Monthly Archives: April 2012

Fish cluster: Another look at farming in Bangladesh

Fish in Bangladesh are a vital source of financial and nutritional health for the rural poor.  Small-scale fish farms and hatcheries contribute to the local economy and provide an affordable source of protein and other essential nutrients to many in rural areas, where nearly half of the population faces starvation and malnutrition.Yet threats to fish and the people who rely upon them are very similar to other agriculture sectors:  changing climate impacts water levels, fish habitat is being taken for non-agriculture uses, and industrial pollution poisons the ground water through runoff or through direct toxic dumping.

The Fish Site reported that in fiscal year 2008-2009 alone, more than 3 million tons of chemical fertilizers and 45,000 tons of insecticides were used in farmlands across the country, according to Department of Agriculture Extension data. Rains wash away nearly 25% of these chemicals into the

Kulpur, Jamalpur District, 11 February 2012

watershed. And that reflects only the byproducts of industrial agriculture practices.  In the northern part of Bangladesh, people in Kulpur village rely on fish from the river as a main staple of their diet.  But the village has the bad fortune to be located downstream from a chemical fertilizer plant that periodically dumps ammonia into the river, killing the fish.  I visited the village, only accessible by boat, in early February.  Crossing the river I noticed several small fish floating belly up in the water.  The people told me for the last 2 weeks fish had been dying from ammonia poisoning, the second time this has happened in 3 years.  For people already struggling to get food in their isolated community, the impacts have been devastating.

Aside from toxins, access is also becoming a concern.  As market demands encourage farmers to raise particular varieties of fish like silver carp and tilapia, the shift from affordable, indigenous fish has serious impacts on the poor, according to a study from the International Food Policy Research.  This is a trend seen in poor countries throughout the world, not only Bangladesh.

Mymensingh Fish Market, 8 March 2012

Yet the IFPC notes in Bangladesh efforts have begun to “promote semi-intensive polyculture in small, seasonal ponds, using the nutrient-dense  small fish mola together with carp species. Mola greatly improves the nutritional value of the output of the pond, has no negative economic consequences, and adds about 10 percent to the total productivity of the pond.”  This model allows small fish farmers to still have market access with higher-priced fish while providing an essential food source for local consumption.

Once again, I am reminded that the industrial agriculture model (promoted by the Monsantos of the world), with its emphasis on chemicals, monoculture, and large-scale methods, runs counter to the health and well-being of humans and the land that sustains us.

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Certified Naturally Grown: A Conversation with Kilpatrick Family Farm, NY

Taking it Local. 

We road tripped to the farmer’s markets in upstate, NY for a look at what’s going on locally with farming and the impact of agribusiness.  Lucky for us, through a connection, Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Family Farm agreed to spend some time answering our questions on life as a natural farmer.  We stepped outside the indoor Saratoga Farmer’s Market on the brisk winter afternoon to talk agriculture.  His family farm was recommended to us as an example of their success as a local, Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) farm.  According to CNG, which states it is the grassroots alternative to Certified Organic, the programs certified “are based on the highest ideals of organic farming.”  Specifically, “CNG farms don’t use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds, just like organic farms.” 

We hear so much about the need for products such as Monsanto’s RoundUp and GM seeds designed specifically to meet the needs of farmers and gardeners struggling against nature’s fury of severe weather, insects, animals, climate conditions, and other factors deemed uncontrollable.  Is it possible to successfully feed ourselves and tend livestock without dependence on such products?  Since we are not food producers ourselves (and I am beginning to think that’s to our detriment), we had to ask the experts. What we found, in this conversation as well as in others, is that an alternative to this dependence is not just possible, it’s happening.  And, going even further, if a sustainable system is in our future, the organic food movement believes it is necessary to eliminate not just this dependence, but the current model of conventional farming.  Michael Kilpatrick, after discussing his own farm’s methods and reasons for going natural in the above clip, cited Polyface Farms, of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, as another model for farming which is consistent with what he would like developed in more areas.   Their website explains that their “family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm,” is, “…in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”  Powerful concept, right?  Joel Salitin, of the Polyface Farm, has been featured in such movies as Fresh, and I found it interesting that Michael mentioned him because there were strong similarities as he spoke naturally, intelligently, eloquently, and passionately about his work, alternatives, and the sustainable agriculture movement.   I walked away from this interview feeling as if those who are closer to nature know some secrets, and some answers, which those of us outside, especially of food production, don’t know yet.   I am looking forward to hearing Mary’s experiences with farmers in Bangladesh, and if she is encountering the same humbling, inspiring, organic intelligence from those closest to the land and water.

