Posted by: amelia | August 13, 2010

Movie Night in Michigan

By Rodrigo Samayoa

Thursday August 12, 2010

An average day for us looks something like this: We wake up at 7am and after eating some breakfast and packing we say farewell to our hosts for the night and get on our bikes. We ride for 60 to 80 miles taking brakes along the way for food and water. When we finally reach our destination we talk to our hosts about their farms, their practices, their crops and whatever knowledge they can give us. We tell them about our ride, our challenges, our goals and our adventures. When the sun sets we all start going into our tents one by one until silence surrounds our campground and the cycle can begin again.
Yesterday we got a break from this cycle at the Domain Bell Farm at the Grant Township, Michigan. The day began at 8am at the Three Roods farm and knowing we had an easy day ahead of us, we helped out weed their Saskatoon berries and did some peace dances with our hosts before riding off to our next destination. Arriving at the Domain Bell farm was the same as arriving at any other farm. We did our introductions, had a short visit by the local press, drank some delicious lemonade and set up our tents. The clouds on the horizon, however, changed our routine. Seeing the rain coming our way, our hosts were gracious enough to move the dinner indoors. Once indoors we enjoyed luxuries we have not enjoyed in a long time: couches.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner with our hosts and their friend and neighbors in the comfort of couches and a roof. We got to be dry, cool and mosquito-free for the night. Seeing how wet it was outside, Darcy and Stacy offered us to sleep indoors. After dinner was over and people were ready to relax the Brendan and Bethany, Darcy and Stacy’s children, offered us to watch a movie on their big screen TV. After much deliberation we decided to watch Zombieland, a comedy about a post-apocalyptic zombie world, in the comfort of couches, carpets and AC.
After a month and a half of biking, camping and farming having all these luxuries was a nice break from the usual routine. Although we did not get much sleep that night because of the movie, we all got to relax in a dry and comfortable environment for once. I would like to thank, in the name of the entire group, the Bell family for such a pleasant stay. Having that break from the routine was one of the best presents we could have gotten. Thank you.

Posted by: amelia | August 8, 2010

When the Spirit Meets the Greenery

August 3, 2010

By Mippy a.k.a. Ilana

(this theme began in Millbank)

GreenSpirit Farm


“Terratheism teaches that we find our joy in life by feeling God’s enjoyment of the world as a part of our own enjoyment.” These are Andrew Kerr’s words. Andrew and his wife Jennifer run a CSA farm in Dodgeville Wisconsin. The name, GreenSpirit, perfectly embodies their farming philosophy, a philosophy based on the notion that God is in everything on this Earth: in our bodies, in the weather, in the fields and in the soil. To play with the soil, to man the fields, to plant the crops, to do anything on this earth is to be one with God, Gaia, the spirit or whatever else you want to call it. For me, God (if he does exist) is not a bearded white fella who sits a top of a cloud and passively watches over us as we sin and play or do good work and perform miracles. The God I am referring to is the God of the Land. It is the energy that moves through all matter.

Peace and fullness follow a delicious Mexican Dinner


Some of this matter is part of the agricultural system, part of the ‘natural’ environment. Agriculture exemplifies our relationship with nature for it represents our first major interference in the natural environment, one which continues to this day with more far-reaching tools at our disposal. As we, the whole human race, sought to understand our place in nature, we discovered a unity that includes us, made comprehensible through a marriage of intuition and rationality. That is what farming boils down to for me-its where knowledge, experience and science intersect with one’s intuition and spirituality.

To take it one step further, I think that sustainability is where science meets spirituality and farming. Some of the most inventive, sustainable practices involve massive amounts of ingenuity and scientific knowledge. At the same time that knowledge is honed into particular practices that benefit us in the long term, that is, practices that are sustainable. We can no longer see nature as something that works for us, but more as a dynamic flow and a dynamic exchange of which we are a part of and to which we continually adapt.

morning mist

Posted by: amelia | August 7, 2010

Going back

I wrote this email to my two best girlfriends, then thought I should totally put it on the blog. We haven’t posted anything about our stay at Standing Rock, the Lakota reservation, so I want to share a little bit of what happened.

