“…Everyone is Entitled to Good Food”

To me, good food refers to food that is high quality and satisfying.  It’s something that can be categorized by these traits but also has many more meanings.

What is good food?

Although it is hard to narrow this down to a few simple parts, I am convinced that good food falls into two categories.  A term like good food is already quite vague and it refers to much more beyond some categories. But, I hope to explain some of my perspective and share my thoughts on it.

I believe that good food of high quality refers to food that uses high quality – unprocessed, fresh and nutritious – ingredients to create an equally high quality end product.  A perfect example of this might be a scratch tomato sauce; especially if using fresh tomatoes rather than canned. Scratch tomato sauce contains less additives and fresh ingredients resulting in a far tastier and nutritious sauce than its distant cousin Ragu.  But good food isn’t just limited to these factors.

It can also refer to something delicious or tasty.  Ideally this version of good food will also fall into the category of high quality; better ingredients generally yield a better end product.  But since “tasty” and “delicious” are subjective, that may not always be the case. My perfect example of a satisfying good food would be ice cream.  It would be made from scratch using local ingredients and purchases to create a delicious treat that also featured its prime ingredients and their producers.  But to some, maybe Ben & Jerry’s fills this category; that’s okay, either way – homemade or store bought – ice cream is satisfying good food.

This idea – “Everyone is entitled to good food” – is very similar to the concept of food security.  According the United Nations, food security is defined as “the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods…”  But at its core, this component of my food philosophy has two supporting ideas.

Food is something beautiful and sacred and deserves to be shared.  Everyone should be able to partake in this regardless of physical, economic or social position.  A fantastic dining experience – both the service and the food – is something amazing and should not be reserved to the individuals willing to spend excessive amounts of money; and it’s starting to become more prevalent in places across the planet.  Now in even the tiniest corners, like Rushford, Minnesota (population 807), these exciting experiences are created from excellence.

Additionally, good food has the potential to connect people, promote growth, inspire ideas and recall cherished memories.  Hundreds of years ago, during the tobacco harvest season, slaves and owners would gather at the same table to partake in a feast – barbecue – to celebrate the end of the harvest.  Stigmas of racism that normally dominated everyday life were thrown out the window as this delicious repast connected two unlikely groups and cultures.

One of my fondest memories of good food dates back to my childhood.  As a surprise treat to go with dinner, my mother would make pasta salad.  This wasn’t anything fancy but it sure was delicious. Now, anytime I have my mother’s pasta salad, it brings me back to memories of family time around the table and the wonders of being a kid.  If good food isn’t shared with all it inhibits these possibilities.

No one should live their life without some access to good food.  It opens new doors and creates fantastic opportunities. This tenant of my food philosophy is one of the reasons I strive to create delicious and memorable experiences for my  consumers. Our world has many not-so-great parts, but I believe food can rekindle a kind and loving world while it provides a guiding light for all; I believe everyone is entitled to good food.

The Purpose: Why I Came to Pepperfield (Revisited)

This is the recent featured story on Rettlers. After some edits, I have revisted this post to make it more comprehensive and concise.

