Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Mission? Bringing in Speakers Like Ben Hewitt

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

People sometimes ask:  What is Resilient Northern Habitats?  What do you guys do?

Well, there is a great opportunity to engage both of those questions.

Farm Table Restaurant in Amery, WI,  is hosting a special event on November 10th, a Thursday night.  We are closing the restaurant and hosting a dinner for a special guest.

Vermont author, homesteader and all around sustainability advocate Ben Hewitt is coming to Amery!  Ben is the author of six books, including The Nourishing Homestead, The Town that Food Saved, Home Grown and Saved.  Check these books out.

Ben has been at the center of a number of issues and movements that have been percolating in the Vermont region over the last couple of decades:  Namely, how do we move the needle on better food, a more sustainable lifestyle and a resilient local foodshed as we hurtle forward on this planet toward 10 million people by 2025?

The night begins at 5:30 with appetizers and cocktail hour, followed by a locally sourced dinner by Farm Table Chef Dean Parent, Ben’s remarks and then questions and discussion involving guests.  Many local farmers and others engaged in food production, advocacy and sustainability will be there.

Tickets are still available at Eventbrite.   This is a special evening of celebrating food, hard work and thoughtfulness as individuals who care about the direction of our communities, our food system and the entire planet.

Please join us at Farm Table on Thursday, November 10th.  It will be fun, delicious and inspiring.  And, you will see first hand what it is we care about at RNH and what kind of people are drawn to this work.

Seeking Farmer-in-Residence at Hungry Turtle Farm

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Farmer-in-Residence at Hungry Turtle Farm


To produce high quality, nutrient-dense vegetables and meat, using the fields and facilities at Hungry Turtle Farm;
To research and provide insight on innovative farming techniques/strategies, such things as season-extension, animal pasturing, crop rotations, tools, tractoring and/or other;
To collaborate and build relationships amongst area organic farmers, Farm Table Restaurant, staff at Hungry Turtle Food Hub and the larger Amery community.

Major Responsibilities:

To produce high quality, nutrient-dense vegetables and meat, using the fields and facilities at Hungry Turtle Farm.  (70%)

Create a field plan for annual plants and animal rotations (chicken and pork) at Hungry Turtle Farm that dovetails with the needs at Farm Table Restaurant and Hungry Turtle Farmer’s Coop.
Purchase seeds and supplies from reliable sources according to an approved plan and budget.
Execute season-long plan, adjusting as needed, collaborating with Hungry Turtle team and communicating progress and future availability of crops.
Maintain an orderly flow of receipts, billings and other paperwork so that a full accounting of the farm business can be completed.
Employ help as needed to execute plan, managing and training the staff in a way that promotes effectiveness, understanding and morale.

To research and provide insight on innovative farming techniques, including season-extension, animal pasturing, crop rotations, tools, tractoring and more;.  (10%)

Develop a plan that pushes the envelope in particular areas of sustainable, whole-farm production — integrating animals, crops and ecology.
Identify specific areas of emphasis, research and learning (i.e., season-extension, companion planting, specific tools, etc.) by developing a proposal and budget for areas of emphasis.
Evaluate the overall results of these efforts and communicate findings to the general public at season’s end.

To collaborate and build relationships amongst area organic farmers, Farm Table Restaurant and the entire staff at Hungry Turtle Food Hub.  (10%)

Attend regular meetings/planning sessions with Farm Table Chefs and Hungry Turtle Farmer’s Coop to coordinate production and build understanding.
Visit other area farms to understand their specialties, talents and farm culture with an eye toward possible collaboration or sharing of equipment and labor resources.
Build better understanding of farming within Hungry Turtle Food Hub and Amery Community by presenting classes or workshops.

Conditions of Satisfaction

Production of vegetables and meat at Hungry Turtle Farm is robust, wholesome and one-of-a-kind.

Products come in clean, sorted and professionally packed to the standards established by Hungry Turtle Food Hub.

3. Food Hub personnel are regularly surprised and amazed by the quality and quantity of product coming in off the farm — and receipts show revenues equaling 80% of established budget over the course of the season.

