I'm sitting in the living room of my friend Casey's aunt's house in Louisville, Kentucky. Casey was an apprentice last season at Swallowtail and he lives in Ashland now with his family, where he is working to establish a CSA farm beginning in the coming spring. We are in his aunt's house because he arranged accommodations for us while we are here for this year's Slow Money conference. Emily and I drove up from the farm to attend the conference and to meet up with Casey and two other farmers that Emily worked with up at Temple Wilton in New Hampshire, Andrew and Drew. For me, it has become a special once a year allowance to make time to come to a gathering of my peers. In this case, it was an easy choice for a few reasons, Wendell Berry absolutely the first among them. He has been a hero of mine for half of my lifetime, a true light to the budding agrarian world of ecological farming, a forerunner of Joel Salatin and a handful of other grass farmers that for the past few years have been the renegades of the small farms Renaissance.
Wendell is a poet farmer, the most articulate of writers, the most sensible of doers, a moral compass in the agricultural apocalypse of the last century, a voice of sense and real practical wisdom in absolute contrast to the dark corporate reaper of NPK chemical agri-business that has sickled once-thriving agrarian communities to stubble. At a personal level, he has for me at times been the voice of hope in otherwise total darkness, a beacon toward rekindling community here at home, a high priest of humility and real virtue in a seemingly valueless society, a conscientious objector to greed and mindless materialism. I truly cannot express the degree to which this single simple man has inspired me and filled me with hope and longing for something good and wonderful and true. And so when I was offered a 'farmer scholarship' to attend the conference, it was in a way a dreamy entreatment to come to meet a living saint. And with Vandana Shiva and Joel Salatin and Eliot Coleman also on the bill...
As fate would have it, the various briar patches and oil slicks that kept us from launching our crowd funding project in September as hoped for, in the end meant that we found ourselves kicking the campaign off the same day we arrived at the conference. 'Slow money' took on its own special meaning for the farm. As an organization, Slow Money was birthed as a fiduciary corollary to Slow Food. It is an attempt to reconcile the historically wayward world of finance and investing with the worthy vision of Carlo Petrini - good, clean, and fair food for all. It is committed to the building of regional stakeholder networks consisting of food entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, farmers, and investors working to finance local food systems.
The first day here had Joel Salatin, famous in recent years as the tempestuous farmer darling of the film Food, Inc. and hero of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and author of his own book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, opening the conference up with his trademark firebrand, borderline evangelical rhetorical genius. Such a wonderful personality to deliver testimony to the brilliance of simple chemical-free grass farming, rotational grazing, and other practices that have amounted to a revolution in the way small farms are raising cattle and pigs and chickens on grass.
Yesterday, I was brought to quiet tears by the end of Vandana Shiva's talk. She has been an outspoken advocate of farmer's rights in India and around the world in the face of increasing monopolization of the seed supply through GMO's by Cargill and Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland and Dow chemical. She has witnessed the decimation of her country's agricultural heritage in a span of 30 years time, and has fought back through the courts and quiet determined action, establishing farms as centers of biodiversity, ecological farming methods, and seed banks. She spoke of the need for us to use each moment, each seed planted, each bite of food as a means to reconnect ourselves to one another as human beings, and as restorative stewards of an increasingly abused planet. These concepts sound trite or cliche out of the context in which she spoke of them perhaps, but she had prefaced this appeal with such a gut-wrenching litany of crimes against the planet and its people that her countrymen and women have endured, such a grim picture of the greed-driven corporate war field that is the current agricultural landscape in the US and India alike. And difficult truths resonate just as deeply as hopeful ones.
To be in the presence of so many creative thinkers working on the simple local ground-level solutions to complex global problems is inspiring and overwhelming both. To be among other farmers who tread a similar path, whose farms trace a familiar arc whether near or far, whether in the Hudson Valley, Northern California, Colorado, Oregon, or right up the road in Goergia is a comfort and a balm and galvanizing too. It reminds us that we are in good and broad company in our work, though most of us are for the greater part of the year found head to the ground and knee-deep in the everyday doing of this work. It reminds us of our love and our higher aspirations, of our responsibilities as citizens of the earth to one another, of our collective motivations toward something higher and good. And it stirs our creative depths through the sharing of ideas, and revitalizes our generative capacities. We will leave refreshed, inspired and completely overwhelmed.
And we will bring this home to the farm, and we will place these dreams carefully into the soil at home, and plant them as seeds for the brightening dawn. It is time to rejoin our lovely fellows in the fields and barn who have held it down and allowed us the moment away with their steadfast hands. It is time to work again.
With deepest appreciation for Mariana, Joelle, Asim and Chelsea,