Friday, July 11, 2014

Last week, I was in charge of landscaping duty. With a weed-whacker and mower, I waged a war against tall grass and weeds. I still feel the rumble of the mower. What other tactile sensations exist at the farm? The tickle of our asparagus forest, the sweet, sticky juices from plucked gooseberries, the moist soil after it’s been kissed with fish emulsion. There are countless others. What helps me feel the farm? Hands. Soft hands, with small calluses on the top of the palms.

In middle school, I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. One character, Curly, wore a glove “fulla Vaseline.” An unlikely detail, and definitely not practical, but the glove did create a barrier between man and the work-tools, or man and the soil.

Back to my hands. I inspect the scabbed over blisters on the insides of my thumbs. I should’ve worn gloves.

Sometimes, agricultural-workers are called farmhands, a synecdoche that evokes a cloud of hands that till the soil and turn the compost. Popular images show the farmer, cupped and calloused hands pooled with soil. I wonder, what is a grower’s most important tool? Can it be the hands, that weed or transplant? Or is it the mind, filled with years of listening to the soil and other growers? Maybe season after season fuse the two together. I imagine two carrots, corkscrewed around each other, underneath the earth.

At the Wooster Square market, an exchange of crumpled bills signifies the trade between the grower and the consumer. Contact is one thing farmer’s markets provide. You put a place to a face. The interaction reveals the invisible fingerprints that cover our food, that are hidden under bright super market lights. When we trade, cash for veggies, or veggies for cash, we say: Yes, this food grew on an acre of land in Downtown New Haven; yes, we are students. You can tell by our hands.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Onagh MacKenzie ‘15 writes about her summer in Sitka:

By the grace of the universe, luck, and a generous fellowship, I managed to find my way back to Sitka, Alaska this summer. I happened upon this special island community in Southeast Alaska through a food-related internship last summer and promptly fell in love with its spirit, culture, and mountains that kiss the sea. Needless to say, I’ve been ready to return ever since my plane’s wheels took off last season.

I had been back in Sitka for a week when I got the call. It was a friend’s father, Floyd, on the other end of the line. Floyd was a longtime fisherman, handyman, and an expert in random but countless fields, as all Sitkans seem to be. He invited me out to fish; an opportunity for ocean travel, general fun, and a potential stocking of the freezer. I immediately accepted. 

All suited up in my mustang suit, an unsinkable, orange, full body flotation device, and I was ready to hop in the skiff. We headed out to Biorca, an island about forty-five minutes on relatively calm water from Sitka. It was Salmon Derby weekend in town, and the flashy sport fishing boats watched our well-worn skiff amble by enviously. It was the crack of dawn and we had time and the tide on our side. The competing boats couldn’t head out from the harbor until 7 am.

Outboard engine slowed and the waves making their presence known, we began the ritual baiting of the hook. Watching a seasoned fisherman complete this initial task, one instantly becomes aware that fishing is steeped in tradition. Floyd prefers to use herring as bait, meticulously cutting the small dart of silver on the underside, down the belly to the tail. His confident hands hook one hook in the fish’s flesh, leaving the second to snag the too-curious salmon. A needle is then pierced through the fish, dragging the line through the eye. The eyeballs are kept in their socket at all costs, maintaining every possible shred of herring authenticity. The line then wraps around the chin, precisely twice. Floyd’s signature flair comes when he curls the herring, right at the neck and inserts a toothpick to keep the neck turned, giving the fish a realistic spin when trailing in the water. When I ask about this method, Floyd admits that he doesn’t know where he learned this and isn’t sure that it works better than any others, but it’s Floyd’s flourish and he’ll practice it as long as he fishes.

Almost immediately after we cast and start to troll, moving forward very slowly in the skiff, we sense a tug on the line. When Floyd places the pole in my greenhorn hands, I am immediately flustered, worried I don’t have enough arm strength to hoist what I could swear is a record-breaking King salmon on the other end. Floyd is completely unruffled however and clearly amused by my stress. After a few seconds of my unaided floundering, he steps in with seasoned wisdom: hold my pole up and don’t fight the salmon. Let the fish run. A tired King salmon is what we want in our boat.

