Well people, I’m back.
Over a month ago, I left Minneapolis to go work on Ol’ Ways Farm in Solon, ME. I haven’t written for a while because after I left the farm, I spent a week with friends in Scottsdale, AZ (talk about a culture shock!), and then another week with family in the Rockies.
I’ve had a while now to digest what I learned on the farm and I’ve realized that my time there was a good starting point for learning more about farming, the environment, politics and food issues, but it was also a big life lesson on the importance of being informed and taking chances. Anyway, I digress!
Basically, when I left home at the end of July, I didn’t want to go. I’m a standby flyer, so I never really know when or if I’m actually going to make it to the destination on my boarding pass. When they called my name for the flight to Boston, found myself walking onto the plane wondering how I got there, packed, schedule cleared, and somehow willingly still going? It was so unlike me! I thought about scrapping the whole thing, lying about missing the flight and chalking it up to fate, but I knew my checked bag had already gone to Boston on the first flight out so I sat down and went.
I took a greyhound from Boston and moodily texted my friends and boyfriend about being nervous or sad to miss out on the rest of summer at home. When the bus finally crossed into Maine, the welcome sign (also the title of this post) made me more at ease. I guessed people must like it out there.
I was right. Even though I was uncharacteristically quiet and hesitant at first, the girls I met were pretty incredible. They were (sometimes overwhelmingly) hardworking, willing to sleep in a tent (what?!), and comfortable around the animals, but most of all, they were friendly. I wondered what I, a “mainstream” (as the farmer called me), lactose-intolerant, animal-fearing citygirl, was doing there amongst the chickens, cats, geese, cows, pigs, dogs, horse, manure, flies… you get it.
But, predictably, I came to love it there and love the people even more. The farm is set way back in the Maine countryside and, due to the unfortunate amounts of rain this summer, it was one of the most lush and green (in all senses of the word) places I’ve ever been! The red house and barn and the cats-galore gave it such a lovable charm. The farmer, Scott, has lived in Maine all his life, worked at the University, and was full of interesting political, agricultural, and societal knowledge, sarcastic jokes, as well as plenty of Forrest Gump impersonations (“Jennay”). Gemma, his wife, has a PhD in archaeology, a complimentary sense of humor, and a basic understanding of, well, pretty much everything. They make a very interesting team and once I figured out that they weren’t there to judge, but instead to share and have fun, I fell right in to the schedule full of dishes, weeding, feeding, cooking, joking and really enjoying life. I may have complained about the work more than some, but in the end I think it worked out ok. Right, Scott?
I’d love to share my day-to-day adventures, but this isn’t a book. However, there were a few things I took away that I think are important:
- There is a lot to be concerned about in this world! I expected Scott’s bitching about politics to get old, but I came to admire his dedication to being informed about the politics that affected his job. It seems obvious, but anyone who knows me will tell you how opinionated I am about environmental issues. Despite this, I’m continually biting my tongue when they come up because I only know a little bit, but not enough to really defend myself or be convincing. I wrote down a lot of his ideas and hopefully I’ll get around to researching them and making some interesting and eye-opening discoveries (and blogs!) on my own, but I learned from him how important it is to be aware and be involved.
- I learned that I need to be more willing to befriend people who are different from me. It’s too bad it took me so long to realize this, but it is a lesson I will never forget. I found myself happiest doing crazy things like piling hay from a field onto a truck, or weeding rows of corn, or even doing dishes because I was constantly surrounded by interesting, caring, funny, beautiful people. It was refreshing.
- When Scott and Gemma and I talked about food, here was a list of comments I wrote down:
- Read the ingredient labels! Buy foods with “real food” ingredients. Ask yourself why the hell is there high fructose corn syrup in your bagels, tomato sauce, coke, etc?! Avoid corn-based additives. They’re everywhere!
- Don’t buy things that are fortified or enriched (like flour) because you don’t know what their enriched with. If you want more nutrients, eat vegetables. It’s simple!
- Buy meat locally. The meat industry is a disgusting, inhumane, antibiotic and hormone abusing zoo that’s doing horrible things for our environment, health, economy and farming communities. After spending time on the farm I decided to call myself an “Eco-Conscious Omnivore,” meaning that I’ll eat meat if I know where it came from, how it lived and how it was killed. I realize that this has a snooty connotation to it, but I don’t mean for it to! One day Scott asked me to help him kill one of the chickens who was sick and had a broken leg. I am no animal rights activist and I’m not giving up meat all together, but killing that chicken made me realize that eating meat is a luxury and comes as a large sacrifice on the part of the animal which at one point was a living, breathing being! I’m not saying that animals are the same as humans, but that experience taught me how much of a gift it is that I am able to eat meat, and made it more obvious that I should choose to only eat meat that is healthfully matured, has lived a normal animal life and was humanely killed. I don’t think that should be too much to ask, but unfortunately 9 times out of 10 in the US, it is. As the documentary Food Inc. says, your purchase is your vote, and that experience made it clear that I do not want to vote for the status quo of our meat-eating habits.
- Be willing to spend more on food. TIME magazine has a good article on this right now. But basically, the importance and joys of food have been removed in our dieting, fast-paced, processed lifestyles. While veggies, farm-raised meats and local, seasonal fruits may cost more and be more difficult to track down, I think the moral (and flavor) satisfaction is worth it. It was so fun to go out and pick our salad for lunch or boast a 95% maine-grown pancake breakfast: Maine maple syrup, and milk, buttermilk and butter all from the farm. Yum.
- Eat seasonally. The miles food travels to make exotic fruits or summer-only veggies available all year round is unbelievable! They recommended researching what is seasonal when and to what region, buy it from local farms, and then freeze, can, preserve, or dry it to enjoy throughout the year. There is an iPhone ap (called Locavore) and many websites which I recommend for this!
- Eat real foods! Butter, though it contains more fat, is loads healthier than margarine. Just because something has less calories doesn’t mean it’s better for you. Assess whether you want to simply eat something in moderation or question the chemicals and transfats you’re putting in your body. I was blown away when I realized I wasn’t getting sick from all the dairy products I was enjoying on the farm. Scott looked into it and learned that lactose-intolerant people can digest raw milk products because it still contains the bacteria that help us digest lactose. What a testament for enjoying real foods!
- Aspertame is evil. I hate to be a pessimist, but this stuff is trouble. You can read more about it here, here, here, and here, (to start) but basically, it was approved deceptively and is a textbook example of a political decision that was made with a pocketbook in mind and right or wrong OUT of mind.
- Shredded wheat cereal has no additives. Just a fun fact.
- Get to know a farmer. Think of what you owe to them, and then find one and find a way to support them. Becoming involved in a CSA is a great way to do this! I expected a overall-wearing, grass-chewing hick to answer the door when I showed up. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Scott and Gemma were the most welcoming, friendly people I’ve ever met and they left me with a great first impression of a farmer’s lifestyle. I hope I can emulate their hospitality and generosity in my own life.
- You have to choose your own battle. There are a lot of overwhelming and scary statistics and facts about our food, environment, economy… you name it! I have chosen food, specifically meat, to try to be as careful, informed and green as I can, but there is a way for everyone to be involved.
- Finally, I learned that there a lot of good people in the world. I am sometimes discouraged by the facts I learn about our food system (in your case it may be something else) and the people who make it that way, but if you look, there are always people working to do something about it and I have chosen to be one of them… no matter how insignificant my actions may seem!
Ok, I think that’s enough for now but I think the lesson here is clear: you can never lose by trying something new!