Every year we rotate older laying hens out of our layer flock and frequently we have individuals who are interested purchasing these birds. This year we have primarily Americana hens, these are the ones that lay green eggs! They are 3 years old so they are not laying as much as when they were younger but they should be hardy and could produce enough to make it worth while for a family wanting to fill up a chicken tractor in the back yard. They would also make good stew birds. We are asking $5 each. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Rebbecca at 254-799-5611 if you are interested in some of these birds. We will begin making stew ourselves in a couple of weeks so act fast.
And So it Begins, with Five Fearless Feather-Pluckin’ Females:
at the Table in Waco, TX
Whilst in Waco, we – the lovely ladies of the Texas at the Table: Project Go Road Trip – harvested and gleaned both vegetables and stories with dirty-fingernail-ed farm-hands and business-suited theological-thinkers. Waco is the first stop on the Texas at the Table Road Trip to explore how people across Texas creatively address hunger in their communities – or more simply, exploring where food comes from, who gets it, and who doesn’t.
Day 0.5 (the evening of our first gathering – thus not the legitimate Day One in my play-book): The much arrival happens. Five fearless ladies convene – with parental units – on the World Hunger Relief Farm in Waco, TX. The parents step out of their comfortably AC-ed vehicles to be hit brazenly in the face by the Farm – the heat, the smell. Welcome. The gals are starting to question what they’ve gotten themselves into. And perhaps, so are their leaders. All meet and greet each other awkwardly. A short tour of the Farm is given – complete with instructions that this is a flush-free farm (only composting toilets) and the home they will be staying in does not have running water or electricity. Parents leave reluctantly – they have left their daughters to the care of a lady with a lip-loop and nose-ring and the other one has tattoos . . . Introductory awkwardness subsides and its dinnertime. Except that dinner must first be harvested. Kale. Swiss chard. Onions. Peppers. (Supplemented with Bethel’s peanut sauce and rice). This dinner is a strange experience (in addition to the heat and composting toilets) because: 1. These gals never really cook; and 2. They don’t ever really eat vegetables. Whataburger seems to be a staple dinner. Bethel (the leader with tattoos and braids – and also the leader with tattoos) begins to worry . . .
Day One: No rest for the weary – or the farmer. Devotions at the Farm start at 7am. Lucas Land -Truett grad and former Farm intern – leads a discussion of personal heresies and the Bible. Work chores are handed out. Most farm folks are working the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) harvest – the Farm supplies 60 families in the Waco-area with a week’s worth of fresh vegetables for 8 months a year, on a subscription basis. CSA is just one model of direct-to-consumer farm marketing allowing farmers to know that what is planted has a home once out of the field, creating a relationship between farmers and those who eat the food the farmer grows. All that to say, the Go Now-ers jumped into harvesting bouquets of basil, counting cucumbers and eventually bundling sunflowers for shares. After moving the chickens in their portable coop-mobiles, designed to rotate the chickens to fresh pasture – which leads to eggs richer in beta-carotene and omega 3 and 6 fats, all part of a healthy, balanced diet. After a farm-family lunch, Farmer Jes talked with the gals about raw milk as the gals washed eggs freshly collected from our clucking lady-friends. The Farm manages a Grade A Raw Goat Milk dairy – containing the healthy bacteria that aids in digestion for even those who are lactose-intolerant.
Without a siesta, the real work for the day begins. Making dinner. From scratch. Over a wood-burning Lorena stove. Without running water. With meat that must be caught and killed before eaten. This is no simple task for five young ladies not used to cooking, let alone with modern day appliances – and in the heat of the day. Two roosters were caught by Dani and Chelsea, who were brave enough to volunteer for the slaughter.
Necks were slit (albeit with a dull knife) and the birds were bled out and plucked, while the rest of the gals gathered garden vegetables and pumped water from a well. Four hours later, a simple meal of chicken and rice with greens was prepared and placed on the table for all to eat. Delicious to all except those still smelling chicken feathers beneath their nails. With bellies brimming with fresh eats and tasty meats, the gals ended their evening with a showing of Food, Inc. – posing even more questions in already wearied and worried minds.
