Monday, April 20, 2015

Week 4 on the Farm: Weeds

Weather forecast: Cloudy & windy; highs in the mid-40s to low 50s.

Well, it looks like the good-weather streak might be over! It's going to be cold this week, so bundle up. Jackets and hats and gloves will probably come in handy.

One of the biggest problems we're contending with on the farm this Spring is weeds. As we've mentioned, we got overwhelmed toward the end of last season as a consequence we let quack grass creep in and annual weeds go to seed around the perimeter of the gardens, which means that we've got lots of weeds to clear from our beds before we can plant.

If we were conventional farmers, we'd simply spray these weeds with Roundup and our problem would be solved. In conventional farming, Roundup (glyphosate) has had the reputation of being harmless. But questions about its safety have been raised over the past several years, most recently in a World Heath Organization report which classifies glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

If you remember our conversation last week, one of the major genetic crop modifications is to make crops such as corn and soybeans resistant to Roundup so that it can be sprayed over top of these crops to kill the weeds around them but not the crop. This means that the probable carcinogen glyphosate is used heavily in GMO fields. According to the EPA, in 2007 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by US farmers. It's probably more than that now, but I haven't found more recent numbers. That's a lot of probable carcinogen to be spreading around.

So how can we solve our weed problem without probably creating a cancer problem? Well, there are lots of things we can do. We use cover crops and mulches to suppress weed growth. We mow weeds off on some of the paths between our beds. Currently, we're experimenting with temporary plastic mulch as a means to kill back some patches of quack grass that are out of control. But also, there's simply a lot of hand-pulling and hoeing to be done, especially right now. If the weather cooperates, you can help us with this this week as we make a big push this week and next to get beds in shape for planting.

Speaking of solutions, I came across an article in the Des Moine register this week about how some farmers are going back to planting non-GMO crops because they can sell to companies who are producing non-GMO certified foods and get a higher price for their crop. Here's a link to the article:

This reminds me of the controversy over recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST). This is an artificial version of a naturally occurring bovine growth hormone that was created by Monsanto in the 90s using recombinant DNA technology. When injected into lactating cows, it boosted their milk production, but it also created a lot of other health problems for the cows. Some people were also concerned that the milk produced by these cows might have detrimental effects on people too and in a move similar to the GMO-labeling movement, started a campaign to label dairy products which were produced using rBST. This movement ultimately failed, however, companies saw a marketing opportunity in promoting their products as rBST free. As more and more consumers chose rBST-free dairy products, chains such as Safeway and eventually even Walmart stopped carrying dairy products produced with rBST. So, it's still legal but it isn't used as widely as it might be if consumers hadn't "voted with their dollars."

Now, I'm not saying that market-based solutions in and of themselves are going to solve all of our problems (in fact, I'm pretty firmly convinced they aren't). But consumer choices can definitely make a difference!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Week 4 - Werner's Post

In light of our previous discussions, I was inclined to choose fluoridation of drinking water as my topic of discussion. We have briefly touched on how the movers and shakers of the world use their position of power to keep the average people in the dark. This is seen in the food industry, without a doubt: from animal agriculture, to GMO labeling legislature, and many other issues. I think we can all agree that our current food climate is a reflection of our uncompromisingly capitalistic society. Profit is of utmost importance and things like values and morals are kept quiet for the sake of the almighty dollar. The picture painted by the Cowspiracy documentary, for instance, is one where corporations with important information are using their resources to cover up their dirty secrets.

The fluoridation of the United States' water supply is one of the dirtiest secrets that I have understanding of. Many people are aware that our water is fluoridated, but unaware of the impacts that it has on the human body. Some questions that I had when I first started thinking about the subject were: if fluoride is for our teeth, why do we ingest it every time we drink water? If toothpaste is poisonous to swallow, why is our water safe to drink? Check out this video for an overview of the subject:

What are your initial reactions?

For those who are not convinced of the legitimacy of anti-fluoride doctrine, here is a Harvard study that confirms that fluoride reduces IQ scores in children:

Once we discover that fluoride has been building up in our bodies for as long as we have been ingesting it, one might wonder where it all goes. The main target for fluoride accumulation is the pineal gland, also know as the third eye:

Here is the link to the wikipedia page for the pineal gland: Please browse whatever sections you find interesting, but definitely read the section "Society and Culture"

Bad food is an attack on our physical bodies, but the fluoride issue seems to suggest an attack on our spiritual bodies, as well. I'm wondering if the class feels like fluoride is simply pumped into our water so that people can make money, or if it is also a more calculated attack on on our minds/bodies/souls?

Week 4 - Katherine's Post

We’ve talked a lot about localized economies, specifically in terms of localized food systems. We’ve asked what this ideal might look like, and whether it is a feasible way to solve many of the problems and injustices of our contemporary world. Amy has posed the question, “Couldn’t we envision something more beautiful?”

 I want to share an organization I learned about last year during my time in Philly. BALLE (Business Alliance for Localized Living Economies) is working to “nurture and curate the emergence of a new economy…to identify and connect pioneering leaders, spread solutions, and attract investment toward local economies.” I think they have collaboratively envisioned a “more beautiful” system, and are actively working towards that vision.

