Since 1971, Don and Becky Kretschmann have run one of the oldest organic farms in Western Pennsylvania. By 1979, the couple was able to purchase their land, and today Kretschmann Family Organic Farm operates on 80 acres outside of Zelienople. In 1993, the Kretschmanns began their Community Supported Agriculture program, becoming one of the earliest CSAs in the state. They’ve found success through their sustainable agriculture approach, eschewing pesticides and herbicides, attending to the improvement of soil quality through animal manures, crop rotations, and biodiversity, and championing an ethos of fostering life.
Arriving at the farm, I found Kretschmann and his daughter on scaffolding preparing to repair one of their barns. Throughout the morning, we discussed how the importance of food has changed in recent years, but much of our conversation turned to the oil and gas industry and the expansion of fracking.
As governments show a cognitive dissonance in the fight against climate change, enacting green energy solutions while simultaneously subsidizing fossil fuels, the public exerts a similar mentality when it comes to farming and energy needs. There is a public perception that the oil and gas industry’s support can preserve family farms. In part, this is true: In some areas, mineral rights have risen to $5,000 an acre providing struggling farmers a temporary lifeline. But often, the benefit of this cash influx overlooks externalities. What are the ecological risks of increased drilling? How do new farmers acquire land when mineral right values are inflating land prices? And does extra farmer income translate to improved food quality?
Throughout our conversation, Kretschmann returned to the question, “What is farming all about?” Watch segments of our conversation below for a perspective of the complexities of farming in an energy-hungry and profit-incentivized environment.