Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Course Reflection

 It's been a delight learning with all of you this quarter! I know that we've covered a lot of interconnected topics, so I hope this final reflection will be an opportunity for you to pause and think back over the course to what has had the most impact on you and what you most want to remember.

Please answer the following questions in the comments section. Please submit your responses by midnight, Monday, June 5.
What questions, themes, and/or ideas from this class have been the most interesting for you to consider? What new ideas are you taking away from this course? What new questions do you have?

What do you think you’ll remember most from this class one year from now?

What is one thing you’ve learned in this class that you hope to put into practice in your life after graduation?

Throughout this quarter, John and I have shared with you some of the ways we are working to make a positive difference in the world through experimenting with and teaching small-scale, localized farming. Following our passions, talents, and curiosities has led us to this way of giving to the world. What passions, talents, and curiosities will you be pursuing after graduation and how might these lead you to ways you can make a positive difference in the communities in which you’ll be living and the world at large?

What suggestions do you have for improving future versions of this course?

Sam's Post

Originally my plan was to teach everyone about mushrooms and fungal networks due to my deep fascination with the topic. But after speaking in a panel about eating disorders a few days ago, I decided that there was something else I wanted to talk about for the last day of class: our relationship with food. Throughout the class, we’ve often talked about our relationship with food. Whether we examine its production or distribution, many deep-rooted problems become evident. For my lesson, I wanted to not only focus on the large structures that constitute our food systems, but on the framework through which we view food. I want to breakdown and talk about the modern discourse surrounding food in the United States and how it allows the structures that we’ve so carefully analyzed for the past ten weeks to continue existing. For those of you who were raised outside of the U.S., I am greatly interested in your perspective regarding the differences and similarities between the philosophies of food here and elsewhere. I think it would also be interesting to discuss the effects of globalization on food philosophy both here and abroad.
I mentioned in the first paragraph that my interest in this topic was sparked at a panel I spoke at last week. On the panel, I spoke about my eating disorder, which manifested most strongly at the beginning of my high school career. If any of you have questions in class about my experience and how it relates to what we’ve learned about in the course, feel free to ask me in class. The two topics are intertwined so complexly inextricably that it would take a Yurackallhua-Incan-giant-corn-sized* novel to fully explicate my thoughts on the matter. In regards to food philosophy, I feel that the concept of eating and abstention from eating is often viewed as a source of exercising and maintaining control over the physical and psychological self. For a brief background on eating disorders and their prevalence among various demographics, this link has a few statistics:
The stats in this article primarily relate to racial/ethnic differences in eating disorder rates within the U.S. The prominence of social factors in eating disorder rates (relating to race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) displays how cultural philosophies can affect eating patterns. Eating disorders are often viewed as the inverse of and a response to elevating obesity rates worldwide, but this is far from the truth. I would argue that there is not a simple cause-and-effect relationship between the two; the two phenomena are both symptoms of a detrimental philosophy of food that is suffusing across the planet. Unfortunately there is little research available that compares eating disorders rates around the world. But due to differences among obesity rates across the globe, we may be able to infer that there are also radical differences in in regards to eating disorders across the globe (see chart below)…or maybe that’s too big of a leap. This is a question that I would like to discuss in class.
So how do eating disorders directly or indirectly relate to farming?
For me, it all comes back to the relationship between food and ourselves. In communal settings, food is about sharing, nurturing, enjoyment, and our relationship with the rest of the biological world. In individualistic societies such as our own, food intake becomes a test: a way to prove how much or how little we can eat. Within four years, I both harmfully abstained from food and harmfully ingested copious amounts of food in wing-eating challenges…these were both rooted in our philosophical concept of self-worth. In mainstream U.S. society, we are not complete as our self. We have to become the ideal of our self in order to become whole, and one way this manifests is through food.
In our current philosophy, food is not only a way by which to express control over our self, but also to give our body the proper nourishment to be efficient within society. The expansion of nutritional science over the past few decades is indicative of this. I’m not denying that one of food’s most crucial purposes is to supply us with macro and micronutrients; in my opinion, this assertion would be absurd. What I am saying is that the modern trend of essentializing various foods as a source of a specific nutrient is harmful. When you go to many supermarkets, each type of produce has a sign that lists the micronutrients that can be received from that type of produce. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it is part of the framework that food is simply an instrument whereby we can attain the perfect balance of nutrients. Nutritional science has, however, helped many people, including myself, know what nutritional deficiencies might be ailing them. But I see the modern study of nutrition as a band-aid for the problems that arose out of the shift in U.S. food culture that occurred in the last century. This might explain the drastic shifts in what is deemed a healthy and balanced diet by the scientific community. The below article breaks-down the changes in dietary recommendations of the USDA in the past century. The article may be from Wikipedia, but most of it draws directly from USDA sources.
In the same vein, I’m sure that most of you are aware of the popularity of various diet fads. One example of this is the preponderance of gluten-free diets. If you search “gluten-free”, “gluten”, or “bread bowl” on Google (okay, maybe not that last one), you’ll find thousands of articles that expound the benefits of living without the artist formerly known as Gluten the Great. Here is an example of one such listicle (that’s the actual name of this article format) that gives five AWESOME benefits of going gluten-free…it sounds EPIC!

Here is a WebMD article that gives a more nuanced approach to gluten-free eating:

There are certainly individuals with Celiac Disease and many who have a gluten intolerance, but to say that completely abstaining from any product that contains gluten will help everybody is, to me, sensationalism. Once the trend went mainstream a few years ago, it became indelibly inscribed into the public consciousness. Whether or not the various articles have any scientific backing, the ideas found within them still become prominent in our culture. There are many other examples of diet fads that can be discussed in class.
There may be a lot of subtopics discussed in this post, but for me, they all relate back to our philosophies and frameworks of food. For our discussion, try to analyze your own philosophy of food. Many of you may not have one that you are aware of, but nonetheless, I’m sure you have one! Have you had any experience with radical diet shifts, whether they involve specific foods or food in general? I understand that this may be a sensitive topic for many people, so by all means, only share what you feel comfortable sharing. And to encapsulate all we have discussed in this course: how can altering our philosophy of food ameliorate the structural, social, or psychological problems we face as a society?
*one of the largest varieties of corn in terms of kernel size and stalk height…at least according to the internet

Monday, May 29, 2017

Images of Farming, Nature, and Wildlife In Television & Film

Last Thursday, we discussed what we imagined a what our world would look like as it related to farming and nature. For the last class (*Sad Face* -_- ) , I want you all to think about the images you have seen relating to farming, nature, and wildlife in media throghout your life, whether is was a cartoon, reality show, or nature docummentary. TV shows and films may mislead viewers on what nature, farming, and wildlife are, which may perpetuate sterotypes, when it comes to educating viwers on these subjects. Below are some videos and articles that will help with with our activity this Thursday!

Short Video on Urban Farming: Nest-spresso - Saturday Night Live

Video Link:

This short Saturday Night Live Video uses a comedic method to explain urban farming and "technology" that could make farming easier as it pertains to hatching chickens in an urban environment. 

Short Video: Did Animal Planet Mistreat Its Stars to Fake Reality Drama?

YouTube Link:

The short video talks more about the mistreatment of animals within an Animal Planet TV program called "Call of the Wildman". Have you heard of it? The short video breaks down the reality of how animals are treated versus how they are portrayed on television with the help of a YouTube network called "Mother Jones." 

Lemming Suicide Is A Myth That Was Perpertuated by Disney

Article Link:

The following article speaks more about a Disney wildlife nature docummentary entitled "White Wilderness." The article touches base on an animal called lemmings, which are small rodents that are usually found in the artic within the tundra biomes. Within the docummentary, lemmings were protrayed as drowning themselves while following their heards. However, it turns out that during the process of making the film, a truck full of lemmings we brought for the film and thrown into the Artic Ocean in order to mislead viewers. (**Please watch the short video in the article that shows a preview of the actual Disney film).