And a tired King it is. Two in fact by the time we decide to head in, only one short of the three salmon allowed for a subsistence salmon permit in this opening. We stop at a floating cleaning station on our way into the harbor. As we de-head and gut our Kings, Floyd shares more local knowledge. Kings, I learn, have a different shape, tail form, patterns, and purple coloring on the scales, from any of the other four pacific salmon species, Pink, Coho, Chum, or Sockeye. We let our cleaning scraps slide into the ocean, an easy snack for some lucky sea lions.

We pull up to my host family’s driveway and Floyd breaks the news. He already has enough salmon in his fridge and he doesn’t eat frozen salmon. The logical conclusion: I am begged to take home two freshly caught, twenty-pound King salmon.

My host-parents, not fishermen themselves, are clearly overjoyed. Hours later, covered in vibrant orange flesh and surprisingly sticky scales, Peter, my host-dad, and I have learned to fillet a salmon. Definitely not the best fillet job an Alaskan salmon has seen, but it will have to pass. Cleaning our hands up a bit, we can’t help ourselves. We head to the computer and look up Alaskan King salmon fillet prices in an upscale Seattle market. By our rough metrics, we have over $400 of pink protein in our fridge.

After we bury the skeletons in the garden for added nutrients, we break out the phone book, calling up every non-fishing family friend we can think of. Unsurprisingly we’re met with overjoyed responses. Peter and I load up the car and begin the salmon drop-off. Laden with hugs, recipe suggestions, and a dozen fresh eggs from a recipient’s flock, we return home to our own bounty, excited for a week of salmon-centric dining and completing what we fondly coin to be our “circle of salmon happiness.”  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hey there y’all. It’s Ryan here again from the YSFP, writing about this week’s farm action. Surprisingly, this week has been less involved on the Yale Farm and more community-based, out and about in New Haven. Tuesday involved traveling to Woodbridge, CT down yonder to help Massaro Community Farm with their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Wednesday involved lots of work planting ginger in the Yale Greenhouse as well as an in depth class on the economics of small-scale farming taught by Mark Bomford. Thursday involved a day of food preparation and cooking on West Campus for a much-needed almost-end-of-the-week Happy Hour event at the West Campus Urban Farm. But no matter what, farmers still return to their farm for maintenance, harvesting, and market as is the usual rhythm of Friday and Saturday.

 With the laundry list of event updates on the table, it’s interesting to see how each event has one thing in common: community. Despite Massaro and West Campus both being located down the road, each farm serves its own micro-community that, too, is separate from the Yale Farm community. And stretching further, the Yale Farm YSFP micro-community differs from the active volunteers in the New Haven community, school-centered volunteers, City Seed produce buyers, and even the managerial staff behind the scenes. Even further, at Massaro, the workers we helped this week share a very different micro-community compared to the Massaro owners, the CSA families coming for produce, and even the residents of the houses across the street. And finally the combination of graduate students, faculty, researchers, scientists, PHD students, and interns that interact on the West Campus farm all find themselves coming together.

 On the surface, each farm represents a geographical location; a single establishment for the purpose of producing foodstuffs for a local community. That local community, however, has an amorphous identity, molding to each person or program individually according to their desire. Each establishment, as articulated best by Mark Bomford in his lecture, sells much more than produce; they sell hope for a better tomorrow, sustainable food production, and interpersonal relationships among customers and producers. All of a sudden, farming becomes much more than merely growing and selling or supply and demand. Instead, farms transform a group of people separated in their daily actions and desires, bringing these individuals together in one central location.

 This very concept of micro-communities on such a small scale underlines a much more important point: food has the power to promote change. Three farms, all within a ten-mile radius of one another, have the capacity to connect different peoples for different reasons in different ways. Further expanding on the positive externalities of micro-communities, farms have the capacity to promote healthy morals, greener thinking, food literacy from the ground to the kitchen table, and even interaction with a wider group of New Haven residents. So much change and so much influence in only a small fraction of a city let alone a sand grain of the world. But what if the change wasn’t positive? What about times of war, poverty, infertility of soil, natural disaster, drought, flash floods, or depression? What about the negative externality of pollution from industrial facilities, premature soil infertility from over-tilling land, or even illegal labor wages? Sometimes promoting change can mean preventing change.

