Struggle, Forgiveness, Hope…Your Help!

 Balancing the Costs of Righteous Pursuits

I remember clearly the morning of February 11th, 1990. Enroute to Nairobi I bought the newspaper through the bus window. Filled with awe for Mandela’s endurance, hot tears of rage, joy and hope for him, South Africa and all of us fell as I took in the news.

Almost a quarter of a century later, we remember Mandela’s grace, wisdom and leadership pursuing peace and reconciliation. A young nation and connected globe celebrate strength, vulnerability and wisdom woven regally into a smile, voice, cadence, presence and strategy.




Through the mini-stresses of the week (predawn caterwauling of owls – a bit too close given the hens were still out, flamboyant late night flailing in the farm room renderinglard and turning frozen San Marzano tomatoes into “Make Merry Marys Mix”, hill-billying our way, (scaffolding and all!) towards our first Montpelier Farmers Market and the Floating Bridge Holiday Market), we repeatedly pledged to be bigger people, re-inspired by Mandela’s life and South Africa’s peaceful transformation.




How big can we all be? Can the improbable outcome of sustainable food be achieved? What piece do we all need to live up to make that so?


Through our short foray into farming with the intent of growing food that does not outsource social and environmental costs and building a small business that contributes positively to our community I’ve grown concerned. Laura and I have mapped a profitable curve for our farm enterprises but 5 years of very long days may be longer than acceptable to wait to pay oneself. In our case the associated agritourism elements look very promising but as we grow more intimate with fella/fellow farmers I get concerned.

I fear there is a misunderstanding of the success of Vermont’s local food production. What if in celebration of hope for a new wave of sustainable agriculture our stories have been too positive? What if as a community, farmers are not clear enough about our struggle around profitability (with each other and our customers)? Though high compared to industrial food, what if our prices are still lower than they need to be if we want to pay ourselves and our staff fairly? And how do we simultaneously make more good food available to people struggling financially? Reading Salt Restaurant’s last radically vulnerable newsletter reminds me that the issue is front and center for other small independent enterprises as well.

Friends (farmers, customers, distant observers), I need your help gaining perspective. I’m giving one of three short “TED-style” talks at this winter’s NOFA Direct Marketing Conference and preparing an article for a relevant magazine. What are your perceptions, observations, concerns, interests, and questions around the costs of production of locally, sustainably grown food? Do you have any stories or examples that help illuminate and what associated “ah-ha” moments have you had?

The Union of Concerned Scientists infographic provides a fun visual of agro-ecological farming to help stimulate clarity on healthy farming to focus concerns and interests vis-à-vis practices.