by Courtney White, Quivira Coalition
Last month’s Quivira column featured the place of cooperatives in regenerative agriculture. This month’s article focuses on featured speaker, Dorn Cox, founding member and board president of Farm Hack…
Pull up a laptop and join the conversation! Do you have a farming issue on your mind, or maybe a tool design that you’d like to share, a crop problem that needs to be solved, a beginner’s question that needs to be answered or an intriguing idea about carbon sequestration that needs to be floated?
If you do, Farm Hack is the place to go. It’s not the Bellyache Cafe, however. Leave all complaints, rants and political opinions at the door. This might be unusual for a web-based conversation site, to say the least, but a lot about Farm Hack is unusual, as I found out when I attended a Farm Hack “meet-up” in Hotchkiss, on Colorado’s western slope. A small group of farmers, ranchers and conservationists got together for a day to tackle the difficult topic of “Building Drought Resilience on the Small-Scale Farm” against the backdrop of rising water scarcity in the West. If ever a subject needed a coffee-shop brainstorm, this was it.
The nonprofit Farm Hack bills itself as an “Open Source Community for a Resilient Agriculture.” It was born during a design workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that involved engineers and young farmers, and it quickly evolved into an online platform to document, share and improve farm tools. A quick peek at the website, for example, reveals “how to” information on the benefits of a small axial flow combine harvester (way cooler than it sounds), picking the right organic carrot seeds, trying a pedal-powered rootwasher, measuring soil carbon and using low-cost, overhead balloon-mounted cameras for imaging a farm. If that sounds more “tool shed” than coffee shop, Farm Hack is also where young farmers, including the young-at-heart, can start a conversation with experienced agrarians, skirting the need to reinvent various wheels on the farm unless your wheel is of an exotic design! In addition, the site serves as a platform to share the latest sustainable agricultural research and make connections with like-minded individuals and organizations.
And you don’t have to burn a gallon of diesel to get to this meeting place! Farm Hack was incubated by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), a non-profit founded in upstate New York in 2010 by and for a new generation of farmers in the United States. The NYFC is composed of new farmers, established farmers, farm service providers, good food advocates, conservationists and conscious consumers. Its mission is to support 1) independent family farms; 2) sustainable farming practices; 3) affordable land for farmers; 4) fair labor practices; 5) farmer-to-farmer training; 6) farmers of every gender, race and sexual orientation; and 7) cooperation and friendship between all farmers (and ranchers).
Accomplishing this mission includes the open-source culture of the Internet, which is a big reason why Farm Hack is so unusual. The site is managed on the “wiki” model, which means it can be freely edited by registered participants and a wide variety of content can be easily uploaded for all to see and share. All it takes to register is a user name and password. The site is dynamic, flexible and ever-evolving, much like the young farmers movement itself. For new farmers, Farm Hack can be a godsend because of the pressure to quickly “get it right” in our challenging times. Accumulating sustainable farming experience over twenty years, for example, might not cut it in a world of rapid economic and ecological change. “Building spreadsheets has become as important as picking the right crops or watching the weather,” is how one participant put it.
According to Dorn Cox, a young farmer from New Hampshire and one of the project’s co-founders, the word “Hack” comes from the tech universe, where it means “re-purposing” with the goal of taking control of one’s destiny. With Farm Hack, the goal of the nearly one thousand web site registrants is to repurpose agriculture toward a regenerative model with farmer-to-farmer innovation sharing and problem solving. It is also their goal to engage non-farmers in the conversation, including designers, engineers, policy advocates and anyone else interested in building a resilient food culture.
“It’s a return to an earlier model when agricultural information was widely shared,” Dorn said, “rather than locked up in obscure journals or inaccessible scientific articles as it is today. Just as the local coffee shop or diner serves as the hub for exchanging experiences, a virtual ‘coffee shop’ and field walk is needed to facilitate relevant experiences.”
Just as crucial as the online community building and information sharing are their offline equivalents, called “meet-ups,” “hacks” or “hack-a-thons” (when longer than one day), which are face-to-face workshops that often involve detailed discussions about tools. Farmers have always been into the latest gear, Dorn noted, including new-fangled plows, tractors and harvesters. This means laptops and smart phones are just the latest in a long line of new technologies embraced by agrarians. “We are focused on attracting into our community not only farmers but those with other relevant skill-sets,” Dorn said, “including engineers, roboticists, architects, fabricators and programmers. It is those that live to build and make things work that are the key allies to turn ideas into tools and then into finished products.”
