Uncovering My Own Cultural Values & Biases Like Layers in a Compost Pile in the Spring

I tried to capture my values in another class through a three-part personal holistic goal using Allan Savory‘s framework for decision making.  It goes like this:

  • Quality of Life:  
    • To be a soil life encouragement artist each moment I am on a farmscape.  To imagine creative solutions that lower input costs, enhance the sustainability of agricultural operations, and generate production models that may be implemented by other producers.  To be a contributing member of the community of life (humans and otherwise).  To be open to productive collaborations that enhance the sustainability of agricultural lands within and adjacent to Imagine Farms and to make strategic decisions that allow for frequent, trusted, and timely contributions to the regional food system.
  • Forms of Production:
    • Profit from livestock and crops and anything that doesn’t interfere with my values and that complements what we do and who we are.
    • To manage a diverse array of farm-income sources that provides new challenges and opportunities, and encourage members of the farm to work together in order to be financially successful.
    • Renewable forms of energy such as bio-diesel and microhydro that allow our farming partners to enhance their ability to feed people who have connected with our farms.
  • Future Resource Base:
    • A space that has access to and utilizes water through irrigation, but continually builds organic matter and allows water inputs to decrease over the years as the water holding capacity of soils increase.
    • Different species and varieties of plants in the form of shelter belts that could have harvestable products within; a great variety of animal life with considerable emphasis on birds [and bats]; great complexity in soil organisms; including fungi and molds.
    • A brittle environment that can be disturbed in ways that meet the testing guidelines, spurs vast populations of microorganisms, and increases the sort of nutrient cycling that promotes early season growth.

Well-communicated, these values will, I hope, draw in people (especially neighboring farmers and ranchers) who might be put off by my personality and/or urban roots.  I’ll be in a rural scene – more rural than I’m used to, which will be alienating.  This is why I’ve concentrated on forming a collaborative holistic goal to work from.

I’m biased in that I think a local/regional food system would benefit the majority of people from good forms of employment where better wages and exercise are the norm; forms that, at least as they’re currently practiced, produce some of the most nutrient dense vegetables that people are keeping minimally processed and some of the most grassiest-fed beef for direct markets.

But if I’m farming in Western Montana near or on a Montana indian reservation, my markets will be automatically split.  Again, I’ll be an outsider in the way I’ve mentioned – sidestepping the supply chain through efforts to better health in communities and individuals.  In doing so, I’ll be one of the many emerging forces working to redevelop the food system instead of using the more “trusted” models that came into dominance in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.  But I’ll also be an outsider in another cultural dimension.

Through the Native Food Systems course, I’ve gained a better understanding of why simply treating the motivations of native populations (and the possible solutions to community health issues like chronic disease) as if they’re similar to those of other cultures is a non-starter.  In this I’ve moved a little beyond the ‘cultural blindness’ stage of The Campinha-Bacote Cultural Competence Model.

It’s clear that the principle of self-determination, or in this case setting up a more sovereign food system, will send out the deepest roots of health.  Assisting the tribes in the process of brainstorming what parts of their traditional systems can be restored and which parts can be more or less adopted from other cultures will be important.  And it’s already happening for many thoughtful individuals.  Nolan Johnson is a good example of a tribal member in the Southwest who is reconnecting with traditional food pathways and helping others do the same …

An excerpt from Robert Chanate’s contemplative article illustrates the same willingness to pave a culturally-acceptable way towards improving nutrition … this one involves throwing off the shackles of SPAM in a non-offensive manner.  As odd as his rationale may seem, his manner may move him further towards his own holistic goal (eating better and striking an example for others) than he might by going cold turkey …

Now I am going to make better food choices and I’ll have to add Spam to the list of foods to avoid. I’m sure I’ll have to add other neo-NDN foods to this list at some point and I’ll probably go through the same separation musings with those too.

I recognize not everyone has this option and will continue to eat Spam because it’s cheap (or free) and available. This means I’ll likely encounter Spam again in some Native home. I’ll have to eat it because it’s considered rude to refuse food from our hosts. So if you know I’m coming over don’t feel bad about serving Spam, fried potatoes and fry bread … and some red Kool-Aid … oh, and get some chocolate cake too.

