The Innovative Farmer
by Michelle Greenwood

Chief of Staff for Bio-logical Capital, Meriwether Hardie gently guided a thoughtful conversation for The Innovative Farmer Panel discussion. Lending lived experience and wise words were panelists farmer Jack Algiere of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, farmer Lynda Prim of Glynwood, farmer Bob Quinn of Kamut International and Quinn Farm and Ranch, and Slow Money founder, Woody Tasch.

Meriwether quickly identified, “Our globe and our food economy is in crisis.”

She acknowledged that we need innovations, we need solutions.

Next she turned to the panelists to find out what innovation meant to each of them.

Jack Algiere proposed a nature analogy for the way things grow and unfold. He contrasted this with science and technology, noticing, “We’ve had the opportunity to make things so efficient, fast and easy for us that we actually lose the intimacy and the compassion for the rest of the world.”

Jack further suggested our greatest innovation is hand-eye coordination; “Everything we do in agriculture is trying to replicate that on a more efficient scale, but there’s nothing more effective.”

For Jack the answer is tools.

Linda Prim chimed in to reinforce Jack’s idea that innovation rises out of nature.

Linda reminded us that industrialized agriculture is only a blip in human history and recognized themes prevalent during Slow Food Nations 2019. She noted, “We don’t always acknowledge that there are people that have been innovating in agriculture for millennium….”  and, “for many of the indigenous and people of color, raising the crop is less about marketing and more about food sovereignty and cultural survival.”

For Bob Quinn, innovation is “Connecting new ideas with old problems.” Bob says, “[He] … had no great vision or dream, if one door opened, [he’d] look up and say, ‘oh, well here’s an interesting window,’ went through that, and on and on.” 

Bob believes in innovation by necessity. As a second-generation farmer hoping to make a living on land that once supported his father’s family and now needed to support his as tool, Bob found himself drawn to a customer centric business model that demanded ongoing innovation for the farm. This iterative approach eventually led him to the ancient wheat he’s branded as KAMUT®.

And finally, Woody Tasch recapped themes around imagination, deindustrialization and reconnection while adding emphasis for scale and local food systems.

Woody noted, Slow Money isn’t “really isn’t radical from the commonsense point of view, but it is radical from the business of institutional finance standpoint.” He reminded the audience, “if you take industrial finance and cram it down on to a farm you have all kinds of problems for both the financiers and the farmers.” Woody continued by sharing the latest Slow Money project, SOIL (Slow Opportunities for Investment Locally), a revolving fund evolved from Slow Money experience designed to be “permanent, place-based” and “allow small people to participate alongside large people.”

Human scaled innovation and commitment to community where folks participate in a holistic system were key takeaways for the session.

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