Jane Bush

January 27, 2013

Maybe it’s time for “January-is-Food-Ethics-Icons-Month” to go local. We would have lots of choices here in mid-Michigan. Laura Delind deserves iconic status both for her work on the ground with groups like the Urbandale Farm and for her wonderful writing on the ethical significance of place. John Biernbaum and Laurie Thorp could be singled out for the work they put in to create the Student Organic Farm at Michigan State University. Terry Link, who sometimes actually reads this blog, is a hero for his work on sustainability, his earlier service to the Greater Lansing Food Bank and now food hubs. And I could go really close to home and celebrate the various exploits of Diane Thompson, working on food issues in local schools, local markets and the Thornapple CSA. But we’ve been doing rock star farmers in 2013, and none these people are farmers.

I may be in trouble here at home for saying that Diane is not a farmer, but nonetheless, I proceed.

There are plenty of iconic farmers in mid-Michigan, for sure. I’m not going to start naming them because I wouldn’t know when to stop. Since this is the Thornapple Blog for the Thornapple CSA, it is actually pretty easy to know where we should turn when we celebrate a rock star farmer from ‘round here. We should look inward. Thornapple CSA is a member organized CSA, and we hire our own farmer. So far, we’ve been wearing out a farmer every year, and we’re currently in the market for a new one. (Prospective applicants should look elsewhere on the website for contact information.) So, no, we’re not going to celebrate our farmer as the rock star farmer, because as of this month, we don’t have one. We do, however, have a farm. It’s not actually our farm, but we have a place to grow stuff—both outside the old fashioned way and also in one of the new-fangled high tunnels that John Biernbaum has been talking about. That place, as members know, is on the premises of Appleschram Organic Orchard. We have that place because the owner-operator of Appleschram has taken a deep personal interest in Thornapple CSA. We pay a concessional rent, but Jane Bush is way more involved than that, serving as a member of the Core Group and an occasional source of farming wisdom.

Looking back over the month, it seems that you need to be doing something beyond farming to qualify as a rock star. Our other rock star farmers this month seem to spend almost as much time writing as farming. That would make Jane different, but she does have her fingers in lots of pots. She’s active in building a healthier and economically more vibrant food system in Southeast Michigan through the Food System Economic Partnership, where she helps with business development. That builds on her experience organizing the still viable Grazing Fields egg co-op. Grazing Fields gets mentioned nationally as an example of how small producers can work together in order to get their products into circulation locally. It’s not just farmers markets; its access to grocery stores and gaining a brand identity in a local region. And Jane was just up at Grayling High School talking about water management at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference.

So I’m going with Jane, partly because she’s our rock star farmer, but more importantly because however much we need the rock star farmers who get written up in the New York Times or the Atlantic Monthly for raising the average person’s consciousness, people like Jane are the ones who are actually pulling this local, organic, sustainable thing off. Jane’s doing this in Michigan, but she’s not alone, and our team of dedicated people is supported by thousands of like-minded people adapting the message and the practice to farming conditions and regional cultures that vary from one place to another.

So excuse me for taking a week off from sarcasm and robot bashing. We’ll be off the icons next week, so maybe I can unleash my snarky genes again.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University