Monday, February 17, 2014

Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association OEFFA

This week provided me with so much inspiration it is overwhelming. I was able to attend the Ohio Ecological Food and FarmAssociation (OEFFA) conference held in Grandville, Ohio. I attended many sessions including: Twelve Herbs to Use in Emergencies for People and Animals, DIY Aquaponics, Herbal Balance, Cooking and Eating GMO-Free Meals, Creative Dehydrating, and Debunking GE Myths. If you want to know details about any of those sessions feel free to contact me, I do not plan to go into it here. One of the most inspirational parts of the conference was the keynote speaker Anita Diffley who spoke on Farmers as Role Models and Leaders: Protecting Nature and Creating Social Change. She spoke so beautifully and intelligently and it would have been hard not to motivate each person in the room with her story. The short story is her family was working an organic farmon a large plot of land in Minnesota, The Garden of Eagan. A school purchased part of the property and things began to change and soon the land was no longer farmable. They relocated to a difference piece of land that had been used for conventional farming and took three years to reclaim it for organic farming. In 2006, the Diffleys received notice that the MinnCan pipeline was proposed to bisect their organic farm Gardens of Eagan. The Diffleys filed evidence establishing the nature of organic production and the unique vulnerability of the Gardens of Eagan vegetable farm to the harms resulting from a crude oil pipeline. As a result of these efforts, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission included in the permit for the pipeline what is believed to be the first organic agriculture mitigation plan in the country applicable to energy infrastructure. This mitigation plan provides rights and protections for any affected organic farm in Minnesota. What a beautiful success story for this small organic farm! It is hard to sum up everything that came from this conference but I can tell you I am filled with joy knowing there are so many people who care about the earth in the same way I do. So many people gathered together who are focused on nurturing the land. As I left the conference I could not help but continue to think about how the decisions we make about what we eat directly impact the earth we live on and the power of social movement in food! I am starting to view this relationship I have with the earth more as a responsibility and I have decided with the support of my husband that someday we will live on a ceramic homestead. Where we can balance our lives as artist with caretakers of this earth.
I meet Val the owner of Jorgensen Farms, one of the farms I hope to visit when the weather shifts. She gifted me some wool for my harvesting color project so I can try out some natural dyes. In exchange, I am going to give an artist lecture for her and we might even collaborate on a farm dinner in the near future!
To top it off I had a wonderful visit this week with my friend and fellow ceramic artist Lindsay Scypta. She was in town for a visit to see Gun Young Kim's thesis show that looks terrific, images coming soon! I am thankful I was able to spend Valentines Day with this lovely lady. We started our day with fresh cold pressed juice from a new organic juice bar Native Juice. We visited the greenhouse and planted some vegetables and flowers that Lindsay gave me for my birthday! My greenhouse space sometimes feels private because few people come visit my plants; I think that is why I love sharing it on the blog! I had a really nice time showing her around and planting seeds with a great friend who loves planting as much as I do. After we used up our green thumbs we headed to a lecture “Performing to Politics of Food and Agriculture” by Dr. Ann Folino White professor and Michigan State University. A powerful lecture on ‘theater and food’ a topic that I had not considered prior. Following the lecture we had dinner at the Crest in Clintonville one of my favorite restaurants. We finished the evening with our first ever men’s gymnastics meet… amazing need I say more.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Farm to Fork: Food Dialogues

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the event Farm to Fork: Food Dialogues hosted by The Collegiate Young Farmers at OSU. The event was free and included a nice dinner: a side salad, eggplant, and fruit salad for dessert. The main course was rice wrapped in a delicate slice of eggplant served with a red sauce, it makes my mouth water now thinking about it.

