Guest Post: “Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works” Book Review

This week on the Growing Small Farms listserv (both the list and website are great resources for producers), I saw an interesting review for something that I’ve put on my growing “Must Read” list. William Kruidenier granted permission to repost his review:
Earlier this week I posted a note recommending Atina Diffley’s new book, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works. I confess to having read only the first three-fourths of the book before making that recommendation, but now that I’m finished I have to urge folks to read this book.
The last 20% of the book is the story of the Diffley’s fight against Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in America. A subsidiary company of Koch wanted to run a pipeline straight through the Diffley’s certified organic farm. But they hadn’t reckoned with Atina Diffley. This woman is a force of nature. While continuing to run their HUGE organic farm with her husband, she and an attorney marshaled their thousands of local supporters, academicians, land/soil experts, county government officials and others to fight Koch — and they won! The pipeline was not built on their land and great strides were taken in Minnesota to incorporate farms’ Organic Plans into any commercial effort that would negatively impact the operation. Their success had HUGE reverberations throughout the organic farming community in Minnesota, specifically the Twin-Cities area.
Their story will become a case study in how to marshal support from all levels of the farming and academic communities — vertically and horizontally — to protect, sustain, and promote small-farm organic agriculture.
In telling the story of their legal case, Atina summarizes as cogently as I have ever read all the factors surrounding the uniqueness of organic farming: its impact on soil, ecology, food chains, families, and human health.
The Diffleys recently sold their farm, Gardens of Eagen, to a local food co-op that is expanding and continuing the organic heritage the Diffleys spent decades building. Martin and Atina now work as consultants in the organic food and farming arenas.
Read the book — and visit their websites for more info (the web sites are rich in resources):
Their consulting operation: Organic Farming Works is here.
Atina’s personal website (all about her and the book) is here.


Recently, I started attending All Souls Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in the Walltown Neighborhood of Durham, NC. On the way out of our first service a couple months ago, one of the elders at the church handed Helen With Purpose and Principle. This, coupled with some recent thoughts about “branding” led to a lot of thoughts about what my values are. The UU church has a set of principles and affirmations that I think are a great starting place, so I thought I’d repost them here for your pleasure:

We affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

I found these words to be very powerful. With that in mind, I thought I’d draft my first values statement here: I believe in humans’ right to self-determination, their need for community to survive and the need for more inclusive economic and political tools as we move forward as a society.

Whether or not you feel like you are a part of the food movement, we need everyone to recognize our “interdependent web of existence” as we struggle to determine the Earth’s carrying capacity for human life. As I seek out and promote innovative new concepts that can make a difference locally, I hope to keep the Unitarian Universalist principles in mind as I work with others in my community. I hope you will consider them as well, and will feel free to express concerns when I don’t live up to these principles (and hopefully, praise at some point).


4 AM lie awake at night wanting to change the world syndrome

Every once in a while I wake up and just can’t go back to sleep. I’ve tried all sorts of teas, benadryl, valerian and other items, but I’m slowly learning to embrace it. This time I came up with an need to do something so I started organizing a discussion panel and screening of “Dirt” the movie to help promote (an online farmers’ market I discuss here.)

I’ve been neglecting this site for a few weeks now. Recently, when the 4AM Change the World (#CTW) munchies hit, I work on my business plan for Durham Locally Grown or other ideas. I’m also struggling to decide what I want Rethink.Ag to be.

Recently, I’ve been working on my thesis about Virginia pastureland soil organic matter in the Ford Business Library at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Titles on the books include things like “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” “The Psychopath Test” (by Jon Ronson, author of “Them” which I really liked) and various books with titles like “Building brand YOU!”

This last group of books is particularly interesting as I try to wrap up my master’s degree in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.

A few months ago I saw a long guest lecture in Michael Pollan’s online food lecture series at Berkeley:

Guest lecturer, Peter Sellars gave one of the best 10 minute talks which includes great lines like “anything that you can be paid for does not need to be done.” I quickly sent this out to my students from the UGA Summer Course in Organic Agriculture that I TA’ed last summer hoping to inspire them as some of them graduate this Spring into another round of lackluster job figures. The problem with that 20 minute motivational pep talk was that it went on for another 50 minutes…(If any of my students read this…sorry if you stuck it out through that boring hour-long video! To me, the first 20 minutes(ish) were worth it!)

Anyhow, so here I am trying to figure out a way to make a living in a landscape where it’s hard to get paid for things that need to be done. (I mean, really, Teachers, Farmers, General Practice Doctors, Builders and anyone else we truly depend on can barely make a living. What’s up with that?) So here I am at 4AM developing concepts and business ideas that blur that line of “things I can get paid for” and “needs to be done.”

So one of my questions is, how much of the old-school business rule book applies? Do I need to build a brand for myself? Recently I had a discussion in a bar with some super cool Hiphop vocalists in the group Tripknight discussing the idea. Along the way, I asked Adisa for his opinion on things like “how much does ‘brand’ matter?” and “What the hell is a brand?”

I quickly developed the sense that I have been spending too much time in the business library. Even thinking about a “brand” is probably a distraction that I don’t need. What’s more important is just my sense of “self” and sticking to my values. (With that in mind, I added a post about values to get started.)

That’s all for this bleary-eyed 4AM #CTW post.