Archives for the month of: June, 2020

Let me be upfront, for me it is clear that organic agriculture is a necessity if we wish to regenerate our lands and strive for food security for our own and future generations. Although the area of arable land that is cultivated according to organic standards is rising worldwide, it remains to be a fraction of the total area where mostly conventional practices rule. Certainly, the cost of producing organic produce, meat and dairy are higher, since the cost of regeneration are calculated as part of the product sum and presents a cost-benefit consumer dilemma. But then, conventional agriculture diverts these costs that will emerge elsewhere, as human and environmental health costs. Common sense tells me this is a serious sum we are neglecting when comparing organic and conventional practices. One of the challenges we face is the fact that it is difficult to show that eating organic produce would result in better health, of people, of the environment and that conventional practices with its widespread use of pesticides and other toxins adds up to impoverished health worldwide. 

A little story of cloud berries and the sweet bell pepper

I wake up, summer in the northern latitudes is bathing in light, I am in Norway and the sun barely disappears behind the mountainous horizon from the perspective of my hut.  There is at least one who thrives in this light, the cloudberry. The sweet fruit-bearing plant is a native of the sub arctic environment and for many Indigenous communities, picking wild cloudberries is part of their subsistence strategy. In fact, all cloudberries that are eaten are gathered in the wild, because of its unique environmental setting, its acidic soil, its permafrost combined with the 24hour light cycle as its highlight. The berries ripen over the summer and turn into a deep orange later in the season. For me, the light cycle is still a bit of a challenge, my body needs its darkness and rest for about 7 to 8 hrs daily. This period of rest is necessary for healthy growth, not just for me, but for many organisms dwelling on our planet. cloudberry

The sweet pepper, main ingredient of one of my favorite comfort dishes, shakshuka. North African in origin, it combines peppers, tomatoes, spices  as a sauce in which eggs are poached. The first step is to create the sauce, resulting in softened scrumptious bell pepper strips. At least that is what I get when I use good organically grown bell pepper. When none of those are available and I am stuck with firm conventional peppers, the dish never reaches the same stage of deliciousness, the pepper strips remain hard and tasteless. At least that is my experience, and I wonder, is it because many of these peppers are growing 24hr a day, in greenhouses with artificial light, without time to recuperate from their hard work. Common sense tells me that the organic one not only tastes better, but is probably more nutritious. Exceptionally, research exists that tells us that organic bell peppers are healthier than their conventional brethren. 

Naturally, the color of a fruit or vegetable tells us something about its nutritional value, the deep orange of the wild cloud berry means lots of vitamin C. Humans have been selectively breeding  the natives since time immemorial, but the light bulb (and other recent technological tricks) gave man more ammunition to manipulate co-creatures. Looks can be deceiving and the greenhouse bell pepper may have the looks but little else. Dig organic!  



I am here, I am not here. My body is in northern Germany, may mind wanders from here to other places, primarily back to New Mexico where currently colonial heroes are taken down from their pedestal. I am trying to grasp whether these symbolic acts can lead to meaningful changes in our societies, history rewritten, again. Especially, what has anything I am doing right now to do with my long-term interest in indigenous rights and traditional knowledge. 

It is a constant zooming in and out and focusing on the task at hand. I know, I am involved in making cheese, a relatively straightforward process, that has been done by humans for over 7000 years. What is its relationship to the land within which I reside. 

Going back in time long enough it is clear that pastoralism has been here since the Early Neolithic, with some evidence and prediction of milk processing in northern Europe staring between 6000 and 4000 years ago. Analysis of prehistoric ceramic sieves and changes in animal teeth from that time has led to that conclusion, although the exact starting date is still debated. 

Sure enough, dairy cattle has roamed this region for millennia. 

Northern Germany, bordering Denmark, located between the North and Baltic Sea, between the rivers Elbe and Elder, this region is characterized by shifting borders between Denmark and Germany: welcome to Schleswig-Holstein. From a landscape perspective it is roughly divided into three vertical strips: the Geest, sandy plains, in the middle, bordered on the east by Marshland and on the west by Hügelland. The Geest is where I am,  is where the dominant part of the landscape is traditionally made up of moors, heaths and other land for grazing.

The tradition of dairy farm in northern Europe is thus a long one, but in early modern Schleswig-Holstein a new form of dairy farming developed, called Koppelwirtschaft. It is at the same time innovative in technical modernization while being ‘stuck’ in feudal work organization. Apparently, dramatic contrasts in the social organization of rural society developed with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. 

Wheat is wheat, or so it goes, and considered a simple form of production. Dairy farming and production on the other hand, the hallmark of Schleswig-Holstein, is considered a sophisticated form, a transition that is often  associated with a change from serfdom to paid labor. Gutsherrschaft, is the word for feudal work organization in German, which is distinct from other forms, such as Rentengrundherrschaft, in which peasants were basically free-holders but paid a rent to the lord of the manor, even though in practice seem to have been fluid and labor service was common, during the late 1700’s about half of the farmland in de geest was practically run as Gutherrschaft.



