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Pans and Perspective

You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007

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Food Philosophy Discussions

“Celebrating the scacredness of producing and enjoying food and the experience of dining through all the senses.”

“After a week in front of the screen, the opportunity to work with my hands – with all my senses, in fact – is always a welcome change of pace, whether in the kitchen or in the garden. There’s something about such work that it seems to alter the experience of time, helps me reoccupy the present tense.”

– Michael Pollan, Cooked; 2013

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Learning What it Really Takes to Make Food: Substitutions and Compromise

Hundreds of years ago the colonizers spread across America and put down roots, both literally and figuratively. Agriculture was their life: crucial to their survival but also demanding nothing short of total participation.

I have been contemplating this topic for nearly a week. It manifested during the days following this post. I began to realize the amount of work – labor, effort and sheer strength – required to produce an acre of food; it was astounding. Fertilizing with compost, tilling, weed management and pest control had the potential to impose upon each second of a farmer’s life. In colonial times, I’m certain it did. Even with families of six to eight children the work was perpetually incomplete. Over time, the advent of agricultural technology helped eliminate the need for so many physical bodies by replacing them with mechanical ones instead. My purpose of coming to pepperfield was to learn where food came from, but after this last week it has evolved slightly. My understanding of food is one of a conventional sense where, even organic, products are mass-produced with massive tractors and combines. Each task completed in mere seconds by robotic behemoths rather than the the hands of a person. My real purpose had more depth than that; sure I came to see where food comes from, but the honest truth is that how we grow food at Pepperfield is not really the way. We have simplified processes and sacrificed time to create something that transcends conventional agriculture. But we too make sacrifices and compromises, although very different.

Farming in the time of the settlers involved many more hands. Each tasked with completing a fragment of the puzzle to create a larger, beautiful picture. Horse and plows tore through the Earth to loosen the soil before manure – collected from the farm itself – was placed on the land by hand. It was then turned into the soil with a spading fork by a person. Rows were furrowed and trenches were dug with hand tools, not machinery, before seeds were sown piece by piece with delicate care. The ground was moved over the seeds to give them a new home and a potential for life. Water used for irrigation was pumped from wells by cranks that required a human’s touch. Once everything was in place the same eyes and hands watched and waited vigilantly to combat both weeds and pests. No Round-Up, no electric fencing, just dedication and a desire to survive.

At Pepperfield we form a team, albeit smaller than our pioneering counterparts, to reach the same goals. Our horse – aptly named Troybuilt – is a bright red roto-tiller that turns the task of preparing ground from a day’s work to a few short hours. Our three goats and dozen chickens produce our manure for compost and fertilization but we still haul in more from a neighboring farm. Again our red horse turns this “black gold” back into the Earth where it sits as a vein of nitrogen and other essential nutrients. With shocking authenticity to the settlers, we still furrow our rows with hoes and dig seed trenches by hand. We walk the rows hand sowing seeds with the same delicate care that these heirlooms received so many years ago. The trenches are filled and seeds are covered in the same manner before being watered. This time though, our electric pump draws the water from the well through hundreds of feet of hoses strung across the garden. Electric fences are set, organic pesticides of various powdered plant matter are dusted on crops and we too watch almost as diligently as our colonial counterparts for the first sign of life, weeds or seedlings; each strip is carefully purged of weeds as they surface by hand or hoe.

The modern systems eliminate the need for many children or a team of farmers. Tractors pulling massive disks can loosen acres of soil in mere minutes. Petro-fertilizers are spread far over the required amounts as yield insurance; a faster, simpler and cheaper process that allows the step turning fertilizer into the Earth to be skipped entirely. Seeding apparatuses are dragged behind the same tractors planting hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds in a single pass, no furrowing required. Irrigation is made simpler by rolling sprinklers that create a cascade of water down onto these seeds. As they spring to life, petro-chemicals are sprayed – although not always if the GMO seeds have genes that repel potential pests – and weeding is managed much to the same effect.

Over the last 8 weeks, I have grown, just like the plants, at Pepperfield. My understanding of agricultural systems increases each day and I am beginning to identify the various input substitutions that are made on many different levels. Each day brings new surprises and thoughts to contemplate. The environment promotes this physical and mental expansion and offers living examples of natural processes. At Pepperfield we practice food production as close to its original roots as possible, still considering needs to maintain an efficient but low impact system. I believe that it is one of the reasons I enjoy Pepperfield so much. It isn’t preaching or practicing unrealistic methods to achieve a goal. But rather managing tools and techniques to create a wholesome product. These practices promote a key element for a prosperous future, in farming or life: Learn the complexity of a system and manage and manipulate it with compromises and sacrifice to reach a personally satisfying result.

