I’ve written this before: Visiting family farms is one of the coolest parts of my job. So, of course, I found a way to visit a slew of farms the day before this year’s show. Only on this trip, I loaded 50 of my family farm friends on a tour bus and took them with me. It was a good thing too because it’d been raining heavily the night before our trip, and that got us into a sticky jam at our first stop on the tour: Pheasant Hill Farm just outside Emaus (pronounced: ee MAY us) where George and Melanie Devault operate a gorgeous 25-acre organic produce and flower farm.
By the time we arrived at the farm, the weather had cleared, everybody was smiling and folks on the tour were held spellbound by George’s stories about the challenges of earning a living on small acreage. They were enthralled by the technical innovations George and Melanie employ to ensure a long and steady supply of farm fresh produce for the folks who rely on them for sustenance.
Everything was moving right on schedule as we loaded up the bus and prepared to say “So long!” to the Devaults. Then disaster struck. Because of the rain, the ground was saturated. When the big bus tried to turn around in the gravel drive even the expert maneuvering of our bus driver couldn’t save us. We ended up edging off the gravel with the bus fully loaded and sank in the muck. After spinning the wheels and sinking nearly to the axles, we decided it was time to add a bit of family farmer ingenuity to the equation. After all, no farmer anywhere has farmed for long without having to pull a piece of heavy machinery out of a mud hole.
We unloaded the bus, George Devault chained his tractor to the rear bumper, and farmers from Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Iowa, and New Jersey pitched in with advice, shovels, planks, keen eyes and no small measure of muscle. While George pulled, the farmers pushed and in less than a minute, the bus was freed and back on the gravel.
Successfully and expertly extricated from the mire, we rolled on, visiting the Rodale Institute where research into sustainable and organic farming practices has helped inspire several generations of aspiring family farmers. Our final stop was an extraordinary farming experiment being conducted in the city of Philadelphia by Steve and Nicole Shelly on the Somerton Tanks Farm, a half-acre tract that feeds hundreds of local residents.
Thinking back on the trip and the unexpected challenge, I feel great admiration for the farmers on the tour who pitched in, worked together and got the problem solved. It’s the story of farmers everywhere and it is one of the reasons Farm Aid is so pleased to work with and for them in their determination to make sure the family farm remains an essential part of the American landscape.