4.   Administration of enterprises, including paperwork that allows for a full accounting and maintenance of Organic Certification, is orderly, skillful and complete.

Meetings, collaborations and relationships with Food Hub personnel, staff and area farmers are positive, focussed on possibilities, and continue to grow and deepen throughout the season.

Research results and other narrative presentations of the farm work at Hungry Turtle Farm are disseminated, well-received and worthwhile resources in their own right.

Hungry Turtle Farm is a 63-acre farmstead along the Apple River in Polk County, Wisconsin, near Amery.  It is part of a resiliency/health/community initiative undertaken by Resilient Northern Habitats, a Wisconsin LLC.  The project has helped obtain and place families on small organic farms in Polk County, and built a Food Hub in Amery, comprised of a Farmer’s Coop, a 501(c)(3) Institute and Farm Table Restaurant.

Hungry Turtle Farm is the flagship farm property of RNH and is well-equipped for food production, including:  a germination greenhouse, a movable high-tunnel, a state-of-the-art packshed, an events barn, a commercial grade root cellar, a three-unit farmhouse, farming tools, tractors and equipment.  The farm is seeking organic certification for 2017 after five years of growing food and hay.  It is a beautiful property, situated along the Apple River with rolling fields, some woodlands, and a mix of annual fields and pasture.

The Dark Act Rears Its Ugly Head

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

With sales of organic products growing 10% a year and record interest in better nutrition and diets, the US House of Representatives has just taken a dramatic step …. against the tide of history.  On July 23rd, by 275-150, our Representatives made it illegal for a state to require food labeling of GMO ingredients.

No larger agenda, no other information is on the proposed label than:  “Contains GMO Ingredients.”   But, if Washington gets its way, those three words can never be required on a food product.  Ever.

What is so sinister and threatening that such a label needs its own Federal Law?

And, why are States Rights, by which America has always preserved autonomy and local control, being preempted for the high principle of stomping out three words?

The measure, euphemistically called the “Dark Act”, follows numerous local initiatives seeking to label GMO foods, including one involving Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, which each passed a law requiring such labeling by 2017.

Forty years into the Age of Information, where anyone with a cell phone can find answers about any product in the world, and the United States wants to ensure the public gets no clear signal when it comes to buying genetically modified food?

If the Federal Government feels compelled to control — and in this case, censor — language on a food label, you know one thing for sure:  it’s time to follow the money.

Of course, in their wisdom, the House is opening the barn door after the horses are out.  Corn grown in the United States has a 92% likelihood of being genetically modified;  soy, a very common food additive, 94%.  Unless you buy Organic, you can assume you are getting more than your daily allowance of genetically modified food.

So, what’s the big deal?

The Dark Act is a huge issue because  Americans spend so little time or effort to understand what they put in their grocery cart.  And, studies show, a simple label, three words, declaring GMO contents would likely end Genetically Modified food production in the United States.

Why?  Because people do not want to eat genetically modified foods.  Who does?

That’s why there are no GMOs in Europe.  They’re illegal.  Nor any in much of Asia.  Not wanted.  Only North America, via the United States, continues this radical and untested human experiment of splicing pig genes into a vegetable in hopes it lasts longer on a shelf or turns a different color upon ripening — side-effects be damned.

That’s a huge problem for Monsanto, Syngenta, Con-Agra and the rest of Big Farma.  People don’t want their proprietary bio-engineered food and if properly labeled, simply won’t buy it.  And so, the game is to make sure people do not understand that most food bought in grocery stores contains genetically modified ingredients designed in a laboratory.

It’s that simple.

Along with state laws that make it illegal to photograph or film Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — or even farms in some cases — the Dark Act tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how our government works and for whom.  The Public’s “right to know” has been replaced by the Corporations’ “right to own” our government and laws.


Our government is saying to the public:  The less you know about food you buy, especially how it was produced, the better off our country will be.   They not only tell us this, they pass a Federal Law to ensure it — ensuring Big Farma gets bigger, stronger and exerts more control over what Americans eat, grow and understand about food.

