Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Don't Criticize the Farmer With Food In Your Mouth

This month at Green Gulch it is food awareness month.  We have events like:
  • A harvest dinner prepared by the farmers and gardeners including a lot of stuff we grow (beet burgers, baked fries, apple pies, cole slaw),
  • An apple tasting to sample our 15 varieties of apples (have you heard of Mrs. Bramley? a premier cooking apple), 
  • Fun food facts every day at our work circle (did you know orange carrots are a more recent invention? Historically they were lots of colors and our current orange ones are a blend of the red and white strains)
  • Movies like Food Inc. and The Garden
We have also had a variety of talks and discussions about food and its place in our lives.  This is an issue that is very close to home for us residents of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.  Our discussions after the TED talked (linked below) touched on many things.  For example, what Green Gulch can do to participate in taking care of the planet.  And in particular, what is our responsibility given our large presence in the northern California organic farm movement?  We asked ourselves "are we doing enough?"  We are doing our part to take care of this land.  We host school groups and a 6 month apprenticeship each year.  We buy only organic food.  But we also have common issues.  Like, we sell a large percentage of our food to restaurants and at market rather than to our own kitchen.  We can make more money selling the food to the public.  What is wrong with this picture?  What kind of example are we setting when we sell our food to other people and then buy cheaper organic produce through a wholesaler?  If it seems that the world is suffering from a food and environmental crisis, should we be practicing more sustainable, closed loop farming?  Of course it is not so simple.  We are a Buddhist training center that needs a lot of staff and short term help to run.  There are stipends, health insurance and of course building upkeep and before you know it the budget is in the millions of dollars.  As we noted, this is a microcosm of exactly what the entire world is dealing with.  

But these are the questions we ask: how do we protect the planet and try to feed everyone?  Is food science the answer (GMOs yikes!)?  Can we ever feed everyone?  Do we already have enough food to feed everyone but there's an economic/social/political problem that favors a few over the many?  What do we do about the heartbreaking amount of food wasted every day in the United States?  Why don't people care? Do people care?  Who or what creatures are most deserving of our moral and ethical efforts?  Are patriarchy and racism involved?  How does no one see the link between immigration policy and the produce that comes to our table (just in case you're not sure, much of our food is still harvested by illegal immigrants)?

Maybe I'll stop here for now while I continue to ponder.  Below are some good reads from recent mainstream publications.

Follow up reading*:
  1. Edible Marin did an article about us as a farm and place of spiritual practice.  
  2. This article in The Atlantic "How Junk Food Can End Obesity" discussed the issues of obesity, conventional food, techno food, and popular conceptions about eating organic and local among many other related topics.  It was very difficult to read the article when it challenges some of the most basic tenets I hold in my heart in regards to food and its nutritional and environmental value. But maybe I have to open my eyes wider?
  3. This article was in the New York Times Magazine "Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest".  I have to commend it's originality to propose a contest such as this, something that would touch a wide audience.  They asked readers to submit essays in regards to the ethics of eating meat.  They had a panel of "judges" to pick the best essay, which was then published.  There are also some great responses questioning things like the all white male judges panel to the moral judgement included in the proposal.
  4. This video from TED, called The Other Inconvenient Truth was used as a discussion starting point.  It is similar in a way to the Atlantic article in that it approaches the food crisis from a fundamentally different perspective than many organic farmers.  It is a good summary of the serious threat to and by agriculture on the ability of humans and the planet to survive.  His "factual" statements are questionable.
* Please note that very often published material is delivered in a provocative way (ie. that will piss a fair number of people off) or attach big names in order to garner readers.  So there is often a conflict of interest and ethics in how and what material is presented. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Free The Creek!!