Hello from Milwaukee, Wisconsin! We are over halfway across the country, with just 20 days left. Every day is still a new adventure! Minnesota and Wisconsin have been a lot of fun, it’s great being back in towns, with trees and people. Montana and the Dakotas were a stretch of hot sun, headwinds, and especially long days of biking. We did three days of 90 miles in a row – that’s intense! The biggest thing for me was doing a spiritual sweat when we stayed on the Lakota indian reservation. We stayed there two nights and our hosts really made our stay. Linda is an ethnobotanist who teaches at the tribal college. Her husband, Jim, is a tribal elder who went on a vision quest and came back with the purpose of building a sweat lodge for the people. One thing I wasn’t expecting was that it would be pitch dark. Absolutely black and unimaginably hot. To say “you sweat a lot” doesn’t capture the experience. I could feel water from inside of me flowing out of my body. The air was so hot I couldn’t take a full breath, just barely sniffing in through my nose. But I felt safe, I knew I would be alright and let myself go into the heat.

The ceremony takes place in four parts, each is a prayer to one of the cardinal directions. It started with a prayer to the east, then south, west, and north. Between each round the flap was opened and we passed around a tin pail of water. I’m not sure whether the others prayed for the specific directions and their purposes (I remember that west was healing, north was purification…I thought about the other ones at the time), but I did. I remembered the east where I come from, south to Argentina were my mom came from, the west in Vancouver where I chose to live, and the north of the states were I was then. I was aware that following any direction would take you back where you started. Circles making spheres, our world, spinning spinning. Our planet and its elements, all intensified in the lodge. There was fire in heat, heat in the rocks, released by the splash of water from Jim’s dipper into the sage-filled air of the lodge. A couple of the elders sang and drummed the Lakota prayers, I tried to follow along. Halfway through we had a talking circle with everybody inside but the door open. We went around and said whatever was on our mind. There were many thanks to the Lakota people we met for sharing with us so openly. Some remembered siblings and other family. I thanked the creator for the life in my body, and asked for closeness with everything that was around me, and what had passed already. Jim had said tears were okay, it was good to cry. Some of us did. By the last two round we knew what was coming, but the heat was still saturating. We all came out of the lodge, this time leaving clockwise instead of crawling out the way we came for the breaks. For the Lakota, the lodge is symbolic of the womb. We emerged a little wobbly, but looking at each other, I saw that everybody was beaming. We stood in a large circle and passed the pipe that had been resting on the buffalo skull mound. The tobacco used is the soft layer peeled away from underneath dogwood bark. We then followed Jim around the circle, shaking hands with everybody. The skies were dark and stormy, the wind was cold. We went inside the house where Linda had buffalo stew with indian turnips ready for us. More of their family was visiting, and Jim and Linda’s boys, Pizi and James, were hanging out with all of us. We all ate and shared stories, comfortably and happy to be where we were.

I can say with certainty that it was one of the most unique experiences of all our lives. We all went through the sweat as individuals, but we were all there together. The same goes for the trip as a whole. We each come from different places and lives, but we are sharing our time together on this epic trip across the country. We take things day by day, but the magnitude of what we’re doing is always behind.

Love,
Natalie

Posted by: amelia | August 2, 2010

Watch Our St. Paul Departure!

Posted by: amelia | August 1, 2010

Twin Cities’ Tag-along

By Adam Spencer

12:42 p.m. July 31st, 2010

12:42. That can’t be the right time. Wait. It is the right time. Crap. I was supposed to be back in Saint Paul hours ago. I spent the previous night with my hometown friends, fishing for farewells and words of encouragement. But the goodbyes went later into the night than expected.

When I arrived at Sam Brewer’s place in Saint Paul, the house was empty. So, I did what any desperate soul does when found in a pinch: Call mom. Mine was out of town, so I called Ben’s mom, Cindy Amundson.

“Yo Spence, what up?” said a voice distinctly different from Cindy’s. It was Ben, who informed me that everyone was running late, so they haven’t left yet. Crisis averted.

Thank God too, because this crew deserves more from me. In a single night they raised 1900 dollars for their cause. I have to thank the Brewers who hosted the party on Friday night for making that possible. I would also like to thank the organizations that donated food and drinks for the fundraising event: Seward Co-op Grocery & Deli, Surdyk’s Liquor & Cheese Shop, Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op, and Eastside Food Co-op of Northeast Minneapolis. A big thanks also to the 75 plus guests to that showed up to the party–your donations are much appreciated.

My name is Adam Spencer. I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I just joined these transient bikers. I’m filming a documentary about the trip. The bikers, their motivations, and their investigation into 21st century farming deserves some time in the spotlight, and that is what I’m here to deliver.

If they can garner 1900 clams for impoverished Bolivian farmers in one night, then I better damn deliver.

My spiritually-rich cousin asked me how she could pray for me for the trip. I said, “Strong legs and good audio for the film.” Well, after my first day of biking– a grueling 79 miles in six hours –I have something to add to the prayer list: a titanium tailbone, because right now, my bum is killing me.

Posted by: amelia | August 1, 2010

A note on fundraising

By Ben

Hello All,

We would like to publicly state why our fundraising goal has changed. On the eve of our arrival to the Twin Cities we were able to outline a plan for fundraising based on each individual’s ability to collect funds. Originally, Amelia and I planned on matching our food budget of $1,000 per person. At that time we thought that 15 riders were going to be able to make the trip. At departure time financial constraints, life threatening illness, and big mouths kept 3 away from the entire trip. So our numbers dwindled down to 11 cross county riders, a few short time riders and one cup half full rider. *A brief tangent-Spencer has now joined us in the Twin Cities and will be filming our stays with farmers and the like. We’re super stoked to have him contributing despite financial limitations. Look out for his posts!*

When we pitched the idea to our partners Global Agents for Change and the Unitarian Service Committee we expected 15 riders. That meant we would be able to reach a goal of $15,000. From there Brian at the Unitarian Service Committee looked for a project that had a similar budget. He asked us if we would be able to raise $20,200 for the Tomoyo Region of Bolivia. I told him we would definitely try so thus far we have made that our goal. I was under the impression that it was feasible. I thought of it as a vision, something that we strive for like a world of 100% local food systems. However, after creating a plan for the fundraising we are confident that we can attain $10,000 as a group, probably a bit more with your help 🙂 To clear up any confusion our goal has changed from $20,200 to $10,000 but we would love to go above and beyond in order to make certain that such an amazing project can be completed. Please read more to find out specifically where the money will be going.

1) The Global Agents for Change bike tour will be raising funds to help farmers practice sustainable agriculture in five communities in the Tomoyo Region of Bolivia: Tutufaya, Senajo, Tacarani, Ñuñumayani, Kewaylluni.

2) This region is characterized by high levels of poverty:
· 89% of the population lives in extreme poverty
· 97% of them have no access to electricity
· 74% of the population depends on agriculture for their main source of employment, the majority of which are small-scale farmers who farm small plots in challenging landscapes: at high altitudes, on hillsides, and on land characterized by highly erodible

3) In order to increase their food security and strengthen these five communities USC Canada will help them to develop their sustainable agriculture through numerous activities including:
· Soil Conservation measures to improve soil fertility and increase arable land,
· Small irrigation projects,
· Training in sustainable agriculture,
· Establishing home Vegetable Gardens: involve more families in vegetable production,
· Facilitate seed saving to reduce need to purchase seeds,
· Tree Nurseries: Production of forest and medicinal plants,
· Technical Assistance in post harvest conservation to reduce losses,
· Farmer Exchanges between communities and regions to share and disseminate knowledge.

4) In order to strengthen the local rural economy, generate local sustainable livelihoods, and increase household income in the five communities, USC Canada will develop and increase the farmer’s access to markets through:
· Technical assistance Increasing agricultural production to create surpluses for sale in local markets;
· Developing and strengthening local markets
· Developing and strengthening farmer associations and community councils, enabling farmers to buy and sell in bulk, providing them with greater leverage to negotiate the market. This will include entrepreneurship training;
· Medicinal Plant Management: plant drying, transformation, commercialization and production of herbal teas. We will increase volumes and seek market points of sale.

Posted by: amelia | August 1, 2010

Twin Cities Arrival!

