Friday, September 19, 2014
Dirty hands and happy workers over at the #Farm today! The #tomato #harvest is over & the vines are out!

Dirty hands and happy workers over at the #Farm today! The #tomato #harvest is over & the vines are out!

Lacto-Fermented Chard Pickles

Hi, Margaret here.  Last week, Shizue and I inaugurated a year of value-added product work by making a batch of lacto-fermented chard pickles.  Neither of us had ever pickled chard before, but it was a surprisingly easy process. We approached the project with a spirit of experimentation, trying different things and devising our strategy as we went along.

First we prepped the jars with various spices, peppers, and herbs. Both because we had a motley assortment of differently sized jars and because neither of us had experience with chard pickling, we made up a new recipe for each jar.  The combinations ranged the gamut from mustard seed, coriander, cumin, and hot pepper to cinnamon and whole cloves to fresh chives and celery seed. The goal was to brine the chard stems in a wide variety of flavors and see how the end results compared.  

Then, we processed the chard.  We harvested it, stripped the leaves from the stem, and chopped the stems into pieces about 2 ½ inches long.

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 Next, we made our brine.  Lacto-fermentation is a process that utilizes the naturally occurring bacteria on plants to help break them down, so we didn’t have to use vinegar.  Instead, we made brine out of salt and water, with a 20% salt-water weight ratio.  The salt acts as a kind of miracle agent in the pickling process, killing bad bacteria while letting the good ones remain. 

With all the ingredients prepared, we started stuffing the chard stems into the jars, trying to pack them in as densely as possible.  As well as wanting to maximize our space, we wanted to reduce the possibility of oxygen bubbles forming in the jar.

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Once all the chard and spices had been crammed into the jars, we poured the salt brine in, filling the jars almost to the top.  We then pushed the chard down more with our fingers and tapped the jars on the hard surface of the table in order to force all the oxygen bubbles up.  Oxygen allows for bad bacteria to thrive, so it’s important to try to get as much of it out of the pickling containers as you can before they start to ferment.

Like the rest of the process, trying to get the oxygen bubbles out was an ad-hoc operation.  We had a handful of people helping us, and the spectacle of all of us tapping our jars on the table chaotically or in different spontaneous rhythms was pretty absurd.  There was much laughter and much accidental brine-spillage. 

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Sometimes people think of pickling as something that’s super difficult or fussy and view it as a process that requires specialist knowledge.  But that’s not necessarily true.  All it requires is a certain amount of adventurousness, a certain willingness to surrender control.  This is how I like to think about pickling–you start with a bunch of ingredients in known form and combine them with the hope of getting something new, something unknown.

When the oxygen bubbles were out of the chard, we topped off the jars with a little more brine, screwed the lids on loosely, and put them in a fairly cool, temperature-steady room to sit.  We don’t know how long we’ll let them ferment: in a few days we’ll taste them, think about the differences in the flavors, and decide if we want to let each jar get tangier and stronger in flavor or if we want to call it finished. 

And when we decide a jar is finished, then comes the fun part: eating. We’ll get to eat and enjoy the chard in a new, previously unknown form.  We’ll think about what it was like before, what it is like now, and if we were to do the project again, what it could be like then. 

Until next week on the Farm,

Margaret

photos by Ruoxi Yu

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harnessing the Potential of Perennials

I spent the summer as a research assistant at The Land Institute (TLI) in central Kansas. Much of my energy last academic year went towards understanding their work, and all the ideas out there for shifting agriculture’s environmental impact in the grain belt and beyond, I’ve found this one to be most promising. So here I want to give a short overview of TLI’s work, which inspires and drives my academic and work aspirations.

