Sunday, April 18, 2010

Raising The Bar

King's Hill Farm is doing on their land what I have always imagined all farmers do (I now know they don't). They are practicing what is known as permaculture, and they're doing it in their own unique way. If you're unfamiliar with permaculture, one visit to a farm that is practicing it is worth a thousand words, but this is part of how Wikipedia defines it:

"The intent is that, by rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems."

I recently visited King's Hill Farm, near Mineral Point, WI for a day and I received the grand tour, including; petting the two sun-burnt pigs, walking with the chickens and ducks, visiting the hot greenhouses, getting yelled at by the geese, walking through a field of young berry bushes, nut and fruit trees, being mesmerized by the beautiful turkeys, petting a baby Peking duck, looking at the beehives and mushroom plants in the woods and chasing the llama (oh yeah, and I brought home a pet tick too).

Joel Kellum, the farmer, led the tour barefoot, naming plants at a rapid pace and encouraging us to touch the animals. Joel has a connection with the earth that can only remind me of Dickon from A Secret Garden. It is almost as if he knows something about the land, the plants, the animals that others wished they knew. He shares a secret with them, he seems to be one with them. This allows Joel to be extremely creative with how he is building this "self-sufficient human settlement". It appears that he works part knowledge, part intuition, and all love. There is room for trial and error because he is going to make it work no matter what. And he certainly has the skills, the dedication and the passion to make it work!

Of course, without Jai Kellum, the farmer/businesswoman/yoga teacher/ and mom who also manages the CSA and the website, it probably wouldn't work. Jai makes sure that the bounty of the farm gets into the kitchens of all those people looking to eat quality, organic produce, eggs and honey. Jai's easy-going, sweet personality is contagious and, I would bet, her sensibility tempers many of the decisions made on the farm. Together they're a great team and I imagine their children have an envious life with 800 acres of well-cared-for land to roam around on.

There are two reasons why I feel compelled to highlight this farm. One reason is that I think it is very important for every conscientious consumer to visit local farms and witness how much hard work and dedication it takes to provide high-quality food. If nothing else it will make people appreciate their farmers! Even better, it may foster loyalty and a desire to stand up and fight for our local, sustainable farmers. It bears repeating: without our farmers we have no food!

Another reason is that I think King's Hill Farm should serve as a model for other farms. I shop at multiple farmers' markets and buy from a diverse group of farmers, but I'm sorry to say that very few of them actually practice any form of diversified farming. And no, 60 different types of vegetables is not diversified farming. Pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, geese, bees, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and mushrooms; that is diversity! Let's all gently encourage our farmers to move in this direction. This is what it means to be "sustainable". The duck and chicken poop fertilize the earth and make for yummy food! A farm without animals will never be truly self-sufficient.

As we drove home from the farm (with unknown tick as passenger, I won't go into the gory details) it was absolutely striking to see corn field after corn field. Is this what we want? Do we want our farmers to produce a few crops that end up in the bellies of tortured animals or as another un-recognizable ingredient in a long list of processed foods? What kind of love could there be in that? I'm not knocking them, most of them are barely surviving themselves, with their houses 1/5 the size of the stainless steel grain storage tanks that tower over them. And the system has them so deeply embedded in debt and a convoluted web of government subsidies and toxic chemicals they are mostly little more than indentured servants.

But without a revolution, how can this change? How about by putting our money into farms like King's Hill and taking our money away from factory-farmed food and highly processed garbage passed off as food at a cheap price? Yes, I think it's a good place to start. You can also visit your local farm, and thank them for all they do. And most of all, be prepared to be part of the revolution, because as it is now, the system truly is unsustainable.

For those living in the Chicago area, King's Hill Farm will come weekly to Green City Market, Oak Park Market, Independence Park Market and Glenwood Sunday Market. Give their delicious food a try.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fluffy Radical

I've always been off the grid, with just about everything I've done. My parents had a large organic garden in the back yard and we grew up eating fresh veggies and tofu and brown rice stir-fry. My lunch bag was usually filled with a sandwich of whole wheat bread, sprouts and avocado with perhaps some fresh fruit. I used to look longingly at the fluff and peanut-butter, white bread sandwiches my friends had.

As I got older I began to appreciate being "weird" and even to embrace it. For a long time I avoided shaving my legs and considered myself a feminist, "not to be controlled by any man" (I grew out of that one). With my children I went even more radical and had home-births, breastfed for years on end and never let a needle come within 10 feet of them. Now I eat in a way that makes some people think I'm too extreme. You know; real food, no processed food, lots of raw animal protein and fresh veggies. But all the while, even though I mistrusted government and big businesses I still had a naive belief in their inherent relative benevolence and a quiet acceptance of their necessity. So I suppose you could say I was a fluffy radical; going about my business but not truly questioning the gravity of the matters at hand.

