Small Farmer Commentary: A New Chapter for KRC and for Sustainable Agriculture
by Mary Fund
I’ve spent much of the summer immersed in dusty boxes and old files as we clean out the “archives” for the Kansas Rural Center. Archives is a fancier term than “attic” which is where all our old files go to die. We are of course doing this because (see page 1) we are closing the Whiting office to move into a new leaner, more efficient phase that technology now allows.
It has not been unlike cleaning out your parents’ house. Each box holds achievements, stories, and reminders of how much has happened in 35 years– how much is profoundly different in today’s world– and yet how much remains the same.
I found copies of KRC’s first Food Systems Study from 1982. Yes, we were talking about a food “system” and how Kansas had once grown much of its fruits and vegetables and could do so again, way back in 1982. I came across research on interbasin transfers and copies of that long ago Corps study of a pipeline to transfer water from the Missouri River to Western Kansas. What crazy ideas we had then, huh?
I found old Small Farm Energy Primers from the Center for Rural Affairs, our sister organization who helped us get started in 1979. The primers were full of on-farm energy innovations like solar grain dryers and solar water heaters for dairy barns. More crazy ideas, right?
And then there were the records of our early sustainable farming practices project- pre-Clean Water Farms. These were on-farm demonstrations to help farmers reduce their reliance on expensive inputs like fertilizers through interseeding legumes and planting cover crops that could also be used as forages, increase water infiltration, and build soil. Sound familiar?
The farm crisis of the mid-80’s, one of the most dramatic periods of recent farm history, was also tucked away in the attic in the form of in-take files and folders on farmer advocate trainings. We fielded countless phone calls from farmers facing foreclosure or bankruptcy threats. We quickly turned to organizing meetings that trained a statewide farmer advocate network that helped many of those callers save their farms.
Throughout it all, we asked essential questions about corporate control and concentration of land and water ownership.
It is not perhaps so much that things remain the same after three decades, but that KRC has always been focused on the critical issues– asking the right questions– and change does not come easily or quickly on the big issues.
Technology now allows us to economize on space, collaborate at great distances, and communicate more often and more effectively. Our goals and passion remain the same. Our address is all that has changed.
Please be patient with our new phone system and our new Topeka address. We are sure there will be bumps in the road, but in the long run, we think we can be leaner, more efficient, and more effective. ❑
Mary Fund can be reached at mfund@kansas ruralcenter.org
From Sept-Oct 2014 Rural Papers