2. Farm Table Foundation is the host of this giveaway. One tag equals one entry.
3. Contest begins December 3, 6 PM CST and runs until Monday, December 7, 12 PM CST. Winner will be chosen at random Monday, December 7, 12 PM CST.
4. Participants must be 18+ years of age. Prize redeemed via pick up only at Farm Table Restaurant during business hours, 110 Keller Ave. N., Amery, WI 54001.
5. Winner will be contacted via direct message on Instagram.
6. Prize not redeemable for cash value.
7. Prize must be claimed within two weeks from contest close during business hours: Thursday–Sunday, 11 AM–7 PM. (Hours subject to fluctuate due to unforeseen circumstances.)
November 17, 2020—by Bill Zager, Z-Orchard
I have lived on, and enjoyed, farms and farming my entire life. I was born and raised on a dairy farm, though we also had hogs, sheep, and chickens and raised some cash crops. As an adult, and throughout my professional career, I have lived on hobby farms. For the past 25 years, I’ve lived just a few miles outside of Amery where, in 2009, I established Z-Orchard.
I decided to launch Z-Orchard as retirement approached. I started small, tapping 15 maple trees. In 2009, I built a sturdy fence and planted 48 apple trees. Two years later, I started my apiary when a friend gave me a beehive. By now, Z-Orchard has expanded significantly. I tap over 1,000 trees for maple sap, and a friend and I designed and built an evaporator big enough to make about 2.5 gallons of maple syrup per hour. The orchard has expanded to 135 trees of nine varieties and I also lease a second organic orchard. The apiary has also grown and now holds 18 hives. In addition, the Z-Orchard store and processing area are now a state-licensed facility.
One of the most interesting ventures at Z-Orchard is the educational opportunities we offer. I start by telling my students, no matter their age, “You are what you eat, and the honey is what the bees eat, and the fruit is made up of what is in the soil and air and water.” Amery’s fourth graders recently started trekking out to the orchard twice a year. In the spring we focus on maple syrup production and bees and beehives; in the fall we discuss apples and honey harvesting. I also host classes for home-schooled students and any and all interested individuals.
I’ve appreciated the opportunity to collaborate on some educational programming with Farm Table Foundation. Partnering with them has been very rewarding as the education reaches a much larger audience. Farm Table’s restaurant uses local farm products, and their “little local market” features many local products (including my own maple syrup!) as well, all displayed in a very appealing presentation. Farm Table is a great addition to our community.
Z-Orchard is not a certified organic farm, but it is chemical-free. I use organic fertilizer and traps and lures for most of the insect control in the orchard. This year we took 167 cords of popple trees out of the sugar bush. These trees were mature and crowding the maples. By cutting the popple and pulling out the buckthorn and other invasive species, the maples, oaks, and birch will flourish; I plan to restore native plants in the understory. My longer-term plans include creating nature trails and interpretive signs through the sugar bush so that customers can take nature walks and learn about the undeniable beauty of this area.
I get a great deal of satisfaction working this land and caring for the apple trees, the bees, and the maples out in the sugar bush. Located just outside of Amery, you are more than welcome to visit Z-Orchard. Learn more at my website.
An excerpt (used with permission) from Amy’s memoir, Give a Girl a Knife:
You can generally tell how a woman was raised by the way she wipes down a countertop.
Some mothers of my generation shooed their daughters out of the kitchen in hopes that they’d never have to toil in it and gave them little direct instruction. Others, like my mom, insisted that their daughters could “do anything” they wanted to do, but continued to school them in the housewifely arts anyway.
When I was nine years old, my mom taught me how to wipe the countertop in the following very specific way: You soak the washcloth in steaming-hot water, wring it out hard with both hands so that it no longer drips, then stretch the cloth flat on the countertop and lay your hand on it, middle finger pointing toward a corner, that corner flipped back up over your fingers like a toboggan. This way, when you wipe (and if you haven’t seen this demonstrated, let me tell you, it’s a goddamned miracle), the corner of the cloth stays up over your hand. “With a flat expanse of cloth, you can pick up crumbs,” my mom stressed, her body leaning into the surface, running her cloth-covered nail tip into the crevice between the stove and the countertop. Her face, hanging above the shiny surface, was smooth and contented. Not joyous, not sad, but what you might call Placid Wiping Face.
Unconsciously I absorbed the look of spine-tingling satisfaction she gave the gleaming countertop and knew it contained something even greater: hope for tomorrow and its many projects. If you’re despondent about the future, you don’t wipe like that. You let the crumbs lie.
The other way to wipe a countertop is to distractedly grab the wet cloth in a bunch, the sloppy ends dripping water, and run it along the surface, pretending you don’t see the crumbs that remain––which is how Aaron does it, and how many people do it, and which still generally gets the job done.
