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[Post]Card from Iowa, Part 2: FarmHack

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Farm Hack

Farm Hack in action

If you thought hacking is just a way for computer geeks to take technology into their own hands, think again. Now there are farm hacks, an innovative way to marry farming with technology to create new solutions to old problems. Farm hacks are events created through a program, appropriately called “FarmHacks,” organized by the National Young Farmers Coalition. Kristen Loria and Grant Schultz co-coordinated this year’s first ever Midwest Farm Hack in Mechanicsville, Iowa, a two-day event with a focus on on-farm energy production.

FarmHack is actually a forum for new and older farmers to connect and collaborate. It’s a space to brainstorm common problems through web-based mediums and nationwide events that attract not only farmers but also those more tech-savy.

With ideas spanning from the “quadracycle” (a machine that allows farmers to lie down while berry picking) to a solar-powered chicken coop, this year’s event was deemed a success.

Kristen highlights FarmHack’s ability to embody a unique approach that is a “very practical, concrete project.”  It builds from the community and interpersonal connections to create a new  form of agriculture fosters that overcomes common challenges.  FarmHack draws from communication and collective “creative ingenuity” rather than relying on “capital and input intensive solutions” that are traditionally utilized.

Kristen Loria coordinated this year’s first Midwest Farm Hack in Mechanicsville, Iowa, a two-day event with a focus on on-farm energy production. Kristen understood this event not only as a chance for farmers to think, tinker and talk about innovative approaches to age-old problems but also as a chance to begin discussions on widely shared agricultural problems. She intends for this to give more people a chance to become engaged and invested in the local food systems around them. Kristen became involved in Iowa’s Farm Hack through the Greenhorns, an organization dedicated to inspiring, recruiting and supporting new farmers with programs, events and multimedia resources.

Finally, Kristen tells us, “FarmHack provides the necessary support and relevant dialogue once the event has ended to allow for “long term communication and collaboration among people from all over the country.”

Want to find when a Farm Hack will be held near you? Visit http://www.youngfarmers.org/practical/farm-hack/events

Written by inevins

August 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Unearthing Gardening Traditions in Minneapolis

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ImageA “glyph” of the Mexica concept of Zenteotl– Nahuatl for “First Energy:”  the energy from the universe that materialized upon earth and made the creation of corn possible.

“We have been able to unearth our traditions,” said Deborah Ramos about the Zenteotl project that she started in Minnesota in 2006. The Zenteotl Project, which in Nahuatl means, “first energy,” is meant to unite the Latino community of Central and South Minneapolis through art, traditional Mexica dance, and the traditional cultivation of corn. The project started as a multi-media performance created by Deborah, a visual artist, after traveling to Mexico and learning from traditional teachers about the origins of corn. She learned that corn is not like any other plant, it needs to grow within a community of other corn, and it needs a direct relationship with humans. Humans, and the Mexica people of Mexico in particular, grow with corn; it is a mutual relationship.

She was so intrigued by what she had learned about corn, that she began working on a narrative and a script for the performance that incorporated movements inspired by Aztec dance. But she knew that the only way to fully understand corn was to grow it. So that is what she did–hence, the Zenteotl Project. On a small plot in another community garden in Minneapolis, Deborah and members of the Latino community began experimenting with different traditional methods of cultivating a sweet blue corn that adapts well to a short growing season and has very unique nutritional elements.  Over the years, more and more families joined the group through their outreach efforts that have a very specific experience with corn, allowing the group to experiment with even more traditional gardening methods. These methods honor the feminine energy of the earth, the sacredness of the seed, and the elements of the earth. They have experimented with different planting designs made up of rows, arcs, spirals, and many others. Their goal is to find the best traditional method that preserve and contain water.

Along with traditional ways of planting, they have also incorporated the corresponding ceremonies and traditional Mexica dance performed during the growth process of corn, taught to them by an elder of the community from Mexico. And, they use an ancestral method to make adobe homes to build an organic sculpture that represents a stage of the corn. The goal was to help participants understand that  they could gain the basic knowledge to make their own home through this creative experience. They have even used recycled corn from prior seasons to make paper. “We take advantage of corn in the most respectful way and try to be as creative as possible,” said Deborah. In this way, this group attempts to recover their relationship with the earth and with each other. “We couldn’t learn this from a book, it had to happen through this collective process,” said Deborah.

In a time when climate change is becoming more and more visible in our everyday lives, Deborah wanted to offer her community more options for growing food. “We didn’t just haphazardly decide to grow corn, to garden, or to dance, it has all been very intentional from the inception,” she said. This unique Zenteotl project is on their fourth growing season, and Deborah feels that they are really onto something very powerful–they are empowering themselves. They hope to gain access to land outside of the city in order to grow more food, and they continue their work in the performing arts with indigenous artists in Mexico and the United States.

If you would like to learn more or get involved, look for “Zenteotl Project/Proyecto Zenteotl” on Facebook for more information.

Written by Yvette Cabrera

July 30, 2012 at 1:12 am

Posted in Agriculture, Corn, Minneapolis

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[Post]Card from Iowa, Part 1: A Journey from Coast to Corn

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Kristen Loria, Farm Hack, Iowa

Iowa may seem an unlikely destination for a young college graduate from Ithaca, New York. But not for Kristen Loria, who grew up with a passion for the rising food movement in Ithaca, later graduating from Cornell University in environmental science and sustainable agriculture. She grew to love a life rooted in agriculture with a commitment to creating a world that marries ecological and human well-being, rather than “one always being sacrificed for the other”.
After a splattering of experiences working on farms, in sustainable farm organizations and schools, Kristen landed in Iowa with AmeriCorps, immersing herself in garden and nutrition education programs. She found Iowa is a “place that embodies what our modern food system has become”.

Living in Iowa helped her to recognize “a serious flaw in the way we talk about food and agriculture” in terms of efficiency of production. She found although “many Iowans take enormous pride in Iowa’s effort to ‘feed the world’”, most of the productivity goes to energy and animal feed. This assumption stifles the necessary discussions to address and fix the food system.

However, changes within the Iowa food landscape are being introduced alongside conventional production practices. Kristen noted that while agriculture is a “very polarizing realm politically,” it is increasingly important to “collaborate with diverse farmers and perspectives” to truly make a change. Unlike New York, a relatively small producer state, Iowa has presented Kristen with a new, “beneficial dynamic.”

As her experiences continue to pile up, Kristen has realized the fluidity in which she can fit within the food movement–trying on different roles that “fit together and inform each other in valuable ways”, whether on the coast or in the cornfield.

Part 2 and 3 of this Iowa story will focus on two innovative  programs that support the development of a new breed of young farmers, the Greenhorns and Farm Hack, which uses technology to create a collaborative environment between all farmers, young and old.

Written by inevins

July 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm