Cassie Noltnerwyss (center, holding her baby daughter) and the rest of 'Garlic Lovers United' at Primrose Farm on Sunday afternoon.
As global warming activists, they are not among the usual suspects. They are not protesting at the Capitol, soliciting for WISPIRG or marketing hybrid cars. Instead, they're sitting in lawn chairs on an unseasonably warm October day breaking garlic bulbs into individual cloves for this fall's planting at Primrose Community Farm.
As a farm dog wanders aimlessly around the group of a dozen or so garlic lovers stooped over black crates, the organizer of "Garlic Lovers Unite," Steve Bazan, points out that along with emissions from cars, food production is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses. Much of the garlic eaten here in Wisconsin is grown 2,000 miles away in California while another large portion of it comes from China, one of the biggest exporters of garlic worldwide. It takes a substantial amount of fossil fuels to transport food long distances.
"People are realizing that not only can they drive less to reduce their greenhouse gasses," says Bazan. "But also that they have to make choices about the food they buy and eat."
The garlic crew -- including a second-grade school teacher, a furniture maker, a few children, a lab worker and the farm owner -- chat peacefully about the Green Bay Packers and mutual acquaintances to take their minds off the mundane task of separating out the small cloves of garlic.
"Each clove will grow into its own plant," says Cassie Noltnerwyss, the owner of Primrose farm, while she multi-tasks breaking bulbs and caring for her baby girl, Zeamays, who was born around harvest time and named after the Latin term for corn.
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm produces 238 boxes of produce each week for its subscribers. An estimated 600 families are fed from the less-than-20-acre vegetable farm.
Noltnerwyss instructs the volunteers in a patient voice as to which cloves are tainted with fungus and should be discarded into a different crate, while one of the toddlers trying to imitate the adults haphazardly picks up bulbs of garlic and puts them wherever he sees fit.
Bazan decides to use discarded garlic shells to spell out the word "350" in one of the fields for a photo, in reference to "350.org," an international organization that proposed the global consortium of climate change events for 10/10/2010, the impetus for Bazan's "Garlic Lovers Unite" work party.
The number refers to 350 parts per million of carbon-dioxide, what many climatologists feel would be the safe level for Earth's atmosphere. Current measurements indicate nearly 400 ppm and steadily rising. Sunday's high temperature came close to a 72-year-old-record of 84 degrees.
Other 10/10/10 events included a parade of UW-Madison students, white roof-top painting to reflect solar radiation in New York, a bicycle event in Australia called "Keep it Wheel." More than 7,000 scheduled events, in all 50 states and dozens of different countries -- even in Iraq and Afghanistan -- took place Sunday, according to 350.org.
Using the environmentalist's call to think globally, but act locally, Bazan decided to organize his chapter of the "Global Work Party" at Primrose, his own local CSA farm. Noltnerwyss says the farm is certified organic and free of any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers derived from petroleum. Instead they use chicken dung, compost and pesticides made from bacteria that are harmless to humans and eventually break down in the elements.
"We are not entirely climate neutral," Noltnerwyss admits. "We still use tractors that burn fossil fuels."
However, against the mechanical horizon of closed cab combines kicking up dust and agricultural equipment humming tirelessly to harvest the endless acres of corn on the neighboring farms, the image of Noltnerwyss and her husband, Mike, riding a little tractor and individually plopping cloves of garlic in the holes dug by an attached trailer hardly seems worth mentioning. Furthermore, they don't ship any of their food more than 20 miles.In fact, Primrose Farm, just outside of Cross Plains, doesn't event drop produce off on the eastside of Madison.
"Let the east side farms do that," says Noltnerwyss.
Of all the 65 varieties of vegetables and fruits at the farm, she says garlic is one of the best to highlight for a climate change event because they don't even need buy seed for it. All of the 25,000 cloves they plan to plant this fall come from their own farm's previous garlic harvest in July.It is a sustainable vegetable and the nearby crates packed with full, white bulbs are evidence of how well the crop grows in Wisconsin.