Week 7: July 13-19
July 13: Learning what "City" means in Wyoming
Doyle Family Farm, Riverton WY
We woke up at dawn to help DeeAnn milk two of their cows, a Brown Swiss and a Jersey. The cows love being milked so much that one ran into the milking stall and started dribbling milk out of one teet before the machine was even attached!
The milk is food for everyone, including the calves, chickens, and humans! DeeAnn taught us how to make two kinds of cheese: rosemary mozzarella and jalepeno queso fresco. Lake has never been a big milk fan, until the flavorful, nutritous raw milk got her drinking whole glasses!
The Miracles of Milk!
Indeed, raw milk is the best thing ever. It contains vitamins, minerals, antibodies, and good fat. For women especially, fat is necessary for the absorption of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium.
We've also heard many raw milk miracle tales. The family that lives on the Doyle's farm have two sons, one of which was suffering from extensive skin irritation and dryness. Once the family moved onto the farm, they got him drinking plenty of raw milk everyday, and the skin rashes went away. Everyone involved attributes his improved health to drinking raw milk.
Of course, one issue with raw milk is that it is unpasteurized so could theoretically contain harmful bacteria. This is true, which is why I couldn't conceive of raw milk succeeding on a commercial scale. The care that DeeAnn puts in to keeping healthy animals, happy animals, sanitized equipment, bottles, and areas, and the great passion the family shares all make me feel beyond comfortable drinking raw milk. Raw milk is a gift that we have been fortunate to be given on this trip!
Deann is the bees knees. We got suited up with smoke and went to go check on the bees. They were doing great, but not quite ready for harvesting honey.
Moving cows around with Steve Doyle. It's been a five-year conversion process from conventional to organic grazing, and Steve says they're finally "turning a corner. I think this year will be our best yet."
If there's one thing that all small-scale farmers have in common it's PROJECTS! One of the Doyle's projects was building their exquisite straw bale house--including growing the hay, baling it, and constructing the whole thing themselves. Many of the beautiful touches, like the French doors Deann shows me, were borrowed from an old farm house also on their property. The self-sufficient farmer never has just one thing going on!
We ended our full day at the Doyle's with a potluck gathering of many farmer friends in the area (also jokingly known as the Democratic Core). We were so happy that our little presence also gave them the opportunity to get together. Plus, we love parties where there are practically as many desserts as there are savory dishes! It was a thoroughly enjoyable time bookended by a glorious sunset. Thank you, Doyle Family!
July 17: An uphill climb to Crowhart, WY
Willow Ranch, Crowhart WY
The tom shows off for the ladies
Ramos the guard llama! Apparently he does an excellent job.
The day's most desperate snack: nori and peanut butter...
Marcia and Rob sustain and are sustained by Willow Creek Ranch, tucked into this green valley just south of Crowhart. The cottonwood trees have been growing since Marcia's family first homesteaded on the land in 1917, and together Marcia and Rob have planted hundreds more. They are entirely off the grid; they ordered the electricity company to take down the wires and poles, and instead they use their self-generated solar and wind power. Like many small farmers we've met here in Wyoming, the pair also organically grow most of their own food including vegetables, chickens, and all possible milk products. They begrudgingly go into town, Riverton, about once a month.
This lifestyle is wakefulness. The way Marcia and Rob live and consume is entirely in line with their ideals. Their ethic is all-encompassing because they truly live as low-impact as possible. To maintain this level of self-sufficiency they must pay unflagging attention to the land and the animals they care for. Everyday they observe the plants to make sure they have enough water, that the bugs are being managed properly, and to harvest daily. They carefully observe the cows and sheep, checking on their health, behavior, coat, eating, and relationships with other animals.
Small-scale farmers like Marcia and Deann from the Doyle Family Farm are in constant engagement with their place. Every day in their life is lived in direct relationship between themselves, their family, their land, animals, plants, food, and energy production and consumption. There is no laziness, thoughtlessness, or forgetfulness when many animals' lives depend on them, and, in turn, when their life depends upon their animals. Rather, life is made of careful attention, nurturing, usefulness, balance and total responsibility--driven entirely by joy and passionate dedication to making the world more healthy.
It is the awakened life.
Meet Matt Szmurlo, a farmer and rancher in Kinnear, WY who's just about to call it quits on his organic farming endeavor. Stay tuned for an upcoming story....
What are the major obstacles for small-scale food producers here in Wyoming? 1) weather: it is dry, windy, and freezing with a growing season of only about nine weeks; 2) consumer mindset: for the most part people are not yet willing or able to pay the real cost of food, do not see why real food is important, or have trouble accessing good food in such spread-out geography; and 3) food regulations!
Ironically, Wyoming’s “live free or die” individual freedom/small government ethos rules pretty much everywhere except food safety regulations. The regulations (which are not democratically conceived because they’re not technically laws up to the public opinion) impinge greatly upon the small producer’s ability to be profitable and therefore sustainable. For example, it is nearly impossible to make a living wage selling fresh produce like asparagus or peppers; the real money is made in value-added goods like pickled asparagus or pepper jelly. However, food regulations restrict the sale of these value added goods to those with industrial kitchens. One ball park estimate for an industrial kitchen DeeAnn Doyle would need to sell her delicious cheese, another lucrative value-added product, is $150,000.00. Clearly small-scale producers like the Doyles cannot afford such an astronomical expense. The innumerable regulations also police dried herbs, beverages, butchering, dairy, and so on. They are so inhibiting that the Doyles and many others believe that industrial food companies lobbied for “the regs” to eliminate competition of small producers.
These top-down food regulations constrain small producers’ ability to be profitable and restrict and the customer’s ability to buy local artisanal foods to the extent that some folks are advocating deliberate and public contravention of what one Wyoming farmer calls the “Food Police.” Steve Doyle of Doyle Family Farms in Riverton, WY is one such farmer who has (almost) had enough. He is ready to sell the good food that people want whether it is technically legal or not.
This battle against the food regulations is related to the worldwide food sovereignty movement, especially Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Seed Freedom movement. The Seed Freedom movement is a non-violent social movement that adopts a creative conception of violence as the systemic warfare that transnational corporations and intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes inflict upon the environment, local economies, and cultural knowledge in their attempts to extend control over food. Likewise, farmers like the Doyles share this structural analysis of corporate totalitarianism and have dedicated their lives to countering this violence. The Doyle’s life articulates the values of food sovereignty: cooperation, local resilience, compassion, cultural and biological diversity, and refusing to cooperate with unjust laws.
Drawing upon Gandhi’s notion of satyagraha, noncooperation is a key tactic employed to nonviolently challenge the industrial stranglehold on our food system. At this point selling and buying homemade value-added goods like pickled asparagus is illegal. Therefore, the public act of buying and selling these products is a tactic of active noncooperation with unjust food regulations. Participants in the movement must be public and unabashed in their noncooperation with unjust laws because, as Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha asserts, it is our moral duty to visibly contradict unjust laws.
Food Sovereignty: Wyoming Edition
In some sense, farmers like the Doyles and many others who participate in local farmers’ markets are also performing noncooperation by omitting themselves—at least partially—from the economic apparatus of industrial food. Alternative markets like buying direct or becoming a shareholder in a cow (which is how the Doyles are able to provide raw milk in the state of Wyoming) are forms of economic intervention, which is an important tactic of nonviolent resistance.
Creating our own alternatives is key to the food sovereignty movement, and small-scale farmers like the Doyles are the ones who are prefiguring a more just, sustainable, accessible, localized, resilient food system. The food sovereignty movement encourages citizens to respond to the violence of corporate power by prefiguring a more just world by participating directly in creating new, autonomous food futures based on heirloom seed, small-scale food production, and the endless life that growth produces. The movement envisions an alternative globalization that privileges cooperation, advocates open access to the commons, reestablishes local sovereignty over decision-making and food production systems, and values indigenous knowledge.
The strength and relevance of food sovereignty lives in our ability to challenge authority and recognize our collective role in shaping a more peaceful world.
July 18: Crossing not-so-desolate desert to Dubois, Wyo
July 19: The mountain fun begins!
Thank You, Organic Girl Good Clean Greens!
5:00am: Alarm rings, peel selves off red carpeted floor of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dubois, Wyo.
5:19am: Brushing my teeth, the birds are also waking up with their dawn chorus.
5:30am: Crack open energy drinks. It's going to be a long day.
5:34am: Lake pours one energy drink into another energy drink: brutal combo.
5:46am: Complete breakfast of cold instant oatmeal, chia seeds, peanut butter packets, and aforementioned energy drinks.
6:00am: Officially leave Dubois in the dust (literally).
6-7:05am: Cold, pre-sun winds make us think twice about our decision to crush all the way to Jackson today.
7:10am: Streaks of sunlight, light wind, and blooming meadows make life joyous
8:12am: Kindly woman at Lava Mountain Lodge tells us it's only 8 miles to Togwotee Pass! Lake also makes astute investment in yellow moose sweatshirt. Sunny but still cold.
9:26am: SUMMIT TOGWOTEE PASS! The highest elevation we've reached thus far was surprisingly easy. Maybe we psyched ourselves up? Maybe it was the energy drinks? Maybe we're strong now?
9:30am: After euphoric embrace to celebrate our athletic triumph, spy sparkling water in the distance....
9:35am: Discover the best kept secret on top of Togwotee Pass! Will we jump in? YES!
11:02am: Catch first glimpse of the Teton Mountains from our long, luxurious, 17-mile Togwotee descent.
11:27am: Still descending. See mysterious line of cars parked on the side of the road: grizzlies?! I hope, but nay, just a caravan working out logistics. Drat. Many campgrounds are closed to "grizzly burritos" (aka tent camping) because of so many recent sightings.
11:46am: Stop at a gas station to refill water. Ask how far Moran Junction is yet. Reply, we are in Moran Junction. Huh, good thing we asked.
12-2:40pm: Thirty three more miles to Jackson! Ride down the Snake River Valley with the Grand Tetons on our right, sagebrush and wildflower meadows all around, and the exalted promises of Jackson ahead.
2:40: ARRIVE IN JACKSON!
Our longest day yet, and somehow the most fun!
3,000 foot elevation gain
9,584 foot pass
One of the upsides to traveling in your own country is that there are no language barrier, or so we thought. Just before leaving Rawlins for Jeffrey City we learned an important piece of the Wyoming lexicon: a city if defined by whether or not there is a bar in town. Was it not for this timely lesson I may have expected more than one functioning building to exist in Jeffrey City. But, thank goodness that one building was a bar… we’ll let it keep its noble name.
In Riverton, it is common wish to become one of DeeAnn's animals after death... no surprises there
On my way through this great land I have followed the path of my ancestors. From Norway, my mother’s line headed to Iowa, the next generation spread to South Dakota and Idaho under the Homestead Act, and the next generation pushed on to California where my mother was born. Likewise with my father’s family, the Swedish side settled in Iowa but were too hot, I suppose, so the next generation went to Minnesota, and the next generation moved to New York City where my father was born. Following roughly the same trajectory as my forebears, this bike trip has been a touching way to connect with my ancestors and participate in my family’s past movement through the land.
At the same time, my family’s ability to move through the land has a dark, all-but-forgotten side. One hundred and fifty years later I’m somehow replicating my family’s passage through the landscape of North America, including visiting many signs of the native people they helped eradicate. My mother’s family moved from Iowa to Idaho through the Homestead Act of 1862. From 1862 to 1934, the federal government granted over a million homesteads and over 400,000 square miles of federal land for private ownership to the proverbial “virtuous yeoman” independent farmer. Effectively, the Homestead Act gave white people free access to land in the “unpeopled” West in order to complete the whitening, Christianizing mission of Manifest Destiny. To free up this land for white settlement, the new Americans had to kill or move the Native Americans, relocating them on reservations scattered throughout the US.
In Wyoming and to some extent in Idaho, the native presence is strong but ghostly, melancholy with everyone’s shared shame or vague awareness of the Indians’ plight. Around Riverton, Wyoming where we spent time at the Doyle Family Farm, remnants of the encounter are especially strong. We biked straight through the Arapaho reservation where the government cleverly relocated two traditionally warring tribes, the Arapaho and Shoshone. “I don’t know if this is true, but it’s so twisted it probably is [true],” Steve Doyle of Doyle Family Farm told me in one of the short moments I convinced someone to talk about the Native Americans, “I’ve heard they put the two tribes together so they would… ‘take care’ of each other.” We passed signs marking the Massacre Trail, signs of a devastated people commemorating their—our—loss. On Highway 287 we shuddered by St. Stephens Mission and Indian School and its adjacent Catholic Indian Cemetery with hundreds of colorful crosses above graves. The exoskeleton of flourishing indigenous civilization remains in place names like Cheyenne, Shoshoni, and Shoshone.
Feeling the presence of Native Americans particularly strongly in Wyoming and knowing my family’s implication in their decimation, I’ve wanted to talk to our farmers about it. I’ve been hungry to expand my understanding beyond US History 101, 201, and 301 by gaining the perspective of people living there next to “the res” where the native legacy is stronger than in my home (where the Coastal Miwok have been completely exterminated except for certain place names like Petaluma and Olema). I haven’t gotten very far in my attempts to talk about the Native Americans, however, but the series of short, thwarted, or quickly diverted conversations I have tried to stage belie the current state of affairs between the Arapaho and the white settler colonialist farmers like my grandmothers, grandfathers, and those who live in these spaces now. The current relation seems to be one of distance.
With distance, despair turns to apathy and cluelessness turns to coercion. Places hold the history of human habitation and conflict. This history is visible in the landscape if we look beyond the present to what has gone before. Thinking the present is what it is, what has always been, and what will forever be, prevents the wisdom, compassion, and creativity that makes real change. Active remembering —of farming practices, nondominant cultures, and our role in the historical process—will help us make appropriate choices for a more just future.
We have to know where we’ve been to know where we’re going.