Day Two: Rising with the sun in time for devotions at the Farm, all are a bit slower than Day One. Yet the gals are able to drag themselves to a meeting with Beth Kilpatrick and Jeremy Everett of the Texas Hunger Initiative – aiming to end hunger in Texas by 2015 through collaborative community organizing. Jeremy shared about the role of grassroots organizing hand-in-hand with political advocacy in ending hunger in communities – while highlighting Gospel passages to inform the work we do. Beth also shared a clip from Rush Limbaugh and his comments about the federal Summer Feeding Program which provides a free meal to youth ages 18 and under, covering the gap in the free and reduced lunch program that continues throughout the school year. Please listen to the clip – and share your own comments.
After those parting words from Rush, Jeremy and Beth, we ventured to Wesley United Methodist Church in East Waco to experience a summer feeding site firsthand. We met with Reverend Valda Jean Combs and a representative from the Waco ISD Nutrition Program. Waco is a unique place when it comes to summer feeding – Waco ISD writes the program into the budget, ensuring that a number of trained cafeteria workers are employed throughout summer to deliver hot meals to the summer feeding sites throughout the city. Host sites need only open their doors. Wesley UMC is unique in that Reverend Valda has organized a summer day camp in addition to providing transportation to the church. In an effort to encourage families to eat together, the McLennan County Hunger Coalition subsidizes adults to eat with their children.
From Wesley UMC, we met with Phylixcia Moore and her uncle Vernon Clark to discuss the role of urban agriculture in providing healthy, nutritious food in communities experiencing supermarket redlining as well as increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Phylixcia is now a sophomore at Prairie View A&M studying agriculture. While in high school, she headed the garden at Carver Park Baptist Church in East Waco, selling produce to the church for community meals as well as donating to food pantries. After Phylixcia had shared her story, her uncle Vernon asked a large question of the Go Now gals: How is the work you are doing and seeing maintaining poverty or attempting to resolve it? This question helped frame a number of the projects we were to encounter on the road.
From East Waco, we trekked to a variety of gardens throughout Waco – at churches and at schools – as I, Bethel, shared about my work as an agrarian social worker with the Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition. We stopped at Homestead Heritage, another Christian farm in the area, for ice cream (my favorite being sorghum pecan) before heading back to the Farm to make pizza with farm fresh ingredients and resting before hitting the road to Lubbock.
End Day Two. End Part One.
Changing Diapers – or the Politics of Urban Agriculture:
the Agrarian Tour through Ohio
In the Ohio chapter of our travels, we – Agrarian Road Trippers – transitioned from the rural to the urban visiting and trading stories with many agrarian minded folks growing goodness in Ohio.
From the winding roads of West Virginia we traveled to northeast Ohio. We pulled our caravan into a greenhouse nursery and mail-order seed distributor turned church, called Common Ground Church Community located in North Lima, OH. We unpacked our belongings then settled into the sanctuary for an evening of agrarian theology and sing-a-long song sharing.
First things first. Greg Bowman, formerly of the Rodale Institute, shared with us what I will call the Theology of the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters growing method (milpa) originated in the Andes and in scattered indigenous communities throughout the Americas. The Three Sisters are corn, beans and squash – related because of their beneficial interactions providing a natural habitat for little critters and a complementary nutrient give-and-take with the soil. Corn provides a trellis for vining beans to climb, as well as protection from the sun for smaller plants and animals. Beans fix nitrogen from the air (complementing the heavy nitrogen-feeder corn). Squash sprawls the ground acting as a living mulch for water retention and weed suppression. Now compare this to a mono-cropped field of corn – exposed soil, neat rows, minimal water retention, nutrient depletion.
