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59 minutes | Sep 30, 2021
September 2021 | The Oikos Vision For Tree Crops
For our episode this month, we spoke with Ken Asmus, the founder of Oikos Nursery. From 1982 till earlier this year, Oikos was one of the most important sources of rare fruit trees and other non-commercial perennial food plants. Ken recently retired from the nursery business in order to better pursue his research into food-bearing plants...
60 minutes | Aug 30, 2021
August 2021 | Urban Farming on Chicago’s South Side
For this episode, we interviewed urban farmers across Chicago, along with a mutual aid organization that stocks its sidewalk fridges with fresh produce from some of these same farms. Their work is not only meeting urgent needs, but is helping to sketch out a horizon for another kind of life, grown inside the shell of the metropolis. The history of urban farming in Chicago is the history of disinvestment and resistance to disinvestment. At the turn of the last century, much of the land on the South Side was still farm land. Over the next forty years, dense housing for European immigrant workers employed in the steel industry spread across the land, while a half million Black people migrated to Chicago fleeing racist terror in the south. White Chicago homeowners responded to the Great Migration by installing neighborhood racial covenants, and banks denied Black people mortgages and loans in certain neighborhoods in a racist practice called redlining. Once these practices were challenged by neighborhood groups and held up in court, white flight began to drain the South and West sides of infrastructure and capital. Over the next half century the city of Chicago concentrated development and investment on the Loop and the affluent north side, while neglecting the south and west sides. Years of disinvestment, mass incarceration, deindustrialization, and the foreclosure crisis led to the demolitions of thousands of homes and buildings. Much of this land was seized by the city, and today, Chicago owns approximately 10,000 vacant lots, heavily concentrated on the south and west sides. Many of these lots have sat vacant for 20 years or more, until a movement of Black and Brown farmers began to remediate and heal the land. The practice of urban farming challenges the priorities of the city’s political class, who keep awarding the Chicago Police Department more and more funding while so many residents suffer from food apartheid. Grassroots and autonomous food production not only reclaims the land, but facilitates community survival, organization, and future struggles. First, we speak with Alberto from the Reclaiming Our Roots garden in Gage Park. The garden sits on a parcel of formerly vacant land located two blocks away from the Amazon DIL3 delivery warehouse. Parcels are how the government makes land legible for taxes and commodification. Gardening without permission is illegible to the city, and supports a set of values inherently at odds with the world of Amazon and Chicago’s city government structure. Next we interview the Love Fridge, a mutual aid project that supports locally stocked and accessed refrigerators on Chicago sidewalks and in people’s front yards. Several urban farms regularly stock the Love Fridges with their fresh organic produce, and we talk to Velma about why that’s so important. Next we talk with two farmers from Otis Farm in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. We’ll share more of their interview in a later episode, but they talk to us about the challenges of accessing water to sustain the project of growing fresh healthy food in the city. And finally, we interviewed Catatumbo Co-op, an emerging immigrant, queer, gender non-conforming, workers’ cooperative farm located in South Chicago, the city’s most industrial neighborhood. We appreciate them being willing to talk to us while running farm errands and prepping their CSA! This episode was produced in collaboration with Jennifer Bamberg (@gremlina333), who did the interviews and research for the show.