Never Give Up, Just Try: Planting the Future through Perseverance

The simplest, maybe easiest, approach to dealing with anything is to not try. Surrendering is appealing to some because it requires no further effort. This can be compounded if the fight or battle against or with someone or something repeatedly ends up unsuccessful. Striving to actually “do”, whether it be in life, work or any other capacity, requires an investment. It might be financial, but more often it is time or energy oriented. One of the most strenuous elements of combating an issue or goal is to maintain a path of advancement. Simply, to try. I have always revelled in the feats of humanity. Each time I witness something amazing – cars in space or an egg cooked, then reverted back to its raw state – my belief to “Do my absolute best even when facing adversity because I can do anything as long as I try”, becomes even stronger. Humans have the ability to do anything. But that’s not to say there aren’t physical and mental limitations.

About a week ago I witnessed one of the best living examples of trying, more aptly called perseverance. It was a warm afternoon and David and I went to the upper vineyard. Our plan was to plant some new vines to replace others lost to winter kill. I watched as David meticulously planted the new Blue Bell grapes for future harvests. As he completed the series of plantings I asked him a few questions. “How much will these vines grow? Will they double in size?” Looking at these skimpy twigs I was curious how they could ever turn into the massive vines that dominated over two-thirds of the vineyard. David told me that if we had proper growing conditions they had the potential to double, possibly even grow more than that. As I gazed across the vineyard another spark of curiosity ignited within. “How old are these vines up here”, I asked, observing some of the behemoths with trunks thick as my wrist. David pondered for a second and I interjected, “Are they as old as the vineyard?” He quickly replied, “yes”, and followed it up with an explanation. He told me that he put this upper vineyard in about five years ago. Without any inquisition, he also added “These guys” – the vines we just planted – “will take about that much time before they set good fruit”
This is where my amazement peaked. David is 76 and yet he’s still planting vines. He’s looking to the future with optimism that he will still be around to care for them – although I’m sure he will be – and with hopes to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I’d like to talk about David. Author of several books, entomologist, and photographer, although he claims these are just hobbies, teacher, naturalist and farmer, he has lived his life in a similar fashion for its entirety. Even at 76 this season he planned – without any real knowledge of my participation on the farm – to manage his own life and land, the gardens of two of his neighbors, an edible landscape at the local hospital, oversight of a bed and breakfast, with efforts predominantly spearheaded by Ellis, countless donations to local non-profit organizations, and teaching people about growing in body, mind, and spirit. This testament alone demonstrates his drive to persevere: to never give up. But he isn’t a god, just a man. He has made countless sacrifices, which I applaud and respect, to achieve these feats; each carefully calculated to maximize his success and efficiency.

It would have been significantly easier for him to decline these supplemental garden projects; he could have taken a year off with the hospital landscape; hell, he even could’ve just brought me out here as a body for work and kept his philosophies and teachings to himself. (I’m extremely grateful he didn’t) He could’ve forsaken the grape vines and the vineyard and chalked it up as a loss. But that’s not David. Instead he is going “full boar” – one of his favorite euphemisms – looking beyond his daily tasks and comfort to plan for and plant his future.

Pepperfield – but moreso the man behind it – has taught me something everyday, ranging from farming to philosophy. It has given me the chance to be introspective and determine how I plan to live my future. One of the biggest components here at Pepperfield is the work. Laboring for countless hours, hauling pounds of manure and expelling gallons of sweat for a fabulous finished product. A living example planting the future through perseverance. David understands this so well because he has lived it for his entire life. He has seen the conversion of raw physical energy and mental determination transform into a beautiful bounty. David knows how much easier it would be to call it quits and lead a different life. The most intriguing point is that he doesn’t want to. The best part of this lesson is understanding it physically as well as mentally. I have only gotten a taste of David’s teachings and the work involved but each day as I grow, just like the vines we planted, I continue to experience what is like to try. Life isn’t easy, if it was it would be boring. Hard work, determination and perseverance are only a few of the keys to success. The biggest proponent is you! Next time you want to quit or surrender, don’t. Just try, strive to achieve more, plant those grape vines: plant your future.

Food Philosophy page now live

Please take some time to review my new food philosophy.  I want to personally thank David Cavagnaro for his edits and support.  This category will be reserved only for discussion and further elaboration on some of its points.

Enjoy!

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