Published by Kerry on 03 Feb 2010 at 05:46 am
We’d like to share the story of Katie Young, who has been using WiserEarth to link up with our extensive permaculture community. In one month, she’s off to New Zealand to work on organic farms through WWOOF, to pursue her interest in sustainable agriculture and to tell a really good story. What drives her? Read on and get inspired!
Why sustainable agriculture?
Katie explains, “My inspiration initially was reading ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma‘ by Michael Pollan. He explains the whole industrialized food chain in the U.S., and how so much of it can be traced back to corn [or maize]. He talks about the confinement and unhygienic conditions of farm animals. Once I read it, I knew there was no turning back.”
Off the beaten path
Katie began her work life as a journalist in Ohio. “After I graduated, I started work in the field as an intern for a broadcast news station. I remember feeling surrounded by death and destruction, police beat reports and courtrooms,” she recalls. “Later as a staff writer for a local paper, I was in a small newsroom all day. I felt like I was wasting my time, I wanted to learn more about what I was passionate about, sustainable food.”
So she started out on a new path: “I interned at two different farms at the same time, one certified organic, and one simply sustainable. It was fascinating because the two operated in very different ways. The sustainable farm was futuristic, dynamic, and utilized hydroponics and insects. The organic farm was more hands-on, and used less technology. The farm manager had worked in South America and was very knowledgeable and helpful.”
Understanding the ecosystem and using it to the food growers’ advantage came into play: “The sustainable farm I worked on would put bumblebees in greenhouses to pollinate and ladybugs to eat the aphids. They also used parasitic wasps to lay eggs inside a pest they wanted to eliminate, as well as nematodes in the water system to eat a different pest, and reflective plastic to keep thrips away. The reflection would confuse them and make it more difficult to find the plants. Also when planting tomatos on the organic farm, we put them in raised rows with hoses that only watered the roots. Apparently tomatos are a haven for diseases, and disease can be washed from the top down, so that system avoided spreading anything along the plant.”
Katie notes, “You really need a polyculture. You don’t just plant one type of potato, you have another four standbys, in case crops fail, as they will. Monocultures are part of the reason why we have to use chemicals on crops.”
Why New Zealand WWOOF?
WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, seemed like the logical choice to Katie. “I found out about WWOOF from a friend who did it,” she says. “It seems to be a reliable and inexpensive program. You just post a profile and they contact you.” As for New Zealand as opposed to, say, staying in the United States: “I want to go to New Zealand because they seem to be further along the path of self-sustainability, whereas much of the US still seems oblivious. Besides it’s also beautiful, and I have always wanted to go there!”
Katie will be in New Zealand for three months, and looks forward to the experience expanding her worldview. She will be staying with three different hosts, the first one an ‘Earthship‘ home, made entirely out of recycled materials, and off the grid. The second one is a sustainable farm on the Coromandel Peninsula. The third is still a mystery! “They actually don’t like you to contact them more than two weeks in advance!” she says ruefully.
Katie isn’t just going to learn the ways of the sustainable New Zealanders, she aims to document them. “I knew I would be learning, living more in unison with the environment, and observing different ways of how to grow one’s own food,” she explains. “Then I thought, why don’t I take it to the next level and make a documentary about the experience? I want to empower people who aren’t familiar with permaculture. Finances are the hardest part. It’s going to be bare-bones, I have a camera that will work, a shotgun microphone and I’m borrowing another wireless one from a friend. We have had so many documentaries that focus on the negative: huge corporations, unhealthy food, situations out of our control… I want mine to be hopeful. There are people living in a way that is healthy and sustainable. I’m 25 years old, 100 pounds, if I can do it, anyone can.”
Words to live by
“I want to tell people: ‘Go out and start that garden!’” Katie enthuses. “Food is fundamental, and it’s been violated. We should have the chance to make educated decisions and have full control. It’s good to give people information. You can just start a garden and spend less money. USDA label organic might not mean much at all. I want to give consumers other options. We already know the food situation in the US is bad, let’s move on.”
Katie posted a query on WiserEarth’s group WEversity. Another member of the group posted the information for a contact that Katie was on a quest to learn permaculture, and soon she was on her way to meeting like minds. “WiserEarth is the only resource I have gone to to connect. It has been amazing. People have invited me to join different groups, I’m learning, and it’s fueling my flame to change the world!” We wish Katie the best of luck in her journey.
Photo by Chewy Hunsicker
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