People want (and need) to be connected to something important.
Seth Godin describes this notion as something that people have wanted forever. For Richard and Diana Dyer of Dyer Family Organic Farm – home of Dick’s “Pretty Good!” Garlic – it took more than 20 years, a career change to organic farming and 40 varieties of garlic to finally feel like they have a connection to people, place and themselves.
“Our role is to help create a healthy and thriving community; we’re just doing our part to make that happen,” said Diana.
The Dyers set out in 2009 to build a community asset that goes beyond delivering a quality and highly desired food in garlic. A collaborative working environment is central to their farm.
The couple explains everything in overlapping dialogue that feels like you are listening to two highly experienced radio anchors host a show:
“We are collaborative people. Our whole goal was to enhance the presence of food in our community, to try to build a regional food network that fits the big picture of making sure there is good food and good health for all.”
Diana is a childhood cancer survivor, who fought through subsequent related illnesses later in life. Her personal experience and background as a registered dietician keeps her on the lookout for opportunities to connect the dots between food and health to improve our chances against cancer.
“The reality is that almost everybody has cancer in his or her family now,” she said. “How soil health impacts food health is a leading consideration, which in turn impacts people health. The awareness of these connections is increasing in the public.”
Richard notes that Diana’s health history adds to Dyer Family Organic Farm’s commitment to help push the research community forward. The couple agrees that being certified organic farmers–as opposed to farmers who follow organic practices without certification–is that they “want everything that we’re doing on the farm counted…we want to be a data point that might increase the amount of money that goes into research about and for the benefits of organic practices and impacts on public health.”
School to farm
Diana created the School to Farm program with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly known as the American Dietetic Association. Students spend time working on the Dyer’s farm in order to “get a deeper sense of integrating into a community in order to support its greater public health.” Diana firmly believes that, “dieticians, doctors and health practitioners can be the biggest advocates and cheerleaders for farmers since they are lynchpins for helping develop healthy food systems at the farming level, not just the diet management level.”
As medical professionals, they recommend food to others to eat for good health. Diana explains that their unique “position of influence, responsibility and knowledge can help others see how this whole big system of public health ties together with our regional economies and food networks.”
The Dyers also recognize that they play their own pivotal role in helping others access quality food for health and wellbeing. The farm accepts Prescription for Health vouchers – a Washtenaw County Public Health program that aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and improve health among patients with lower incomes.
“We grow for flavor…”
When Richard first tested a dozen different varieties of garlic from the seed catalog, he didn’t expect what his mouth would tell him. Everything was different. Color. Taste. Spicy. Mild. Subtle. Punch-you-in-the-face strong.
At the market, the Dyers refer to their stand as the “table of discovery.” And while some might assume that with their dedication to public health that garlic makes total sense due to its known health benefits, they’d be wrong. Diana says it is simply: “We sell flavor.” She maintains that folks don’t want to eat a food because it is healthy, but because it tastes amazing.
After five years of cover cropping, green manures and rotational schemes, the Dyers have turned sandy clay soil into “chocolate cake batter.” Richard emphasizes that everything they do to improve the quality of the farm’s productivity and soil health is for the end goal of incredible taste. They understand that people need to eat their garlic as a flavor experience. Once that happens, all of those other educational tidbits and health benefits follow.
It makes their unofficial motto all the more poignant: “Good food and good health for all.”