In August of 2016, I toured Ruene farm in Skiptvet with Stian Haltuff. I met Stian’s family, his cows, his little dog, and the oats, barley, pea grain, and rapeseed in the fields. The tour ended at Stian’s grain mill.

O beautiful for spacious skies
for amber waves of grain

One by one, Stian listed the grains that were ground together to make the nutritious food that the cows need to produce their best milk. One by one, he pointed to the fields where he grew those grains. And finally…the last nugget…the soy.

“Is soy grown in Norway?” I asked

“No, but we must include soy for the nutritional content. Since it is not grown here it is imported from Brazil,” he answered.

for amber waves of grain

I was born in Coldwater, Ohio, in the Midwest of the United States, the land of corn and soy. In 1830 when my ancestors emigrated from Northern Europe, the region was covered by vast hardwood forests, as dense and full of life as the Amazonian rain forests.

A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

Within a generation those forests, home to indigenous communities for millennia, were clear-cut. In their place stand mile after unchanging mile of corn and soy. This massive re-shaping of the biosphere at the advent of the industrial age was part of the shift to our new geological era, the anthropocene. Manifest destiny.

May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

Soy field in Ohio

En route to Norway, soy crosses the Atlantic from the mouth of the Amazon to the port of Moss. This journey is made possible by pirates with names like Monsanto, Denofa, Amaggi and Cargill. Carrrrrrghill. Their privateers, small farmers promised a high price for their green gold, slashed and burned nearly 3000 square kilometers of rain forest just last year. These actions are illegal, violating international treaties and national agreements with indigenous communities.

O barco, meu coracão não aguenta
O vaca, meu coracão não aguenta

Oh ship, my heart cannot handle it.
Oh cow, my heart cannot handle it.

As a result, the Amazonian rain forests absorb one third less carbon than they did a decade ago. This practice contributes to global warming and sea level rise, propelling us deeper into the anthropocene.

Navegar é preciso
Viver não é preciso

 

Amazon burning (photo U Mass Amherst)

To navigate is necessary,
to live is not necessary.

A Roman general uttered this phrase to his seamen as they navigated through a storm in service of war. With soy, too, navigation supercedes life. Soy has circumnavigated the globe, from China where it was first domesticated, to the Americas where it dominates the agricultural landscape, to Europe and back to China where it feeds the cows, pigs and chickens that in turn feed us. But all of this complex navigating decreases the life of the one that sustains us—the pachamama.

Back to Skiptvet, where this story began. Stian and his cohort of farmers have developed a new feed mix with rapeseed hulls, which frees them from using Brazilian soy. His cows produce their best milk, nourished by grains rooted to the soil of Skiptvet, not to global trade.

Viver é preciso
Navegar não é viver

Life is necessary
Navigating is not life

 

Loading soy onto cargo ship in Brazil (Photo Merco Press)

Additional lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates (America the Beautiful) and Caetano Veloso (Os Argonautas)

 

Shadow of Soy has been published in the the exhibition catalogue Skiptvet. The exhibition is a result of the project Agricultural issues – farm art at Skiptvet 2013-18, developed in collaboration between artists and farms. Over a period of time, eight artists have stayed at the farms Berg, Ruene, Nordre Solberg, Hoel Vestre, Skaug, Vister, Øvre Svartedal and Onstad. Seminars, debates and workshops have been organised along the way. Different standpoints and worldviews have become evident. Agriculture is a controversial industry in constant change. Who is going to produce our food? More about that project here.

Christy Gast is an artist based in New York whose work across media reflects her interest in issues of economics and the environment, and the role of content in giving meaning to the experience and form of the work. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA/P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Performa, Artist’s Space, Harris Lieberman Gallery and Regina Rex in New York; the Perez Art Museum of Miami, Bass Museum of Art, de la Cruz Collection, Locust Projects, Casa Lin and Gallery Diet in Miami; as well as Mass MoCA, the American University Museum, L.A.C.E., High Desert Test Sites, Centro Cultural Matucana 100 and the Kadist Foundation Paris. She has received grants and awards from the Art Matters Foundation, Funding Arts Network, South Florida Cultural Consortium, Tigertail, the American Austrian Foundation Hayward Prize, and the Joan Sovern Sculpture Award from Columbia University. Gast’s work stems from extensive research and site visits to places she thinks of as “contested landscapes”. These range from beaver-ravaged sub-Antarctic forests, to a mountain in Phoenix undergoing a politicized name change, to the extensively engineered canals and dikes around Lake Okeechobee that divert water from the Everglades. She is interested in places where there is evidence of conflict in human desires, which she traces, translates or mirrors through her art practice.