I recently gave a short “TED-style” talk at an educational forum on food and agriculture in Hood River, OR. While I don’t profess to have expertise in this particular subject, it was a great excuse to do a bunch of research. And to finally wrap my brain around the concept of “resilient agriculture”. This is beyond sustainable agriculture, it is about an agriculture that is more resistant to perturbations in the climate, pests, and disease. It is about reducing or eliminating use of off-site inputs and recycling all organic wastes on site. It is about building soil carbon, not just sustaining the status quo. I have attached my Powerpoint presentation if you wish to take a peak at it! Enjoy! FoodForumClimatepresenation
Hello! Here is a recent interview I did with Chris Blanchard of the most excellent Farmer to Farmer podcast on the topic of making a living raising animals. Topics include scaling up, feeding/watering/fencing efficiencies, costs of production, pricing, marketing, & more. A lot of this information is in our recent book, “The New Livestock Farmer: The Business of Raising & Selling Ethical Meat“. Have you purchased your copy yet?
Last weekend one of my dreams was fulfilled- I finally was able to attend the Common Ground Country Fair in Albion, Maine. This 33 (?) year old event organized by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA) draws over 60,000 people from the Northeast to learn homesteading skills, community organizing, alternative energy, arts & crafts, and barter/trade with farmers and craftspeople from around the region. This fair is a legend in the sustainable agriculture community and MOFGA is probably the most effective statewide organization in that arena. They have lead the fight in GMO labeling and GMO trespass litigation, helped incubate hundreds of new farmers, and greatly increased consumer awareness and demand for organic, local food in Maine. They are building a new economy in Maine, one that values quality over quantity, soil over shareholders, and supporting creative food chain businesses that keep dollars recirculating within Maine. I was invited to speak on three subjects- beginning farmer issues, business skills for existing operations, and meat marketing considerations. I was asked by many to provide the presentation I put together on business skills, which is essentially a very distilled version of my book Farms With A Future: Creating & Growing a Sustainable Farm Business. The title of this talk was “I’m a Farmer, Not an Entrepreneur: Getting real about the business of farming“, my basic premise being that many farmers don’t think of themselves as businesspeople, but in order to stay viable for the long haul and reach a level of profitability that meets their needs, they need to wear their entrepreneur hats more often! Here is the presentation below if you would like to take a look at the slides. Enjoy!
Creative financing- what does that mean? Do I mean robbing a bank? Printing counterfeit bills? Nope, sorry. I’m going to talk about mostly legal ways to raise capital! I recently gave this talk at Organicology in Portland, OR and a similar workshop at the Small Farmers Journal Auction in Madras, OR about how farmers can build financial and social capital to start, grow, or maintain their businesses. Much of the material is drawn from my book, “Farms With a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business“. Read the book and watch this Powerpoint presentation linked below if you want to delve deeper into this subject. I am also available for individual consulting to help you identify your own opportunities that are unique to you.
Here’s an interview I did recently with John Suscovich of the great, useful podcast “Growing Farms”. I focus on some of my book topics and financial management tips for the interview.
Sustainability is yet another word made virtually meaningless through its adoption and exploitation by big business. However, as a concept, it does have value. Sustainability comes from the Latin word sustinere, meaning “to uphold”. Just as you would uphold your children, your aging parents, the school or church you might attend, we also uphold (or not) the health of our planet through our individual and collective decision-making. Just because a business has been around for 100 years, does not make it sustainable. Just because a government has governed for 300 years does not make it sustainable. Just because a soil can still manage to produce a crop does not mean it is sustainable. To be sustainable, a resource, society, or organization must “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Commission, United Nations 1987). So if your business were meeting your personal financial goals by strip mining a natural resource, that would mean that future generations ability to meet their needs will be eroded and compromised. If your government was spending all of its revenues on quick-fix bandaids while borrowing revenue from future generations, that would not be sustainable. If your farm was drawing down the aquifer underneath it at a faster rate than natural replenishment of that aquifer, that would not be sustainable. If your business made money by pushing its costs out to the public, such as with toxic, unrecyclable packaging that has to be landfilled, then that is not sustainable. As you can see, sustainability is a process and decision-making framework, it is not one thing. It is not a single data point, it is not a “law of science” like gravity or thermodynamics. That doesn’t make it any less valid. If people, governments, and organizations would just use the concept of sustainability as a framework to test all of their decision-making, sort of a vision that they hold all their actions up to, then our world would be in a much better state. I work with businesses and organizations to help them create that vision for themselves and then evaluate their current and future operations against that vision. Then we collectively prioritize to focus on the processes or activities that are in conflict with that sustainability vision, creating a new paradigm for doing business.
