African Odyssey: I
first met Nathan McClintock on a viciously hot and humid day in
early October, two years ago, in Thies, Senegal, at The Rodale Institute’s
office. I was there to learn more about the 17 years of work we’d
done in Senegal, to meet some of the farmers we’d worked with
over the years, and to figure out how to write about farming in
West Africa, both for a U.S. audience and for ag educators in Senegal.
Nathan was there on a three month internship with us after a two-year
stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in neighboring Mali.
Watching Nathan engage with farmers and extension folk in a combination
of French, Wolof and English, I knew almost instantly that we’d
be working with him. With a Master's degree in sustainable agriculture,
he had a deep knowledge of farming. As a human being, he had the
ability to become instant friends with even strangers on the street.
People trusted and enjoyed him. And I soon learned that he also
wrote like he spoke—with passion, wit, honesty and insight.
Last year we arranged for Nathan to make two visits to Senegal
to gather information, interview farmers and learn from agricultural
professionals. The result is a series of 13 articles on farming
and farmers in Senegal—with more to come if we can scare up
the cash. We’ll be running one article a month for the next
year, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.
Senegal can be a very harsh place for farmers, with almost no water
eight months of the year. Many men leave their villages during the
dry season to try and make money in Dakar, Thies or some of the
other larger cities—which is, of course, disruptive to marriages
and family life. But even in the poorest communities and most remote
villages, you can find extraordinary innovation, persistence, courage
and joy. On my first visit to Senegal, we spent time with young
adults in the village of Touba Peykouk, a former leper colony no
longer supported by the government after independence. The villagers
we met, children of the last generation of lepers in Senegal, made
a collective decision to generate income so that their parents would
not have to beg on the street.
With small micro-credit loans, they engaged in a series of entrepreneurial
activities—starting with the purchase of a canvas cloth rented
out as a sun shade for wedding parties. Soon followed a phone center
for their rural town; a boutique carrying necessities like toilet
paper that had formerly required a two-hour roundtrip by horse cart
to Thies; a wood-fired bread oven for baking the essential French
daily bread--formerly brought in by horse cart or truck from Thies;
a collection of lush market gardens; and a cattle-fattening operation
that involved artificial insemination to improve the breed and the
profitability of the enterprise. All-in-all, an amazing set of innovations
in the midst of real poverty—and all of it done with great
joy within a stable, supportive community. I think we have much
to learn from the farmers you’ll be seeing profiled by Nathan
in the coming months. Click
here for an introduction to the series, with a link
to the first installment, or go
directly to Nathan's first article.
Food Culture USA: Let
me tell you about a much maligned but enduring food culture in the
U.S. Its major ingredients are Jello, Campbell’s soups, Cool
Whip and other name-branded goods. Its primary means of dissemination
and propagation are church cookbooks. It is usually found in small
towns throughout the country, but perhaps most commonly in the Midwest.
Some featured dishes: Tuna noodle casserole with crumbled potato
chips on top. Jello laced with canned mandarin orange slices and
shredded carrots. Pigs in a blanket, ready-made with Velveeta cheese,
pastry dough and Oscar Meyer hotdogs …. How do I know it’s
enduring? Well, I grew up in the 1950s in Oklahoma, and my associate
editor, Cara, grew up on the very same cuisine 27 years later in
small town Indiana. Talk about enduring CULTURE!
And why am I riffing on retro foods? Because
The Smithsonian Institution’s Food Culture USA celebration—part
of the annual Folklife Festival—starts on June 23, and they’ve
invited the staff of The Rodale Institute, which publishes NewFarm.Org,
to participate as speakers and presenters—and most of the
New Farm staff will be there during portions of the festival.
Food Culture USA is designed to celebrate the American food revolution
of the last 30 years—the rise of organic and sustainable farming,
the influence of new immigrant cuisines, and the growth of local
and regional food systems. And best of all, for New Farm readers,
it will be Sustainable Ag Central for the two weeks of the event—an
incredible convocation of organic, sustainable and traditional farmers
from around the country and the globe, as well as dozens of chefs
who source food locally. To learn more about the event, and our
role in it, click
Coming soon for would-be no-till
roller builders: Students and faculty from the nearby
Berks Technical Institute here in eastern PA worked with us to complete
Auto-CAD drawings of our no-till roller--which will make it possible
for fabricators and talented backyard builders to recreate the roller.
Farm manager Jeff Moyer told me the process of creating the drawings
also generated some refinements and simplifications in the roller's
design--small but important steps toward streamlining production
of the tool. In July, we'll make digital versions of the drawings
available on the web site.
The New Farm forums: The
new discussion forums are cranking with activity and cool tidbits,
including a conversation on managing
seasonal help, a cool link where you can download plans for
farm projects, and a lively discussion about different approaches
New Farmer journals: It's
easy to just overlook the new farmer journals as an ongoing feature.
But if you do that, you'll be missing some wonderful insights and
observations from new farmers struggling to juggle all the tasks
required to make a farm work. I especially enjoyed Kristin Kimball's
reflection on hard work and the down time she and her husband never
seem to find. A farmer neighbor told them more farms fail from burnout
and divorce than finances. So, now, when things get rough, they
yell at each other "Burnout and divorce!" And then they
get back to work. See below for more on the five journals posted
Chris Hill, Executive Editor
Sustainable in Senegal
Nathan McClintock, above right, spent four months in Senegal talking
to farmers and ag professionals to develop a series of stories on
farmers and farming in the region.
See at left for more.
Sustainable ag takes over National
Mall in DC
It didn't look like much a month ago when we took this picture,
but the Smithsonian's Food Culture USA festival will bring farmers
and foodies from all over the world to celebrate the renaissance
in local, sustainable, organic and multicultural foods ... and New
Farm will be there.
See at left for more.
Magical Mycorrhizae Tour:
A field day that could boost your vegetable
yields by 50 percent
As many of you know, NewFarm.Org is brought to you by The Rodale
Institute, a well-known research and training organization for organic
and sustainable agriculture. One of the things we do each year is
sponsor field days, and there's one coming up on July 22, on our
farm here in eastern PA. Presentations will feature research and
practical advice on promoting mycorrhizal fungi populations to improve
crop health and yields, and how beneficial soil fauna (from microarthropods
to ground beetles) can help manage weeds. The event is free and
open to the public, but pre-registration is required.
July 22, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
To register (and learn more about the event) click
The tech team
A local technical school supplies us with Auto-CAD drawings of our
See at left for more.