My Blog’s Origin Story

I started this blog to support my two Kickstarter projects — read on!

Kickstarter Project No. 1

On the 29th day of Nainoa Thompson’s first voyage as a student navigator, he sees two birds fly south overhead. He orders the crew aboard the double-hulled voyaging canoe named Hokule’a to sail in the direction of their flight. These seabirds travel a short distance out to sea at dawn to eat and return to land at night, which means the canoe’s destination, Tahiti, must be nearby. At sunset, a crew member climbs the mast but does not see land.

They lower the sails, heave in the Pacific Ocean and wait.

By late the next morning, Thompson feels panicked. One of Hokule’a’s crew members saw a bird fly out of the north and Thompson, convinced the canoe passed the island during the night, has the crew reverse direction. But another man — who spied a little fish in the bird’s beak — advises him to turn back. This is nesting season and beforesunrise the feathered animal had flown out to sea to hunt for food to deliver to its babies. Later, the bird would fly out to feed itself.

The man with the wise advice is Mau Piailug, a master navigator from the tiny Micronesian atoll of Satawal who had come to the islands of Hawaii to pass on his knowledge of ancient Polynesian wayfaring, which relies on ocean swells, waves, the sun, moon, stars and seabirds to travel the open seas. Imagine: no GPS tracking, sextant, compass, not even a wristwatch. An hour passes and the shores of Tahiti appear. With it, Thompson becomes the first Hawaiian in more than 600 years to navigate a voyaging canoe using traditional wayfaring. With the 7,000-mile voyage complete, Piailug offers Thompson one last piece of advice. “Everything you need to see is in the ocean, but it will take you 20 more years to see it,” he says. “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost.”

Since that voyage in 1976, the Polynesian Voyaging Society has achieved more than 10 long-distant voyages, and an immeasurable impact on the lives and spirit of Polynesians. Hokule’a touched off a Pacific-wide movement to reawaken a lost art and a Hawaiian Renaissance to restore a lost sense of pride. The years, however, have not been without tough lessons, including the death of a beloved crew member, and the difficulty of repairing the ill effects of Western imperialism and attempting to break down the stereotype of the “Plastic Polynesian.” In 2014, the Polynesian Voyaging Society set sail for an ambitious multiyear worldwide voyage.

This blog was originally devoted to sharing this story. I sought support — through Kickstarter — for a reporting trip to Honolulu in 2011. Mahalo to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Carla Christian

David Christian

Cole Allen

Alia Cruz

Emily Cole

Dianne Heimer

Milo Delucchi

Suzzanna

Kitdy Rakthay

Jill Henrikson

Cathy Delucchi

Ted Cox

Mary Anne & Gene Allen

Hugh

Mario Amanzio

John Motsinger

Nicole N.

Josh Fernandez

Clay Nutting

Vanessa Schnaidt

Lindsay Schield

Kristin Bartus

My Kickstarter project No. 2

In summer 2012, I spent a week in Quito, Ecuador to research a story called “Quito Grown” for Earth Island Journal about the city’s urban farming initiative and how these farms address rising food prices and a jeopardized food supply. This experience made me even more committed to reporting on issues related to farming and grassroots efforts to put the power of food production back in the hands of people.Quito Grown11

In 2000, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency to restore political and economic stability. But the process unintentionally led to rising food prices and hunger among Ecuadorians, particularly indigenous populations, refugees and children.

Quito’s urban farming initiative allows families and students to grow produce for themselves, and connects growers to local farmer’s markets at which to sell their healthy fruits and vegetables. Also, because Ecuador ranks as one of the world’s highest users of pesticides, there is a growing demand for organic produce.

Thanks to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Cathy Delucchi

Yen Le

Nathan Papini

Tom McMahon

Danny Cross

Mike Tener

Hugh

Nicole

Carla Christian

Dave Constantin

Camille

Mario Amanzio

Milo Delucchi

Laura

Lorenzo Orselli

Jess

Jon Kiefer

Mary Anne Allen

Stephan M.

Kitdy Rakthay

Oona Mallet

Ron B.

Cole Allen

David Christian

Christopher Lebedzinski

Jen Rotter

Cities Figure Out How To Accommodate Urban Farming

For my Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, I’m focusing on projects related to sustainable farming. I’ll be writing several articles on this subject over the course of the next nine months, and have begun with one for Earth Island Journal on how cities facilitate or impede urban farming. Here’s an excerpt:

Anne Cure owns and operates Cure Organic Farm outside the city limits of Boulder, Colorado. She rents eight acres of open space from the City of Boulder. (Photo/Cole Allen)

Anne Cure runs Cure Organic Farm outside the city limits of Boulder, CO. (Photo/Cole Allen)

Across the US, Cities Struggle to Figure Out How to Accommodate Urban Farming

Widespread interest in urban agriculture is forcing local authorities to re-examine rules that prohibit farming in cities

By Sena Christian

Sacramento has worked diligently over the past two years to brand itself as America’s farm-to-fork capital, hosting local food festivals, wine tastings, and gala dinners featuring the city’s premier chefs. Tickets for this year’s dinner, at $175 dollars each, sold out in five minutes. The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau has even organized a cattle drive and tractor parade through downtown.

