Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"The Emergent Agriculture" - Gary Kleppel's Personal Story

It was a room full of mostly students and academics, a couple of farmers, and one Goddess of Fire who was NOT the center of attention.

Gary Kleppel gave a fascinating lecture this week at the University at Albany based on his recently published book "The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy". A professor of biology, Dr. K told us the story of his and his community's transformation to becoming successful farmers after what was, for some, many years far removed from the land. And while it's fun to think of smarty-pants lawyers having nervous breakdowns and ending up in the dirt, I think they did it for some very good reasons.
Dr. Gary Kleppel talks about his book, "The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy" at the University at Albany (May 3, 2016)
First, Dr. K made us all really, really depressed. He started with getting us to think about two fundamental assumptions many of us make about the food we eat: (1) it is safe, and (2) it is a commodity. Short answer: NO it is not safe (48 million cases of foodborne illness a year in the U.S.), and (2) NO it is not a commodity (everything is NOT the same, except the price). Monocultures of both plants and animals, the move away from family farms to industrial agriculture, the push for more production and yield and profit, has come at a cost: loss of diversity and overuse of pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers and antibiotics, feed lots and the mistreatment of animals, food that is old and poor quality and tasteless, huge investments in moving food across the globe, negative effects on climate, and sucking up all the water that isn't in California. He attests that it is wars, politics, and policies that prevent everyone in the world from getting enough food.

After a good cry (not that I cry, mind you), we were given hope that there are alternatives.

The bottom line: we need to be more sustainable, and we can do this by supporting local farms and farming and buying local, and by truly being part of this big change in terms of the way we produce and consume food. Local food that connects consumers and food producers in the same geographic area will make us self-reliant and improve local economies, our health, and the environment. Dr. K gave all kinds of data suggesting that local is emerging as a viable means of feeding the planet.

So he decided to try life on the farm, with a couple of sheepies to start and two cute herding dogs, looking at "the whole system", thinking environment/economics/ethics, and worked with other neighbor farmers to learn even more as he built his business (while not quitting his day job, I note), and Longfield Farm was born. Dr. K described farmers as "gritty, creative, smart" - a real community.

Farmers Only, here I come.

Anyway, while many of the students were likely inspired and may go "wwoofing", here's some things YOU can do to be part of this revolution:

(1) Go to the Farmer's Markets - Delmar, Troy, Schenectady, the Plaza, many more - be part of the action, be part of your community - and buy what's in season or produced locally BEFORE you hit the mainline grocery stores. It will be tastier, too.
(2) Consider a CSA (Fox Creek, Roxbury, etc.) - there's more out there than just veggies. Denison has fruit and egg shares, for example, and Blackhorse has meat.
(3) Join a community garden, or replace those perty flowers with some vegetables in your own back yard. Dirt is good.
(4) Stop at the farm stands and farm stores every chance you get. Note to Self: Try not to buy a pie EVERY time.
(5) Get involved with Field Goods - they have a service that's convenient and affordable and includes more than just produce if you wish. I like that you can buy for a family of four or just a single.
(6) Smarten up about what you buy in the grocery store. I bought some AMAZING cocktail tomatoes from Backyard Farms, ME in Hannaford's two days ago (closer than FL, anyway). Try one of the area food co-ops, Whole Foods, or Fresh Market to find local food.
(7) Oh yeah, learn to cook. Really.

Gary sells bread at the Farmer's Market in Delmar on Saturdays
Zena, Goddess of Fire

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