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Years ago I decided to eat better. Vegetables, organically grown, seemed to be the healthiest option. As I shopped the produce aisles I was reminded that the products were often grown in the backyard garden of my childhood. I could learn how to “regrow” these foods.

My girlfriend at the time had been volunteering on McCauley Family Farm in Boulder and I would sometimes join her on those early mornings. Volunteering in exchange for an abundance of fresh produce and lunch. We would return home stocked with veg. Large cast iron pans full of whatever was growing at the time usually wrapped inside a corn tortilla became a staple.

Those early seasons working on farms led to an exploration of new foods. Do you remember the first time you had butterhead lettuce? I was in my twenties! Consuming local produce has the potential to diversify your diet and excite your palette on new culinary experiences. Many of the crops market farms grow lack the shipping ability of big box stores. I am reminded of heirloom melons too sweet to last more than a few days or thin-skinned sun ripened tomatoes. Even carrots, who can store for months, have been bred more for production rather than the heirloom favorites selected for flavor.

Once I got a handle on day-to-day food preparation I started thinking about storage. What do you eat when nothing is growing? Seasonal eating requires processing, preserving, storing, and extending the annual harvests (if not by you by the farmers). The goal has never been, nor ever will be, consuming only products I grow, rather to enjoy eating as seasonally local as possible.

Here is a sample meal from our home:

Fried Rice

Purchased at store: rice, sesame oil, cha zing wine, fish sauce, coconut aminos, olive oil, salt, mayonnaise, green onion, ginger

Purchased from local farms: carrots, eggs

Grown at Folks Farm: Purple daikon radish, Wasabi radish, turnip, fresno hot sauce, pork sausage, onion, cilantro

The home grown ingredients mandate cold storage, fermentation, and winter growing to supplement our grocery spending.

The 2023 crop plan includes planting key ingredients for my kitchen. I can’t imagine a garden without Fresno peppers simply because that hot sauce is too damn good! I am adding other vegetables to the mix this year, like celery, to round out my own cooking habits.

The connection between us and our food orients our life in time and space and deepens the appreciation for great ingredients. When you consider the rice and radishes from this meal originated in Asia, met and combined with carrots from the Middle East, traveled west to intercept pigs in Europe, who were then carried by boat to encounter peppers and cilantro in indigenous America, humanity is displayed on the plate.

Plants and food crops have been shared, stolen, sold, and grown across the globe. Shopping at the store you are bombarded with beautiful fruits and vegetables grown thousands of miles apart, and yet we regularly consume only a few of these staples. The middle aisles are predominantly either wheat, corn, or soy derived further away from the culinary diversity gardening and local agriculture can offer.

Even in such a tough growing climate as Colorado we can enjoy an abundance of regional produce throughout the year. The practice of eating locally builds much needed relationships between us, our food, and the shared humanity throughout the world.

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We recently suffered a tough loss on the farm. Last Thursday evening the wind picked up, eventually howling over the house. Wind and I have a troubled past. It was this time last year a storm damaged a growing tunnel and tore the roof off the Farm Stand. I lay in bed, less worried, knowing we had improved the structure substantially since last year.

Driving to the farm the next day I noticed a large cottonwood tree had blown down near the farm. My heart started to sink. Rounding into the driveway I saw our tunnel. It did not look good. Upon closer inspection half of the arches had been snapped in two places, rendering the structure beyond repair.

As they say, shit happens. We took pictures of the damage and set about harvesting the remaining greens from the tunnel. These growing structures, although unheated, allow us the opportunity to grow plants year round. The season extension is crucial when you are working with limited land access and time.

What upsets me the most is the crops we are no longer able to grow next season. I had high hopes for the successions this tunnel would yield. In the end, we have gotten 3 great seasons of tomatoes, kale, chard, arugula, and more from this structure. Honestly, I didn’t really like where we had placed it anyway.