For further information on how I create a vision of sustainability, check out The Natural Step.
I just returned from my first speaking engagements since my new book was released on Nov. 28th. First was the Carolina Meat Conference in Bermuda Run, North Carolina and second was the ACRES USA conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I received a lot of good feedback both on my new book and my presentation topics, met a ton of wonderful folks doing important work on this planet, and sold a bunch of books. It was a great way to kick off my ad-hoc book tour of conferences and book readings around the country over the next year.
Some really flattering book reviews have started to filter in for Farms With a Future. Here are a couple excerpts that I would like to share:
ForeWord Reviews– “Each chapter contains photographs of the farms and farmers, which helps drive home for the reader that these are real people who have—through sacrifice, planning, and hard work—found ways to farm that supports their values. Additionally, each chapter ends with “Take-Home Messages,” a bulleted summary of dos and don’ts that affirm much of what each family farm story demonstrates. A superior book for its information, organization, and examples, Farms with a Future is essential for dreamers who intend to be doers, and doers who are seeking more creative dreaming.” Jennifer Fandel
Shannon Hayes blog– “This book was sent to me to review this summer, and I knew then that it would be something special. The author learned many of her farming lessons the hard way, then chose to take some time off to learn from sustainable farmers across the country. The result is a practical introduction to the world of sustainable agriculture that simply cannot be gleaned from any Farm Business 101 course. Thistlethwaite covers a wide array of scenerios from landless start-ups to multi-generational businesses, from vegetables and fruit, to dairy, meat, and other value-added ventures. She covers record keeping and family resource management, holistic management, whole-farm planning, marketing and customer relationships. I think it is an especially valuable read for anyone who is considering farming as a career. But it is equally important for those of us who’ve been in the business a while to look it over and think about the elements we’ve been neglecting, and the areas where we could improve.”
NOFA The Natural Farmer– “Just as it is a great gift for a beginner farmer to find a compassionate, patient and experienced mentor in life – one that helps us navigate the somewhat tumultuous waters of growth and change as we test our wings – so it is meaningful when someone decides to take time out from life to share their experiences of success or failure in their field of expertise. How valuable to be guided by someone’s wisdom as we move forward and make decisions about how to make positive steps forward in our businesses, and when to move forward with our new ideas. It’s the guidance we all hope for in all aspects of life.
Lucky for us, this is the gift that Rebecca Thistlethwaite gives us with her new book, Farms with a Future. Rich with the wisdom she and her husband, Jim Dunlop, garnered from years of farming in California – at first, seat of the pants and small scale – then full throttle production. After intense business development, they decided to step back, evaluate what they wanted for themselves and their business, and learn more before they crafted their own next steps. During this time, they traveled and worked with other farmers across the U.S. who are using innovative practices to not only farm well, but farm smart. We are the recipients of what they’ve learned from their hard-won experience and dedication to helping the rest of us. I think you’ll agree that we are all glad they made that decision.” Eve Springwood Minson
Thank you all for the kind words. If you too enjoy the book, please post a review on Amazon. That will help drive sales, especially out to bookstores across the country.
Since I am sorta a “Jill of All Trades”, I thought it was time to create a simple website to share what I have been up to. You may have been an avid or occasional reader of my Honestmeat blog. Or perhaps you are interested in my consulting services. Maybe you are thinking of buying my new book “Farms With A Future“. Or you could just be Google searching my bizarre last name and this is what you come up with. Now you all can be accommodated with my new website. Thanks for visiting!