Episode 1-Talking SSAWG and Southeastern Sustainable Agriculture

  • 01:23:35
  • 05 January, 2020
  • 76.5 mb

This is the first episode of the Sustainable AG Right podcast. And I’m so glad you decided to download and listen to me. I’ve been working on this podcast for quite some time. It’s been an idea of mine that came to me as a result doing my work around the southeast and I was looking for a vehicle that would help tell the stories of the people that I meet, to help share ideas and to just tell the story of the small scale farmers that often get overlooked when we hear discussions about farmers. I don’t know what I’m doing with the show, y’all. So the planned format, at least for now, is that, well, we’re going to pick a subject.

So let’s talk about, first of all, what is sustainable agriculture?. And for the purposes of this show, we’re always going to view sustainable agriculture as a three legged stool. The first leg of the stool is environmental, that we’re farming in an environmentally conscious way that not only preserves and protects our soils and watersheds and all the things in our environment, but also helps to rebuild it. So that’s the one leg of the stool, the environmental leg.

Field planted with 21 species of cover crops-Browns Farm-Bismarck North Dakota

The second leg is one that I really care a lot about, and that’s the financial leg and the financial leg deals with making sure, in a nutshell, that farm is a viable, that not only are they running their farms and that not only are they making money, but they are making money in a manner that allows them to sustain their families and to keep their family farm going. And that this farming is not being done in a financially exploitative fashion, that the agriculture that’s done in the name of sustainability actually values labor, actually values workers and actually values the efforts of the farmers themselves. So that’s the financial leg, the second leg of the stool.

Farmers learning about agritourism. Gilliard Farm-Brunswick, GA

The third leg is the social leg. Social sustainability. Are we building communities that are going to be farming in a way that’s going to result in healthy, vibrant communities? Where we’re not having situations where we can go through small town,after small town after small town and they have no job opportunities, they have no access to fresh,healthy foods, but yet they’re surrounded by agriculture.

So those are the three legs of the stool and each show will take on one or more of those legs.

Fashion show at the annual HABESHA Works Organicfest Community event. Atlanta, GA
Dr. Carol Williams-Executive Director -SSAWG
https://www.ssawg.org/

Dr. Carol Williams joins SSAWG following a career as an academic research scientist in colleges of agriculture at Land Grant universities. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Resources from Southern Illinois University. Her academic career focus was alternative crops and sustainable bioenergy cropping systems involving native perennial grasses. Carol is now owner-operator of 130 acres of Kentucky hill-farm that have been in her family since 1913. She and her husband are converting tobacco and corn/soybean acres on narrow ridges to perennial crops in agroforestry systems of nut trees and high-quality perennial hay. Together, they are licensed food manufacturers in Kentucky and annually process nearly a thousand pounds of wildcrafted pawpaw fruit into frozen pulp for marketing to craft beverage and food vendors in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati. Although her academic career took her away from the family farm and the place of her birth, she has returned home to put into practice the knowledge she gained while in academia. Her passions are friends, bourbon, yummy food and fundraising

Show Notes

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Website

Transcript

Opening Segment

Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to the Sustainable AG rider. podcast, a podcast bringing you news and views about sustainable agriculture from across the south eastern United States. Every show will feature insightful interviews and deep dives into sustainable agriculture topics with farmers, ranchers, land grant universities and local food system advocates.

Intro: [00:00:26] Now here’s your host, Brennan Washington.

Brennan Washington: [00:00:32] Welcome, welcome, welcome. How’s everybody doing today? How you doing? This is it.

Brennan Washington: [00:00:37] This is the first episode of the Sustainable AG Right podcast. And I’m so glad you decided to download and listen to me. I’ve been working on this podcast for quite some time. It’s been an idea of minds that came to me as a result of doing my work around the southeast. And I was looking for a vehicle that would help tell the stories of the people that I meet to help share ideas and to just tell the story of the small scale farmers that often get overlooked when we hear discussions about farmers. I don’t know what I’m doing with the show, y’all. So the planned format, at least for now, is that, well, we’re gonna pick a subject. So let’s talk about, first of all, what is sustainable agriculture. And for the purposes of this show, we’re always going to view sustainable agriculture as a three legged stool. The first leg of the stool is environmental, that we’re farming in an environmentally conscious way that not only preserves and protects our soils and watersheds and all the things in our environment, but also helps to rebuild it. So that’s the one legged stool, the environmental piece. The second piece is one that I really care a lot about, and that’s the financial leg and financial leg deals with making sure. In a nutshell, that farm is a viable that not only are they running their farms and that not only are they making money, but they are making money in a manner that allows them to sustain their families and to keep their family farm going.

Brennan Washington: [00:02:07] So that’s the financial way. And that this farming is not being done in a financially exploitive fashion, that the agriculture that’s done in the name of sustainability actually values labor, actually values workers and actually values the efforts of the farmers themselves. So that’s the second leg of the stool. The third leg is the social leg. Social sustainability. Are we building communities that are going to be farming in a way that’s going to result in healthy, vibrant communities where we’re not having situations where we can go through small town, small town, small town and they have no job opportunities. They have no access to fresh, healthy, healthy foods, but yet the surrounded by agriculture. So those are the three legged stool. And each show will take on one or more of those legs of the stool. So today, for example, we’re going to be speaking with Carol Williams, the new executive director of Southern SOC. And we’re just going to be having a general question about sustainability. So it’s sort of a touch on all three of those legs. Our next episode with Scott Marlow is small scale agriculture.

Brennan Washington: [00:03:23] How healthy is it? We’re going to be touching more on that financial leg. So that’s how you should view this going into the show is we are going to take out one or more of those legs of sustainability. So in terms of format, there’ll be one or two interviews per show with someone involved in sustainable small scale agriculture. Now, this show is going to have a very heavy emphasis on the southeastern United States because that’s where I do a lot of my work with. But the topics and the subjects that will be covered on this show are probably applicable anywhere. It may be a little bit different in your areas in terms of geographic stuff, but soil health, the soil health, no matter where you go in the country. So we’re going to have one or two interviews and then I’m gonna do an opening segment that leads us into the primary discussion we’re going to have with our guest. And that’s it. And so hopefully, you know, I’m going to be making some mistakes. I’ve got some work to do on my delivery. I’m not used to talking behind a microphone. I using anybody who knows me knows I’m pretty good when I’m in front of a crowd or if I’m talking to you person to person.

Brennan Washington: [00:04:29] So it’s been a lot for me to get adjusted talking into a microphone. So having said that, today on his number one show, I want to talk about an article that I read actually just this morning and the name Adam article is Five Myths about Rural America that model the Political Realities. And the other thing is to realize that this show’s going to do is we’re going to cover a lot about rural America. My farm, Phoenix Gardens, is considered an urban ag operation.

Brennan Washington: [00:05:02] And I’ve been a huge proponent of urban agriculture for the past almost 20 years. But it is what it is. If we’re going to talk about changing the dynamics of our food system, if we’re going to talk about improving communities around the country, if we’re going to talk about having major says in who grows our food and how they grow their food, then we need to be talking about rural communities. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. So there’s going to be a heavy rural skew. We also going to do shows on urban ag and topics that are applicable across the entire landscape.

Brennan Washington: [00:05:38] But rural rural communities and rural agriculture is going to get a lot of play on this show because that’s where the money is. As as I forget what the backdrop is, Nate said anyway, this article in a Washington Post by a gentleman named Christopher Ingraham talks about five minutes about rural America and how it’s affecting things in our political discourse. I also think it even affects things going down into policy and stuff like that. And I’m not going to go over all five. That’s three that I really want to cover before we get started with our conversation with Carol. So I’ll just read a little bit of what he said. Myth number one, rural is synonymous with Midwestern earlier this year. New York Times politics editor Jonathan Weisman provided a particularly clumsy example of common this common conflation, suggesting that US representatives Ilan Omar and Rashid Talid Omar from Minnesota and Talid from Michigan, who represent densely populated urban districts in their state, weren’t really missed Midwestern. Now keep that in mind. One from Minnesota and one from Michigan, which I’d definitely considered Midwestern states. But he said that they weren’t really Midwestern. He goes on to say, this is nonsense, of course. The Midwest is a region, not a population. Benson is absolutely right. But it starts to show you that there’s this mythical ethos of there, especially around agriculture. And well, especially around rural communities, which then bleeds itself into the world of agriculture and that’s this a notion that not only are rural communities dominated by what you find in the Midwest. But so is a lot of agriculture.

Brennan Washington: [00:07:25] And unfortunately, as you hear a little bit today, and especially an interview with Scott Marlow that bleeds over into things like USDA policy and to even things like some of the federal policies on disaster relief that we’ve been seeing. So that’s myth. That’s myth number one. Myth number two rural is synonymous with white. I cannot agree more that this misperception exists out there in the world. And that is absolutely false. But time and time and time again. When we see discussions about rural America, it typically only involves white citizens from those communities. What about Jackson, Mississippi? What about Greenville, South Carolina? What about Henderson, North Carolina? What about Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and any areas surrounding that? I can go on and on and on. What about Macallan, Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, which has one a little actually the largest base of Hispanic farmers in the United States. Those are rural communities. I’ve been there, but you never hear them. You never see them on TV. Think about it. All the commercials, you see the farm first commercials when they want to give this perception that your food is coming from a nice, wholesome, all American family farm. Think about those commercials. I’m sure you could think one or two of them. Those are some of the dairy commercials and stuff like that. Now think about how many of those involved farmers of color and I know farmers of color out there. So that once again, it skews into this skews into this perception that there’s these monolithic blocs within our country when it comes to geographic determinations.

Brennan Washington: [00:09:12] And he goes on to say, One of the most regrettable ever trend Trump error trends in political reporting is the Diner Safari, in which a big city reporter is parachuted into a small town in the middle of the country in search of the secret wisdom of diner patrons in overalls and trucker caps. First, I would take a little bit of issue with him at that. This did not start with Donald Trump. I can remember during the Obama era we saw that same thing that during the Bush era, we saw that same. We saw that same thing. If anything, it may have become more pronounced and aggravated during this current presidency. But I think it’s a it’s misleading to say that or to allege that this sort of started with him because it didn’t end. And to do so really minimized what the overall problem is. He goes on to say, the unfortunate effect of such stories is that they don’t reflect the fact they’re a fairly large and growing share room. Americans are, in fact, non-white. About 22 percent as of 2018 or more than 10 million people. And he’s right. I mean, that’s what I do in my work, is just travel around, at least in the southeast, to all of these predominantly rural communities where you find a lot of people of color. And they may have different political beliefs than than their white counterparts and some of these rural communities and not surprisingly, some of their religious beliefs as far as being a lot more conservative than the general populace population.

