I’ve been working with Sarah Kelley of The Island Foundation and Karen Schwalbe of SEMAP to start a new fibershed as part of Rebecca Burgess’ Fibershed network. Our Fibershed, comprised of both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is called the Southeastern New England Fibershed and our focus moving forward will be on connecting farmers to both production and resources to make their farms maybe more diversified or more viable than they thought they could be.
From farmer to processor, from financing to cut and sew, we are connecting the dots of the supply chain to bring production back to reinvigorate a once-thriving New England textile industry, basing our geographic radius on the historical textile processing centers of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, both of which have extensive remaining infrastructure, and cover both states with an approximately 100-mile radius.
I love getting together with Sarah and Karen because they always are so in the know when it comes to the most interesting things happening regionally with farming.
The three of us were sitting fairly recently at a local farm store over coffee to discuss the potential of the fibershed when Karen mentioned The Great American Farm Tour. YouTube sensation Justin Rhodes and his family of six are currently traveling all over America in their converted school bus “discovering the greatest sustainable yards, homesteads and farms.”
These guys are the real deal. Last summer they wrapped up their biggest project to date, “100 days of Growing Food”, in which they grew 75% of their food in just 100 days. But the bus tour? This is pretty epic and when people like this are nearby you, you just sort of have to go meet them because what they are doing flies in the face of all logic and when that happens? Well you’ll find me front and center with a big grin on my face. I love these kinds of people.
It sounded ridiculous. So ridiculous good that I planned on meeting Karen when she went to meet the family later in the day at yet another farm I’d never heard of here on Cape Cod, The Pariah Dog Farm.
Later Karen texted she was there but leaving but that I should still totally go. A family in a revamped school bus putting a spotlight on farms? Some weird push out the door that only Fridays can do to you (or when you see a picture of a friend like Karen on Instagram laughing with the wayward tour family), happened and I threw on my jacket and was on the move.
The Pariah Dog Farm is, according to Edible Cape Cod, an unusual name for a farm on Cape Cod. But for owner/farmers Matt Churchill and Jeny Christian, these Pariah dogs—which survive off of waste from human settlements—”symbolize a vital ecological niche that inspires their farming philosophy.”
Edible Cape Cod continues: “A closer look at this tidy eight-acre farm in East Falmouth reveals evidence of the ‘scavenger’ approach. Piles of wood chips from local tree companies dot the landscape, to be spread on fields, parking areas and pathways. The fertile moraine soil is supplemented with compost and manure from local sources. Flocks of chickens peck at bright orange pumpkins left over from last fall’s crop. Jugs of brown waste veggie oil are lined up in the barn, waiting to be transformed into biodiesel that heats the greenhouses and powers trucks and machinery…”
In addition to growing a year-round abundance of vegetables, eggs and herbs, the duo also tap their own maple trees and make maple syrup as well as harvest sea salt from panels sprayed with ocean water. I know, sounds crazy so watch the video of how it’s done here.
Taking all of this into consideration, you might understand why The Great American Farm Tour chose to make a pit stop here.
When I pull down the long dirt driveway, I see the tapped trees, I smell bonfire smoke, I see a small crowd eating and laughing and yup, I see that bus and blonde haired kids running around. With the sky a New England blue, the sunset warming the greenhouses with lavender and pink hues and the green of the fields beyond, one might question they were ever on a tourist filled mecca, that there are still places like this on Cape Cod to enjoy.
I look like an idiot as I walk up to the group just finishing a tour. Nobody knows me and here I am showing up at dinner time, something my mother told me never to do. But I just jump in and start learning. Apparently these are Justin Rhodes groupies, not kidding, they have come from all over New England to gather on this farm and meet a family that has inspired them to get chickens and clear out a plot of land in their yards to grow vegetables. Plain and simple.
After a walk with Great American Farm Tour’s mom/wife/general badass Rebecca, who tells me all about the Pariah Farm because I’m late and now everyone is by the bonfire slugging back quahogs, grilled asparagus and root vegetable pie, I ask her a question that I can’t help myself from asking: “So, well because you’re so concerned with the planet and conscious about food, where do you clothes shop for your family?”
Now, this is on the heels of this beautiful woman telling me about how important it is to teach her children about the importance of good food and good people. This woman who has raised $82, 509.00 on Kickstarter so that her family can learn first hand about what American farming is all about. Being conscious about her food is #1 friends but if we are passionate about what we eat, can’t it lend itself to something else like clothing?
She tells me she shops mostly at Target to which the perfect world I am standing in comes crumbling down. I ask her why not shop at Goodwill and just use second hand?
“The chemicals they spray on those clothes are nasty,” she says to which I say, “Oh you should see what they are putting on your new clothes,” to which she just stops in her tracks, looks at me and says “Really?”
I think she probably (secretly) hates me at this point, the stranger that arrived for dinner, but sometimes you’ve got to hear things you don’t want to hear, especially when you are passionate about being conscious.
Rebecca walks up to her eldest son who is about to try a clam. For a kid, this looks like you are about to eat a huge booger so I don’t blame him for the face, I’m just happy this little guy wants to try something different. And when he looks up at mom holding that clam sitting in a bunch of ocean brine with a face that says “hell no,” you’ve got to give him kudos for at least considering, which is something we should all be doing.
Watch the video Justin made that night I was there and catch me backing out of the video because well, I’m not yet a converted groupie who wants to talk chicken.