KDC: What is your background?
HSB: Living and working on a diversified organic vegetable and pastured poultry farm, my focus is fairly consistently on whole systems. Every day is an experiment with balance. One thing out of balance here can result in many things out of balance there.
As with many family farms, one of us works off-farm. Right now, that is me. Historically, I have worked in education, conservation and sustainability-focused arenas. As a consultant, my calling is to come into unfocused systems, make sense of them, and establish a framework for success. I worked with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) to re-conceptualize the Good Food Neighborhood program to make the connection of the farm-to-consumer relationship and the vital role consumers have in ensuring the future of a safe, responsive, thriving food system.
KDC: Describe your role and responsibilities as Executive Vice President of Pennsylvania Farmers Union (PFU).
HSB: The last few years, I’ve been working with the PFU to reinvigorate this once thriving organization. The three legs of Farmers Union are Education, Legislation and Cooperation. In Pennsylvania, we primarily focus on legislative work, representing the interests of family farms, and on supporting businesses structured as cooperatives. In the next few months, we’ll be meeting with all of Pennsylvania’s US Congressional members and many of our State legislators to discuss matters of importance to our farmer members - issues like transparency in labeling, farm conservation and stewardship, food access issues and generally reminding them that it’s family farms that grow an awful lot of the food we eat in our Commonwealth!
KDC: What attracts you to the cooperative model?
HSB: We see the cooperative business enterprises as a viable, equitable business structure for agricultural partnerships. This is why PFU believes our partnership with Keystone Development Center is so important and why I agreed to serving as board president. KDC has so much to offer the cooperatives community in our Commonwealth and the US Mid-Atlantic region. The rich history of the organization, its strong commitment to the cooperatives model, and willingness to serve as a resource for development of cooperative enterprises is instrumental.
On our own farm, in addition to serving a 200 family community support agriculture program, we are a member grower in Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative which markets our vegetables to DC and Baltimore restaurants. This is an invaluable service for us and we benefit greatly from our relationship with them.
KDC: What do you see as future opportunities and trends?
HSB: There are so many enterprise opportunities available, whether in agriculture, fisheries, food systems, or elsewhere, and KDC stands well-positioned to assist with their development. Over the last several decades, there has been a harkening back to the days where the cooperatives model was a shining example of how working together in partnership benefits the bottom line. With so many other failed business structures that are not set up to serve all but a profiting few, this model is increasingly in high demand again. We want to be ready to support that movement.
KDC: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
HSB: As a child, I was afforded countless hours to explore forests, creek beds, and caves and I benefited greatly from all the life experience one gains when given the space to explore freely. It is a painful reality that most children today grow up with none of the first-hand experience necessary to develop a true understanding of and compassion for the needs of the earth. Making the natural world an active part of my life and my children’s lives is of the utmost importance to me. For, if we do not have opportunities to explore and gain an appreciation for the natural world, what will motivate us to preserve it?
KDC: What is the view from your doorstep?
HSB: On our farm, and right outside our farmhouse door, is our FoodShed. This building was conceptualized by our “core group” of CSA members who wanted a community space for gathering on our farm and for sharing our farm with the broader community. This post and beam building accommodates workshops and meetings and potlucks and celebrations and also includes a certified kitchen for processing. I love to sit in my office and see the goings in and out of the building as we share our lives with our community.