Agrarian Road Trip – Part One.

Garlic Pickin’, Potluckin’ and Llamas:

the Agrarian Tour through Kentucky and Tennessee

We – Agrarian Road Trippers
– have been visiting and trading stories with many a farmer across
Kentucky and Tennessee. Learning the tales of the trade and dreaming of
the day when I will be a little old gray hair – well preserved, with
her chickens and 12 varieties of tomatoes.

Day One: In Louisville, KY, we visited with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program
½ acre in vegetable production, scattered across 30-some odd plots.
Plots are sectioned by nationality – Burundi, Burma/Myanmar, Congo . .
. and on and on, all finding a common language in compost and corn.

refugge agricultural partnership project in louisville, ky.

Day Two: Still in Louisville, we trek to Garden Summer Camp at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
a one-week summer camp with 15 kids, ages 8-14. All kids share morning
chores harvesting vegetables for lunch, grinding corn for tortillas,
tending chickens for eggs, and prepping beds for fall harvest. Each day
of camp starts with a telling of a story about Father Coyote. In
today’s lesson, Father Coyote studies a farmer sowing seeds – and then
sows his own garden in order to harvest his own crop of happy little
rabbits, lured to the garden by the fresh carrots and cabbage. The
story touches upon irrigation techniques in the arid southwest,
companion planting for bountiful harvest and the benefits of increased
biodiversity in the garden. After the kids are tuckered out from their
garden work and fresh lunch, they head to the pool for an afternoon
swim.

Discussion with Ellen Davis – Old Testament Scholar from Duke Divinity School – who has recently written a book called Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. Professor
Davis focused on Exodus 16 as the basis for her research in
understanding the cultural context of the Israelites exiled from the
Egyptian Empire, for understanding the Modern Agricultural Empire. In a
nutshell, the Israelites who have been freed from their slave masters
take to complaining about lack of food. “At least when we were slaves
of the Empire we have food enough to eat.” God has provided our daily
sustenance (in the form of manna from heaven) – but instead the people
grovel. Modern parables highlight our society’s dependence on – and
enslavement to – genetically-modified, mono-cultured food-product that
travels 1500 miles to our dinner plate. Rather than
learning how to grow or can or cook our own food, we rely on a food
system that is ever-increasing out of our hands and beyond our control.

Professor Davis takes our lesson one set further in analyzing the Greek roots of the closely related words adama and adam. Adama is Greek for “fertile soil.” Adam is Greek for “human.” The term adama is used in the Biblical context to refer to the land as ancestor of human – before Abraham there was adama. To create Man, God breathed His breath into adama.
Now, I am no Biblical scholar, nor am I an Agrarian scholar – but
that’s all pretty crazy amazing. We are dirt. Or rather, we are
biologically breathing, o-so fertile soil.

soup bycycle.Lunchtime: Lunch provided by Soup By-cycle,
soups made using local, organic ingredients – delivered by bicycle to
the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) Headquarters in downtown Louisville
for a wee little potluck with like-minded folks doing the work of the
Church in the world. Some shared stories of recently travels to Haiti
to protest against a recent Monsanto
donation of genetically modified seeds to the region’s farmers. Instead
of gladly accepting, the people of Haiti rebelled, by marching and
burning the seeds. The introduction of GMO and hybrid seeds into
cultures with a rich tradition of seed-saving poses a jungle of legal
repercussions – linked also to increased suicides of peasant farmers in many countries.

Next stop – also in Louisville – Oxmoor Farms. The Field Day Farm at Oxmoor Farms partners with the Food Literacy Project to grow food for market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
as well as provide school-age education about local food systems.
Situated on 8 acres tucked betwixt the interstate, golf course and a
suburban subdivision, Farmer Seamus says golfer and farmer frequently
meet eyes in questioning gazes. Ironic because there is a current trend
where farms across the country are bought out by large residential
developers due to a higher monetary value attached to land for its
developmental potential rather than its agricultural productivity.
(Watch our talk and interview with farmer Ivor of Field Day Family Farm here.)

barn at oxmoor farms.

barn at oxmoor farms.

