CEO Blog • Looking to the Next 20 Years



~ from Tracy Emrick, CEO ~ 

This year Countryside is celebrating our 20th Anniversary! It is serendipitous that it is also around this time that we launched our Beginning Farmer Intern and Apprentice program and really amped up our Food Access programming because, while we are looking back fondly at the accomplishments of the past 20 years, we are also looking forward to the next.

Highlights from the past 20 years. (Click to make bigger.)

As we craft that vision of the future, there are some very urgent questions we need to respond to. Most notably: Are we doing enough to protect the land where are food comes from? Who will grow that food? And, how do we ensure that all people have equitable access to good food without compromising on the first two points? Because, in case you didn’t know, cheap food is not a solution, it’s not even a Band-Aid, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a symptom of an ill that is costing us our health, our economy and our planet. The loss of farmland and farmers is not simply a romantic nod to days gone by, it’s a death-nail.

The challenge, as with most worldwide problems, is that it is poly-systemic not simply a food system challenge. The world we exist in is connected. No system exists in a vacuum, no people, no place – we are all connected with each other and with this place (place, meaning universe). The symptoms of these troubles are also paradoxical, making the problems hard to comprehend and solve.

On the one hand there are millions of people living in poverty with hunger and food insecurity, and on the other, our grocery store shelves are overflowing, and food waste is an international dilemma. We can have cases of food delivered to our homes or rushed out to us in a parking lot, but we can’t ensure farmers earn a living or that children don’t starve.

I am not fear mongering, nor am I wanting to be gloom and doom here. I’m just being real and honest. We need to get to work. I am just as part of the problem as the next person, but I am also committed that our organization will spend its next 20 years working, acting, becoming part of the solution.

In the work that we do, there are days when the clouds cover the sun and the rain won’t seem to stop. Recently this has been true both literally and figuratively. This has weighed heavy on my heart lately, but then I went to visit the Learning Farm to check in on the interns. They were talking to our Secretary of State about opening a farm business in Ohio. Then I got to visit the 4H programs at the Summit County Fair, and what I saw in both these days was HOPE! The faces of our future - the beginnings of the solutions we are searching for.

Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State, with Countryside Beginning Farmer interns and staff.

Summit County Fair 4H Poultry Barn

And on that brighter note, mentoring our next generation of farmers is one small way that we can help. Through our Beginning Farmer program, we are teaching the interns the good, the bad and the ugly of their chosen path, we can hopefully set a sound and strong foundation for their farm businesses and give them the leg-up that they need to succeed. Each year we will grow that field of new farmers, and keep working to ensure they have the skills, resources and land they need to feed our world in a way that ensures the health and vitality of people and the earth.

Interns working on the Learning Farm.

But for them to succeed we must also start talking about the economic and social system failures at play. We need to talk about preserving land to grow our food. We need to make sure that our food system is equitable. We need to put our hands in the soil and cultivate solutions from the roots, not the stems.

When I think of how daunting this all seems there are 2 quotes that help me first, accept there are those days and second, that it can be done:

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White

“You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.” Deepak Chopra

Join me over the next several months as we’ll be diving deeper into the challenges we are working to solve. And I hope that you will continue to support Countryside’s efforts to connect people, food and land, working with us to change the future of food.

Meanwhile, buy something from a farmer, visit your County Fair and enjoy the sunshine.

With gratitude,