Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Howling Hill
This post originally appeared on my personal blog Howling Hill on Saturday November 22, 2008. Thanks to Robbyn for allowing me to post it on her regular writing day. She’ll be back next Wednesday to entertain you all!
On the fourth Friday of the month Wolf and I get together with a local sustainable sustenance group for a potluck of local foods. Most months there is a lecture of some sort, this month was no different. Previous talks include bee keeping and beer making, this month it was Dr. John E. Carroll professor at University of New Hampshire. He’s written a bunch of things including Pastures of Plenty: The Future of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Conservation in New England and The Wisdom of Small Farms and Local Food: Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and Sustainable Agriculture.
As usual, the food was fantastic. Lots of local foods strewn together to fill our bellies with wonderful goodness. After we finished eating we listened to Dr. Carroll gave his talk. Though long it was very informative. I took notes so I’ll try and reconstruct what he had to say through my notes.
Meat goats are the oldest domesticated farm animal source on the planet. Goats are very utilitarian and have a variety of uses including meat, milk, pulling carts and rooting. By that I mean if you have stumps which need to be removed put a couple goats to work instead of yourself. In no time your little friends will get to work and have that stump lose enough to move without killing your back with a shovel and a pick.
Winter farmers markets are a necessity. If you think a winter farmers market is unfeasible in your area consider that New Brunswick, Labrador, and Price Edward Island all have winter farmers markets. Generally what’s sold at these markets are meat, dairy, tubers, preserves and canned food, season extenders, and food from hot and cold houses. Season extenders can be in ground or underground.
New Hampshire needs to become a grain producer again. Though coming back to NH grain is taking her sweet old time getting here despite having grain producing neighbors such as Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. Grains can be used to make breads and beer. Microbrews are very much looking for local grain growers so they can market the beer as “truly” local. For example, right now a microbrew can produce its beer here in NH but can’t label it as “locally grown” because the grain comes from somewhere. If you’d like to grow grain (and not just here in NH but anywhere in the US and probably in other nations) but don’t think you’ll have a customer base, think again. Microbrews and local bread makers are seeking grain growers to partner with. Find a microbrew and ask if they want to form a partnership. An excellent author on grains is Wes Jackson.
The title of this post comes from the question he asked “who’s your farmer?” Dr. Carroll stated most people have a dentist, doctor, plumber, electrician, mechanic, and maybe an accountant and lawyer but do not have a farmer. He asked with a show of hands how many can say they have a farmer. Wolf and I put our hands up — Gitches Funny Farm is our farmer if you’re wondering — as did about half the room. Dr. Carroll believes having a farmer is more important than any other tradesperson. Without food there’s no need for a doctor, dentist, plumber, etc. Lastly what he said about this, which I found really interesting, is during the Depression just about everyone living in an urban area had a connection to a farmer through family or friend.
Michael Pollen, of course, came up. Maybe a quarter of the room had read one of his books and almost everyone has heard of Pollen. Pollen is quite well read in both senses. That is, Pollen reads quite a bit himself and others read his work veraciously. My notes are a little fuzzy here but I believe Pollen thinks New England best tool for open space, protecting land, etc is through small scale farming. Farming, as we all know, is ecological while maintaining green lawns is not. If you’re wondering where the capital of the localvores is, it’s the Champlain area of Vermont. Business are dedicated to local foods and wares, including hospitals and schools.
Dr. Carroll then went into a huge thing about UNH. Since I’m still so pissed at academia for scamming me I didn’t pay too much attention to this segment of his talk though he did say UNH has created a new major: Eco-gastronomy. It focuses on sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and business. My response that that is “that’s great. Can you get a job after?” Apparently this major was inspired by the slow food movement and has an exchange program in Italy.
He then got into the social aspects of farming and how it’s looked down upon by society. This was a huge shift from 50 years ago when farming was considered a great trade to get into. But as “Americans” wanted more wealth and less work they moved off the farms and into the suburbs to push paper around instead of manure. Doing so caused a huge shift in the way “Americans” perceive farming.
1500 is the average miles every molecule of food travels from production to belly and this includes local foods. In 2003 80% of the food we consume came on trucks and the other 20% on trains. In 1990 the numbers were closer. Food is stored for no more than 4 days in NH called “just in time” delivery. If for whatever reason food trucks can’t get to the supermarket there is only 3-4 days worth of food at the distribution centers which in NH is a small number of. There are no warehouses in NH with food stored in them.
