Today’s post comes from Jim Tjepkma
I had the very good fortune to spend five years working closely with Dick and Sharon Thompson in my job as the coordinator of the Rodale Institute’s Midwest On-Farm Education and Research Network. The Thompsons were among the nation’s foremost leaders in the development and promotion of sustainable farming. I meet them soon after Rodale hired me early in 1989. I was the second coordinator for the Rodale network that had been setup several years earlier. The network was based on Dick and Sharon’s approach to advancing sustainable farming, which was centered around farmer participation in education and research programs for the development of alternatives to conventional farming methods.
Dick said that he had received a message telling him that his approach to farming should be one of coming along and not going along. For him this meant that he should question the current farming methods that were very widely used and look for better ways to farm. He started by trying out some unconventional farming practices he learned about from other farmers who were also questioning the increasingly industrialized approach to farming that most farmers had adopted including heavy use of pesticides and the use of very large machinery.
Under Dick’s “come along, don’t go along” approach, he put together some of the best of the alternative ideas he could find into a system that worked well for him. Dick had a lot of skill at finding and adopting better farming methods and came up with practices that worked well which were not in line with many of the practices recommended by universities.
He decided that he needed to demonstrate that his methods were as good or better than the ones the universities promoted by setting up scientifically designed research plots comparing his practices to theirs. His research plots became a central part of large field days that he and Sharon hosted and he also taught other famers, included those in the Rodale network, how to do their own research.
Dick was a featured speaker at many farm meetings and usually participated in these meeting with Sharon at his side to let everyone know that she was an important part the work he did. He also encouraged other farmers to come forward as speakers and as educators as well as encouraging them to engage in research.
I think Dick and Sharon’s approach of “coming along not going along” sets a good example for all of us. In fact I think his approach is basically what a good citizenship should do. We should not automatically accept what we are told by authorities and we should be actively engaged in creating a better world.
Who do you know who has influenced you by setting a good example?