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Stories of Food from Farm to Table

Environmental Studies Capstone 2014 Journal Volume I 1

Dear Reader, This semester, as seniors in the 2014 Environmental Studies Capstone Seminar, we have participated in an ongoing dialogue regarding the meaning of “sustainability”. Our class has discussed Julian Agyman’s framework of “Just Sustainabilities,” which combines principles of sustainability and social justice. Teresa Mares and Devon Peña discuss food justice as one way of incorporating social justice into discussions of the food system. Through these lenses, we sought to expand current definitions of sustainability. Our group specifically focused on defining what sustainability means in food and agriculture in our local community. By “local community,” we include Swarthmore College (students, staff, and faculty) as well as nearby activists and neighbors. We have taken the advice of author, Robert Cox, who stresses bringing stories and photos into our public sphere. Therefore, we have compiled stories from our community that reflect various views on and experiences with our food system. Through these stories, we have sought to examine the food system as it exists, imagine alternatives, and build a working definition of “sustainable agriculture” that integrates ideas of accessibility and cultural relevance—that is, “food justice”—into the discourse surrounding local and organic food. We believe that social justice and environmental sustainability are intricately linked, and that the strongest food systems will not only serve us for a long time, but also serve us equitably across all groups. We invite you to journey with us from “earth to farm to table” through the pictures, maps, poems, and prose that we have collected in Growing Power—to see through the lens of a farmer the importance of providing a safe, clean environment for his children. To learn about the student effort to raise bees on Swarthmore’s campus. To listen to the deeply personal stories voiced by Swarthmore students and residents of a community in North Philadelphia, where fresh food is difficult to access. To examine the maps and consider how we can reimagine the spatial components of our food system—how far our food travels, how available or accessible it is, and which spaces we appropriate for growing food. We also ask you to reflect upon how the degredation of the earth by coal mining and nuclear power plants impacts and is supported by our agricultural system. We contend that sustainable agriculture is not an isolated issue, but rather an integral part of a larger movement towards environmental and climate justice. Through Growing Power, we challenge you to question your and your community’s role in various food systems. It is our hope that these stories will inspire you to join us in envisioning and shaping a “sustainable” food system that is truly sustainable for all. Sincerely, Emma Sipperly, Erin Lowe, Kathryn Wu, Megan Brock, Natalie Campen, and Patrick Ammerman



Editor’s Note 1 I. Earth 3 Seas 4

The Woman Is the Earth Is the Woman Is the Earth


II. Farm 8 Joshua Greene 10 Greene-Kitchen Farm 13 Keeping Bees 15 From Farm to City 17 Plant Type 26 III. Table 30 Just a Boy 32 Serenity House Introductions 33 Feeding the Men 37 Regrowth 39 Platanos and Bulgogi 40 Tablecloths 41 A Tibetan in Kentucky 43 Denis Boudreau 45

You Are How You Eat


Resources 53 Closing Remarks 54

Cover Photo By Tess Wei ‘17




SEAS By Josh Gregory

Never mind the red blooms, a profusion of carrion cruor runs its fingers through the water; moves like a scent. And though the encrustations clot these waters

we will have our new seas upon which to build.

There, the rigid waves are called mountains.

Josh Gregory ’15 is majoring in Religion and minoring in Interpretation Theory at Swarthmore College.



they sliced me open skin and core like a ripe pomelo fingers prying when they drilldrained me from my pores black ooze bleeding they cracked every bone and fossil spat in my veinrivers my roots splintered they tarred me with their slick unwant strippeeled me to slivers until i burned naked then melted alive like


delirium or white wax sold me wrapped in clear plastic commodified to edibles before stranding me to untruth how they kept denying my wounds in their hard mouths how they whored me then ignored me the deep aching in my valleys my blinded blinding eyes and do I tell them I remain here always I tell you do not watch when they die choking on their stench and cursing and drowning and thirsting me bald and me raw and me scarred my body still here

Jennifer Hu ‘14 is majoring in English and minoring in Chinese and Biology at Swarthmore College.






I do not want to fear what my children might accidentally eat while they explore the land. -Joshua Greene Joshua Greene is the owner of a sustainable farm in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. While explaining his beginnings on the farm, he described the origins of his commitment to sustainable farming. Mr. Greene is the father of five children, three of whom we had the pleasure of meeting, and his dedication to his family is obvious. He sees himself as a steward and caretaker of the land, a temporary guardian of what his children will inherit. Stressing safety for his children, Joshua Greene knows the most harmful thing his children could accidentally consume on the farm is clean, pure dirt. All too often, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, harmful if ingested, are applied liberally to crops. Yet what is grown is destined to become the food that we eat. Now doesn’t that seem counterintuitive?

Left, one of Joshua Greene’s calves. Next page, Mr. Greene’s daughter having a moment with lamb. Photos by Natalie Campen. Natalie Campen ‘14 is majoring in Biology and minoring in Environmental Studies at Swarthmore College.





