On Friday April 4th, fellow YSFP intern Eamon Heberlein ‘16 and I made our way to Cooper Union in New York City for an evening of Wes and Wendell. Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, that is. The talk, entitled “Nature as Measure” was a conversation on the state of agriculture and the ways in which progress in the agricultural sector necessitates a shift from an industrial consciousness to an ecological one. Nature as measure stood as the condensed title for this transition of metrics. Encouraging ecological cohesion by comparing agricultural systems to natural processes––striving to achieve the balance seen in natural ecosystems––rather than relying on measures of yields, profit, etc. is the key to developing resilient, sustainable agricultural models.
Okay, so that last (somewhat run-on) sentence is compelling but not particularly earth shattering; modeling agricultural after natural processes is not a novel concept. On the train into New York I was unsure how productive the talk would be: What would I really glean from Wes and Wendell that I didn’t already know? Like most of you reading this tumblr, I’d already drunk the Kool-Aid. I didn’t need convincing that an ecological rather than industrial consciousness was needed to repair our agricultural system. Wes and Wendell are figure heads in the so-called sustainable food movement, the former titled “a poet statesmen” in his introduction; but why listen to them now?
Well, as Wendell so lucidly put it (in his typical fashion) the language of ecological modeling and land respect in agriculture, despite its seeming ubiquity, is still absent in most discussions of systemic change and large scale transformation. “We’ve spent 200 years increasing our yields, and 200 years decreasing our natural endowment,” Wes stated, and the sort of cultural mentality that engrains such actions is hard to recalibrate. As Wes put it, we’re in the “talk, no do,” sometime “talk, do,” phase of this so-called movement; we need to be in the just “do” phase. The talk may be ubiquitous but the activation of that talk on the ground is not.
So how do we “just do”? It’s not about having a plan, Wendell stated. Plans, he says, are futile and he is wary of anyone who thinks he has a “plan” for fixing the food system. Rather action is momentum. Being part of the sustainable food movement, or as I find myself describing more often “the reach for agricultural resiliency,” means you’ve made a commitment before we had a strategy. At least, that’s Wes characterization. This distinction, this dedication in principle before semantics come into play, is key. We stumble yet we do not quit, for we have dedicated ourselves to the long haul, not just a singular problem. Our move for change may be clumsy, Wendell stated, but its persistent.
As we move forward, unsteadily but purposefully, there is reason for hope. Wes warned that it is hope, however, and not optimism that we must cultivate. Hope suggests an intention to act upon; optimism is a trap. Wes warned that optimism and pessimism are just “opposite forms of the same surrender to simplicity.” Being optimistic would mean ignoring the complexity of the obstacles ahead; it would mean resigning oneself to a sense of unearned contentment. In other words, change is as slow and complicated as the ecological systems we are striving to learn from. And change will only be achieved as we move forward, in Wendell’s words, more “humbly, alertly, and pleasingly.”
Change, however, does not rely on the dramatic swinging back of the pendulum from industrial models, Wes noted. Absolutism, he warned, is unproductive. Organic agriculture does not have to be the standard, chemicals can be employed sparingly: “I take aspirin but I’m not an addict,” he quipped. It is more about developing a land mentality. We must learn to look to the land in labor as we drive across Kansas rather than the horizon in search of snow-capped mountains; we must learn to value our acres year-round, rather than leaving them to erode in April before the bare soil is coated in soy and corn seed. So the high morality we’re reaching for, it’s not anything as specific as “organic,” or “local,” or any other neoliberal niche market coinable terms. Rather, we’re reaching for a system that legally and socially actualizes a vision based on a respect for land and a mimicry of natural systems.
Industrial agriculture is a dragon, Wendell says, and it’s pretty much dead. It’s brain, the little one it had, is surely dead, but it’s death throws are tearing the country apart. And so have hope, not optimism, that we might stay the violent thrashes until our fire-breathing aggressor is defeated. We may not win in a single stone throw, but we can still beat our Goliath. We’ll probably just need a lot more rocks.
So maybe I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid but have I wielded a stone (or two or three)? Leaving the auditorium I began to consider how I might manifest my hope for a resilient food system in my actions. Enough with the talk. We’re moving towards “just do.”
by Shizue Roche-Adachi ‘15
photos by Eamon Heberlein ‘16
Working in the lettuce beds #lettuce #ysfp #yalefarm #spring
Getting ready for the #ysfp10 anniversary! (at Yale University Greenberg Conference Center)
Got old #ysfp photos? We want to see them! Submit memories to firstname.lastname@example.org #ysfp10 #tbt
#tbt to when @alicelouisewaters came to @Yale in 2007. We are so excited for her return this #YSFP10 Anniversary Weekend! (at Woolsey Hall - Yale School of Music)
Sophie Mendelson BK ‘15 is a farm manager and a senior advisor for the Yale Sustainable Food Project.
