EPISODE 7: Faith Lands

In this episode we explore the works and service of farm-based Catholic worker communities in the upper Midwest. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic workers, was highly devout and profoundly independent: she emphasized direct action for peace and justice, and direct service for the poor. This radical ministry has always lain outside the institution of the church, and the formal wealth of the Catholic orthodoxy. But this is changing, inspired by the energetic commitment of Catholic workers.

Some Dominican Catholic sisters have invited workers to work their Monastic lands. This is inter-generational transfer in the commons. None of these people own the land, as it is held by the institution, but the negotiations, and strategic vision for land-use reflects the practices of charity, service and local economic relationships which are common to the faith.

Around the country many thousands of churches own agricultural land that could be put to God’s work, for food justice, land access, new immigrants, community gardens and organic farming. Could America’s churches act as a fulcrum of land access for the incoming generation, and could we build adequate institutional support for church-decision makers such that aging parishioners can gift their farmlands into a faith-held commons for the benefit of the future?

More Resources:

Mustard seed, Journal of the Catholic workers

The Catholic Worker newspaper

Water justice work, detroit

Anti racism training

FaithLands conference, Paicines Ranch

Agriculture Conference Harvard Divinity School

Jobs to consider:

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This episode sponsored by: Guayaki

If you’re interested in supporting “Our Land” with a donation, please get in touch with Ethan at ethan@thegreenhorns.org.

 

EPISODE 6: The Crown O’ Maine

It all started in a family van hauling organic potatoes to Boston from the very northernmost point of New England, Aroostook County, known as the Crown O’ Maine. Marada and Leah Cook grew up taking turns in the passenger seat beside their dad, who recognized that the commodity game was unsustainable for both farmers and the land and had set out to build an alternative path to market for the diverse crops of his region. From this small family enterprise, Crown O’ Maine Organic Co-op has grown to link over 300 family farms to market and has become a key driver for regional food sovereignty. Marada and Leah made the business into a cooperative, and their growing team now oversees a small fleet of refrigerated trucks and vans, coordinated out of a beautiful brick factory building in Vassalboro. Their leadership and vision for appropriately-scaled infrastructure for Maine’s economy can be a model for the nation. Their operations have grown to include food processing as well– Leah is now head of Northern Girl, which washes, chops, and prepares fresh Maine vegetables for hospitals, institutions, food service, and wholesale distributors, reducing foodmiles and increasing cashflow for New England’s northernmost growers.

An update:

Shortly after we released this episode, Northern Girl shut down, citing a lack of volume and Whole Foods’ abrupt decision to stop carrying Northern Girl products.

An open letter from Northern Girl (google doc)

Portland Press Herald- Northern Girl to Cease Operations

Bangor Daily News- Northern Girl food processor shut down, for sale

More Resources:

Learn more about organizations and people featured in this episode:

http://www.crownofmainecoop.com
https://www.facebook.com/crownomaine

http://northerngirlmaine.com

https://www.facebook.com/Misty-Meadows-Organic-Farm-527967277220281/

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This episode sponsored by: Guayaki

If you’re interested in supporting “Our Land” with a donation, please get in touch with Ethan at ethan@thegreenhorns.org.

MUSIC BY: jeremyrobertharris.com

EPISODE 5: Dry Land

Music credit in this video to Jeremy Robert Harris: jeremyrobertharris.com

We just keep paving. Urbanization and suburban sprawl means tarmac and concrete, convenient for drivers and cyclists, but it doesn’t absorb the rain. We lose an acre of farmland every minute, according to the American Farmland Trust, much of it to car-centric urban development. Looking across a landscape laid bare by bulldozers it’s hard not to cringe, especially when the over-paving creates the conditions for flash floods, urban heat island effect, and loss of habitat for native creatures.

Like many of our other destructive patterns, this paving trend may seem too big to shift, despite being wasteful and banal. Not so! Brad Lancaster shows us how to increase the  life potential where we ourselves live, and intervene in the system to plant shade trees, edible fruits trees, and native plants for wildlife habitat. In this episode Brad shows us how suburbs can be modified. He’s one politically savvy redeemer, and has created a city-wide change starting from one illegal act and a powerful demonstration of what is possible.

 


MORE RESOURCES

Literature and speculative fiction about post- suburban possibilities

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EPISODE 4: Access to Grazing

Market demand continues to swell for ethically raised, pasture-based livestock, poultry, eggs and milk. These products fetch a major price premium over the conventional, confinement raised alternative, and present the possibility for small scale producers to make a livelihood. Young graziers are joining the fray to meet that market appetite, inspired by Joel Salatin, Jim Gerrish and the incredible soil-building potential of grass-fed animal husbandry.

For farmers who build their own low-cost infrastructure: hen houses, portable electric fencing, moveable pens and pig enclosures, the need to own land is no longer first priority. They can improve the land they’re on through grazing, by virtue of the animals’ manure, but also from the intensive management and impact of animals, creating a state change in the pasture itself, promoting plant growth, diversity, and increased organic matter. These are measurable outcomes with benefits to landowners, soil microorganisms, the grazing animals, and water quality.