There have been a dozen hacks around the country to date, including events in Vermont, Detroit, Minnesota and New York City, on topics as diverse as how to grow small grains, utilize draft horses, improve soil health and start a farming operation.
Our job in Hotchkiss was to ponder the future of sustainable agriculture in the face of hotter and drier conditions promised by climate change. It was a sobering discussion. Water scarcity is a daunting challenge in the already arid West, especially if urban centers get aggressive politically or economically.
Today, nearly 80 percent of Colorado’s fresh water is consumed by agriculture, much of it for water-intensive crops such as hay and alfalfa. The state’s agriculture sector may enjoy senior water rights now, but for how much longer? As the saying goes, water flows uphill toward money, and everyone knows where the money is. Farm Hack can help not only by stimulating discussion but also by providing a platform for sharing innovative solutions. There’s certainly plenty to ponder, whether in a virtual coffee shop or the real thing.
The National Young Farmers Coalition: www.youngfarmers.org
A twist on traditional Shepherd's Pie, this dish from Adrienne Weiss combines both sweet and white potatoes. The curried lentil filling is sandwiched between two layers of creamy potato filling sitting on a breadcrumb crust baked on top of sweet zucchini. This hearty dish is not only a great entree for the holidays, but for any time of the year!
- 2 medium or large sweet potatoes*, peeled and cubed
- 6 medium or large white potatoes*, peeled and cubed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- *All white or all sweet potatoes can be substituted for a combination.
- 3 1/4 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup brown lentils
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- 1 cup onions, thinly sliced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup shiitake or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup yellow or red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 medium zucchini, cut in thin rounds(about 2 cups)
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or green onion
- Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Drop cubed potatoes into water and simmer 45 minutes. They should be easily pierced with a fork. (Sweet potatoes may take less time.)
- Remove and strain potatoes and place in large bowl. Reserve 2 cups cooking water.
- Using potato masher or large fork, mash potatoes, slowly adding only up to 1 cup reserved water. Potatoes should be creamy, not watery.
- Add olive oil, Italian seasoning and Cajun seasoning, mashing again until well blended. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, while potatoes are simmering, cook lentils. Bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add bay leaf, lentils and Cajun seasoning. Cover pot and cook for 45 minutes. When completely cooked, remove from heat and let cool briefly. Drain off any liquid.
- Sauté onions, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and bell pepper in olive oil in large sauté pan until onions are transparent and limp, about 4 minutes. Add reserved cup of potato water, nutritional yeast, salt and curry powder and stir until everything is well blended. Add cooked lentils. Dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/4 cup potato water and stir into lentil and vegetable mixture. Continue to cook for 3 more minutes until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
- Lightly coat bottom of 9 inch by 13 inch casserole dish with olive oil. Line bottom with zucchini rounds. Sprinkle one cup breadcrumbs on top of zucchini. Spoon out half mashed potatoes and spread evenly across zucchini rounds. Spoon out curried lentil mixture and spread evenly atop potatoes. Spoon remainder potatoes over filling and smooth out on top. Sprinkle rest of breadcrumbs and scallions on top.
- Bake 50 minutes, uncovered. For browning on top, place under low broil setting for no more than 1 minute, watching carefully. Let cool 15 minutes before cutting and serving. This dish refrigerates well if made the day before.
By Robin Seydel
We have some exciting news this year!
For the first time ever our annual patronage dividend will be available to member-owners at the cash register of their favorite La Montanita Co-op location. Many La Montanita members are also members at other co-ops, including REI, where annual patronage dividends are available at the check-out register. Our program will work in much the same manner.
All Co-op owners, who were current members and made purchases during the fiscal year that ran from September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2014, will get a Patronage Dividend Certificate. The Certificate will be mailed to their homes, will include a barcode and their patronage dividend history both for this year and aggregate totals for all preceding membership years. Members, at their convenience, will be able bring that Certificate to any Co-op location where cashiers will swipe the barcode and redeemed it for food or cash at any register.
It is thanks to our “new” point of sale system (POS), installed two years ago, that we are able to do this. Going electronic will save lots resources both for the Co-op and the environment, including paper (read trees!), and the costs of printing and mailing thousands of checks, which have to be mailed first class. It is our hope that this new electronic process will also provide greater convenience for members and will prevent the “lost” patronage check that some members have experienced in years past.
