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.
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Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
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