The Three Sisters

12/1/15

Modern day agriculture has become accustomed to the idea of food grown in mono crop rows, a structure designed for the supposed ease of the human, his machines, and markets, rather than for the plants themselves. At first glance, it may seem logical to isolate crop types, organizing them for the efficiency of harvest. But if one were to sit awhile, and truly learn from these plants, the truth is a mono crop system only leads to further complications that result in efforts to control and suppress. For example, corn is a plant that requires high levels of nutrients and water. Pests such as corn worms, can do a lot of damage to a crop. Grown alone, it is vulnerable to attack, and dependent on human’s for sufficient food and water. In the long run, the farmer will end up working many more hours, spraying chemicals repeatedly to kill any and all insects, including beneficial ones. The farmer will also spend hours feeding the corn high levels of war weaponry bi-product based nitrogen fertilizers. Due to corn being a monocot, with a shallow root system, it is also dependent on regular watering, as there is nothing to protect the ground’s surface from wind and sun dehydration. Not only does the farmer need to work harder, but a great deal of financial strain is also inevitable. Instead of forcing a dysfunctional system to continue, we need to stop and reevaluate the consequences of the original ignorantly flawed design. What would a sustainable agricultural system look like? It would be sustainable on multiples levels, requiring less labor while simultaneously fostering soil, plant, and eco-system health. It would use methods similar to preventative medicine, avoiding disease, which is simply the result of imbalance. Most importantly, it would look always to what consequence each action would eventually create. The Three Sisters is the name given to a trio crop grown by Native peoples from the lands of North, Central, and South Americas. It is an example of a sustainable agricultural system that fosters symbiotic relationships, thereby strengthening each individual plant, and consequentially strengthening the health of the whole. The pairing of these three sisters is by no means random. Each has its own gifts to share. In this sharing, all give of their natural gifts and are cared for accordingly. This relationship reflects the values of native tribes that grew these crops. Thus, the agricultural landscape is a direct reflection of her people. What do our modern agricultural landscapes reflect about our modern day value system? And would our values change, if we reshaped these landscapes? I believe so. The symbiotic relationship of the Three Sisters food Seneca Corn, Bare Bean, and Blue Hubbard Squash directly reflects the values of the people who originally grew them. In establishing these crops on the Indian Valley Organic farm campus, we not only provide a source of quality nutrition for the local community, but also strengthen native way wisdoms while integrating these values into our society.

Corn is a vital food for Native peoples. It provides carbohydrates that can be eaten fresh, or dried and ground for sustenance through the cold season. The Seneca corn grown on Indian Valley Organic Farm was brought to us by a young leader in her field. Kaylena Bray is the Native Foodways Program Director for The Cultural Conservancy. Kaylena brought the Seneca corn seeds from her homeland in New York State, where her family and tribe grows and protects this rare heirloom variety. It is particularly important that we are growing Seneca seed due to its endangered status. For the first two years, it was grown only for seed, so that it could be distributed for reintegration. Now, in the third year, we were able to grow enough to eat. It was ground into flour and distributed amongst Native populations, who would otherwise not have had access to this traditional food. Seneca corn is the eldest of the Three Sisters crop grown at the farm. She is the first to sprout, leading the way for her sisters. She grows straight and tall, creating a structure for her younger sister, the bean. Her leaves create shade for her youngest sister squash, who’s own foliage is sensitive to sunburn when wet. She reaches upwards to the sky, calling the rain.

The second sister, bean is a very important food in Native peoples diet. Beans contain high levels of protein. Corn eaten with beans nutritionally provides the right balance of carbohydrates and protein essential for health. Proteins build enzymes and muscular tissue while carbohydrates are a source of fuel for the body. The Bear bean is the second sister in our Three Sisters farm crop. Bear bean is also a traditional variety native to the mountains of Central America. In tropical regions she is a perennial. In North America, she is grown as an annual. Sprouting next, she intuitively knows to use her older sister, corn, as support, giving her the structure to grow upwards into the sky. Her lava red flowers entice hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinating insects. Her body offers a ladder with nooks and crannies where spiders and other predatory insects find shelter. Their presence keeps, what we would label as pests, in balance, thereby protecting the health of the entire Three Sister crop. Additionally, She has a very rare gift; the capacity to harvest nitrogen from the air. 78% 0f our atmosphere is made up of nitrogen gas. But most plants are incapable of using atmospheric nitrogen (N2). Instead, they rely on mineral nitrogen (NH3), nitrate, or ammonium. Beans transform this gas into vital food through a partnership with Rhizobium bacteria. The Bean creates an oxygen free nodule for the bacteria to flourish, and in turn the bacteria transforms the N2 Nitrogen into NH3 Nitrogen. The bean stores this nutrient source in nodules on their root system, and eventually will use it as food, growing its seed pod, which then feeds the people and begins the plan’t life cycle anew. When the task of growing seed is complete, her body withers and turns golden, giving back to the soil and future generations to come.

