In a Parallel America: EcoFarm, Farm Family Values, and Organic Culture

An opinion by Jillian Steinberger, M.A.


“What I want to talk about is less important than the Frankensteinian issue of GMOs and the 2012 Farm Bill, which reduces American organic farmers’ access to markets in favor of industrial agriculture. By law.

“But then again…maybe it’s not less important. Let me explain.

“It’s a chicken and egg question: How does low-rent industrial agriculture thrive when there’s so much information circulating on what’s wrong with it? Why do loving parents willingly feed children cheap, hormone-laden meat and processed foods that are suspected causes of diabetes, ADD, and hypertension? Is it because of corporate domination? Or is it that American consumers are so high on corn syrup, cheap Chinese plastics, and the latest IT girl, and they don’t notice?

“I believe that it goes hand in hand: The corporate culture creates our national lifestyle, which enables industrial agriculture, which perpetuates corporate culture, and so on and so forth in a circular fashion.

“While observing organic farm culture and farm family values at the EcoFarm Conference (Feb. 1-4, 2012, Alisomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA), I saw a parallel America, with an authentically democratic culture based on integrity and personal responsibility. Fine oratory – and developing voice to create community – is a defining characteristic of the EcoFarm culture, over three decades. It put me in mind of America’s founders, like farmer Thomas Jefferson, who extolled the virtues of the agrarian life and promoted soil conservation, and farmer John Adams, who wrote a recipe for compost in 1771.amigosm

“Amigo Bob Cantisano (photo right by Juan Alberto) founded EcoFarm with friends back in 1982. His warm, friendly oratorical style has been basic to his leadership. He started farming organically on Northern California communes in the late 1960s, and over the years helped found California Certified Organic Farmers and Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Today he is a revered orchardist, farmer, soil scientist, and organics advisor.

“Amigo opened up a memorial for much loved Farmer Andy Scott, 


who passed three days before the conference. Andy was the Farm Manager at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, where he practiced biodynamics and mentored apprentices. Friends and colleagues stood up and testified as to the man’s fine character in Quaker-like fashion. (Photo at left of Andy and wife Carolyn  Carolyn Brown, provided courtesy of Carolyn Brown)

At the tail end, farmer Tom Willey a former EcoFarm board member, said that in the 30 years he knew him, Andy never once said an unkind word about his wife, Carolyn. Tom said that Andy was the only man he’s known with that distinction. I noticed the men shift uncomfortably in their seats. The women, too. Tom also said he’d never heard Andy gossip. Andy had inspired him, and many others, to be a better person.

(Photo of Tom Wiley by Kitt Morris)tom2

“Tom’s oratory about the value of good character has stayed with me. It’s like this: Organic family farmers produce food that is a reflection of their moral character. Food that is wholesome and nutrient dense comes from farmers with integrity. In this utopian America, farmers like Andy and Tom use organic and heirloom seeds, create mineral-rich soils, and quality control is key. Meanwhile, in dystopian America, industrial growers invest the cheapest inputs and dirt cheap labor to create processed foods with empty calories and meat from sick animals that are pumped with antibiotics to keep them standing on their way to the slaughterhouse (

But it’s not necessary to farm a nightmare to make a buck. Many well-seasoned farmers who come to EcoFarm year after year started as youths during the back-to-the-land and food cooperative movements ( of the 1970s. Some, with hard work and a little business acumen, have proven that organic farming can meet the bottom line. Tom Willey and his wife, Denesse, for instance, provide permanent jobs for about 60 people and seasonal jobs for another 30 on their 75 certified organic acres in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Theirs is the culture we choose to consume when we go to our local farmer’s market, and it’s a culture that sustains and nourishes us, and warms our hearts.


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