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    Juniper Jungle Farm

    Juniper Jungle Farm

    What is beautiful about Juniper Jungle is the dialogue it brings out in those who visit. Being outside, with your feet in the dirt, inspires us to think deeper about our purpose in the world.  

    Human society is a complex biological system. Our higher knowledge as a species has evolved to create a pool of social structures that don’t naturally occur, essentially establishing the human brain as a biological anomaly. We naturally throw objective sciences like mathematics, economics and engineering into this pool. These fields of study are rooted in the human study  and manipulation of the world’s natural resources. Our ability to observe and develop the natural world has allowed for  an unprecedented population boom of a keystone species.

    What is less often considered is the role that agriculture plays as a human machination. Since the roots of farming are in a field, not an office, it is easy to overlook the fact that agriculture is the original objective science. It wasn’t until we learned how to cultivate the land and grow a stable surplus, that all of the other philosophical “isms” and rational “ics” had the time to flourish. At the beginning, the two dominant human structures were: agriculture, to exercise our mastery of the land, and spirituality to celebrate our futility to nature. This was a natural evolution that considered our fundamental dependance on the natural world. Further evolution had deviated away from the spiritual structure of farming. Instead, human history has preferred to develop food systems to meet objective needs based on a rapidly growing and professionally specialized population.

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    Seed to Table

    Seed to Table

    Farmland begins as an open canvas; it’s identity ultimately forged by the values of those tending the fields. The practical minded farmer approaches their land as a capital resource, and is managed to efficiently meet the demands of prominent crop markets. This form of agriculture is built as an economy of scale and supplies our export markets, feeds livestock and supplies the majority of food to wholesalers around the nation. A more romantic approach to farming, from the naturalist, tends to view land, not as a resource, but as an organism. Yes, the economics of running a business are major consideration, but are almost subservient to the goal of fostering a complete ecosystem. Oftentimes products from these farms are more diverse, but created at a much smaller scale than their commercial cousins. Food from these operations is often grown to sell at local farmers markets or directly to select restaurants. In between these two distal ends of agriculture exits a rich nexus of farms varying in scale, scope and long term goals.

    When Audrey Tehan first approached food it was through a different vein. Her primary mission is neither economic or ecological; instead, the focus of Seed to Table, her creation, is community, and how to build a stronger one.

    The hard work of a well-intentioned farmer can be lost  in a world of priority if their surrounding community cannot afford or understand what is grown around them. For many, it is hard to rationalize buying local food when the prices are higher and seasons dictate what is available.



    Without a local community who embraces and understands the real challenges of farming, it is difficult for such an industry to thrive. To approach that very challenge. Audrey and Seed to Table founded three guiding principals, around which the operation runs.  

     The first goal is Access.

    Local food is often accompanied by the stigma that it is a luxury good; ‘people who have the money can afford to buy on principal, the rest of us have to do what makes sense’. Seed to Table works hard to break this pre-conception. They are one of the only farms that I have ever encountered that lists food bank donations and discount farmers markets as prominent avenues to share their produce.  To them, the only way to get more food grown in Sisters and in Central Oregon, is if more people get their hands on local produce and develop an appreciation for the value of wholesome ingredients. Most any farm is left with unsold produce in the field, due to either lackluster demand, or physical blemishes. There is really no sense in allowing this valuable crop go to waste. This is why Seed to Table works with food banks; to turn waste into a community asset, for the good of the community.




     

    People inherently become more invested in what they learn, and education through experience cultivates that knowledge as a sense of identity. For years now there has been much proselytizing as how we, as a culture, all owed our food system to become an industrial entity? A powerful answer to this question is that we, as a culture, have disconnected from food production as a piece of our identity. Audrey drove to use Seed to Table as a medium to rebuild that identity by starting up a Farming class in Sisters high school. The curriculum for the course balances components of economics, soil science, biology and turning compost. The intention is not to make a farmer out of every student. Rather, the goal to instil a foundation of knowledge for subjects like soil science, environmental science, biology, and nutrition, so that students and parents may better understand the complexity of what they put in their body. Since classrooms can feel a little stuffy, Seed to Table also makes sure that their curriculum gets people outside with their hands in the dirt and show them what all of this information looks like in real life.  

