by Michael Wall
Daniel Parson, former Georgia Organics Land Steward of the Year and Oxford College at Emory University Farmer, will lead an In-Depth Workshop on Whole Farm Planning at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga.
Here’s the description of his presentation: Are you preparing to start a farm? Are you reevaluating your produce business to maximize profitability? It’s never too early or too late to look at your operation holistically. Daniel Parson, the organic farm manager for Emory University’s Oxford College, will lead this in-depth workshop on building a farm business from A to Z.
We talked to Parson about learning curves for farmers and changes he’s seen in farming community.
Georgia Organics: If you could tell your younger self, the Daniel who was just starting to farm, something that you know now, what would it be?
Daniel: I would say ‘be more observant, and travel more’. When I was just starting out, I got into the never-ending work cycle of the farm. Over the years I have learned to balance work and family life because the farm work is literally never complete – that’s the nature of it. I could have spent more time identifying insects, observing the ecosystem of the farm, and visiting with other farmers in our area. At the time, there were not that many organic farms in Georgia, so I would tell my former self to travel to parts of the country where there were more and spend some time working there.
GO: Over the years, what changes have you seen in the young farming community?
Daniel: When I was in college, there weren’t many of us long-haired environmentalist types who wanted to live in a tent on an organic farm. Then I met some folks from Warren Wilson at a CFSA conference and I realized there were more than I thought. Aside from a couple dozen farms in the region offering ‘internships’, there were few opportunities for young people to learn. Now I meet plenty of young people who are in college programs, work on farms, or have related internships like FoodCorps. I don’t think anybody was thinking about a business plan then, but now many young people realize that farming is a business for which they must plan. Social media makes a lot of the new connections possible and has accelerated growth – young farmers now seem a lot better organized. It is a lot of fun to watch young people go from an internship to being farm managers themselves. That is one of our challenges – help young people get established so that 10 years from now there are a lot more organic farmers! Wait-am I still a young farmer???
GO: You’re an advocate for organic certification. Why do you think that’s important for growers?
Daniel: Hopefully, by the time of the conference we will be certified. Currently, we are awaiting inspection. Having gone through the process with three different operations and three different certifiers, I know how challenging it can be to get a small, diverse farm certified organic. That is reflected in the small number of certified farms nationwide and in Georgia compared to the number of community-based farms that are growing naturally. Whatever peoples’ problems with organic certification, we need some kind of well-established program to set basic standards for what it means to be an organic farmer. Consumers may not know what goes into organic certification, but it is very consistent with their values of the kind of food they want to purchase. Ultimately, it is a system that protects the consumer.
GO: What’s the experience been like of starting a farm, from scratch, at a university?
Daniel: How much time do you have? I would like to write a book on that one day… It has been at times challenging, exhilarating, easier than I expected, and harder than I imagined. Oxford and Emory have been leaders in getting good food into the dining halls, improving sustainability on campus, and bringing these ideas into the liberal arts classroom. The College was eager to start the farm and has supported me in every step. Interacting with students and professors is the greatest and most unique part of it. I am learning as much as I am teaching and feel like this is a great time for young people to get involved with our movement.
GO: You have been to almost as many Georgia Organics conferences as anyone. What are you looking forward to the most?
Daniel: Seeing my friends from all over the state. And no matter how many I have attended, there is always at least one moment when I learn something that will change the way I farm-for the better!