Happy Earth Day!

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

The snap peas are up! (...and I may have gotten irrationally excited when I saw these!)
Happy Earth Day, everyone! Treat everyday with respect for others and the planet, but be extra nice today!

Headline Harvest: A sustainable Passover; watching the greens grow; saving the bees

Spring has sprung, the weather is balmy (well, getting there...) and SWYF is ripe with the latest food and farm news. Take a read:

In consumer news:
In bee news:
Bees on borage, Hunts Brook Farm, 2012 - A.Gross
In farm justice news:
And, to make you feel even more paranoid about your food, you might want to check out the Food Fraud Database from USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention).

To end on a lighter note, here's really cool time-lapse footage of tomato seedlings:

Tomato Seedling Time Lapse from Dave (Splat) Le on Vimeo.

Family dinners as a 20-something

Today, All Things Considered reported about the tradition of family dinners. It's a topic that seems to resonate with me more nowadays, as many of my friends are starting their families and the what-makes-a-good-kid subject is frequently addressed. I can't speak yet as a parent, but based on how my brothers and I turned out**, one tidbit of advice that I've gleaned from my childhood involves eating dinner around or at a table.

Start 'em young: Me (right) "helping" my favorite cousin Keilly.
Dinner wasn't routine; it was something we looked forward to from a young age. Dinner was our time to unload about our day. (Note to parents: Asking your child "how was your day?" as soon as they arrive home from school or their jobs is maddening; you won't get much more of a response than an unenthusiastic "good." Dinner is the time to grill your kid; they might even volunteer information.) Both my parents worked, we didn't have a ton of money and, of course, homework and after-school schedules consumed much of our time, but we still managed to eat together. Even in my mid-20s, I look forward to sharing meals with family and friends around a table.

So, I resent the reasoning that family dinners are an antiquated tradition. It's really easy to make excuses for not eating together. It often involves some iteration of being too busy. But, what does that mean exactly? Too busy to be a civilized human being for about a half-hour? Of course, the obvious reason to maintain this important social tradition is to nourish a support system and community. Yet, in my old age, my reasoning also involves a tinge of selfishness. Sitting down to eat food with others re-centers my mental state. Sitting down to dinner with family or friends forces me to reclaim a few calm (hopefully), mindful moments. It allows me to notice my surroundings, the food at my plate, and recognize and acknowledge the unique personalities and insights of my fellow diners. 

But, enough about me. What's your take on the family dinner? 

**Oh, by "turned out," I mean to suggest that the three of us are perfect, wildly successful and brilliant. Like geniuses. OK, an exaggeration, but we are all kind people, pretty smart, extremely capable individuals...and, not to be overlooked, excellent cooks.

Addressing that farming commercial

My inbox was flooded - OK, more like, three or four e-mails - from friends asking if I saw the commercial. You know, "the farm one!" I promptly played it, and here it is (again) for your viewing pleasure:

I'll admit, I was moved. The voice of the late broadcaster Paul Harvey pronounces, 
God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.
I mean, come on! It celebrates the farmer, his rugged, weathered exterior, how he (notice the dominance of males...) hauls hay, drives combines, works countless hours, and is the master of his land. For a Super Bowl commercial and a car company, not bad; thanks for drawing attention to an iconic American hero and profession.

But, that's where my elation stops. The commercial is just that - antiquated, emotion-driven imagery of the farmer. Before you call me a buzzkill, here's my reasoning in brief:

Farmers are not quite the masters of their own destinies, or at least operations. Considerable consolidation of the livestock and commodities market in recent decades make farms bigger and place farmers under contract with large processors and companies. They must continue to produce and expand to stay viable and avoid succumbing to debt. Independence is not quite a part of the mainstream farming vernacular. Further, farms are no longer quaint family establishments or passed down generationally. According to a recent NPR report, the future of farms may not include many families.

I know, I know - commercials involve suspension of disbelief; yet, I am a farmer and am also in the midst of getting my graduate degree in sustainable food systems. This commercial was ripe for scrutiny! And just so you know, I'm not cynical. I have the utmost respect for fellow farmers; it's a lifestyle that constantly tests you and you have to truly love it. I just want people to be aware of what it really means to be a farmer today, including magnifying some sad statistics. I strongly believe that reform of the food and farm system is possible, if it's not already occurring; this new food paradigm, among other features, will truly celebrate and respect the farmer. Perhaps next year we can see a few greenhorns, women and other individuals that reflect the wider landscape of American farming. (Hmmm, but what company will use this in its advertisement?)

I'll end on a hopeful note and give a shout-out to that other thing people were watching yesterday - Downton Abbey. Daisy gets it: "No farmer's his own boss. He takes his orders from the sun, the wind, the snow and the rain." 

Seed Saving: Make it part of your food literacy resolution

I'm in the early stage of my graduate thesis project and completely nerded out over the topic of seed saving. More specifically: Seed saving and what it means for local agricultural, cultural and environmental resiliency. Yup, it's an enormous topic but it has become one that is of increasing importance and prominence in my life as a grower and food eater. I'm interested in exploring the seed-to-seed life cycle of farming and the rich networks of plants, breeders and growers involved in the process. Of course, my proposed project is a bit more complex than I'm suggesting, but rather than bore you with the details, here's a piece about Seed Savers Exchange from Iowa Public Television to give you a taste of the subject:

Also, are you a seed saver? Are you a seed saver who lives in Connecticut or (southern) New England? If you can answer one or both of these questions with "yes," comment below and tell me about your experience!