Cultivate Kansas City's Newsletter
Looking back, looking forward: Investing in farmers and food for the future
By Katherine Kelly, executive director
Over the past decade, we as a community have been eager and energetic about rebuilding our local food system. We’ve planted fields, harvested crops, started farmers markets, improved our diets, changed city policies, educated ourselves and each other, written articles and books, organized events and made a significant impact on how the food industry works. Together, we have created an extraordinary amount of change in a very short period of time.
Looking forward, we have to ask ourselves – how do we make this pace of change, this passion for good health and good communities, sustainable and lasting? How do we make sure that decades down the road we have good food being grown and eaten in our city?
The answer in many ways is simple. We invest in farmers.
We invest in farmers as the people who will feed us in our old age, feed our children in their youth, and feed the generations yet to come. We recognize that the challenges of our food system are, at heart, human-created challenges. We need to invest in the people who will address them in a manner to create a productive, sustainable, responsive and evolving food system
As farmers and future farmers, we need to invest in ourselves. We need to deepen our knowledge, diversify our agricultural experiences, and equip ourselves to be successful farmers with every bit as much seriousness as we expect doctors, teachers, and skilled tradespeople to prepare for their working futures. That may mean we spend more time apprenticing and learning from other, more established farms and that we ease more slowly into starting our own operations. It may mean we leave this region to learn hands-on from other agricultural systems and find good practices to bring home. It may mean that we temper our passion for immediate success with an appreciation for long-term viability, and that we slow down our process to build our skills more fully. We need to look forward at the big picture and ask ourselves, “What kind of agricultural skills and capacities are going to be needed 30 years from now?” and then work our way back to, “How do I learn farming, how do I farm today to set myself up for that future?”
As supporters, consumers, and community members looking forward to our future food needs we need to cultivate social patience and a long-term investment approach with our farmers. We need to demand and financially support intensive, hands-on, multi-year training and employment opportunities. We need to invest our money in the food system – not only through purchasing from local farmers, but by making loans to help farmers buy a new tractor, balance the cash-flow of their operations, or purchase new land. We need to donate to advocacy organizations and training programs that are growing the farmers of the future; we need to make gifts to farmers to help them attend workshops and conferences and to help them grow their skills and long-term capacity.
Our local food movement really took off over the last decade. The growth has been characterized by passion, entrepreneurial drive, and a can-do and we’ll-figure-it-out approach. The challenge now is to evolve all that is good with this approach and combine it with a longer-term growth process. Cultivate Kansas City’s 10-year anniversary presents us with a call to action. While we’ve grown and accomplished so much, we are asking ourselves “What are we doing in the next ten years? What changes will we make in the world by 2025?”
I invite our readers to ask your own questions. What would you like your food-world to look like in 10 years? In 20 years? For your grandchildren? Then, more importantly, what work can you do today to make that happen?