Forrest Pritchard: Smith Meadows

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

Forrest Pritchard

Editor’s Note: When Forrest Pritchard‘s book was published, we read it with relish.

His voice is the perfect antidote for all the industrial farming noise being spewed forth these days.

We’ve kept up a relationship with him and his farm, Smith Meadows, albeit it long distance and by email only! We have even threatened to come visit one of these days.

We recently had the opportunity to check in with him après Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family FarmTake a look at what he had to say.

Wow. The last couple of years must have seemed like a whirlwind. Now that you have a little distance from the book’s release and all the media surrounding it, tell us what it’s like adjusting to farm life at Smith Meadows.

Forrest Pritchard: I feel comfortable saying that I remain the same farmer that I’ve always been: inquisitive, active and very present. In the past week I’ve been up on my barn roof repairing wind damage, rounding up newborn lambs each evening, and attending farmers’ markets on Saturdays and Sundays.

Naturally, I’ve also traveled a good bit and delivered a fair share of book readings, but most of these I shoe-horn into my normal work schedule, especially during the evenings. The farm is undoubtedly where my heart remains.

Joel Salatin wrote the foreword to your book. Talk a little bit about what he’s meant to you. Tell us about how he has influenced what you do at Smith Meadows.

FP: Joel is probably the most recognizable farmer in the world, and for good reason. Not only has he repopularized sustainable farming methods, he’s conscientiously reached out to consumers, providing an olive branch of discourse regarding food. What a concept: farmers and consumers discussing how food is grown! This sounds so academic, yet Joel completely pioneered this idea of “relationship farming”. Naturally, meeting him as I did twenty five years ago had an immediate and lasting positive impact, as is probably with most people who meet him. I’m grateful that he’s our international slow food ambassador.

You wrote a blog post titled ‘Four Questions You Should Never Ask at Your Farmers’ Market’, but you want folks to know you appreciate them wanting to know more about products and farming. Tell us how you square that.

FP: I’ve been told by many readers that food writing is currently missing a humorous voice, and I hope that I fill that need. Farmers are very funny people at their core; I think it’s a coping mechanism for the risk, loss and uncertainty that accompanies the job description. In that vein, I try to write my posts with a balanced hand: one part informative, one part wry. It seems to be working–I’ve never met someone who doesn’t like to laugh!

I think it’s appropriate for insiders to share opinions and initiate dialogue, particularly when it’s couched in a friendly, inclusive way. In this particular post, judging by the comments, readers understood this balancing act. It’s likely the title itself was far more provocative than the actual content.

The core of Smith Meadows is hopefully the same for all farms: environmental as well as economic sustainability.

Can you tell us what’s inside you that made you push whatever, and I mean whatever, was standing in your way to becoming the kind of farmer you wanted to be?

FP: I consider myself to be much more of a tai chi kind of farmer than a pusher. Successful farming requires a very conscientious type of surrender to nature. Far better to conserve energy through observation and patience than to be constantly battling, fighting and expending resources such as physical energy. This is especially important with livestock, where flow and calmness must remain paramount, and quick action reserved only for very specific instances.

In other words, it’s a rare moment to hear us yelling or see us running around our animals.

That being said, I certainly DO have an inner furnace that pushes when necessary, and I think that’s probably closer to what you’re asking. My desire to ‘push back’ stems from perceived injustice in the world: I might be the first pacifist agricultural vigilante! I’m fueled by thoughts of restorative farming practices, and accomplishing goals that will benefit society at large.

And that’s why I try to employ a tai chi type of farming, flowing with nature most of the time, but prepared to act when called to action.

Smith Meadows is such a generational story and now you have a young son. Is it too early to tell if he’s following in your farming footsteps? Tell us a little about that.

FP: My son will be nine years old next month, and wants to be a farmer just like his dad. I feel that it’s my role as a parent to do two things. 1) Give him the chance to enjoy his childhood, and 2) Make the farm a desirable place for a young person to start a career. The rest will be mostly up to him, I figure.

Is there any such thing as a typical day at Smith Meadows? Can you talk about the ebb and flow of your farm?