It’s hard to place the origin – both a time and the foundation – of my purpose for coming to Pepperfield. But, it began quite some time before my arrival and has evolved constantly. From its inception, this trip was intended to expand my knowledge of food. I desired to learn the origins of the ingredients I was intimately familiar with from my time in the food service industry. Additionally, I hoped to further develop my respect for food. Likewise, I wished to participate in all the steps – intensive labor and intimate care – required to propagate plants, specifically fruits and vegetables, but also animals. Furthermore, I hoped to begin a healing process that I had neglected or maybe ignored for many years.
Being in the industry for the last seven years, I believe that I began to lose sight of these origins. It’s easy to become disconnected from food when its acquisition is boiled down to a basic interaction; rather than going to a store or market to look at products, I would just pick up the phone and place an order to one of the purveyors. I wanted to correct my mindset: food doesn’t just come off the shelf or off a truck. It takes people, hands and care, or in some cases compromises of machinery, fertilizers and chemicals. Pepperfield acted as the medium for me to see the requirements and sacrifices of growing food. Likewise, it helped me realize why our food systems operates as it does.
I learned that hauling manure in wheelbarrows, turning the Earth by hand and meticulously weeding the gardens were only a glimpse into some of the components of producing food. If you substitute these inputs or actions with huge tractors and combines, petro-fertilizers and glyphosate – Round-Up – it became apparent why commercial agriculture could easily produce inexpensive, cheap products. My appreciation for organically grown and small scale agriculture skyrocketed as I connected the dots; this was the reason a case of conventional tomatoes cost the same as a dozen of its organic, heirloom counterparts. I wasn’t just learning what it takes to grow the food, I was learning the cost – physical, financial and mental – of producing food.
This trip was also to act as my sabbatical. I noticed – unfortunately later than desired – that the high stress, toxic environment of the industry was beginning to transform me into someone else; a person who promoted this very same environment, creating a cycle by demonstrating that anger, negative reinforcement and ego were the mainstays of kitchen culture. But – for better and worse – through my time in the industry I developed and grew. It helped me learn a tremendous amount about myself and the world around me. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of my happiness and that of my co-workers and acquaintances. Through Pepperfield, I hoped to begin a healing process that was much overdue. I yearned to find emotional balance, channel and refine my passion in a positive way and identify and fight my internal conflicts that had been impacting my life.
And, as I took the 1600-mile drive across the nation my mind began the transition. A combination of reading and thinking helped me realize that I wanted to make changes in my operation as a chef, but as an individual too. Subconsciously, this was where the refining of my food philosophy commenced. These thoughts perpetuated even further during my brief stay at my Uncle’s for Easter. While I prepared the evening’s meal, I shared my methods and thought processes with my Uncle as he observed. It was here that I began to understand my love for food that I hoped to share through education. But it wasn’t until the actual meal that I began to observe the potential growth I could achieve. Sitting among people from a lawyer, theoretical physicists, writers, a naturalist, and a clergyman – all new acquaintances – the evening unfolded into discussions about food, politics, religion and philosophy. I remember saying to my Uncle, “I don’t think I ever have participated in conversations stimulating as those.” I realized I was in an intelligent environment where I could learn about food and life.
But that wasn’t the end. The next day I drove out to Pepperfield and my spirit began to settle in. I was given a warm greeting, with some delicious snacks, by David founder of The Pepperfield Project. We proceeded to talk for the rest of the day about my history and what I hoped to achieve while here. I told David my goals and left it open ended by stating, “I don’t know what else I want to learn, I’m here to take it all in.” The week that followed was where my ideas about my future were rocked to their core. David asked me brilliant, thought provoking questions that caused me to delve deeper into my conscious than I have previously. He made me question my beliefs, the natural – and unnatural – universe, my predispositions, strengths and flaws, and my capacity in the food and hospitality industry; simply put, the path I hoped to lead. My understanding of what I hoped to learn began to broaden and my mind and spirit have never been more open. I knew that Pepperfield was where I needed to be.
The slowest, but equally rewarding, part of my growth has been the healing of my body. Pepperfield promotes “working meditation”, where individuals like me can work hard and see the direct results. Planting a row of baby kale or clearing a patch of weeds helped me create a direct connection with my actions and their results. Additionally, reinforcement of “a job well-done”, through praise and gratitude from the plants and the people has created a healing dynamic that feel satisfying on many levels. My time in the dirt, among the plants and in the sounds of rural nature has allowed me to be introspective and begin to address my inner conflicts. And, while still a work in progress, each day my body feels more relaxed and peaceful but also invigorated.
Nearly five months ago I was excited to learn about the intricacies of food through direct participation. I desired to learn about, understand and respect the creation of food. Likewise, I was thrilled to begin the process of defining who I was and identify who I hoped to become. But at the same time, I was anxious with anticipation to see what my future holds. I sought to find balance in my life and rejuvenate myself. While that still is true, during my time here at Pepperfield, I have discovered that I wanted even more. My purpose for coming to Pepperfield will continue to evolve, like it already has. Each step of growth leads to, what seems like, another staircase of possibilities. I have felt more relaxed, grounded, open and happy then I ever have. I have concluded that my only real purpose is to – as the Pepperfield mission states – grow my body, mind and spirit.

