Throughout this page, I am going to document my experience with local, organic farms in Phoenix, Arizona and San Severino Marche, Italy.
During the Spring 2018 semester, I worked closely with a local farmer, Maya Dailey, on Maya's Farm in South Phoenix. My tasks varied with the day but included weeding rows by hand or with a hula-hoe, preparing CSA pick ups, planting seeds, and working the farmer's market. Throughout the experience, I was able to gain insight from Maya on her perspective as a small-scale, certified organic, woman farmer. However, it did not take long to realize that Maya reaches far beyond the title of farmer and into the realm of community advocate and educator with her strong connections to the local Slow Food chapter and the Farm to School Movement.
During the month of June, I had the great fortune of going to San Severino Marche, Italy to work on another organic farm, Biocontadino, with young farmer Vittorio Giacomini. Much of the tasks were similar to Maya's Farm like weeding, planting, and selling produce at the market. However, that is not to say there were not evident differences. In addition, our group visited and toured an organic winery, ColleStefano, as well as an organic agriturismo that produced grains and olives, Fattoria Le Origini. With each encounter, it became increasingly apparent that good food production was a source of profound pride in Italy and that it was not so much a career path as it was a lifestyle. In fact, this idea of food as a lifestyle could be seen embedded in Italian culture everywhere that I went.
Alice Waters is the founder of Chez Pannise, a restaurant in Berkeley, CA, that has deep roots in the Slow Food Movement. When she noticed the sad state of the schoolyard on her route home from the restaurant, she needed to do something about it. At this time, she began the development of a school garden and called it "The Edible Schoolyard." She believes that children should "come back to their sense" and taste, touch, smell, and see the beauty of nature. Because of our dependence on fast, cheap, and easy foods, we have lost our sense of place and connection.
Alice Waters makes a clear distinction between fast food values and slow food values in her discussion at the Science and Food conference (Waters, 2013). Fast food degrades the human experience by emphasizing uniformity, efficiency, availability, cheapness, and that more is always better. They use dishonest techniques to confuse terminology like fresh, organic, and sustainable. On the other hand, slow food values ripeness, aliveness, beauty, patience, integrity, community, true economy, friendship, honesty, nurturing, enriching, and sustainability.
Edible education gives students a means to experience the world hands-on which can appeal to a variety of learners that may not find the classroom as engaging. The garden does not need to be thought of solely as an extracurricular activity as it can be incorporated into lessons across disciplines like math, science, art, and history. In addition, it helps to make agriculture a relevant cultural idea once again which can assist the reintegration of farming and agriculture into the children's cultural identity as they cultivate relationships to the land, plants, and animals. Instead of feeling disconnected from the where food comes from, they will be made aware of the importance of this knowledge and feel the empowerment such knowledge brings about.
In the video, she mentions how children remember all of the processes of working in the garden well without needing much instruction. It is because they learn by doing. They enjoy putting their hands in the dirt and watching a seed grow into a harvestable fruit. When they watch this process, it gives them pride and makes them more willing to taste new fruits and vegetables. Overall, it reconnects children to the Earth, but also to themselves and their community.
Local Edible Education: Broadmor Elementary
Broadmor Elementary has been able to integrate edible education into their school with the help of two passionate volunteers and a community dedicated to enriching the lives of their children. While their federally funded lunch program provides products of subsidized agriculture, the interaction with the garden will help to gravitate students toward the salad bar because they played an integral role in the production of the ingredients. The healthy habits and preferences that the garden program promotes will help children carry on a healthy lifestyle into their adulthood.
To learn more about The Learning Patch, go to their Facebook page!
This article illustrates just how versatile school gardens can be and the variety of students that can benefit from this learning approach. It discusses horticultural therapy which basically translates to gardening being of therapeutic value. In the program example of the article, the students fall somewhere along the autistic spectrum. Some of the teachers talk about the garden being the favorite activity among students and how it has helped to teach them responsibility and that hard work will pay off. The students have been reported to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption since the garden began.
The role of Local Farmers
Maya Dailey has been farming for about 14 years now. While she has family that is in the dairy industry, her upbringing was mostly urban as she grew up in New Jersey, so being a farmer was not something she anticipated. Regardless, she ended up opening Maya's Farm which is a small-scale operation specializing in heirloom, organic produce as well as fresh, free-range eggs and flowers. She sells her products at the farmer's market, to local restaurants, and through a CSA (community-supported agriculture). Her main property is just over two acres and has been managed by herself and mainly two to four other workers. Over the years, Maya has become a prominent voice in the community with connections to organizations like Slow Food Phoenix and the Farm to School Network. Being among the first wave of urban farmers in Phoenix looking to transform the current food system, she has had a special vantage point in seeing the changes in Phoenix's food landscape.
When it comes to farming, it has never been about the economic gain, but instead she uses her position as a farmer in the community to empower and educate. Her day to day tasks reach far beyond that of a typical farmer with phone calls to government officials, cooperative members, and school cafeteria managers. She is, above all, cultivating a connection to the Earth through farming and wishes to extend that to her surrounding community by providing a space for people to come together and learn from each other.
Throughout my semester on the farm, there was never two days that were exactly the same. I found that Maya's Farm became a serene refuge for me to let go of the stresses of modern day life and return to the simple aspects of life: dirt, water, air. As I pulled weeds, I could hear a symphony of farm noises from the cackle of the hens to the hum of the tiller. With dirt on my hands and sweat dripping from my brow, I found peace and comfort. That is not to say the work accomplished was not hard, but only that it felt right.
Maya has been able to certify her farm as organic which is a time consuming process that comes along with hefty annual fees and inspections. However, she realized that this certification helps her to maintain an edge over the competition at the market as well as when selling to local restaurants. Being a small farmer, any edge in the market is essential to keep the business afloat as small farmers do not receive the subsidies that large scale operations do.
Maya goes well beyond the standards of her organic certification by limiting the amount of inputs she allows on the field. While some pesticides are certified organic, Maya prefers to use natural enhancements like fish emulsion or "worm tea" which are excrements that act as nutrient rich fertilizer. With the organic approach, there is much more labor that is involved in maintaining a healthy harvest. For example, each and every row is weeded by hand and in between the rows a hula-hoe is used. One row can take over an hour to completely weed. That is why Maya always is sure to reinforce the importance of conserving energy on the farm. She once describe it as "dancing with the Earth instead of working against it."
Building strong relationships within the community is one of Maya's areas of expertise. Her network consists of other farmers, local government officials, educators, restaurant chefs/owners, artists, and cafeteria managers. She has loyal customers that have incorporated Maya's produce into their growing families and some have even become dedicated volunteers. The video above is from an annual farm to table dinner that she puts on at the farm with the help of her vast food network.
Most recently, Maya has become apart of a cooperative of farmers called the Sun Produce Co-op. This group of farmers decided to come together to save themselves. As mentioned before, small-scale farming is often an uphill battle rife with competition. Instead of competing with each other, these farmers set mutual prices and put together a collaborative CSA box with the help of a few school gardens across the valley. Some of this produce even ends up in the Litchfield School District's cafeterias!
One of the aspects of farming that Maya is most passionate about is education. A couple of years ago, she attended the Edible Schoolyard workshop in Berkeley, CA and talked about how much of a role that played in changing her perspective. Recently, she has worked to establish a school garden at Garfield Elementary School with the generous funding of the Mollen Foundation. This school's student population come from predominantly low-income, minority families and a majority of the students have faced some kind of trauma in their lives (Byrn, 2017). Therefore, their performance and behavior in school tends to suffer. However, Maya was pleasantly surprised with how easily the students came to enjoy being in the garden and how well behaved they were.
