If the US had 100 Million New Farmers, You Would Meet Them Everywhere
In their book, A Nation of Farmers:Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton tell us that the United States needs 100 million new farmers in order to ensure a food secure future. Imagine what that would be like, you would meet farmers everywhere - on the street, at work, on the bus, at the doctors or even on a mountain top.
That is where I met my latest farmer - on Mt. Baker, WA. Last winter, I won the grand prize for the 2011 Vancouver Island Spine Trail Series. The Series is an annual multi-event celebration to raise awareness for developing a continuous wilderness trail, 700km long, linking communities all along Vancouver Island, from Victoria to Cape Scott. Over 1,000 participants took part in 18 outdoor events.
The grand prize, a fully guided trip up Mt. Baker, WA, was donated by Mountain Madness, a mountain climbing, skiing, and trekking guide service, with a mountaineering school for all levels. Their home base has been located in Seattle, Washington since 1984. President and Owner, Mark Gunlogson, has led trips to all seven continents, reaching the highest point of six. He is well known for generosity and enthusiasm for introducing people to the mountains and encouraging them to achieve dreams of any size. As well as donating the grand prize, he also donates trips to silent auctions, sponsors climbing trips for school children and collaborates with a impressive list of relief agencies, conservation groups, and NGOs. You can find out more here. All Mountain Madness guides are highly skilled professionals selected for their skills, safety, judgment, patience, teaching skills and great personalities.
The guides for our trip were Chris Petry and Jenny Konway and they certainly matched this description, guiding us safely up and down the mountain and making sure we had a great time as well. In his spare time, Chris is a sustainable farmer in Levenworth WA. Jenny used to be an environmental educator teaching school children things like worm composting and recycling but she couldn’t make a living wage so had to give it up. During our three days on the mountain, there was plenty of time to chat and I found out lots about Chris’s farm, “Oh Yeah!”.
He presently grows a mix of market vegetables on ¾ of an acre leased for $50 per month. He recently added more land by approaching a landholder and offering to farm his property. The response he got was, “Go for it and don’t think you need to pay me. I just want to see the land growing food.” He told me a lot about his mentor, a long-time organic farmer, from whom he plans to learn as much as possible. He also has plans of working with his inventor dad to create small-scale farm machinery suitable to working the smaller plots of land. You can find out more about Oh Yeah! Farm here. (gals, you might want to pay attention to the last line of his profile!)
On the way to Mt. Baker, we drove through the Skagit Valley. It is one of the most fertile farming areas in the NW and produces about $300 million worth of agricultural products each year. Sadly though, the area seemed to be economically depressed. The military recruiting office was one of the largest buildings in town (always a good indication) and in the grocery store, a woman paid for her groceries with food stamps, only to stop at the lotto ticket vending machine at the door to purchase her tickets with cash.
I couldn’t help but wonder what this valley would look like if the land was used by small-scale local farmers like Chris Petry. How would things be different if people were growing food for themselves and their local economy instead of tulips for the national market? And what would our world look like if Jenny’s skill in teaching children composting was valued as highly as her skills in crevasse rescue? They are both survival skills after all.
In A Nation of Farmers, Sharon and Aaron define farmers as "creators, sustainers and strengtheners...those who enclose a small space and nurture it in order to bring about the greatest victory of all - the preservation of the future and the repair of the world." Certainly sounds like a worthy pursuit to me.
Mountain Madness Guides Chris Petry (left), Jenny Konway (right) with the rest of the crew on the summit of Mt. Baker! (I am in the yellow pants!)