How does this all relate to theology? Just like the Three Sisters, we work/live/pray better together than as individual people. The mouth needs a hand to eat, like the corn needs the nitrogen fixed by the beans. As we grow food and appreciate the complex relationship between soil and sun, fruit and flower, a spirit of gratitude is cultivated within us. In our fast-paced, fast food society, we are a people in search of gratification, often lacking in gratitude for the complexity and beauty of life and food.
After a complex discussion about agriculture and theology, we needed a good sing-a-long. Guitars were plucked up from their cases. Congos and djembes pulled out from their nooks and crannies. And so commenced our own versions of “Country Roads” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Our music leader specialized in James Taylor – so, as you may well be able to tell, our song list was confined to hippie-era music.
The next morning – a Sunday – we woke to wonderful hospitality and a continental breakfast provided by the folks of Common Ground Church Community, followed by a tour of their partner program, Goodness Grows. Pastor Steve Fortenberry stressed his strong belief in the church as a multi-purpose site, to partner with other community groups and people. Seeing as CGCC is located in an old seed shop and greenhouse, these folks saw it fit to start growing gardens – now expanded to 1-acre in vegetable production. The week of our visit Goodness Grows was starting its own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for 15 families. Goodness Grows has only one staff member and a rotating schedule of college interns to maintain the gardens. Volunteers are another main source of labor, coming from the church, as well as a special needs class and GED program in the community. Another special resource for the farm is access to all the horse bedding and manure from the county fair – the largest in the state of Ohio. Future plans include refurbishing the many greenhouses on site for extended season growing as well as aquaculture for heat and fish production, similar to Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI.
After worship, we had another round table discussion with Pastor Steve, politically-connected Greg Harget from OH Governor Ted Strickland’s office, and prophetic farmer Maurice Small. Greg Harget Ohio Department of Agriculture but now works with Governor Strickland’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives Program in Ohio, which facilitates the state’s summer feeding programs as well as re-entry programs to strengthen the family. Maurice Small, on the other hand, works outside of the conventional systems of institutional agriculture and government. Maurice Small started a Cleveland-based organization called City Fresh, expanding access to food through urban agriculture. Because of the success of City Fresh in Cleveland, Maurice was invited to Youngstown, OH to help invigorate new growing initiatives.
Itching to get outside, Maurice sped up our conversation and we caravan-ed into Youngstown. We jump out of the van and are greeted with Maurice’s first question: “What is the murder rate of the place you live? This is important. You don
’t know it, you don’t know your people.”
Background on Youngstown: Former steel town. 80,000 people. 20,000 vacant lots. Worst school system in Ohio. Enter Maurice Small, urban gardening pioneer. Maurice’s mission is to reclaim vacant lots – lots where abandoned houses have been torn down or are still standing – and using reclaimed windows and boards from those houses and buildings, build raised garden beds. The first block Maurice walks us through has 10 houses – only two of which have residents. This is a ghost town. Maurice shows us the foundation of a house, crumbling and exposed – left vacant for 20-some years. Beyond repair. “They left [this city, these houses] . . . to my imagination.” Let me repeat that one more time: “They left this city . . . to my imagination.” Awesome.
And his imagination envisions life and food, bountiful as the Garden of Eden. In addition to using reclaimed materials, Maurice builds raised beds from straw bales, with composted horse manure as his soil The straw bales are great for two reasons: 1. As the straw bales break down, they become organic matter to enrich the soil, and 2. Straw bales provide a sitting area directly in the garden. Maurice purchases the bales from a local farmer for $2.75, has horse manure donated from the county fair, and receives woodchip mulch and water from the city for free. He plants perennials and fruit trees and envisions the neighborhood children grabbing an apple on the way to school. He envisions neighborhood farm markets on garden property, where eater and grower get to know one another.
