Monthly Archives: December 2015

The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks

The following essay was published in the Winter 2016 issue of Yes Magazine, to which I have subscribed for a number of years.  This piece resonated for me, as do so many that I read in each issue of the magazine.
I hope your holidays are filled with health, the warmth of friends and family and the joy of giving back.
 

 

 

FROM THE WINTER 2016 ISSUE

Good Health

Issue cover

http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/good-health/the-honorable-harvest-lessons-from-an-indigenous-tradition-of-giving-thanks-20151126

What if this holiday season we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?

In this season of harvest, our baskets are full, rounded with fragrant apples and heaped with winter squash. So too are the steel shopping carts that clatter across the parking lot, plastic bags whipping in the wind. How do we even name such abundance? Are these commodities? Natural resources? Ecosystem services? In the indigenous worldview, we call them gifts.

We are showered every day with the gifts of the Earth: air to breathe, fresh water, the companionship of geese and maples—and food. Since we lack the gift of photosynthesis, we animals are destined by biology to be utterly dependent upon the lives of others, the inherently generous, more-than-human persons with whom we share the planet.If we understand the Earth as just a collection of objects, then apples and the land that offers them fall outside our circle of moral consideration. We tell ourselves that we can use them however we please, because their lives don’t matter. But in a worldview that understands them as persons, their lives matter very much. Recognition of personhood does not mean that we don’t consume, but that we are accountable for the lives that we take. When we speak of the living world as kin, we also are called to act in new ways, so that when we take those lives, we must do it in such a way that brings honor to the life that is taken and honor to the ones receiving it.The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 

Take only what you need and leave some for others.

Use everything that you take. 

Take only that which is given to you. 

Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 

Be grateful. 

Reciprocate the gift.

Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly ask, “What more can we take from the Earth?” In order for balance to occur, we cannot keep taking without replenishing. Don’t we need to ask, “What can we give?”

The Honorable Harvest is a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the land. This simple list may seem like a quaint prescription for how to pick berries, but it is the root of a sophisticated ethical protocol that could guide us in a time when unbridled exploitation threatens the life that surrounds us. Western economies and institutions enmesh us all in a profoundly dishonorable harvest. Collectively, by assent or by inaction, we have chosen the policies we live by. We can choose again.

What if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land? And humans—not just plants and animals—fulfilled the purpose of supporting the lives of others? What would the world look like if a developer poised to convert a meadow to a shopping mall had first to ask permission of the meadowlarks and the goldenrod? And abide by their answer? What if we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?

How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world.

Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote this article for How to Create a Culture of Good Health, the Winter 2016 issue of YES! Magazine. She is the founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

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A Playful look at On Farm Physics and Indoor Air Quality

Or, a cautionary tale on Relative Centers of Gravity.

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Sweet Sophie – post collision

Who would guess that this little farm hand could become a self propelled projectile able to fell a slowly ambling object more than 5 times her height?

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Scout finishes off the spoils

I learned a good lesson that day… Never cheer on and encourage your four legged friends to run and chase unless you are viewing from a safe position.  They came racing through at top speed and reached me just as one foot was leaving the ground and the other was just beginning to touch the ground.

Sophie’s center of gravity won and mine approached the ground at the speed of gravity.  The 14 eggs I was carrying went sailing.  One landed safely in the grass.  The rest were cleaned up before I could regain my feet by these savvy little helpers who were well aware of what nectar the lovely, large, brown gems contained.

They had managed to clean up all but 5 before I could intervene.  And this is where the issue of indoor air quality comes in… If someone in your household consumes their weight in eggs (an exaggeration), be sure to keep them in a well ventilated space until the offending matter has passed through their system… Phew!!

Happily only the eggs were harmed in this encounter.

Being slow to learn and typically needing more than one lesson for things to sink in, I was nearly knocked over one more time recently and this time the projectile was even smaller.  Our cat Chaplin, in mid dog chase, bumped into one of my feet while I walked (again with egg basket in hand) and it was all I could do to maintain my footing.  And save the eggs.

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Chaplin – Always willing to help out

These frisky little furry friends sure are entertaining, but must be approached with caution.

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Felted Soap Workshop

Back in October I taught a felted soap class at the studio at Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, WI.

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Students and their lovely creations

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Coopworth wool that has been dyed, prepared on a drum carder and awaiting color blending magic

I brought along books about fiber and quite a bunch of examples of items that I had felted.  Not only soaps, but also knitted and felted items such as handbags, a cup cozy and mittens.

“Felting” wool is basically what happens when you put a sweater through the hot cycle in your washer and discover with chagrin that you have created doll clothes accidentally.

This explanation for how felting happens comes from BioTechnology Learning Hub: “The exposed edges of the cuticle cells point towards the tip of the fibre, creating a jagged edge. This allows fibres to slip over one another easily in one direction but not the other, giving wool the ability to felt.

Felt is created when wool fibres are agitated in water – they slip over one another and the scales interlock, preventing the fibre from returning to its original shape. The process can be controlled to create very dense fabrics such as felt and wool blanket and jacket fabric, but can also be caused unintentionally during laundering and ruin a garment.”

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Microscopic image of wool

 

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ESEM_color_wool.jpg

Using wool’s ability to felt to our advantage, we wrapped my handcrafted herbal soaps in colorful rolags made by blending colors using hand carders.  As part of the class, I taught each of the students how to properly use hand carders to prepare the fiber.  I also explained how color blending can be used to make infinite new and dynamic colors using a few batts of dyed wool.  We soaked the wrapped soaps with warm water and agitated the wool by rubbing it in circles on each surface until the wool had just begun to felt together, then we rinsed them, pressed them dry in a towel and set them out to dry and be admired.