Squash is the third sister. On the farm, we are growing Blue Hubbard Squash which is also a variety traditionally grown by Native peoples. Originating out of South America, this species was brought to North America as early as the 16th century. The seeds cultivated today have been saved and distributed by Native caretakers. High in Vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as Beta-carotene, Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron, Squash provides essential nutrients and minerals which would be lacking in a diet of corn and beans alone. When the Three Sisters are eaten together, a powerful triad is completed, offering carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins; all that one needs in order to thrive. Squash is a protector on many levels. She sprawls her body out long across the ground, stretching around the base of the corn and beans, always reaching outwards beyond the last tall sister stalk. In doing so, she seeks sunlight, while simultaneously creating a protective ground cover. Earth left bare is vulnerable to wind, rain, and sun, easily drying out, or eroding. But squash’s big broad leaves and long snake like limbs cover the soils surface like the course spun wool of woven blankets, retaining moisture and warmth. Squash’s prickly leaves and stems are also those that belong to the protector. Every great warrior woman knows the art of defense; When needed, if it is strong, there is never need for attack. You hold your boundary. You claim your space. And in claiming what is hers, she simultaneously protects the space for others. Beneficial insects find homes under her, spiky stems deter hungry caterpillars and slugs from munching bean’s fragile stem, and her shadow suppresses weed growth that might otherwise overwhelm the crop.

On the farm, we had a few challenges growing these crops together. Last year we grew them in the traditional method, intermixed. But reports were they did not do so well. This year we planted the squash and beans behind the rows of corn, and offered the beans a fence to trellis upwards upon. The crop fared well as we diligently ushered in water through drip line irrigation. However, due to the drought, many plants in the wild which normally would be a source of food for animals were not available. The crows and raccoons were especially hungry and began feasting slightly before the crop hit maturity. This caused a dilemma, as it seemed unlikely there would be any crop left if we did not do something. Our choices were to act defensively, or offensively. An offensive approach would be to build an electric fence to keep the animals at bay; but we lacked the labor force to erect such a structure in such a short time. The defensive approach was to harvest all the remaining corn and store it somewhere safe. This is what we decided to do. Such is the way of the farmer. S/he must be flexible and dance in rhythm with the changing needs as they present themselves. A date on a calendar is quite meaningless to all beings except the human. The farmer must enter into the earth’s tracking of time, noticing growth patterns in correlation with the moon, noticing when the lizards cease to run about, noticing the change of smells on the wind. S/he must abandon her logical linear mind, and fall into an instinctual knowing. If one partners in such a way with the earth, they are allowing a relationship to develop. In this relationship an exchange of communication occurs, deepening ones learnings and ultimately shaping ones very identity, value system, and consequentially ones actions. From this perspective, it is possible that outer landscape can transform inner landscape. This is how evolution occurs. Here in lies hope for our children’s children.

What have our sisters taught us? If we listen and watch carefully, our outer landscapes indeed shape our inner ones. Corn is a humble leader, growing tall, reaching for the sky, calling out to the rain. She offers support to those who come after her, not by forcing her ways upon them, but by being herself and allowing those who wish to grow around her to do so. What has Bean taught us? She is a visionary healer, showing us that the only limitations are the ones we put upon ourselves. She reaches into other realms, gathering her gift and transforming it, for her own sustenance as well as for future generations to come. What has Squash taught us? She is an adventurous protector, staking new ground while simultaneously holding the space needed for growth, both her own and her sisters. When all three sisters give of their individual talents, their eco-system community as a whole flourishes. We as people, must recognize that nature is our teacher. The lessons are all around us, just waiting to shape us into the forms of corn, bean, and squash. The shapes and possibilities are endless! Yet there is one common thread that unites all and it is this; We do not have to give up, or force ourselves to be something that we are not. Each form has a special gift all one’s own. If we embrace our individual talents, looking to our plant and animal brothers and sisters for guidance, while always asking, what can I give to the world in thanks for all that I receive, we will- as a consequence- find community, belonging, health, and happiness. And the world, as a whole, shall flourish.