But inside my mom lived many generations of female ancestors who elevated mundane household maintenance into a craft. Women who wiped their countertops with rags so hot they steamed, who bleached their cutting boards monthly; women who thought that walking away from a crusty dish to let it soak would be like inviting the demon himself into her kitchen. From my barstool perch on the other side of the counter, I watched my mom wipe the mouths of glass condiment bottles, digging the crud out of the rim threads before putting the lids back on. I watched her transfer diminishing leftovers into smaller containers before putting them back into the fridge. For jobs too fine for a washcloth, she grabbed the old graying toothbrush from the bucket beneath the sink and frantically brushed the tight corners. The level of detail to which my mom and her mom, Grandma Dion, cleaned their kitchen was borderline obsessive-compulsive, and yet it pretty much sums up the entirety of professional cooking. Via the simple act of wiping, they passed on to me about 85 percent of what I’d need later on to survive my years of cooking in Manhattan kitchens—which is to say, the percentage of line cooking that depends on your ability to keep shit clean.
Give a Girl a Knife, by Amy Thielen. Penguin Random House LLC, New York, 2017.
2. Farm Table Foundation is the host of this giveaway. One tag equals one entry.
3. Contest begins November 5, 6 PM CST and runs until Thursday, November 12 CST. Winner will be chosen at random Thursday, November 12, 6 PM CST.
4. Participants must be 18+ years of age. Prize redeemed via pick up only at Farm Table Restaurant during business hours, 110 Keller Ave. N., Amery, WI 54001.
5. Winner will be contacted via direct message on Instagram.
6. Prize not redeemable for cash value.
7. Prize must be claimed within one week from contest close during business hours: Thursday, 9-3; Friday and Saturday, 9-8; Sunday, 9-3. (Hours subject to fluctuate due to unforeseen circumstances.)
November 17, 2020
by Mike Schut, Farm Table Foundation
“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.” Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace
It’s dark and chilly at 3:30 AM in April in northwest Wisconsin. But I alighted from bed that morning without trouble.
I was going hunting for the first time in my adult life. Unlike those times as a boy when I closely followed my uncle Rog along rural Iowa fence rows as he hunted pheasants, this time I would be carrying the gun.
I met my mentor, Cody, at 4:30 at a park-n-ride just over the Dunn County line. Cody has been hunting since before he can remember. He works for Pheasants Forever. Fewer people are hunting these days, so groups like his are investing in educating new hunters like me. Hunting licensing fees support the important conservation work done in the state.
Cody had permission to hunt on a farmer’s land—said he’d been seeing turkeys out in a certain field. We arrived by 5:00, gathered our gear, and crunched through the snow toward the blind–which Cody had set up on the edge of the field a few days earlier.
We set out two decoys (one hen and one male, or tom) about 15 to 20 yards out and then ducked into the blind to wait for turkey season to open at 5:58 (a time set based on sunrise). As if on cue, from a ridge maybe 300 yards away, a few toms started gobbling from their tree roosts at about 5:50.
A few minutes later Cody started calling, mimicking a hen with a device made of slate and wood. April is breeding season, so toms are out daily, looking for hens.
At about 6:05 we see a tom fly from his roost and land maybe 70 yards from us; a couple minutes pass and two other toms leave their roosts and join him. Cody continued to call periodically.
Soon all three toms were walking directly toward our decoys; they approach aggressively, strutting and displaying, ready to establish dominance over this new tom in their neighborhood. Meanwhile, Cody continued to call, now and then, dragging the wooden mallet over the slate.
Of course, now all three toms are in range. The 12-gauge shotgun is at my shoulder, safety is off; I am sighting down the barrel. Trying to breathe easy.
When strutting, turkeys tuck their necks down close to their breasts. You don’t want to shoot them in that position as the meat would then be riddled with gunshot. You want a clean shot at the head.
The three toms are bunched together, about 20 yards away. Two of them strut a few feet straight toward the blind, necks tucked. One steps to the side, but his neck is also tucked. Cody is whispering, “Shoot the one on the left; no, now the one on the right.” I am just trying to wait until one lifts its neck….
I don’t know turkeys. Might they all fly, or run, away if I don’t shoot soon? How much time do I have here?
Ah, one has turned, slightly in profile, neck raised. My sight looks on; breathing slowly, keeping my head down, cheek against the stock, I squeeze.
Earlier, Cody had said that if we didn’t see any birds in the morning, we could grab lunch, then go out again in the afternoon. But here it is, just 6:12 or so, and the tom is down. It’s still dusky—too early for the sun to even light up the turkey’s iridescent tail feathers.
The other two toms seem a bit confused—but begin to move slowly away. I set the safety and lean the 12-gauge against the blind. Cody gets up and out of the blind quickly. The tom is flailing wildly in the snow; Cody assures me that the flailing is normal, the tom is totally dead, was when the shot rang out. He steps on the turkey’s head and skillfully grabs the shank above the sharp one-inch spurs so the meat won’t be bruised from the flailing.
Cody can’t believe it. He has never been on such a short turkey hunt. They gobbled. Cody called. They flew. Cody called. They strutted. Cody called. I shot.
I knelt down by the tom once he had fully quieted. We both stroked his feathers. I said thank you. This was not an expected start to his day.
Hunting feels very serious to me, and very honest. Serious in that I am deciding if I will take a life, a life that has a right to go on, a life that would very much like to find a hen. Honest in that it’s a direct confrontation with the truth that we cannot live but that others die.
But what we eat, how it’s grown, where it’s from…all can either move us toward eating sacramentally (knowingly, lovingly, reverently) or eating in a way that, as Berry writes, desecrates the complex set of relationships on which our lives depend because it is done ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, or destructively.
Eating locally, whether that be an animal whose life you’ve taken in a hunt, or vegetables grown by an area farmer, is one of the best ways to honor the truths in Berry’s words.
Note: Farm Table, prior to the pandemic, held two “Learn to Hunt for Food” classes. The first, which Mike participated in, taught participants how to hunt for turkey. The second taught deer hunting. Once we are meeting in person, we plan to offer this program again with partners like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Mike Schut serves as Farm Table Foundation’s Senior Director for Programs and Community Partnerships. His books include Food and Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread and Money and Faith: The Search for Enough.
Watch the recording from this class here:
September 17, 2020 – by Andy Gaertner
Editor’s note: Farm Table purchases coffee from Farmer to Farmer. Located in western Wisconsin and founded in 1989, Farmer to Farmer is a solidarity-based organization. They work directly with family coffee farmers, buying their organic coffee directly for an above fair trade price.
Andy will be teaching a class for Farm Table on Tuesday, November 10, on coffee and climate change. Learn more and register here.
It all comes back to clean water.
Coffee is grown in mountainous areas in tropical countries. The best coffee grows at an altitude of about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level. In central Honduras, wide valleys divide the region’s many mountain ranges. Rivers flow down those mountains, bringing water to the valleys, where millions of people use the water for irrigation, to meet household needs, and to provide hydroelectric power. Without the mountain water, central Honduras would be uninhabitable. With the water, it is an oasis for humans, agriculture, and wildlife.
When clouds come in off the north coast of Honduras, they encounter the mountain ranges which block their advance; the moisture from the clouds condenses on the mountain forests’ leafy surfaces: on the trees, ferns, and mosses. These forests are known as cloud forests because they capture so much of this horizontal precipitation. The water sinks down into the aquifers and exits the mountains through springs, forming the rivers which are the country’s lifeblood.
Farmer to Farmer buys all of our Honduran coffee from a co-op called COFEACOMA, which grows coffee on Comayagua Mountain; seven major rivers flow off of the mountain. Its upper reaches, at above 1,800 meters, have been designated a national park in order to protect the cloud forest. Without that forest, the clouds would pass through the area without dropping their precious water, which in turn would dry up the springs.
When communities do not protect the surrounding forests, their springs become seasonal. Worse still, when it does rain, the forests are no longer there to slow down and absorb the rain; the water runs off and causes landslides and floods. A few years ago, a COFEACOMA member lost her daughter and son-in-law to a landslide caused by a freak storm.
Climate Change and Coffee Farming: The cloud forests of central Honduras are vibrant green jewels within a landscape of dry pine forests and semi-desert valleys. Full of wildlife and rich in biodiversity–plants, birds, and insects–these ecosystems are at risk due to climate change which is increasing temperatures in the tropics. As temperatures rise, diseases, once held at bay by the mountain’s cooler temperatures, are beginning to cause problems for coffee growers. As temperatures rise, insects, which used to only be able to cycle through one or two generations in a season, now cycle through three or four generations in the longer, warmer seasons. As temperatures rise, both droughts and floods increase in severity.
Climate change is putting coffee farms at risk in many ways.
One of the ways that farmers are responding to climate change is to move up the mountain, cutting down cloud forests to plant more coffee, even in protected areas. Farmers are planting coffee higher and higher, in places where it used to be too cold to grow. In the end, there may be nothing left to capture the clouds and refill the aquifers. Honduras is already experiencing power outages during the dry season, as the hydroelectric dams receive increasingly less water. Towns in the valleys are rationing potable water, and irrigation canals are drying up.
There is another way. When I and other representatives from Farmer to Farmer visited COFEACOMA farms last January, we saw farms where coffee is grown beneath shade trees, in the forests. The farmers are protecting the springs on their farms and creating cool, shady microclimates. Rather than cutting down the cloud forests above their villages, these farmers actively protect their wildlands which in turn protects their own water sources.
It really does all come back to this precious water. Plants cool themselves by transpiring and releasing water into the atmosphere to create a microclimate around them. Where coffee is grown organically under shade trees, the air nearby is cooled by this transpiration effect. Those same shade trees can fulfill some of the functions of the cloud forest, by slowing down rainfall, catching vapor from clouds, and allowing it all to sink into the aquifer and then be recycled through transpiration. Coffee farmers in COFEACOMA plan their farms so they mimic a natural forest. Every time Farmer to Farmer members visit one of their farms, we notice how cool it is in the coffee plots, compared to the open air nearby. Their work imitating nature also yields a better tasting coffee.
COFEACOMA farmers are also teaching each other organic growing methods in order to keep their plants healthy and better able to resist disease and insect pressure. Growing coffee organically can help them resist the worst impacts of climate change.
Pressures on Coffee Growers: Coffee prices worldwide have been at a standstill for the last twenty years. Even as growers’ expenses have increased, and as climate change has affected yields, prices have stayed stubbornly low. To combat low prices, and make up for decreased revenue, farmers worldwide plant more and more coffee. Wherever possible, big coffee farms invest in mechanized harvesting equipment. While this might be a solution on the scale of a single farm, it has been a disaster for prices globally, keeping prices low even as worldwide demand rises. It has also been a disaster for the remaining cloud forests of Central America and all the clean water those forests provide.
Decreased coffee prices, combined with increased pressure from disease and insects, often force small farms to sell to big farms. Low coffee prices can depress an entire region’s economy. As a result, families move to the cities. Honduran cities are dangerous, so many people try to emigrate to the United States. These people could be accurately called “climate refugees;” had the climate been stable, the wealth earned from coffee might have kept them on their farms. The climate refugee situation will only get worse, because most of the mountainous areas in Honduras are not high enough to allow farmers to continue to move to higher elevations. Some predictions have suitable coffee land in Honduras shrinking by 40 percent by 2050.[i]
Farmer to Farmer’s Work: Farmer to Farmer is committed to paying above fair trade prices. We can do so because we purchase directly from the farmers who hand-pick their coffee on steep hillsides which will never be able to be machine harvested. These farmers select only the best beans and dry them in hoop houses on screens to maintain the best flavor profile. Each farm’s coffee is kept separate in microlots, because each part of the mountain yields a coffee bean with its own unique flavor.
In addition to paying farmers a premium, Farmer to Farmer is a nonprofit organization. We return income from our coffee sales to these farming communities through supporting young people’s educational needs.
People in the United States can do more. We are responsible for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. We drive a lot. We live in big homes that we heat and cool primarily by burning fossil fuels. We consume food that is grown using chemical fertilizers made using natural gas. We eat a lot of meat and dairy, which has a large carbon footprint. We travel by airplane. Our recreation often involves burning fossil fuels. We are causing global climate change, affecting people in Honduras and other tropical countries. They are experiencing more droughts, more floods, and unpredictable growing conditions.
We can do more. What will you do?
Farmer to Farmer is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. For more information, and to purchase their coffee, click here. Located in western Wisconsin, with members throughout the U.S., Farmer to Farmer has worked in Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Their current work is focused in Guatemala and Honduras. The organization works directly with family coffee farmers, buying their organic coffee directly for an above fair trade price. The profits from the coffee sales go back to the farmers and help support various projects, including school scholarships for students in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.
September 17, 2020
by Sylvia Burgos Toftness, Board Chair, Farm Table Foundation
The frost-encrusted grass crunched underfoot this morning as I went out to open the chicken coop. Hearty birds, they immediately ran around, pecking for insects. My cattle weren’t quite as content. They bellowed, demanding to be moved to fresh grass. “Just hold on,” I hollered as I approached their pasture gate.
Being surrounded by fields and livestock was just a dream when I was growing up in the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem in the 1950s and 60s. At that time, food meant visiting the local mom-and-pop grocery store down the block, or taking a bus to a supermarket with aisles of towering shelves and freezers that spilled chilled air.
I would never have imagined this morning’s chores 25 years ago while raising two children in south Minneapolis, balancing a full-time job with family. I had a garden—my son loved beet greens, and my daughter hated picking the bush beans. It was in those years that I first met farmers and had the opportunity to walk 1,000-acre fields of sunflowers, and 100-acre fields of carrots. I got to see where food comes from.
That was then.
Ten years ago (after full careers in chiropractic and public relations, respectively), my husband David and I began raising grass-fed, grass-finished beef. We use sustainable practices to promote health—of the land, our livestock, and, ultimately the nutritious beef we sell to customers. We buy our vegetables at the local farmers’ market, and eggs, beans, grains, and herbs from our local natural foods store. We’ve been surrounded by plenty.
