In memoriam of summer 2k15

The Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship was a strong learning experience for me in many dimensions: planning and executing gardening tasks, dealing with crop success and failure, and spending a ton of time in the kitchen figuring ways to complete the cycle from soil to mouth. I was inspired by many of the community food projects I read about in Denckla Cobb’s book Reclaiming Our Food, the farming techniques and philosophies of Joel Salatin, and the intricate cooking and preservation techniques I gleaned from Sandor Katz, Michael Pollan, and many of my co-workers at Bellair Farm. I became aware of some community and local food projects in our area too – there’s tons to explore. From the communes Acorn and Twin Oaks, to the local and artisinal shops like Timbercreek Market, Feast, Market Street Market and J.M. Stock, to the relatively unknown farmer’s markets of the IRC and Meade Park. There’s a lot going on, and Charlottesville is a good place to get plugged in if you are an agri-foodie, which I have totally become.

I believe in the healing power of local, homegrown foods. The organic produce is simply better for your body. There are no chemicals and there are more nutrients. And I believe the work is good for your mind and perhaps even the soul. I believe that too much of the work we do as American’s today is “heteronomous”, meaning the tasks are forced on us by others (our boss), we often only play a small, specialized part, and we never incorporate the finished product into our personal lives. The other type of labor is quite the opposite, “autonomous”, which I like to rootify as “self named”, i.e. you name your own work. This describes the work people do from start to finish because they want to, and they can incorporate the finished product into their lives to their benefit. This includes many creative hobbies, cooking, and of course gardening. I believe in doing more of this kind of labor and less of the heteronomous kind.

Now for some of the specific happenings in the garden. We had four community meals on Saturday nights, which were a great way to put our produce to use and spend quality time together at a group of gardeners. I made several great, new relationships this summer and strengthened others because of bonding done over gardening and cooking and eating. We welcomed the parents of U.Va. orientees for tours of the garden while their children were busy getting ready for school. We had delicious success with cantaloupes, sun jewel melons, strawberries, purple beans, potatoes, tomatoes and failures with squash, Brussels sprouts, cilantro and others. We made a huge batch of compost tea!

I had all of my gardening firsts this summer. Planting, harvesting, cooking, pruning, transplanting – many of them I fully explored for the first time. Come to thing of it, I haven’t really completed the cycle. We still have fall crops to tend too…

Here’s to a great summer for community, education, and health!

-Connor Campbell

Garden interns in the news!

As the summer comes to a close, we’d like to share an article by UVA Today featuring the U.Va. Community Garden and some other great student-run food-growing operations around the area. Our interns, Connor and Maggie, managed the Community Garden and worked at Bellair Farm as part of the inaugural Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship. Look for a recap of the summer in the coming days. Thanks, Connor and Maggie!

gardens_Connor_Campbell_-_Student_Garden_01_DA

In fact, as the new semester get’s started, we’d like to celebrate with a Welcome Party! Swing by the garden at the corner of McCormick and Alderman Roads across from O’Hill Dining Hall between 3 and 5 p.m. this Sunday, August 30th!

Students, faculty, staff, families, and community members are all welcome to come anytime between 3 and 5, but we’ll start out with a short meeting/tour of the garden so we can appreciate the hard work done this summer by our interns! We’ll then get our hands dirty and tend to the tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, sun jewel melons, basil, arugula, and more! We’ll get to know each other over food, including local veggies and snacks from our farmer friends around the area.
See you in the garden!

The Foxfire Books

For this post, I’ve read a good portion of Joel Salatin’s book Folks this Ain’t Normal. What sticks with me most is the incredibly rich history that alternative agriculture literature has. Joel mentions many other books on the subject, and it is humbling for me to become aware of the extensive canon on this subject that I am interested in and that I believe is a key to improving the human condition in the 21st century. Here’s some exposition about the Foxfire books.

The Foxfire books began in 1966 as an English class project at a high school in norther Georgia. The project culminated in a magazine about rural Appalachian culture, focusing on folk skills and traditions. It is part how-to, part oral history, and part folklore.

By 1972 the project had bloomed and produced a full-fledged book – the first of the Foxfire Book series. The back-to-the-land movement of people desire simple lives tied to the land and traditional skills used the foxfire books as instructional manuals on how to make a living from the land in rural Appalachia.

The first Foxfire Book is available at Alderman Library, and it sits next to my laptop as I write. The title and subtitle follow.

“The Foxfire Book: hog dressing; log cabin building; mountain crafts and foods; planting by the signs; snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing; moonshining; and other affairs of plain living“

I believe to be healthy, one must find a balance between the land-, craft-, and faith-based folk lifestyle of the Foxfire subjects and the modern, scientific, skeptical, technological lifestyle that is thrust upon us millennials all day, every day. This book series would be a great place to start combating that thrust and help get us to a healthier balance.