Brennan Washington: [00:10:46] They probably parallel each other on many issues. But that’s an article we’re going to be looking at a lot of and going back to what this guy said about this being a Trump error trend. Don Cooper, a good friend of mine who used to run the Georgia Organics form a mentoring program and now does a podcast called Strictly Covering Just he’s just talking with another country guy country forum and it just cover a whole bunch of subjects. But he was talking about an article and I have not read this New York Times article. I’m gonna try and find it so I can read it. But this was after Hurricane Michael. So for those who don’t know, you know, we’ve heard a lot about how Florida got hit by Hurricane Michael and other parts of the country got hit and how the devastation was so damaging, which it was. But no one no one hardly talks about southwest Georgia. Southwest Georgia is one of the premier agricultural geographic areas in our country.

Brennan Washington: [00:11:43] If you eat a peanut, if you got a jar of peanut butter in your pantry now, chances are those some of those peanuts, if not all, came from southwest Georgia. If you eat pecans, if you have pecans, you gonna make you a nice pecan pie. Chances are those pecans came from southwest Georgia. And the numbers and I’m doing this off the top of my head. So if anybody’s listening to me. If, Don, if you’re out there, you want to come on the show one day. But after Hurricane Michael. In southwest Georgia, and we’re not we’re not talking the entire state. We are talking just a portion of the state of Georgia. They had agricultural losses and the amount of two point four billion dollars. I think the number was so down to south west Georgia, they big pecan stronghold, big peanut stronghold. A lot of land owners and farmers grow timber. So pine trees for the paper that you write on the two by fours that you use for building projects. The pine needles that you put on your lawns to make them look pretty. Typically, that comes from these that the work of these farmers down in this region, there is a large chicken processing operations down there when Michael sale through here through southwest Georgia. Acres and acres and acres of trees were lost. Dozens and dozens and dozens of chicken operations was lost, not only with peanut crops lost. And if that’s all it was because you’ve always replant the next year, they lost all the processing so you can rebound and grow another crop of peanuts next year.

Brennan Washington: [00:13:18] If the weather cooperates with you and the stars align, you’ll get a crop. But if you’ve got no way to take those peanuts, to get them clean, to get them washed, to get them to get them graded, what are you going to do it? Really? What are you going to do with them? So and once again, I said, I’m doing this off the top of my head. So just fool. Some of the numbers that Don shared on his podcast is pecans. I think they had like six hundred million dollars in lost trees. They lost another two hundred million because a hurricane hit right when the nuts were about to be harvested. And I think I lost. They lost another hundred million, something like that. Another 200 million dollars in lost sales. Because think about it, pecans are those type of crops that they come back each year. So you’re predicting you don’t have to replant them. You just have to harvest those nuts and process them each year. Well, you take out a farmer’s 40 acre, one hundred acre grove of pecan trees. And he was counting on I don’t even know what the economics behind pecans are. But let’s say he made a hundred thousand dollars off of those pecans every year. And his stand is relatively new, maybe 20, 25 years old, which is young for pecans. And he’s counting on getting at a minimum, let’s say another 10, 10 years out of that stand. That stand that he has gone.

Brennan Washington: [00:14:36] That’s gone. That’s gone. So that income is gone. And what’s that farmer going to do? Timber wants the timber is gone. It’s gone. So I’m talking about those two industries specifically because one of the things Don mentioned on his show was that he talked to a lot of people. He gets around like I do, and he talked to a lot of folks who were either up in their years close to retirement or, you know, maybe in a 40 or 50 range. What he still had a lot of years to go. And they said that that getting out. And I don’t I don’t blame them. That’s a tough decision to make, because you just lost your entire pecan grove. Let’s say you want to replant. You stick that tree in the ground. And I know that coming out with some new varieties, but at a minimum for that tree reaches full reproductive full production may maybe talking about 10 years. So 10 years so used to Katrina ground. And you’re not getting any you’re not realizing any income from that tree for 10 years. And most people say, look, I’m too old for it. And I understand. I heard a little bit of the same thing down in Puerto Rico when it came to the coffee plantations. So I’m saying all that to say is after Hurricane Michael happened, apparently there was this article written in a New York Times. They sent a they sent a team down to cover the after effects of Hurricane Michael on what was being done in that type of stuff.

Brennan Washington: [00:16:02] So they came down. I interviewed a bunch of folks and from everybody I talked to, the general slant of the article when it was finally written was. And this is in a nutshell, Hurricane Michael, the chickens coming home to roost for conservative climate change deniers. That’s I don’t know. I’m pretty sure the article didn’t exactly say that. But a lot of people felt that that was the thrust of the article. And in their that article, from what everybody said, carries the seeds of a lot of stuff that we have wrong with our rural communities. First of all, they assumed that that meant that these communities in southwest Georgia are overall monolithically white and not Mrs. Shirley Sherrod and her husband, Charles Sherrod. Their operation is down and they work with a lot of black farmers in that region. They’re down there. Don had a line on his show, said she’s met some of the most horribly racist people that he can meet in certain areas of south Georgia. But yet, when you leave their house and you walk outside, there’s all these mixed race kids walking around. And, you know, they had a real chance to show that the diversity and complete. City of some of what really is rural America. They didn’t seize it from from. From what everybody has told me once again, I did not read that article. What I’ve heard it from enough people’s opinions is that I trust it.

Brennan Washington: [00:17:22] That’s the way the slant was. So we’re going to be talking about stuff like this and how it intertwined with some of the larger and smaller issues that we’re going to be talking about. And so what did you show? What what are we gonna be covering on this show? We’re going to be covering a lot of stuff. We’re going to be covering the hype. I can’t go anywhere. And my 13 southeastern state without hearing about how it’s at the top of every conference list. It’s you go into it. If they’re doing a workshop, they usually have to have it in a ballroom because two or three hundred people are going to show up. So we’re going to talk about him. We’re going to talk about the height. We’re going to talk about the challenges. We don’t talk about the opportunities. We’re going to talk about our 1890 land grant universities, which are black land grants. We’re going to talk about stuff like southern universities, small farm ag leadership program and the impact that that program has had on black agricultural leaders in the South over the past seven or eight years. We’re going to talk about the work of Noel Estwick and Dr. Michelle Eley and the work that they’re doing around trying to build training and curricula to train extension personnel on how to develop culturally appropriate disaster preparedness material for farmers of color and suicide prevention. We’re going to be talking a lot, not a whole lot.

Brennan Washington: [00:18:42] I don’t want to depress everybody else. And say I can’t listen to this guy anymore. But we are going to be talking about farmer mental health and some of the realities that’s going on around some of the very, very difficult issues that farmers are facing right now. We’re gonna have some fun. We’re going to be doing Man on the Street interviews from some of the upcoming conferences like Southern SAWG, Georgia Organics, the Virginia Biological Association Conference, all the conferences that cater to small scale farmers. We’re going to be talking about veterans and farming and what that really means. And are we supporting our veterans the way we need to when they come back from a lot of times what has been a very, very traumatic experience and then going it to a feel that it’s very challenging. And are we supporting him in the matter that we need to an end in a manner that they need and want that that’s critical? We’re gonna be talking about miracle marijuana. We’re going to be talking about production does basic production practices. We’ll be talking about small ruminants. How do you control parasites in your small ruminants, which breeds do best and which areas are what it is? The tips for growing healthy, healthy sheep is their market. And why are more people interested in growing hair, sheep and sheep fiber? We’re definitely gonna be talking a lot about local food systems.

Brennan Washington: [00:20:12] Who grows our food? How they grow their food? How to get to us? What resources do we need to put into place so that people have access to fresh food? And what do we need to do to make sure that once that access is available, that the people who are getting their food is utilizing their food in a healthy manner?

Brennan Washington: [00:20:30] You know, I always ask questions. I’ve been very, very active in helping to develop farmer’s market in the state of Georgia. And one of the major rationales for for pushing our farm, what it was a couple one big one was that we can address the issue of food insecurity. Another one, which was a quiet one, which I didn’t see until I ran a couple of markets. Was that properly, Don? A farmer’s market can really increase the life of small downtown and small community, because once they started building big box stores, you know, people would drive past a downtown area to go to Home Depot, go to the mall.

Brennan Washington: [00:21:12] And those downtown stores die. And people started seeing as this emphasis on local more awareness where your food came pull from. People saw that there were other effects to that. So when you had your farmer’s market, for example, I ran a market in Lawrenceville for about four years, I think. And one of the things we did, we used to do these surveys to see what people would do when they left the market. And, you know, most people would stay stay downtown for a little while. And most of them would spend at least twenty five to fifty dollars during that stay. The overwhelming majority, it was doing stuff like having lunch and stuff, because that was the majority of the businesses we had in our little downtown area in Lawrenceville, which is for those who want no way lawns.

Brennan Washington: [00:21:57] But we’re about 18 miles north of Atlanta proper. We’re right outside the perimeter, but we’re 30 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. But, you know, I said, okay, this is good. We got this raw data. I don’t know how. How. True it is. And in one year we had to we were growing so fast. We’ve starting get vendors who needed electricity. So we had meat vendors coming in and we had some ice cream folks to give a feast to the kids and stuff. So we need we just need a power and personal loan to site where we were. Didn’t really want to invest in giving us any any power. So the city gave us supplies. So we make a long story short, we move that market off the square. And one of the big complaints we heard was that we were killing that Saturday afternoon business for those local businesses. So we need to talk about farmers markets and have had they reached a plateau and the benefits that they offered, are they still still for all the talk about equity?

Brennan Washington: [00:22:54] And for all the talk about delivering healthy food to people. Is it still just a province of fairly well-to-do people, be they black, white? Is it really just an avenue and an option for people with money? Those are questions we need to ask. And that’s what we’re going to be doing on this show, not only looking at these issues, but really asking questions that need to be asked. Can you hear Scott and I talk a lot about that and his episode? I’m a true believer when it comes to sustainable ag. You cut me and I don’t know what sustainable AG bluntly looks like, but that’s what will come out. I’m a true believer, but I also believe that we’ve dropped the ball on a lot of things. I don’t believe we’ve asked questions that we need to be asking as this movement. So we’re going to be doing quite a few shows going back to that financial legacy. So quite a few still shows on our farm is really making money out there. You know, I’m sure those of you who follow have at least come across, wants the stories of these young folks. And I’m great to see. It’s great to see so many young farmers deciding that this is what they want to make a vocation and a passion that they’re bringing to it.

