The Arepa Project
What if we could grow an heirloom corn, produce a traditional arepa and help regenerate ecology and community?
With our regenerative business model we believe that we can grow organic, heirloom corn, provide a high quality nutritional arepa, cultivate community and demonstrate a new way forward connecting regenerative farming practices and cultural traditions.
I. Promoting a Regenerative Economy
II. Growing Practices: Soil Restoration & Nutrient Density
III. Ancient Traditions: The Arepa
VI. Center & Store Front
I. Promoting a Regenerative Economy
By connecting land and people through ethically cultivated food, we aim to increase quality of life for farmers and consumers while celebrating multicultural diversity in the marketplace. Beyond the triple bottom line model of people, profit and planet, we recognize that transparent, community- and employee- supported modes of production are key to an ethical and ecological food system. Moon and Stars strives to provide employees with a quality of life that provides a rational benefit program that includes good wages, good health insurance, and access to alternative education. We strive further to promote these practices in other workplaces, and to bolster community access to alternative education through our educational programming, opportunities for involvement in corn-growing and arepa-making, and cultural events.
We also aim to support a regenerative economy through creating partnership with local farms and businesses. Our partnerships include organizations and businesses similar in heart and mission, including: All Souls Tortilla (Burlington, VT), Shire Beef (Vershire VT), Wild Water Farm (Quechee VT), Cedar Circle Farm (Thetford VT), The Upper Valley Food Co-op (White River Junction VT) and farmer's markets.
An essential component of a regenerative economy is that of reciprocity. Thus, Moon and Stars strives to give as much or more than it receives, from the knowledge and stewardship of those who grew corn on this land for generations upon generations: the Abenaki and Wabenaki peoples. We are grateful for their care of the land, and aim to care for the land in their honor. Yet, we know that caring for the land by growing the Three Sisters and other native crops does is by no means an equal exchange, for all of the work and love that First Nations people have put into this land, nor the suffering that colonization has caused. Thus Moon and Stars returns a portion of our proceeds to organizations doing work toward preserving cultural heritage and traditional ways of knowing.
We also work with UVM and New American Farmers to contribute to diversification of a landrace seed bank.
II. Growing Practices: Regenerative Agriculture
By growing with the best regenerative farm practices and learning from the current science of soil carbon sequestration, we believe we can develop a growing methodology that works to enhance the soil microbiology and biodiversity of all parts of the growing system. We are working on implementing techniques such as no-till, cover cropping, companion planting, specifically growing in the traditional Three Sisters method. We hope to work more closely with Abenaki peoples, on whose land we live, to preserve strains that have adapted to this environment for generations. We look towards stewards of the first nations for guidance and have deep gratitude for their sacrifices and work to preserve the diversity that has survived colonization.
We are currently in our first season of farming Abenaki Calais flint corn and Abenaki Rose flint corn, to produce nixtamalized masa. We have three farm plots, and are using the Three Sisters planting method at each of them, pairing butternut squash and Jacob's Cattle bean with the corn. We hope to collect information from this year to support our efforts going forward.
In that vein, we are working with soil scientists at UVM to establish biodiverse growing practices that we can then replicate in trials with landrace heirloom corn varieties. We are also partnering with growers at Cedar Circle Farm and Vershire Beef, both of whom have been implementing no-till, regenerative farming methods and testing the soil carbon amounts for different crops, soils, and utilizing different methodologies. Once we establish effective and scalable growing methodologies that increase biodiversity above and below ground, we plan to work with farmers to implement these growing techniques at all of our sites.
III. Ancient Traditions: The Arepa
An arepa is a round patty made of ground corn. Traditionally arepas were made with heirloom native open pollinated corn specific to each region of the Andes. Ranging in size and thickness there are over 40 types of arepas in Colombia alone. Over the last hundred years the tradition of growing corn to make the arepa has declined since corn has become one of the world’s most commodified and genetically modified grains. The US has been exporting GMO corn to South America thus contaminating the once diverse corn supply with corn that is no longer native to the region, can not be saved from year to year, and has less nutrition than the traditional corn grown by farmers throughout the country. With the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement in the 90s Colombia went from producing one million hectares of corn down to 300,000 and they started importing GMO corn from the US. We believe that significant cultural heritage around food and community has been exploited. Meanwhile, the growth of and privatization of conventional corn has proven detrimental to waterways, ecological systems, biodiversity and culture. Growing corn organically and sustainably can help to restore soil habitats through the process of regenerative agriculture, using cover cropping, rotational grazing and community-owned business models of land management.
