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.