By Ben

Thursday July 30th we glided into the Twin Cities! We’ve crossed the hump and are now just over 3 weeks from completion. If the roads were as slick and smooth as the Minneapolis Greenway we’d be there in half the time. We thought we hailed from some of the best biking cities in North America (Vancouver BC, Portland, Milwaukee) but hot damn Minneapolis has the best biking infrastructure of all of them! No other city has a bike FREEWAY of such caliber. Not only is the lane large but it’s smoooth. It’s absolutely incredibly that we can go under the busy streets and through the slow ones. Cars even stop for bikers on the slow intersections, which is something we aren’t used to after coming through the wild wild west. We were also amazed by the public art, graffiti, community gardens, and bike stores right on the Greenway. We were truly impressed by the folks that fought tooth and nail against city bureaucracies, railroad companies and private interest to get the road built for the bike-starved public. Long story short, build more bike freeways people! Get vocal about biking local! After that, we shot over to Saint Paul for a rest at Sam’s place before heading back into Minneapolis. Our event of the night was ‘Saving the Seed’ Movie Night at the Resource Center for the Americas.

This film was put together by a couple of students from the University of North Carolina. For us bikers, it was the first time we were able to get a taste of the work Unitarian Service Committee does abroad. The film was about a food sovereignty project in Honduras. It is very similar to the project we are supporting in Bolivia. It talked about the issues of autonomy and farmer independence in a region that was converted to large scale farming operations. It also spoke of the importance of seed diversity. A pluralistic seed bank allows for resilience against climate change, improvements of yields and pest management. The film was short and sweet.

Our discussion afterward was long and worthwhile. Long-time family friends of mine were in attendance as well as a neighbor and Resource Center volunteers. We all contributed to a group discussion. As a result we all concurred that we need to improve the food system by localizing resources. We all agreed that the only way to do so is through a diversity of tactics. Consumers have big buying power that can shift the big-business trends. People can organize to counter big ag lobbying power over policies that give advantage to large scale operations. City folk can grow food in their own yards. A pinch effect can be reached by working from the bottom up and the top down. All and all it was an eye opening experience for us (in different ways) and the night was a great success. Big thanks to our hosts at the Resource Center for the Americas.

PS If you live in the area, check them out! They need your support. If you’re interested in learning more Spanish they can arrange intercambios with Spanish speakers so both parties learn a new language.

Posted by: amelia | July 27, 2010

Moo-ving into Milbank

July 26

By Mippy

Delicious Dakota Wool


Raise, sheer, shape, dye, spin. Kelly Knispel did it all on her sheep farm in South Dakota. It’s called Dakota Carding & Wool Co and if your not planning on coming to South Dakota anytime soon you can check her out online. After taking us in on short notice, she gave us a tour of her place and practice, gave us coffee, milk and metal utensils and I even got a chance to buy some natural fibers for my mom and grandma.

She wasn’t the only sovereign farmer of the day. We finished our (second) ninety plus mile day at Bill and Janine Fonder’s Family Organic Dairy farm in Millbank, SD.

some of the 80 cows

all of the 8 children

Bill and Janine have 88 mouths to feed, 8 of which are their children, the rest of which are cows. While the children chowed down beans, burgers and coleslaw with us, the cows dieted on Bill and Janine’s home grown oat, barely, corn and kelp. Frankly, the cows seem to have a better diet than most Americans.

Thus far, only Bill and his family have been privy to the cows’ utters. They are the only dairy farm in the area, although this was not always the case.
“When I was growing up, all of these,” he said pointing to the expanse of fields that framed his property “were dairy farms.” Now their farm is hedged in by corn and soy crops.

“Switching to organic was the best choice we’ve ever made. The cows are happier now,” Janine told me. “But Bill doesn’t like answering the USDA questions.” When I probed to understand why, I was told that Bill is very religious, and that farming was a spiritual practice. See USDA is to Farming like Science is to Religion–the two can either complement each other, or they can directly contradict one another. It all depends. It depends on who you are as a farmer, what your intentions are and a whole other slew of things. But this is not the place to discuss science or religion…What I can say for certain though is that this idea of spirituality and farming is something we’ve encountered on our other stays and something I guarantee we will encounter in our future stays. So stay tuned to read on about spirituality and farming!

Posted by: amelia | July 26, 2010

A good day.

By Natalie

July 24th

The day started with the dreaded, but necessary, van clean up. After everybody organized their own things, the food bins were in order (which never lasts long), and bikes were checked over, we left for breakfast. We rode down the street to the Prairie Dog Cafe, owned by Jerry & Mary Petersen. Most of us ordered their specialty: the Prairie Mound. It’s a heap of hash browns, sautéed onions and red peppers, topped with cheese, two eggs and choice of meat. We filled up on great food, coffee and enjoyed sharing a bit more time with the Jones’.

After two full rest days, getting back on the road felt amazing. The sun was shinning, the hills were a breeze, and it seemed that every car was waving at us. Everybody was chatting and riding strong. To make it even better, that pavement was soft as butter and the shoulders were plenty wide. After having participated in the spiritual sweat, learning about the traditional use of plants, and simply visiting with our gracious hosts, the landscape had another dimension.

We arrived at the Rosin Organics farm high spirits. Bill and Julie welcomed us with bright smiles and invited us to bottle feed the lambs that were waiting in the yard.
In one view we could see a couple massive pigs, trotting piglets, waddling ducks, and dogs. A quick turn of the head and there were sheep, chickens, turkeys, and other birdy things. We knew the entire farm was free range, but it was surprising and heartwarming to see the animals roaming just around the house. Bill gave us a run through of his .12 acre garden. It was refreshing to see a diverse and lush and garden again after the long dry stretch across eastern Montana.

For dinner they served a full spread of homegrown dishes – beets, zucchini and squash, peas, swiss chard, potatoes, and fresh ham from one of their own pigs. As if that wasn’t enough, Julie brought out all sorts of pickled and fermented treats to try. And to top that we had the creamiest, richest, homemade ice cream any of us had ever had. It was a true summer feast.

Though Bill and Julie have astounding productivity with their produce and animals, they do not have a market outlet. Bill told us that there is no demand for their organic products and so no connection exists between them and would-be consumers. They are truly an oasis in the midst of monocropping corn, soybean, and wheat. On the 1,100 acres outside the garden they grow wheat, millet, and raise some cattle. They are able to sell these to large organic buyers, and keep their other products for themselves and to share with the interested people they do know.

We had a wonderful stay at Rosin Organics, and it was great to get back into the farm-visiting routine. We would have been happy to help Bill and Julie with weeding or chores, as we have on other farms, but they seemed to have everything under control. They do not have any interns, yet they manage to get everything done. Between the two of them, Bill and Julie have many years of experience, but say there is no end to learning. One technique they may try soon is to spray raw milk on their fields to put bacteria back into the soil. It makes perfect sense to use what resources they already have to improve their techniques.

Check back soon to catch up on our stay at Standing Rock, the Lakota Reservation!

Posted by: amelia | July 26, 2010

The Camels of North America

July 25, 2010
After waking up to a delicious breakfast prepared for us by Julie at Rosen Organics we all prepared ourselves for the longest day so far. We all enjoyed the two servings of scrambled eggs and the fresh raw milk to the max because we knew the day ahead of us would not be as enjoyable as this breakfast. It took us a long time to leave the farm because of some issues with our food, including broken eggs in our cooler, but eventually we made it out alongside our host Bill, who joined us riding all the way to highway 12.
Once in highway 12 we began to feel the bad news. We encountered a strong side wind that would accompany us for all 95 miles of the road. The wind did not make the ride completely unbearable, but we all had doubts about the effects it would have on us after 95 miles of riding. After 17 miles of riding we got to out first stop, the Tip Top Camel and Llama Farm.
Although it is not a food producing farm, we all had interest in seeing camels being bred in North America. Even though they were not expecting us, David and Carla, the farm’s owners, greeted us with the generosity that has been a common theme among all the farmer we have met. We got a brief tour of the farm, which had not only camels and llamas, but also reindeer. The camels and the reindeer were used for exhibition, while the llamas were used as packing animals for David and Carla’s hikes.
After checking out the exotic animals and taking some pictures we faced the inevitable and kept riding. The rest of the day was uneventful. We just rode, and rode and rode looking at cornfields, prairies and more cornfields always fighting the wind with all our might. The wind made us lose two riders to the Van, one out of exhaustion and one from sore knees. After much struggle we finally reached our destination at the Dakota Carding and Wool Co.
This wool farm produces wool clothing from scratch, quite literally. About 20 sheep are grown in the farm alongside some gardens that feed the family. In the back of the farm they have a Carding machine from the 1920s and a weaver with which they produce their yarn on the spot. All of this is done by Kelly, the company’s owner, and her family.

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