Episode #63: Green Acres: Sustainable Farming for Millennials and Other People Who Like Food (transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: And Brian Colbert Kennedy is nominated for a fucking Webby.
Brian: We are both nominated for a Webby.
Brian: For best host to a podcast which is absolutely bonkers.
Quinn: And doesn't make any sense. Anyways, this is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet, right now, in the next 10 years or so. If it can kill us, or turn us into a star ship trooper. We are in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, farmers, politicians, astronauts, even a reverend. And we work together towards action steps our listeners, that's you, can take with your voice, your vote and your dollar.
Brian: Don't forget that you can always send us questions, thoughts, feedback.
Brian: Presents. Especially to us on Twitter at Importantnotimp, or you can email us at Funtalk@importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: You can also join thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. Hey, this week's episode, Brian, we're talking about building a new pipeline of sustainable food growers. Tell them about our people today.
Brian: Well, our guest is Dena Leibman, she's the Executive Director of Future Harvest, which is the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. She's a Journalism Major, she's been a wildlife biologist, and she moved into working for Environmental and Sustainable Agriculture Organizations. She's very excited about her family's latest project, and that is her very own farm.
Quinn: So cool
Brian: Zigbone Farm. It's packed with sheep and goats, in the Gorgeous Maryland Catoctin Mountains.
Quinn: Excellent. Can you read the rest there?
Brian: Yes, okay. Nope, that's it.
Quinn: Nope? The rest says Brian's going to get married there, save the date, you're all invited.
Brian: Excellent thank you so much.
Quinn: I'll say it if he's not going to.
Brian: Thanks a lot.
Quinn: Invites go out soon, anyways. We had a great conversation, and boy, man people helping farmers, they're having a tough run. But you know what's really great Brian?
Quinn: Food, without a bunch of shit in it.
Brian: Yeah, I like food. I like clean food.
Quinn: So, you know food that keeps us healthy instead of making us sick. Food that makes us stronger, faster, smarter, I'm just talking about-
Brian: Is that a Kanye song?
Quinn: No, well it might be, but I think it was a 70's movie.
Brian: That's better.
Quinn: Anyway, let's go talk to Dena.
Quinn: Our guest today is Dena Leibman. And together, we're going to talk about building a new pipeline of sustainable food growers in the U.S. Dena, welcome.
Dena Leibman: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
Quinn: For sure.
Brian: We are pumped.
Quinn: You say that now.
Brian: Pumped and-
Quinn: Brian, go for it..
Brian: You just wait. No, we are very excited to have you, seriously thank you very much. Let's get it going, pretty simply here, just tell everyone who you are and what you do.
Dena Leibman: Okay, I'm Dena Leibman, I'm the Executive Director of A Non-Profit, called Future Harvest, The Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. We just call it Future Harvest for short. We're located in the Chesapeake Bay region. That's what I've been doing for the past five years, and before that I have worked for USDA as a Communications Manager, and before that, for many environmental organizations in communications.
Quinn: I am from Virginia, are you a native of the Chesapeake Region?
Dena Leibman: No, I'm from Indianapolis, the real farm country.
Brian: Oh yeah.
Quinn: Oh yes, how did you find yourself heading towards the bay, and that area?
Dena Leibman: Well I got here the way a lot of people get to Washington, is I got a fellowship with the National Wildlife Federation, and it just stuck. And I've been here ever since.
Quinn: Interesting, interesting.
Quinn: Well the Chesapeake needs you, and we appreciate it. It has been through a lot the past 100 to 25 years here, so we appreciate the work you're doing there. Could you tell us a little bit about what the organization does?
Dena Leibman: We've been around for 20 years, and we provide education, networking, and advocacy to advance sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake Region.
Quinn: Cool, so 20 years, did you start the organization?
Dena Leibman: No, no I just joined it five years ago, as the Executive Director.
Quinn: Oh, okay. Cool. Very cool. Have things changed, I guess since it was founded, and further I guess since you arrived?
Dena Leibman: Yeah, they've changed a lot. Some things for the better, and some things have become more difficult. What's gotten better, is the Bay is healthier, it's getting middling marks now. But earlier it was, all the grades were failing. There were miles long dead zones, in large part due to agriculture. It's from many sources, but agriculture contributes a lot, well 40% of the nutrient pollution to the Bay. And, that has been getting better, at least from Maryland, it has. Other states have some catching up to do.
Dena Leibman: So that's the good thing, the harder thing is that it's really getting hard for a small to mid-scale farmer to make a living.
Brian: I feel like I was reading about that recently, how they're almost in negative income territory at this point.
Dena Leibman: Yeah.
