Monday, December 10, 2012

Ad-hoc intern Kendra Dawsey ‘14 on her trip to a conference on racial equality in the food movement:

On October 5th, college students and others with an interest in the food movement gathered for a panel on Race and Place in Food and Co-op Movements, which doubled as a fundraiser for CoFed. CoFed, short for ‘Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive’, is an organization that started on the West Coast, devoted to equipping college students with hard skills to create cooperatively-run food enterprises on their campuses. The event took place at Colors restaurant in New York City, a restaurant that uses local ingredients and trains local employees, and is owned by a national organization that prides itself on respecting restaurant owners. I was fortunate enough to attend the panel with the help of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and it was so exciting to see tons of young people interested in promoting racial equality in this movement.

The speakers at the panel included many prominent people in the current food movement such as Kolu Zigbi, the Program Director for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems and EAT4Health and the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation, Curt Ellis, co-director of King Corn and The Greening of Southie, Tanya Fields, an entrepreneur who founded both Black Girl Inc. and The BLK ProjeK, and Karen Washington, founder of two farmers markets and a board member of NYC Community Gardens Coalition. To start the night off Yoni Laudau, co-director of the organization, spoke about CoFed with praise. He noted how much the project had blossomed from its roots in a borrowed minivan. Then Christine Johnson, the Northeast Region Organizer for CoFed, greeted the excited crowd. Afterward a brief speech, she sat down and asked the panelists questions on their experiences.

The first was a personal moment when they became interested in the intersection of race and place. Karen Washington, who has been growing food for 20 years, realized the importance after calling the census bureau for statistics on farmers. She was astounded to find out that there were only 110 black farmers in in all of New York State. She said, “We have to do something … We are talking about an equitable food system but it can’t be equitable if a portion of people aren’t farming.”

Curt Ellis became interested during the production of King Corn. In one town where filming took place, all of the farm workers were from the same town in Mexico, one that had its own corn to be harvested. However, working in America gave the families of workers enough money to send back home. Curt Ellis is currently co-director and Executive Director of Food Corps, an organization that seeks to address systemic food issues at the local scale. The organization takes into account the realities of race and poverty and how it affects food access. He says, “It is our priority to understand how the food movement discriminates in race and in class.” Food Corps uses service members with a specific knowledge of the area they are to be placed in, and involves schools in the process of giving youth a lasting relationship with healthy food.

Perhaps most illuminating was the situation described by Kolu Zigbi. At the age of 17, before attending college, she went to visit her father’s rural village in Liberia. The farmers of the village constituted most of the population, and they grew enough native rice to feed themselves and also sell outside the community. However, the people lacked the automobiles and other means take their goods to the market, located far away. There was one bulldozer available in the entire village, but to use it, you had to take out a loan from the World Bank in the form of expensive seed—despite the fact that the farmers had seeds of their own. Therefore, they had no means to sell their natively grown rice without being forced into debt by the World Bank.

Additionally, US aid to Liberia is frequently given in the form of free rice. This rice was sold by the government to the citizens to pay off loans.   Zigbi asked herself why international aid was putting farmers in debt instead of helping them develop. Reflecting on this point, she concluded, “race is a tool for exploitation.” She went to talking about her experiences with organizations in general. “Too many foundations are colorblind … the idea of talking about race becomes so personalized, no one looks at it like an academic reality.” By claiming not to see race at all, some organizations turn a blind eye on the unique histories and realities of each race, especially with regards to the food movement. Lack of access to healthy food disproportionately affects people of color in America, due to the complex way race and city planning have played into each other in this country.

Tanya Fields was the last to come in due to a babysitter flaking out; she walked into the room with apologies and two of her children. Hearing her speak from experience as a single mother and entrepreneur in the food movement was an excellent and moving way to end the night. Fields talked about how she had struggled to get grants when she wrote honestly about her background. “I thought I would list what I had done and people would make it rain,” she said, drawing laughs from the audience. “But that did not happen … ” She went on to explain that those who give out money for grants will still go for a college graduate over someone with a lot of experience, but less formal education. There is also the constant barrier of try to get jobs as a black woman, when many in charge place stock in having a white face on their organization. Later, she said, “When I submit a proposal to philanthropist … we have to start dealing with institutional racism.”

The panel ended with a conversation on how to start change. Washington said that overall, movements need to be grassroots, not political, and change must start within communities. Fields reiterated this point: “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 entire night, I heard comments that articulated feelings I had regarding the general food movement in America, and helped open my eyes to the complexity of situations regarding race in the environment. I get to spend more time at Yale and afterward learning about these issues. I hope everyone in the room came away from the meeting with a desire to continue this very important discussion.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pizza and Events intern Onagh MacKenzie ‘15, who grew up on a sprawling rural livestock farm, on how she learned to appreciate the bite-sized Yale version:

Farming, to me, has always meant land. Lots of it. It has meant being able to turn 360 degrees and not see a man-made structure. Or hear anything other than the cows and their cud.

