Farmer to Farmer Podcast brings market farmers closer together
By Dana Jokela
Back in 2014, Chris Blanchard had closed down his organic vegetable farm after 15 years, and was in a long-distance relationship with his future wife, Angie Sullivan (who worked for MOSES at that time). During their frequent four-hour drives to visit one another, they both began listening to podcasts. On one particular drive northward—this time driving together from Chris’s farm near Decorah, Iowa to the vegetable farm Gardens of Eagan in Northfield, Minn.—Angie turned to him and said, “Chris, you should make a podcast! I think you would be really good at this.”
Chris’s initial modest skepticism of the idea faded after Angie asked fellow farmer Jennifer Nelson whether she would listen to a farming podcast hosted by Chris. “Oh, yeah, definitely. I would listen to that!” she replied. That evening, Angie and Chris hunkered down at the nearby Froggy Bottoms River Pub and sketched out what that podcast would look like. The Farmer to Farmer Podcast was born.
The first podcast episode went online in February 2015 during that year’s MOSES Organic Farming Conference. With Chris having no background in interviewing, audio recording, or podcast production, the Farmer to Farmer Podcast admittedly had amateur beginnings. Chris recalls needing to re-record some early interviews due to unacceptably poor sound quality, and making last-minute changes to the podcast’s intro and outro at 4 a.m. in a La Crosse hotel room, just hours before the podcast was scheduled to be launched. Chris recorded take-after-take of the podcast’s now-well-recognized welcoming words: “It’s the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, Episode 1, and I’m your host, Chris Blanchard.”
Three years and 150 episodes later, the podcast has matured and gained tremendous popularity among market farmers. For readers not familiar with the podcast, its website describes it as a weekly podcast in which Chris has “down-to-earth conversations with experienced farmers, and the occasional non-farmer … to get at the big ideas and practical details that go into making a farm work. [It] provides a fresh and honest look at everything from soil fertility and record-keeping to getting your crops to market without making yourself crazy.” As a farmer and regular listener of the podcast, I can attest that it does all of that and more.
I’m not alone in that view.
“Every Thursday morning, I excitedly refresh my podcast player to see who Chris will be interviewing. It doesn’t matter who the farmer is or whether I’ve ever heard of them, I know I’m going to learn something from the interview,” said Daniel Brisebois of Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm in Quebec. “Occasionally an episode will flip all my assumptions and give me a whole new perspective on an aspect of running a farm. I’ve always read every book I can find on farming, and subscribed to a number of magazines to get new farming ideas, but the Farmer to Farmer Podcast has become my number one source for inspiration and discovery.”
This sentiment is shared by Mike Racette of Spring Hill Community Farm in Prairie Farm, Wis. “I have listened to nearly every one of the Farmer to Farmer Podcasts, and without fail, I learn something every time. Chris’s unique gift is to bring forth every guest’s story. He knows how to get people to talk about themselves, and get out of the way—there are very few who can do this, and Chris is among the best. While the particulars of the growing and marketing of vegetables is valuable and interesting, it is the unique story of each guest that touches upon our common joys and struggles as small-scale growers. That is what keeps me tuning in each week.”
Chris has been similarly impacted by ideas and insights brought by his guests. Sometimes guests present farming philosophies that upend defining characteristics of his approach to farming in the past. He recalled being stunned to hear Jean-Martin Fortier, pioneer of the bio-intensive micro-farming movement, state, “We work on our farm from 8 to 5.” Chris admitted never truly attaining balance between work and family life during his farming career, saying “because I defined myself by my work, I was very willing to bury myself in my work.” This mindset, for better or for worse, is shared by many farmers.
Having transitioned his career to focus on consulting, education, and podcast production, Chris is grateful for the role he has been able to take after the launch of the podcast. “I feel really lucky to have something like the podcast at this point in my farming career, to be able to use the experiences that I’ve had in my life, and to leverage those into something that’s not just about [me],” Chris said. “I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to engage at a deeper level with the organic farming community.”
As a vegetable farmer, I’d like to speak for farmer-listeners and reciprocate this gratitude. Ideas and advice from podcast guests have provided great inspiration to many listeners. Through the podcast, Chris has created a conduit for ideas and made our community of widely dispersed market farmers a little tighter-knit. In the words of Katie Bishop of PrairiErth Farm—the 2017 MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year—the podcast is “like getting invited to grab a beer with a handful of really good farmers, and just getting to listen in on their conversations.”
Find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or online at www.FarmerToFarmerPodcast.com.
Dana Jokela owns and operates Sogn Valley Farm, a 22-acre certified organic farm near Cannon Falls, Minn.
From the January | February 2018 Issue