We aim to source all of our corn from some of the oldest seed strains still in existence and grow them for seed and masa at 4-6 locations around the Upper Valley. The partnership will consist of use of land to grow no till, organically with regenerative practices in exchange for improved soil health, regenerative growing practices and shared ownership in a farmer collective. At each site we will test the soil composition, diversity, organic matter and ability to hold water. We grow our heirloom corn with the highest integrity in soil, water, nutrition and with an understanding that we must not only take from the land but also give back.
Our Arepas are made through the following process:
1. Growing native, heirloom, open pollinated corn organically and to increase ecological diversity
2. Drying corn on the stalk then husking and shelling
3. Nixtamalization: cooking corn with wood ash or lime, a process that breaks down the pericarp (outer shell) of the of kernel, making it more nutritious and digestible.
4. Grinding nixtamalized corn into masa
5. Rolling out masa into rounds aka. arepas
6. Bake or grill.
One of our big goals at Moon and Stars is to supply immigrant communities throughout the Northeast with this amazing, nutrient-dense food.
Through an effort to be totally efficient in energy usage, we have identified that Amtrak has a service called “The Vermonter” which travels daily from Vermont to New York. We hope to establish a relationship in which our corn and other farm products from Vermont are delivered to New York bi-weekly. We see enormous potential in working with the already established infrastructure along the railroad lines and are designing for food hubs at major stops that will include year round cold storage from renewable technologies, commercial kitchen for use of making value added goods, and market space to both diversify and increase markets for local farmers and farm cooperatives.
We have already identified between six and two -dozen farms at major hubs along the route from Vermont to New York. Why not create jobs and opportunity for the local economy by making commercial space available for making value added Vermont grown food products? New York City is one of the most diversified centers in the world with over a million Colombians alone. Like many Latin American countries, they lack access to ethically sourced and grown traditional foods. Through direct marketing and cooperative member ownership, we can provide traditionally grown and nixtamilized heirloom corn arepas for affordable prices in wholesale or retail markets. Utilizing the rail system can and should keep shipping rates down while also supporting the growth of more sustainable transportation options and keeping trucks off the already packed highways. Zero carbon footprint transportation system to move Value Added Products.
In the face of our current environmental crisis, never has it been more important to create local resilience through cultural events, sustainable economic practices, and traditional and regenerative growing techniques. We believe in a return to local on all fronts. From growing, to preserving, processing, transporting and selling, each person and process carries equal and valued importance in the system. With our arepas, we aim to provide a platform for practices and products that will foster resiliency, support local farmers, enhance local and regional markets and help in the regeneration of our surrounding ecology.
We believe that consumers should know where their food comes from and thus have prioritized transparency in every aspect of our project and production. Through the markets and sales of the arepas and from the Moon & Stars food cart, that we have access to a platform for education. Through food, music, art, and story-telling, we are developing educational programming to share in coordination with the food cart. We want people to eat their fresh and nutritious meals while learning about where their food comes from, and why it is so significant. We want to share corn's incredible story, from its origins, to migration around the planet, to nutrition and seed diversity.
In honor of our ancestral stargazers, we host events to celebrate celestial patterns, such as the summer solstice and the fall equinox. Our events include traditional Colombian foods, Cumbia, skillshares, dancing, and farm tours. For further information, check out our events page.
VI. The Center & Store Front
We also aim to develop a Moon & Stars hub -- a center for learning, and a store front for purchasing arepas, empanadas, salsas, and more.
We would like to hold a space where the public can see artisanal arepas being made with regional heirloom corn and sample a variety of both arepas and empanadas. The Store Front and Center will also be used as an incubator for all Latin american cultures that have been exploited by the current system and bring back all of that cultural heritage back to its roots. We will run workshops and educational programming to facilitate the growth of a resilient community and provide space for a multicultural traditional food practices. The connection of land, culture, food and tradition are at the heart of our mission to support a just and thriving local, nutrient-dense food system.
We will do this by, providing space to make traditional foods that are grown, processed, sourced, and distributed ethically.
Programming will not be limited to this, but will include:
· How to build value-added economies.
· Cooperative partner and business models
· Traditional food practices: nixtamalization.
· Corn: from growing to grinding. Making homemade arepas.
· Soil Health: Carbon sequestration & No Till
· Regen Ag Practices / Farmer Coalitions
· Marketing to densified and diversified areas
· Multi media art: block prints and stencils
· Live Performance/The Arepa making Process