BALLE was co-founded by Judy Wicks, who started the first ‘farm to table’ restaurant in Philly 25 years ago, The White Dog Cafe. (She also started Urban Outfitters – quite a busy lady). I heard about her right before I went to Philly, and then followed the work of a few of her organizations while I was there. I didn’t meet Judy until the following fall when she happened to come to Kalamazoo to speak at Western. I found her talk to be incredibly inspiring, bringing up new ways to talk about our culture’s way of doing business. You can watch her talk here:  (But I will summarize a bit of it in class, so this one’s optional.)

Do a bit of browsing on the website:
This page is especially interesting:

And check out this video of the executive director, Michelle Long.
(I’d like to focus on the first 8 minutes for our discussion, but the rest is interesting if you have time to watch.)

Long presents us with ‘the opportunity of our lifetime’: “To cultivate the emergence of a new economic system, gradually displacing failing structures and systems and redefining the purpose of finance and the economy – shifting from a mind-set of ‘every-man-for-himself’ to the realizations that real security comes from community, from sharing not greed, from partnership not domination.”

I’d also like to focus on a few of the key points of her talk:

“When we are closer to the impacts of our decisions we make better choices.”

“We are well when we are in our purpose; we are well when we are generous when we share; we are well when in relationship with our community; we are well in relationship with our natural world.”

“The purpose of business is not to make money it’s to create value.”

What is your reaction to her talk? And to these points specifically? Other points you found especially interesting?

In bringing this all back to Kalamazoo, let’s think about the work of local businesses here in relation to BALLE’s work. What are the amazing resources we have here in our community? Who are the leaders you know doing great work with innovative ideas? Let’s stick with mostly food-related businesses/orgs to narrow the focus and keep it relevant to class.

Is there a certain component of your diet that you’ve committed to purchasing locally? That you’ve found to be exceptional and affordable?

I’ll provide a few examples in class, and I’d love it if we all shared one or two.  
Also, Here’s an organization close to us that partners with BALLE:

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Week 3 on the Farm: Seeds

Weather forecast: Mid-60s, Partly cloudy

This week we're going to have you continue to help us with garden bed preparation and we'll teach you how we start seeds indoors to transplant into those beds in a few weeks. This will be an opportunity for us to talk a bit about issues of agricultural genetics and what you might want to look for in choosing seeds to plant for your own gardens. Here's a link to a short essay I wrote on our farm blog in 2012 which gives an overview of different forms of plant breeding and seed propagation:

In this post, I briefly touch on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). If you don't really know what a GMO is, don't feel bad. According to this four minute Jimmy Kimmel video, most of us don't:

Here's a two-minute video from the Nebraska Corn Board that talks about what GMOs are and likens genetic engineering of crops to traditional methods of plant breeding and even the crossing of wild varieties of plants: Sounds pretty good, huh? Let's talk about why the real-world effects of GMOs aren't quite this simple . . .

For those of you interested in sourcing seeds for the class garden or for your own, here's a list of seed companies that we often order from:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Week 3 Sarah's Post

Deciding what I wanted to focus my blog post on was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Truly there is so much that surrounds our agricultural system, that it was hard to narrow my scope to a single topic. What I hope to focus on during discussion is our role as consumers in the food market place and community focus on food. Firstly, I'm attaching an article published by Michael Pollan on the food movement. The article is a little long, but it would be great if you could read Part. 3 of the article Beyond the Barcode.

The article can be found here:

What do you guys think? Do you agree with Michael Pollan's stance here? Do you think there are parts of the discussion that are missing? If so, what are they?

I've mentioned this previously, but my first real exposure to CSAs occurred over this past summer. As part of my SIP I spent the summer working on a Community Supported Agriculture farm just north of Pittsburgh called One Woman Farm. (You may all be familiar with CSAs already, but if you would like, a pretty good explanation can be found here:
While working at One Woman Farm, I began to appreciate the idea of food coming directly from a farmer and the transparency involved in CSAs. Additionally, I found the idea of a community formed around the support of the person or people growing their food to be something I knew I wanted to become more involved in. The relationship between consumer and producer is created and maintained through mutual trust, where members entrust a farmer to produce fresh, diverse, and healthy food while the farmer may depend on the member for financial means to grow food, but also for support in times of hardship whether that means acceptance that the share may be a little light some weeks due to crop failure or potentially even volunteering some of their time to help harvest or weed.
Through research and observation I discovered that as good as this all sounds in theory, sometimes it just doesn't work. As much energy and heart famers put into creating a CSA, sometimes there just isn't enough commitment, support, and/or resources for a farmer to successfully continue their initiative into the next season. CSA farmers often face moral and financial dilemmas in assessing share prices at the beginning of the season. Although many farmers would like to make their produce available to people of all incomes it can be difficult to do this while still making a livable wage for themselves. How then can this be countered?
One of the oldest CSAs in the US, The Temple-Wilton Community Farm has a unique system for budgeting their costs while taking into account the ability of the farm workers to earn a livable wage as well as the financial restraints of their shareholders. On their website, Temple-Wilton explains their membership process:

