For a soft-spoken man, Paul Bickford was larger than life. Several Uplands farmers and Michael Fields Ag Institute staff and board members attended his September 23 memorial service, because, whether over a few months or many years, Paul had worked with so many of us. His farming practices shape-shifted many times over the years, from when I first met him as a confinement dairy farmer, to when he shifted to organic grazing, and most recently when he brought onto his organic cash grain farm two young farmer partners who now sit on MFAI's Board, Halee and John Wepking. He was an innovator, an informed decision-maker, a visionary, a mentor, and a friend and colleague to many.
Paul was also a member of the Uplands Watershed Group, and his death at age 69 from a farm accident in late August threw most who knew him into shocked disbelief. His vision for his grain farm and community, his curiosity about innovations and best practices, his desire to build his community, his commitment to supporting beginning farmers directly himself and through policy proposals, his sense of democratic fairness, and his love for his family and those close to him were so integral to his life and became the fabric of our own, many of us couldn't internalize his death.
If time softens most human grief, we hope that happens with Paul's death. But we also will continue to be inspired by him. Having sat on the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee, Paul spoke on a panel about beginning small grain farmers the week before he died. He suggested a potential change in federal credit policy to support beginning farmers' ability to gain access to land. Along with the Artisan Grain Collaborative and our national partners with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, MFAI is advancing that proposal in the 2023 Farm Bill. We cannot promise an outcome, but we can commit to advancing it with the energy and clarity of purpose that Paul would have brought to it, and we will report on its progress in the future.
Thank you for your lifelong commitment to community and innovation, Paul. May you rest in peace.
-Margaret Krome, Policy Program Director, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute