December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
As scientist Alexander Graham Bell said, “The best skill of a good leader is to bring out the leadership qualities in others. For we are all leaders. Every parent is a leader and every child can become one.” I began an internship through the university with the desire to help in the expansion of campus agriculture, to learn as much as I could about gardening in general, but particularly gardening in cold and dry Gunnison, and also to develop my leadership skills, because I knew that is what was needed to understand what it would take to make serious change. I found that gardening was something that even an average working American could do to provide, at least themselves, but also their families with food, especially if labor was shared, and values were taught rather than pressed. The most helpful information I found for building communities through gardening was in H.C. Flores’s book, Food Not Lawns. Flores is a radical; outspoken in the advocacy of using unconventional means to build a stronger community, and a healthier world. In simpler terms, Flores promotes the use of compostable bathrooms, less showers, and more dirt. More importantly, she offers extremely useful tips for beginning educational gardening projects in communities, and in somewhere as small as Gunnison, such tips can be extremely useful. Working in community gardens, it did not take long for me to understand the importance of group cohesion, meaning the willingness and ability to communicate among the people you are working with. The most helpful advice in Flores’s book was her “7 Ways to Share Power” Her steps include “talking less and listening more”, because we cannot forget that there is always the potential to learn something new. Also, “let someone else run with your ideas.” I found this one to be extremely interesting, solely through experience, because I have come to believe that if a task requires specific skills, it may not be the best method. Her third step is “share access to resources.” Then, “say no to new responsibilities.” I have found that this piece of advice is something everyone in the valley has learned, or should accept. It is unique that very few people here have just one job, and I also find this to be significant to a sustainable and healthy community, but it is also important to not be doing too much, because other areas will soon be lacking. Flores’s next tip is “let others make mistakes”, then “delegate responsibilities responsibly.” Again, living here, we are lucky enough to be able to truly know those we are working with, so it is important to understand their strengths, but also their weaknesses. Her final tip for sharing power is to “trust the people and the process.” Part of the reason why developed education on a subject is so important is because a person should have faith in what they are doing and what they are advocating. Not only should a gardener love gardening, they should also understand why gardening with and for their local communities is critical today.
December 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
Looking back on the summer, I’m quite proud of the interns for their resourcefulness. After harvesting turnips in July, we chopped, pureed, then fermented them, giving us over a gallon of sauerruben that I’m still enjoying today.
Fermenting food is simple, and it is the healthiest way to save your roots and greens for the winter, with microorganisms to break down all of those extra grains we’ll all be eating. The harvest is everyone’s favorite part of the garden (though I did learn this summer/fall how intense it can get), but fermenting is what makes the harvest last all through the year.
September 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
In the past several weeks, I have been reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution. I haven’t finished yet, but I have already derived much inspiration from the book. While I have gained worthy agro-ecological insight from this read, it is the economic and infrastructural propositions that have given me the most food for thought.
I have a belief that if you are not very involved or interested in the quality or sustainability of the food you consume, then your food tends to financially inexpensive in the current market. If you are more concerned with your food’s quality and sustainability, then it will cost more money. But if your food’s quality and sustainability is one of your greatest concerns, then it will be next to free. By gardening and food preservation techniques, one can feed themselves without having to source food. For me it is a goal of mine to be able to do this, even in the Gunnison valley, but I understand that this isn’t viable for people without garden space or resident of dense urban centers. This allows the monocrop farmer system to seem appropriate in terms of meeting the needs of the people en masse. As we all know, large scale monocrop agricultural practice is simply unsustainable. Unfortunately small scale organic biodiverse farmers have to face massive subsidies in the name of monocrops and chemical companies, which have provided a daunting façade of sustainability in the name of the ecological farce that is large scale agriculture. How then do we compete with the false prices at the supermarket, when small families have to pay thousands annually merely to hold an organic label?