Brennan Washington: [00:24:01] But are they making any money, you know? Are they working 90 hour weeks for what turns out to be less than minimum wage? And then it’s in, on the same hand, making themselves sick because they don’t have health insurance. We need to start having honest, deep and honest conversations about that. We’re gonna be covered. Urban agriculture. I’m a big urban ag guy. And, you know, I was at the National Outreach Confidence back in September. And I was on an opening plenary session and they just had a bunch of USDA folks and myself and guy sitting next to me was either number two or three man with National Resource Conservation Service and our CSA just drawing a blank on his name right now. But anyway, he was talking about everything at NRCS, I said, available to people to do outreach to farmers and ranchers. And at some of the new stuff that came out of the 2013 farm bill, one of which was funding to establish a when I first heard it was called a sustainable and I’m sorry, an urban ag agency.

Brennan Washington: [00:25:03] But I think it may end up being an urban ag department. But the big the big news was that urban ag was officially, quote unquote, enshrined as a legitimate production system within USDA.

Brennan Washington: [00:25:18] And I turned to him after I had to speak after him. And then once he was done, he said that I thought I said, you know, I used to throw me out a run about 10 years ago when I talk about urban ag and he just laughed. So just shows you the progression of stuff.

Brennan Washington: [00:25:30] And I’ve seen a lot of great stuff in urban ag being done that there is a lot of good work going on out there. It is de town farms up in Detroit with malique bikinis doing some outstanding work. We have truly living well here in Atlanta. Also global growers here in Atlanta. We have footprint farms and Jackson, Mississippi, and they’re doing some really, really interesting works around urban ag. But I also have issues with urban and I don’t think Urban Hank has demonstrated that it’s going to be a long term, financially viable method of production. I just don’t and I don’t even think that it’s doing it. I don’t think anybody is even starting to try to measure what the impact is. And I think that’s a lot of our problems outside of things like soil health and an animal health and stuff like that in a sustainable egg. Is that a lot of times these bromides get thrown around, but we really don’t take a step back to see. Well, wait a minute, is this really happening? And if not, why isn’t it happening? And if it’s not happening, you know, what’s the solution? And I don’t think we do enough of that. Like, I think we’ve dropped the ball in sustainable AG on paying entirely too much attention on the production side and not enough on the retail end to things that has been left to sort of find its way. Started out with CSA as well.

Brennan Washington: [00:26:52] CSA is on the decline across the country and with. Not having a robust answer or some robust solutions to that retail space. Meaning who owns it? How do we get that less? What’s the deal with that last mile? That food that we’re encouraging the small farmers to grow. How’s that food getting to those people and communities? It just can’t be farmers markets, people. That’s not sustainable over the long term. I don’t even think it’s sustainable right now. We’re gonna be talking about AG in the middle because that’s a serious problem in this country. In the middle, all those mid-scale farms, you know, maybe a couple of hundred acres, up to 1000 that are disappearing year by year. They’re either being snapped up by and while many cases they’re being snapped up by larger corporate farms and it’s increasing rise of investor owned farms, but a disappearing and their markets are disappearing. We’re going to have a interesting session on the dairy industry. If you don’t know anything about dairy. Dairy is just dying here. Hurt getting hurt. And a lot of news you hear about farmer suicides. A lot of it you’ll hear coming out of the dairy industry because of the economic conditions that are there. Unless we will be talking about some fun things, we’ll talk about all of the interesting conferences that they have. We’ll talk about the work that’s being done in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Brennan Washington: [00:28:20] Going to have a good friend, Lewis Peters, stuck at loose Peterson on. We’ll talk about just how we can help you become a better farmer rancher or local food system advocate and what we need to do to make you more successful in the work that you do. So we need your info, we need to show ideas. And we hope you continue to watch. Now, like I said, I got a lot of work to do to make sure…. My commitment to you as a host of this show is to bring you first and foremost compelling content contact that you gonna say, yeah, this is worth my while to download it off. I tuned and spent our 90 minutes listening it to and I’m gonna make sure goal number two for me is to make sure that’s consistent. So I don’t want to do a show today and you don’t hear from me for four weeks. I’ve got a plan where originally I was only going to go every two weeks. But when I start talking to people about being on the show and got a feel for how I could record people at sort of it’s sort of lent itself more to a weekly show. So we’ll do a weekly. So. So those are my first two goals right off the back to make sure that I deliver you compelling, interesting and valuable content and that I do it on a consistent basis.

Brennan Washington: [00:29:35] So that and, you know, I’ll improve my delivery, I’ll improve the pace of the show when the subjects and I’m sure that people will will give me tips. Right now, I’m even going to be avoiding ads and stuff like that, because I think it’s more important now that as a team we build together a resource that we want to see here before we obviously have got to at some point pay for this. But right now, the goal’s deliver you to a compelling content and to make sure I deliver it on a consistent basis. And so with that, let’s go ahead and talk with Carol Williams, who is the new executive director of Southern SAWG.

Talking SSAWG and Southeastern Sustainable Agriculture

Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to the Sustainable AG Writer podcast, a podcast bringing you news and views about sustainable agriculture from across the southeastern United States. Every show will feature insightful interviews and deep dives into sustainable agriculture topics with farmers, ranchers, land grant universities and local food system advocates.

Intro: [00:00:26] Now here’s your host, Brennan Washington.

Brennan Washington: [00:00:32] Welcome, welcome, welcome. How’s everybody doing today? How are you doing?

Brennan Washington: [00:00:37] This is it. This is the first episode of the Sustainable AG Right podcast. And I’m so glad you decided to download and listen to me. I’ve been working on this podcast for quite some time. It’s been an idea of mine that came to me as a result doing my work around the southeast and I was looking for a vehicle that would help tell the stories of the people that I meet, to help share ideas and to just tell the story of the small scale farmers that often get overlooked when we hear discussions about farmers. I don’t know what I’m doing with the show, y’all. So the planned format, at least for now, is that, well, we’re going to pick a subject. So let’s talk about, first of all, what is sustainable agriculture. And for the purposes of this show, we’re always going to view sustainable agriculture as a three legged stool. The first leg of the stool is environmental,that we’re farming in an environmentally conscious way that not only preserves and protects our soils and watersheds and all the things in our environment, but also helps to rebuild it. So that’s the one leg of the stool, the environmental piece. The second piece is one that I really care a lot about, and that’s the financial leg and the financial leg deals with making sure.

Brennan Washington: [00:01:53] In a nutshell, that farm is a viable that not only are they running their farms and that not only are they making money, but they are making money in a manner that allows them to sustain their families and to keep their family farm going. So that’s the financial leg. And that this farming is not being done in a financially exploitive fashion, that the agriculture that’s done in the name of sustainability actually values labor, actually values workers and actually values the efforts of the farmers themselves. So that’s the second leg of the stool. The third leg is the social leg. Social sustainability. Are we building communities that are going to be and farming in a way that’s going to result in healthy, vibrant communities. Where we’re not having situations where we can go through small town,after small town after small town and they have no job opportunities, they have no access to fresh,healthy foods, but yet they’re surrounded by agriculture. So those are the three legs of the stool and each show will take on one or more of those legs of the stool. So today, for example, we’re going to be speaking with Carol Williams, the new executive director of Southern SSAWG.

Brennan Washington: [00:03:11] And we’re just going to be having a general question about sustainability. So it’s sort of may touch on all three of those legs. Our next episode with Scott Marlow is Small Scale Agriculture. How Healthy is It? We’re going to be touching more on that financial leg. So that’s how you should view this going into the show is we are going to take up one or more of those legs of sustainability. So in terms of format, there will be one or two interviews per show with someone involved in sustainable and small scale agriculture. Now, this show is going to have a very heavy emphasis on the southeastern United States because that’s where I do a lot of my work with. But the topics and the subjects that will be covered on this show are probably applicable anywhere. It may be a little bit different in your areas in terms of geographic stuff, but soil health is soil health no matter where you go in the country. So we’re going to have one or two interviews and then I’m gonna do an opening segment that leads us into the primary discussion we’re going to have with our guest.

Brennan Washington: [00:04:15] And that’s it. And so hopefully, you know, I’m going to be making some mistakes. I’ve got some work to do on my delivery. I’m not used to talking behind a microphone. I use. Anybody who knows me knows I’m pretty good when I’m in front of a crowd or if I’m talking to you. Person to person. It’s been a lot for me to get adjusted talking into a microphone.

Brennan Washington: [00:04:33] So having said that, today on this number one show, I want to talk about an article that I read actually just this morning, and the name article is Five Myths about Rural America that Muddel the Political Realities. And the other thing you should realize that this show’s going to do is we’re going to cover a lot about rural America. My farm, Phoenix Gardens, is considered an urban ag operation and I’ve been a huge proponent of urban agriculture for the past almost 20 years. But it is what it is. If we’re going to talk about changing the dynamics of our food system, if we’re going to talk about improving communities around the country, if we’re going to talk about having major says in who grows our food and how they grow their food, then we need to be talking about rural communities. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. So there’s going to be a heavy rural skew. We also going to do shows on urban ag and topics that are applicable across the entire landscape. But rural rural communities and rural agriculture is going to get a lot of play on this show because that’s where the money is ,as as I forget what the bank robber’s name used to say. Anyway this article in a Washington Post by a gentleman named Christopher Ingraham talks about Five myths about rural America and how it’s affecting things in our political discourse.

Brennan Washington: [00:06:02] I also think it even affects things going down into policy and stuff like that. And I’m not going to go over all five. There’s three that I really want to cover before we get started with our conversation with Carol. So I’ll just read a little bit of what he said. Myth Number One, rural is synonymous with Midwestern Earlier this year New York Times politics editor Jonathan Weisman provided a particularly clumsy example of this common conflation, suggesting that US representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, Omar from Minnesota and Tlaib from Michigan, who represent densely populated urban districts in their state, weren’t really Midwestern. Now keep that in mind. One from Minnesota and one from Michigan, which are definitely considered Midwestern states. But he said that they weren’t really Midwestern. He goes on to say, this is nonsense, of course. The Midwest is a region, not a population density and he’s absolutely right. But it starts to show you that there’s this mythical ethos out there, especially around agriculture. and well, especially around rural communities, which then bleeds itself into the world of agriculture and that’s this notion that not only are rural communities dominated by what you find in the Midwest. But so is a lot of agriculture. And unfortunately, as you hear a little bit today, and especially in the interview with Scott Marlow, that bleeds over into things like USDA policy and to even things like some of the federal policies on disaster relief that we’ve been seeing.

Brennan Washington: [00:07:40] So that’s myth. That’s myth number one. Myth number two: Rural is synonymous with white. I cannot agree more that this misperception exists out there in the world. And that is absolutely false. But time and time and time again. When we see discussions about rural America, it typically only involves white citizens from those communities. What about Jackson, Mississippi? What about Greenville, South Carolina? What about Henderson, North Carolina? What about Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the areas surrounding that? I can go on and on and on. What about McAllan, Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, which has one of the largest,actually the largest base of Hispanic farmers in the United States. Those are rural communities. I’ve been there, but you never hear them. You never see them on TV. Think about all the commercials, you see the farm fresh commercials when they want to give this perception that your food is coming from a nice, wholesome, all American family farm. Think about those commercials. I’m sure you could think one or two of them. Those are some of the dairy commercials and stuff like that. Now think about how many of those involved farmers of color and I know farmers of color out there. So once again, it skews into this skews into this perception that there’s these monolithic blocs within our country when it comes to geographic determinations.

Brennan Washington: [00:09:12] And he goes on to say, One of the most regrettable era trend Trump era trends in political reporting is the Diner Safari, in which a big city reporter is parachuted into a small town in the middle of the country in search of the secret wisdom of diner patrons in overalls and trucker caps. First. I’ma going take a little bit of issue with him at. This did not start with Donald Trump. I can remember during the Obama era we saw that same thing. During the Bush era, we saw that same. We saw that same thing. If anything, it may have become more pronounced and aggravated during this current presidency. But I think it’s a it’s misleading to say that or to allege that this sort of started with him because it didn’t end. And to do so really minimize what the overall problem is. He goes on to say, the unfortunate effect of such stories is that they don’t reflect the fact they’re a fairly large and growing share of rural Americans are, in fact, non-white. About 22 percent as of 2018 or more than 10 million people. And he’s right. I mean, that’s what I do in my work, is just travel around, at least in the southeast, to all of these predominantly rural communities where you find a lot of people of color.

Brennan Washington: [00:10:29] And they may have different political beliefs than than their white counterparts in some of these rural communities and not surprisingly, some of their religious beliefs as far as being a lot more conservative than the general populace population. They probably parallel each other on many issues. But that’s an article we’re going to be looking at a lot of and going back to what this guy said about this being a Trump era trend. Don Cooper, a good friend of mine who used to run the Georgia Organics farmer mentoring program and now does a podcast called Streak O Lean covering…just he’s just talking with another country guy country farmer and they just cover a whole bunch of subjects. But he was talking about an article and I have not read this New York Times article. I’m going to try and find it so I can read it. But this was after Hurricane Michael. So for those who don’t know, you know, we’ve heard a lot about how Florida got hit by Hurricane Michael and other parts of the country got hit and how the devastation was so damaging, which it was. But no one hardly talks about southwest Georgia. Southwest Georgia’s one of the premier agricultural geographic areas in our country.

Brennan Washington: [00:11:43] If you eat a peanut, if you got a jar of peanut butter in your pantry now, chances are those some of those peanuts, if not all, came from southwest Georgia. If you eat pecans, if you have pecans, you gonna make you a nice pecan pie. Chances are those pecans came from southwest Georgia. And the numbers and I’m doing this off the top of my head. So if anybody’s listening to me. If, Don, if you’re out there, you want to come on the show one day. But after Hurricane Michael. In southwest Georgia, and we’re not we’re not talking the entire state. We are talking just a portion of the state of Georgia. They had agricultural losses in the amount of two point four billion dollars, I think the number was. So down in Southwest Georgia, big pecan stronghold, big peanut stronghold, a lot of land owners and farmers grow timber. So pine trees for the paper that you write on, the two by fours that you use for building projects, the pine needles that you put on your lawns to make them look pretty. Typically, that comes from these that the work of these farmers down in this region. there is a large chicken processing operations down there. When Michael sailed through here, through southwest Georgia, acres and acres and acres of trees were lost. Dozens and dozens and dozens of chicken operations was lost. Not only were peanut crops lost. And if that’s all it was because, you’ve always replant the next year, they lost all the processing…. so you can rebound and grow another crop of peanuts next year.

Brennan Washington: [00:13:18] If the weather cooperates with you and the stars align, you’ll get a crop. But if you’ve got no where to take those peanuts, to get them clean, to get them washed, to get them to get them graded, what are you going to do it? Really? What are you going to do with them? So and once again, I said, I’m doing this off the top of my head. So just from the numbers that Don shared on his podcast is…. pecans. I think they had like six hundred million dollars in lost trees. They lost another two hundred million because a hurricane hit right when the nuts were about to be harvested. And I think I lost. They lost another hundred million, something like that. Another 200 million dollars in lost sales. Because think about it, pecans are those type of crops that they come back each year. So you’re predicting you don’t have to replant them. You just have to harvest those nuts and process them each year. Well, you take out a farmer’s 40 acre,or hundred acre grove of pecan trees. And he was counting, on I don’t even know what the economics behind pecans are….. But let’s say he made a hundred thousand dollars off of those pecans every year. And his stand is relatively new, maybe 20, 25 years old, which is young for pecans. And he’s counting on getting at a minimum, let’s say another 10, 10 years out of that stand. That stand that he…well that’s gone now. That’s gone. That’s gone.

Brennan Washington: [00:14:38] So that income is gone. And what’s that farmer going to do? Timber. Once the timber is gone, it’s gone. So I’m talking about those two industries specifically because one of the things Don mentioned on his show was that he talked to a lot of people. He gets around like I do, and he talked to a lot of folks who were either up in their years close to retirement or, you know, maybe in a 40 or 50 range.

Brennan Washington: [00:15:04] Where they still have a lot of years to go. And they said that they’re getting out. And I don’t I don’t blame them. That’s a tough decision to make, because you just lost your entire pecan grove. Let’s say you want to replant. You stick that tree in the ground. And I know that coming out with some new varieties, but at a minimum for that tree reaches full reproductive full production. Maybe talking about 10 years. So 10 years so used to a tree in the ground. And you’re not getting any you’re not realizing any income from that tree for 10 years. And most people say, look, I’m too old for it. I understand. I heard a little bit of the same thing down in Puerto Rico when it came to the coffee plantations. So I’m saying all that to say is after Hurricane Michael happened, apparently there was this article written in a New York Times. They sent a they sent a team down to cover the after effects of Hurricane Michael on what was being done in that type of stuff. So they came down. they interviewed a bunch of folks and from everybody I talked to, the general slant of the article when it was finally written was. And this is in a nutshell, Hurricane Michael, the chickens coming home to roost for conservative climate change deniers. That’s I don’t know. I’m pretty sure the article didn’t exactly say that. But a lot of people felt that that was the thrust of the article. And in their that article, from what everybody said, carries the seeds of a lot of stuff that we have wrong with our rural communities. First of all, they assumed that that and that these communities in southwest Georgia are overall monolithically white and they’re not Mrs. Shirley Sherrod and her husband, Charles Sherrod.

Brennan Washington: [00:16:45] Their operation is down and they work with a lot of black farmers in that region. They’re down there. Don had a line on his show, and he said she’s met some of the most horribly racist people that he can meet in certain areas of south Georgia.

Brennan Washington: [00:16:58] But yet, when you leave their house and you walk outside,there’s all these mixed race kids walking around. And, you know, they had a real chance to show that the diversity and complexity of some of what really is rural America.

Brennan Washington: [00:17:14] They didn’t seize it from from. From what everybody has told me once again, I did not read that article. What I’ve heard it from enough people’s opinions is that I trust it. That’s the way the slant was. So we’re going to be talking about stuff like this and how it intertwines with some of the larger and smaller issues that we’re going to be talking about. And so what did you show? What what are we gonna be covering on this show? We’re going to be covering a lot of stuff. We’re going to be covering the hemp hype. I can’t go anywhere in my 13 southeastern states without hearing about hemp.  It’s at the top of every conference list. It’s you go into it. If they’re doing a workshop, they usually have to have it in a ballroom because two or three hundred people are going to show up. So we’re going to talk about hemp. We’re going to talk about the hype. We’re going to talk about the challenges. We talk about the opportunities. We’re going to talk about our 1890 land grant universities, which are black land grants. We’re going to talk about stuff like Southern University’s, Small Farm AG leadership program and the impact that that program has had on black agricultural leaders in the South over the past seven or eight years. We’re going to talk about the work of Noel Estwick and Dr. Michelle Eley and the work that they’re doing around trying to build training and curricula to train extension personnel on how to develop culturally appropriate disaster preparedness material for farmers of color and suicide prevention. We’re going to be talking a lot, not a whole lot. I don’t want to depress everybody else. And so I can’t listen to this anymore.

Brennan Washington: [00:18:44] But we are going to be talking about farmer mental health and some of the realities that’s going on around some of the very, very difficult issues that farmers are facing right now. We’re gonna have some fun. We’re going to be doing Man on the Street interviews from some of the upcoming conferences like Southern SSAWG, Georgia Organics, the Virginia Biological Association Conference, all the conferences that cater to small scale farmers. We’re going to be talking about veterans and farming and what that really means. And are we supporting our veterans the way we need to when they come back from, a lot of times what has been a very, very traumatic experience and then going it to a field that it’s very challenging. And are we supporting them in the matter that we need to end in a manner that they need and want that that’s critical?

Brennan Washington: [00:19:42] We’re gonna be talking about medical marijuana. We’re going to be talking about production just basic production practices. We’ll be talking about small ruminants

Brennan Washington: [00:19:53] How do you control parasites in your small ruminants, which breeds do best and which areas are what it is? The tips for growing healthy, healthy sheep. Is there a market and why aren’t more people interested in growing hair sheep and sheep for fiber? We’re definitely gonna be talking a lot about local food systems. Who grows our food? How they grow that food, How it gets to us? What resources do we need to put into place so that people have access to fresh food? And what do we need to do to make sure that once that access is available, that the people who are getting that food is utilizing that food in a healthy manner? You know, I always ask questions. I’ve been very, very active in helping to develop farmer’s markets in the state of Georgia. And one of the major rationales for for pushing out farmers, well it was a couple…. one big one was that we can address the issue of food insecurity. Another one, which was a quiet one, which I didn’t see until I ran a couple of markets. Was that properly done, a farmer’s market can really increase the life of small a downtown in a  small community, because once they started building big box stores, you know, people would drive past a downtown area to go to Home Depot, go to the mall. And those downtown started to die. And people started seeing, as this emphasis on local, more awareness where your food came from. People saw that there were other effects to that.