Last night, I, along with a large assemblage of relatives, went to see a cousin perform in a production of the musical Hair. During intermission, the adults remarked to one another about how things were back then, remembering being at college during the hippie era, attending rallies, and marching on Washington. How different it was, they laughed to each other, and then turned to me. But you, as a young person, what do you think of it? I blinked, stunned not only by being asked to represent the perspective of my entire generation, but also by the clear disjunction between the perspectives of my older relatives and mine. How different it was? “It all seems so familiar,” I replied.
Sure, we dress a little differently now (though maybe not as much as some might think…), but in the production I see much more of what I share with those young people than what I don’t. These aren’t just aimless hippies – they’re reacting against a catastrophe that bears down on their generation like a starved predator, leading to the suffering of a collective pre-traumatic stress disorder. Anger, energy, creativity, fear, helplessness, desperation in the face of an impending and probably inevitable tragedy of a colossal scale – I have experienced all of those emotions. No, my government isn’t trying to send me to die in a senseless war that I don’t even agree with in the first place, but the threat of climate change parallels the Vietnam War in more ways than one. We don’t fully understand what is going on; from what we do understand, it is clear that the poor and underprivileged will suffer first and worst; many lives are at stake; and nobody is safe. I look at the actors on the stage and I see my friends, fiercely insisting on a future alternative to the one that seems to be closing in on us, and demanding that the government and the public step up and do their part to steer us down a different path. We too, are fighting to preserve what is beautiful and what is worthy of love; and we too are afraid that we won’t be able to.
There is one difference between the Hair-era flower children and the present day youth environmental movement, though, which stands out to me. In the face of a random draft that could at no notice steal their lives away and the dragging on of a horrific and hopeless war, the hippies decided to disconnect. Society was asking them to do something unconscionable, so they left society. But that is not what I see happening with the environmental movement. Where the hippies disengaged, we are engaging. Because in this case, it is not just our American generation at stake – it’s every generation to come, in every part of the world. Disengaging is not an option, because this will not pass with time. We can’t wait it out. So, instead, we have to take action, and hang onto the hope that it’s not yet too late, and that there is still something left that we have in our power to save.
Rather than dropping out, we are digging in. And in the case of myself, and many of my peers at the YSFP, we are doing so in the most literal sense. Farming, to me, represents a chance to make a change for the better in some kind of tangible way, by engaging in a constructive, creative, and necessary process. So often with the environmental movement it can feel like attempting to deconstruct the Wall of China with a nail file; the opposition just seems so massive. But if that’s the task we face, and that’s the tool we have, the only way that I know to go about it is to choose just one stone and go at it with all of my file-wielding might. And when that stone is reduced to dust, I’ll move onto the next one. This is what going into alternative agriculture means to me – a conscious defiant act undertaken at a local scale but with cumulative and meaningful effects. And eventually, maybe, with enough help, the wall will fall, and we will, as in the song, “let the sunshine in.”
The weekend of November 8-10, I had the honor of attending the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners conference in Brooklyn, New York. Before you hear what I have to say about the conference, however, I want you to know that I went there as a listener and observer, and that the following are things I heard and saw. It feels important to first situate my reactions in some context, so that anyone reading will better understand how they might have been shaped.
I have known for a while that I care deeply about fighting for a better food system, but my critical eye towards food as it concerns justice and sovereignty has only just begun to take focus. I found that most of the conference-goers I spoke to were growers, activists, and organizers working in primarily black communities. I am a white junior environmental studies major, studying food and agriculture and working on Yale’s educational farm. As such, the conference may have had a much different meaning, energy, and purpose for many people there. I learned and heard some incredible things, and I want to share them. But as much as we are all implicated in any given piece of the food movement, you should proceed knowing that my personal stake in this conference was mostly one of learning and attempting to better understand food in the intersection of racial and environmental justice.
“Good morning,” Dr. Monica White greeted the crowd assembled in the Boys and Girls High School’s auditorium, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brookyln. “My heart is full today.” These were apt first words for her keynote; the love and friendship in the room was palpable. Before White had stepped up to the podium, there had been drumming, a song, and a Yoruba prayer in which audience members were invited to honor their families and friends. This was no passive audience, either—throughout Dr. White’s address, many among the nearly 300 people in the room would call out in agreement or encouragement. Unlike at most lectures, speeches, and addresses I’ve attended, it felt like everyone was listening, digesting, and participating in what the speaker had to say.