Make the Food and They will Come

Both of the recent dining events at Pepperfield were extremely rewarding on many levels. Each guest left stunned and satiated from the beautiful symphony of food.

At the first event, as people gathered in the house, the yeasty aroma of fresh pita wafted through the air. A collection of bowls sat on the table with various prepared items. A brilliant mandala sat at the center of the room.

As the evening progressed the tables filled and the meal began; for the next few hours the house was filled with the sounds of dining – clinking plates and forks, groans of satisfaction and light conversation between bites of food.

And at the second, in similar fashion a collaboration of indigenous communities assembled outside. The valley produced a surreal ambiance of songbirds, gently rolling streams and the occasional call of a rooster. The meal commenced with a tribute to the sacred foods of the Native Americans, and a relaxed evening of food continued until sunset. “Stunned and satiated”, how do I know? At the drop of each plate they only break in the silence was a gasp, phones and cameras documented each evening and exclamations resounded as each course brought new flavors and aromas.

“…Great food and memorable experiences will innately draw attention”. Another question is, were the guests drawn in? Frankly, I don’t care; that wasn’t my goal. The beauty of these events was not the praise and admiration that Pepperfield and I recieved. (Although it was appreciated.) The true beauty was seeing part of my food philosophy demonstrate itself in real time. My goal was to prepare the food in such a way that the flavors – the food – converged to create an explosion of enjoyment and satisfaction; using ingredients at their peak in flavor, grown only a few hundred yards from the guests, I employed my creativity to create culinary art. Images that will be remembered longer than the five seconds of fame from facebook. The food did most of the work. Contained within each bite, scattered across each plate, hidden in the food, was the potential to captivate and amaze. My role was simply to understand the potential of food and allow it to happen.

The Importance of Bioregionalism

Bioregionalism is defined as an advocacy of the belief that eating, product procurement and other human activities should be sourced from local areas. It’s not something that is always practical, but when it is, bioregionalism should be observed.

With respect to food, bioregionalism drastically increases the overall quality of ingredients and products. Naturally all products procured with bioregionalism in mind often travel less distance. This ensures that the conscious consumer receives the product at peak freshness more than any store bought counterpart. Some products in stores are already a week – and sometimes more – old and have bounced around in a truck, plane or boat leading to bruised and damaged produce. As discussed in this post, many products are now selected not for flavor, texture or other desired criteria, but instead selected for their transportability. Bioregionalism allows for a more biodiverse selection of products to be both shared and consumed. Another trait of bioregional products is that they will frequently be of peak ripeness, and as a result, peak flavor. Many fruits will continue to ripen off the plant, this qualifies them as a climactertic fruit. While many fruits fall into this category – tomatoes, peaches, bananas and more – only one fruit truly has to be ripened this way; pears will rot if left on the tree to ripen. Any other climacteric fruit is only picked and allowed to ripen to make for easier transportation and increase shelf life, and this compromises the flavor. Ripening on the plant, climacteric fruits will still develop more natural sugars and better flavors. Not only does bioregionalism allow for these fruits to achieve this ripeness before you enjoy them, it also makes a plethora of other unseen varieties – ones usually to delicate to transport and market – to be enjoyed in commerce. Both the markets for purchase and the nature of products that support bioregionalism create a higher demand for quality-minded products. Farms or individuals sell and back these goods, as opposed to larger industrial agriculture systems and their purveyors. The producer has a delicate reputation to maintain. If a product is consistently poor, it won’t sell. This ensures that farmers and producers have a much higher set of standards than those who sell to larger stores and never meet face to face with their customers.

