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Hoosier Young Farmers, Detroit Growers And Food Justice

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(Earth Eats theme music, composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)

KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kate Young. And this is Earth Eats. 

SHANE BERNARDO: Detroit often gets presented as this wasteland, as this post-industrial wasteland where nothing exists. And a lot of young folks in the media are taking advantage of this wasteland narrative to present urban farming as this new thing.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, my conversation with Shane Bernardo, who does community organizing in Detroit around issues of food justice. And Violet Baron interviews Liz Brownlee of Nightfall Farms and President of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition about the challenges of raising food in a pandemic. Plus a story on carbon markets for farmers, and ideas for making the most of a highly invasive vine. That's all just ahead, stay with us.


Earth Eats is produced from the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana. We wish to acknowledge and honor the indigenous communities native to this region and recognize that Indiana University is built on indigenous homelands and resources. We recognize the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, and Shawnee people as past, present, and future caretakers of this land. 

And future caretakers of this land.

We'll start with Renee Reed and the Earth Eats news. Hi Renee. 

RENEE REED: Hi, Kayte. Midwest states are updating the way they teach farmers to safely use pesticides. Harvest Public Media's Jonathan Ahl reports the goals include making it easier for farmers and to keep the federal government out of the process. 

JONATHAN AHL: The Coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the in-person pesticide training classes around the region at the time states, including Missouri and Iowa were looking to meet new USCPA standards. Missouri department of agriculture director Chris Chinn says her department is working on new materials that can be accessed online. 

CHRIS CHINN: We're really excited about that opportunity and it will be a priority for us moving forward, because if we don't get the job done here in Missouri, EPA is going to come do it for us. And none of us want to see that happen. 

JONATHAN AHL: The EPA increased the requirements for safety training and will take over the responsibility for any state that isn't in compliance. Jonathan Ahl, Harvest Public Media. 

RENEE REED: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending the deadline for enrollment in the largest land conservation program in the country. Farmers have enrolled 21 million acres of land into the Conservation Reserve Program. That's 4 million acres short of the cap. Part of the reason is low rental payments. Jordan Shearer is a fourth-generation farmer from Slapout Oklahoma. His land in the program is expiring. 

JORDAN SHEARER: Rental rate payments are significantly less than they have historically been, by an amount, a third or so. I think we would opt to graze that property more than likely and not have the restrictions with that come with CRV. 

RENEE REED: Changes to the program could include higher payments, but those will begin following Tom Vilsack's confirmation as secretary of agriculture. 

Thanks to Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine, and Jonathan Ahl for those reports. For Earth Eats news, I'm Renee Reed.

SHANE BERNARDO: My name is Shane Bernardo, I'm a long-life Detroiter. And my pronouns are he/him/his. I've really gotten away from using the term activist to describe myself, I like to say that I'm a person that does community organizing. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I sat down with Shane Bernardo at a Detroit diner called The Click during the Allied Media conference in 2018. I first got to known Shane through his work with Why Hunger. He's a skill facilitator and an insightful guide around difficult conversations around hunger and food justice. Shane is also a grower. He worked with Earth Works Urban Farm in Detroit for many years. I asked about his current practice of growing food. 

SHANE BERNARDO: I grow food for a friend of mine that has a pop-up restaurant that she has every week. It's called Gorilla Food Cart. It's hosted in Court Town by the old Detroit Tiger Stadium location. 

And one of her main deals with her food is - food is medicine, and how food has the power to heal us and bring us together. So, that really resonated with me. So, I met with her early in the year to figure out what she... what kind of ingredients she wanted to feature in her food. And from that point I’ve been growing food for her pop-up dinner that happens every week. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I know you've been growing food in other contexts, not just this one. So, what does it... what does it mean to you to be growing your own food or growing food for other people? 

SHANE BERNARDO: I help run a small urban farm here on the east side of Detroit for 7 years. And that’s a much different context than how I see my connection to food and growing food in my own backyard. 

The garden that I’m tending to in my own backyard gives me a chance to connect with my food in a much more personal way. The power of food in our ability to use it as a medium, to create connections between ourselves and the earth, ourselves and our traditions that help maintain that connection in ourselves and our ancestors. 

For many indigenous peoples around the world, we see the earth as our first mother. So, my garden is a chance for me to commune with my people and my ancestors. The earth and the water existed long before any of us were here. So, the earth and water is our living ancestors. Our living ancestors. And so, my garden is a place for me to practice a sense of sacredness and reverence with the soil, and I’m cultivating that connection through gardening and growing food. So, I see my garden as sort of an altar to bring in a sense of spirituality to the work that I’m doing around food and use it as a way to ground myself in the work that I’m doing around food and food justice work.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm glad that you said food justice because it was something that I wanted to ask you. It’s a term that you know... gets thrown around a lot and it means different things to different people, and I would love to hear you say what it means to you. 