Here I am, living the life that people have been living for thousands of years.” Joshua Greene waved us onto his farm in jeans and a sweater. His hat and beard hiding most of his face but his friendly eyes and cheerful smile told us from the start that we had come to a place of expansive joy and endless fruit. Walking into the Greene-Kitchen farm we are immediately welcomed as a part of the family, brought into the house to meet his kids and their cats, and his wife asks if we would be willing to stay for lunch as she has already started cooking. As we venture outside with three of his five children, we are able to recognize the vast land he has, and see the barns, treehouses, greenhouses and tools. Fields that lie fallow or in calm use stretch for sixty-eight acres. “We are grass farmers” Greene tells his kids when they ask. The cows will graze the fallow fields so that they can plant more grass, expanding the life of the farm be-


yond what had been overgrown in years past. As the Kitchen family farmed the land for the last 90 years the children began to grow up, parents grew old and tired, selling the farm on auction to people who would preserve it as cultivated land. The elderly couple still lives on a cottage on the farm, never too far from the plants and animals. They bequeathed the larger farm house, barn, and land to the Greene family and so the farm received its name. Joshua Greene did not grow up farming but said “I always had it in my blood.” His grandfather had a farm in South Carolina and as Greene started living on his own, his friend inherited a plot of land that they couldn’t let go unused. Greene learned to farm on that small plot and his extensive book collection reveals his self-educated agriculture has many influences, including the works of God. As he lives his life in dedica-

tion to cultivating the fruit of the earth, he views this as serving God is the truest way a man can. He recognizes that this might be different from the way most new farmers come to farming today, but the guidance he has received allow him to focus all his energy on his family and their Good Work as they provide food, good spirits, and education to the small town. A focus on religion might not work for everyone, and that does not limit his acceptance of all members of his community. Standing back from judgment Greene focuses on the Lord’s creation and His blessing of life and land as something to share. Farming is a value needed in the world, needed to feed communities and learn lessons of hard work and rewards of the earth, something Greene teaches his kids and others. As a school teacher many of his students’ families wish to participate in his CSA, receiving vegetables and eggs each week in the summer, but one family who had wanted to support this, could not afford to do so. In exchange for the vegetables instead, the student worked on the farm with the produce as his payment to his family. It seems more like the student received both vegetables and a les-

son in agricultural compassion, as Greene embodies this in all his work, but he seemed to think it a fair trade none the less. Greene’s farming practice focuses on what most allows the land to thrive naturally. Following the lead of innovative organic farmer Elliot Coleman, Greene has learned from Coleman’s books about practices he can adopt to make the most out of his land. Chickens live in the greenhouse when it is cold, and their droppings fertilize the soil that will be planted in the spring. Fallow fields are naturally overgrown so nutrients go back into the soil and cows have ample grazing possibilities. Each animal on the farm was named by his children, who have come to love and understand the hard work that goes into raising them. The good treatment of land and animals that comes naturally to this family encourages people in his community and beyond to realize the benefits that come with supporting agriculture that allows the people and the earth to thrive. Emma Sipperly ‘14 is majoring in Economics and minoring in Environmental Studies and Philosophy at Swarthmore College. 14


By Taylor Tai

Students keeping bees at Swarthmore College. Photo By Allison Kaziol ‘15 a Soc/An major and Environmental Studies minor at Swarthmore College. 15


created the beekeeping course at Swarthmore College because I wanted to participate in something that bridged biology and environmental work. I was concerned about the rapid decline in honey bee populations because pollinators are so integral to our food production system. Student response to this class was really enthusiastic because it gave us an opportunity to work directly with the animals rather than study them from a strictly academic perspective. Throughout the semester, we have become more informed about both honey bee and other pollinator needs, and have learned skills for keeping bees independently in the future. My hope is that having bees on campus will facilitate an appreciation of their ecological importance, and possibly spark student interest in bee health and behavior research. Taylor Tai ‘15 is a Biology major at Swarthmore College.


FROM FARM TO CITY By Emma Sipperly


Sometimes I wish we weren’t so busy,” Glenn Brendle told me. He had just been interrupted by the chef at Vetri inquiring about the availability of Kafir Lime Leaves for a new soup at the restaurant. Brendle had been explaining that coordinating orders and deliveries of produce to restaurants is a logistical nightmare. Father and son laughed in agreement, while their family of workers nodded along. Glenn Brendle grew up on a farm in Amish Country and now runs Green Meadow Farm in Gap, Pennsylvania. In the middle of South Mount Vernon Road the land is surrounded by Amish and Mennonite farms and communities. This area is known for its agriculture based history, which was founded on its rich soil. Sediments from oceans and rivers flowed over limestone that was once a coral reef to create a finger of some of the richest soil in the world, and the top quality soil in the United States. The seven feet of topsoil makes farming in this

area among the best in the country, which was what brought settlers here in the first place. In 1981 Glenn Brendle had been helping Amish farmers bring goods to the Reading Terminal Market for years, but he began to realize something peculiar about the transactions they had. Chefs from restaurants all over the city would spend their time in the market and buy a few goods for specials, but were unable to buy bulk produce because they could not carry it all from the market to their restaurant. Brendle realized that perhaps it would be more efficient to just bring the produce right to the restaurants. For farmers, time is precious—spending multiple days a week at market trying to sell goods means having to hire people to tend to the crops during the business days. The solution came in a direct farm to restaurant business plan. Glenn would package produce and meat and deliver it straight to restaurants from Lancaster, keeping everything fresh and local.

