Ankle sinking, slowly submerging into the mud of the farm, I reconsidered my choice of sneakers. This shoe selection was the obvious choice only an hour ago when I was teetering on my bike behind the group, as we cycled across the countryside of Denmark. As an inexperienced bicyclist, meaning I had learned the day before, I barely glanced at the rolling grassy hills as I struggled to stay upright under the weight of my backpack. Riding in the back of the line of cyclists was a deliberate choice, so no one could see my near miss as I almost launched off the side of the bike path.
Yet, none of that mattered now at the collective, a farm and home shared between four families. As I struggled to change into my boots, I couldn’t recognize the way that this cooperative was one of the first steps, albeit muddy, into my journey. A place that would put into words all that I hope to learn and explore through studying abroad in Copenhagen. A place that taught me some of the ways in which food shapes our engagement with the world around us.
This semester, I travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark in an effort to learn more about sustainability and, more specifically, food and agricultural systems. My core course this semester, Food Sustainability: From Production to Consumption, seeks to explore the Danish agricultural sector as an environmentally sensitive model for all nations to follow. With regulations more stringent than the European Union, Denmark has addressed animal welfare, the application of antibiotics, fertilizer, and currently offers the largest array of organic produce in the world. Food waste, biogas, and permaculture enter into the conversation of all that it means to think in terms of entire systems, in recognizing the patterns that allow for a resilient sustainable structure (The U.S. wastes 30-40% of our food. Some apps/websites to check out on food waste: Foodsharing Cph, Wefood, Too good to go).
I traveled to this farm so early on in my weeks in Copenhagen because the leader of my housing community is a member of this farm collective. He brought us there to meet the families, learn about their traditional Danish local food, build a greenhouse, plant trees, construct a shelter and experience hygge.
This farm collective is the first of many sites my housing community will visit this semester. I am living in a Green Living and Learning Community located within the city. The Green LLC is a space that brings students who are passionate about the environment into one living space to imagine and progress a low carbon lifestyle. We cook together and have weekly meetings on topics such as transportation, food waste, consumption, food production, models for the future, upcycling, recycling, re-use, wind energy, waste to energy, comfort and carbon footprint. I hope to share my experience in the Green LLC as it evolves and as I continue to learn about the interwoven threads of environmentalism.
Many farms in Denmark, such as the collective I visited, think in terms of the cyclical nature of food and life. They contemplate the way humans and agriculture have ultimately created divisive structures predicated upon productivity and yield. The recently observed process of consolidation, mechanization and specialization of farms created our current industrial agricultural model, found particularly in the United States. This model is predicated upon the separation of animal, and thus their waste, from crops, which now are intensely chemically fertilized. It separates the human from the farm worker. Industrial agriculture is monoculture—it separates crops that are mutually beneficial to each other, that give and take nutrients in tandem—the beans and peas of the world into separate plots. In the face of climate change, the spread of resistant pests and a loss of seed culture, monocultures do not stand a chance. Our past structures cannot dictate our future ones.
Thus, this semester I hope to deeply engage in the effort that innovatively explore solutions in Copenhagen as a means to re-envision the systems and structures that dictate our agriculture sector at home. I also hope to become more cognizant of the environmental justice concerns regarding food access and affordability. I recognize the way Denmark differs from the United States in terms of size, yet the structural solutions such as public transit to all major food stores seems at first glance intuitive. I also recognize the influence of the farm lobby in America and the ways that Denmark’s stringent public dissent against corruption creates a drastically different political reality. Yet as optimistic as it seems, I see here all that there is to fight for and dream of. Dreams that are not even distant, rather dreams and solutions that have been made visible by hard work and the recognition of more hard work to come.
There are many ways in which an individual, a society, can live ecologically. It does not necessarily mean visiting a collective farm over the weekend. It may mean making a meal with your family with locally sourced produced, or with attention to organics. It may mean the joyful laughter over a community garden or preserving taste value and cutting down on meat. It may mean learning about the land that we live on or meeting the hands that work in the soil. Or caring about SNAP Programs, also known as food stamps, and those that depend on them in the United States. Living ecologically can mean using the vote to push for a more cohesive farm bill in our country or fighting against Big Agriculture.
Living ecologically is living politically, socially, environmentally, and empathetically. Whether we recognize it or not, humans, we, are rooted in the soil. In that root system, we give and feed nutrients to ourselves and others. For me, this semester will be about striving to recognize systems of community in unexpected places. This semester is about food as both an ecological and personal act; where the environment and cultural traditions are woven together. I hope to share all that I see of Danish culture through food here with you.