Jackson Farmers Market!
A fabulous day to be off the bikes!
helping out with Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinner
We milked it, and now it's time to ride again... Hazza!
Taking a rest!
Our bikes had the right idea getting comfortable in the shade and resting a bit, it looked so good, we decided to follow suit. Enjoying ourselves at the Jackson Farmers market, we bought a mini pie from some cute boys, tried our first bacon-nutmeg pancake, hunted for free samples, and spoke to vendors. We met an interesting group who aggregated small producers and marketed them under the same brand name. This way, a third party was able to specialize in the marketing and branding work while the chefs and food producers were able to focus on what they do best. We met the young couple who had woke up at 4:00am before market to bake the crackers we bought as well as the women in charge of branding and marketing for the group. Since it takes one to know one, I can easily say they were a good team.
We spent the rest of the day re-learning how to walk. We even dared to practice our jog, but after fifteen feet it was all too clear that we should stick to walking.
We biked out to the Mead Ranch around 11:30am to get started with the event set-up and the Outstanding in the Field crew (OITF) welcomed us like we had been with them all along. Within minutes we were pitching hay, rolling out tables, setting up kitchens and trying not to drool too much at the Tetons peaking their eyebrows above the ridge that framed Mead Ranch.
If you didn't bring your own plate, OITF has your back
Magic and wizardry are involved in pitching hay to make room for the table, a true marvel to behold!
Caitrin looking stylish and ready for action as usual
Lake masters her water poor in a sea of empty glasses
Outstanding in the Field
is a nomadic dining event that seeks to honor and elucidate the places that our food comes from. You can't expect to
order your usual at this restaurant without walls because the menu is in constant flux depending on location, season and the inclination of the regional chef that prepares each dinner. This event's menu featured beef from Mead Ranch as well as greens, cucumbers, honey, fruit and pork from local producers in the Wyoming area. While the food is gourmet, the table rules are farm style. As a server walking down the isle of chairs, it is crucial to keep a look out for the over-the-shoulder wine toss. When we switched from a Niner Sauvignon Blanc to a red Niner Sangiovese we asked guests to drink quickly or give their white wine a toss to make room for the next wine pairing. Between family-style dining, flying wine, and delicious food, it wasn't long before laughter and conversation spread between these newly introduced individuals. Outstanding in the Field allows diners to experience food from the source, helping to cultivate an honest understanding of where food comes from and what is involved in the process of producing it. The events also support local economy, sustainable practices, the valuation of physical and farm labor and the strengthening of community bonds. The best part of this event was getting to know the amazing individuals who travel the country for six months camping, cooking and cultivating relationships around food. The day ended around 10:00 pm when we all got to make ourselves plates of delicious food, take a seat in the grass and watch the moonrise in pure bliss.
Do you see that glimmering morsel of food-gold riding on the haunches of Caitrin's noble steel stead? Good, because it is way too delicious to overlook. As itinerant individuals, moving from east to west, it has felt like ages since we enjoyed our favorite Californian chip. Usually we like to support whatever is local, but today, national borders are good enough. Dearest Have’a Chips, it is so nice to have you back in our lives.
We will miss you Wyoming, but right now, Idaho isn't looking too shabby
Question of Aesthetics
Two visual themes have accompanied us along our journey.
The first inhabits a world of straight lines, polished tools hung in a neat grid formation, new and shiny stuff, and without exception, no weeds. At a dinner party, this guest would arrive in all white, with a watchband that matched the sole of their shoes. The counterpart to this guest arrives with flour on the cuff of their left arm and a large loaf of warm bread in the other, carrying the story of their day with them. In the field, this theme at times translates as overgrown plants, old and repaired machines, rounded edges, organized clutter, color, diversity and always a weed (or many) to be harvested (and perhaps made into a salad).
What we are puzzled by is what to make of these themes when they parallel such distinct agricultural practices? Without inserting my own bias too heavily into these trends I attempt to understand the root cause of their emergence.
While weeding at Rolling Acre Farms with Denise Obrien, we decided to share our question with her. “Well,” she pondered, “They do have a lot more time on their hands.” In our experience that has definitely been true. Thanks to BT genes in Roundup Ready corn there is no need for weeding; thanks to GPS tracking there is no need to drive a tractor manually; thanks to digital chemical dispensers that match yield per square yard with fertilizer input there is no need to determine what the soil needs by feel or smell. This is not to say conventional farmers are not busy, but the inputs of energy required for a small-scale farmer with a diversity of crops appears to be nonstop vigilant work. It might be akin to a regular email user writing out every response by hand one day and then perhaps delivering them via tricycle.
Later, while I was rolling out the crust for a Mullberry pie, Denise hesitated at the sink and said, “I was thinking about it more, and I realized that they don’t have that much control in what they are doing, so maybe their organization is where it plays out.”
A lack of control inhabits the world of conventional farming on a number of levels. In the most basic way, there is very limited control over what seed is available as biotech companies monopolize seed markets with GMO hybrids. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of non-GMO seed varieties in corn alone decreased 67% in the US. Farmers have little control over this shift whether they are interested in GMO or not. This undemocratic seed control has been clear since 2005 when sugar beet processors pushed for the entire US sugar beet production to be solely Roundup Ready despite push back from growers. Secondly, we have witnessed that economies of scale have lashed certain food producers to large feedlots or massive machinery that requires contracts of 5-20 years to payoff. Then of course there is the obvious contrast between planting a couple varieties of hybrid corn and soy in contrast to 40 different vegetable crops year round (not to mention tending to the usual suspects: chickens, goats and pigs). For a vegetable farmer running a CSA, "it is necessary to plant every week if you want to pick every week", this of course does not compare to the routine plant-pick schedule of corn and soy. Corporate hegemony, mechanization, streamlined crop variety, and long-term contracts certainly remove a significant amount of active, daily choice from the equation.
The difficulty of judging the aesthetics of an agricultural space comes not only from understanding the whole and the way in which separate features interact, but also in having the acuity of perception to remember what has happened before in comparison to the present impression. Aesthetic understanding in the field requires the participation of all senses in understanding and valuing the way the color of milk relates to flavor, the sound of grain rattling in the wind relates to maturity, and the way current soil fertility tells stories about seasons past. Like with any aesthetic scenario, if vision is bent on one thing, like matters of production, then of course other significant features that make up the big picture will be missed.
The intimate relationship between the farmer and the land is not a one-way street of aesthetic cultivation but a dialogue between earth body and human body. Both physical bodies tell a story with coexisting parallel narrative. Certain farmers we have met don’t believe in large machines either because they are not interested in being dependent on fossil fuels or because financially it isn’t feasible. These individuals wear the results of this decision on their face, hands, legs and arms and also in a deeper way, as their decisions about how to manipulate the outer landscape conversely cultivates their inner landscape and the way they see and understand the world.
What is most compelling to me is the way a farmer’s field translates into the way they inhabit their shed, their home, perhaps their thoughts and the way they see their surroundings. For this reason, it seems incomplete to understand farming as an activity or profession among many, for the aesthetics of a farm elucidate an individual’s way of seeing and relating to nature as well as other ethical and existential values. Farming then becomes a form of culture: it gives rise to meaning and values, articulates the world in certain ways, and frames existential conversations such as the relationships between life and death, humans and the rest of nature.
LEARN TO LOVE THE WEEDS
And you shall be rich with alternative salad until the end of your days
Idaho Falls Bound!
Hello Desert, We found you
But, can a river be lost when it dried up years ago? Philosophical questions from the desert.
We stopped at the Nuclear Breeder Reactor for lunch, (I doubt i'll be able to say that again), and checked out America's first nuclear site. While it was my first time eating lunch on the premise of a nuclear power plant it was also my first encounter reading the words 'peaceful' and 'nuclear' in the same sentence. huh? What the heck do they mean by peaceful I thought.
Lunch: Nori, chocolate peanut butter, trail mix, chia seeds and Norwegian cheese
Now an Atomic Museum
We had been anticipating arriving at Pickle's Place for about 20 miles since the kelly green signs started appearing along the road. Luckily, right as the heat of the day was picking up, we were slowing down for Idaho's finest fried pickles.
The first Bison of the trip!
Early morning out of Swan Valley
Here is the most common roadside sight in Idaho, a potato house!
July 26: Up Early (our favorite time!) and Cruising to Fairfield, ID
“The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night... All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, 'All intelligences awake with the morning.' ”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Idaho Desert Potatoes: The Las Vegas of Crops
I remember flying over Las Vegas. It was years ago on the way to a backpacking trip in southern Utah. Below me was total desert, an undulating surface of gold, brown, and sage. As we approached the outskirts of Vegas, the coiled lines of suburban developments began crawling on the landscape like veins carrying disease. Drawing closer the growth on the landscape intensified from coils to the grey scab of city sprawl. And then I saw it: the land's gaping scar, the center of the infection, The Strip! I remember the city growing out of the desert like a spreading wound.
While not quite as visceral as my vantage over Las Vegas, entering the greenery of potato fields along Highway 20 felt similarly false. We had ridden for hours through Craters of the Moon National Monument, a site of ancient lava flows, craters, and sinkholes. Where the immense lava flow has not coated the ground, all is desert. Dry grasses, sage brush, sharp stones, and a hot breeze accompanied us on today's ride, except for where center pivot irrigation lines spew life-giving rain onto potato crops.
Seen from the ground or from above, what's wrong with this picture?
Outstanding in the Field was a ton of fun. I loved the setting, the concept, the way it brought people together in a convivial spirit, and all the good qualities of the event that Lake described above. I hope for everyone to experience such beauty, joy, and nourishment.
But, this hope is part of why something within me was still left wanting after the grand event was over (certainly not my belly after all the delicious food they gave us!). One of the things that excites me most are the layered social connections that arise by sharing food, especially locally sourced food, and the sense of closeness such sharing creates. This passion of mine is what causes me to think critically about this event and its socio-political implications as it is emblematic of the kind of foodie-ism that fails to create real change. My desire to be involved in the food world later in my life makes me see where there are spaces to be filled, aspects to be improved upon, and considerations that must be included if we’re thinking seriously about creating a more just and sustainable food system.
For one, this kind of event is pure spectacle. As founder Jim Denevan described as we pitched hay to make room for the long banquet table, “People are so mobile and tech-based these days, people want the tangible experience of actually being on the farm rather than seeing a picture of it.” The dinner delivers an experiential food event that is deliberately tactile, sensory, and direct—the smell of freshly cut hay, the farmer sitting next to you, etc.—to counteract our hyper-mediated, image-based, distanced consumer culture. Spectacle, by definition, is ephemeral and shallow, existing only for the consumer’s short-lived stimulation and distraction. Spectacle is designed to preclude deep questioning or transformation.
Ostensibly, Outstanding in the Field seeks to connect their clientele with their food and with the farmer on a deeper level than pure consumer. However I feel the attempted educative aspect was lacking. OITF tried to educate the guests about production methods, source of the food, and information about the farmers and so on, but I honestly couldn’t get one of my tables to care (I mean, who wouldn’t care about the Sangiovese blend percentages?!?!? 94% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot, and 2% Malbec—why aren’t you listening??!!?!?).
There’s nothing wrong with wealthy people eating good food. At least in the Outstanding in the Field business model, the producers get paid (albeit not sustainably because of the transience of OITF moving to a different place almost daily), all the workers get paid (even though they’re people who already have jobs or don’t really need one like Lake and I on our bike trip), more people benefit because of the many local sources, and everyone has a good time. However, it still replicates the prevailing norm that only the affluent can enjoy local, fresh, organically raised food. In this way, it reproduces a status quo whose logic of accumulation and unequal distribution of benefits has caused much of the problem in the first place.
Perhaps it is unfair of me to hold such an event to an agenda it makes to attempt to address, such as justice. However, when we are talking about “sustainable food” and about reshaping the food system to a smaller, slower, and more personal scale, we need to look closely at what we mean when we say “sustainable.”
This event seeks to help create a more sustainable food system by supporting small-scale farmers and connecting them with potential customers, however, I find this prefigurative approach of growing local food communities with the belief that they will grow until they ensconce the market to be insufficient. I find it insufficient firstly because the “community” consists of people who have enough education and money to afford it. For me, sustainability involves equity and inclusion and frank discussions about the role of wealth, privilege, and race in the Good Food Movement.
Furthermore, I believe a system that continues the economic status quo in such a way is ultimately unsustainable, because it is the current economic policy that is itself unsustainable. The local-premium-foodie approach to sustainability and reshaping the food system is insufficient because it fails to address the monumental forces that have created our industrial food system and the subsequent deluge of destruction to our health, environment, and local economies: corporations and the neoliberal economic policies that give them all-but-free reign. Consolidation of corporate power means that twenty multinational corporations supply almost all of the food in our grocery stores. It makes corporations like Monsanto so powerful that they can write the laws themselves, as we saw happen in the Monsanto Protection Act. Indeed, I think attention must be paid to the structures that create and condition the current food system as they are the self-same structures that produce vast disparities in power, wealth, health, and access to and interest in good food.
All in all, this event, as it is emblematic of a larger approach to forging a more sustainable food system in the Good Food/Local Food/Slow Food movements, raises many questions in me. How can we move beyond the current rut of good food only for the wealthy elite who can afford the luxury? How can we create structural transformations that would allow local, organic, fresh food to become affordable on a broader socio-economic scale, establishing good food as the norm instead of a luxury? I am looking for the next arena where the pure joy of good food comes along with a serious critique of corporate consolidation of power, where foodie-ism and food justice truly meet. What will that look like? Let’s envision and innovate.
On an ultimate level, perhaps at some point we will need to confront the idea that perhaps we were not meant to do sedentary, water-intensive agriculture in the desert.
After a week of spending time with farmers in southern Idaho, however, I’ve come to appreciate some important differences between Las Vegas and irrigated crops that bloom from the desert. For one, an entertainment city and food crops are not quite comparable entities when we consider their necessity for survival. For another, the lush green fields that I initially found so jarring and unnaturally juxtaposed next to barren sage and sand hills I now see as marks of brilliance, community, and knowledge of the landscape.
Irrigation is the reason there are farms in the Idaho desert. Early white settlers (many of which came to mine gold and silver in the 1850’s, others under the Homestead Act of 1862) dammed rivers to create large reservoirs from which they drained water into an intricate network of gravity-fed irrigation ditches. Ditch irrigation continues to be the primary form of watering crops throughout southern Idaho.
Ditches extend throughout the landscape like a spider web, their water flowing from the force of gravity. Designing such a system requires intimate geographic knowledge of every bump, hill, gradual rise, and depression in the land—a subtlety of perception I thought only a cyclist could know! Layered upon this physical geography is human geography: who needs the water, where, why, and how much.
Multiple farms and homes are located along one ditch. These neighbors are allocated the precious water on particular days for an exact amount of time. Many farms, like Beth Rasgorshek’s Canyon Bounty Farm in Nampa, ID, fashion small rills (like mini-ditches) that extend from the main ditch. Perpendicular to these rills are corrugated crop rows. When the water is “turned on,” a series of small metal or plastic tubes siphon water from the rill into the corrugated field. The water runs along the many corrugates, plowed to create pathways for the water to nourish the crops planted in rows between the corrugates. Beth Rasgorshek, for example, gets water to her corrugated fields for twelve hours once a week. “The water didn’t make it down here for some reason,” she told us, gesturing towards a slightly dry patch of Moon and Stars heirloom melons, “I’ll go ask my neighbor to borrow some water.”
This comment reveals the cooperative aspect of the ditch system. As many people are located on the same ditch, they are essentially sharing the water. Everyone greatly depends on getting the proper amount of water at the right time, which means everyone must use only their share in order to pass the water on to their neighbor. Traditionally there are ditch meetings to discuss any issues arising from this communal resource; in Parma, Idaho, a town of about 1,700 we saw an aging building whose sign read, Farmers’ Ditch Cooperative. Casey O’Leary’s Earthly Delights Farm uses ditch irrigation in urban Boise and describes the cooperative aspect of the ditch system as an essential form of community and community building in Idaho.
Spending time with the women who grow in the desert has made me appreciate on a much deeper level the sophistication of the system, the necessity of irrigation, and the positive, communal, and cooperative relationships that shared ditches create. Yet again, I have learned that I need to pause, ask questions, and learn more before I issue a visceral, uneducated reaction to what I see.
The more appropriate question is: what's going on here?
We knew we weren’t going to see water for about seventy miles so we headed out early when the sun was still feeling groggy with our water bags full. The only rest stop along the road to Arco Idaho was the Atomic Museum, housed by the countries first nuclear breeder reactor: NBR-1. It was a mile or so out of our way but after fifty miles of sagebrush and flatness it sounded pretty darn exciting. And who knew, maybe they would even have a water fountain!
We didn’t find any water, but upon entering we were greeted by a large board that read, “Where Peaceful Nuclear Power was Born.” What logic could have possibly rationalized nuclear power to be peaceful? I was dismayed by this definition of peace that translated to mean the lack of war rather than the presence of health, equality and prosperity. This understanding of peace is embedded in a spatially and temporally stunted way of conceptualizing events and their impacts, a deficient mode of perception. Although this breeder reactor was not directly involved in the creation of nuclear weapons, it was directly involved in the propagation of violence affecting current members of society, future generations and our earth.
I found the lack of criticality and exploration in this sign to be emblematic of a greater trend present in American culture: to take life in at face value without further questioning. I am concerned by this manner of seeing our world in pieces rather than as a singular narrative thread. The difference between seeing high yield in a corn field or seeing high yield caused by chemical inputs that are simultaneously leaching into the Gulf of Mexico and creating vast dead zones. At the Atomic Museum, a mechanistic mode of seeing defined peace as the lack of visible war. This understanding, this form of sight, which fails to penetrate surface level perception, is a form of violence within itself because it denies visibility to those organisms that are implicated by the existence of this discrete nuclear site. An emergent lens considers how each component of nuclear energy production and disposal may interact to create harm and inequality. The latter understanding of our world comprehends the inevitable injustice of producing a waste product that will burden countless generations to come, the harm associated with natural gas or coal extraction that is used to power breeder reactors, the linkage between nuclear energy technology and research with nuclear warfare, the threat of a reactor meltdown, the allocation of nuclear energy toward militaristic endeavors, the placement of sights in impoverished areas, and on and on.
We are familiar with the instant gratification of sight. Familiar with the pleasure of seeing spring grass, the mesmerizing quality of a flame and with our nuanced ability to find a face on any surface, but perhaps this seeing is not whole or complete enough. In a globalized world where we are all interconnected by a shared relationship to the earth, economy, food and one another, any form of seeing that does not penetrate the surface is a modern form of blindness. But to see our world fully, we must first see ourselves as stewards of the earth and caretakers of one another. Perhaps then we can cultivate an understanding of the word peace, which is whole, sacred and inclusive.