Glenn Brendle was a pioneer, Meadow Farm thinks not. Farmand is still a pioneer, but the mar- ers should farm and cultivate the ket is at a turning point. Business best plants for innovative flavors, is booming as the demand for and restaurants should buy the fresh food rises higher than ever. best ingredients on the market so This can mean only one thing in their customers have the freshest economics—more people will en- meal. That is what The Brendle’s ter the market to fill the gaps. This aim to provide for restaurants in is something the Brendle’s em- Philadelphia and farmers in Lanbrace. A focus on the best prod- caster County. uct means welcoming competiIn 1999 Philadelphia recogtion and ensuring that consumers nized that what Brendle was doing are getting the best crop the area could be done on a much larger can produce. Doing this and be- scale. The Chef at the White Dog ing inventive in your crop means Café had been receiving produce finding the balance between hav- deliveries from Green Meadow ing a large Farm for The middle man from stock of exsome years, farmers to the people cellent selland when ing crops, they starthas always been a proper mared a Chapforgotten link. keting for ter of the the old and the new, and delicate Chef ’s Collaboration in Philadeltaste for what flavors will be need- phia to connect farmers to chefs, ed and on trend. This is a balance Glenn was the first farmer in the that must come from years of region to be a part of the connecexperience, and Green Meadow tion. Farm remains at the top of this “He made me better at my food chain. job” Ann Karlen said, the current The middle man from farmers and first executive director of Fair to the people has always been a Food. He was the foremost conforgotten link. Are farmers meant nection between the agriculture to do their own marketing? Spend in the area and the chefs looking all their time in market instead to cook with fresh vegetables, and of on the farm? Should restau- aided in the development in Fair rants be reaching out to them for Food Philadelphia. their farm to table stamp? Green “He was one of the few farm-





ers who had a really sophisticated method of selling to restaurants,� said Karlen. She learned from his methods and ideas of how to connect with farmers, how to support them and how to help them market and sell their produce. Brendle now continues to supply to Fair Food, as they continue to be the premiere high quality local food distributors in Philadelphia. Brendle’s operation now packages his own and some other farmers’ produce on Wednesdays and brings it into the city on Thursdays to individual restaurants with completed orders of fresh produce and some meat. This means that restaurants get the highest quality, fresh, ingredients. Further that Brendle and the Amish farmers he works with, could spend most of their days working on the farm and only one a week traveling into the city to

deliver produce. The relationships were built with chefs, who have a very close-knit community in Philadelphia. Brendle says word of mouth spread quickly, and has begun booming over the last few years. It took a lot of energy in the beginning to convince people to buy from them, but as they tried the ingredients he had, they began to trust his farming expertise. Brendle uses greenhouses year round to grow micro and salad greens which are sold to restaurants. Only restaurants. Green Meadow Farm is particularly successful since they have found a way to farm year round. This is not necessarily the easiest task, or economically feasible, when there is snow on the ground and freezing temperatures for four months out of the year, producing only a few greenhouses worth of goods cannot cover the costs of heating

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the greenhouses and the fuel it takes to bring vegetables to market. Brendle has found an innovative may to decrease these costs and his environmental footprint: a new form of biodiesel. It is no secret that brindle had created a monopoly for his farm. His costs are much lower so his operation can thus produce much more and sell for much less. Glenn has been called Mr. Nature and had many articles written on his practice of using restaurant waste to fuel is farm. This occurs directly: he picks up fryer oil from the restaurants he supplies with veggies, for free, and runs his entire operation on it. Three delivery trucks, his personal car, the heat of the green house and the tractors that work the fields. But it does not end here. The spent mash (grain) left over from Iron Hill Brewery’s brewing is used in

the soil to feed the steer, and coffee grinds from cafés are used to help the compost turn over faster. “It’s gotten crazy in the last five years, but that’s all Ian,” said Glenn, referring to the drastic increase in business which occurred when his son Ian began to take the reigns on most of the farm. Glenn suffered a temporarily debilitating car accident, but he notes this as a time that allowed Ian to realize his and the farm’s potential “Our goal is to produce the best ingredients that chefs can get their hands on.” Said Ian Brendle, “We don’t want people to buy from us to support local farmers, we want them to buy from us because we have the best product” Micro Greens are harvested and planted every week, mesclun greens are freshest anyone can get their hands on, and the acres of peppers, artichokes, and onions 20

will be served at the best restaurants in Philadelphia. “The meat is incredibly high quality because our cows do whatever they want, and eat from the forest and the fields,” said Alex, describing the animals on the farm. The steer are truly free range, as are the chickens—who have a coop and fenced in area for them identify as their home, but that they can escape from. Max, the happiest a Jack Russell terrier could be, gets to run around with sticks twice his size and bothers the chickens just enough for them to get proper exercise. High quality is not the only element of Green Meadow Farm’s produce that sets it apart. The Brendle’s innovative crops bring fresh ideas to standard dishes. They are the only farm in the area with citrus leaves, including Kafir lime, and a high producing cardamom plant. These are their standard irregular crops, but they try new crops each season. “We could have planted this whole green house with kale all winter and we would have sold it all,” Alex said. He surveyed the beds before him, pulling out a spinach hybrid that they had decided they were done with. This wasn’t their favorite crop, though it had sold fine as part of a mes21

clun mix. They never had excess in the green house anyway, but Alex highlighted the unpredictable trendiness of the restaurant business. “It’s a guessing game, sometimes we’ll think we have a great product, but it won’t sell, and other times we’ll be shocked by how well a new flavor will do in the restaurant industry,” said Ian humbly, but this wasn’t the whole story. Many Philly chefs have learned to trust The Brendle’s taste for new flavors and they experiment with new plants. Trombochini squash, and chantonelli onions are just a few of the crops that were started in the area by Green Meadow Farm. The ability to supply these fresh to restaurants gives Green Meadow a monopoly of sorts: chefs now come to them not only for the best produce but also so they can experiment with new flavors and offer more creativity to their menu. Their tastes have been nearly perfected over years of satisfying restaurants and their patrons with new, creative flavors as they are always working with chefs to match a very high standard of produce. Emma Sipperly ‘14 is majoring in Economics and minoring in Environmental Studies and Philosophy at Swarthmore College.

Colorful, fresh, organic, and fair trade fruits and vegetables attract customers to Farmer’s Markets. Photo By Tess Wei.

