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What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

- Henry David Thoreau

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Boulder

Oct 23, 2018

Know your Roots: Boulder’s Local Food Movement

News from Boulder: A handful of small-scale farmers are instigating legislative change to support localized, sustainable agriculture.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Animals run the show at The Golden Hoof, a small dairy goat farm just ten minutes from Boulder’s bustling center. Despite the proximity to downtown, the farm feels worlds away. It is enchanting even on a chilly, drizzly day, when mist expunges the iconic Flatirons and a traipse around the property requires rain boots and a heavy jacket. Dogs of every body size and color chase each other up the dirt lanes; energetic hens strut under the legs of cows and sheep in a green pasture; ducks saunter through a muddy puddle. Golden Hoof stewards Karyl and Alice Starek point to a plot containing seven or eight large pigs snout-deep in lettuce heads and pineapple stalks. They explain that the pigs are chowing pre-consumer food waste obtained from local restaurants. The pigs produce manure, which layers the ground and matures into rich soil fodder. In a few months, the Stareks will utilize this plot as a vegetable garden.

Pigs are an integral part of The Golden Hoof Farm’s animal ecosystem approach

“You are a reflection of your food’s soil”

This is the model of regenerative agriculture that farms like The Golden Hoof want to make mainstream. “Good farming is stewardship of a natural environment. Agriculture is biomimicry. We are not doing anything new; we are using ancient wisdom on the co-evolution of animal and plant systems,” Karyl explains. Taber Ward of nearby Mountain Flower Goat Dairy corroborates the nature-led, ecosystems approach. “We are about less additives, less control. We let the system be in its natural state and observe that system to inform its management,” she says.

Sustainable, regenerative agriculture prioritizes soil health, and by extension, human health. According to Alice, “You are a reflection of your food’s soil.” Michael Moss stewards the 30-acre Kilt Farms on Open Space land he leases from the county and is devoted to improving his soil’s fertility. “I do soil testing; I find out what’s missing and do what I can to put it back in,” he enthuses. “Colorado Front Range soils are tough because they are adapted to grassland prairies, not vegetable crops.” The Stareks infuse their soils with animal manure; in his first growing season, Michael seeded his with 2,000 pounds of sea salt. Seven years later, through diligent observation and experimentation, he has found his sustainable groove: “I am growing some of the best food in the county on baseline weak soils.”

Boulder County’s regenerative farmers are passionate, resourceful, and paramount to a transition from industrial agriculture—but they’re also few and far between. For example, only 5 of 24 organic farms operating on Boulder County land in 2011 are still in business. And the farmers who are left compete for a small slice of the consumer market; agriculture advocate Michael Brownlee estimates that just 1-2% of food sales in Boulder County are locally grown. The demographics of the farmers themselves indicate an erosion in engagement of younger generations in agriculture. As Krisan Christenson of Farm Wild ‘N Wellspring point out, “The average age of a farmer in Boulder County is 58, and in the US West, less than 6% of farmers are under the age of 35”.

These statistics indicate that something—or many things—may be hamstringing small-scale local farming. A quick perusal of the Boulder County Agriculture Outreach Project’s March 2018 public forum reveals common grievances expressed by farmers. While stratified, most concerns orbited the County’s Land-Use Code. According to Karen Starek, the ability to buy agricultural land and pay for it by farming alone is almost impossible in Boulder. Since the 1960s, vast tracts of agricultural land have been purchased by the county and the city of Boulder, relabeled Open Space, and leased to local farmers. Currently, Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) has 16,000 acres of its 25,000-acre agricultural total zoned for cropland leasing. Due to the regulations and restrictions of Boulder County Land Use easements, small and mid-sized local farmers sometimes find it difficult to perform the necessary operations to generate a living income.

And that’s if farmers are granted a lease in the first place; BCPOS pledged to phase in 25% organic acreage by 2020, but an “organic” label does not encompass all methods of sustainable farming and carries no stipulations of local product circulation. However, Agricultural Specialist Blake Cooper claims that a significant portion of the BCPOS land maintenance budget goes to support market-farm renters who are specifically producing food for local markets.

The “market-farmers” who do win the bid are subject to the laws of their landlords. Land-Use Code exists to protect premium Open Space from intensive development but inevitably constricts farming operations. For example, the Code prohibits the erection of new infrastructure on Open Space easements; this stipulation is detrimental to farmers looking to install necessary infrastructure such as drip lines, hoop houses, greenhouses, or access roads. Michael Moss says that when he needs to repair a fence or improve an access road, he must apply to the county and hope for the best, which limits business efficiency. The Stareks take issue with restrictions on food processing and sales. The rules, intended to address public health concerns of food contamination, can stunt the growth of small-scale farms. In consonance with Colorado’s Cottage Food Act, food producers are permitted to sell certain items sans commercial health inspection, but there are many limits on these sales. Farmers cannot sell meat products, canned or cut fruits and vegetables, or milk and dairy products. Cottage foods cannot be sold wholesale and sales are capped. Taber Ward can’t market her goat’s milk as a cottage food, and thinks these restrictions are barriers to the financial viability of small-scale farming. She suggests that better relations between local farmers and public health officials could improve policy to facilitate food sales.

“People often portray conventional and organic farming as mortal enemies, but there is no great chasm between the two”

It seems the County has heard the pleas of farmers; in a recently published draft proposal, Code amendments include relaxations on farm event rules and increased leniency in infrastructure projects deemed “Season-Extending Agricultural Structures”. The draft proposal accompanies an online form soliciting public input prior to a final revision to be presented to County Commissioners come November. Farmers like the Stareks, Moss, Ward, Christenson, and others can opine whether the proposed Land-Use Code changes have the clout to challenge Boulder County’s agricultural norm.

Pumpkin Patch at Munson Farms

“We’re competing against California farms who send their product to King Sooper’s”

BCPOS’s Blake Cooper offers another perspective. “People often portray conventional and organic farming as mortal enemies, but there is no great chasm between the two. Organic operations and conventional operations both benefit each other,” he says. “For example, if we converted all Open Space acreage to organic operations, the price of organic products fall. Organics command a premium price on a market because they are special. Conventional farming benefits from the organics because they help to pull up prices and stay competitive. Supply and demand necessitate cooperation.” He also sees the mutualism play out with disease and insect pressures. “Organics rely on good soil and crop health. Conventional farms keep regional pests in check by applying pesticide, while organic farms provide a refuge for insects without a selection pressure for pesticide resistance.” Cooper’s moderate stance on industrial agriculture challenges the demonization of conventional farming in the fervor of local food movements.

To be sure, compounding research identifies detriments to human and environmental health from conventionally grown crops and factory-farmed livestock. Boulder County residents care about sustainability, public health, and local food sovereignty; the community cherishes its CSA programs and farmers markets and boasts an innovative farm-to-table restaurant scene. Without consumers consciously choosing to eat outside of the industrial model, current small-scale growers would have no market. But even the best of us are motivated by ease, speed, and convenience. As Moss reminds us, “We’re competing against California farms who send their product to King Sooper’s. The more farmers we have who exemplify the good stewardship model, we more we could pull people away from the grocery stores and traditional agriculture”.

A revitalized Land-Use Code that advantages local circulation of locally-grown food could greatly incentivize sustainable farming by making it the easiest, most convenient source of food for county residents.

Boulder County’s sustainable farmers are adaptive ecosytsem stewards who draw on co-evolved soil, plant, and animal relationships. They “know their roots”, and consumers are demanding the same transparency of their food purchases. This grassroots assemblage of innovators will hold their breath until the release of November’s Land-Use Code revisions, which could alter the trajectory of sustainable agriculture in the area.

Special thanks to Taber Ward of Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, Karyl and Alice Starek of The Golden Hoof Farm, Michael Moss of Kilt Farms, Krisan Christenson of Farm Wild ‘N Wellspring, and Blake Cooper from the Agricultural Department of BCPOS, who were interviewed for this piece.

All photos by Kela Fetters.

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.

REWILD

TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.

PLAY

TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD

REMEMBER YOUR PAST

There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.

REINVENT EDUCATION

TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

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