Kopaonik: Serbia’s Endangered National Park

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An endangered national park?? Kind of an oxymoron isn’t it? Certainly the very act of naming wilderness as National Park is a commitment to uphold standards towards its preservation. It is easy to see why Serbia’s mountains were given such status. Kopaonik is one of the countries most important bio diverse hotspots for endemic flora. (That is, plants found in only one location on the planet!) It’s also home to many animal species, such as the Peregrin Falcon, Tawny owl, and wildcat. The landscape is diverse and magnificent, ranging from wildflower meadows to coniferous forests, to slopes covered in berries and grasslands.

 

 

 

But despite this enormous wealth of beauty, Kopaonik national park is being severely mistreated.

While visiting, there were a few things that lead me to suspect all was not so peachy. First sign. Where are all the trails?? There were a few meandering paths, but none were marked, and many dissolved into open grasslands. Fine for the adventurous hiker, but what about safety for endemic flora? Second sign. On the unmarked paths closest to the ski resort, the ground was littered with rubbish. Along the river bank, many plastic bags found final resting ground on branches. Third sign. A huge amount of construction filled the air with noise. Loads of debris and unfinished structures sat in mounds along side roads. Yet, many small cabins simultaneously posted For Sale signs. Locals say they’ve been sitting for a long time and no one is buying. Hmmmm….. very curious. Keep going.

I noticed huge contrasts in extreme poor, living along side extreme rich. A dairy farmer living with his wife and son grew up in these hills. In his tiny home, he crossed himself, offered homemade rakija (local hard brew), and smiled a toothless grin. Our neighbor, a diplomat on vacation at his second home, also offered us rakija and spoke of local mushrooms and worldly affairs.

My partner and I hitched a ride twice while there. The first time we were picked up by a black mercedez, and the owner of the vehicle was also the owner of one of the big spa hotels in town. They inquired kindly and talked to us about the special deals offered at their hotel.The second time we were picked up by a white van, owned by a gypsy man and his wife. We squeezed into the front seat- Four adults practically on top of one another. I took his wife’s hand in mine and we smiled. Traditional gypsy music filled the little space left.

Young people hang out at a local bar, listening to western popular music. They wear sunglasses and stylish clothing. But I only ran into one group of older folk while hiking.

…This is unlike any National Park I have been to! So, I decided to do a bit of research. What I found out was…. well, dear reader, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.

At present, Kopaonik has two sources of dominant revenue: wood products and charges for commercial activities (2). Also at present, it is these two industries that threaten conservation the most.

In national parks among Balkan regions, under the guise of fire prevention, 10 times more trees are felled illegally than legally, according to the national statistics institute. No one has so far been tried or convicted for this crime (1). Without the enforcement of penalties, deforestation continues at an alarming rate. According to some estimates, capacities for wood processing are twice as large as what Balkan forests can sustainably provide (2). The environmental group WWF addresses the issue in relation to climate change. They write,

“Forests have a critical role to play in the fight against global climate change. Forest loss accounts for up to 20% of global carbon emissions– more than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships in the world. By reducing forest loss, we can reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. It’s that simple”(4).

Let us remember the critical role forests play in our own lives, and act accordingly. No matter where you live, do research and purchase only sustainably harvested wood.

The following issues within Kopaonik national park are a result of tourism. The Minister of Environment and Spacial Planning, Oliver Dulic, estimated that “Kopaonik has never been dirtier and that it may lose the status of a national park as a result”(3).

