Tag: community


Hard Fought Success in the High Country – Fields to Plate Produce

The drive to the Old Fort Farm in Hesperus, Colorado is deceptively steep. From downtown Durango I rose steadily, almost imperceptibly, and gained a thousand feet within minutes. From afar I had seen snow on this mesa just days before – not anymore. Pulling in, I found a large, aging, post-harvest farm; brushed with deep golden hues of well-watered land in a Colorado autumn.

With a bit of navigating, I located the Fields to Plate farmers. The small crew was harvesting a thousand-pound beet sunset: red, gold, pink, purple. The bounty seemed unlikely for such a dry, high altitude location; so, I set forth to learn how they did it…


Read my first article on Artisan Situation!

My good friend Zach Kaiser runs the site with some old chums from my college days with the Idea Fund. The story covers the recent history of Fields to Plate Produce, the farm David and I got our CSA from this summer.

transitions | on community vs. wanderlust.

I’m terrible at transitions. Horrible. The days leading up to one I’m a frantic mess, trying to tie up every loose end, say my goodbyes, and prepare for whatever is coming up. Then for weeks after I’m always an emotional mess and I always forget why.

There’s a reason for this that’s taken me years to figure out – transitions, in my life, are related to two very separate values I hold: community and wanderlust.

Community: Growing up in rural Maine, it’s hard not to have and hold this value as deep in your heart as any value can be. Growing up I always knew I wanted to live in small town. I love knowing people everywhere I go, I want the bartender or barista to already know what I want, I like having friends of all ages – from toddlers to the elderly, I need my family. The second I land anywhere my roots are already establishing. I travel deep, not far. I don’t like to sight see, I like to investigate cultures. My favorite part of traveling to Tanzania was delving into the small community around me: which people filled what roles, what people ate, what they did for fun, who their families were, the social quirks – and then finding my place.

Wanderlust: Again, growing up in small-town Maine, it’s hard not to dream of the world beyond Boston. Traveling has impassioned me since I was a child. A hunger to understand other cultures led me to raise my own money to send myself to El Salvador at 15. This life changing experience led me to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa 3 years later, and then to study wildlife management in Tanzania the year after that.



“You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
– Jake, Sweet Home Alabama
(only the best movie ever created…)

As I prepare for our road trip departure on April 1st I feel the impending, and familiar, value-collision-stress. My roots are so deep in Carlisle that it feels like I’m going to college all over again – only this time there aren’t winter breaks. With an undefined plan that leads west I have to face the fact that I have no idea when I’m going to see the people and places here again.

Yesterday, I went to my favorite cafe for the last time. I got lunch with my favorite professor for the last time. I had my last waitressing shift at Andalusia. I said goodbye to the best regulars I’ve ever had as a waitress. Today, I said goodbye to the kids I babysit for the last time. In the coming weeks I’ll have my last day at work, say goodbye to some of my greatest friends, say goodbye to Dickinson, to my favorite bar, to the trails I frequently run, etc. etc. etc.

And it’s not just Carlisle. Leaving the east coast means moving further from home. This past weekend I saw my best high school friends in New York City. We had an amazing time together in the big city, and I know for certain I’ll see them again, but it could be years before the four of us are all together at the same time. In two weeks I’ll spend time with my parents before, again, I have to say goodbye for the foreseeable future.

I’m de-rooting again, and it hurts. But at the same time – I’m so ready. I hate repetition. Adventure is always on my mind. This road trip is everything I want and need right now. Wanderlust has me tight in it’s grip. After seeing so many other countries through my education I’m ready to see America up close and personal – deep, not far.

But even though I’m bad at transitioning, I also love the raw emotion it brings up. I’m forced to face how much I love the community around me, and how much it loves me. I’m reminded of how much work and love I’ve put into my life here. Then, I get to look at my future and be proud of my decisions not to settle, to live fully, and embrace being young. I get to look forward to putting roots down somewhere else.

Communities in my life so far:

graduation day, kind of.

Presentation day, scheduled from 10am to 1:30pm, ended up running from 11am and ending at 5:30pm… when we finally got to eat lunch. Despite the long day and delayed schedule, the room was packed to the brim with people from all over the district. Our translator, from Arusha, was not only the tallest man I have ever met but probably one of the nicest. It was a wonderful day full of chai, intellect, conversation and reunions with people we had not seen in many weeks. With the atmosphere and everyone dressed up it felt a lot like graduation. Fitting, I suppose. It was a day I will never forget for two reasons. First, it showed me the importance of sharing science with the people and the progressive reactions it can spur. Second, it was a day of limitless support I will always be thankful for. I have my presentation on video if anyone wants to watch it when I return to America (in three days!?).

stealing twilight.