All that to say, we Agrarians harvested garlic and weeded kale while
swapping stories about soil amendments and growing seasons. The garlic
harvested was put into shares for Field Day Farm CSA – which supplies
60 families with produce each week. In addition to its CSA, extra
produce is sold at 2 farmers markets each week and contributed towards Grasshopper,
a cooperative multi-farm CSA supplying meat, cheese, milk, eggs,
mushrooms to local families – in addition to regular shares of
vegetables.

The beauty of a multi-farm (or multi-yard – reference fellow Wacoan Lucas Land’s Edible Yard Project)
CSA is that it buffets the problems of pest invasion or crop failure,
as well as taking advantage of the soil varieties and farmer
specialization. Such a model also allows small gardeners who may not
have enough to sell at market may contribute their produce and reap the
benefits.

tilapia aquaculture at berea eco-village.

Day Three: We hit the road for Berea College in
eastern KY to explore Berea’s Eco-Village and Farm Gardens. Professor
Richard Olson expounded on his theories of the most-of-us speeding
towards hell in a hand-basket – due to the rate we use electricity,
water, petroleum, etc. (Sometimes doomsday global warming pessimism is
not my cup of tea – it’s more like a cup of gas station coffee). After
stepping off his soapbox, he showed us around Berea’s Eco-Village – ever-evolving with aquacultured tilapia, biointensive growing, photovoltaic (PV) panels, greywater treatment system as well as demonstrations in natural building, including: cob, cord wood with cob mortar, earth bag, earthen plaster, and straw bale. Berea’s
Eco-Village is open exclusively for 4 interns in the Sustainability and
Environmental Studies program – as well as students of Berea who are
single parents.

garden and pv panels at berea’s eco-village.

From the Eco-Village, we journeyed to the other side of Berea
College to the farm, gardens and greenhouse – a total area of 500
acres. In addition to vegetable production, Berea operates an apiary (honey flavored by blueberries and buckwheat), hoop houses for season extension, mushroom spore-infused-logs, and a cord
wood root cellar. We were not able to see their livestock production –
but Berea does that, too. All produce is sold at local farmers markets
for a flat rate of $8/lb. The school also purchases produce for use in
its cafeteria, at a rate of $6.50/lb. These prices are extremely high,
for the majority of crops – but the people of Berea are willing to pay.
The farm and gardens are maintained by students in the College’s
Agriculture Department. All students at Berea are required to work for
tuition (10-15 hours/week) – no other costs are associated with
tuition. Another similar college is School of the Ozarks in Missouri.

cord wood structure.

Vegetables grown at Berea College are Certified Organic – meeting the USDA’s standards and definitions of organic practices. Organic
certification is a highly contentious topic amongst small scale
agrarians. Both Field Day Farm at Oxmoor Farms in Louisville and World
Hunger Relief Farm in Waco choose not to certify their produce –
although each farm meets, and exceeds, the USDA’s standards. Farmer
Igor at Field Day Farm choose not to certify due to moral convictions –
both that the standards are too loose, while being relatively
expensive. He also notes that small scale farming is about relationship
with the consumer – and if a strong relationship is in place, all
farming practices are transparent – and thus certification is
unnecessary.

llama lovin’ at liles organic acres.

After Berea, we traveled to Maryville, TN – to visit Liles Organic Acres, a
small family farm operated by Sheri and Russell Liles. Here we met the
llamas. Sheri – a self-proclaimed back-to-the-land hippie – showed us
around the farm. She grows vegetables in 25 raised beds – that have
been double-dug and
enriched each year with layer upon layer of compost. She and Russell
keep seven compost piles around the farm – enriched by rabbit, llama
and chicken poop – as well as leaves, food scraps and red wigglers.
Her vegetables are sold at market – and chooses not to certify organic.
In addition to vegetables, Sheri also keep llamas and angora rabbits
from which she can spin the wool – as well as growing cotton and flax,
to be spun by her mother-in-law for linen. Both Sheri and Russell work
part-time off the farm – she as a nurse practitioner, he as a
picture-framer. Russell is also a crafted wood-worker and quite
engineer-ed-ly minded, installing PV panels that supply 25% of their
energy use and building the llama barn, chicken coops and beehives.

chickens at liles organic acres.

Once we departed the Liles farm, we met up with locals from the Highland Presbyterian Church in Maryville – to share stories and recipes over a potluck of locally produced grub.

End Day Three. End Part One.

– bethel.




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