Trash dumped throughout the park is a real issue. In an informative article titled, “The Most Prominent Management Problems in the National Park Kopaonik” experts Sumarac Predrag and Sakovic Biljana write, “In the winter, during the most frequent tourist activity, collection and removal of waste is on a very unsatisfactory level. Discharge cycles of garbage cans are irregular causing garbage deposition. Waste problems are additionally exacerbated by irresponsible visitors who dispose garbage along ski tracts. When the season is over and snow is gone, an unpleasant picture of tourist activity is revealed”(2).

Kopaonik also faces serious threat through illegal construction. The majority of homes are built illegally without permits. And without regulation, population levels, plus generated waste, greatly outweighs the mountains carrying capacity. Additionally, many hotels have exceeded the number of beds they are allowed, resulting in tourist overpopulation. And for the cherry on top!- Construction waste is simply dumped, just below the mountains highest peak or left to sit along roadways bordering fragile ecosystems (2).

But the dirtiest problem I’ve saved for last. According to the aforementioned Mr. Dulic, the capacity of public waste water treatment became “insufficient a long time ago” Sewage treatment capacity, he says, is 40% smaller than the existing connections built over the last 20 years and as a result, “feces water flows down the mountain” (3). Predrage and Biljana add, “Thanks to high altitude and cold winters Kopaonik’s sewage treatment facility hasn’t fulfilled its function and has been abandoned. Today, all sewage from Suvo Rudiste tourist center goes without any treatment directly into streams and forests below the sewage treatment facility. The environmental impact and related consequence on nature, especially on the national park river system is enormous”(2).

The Endemit environment group cried out in protest when part of Kopaonik national park had been cleared to create ski sports grounds (1).  Tourist generated income can be beneficial for local economies, but not when it comes at a higher cost- the exploitation and destruction of the very wilderness that attracts visitors in the first place. Serbia must be persuaded that a future in tourism needs to work with what nature has provided.

But because Kopaonik national park is seriously understaffed and receives very little economic support from governing systems, it is disempowered to correct the problems it faces. If financial support was offered from the state, it would relieve pressure to rely on wood harvesting and overpopulation of tourism. But until that happens it needs to find alternate sources of funding. Before anything else, it must correct it’s sewage treatment system. After that, it could focus on generating money from eco-tourism activities. For example, if trails were better maintained and properly marked, more people would come to experience the profound beauty of the summer and autumn season. Guided tours focusing on the rich diversity of the region could also be a huge source of revenue. A museum of local human and geologic history is another possibility. Additionally, steep fines for littering and illegal commercial activity should be strictly enforced. Posted warnings would strongly dissuade any such events from occurring in the first place. Ultimately, Kopaonik needs to get more creative and do whatever it takes to live up to its title as a National Park. Otherwise, it just might become extinct.

 

References:

1.) http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100524/world/balkans-sound-alarm-over-disappearing-forests.308757

2. ) http://congress.sfb.bg.ac.rs/PDF/forestry/rad58f.pdf

3.) http://www.ekapija.com/website/en/page/285157/Kopaonik-may-lose-status-of-national-park

4). http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/forest_climate2/forests_and_climate_change/

Ecological City Design

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Have you ever walked through your neighborhood and looked upon all those green squares of lawn with conjuring eyes?

What would you conjure?

I’d conjure fruit trees, and vegetable beds in every single yard. I’d see healthy elderly men and women climbing ladders, gathering baskets full. They’ll derive such happiness from tending the plants, and  sharing it with their children and grandchildren, so even those who work indoors all day can return to a home grown, beautiful meal. And I’d structure some homes in clusters, with connecting backyards and walkways, so families can live together, or communities could easily coordinate with one another.

Along roadsides wildflowers will prosper. Trees will offer shade and lush green. Unused spaces will become meadows. Not out of neglect. But out of love. Love for the bees that give us honey. Love for the evening stroll, when light grows golden and soft winds play with shadow. And love for cats who know themselves best as tigers in tall grass.

In cities, I see roof top gardens and solar panels on every building. I see water catchment systems. I see large green spaces, filled with hiking trails and ponds and rivers. These protected areas are the lungs of the city and a sanctuary for wildlife or humans alike.

I’d conjure a center square where no cars are allowed and pedestrians can freely claim stone streets as their own. Every day markets take place where extra food can be sold or exchanged.

Also in the square, you’ll find live music, and performers of all kinds. Local artists too.

