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June 23, 2017

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Thirty-Five

March 8, 2017

 

CONNECTING WITH HISTORY TO DRIVE THE FUTURE. 

All my life, it's seemed when I'm heading in the right direction obstacles are moved in sometimes mysterious ways. In creating Vital Grains, there has been fear and doubt, but one thing after another has told me "keep going." The clincher happened last summer as I drove a sprayer through a corn field applying fertilizer. I always remember where I am when these things strike me. In researching our farm's history, I dug deeper in to my Grandfather Raymond's enigmatic life. I had never realized what age he was when he made his big, risky move from Rake to Lake Mills to buy his farm. For some reason I stopped the sprayer, and did the math. Born in 1927, moved to Lake Mills in 1962, he was 35 years old...the same age I was as I sat in that field. I could not have had bigger goose bumps if I was sitting at the North Pole in a Speedo. It seems, my genetic make-up lends itself to risk taking and following your inner voices at 35, or maybe it was him giving me one more shove. 

 

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE OLD BUCK. 

I've never met another man like him, and there's not one ounce of hyperbole in that statement. On one hand, he watched professional wrestling, and on the other, he told his grandkids about the yet undiscovered miracle of perpetual motion. He enlisted in the army rather than waiting to be drafted during the last year of World War II so he could "choose where he wanted to die," and he crawled around on his hands and knees in his basement in his upper 60's, in pitch darkness playing hide and go seek. He had the intelligence to build a welder from parts he found around the farm as an early teenager, but too much youthful ignorance to realize he needed eye protection when using said welder for the first time. He had the grit to leave an established business for which he had great talent to chase a lifelong dream of farming, yet the deep respect to follow Grandma's stern orders around the house without complaint. All the while, he was an iceberg. So much of what made him who he was, I’m convinced, he took to his grave without a word said on the topic. I marvel at the beautiful duality and mystery that was my Grandfather, and only now do I realize how he inspired me.

 

THE BIRTH OF VITAL GRAINS. 

In creating Vital Grains, I am going down a seldom traveled path. Could I have simply picked up where my father will be leaving off, doing things as he has done, being the same farmer that both he and my grandfather were? Yes, that would have been the easy play. I could have even just changed my farming practices and not changed my farm's identity, keeping with a shoe-gazing farm tradition that can look down on those that promote what they are doing and explain why. Yet, here I am now with the first step taken in breaking out of that mold. I'm not going it to put others down that also farm the land. I'm not doing it to get attention for attention's sake. I'm doing it because I believe it is the right thing to do economically, socially, and environmentally.

 

THE PURSUIT OF FOOD TRUTH. 

We raise crops that are staples in the diets of millions. Essential staples that appear on dinner plates less obviously than green beans, for example, but are more crucial to providing needed calories in almost everyone's day to day diet. The enormous responsibility of this has been sinking in over the course of my involvement in farming, and I have not seen the kind of interaction between end users of our grains and growers of them that I think is sorely needed. Rather, our industry's closed doors and subtle "shut up and eat it" message has left a massive void that has been filled with myths, half truths, and blatant lies. This has created fundamental mistrust in those people that comprise the 98% of the population that is not involved in growing the crops we grow. It's easy to understand why there has been opportunity for this mistrust to expand with millions of coast dwelling urbanites, generations and hundreds of miles removed from how food is grown. The relative comfort we enjoy in the first world resulted in a few decades of basically ignoring how the grilled chicken landed on our plates. But then, along came the internet, followed by social media, creating a medium for anyone who knows how to open a web browser. No qualifications required. This has filled the food information void, and farmers like me are last to the party. Fortunately, I like to party, and I agree with this new idea of people knowing where their food comes from and telling our story. I believe facts through transparency can combat fear and build trust. A trust, I hope, will lead us to a truly sustainable food future.

 

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION WITH ACTION. 

Vital Grains is going to have many missions, all focused around clean, sustainable, and productive farming practices, but primary among them is going to be walking into this food fight with hands raised in truce. Inviting open dialogs about what we do, even if that means hosting skeptics on the very ground we are implementing our practices on. We're going to talk about how the term "organic" has been sorely abused, but also how many of the values that drive demand for organic products also drive how we grow our crops. We will quantify how, with the use of modern technology, we can conserve and improve soil like never before in modern agriculture's history and what that means to future generations. 

 

HERE GOES EVERYTHING. 

With all that said, Vital Grains has arrived, my sleeves are rolled up, and it's time to put dreams and ambition into action. Will this put in jeopardy all I’ve gained so far? Will this risk make me look like a fool?  Will I let my family down? I don’t know. What I do know is that there was a man in Rake, Iowa 55 years ago thinking these exact thoughts, and you know how his story ended. I am a living extension of that risk paying off. I do what I love because of that choice. If my heirs can say anything like that about this choice, that alone will be worth it.

 

Thanks for reading. Connect with me if you'd like to learn more. 

 

Ben Pederson 

Vital Grains Founder

ben@sproutag.com

 

 

 

 

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