It’s our first anniversary. We’re offering gratitude to farmers.
The UC Food Observer is marking its first anniversary. Some quick stats: we published more than 650 blog posts our first year, earned an amazing (and growing) Twitter following and gained a loyal audience on Facebook. We spoke to some influential people who are household names…and to some folks who are slightly less well-known, but who are heroes in our eyes: farmers and folks from organizations that work to support farming.
Here are just a few of our favorites; we’ll be sharing more!
The UC Food Observer met Mary Kimball a couple of decades ago and has followed her work with admiration and interest since. Mary serves as the executive director for the Center for Land-Based Learning, which is dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and natural resource conservation. Headquartered in Winters, California, the organization was founded by Craig McNamara. (McNamara also owns Sierra Orchards and serves as president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture). Mary told us this:
“Our goal is to develop the next generation of farmers. We focus on production agriculture at various scales. And our folks run the entire gamut. Many are career-changers. We’ve had bankers, lawyers, teachers, quite a mix. Other folks grew up on farms, left the farm and have come back and needed something to jump-start their engagement back into farming.”
The UC Food Observer met Sarah Nolan about a dozen years ago, when she was serving as chaplain to a college-based ministry focused on food justice. Sarah is a founding member of The Abundant Table, a unique faith-based farming and education 501c3 nonprofit organization. In addition to her faith-rooted and farm-based activities, Nolan serves as co-chair for the Ventura County Farm to School Collaborative and sits on the steering committee for the California State Farm to School Network. Recently, the Abundant Table has relocated its operations from the University of California’s Hansen Agriculture and Research Extension Center (HAREC) to land that the organization is leasing from the McGrath family in Camarillo, at the site of the McGrath Family Farm. (You can read our Q&A with Phil McGrath here). Sarah shared with us something that is both simple and profound:
“I’ve learned that small-scale sustainable agriculture is only as sustainable as the community you build around it. Social capital is essential.”
Michael O’Gorman is the Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition and has been farming since 1970. Concerned with the plight of veterans and the shortage of farmers, Michael began the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) out of the back of his pickup truck in 2008. A national non-profit organization headquartered in Davis, California, its purpose is to link veterans with employment and educational opportunities in farming and agriculture. FVC believes that veterans possess the “unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems.” Michael told us this:
“Our country gets divided over matters of war and peace, over how food is raised, but this joining of the two makes those divisions go away. Wherever they go and however they farm. Our military fights together. Soldiers put aside differences in politics, religion, social class and race, and then they all fight together. Unfortunately, there is a lot of division in our nation over how food is raised, and that makes a sad division in our support for farmers.”
One of the highlights of the UC Food Observer’s visit to Farm Aid was a conversation with Shirley Sherrod, former USDA Rural Development director for the state of Georgia. In 1969, she and her husband, Charles Sherrod – a civil rights activist featured in the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” – were among those who founded New Communities, the nation’s first rural land trust. (New Communities provided the model for U.S. community land trusts). The Sherrods also co-founded the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education (SWGAP), a non-profit organization based in Albany, Georgia. They were among the class action plaintiffs in the civil suit Pigford v. Glickman. In 2010, Sherrod was wrongfully dismissed from her position at the USDA. She has written a highly praised biography of her life, “The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear.”
When asked about what kinds of polices might help beginning and smaller-scale farmers, she said this:
“The right kind of policy is one that doesn’t just favor large corporations and large growers. We need to do more for young people. They have great ideas and things that they are doing. I think we could see legislation that would better support their work.”
Have a great afternoon. We’ll see you tomorrow.