The Daily Dirt

Perri Campis: An “angel” sent to help farmers

Farmers are essential.

This fact drives Perri Campis’ work on a daily basis.

“You might need a doctor once a year, but you need a farmer three times a day,” said Campis, Georgia Organics’ Farmer Services Coordinator, pictured above on the right as she helped Rahul Anand and Carson White, of Snapfinger Farm, sign up for health insurance. “They’re an important part of every life, every single day. The ripple effects are important to everyone, and the work should matter to everyone for that reason.”

You can’t have a conversation with Perri without feeling the passion and authenticity behind her words.

“I’m humbled by farmers continuously,” she said. “They’re heroes.”

Whether pulling weeds in an organic peanut plot, helping farmers sign up for health insurance, or leading a grant proposal to fund research into farmer prosperity, Perri executes her work with the same passion.

“Perri Campis is the future of Georgia Organics and agriculture in Georgia,” said Michael Wall, Georgia Organics’ Director of Farmer Services. “If it’s divisive, she won’t do it. If it’s not in the best interest of our farmers, she won’t touch it. If it’s too easy and won’t lead to long-term progress, she won’t bother with it. She is the best essence of all Georgia Organics promises to be.”

Three generations back, Perri’s family were active farmers, and that’s what she initially thought she wanted to do for a living.

“It just felt like there were so many barriers,” she admitted. “It’s scary.”

After Perri earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture from The University of Georgia, that led her to pursue agriculture policy through a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgia State University. Today, it drives her daily work to remove barriers for small farmers to keep them doing what they love.

“It needs to be easier for farmers,” she said. “I often think through the lens of if I had made the decision to farm would this have made that decision easier for me.”

They should have access to health insurance.

They should have support when natural disasters strike.

They should have support running and building sustainable businesses.

Whatever they need, more than anything, Perri believes farmers deserve an ally.

“So much of what’s important is showing up in any way we can,” she said. “It’s important to understand the very real on-the-ground needs of the farmers we’re trying to work with.”

Perri’s impact has been felt consistently by her colleagues and the farmers she supports since she joined the Farmer Services team at Georgia Organics in 2013.

“There have been so many events and meetings when I have stood in front big crowds and small crowds alike, talking about the great work Georgia Organics has done on affordable health insurance solutions, organic peanuts, and other issues we’ve made progress on in the past two years,” Michael said. “I’m the only one in those settings who knows that it was Perri Campis who has made all that progress possible, while I’m the one getting the attention and the applause as if I’ve done the work. She cares so much about the work itself and is just not interest in getting credit for it.”

Put the people who work directly with Perri know the quality of her work, the impact it creates, and the passion behind it.

“Perri is an angel sent directly to Georgia from heaven to help farmers find the resources we need to live healthy lives,” said Illana Margulis of Levity Farms in Milton.

Illana and her husband Zach Richards have free health insurance through the Kaiser Bridge Program that Perri has implemented over the past two years.

“Perri worked up until the deadline to ensure that every farmer applying had submitted all the required paperwork,” remembered Joe Reynolds, the farmer at Love is Love Farm and the Board Chair of Georgia Organics. “She understands that our farmers, more than anything, need to know they are not alone in their good, hard work. When I learned that 13 individuals received coverage for 2018 through the program, I called Perri immediately to thank her for her dedication while tears of joy ran down my face.”

In addition to Perri’s work to help farmers receive health insurance, she’s also taken the lead on supporting three farmers in growing organics peanuts in South Georgia. In fact, she moved to Fitzgerald (about 28 miles from Tifton) this past Spring so she could be personally present.

Not only did she literally get in the fields with farmers Sed Rowe, Jahi Ellis, and Al Clark, but she created a relationship with the Georgia Peanut Commission, and helped Clark secure a spot on the peanut tour, which Perri said was essentially to shattering stereotypes about organic agriculture.

“As tour organizers jokingly mentioned, having an organic farm as a stop on the tour, they were expecting a long-haired hippie, probably wearing tie dye, that was growing a little bit here and there,” she said. “That is not Mr. Clark. While it was amazing to show that, in fact, organic farms are legitimate agricultural operations run by farmers in every sense of the word, there were some other ideas I think were also important to dispel. Typically on the tour, you’re seeing the cleanest fields, the record yield-setting crops. The largest equipment and acreage as far as the eye can see. But an organic field looks different. It’s going to be smaller and weedier. The equipment will look different—rather than sprayers, there are cultivators or, in Al Clark’s case, an electric weeder. Just because you see bugs or weeds, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a successful, high yielding crop. It was important to flip the idea of what a successful farm should look like on its head, along with the image of an organic farmer.”

As the year wraps up, her experience on this year’s Peanut Tour is still Perri’s favorite part of 2018.

“Walking around Al Clark’s farm with 100+ tour attendees as USDA Weed Scientist (and Board Member) Carroll Johnson talked about the organic system and the work that Mr. Clark had put into stewarding his family farm was the highlight of my year,” Perri said. “The round of applause Mr. Clark received as Dr. Johnson called him a hero was the cherry on top.”

From now through the end of December, we’ll be writing about and spotlighting our farmers and the work of our farmer services team. We hope you keep reading, and to invest in our farmer services efforts please click here to contribute $100, $50, $25 or any amount that’s meaningful to you.

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