Tag Archives: Food Systems

A homestead milestone


In August my sister, Devin, and I drove two hours to collect a family of Muscovy ducks from a former colleague of mine.  Her neighbor had raised them as a small home business and couldn’t take them with him when he moved.  The ducks wandered over onto her property and hatched a clutch of ducklings; she didn’t want to keep them but she did grow rather found of the two adult males of the group.  We took two adult females and 11 six-week old ducklings.

Originally we housed them in a pen constructed of T-posts and welded wire with a dog igloo habitat.  This worked well until they were fully grown when there space was limited.  Devin helped me convert our outbuilding (“barn”) into a shelter for them with a large run.  During the three months we raised them we lost two.  The first to our dog, Dashel, who pushed his way out the side door and did what dogs of his kind were bred to do.  The second to a great horned owl one night before we had a cover on the pen.  The owl removed the adult duck’s head and neck, leaving his body in the pen until morning.  We burned the duck’s body.

With ten ducks left, 3 males and seven females including the original adult pair (named “Mama Duck” and “Masi Duck”) we decided we needed to reduce the herd. Neither Sammit nor I are comfortable slaughtering an animal ourselves at this point, though I hope to build up to that one day.  I found a place about an hour drive north of our house that would process our ducks for $8.00 each.  We made the decision to keep Mama & Masi ducks in part because we had given them names and in part because they are the matriarchs of the group and again in part because they would be tough meat.  We decided to keep one male to either line breed with or trade for another male to improve genetics.  We also decided to keep two younger females because we aren’t sure how old the matriarchs are and want to make sure we have eggs and can hatch more clutches in the future.

Last night around dark I penned the five most generic looking of our 10 ducks.  We’re keeping a male that is in recovery from a leg injury (“Limpy”) and two additional females who are easily identifiable (“Wingding” a duck with a wing that doesn’t lie flat, and “Rascoon” the only one who still sports an all black face).  It was easier than I thought to pen them.  I did it alone and there wasn’t an hour of chasing like I had imagined in my mind.  I just had to be smarter than the ducks.  They spent the night in dog crates in our garage and Devin and I loaded them into the back of the Lexus at 6:30 this morning.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this process.  I had a dream last night that I snuck into the garage and set them free from myself.  I’ve felt like I’m betraying them and their trust which I think is a lot of projection; I actually don’t think they’ve ever liked or trusted me but rather see me as a food dispensing device but I can’t help up interpret their wagging tails at dinner time as affection.  I’m not ready to become a vegetarian so I could not very well let myself “save” these ducks (that were never meant to be pets) while eating my chicken shwarma for dinner.  We thanked them for their lives and for dying to nourish our bodies.  For the short time they were alive they were allowed to be very “ducky” – given free roam of not only our property but that of our neighbors as well.  They were supplemented with a little grain at night when they were penned in a[n eventually predator proof] shelter.  They ate all the bugs and weeds they wanted and always had a pool to splash in.  They could fly where ever they wanted and waddle in puddles – in short, we gave them the best lives we could.

I cried this morning when I got back to the car, just for a second, but long enough to have my relationship with our food system changed forever.

UVM’s Sustainable Food Systems Program


If you’re interested in food justice, food systems, sustainability, education, traveling, farms, etc. then you should check out the UVM’s Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems.  It’s a 2 week program: 1 week online, 1 week on campus in Vermont.  I participated last year and I had a great time.  Applications close on May 15th.

Check out the testimonials section for my and two other colleagues experiences.  If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer what I can!

My program peers posing with members of the Green Bronx Machine

My program peers posing with members of the Green Bronx Machine

Our fantastic scratch lunch (typical of what the kids get everyday)

Our fantastic scratch lunch (typical of what the kids get everyday)


Healing Garden at the Hospital

Healing Garden at the Hospital


Beautiful mural at High Mowing

Beautiful mural at High Mowing

Inside High Mowing Seeds

Inside High Mowing Seeds

IMG_2526 IMG_2513

Breakfast in the Barn

Breakfast in the Barn

Our first full day at the Intervale

Our first full day at the Intervale

The Consumer’s Got to Change the System


I want to bring attention to a truthout.org article, “The Consumer’s Got to Change the System“, where Farmer Ben Burkett talks about racism and corporate control of agriculture.  I thought it was a great read.

“Some say the system is working. It appears to be working fine, but corporate agriculture is not sustainable. Our system of growing food is heavy, heavy, heavy dependent on petro-chemicals, on inorganic compounds, mostly petroleum-based. And then it takes too much control out of the local community. Now, it might last for several decades, but in the end it can’t last.”

I’ll be generating some original posts soon enough.  Keep with my as I finish my last semester of school, nurse yet another cold, and get used to my center of gravity changing.