Like with every piece of legislation, our elected representatives’ highest purpose is to help the wealthiest clients who visit their office.  Big Farma has the dough and gets laws written — even when it means tossing aside the interests of the public.

Over and over.  That’s the sad state of American Democracy.

It is also why, in terms of what I call the Local Food Revolution, the issue is about a lot more than improving personal health or strengthening the local economy.

The best, and maybe only card Americans hold to stop this kind of government overreach and cronyism, is to take some radical, albeit uniquely domestic, actions.  When our government outlaws a centuries old product like raw milk, allows the wholesale pollution of rivers and streams and calls it farming, and when it protects industrial food producers and penalizes the small guy, it is time for the rest of us to take a stand and do something.

I suggest, rather than supporting a corporation and their products, rather than trusting the government and its regulations, rather than acquiescing to a kind of food by propaganda, smart eaters — informed citizens — need take it upon themselves to get their meat, dairy and produce direct from farms they know and trust.  And then cook it at home or go to a restaurant that does the same.

You will be happier, heartier and healthier doing so.   I guarantee it.

When government provides, time and again, dubious food information, restricts access to quality food, neglects to hold producers accountable for shoddy practices, and fails to prevent widespread food-borne disease, there really is no alternative.

Keep it safe, keep it healthy, keep it simple.   Keep it local.  Buy from a farm you know and trust.

It’s simple and profound.  And it’s hard to do.   But sourcing your food, carefully and continuously, has just become, in light of the Dark Act, a huge political statement about American Freedom.

Whether it’s being labeled that way or not.

Now Hiring: Executive Director at Hungry Turtle Institute

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Executive Director — Hungry Turtle Institute

Hungry Turtle Institute is a 501(c)(3) public charity registered in Wisconsin.  Founded originally as Hungry Turtle Farm and Learning Center in 2011, HTI’s Vision and Mission are built around small farms, diversified production, healthy ecology and great local food.  Located in Amery Food Hub in downtown Amery, Wisconsin, HTI has two storefronts, composed of an exhibition hall, offices and a full-scale teaching/production kitchen.  With two fully aligned partners in the Food Hub, Farm Table Restaurant and Hungry Turtle Farmers Coop, HTI conducts regular events, classes and symposia on a variety of topics related to agriculture, ecology and food quality/preparation.  It has an annual budget of $80K before fundraising and grants.  Long term HTI proposes to build strategic partnerships with other aligned organizations, further identify opportunities within sustainable agriculture/local food, sponsor valuable field research, and work its mission in a rural area — demonstrating how local food can benefit the economy and communities of the Midwest.

Growing a culture that values small farms, great food and a vibrant ecology.
1.  Rooted in the lands of western Wisconsin, Hungry Turtle engages farmers and the public by creating classes, events and exhibits that inform and inspire:
a.  On the importance of small farms, soil health and ecological diversity.
b.  On the connection between healthy ecology, nutrient-dense food and personal         wellness.
c. On the value of seasonal and craft cooking in pursuit of personal and community         enjoyment and well-being.
2.  To engage and connect the public with ideas, thought leaders and organizations that promote a diverse rural economy and ecology around food production.
3.  To stimulate a search for the best ecological farming techniques and technology, regionally appropriate seeds and breeds, and ways to increase the number and resilience of small farms.

Executive Director Major Responsibilities and Tasks
To implement the strategic goals and objectives of the organization.
With the chair, enable the Board to fulfill its governance function.
To give direction and leadership toward the achievement Hungry Turtle Institute’s     philosophy, mission, strategy, and its annual goals and objectives

