In the not-too-distant past, a paradox of some U.S. sustainable agriculture activities was that too often, farmers and ranchers weren’t at the table. Alternately, farmers and ranchers were invited to the table to clean up the leftovers—after the big decisions were made. Such an approach understandably left many farmers and ranchers with a bad taste in their mouths. After all, sustainability management practices are largely if not wholly dependent on the buy-in and participation of those very producers.
Yet in my role as community engagement coordinator at Trust In Food™, a Farm Journal initiative, it’s encouraging to me to see that this approach of the past seems to be changing rapidly. At Trust In Food, supporting farmers and ranchers on their regenerative agriculture journey is at the heart of what we do every day.
One example of this producer-led approach is America’s Conservation Ag Movement. Organized by Trust In Food in partnership with the Farm Journal Foundation, this national public-private partnership supports voluntary adoption of economically and environmentally beneficial conservation and regenerative practices, products and technologies. We meet farmers and ranchers where they are at, providing resources and a platform for sharing their journey with peers.
In fact, it is through the leadership of the farmers—known as Conservation Stewards—with whom we partner, and through the learning communities they are building, that we ground the work of the ACAM partnership, supported by the technical and financial investment of well over a dozen public and private-sector organizations. These farmer-led learning communities create space for authentic conversations and knowledge transfer among peer farmers in local communities.
In addition to their local work with learning communities, the Conservation Stewards are sharing their journeys, their motivations and their recommendations with a national farmer and rancher audience via their own social media channels and across Farm Journal’s omnichannel media platform. They share what’s working, what isn’t, how they began and how they are planning for the future.
This approach represents an important way to scale their insights to a broader cohort of peer farmers interested in the topic of conservation ag and searching for answers and new business opportunities. It also facilitates two-way conversation and can help motivate farmers states away to consider making steps towards a more sustainable farm or ranch business.
These farmer leaders have successfully helped us navigate the pandemic to provide opportunities, virtual and in-person, to engage their neighbors and the broader farming community.
Here are some examples of the stories they’re telling:
Diversifying Adds To Sustainability by Nebraska farmer Debbie Borg
Five Reasons Why I Started Using Conservation Practices On My Farm by Indiana farmer Keith Mears
Pollinator Habitat Fits Farmer’s Sandy Soils And Delivers A ROI by Indiana farmer Brain Scott
This is only the beginning of a big and exciting journey—and we’d welcome your feedback as these farmers explore what’s next in their own local communities and beyond. Share your stories about how you are connecting with farmers. What have you found to be the most successful ways to bring farmers’ stories to life for other producers and the wider industry and public? How have farmer and rancher insights and experiences informed your strategy to meet regenerative agriculture goals within your own organization?
I hope you’ll email me at email@example.com with your story.
Image provided by Lori Hays
Shown: Craig Swartz, farmer and Conservation Steward, presenting at ACAM event in July.