Wes Jackson founded TLI in the 70s with the goal of developing perennial varieties of major grain crops. TLI works against the logic of industrial mono cropping of annuals by growing perennial crops in mixed stands; they strive for an agricultural system that mimics the form and function of native prairie ecosystems. In nature, systems always move towards dominance by perennial species. Annuals are the opportunists that come after disturbance—such as plowing. Thus, annual based cropping systems have always and will always work against nature’s inclination toward perennials. Wes Jackson likes to refer to this as the “10,000 year or problem of agriculture.” It’s the reason most civilizations throughout history eroded away their soils and collapsed; and maybe why the single activity which has most defined our species for the last 10,000 years is weeding.

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Roughly 11,000 acres of native unplowed tall grass prairie at the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in eastern Kansas. At one time 400,000 square miles of this prairie covered much of the continent, and was rivaled only by the Serengeti in mega fauna abundance and diversity. Imagine an agriculture that mimics such productive and diverse systems


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Here a bison grazes at The Land Institute.

Wes argues that perennializing grain production will address critical problems in industrial agriculture, such as soil erosion, water shortages, biodiversity loss, dependence on inputs (fertilizers and pesticides, etc.) and green house gas emissions. Most of these benefits come from the large root mass of some perennial crops. For example kernza (shown below) has root systems often 10 times as extensive as annual wheat cultivars. These roots systems enable drought tolerance, greater nutrient cycling, and increase levels of soil carbon—an important factor in soil fertility.


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National geographic photograph comparing kernza with an annual wheat cultivar.

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Bag of kernza flour, which has high nutritional value, and minimal gluten.  

Prevention of soil erosion may be perennials’ greatest asset. We’ve now lost one third of our topsoil in the past 50 years, and with soil eroding from farmland 17 times faster then it is naturally created, erosion is perhaps one of the most pressing problems for agriculture. Crops like kernza with incredibly extensive roots hold and grow soil by ensuring continuous cover across agricultural landscapes, reversing erosion trends that have undermined civilizations since the dawn of agriculture.  



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Above: Fields of recent kernza transplants. Research technician and I transplanted important parent plants from the green house. These fields of kernza will grow back each year, and can be harvested just like any other field of wheat with a combine.

TLI uses traditional breeding methods for the domestication of Intermediate wheatgrass into a viable cultivar (kernza). Selection cycles are achieved by planting large populations of thousands of plants from which the best (agronomically speaking) can be isolated and selected as the parents for the next generation. Thus, within a few selection cycles—and without the use of modern genetic engineering technologies—TLI has increased kernza yields such that crops grown in Minnesota have achieved almost a third of conventional wheat. Next year in Minnesota, 50 farmers will be contracted to grow the crop by Pategonia Provisions.  Other companies have expressed interest in the crop as well.




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A few more selection cycles may put kernza on competitive grounds with conventional wheat. With only a decade of breeding and modest funding, kernza demonstrates reason for optimism when set against the 10,000 years of selection and billions of dollars that have generated the yields of modern genetically engineered wheat. Some scientists argued that perennials didn’t have the genetic potential for such high yielding, but researchers at TLI are tentatively optimistic that the crop might one day actually out-compete conventionally grown annual what cultivars.

The success of kernza and other perennial crops could literally change the face of the grain belt and the way we’ve produced the majority of our food for 10,000 years. It excites me to picture mixtures of perennial crops in place of endless monocultures of corn, soy, or wheat. I think of the biodiversity such landscapes would encourage. I think of my fabricated nostalgia for the prairies that once injected fertility into this landscape, and can’t think of a more perfect model for agriculture to aspire and return to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Soil pits! On Monday, Professor Mark Bradford’s Soil Science course analyzed soil horizons on the Yale Farm. A very cool collaboration between YSFP and Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Soil pits! On Monday, Professor Mark Bradford’s Soil Science course analyzed soil horizons on the Yale Farm. A very cool collaboration between YSFP and Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Stories of a Good Farmer (aka the beginnings of a big scary thesis and a highly digestible radio piece “teaser”)

Shizue RocheAdachi, an Environmental Studies senior and Senior Advisor/Leader of the Chicken Tenders at the Yale Sustainable Food Project, writes about how her summer trip to a farming community in Wisconsin shaped the beginnings of her senior thesis.