Report to:    Board of Directors
Supervises:    Administrative Assistant, Kitchen Manager
Board Support: Supports the operation of the Board by advising and informing Board members on daily operations of the Institute. Communicates between staff and Board. Takes direction from the Board to implement the objectives and goals of the organization.
Fundraising:  Oversees fundraising planning and implementation, including identifying resource requirements, research funding sources, establishing strategies to approach funder, submitting proposals and administrating fundraising records and documentation.
Program Delivery: Oversees the design, marketing, promotion, delivery and quality of education programs and events, including identifying resource requirements. This includes the identification of instructors, pay scales as appropriate, scheduling of courses for weekend events as well as individual classes.  Coordinates educational programs with like-minded organizations to more fully engage the entire community where possible.
Financial Management: Recommends yearly budget for Board approval and prudently manages organization’s resources within those budget guidelines according to current laws and regulations.
Facilities Management: Responsible for the Hungry Turtle Institute Facilities. Oversight of the operation of the commercial kitchen space, classroom space, and Exhibit Hall. Ensures effective scheduling of the spaces, an organized, clean, appropriately supplied, well functioning facility.
Employee Management; Oversees employees and all aspects of HR — i.e., job descriptions, payroll, annual reviews, hiring and firing of staff, etc.
Community and Public Relations: Outreach and coordination with community leaders and like-minded organizations to create a network of resources to further the goals of the Institute. Public relations efforts to present a strong positive image of the efforts and goals of the Institute.
Volunteer Coordination: Maintains volunteer roster and uses volunteers where possible to manage events, and projects.

Professional Qualifications and Experience
Education:  Appropriate advanced degree or equivalent.
Experience:  Minimum five years in non-profit setting, successfully managing people, facilities,     fundraising and a budget; meeting goals and deadlines; building a unique brand.

Personal Skills and Qualities
Strong predilection to work with others, collaborate and partner to achieve common goals.
Leadership abilities/experience within groups.
High personal integrity and commitment to transparency.
Ability to foster a learning culture through positive relationships, language and insight.
Financially adept and able to work with business systems to create reports.
Knowledge of fundraising strategies and donor relations unique to nonprofit sector.
Gifted in writing and fluent while addressing groups in public.
Alignment of values with vision and mission of Hungry Turtle Institute.
Ability to work and live in a small town, rural setting.

Salary: $50 to $75K (with benefits) based on qualifications, experience, and fundraising history.
Apply  or by mail at:  110 Keller Avenue North/Amery, WI 54001
Application Deadline:  February 15th, 2015

Food for Thought #1

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Just started a new column for the Hometown Gazette.  Hope that you enjoy.

What is it about “local food”?

A lot of ink gets spilled on food these days, from reconstructing the American food pyramid to the importance of bringing Farm-to-School;  about the prevalence of farmers markets and benefits of pasture-raised meats;  from phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants to omega fatty acids and pro-biotics; about mineral content of fresh vegetables and how heritage pork is the “sacred cow” in our quest for a more authentic American cuisine.    Chefs have emerged as authors and full-blown T.V. stars.  New restaurant openings are at all-time highs.  And young people — the real heroes — are returning to farms in droves, working 100 hour weeks in rugged weather for meagre income because…. well, because they love growing food and their customers want it fresh, local and as often as possible.

To what extent the American public is conscious that a food revolution is happening is unclear.   American consumers are a fickle bunch, not known for keen abilities when it comes to smart shopping:  was it H.L. Mencken who observed — “Nobody every went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public”?

But in the Age of Information,  America’s spending habits are closely monitored, and in this case, stark indicators of the burgeoning change.  Sales of USDA organic products continue to grow at more than 10% a year, as they have since 1991, through recessions, bubbles and crashes, now over $40 billion in total — and at a time when conventional grocery sales are flat.  Whole Foods, the most vocal and visible purveyor of “value based” food products now has 1,000 stores nation-wide.   And Wal-Mart is, confoundingly, the single largest retailer of organic food in the United States.  It’s an obvious point:  If it’s doing well in the Fortune 500, organic has hit the big-time.