When my parents moved to Naples, New York over thirty years ago, they bought half an old dairy farm, the worn-in house, and its fifty acres. My brother has since used the entire farm, our fields and woods, along with the other original half, to establish his own sustainable meat farm. No more of my dad’s disorganized, motley crew of Scottish Highland cows. We have a “real” farm operation now, with ear tags and rotating pastures and three strands of fencing instead of one. (Sometimes I find myself missing the weekly call from the neighbors telling us our cows were in the road, or, sometimes, their garden.)

The main constraint on my brother’s operation hasn’t been lack of manpower or customers, but land. The 100 acres have long ceased to be enough. The cows and sheep now spill over onto neighboring land which we lease from its owners. To compensate for the distance in grass, we need to have sheep road moves between pastures. “Sheep in the Road” signs go up on either end of the journey, and in the middle it’s a sea of wooly bodies, swarming around the cars and invading the ditches. We’re reminded just how much we could use those extra acres of our own.

The idea that a farm could exist without acres of fields and with sidewalks, passing traffic, and a city skyline in the distance was a foreign concept to me. Urban farming seemed too much of an incongruity. Then I found my way to the Yale Farm. Instead of road sheep moves, we have perfectly aligned greenhouses and beds of veggies measured to take advantage of every last patch of earth. At 345 Edwards Street, lack of land is an inspiration: rather than focusing on what we don’t have, the small space encourages innovation.

But it’s more than just a space to be utilized: the Farm is a space to enjoy, a space to appreciate farming for more than just its fields and its time in nature. At the Yale Farm I have learned to love sustainable agriculture for its desire to spread good food and to appreciate where it comes from. The Farm is a space for the people, and the parts of friends that only come out when picking carrots. Space for the pause in my life that Friday afternoons provide, a time to breathe after the sprint of the week. And you know what? When I’m bent over in the garden bed, proudly checking out the dirt under my fingernails, or with my head stuck in the pizza oven, monitoring the cooking dough, I don’t even notice the skyline.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Yale Farm is no stranger to natural disasters— in the last year, it’s survived a tropical storm and a surprise October blizzard— and our staff are no strangers to what it takes to make sure that all of our crops and chickens make it through relatively unscathed. Above, check out a series of photos showing how we prepared for Sandy, and what the old acre looked like after the fact.

If you’re curious to see how we fared in person, stop by our workday this afternoon from 1:00-5:00 pm, or celebrate the season at Friday’s Harvest Festival with cider, pizza, music and dancing.

The Farm and the New Haven community were incredibly lucky to make it through with minimal damage; our thoughts are with everyone who’s struggling to rebuild and move on in the wake of the storm.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Writing and Outreach Intern A. Grace Steig ‘15 reflects on the meditative nature of volunteering on the Farm:
Many Fridays at midday, I leave the work of Yale behind with each step up the hill toward Yale Farm. The walk is not a short one, taking Hillhouse Avenue and then Science Hill to completion, and if I were to rush the sweat would collect on my back. So I meander, in ritual, cleansing myself of the past week, its obligations, its ego. Along the way I sustain myself with small wafers of nature: oak leaves and acorns, dropped almost on my head by squirrels. On this sunlit pilgrimage, I pass lower idols – halls, houses, laboratories – without a glance. The last stretch in the sunshine is bliss, and I slow just a bit to enjoy my freedom from work before passing beneath the concord grapevine draped over the Farm’s arched entrance.The Yale Farm is nature in a deliberate urban space, an acre arranged in 2003 by Yale people who love living things. It is concentrated chaos, where plants grow with no chemicals. They are tended but could naturally thrive or, just as naturally, die. I go to the Farm often but without a schedule. I go, and I devote myself to its work, in body and spirit.[[MORE]]In September the rows and rows of leafy greens grow endlessly. There are the heads of romaine lettuce alongside Nevada, radicchio, pirot, freckles. The subtle speckles to their leaves bring delight, as do the edges’ frills, like fleur-de-lis. I squat alongside these greens and make my efforts with a little work knife, taking the heads with the greatest of care, trimming those leaves that would rot the rest. See them, fleshy and open, showing and sharing all of nature’s nutrients in their whorls outspread. They have so much to give, and I take it, lovingly.There are broccoli raab and the leaves of broccoli plants. Across the Farm are arugula, butterhead, mesclun. I hold a few plants upright with one hand and slice with the other, an imprecise horizontal trim; this handful I bunch in rubber bands. The greens in rows below, I work on with my knife in smaller cuts, taking only some leaves and leaving a plant with a chance to flourish. Below is fordhook chard, and bright lights chard – see what a rainbow the leaves make, a deep healthsome green through yellow, orange, and on to fuchsia, rosy in the allure of nature’s heartfelt love. They are indeed bright as neon lights, carrying the vigor but none of the glitz of the city. In this break in the urban, how much pleasure they give in their growing displays, full of the joy of life from the ground.The afternoon sun wants all creatures to be in it. From my greens to the house finches in the trees to me, it has much to share with every being. Most of the students take it as a surprise gift; it seems not to exist on lower campus. But on the Farm all are warmed by it. Receiving the sunshine, who can help but be content?A row down from the other greens are my beloved kales: curly, winterbor, and Tuscan, known colloquially as dinosaur. Dinosaur kale! It lives up to its name with its long dusty green leaves, slender with muscular curves, rippled and wrinkled like the necks of ancient peaceable lizards. Ah, dinosaur kale! A lifeform could be no more spectacular if dinosaurs themselves still roamed the land, if O.C. Marsh shepherded a living Apatosaurus to his alma mater and led it to the Farm.Both he and the dinosaur would appreciate the break from academic study, perhaps gain a bit more life themselves from munching. The greens give me so much good. Merely to sit in their midst is to be close to the heart of nature’s health, to taste its nutrients. And working along, as I pull off a leaf too frayed or spattered with holes to be sold, I eat it with slow enjoyment.On the Yale Farm, in the sun one day, I sweated as I worked. My shirt back was sticky, my throat parched. With very little trouble I could have gone for a drink, but, stubbornly, I knelt to finish my task first. My vision swam; I focused on chard.In this row a few plants struggled. It hurt to see. Though definitely fordhook chard, they had no giant leaves characteristic of the variety. Their green fell short of deep; shallow it was, a green in name only. I sought the explanation, feeling affronted and shorted, for their condition. Ah, aha! Beneath, many wilted leaves clung, and tiny offshoot stems sprouted already-doomed leaves. Could it be these shoots, left to their own, diverted and drained earth’s nutrients from the plants themselves? These chards, I couldn’t take from. These, though, I could help. I cut off the shoots that drained nutrients and left the green leaves, which could now, in time, flourish. I treated the afflicted one by one. In this labor, I harvested not a single leaf, but the work was good.For the many who devote themselves to it, the Farm is a meditation. More accurate, it is karma-yoga, the yoga of selfless work. The Farm is what it needs to be, for me, for so many. In rows of green, how can any people retain the egos they held in the classroom, the selves that kept them distinct from other creatures being warmed beneath the sun? No, they must give themselves totally to the growth of others. Here is one path up the hill to enlightenment. It is hours of toil, sometimes without immediate, tangible gain. It is the slow shedding of ego in the trimming of chard.

