In hiding

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I shouldn’t be surprised. I know. I’m a hoper though, a dreamer, a believer. So when our mainstream news fails to report some of the biggest stories about our civil liberties, I get disappointed. And, as the holder of a Journalism degree I get downright pissed.

It started with the NPR report this morning about the Mexican immigrant shot dead in Washington state. This morning. Not when it happened. But that’s small time.

What about the news out of Chicago that police are holding US citizens illegally in a warehouse and using torture techniques, that at least once has led to death. No booking, no phone call.

They’re probably terrorists, so it’s okay. It’s okay not to mention them in The New York Times or The Washington Post. At all.

Terrorists like a woman “who says she was shackled to a bench within Chicago’s secretive interrogation facility for 18 hours before being permitted access to a lawyer described the ordeal as being “held hostage’’ in the police compound that has been likened to a CIA black site,” according to an article in The Guardian.

The article also quoted another detainee as saying, “You are just kind of held hostage.” “The inability to see a lawyer is a drastic departure from what we consider our constitutional rights. Not being able to have that phone call, the lack of booking, makes it so that when you’re there, you understand that no one knows where you are.”

The role of the press as a government watchdog is staggeringly absent here. A Chicago Sun-Times article reports a police department denial, using the fact that “unlike other Chicago Police facilities over the years, no allegations of torture have been reported in the media in connection with Homan Square.”

Let me say that again.

No allegations of torture have been reported in the media.

This is exactly the point. And it evades the point. Torture is not reported. Let’s give the Chicago PD the benefit of the doubt that they’re not torturing anyone or handcuffing them to a bar behind bench for 17 hours.

Let’s say there’s no torture. Is that what we’ve come to? If there’s no waterboarding going on it’s okay to deny citizens their constitutional rights? It’s not torture, it’s just eroding civil liberties. No big deal.

Sigh.

 

I love black people

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So other than my personal, and pretty inconsequential drama, a lot’s happened out there in the big old world over the past year.

This post is intended to be lighthearted, but make no mistake that the issues are not that way in my brain, heart or opinion.

Since moving off the farm in November I’ve enjoyed my first “commute” in over a decade. I listen to NPR, the droll repetitive news source that jokes about its appeal to white people. I love it. The news, but mostly the special guests and other programs that are funny, poignant, current, whatever.

This morning in a lighthearted bit on NPR’s Morning Edition, listeners got movie and TV recommendations from Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the black power couple that combined are responsible for TV drama like The Game and Being Mary Jane and comedy film Jumping the Broom.

In a year that has brought such pain to communities of color and empathetic allies, their conversation was a subtle reminder that even though fewer people are hashtagging I can’t breathe these days, these issues are not going away.

Just this week three Muslims were shot dead in North Carolina. So was an unarmed Mexican immigrant crossing the street in Pasco, Washington. No one seems to care. Or else we just don’t know what we can do. Don’t believe we can change anything.

These cases come and go with little consequence. Maybe someone gets locked up, but the trend continues. The poor, the crazy, the tinted. It’s like there’s a resolution that’s been made. Someone noticed that we’re not doing anything.

Salim Akil mentions the conversation recounted by so many black parents. The conversation where the parent tells them not to run around in this affluent neighborhood. Someone may mistake this boy’s playing as running away in this affluent neighborhood. In his affluent neighborhood.

It’s a brief bit in an otherwise upbeat piece recommending things to watch. (See or listen to the the interview here). And I promised this was going to be lighthearted, so I’ll skip to the finale. Salim Akil talks about movies that are about being an American, yes an African-American, but in the end the movies are about growing up, living and being an American. Then he shares his hope that white people will watch these movies and say, “You know, I like these black people!”

I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember the exact words, but that was the feeling. The host laughs, the guests laugh, but I don’t think it was as much of a joke as it was the truth. My momma always used to say that half of what’s said in jest is true. I’d say most is more like it.

The truth is, I do love black people. As a stereotype, this community is bold and truthful. They are community-based and richly steeped in their surroundings. They are expressive and honest, and no nonsense. As long as our society deals in stereotypes I may as well get these ones out. I wish I had half the character, class and grace required to live day to day as a person of color. I stand with you, and I’m not forgetting.

