Week 6: July 5-12
For all those who think Nebraska is boring, go to Hastings!
"In high school my dad had a job cleaning up the land. He found artillery shells, junk, an entire jeep. They just dumped and buried everything [from the munitions factory]," Caleb explained. We could only imagine what leeching car batteries, gas tanks, and who-knows-what-all is doing to the soil and water quality.
After the war, some of the land was sold back to the public. Of course the land went back into farming (they are the Huskers after all; the culture of corn runs deep in Nebraska). Farming on top of artillery shells and buried jeeps. The eerie juxtoposition made me speechless as we drove by in Caleb's car. Now, GM corn is planted fencerow to fencerow covering every inch of ground except the rude protrusions of the concrete bunkers. I bet the farmers curse the bunkers for impinging on their highly profitable land. The grass is falling off some to reveal the bunkers' concrete back, reminding me of the way rotting skin peels back, dissolving in its necrotic way off the carcass of something dead. Interspersed with the corn is grazing cattle that huddle for shade in the shadow of the flat concrete door sides of the bunkers. Other adventurous cows graze up the sloped sides until the incline gets too steep. Some farmers have tried to make the bunkers useful to their operations as hog pens and storage rooms and so on. Modern day agriculture unfolds directly on top of these remnants of war.
The convergence of war and agriculture also expresses itself on the land that has remained in government possession after the war. Part of the land is now a National Guard base. From what we could see, the land is littered with obstacle courses and practice ranges whose buildings are designed to look like the Middle East. We saw a relatively small but new building and Caleb said, "That cost $11.4 million to build. You have to wonder what's underneath." The other part of the land has switched from direct military use to the US Department of Agriculture's Meat Animal Research Center (MARC). All of the scientific research conducted is top secret, of course: "My uncle is a vet out here," Caleb tells us, pointing at a windowless blue aluminum building with a big white pickup parked beside it, "That's his truck. Even he can't talk about exactly what he does." Despite--or perhaps because of--the lack of public knowledge about MARC's activities, it doesn't take great mental strain to imagine the ethically dubious experiments and excessive torture and death of animals at the Research Center. The way the military-industrial and agri-industrial complexes fit so snugly together here in Clay County holds great significance when thinking about the problematic nature of our industrial food system.
Historically there is a well-documented connection between the chemicals of war during World War II being engineered into the agricultural chemicals utilized in the post-WWII Green Revolution. For example, the well-known chemical and seed corporation Monsanto originally made its mark selling Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and now rakes in about $12 billion per year selling genetically engineered seeds that depend upon specific chemical fertilizers and pestidies also produced by Monsanto. This chemical company epitomizes the idustrialization of our food supply and the intertwined functions of chemicals of war and chemicals of crop production. This relationship between war and agriculture is arranged in close spatial proximity here in Hastings. Two intersecting train lines still chug through town, now carrying corn and agricultural chemicals rather than bombs and wartime chemicals.
On our way back to Hastings from MARC, Caleb abruptly shut off the air conditioning. "It's about to smell terrible," he warned. An enormous feed lot (known as a confined feeding operation) teeming with thousands of cattle extended in its concrete and manure expanses to the south. After catching a glimpse of the sloping mud corrals and lifeless aluminum buildings, a deliberately created embankment with tall plantings blocked most of our view. They don't even want us to see what is going on from the outside. Like the military base and large-scale corn crops beside it, the confined feeding operation exemplifies a mechanized mindset that emphasizes the values of efficiency and massive scale for maximum return. It is no mistake that these industrial operations exist side by side here in Hastings. In fact, their interconnection gets at the heart of the trouble in our agricultural world today.
These spaces and the tortured relationships within them--military, industrial ag, animal research, and massive confined feeding operations--all indicate a militarized mindset conditioned by domination and distance.