This makes me think, ‘so what if I’m not going to be a dietician.’  Just because I aspire to be a farmer doesn’t mean the social weak links (i.e. the cultural barriers that will prevent rapid movement towards my 3-part holistic goal) won’t be unique to the populations my work (and the future farm) addresses.  It’s important to me that I’ve had this realization, because it is sort of empowering.

I’d like to think I’ve always understood that It’s truly going to take more than just pumping nutritional foods into town centers of Native American populations like those on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s Flathead Reservation to resolve tragic ethnocentric actions (e.g. cornering a people onto one land mass with political lines, drawing more lines in the form of private property borders on that mass through Congressional Allotment Acts, and eroding a culture of language and food through boarding schools, and the disturbance of culturally important places where the Bitterroot and American Bison thrived, etc.) taken against them.  But now that my interest and knowledge of the challenges exist in the cultural contexts painted by these courses, I feel I have a responsibility to start hatching a few farm programs of my own to address the issues …

Let the process begin!

Argument for the In-Class SNAPtastic Debate

On Tuesday, our Nutrition and Society class was split in two and instructed to provide sensible arguments (like those that are occurring, we hope, in the halls of Congress) related to the 2012 Farm Bill and specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — better know as SNAP.

My contribution to the Pro-Reforming SNAP group took the form of bullet points, which I’ve included below:

Conservative commentators and politicians, along with more progressive nutritionists are in agreement.  Federal dollars can do a better job of discouraging unhealthy habits like soda consumption while promoting the habits that more affluent families value, have access to, and more likely act on (i.e. patronage of farmers markets, using skills and free time to cook or recreate, etc.).  And we can start by reforming SNAP.

My primary interest in seeking reform comes out of a concern over health care costs, which clearly aren’t borne by individuals.  This is especially true when individuals participate in Medicaid or Medicare programs, but it’s less evident in the role that other people play in determining an individual’s health insurance premiums.  If we’re really serious about reaping the benefits of preventative care – instead of proclaiming what the benefits are in public forums – we would reform SNAP and the food system as a whole to level the playing field between fruits and veggies, and their largest competitor in the marketplace (highly processed foods whether they be in the sugary, fatty, or salty realms).

We won’t solve anything by banning the SNAP-py purchase of this beverage or the colorful edibles above.

After all, “According to the USDA, 70% of recipients spend their own money to purchase a portion of their household food.”  This means that if you want soda, you get soda.  Instead of installing another bandaid atop the lip of the soda bottle, we need a vision for how to use the Farm Bill, and SNAP specifically to channel funds towards low-income people who value nutrition.  They need support.  And so do farmers, who would love to broaden the Occupy Movement to include chapters focused on occupying new farmers markets in urban deserts

[This is pure embellishment, but the point is that a lot of farmers I know would kill to feed more people, especially the hungry, working poor – they just need to see the federal government, local organizations, and citizens step up to the plate by opening up new markets for their goods].

That’s what’s so beautiful about the Double Value Coupon Programs (DVCP) I mentioned in a previous post.  It provides the incentive that, coupled with banning pop and junk food, could send more people to farmers markets than ever.  Check out the growth of farmers markets in neighborhoods where the program was implemented by foundations and non-profit organizations like Wholesome Wave (see table below).

Farmers Market
SNAP Redemption Before DVCP ($)
YEAR 1 DVCP Programming
Year 2 DVCP Programming
East Atlanta, GA
Hope Street, RI
Billings Forge, CT
61st Street, Chicago, IL

Imagine if SNAP recipients could:

a) use their rollover benefits OR

b) supplement with their own cash OR

c) use a monthly pay-as-you-go framework …

… in order to afford becoming members of CSA’s.

It’s important to recognize that such “solutions” have probably been suggested and would require breaking down other barriers to ensure success.  But barriers like foodie skill-building (e.g. educating people how to prepare meals or preserve excesses), I submit, are barriers for the wider public and not just inhibitors for the poor.

And unless we release a flood of new programs that allow communities to develop healthier food systems, we don’t stand a chance at discouraging what’s easy and what’s causing chronic health problems that affect us all — that is, the mainstream American lifestyle that so many people recognize as the root cause of the problem.

“Oooo, A Garden [or other foodie project]. Can We Bring One Home, Honey?”

