Small Farmer Commentary – Forks that Nourish: Embracing Change in Our Communities
By Natalie Fullerton
Change is part of our everyday lives yet it’s often feared, doubted, and faced with negativity. With devilish eyes and flailing pitchforks, it disrupts the familiar and threatens to make us eat old Billy goat liver and onions for the rest of our lives. (Sorry to those readers who enjoy that dish!) Sometimes it pushes us into the muddy path of a future we no longer understand or agree with. But sometimes it doesn’t, and we find after stepping into the new path, those pitchforks and freaky eyes melt into community and forks that deliciously nourish.
Last summer over 250 Kansans who attended KRC’s town halls shared their thoughts on the future of farming and food in Kansas within the context of the general decline in rural Kansas communities and the farm economy, the challenges in our food system for both rural and urban alike, and the challenges of our changing climate and energy future.
With 250 different backgrounds, perspectives, and outlooks on the future, folks at all town halls said change is necessary, for many reasons. One being because our food system (both urban and rural) does not support the farmers that feed it. Many passionately expressed that we cannot continue on the same familiar path we are on.
How do we go about changing laws and social and cultural constructs, and address health care, politics, climate change, succession planning, and the economy among all the things that will get us on the different path we are asking for? The future our town hall friends painted at times looked overwhelming and grey. But within them was also hope, the fertilizer of change making.
Many people warily united around an idea that a generational shift will move us out of the system that is failing us and that a shift will take place because it has to. But it takes all of us to make the big system changes we are asking for.
We simply can’t wait for the next generation to do it. Keep in mind, baby boomers are still beating millennials and gen z’s to the polls. In the 2016 presidential election citizens 65 years and older reported the highest turnout at 70.9% followed by 45 to 64 year olds – 66.6%; 30 to 44 year-olds – 58.7%; and 18 to 29 year-olds – 46.1%. We all have to pull our weight and take action to realize the changes we seek.
Have we already started to accept our changing world by building a future more resilient? Energy and support for local/regional food systems, soil health, and other community efforts that help address some of these challenges are increasing across the state.
Where do I start with all the good news around movements and support for addressing the challenges above?! In December, K-State announced a newly formed Transdisciplinary Issue-Based Teams tackling three statewide concerns: Local Foods, Rural Stress, and Succession Planning. Local extension agents volunteered to serve on these teams and have begun work focusing on these issues.
The Kansas Health Foundation recently announced support in the form of $1.9 million to enhance the Double Up Heartland Collaborative’ s efforts to expand Kansas’s existing Double Up Food Bucks program. In January, hundreds of high plains farmers attended Soil Health U in Salina to learn about “shifting to farming with nature rather than against it.” Food and farm councils continue to strengthen around the state to take on local issues like disappearing grocery stories and supporting local food enterprises.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, new immediate challenges have entered our farms and communities around access to markets especially. A lot of work is needed to support farmers who grow the food that feed into these systems. Succession planning, access to land, adapting to climate change, and education in alternative ways to grow, and development of markets are critical needs for Kansas farmers. I know, I’m preaching to the choir here.
Looking at the big system changes needed, it’s easy to see why we get quickly overwhelmed and confused about
where to start or be involved. In a recent NPR feature, author BJ Frogg points out in his new book, “Tiny Habits” that “making small behavior changes required just a little motivation and lots of celebration to lead to big changes.” It’s important to change the way we think about these big changes. By just talking to our neighbors once a week or committing to call your legislator or write a letter to the editor during the session on a topic important to you can lead to bigger waves.
A few weeks ago at a convening of the Dominican Sisters of Peace ministries, Sister Christine Loughlin, Director at Crystal Spring Center of Earth Learning in Plainville, MA, called for a mind shift to radical humility in how we approach challenges and change. Perhaps in this shift is acknowledgment of fears and acceptance of uncomfortable solutions to remedy those fears. It means by taking a step back and embracing the present so we can perhaps better prepare and serve the future.
This summer KRC will again host our future of farming and food town halls, although amid the COVID-19 they may take a different form. Look for more information later this spring. The issues above will be a strong topic of discussion but within the context of an election year. We hope you will join us to embrace the present and share ideas about how you are turning flailing pitchforks into community and forks that deliciously nourish.
I welcome you to join us in fulfilling change within our own organization as we continue forward with our new Executive Director, and support KRC as we continue to focus on practical farm and food relating information, how-to’s and advocacy with renewed ideas, leadership, and thinking towards care for the land, people, and our communities.
Natalie Fullerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.