More In Common

Fairfield, Iowa is a very unique town. Today we had three screenings, all within a mile of each other, all with a completely different feel. 

The first was with an organic farming classm of about 30 at the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) hosted by Stacy. The students ranged in age, and backgrounds. MUM is a place with an emphasis in alternative approaches to education, and to agriculture, and probably to just about everything. The students were really engaged, and focused, and I actually didn't say a word during the group discussions because the students were already talking in depth about the issues- issues like the cost of energy, and the possibility of a whole new distribution system based on local transport. Francis Thicke- the farmer who runs Radiance Dairy- made it to all 3 screenings today, and helped feed a vibrant discussion in one of the groups. His dairy processes on the farm, and sells within only a 5 mile radius of the farm. As the price of gas gets up, Francis' economic model becomes more and more appealing. 

We- Francis, Andy, and I- headed back to Bill's for lunch, which out here is called dinner, where we ate a vegetable similar to bok choy with paneer cheese, that came from Francis' farm. It's always a great pleasure to eat a meal with the farmer who raised the food being eaten. There were some oven-baked potatoes with the paneer and greens, as well as tortilla chips, salsa and fruit. Nourished, we headed to the Fairfield High School where Ann showed us through a couple doors of the FFA building to the classroom. I said hello to Jon Sandboothe, regional manager of Farm Bureau, who joined Francis and myself for the panel. Jon's a great fellow, a 7th generation farmer- ask him for the story- who raises cattle part-time in addition to his work for Farm Bureau. The conversations were of a different nature here, as more of the students were from conventional farms, and understandably were quick to support the style of agriculture that has provided them and their families with a livelihood. At the end, we all talked about different issues, from feeding the world to the possibility of a sea-change in meat production as the price of energy drives- yes- local food distribution. 

Back at Bill's, who's a selfless host with a culinary gift, we sent out e-mails, mailed DVDs and continued editing. Grilled cheese was served for supper- which is what the third meal of the day is called in Iowa. So it goes, breakfast, dinner, supper for those of you keeping track. 

The third screening of the day was a combination of the two perspectives from earlier. A crowd of about 80 packed into the public library where conventional farmers, niche farmers, and engaged citizens all watched the documentary together. Jon was there again, as was Francis, as well as a couple of other grass-based farmers- Lester who grows for Niman Ranch and drove out from Illinois, and Alice who used to farm in Missouri. The crowd showed a diversity of opinion, of experience, but most importantly a mutual respect. You could tell by the electricity in some of the questions, that deep emotions were behind the words. As the conversation concluded, it was agreed that farmers of all types, conventional, grass-based, large, and small- have more in common than apart. That although we may differ on the path, the intentions are often the same. To grow food, to grow community, to grow health. There's a lot of different ways to approach, and each approach has it's advantages and disadvantages. As we gather together, and discuss our agriculture, there's something to be learned from each camp. The manure from a conventional hog barn may be the fertilizer for the oats you buy in the store, and the new CSA model from grass-based farms might help the conventional farmer effectively find a new market that will strengthen economic viability through diversification.

Farmers all enjoy the connection to the land- the birth of an animal, the sprouting of a seed. It's in the blood, is the phrase heard the most this trip. And that's the same phrase regardless of the type of farm.

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:50:26 -0400