If you find yourself at a Farmer’s Guild meeting, you’re as likely to find a date as you are a tractor. With seven chapters across Northern California, the Guild has become the “it” destination for agrarians looking to mingle. Small farmers and farm-curious folks arrive at these once-a-month gatherings to swap planting tips and talk rural life over beer and a homegrown potluck. The Guild is half party and half knowledge exchange. And it’s entirely about face-to-face connections at a time when most social networking has lost touch with its in-person origins.
“Conventional agriculture is mechanized and industrialized. You buy inputs from one company and sell to another,” says Evan Wiig, the Guild’s Executive Director. “But in sustainable agriculture, you need to develop relationships with so many more people than that and not just by signing contracts. You have to reach out to your neighbors, to chefs, and even to media who want to help you tell your story.”
It was just over two year ago when Wiig and his ranchmates at True Grass Farms in Sonoma County started inviting their friends over for Meatloaf Mondays.
“Farmers aren’t always social butterflies, and rural communities can be isolating,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to bring people together.”
Wiig and his crew were trying to grow crops sustainably, whether that meant pesticide-free vegetables or pasture-raised beef. The scene at dinner was a little like college freshmen asking each other directions to class and where to buy books, except as new farmers they wanted to know how much feed to give their chickens and if anyone could recommend irrigation equipment.
What started out as a crowded kitchen table quickly became an event that dozens of men and women were driving long distances to attend. And right around the point when the ranch house couldn’t fit any more guests, the Guild itself was born. Today it has matured into a nonprofit with locations as far north as Mendocino, as far east as Nevada City and with more chapters soon to debut in Southern California.
Everyone—from farmers to city-slickers—is welcome. You don’t need authentic pig sludge on your boots to get involved, nor do you have to be a brawny twenty-something wearing flannel.
“Younger farmers show up with new ideas and energy,” says Tiffany Nurrenbern, the Farmer’s Guild Project Director, “but older farmers bring real knowledge. The two need one another. We want the generations to mix.”
Hanging somewhere at every Guild meeting is a white board with two columns marked “I need” and “I have.” In what is essentially a rustic version of Craig’s List, attendees can post skills they want to learn, mechanical equipment they have to sell, or a service they’d like to offer.
“We want the Guild to be the kind of place where one farmer can make a mistake or search for a solution so the rest of the group doesn’t have to,” says Wiig.