My Eco Mia puts it best.
I know that Whole Foods is contentious.
Many of you also know that I detest the “Lamers”… those on the Left that spend their energy dragging down those people making real solid changes in thier lives or businesses to make the world a better place because they aren’t doing enough. Can we do more? Yes, we can always do more.
But the world will be made a better place by helping and building, not hurting and destroying.
I stand with those who help and are actively Being the Change.
Today is one of my favorite days of the year. The Autumnal Equinox is particularly special, even holy, to us. I am not an overly spiritual person, but September/October are fabulous times-the harvest is still in full swing-my sunchokes are cresting 8′-and while there is a nip in the air during my 5am commute I can still pick tomatoes and peppers. It is a beautiful, magical time.
Today was also the final installment of a 6 month long intermittent training program I was participating in at work. Together with another 40 execs from our region, we got together 3-4 times to discuss career development, give/receive feedback and network. This is real Fortune 500 stuff that I tend to isolate from my blog, but during the sessions I (being me) had worked enough permaculture stuff into some of the discussions that 2 of the members of my group were up from IL asked for an “eco-tour” of my property after we wrapped up.
We took the short version (under an hour) of the tour, and as I explained my permaculture guilds, rain barrels/gardens, bio-cisterns, and native plantings we grazed along the way. They were amazed that at almost every stop I was able to bend over and pluck a leaf off a plant, pop a tuber out of the ground, a berry from a bramble, or fruit from a vine. They commented on the simple elegance of the rubble rock walls and the frugality of the municipal wood chip mulches-and were then fascinated at the functionality of the rocks storing heat to serve as season extenders, and the mulch as a substrate for edible mushrooms and provide food for a complete soil ecosystem.
When I answered their question that I had harvested over 500# of produce this year and hoped for 2000# within 3 years they were stunned. They know I work the same jobs they do-they knew that they could do it too if they wanted to.
And that is what my HOA Permaculture is all about. Imagine if I hit my goal of 2000#. Imagine if my entire subdivision of 50 homes did the same (100,000#). Then take that out to my little village of 1200 with its 500 homes and you get darn near 1,000,000 pounds of food. All from homes that still have lawns and play systems and decks. From the street it would look like we all just have well landscaped homes. But a walk through that landscape and you realize that virtually everything is either edible, or supporting a plant that is.
David Holmgren has posited that we turn the problem of Suburbia into the potential solution for the feared food crunch of the coming century through Permaculture. In no other time have so many people owned land-cleared, arable, and irrigated land. The fact that we only farm Kentucky Bluegrass instead of apples and raspberries on our small holdings is only a matter of priorities and the luxury granted to us by cheap energy. The energy needed to completely revamp the infrastructure of our society may no longer exist-I believe we need to make lemons with our lemonade as we transition to a greener future. That Super Walmart looks alot less necesary if each hamlet is growing 1,000,000 pounds of real food…
Be the Change!
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With the land deal made my mind (to no one’s surprise) is in hyperdrive. I think I have read half of the ATTRA site in the past several days, worn the pages of my Seeds Savers and Seeds of Change catalogues down to nubs, and have spent an inordinate amount of time drooling over equipment sites that no good can come from like Earth Tools, and others that actually make sense like Scythe Supply. It is that last sight that has tickled my muse this morning.
This 1890 scene was found on the Scythe Supply’s site-and is titled “Paying the Mowers”. What has me going is that here are a half dozen grown adults receiving their wages for mowing. Someone who knows their way around a scythe can reportedly mow about an acre a day. Now imagine paying in today’s wages about $100+ to have each acre of your pasture/orchard/lawn mown. It would be ridiculous, but considering that was the way of things barely 100 years ago it bears thought. With this in mind it is not hard at all to see why rural America is dead or dying-population densities lower than when the Native Americans had the run of the land and the rural youth in full flight to more favorable climes. This flight is redefining our country and forcing the vast majority of our food to be grown by drivers instead of farmers.