Mechanization creates an empathetic impasse between the person acting and the object being acted opon, whether that object be the soil, animals, or other people. As they are subordinated to our immediate purposes, the object's innate value is not respected, nor is there any consideration of the long-term effects of our actions. Indeed, what are the long-term repercussions of filling the land with old munitions? What in turn happens when we raise monocrops in that same land to "feed the world?" How is the land impacted by the runoff of cattle and ag operations whose antibiotics and pesticides were originally developed to kill enemies in war? The tools used to dominate foreign enemies are now used to dominate animals that we turn into food, and to dominate land that we use as a medium in which to grow "food" like cattle feed and high fructose corn syrup.
Most importantly, perhaps, we need to pay close attention to the mindset that produces and is produced by such a situation. The stacking of these operations literally on top of each other in Hastings prodded me into a jarring awakeness to the reality that is always there: mechanized, large-scale practices of war and agriculture are predicated upon the devaluation and suffering of dominated entities. They represent a militarized mindset whose worldview of domination implies biological and cultural death.
While I like to think I've spent a fair amount of time critiquing the current agricultural system and contemplating my own relationships with my food on a deep level, my embeddedness within the system installs distance and empathetic chasms that are difficult to overcome. Seeing the many entagled layers of war, killing, domination, and food production for myself here in Hastings, Nebraska has opened up a new realm of understanding that churns on a profound level somwhere below the intellect. This understanding makes me feel sick, contaminated, implicated, as if I'm seeing myself as a jaundiced Otto Dix portrait; yet, knowing that these queasy feelings mean distance is closing and I am opening, I welcome the realignment and see it as an invitation to wake up.
Our Very Own Reality Tour in Hastings, Nebraska
26th Street Farm
We met up with Hannah Keen and Will Boal at the Hastings Farmers' Market. First, their produce goes to their 50 member CSA. Extras are then sold at the Farmers' Market. Whatever is not sold at the market goes across the street to the homeless shelter. All of their produce is GORGEOUS!
Here is the dynamic duo at the Farm! At 25 and 22, respectively, Will and Hannah are some of the youngest--and most impressive--farmers we've met. 2013 is their second year farming the 1.5 acre 26th Street Farm.
Lake and I were amazed that Hannah and Will farm the entire 1.5 acre farm by themselves. Such a feat to accomplish: "Farming has taught me a lot of real-world skills," says Hannah, "Like hustle. I'm simply not going to make it if I'm a slug." Whether biking or farming, so true, so true....
This is the chicest hen house I've ever seen! It's brightness matches the energy and abundance of everything at 26th Street Farm--the people, produce, land, and animals.
Hannah and Will hope to include farm fresh eggs in their CSA soon.
Meet Hannah Keen! She began 26th Street Farm with her partner Will Boal because, "I was really sick of feeling lost, so I committed myself to something I enjoy. I'm seeing what happens. Now, I know what I'm doing and it feels good to provide for people. I want to provide good food so there is more out there." While she makes no attempt to sugar coat the physical difficulty and time-intensity of farming, it is clear that growing food grounds Hannah in an activity that is rewarding for her and meaningful for her community.
Although we made much faster time than expected, it was a hot, windy ride from Milford to Hastings. We crash landed at the highly recommended Back Alley Bakery then met up with my Vassar classmate and beloved friend Caleb Northrop. So began the mind-bending tour of Clay County, NE, under the thoughtful guidance of Caleb, whose family has lived in the area for generations. His inquisitve mind coupled with his deep connection to and knowledge of his place made the unknown area speak in fascinating--and disturbing--ways.
Our time in Hastings highlighted for me the chilling friendship between war and industrial agriculture. The use of land, the sharing of resources, and perhaps the common mindset between these two realms, war and agriculture, demonstrate how they are connected in ways it scares me to admit. Their close connection is related historically and spatially in the present landscape around Hastings.
Located in the literal center of the United States, Hastings became a munitions manufacturing epicenter during World War II. To establish the munitions manufacturing center the government declared eminent domain and evicted farmers off thousands of acres to the southwest of Hastings. While the factory is long gone, the otherwise pancake flat landscape is bulbous with bunkers. Flat concrete doors rise twenty feet up one side, the elongated curve of the rest of the bunker covered in grass to elude enemy planes. They look like a slow-moving army of angry creatures that anime genius Miyazaki might dream up, arranged through the grass on an endless march. Ready for an enemy that never came. Under a thick layer of golden grass, these bunkers are thick concrete holding pens for wartime munitions, strong enough to isolate an explosion if one were to happen within. In addition to the obvious bulbs of the bunkers, the land is oddly lumpy.
A bunker with a herd of grazing cattle before it. More bunkers are visible behind.
...But we still make sure to find joy and have fun!
A LOT happens these days in Glenville, NE. In WWII Glenville was created as a town for the African-American workers in the nearby munitions factory. The black workers were segregated from the white workers, made to live in Glenville rather than the far more established and infrastructured Hastings.
Mulberry monsters and hay bale rollers! I'm so glad I didn't steamroll squish Lake... she limberly jumped off when the bale picked up too much speed! Up to no good in the country....
Heading West, not so much corn anymore
It had been a day full of exploration in Hastings NE, so when we drove past the abandoned mental asylum the curious ghost-story-teller inside us took charge and we went in search of something we couldn’t predict. Our first invitation for adventure came through a sign with an arrow reading, ‘Cemetery’ under a giant mulberry tree. A cemetery on the grounds of an abandoned mental asylum at sunset? Even Goosebumps couldn’t beat that.
Wild wheat embroidered the side of the gravel path, their long green underbellies arched, giving way to the easterly winds. To our right, a grove of various oak and maple trees and to our left a recently harvested hay field speckled with massive round hay bales (Caitrin and I call them tractor eggs).
The walk to the cemetery was surprisingly long which allowed our ghost stories to take the backseat and the calmness of our idyllic scene to ride shotgun. Apricot rays shifted through the branches of a pine grove up ahead. As we approached, we could see the grove was arranged in two long rows running perpendicular to our gravel path. The parallel lines of pine trees extended out upon two grassy fields to our left and right. Directly ahead was a single tombstone that read, “To all that was, to all that could have been, rest in peace.”
“Where are all the bodies?” Caleb asked (our Hastings tour guide/historian extraordinaire).
He walked out onto the grassy field and stepped onto a granite plate that read “138.”
A couple feet besides it, “139.”
In a silent moment of realization, we processed the anonymity of these graves.
The brutality and dehumanization of mid-twentieth century psychiatric hospitals and asylums became instantly palpable here. Wandering down the rows, “857,” “934,” “9,567”… I marveled at how the night prior I had been watching a lecture by Temple Grandin on TV, a mildly autistic individual who could have faced an unsavory life had she been placed in one of those institutions. To think how poorly we understood the diversity of genius that is possible merely 50 or so years ago made me question what modern atrocities are being ignorantly committed.
I lifted my head and my eyes traced a row of sunken granite plates that aligned with the uniform rows of corn neighboring the cemetery.
Their paralleled aesthetic organization made me question what else these landscapes might have in common, especially in regard to what underlying values have impacted their creation.
The first valued a starved understanding of human normalcy and ignored any psychological and physical diversity that arose around the understood parameters.
Similarly, the extremely political landscape of the cornfield values high-yield, consistency, and profit, while actively working against the presence of bugs, weeds, and soil life. In selecting a single corn genome, a form of violence is perpetrated upon all other life forms, despite the ecological and biotic richness they may be capable of providing.
What permeates these rows of granite rocks and corn plants is the power of exclusion, and the frailness of the resulting monoculture or monocrop that arises from viewing life’s diversity through a anemic parameters.
Up, up, and away into Wyoming!
Traversing the unknown to Laramie, WY
Through the Snowy Ridge lands we went!
Meet Jackie Taylor of Happy Jack Farm! See that incredible smile? It is omnipresent! Jackie and her husband Scott run Happy Jack Farm. We arrived at Happy Jack after the farmers' market, at that golden hour in the evening when everything is painted warm yellow. The warmth of the light along with the warmth of Jackie and Scott made us fall in love with Happy Jack Farm. In their two high tunnels are big cozy couches because, in Jackie's words, "You gotta enjoy what you're doing!" As you can tell, she truly does.
