Farm Photos

Monday, February 25, 2013

La Via Campesina (The International Peasant Movement)

Unity among peasants, landless, women farmers and rural youth
La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying people and nature.”

La Via Campesina is a solution story, it represents over 200 million worldwide farmers and works to bring their voice to the international table. Born from four different continents in 1993, today La Via Campesina has the ear of some major institutions including the FAO and the UN and the UN Human Rights Council.

One of the organizations main objectives is to illuminate the issue of, and fight for food sovereignty across colonized nations. One example of how they are doing this is summed up in a statement from Sasha Ross, a journalist from Earth First in an interview with Paul Jay from The Real News Network about corporate land grabbing in Mali.

“Well, the French need to maintain food security for Libya in order to maintain the business relationships that they're building currently, using Libya as a kind of proxy for the periphery. And so Libya needs food security from Mali in order to continue to produce oil effectively and stave off revolution in that country. So this is kind of a supply chain of colonialism…

And it's not just about Mali. In this case, Mali is kind of a sparkplug for the entire African continent. There was actually a meeting there in 2011 that la Via Campesina put together and hosted of land-based movement of farming peoples who are coming together and trying to figure out how to stop so many land grabs from basically dispossessing small farmers and establishing export crops, namely for food security and for luxury items such as biofuels.”

Here is the whole interview:

The Mali conference put together speakers to educate about what land-grabbing is, how it is accomplished and how small-scale farmers might go about stopping it.  You can see summaries of speakers and a written report of the conference on La Via Campesina’s website. Jun Borras, one of La Via Campesina’s founders, gave the concluding statements:

“It has been an extremely vibrant and productive conference, systematically organized by CNOP and Via Campesina Africa. Discussions were frank and comradely, analysis sharp and profound, tackling complicated issues and difficult questions. The majority of participants are representatives of social movements. The overall tone addressed to the outside world debating about global land grabbing has been “not about us without us.””

La Via Campesina memberships are open to anyone involved in farming, fishing, food or food sovereignty related endeavors. They hold annual meetings around the globe which allow people to network and talk about important issues.

 On March 3rd 2013 at the Gloucestershire at Ruskin Mill Farm in the UK they will host one of their annual meetings. This event is aimed at organizing a campaign which will lobby in UK and European Parliaments for the rights of small scale farmers and issues affecting them. According to Chris Smaje of Permaculture Magazine,

“Although many farmers across the UK are already associated with unions, Via Campesina is unique in offering direct links to experiences and activities of like-minded producers across Europe and the rest of the world.”
Brixton responded to the world-wide call by global peasants organisation La Via Campesina for 'Thousands of Cancuns for Climate Justice' to mobilise grass roots solutions and actions. London, UK.

Other issues that La Via Campesina is passionate about include agrarian reform, agricultural slavery, women’s rights, biodiversity, genetic resources, and sustainable peasant farming. They are really a who’s who of local, regional and international organizations connected to these struggles. Their website reflects a global network, announcing events going on in Chili, Qatar, Taiwan, and Tunisia all within a month. There is also a wealth of publications available through La Via Campesina and their member organizations on everything from stopping violence against women to combatting Monsanto to understanding Free Trade. If you’re interested in getting involved with La Via Campesina events see their calendar: Actions and Events

For information on La Via Campesina's members, becoming a member or donating to the organization, see their website:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just an announcement. We were so thrilled to find out that our light has been working in the chicken coop. We opened the box door yesterday to find these two beautiful eggs waiting for us. Looks like the hens are a-layin!

