A Day in the Life – Gordon Hoover
April 1, 2020
Visits are scheduled when possible, but most times, you just show up unannounced due to lack of phone numbers, explains Gordon Hoover. He's referring to his typical workday as the Agricultural Outreach Coordinator at Lancaster Farmland Trust (LFT). As such, Gordon spends most of his days going door to door, or barn door rather, talking with farmers about environmental conservation efforts in Lancaster County. It's part of LFT's growing conservation work, in partnership with environmental organizations and municipalities, to help farmers improve their farms’ sustainability and come into compliance with state and federal regulations.
In recent weeks, Gordon met with farmers in Salisbury, Paradise, and Leacock townships as the first stage of work for a grant funded by multiple partners, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the Campbell Foundation. The project will document the on-farm conservation practices and plans already in place, and ones farmers will need financial and technical help installing. It's work well suited for someone like Gordon – a longtime farmer and agri-business professional. He and his wife Carole operate Welsh-Vista Farms in Salisbury Township, where Gordon is proud to have a long history of good soil-health practices, including over 60 years of cover cropping and more than 25 years of 100% no-till planting.
"Most days start at 8:00 am, after chores and breakfast are complete," Gordon says, referring to his own schedule, as well as that of the farmers he intends to visit. Visits typically last an hour, depending on the farmer's knowledge of conservation and the needs of their farm. If a farmer is in the middle of a busy day, Gordon takes care to quickly introduce himself and schedule a time to return for a longer visit. "It's essential to be sensitive to the farmer's time," he explains.
In Gordon's experience, one-on-one conversations like this are the best way to engage farmers with new ideas. "Many times, our conversations branch to subjects other than conservation," notes Gordon. “It provides an opportunity for me to share other resources, such as Penn State Extension, PA Center for Dairy Excellence, Marketing Co-ops, Banks, and other professionals to help address their concerns and questions regarding agricultural markets and economics, the future of agriculture, and succession planning."
Mid-day brings a break in the action for Gordon. "Many Amish take lunch early, and farmers often take a short nap after lunch – and you don't want to interrupt a nap," he quips. Gordon takes lunch during this time, and catches up on emails on his phone. In the afternoon, he makes more farm visits – finding that many farmers understand the value of conservation to improve water quality, but don't understand the regulations or how to access resources to implement conservation practices on their farm. Gordon can share other farmers' success stories of conservation practices and implementation – he even shares examples from his farm.
By 4:00 pm, dairy farmers start evening chores before supper and milking. Gordon tries to wrap up visits by then and heads home to finish chores on his farm. But he doesn't rule out the need for some evening and Saturday visits. "It's not uncommon as more landowners work off the farm," he explains. A lifestyle he understands well; before working for LFT, Gordon was the Conservation Coordinator for Salisbury Township and has worked as the Director of Dairy Member Relations for Land O'Lakes, Inc.
Gordon comes equipped to help farmers understand government regulations, and to provide planning and implementation resources to improve the health of their soil, waterways, and livestock. Gordon's approach to on-farm conservation practices balances the need to be compliant, with the bottom-line benefits for each farm – including profitability and market access. Farmers who have fully implemented conservation plans can earn more for their products in some markets.
Gordon knows the value of building trust with the farmers he visits: "Helping farmers understand that a farmer's needs and the community's needs end at the same place – sustainable neighborhoods." Gordon's visits have created a positive buzz – catching the attention of other municipalities interested in working with LFT. The projects he works on have had a positive impact on water quality, too – significantly helping reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment entering local waterways.
Overall, Gordon thinks farmers are happy to chat with him about water quality conservation. "Farmer’s with plans and conservation practices are glad to share their stories and learn of new opportunities.” And farmer’s without plans? Gordon says they appear relieved that help has arrived to lead them through the process to become compliant and improve farm conservation practices and water quality.
If you would like to learn more about Lancaster Farmland Trust’s conservation work, or talk to Gordon directly, please send him in email – GHoover@lancasterfarmlandtrust.org