I realize I am waxing nostalgic here and glossing over an immense amount of things like cholera, social security, and botox, but there was a time when this country paid just wages for things that mattered-like putting up the winter’s hay for the dairy cow-rather than KitchenAid mixers or LCD screens. As Polan and others have made clear to larger society, we currently pay less, as a percentage, for our food than any other culture in history. So not surprisingly we treat that food as a commodity valued by cost alone with hardly any consideration to quality. As a society we will spend weeks agonizing over which digital camera to purchase, but spend little to no time reading the ingredient list of the cereal we feed our children and caring not at all about the farmer that grew the grain, or the workers that packaged it.
This past year I have tasted a sweet new fruit-that of receiving part of my wages from growing food or crafting items (rain barrels) with my own hands. Given that I charge just prices (about 3x the grocery store) for my produce and products, my customers would not be purchasing it if they did not value it, and what it stands for, more. I take great pride in having a neighbor choose my produce to serve in their restaurant or to feed to their family.
Our rural economy was once based on neighbors providing products and services to each other. That interconnectedness bred community and a level of dependence. You paid just prices to the smithy or mill-if they folded who would repair your wagon or allow you to make bread? Why should today be any different? Our family will gladly pay more for local business to keep that business local-be it a bakery, repair shop, hardware store, or famer’s market. We have the power of the purse to make our community economies what we value. Given that statement there is palpable irony in the fact that the closest vendor listed in first paragraph is over 400 miles away.
The facts are that the 21st century community will be different than the 19th. Scythe Supply, Seed Savers and others are a critical component to building the future that I desire, and I will support them. But where the local economy still exists I turn to it- my garlic “seed” was purchased locally, we have sought out local coffee roasters, brewers, and cheesemakers, and Wisconsin has some of the finest farmers markets in the Midwest.
I guess I am proposing that we think hard about which mowers we are paying in our lives, and thereby ensure that those mowers will be there come the spring cutting time.
Be the Change.
So I am still riding high from this Saturday past when the deal was made-I have land to use next year! But even on the way home my gears were turning. Where in the sam hell would I be putting 600#’s of potatoes next July? As luck would have it a friend I had made this past year was in the middle of restoring an old farm house in town and had uncovered and rehabbed the original root cellar. I shot him a quick email and asked him to stop by if he got a chance.
He is up for swapping 40# of potatoes or so for use of the cellar, so it looks like whatever we are unable to sell we will be able to store well into winter, while also helping to keep another family well supplied with locally grown calories.
So the Beo Farm Community grows: 1 family to own the land, their brother to run the tractor, another to plant and tend the fields, and still another to store the surplus. 3-4 families sharing resources to create thousands of pounds of local food were there would be none without community.
All this grew from the simplest of things-the courage to ask a neighbor if they would be interested in sharing a resource. What other bounties are unrealized every day?
- One-its free. Yes you read that right-at least as money is concerned. I will be sharing the produce, helping with some with chores, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a rain barrel doesn’t show up at their home, but no money will change hands.
- Secondly they owners will prep the beds for me with a tractor mounted rototiller. The tiller will make 50″ beds with 18″ paths in between that I will cardboard mulch and layer with wood chips. This is especially good as the area was allowed to fallow and the quack grass is thick.
- Thirdly, I have access to water, wheel cultivators, and a storage shed/root cellar to store the produce in. They even have fencing for me to use to keep their gaggle (well over a dozen) of geese out of the garden.
- Finally, I have the invaluable oppurtunity to learn innumerable things about farm steading just by being on a working permaculture farm. Just today I helped the owner use hand tools to skin a huge 40′ log he felled this week that will be used to make the second story of his home in a year or two. Sound difficult? It only took about 20 minutes using some heirloom tools he bought at an old estate sale. It was incredibly beautiful to see those old tools put to use again.
So it begins. My path down the road to small scale ag couldn’t possibly have started in a more optimistic way-sharing labor, tools, land, and knowledge with neighbors and nary a contract or check in site. They have the land -we share the passion- and I supply the labor and seed. Together we will make something special that was not possible without our community and one generation of small farmers helping the next.
It will be an adventure as I learn to scale my thinking from gardening to farming. Last week, I was excited about the daunting prospect of planting 400 cloves of garlic-they will be putting in 800 sq feet in about a month-even at the 6″ spacing they use for ease of weeding, that is something like 6000 cloves of garlic-enough for over 100 families!!!