Then March 2020 happened, and things changed. Today, all of us are scrambling to navigate life in the time of corona. Like everyone else, I was shocked by empty shelves. And, as a farmer, I was hit by the lack of local meat processing for my beef. How was I going to get my cattle transformed into the steaks, roasts, and ground beef my customers need?
I understand that today’s dominant food system makes eating primarily local foods very challenging. At the same time, COVID-19 has revealed inherent weaknesses within the industrial agriculture model.
Within weeks of first hearing the words “coronavirus,” many large meat processing plants shut down or radically reduced operations as infection rushed through their assembly lines. (According to the Wall Street Journal, just four international corporations control between 70 percent and 85 percent of the US pork and beef markets, respectively.) Grocery store meat chillers showed gaps, and some grocers implemented rationing. Flour and yeast disappeared, and we learned to bake sourdough.
Then there were videos of farmers dumping floods of white as processing plants refused to pick up raw milk. Vegetable farmers began to plow under crops, and pork growers found themselves with tens of thousands of pigs and no processing available.
Now it’s September, and we’re all struggling to adapt to America’s teetering economy, continued health threats, and fractured food system. We’re all working to find reliable sources of protein, produce, dairy, and eggs.
Parts of both Minnesota and Wisconsin are blessed with communities of smaller farms; however, our situation is far from secure. The infrastructure that once facilitated local food systems nearly disappeared with the growth of industrial agriculture.
The recently reported fragilities of the American food system point to the importance of reinvigorating local food systems.
Small- and medium-sized livestock producers need more smaller-scale processors. Many shuttered in the last five years, and now the remainder can’t meet growing demand. We also lack shared commercial freezer space—lockers once common in every rural community. Produce growers similarly need smaller-scale processing facilities and distribution channels, as well as reliable markets (from farmers’ markets, to direct purchasing, to restaurant and grocery stores buying more local products). These are business needs, and business opportunities, that will help rebuild our local systems.
This year, we’ve heard lots of news stories about the fragility of our food system. In response, many started gardening. Others ventured into keeping chickens or bees. Lots of us tried our hands at new skills: baking, fermenting, cooking, and canning. We’ve spent hours Zooming (yes, it’s now a verb) to learn how. The challenges will continue, as will the need for us to work for a more secure field-to-plate food system.
Fortunately, there are things we can do now, and, thanks to the internet, you can find sources from the comfort of your home. Search for farms that raise produce and/or livestock that are “pastured,” “grass-fed and grass-finished,” sustainably raised,” and “certified organic.” Search for a local “natural foods” store, or “natural foods cooperative.” Search Google for “local farms,” and make some calls to find out about availability, deliveries, and costs. And if you already purchase a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, ask your farmer for other local sources.
To learn more about Sylvia’s farms, and the classes she teaches, visit www.bronxtobarn.com or www.bullbrookkeep.com.
September 17, 2020 – by Mike Schut, Farm Table’s Program Director
Though COVID hit just six months ago for most of us, our new reality seems so all encompassing that it often feels like years. In that time, of course, many have lost jobs and begun to feel less and less secure. Sometimes the insecurity is emotional or laden with angst about the uncertainties ahead of us–and sometimes the insecurity is very basic, connected to our needs for shelter and food.
In the early days of the pandemic, Farm Table’s restaurant pivoted its operations to emphasize, for example, curbside pickup and Take + Bake items—but the restaurant staff also turned its attention to the community, including the Amery Area Food Pantry. The pantry, like all such services, meets such basic and essential needs, especially in challenging times.
While the pantry has been able to continue to meet the needs of those challenged by food insecurity (thanks to the generosity of about 50 volunteers and myriad donors) Farm Table has been able to provide certain essentials as needed: peanut butter, almond milk, flour and corn tortillas—but especially eggs: 17 cases so far (at 15 dozen eggs per case, that comes to 3,060 eggs!).
This spring, Farm Table joined with the 175 folks who put in a Victory Garden (VG) and turned part of our parking lot into our own VG. The produce harvested from that garden has been donated to the pantry. We’ve delivered carrots, beets, zucchini (of course!), tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, cabbage, beans, broccoli, and more.
During a time when so many things have come to a halt, pantry workers know the need for food is not one of them. Pantry directors Cheryl Bowman and Peg Bavin emphasize that the pantry is seeking both monetary donations and food donation drop-offs.
The pantry, which serves those living in the Amery School District, is open on Mondays from 9:00 AM until noon and Thursdays from 3:00 until 6:00 PM. If at all possible, those seeking food are asked to call ahead (715.268.5999) to make arrangements. That way a volunteer can put together a box full of food (which typically lasts a household at least one week) and have it ready at a prearranged time. Those feeling vulnerable can wait outside in their vehicle and have the box of food delivered to them. Peg and Cheryl do not want to discourage people from coming in, but hope to be able to make the process as quick and safe as possible for everyone involved.