They moved onto their acreage in 1999. They began growing at their daughter's encouragement. Their daughter, Marya, (who prepared a magnificent feast for us!) has for a long time been dedicated to eating with intention, so Jackie and Scott dedicated themselves to scaling up their growing operation because "you are what you eat." A large swath is wetland, most of the land is grazing land for their horses, and a few acres are dedicated to growing vegetables and herbs in hoophouses and to raising heritage breed chickens, goats, sheep, and ducks. Jackie and Scott raise 32 different breeds of chickens! Each chicken produces a different color egg, and you can tell roughly what color the eggshell will be based on the color of the hen's feet. Opening a carton of their eggs is like gazing at a rainbow.
They sell their magnificent eggs, borage tea, salad greens, dried herbs, and preserves at the farmers' market. Scott's description of their Cowgirl Kisses--spicy pickled habanero peppers, YUM!--cracked us up: "They're called Cowgirl Kisses because they start off sweet and then they get real hot!"
Jackie and Scott are currently building an industrial kitchen to expand their value-added production of jams and jellies. Knowing this dynamic, ever-learning and expanding couple, we can only imagine what all they'll produce in that kitchen! They say they've never cooked the same meal twice... we love their creativity, energy, and deep love for what they do.
High Horse Farms, Laramie WY
Meadow Ranch, Rawlins WY
Dear Friends, Family and Followers,
It pains us dearly to tell you this, but we have marginally infringed upon our Biker Bandit code of ethics. It was a dark and stormy night, and we sat there starring at the Google calender in terror. We knew one thing, we had to be at the Cheyenne Farmer's Market on Tuesday the 9th. The only thing standing in our way was 400 miles and two days. "What the hoot!" We exclaimed in unision. How did our planning go awry! We gazed at each other as the lightning and thunder crackled all around us. We knew what fate we were destined to. This is how we found ourselves shamefully buying Amtrak tickets to Denver, Colorado. Yes, we skipped two days of Nebraska biking to buy ourselves some time; the shame runs deep in our biker bones these days. Alas, the only remedy was to tell our fabulous followers. If you feel deceived, hurt, or betrayed let us know how we can come clean in your eyes. In the mean time we will be riding with extra srength, ferocity, and bandit spirit!
The Biker Bandits
A minor trespass has been made by the biking bandits.
Our kindly Fort Collins, CO host Rob biked out with us on Tuesday morning after a fun night of laughter and storytelling at Coopersmith Brew Co.
Meet Catherine Wissner of Wild Winds Sheep Company in Carpenter, WY.
Here we are with Cindy Ridenour and her daughter in front of their Meadow Maid farm stand. Cindy sells grass fed beef and her daughter makes the tea mixes. We are deeply grateful to Cindy for setting up our visit to the Farmers' Market, and spreading the word that we'd be in town!
Our rigs luxuriate in the sun at the Cheyenne Farmers' Market!
Happy Jack Harvest, Cheyenne WY
First stop: Cheyenne Tuesday Farmers' Market
Jackie is one of those people whose joy is infectious. We are convinced her bubbling energy is even better than compost for making her plants and animals thrive.
We learned a lot at the Cheyenne Farmers' Market. For one, we saw how cooperation, mutual support, and organization make for a lively, successful market. These three aspects were deliberate parts of the market's creation by the four founding women who are still farmers and vendors at the ever-burgeoning market. The market also put the importance of heritage breeds in new perspective for us.
On the journey so far, we've met a lot of heritage breed animals that I never knew existed. The Rowe Family of Grass is Greener Meats back in Bremen, Indiana grew all heritage animals because they could get a premium price for their product. But there is another, perhaps more essential, reason to raise and eat heritage breeds.
"Eighty domesticated breeds of farm animals are more endangered than pandas
because their habitat is endangered. Their habitat is small farms,"
said Ladonna Foley of Foley Farms in Cheyenne. "These animals have to have a job if they're going to survive. It we didn't sell and make money off the Mulefooted and Hertfod hogs, they'd all die," adds Catherine Wissner, referring to the "Eat It to Save It" slogan that encourages us to eat more heritage breed chickens, cows, pigs, goats and ducks. On one level this rationale is counterintuitive for me, because by eating the animal I am obviously killing it, so how does it make sense to "Eat It to Save It?" It seems like a marketing oxymoron.