Short Article: Snake expert says "Turtleman" show staged cottonmouth scene

Article Link:

The following news article goes into detail of "Turtleman," a man named Ernie Brown Jr., who is in Animal Planet's "Call of the Wildman." The article explains how the show is staged and misleading to viwers. Although the show may be entertaining, it is misleading and could put children, for example, in danger and who may mimick what they see on this particular television program. 

What is portrayed through media sources may not always be reality. As an aspiring television producer, I hope to use media as a source for education as well as for entertainment. However, as we have seen in these videos and readings, entertainment may compromise education and ethics, where both entertainment and education are not balanced. For these reasons, the use of media can have the potential to mislead viewers on what farming, nature, and wildlife is, which can result in further sterotypes and ignorance. These programs and films make we wonder if there is even any potential to balance education and entertainment, while reaching a greater audience. 

So now that you have seen these videos and read up on articles on media portrayals pertaining to farming, nature, and wildlife, it's time to put your thoughts and expereinces into action. Before our activity on Thursday, I want you all to answer the following questions in the comment section:
  • What do you think about the Saturday Night Live video as it relates to urban farming?
  • What kind of farming, nature, or wildlife shows did you watch throughout your lifetime?
  • Based on the presented articles and videos, was this the first time that you heard about these unethical acts in the tv programs and films? 
  • If you were to create a film and television program to accurately present farming, nature, or wildlife, what specifically would that look like? 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Week 10 on the Farm 2017: Insects, Eusociality, and Evolution

Weather forecast: Highs in the 60s, partly cloudy.

Usually at this point in the season, we are gearing up for our CSA distribution to begin and stressing out about whether we'll have a good first few harvests to start off the season. It's nice to not have that pressure this year, though we are still racing against the season to get ground prepped and all of our plants in the ground before summer really kicks in. We've been planting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants this weekend, with hopes to get beans and soybeans seeded before we see you all on the farm this week.

On Tuesday this week, Dr. Ann Fraser will be joining us for part of our practicum to help us with our insect identification skills and to teach us more about the role of insects in our ecosystems. She's going to bring her bug nets and sheets with her and leave them here for the Wednesday group to use, so everyone who wants to will get to go bug hunting this week :)

In preparation for her visit, I thought it would be fun for us all to learn a little bit about E. O. Wilson. He's the guy that came up with "biophilia"--the idea that humans have an innate, genetic predisposition to enjoy nature. His special subject of study is ants and their social behaviors, from which he has drawn insights into human behaviors. This article from The Atlantic describes the controversy he stirred up with a co-authored scientific paper that challenged evolutionary theories about altruism among highly social organisms (such as ants and humans):

I found the article especially interesting in light of our conversations about what it means to act in one's "self-interest" and our talks about cooperation vs competition within ecosystems. For those of you who enjoy reading scientific papers, here's the original paper that the The Atlantic article refers to:

I will be very curious to know what Dr. Fraser thinks of Wilson and his co-authors' ideas about natural selection and evolution!

My question for you this week is:

In the The Atlantic article linked to above, author Howard French refers to Wilson's idea that the natural selection through which human behavior has evolved is driven by two forces: individual selection (competition to pass on one's own genes) and group selection (cooperation that aids survival). Just for the fun of it, let's say that's true. And let's say that those two forces are at work within all of us all the time. How do you see those forces playing out in your life? In what areas of your life are you highly motivated toward pursuing your own wants/needs/desires and in what areas of your life do you sacrifice your personal desires in order to contribute to the overall well-being of a group (or planet) that you are a part of? Are there areas of your life in which you find your individual needs in conflict with the needs of others that you are in relationship with? (Feel free to define "others" and "relationship" broadly. A case could be made that we are all in relationship with every other organism on the globe in one way or another.) If and when you feel such a conflict, how do you decide how to act?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Week 9 on the Farm 2017: Livestock, the micro, the macro, the in-between

Weather Forecast: highs around 70 degree F, rain

Sounds like we are in for a rainy week! John and I will be scrambling around Monday morning (before I have to head into school) to get as many plants in the ground as we can before the rain starts on Tuesday.

