Read Mimi's story of successful farming on a land cooperative:
Mimi Arnstein organized the first Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont's Farmer Olympics, based on an event she hosted at her farm in 2013.
Click here to read or listen to the full story on VPR: http://digital.vpr.net/post/farmers-go-gold-nofas-first-farmer-olympics
Story from Burlington Free Press:
By Haley Dover
"BOLTON – Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Citizen Cider cracked open as farmers took their places at the starting line.
After a warm-up at the javelin rake toss and a guess at the weight of a grain bag, the 14 teams of local farm staff were ready to compete for the Olympic gold medal, or rather, the Farmer Olympics gold medal.
Teams from all over Vermont made their way to Maple Wind Farm in Bolton for the inaugural event. Hosted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, the competition served as a mid-season break for farmers and their crews to compete in a wide range of events designed to challenge a farmer's field skills, said event organizer Mimi Arnstein. She is also a NOFA Vermont board member.
Wax box folding, egg-and-spoon races and farm calculations were among seven events in which teams competed.
"The events are based on real life scenarios of a farmer but with a special twist," Arnstein said."
Mimi is featured in this short film on organic farming in Vermont, put together by NOFA-VT. It is titled "Organic Matters".
5 days. 34 people. 15 countries. 4 languages. 1 classroom and a few farms. United.
Something happens in Cuba for me that I cant explain, but when I return again the same feelings come back. My sceptisism is erased as the guitars play and my companeros y companeras sing songs about Che Guevara and liberty. Here I feel a part of something bigger with the revolutionary slogans painted on walls, with history so salient, with la lucha (the struggle) very alive, without fear in the streets at night and without the internet.
The Cubans say, "We don't share our leftovers because we don't have any leftovers. But we share our knowledge, our solidarity and our love." I had the honor to attend a training on the "Campesino a Campesino", or farmer to farmer, methodology used in Cuba to encourage and strengthen agroecological practices. The philosophy of this approach is similar to ours in Vermont -- we too recognize that the best teachers of farmers are other farmers. In Cuba they have an impressive structure of support which includes easy access to land, growers cooperatives, agronomist technicians and role model farmers. With very little access to external inputs due to the economy and the US embargo, Cuban farmers must make do with what they have from producing worm compost to on-farm breeding of biocontrols.
This self-sufficiency provides lessons to any of us seeking to improve a closed cycle on our farms. Thus activists and farmers from Mozambique to Mexico, Argentina to Quebec, Panama to Haiti gathered to learn, exchange ideas, and promote a common vision of regional food sovereignty. Top concerns are sustainable agricultural practices, seed safety and climate change.
But what struck me most of all, and what I want to carry back with me to my work in Vermont, is a global and politicized view of sustainable agriculture. For me as a Vermont farmer, organic agriculture is about treating the environment properly, feeding my community, and keeping the land active. This feels like the right thing to do, but also a priviledge. For other farmers around the world, agro ecology or sustainable agriculture is about much more. It is about liberation from colonialism and subjugation by militaristic governments and controling corporations. It is about empowering peasants to become self sufficient, to strengthen communities, to gain some control over their lives, to fight agains the loss of their land and water rights, to have not only the ability but a reason to stay in the countryside. Agroecology is about attacking the predominant model of dependence, debt and chemical use. It is respect and care for the earth. It is about producing healthy food for the people. It is about building autonomy outside of the corporate model. Yes, it is about caring for the soil, about plant and animal diversity, about seed saving and evading erosion. But there is a profoundly active link between the ecological, the cultural and the political.
Each attendee at the training was of course from a particular country and heritage but many also consider themselves "internacionalistas". They understand their efforts belong to a broader context, a larger movement in which solidarity and working together is key to success. The motto called out often that week, "Globalicemos la lucha! Globalicemos la esperanza!" (Globalize the struggle! Globalize hope!) was a call to widen our work.
The Cubans have a saying, "La mesa esta servida," meaning: The table is set. What we do with it is up to us. Social and political transformation is possible through our work with the land, with our customers and community, with our farm workers. I think a political and ecological blend represents the best roots of our movement in Vermont, the original vision and motivation. I would like us to reconnect with this inspiration, to gain a global perspective of our work, to see ourselves as active participants in a struggle that is larger than our state.
A Cuban farmer says, outstretching his arms, "These hands I have are from working the land." I too have hands like that. I have a vision of all our hands piled on top of one another, diferent colors and sizes, stacked to the sky. We can achieve what we dream. The table is set.
We got lost on the way to Tres Vidas Farm in the lush green mountains of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. It was no surprise since the road got steeper and narrower as it became darker and darker that night. A cow's bulging eyes flashed in our headlights and a rooster ran across the gravelly road. This was a change from the impressively restored Old San Juan with its remarkable colonial buildings, proud and refreshing in their classic beauty and pastel palette. A change too from the heavy traffic and stripmalls of the suburbs which erased any recollection that indeed we were on a tropical island. It was a change too from the urban farmers' markets where we trusted the farmers' faces, having no notion of the actual farms themselves. Now that would change.
We woke to a crystal clear morning and a view all the way to the sea peeking through grass green mountains. Then quickly we scurried along to focus on the workshops ahead as fifty producers began arriving from all corners of this isla verde with their notebooks and potluck dishes.
It was a deep honor to present on skills for building a sustainable farm business to this extremely motivated, enthusiastic and burgeoning community. Puerto Rican producers love their island and they want to address land access, over development, health, community building, environmental conservation and more through agriculture. Seed producers, vegetable growers, coffee cultivators and organizers attended. Younger and older, more and less experienced, land owners and non. All were excited to take advantage of a day of workshops and one another, soaking it all up and developing their own answers to fit their goals.
Energy was high and so was tolerance for my lapses into English to explain a more complex concept. Yet I felt proud and part of something bigger. Here was the very reason I study Spanish in the time I can steal away from my farm responsibilities and other pursuits in order to be part of bridging gaps of knowledge, to exchange what I've learned and what are my hopes, to be part of a global movement of making change through agriculture.
Walking around Tres Vidas' fields later that afternoon, with discussions all around about shadecloth suppliers, home built rootwashers, soil tests, cruise ship waste that could be made into compost, tourist market potential and Japanese beetles, I felt at home. We're all in this together and how much sweeter that makes walking the road ahead.