The garden extends to the surrounding community because they realized that much of the local population did not have access to fresh, healthy foods. So, neighborhood residents are always invited to come harvest and attend cooking classes on campus once bi-weekly. This really brings together all of Maya's core values: education, community, and a connection to the natural world.
Spending time in a garden truly is a therapeutic experience that restores the soul. At the same time, it empowers these marginalized communities that so often fall into the cycle of poverty and the poor health that comes as a consequence. Teaching these children how to grow their own food brings about independence and confidence. After experiencing their hard work pay off in the garden, they may feel like they can actually make a difference in their communities. Ultimately, it proves to them that food can change the world in which they live in and they play a vital role in the "delicious revolution" that Alice Waters talks about.
I was able to catch a glimpse into how students react to a garden environment during Garfield Elementary School's 6th grade field trip to Maya's Farm. Over the course of four hours, the students rotated through four different activities on the farm tour: taste the difference between store bought and fresh, organic produce, methods of composting, creating a seed pot with newspaper, and interacting with farm animals. Even though we were battling the heat, the students remained engaged, connected ideas learned in their school garden to the farm, asked questions, and most importantly had fun. It was incredibly gratifying to see the ideology of edible education in action and working!
To conclude, our food system is flawed and even a kid could notice. But, that's exactly what we need: kids to notice and to take action. For that to happen, they need the awareness that education brings. Kids are curious by nature and attracted to the natural world, so make the garden their classroom and watch them thrive. The fruits of their labor will be irresistible to taste and all of a sudden they become fans of all their worst enemies: broccoli, green beans, and brussel sprouts. This leaves a lasting impression on their palate and in effect their health. With a healthy future generation, we will begin to taste, touch, and see a delicious revolution take place where communities become empowered through food.
How has fast food affected Italy?
Does a Historically deeply rooted respect toward food make a country more resilient against fast Food?
What does Organic Farming look like and how is it supported?
What kind of food-related programs are offered to students?
Fast food in italy
Perhaps the historical traditions of an Italian nonna cooking with fresh, wholesome ingredients from scratch have prevailed, or at least struck a healthy balance of fast to real food, for now. Over the past few decades, a two individuals in particular have dedicated a great deal of time to preserving these traditions: Carlo Petrini and Don Pasta.
Carlo Petrini was apart of a group of people that were so outraged by the second proposed McDonald's location that they participated in the 1986 protests and overtime developed the now international group, the Slow Food Movement. The basic premise of this organization is to preserve the integrity of the culture around food, the ingredient, and the farmer's wage with three main principles: good, clean, and fair.
In the Slow Food Manifesto, it is said that, "Good, Clean and Fair quality is a pledge for a better future. Good, Clean and Fair quality is an act of civilization and a tool to improve the food system as it is today. Everyone can contribute to Good, Clean and Fair quality through their choices and individual behavior." The development of Slow Food is essentially a call to action against the current food system with acknowledgement of the power consumers hold.
"Food history is as important as a baroque church. Governments should recognize cultural heritage and protect traditional foods. A cheese is as worthy of preserving as a sixteenth-century building." - Carlo Petrini
In respect to cultural values, the Ark of Taste was created to work toward saving endangered food items that hold traditional significance in order to protect food biodiversity around the world. Petrini believes that there is no value in taste without differences. With the adoption of fast food, people are able to eat the same hamburger in matter what continent they are on. This uniformity, like Alice Waters discussed, degrades our human experience and dulls our senses. It is critical that we uphold traditional foods to maintain cultural identity.
"eating is an agricultural act." - Wendell Berry
Daniele De Michele, otherwise known as Don Pasta, is a chef, economist, DJ, and food advocate. He combines these different aspects with live cooking demonstrations using fresh, local ingredients and traditional methods while simultaneously spinning records as a DJ. He is known for cooking with Italian grandmothers to understand the techniques and ingredients used to make traditional dishes like cannoli and pasta. Like Slow Food, Don Pasta calls for a food revolution that values time-honored methods and recipes.
