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Organic Farming Revolution
Linda Halley

Organic Farming Revolution

By Linda Halley

Partial lyrics to a Beatles hit from the1970’s:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all wanna change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out, in

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We all doing what we can

Those lyrics, and the melody accompanying them, were the background music to many an organic farming pioneer’s life. We were going to change the world, be part of the solution, make a contribution. 

The team at one of the first farms Linda ran (Linda is behind the camera for this one). Gwenyn Hill’s current Wash/Pack and Harvest Managers Ezequiel and Benji Zuniga are pictured in the center of the last row.

Now that I am retiring, I have taken a little time to reflect on the life I chose when I was the optimist who left teaching to become an organic farmer. Considering my parents’ business was selling seed, chemical fertilizer and pesticides, it was revolutionary to return home as an organic farmer. But on most days it was just a lot of work.

 

It was satisfying work and I kept at it. Most of the summer was spent growing, washing, packing, and selling. It didn’t feel like a revolution until winter rolled around and fellow farmers came together at the organic farming conference. We encouraged thinking about soil life, not just soil. We tal

ked about cover crops and compost. We helped start the first CSA farms and their parent organization, Madison Eaters Revolutionary Front (MERF). We wrote to the USDA, insisting that their new organic program embrace the strict practices we organic farmers were already using. 

Although twenty years ago, some things really don’t change, like transplanting in the greenhouse.

I marked my farming years by each passing February farming conference. It reminded me I was not a revolution of one but a part of an agricultural community making contributions and finding solutions. The energy and knowledge gleaned from others sustained me until the next winter. And so those years passed, faster than expected. In the rear view mirror I see sons who are older now than I was when I started farming, friends who have retired ahead of me, mentors who have passed away and change so incremental it is hard to acknowledge.        

Nevertheless, here’s a list of some of the changes. I hear people love lists and my retirement resolution is to scrap the to-do list in exchange for a list of accomplishments, contributions, happy moments, growth, things I love, animals I cared for, random thoughts. . . and I could go on, but that is just self-indulgence. Enjoy the non exhaustive list.

The List of Changes– a Retiring Organic Farmer’s Reflection

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – is found in every state. 

“Farm to Table” is so ubiquitous that restaurants are searching for a new buzz word.

The John Deere trade magazine features cover cropping on its cover.

The University of Wisconsin offers a degree in organic agriculture.

Meat and eggs can be certified as organic.

There was an organic garden at the White House.

There is a certified apprenticeship for ORGANIC FARM MANAGERS in Wisconsin.

There are organic products found in every aisle of most grocery stores. 

Walmart is the largest retailer of certified organic products.

Amazon purchased the largest grocery retailer in the organic sector. 

However…

Fewer young and new farmers find value in certifying, even while practicing organic methods.

Consumers are still confused about what certified organic really means.

Numerous add-on labels have flooded the marketplace, causing even more confusion about what defines certified organic. 

Consolidation of retailers has resulted in lower prices for farmers making it more difficult for small and mid-sized farms to be economically sustainable.

Research dollars to study organic production, nutrition and environmental impacts have not kept up with the growth in organic acres and sales. 

Linda toward the beginning of her organic farming career.

Every generation has its own unique challenges. Like the pioneers of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, today’s young and aspiring farmers are passionate, smart and hardworking,  plus they have many more tools and resources at their disposal. Their unique challenge will be accessing land and the capital with which to farm. It is my belief that we are in a unique time in the nation’s history for non-farming land owners, of which there are many,  to think in new ways about land transfer and help create the kind of rural America we all want. When I look back in 10 or 15 years I want to add “improved land access” to my list. Call me an optimist, call me a farmer, they are one and the same and I am only retiring from farming, not optimism. 

Linda Halley, Outgoing General Manager at Gwenyn Hill Farm. In retirement she is looking forward to managing her 40 acre property along the Bad Axe River, just north of Romance, Wisconsin in Vernon County.

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