FP: Yes, we certainly have daily chores. We start each morning at seven with the chickens, and depending on the time of year, this can take 45 minutes to 2 hours. Next, we rotate our cattle and sheep onto fresh pasture. Finally, we perform pig chores, as they generally sleep till 10 a.m. anyway! Above and beyond this, each day we gather and sort many hundreds of eggs, travel to the butcher, pack for farmers’ markets, and each weekend, year round, we attend markets in the towns or city. When we’re not doing straight-up chores, we’re usually doing repairs, maintenance, or starting a new project.

Talk about direct sales! Tell us about how your 24-hour store is good for your farm. How does it operate?

FP: The store sits in the middle of our farm, and is self-service. We restock the displays several times a day, and throughout the course of the week dozens of customers visit the store and purchase fresh eggs, pastas and meats. Our driveway is about a mile long, so visitors typically get to see the animals on their rotations as they drive … or at least, lots of beautiful pasture and views!

With all the recalls, regulations, and rigamarole is the problem of disappearing slaughterhouses getting better or worse? Give us your take on that. How are you handling the problem at Smith Meadows.

FP: Great question. We have the good fortune of having several wonderful processors near us, but they are certainly swamped with business, and waits can stretch into months at a time for an appointment. Customers and friends frequently ask us why we don’t simply open a butcher shop right here on the farm, and this is my response: beyond the drawback of the enormous outlay of capital, being a butcher is an art form unto itself. Farmers are often guilty of thinking they can ‘do it all’, but it’s beyond any reasonable expectation for a farmer to be a superior producer AND butcher. Hence, the need for a commensurate number of butcher shops sprinkled across the landscape.

Indeed, from my understanding—and according to my butchers themselves—regulations and paperwork requirements have certainly increased. While these costs will have to be passed along in the form of higher butchering fees, I think we all feel good knowing that reasonable precautions and oversights are being given to protect our food supply. It’s when we discover there’s an unlevel playing field (for example, the recent approval to accelerate chicken processing lines with the use of chemical disinfectant sprays) that things get especially frustrating. But that’s why I don’t use those types of butcher shops to begin with.

Talk about the core business of Smith Meadows. We have all read about your grass-fed beef business, what else are you doing on the farm these days?

FP: The core of Smith Meadows is hopefully the same for all farms: environmental as well as economic sustainability. Soil health and fertility are paramount on our farm, and when people ask what kind of farmer I am, I always say, ‘I’m a grass farmer.’ We use our animals to promote soil health through trampling, manuring, carbon capture and moisture retention. Along the way, we foster desirable fungi and bacteria, invertebrates, insects and vegetation. All for the cost of sunshine, rain, and getting out of bed in the morning! Ah yes, and those pesky taxes we all have to pay.

What’s next on our farm? Continuing to overlap our multi-species grazers (cattle and sheep) with our multi-species omnivores (pigs, chickens and turkeys) in a way that benefit all parties, the soil first and foremost. We also have plans to introduce rabbits onto the pasture, further accentuating the cycle.

Tell us about what your wife, Nancy, is doing with her food business. It sounds interesting to us.

FP: Nancy runs our commercial kitchen, where she makes about twenty different products each week for market: four kinds of pasta, two types of ravioli, sauces, soups, chilies, empanadas and our fairly-famous pot pies. If this all sounds rather crazy, it sort of is … but I’ve got a chapter in the book that explains how Smith Meadows Kitchen came to be! She’s a dynamo in the kitchen, and also has two full time employees that help out.

The kitchen is especially neat because it’s in the same building as our farm store, so customers can see the pasta being made while they’re shopping.

What’s the subject of your next book?

FP: I can’t wait to get started. It’s titled “The Face Of Our Food: 18 Amazing Farms (And 100 Recipes) That Will Forever Change How You Eat”. I’ve already contacted eighteen incredible producers (all different types of food) from across the country, and will be traveling with photographer Molly Peterson to document their farms and share their recipes. I’ve blocked off several months during the summer when my farm manager can manage Smith Meadows with his crew while I’m away.

It’s the project of a lifetime, and I hope readers will be as excited about it as I am! The book is due out in June 2015.

Forrest, thank you for your time. We’ll let you get back to the farm.

FP: Thank you for the opportunity to voice some of my opinions.

Is there a store on a local farm near you? Would you travel to a local farm to buy from from their store?

Photo credit: Molly Peterson