Feeling Like Cassandra

I’ve been watching Hercules. The Kevin Sorbo one- sometimes you just need some silly in your life. It can get preachy on values and such, but sometimes it really whips out a gem. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but “Atlantis” is an amazing parallel for those of us that see our blue island in the solar system as sinking.

Bear with me here for a minute. Hercules’ ship is struck by lightening and goes down. He’s found washed up on the beach of Atlantis by a kind and, of course, beautiful woman named Cassandra. She knew he was coming because she has visions. This is also how she knows that something terrible is going to happen to Atlantis. The legendary Cassandra was actually born of Troy and was cursed by the god Apollo to be able to see the future but never be believed. There may or may not have been a broken promise on her part, but mostly it’s because she turned down his sexual advances. The parallel is close enough for the show that was using it.

This Cassandra knows she sounds crazy- and people think she’s crazy- but she also sees how the garden her father raised her in no longer produces as it should. Rather like the people that are recognizing that even with increased use of chemicals, our food yields are not rising and are, in places, falling, despite the fact that no one in a position of authority would ever admit to it. Of course, Cassandra can actually see this because she lives outside of the city. Like a crazy person.

She doesn’t live in the city because she doesn’t want to be homogenized in with the rest. She feels no need to “keep up with the Joneses” and even believes that the myths of the gods are true. (Hercules was very confused to find himself called a myth.) As someone who grew up in the country and has been forced to live in cities due to circumstances, I sympathize with her. Each life makes its own demands on a person, and you need to pick the life whose demands you can actually accept. However, most of our world, and her world, are wholeheartedly city people. At one point, she mentions that the birds are gone which is a sign that whatever will happen is imminent. How many city people would know that little fact?

The entire city is run on the power of crystals- I wonder if that’s where the cartoon Atlantis got the idea or if that’s a “known” fact by people that study Atlantis? It gives them crystal-wave ovens (and annoying salesmen to go with it) and flying machines. Even street lamps. Not at all a blatant parallel to electricity, I’m sure.

While Cassandra is given the chance to speak, along with a back-handed insult, she is cruelly rejected by everyone when she can’t produce hard facts to back up her assertion that they are in danger. The problem with climate change is that it is not really happening on a human scale. I remember the snows we had when I was a kid in Pennsylvania that they don’t have now. The difference isn’t just because I was shorter. It’s the difference between being able to sled down our hill for most of the winter or only a handful of times during the winter. Looking around at the size and severity of storms on the rise is concerning, but hard to point to as a hard fact. Memories can be wrong and Katrina, Sandy, and this late-season hail storm were flukes, not the new normal don’tcha know? I cannot say that 2014 is x degrees warmer than 2013 and 2015 will be y degrees warmer which will cause z, and you’ll see it no later than 2016. The planet works on her own schedule, and it’s not a human one. There will be ups and downs, good years and bad, but the trend is not going in a good direction if you can look past what it means to next week’s stock prices. Not to mention the fact that there is no real historical precedent for this, so it’s really hard to predict what we have no basis for.

“In Atlantas, order and progress are supreme. You might say they’re our religion.” Replace “Atlantis” with “US” and, well, you get the picture. There is a constant theme with the Atlanteans that technology will solve all of their problems and to live anywhere else is to live among savages and uncivilized people.

Another parallel is invisible slaves. No, I’m not talking about oil, though that is part of it. I’m talking about the actual humans that were hidden under Atlantis to mine their crystals and the actual humans hidden in third-world countries to make our stuff. The sailors that had been with Hercules hadn’t all died as he’d feared. They’d been collected off the beach by the king’s men and put to work in the mines so that the citizens would have no idea there were slaves on the island. Ok, so technically we have moved beyond barbaric things like slaves and colonization in these modern times, but try telling that to someone who works 10 or 12 hour days to make not quite enough to feed their family. At least when we owned slaves it was in our best interests to keep our investments alive and more or less healthy.

I was wrong about what finally does the island in. I thought it was going to be the sky-scraper proposed early on that had a remarkably familiar shape . . . It’s Hercules, so jealous gods doing a Tower of Babel on it would be pretty much par for the course. But it wasn’t. It was the very human folly of mining under more of the island than the island could support and not listening to the warning signs that the invisible slaves and Cassandra were seeing. Kind of like burning too much fossil fuel for our oceans and atmosphere to absorb and not listening to the scientists and citizens that were noticing the early warning signs like increased storm activity and increasingly acidic oceans.

