Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Education and Regulation

I spent yesterday at a food safety plan writing class that the Penn State Agricultural Extension service workshops for farmers in the area. The Agricultural Extension Service has passed its one-hundredth year of funding from the USDA to educate farmers and conduct research for better agricultural practices.[1] However, their funding for education and research has been shrinking. Near Kutztown, two hours drive along highway 222 puts into perspective the rural nature of Pennsylvania that is still a reality for many. The back roads that twist and branch off among steep hills run perpendicular to a busy four lane highway. The duality of commuting in a rural place with so much traffic is what most New Yorkers traveling to New Hope for the weekend must feel; we are so off the beaten path! Yet, we are only 30 minutes from highway 95.

Entering the conference room, the spectrum of farmers highlighted the range that Agricultural Extension services have to accommodate and prepare for. Two men in their early thirties sat together with their laptops, their clothes too new and their faces too bright, ahhh the educated hipsters that are moving the organic CSA movement, I thought. The man to their left, middle-aged with a jack'o'latern smile and brittle eyes, boasted of his massive pumpkin crop, soon to be exported to Europe; maybe I am too harsh but after the third time of me stretching from sitting and him checking out my breasts, I decided he could play the antagonist role in this column. Adjoining the corner of Mr. Cucurbit, a young Mennonite couple, him, in his staid button-up, jeans, and suspenders, her, in her prairie dress and bonnet. Their behavior affable, but his speech was slow and swallowed, giving me the impression that his biggest worries were about dirt and God; while her speech was clear, concise, business-like. My respect went out to her, without really knowing her. Here was a young woman who probably raised the children, looked after the house, ran the business and still had time to guide her husbands' thoughts on dirt and God.  An old 'salt of the earth' farmer sat beside them; the only one aside from the Mennonites' that mailed in his RSVP instead of emailing and of course they couldn't find his registration. I felt badly, here was a man of an older time, and older generation; I hoped he had a woman beside him at home still, keeping track of important papers and submitting the information to keep up to date with new regulations and audits, but reality can be bleaker than fiction. He was like a lean-to barn in his worn trucker cap and earth crusted clothes, with hands common to old farmers, strong stumps and square fingers dirt caked through the deep wrinkles where even when washed it remains. Beside my mom, Amy, and myself, sat Brett. A familiar face, he apprenticed with my Dad before starting his own farm called Bedminster Orchard selling his diversified produce and value added products like cider and apple butter at farmers markets. For introductions, Brett was first and it says a lot about his self-esteem and maturity for someone in his early twenties to calmly deliver a brief informative introduction to a room of strangers. I, for example, get nervous, stumble and inevitably finish a little more red in the face than when I started. Brett shares an assuredness with many older farmers, a reservoir they draw upon from knowing what they want in life, learning the skills and having the tenacity to stick with it.

All of us, this miniature farmer sample gathered to learn how to comply with USDA Farm Food Safety Plan measures. It was a good review, not just about washing your hands; the speaker shared a lot of insight from his auditing years, about how the details of managing and working a farm fit into the bigger picture of food safety. Each farm is going to have its own unique risks depending upon the type, size and sales model it has, but the themes, of cleanliness, orderliness, logging records, and writing down and educating workers on procedures no matter how obvious they may seem, remain the same. It's about prevention of food borne illness but more so about traceability. About half the farmers in the room used auctions or brokers to move their wholesale produce. All grocery stores require farmers they source from be audited by a third party and subject to one or more of the three food and safety standards. For the other half of us who market directly to customers auditing is voluntary though I believe one of the food and health safety classes is mandatory. The auditing process for us at Manoff Market will be mandatory to get our license to sell our hard cider. However, this class for me is a useful reminder that the record keeping and training and organizing for cleanliness will actually help us in the long run. It will help us to see trends in our business and business practices, help new employees familiarize themselves by making training routine and second nature, and when everything is labeled and has its place and space we become more efficient and some might say sane. Agricultural extension service agents contribute by helping us farmers create better practices in the field, which benefits consumers, as well as providing education and resources for navigating the mire of paperwork that can seem overwhelming to any farming enterprise.  