The roads would be designed first and foremost for bicyclists and pedestrians, with bike paths leading in and out of the city center from every direction. Cars- an outdated technology of the past, will be considered wasteful and expensive, so would be used sparingly or for city to city travel when other transportation is not available. Solar powered or magnetic powered mass transit would also be available.

Think this is possible? Guess what. It’s already here.

In Milano city, Italy, cars are charged a fee if they wish to enter the center. Bike sharing services offer residents and tourists low-cost access to bicycles within the city. The idea is to reduce traffic congestion and pollution while boosting physical activity.

The heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia is her river. The waters flow directly through the city center and along her banks are pedestrian walkways, cafe’s, and space to just relax with a book. Musicians play traditional music while street performers do thar thang, all along her shore. There are also many carless streets and squares within the city and within walking distance one can find many parks and hiking trails. Ljubljana means beloved. I can see why.

In Belgrade, Serbia many neighborhoods are built in clusters so that neighbors share backyards and growing spaces.

In Zagreb, Croatia you’ll find open markets selling everything you could imagine. Homegrown fruits and vegetables, fresh cheese, bread that’s still hot from the oven, smoked meats, and more. The old town district is for pedestrians only. It comes alive at night.

And the city of Sombor, Serbia is a mecca for gardeners and bikes.

Meet my new friends Valentin and Irena.

 

We stayed in their apartment guest rental while in Sombor. Their front yard is a shady oasis, thanks to a giant black cherry tree. A small alley way offers just enough space for a garden and they’ve managed to pack it full of vegetables!  They told us to please help ourselves. It felt so good to walk into the back yard and pick myself a fresh tomato for lunch. They made it clear- theirs is an organic garden. No sprays or chemicals here! I’ve attached the link to their guest rental, in case any of you are so inspired to visit.

https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/9034863

With the use of their bikes we were able to explore the surrounding region. As I rode through the neighborhoods I could not believe my eyes. Not a single front lawn without vegetables or fruit trees. Every square inch of land was used in some way. In the evenings I’d watch old men come out to pick the fruit from branches.

And because there are very few cars (everyone uses bikes as their main source of transportation) children claim the streets, laughing and playing in the middle of the road. You can find well maintained bike paths leading into the center from every direction. Young and old alike are riding!

The heart of the city is a pedestrian and bike only plaza, filled with musicians, especially at night.

 






During the day a large vegetable market takes place and on every street corner people sell ripe, juicy watermelons, among other foods, that they grow themselves.

In only a 15 minute bike ride you’ll find yourself in the country side where fields of yellow sunflowers reach for summer blue sky.

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Visiting these cities has inspired me. Its made me realize that my ‘idealistic’ vision is not so idealistic at all. Rather, it is realistic, happening right before my very eyes. And what is even more interesting is these ecological models are strongest in areas that are struggling on an economic level. Maybe the people of Sombor would drive more if they had the money to purchase gas on a regular basis. Maybe they would garden less because they could afford to buy fruits grown in some far away land. And with all the cars on the road, would children be running around in the streets, or stuck indoors watching t.v.? I think of Joni Mitchell’s lyrics: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

In San Francisco, 70% of the space in downtown is designed for the use of vehicles, not people (1).

David Bollier. in his article Re-imagining Urban Design and City Life writes,

“The enclosure of public spaces, by the same reasoning, is anti-democratic. When shopping malls and office towers eliminate our public squares, our parks and our promenades, we lose our capacity to see each other, to socialize and speak publicly, to identify and empathize with each other, to be commoners. Without these spaces, we are forced into playing roles dictated by the Market or the State.”

When we lose touch with one another- loose touch with those daily moments, of exchanging laughter with a stranger, or getting to know a neighbor, we loose community. And when we loose community, crime and depression seem to flourish. The messages from the privatized industry that benefits from us being consumers will tell you to focus on material gain for happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humans need a balance of social playfulness with one another and solitary time for inward reflection. The way we structure our environment will inevitably effect our choices in how we engage in life.

Steve Read, one of the founders of the French Permaculture Association writes,

“Permaculture is about asking ‘why am I doing this?’ It’s not about clever technological solutions for driving, but asking, ‘why am I in this car in the first place?’ I constantly end up taking things out of my life that I don’t need” (2).