The final and best, or worst depending on your view, parallel is the chaos and deaths of ordinary citizens because they trusted their king to take care of them, not realizing that their king’s interests were in keeping the status quo while Cassandra just wanted to save people. Our “king,” be it government, industry, the stock market, has a vested interest in negating the words of our Cassandras for as long as they can. Their reigns were build on the world as it was, not the world the Cassandras know will be, however imperfect their visions are. The question is, who do you trust, and will you decide before the island disappears?

Farm Lesson: Weathah

I had another idea for the first lesson, but part of farming is the ability to roll with what life throws you. That means that this lesson is currently more important.

In my family, we recognize two kinds of weather. Weather is sun, rain, clouds, snow- no big deal. Weathah, on the other hand, is when you batten down the hatches and put on your sou’wester because the nor’easter is going to beat the tar out of you. Not being a coastal state, Colorado doesn’t really go in for nor’easters, but we do have our own versions of weathah. One of the worst types for farmers being hail. Overnight between August 25 and 26, the farm got nailed by hail. The hail itself wasn’t so big, but it just kept coming until most of our plants were little more than stems, their leaves all shredded. This would have been bad if it had happened in spring or the early summer when most hail strikes, but because it hit at the end of August, it’s devastating.

The reason that this hail is devastating rather than just a royal pain is because it’s too late in the season for most of the plants to recover. Many of our crops have already set the fruit they were going to set and don’t have time to set new. This is particularly true of the winter squash that I’ve been looking forward to since May when we planted them. We are able to start harvesting many of them anyway, but we found very few that look like they’ll be able to keep the way they usually should. I’m starting to think of things in terms of self-sufficiency, and having squash that won’t sell well is one thing, but if this were being harvested to be our carbs for the winter, we’d be in serious trouble. Our potatoes are in great shape, since they were hidden underground, but just potatoes for carbs gets pretty boring.

The other aspect of this is that we went from too many jobs and not enough hands to not enough jobs and too many hands. If the farm weren’t backed by PPCF, most or all of us would have been out of a job on the 26th. As it is, our hours are being cut because there just isn’t enough to do. As a farm employee, I knew that the work would go from crazy to nothing pretty much overnight, but that wasn’t supposed to happen for another month and a half or two months. However, I also know that this is a job that tends to be feast or famine. Rather literally. When you can plan and prepare for the down times, they can be a wonderful break from the intensity of the work. However, this wasn’t in the plan. Having some extra time of is pretty nice, but it’s going to be less nice when I get the smaller paycheck.

We are telling our customers what happened and that we will have less to offer for the rest of the season, but I got the impression that only some of them realized what this actually means. I think most of them are so accustomed to going from farm stand to farm stand at the market and then picking up anything else they need at the grocery store on the way home, that our lack of produce means very little. They’ll just get it somewhere else. It’s not their fault, we’ve been conditioned this way for 50+ years. However, something like this could spell the end of a small farm, which would mean one less producer of local food. You can only always get it “somewhere else” as long as food is being brought in from “somewhere else.”

What this lesson is really driving home for me is the fragility of our food system. Whether you “believe” in climate change or not, I think it’s getting pretty clear that weather is getting more extreme. It’s not going to be long before weathah is as common as weather, and that’s a problem. For the time being, we can import what we need, but what happens if California dries up or, worse, falls into the ocean? What happens when gas gets so expensive that it’s not worth shipping food half-way across the country- or world- to us? How are we going to handle an already delicate food system that is going to be battered by too much need and not enough predictability of growing conditions? I don’t know, but we need to figure it out.

My Summer

I promised to update you on the interesting things going on in my life some time ago, and I haven’t. However, we are now at the time of year when students are all being asked to write about what they did this summer. It seems as good a time as any to finally follow through on that promise.

This summer I . . . weeded. I weeded a lot. I am now very, very familiar with bindweed in all of its incarnations. There was also a lot of planting in the spring and now we’re getting into the serious harvest times. In between, always weeding. I can tell you with confidence that weeding knives and hori knives are both wonderful inventions. This summer I also consistently underestimated how much work it is to be a farmer. I haven’t been updating my blog not because I didn’t have ideas or information to pass on, but because once I got home and sat down, my brain was as fried as my body.