Brennan Washington: [00:21:24] So when you had your farmer’s market, for example, I ran a market in Lawrenceville for about four years, I think. And one of the things we did, we used to do these surveys to see what people would do when they left the market. And, you know, most people would stay stay downtown for a little while. And most of them would spend at least twenty five to fifty dollars during that stay. The overwhelming majority, that was doing stuff like having lunch and stuff, because that was the majority of the businesses we had in our little downtown area in Lawrenceville, which is for those who don’t know where Lawrenceville is we’re about 18 miles north of Atlanta proper. We’re right outside the perimeter, but we’re 30 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. But, you know, I said, OK, this is good. We got this raw data. I don’t know how. How. True it is. And one year we had to… we were growing so fast…we started get vendors who needed electricity. So we had meat vendors coming in and we had some ice cream folks to give icees to the kids and stuff. So we need we just needed power and the person who owned the site where we were….didn’t really want to invest in giving us any any power. So the city gave us someplace. So to make a long story short, we moved that market off the square. And one of the big complaints we heard was that we were killing that Saturday afternoon business for those local businesses.

Brennan Washington: [00:22:42] So we need to talk about farmers markets and have had they reached a plateau and the benefits that they offered? Are they still… still for all the talk about equity and for all the talk about delivering healthy food to people. Is it still just a province of fairly well-to-do people, be they black or white? Is it really just an avenue and an option for people with money? Those are questions we need to ask. And that’s what we’re going to be doing on this show, not only looking at these issues, but really asking questions that need to be asked. When you hear Scott and I talk a lot about that on his episode? I’m a true believer when it comes to sustainable ag. You cut me and I don’t know what sustainable ag blood looks like, but that’s what will come out. I’m a true believer but I also believe that we’ve dropped the ball on a lot of things. I don’t believe we’ve asked questions that we need to be asking as this movement. So we’re going to be doing quite a few shows going back to that financial leg of the stool. Quite a few still shows on…are farmers really making money out there. You know, I’m sure those of you who follow have at least come across, once the stories of these young folks. And I’m great to see. It’s great to see so many young farmers deciding that this is what they want to make a vocation and a passion that they’re bringing to it.

Brennan Washington: [00:24:01] But are they making any money, you know? Are they working 90 hour weeks for what turns out to be less than minimum wage? And then on the same hand, making themselves sick because they don’t have health insurance. We need to start having honest, deep and honest conversations about that. We’re gonna be covering urban agriculture. I’m a big urban ag guy. And, you know, I was at the National Outreach Conference back in September. And I was on an opening plenary session and they just had a bunch of USDA folks and myself. And guy sitting next to me was either number two or three man with National Resource Conservation Service NRCS. I’m just drawing a blank on his name right now. But anyway, he was talking about everything at NRCS, had available to people to do outreach to farmers and ranchers. And some of the new stuff that came out of the 2018 farm bill, one of which was funding to establish a, when I first heard it was called a sustainable and I’m sorry, an urban ag agency but I think it may end up being an urban ag department. But the big the big news was that urban ag was officially, quote unquote, enshrined as a legitimate production system within USDA. And I turned to him after, I had to speak after him, and then once he was done he said, that I thought I said, you know, I used to throw me out of the room about 10 years ago when I talked about urban ag and he just laughed. So just shows you the progression of stuff. And I’ve seen a lot of great stuff in urban ag being done… there is a lot of good work going on out there. There’s D-Town farms up in Detroit with Malik Yakini doing some outstanding work. We have Truly Living Well here in Atlanta.

Brennan Washington: [00:25:47] Also Global Growers here in Atlanta. We have Footprint Farms in Jackson, Mississippi, and they’re doing some really, really interesting works around urban ag. But I also have issues with urbanag. I don’t think urban has demonstrated that it’s going to be a long term, financially viable method of production. I just don’t and I don’t even think that it’s doing it. I don’t think anybody’s even starting to try to measure what the impact is. And I think that’s a lot of our problems, outside of things like soil health and animal health and stuff like that, in a sustainable ag is that a lot of times these bromides get thrown around, but we really don’t take a step back to see. Well, wait a minute, is this really happening? And if not, why isn’t it happening? And if it’s not happening, you know, what’s the solution? And I don’t think we do enough of that. Like, I think we’ve dropped the ball in sustainable AG on paying entirely too much attention on the production side and not enough on the retail end to things. That has been left to sort of find its way.

Brennan Washington: [00:26:51] Started out with CSA. Well. CSAs are on the decline across the country and with. Not having a robust answer or some robust solutions to that retail space. Meaning who owns it? How do we get that less? What’s the deal with that last mile? That food that we’re encouraging the small farmers to grow. How’s that food getting to those people and communities? It just can’t be farmers markets, people. That’s not sustainable over the long term. I don’t even think it’s sustainable right now. We’re gonna be talking about AG in the middle because that’s a serious problem in this country.

Brennan Washington: [00:27:27] AG in the middle, all those mid-scale farms. You know, maybe a couple of hundred acres, up to 1000 that are disappearing year by year. They’re either being snapped up by and well many cases they’re being snapped up by larger corporate farms and this increasing rise of investor owned farms, but they’re disappearing and their markets are disappearing. We’re going to have a interesting session on the dairy industry. If you don’t know anything about dairy…dairy is just dying here. Hurt getting hurt. And a lot of news you hear about farmer suicides. A lot of it you’ll hear coming out of the dairy industry because of the economic conditions that are there. Unless we will be talking about some fun things. We’ll talk about all of the interesting conferences that they have. We’ll talk about the work that’s being done in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Going to have a good friend, Louis Peterson, Dr. Louis Peterson on.

Brennan Washington: [00:28:23] We’ll talk about just how we can help you become a better farmer rancher or local food system advocate and what we need to do to make you more successful in the work that you do. So we need your info, we need your show ideas. And we hope you continue to watch. Now, like I said, I got a lot of work to do to make sure…. my commitment to you as the host of this show is to bring you first and foremost compelling content contact that you gonna say, yeah, this is worth my while to download it off Itunes and spend an hour or 90 minutes listening it to and I’m gonna make sure. Goal number two for me is to make sure that’s consistent. So I don’t want to do a show today and you don’t hear from me for four weeks. So I’ve got a plan where….. originally I was only going to go every two weeks. But when I start talking to people about being on the show and got a feel for how I could record people… it sort of lent itself more to a weekly show. So we’ll do a weekly show. So those are my first two goals right off the back to make sure that I deliver you compelling, interesting and valuable content and that I do it on a consistent basis. So that and, you know, I’ll improve my delivery, I’ll improve the pace of the show and the subjects and I’m sure that people will will give me tips. Right now, I’m even going to be avoiding ads and stuff like that, because I think it’s more important now that as a team we build together a resource that we want to see here before we….. obviously have got to at some point pay for this. But right now, the goals deliver you to a compelling content and to make sure I deliver it on a consistent basis. And so with that, let’s go ahead and talk with Carol Williams, who is the new executive director of Southern SSAWG.

Brennan Washington: [00:30:27] Ok. Welcome to the Sustainable AG Rider podcast. Our special guest here is Carol Williams, who is the new executive director of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. But all of us who know the organization refer to it as Southern SSAWG. That’s our loving moniker for the organization. H

Brennan Washington: [00:30:51] How about you? Good. Good. Thank you for joining me on this day after Thanksgiving, this Black Friday. I guess it’s what they call today now, huh?

Carol Williams: [00:31:00] Yeah. Yeah, there’s that. Right. And hey, thanks for having me. This is fantastic time of year to be sitting down and having conversations about all that we’re thankful for, but all that we look forward to accomplishing with regard to sustainable ag and SSAWG

Brennan Washington: [00:31:20] Yes, yes. Yes. So you’re probably up to your eyeballs now with conference planning hun?

Carol Williams: [00:31:27] Yes, that’s true. That’s very true. Yes. And I came on at the end of June, which is typically the time when conference planning is already underway.

Carol Williams: [00:31:39] So when I came on, there was a lot to learn right away. OK. And some new folks have come on board to help out. So we have had the opportunity to get to know each other, to form and solidify our team and have a fantastic program planned again for this year in Little Rock or excuse me, this next conference, 2020, January, 2020 in Little Rock.

Brennan Washington: [00:32:07] Yes. Yes. So I’ve been familiar with SSAWG for quite some time. But for our listeners who are not familiar with the organization are not as familiar with it.

Brennan Washington: [00:32:16] Can you give a little history how it started and what the goals of the organization is?

Carol Williams: [00:32:22] Sure. And I’m new to the organization.

Carol Williams: [00:32:25] I mean, I had attended conferences in the recent past, so I was not a part of SSAWG during its formation. But I can give everyone sure a little bit of background on the organization. So some forward thinking folks back in nineteen ninety one sat down together to form an umbrella group to bring together….well I think it was about 30 organizations across the south. So 13 states from Virginia to Florida over to Texas and Oklahoma and all the way up to Kentucky. So folks across that region were taking a cue from folks in the Midwest who were organizing themselves as an organization of organizations to try to help each other out, to get particularly the needs and the opportunities south in people’s minds and awareness, because everything that was going on in other parts of the country in terms of sustainability of the needs, what folks wanted to do, what they aspired to do and the help that they needed, whether it was regarding policy or economic barriers, knowledge and training, all of those things were needed in the south, too. But they’re different than the south. And they say then say, you know, like in Maine, for example, just even in terms of the sorts of crops and cropping systems that folks were doing at that time in the south and and do now. So those folks got together to form this umbrella organization to help each other address those needs and those aspirations. There’s been a little bit of evolution along the way, but the core mission remains the same, and that is to work to form a more sustainable, fair, equitable and humane agricultural systems and food systems.

Carol Williams: [00:34:29] So that core remains the same. And of course, as technology and policy and knowledge about crops and cropping systems change, some of the specifics that song, SSAWG has worked on have changed and evolved over the last twenty nine years. But the conference remains the core of SSAWG’s work. So in January, this coming January in Little Rock will be the twenty ninth annual conference, and next year obviously will be twenty twenty one I mean will be the 30th anniversary conference. And since SSAWG has been at this for a while and each year between eight hundred and twelve hundred farmers, aspiring farmers, young farmers, folks that transition from more conventional methods to more sustainable methods. Folks from policy…..folks from local foods,food hubs and things convene with our conference to get training or information and exchange sessions for policy sessions, field trips. Many things very, very practical in their nature in terms of new methods. Cropping systems. Hoop houses. Information about FSMA, the Food Safety Food Safety Modernization Act and things of that nature. And of course, a lot of partner organizations involved and various funders helping out with scholarships. For example, at farmers and trainers to the conference to be able to help spread that knowledge and information. So, yes. Yes.

