My new book was actually inspired by the public reaction to my first book, about rebooting my grandparents’ farm after almost losing it as the economics of farming unraveled over three decades. Commodities prices dropped, mortgage rates soared, and most of the farm had to be sold off for tax purposes. The same thing happened to thousands of farming families across the country, and so many people have the cherished memories of growing up on a farm that I had. The reaction was very warm and very heartfelt.
You eventually got the farm back, though.
First I tried to save it by farming conventionally, but I drove it off a cliff from lack of financial success. Then we went all organic and have been farming successfully that way for 20 years now.
“Sustainable” is the theme of your book. What does that word mean to you?
Sustainability is a three-legged stool that balances the environment, energy, and economics. The farmers in the book grow only as much as the ecosystem and their human energy can support, and they’re making a profit doing it. The core engine of their business is cash flow, which is earned from selling their food to the public, something only 1 percent of U.S. farmers do. The increased interest in farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and farm-to-table restaurants might give the impression that this is common, but it remains extraordinarily uncommon. Most food that is grown in this country gets harvested and sent down the road to be processed.
Of the 18 farms in the book, do you have a favorite?
What I tried to do was demonstrate what a broad range of sustainable farms we have in this country, from a seven-acre farm in urban Detroit that’s leased from the city for $1 a year to a farm in upstate Minnesota that’s the size of Rhode Island to a bee farm on a rooftop in downtown Dallas all the way out to California, where Juan Garcia immigrated in 1975 and bootstrapped his way to a 30-acre citrus paradise through hard work and integrity. They’re all my favorites—I have 18 favorites.
In addition to being an author, you are a farmer. Do you hope the book inspires more people to go into farming?
Yes, and there’s no shortage of need for young farmers to be inspired! The average age of the American farmer is 58, and within the next 10 years 33 percent of all farmland will have to change hands due to retirement. The numbers are staggering.
For people who don’t want to be farmers but feel it’s important to support them, what’s your advice?
Let us grow your food for you. We all have to eat, and the kind of food that doesn’t promote diabetes, obesity, and heart disease is not only what we should be supporting but in the grander scheme of things what’s really important. And the more we support it, the more accessible it will become and the more we can inspire other farmers to change their operation into growing this kind of food. Success breeds success, and farmers are business people like anyone else. So if you want to see more organic produce, keep buying it. If you want to see more CSAs, keep subscribing. Be the change you want to see in the world. This is a perfect way to do that.Forrest Pritchard’s new book, Growing Tomorrow, is available in bookstores and online. For a Pear, Cucumber, and Sesame Slaw recipe, one of 50 included in the book, go to kiwimagonline.com/pearslaw