59 minutes | Jul 21, 2021
July 2021 | Capital Flees: Union Busting at a Vegan Foods Factory
This week, we speak with a group of grassroots labor organizers formerly employed at No Evil Foods, a socialist-themed vegan foods company. They describe their efforts to organize a union at the company’s Asheville manufacturing plant, and No Evil’s subsequent efforts to bust the union – leveraging the COVID crisis – and eventually outsource their work in order to close the factory. We include a response from No Evil as well. This experience highlights the contradictions created by progressive, market-based efforts to reform the food system. It also reveals the advantages employers have secured for themselves in the 21st century economy, in which labor needs can be rapidly outsourced and troublesome work forces rapidly laid off. Further, employers practice “management through crisis” in which the permanent crisis we all now inhabit – and COVID-19 is only the most recent and severe expression of this crisis – can be used to justify permanent restructuring and precarity. This unfavorable balance of power inside the factory has pushed many away from workplace organizing and towards strategies based on attacking economic circulation, such as the mass farmers’ blockades in India. In spite of these disadvantages, though, food workers and others are necessarily experimenting with new forms of workplace organizing as they suffer harsher conditions and diminished living standards. These new forms of labor organizing have borne increasing fruit over the past few years, and workers have found novel ways to reverse power dynamics on the shopfloor or in the fast food franchise, as demonstrated by the wave of walk-offs and workers quitting en masse. In a landscape defined by precarity and decentered industrial production, the lessons of the No Evil Foods unionization campaign will certainly be of use to future workplace struggles.
58 minutes | Jun 23, 2021
June 2021 | The Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac
This month’s Partisan Gardens is all about the Farmer’s Almanac, specifically the 2021 Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac. Our listeners are probably familiar with the old farmer’s almanac, with its planting charts, weather forecasts and random tidbits of folksy wisdom and jokes. It’s an artifact of an earlier time, probably not the first place our listeners go to decide what to plant or when to plant it. The Earthbound Almanac, on the other hand, is situated in the present moment. We’ll let it speak for itself- here’s the book’s back cover: “This is a Farmer’s Almanac for the end of the world. Growing food used to be a lot more straightforward, when you’d plant your okra the same time every year like your grandpa did. Now we’ve got to be ready for anything – late Spring freezes, freak heat waves that bring plants out of dormancy too early, fire season longer every year, the polar vortex – and if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got to contend with the fallout from breakages in the global supply chain, when millions of gallons of milk get poured down the drain and mountains of potatoes are left to rot. It’s a world that calls for a new kind of Farmer’s Almanac. Today’s crisis has roots in the earliest moments of land theft against native peoples, a process that has continued alongside hundreds of years of slavery and colonization. The way forward out of this mess, will mean grappling with past wrongs as well as charting a new course guided by black and indigenous knowledge, creative experimentation in food production and paying attention across generational and species divides.” So for today’s episode we’re taking you on an audio tour of the almanac – less like an audio book and more of an interpretation and an exploration based on the almanac. We’ll bake a dessert recipe from the Almanac, talk with some of the farmers about the pieces they wrote for it, hear the writers reading their own words, learn about the Louisiana Lumber War, and more. You can access the PDF of the entire 2021 Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac here. You can get a hard copy of the book here. They made a mixtape to go with the almanac, which you can find at tinyurl.com/earthboundmixtape. Also in the almanac, you can learn about foraging wild mushrooms, read your 2021 horoscope, read about access to good food in prison, and so much more. Thank you to all the contributors who sent in and read their pieces from the almanac for us.
59 minutes | May 26, 2021
May 2021 | Building Food Sovereignty
For today’s episode, we spoke with Antonio Roman-Alcala and Spirit Mike. In 2011, Antonio released the powerful documentary In Search of Good Food, which carefully traced the crises built into the food systems in California’s Central Valley, which is the source of most vegetable and many tree crops across the US. Antonio reflected on the film and addressed exciting new possibilities for building food sovereignty and agroecology in the Central Valley, against the grain of powerful structures of exploitation, racial exclusion, and environmental devastation. Likewise, Antonio speaks to the emerging connections between urban agriculture and movements like the George Floyd Uprising.Next, we talk with Spirit Mike, an urban farmer in Tampa, Florida, who was pushed to grow food for his neighborhood by the massive logistical failures at the start of COVID. He goes into the strategic moves necessary to overcome barriers to urban agriculture and how growing food led to his own explorations of a food system in crisis and of the possibility of autonomous alternatives. From the Central Valley to Florida, the country’s breadbaskets are also home to some of the starkest contradictions – whole towns of immigrant workers can be denied potable water which is instead directed to almond orchards, and in which urban communities can be wholly cut off from any control over their own food. Yet, in both these regions and across North America, people are building food sovereignty and the potential for a revolution.