 So what did I learn from the farm this week? Food matters. From the geographical location where the crop is planted to the people taking care of that crop to the community collecting that harvested food to the people being served with what one buys, food is involved in a much more complicated and important process than meets the eye. We witness that process every day from sunrise to sunset and yet remain ignorant to how many struggles were labored through to make each part of the food-chain puzzle align perfectly. And, inversely, we remain ignorant to how drastically life can change when just one of those steps does not fit exactly right. Food is important and we need to think before we eat.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sophie Mendelson BK ‘15 has worked as a farm manager and a senior advisor for the Yale Sustainable Food Project. She is spending the summer working for an investment firm. 

This summer I am working for an institution named after a park named after a creek named after a rock. The irony is inescapable. What I do each day has very little to do with parks, and even less to do with creeks. Does it have anything to do with rocks? From my desk I can hear the jackhammers chewing through the sidewalk six floors below, feel the vibrations humming through the foundation of the building, up, up, up. What is our foundation made of? This is the question that I am trying to answer.

I have to admit that I felt a small, secret thrill at the prospect of working this summer in an industry that has been deemed conventionally Important. Ah, people who did not know me would say, nodding, as I told them that I would be working in finance. That makes sense, they would think. I would not have to explain myself this time, not have to face the unspoken accusation in their questions, You go to Yale but you’re working on a farm? You go to Yale but you want to be a farmer? (Translation: You are wasting your talent. You are wasting your good luck. You are wasting an opportunity that so many others would use to do something Important). Despite my deep reservations about working for an investment firm, and despite my conviction in the importance of farming, I could not help but feel some amount of relief that this summer, at least, I would not have to stand guilty as charged.

I think it is this matter of Importance, though, that sits at the root of a discomfort with the financial world that I have not been able to shake. When I’m farming, I feel hugely important, though on a very small scale. I matter immensely to the lives of the plants and animals that it is my job to care for. I make a difference in a tangible way to the people who eat the food that I help produce. At the firm, I sometimes feel Important – combing through international financial news, analyzing managers for their potential to make money multiply, watching Bloomberg play over the flat screen TVs that flank either end of the office. The scale of the Importance that I feel at the firm is large, pulsing through a network of relationships that spans the continents. Expanding, contracting, warping – a global economy, changing in constant response to itself. But the grand Importance of this system feels inflated and even empty, a huge balloon floating untethered, tugging us all skyward (or so at least we’d like to think). It is Important because we have all agreed that it is. Where an ecosystem indisputably is, an economy, for the most part, is imagined. 

Which brings us back to the question of foundations. I feel myself straying into literalist territory: it’s only real if I can touch it. I reject that notion. But when the connection to anything “real” can only be drawn at the top (the experienced fall-out of profits and losses) and seldom at the bottom (the relationship between price and value), the economic system begins to look precariously top-heavy. The Barbie model of capitalism – she can’t stand up on her own.

The economy strikes me as a system of metaphors. Numbers standing for relationships, for worth, for people’s lives expanding and contracting. Metaphors that sometimes forget what they are referring to: parks and creeks and rocks. Six floors down they are tearing up the sidewalk and planting trees.

Agricultural Adventures in Peru

Today’s post comes from Global Food Fellow, Vivienne Hay CC’14. The Yale Sustainable Food Project’s Global Food Fellows Program funds students who have proposed an innovative research topic or internship, pursuing ideas that could overturn the ecological, social, and economic deficiencies of today’s predominant food system. 

Exactly two weeks after my last Yale graduation ceremony, I began the 27 hour trip to Cuzco (the heart of Peru, the place where Hiram Bingham acquired those Incan artifacts for Yale and also site where some of the world’s most ancient agriculture). My high school self would have been horrified to find that, shortly after graduating from Yale with a Physics degree (a feat that was meant to radically expand my opportunities and open doors that I hadn’t even known existed), I was going to work on subsistence farms.

The transformation in my attitude towards agriculture began between finishing high school and starting Yale, when I took part in Harvest, a Yale pre-orientation program that involved spending a week working on a local farm. I thought of it as an opportunity to learn about agriculture, something that was important but peripheral to my twenty-first-century life and that I would probably never learn about again. Over that week, though, I began to realize how skillful and intricate farming was. My interest was piqued. I applied to become a Harvest leader upon my return to Yale, but only, as I remarked to friends, because Harvest happened during the summer so being a Harvest leader was like getting a whole additional experience ‘for free’, at least in the sense that I didn’t have to spend any of my coveted Yale time on what seemed to be a sideline interest.

