Cultivating Connections: How CFSA Membership Can Benefit Your Farm
by Meredith Mizell, Farm Manager, Red Fern Farm
photos provided by Red Fern Farm
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts by current CFSA members during our Winter Membership Drive.
Farming is a great life: you can be your own boss, build community, connect with nature daily, and know that your work is meaningful and important. But small, sustainable farming also presents challenges for both new and experienced growers. When you’re growing and guiding your own farm, sometimes you need additional training in aspects of production or marketing. Sometimes you need help finding new markets. Sometimes that big blue sky and those long rows stretching out in front of you get a little lonely and isolated. And sometimes you just need a little reassurance that yes, all that hard work really does mean something!
That’s where an organization like the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) can make a substantial difference in the life of a farmer.
As the manager of a small family farm– Red Fern Farm in Gray Court, SC — I am constantly amazed and encouraged by CFSA’s work. My first experience with CFSA was at the 2008 Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Anderson, SC. I was 11 when my family moved to 100 acres south of Greenville in 1996, and throughout my teenage years I was just counting the days until I could leave for college. I graduated with a BFA in graphic design in late 2006, but by 2008 had decided a long-term career in graphic design just wasn’t for me. Working in a cubicle farm was hell. But maybe a real farm would be just the thing…
I attended the entire 3-day conference that year armed with pen and paper, determined to absorb as much information as possible. It was a memorable weekend; I enjoyed seeing Joel Salatin deliver the keynote, and I’ll never forget going to Tradd Cotter’s standing-room-only mushroom workshop on Sunday morning. There was so much to see and do, and so many like-minded people surrounding me. The possibilities were endless! What I learned at my first SAC helped form the foundation of my farming knowledge, and has definitely informed my journey.
Since 2008, I’ve been involved in a variety of CFSA events as a member–often as an attendee, and occasionally as a host or presenter. One of the most visible ways our farm has been a part of CFSA events is by participating in the Upstate Farm Tour for the past three years. It’s a lot of work (I admit that I’m something of a perfectionist leading up to a big event like that) but it’s a tremendous opportunity. We average about 300 visitors each year, most of whom are not regular customers. Through their efforts to organize and promote the tour, CFSA puts us in touch with a group that we might not otherwise reach. We get a nice revenue boost during that weekend from on-farm sales, and some of those visitors have become regulars. It’s a win for both us, the farmers, and for the consumers as they have a chance to connect one-on-one with local producers. It’s especially gratifying seeing parents with their children coming out on the tour, because that’s our future!
Speaking of organizing and promoting, I’ve discovered that CFSA is staffed by a cadre of extremely enthusiastic and very hard-working folks. Diana Vossbrinck, our regional coordinator, is a tireless champion of local farms; I love working with her because it’s obvious she cares very much about the people behind the movement. Her many connections–with farmers, chefs, retailers, the media, and consumers–are more than just names and phone numbers, they’re real relationships that benefit everyone involved. That kind of authenticity is a rare commodity, and I’m glad that people like her are a part of CFSA.
My CFSA membership not only connects me to educational opportunities, to potential customers, and to supportive staff members, but also to other member farms. The Sustainable Agriculture Conference is an excellent opportunity to meet other Carolina farmers and to exchange ideas and experiences, but even something as simple as the quarterly CFSA newsletter keeps me feeling like part of the community with farm profiles, an “ask the experts” column, interviews, and sustainable agriculture news. The member listserv also plays a vital role in keeping me up-to-date on training and grant opportunities, regional and national news, special events, and more.
These are all concrete benefits of my CFSA membership. But the value I get from my membership is more than the sum of its parts. Being a part of CFSA reminds me that we’re all in this together and we’re all working towards a better future–for farmers and consumers. Like anyone, I have moments of doubt and worry and insecurity. I get discouraged and wonder if pursuing the life of a farmer and herbalist will pan out for me. But then I remember that I’m not alone in this endeavor. While I cultivate the soil, CFSA is out there working to cultivate a more favorable economic and philosophical environment for small, sustainable farms. Knowing that there is an organization that is advocating on the behalf of farmers, working to help educate consumers, and believing strongly in this movement is reassuring to me.
I’m planning on being a member of CFSA for many years to come, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things will continue to happen as a result of sustainable agriculture in the Carolinas. I hope you’ll consider becoming a member yourself or, if you’re already a member, telling your friends, family, and customers about CFSA!
Meredith Mizell is a graphic design artist turned full-time farm manager. While she loves growing and cooking our own produce, her real passion is herbs and she is currently studying to become an herbalist. Find out more about Meredith & Red Fern Farm: www.redfernfarms.com.