Have you ever felt a little starstruck by someone who isn't famous? That's what happens to us when we meet someone doing something so powerful and ambitious for agriculture and/or the environment. Loren's story of discovering his passion as a high school student and channeling it into an organization that has him traveling the globe to create global change has us speechless with excitement and inspiration. If you want to learn more about Loren or about his non-profit, A Growing Culture, get in touch with him and find out where he's going next.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
There were many reasons why I became interested in sustainable food systems. For one, I come from two very different, culturally rich families. In fact, the one thing that holds those families together is food!
Secondly, during my junior and senior year of high school, I attended The Putney School where I had the unique opportunity to work on a dairy farm. It was through this experience that I realized how fulfilling it could be to directly engage in the process of agriculture. Feeling increasingly excited about farming, I then travelled to Central America where one incident, in particular, incited my desire to help farmers by cutting their dependencies on dangerous agricultural chemicals: in a small village in the jungles of Belize, I came across a weeping man surrounded by his neighbors. Upon closer look, I noticed the man was holding his dead son who had drank the very chemicals he sprayed on his fields. I don't want to sound cheesy, but if I had to pinpoint an influential moment, it would have been that one.
How did you get your current good food job?
My best friend Asher Wright and I founded A Growing Culture (AGC). Through working with farmers around the world, we noticed a troubling disconnect between farmers and academic communities. Among agricultural development, a top-down mentality exists whereby knowledge is often imposed upon farming communities, giving farmers little option to resist. Rather than taking a more holistic approach and considering the needs of the entire system, a specialist approach to production has encouraged an industrial style of agriculture that ignores the environments' local features. Production then stands in competition with nature rather than harnessing its abundant energy and potential.
Aldo Leopold once said, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we can then begin to use it with love and respect."
Farmers understand the local knowledge base of ecological agriculture. For example, there are areas in the world that have been in cultivation for over twenty centuries without losing nature's potential to continually feed us. In fact, I believe that ecological agriculture not only provides food, but also serves as the backbone of our communal structures.
A Growing Culture (AGC) was founded to fill this void between farmers and academic communities, giving a voice to the farmers of the world. Through AGC, farmers, researchers, and advocates across the globe have come together to share their techniques and ideas. Together, we can learn from our collective successes and failures. AGC believes in the power of the Internet, but is not naïve to the fact that a tremendous percentage of the population still lacks access to it. Therefore, we are striving to take this information into the fields through our outreach and education programs.
To achieve this we are currently designing outreach programs that aid farmers in the transition toward ecological models. We are also partnering with educational institutions around the world by participating in university and conference lectures and developing a curriculum database. The concepts of sustainable agriculture must be made available.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Through the study of sustainable agriculture and my experience working on several farms in North and Central America, I received both a specialized education in agriculture and the direct training necessary to work in this field.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
My dream is to work with the world's farmers, not to sit behind a computer and write proposals. It seems that, as AGC becomes increasingly successful, the administrative work requires considerably more attention. Right now, AGC is almost entirely self-funded. This means its existence rests solely on the passion and commitment of everyone involved. We did not begin asking for money until a few months ago, but it has been difficult to transition from fieldwork into fundraising.
Originally, the concept was not to promote AGC as a thought or an idea, but rather as a proven and vital tool. Therefore, we wanted our experience around the world with farmers, universities and NGO's to speak for itself. Right now, the AGC website features almost 100 informative articles from 5 continents, most of them written by farmers themselves. We have even worked with farmers on the ground in 16 countries. The AGC team is comprised of agriculturists, not fundraisers or communication experts. Although this is a strength of AGC, as its founders directly recognize what it takes to create sustainable food systems, it can also be a limitation in some ways. We have had to depend primarily on self-instruction, learning the ins and outs of non-profit creation through autodidactism and the advice of our trusted colleagues and friends. There is a catch-22 involved with needing money to recruit the right team to help you raise money. That being said, AGC has been building a support network of amazing board members and volunteers. Things are moving swiftly and AGC is very optimistic about its future!
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
It is amazing how much the market for local and organic foods has grown around the world. Yes, it is still a minor part of the market, but it is growing at a tremendous rate. We must realize that this local mentality can only make a true change if we if make an effort globally. Local is global! Our food system is dependent on a huge international export market. We must make sure that the international food system is sustainable for generations to come.
One thing we also should not get caught up in is focusing on small vs. big. Conservation can be a byproduct of appropriate agricultural design models, both large and small! Instead, it is an issue of promoting the transfer of knowledge, across borders, both on the web and in the field.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
In the last two years, I actually have not been paid for any of my work. The same is true for the majority of AGC employees as well. So, if we are talking about compensation, we at AGC have had to be creative about our definitions of compensation. Our direct contact with and impact on farms is what keeps us going, in addition to the growing numbers of website visits and facebook likes! My experience in the field, living, breathing, and working with farmers is the ultimate reward. Farming is an art. It is a culmination of intellect and sweat, and requires a symbiotic respect between land, animals, and community. I am not exaggerating when I say that farmers are some of the strongest and most inspiring people I have ever met.
At AGC, we are tremendously ambitious and optimistic. Perhaps it's because we are a young organization founded in passion, but I sincerely believe we are on to something bigger. Honestly, AGC becoming a self-sustaining entity with a full-time working staff would be the greatest compensation of all.