Tess Wei ‘17 studies at Swarthmore College. 22


“I met a 10-year old boy who’d just immigrated to the U.S. to live with his parents. After eight years apart, his parents were strangers.” This experience is not uncommon in migrant farmworker communities in the U.S., and these types of stories became familiar to Eleanor Pratt ’14 in her time working with the Cornell Farmworkers Program. The program, run by the Community and Regional Development Institute at Cornell University, aims to improve the lives of farmworkers by connecting them with services that are otherwise difficult for them to access. In her time working there what struck Eleanor most was the loneliness of many of the people with whom she interacted. Most farm workers in the U.S. are from Mexico (NCFW 2007-2009), and many are undocumented. Current immigration laws and deportation policies make it very difficult for these workers to work legally and they ensure that they live in constant fear of deportation 23

(Huffington Post, 2012). While the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program offers wage protection and a temporary legal route for migrant workers to be in the U.S., it puts workers in a difficult situation as they are unable to leave their employers, and are frequently subject to labor abuses (Farmworker Justice Report). The difficulty of gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. ensures that many farmworkers live apart from their families because it is too risky for them to visit home in the non-harvest season. As a result, many families and friends are separated, and children grow up not knowing one or both of their parents. The justification for harsh immigration and deportation policies is predominately that foreign workers will take American jobs, yet as recent agricultural initiatives in Georgia indicate, this is likely a false assumption. Georgia’s strict immigration policies have promoted a shortage of farm

laborers. As a solution, Governor achieved in part by improving Nathan Deal proposed hiring working conditions—decreasing probationers to do the job. This the use of pesticides to mitigate policy has been largely ineffective. the health hazards they present, Many probationers have proved to increasing on-farm diversity to be much less efficient and skilled, provide jobs in specific locations harvesting ¼ or fewer of the veg- for more of the year, and ensuring etables Latino workers harvested adequate pay and access to serin a day. To make matters worse, vices. However, a truly sustainable many have quit after a few days agricultural system is also reliant of work, complaining of the dif- on immigration policies that will ficulty and the unfair pay (Huff- give workers the rights of other laington Post, 2011). Meanwhile, borers in the U.S. and allow them NAFTA, which has flooded the to travel freely—to allow them to Mexican market with cheap high- return home, and for families to be together in ly subsidized Farmworkers are one of U.S. corn, has the U.S. withthe many invisibilities forced agriculout constant fear of losing tural workers in our food system. loved ones to from Mexico to move to the U.S. to find work, deportation. Ultimately, sustainestablishing a large, skilled, and ability is about improving the willing labor force. Many of these well-being of both humans and workers withstand treacherous the environment in the present journeys across the desert to cross and in the future. To have a truly the border, only to be treated like sustainable food system, we must criminals to do labor that most move toward ensuring both huU.S. citizens are unwilling to do. man and environmental well-beFarmworkers are one of the ing in the way food is produced as many invisibilities in our food well as for those who produce it. system. Moving toward a more sustainable and just food system requires recognizing not only how our food is produced, but also Erin Lowe ‘14 is a special major who is producing it, and ensur- in Biology and Environmental ing that it is just and sustainable Studies and a Psychology minor in both dimensions. This can be at Swarthmore College.




Swarthmore College Dining Goes Local Swarthmore Dining Goes Local

“Sustainability is always at the forefront of our mind” - Linda McDougall “Sustainability is always at the forefront of our mind” -Linda McDougall


-Dining services has down on on bottled bottled water water -Dining Services has cut cut down from from180 180--280 280cases/week cases/weekto to25 25 -This winter, the college was closed for 7 days -ThisSharples winter, the college closed for 7 days and didn’t oncewas switch to paper plates

and Sharples didn’t once switch to paper plates

-The compost program diverts 75 pounds of food perprogram day that diverts would otherwise -The waste compost 75 poundsoccupy of afood landfill waste per day that would otherwise occupy aServices landfill recycles vegetable oil waste, -Dining leading to CO2 savings equivalent to planting -Recyling 2,024 treesvegetable oil waste leads to CO2 savings equivalent to planting 2,024 trees

Above: Megan Brock ‘14 is an Economics major and Environmental Studies minor at Swarthmore College. Information for this map provided by Swarthmore Dining Services.


Right: Erin Lowe ‘14 is a special major in Biology and Environmental Studies and a Psychology minor at Swarthmore College.

Edible Plants on Swarthmore College Campus

Plant Type PLANT TYPE Plant Type Plant_Type Plant_Type Fruit Nut Other


Fruit Nut Other

ndustrial agriculture has decreased the number of farmers, increased the separation between urban and agricultural areas, and altered consumer’s conceptions of food. Until I began this project, I was unaware that we had edible plants on campus and unaware of the number of ornamentals that are also edible. I think that my blindness to the food around us is both a result of the separations and the conceptions of food that our food system promotes. By drawing attention to the edible plants on our own campus, I hope to stimulate discussion about what counts as food, the benefits and challenges of reintegrating agriculture and urban and suburban areas, and to encourage you to imagine ways that we can utilize underused urban and suburban space. 26

Philadelphia Farmers ’ Mar

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Sources: Esri, DeLo China (Hong Kong),


rket Locations

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Farmers Markets

PercentTracts below Census povery line Percent Below 0.00 - 0.09 0.10 - 0.18 0.19 - 0.29 0.30 - 0.58 0.59 - 0.94

rban centers have largely been criticized for providing inadequate access to food to their minority and impoverished communities. While this map doesn’t tell the whole story of food access in Philadelphia, it can begin the conversation on what it means to feed an entire city. Look both for areas that seem to be lacking in farmers markets and areas that seem to have a surplus of farmers markets. What do you notice about the income level in these areas? How do farmer’s markets’ locations contribute to lack of access to healthy foods in poor communities?