Dena Leibman: It's really difficult, and it's due to many reasons. Mostly, the story we hear over and over, is that there's just too much competition from mass produced food. And now, organics are created om mass produced environments as well. And so our small to mid-scale farmers, who are organic, are also losing their market share. So, it's tough. We combat this in a few ways. We work with Farmer's Market Associations to build awareness of Farmers Markets, and CSA's which is Community Supported Agriculture. We just do a lot to build consumer awareness, but we also educate farmers about how to use social media, develop their websites, how to be better marketers.
Quinn: Oh, that's really cool.
Dena Leibman: Yeah. A lot of what we do is farmer facing, we were founded by farmers, we're run by farmers. And these were farmers who 20 years ago, were considered rebels. They were shunned by their communities, because they thought that agriculture could be profitable. You could farm, and also protect the Bay.
Quinn: How dare they.
Dena Leibman: Exactly.
Dena Leibman: So they formed this organization, Future Harvest, for farmers to teach other farmers innovations in how to protect the Bay, and farm successfully.
Quinn: I dig that, so we're going to dig a little bit further into all that, but now you said it was founded by farmers, and run by farmers, does that include you? Are you of the [inaudible 00:07:22] now?
Brian: Yeah, I was just gonna ask.
Dena Leibman: Well, I'd like to say so, but no. I own a farm.
Quinn: Hey that's something now.
Dena Leibman: And we have sixty sheep and goats, but we are a retreat center.
Quinn: Oh interesting.
Dena Leibman: And that's where our main income comes from.
Quinn: Can you tell us what a retreat center is? Treat us like we're small children.
Brian: I am, basically.
Quinn: Yes, Brian is.
Dena Leibman: Okay, well a retreat center is where you go to learn and celebrate, in a beautiful environment. So, our place is called Zigbone Farm Retreat, it's in the Catoctin Mountains. And you can rent it on the weekends or whenever for weddings, we have a lot of those, but we also host non-profits during the week. They can come and do strategic planning, they can have all sorts of strategizing sessions there. So, and look at goats, and sheep, and our beautiful valley at the same time, for inspiration.
Quinn: Does not sound like Ventura Boulevard.
Brian: Yeah, you're in a much different place than we are.
Quinn: Brian, you heard her though, she does weddings.
Brian: Thank you, yes.
Quinn: There you go pal.
Brian: I was actually just on a nice little road trip with my girlfriend, and we passed a whole bunch of, like in the middle of California, there's you know, it's not all concrete jungle. There's beautiful animals. There's horses and we saw buffalo.
Quinn: Great places to get married, Brian.
Brian: We went through Salinas, there's a whole ... A lot of salad comes out of there.
Quinn: There's some great salad comes out of there.
Brian: It really was wonderful.
Dena Leibman: Yes, a lot of it comes to Washington D.C.
Dena Leibman: And Baltimore.
Brian: Yeah. Groovy so we're gonna keep digging into all of that of course, like we do every podcast, we just want to go over this real quick. What we do here, our main reason for this podcast is to go over some context for the question at hand, or the topic, why you're here, and then dig into some action oriented questions, that let everybody know why they should care about you, and what you're doing, and how we can all help. That sound good?
Dena Leibman: Uh-huh.
Quinn: Alright, so Dena, I feel like you're going to love this, but you did cheat and listen to a few of the episodes. So we do like to kick it off with one important question, instead of saying tell us your life story, which I'm pretty sure I just did, we do like to ask, can you tell us why are you vital to the survival of the species?
Dena Leibman: I'm not.
Quinn: Damn it.
Dena Leibman: But farmers are.
Brian: Yes, okay good, get into that.
Quinn: Go, yeah go with it, go with it.
Dena Leibman: Well they break their backs to produce the fresh food that we eat, and they're the stewards of our land. So, just those two reasons themselves show their importance to the survival of our species. And I'm just really honored to be able to advance their work.
Quinn: I love that, and I think that's actually kind of one of the key differentiators, what I want to get into today is we can't just say we need sustainable agriculture, we need to have people who can execute that. And to have people that can execute, you need to train them, and in order to train them, you need to have people who can do that training, and encourage them. And I think that's actually one of the key focuses for today. So just some quick context for everybody, so sustainable agriculture. As best as I can lock it down, it's agriculture, or farming mostly, supporting farmers, resources and communities, by promoting and encouraging, and building and codifying farming practices and methods that are profitable, and environmentally positive, obviously, and community building.
Quinn: So, how's that done, right? Obviously I'm sure you have a list of 1000 things, but it can include reusing water, reusing animal waste, crop rotation, et cetera, so that is the product, but like what we were just saying, building up a pipeline and supporting these farmers that are breaking their backs, and having such a difficult time making a living. Building up a pipeline of educated, and capable, and willing humans, when a new generation of people producing those products, and tending to the crops, whatever they might be, is an essential piece of that puzzle, right? It doesn't happen by itself. And part of the issue is in America, we've lost so many generations of those people over the decades, both formal farmers, and just American's knowing like how to grow food, and where their food comes from. Is so different than it was even 30, 40, 50 years ago.