For landowners, the benefits of leasing grazing land to graziers are many and include a tax benefit for “agricultural use”, as well as the joys of enlivening pastures with contented mother cows, tick-eating hens, and young entrepreneurs.

For the farmers, it is a balance of managing a small business without clear title or much solid infrastructure, often on multiple parcels, and negotiating for fair terms and solid tenure with absent or risk-averse owners. These kinds of partnerships are increasing, particularly in areas adjacent to urban centers, where price pressure for recreation, second homes, winegrapes, and leisure activities has priced farmers out of the market for ownership. When both parties manage the relationship with care and work together, making decisions that are best for animals, place and people, its a win-win solution for local food sovereignty.

 

 


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EPISODE 3: Adaptive Seeds


The industrialization of agriculture has resulted in a staggering loss in the variety of crops raised to feed and clothe our population. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that between 1900 and 2010, 75% of the world’s crop biodiversity was lost. This includes both plant varieties and domesticated animal breeds – both the result of thousands of years of thoughtful stewardship by farmers and pastoralists.

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A loss of diversity in any ecological system is associated with a reduction in resiliency, this is the case in agriculture as well as ecology. We can mourn the lost sturdy landrace cattle and sheep able to withstand high alpine or desert conditions, as well as the little blue potatoes tolerant of drought and blight, or we can embrace the challenge to reverse the trend.

The solution to the problem of monoculture and monopoly practices, is the emergence of new producers, new varieties, active breeders and active savers of open pollenated varieties. That is what we learn about in this video. Adaptive Seeds is a new company run by two passionate young farmers, and it’s just one of the dozens of new start-up seed companies committed to rebuilding our agricultural biodiversity, and especially regionally adapted varieties.  To expand the genetic diversity and choice of seeds available to farmers and gardeners alike, is to expand production of a wide range of healthy varieties available to farmers and eaters. Adaptive Seeds has led the way by saving, preserving, growing, breeding, and distributing seeds from around the world, but especially those adapted to the unique growing conditions of the pacific northwest where they live and work.

 

 

MORE RESOURCES:

NGOs:

 

Getting into this field:

  1. Learn to Farm: Find a job here
  2. Learn seed saving techniques, preferably through work with an experienced mentor.
  3. Become a professional or amateur seed saver focused on regionally adapted seed varieties.
  4. Become a contract vegetable seed grower for FedCo, Johnny’s, High Mowing or other seed house.
  5. Grow up your own seed company. (i.e. small grains, indie seed grower/merchant)

 

You can take seed breeding courses and read books by elders in this field including:

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EPISODE 2: Distribution


We hear it all the time: “If you bought it, a truck brought it.” The average bite of food in America traveled more than 1,500 miles to your plate, which usually means across multiple state lines. The other day I met a trucker hauling eggs from Iowa to Maine, he’d just run his 18 wheeler up onto a barricade to avoid a collision. I shared some of my chocolate with him as he was quite shaken, and deeply relieved that none of his eggs had broken. Food-safety scares, recalls, and broken eggs are just the start of the structural weakness of such a transportation-heavy food supply. But how do we shift over to a new system? The answer: little, medium and big farmers working together to fill a truck, fill an order, and deliver to the loading docks of existing buyers and new buyers of locally grown foods.

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Our current food system is dominated by mega-corporations specialized, vertically integrated, with hyper-efficient sleek fleets of trucks. What’s emerging to replace it is a national network of regional food distribution businesses, each serving the needs of its producers and customers, match-making, hustling and finessing the ground-game logistics. In cities and counties across America, these food hubs, distribution portals, web-based CSAs, buying clubs, and CO-OPs are presenting the alternative possibilities for a more durable and appropriately scaled food delivery system. Let’s keep our dollars closer to home, employ more people, meet deadlines, nurture soil, and most importantly: eat the food where it’s fresh!

In a trip to Eastern Carolina Organics, Our Land learns how new distribution systems are being built today.

Here is an open source forum where we are brainstorming the functionality and context for a fully distributed, open-source supply-chain management software. If we want to take down the Big Boys we’re going to need adaptable, open-source, modular software for the small guys to get medium sized. Lets use the models we have to expand fluency across the system.

 

 

More Resources

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EPISODE 1: The Solution to Pollution is Life


Urban farming is a dynamic opportunity for food security in poor inner city areas, especially since the cost of shipping food from elsewhere increases as oil becomes more expensive. Access to local food is possible by farming on urban lots. Sadly, much of the urban soil has been contaminated by industrial uses.

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To overcome this problem, Soil Kitchen, a collaborative art project funded by the City of Philadelphia to coincide with the National Brownfield Conference, has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test soil samples for contamination. Those who bring soil to test may also eat a bowl of soup. Knowing how toxic the land is can help citizens make informed decisions about whether to eat what they grow, or if non-edible landscaping is recommended. Contaminated land can then be cleaned through a process of bio-remediation, whereby plants and organisms neutralize toxins and harmful minerals. Land that is classified as a Brownfield is eligible for a federal grant program administered by the EPA. Organizers hope that when the resulting data is mapped it will spur citizen action, political commitment to revitalize polluted municipal lands, and make them into assets of food security and engagement.

More Resources:

Learn more about organizations and people featured in this episode:

More on bioremediation from Paul Stamets:

Jobs to consider:

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