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.
Layers of Getting to Know
Photography intern Elif Erez ‘15 on how she sees (and knows) the Farm through her camera. Check out some of her photographs!
My grandfather believes that each photograph steals a bit of your soul. He’ll exclaim “that’s enough!” if you snap more than a couple shots of family group pictures, and will grumble fiercely if a camera gets within portrait range.
Although I wouldn’t like to think of myself as a soul-snatcher, I find a bit of truth in my grandfather’s superstition. Having the cold, opaque eye of a camera focus its gaze on you makes you feel naked and exposed. Eye contact plays such a large role in establishing equal grounds in social interactions that, when you find yourself gazing back at an unrevealing, mechanical appendage instead of the eyes of your observer, you’re thrown off. You have given something of yourself, and can’t receive anything in return.
This unconditional giving is what the photograph captures; it’s a part of you that can’t be expressed in words, but that is accessible to others in the exchange of a gaze.
Sometimes, what you’ve unconsciously offered in a photograph comes from somewhere deeper than what you let out in regular eye contact. I find it fascinating to discover that, in an exchange as brief as a snapshot, I’ve unpeeled and gotten to know a layer of someone’s being that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Working as the YSFP Farm photographer, I’ve experienced a way of photographing that I was unfamiliar with—shooting the same people and the same place, week after week. What I’ve learned through this experience is that each layer of the Farm that I uncover (or each “snippet of soul I snatch from the Farm,” as my grandfather would call it) is entirely different than the last one. Unexpectedly, the fragments I’ve gathered don’t add up to build a complete picture of the place and its people—what they do instead is let me burrow into its depths, and allow me to get to know it slowly, piece by piece.
“Getting to know” is not a linear process; it’s a repetitive action, possible only through returning and noticing the change in what you’ve returned to. Walk over a well-worn path again, and you’ll realize it’s not the same path. See the same person every day, and realize that they’ll never stop surprising you with a side of them you hadn’t known before. If you’ve volunteered at Yale Farm once, do it again; it’s not going to be the same place when you return. Come back to the Farm, dig a hand in its dirt: get to know it better.