SHANE BERNARDO: Food justice and social justice work more broadly, is deeply spiritual work. For people that are indigenous to this land mass, they may say that social justice movements started in 1492. 

And so, possibly in that same vein for me and my ancestors, our social justice and food justice work began in 1521 - when western contact first started in the Philippines. That eventually displaced and colonized my ancestors in the Philippines. 

When my people, my family and my ancestors were displaced from our ancestral lands, it also displaced our ability to practice our spiritual traditions and maintain this connection with the earth, which gave birth to our spiritual traditions and customs and rituals. 

And so, my attempt at practicing food justice is a way of again... bringing in a sense of spirituality, a sense of sacredness, a sense of reverence in reclaiming my connection, my birthright to the earth, to my ancestor, to my people and our traditions. Food justice is just a term that I use sometimes for its convenience, but it goes much deeper than that for me. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Another topic that I was interested in... so it especially in Detroit, but in other places too, there is a... you know, a kind of urban farming movement. There's a lot of gardens sprouting up in cities and it's always really seen in this positive light of "this is nothing but a good thing." And I have been interested in some of the unintended consequences of urban gardening and urban farming especially depending on who's doing it and how their doing it. 

SHANE BERNARDO: There isn't one aspect of colonialism and western imperialism that hasn't touched our lives and impacted us in some form or fashion. And urban farming is not any different. 

And so, in an attempt to respond to your question, not all urban farming here in Detroit is the same. There's some folks that have used urban farming as a way of continued displacement or to appropriate other people's culture. 

A lot of times urban farming gets presented as this new thing, the image and face that you see associated with urban farming is a young, hip, white person, that's recently moved to Detroit. Because Detroit often gets presented as this blank slate where you can write your name across the sky and subsist upon the land with very little means, which is a very attractive narrative to young, possibly college-educated, artistic-type folks, that want a place to create. 

Not that creating things is necessarily a bad thing, but often times this narrative in young people that attach themselves to this narrative about the city of Detroit, perpetuates the violence, the generational violence that has been imposed upon communities of color, refugee communities, native communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color and low-income communities, as a way of taking of space and taking up resources. 

So, often times when you see a gardens and farms in the media, associated with these young white faces, often times it’s the people of color in the background that are doing the work. 

Like I see this a lot in like youth programming. Like a lot of times it'll be young white women that have college degrees, may have finished university recently, and come to the city of Detroit because they wanna to do something good with their lives. Which is also not a bad thing, but... you know, you also have to look at things within this historical and political context as well. 

And so, Detroit often gets presented as this wasteland, as this postindustrial wasteland where nothing exists. And a lot of young folks in the media are taking advantage of this wasteland narrative to present urban farming as this new thing. But if we understand the history of native peoples on this land, and in particular the Anishinaabe peoples, the Confederacy, the Three Fires, the Odawa, the Ojibwe, and the Potawatomin. They have been hunting, foraging, fishing and growing food in this area long, long before any kind of us were here. 

So, in relative terms what's new isn't growing food, what's new is the city of Detroit. These arbitrary boundaries that we use to describe where we're standing and where we're sitting. So, I really like to put urban farming in this historical, more accurate, and historical, and political framework because it helps us understand the impacts of urban farming and the narratives that come with it and the dominant media without us even realizing it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: What are some of the models that are happening in Detroit right now that you are excited about? 

SHANE BERNARDO: An organization called Detroit Summer. Detroit Summer is an intergenerational movement here in Detroit. Detroit Summer and people from the Boggs Center like James and Grace Lee Boggs. But also elders in our community like Gerald Herston (unable to locate spelling reference) and other folks that were part of the Gardening Angels, who are elders from the south that moved up here with their parents when they were young during the Great Migration. And people that were escaping the oppressive measures that were being practiced in the south after reconstruction, that made it very oppressive for African-descended folks that were kidnapped from their ancestral lands. 

And so, these were folks that brought with them extensive knowledge around food, farming and growing food, that worked with young people in our community to take back ownership of our neighborhoods through community gardens. 

One of the things that James and Grace Lee Boggs are often quoted with saying is that "We are the leaders that we've been waiting for." And folks like Feedem Freedom, and D-town, and Oakland Avenue, I draw a lot of inspiration from because they've made a way out of no way. They used their social capital in a way that not only just like takes us away from seeing farming and growing food in this very like capitalistic way, of extracting wealth from the earth. But it also gives us an opportunity and a platform to see ourselves as champions of our own narratives, and champions of our own stories, and not wait for people to save us. So, I draw a lot of inspiration from those farms in particular. And they give me a lot of hope. Yup.  

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] This is Earth Eats, we'll be back with the rest of our interview with Shane Bernardo in just a moment. 


I'm Kayte Young, let's return to my conversation with Shane Bernardo. 

[To Shane Bernardo] I read a piece that you wrote for Why Hunger about intergenerational trauma and food, and I was wondering if you would be willing to talk a little bit more about that. 

SHANE BERNARDO: A lot of the contemporary issues that we’re dealing with today have been inherited. For instance back home in the Philippines, that trauma of being displaced and not being able to practice our spiritual traditions, our earth-based traditions, our subsistence traditions, has a compounding effect over multiple generations. And that compounding effect gets passed on through the years to your progeny. 

I recently went back home to the Philippines to visit my family in Nueva Vizcaya, and what I found was that in my attempt to heal from the grief of losing my father in 2010 to chronic disease, and losing my grandmother in 2016, in my attempt to heal from that grief, what I found was when I went back home to reconnect with my family, I also found that I was carrying the grief of my ancestors... of being displaced in the diaspora and forced to make a living on the land that I’m not native to. 

And so the one of the ways that I use to cope with that is through food, is by eating foods that are familiar to me, that I grew up eating, that were passed down through the generations and that give me a sense of identity, and familiarity with my people and my ancestors who I long to have a relationship with. Some of the foods that I’m growing my backyard are culturally relevant foods that are synonymous with my people's traditions around celebrating, growing, and sharing food with other people. It's not just a practice of consumption, but it’s also a practice of nourishing my spirit and using it as a medium to connect with other people. 

So, some of the examples of the food that I'm growing are like garlic, and onions. But the ones that I'm like most proud of, are some of the nightshade varieties. I'm growing like three or four types different types of tomatoes, growing eggplants, growing different types of chilies. Even though like Philippine cuisine and food is really not known for it being spicy, I have a hard time tasting my food unless I'm in pain, because I really like that spice, that kick. And I'm also growing ground cherries. And yeah so, I really like the nightshade family because these are foods that I grew up eating. 

I'm first generation in Detroit and my family kept a garden, ever since I was a kid, before it was even called Urban Gardening or urban farming. So, I use these foods again to maintain this connection to my people, my ancestors and our cultural traditions. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Is there a particular dish that you can think of that you like to cook that really connects you to your family's traditions and your culture?

SHANE BERNARDO: Yeah there's one particular dish, it’s actually a really simple dish. It’s kind of like a porridge almost. It's kind of... it’s like a... it’s like a rice congee. We call it lugaw. It’s a very like humble meal. A lot of times it would just be like a piece of chicken on the bone and the leftover rice from the previous dinner or meal. And some fresh ginger and some scallions, and some fried garlic on top. But it’s so... so nourishing. 

And one of the reasons why I particularly like that meal is because my grandmother used to make it for me when I was younger, when I was sick. And just to feel that in my belly, recalls this connection that I have with my grandmother and her nourishing spirit and how she used to take care of us when my parents would go to work. 

So, I grew up in a multigenerational household and food was one of the ways that my grandmother expressed her love and care for her family. And so, sometimes when I'm missing her spirit, or I just want to ground myself in that place of familiarity, sometimes I turn to food as a way of doing this. And lugaw is just one of the few dishes that really help build that connection. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Thank you so much. 

SHANE BERNARDO: Thanks for the opportunity, I really appreciate it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] You can find out more about Shane Bernardo on our website. We'll have links to his work and to some of the organizations he mentioned in Detroit like the Boggs Center, Feedem Freedom, And D-Town Farm. That's at Earth Eats dot org. 

(Trendy, mellow music plays then fades out)

There's been a lot of hype around carbon markets for farmers. They can make money off of the carbon their plants naturally removed from the air. But as Harvest Public Media's Katie Peikes reports, there are still a lot of questions about how much of a difference these markets can make. 

KATIE PEIKES: Kelly Garrett likes to experiment.

KELLY GARRETT: Yes. On December 8th, it was 60 degrees. 

KATIE PEIKES: So he went out to plant 35 acres of soybeans. A couple months later in his workshop in Dow city, Iowa, Garrett says he wants to see if the soybeans will grow bigger and he'll get better yields. Of course that's if they survive the winter. 

KELLY GARRETT: Everybody thinks it's crazy, which it probably is. But we're not going to know, unless we try. 

KATIE PEIKES: Garret's also experimenting with carbon markets. As part of photosynthesis, plants pull carbon dioxide from the air. They take the carbon turned some of it into plant tissue, like stems, leaves, and roots and leak some of it out through roots into the soil. All plants naturally do this, but tilling can quickly send carbon back into the air. Garrett on the other hand doesn't till. He also rotates crops, and he composts. 

KELLY GARRETT:  I think they all lead to better soil health, which leads to better yields. 

KATIE PEIKES: Big corporations like Amazon are trying to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. So they're buying carbon credits from sustainable farmers like Garrett. 

KARI HERNANDEZ: The market is already showing a growing willingness to pay for high quality carbon credits.

KATIE PEIKES: Kari Hernandez is Indigo AG's global head of carbon operations. That's one of the startups helping farmers get paid for carbon. Hernandez is speaking during a recent webinar pitching different carbon markets. 

KARI HERNANDEZ: And demand is on the rise and supply is slow to catch up. 

KATIE PEIKES: Demand because many large corporations have committed to reaching net zero carbon dioxide emissions. But the science behind how much agriculture can reduce carbon dioxide emissions isn't clear. Farmers need to take on a new practice to be able to earn carbon credits, but Iowa state university soil scientist, Marshall McDaniel says there's not always an immediate effect. 

MARSHALL MCDANIEL: After a farmer makes a change in management, it just takes a long time for there to be a detectable difference, or detectable change in soil carbon. 

KATIE PEIKES: As for how long carbon can stay in the soil McDaniel says that's a tricky question. He says, there's always carbon going in through plants and there's always leaving. 

MARSHALL MCDANIEL: But there's other forms of plant carbon that stick around in the soil for thousands of years. 

KATIE PEIKES: McDaniel says some of these conservation practices improve soil health and enable it to store more carbon. But in the larger picture, agriculture is just one part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Madhu Khanna is a University of Illinois professor. 

MADHU KHANNA: It is an important part of the solution, but we need the rest of the sectors, the rest of the economy to be contributing as well to reducing emissions by reducing fossil fuel use. 

KATIE PEIKES: The transportation and electricity sectors release more greenhouse gases than agriculture does, but Khanna says it's great to see carbon markets emerge as a way to reward farmers for capturing and reducing emissions. 

And Kelly Garrett, the Western Iowa farmer has already been rewarded. As of early February, he's made $115,000. Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify bought 5,000 carbon credits from Garrett for what his plants have been storing over a five-year period. Garrett says he's only invested a few hours of his time to earn that money. 

KELLY GARRET: The fact that I can sell these carbon credits is just a bonus to me. It's a great bonus, a great added income. 

KATIE PEIKES: And Garrett is looking to sell more carbon credits on the market. Every farmer is eager for extra money, but it'll take a lot more farmers and a lot more industries to have a large impact on climate change. Katie Peikes, Harvest Public Media. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media is a reporting collective covering food and farming in the Heartland. Find more at Harvest Public Media dot org. 

You're listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kate Young. Next up, we have a feature from producer Violet Baron. This piece was originally produced as a podcast called Growing in Place through the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement. The podcast tells the stories of food workers and community leaders who kept people fed last summer through the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's Violet's story. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: We felt like we had to start with community, and we had to start with giving the farmers a sense that they were in this together. And we figured that the exact ideas, the policy initiatives and the projects in our communities, that that would come out of a sense of comradery.

(Banjo music)

My name is Liz Brownlee, and I'm a farmer in Southern Indiana and I'm also the president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. 

VIOLET BARON: A common theme here on the show is that COVID might not be the root cause of every problem, but it sure can fan the flames on systems that were already under pressure. This is especially true for farmers who are just starting out.

Our guest is one of the founders of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. That's the Indiana branch of a national group that supports and advocates for beginning farmers. 

The USDA defines a beginning farmer as someone in their first 10 years on the job. These are folks who face all the challenges felt by young people in this country, student debt, pricey healthcare and institutional racism, just to name a few. They're facing all that when they're just trying to start their careers and their lives and they're doing it in a field, no pun intended, that's hard even on the good days. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: The folks in the first 10 years of farming are very different than people who have been farming for 30 years. So the National Young Farmers Coalition has surveyed beginning farmers. They do this every five years because they want to create, basically like a policy platform for the farm bill, which is the federal policy that impacts farmers. And basically what it shows is that people in their first 10 years of farming, they're something like twice as likely to be diverse as the average farmer in this country, they have advanced degrees, 60% are women. They self-identify as environmental stewards. So their sort of background and values are quite different than the average farmer who's 20 or 30 years in. 

And the reason I'm referencing, 20 or 30 or more years in is that the average farmer in this country is almost 60 years old. And that's a big issue for our country because that means those folks are thinking about retiring and we've got to think as a country about who's going to grow our food and how do we equip them for success. 

And so, in fact, the USDA has done that. They've put this big emphasis on beginning farmers and making sure that people who want to start farms have the access to resources they need to thrive. 

Beginning farmers they typically don't have farmland. They need to figure out how to have enough capital to afford land. There's the knowledge issue, right? Because if you're not coming from a farming family, or even if you are, and you just want to try more sustainable practices, you gotta learn how to do it. You've got to have access to capital at the bank to buy things, not just land but equipment, whether that's greenhouses or walk-in freezers or affording your feed and labor, things like that. It's not just land access. It's also health insurance. That's a major issue for people who are self-employed, and farmers are self-employed. My husband and I have insurance through the marketplace through the Affordable Care Act. And that's critical for us because we're doing work that is physical. It's always in the back of our minds. Like what if one of us breaks a leg? Or certainly lots of veggie farmers struggle with their backs going out because they're bending constantly and using their backs in a really physical way. And a lot of young farmers, these are young families, they have kids, and they need to be able to get their kids to the doctor. And so health insurance is a major thing. 

Student loan forgiveness, dealing with student loan debt is a major issue for beginning farmers as it is for anybody trying to start a business and deal with that debt in addition to capitalizing a business. The equity work I think is critical because we're trying to feed all of our communities. And the fact is beginning farmers who are black indigenous, or people of color have been systemically discriminated against by the USDA. And the USDA admits that and is trying to figure out how to deal with that. And then certainly feeders of color. They're just not welcomed into the local food scene in a way that they could be. And we all have to, as farmers, we have to figure out how to deal with that and fight back against it. 

VIOLET BARON: For her part, after working for years on organic farms throughout the country, Liz and her husband Nate moved back to Indiana about seven years ago. They got to work turning her family's farm from fields for commercial crops back into pasture native grasslands and wildflowers. Their families were supportive and excited for them to start the project, which hasn't been easy, but it has been profound. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: Oh boy, it was both easier than we expected and much harder. We were amazed by how quickly life came back to these fields. Any commodity crop production is based on killing everything except that crop. And then that means insects because they could be pests. And that means life in the soil cause they could carry disease. And that means weeds because they'll compete for sunlight, but a monoculture when there's just one thing growing on the land that doesn't support a lot of life, and we want to have a lot of life on our farm. 

When we basically just removed the chemicals from the picture and added in a focus on building up the health of the soil and growing a diversity of things all in one place, at the same time, it was pretty neat to see how quickly we had frogs and spiders of every shape and size and snakes, and butterflies, and dragonflies, and birds swooping around. There was a lot of life just within that first summer and we continue to see that diversity grow. There are more lightened bugs every summer. 

Last summer, this is maybe a silly example, but last summer we saw for the first time I been called a carrion beetle. And you only get carrion beetles in places where there's actual decomposition happening, where there's life and death and more life. And so that felt like a big win for us. Like we're bringing back we're helping to re-institute real cycles of life. 

VIOLET BARON: She says they're lucky that her family held onto the land since buying farmland can be an overwhelming burden for young farmers in itself. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: They were very nervous for us though, to move home and try to make that work in Indiana, because they hadn't seen that same energy and excitement and customer base for local food here. And so they were really worried that we just wouldn't find customers. I think they figured we would figure out how to raise the animals in that part. We've been doing that, but they were nervous that people wouldn't pay the price that food actually costs. Food in the grocery store, a lot of it is those prices aren't a real reflection of how much it actually costs to grow food. A lot of that food is subsidized by government support. 

We've had government support too, to start our farm. We've had incentive programs that help us convert land from corn and soybeans into pasture, and build fences, and dig a well but those are long-term investments, and the actual food itself is still quite expensive. 

Our families were very nervous that we would get here, and no one would want the food that we have. And I think they were just feeling protective of us. We had to do a lot of conversations together as a family and reassuring them that what we were doing wasn't bonkers and that there were other farmers in Indiana already doing it. They just are spread out across the state. But that there is growing support for local food in the state. And our families have really been cheering us on the whole time. And now you can't make them shut up about how much they love our farm, and they talked to their friends endlessly about it. So they're very proud of us and very much on our team.

VIOLET BARON: But between the struggle and the reward of making the farm come alive again, Liz felt alone. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: We were all really aching for more time together with other young farmers. So the reality for us was that we weren't seeing other young farmers on a regular basis. We were seeing other farmers at the farmer's markets and dropping off at restaurants and at the butcher and things like that, but we didn't have that sense of community that we really wanted. Because when farmers get together we speak the same language, which is really nice. And so we wanted people that we could talk with and troubleshoot with and commiserate with and celebrate with.

VIOLET BARON: It all started when Liz and Genesis McCarran Allen were paired on a trip sponsored by Purdue University to visit thriving food scenes in other states. They decided they needed some of that energy and creativity back home in Indiana, and the coalition was born. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: And that the chapter has just really bloomed. We got started with a couple of potlucks and said like, "Let's just see if anybody wants to come." And now every time we hold an event, we kind of hope like, okay, maybe we'll get 30 people, and we end up with 50. And a big chunk of them are brand new to our group, which feels good. It feels like there are more people starting farms every year and there are more people who are finding community through the Young Farmers coalition. 

