Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Week 10 on the Farm: First Harvest (and more planting)

Weather Forecast: Sunny, 70s.

I'm posting this late this week in part because we had our first harvest and share distribution yesterday and so by the time I got home from Kalamazoo last night, I was too tired to do anything but go right to bed!

We are really grateful that we've got one more week with you all--John & I have enjoyed your company so much this Spring! We've been grateful to have your help too and especially grateful this week, since we've got a lot of plants to get in the ground. We'll spend most of this week's class planting, but we'll also take a little time to show you what and how we've been harvesting and to share some samples.

We'll see you soon!

Friday, May 29, 2015

10th Week: Reflections and Excitement!

Happy 10th Week!

With this week’s blog post and class Kacey and I hope to facilitate reflection of the past ten weeks and excitement about applying class learning to our post-graduation lives.  To begin this process we invite each of you to think and write about 1) Something(s) you’ve learned by working at Amy and John’s farm, and 2) a favorite farm memory.  Some questions to consider:

  • What were you expecting from working on the farm?  Did you have a specific hope/goal in mind when you started?  Did this hope/goal change over time?  Do you think you achieved it?
  • Was there a specific skill that you learned?  Or did working at the farm teach you about something more conceptual?
  • To what extent has working on the farm helped you understand the conventional US agricultural system and alternatives to it?
  • What has working on the farm taught you about yourself?  About your relationship to the land?  To others?
  • What are you going to take away from your experience working at the farm?  How do you envision yourself giving back the farm/agricultural communities/food justice movement after your experience at the farm?

Finally, please include a link to a song that makes you happy – we’re going to use them on Thursday!  

Mariah’s Reflection

For me, being able to work at Amy and John’s farm was one of the primary attractions of taking the “Slow Farming” senior capstone class.  Tired of sitting in classrooms, I was excited for the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning.  I wanted to learn skills that I could apply to everyday life in tangible ways.  And I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to farm.  

Now, after ten weeks of working on the farm, I think that what I acquired most deeply was a renewed understanding and appreciation of the commitment, dedication, and patience that farming requires.  One example that comes to mind is compost.  I had a basic understanding of the process of making compost before arriving at the farm, but I didn’t realize the importance of it until we started talking about the difference between dirt and soil.  The idea of soil as a complex living system was eye-opening to me - it really only made sense when I stuck my hands into the garden beds and noticed the diversity of matter and animals living within it.  Then we talked about the sustainability of buying versus making your own compost and that conversation has also really stuck with me.  I connected with the desire to be proactive, visionary and sustainable.  These are values I hope to guide my life with, and I appreciated seeing a tangible example of them in action.  Finally, helping make the compost pile and then, turning the compost pile, illustrated to me the patience that is required.  The simple action also made me think about the commitment that is needed when trying to make changes.  Making compost isn’t a fast process, but through its slowness a rich and beneficial product is produced.  Farming isn’t fast either, but in its process something beautiful is created.  These are lessons that I constantly must remind myself of, and I think, some of the biggest lessons I learned at the farm.

Now, my favorite memories at the farm were learning about and eating all sorts of plants that I had never tried before – the tops of the kale plants, the lamb’s quarter, the wild leeks, and the wild flowers.  It opened up a whole new realm of interesting and new food to me!  Connected to this, I really appreciate walking of to the woods with our group and listening to Amy read the passage about thanking the land for its gift of food.  It made me think about harvesting in another way.  Finally, I will also remember the conversations and time spent simply chatting while weeding or planting.  I really appreciate those conversations. 

This song makes me happy:


Kacey's Reflection: 

I have been interested in food justice issues since my first year at K, but this is the first time that I have really gotten to actively participate in agricultural work. One quote that has really stuck with me was Winona LaDukes conversation with her father: “You know Winona, you’re a really smart young woman…but I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you don’t know how to grow corn.” I think that it is so important for that everyone knows what goes into producing the food we eat and I am so grateful for the knowledge and experience that this class has given me and I am excited to continue learning. 

One of the lessons from the farm that has stuck with me is that a farm is more than a factory that produces food. It is part of an ecosystem. So, when we are supporting local, small-scale agriculture, we are also supporting the blue herons that live in the woods, the monarch butterflies that eat the milkweed, and the soil for future generations. I had never thought of farming in that way and it really reinforced my belief in the importance of community supported agriculture. Another lesson that I learned was the CSAs are really difficult to maintain. The stories about CSA members who looked at the relationships with the farmer as strictly a purchasing contract made me realize how far we have to go as a society in our perceptions of value and our relationships with the people who grow our food, the land and other members of our ecosystem. It has definitely inspired me to become a member of a CSA and to make an effort to get to know the farmers and the land and truly share the risks and the work that are part of the agricultural system that I want to see survive and flourish. 


One of my favorite memories from the farm is when we went to pick leaks in the woods. The passage that Amy chose to read before we started from Braiding Sweetgrass really changed the experience for me. I felt like our energy as a group changed and we went into the woods with a new sense of respect and intentionality. Giving an offering of corn before we began to dig really reinforced the idea that the leeks were a gift and not something to be taken for granted. It was fun to see everyone’s excitement when a big leek was pulled and the quiet way that we all went about trying to pick from the center and take only what we would really use. Before, I would find wild berries or herbs and think “Jackpot!” and would take as many as I could fit into my bag. Now, I will consider both the sustainability and spirituality of the plants when I am scavenging and remember how happy we all were digging up and sampling leeks in the woods together. 

This song makes me really happy: 



In the spirit of reflecting on our experiences and being inspired by solutions for the future, here are some quotes to reflect on before next week. If you have a favorite quote that you want to share, go ahead and add it to your post!  

“Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say "No" to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to create the world anew.”
― Grace Lee BoggsThe Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Rebellions tend to be negative, to denounce and expose the enemy without providing a positive vision of a new future...A revolution is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future...It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have - creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility."

"In response to those who say to stop dreaming and face reality, I say keep dreaming and make reality."  - Kristian Kan

“The great thing about the dilemma we’re in is that we get to reimagine every single thing we do. There isn’t a single thing that doesn’t require a complete remake. There are two ways of looking at that. One is: Oh my gosh, what a big burden. The other way, which I prefer, is: What a great time to be born! What a great time to be alive! Because this generation gets to essentially completely change this world.”
-Paul Hawkins

“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”
― Lao Tzu

Monday, May 25, 2015

Week 9 - Emily's Post: Migrant Farmworkers

This week, my focus will be on migrant farm workers. I’m certainly not an expert on this topic, but I think it’s a really important aspect of the food system that should be discussed.

There are many directions we could go, but first it’s important that we all have a baseline level of knowledge. Please look over each of the Farm Worker Issues on this website: http://nfwm.org/education-center/farm-worker-issues/.  Although this information is referring to farm workers in general, note that almost 80% of farm workers are foreign-born and virtually all of those 80% are from Mexico.


Michigan is quite agriculturally diverse, and Southwest Michigan actually has a large concentration of migrant workers. Michigan Radio did a documentary called “Voices from the fields: a story of migrant workers in Michigan.” I’m only posting two short segments, but if you’re curious, here is the full documentary: http://michiganradio.org/post/voices-fields-migrant-workers-michigan

Please listen to these! They’re short!

1) A segment about housing conditions for migrant workers: http://michiganradio.org/post/what-home-looks-migrant-worker

2) A segment about some of the issues with undocumented migrant workers: http://michiganradio.org/post/what-happens-when-more-half-migrant-workers-are-undocumented This segment is particularly interesting because it explores the employers' viewpoints on undocumented workers while showing how policy changes can trickle down and affect migrant workers.

Also, this is the organization in Kalamazoo, Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan, that the story references: http://www.farmworkerlaw.org/advocacy2014


So, I’ll ask you to think/write about:

What, if anything, did you know about migrant workers rights before reading this blog post?

What, if anything, were you surprised to find out?

Of all the complex issues related to migrant workers (labor laws, low wages, health & safety, housing conditions, child labor, education, women’s issues, etc.), what stood out to you? Are any of these more easily addressed/fixed than others? 

I don’t know much about immigration policy, and I suspect many of you might not either. Still, what might an ideal immigration policy look like? How can we give migrants more power so that they can speak out in the face of injustice?


Finally, I want to try to keep this solution-based. How can we, as consumers, help protect the people who are picking so much of our food? 

We’ve talked about the importance of buying local, but is that enough? Buying locally may be better for the environment and even for your body, but we can’t forget the human component of how our food was produced. 