Zoning Gives Me Sass


Sammit and I may or may not be looking at a farm nearby and I’ve spent a significant amount of time reading the thrilling zoning conditions of the land.  I came across this beauty:

Traditional family farms are no longer economically viable in the urban environment created by population growth in Oakland County and the Township. Farming, for the purpose of wholesale distribution, cannot survive in the Township because of the direct and indirect additional costs of farming in an urban area. Land and labor costs far exceed those of competing farms in more rural areas. Farm equipment and material suppliers are no longer located within the Township or the area. Farming for direct retail sale of produce is also non-economic. The produce departments of large supermarkets and grocery stores are able to supply fruit and vegetables at our near the cost of a farm market and often supply such goods at below cost as a means of encouraging store traffic. Direct retail sale of farm produce is limited to a few weeks a year and is extremely dependent upon weather conditions for success. Notwithstanding these concerns and difficulties, the Township wishes to encourage the use of land for farm purposes. Farming and farm land provide valuable open space within the Township for the enjoyment of all residents while still utilizing the land productively. Farms help maintain the connection to the Township’s rural past. The direct sale of produce from Township farms helps promote a sense of self-sufficiency and community often missing in an urban environment. Promotion and preservation of farms and farm land is of great benefit to the Township and its residents.

My thoughts:

  • The 10 acres of horse pasture that we’re looking at buying which backs to a wooded state recreation area does not feel like the urban environment the zoning describes.
  • The comparison of land and labor costs between rural and urban areas as well as their economic viability should not be a generalized zoning statement and is dependent on many factors.
  • “Equipment and suppliers are no longer located in the township?” But they are located just outside of the township and at the very furthest in Ann Arbor and Detroit (*cough* urban areas) which is still fewer miles than many of those wildly successful rural farmers have to drive.
  • “Farming for direct retail sale of produce is also non-economic.” Well “non-economic” seems a bit harsh but I’ll make sure to send that right over to all the CSA managers and overnight it to the Michigan Farmer’s Markets, which have over tripled in number from 90 to 280 in the last decade.  They need to know that their success,  increasing demand, and keeping Michigan money in Michigan by buying directly and locally is not working for them.
  • “Large supermarkets and grocery stores are able to supply fruit and vegetables at [or] near the cost of a farm market” is not true in my experience – I can get fresher produce from the Eastern Market for FAR less than I can get it in most grocery stores. And barring spoiled food, I have never experienced a grocery store selling produce below cost.
  • After 2/3 of the paragraph indicating how unwise it is to even think about farming, the remaining 1/3 is slightly redeeming and very confusing given the former statements.
  • I became excited when I finished the paragraph and realized that the township might support a small sustainable farm until they listed one of the requirements as needing a minimum of 30 contiguous acres, of which we would only have 10.

13 Resolutions…


…To Change the Food System in 2013

Excellent list from Danielle Nierenberg. Everyone can do at least one thing on the list to ensure long-term changes locally and globally in terms of food accessibility and health.

Those Resolutions are:

1.  Growing the Cities

2.  Creating Better Access

3.  Eaters Demanding Healthier Food

4.  Cooking More

5.  Creating Conviviality

6.  Focus on Vegetables

7.  Preventing Waste

8.  Engaging Youth

9.  Protecting Workers

10. Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers

11. Recognizing the Role of Governments

12. Changing the Metrics

13. Fixing the Broken Food System

You can check out my source here.

2012 – National Young Farmer’s Conference


Wow!  This wonderful conference sold out in 36 hours! When I sat down for breakfast on the first day I felt a little out of place, not very confident, and guilty about taking up space that could have gone to someone on the wait list.  By the end of the second and final day I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The Host

The conference was hosted by the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York.  This place is amazing and très agrarian chic.  I told Sammit that I want my ashes spread there when I die.  I encourage you to explore their website, but be warned that it simply does not do it justice.  Here is their mission:

The mission of Stone Barns Center is to create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits us all. Located 25 miles north of Manhattan, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit institution. We operate an 80-acre farm and work to:

Increase public awareness of healthy, seasonal and sustainable food.
Train farmers in resilient, restorative farming techniques.
Educate children about the sources of their food, and prepare them to steward the land that provides it.

The People

I may be biased, but I think that Farming conferences have a) the best food (which I will get to later) and b) the best people of all conferences.  I only met a handful the 150+ people present but each any every one of them was charming and wandering down a particular path toward sustainable agricultural community.  We were all incredibly different and yet I had never been in a room where I had so much in common with everyone.  I met several people from Michigan: A couple that just started farming in Midland, a campus farm manager from Andrews University, the agricultural manager of the Grand Rapids’ YMCA, and a few U of M grads who’ve worked on farms.  I met farmer’s from Long Island and California.  I met veg farmers, ranchers, land owners, CSA managers, homesteaders, and cheese makers.  I met young farmers and old farmers and couple farmers and platonic partner farmers, radical farmers, traditional farmers, and so on and so forth.  Here are some highlights of my favorites:

  • Tom, a farmer with a wicked ‘stache who slept in a sleeping bag in the field outside the center to save money who told stories of getting strip-searched in Canada because of his corn seeds.
  • Eliza, a farmer and soon-to-be sheep rancher who fell in love with local and sustainable food systems at 15 when she did a science project.
  • Angie & Joe, small farmers who grow on their own land and provide “foodie” baskets to their share holders.  (This couple is a-friggin-dorable and living my dream life a few years ahead of me).

