Posts Tagged ‘museings’

The Farm Bill

Yet again the brilliant minds in DC are stumped while the rest of the country waits for them to decide to just screw us, or screw us over completely. What I’m talking about is the farm bill. I think everyone knows that agribusiness is pretty heavily subsidized by the government (using our tax dollars). Those subsidies were supposed to end in September of 2012, so they were working on a new set to use going forward. (Better late than never?) However, it appears that Christmas Break can’t be put off for details like whether our farmers can rely on the government to back them up if their crops fail next year or if/how the food stamp program will continue. Petty concerns, you know.

I specified that it was agribusiness, not farmers, that are subsidized by this for a reason. Here’s an overview of what they are hoping to include in the bill and a general overview of what is included. Basically, if you aren’t a huge farm growing commodity crops, you pretty much don’t count. The heavy subsidizing of grains then supports cheap meat and dairy when those animals are finished on grain. There’s a reason that grass-fed beef is more expensive than grain-fed, and it’s not the cost of land. It’s because we don’t see the whole cost of grain-fed beef at the grocery store.

This post mentions the probability of milk going up to $7 a gallon if Congress can’t get their act together. I admit, I’m rather torn about that possibility. On the one hand, a whole lot of the 99% are having enough trouble putting food on their tables, and I really don’t want to see it made more difficult. On the other, I’ve been looking at non-conventional milk sources and they all cost at least that much. The non-conventional milk sources (cow shares, owning a goat, buying from a friend under the table) actually reflect the real cost of producing milk. Small dairies, particularly ones that want to produce raw milk, don’t have the support from subsidies that are given to the dairies that sell to the grocery stores. They can’t hide their costs using our tax money.

Americans have gotten used to cheap food. We’ve had it for a couple of generations, now. Using such a small portion of our income on feeding ourselves is one of the reasons we have so much . . . stuff. We don’t have to choose between a Wii and dinner for the next month. Maybe, though, we need to rethink that. Consider this- if the crap milk sold in the grocery store cost almost as much as the milk from the farmer down the street who lets you pet his cows and walk his pastures, which would you end up buying?

Food Choices and Vegetarianism

Norway is imposing Meatless Mondays on their military. I am not ok with this.

Cultures of all shapes and sizes have food limitations. You don’t go to India and expect to eat beef. You don’t go to Muslim countries and expect to eat pork. I don’t really understand the Jewish rules of mixing meat and dairy, but I know they exist. Meeting a Mormon at a coffee shop is maybe not the best idea. (I tried this once. Oops.) Some religions and social groups expect or demand vegetarianism or veganism to participate. I am perfectly ok with all of that.

I am not a vegetarian, but I have friends and family members who are. There are things in the vegetarian and particularly the vegan movement that rub me the wrong way, but I accept that they are allowed to have their own opinions. I might think you’re wrong, but I defend your right to be so. One of the things I really like about the vegetarian movement is that it promotes thinking about your food. I, personally, don’t agree with the conclusions they have come to, but I applaud the fact that they are coming to any conclusions at all.

My problem is that the military is not a religious, cultural, or socially-motivated group. I don’t know the rules of entering and leaving the Norwiegan military, but I’m pretty sure that not having the option of meat one day a week isn’t going to be an acceptable reason to drop out. People join the military for dozens of different reasons. I’m willing to bet that stopping climate change isn’t usually very high on the list.

I have become pretty convinced that my body does not accept plant protein as protein. Most people can handle it, but there are some that lack the enzymes needed to make the conversion. This means that the most perfect balance of beans, grains, and legumes will mean nothing to my body. If I were meatless once a week, I would have to increase my meat intake on the other six days to make sure that I averaged out at the necessary protein levels. In a job that requires both physical and mental growth and sharpness, dropping my protein level means that I might not have the physical or mental ability to, say, keep the people in my unit from getting killed.

I’m afraid I don’t have a link to back me up, but once upon a time, prisoners were fed on bread and water because it helped to keep them docile. What does bread and water lack? Primarily protein. I’ve also heard that monks used vegetarian diets for much the same reason. Again, I don’t have a link for that one. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure that docility and religious devotion is what one should strive for in a military force.

My final problem with this is that it is promoting the idea that a vegetarian diet is a solution to global warming and environmental degradation. It’s not. I agree 100% that modern meat production practices are very, very bad for the environment. I do not agree in the least that meat production is bad for the environment. It is possible to raise meat animals in a way that increases biodiversity and topsoil in their fields. It’s not done very often at the moment, but it does exist. As an aside, animals raised in this manner are better for the people eating them, too. Producing grains and legumes, however, pretty much requires destroying both biodiversity and topsoil in their fields. Even if you grow them organically, you have to remove the native plants and animals from that section of land. If you don’t grow them organically, the impact just gets worse. After all, it wasn’t the ranchers that caused the Dust Bowl.

I believe that people should be given choices. I believe that a military is required to provide vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher meals in addition to their usual fare. What I do not believe is that they have any right to dictate what food choices their members make. If a person is placed on a diet so they can meet their physical requirements, that’s one thing. Deciding that everyone will eat a certain way is another. After all, imagine how it would go over if they instituted Fish-only Fridays?

What’s Old is New

I have a passing interest in history, mostly to fuel my interest in stories. I have been working on a story set in Boston in 1705. It is a part of our history that isn’t very well known, since there weren’t any major land discoveries or wars at that point. That makes it a little hard to get into the minds of the characters, since I can’t go to Gettysburg as I could for a Civil War story or Lexington, Massachusetts for a Revolutionary War story. Two major sticking points for me to really understand the main character’s life are a town house that produces much of its own food and the associated chores as being social occasions. I got to experience both this weekend with the Heirloom Gardens Meetup Group.