Check Your Address
As we are mailing the Patronage Dividend Certificate notification, please, the next time you come shopping, if you have moved in the past year, do be sure to update your address at your favorite Co-op location information desk before December 1. This will ensure that the Certificate is mailed to your correct address.
Patronage Dividend Certificate Redemption
When redeeming your Patronage Dividend Certificate, primary Co-op members, please be sure to have valid identification with you, as cashiers will only redeem patronage credits with proper ID that matches the name on your membership. Primary members who wish to allow secondary household members to utilize the dividend, please be sure secondary members bring in the Certificate that your household received in the mail with signed approval by the primary member and valid identification for the secondary member.
While this is a most exciting and more environmentally sound way to return our profits to our community of owners, like any new program or process, we expect there will be some unexpected challenges for us to iron out together. We hope you, our member-owners, will be patient with us as we put this new electronic Patronage Dividend redemption process into action.
If you have questions or input please do not hesitate to contact me at 217-2027 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Elinor Reiners, NMVIC Program Director
The mission of the New Mexico Veterans Integration Centers is to respond to the needs of veterans, with focus on those who are homeless or experiencing a housing crisis, through the provision of quality employment training, housing and supportive services based on a Continuum of Care. The New Mexico Veterans Integration Center (NMVIC) is a 501(c)(3) organization, and all donations are tax deductible. We have multiple programs geared towards helping homeless Veterans and low income Veterans.
These programs which are staffed overwhelmingly by Veterans include:
Transitional Housing: Structured services are provided to single Veterans in a caring environment with with respect, consideration and dignity for the individual Veteran. The transitional housing program assists homeless veterans, or those at risk of becoming homeless, to integrate back into the community. The VIC sees a 70% success rate of helping veterans find stable income/housing.
Supportive Service for Veteran Families: The goal of this program is to provide sufficient resources to stabilize housing or end homelessness for the entire family. It provides case management, financial and legal services. Temporary financial assistance may include time limited payments for rent, utilities and moving expenses, security and utility deposits, transportation, childcare and emergency supplies. This program also links to healthcare, counseling, job development and other services.
Food Pantry: The VIC Food Pantry provides weekly food for veterans in transitional living situations, monthly food baskets for low income community based veterans and on specific days is open to people in need in the larger community. In FY 2014 over 6300 Food Boxes Distributed (4789 went to Veterans in our Programs/Community)
Emergency Shelter: Overnight Stay for Veterans waiting to get into a VIC Program
Thrift Shop: The Thrift shop accepts donations from the community to help VIC participants meet their clothing and furniture need as they move through VIC programs into stable and secure situations. The thrift shop sells what is not needed by VIC participants to the larger community. Veterans in VIC Transitional Housing programs are employed part-time to earn extra funds. The thrift shop The thrift shop is located at our Central Office: 13032 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque and is open on Mondays and Fridays from 9Am-3PM. Please call to make donations (505) 265-0512
For more information, applications to participate in VIC programs or to make donations please go to www.nmvic.org or call 505-296-0800.
We hope you will donate your bag credit to the New Mexico Veterans Integration Center and help Veterans and their families overcome homelessness and other challenges for a secure and stable future.
In November in recognition of Veterans Day your bag credit donations will go to The New Mexico Veterans Integration Center: Responding to the needs of veterans, with focus on those who are homeless.
In September your bag credit donations totaling $2341.20 were divided equally between the New Mexico Humane Association in Albuquerque and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. THANK YOU!
OptiHealth Visits Kyzer Farms
Recently, this group visited our pork producer Robert Kyzer and his farm. Here’s the thank you card he got after the visit. At the Co-op, we love to foster a sense of community and awareness about where food comes from.
From: OptiHealth Inc., Serving Individuals with Developmental Disabilities and Behavioral Challenges
October 27, 2014
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Kyzer:
I am writing on behalf of OptiHeafth, Inc. Customized Community Supports program.
We would like to thank you for your kind invitation extended to our group to pay a visit to your farm.
OptiHealth, Inc. supports individuals with Developmental Disabilities.
During our tour of your farm, it was appreciated that you shared information to increase our awareness of animal care, animal cost of living, & sustainable resources available to·the community from farming.
Our individuals were thrilled to have an up close opportunity to pet & engage with your animals.
A number of our individuals returned to the facility where they were able to share their stories with their peers.
We appreciate your support towards our Developmental Disabilities community.
We would like to offer our support through volunteerism if needed at the farm, to build upon our relationship with you.