The gravity of the situation truly hit home this past weekend, when I spent a whole day at The 2nd Annual Raw Milk Symposium sponsored by the Farm-To-Consumer-Foundation. It may sound silly to those who have never gone out of their way to drink real milk on a regular basis, but this type of gathering can make profound changes in the hearts and minds of those who take the time to attend. When listening to the deeply moving words of the likes of Michael Schmidt and the intensely motivating words of Mark McAfee one cannot help but be outraged and motivated.

When you look at
what is going on with raw milk farmers, the true intent of our government, at the behest of corporate interests, becomes painfully obvious. The government is kicking the butts of raw milk producers; raiding, confiscating, harassing, manipulating, threatening and flat-out wasting wads of dollars in destroyed product (and government money). All in the name of public safety. Well, I hate to point out the obvious, and pretty much any relatively informed consumer can figure this out, but if the government were truly concerned with our safety, wouldn't they be doing these very same things to factory farms and mega-sized slaughter-houses? It is well-established that these are the source of the vast majority of food-borne illness outbreaks and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But this is what we only see on the surface. As infuriating as it is, it is not the core issue. The real issue is that raw milk represents a kind of food freedom statement that those in power do not want to hear. The very simple ideas;"I can eat what I choose" coupled with; "As an informed consumer I choose to eat real food that is produced locally with minimal processing", scare the living daylights out of those who would control every morsel that enters our mouths.

Everything I knew in my heart to be true about corporate greed and government's inability to do their job was staring me in the face this weekend. And one cannot turn away from that. My comfortable illusions have been shattered! They (meaning the greedy and power-hungry who control our food supply) are truly intent on making as much money as possible and they really, really don't care that it is slowly killing many Americans. They really don't care that our rural countryside has turned into a desolate and depressed endless sea of corn fields, factory farms and mega grain-processing plants. They truly, really don't care that that our country is filled with overweight, drug-dependent, tired, stressed-out, sick people! Really, they don't. And the scary part is that not only do they not care, the continuation of this status quo is in their best financial interest and they know it. They will stop at nothing to maintain it. And this is easy for them because usually a nice, shocking smear campaign, like highlighting how raw milk will kill you, is all the ammunition they need. Fear is a powerful weapon, but fear and total control of almost every public outlet of information is pretty much unstoppable.

So what hit home is that raw milk issues are not just about raw milk and the warm and fuzzy notion of drinking this nourishing liquid in its unadulterated form. What the fight over raw milk is about is food freedom. Every time a governmental bureaucrat enters the private property of a farm, harasses them (and often their children), confiscates their products, forces them to dump their products (for months upon months) and essentially forces them to choose between bankruptcy and giving up their many years of blood, sweat and tears, they are infringing upon our rights, as consumers!
The reality of our food production and distribution system in this country is so eloquently and violently displayed when you look at what is going on with raw milk farmers. Raw milk is the poster child for food freedom!! Even if you never have the good luck to sip a glass of fresh raw milk from happy, healthy grass-fed cows, raw milk is important to you. And I mean it.

If this has in any way motivated you to step up your game and to really fight back against corporate interests in what you put in your mouth, here are some things you can do today and beyond to help in the fight for food freedom:

1. Call your local and federal legislators and tell them what you think. S.510 is up right now in the Senate. Call your senators and tell them you support the amendments being proposed to this bill by Senator Testor that will protect small-scale farmers and food artisans from the more onerous requirements. More detailed info about the bill and what to say to your senator here.

2. Join the Farm-To-Consumer-Legal-Defense-Fund and/or the Farm-To-Consumer-Foundation. These organizations are dedicated to helping farmers fight back and they're doing an excellent job!

3. Most important of all, buy local!! Support your local farmers with your dollars, stop feeding the greedy bellies of mega-corporations. This means eating little or no highly processed food and completely avoiding conventional meat and dairy. No crackers, chips, pasta, soda, fast food, (where do you think all that corn goes?) etc. I know, I know, it sounds totally radical. But that food is bad for you anyway. You'll feel much better without all that junk and the joy of buying directly from someone you know who has worked hard to bring you the best quality food they can, is unmatched in shopping experiences.

4. Always be on alert to help out by attending meetings and rallies, calling elected officials, giving donations, even just sending a letter of support to a farmer who has been beaten down.

I'm not sure if food can fully cure but I do know that junk food can kill. I refuse to let anyone tell me what I can and cannot eat but without real farmers there won't be much of a choice. Please, please let's all support our local farmers who are giving their hearts and souls to provide us with real food!!