I spent my summer in kitchens and living rooms, knees tucked under worn tables as strangers tentatively, and then eagerly, retold the stories of their farms and their families and the things that tied these two histories together.  This was all called “research,” and indeed it was: notes were taken, audio was recorded, libraries were visited.  But, it did feel like a rather indulgent practice.  I was welcomed into the homes of strangers to hear the stories I love to listen to–– stories of how farmers became farmers, how farms became farms, how cows were bought and sold, how communities came and went, how crops were laid in strips and then, to the horror of some, became planted fencerow to fencerow, and how the closing of the last dairy on the street cast a shadow felt by all.  I was a collector of agrarian stories, narratives I never assumed to be “true” in the objective sense but rather resonated as truth for the particular individual and, perhaps, for the community they aligned themselves with.  

My newly acquired archives of what it means to be a farmer to a community of a couple thousand in a unknown elbow of Wisconsin will become the foundation of my senior thesis for Environmental Studies, crafted as both a written piece and a series of short radio pieces.  If I were stuck in an elevator with you and you were to ask, “Shizue, what is your thesis about?” I would reply that it is an exploration of individual farmer and community identity in a small agricultural county of southwestern Wisconsin, focusing primarily on how identity is tethered to agricultural practice.  If further prodded, I would explain that understanding engrained conceptions of what it means to be a farmer, particularly a good farmer, and the agricultural heritage of this county is critical to understanding the region’s recent visibility as the county with the highest number of organic farms.  I suppose I would name the region as this point as Vernon County, located in the Driftless region of Wisconsin so named for the hills the glaciers never came to flatten.  Vernon county is populated by a diverse community of farmers and yet despite divergent practices and agricultural/lifestyle ideals, these farmers are hesitant to draw lines.  This is important if you, like me, are curious about how identity structure can inform agricultural transition, by which I mean how narratives of personal and community identity may encourage or impede shifts to more so-called “sustainable” forms of agriculture.  

At this point the elevator ride would be over and perhaps you would care enough to ask me to send you a copy of the thesis.  Well, you’ll have to wait till March for that but for now consider this an audio “teaser.”  This is just one story of agriculture in the Driftless, the story of one small scale conventional dairy farmer witnessing the end of his way of life. 

Click here to listen to the first of Shizue’s radio pieces.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lazarus Summer Intern, Sarah Gross, created Google Glass instructional videos for her summer independent project. Here is her take on harvesting arugula. 

Justine Appel ‘15 writes about her summer: 

July 10th

Right now it is 9:00 p.m. and to the west you can see the sun still disappearing somewhere far behind the fir trees, while on the other side of the pond, the moon shines so brightly you can see your shadow against the clover. The sky around it is cloudless; such a deep tone of blue that I could stare at it for a long, long time. 

The air on Cape Rosier smells like sea salt and spruce tree, and the constant ocean breeze makes comfortable even the hottest afternoons we spent cultivating under the sun. I learn to recognize the call of the killdeer and the pattern of deer hooves in the cabbage beds. I train my eye to see the yellow galinsoga flowers (bad) amid the yellow melon flowers (good), and my hands to run underneath the vines, pulling only those roots which are unwelcome. I become familiar with the particular kind of quiet that falls over the farm at dusk, and after a while, I learn to emulate that quietness in my own mind.

 Living in this place, you become acutely aware of the infinite cycles of life and death. You find chicken bones when putting down compost on new beds. The beet seedlings you thinned just the other week are now big and leafy, and you’re rescuing them from the ever-abundant lamb’s quarters that grows in the fields like carpets. One night, we drive to Bakeman’s Cove and wade into the moonlit water. As we swish gently through the tide, fairy dust sparks electric blue around our arms and legs: bioluminescent microorganisms. Brilliant life in the black chill of the ocean. 

