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).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Week 8 Clare's Post: Vertical Farming, Societal Influences

For this week’s class, I would like us to think about the intersection of two big topics we have talked about already this quarter in a format slightly different from the discussions we have had so far.  We will be returning to the topic of vertical and computerized farming that Francisco brought to our attention earlier in the quarter but we will be looking at it more in terms of the societal effects on farmers, consumers, and farm labor issues that Amy brought to our attention last week.  For Thursday, I am going to ask everyone to read just one article about the rise of vertical farming but I am going to ask half of the class to read it from the perspective of pro-vertical farming and half of the class to read it from the perspective of anti-vertical farming.  Take a few notes while you read because in class on Thursday we will come together for a small debate from those two perspectives.

Pro vertical farms- Amy, Amy, Siani, Ruzhen, Sharayu, Rachel, Francisco, Dejah
Anti vertical farms- John, Annika, Siwook, Kylah, Ke, Na Young, Megan, Sam

Some guiding questions:

How is computerized farming versus traditional farming incorporated into education?  How could they be incorporated?  How could vertical and computerized farming in education affect school lunches?

How does the price of vertical farm produce affect the consumers/which consumers does it affect?
Who has access to the food?  If you had control over this what would you do to make vertical farming food more accessible? 

How would vertical farming influence farm labor issues?  Will it reduce the number of people subjected to human trafficking and unethical working conditions?  Would it reduce the number of jobs available to people who need them or could vertical farming work in a way that would still provide those jobs but without labor issues of maltreatment?

Some of these questions may have clear answers and some may require some imagination to fill in details that you aren’t as familiar with- that’s ok.  The goal is to create a discussion in which we can exchange ideas and knowledge about some benefits and issues that could arise from vertical/computerized farming and what some arguments to those benefits and issues might be.  Get creative!  

For the blog post I would like everyone to create a small outline of some points that they could address in the debate, either from the article or other thoughts you may be having.  You don’t need to submit all of your ideas in detail, but keep them in mind for class discussion/debate on Thursday.  

Example blog post (mine contains points from both perspectives but yours should reflect which perspective you are assigned to):

Benefit to vertical farming- computerized farming in urban schools can get kids interested in healthy eating and cooking

Issue of vertical farming- currently, products of vertical farms are pricey, thus only bringing greens to upper/middle classes and not doing anything to help feed people already battling food insecurity 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Week 8 Annika's Post: Inaccessibility and Shame in the Food Movement

This week I'm interested in exploring the challenges the food movement faces in its effort to be a radical, transformative, inclusive movement.  As we've moved through this class together we've looked at so many important facets of the food movement and its many iterations.  With this post and its accompanying class I'm hoping to turn a critical eye towards ourselves and explore ways we can conceive of growth so that this movement we're all involved in can serve even more people and their needs.  The sources I have pulled get at a number of problems that operate at a variety of scales.  There are those that tackle the systematic issues that structure our food system and in turn shape the food movement's reaction to that system while some focus on our individual relationship to food and how our identities structure those relationships.  I think that this interplay between these macro and micro scales is really interesting and particularly illuminating of the ways in which food and power and structures are so individual but at the same time very much communal and societal and structured by forces outside of ourselves.      

Leaders of Color Discuss Structural Racism and White Privilege in the Food System

This first article asks "leaders of color in the food justice community for their thoughts about how they think the “food movement” might come together on the issues of race, equity, and access."  Their varying answers offer a variety of perspectives and starts to uncover the ways that systematic racism cannot be understood as separate from the food movement.   I was especially struck by the quote prompting us, “to truly understand one’s role as a perpetuator of racism even within liberal thought and action.”  I like the way that it doesn't allow for so-called liberal activists in the food movement to allow their actions to go unexamined.

Building true allies: Nikki Silvestri at TEDxManhattan

This is a TEDtalk that Amy shared with me that I think does a really good job of examining the role of allies within food in a particularly nuanced way that I hadn't considered before.  I am especially interested by Nikki's reflections on shame as an ally.