Traditional Foods

In recent years, a fad has hit American dieters. It’s the caveman diet or the ancestral diet, the Origins diet, Paleo diet or whatever you call it. It is based on the theory that what our ancestors ate has shaped our physiology and therefore will be the best diet for us. Through genetics and Darwinian evolution we have developed evolutionary feedback loops that exist between us and the plants which provide our food. According to Gary Paul Nabhan, an award winning author at the forefront of ethnobiology and nutritional ecology, 

“Statistically speaking, most of us are mutts rather than blue bloods, so that it is getting ever harder to select one ethnic diet that may speak most directly to our genes, the diet to which our metabolism is hardwired. This dilemma is especially evident for the 7 million Americans who identify themselves with more than one “races” – whatever a race is considered to be today.
                Accordingly, it may be more comforting for most of us to eat our way farther back in time, loading our plates with the very same foods that our great-great-great-great ect. Grandmother Lucy once served in her camp near the Olduvai Gorge thousands of generations ago. Hundreds of thousands of dieters have chosen to do just this, pledging to spend their budgets on calories, cures, luncheons, and literature that pursue a Paleolithic prescription, one that ignores ethnicity in exchange for a sense of antiquity.” – Why Some Like it Hot, page 39.

Nabhan goes on in his book to demonstrate how our relationships with our ethnic foods really have shaped us. The DNA of Lucy and of Java Man within each of us has itself been shaped by generations after. Some ethnicities have long backgrounds of agriculture, farming, animal milking, and vegetable breeding. Other ethnic backgrounds include mostly foraging, wild cultivation and hunting. These different pasts shape drastically different genetic relationships with our food. Nabhan also focuses on how central food is to cultural identity. When a culture is removed from the place where its food comes from, the people of that culture suffer both psychologically and physically. In contrast, when a people maintains its food culture, it also maintains traditional knowledge of growing, gathering and cooking it, and a healthy lifestyle seems to emerge. He uses the island of Crete as an example,

“Residents have not simply kept many traditional foods in their gardens and on their plates. They have somehow retained the traditional knowledge of how to seasonally seek out and prepare the wonderful range of wild and managed foods placed before us on the tables of the tabernas and ouzeris of Spili...As nearly everything we ate in Spili that week: delicious and dowsed with olive oil…by the third day, my gut microbes asked for disaster relief because my GI tract had been hit by an oil spill—I was suffering from stomach cramps simply because my fat consumption had tripled in a matter of days…After their faith in Jesus, Mary and the menagerie of Orthodox saints, Cretans believed in olive oil.” – Why Some Like it Hot Page 101.

Nabhan himself is Lebanese and not so accustomed to the high-fat consumption of a Greek diet. When the average elderly Greeks’ consumption of 50 grams (or more) of virgin olive oil per day was proven to improve their HDL/LDL and lower triglyceride levels, olive oil became the new fad. However, when the same olive oil drenched meals were served to northern Europeans during studies, the results were not the same. It seemed that for Cretans, blood lipid levels after meals showed rapid returns to fasting concentrations of triglycerides and apolipoprotein B, thereby reducing their risk of heart disease. Though no scientist was willing to say yet that ethnicity shapes how we react to food, it turned out that carriers of different lipoprotein alleles have markedly different responses to high-fat diets. Meaning that there is a direct connection between our genes and how our bodies process certain compounds within foods.

Overall I think the Paleo diet has helped people because it gets them off of a diet based on processed foods. If you're eating only whole foods and whole grains, without any additives or treatments (because that's how Java Man would have had it), then you are eating healthier than most other Americans. The subtle message is: paying attention to your cultural background and incorporating traditional foods into your diet may improve health.

But, it wasn’t just the physical effects of the diet that were interesting. He is giving an example of a group of humans who have developed an interactive relationship with their place and to the food of that place; in the world of plants we might say they’re ‘well adapted.’ 

“In the Squaxin Indian Tribe of the Medicine Creek Nation it was common for our people to live beyond 100 years old. Tribal elders attribute this longevity to knowledge about traditional foods and medicines that was passed down from generation to generation. Their powerful traditional science included techniques for gathering, knowing when plant was most potent for harvest, how food was processed for everyday use and how plants were used for ceremonial purposes. This knowledge was highly regarded as a sacred gift that contributed to living a long and fulfilling life.” – Our Food, Our Right, Page 40.

As we think about land, place, culture and belonging it’s useful to back up this intuition with some physical manifestation of it. Through investigators like Nabhan and the knowledge of indigenous people, we are uncovering a complex interconnection between ourselves and the Earth. This point of view abolishes some colonial assumptions:

a.       That people living ancient traditional lifestyles didn’t live as long as we do today.
b.      That a lack of infrastructure in agricultural traditions means a lack of knowledge about nature, plants, growing and propagation.
c.       That there is a fix-all perfect diet for every human.
d.      That a people can thrive just as well on any land as they can on the land from which they came.