Fukuoka contends that organic food should be the most inexpensive at the grocery store, because the least amount of time and inputs are required. He explains how conventional farmers must spend money on pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, waxing, and separating for looks, and how they barely make enough to do it again the following year. He explains that commercial agriculture will fail because of this. I believe this is true, as many conventional farmers today would lose money annually if not for massive government subsidies associated with commercial agriculture. I believe that this could mean the starvation of millions in the United States, if there is not a national shift in awareness and activism related to our food needs. It is quite possible that there could be agricultural collapse as the expenses of conventional farmers are not met by the government. The question now becomes, how do communities make local small scale agriculture even more affordable than that of conventional agriculture?
A possibility would be that as many people that possessed land in a community would grow a little food for themselves, and a little food for some sort of coalition that could sell the food inexpensively at grocery stores. All profits of the coalition would simply go back to the garden owners to improve the quality of their gardens, and to create more permaculture systems that require less and less inputs. People who did not own land could be parts of these coalitions, perhaps sharing in ownership on a piece of land like a community garden or co-op. It is especially key that in urban centers, more members of suburbia grow food and that more land be directed toward co-ops for urban dwellers. This way food could actually become cheaper than conventional, especially if co-op grocers were formed and crafted to ensure that they had the trust of their consumers. Fukuoka certainly operated in a political climate, but his statement that organic food should be inexpensive still stands, because it is simple. On the scale of the biome it is easier for each individual to get their hands a little dirty from time to time, the perpetuate an ecologically dangerous machine that is headed for collapse. I believe that what Masonubu said about the environmental issues of the inland sea is true for most every environmental issues. He said, “it must be the farmer who shoulders the red tide.” I believe we all are farmers and therefore, we are responsible for all issues associated with farming.
September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Snipping basil heads can be surprisingly meditative. As I prolonged the life of the hoop house’s herbs, I pondered the potential of our campus; imagining every inch of Kentucky Blue being replaced with food or housing for useful animal herds. What would it be like if every meal from Sodexo was provided from the campus grounds, or every event featured food items within reach? It seems possible…and practical.
So this requires the exploration of the Campus Agricultural Master Plan, examining its benefits and its faults, and then deciding if it can be expanded upon.
August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Ecological communities are not as tightly linked as organisms, but neither are they simply collections of individuals. Rather, the community is a unique form of biological system in which the individuality of the parts (i.e., species and individuals) acts paradoxically to bind the system together.” –David Perry, Forest Ecosystems
A lot can be said about individuality. Many would agree that it is our own individuality, the things that define us, that make us able to perform better actions for the whole. Even among the four interns, I have noticed it. We each bring different strengths, ideas, and structures. Sometimes it creates minor inconveniences, but with time and effort (particularly in patience), the results are better. But when individuality becomes a competition or a quest for solitude, it then becomes a problem. Because individuality is not about taking from others, but rather emphasizing what you have. It is not about separating or specializing. It is about using your own passion to ignite and inspire others passions. It is easy to run from the problems of the world, crying out “I hate people and just want to worry about me!” But the fact of the matter is this; other people aren’t going anywhere, and whether you like it or not, they affect your everyday life. So wouldn’t it be ideal to build a stronger foundation, a better foundation, with them?
Speaking of better foundations, consider the foundation we are living on now. Where did it come from? What ideas and beliefs was it built on? Clearly, the future was not deeply taken into account when its construction first began. Luckily, however, damages can be reversed. But what direction will we take? And will we now account for the future in a way that no one thought to before? I’ve learned, through constructing these campus gardens, that this is the most important thing to keep in mind. The future. For what are we doing it for if not for that?
In the text, Edible Forest Gardens, by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, the two write of their vision for the future. Where suburbs become forest gardens, and humans have slowly begun the process of removing pesticides and other forms of pollution from their homes. In all honesty, the 600 words of flowery language and far fetched hopes brought me to tears. It’s a beautiful thought. But we’ll never get there if we keep our minds on what we want today. I plan to keep this in mind while I prepare for the rest of this internship, and the rest of my time here at WSCU. I want to be here to see our campus become and edible forest garden, but one that can sustain a college community, without taking anything but carbon dioxide.