Carol Williams: [00:36:15] Thank you. Are you a? Were you are an AG person. Did you come from an AG background? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Carol Williams: [00:36:21] Oh, thank you. I live just outside of Augusta, Kentucky. I am the first generation from my family to not be raised on the farm. But I have returned to the farm. So I was raised in Cincinnati. But where I live now is one hundred and thirty acres that has been in my family since 1913. My grandfather was very typical of his generation and son of German immigrants, mixed farming.

Carol Williams: [00:36:51] He used mules to pull his plow, mixed livestock and milk cow. Some hogs. Kind of a subsistence living. And then, of course, race tobacco was the cash crop as so many people across the south did. So I was also the first. My brother and I and one cousin were the first generation in our family to go to college.

Carol Williams: [00:37:12] I went on to study science, received my phd and, Where’d you go to school?

Carol Williams: [00:37:20] I went to Southern Illinois University.

Carol Williams: [00:37:23] I studied with one of the founders, the International Association of Landscape Ecologists. So technically, I was in geography and environmental science. But what I was studying is ecological processes at the scale of landscapes. I went on to do my postdoctoral research work at Iowa State University in Agronomy, and I was supervised by Dr. Matt Liebman, who was co-founder of the first graduate program in sustainable agriculture in the United States. And he worked. The other person at Iowa State at the time that co-founded that program was Ricardo Salvador. And Ricardo Salvador…you might now is a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. So sometimes it’s kind of a small world.

Brennan Washington: [00:38:17] Yes, sustainable ag is a very small world.

Carol Williams: [00:38:19] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I then went on to be research scientist at the University of Wisconsin and then at the center of agro forestry at the University of Missouri. Before I had the opportunity to come home to the family farm and to put into practice on the land here all those things that I had been studying and then made the leap from academia and research and science into doing and advocating. So I am absolutely honored and just very, very pleased to be in the fortunate situation that I am to be able to do those two things….to farm….to put into agro forestry parts of the land on my family’s farm and transition it to more animal practices and hopefully carbon farming and to continue to be a part of sustainable ag advocacy through my position at Southern SSAWG. I feel truly blessed.

Brennan Washington: [00:39:24]  advertisementSo as you were walking a very impressive path, how did how did you get to Southern SSAWG and take the executive director position?

Carol Williams: [00:39:34] Well, that is a very good question. And it has sort of a practical nature to it in the sense that when I chose to leave academia so that I could be at the farm and managing it directly. It’s tough to farm these days without off farm income and you know, we’re in a very remote area. I am speaking to you via the Internet, via the hotspot on my phone. We can’t even get cable Internet access where we are. And I would be talking to you today through a satellite access to Internet. But it’s very cloudy and a bit rain today. So the satellite is a not most trustworthy during these circumstances. But anyway, the point being that jobs are also very limited in this area. And if I were to go sort of the traditional route, say, of continuing research in the private sector, I would need to drive more than an hour, hour and a half every day. One way to the Cincinnati area. And that’s not a sustainable life, in my view. And so I became very curious about the opportunities for working remotely. And as I opened up my head and my heart to that possibility, there was an for SSAWG executive director, which is a remote position. The entire staff, while the executive director and the executive assistant and then the board, we all live in different states. So it’s a virtual office. And that worked very. That was a model that would work very, very well for me. So I interviewed and the rest is history. Here I am.

Brennan Washington: [00:41:24] Well, welcome. We’re glad to have you. And it’s interesting, Carol, because this when you describing your path to where you are right now, you mentioned some interesting things. One is when people think about sustainable and talk about sustainable agriculture, a lot of times, you know, in my work, a lot of people automatically it’s organic. And organic is a part of sustainability, but it’s not what sustainability is. And a couple things that you mentioned. For example, broadband access to a decent Internet is becoming more and more feature of and it’s actually lack of it is actually an impediment in many of our rural communities to keeping those communities sustainable. So it’s interesting to hear you hear you talk about that and define how how that informs you and the work that you do. So what what do you when people say sustainable agriculture to you, what comes to your mind? What do you think sustainable agriculture is?

Carol Williams: [00:42:27] How long do you have Brennan?

Brennan Washington: [00:42:31] Yes, I know. That’s a loaded question.

Carol Williams: [00:42:35] Well, right. So I’ll give you the point of view from SSAWG and then I can give you my point of view. So for SSAWG a broad spectrum of practices from, as you mentioned, certified organic can be a fairly large farm focused maybe only on livestock down to say an acre of ground. By that, maybe somebody who who recently was in Iraq that has an opportunity to work off an acre of land and has never farmed before, but is interested in doing things that help preserve and build, say, soil fertility….to have a crop of say, you know, squash and greens to sell at the farmer’s market. So, you know, all along that spectrum from very, very small, to small to midsize. But the focus for SSAWG is food, not commodities. So then me personally, Carol Williams talking about sustainability. I would take that a step further and say that there is also ways to look at commodity production that would protect and improve soil fertility, for example, and also protect our water and wildlife resources. So you’re going back to earlier in our conversation with my introduction. You know, I came to agriculture looking at very, very large pieces of the earth’s surface landscapes. It tends to hundreds of thousands of acres. So sustainability on an acre farm, for example, somebody who’s producing for their local farmers market versus maybe farms in Iowa that are producing grain commodities to say very, very large orchards in eastern Washington state.

Carol Williams: [00:44:39] Really, what we’re talking about is achieving multiple goals simultaneously. And that is production. First of all, producing something, food….feed…fiber.. fuel in ways that are profitable for that farm enterprise while maintaining or hopefully improving the all of the components of those ecosystems. The agro ecology at the places of productivity production and also while protecting and enhancing our other resources, water, wildlife, climate and atmosphere, all of those things so that we are not only protecting what we already have. We are building and improving upon it. So for me, there is no difference between sustainable agriculture and a new term. It’s not really new, but it’s gaining a lot of more visibility these days. Regenerative agriculture. To me, they are the same thing. I think that folks that use the word regenerative agriculture somehow hold in their mind that sustainable ag is sustaining some baseline or sustaining some level of of something, whether its soil fertility or water quality. But I think those of us that have been in the game for quite a while, like the founders of SSAWG and the other songs, probably argue that at the heart and soul of sustainable AG has always been the building up in the improving over time and very much the frame of view that folks today use when they say regenerative agriculture.

Brennan Washington: [00:46:25] Yeah. And you know, unfortunately, like a lot of things, we get into buzz words. So you keep hearing that term regenerative agriculture now. But you know, I just really wonder how many people understand what that means. Or is it becoming a new organic where people start infringing on the space that say organic ag And then it becomes a marketing ploy. So, you know, I’m really glad you guys looked at the conference schedule and I’m really glad you guys are really making that step to sort of educate people about what regenerative agriculture is and how it ties into things like climate change. What do you grow on your farm?.

Carol Williams: [00:47:11] Well, right now, I grow chestnuts, Chinese chestnuts. We established our first acre. While it’s a little more than an acre. What in what was an old corn and tobacco field? We have a lot of steep topography here, so there’s really only a little bit of bottom lands events and narrow ridge tops on this farm. Other otherwise, it’s typical Kentucky hill farming. Though the hillsides have all been retired and are for about the past 35, 40 years have been come up in forest.

Carol Williams: [00:47:48] But as my cousin was an absentee farmer, she allow excuse me, an absentee owner. She allowed some neighboring farmers to rent and basically just let their cows loose in the woods as folks are tend to do. But we all know what happens with rented land. It’s like a rented car. Nothing accelerates faster, turns sharp or stops quicker, than a rented a car and rental lands are the same way they get opened up to some abuse. So there was a lot of corn on corn on corn and tobacco on those ridge tops. So we my husband and I took over ownership of the farm on Earth Day in twenty fifteen. And on that very same day, we asked the farmers that we’re renting and raising corn after corn to…no, thank you. We will not be renewing that contract. We had the fields limed and shortly thereafter sowed with some high quality perennial hay, and into that we have planted our Chinese chestnut orchards. And then from there, our next steps will be we’re looking for some form of livestock, goats or lambs to manage in some intensive, intensive rotational grazing to make use of some of the hillsides.

Carol Williams: [00:49:14] But in ways that are much more friendly to the erodible soils and some of the unique ecology that we have around here and to protect the waterways, keep livestock out of the waterways. You know, these sorts of death.

Brennan Washington: [00:49:32] What day is Earth Day?

Carol Williams: [00:49:34] Oh, April. It’s usually April 22nd, doesn’t it?

Carol Williams: [00:49:39] Oh, OK. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we purposely chose that as our closing date on the farm Earth Day because it was very symbolic to us.

Brennan Washington: [00:49:49] Good day, always good to have that connection. I’ll always remember 2015. It didn’t happen on Earth Day, but my wife and I were attending a business meeting in Virginia and we went to go see her mom who lives in Virginia and she was only a couple hours away. So we said, we’ll make a trip to go over there. And we had just gotten to her house. I mean, I just had enough time to take a beer out of the cooler and pop the…..open it up when we got a call. My house was burning to the ground. So no, 2015 always be good for me. August 5th. And that sort of brings me to a segue that I want to talk to you about because in terms of regenerative agriculture, there’s also the whole issue of resiliency. And we in the south here have been hammered by just natural disaster after natural disaster after natural disaster. North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana. There’s been flooding There’s been hurricanes. Southwest Georgia.

Brennan Washington: [00:50:53] No one even talks about the damage that happened after hurricane Michael. Yeah. 2.5 billion dollars in damage. And it’s the type of damage, you know, a little farmer like me who grows leafy greens and stuff. I can rebound the next year. It’s easy enough for me to plant…but down to south Georgia. You had a pecan orchard. You had large stands of timber pine… they grow a lot of pine down there. And I was talking to someone, I don’t know if you know Don Cooper, but Don Cooper was saying that he talked to a lot of farmers thatjust said, I’m gotta get out I got to get out because I can’t wait 15, 20 years for me to start to realize a profit from it.

