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.

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