Finally, on a more broad scale, how do we deal with all these intersecting issues? It can be exhausting to consider every aspect of the food we purchase (Is it local? Is is organic? How was it produced? Who produced it, and how were they treated?, etc.), but it’s crucial if we want to revolutionize our food system. I know I get frustrated and overwhelmed at times, so feel free to share any feelings you have about this.

Thanks everyone! Can’t wait to read all your blog posts!

Week 9 on the Farm: Scouting

Weather Forecast: Tuesday, high of 78 degrees F, 80% chance of rain. Wednesday, high of 75 degrees F, 60% chance of rain.

Weather is going to be a big influence on what we're able to do this week and since the forecast keeps shifting, it's a little hard to plan ahead! It looks like there's a good chance of rain on Tuesday afternoon and a possibility on Wednesday as well. Even though that will interrupt our field work, we'll be grateful for the rain since all of the plants and seeds we've got in the ground need it badly.

As we've moved around the farm these past several weeks, I hope you've observed John & I checking both our vegetable plants and the orchard for insect and disease problems. "Scouting" is a term that's used in agriculture to mean actively checking to see what's going on in your fields and it's particularly important in integrated pest management and organic systems where we are trying to get away from what I've heard referred to as the "nuclear bomb" method of pest control--flooding the agricultural ecosystem with broad-spectrum toxins at regular intervals throughout the season. Instead, we spend lots of time observing and trying to figure out exactly what's going on in our crops so that we can decide what actions we need to take to help them withstand pest and disease pressures.

If rain prevents us from working outdoors, we'll go to a local coffee shop and lead you in a virtual "scavenger hunt" to help you hone your pest and disease diagnostic skills. If you have devices on which you can access the internet, such as smartphones or laptops, please bring them with you. Afterwards, we'll visit one or two garden centers and critically assess their pest and disease control offerings.

If we are able to be outdoors, we'll do some active scouting. Depending on soil moisture, we may be able to do some planting as well. If not, we'll give you a taste of orchard work with a little fruit thinning!

Here's a 3 minute video that gives a nice overview of how to scout a vegetable garden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq4b6gEWEFg

Week 9 - Lucy's Post

The microbiome and its connections to diet, soil, and health.

So I know I may have touched on this a little before, but I want to start by giving some background on my health journey and how that led me to become interested in local, sustainable agriculture.  I’ll try to keep it short.

I struggled with eczema, an autoimmune skin condition, for most of my life.  Despite numerous visits to the dermatologist, allergist, and pediatrician and countless prescription steroid creams, I was itchy and uncomfortable a lot of the time. 

A little over a year and a half ago, my older sister sent me some research that connected diet and eczema.  She encouraged me to try a paleo diet.  I was skeptical, and was really unhappy about having to give up the processed, sugary foods that I loved.  But I decided to try it, and the difference was immediate.

Not only was my eczema disappearing rapidly, but I also noticed other positive changes in my health.  I had increased energy, less joint pain, and faster workout recovery.  I  slept better, got sick less frequently, and just felt great throughout the day.  It was almost as if I hadn’t fully lived the first seventeen years of my life; like this fog had lifted that I never knew was even there.

My eczema was better than I could remember it, but still not gone completely.  I knew there must be something more. This is when I first came across the idea of the microbiome, “leaky gut”, and its connection with autoimmune (and other) diseases.  All of my free time was immediately channeled to learn ways to restore my microbiome and heal my gut. 

I made it a priority to find vendors at the farmers market who were strictly sustainable and used absolutely no pesticides.  Knowing that they were chemical-free, I also stopped washing most of my vegetables and embraced any bits of soil (and soil bacteria) that were left on them.  I began to eat even more fiber in the form of fruits and vegetables, and especially made a point to eat foods that are probiotic (fermented, having good bacteria) and prebiotic (things that feed the good bacteria).

I have now been completely eczema-free for several months, and I feel like a totally different person than I was two years ago.  I’m a firm believer that the microbiome is the future of medicine, and I will be studying the microbiome in relation to diet and autoimmunity for my PhD.

