Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

HOMEGROWN Life: A Work in Progress

Friday, January 6th, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

For the past few months I have been writing about my experiences in the “real world” as a recent graduate settling into a semi-HOMEGROWN kind of life.  It’s been a mixture of fun and frustration: from failed attempts at cooking with kohlrabi to the joys of raising chickens; but, throughout this journey I’ve grappled with the meaning of “homegrown” – from origins and evolution of this HOMEGROWN movement, to the vastly different interpretations of it among folks across America. And, how I can make HOMEGROWN my own.

I come from a background in agriculture. My great-grandparents were first-generation American farmers in Michigan.  They lived the agrarian lifestyle out of a combination of necessity and desire, raising their herd of children and animals on an isolated farm. The depression hit them, like the rest of America, hard, but they carried on by working the land to survive. My grandmother left the farm at age 13 to work in town for another family in order to send money home to help financially support her own family. She later joined the war effort – first as a riveter, and then as a Red Cross nurse. She met and married my grandfather, one of her amputee patients, and they moved back to his family farm in Connecticut where they raised 9 children and took on subsistence farming in addition to working their 2 or 3 jobs.

My dad, aunts and uncles grew up in farming on the same piece of land my family lives on today.  They lived on the outskirts of town and spent the majority of their mornings, afternoons and evenings doing farm chores in order to survive – the same skills that are a central part of today’s homegrown movement. For them, raising cows and sows was never-ending work.  Making butter was an all-day job. Canning pounds and pounds of produce in a hot kitchen in order to have a stockpile of food to eat in the winter was the furthest thing from trendy. And, growing up as farm kids was not cool. It was isolating and difficult.

None of the kids in that generation became farmers.  My dad keeps some animals, plants gardens, makes syrup and still practices agrarian skills, but he took a job off of the farm (for a chemical company…go figure…) and never wanted us to live the lifestyle he lived.  So, we didn’t. We raised a miniature horse, some goats and chickens, played Little League, and went to college.  As time went on, it became harder and harder for my family to survive off of the land, as ironic and sad as that sounds, so as of yet, not one of us has turned the soil again.

As this homesteading/DIY culture has blossomed in recent years, my family and others like them haven’t totally assimilated into the movement.  Even though they’ve always made venison stew in the winter, field dressed chickens, and preserved their vegetables, it was for survival, rather than enjoyment. Some of them scoff at this movement (and me for being a part of it!). They think it’s just a bunch of “city slickers” buying produce, sugar, pectin and jars to make small-batch jams, raising a couple hens on a scrappy yard, noshing on gourmet cheeses from the farmers’ markets, and sipping organic craft beers. For them, this movement hits a place deep inside of them –  their souls. These folks can’t afford to exclusively farm anymore, and they can’t afford to be a part of this movement, so where do they fit in? What do they think and how do they feel about the culture of nouveau-agriculture? How can we ensure this movement is inclusive and genuine?

The HOMEGROWN.org community has been an invaluable resource for me, 20-something who has just up and flown the coop – an old family farm in the sticks – and is starting to build her own nest – as one of them “city slickers”. It’s inspiring when folks from Brooklyn to Boise gather together on the site to share skills and stories from their own vastly different lives.  While I don’t know where all of these folks come from, I do know that they are living their own interpretation of HOMEGROWN.  Be it raising some American Guinea hogs and tending a small garden in the suburbs or farming for a living in rural America, the tie that binds is the desire to live independently, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty; to honor the hard work, skills and culture of agriculture and to adapt it to your own lifestyle. For me, that is HOMEGROWN.

It takes all kinds to build a movement and a culture.  We need the “city slickers” to support family farmers in order to keep them on the land, and we need agrarians to share their skills and know-how with the rest of us who aren’t on the farm anymore. This online community is a shining example of this co-existence and community.  It’s getting back to something very real: the root of civilization: agriculture, food, family!  I am grateful for it and for all of you who contribute to the community every day. From the farmers to foodies, the fields to the forks, let us continue to make this movement our own and to live HOMEGROWN together.

 

I am the Flock-Tender here on HOMEGROWN.org. I am keeping a chronicle of my experiences learning, living, and growing a homegrown lifestyle fresh out of college.

Accepting Submissions for the End-of-Season HOMEGROWN Fair!

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Recently I traveled back to my roots in rural Connecticut to celebrate an annual agricultural tradition – the Durham Fair.  The Durham Fair is the largest agricultural fair in Connecticut, and growing up as a local, I’ve never missed a fair season! There’s something magical about fair season; a wonderful communal culmination of a year of agri-culture that connects us all back to our roots.

Photos courtesy of Caroline

The beauty of agricultural fairs is the celebration of a rich farming history and homegrown skills.  Family farmers who have worked the land for hundreds of years come back annually near harvest time to show their animals, crafts, art, baked goods, preserves, and plants, share traditional skills and demonstrations, and to eat amazing food and enjoy the exhibits.  Community groups and schools work behind booths to sell their products and their food – much of it local and in support of community-building initiatives.  The spirit and culture of these fairs reminds me very much of the philosophy of HOMEGROWN.org – a space for folks to come together and share their knowledge and skills with one another and to enjoy a lively conversation about good food and good living.

Photos courtesy of Caroline

As we approach the end of the harvest season and prepare for winter (here in the Northeast, anyway!), we can all take a little time to look back on a year of progress in living HOMEGROWN.  Share your successes, failures, thoughts and experiences with the HOMEGROWN community – fair-style. Anything new that you’ve done, built, created, explored, or learned, share with us!

  • Submit photos of your backyard livestock, chickens and pets.
  • Post recipes for your favorite dishes that use locally-grown ingredients.
  • Share planting, growing, and food preservation tips.
  • Upload instructions on creating homegrown art, crafts for the upcoming holiday season, or projects you’ve been working on all year.
  • Create a virtual skillshare of new skills learned and share with others.
  • Comment on other’s work, and foster the sense of community that we are proud to build on HOMEGROWN.org

While we can’t display your bountiful harvests, beautiful dishes, and crafty projects in a physical space, we want to share them with all in our community through the fall season. Upload your photos, videos, and blogs with “HOMEGROWN Fair” in the title so that they are recognizable submissions.  Of course, we will award prizes for the best of the best – a HOMEGROWN.org prize pack, HOMEGROWN Mix-Tape, and a few surprise goodies.  We want to showcase the work that you’ve done this year and how you’ve done it! So get those submissions ready and enjoy the first-annual, end-of-season HOMEGROWN Fair!

Photos courtesy of Caroline

HOMEGROWN Life: The state of sustainable agriculture in the United States

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

That’s a hefty headline.  Let’s see if I’m qualified to write about it.

The state of sustainable agriculture is strong.  The very fact that it exists at all is a huge step forward compared to fifteen years ago.  We have an engaged customer base that understands the need for a change in the way food is produced in this country — largely due to the proliferation of documentaries like “Food Inc”, “Fast Food Nation”, “King Corn”, and “Super Size Me”.  Those are the films that broke through the American collective consciousness and propelled many consumers to change the way that they eat, the way they shop, and the way they think about food.  The books that led to the movies were “Fast Food Nation”, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”.

Those were the biggies, but there were many others and we have had a lot of credible folks from around the world weighing in on the subject like Jane Goodall,  Prince Charles from the U.K., Alice Waters – our own top chef from Berkeley,  the rockers from Farm Aid – we especially remember Neil Young leading the chant about No Factory Farms – in response to the amount of C.A.F.O.s flooding our countryside.  We were even lucky enough to have Paul and Nell Newman giving early credence to the subject further solidifying organic agriculture in the American consciousness.   We had our own pioneering organic gurus who never gave up from the sixties and seventies like Elliot Coleman, the folks at The Rodale Institute and Mother Earth News.   I may have missed some crucial components here, but the point is made.  Without the commitment of early pioneers in the U.S. we would never have been where we are now.

Ramping up production is always the hard part.  In the industrial agriculture world, we have a system in place in the U.S. that is probably the largest in the world to help support and maintain agriculture in this country:

  • We have land grant universities in every state that are chartered by the government to do agricultural research and development.
  • We have an extensive agriculture extension service that is designed to take that knowledge and give instruction in our counties and towns and to educate farmers and producers about new methods of agriculture.
  • We have agricultural co-ops in place across the farm belt to help farmers receive lower prices for commodities and where they also have access to less expensive equipment and services that they otherwise would have to pay more for.
  • In the Farm Bill legislation, we have direct payments made to farmers to encourage them to produce the most commonly used crops in this country, and we (the tax payer) even help them have less expensive crop insurance so that they can all afford it and to ensure they will buy it.
  • With all of these programs in place it’s still not easy.  Producers in the areas of agriculture not directly supported by the farm bill have it especially tough.  These producers are locked into the commodities market and have the hardest row to hoe due to unpredictable and wildly fluctuating prices.

So imagine, in the world of sustainable agriculture, how hard it is to build a new system in this country from the ground up with none of the supports listed above.  Not only do we not have those structures in place for sustainable agriculture, but we also have to compete against the above system in the market place.  The prices of “conventional” foods seem to be less expensive, although the savvy consumers understand that they’re paying for the price difference through their tax dollars.

It is amazing that even with the deck stacked against it, organic production and purchasing is still growing in this country.   To me, that means the future looks bright.  If we could get some more programs in place to help encourage sustainable agriculture in this country, the same way we encourage industrial agriculture, or if we just level the playing field so that sustainable and industrial can compete  on fair terms, it seems obvious that you will see sustainable agriculture thrive.   The very nature of sustainability means that it is more cost efficient.   The “closed loop” systems that we use where fewer off-farm inputs are purchased will allow us to thrive and compete and win the market share in today’s more educated consumer marketplace.

 

Dave Ring along with his wife Sara owns a small organic vegetable and egg farm in East Central Indiana.  In May of 2007 they opened the Downtown Farm Stand, a local organic grocery store.  The store has grown to include a “made from scratch” deli restaurant, and a full grocery store selection.  They are active in the community and have founded a local Slow Food Chapter, and are constantly looking for ways to advance a local, sustainable, and organic food system.