• Mission

    To raise support and visibility for AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps, while becoming an agent for social change over 3,100 miles of biking.

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    AVODAH is an organization that provides an opportunity for young people to engage in social justice work while fostering Jewish values. We Corps member live in an intentional Jewish community while engaging in work for social change.

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Small town Jewish America

One of the things I have had to come to terms with recently is that fact that most of America is not Jewish, and many people from small town America have never met a Jewish person before. It is quite ironic thinking back to the planning;  thinking about sleeping arraignments, telling myself and my travel mates that “we will just stay with the Jewish family in town.” Ha, I can laugh now, imagining ourselves looking at last names in the phone books wherever we happened to be at nightfall. We would still be looking in the phone books in some of the towns we slept in.

When fundraising, or when advocating for a cause or mission, it was important to figure out how to best “sell” your ideas in a way that relates to the individual. Why would the random passerby want to support us? Ever since the beginning of this trip, my travel mates have challenged me to devise a way to speak about AVODAH, describing the work in a more secular light, and focusing on the people served, rather than beginning with “AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps…” . I have found that it tends to confuse people when trying to describe our journey in a few sentences. They hear the word Jewish and either immediately stop fully listening and instead, evoke any thoughts they have about Jewish people; or they think we are serving only Jewish people. Throughout the last few weeks, speaking with the locals in small towns of around 500, it has been a true journey to navigate individual responses and perceptions of ourselves.

Some people told me I was the first Jewish person they had ever met and thanked me for delivering the holy book. Most of all, I felt appreciated and appreciative for another truly religious experience after a year in AVODAH.

 

McDonalds

stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive.

I FEEL GOOD – Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would.

I have never  spent enough time in McDonald’s to realize how HAPPY a place it is. One morning, when camping across the street in the fairgrounds parking lot somewhere in Colorado, we went to McDonald’s in the morning to use the brush our teeth and grab some coffee. For under $10, JP got a coffee, two eggs, sausage, 3 buttermilk pancakes and hash browns. I got a yogurt parfait, hash browns and a tea. 

If the $1 menu doesn’t make you happy, the music surely will. The McDonald’s soundtrack is full of feel-good music and fun for all ages. They have a playground, free wi-fi, which we took advantage of multiple times even without purchasing food. You can fill your water bottles for free and if you really want a toy, all you have to do is smile and ask nicely (except for in San Francisco:  www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6A16PR20101102)

The other amazing thing we witnessed across America, was that McDonald’s was a place for elder people to congregate. At multiple stops, where we sat and used the internet for a few hours, white-haired men and women with canes and newspapers in tow would come and sit around the larger tables with their coffees and cream and chat. There was no other coffee shop in some towns and no other coffee which cost less than $5. Plus, there are cute little, laughing,  happy children to listen to and great music that suits their ears…why not have your meetings at MickyDees?

I am not writing this to promote McDonald’s in anyway. You can tell by my previous blog post about corn and soy in America.  I am simply saying they have a great marketing team.

ps. I forgot in my last blog to mention another thing about food: Food should be alive and should die, just like humans. McDonald’s burgers can last WEEKS without getting moldy…should we really be eating something that might never rot??

Tribute to Corn and Soy: FYI, this will be lengthy, almost as lengthy as the amounts of fields we biked through

I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma on this trip and recently saw Food INC. and am at the point where I feel both in utter awe of corn and soy and also disgusted to the point that I don’t know if there is anything I can eat. I should have written this post around Illinois, which by the way, I didn’t even associate with corn production prior to this trip. But now, after seeing at least one corn field in almost every state, I can look back, slightly more educated and tell you what I learned. The following is both from the book and firsthand accounts of farmers.

The industry of corn can be a microcosm for what is happening in many industries around the world. Basically, the # of corn ↑ and the # of farmers ↓, or the yield of corn increases and the number of farmers needed to produce the corn decreases. Why? Because of technology, and instruments which one person can control, which one corporation can control, which ultimately means less jobs. And for what? ABUNDANCE and production.

I will explain this further, and will touch upon this semi-incoherent chain as well: Population increases→ Corn production increases→ Chemicals in the production increase→ More humans means more meat→ Faster means of production→ More chemicals in the food we eat, both vegetable and animal→ Fewer jobs as production speeds up→ Humans eat food with more chemicals→ Humans pay more for vitamin enhanced products→ Fat, poor, unemployed America

Let me back up. Each year, with the growing population of humans, the amount of corn produced increases. The main way it increases, is not only by planting more stalks (and taking over the rainforests), but by ensuring that each stalk produces more cobs. And they way that happens is through the use of GMOs, genetically modified organisms. When a kernel is infused with additional genes, it becomes a new hybrid, growing fatter and quicker. This is an exponential catapult that keeps on increasing.

