Archives for the month of: January, 2021

It’s a bit drab. The weather, the lengthening but still dark days, the mood in the Kaserei. Personal drama and dynamics in this place have always baffled me, and I am trying to rise above it. 

For a while it was hard for me to run in the morning, as I start my job at 6 in the morning. But I know, it will lift me up and thus decide to put myself first. I mean, I run everyday at 5am; first thing I do in the morning is for myself. It is still dark, but the fresh air makes a world of difference.

In the afternoon, I always try to get a little forest walk in, the leaves are wet underfoot and dark brown to almost black in color, good soil I think. And then suddenly there it is, brightening my mood exponentially: Witch Butter!

Tremella mesenterica, also known by names such as yellow brain, golden jelly fungus, and witch butter. Its fruit is a beautiful bright orange in moist conditions. On top of it, it is edible. 

Life goes on at the biodynamic farm and I am still involved in the production of all things to do with milk.  After the chaotic time of summer 2020 after I started in June, I had hoped things would quiet down and ease into a more harmonic work environment. Alas, no such thing. 

Some issues are related to personal dynamics, but these are intertwined with the changes that are happening in the farm as a whole, and especially in the process of making milk products. Changes that I question. The motives behind it are unclear to me, the way they are implemented less than optimal, if you ask me. Then again, it may be hard to be objective when you are part of the process. 

The core of biodynamic farming is about soil and that is why I support it, why I am putting my time and effort in being part of this process. And even though I am convinced all the boxes to be a Demeter certified farm remain ticked, I have the feeling more and more corners are cut to make this farm bigger, more members, demanding more. Call me sentimental but I feel I am just part of a production unit, instead on a soil oriented farm. Soil the source of life on land. Our fundamental base layer. Disappearing fast, because we don’t take care.

As an archaeologist I have been involved in soil a lot. The history of humanity as layered archives in Earth’s outer layer. Smart as we are, we have developed physical, chemical, and biological methods to understand how this palimpsest of signs can be spun into a history of humanity and our home planet. 

As an archaeologist and anthropologist I have been fortunate to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and learn different ways of interpreting this information, different from my own western oriented scientific background. This has expanded my view and also allowed me to question what I thought were certainties. 

Science to me is like soil. I believe in it. Science as a method to test and refine our fundamental beliefs. Justified true belief, but at its core it is our belief system that generates hypotheses to be tested. So in my learning process something interesting has happened. Novel scientific insights and directions, such as chaos theory, ideas about the bacterial foundation of life, have turned our ideas of superiority of man on its head. Creation stories, which are focused on the soil, and in which human beings are molded from clay of the Earth, appear to me more relevant than the western creation myth for understanding life.  Adam is made from dust, Eve on the other hand is created by taking a rib of Adam. Adam doesn’t suffer long as ribs regenerate quickly. So although dust of the Earth plays a role, our ultimate destination in the story is in heaven, the moon, Mars as intermediate stations maybe. Modern science stems from a western belief system in which Eve is a sidekick of Adam, but It doesn’t have to be that way, the scientific method is neutral and can function in many different worldview and paradigms. 

Sometime in my career I made the paradigm shift. I really enjoy all things science, but my focus and direction is toward soil as fundamental to our being. It is why I chose to also contribute actively to maintaining our world’s soils and hope more of us will start to value the soil’s worth for continuing and adding layers to the story of humanity. 

It has been a volatile week;  the world has been witness of a shocking political situation threatening a powerful democracy.  the news, alongside ongoing pandemic updates while last minute efforts of current US leadership to approve mining and drilling operations in protected natural regions that will be disastrous for our future. It is important to raise our voices to counter exploitative behavior and violence. 

But it was another article in the New York Times that caught my eye this week and left me unsettled and speechless; the murder of a female farmer who raised goats and made cheese in the Mocheni valley, a small valley in the Trento region in Italy.  She was killed by a farmhand over a wage dispute. 

