Hi folks, and thanks for “tuning in”! It’s me, Nicole, writing to you this week, so “hello”!
So why the “Matrix” you ask? Or “what does that have to do with a farmer’s market?”
A fair ask! You see, this week’s newsletter is largely dedicated to, or (partially) guest-written by, Chang Liu. (If you don’t know him), Chang is a long-time market customer and very dear friend of the Dufferin Grove community. He’s graciously written an editorial, largely focusing on food, and its relationship to data – ultimately, how the two have become “forced” together in many ways. A brilliant, thought-provoking piece – do take a moment to “digest” it, (if you will!)
But first, let’s share a bit of info about our dear farmer’s market, and the amazing vendors!
This coming week, we welcome Cheyenne, of Sundance Harvest. Cheyenne will have lots of tasty greens to choose from, and even promises to dazzle us with a short “veggie puppet show”! Be sure to check in with her on Thursday!
Cheyenne of Sundance Harvest
We also welcome Angie of Lapampa, whose delicious dried mangos, make a very tasty snack – be sure to get some!
Returning this week is Jiggy Popz, who have created a new flavour called “Strawberry Chai”, using Reyes’ strawberries – yum! I’ll bet this kinder crew of Maëlle, Ma’ina, Maresia, Zoé and Ash, won’t need much convincing to give it a try! Sure would have liked to switch places with them that day! Haha
Kiddos Enjoying some Jiggy Popz!
And if you didn’t get a chance to taste the delicious Jamaican cooking from Greenhouse Eatery, feel free to give them a try this week! Audrey and her team were cooking up delicious jerk chicken, vegetables, and more!
The always lovely, and camera ready Audrey
While all of that is delicious (obviously), I myself, have lately been feasting quite a bit on cucumbers – just love em! If you feel the same, check out Kooner Farms, Aldergrove, or Nith Valley, to get your fill.
And now for Chang’s editorial..
See you at the market folks – and happy (upcoming) solstice!
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About that matrix…
Data-poaching tractors, nature deficit and the future of food
By Chang Liu
In The Matrix, the Wachowskis resurrected an old philosophical what-if: what if our entire world is a gigantic illusion created to deceive us? Plato, Kant and others wondered long before Hollywood did, but could never have imagined a dystopia made of endless lines of code.
The real world is dystopic enough for me. But I actually think that Wachowskis didn’t go far enough. How does our growing “nature deficit” work in their cinematic matrix, and why is food production never addressed? As three more Matrix sequels came and went, our world became a lot more like theirs. “Big data”, a term already in use in the 90s, is one we now take for granted. Data surrounds and penetrates us, and this time there’s no red pill.
In the real matrix of 2022, our relationship to food has never been less natural, less intuitive and less spiritual. Food is fusing with data—foodata, a term I just created as the Architect of this piece. John Deere, the multinational—by now, perhaps a meta-national—that makes combines like the ones that have helped Ukraine become the bread basket of a large part of the world, grows foodata. Our entire food production system, as I am discovering, is a matrix of foodata.
Author-activist Cory Doctorow wrote an eyeball-popping blog about John Deere farm tractors. Tractors have evolved too. For one thing, they now have a “kill-switch” that allows Deere to remotely make any tractor inoperable—a feature recently used to foil Russian tractor-looters in occupied Ukraine. It’s a feel-good moment for technology, says Doctorow, until we realize two things: Russian hackers may well be able to turn the tractors back on anyway; and Deere did not install kill-switches to deter Russian looter… but to deter farmers.
To that end, Deere tractors come loaded with sensors that capture everything—soil moisture, soil density and more—data which Deere plots on a centimeter-accurate grid. How? By turning all the farmers driving Deere tractors into unwitting data harvesters, then stealing it from them.
Already rich from world-wide sales of its six-figure combines, Deere knows that real wealth comes by selling the data that farmers harvest every time they drive a Deere tractor—essentially, by selling the farmers themselves—to Monsanto (now Bayer) and private equity firms, who use this data to speculate on agricultural yields, essentially betting against the very same farmers. Much like the billions of us who are Facebook’s actual product, more and more farmers are plugged into the new foodata matrix, with little or no control over this data.
Not only is Deere appropriating the soil telemetry that farmers generate with their own tractors—and this data is arguably one of the most valuable things farmers have—but until very recently, the company effectively made it illegal for farmers to access their own data (or to repair their own tractor, for that matter) by making tractor sales subject to very restrictive terms of service (90 years!). Deere basically copyrighted the software in their tractors.
In a recent update, John Deere said farmers can now download their data directly. But in an industry run by monopolies who never wait for government regulators to catch up, how long will this arrangement last? And what kind of farmer has the time and the computer mainframes to download and process all that data? They can now access it, but they can’t monetize it the way Deere can.
Shouldn’t there be laws against mining and owning information which has been free for millennia? And where is all this taking us as a species?
The one onion layer that Doctorow doesn’t peel back is the deep biocultural loss of our growing reliance on foodata. Farming used to mean mostly using one’s senses, a life-time of experience and the teachings of one’s elders to read the land and the seasons. The best farmers were—and still are—stewards of their land, awake and alert to the rhythms of nature, respectful of its complexity, and aware of their part in the web of life that sustains their farm, sustains us all.
Humanity’s bond with nature is ancient and resilient. It is a bond as old as our species—certainly much older and more deeply “encoded” in us than our current tryst with big data. But it is also an eroding bond.
If we choose the blue pill and let them map, quantify and commodify every inch of our planet’s soil and climate and equip our tractors with kill-switches that prevent us from repairing our own farming equipment, we enrich a privileged few while deepening our nature deficit. We risk losing our natural, built-in intuition, resilience and creativity—these priceless human traits that have ably guided our decision-making, our food growing and our adaptation for millennia.
The ramifications run even deeper than that.
Reducing food production to a world-wide grid of data and letting a few big agro-predators play this information off against farmers and the rest of us is not only destroying farmers’ old kinship with the land, but is also reviving not-so-old colonial attitudes toward its original stewards. Proponents of foodata are repeating one of history’s most tragic mistakes: dismissing and destroying Indigenous peoples’ much older land-based wisdom, all over again.
Doctorow: “we should be building tractors (…) that are robust and resilient, maintainable and repairable”. I think they should also be free of kill-switches and remote sensors, and untethered to the agro-profiteers.
Instead, in this age of biodiversity extinction and global climate emergencies, we should be celebrating, cherishing and defending our original, sacred trust with the soil, water, air, animals and seasons.
The Mother we live on and draw our sustenance from deserves our reverence—unplugged, Location off.