This article appeared in the February 2021 issue of Growing for Market Magazine.
“Thousands follow his trail without knowing who carved it,” was the final line of a eulogy written by my friend and EcoFarm President, Steve Sprinkle, for our comrade, Amigo Bob Cantisano, who passed on in late December. In that sentence, I recognize myself as one of those thousands. Amigo, along with his cohort, shaped the world in which I live.
He was there at the founding of the organization that employs me (CCOF), the food co-op where I am a member (BriarPatch Co-op), and the organic farm event where I have connected with many of my most important friends and allies (EcoFarm). Since moving to Northern California in 2018, I have crossed paths with Amigo several times and am grateful to have known this man and many of the pioneers of organic farming who blazed the trail ahead of me.
I went back to a book that my sister sent for Christmas last year, Letters to a Young Farmer, an anthology put out by Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in 2017. I read the essay contributed by Amigo Bob Cantisano. I found myself nodding along as I read. All the right advice, I thought—all the things I would say too. I am not an expert farmer myself, but I spend considerable time talking to farmers, young and old, about farming success. He breaks it down into sections: Economics, Skills, Using the experience of elders, Cooperation, Activism, Experimentation, Community, Tenacity, Observation, Adaptability, Marketing, Us versus them, Act locally, think globally, and Taking time for family and self.
Of the fourteen subsections outlined in the essay, you may notice that the majority involve interactions with the outside world. Community ties and family ties are our insurance policy, especially in these tumultuous times. Technical skills are just one single, albeit critical, piece of the puzzle. Still, I see many young farmers isolate themselves on their farms, searching for answers on the internet, but never reaching out to connect with their peers or seek a mentor. While I hear it often in private conversations, at conferences, and read it in the pages of my books, seasoned farmers are wondering why the next generation is not looking to them for guidance.
As a 2021 resolution, I encourage you to connect with an elder farmer or a younger farmer if you are the elder. Take time to learn about the people who paved the way in your local area and industry-wide. Reflect on how you can carry on their legacy and what advice you would give to the generation you precede. Introduce yourself to the founders and the leaders of the organizations that serve your farming community. Find a way to participate. We have the added challenge this year of maintaining our social bonds during a time of physical distance. Keep in mind that it is not us versus them, neither organic versus conventional, nor big versus small. All farmers have valuable lessons to share.
This year’s online version of the EcoFarm Conference will kick off with a session, Organic Pioneers and the Future of Real Organic. There is an all-star line up that is sure to inspire. As per usual, the calendar is packed with social activities, including group mealtimes, yoga, meetups, seed swap, and even a dance party. Steve assures me that we are in for a treat, as their team is busy putting on the finishing touches for the event. I promised I would be there. I vowed to continue to show up and to be part of the safety net we form for each other, even if it just means logging in to a webcast. My presence counts. I am there not only to learn for myself but also to acknowledge the organizers and presenters’ efforts and honor the legacy of the founders who have created this opportunity for us to unite. Hopefully, by next year we will rejoin with hugs and feasts and Kumbaya on the Asilomar beach.
Megan is Growing for Market Magazine’s California-based traveling Field Correspondent and Business Development Consultant. She works as an Organic Inspector for CCOF and formerly as a Commercial Sales Rep for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Follow her on her journey at @megan.alluvial.