Chasing cows—and sustainability
Eating Ethically on the Trail
Sadie Weinberger ‘14 spent a summer hiking—she contemplated all sorts of things while on foot, she says, but particularly wrestled with making ethical food choices while also having to depend on the staple foods of any hiker—oftentimes highly processed. Not to mention, she stuck to her vegan diet the entire journey.
I never want to look at another Clif bar again. Nor am I particularly interested in viewing, smelling, or ingesting in any form or fashion any food whose package advertises how quickly it cooks. And please, for the love of god, do not come within fifty feet of me with a package of Pop Tarts, Corn Nuts, or Nutter Butters.
Over the summer, I backpacked about 750 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. It was indescribably amazing, and it was also, by far, the most physically difficult thing I have ever done (and ranks pretty high on the emotional and mental difficulty scales as well). In order to complete this most difficult of feats, I needed to put calories in my body. And sometimes, those calories came from sources of which I wasn’t too fond.
I know it seems like an obvious statement, but I’ll say it anyway: food is fuel. And I don’t often think of it that way because I’m not often hiking twenty miles a day with a thirty-pound pack on my back. I think that probably, people who are not food-insecure don’t usually think of food that way either. I wasn’t just eating because it tasted good or because it was time for dinner, I was eating because if I didn’t, I physically would not be able to do the things I wanted to do. I was choosing food for the most number of calories per the least amount of weight. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except that in our modern food system, those foods tend to be the most processed, the worst for your body, and the worst for the environment. On top of that, I was already struggling to get enough calories without consuming animal products.
I decided it would be my goal to find a way to eat ethically on the trail by the end of the summer. And by the time I was off the trail for good, I felt like I’d come pretty darn close.
Fresh food in your pack will go bad or get squished very quickly, and the most calorie-dense and lightest foods aren’t the ones I wanted to be eating—eating ethically posed quite the challenge. After consulting hiker guides and online forums, I came to a list of foods: Pop Tarts, Clif bars, Corn Nuts, trail mix, granola, Gatorade powder*, Oreos, dehydrated soup, quinoa, vegan cheese, hot sauce, Knorr’s Cajun Rice and Beans, curried cashews, Mission tortillas, and peanut butter. There’s some stuff in there that isn’t too bad, but I was generally pretty uncomfortable with the amount of processed, industrially produced food.
Before my second leg, I went to the People’s Co-op in San Diego to ease my discomfort. I kept the Pop Tarts and the Clif bars (I never got rid of these—they’re a pretty perfect vegan trail food), but I bought all my dinners from the co-op: things like dehydrated soup in bulk, quinoa and brown rice, instant risotto, instant mashed potatoes, and high(ish) quality ramen. Snacks were banana chips, dried fruit, goji berry “energy chunks,” and Annie’s saltines.
I got my diet down to a science. By the time I’d hiked in the California desert, the Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, I felt pretty okay about the things I was putting into my body. I started eating a lot of textured vegetable protein (TVP), a perfect trail food in that it is light, cheap, nutritious, and about doubles the size of my dinner. I also started taking dehydrated vegetables, garlic, olive oil, and spices. I kept eating dehydrated soup mix and dehydrated potatoes from various co-ops, and I also started taking Larabars, which are fantastic—small, a few ingredients, and calorie-dense. They were a perfect way for me to get some fruit in my diet. I stopped eating trail mix, rice, and lentils, since they’re all pretty heavy and the latter two are too time- and fuel-intensive to cook. This meant I was eating a lot of ramen for dinner, something I wasn’t too happy about (even though, mixed with miso powder, veggies, and TVP, it was pretty delicious). But, considering how far I’d come, I was willing to make that sacrifice.
I thought a lot this summer about the nature of backpacking and how strange it is. Most of the people I met on the trail were on a diet closer to what I started with, and many of them were out there for five to six months. Most people hike the trails to get closer to nature in some way, but how can you commune with your surroundings when the things you put in your body are so far from anything resembling a product of nature? I hope to continue backpacking in the future, and I intend to continue exploring what it means to be an ethical eater on the trail.
For now, I’m eating as many fresh veggies as I can get my hands on.
*The Gatorade powder is something I never got rid of, since it’s less a “food” than a way to make sure I stayed hydrated. I didn’t feel good about it, but I also wasn’t willing to take the risk of dehydration.
Sustainable Pasture Management in Kyrgyzstan
Events intern Caroline Tracey ‘14 spent her summer on an environmental fellowship studying pasture management in Kyrgyzstan. Here, she muses on her Russian lit background and the sociopolitical controversies that shape the country’s agricultural landscape.