Dr. White’s presentation was titled, “Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement 1880-2010.” While she made sure to address the history of structural oppression that black farmers have faced, she quickly moved to point out two things.
First: that we have to stop focusing our conversations about black growers around sharecropping and slavery, in order to counter the message that growing food is oppressive. Black people don’t have a negative relationship with the land, she emphasized. They have a negative relationship with systems that have committed violence against them and the land.
Second: “The discussion of resistance in agriculture is not new.” In studying black freedom movements, we read a lot about boycotts, marches, strikes, and sit-ins. Without minimizing the importance or necessity of these types of resistance, Dr. White categorized them as “disruptive.” Growing food, which takes energy away from racist institutions and focuses instead on building community, is “constructive.” “There’s nothing more powerful than growing a garden,” she said. Disrupting systems of oppression and constructing new spaces of freedom, it seemed, must be mutual and concurrent projects.
Plenty of examples of constructive resistance followed. One was George Washington Carver’s “movable school,” a wagon equipped with supplies, seeds, and fertilizer that traveled throughout farms Alabama in 1906, demonstrating plowing techniques and other useful agricultural innovations. Another example was the rise of black farmer cooperatives during the civil rights movement, designed to pool resources in the face of discriminatory farm supply companies.
These accounts of black agrarian resistance sparked something in the auditorium. Dr. White’s words rippled through an audience of fiercely nodding heads and occasionally drowned in shouts and cheers. Remembering that this work is already underway, that better worlds are being created in the present, fills the heart with a sort of energy and readiness to jump in. But Dr. White made sure to temper this energy with sensibility: “Respect and honor process,” she urged. “Never hurry. Take it slow.”
After the keynote came the first breakout session, and as per usual, when faced with a list of workshops to attend, I felt totally paralyzed by possibility. Flipping through the conference schedule and seeing sessions titled, “Wisdom Rising: Garden Tales from Our Elders,” “Healing is a Revolutionary Act,” and “Ambivalence into Action,” I finally settled on “Providing Access to Local, Organic Food to Low Income Families Through Community Supported Agriculture,” mostly because CSA’s as alternative food spaces had been a focus of some of my readings for class. Community Supported Agriculture is like shopping exclusively at one farmer’s market stand, only you pay the fee for the whole season’s produce upfront. This boosts the economic viability of small farms, providing them the start-up money for buying the summer’s seeds, fertilizer, new tools, and so on, while also taking on the farm’s risk of a bad season, crop failure, and drought. Though CSA costs vary, they are usually several hundred dollars for a season.
Elizabeth Henderson, an author, farmer, and founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), welcomed me into the circle of desk chairs as she passed around some handouts about accepting food stamps, alternative CSA payment plans, and the CSA as a strategy for food justice. I immediately felt puzzled; in all my eagerness to critique CSAs as a niche food market for the wealthy, it didn’t occur to me that a) CSAs should be made more accessible despite their elitist image, or b) There are a lot of people working hard to make this happen! And I got to sit in this workshop with about a dozen of them!
As I found out when we were all introducing ourselves, most people in the room were community organizers, CSA managers, or otherwise involved in community food work. Eager to spark a debate, I delivered my little my piece about how CSAs have historically been inaccessible, white and upper class spaces. Everyone nodded kindly in my direction—“Very true,” someone murmured—then got back to what they were there for: to trade tips on sliding scale fees, setting up Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for families using SNAP, and other ways of making CSAs available to everyone in their communities, regardless of socioeconomic conditions. While I have been reading paper after paper deconstructing and critiquing alternative food networks (like CSAs), the participants in this workshop have been actively working to reshape these food networks to better suit the needs of their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. It brought to mind exactly what Dr. White had just spoken about: constructive resistance moves beyond diagnosing the problem and denouncing the harm it causes. It is a form of fighting back that empowers struggling communities to flourish in the face of that harm.
The first breakout session was followed by lunch, during which I wandered down Fulton St. in search of vegan food (after eight blocks with a handful of delis, I found only broccoli and rice). Back in the high school cafeteria, I inched my way into a lively conversation about what it means to truly understand the values of a given community before proposing development-based solutions. This discussion struck me in particular because of my work with New Haven Farms, an organization that provides a subsidized CSA from its garden plots around Fair Haven. The CSA members, all diabetic or pre-diabetic patients from the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic that fall 200% within the poverty line, have certainly expressed appreciation for the program, but this conversation made me feel less convinced that this model of food production is what Fair Haven necessarily wants or needs. Though I still support New Haven Farms’s effort to build a better community food system, I wonder how people benefitting from the program could have more of a voice in shaping it.
