Sustaining local agriculture: Nathanael Johnson interviews Tom Willey

CSA Box - Week of  April 30 - May 6

Photo by Suzie’s Farm via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nathanael Johnson of Grist recently interviewed farmer Tom Willey—the T in T & D Willey Farms—about ways to sustain local agriculture. Here’s a small taste of the lengthy exchange:

Q. So basically I’m calling because I read in the New York Times that you are making money, and I want to know why we don’t just see a wholesale conversion of agriculture to look like T & D Willey Farms?

A. There are certainly many other people like myself that are operating profitable organic farms of modest scale. But why is there not more proliferation of the modest-sized farms that are financially successful?

I think there’s a conundrum with the legions of young people being attracted to local and organic agriculture. They seem to be a bit hesitant about getting involved in what I call production agriculture, which is feeding a hell of a lot of people besides yourself. And they seem to be more strongly attracted to the Jeffersonian concept of having your little piece, your couple of acres, and farming mainly for self-sufficiency and some very small-scale marketing in their community.

One of the reports I’m getting from young people who have been through some renowned organic farm schools or internships is that they are not learning much about farm economics. I think that’s a real disservice. If they came to my school — if I had one — they’d learn a hell of a lot about that, particularly from my wife.

It’s a fascinating read, whether or not you have dreams of working the land, so check out the full interview here. For more on T & D Willey Farms, check out this Sunday NYT Magazine piece by Mark Bittman, which I blogged about awhile back. Tom Willey is also briefly quoted in this recent NYT article by Carol Pogash, titled “The Elders of Organic Farming,” that takes readers to a recent retreat attended by some organic pioneers.


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