Each of us has our own story about food and farming and why these are important to us. While our stories may differ, our passion for soil health, nutritious food and sustainability is much the same. The opportunities we have to share our story will vary, but each of us is responsible to use those opportunities wisely in helping shape the future of agriculture.
Re-Imagining Our Soil
My ancestors began farming in Nebraska in the late 1800s, and today we are a fifth-generation farm family. My experiences growing up on our family farm and those early-established connections to the soil laid the foundation for my interest in and concern for soil health. I join widely diverse groups of stakeholders who are re-imagining our soil as they carry on conversations around board-room and dinner tables.
- Boomer farmers: We hear the voice of boomer farmers, in the 54-70 age range, who are using precision ag tools and technology as they enhance the soil through cover crops, no-till, crop rotations and other environmentally-friendly practices.
- Millennials: Ever-increasing in intensity is the voice of millennials, ages 18-34, who now make up the biggest market segment. How will they invest their heads and hearts to transform the soil and best utilize farming opportunities? What are we doing to help guide them? I have tried to instill my love for farming and my passion for our land and soil into my children. My two young daughters and I bought a farm when they were ages 5 and 7. We went to the bank, signed the papers, and later hung up the sign for Butterfly Acres, a name chosen by the girls. I didn’t know then that butterflies would become a symbol of the sustainability effort in agriculture because of the plight of Monarch butterflies. Over the years of caring for our farm, the girls have shared my passion and delight. Today, they are among the 80% of millennials who want to know where their food comes from, understand what farming practices were used in its production, and be assured that the end-product bears a “clean label.” By the way, 7 of 13 stakeholders in our family farm are millennials.
- NGOs: The third voice I’ll mention, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), are mainly concerned with the environmental and social pressures in food production. This group seeks to connect farmers with the tools and partners they may need to increase sustainable farming practices. NGOs are increasingly partnering across the table with a wide array of people and entities for shared positive outcomes on and off the farm.
- Corporate leaders: Corporate leaders, a fourth participant in this conversation, are experiencing sustainability pressures and opportunities that lead them to seek to connect market demand with sustainable ag through their market channel. Food companies and retailers are adding new innovative technologies and partners to help transform their supply chains.
Coming Together to Create Sustainable Ag Practices and Increased Yields
As members of these and other groups come around the table to re-imagine soil, we see their cooperation resulting in soil health partnerships which help create beneficial sustainable ag practices and increased yields. I believe we are at a unique moment in time, with opportunity to shape the future for food and agriculture. Three opportunities will help us re-imagine the soil and shape the future of sustainable agriculture:
- Listen to the perspectives of others around the table. Find out the “why” of each participant – Why does sustainability matter to each one? Don’t stop at conversations with those at your usual table; engage with participants sitting at other tables as well.
- Get your hands dirty building sustainable on-farm practices, supply chains and clean labels.
- Lead transformational conversations which can re-cast vision. Help transform each other’s thinking into actionable strategies as we share our stories.
Family Farms and its member family farms are busy building sustainable supply chains.
My role as CEO of the Family Farms System gives me daily opportunities to make a difference in the ag industry, current and future. Meeting farm families and working alongside to help them succeed in today’s rapidly-changing ag industry, I listen carefully to their “why.” Family Farms and its member family farms are busy building sustainable supply chains. We are passionate about the soil and the connection between family farms and our food system. We take seriously our role as a disrupter and innovator in the ag industry, leading transformational conversations and re-casting the vision, both inside and outside the industry.
My challenge to you is to discover and share your story about food and farming. What connections does the soil create for you? Past with future? Plants with animals? People with technology? Your farm with the global food system?
How do you plan to encourage passion for agriculture in others, including the next generations of your family? What will be the Butterfly Acres for your family and acquaintances? Together, let’s re-imagine and help shape the future of sustainable agriculture.