After lunch came the second breakout session, and I chose to check out “Facilitating Change in the Food Justice Movement,” run by D’Artagnan Scorza from the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood, CA. Scorza began by drawing a set of concentric circles on a large sheet of paper, with “high-need communities” (an intentional choice of words, avoiding deficit-framing like “low-income”) in the center circle. Outside the very largest circle he wrote “Governments,” “Corporations,” and “Foundations.” In the intervening rings, he drew out a hierarchy in which broad public interests such as health and economic viability occupied the outermost circles, and “food justice organizations” lay just outside “high-need communities.” The idea here, he said, is that the agenda for the food movement is usually set from the outside (governments and foundations) in. In order to reverse this trend, and to have high-need communities set the agenda so that larger powers are working specifically towards their goals, community members need to own their narrative, shift public funding to smaller, community-based initiatives, and develop leadership.
With that, Scorza passed out “Collective Impact Initiative Planning” worksheets, and we were encouraged to work together to enumerate goals, objectives, visions, and strategies for advancing the interests of our own communities. The worksheets separated strategies into those relating to policy, physical place, and promotion, and included spaces in which to list target population groups, key partner organizations, and forms of direction action.
As everyone began filling out their sheets, I glanced uncomfortably around the room, then back at my own paper. Scorza had laid out everything I needed to think about in one thoughtful graphic organizer, where I could start brainstorming ideas for bringing food justice to my community. It was the question of my community, however, that kept me from picking up my pen. Who could that be? I tried to picture the 5,000 other Yale students who are mostly my age and taking classes at the same institution as I am, and the 5,000 different places they came from before they moved to New Haven. My connection to other Yale undergrads, though significant, felt superficial, and our collective stake in creating a community together shaky and uncertain.
There was no doubt that I felt a strong community among my housemates and other friends, but this community was perhaps too small and too homogenous to count. And, without discounting the various forms of oppression we encounter daily, I figured the genuinely most pressing interests of my household’s “community” could usually be addressed by someone picking up more toilet paper and dish detergent from Stop & Shop.
There was home, of course. I grew up the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, where streets of neutral-color colonial-style houses bled into each other. There was crime, but not too much. There was some serious wealth disparity, but nobody talked about it. The political initiatives that received the most attention and support were those driven by self-described “progressive” middle-aged and wealthy moms, which is why teacher’s aids and special education assistants were laid off during the recession, but solar panels got installed on streetlights. Food activism, in the form of shopping at Whole Foods, was rampant.
In the two years since I had left New Jersey, I already felt more passionate about New Haven than I ever had about the place I called home for most of my life. So where was my community? I returned my attention to the classroom, where people were beginning to talk about their plans for direct action. I neatly folded up my graphic organizer, stuck it in my bag, and quietly slipped from the room.
I had desperately wanted to catch some of the “Radical Women of Color in the Local & Good Food Movement” workshop, co-run by Tanya Fields, who spoke to the Yale community at a Chewing the Fat event hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project and Pierson College last winter. Clearly, many other conference-goers had the same idea—the classroom for this session was packed. As I snuck in, introductions were still going on. A man in the corner gave his name, then added, “and I’m here because I’m healing from years of internalized patriarchy and chauvinism.” The rest of the room (mostly women of color) laughed and snapped in encouragement. “That’s right,” came a voice from the other end of the room.
If you didn’t catch Tanya Field’s Master’s Tea back in January, you’ll have to trust my sad attempt to capture her energy in text: she is one of the most unapologetically radical women I’ve ever encountered. Her voice is loud, her words are candid, her laugh is full of warmth, and her mind is full of brilliance and determination. This time, however, instead of her speaking before a quiet group of contemplative Yale students, her energy was met with that of dozens of other women who exuded a similar sense of audacious self-love and sisterly empowerment.
“What is being a radical woman of color?” Fields asked the room. Some answers included “speaking your truth,” the ability to be vulnerable with one another, being firm in your beliefs, not apologizing. “I’m not going to sugar-coat what I have to say,” said one woman. Fields knows the price of self-expression for a woman of color all too well; just before she came to speak at Yale, she had been uninvited from speaking at TEDxManhattan’s Changing the Way We Eat conference. “Being your optimal self, it’s expensive,” she told the room. “What is the cost of being radical, and how do we navigate that?”