I spent a month of this summer in Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet republic nestled between China and Kazakhstan. It was clear to me before I arrived that environmental issues were at the forefront of the minds of the people in the country. For one thing, less than a month before my visit to Kyrgyzstan, a large riot broke out at the Kumtor mine, a gold mine on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul. The mine accounts for 12% of the country’s GDP, but is owned and managed by a Canadian company. About 1,000 people, some arriving on horseback, camped out for days and blockaded the road from the mine to Bishkek, calling for Kyrgyzstan to receive a bigger share of the mine’s profits.
My studies as a Russian literature major have focused on Russian writers’ treatment of landscape: how authors understand vast, unending landscapes; what kind of culture and specific experiences develop in places marked by vastness. I have also versed myself in the contemporary environmental challenges that come with these kinds of landscapes. During my trip this summer, I planned to find out how the country’s pastoral heritage was faring in the modern economy.
Horse supplies at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek
Flying into Bishkek delighted me: it felt like flying into Denver, where I grew up. Tall, snow-capped (even in July) mountains are visible in the distance, and the flat, brown land that holds the airport and the city slides up to meet them. From the plane window I could see both dry and irrigated fields; windbreaks; and small reservoirs. There were fewer roads than I was used to; the land wasn’t gridded, as the whole middle of America is, and so the fields took stranger shapes, strips and trapezoids. On the drive into the city, I drove by a young boy herding goats with a stick, and I realized there wasn’t going to be any shortage of interesting things to learn about pasture agriculture.
Here’s what I found out:
With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the land and livestock holdings of collective farms were parceled out to their employees based on seniority. This immediately led to crisis: most employees had held positions unrelated to animal husbandry - they had been drivers or bookkeepers - and were unprepared to manage their own farm animals. Most - seventy percent, a pasture manager later estimated to me - floundered. Their animals died, and they lost their chance at financial solvency in the new economy. To make matters worse, those that did succeed in raising their animals met the harsh reality of the new system: they worked all year only to sell their animals at market for a price so low it often wasn’t even a profit. Now, the prices are better, thanks to consumers from Kazakhstan, where the economy is much stronger, crossing the border to buy animals in cheaper Kyrgyzstan. The increased demand means that Kyrgyz people have a financial incentive to go into agriculture - farmers in the villages often make more money than middle-class people in Bishkek.
Abandoned Collective Farm
Kyrgyz “farmers” are more like what we would refer to as ranchers (if you want to talk about vegetable or fruit farmers, you have to specify). They raise animals, and sell them at large, open-air markets. During the winter months, their animals are in their villages’ town pastures, either within the town or just outside of it, and during the summer months, they bring their animals (along with the animals of other villagers who have paid them to look after their animals for the summer) to the rural pasture. The rural pastures are mountain camps where the farmers live in yurts with their families while the animals graze the high range.
Talas Livestock Market
Unloading bulls from the mountain pastures for sale at the market
The requirement to bring their animals up to rural pastures, I learned, is one of a group of radical changes to pasture law that were enacted beginning in 2009. Kyrgyzstan was one of the only meat-producing countries in the Soviet Union, and as a result of always-increasing demands from distant Moscow, the country left the USSR highly overgrazed. Until 2009, when the country really began to gain some traction on the challenges of privatization, pastures were private. Now, with the new pasture law, the land is government owned again, and pastures are managed by a village committee. Each town has been assigned a piece of rural pasture that corresponds with the size of the village. The “closed,” or “winter,” pastures within or nearby the towns are not to be used during the summer, so that they can recover from the last year of use.
Highway overlooking government pastures
Sheep running in on the rural pasture
Before I had learned about the distinction between rural and closed pastures, I experienced the distinction firsthand, by being in transit between the two. Having approached a tunnel through a mountain pass, my minibus back from Talas found itself stopped at the entrance, along with a parking lot’s worth of cars. Finally, fifteen confused minutes later, a man on horseback emerged from the dark opening. He was followed by a whole large herd of horses, who tried their best to follow his lead and navigate their way through the herd of cars.
So you can imagine it made sense to me when the pasture manager of the town of Barskoon explained that the reason that people hadn’t made sufficient use of the rural pastures until they were required to by law was that there was not sufficient infrastructure to reach the rural pastures. 2 million som, he said, or about $40,000 - a very large sum of money in Kyrgyzstan, where the middle class makes about $160 per month - has been marked for new bridges to the rural pastures. It remains to be seen, however, whether that money will make it through the government’s extreme corruption.
As I talked to more and more people in Kyrgyzstan about pasture management, I came to the most surprising conclusion I could have: pasturing seems to be moving in a good direction. Certainly it would be hard to create a system that does more damage than the Soviet Union’s system. But I am disposed to expect that the arc towards capitalism is an unstoppable and destructive force, and the Kyrgyz people proved me wrong. They tried out privatizing their pasture land, and fifteen years later returned to a system of the commons. The pasture committee system is still young, and the law still needs changes, but the new system stipulates an attitude toward rangeland that shares both resources and responsibility.
