The latest episode of the Perennial AF podcast revisits a recording from the 2017 Perennial Farm Gathering in Madison, Wisconsin. This was back in the early days of the Savanna Institute, back when it was a young nonprofit with three part-time employees. That year the Perennial Farm Gathering was held in conjunction with the Green Lands Blue Waters conference, and one of the speakers was a young man by the name of Jacob Marty

Jacob had recently graduated from college at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and had returned to his family’s farm in southern Wisconsin with a vision for converting it to perennial agriculture. But he had one significant barrier that could make or break his plans: his dad.

Content has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jacob Marty:

Let’s think about how this is a big change for my dad. We started butting heads. And if you’re going to think about the different ways that we view the world again, like I said, you don’t have to convince me, but you have to convince my dad how to do this. 

So we butt heads. Moving cattle, for example. I’m slow, quiet with the cows.My dad’s clapping and saying, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” You should see us moving cattle together. And it just snowballs into yelling at each other. He’s focused on yields. I’m focused on soil health.

Once a very respected farmer in the community drove past our new hay fields that we’d converted to grazing. And he told my dad, “I just went up over the hill, I saw those cattle in the hayfield, and it just made me want to puke.” So you can just see, like, the the the pressure on my dad. So again, let’s think about those emotions and the things that we have going on in our life and just the daily tribulations of being an entrepreneur or a farmer, what that means.

So how does this affect us? Well, again, my dad really felt all this was a big change. He felt anxious, impatient and still uncertain on a lot of things. And he felt criticized, like three and a half decades of his life he’d been doing it all wrong when he knows he has money in the bank now, and other people in community respecting him. He felt very criticized. 

My dad and I… it’s not our style to meet and talk things out because we just get derailed and we start maybe yelling at each other. So we both kind of have separate goals and we’re never able to share those with each other. And it gets to a certain point, you know, like if you don’t know someone’s name and you haven’t asked it, eventually it’s too late to ask them “What’s your name?” And it was like that for us with goal setting. So that’s one of the first things you should do: have patience and empathy to just think about it, step back and think about the person you’re farming with and how they see the world and just think about these actions on the farm, what that could mean.

But you have to keep these emotions in mind when we talk to the farmers that have been doing things certain way.  They are very strong, but they can be very fragile and sensitive at the same time, and they do not have a culture within themselves that support going through hard times. They’re very independent. They don’t like to talk about it. And when you try to reach younger generations and tell them that they should be doing this, we’re really putting those generational family dynamics in crosshairs into a really difficult situation. And so we need to be sensitive about that and help them through that and be honest about what we’re going to go through.