Brennan Washington: [00:51:32] And I think that’s one of the values and a great things that SSAWG helps with farms as we start to look at these trends. And I think you guys have a couple climate, Don’t you have a couple of climate sessions at the conference this year or or

Carol Williams: [00:51:48] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’m so glad that you mentioned this about the resiliency and how important resiliency is to be able to continue to farm or to begin to farm in the face of a changing climate where extremes of weather happen more and more often. And that also, meanwhile, in just sort of social and economic terms in our country, there’s very little support to the farmer to help with that resiliency outside of the Midwest and outside of commodity farming. And as we all know, there are subsidies for crop insurance, but that crop insurance and the subsidy is often driven by standards with regard to cropping rotations. So even if, say, there was a large commodity farmer that has insurance, wants to put in, say, cover crops, they run the risk of losing that crop insurance. And so, you know, even those sorts of things are not available to the small farmer. So I want to tell you and your listeners about something that I’ve become more and more aware of. Back in October, I attended a conference at the farm of Katie Fort Farms was hosted by former Vice President Al Gore. And this conference was called the Climate Underground Conference. And it was an invite situation with some of the world’s leading climate scientists, social scientists, community organizers with regard to food access, healthy food, healthy communities, and built around the notion of regenerative agriculture being a part of the solution that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, puts it in the soil as carbon through agricultural practices and a variety of new and emerging cropping systems and approaches to agriculture.

Carol Williams: [00:54:00] And then through helping to abate climate change, build resiliency into farms, you know how to from year to year, whether the extremes pun intended, even though it’s not funny, it’s not a laughing matter.

Carol Williams: [00:54:17] And one of the things that struck me at this conference hearing, leading scientists around the world, community organizers, policymakers, leading policymakers, is that the quest for solutions to climate change tend to be focused on very large farms and commodity farms, because a couple of things are driving that. One is we have a huge problem on our hands. There is a huge excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so an expedient way would be to say, where are the most acre’s that we can get new practices and a whole bunch of carbon sequestered right away. So of course, everyone looks to the Midwest, for example, their average farm size is what, now? Five hundred six hundred acres. And you can deal with basically one farm manager to get to those 500, 600 acres that a lot of the opportunity in the south for carbon sequestration, carbon farming and building resiliency into those farms.

Carol Williams: [00:55:27] again, the south is being overlooked. And also part of the problem is something that you mentioned earlier. Technology access to broadband. Technology is gaining more and more importance in the restoration agriculture with regard to surveillance. In other words, satellite imagery. Use of drones, smart tractors, things like this that can be used in computationally and modeling so that you can prove, for example, how much carbon you’re sequestering and get that certified so that you could then sell that carbon. Yeah, that’s tough, because I don’t know about you, Brennan, but I can’t afford that technology. And a lot of people can’t have access to broadband. I mean, I have some ability to connect to you today, but I’ll go through my my data limits here real quick.

Carol Williams: [00:56:33] If I had to rely on an intensive amount of data gathering. And keeping all those records, keeping records, good records, verifiable records, that sort of carbon accounting on any individual farm is a skill in and of itself and adds another burden to the workload, the daily workload. So I am very interested in making it. my responsibility in leadership at SSAWG is to continue to press policymakers, business leaders, community organizers to continue to reflect on the situation in the south as the reality of the south. These weather extremes and the need for resiliency and the needs of people in the south, rural small communities. A number one, we need to have access to the Internet in all of the ways that people in cities do so that more people can be on the farm and not have to commute an hour, hour and a half.

Carol Williams: [00:57:47] One way each day to get the needed off farm income and so that they can join in some of the carbon sequestration solutions by access to some of the data that’s being gathered through surveillance technology and satellites and things of this nature and online trainings to be able to work with researchers and agri business leaders that are forming.

Carol Williams: [00:58:16] For example, carbon markets that the farmers are part of these systems that get built to monitor trade, to monetize, to track, to verify that all those things that regenerative agriculture or sustainable agriculture can be done without leaving the small farmers, particularly farmers in the south, on the wayside.

Carol Williams: [00:58:43] Yes, yes, yes. I know. I said a lot.

Brennan Washington: [00:58:46] Yes, yes, yes. But it was all right on point. It’s funny.

Brennan Washington: [00:58:49] I was talking to someone or I was reading an article, but one line had struck out, struck me is that the person said that you can really tell how disconnected a community is from the rest of the larger society is if you drive through their downtown and you still see video rental stores.

Brennan Washington: [00:59:15] And, you know, I first I didn’t get it. But then all of a sudden, yeah, they can’t access Netflix, they can’t access Amazon Prime. They can’t do any of that stuff.

Brennan Washington: [00:59:23] And I was having a conversation with Mrs. Shirley Sherrod, who runs up the Southwest Georgia project. And she said one of her biggest challenges and she has plenty of land, plenty of opportunities. What is keeping young people in these rural areas? You know, they want to get to the big city to take advantage of things like the Internet and all goes on with. One of the people on your program that I was very glad to see. And one I’m  starting to work pretty closely with Scott Marlow from RAFI, and he and I have had these conversations. One we’re trying to do some work together around on farmer stressors and farmer suicide prevention. But Scott has a unique and I think he’s giving this talk at a conference about why farms fail and that Scott presents the theory that, you know, we’re probably training these young farmers the wrong way. And for as much as we like to talk up and be positive about small scale sustainable agriculture. You know, we’ve got to ask the difficult questions like are these farmers actually making money? You know, are they able to support themselves or they come into it where they’ve got they’ve got enough cash flow, they could support themselves and their families. And so I’m I’m really gonna be interested to hear Scott’s updated take on this whole thing. But I just want to get your feelings about that.

Brennan Washington: [01:00:45] It’s like urban ag. My farm sits outside. I’m 30 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, 30 miles. And I was a big proponent of urban ag quite some time. And I’m actually quite disappointed with a lot of folks in a urban ag movement now because I personally never thought urban ag was going to feed the world. I think it has its applications to help address some areas of food insecurity in some neighborhoods. But I really saw urban ag as being the gateway to connect with some of these rural communities. You get farmers products into these larger, more lucrative urban markets and net at least. And in Georgia. That hasn’t happened. I don’t know if you’ve seen it happen in other areas of the south. But I’d like to hear your opinions about that. What are you seeing, this urban rural divide actually being successfully addressed in some other states? Because here here in Georgia, we’re just not get it done. It’s just going to be quite honest with you. But have you seen what folks actually addressing this issue about the divide between rural communities and urban communities and especially as it applies to farmers or rural communities and getting their food in to outside of the commodity supply chain, getting their food into urban markets and and getting a better price for their products.

Carol Williams: [01:02:11] Thank you for that question. BRENNAN This is a very complex area of not just food production, but everything that you mentioned, just the social disconnect between urban and rural areas and how we just as humans as naturally we sort of divide the world up into things that you remember when we were kids, you would have a puzzle in front of you with different things that were pictured.

Carol Williams: [01:02:41] And you always got to ask the question, which one of these things doesn’t belong? You know, it’s kind of like we’ve been trained in our minds from the time we’re very early to look for things that are similar or something that’s different in many ways.

Carol Williams: [01:02:55] That’s very helpful analytical tool to have as a human being.

Carol Williams: [01:03:00] But sometimes it works against us whether we create sort of false differences or they may be differences, but we treat them in ways that are not the differences we treat as in ways that are not helpful. And that urban rural differentiation, I think is something of a difference that we need to continue to sort of soften that boundary, if you will, in our minds.

Carol Williams: [01:03:29] And one of the ways that folks seek to do that is to build through farmers markets, for example, in addition to urban agriculture, for farmers markets where folks from the outlying rural areas come to the farmer’s market. People have an opportunity to meet the farmers. A lot of farmers markets offer some sort of social space, usually with children friendly activities, maybe a couple of the vendors are preparing foods that can be eaten and consumed there…to create a space for people to interact. So I think that’s one way that a lot of work is being done to try to put urban areas and more rural areas and softening the boundary and softening that boundary, particularly around food. Now, with urban farming, I think, yeah, that’s a little different because in some areas we have food deserts, the so-called food deserts where there just is no access to food. Literally, people would have to drive if they could drive if they have a way to drive or a city bus or or something distances to get to any kind of food, let alone healthy food.

Carol Williams: [01:04:48] And so we see places like in Atlanta and then to our neighbors up north in Detroit, where there’s been areas that have been converted a bit.

Carol Williams: [01:04:58] The areas that have been abandoned, buildings razed, and then those lands opened up. For settlements, so to speak, like, you know, folks did. One hundred and fifty years ago. And to some places have been more successful at that and others have not. I don’t know enough about whether or not there is anything in common. Now, I’m sure our are rural sociology and our agricultural sociology friends in academia probably could speak to this better, Brennan. But what I want to say is that I don’t have access to the information. I haven’t really asked myself the question if I want to be completely honest and say, what is it in common? Is there anything in common among these pockets of where urban ag has been successful? And as you say, folks can actually make a living at it. What help did they get? Was there is there a common thread there in terms of city policy, access to land, whether or not they were given access to the land as an owner of that land or what rental agreements and then what help have they had or not in terms of marketing and pricing? You know, there is a certain amount of experience, I guess, that you get when you’re really able to put a value to your labor. We can all say how much seed costs. We can also say, if I hired labor, I paid labor at X and X dollars now. But I think we all have problems putting a value to our own labor. And so my view, would I keep hearing from young and new farmers, not just in urban areas but everywhere, is that they undervalue their own labor.

Carol Williams: [01:06:55] And so the biggest challenge, as it has always been, I think, is the cost of producing something and then the price that you really need to be charging to be profitable versus what is the price that your customer can afford.

Carol Williams: [01:07:10] And so, again, it has to be one of those things. Where is there something in common, too, with our food access policies and programs like SNAP and and other public supports to help with that gap between what folks can afford to buy versus what the farmer can afford? Price for to sell at. So my thought is that it’s probably in those two things, the access to land. What is the price of access to land? And what sort of support is being given to the gap between what the price that the farmer, the farmer can afford to sell out, sell at versus the price that the consumers at that location can afford to buy.

Brennan Washington: [01:07:56] We could probably do a whole show about the merits of cheap food or to the disadvantages of cheap food.

Brennan Washington: [01:08:04] Yes, cheap food is cheap, but that brings along its own problems.

Brennan Washington: [01:08:08] All right. You know, we don’t talk about that enough. So before we leave, I just want to talk about the conference, because you guys put on an awesome. So this conference is going to be January 22nd through 25th at twenty,twenty in Little Rock, Arkansas. And it looks like your overall theme is agricultural resilience and a changing climate. So how’d you guys come up with this already decided when you came on board or was something you had some hand shaping? And let’s start let let’s sell your conference call. This an absolutely amazing conference. And I always tell people that’s our flagship conference here in the southeast.

