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. 

IMG_3454

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