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Greenhorns Guidebook Review

Posted: February 9 2009

ghguidebookThe Rodale Institute wrote up a great review of our new Greenhorns Guide for Beginning Farmers.
Check out http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20090206/nf2
or read on for the full text!
E-guidebook forming online for emerging agriculturists: farmer-to-farmer wisdom-in-the-making meets Web 2.0
By Greg Bowman

Emblematic of the wonderfully tangible but somewhat invisible youth farming movement in the United States is a virtual communal writing project "by young farmers for young farmers." At last count, The Greenhorns' Guide for Beginning Farmers was 40 pages long and growing. It's growing like a volunteer Cherokee Purple tomato plant on a steamy June morning: reaching inexorably onward, unstaked but not unmindful of soil, sun and its genetic destiny of leaf, blossom, fruit, seed and more and again.
The downloadable document (available at www.thegreenhorns.net/reading.html) is the working draft of a field guide to existing resources, and the foundation for farmer contributions that will be combined into a book that will catalyze, inspire and empower young people (and others) who have an unquenchable passion to figure out how to become sustainable agriculturists in the post-capitalist, post-oil and post-commodity era.
It's to be "a cheerful resource for college-age entrants, as well as career-changers. It's one part pep talk. One part institutional index. One part strategic /skillset field-guide," according to its self-description.
In a note to its "second edition," currently available online, the lead editors invite more partners into their virtual communal wiki-collaborative writing process with these words:
It is a very exciting project to be embarking upon in the winter season and we do hope that you'll send in some snippets of your own experience, favorite institutional resources and inspiring stories that we can include. To do that please log on to the foryoungfarmers.wikispaces.com and post a message with your comments, favorite quotations and contributions."
Don't let the not-infrequent typos or inconsistencies between versions fool you: there is power in this collective non-organization that exists without a physical headquarters or formal structure. It is alive nonetheless. What it lacks in conventional attributes it more than compensates for in dynamic potential. Think of the difference between fertilizer and compost.
Fermenting into its future
The Greenhorns network is fermenting into its future around the determination of Severine von Tscharner Fleming and associated filmmakers, new food producers, agro-ecologists, food activists and urban farmers to make a film and now create a book that both explains what they are doing and helps others to come along. Most were not raised anywhere close to agriculture, and they are eager to find people who were and who want to talk about it.
Amidst writing and looking for a publisher, von Tscharner Fleming was filming this week in Rhode Island at a speed-networking session for young farmers and potential buyers. Linking her to the state was Louella Hill, Rhode Island's first artisanal cheese maker in a century.
"Spontaneous and simultaneous cohort creation and networking is what we can contribute on our budget," she says. Everyone involved is a volunteer, each with other lives, none able to be the "editing mule" to lock in on crafting the book in the midst of farming their farms and their learning-talking-relating network lives. They are eager-bordering-on-desperate to sponge up the vast and diverse areas of farming common sense they need to leap into the next growing season with more confidence.
So how is it that the Greenhorns Guide has been included in food policy and environmental studies curricula by more than a dozen colleges and universities from Columbia to UC-Santa Cruz to University of North Carolina, Harvard, Yale and Middlebury? Simply because it speaks in a fresh way to the immediate questions that students want answered and that professors can't do with traditional texts. Schools "have offered to pay, but I don't feel right about accepting money for it yet," von Tscharner Fleming said, offering another insight into her willingness to build on the growing commitments of people and institutions, even before she asks them to pay their way.
"A lot of college kids really want to farm," von Tscharner Fleming said, "People want to know how to take an activist stand for professional life. Our goal is to promote, recruit and support young farmers in America.
"We provide the tools, inspiration, vision and comradeship to the young farming movement. Interest is increasing as the culture keeps moving through crisis of capitalism and people get hungrier," she said.
The guide covers apprenticeships and skills-development options before delving into the how-to: access to land, capitalization of diversified small operations, basic farming, marketing certifications, building community, do-it-yourself skills, resources and advocacy groups. The wiki site allows anyone to contribute insights, resources, experience and connections.
Experienced farmers needed
Much good comes from the peer-group writing, but von Tscharner Fleming says the collaborators really want older farmers to share, too.
"We would love guidance from older farmers: tales from the elders looking back on 30 years of farming," she said. "Four old farmers talking about debt, or farm restoration, would really help us out."
The approach is not your mother's Extension bulletin. For just a sample of the pep-talks that guide readers in looking at the big picture as well as the practical details of the guide-in-development, here's how it opens:
Are you addicted to sunshine?
Start now.
A few things you can do now:
run up the stairs...bike to work...establish good posture
...begin a stretching routine/practice....start a savings account...
pay o[ff] all debt...learn to can / jam / preserve food...practice thrift...
scavenge and cache useful implements and well-built kitchen wares...
repair any strained relations with land-owning relatives
...start composting NOW!...save glass jars and lids in an organized way
...observe land...read natural history, human history...
study nature...help out on a farm near where you live...
be a friendly neighbor and helper in your community.
Elements of permaculture, Ben Franklin, your farming grandparents, Van Jones, Robert Rodale, Wendell Berry, Chip Planck, Gandhi, Will Allen and the Nearings all emerge, re-mixed as an agro-ecological cultural renaissance wrapped in a cool buzz.
Note: A parallel but contrasting effort is creating a networked farmer community around shared purchase of fee-based website development. Lowering the technical threshold of creating and maintaining farm websites as marketing and networking tools is Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central ww.smallfarmcentral.com. He's parlayed his experience on a Colorado CSA into building a commercial tool for others to use. He wants to help the direct-marketing farmer to experience the benefits that come from "integrated photos, a calendar, social networking tools, and a mailing list that became the center for the farm's best customers."
Greg Bowman is Communications Manager at the Rodale Institute.