The Anyone Can Farm Academy Teaches the Power of Food
Michigan farmer Mark Baker, along with his family and friends, has created a wonderful educational opportunity for anybody interested in learning how to farm.
The Anyone Can Farm Academy aims to educate folks on everything from understanding the basics of pastured poultry breeds to plotting out a rotational grazing plan. Mark understands, first-hand, how compromised and monopolized our current food system is – he valiantly fought against Michigan state's controversial Invasive Species Order to preserve his right to raise heritage breeds on his farm. He knows it's time to bring the power of food back to the people.
The academy takes place on the Baker's 80-acre farm near Marion, Michigan, and features both hands-on and video workshops. Courses are already underway, but the Academy hopes to expand and improve, and they have an indiegogo campaign up right now to raise some much-needed funds.
We recently spoke with Mark about the underlying message of the Anyone Can Farm Academy and his thoughts on the future of our food.
HandPicked Nation: How did the idea for Anyone Can Farm Academy (ACFA) come about?
Mark Baker: It was born out of people calling me and asking me questions, or showing up at the farm and wanting me to show them how to do stuff. I would do it, but it was taking a lot of time. So finally, on the major things people were asking about, I did a video and posted it. Then I would tell people, “Just go look at this video.” A buddy of mine, Tim Dewey, and me and my wife and his wife were sitting around a campfire one night just kicking around the idea of maybe doing videos showing the whole process and selling them online. Kicking around what would you do? What would you call it? “Anyone Can Farm” actually came from the movie Ratatouille, where the chef says, “Anyone can cook.”
A lot of what we see is people hesitant to farm because they don’t think they can do it. Another thing is Industrial Ag puts the message out of “only WE can do it” and I don’t think that’s accurate. Anyone can farm, and we believe that as well as making it the title.
HPN: How do people react when they hear you say "Anyone can farm"?
MB: I think it’s across the board, really. Some people will buy it right away and we will have to define for them what farming is, usually those people buy into it a little better. But I think a lot of people think of farming as having thousands of acres, huge pieces of equipment, huge loans and government subsidies and all that stuff, and it becomes so complex that a person looks at that and says, “Well, I would never do that.”
But we define farming as anytime a person grows or produces proteins or carbohydrates for either their own consumption or for sale. If they’re just growing a garden in the backyard, they’re farming. Herbs on the windowsill, that is a farming technique.“
...it is a David & Goliath situation, but we’re the Goliath and they’re the David.”
HPN: Do you think the general public really understands their lack of food security?
MB: I would say the general public, no, they don’t. They understand really well, as we’ve seen in the last several months – whether it’s true or perceived – that the security of their weapons is not exactly guaranteed and as a result people have gone out and bought every single gun off the shelf. I think they understand that those rights could be compromised and the evidence is that there are no firearms left on the shelves.
But, with food, it’s a different story. If you go to a big store right now, there’s just food everywhere. So, the perception is that there are tons of food and what people don’t realize is there’s maybe three days’ worth of food supply out on the shelf at a huge store. However, everyday I think more and more people are turned on to the fact that their food supply for good, clean wholesome food is becoming more and more threatened.
HPN: Beyond a hands-on experience, what do you hope attendees of the ACFA will walk away with?
MB: One of the things I want to promote in people’s “walk” is a can-do attitude. I’m purposely going to put people in position where they’re going to be asked to do something that they’ve never done and then help them get through that. Then at the end tell them, “See you did that. You thought you couldn’t do it, but in reality you could,” and that develops a can-do attitude. So just about anything they go at, within reason, they can accomplish in the farming realm.
Back to what I said before, I think we’ve been told that only certain people can farm and it’s a very complex process. Farming, if it’s done properly, is very forgiving. Food is very forgiving.
HPN: We are definitely in a David & Goliath situation when it comes to regaining control of our food sources, are you optimistic about our food future?
MB: This is the one question you asked me that I would like to debate. I think you’re right, it is a David & Goliath situation, but we’re the Goliath and they’re the David. They rely on heavy, heavy pieces of machinery. They rely on heavy pieces of machinery to apply chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers, things like that. All that stuff is dependent on cheap petroleum and it’s not getting any cheaper, so their margin shrinks every time a gallon of diesel fuel goes up. It doesn’t affect me that way. I use probably 60-100 gallons of diesel fuel a year, I have a 45 horsepower tractor. If the diesel fuel was cut off tomorrow, the tractor wouldn’t move and we would still continue to farm. The things we use the tractor for, we can do by hand. We milk a small number of cows, at most ten. If we have no electricity, we can milk them by hand. But if you’re milking 1500 cows, it doesn’t matter how many people you have working for you, there’s just not enough time in the day for each cow to be milked by hand. And how would you even get the milk to the bulk tank? You have pipelines, big suction motors and all that stuff. So, we can survive without petroleum. It would definitely be harder, but it could be done.
This energy crisis we are going into, which is probably going to get worse, is going to affect Industrial Ag far more than it does us. Of course what they’ll do is they’ll tag the price of that diesel fuel on the other end. We already see this. The price of feed corn has gone through the roof and it makes things a little bit more difficult, but we can shift gears as a small farm and go to something else. A huge dairy, where their whole discipline is feed corn and silage, they can’t exactly switch and all of sudden start putting their cows out in pasture. Number one, they don’t have the pasture. Number two, they don’t have the fences up. They’re just not prepared to do it.
I am definitely optimistic about our food future. Look, people gotta eat. And people are finding out that if you eat a lot of food out of the grocery store or that’s produced in concentrated feeding operations, you’re ingesting huge amounts antibiotics, growth hormones and all that stuff. People are starting to figure that out and they’re wanting to get away from that. It’s not just a trendy thing to do, if you’re 50 and you want to live to be 80, you gotta do this! Otherwise, just plan on your life being shortened a tremendous amount by eating the garbage that’s available these days. It’s really changed in the last 20 years, the quality of food has gone down dramatically. Partly because of science and they figured out ways to make food appear to be food, but in reality it’s not what nourishes a body.
So, I am optimistic because the people that are coming into this food movement, like me, we bring our children into this movement as well. Then we bring our friends into it and we propagate. Folks that don’t see this and don’t want to see this or who want to rely more heavily on pharmaceuticals for medicine or nutrition for their body, they’re dying off. So you have a situation that’s going to right itself. It’s going to take a little while. It appears to be David & Goliath the other way because Big Ag is so big, but Big Ag right now is in death throes and that is evident in their race to the bottom.
Do you think you could be a modern day farmer?
Photo Credit: Anyone Can Farm Academy
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
Hearty Roots CSA, a Hudson Valley farm with deep roots, is succeeding by using the CSA model.
A bountiful vegetable garden is quite a surprise when it's where the front lawn used to be.