*WARNING: The following two articles, especially the last one, involve content surrounding bodies, weight, and food, if these are subjects that are challenging or harmful for you do proceed with caution or opt out if you need to.  I think and hope that the tone both articles strike is body-positive and critical of hurtful "normal" rhetoric about such topics but I don't want anyone to be made uncomfortable!*

The racism in healthy food: Why we need to stop telling others what to eat

This article is the commentary of a McGill student problematizing traditional 'healthy food' rhetoric as "elitist, classist, racist, and fat-phobic."  It also makes some important points about choice and who can make ‘healthy choices’ about their food as well as who decides what makes a choice ‘healthy.’

Food Shame

This last article focuses on individual manifestations of food shame, food policing etc. while not letting 'the system' that creates these phenomena off the hook.  It talks about how the different facets of a person's identity shapes how they experience food, the relationships they create with food and their bodies, and it addresses how the food movement often fails to acknowledge the difference and nuance these identities create.

For your reflection this week I want to leave it pretty open.  You could talk about your own identity and how it has structured your relationship to food and your interactions with our food system.  If that's too personal and not something you're comfortable sharing feel free to reflect on barriers you see within the food movement and how we can begin to break those down.  You could talk about how you could be a better ally to the movement or how the movement could better serve you and the people you care about.  Or if something else from the above articles struck you as important and thought provoking, explore that!

I'm looking forward to a critical and constructive class on Thursday, see you all then!  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Week 8 on the Farm 2017: Compost and Climate Change

Weather Forecast: Mid-80s, partly cloudy to sunny.

Last week we talked a little bit about how climate change is affecting farmers through irregular weather patterns. The problem goes both ways, though, since agricultural activities contribute significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. According to EPA estimates, 9% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector came from agriculture in 2015. Of course, use of fossil-fuel based fuels and fertilizers are a part of these emissions, but the agricultural practices that contribute the most to climate change are actually soil-management practices. According to an article by Iowa State University's Extension and Outreach, 61% of agricultural emissions and 5% of the U.S.'s total greenhouse gas emissions are due to the ways that farmers are handling their soil.

This short video, "Soil Solutions" from the Center for Food Safety, narrated by Michael Pollan, gives a very brief, simple overview of how damaged soil contributes to climate change and how healthy plants and soils can actually pull carbon out of the air and trap it in the soil:

What if, through changing agricultural practices, farmers could not only stop contributing to climate change, but could actually be slowing its progression while growing delicious, healthy food? In fact, we already know how to do it. This "Modern Farmer" article includes examples of farming practices that sequester carbon:

"Modern Farmer" describes "five tenets" of carbon sequestration. Many of these practices are encouraged in organic farming and so you might think that organic farms are more "climate friendly" than conventional farms. And maybe you'd be right. Or maybe not. This "The Guardian" article describes the economic conundrum that pushes some organic farmers to use practices that are allowable under organic certification standards but aren't better for our climate than conventional practices:

For us, carbon-farming practices just make sense. They increase our soil health (and thus plant health) and reduce the amount of expensive organic fertilizers we have to buy. They can be labor-intensive, though, and so one of our goals this year as we "lean" our farm is to make our soil-building and carbon-sequestering practices more efficient (which means they are more likely to get done!). One project that I'm working on is creating compost piles near each of our garden areas in order to reduce the time and energy I spend moving compost around the farm. This week we'll have you help us work on those compost piles and teach you about a few different types of composting methods.

Finally, I really like this pdf from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which gives advice to home gardeners (and community gardeners too!) about how small-scale gardening can be one of the solutions to slowing climate change. Imagine if the green lawns and parks in Kalamazoo were converted to carbon-sequestering edible landscapes!

