Food Sovereignty and Security in times of Global Crisis

Food sovereignty and security are topics often relegated to those with lofty ideals and spare time. As the global pandemic ravages and fragments the entire planet, we see that this topic actually effects all of us right now. As the internationally run global food distribution network slowly grinds to a halt in some countries, even people in large cities with supermarkets all around them are no longer able to buy all the items they are typically accustomed to. Even foods that can and are grown locally become rare or costly when the local means to harvest and distribute them is reliant on externalities such as imported labor coupled to unrealistically low wages.

Local and regional food production and distribution often remain underdeveloped, underfunded, and underappreciated. Production systems have been reduced to a question of price above all other considerations, forced to focus on quantity over quality, and convenience over intentional participation. And this is despite the fact that local alternatives can often provide both quantity and quality at a fair price if enough people stop throwing their money at large corporations and instead invest it in their regional food sources and distribution networks, simply by buying local and participating in locally oriented programs. This change in habit may only require a similar amount of effort and time as that spent searching for a free parking spot at the local chain supermarket, or standing in a long line at the local big box checkout.

The fallacies of the dominant decision making paradigm are easy enough to see when one takes the time to dissect the current return on investment from a consumer perspective.

Industry pressure to lower food prices, while indirectly benefiting the consumer in some cases, are more often than not purely profit driven, at the cost of all other factors. They result in lower quality, higher environmental damage, increased chemical usage and harmful mono-culture practice, and the largely ignored waste production dilemma. They are sustained by higher hidden transport costs and a reliance on a global transport network that is both environmentally devastating and very susceptible to breaking down in times of crisis, leaving even the most profitable large supermarket chains with empty shelves.

Sacrificing quality for quantity has led to foods being produced that have little resemblance to their more natural and healthy counterparts. Tomatoes with no flavor whatsoever, vegetables that can sit in the refrigerator for a month without rotting, but never taste like they used to or still can when one buys an organic or local version that isn’t subject to the same requirements of needing to be shipped or stored for weeks before reaching the consumer.

The cost driven focus results in local farmers being edged out of the market and local consumers losing all control and say in how and where their food is produced, and under what circumstances. Quality is somehow relegated to the status of being a bonus in this larger, profit driven equation.

When a concentrated number of large corporations dominate the market, we are left with both an increasingly poor population facing hunger despite record profits, and an epidemic of obesity and declining health as a direct result of the quality and quantity of foods we are presented with, and lack of participation in those systems at the local level. When a minimum amount of local labor and involvement is required to provide high volumes of food to the population, the potential wealth is simply being vacuumed out of the area entirely rather than reinvested at its most direct point of interaction.

If enough people invested their shopping money in local systems, not only would the local producers be able to grow quality foods at a decent price, but they would have the resources and demand to develop robust yet simple production and distribution methods at much smaller cost to the environment, while also being more resilient to global calamities like those we currently face.

Practically every community or region has the capacity and means to provide a substantial portion of basic food necessities for their immediate populations. Shifting our support to such systems provides economic benefits to the local economy by providing jobs and potentially easier and more secure access to our daily food needs and provides further incentive to invest in and strengthen our commitment to our local communities.  A full circle at the local level is created: A system that works for people. Most localities already have at least some rag-tag framework of systems in place, be it community supported agriculture, food cooperatives, or community gardens.

They could all use our help via increased consumer involvement or even direct assistance and participation. Being involved in such a crucial part of meeting our everyday basic needs can be rewarding and enriching, it builds and strengthens local networks and solidifies community resilience. It empowers people to reclaim the decision making processes currently relegated to profit driven corporations and retool the system to reflect people’s values and needs.

Reach out to those in your community and see of there’s something you can do to bring some sovereignty and stability to your local or regional food chain. If nothing else simply paying attention to where your food comes from and choosing local sources where possible goes a long way.

It really can be that simple to make a big difference, not just for ourselves, but our entire planet. Think globally, act locally!

Estar de Prácticas para el Futuro

[English speakers check out the video embedded below.]
Por primera vez me meto en la política en este blog, pero tal vez hacía falta porque unx no puede practicar la agricultura regenerativa sin considerarse a la vez medioambientalista. Por esto os presento un video que me llena de ternura, que muestra la contaminación atmosférica durante estos tiempos tan difíciles.

