NYT Article “Trying to Connect the Dinner Plate to Climate Change”

Just wanted to take a moment to point out this article in the New York Times, which discusses animal rights groups making the most of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s report from last November that found that raising animals for meat contributes more to global warming than does transportation.  The report, "Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options," can be found via that link, along with a story summarizing it. 

The ecology of a plant-based diet has long been my major reason for eating herbivorously.  I think the report speaks for itself so I don’t have a lot of editorializing to do here – I’ll just say this: the great thing is that all our choices – whether they are absolutes, like being a vegetarian, being part of a compact or a non-car owner – or matters of degree, like the decision to choose meatless meals more frequently, buy less stuff, or ride a bike more often – make an impact. 

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K.M.K. Farms Tour Part II

When I left off last time, Kyle was just gathering a group together for a tour.  I walked up as he was describing how they’d started off with just the avocado grove that’s in the background of this shot.  Taking that crop to a farmer’s market was the beginning of what’s turned into a 10-year adventure for Michele and Kyle.  (You can see from the browned leaves that the trees suffered some in last winter’s freeze; Kyle said the waiting after the freeze to see what the damage was had been a tense time, but that despite some damade, the trees seemed to be rallying.)

Their farm, while diverse in terms of crops and managed without synthetic sprays or pesticides, isn’t certified organic.  "We’d rather be certified by you folks," Kyle said at some point during the tour, indicating their openness and willingness to discuss and explain their cultural methods.  They use practices you’d expect on an organic farm – soil-building with organic matter and companion planting being two examples, and in general, Kyle said, continuously explore better ways to farm while getting the best out of their seven acres and reducing the impact of their practices on the land.  Some of those practices will be visible in the images to come.

Continue reading “K.M.K. Farms Tour Part II”

K.M.K. Farms Tour Part I

This is the first of a set of long-overdue posts on our tour of K.M.K Farms back on May 6.

The day was a combination open house and 10th farming anniversary celebration for Michele and Kyle. Michele had long ago invited us to come down and check the place out, and we’d never seemed to find the time, so this was a perfect opportunity to see where so much of our food of the past year was grown.

Michele and Kyle farm about seven acres outside of Kingsburg, CA – the “Swedish City.” They started out just selling avocados and over the years have expanded the number of crops to include additional orchard crops and a variety of row crops as well. Michele is one of the year-round sellers at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market. When Michele heads up to Fresno on Saturday mornings, Kyle heads down to Visalia to run another K.M.K. Farms stall there.

The day was sunny and warm when we headed down to Kingsburg. The farm is just outside of town – not that there’s a whole lot of charming little Kingsburg to be outside of.

We were greeted by cheerful plantings at the farm’s front gate,and their young helper Lauren was kind enough to help me save my strength by giving me a ride in the golf cart down the long drive back to the patio, with the avocado grove on the left and the farmhouse on the right. This shot is looking back down the drive toward the road, so the avocados are on the right and the house (not visible in this shot) is on the left.

Behind the house, the patio, surrounded by plantings and a low fence, was set with tables strewn with cherries and glass containers full of flowers from the farm’s gardens.

We munched a few cherries and sat in the shade for a little while as more visitors arrived. Michele came over to chat for a bit. It turned out that Kyle was down in the fields below the house, giving some earlier arrivers a tour. She welcomed us to walk around while we waited for him to return for another round. And so we did.

First I took a walk by the herb garden. The oregano was trying to eat everything else, as mints usually do. (My little bit of it is in a container for just that reason, as I don’t have the room Michele does to let it run a little wild.)

We visited the chickens, who have a house in a shady spot under the avocado trees – pretty nice digs. At the moment, though, most of them were engaging in a dust bath in the shade beside their house.

I once asked Michele how many chickens she had, and she said, “Just enough to drive me crazy.” I forgot to count how many there were, but I could see their crazy-making potential pretty clearly. One mother chicken was enjoying a shady roost with her brood. I felt bad taking her picture; as I looked through the viewfinder, I could see she was trying to shield the chicks from me. “I don’t eat chickens,” I told her softly, “and I hardly ever even eat anything with eggs in it either.” She shifted against her brood and out of the frame as I tried to get one last shot, and I told her in what I hoped was a soothing voice, “Look, that’s the worst I’m going to do: I accidentally cut off your head in a picture. And I’ll delete it and use a good one.”

Adolescent chickens were hanging out in a fruit bin partially covered by a pallet. This was, apparently, a “keep the growing chickens ahead of the cats” strategy.

Just as I was looking at the teenaged chickens, I looked up and realized Kyle had returned from the first tour and another group was gathering. I walked over to join them.

And that’s all I have the juice for tonight…next time, what Kyle had to say, then we head down the hill into the stone fruit and row crops.

Part II of the tour can be found here.

Lessons from a Year of Eating Locally

A little bit more than a year ago now, I started a subscription to TD Willey Farm’s CSA, as part of the Locavores’ May 2006 Eat Local Challenge.

Though I undertook it, I didn’t think I had that much to learn or that much to change as part of the challenge. Being part of a CSA was a new habit I had wanted to make for a long time and it made sense to make it part of the month’s activities; getting back to shopping at the farmers’ market was an old habit I wanted to rekindle. I ended up carrying those two changes through the entirety of the past year.

