2015 25.1 Advocate of the Year


David Granatstein, Sustainable Ag Specialist for Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR), was awarded the 2014 Advocate of the Year award at the Tilth Producers annual conference in November 2014. The award recognizes David’s service to sustainable agriculture spanning 40 years, notably his organic tree fruit research within CSANR and his leadership as a volunteer with advocacy work on behalf of growers across the Northwest. A

Tilth Producers Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley asked David to share more about his valuable contributions to sustainable and organic agriculture in both the public and private sectors.

Tilth Producers (Q): You were a farmer before you became involved with WSU. Tell us about your experience farming.

David Granatstein: I moved to Washington State in 1974 to do tree planting work. It turned out that the week I arrived was the week of the alternative agriculture conference in Ellensburg that helped launch the Tilth organizations. So I went to that, which was pretty incredible. I did a couple of apprenticeships and then I spent seven to eight years farming with several other people in the Methow Valley. I was the classic city kid playing back-tothe- lander in the 1970s.

Q: Tilth is honoring you as T40’s Advocate of the Year. How did you move from hands-on work—farming, studying farming, teaching people about farming—to advocacy work?

DAVID: I wouldn’t say I moved into advocacy work—it was there all along as kind of a parallel thread. When I began farming and meeting folks working on alternative agriculture here in the Northwest, there were many issues on the table and I got involved in several. We had issues with our farm being sprayed by contractors treating for insect pests on Forest Service land. So I got involved in a number of pesticide issues, and issues related to national forest land management. I was involved in the early organic standards discussions that Tilth Producers had, and I was active in seeking broader support for organic farming in general. My goal has always been to be an educator and to provide the best information so individuals can understand an issue themselves and come up with an informed, reasoned answer or position. Rather than me telling them, “this is how it should be and here’s the postcard to sign,” I’ve wanted to empower individuals to develop their own position.

Q: When you look back to the issues you’ve been involved with, is there one victory that stands out?

DAVID: I’ve never thought of my work as winning and losing, because that’s zero-sum. I think there are often solutions where everyone can win. That said, getting the SARE program [Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, originally LI SA] in the 1985 farm bill was a really big deal. Having policy move to the point where an alternative agriculture paradigm was recognized by USDA—and actually funded—was huge.

Q: What policy issues do you see as a high priority?

DAVID: One of the most powerful agents of change is nearterm economics. When we can develop alternatives that make sense to growers economically they are ready to adopt them. The more we’re able to focus on change in agriculture that delivers near-term economic benefits but brings along with it many of the sustainability aspects, the more we’re going to get widespread impact. I think if we were able to find out how much organic farming has influenced so-called conventional farming we’d see a big impact. How many conventional farmers are doing things that they either learned on their organic acres, or from neighbors, or from reading? When we understand this then we could really ramp things up.

Q: For the past two years, Tilth members have identified its top-priority policy issue as supporting beginning farmers and ranchers. How do you think we can best nurture a new generation of farmers?

DAVID: We need some better metrics of what’s working and what’s not working with a lot of small scale beginning farmers and ranchers. People need a reality check. Helping people take a hard look at what farming is about—as a career, as an economic path, and the economic realities. I’ve been there; I know that when people start to have kids, and get older, and need health insurance, the model that a lot of folks use falls apart.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our members?

DAVID: I was hugely honored with the award. I appreciate the incredible amount of innovation that’s embodied in the Tilth membership. Collectively, there’s a lot of hope for the future. To me, it’s important to keep the hope realistic, so that it has staying power.

Ariana Taylor-Stanley is Policy Coordinator for Tilth Producers of Washington and also farms with City Grown Seattle. ariana@tilthproducers.org

Tags: Advocate, CSANR, History, Interview, T40, WSU

pdf2015_25_1_Winter Advocate of the Year.pdf