World Street Map

orme, HERE, USGS, Intermap, increment P Corp., NRCAN, Esri Japan, METI, Esri , Esri (Thailand), TomTom

Megan Brock ‘14 is an Economics major and Environmental Studies minor at Swarthmore College. Sources: Open Data Philly, U.S. Census 28 Bureau.





was curious about the accessiblity of grocery stores in Tompkins County by public transit. This map shows which grocery stores have a bus stop within 500 meters. In the city of Ithaca all grocery stores were within 500 meters of a bus stop. However, in the rural towns outside of Ithaca, there were fewer bus routes and fewer grocery stores. Eleanor Pratt ‘14 is a Sociology and Anthropology major and a Latin American Studies minor.


JUST A BOY By Emma Sipperly

They took us to Chester, They told us to awaken our senses Breath deep But while we did this, We crumpled our noses at the smell

I saw him About 10 No shirt, Outside his house Across from the train tracks Just beyond the fence-line

Who are we to come here And leave after 10 minutes We breathe his air We look around and quietly walk back to the bus Back to our dorms, to our lives But while we breath the air in Chester all I can think

This boy will breathe here for his whole life He will have cuts on his hands and feet From the shards of glass I step over on the train tracks Working to find proper food He was here when the plant exploded 31 days ago His brother, his mother, his father, his aunts They are this community, Loved ones, entire families, neighborhoods, Subject to the smoke in the air The toxins building Infiltrating bodies: blood and lungs But for him, this is life And life goes on 32

SERENITY HOUSE INTRODUCTIONS Swarthmore and Serenity House By Laura Rigell


hile I was taking Environmental Justice with Giovanna DiChiro in Fall 2013, I took the opportunity to join her and other students on a trip to Serenity House in North Philadelphia. This trip was the beginning of what would become a fruitful, sustained relationship. Serenity House is a community center and healing ministry, facilitated by a resident woman, O, in partnership with Arch Street United Methodist Church. Located in a marginalized neighborhood, Serenity House provides a retreat where community members can meet in discussion groups for retreat and renewal. O became connected with Giovanna through biology professor Scott Gilbert when O took developmental biology with him. Since fall 2012, Swarthmore students have been building a relationship with O and other members of the Serenity House community. This partnership has mostly been physically based in the backyard vegetable garden. However, the work runs much deeper than that. We have been intentional about prioritizing interpersonal connections and mutual support. I truly believe, as O often says, that we are up to something greater than ourselves. This felt especially true during the food story circles that capstone students facilitated. I was honored be a part of the two circles, which challenged myself, and other Swarthmore students, to engage openly with people who come from very different experiences.


The Serenity House and the Capstone By Patrick Ammerman When our capstone group decided we wanted to create a booklet focused on “sustainable agriculture,” I immediately thought of the Serenity House. I had heard so much from other Swarthmore College students about the relationship forming between the College and this community center in North Philadelphia, and I hoped to be a part of it. I also thought about how important it would be to include a stories about “food justice” in our booklet. During the semester, our class had discussed Julian Aygeman’s idea of promoting a “just sustainability,” or a future committed to both the principles of sustainability and social justice. Food justice attempts to do just that – it is an approach to sustainability that challenges the prevalence of “food deserts” in low-income and minority communities and it “grows power” by creating networks of community gardens and farmers’ markets providing healthy, locally grown food and thereby caring for the people and caring for the land. To learn more about the lives and concerns of the residents of North Philadelphia, Kathryn and I decided to organize two story circles with members of the Serenity House community, as well as with Swarthmore students and alums. The stories we heard communicated so much profundity through the simple prompts we gave: What are the foods or dishes that are important in your life? What are the sticks, rocks, or debris that you need to remove, or till, before you personally have the capacity to grow and thrive? By sharing these stories with others in the circle we were instantly able to see connections that bound us together. We were also able to understand more clearly the problems of distribution and accessibility inherent in our food system. We hope that you will also be able to draw connections to issues of sustainability and food justice as you read through these stories. In our few trips to the Serenity House, I have had the joy of experiencing food justice in action. The tireless work of community members like O, Lala, Wilhemina and many others shows clearly how committed they are to healing the social wounds wrought by injustice and to re-imagining how to nourish themselves and their community. 34

Transformation through Storytelling By Kathryn Wu


obert Cox writes, “Our language powerfully shapes or mediates our experiences—what is selected for notice, what is deflected from notice, and therefore how we perceive our world (Cox 2013: 61).” That is, language provides the frame through which we see and interpret reality. Our perceptions of reality, in turn, have profound implications on how we act and what we believe is possible. When people’s voices are not heard, they are rendered invisible by our society. This is true of many of the residents who come to Serenity House, especially the men. They are, according to O, “forgotten, violated, and alive”. O believes that the structures that perpetuate invisibility “don’t give us the language to really talk about changing them. They give us the language to maintain it, but not to transform it.” Striving for change, therefore, requires that we actively and intentionally use language to re-shape and re-constitute our reality. Storytelling in particular is a powerful means of using language to shift power, to empower those who have been have been silenced. As O says, “to value people’s stories is healing. And transformative. And it interrupts the power dynamics of people who are disposable. No, these stories are not disposable; they are necessary for life.” And thus, Swarthmore students and residents of North Philadelphia gathered in the living room of Serenity House to tell stories and to listen. Some people shared about family traditions and discovering their culture through food. Others shared about gender dynamics within the kitchen--of women cooking but not eating, and a grandfather learning to cook at age 94. When asked to identify sticks and weeds in their life or in society that need to be removed before growth can occur, people named alcohol, secrecy, barriers between people, and skewed perceptions about scarcity. In the next few pages are excerpts from some of the stories that were told. Thank you for listening.