So what can we do, or better yet, not do right now?

California is seeing its greatest drought in history as I write this. Do we need that green front lawn that’s sucking up water during a time like this? Vegetables can be grown on a drip system, so that water is carefully distributed where necessary. And all that water just going down the drain every time you take a shower or wash the dishes- why not put it in the garden instead? Get ahold of some large barrels to store it in outside, covering it with a breathable fabric to keep out mosquito larvae and allowing in rain… we can still hope right? And make sure to use only biodegradable soaps.

Ride your bike. It’s great exercise and it’ll make you feel better with all those endorphins pumping through your blood.

Trade food with your neighbor. Plant gardens and fruit trees. Short on time or cash? Check out ‘Time Bank’ Or click on the link below.

http://timebanks.org

And pester your governor to build you a bikeway, threaten not to re-elect!, so we can ride with as much ease as Amsterdam, where women in high heels travel with baby on board.

If our cities are a reflection of who we are as a people, then, who are we? And what do we wish to become?

 

 

Resources:

1.http://permaculturenews.org/2012/03/07/re-imagining-urban-design-and-city-life/

2. http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/exploring-permaculture-in-the-big-city.html

 

Zagreb, Croatia- Live it up.

In Zagreb city, there’s none of that customer bullshit stuff. It’s quick- ‘What do you want?’ And if you don’t know- best get out of the way. There’s no fancy names for things to make up for tasteless food. That’s because the food speaks for itself, dancing the Kolo on your tongue!

There’s no special sizes or additions- ‘This is what we have, you want it or not?’ The old women in the market sell their goods and laugh as deeply as their wrinkles. They’re out there every day, cackling away, underneath red umbrellas.

“Hvala!” I say. And a jumbo smile comes tumbling right at me every time. It’s genuine. It makes my day.

While walking city streets I spy illicit expressions adorning walls, walls that shed skin like snakes.

All this makes me wonder, what are the messages that Croatians grow up hearing. What is valued?

 

Well, the best way to understand someone is to look at what they do.

Croatians are honest and at the same time have a sassy sense of humor.

When at work they really seem to enjoy what it is they’re doing! The bus drivers are smiling, the dentists are cracking one another up, the bakers are laughing, the police are enjoying a casual conversation with a neighborhood resident. I’m not saying theirs is a utopia, but I get the sense they don’t feel like they have to fake it.

And when they’re not at work, they’re in an outdoor cafe, sharing a cappuccino with friends. No rush. The visit can go on for hours.

From apartment buildings I smell delicious food cooking.

From the tiled corridor I hear women singing… Such bewitching traditional music. Their voices reflecting off walls, they play. I slip closer, hypnotized like a lizard receiving a belly rub…

An old couple hold hands while taking an evening stroll.

Croatians have learned that success is not about being perfect. Nor is it about what kind of work you do, or how much money you make. Rather, it’s about HOW you live. Do you play? Do you laugh? Do you tell it like it is? All we have is this moment right now, so live it well.

 

 

 

MIlano chef says screw the organic label! Buy from who you know.

Davide Negri’s pad in Milano city reflects this guy’s many passions. Devilishly sharp sushi knives cut through tomatoes like a blood thirsty revenger. Proud bottles of vino stand like trophies of battles won. Cuban cigars hide within Pandora’s little wooden boxes. And let us not forget the boom box speakers from which unearthly rhythms melodically flicker and fill the air. The musical artist, Lynx purrs, “You know that you were born for more than what machines provide.” So I sit, and ponder.

Italy is the leading country in Europe for producer of organic foods. Yet many people are still very skeptical of the label Organic. And with good reason. When tested, foods labeled as organic have been found to contain chemical contaminants (1). While the levels are much lower than commercial crops that directly spray, one would think, if you’re paying twice the price for organic produce, that the label should follow through with what it promises to provide. But there is no way to control what travels on wind or water. So if we humans would get real honest with ourselves we’d realize that we are all inextricably interconnected. Wise Chief Seattle once proclaimed.  “Whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves”.