Sure, nearly 1.4 million acres of farmland exist around the city, which is located in California’s vast and fertile Central Valley region, and the climate is amenable to growing produce year-round (drought complications notwithstanding). But there are no urban farms in Sacramento. The closest and most prominent urban farm, the 55-acre Soil Born Farms, exists outside the city limits.

Sacramento is relatively progressive when it comes to gardening: The city already allows frontyard vegetable gardens, urban chickens, and community gardens on private land and runs 13 community gardens on public land. But farming — that is, growing crops to sell — has fallen behind.

… Read the rest of the article here …

What’s A Farmer Look Like?

Here’s an excerpt from my article, “Think You Know What a Farmer Looks Like? Think Again,” for YES! Magazine’s website.

When Lindsey Morris Carpenter was a college student studying art in Philadelphia, she never expected that, just a decade later, she would spend most of her days fixing up tractors, turning piles of manure, and corralling chickens.

But that’s precisely what she’s doing. Carpenter, 29, dropped out of school in 2004 and returned to her home state of Wisconsin, where she found a job on a vegetable farm. She went on to apprentice at a larger operation in suburban Chicago and eventually secured employment at an urban farm on the city’s south side, teaching previously incarcerated people how to grow food.

Lindsey Morris Carpenter owns and operates Grassroots Farm, LLC. (photo by Carpenter)

Lindsey Morris Carpenter of Grassroots Farm, LLC. (photo by Carpenter)

By 2007, Carpenter had decided she wanted her own piece of land to farm, so she and her mother, Gail, bought 40 acres in south central Wisconsin and got down to business—an opportunity she’s grateful for since she’s aware that not everyone has access to the resources that allowed her to purchase this land.

Today, Carpenter’s certified-organic operation, Grassroots Farm, grows fruit, vegetables, hops, and herbs; she also sells pesticide-free cut flowers and eggs from the farm’s chickens. Being as environmentally sustainable as possible is paramount to Grassroots’ operations, Carpenter says. So, too, is a commitment to provide healthy, fresh food to local people regardless of the size of their bank accounts.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE

Leading Edge Of A Movement

Here we are right in the middle of Monsanto land. Or, “the belly of the beast,” as Denise O’Brien, a leader of the modern sustainable agriculture movement ranked with women from across the United States, says of being in Des Moines. Industrialized, chemical-laden farming surrounds us. Many of us drove past “the rape and pillage of the land” on our way here today. But we are also in the Hawkeye State of Iowa, a place where women own half the farmland.

Women converged in Des Moines, Iowa, for a conference on transforming food systems.

Women converged in Des Moines, Iowa, for a conference on transforming food systems.

Farmers, food industry workers, policy wonks, pesticide watchdogs — 400 women and a few intrepid men — have come from 20 U.S. states to discuss ways to transform a disastrously broken global food system, and to explore how some local food systems successfully work. What lessons do they have to teach us? And I’m here, too, a journalist hoping to share their stories. We have assembled in the expansive ballroom of a hotel/conference center in early November “because we believe in gender equity in food systems and agriculture,” says Leigh Adcock, director of Women, Food & Agriculture Network, the nonprofit group that organized this conference. “We don’t just want to link women, we want to empower you.”

Back in the early 1990s, a handful of Iowan women were preparing for the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and they sought case studies of women working in agriculture. But they couldn’t find any. The U.S. Census of Agriculture didn’t even include women until recently. They continued to ask around, and gather research from those female farmers they could find. “No one had ever asked them questions before about their dreams for their land,” O’Brien says.

What O’Brien and her comrades found were different approaches to farming and philosophies rooted more in the inherent value of the land and the need to conserve. What they found are women now on the leading edge of this transformative movement for a better food system, according to keynote speaker Danielle Nierenberg, cofounder of Food Tank.

Nierenberg spent two years traveling to 35 countries in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa and what she determined was that hunger, obesity and poverty could be fought, while protecting the environment. “I’m convinced that how things are isn’t how they have to be,” Nierenberg tells the audience gathered in Des Moines. Yes! I think. I believe that, too. And I know all these people around me believe this same powerful revelation at this precise moment. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.