When I first started this blog a number of years ago, I helped out on an (Italian) family farm in the Mocheni Valley. It is there that I first learned to milk goats by hand and turn it into delicious cheese and yoghurt. Mocheni goats are a special breed, the pride of the valley, and I attended the Mocheni goat festival where goat keepers compete for most beautiful goats. The valley is special, one side is Italian, the other German speaking, and a special Mocheni dialect. 

2014

Agitu Idea Gudeta fled Ethiopia and build her business in her adopted homeland Italy, bringing with her a passion for animal husbandry. In 2010 she started out to raise a herd of Mocheni goats, close to the place where I first learned to milk goats and was encouraged by the determination of female farmers. As I said the news left me speechless. 

To speak up, but also to carefully listen to what is going on around us. Fight for what you believe in, but also be aware of our vulnerability, especially as women. 

https://sense-iblebaglady.net/2014/06/01/88/

https://sense-iblebaglady.net/2014/05/26/52/

Science fiction comics; an interesting medium to explore ‘weird’ ideas, like being invaded by body snatchers who change our personalities and cause the spread of  lies and misinformation (see previous post – Symbiote). Our gut microbiome sounds similar to these Klyntar species, and like most human beings, I have little idea how this community that I host is composed, therefore I try to feed them well to keep all of its members happy and loyal to my cause of survival. 

Imagining my Gut Flora

Finding out about these unrelated species we are hosting has given us a new perspective on life. So has our newly developed technology that enables us to communicate across other boundaries. The internet, the world wide web has given us the opportunity to share ourselves through memes, our beings suddenly become bigger, communal, intertwined. In a twisted world, one can even question who is connecting to whom when our personalities can be altered by our gut communities, our Klyntars. Are we just vehicles for something entirely different. Bystanders to the spread of misinformation, manipulation and lies. 

The way this information spreads is facilitated at large by BIG Tech, and serious efforts are underway to address the power of these tech giants at national and international levels. The EU has been sounding alarm for years and now the US follows, but to prove that they harm consumers is difficult, especially since we all like(d) the free services they provide. We were/are happy, or ignorant to sign over our right to privacy. But it is not only the giants themselves that are the problem, more so who they are willing to facilitate, free speech and all that. And that is a tough question, who determines what is true and false in this complex world of different ideas meming around.* 

An Agenda for Disinformation Research has been set up and the first sentences read* : “In the 21st century Information environment, adverbial actors use disinformation to manipulate public opinion. The distribution of false, misleading, or inaccurate information with the intent to deceive is an existential threat to the United States – distortion of information erodes trust in social-political institutions  that the fundamental fabric of democracy: legitimate news sources, scientists, experts and even fellow citizens.” The leading scientists who have written this agenda come up with a six step strategy as a recommendation for policymakers to remedy this situation. 

I agree, the speed and scale at which this spread occurs can be frightening. The phenomenon however is not new and part of the human condition, spreading lies about people and situations that are uncomfortable for your own condition happens throughout our history. Take the invention of the printing press, it not only brought us the beauty of reading for all, but also the possibility of spreading propaganda, a tool for reimagining identity, such as discussed by Benjamin Schmidt, in Innocence Abroad, about how the Dutch used the printing press to create a national  identity.  The title referring to how printing could  also be successfully used -as I interpret his work- to wipe their colonial identity clean. ***

But that aside, to come back to our gut community and their ability to change our personality. How some malevolent hosts now cause the “Klyntars” to spread misinformation and lies like wildfire, facilitated by tech giants. Like I said, I try to keep my microbial- Klyntar  community healthy and happy, but in this day and age that is not so easy either. Not just the fault of Big Tech, more of Big Pharma and Big Ag. It is therefore a bit puzzling to me that we go after Big Tech with such a vengeance while we leave Big Pharma and Big Ag in power, to do as they please, and control and ruin our worlds, our GUTS. 

 * https://www.santafe.edu/news-center/news/drowning-disinformation 

 ** https://cra.org/ccc/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/11/An-agenda-for-disinformation-research.pdf 

*** https://history.washington.edu/research/books/innocence-abroad-dutch-imagination-and-new-world-1570-1670

https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/06/04/103008/breaking-up-big-tech-will-be-really-hard-to-do/