food for thought

Building a Sustainable Farming Legacy

By / Photography By Robbie George | September 08, 2016
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Clara and Eliot Coleman at their family farm in Maine.

Food For Thought

In January I joined my father—organic farming pioneer Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine—at the Agrarian Elders Gathering. The California-based conference was a cross-pollination of farming generations in which farm succession and transition were discussed and insights and hard-earned wisdom were shared. That week inspired me to return to my family’s farm in Maine to better understand how to build a sustainable farming legacy.

What does this term actually mean? I think that a sustainable farming life derives meaning from the connections between generations, and its value is grounded in the idea of legacy. Ecologists know that a young tree grows better when it’s next to a stand of established trees. Roots of the young saplings are able to follow pathways created by the older trees and anchor themselves more deeply. Stronger trees share resources with weaker ones so that the entire forest community can thrive.

This is a perfect analogy for building a sustainable farming legacy: an interdependent and invisible connection between individuals and resources, which acts as a support system. It relies upon the foundation of those who have come before us, and requires a responsibility for those who will follow. It’s a cycle that repeats itself in perpetuity.

Building a sustainable family farming legacy is contingent upon the care and maintenance of the tangible and intangible resources of a farm. The former include the people, land and soil, the physical infrastructure of the farm and the business and capital required to keep it operating. The latter include family values and stewardship, love and caring for the land and people, and the unique and malleable process of farm succession and transition across generations.

As I make my own transition to my family’s farm, I’ll honor the strong foundation built by my father and other Agrarian Elders. I will carry this collective wisdom and insight forward with gratitude and enthusiasm to benefit my children and future generations of organic farmers.

What can you do to help ensure that family farms endure? The answer is simple: Continue to support your local growers by purchasing their food and championing their efforts to bring financial stability and creativity to their farms. Together, by consumers supporting farmers and farmers nourishing their communities, we can build a sustainable farming future for generations to come.

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