This process happens every year, and every year, farmers have to buy the newest hybrid. They are not forced to, but if they do not, they will not produce a crop that can compete with their neighbors’. They will not make a living if they don’t have top notch kernels. They will not be able to compete with market price. The American farmer is the only part of this entire chain of production that is not able to climb any sort of economic ladder. As more and more small farms are bought out by the huge agri-businesses, the small-town, independent farmers are not receiving their subsidies because they are no longer employed. Who gets the government subsidies then? The huge, megalomaniac big companies because they are now the ones producing the corn. Thanks gov!

One crop of corn will be 47% animal feed, 24% fuel, 6% processed food, 4% high fructose corn syrup (remember the farmer I met who produced HFCS?), and the rest is used elsewhere sparingly.

Notice where the largest quantity of corn goes: to feed animals. 32 pounds of corn feed will yield 4 POUNDS OF MEAT. Also in the manufacturing process, vitamins and minerals are released. Once the factories have the isolated corn particles, they have to add back all of the nutritional value that was lost…hence costing the consumer more.

The Omnivore’s Dilema, as Michael Pollan puts it, is that in America, with our melting pot fusion of culture and food, we have nothing to fall back on, we don’t know anymore what is healthy for us. We don’t know what we can eat, and sometimes, people develop eating disorders; eating too little or sometimes too much. We had a solution for those who overeat ho. If people started feeling glutinous by buying two servings, McDonald’s and 7-11 created the supersize. The purpose of allowing people to buy more allowed them to feel like it was normal to consume 42 ounces of soda.

Another aspect is that food production has changed from an ecological loop, into a factory and is now almost entirely powered by fossil fuels. We (the American farmers) use chemical fertilizers to ensure that no natural bugs pollute the crops. These are primarily nitrogen infused insect killers based on poisons that were initially manufactured for warfare (Omnivore’s Dilemma). The fertilizer is also full of these poisons…here’s how: Approximately 70% of the corn and soy produced in the US goes to feed the animals that we eat, pigs, cattle, chickens. The animals eat and produce manure which is transformed back into fertilizer. Pretty straightforward, huh? ( This can be seen at: http://www.uq.edu.au/_School_Science_Lessons/6.65.3.GIF and http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/6/26/191251/537 and http://www.chem.info/Articles/2010/07/Alternative-Energy-Food-AND-Fuel/)

To end things for now, I will end with something else Pollan mentions in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Humans are the only species that will eat anything, except for rats. The only difference though, is that humans have the ability to build a body of knowledge which can tell us what is healthy for our bodies. We are what we eat. So choose wisely.

How do you know where to stay?

This question frequently went through other folks’ minds when they inquired whether or not we stayed in motels every night. Our typical response was, “well, we mostly sleep on people’s lawns with our tent.” If we get lucky enough, sometimes they let us use their bathroom and if we get really lucky, they let us use their guest room that 360 days of the year remains unoccupied.

First, lights on. Second, green grass. (We have NEVER been turned down in 71 days)

When in Gunnison, we realized the importance of asking about dogs. These nice young women let us set up our tent in the corner of their yard, forgetting to tell us that the dog sleeps on their side yard, next to the fence. He starts to bark, he continues to bark as we venture to McDonalds to brush our teeth. He is still barking upon return, and for the next 30 minutes. We finally decide to investigate the surrounding yards and find the Fairgrounds across the street. Luckily, they had not yet locked the gates, so we simply picked up our tent and walked it across the street. The groundskeeper came over later and asked what we were doing and we told him about the bike trip. Best part of the story:  he let us stay and only after he left, we realized that he had seen us walking our tent across the street and must have thought…wow, nothing like this has ever happened at the Gunnison Fairgrounds!

Almost the most important question that, even after we conquered, we still were beaten: do you have any sprinklers? Getting rained on is one thing; having H2O spraying directly at your tent, underneath the rain tarp, on a hot, cloudless night, is another. After we learned that the only lawns in the desert that exist, exist because of the fake, nutrient-laden water, we decided to ask about the water and if so, maybe turn it off for the night. Note to reader: make sure your host knows how to turn the sprinklers off. (no hard feelings Steve, we didn’t get that wet!).

ODE to Iowa…a few states away

Iowa, iowa, iowaaaaaaa, iowa, iowa. (Chorus sang to Dar Willams, Iowa) (I know this is a few states late, but I heard this song and remembered I still needed to write my ode).

Iowa, previously thought to be the state of corn, of corn, of corn and more corn…is much, much more. Oh, how the hills, the windy hills, the hills which are so windy, we struggle to pedal downhill. I truly thought it would be flat for miles, corn and soy and corn and soy…my, how my expectations and images have been shattered like mirrors.

 

 

 

 

Our first stop was Dubuque, up in the northeast, where JP’s sister has a new baby, Emma Kate. So small was she, that we played with her older brother, Carson, who was just starting to speak.

 

Dubuque, Iowa, along the Mississippi River, I got my first massage, my body was in need. 30$ for an hour, checkout massage schools, they might even let you shower.

 

 

Then down on towards the Amana colonies, a true historical replica of something that used to be.

