The Yale Farm, Hyperlinked
by Adam Goff ‘15
None of the tomato varieties grown at the Yale Farm are light blue. Our hoes, broadforks, seeders, and shovels aren’t blue either. The pizza oven is made of red bricks, the sinks shine a titanium silver. There are no blue eggplants, blue beets, blue compost piles, or blue weeds. Aside from a couple pairs of jeans, one or two blue harvest buckets, and the sky above us, the farm is blue-less.
Yet I often expect to see light blue hues on the farm to mark all of the hyperlinks. On Wikipedia, Facebook, and much of the web, light blue marks a hyperlinked word, which when clicked will whisk you to another article. I can hyperlink surf from a Wikipedia page on Cooking to an article on Caramelization and end up reading about Aminio Acids. Light blue text marks a portal from one idea to another.
On the farm I see these hyperlinks everywhere. Our Winter Mustard Greens link me to Season Extension which takes me to Canadian Hothouse Tomatoes and their Ecological Footprint. When I am Weeding my mind hops from Migrant Farm Labor to Unionization. I weigh fresh-picked Cabbages and wonder how to improve Yield Data Collection on Diversified Vegetable Farms.
I look at our one-acre urban farm and I see nested ideas and stories, one connected to the next connected to another, just waiting to be clicked on. So don’t be surprised if you dig up one of a Yale Farm potatoes and find it tinged light blue. Be curious, for that blue potato isn’t crawling with mold and disease. It is brimming with connections for you to explore. All you have to do is click.
Farm intern Maya Binyam ‘15 on what her Ethiopian father taught her about what it means to depend on the land:
Boston is a cold city. In the winter months a biting humidity saturates the air, threatening to freeze car locks and the tips of hair. The sunlight is static, even in the summer, and reflects but never warms.
In this landscape of fractured water and light, my father attempted to make a home. He cranked up the heat and filled the rooms of our house with things he knew would never survive outside—dainty potted basil plants, an ugly bulb too big for its pot. He was proud of this thing he had created for us—this warm oasis—because it meant we were no longer affected by Boston’s characteristically sporadic temperature declines, its unexpected noreasters. We were comfortable.
After a few months he stopped watering the plants. The leaves wilted and eventually turned brittle, but this was something to be proud of. We had begun cultivating things outside of the home, things more important than plants. We were going somewhere.
Farm intern Justine Appel ‘15 on why caring about food and agriculture doesn’t make her a hipster:
When I found out I was going to be a summer intern at the Yale Farm, I felt like I had secured a dream summer for myself: working outdoors, growing and eating wonderful food, and learning from and with people who cared as much about sustainable agriculture as I did. After volunteering on the farm throughout my freshman year, I was seriously looking forward to further developing my comprehension of the problems and challenges of our food system. But around the same time my interest in the sustainable food movement heightened, I started noticing a strong, adverse reaction to it.
One morning, I opened the Yale Daily News magazine to find myself labeled a pretentious hipster. When I expressed my frustration with factory farming to one of my close friends, she told me that I was developing extremist tendencies. When I told my mom that I was going to try to eat more seasonally, she became defensive about buying strawberries in December. “Don’t you like strawberries, Justine?”
Whether being gently mocked by a Portlandia episode or accused of attempting to make food into some sort of religion or art form, I can’t seem to escape the stereotypes associated with passion for farming and concern for how we can feed seven billion mouths without contaminating our air, water, and soil. What I thought were good intentions are often perceived as idealist, naive, and, most disturbingly, elitist.
I reject being placed in special category of people who think about the way they eat, one that is characterized by privilege and even by extravagance. Being food conscious is not something inherently white, wealthy, or seductively bohemian. Moreover, such a discourse is dangerous because it strips everyone outside a certain social category of his or her agency to eat well, affordably, and ethically. Accepting that eating sustainably and locally is somehow bourgeois is both denying history and legitimizing a system that restricts access to fresh, healthy food within poor communities.
Don’t dismiss the sustainable food movement because it seems like a hipster’s cause. People who think of it that way will tell you that you can’t afford to buy organic. But with the world population expected to reach 9 billion within our generation’s lifetime, what we really can’t afford is ignorance or denial of the agricultural challenges ahead. No, we probably can’t feed the world on small-scale organic farms, but we certainly can’t go on burning more fossil fuels in order to have our winter strawberries while 870 million people go undernourished. We should strive to create a world where no one is too poor, too disadvantaged, or most importantly, too busy to exercise their right to healthy food.
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.
How Good is Good Enough?
Farmers’ Market intern Sadie Weinberger ‘14 on the challenges presented by trying to figure out how to eat ethically:
I became a vegan at the start of the academic year, at the same time I moved into my off-campus house. I’d been feeling it out over the summer—I filled the refrigerator with Earth Balance and soymilk and popsicles galore—but living with a certain steadfastly omnivorous roommate made commitment a little difficult. Now, for the first time in my life, I am responsible for everything I put into my body, and it causes the sort of crisis that so often accompanies freedom of choice: how good is good enough?
I am vegan because I object to the practices by which the majority of animal products are produced in this country, mostly for environmental reasons. I have no moral objection to the consumption of animal products like dairy and eggs, but I find it easier to commit to the whole lifestyle rather than to try to pick and choose which sources I trust.