Ladonna and Catherine helped me see, however, that domesticated animals have always-already been tied to human use, bred and perpetuated by us for use as food and livelihood. (Bookchin lovers may object to this premise all together; debate is welcome.) Because many different breeds have been carefully bred throughout time, particular breeds have specific advantages such as heat or cold resistance, immunilogical strengths, reproductive capacity, efficient food-to-product ratios, quick growing time, various phenological characteristics and more.
Most interesting for me when contrasting heritage and commercial breeds is the question of temperament. To illustrate, Ladonna explained the difference between Naragansett (heritage) and Broadbreasted Bronze (commercial) turkeys. Compared to the Naragansett, Broadbreasted Bronzes are nasty, aggressive, and have a very disagreable temperament because they've only been bred for their commercial efficiency. Commercial farmers no longer interact on a daily level with their individual animals, rather they trade in commodities. Therefore, the large-scale commercial turkey farmer has no need for good-tempered birds, whereas the small-scale farmer who has a closer relationship with her flock wants good-tempered birds to make life more livable. The nastiness of the Broadbreasted Bronze probably also reflects their terrible, confined, unnatural living conditions on industrial farms, but that is just my hypothesis....
"There is literally nothing there. Make sure you take enough food for days. And water. Do you have a water pump? Good."
"Jeffrey City? Be advised, it's not a city. It has one bar and that's it. But that's what makes an intersection a town in Wyoming: a bar."
"No, don't stop in Baroil. All that's there is a refinery. And I don't know if it's working anymore."
"You know what's in Sweetwater Station, right? It's a station. But it's closed."
"What's the most desolate, middle-of-nowhere place you've been on your trip so far?" we asked an East-bound cross-country cyclist coming from Bend, OR.
"Around here for sure. Like north up around Dubois [pronounced DO-boys] There is literally nothing," he replied.
Those are the words of everyone we encountered after describing our route through Wyoming. With 40 or 50 miles between "towns" we knew we were headed into the real West. It would be another chapter of our journey: from flat corn and soy and towns every ten miles between humid air, we were now in the high desert of sage brush, pine trees poking through granite, and cold evenings. With "literally nothing" everywhere, we would have to carry everything we needed to make it through days of desert and several snow-capped mountain ranges. Heading West out of Laramie, WY I first saw the Snowy Mountains, a range covered in snow year-round whose broad granite chest would provide a 3,500 foot climb (from 7,000 to 10,300 feet elevation) within our 65 mile day. Looking at those peaks and thinking about the physical challenge of getting over them brought a pang to my gut.
Contemplating the unknown, unpeopled, unforgiving expanses before us, I was nervous and a bit afraid. The sublimity of nature scratched at my neck; a feeling of slight terror before the landscape's outstretched talons.
But, like every challenge, actually entering it piece by piece and mile by mile brought relaxation and joy. Over time the burning in my thighs melted my fear. As I rode I became immersed in the experience of traversing the landscape rather than fearing it from afar. It reminded me of what it was like to have a seemingly unmanageable pile of homework; as a student I learned to skip the worry and stress and simply get down to it. Likewise, my sturdy legs, pack of provisions, map, and 4L water bag saw me steadily through the Western expanses.
The anxiety became an active movement towards our goals. The "nothing" became fragrant sage and yarrow. The "desolation" became endlessly shifting soil colors from white to light brown to glowing red. The "vastness" between points of civilization became my own vast capacity to ride for longer distances at a faster pace than I had previously thought myself capable. The "unknown" became known through familiar movement and respect for the land's sublimity.
