This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Spokane, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback. To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit http://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/
First, I would like to thank CSANR for generously funding my, and my classmates’, attendance at TILTH Conference 2018. Especially for undergraduates like myself, conferences such as TILTH are a welcome departure from the oftentimes synthetic academic track, onto a more organic (no pun intended) professional one.
The Friday farm tour (or, more aptly, warehouse, ranch, and farm tour) was right up my alley, i.e., right where the magic happens, talking to the proverbial “man behind the curtain.” Last spring term, I took my capstone course (AFS 401) which was replete with field experiences just like these—touring chickpea processing facilities, farm shops, WSCIA meetings. I learned things a mile-a-minute. It was the same at the TILTH Farm Tour, thanks to Beth Robinette (LINC Foods & Lazy R Ranch), Maurice Robinette (Lazy R Ranch) and Patrick Mannhard and Tarawyn Waters (Urban Eden Farm). Being a Spokanite, all three of these establishments were on my radar—I had even volunteered twice at Urban Eden Farm—but setting foot inside LINC’s central-Spokane warehouse and the Robinette’s ranchland was revelatory. The LINC warehouse, and Beth’s narrative, made sense—this was no small thing. In short, LINC Foods is a worker, farmer—and, see fine print—investor owned cooperative food hub that deals regionally in fruit & vegetable produce, animal products, and grain products (including a burgeoning malt op.)… AND, it’s working (pending projected profits in the upcoming fiscal year). Something frustratingly rife in the writ large discourse of sustainable food systems is cart-before-the-horse ideology. LINC (2/7ths of LINC, that is), Beth Robinette and Joel Williamson have defied this trend by (literally) doing their homework (each with MBAs) and taking a sober look at the business viability of LINC before financing the startup. The result? LINC Foods is realizing its mission of building a “regional, sustainable food system by linking local farmers to new markets and ensuring the highest quality products for our customers through democratic enterprise.” Food security, buttressing regional economy, progressive business structure. Check, check and check.
Lazy R Ranch, in the same vain as LINC Foods, is equal parts sustainable and pragmatic. Not surprising, seeing as Lazy R is a Robinette family affair. Maurice Robinette practices holistic management on his beef cattle ranch, which as it happens, holds ecological and economic sustainability in equal regard. Much like LINC. Though Maurice is a producer, the sustainability of his ranch is not too dissimilar from Beth’s distributer sustainability. Profits are inextricable from the health of the whole system and vice versa.
Thank you, once again, to CSANR for sponsoring this growth experience. I hope to one day have a part in the eastern Washington sustainable food systems movement, as part of LINC Foods or another likeminded organization.