Green America and GMO Inside are pleased to announce our new Farmer-Grower Initiative. Through this new initiative, we are expanding collaboration with farmers, growers, and garden educators across the US to highlight and celebrate the work of those who engage in sustainable agriculture. By amplifying the voice of the sustainable farming community, we aim to bridge the gap of communication between farmers, consumers, and policy makers. Stay tuned on the blog and our Facebook page for new farmer-grower profiles.
We couldn't be more excited to kick off our new Farmer-Grower Initiative with the help of Constance and Eric Payne from Chopping Block Farm. We first connected with Constance and Eric at the Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival in May 2014, and couldn't wait to work with them on our inaugural Farmer Profile. They even gifted us two of their custom-made Chopping Block t-shirts!
Read on to learn more about two of the coolest farmers around - and make sure to "like” the Chopping Block Facebook page. To check out their full website, click here.
We are Constance and Eric Payne of Chopping Block Farm, GMO-free and AgriTrue Certified. We live in De Soto, Missouri, approximately 45 minutes south of St. Louis.
Describe your farm and the sustainable practices you employ.
The primary sustainable practices we employ on the farm are based on many common permaculture design principles and ethics. Through observation of our land and conditions, Farmer Eric was able to create and impose a landscape that maximizes natural and environmental input and minimizes human alteration. We employ Hugelkultur [raised garden beds created on woody debris like fallen branches or logs], swales [water-harvesting ditches] and water-catchment systems, no-till gardening, composting, natural fertilizer and diverse planting that allows symbiotic relationships between plants, insects and animals to thrive.
When and how did your interest in food and farming start?
Many moons ago we both had an interest in gardening, planting and growing food. It wasn't until we moved in together that we were able to join forces to build on the passions and interests we previously had. As a biologist, my [Constance's] interests were rooted--no pun intended--in the effects of the current food system in this country being imposed on the bodies of its consumers. I became interested in eating in a way that was more natural, rather than more convenient. Farmer Eric has always been a “grower,” keeping a garden from the time he was a small child. His experience in gardening, soil and plant biology and permaculture are really to credit for our success. I suppose my interest in the food, paired with his experience in growing it, is what led to farming for us. We had a 5-year plan for a house with five acres. Eight months later, we started a 25-acre farm - go figure.
Considering emerging and pressing issues like climate change, increased use of pesticides & genetically modified seeds, and intensified agriculture – how has your relationship with food and farming changed over time?
We are now much more aware, both as producers and consumers, than we were before we started farming. We do not limit ourselves to a label on a package or box, but realize that through familiarity of current and nearly obsolete practices, regulations, and biological systems, both plant and animal, we are able to choose, consume and produce the most natural items possible from the purest of sources.
What is the biggest misconception that modern consumers have when it comes to food?
Where it comes from. There is such great disconnect with what we put into our bodies these days that many people seem to be oblivious to where their food comes from - and the work that goes into producing it. So many people never think beyond where they buy their food, and how it is grown is rarely considered. We chose the name we did--Chopping Block Farm--in an attempt to make people think about that very fact. We remind people that every piece of meat they eat used to be a live animal and that someone had to raise and kill it, because if you lose that connection to your food, you no longer appreciate it. When you have no appreciation or care for what goes into your body, it has an effect on every aspect of your existence.
What is the most important thing for modern consumers to understand when it comes to food?
That you, the consumer, have control of what goes into your body. You are not limited to convenience, what is on a screen at the drive-through, and what is on sale at the local grocer. Generally speaking, the cheaper “food” is, the worse it is for you. Some of the cheapest food anyone will ever consume is the food you grow yourself. This, of course, when done responsibly, is also some of the best food - and all it takes is a little time and patience.
What advice can you give to someone who wants to learn more about sustainable food but doesn’t know where to start?
Look for small natural or sustainable farms in your area if you are interested in growing. Talk to people, be it in person or via social networking, who have done what you want to do. That is priceless knowledge and practical experience that cannot be beat. If you are interested in obtaining sustainable food, the farmers are again at the top of the list of whom to contact, but also do not hesitate to connect with local farmers markets, CSAs or other consumers with similar interests.
What do you believe is the most underrated issue in talking about food systems? Are there any issues that you don’t feel are talked about enough in mainstream media?
There is a great underrepresentation of information on the nutritional value of “food.” Because of the pesticides, herbicides, constant tilling, and careless practices of modern agriculture, the health of our soil is greatly depleted. When the soil is no longer a source of nutrition for the plant, but instead only a “growing medium”, that translates to everything we eat. The fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in unhealthy soil are a mere shadow, nutritionally speaking, of what they could be if grown in healthy soil.
Healthy soil would eliminate the need for many of the poisons that our food is exposed to. Conventional meat is often raised on feed made from empty plants growing in the empty “soil” that sits on most commercialized farms, and that produces meats with a diminished nutritional value. When food is produced this way, people need to be aware that they are not eating food as it was intended to be eaten.
What are your favorite go-to resources when it comes to sustainable food, farming, gardening, etc.?
People & Organizations: Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton, Eliot Coleman; Slow Food USA
Websites: Permaethos.com, The SurvivalPodcast.com
Books: Storey's Guide to... books from Storey Publishing. There are a million great ones!
Many thanks go out to Constance and Eric for sharing their story! Visit their website at www.choppingblockfarm.com to learn more about the principles behind their mission, see photos, and more.
Read about more Sustainable Agriculture Spotlights and organic farming stories at GreenAmerica.org.