Besides building gardens, Maurice is all about building community. While Maurice’s visions are beautiful and inviting, he is adamant that people do not flock to the places romanticized for their poverty or their potential. No gentrification. White people stay out. Help where you are from. This must be an indigenous revolution. The community must do for themselves. Then integrate slowly. Although Maurice is from Cleveland, he has been invited into Youngstown to help. Maurice has $400,000 over the next three years to jump start the gardens. He hopes to be out as soon as possible and let neighbors take the initiative to keep growing. Pointing to his toddling son, “I’m just here to change their diapers – then get out. Set ‘em on their way.”
With heads still whirling from the wisdom of prophet and poet Maurice, we jumped in the vans and headed towards Cleveland to dine with and tour the gardens of some folks involved in an entrepreneurial market garden program in and around Cleveland’s EcoVillage.
After a much needed deep sleep, we took to the road again to explore the urban agriculture scene in Cleveland – as led by Maurice. We Road Trippers continually made comments about Maurice’s incredible ability to identify every pocket garden and food project around the city – indicating some extremely detailed mental map of urban agriculture craziness inside his head.
Our first stop, Gather Round Garden. Planted on top of a parking lot of an old convenience/liquor store transformed into a childcare center. Lots of amoeba-shaped raised garden beds in every shape and form. Bantam chickens and roosters cluck out of their coop refashioned from old windows and boards. Food goes to a store-front shelter and soup kitchen organized by a Catholic Worker House – as well as being distributed throughout the neighborhood. Worked out a lease with the landowner for $1. Been growing for 4 ½ years.
Second stop: the Kentucky Gardens. Been around for over 50 years. Less than one acre. 200 families. Community greenhouse. Plots are rented out by the summer growing season – $10/large bed, $5/small plot. Each gardener is required to contribute so many hours of service to the maintenance and upkeep of the property each year. Has a fruit orchard and beehives. Here we met Maurice’s mother.
Third stop(s): two chefs. Chef one – growing in an alleyway betwixt two very large buildings. Marigold Catering. Herbs, edible flowers, vegetables, and mushroom logs. Chef Two – Chef Karen Small of the Flying Fig. With the help of youth recruited and trained by Maurice, built raised beds in her backyard. Grows herbs, vegetables, and watercress (in a simple outdoor aquaculture system) for
use in her restaurant based around local foods. Here our fingers – and lips – became stained with the purple blood of mulberries, as we avidly harvested backyard berries at Karen’s invitation.
Fourth stop: Vel’s Purple Oasis. Started in 2008 by a grandmother and her granddaughter Kayla. Bought land 20 years ago with the dream of someday having a garden. Named after Vel’s love of the color purple – which represents majestic royalty. The garden is an oasis in the midst of Cleveland’s death and drought. Rebuilding the soil by solarizing the weeds, laying down cardboard and sickle-cutting hay to build lasagna garden beds. Built a strawbale greenhouse with the help of Brad Massey at the New Agrarian Center in Oberlin. Recently bought some nearby house to open as a community kitchen and place of holistic healing.
We were unable to visit the New Agrarian Center in Oberlin, OH, due to the craziness of our schedule and the wealth of information already clogging our noggins. So we went to the West Side Market (Cleveland’s year-round indoor market) or falafels. That evening we enjoy a sunset – and the Summer Solstice – on Lake Erie.
My closing thoughts:
“To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted, a time to kill and a time to be healed.”
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
End Day Nine. End Part Four.
Take Me Home, (Coal) Country Roads:
the Agrarian Tour through West Virginia
One of the unofficial theme songs for us – Agrarian Road Trippers – has been John Denver’s “Country Roads” – mainly because of the line “West Virginia. Mountain Mama. Take me home. Country Roads.” And West Virginia – or at least the southwest region – has her fair share of country roads. It is in the midst of these country roads that we have visited and shared stories – as well as a few bluegrass tunes, picked out on banjo and guitar – with fellow agrarian minded folks in Coal Country, West Virginia.
