Chris Blanchard, one of the leading lights of the organic farming world, passed away on October 28 from cancer. He leaves an impressive body of work that will help market farmers far into the future.
After running his own organic farm in Decorah, Iowa, for 15 years, Chris dedicated himself to sharing his knowledge. He was a popular speaker at farming conferences, a prolific writer, and the creator of a podcast that has kept market farmers company through their solitary workdays, with 176 episodes aired before he became too ill to continue in September.
Nearly everyone who knew Chris Blanchard can recall the first time they met. For me, it was some time in the 1990s, at an Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference on a snowy night in Wisconsin. My husband and I had just arrived, with our two young kids in tow, road weary and a little nervous about my upcoming speech. But we were immediately put at ease by the enthusiasm and kindness of the young man who greeted us.
Over the next 25 years, as Chris grew in experience and renown, he never lost a bit of that enthusiasm and kindness. Chris became a Contributing Editor for Growing for Market, and I often asked him to write for the magazine. He always said yes — and turned in articles that were bright, accurate, and well-written.
Chris was an extraordinary public speaker, able to convey solid information with clarity and wit that energized his audiences. He preached the importance of record keeping and introduced farmers to his retro-style system that involved a packet of index cards in his pocket. He became an expert on new food safety regulations and could quote federal regulations but also condensed the rules into one sentence: “Keep poop off the food.”
One of his favorite topics was achieving work-life balance. After divorcing in 2009, Chris spoke frankly about his own failure to enjoy life apart from work, and he urged new farmers to reserve time for family, rest, and other interests.
“Farms are like two-year-olds,” he said earlier this year at the MOSES conference keynote. “They’re very loud and very insistent about what they need and what they want from you. If you don’t set some limits, you’re going to be a slave to the two-year-old.”
After Chris sold his farm, he married Angie Sullivan, and moved to Madison, Wisconsin. From all reports, he achieved an admirable work-life balance of spending time with his family and friends while also producing his groundbreaking Farmer-to-Farmer podcast.
In his last email to listeners, Chris wrote: “When I set out to start the Farmer to Farmer Podcast – a process that began about four years ago now on a drive to Northfield, Minnesota – I thought of it as a marketing tool for my consulting business. I had no idea of the reception it would get in the market farming community, and I certainly did not expect it to take on a life of its own. The reception it did get, and the life that it took on as a result, was wonderful and heartwarming, and has served as a deeply rewarding capstone to my career, especially in the face of a serious illness these past thirty months.”
A celebration of life will be held 4-7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison. Gifts in his memory are requested for the Chris Blanchard Scholarship Fund to help farmers attend the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, which Chris organized for many years. His podcast will be maintained at www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com.