From Slow Food USA Intern Laura Kate Morris:

Bread

I recently told a friend about my favorite meal last summer.  It was a tempeh Reuben sandwich, and in describing it I kept saying “…and I made it, so it was really good!”  I meant the bread, greens, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickles… actually, everything but the tempeh (to which I had to add “but I could have made it!”).  Perhaps not everyone would be so excited to find the culmination of the last few years in the form of a sandwich, but for me it was symbolic of more than just lunch.

A few years ago I concluded that if I learned how to farm then maybe I could save the world (or at least my personal slice of it).  At the time (the end of my first year of college) it seemed logical; I knew I didn’t like the mania of pop culture, nor the American propensity for instant dinner on the run.  I knew college felt like an exercise in disassociating myself from a tangible, living world.  The Omnivores Dilemma was more important to me than Methods of Economic Theory.  That, and secretly I wanted a nice tan.  Three months later I had the tan (in terrible t-shirt-and-shorts patches) and I was convinced that the rest of my life would be spent on a homestead, starting as soon as possible.

So began my parallel education.  Not yet willing to drop out of college, I spent another year slogging through Psych 101 and Comparative World Politics, missing my fresh tomato and basil salads and that hot sticky feeling at the end of a day of weeding that made me so happy.  But before long I’d had it.  I took a semester off and began a work/study program at a craft school in North Carolina.  Instead of textbooks, I found the materials for my “classes” were an open fire hearth, pickling crocks, and spinning wheels.  I learnt to ferment anything (I mean anything; tempeh, yoghurt, fruit kimchi, blueberry mead, you name it).  I explored ways to make wool turn luscious colors from twigs and bits of leaves, and to love living in a town smaller than the average college dorm.  It was the next step on my homesteading journey.  By this time, I could sew or knit my own clothes, throw and fire my own pots, and grow my own food.  But there was more: Keeping livestock, growing grain, saving seeds, keeping bees… the list goes on and on.
The next year I went back to college to finish and spent most of my free time at what I considered my “real” education on a nearby farm, growing and selling vegetables at local markets.  That summer, I left the East Coast for my first livestock experience.  I worked six months at a goat dairy, hand milking our twenty does and making chèvre and raw cheddar cheeses.  This would prove to be practically a 24/7 job, flipping a wheel of cheese at 11 pm or hanging bags of curds to drain out their yellowish whey in the wee hours of the morning.  In the past, my time had been punctuated by meals or bedtime, but soon I began structuring my day in terms of how long until the next milking.  I found new muscles in my hands after months of what the farm crew fondly called “teat-squeezing.”  I became extremely fond of our rather rotund herd and still think the best way to start one’s day is leaning sleepily against a warm goat and squirting a shot of warm milk into your coffee.  I also learnt about the different incarnations farms can take, as the goat dairy was a collective of young people with a flexible hierarchy.  As the summer progressed, I started to think that maybe I wanted more than a garden and a cabin. Maybe I wanted have an active, organizational role in this food movement.

Internships, no matter how fantastic, don’t last forever!  The next year I had moved up the food chain, so to speak, and was working as assistant manager on a small farm (that looked great on paper) in the Hudson Valley.  We were a non-profit C.S.A., running educational programs for children and inner-city teens, creating farmer-education classes for interns, taking care of a small herd of sheep and a flock of chickens, and donating our excess food to the needy.  It sounded great.  But, eventually I came to the conclusion that while farming is crucial and some of the most satisfying work I have ever done, I was also looking for a way to use my skills politically and to learn about the other side of this movement.

Farming life has taught me more than just about how to grow a tomato or plucking a chicken.  I’ve learned much about how I value work, craft, and good food, but mostly I learned to take charge of my education.  At this point, I don’t have the faintest idea where my plans as an activist farmer will take me–“back to the land” or on to further urban non-profits.  But I can always find comfort in the thought that I know how to make a really great sandwich.

Since that sandwich, I made my way to Slow Food USA and found an excellent network to get involved with, as it offers people, young and old, an opportunity to engage in the pleasures of farming while also encouraging them to participate in the fight for fair food.  While everyone should find his or her own path, if there is a way for Slow Food to help you, let us know.  From organizing a Slow Food on Campus chapter on your campus to connecting with local farmers for apprenticeship opportunities, or campaigning for farmworker rights, Slow Food USA has the network to help you get involved.

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