From the Director
Our cover photo of the Johanson/Göranson family on their 160-acre vegetable farm demonstrates the satisfying quality of life oft-cited by farmers who work hard to balance profitability, conservation, and community. One of 30 Maine farm families interviewed for a SARE-funded University of Maine study, Rob Johanson and Jan Göranson combine vegetables, livestock, and maple syrup production for sales at farmers markets and to their 175 members, who join on a sliding scale tied to income. Their supportive customers and neighbors sprung to help with cash and in-kind donations when their barn burned down 2 years ago.
The study found that half of Maine farmers produce multiple commodities in integrated approaches that consider the impact on both the environment and the community. That finding confirms the tidal wave of interest weave seen in more sustainable farming methods, evident in recent SARE surveys. Consider:
Of the 270 producers who responded to a survey of Western SARE farmer/rancher grant recipients, 64 percent said their SARE project helped them achieve higher sales, while 41 percent said it increased net income.
Those recipients reported environmental benefits from their projects, with 79 percent saying they improved soil quality and 69 percent increasing wildlife habitat.
Farmer/rancher grant projects also have a positive spin-off effect. Survey respondents said at least five other producers tried their idea, approach, or technology on their own farms orranches.
A survey of Western SARE Extension and other advisers to farmer/rancher grantees brought the welcome news that two-thirds of those advisers recommended the approach undertaken in “their” producer’s project to others. Moreover, surveys and word of mouth tell us that most of our producer grant applicants hear about SARE grant opportunities through Extension.
We’ve heard we’re also on the right track with our nationally produced information products. A survey of farmers and ranchers who received books and bulletins from SARE's national outreach arm, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, revealed that 85 to 95 percent find SAN publications to be “very useful” or “mostly useful.” To that catalog of useful products, we’ve added books about ecological pest management and how to direct-market beef and a bulletin about smart water use. See www.sare.org/publications.
Yet, our work is far from done. As we continue to hear requests for more information about marketing, we are funding forward-thinking researchers, extension educators, and farmers and ranchers who are finding new ways to sell farm commodities and products.
Their entrepreneurial ideas—from creating value-added products that sell for a premium, to identifying and capturing new markets, to participating in new value chains—make up an increasing number of grant projects. For example, a growing subset of SARE-funded researchers and farmers are carving out new market channels based on an increasingly diverse consumer base.
SARE is also responding to the need for energy solutions, from on-farm conservation to renewable, bio-based sources. The quest to solve our energy challenges has shone a spotlight on some of the most inventive producers in the country, many of whom are turning to alternative sources or creating farm-based energy.
If you have thoughts about new directions we should consider as SARE approaches its 20th anniversary, we want to hear from you. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.