The longhouse at the Evergreen State College with our Native Species Garden in front.
What does this mean for me, an unknown old-world mutt, as I begin to farm a piece of Pacific Northwest Land? I’m not entirely sure yet but it makes me very aware of what I plant here, what I eat here and what is already here on the land. Interesting that what may be the best diet for me, may not be what is native to this region…so this is a strange dance. But, after visiting the Squaxin Tribal Museum and learning about traditional foods, and visiting the ancient dig sites of salmon traps and butter clam fires at Ralph Munros farm, , I feel reassured that I can respect the land and build myself a garden. However, it does become very evident that we need to think of new ways to approach Pacific Northwest sustainability on a mass level and that the keys to doing this lie in the indigenous traditions, people and culture.

The spirit of Grandfather Cedar reminds me each time I catch the aroma. I was born in Washington state and my heart, if not my genes, tell stories of these rivers and these forests. If I respect all of the spirits of this place, they might teach me how to live here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Game of Exploitation as Progress

“If you're not angry
you're just stupid
or you don't care
how else can you react
when you know
something's so unfair
the men of the hour
can kill half the world in war
make them slaves to a super power
and let them die poor

I was locked
into being my mother's daughter
I was just eating bread and water
nothing ever changes
and I was shocked
to see the mistakes of each generation
will just fade like a radio station
if you drive out of range”
-          Ani Difranco, Out of Range

Desacrilization  - “occurs when a sacred item or symbol is removed from its special place or is duplicated in mass quantities, becoming profane as a result”

Unfortunately, the mistakes of todays’ generation are global. So far reaching in fact, that not just half, but most of the world is enslaved to a superpower. The biologically rich Southern nations are literally enslaved in every way; their labor is exploited, their land desecrated, their natural rights are denied. The monetarily rich Northern countries every-day citizens are enslaved in a more psychological way. Their freedoms and choices are being systematically taken away, their security is misplaced and destabilizing, their education is no longer integrated, they know only what they need to know in order to keep them consuming.
Who is this superpower? The global monopolies of big business: big-agriculture, big-pharmaceutical, big-chemical, big-weapons and big-oil. It’s not just that I don’t agree with their systems of colonization, it’s that their systems are murdering people; enslaving people; and destroying Nature. Genetic Engineering is, yet again, another attempt to further oppress Nature’s abundance; to commoditize it, enslave thousands of people to grow it, package it in plastic, distribute it globally and sell it under false pretenses of ‘health’ and ‘progress.’

It is a lack of developed ethics which is the active evil here. This culture of the white man, so intent on mastering Nature, has colonized the globe, forcing its beliefs upon people everywhere. When they don’t fall in line, they die. The first step to colonization is desacrilization;

“For those who hold the soil as sacred, relocation is inconceivable. At the public hearing of the World Commission of Environmental Development, an elder of the Krenak tribe spoke of the impossibility of resettlement:
When the government took our land in the valley of the Rio Doce, they wanted to give us another place somewhere else. But the state, the government, will never understand that we do not have another place to go. The only possible place for the Krenak people to live and to re-establish our existence, to speak to our Gods, to speak to our nature, to weave our lives is where God created us. It is useless for the government to put us in a very beautiful place, in a very good place with a lot of hunting and a lot of fish. The Krenak people, we continue dying and we die insisting that there is only one place for us to live.” – Ecofeminism, Page 104.

Many native lands were taken without offering any alternative place to go. The world was united in a belief of sacred lands, sacred spaces, prior to the influence of territorial space. The spread of lines and boundaries marks the spread of colonization and capitalism. It marks a shift in cultural consciousness from a way of thinking that is interconnected to a way of thinking that is compartmental. Imagine actually being from a place (maybe that is easy, maybe not); belonging to a land, not owning the land. It made you. You live here with the animals and plants which came long before you and are part of the place. It provides sustenance and shelter, warmth and spirituality for your whole family and your neighbors’ family. You will die here. The land will live on and your children will belong to it as well.