VIOLET BARON: Some chapters are city-based throughout the state they're in but Hoosiers Young Farmer Coalition is statewide from Louisville to Gary. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: Ohio's group is 40 years old, right. They've been building this community and together building more of a customer base for local food and getting more local food into schools. Farmers can do a lot more when they team up. And so we felt like we need to do so many things in Indiana to improve our local food system. It's everything from thinking about equity in the food system and how to make sure farmer's markets are just white spaces, to local food in institutions and hospitals and schools, to state level policy. Like there's all this stuff that needs to happen, but we felt like we had to start with community. We had to start with giving the farmers a sense that they were in this together. And we figured that the exact ideas, the policy initiatives and the projects in our communities that that would come out of a sense of comradery.

I can see that sense of like relief on people's faces when they see each other across the room, and they haven't seen each other in months and they get to share stories about how it's going on their farms and what they want to do next. 

VIOLET BARON: But all that was overshadowed by the battle to adjust to this new reality and stay afloat. Now the group has been hosting virtual trainings to help farmers navigate online sales. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: COVID has shown a light on all the problems. Farmers sort of a stream of what they were growing and how they were getting it to their customers like individuals, but also restaurants and also chefs and hospitals, et cetera. It all changed like overnight. 

So on our farm, we went with a really low-tech solution. We have a Google form and we put it out each week and we ask people to reserve what it is they want for market pickup that weekend. But our farm is quite small. So a lot of farms, especially the larger veggie firms have really, really pivoted to online sales. So they've done things like created their own online stores in a matter of like a week and back in the spring. And now they're moving tons of product that way, because then customers can go on and they can click on what they want and pay with their card and all they have to do on Saturdays, is pop to market, pick it up and they get out of market.

And then a lot of farmers, including bakers and folks who produce meat and cheese makers and things like that have, tapped into these online marketplaces, like Market Wagon and Hoosier Harvest Market where customers can go on and buy from lots of farmers all at once and have their food either delivered to their doorstep or a pickup spot. And it's been so impressive to see how farmers have just figured out those systems and jumped on board. 

And the reality is the customers were already switching to more online sales. And so COVID has been a real kick in the pants for farmers to figure out how to adapt to that changing customer reality. And thankfully those things were already somewhat in place, because a lot of farmers, when restaurants shut down, a lot of farmers had loads of product that would have been moving to those restaurants. That things that were going to be ready to harvest that week, and what do you do with them? You can't just keep them, you've got to figure out how do I get this out to people in a whole new way. 

VIOLET BARON: The other problems are bigger though. There was a run-on butcher shop dates for farmers raising animals for slaughter. If you can't get butcher dates, you can sell your animal to a wholesaler. But overall, it's hard to say what will happen to a lot of farmers who are in that boat this year.

LIZ BROWNLEE: So we raised pigs for instance. And when we went to schedule our dates for our pigs, we had to call every butcher shop we've ever worked with to find a date that would line up with when our pigs were going to be ready in October, and that was back in April. So they were scheduling at six months now at the farmer's market. This last Saturday, I talked to a gentleman who said that butcher shops are actually scheduling into next June at this point. And that's a real problem because I don't even know what I'm going to raise next year for sure. I have a guess, but it depends on 72 variables. 

So, there's not enough capacity in our butcher shops. So the long and short of it is that there's not enough capacity in our butcher shops in this country, and COVID-19 has highlighted that fact. And farmers are really struggling. That stress for farmers who raise livestock, it takes an emotional toll, it also takes the financial toll. And then in terms of the local food system and people's faith in their ability to get food locally, it means they're that much more reliant on grocery stores.

VIOLET BARON: As with everyone right now, Liz can't predict the future and she's taking it day by day. 

LIZ BROWNLEE: I think the next few months just feel incredibly uncertain. And I think that's true for every person on the planet right now. It feels especially confusing to me as a farmer. And that's what I'm hearing from other beginning farmers as well. Do we increase production because people are thinking more about their food supply and they're thinking more carefully about the local businesses they want to support? And that's wonderful. And so we should grow more food to be ready for that demand? Or should we actually scale down a little bit to make sure we're not spending too much money and we're not producing things that people aren't going to be able to afford because of continued or increased unemployment? And at some point we just have to make a guess and hope that it works and make some contingency plans.

Farming is always risky business. There's an old joke about gambling and how like farmers don't need to gamble because we do it every single day. But COVID has amplified that risk, and that uncertainty. 

And we're doing a storytelling project where we're trying to get Hoosiers talking. And this is both farmers and feeders, get Hoosiers of all sorts of talking about, what does farming look like these days? What does cooking dinner with your family look like these days? And really just updating that narrative about food in Indiana. 

I think a lot of people think it's just corn and soybeans. And while that is a piece of the puzzle, it's also diversified small-scale farms, and it's families passing on this tradition of raising animals well, and farmers trying new things and producing new crops that their customers are asking for. And so we're trying to figure out how do we collect stories when we can't get together to share stories?

 So we're working on a podcast and we're trying to figure out how to like call and interview farmers and feeders. We're figuring we're going to dig in this winter when farmers have more time to talk with us and they're not in the middle of the season.

It's been a hard year on our farm. And so we're trying to take the small joys where we can find them. I really delight in reading novels. It's like how I kind of turn off from the realities of the world. So taking time over a good breakfast that has our eggs and our neighbor's sourdough, and another neighbors’ greens, and another farmer friend's onions, right? This hardy breakfast that for us feels very normal sitting down to eat breakfast and read a book and just be quiet for a little bit before going out to feed all the animals and figuring out how to sell our food. 

It's really neat to see these carrots and tomatoes and all these things coming from the land that wasn't there 10 years ago. 

VIOLET BARON: You can follow Liz and Nate's farm at Night Fall Farm dot com. And the Hoosiers Young Farmers Coalition at HoosierYFC dot org.  And on Instagram, they're at Hoosier Young Farmers. T

his piece is part of a podcast called Growing in Place, produced through the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement and originally broadcasts on Indiana Environmental Reporter. Thanks to the Media School at Indiana university. Thanks to Jody Elliott and the resilient Hoosier communities’ team at CRE and a big thank you to Elaine Monahan who made all of this possible. I'm Violet Baron. 

KAYTE YOUNG: The Hoosier young farmers coalition announced their 2021 fellows this week. Find a link on our website to learn more about their farmer fellowship program Earth Eats dot org. 

The invasive perineal vine kudzu has long been seen as a menace of the Southern U.S. landscape. Kudzu is now found in states as far reaching as North Dakota, New Jersey, and yes, Indiana. One DIY permaculture collective is investing in new ways to use rather than simply erase this stubborn plant. Josephine McRobbie reports from Asheville, North Carolina.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Kudzu the East Asian vine was introduced to the us as an ornamental and erosion control plant in the late 1800's. But now...

JUSTIN HOLT: It's like considered maybe the worst invasive species in the Southeast. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: The so-called vine that ate the South can grow a foot a day, covering whole trees, fields, and telephone poles. It's beginning to expand to landscapes as far flung as Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon. Kudzu is the target of huge numbers of eradication projects. But despite this many southerners are captivated by the plants power. It's inspired folk songs, poems and books, as well as advocates. 

JUSTIN HOLT: Kudzu was one of the first plants that really captured my imagination. Cause it's so dramatic and it's kind of like big green monster. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Justin Holt is an ecology educator and permaculturist in Asheville, North Carolina with Zev Friedman and Lauren Baccus he runs the collective kudzu culture, which aims to raise awareness about the many uses of kudzu. It's a fertilizer for soil and fodder for livestock, and can also be processed to make foods, fibers and herbal medicines. 

JUSTIN HOLT: It was a staple of cultures and industries in parts of the world where people have developed relationships with the plant. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: It's a challenge that is central to permaculture. How do we co-evolve with our environment? Studies have shown that kudzu thrives with rising temperatures. And so with the changing climate...

JUSTIN HOLT: This is a plant that is not going anywhere anytime soon. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Kudzu Culture runs regular camps for those who are interested in the plant. Depending on the season, they dig the roots, harvest the vines, and then process the kudzu using traditional Japanese methods.

JUSTIN HOLT: That is, I don't think very scalable in like today's modern industrial economy in the Southeast. So we're trying to figure out ways to move away from like the processing that's dependent on a lot of hand labor. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: So at a recent research and development camp, they experimented with using a food grade cement mixer to clean off the roots and a chipper shredder to process chunks of roots into mash. Next, the mash went into pillowcases and into the wash.

JUSTIN HOLT: We just like ran a cycle through the washing machine and caught the water that came out. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: This kudzu water can be used in a couple of ways. It's sort of a cold extract tea. One that kudzu culture has sold to local kombucha companies as an ingredient, but it can also be settled and then refined to make a chalky white starch. 

JUSTIN HOLT: The cold water, I'm going to add it to this. As it's simmering...

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Holt is stirring up the base of some silky tofu made only with starch powder, peanut butter, salt and water. 

JUSTIN HOLT: Very very thick paste. Cause I've got a lot of kudzu starch in here. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: The Kudzu Culture trio source recipe ideas from all kinds of places, old Southern recipe books, kudzu Instagram hashtags, and East Asian cooking blogs that they run through Google translate. You can eat the kudzu leaves alone. They're similar in taste to pea shoots. The starch can be used to make a turmeric golden milk or a mochi ice cream. And one of the few traditional uses in the South is using the flowers of the vine to make jelly. 