The directors would also like to emphasize that it’s likely more people are now eligible for food through the pantry–most anyone who has lost a job would likely qualify. Finally, emergency food boxes are available at the Amery Police Department. Individuals can also always call the pantry for food assistance. Though not always possible, in certain circumstances food can be delivered.
Thank you to those who make the Amery Food Pantry’s work possible; thank you to all who have their eyes open and respond to the needs of those around them. If interested in volunteering, or donating food or funds, please call 715-268-5999.
TO DONATE: Both food and monetary donations can be dropped off at the pantry during their open hours: Mondays from 9:00 AM until noon and Thursdays from 3:00 until 6:00 PM. Monetary donations can also be mailed to: Amery Area Food Pantry, PO Box 64, Amery, WI 54001.
Some information for this article was gleaned from April Ziemer’s piece in the April 10, 2020 edition of the Amery Free Press.
July 21, 2020
An Interview with Emily Hanson of Whetstone Farm
The sustained and worldwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 have given hope that our society might actually listen and act meaningfully in response to the voices of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities.
And “our society” includes you and me. We all swim in a racist society. And that racism weaves through everything, including the food system, and impacts who has access to healthy food, land, and agricultural credit. A recent Mother Jones article cites the following: “In 1920, nearly a million Black farmers worked on 41.4 million acres of land, making up a seventh of farm owners. Today, only about 49,000 of them remain, making up just 1.4 percent of the nation’s farm owners, and tending a scant 4.7 million acres—a nearly 90 percent loss…This didn’t happen by accident. Since Emancipation, Black farmers have had to fight for a share of this country’s fertile ground, due to a history of racist policies and land theft.”[i]
The following interview with Emily Hanson of Whetstone Farm describes Emily’s journey toward anti-racism work and the actions Emily and her partner Klaus took, in collaboration with organizations like Divine Natural Ancestry and the Black Visions Collective, to address the need for food during the protests in Minneapolis. Emily and Klaus and their friends butchered hogs and delivered pork in response. (Farm Table played a small role in providing certified kitchen space in which Emily and her colleagues could break down those hogs before delivering the pork to Minneapolis.)
In the below, Emily highlights how Whetstone Farm and other members of the Shared Ground Farmers’ Co-op are, in addition to the hogs, donating 60 Community Supported Agriculture local food shares/boxes to communities of color in the Twin Cities. Please consider contributing to support them in that effort. You can do so via this GoFundMe link: https://gf.me/u/x7buc9
Whetstone Farm is located just outside of Amery; Farm Table purchases lamb and vegetables from the farm.
Farming: Working Toward a Better World Now
Mike Schut: What drew you into farming?
Emily: I got interested in farming during college. I was an environmental studies major; I went into college thinking that I wanted to work in overseas sustainable development work.
My parents were Habitat for Humanity volunteers and lived in Haiti for two years. I grew up in the Methodist and Episcopal churches with a progressive and justice-oriented theology. I think as a young adult both my church and family background drew me to work toward solving world hunger and development issues. But that always felt far away. And in college I got more involved with environmental movements and environmental justice work and started seeing farming as a way to live out those values and dig into doing work in my own community; I didn’t have to wait until I had a graduate degree and had traveled and trained to get this dream job. Rather, I realized I could start engaging and working toward a better world now. So that’s what drew me to farming.
After I graduated, I started an urban farm with a group of other young people. I ran that for three years, farming in the working-class neighborhoods of South Minneapolis and Frogtown in St. Paul. Doing so led to wakeup call after wakeup call for me as a white girl from a small, very white town in New Hampshire. I just had no education around race.
For me, my journey of farming and self-discovery has always been very linked to anti-racism and learning what justice could really look like. I worked on an organic farm in New Hampshire for one year, but right after that I started running those urban farms and was very engaged with other organizations in the Twin Cities who were linking urban farming to justice work.
So, I have been trying to figure out what it means to be a white person working toward a more just food system. It’s a constant, constant, learning process. Farming fulfills my desire to work for myself and be outside, and I just love food and the tangible nature of growing it for people. So that is all true. But for me, a big part of why I keep farming is that it fits into this bigger vision of a more equitable world where people have sovereignty and live in resilient communities.
My partner Klaus grew up in the Philipps neighborhood in Minneapolis; his parents were involved in the co-op movement and active in AIM (American Indian Movement, founded in Minneapolis). He grew up fixing houses and doing home repair. But when we met, he was ready to do something with his life that felt more like working towards some of those bigger ideals that he holds. He’s very good at working with his hands and problem solving. But he was tired of doing other people’s projects all the time.
And I was like, well, I’m going to farm!