Where have you been?

It occurred to me that I may owe you readers a bit of an explanation for my rather lengthy absence. It will come in pockets. There’s a lot to tell. This is the short version.

In no particular order.

My now husband and I started a farm. I got married. We lost running water. Three times. We showed up to our leased land to find the two rams and twelve ewes that were supposed to be gone were not, in fact, gone. The twelve ewes some few months later yielded 18 lambs. The landowner threatened us after we contacted animal control (after an ewe expired and was left there for over 48 hours). We successfully ran a 65 member vegetable CSA and attended several local farmers markets. We still had no running water. Our friend let us watch his hound-dog for the summer. We got a lawyer, got out of the lease and closed our farm. Moved to Rhode Island. Decorated our new apartment with an assortment of sheep skulls and other bones.

In short.

 

I’m not a crook, I’m just broke

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I was on a bike ride with some friends in Austin, Texas a few years back. It was a hot spring night and we were as we always were back then, carefree and lawless. Our steeds were aluminum, but we were outlaws all the same.

We got from a to b in the quickest way we could, although we were in no rush, and weren’t really going anywhere. That night the quickest way was the wrong way down a vacant one way street. We were only going one way after all.

The only car that happened to be needing that right of way that evening happened to be a cop. A Texas cop. So when we saw him we made for the sidewalk and our escape, except this night we wouldn’t all be so lucky. One of the officers met our leader at the curb. It was a blur that ended up with her face on the pavement. She was arrested for resisting arrest. There was no other charge.

It was her first arrest and messed up on its own, but it’s not the point of this tale. I went to the station to wait for my friend’s release after getting her bike back to the house and bidding adieu to the rest of our pack who continued on their evening solemnly. This is how I remember it.

I would wait all night, alternating between sitting in the waiting room and rolling cigarettes on the concrete outside. My concern for my friend was only that she have a friendly face when she was let out. I’ve been the lonely one getting off the bus, the plane, the train, and I imagined getting out of jail was about the same but double. At least.

So I waited, and it’s what I saw while I waited that is the point. The reason it took so long for my friend to get out that night was that it was a busy night at the station. It wasn’t for a staggering amount of robberies, or riots, or even teenage drinkers. It was the night that warrants go out for collections actions. If you owe for a parking ticket, or moving violation or any other civil charge that leaves you owing money to the government, you’re as good as criminal if you don’t have the money to pay for it.

There were dozens of folks being wrangled up just because they ran out of quarters one day and couldn’t afford the fine. These are people who can barely afford their food for the week, and they were being locked up, taken from their work, from their kids for pennies to dollars they hadn’t paid into the city coffers.

It’s illegal in the US, but it happens, and like a lot of things for people with no money, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or not.

Read this story about a woman locked up in Missouri for weeks for failure to pay traffic tickets.

Taking Away and Giving Back

I have a friend from Kentucky. Coal Country. He’s been in Yankee territory now for as long as I’ve known him, but he is most definitely from Dixie. Even his accent still shows it.

He was in a Masters Program in Soil Science when he had this harebrained idea for a graduate project. He would go back to the land of his youth with, what might be called by his neighbors, a “Northern” idea.

Those blue hills of his childhood were not fit for agriculture. You can’t put crops on the side of an arbored Appalachian slope. That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar. Many farmers prefer to grow on flat land. The thing was, some of those mountaintops were flat now, thanks to the controversial mountaintop removal method used to access more coal with less labor.

So my friend had this idea to try and reclaim those areas, revitalizing the soil and introducing an agricultural landscape. At least one of the coal companies heads he spoke with was happy to throw some money at the project. A lot of money. Especially for a good ol’ Kentucky boy.

Whether it was the perception of that money being less than clean, or the impressive scope of the project, it has not yet come to fruition.

This project may still come to be, but what strikes me is the concept of how much money there is to be had, and how we just need to figure out ways to channel it onto and into farms, farm common land and land access projects.

Groups like the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC), who are hosting a conference May 8th, are already working with similar goals in mind. The REC works to change the way colleges invest, shifting from investments that fund social and environmental destruction and creating pathways to investments that build community, a clean energy infrastructure, and a just economy.