But my convictions on the matter of the environment create problems like, am I still allowed to eat Oreos? Oreos are technically vegan, and they are undeniably delicious, but their production also has a negative effect on the environment. So does the fact that I buy my vegetables at the farmer’s market and refrain from eating cheese really make my contribution any greater than anyone else’s?
And problems like, don’t I have an obligation to support farmers who provide alternatives to factory farming? It is somewhat unrealistic to expect that a significant percent of the population will be going vegan anytime soon, and in the meantime, most people will continue to consume animal products produced by factory farming. By refraining from eating any animal products, am I also hurting farmers that use humane and sustainable practices?
I don’t have good answers to these questions; if I did, I’d write a New York Times bestseller and move to Bora Bora. Even though I find myself in the privileged position to be able to make these kinds of choices, it is neither simple nor easy to determine which issues take precedence and which get sacrificed. But I think the important thing is that we keep trying. My ideal diet is all local, organic, sustainable, [insert buzzword here]. Do I live up to that ideal? Of course I don’t. I’m busy, I don’t have the money, etc. But maybe next time I go shopping, I’ll skip out on the Oreos.
Farm intern Zoe Reich-Avillez ‘15 on learning to cook and eat abroad:
This summer I went to Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas nestled by India on the west, south, east and capped by Tibet to the north. Before going I didn’t know much about the country—I didn’t even know it was a country. For the inevitable questions “What are you doing this summer?” “Oh, where is that?” I learned my basic geography. The month before I left, I read a memoir of a Canadian woman’s experience teaching English in Bhutan. I tried to read parts of a travel book, but couldn’t make myself read more than a few pages. Bhutan still felt like a mystery. And I wanted to keep it that way. I made myself a promise: I would let the place make its own impression on me. I would let the experience give me whatever unexpected lessons it had to offer. There was one thing however, that I knew I wanted to take away. I wanted to learn how to cook a traditional Bhutanese dish. This, I thought, was the best present I could bring back to my family and friends. With food, I could share a part of my experience without having to put it into words.
In Bhutan, I had an all-too short, one-night homestay. The time I spent there was less than twenty-four hours, but most of it revolved around food. As soon as I arrived at Sangeeta’s home, I was offered tea (milk tea, more specifically with the special touch of grated ginger added by her mother—yum), crackers, and the Indian-Bhutanese special of pressed corn flakes. When Sangeeta took me to a nearby monastery, more tea with more crackers, this time served by monks. After a full two hours of visiting the various Buddha shrines, we then rushed home to make dinner. With Sangeeta, I washed my hands, my face, and my feet. Then we joined her mother, sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor. Peeling garlic and ginger, slicing potatoes and tomatoes, I worked clumsily with the knife, attempting to mimic the strong, sure strokes of Sangeeta’s mother. Since there were only two knives, Sangeeta watched us both. And before long, she was joined by her brother Kkiran. Seeing me struggle with the knife, Kkiran offered his help. He took the knife from my hands and continued peeling, but only to show me how it was really done. Then he gave it back. “This must be very hard for you,” he said. “At home, you normally cut on a board.” I hadn’t even noticed.
With Kkiran’s advice, my technique improved, but only so much. As I continued to work, I became acutely aware of the three pairs of eyes trained on my hands. They were patient, allowing me to finish on my own time, but they watched with baited breath, worried that I might slice my hand instead of the potato. Luckily, I finished the task without catastrophe. With everything sliced and diced, we got to the actual cooking. On the menu for the night: ema datse (the national dish of chillies and cheese) kewa datse (potatoes and cheese), red rice, and a salad of lettuce and tomatoes. Sangeeta, Kkiran, and their mother worked side by side, narrating each step and letting me help wherever I could. When everything was prepared, Sangeeta’s father joined us in the kitchen. He set out two long mats and the kitchen floor became the dining room table. With the dishes set out before us, we filled out plates and dug in. Everything was eaten with the right hand. To eat the soup-like kewa datse, I followed Kkiran’s example: take of clump of rice and dunk it in your bowl. Slurp from the bowl as needed. When I made it to the ema-datse, I felt the same attentive eyes trained on my face. Sangeeta’s mother warned me not to eat too much, it was very spicy. But I loved it. Sure, I had to wipe my nose on my shirt of few times, but what’s a runny nose for the sake of delicious food? When I had my fill, Sangeeta’s family insisited that I eat more. “You’re still hungry,” they asserted. “You didn’t eat enough.” “Mey jou, mey jou,” I replied. “No thank you, I’ve had enough. I promise.”
In the morning, after drinking a cup of hot water, we turned to making breakfast. This time though, Sangeeta’s father took the reigns; buckwheat pancakes were his domain. To go with the pancakes, we made the ever-versatile ema datse. At Kkiran’s insistence, I led this part of the cooking venture, putting into practice what I had learned the night before. As we covered the pot of chillies and cheese for its last few minutes of cooking, Kkiran turned to me, “Now you know how to cook Bhutanese food. Back home, you can cook it for your friends.”
I can’t say I’ve cooked for my friends yet—partly because I’m not sure they can handle all those chillies—but I will. And when I do, hopefully we’ll eat with our hands, using the floor as our dining room table.