But as I gained more practical experience working on farms, I began to want to spend my precious Yale time studying agriculture. I began taking courses on farming, urbanization and food systems and attending as many related speeches and symposia as I could. I also spent a summer consulting for a large-scale poultry producer. What had started as a one-off, one-week visit to a farm had become one of the defining aspects of my Yale career and as I began to reflect on what I wanted to do after graduation, it became clear that I wanted it to become one of the important strands of my post-Yale life too.

Though I’ve learned about agriculture in academic and professional settings, I’ve never spent more than a week at a time working on a farm — a gaping hole in my knowledge and understanding of agriculture. So, over the next two months, I’ll be volunteering on farms in Peru, learning about agricultural techniques and agricultural communities, doing both (academic, ethnographic) fieldwork and (hands-in-the-dirt) work in fields. I’ll be blogging throughout and will keep you posted!

Vivienne Hay graduated from Yale in May of 2014 with a degree in Physics. After her summer examining large and small agriculture in Peru she’ll begin her post graduate work at McKinsey & Company Inc. in New York. 

Agrobiodiversity and Food Security: Barriers and incentives to the incorporation of native and traditional crops into household diets in Bolivia

Today’s post comes from Global Food Fellow, Alder Keleman MESc’06, MA’12, PhD ’15. The Yale Sustainable Food Project’s Global Food Fellows Program funds students who have proposed an innovative research topic or internship, pursuing ideas that could overturn the ecological, social, and economic deficiencies of today’s predominant food system.

Hello! My name is Alder Keleman, and I’m writing to introduce myself. I am a fifth-year doctoral student in environmental anthropology, a joint program hosted by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Anthropology Department, and the New York Botanical Gardens. I’m receiving support from the YSFP Global Food Fellowship this summer to help me put the finishing touches on my dissertation research. For the better part of the last two years, I’ve been based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I’m studying the role that agrobiodiversity (or native and traditional crops) plays in household diets, and in food culture more broadly.

My dissertation explores one of the great conundrums in the contemporary study of agrobiodiversity: among the regions which boast the world’s richest crop diversity, many also harbor high levels of human poverty. This paradox becomes even more puzzling when taking into account a growing body of research suggesting that native and traditional crops are often highly nutritious. For example, quinoa (native to the Andes) has become famous for its high-quality protein; minor leafy greens or yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins; and brightly colored crops, like Mexican maize or Andean purple potatoes, exhibit high levels of antioxidants. Nonetheless, in many crop centers of origin, including the Andes, the Chiapanecan/Guatemalan highlands, the Horn of Africa, and Northeastern India, levels of malnutrition are worryingly high, especially among children. Meanwhile, native and traditional crop varieties are themselves is under threat due to climate change, agricultural modernization, and increasing rural-urban migration.

These patterns hold true for Bolivia. Despite being a center of origin and diversity for potato, quinoa, maize, peanut, and many other important food crops, Bolivia exhibits the highest levels of poverty and malnutrition in South America. In the region where I am working, my own data suggests that stunting in children under age five affects approximately one third of the population. Studies have shown that stunting has important ramifications not only for the physical health of children, but also for their capacity for academic achievement, and even their long-run earning potential.

But why should this be the case, in a place where nutrient-rich foods should theoretically be available in abundance? To untangle this puzzle, my dissertation project takes an interdisciplinary approach, using both quantitative and qualitative field methods. Specifically, I am focusing on an 80-km rural-urban corridor stretching between the city of Cochabamba and the municipality of Colomi, a highly ecologically diverse region which stretches from the Andean subtropics (approx. 2200 masl) to the highland puna (above 4000 masl).

Through qualitative ethnographic research, I am gathering data on the past and contemporary culinary uses of crops like native potatoes, quinoa, oca, and tarwi, and the cultural meanings with which they are invested. In quantitative research, I am carrying out a two-period survey with 258 households in the rural-urban corridor stretching from the city of Cochabamba to the municipality of Colomi. This survey seeks to quantify the extent to which vulnerable households are consuming NTC’s, and to understand the contribution that these crops make to household nutritional well being.