Colleges and Universities can divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in land, agriculture and community. In a way, a big picture version of turning the abused mountaintop into a farm.

Learn more about the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC) and

Attend their Conference May 8th in New York City

Barnard Divest

The following is information on the REC’s fossil fuel divestment initiative.

College students and alumni at over 300 colleges and universities across the United States are demanding universities:

Stop: Freeze new investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Drop: Divest and implement screens to ensure their portfolios are fossil free within the next 5 years.

Roll: Reinvest 5% of their endowment into community and energy solutions like credit unions and revolving loan funds.

Fossil fuel companies like Chevron, Shell, and Exxon are responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Most directly affected communities that have been fighting these extractive industries for decades have called for support from students. Divestment is a way to take action against these corporations locally, and end the silence around the deadly impacts of fossil fuels.

Additionally, as supported by the newest IPCC report, the urgency of climate change cannot be overstated. The burning of fossil fuels is the leading contributor to climate change. Divestment and reinvestment not only tackles the root of this problem, but spurs the development of innovative sustainable technologies and enables communities to creatively come up with solutions by investing money directly into community-controlled institutions.

We are asking for 5 percent of the endowment to be reinvested in climate solutions, with 1 percent in community investment and 4 percent in traditional endowment asset classes.  For specific examples of appropriate reinvestment, click here.

Sign up here to let us know you are interested in getting in touch with a REC staff member for support on your fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment campaign. You can also send an email to organize@endowmentethics.org.

For more resources on fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment, click here.

Not a vegetarian

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There was a time in my life when I would be surprised, in certain circles, were someone to say that they were not a vegetarian.

Of course, I was a teenage girl in the 90s who listened to a steady rotation of the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco. One year I gave up red meat for lent (although even at the time church was something I tried to get out of at all costs) and for nine years afterwards went down the winding road of vegetarianism, even bottoming out for a full week of being vegan.

I was the girl that wrote the well-researched editorial for the university newspaper encouraging others to ditch the blood thirst. I cited the environmental impact, the cost to taxpayers through meat-industry subsidies and of course love for the little furry guys.

As you may have guessed, I have matured since then. The hot pink once in my hair is visible only in a few hard-to-find photographs. Where once there was a thin metal ring dividing my bottom lip, there is only a pin-point scar. Now, not only do I eat chicken — I’ve slaughtered them.

Many new young farmers point to their involvement with agriculture as the catalyst for their reintroduction to the omnivorous lifestyle. Mine was not quite like that, although the farm will come back around as the point of this story.

I was slinging sandwiches at a busy bakery cafe in Portland, Oregon. Sometimes, we messed up. They wanted dijon, not honey mustard. Smoked turkey, not roasted. Any combination of things could go wrong. At the end of the day we could have four or five sandwiches that would just go in the garbage. Until they didn’t. Because I ate them. It was awesome. Meat. Is delicious.

Then, of course, my body got used to the new proteins and soon enough I was fully (and happily) back on the hamburger express. I ate meat with full knowledge of the meat industries downfalls, and with a little guilt . . . sometimes. Mostly, I just figured, this is how the world is and I would be thankful that I had food to eat at all (another form of guilt learned from Guatemalan co-workers who shook their heads back in my vegetarian days).

A few years later I was in Massachusetts working harder and longer than ever before, hauling grain and moving fence for the happiest pigs, sheep and cows I could imagine. Slowly, the guilt began to fade. Good animal husbandry and well cared for animals would put a dinner on the table that I could live with, appreciating the life that was sacrificed.

This is the compromise I’ve come to with my morals, and it tastes better, on all fronts. The freshness of farm products is unachievable by factory meat, milk, eggs and cheese. I sometimes cringe at the price tags, but remember that I am paying for my neighbors good work and swallow the extra cost.

In so many ways, it is worth it. Supporting farmers, but also supporting ourselves. This is how we nourish ourselves. What do we want to feed the person that must get up everyday and continue to go on and do good in the world?

This short 6-minute video is a tasteful exposure of what mass meat and dairy looks like. It’s worth a watch.

Growing from the Cracks

The Food Growing program started 5 or 6 years ago when the county jail donated ½ an acre of land to the Food Bank for Westchester (NY) as a vocational training garden. A few years later, they acquired another ¼ acre at a school for disadvantaged youth in Yonkers.