En realidad podemos sacar unas conclusiones positivas de esta triste situación en la cual nos encontramos. Saldremos de esta crisis con unas habilidades que los ‘pos-crecentistas’ llevamos ya tiempo diciendo que son necesarias. ¿Cuáles son? Son exactamente lo que se valoraba mucho en este país: el sentido comunitario, la ayuda mutua, el disfrute de la naturaleza y el amor a la tierra.

Imaginad el lujo que será en unas semanas poder salir otra vez a caminar al sol, dar besos a lxs amigxs y vecinxs, abrazar a la gente querida que ha estado en cuarentena, aunque recordemos con muchas lágrimas a los que tristemente no han podido seguir estando con nosotrxs. ¿Por qué no caminamos juntxs a los valles tan bonitos que nos rodean, preparamos un picnic, recolectamos lo que nos ofrece la naturaleza y disfrutamos de ella? Así minimizamos nuestra huella ecológica, evitamos consumir, evitamos contaminar y seguimos practicando lo que esta cuarentena nos ha enseñado, el disfrutar de las cosas realmente importantes de la vida.

Termino compartiendo con vosotrxs una foto de las montañas como han estado durante ya muchos días de lluvia, totalmente atípicos para la región. Parecía que estuvieran llorando para nuestra pobre especie, que tanto exigimos y que tan poco entendemos. Ya paro, que lo que escribo suena muy hippy y hippy no soy, solamente una humilde científica convertida en agricultora por la urgencia que siento de salvar este maravilloso planeta.

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Tan Dulce como la Miel

Hablando de la sostenibilidad, un tema constante de este blog, ahora entramos en una fase, que le ofrece al consumidor respectuoso del medio ambiente y consciente también del esfuerzo que ha hecho el productor, la oportunidad de mostrar su conciencia agroecológica y sociolaboral. Este año nuestros mandarinos han soportado lluvias torrenciales en noviembre y una helada en enero (marcamos -2,5 grados en nuestro campo). Las mandarinas, sin embargo, han salido bastante bien. Ahora sometidos a una semana de vientos de hasta 70 km/hr, los arboles comenzaron a mostrarse estresados. Por eso, el jueves los regamos para que los arboles no chupen el caldo de las mandarinas que quedan.

Si es el caso de que ya no tengan tantito caldo como antes, no importa, porque pasaremos a la fase que personalmente a mí me gusta más: la del zumo de mandarina. Como soy muy golosa, soy de la gente que espera con ganas el punto máximo de azucares naturales. Puede significar un poquitín menos caldo, pero como es la nuestra la variedad más jugosa, no pasa nada. Las exprimimos y disfrutamos de un zumito exquisito.

ZumoMandarina Ahora veamos porque no se suele exprimir las mandarinas en España, una cosa que no dejo de preguntar a todo el mundo. Este blogista, al zumo de mandarina lo llama el gran desconocido y concluye que, más que todo, es que son menos grandes y cuestan más esfuerzo que las naranjas. Pero en el caso de nuestras clemenvillas, que son casi tan grandes como muchas naranjas, tampoco cuesta mucho trabajo.

La madre naturaleza nos ofrece múltiples maneras de disfrutar de su bondad… Ahora en Senda Silvestre, os invitamos a nuestros clientes a conocer el zumo casi tan dulce como la miel.

Estrenamos el Nuevo Taller de Adobes

[These photos show our latest natural construction workshop, this time focused on adobe blocks, which we made from our own soil and rice straw from the rice fields some 30 km away. The plan is to use the blocks to build a little doggy hut that will maintain warmth in the winter. In the fall we’ll be looking for a pair of dogs to adopt, who would do well on a farm.]
Compartimos algunas fotos de nuestros primeros intentos con adoberas hechas de madera de pallets reciclados. Utilizamos nuestra propia tierra mezclada con cemento natural y paja de arroz de la Albufera.

Cooperamos con el banco de arroz de Tancat de la Pipa, que intenta dar una alternativa a la cremà que tanto contamina la región durante otoño. [Moltes gràcies a E. per a ajudar amb el transport!] IMG_3519Aquí se aprecian los bloques ya completamente secos, listos para construir. El plan que tenemos es que estos primeros sirvan de práctica para construir una caseta para un par de perros rescatados de la calle.

One Man’s Trash

[English below.] Hay un dicho en inglés: ¨one man’s trash is another man’s treasure¨. Quiere decir que la basura de uno es tesoro de otro. En la montaña arriba de la parcela había una enorme granja antigua de piedra que ya se estaba cayendo. Yo, desde que me ha entrado la idea de hacer un muro rústico, he tenido envidia de esas piedras, y he estado dando vueltas sobre como podía tener las ya caídas. Resulta que hace una semana, bajando a la parcela, vimos un gran bulldozer en la montaña demoliendo lo que quedaba de la edificación. Fui en seguida a hablar con los trabajadores, luego volví por la tarde a hablar con el jefe y el día siguienteRockPileMar2018Cropped una última vez para hablar con el camionero. Ese mismo día entró en nuestra parcela un camión cargándonos unos 10 a 12 metros cúbicos de escombras que consistián principalemente en piedras grandes de cimentación.

Ellos contentos porque en vez de tener que transportarlo al vertedero a unos 12 o 15 km, lo dejaron conmigo a cuarto kilometro, totalmente gratis. Y nosotros aun más contentos por no haber tenido que ir a comprar y dejar transportar rocas de la cantera. ¡Arriba la sostenablidad!

Adjunto aquí el cartell para el siguiente taller de bioconstrucción de muros rústicos que se hará el 15 de abril, con estas mismas piedras.

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Up the hill from us sat a large barn built in the beautiful old Valencian style of natural rock constructed in the old method of limestone mixed with the local earth, sand and water to form a natural cement. Probably well over a hundred years old, it had begun to collapse, due more to its roof beams rotting and the subsequent exposure of the cement to direct rainwater, than due to the cement itself failing. Ever since my idea of building a stone wall by hand, I haven’t stopped thinking about those stones and how to get my hands on them. But even though it can’t be more than 500 feet away as the crow flies, renting some sort of transport was going to be the only way.

Imagine my delight when, last Monday, coming down the hill to our farm, we spotted a bulldozer demolishing the barn and I told S., “here’s our chance!”. I zipped right to inquire what they were going to do with the rocks (take them to the dump) and if I could have a truckload. After another visit with the bulldozer operator that afternoon and a phone call to the boss, it seemed like I might be able to score a load the next day. I was there at 8.45 AM to talk to the dump truck driver, we all agreed it would be mutually beneficial, and a couple of hours later the truck pulled into our driveway. We now have 10 or 12 tons of rock to wheelbarrow out of our entry, that’s the down side. But the up side is that rock wasn’t hauled off to be dumped in some landfill somewhere and even better, we got it for FREE! How´s that for sustainability?

Acolchado en vez de Contaminación / Mulch, don´t Burn!

[English below.] Tengo entendido de que cada año, a pesar de estar prohibida la quema de la paja de arroz, la prohibición se levanta y todos sufrimos unas semanas de pésima calidad de aire en otoño. La quema se basa, con cierta justificación, en la falta de mercados para la paja, considerada un pienso de pobre calidad.

Juntos con la asociación medioambientalista Tancat de la Pipa en L´Albufera, estamos trabajando maneras de utilizar esta paja, que para nosotros tiene dos usos prácticos. Primero, como alcochado para los cítricos y los bancales de la huerta, ayuda a controlar la mala hierba, mantener la humedad del suelo y aportar materia orgánica, como se aprecia en la foto.
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La segunda manera es como fibras para ladrillos de adobe que sirven para la bioconstrucción. Ahora contemplamos un proyecto de jardinería vertical, utilizando grandes ladrillos de adobe para ayudar a mantener un nivel que falta un muro de retanción y por lo tanto presenta el problema de la erosión de suelo. Dejando huecos entre los ladrillos, podremos sembrar entre ellos. Una idea para el futuro.