The nature of bioregionalism is such that it promotes the support of local markets. This ensures that money stays in the region as opposed to flowing to into industrial agriculture or the industrial food system. At the Oneota Co-Op here in town, more than 40 cents of every dollar spent stays within 50 miles. That money goes to farmers and growers, our neighbors, and helps expand the growth of a community still recovering from economic instability from decades of industrial agriculture. More often than not, bioregionalism also helps create lasting connections. Farmers and producers wish to place a face behind their product and often will represent it at farmer’s markets and through community involvement. This offers a new opportunity for both consumers and producers to meet, network and create new social connections.

Bioregionalism offers us, the C3, quality products, lasting relationships and a fantastic alternative to some of industrial agriculture’s products. But it takes effort; driving to a farm to purchase items, making trips to farmers markets and cooperatives, doing the research simply to find these bioregional outlets is an involved, but rewarding, process. Maintaining observation of bioregionalism can be hard and it’s fair to observe it when practical. Certain ingredients – coffee, tea, chocolate, among others – are not easy products to come by in Iowa, as well as other places. Enjoyment of them is fine, but it is important to remember the real cost of the goods – footprint on the Earth, fossil fuel consumption to transport, people and time dedicated to producing this product and many other factors – not just the price tag. I encourage you to endeavor to eat and shop locally. You’ll encounter new experiences, discover fantastic tastes and learn alternatives to both things you love as well as things you might not. Bioregionalism can enrich your life as well as the lives of those directly around you.

Why Cook?

“To Ed, the great appeal of cooking…was not so much the meal as the occasion it provided for a time around the fire, for talk and camaraderie” – Michael Pollan, Cooked.

I cook to work with my passion – food – while still serving others. It’s a creative medium where I can process and manipulate ingredients to produce something that can be enjoyed with every sense; captivating the eater with surreal and exciting flavors, compositions of art, ethereal aromas, symphonies of sound derived from both the cooking and the consumption of food and unique textures to the palate. Eating is a full sensory appeal unlike anything else, and to be able to create something so sacred that it employs each of our senses is both rewarding and humbling.

I cook because of these specific appeals to our senses. There are a myriad of possibilities that come from similar and different combinations of ingredients. Onions, carrots and celery – mirepoix or the holy trinity – as well as other permutations and modifications of these, are used across so many cuisines to ultimately create diverse and exotic flavors: out of one, many. Within each of these arises aromas so complex that it is nearly impossible to describe them with words alone. And to be present, receiving or giving, is always an invigorating experience.

“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted the preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love?” – Michael Pollan, Cooked. I cook to serve, satisfy and nourish. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction – internally and externally – that is derived from cooking. Internally through an expression of passion and creativity, but externally others can appreciate this in a way far superior. There is enjoyment, gratitude and amazement: satisfaction. Dining offers a tantalizing experience, with no required work, that ultimately creates happiness and sustains life.

I cook because it is a total act of creation. Along every step, from preparing to serving you are building or changing; a new ingredients, a fantastic flavor, a memory that will last a life time. New experiences flow forth from food that may have never come to be. It allows for meeting new people, learning about a culture or discovering your new favorite ingredients or place to dine. These only being to scratch the surface for the unique oppurtunities that food has to offer. They come and go, sometimes a rare occurance, others frequent and some one a lifetime.

So why cook? Well, why not? I can create, inspire and release; losing myself in the food and its processes in a way unlike anything else. I can provide a satisfying experience for myself and others simultaneously. It’s mystical, invigorating and beautiful; an experience shared by its creator(s) and the participant(s). I cook to surround myself with food. I cook because “Food is life”.

Why do you?

Making Food from the Ground Up

I started this quest months ago when I first made contact with David at Pepperfield. I had yet to realize my own intentions for joining the Pepperfield Project; in fact all I knew was that I wanted to learn where food came from – in essence to grow it myself.

