Landing in America

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by Shi Yan, April 16, 2008 • On April 16, after 24 hours of complete exhaustion and lack of sleep, my plane landed in the city of Minneapolis. Claudia came to the airport to pick me up, and I suddenly realized that I had already arrived in America. Because of the time difference, I held on for another couple of hours, and I took a walk beside a Minneapolis lake not far from the place I was staying. This city makes a person feel very comfortable—the weather is nice, and so is the air.

Shi Yan is a graduate student studying rural development at Renmin University of China. She arrived in Minnesota in the second week of April 2008 to start a 5-month internship at the Earthrise Farm. Ms. Shi blogged in Chinese about her experiences at Earthrise, a small CSA farm run by two Catholic nuns near the Minnesota-South Dakota border, since the day she arrived. Her blog posts were translated into English by Caroline Merrifield. Shi Yan’s Chinese blog is: http://blog.sina.com.cn/usashiyan

Claudia is very warm and also very serious about her work. So that I can better adjust to the time difference, I’ll stay at her place for two days, after which I’ll go to the farm. Here, everything is novel.

My brain, eyes and mouth are constantly working.

My eyes are constantly looking at the things around me, to see the differences between here and China; my brain has to be working constantly, thinking about and switching between languages; and my mouth has to be talking constantly, to practice the language as much as possible.

The lucky thing is that I’ve adjusted to the time difference very quickly. However, the massive differences in diet have finally made me understand what a difficult thing it is to eat a tasty meal

4/21 | Arriving at Earthrise Farm On Friday afternoon, according to plan, Claudia drove me to the farm where I’ll be living for the next six months. It took three and half hours to get there from Minneapolis, and the entire way I was speculating, anticipating, but still a bit worried.

Very quickly, we saw a sign that looked like the sun, telling us that we’d already reached our destination.

Earthrise Farm was established by two nun sisters, Annette and Kay. Their parents bought the farm in 1944. It was originally 240 acres, but later the sisters inherited an approximately 16-acre portion of the farm, and in 1996 they named it Earthrise Farm. This name comes from the first time people landed on the moon, and one of the astronauts said, “We can see the spectacular sight of the earth rising above the moon’s horizon!” The sisters thought that this farm could be a new model, to make people understand that we can’t separate ourselves from the earth and still survive.

All of the farming techniques used here are organic, and it’s also a CSA farm. Maybe a lot of people are unfamiliar with this concept. CSA is an abbreviation of Community Supported Agriculture. This concept first started in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s, and it came to the U.S. in the 1980s. As everyone knows, because of the way agricultural products are distributed, a lot of profits are co-opted by middlemen, and in the process, the farmer who works hard all year earns only 10 percent or even less of the profits. Community Supported Agriculture connects farmers and consumers more directly.

There are two kinds of Community Supported Agriculture.

The first is where the farmers get in touch with local consumers at the beginning of the growing season, and when the time comes to harvest the fruits and vegetables, the farmers take the portion ordered by each customer to a given location.

The other kind is where the customers organize into a group, and then they get in touch with a corresponding farm. In the U.S., the first kind of CSA is more common. This probably makes a lot of you think of “farming to order” [a system in China in which farmers decide what to grow based on customer orders], but actually, they are completely different. CSA emphasizes a particular principle— it’s not merely to get farmers to earn more profits; in the process, consumers are able to better understand where their food comes from, feel more supportive of local agriculture and ensure that their food is safe. I’ll introduce more CSA-related concepts later.

Very soon, when the earth renews itself, everything here will turn green. A lot of animals live here happily.

From today on, I will live and work here for the next half a year. My “foreign sent-to-the-countryside life” has officially started. I’ll discard my past pride and my petty-bourgeois lifestyle, and prepare to get my hands dirty.

It’s just like Scarlett O’Hara says in Gone with the Wind: tomorrow is another day!

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.