The face of farming may find itself changing in coming years.
A town hall meeting focused on the Future of Farming and Food took place Monday night at the Bowyer Building.
A panel of three people spoke on the subject, answering questions and laying out their own visions for the future.
One of the panelists was local farmer Gail Fuller, who owns Fuller Family Farms.
The other two were Rachel Myslivy, assistant director of ecosphere studies at the Land Institute, and Jeremy Cowan, assistant professor of Sustainable Food Production Systems at Kansas State University.
In attendance were a variety of people, from ag producers to consumers.
Part of the discussion focused on local eating and community building. Such connections, the panelists agreed, are integral to building a sustainable farming community where small family farms can continue operations.
They spoke about the divisiveness in the current political climate and how this needs to be discussed rather than swept under the rug in order for farming — and rural America — to enter its future.
Fuller said he’d like to see a world where sustainable agriculture was the norm and small farms such as his could flourish around the country. He talked about regenerative agriculture and about a conversation on Facebook where people discussed what they believed regenerative agriculture meant. The answers were largely “soil health,” “cover crops,” and other such terms.
“For me, regenerative agriculture is a lot more than that,” he said. “It’s not just regenerating our farms and our ag economy. It’s also rebuilding and regrowing our rural communities. That’s what I see regenerative agriculture doing. It’s not just about the farmers … rural America’s dying because agriculture’s dying. As farms get bigger, the towns get smaller. So my vision, what I want to see — not just in Kansas but across the U.S. — is getting farmers more resilient to climate, more resilient financially and we have to get them to a point they can do this on less acres.”
Zack Bell is a farmer in Chase County with a relatively new operation.
He attended because he wanted to hear Fuller speak and because he feels there’s always something more to learn.
And he did.
“I think a big thing, like they talked about, is not being afraid to talk to your neighbors,” Bell said. “Maybe you’re either intimidated by or just feel as if you’re too far apart on the spectrum of how you do things, or what you believe in — something like that. It’s always good to have a reminder to open your mind a little more and not be unwilling to start those conversations.”
Leilani Grey of Topeka was present and, when the floor opened up for questions, spoke about her own experience as a consumer. Grey spent all her life in bigger cities — from Pasadena, California to Scottsdale, Arizona — until last year when she moved to Topeka. While she still lives in a metropolitan area, she has found it is easier to find and interact with the people who produce her food in the Kansas capital than it was before she moved to Kansas.
She has forged connections with rural communities and this has changed Grey’s perspective on food. She knows the work that goes into growing her food, now that she has heard the stories and struggles of small, local farmers.
“I think that I definitely see it differently,” Grey said. “Every time I’m out grocery shopping, I see it differently. I am more willing to work harder to look for small, local farms because I’ve met the people.”
During the town hall, she said she learned from Fuller that the nutrient density of food has steadily decreased over the years due to farming practices.
“I didn’t know how (much) less nutritious our food is,” Grey said. “That makes it even more important for me to try to seek out these different, other options and also support policies that will impact and benefit these small farmers.”
Grey plans to redouble her efforts to seek out local, healthy produce and to use what she can find in-season, when she returns home after attending the town hall.
She also plans to educate others she knows about what she learned Monday evening.
“A big part of what I just do personally is if I learn something new, I’ll definitely tell my friends and family,” Grey said.
Myslivy said she hoped to convey a message of hope in the face of the adversity currently facing local producers.
“I really hope that people leave here recognizing there are a lot of solutions that exist — that help everybody in Kansas,” she said. “And that we need to start talking to each other and being open about our concerns and our hopes and working together to make things better for everybody.”