Wednesday, January 14, 2009

6 month Watson Report!

Here is my 6 month watson report. After days of struggling to sum up this journey in three pages I made it as informal as possible. Im sorry if it is not worthwhile. Check out the entries below and pictures if you yearn more. I promise I will edit the posts soon.
For those of you that asked about Italy I posted an entry down below on Terra Madre and other Italy experiences. Scrol down for a while or use the navigating thing on the right. Peace!

Adam Forbes
Watson 6 Month Report - Italy and Thailand

Before I begin I must first say how crazy it is that 6 months has passed! On one hand, the time has flown by. On the other hand, it seems like a lifetime ago when I was in America. Halfway means a lot but also means that many more challenges lie ahead. No matter what, it is a large milestone. There were times when I never thought I would make it this far. Now I am here and I am filled with energy and hope. Nearly all my feelings of homesickness or just plain sickness are overshadowed by beautiful memories from the journey so far and excitement for all that lies ahead. The Watson journey for me definitely has its ups and downs. Some days I feel deeply unsettled, confused as to what I’m actually trying to accomplish, and frustrated by living in foreign cultures. Inevitably these feelings fade as I connect with farmers, interview passionate organizers, and help plant seeds. Once again, I have spent the past two days reflecting and trying many times to sum up the past three months. I have concluded that an accurate summary is truly impossible. Instead, I have decided to simply update you on random memories and my feelings and emotions at this time. Hopefully, you can check out my blog or photos to see more of my voyage.

I left India weighed down by the heaviness of massive Mumbai slums, cancer villages, and pesticide poisonings. However, inside a flicker of hope burned brightly. Over the past three months I have had time to let the lessons from India brew within me and be put to words. These lessons have been reconfirmed and expanded upon countless times by Italian farmers, a worldwide gathering of food culture, scientists in Rome, and an incredible movement here in Thailand. At the beginning of this trip I felt motivated by the need to do something to address the devastating crises facing our food. Now, I also feel motivated by hope, good food, a joyous life, and connection to the land. The seed saving world has revealed itself to me as not a movement against something, but a movement of hope.

There is an infinite amount of negative information in this world and to be honest I have had enough of it. Over the past 4-5 years I have read, studied, and heard an exorbitant amount of depressing facts on our food system, the state of the environment, the oppression of many through globalization, systematic racism, sexism, etc. I am glad to have learned about the negative effects of our social and environmental systems. However, I have had enough! My education has motivated me and led me down a path which I feel is my ultimate dream and destiny. Now I feel confident of my path in life and my true dream of how I want to live. I am ready to fully dwell in positivity!

What really has touched me deeply on this whole journey are the hundreds of stories of hope I have experienced. When I left India I feared that this was a truly unique experience and I would not meet passionate people like that again. Italy proved this all wrong. While the conditions are drastically different, I was equally inspired by the Italians connection to the land, their respect for an ancient food culture, and the passion of so many to protect our agricultural diversity. I met a friend in Rome and we spent our first few days talking farming, composting and seeds while eating unbelievable food and wandering around the coliseum. After a week of working on a farm growing many ancient Italian grains and pulses we headed north to Terra Madre.

In the most basic sense, Terra Madre is an international Slow Food conference put on every two years in Torino. However, there is no way to explain in words the size and power of this epic event. For four days Slow Food brings over 7,500 delegates from at least 153 countries together. The delegates are farmers, chefs, students, organizers, and food activists from around the world. The motto of the event is "Good, Clean, Fair food" and it is billed as a "worldwide gathering of food communities" All these words prove to be superfluous and fall short in explaining the energy, passion, and inspiration that is Terra Madre.

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine an Olympic stadium filled with thousands of "peasant" farmers dressed in their traditional garb. Imagine farmers from Senegal mingling with students from Brazil and the USA as a slew of inspirational speakers rally us all together. There are translations into 7 languages and the largest cultural diversity I have ever seen. The opening ceremony brought me to tears numerous times as I soaked in the energy of this Olympic stadium filled with people passionate about the same thing as me. I cried as I watched farmers carry in flags from over 150 countries and became joyous when powerful speakers ranging from Prince Charles to an American middle school student spoke about the agricultural system and how we can get good, clean, fair food.

The next four days were filled with workshops, meetings, absurd amounts of food, dances, and parties at night. However, the real power for me was found in the many informal conversation and seed exchanges held with the diversity of people. At the same time as Terra Madre is Salone Del Gusto - a humongous fair of good, fair food. There was a whole selection dedicated to products from Terra Madre delegates. These stands with farmers and producers from around the world had unique products or food varieties that Slow Food is working to preserve. All these food products have their roots in traditional agriculture and are deeply connected to culture and history. There was quinoa from Peru, unique beans from Sicily, red fife wheat from Canada, Pear wine from Norway, white honey from Ethiopia, true wild rice from USA, and hundreds more. The Italy section had an incredible diversity of cured pork products, cheeses, pasta, cardoon, celery, and much more that represented the diversity of Italy's food heritage. I tried to break the world record for how many free samples you can eat of various cured meats and cheeses! I think at one point I had at least 50 used toothpicks in my pocket (a dangerous endeavor, but someone must do it).