[1] "The Smith Lever Act formalized extension in 1914, establishing USDA's partnership with land-grant universities to apply research and provide education in agriculture. Congress created the extension system to address exclusively rural, agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming." Accessed 3/28/2018:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring and Socialism?

Please note* The following is the opinion of the writer, Chelsea, and does not necessarily represent the business Manoff Market Gardens.  

Easter (the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ),

Passover (the remembrance for the Jewish people of their liberation from slavery and exodus from Egypt),

Isra and Mi-raj (April 13th this year; the ascension of the prophet Muhammad when heaven and hell were revealed to him with other revelations),

With these holy days coming I am reminded of how often our religions align with the seasons and the corresponding symbolism. Symbolism is a reflection of reality that shows human desire for nourishment of the soul. For some, winter is a time of contemplation and hibernation until the busier season of spring, with the rebirth and relief with which we start a season of planting and harvesting. The fact that one season flows so seamlessly into another is a cooperative act between us and nature; one for which I am thankful for when we have food for every season.

I am always struck by those who go without food, who haven't had the same privilege to not know hunger. Tomorrow we will be donating bushels of apples to the local food pantry, Braeburn, of which we have an excess of and are still crispy and sweet. Here in Bucks County we think we are isolated from the crippling poverty that is endemic to the United States, because of the stories that are spun of our successes and the very real successes that we can see in pockets of wealth here. We are not as isolated as we think; when we think about who works in our local restaurants serving and doing dishes, who pumps our gas (in Jersey), who works construction through the winter, who does every other job that greases the wheels of our leisure and daily necessities. Even with esteemed professions like teaching, some can barely make ends meet, and yet we blame the people who "chose" these jobs, that well, it was their choice to be poor. Then there are those who are elderly, who are on welfare or disability, who are homeless due to any number of factors:

Factors such as, lack of funding for social services for drug rehabilitation, veteran rehabilitation and support, and general disinterest in empowering communities that have been subject to systemic neglect and poverty because of economic failure, racism, unequal education, inaccessibility to fresh food or food at all, etc. Social services lack funding however, on a legislative level, policies could be changed which no longer serve or protect people, but rather create a cycle of criminal behavior and poverty. For example, for a person who gets prison time for a misdemeanor which goes on one's record, he or she consequently can't get a job which creates a cycle almost impossible to self-alleviate.  All of these contributing factors and more are part of a bigger issue that we have been unwilling to address in this country. We think that any degree of socialism will cripple our economy, our society, but if we look at the trajectory that our country has taken, maybe we should look at socialism as a negotiable space within our government language. We don't have a problem using socialist language in our every day interactions with people, in fact, socialist language can be seen in all religions, "help your brother as you would yourself" and in this case, your symbolic brother, all men, women etc.  

As our society here in the U.S. becomes more and more secular, where is the safety net for those who have none? It's easy to be critical of privilege, my point is not to judge those who have or have not; my point is that on a small scale we can do things like donate food, volunteer our time; but as a people of the United States it would behoove a smarter way of being in the world to start thinking about how we can correct these issues and prevent them for future generations. How we act with our privilege and the laws and money behind policies can affect real change for the have-nots, and have-some's. I am optimistic, for spring, but also, that the heightened awareness of issues that face current and coming generations due to the transparency of knowledge because of the speed, accessibility, and exponential growth of the internet, will create a catalyst for change. Whether this change will create better equality, greater opportunity, more resiliency and less hunger, a rebirth, if you will, we will have to seek and see.

Book List:
On black communities in the U.S. and endemic poverty and empowerment: James Baldwin The Fire Next Time (Written in 1963 and tellingly still applicable today). Sister Souljah The Coldest Winter Ever (1999, fictional perspective but written from experience, really examines empowerment and what that means with limited opportunities). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012) by Michelle Alexander.
Information technologies: The Medium is the Message (1967) by Marshall McLuhan. Anything by Lawrence Lessig, Code: And other laws of cyberspace (2005), Free Culture (2006). The Master Switch (2010) by Tim Wu.