to encourage others to reconsider the profession of farming and other ’blue-collar’ careers in the context of our modern times.

Meanwhile, what’s new at April Joy Farm? On the homefront Brad and I have undertaken a significant planning effort to develop a long-range vision for our farm. Why? The incredibly shortsighted and seemingly en masse development of Ridgefield’s agricultural lands is nothing short of tragic. A deep-seated ethic of community stewardship is driving us to search out potential partners who are willing to help preserve what we can.

Our elected officials have carelessly disregarded many of the pieces to the puzzle that would secure a viable long-range future for Clark County farmland. The acute lack of agricultural literacy in our general population is exacerbating the situation. It’s hard to fight for something you don’t understand. It’s hard to protect something when you can’t comprehend its value. The phrase “dirt-cheap” is a painful reminder of what we’ve already lost.

But we’re forging ahead—learning and changing to meet the needs of the times. Your farmers are recent graduates of Cornell University’s inaugural Climate Smart Farming Class. We now have in place an April Joy Farm Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation Plan that identifies protecting and improving soil health as our most critical task. Thanks to Clark Conservation District, we are also en route to achieving Salmon Safe Certification and building a state of the art composting facility to produce the highest quality fertility right here at home, no off-farm inputs required.

We continue to look for ways to improve the stability and resiliency of our home and farming as a livelihood, not just for one decade, but for hundreds of decades.

To this end, we’re transitioning our farm system to a model of regenerative agriculture, a philosophy of farming in which we work to not simply maintain but actively improve the ecological integrity of our land and its ability to produce food. Regenerative agriculture places our work as farmers in a context much greater than just food production. The farm is viewed as a leverage point to restore ecological health to the larger world system. While this has always been our mindset, now we have a strategic plan to move forward. This commitment has required us to make hard choices, including the difficult decision to suspend our flourishing heritage pork program. On the bright side, we’ve doubled the size of our fruit orchards. Over time, we intend to incorporate many perennial food crops (including hazelnuts and kiwis), and skillfully integrate livestock back into our farm system.

So, life remains an irony. We keep taking significant steps to protect the soil at our feet, while mere miles away from us, this non-renewable resource far more precious than oil is being scraped away and dumped to make way for ‘progress’. That hurts. A lot. Regardless of the long term forecast, we intend to keep doing everything we can to care for our corner of the world, and we trust you are doing the same. I once read that wise people never undertake daunting work because they expect the results to be favorable, but simply because they know with all certainty a thing is worth doing.

“Every purchase you make constitutes an agricultural, social and political act that directly affects people, ecosystems and economies around the world.” —Regeneration International

Which is exactly why we deeply appreciate your conscientious food dollar vote. Rest assured your farmers are devoted to resiliency. As we trek forward, know without a doubt that I’m packing plenty of Joy along for the trip! If you want to watch inspiring, (not depressing, I promise) real life stories from the food movement, check out Sustainable and Unbroken Ground. Both short films are a testimony to the fact that Soil is Life and good people are everywhere.

Speaking of everywhere, that’s where our produce is! Yesterday Brad and I walked the fields to identify the choices for this inaugural week of the 2017 CSA season. I can hardly believe the beautiful, long list. I well up with gratitude each time I think of all the diversity ripe for the picking. Soil, how good you are to us. Photosynthesis, how I love thee. From radishes to rhubarb, snap peas to salad turnips, it is astounding. This generous bounty is especially meaningful considering a mere five weeks ago we were still in the dreary midst of one of the coldest, wettest spring weather patterns on record. Which brings me full circle. As we embark on the next decade of April Joy Farm, no doubt, we’ve many challenges to come. But our backs are strong and are minds are clear and our hearts still make room for hope. Ah hope. That must be what makes farmers, farmers. ~AJ

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