Traditionally more grain producers, during the late 1700’s these manors became specialized in dairy products and grain, and scaled up. Dutch immigrants had brought with them the skills and new technologies of producing cheese, these new forms of dairy production and marketing were therefore also known as Holländerei and Koppelwirtschaft. Compared to small peasant farms these large dairy farms, even bigger than in the Netherlands,  had both advantages and disadvantages, and in that respect we are still dealing with the same old issues centuries later. Modern technologies to keep milk fresh longer, but increasing distance to your market for instance, sound familiar.

Holländerei explained, but what is Koppelwirtschaft? It all has to do with grazing and grain. You see, grain production was not abandoned but expanded and the old ways of just letting your fields fallow, were enhanced as a more intensive practice, known as Koppeln. Fields or Koppel were individually fenced with hedges, increasing yield was achieved through inclusion of more land, different rotation system and using the abundance of manure produced by the many cows to compost the land.



I’m beginning to understand the land I have landed in a bit better, my relationship with it and its people and practices. The hedges that line the field, cut almost to the ground regularly, are known as knicks, the fields interspersed with forested areas serve as wildlife habitats and is where I spent many hours, running or walking, when I am not involved in dairy production.

I am here on this biodynamic farm that has long been run as Community Supported Agriculture or in German, Solidarische Landwirtschaft, in essence its principles are close to those I have witnessed in New Mexico, as Native American relationships to the land. It all seem close yet so different, different  historical trajectories. Where farms in Schleswig-Holstein such as my current residence are firmly rooted in rent, ownership and varying degrees of labor service of this region, indigenous practices in present day New Mexico were communally tended for centuries before being brutally uprooted through enforced Colonial practices of landownership and labor service. 

I am in it, trying to understand all these different forms of labor organization, of producing food, of hard work, the hierarchies on the -ever expanding- farm that are not easy to grasp from a worker perspective, of principles and practice, of businesses and communal responsibility for the land we depend upon. History is being rewritten, statues are coming down. I am here, I am not here. Histories that we take for granted, trying to understand what would be the best way forward for taking care of our lands and lives. 

reference: Rasmussen

When I was young, in my elementary years in small town low lands, I learned about the bio industry and the, to me, horrific ways that humans treated animals for their pleasurably consumption. Animals used for testing beauty products and even more animals in artificial, confined spaces as a means to grow meat. I stopped eating meat and started an animal club, collecting small change from my class mates to buy treats for the abandoned animals who found a home in the animal shelter. Small gestures. During those days my wish was to become a veterinarian. 

All this changed when my world expanded, when my focus sharpened and I figured out that the way animals are treated is just the tip of the iceberg. Certain human beings treat other human beings like they treat animals, with disrespect. I then became a student and scholar of human behavior.

The basics of life, any living creature needs energy, in other words food, and humans are no different. Lack of nourishing food, and people go hungry, then problems arise. Some things are simple. Basic foods are commodities in our current world economic system, as is labor, the currency is money mostly. Sounds simple but becomes tricky because there are two values, use value and exchange value, which can be similar in monetary value, but not necessarily so. The use value reflects the amount of labor necessary, whereas the exchange value is linked to supply and demand. 

In our capitalist society only part of the exchange value is paid to the worker who made it, the other part is unpaid labor and is retained by the owner of the means of production, and retained as rent or profit. . The means of production encompasses the site where the commodity is made, the raw products that are used in the production and the instruments or machines that are used for the production.

This is where my current chapter as cheesemaker begins.

In previous years while working on farms I have learned some lessons, an important one is how much work and resources goes into good food, a price that is almost never paid in full. That’s why many small farmers rely on volunteer workers. Like many of those organic or biodynamic farms my current workplace relies on employed workers as well as interns, who receive food and lodging in return and some pocket change. It is common, but considering that food is fundamental I experience and observe this practice with growing disbelief and frustration, beyond personal it is a systemic problem. 


My labor, my commodity. The term commodity is used for goods or services that have so called fungibility, which means that the market pays no regard to who produced those goods or services. Commodification then is the transformation of goods, services, ideas, nature, personal information, and people into commodities or objects of trade. 

Wheat is wheat, no matter where it comes from. But cheese is cheese? Cheese, a food, a work of art, a manifestation of the love of the land, at least that holds for most farmhouse cheese. 

Human beings in our system are still commodities, no longer considered  slaves, where the whole man was sold as a commodity, nor serfs, capitalism reduced the commodity part to man’s labor power. In this system we have to negotiate what is the price and value of the product we are making. This also means that not all commodities are reproducible nor were all intended to be sold on the market, like human labor, works of art, and natural resources are priced goods treated as commodities.

Whatever the issues at my current farm location, I do believe strongly in its foundational principles as a closed system production cycle, where the land is regenerated before the cows can graze again, the milk is turned into cheese, they whey fed to the pigs. Farmers as agents of climate change mitigation, is how it should be, but only a fraction of the world’s foods are produced in this way. Most of agricultural practices are depleting and even polluting the land and water sources. I, and I am not alone, would argue that keeping soils healthy, animals and humans treated with respect is a societal responsibility, those who pollute should pay, those who regenerate should receive our support, unfortunately this is not our current reality.