Quinn: Now American farming is so dominated by these just massive industrial operations. And as we said, small farmers are increasingly incapable of supporting themselves, much less competing or making a profit. So, there is a need for folks who can train them, so that's what I want to focus on today, is talking about building this new pipeline of sustainable food growers. So, Dena, focusing on areas near the Chesapeake Bay, it is near and dear to my heart, but also it's pretty vital, right? The Chesapeake used to be this incredibly bi-diverse estuary, one of the largest in the world. But of course, we ruined it. So new folks have been trying to clean it up, and you were saying how it's actually gotten better over the past 10, 20 years. But it's not just the Bay, right? It's 150 rivers and streams that feed into it. If they're not clean, neither is the Bay. So talk to us a little bit about your home turf, and where your operations are concentrated. Why was it founded there, and what attracted you to it? And what continues to attract you to that area to do your work?
Dena Leibman: Well, it's a logical area for an organization like ours. With the Chesapeake Bay, is the beating heart of our region., and we have tow large cities, Washington D.C. and Baltimore, right on main tributaries to the Bay or on the Bay itself. And so, and the whole watershed of the Bay is focused in Maryland and Pennsylvania, it goes all the way up into New York, but it just made sense to have an organization focused on agriculture, advancing agriculture, that protects water, protects the land, while at the same time, advancing farmers, and trying to find markets for them, so that they can thrive.
Quinn: So do you guys, talk to me about I guess just back it up. Like sort of how the process goes. Like, the intake process. DO you guys seek out sort of new candidates and farmers and things like that? Do you approach them? Or do people come to you guys? Just talk to us about how the process works. Pretend Brian is a young first generation farmer-
Brian: I'm young.
Quinn: Who ... Well, you're kind of young, who has bought a farm in the area, and wants to get into this sustainable agriculture thing, cares about the Bay. How does this process work?
Dena Leibman: Well, one of the programs that we run is called The Beginner Farmer Training Program, and the word is out about this program. It's 10 years old this year, it started with just I think maybe three to five trainees, and it was supported by USDA. I don't quite know how they were recruited in the early days, i think they just were paired up with farmers. They were in the farming community, but those were the early days. Everything was being sussed out. Today we received over 200 applications for this program, and we can only accept 80, and there is just this explosion of interest in farming in the Chesapeake Region. And we are basically the only Beginner Farmer Training Program in Maryland. We also run it in Virginia, there are others there, but we have a certain model that's very attractive to new farmers. It's three levels. You can come in, there's level one, which is more for like the agri-curious. They don't have land, they just want to learn more about agriculture, and get their feet wet, but they're just not sure.
Dena Leibman: Then there's level two, which are people that have access to land, or own land themselves, and they have some farming experience. And that's a certificate program, and they go through a classroom series, and then they get paired with farmers in the field. And they have to do 200 hours in the field with a commercial farmer, sometimes a non-profit farmer.
Dena Leibman: And then level three, a lot graduate to level three, and they get assigned a mentor farmer, an experienced farmer, and they can call on that farmer for just a whole range of services. And we pay them.
Quinn: You pay the mentors?
Dena Leibman: Yes.
Quinn: Oh, cool.
Dena Leibman: And we actually give mini-grants to some of the low income trainees, it's a very diverse group of people. It's about 20 to 25% farmers of color.
Brian: Wow, that's awesome. And if I wasn't in your area, and I applied, and I was one of the lucky 80 who was accepted, do the applicants who get accepted just work from where they are? Do they all go to you?
Dena Leibman: So it's really for local farmers.
Brian: Okay, okay.
Dena Leibman: Because well just the way it operates, it's definitely for local farmers. But, that might be something we might expand this model. We don't have an incubator farm, people, there are a lot of farms, they're called incubator farms, where people go, they either stay there, or they live nearby and they go and they learn on a farm from somebody who runs that incubator, or education farm. Ours is no infrastructure, because we like to support commercial farmers, so we pair them with these trainees, and sometimes it's a lot more work than they get benefit from, but a lot of times they develop relationships, and these trainees become apprentices on those farms. And that's a great network builder in our region, in the farming community. We have hundreds and hundreds of people who have gone through this program, or attend our field school programs, which are for any farmer, experienced or otherwise. We like to also offer advanced programing on latest innovations and research in sustainable agriculture.
Quinn: Wow, so you have everything from, like you said, if you have basically no idea, what you're doing all the way to advanced farming. You cover all bases.