-CDC

The Meaning of Living Sustainably: A Reflection on Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”

By Maggie Rogers

I recognize that I usually begin to read a book with a bias. Books often come to me either recommended or complained about. The context in which I find a book can lead me to assumptions about it, too, so it’s very hard to read without prejudice. In the case of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” I was pleasantly surprised to have my preconceptions proven wrong. I wrongly assumed it fell into the category of farm-lit that describes an affluent city slicker’s transition to be a country farmer, without recognizing many of the harsh realities the majority of real farmers face, with an arrogant anyone can and everyone should do this tone. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is not that story at all. It’s a story about family, and a family trying their best to live a good life according to their values.

animal vegetable miracle

The Kingsolver-Hopp Family

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” follows the Kingsolver-Hopp family as they attempt to eat entirely locally for one year. They grow most of their own produce and poultry on their small Virginia farm, and get meat, dairy, and grain from neighbors and farmers markets. Kingsolver chronicles how they manage and how different members of the family cope with the challenges of producing most of their own food. Her daughter Camille contributes recipes and teenage perspective.

Kingsolver acknowledges there are a lot of groceries that supplement a local diet that she can’t get locally so she buys the most sustainable and ethical choice she can. There is no point in shaming people for buying cinnamon from Africa to mix with their home grown pumpkin, or sugar from Brazil for cookies. I feel like Kingsolver recognizes that even in her family’s year of local food, there isn’t always a right answer. Sustainability is not about absolutes. There is no definitive checklist of things to do and not do. There are trade-offs and sliding scales, and a lot of personal choice about what you can and can’t live without. It’s a story about resilience and making due, not about self-discipline and doing without.

One of the themes I appreciated the most was Kingsolver’s gratitude and respect for her community. She says “The point of being dedicated locavores for some prescribed length of time, I now understand, is to internalize a trust in one’s own foodshed” (343). This trust is shown in her accounts of conversations with friends and neighbors, and her desire to not only eat locally, but do so in a way that supports and uplifts the food producers in her own community. I now understand that eating locally and sustainably requires a lot of social capital, and as I have learned in studying community health, social capital has many implications for better health and wellbeing on its own.

The Kingsolver-Hopp family approached producing most of their own food not as trying to be self-sufficient, but as an increased trust and reliance on their community. Personally, I very much in favor of this type of community based way of life than the self-reliant life off the grid stereotype of a sustainable life. People are meant to live in community, and strengthening community ties with sustainable food systems can only enhance the health and happiness of all the systems that relate to it.

Land reform? You don’t hear a lot about that these days…(pun intended)…

I recently read Wendell Berry’s book The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Written in 1977, the book criticizes the dominant strain of thinking about agriculture at the time, the drive towards profitable agribusiness by the USDA. Berry contrasts “agribusiness” with agricultural practices on the “margins” (for example those practiced by the Amish and indigenous potato farmers in the Andes), heavily favoring the latter while mourning and lampooning the shift towards the former. He connects this agricultural shift to cultural shifts in marriage, health, democracy, and others, stressing rightly that all culture builds upon agriculture.

Two of Berry’s ideas are worth building upon here today. The first is the way the Amish relate to technology. Berry rightly points out most Americans assume that new technology is good. This is true with agriculture and culture. Most people assume a bigger tractor is better than a horse and plow; most people also assume the world is better with the Internet, for example. The Amish have done a remarkable job of creating a culture that pauses to consider new technologies. Do we really want to integrate this into our community?

As a result, they still plow their fields with animals. It is known that this is better for the earth than using a tractor because heavy machinery compacts the soil, diminishing aeration. I suggest that the technique offers farmers a chance to do something spiritually moving: learn to work together with a horse or mule. To get to know their animal, to watch it live and die. This practice also puts the farmer closer to the action. She can observe the process as it’s happening and pleasantly get to know her soil. The tractor driver, on the other hand, merely presses the gas pedal. I’m having trouble articulating my feelings on the subject, but I suggest asking yourself who will feel better at the end of the day: horse user or tractor user? How about this question: have you ever thought you’d be less anxious without your cell phone? Many people do leave theirs off on vacation.

Having touched the issue of technology, I’ll move onto my second topic, revolving out from Berry’s discussion of agriculture and democracy. He draws heavily from Thomas Jefferson here. The idea is that self-sufficient farmers are beholden to nobody, and are therefore independent from government. They do not need anything from government, so they can criticize it openly and strongly. This is important to make sure government doesn’t impacting many people negatively, or restrict freedoms. Therefore, Berry suggests, democracy is weakened as family farms batten their hatches and sell to wealthier, consolidating owners.

There is a connection to be made between the concentration of ownership of wealth and land we have today and the problems with hunger and poverty and the seeming ineffectiveness of government to solve these problems. Are we due for a global land reform movement, that would give small parcels of land to the poor, in the hopes they could learn to manage the land productively? I’m reminded of the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish…feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish…feed him for a lifetime. It is beyond my current means to examine this in more detail now, but it poses some good questions for further study.

