Field Conversations

Today was my last day at my work-trade/internship at Full Plate Farm. All winter I’ve been working ever other Tuesday helping harvest, wash and pack Winter CSA shares for folx. These last few weeks I switched to Mondays, a larger harvest crew works these days, and I really enjoyed meeting everyone I worked alongside.

This last Monday we had some really thoughtful and wonderful field conversations. At one point we talked about language. Who determines what is right or wrong? Who controls language? What is proper? It all got started when Annie was trying to remember the Native name for Mt. Adams. I responded, it’s Klickitat. St. Helens is also known as Loowit and Mt. Hood is Wy’East. Annie knew that the Chinook would have used these names.

Native Food Soveriengty

I will be speaking tomorrow night at the Slow Food SW Wa Social more around this topic and my personal journey into farming as a career path. These are slides from a presentation I gave at PSU.

I added, ‘and the Molala, Klickitat, and Wascos.’ ‘You know, the mountains have different names depending on where you stand and face them.’ This intrigued the harvest crew.

‘The Yakima and the Tahoma, the Cowlitz, all these tribes, they had their own version of Salishan language and different stories and names for all the mountains from their perspective.’ This got us going. One person on the crew had traveled Indonesia and SE Asia, they spoke about who different regions and even one town over there were different versions of the same language and religions. Matt talked about different ways his family said the same thing, I related, my grandmother says ‘Worshington’ instead of Washington. So then I mentioned how so many place, towns, streets have names that derive from Chinook Jargon. A very common mash up of English, French and all these different versions of Salish. It was like a really common form of Spanglish.

‘But you know, it’s all butchered jargon mash-ups’ I was saying, ‘I was once corrected on how to pronounce Salish once. I was caught off guard by that. I later YouTube’d a bunch of videos and there are several different Native speakers pronouncing it in many different ways. None of these names or words how we say them today are ‘authentic’. They have all changed with time.’

This all got us thinking about our ancestors, some one pipped up speaking in Shake-spearing English. It was a real conversation and it was an honest conversation, it was happy and yet it was sad. It reminded me about a book I had read about animal intelligence. How scientists applauded that ability of a Gorilla to respond to questions using Sign Language. How ultimately they determined the Gorilla was no smarter than a 4th grader. The spoke to how ridiculous and degrading that was, how speciest, human superiority and biased that was to reduce the Gorillas intelligence to a young person. The Gorilla was after all hearing English, translating it to Gorilla and replying in Sign Language. That Gorilla was a genius!! It’s unjust and unfair to question a captive Gorillas intelligence. first foods slide

It’s how I felt when the USDA employee at the Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Center told me after my constant ‘Is this edible? Have you tried this? That’s Edible!’ ‘There’s a reason we bred plants’. 

That struck me hard. In the heart, in my head. No. My people never ‘bred’ plants to the extent that Europeans have bred plants or animals. The Pacific Northwest is a lush forest, rich in diversity, shelter, food, resources. The Natives of the Pacific Northwest never needed to control their foods to such an extreme extent. Yes we tended to plants, probably replanting and caring extra special to the tastiest patches. They definitely steward the land, practicing land management such as controlled burns and weeding and thinning. But there was no reason to twist a plant out of it’s comfort range, there was no reason to take a Wolf and make a Yorki out of it. There was so much food and resources here in the Pacific Northwest there was no reason to breed a plant for maximum production. There was so much here before settlers began arriving that twice as many people lived on this land than today. TODAY! There are less people living on this land than lived here in the past. And we have so little left of what was here. I tear up thinking about what happened. What went wrong?

I think about programs like WIC, Double Up Food Bucks, Food Stamps, the value of food. People can’t afford the extremely undervalued food we produce, how on earth will they afford nutritious, organic, local foods?! Especially if these programs are threatened with defunding?

camas lily slide.png

And how can it be that I am in an Agricultural Business Internship through Wisdom of the Elders with five other Natives and we are being taught by white, privileged, degree holding ‘professionals’ how to propagate, collect seed and care for our Native Plants. That we don’t know which plants are medicine, or food, or resource? The remnants of First Nations languages are on strip mall signs, used in middle school names, on bridges and we don’t know the land any more. I have struggled to learn my language, to learn Sinixt traditions, to learn what to eat and how, and I strive to share that with you all. It’s not always fun, to be honest, it hurts sometimes. By sharing and eating these foods, by using them, we’ll build respect and relationships with them. And ultimately that is the language of Animacy and reverence. Something Robin Wall Kimmer speaks to. It’s a language of acknowledging that a Gorilla might be a stronger, better linguist than myself. That a Tree might be wiser and more informed than we are. That rocks have been around for a real long time and can teach us so much about our history here on this land, if only we stop to listen.

This was our last 2018/2019 Harvest Crew Field conversation for the season. I think, it sent us off into the whirlwind of the 2019 Summer Season in a more grounded and aware state of being that’ll keep us steady in all the chaos. I hope we all carry a little more respect for the non-human, non-animate creatures in our world, water, dirt, rocks, trees, flowers, slime. They all breath and live, just differently than you and me. And that’s okay.


Thank you from your farmer,

Michelle Week

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