There are 1.3 million people in NH. We can’t feed ourselves unlike Havana, Cuba which produces 50% of it’s own food including livestock.
Nationally we spend about 9.5% of income on food from the poor to the wealthy. Dr. Carroll believes we should be spending more like 20%. He purports it’s a question of will and not economics.
The local food movement is a social movement just like Civil Rights, Suffrage, Equality movements. Because of the energy crunch coming down the pike more food will have to be produced locally for people to live and survive. While VT and ME are ahead of NH regarding local food production, we are all learning how important local food is. We must start focusing on the towns we live in and not on the nation or the world. We can’t fix problems in India if we can’t feed ourselves in central New Hampshire. And while it’s all well and great we want to feed our Indian sisters, we have to feed ourselves first and we need to “re-localize” which means investing in the local economy not world economies. For me the scariest thing he said in this mini-lecture was how we won’t be traveling as much in the near future. Just the thought makes me feel trapped in a cage though I don’t do much traveling as it is.
Speaking of traveling, the US needs to get the train and bus system up and running again. Cars will become so expensive there is no way we’re going to afford the gas to go to Grandma’s for Christmas every year unless we get public transportation systems back to what they were in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The soil and grasses in New England are prime for grazing so says the good doctor. In the Colonial period, Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts wrote to King George and said New England has better grazing lands than Ireland which, at the time, was thought to be ultimate in grazing lands. Maybe Gov. Hutchinson just wanted King George to choose the colonies over Ireland to increase revenue. But it’s nice to be thought of as “the best in the world.”
Each of us who has land, no matter how little or big, must have an intimacy with said land. We need to learn about the wildlife which lives on it and travels through, above, and below it. We need to know all about the soil on the land we own and realize different parts of the plot has different types of soil.
Money needs to be spread from farmer to farmer and not just shop at one farm. Wolf and I are guilty of this. We spend money only at the Gitches. Doing so is a disservice to ourselves because we become dependent on one source. And as Stephanie likes to say “reliance on one thing makes you vulnerable.” We need to spread our money out a little bit more. Doing so will spread the wealth which is something he and I preach all the time.
As I stated up above, goats are great at opening up scrub forest. But so are pigs. The two work well together so don’t keep them separated if you don’t have to. And, go with heritage breeds. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir about the importance of heritage breeds (and heirloom seeds). Dr. Carroll is of the opinion the Devon cow is the best cow suited for New England weather. It can give birth without assistance, knows how to graze (which apparently has been bred out of the Holstein), and is a good producer of meat though not a lot of milk (though don’t quote me on that). Other important heritage breeds are the Katahdin sheep and Rhode Island Red chicken (and the New Hampshire Red) all of which are well suited for the cold, snowy New England winter.
Toward the end of the lecture, Dr. Carroll talked about Elliot Coleman and the seasonal extension books he’s written. Mr. Coleman lives in Maine so he knows a bit about cold weather. Mr. Coleman is considered a guru I guess.
Town Agricultural Commissions will become fundamentally important. Conceived of in Massachusetts, these commissions do not have the ability to enforce though they can advise on farming issues. Each town should/will have an Agricultural Commission. To learn more about them check this link out (PDF) and then click here to find out how to organize one (PDF). Basically, it’s a commission with an approach of education to the general public about farms and how to resolve small problems before they become big problems such as Ms. Farmer closes the road at 5p to let her cows cross the road which ties up traffic. There are not many here in NH though Lee has an excellent one.
One of the most interesting things I learned last night is women make up the majority of farmers in the world. Here in the United States that’s not the case though we’re catching up fast.
The only critique I have of Dr. Carroll’s talk was it was all very theoretical. He doesn’t offer any practical solutions at all. I asked him what he thought the obstacles were and he gave me a typical academic answer: Basically he spoke for a few minutes but didn’t say anything. He’s very intelligent and knowledgeable but he doesn’t garden so I have a hard time taking advice from someone who doesn’t practice what they preach or know first hand. It’s like a guy giving a gal advice on her period. But overall I did enjoy the lecture and took to heart some of what he had to say.
Kim if you’ve not heard of this group it meets in Laconia on the fourth Friday of the month. It seems right up your alley!
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