TUESDAY FARMERS: We may have the opportunity for you to look inside the beehive for those of you who would like to do that. If this is something you'd like to do, bring closed-toed shoes and long pants and shirts with you. Light colors, smooth fabrics, and loose-fitting styles are best. Also, go easy on the perfume and don't eat bananas right before class!

 Question for this week:

We've talked about a lot of different aspects of food/farming systems and explored consequences and complications. What I'm curious about at this point is what each of you want from your food and the farmers who grow it. What values are most important to you in making your food choices? Fair wages for farmworkers? Protection of biodiversity? Reduction of carcinogens and other toxins in our environment? Climate change? Nutrition? Flavor? Convenience? Kindness to animals? Food access and sovereignty for all?

In an ideal world in which you could ask for anything you wanted, what would you ask of the farmers who grow your food? What values would you want them to uphold in their farming practices?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Week 7 on the Farm 2017: Potatoes!

Weather Forecast: Highs in the low-60s, partly cloudy.

Tonight (Sunday) is the kind of night that gives fruit growers nightmares: clear, still, predicted low temperatures of 29 degrees F, and the apple trees still in full bloom. Twenty-nine degrees is a full three degrees below freezing and it won't take too many hours of that temperature to destroy fruit blossoms. Imagine your entire year's crop destroyed over the course of one night! That's a reality that farmers gamble with every year. And as climate change brings us more unstable weather patterns, it's a gamble that's getting riskier.

So, it's possible that tonight will determine whether or not we have apples this year. Fortunately, we grow a lot of different things and so we won't go hungry if frost hits the trees tonight. For example, we could eat potatoes instead! This week on the farm we hope to get a bunch more beds worked up and ready to plant, so if you haven't gotten your fill of working the broadfork, you're in luck. We'll be planting the remainder of the brassicas (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages), as well as . . . potatoes.

Potatoes are another one of those crops whose history is so intimately connected with human history that it's difficult to say which one of us (the potato or the human) has been more changed by our interactions. For a quick (30 min) summary of this history, watch the potato segment of Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire." It's from 1:23:30 to about 1:53:

Then, for a more in-depth look at how climate change is affecting Peruvian potato farmers and how they are using their traditional farming methods to adapt, check out this video:

The questions I have for you stem from a comment made by the former Monsanto potato engineer near the end of "The Botany of Desire":  "I think some of the methods they've developed in Peru to use genetic diversity by planting a whole range of varieties within one field is a very good strategy, but I just don't see how we readily adapt that to a production system that not only has to feed people in the U.S., but feed a worldwide system with a product that's a certain quality."

In this comment, I hear echoes of a familiar rationale that I see frequently used to reinforce the status quo. There's an innuendo that the Peruvian farmers' methods may be nice for the environment and healthier for people (less chemical toxins), but that they are "outdated" methods that simply don't work in "modern" production systems. But if we really look at each system, which population is most likely to survive climatic changes? The one that is relying on monoculture to "feed a worldwide system" or one that is actively stewarding genetic diversity in order to feed its local community, while sharing information and resources to help other communities around the global increase their food sovereignty and security?

And what, exactly, does "has to . . . feed a worldwide system with a product that's a certain quality" mean? First of all, since potatoes are super-versatile and can be grown around the globe, why should U.S. potato growers need to feed a worldwide system? Second, I'm pretty sure that those Peruvian potatoes aren't lacking in quality. So, does "certain quality" translate to "will fit through McDonald's automatic french fry cutter machine"? And does "feeding the world" really mean "supply the world's McDonald's with fries"? In which case, perhaps "feeding the world" really equals "giving the world heart disease"?

What are your thoughts about this? Are there ways that you see that we might be able to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge and methods such as those practiced by the Peruvian farmers into currently dominant, yet unsustainable agricultural systems? The former Monsanto potato breeder couldn't envision such a thing. But the lessons of the Irish potato famine might indicate that our future depends on just such creative visioning.

What are your visions for how we might transform (or begin to transform) our food and farming systems to make them more resilient, just, and joyful? What is one step that could be taken?