Once, long ago, all of our ancestors felt that way. The exploitation of space, land, and soil is the exploitation of a way of life. It’s a desacrilization of a really basic interconnected network: soil -> air -> water -> plants -> animals -> humans -> culture. To reduce these things to their individual parts is to ignore their true nature. To reduce any interconnected system to its’ individual parts is a reduction of that system as a whole and therefore a false representation of it. Yet, big-business and biotech get away with this logic all the time.

When corporations and governments promise that economic growth is going to help “third-world” or colonized nations catch-up so that we can all enjoy similar living standards, their claims are nonsense. The world’s richest countries consume two-thirds of its resources. It would take 500 years at the current rate for colonized people to have living standards comparable to Americans but Earths resources are going to run out long before then. If we were to distribute energy equally among all the worlds’ people, Americans would need to consume one fifth of the electricity per capita that they presently do. (Ecofeminism – page 60). The only thing that a capitalist growth-based economy accomplishes is making the small percent of already rich richer and the poor even more impoverished. Their motive for colonizing these nations is a rich supply of resources, soil, seed and labor to exploit for their own profit. 

“U.S. Grain exports account for 74% of world agricultural trade…By the end of the 1970’s, just six companies: Cargill, Continental Grain, Luis Dreyfus, Bunge, Andre & Co., and Mitsui; exported 85% of U.S. Wheat, 95% of its corn, 80% of its sorghum. They also handled 90% of EC’s trade in wheat and corn, 90% of Australia’s sorghum exports. Between them, Cargill and Continental Grain control 25 percent of the market.”
(Ecofeminism Page 237)

This is a similar picture no matter what major agricultural product you look at. Subsidies for these trade national corporations (TNC’s) drive down the prices of grain in third-world nations and force local agricultural workers out of the business; destroying food sovereignty (and jobs) in these regions. This is an active goal of these corporations; drive down food costs in an effort to stay if there was anyone left to compete with.  Small farms, community coops, tribal agricultural traditions…these are seen as threats by TNC’s. 

It isn’t enough to monopolize the world agricultural market. These companies think it is within their right to manipulate and patent Nature. They steal the colonized nation’s seed. Manipulate it into no longer reproducing itself and only growing in artificial conditions…claim that we invented it and call it elite, and sell it back to them at a price. Hybridization and more recently Genetic Modification are attempts at doing this very thing. Hybridized seeds will not produce (about 50%) in the second generation so farmers have to purchase seed every year, keeping them dependent and not allowing plants to adapt to various regions. 

As scientists increased the size of fruit or amount of fruit per plant ect., they also lost traits such as draught/cold hardiness or disease/pest resistance…they lost what the original varieties of those plants needed in their various ecosystems. Only the land-races, the original varieties often grown by small traditional farmers, possess the genetic information for those lost traits (the ability to grow without inputs)…yet reduction science refers to these varieties as ‘primitive’ and genetic engineering is putting them at risk forever.

Corporations push for hybridization and genetic modification because they can patent these seeds as their own ‘intellectual property’. Under these laws, they’re claiming to have invented a corn seed or a soy seed. This is a distortion of what they actually did, which is manipulating a renewable resource into becoming a non-renewable resource. They can actually persecute farmers whose crops are contaminated by their seed. They have legally forbid scientists from further testing their technologies under this claim of ‘intellectual property.’ Without peer consideration, review and trial how do we know that anything these companies are selling us is safe?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Care without Being Cared About: The Awakening

“It’s common sense; essentially it’s saying what’s important…what matters? And you realize that what’s important is time to do the things you want to do, like playing the flute. You start thinking about time and you realize you’re working a lot of hours to buy all of this stuff so if you cut back on your stuff you can save money and maybe you can work less. I expected to be a Community College president one day, but I realized that in order to move up in community college administration…you’ve got to be a duller person. So, I started thinking about my work with simple living as my art and I became an artist.” – Cecile Andrews

Cecile is the author of several books on the joy of simple living and how it can save the planet. As we discuss all of these food issues, climate issues, peak oil issues I want to bring it all in around one glory hole we are circling. Because, this isn’t just a matter of changing the car you drive, the light bulbs you buy….it’s not just a matter of eating organic or growing your own food, it’s not just a matter of being an activist, or choosing to live in a tiny house…those are all things we do because of what many call The Awakening.