In addition to individual action, the government has also secured space for good food to thrive by supporting organic farming practices. In the Le Marche region, farmers can be provided with grants to convert an existing farm to organic and to maintain organic status (Urbinati, S & Carbini, D., 2018). With this support, farmers are able to procure the financial means to provide consumers with healthier options for themselves and the land.
Experience with organic growers
"using the techniques of the past to cultivate the future." - Vittorio GIacomini (Biocontadino)
Vittorio Giacomini attended an agricultural technical school in the Le Marche regione and soon after rented a plot of land becoming the "Biocontadino." At 26 years old, Vittorio is a young farmer with incredible ambition and perseverance. Like Maya, he does not come from a long line of farmers, but his motivation came from his commitment provide healthy to food to his community. His hard work and dedication is showcased in the quality of his products. With not many more hands than his own, he cultivates a 15,000 meter plot and harvests produce for markets.
Much of the daily tasks at the farm were similar to those at Maya's Farm. Our group would spend about six hours once a week on the farm and during this time we weeded rows, trimmed sucker branches off tomato plants, and planted transplants using the tractor. In addition, we would sell Vittorio's produce at a nearby market space on Wednesdays.
The market environment was much different than I anticipated. Instead of being the typical hustle and bustle of a farmer's market, it consistent of a building with three different stalls for farmers to set up in at different times throughout the week. This was an interesting concept because with this method local residents have the ability to purchase farm-fresh produce almost any day of the week.
In Italian fashion, the main support system for Vittorio is his family. At the first market, we met his mom, dad, cousin, aunt, uncle, neighbor, and friend all at different intervals. In the same way, it continued each week. His aunt mentioned buying many kilos worth of tomatoes at the end of the season to make an enormous amount of sauce. However, it was not only his family purchasing produce from him, but also committed customers that returned every week.
In addition to Biocontadino, our group visited two other organic growers: ColleStefano and Fattoria Le Orgini. ColleStefano is a winery that implements companion planting between the grape vines and wild strawberries to limit the growth of weeds. Fattoria Le Orgini is an agriturismo which is similar to a bed and breakfast except it is always on a farm. At this particular agriturismo, the farmer produced grains and olives. He discussed the importance of using sustainable methods of production like allowing the soil to recover its nutrient content. Moreover, he demonstrated his use of biofuel from the cuttings of olive trees to power the water heater for the guest rooms.
Overall, the interactions with organic growers illustrated the strong commitment of Italians to maintain the production of healthy foods for their community and the environment.
Italy for Children's Health
The drive to maintain a healthy Italy with respect toward tradition can be seen through the government's action on attention to children's health, lunch standards, and food education.
OKkio alla salute is a program that has been implemented by the government which roughly translates to "an eye on health" (Ministero della Salute, 2017). With this program, children's health is being monitored in relation to obesity in order to better assess the current environment and consequently develop curriculum to promote healthier lifestyles. The assessment is made based on the following variables: "anthropometric measures (weight and height), ...eating habits, physical activity, and sedentary behavior" (Ministero della Salute, 2017). OKkio alla salute recognizes the importance of schools in educating and promoting activities, programs, and initiatives to engage students to nutrition and physical activity.
When analyzing the school lunch standards of the US with those of Italy, the differences are undeniable. For one, the Italian document has the information clearly formatted for any literate member of the public to read (Ministero della Salute, 2010). Meanwhile, the American document is more or less a scientific report on economic and nutritional information. In addition, the Italian document does not mention economic calculations and budgets in great detail. Instead, there is a focus on the quality and freshness of the ingredient. There are portions of the standards that discuss the importance of taking time with children to develop preferences for healthy foods as often they may not like it at first taste. Additionally, it is mentioned that seasonal, organic, and local produce are the best options for ingredients.
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