In addition to the great folks that traveled near and far to be at the conference, there were the wonderful people who work at Stone Barns – all the apprentice farmers, the restaurant staff, the conference organizers, and the board president, Fred Kirschenmann, co-author of “Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher.

The Workshops

I wanted to attend every workshop offered.  Alas, I cannot yet be in two places at once; I will have to wait to level up before I have that skill.  Instead I went to the workshops I could and picked the brains of those who attended other workshops.

Day One:

  • Finding Your Farm: From Basics to Action – the basics of land access facilitated by Kathy Ruhf from Land For Good.  I went into this workshop thinking that owning my own land was the only option I could settle on for farming and I left it knowing so much more about options for land leases.
  • Cooking for Farm Crews – Tamar Adler (who wrote An Everlasting Meal!) walked us through cooking a week’s worth of lunches for farm crews using just a few ingredients.  She spoke beautifully about the dignity of serving farm and restaurant workers meals that have value, but are still cost effective.
  • Pollination Strategies of Common Food Plants – I learned so much about bees, beetles, moths, butterflies, and all the things they pollinate.  My favorite quote, “Honeybees are the spoiled sluts of the pollinating world.”  Rebecca McMackin from Brooklyn Bridge Park and Mantis Plant Works did a pretty good job of condensing millions of years of evolution into an hour and a half – tough work.
  • Carpentry – Gregg Twehues, the groundskeeper at Stone Barns, lead a workshop where he walked us through the tools/materials uses for basic carpentry.  We also learned how to build a wall and also how to put in a door or window into that wall.

Day Two:

  • Growing New Farmers in the City – a slightly mis-titled workshop that basically talked about the history of East New York Farms, an urban farm in Brooklyn.  I thought it was going to be more about techniques for urban farmers and most of the information wasn’t really applicable to me.  I did, however, learn about some of the challenges of growing in pure compost but I’m hopeful because my compost is a combination of food scraps and horse manure rather than the pine and leaf compost that comes from most cities.
  • Innovative Approaches to the CSA Model – great stories and ideas from Sara Worden (CSA Manager of Full Plate Farm collective) and Suzy Konecky (Cricket Creek Farm) about ways to run CSAs.  Including this amazing idea of members taking what they need each week instead of being given pre-packed boxes (with some limitations).  They also gave great marketing and book-keeping advice.
  • Tools for the Next Generation of Farmers & Farm Advocates – Probably the most important workshop I attended and how fitting that it was the last one! Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Alicia Harvie of Farm Aid facilitated a truly fantastic hour and a half where I filled pages upon pages of my notebook with resources.

The Food

Oh my god. The food.  For breakfast I ate ripe pears, hard-boiled eggs with orange yolks, and chocolate laced croissants that were so delicious and french I could actually feel my teeth bite through each of the hundreds of flaky pastry layers.  I paired breakfast with the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had.  For lunch they served quiche with a baby potato crust, incredible soup (a cauliflower one day and squash the next), and fresh baguettes.  The one night they served dinner I had fresh greens tossed in a light dressing, moist meatloaf, literally to most amazing mashed sweet potatoes I’ve ever eaten, and a great pear tartlet for dessert.  I wanted to eat at Blue Hill, the restaurant at Stone Barns, but it was far beyond our budget.  To give you a slight idea, we’ll be putting away $20/month with the hopes of eating there next year.

Coming up next…

After the conference, our time in NYC!

UVM Breakthrough Leaders Program


This past summer I attended the University of Vermont’s Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems (a mouthful, figuratively and while there, literally).  Their 2013 program has just opened up applications and you can check it out HERE.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have about it (and you can check out a few testimonials by linking through their side bar).

I had an amazing time while I was there.  In fact, this website is up and running right now because of the confidence and education that UVM’s program helped me develop.  In addition to this site, I’ve focused the rest of my Master’s in Social Work program on studying community food systems,  food and social justice, and food policy.  I worked with some fantastic people from all across the US, Canada, and Mexico and learned about an amazing part of the country that is leading the way in changing our food system.

My old blog has detailed posts on my days at UVM and I won’t make you sit through all of that again, but below are some nostalgic pictures.  I’ll be returning again this summer for their alumni event and to attend their Food [R]evolution conference.  I hope to see some of you there!