We Have Space, We Have Resources, We Have Food
Laura Phoenix: Idealism is not quite the right word, but how have you kept your momentum going? A lot of people come fresh out of college with the ideals you are talking about. And then life gets in the way. But you’re still on that trajectory. How does that come to be?
Emily: My idealism as an eighteen-year-old looked different than it does now. I have a lot more cynicism about the world, and larger criticisms of global capitalism and racism and patriarchy. But those critiques make it all the more important to not get sucked under by negativity.
During college, I had a brief stint as an activist geared toward actions around “no new coal.” And that is really important. But I realized that in order to be able to sustain myself in this work I needed to choose a line of work that felt like it was moving towards a positive vision.
So being connected to the land, having some degree of sovereignty, and the ability to be resilient in the face of change feels really important.
It’s almost a joke amongst people of my generation: what are you going to do when the apocalypse comes? And Klaus and I have always been a bit more real about that. Where do we want to be? So we made the decision that we wanted to be in a position where we had land and the ability to share that with other people—not just to go hole ourselves up somewhere and try to stay alive, but to stay connected to our city and our community so that when things got really difficult we could say: we have space, we have resources, we have food.
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. And then to feel it actually happening in real time has been pretty weird. While right now is not a full-on apocalypse, some big, big societal shifts have happened in the last few months and it’s felt really good to be able to say, to feel, like we’re on the right path a bit—where we are in a position to leverage the resources and privilege we do have to further the movements that we believe in.
Mike: It really strikes me that you are connected enough with a network of organizations and people in the Twin Cities so you could take action at such a critical time.
Emily: I want to make sure to say that we have been intentional about having a group of young people working with us who are also connected to organizing networks in the Twin Cities. There is no way, in the last week of May or the first week of June (following Floyd’s murder on May 25), that I would have been able to organize the harvesting of food, and the butchering of pigs, and the distribution of that food to those who most needed it without that network of people, all of whom were playing their unique role in all of this.
It is so important to remember that all of this work is not going to fall on any one person’s shoulders; we really have to pull together to make change.
Hogs and CSA Shares: Food for the People
Mike: Emily, can you just fill out our understanding, our picture, of what that collaboration looked like? How did it work out?
Emily: A phrase we’ve been throwing around a lot, thinking about a lot, is that a community is an ecosystem. You know, the state is not going to save us. They haven’t during this pandemic. They haven’t during this popular uprising. And the police aren’t necessarily there to keep us safe, especially if you are a person of color. So how do we as a community, as many communities, create an ecosystem of mutual aid, of support, of safety. There are just so many pieces. And they all have to kind of mesh together in beautiful ways. But, for us, as we heard and processed the news, saw how quickly tensions escalated, realized with alarm that our old neighborhood was burning…well, we saw people in need.
For me, it was definitely a recognition that my role at that moment—as someone living rurally, running a business, and raising two young children—was not to rush out onto the street and put myself in bodily danger. But I did immediately start to ask: how can we help, where can we fit in?
Then we began to hear calls on social media for food, from, for example, the Democratic Socialists who’ve been very active organizing on the street level, and a group we’ve been partnering with for a while now called Divine Natural Ancestry. That’s a group of three black folks doing urban food production and distribution for BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) communities in the cities.
So, hearing that there was a need for food, knowing that we had access to food, having heard that we could get some pigs pretty inexpensively, knowing we had livestock trailers–a place to put the pigs…we just pieced all that together and tried to discern the needs and where we could fit in, We wanted to make sure the food got to those we knew who could distribute it.
It all felt so frantic that first ten days or so. But then we took a breath and remembered that this work is for the long haul. And it felt important to reconnect to a program we’ve started called Food for the People, which is connected to Shared Ground Farmer’s Co-op.
Food for the People is partnering with Divine Natural Ancestry to raise money to cover the cost of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares that will be donated to people of color. We’ve had that idea brewing for years.
So, currently, Food for the People is donating sixty CSA shares every week to people of color in the Twin Cities. For example, there’s an indigenous breastfeeding group and some transient homeless people who are receiving food. Our partners (like the Black Visions Collective and Divine Natural Ancestry) are doing all the distribution. We’re doing all the food procurement through Shared Ground and securing the funds to make all of that happen.
The food system is very broken. Good food is so excessively priced. There’s no perfect way to fix it. But we are working directly to raise resources from those who have enough to be able to get food to people who need it.
That’s our idea, our goal. And we are being really intentional about partnering with people of color, who are leaders and organizers doing amazing work, and trusting them to carry out the distribution of the food. We feel strongly that we, the white folks running Shared Ground, shouldn’t be determining who exactly needs this food. So that’s why we’ve chosen to partner with community groups.
We really trust those who are on the ground. And now we’re in week three of those CSA shares going out—hoping that that program can grow and shift and change to accommodate whatever the future holds.