This morning was one of those special Green Gulch mornings.  Under a soft mist and ever-brightening skies, most of the community walked down to the 5th field of the farm.  Two by two, in silence, led in procession by the abbess and two priests ringing bells.  We arrived at the compost yard (where Kogen does much of his daily work) where a large sign was hung on our old fence that said "Free the Creek" with salmon swimming across the bottom.  We circled around the sign and Sukey our land steward welcomed us all.  She shared with us her beautiful vision of the meandering stream that runs through the valley.  Linda Ruth Cutts, our abbess, and Jeremy Levie, the tanto, both shared heartfelt and at times emotional words about what it means to this community and this land to begin this restoration work.  They invited back many many creatures, by name, who have been displaced for decades as the creek was manipulated for human use.  They also acknowledged and apologized for the harm that was done by the people before us and continued in our hands.  They loudly called and welcomed back the creatures (or at least their descendants) who once lived here.  It was so beautiful.  And it just felt good to acknowledge as a community what we have done to impact the land we love.

Some brief background for you.  Green Gulch lies in the middle of about an 8 mile watershed where water collects from all the mountains.  Many creeks and tributaries flow into Redwood Creek including the little creek here at Green Gulch.  Redwood Creek eventually returns water to the ocean at Muir Beach.  The farm that ran here before ours created culverts and damns and other ways of moving water around for use to support the animals.  Concrete was poured.   A barn was built over the original creek bed.  And the creek was moved outside of the fenced in farm area.  BUT the coho salmon are endangered, the red legged frog is endangered, steelhead trout are threatened, etc.  So in partnership with some others and some grants Green Gulch is doing a HUGE creek restoration project in our lower fields that we hope to positively impact habitat for generations to come.  This is just the beginning.

*An additional sentiment and I'll try to keep it brief.  I know it may seem ridiculous to some, spending millions of dollars on projects to save little creatures we barely even see or to have to pay for a biologist to survey a construction site every morning for potential frog visitors but if we widen the perspective a bit to allow for the future, the picture and the issue seems more pressing or precious.  Sure lets forget about the frogs for a moment but then what happens in the whole food chain as one after another species go extinct?  Also think about the great Irish Potato Famine.  This happened because, unlike the ancient civilizations in South America that grew dozens of varieties of potatoes, Ireland was basically growing one.  So when a pest particular to that variety showed up it decimated everything.  Had they grown other varieties circumstances might not have been so dire. Just some food for thought (pun intended).

"Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over." - Mark Twain

Post-racial America(?)

There are about a million links to articles and discussions about the most recent case of a Jonathan Ferrell, a young unarmed black man shot and killed by the police, this time in North Carolina.  I guess I just want to express my sadness.  My deep sadness and sometimes hopelessness about the pain caused by one human to another.  It happens literally every day, all day all over the world.  We hear about only the tiniest percentage of the cases but they are all sad.  Even when it is the death of someone that people think deserved it or when the killer didn't mean to do it it is still a mark of our failure as a society to take care of each other.  To cherish life as best we can.  To break our conditioned responses, to interrupt or change the karma, the causes and conditions, that led to us to make that choice.

It makes me think about the undoing racism workshop recently at Green Gulch.  Some people felt that talking about it made the problem worse or more complicated or something.  That we should just work towards "meeting" people of any color in the moment, etc.  Like that was all we needed to do to change.  But its  "moments" like this shooting where you see the danger of unconscious racism that is never examined or acknowledged.  Of course most of us will never be wielding a gun and have to choose whether or not to shoot a stranger but we may have words or judgments or a quick decision to make with a stranger that could impact their life in ungraspable ways.  And whatever choice we make there will be consequences we have to bear forever.  It will be a seed planted and watered by future decisions, making it easier or harder to make a different decision in the future.

I can imagine the possible confusion that happened when a stranger knocked on her door in the middle of the night.  She was alone and you never know what can happen.  Having lived in New Orleans for example, as a rule you would not open the door in the middle of the night to a stranger.  We so far have no idea what the exchange between them was, what words were said, explanations given etc.  But police officers are meant to protect everyone, assess situations before using violence, so I can't see any reason that a police officer would shoot someone who, while maybe "advancing" toward him, was not bearing a weapon.  Other than race and the assumptions this police officer has about young black men.

I am just so sad for everyone, all of us.  And in other news, people are pissed an Indian-American woman won the Miss America pageant.  What do we do?