Agriculture, mostly, places humans directly in nature, the exceptions being enclosed shipping containers producing food without soil or natural light. We are both in conflict and benefit from seasonal shifts. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we suffer losses. While tough in the moment, I know we will carry on. In a way, I am glad this happened.

Growing food professionally requires a deep commitment. The farmers I know, myself included, have dedicated most of their time and lives to the art. Especially here in Colorado where the seasons are so short. Only a certain kind of person will try something, possibly fail, and wait over a year to try again. Most farmers growing specialty crops like mine do not have crop insurance. When something devastating happens we simply have to gut the losses.

Ironically, we are constructing another high tunnel. It is a very different model with almost double the pipe thickness. We have poured concrete in the four corners and will be further reinforcing this structure to stand up to the wind tunnel we call a farm. Covered growing space is too valuable not to invest in. Offering crops in the shoulder seasons provides our customers with great convenience and they are often our most profitable products.

Stepping over crunchy snow to enter a sunny, spring-like, greenhouse is magical. Since covered growing space is in high demand we invest heavily into fertility and soil management. I generally do no till in our greenhouses and add plenty of compost to the beds.

Our growing practices change in these tunnels. We often plant denser and stack multiple crops in the beds. For example, last season we planted several beds of spinach that were then interplanted with tomatoes. As the spinach neared its final harvests the tomato plants were ready to take over the space for the next few months. Called “relay cropping” this technique allowed us to get up to 3 crops from a single bed, in a single growing season. Not yet possible on the entire farm, but something to work towards.

This time of year is slower. I am able to spend time germinating the plan for next season. Folks Farm is rounding out our 4th growing year and I am curious how it has left me, my family, and friends. In the darkness of this time, we find the inner light. Through hardship, we emerge stronger and better prepared for the unknown.

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“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” —Dr. Jane Goodall

The past year I have taken on more kitchen duties through my partner’s pregnancy and now birth. Watching her develop into a full woman and subsequently have our child has solidified the fact we are what we eat. I make a conscious effort to prepare the most nutritious, and delicious, meals knowing we are feeding the next generation.

I find myself more engaged in discussion around rising autoimmune disorders in children. Worrisome for sure, but research is showing we are not completely powerless to a certain fate.

We are living through and raising a child in an extreme time in human history. Our evolution has always placed us at the whims of nature, responding to her. Humans have gradually learned to buffer against nature and protect ourselves. Clothing is an early innovation in these regards. By layering in skins humans were able to explore wider terrain and settle in less than ideal environments. Growing food, selecting crops, and saving seeds allowed a further buffer.

Science has increased our capacity to make serious attempts at overcoming the wild. Antibiotics initially cleared us and our livestock of infections. Synthetic fertilizers achieved outrageous plant growth. These technologies have made tremendous strides and propelled the human population to exceed 8 billion.

Initially these technologies benefited growers. Now they have become almost indispensable to continue producing in such naturally removed ways. Without consistent innovation Nature catches up. Weeds have become immune to herbicides and require higher concentrations of chemicals to kill them. Viruses and bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, making infections more difficult to overcome. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that band-aid applications of technology to achieve efficiency can create health in complex interwoven systems.

Few of us suffer the same diseases of our ancestors. We, and I am discussing the US however other developing nations are not far behind, are experiencing completely new challenges. Rather than polio, we have obesity. Instead of smallpox, chronic autoimmune disorders are affecting sleep, cognitive development, and digestion. Our bodies have become the product of sedentary and undernourished lives.

Population growth has incentivized funding towards genetically modified organisms (GMO), herbicides, and medicines to keep people “healthy”.

We are told problems of feeding the world and being cured require high level science, money, and experts to fix. But where have the “experts” left us? The US spends 16% of its GDP on healthcare, an average of over $10,000 per person annually with no sign of decreasing spending and chronic autoimmune disorders on the rise. This makes it one of the highest spending countries in the world.

Many issues we face with human health are ongoing. Mainstream medicine and research looks to solve these problems through the application of drugs pinpointing the symptoms without looking deeper to understand the root causes. The same is true in conventional agriculture where funding is primarily directed towards allopathic solutions that require the purchasing of off-farm products.

