I had a great #onthefarm conversation with Nathan Winters on Friday afternoon. Nathan biked across the United States from Maine to Washington in 2009. Along the way, he visited dozens of farmers in rural communities in the hopes of collecting enough material for a book. Even though our chat only lasted an hour, I firmly believe he has a heckuva book idea, and I hope he has success in publishing it. The idea seems rather unique, so I think that it has a good chance of getting picked up. If you’d like to contact Nathan for a sample chapter, please do so via his Twitter handle, @follownathan, or his Web site, follownathan.org.
I highly recommend checking out his photo albums on flickr. Amazing stuff, and as I note in the chat, I think the phot album could be its own book about rural America.
I discovered Nathan via Twitter during an #agchat. He’s a regular contributor and provides good insight. Make sure you follow him.
Hope you enjoy the chat!
n_web: Next couple tweets will be links and background before we start. Nathan biked cross-country in 2009, from Maine to Washington to get a first-hand look at ag. Check out: http://www.follownathan.org/ for more info on Nathan and his journey. And make sure you check out his photo collection on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22002817@N04/sets/72157622568988136/. I love the photos. Fascinating stuff. Great images. Could be its own book!
n_web: OK, looks like Nathan is here, but a couple more minutes before we roll. Woofing down lunch . . .
follownathan: I am currently writing a book and many have requested a photo book as well. Could prob write 4 of them ;)
n_web: Q1: I gave a 140 character intro, but please take a few tweets to give us more on your background.
follownathan: Q1 originally from Lancaster County, PA, 30 yrs old and live in rural #VT tech background with passion for #ag #food and #travel. Biked 4300 miles across America to get on and meet farmers of all types and sizes and ask questions – best experience ever.
n_web: Q2: Why would you want to bike 4300 miles? And why did you decide to focus only on farmers?
follownathan: Q2 trekking America at a slow pace was my dream. I originally wanted to walk. Biking was perfect fit. I met with much more than farmers and ranchers. I met with consumers, coops, markets, drunks at dive bars… you name it! I also spent a good look at #climate issues & sustainable #ag as they seem 2 go hand in hand. I’m passionate about all of this.
n_web: Q3: Before you began, what were some of your preconceived notions about farming? And what were you hoping to accomplish?
follownathan: Q3 Good Q – Thing was that I had very little preconceived notions of #farming because like many… I was disconnected from them. I’m willing to say that I was charged in the way of all big #ag is bad #ag – Through education and experience I know different. What I wanted to accomplish was a platform where people could share my experiences from all over using #SM and I did just that. But most importantly I wanted to live my dreams and get the answers to the questions about #ag /#food I had swirling in my head.
n_web: Q4: without giving away the premise of the book, can you list 3 or 4 of those questions here? check that, not the premise. I meant the “hook”
follownathan: Q4 Why do we need authors such as Michael Pollan to explain where food comes from? How food get so complicated? Why is my hometown in Lancaster, PA and many like it turning into one giant strip mall? What happened to all the family farms? Why do we have such a strong disconnection between the farmers that produce and the people who consume. My favorite was “What is your message to America?” As you can see here I got many great responses http://bit.ly/iepdh (expand )
n_web: Q5: How did farmers answer those questions? Did answers vary according to production practice? Or were their thoughts similar?
follownathan: Q5 more than production, practice or region their answers varied based simply on personality types. Farmers have great personality. In my experience most farmers were more than willing to answer my Q’s and some even eager. I always felt welcome.
n_web: Q6: Can you list the states you visited & the various farms & what they grew? Any places that you’d like to mention as the best? Just a quick rundown of various farms, not every one!
follownathan: Q6 here is a map of my route http://bit.ly/7qdJbz. But yes I would love to share a few farms that I visited. Grassland Farm in Maine (dairy)- Wellspring CSA in #VT (veggies) – Amish farm in #NY (diverse). Tantre Farm (Diverse) MI – WIld Rose Dairy WI- New Forest (permaculture)WI -Blue Blanket Farm (Wheat) SD and many more. I also spent good times over beer with ranchers at VFW’s, Honky Tonk Bars and fishing the Yellowstone River.
follownathan: Q7 strangest place was in rural OH it was called the “funny farm.” But even that turned out to be a great experience. People did many wonderful things for me! Food, supplies, conversation, motels, even money. I never had expected the generosity. People need to start trusting their fellow Americans! This is a great country with GOOD people who will help if you ask.
n_web: Q8: What did people say when you told them what you were doing? Especially as you mostly focused on farmers? Were they appreciative of someone telling their story? Or did they think you were nuts? :)
follownathan: Q8 Farmers appreciated having me come visit and share their realities and communities were excited to have me IE #ithaca and #MKE. But many people especially in the plains thought i was absolutely nuts. People don’t do alot of biking in 40 mph headwinds. Best perk was walking into a bar and getting all the beer and food you can handle for free. Happened to me often :) I guess wearing normal clothing and not spandex made it easier for people to get chummy with me.
follownathan: Q9 Awesome Q and something I think about all of the time. This country is so big and I obviously couldn’t see and do it all. good news is as you can see here http://bit.ly/7kayYc. I have been around the block 49 states in fact. HOWEVER! from an #ag standpoint I’d like to visit more places I didn’t get to. Perhaps a second journey and another book :)
n_web: Q10: You visited dozens of rural communities. Do you have any insights on rural America and future economic development?
follownathan: Q10 I think it is simple. Support, preserve & visit your local farms. It is a win win situation for everyone involved. Not trying to brag… But #VT is a tremendous model for creating a vibrant economy through #ag in rural communities.
n_web: Q11: Book promotion time. You’re in the process of writing, no? Have you had any luck w/ publishers? What can aggies do to help?
follownathan: Q11Thought you would never ask ;). I’ve written 9 chapters so far. A sample chapter is available upon request &will B posted online soon. I have had some interest from agencies and pub outfits. It is a process. Sending out proposals next week. If any #ag or #food people know anyone in the publishing industry please do an intro and you never know… In the meantime tell friends about me / website, read my work and leave a review as seen here http://bit.ly/4KEa35.
n_web: I love the photos. Hope that gets its own book some day. . .
n_web: Final Q: what didn’t I cover that you would like to say? What’s on your mind for the next 3-5 tweets?
follownathan: Final Q: My bottom lines are buy local, support family farms and trust your local Americans. I strongly urge people to do the things they dream about doing. It will create a plethora of opportunities. We need to stop labeling people as this or that. We need more people being people then we will see change where needed. Don’t make #ag or #food judgments w/out taking the time to get information. And darn it! Do what feels right.