Funding from the Yale Sustainable Food Project is supporting an important sub-element of this larger dissertation project. In parallel to the second phase of my household survey, I have been reporting data on child height-weight measurements back to the communities in which the first phase of the survey was carried out. As part of this process, with the help of a team of Quechua-speaking nutritionists, we are organizing workshops to provide basic nutrition education that will help female household heads understand the types, causes, and treatments of child malnutrition. These workshops also serve as a forum for gathering additional qualitative data using participatory methods. Specifically, we are exploring the local conditions that generate food insecurity, and asking what barriers (or incentives) exist for the incorporation of nutrient-rich native and traditional crops into household diets. These meetings also serve as jumping-off points for a series of oral histories and household observations with female household heads, which we are undertaking in five of the communities under study.

These activities bridge the qualitative and quantitative aspects of my project, and provide new information to communities and households, which will let them better address nutrition and child health. Additionally, through these activities we hope to identify, distill, and disseminate “best practices” in the local use of native and traditional crops. With the support of my local host organization, Fundación PROINPA, we plan to use the data gathered to generate a suite of Quechua and Spanish-language educational materials, outlining positive uses of NTC’s to underpin good nutrition.

Of course, I am not doing this all on my own. I am lucky enough to have the support of a team of 10 bright young Bolivians – a group consisting primarily of nutritionists from Cochabamba’s Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS), but including individuals with training in agronomy, linguistics, and nursing. Most of them are fluent Quechua speakers, and all have received training in social science data collection and research ethics. As a complement to the support of my host organization, Fundación PROINPA, I am also collaborating with colleagues at the local branch of the NGO, World Vision, and coordinating with government-run health posts at the community level. The Universidad Mayor de San Simón’s Biomedical Research is also providing intellectual and institutional support for these activities.

In sum, the activities supported by YSFP’s Global Food Fellowship are the capstone to two years of fieldwork here in Bolivia, and are providing a rewarding way to give back to the communities and the institutions that have supported my research. I’m looking forward to sharing our progress along the way!

Alder Keleman is a fifth-year doctoral student in environmental anthropology, a joint program hosted by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Anthropology Department, and the New York Botanical Gardens.

Alder Keleman, Lucy Vera Quinaya, and Vanessa Calle Cruz prepare survey materials in the subtropical town of Corani Pampa. (Taken by Alark Saxena; 13 June 2014) 

Nutritionists Fridda Ramos Rodríguez and Marioni Enriquez Foronda explain the use of nutritional supplements to combat stunting to a group of mothers in Toncolí. These supplements were provided by the NGO World Vision to families with children showing low height-for-age. (Taken by Alder Keleman; 10 May 2014.) 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hi, Margaret here. I’m a Lazarus summer intern from Iowa City, Iowa. This is the first summer I’ve spent entirely away from home, and I’ve been thinking lately about the differences between farming in New Haven and the rural Midwest. It has to do with a lot more than geography: the Yale Farm’s categorization as an urban farm has all sorts of ecological, economic, and cultural significance, all of which I am slowly starting to learn about.

Maybe the most obvious signifiers of the Farm’s urban setting are the pieces of glass and metal that occasionally surface, but this land’s tenuous status as agricultural area is also manifested in the composition of the soil and in the topography of the Farm itself. In the field closest to the road the soil has tested high for lead contamination, so we only grow flowers there, no edible food. In a month or so, that field will be full of blooming zinnias, sunflowers, and other brightly-colored plants; a lovely yet somewhat surreal buffer zone with truck exhaust on one side and poisonous metals underneath.

I think this strange paradox is at the heart of urban farming. Earlier this week, Stacy Spell, a New Haven community organizer and gardening guru, came by to pick up some tomato seedlings for the many community gardens he runs in the city. He talked to us about his experiences with his newest project, which involves planting vegetables and flowers in empty crates and barrels around some of New Haven’s roughest neighborhoods, and described how these micro-gardens give people something to take ownership of, a reason to be out in the streets. But he also stressed the aesthetic aspect: “we’re bringing beauty into a place that’s not supposed to be beautiful,” he said.

For Spell, this is a constructive contradiction; the process of creating societal change is closely linked to the difficult, labor-intensive work of carving out a fertile green space in an antagonistic environment. The struggle of transforming land has deep parallels with the struggle to construct societies.

While Spell’s aims involve food justice, I can’t help but think of more pernicious uses of agriculture as social engineering in American history, including the plantation economy. The intersection of food, place, and the past, was something that another guest on the farm, Michael Twitty, discussed. Twitty, a culinary historian, Judaic scholar, and food writer (check out his website shared with us some of his experiences investigating food as cultural connector in America’s various diasporic communities. He spoke particularly about African American food stories, about how the terrible isolation of being transplanted from one place to another could be alleviated by communal cooking and sharing of cultural knowledge about food.