Soap that has been wrapped in wool has become a popular gift item.  It brightens any decor.  Felted soaps are like having a wash cloth built right in and they work great to scrub a gardener’s hands clean.  The wool continues to shrink so that it is always tight against the soap.  The wool wrapper helps the soap to last longer as long as the soap isn’t allowed to sit in water, which would cause the wool to wick and soften the soap.

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Soaps, felted soaps, wool rolags and hand carders

UPDATE: Last spring I had the opportunity to teach this workshop again in an abbreviated fashion for a couple of groups of 4-H youth at UWEX Price County Project Fun Day.  The activity was well received and a couple of kids held off on using their soaps so that they could submit them for exhibit at the Price County Fair.

Each child selected their own colors and learned to use the hand cards to create a rolag for wrapping around their bar of soap.  I also gave a short talk about how soap is made and the characteristics of wool that allows it to felt.

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Price County 4-H Youth at Project Fun Day

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Price County 4-H Youth at Project Fun Day

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Autumn Larch Farm LLC in the news

http://www.agriview.com/news/livestock/architect-farmer-builds-local-foods-connections/article_3f86cae2-2b85-584a-af0e-2991ea846b4f.html

purses hang on fence

Photo by Jane Fyksen

November 26, 2015 1:00 am  • 

PRENTICE, Wis. – Previously a commercial architect living in downtown Chicago, Jane Hansen moved with her husband, Chris Wallner, to Price County 15 years ago — to become a farmer.

She’s still building, but now she’s building connections in the local-foods arena. Though she stepped down as coordinator of the Wisconsin Local Food Network in April, she remains active and looks forward to the 10th-annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit, to be held Jan. 14-15, 2016, at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan Falls. She helped plan the first nine summits.

“We are excited that Jane will be assisting us in bringing local food to our state convention in January,” said Lloyd of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Jan. 29-31 gathering at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. “It is a priority for our members to directly support farmers and the local economy by buying local food for our meals together.”

Hansen raises sheep and poultry, and direct-markets artisan wool products and more. She named her farm Autumn Larch for swamp-loving Tamarack trees in the Larch family. The trees produce a second round of golden color in the fall after hardwoods have lost their leaves. The farm’s sheep are Coopworth, a breed from New Zealand that originated from mating Border Leicester and Romney.

“It’s a strong dual-purpose breed,” she said of high-quality wool and meat production.

The hardy breed fits her pasture-based management, which includes wintering outside with woods as windbreak. Although not certified organic, Hansen uses garlic to boost sheep immunity and stave off internal parasites. Year-round she feeds fresh-ground garlic in grain once a week, at the rate of one to two cloves per head per week. She deworms ewes by drenching with garlic juice. Each 150-pound ewe receives 5 cubic centimeters each of garlic juice and aloe juice with 20 cubic centimeters of water.

An avid learner and armchair researcher, Hansen uses an herbal “antibiotic” called artemesia annua — known as wormwood or sweet annie – to control liver fluke in her sheep.

“These are things I’m dabbling in,” she said. “It’s part of the buckshot I use to try to solve problems.”

Hansen sells lamb, tanned hides, fleeces, roving and yarn. A fiber artist herself, she knits and felts colorful wool handbags. Her ewes wear coats to protect their fleeces. The sheep sport names such as Hoglah, Tirzah and Micah.

Her laying flock of red hens supplies several customers with eggs. She also makes nine fragrances of soap and unscented “Not So Plain Jane” soap, which pokes fun at her name. Some of her herbal soap is wrapped in felted wool; no washcloth is necessary with the unique bath-and-shower product.

In addition to attending craft fairs, Hansen belongs to Countryside Artists’ Gallery in the Fred Smith house at the Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips. In 1948, Smith, at 62, started creating artwork that resulted in more than 230 embellished concrete figures in his yard. The concrete folk art is a tourist attraction, which is an outlet for Hansen’s products.

An avid market-vegetable grower, Hansen specializes in hardier produce such as salad greens, cabbage, onions and garlic. She extends her season with a hoop greenhouse. In October she planted about 1,700 cloves of garlic, some of which is braided. The cloves will be decorative in customers’ kitchens. Grocers also buy her garlic for resale.

One of many local-foods connections Hansen has forged is with the Phillips School District and Food Service Director Terra Gastman.

“I really enjoy working with Jane,” Gastman said of a farm-to-school partnership with Hansen. “She emails me each week and lets me know what she has available. We have made fresh squash for the kids several times this year. We have some saved to serve with our Thanksgiving lunch at school.

“The kids do notice when the produce is fresh. Fresh oven-roasted zucchini is a favorite. Jane’s fresh vegetables are a great addition to our lunch program.”

Vice-president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Price and Taylor counties’ unit, Hansen is active in the farm organization’s local-foods promotions.

“Wisconsin is a leader in the country for work on developing a vibrant local and regional food system,” said Sarah Lloyd, Wisconsin Farmers Union special projects coordinator. “Jane Hansen has been an important leader in the network of farmers, organizations, agencies and consumers that are working on the issue.”

Visit AutumnLarchFarm.wordpress.com for more information on Hansen’s products. Visithttps://wilocalfood.wordpress.com/summit-2016 for more on the 2016 Local Food Summit. Visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com to learn about Wisconsin Farmers Union’s local-foods thrust and upcoming convention.

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