Dena Leibman: Yes.
Quinn: Wow. That's amazing.
Dena Leibman: Yep, and we have a large annual conference in the winter, and it attracts about 650, 700 people every winter. There are even larger conferences in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country for sustainable ag farmers.
Brian: I love it.
Quinn: Amazing. I want to paint a picture for everybody, kind of what the program just looks like because I think that will help understand, you know, what obstacles are, and stuff like that. So let's say I'm between level one and two. So let's say I'm agri-curious, which is my new favorite word, I have access to some land, or I have recently come into some land in some way, but I have no idea what to do with it. So, where do is tart? You know, what does the program feel like? How long is it? You know, what do I learn first? Et Cetera, Et Cetera, kind of talk me through that.
Dena Leibman: Well, we'd probably put you in level one, because you have no experience, and you would go through the standard 10 part winter workshop series on how to start a small commercial farm.
Quinn: Awesome, 10 parts, so how does that go?
Dena Leibman: So, it's in Baltimore County, and we've been webcasting it throughout the region, but-
Dena Leibman: We're starting to go more toward recorded zoom interviews, with farmers for people who live beyond the driving region, into Baltimore County. Actually this year, we held it in Baltimore in partnership with the, I'm going to butcher this, the Black Church Food Security Network, in Baltimore, hosted in I think a church or a hall. But that's the first year, usually we've held it out at the Ag Center, in Baltimore County. And you know, we have about 100 people register for this, so it's people not just in the program. There are 80 people in our program, but they're spread throughout the region, so they don't all come in person to that meeting. So there's other people who come to those every Wednesday night, at the Ag Center, or wherever it's held. And every class is on a different basic topic, and we usually pair a farmer with maybe an extension agent, or some other, a researcher, or some other kind of expert, so that they get the farmer perspective, they get the science perspective. They learn who's who in the region that way. The learn what resources are available to them. You know? And they get a good classroom grounding.
Dena Leibman: And then, level one, if you were to come into that program, we would offer you an array of hands on field days on farms. You wouldn't go through the internship on the farms. We have special programs for you.
Quinn: Okay, so it seems like there's almost like a business and relationship building side of it, and also actual like practical, this is how to farm education, hands on stuff.
Dena Leibman: Yes. Well the classroom pieces, is you know, you get a lot of information about how to control pests, how to develop your marketing strategy. You have to develop a business plan. Well, if you're in level two you do.
Quinn: Got it, yeah, we're definitely not to level two yet, that's for sure.
Brian: I might have to take level one twice honestly.
Quinn: I think we did that with improv, didn't we?
Brian: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: A couple times, yeah, which is think is probably a little more simple than how to run a small commercial farm.
Brian: I would guess, yes.
Quinn: Cool, and so how long is this 10 part program? Is it you said, Wednesdays, is it 10 weeks or is it, how long is that?
Dena Leibman: It's 10 weeks, and if you're interested in urban agriculture, we have an add on series, called Cultivate Baltimore. And that's all on urban agriculture.
Quinn: Oh, yeah that's a hot thing these days is making use of rooftops and the lands, and [crosstalk 00:22:52]
Brian: That would be so interesting.
Dena Leibman: Vacant lots, yeah.
Quinn: Yeah, for sure. Interesting. That's super cool. So, again, I'm agri-curious, I've got some land. What am I walking away with? How prepared am I to run a small commercial farm after my 10 week level one program is over?
Dena Leibman: Not very prepared.
Quinn: Great, great, great.
Brian: That's only level one, there's so many more levels.
Dena Leibman: Farming, this just gets you started. It puts you into a community. The speakers become your touchstones, but farming is like any other kind of profession, you really have to get in and you have to do it. And every year is different, with weather, you know especially now with very erratic weather due to climate change. Our region has just been soaked, year after year, and farmers are having to learn strategies on how to adapt to that. So it's you just have to get in, you have to do it, but this gives you a foundation, and touchstones, as I said earlier, to set you up for success.
Quinn: Is there anything else? I feel like I would walk away from even like just the first night of this and feel like, oh my God, thank God this resource exists. And I know you've said that there's conferences and things like that, but are there other sort of schools like yours out there across the country?
Dena Leibman: Farmer training programs tend to be more apprenticeships, or as I said, on education farms. Like there's a set farm, and you go to that farm and you work side by side with an instructor. And it's a great way to learn practices, it's a harder way to learn the realities of marketing, because it's a little bit of an unreal setting. Usually those farms, they're somewhat dependent on their income from produce, but a lot of times, they have grants to keep them going. So working with a commercial farmer, shoulder to shoulder, is just invaluable for understanding just what you need to do to thrive as a farmer.