July 21st

Lunch: weird financial conversation about getting wealthy people to invest millions in small agriculture. Was NOT into it and had to go find my happy place for a while. Don’t like putting small agriculture in capitalistic terms, even if the endeavor is to make small agriculture successful. There are other ways and other languages.

Living in this place, you wonder about the work that you are doing. I am able to work here without pay because of generous fellowships from Yale. I am seeking to learn more about self-sufficiency and the farm as a space for imagining new relationships between people, and between people and the earth. I come here to partake in such imagining and instead find that being here makes it easy to forget whatever is going on far behind the spruce trees. It is easy to feel comfortable and at peace, in part because I am surrounded by natural beauty, and in part because I still have healthcare and my parents still have their jobs in New York City.

 Most of the people in this community are not from Maine, but from somewhere in the mid-Atlantic states. They moved up here in the 60’s and 70’s because they were angry with this country and its industries, its poisons, and its injustices. Now they are farming or homesteading, making art—aspiring to live as closely to nature as they can. They are almost all white and college-educated. In other words, they are all me, were I born a few decades earlier.

 I find that the capitalism, along with other systems I consider oppressive, do operate here, and all of the ways I benefit from them persist. I feel naïve for thinking it could have been otherwise.

 Sometimes I try to talk about it, but mostly I can only verbalize it as guilt. How can I ever hope to create something new out of guilt? I let my mind return to the task at hand: weeding the long beds of leeks. I pick up my pace.

 August 30th

We all started in the farm garden, prepping a bed, transplanting in some broccoli, and weeding. And then, for some reason, all four of us stuck together all day. It was so wonderful—all of our conversations here return to previous topics and delve into them deeper, and that feels good. Like we’re thinking about these things and these questions so seriously that they come up again and again, sometimes in different forms. A big one is cultural change, how that happens, individual vs. community action, etc. The importance of learning skills, being able to teach them. Interacting with communities that aren’t yours in respectful and productive ways.

In the afternoon we all moved to cultivating the north fields, and we were all loony from too much sun. I find so much value in a group of people I can be serious and urgent with, but also goofy with. I think that’s so important.

I spend most of my time here with four people: the summer apprentices hired by Eliot and Barbara, who own the property. Barbara and Eliot treat us with so much kindness: Barbara cooks us all a delicious lunch, and Eliot works alongside us in the fields, laughing and chatting with us, sending us to do indoor tasks when it rains too hard. They both share with us their incredible knowledge of organic growing in every way they can.

 There are many others in this community on the cape, and everyone comes together for a weekly potluck. Towards the end, they start to know my name, greet me with hugs, ask me if I’m excited for my senior year.

But the ones I remain closest to are the Four Season apprentices. Whether we’re making soil blocks in the plant house or splitting wood out in the pasture, they are always ready to discuss most anything with me, to think critically about the change we all seek to make in the food system. We come from different places and were drawn here through different processes, but to see that each of us feels so strongly committed to living well and providing good lives to others through growing food—it gives me hope. We are all young and uncertain, but we are filled with it. Beautiful, stubborn hope.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Yale Sustainable Food Project’s Global Food Fellows Program supports the extracurricular study of food systems. In our inaugural year, four students proposed an innovative research topic or internship, pursuing ideas that could overturn the ecological, social, and economic deficiencies of today’s predominant food system. As a part of their experience, they will be checking in with the YSFP (and the world) through our Tumblr – stay tuned to read their reports and revelations! 

It was a late on a Thursday afternoon. Our Mahindra truck bumped along the narrow, curvy road. The horn honked rhythmically as the vehicle spun around the switchbacks, ascending the hills of the Dolakha district. Eventually we pulled off on the side of the road, brandished our umbrellas and stepped out into the rain. Following the narrow path that wound its way down from the road, we walked closer to the plume of smoke rising from the chimney below. Mid-July’s monsoon rains may have sent many in Kathmandu Valley seeking cover, but here in Dolakha the rains marked a season of great productivity. Driving to the Napkeyen Mara Community Forest User Group (CFUG), located some distance outside the district headquarters of Charikot, we passed scores of people—young and old, male and female—tending to their rice paddies as the raindrops fell. When we arrived under the tin roof covering the warm hearth, we were met by a similarly varied group of people. Carrying baskets full of wintergreen leaves from the forest, they arrived at this warm, dry oasis of sorts to deliver their harvest and collect their pay.