What is the most beneficial balance between self-sufficiency and specialization/trade? Would we see a decrease in obesity due to exercise and diet improvements? Would we see a decrease in depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia due to people being more connected with their lives and their land?

Revised land reform 2015 proverb: Give a man some land and teach a man to farm…make the world a better place.Just some thoughts.CDC

The Founding Fathers and Joel Salatin: A reflection on Joel Salatin’s Folks This Ain’t Normal

By Maggie Rogers

Joel Salatin defines himself as a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic” (142), and Folks This Ain’t Normal justifies each of these descriptors. Throughout his book he gives a fair amount of life advice, numerated at the end of each chapter. I appreciated this because although some of his writing reads like an angry old tea partier ranting about the government, he does make a few good points about entitlement and a lack of resiliency in our society.

I think the extent to which Salatin aligns himself with the founding fathers is very interesting. For example, he asks “What happened to Jefferson’s intellectual agrarian dream” (241). He makes it very clear that he considers himself to be an intellectual, describing elitist visitors to the farm praising him for being so articulate. He recounts high school guidance counselor as having the gall to discourage his desire to farm because it would be a waste of a college degree. He also name drops University speaking engagements throughout the book.

Salatin also compares himself to Jefferson in more tangible ways, such as their shared love of water cisterns. He claims that Jefferson had as many water cisterns as possible constructed at Monticello, as Salatin does at Polyface Farm.  Salatin uses this as a point of departure to discuss water policy preventing homeowners to hold rain water on their own property. These policies are most common in the western United States, especially along the Colorado River where water is scarce and water politics are a high tension topic. Salatin does not approach the issue from a larger standpoint, but as his values dictate, only from the point of view of a single person being unjustly prevented from doing what he wants on his own land.

Jefferson is not the only founding father that Salatin venerates. He quotes large passages from Benjamin Franklin as well. He relates the passages to the idea of the American dream, claiming that the founding fathers did not value wealth but rather saw farming the embodiment of American virtue. Salatin claims that because by farming an individual works to build up their wealth it is different than European society where wealth is passed down. What I fail to understand is how Salatin sees the next generation. A post-colonial farmer who has amassed a fair amount of property and formed a productive farm will surely pass it along to his son, who then has considerable unearned wealth compared to a recent immigrant pursuing their own American dream.

I find Salatin joining himself with the founding fathers problematic in two ways. First, it is narcissistic compare your radical way of living with actual revolutionaries. There is a wide gap between moving chickens around in a pasture and starting a war for independence against the most powerful government on the Earth. Second, and in a way in contradiction to the first issue, the founding fathers had a lot of issues Salatin does not acknowledge such as sexism and racism so engrained in early American institutions that we are still battling its effects. Joel Salatin may be a lot of things, but his discussion of the founding fathers shows that slightly ignorant narcissist can be added to the list.

A Healthy Sense of Awe and Wonder: A Reflection on Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac

By Maggie Rogers

In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold moves through one year on his small Wisconsin farm. For each month, he shares his detailed amazement at the workings of the plants and animals that surround him.  Clearly he has a great respect for the ineffable beauty and complexity of the ephemeral natural world.

Throughout the year, Leopold displays a pattern of rejoicing at sights and circumstances most others might not. In April, he is filled with “inner glee” as flood waters cover the road and surround his hilltop. He marvels at the history of old boards floating by, as he guesses their age and intended purpose. There is no mention of frustration or pragmatism as Leopold’s farm becomes increasingly isolated. Instead, he praises the isolation of the high water as being far superior to that of an island or mountain top which are not as wonderfully secluded.

“Draba Ramosissima”

Also in April, Leopold discusses Draba, a small wild flower that marks the coming of spring. He humorously and poetically describes it saying “Draba plucks no heartstrings. Its perfume, if there is any is lost in the gusty winds. Its color is plain white. It leaves wear a sensible woolly coat. Nothing eats it; it is too small. No poets sing of it. Some botanist once gave it a Latin name, and then forgot it. Altogether it is of no importance- just a small creature that does a small job quickly and well.” He claims this very tiny flower has no importance, and yet even in that lack of importance or recognition, he finds beauty.

As Leopold describes pausing during a grouse hunt to ponder at different varieties of pines and wildflowers, a find myself missing a tradition from a camp where I worked last summer called sky breaks. They could be expected but never planned, a welcome unscheduled activity. Often during evening games or around that time at the golden hour, someone noticing a particularly beautiful sky would shout out “sky break”.  At those words everyone would pause and look up. In those few minutes of calm, everyone would marvel at the picturesque hues of orange, red, purple, and blue playing on the clouds as the sun slipped behind the mountains. With necks craned upwards, the mundane faded away as everyone was filled with awe for the Earth’s beauty. Lifting my gaze to the sky in those moments would make me feel impossibly small, as small as a Draba flower when compared with the universe, but also impossibly important, to be able to experience such incredible fleeting beauty.