Day Six and Day Seven:
Our main contact in Mullens, West Virginia, is the organization Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), where we hook up with fellow young agrarians Jack and Becky. Jack has been working with RAIL since 2008. Originally from West Virginia, Jack was hired to start a farmers market in Mullens – only problem being there were no farmers. This is coal country. No one farms here. In order to tell his story of the work he has done with RAIL, Jack first had to share the story of coal in Mullens and her surrounding coal camps.
First off, there aren’t towns. There are coal camps – little “villages” created by the coal companies to house miners. These houses were built precariously upon steep mountain hillsides, with little space betwixt neighboring houses – seldom a yard or septic tank. Today, 65% of all sewage in Wyoming county is directly pumped into the river running through the camps. This is not to mention the additional run-off dumped by the coal industry. This is the water – should agriculture gain momentum – that will be used to irrigate gardens and livestock. In 2001, Mullens suffered a drastic flood, water climbing to ceilings on the first floor story of buildings and homes throughout the town. Although a flood to this magnitude is not common, seasonal flooding happens on a regular basis. For the beginning agrarian, having your garden washed away at least once per season is quite the discouraging start.
However, Jack sees gardening as one step towards self-sufficiency for the people living in communities historically tied to the coal industry. In former times, the coal companies outlawed gardening in coal camps – thus making coal miners and their families dependent on purchasing food from the mercantile stores operated by the coal companies. Although growing gardens is no longer illegal, the coal companies still own 85% of the land in Wyoming county where Mullens is seated. Another 5% of the land is owned by state and federal government – leaving a mere 10% of land available to the people for housing, parks, gardens and businesses.
“Coal is in the blood of the people,” one local woman from the organization, Friends of Milam Creek, told us. Out of the 20,000 people in Wyoming County, only 800 are employed in the coal industry. Employment in coal has drastically decrease with the rise in mechanization of the industry. Although most people living in coal country know at least one person who has died of black lung, jobs in the coal industry are the most sought-after. A coal miner with a high school education can make more money in a year than a college professor with a PhD. The balance of health-versus-wealth is a thin line to walk in the coal industry. Jobs for the remaining individuals span mechanical labor, food service and retail. Many area youth drift away from their communities when – and if – the opportunity arises.
With all these thoughts muddling up my mind, we head out to the RAIL Community Garden – to mull over thoughts and pull some weeds. In addition to locating spaces for community residents to “farm” – there is a stigma attached to the lesser work of gardening – RAIL provides workshops on growing food, canning and preserving, and hosts a farmers market on RAIL’s property. Fresh food is grown for sale at market, for donation to food pantries, and for family consumption of those who grow it. We visited a few more gardens before harvesting some vegetables for our own dinner. At our last stop I noticed two bumper stickers both at the same house: “Nader/Gonzalez” and “I ‘heart’ Coal” – an interesting combination rarely replicated in any other community.
It doesn’t take an agrarian-minded person to connect the story of coal country economics in Appalachia to mechanized, m
ono-cropped agriculture in the Midwest. (The average age of a farmer in America today is 57.) Disillusioned youth are encouraged to seek educational opportunities elsewhere due to the lack of vocational attachment to the industry of the area. To leave is to succeed. Rarely applauded or honored are those who choose to stay. To mine. To farm. Outside do-gooders with liberal arts educations grounded in service to community are heralded by their own communities as heroes. But those who choose to stay are seen as having missed their golden opportunity.
West Virginia, Mountain Mama. Country roads, take me home.
