Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture

October 19, 2010

For newcomers, the title of this post is also the title of an Experimental College course at Tufts University.  It was created because of the great need for ag-related curriculum at the undergraduate level and to train a crew to take care of the Tufts student garden. Read more about the garden project here. The class filled up in under 20 minutes when registration opened to start the semester and is still packed with excited and passionate foodies.

The class is going super well and has a great syllabus filled with guest speakers like famed Jennifer Hashley of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds. Last week the garden coordinators at the Tufts Community Garden gave us a tour of plots in the large, divided space adjacent to the student plot.  One of our teachers, Jeff Hake, and some students pictured in the community garden here at the left here. As a class we built a raised bed, filled three beds with soil and compost and planted seeds and seedlings in our own garden.  Every student is signed up for 2 days of garden maintainance as an assignment. Other assignments include sharing a food/agriculture-related news story, paper/presentation delving into a food topic that spikes interest  and a couple of food journals.  The first  journal was assigned as a self-reflection: to realize where you could stand to learn more about food (processing, distribution, etc.)  through recording and dissecting personal consumption.  Here is mine:

I care a lot about where my food comes from. When I’m shopping I consider a big list before looking at the price. I want my food to be local, organic, produced by small scale farmers or processors, fair trade if coming from abroad, and I want there to be few middlemen between the farmer and me. For these reasons I haven’t bought produce from the grocery store all summer. Instead I support the World PEAS CSA and frequent the Union Square farmers market. I get most of the vegetables I need from the CSA, but like to grab a couple extra tomatoes, winter squash, diva cucumbers, you know the luxuries. I also find important food items not distributed by my CSA at the farmers market like granola (from Cook’s Farm and Bakery), bread (Iggy’s), sustainable meat (Stillman’s Farm), mozzarella cheese (Fiore di Nonno) and chocolate (Taza).  For eggs, yogurt and milk I swing by Kickass Cupcakes on my way home. Almost every meal this summer I would sit down with a plate of colorful, fresh vegetables and think “Wow, this meal is 100% local”, and it made me feel great.

When you make the switch to local food there are some things to reconsider. First, you have to give up bananas and citrus. What a bummer, but I did fine. Next you have to think about what you are drinking. That was easy enough with all the local breweries around: Pretty Things, Wachusett, BBC, Clown Shoes, etc. And then it came to coffee. No way could I give that up. Luckily when I was studying abroad in Costa Rica we met a sustainable coffee farmer that is a member of a direct trade coop. These days I order in bulk from Coope Pueblos through the Community Agroecology Network. I’m expecting 5 pounds this week.

It kind of seems like I figured it all out, but there are still some things out of the local loop. Bulk items from Whole Foods like the sunflower seeds and raisins I added to my granola at breakfast come from god knows where. Or how about the couscous I ate with my CSA stir fry this afternoon? Even if I buy pasta from Dave’s Fresh, who grows that grain? How and where? How does it get from field to pasta press? And that granola I take so much pride in? Ingredients include coconut and oats. And the beer I take so much pride in? Who grows the hops? Is there local production of grain and I’m just not in on it? What is quinoa anyway?

Well, it is a grain that is mostly produced in Peru and Bolivia. Not a true cereal because it isn’t a member of the grass family, primarily the seeds are eaten.  Seeds are coated in a bitter shell that must be removed in processing.

I learned about rice in Costa Rica. It requires excessive amounts of water, fertilizer and some way to keep waterfowl away.

Pasta is made from wheat, which is grown industrially around the world, with Kansas and North Dakota leading the US.  I have no idea how wheat might become the gooey, flattened mass that is covered with cornmeal in my pantry. Certainly you have to gather the seed and then….er grind them? Or maybe soak and then grind?

I would love to find a way to eat local grains, hops and flour this semester and to learn about the processing that makes these foods what they are.


One Response to “Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture”

  1. Alex F said

    Can I get a copy of this picture?! (afreedman17@gmail.com.) I really like it, and it was fun seeing its cameo appearance in the OOS newsletter!

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