Continued on south towards Fairfield; hey John Armstrong!, my college roommate. He lives in Utopia, Utopia Trailer park, by the Golden Dome, the dome where the Maharishi meditate. I got to wear my one nice civilian clothes to his high school American History class, teaching the 9th graders about immigration. That day I spoke, we drew comparisons between the brave souls who crossed the Atlantic and immigrants today. Why did they come? And more importantly, why do they stay?

Rosh Ha’shanah, at Beth Shalom in Fairfield. Beautiful cantor from Israel, or at least she sounds like it; friendly invites for meals and asking exactly how we stay fit.

We head to post-service’s lunch at the house of the sauna; built by hand and fervor, it holds the whole town on Thursdays like sweaty iguanas. Thanks for the pre-thanksgiving meal, it was truly Nirvana!!

 

 

Goodbye John, thanks for the free yoga and nice dinner from the parents; we can’t miss the famous sculpture as we head out of town.

Leaving Fairfield, we head further south to Eldon, and up and down towards the west, in safe houses from storms.

Sleeping in thrift stores, under water towers, and our first time under the stalks of the corn; before our last night in Iowa, we almost pass out, but find a Chinese buffet for $7…they must not know how hungry we are.

Iowa, iowa, Iowaaaa, Iowa, iowa.

71 days DC to Newport Beach

I don’t know what to say or feel. I have made it..I have not had much internet the past few weeks, but I have written and reflected and will share soon. Stay tuned in the next few days for updates, but as for now:

A farmer’s life from Eastern Colorado:

A farmer’s life from Eastern Colorado:  For days, we rode on, seeing nothing but horizon, and finally, we made it to where we could see the Rocky Mountains; all the way across Nebraska and through Eastern Colorado. We decided to go off the map a bit, and just head south and west and south and west at every paved road until Denver. We were on a paved road for a while, when all of a sudden it turned into gravel and sand. Let me rephrase that: it turned into sand with gravel in it. The first fall I ever took on this trip was because I could not navigate through sand… imagine that we were already 10 miles away from a main road…there was no turning back. As we rode on, we saw the predicted thunderstorm rolling over the mountains in the far distance and chose a house in the distance as our destination. We were going to seek coverage.

As we rounded the corner, we saw two folks sitting in their green John Deer. I had heard a shot and asked if they had been shooting…the woman said no and we proceeded to tell them we were looking for a place to crash away from the storm. They told us that while they were sitting, watching the sunset, we could bike up ahead and set up on their property. If we wanted, they told us we could sleep in their guest room.

About 15 minutes and 1 mile later, as we were still struggling inch by inch through the sand, they drove past us and encouraged us that we were almost there!  When we arrived, they insisted we stay inside and we willingly obliged, how can you turn down a bed indoors? Only issue, I am quite allergic to cats and they had more than 15, 12 of which were brand new kittens, only two weeks old. I popped two Benadryl and went in to the house.  Little kitten paws were reaching from under door and little mew mews were emanating and echoing over the house. Mew mew mew.

The most interesting part of the stay was not the kittens or the indoor accommodations however. It was the history of the area and the lifestyle of a wheat farmer. Brett was the grandson of a man who bought the land during the Great Depression when it was fertile and cheaper. Brett’s father inherited the land when it still produced vegetables and grass for the cattle and then Brett took on the responsibility of working the land while his sisters moved out to the cities. I say when the land “used” to be fertile because of a recent water dispute between Boulder and Eastern Colorado, where Boulder won the rights to the water used by many farmers in Eastern CO. This is a sore spot for many farmers, as they have had to transition from multi-crop production, to the single, wheat plant which does not require as much H2O to survive.

Speaking of Boulder, when we were first coming up the road, apparently, they thought that JP and I were a bunch of “yuppies” from Boulder. Folks from PETA venture into the campo, the farmlands, to release prairie dogs into the “wild,” where they will be free from a city of poisons and road kill. They come to the farms to monitor the livelihood of prairie dogs, although they are a farmer’s enemy. Despite how cute they are, they dig holes which destroy the planting of crops and if they raise livestock, results in broken ankles and legs when the cows step in the holes. Anyway, that impression made us all laugh when we realized they thought us two bikers were coming to take away their guns.

Back to the wheat…Brett told us that they have not gotten any rain in months. And when there is no rain, there is no yield, since the amount of water they have access to is limited. Now, he owns his farm, but the rest of his yield comes from farm land that he rents and he cannot afford to rent as much land as he used to.

He took the farm from his father, now it is his time, what will happen in the future he questions? Less water, less land, less yield. What is to become of the small town farmer?

As we were leaving, I asked him what he thinks about America overall, as a farmer. He replied, “As a farmer, I feel underrepresented; we don’t have a voice. A football player makes the front page. Top viewed articles are all about sports. Farmers don’t get publicity.” He doesn’t think it is fair that an athlete makes millions when he has to decide whether to keep his land or move towards a more lucrative business.