End Day Seven. End Part Three.
the Agrarian Tour through North Carolina, with a nod to rural Virginia
On our venture into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, we – Agrarian Road Trippers – encountered the ugly effects of war, tobacco, and child labor juxtaposed with and transformed into community-supporting small-scale agriculture
Naked children running through a front yard sprinkler. The time is mid-day, lunchtime. We share a garden fresh meal of salad with o-so ripe tomatoes and water melon, as well as some hard boiled eggs from some hard-working chickens. Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding us in the valley. One of the biggest inhibitors for young folks – all folks – to start farming is land. Farming is one of the most capital-intensive careers – inhibitory during a time of economic crisis and in a society where agricultural life is dwindling in the shadow of Big Ag. However, we are in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the midst of wilderness happening. Here we meet Fred and Elizabeth Bahnson – and their two little boys running through the sprinkler. Here outside Brevard, North Carolina, we are in the midst of this New Agrarian Movement. A revival of the rural. The Bahnsons may as well be the poster children for what the small family farm can be. Fred is a writer and student of the ways of permaculture. Elizabeth is a bluegrass fiddler with an interest in livestock. And they have been blessed with family land in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
[Here is just a snippet of articles written by Fred: Compost for the Kingdom; A Garden Becomes a Protest; Monks, Mushrooms, and the Sacramental Nature of Everyday Eating; Good Soil.]
Where the Bahnsons live is actually a microclimate in the midst of the mountains – a tropical rainforest, receiving nearly 80 inches of rain each year – as much as Seattle. As they build their new house, the Bahnsons have planned to harvest the rainwater, situating their catchment system on top of a hill – to gravity-feed to their biointesive growing beds. In addition to rainwater catchment, Fred has designed swales on the contour of the land to irrigate native fruit trees and prevent erosion on the steep slope on which their farm is southerly-facing. Other highlights of their farm-to-be are living mulches that fix nitrogen (lupine) and accumulate other deep nutrients (comfrey), as well as growing their own grains (Hopi blue corn for grinding). Elizabeth is currently dreaming of a goat dairy.
After leaving the Bahson’s, we head towards Asheville to the Asheville Veterans Restoration Quarters – a converted Super 8 that now houses around 225 homeless veterans every night. Men who have served in all wars from Vietnam to Iraq are housed here – with an average of 51. By request of the men – and with incredible support of a visionary directory, one acre of land was converted into an organic garden to provide therapeutic activity as well as fresh food to the residents of the shelter. The Veterans Victory Garden was started in 2008 and now operates its own Tailgate Farmers Market two days a week. The men have also been able to take courses in gardening and greenhouse production to hone their expertise – as well as working with Master Gardeners to earn the art of canning and preserving. Money earned through sales to the community is supplemented with funding from Tobacco Settlements in North Carolina to sustain the financial success of the garden. Currently the two men maintaining the garden are seeking to become Certified Organic through the USDA. The social worker in me is encouraged to see projects that integrate the rebuilding of soil with the rebuilding of lives.
Our next stop takes us back into the mountains outside Asheville, to Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. We begin our stay with a lesson in ethno-botany with Chef Marc Williams. Chef Marc guides us through the culinary uses of commonly found wild – and not so wild – edibles. Together we craft our dinner: herbal tea of monarda (bee balm), spearmint, sassafras leaves; pesto of lamb’s quarter and basil; garden salad with more lamb’s quarter and lettuce, garnished with day lilies and monarda; and for dessert, juneberry-blackberry cobbler.
The remainder of the evening is spend in conversation with folks from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and Association of Farmworker Opportunity Program. The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) started in the mid-1990s with Tobacco Settlement money to help transition farmers in the tobacco fields to organic vegetable production – as well as to build demand for local food. Currently, ASAP works on organizing and supporting farmers markets in the northwest region of North Carolina and working on farm-to-institution projects – such as connecting local farmers to the food services of schools, hospitals and colleges.
The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Program (AFOP) is focused on two main agricultural issues: pesticide outreach to farmworker and children in the fields. Our conversation focused on child labor in the fields. In North Carolina alone, over 150,000 migrants come to work the agricultural season – helping make agriculture the number one industry in North Carolina. However, an often overlooked issue of migrant labor is child labor out in the fields. The Child Labor Law in 1938 does not include limitations on child labor in agricultural fields. Many children are found in the fields helping their parents meet harvest quotas in order to earn enough to live on. As is the case, many students start the school year late and are pulled out before the school year ends – and often drop out before graduating. Beyond educational structure, children out in the field are exposed to pesticides, dangerous machinery and at-risk for muscular-skeletal injuries. Penalties for corporations and large farms caught with children in the field are little more than a slap on the wrist. Just one of many of the ugly truth behind our large-scale agriculture.