This summer I got to be one of the interns at Venetucci Farm. I say “got to be” because nailing a paid position for a non-experienced person who wants to get into farming is hard. For the most part, they simply don’t exist. I’ve started asking about this, and Mike Callicrate shared that interns are more often than not an expense rather than an asset. After being one for about four and a half months, that makes a lot of sense. I haven’t looked at the books for the farm that employs me, it’s none of my business, but I do know from other research that the profit margins for small, organic farms are generally not impressive. That means that there is less room for the farmer to be able to handle things like an employee that moves slowly, or makes mistakes. Mis-seeding a 200-foot row is something an intern may easily do, and you can’t undo that mistake. That seed is now a loss. Spearing garlic heads during harvest is really easy to do, especially for the inexperienced, but every head speared is one more that can’t go to market to be exchanged for money. Even taking two hours to weed a bed that should only take one hour means that something else that is just as pressing may not get done. All of this cuts into the profits of the farm which cuts into the ability, and desire, to hire and train the less experienced.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak at church about my job. The woman who was running the service said I was the only farmer in the congregation and, as I clearly loved my job, it was an important job to hear about. That request got me to do some research to make sure I was giving the right facts. Only 2% of the US population calls itself a farmer according to the IRS. Only half of those claim it as the main income for the household. After growing up in farm country and talking to farmers around here, I bet the number that have it as the only household income is much, much smaller than that. As of 2007, the official average age of farmers in America is 55. I am quite sure that average has not gone down in the intervening seven years. I am including both conventional and organic farmers in this because I don’t know where to look for the minute numbers that would be the organic farmers and because conventional farmers still know a whole lot more about how to raise food than your average non-farmer. The point of these statistics is that a tiny and rapidly aging population holds the key to feeding a vast and still growing population, but there is no support for them to pass on that knowledge to the people that want to learn. Since I’m pretty sure you know that food does not just appear in grocery stores- though not everyone does- what happens when the last farmer dies?

Lucky for me, Susan Gordon is willing to take on the inexperienced each year to run Venetucci. I got to hear her speak to a group of college kids the other day, and it only confirmed that she can’t seem to do anything without pouring all of herself into it. It’s really inspiring, particularly in a job that can so easily overwhelm and beat down one’s spirit. Rather than throwing up my hands and vowing to never work anywhere but another desk, having her as a daily example of what I could be has given me a reason to work through the pain and exhaustion that is simply a part of this job. Instead of rolling with the idea that organic produce is a niche market and maybe even a fad, she helped to start both CFAM (Colorado Farm and Art Market) and later AVOG (Arkansas Valley Organic Growers) so that her friends and fellow farmers will be able to compete with conventional growers and food importers for their share of local food money. Trust me when I tell you that not shopping at Wal-Mart will not phase Wal-Mart in the least. However, spending that money on a local farm’s produce will make a difference for that local farmer. Yes, it is often more expensive. However, aside from the fact that you are paying for a more nutritionally useful item, you are paying the actual price for the item. Well, as close to the actual price as the market will bear, anyway. We have been trained for far too long to think of food as a cheap item, a small part of the budget. It shouldn’t be. Not if we’re actually paying the real price for real food.

Speaking of money, I am also lucky that I could take on a job that doesn’t pay a living wage. That lack of money is not the fault of Susan or PPCF by any means. My income reflects how we value farmers. We don’t. As a single, childless person with relatively little debt compared to others my age, I am willing to live on less than I made 10 years ago because that’s the price I had to pay to learn what I needed to learn. You can read all the books you want. The only way to really learn how to farm is to do. I happened to pair passion with relative financial ability to support it. I have run into a fair number of others that have the passion, but don’t have the financial ability to support the learning process. This is a problem. We need to be supporting our new and young farmers, not discouraging them.

In conclusion, my summer has been exhausting, painful, sun burning, financially frustrating, and the best summer I’ve had in years. I have learned so much about farming, and about myself (turns out I can take a tan if I spend enough time outside), that I wouldn’t trade it for all the health insurance and retirement accounts in the world. I have learned so much that I want to pass on to you folks. Hopefully I will have a post up at least once a week for the rest of the season to pass on at least a few of the lessons I’ve absorbed along with the dirt that has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails.

“Patriot Day”

Let’s agree up front that what I’m about to say will piss people off. I am aware of that, and frankly, we should be pissed off. This is not an anti-government rant. This is not an anti-military rant. This is an anti-stupid rant. Our heads are pretty firmly stuck in the sand and we don’t seem to care. I admit that I avoid the news. I don’t want to hear about all the crap going on. It’s ugly. However, I’m not so naive as to believe that what our leaders tell us, what our media tells us, is the truth. It’s bits and pieces of the truth, but it’s not all of it. It can’t be all of it. Not if our leaders and our media want to remain in their comfy seats of power.

