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"Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our Food"

Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our FoodFields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our FoodI have spent some time over the last couple days reading Jenny Kurzweil's Fields That Dream: A Journey to the Roots of Our Food. Kurzweil describes the state of state of American agriculture through the lives of a number of small-scale farmers.

In addition to being well-written, Kurzweil's portrayal of the lives of these farmers is striking. From a Mexican family who immigrated to the States to make enough money to survive, to a chef who left his home and job to pursue life on a farm, to a couple who cannot leave their house for more than two hours at a time for fear of leaving their animals without care, each farmer has a story to tell.

A few passages from the book stand out to me in terms of the relevance to the Local Food Economy Game project and/or Sohodojo itself. These passages, along with the reasons why they are of particular interest to me, are below.

When I buy food at the farmers' market, I know that it has not been shipped back and forth across the country. It has not been grown by multinational corporations, but by families. Most importantly, when I buy food at the farmers' market, I meet the grower. I have a connection, an interaction, and a place to express my gratitude. [pp. 6-7]

"Fields That Dream" Author Jenny Kurzweil"Fields That Dream" Author Jenny KurzweilI selected this passage for two reasons. First, when I interviewed buyers and sellers at both the Grinnell and Fairfield farmers' markets, this was the most common response I received to my questions about what they like most about farmers' markets. Both vendors and customers appreciate not only the social aspect of the market, but also the trust and connection that is formed upon meeting the person whose food you will be eating. I am sure that regardless of where in the country I asked this question, I would receive similar responses. The people are as essential a part of the market as the food – though the two are intertwined.

Secondly, this aspect of the farmers' market is another example of what Sohodojo refers to as shopping as something other than "good acquisition." Farmers' markets are so much about the people involved that one does not attend the market only to bring food to cook with the next day. They go to farmers' markets also because of the opportunity to form relationships and to support something they believe in.

That's our bread and butter, the farmers' market. And they're fun too. [p. 12]

I highlighted the passage for similar reasons to the one above. This is exactly the impression I formed when researching farmers' markets. Though, for many customers and observers, the markets may seem a fun place to spend time, farmers depend on them for their livelihood – though they also enjoy being there. A woman at the Grinnell market told me that "most people's sales are over after the farmers' market season." Vendors at the markets I visited appreciated the markets for not only the profits that they earned, but also the connections that they made.

I have eaten peaches from the market that could stop traffic, and, as Gretchen points out, these are the kinds of experiences that make people happy and willing to stand in line to get fresh, tasty produce. Perhaps we are getting sick of our thirty-three new packaged foods a day and the disinfected, anonymous aisles of a supermarket. Going to a farmers' market is worlds away from ordering your groceries online, and people seem hungry for an authentic experience. A farmers' market is a way to get back to basics without romanticizing the past. [p. 33]

This is why food shopping over the internet will never be popular. Shopping for groceries is an experience, and this is why farmers' markets exist. Again, this lends weight to the idea of "experiential shopping."

I walked away from the protests with eyes opened. Since then I have been trying to trace back to the origins of what I consume, attempting to be aware of my own part in fueling the fire of globalization. It is an overwhelming process, and I feel entirely confused. I have been trying to figure out how I can protest something when I am part of the problem. [pp. 70-71]

I do drink coffee. But I try to drink fair trade coffee that is grown in the shade in the northern latitudes of Mexico. The bottom line is I am just trying to figure out how I consume. -- A farmer interviewed by Kurzweil

When I read these passages, I thought of Sohodojo's idea of an "alternate" e-bay, where people would consume not based on price exclusively, but would be able to see where and under what conditions a product was made. Kurzweil undergoes a transformation and begins to trace back to the roots of her consumption; if this information was readily available when we shop, wouldn't things be different? There are many people out there who are aware that they are "part of the problem" by consuming environmentally and socially unfriendly foods, but it is, in general, too difficult to do the research into where every piece of food you buy comes from. If this information was present on every good that we buy, I believe that our consumption habits would change considerably.

And if we aren't aware that we are being "part of the problem" when we buy "globalized foods:"

He is trying to make us understand that how and what we consume can be felt by small famers, factory workers, and governments around the world. [p. 75]


Thanks, Jelal, for such an interesting overview/review of Ms. Kurzweil's fascinating book. As you know, this was one of a handful of books donated to Sohodojo by the Orion magazine editorial office in support of your internship.

Orion magazine is both a beautiful and instructive publication. It is one of the few print publications that we subscribe as it is just so good, that the trees sacrificed for its printing have not died in vain! :-)

In addition to being avid readers, Sohodojo is a member of the Orion Grassroots Network. a few times a year, the Orion editorial network offers to pass-along to Network members the books its editorial office has received for review. When we saw the latest list, we submitted our request for titles related to local food systems and family farming in support of your internship.

So in addition to congratulating you on your effort to help spread the good word about Jenny Kurzweil's book, we want to publicly thank Orion Magazine for donating these books for your learning experience. Your citations and insights shared here have whetted our appetites to read this book ourselves!