I read the various sections on the website and began to develop an understanding of what I could learn – still quite unaware of what the possibilities really were. Within days of arriving I knew I had made the right decision. Tucked away in a valley was the expanse of over a hundred acres at my disposal to learn, create and grow. David and I spent the month of April – entrenched in snow – discussing the agenda for the year. Still in the tentative stages, Pepperfield hoped to collaborate with two local chefs to produce to ethnic themed dinners. The sights were set on a Palestinian meal and a meal featuring the cuisines of Central America, specifically Southern Mexico and Oaxaca. Even in the snow we got to work each day trafficking flats of baby brassicas, eggplants and peppers from the seed room to the hoop house to get some warmth and natural light. Within my first few weeks we were planting tomatoes, 35 varieties, some for my education, others for seed renewal and a small crop of native Central American varieties to use in the meals.
It wasn’t until we visited the Schwartz’s that I began to realize what I was doing here. Over that fabulous lunch Jerry volunteered something profound, “You are planning all these meals; growing them from the ground up.” I wasn’t at Pepperfield to just sling manure, pull weeds, learn about horticulture and expand myself. There was still a deeper mission, maybe subconsciously, that I had chosen to participate in. I had taken my one liner – I’m here to learn about food from the ground up – and transplanted it in my life. And I began to address a key component of my food philosophy: develop and maintain a strong food ethic that include avoiding participation in the industrial food industry. I was literally planning a meal from the ground up. I was an extreme end of the culinary spectrum, disconnected from industrial agriculture and the food system supported by it. My hands planted, tended, managed and created the dishes from start to finish; I was involved along every step of the way. Granted, it’s taken me quite some time to vocalize this, my purpose – still developing – has become more clear. My intention wasn’t just to learn about food; I wanted to work with it along every step of the way.
I am still experiencing – much like the garden – explosive growth in all directions. Each day lends itself to something new: a fact, a recipe, a idea or the expansion of my food philosophy. Participating with food on this level has left given me such tremendous satisfaction, gratitude and ambition that I wake up each day invigorated to continue. Maybe that’s the secret: shoveling shit is so sweet when you know what comes out of it.

Creating and Maintaining Cycles in Food

When you go to the supermarket and gaze out over the pasture it is, on the surface, beautiful. Bright red, perfectly round tomatoes and bushels of corn in tight rows in their bright green husks sit on the shelves.

These are the standards. Who would want to eat a ribbed tomato or one shaped like a pear? (Especially if it were green, yellow or black.) I had an interesting discussion with David that resonated heavily with me. Commercial agriculture has mastered the art of satisfaction. Through enormous marketing divisions and years of research they know what “we”, the consumer, want. Let’s talk about the “tomato”. Rock hard, brilliantly red, smooth and spherical. Even the challenge of year round availability has been overcome. Varieties have been crossbred for certain characteristics – texture, color, and anatomy – to make transportation, appearance and harvesting easier. Crossbreeding only solves a few of these issues though, it fails to address the issue of growing seasons. But fret not, commercial agriculture has cracked nature’s code. One of the primary reasons the tomatoes from conventional markets are as hard as the packed soil they’re grown in is because of a clever trick: sometimes on the vine, others “freshly” picked, the “tomatoes” are force ripened by blasting the fruit with copious amounts of ethylene gas. This is a byproduct gas that fruits and vegetables produce once picked; it is the reason fruits ripen quicker when placed in a paper bag. But this forced process is far more removed than the one that takes place on your kitchen counter. The fruit, still unripe, go through the desired colored change but the flesh, bred additionally tough for transit, isn’t at its peak and stays locked in a state of un-ripeness. Enjoying that “tomato” in January? That’s how it’s made; that’s how the cycle starts. Conventional supermarkets – Walmart and company – have a bountiful produce section placed conveniently at the front of the store. As you walk in these bright red rocks – “tomatoes, strawberries, peaches” – placed among the palette of other colored smaller rocks catch your eye. It doesn’t even take a purchase, the brain begins to recognized this monstrosity as a “tomato” or “plum”. Come back in the winter and there is the “tomato”, gleefully shining its red brilliance, still looking identical to its earlier counterpart. But supermarkets aren’t solely to blame; restaurants do it too. How many times have you ordered a hamburger out of summer, or in it for that matter, served with the classic, lettuce, “tomato” and onion? That “tomato”, and iceberg lettuce for that matter, are the same thing, tasteless, failed imitations of a beautiful, natural product. But by proliferating this idea of a standard – tomatoes that look a certain way and available year-round – consumers begin to develop expectations; these push out the other possibilities.

