Organic farmer Forrest Pritchard speaks on family the farm's future

HOPEWELL — The tractor on the highway. The little red barn. Grandma and grandpa caring for the dairy farm.

The notion of the family farm conjures up these and other nostalgic notions. In this age of big, corporate farms, can the small family farm and gentleman farmer survive, let alone thrive?

“We know that it worked for a long time,” said Forrest Pritchard, a seventh-generation farmer and writer. “It’s how we all got here.”

Pritchard, whose “Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers' Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm” was a New York Times bestseller, on Sunday shared stories of life on his organic farm and his thoughts on farming’s future as part of the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum at Finger Lakes Community College.

Actually, storytelling and farming go hand in hand for Pritchard, who also authored "Growing Tomorrow" and co-authored "Start Your Farm," his latest.

The desire to share stories is innate, Pritchard said. And one of the issues with farming since the 1970s is “anonymous food,” in which farmers produce the crops, but have no idea where the meat and produce they passionately produce ends up.

A story for which the conclusion is hidden from the main characters involved.

The family farm has become somewhat invisible, according to forum moderator Lori Vail, an assistant professor of English at FLCC and former urban farmer in Seattle. Food is around most people at least three times a day and at any one time, they are 20 yards away from it, Vail said.

“Yet, we don’t think that much about how food is produced,” Vail said.

Pritchard, who took over his grandparents’ farm and began raising free-range cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and chicken, didn’t want to put his food on a truck and watch it disappear.

“It made sense to me to try and put a face on things,” Pritchard said.

And that he does, as his Smith Meadows farm is a fixture at farmers markets in the Washington, D.C., area. In fact, he quipped, if he wasn’t speaking at FLCC he’d probably be driving his truck home from the market.

Sustainable agriculture is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence, Pritchard said, in the same way that bell-bottom pants and cars with tailfins recycle their popularity.

“Balance finds a way to restore itself,” Pritchard said. “It’s the nature of nature. Things take a while. We’re getting there.”

One way to help a small farmer is by buying local, even if that means paying more for the product, he said.

“If we want special things — and we all want special things because they’re special — we have to track down special things and pay more,” he said.

The payoff for the consumer comes in knowing the local farmer will take 99.9 percent of that extra money and put it back into the soil, Pritchard said. Rewarding the farmer’s work continues to foster the farmer’s optimism and enthusiasm, and results in more special things — local food and sustainable way of life.

Think of the farmer as a volunteer, someone who signs up for a job with no guaranteed paycheck but pursues it passionately.

“Be better as a consumer and put in for the time and risk they’re taking,” Pritchard said. “Let’s reward these courageous people.”