The plants we've got in the ground thus far look really good. The potatoes are popping up, the lettuces are heading up, and the peas are growing up their trellis. The plant that has suffered the most insect damage so far this year is the Chinese Cabbage--any guesses as to what might be eating its leaves? This week on the farm we'll do a little exercise designed to help you think more about how to identify and deal with pest problems using organic methods.

At the moment we are assuming that the outdoor weather isn't going to be hospitable for working outside. So, we've got a couple of things planned that we can do inside. First, I will fulfill my promise to teach you how to make worm bins and vermicompost. We are going to need some finished vermicompost for planting next week, so I'll teach you how to sort out worms into a new bin once the compost is finished and ready to be used.

Second, John is going to teach you how to lactoferment. Simply put, lactofermentation uses the bacteria that's naturally present on fruits, vegetables, and pretty much all around us to ferment and preserve vegetables. Sauerkraut and kimchi are just two examples of lactofermented foods with rich cultural histories. We'll be lactofermenting asparagus this week and it should be ready for us to sample by our potluck at the end of the quarter.

I titled this blog post "livestock" because if you think about it, both the lactofermentation bacteria and the red worms in our vermicompost bins are living organisms that we are "farming" so that they will perform specific tasks that benefit us. Another reason for the title is that we just added a dozen larger "livestocks" to our farm in the form of Ancona ducklings. The ethics and sustainability of raising livestock is controversial, to put it mildly. The film "Cowspiracy" would like to convince you that cattle farming is the single biggest bad thing humans are doing to the planet. This 15 minutes of excerpts will give you a sense of the film:

A few weeks ago in one of our classes, Siwook mentioned Alan Savory. Savory believes that implementing ecologically sound grazing practices can be a key toward sustaining ecological health and combating climate change:

After watching these two videos, share your thoughts about livestock. Last week I asked you about the values that are important to you in how your food is produced. Let's narrow that down this week. If you choose to eat meat or other animal products like eggs or milk, what is important to you about how those animals are cared for and how they are killed? If you choose not to eat meat and/or other animal products, what are the reasons behind your choice?
And what about lab meat? Would you eat this?

Week 9: Na Young and Siwook Presents "Beyond the Point of No Return" :)

Title: “Beyond the Point of No Return”

Hello everyone, Na Young and Siwook here, co-leading the discussion for this week. After all the grim news and the cold rain pouring from the world today, we’ve decided to take on a more cheerful topic: apocalypse! Broadly defined, there are 3 progressive stages in an apocalypse.

3 stages of apocalypse
  1. Events leading up to the apocalypse, either directly or indirectly causing the big “end”.  
  2. The big end, the point of no return, the armageddon, or simply known as the apocalypse.
  3. Events after the apocalypse as the survivors try to reconcile with what had happened and rebuild “society”.

So far in the class, we’ve collectively discussed what is wrong with the current system, or the fact that the system is doing precisely what it was designed to do (ie. US farming system is built on stolen lands drenched in the blood of the indigenous people, maintained by black and brown bodies). Oil spills, deforestation, climate change, all these lovely events are part of Stage 1, incidents leading up to the apocalypse.

We’ll skip Stage 2; that’s too sad.

Stage 3 is where all of our beloved dystopian literature comes in, ranging from the Hunger Games to the Divergent. However, as a class, we haven’t tackled Stage 3, events after the apocalypse and what our societies could look like after all of the above. So during class, we would like to invite everyone to ask, what is the end vision? What could our society look like (disregarding how we will actually get there - for now). Towards what “dream” can we work for? What kind of societies do we want to be in?