Carol Williams: [01:08:49] Well, thank you. Thank you for mentioning that. And in speaking those kind words about our conference. Yeah.

Carol Williams: [01:08:58] So January 22nd to 25th in 2020 in Little Rock and the annual conference has a title each year, Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms and has a a very rigorous two day schedule of concurrent sessions, plenary speaker, as always, and pre-conference activities, field trips and workshops, daylong trainings and half-day trainings. And when I came on at the end of June, I thought, well, I think anybody who is familiar with us SSAWG Annual Conference has come to expect this this great diversity of things, but that maybe for new newcomers or a way to raise awareness among people perhaps who have not attended in the past is to every year highlight a special topic. And so this coming conference, the 2020 conference, I decided to do something new. And you see that in the conference. Sure, there’s like a blue ribbon across there that says special topic. And as you mentioned, agricultural resilience in a changing climate.

Carol Williams: [01:10:15] So we came upon that to that topic, specifically climate change and how we can create resilience in agriculture through sustainable ag practices or what some people might also refer to as regenerative agriculture, because it’s so immediate. The need is so immediate for the reasons you mentioned earlier that folks in southern Georgia and North Carolina and elsewhere affected by hurricanes and other extreme events of weather. I have to say that on my own farm, within the last two years, we have experienced to, what are two new meteorological phenomenon. Because of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So human caused too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has so radically changed the physics of the atmosphere that we now have two never before see observed meteorological phenomena. One, you’ve probably heard of a rain bomb. You probably heard that. Oh, I haven’t heard of it.

Carol Williams: [01:11:25] And the others called flash drought and rain bombs.

Carol Williams: [01:11:30] are, you might have heard the word microburst, whether a sudden, unpredictable downdraft from a thunderstorm or maybe not associated with a thunderstorm, but a rain bomb is a very wet down burst. So in the matter of an hour or two hours, you might have eight, 10 inches of rain. While the location on the other extreme is what’s called flash drought. And a flash drought happens unpredictably and very quickly because the atmosphere has increased ability to evaporate soil moisture compared to previous periods of human history. And in the case of flash drought, it can happen very suddenly, even after a period of soil moisture surplus. So you can go from a surplus in a perfectly normal or even slightly surplus in your soil moisture to suddenly drought conditions like in a flash, so to speak.

Carol Williams: [01:12:34] And on my farm in two years, we have experienced both of those things. And so how can we build more resiliency into the farm in terms of, well, if we’re gonna continue to feed people food, we have to have crops and cropping systems that can withstand those sorts of extremes or we have to have enough diversity on our farms in terms of food production that if one of our crops is not productive because of weather extremes others are. So it became sort of personal for me in terms of climate change. And then we looked through our potential list of speakers and folks who had expressed interest in participating in the 2020 conference. And so many of them were related to resiliency and climate change. So we made that our special topic is for the upcoming 2020 conference.

Brennan Washington: [01:13:31] I just noticed. I see all of blue dots now. I really didn’t pay attendion to it and that I see it’s all you have agriculture and climate change, characters and opportunities. My good friend Sarah Hackney with NSAC. Yeah. Heifer Ranch. Regenerative Grazing System. A good local management for livestock production. Yeah. And you have climate change, resilience and the future of food with lower Legnick was written a lot on the subject that I’m really looking forward to the conference this year. The last word I want to close with Carol and I really appreciate your time is the importance.

Brennan Washington: [01:14:12] I know a lot of non-profit organizations that does good work like Southern Saw, but I also know that each year it’s a it’s almost like Sisyphus pushing that rock uphill. The financial challenges that nonprofits like yours face. So if you could talk a little bit about that and talk about how important it is to people, too, even if it’s five or ten or fifteen bucks to support your organization and a work that you do, because I think a lot of people just think that the government, federal government just hands out money for you guys do this. I don’t think you’d get any federal funding as far as putting on this conference. It’s really a true grassroots operation. But how important it is for people to support it if you can’t help get farmers to these events. And. So if we could talk a little bit about about that and let our listeners know about the challenges that you undertake that you face and try to put on to do this, good work that appreciated.

Carol Williams: [01:15:12] Thank you, Brennan. That is a very important question. As you’ve said, the work of nonprofits, all nonprofits in our society serve a very, very important role. That is what government units can’t do or don’t want to do or the electorate doesn’t want them to do and that the for profit world can’t do or is not interested in doing. Then, as you say, we have to do ourselves in this case at, you know, at a grassroots level. And nothing happens for free. There’s no free lunch. So, yeah, you have to find the funding for these things to get the work done. And in our case, a conference comes with certain costs. Cost of the venue. We have a team of people that helped put it together and they’re they’re not in a position to do things on a volunteer basis. And I believe people should be paid for the time. And, you know, there is a special place in heaven for volunteers. And we do rely on volunteers at the conference because it is a huge endeavor. But I believe that most people should be compensated for their work, especially when their expertise and their skills are more than just a few hours a month. It’s part of life and livelihood that they should be compensated.

Carol Williams: [01:16:33] And so, yeah, what we do, our portfolio of fund getting and fund raising involves sponsorships.

Carol Williams: [01:16:42] People, companies actually provide sponsorships.

Carol Williams: [01:16:46] Folks participate in the trade show. Of course, there’s a small fee that they get for that registration. There’s a fee associated with it. But we keep it minimal so that we can serve the people we intend to serve. But we like to think that people are more likely to attend the conference when they also have some skin in the game. Right. So we don’t have any problems ideologically with with having a fee associated with that. We do want to keep it minimal.

Carol Williams: [01:17:15] So we do seek sponsorships from like farm credit and other commercial enterprises.

Carol Williams: [01:17:22] And also the NRCS provides us with that a few thousand dollars every year for that.

Carol Williams: [01:17:31] Meanwhile, we do have a couple of USDA grants for programs outside of the conference.

Carol Williams: [01:17:40] So we have you’ll see on our Web site the Growing Farm Profits Pride Act, where there is a some record keeping training called Veggie Compass. And the other one is of livestock compass to help improve your profitability by tracking your costs and where your income is coming from, etc., etc.. So, you know, again, that’s that that’s a small portion of our overall annual operating budget. In

Carol Williams: [01:18:06]  today’s era of so much work that nonprofits have to do. And also government grants becoming more and more lucrative. What I mean by that is the amount of grants being given through USDA, for example, whether it’s through SARE, Southern SARE and NIFA and other programs. You know, budgets are tight for federal government as well. So those grants are becoming more and more limited. And we’re finding, however, that the needs, particularly at our land grant institutions of our land grant institutions of all stripes depend on a lot of those grants for their research and their outreach. And we find ourselves that SSAWG, for example, as competitors at times with our peers and our partners and our colleagues for those same dollars. So one of the things that we’re doing at SSAWG is looking to slightly modify our funding portfolio to include supportive foundations. So that’s one of the things that is now on my desk…. is looking for those first in the philanthropic world, whether it’s family foundations, corporate foundations.

Carol Williams: [01:19:26] But those partners, the good relationships, the good match with folks in the philanthropic world that know, understand and value, not just the work of SSAWG, but more importantly, the work and the values of our constituents. And that is farmers.  Farmers and those community organizers that seek to connect farmers and the food that they produce. This with people that consume good healthy food or that need to consume good and healthy food. So going back to something we were talking about earlier, about sometimes those boundaries that we draw in our minds, like the one that it’s not necessarily a good boundary sociologically for all of us to say there such a clear divide between urban and rural. I think that there is a lot of room for foundations to help build those bridges between rural and urban areas by connecting those values that our farmers have of producing good, healthy food in strong, resilient systems so that farmers can survive and thrive. And so that people in urban areas, suburban areas and in small rural communities can have access to good, healthy food and good connections with their their rural farmers and food providers might sound idealistic, but I think a more verdant and peaceful world is in the offing as a result.

Brennan Washington: [01:21:02] Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Well, thank you, Carol. I want to thank you for spending some time for me.

Brennan Washington: [01:21:07] So once again, the SSAWG annual conference will be held in Little Rock, Arkansas, January 22nd to 25th. There’s still time to register, right?

Carol Williams: [01:21:17] Oh, yeah. OK, good. No, online, you can register and we will have some volunteer opportunities coming up in the different reduced fee. I’m up to volunteer. And then after you have worked your volunteer shift, you become eligible to apply for a further rebate to your registration.

Carol Williams: [01:21:40] So that’s a huge opportunity. And we’ll have more on that online and in about the next two weeks.

Carol Williams: [01:21:46] Ok. Well, I will be there with bells on. I’m looking forward to you in person. And I’m going to do a little live podcasting from the event because I have so many friends and stuff just talking about me.

Carol Williams: [01:22:00] Oh, that’s so exciting.

Brennan Washington: [01:22:02] Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I want to thank you for taking this day after Thanksgiving to speak with me. And I’ll have all your information in the show.

Brennan Washington: [01:22:11] Notes to the Sustainable AG Rider podcast. And I want to thank you so much. And you thank Keith Julia and all the other folks do your board for all the great work that you guys do on a year to year basis.

Carol Williams: [01:22:25] Appreciate it. Thank you so much, Brennan. This was a lot of fun. I really appreciate the opportunity and all our best to you and best wishes for you and your farming in the coming year.

Brennan Washington: [01:22:37] Yes, I’m actually been off the road for a while. So the Sustainable AG Rider has actually not been riding anywhere.

Brennan Washington: [01:22:43] My wife got a hip replacement about a month ago, so I just took some time off to make sure I was with her on the ticket to our physical therapy and just be here. But I’m anxious to get back out. So see you in January.

Outro: [01:22:58] Thank you for listening to the Sustainable AG rider. podcast. Please visit our web site at SustainableAGRider.com dot com where you can subscribe to the show on i-Tunes, Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify. If you found value in this show, we’d appreciate a rating on iTunes. Please tell your friends and colleagues about the show and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Once again, thank you for listening to the Sustainable AG rider podcast. Sustainable AG News and Views.

Talking SSAWG & Southeastern Sustainable Agriculture

  • We're talking southeastern sustainable agriculture with Carol Williams, ExecutiveDirector of the Southeastern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG). Our cnversation cover sustainable agriculture, climate change and resiliency and the challenges facing agriculture in rural communities.
  • SSAWG Annual Conference January 22-25th, 2020 https://www.ssawg.org/
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