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CFUG members deliver freshly cut wintergreen.

The people of Napkeyen Mara and neighboring CFUGs have been collaborating in wintergreen processing—through a community owned enterprise—for the past decade. On this Thursday afternoon, it was time to refill the vat used to distill the wintergreen into oil, so several men emptied the already distilled plants from the vat. Boys and girls and their mothers and fathers delivered freshly cut wintergreen—which would later be loaded into the vat for distillation—to the storeroom. The manager inspected the finished oil and dispensed payments for the fresh wintergreen.

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The distillation vat holds 600 kg of Wintergreen and is refilled once every day during the processing season.

Lazarus Summer Intern Sarah Gross ’17 recently wrote, “It wasn’t immediately clear to me why we were going to the forest besides that forests are really cool. But looking at timber as a crop pushed me to think about our farm.” In many ways, that’s how I felt about this experience. When I asked those delivering fresh wintergreen what they used the money for, they said they paid their phone bills and bought schoolbooks, pens, paper and other household items. It took me a while to realize it, but in essence, this enterprise helped families to continue the area’s traditional subsistence farming. Because the wintergreen efforts provide income, families don’t need to look to food crops as their principal source of revenue. Therefore pesticide use is relatively uncommon in the area since many farmers only aim to produce enough food for their family, and perhaps a bit more.

According to the CFUG and enterprise leaders I interviewed, the business has enabled the establishment of a CFUG based development fund. In an area where interest rates are usually prohibitively high (18-24%), CFUGs have used their group’s royalties from the enterprise to offer the poorest members zero interest loans of up to 10,000 Nepalese Rupees (approx. $100) for two years. This access to capital has allowed many villagers to improve their irrigation systems and invest in livestock, especially goats, which many now raise to consume and sell to other villagers.

The interviews we conducted that afternoon will stay with me for a long time. When we think of agriculture, we can’t just think in the context of food, as many so often do. In her article Stone Soupfor the July 28th issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert notes that “agriculture was ‘invented’” about 10,000 years ago. Those who continue to practice agriculture today, whether living in California’s Central Valley, New Haven, rural Nepal or anywhere in between, inhabit a world dominated by the fruits of civilization that, in Kolbert’s words, “could be said to owe its origin to those first farmers scratching with sticks in the dirt.”

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With other staff from ANSAB, I spent the afternoon interviewing CFUG members and enterprise staff about the role of the enterprise in the region’s system of agriculture.

Agriculture is now more than a technique, for many it is an occupation. Raising food for one’s family is no longer sufficient; farmers need to be able to pay for basic expenses like electricity and propane. In places like Nepal’s Dolakha district, where the concept of agriculture as an occupation is a more recent phenomenon, agricultural people are still working to determine how best to earn a living given their limited opportunities for income generation. This poses great environmental risks as a combination of poor education, a lack of information and the drive to earn money threaten the area’s traditional sustainable agriculture. Through our research, it has become clear to me that programs working to provide alternative income generating opportunities by expanding the definition of agriculture beyond food production— like ANSAB’s ecosystem services certification project (which I wrote about last time)—are an important ingredient in establishing a healthy, economically and environmentally viable system of agriculture in rural Nepal.

