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Archive for April, 2011

Her hands are cracked, reeling from the whipping wind. Split, torn and dotted with splinters, numb to the impact of the wooden shovel. Cuts fade and reappear, garnishing her knuckles. Her palms tell the story of the day’s work, etching out the lines with black soil to the edge of her fingers, retracing every inch of land ploughed, every seed planted.

Her forearms are brushed with dried mud, some splattered onto her face. The rest is caked in every crevice of her fingernails and painted onto her faded, tattered clothes. It’s too early to see the callouses on her palms, but if you were to hold her hand, you’d feel them.

That is if you wanted to get close enough to hold my hand…because I probably smell, and not like Secret. This isn’t a poetic passage about the hands of a farmer. This is a real live description of how I, and many other women out there, look on a daily basis. Dirty, torn up and tattered. Probably not the three adjectives recommended for an OkCupid profile. And definitely not the conventional, feminine image of a woman.

Throughout history, women have been slated to be clean, soft and beautiful. With trimmed cuticles, clean fingernails and pretty clothes. Even through our feminist movements, with figures like Rosie the Riveter and leaders like Alice Walker, we still come back to the perfect images of women portrayed in Ebony and Glamour.

It’s not just in the fashion and celebrity world. Our female politicians and academics are expected to always look poised and graceful too – or get accused of being butch or a bitch. And who knew simply wearing a pant suit in the office, as opposed to a dress, would be a statement of power in the board room…they’re just pants for God sake.

But none of this is news. We’ve been fighting sexism for as long as we’ve been fighting racism. And despite the battles, neither seem to have a light at the end of the tunnel any time soon. But I do want to point out that this vision of femininity, of the nourishing, gentle female, is all backwards in my opinion.

If anything, women should be portrayed as the dirtiest, most torn and tattered beings out there. After all, 70% of the world’s farmers are women. That’s a shocking number, especially due to the fact that in the U.S. and other Western countries, the image of a farmer is a dude in overalls riding a tractor – having us all believe they dominate agriculture (and they do in ownership and profit, but not in numbers).

In many other parts of the world, the image of a farmer is a woman bent over the soil, hands cracked, feet bare, with a baby strapped to her back. This is the real female. Not the one we see in Vogue. (and we won’t even get into the countless other females scrubbing toilets, cleaning dirty diapers or sweating it out in some human rights-violating factory somewhere – but they get acknowledged here too.)

Worn, worked and wonderful.  That female farmer is feeding people, and that’s where the soft, nourishing qualities of being a woman comes from.

Although women produce 80% of the world’s food, we own only 2% of the land. Women get left out of farmer credits, subsidies, and training targeted at men.  We are also discriminated against for loans and fair access to markets. Here in the U.S. where – compared to world statistics- women farmers are in the minority, discrimination from the USDA (and everyone else for that matter – “you actually drive the tractor and run the whole farm?!”) has been brought to a head in a lawsuit settlement, similar to the one for Black and Native farmers.

Pregnant women farmers are even getting shut down by the government. Imagine, taking away the access for soon-to-be young mothers to grow their own food! Well it’s happening. Right now in Detroit, at an amazing school and urban farm I had a chance to visit when I was there, the Catherine Ferguson Academy is under siege from the DPS Emergency Manager trying to close down or auction off the only school of its kind in the country. (take action by signing this petition)

What if this and so much more injustice against women finally ended and we allowed women to take the reigns in agriculture? What if we empowered women to get their hands dirty and grow food for the hungry? According to Women Thrive Worldwide, if women had the same access to resources as men we could feed 150 million more in hunger.

And maybe then the dirty, calloused hand of a woman would be the one we’d all want to stretch out and hold.

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It’s harder to accept the singsong justification for crappy weather – “April showers bring May flowers” – when you’re still experiencing temperatures in the 20s and your poor soil just wants to dry out a little.

This past weekend, when checking the weather forecast for our first Spring Workday on the farm, it was a little disheartening to see that it was going to feel more like early Winter than Spring.

But when our volunteers and farm partners began showing up (many of them driving and riding the train all the way up from NYC) despite the rain, I knew it was going to be a fantastic day.

And it was, better than we could have planned for.

Some old and new CSA members, as well as our youth intern Harley, from the Wassaic area were the first to arrive and get started on marking out and raking freshly tilled beds in our potato field!

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement crew from NYC were the next to arrive, carrying food, tools and precious cargo in the form of a five-foot-one, 82-year old inspiration: Mama Iya Olatunji. She shared stories and wisdom around the table as people came in to warm up over tea or take breaks from bed prepping in the field.

Asantewaa from the Community Vision Council arrived by train and got straight to work helping cook lunch for everyone in the kitchen, while more supporters from NYC showed up and helped out in the field.

We wanted to experiment with having monthly workdays as a way to get our CSA members more involved, but also to provide more frequent opportunities for visits to the farm from our partner groups, friends and supporters in the City.

The experimental first day proved to be a great way to build community and weave together a beautiful, diverse and inter-generational group for shared wisdom, shared love of the earth and good eatin’.

