Sunday, January 25, 2009

thanks Chuck

As you may know, I’ve been reading a ton lately on farming and one of the fun things about educating oneself on a relatively new subject is simply getting acquainted with names. It’s like a circle of friends I’m just joining; Wendell Berry, Sir Albert Howard (organic agriculture), Allan Savory (holistic management), Allan Nation (The Stockman Grass Farmer), Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms), Wes Jackson (The Land Institute), Barbara Damrosch, Thoreau (of course I’ve been quite familiar with his work for years), Deborah Madison, Michael Pollan, Weston A. Price (coolest dentist ever), Justus von Liebig (father of fertilizer-eek), Jan Smuts (introduced holism), and the list goes on and on. One of the most important people I have recently become familiar with is Charles Walters, creator of Acres USA; A Voice for Eco-Agriculture, the magazine for sustainable farming (and oh so much more). I’m actually currently reading his classic, Eco-Farm; An Acres U.S.A. Primer. It’s a tough and very scientific book, but an incredible wealth of information; truly and obviously, a very important primer to farming, in every sense. I feel like I know a crap load about all these people have done, and yet so little about simple facts like, heck, whether they’re still around or not. Anyhow, Chuck passed away on January 14th and I thank him immensely for his lifetime of work and the wealth of knowledge he has left for those of us wanting to absorb it. I hope I can continue working the land in the harmonious ways you have, and encourage others to live sustainably as well.

Because Eco-Farm is anything but a light, easy read, and because I’ve become quite hysterically excited about the subject, I’m continuing the habit of reading multiple books at once. On yet another blizzardy day this past week I read Eco-Farm, some bits of Five Acres and Independence; A Handbook for Small Farm Management (a random surprise book in a seriously over-stuffed holiday package from the states, M.G Kains is a bit of a hoot), then finally brought myself to finish YOU CAN FARM (one of those books I’m sad to end, and the moment I did, I went back and reread the first few chapters anyhow), and just for kicks began In Defense of Food; An Eaters Manifesto by Michael Pollan. Refusing to leave the warmth of my bed for two days except to pee, and grab things to much on, I spent a lot of time with Pollan’s and Walter’s words. I couldn’t help myself and finished Pollan’s book in less than two days, and it was great! I honestly didn’t have too high of hopes-I LOVED The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and was afraid it would be redundant, or even inapplicable. Since it was supposed to be about how everyday Americans could eat in ways more sustainable, well heck, I live in Morocco, and then want to farm. Well how very wrong I was. It was jam packed with all kinds of new information and ideas I’d not yet thought of. Only adding to my list of “why I wanna.” Much like preparing for some big paper, I’ve begun note-taking, idea scribbling, and quoting in a journal just for farming. Rather than a big paper, these are notes prepping for the life I aim to live. At the behest of many writers on any subject, but also farming, I’m slowly developing my own vision and philosophy, and often break in my notes for a “why I wanna” remark. Anyhow, In Defense of Food was yet another informative, if not more than a little righteous and always intriguing title by Michael Pollan and I highly recommend it.

Also, how was the inauguration? I was plopped on a ponj reading and not-socializing the historic day away. I hope it was splendid, the only direction is forward, and it’s been such a horribly long 8 years… I am not so happy, I’ll admit, at our fine new presidents poor decision for Secretary of Agriculture, but time will tell, as it always does.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

goin' up or bust

AHHH! I'm so excited! There's much to catch you all up on, but I just booked my flights for Spain and Germany, so thats really all thats on my mind right now. I've never been before, and now lived over a year directly under it so its about time I headed up there! 
I'm gonna meet up with my dear cousin Danielle in Spain; we've been trying to get together and travel for years! We have to make up for "the great trip of 1996". It was great-we went cross-country with my grandparents in their motor-home, but being the oldest kid in my family I learned what it might be like to have an older sister, and being an only child she learned what it might be like to have an awful annoying sibling.  We ended up all but hating each other by the end, but I can now see it as a true bonding experience. And this time around will be quite different! After a week there I'm meeting up with my awesome site-mate Natalie and we're heading to Germany for a few days, primarily Munich. It's gonna be a fairly quick trip but bound to be great, inshallah. Any contacts, advice, or even better, money you wanna contribute will be greatly appreciated! I'm mighty low on money but will be couchsurfing, eating cheap and loving all that is priceless about traveling. Now i just have to wait for my flight. . . in March.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

little edible trees

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Marjane before; is like a kind of Walmart here, except that it’s only in big cities and its crazy expensive. But sometimes it’s the only place to go for specific items. In keeping with my philosophy of living by the means available I don’t shop there much and don’t mind living without special wants. But broccoli is just about my favorite vegetable, and certainly high on my list of favorite foods in general, and being deprived of it has driven me mad. I can understand why something crazy like kiwis aren’t available here, but why not broccoli?! They have tons of cauliflower so the fact that there isn’t even a word for broccoli just infuriates me. Frozen broccoli is available at Marjane for a hefty fee, and I very thankfully had some at the PCVs house on election night. Frozen vegetables are… ok, but I’ve really had a serious hankering for fresh broccoli.

