A Gathering of the Farmers
An Agricultural Revival
March 8, 2014
Wilson College, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
It’s a real treat to be with all of you today. I spend a lot of hours thinking about CNG’s work – how we can do more for our members and have a greater impact. Most of these hours I spend alone, or with one other person. And sometimes that gets old. But there also are those brilliant moments when I see that I’m really not alone. I get a note from someone who tells me how much they value being a part of CNG, or shares how much they learned when they had their annual farm inspection.
Today is one of those moments. I get to be in this space with so many of you whom I have never met, but with whom I identify so strongly. So even as I welcome you I’d like, more importantly, to thank you all for being here and helping to create this event — our first regional gathering.
There’s a wonderful paradox to CNG. On the one hand, it’s impossible for us all to get together. We’re spread across 47 states! And there’s great diversity among our members. That diversity is geographic, as CNG farms stretch from remote Alaska to urban Atlanta. There are differences of scale; some of us have one acre plots and sell at local markets, while others are ranchers with hundreds of acres. Some of us farm land long in our families, sustaining tradition. Others are new to this work, just learning the challenges and joys of farm life.
But despite this diversity, there is among the members of CNG a sense of unity and shared commitment. There is a great sense of belonging, and even pride and ownership.
So how do you explain this? For starters, we stand for something. And it’s something specific.
We believe in food that is produced on farms where there’s a commitment to defined standards and practices, beginning with no synthetic fertilizers or synthetic pesticides, no GMOs, and no growth hormones or routine use of antibiotics. That’s true of all food that is Certified Naturally Grown.
Then there is the whole process to becoming certified, involving an application, a signed Declaration, and an on-site inspection report. Not everyone who applies is accepted, and not everyone who gets in stays in. So you can see why farmers would be proud to be a part of CNG.
But what about the sense of ownership?
It makes terrific sense to me. CNG is what is called a Participatory Guarantee System, which means our certification model relies on peer-review inspections. The farmers in the program have a sense of ownership in large part because they all have a responsibility to make the program work by conducting an inspection of another farm, if there is one nearby.
But surely it is not just the nuts and bolts of certification that define us. Our community is also defined by a shared understanding that the best food possible is produced by working with nature as a partner, an ally, and a source of life, not a problem to be managed. This is a foundational belief that unifies us.
And CNG provides affirmation. It’s validating to join with others who share the same orientation to the land, to farming — to join with more than 700 other farmers who wouldn’t want to farm any other way. It’s reassuring to have “a people” with whom we can set ourselves apart and define ourselves – to have a name to call ourselves that fits who we are.
This sense of belonging transcends the differences in culture, geography and scale.
I know I need that sense of belonging. And it’s funny because I’m not a farmer, but I too feel like I belong in this organization. I grew up in New England, but when getting together with our members in the south I feel very much at home. At the winter conferences, it’s almost like a family reunion every year at the CNG table. Only it’s a family whose members are actually happy to see each other.
That sense of being a part of a larger movement is important for all of us, but especially important to farmers living in states where the move toward sustainable agriculture is a bit slower to take off. In places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Nebraska we can be especially valuable as a beacon to those who suspect there might be a better way.
And lastly, many of us recognize this is the only way forward. We need each other to face the challenges that are much bigger than any farm, or community, or organization can solve.
We need to pull together to provide a popular and durable alternative to corporate food that harms our bodies, an alternative to industrial agriculture that pollutes the land and water. We are a part of a larger movement that needs us to be strong and vital; a movement for good clean food and a healthy planet.
So what about today? We are gathered here for a revival. But to revive what? What is our faith, and our message to the world? This afternoon, the good Reverend Billy, backed up by the spirited Stop Shopping Choir, will surely tell us, so stay for the show!
But I can say some things now. Some of us here love to farm, and make a living from it. We all love good food, especially if we harvested it straight from the soil where it grew. And we love connecting with our neighbors at the farmers’ markets, or the communities we’ve found through our CSAs and neighborhood gardens. But deeper still: we all have a spiritual connection to the earth. And we have the unshakable belief — in the face of industrial agriculture, and GMOs, 2-4D, and bogus food labels — that people can live in harmony with nature and we can have relationships of integrity with each other. We are here to revive and excite that faith, to make our private passion stronger, and make our contribution to the planet and to humanity greater.
We are here to:
Revive the family farm!
Bring back good food, grown the right way!
To take back our soil, air, and water!
And to continue to grow — naturally, sustainably, ecologically, in community with one another and connected to all those who share our vision.
So let’s take this spring-like day to renew our spirits after a long, cold winter, and fortify ourselves for the work ahead. And let’s show the world who we are – so they know about us, talk about us, join us in our work, and buy food from our farmers!
Photo Credit: John Staley took the photos of Alice Varon, Reverend Billy, and the Church of Stop Shopping.