Small Farmer Commentary – Network and Self-Educate: Opportunities at KRC’s Fall Conference
By Mary Fund
“Secure a support network” and “Self-educate all you can!” That was the advice South Dakota organic farmer Will Ortman gave transitioning organic farmers at a recent workshop in northeast Kansas. (See related article.)
This is good advice for all of us in any of our endeavors and good reason to attend KRC’s fall conference November 17-18 in Manhattan, Ks. Providing a support network and self-education is what our conference is all about!
The last few years and especially last year, conference attendees stopped me over and over again to thank KRC for holding the conference and tell me how great it was to be amongst friends and a community of like-minded folks. “Now,” many would say, “If we could only replicate this energy, this willingness to listen and share new ideas closer to home!”
If you look at the agenda for 2017, you will find the practical how-to workshops (like the SARE funded farmer research projects/demos) vital for your farm or ranch, value added business, or your local/regional food group. But this year we have also tried to address the communication gap many are feeling, and to give you strategies to take home.
Identifying common values is a critical part of overcoming differences in our families, with our neighbors and friends, and within our communities. Whether we are talking with family about what to do with the family farm, or with friends and neighbors about starting a farmers market or local food or wellness group, or find ourselves in a debate about small government vs. large government, or complicated issues of economic inequality and race, we have to learn how to talk to each other—and maybe more importantly, how to listen.
You will notice a heavy emphasis on diversity this year. Many farmers and ranchers have realized that multispecies diversity in critical to soil health and ecological health. Now we must learn the benefits of multi-cultural ethnic and racial diversity in our human communities.
To that end, we will hold a panel representing some of the diversity in Kansas’ food and farming system. We will learn who makes up much of the work force in southwest Kansas’ meat processing plants, and dairy and hog farms. The role of refugees and immigrants as agricultural labor is largely invisible to most people. But times are changing as more people become aware of how our food is grown, by whom, and how it is processed. Access to land is difficult for beginning farmers, but how about access and discrimination issues for long time Black farmers? And what about new refugees from other countries who have long-held ties to food production and seek to replicate that here?
The conference will also include a workshop on “When Tyson Comes to Town” that will explain more about how the industrial model of agriculture is built largely on exploiting labor and communities, including farmers. It is ironic that the very same model of agriculture that depopulated much of the countryside, now finds that the rural communities who might welcome them for the jobs and people they would bring back, do not have a tax base or infrastructure to support the processing plants. So the industry moves closer to where the population and money are, or tries to. (See related article.)
It is never enough, though, just to point out problems. So another conference workshop will focus on a dialogue on the challenges and needs of smaller meat producers and processors to build the infrastructure to offer an alternative to the industrial model. Other workshops will highlight what is going on across the state with local food groups, and others will look at what opportunities specialty crop production offers.
To know where we are going we need to know where we’ve been. NSAC’s Ferd Hoefner will provide insight into the history of a sustainable agriculture and food system, and into our future. Denise O’Brien will help us understand what one person can do—and how much more we can do together.
Secure a support network and self-educate as much as you can. Good advice, indeed. KRC can help you do this! Hope to see you in November.