Q&A with John Mesko, Sustainable Farming Association
What is the Sustainable Farming Assocation's Farmer-to-Farmer Network and what is special about it?
SFA is an organization of farmers. From the board and staff to the volunteers and even some of our sponsors, we are all farmers. Our events are put on by farmers, feature farmers as speakers and farmers as presenters and of course farmers in the audience. I think that's special. We invite farming related speakers to address the group from time to time, but the main effort of the network is to bring farmers to the front to help solve farming issues. Some of our most successful events have a reasonable amount of specific learning sandwiched between some food and some fun.
What food system goals is SFA working towards for the midwest?
If farmers are not successful and sustainable at the small and mid sized scale, then we are not going to have much choice in our food system. So our work on food systems is mainly focused on Improving the sustainability of farmers.
When and how did SFA get into farm-based education?
Its been the key manner of facilitated educational events since our inception as an organization circa 1990. The organization basically grew out of farmers talking together at field days and across the fence.
What piece of advice would you most want to give beginning farmers that are interested in farm-based education?
#1. Only focus on what you know. Don't try to put yourself off as an expert when you are not.
#2 Be clear about who you are and what you know, and what the participants are going to learn. Don't worry if you think its not a valuable topic, just share what you know.
What do you like best about your job?
Variety, the chance to interact with many different farmers and leaders in agriculture, and every day seeing the connection between what I'm doing on my farm with what is happening in the global food system.
SFA organizes a few different events for the public. What is the value of these events for educating the public about agriculture?
Lots of things, but what gets me most excited is knowing that the public sees farmers at the front addressing agricultural issues and problems.
What networks and models have you looked to as you have built your farmer to farmer network?
SFAs network was in place when I started as Executive Director in 2009. I've just been fanning the flames. SFA is unique, and was even more unique in 1990 when it all got started. There are lots of similar organizations, but I haven't found another that is structured like SFA, with the individual farmers in their regional chapters with so much foundational drive and autonomy.
What do farmers gain from being a part of your network?
There are perks, but the real impact is knowing they are a part of a larger movement of farmers, eaters and support folks who want our brand of agriculture to thrive!