Here too, a paradox is at work: the pain of separation, of oppression, creates the conditions in which a new kind of connection and power can be formed. Twitty doesn’t hold any utopic vision of a perfectly integrated, perfectly multicultural society, but he thinks if we make any progress towards understanding those different from ourselves, it will come through food, and the places where food is grown.

So far this summer, I’ve loved getting to know my fellow interns in the shared space of the Yale Farm, but I can’t wait for the community to keep on expanding. This Friday is the first volunteer day of the summer. If you’re in New Haven, feel free to stop by 345 Edwards St: eat a strawberry or a leaf of kale, and tell us a little about where you’re from and your food story. We’d love to see you there!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hi! My name is Sarah, and I am a Lazarus Summer Intern from New York City. This week has been pretty wet and chilly on the farm, two weather phenomena for which I’m sure the six of us will be aching come mid-July. On the farm we’ve been productive despite this gloomy weather. We transplanted eggplants, peppers, potatoes and lavender; cleared a huge jungle of weeds and vines behind our Prophaus; and moved the chicken coop so that we can put our hens to work fertilizing a bed.   


Off the farm, we’ve had an amazing trio of afternoon activities. On Tuesday, we sat in on a dissertation defense at the school of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Jen Gaddis summarized—thankfully—her argument for a 250-page dissertation entitled “Fit to Feed: Labor, ecology, and the remaking of the National School Lunch Program.” On Wednesday Mark Bomford, the director of the YSFP, taught the first of two classes on farm economics, and on Thursday our farm manager Jeremy Oldfield, gave us an introduction to soil. 

Each experience was incredibly informative, and Jen’s and Mark’s seemed intimately linked. Jen’s primary argument is that the school lunch program will be much improved if we place more value on cafeteria workers. A decades-long effort to reduce the price of school lunches and get all students fed has led to a culture where “lunch ladies”—and they are, it seems, mostly ladies—are both forced to “heat and serve” pre-made lunches of which they are not proud and valued at how many meals per hour they can “make.” There is no economic value attached to the extra time cafeteria workers put in preparing tastier food and caring for their students which help prevent these children from taking the legally-required vegetables and whole grains and dumping them straight into the trash bin. 

In the same way that we undervalue the work cafeteria workers do because we do not place economic value on it, we can also look at agricultural laborers as undervalued workers. Mark explained that agricultural jobs are “at the bottom of the barrel” because on large, monocultural, mechanized farms, the work a person does becomes dull and repetitive. Because it is unskilled work, workers can be paid less, much like cafeteria workers who merely heat meals. These jobs become undesirable and unrespectable. When we look at the food kids take and not the food they actually eat, how do we account for the time a lunch lady spends making sure a student will enjoy his veggies? When we look at how many calories or cabbage heads per hour a farm can produce, how do we account for the extra care a farmer puts into a task because she enjoys it? Ultimately, it’s impossible to quantify the cost of the environmental impacts of spraying a bed of plants versus the cost of paying workers to hand-weed it or the cost of the impact that student’s unbalanced meal might have on her future health bills versus the cost of preparing a more delicious lunch from scratch. Which leaves us in a difficult position. 

Tomorrow, to continue with a theme, those of us who aren’t selling at market will be canvasing with the Food Policy Council, spreading the word that New Haven continues to provide free and reduced-price lunches to qualifying students over the summer. I hope those lunches will be both delicious and nutritious; according to Jen, New Haven is taking strides in that direction. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hey there y’all. Ryan here. My hometown is North Andover, Massachusetts, and I’m the first of the 2014 Lazarus Summer Interns to post about our time on the farm. Overall, I couldn’t ask for to be part of a better group or program. One week has felt like one month, already binding the group together in a short period of time. But despite all the summertime bonding, there was one event that topped them all this week: the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party this past weekend located in Madison Square Park. 

While my hometown up north might deceive you, my true nature is as a country boy. I love the tales of heartache and love, I love the culture of farming and family closeness, I love the banjo and campfire memories, and most importantly, I love the food. All my life, I had waited for a chance to truly stamp myself as a country boy beyond just the terrible tan around my neck and arms. This past weekend, however, my fellow interns and I became official country kids thanks to Jimmy Hagood and his South Carolina BlackJack Barbeque grub. With over a hundred hogs cooked for a minimum of eleven hours, the Lazarus crew handled more meat than any of us had had ever dreamed possible. 

