Saturday, October 21, 2006

There’s a passage in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” that always grabs me, as it speaks about the narrator’s dedication to the philosophy of reason. His dedication comes not from a profound belief in the philosophy itself, but the exact opposite: disbelief. “No one is truly dedicated to something they have complete faith in.”

I suppose that’s where I am at with farming these days. I have been farming for 23 seasons, achieved two degrees from major universities, have worked in four states, traveled throughout North America to study tree fruit growing, and settled in the Hudson Valley to farm. I hate to tell everyone, but farming as a stalwart industry in the Hudson Valley has moved on. It has moved to Washington, California, Chile, Mexico, and many other distant places. Fortunately there are a few obstinate folks, like myself, that stick to it not out of a profound belief that farming has much of a future in the Hudson Valley, but because we want it to have a future and we love what we do.

Most farmers these days are farming their land not for the crops, but for the actual real estate value. Growing stuff these days pays the tax bill and generates some income, but it does not create real value except when the price of an acre of land goes up. The realities of local agriculture are that it is what it is because we can’t compete with large, multinational, corporatized farms (read: industrial food factories). I see more land up for sale, being sold, and being converted to architectural litter than ever before. So how do we put real value back into farming when we have two forces working against each other? How do we create an almost Zen-like dedication to farming; one where we don’t question tomorrow?

I think the simplest answer is for communities to Buy Locally Grown Food. Our only advantage is geography. We’re closer to the people and markets, so…..

1. Local transportation is cheaper and better for the environment. Plus, it tastes better because it is fresher.
2. We support local communities by employing local people (when they can be found) and
3. By keeping local dollars local
4. Most importantly, people can visit, learn about, and interact with local farms and farmers. They can see, touch, feel, smell, and hear their food being grown. They can know their roots and know their food!

Am I dedicated to farming? Yes, but not because I am convinced we’ll be here tomorrow. I am dedicated because I believe we need local farms and a local food supply, and it should be our primary food supply. I am dedicated because most food found in mega-grocery stores is junk. I am dedicated because my great-grandparents homesteaded 600 acres of the finest bottom land in Kansas and were kicked off the land by the Army Corpse of Engineers to build a reservoir. I am dedicated because this big Blue Marble we depend on is all we have. Clean air and water, biodiversity, scenic vistas, and vibrant communities are all dependent on one thing: open space. In the Rondout Valley that open space is predominantly farms. Without them we lose it all.

My dedication to farming comes from an uncertainty about its future. The only way to secure a future is to invigorate and reenergize the farms and farmers themselves through healthy economies. That can only come from local communities. I am dedicated to farming because I am not sure it can be done, but I sure want it to be done.

You want cheap food? Go to Wal-Mart. If you want clean air and water, scenic vistas, healthy biodiversity, and great food, then Buy Locally-grown food from real farmers. Know Your Roots!

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