I will say again that the real inspiration came from conversations I had throughout the days and nights with cheese makers from Italy, seed savers from Japan, peasant farmers from Mali and Senegal, farmer friends from India, seed savers from Togo, and so many more. Once again the international language of agriculture, seeds, and a friendly smile proved to break down all barriers. To be honest, I was most excited by all the young people I met. There were over 1,200 young people from around the world. They inspired me immensely with their passion, music, and creative ideas (my favorite part was when a seed saving activist from Bolivia led us in a song about seeds).

The rest of my time is Italy was filled with trains, hot springs, intimidating interviews in Rome, unbelievable food, and a tour of organic farms in Umbria. The tour was the second part of a farmer exchange between Californian and Umbrian organic farmers. For a week we were all treated like kings. Our days were filled with three hour long meals of handmade cheese and pasts, prosciutto, local bread, wine, fresh olive oil and much more. I was continuously impressed by Italian food culture as well as the importance they place on old varieties and the recipes or practices associated with them. We got to tour and meet farmers who raised sheep, grew ancient varieties of wheat, had incredible olive oil, and even a wildly passionate lady preserving over 50 types of ancient fruit trees (most varieties were at least 500 years old and she was the sole keeper of mnay of these culturally important varieties). After this tour I spent a whole day interviewing staff at the Global Crop Diversity Trust in the UN FAO headquarters. I learned an immense amount this day on the more large scale approach to seed saving, but also felt incredibly out of place with my sandals and 2 Euros (I had lost my ATM card). Overall Italy was much less challenging than India, but still eye opening and mouth watering. Who knew seed diversity could taste so damn good!

A frantic exit from Italy and quick transition to Thailand left me feeling quite confused and actually depressed. I arrived 11 days late to the Pun Pun green building and seed saving internship. Pun Pun is an organic farm, seed-saving operation, and sustainable living and learning center. At first I had a hard time connecting to other foreigners. I didn’t want to learn a new language and felt very disappointed by the disorganized nature of seed saving at Pun Pun. However, over time I settled into life on the farm and really enjoyed having this relaxed and educational time. My days became filled with building an adobe house, taking care of some gardens, organizing the seed bank, interviewing farmers, and swimming whenever I got a chance.

Pijo, the Thai man who runs Pun Pun with his wife Peggy, is most passionate about seed saving. However, he relates seed saving to broader philosophies on self reliance and simple living. Over time Pijos' ideas began to sink in deeper and I recognized how little time in my life I had spent actually relaxing, focusing on work I love, and connecting with others. I stopped criticizing Pun Puns shortcomings and became inspired by how they had taken this awful land and turned it into such a productive farm and community. I still felt overwhelmed by being around so many other foreigners, but also enjoyed our spontaneous dance parties and deep talks at lunch.

I gave two presentations on seed saving and my year to communities of foreigners and Thais at Pun Pun. As I prepared for the first talk I studied facts about seed control, loss of biodiversity, pollution, etc. However, all this faded as I looked through my pictures. Joyous tears filled my eyes when I remembered sons who had lost their father to cancer and gave up a job as a chemical engineer to become natural farmers. My ears felt the joy again of a 90 year old woman’s laughter as she led me into her cool seed bank and showed me seeds of millets, pumpkins, cucumbers, red beans and green amaranth. The presentations both ended up being long winded crazy rants about how much hope there is in the world, the immense amount of biodiversity still left, and how seed saving is the answer to so many questions. These positive thoughts are all I am able to think about these days.

After finally becoming comfortable with friends, building and farming at Pun Pun I had to pack up and leave. Once again the sad feelings which arose dissipated as I reached Joko Community Learning Center in Northern Thailand. Seed saving is their focus, but they use it as a focal point to start many school groups, train women with aids, provide healthcare and diet information, organize community forests, teach farmers plant breeding for their needs, and so much more. For days I just kept finding out more and more programs they have. Once again I was amazed by how welcoming and kind people are to me when I simply say I am studying seed saving. One of the staff met me at the bus station and organized every waking minute for me. I stayed in the village with their volunteers. It was great to be the only foreigner again and struggle with language. I loved cooking with them, doing interviews, meeting farmers, exchanging stories with farmers, eating with old women who grow 37 different types of yams, and much more. I got to go with them to a large festival celebrating rice diversity and their farmer field school. This helped to end my Thai experience on an incredibly high note as I soaked in their performances and deep connection to rice, helped give out seeds, spoke with passionate farmers, and learned once again about how deeply valuable crop diversity is to health, self-reliance, sustainable agriculture, farmers power, taste, religion, and culture.

Even though I am typing in a loud bar in Bangkok I can still close my eyes and be transported. My mind fills with smiling images of ancient fruit ladies in Italy, rice growers in Thailand, bakers in Italy, subsistence farmers in India, and thousands of farmers dancing together at Terra Madre. In some ways I feel like this is all some magical dream. Past ideas I had which I blew off as idealistic or silly now prove true around the world. I feel ecstatic in my conviction that through farming and saving seeds I can do more than just be happy and have the opportunity to fondle many beans. I can also select crops to grow well on my land, preserve our history, spread good tastes, become self reliant, bring back ceremonies and recipes, feed people good-tasting food, and most importantly spread the beauty of diversity. In diversity there in strength and survival. Climate Change is coming, but these crop varieties can adapt to the conditions, help us to adapt, and reconnect us to the land! What a journey this is! I wonder what Ethiopia holds.
As long as there are old women with seeds and organic fields, I am happy! Read More......