The Conversation: New Farmers and Smoked Weenies
(A conversation between Practical Farmers staff members Liz Kolbe and Luke Gran)
Liz: Luke, It’s been a couple weeks since our snowy trek to Cedar Falls for the 2014 Next Generation Retreat. The big windows in the Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) building at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) provided more sun than I’ve had all winter! (Thanks, CEEE!)
As a first-timer at the retreat, I loved getting to meet so many new (and aspiring) farmers who are excited about working and learning together. How did you think the retreat compared to the five previous Retreats? What was your favorite memory? (Eating those enormous tenderloins at Newton’s Paradise Cafe in downtown Waterloo with lifetime Practical Farmers of Iowa member and retreat speaker Tom Frantzen doesn’t count…).
I’m just going to post a photo with a small caption about it, and I’ll not speak of it again. Yea it was really a excellent event this year. Sixth annual Next Generation Retreat – wow, how the time flies. I’d say the size of the group was just ideal for in-depth discussions and networking. Attendees seemed very pleased with the mix of focused discussion time on key topics mixed in with lots of “hallway time” – this is key to plan into the workshops organized by Practical Farmers.
My favorite memories were the a-ha moments that we all experienced together with the beginning farmer as we analyzed the land access and family relationship piece of the business plan. Gibb’s Triangle is a perfect fit for the situations between landowners and farmers, the established and the beginner generation. What a great array of snacks and food too, really was a nice event all-around. What jumped out at you, Liz, being this was the first Next Generation Retreat you had ever attended or staffed?
Liz: I think we still have several pounds of Frantzen Farm smoked weenies in the Practical Farmers’ office freezer…
What jumped out at me was the willingness – eagerness – of everyone there to connect with each other. Practical Farmers events always seem to elicit an openness in people, but the feeling at this Retreat was elevated. During the sessions that were conversations between a beginner and an experienced farmer, I was impressed by the active engagement of others in the session; their questions, suggestions, accounts of similar problems or experiences. People weren’t protective, they were honest and open.
My favorite specific memory, though, is watching everyone at the end linger, exchanging contact information and planning the next time they will all get together (secretly hoping I’ll be invited!). Also, I met my 2nd cousin for the first time!
The second day during table discussions, you walked between the discussion clusters again and again. Any snippets of conversation you want to share?
Luke: I almost did a double-take each time I sat down at a new table, because it was a group of farmers openly discussing how they set prices, track expenses, and ensure they are making money. No matter the enterprise, it was all the same, it all came down to the business of income and expenses. But more than that, it was as you say, people connecting on all kinds of levels, simultaneously as friends, colleagues, and competitors. Weaving in and out of personal and professional issues to discuss. I also saw as many smiles of laughter as puzzled expressions as beginners reflected on why they do what they do, the social network they are part of in their area, the relationships with family, with landowners neighbors, suppliers, buyers, and customers. I had lots of beginners come up to me and personally thank Practical Farmers for doing this event, they were really energized by it, feeling connected to other people “in the same boat.”
The final words of Tom Frantzen echoed throughout the hall and still rings in my ears: “Practical Farmers of Iowa will do anything we can to help you be successful.” That almost brings tears when I think about how isolating many beginners can feel, in a sea of crops controlled by somewhat invisible people with more farm/life experience, land, and capital at their disposal. To know that there are thousands of other Practical Farmers of Iowa members pulling for you, through an efficient non-profit organization with a bigger reach than any single, solitary voice, it is a great statement of support.
How about you, what is still ringing loudly in your ears?
Liz: The hard questions: Will I be able to make a living doing this? How much am I willing to risk? What are my life goals? Are they in line with my farm goals?
Also ringing in my ears were the -10 degree windchill and Stevie Nicks on the radio (after I dropped you off on the way home).
You want the last word?
Luke: Collaboration is key, and new farmers help Practical Farmers grow!