            Jacob Wolf-Sorokin is a rising junior at Yale University majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, and an Academic-Year Intern at the Yale Sustainable Food Project. His summer internship at ANSAB is funded through the generous support of the Lazarus Global Food Fellows Program at the Yale Sustainable Food Project, the International Studies Fellowship at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, and the Tristan Perlroth Prize for Summer Foreign Travel at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Kale vs. Kelp

Hello, Yetunde here. As soon as I opened my door to the nostalgic smell of salt water and seafood, I knew it was going to be a great day. I had been waiting for this day for the entire summer. Truth be told, I had no clue what the trip was about, what we would learn or what we were going to do. All I knew was that there would be ocean and seafood-that was good enough for me. However, as a stood shin deep in the Long Island Sound bed grime- searching for clams with my bare feet- the simplicities that had incited extreme excitement were replaced with a thoughtful, soaked Yalie (with a beaming smile of course).

My reflective state began from my muddied clam digging spot around 10:30am. To the soundtrack of the seagulls, I became increasingly aware of a “cyclical” nature of our Thimble Islands experience. This cyclicality that I am describing was more philosophical than tangible. It was the sudden realization that the world and life is truly just a collection of cycles. For instance, as I walked heel backwards in search of clams, I was astonished to be able to see people going for walks, runs or bike rides; boats gliding on the water; cars cruising on the road; trains bumping along their tracks and planes buzzing above, simultaneously. And this observation of cycles only continued throughout the day.

The next cycle that struck me was an unexpected cycle of economies. As the charismatic Chris sped us around the Thimble Islands, he pointed the different islands and properties as well as Yale’s very own island. He described the Thimble island floating party scene as well as the cut throat real-estate activities of the islands. Having grown up in the area, Chris gave us an excellent looking glass into the changes that happened in the area, how those changes had affected the area and what those changes meant for the future. He spoke of a recent purchasing of many of the islands by a single person that put stress on the real-estate market and as a result the micro-economy of Thimble Islands.

With the knowledgeable Ron, I experienced the more comforting scientific cycle from our crab catching activities. In order to catch these tiny shore crabs, we were armed with gloves and a bucket. We employed team work and spent about 40 minutes flipping over stones and instantly snatching up as many crabs as we could and placing them in the bucket. As bizarre as this may sound, it became increasingly evident that it was important. Ron educated us on the presence of invasive species of crabs that were out-competing the indigenous species. In fact, for every 40 crabs we caught, maybe one of them was an indigenous. It was especially frightening to find that one of the invasive species had only been introduced about 30 years ago, yet was the most numerous!

Finally, with Bren I felt the social cycle. Bobbing up and down in his oyster boat, we were brought to the site of my very first experience with 3D farming. In a seemingly random collection of buoys, was the location of a 20 acre ocean farm. With a simple pulley system, Bren began showing us the different parts of his ground breaking farm. The first was the sugar kelp. We peered wide-eyed as he explained how the waxy, dull brown seaweed in front of us was possibly one of the most nutritious foods on our Earth. Furthermore, that unassuming sea vegetable was combatting human pollution by soaking up the excess amounts of nitrates in the water as well as carbon dioxides dissolved in the water. In short, if we had a few more Brens and Bren farms, we could be solving world hunger and global warming.

Although my previous statement may be presumptuous, it got me thinking. Each portion of the day caused me to contemplate the intricate cycles that make up the world. Can something as simple as a few 20-acre ocean farms make an impact on our societal challenges? How much of a ripple effect does change have on a cycle or multiple cycles? …….The Thimble Islands cyclical experience left me with a new sense of inquiry and a strong desire to see the disassembly of the seemingly complex cycles of our world into their simple components.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Summer in The Kingdom in the Clouds: Lessons From An Agrarian Society

Rafi Bildner ‘16 has worked as a Farm Manager for the Yale Sustainable Food Project. He writes about his summer in Bhutan:

It’s hard to imagine that just three weeks ago, I was waking up as cows and horses gnawed on artemesia and clover outside of my window, with wild dogs steadily barking in the distance, before walking to lectures in a early 20th century Dzong (traditional Bhutanese fortress), once used by Bhutan’s first king as a summer palace. As the days roll forward, and my time studying abroad in the Kingdom of Bhutan with the School for Field Studies fades evermore into the recent past, it seems as if each day, a new lesson from the the experience is unlocked and further unraveled. 

