My father was a Hungarian immigrant. He came from people who valued education, was a hard worker and had a bizarre sense of fashion which he had picked up from watching Hollywood westerns in Budapest as a child. He was a skinny guy with a gloriously large nose upon which he perched the biggest, darkest dime store sunglasses available—the kind that are 2” tall with peripheral vision panels on the sides. In the summer he never went anywhere without his straw cowboy hat, shades and a carefully selected bolo tie. In winter it was felt hats, cravats, neckerchiefs, scarves and overcoats galore. He was known far and wide as a colorful character in the rural eastern Washington county where I grew up.

He died a few years back and I think about him almost every day, and about how he taught me to take risks.

On September 11, 2001, my parents were staying over at our farm when the first announcements of the horrible plane crashes in NYC and Washington D.C. came through. On that day, he told us a story about how he had lived for several years as a teenager in Vienna with false papers, hiding out from the Nazis, certain that he would die young and how he didn’t brush his teeth because he knew he wasn’t going to need them for long. As a consequence, he had suffered with bad teeth all his life and his words to us were (you’ll have to imagine the accent), “Be careful, you just might survive.”

I feel like this past decade has gone by in a blur. Dennis and I had just bought our farm when that particular piece of advice was dispensed. We knew we wanted to take good care of the land we had sold our souls to the bank for, but we didn’t know much beyond that.

Somewhere early on, I read a Wendell Berry essay, Conservationist and Agrarian, which eloquently stated that in order to have responsible ecological stewardship, there must be a stable human economy attached to the land.

We weren’t that young, but we weren’t dead yet either. I determined that hell, high water and whatever else might come, we would make a living sustainably growing something on our little seven-acre postage stamp of ground. Dennis went along. We planted a great big garden, tons of fruit trees and woody ornamentals, decided we needed more beauty in the mix and started growing flowers, discovered the ASCFG, attended a few Regional Meetings, then a conference and year by year we landscaped in the city a little less and sold a few more flowers. We bought a tractor, built a barn and put in a well. Very slowly and often painfully through those years, our land—the wildness, the chaos, the workload, the sheer sheer volume of life and death—shaped us into being farmers.

A few years ago, it became apparent that we could not expand our farm to a level that would make us a living without figuring out a smarter, better and quicker way to sell what we worked so hard to grow. Farmers’ markets weren’t cutting it and driving a bucket truck to various florists around the city was not efficient. The big box wholesalers weren’t buying what we wanted to sell and as a small business, we didn’t want to have one or two large-scale customers controlling our livelihood anyway.

Through the ASCFG we started to connect with other farmers in our area and realized most of us shared the same common problems and therefore shared solutions might be of benefit.

And so began the real risks—and rewards. Thought and action often merge in my world. Start a cooperative with all your competition, why not? Done! Right now our market is two years old. I won’t deny it’s been a ton of hard work, facing of fears and opportunities for spiritual growth… but it turns out we had a good idea and nobody would have been the wiser if we didn’t try it.

Because of efficiency of distribution and better served customers, many of us are benefiting. Together, we are creating jobs, expanding our farms and turning the tables on industry trends. We recently learned that our proposal to the USDA for a $138,000 multi-state specialty crop block grant has been accepted. These funds will help us collectively build a program to access grocery and chain store markets. This means we will be moving a whole lot more local product, bringing in more growers to our cooperative and encouraging sustainable growing practices.

For the first time I can clearly see a path to my own personal goal of making a sustainable living doing what I love.

None of this would have been possible without the ASCFG and the deep and abiding friendships and spirit of sharing that exist within the organization. As my three-year term comes to an end I want to thank you for the privilege of electing me to serve as your Regional Director. And if you see me wearing a bolo tie at the National Conference in Tacoma this fall, you’ll know why. Thanks, dad.

Diane Szukovathy

Jello Mold Farm

Diane Szukovathy Jello Mold Farm Contact at [email protected]