Here’s some general info on the microbiome and it's connection to leaky gut and health status.  Even if you don't have time to check out any of the other articles, PLEASE read this one: https://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-5-heal-your-gut/ 


So what does this have to do with sustainable farming?  Here are just a few connections that have been on my mind:

Pesticides and antibiotics perturb the microbiome.  Pesticides are harmful to the microbiota.  Antibiotics, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are routinely given to conventionally raised farm animals, make their way into meat, egg, and dairy products.  When you consume those products, you are essentially giving yourself a low-dose of antibiotics.  Yet another reason to always buy organic/sustainable produce.

Working on a farm gives you a more robust microbiome.  One of the reasons that our microbiomes are so compromised in the first place is that we live in a world that fears dirt and germs.  Studies have found that kids who grow up on farms playing in the dirt have less allergic disease because they have more robust immune systems: http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/can-farm-life-cut-allergy-risk/

We were meant to eat soil microbes along with our food.  We evolved eating vegetables dug straight out of the ground, not vegetables that are coated in chemicals and sterilized.  Most people are deficient in species of bacteria that are found in healthy soil.  This is a great article talking about how we should focus on cultivating healthy soil ecology in order to ensure our future health.  http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/healthy-soil-microbes-healthy-people/276710/

Our microbiomes determine our food cravings.  I alluded to this in a previous class discussion, but I think it’s important.  Our diet determines our microbial composition, and vice versa.  If we want to figure out how to reshape our collective diet to support more sustainable food systems, we have to consider the role the microbiome has on our brains.  http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/your-gut-bacteria-want-you-to-eat-a-cupcake/378702/

Microbiome hype might help fuel the food revolution.  The microbiome is a rapidly expanding field of research and as more and more people understand its implications on human health, I believe more and more people will choose to buy real, organic, sustainable food and invest in soil cultivation.

I’m really looking forward to discussing this with everyone on Thursday.  I’d be happy to take the discussion towards personal health,  soil ecology, or the effects on the healthcare system itself, depending on what interests everyone most.  Here’s some questions to ponder, but feel free to take this anywhere:

Had you heard of the microbiome before?  Are there any other connections you can draw between the microbiome and sustainable farming?

Was there anything that really surprised you from the articles?

What implications might this have for you personally?  For the health care system as a whole?  For the food system?

Why don’t doctors warn you about the detrimental effects on your normal gut flora when you take a course of antibiotics? 

Why is the role of diet and nutrition in general so downplayed in modern medicine?


Why are so many doctors not aware of this / not utilizing this knowledge in their medical practice, particularly with conditions (like autoimmune disease) which supposedly ‘have no cure’?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Week 8 on the Farm: More Potatoes, Bees, Transplanting, Weeding, More Bed-Making. Otherwise known as the week when everything happens all at once.

Weather Forecast: Partly cloudy. Highs in the low 50s on Tuesday; Low 60s on Wednesday.

This really is the time of year where we feel like everything needs to happen NOW. There are more seeds to start indoors and more beds to clear and direct-seed outdoors. At the same time, all of the seeds and plants already in the ground need to be watered, weeded and protected from insects.

Tuesday folks, since you didn't get in on the potato planting a couple of weeks ago, we're going to give you the opportunity to help us with our next potato planting: Adirondack Blue potatoes! If you haven't had a chance to look at the links I sent earlier on potatoes, check them out & we can talk about them on Tuesday:

100 Circle Farms, Washington State: http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/food_quality/see_what_we_are_made_of/meet_our_suppliers/100_circle_farms.html

Potato Park, Peru: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLI2KySC9-U

And here's the website for the Potato Park if you'd like to learn more: http://www.parquedelapapa.org/

We'd also like to give those of you who are interested the opportunity to look inside our beehives. We don't want to disturb them too much, so we'll only open them one day this week. Then we'll plan to give the other group the opportunity to check them out in a couple of weeks. IMPORTANT: You certainly aren't required to look in the hives if you are uncomfortable with bees. However, if you do want to get close to them, please come to the farm with long sleeved shirts and pants and close-toed shoes. (You can change on the farm if you need to.) Light colors are best, as are smooth and natural fabrics. Don't wear black fleece unless you want to test our bees' temperaments!

Here are a couple of videos that will give you a little background on Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been plaguing our honeybee populations for quite awhile now, including one on beekeeping in cities:


Marla Spivak on Colony Collapse Disorder: http://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing
And from PBS's Nature, a clip on the "dance-language" of bees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE-8QuBDkkw