Meet the Farmer + NYT Bestseller Inspiring the Local Food Revolution
Pritchard is also an author. His first book, Gaining Ground, details his adventures in building his family's failing farm back into a successful business. The book became a New York Times bestseller. His most recent book is Growing Tomorrow: A Farm-to-Table Journey in Photos and Recipes. Pritchard, along with photographer Molly M. Peterson, traveled throughout the U.S. interviewing 18 visionary sustainable farmers.
The book is also a call to action. Pritchard hopes to inspire the movement towards eating local and sustainably grown foods, visiting farmers markets, subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and growing one's own vegetables.
Q. How did you get started in farming?
A. I started farming in 1996 after finishing college. I wanted to make the farm economically viable. My grandfather farmed conventionally. I grew up in that heritage and thought because he was able to do it that I could do it, too.
That first year I worked with a neighbor, who was an experienced farmer and we grew 200 acres of corn and soybeans. We thought we could make a profit of $10,000. It was the first year that GMO [genetically modified organism] seed was available and I grew Roundup Ready soybeans.
We made a profit of a little less than $20 even though we had tractor trailer loads of harvested grain. It was devastating to me and the fields were dead. It was a soulless experience for me.
Then I started looking into selling to farmers markets, which seemed to make sense. The farm-to-table movement was just starting. We started selling small numbers of free range eggs and grass-fed beef to farmers markets in 1997. We grossed $6,000 that year.
Today we have 300 hogs and 1,200 laying hens. We employ 12 full-time people. From humble beginnings of $6,000 that first year, we now gross more than $1 million per year.
Ninety-five percent of our business is farmers markets. We sell at three markets on Saturday and three on Sunday in the Washington, DC, area year-round.
Q. Why isn't your farm certified organic?
A. We've never been certified, but we run an organic regimen with no pesticides. The feed we source is non-GMO for pigs and chickens. We work directly with customers at farmers markets, so we haven't needed independent accreditation.
Q. Farmers markets are a fast-growing segment.
A. The number of farmers markets has grown from 1,500 in 1995 to more than 9,000 in 2015. This is absolutely wonderful and a heck of an opportunity for young people or someone who wants to convert their farm.
Farmers markets are an ancient part of our society, dating back thousands of years. Ever since we've had cities, we've had farmers markets. There's always been a desire to connect with the freshest, tastiest, most nutritious food. It's ingrained in us. We all want the same thing: superior food, with an honest, authentic story.
Q. Do you see more interest in farming among young people?
A. There is huge interest among young people nationwide who want to grow food and opt out of the cubicle/internet lifestyle. But young people who want to do this are at a disadvantage because they don't have good access to land. Land around urban areas is expensive and used for development.
On the other end, the average age of farmers is 59 and what's the motivating factor for them to switch [to organic]? We're at a huge crossroads.
Fortunately, there are increasing opportunities to connect older farmers with younger farmers who are graduating from sustainable agriculture programs in the U.S. Older farmers want to see land remain in farming and some are giving long-term leases to younger farmers to help them get started. This is happening around the country.
For a young person starting out in farming, I'd say, "Absolutely, go for it, there are 300 million Americans and they all need to eat."
Q. What are your thoughts on GMOs?
A. Despite whatever personal opinions you may hold about the safety, benefits or labeling of GMO foods, one fact remains inarguable: In order for these crops to grow, it requires death on a massive scale. The genetic engineering creates immunity to herbicides such as glyphosate, which eliminates weeds. The GMO crops such as corn, soybeans and canola don't die, but everything else does.
That's the crucible. There is nothing natural about some event coming through and killing something. It's destructive. We are hemorrhaging carbon. We can't see it leaving our dead soils. On the back end, we are destroying beneficial fungi and bacteria every time chemicals are poured on them.
We know that a huge part of soil health is bacteria. Glyphosate has negative impacts on bacteria. Bacteria are the building blocks of soil. Using glyphosate is basically like yanking a bunch of bricks out of the side of our house.
What's the deal with killing hundreds of millions of acres of soil? What's the deal with companies having patents on crops and farmers not being able to have the historical ability to save seed? Some things are supposed to be above private property and should belong to the world.
There are viable alternatives to creating food by being more sustainable in multiple ways and without paying the seed and chemical companies for the privilege of their one-stop solution.
Q. What's needed to create a truly sustainable food system?
A. If we spent a fraction of the funding on organics that we spend on industrial farming, it would be a 50-50 ballgame. As Americans, we enjoy a fair fight, healthy competition and good sportsmanship. But in our agricultural landscape the food scoreboard reads 96 industrial farming to four organic. I would say that when any industry gets into the 96th percentile, they will do all they can to hold on to that position whether it's good for society or not.
What's wrong with promoting a 50-50 balance in the system? Balance is resilience and innovation. Perhaps it's time we all demanded a more balanced food system.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images
Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.