Shea and I were standing at the gate in the rain waiting for Martha before we headed to church when Paolo stepped through the door. He was dressed in a suit as always, even though he is grounds staff, and carrying a flowered umbrella. We greeted him warmly, exclaiming that we hadn’t seen him in a few days. Paolo, who is always soft spoken, smiled slightly. He politely asked us how we were and how our lessons were going, but his face remained grim. When we asked where he had been, assuming he had off days, he informed us that his grandfather had passed the night before. A man of 98, his grandfather was a well-respected Rhotia citizen and a highly esteemed member of the church. Paolo had spent the past few days in the hospital. While speaking his face exuded an immensely deep but extremely controlled grief. We gave our condolences, unsure of what to say. Shortly following Safari arrived with the boots Paolo had stopped by for and he headed on his way to make funeral arrangements. We grimly watched him go.

Throughout the day we all but forgot the grief of the morning. We attended a baptism, went to market and played a great soccer game. That evening staff and students alike were spraying each other with water bottles and racing each other up the hill back to camp from the soccer field, sweaty, tired and grinning. By the time we reached the gate the sun had almost set and the world was lit in an eery and colorful twilight.

Suddenly the ground started to shake and a rumble broke through the quiet evening silence. We all froze instinctively and glanced around, confused. Then, the sound breached the top of the hill and we were blinded by an instant flooding light. Our eyes adjusted and an amazing scene unfolded. Over 30 motorbikes were headed down the street, their inefficient mufflers growling in our ears, their lights illuminating the corn fields. There was an average three men per bike, all wrapped in bright Shukas and wearing their best shoes. It looked a bit like the clown motorcyclists in a parade – except no one was smiling. Adoring the front of every single motorbike was a bouquet of natural flowers.

“Wow,” Shea whispered, “They’re going to Paolo’s.” The men passed us, a few bowing their heads in salutation. We stood, amazed, as the bikes passed, followed by cars and walking people. A few moments later we stood in silence and complete darkness. The bikes had taken twilight with them, perhaps as a gift for the deceased.

The entire village of Rhotia must be attending this service, I thought.

The rest of the night and the night following we could hear the music from the celebrations pounding through the air. I couldn’t help but smile for Paolo.

What a show of community.

social capital – a homestay reflection.

Mwalimu Mwamhanga told us in one of our first classes that the western world possesses high economic capital but the tribal communities of eastern Africa can boast of a greater social capital. Our camp in Rhotia is located between two tribes. The first, the Maasai, are the stereotypical African nomadic peoples who extend through large parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The second tribe, the Iraqw peoples, are pastoral-agricultural. They were probably the first food producing inhabitants of East Africa and have a smaller homeland stretching through the elevated parts of the Mbulu highlands in Tanzania.

Historically, the Iraqw built their houses into the sides of hills (much like a hobbit would do) in order to protect themselves from the neighboring Masaai. Nowadays their houses are above ground, traditionally made from acacia trees and clay but more frequently from bricks and cement by those who can afford it. They keep cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys and historically grew small grains and subsistence foods. Recently, with the introduction of cash crops such as maize, wheat and beans, they have begun cultivating for profit at local markets. Men usually take responsibility for grazing large herds and conducting large scale agriculture. Women are primarily responsible for at home activities, such as milking, cooking, cleaning, gardening, fetching firewood and water, and raising children.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Iraqw is their social structure. They have huge families where all older people are equally responsible for raising younger children, regardless of relation. They advocate mutual accord and solidarity over almost all other values. For instance, groups of neighbors will work each others fields in rotation, attending work parties at each house where the only responsibility of the homeowner is to brew buura, sorghum beer, for everyone afterwards. Similar parties will occur if one family faces misfortune that threatens their viability. They will organize a party, serve buura, and the guests will bring gifts of cows or other items to help the family recuperate. It is understood that each person gives according to what he has and each receives according to his needs. This ensures all families have an equal workforce and therefore an equal chance of surviving.

A traditional Iraqw proverb states, “if we all agree with each other, then Looaa must agree with us.” Looaa is their traditional deity and communal support and stability is the presupposition for contact with her. As a result, disputes between individuals or groups threatens this spiritual connection and are dealt with quickly by all members of the community. Buura is used as a symbol of friendship and reconciliation in such situations.

Some of these traditional views and activities are changing with the introduction of a market economy, shifts in gender roles and the expansion of the Iraqw homeland. However, the basic implications of these practices and values are still strongly prevalent in the culture. Many of my staff friends in the kitchen are Iraqw and they are undoubtedly some of the most genuine and accepting people I’ve ever met. In addition, I recently spent my a day with an Iraqw family. in Rhotia. My family, who I had never met before, took our intrusion into their home with excitement and grace. They taught us how to cook, taught us new Swahili words, played katikati and spent an afternoon relaxing with us. They invited us back and I fully intend to return.

Old accounts of interactions with the Iraqw reported that anyone could settle among them as long as there was enough land and the immigrants were willing to adjust to their norms and behaviors. Many outsiders who encountered them accused the Iraqw of putting herbs in the Buura they shared that “make strangers forget their homelands and want to stay with them.” I don’t think the Iraqw would need herbs to do that, just a little alcohol and a lot of their unchecked, unconditional, appreciation and love.

For information cited in this post please see “Money, Milk and Sorghum Beer: Change and continuity among the Iraqw of Tanzania,” from Africa, v. 3, 1996.

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