This workshop, too, had an activity—along with Dara Cooper, a BUGS organizer and the other session leader, Tanya broke us into groups and assigned each of us a quote from a radical woman of color (including one quote from herself). My group got the following quote from Angela Davis: “The idea of freedom is inspiring, but what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense, but have no food, what is that? The freedom to starve?”
We were encouraged not only to talk about how these quotes applied to our work, but how they could help us reimagine our work going forward. Fields and Cooper stressed this point—as our groups talked about the meaning of these words, they asked us how they will transform our future actions.
My group talked about the language of freedom. We discussed how, since we speak the world into existence, we can reimagine ourselves and our work by coming up with new language to express our ideas about changing the food system. (Fields: “We’re talkin’ ‘bout some real hippie-dippy shit here.”)
The workshop ended all too quickly, but before we left, Fields and Cooper had us call out the names of our heros. With smiles, claps, and calling out “ashe!” (a Yoruba word meaning “the power to make things happen”), we honored Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Turth, Ida B. Welles, and many others (including many of our mothers and grandmothers).
As all of the conference-goers took their seats once more in the auditorium for the closing keynote, my mind spun with thoughts and questions. As Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, took the stage, I found I could hardly focus. What was my main takeaway from this conference? What could I do with these thoughts and questions? Was I just going to write it them all down and stash them away, or was there some immediate change I could make to my own process, like Tanya Fields was pushing us to do?
Well, here I have written down a whole lot, and for now, I think I must somehow hold on to the energy that these speakers, workshop leaders, and conference participants inspired in me. I will remember the incredible amount of work already being done to change food systems, and how much the people doing this work have been and continue to be challenged by racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of injustice. I will remember that communities must voice their own narratives, and while I continue to think about New Haven food policy, the problems therein should be named by the people facing them. At the same time, there is much work to be done, and finding my place in the food movement must be a process that happens simultaneously with offering what resources, energy, and work that I can to the work that is underway.
Farm Product Development Specialist, Shizue RocheAdachi DC ’15 documents a Friday workday spent candying the fruits of our greenhouse-grown bounty.
From left to right: galangal, turmeric, ginger, and Margaret (the human).
This year we made an unusual addition to our crop plan: tropical roots. While New Haven might not be the ideal climate for such equatorial heat-loving roots as galangal, ginger, and turmeric, the Greeley Greenhouse (where we start our seedlings in the spring) had space enough to accommodate our experiment in climatic deception.
It’s not entirely accurate to call galangal, ginger, and turmeric “roots.” Technically speaking they are rhizomes: continuously growing, subterranean, horizontal stems that put out lateral shoots and roots from its nodes. Planted in the summer in wide burlap sacks using root stock (little chunks of fresh turmeric, ginger, and galangal), the roots had sprouted great towers of lush greenery by September. Though our success varied between crops––the turmeric never quite fattened up as well as the ginger and galangal––we managed to produce a formidable crop.
Over the course of the year we’ve been slowly harvesting them, carefully pulling apart the entwined roots and extracting the attempted deserters that had pocked through the burlap to wedge themselves between the grating of our seedling tables like stubborn, fat fingers. Though we’ve been consistently selling the roots at farmers market and to Miya’s, a few burlap sacks remain. As the farm’s Farm Product Development Specialist [read: preserver, pickler, tea maker and do-er or random odd jobs] I had been tasked with the duty of figuring out what to do with our remaining crop. And so, with late winter malaise weighing heavy on my shoulders, I figured a much needed pick-me-up of tropical candies would be appreciated by all.
One of our steadfast Friday volunteers, Margaret, slices the turmeric on a mandolin.
Little can be found on candying turmeric and galangal online. I ended up basing my methods on these two sources. Candied ginger searches yield a plethora of information but my main source can be found here. I used them as guides, however, and so I’ve included my basic instructions for candying any sort of rhizome below.
From top left to right (and top to bottom): turmeric with cardamon pods, galangal, and ginger in syrup.
A note about the remaining syrup: it’s infused and delicious––don’t let it go to waste! I cooked down some of mine to become a slightly more viscous galangal and ginger simple syrup perfect for use in cold or hot drinks or even cocktails. The turmeric syrup I cooked down even further until it was hard-candy ready, pouring it out onto parchment paper, letting cool, and breaking up into shards perfect for sucking on or dropping into black tea.
The farm family favorite? The candied galangal. Farm managers were snacking heavily on it at CT-NOFA.
Hours later, the candies are mostly dried and ready for coating.
From day one, I could tell that running a successful farm — both from an agriculture perspective as well as financial one — would mean utilizing the tremendous resources that Berkshire Grown offered as one of the primary local food umbrella organizations in the region. — Rafi Bildner ‘16, Berkshire Grown