    The third goal is to Expand the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables sold in Sisters, which arises naturally though the success of education and access.

    As their classes grow and more interns flock to learn through work, the ability of Seed to Table to supply school lunch programs, food banks and farmers markets grows as well. Ideally, their efforts in education, outreach and community development will open up some opportunity for neighboring farms, like Mahonia Gardens or Radicle Roots, as well.  

    There are a lot of farms that are closed enterprises. They have land, employees, crops and market stands; but most people can only approach them as a customer. And there exists a void where you can’t quite understand what it is that goes on at a farm. At that point, how are you to make out the difference between their Broccoli and Broccoli in the grocery store that was grown 500 miles away?

     

     

     

     

     

    The second goal is Education.  

    There are a lot of farms that are closed enterprises. They have land, employees, crops


    It is really a beautiful sight to watch the three goals of Seed to Table come into confluence and break down that void. The doors there are open, the customer, the community, is their farm. Summer workers are young interns out on a break from school, there to learn with their hands. As summer turns to fall, the interns are replaced with buzzing energy generated by droves of students from Sister’s Elementary. There they are out in the field, helping harvest winter squash, while learning how to store and cure produce for the winter. All the while, the squash and kale they pluck from the field is taken over to the food shelf to supply a hot stew as the days turn colder. For them, every step in the farming process is met with the smiling face of someone who just became more than a consumer. They might not be trying to make a farmer out of everyone they teach, but a little bit of the farm has a way of rubbing off once you experience it.

    Fields Farm

    Fields Farm

    Organic agriculture goes back millennia, with roots as deep as any human tradition.

    Our connection with how to select, cultivate and prepare foods has evolved over generations of farmers and meals from the family hearth.  That natural evolution eventually led to a point where the goal of food production rose above the level of subsistence, where technology allowed farming to become a smaller piece of our larger anthropology.

    Inevitably consolidating agriculture led to a smaller number of farmers growing over larger acreage.

    Farming then became less a natural development and more a field of study.

    This process has allowed the concentrated field of agricultural science to make profound discoveries in areas like crop genetics and advanced breeding techniques which matriculated  into large yields and global food distribution. However, in the creation of any industrial system there are unforeseen externalities; details that were either overlooked or not accounted for.

    For years now people have been talking about the ills of the “conventional” food system, and how it is a broken model. Stacks of articles have been written about how modern agriculture has contributed to land degradation, pollution, biodiversity loss, obesity, diabetes, inequality… the list goes on. One source of these problems, a factor that is easily overlooked, is that the greatest externality is a loss of knowledge. While there is more research going into food than ever the kind of knowledge we are missing does not come from a classroom; the form of knowledge that faded comes from the land, and from each other.

    That is how organic farming emerged as a movement. In the midst of consolidation, there were those among rural and urban populations who realized that they felt disconnected. What they were disconnected from was, and is a cultural heritage between people, the land, and food grown in it. This movement emerged then, and continues to this day, as a populous voice seeking to rewrite the modern definition of agriculture to include those details that were overlooked as seeds started to be bought through growing corporations, instead of shared between a community of growers. In a sense, the farmers that emerged during the organic revolution were pioneers on quest to journey back into human history and reconnect with the heritage of traditional farming.  Fields Farm has long been a curator of mindful agriculture here in Bend, beginning a quest for creating sustainable land.

    Jim and Debbie Fields began their journey into farming 27 years ago when they purchased their 10 acre plot, nestled right outside the heart of Bend.

    It began as a small gardening experiment, their initial goal was simply to connect with their roots and build a lifestyle around living off the land. Over time Jim an Debbie began to grow their hobby into a business by implementing a small CSA. They only started with 8 members, but Jim’s philosophy is to ‘start small, grow slowly and observe a lot’, much like natural adaptation in plants. By 2006 they had grown their CSA to 68 members, engaged in two farmers markets, and finding their way to sell some produce wholesale.

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