Quinn: That makes sense. So how important is the sort of marketing and business side now with, again we talked about how difficult I mean, just again literally farming itself is, but to make a living, and then also to be able to fight to be profitable. It seems like you guys are really actually focusing on that side to complement the practical farming methods. What are the biggest lessons that need to be learned there, both in the relationships they build, and I guess what they take away from sort of the formal schooling there? What are the things that are the most advantageous to learn?
Dena Leibman: Start small, and build up.
Quinn: In what way?
Dena Leibman: So a lot of people, if they have some deep pockets, they'll buy the newest tractor, the newest equipment.
Dena Leibman: And our most successful farmers are the ones who, well if you have deep pockets, you buy your land if you can. There's just different ways to get into it, but it's experimenting with things, being able to have a few years to get your feet under you, before you rely on farming. Since our country has evolved from subsistence farming and before it went into large agri-business as the dominant paradigm, people farmed, but they also had off farm income. And that model is still how it is today. A lot of new farmers have spouses, or they team up with others who live on the farm, and one person will work off the farm, and one person will work the farm. And they build it up slowly, they acquire more land, and until that farm is able to support both people. We see that quite a bit.
Dena Leibman: But we have people making a living off of a quarter acre in Baltimore with a cut flower operation.
Quinn: That's so wild, that's awesome.
Brian: Did you say a cut flower operation?
Dena Leibman: Yeah, they grow flowers for florists.
Brian: Is that what it sounds like? Yeah okay. Wow that's amazing, on a quarter acre.
Dena Leibman: Yeah, 40 thousand gross, there's clearly off farm income in that family, or I would imagine there is.
Quinn: Sure, sure. Okay so how do you, how would you say you measure success for the program?
Dena Leibman: Success is when we graduate a farmer, and that farmer heeds our warnings and advice, and goes forward anyway, and builds their business, and figures out how to make it work. And they're so in love with it, that they innovate to overcome obstacles, and they're happy, and thriving. And they found a path for themselves. That is just a great measure of success.
Dena Leibman: Another one is somebody who is in level one, who says, okay I don't want to farm. I know that now, but I have a renewed appreciation for it. And, I will from now on buy from Farmer's Markets, and join a CSA< a Community Supported Agriculture Program. Or, I will stop at farm stands. I'll insist at restaurants that food has been sourced locally. That's also a win.
Dena Leibman: For experienced farmers, there is no greater honor than being able to impart some new wisdom to help an experienced farmer make their operation even better. So, that's really great. And then the Chesapeake Bay getting better and better grades, it's graded I think yearly. And that's just a wonderful thing to see that upward trend, and know that in part that's due to better systems and improved soil health, and practices like cover cropping. Which I can go into geeky detail about.
Quinn: We like geeky detail.
Dena Leibman: Do you want me to do that now?
Quinn: Yeah, I mean let's hit it. Tell me what, I almost kind of want to ask Brian what he thinks cover cropping is first, and then have you tell us what it is.
Dena Leibman: Okay.
Quinn: Brian, what's cover cropping?
Brian: Cover cropping is when you are able to protect the soil by covering the vegetable while it grows.
Quinn: With what?
Brian: It's just very special covering that farmers have invented.
Quinn: You want to take a stab at what that material might be champ or is it just some sort of-
Brian: Probably a tarp, anything that, a think tarp though, that protects it from the sun, and maybe it's got some organic pesticides on it. Why don't we get into the real-
Quinn: You know it needs sun to grow though?
Brian: No, no I know.
Brian: It's at certain times of the day, the tarp you can roll it out, and roll it back on.
Quinn: Oh, yeah, no that sounds efficient.
Quinn: Dena, why don't you go ahead and tell us what cover cropping is.
Dena Leibman: Well, you know mulch is kind of that, and that is kind of cover cropping, but-
Quinn: You don't need to give him any wins here. Why don't you just give it to us straight.
Dena Leibman: So cover crops are a very, very important practice in sustainable agriculture, and they are non-commercial crops that are grown for a variety of purposes, between crops, between seasons, and it keeps the ground covered at most times. And what that does, is it helps the soil retain water, they smother weeds, they provide when you knock them down, they provide what's called green manure, if it's tilled in. It's just a very important practice to improve soil health, and help farmers reduce their use of chemical inputs, or synthetic inputs.
Brian: Oh, gotcha. So, kind of sort of had it. Sort of hit it on the head there.
Quinn: Sure, sure, whatever you've got to tell yourself. Let me ask you this, where do most of your trainees or new recruits come from? Are they from sort of farmer stock, generations of farmers? Do they have their own farms? Are they these city kids? Are they liberal tree-huggers that are agri-curious like you said?
Brian: Stop saying agri-curious.
Quinn: It's amazing.
Quinn: What's sort of the bread-down there, if you have any idea?