And thus the story starts, I am a worker on the farm, which is of course also a business, and I will have to negotiate my value, my labor as good/service in the world food system. A humble start, important for understanding the whole nonetheless. Let’s start with the cows.

IMG_0083 2

Just arrived in Germany, back to making cheese, a year after I left this farm to go herding in the Norwegian mountains. This is an established biodynamic farm, started during the 1990’s by two families. It has grown enormously since its early days into a community supported agriculture business serving the Hamburg region. It has also changed dramatically in leadership; the two families are ‘divorced’ but still feuding, while other families have joined the remaining original partner. Besides the different families, a fair number of employees, interns, and volunteers are working here in changing composition, which makes the dynamics interesting. I am returning to a place that is different, but in many ways the same and that is challenging.  

What I learned over my years of rural residence is how much the human factor matters, is however mostly overlooked in economics.  Frustration and inefficiency result when people have ever so slightly diverging interests, let alone when short and long-term goals are diametrically opposed, which is what happened on this farm. Even though these are all experienced farmers, one wants to grow bigger, the other wished to stay small. Bigger it is, but not without roadblocks. Balancing the books of course, of producing sufficiently to serve all its members, is an economic challenge, but then there is the question of how to retain and keep you workers happy, or at least satisfied during this process. A solution that was found was to organize the decision making processes according to a  specific form of democracy, called sociocracy.  Within this form of management, all members have a say, it is not a democracy per se because it is not governed by majority vote, rather it operates by consent, where in principle no decision can be reached if one of its members brings up justified objections. 

I have only just arrived, and due to the current health crisis, I am still isolated, but I have already heard a number of critical voices from different directions. It is going to be an interesting second ride.


My last days in New Mexico for now, beautiful land, the mountains serene and majestic. It is managed though by different people and institutions having diverging interests, where Los Alamos borders Indian land, where fracking operations are destroying and poisoning land and water. Home also to the Santa Fe Institute, the cradle of complexity science, where big questions are asked and investigated. Stated on their website, “complexity arises in any system in which many agents interact and adapt to one another and their environments, such as the nervous system, the internet, ecosystems, cities and civilizations.” Maybe the land of New Mexico begs for the big complexity questions to be addressed, where, as a human, it is easy to feel part of something grander. The biggest question maybe whether we are we smart enough to understand it all, or could there be a ‘being’ that could, and could we actually create it? It is a serious endeavor: enter AI

Artificial Intelligence: we are placing our bets on a being of our making that will supersede us, can do all our work, only better, we just sit back and relax. Self-driving cars, robots that clean our house and can even give us emotional support. Not just any kind of intelligence, we are talking super intelligence as our ultimate invention. And once these super intelligent machines are able to create even more intelligent machines, our days may be numbered. Somehow this is not how I imagine this will play out.  Somehow it sounds too old-fashioned and unilinear to me.  

Sideways: People have done it since our early days, manipulated material and shaped tools to make our life possible and possibly better, whatever that entails. In archaeology such artifacts can be called ‘extrasomatic means of adaptation’, simply meaning that we can adapt, not by natural evolution but by creating an artifact that is not part of our biological body, a chainsaw to chop some wood for instance. These are not intelligent tools, they are no-brainers, they require our manipulation. But boundaries are fuzzy, biologically, philosophically. A prosthetic, as a specific artifact, is defined as an artificial body part and these have also been around for a long time, false teeth, and Captain Hook; functional, cosmetic and at times giving the body something extra, a bodily extension. We are lost without our prosthetics today, our communication devices that are coterminous with our bodies, as our brain extensions. We seem to coevolve, a symbiotic relationship that at least for us seems beneficial, although we may surrender some of our innate brain power in the process. Not coercively, simply lack of use. 

Intelligence: to define intelligence is not so easy, but a general way of doing so refers to the ability to perceive or infer information, retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors  within an environment or context – not exclusive to our species. What constitutes the neural network through which we are connected by means of our prosthetics? Does it make us a superorganism or are we enabling monsters in our midst, overarching creatures slowly infiltrating, manipulating, usurping our organic elements, electronically, while other metacreatures do it synthetically, collectively we consent. Maybe it is time to come up with different categories for these creatures, take away their personhood, to distinguish them based on the harm they inflict. For instance, toxic substances sprayed on our fields, killing life, killing part of our collective intelligence on which we depend.


I hike up the Sangre de Cristo mountains, my phone says ‘no service’, I am free to roam,  it is comforting to perceive the world around me with my bodily sensors, the wind through the trees, the sun heating up the ground, releasing all kind of smells. Then I see her, the little flower. I bend down, she stares me in the face. It makes me smile, but then I realize she shows me a different face. We tend to forget we are not the only intelligent creatures on our planet.


Stop Fracking