NewsMay 9, 2017

The Importance of Community in Farming

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Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land's inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.
~Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food

Community manifests itself in farm practices, farm business and enterprise, and farmers' interactions with the law. This isn't surprising: Food is universal. Everybody eats, and when you grow and harvest food, you're the starting point for that. But what might be surprising is how much of our lives, as farmers are deeply community-oriented.

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.
~Thomas Jefferson

These are some typical observations we hear, or make, in our various Farm Commons workshops and other interactions:

●Your neighbors can tell you how to do things you might not know how to do yourself. The person or family you're leasing your farmland from can be part of a long-term, community-oriented relationship with you.
●Your local elected officials are part of your community and you can engage them when you want to change zoning laws or other regulations.
●Your CSA customers are part of a community centered around healthy food and sustainable farming.
●A conversation with your neighbor can head off all kinds of legal hassles.
●Contracts, agreements, dispute settlement mechanisms, organizational documents, records, and reports are all ways of building enduring community.

Knowing that all these connections exist may make it easier for farmers to do these positive things:

1. When things aren't right, get involved in the process of making them right. This means being willing to utilize processes to resolve disputes--whether with customers, landowners, or other famers. It means working with regulators directly to improve both your own compliance and the regulatory process itself (Farm Commons' "Working with Regulators" discusses the steps in this process). It also means working to change laws and regulations that aren't working, which means getting involved in local politics.

2. Ask for what you want, and ask what others want; promise what you can actually deliver. It's not always easy to ask for what we want, or to listen well to what others want. The landlord-tenant farming relationship is a great example of a situation where it pays for both sides to be honest about what they want and sincere in efforts to listen to the other person (check out Farm Commons' "Drafting a Lease: Questions for Farmers and Landowners to Ask," to learn about how to ask such questions. This workbook for effective, transparent CSA member agreements can help food producers working with CSA customers to draft clear commitments on what producers can actually deliver, along with ensuring that customers understand the risks inherent in farming.

3. Make and keep legal agreements. Making agreements is part of cultivating relationships, and keeping those agreements (or walking away from them according to fair and consistent processes) is the key to a cohesive community. At Farm Commons, we have many resources on agreements, from how to finance a farm through an effective land contract to video tutorials on invoicing, dispute resolution, and contracts for planning ahead of production.

"The ultimate goal of farming," wrote Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, "is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." For owners and operators of small farms, that cultivation comes when we build community through farming. That's why, on the front page of the Farm Commons web site, we say that "We cultivate a community of support and resources for sustainable farmers."

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