Over the winter, Ecocentric interviewed farmers across the country from our Eat Well Guide in an effort to highlight both the challenges and triumphs of sustainable farmers across the country. Join us as we delve in to discover what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century.
John Cahill of Real Food farms grows produce and raises animals on 200 acres in Tennessee. Read on for his suggestions about how to eat sustainably on a budget. If you want to be a farmer, he insists “you have to have a deep connection to the earth and its provisions.”
What do you grow/raise on your farm?
Here at Real Food Farms we believe a diverse farm operation with many complimentary facets is the key to growing the most delicious and healthy food possible. We have organically grown fruits and veggies, grass fed beef and dairy cows, pasture raised eggs, pastured pigs, and pastured goats and sheep, all living harmoniously together on the farm.
How many acres do you farm?
Currently we grow on 200 acres.
What does your farm produce in a year?
All of our products are grown/raised year-round.
Describe your local food community in four words.
Passionate, dedicated, hungry. (That’s only 3 words but it seemed to fit nicely.)
What is your favorite aspect of farming?
I love feeding people, I love making sure my friends and family have the best food available. Tending a garden and caring for animals in such a way that all parties involved are happy has created richness in my life. I love problem solving, and I am desperate for change in our modern food production systems.
What do you think are the best ways to eat sustainably on a budget?
"Local organic” usually equates to expensive and time consuming in most people’s minds, with finances being the strongest turn-off when people make the choice to eat sustainable. I believe that armed with a budget, knowledge and a new view on your health, eating local can be the most profitable investment a family can make.
Not to say I need a group of people to look over my shoulder all day while I milk cows, but it seems like a good idea to at least visit the farms you’re buying from, and build a layer of trust with your farmer.
The first thing families should do is sit down and make a budget. Pinpoint where your money goes each month and then decide how much you need to spend on food. Once you have the food budget sorted out, stick to it. This will help you from making frivolous purchases next time you’re in Whole Foods or at the farmers’ market. Next, educate yourself. Find all the available ways that you can get local food to your dinner table. I would guess at least 3000 people drive by Real Food Farms every day and have no idea we have a CSA, or know what CSA is, and that it can actually save them money when buying local organic. After all that if you still can’t justify spending on organic and local, throw your health into the mix. I can’t imagine buying and cooking kale is more expensive or more work than living with diabetes, prostate cancer, weak immune systems, daily fatigue, sleep apnea, weight gain, heart conditions, or any of the other health risks involved with a processed, high saturated fat, low nutrient-dense diet. Just saying.
What do you think about the growing new farmer movement? What advice do you have for people who want to become farmers?
To anybody who is looking into becoming a farmer: If you are doing it to become rich, you’ll most likely end up broke. If you’re doing it because it sounds like a cool job to spend your time on, you’ll grow sick of it in a month. You have to have a deep connection to the earth and its provisions, and know for fact, that every day the sun comes up is another day you’ll spend tending your farm.
Most people in the US have little connection to their food, let alone who’s growing it. What do you think people need to know about the realities of farming?
Farmers are at the mercies of weather and soil conditions. It is impossible to have naturally grown tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers in Tennessee in February. People don’t really understand the reality of eating seasonally. The idea of eating leafy greens and root crops all winter seems silly, when there is a grocery store filled with tomatoes and bell peppers from California and Chile, right around the corner. Also I believe that it is very important for the community and consumers to build a relationship with the farmers they are buying their food from. Not to say I need a group of people to look over my shoulder all day while I milk cows, but it seems like a good idea to at least visit the farms you’re buying from, and build a layer of trust with your farmer.
My name is John Cahill. I am 25, I have a beautiful wife and three amazing kids, and I will farm until my body won’t let me.