What Do I Know?
San Diego, California. West Palm Beach, Florida. Washington, D.C. Next up: Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve been traveling a lot this year, and I’m beginning to feel a little like that Johnny Cash song. I’ve been everywhere, man.
In January, I spent a week at a women's leadership conference hosted by National Farmers Union in southern California. I toured farms and got to know dozens of female farmers from around the country. We enjoyed days and evenings of conversation about the many ways women can take the lead—politically, agriculturally, and morally, even—in this, our broken world. We sat through workshops on how to better manage our farm businesses and finances, we discussed why women need to network and build united fronts in agriculture, and we dove deep into why it is especially important for women to run for office—all the offices—now.
Next came Florida. There, I, along with Indiana organic farmer and farm viability consultant Nathan Boone, took part in a Train-the-Trainer program offered by Produce Safety Alliance. This was part of a Local Food Safety Collaborative grant program also offered by National Farmers Union. With this training, Nathan and I can now work with Purdue Extension to offer food safety training to Hoosier growers. We also can provide one-on-one consultations and one-off food safety workshops to Indiana farmers.
The past two years have offered up a great deal of training for me. I have a mounting pile of certificates. I’m a certified farmers market manager. I’ve been certified as a food business finance consultant through the Food Finance Institute. I’ve taken Farm Law workshops offered by Farm Commons, and I completed the aforementioned PSA food safety training. In a couple of weeks, Randy and I will finish out the Beginning Farmer Institute course offered by National Farmers Union. This incredible program took us to Washington, D.C., to beautiful Salinas, California, and next to Kansas City.
All of these classes help me further evaluate what exactly Randy and I will do with our small farm. These classes also allow me to share the insights I’ve gained with other new and beginning farmers—folks who I hope will someday become Indiana Farmers Union members and, eventually, the union’s officers and leaders.
At the very least all this knowledge helps me to understand the hardships of our nation’s small family farmers. The system works against family farming and local food systems. I saw this very clearly as we sat through a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. We had traveled to Capitol Hill for a Wendell Berry Faith & Farming Fly-In, a program organized by the Rural Affairs department of The Humane Society of the United States.
HSUS is doing wonderful things for family farmers. The organization has filed lawsuits—and won—on behalf of family farmers; it brings farmers to the Capitol several times a year to speak with legislators; and it actively works against bills and organizations that support monopolies in agriculture. This particular Fly-In brought 40 or so faith leaders and another 40 farmers into D.C. We spent several days discussing issues of sustainability, humane animal agriculture, and environmental stewardship. This particular trip was both inspiring and frustrating. The conversations with faith leaders and farmers were terrific. The congressional hearing we witnessed, not so much.
I returned home from that trip fired up. I thought I might run for office. (I didn’t.) I thought I might spout off about what I’d learned on Facebook. (I did.) And I came to a few conclusions.
I have more questions than I do answers when it comes to what exactly Randy and I will do with Dugger Family Farm. But I do know that we will use this property as a conversation starter. We will invite others to our home to discuss these issues, to kick around ideas, and to seek solutions. I will write blogs and post to social media in a continued effort to tell the stories of farmers, to promote local economies, to be a voice for animals, and to draw attention to environmental concerns. Everything I do will be dedicated to these causes.
When I post pictures of our farm, I hope you understand that I’m also telling the stories of other Indiana farmers. I’m telling the stories of folks who are doing so much more than Randy and I have time or energy or know-how to do ourselves. When I post a picture of our house chicken, I’m also telling a story about the others—the ones in cages, unable to move, the ones who aren't being heard or photographed or cared for. My posts will cover issues of food access and food justice and our nation's food security (or lack thereof, frighteningly enough).
I want you to understand that agriculture is so very important for so many reasons. It's imperative that we do it right. Agriculture affects our health, our land, our water, our air. Simply put: It will make or break the world we leave for our children.