Serenity House community members at a dinner gathering. Photo by Giovanna Di Chiro.

Laura Rigell ‘15 is a Political Science major. Patrick Ammerman ‘14 is a Biology major and English and Environmental Studies double minor. Kathryn Wu ‘14 is a Biology major and Environmental Studies minor. They all attend Swarthmore College. Giovanna Di Chiro is the Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore College.



I want to identify that when the men’s group started, it started ...from being faithful. And I knew that a part of what I wanted to do was provide healthy food for the men. Because I knew that part of the food that men were eating was junk! Crap. Like crap. Like crap. Crap. Neomosha: “So was it crappy?” [laughter] “It was. Oh man! So I knew what they were eating out there. And even when it was healthy, it was crap. I wanted to actually align with the (probably politically incorrect) archetype--but I still wanted to align with the archetype--of the feminine who feeds the masculine. I wanted to do that. I wanted to do that. It felt somewhat strange because the part of me that’s lesbian was like, ‘I’m not feeding no men, are you serious? I’m not feeding them! That’s politically incorrect! No!’ And I could feel the lesbian in me going, ‘No, we’re not going there. You’re being a traitor!’ But my heart...the heart is the first functioning organ in the embryo. My heart was like, ‘no.’ You have to feed the men in the same way you have given so much time to women. You have to give it to men. It’s like little brother, right? ‘How about me? Me? Me?’ So I called Lala in and I said, ‘Lala, help me do this.’ And that was the women in the kitchen together. We were moving, making things happen, and then the men would show up...late, like 45 minutes late, but they would show up. And they would bring bread, and they would have conversation, and my heart was made whole. My heart was made whole. The men sit there and they eat, and they have conversation, and I know at least once a month, they have had healthy greens, healthy vegetables, and organic chicken. And that’s food... and transformation. Transformation of my heart, transformation of my political resistance, and transformation of possibility.”

O is a Love activist and community organizer at Serenity House. 37

O (sitting on floor) and members of the Serenity House Men’s group during a story-circle. Photo by Giovanna Di Chiro.



By Myron Reddy

From my perspective the regrowth and what I’m looking at [is] in my own human anatomy. What I seemed to notice myself is: I don’t seem to function well without a good diet. You know what I mean? I’m a drinker, I drink alcohol, and I tend to make a whole lot of bad decisions when I’m drinking... I’m just being honest with myself. And for me to try to get any sort of regrowth, I have to clense myself basically so I have to, what do you call that when you….detox... to get back to my good thoughts and my good way of thinking. So my detox starts within my body, before anything else takes part in my life. If I’m not getting the right nourishment here inside of me, then nothing comes out and I don’t get to even get to the dirt. In a way what I’m trying to the group is, until I detox myself, I can’t function outside by body doesn’t function without detoxing myself. That’s one of the things I’m saying personally for my. It’s kind of touchy but I’ve never really said it in the open…it’s kind of crazy.” O: “It’s not crazy Myron, it’s actually brilliant.”

Myron Reddy is a community member at the Serenity House. 39


My mom, is from Korea, my dad is from Nicaragua and they met in Germany, and they both love to cook.

I come from a mixed race, mixed cultural background so meals at my house were already pretty interesting. When I tell people what we ate in our house it’s always a plate of platanos and a plate of bulgogi and also german brunches on sunday mornings. Food was also always a way of inviting other people into our home and for me it’s always been an important way of sharing with other people where I come from and….I was thinking as everyone was talking... I have trouble trusting people who I can’t cook with or who don’t seek out opportunities to eat with me. I really have a sense of distrust for that because food was such an important part of sharing with people in my home and outside of my home. There was this one moment during college when my parents came down to Philadelphia: we invited all of my friends and it was just really important for me….for everybody to come and and have those platanos and that bulgogi and to eat all of that in one setting with me and to get to know my parents and who they were and it’s just all part of your heritage. I’ve always just viewed the actual meal together with someone to get to know someone and what do they bring to the table—literally.”

Sascha Murillo volunteers at the Serenity House. 40

TABLECLOTHS By Neomosha Nelson

I think my story focuses on the presentation of food on a certain level and how important that was.

When I was growing up—I grew up in a small town in Texas—and one of the things we always had to have a tablecloth. It was considered absolutely crude to not have a tablecloth on the table. And we also had to have food served from proper bowls and things -- it wasn’t that it was fancy or anything like that, but it was considered just vulgar to—as we called it—eat from the pots. And my grandmother would make sure that after all this food was cooked it was all put in different bowls and serving plates and all that kind of stuff. And we had to go through the ritual of passing the food around, and we had to pray over the food before we ate and all that kind of thing. And, frankly I didn’t know that people didn’t always use tablecloths until I went away to college. And that was an took me a few minutes to adjust from it, being a small town girl from Sherman Texas, because I do think it was crude. Now I don’t know if everybody in my hometown did that but that was a very common practice in my family and in my community. And it really, as I got older, now I have a daughter, when she was young I made it a point to do things like that because I wanted her to have certain social graces. And one of the things I feel I aquired from somewhat strict practice of that kind of a ritual was a certain amount of social grace. And I wanted her to understand that people actually put the tablecloths on the table, that you set the table before you had dinner, that you didn’t grow up eating off of paper plates and using plastic forks...That that was just not the proper way to dine. 41

Now it’s a different story, she’ll be 16 in May and it’s like: “you’re on your own kid.” But when she was little I really did insist on that kind of thing. And it’s interesting now that she is sort of on her own because I don’t do the ‘put the food in the serving bowls’ and stuff anymore. I did when I was little, but now it’s like: you eat off the stove, you eat out of the pots, the things I wasn’t supposed to do as a child. But it’s that she is much more autonomous, her food has to look nice for her to be motivated to eat it. So I don’t fix her plate, but she will design her plate. And she’ know...she’ll create a sunflower’s like this, that, or the other. And she’ll show it to me, and she’ll pick up a tray and she’ll have a placemat on the tray...and of course she’ll have a placemat on the tray. Because you can’t just have an aluminum tray, that’s like having a bare table.”