Not 20 km (12 miles) away, the rice-growing region that supplies Valencia’s famous paellas is covered every fall with a pall of smoke as all the rice straw is burned. Although officially banned, this ban is lifted each year as the rice farmers argue, with some justification, that they have no way to dispose of the straw which is not valued as an animal feed.

We are working with the NGO Tancat de la Pipa to find outlets for this rice straw, which has two practical applications for us. First would be to provide a thick layer of mulch around our citrus trees and a thinner layer on our garden beds. For this it’s important that we obtain straw from organic rice, due to the large quantities of herbicides and fungicides traditionally applied to this crop. This fall we received our first shipment which I’ve just scattered lightly on beds sowed with radishes as soil builders and where later in the spring we plan to try a tomato/carrot/basil guild. Next year Tancat de la Pipa hopes to expand the amount of organic straw harvested.

A second use could be as fibers to strengthen adobe bricks used for bioconstruction projects. This is something we hope to explore in the future, possibly starting with a hanging garden constructed out of adobes on one of the terraces on the farm that is formed only of dirt and as such is quite susceptible to soil erosion.

Nuestro Compromiso: Bajo Impacto

[English below: Our Low-Impact Pledge] Aprovechamos esta oportunidad, de estar esperando que nuestros cítricos, plenos de mandarinas, se pongan listos para coger, para exponer nuestro compromiso al medio ambiente. L@s lectores de este blog ya sabéis que es un proyecto que intenta ir más allá de la agricultura ecológica, como hemos expuesto aquí. En su vez, comienzo a hablar de una ¨agricultura de bajo impacto¨. ¿Ahora, qué quiere decir esta frase?
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Pensamos sobre todo en evitar la contaminación, pero no consideramos solamente los agroquímicos. Opinamos además de que hay que tomar en cuenta nuestra huella ecológica, lo cual nos lleva a la cuestión del transporte y la mecanización. En nuestro caso, el único transporte es la bicicleta equipada con remolque en el cual podemos cargar como máximo 40 kilos. Luego hay que piensar en la maquinaria agrícola, que en Senda Silvestre significa un motosierra, un desbrozador y un taladro, todos eléctricos con baterias que se cargan en casa, utilizando un suministrador de energía renovable. En un futuro, esperamos tener placas solares para cargarlas en el campo.

Fuera de eso, todo el labor se ha hecho con nuestros propios manos, con dos excepciones, cuando sí hemos introducido maquinaria. Probamos un servicio de triturado de leña después de efectuar una poda global en junio del año pasado. Y esta primavera un antiguo rotovator nos ha hecho algunos pasos dentro de la huerta, que nos han servido para el ensayo que se explica aquí.

No nos han gustado, la verdad, que ambas producen gases malolientes, además de ser acústicamente desagradables. Los surcos del rotovator nos han cultivado una cantidad notable de mala hierba y el triturado ha servido de refugio a los animalitos del suelo que solamente han alentado más a los javalíes durante sus paseos nocturnos por nuestra parcela. La madera triturada duró un tiempo acolchonando las raíces de los arboles hasta que los javelíes se dieron cuenta de la cantidad de lombríces y escarabajos allí y fueron a por ellos, ya poniendo en peligro además los nuevos arboles que habíamos plantado. Terminado el experimento.

Ya pués, pensando en la cuestión de fitosanitarias, hemos evitado todos. Los únicos controles de plagas han sido la tierra diatomácea (un desicante) para las hormigas que mantienen grandes redes debajo de la huerta, el bacillus thurengiensis (un patógeno de larvas) para las brassicas y trampas de botellas de plástico reútilizadas con atrayente de proteinas hidrolizadas para la mosca de la fruta. Los arboles se han abonado con estiercol de caballo y cabra de un vecino, traídos por el remolque.

Tal vez la intervención más importante que hemos hecho ha sido de dejar de quemar materia orgánica y amontonarla durante ya todo un año y medio en los caballones, encima de las raices de los cítricos. Como dice K. de Carcaixent, nuestro suelo está muy agradecido. Y un suelo agradecido, al parecer, ya pronto tiene para nutrir arboles. Y arboles bien nutridos se muestran fuertes y resistentes, que en solamente un año se encuentran mayoritariamente libres del pulgón, cochinilla y hormigas del año pasado.

¡Ya veremos las mandarinas que nos dan!

This post comes as we wait with baited breath to see how our mandarins turn out this year, to describe our particular brand of environmentalism. Our regular readers already know that we are trying to be more organic than organic . I’ve started calling what we do “low impact agriculture”, which I’d like to examine further.
MandarinsRipeningFirstGarden

Our goal is to minimize pollution of all kinds, not only agrochemicals, as in organic farming. We believe that our agro-ecological footprint is just as important, which brings us to the issue of transport and mechanization. Our only transportation is bicycles with bike carts. But additionally we have to consider agricultural machinery, which at Senda Silvestre Farm means a chainsaw, a weed-wacker and a hand drill, all of which are electric with interchangeable batteries that we charge at home, using renewable electric power. In the future, we hope to have solar panels to charge the batteries in the field. Aside from this, all farming work has been done with our own four hands, with an occasional volunteer chipping in, often arriving by bike as well.

There have been two exceptions, when we have introduced machinery. We tested a wood chipping service after the global pruning of June of last year. And this spring an ancient roto-tiller turned some rows for us that later served as this planting trial.

Truth be told, that pieces of machinery produced awful diesel fumes and a whole lot of noise pollution. The roto-tiller furrows produced an astonishing amount of tall weeds that were difficult to keep up with and only ended up providing shade for the grubs and worms which of course are desirable but have only encouraged the wild boars more during their nightly jaunts through the property. The wood mulch for a while, shading the tree roots until the wild boars realized the amount of little animals (yum, protein) and went for them, endangering the new trees we had planted. That was the end of that experiment.

With respect to agrochemicals, we have instituted a total boycott of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The only pest controls have been the diatomaceous earth (a desiccant that works by physical contact) for the ants that maintain an enormous network under the orchard, Bacillus thurengiensis (a bacterial pathogen of caterpillars) for the brassicas and traps of recycled plastic bottles with hydrolyzed protein attractant for the fruit fly. We’ve fertilized the tress by transporting horse and goat manure in the bike cart from a neighbor’s stable.

Perhaps the most important step we’ve taken in contrast to the overwhelmingly common practice in the area has been to stop burning organic matter, using it now for a year and a half to build up ridges rich in organic matter that will later serve as vegetable beds. As K. of Carcaixent says, our soil is very grateful. And a grateful soil appears to be very nearly sufficient in itself to nourish trees. In turn, well-nourished trees are resistant to pests; there’s been a huge change in only one year. The aphids, cottony scale and ants of last year are hardly to be seen on the trees, and visitors comment on how healthy our foliage looks.

For now, having avoided the peril of the Mediterranean fruit fly, we are crossing our fingers against hard freezes, hail, and the increasingly common phenomenon of pirated harvests in our area!

La Nueva Parcela/Our New Farm

[Castellano abajo.] To all our friends who’ve been asking us for months now to post photos, an apology for the long delay. But you’ve probably already heard many times about how much work farming is and although we both come from farming backgrounds, we can now very personally attest to it.  So here are photos of the little piece of heaven that is breaking our backs and our pocketbook, even as its beauty motivates us and its potential inspires us.  And that´s not to mention the effect on one very happy dog!

[Aquí unas de las primeras fotos de la nueva parcela, con un resumen en inglés para los amigos extranjeros.  Ya pronto describiré en más detalle las experiencias que hemos vivido y lo mucho que estamos aprendiendo. Lo cierto es que ya podemos constar lo que todos dicen, que ¡la agricultura implica muchísimo trabajo!]

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In the next few photos, you can appreciate the state of decay in which we found the property, some 4 years out of production; for us, a true bonus as this means that the pesticide residues from modern citrus farming will have undergone significant degradation.

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The first step was to prune the remaining viable trees, which out of a thousand originally present, sadly represent only about 10 percent.  Here are some of them silhouetted by a sunrise in May.

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And last but not least, our local peak surrounded by real rain clouds (photo from April).  There are few things to compare with the joy of a farmer in a semi-arid zone when it actually rains!

Coming soon, photos of how we are gradually attempting to transform a citrus monoculture into a polyculture using agroecology.