Monday, November 24, 2014

I Owe a Lot to Alternative Ag

herbs, gardens and broilers - September 1998

You know, if it hadn’t been for the proponents of “alternative ag”, the Boss and I might not have looked at this place and considered the true possibilities. 

If we had not been encouraged to  "think outside the box" ,  we never would have taken the chances that led to "the Opportunity of a Lifetime".

I don’t know if we would have been so concerned over labels and definitions, sustainable practices and environmental issues.

"stacked" production
(lots of variety/small space)

We wouldn’t know what it meant to “stack” production or have considered the Farmers’ Market as a career choice.

We never would have become certified-organic…and the benefits of small-scale production would have been overlooked.
farmers' market - 2010

Herbal medicine and holistic animal care would still be great mysteries.

Ultimately, a whole lot of learning/growing opportunities would have been missed. And I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be who we are or where we are today.

recognize this?
it's the same shot as above - 1 year prior
I have said this before, but it bears repeating.  No one would look at this property and immediately say “FARM!” Maybe we were naïve, maybe we were just desperate, but we saw possibilities, partly because we were being encouraged to question Big Ag and conventional wisdom. This truly worked to our advantage in the early days.

By not limiting the definition of FARM to big and conventional, we found our place in the world as small-scale, direct-marketing producers. This has served us (and our children) well for years now.

BUT, ironically, it is our experiences as small-scale producers that has given us a greater appreciation of those whose practices are completely unlike our own. We now understand the need for large operations, as we are able to see the true scope of demand.  I don’t for one moment think that everyone should shop the Farmers’ Market for all their needs. I know that there is no way small-scale producers will ever feed the world…and I can almost guarantee it will never be done organically!

Over the years, we realized that if we were going to question conventional wisdom, we better question everything. Even the things we were hearing in alternative ag circles.  That was an eye-opening experience! Much of the information used by those in the alternative ag movement to promote their practices over conventional is just plain false.  Or at least sadly out-dated. I’ll be real honest---that was terribly disheartening. To find that those we admired were “spinning” information for their own benefit, just to make themselves and their practices look better, really bothered me.  (and it still does…and it happens a lot) Honesty is the best policy and if your product or practice is truly better, it will sell itself without any type of competition-bashing. In many ways, we learned what NOT to do.

Personal experience on “both side of the aisle” have given us a different perspective and appreciation for all things Agriculture.  We’ve tried a lot of things while living and learning here on the hill…some have worked incredibly well and some have failed miserably. On more than one occasion, we have come to understand why those alternative practices never became widely accepted as conventional wisdom.

garden work

We found our own successful methods when it came to growing things, both plants and animals. Some of our practices fall in the alternative category, some are a little more conventional.  It was surprising to find how much the supposed polar opposite practices actually overlap.

Eventually, we gave up our organic certification. Most of our customers really didn’t care, they had come to know and trust us. While there were a lot of reasons, it was really surprising to learn that despite public perception, organic does NOT necessarily mean less toxic, or more nutritious. The added cost of organic inputs grants no real benefit in the long run, except to boost the price. (I know I just made somebody really mad…sorry…) And, even though we can no longer legally use the “O” word, our practices remain the same.

And while herbal medicine and holistic animal care have their place, there are times when animals and humans will die without the benefit of modern medicine and antibiotics. Medications are only used in a thoughtful, careful and lawful manner.
lambs being checked for anemia
(this one looks good)

We no longer fit in a tight category, although we do benefit greatly from those customers who want to support small, local farms and want to feel like they really KNOW the farmers who are providing their food.

By questioning everything we thought we knew, we have learned to provide fresh, nutritious, local food to our customer friends using the least toxic, most environmentally friendly methods at a reasonable price. And, we’ll be glad to share our knowledge on all those buzzwords and hot topics. 

Yes, we do owe a lot to alternative ag…
...our eyes are open...
the farm in summer
(Tony Giamarrino image)

the gardens in summer
(Tony Giamarrino image)

                         ...if nothing else, it started us on this whole farming/learning/life adventure!


Lessons Learned:
There is not necessarily just one way to do anything.
Keep an open mind and a learning attitude.
There is always room for improvement.
Public perception is often incorrect.

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate!

The 30 Day Ag Blogging Challenge is still going strong.  Check it out HERE.

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