“As a nation, we've simply become too cheap, particularly when it comes to food.
“Achieving this extraordinary cheapness has meant continually extracting value out of the entire supply chain that leads to our suppers — from the farms and rural communities where our feed is grown, to the processing facilities and fast-food restaurants where underpaid workers scramble to churn out meals cheaper and faster, to the dinner table, where we encounter increasingly calorie-rich and nutrient-poor fare.
“As this value is extracted from our communities, much of it is being transformed into something that meets no clear human need: increased profits for the already bloated multinational corporations that have cornered the market on food processing, retail, and agricultural chemicals.”
– Bob Quinn in Grain by Grain
“The truth is, cheap stuff isn't really cheap- the bill just comes due somewhere downstream or down the line.”
– Grain by Grain
Dear Real Organic friends,
I first met Bob Quinn at an Organic Farmers Association meeting in Washington, DC. I was curious about this Montana organic wheat farmer with the big hat and the even bigger presence.
I didn’t know Bob's story, who he was, what he had done. But I immediately liked him. That is a hallmark of Bob Quinn. People like him.
We got to know each other better over the years, and then he suggested coming for a visit last month. He was headed to Vermont and wanted to stop by and see the farm. And to prepare me, he sent a copy of his book, Grain By Grain that he wrote with Liz Carlisle. I did my best to read it before his visit. Being way busy, I only made it halfway through. I figured I was “pretty much there,” and it was hard to find the time to finish, even though it was tremendously good.
But I did finally finish it. I was glad. It got even better.
I have been thinking about writing a book, but this book made me think, “Bob and Liz have already done it.”
So my advice to all of you: READ THIS BOOK!
“Here, in his own words, is Bob's hopeful vision for a more prosperous future, along with the story of how he got to where he is today, I've helped with some of the research and writing, mostly to draw out the larger context and significance of the events in the book. But I'm leaving my first-person voice aside from here on because I want you to get to know this green economy cowboy for yourself, not secondhand from me. In the warm, humorous, straight-shooting manner in which only Bob can render his experience, I think you'll find a good deal of practical wisdom. And, if I may toot his horn a bit, a genuine American hero.”
– Liz Carlisle from the prologue of Grain by Grain
The book tells the story of a kid who grows up on a Montana wheat ranch in the 50s. He goes to the big city, gets a Ph.D. from UC Davis in Plant Science, and eventually goes back to the farm to work with his parents. Bob was always a Republican, and never a hippie, yet he became one of America’s organic pioneers. His book is a tremendous description of the issues facing American agriculture. He describes the failure of Industrial Ag in building health and wealth for farmers, eaters, and communities alike.
And he always comes back to building community.
Bob is a relentless explorer, searching for solutions to current paradigms that seem unassailable and yet CAN be changed. I am reminded of the Berlin Wall, which seemed so permanent. Until it fell. Somehow Bob escaped the mass hypnosis that has bedeviled us as a culture. The book was written with co-author Liz Carlisle. Using Bob’s words, together they seek alternative paths to current “realities.”
You might say that for Bob, “No” is just the beginning of the negotiation.
“In the age of start-ups and tech crazes, it might seem counterintuitive to call something as ancient as grain ‘revelatory.' Nevertheless, Bob Quinn's Quest to recapture the value of our food system through grain is just that- a revelation. Liz Carlisle and Bob Quinn have unlocked the key to kickstarting change- Grain by Grain is one big kernel of truth.”
– Dan Barber, chef/co-owner, Blue Hill, author of The Third Plate, and Real Organic Advisory Board member.
Bob is not seeking a fight. He is seeking a different way forward. He is unapologetic in his opposition to corporate industrial organic. Bob has a different vision of organic, and he gives ample examples of making that vision a shared reality in Montana.
Bob and I talked for hours when he visited Long Wind Farm. We even sat down and did a formal interview that will be part of the upcoming Real Organic Podcast. It was a privilege to take a deep dive with someone who has worked so hard for so long to create a better planet.”
“Long before anybody heard the term social enterprise, a few untrained businesspeople started small, unconventional companies to solve problems for their neighbors- and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. This is the story of one such entrepreneurial effort, which demonstrates how a green economy rooted in regenerative organic agriculture and renewable energy can help rebuild struggling communities in rural America.”
– Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia.
Organic- real organic- requires a whole systems approach, with value regenerated at every stage in the process. This is how we farm, and also how we do business.”
– Grain by Grain
We received an outpouring of support after last week's letter to spread the word about our certification program. Our community continues to build momentum as we get to 1,000 certified farms.It will take both those who farm and those who eat to create a real alternative to industrial agriculture. Hand in hand, we must do it together.
Please sign up for 1000 Real Fans and help to build the wave.
Dave and Linley
P.S. Join us now!
“Despite the fact that we spend less than 10 percent of our income to feed ourselves- half of what our grandparents spent- we are constantly complaining about the high cost of groceries. But the problem with making food cheap so we can pay more for other stuff is that other stuff is expensive because food is cheap.”
“If you look at the trend lines of US spending on food and health care from the 1960s to today, you can see that they’ve essentially traded places. In 1960, Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent on health care. Now we spend 16 percent on health care and a little less than 10 percent on food.
“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. And the worst part is that the Peters in this story are our farmers, our bakers, our neighborhood grocers. The Pauls are pharmaceutical executives and agrichemical tycoons.”
– Grain By Grain
Updated: You can still watch recordings until July from our January symposium by clicking here.