This is a matter of literally shifting the way we view our purpose, ourselves, each other…it is a change in human consciousness. In her works, Cecile Andrews discusses the way that simple living is a joy that just dawns on us when we finally choose to let go of some of our old believe systems. We have an illusory belief that money equals security. When Cecile and her husband received an advance for a book that he had written they wanted to pay off their house. Their financial advisor said, no, no that’s not what you want to do. With this money you can invest and make more money! But, Cecile and her husband didn’t want more money, they wanted security. That’s what really makes human beings happy…security, community and purpose.  These values are really important, and they are available through simple community living.

Cecile and her group have started a handful of social movements in Victoria, BC, including ‘Take Back your Time Day,’ and their own local ‘Gross National Happiness Movement.’ These are attempts to reach a broader audience about the joys and benefits of simple living. They are asking, “What is success to you, really?” People are working to save money so they can sit back and enjoy life…except Americans are working harder now than ever before compared to anyone. They have less time, less joy, more stress, more competition. Enjoying life is a right we all have simply by being born, not something we should be competing for.

Gross National Happiness is a global movement started in the 1970’s by the prime minister of the tiny country of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley. It seeks to re-address where people put their security of all kinds: economic, social, food, housing. Instead of putting our security into profit and money, if we put our security into other people, we will get a stable, sustainable, happier society. For example in food production, if we were to support local farmers, then suddenly we have a de-centralized food system where each community is its own sovereign producer of its own food. This type of economy lessens the gap that exists between the rich and poor. It connects people within communities, provides local jobs and keeps money flowing in the local region. 

What am I saying? I’m saying that this is the kingdom of heaven, this is paradise, but we’ve forgotten how to live in the garden. I’m also saying that the walls come down once the awakening begins…like dominos. Suddenly, the stress of the rat race falls away and euphoria begins to surround you. You find joy in EVERYTHING from doing the dishes to cooking, talking with the neighbors. You have time to do things for yourself and others which instills purpose and drive. 

But, in order to have an awakening we have to let go of our belief that money buys care: health care, home care, child care. In fact, this theme of ‘caring’ is incredibly potent throughout these issues. I am going to switch gears for a moment. Recently I read about psychopaths. In today’s American society about one of every one hundred people is medically a psychopath. This is a person who does not feel love or caring, and this condition is no longer just psychological. Psychopathy can be medically recognized and diagnosed, it is a genetic mutation. I find it fascinating that in a society which seems to have a phobia for expressing care without attaching some monetary value to it, psychopathy is prevalent. 

I am entirely speculating, but I think it is informed speculation. The field of epigenetics is young and wildly interesting. It explores the idea that certain hormones in the body can literally ‘hide’ certain genes, effectively turning them off, due to biological influences rather than previously known genetic exchange. This was a discovery that explained how environmental and biological factors affecting our grandparents and parents could result in phenotypic variation in offspring. Scientists are starting to find epigenetic factors that link to cancer, autism, even obesity…perhaps psychopathy? Andrew P. Feinberg, Rafael A. Irizarry and Peter T. Ellison wrote a paper titled: Stochastic Epigenetic Variation as a Driving Force of Development Evolutionary Adaptation, and Disease

Is it possible that we are creating phenotypic variation because of a social stress? The stress being a lack of development along lines of ‘caring’ coupled with a constant pressure to produce and advance. We see this type of system, and most human beings not flourishing within it…why wouldn’t Nature drive evolution to create a human who would? These things happen fast, do we have time to stop and talk about where we want our evolution to go?

Can we heal this derailing train through simple living, communal security and teaching universal care?

My suggestions for people wanting out of the rat race: Care without being cared about, live without being told how to live, produce without worrying about compensation, do without striving to ‘achieve’, don’t put so much faith in money and try to put some security into your friends, neighbors, family and Nature’s abundance. 

Reading and Reference:

Cecile on an episode of Peak Moment, discussion her philosophies.