Benefits of a natural local farm are not just exclusive to the ecosystem.  One benefit to those in the surrounding community can be the availability of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program directly through the farm.  Kilpatrick Family Farm offers a CSA program, which allows for participants to purchase membership shares and receive weekly supplies of in-season, fresh produce harvested at the farm.  Nice, right?  Usually either delivered to you, or you can go to the farm for a pick-up and even a walk-through, there are some differences between CSA programs, depending on the farm and location. To find some CSAs near you, click here.  Another benefit to the community is the presence of these farms at farmer’s markets.  Kilpatrick Family Farm tables at both the Glens Falls Farmer’s Market and the Saratoga Farmer’s Market.  If you want fresh, local, and in-season products, a local farmer’s market is a great place to start.  Plus, you can go meet the farmer at the market, find out their farming practices, or even go for a farm tour and check out the place where all the magic happens!

On the farm’s website, they list links for further information on not just sustainable eating, but also sustainable living.  May they lead the way for others! Thank you to Michael Kilpatrick, a resourceful and energetic farmer, for taking the time to explain some important details for us.  Oh, and the best part about this project?  Buying the available products while visiting these markets!  I went home with a bag full of local, organic produce and homemade goodies, which I shared with my family post road-trip.   Everything was delicious, and I am really loving all this fresh food with local histories.

*Editing Note: In the posted video, a clip lists CSA= Community Support Agriculture due to an unnoticed spelling error during editing.  The correct meaning of CSA is Community Supported Agriculture, which is listed above.  Sorry!*

“City Girl” Visits Elsworth Family Farm

Jesse atop the Combine with Bill Elsworth

Combines

Of course, we have decided to head to the source: farmers!  If you have seen the movie, Food Inc., you are well aware that our picturesque family farms with red barns, grassy nooks, and grazing animals are dwindling in reality.  As the U.S. agriculture system has been transformed, many small farms have been eliminated and replaced by large businesses for industrial production.  As a result, the number of farms in the U.S. dropped from 7 million in 1930 to 2 million in 2000.”  And how many of those 2 million produced 75% of the nation’s farm output???  Just 3%!!!!  Basically, out with the local, family farmers and in with massive industrial farms.  Well, what does that mean in the long run when a few farms are producing most of the food crops, and less local farms are able to compete? We wanted to find out what we’re missing out on if this trend continues, so we went off to visit some of these family farms which have survived this massive downsizing of our farming heritage.  Lucky for us, with Mary’s internship, we were able to check in with some farmers in both the U.S. and Bangladesh, and we’ll share the contrast with you all as well!

This “City Girl” spent the day with Bill Elsworth and fam at the Elsworth Family Farm, a family-run, local, natural farm in upstate, NY laughing at myself as I awkwardly asked questions about the simplest of farm tools, machinery, and farm life.  I loved the very quick comeback AND reminder that they understood as I confused using the terms  tractor and combine; I didn’t even attempt some other names and tools!  In fact, “City Girl” fit me perfectly for how I was feeling.  I promised that if they ever came into my world for a while, I would patiently take them around the same way they did me- with humor and understanding!!

Lessons Learned: Today was a reality check; I am disconnected from the production of food, the care of soil, the slaughter of meat, and the work of the land.  And actually, I am even disconnected from the available alternatives to the apartment/house package with utilities that has become a norm in most areas: my cozy reality.