When I describe this, I am reminded of a presentation I saw at the forestry school as part of its grasslands lunch series three years ago. It was on the “buffalo commons,” an idea published in Planning magazine in the 1980’s, suggesting that the emptying American prairie should be returned to buffalo rangeland. The idea was virulently rejected. But yesterday I read in the High Country News that Montana is slowly introducing free-ranging bison. Perhaps with enough committed minds, the commons - east and west - will get their chance to succeed.
“There’s a myth that people in poor communities don’t know anything, or they need help. They don’t need help, they need liberation.”
The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy will be hosting their third annual policy workshop webinar series, Frontiers in Food and Agriculture, this Tuesday, September 17th at 12:00 pm. The series will start with
Tanya Fields, executive director of the BLK ProjeK, and a presentation that explores how addressing food justice and economic development can create small business and career opportunities for underserved women and youth of color.
Register for the webinar here!
Check out a YSFP podcast with Fields and intern Kendra Dawsey ‘14 from last February.
Hello, folks! Austin here. For the past few weeks, I’ve been investigating local food policy and its relation to this year’s mayoral race in New Haven. Here’s what I learned from the New Haven Mayoral Forum on Food that happened last week!
This year’s election season is bringing quite the number of high-profile mayoral elections across the country. Perhaps most notably, in New York, at least a dozen people are vying for Michael Bloomberg’s post. New Haven’s own mayoral election, while not necessarily in the spotlight of the national media, was shaping up to be a similarly crowded pool of candidates, but just recently shrank to four people: Justin Elicker, Henry Fernandez, Kermit Carolina, and Toni Harp. For the past few weeks, they’ve participated in some rather heated debates, but most recently discussed the issue of food and health at a forum hosted by the New Haven Food Policy Council.
Situated in the basement of the Beulah Heights Church, the candidates answered four questions spanning different issues under the umbrella of food policy—things like emergency food and urban agriculture—each roughly pertaining to a committee or “working group” on the food policy council. Local community members, students, and activists asked each question, and each candidate had one minute to answer it and then a five minute discussion and follow-up concluded each answer.
Unfortunately, the candidates seemed rather unprepared to talk about the issues in a meaningful way. While a mayor doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in food policy, he or she should be aware of the great work that the Food Policy Council and the dozens of organizations in New Haven are doing and the ordinances or offices that would increase and promote this work.
At the YSFP, Director Mark Bomford leads with the hope of making students “food literate leaders.” To borrow this term, these candidates are on their way to being qualified as “food literate,” but at times threw around jargon that didn’t make much sense in answering the questions asked of them.
A major lesson learned from the event is that there is a long way to go in making food issues ones that everyone can talk about. Food and food policy encompass such an array of issues that it was hard to get to every aspect in one-and-a-half hours. And while not all New Haven citizens will be going to the ballot box this fall thinking about which mayor will affect what’s on their plate, the forum ensured one thing: all candidates are willing to do something about making New Haven a healthier, more environmentally friendly and more just city.
The general consensus was that New Haven needs some sort of office—an ombudsman, if you will—that will coordinate departments that already exist that relate to food and land use. Zoning, health, emergency response and economic development departments are all important to food policy, so creating an office related to food policy or coordinating these existing ones is on the record as a possibility for each candidate.
What I found most profound about the event wasn’t anything that any of the candidates said, but rather what the host, Mark Pazniokas of the Connecticut Mirror said—twenty years ago, before current Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano, Jr. was elected, thinking about issues surrounding food policy was unheard of. The fact that this forum occurred in the first place is enough for me to believe that when it comes to improving the food system on a governmental scale, we’re getting somewhere.
Hey, folks! Rachel Ett (CC ‘14) and Laurel Cohen (BK ‘16) here. This week had a jam-packed schedule, but perhaps our most memorable day was Wednesday. We spent the morning and afternoon with Bren Smith and friends of the Thimble Island Oyster Co. —check out some pictures of the trip below!
First photos by University Photographer Michael Marsland
Tim Le ‘14 clamming.
Austin Bryniarski ‘16 with a surprise stowaway.
Laurel Cohen ‘16 and Bren raising up an oyster cage.
Rachel Ett ‘14 guiding the oyster cage into the boat.
Jackson Blum ‘15 with his catch of the day!
Next photos by Rachel Ett
A beautiful view on the way to catch invasive Asian shore crabs.
Rachel Ett ‘14 fishin’.
Maya Midzik ‘15 being hoisted up onto the boat after a refreshing swim.
Greetings, Tumblr readers! Jackson Blum checking in again.
Tuesday was a day filled with garlic. We harvested it by first loosening the soil with pitchforks, so the bulbs could be removed from the ground with minimal bruising.
We bunched it up with rubber bands, to hang up later.