The focus then was mainly on education and training, explained Doug DeCandia who became the Food Growing Program coordinator three years ago, when the food bank decided that they wanted to increase production.

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At that point, the program expanded production in Yonkers to a little over ⅓ of an acre and started a garden at a juvenile correctional facility in Valhalla, about 20 minutes north of New York City. Another two ½ acre plots were made available. One at the Hartsdale School for the Deaf, and another owned by the Westchester Land Trust in Bedford Hills.

In all the program has 5 market garden plots, about 3 acres in all. With Doug at the helm and production as the focus, the program grew about 40,000 servings of food for the food bank last season. All of the farmwork is done by volunteers, students and inmates at the various locations.

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There is no curriculum, but students learn through engaging in day to day activities. “The education comes along when the inmates or children are participating in day to day activities on the farm,” Doug said about the benefits for the food growers. Inmates and volunteers are also allowed to take as much produce as they like, a fresh benefit for the incarcerated. The prisons and schools can not take the food because of contracts with commercial vendors.

Doug’s unique situation has allowed him access to 3 acres of farmable land, and also a chance to work with a variety of different populations.

“As a farmer: This, for me. This is what I want to do,” he asserted. “I thought about buying my own land, but I’ve found this to be much more fulfilling.” He lists some of the benefits of his situation as addressing social factors like hunger and poverty, educating the public, and having a secure job with a salary and benefits.

“There is a lot of need and a lot of resources. It can be replicated. There are different ways to make a living farming.”

As a program, the results of replicating this model would reach far past the 40,000 servings produced annually. Seed spreads. Teaching and learning to grow food is a powerful asset to our communities. It is a transformative tool for rehabilitation and . . . regrowth.

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A version of this profile was first published on the agrarian trust website.

brookfield farm

When working with alternative economic models, it is imperative to adopt alternative and innovative ways to do business. At Brookfield Farm in South Amherst, MA, no agreement at all has proved to be the best agreement for managing the 30-odd-year-old biodynamic farm.

In 1986, The Biodynamic Farmland Conservation Trust (BFCT) was established by Claire and Dave Fortier, who then donated the 47 acre parcel to the trust. The trust is now managed by a board who review the farm’s budget annually.

“We have absolutely no written agreement,” says Dan Kaplan who has managed the farm since 1994. “We’ve tried several times, but it always comes down to adversarial disagreements that you’ll never have to think about when you’re actually running the farm. We stopped (trying to make a legal agreement) ten years ago, and I’ve never felt insecure.”

The trust owns the land outright and has no income source, explains Dan. The trust acts as a holding company for the farm. He submits a budget to the board every year for approval, and runs the farm without any oversight for the rest of the year.

When he arrived at the farm nearly twenty years ago, he said he didn’t make any demands. He proved himself first, and after a few years, they liked what they saw. He liked what he saw too, and has grown what was the 3rd CSA program in the country to a thriving farm share program in high demand. “I don’t know if we had gone a different direction if we would have made it here,” he suggests about the lack of legal documentation.

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When questioned whether he’s ever worried about the risk, he replies, “There’s always some kind of risk. If you don’t like risk you’re never going to be a successful farmer.”

Early on at Brookfield, Dan used some innovative fundraising ideas to finance some farm infrastructure. He would target an item or improvement on the farm wishlist (like a new tractor), and borrow capital from community members. The lender would agree on a low rate, between zero and three percent. Then, the farm would sign a promissory note and make monthly payments to repay the amount. Dan estimates that 10% of the farm’s current infrastructure came from that community borrowing model.

As the farm grew, the price tags on infrastructure also grew. The farm began to borrow from banks and cooperate with lending groups like Equity Trust to make up another 70% of their infrastructure. Now, Brookfield Farm borrows from itself for improvements.

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When Dan Kaplan thinks about what has made BFCT and Brookfield Farm such a successful long-term partnership, he does not hesitate to say that it is the trust’s sole interest in the farm. “(BFCT) has no other projects. There’s no growth agenda, they’re not trying to amass capital. Their sole purpose is to make sure the farm exists.”

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