It’s all social capital: having a network of people with many different skills; it all builds resilience, and everybody has a role to play…whether that’s butchering pigs, or making calls, or driving food to the city. I think it’s really important to recognize that everybody has a role to play in anti-racist work.
Swimming Upstream against Racism’s Walkway
Mike: How do you see your work in life? In a way it sounds like a calling, connecting farming to anti-racism and the vast inequities in our world.
Emily: I read a great book with our book club a couple of years ago called Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. She’s a white woman; a professor in Iowa. She has two kids and writes very clearly, powerfully, and intelligently about anti-racist theory, about racism.
She not only writes well about the theoretical realm; she addresses these really practical scenarios related to things that have happened with her children. Like what do you do when your child points out a woman in the grocery store and asks, “Mom, why is she black?” She talks a lot about how we as white people cannot be silent. When we are silent, especially with our children, they automatically just fill in the blanks. They see difference. They see racism around them. And if we don’t interpret that for them, then they’re just going to fill that in with whatever the mainstream is telling them.
And I can identify with that as how I was brought up. Race was only talked about in the context of how we loved diversity, but diversity is a really vague thing for children to understand. And I noticed differences, yet no one would talk about it. The only time I really ever remember hearing about race was in my high school textbook. But then it was just presented as a biological fact—that there were these four races. That’s now proven to not be true. It wasn’t until college that I really learned that race is a social construction.
One of the metaphors Jennifer Harvey uses is this idea that racism is like a moving walkway, one of those airport people movers. That walkway moves us all in one direction; we’re all on it whether we want to be or not, doesn’t matter who we are.
We live in a racist society. We are on and in this structure. And we can’t get off. It is where we are. But we have a choice whether we want to just ride that walkway and let it take us wherever it’s going, whether we want to actually walk with it and be actively racist or not. We can choose to turn around, to face the other way. And then we can we can walk upstream; we can work with the people around us. We can start to question who built the walkway. Why are we all on here? How can we take this thing down? For me, that’s been a really powerful metaphor. It’s not about you and whether you’re a good person or a bad person and whether you are racist or not. We’re all on this thing.
I want to constantly be thinking about how I can walk upstream. I can move against the current of racism and also think about how to dismantle the walkway. Is there an off button; can we take it apart and use it to build something else?
I think that some of the important parts of that work are raising the next generation to think about racism that way. That it’s not just about personal decisions or personal biases; I think white people need to do a lot of inner work to recognize where we’re at and to work with other white people to understand how we got here. I think that’s a really big thing missing in our education.
For me personally I have been aware of injustice and racism for quite a while. Yet I noticed in myself that this particular murder and uprising feels different. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Partly it’s because it’s so close to home: turning on the news and recognizing all the street corners and knowing all the burned businesses. But the other thing is that I have also done a lot more reading and listening in order to intentionally learn about racism; I’ve been reading perspectives from people of color. I realize that has made an impact on my heart space and psyche and impacted my ability to absorb this event and actually feel it and put it in context. The more we can educate ourselves on an emotional and intellectual level the more we are able to engage with the news.
Mike: Do you see connections between our response to the pandemic and the intensity of the protests and uprising?
Emily: Absolutely. Murders and brutality have been happening for a long time, but the fact that the protests have been so widespread and so sustained I think has to do with the fact that the “tinder” is really dry, when people have been unemployed in the extreme. This pandemic has laid clear just how flawed global capitalism is, supply chains are disrupted, and the government is not there for you in any meaningful way, particularly if you are working class, or a person of color, or oppressed in some way; then the tinder is really dry.
There are so many big, systemic issues and police brutality is one of those. I see this as part of a bigger popular uprising around the systems of power that are in place where the rich and powerful just have so much. People aren’t content with the crumbs.
I also want to highlight the hope that I see. Even though the mass media portrayals of the uprising and riots have focused on the violence, and sort of condemned the protests, I see a lot of hope in the ways communities in Minneapolis and across the country have sprung to action with mutual aid and conversations about mutual safety.
So much of that has been led by people of color who I see doing such amazing work. There’s a lot of hope there.
[i] “White People Own 98 Percent of Rural Land. Young Black Farmers Want to Reclaim Their Share.” Mother Jones. June 27, 2020, by Tom Philpott.
Resources for Further Education:
- Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, by Jennifer Harvey
- The podcast “Scene on Radio’s” fourteen-part series called “Seeing White”
- Bestsellers by author Ibram X. Kendi–Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to be an Antiracist
- Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla Saad (a book and a workbook)
Thank you to Emily Hanson and Klaus Zimmermann Mayo of Whetstone Farm! Laura Phoenix is Farm Table’s Executive Director. Mike Schut is their Director for Programs and Community Partnerships.