Jeremy strung up all the bunches up at the pavilion. They are now in the curing stage, where they will remain for a few weeks.
On Wednesday, the Farm crew took a trip to the Quiet Corner of northeastern Connecticut. It’s the most rural, least densely populated area of the state. Joining us for the trip up were a couple students from the School of Forestry and a dog named Apollo.
Our first stop was at Cranberry Hill Farm in Ashford, CT. All the field work there is performed by this guy named Art. Here he is showing us his strawberry patches, where he is experimentally using pine shavings as a cover rather than strawberries.
An interesting example of farmers taking advantage of nature in a mutually beneficial fashion. Art makes sure all the zip ties on his deer fence face inwards, where the crops are. Birds routinely perch on the plastic, then fly down to the fields and eat bugs that would otherwise damage the plants Art is trying to grow. Circle of life.
Cranberry Hill makes syrup in the early part of the year, when things freeze at night and thaw during the day. The life of a syrup processor seems challenging. Art described spending 10 hours at a time in the sugarhouse, where the internal temperature hovers around 100 degrees when the wood burners that heat the tree sap are in full swing.
We also visited the Down to Earth farm and CSA in Stafford. Unlike Cranberry Hill, Down to Earth depends on labor contributed by their shareholders, who come to the farm to work a couple hours every other week. The farm property sports a solar-powered water pumping system. It works well for crop irrigation, as during periods of low levels of sunlight, such as cloudy and rainy days, there is a decreased need to water the fields.
We happened to visit the CSA on a pickup day, so employees were preparing boxes of produce for the shareholders.
Down to Earth leases land from an organic beef farmer, so one must occasionally negotiate an electric fence when wandering around.
Potato beetles can do a lot of damage to a farmer’s fields.The preferred organic method to dealing with them is known as “squishing”. Apparently children that visit the farm are especially gifted at this task.
We rounded our trip off with an extended visit to Yale-Myers Forest, a 7,000-acre plot that is owned and actively managed by the Forestry School. One of the first things we checked out after arriving to the main compound was The Treehouse. Tim took the liberty of climbing it. Seems sturdy.
During the summer, there are around twenty people, mostly Forestry students, living at Yale-Myers. They have their own vegetable garden; makes the place seem more like a home.
Alex Barrett, who manages the Forest, showed us a plot of land covered in dense vegetation, and began a brainstorming session where we tried to figure out what it would take to begin using the area for agricultural purposes. Historically, a great deal of the Forest used to be farmland, until the construction of the Erie Canal transformed the American food market by lowering transportation costs .
The YSFP team brought a load of fresh produce to the Forest, where it became part of the family dinner that we all had together on the lawn. Vegetarian burritos were served.
Building a tent really brings a group together. So does sharing the tent, for that matter.
After sleeping under the stars, the Farm team had breakfast in the beautiful pavilion area before being led through the woods and given a primer on sustainable forestry.
The Forest is made up of several divisions, each of which is further split into multiple stands. These stands have funny names bestowed upon them by the foresters who manage them, such as “Kurtz’s Horror” or “Dr. Space Pickle, PhD.”. Over the course of a couple days, a team of foresters can traverse over a 12-acre stand, inspecting every tree, determining what needs to be cut down, and marking the trees in question with blue paint. A logging crew comes in later to perform the cutting and removal. A lot of ecological factors affect how appropriate a given tree’s removal would be; Julius, one of the Forestry students leading our tour, shared the adage that a logger has more things going on in his mind at once than an air traffic controller. This is serious business.
On Friday, the Farm staff were taken out to dinner by Peter and Marla Schnall. We went to Kitchen Zinc, where our food was made with produce that we had recently harvested. The main course was a pizza with potatoes and leek pesto.
Hi folks! I’m Rachel Ett, a rising senior majoring in Environmental Studies. I’m one of this summer’s Lazarus interns.
This week was a little out of the ordinary; we began our work week on a Wednesday rather than Tuesday because of our staff members’ impromptu trip to Italy. But we still managed to fit in a cheese making (and tasting!) class with Yale professor Maria Trumpler, an all-day field trip to the Stone Barns Center in New York, a pizza event with the Yale College Dean’s Office, work around the farm, and of course, Saturday farmers market. Check out some photos below!
Cheese tasting with Maria Trumpler.
Harvesting lettuce at the Yale Farm!
The beautiful Stone Barns.
Why did the chicken (and Tim Le ‘14) cross the road?
Possibly the cutest employers ever. They didn’t even plan the matching.
We were gifted with delicious berry tarts at Stone Barns from Davis Lindsey, current Stone Barns apprentice and 2008 Yale grad.
Lazarus Fellow Kate decided to be innovative at the Yale Farm’s wood-fired oven. The result: this scrumptious calzone creation. Yes, that’s a Sungold tomato!