iWitness September 2009: The Food Issue

Publication Date: 
September 30, 2009
The Woolman iWitness.
News and Inspiration from Sierra Friends Center
September 2009
Featured Videos

Students explore the incredible foodscape in our area in Eating From Our Own Backyard

Take a wild romp through the weird world of monoculture in The Little Corn That Could (but maybe shouldn't).
Woolman Kitchen Honored

The food at Woolman was recently recognized by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine as an outstanding example of healthy, organic, delicious meals. Read all about it in The Union newspaper.
Woolman "To Go"
Students explore complex food systems during the week-long Environmental Science Food Intensive:

Our on-campus organic dairy

Tomato art at the farmer's market

Urban gardening in Oakland

Genetics lab in Davis

Community Supported Agriculture

Fullbelly Farm

Drying Woolman apples

Making cider for our local food banquet

Fresh local food...

...and fresh local entertainment at the banquet
A Haiku
by Mia Bella D'Augelli, Student
It's hard to be made of corn
Human nature changed
Join the Conversation
Woolman Semester students returned from the recent food intensive with fresh ideas about food justice, organic farming, eating meat, sustainability, and genetic engineering. You can read some of their thoughts and experiences in the articles below, but it doesn't end there. You'll find more food for thought on our WordPress blog, where you can add your own ideas into the mix. You can connect with the day-to-day happenings on our campus by joining the Woolman Facebook fan site, discuss big ideas on our Twitter page, and comment about student-produced videos on YouTube. We look forward to hearing from you.
by Lily Elder, Student
      Throughout my learning career, I have noticed the connections between everything in the world. It bothered me that in conventional education, subjects are split up and interconnections are not shown. This interconnectedness has become even more apparent to me in this past week of Woolman classes.
      The subject of nitrogen is a perfect example of something that has been brought to light for me in this past week and is now a very important issue in my mind. In our garden on campus, the nitrogen cycle is perfectly balanced. Legumes fix the nitrogen from the air, other plants pick up the nitrogen from dead legumes, the nitrogen eventually ends up in the compost pile to be reused or is released back into the air when the plants die. In conventional agriculture, fossil fuels are burned to create energy for the synthetic fixation of nitrogen from the air. This chemical fertilizer is then sprayed on the farm fields in copious amounts, much of which of which runs off into the nearby water systems causing death and destruction of aquatic life. Thus this natural cycle, that takes care of itself so well on its own, is now causing global warming, water pollution, and ecosystem imbalance, not to mention the infinite other issues created by the crops that chemical fertilizer is used to grow. This is just one example of a connection I have seen between what I have learned in Global Issues class, Shared Work, and Environmental Science.
      In just one week of classes here at Woolman, my education has gone from being a set of separate and unrelated classes to one large life education and world view. After four months of this, I can only imagine the scope of my understanding of world issues and their causes and implications in every aspect of life.
Feedlots: Greener Than Pastures?
By Malka Howley, Student
      During the Food Intensive we visited the cattle feedlot at UC Davis where we talked to a Ph.D. student named Kim. Kim was pro-feedlot, corn-fed cattle, and anti-organic, grass-fed cattle. To her, factory farming was the best way of producing meat. Kim argued that the growing global demand for meat (something everyone can agree exists) meant that the only way we would have enough space to produce sufficient quantities of meat for everyone was if we raised animals in feedlots. Grass-fed cows take up much more space than corn-fed factory cows shoved together in a pen. When asked about the environmental problems associated with feedlots, Kim rejected the idea that people could eat less meat to help solve the problem. That won't be necessary, she said, since feedlots are a perfect solution. Contrary to what the media may say, feedlots are entirely carbon-neutral and produce no waste, since all the manure goes back to fertilizing corn to make the feed, according to her.
      The problem of increasing global demand for meat is real, but there are disagreements on how it can be solved. Others say that the way we raise meat in feedlots is inefficient, requiring way more calories to produce than we get out of it. They point out many side-effects of industrial meat production, including pollution, antibiotic resistance, and contaminated meat. Many people see solutions in grass-fed livestock, vegetarian diets, and small-scale production. Although I disagree with her perspective, talking to Kim, and other people we met on the food intensive, was a great experience because it showed the variety of opinions and arguments people have that differ from my own.
Joining the Herd
by Jeremy Delaney-Peterson, Student
      While eating brunch as a community, I watched the cows cross campus as they do every day, with Jerome following behind. Having decided to take him up on his offer to milk a cow, I finished my meal and ventured to the barn. With a warm and inviting welcome, he told me to come on inside...
      To really appreciate this story, one must know a bit about Jerome. He's a dairy farmer who runs his Cow-Op on our school's pastures (in which members buy a share of the herd and receive a weekly supply of milk in return). He's middle-aged, with the wisdom of one older than himself and the energy of someone half his years. He's got short gray hair, a torn T-shirt and a kilt. His diet is 95% raw milk, with the occasional fresh fruit from our orchard or the meat from a steer he once knew. He's healthy, happy, and he cares about all that he does more than anyone I believe I've ever met. He is always willing to hear about others lifestyles, and share his own. He never seems defensive or offended by an opposing view, but rather interested by it.
      While he usually milks the cows by machine, he had offered to allow anyone who was interested to milk by hand. Just as the first cow was finishing up, fellow student Lily joined us in the barn. Jerome showed us how to prepare for milking, then Lily began, while Jerome and I watched in amazement (she's incredibly fast, as she regularly milks goats at home). I followed in an amusing attempt to repeat what she did, resulting in a weak and inaccurate stream at first, and a better feel for it within a few minutes. Still, no comparison. Jerome showed me how to attach the milking machine (this particular cow produces about a gallon and a half a day, so completely milking by hand would take a while), and explained how it works. We talked about his philosophy on his diet, his experiences that have brought him to this lifestyle, the science behind it and also against it, about the day to day operations of caring for the herd. He took an interest in our work here as students, our views, and thoughts. He thanked us quite sincerely for taking an interest in his work, and we parted ways after a few hours of conversation.
      Needless to say, I've been impacted by Jerome – his energy, his passion for his life and work, his openness to others' ideas, and his devotion to his own. Each has left a mark on me, and I hope to emulate many of the same characteristics in my life. A mutual respect and interest, coupled with the wisdom that what is right for oneself is not always right for another, is probably one of the most powerful tools in appreciating others, in learning, and in teaching.
Slaughterhouse Ethics
by Marc Lichterman, Student
      A Wednesday morning unlike any other. We began with the trek toward the UC Davis slaughterhouse, anxiety obvious in our faces and in our strained laughs as we descended towards what was to be an important event for many of us. For the meat eaters, a test of our conviction that eating the flesh of a once living creature is something we can deal with. For vegetarians, possible conviction that they are right to abstain from consumption of meat, but also a test to see if they can endure the death of an innocent creature. For all of us, a test of our stomachs and conviction to a greater understanding of food systems.
      As we witnessed that morning, the prime goal in any industrial pig's life is to die, hopefully in a somewhat humane manner. This focus on death, prevalent in today's society, ignores the benefits that we can reap from an animal during life. Examples include manure for our crops (which is extremely underutilized) and permaculture ecosystems that may benefit from living creatures such as pigs and chickens.
      Farming should be an inclusive activity, with animals, plants, and humans all living in community providing for each other's needs. Our current system of segregation between the different parts of what should be a single ecosystem is wrong, and allows us to rationalize things we would never allow under normal circumstances. The industrial food system is just one of many problems caused by rampant greed, and cannot be done away with unless the underlying issue is addressed as well.
13075 Woolman Ln.   Nevada City, CA 95959


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