Organic farmer to share insightful,
entertaining book during visit to Chatfield
Monday, September 30, 2013 3:24 AM
Atina Diffley's vulnerability began with hail and astonishment.
"The first chapter opens with a hailstorm, and I chose that hailstorm because we thought all of our crops were slashed," said Minnesota author and organic farmer Diffley.
Diffley explained, in a video, about why she chose that particular storm as the first paragraphs of her book, "Turn Here, Sweet Corn," the story of how she and her husband built their organic farm, faced eviction by development, reestablished their farm on new land and helped it flourish, only to have a major corporation attempt to take it by eminent domain.
"And the next morning when Martin and I walked those fields, it looked like complete devastation. As I looked closer, I could see that many of the plants would survive, they would come back, and that the heart of those plants was still intact," she added.
Diffley will be speaking about "Turn Here, Sweet Corn" at the Chatfield Center for the Arts on Thursday, Oct. 3, as part of a program presented by the Chatfield Public Library.
She grew up in a Wisconsin family that produced much of its own food. When she left home and began shopping the produce aisle at her local grocery store, she found the tomatoes and carrots she purchased "didn't have any vitality." As a result, she was ultimately charged with doing her part in caring for the earth through organic farming - she picked produce as a migrant worker, learning to "work or starve," spent time as a grocery produce manager, and in 1985, joined Martin Diffley in farming his family's homestead. Through these experiences, she's found the joy of and dedication to organic farming, and feelings of helplessness when that farm was threatened.
Recently, she recalled how, as a young woman just starting out as an organic farmer, she discovered her truths about nature and relationships in a parasitic wasp.
"It probably comes down to the relationships we have with the earth that I find to be so fascinating, because as humans, we know very little about the relationships we have with nature," Diffley explained. "As farmers, we get to see the relationships, to be astonished by it. I had never heard of a parasitic wasp before, but I looked it up and found that it's a kind of wasp that invades and lays its eggs inside a worm, and then the eggs eventually hatch and kill the worm. The elegance of that astonished me and I started to see how utterly dependent we are on nature and ecosystems. When our first farm was developed, we saw the collapse of our ecosystem."
Diffley and her family struggled as they rebuilt the ecosystem of their second farm, land that had been chemically fertilized for decades and was "minerally rich but microbially dead," eventually establishing "Gardens of Eagan" and then having to defend it against Koch Industries, one of the largest corporations in the United States.
"Koch Industries wanted eminent domain to build a pipeline on our second farm, and we showed the judge that it was an organic farm with natural resources that wouldn't be available again, and we went to our supporters and asked them to be informed citizens," she said. "Not only did we have evidence, but we had informed people on our side who wrote 4,600 letters to the judge. That's when I learned that it doesn't have to take a lot of time for someone to be informed, to have engaged optimism...that spending half an hour a week writing a letter and getting engaged does make a difference."
In her battle to defend Gardens of Eagan, she found self-empowerment that had become lost over the years, and she had a mission to share that empowerment with others. Diffley chose to write "Turn Here, Sweet Corn" after it was originally produced as a documentary film because she felt "there are a lot of books about environmental and agricultural issues on the market," but most of them were as dry as a midsummer drought.
She felt her story was one that could be told in an informative, yet entertaining manner to bring readers to the realization that they cannot be arrogant enough to think they are not dependent on the land, that they have power to make change happen.
"It was something I wanted to do to reach people . . . and I wanted it to be a story that people could feel and relate with . . . because if people feel, they're more likely to change their behavior," she said.
Diffley enjoys speaking in small town venues and having an audience of neighbors listening to her. "In small towns, a lot of the people still remember when they had a live food system," she said. "Most people had a garden and a drawer at the locker plant where they kept their frozen foods, milked a cow...and in speaking to a small audience, I know that they know what used to be, how the fabric of their community was torn by commodification."
She continued, "They've responded really positively. I get a lot of emails from the audience members reading the book talking about how the book enabled them to make changes in their lives."
Chatfield Public Library director Monica Erickson stated, "We are thrilled to have Atina come speak to us! There are so many people in the area that are interested in acquiring healthier food, devoid of all the additives and contaminants so rampant in today's processed foods. How exciting for us to hear from someone who was involved at the 'ground level' of organic farming! Atina and her husband are true trailblazers involved with the whole organic produce and local food co-op movement here in the Midwest."
Erickson added, "The front flap on Atina's book says that in it 'she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur's manual on how to grow a business, to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance, to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.' There's something for everyone in it. I feel sure that her program will offer just as much, if not more, and prove interesting to people with a variety of interests."
Erickson also noted that the library has been "so fortunate" to have Southeast Libraries Cooperating (SELCO) organize author tours for the region's public libraries "so that it is possible for small libraries like us to offer our communities programs featuring award-winning authors," particularly through Minnesota's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
"Without those funds, we would not be able to afford to offer such lovely programs, and we are so grateful to be able to host our author programs at such a lovely venue," Erickson continued. "The Chatfield Center for the Arts board and volunteers are so helpful and have been truly instrumental in making our programs so successful."
Author Atina Diffley will speak about her book, "Turn Here, Sweet Corn" this Thursday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Chatfield Center for the Arts, 405 Main St. South, in Chatfield.
Erickson promised "one way or another, there will be refreshments," as local organic farmers and food cooperatives have been invited to set up displays with information about their products. If none are available, the trusty Friends of the Chatfield Public Library and staff will provide refreshments.
Diffley's book will also be available for purchase and signing.
For more information, log onto the Chatfield Public Library website at www.chatfieldpubliclibrary.org, or the Chatfield Center for the Arts website at www.chatfieldcfa.org.