We took it easy last week. The pictures below might look like I’m a great mom and Harvey is a perfect kid, but honestly, snagging a smiling picture is an accomplishment. It was important to take a little time to be one on one with Harvey without trying to also get things done on the farm, or around the house and to take a little time away from Harvey, because parenting takes a lot of effort. If you feel like a terrible parent right now, don’t worry, you aren’t. That’s what Kevin tells me anyway.
Last Monday was Indigenous People’s Day. As I get older (35) time has gotten a lot smaller. One hundred years doesn’t seem like much. Five hundred is even comprehensible and can be a part of my linear understanding of time as opposed to some abstract, disconnected history. I can imagine New England before colonization and industrialization. I can stand in the forest even with the sounds of airplanes and car traffic humming in the background and imagine no suburban sprawl. No houses that couldn’t easily be re-made with natural materials. No fences.
But there are still people in that imagining. Many Indigenous people who managed a vast ecosystem with the intention of cultivating immense quantities of food to be accessible without excessive work. The land management practices of Southern New England’s Indigenous peoples were so different from those of the arriving colonizers from Europe, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces. They decided that because the land was not “improved” based on European standards that it must be up for grabs.
Many early contracts between Indigenous populations and settlers in Southern New England are now understood to be a cultural misunderstanding (perhaps deliberate misunderstandings in many cases) with grave consequences. Indigenous people harvested much of their animal proteins through fishing, foraging and hunting. They managed forests with slow-burning fires to create easily navigated hunting grounds. They negotiated land use rights between families and tribes. But there was no concept of land ownership, only land use. Fences would have no use, since there were no domesticated animals to contain (and keep away from the cultivated plots). When they made agreements with colonizers, they most likely understood them as land use, or usufruct rights, not ownership.
What if we had managed to preserve Indigenous sovereignty and adopted their views towards land and ownership? What would the landscape look like today?
Chris Newman, an Indigenous farmer in Virginia, is imagining a regenerative and sustainable food system that goes beyond any fantasies of going back to white settler-owned small farms. He posted recently on Instagram:
“What if agriculture could be completely different?
What if farmers’ compensation and equity weren’t tied to the value and commodification of owned land, or a pipe dream that people will someday pay the “true value” for food?
What if, for every 1,000 acres of “farmland,” only 100 were devoted to intensive regenerative agriculture, with the rest devoted to extensive indigenous management?
What if that 900 acres were managed to produce a diverse, healthy, culturally appropriate diet for free or pay-what-you-can to communities suffering under food apartheid, all in a rich ecosystem expressing its natural character and remaining open to the public?
What if BIPOC farmers spent 10% of their time doing this extensive management and actually got paid for it?
What if we reimagined our ideas of what parks and green space – things the public happily pays for anyway – are, and what aims they serve?
What if tax dollars, institutional endowments, and private fortunes paid for this low-maintenance landscape model?
What if a farm producing 50K chickens for $1M revenue had an additional $1M revenue from extensive land management?
What if half that extra $1M went to real living wages for people in the food system?
What if the other half, free of the need to produce returns for speculative investors, turned that $20 chicken into a $10 chicken?
What if we turned the power of public and large, private purses and landscapes toward an agriculture and ecology that ACTUALLY worked for everyone? What if we did subsidies in a way that actually works?
What. If. We. Won?”
We are not going back to anything. We are going forward and one of our many opportunities for success (if the goal is to preserve our planet by protecting and sustaining the life on it) is to center Indigenous communities whose land we stand on right now.
We are very interested in expanding our vision of food production to be more equitable and sustainable.
Additional Resources (and indirect references):
Hunger For Justice Podcast Series
Commons and Enclosure in the of Colonization of North America
Chris Newman’s Blog
“Changes in the Land,” by William Cronon.
….back to the here and now. It finally rained a lot. Maybe better late than never? I don’t know. What a year. I keep catching up with farmer friends on the phone who I would probably have run into already at some point this year at a workshop or gathering of some sort if it weren’t for COVI-19 and it’s the same story for all of us. Somehow there is still food to harvest and distribute, but we can’t figure out how because it’s been such a tough growing season. It’s nice to have peers who understand. I recommend calling someone you love/admire/respect who you haven’t chatted with recently and ask them how they are doing.
What’s in the share:
carrots: one bunch
radish: one bunch
onions: one pound
sweet potatoes: two pounds
head lettuce: two
mild mixed greens: one bag (a little larger than salad leaf, just cut before adding to salad or lightly saute. We just ate some under lentils and rice and they were lovely.)
spinach: one bag
pumpkin/butternut: 4 pounds
napa cabbage: one head
peppers/eggplant/tomatoes: 1-2 pounds
choose 3: beets, sweet turnips, kale, collards, chard, arugula, fennel, frisee, bok choy, herbs
hopefully brussels sprouts*
*we have a bad case of aphids in the Brussels sprouts this year. We did everything we could to have great brussels sprouts (except for spray them with toxic chemicals). It’s rough. But that’s farming in 2020 for you.