Warren Wilson College (WWC) is another crazy liberal arts colleges with a high emphasis on sustainablity. With just over 900 students – and growing, WWC receives increased interest each year in its Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Forestry Programs. WWC started in 1894 as a farm school for farm boys – but has expanded much beyond farming, and boys. When asked about the College’s rapport with the Swannanoa community, Sustainable Ag Professor Laura Lingenck tells us she finds locals frequently cruising through the campus, admiring the sight of young buff women not afraid to run a tiller or back hoe.
Students in the Ag Department operate both the Market Garden Farm and Grain and Livestock Production – a total of 150 acres in production. In the Market Garden Farm, garden beds are double-dug according to French intensive methods. Produce is grown for local markets (2/week) as well as a CSA in the summer months for faculty and staff of WWC. Much of the produce is also sold to WWC Dining Services, contracted with Sodexho. (WWC purchases 18% of its fruit and vegetables from its Market Garden and 50% of its red meat from the Livestock Program). Both cover crops and rotational planting are incorporated into the planting schedules, as well as hoop houses for season extension. Throughout the season, chickens in movable tractors are run through the garden beds, to fertilizer and control pests. The Sustainable Ag Program chooses not to certify its vegetables organic.
As for livestock management, the Sustainable Ag Program grows the majority of its own grains for animal feed rong> – typically a profit-eating cost in livestock production. Stock-piling is another way the College conserves money, by allowing its cattle to graze grain still standing in the field even after the first frost. Approximately 175 cattle graze on a 25-paddock rotation – on perennial pastures of corn, alfalfa, oats, barley, and wheat. In addition to cattle, WWC also raises pigs, chickens (which follow the cattle in rotational pasturing) and horses for draft farming, mainly in the Agroforestry Department. Other department tractors (as well as maintenance vehicles on campus) run on locally brewed biodiesel, Blue Ridge Biodiesel.
As if the Sustainable Ag Program at WWC weren’t great enough, the Recycling Department at WWC also features student-constructed industrial compost tumblers, a soon-to-be-built cob house structure, and Free Store to recycle unwanted clothing, furniture, and all other sorts of odds and ends with just a wee bit more life in them – or that can be refurbished at WWC’s woodworking and bike shops. We rough agrarians rummaged for a spare notebook, extra shampoo and souvenir t-shirt.
Before leaving North Carolina, we continued our rebelliously delicious and ridiculously fresh forays into food at Rosetta’s Kitchen in downtown Asheville. Rosetta’s features a number of vegetables and ingredients sourced from the Swannanoa Valley. I ordered the special of the day – pickled maroon and golden beets atop a bed of fresh greens atop fry bread, dressed with a cilantro-cashew sauce. Yum.
We hit the road for one more stop before our final destination in West Virginia. The Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, VA, renowned for its connection to the author and sometimes agrarian essayist Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, owns the Harvest Table Restaurant – and has crafted its menu to include food mainly sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant. Vegetables are a given, but the Harvest Table also sources meat, cheese, eggs and rice (grown in South Carolina) from the region. I ordered a caramelized red onion and beet green frittata and was greeted by the happiest, orangiest of eggs on my plate – a rarity in the dining-out world. Once again our minds – and taste buds – have been blown by the exhausting epicurean delights on which we dine. Oh the glories of local food!
We are passively witnessing the reawakening of rural life. Her pastoral hillsides. Her setting sun to the lowing of cows. Her stars in the pure black night. We now have the responsibility to share the romance we see. To bring sexy back. Not only to rural living and lifestyles – but to agricultural vocation.
End Day Five. End Part Two.