Round-Up, a revolutionary pesticide, changed the way farmers produce food. This effective herbicide eradicates weeds before planting. As the technology developed, scientists created GMO plants that are completely resistant to glyphosate (Round-Up Ready), making it possible to spray living crops like corn, soy, sugar beets, alfalfa, and cotton with the herbicide. This broadened the use of Round-Up as farmers converted to Round-Up Ready GMO seeds.

Glyphosate enters plants through the shikimate pathway which shuts down the plants ability to metabolize amino acids. Plants, bacteria, fungi, algae, and many parasites utilize this same pathway to convert amino acids into protein. The blocking of these essential proteins causes the non-Round-Up resistant plants to die. Animals and humans do not have the same pathway, thus allowing this chemical to be passed as “safe”.

The problem is we are not 100% human. Human cells are outnumbered in the body 10-1 by nonhuman microorganisms. Many of these microorganisms are found in our digestive tracts, helping the body to process, sort, and distribute nutrients from the food we consume. Longterm, low level exposure to Round-Up has been shown to negatively affect microorganisms in our gut, lowering our ability to effectively gather nutrition from food.

Happening simultaneously, nutrient density in food has plummeted between 5 and 40% over the past 100 years. The loss of nutrients has been caused through the advent of chemically intensive farming and tillage practices that destroy soil biology.

The application of pesticides, especially glyphosate, decimates populations of weeds, soil bacteria, and fungi. These microorganisms provide the same service to growing plants as our gut biome. Bacteria and fungi break up hard to access nutrients in the soil, exchanging these products for sugars created through photosynthesizing plants. Working together in an equal exchange, plants and microorganisms create healthy habitats where they both can thrive. Everytime we spray shikimate pathway blocking chemicals the populations of both non genetically modified plants and microorganisms are devastated leading to lower soil fertility.

In turn farmers are having to spend more on inputs every season. Without healthy topsoil diseases become more prevalent, pest populations rise, and the soil’s nutrients are lowered. Problems that are solved through greater application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Just like chronic autoimmune disorders, conventional agriculture practices are furthering the use of medications to subdue the problems without providing long term solutions to rid these ailments completely.

Just as nature is right on our heels “causing” these problems, she is also there to solve them. While terms like “regenerative agriculture” and “sustainable farming” get thrown around without very clear definitions, there are clear positive impacts. For one, farmers end up spending less money annually on inputs. By incorporating growing practices that build healthy soil, naturally prevent weed growth, and foster microbial diversity plants have an easier time growing. Some of these practices have been used to break dry-land corn yield records. Albeit this record was not broken using organic practices, the growers used no-till methods which will arguably improve soil quality and lower input costs.

The combination of lowered food quality and our inability to fully process these foods understandably leads our bodies to chronic illness. It also increases the amount of money we are spending on medication to band-aid the symptoms of these diseases without actually healing our bodies.

Regenerative healing begins with knowing we are what our food eats. Commodity grains and livestock fed a diet of chemicals rather than diverse microbial soils will affect our bodies causing them to require the same short term band-aid solutions. Diets full of living food whether vegan, carnivore, or in between can help the body's microbial communities recover. Instead of spending on patented inputs, we need to invest in solutions available for every community member produced locally.

Diet is the first step but true healing will require much more than simply changing eating individual habits. Community-scale support networks based on equal exchanges regardless of financial status must be implemented. We need to feed each other emotionally as well as physically. I could give my wife the best quality meals, but if I am not a present partner/father the household will lack health.

I am not a dietician, I am a farmer, and a father. My role is to grow food for people to eat and provide a positive atmosphere for my family to thrive. The growing practices we use here on the farm strive to increase both the quality of our food and our soil, while decreasing spending on inputs, and allow a life outside of work. Changing my habits is not linear. Healing takes time and collaboration with other people on a similar trajectory. The goal is to get a little better, as a farmer, father, and person, everyday.

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