September 11, Patriot Day. Never Forget.

Get over it.

How many people died that day? 2,996. According to Wikipedia, 19 were hijackers and 372 were foreign nationals. That leaves us with 2,605 Americans dead. Not an insignificant number. However, the casualty count for the subsequent Iraq War varies somewhere between just over 100,000 to over 1,000,000. Between 2003 and 2012 precisely 4,486 of our soldiers were killed. That means that whichever estimate is correct leaves a whole lot of dead locals. War being what it is- particularly when the attackers aren’t real careful (that’s us)- most of those dead locals are civilians. We lost 2,605 civilians plus 4,486 soldiers. We don’t know how many they’ve lost, but it was many multiples of that. The casualties from Afghanistan are a little harder to crunch. Totally justified, right? Right.

What I’m not sure how to find the numbers for is the casualties for the preceding wars, military actions, police actions, and business deals that we were involved in. How many of them did we have to kill before they got mad enough at us to strike back?

We had a speaker at church one day. She traveled the world to help the underprivileged. The places she preferred were the ones where hardship was a matter of course, not a matter for the insignificant poor. I’m afraid I don’t remember whether she was in Afghanistan or Iraq, but I think that ends up being immaterial to the story. She was sitting with some children watching them draw pictures. One little boy was drawing a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. Naturally, she had to ask why he was drawing that.

“It was the will of Allah.”

She was horrified. This was a child! But, being a citizen of the world, she knew she needed to ask why before she jumped to any conclusions.

“Allah wanted them to feel what we feel.”

Sit with that for a moment. Take your time.

What if the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the attempt at the White House weren’t cold-blooded terrorist attacks because we have tvs and HBO? What if the attacks were from people that have been attacked by us for so long that they don’t have anything to lose? What if they were from people that didn’t have any other way of telling us to butt the hell out? What if the attacks were the only way to get the attention of the American people?

If you have the time, take a gander at The War on Democracy. It only covers about 50 years, and it only covers South America, but it’s a disturbing enough collection of American interference. Take particular note of the former CIA agent who believes that some casualties are just a cost of doing business. Hugo Chavez is really only remarkable because we didn’t manage to keep him out of power.

The US admits to having over 700 military bases world-wide. It also freely admits that’s not a full disclosure, as some are too sensitive to name. One of my favorites is Diego Garcia. We uprooted the entire population and booted them because we wanted the island for our own use. They now live in poverty on foreign soil. Yay us?

We have no foreign military bases on our own soil. (I have since been told that we do have military personnel from other countries in ours, but since I had to be told that by someone in the military, I’m not sure they count. Let me know when they’re flying their own flags on our soil.)

I have immense respect for the men and women that are in the military. It’s not a job I could do. The only thing I have to say about them is that they don’t get supported overseas, and they frequently don’t get supported at home. That’s bad and needs to improve. My real beef, though, is how they’re used. We are not the World Police. We are not Big Brother. What we are is one country out of many that make up our world. I think that we’ve interfered in enough places that small, judicious uses of our strength might be necessary to set the country back on track, but they should be small, judicious, and temporary. Eleven years (Iraq) is not temporary or small.

Benjamin Franklin told us that we had a republic- if we could keep it.

Thomas Jefferson told us that no man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.

Samuel Adams told us that a standing army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people. Such power should be watched with a jealous eye.

You know what? I take it back. We do need to remember September 11. We need to remember what we did to cause it, what we’re doing to encourage another, and what needs to happen so that no country needs to resort to that to get our attention. We need to remember that it is our job to keep an eye on our government.

We need to remember that anything they do in our name reflects on all of us. Let’s start making that reflection a good one.

Hanna Ranch Movie

I know I’ve been MIA for a while now, and I intend to update you on that and on some of the cool things happening in my life, but for the moment- this movie.

If you live in Southern Colorado (specifically Colorado Springs to Pueblo) or you have any interest at all in the plight of the family farmer or rancher- you have got to see Hanna Ranch. For the local folks, it’s going to be at Ivywild for a few more days. For everyone else, it’s travelling around a bit and available on iTunes. It should be showing up on Netflix eventually, too. It is one place, one ranch, and one family- but a story that I suspect a lot of the agricultural community knows in one way or another.

We need to support our farms. In 30 years, we’ve lost half-a-million ranchers (or farmers in general- can’t remember which) which is a problem. This film clearly illustrates why.

“Food Processing Unit”

I really feel the need to share this new technological break-through with you.

So what they did was invent the backyard pig. A pig that no doubt runs on fossil fuel.

They invented a backyard pig that doesn’t produce bacon!

What are your thoughts on this?

Bee School Part 2

Bees mean flowers. Flowers often mean herbicides and pesticides. Whether you have bees, your neighbors have bees, or you just want a flower garden for yourself, what you put on your garden and lawn will affect the bees and other pollinators. It seems that Bayer products in particular tend to have systematic pesticides. They stick around for a lot longer and have a tendency to build up in the wax and pollen. It’s a possible reason for Colony Collapse Disorder. One of the worst is the neonictanoids that Europe has found to be an unacceptable risk. America, of course, prefers to test chemicals on the general public until they are proven to be a problem, rather than restrict them until they are proven to be safe. This means that the flowers you just bought for the garden may have been treated with neonictanoids as seeds. This means you’re importing a very pretty poison to your bee yard. Be careful.

The next class was about diseases and pests. Right off the bat we were told to never buy used equipment. You don’t know what diseases might be lurking in the wood and any leftover wax. The odds are, it’s not worth the money you save considering the colonies you could lose. The first disease was a perfect example. American Foulbrood pretty much can’t be treated. It is possible to salvage the honey, but after that you have to burn not just the hive, but the bees as well. You don’t want to spread it to other hives if you can help it. If the person selling the cheap, used hive has no idea what happened, but his colony died? This is what you could be housing your new colony in. At around $100 for a box of bees, that’s an expensive experiment. Most of the rest of the little pests and diseases could be managed with a healthy hive and requeening as necessary. The bees should be keeping themselves clean and managing almost any health challenge.

Larger pests can be a bit more of a problem. Mice like to live in the corners of hives that are abandoned by the bees in winter when they cluster around the queen. They will do quite a bit of damage to your frames and the comb. It seems that metal mouse excluders are the best bet, since they have been known to chew openings in wooden ones. Skunks are another challenge. They will sit right in front of a hive and snap up the bees as they fly out. A board with nails stuck through it, or very sharp tacks, should keep them far enough back to let the bees angle away before they get eaten. Bears . . . well, bears got a class of their own.

Winnie the Pooh lied to us as children. Bears really don’t care that much about honey. What they want is the fat and protein of the brood. (Marmalade, however, I am sure is still a favorite.) Because of this, unlike skunks, mice, or raccoons, if a bear gets to your hive, kiss it good-bye. The brood is in the center of the bottom, and that’s where the bear goes, destroying everything else in the process. They also learn, so if you feed a bear a hive, they will keep coming back to see if there’s more to be had. It can take up to 30 return trips for them to figure out that you’re not giving them another hive. That’s a lot of time for a bear to be in your yard. There also really isn’t any part of town that can feel safe from bears. Whether you’re butting up to the mountains or snugly downtown, put serious thought into bear fencing. It’s expensive, but so is buying a new hive and colony.

If you have three or more hives, you can ask the Department of Parks and Wildlife for the materials to build a fence. Since that’s more than you’re legally allowed to have in the city, you’re probably stuck building your own. The three main points are for it to be stout, easy to access, and safe for both you and the bear. Stout is easy- bears are strong, smart, and big. If it’s easy to knock down, they’ll do it. Easy to access makes sense, too. If it’s hard to get in there, you won’t get in often enough to take good care of your hive and make the most of it. The safety aspect was the most interesting. Safe for you- of course. But when it really comes down to it, we don’t want to damage the bear. It’s not the animal’s fault that its home has been taken over by hysterical two-legged creatures that shove food in its face and then kill it when it tries to eat the food. We need to try and be civil neighbors, at least.

There is a perk to going all-out for bear fencing. If it keeps out bears, it keeps out dogs, skunks, raccoons, and curious children. If any of them run into 10,000 volts, they probably won’t come back for seconds. This will simplify your large pest control issues. I plan on planting mine with pretty herbs and flowers that would be a waste in the main yard because of the dog. No reason not to make the most of it.

Obviously, these two posts are just an overview of the classes. Aside from wondering if my brain might melt from over-use, I couldn’t be happier with what I got out of it. The cost of the fencing that I’m once again convinced I need to have is making me wince, but other than that, the class was great for pointing out the possible pit falls while still encouraging anyone who really had an interest in it. I recommend it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers