Kayte Young: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I’m Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.
“The idea behind the farm was to really connect people more with their food and promote wellness. So it’s easy to tell somebody they need to eat healthier, I mean we’re kind of finding out, it’s 2019, that just saying you need to eat healthier doesn’t really have that impact. “
This week on our show we visit an urban farm connected to a hospital.
Harvest Public Media has a story about the shrinking US department of agriculture, due to its move from the nation’s capital, to Kansas City.
Josephine McRobbie has a piece on Kudzu. She talks with a group exploring ways to make use of the plant known as “the vine that ate the south.”
And nationally acclaimed poet, Ross Gay reads an essay he refers to as a “delight” from The Book of Delights. This one celebrates the pawpaw.
That’s all coming up in the next half hour, so stay with us
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KY: Since two USDA research agencies moved out of Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City metro, they’ve shrunk dramatically. The union representing employees says 3 out of 4 workers will likely be gone by the end of the year. And Frank Morris reports for Harvest Public Media that the loss may be costly.
Frank Morris: Across the farming industry this year you hear grumblings that research coming out of the US Department of Agriculture isn’t quite what it used to be.
Jason Britt: Ieee, It makes you.... wonder.
FM: Jason Britt is a commodities trader sits behind a bank of monitors arrayed on his huge, ornate, old desk, in Kansas City. These days, Britt says some of the information coming out of USDA has been contradictory. That’s troubling, because USDA data is ag industry bedrock.
JB: They are definitely the gold standard for setting on prices, and that’s why it’s so vital that we get the most accurate information, you know, possible. (8 sec)
Enormous amounts of money ride on USDA reports. So do sweeping policy decisions that shape American diets, economic productivity, and the environment.
But the federal agencies in charge of funding and conducting much of that research are in upheaval.
Laura Dodson: People are booking it because people are scared about what's going to happen to them working here.
FM: Laura Dodson is an economist at the Economic Research Service, or ERS, one of the agencies being uprooted. She’s also acting vice president of the employees union there.
ERS tracks the vast, global food production system.
The other agency being moved is the National Institute for Food and Agriculture or NIFA. NIFA funds ag research at universities across the country.
Rebecca Boehm at the Union of Concerned Scientists says both agencies are under assault.
Rebecca Boehm: This is really an attack on science and an attack on agencies that produce objective research and information in the public interest.
FM: Boehm says research findings on climate change and nutrition programs, provoked the Trump administration, which moved repeatedly to slash the agencies’ budgets.
Then, this summer the USDA announced that most positions in both agencies would be moving from Washington to greater Kansas City by fall.
Politicians here in Kansas City boasted that more than 550 high-paying jobs were on coming to town! It hasn’t worked out that way. Most of the employees quit. And Dodson says that will hurt both farmers, and consumers.
LD: Everyone, if you eat, you’re involved in agriculture. And this is the government making itself dumber about agriculture.
That is not the way supporters of the move see it. The USDA maintains that moving the agencies to the Kansas City area will save lots of money.
Missouri Senator Roy Blunt says the Kansas City region is a great fit because of all the ag research going on here already.
RB: Locating yourself right here, within three hours of 8 or 10 of the greatest land grant institutions in the country, the Animal Health Corridor here. I think the resources here more than offset any short term loss in people that were likely well along in their career anyway.
But scores of highly-skilled people with deep knowledge in arcane fields of study can be tough to replace. Whole divisions within the agencies have been decimated.
TB: So, all of that expertise is gone. The people that are left are having to work double duty, triple duty.
FM: Tom Bewick should know, he’s a National Program Leader at NIFA, one of the few making the move to Kansas City. His wife will stay to put to keep her job in Virginia, and he’ll take a 5,000 dollar pay cut.
TB: A number of us have decided that we're going to, uh, accept the relocation to make sure that that NIFA’s legacy as this preeminent science organization is not completely lost.
FM: Meantime the USDA is struggling to fill hundreds of open jobs. It’s offering recent retirees half their previous salary to become temps.
The Economic Research Service is shedding projects. Research funding may be delayed, even canceled. And agency supporters say it will take years to rebuild the government’s world class economic research agencies.
KY: That was Frank Morris of Harvest Public Media. Find more from this Reporter collective at Harvest Public Media dot org.
KY: Have you ever heard of a produce prescription? The idea is simple: If a patient needs better nutrition to improve their health, then the medicine might be a basket of fresh vegetables rather than a bottle of pills.
That’s the inspiration behind the Farm at Community Hospital in Anderson Indiana, near Indianapolis.
CD: A portion of the food goes into our dietary department some of it we call it our 'farmacy program' goes to the pharmacy which is like if you're familiar with the CSA box, Community Supported Agriculture where traditionally people would pay up front in the season and get an assorted box of goodies. This is that without the payment so we have, they're called Care Navigators, employees who help outpatients get to all of their appointments, keep them on schedule cause it can be a little overwhelming so the Care Navigators are working with people through their kind of process of care and they can really identify who has a need for produce and get that produce to them so some of our produce goes into that farmacy program.
KY: Did you catch that? That’s Farmacy, with an F. The medicine is the farm fresh produce.
I recently visited the farm and spoke with the farm manager...
Cd: My name is Christina Davies I'm the farm project coordinator at community farm at Community Hospital Anderson.
KY: I also met the marketing manager for the hospital, Michele Hockwalt
I’d never been to Anderson, and I didn’t know much about the community where the hospital and farm are located.
Michele Hockwalt: Anderson has just had some struggles in the past about twenty years and it's just really really just been focussed the last several years on rebounding but there are food access issues. It's a lot of the communities around here are food deserts and access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food is a problem and we do have a lot of older…it's an older community as well and so when we're able through hospital channels to get food to these folks we can really make a difference in their nutrition particularly for those diabetics and folks with heart conditions and just improving that access for them...transportations a problem, you know as well. Madison County doesn't really have a lot of public transportation and we're really happy to help get it to them.
CD: The idea behind the farm was to really connect people more with their food and promote wellness so it's easy to tell somebody they need to eat healthier, I mean we're kind of finding out, it's 2019, that just saying 'you need to eat healthier' doesn't really have that impact so with our programs we get kids out here through a couple different organizations to interact with the farm. They have their own garden section to kind of get them interested in food. We also send the produce into...to go to outpatients and to local hunger relief programs and we try to provide education about hot to prepare the food, what to do with it to get people more excited about eating healthier foods and trying new things. We give out recipes to accompany the food. Seed packets, information about saving seeds, information about planting seeds. We, in conjunction with the local library, did a seed swap in the spring so you just kind of various programs to promote not only eating the food but also how to grow it both as a point of access and also like it's a low impact physical activity. It's really healthy to garden as well as eat the food that you're gardening too.
KY: Is part of the mission of it getting people interested in growing their own food or learning to garden or taking up gardening as a hobby?
CD: Absolutely, yeah. We try to provide information about how to do that. We also have an employee garden here that's separate from the farm so that's..oh I forget how many raised beds are in it...32? Where it's mostly managed by a committee of employee volunteers. It's a sharing garden concept so we'll plant everything out there in the spring. The beds are marked. What's ready to pick and what's not ready to pick and folks who work here will go out on their lunch break, get produce or before they go home, it's like self-serve garden which is really great. People are getting into it and I dunno, it feels awesome to drive up to the building and see a bunch of people picking stuff from the garden. And the first year I was here we weighed everything we grew and it was almost two thousand pounds of produce that we got out of those like thirty raised beds so it’s awesome
KY: Christine took me on a tour of the farm in its late summer peak.