58 minutes | Apr 25, 2021
April 2021 | The Dystopic and Exceptional Pawpaw
The pawpaw is an incredible, temperate, semi-forgotten fruit. It’s existence is a real exception on many levels: it is the only member of a tropical genus to survive this far north in most of the continent; it is nutrient and protein rich beyond most fruit; and pawpaws are exceptionally fragile, pushing them outside of economic distribution. Their skin and flesh is much more easily bruised than that of a banana, making them basically impossible to ship and sell in stores. In turn, this has left pawpaws substantially neglected by commercial and academic research, and most of the work to produce improved varieties has been left to grassroots breeders, sharing their results with each other via fruit growers clubs and informal networks. Jerry Lehman was a leading figure in this emergent process – a committed pawpaw and persimmon grower in Indiana’s Wabash Valley, who developed dozens of varieties, while pioneering new ways to process and enjoy these native fruits. Today, we highlight a lecture he gave at the Overlook, a DIY hub in here in Bloomington, Indiana. Jerry has since passed away, but his work is being continued by his friends and collaborators, including Mark Hildebrand who you will hear later on during this show. Thanks to their work, and to the efforts of many others across the eastern US, there are now diverse options of excellent wild pawpaw stock and improved cultivars to grow. Nobody has succeeded in breeding a durable pawpaw- but perhaps this is a good thing. Instead of a commercial crop, the pawpaw can remain an abundant, seasonal fruit, contributing to wild richness and the riotous bounty of neighborhood food forests, available for common harvest. In this episode, we are trying something new by collaborating with the excellent podcast, Propaganda by the Seed, hosted by Sole and Aaron in Maine. We start off with a conversation between folks from the two shows about pawpaws – how to grow them, what makes them unique, and their appealing (and not so appealing) characteristics. We also share an archived lecture given by Jerry Lehman prior to his passing. Thank you to Mark Hildebrand, Jerry Lehman, Aaron and Sole for their contributions to this show, and to Lyn Rye for the music. You can listen to Propaganda by the Seed here. You can listen to Lyn Rye here.
58 minutes | Mar 16, 2021
March 2021 | Food Insecurity and Collective Care
The global pandemic has exacerbated an already-simmering crisis of food insecurity, itself rooted in growing populations pushed outside of formal labor markets. This exclusion, often implemented along racial lines, leads to precarity and a struggle for survival, which has only grown more bleak with the pressures of COVID-19. The economy simply cannot produce enough jobs, and even those existing jobs deemed “essential work” during the pandemic are often precisely low-waged AND dangerous. In response, a constellation of existing food distribution hubs, mutual aid projects, and food sovereignty efforts have had to rapidly adapt to the pandemic and the crisis. Their work is simultaneously manual and critical, as many hands collaborate to pack and deliver relief boxes, while thinking together about the sources of food insecurity and who is suffering from it. We share stories today from three of these projects: a food distribution & meal delivery service in Atlanta, Georgia, a free kitchen, or comedor, in Tijuana, Mexico and a food pantry in Bloomington, Indiana. All three projects are informed by an understanding of the importance of sharing food together in defining a better way of life. All three existed in some form before COVID, and each underwent major changes as they grappled with the challenge of addressing hunger without spreading the virus. For the “Food For Life” project in Atlanta, it meant scaling up and inviting hundreds of new volunteers to participate and experiment. For the Contra Viento y Marea Comedor in Tijuana it meant reducing the number of days serving to make more time for staff to clean and stay protected themselves. For Bloomington’s Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, it meant scaling back on some of the wide range of gardening and nutrition programs they normally run to address the root causes of hunger and inequality, while still serving hundreds of people a week. To learn more about each of these projects, check out: Food For Life Contra Viento y Marea Comedor Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard For more background on mutual aid in Tijuana between the twin crises of climate change and COVID-19, check out this article.
58 minutes | Feb 8, 2021
February 2021 | The Uncaptured Garden: Steven Stoll on Agrarian Resistance in Appalachia
In this episode of Partisan Gardens, we share a conversation between Ryan Richardson, a writer and activist born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains, and Steven Stoll. Dr. Stoll teaches at Fordham University and is the author of Ramp Hollow, a celebrated agrarian history of Appalachia. Stoll seeks to revive the memory of agrarian life and its destruction through capitalist enclosure. Emphasizing the commons and the ecological dimension of survival in the mountains, he wrangles in Ramp Hollow with the complex legacy of the colonial expulsion of the indigenous peoples of the mountains, as well as the ways in which the mountain people’s autonomy was co-opted by the coal companies. Stoll’s notion of the “captured garden,” in which agrarian subsistence was used by employers to maintain low wages, offers an important warning to contemporary advocates of food sovereignty. Indeed, the struggles of Appalachian people offer a range of lessons for contemporary food politics, not least the dangers of capture, but also the possibility to carve out forms of collective subsistence that instead grow autonomy. At the end of the conversation, Richardson and Stoll reflect on this potential, via Los Angeles’ South Central Farm – an urban oasis maintained by hundreds of immigrant-farmers that functioned as an “uncaptured garden.”
58 minutes | Jan 8, 2021
January 2021 | The Largest Farmer Strike in History is Underway in India
On this episode of Partisan Gardens, we are sharing a vital summary of the ongoing mass farmer protests in India. For almost six weeks, Indian farmers have blocked the major highways leading into the capitol, New Delhi. More than 100,000 people are maintaining tent cities on the highways themselves, in conjunction with a broader movement that mobilized 250 million farmers in strikes in November. These protests are pushing back on a suite of three neoliberal reform laws introduced by the ruling, right-wing BJP party, intended to remove protections for small farmers and increase the power of large corporations in the agricultural sector. Last week, we spoke with Gaurika Mehta about the Indian agricultural sector, the neoliberal reform laws, and the massive movement organized by Indian farmers to shut down the capitol until these laws are withdrawn. Ranging from the self-organization of the blockades – including makeshift libraries, kitchens and self-published newspapers – to the role of the state in organizing food markets, her analysis helped us understand the movement and gain lessons for thinking about agricultural struggles in North America. Further, her observations on the role of state racism and pernicious efforts to spread conspiracy theories discrediting the farmers are enormously timely, just as the farmers’ intelligent efforts to link themselves with other recent movements offer important instruction for us here. On January 12th, the Indian Supreme Court suspended the laws until the government enters into a new committee-based consultation with the unions, farmers, and other actors. However, farmers have maintained their blockades, while continuing to demand the full repeal of these laws. Further, many farmers are refusing to engage with the consultation at all.
58 minutes | Dec 8, 2020
December 2020 | Carbondale Spring
For our second episode, we visited the small city of Carbondale, Illinois. Carbondale is a shrinking college town at the southern edge of the state, with a long history of racist segregation. Since winter 2019, though, a broad range of residents has made a wager on a different future. Grasping climate change and white supremacy by the horns, they’ve laid out a plan for municipal-level transformation, calling for police funds to be redirected to local structures of care and sustainability, with the aim of rendering irrelevant the economic system which has failed them. Their food autonomy plan is at the core of their proposal, and has led to the growth of a constellation of gardens and food distribution structures aimed at empowering communities and addressing long standing inequities. To prepare this introduction to their wager, we visited a number of their gardens, inspected their chicken coops, spoke with neighbors, bakers, and board members, and asked about next steps. We’re excited to invite you on this journey through a Midwestern town that’s been turned upside down amid the pandemic. When we were there, it was clear that Carbondale Spring has re-enchanted this small world in southern Illinois, as they propagate herbariums, orchards, community kitchens, and neighborhood collaborations. You can find out more about their work here.
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