Have you ever stopped to think about where your food is coming from? It’s a really big question, and in the US, a particularly hard one to answer. In addition to the academic education that I have received, I have also spent time abroad learning in a very different environment. These experiences have opened my eyes in a way that learning in a classroom never could. It has transformed my understanding of where our food really comes from.Have you ever stopped to think about where your food is coming from? Click To Tweet
Educational Traveling: The WWOOF Experience
After I graduated from college, I decided to embark on an 8 week post-grad trip to Ireland. I had heard about this program called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which links volunteers with organic farms and growers in various countries across the world. I thought it might bring about an entirely different perspective to food production and nutrition that I wasn’t going to get by sitting in a classroom. During the course of the 8 weeks that I was there, I got closer to nature and food production than ever before. I had zero experience gardening, and had never learned just how intensive food production really is. That changed the second I stepped onto Gleann Gabhra Farm.
Run by The Gryson Family, there was never a dull moment. My hosts included The Gryson’s and their 4 kids, 2 dogs, a bunny rabbit, a barn full of goats, chickens, two pigs, and a horse. Every morning, I would walk out to the barn where the chickens roamed freely among the other animals and giant stacks of hay bales. It was Easter morning every day, going in hunt of the golden egg. And on the rare occasion that I did find one, I had the luxury of cooking it for breakfast.
And the goats? They produce some of the best milk I have ever tasted. It sounds like an easy job, but milking a goat is much more difficult than you might imagine. It takes skill and technique to be able to expel the milk properly. The Gryson’s collect the goats milk into a metal bucket, pour it directly into glass jars, and put it in the fridge for storage. 1 – 2 – 3. It was as fresh and straight from the source as you can get.Milking a goat is much more difficult than you might imagine Click To Tweet
However, the trip was not all fun and games. I also learned a very valuable lesson in manual labor. The hardest task that I was responsible for included threshing and sowing an entire field worth of wheat. By hand. Thanks to technology, this is done mechanically on a very large scale. I had the honor of experiencing what it took for all of this to be done manually. It took hours upon hours of work, and a lot of willpower. I saw the calluses on my hands as a homage to those who dedicate their life to producing food to help feed a country. There were some afternoons when I just wanted to quit. But there was no giving up.
The Epitome of Local Food
All of the food the Gryson’s produce stays right on their property. They grow storage crops such as onions and potatoes. When stored properly, these crops can last almost an entire year. They also bake their own yeast bread from scratch once or twice a week. This drastically reduces the amount of foods that they need to buy from the grocery store. Additionally, they produce very little waste for six people, as most of the food scraps are either composted on site, or fed to the pigs.
In the two months that I spent WWOOFing, I learned as much about myself and food production as I had during four years of college. All of these experiences taught me where real food comes from, and just how much work goes into transforming a seed into the final product. Returning to the US, I was struck by just how disconnected we are from our food production.
A New Perspective on Food Production in the US
My time abroad in Ireland not only taught me to appreciate the amount of work that goes into food production, but it made me take a second look at the way the majority of food is produced here in the US. Technological innovation and government policies have resulted in the development of a food system that emphasizes quantity over quality. This has created a great divide between the individuals who are producing the food, and those who are eating it. So next time you sit down to a meal, see if you can imagine where the different items on your plate might have come from. Think about how many steps each item has taken before it got to your plate. From the producer, to the warehouse, to the grocery store, to your refrigerator. My experience in Ireland made me do the same, and has prompted me to try and find ways to get closer to my food and where it’s coming from.From the producer, to the warehouse, to the grocery store, to your refrigerator Click To Tweet
Stay tuned for a future article on the complex industrial agriculture system in the US, and how you might be able to get a little closer to your food.
If you’re interested in learning more about the program I participated in, check out WWOOF’s website where you can find links to the national website for each country that participates in the program. You can even do it in the US too! If you’re looking to get in touch with food on a whole new level, this is a great way to do it.