Squeezing 20 people into our tiny house for lunch, with everyone laughing and filling up on sweet potato fries and cabbage, was so cozy and warm that I forgot all about the lack of sunshine.

Over here on rainy days, we grow community. 🙂

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You’ve heard me talk about the rural – urban divide and this generation’s disconnection with the land, which only increases the deeper into the city block we go. Now, I want to share with you an initiative I’m working towards with the farm and community I’m a part of here, in order to close that gap.  Check out the below and please contribute if you can!

Dear Community Stakeholder/Lover of Food/Supporter of Farming/Believer in Justice:

The Wassaic Community Farm and our partners request your financial assistance in a fantastic food justice and education project.  Wassaic Community Farm is a fourth year small farm project with a mission to address food justice issues in the Bronx and locally in Dutchess County, New York.  We are a part of a coalition of food justice organizations, small rural and urban farms and community gardens coming together to form a rural-urban connection and facilitate the growth of fresh food, awareness and education in the community.

The small rural farms in this group have been providing fresh food to neighborhoods in New York City lacking access to healthy and affordable food. The urban farms and community gardens have been fulfilling a similar mission with more of a focus on community markets and education. These farms and gardens have requested better access to the rural farms providing the food at these markets. They would like to see these rural farms as opportunities for increased education, gleaning opportunities, retreat spaces and strengthening rural-urban community connections. Also, the food justice organizations, specifically the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, are working in partnership with the Wassaic Community Farm this year for land space to run their own farming and food education program.

In order to facilitate this partnership and meet the requests of the urban farms and gardens, we are securing permanent transportation to be utilized by everyone in the group for travel to and from the urban and rural farms. We have identified a vehicle for purchase: a vegetable oil-powered school bus, which we have borrowed in the past to bring up community garden and food justice groups for our Harvest Day and for other events such as traveling to the 2009 Growing Power Food Justice Conference together.

We are now planning to buy this bus, called the Vroom Bus, as the previous owners are no longer interested in ownership.  The cost of the purchase is $4,500. We also anticipate registration, insurance, CDL License fee, a driver’s fee and oil/maintenance costs for the first year at approximately $2,500, totaling to $7,000­­­.

This purchase will serve as a galvanizing force to strengthen these vital connections and important work; and bring us a step forward in our movement towards food justice.

Sincerely,

Community Vision Council – NYC

Padre Plaza Success Garden – Bronx, NY

La Finca del Sur – Bronx, NY

Wassaic Community Farm – Wassaic, NY

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement – NYC

Circle Mountain Farm – Battleboro, VT

Adopt-a-Box – NYC

The More Gardens Coalition – NYC

Amazing Planet Farm and Justice Center – Williamsville, VT

Afrikan Zion Organic Roots Farm – Wardsboro, VT

Bed-Stuy Farmshare – Brooklyn, NY

Thanks for reading – I’d love if you could contribute to this rural / urban connection project.  Global community support will help us reach our goal!

DONATE HERE!

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This title was inspired by a beautiful spirit; a reader that found this blog and knows what it means to be part of a global community.  As a lover of words, I was inspired by his…enough to borrow them.

It’s seed starting time here on the farm – and we are planting seeds of revolution. Revolution against a broken food system; revolution against greedy capitalism; and revolution against oppressive systems in the food industry and in food access.

Who knew revolution came in a tiny 2 by 2 inch block of soil?

This was my first time using soil blocks to start seeds -as opposed to flats or trays. It’s a brilliant method, mimicking the land so that – outside of the metal tool to form them and a piece of wood to sit them on – nothing but the structure of soil and water is needed to hold the seeds.  This saves from using and wasting plastic; and when starting thousands of seeds, that’s a lot of plastic avoided.

Technically, we were supposed to start seeds almost a month ago (and we did start some over the last couple weeks, this post is a little behind), but due to the flood and playing catch up repairing damages to the greenhouse, we’re only just now getting back on track.

We started out with organizing seeds by plant family. Keeping them in a dry, sealed place.

Next came scheduling in start dates based on the type of crop (cool weather crops like kale start now, while warm weather crops like okra will start later); and based on how many days the seed needs to germinate and grow (parsley and peas take a while so they were some of the first to go in). Peas were put directly in the ground ’cause they can handle frost, but most other things started at this time of year in this cold region have to be started in a warm greenhouse to shield from the weather.

This means getting the greenhouse warm. Most farms use propane heaters. But that’s costly and this farm has close to zero dollars. Our capital comes from generous donations as we grow and build up our production and market enough to make income; even then, high income on small farms is almost an oxymoron these days. We’re planting seeds of revolution first; profit second.  (Not all small farms would agree with this business model, Joel Salatin’s farm in particular)

So we go old school: warming the greenhouse with an old wood stove.  Around here things are saved, salvaged and even pulled out of dumpsters.  So we acquired an old rusty wood stove that still bakes bricks of firewood like it’s nobody’s business. After building the piping for it for days and splitting wood with an old axe until it was stacked high between the soil block tables, our seeds are happily starting to stretch their arms up to the sky.

I imagine them bursting up through the soil blocks like fists in defiance and solidarity…But that’s just me getting carried away. ; )

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