Dena Leibman: There are all sorts of people. There are many veterans D.C. is home of the Federal Government, and so we have a lot of Federal Employees, who've retired or said they've had enough.
Quinn: Oh wow.
Dena Leibman: And they go in to farming. They've got some resources, and they say, "I'm gonna buy some land and go into farming." One of our most successful farmers is ex-Navy, and he built two big hoop houses, which are those plastic tubular greenhouses, that you see on a lot of farms. And he named them Intrepid, and I forget what the other one is, but they're after war ships.
Dena Leibman: He's a prime example, he went through our program, and figured it out over 10 years, and he's a very successful farmer, and he'll be the first to tell you it's the hardest thing he's ever done, for not so much money, compared to what he was making in the Navy. But he loves it and he's a leader in the field. So it's just all sorts of people. People think oh, it's just all kids who went to Oberland, right? You know?
Quinn: Surprise, surprise.
Dena Leibman: Actually our Oberland grads are some of our most successful farmers. Our board President who retired from farming a few years ago, went there, and he was a professor, and he decided he wanted to become a farmer. And had a wonderful farm for 40 years, he and his wife, who is also an Oberland grad, so. And sorry to Oberland folks that's just the first college that came to mind.
Quinn: No, no, no, I think people get what you're talking about.
Dena Leibman: It's just a whole range of people, yeah.
Brian: That's awesome. Do you got, what sort of government or corporate, and maybe grant support do you guys get? Is it a struggle?
Quinn: Yeah, how are you guys mostly funded?
Dena Leibman: It's always a struggle.
Dena Leibman: Yeah, we are funded by private foundations, by donors, and by, we get several grants from USDA.
Quinn: Okay, cool.
Dena Leibman: They have a program for beginner farmer programs, and we are just winding down that grant, and so our Beginner Farmer Program, we're fundraising like crazy to keep it at the level it's at. And we have one to launch a campaign called Go Grass Fed, and it's to launch a multi media consumer campaign to raise awareness of the health, environmental, and farmer benefits of grass fed meat.
Quinn: That's awesome.
Dena Leibman: Yep, that's how we get funded.
Quinn: I dig that. And I mean how much outreach are you guys doing to get private funding or things like that, or is it mostly grant and USDA covered?
Dena Leibman: Majority grant, but we do a lot of outreach, and we have 800 members. It fluctuates a little bit, but we have quite a few members, and that doesn't bring in much income, we don't really charge very much. But, it's our engagement piece for farmers and ag educators, and others who want to join an organization like Future Harvest.
Quinn: Sure. So let me ask this last question before we sort of move into action steps everybody can take to fund this wonderful thing that will feed us all healthy food. Do small sustainable farmers have a shot in this country? It seems like right now things are really difficult for them, and just for our food system in general. Do you feel like we're going to be able to make enough change in the next five, ten years for them to make a business and a life out of this, and encourage even more people to do that, to really build some more momentum?
Dena Leibman: I hesitate.
Quinn: Be honest, you know?
Dena Leibman: Well the answer, the short answer is yes. The local foods movement has just saved many a family farm. In southern Maryland, when there was a big tobacco buy out, a lot of the farms converted into local food producers, and opened farm stands, and they opened agri-tourism businesses. And that has just really helped farmers stay on their land. So, I think that it already has changed, it's just not enough, and that's what we just need to keep working on people. Go to your farmer's markets, buy a subscription to farm produce, called a CSA, a Community Supported Agriculture Subscription. Visit your farm stands. Insist at restaurants that the food be sourced locally. It's not a precious thing, it's an absolute necessity if you're going to have agriculture thrive in your area, and preserve the agrarian heritage of your region, you know? I think it's important for farmers to continually be educated about how to best market and how to reach consumers, and develop partnerships with their state tourism agencies, and state agriculture agencies to get promoted, and to get the word out about their farms. So there's just a lot of ways, a lot of avenues, but there just has to be education on both the farmer front and the consumer front.
Brian: Sure. Education, pretty key. So you have listened to a few of our podcasts, so you might realize that this is how we usually like to start wrapping it up, but you know we always want to make sure that we leave our listeners with specific action steps that they can take to support you. So I guess first, let's go with how can our listeners support you and this movement with their voice?
Quinn: Yeah, so specifically I guess what are the big actionable, but again specific question, you know the rest of us that don't have land, but are interested in it, should be asking of our representatives both I guess, locally and nationally?
Brian: Those of us that are agri-curious.
Quinn: Sorry, yes agri-curious is probably one of our ideas, it's a new word, I just came up with it. So what should we be asking of our representative, both locally, and regionally, or statewide, and federally?