We’re all in this together and the only way out of this mess is through. But in the mean while, what is the mother to do, who refuses to feed toxins to her child. What is any one of us to do for that matter? The answer lies in building new models of interconnection. A powerful example takes place in Japan. Beginning in the 1960s’ and gathering strength in the 1970s’ a group of women became concerned about the quality of milk they were purchasing for their children. Instead of continuing to buy milk from the supermarkets they decided to contact small, local, farmers and source their milk directly. What began only as milk, grew into other food items until they were organizing central collection points. At these points farmers, who they had approved, would gather and drop off their goods. The women volunteers then created a box system, where the products were evenly distributed, and each family involved was given a box to take home. What once was 10 families working together, now, in Seikatsu co-ops, has become three hundred and thirty thousand households, all proactively choosing the food they eat (2). In this way, they’ve managed to completely side step the supermarkets, thereby keeping prices of food much cheaper while simultaneously raising the quality.

In Milano, similar events are taking place. Chefs like Davide play an important role in the support of sustainable local agriculture. They are the transformers, the ones that make our food into a cultural art. As Terre Madre organization points out, “Cooks reinforce food communities, through dialogue and collaboration with producers, and fight against the abandonment of cultural tradition and standardization of food. And it is in their restaurants that this philosophy reaches consumers” (3).Davide was kind enough to bring us to a local farmer, located just 15 minutes outside of Milan. That’s one very special thing about Milan- you can drive a short distance and find yourself on a quiet country road surrounded in agricultural fields. For the past 50 years a farmer has been growing food for his neighbors and the surrounding city. Davide proclaims, “One cannot find fresher, healthier vegetables in all of Milan.” Locals from the neighborhood come once a week and purchase a box filled with produce. Boxes cost only 3 euros each and the vegetables are picked fresh that very morning. I’d much rather be spending my day like this, than under fluorescent lights waiting in a long check out line. What’s more, it’s refreshing to meet the farmer, see the land where food is grown, and you just can’t beat the price.

 

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Urban agriculture is food production at the site of high populations. It’s about growing food where food is needed and organizing ourselves to eliminate waste. Less dependency on transportation of goods means cheeper prices for the buyer. We need to see many, many, many more small agro-ecological farmers who could grow food directly for their communities, whether they be urban cities or rural towns. We don’t need to wait for government support. Every person with a back yard or roof top can contribute in their own way, growing on a small scale for themselves and those nearby. Lets not allow food labels such as Organic to hold us back. In the U.S. farmers pay upto $10,000 a year for organic certification. How can a small farmer afford this!? Instead lets get to know the people who grow our food and develop relationships of trust and direct financial transaction. And lets share our skills and resources. Davide explains that in Italy, young people know how to use the internet and have creative new ideas while older farmers have land and experience growing in traditional ways. Generations can work together, uniting forces.

And let’s start using online organizational tools in new ways. Transitionnetwork.org, (Transition Town Network) emerging out of the UK, has now spread worldwide with locally based websites for each town or city. Find out- where is the closest network to you? Let’s build new websites specifically for food collaboration with our neighbors, including everyone from small producers, to backyard and rooftop gardeners. Let’s unite aging farmers with the newer tech savvy generation and through diversity find our strength. Ultimately, we need connections that empower people financially by providing one individual with the means to make a living, and the other with a more affordable option than what they would pay to a company.

In Milan, there’s a thriving movement of support for local sustainable systems. Preservation of land surrounding it’s frothing hub brings great potential for local organic farming, capable of feeding the cities population. Rooftop and home gardeners can also play a huge role. Support for ‘slow foods’ and ‘0 kilometer foods’ is well under way with cooks, farmers, and consumers all involved. Chef’s like Davide help keep traditional food cultures alive while proving that fresh produce is simply superior. We’re seeing a different model, offering opportunities to interact with our world in new ways. Through newly built connections with each other we can escape the plague of the robotic consumer and step back into being human in a lively world.

Reflections in Japanese platter

Reflections in Japanese platter

 

 

 

Resources Cited:

1. http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-info/blog/facts-regarding-pesticide-residues-and-organic-foods

2. http://www.compostory.org/2014/05/26/soil-crisis-2-soil-the-circular-economy-building-a-movement/

3. http://www.terramadre.info/en/

4. http://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/ib-building-new-agricultural-future-agroecology-280414-en.pdf