A set table. Photo from:

Neomosha Nelson is a community member at the Serenity House.



By Lekey Leidecker

“I think food is very powerful in general. It can...take on a lot of meaning for a community or a family or some combination of those things. But it can also be very personal and have very individual meanings, and I guess that’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about. I guess maybe some of you may know this already, but some of you probably don’t. So my dad is Tibetan, and my mom is from Kentucky, and she’s white. I grew up in Kentucky [where] there are, like, no other Tibetans. My parents met in college, and so the whole time I was growing up, I was pretty much raised as what I thought of, at the time, as typically—which I guess to me meant being American. I knew my family did eat different food sometimes, but it wasn’t like we just ate Tibetan food. We ate all kinds of stuff cause my mom is a really awesome cook and can cook a lot of things, and the people that our family hung out with liked to try out different food and different things. So I never thought of that as because of having different cultures in my background. But so, when I was 16, I went to India and was there for 2 months over the summer. I was at summer camp for Tibetan youths, which was a group of people I never encountered before—which is very strange because I was one. And I really, for the first time, realized that ... I’m Tibetan, and that’s important. It’s not just some fact that I acknowledge and then kind of go on with my life. It’s part of everything about me. 43

That realization happened when I was in India, but I think the connection that I had to being Tibetan before that was through food mostly. Specifically through these dumplings that you a big group because they take a lot of labor. You have to...make little circles of dough and put stuff inside and then you fold them. It was just like all that stuff I just knew how to do...that, retrospectively, made me realize that things were different about me [compared to] most of the people I grew up around. That I’d had those things all along. So going to India really made me begin to celebrate that and be conscious about it, but I think I really had food as a way of connecting before I even had the opportunity to own that part of myself.

Tibetan dumplings. Image from

Lekey Liedecker ‘16 is an Education and Sociology and Anthropology special major at Swarthmore College.


DENIS BOUDREAU A Compilation of Poems by Emma Sipperly


Lost She told me she was supposed to fall in love every day She told me she thought she was doing it What I fell in love with first was your smile, Then your eyes, even though you told me they were boring, And your hands, they way they created lullabies, They way they could rock me to sleep And so together we looked for more To love something new each day. The way a pen could slide across a page The way the ink sets in The way words can change the world The way your hair might fall all jumbled and messy We fell in love with the different, the new With working to get there How we were both lost and happy How the world spun us so precisely Into each place we would be How every tick led me somewhere else How every tock could fly by if I didn’t pay attention How easy it was to lose focus, and look past something I fell in love with taking a closer look We fell in love with our life together, Working and working and working The refinery was dangerous but the best I could do And when we tried to build a family And never being able to We lived for the fight And when the refinery proved to us Just how dangerous it could be 46

I fell in love with something new I fell in love with the sight of fire Of flames and smoke The last sight I ever had, but I survived And we fell in love with time, the fact that we still had some left. Pink Mist That’s what they call the air After an explosion What they call the bodies Which is really the same The blood dust filling the atmosphere Charred flesh Falling slowly That’s what their bodies were reduced to Pink dust that can be swept away Toxic waste But it’s the aroma that lingers The charred flesh Fading slowly Sometimes they’ll find a toe A nose maybe Perfectly intact Sometimes that’s all they find Within hundreds of feet from the explosion Sometimes there is nothing Nothing but pink mist.


On Vision I can smell so much now My favorite Is an old barn I think because it reminds me of when I was a kid They all smell the same Start off like fresh wood Then a mixture of rain and rust Smells like home, feels like home No matter where I am. I had never noticed it before Never took the time to look for a scent when I could just look But now, I can almost tell you What time of day it is, Just by smell The morning is so clear, Clean dew Before the trucks drive through Before the contamination of the road Before the day begins And I can smell your coffee, Your perfume, The perfume of a woman There has never been anything like it.

Emma Sipperly ‘14 is majoring in Economics and minoring in Environmental Studies and Philosophy at Swarthmore College. 48



ood. Such a simple word, yet food is one of the – if not the – most important and complex parts of life. It nourishes us, sustains us, and often defines us. Are you vegan? Kosher? Only eat organic? A foodie? What we eat says as much or more about us than what we choose to study or do for a living. Throughout my life, I have had many food identities. I was a vegetarian for thirteen years. Thanks to my youth in the South, my comfort foods include grits and fried catfish. My years in Bay Area left me with a passion for fish tacos and avocados. Seattle introduced me to how salmon is supposed to look and taste. And my preferences for a cup of coffee will never be the same after living in Melbourne, Australia. But it is not just what we eat that defines us; it is our relationship with food: how we prepare it, how we eat it, our feelings about it.   I was raised by a nutritionist who read cookbooks like novels


