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how does change happen on the land?

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The Edmund Hillary Fellowship just published this great article about Severine! 

There is a question we need to ask when talking about food production. The question is, “Who is telling what story, and on whose behalf?” Is it a story that goes with dinner? Or does it perhaps focus on the “We feed the world” narrative so dominant in the agricultural and general press these days? That story goes something like this: We (Read: developed world) need to grow food as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible in order to be able to feed a growing (Read under-developed world) population that is growing at a rate of change faster than we can keep up with. Crops are necessarily bred for maximum size, yield, speed to harvest, and disease-resistance, while taste, diversity and nutritional value considered somewhat irrelevant. We are told this is the only way to keep up with our growing population.

If we are to believe the predominant narrative, there is no other way to feed a rapidly growing global population.

Simultaneously, there is a crisis looming across much of the developed world. Bluntly put, farmers are becoming a dying breed. The older generation is retiring, while their children and grandchildren now have alternative options available to them — they’re moving to the cities, they’re chasing a multitude of new career opportunities, they are no longer opting for a hard day’s labour in the dirt. They’re not taking on the family farm, the way that generations before have done since the dawn of the agricultural age.

I wrote about the future of farming a couple of years ago, and New Zealand’s golden opportunity to leverage our natural advantages to become a premium producer of sustainably-produced agricultural products, that regenerate the land. Now, we can look to the far northeast at a number of growing movements that can offer a potential pathway for New Zealand’s agricultural transformation. Across the Pacific, there is a seed of hoping springing forth. There are radical new green shoots breaking through the endless monocultures that sprawl across the midwestern United States. There is a new movement of young farmers, who recognise that short term thinking and the ecological damage inherent in the industrial food system, is leading us rapidly towards the edge of the proverbial cliff.

At the coal face of this movement is Severine von Tscharner Fleming, based in Champlain Valley, New York.

In the past few years, members of Edmund Hillary Fellowship team have been connecting with communities who are leading global work around building a robust, sustainable and healthy food system. In conversation with diverse groups from Bioneers to the Near Future Summit and EAT Forum, people everywhere have told us “You’ve got to connect with Severine”. It seems that within both new and ancient holistic farming circles, all roads lead to Severine.

Speaking in the video below at New Frontiers festival in New Zealand earlier this year, Severine describes farming in America today as both a privilege and a service. She has co-founded, led and been involved in a number of different initiatives to bring young people back to the land, and stands as a dedicated voice for regenerative agriculture and land reform. And there is a growing chorus of voices behind her, walking the talk and providing the collective roadmap to feed the planet in a healthy, sustainable way.

Her talk at New Frontiers was entitled “The Project is Land Repair”. This title alone provides an insight into how a generation of young farmers are thinking about what they do. Natural ecosystems are very good at repairing themselves. Plants and trees provide organic matter to the soil below, which composts alongside waste matter from passing animals and birds. This provides the land with the right nutrients that it needs to thrive. The protective canopy of plants drip feeds water to the land, while providing a root system that keeps the soil in place, and shade that keeps moisture in and provides a home for countless helpful bugs and microorganisms. Dozens of other symbiotic exchanges occur to keep the ecosystem in balance.

Monoculture farming strips all of this away. We have placed value on only some parts of the ecological system, devaluing others, removing some crucial parts altogether, and resulting in degraded land. Decades of abuse at the hands of the “produce-as-much-as-you-can-at-all-costs-with-as-little-land-as-possible” mentality, has left millions of acres of agricultural land in dire need of repair.

The young farmers at the spearhead of this land repair movement have a name — the Greenhorns — and they are bringing the “human” back into farming. Greenhorns is a grassroots organisation founded by Severine, with the mission to recruit, promote and support the rising generation of new farmers in America. Or as Severine put it, “it’s about the recruitment of bodies back onto the land.” An identity as well as an organisation, the people who call themselves Greenhorns are those that are embracing farming as a calling and a way of life.

It started with a film project of the same name in 2011, after Severine spent three years travelling across America interviewing young farmers. Originally a platform to broadcast the voices and visions of young farmers, it has now grown to a thriving nationwide community that produces literary journals, almanacs, a popular blog, a weekly radio show, a short film series, and a national OPEN GIS farmer database, while also hosting a variety of social and political events. On a broad level, the work of the Greenhorns is to provide the cultural infrastructure required to inspire an agrarian revolution.

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