National uncertainty, community hope, and pruning
By Harrison Topp, Topp Fruit
All winter I’ve been going to conferences, having potlucks, and generally reveling in the amazing farmer community we have here in Colorado. But now it’s time to start farming, which means the fun is over. Okay, that’s not true, but the rolling of the season brings us into a new cycle of long hours and hard work. Just as the buds are beginning to swell, so are the knots in my lower back and shoulders. Hello, spring.
Actually, this is the time of the year when I can’t contain my excitement for the growing season. Winter is a time of reflection and education. As a community organizer, I’ve been living my life one meeting at a time. We’ve been having great discussions about soil health and climate-smart agriculture with a broad spectrum of producers. Big operations and small ones are taking these conversations seriously and adopting practices that conserve water, build soil, and protect our environment. Most of my role models right now come from the world of traditional ag, which I think is a strong indicator of a more progressive attitude throughout agriculture. It makes me proud to be part of this industry and part of the system that sustains the people of this planet.
However, not all the conversations are uplifting. Everyone from commodity growers to organic producers are concerned with the current agricultural economy. Last year was such a bountiful year across the country that many markets got saturated. Even though organic produce continues to grow in popularity, prices are being driven down by more and more certified acreage coming online. Paired with market challenges are serious concerns over labor availability, especially in specialty crops. I look at our region, which has maintained an orchard industry for almost a century, and wonder if the ag economy and the scarcity of skilled labor and worrisome immigration policies will be its undoing. And in the background of all this are talks about federal budget cuts that will potentially make it very difficult to write a 2018 Food and Farm Bill that works for farmers.
But through it all, pruning begins again. After all the advocacy and organizing work, it’s a welcome activity. Growing fruit trees has helped me learn patience and tolerance. We’ll be replanting peaches this spring, which won’t begin to produce for three to four years. That’s three years of care and nurturing before we see any revenue. Stacia is continuing to develop her own enterprises in animal breeding and management, which will also take two to three years (if not more) to see returns.
I hope that the challenge of managing our income and finances right now is preparing us for lifelong success in agriculture. There will always be good years and bad years, difficult situations on the farm and throughout the country. Income will probably always need to come from a few different places, but that’s fine. “We learned that old trick way back in in 2017,” says future me.
We’ll hopefully buy another farm this year. We’ll hopefully have a good crop. We’ll hopefully end the year with more money and soil than when we started. We’ll hopefully do our small part to keep aloft this tapestry that is food.
This is Harrison’s final blog post for this series. About this series: This year, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico have been blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post .