August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
It is a sad state of affairs when pressing topics such as the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) hardly enter the periphery of national interest. Intense lobbying and political campaign funding executed by agri-giants like Monsanto and Con Agra has created a climate where gross food control and genetic enslavement proliferates without interference. I believe that systemic change and regulation would be effective in myriad environmental and social issues, including the re-localization of food sovereignty. However, I think that the eco-minded restructuring of national government will be hard pressed to gain momentum through the direction of this nation’s leaders. I sought salvation through the idea that national politicians were genuinely concerned about the health of our bodies, rather than twisted personal agendas. National democracy in the name of the health of the people, was simply swept aside when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a former lawyer for Monsanto, cast one of the deciding votes in favor of the declaration of patenting genetics as a constitutional practice. This flagrant negligence of personal responsibility displays the increasing assimilation of the corporate and political world. As individuals and members of a local community, the burden of producing whole foods and sustainable food system now rests upon our shoulders. This has been a key motivating force for me as a campus ag intern at Western. Could four interns be integral in reigniting food sovereignty in the GunnisonValley? I think so; I think that four people in their youth can help to shape a food producing ecosystem, and display just how easy taking nourishment into your own hands really can be.
I think that the most radical form of creating longevity and sustainability in a contemporary community based food system is saving seed. This can create a strong sense of community, while reintroducing a historically rich bioregional cuisine. Furthermore, saving seed will allow a community to preserve indigenous seed from the inexorable spread of genetically modified seeds. This is the issue most important to me in regard to the local food movement. That is why I was delighted to learn some about saving seeds in Lance’s garden paradise in Hotchkiss Colorado.
I spent the first hour drooling over his garden filled with hearty vegetables and succulent berries and fruit. After I accepted that I was indeed still in reality, Lance and I harvested spelt grain together with traditional sickles. We wrapped the long stalks in burlap blankets and brought them to his straw bale seed shed. It took only two hours to harvest enough grain to feed a man for many months. The simplicity and ease of saving seed really amazed me. As I have learned through experience and edification gardening overall is fairly simple. It seems as though the notion of growing your own food is tied many complex processes, but in reality if you care for the land many human applications are detrimental to letting nature take its course. When you begin to follow the rhythm of natural life cycles that comes with organic and ecological gardens, as you can escape all the fetters and failings of human society. The more you synchronize yourself with a simple yet stimulating practice, one can live in the moment. For me, it is only for a short moment at a time, but I believe as we become swept in the verdant ebb and flow of natural food practice these moments will be extended. I experienced this as Lance and I threshed pea seed from their shells by stomping on the dried plants wrapped in burlap. Threshing was a practice of simplicity suffused with necessity. The methodic pounding of our feet soon become a melodic drumming echoing in the depths of the human experience. Is I entered this meditative state, was as though I felt nostalgia for experiences I had never obtained. Perhaps I had tapped into some ancestral memory bank, or maybe I just felt the happiness of sharing a sacred tradition with an elder. Regardless, I know that there is nourishment in saving seed beyond storing seeds as caloric investment. It is a practice that I must be studious within, so that I may impart it upon future generations.
August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
In a world that lives so separate from its food, it is easy to feel discouraged by progressive actions in the gardening movement. It is hard to invest everything in a belief that many people not only do not agree with, but in many cases, do not even want to hear about. However, I, like many others, believe it is necessary anyway. We are lucky to live in the place we do, as we are told so often, because we experience its majesty first hand, everyday.
The views seen driving on Ohio Creek Road alone can make a person feel something far beyond themselves; the bigger picture. Because really, that’s what all of this is about. Seeing outside of ourselves. Caring outside of ourselves. It sounds idealistic, and probably pretty corny, but realizing it, and then practicing it, is the only way we can achieve our ultimate goal. It is the only way we can protect what we are losing rapidly. It is the only way we will ever get people to hear us.