Farmer Mac: Walking the Talk in DC
When he’s with his colleagues Chris Bohanon of Farmer Mac can tell them about the last time he volunteered. They aren’t surprised, though. That’s nothing new, as taking time out of work to volunteer is part of the Farmer Mac ethos. He can tell them he volunteered at a farm. That isn’t surprising either, given Farmer Mac’s mission relates to providing financial support to both American agriculture and rural communities. But when he tells them he volunteered at a farm in Washington, DC, they are intrigued and start listening. Planting vegetables, helping to build a high tunnel, pulling weeds—all just two miles from the White House. “They think of farming as something that happens in rural America, not a city,” said Chris, Vice President of Corporate Relations for Farmer Mac, headquartered in Washington, DC. “But when we explain to them that farms are needed in cities like DC, especially to make sure that underserved people have access to nutritious food, they get it.”
Truth be told, Chris, an Oklahoma native, also was a bit surprised to learn about Common Good City Farm (CGCF)—the only organization in Washington, DC producing fruits and vegetables, educating people and building community. But once he heard about the farm from CGCF Vice President Randy Tyree (a longtime acquaintance) and Hillah Culman (a Farmer Mac team member who is an avid urban gardener and a regular volunteer in DC), he was hooked. Not only do Chris and his Farmer Mac colleagues volunteer at the CGCF farm. They also have been instrumental in providing financial support to the farm—in the form of several generous grants. “We see the two as going hand in hand,” said Chris, who has been working on agricultural and rural development issues for 30 years, including the last seven at Farmer Mac. “As a company, we share a passion for our important mission. so, for us, writing a check is just as important as volunteering. We are grateful to be in a position where we can do both.” Chris and his colleagues are already seeing the benefits of their support. The high tunnel they helped fund and build in 2015 now produces over 500 pounds of vegetables a year. Construction of the produce storage facility they helped fund is well underway. For the past three years, employees from Farmer Mac’s Washington, DC office, where approximately 60 of its 80 employees work, have been to the farm annually to volunteer. They are planning a fourth visit this fall. “The folks at Common Good City Farm certainly put us to work, but I love it and the staff loves it,” Chris said. “We have fun and it fosters a spirit of collaboration, collegiality and community, which cannot be replicated, even in the most sophisticated team building exercises."