Farm to Fork Food Dialogues encouraged discussion of agriculture and food production focusing on biotechnology. The first portion of the event was table discussions and I just so happen to sit next to a master candidate in the Department of Anthropology, Mark Anthony Arceno, who is ‘learning through food.’ You should check out his blog where he talks about “learning about people and cultures through the foods they prepare and consume; the recipes which have been passed down, shared and adapted over time; and the meaning behind the meal. Situated within an ethnographic approach to food and a passion for "feeding the experience," I extend my foodie platform to include the cutting board, the in-between from farm to table.”
Following the dinner conversation was a panel discussion. This is when I started to get frustrated. I understand we have two ears to listen and only one mouth to talk but when everyone else is using ‘twitter’ to tweet comments and I am sitting here thinking I do not even know what twitter is. By the end of the evening those of you who know me can only imagine I was jumping out of my chair and one of my table mates let me borrow his ipad to tweet something. But of course I get the ipad and I have no idea how to tweet so someone had to help me and by the time I tweeted the discussion was over…  A few of the conversation topics were what does local mean? Does it mean food miles, community impact, increasing transparency, regional food system? Then one fellow on the panel suggested that it was local if he bought it from him local grocery store it did not matter is it came from Ecuador?  What do you think? I was about to tell him what I think but then I thought better of it. I realize the food did not come from the moon. But that cannot be local, can it? To me local means a days drive, that I can visit the place and the people that produced the food. To me local means supporting your local community and buying from farmers who live, work, and sell in your own neighborhood. We discussed GMO genetically modified foods and the push for labeling. Do we have a right to know what is in our food? Someone asked, is not using GMO even and option? Well is it? Where does our food come from? One of the panelists was an organic farmer and he talked about organic being labor and hard work. Isn’t that what farming always has been? The conventional farmer made it seems as though he never even touched his soil the machinery and technology did it for him. He did not even have to till his field, no more brown snow he said because his soil stays put. My question is if we are no longer touching the earth how are we connected to the earth? What kind of food are we producing and what is it doing to our bodies? My work as an artist has always been about food as a vessel maker it is something that I am constantly considering. In my recent work I realized I could not make something for or about a plant with out knowing how it grows. So I started growing and yes it is a lot of work. I am at the greenhouse at least three days a week if not more. I spend hours there planting, watering, transplanting and tending to the needs of all of my plants. But I know more now about these plants and what they need then I could ever get purchasing them at the grocery store. Maybe all we need is to connect back to the earth? The last portion of the discussion was on food safety. This I when my table mate let me send a tweet in I said, “how can you claim food is safe when you sold me something contaminated with salmonella?” That salmonella changed the entire course of my life in ways it is hard to go into now but the reality is they knew the food was contaminated and still chose to ship it out to consumers. So I ask again how can you tell me the food is safe?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Everyone has them right? The kind of day you would never wish on anyone. There is a book from my childhood that I always think of when I have these kinds of days Alexander and the Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Today I had one of those unfortunate days. I went to the greenhouse to plant some more seeds and check on my plants. I had noticed last week that I had some yellow leaves on the bottom of my ashwaganda so I was keeping an eye on it. I decided to do some further inspection and when I checked the underside of the leaves they were covered in bugs. I wanted to run out and forgot what I had seen but unfortunately bugs do not go away in the greenhouse. It is a confined space and it makes it easy for pests to take over. With some help from the greenhouse staff I was able to identify the pests as mealybug and whitefly. Unfortunately they had completely taken over the ashwaganda and I had to remove it from the greenhouse. So on a day of new life and planting it turned into a day of death. I was so sad to kill my plants but in a communal space you have to work towards to greater good for everyone. I am very passionate about raising my plants organically but in this setting I realized I would do more harm if I did not quickly address the problem. So I gave into a ‘soft’ treatment for the white fly what was infesting almost the whole bench. I am working this week on the mealy bugs that will be hard to eliminate but I hope to control until I can bring them outside.
 The good news is that not everyday is all horrible. I was able to see the Echinacea and milk thistle in full bloom. The first group of poppies has all dropped their leaves and the second set is starting to bloom. I can think of nothing more enjoyable then entering the greenhouse in the middle of winter to see rows of green and flowers blooming. A few of my plantings from earlier this week have started to sprout!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Introduction to Permaculture at Solid Ground Farm

This weekend I took a trip to Athens, OH to celebrate my birthday with my in-laws and little brother Noah! I made a trip of it and went on a farm tour at Solid Ground Farm in Athens County. I am very interested in permaculture but to be honest I am still figuring out what it is…. so when I saw that Solid Ground a permaculture based farm was offering a introduction course and farm tour I decided I could not pass it up!  I never thought I would go on a farm tour in the middle of winter but it was fun, educational and we kept moving so I stayed warm for the most part.
 The first thing I must say is that permaculture is so much bigger then I thought it was. When I first started researching I thought of it only in terms of farmland and animals. I first heard the word permaculture in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Since then I have been interested in the health and ecological benefits of farming with a focus on the symbiotic relationship between animals, plants and people. Pollan visited Polyface Farm in Virginia, a farm that runs on a permaculture design. But WHAT IS PERMACULTURE? Visiting Solid Ground Farm was my first experience on a permaculture farm and I was determined to figure out what permaculture really is. Before visiting the farm I believed that permaculture was a form of sustainable agriculture based on a philosophy of working with nature, not against it, “of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than creating any area as a single product system.” (Mollison, 1988) Thanks to Weston the farm manager for expanding my knowledge I now know that Mollison is only half of the permaculture story. Bill Mollison collaborated with David Holmgren who explains permaculture as a “design system for sustainable land use and sustainable living. Focused on production aspect of how we provide human needs from nature and consumption how we use natural resources.” (Holmgren, 2010)
My favorite part of visiting Solid Ground Farm was the Cobb house. Cobb is made from a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. It looked similar to the pump house we had on our property growing up small, quaint and maybe a little more rustic. I would absolutely live in it other then that it doesn’t have a shower. I am sure I could get used to that. Anyways, I have added it to my to-do list: build cobb house and live in it or maybe I will just go live in Earthaven Ecovillage near Ashville, NC.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Harvesting Color Part III

Today I learned some basics of natural dyes below are colors extracted from madder root, osage orange, and indigo. I am looking forward to using plants to make natural dyes. I purchased a packet of Dye Plants Seed Collection from Horizon Herbs Chamomile, Dyer's; Elecampane; Indigo, Blue; Madder; Marigold, African; Nettles; Our Lady's Bedstraw. I am headed to the greenhouse soon to plant some of these natural dye plants!
We revisited our TLC to compare lutein levels in all of our Marigold samples. This included (yellow/dried, yellow/fresh, orange/dried, orange/fresh) plus three for our control group (two lutein supplements and one beta-carotene). This time the experiment worked and we were able to record and compare the thin layer chromatography (TLC) separation. We recorded four different substance spots for almost all of our samples. The top being beta-carotene with a RF value of .97 below a few unidentified RF values at .73 / .369 / .27
I am keeping busy at the greenhouse I planted a variety packet of calendula, marigold, and natural plant dyes. I also planted lots of medicinal herbs and some vegetables! The second round of poppies in the drooping buds stage and an echinacea that is just starting to bloom!