JASPER, Ind. — Michael Hicks is a pro when it comes to
living an organic lifestyle. He lives and works in a farming village in Jasper
and has traveled the country to find his personal philosophy.
For Hicks, the secret to being a successful organic farmer
is to have a plan and find ways to connect with the consumer and the community
as a whole.
“We’re trying to reclaim our birthright,” said Hicks,
spokesman at Living Roots EcoVillage, concerning new, young organic farmers.
“Being a farmer shouldn’t be this hard, but it is … Every
season takes a lot of work. The first few years it’s going to take money, time
and work. And the community is a part of the success.”
When it comes to organic, chemical-free foods, the demand is
present. The key is to be there at farmers markets and community events, Hicks
said. The more connections, the better.
“When you’re at a farmers market, be interactive and sell
your stuff,” Hicks said. “Try to have fun. A frown-y face is not going to sell
anything. You have to want to interact, want to connect.”
Those with introverted personalities still can be
successful, however they should recognize that someone needs to be representing
the farm, he said.
While being a community person is important, it doesn’t mean
farmers need to be slick or good talkers. They simply must have the drive to
Hicks said he believes in holistic management when it comes
to farming. That means everything, from farmer health to soil health, is taken
into consideration when management practices are decided.
Farmers are hard on their bodies, Hicks said. Taking care of
the mind and body can help growers be less stressed and more ready for physical
Hicks said that the future of organic agriculture will
involve a mix of old and new farming techniques.
“We’ve lost so much knowledge — about heirloom seeds, about
old-time methods, about basic organic farming,” he said. “But it’s also about
smart new technology, things like permaculture. There’s new stuff coming. We can
take from the old and new and make a better system.
“There are a very small number of young farmers. Honestly,
we have to grow farmers. As a society, that’s where we’re at right now.”
Hicks acknowledged that there are many challenges associated
with starting a farm. High land costs, insurance and taxes all make for a large
“You have to have a basic understanding of what you have to
put in to get anything back out,” Hicks said. “You have to know what you want
and how much you need to make to support your family. It takes planning, and
finance is the No. 1 thing people struggle with.”
While the challenges are many, the opportunities also are
plentiful. Hicks encouraged those interested in gardening and farming to
consider taking a leap of faith and to start growing.