Participation, more than any word in the English dictionary, has the potential to release a current of more food secure places in the United States.  Authors like Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, have chronicled the decaying of participation in this country since the 1960s – it’s pervasive.  You can see it in many arenas, from those that are civic to religious to recreational (like Bowling).  People either don’t have the time to participate or they don’t think they have the time.  But with a packet of seeds or an open burner AND a little encouragement, anyone can participate.

Pockets of isolation in our own lives and in our culture is warranted.  Everyone needs a little personal space – we do live in a capitalistic, individualistic, “American Dreaming” society after all.  Those are the contentious mantras everyone must grip, and at least make faint offerings to, because they’re freaking systemic.  But they’re just premises to work from, not to accept as law.

A parallel might be drawn from the common visage of a struggling mother of three, living in a food desert with little time or access to transit, nor the prerequisite skills or resources required to grow their own food.  We’re not going to address situations like this — or the many roots of disengagement for that matter — with catch phrases.  I’m sorry – we’re just not.

National initiatives have their place in addressing the severity of the issues we share as a society, and the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food and Fruits and Veggies Matter initiatives are valiant efforts to focus the discussion.  But the simple knowledge of a program with the moniker My Plate is enough to make one sick with frustration.  Maybe it’s Pollanian to say, but it sure is wild to think that people need to be supported for their efforts to take ownership of what they’re putting into their mouths.

How impactful are PSAs like this?

To put it bluntly and to respond to this advertisement for “Any Organization” USA, we need more people to get off their asses, turn off the TV and do something more appropriate.  That’s been the driving force behind 1,000 New Gardens 1kng — to support a more participatory and inclusive form of local agriculture (backyard gardening) that moves beyond the Serve Me (More Vegetables) paradigm.

So what do we do?  How do we address community food security?  And how can a campaign in every locality that enforces the need of people to participate in something – maybe just one thing that’s meaningful to them – that involves their community’s food system … how could that change the tide?

Maybe it’s not gardens … maybe it’s something else …

The prominent food justice spokesman, Mark Winne, pulled out his trumpet to play a worthwhile note having written that:

The importance of community participation is reinforced by the growing body of literature on social capital – how social networks contribute to a community’s health and well-being (Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam).

In the field of community food security, research on the relationship between food security and social capital by Dr. Katie Martin found correlations between low-income households’ ability to secure sufficient food and their connection to neighbors, friends, and helping services (Food Security and Community: Putting the Pieces Together, Katie S. Martin, Hartford Food System, May 2001). The study, which took place in Hartford, Connecticut, had (several) major findings:

  • Low-income families were more likely to be food secure if their social capital, i.e. connections to local social networks, was high
  • A high percentage of food insecure families do not participate in food programs (45% did not receive food stamps, 67% did not use food pantries, and 37% who were eligible for the WIC Program did not participate in it)

Gardens, as biological networks of plants, insects, microorganisms, and animals (if manure is used as a soil amendment), also serve to harness social networks in amazingly simple, yet powerful ways.  I’ve seen such things.  In September of 2011, 1kng installed a new vegetable patch in the middle of the street in King Arthur’s Court (a trailer park just West of the city of Bozeman).

And like the stolon of a shimmering strawberry plant, this garden and one of the best new gardeners in the world sent out “runners” down the street, starting with women on either side of their house … and down the block.

By the end of October, we had installed five spaces (some small, some as big as 200 square feet) that would nourish people with more than daikons or pods of peas.

One clear thesis I’ve gripped lately is that food traditions as well as other community traditions of engagement have eroded in past decades.  But there’s another thesis that’s developed in partnership with experiences like the one described above … of cascading new gardens … it’s that food traditions can be rebuilt just as quickly.  If, that is, they’re encouraged through appropriate means – in this case it was a bunch of college yahoo’s coming out to garden.  But gardening is just ONE tool.  Personally, it’s been less a tool, a fascination, or a weekly recreation, but a gateway drug into community-based food and farming issues.

But there are many other — seemingly quaint — ways to get to bring about a more participatory food culture.  Some people will have enough money to afford participation in a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.  For others, volunteering with or eating at The Mobile Farms Stand propelled by the Friends of Local Food group will be just the ticket.  The Bozone Ozone (greenhouse) Bus, another.

The point is, something exists for you.  Get out there and develop the skills needed to spur one more aligned with what you treasure.  Then we’ll actually have a food system.