Dena Leibman: I think they should ask for policies that provide land access to young farmers. They should forgive student loans for young people who go into farming. And many states are considering soil health bills, and this is ... I didn't really touch on soil health, but it's a really, really important part of sustainable agriculture. And a lot of states, mostly California, and in Maryland, are leading the way in soil health, and if people can get their voice behind that, and talk to their farmers about how they build soil health on their farms to prevent runoff into waterways, and to sequester carbon, to offset climate change. I would love to go into that, but we didn't touch on that.
Quinn: No, please if there's something specific you want to get into there, please. I mean we've definitely talked about soil health before.
Quinn: On the podcast, so the people are informed but if you have something specific, a perspective you want to bring to that, please by all means.
Dena Leibman: There is a huge up-swelling movement around soil health right now, and it's because it's win-win-win. It's a win for the farmer, it helps them build the science and the research that's going on around soil health, which is about microbes in the soil, soil structure, that it helps farmers produce more. It helps sequester carbon, as I said, drawing it down from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, and storing it in the ground. And it helps prevent polluted, or nutrient runoff into waterways, because it stabilizes soil, and it retains water. So, it's really important for consumers to start understanding the basics of soil health. They'll be getting a lot of information in the coming years. It's a new front on the efforts to curb climate change, and so they need to get behind state efforts to pass what are called healthy soils bills, that mandate usually the state agencies, usually the Department of Agriculture to develop programs and research, and demonstration sites, for farmers to learn more about it.
Dena Leibman: There are many farmers who now use certain practices that mimic nature. And these are people in the most risk adverse corners of the agricultural landscape. They are die-hard conservative ranchers, and they have found the way, with this kind of agriculture. Keeping their ground covered, planting perennials, keeping the carbon in the ground, and the microbes happy. So we are doing a lot of work on this front, and teaching farmers about it. So for consumers to get more educated about that, and Google it, and learn more, and ask their farmers at the Farmer's Markets about it, I think that would be one action step.
Dena Leibman: The other action steps are buy from Farmer's Markets. Buy a CSA. Buy directly from your farmer, it's a wonderful way. And if you buy wholesale, talk to your grocers, talk to your chefs. Don't let up. And ask them to source from local farms.
Brian: I love that. Don't let up.
Quinn: Yeah, don't let up, that seems to be a pretty important [inaudible 00:42:38] right? It applies to pretty much anything right now.
Brian: Everything, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: I know you're exhausted, I know there's a lot to do, don't let up.
Brian: Don't let up. Awesome Dena, well we've kept you, and we're getting close to the end of this.
Quinn: Can't go yet.
Brian: Can't go, don't you even think about going. But, yeah we have a few more questions for you. Thank you so much for being here and chatting with us today, we really appreciate it.
Quinn: It is just, so wonderful, and I guess it makes me feel like there's a safe place in the world that things like this are happening.
Quinn: And that these people are being supported, and that not just they're being supported, but that there's folks like you guys who are making this such a specific mission to do that, to make sure people feel like this is something that is possible. From a product stand point, from a commercial stand point, from a good of our food and our soil, and our climate, and especially our community stand point, it's nice to know that these, for lack of a better word, grass roots movements are being supported.
Dena Leibman: Well it's my honor to work on behalf of farmers.
Quinn: That's awesome. So alright, last few questions we ask everybody. Dena, when was the first time in your life, when you realized you had the power of change, or the power to do something meaningful?
Dena Leibman: I think when my mother took me to a Eugene McCarthy Rally.
Dena Leibman: Now that is dating me. Wow.
Quinn: What did that do to you specifically?
Dena Leibman: My mother had very strong opinions, I grew up in Indianapolis on a very conservative side of town, and my parents were the only Democrats in their polling district, and had to sit at every election, 'cause you have to have two from every party, and they were the only two.
Dena Leibman: From the Democrats.
Quinn: Holy cow.
Dena Leibman: So it's in my blood I guess.
Quinn: That's awesome. What do you feel like you really specifically took away from that rally?
Dena Leibman: Just the power of the people, that if they rise up, and they make their voices heard, and they fight for what's right, and what's right for all people, that that's just very powerful, and you know, you can get frustrated. You can feel hopeless, but is there another way to lead your life? No, there's not. You have to keep working for change.
Brian: I love that, that works for me.
Quinn: Wow. Dena, who is someone specifically in your life, that has positively impacted your work in the past six months? It could be anybody, Brian usually says his cat, which is interesting.
Brian: She's so sweet, and she's made me a better man, that's all I'm saying.
Quinn: Okay. It could be, some people say a spouse, some people say a co-worker, some people say a mentor. You know, who's really had your back the past six months?
Dena Leibman: My spouse, my family, but I think the most profound person in my life in the last six months is my dad, who passed away a few weeks ago, and -
Quinn: I'm very sorry to hear that.
