In Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers' Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, Forrest Pritchard recounts his against-all-odds story of taking his struggling family livestock farm into the growing organic farmers’ market movement in ways that will make you reconsider how and where you purchase your food.
How did a farmer become a published author?
I was an English major. My love has always been poetry and fiction though it’s hard enough to be a novelist no less a poet. But farming can be incredibly expressive. You use one’s artistic inclinations. I wake up in landscapes every day. But life gets in the way. Still I wanted to make a contribution, to be useful, to be a participant in a greater effort. I think it’s no accident that there’s not a lot of books written by farmers, Wendell Berry aside. A lot that is there is steeped in the nuts and bolts of farming. On the other side is the more journalistic attempt to put some perspective on it (Fast Food Nation etc.), but not as much through an insider’s standpoint. Being out there at the farmers’ market every weekend you get the genuine hunger from people for information. And it’s good to try some middle ground where it’s entertaining but also contains meaningful information.
Who did you imagine you were writing this book for?
It all probably comes back to being an imaginary conversation with a farmers’ market customer. These markets are one of the few places where there’s a transparent conversation. You constantly have to explain how your product is different, how your farm is unique. But recently there came this coalescence of social media, press—all kinds of publicity about farmers’ markets. There were all these loose ends and we needed to tell this story because I didn’t see it anywhere else.
You’ve had a lot of experience in self-promotion as an organic farmer. How do you plan to promote your book?
First thing I’m doing is to reach out to everybody for advice. It’s how I learned to farm. Then I’m planning a farmers’ market tour: the Green Mountains, New York, San Francisco and then reaching out to smaller markets in between.
As a writer and farmer, are you a reader as well?
Well it’s hard to do all three at once. But I love Junot Diaz and Alice Munro. And David Sedaris is hugely inspirational to me. Humor is a great way to persuade, to get people comfortable. Whenever you do comedy you take risks and you’re going to offend somebody. In the end you’ll hopefully make people laugh.
How did your website smithmeadows.com come about?
A year and a half ago people told me I should be blogging. The resulting web site is an outreach of our mission to be an educational farm. We have an apprenticeship program. We are not just going to talk, we’re going to walk this walk as well and try to propel the careers of new farmers.
Has things changed since you started working on your book?
Organic farmers are a huge growing segment. They’ve been growing over ten percent annually for the past dozen years. A lot of that is from consumer demand and with all that demand there’s a heck of a career opportunity. Add on the Internet, etc., and there are huge advantages now.
Why is that extra dollar a consumer has to spend on organic food worth it?
Because there’s a difference between price and value. A lot of people think price and value are synonymous but they aren’t. We are taught to value hard work, the landscape, wildlife, clean water and fresh air. When you go to a farmers’ market that farmer there raising organic food is a steward of all those beliefs. He represents all those values the word organic is supposed to mean. These people are actually creating green space and taking carbon out of the air. That farmer is taking your extra dollar and putting it right back into the mission and values you actually believe you’re spending it on. If you want to extend your values, extend it face to face with that farmer.
As an organic meat farmer do you get opposition from the vegan world?
There are two fronts there: One is very respectful, as in, “I get what you’re doing, I just don’t eat meat.” Like religious tolerance. But there is a vast amount of other vegans who try to be persuasive with statistics that are derived from confinement farming, which is not the kind of farming I do. It’s understandable as there are not as many farmers doing organic grass fed meat farming.
Is it hard to kill your animals?
I get asked that a lot. People say, “I could never do that.” My answer is I raise these animals to an audience that appreciates where they come from. I raise these animals for people who care about questions like this. They’re not just hamburger patties. They’re living creatures that go to the people who give a damn about where their food comes from.
What will you write next?
We operate this bed and breakfast that my mom started upon retiring to the farm. There’s a compelling story to this because of the retirement dream. We got this 200-year-old house and I think there’s a part of our culture that likes the “This Old House” kind of dream combined with retiring combined with a couple funny stories about the people who work there. Just like farming was a great protagonist, a living character, the house is in a lot of ways the same as a farm. It’s a deeply moving character, the family homestead. It resonates There’s just something about Grandma’s place.