(Non-GMO) Corn and sunflower seeds fuel the fire

How many of us are disconnected?  The suburban/urban life is creating a distance further from our land, farms and gardens than I ever realized.  After spending some time on the opposite end of our food production chain, it feels as if I should have been there long ago.  I have to say… this was a fun, powerful, and magical day full of pride for farmers and those working the land… sun-up to sun-down.  Not only did I have the privilege of a farm tour and a climb up top the combine, but I spent a day hanging, conversing, and laughing with those who have never lost sight of the importance of the work they do and the connection between care of the land and care of one another.  

The Elsworth’s main work is growing all-natural animal feed; they shared how people travel from as far away as 4 hours to buy from them and that business has definitely increased over the last few years. Buyers often ask about GMOs and their feed-growing practices, as they have chosen not to use GMO seed nor plant GM crops. Nearest their smaller plot of land, there were some GM crop fields in the area so they know very well of the increased use of such seeds. But, citing health concerns and decisions made long ago, they themselves stick to what they consider as the more natural route and are happy to talk about what they do for a living, day in and day out.  They feed their animals (the pigs, turkeys, cows, and emus) the same all-natural feed which they make.  They also offer a wide range of custom field work to surrounding farms. Our posted footage of their introduction provides necessary insight into what it is they, and so many other family farmers, do to care for all of us! The day’s adventure was chock full of information. On site, in addition to the farm machinery and tools, they also have a mill to make the feed.

on-site Mill

As this is the off-season, they were clearing the land of debris in the fields and completing repairs on one of their tractors.”There are no sick days” said Bill.  And, rarely are there vacations, either.  In fact, Bill said he and his wife bought a trailer a few years ago and the only vacation they’ve taken since the purchase was for a farm show.  During harvest seasons, 12 hour days are the norm and they rely on strong teamwork to get the job done.  It’s not just a job for them; it’s a way of life.

A Change of Perspective: Soon, the snow could be seen coming up over the mountains, so we were warned by the Elsworth’s to get on the road if we wanted to avoid it.  Watching the sky darken in the distance, holding my green, dinosaur-looking Emu egg, and smiling from a story they told about a calf (Petunia) they rescued who now acts like one of the dogs, I felt that ‘magic’ of being connected to nature, food, and people.  This trip was when my own mind started to solidify a feeling of connection to these alternatives of natural, family, and local farming.  We can’t lose this!  I felt my energy and attention turning to the important work done in cultivating the land… It’s my hope that this project contributes to the growing movement focusing on the work of small to medium, local, natural and organic, family and community farms and gardens.  We are all part of the solution.  Us disconnected “City folk” (I’m well aware some are not as naive and far removed as most of us!) have lots to learn.  Thank you to those who have worked and are working the land, caring for the soil, humanely raising the animals, and producing the crops which  become our food and drink.  It was a pleasure to spend the day with the hardworking, patient, kind, and funny Elsworth family. And, thank you for allowing me to share this journey with you all!

When’s the last time you went out to your local farm and checked out what they are up to?   I highly recommend paying them a visit!

Side Note: An Unexpected Surprise: As we broke bread over lunch after a few hours of farm touring, we were presented with a surprise parting gift: an Emu egg!  For those who follow our facebook page, you already know this was all the rage for us!  In my naivety and ‘city girl’ style, I first accepted the egg, held it in my hands, and before I knew what I was doing had asked if this egg would hatch???  Because of course, I pictured an emu running along the beach with me in pursuit.  Earlier, they had shared the hysterical story of when an emu had kicked a woman in the chest when she cornered it while attempting to catch the bird (because apparently, that’s what they do when cornered: kick their legs out!). They had warned her not to trap it but she was intent on doing so, and of course it ended badly for her: on the ground catching her breath!  Thankfully, they laughed off my ridiculous question and told me to use the egg to make a large batch of french toast. 🙂

Emu egg departing gift from Elsworth Family Farm

*Haven’t yet seen the footage from cracking this egg open??!  Click here!