Dena Leibman: So just that occasion, thank you. Just that occasion has given me a lot of reflective pause about what I'm doing, and you know, he's appalled that we bought a farm, but he ended up being supportive in the end.
Quinn: How magical is that?
Brian: There you go.
Quinn: I'm sure that was a lifelong struggle, or at least since you bought a farm, but that's got a pretty good result in the end though.
Dena Leibman: Yeah.
Quinn: Well that's special. I'm sorry to hear about your loss. That can be pretty damn tough.
Dena Leibman: Yeah.
Quinn: But I'm glad to know you felt supported in the end. That's pretty awesome.
Dena Leibman: Yeah.
Quinn: On that note, Brian?
Brian: Dena, when you feel overwhelmed, what do you do?
Quinn: What's your self care?
Brian: What's Dena time?
Dena Leibman: Well lately, I bought a pressure washer, and I've been pressure washing the mold off of our house, and I've got to say, it is the most meditative, satisfying thing I've ever done. I just love it. I just [crosstalk 00:47:13]. And it's not energy saving, and it's not water saving, so I'm ashamed to admit it, but God I love to power wash my house.
Quinn: That's amazing, no there's some real, for lack of a better word, power there. You know I think some people split wood, some people, whatever you know you've just got to take it out sometimes, man. That's awesome.
Brian: That's healthy. You've got to release that.
Dena Leibman: Well it's been raining so much here that every house is just kind of coated in this mold, so anyway.
Quinn: Not your house. Not your house, no way.
Brian: Not the Leibman household.
Quinn: They're like what's going on with Dena, what is she out there doing? She looks like a Ghost buster with that fucking thing.
Dena Leibman: That's true.
Quinn: That is awesome. I love how specific that is.
Brian: Dena, how do you consume the news?
Dena Leibman: Oh, we still get the print edition of the Washington Post.
Dena Leibman: Yeah.
Quinn: That works for me. Democracy dies in darkness I believe it's called.
Dena Leibman: Uh-huh.
Brian: That's correct.
Quinn: There's some darkness.
Brian: If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?
Dena Leibman: Oh my gosh.
Brian: They've got everything from coloring books to the Constitution.
Quinn: Whatever you think might be most appropriate, and I should say you can happily caveat that someone would read it to him.
Dena Leibman: Oh that's a hard one, 'cause I don't think he reads.
Quinn: It is a question, that is an issue that we run into from time to time.
Dena Leibman: Yeah. I don't know. Nothing, there's just, that nothing I read, I don't think would sway him, or I don't think he's reachable by book. I'm just going to have to punt on that one.
Quinn: That's a pretty fair and concise statement. I don't think he's reachable by book.
Brian: Yeah, wow.
Quinn: Yeah, I don't know how he's reachable, but you know, we're trying.
Brian: Awesome. Dena, where can our followers, where can our listeners excuse me, follow you online?
Quinn: Yeah, we definitely don't have followers, this isn't a cult Brian.
Brian: Alright, thank you.
Dena Leibman: Well they can follow Future Harvest,
Dena Leibman: At our website, FutureHarvestcasa.org. And all the Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram account names are there.
Dena Leibman: I'm pretty boring personally to follow.
Quinn: Well you'd be amazed.
Brian: I doubt it.
Quinn: I doubt it. We've been very entertained. Well listen Dena, we can't thank you enough, and again it really is amazing knowing that community organizing of all levels is always inspiring, no matter what the specific issue is or the mission is. You know, whether it's Civil Rights, Environmental Justice, Indigenous People's Rights, Food, Water, Air, you know, Fair Housing. I mean food is what nourishes us, or it's supposed to. And we've gotten away from that in a lot of ways. And part of that is the struggle of these people to make a life out of it, and to make it seem like it not only is doing a good thing for the community, which is great. I'm sure they would love to do that, but if they can't make a living out of it, that becomes a pretty hard thing to do practically.
Quinn: So to know that folks like you are out there, training them, and enabling them to live that life, to have a life, and to pay it forward, it's a good feeling. It's something awesome to build on, so we thank you for that.
Dena Leibman: Oh, it's my pleasure.
Quinn: Awesome, alright, well listen Dena, we will talk to you soon, please keep kicking ass out there, and next time on the east coast, we'll come visit and say hi.
Dena Leibman: Oh, please do. And congratulations on your nomination.
Quinn: Oh, thank you I still assume that they're website is just having some sort of malfunction.
Brian: There's been a huge mistake.
Quinn: That's why our names are there, but we'll take it until then.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email news letter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species. And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on Twitter at importantnotimp. That's so weird.
Brian: Also, on Facebook and Instagram at importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumbler, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. Keep the lights on, thanks.
Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.