PSA – Attracting New Eaters to the Gallatin Valley’s Own Food

Hi, the name’s Matt Broughton. And I’m trying to figure out ways to feed MORE people … like you, living in Bozemanand the surrounding area.  I’m a first generation soil life encouragement artist … but you might call me a farmer.

When I’m not out composting, or harvesting eggs and vegetables, I’m working with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, which now takes in lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, chard and other vegetables that farmers donate.  The food bank makes all of this available every week ofMontana’s growing season.

This is a great option if you’re having trouble affording or accessing fresh produce.  But there’s something else you should know.  Have you heard of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP)?  SNAP enables participating families to spend monthly benefits at the Gallatin Valley Farmers Market as well as the Bozeman Winter Farmers Market.

SNAP and programs like it are particularly impressive because they help introduce me to more people who truly value healthy food and healthy lands.  The folks who fill out applications for SNAP or WIC are doing their part to channel their food dollars to farmers markets, and ensuring that young farmers and ranchers can continue producing some of the best food in the country!

Feeding your family in this way is truly a noble act!  Plus, you can’t overstate the pleasure and adventure of preparing a variety of foods with new tastes!

If you have questions about the many opportunities to obtain fresh produce for free, call the Gallatin Valley Food Bank at 406-586-7600 or stop into 602 Bond Street in Bozeman.

If you see me there, don’t forget to say hello — I’ll be the red-haired guy hefting heads of broccoli, spuds and tomatoes into the building!

Food Diffusion (an Agriculture Supported Community program)

I believe in many of the ideas expressed in the Diffusion of Innovation Model.  The model seems to have formed by someone who appreciated different layers of actors that exist in any community, and the role of word of mouth communication in spreading innovations from one actor to the next.

There are the innovators – you can think of these people as a small group, consistently looking for something trendy to do or something trendy to own and spread.  Then there are the early adopters – those people who are “integrated” in their communities, and spread lifestyle innovations because they’ve earned the respect of their families and peers.  Members of the early majority are “cautious of adopting a new idea or product” while people in this theory’s late majority are quite skeptical and generally are coaxed to adopt something when peers pressure them.  The laggards are just what you’d expect – the last adopters who “tend to come from small families, to be single and older, and to be traditional.”

A community food system expressed graphically. Can you see the innovators, the early adopters, the early and late majorities, and the laggers?

The textbook Community Nutrition in Action describes how a community nutritionist watched a cook being interviewed on TV about a recent heart attack and his plans for developing ways of cooking healthy chow.  The book categorizes him as an early adopter (a respected, credible citizen) within the target audience of the nutritionist’s “Heart-Healthy Living” program.

I’d like to modify a program that sprung from the Rodale Institute – a Pennsylvanian farming organization performing long-term agronomic and organic marketing research.  Organizers call it “Agriculture Supported Community” (or ASC).

Here’s how it’s described:

Well, there are two parts.

The first part is membership. The program is designed to make fresh, local, organic food more accessible for people who can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for the whole season up-front.

Like a CSA, ASC members received a seasonal “share” of produce each week. But, unlike a CSA, ASC is pay-as-you-go. Members choose a share size of $10/week, $15/week or $25/week that can be picked up at a local community site…

The second part is education. The ASC program is also a training ground for future farmers. We’re launching an 8-month internship program that will teach people everything they need to know to start their own ASC in their own communities.

My summer program would encourage new participants, and the power of word of mouth communication by requiring every ASC member discuss the challenges and benefits of their vegetable/grain share with three or more new people each season.

This could be done over a home-fixed meal.  Or, if the farm also organizes a harvest dinner, members could invite their neighbors, family and friends to the undertaking.

If that member was successful in recruiting one or more new ASC members from their social circles, I would the recruiter membership in my winter/storage vegetable farm program.  Adults learn through and trust experience and storytelling.  That’s the principle I’d be working with.  Hopefully this project would encourage a culture of open sharing (of experiences and food), which is considered fundamental to adult learning and the process by which individuals change their behaviors.

I’d evaluate the program yearly by:

  • Tracking the model’s growth through the years and the incentive program’s role in bringing in new members (i.e. determining a rough picture of how the product, a CSA share, spreads throughout the community)
  • Surveying two populations (continuing and discontinuing ASC members) to piece together a story of how ASC is functioning, and whether this option is working for people
  • Noting the average and extreme time(s) it takes people to pay off their share, and
  • And measuring consumer turnover