CD: The farm is a two-acre mixed vegetable farm. We have, I think it's about 20 hundred foot beds of different kinds of winter squash, pumpkins, watermelon and cantaloupes. And then we have a field of solanaceae which is tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. So we group everything we plant by the type of plant it is cause then we know what types of disease they might get in that area and what types of pest will be there and then we can rotate our crops so we don't want to plant tomatoes in the same place every year because of pests so we plant by family group. Our sunflowers are all pollen-less sunflowers. We cut them to go into patient rooms. We have our sunflowers timed to hopefully produce regularly throughout the season, late June through the frost to have sunflowers every week so we cut those three times a week and they're taken around to patients and so thier pollen-less so there's no allergy problem and so they don't shed pollen when they're in a vase. We have some oher...we have zinnias and some statice planted that we cut those and if we have extra sunflowers we'll do this with them too. We take those to our neighboring long term care facility and they make them into bouquets to put around the facility. Kale and collard greens, we have a little bit of Napa cabbage planted for the fall, some beans and peas. The peas aren't up yet though. We just seeded them last week and then that far field was all of our root crops. And then this area right here is the kids garden so kids from the Madison County youth center and alternative incorporated's Kid Connection program, they planted all of the plants in there. We started seeds inside and made like little paper pots out of toilet paper rolls and newspaper with them in the spring and transplant those out here. Those are with seeds planted from Jonny Seeds. So in there they planted a bunch of different kinds of tomatoes, some herbs, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, leeks, squash, they're own sunflowers, mini-broccoli...like there's all kinds of stuff in there. And then the kids that come out here who have come to interact with the farm through our programming this season, they'll pick stuff from both their garden and then sometimes we'll go through the rest of the farm and harvest stuff and they take it back. One of the groups who works with also lives in a facility that they're preparing food there and they take it back there and they get really excited about the produce..it's...super cute but also amazing that they're excited to eat the vegetables that they take back with them. I had these kids come out that were...they're usually like five to thirteen in this group and I remember there were four kids that were like 'zucchini? that's gross. Carrots? I don't wanna eat that and then we went through and harvested them and they were like 'oohh I wanna pick that one. Ooh can I pull this carrot?' You know, like they were so excited about it by the time they left but when they got here they were like 'Ugh, I don't wanna do that.' So that kinda...I don't know, just providing the opportunity for that kind of transformation is amazing. We have honey bees this year, we have two hives. We were able to get those with support from a grant from The Whole Kids Foundation and the Bee-Cause so we got a youth education grant to incorporate that with our youth programming this year so we got all these different sized bee suits. We have the two hives so the kids that we've worked with we've had them come out and they put on the gear and they've gotten the opportunities to look into the hives and you know go in there and really interact with them and it's the same thing you know like most of the kids you say 'We're gonna look at bees' and they're like 'Why? Like I don't wanna do that. Why would we do that? Bees sting you. They're not...you know we don't like bees.' Cause usually all people hear is 'Ew a bee!' You know you're gonna get stung and really that's not quite the case with honeybees and even most native wild bees. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you. So our bees are actually very friendly and I have not been stung.
KY: Christine pulled a dark red tomato from a vine and handed it to me.
CD: Would you like a cherry tomato?
KY: Sure. I'm not gonna say no to that.
CD: They're black cherries. They're amazing. Have you had these before?
CD: It's my favorite. (laughs)
KY: That’s very sweet.
KY: In addition to the rows of delicious food growing within the beautifully fenced 2-acre farm, they also have two small structures. One is a garden shed for tool strorage and the other is a walk-in cooler which they purchased this year thanks to a grant from the Madison County community foundation. The first thing I noticed inside, were some miniature spaghetti squash, which they grow as a less intimidating size for people who haven’t tried it before.
CD: So these are really nice because you cut them in half and cook them and then it's like one serving per half. So you know you put spaghetti sauce or something in there...like you're good to go. Two meals no dishes. It's great.
KY: The walk-in is stacked with plastic crates filled with produce. Peppers, squash, eggplant, and on such a hot day, it feels great in there. But it’s not as cold as your home fridge. It doesn’t need to be, since there are no prepared foods stored inside. Spaghetti squash and tomatoes would be damaged by the lower temperatures.
CD: So we can set it at 60 and our tomatoes will not get damaged. Our squash won't get damaged. It's great. And I was actually thinking about this today, my farmhand is out and my volunteers weren't able to come out this morning so I've been harvesting all day. Literally up until you got here from seven am to like two o'clock. I still have a little bit more to do and I was thinking you know if I was out here by myself and I did not have this walk-in cooler I would have to stop every two hours, figure out where this produce is gonna go because it couldn't just sit out here so it's incredible. It's next-level having a walk-in cooler. The Madison County Community Foundation helped us with our walk-in cooler. It's ?? is a fertilizer They make organic fertilizers so they donate a substantial amount of organic fertilizer to our program. When you talk about it you realize oh we have like so much support. Talking about all that and realizing that makes those really difficult days that are inevitable...burnout happens some days are like I'm alone this is so hard being able to realize how much people want this here.
KY: That it's valued
CD: Yeah, community gardening is not just about feeding the community but also making a sense of community which is so important to live in a vibrant place. People need to know each other and to feel like they're supported and doing things that are difficult. Because starting new things, anything is difficult and it's so important to be able to find that support.
KY: Christine is also one of the founding members of the Madison County food network, which serves as a food council for the county. They’re working to share resources and support across the various community gardening projects and to generally increase community food security in Anderson. Find out more about that and about the Community Hospital Farm in Anderson, on our website, Earth Eats Dot org.
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KY: Production support comes from Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio.
Elizabeth Ruh, enrolled agent with Personal Financial Services. Assisting businesses and individuals, with tax preparation and planning, for over fifteen years. More at Personal Financial Services dot net.
And Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838
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KY: The invasive perennial vine kudzu has long been termed a scourge of southern U.S. landscapes, and is now seen in states as far ranging 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 U.S. as an ornamental and erosion control plant in the late 1800s.
Justin Holt: But now it’s considered one of the worst invasive species in the southeast.
JM: 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 plant’s power. It’s inspired folk songs, poems, and books, as well as advocates.
JH: kudzu was one of the first plants that really captured my imagination because it's so dramatic. It's kind of like this big green monster.
JM: Justin Holt, an ecology educator and permaculturist in Asheville, NC. 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.
JH: It's like the staple of cultures and industries in parts of the world where people have developed relationships with the plant.
JM: 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 a changing climate...
JH: This is a plant that is not be going anywhere any time soon.
JM: Kudzu Culture runs regular camps for those interested in the plant. Depending on the season, they dig the roots, harvest the vines, and then process the kudzu, using traditional Japanese methods.
JH: That is...I don't think very scalable in today's modern industrial economy in the southeast so we're trying to figure out ways to move away from the processing that's dependent on a lot of hand labor.
JM: 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 root into mash. Next, the mash went into pillowcases and into the wash.
JH: We just like ran a cycle through the washing machine and caught the water that came out.
JM: This kudzu water can be used in a couple of ways. It's sort of 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.
JH: ...in the cold water. I'm going to add it to this as it's simmering...
JM: Holt is stirring up the base of some silky tofu made only with starch powder, peanut butter, salt and water.
JH: ...very very thick paste because I've got a lot of kudzu starch in here...
JM: 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 tumeric 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.
JH: and they'd use that because the smell of the flowers is like the color purple. It smells like purple. Like grape markers or something.
JM: Despite kudzu’s reputation and negative qualities, Holt and his colleagues think its possibilities can be leveraged, and the plant can be truly 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.
JH: And that's kind of like the main driver behind what we're doing. Asking that question like 'How can this really scale up? How can harvesting as a means of control, as a means of providing food and medicine in resilient way to people? How can that really take off beyond some crazy permaculturists who think it's a cool thing to do?'
KY: That story came to us from producer Josephine McRobbie
KY: Late Wednesday afternoon my neighbor Matt handed me two fragrant pawpaw fruits from his tree. It made me think of an essay by Ross Gay from his Book of Delights released earlier this year. Here he is reading a draft of the essay at a Food Day event held at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard here in Bloomington
Ross Gay: Yesterday I left my building on campus and was biking along the Jordan River--truly, it's called the Jordan River and unlike its more famous cousin, was named for David Starr Jordan, one-time president of Indiana University, eventual president of Stanford University, and pioneer in the field of eugenics--to investigate what I suspected, zooming by a few days back, might be a pawpaw grove. It is a dear correction this computer keeps making, turning pawpaw into papaw, which means, for those of you not from this neck of the woods, papa or grandpa, which a pawpaw grove can feel like, especially standing inside of it, midday, when the light limns the big leaves like stained glass and suddenly you're inside something ancient and protective.
It only now occurs to me that not every reader will know the pawpaw, which doubles my delight, for I am introducing you to the largest fruit native to the States. Its custardy meat surrounds a handful of large black seeds. It tastes like a blend of banana and mango, in that tropical ballpark, shocking here in the Midwest, and as a consequence of its flavor profile it has been called the Indiana or Hoosier banana, the Michigan banana, the Kentucky banana, the Ohio banana, the West Virginia banana, and probably, the Pennsylvania banana. And maybe the Virginia banana. Most likely the Illinois banana. Alabama banana for sure. And the banana of Kansas. The leaves seem to be insecticidal and smell that way. The flowers are so human as to make you blush.
Telling where this grove is--between Ballantine Hall and the President's House, right along the river, which is actually a creek--is not, evidently, the kind of thing you always do, which I learned when I asked my friend Julie where the pawpaw grove was that she was raving about the previous year. "I'm not telling!" she said though she does not remember this interaction, or her pawpaw grove, conveniently. I admire her pawpaw covetousness. It reminds me of the dreams I still sometimes have--sleeping dreams--of treasure of one kind or another. As a kid it used to be money, especially silver coins, often in big old vessels or chests, something I imagine was informed at least by the movie Goonies.
But as I get older, the treasure in my dreams seems to shift. Now it's a veggie burger and French fries up the hill and around the bend that I can't remember how to get to. Or one final football game, granted thanks to some kind of athletic eligibility snafu, at which, when I arrive for it, usually late, my teammates either don't recognize me or would rather I didn't play. Or, less miserably, last night I left an event in celebration of my Uncle Roy who was also Barack Obama, because I was underdressed, this is a theme. I found some beautiful green pants that fit me well in a chest of drawers in my childhood apartment, though I lost track of the festivities, so enamored was I of theses pants. My mother stepped out from the hall, shouting disapprovingly that the first speaker had already finished, turning quickly on her heel to return to her seat.
The delight of a pawpaw grove, in addition to the groveness, which is also a kind of naveness, is in learning how to spot the fruit, which hang in clusters, often and somewhat high in the tree. This occasions pointing, a human faculty that deserves at least a little celebration, which I realized pointing toward a grape I had tossed in the direction of the dog which it did not respond to and then a few days later pointing at a bird for a baby to notice, which it did not notice. The pointing skill is acquired (I wonder if there is a pointing stage), and a miracle of cognition and understanding both pointing and following the point. To know there is an invisible line between the index finger and that barely discernable trio of fruit swaying up in the canopy, blending into the leaves until they twist barely into the light, and then out of it. There's one, you whisper, lest they fly away.
KY: That was nationally acclaimed poet Ross Gay, reading from The Book of Delights, released earlier this year from Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Publishing. Ross Gay teaches English at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Renee Reed: The Earth Eats team includes Eabon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.
KY: Special thanks this week to Justin Holt, Christine Davies and Michele Hockwalt
Production support comes from insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch insurance. Offering comprehensive auto business and home coverage in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838.
Bill Brown at Griffy Creek studio. Architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at Griffy creek dot studio and Elizabeth Ruh, enrolled agent with Personal Financial Services providing customized financial services for individuals, business and disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying and estate services. More at Personal Financial Services dot net