Celeste and Gary Havener live a life of complementarity, resilience, and continuous cultivation on High Horse Farm in Centennial Valley, Wyoming. In their little corner of the world, winds get up to 100 mph, which means they have had to be very clever--and a little humble--about living and growing here. When I think about what it is to take responsibility for my life, Celeste and Gary now come to mind. For one, Gary built their log home out of standing dead pine trees. Because of restricted access to standing dead trees, technically the logs are "firewood" which can only be ten feet long, so the house is semi-circular with all walls only ten feet wide. The Western side of the house (from where the 100mph winds blast) is burmed into the earth, further protecting the structure. They've had to practice similar ingenuity with their hoop houses. Their first was destroyed in the wind, so they set about redesigning better ones. Shorter, squatter, and made of cattle fencing and durable plastic, their high tunnels can withstand the elements. With Celeste and Gary's loving hands, the high tunnels produce tomatoes, basil, squash, lettuce, nasturtiums, and more!
"People said it was impossible to grow here," Celeste told us as we harvested nasturtiums, "but you can grow!" --Celeste
We fed goats, milked goats, sheared sheep, inspected fodder, and ate a delectable meal (including fresh made chevre) at a Saratoga homestead. Thank you for the phenomenal welcome, Saratoga!
Saratoga honored us with an especially warm welcome. After an interview with the Saratoga Sun, we got to spend the night in this beautiful wood-and-window river house on the Platt River.
We joined Sarah to check on the Scottish Highland cattle. It's important to go out and look at your herd to make sure everyone is healthy, happy, and here; sometimes herds wander onto others' land. The family owns or leases dozens of square miles to sustain their herd because of the sparseness of the grass. (Compared to the verdant East where you can sustain the same herd size on 50 or so acres.)
Protected from the roaming horses, the grass flourishes behind a spare door!
At Meadow Ranch, life, art and intention thrive through the work of Sarah and Josh Smith. About six years prior, Josh wrapped up his teaching position as an Assistant Professor of Art at Concordia University in Ann Arbor and Sarah said her farewells to the urban farmer’s market she had been helping to manage and coordinate. Motivated by an understanding that their interaction with food links them to the world, they sought to further explore their relationship to it and in that an understanding of earth’s rhythms. The growing desire to simplify their lives through an in depth examination of their food coincided with a need to keep active grazing or hay production on Josh’s families land in order to maintain water rights. That is how Sarah and Josh found themselves towing six Scottish Highlander cows off to Rawlins Wyoming. Let the games begin!
At Meadow Ranch, some profit driven interests are suspended to attend to values that do not directly serve their business. Especially in contrast to the many fracking, oil and gas operations we passed on the way to their ranch, it was evident that their land management model is rooted in nurturing the land versus extracting from it. Rather than pure profit, they choose to measure the number of indigenous medicinal plants returning to the land due to their holistic grazing practices, the number of sage grouse, the health of their cattle, the taste of their water, the depth and effectiveness of community conversation and the impact of their art (be that living intentionally, cooking or Josh’ site specific steel sculpture work). (Check out Smith Studio Works LLC)
While the integrity and idealism of these two is wildly contagious, they make no effort to sugar coat the difficulty of living in an intensely rugged landscape with brutal winters and biting winds. Not only are they managing a grass-fed beef business, building a home, working off-site jobs, but also nurturing the life of a new Smith family member: nine-month old Poa. Rather than sharing another winter with the Wyoming winds, Sarah and Josh are headed to Seward NE for a short-term change of scenery. As they explained, of their greatest challenges are the differences is perspective and cultural apparent between them and their surrounding community. Their proximity to Lincoln and Omaha will certainly offer a refreshing cultural landscape to share ideas in.
Wherever they go, we look forward to following the trail of art and wisdom that embroider the trajectory of these two. Keep us posted!
The flora and fauna shifted just as quickly as the clouds above. One moment wildflowers forever, and the next sagebrush as far as the eye could see!
Explorations of Landscape
Wyoming still has a rugged pioneer temperament. The people who choose to live here endure harsh sub-zero winters, constant wind (at times 100mph), unforgiving desert soil, and spacious isolation that can be healing or harmful to the psyche. Those who choose to grow food—vegetable or animal—in this severe climate are the most resourceful and determined of all. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are the highest values of the land. However, we’ve seen that people’s motivations to homestead and how the dreams manifest themselves in reality are vastly different; in fact, they span the whole political spectrum from end to end.