Though Jimmy’s meat may have fallen off the bone, the sandwiches certainly didn’t make themselves, which we were constantly reminded of throughout the day. As soon as we arrived we were forearm deep in luscious, juicy, mouth watering shredded pork, tearing it into pieces and following the mantra, “Only keep what you would want to eat yourself.” I speak for us all when I say that we were tempted to taste check every piece of meat we saw. After stripping the meat came the seasoning, adding a bit of spice and zest without losing the natural flavor of the hog itself. With the meat ready, next came the divide and conquer tactic: the gang was split into various stations, each with a time-sensitive and critical task. With only 9 paper sandwich boats fitting per tray, there was a constant stream of boat making, tray stacking, bun preparing, coleslaw stuffing, sandwich packing, BBQ sauce pouring, tray distributing, empty tray pulling, empty tray washing, and repeating. With so many hogs, so many people wanting Jimmy’s food, and meat galore, it’s safe to say we averaged a tray per minute for six full hours. Though our first rodeo on the BBQ bandwagon, we kept the food coming along quite nicely, each taking turns at the different stations, and managing to sneak a quick five minute “quality control” taste test of the food we were preparing.

Most importantly, however, we all learned the key to great BBQ: great people. Barbeque has many shapes and styles, names and textures, places and preferences. But the key ingredient to making the whole thing worthwhile is enjoying the work one does, enjoying the people one works with, and engaging in serious fun the entire time. With commentating from the sandwich maker who cried, “This ain’t our first rodeo!” and “Pork Party people! We got a Pork Party on our hands!” and “Come on y’all them people look hungry so let’s give them what they want!”, the BBQ helpers lost sight of all our efforts. We internalized the fact that our labor was for a greater purpose and we valued that purpose more than the food itself. Not a minute went by without a smile, a laugh, a friendly conversation, or a cry of motivation during our time with Jimmy and his pit. And while the food at the Yale Farm may not be glazed in a savory sauce and roasted for at least 11 hours, we go to work each morning knowing that the people we impact are more important than the soreness at the end of the day. That’s where farmers, country boy wannabes, and the BBQ pitmasters all share a common thread: making food for yourself is necessary but making food for others is priceless. Savor that moment, understand it, and relive it as much as you can.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Today’s post comes from Global Food Fellow, Austin Bryniarski CC ’16. The Yale Sustainable Food Project’s Global Food Fellows Program funds students who have 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 I worked the land at the Yale Farm last summer, I kept finding myself asking questions about the laws and regulations that shape the way we eat. At all levels of government, the seemingly invisible forces that affect our food system became more and more visible. Politico headlines cried of the battles being waged in Washington over the possibility that Farm Bill nutrition programs would see cuts. Meanwhile, the New Haven Food Policy Council met once a month to organize a mayoral debate centered on issues like urban agriculture, food justice and how those nutrition program cuts would affect the city’s food security.

This summer, I get to look at these very issues under a microscope. As a Summer Intern at Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, I will be working on projects that revolve around food policy councils and food systems planning, food access and obesity prevention, and sustainable food production. Put simply, the clinic takes on projects from real clients with the objective of taking down the barriers that create problems in the food system. The Food Law and Policy Clinic looks at policy at all levels of government, and recently had a spate of media attention for a report about how “sell by” date labels actually don’t mean anything.

My projects focus on food access: how to increase the supply and demand of sustainably grown produce in Appalachia, and how to best implement a Healthy Corner Store Initiative to increase urban food security. Both of these projects seek to reduce the rate of obesity and diet-related disease through food policy, but also privilege the environmental and economic benefits of a local — even decentralized — food system. For the rest of the summer, I will catalog the two projects and provide insights into what food policy looks like in action.

Austin Bryniarski ’16 is a “rising” junior in Calhoun College majoring in Environmental Studies. During the year, you can find him at the Yale Farm as a Harvest leader (and Farm Intern emeritus) or a local coffee shop as a writer for various campus publications. While he’s upping the ante this summer as a paleo-vegetarian eater, he generally abstains from carbs. He is a Lazarus Global Food Fellow at the Yale Sustainable Food Project. He hates the word “rising.”