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Uprooted Farm, Michigan

Jonathan Parsons is a first-year, first-generation farmer living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula who designed his 80 acre farm, UProoted, to be organic from the onset. He shared his insights with Ralf Carestia and Forrest Town, two recent Dartmouth graduates who attended our first-Symposium last spring and got inspired. Ralf and Forest have spent their summer traveling the country on our behalf, certifying farms and interviewing Real Organic farmers like Jonathan.

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Know Your Farmer | Uprooted Farm, Michigan

Jonathan Parsons: I looked at your website and had a quick view of what the Real Organic Project was doing and what they stood for. And I was like, these are the exact same conversations I'm having with my peer group right now.

I think literally five hours before I read your website I'd had an identical conversation with somebody about, why the heck is hydroponic growing certified organic? How is that even – that's not logical in my opinion!

Jonathan Parsons talks farming with Ralf Carestia at UProoted Farm Michigan
I do have customers now that will come to me and I have to explain organic certification to them and I need to say things like “it's not perfect, but it's the best we have.”

I've done some tests at the farmers market, where I've asked my customers over and over again throughout a day: You know, me being certified organic, well, how much does that matter to you?

And I run into several people that will say “Well, I've heard there's a lot of problems with organic certification, so I don't really know what to believe about it. I don't know if I actually care.”

That's not what I want to hear. You know, I don't think any one wants to to hear that.

I think if you have a label it should mean something.

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Organic Beginnings at UProoted Farm, Michigan

My name is Jonathan Parsons. I'm a first-year farmer and a first-generation farmer.

I designed this 80-acre farm (UProoted Farm, Michigan) to be organic certified from the start. We thought that that was going to be a valuable tool to help us not to struggle through transition and it's just, that's how we identify with our principles and farming.

colorful crop fields and cherkerboard lettuce rows grow in soil at UProoted

So the principles of regenerative agriculture – organic practices nest inside of that.

It's basically like: come get a piece of land, be the steward of that land, and leave it healthier and better than when you started with it.

Some of the things on the table are maybe a degradation of what organic means.

And so that's something we've been talking about and responding to is what are we, as organic certified agriculturalists that want to regenerate the land and do better than just good – OK, well, how are
we going to do that?

I think your guys' initiative to add some nuance or maybe repaint some of the borders and some of the definitions of what organic means, it's welcome.

Especially to individuals who are trying really hard to do that better and watching maybe a more large-scale agriculture slowly erode the boundaries of what we set out to be – principled rules, I suppose.

Farming Organically in the Upper Peninsula

The Upper Peninsula is an extremely unique part of the country in that it hasn't seen any kind of massive growth or boom that has made land incredibly expensive.

So, it is uniquely adapted to first-time farmers who actually can have a chance to actually purchase a farm that can really meet their needs.

Alison Parsons harvests radishes in the fields

We have a local culture that really values a local food system. The Marquette Farmers Market and the Marquette area in general is really a like-minded, educated group of people that really make this business model possible.

There are more opportunities and I've actually been turning people away. And that's mostly just due to how hard it is to produce a consistent, quality product and not overpromise.

And then not over extend my own physical capacity, and then this space's design.

I think that my goal and my objective is to prove that you can treat the land in a regenerative way, have an amazing, beautiful farm that's biodiverse, and is good for people, and it's good for the environment.

And you can prove that you can make a living wage. Because at the end of the day, all those things need to be in parity or else it's not sustainable.

young tomatoes maturing on the vine in a high tunnel

Maybe sustainable is an overused word, but to me, it looks something like achieving all those things simultaneously. So it's my goal.

It's like an old adage, tend a small property and tend it well. At least I think the verbiage goes something like that.

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