and a jet-setting engineer who never returned from a work trip without a new international food to try. My Christmas stocking was stuffed with unusual fruit rather than toys. My mom more frequently greets me with “What did you have for lunch?” than “How are you?” As soon as a meal ends, planning for the next meal begins. Before the Food Network and Anthony Bourdain made it cool, food was a passion for my family, almost an obsession, and it was a production. There were and still are few simple meals. My mother worked full time and planned meals for an entire week each Sunday. She was a whiz with the crockpot and prepping ahead. Despite getting home from work after 5pm, she always pulled together full course, multiple dish affairs, and we were required to be seated at the table at 6pm sharp. Meals were never in front of the TV; they were a time to talk and connect. Being raised like this is a tough

act to follow. When my husband and I were dating, a last minute request for me to cook dinner one night caused me considerable panic. I was unprepared, and it was late. Seeing me frantically open cookbooks and scour the cabinet, he clarified that he was simply asking me to boil frozen ravioli and warm store-bought pasta sauce. For me, this was not what “cooking dinner” meant. I can’t remember my mom serving frozen ravioli and store-bought sauce, and if she did, she would disguise it by adding extra garlic and fresh spinach. I honestly and naïvely didn’t know another way to cook. As we think about sustainability and addressing climate change, the typical response is to just change our technologies and to consider small adjustments to our behavior. We rarely examine our culture and our societal norms, functions, routines and expectations. Replacing showerheads and taking shorter showers are important steps, but perhaps we also have to start asking ourselves why showering daily is so common and if it is necessary; it certainly hasn’t always been the common practice. We can build more efficient buildings, but we need to also consider why a business suit

in 90-degree weather is considered appropriate work attire. When we think about sustainable food, we often focus on the supply side of the equation – our agricultural practices, labor practices, food miles, preservation of heirloom seeds, and access to healthy and fresh produce. While these are vital considerations, the demand side–our culture and every day routines and practices regarding food–also needs careful examination. Fast, take out, to go, throw-away items dominate our consumption. We distractedly eat these items alone at our desks while responding to emails, on our couches watching television, or even while driving our cars. When we consume this way, we are rarely present with our meal or fully conscious of what we are putting into our bodies. We place an emphasis on convenience over personal, social and environmental health, expanding our waistlines and our landfills. A truly sustainable food system may require a significant paradigm shift not only in production but also in consumption. There are existing movements, such the Slow Food movement, which try to address this. We cannot easily reduce the busyness of our modern lives or significantly change 50

the fact that Americans work longer hours now than they did thirty years ago. I am in no way saying we should return to a time when most women stayed home and had time to prepare family meals. And I do not expect us all to have the passion, interest and dedication to home cooking that my mom did. However, my parents’ enthusiasm for food and an appreciation for a shared family meal served at the table are reminders to me that there are other ways of eating. When we can, we all need to slow down and think not only about how the food we are eating was produced but also how we are eating period. We need to find more time to create food and, in that act of construction, create full, meaningful – sustainable even – lives in which the food we eat is a reflection of the lives we choose rather than the lives we can grab in the check-out line. It won’t solve all of the challenges regarding the sustainability of our food systems, but it is probably the most important step to begin to address our culture and the demand side of the food equation.


Laura Cacho is the sustainability director of Swarthmore College.

when most women stayed home and had time to prepare family meals. And I do not expect us all to have the passion, interest and dedication to home cooking that my mom did. However, my parents’ enthusiasm for food and an appreciation for a shared family meal served at the table are reminders to me that there are other ways of eating. When we can, we all need to slow down and think not only about how the food we are eating was produced but also how we are eating period. We need to find more time to create food and, in that act of construction, create full, meaningful – sustainable even – lives in which the food we eat is a reflection of the lives we choose rather than the lives we can grab in the check-out line. It won’t solve all of the challenges regarding the sustainability of our food systems, but it is probably the most important step to begin to address our culture and the demand side of the food equation.

Photo by Tess Wei ‘17


Resources Agyeman, Julian. Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning and Practice (London: Zed Books, 2013). Alkon, Alkon & J Agyeman eds., Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2011). Alteri, Miguel. 2004 Linking ecologists and traditional farmers in the search for sustainable agriculture. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. 2(1):35-42. Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue. Agrarian Studies Conference. (Yale University, 2013) Gottlieb, Robert and Joshi, Anupama. Food Justice (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2010). Klindienst, Patricia, “The Urban Gardens of Nuestras Raices”. In The Earth Knows My Name (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006). Kremen, Claire and Iles, Alstair and Bacon, C. 2010. Diversified Farming Systems: An Agroecological, Systems-based Alternative to Modern Industrial Agriculture. Ecology and Society 17(4):44. Mares, Teresa and Peña, Devon. “Environmental and Food Justice: Toward Local, Slow, and Deep Food Systems”. In Cultivating Food Justice, Alkon, Alison Hope and Agyeman, Julian (MIT Press, 2011). Pollan, Michael, Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural HIstory of Four Meals. (New York: Penguin Press, 2006). Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi, Food Justice (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2010). Shiva, Vandana. Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2008). 53

Closing Remarks

This collection of stories has prompted us to reflect on the complexity of the term, “sustainability.� Our conversations on food and sustainability have led to a variety of places - which we call here the Earth, Farm, and Table. As you continue to meditate on these issues, we encourage you to consider the many facets of the food system, so that together we can re-imagine a future in which high quality, fresh, and safe food can exist for everyone. We are convinced that a thriving food culture depends equally on food justice, ecologically-sound agriculture practices, and strong communities. Emma Sipperly, Erin Lowe, Kathryn Wu, Megan Brock, Natalie Campen, and Patrick Ammerman



Growing Power: Stories of Food from Farm to Table  

Environmental Studies Capstone 2014 Journal Volume 1

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