JUSTIN HOLT: And that they'd use that cause the smell of the flowers is like, it's like the color purple smells like purple. Like like grape markers or something. 

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Despite kudzu's reputation and negative qualities, Holt in his colleagues think it's possibilities can be leveraged, and the plant can truly be integrated into farm and food economies. They're documenting their methodology and starting to apply for grants. They're looking at ideas like how to become a buyer of the roots dug up by farmers or how to process starch or weaving fiber more efficiently. 

JUSTIN HOLT: And that's kind of like the main driver behind what we're doing is asking that question, like how can this really scale up? How can harvesting kudzu as a means of control as a means of providing food and medicine in a resilient way to people, how can that really take off beyond some crazy permaculturists who think it's a cool thing to do?

KAYTE YOUNG: That story comes to us from Earth Eats producer Josephine McRobbie. Find more at Earth Eats dot org. 

(Earth Eats theme music, composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)

If you haven't had a chance to check out the Earth Eats YouTube channel, now would be a good time to do so. We have a new recipe featuring eight cloves of roasted garlic, a mountain of fresh spinach leaves and some spicy toast rounds. Yes, it's a soup. It's delicious and it is quick to make. Search for Earth Eats on YouTube, watch me cooking good food in my kitchen and subscribe. It will make our producer Payton Knocheblech so happy. You want Payton to be happy, don't you?

That's it for our show. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week. 

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.  

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Shane Bernardo, Justin Holt, Liz Brownlee, Violet Baron, and everyone at the IU Center for Rural Engagement and the Indiana Environmental Reporter.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.


Shane Bernardo crouching in a hoop house, with cucumbers on a vine.

Shane Bernardo tends to cucumber vines growing in a hoop house (courtesy of Shane Bernardo)

“Detroit often gets presented as this wasteland--as this post industrial wasteland where nothing exists. And a lot of young folks and the media are taking advantage of this wasteland narrative to present urban farming as this new thing.”

This week on the show:

My conversation with Shane Bernardo who does community organizing in Detroit around issues of food justice. 

Harvest Public Media has a story on carbon markets for farmers.

Josephine Mc Robbie talks with permaculturists about ideas for making the most of a highly invasive vine.

And Violet Baron interviews Liz Brownlee of Nightfall Farm. She's the co-founder and president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. In this conversation from last summer she talks about building a community of young farmers and about the challenges of raising food in a pandemic. (Click on the story below for more)

The Hoosier Young Farmers recently announced their 2021 Fellows, including Sharrona Moore, who has been featured on Earth Eats.


Shane Bernardo On Food Justice And The Power Of Food To Connect Us To The Past

I sat down with Shane Bernardo in a Detroit diner called The Clique during the Allied Media Conference in 2018.

Our conversation touches on urban farming, intergenerational trauma, and the power of food to connect us with the traditions of those who have come before us.

Links to Shane’s work, and organizations he mentions in the interview:

Food as Healing–Shane Bernardo’s website

Pathology of Displacement: The Intersection of Food Justice and Culture–a Why Hunger publication by Shane Bernardo. The article can also be found here.

Feedom Freedom

D-Town Farm

Oakland Avenue

The Boggs Center

Detroit Summer

Earth Works Urban Farm

Gardening Angels

I am sure there are many ways to make Lugaw, the dish Shane mentions in the interview. I found this video to give you an idea of what it’s like, in case you’ve never had it.

Music on this episode:

Semilanceata by Dr.Doctor from the Free Music Archive

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Stories On This Episode

Young Farmers Build Community And Help Each Other Through The Hard Times

Liz Brownlee in winter clothes holding a baby lamb and smiling at the camera

Liz Brownlee started the Indiana chapter of The Young Farmers Coaltion with a potluck. She knew the community building had to come first before they could begin to take on any of the tough issues they face.

Cooking With Kudzu: Experimental Permaculture Collective “Eats The Vine That Ate The South”

Woman holding large Kudzu root

As Kudzu creeps further north, One DIY permaculture collective is exploring new ways to use, rather than simply erase, this stubborn plant.

Carbon Is A New Cash Crop For Some Farmers

Kelly Garrett standing in front of a large green piece of heavy farm equipment.

Farmers can make money off of the carbon their plants naturally remove from the air. But do carbon markets make a difference?

USDA Extends Conservation Reserve Program Deadline, Increased Rental Rates Possible

A field of brown grass, flat horizon and blue sky.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers and ranchers to preserve land for 10 to 15 years, but it saw a shortfall of 4 million acres under the Trump administration.

State Agriculture Departments Look To Update Pesticide Training

Ground view of farm machinary spraying something on a field.

Midwest states including Missouri, Iowa and Illinois are updating the way they teach farmers to safely use pesticides.

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