At our farm we don't charge a fixed amount for our share and you take the produce and milk according to your needs. This is different from most other CSA's which sell a share in the harvest and then give out a fixed portion of produce.
Each year in order to give prospective members an idea of what the operating expenses of the farm will be we make a budget and divide it by the number of adults who are joining and then come up with a figure per adult per month that is the average that is needed to meet the farm budget. Members then take into account the farm's needs and their own needs and make a pledge based on all the information. We encourage those who can afford more than the average to pay more so that those who cannot meet the average amount are still able to join.
The average needed for the 2014/2015 season is $120/adult/month. Your pledge covers all the vegetables we produce plus up to four gallons of milk per week.

If you are interested in learning more about The Temple-Wilton Community Farm the website can be found here:

So what are your impressions overall? Do you think that Community Supported Agriculture initiatives are a possible solution to the current state of our system of food production in this country? Do you think the Temple-Wilton Community Farm model could be recreated and used in other communities or does it seem like this model could not really be applied universally? Are you familiar with any other specific examples of community focused food growing which seem to be working?

Week 3 Discussion Hannah's Post

Food and Race and History and Culture   

This past summer I worked as a health officer at Pretty Lake Camp (PLC) in Mattawan Michigan. The camp operates on a no-cost basis and offers access to an outdoor, overnight camp experience for kids in Kalamazoo County who would not be able to afford a camp program otherwise. In addition to activities that are typically found at your basic U.S. summer camp (swimming, field games, arts and crafts, etc) PLC is partnered with a farm program on the property that produces food to subsidize campers daily meals. Helping out at the farm is a daily part of each camper’s routine and campers participate in garden and livestock maintenance as well as food harvest. Similar to the purpose of many programs that are geared towards connecting communities with the origin of the food they are consuming, the purpose of the farm program at PLC is to foster in youth a hands-on understanding of the process of growing the food that ends up on their plates at dinner.
            How this falls into my job description of medical staff I do not know, but I spent a great deal of my time last summer resolving conflict and supervising meal times for kids who were misbehaving. Often the kids at my table refused to touch the food on their plates. When I asked why, the response I got most frequently second only to “it looks nasty,” was “that’s white people food.”
            WMU’s catering company prepared camp meals. When he spoke with staff at the beginning of the summer the head chef, Nick, stressed his belief that all kids should be running on fresh, healthy, mostly unprocessed foods. He was also very excited about the resource of the camp farm and was very enthusiastic about subsidizing camp meals with farm produce. He also spoke about the importance of connecting kids and communities in low-income areas (i.e., urban-residing people of color) with food education and access to healthy foods. Listening to what Nick had to say at the beginning of the summer, I felt nothing but positive about the PLC farm program and the opportunity that PLC offered to connect kids to their food and its origin. But at the summer progressed the phrase, “that’s white people food” stuck in my mind.
            In her article, “Bringing Good Food to Others: Investigating the Subjects of Alternative Food Practice,” Julie Guthman does a pretty thorough job of shredding my early summer optimism about the benefits of the PLC farm program and the many programs with a similar mission in the area. Although I think that some of what Guthman has to say comes off slightly harsh and does not speak to the intent or the success of many food education and food access programs in low-income urban areas, she makes a number of points about the movement towards alternative food systems that spark an important dialogue about specific aspects of the alternative food movement that render it a space of whiteness. Particularly, Guthman talks about the white social view of knowledge, access, and cost as the primary barriers to good food, as well as the historically white desire to enroll African American people in a particular set of values (in this case, food values).

Bringing Good Food to Others article (if this link doesn't work just google the title with the author Julie Guthman): 

            In the past I have talked about and thought about the whiteness of the alternative food movement in terms of the physical whiteness of spaces such as Whole Foods, Michigan farmers markets, and CSAs, but I have not spent a lot of time thinking about the demographics of the food movement from a historical perspective. Guthman offers thought provoking ties, connecting the language and imagery that we often associate with local farming and healthy foods (getting your hands in the dirt, being a part of the growing process of your food, etc) to the raced and oppression-soaked reality of America’s social and food production history. The role that culture plays in the demographics of the alternative food movement is a conversation that I think is most likely not had often enough.
            So, next Thursday I would like to start a dialogue about the relationship between race and the alternative food movement that explores any of your personal experiences working with programs similar to the PLC farming program or the Woodward gardening program, along with Guthman’s article, our understanding of race relations historically, and the presence of this history and the historical self that each of us carries in every space we inhabit today. Why do we think the food movement is white dominated? What factors are at play here? Can this change? If this is currently a white movement, can current white players be the catalysts for its diversification? How?

            I also included a link to a brief article about the demographics of outdoor recreation participation that I think presents a similar connection to history as a way of understanding white dominated outdoor spaces. Take a read if you have the time but I know its kind of a lot with the Guthman article so no worries if you don’t get to this one. Thanks!

Outdoor recreation demographics article: