Penciling Out a Plan for the New Year - Catholic Rural Life

Penciling Out a Plan for the New Year

Robert Gronski • January 9, 2014


Have you penciled out your farm plan for the new year? Of course, not all of us in the Catholic Rural Life network are farmers, but we can still pencil out a plan to show our support for family farms and the good food they grow.

I use the expression “pencil out” because that’s what I hear from farmers who sit down at their kitchen tables during winter and figure out what to plant, how much to plant, expected costs, expected returns, and a list of checks-ups, repairs and things to get ready before spring rolls around.

Perhaps some farmers have software programs to help them with this, but I like hearing about taking out a pencil and using a scrap of paper to sketch a plan that will lead to an abundant harvest.

Here’s how one farmer described it in an entry at Tiny Farm blog (#38 of “50 Things I’ve Learned from Tiny Farming”):

“There is a curious kind of commitment only a pencil can bring to the start of something: The impermanence, the erasability, the chance to begin now but make sweeping changes later. … Forget digital — lappies, tablets, smartphones, batteries, cables, formats and files — there’s nothing like good old straightforward no-frills paper and pencil for freeing you up to think!”

My harvest plan

So I’m wondering how I might pencil out my “harvest” plan for the year: what do I intend to reap by the end of the year. I’m speaking here about work – projects and programs at Catholic Rural Life – but I could just as well tell you about my backyard garden plans! (There is some interesting work going on with St. Louis community gardens; I happen to be involved in that when not tracking the Farm Bill or other policy issues for Catholic Rural Life.)

Looking at the scrap of paper on my desk, I’ve noted – and underscored – a plan to better highlight what we mean by “sustainable agriculture”. We say this all the time at Catholic Rural Life, but maybe it’s good to refresh ourselves with what this means. (I should also insert here that I could just as well be talking about sustainable fisheries, sustainable forestry and other sustainable harvesting of God’s good earth.)

As mentioned in a previous blog, Catholic Rural Life will be highlighting the International Year of Family Farmers and trying to make the case that we need more such kinds of family-based and proprietary farms, both in the U.S. and around the world. The key will be to show how family farms and sustainable agriculture are intrinsically intertwined. Or in other words, large-scale industrial farms can never attain the sustainability that smaller family farms can. No doubt these are fighting words – unless we can show exactly what “sustainability” really means.

That’s where I have another item on my 2014 draft plan: explain how our faith tradition can inform us in the vocation of farming. If faith is a belief in everlasting life, then surely that has something to say about how to carry out our work here on earth, right?! Indeed, you can read about The Vocation of the Business Leader, a reflection published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (November 2012). Catholic Rural Life is looking to do something similar for the vocation of farming and agricultural business.

Sustainable in all things

I’ve penciled out a list of what we seek to make sustainable when it comes to agriculture and food production. Certainly we want to make the family farm sustainable, and the bottomline on that is economically viable. That’s no different than any other agribusiness pursuit, so what makes the family farmer so significant?

Beyond sustainable livelihood, I also penciled in sustainable environment: the family farmers I know seem to talk just about their soil as much as their crops. Water is right up there, too. And diversity in the landscape, and birds, wildlife and beneficial insects.

I put down sustainable communities, since farmers are raising families – sustainable families! – along with crops and livestock. They want and need the schools, churches, coffee shops, small business, health clinics and other services that keep a community thriving. Sustainable communities and sustainable families go hand-in-hand.

Harvesters of Light

Sustainable spirituality is the final item on my scrap of paper. It’s not meant to be last or some type of conclusive sustainability. It really is an encompassing term that is meant to tie together everything we do in the name of family farms and sustainable agriculture. At the same time, we do find a special kind of spiritual nourishment when we care for the land and the type of food grown and the family we raise and the community we build when we take on the vocation of farming.

Well, I need to pencil out a few more things to show how I’m going to do all this. For now, I have a sense of where to sow as the year spreads out before me. I look forward to harvesting what I can from my own little garden plot, but I invite you to join along with Catholic Rural Life as we become “harvesters of light” in our advocacy efforts for family farms and a sustainable future.

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