One of the things that I loved most about growing up in the country was picking peppers in the garden, still warm from the sun, and crunching into them like apples. These are memories that will stay with me for life. As my kids and I finish planting our winter garden, I realize that raising food like this is a tradition that can continue for future generations. And I am grateful.
I was reminded of how important this tradition is by World Food Day last week. Held annually on October 16 to commemorate the founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this year’s World Food Day carried the theme: “Agricultural cooperatives: key to feeding the world.”
Did you know that 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries is provided by low-income family farms which operate with fewer resources than their larger, better-endowed neighbor farms? These are known as smallholder farms and they number half a billion worldwide.
To me, these are not faceless statistics. I spent part of my life growing up on my stepfather’s 350-acre Holstein dairy farm in Glastonbury, Connecticut. That experience helped to shape the way I live today, specifically by choosing to raise my family in the sustainable community of Serenbe, just south of Atlanta. Here we have our own organic farms, LEED-certified retail spaces, EarthCraft homes, and 1,000 acres of trails. In addition, my entire professional career has been dedicated to the advancement of sustainability. With World Food Day’s recent emphasis on cooperative agriculture, I wanted to recognize one of my heroes: my stepfather, Louis P. Longo.
During his 35-year career, Lou Longo served as a tireless and vigilant supporter of dairy farm families. He led the consolidation of regional dairy cooperatives into valuable companies, such as Agri-Mark, entirely owned and controlled by the farmers themselves. By banding together, these small family farms had more clout to better control prices, allowing them to remain competitive with larger operations. This helped keep their farms active, bucking a trend of families selling their farms (which often became housing developments) in order to move into non food-producing industries.
And why are food-producing families so important? According to the UN, 2 billion people will be joining us on this planet over the next 40 years. That means a total of 9 billion people— and a demand for food that will double in that time. We will produce more food in the next half-century than we have produced in the last 10,000 years. Using developing countries as a template, remember that 80 percent of their food currently comes from smallholder farms.
So Lou’s lifelong work to champion agricultural cooperatives is right at the heart of the future of sustainable agriculture. During his career, Lou served as president and chairman of the Dairy Cooperatives in New England, Chairman of the National Dairy Council, and advisor to the US Department of Agriculture. Lou was honored in 1988 at the Eastern States Exposition as an Agricultural Adventurer and in 2005 was admitted to the National Dairy Shrine. Thanks to the work of people like Lou, the movement for cooperative agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance.
Lou turned 90 this year, still writing articles and coaching businesses. He also still plants his garden every year. For me and the family I’m raising, that is a tradition I know we can sustain for generations to come.
Photos by E. Dronkert (Holstein) and Karen Flanders (Winter Garden)