First off, Mononoke Hime by Miyazaki Hayao! This classic is about… well, watch it to find out! Siwook will be at the coffee shop during Common Time, and Na Young will be there from 1-3pm on Monday with a downloadable movie file. Na Young will also be in the library circulations desk from 5-6pm and 7-8pm (yeah, the work hour is weird, we know). There’s also a DVD disc you can rent out from the library, so feel free to utilize that as well (when approaching the circulation desk workers, bring the W22 number with you)! What always gets us about Mononoke Hime is the complexity of the characters and the plot, how the director pushes against the simple nature vs. technology as the good vs. evil. Lady Eboshi has all the traits that we would find in a stereotypical villain: shoots the boar Nago which sets off the plot, pushes for advancement in technology via rifle development, and ultimately, chooses to (albeit for external and selfless reasons such as to heal her sick citizens) murder the Forest Spirit. However, Director Miyazaki has given her an extremely compelling storyline, making it more difficult for the audience to simply state, Lady Eboshi and technology are evil.

After watching the movie, read the article that is attached to the email we’ve sent out (or Na Young figured out how to computer ). It is an excerpt from a book titled ANIME from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation from a chapter called Princess Mononoke: Fantasy, The Feminine, and the Myth of “Progress”. The chapter does an excellent job analyzing the movie, placing the plot in Japanese historical context and the country’s relationship with technology specifically thanks to the atomic bomb, and contrasting the ending of Mononoke Hime with those of Disney’s Tarzan. And since the theme of this discussion is the Apocalypse, let’s thinking about the ending, which the article does a wonderful job of analyzing. The movie itself never offers us a solution, and to be blunt, nothing is solved. The Forest Spirit is dead, humans still have to survive, most likely by destroying nature, and San tells Ashitaka that she cannot forgive the humans. Tarzan, on the other hand, portrays an optimistic Garden of Eden-esk ending, which is extremely problematic and ignores the reality that we live in. So the two main takeaways are (if you don’t read the article, which, please DO)
  1. “While Tarzan uses fantasy to gloss over the inconvenient facts of historical change and cultural complexity, Princess Mononoke employs the fantastic to reveal how plurality and otherness are a basic feature of human life.”
  2. “By acknowledging Eboshi’s “humanity” (in both senses of the term) the film forces the viewer out of any complacent cultural position where technology and industry can be dismissed as simply wrong.”

Since we are talking about technology, we think it would be a good idea to review and complicate the way we define technology itself. What really is technology? How is modern technology different from what it ought to be? How are atomic bombs and ancient greek clay vase different/similar? This short (4:05) video clip is a summary of Martin Heidegger’s essay on technology. They unpack it and explain it so well using some 8-bit animation and Star Wars references, which we think is the best combo one could ask for.

Now that we unpacked the idea of the technology itself, let’s think about human civilization! In the following essay, John Zerzan (aka everyone’s favorite anarcho-primitivist) argues that human society in itself is destructive and harmful. We personally do not agree with his view, but this article does a good job of questioning the way we think about human society and progress. Towards the end, Zerzan states “To the question of technology must be added that of civilization itself. Ever-growing documentation of human prehistory as a very long period of largely non-alienated human life stands in stark contrast to the increasingly stark failures of untenable modernity”

(side note: This person also wrote an essay on agriculture, arguing that the shift from hunter-gatherer society to agrarian society led to societal injustice we see today)

So, to bring all this together, below are the blog post questions.
  1. What were your reactions to the film’s ending, after watching the movie and reading the excerpt from the book? Does the “there is no winning on either side” make you feel uncomfortable? Or is it a fact of life?
  2. How does Heidegger’s definition of technology and Zerzan’s bleak view on human society fit in with the movie’s main message? What aspect do they share? How are they different? More broadly, do you agree with either Heidegger and/or Zerzan?
  3. Or anything you feel inclined to discuss (pertaining to the topic).