Another example of this concept is with corn. The genetic diversity of the available corn in the markets is practically nonexistent for the same reason as tomatoes; a different set of characteristics dictate this but the results of such reinforce standards and expectations creating and perpetuating the cycle. The corn in stores is a hybrid version of other species bred to be incredibly sweet – and that’s it. Commercial agriculture has taken something that used to sustain ancient civilizations and turned it into a cob of sugar with little to no nutritional value. But who would enjoy the taste of a less sweet red corn? Who cares that there are other species that provide far more nutrition? So the cycle continues; uber-sweet corn breeds the next generation of corn eaters with contorted expectations of what corn should taste like; “tomatoes” are expected year round even if it means they taste like shit. The expectations are set, the standards are reinforced and the expectations continue.

But we deserve better food than that. Hundreds of species of these common fruits and vegetables occupy our planet. Some cultivated, others preserved and some rampaging wild through fields and forests. Each unique species provinding some unique trait or characteristic; exciting textures, ethereal flavors, numerous health benefits, longevity of storage and the list goes on and on. Maybe I hold as bias, but after tasting a real tomato it is impossible to go back. It is our job, to tear down these standards and begin to promote real food; to recognize that seasonality, bioregionality and biodiversity are far more important to genuinely good products, that benefit not only the consumers but the planet that these consumers occupy. It’s is a challenge. The proliferation of the “tomato” can be blamed equally between commercial agriculture and the consumers that enjoy – if that can even be said – them. Expectation of certain standards will continue these cycles. Avoiding these products, tempting as they might be are crucial. We – maybe not you directly, but our culture, desires and people – are the center of this; we were the start, and we can be the end.

One of my goals is a “devotion to creating a healthy, knowledgeable, compassionate and sustainable future by teaching the [people] about food…and conscious consumption.” I strive to create content that helps challenge the food paradigms. And by reading these posts and joining the Pans and Perspective community you are too! My hope is that next time you go to the store, restaurant, maybe even a friends home, and you see a “tomato” that you share these concepts. The future of good, real food is within our grasp.

Eating Better than Kings and Queens

The fawn pate wasn’t just a delicious item. It was something sacred, unique and provoking.

It brought ingredients together in a way that highlighted their individual value but also the value of their sum. It was rich, creamy, delicately smoky, laced with fruity notes with undertones of onion. The prevailing flavor, a slightly gamey profile that exploded on the palate creating a dance of flavors that were earthy and ethereal at the same time. The pate was a complex beautiful example of the possibility of local food; sourced almost entirely from the farm, shared with its farmers and neighbors, providing enjoyment, energy and nutrition for future plantings and harvests. It helped make future creations possible.

We gathered, seven of us at different times, to enjoy. Each leaving impacted in some way if nothing more than satiated. It destroyed stigmas about eating liver and opened new gateways for consumers of the myriad of possiblities of food. We shared conversation, thoughts and reflections that may have never surfaced. Ellis rightfully stated, “Even kings weren’t served fawn pate”. Something that provided superficial humor but also a deeper discovery. We were transcended beyond royalty; being able to create, share and taste something more valuable than any mountain of gold or gems. We had no responsibility other than to enjoy it to the fullest with no fear of judgement. We provided a purpose for an accident, a mistake. It was the transformation of death into the birth of something new.

Beyond the food is an idea; concepts, recipes and traditions all swirling together as if in a pot to create a greater understanding of our past and glimpses into our future. This food brought us together to share and enjoy. It was indifferent our differences and beliefs, acting as a medium for new connections and the creation of unique experiences.

I am humbled to have worked with such ingredients. Even moreso honored to have been given the privilege to do so. Pepperfield – the land, the people, the idea and experiences – has provided me with a memorable gift that I may never receive again. But I am satisfied, having eaten better than a king. To me it’s not just food, it is life.

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.

Check out what you may have missed this week here!

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