In doing so, I found I was right, in the larger sense, that there weren’t major lessons I learned from the Locavores’ challenge. Most of the big stuff was already under my belt. I already understood seasonality; I could already name off the groups of vegetables and fruits that were at their best in any month of the year, and I already mostly followed the seasons when planning what to cook. I was pretty well versed in food miles as well and had no shortage of information about the practices of American agriculture.

As the year wore on, it turned out that there was a lot to learn, but it wasn’t the larger lessons that were waiting for me. Not the kind of knowledge you’d find in the text, but the notes written in light pencil in the margins, the synthesis that you come to when new experience meets up with old. They were, in short, the things I didn’t even know I didn’t know about until I found them.

Tomorrow, thoughts on apricots are the first of the series; I plan to write more on this subject in the weeks and months to come.

The Eat Local Challenge: Looking Back

It’s been a while since the May Eat Local Challenge ended. Frankly, most normal people have probably written their reflection posts by now. But I, Ms. Chronic Fatigue, sitting here with my head resting on my shoulder because it takes too much energy to hold it up, am getting around to it about two weeks into June.

So what came out of it for me?

My daily habits changed. I stopped eating frozen blueberries on my cereal (antioxidants, you know…superfoods…) and started taking a few moments in the morning to cut a local peach, nectarine or handful of strawberries into my bowl of plain puffed rice instead. It tastes like a great treat, like a light version of fruit and cream once I pour the soymilk over it.

My shopping habits changed. My goal had been to buy more of my produce from producers, and to do so with sources as close to Fresno as possible. I got my CSA subscription started, and I couldn’t be happier for it. I got back into the habit of going to the farmer’s market, and I’ve been on enough consecutive weeks now that I’m starting to be welcomed instead of just greeted by the farmers I buy from.

The produce is delicious, but that’s probably what feels best about the whole thing. Fresno has been such a struggle for us – the heat, the pollution, my illness, our disconnection from friends and family, the difficulty we’ve had making new friends here. Going to the market, and being recognized as a person, a member of a community, as a member of this community, with something to contribute that’s of interest, is where the real reward came from for me.

And I really do feel privileged to be welcomed by the farmers I buy from, because they do something amazing, something risky, something altruistic, by committing to feed others in their community.

Agriculture is inescapable in my day-to-day life – farmers pay my wage, they sit in restaurants at tables next to mine, they climb out of pickup trucks to check the trees along the road while I’m driving to work; crews kick ladders open and climb into trees, or weed strawberries, or bag onions, or pack grapes while I have the great fortune to sit at a desk in a cool office.

Hard work. Tom Willey said on the farm tour about his full-time 60-member staff, “Well, I guess I’m just a sucker for someone who’s willing to do an honest day’s work.”

It’s hard and amazing work, making stuff grow. So few of us do it now, as compared to how many did just a couple generations ago. We used to feed ourselves more, and more within our communities. I grew up with and still have farmers in my family, but most Americans don’t any longer, and the more time I spend close to agriculture, the more I think we all need a better connection to it.

It grounds us. It reminds us what raw materials really are. It removes us from the world of manufactured products a little bit and reminds us – or reminds me at least – that we are not unlike the living things that sustain us. We need sustenance, and we need farmers to provide it; they nurture plants directly and us indirectly by feeding us, by allowing us to grow, to thrive, to be protected from disease, to satisfy our stomachs and our palates.

I’m grateful to be cared for that way. I’m grateful to be fed.

T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 2

I managed to resist diving headlong into the basil, thank goodness, and had my wits about me again by the time we got to the tomatoes.

(One thing I forgot to mention yesterday – my father-in-law took these shots, as my camera batteries died within the first five minutes after our arrival.)

These were slicers, big tomatoes that we’ll see later in the summer for just a little while, Tom noted, but we’ll be getting cherry tomatoes for much longer. Those were down further, he said, along the edge of the property. On the other side of the road at that moment was the strawberry patch.

“What you’re looking at there,” he noted, “is probably the only organic strawberry patch in the Valley.” They’re a hard crop to grow without pesticides, and there are quite a few organic growers along the coast, but none of the patches in the Valley are organic. Tom described a number of learning experiences at this point in the tour. Part of the problem, he said, is that they grow so many crops, and so much of the local agriculture is comprised of just a few, that he doesn’t have a potato or strawberry or onion grower whose shoulder he can look over or who he can call up to ask advice about varieties or practices.

Lots more after the jump…

Continue reading “T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 2”

T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 1

Or: We Find Out Where Our Food Comes From

On Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, we headed up to Madera with Chimp’s parents for T&D Willey’s farm tour. It was a beautiful temperate sunny day, even a little cool that morning, with the wind blowing – definitely un-Valley-like.

We found the place without any trouble; as we came rolling up the road, we saw a couple dozen cars neatly parked head-in to a zucchini field with a crew already working in it. Chimp’s folks let us out close as they went to park the car.

I clamped my hand over my wide-brimmed hat against the breeze as we walked up the line of cars. Tom Willey was standing near the packing shed. We introduced ourselves.

“Oh, so you’re the blogger, then,” he said. I had sent them a link when I put up the picture of our first box.

“Yes!” I said. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought I’d take a picture each week throughout the year so that people can see what we’re getting and what I’m cooking with.”

He didn’t seem to. We parked ourselves in the shade underneath the shed and watched the process of pallet packing as we waited for the tour to begin. I’ve unpacked so many pallets in my life but never really think about how much it takes to put one together. There was a mixed lot of greens, chard and onions going together in front of us, and a finished pallet of potatoes nearby.

Much more follows behind the jump….

Continue reading “T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 1”