For so long I thought to myself, “Other people do much more for the planet. I should be blowing up smelting plants. Tracking threatened woodpeckers. Blocking clearcuts. Not farming.” (...) But right here, right now, on 114 acres of stolen Mohawk territory in northern New York, I restore Ashworths, a potato variety developed on this land seventy years ago.
If this is my task—to rejuvenate soils, reestablish rare foods, and teach others to do the same—then who is to say it’s not just as important a fight?
As the cicadas sing in the fruit trees that encircle bittersweet farm, Cat Bennett stands in her shed, pitting cherries. The family’s canine friend Spark observes the process attentively, occasionally cheering on Cat’s progress. Birds flutter in and out of the shed, on their way to visit the pigs that argue with each other just around the corner. While the pits melodically bounce in the tin pail, Cat tells us the story of her family’s decades long collaboration with the soil.
Cat has grown up with Bittersweet farm, her hands feeling/helping the soil heal. Before Cat’s parents, Brian and Ann Bennett, moved to the St. Lawrence River Watershed (Haudonoshonee Territory) in 1999, the land on which Bittersweet farm sits was a small scale conventional dairy operation. The farm is in the settler community of De Peyster, St. Lawrence Country: a far off, often forgotten rural corner of the New York State.
Tubers and the Soil
Besides working with her parents, Ann and Brian Bennett, to take care of the pigs, cows and sheep, Cat has started her own "crazy enterprise."
In cultivating the potatoes for Milkweed Tussock Tubers, Cat's first and most important collaborator is the soil.
To delve into Cats thoughtful process of growing potatoes, including the importance of growing a wide variety to protect biodiversity, follow the link below.
Cat utilizes regenerative practices to grow her potatoes, engaging in a constant dialogue with the land. However, many potato growers in St. Lawrence County (Haudonoshonee Territory) utilize synthetic fertilizers. This weakens the soil, silencing the vital conversations that keep the earth alive and flourishing.
Collaborating with the soil's network of microbes and fungi doesn't just have agricultural consequences. For Cat, composting, is in fact, a political act. Ever thought of composting a politician? Even the most fearsome political opponent, and the toxins in their advertising, has the opportunity to be reborn in the compost pile.
Looking into the Future
Like countless other regenerative endeavors across the world, Bittersweet Farm stands in opposition to large scale petroleum based agriculture. Besides contributing to the human induced climate emergency, these exploitative practices have depleted arable land across North American/Turtle Island.
Contrary to popular belief, these destructive practices don't feed the world. If one shifts their focus away from the United States, a new reality emerges.
Despite the grim picture of agriculture across the land that settlers call the United States of America, there is still a glimmer of hope. Cat sees these rays of light in the young people, like herself, who are striving to practice small scale organic agriculture.