Include also small town America, where the shift looks different, but nonetheless sturdy and prevalent.  Almost every grocery store, no matter how tiny, has an organic food section, even if marked “Specialty Foods” or “Gourmet”.   Or displays that call out “Local” when it comes to Wisconsin honey, maple syrup, cheese — even butter and milk.   Farmers markets set up in parking lots and town centers, featuring the best seasonal products available in any store, anywhere.   And, to fully disclose my own connection to this issue, a place I own and love, Amery’s Farm Table Restaurant does a brisk business buying mostly local organic ingredients and serving them fresh to customers.

It is my thesis that America’s Food Revolution is in full-swing.  That it’s a long-term secular trend which will continue to grow, deepen and intensify, and that its driving causes and important impacts run to the core of this country’s most intractable problems:  health care, pollution, fossil fuels, habitat degradation, economic disparities, and labor equity.  There are few issues currently on America’s plate not implicated by the local food revolution if only because, by voting three times a day in choosing what to eat, the consumer has ultimate say over of a very large portion of America’s economy.  “Local” sounds innocuous, even transitive, but, if you add it all up, each place someone refers to as local, it literally means everywhere.

LaMoine, the intrepid editor of this journal, asked if I would write about the dimensions of this story, get to the heart of what’s propelling it.  I agreed.  But it’s a complicated story, with tiny, highly scientific players hard to identify, even under magnification.  And big players, like the Farm Bill, some 50,000 pages long, impossible to read in one’s lifetime.  “All the better” says LaMoine. “Make it a series.” — delivered with an editor’s sense on the primacy of content.

My qualifications to write about farming, food quality, enzymes and minerals, market trends, demographics and retailing are slim.  And so is my background in biology, ecology, history, chemistry, medicine, agronomy, animal science and horticulture.  I have an advanced degree but in the nebulous, out-of-fashion field called “teaching”.  And I have written a book, Becoming Mr. Henry, a worst-seller which makes me a good candidate for head boor.

Mind you, these are not topics that sell themselves.  Food, and especially farming, aren’t sexy, nor glamorous, nor lead the news.  In the Midwest, they are both ubiquitous and implacable: endless fields of corn and beans, the town cafe and grocery.  It’s how this country looks, a kind of drab wallpaper, and so obvious that they rarely get discussed to any depth — certainly not at the level of revolution.

So a column about intersections of food and personal health, farming and ecology, rooted in west Wisconsin, is not only unlikely, and not in demand by the reading public — as author, I am also professionally unqualified to write it.

Which, thinking it through, encapsulates everything I want to say about America’s food revolution in this first column.

Because in the end, with food, farming and personal health (less for ecology) the relevant qualifications are not professional degrees, corporate experience or having grown up on the farm (though each might be nice). The clarifying engines for understanding what is going on?  You love to eat.  You care to do it well.  You are curious about learning more.

On that score I qualify and have long experience.  I grew up one of eleven around the dinner table and, if you weren’t handy with knife and fork, nighttime prayers were garbled by growls of the stomach.  And a mother who did grow up on a farm — turkey raising — who loved to garden, snatched fresh herbs before dinner, picked wild berries on roadsides and bought peaches by the crate in summer, canning them off as winter desserts.  She ran a small restaurant called our family and did it well.

And my point is this: each has our personal history with food, our own narrative filled with fond memories, regular staples, holiday delights, exotic adventures, hair-raising trials, and, if we are lucky, eventually, arrive at that perfect table of home — the Goldilocks place of “just right”.  That story is our own and can’t be stolen by science, or experts, or corporate sloganeering.

In the end, food is intensely personal, to the point of defining a religion or cementing ethnic identity.  The adage, “you are what you eat” is an endless Buddhist koan that reverberates not only off the dinner plate and into our bodies, but also back to the source of food’s creation, our farms — and beyond, to the original Garden of Eden, our lovely planet Earth.  Food on our plates has the transformative power embodied in the ceremony of Catholic Communion;  the food revolution transforming America is about recognizing that with every delicious bite, every meal, every purchase, a person can transform their health while simultaneously creating a positive impact on our economy, our social structure, our politics and our environment.   Like the Eurcharist, in eating we transcend, and in the process, exert a little goodness on every place our food has been.

That’s a lot to chew on for now.  Another helping next month.