Especially since arriving home here in Western Massachusetts a few days ago, where I farmed my family’s land for two seasons before coming to Yale, I have begun to really digest and reflect on what I learned, experienced and observed abroad, from an agriculture and food systems perspective. There were many things I didn’t fully comprehend about Bhutan prior to disembarking from that Drukair Royal Bhutan Airways Airbus two months ago; I certainly had no understanding of what an incredible case study the Kingdom would be, in terms of examining small-scale food systems. 

I am typing these words from a part of our country that is undoubtedly a “local-food hot spot.” Especially right now, in the heart of the summer growing season, farms all over the area are bursting with new crops, farmer’s markets are chocked full with variety, and restaurants and stores have signs out on the street boasting about their locally-sourced options. Every year, new farms sprout up, restaurants with an emphasis on “farm-to-table cuisine” open their doors, and the Berkshire Co-Op Market struggles to find enough room on their shelves to display all of the locally-produced options. But what has become incredibly clear to me, even after only being back for a few short days, is that as much as this type of food system continues to grow in this area, at the end of the day, there is one significant roadblock going forward: At the end of the day, “local food” in our society is still mostly a novelty, a garnish, rather than the main course. We are attempting to bring back a food system that was once in place in our country many generations ago, but it is not engrained in the fiber of society. 

Before studying and researching in Bhutan, I had never fully experienced what it is like to live in a truly agriculture-based society. While Bhutan is not immune to issues affecting rural communities around the world (the younger generation’s desire to live and work in cities, the inability to sustain a family purely from commercial farming), agriculture is still as engrained in the culture as eating itself. There isn’t that same disconnect that we suffer here in America, between food and land, and thus, in many ways, farming governs daily life. Again, I want to be clear that Bhutan is certainly not a food-system utopia; it faces many challenges, and small-scale agriculture in the Kingdom is not immune to global market pressures to scale-up. But it would be hard to ignore the fact that many communities in Bhutan are fully centered around farming. The village where my field research was based, Ugyencholing, in the central Dzongkhag (district) of the Kingdom (called Bumthang), is a perfect example of this. While strictly subsistence farming has given way to growing cash crops like potatoes (to meet a demand for more disposable income on hand), families still grow almost everything they consume on a yearly basis, themselves. What this means is that even the younger generations who are off studying in school, or working in other cities and towns still have a connection to the land on which they grew up, and come back to assist their family members with planting and harvesting. The year is based around farming, in fact, school vacations still coincide with the key agricultural periods of the year. It was clear to me that even if I met someone who had an occupation other than farming, at least one of their family members was engaged in agriculture; throughout the duration of my time in the country, I never met a Bhutanese citizen who wasn’t connected with the land in one way or another. 

While there are a host of challenges that the Kingdom’s food system faces, unlike in many parts of the U.S. (and certainly throughout New England), a small-scale food system is very much in place, and engrained in societal culture. Because we are already so disconnected from the land on which our food is grown, and the farmers that grow it, and just about every intermediate step in between, “local food” is just an accent to an already established way of life. My experience this past summer has encouraged me to continue to examine how (and if it is even possible) to truly make this a system that people can rely upon, here in the United States. How does the local food movement in regions like New England become a food system? It would be naive to think of Bhutan as a country we can entirely base our efforts off of - after all, the Kingdom has less than a million people within its borders - but there is no doubt that there is something to be gained from re-examining what it means to have agriculture fully engrained in societal life.

Tashi delek, and hope to see you all around the farm this coming year!

The local vegetable market in Jakar, close to where I studied

Presenting my research to government officials in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city

With my friend Dechen, who helped interpret while I researched in the village of Ugyencholing

A view of Ugyencholing’s wheat fields - almost ready for harvesting