So a couple weeks ago I went to Fes with some friends and my goodness, Marjane had it! For 38ds a kilo! Just to give you some background, all my vegetables and fruits range from 2-12ds per kilo, and most are never more than 7, so 38ds is a serious jump. However I decided I’d rather splurge on broccoli than chocolate and bagged up 33.8ds worth. While my dear friends were giving me shit for it I actually was able to justify my purchase silently in my own head. Here was an example of paying hopefully close to the real price of food. I’ve been reading so much lately about the ridiculous food goings on in the states (you can read the books on it, and I really encourage you to for they are far more articulate than me) and a serious issue is the simple fact that we are paying very little for foods that are costing us so much. I admit it used to be hard for me to justify buying truly sustainable foods because of their expense, but with all this knowledge I realize that it’s just paying the honest price for an honest food, upfront, and really you get exactly your money’s worth (and seriously guys, it’s not THAT much more at the Farmer’s Market), and are supporting your community and paying the people who are actually doing the work of providing that food. So paying a hell of a lot more for my broccoli fix was in fact my decision to pay for the transportation of a food that has been imported from who knows where and been priced accordingly.

And I really enjoyed it! I ate most of it simply steamed with a touch of salt and butter just so I could enjoy it by its beautiful self. I had also splurged at Marjane on a little hunk of cheddar cheese, which I haven’t had in over a year. It was actually not very good cheddar, but making my own broccoli cheddar soup from scratch was awesome. I even included the broccoli in a spaghetti sauce one night for the very friend who shunned my purchase, but it was delicious and he was thankful. And when all my little trees were consumed, it was over and done with and I am okay with living without it again until I am somewhere it’s readily available again. I really do love seasonal food eating; it makes me sot hankful for each food as its time comes to be available. Tangerines are in season, one of only two fruits available here in the winter and I love them! It’s like candy, but better. And I’m getting mighty sad knowing I will leave this country before they come into seaon again next year. Guess ill just have to eat at least a kilo a week this season then! I’m also a new fan of leeks, I’d never cooked with them before in the states, but they are now an important addition to all my kugel baking and soup making excursions. But I tell you, once I start growing in the states you’ll lose me out there. You’ll have to find Bri beneath the broccoli.

مبروك العيد أمكر

That transliterated in English is “mbruk leid amkor” which translates to English as happy big Eid! And your response should be الله يبارك فيك which transliterates to “llay bark fik” which means “may god grant you peace.” Anyhow, that was Tuesday, December 9, and oh so crazy but wonderful. Last year I was still in homestay at this time, if you remember, and it was not the happy holiday it should have been. So this year, far more integrated into my community, and free to roam about, I was able to visit many homes and it was one of the best holidays ever! I’m not going to describe Eid in all its glory, you can look it up, but if you don’t know already it’s the big Muslim holiday where every family slaughters a sheep.

I went to my counterpart’s family’s house first for the celebratory big bready breakfast prior to the slaughter. I thought that morning of how most Americans would pass out at the sight-some 5 or 6 forms of bread for breakfast. Sfinj-donut shaped dough dropped and fried in oil, harsha-the cornbread type cake, milowee-big, flat, fried squares of a simple bread dough, lmscoota- any kind of pond cake type thing, anyhow, lots of carbs washed down with hot sugary milk or hot sugary tea.

After a couple quick other stopovers for cookies and tea and mbrukin’ I headed to my host family’s house. We had a ram this year (all the joyous pictures are on facebook by the way, so you have to go there if you want to see them) and I hung out and watched the gutting. Oddly, I wasn’t disgusted at all, it’s actually pretty interesting. Honestly the moment I got nauseous was when I had to start eating it. Both sheep and goat have very distinct flavors, odd as it sounds, you can taste the way they smell which is hard for someone generally so far removed from their foods origins. But since reading so much lately on farming, and now being over a year into living and breathing next door to all my foods, this practice was quite beautiful to me. The sheep was raised in my site, and lived a very sheepy life- it ate grass, in sunshine, rain and snow and lived among a herd of its own. Still, I did get a taste of our own level of pollution here; when my sister cut open the larger stomach, among the usual half digested grasses was, in pieces, an entire plastic bag. Ugh. After a very sheep heavy meal I headed out for more mbrukin’ throughout the town. By the end of the night, well after midnight, and with henna on my hands I counted up the glasses of tea I’d consumed that day: 12. I’ve no idea how I still have my teeth.

We also got our first dose of boojlood the afternoon of Eid. I only got to observe a bit of it last year, but this year it was a multiple day affair. I don’t know if it’s a tradition among all Berbers, but certainly here. Every few houses join their fresh sheep skins into a big costume, making a good 15 or so of these scary things among the community, then these guys put on odd masks. A few others dress up like witches and some younger boys put together similar costumes made of plastic flour or grain sacks. Then of course there are the camels, made out of blankets and a real skull and two or three guys underneath. This pack of odd and frightening characters travel throughout the community with drummers, taking coins and scaring or messing with people. I honestly got pretty scared, one camel snipped my arm, and one boojlood, because of the lax circumstance, asked me to marry him. But it was fun and we got some good pictures. So we may not have Halloween or Santa or whatever here, but I personally feel pretty darn special, what would you give to see a bunch of boys marching through town in recently killed sheep pelts? It’s also pretty stinky. It was fun and I felt a pang in my heart for it likely being the last Eid I’ll ever celebrate, certainly my last with boojlood.

Also, in addition to mbruk leid, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Whatever you celebrate I hope it was wonderful and you could share it with people you love, in person or in spirit!