Writing and Outreach Intern A. Grace Steig ‘15 reflects on the meditative nature of volunteering on the Farm:

Many Fridays at midday, I leave the work of Yale behind with each step up the hill toward Yale Farm. The walk is not a short one, taking Hillhouse Avenue and then Science Hill to completion, and if I were to rush the sweat would collect on my back. So I meander, in ritual, cleansing myself of the past week, its obligations, its ego. Along the way I sustain myself with small wafers of nature: oak leaves and acorns, dropped almost on my head by squirrels. On this sunlit pilgrimage, I pass lower idols – halls, houses, laboratories – without a glance. The last stretch in the sunshine is bliss, and I slow just a bit to enjoy my freedom from work before passing beneath the concord grapevine draped over the Farm’s arched entrance.

The Yale Farm is nature in a deliberate urban space, an acre arranged in 2003 by Yale people who love living things. It is concentrated chaos, where plants grow with no chemicals. They are tended but could naturally thrive or, just as naturally, die. I go to the Farm often but without a schedule. I go, and I devote myself to its work, in body and spirit.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Every winter as the first freeze approaches, Yale Farm student interns hustle to cover up our fig tree, packing it with burlap to insulate it from chilly temperatures dipping too low for its Mediterranean sap to handle. Last fall we were hit with a freak blizzard on the last day of October and feared the worst; our tree looked like it was down for the count. In late spring, though, it started bouncing back, sending out leafy shoots from the base, apparently still vital. It turns out that urban gardeners all over the northeast, particularly in Brooklyn, have successfully kept these hearty plants in abundance despite being pretty far from its native climes. We’re hoping for a harvest in the next few months— and looking forward the fig and ricotta pizzas we’ll get to make when that happens!

Every winter as the first freeze approaches, Yale Farm student interns hustle to cover up our fig tree, packing it with burlap to insulate it from chilly temperatures dipping too low for its Mediterranean sap to handle. Last fall we were hit with a freak blizzard on the last day of October and feared the worst; our tree looked like it was down for the count. In late spring, though, it started bouncing back, sending out leafy shoots from the base, apparently still vital. It turns out that urban gardeners all over the northeast, particularly in Brooklyn, have successfully kept these hearty plants in abundance despite being pretty far from its native climes. We’re hoping for a harvest in the next few months— and looking forward the fig and ricotta pizzas we’ll get to make when that happens!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Podcasts

Here are two podcasts, recorded last week, featuring YSFP Director Mark Bomford and the Rudd Center’s Kelly Brownell. There’s one on food and sustainability and another on local sustainability initiatives. Both are definitely worth a listen!