In Wyoming, the political spectrum stretches so far in opposite directions that it bends back on itself and meets in the middle. From right wing libertarians to self-described “locavore socialists” to free spirits looking for a pure life, a shared self-sufficient ethic emerges where the spectrum’s ends join. Growing one’s own food and being as self-sustaining as possible transcend political divides, creating lives that look similar on the ground.
Two homesteading families here in central Wyo epitomize the theoretical divide that actually produces similar results.
The Maskell Family’s motivations lie at one end. Just outside Saratoga, the Maskells homeschool their children from the brick house they built themselves. They have chickens, goats, sheep and horses from which they get meat, milk, and wool that they turn into delicious hamburgers, flavorful cheese, and clothing. They are continually innovating ways to be energetically and economically self-sufficient, including experiments with growing fodder rather than buying expensive hay and grain for their animals. Jennifer Maskell (who, in addition to running the household is in the midst of writing a book called Nightmares of the Modern Homesteader) told us in the chicken coop, “My husband is from a socialism country [Great Britain]. I don’t want to be socialized. I don’t want to stand in line for food I don’t want like they have to do over there.” She then described the future “takeover” of GMO food and how she wants her family to be free of such a GMO future. The Maskells’ political beliefs are libertarian and their aim is to protect and nourish their family as self-sufficiently as possible, without much of a social change or mutual support agenda. For example, the vegetables they grow for themselves are heirloom organic, but the vegetables they sell at the Saratoga Farmers Market are genetically modified because GM varieties are more reliable and so create more profit for the Maskells. Their self-preservationist motivations have fuelled them to create a self-generating operation.
A very different set of values inform the work of Sarah Smith and her husband Josh at Meadow Ranch in Rawlins, Wyo. This couple, “the only two liberals left in Rawlins,” describe themselves as “locavore socialists” whose vision of food justice resembles Gandhian federalism: many small, localized networks of food producers sustaining themselves and their communities through the ethic of manual labor, responsibility, and cooperation. Everywhere they’ve lived they’ve made an effort to better their community. When they moved to Rawlins Sarah immediately set about beginning a community garden and an incredibly successful fresh produce CSA. “This is a food desert,” she said, “lack of real, fresh food doesn’t just happen in the inner city.” Sarah and Josh’s dreams of self-sufficiency face outward, part of their commitment to greater social transformation.
These two families speak from opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet their visions are more similar than different: they all want to live close to the land, become completely self-sufficient, and grow good healthy food for the benefit of themselves and others. This makes me hopeful that interest in growing and providing food may provide a bridge across political divides. Generating common goals through shared vision of a sustainable food future has the potential to overcome political polarization and create the critical mass of people necessary to transform our food system.
So, let’s get talking! (Then eat, then grow, then talk, then organize, then eat again!)
Wyoming Food Politics: Where We Can All Meet (Maybe for Lunch?)
“Birth, death, sex, food and shit. It’s all out there.” Barney said as we walked along the barley field out to feed the pigs. All these essential elements of life, as well as the worldly elements are in direct confrontation with farm laborers. We are accustomed to having our wilderness space preserved behind a fence with an entry fee and it is understood that wildness resides in wilderness. The counterpart to these “untouched” wilderness spaces is the cultivated, tamed, agricultural land. But when did agriculture come to be known as a tame landscape? Certainly it has been shaped by a human presence, but the worldly elements, which ultimately shape the land, can never be claimed as tame. To do so is a cultural fiction, an error in perspective, or perhaps an overestimation of ourselves. In my experience, farmers are more in relationship with the wildness of the world than any aesthetic admirer in the wilderness. Wildness confronts the farmer daily through the threat of drought, frost, hail, flood, microburst, insect swarm, or predatory attack. To loose sight of these dramatic landscapes, to allow them to become invisible through a lack of respect is a loss for the individual and collective.