Nierenberg presents five strategies for a better food system. We need to stand with family farmers — 500,000 family farmers around the world contribute to the livelihood of 2 billion people — disenfranchised populations and food workers. We need to stop wasting so much food; 40 percent of the global harvest never reaches people’s stomachs and one-third of food in the United States is thrown away because of overbuying, misunderstanding sell-by dates and the improper storage of food. We need to increase urban agriculture, improve the diversity of diets to ward off malnutrition in developing countries — an obstacle to economic development — and support sustainable farming. Agriculture is leading to 80 percent of deforestation around the globe and uses 70 percent of fresh water. Industrial agriculture, she tells us, is like the Titanic in reverse: complex, a marvel in invention, thought to be invincible but heading toward its demise.

Turns out  I love Des Moines, in fall (not winter).

Turns out I love Des Moines, in fall (not winter).

Two days later, Kari Hamerschlag, a senior food and agriculture analyst with the Environmental Working Group, tells the audience that reading Frances Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet” 30 years ago prompted her to move from Vermont to California to work on food policy, and she hasn’t looked back. There’s plenty of bad news to dwell on, she says. We’re ruled by a profit-driven industrial food system and all the positive change that has been accomplished — more community supported agriculture programs, more women farmers, more organic acreage, more farmer’s markets — has been done without policy support. Twenty-four percent of Americans are food insecure, compared to 9 percent in China. Fewer corporations are controlling more of the food system, and the way we grow our food is destroying our natural resources. “For too many of these problems, our public policy is making the situation worse not better,” she says.

But this WFAN conference is not about bemoaning problems. That’s not what these women do. They do what needs to be done. They take care of business, and work on solutions. “Don’t despair and don’t retreat,” Hamerschlag tells the group, smiling. “The stakes are really high and we need you more than ever. And there’s reason for hope.”

While You Wait

I’m busy writing my article on urban farming in Quito, Ecuador, but that doesn’t mean I can’t show you all a good time while you wait (the story won’t be published until a few months from now, so make yourself comfortable). Here are some photos taken by my sister Julia and new friend (and accomplished artist and photographer) Christian Velastegui.

Overlooking Quito, a city of 2 million people nestled in the Andes. Photo by Julia.

One of many stray dogs in Quito. Photo by Julia.

A street performer in downtown Quito. Photo by Christian Velastegui.

A fellow street performer in downtown Quito. Photo by Christian Velastegui.

My Quito Observations

Hola amigos! I’ve returned from my trip to Ecuador, where I did research and interviews for an article on an urban farming initiative in the city of Quito. I’ve compiled a list of generalizations and thoughts based on five days spent in Quito. Obviously, I barely even know what I’m talking about, but here we go:

The Nourish group, and Laurie, Julia and me.

1. Julia’s warning that getting hit by a car is the biggest thing to worry about in Quito was correct. Pedestrians are totally insignificant!

2. I figured out where they find all those sad-looking stray dogs for the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials. They’re roaming the streets of Quito.

3. I saw graffiti with the words “Chevron = muerte (death)” and other references to the evils of the oil company that’s caused much destruction in the Amazon rainforest.

Student waters garden on rooftop, while greenhouse is constructed.

4. As a developing country, Ecuador doesn’t appear to have environmental controls or regulations in place. At least that’s what my stinging eyes and burning lungs suggested. The pollution in Quito is terrible.

5. Quito boasts lots of delicious vegetarian restaurants. Yum!

6. If you’re a gringa, be prepared to be financially taken advantage of by taxi drivers. Cha-ching!

7. Everything is up for negotiation. $1 for a cab ride? Too much! How about 50 cents?

8. Red stop lights are purely a suggestion.

9. Ecuadorians are friendly people and willing to assist visitors, especially two pathetic young women with limited use of the Spanish language.

10. Consistent rules for riding the bus?! Not necessary! Sometimes you pay, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they take the money on the bus. Sometimes a guy will jump down and take money from exiting passengers.

11. Quito residents are proud of their hometown. As one resident told me in Spanish, “There’s something special about this city.”

Dan, of Nourish, and Shak construct the elementary school greenhouse in south Quito.

12. I observed what happens when you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper down the toilet.

13. I saw how everyday the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m.

14. I learned what it’s like to travel to a country and not know the language and the stress that brings. As an English speaker, I’m used to people around the world accommodating me and my lack of knowledge of other languages. But that’s not how it is in Ecuador. And that’s humbling.

15. I made a new friend in Quito, and his name is Cristian Velastegui and he’s an awesome painter and photographer. Check out his art (for sale) here.

Off We Go!

Hola! I’ve brushed up on my Spanish, packed mosquito repellant and Pepto-Bismol, and suffered the side effects of a Typhoid vaccine. This can only mean one thing: My trip to Ecuador is almost here! I leave this Sunday for an eight-day foray in Quito. My sister is coming along to snap photographs and make sure I don’t get lost. We’ll visit the site of an urban farming project and speak with locals taking a community-based approach to addressing rising food prices and malnourishment by growing their own organic produce. Wish us luck!