Cultivating a New Conventional Agriculture: Our Midwest Team’s Continued Growth
During an unseasonably warm early January, American Farmland Trust’s Midwest team gathered for three days of team building, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. Our journey through Grafton, Illinois and the surrounding areas was a mix of education, inspiration, and strategic planning, setting the stage for our team to start working towards a New Conventional Agriculture– a vision where farmland is safeguarded, holistic land management is standard, and farming is as diverse as the communities it supports.
Learning from the Land, River, and Community:
Our retreat host was the Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center, nestled in the scenic beauty of Grafton, IL. Early mornings were greeted with hikes through the Pere Marquette State Park, where we caught glimpses of the Illinois River near its confluence with the Mississippi.
We visited the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center and delved into the complex task of preserving the Mississippi River. Aiding in the transport of over 90% of the nation’s agricultural exports, understanding the Mississippi’s ecological and economic significance is crucial.
We explored the historical relationship between the Mississippi and U.S. agriculture at the National Great Rivers Museum. This journey through history underlined the importance of the river not just for trade but as a lifeblood for numerous ecosystems.
Our next stop took us across the river to St. Louis and Heru’s Urban Farming. This project, founded by Tyrean ‘Heru’ Lewis, exemplifies the power and potential of urban agriculture in transforming communities. We saw firsthand how connected systems and community-centered approaches are revolutionizing urban food production.
The tour concluded with dinner and a tour with donors at the Old Bakery Beer Company in Alton. As one of the few certified organic breweries in the Midwest, they showcased the challenges and triumphs of aligning agricultural practices, sustainability, and community.
Building on Strengths and Working Towards the Future:
The start of the year is a time often associated with intention setting and planning. Working together and working remotely is a new challenge, with many clamoring to find the “right” platform/workflow/or structure to implement and solve their team’s collaboration challenges. Much like agriculture, our team believes a more holistic approach is how to succeed.
We learned more deeply about each other, sharing stories about our ‘why.’ Discussing what professionally and personally brought us to American Farmland Trust would reveal shared passions driven by diverse perspectives, but all aligned toward a shared mission. The Clifton Strengths Finders exercise helped us understand our team’s competency, emphasizing the diversity of talents necessary for an impactful, successful group, just like the diversity needed in healthy ecosystems. So, like resilient ecosystems, we communicated and understood how each of us plays a unique role that contributes to the larger goal of a New Conventional Agriculture.
Our final day was dedicated to taking all we had learned from the community and our teammates to strategize on emerging work. We explored ways to effectively communicate our message, and the importance of storytelling in engaging and mobilizing our audience.
Our retreat has sparked the Midwest team to push forward with fresh excitement. We are more committed than ever to cultivating the movement towards a New Conventional Agriculture–where we have protected farmland, holistic land management systems, and farming as diverse as the communities they serve.