This Meetup Group is an extension of Sundari Kraft’s Heirloom Gardens. It is to help with those times when she needs more hands than

Garden Beds

her apprentices have. I think it’s a great idea for letting people that can’t be apprentices due to time or distance restrictions, like myself, still participate and learn. I happened to be up in Denver on Saturday for a class, so I signed up to help plant garlic. It is usually planted in the fall, but this was an experiment to see if it could be planted in the spring for those of us that didn’t manage to plant it in the fall for whatever reason.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the yard we would be working in. The houses in that part of town tend to be modestly sized, with town-sized yards. I was expecting a couple of beds, mostly. Possibly raised beds, surrounded with grass or mulch of some sort. I wasn’t expecting the miniature farm that she has. It is the most efficient use of a back yard I have ever seen. The animals, goats, chickens, and a couple of ducks, live on one side, and the other is given over to garden beds. When I think yard, and I am sure I’m not alone in this, I think grass, shrubs, maybe some flowers. However, I believe this yard is put together the way far more yards used to appear for most of civilization. In times before you could just pop down to the corner store when you needed a dozen eggs, it

made sense to keep the egg-makers in the back yard. They are also excellent non-fossil-fuel-using garbage disposals. Of course, not everyone would have every kind of animal, but when you don’t have neighbors on one side with a milk cow or goat and a neighbor on the other side raising ducks to trade with, it does help to have them all yourself.

The work itself was not hard. We had to pay attention to the spacing for the garlic bulbs and make sure we were putting them in their holes pointy-side up. That was about the extent of the mental challenge. However, it was a really nice break from my regular job in front of a computer and all the time I’ve been spending in class to sit on the ground and dig in the dirt. It also let the three of us, Sundari, a young man in college, and myself, chat. There was no deep philosophy discussed, nor did we compare which Housewiveswe thought was the best. We discussed weather and

Ooh, comfy garlic bed . . .

mountain biking along with gardening and small-business challenges. We also talked about the goats that were out and about in the yard so they didn’t feel left out. Naturally, they insisted on being in the middle of what we were doing more often than not, since that had to be the most interesting part of the garden. Once all of the cloves were planted, and the end of the bed was marked so that something else could be planted in the balance of it, all we needed to do was mulch it with straw and return the goats to their pen.

I was particularly interested in the seed-starting meetup on Sunday. This was even less physically demanding, since we spent most of the time sitting in chairs around the table. It was slightly more mentally demanding, though, as we had to make sure that we got all of the even slightly sprouted seeds off of the wet paper towels and into the seedling trays and not break any of the ones that had sprouted with abandon. The goats were out again to hang out with us. One of them determined that the freshly planted and mulched garlic bed was perfect for a nap in the sun. It was a different group dynamic, being a larger group and all women this time. I could almost see the starched collars and long skirts as

Seedlings to be covered

we sat around chatting about gardening and, there were a couple of mothers present, children, among other things. The plastic seedling trays and PVC-pipe greenhouse are modern inventions, but the conversation could have been held just as easily over quilts or shelling peas. I was the newest addition to the group, and some of them had been doing these things together for a while so they had a shared history. I am starting to see articles in various places about activities you can do for entertainment for free, since so many people are more strapped for cash than they were just a few years ago. However, chores seldom make the list. They should, though. Sundari mentioned that we probably planted about a thousand seeds. Those will become a thousand plants that will feed her CSA. All of this while trading ideas and getting to know one another in a far quieter atmosphere than a bar or a club and a far less expectant atmosphere than a networking event.

I expect community is something that I will be spending a lot of time thinking about and musing about on here. I am finding that the homesteading community

Staying warm to grow

is an interesting blend of modern techniques including blogs and meetups and good, old-fashioned chore-sharing and swapping. There are some things that just can’t be explained in a tweet or taught in a blog post. There are some experiences that still have to be, well, experienced.

The Plight of the Singleton

This isn’t a Bridget Jones-esque complaint about when Mum will stop asking if I’ve got a boyfriend yet and smug marrieds setting me up. Although if it netted me Colin Firth, I’d be willing to put up with it. No, this is about the challenges of being really independent.

America is all about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” Physical impossibilities aside, no one ever really does it alone. I know. I’ve tried. I have this independent streak that makes me want to do it myself. Just me! I don’t need help! But if I’m honest, I get help anyway. Of course my family fed, clothed, and sheltered me. But I was also encouraged to explore and try new things. Like horseback riding. It will never be anything but a financial drain- er- wonderful hobby- for me, but it has given me skills with practical applications. Like absolutely no fear of horse manure. I have friends that have done everything from shelter a horse I really couldn’t afford to teach me people skills. There is give and take in every relationship, but I didn’t do any of those things alone.

Now I find myself in a place where I don’t have the ties of family or years of shared history and it’s really highlighting that I can’t do this alone. I need support of some sort. I am meeting some wonderful people and slowly developing that web that everyone needs. We are, after all, a social creature. I am, however, a long way from what I am finding I crave. I hesitate to use the word family, as it’s not the biological ties that I’m after, but it has that feel. People that I know inside out. People that really know me. People with complementary abilities. The kind of deep, intimate ties that aren’t encouraged in a world that is based on your number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

As a single person living alone, all the chores fall on me. I go to work to pay the rent and then come home to cook and clean. If I want to buy a house, it’s my credit score that determines the interest and my income that has to cover the mortgage. We all know the stories of the one that stays in a miserable job to support their significant other that is going to school or starting a business. What I should be doing right now is getting a job with the professionals already in the field that I want to join. Unfortunately, I don’t have a husband that can sign me onto his health insurance and make sure that we have at least some income all 12 months of the year. I have to stick with the field that does offer these things.

Once upon a time, it was understood that each helped in their own way, and being a single person living totally on your own was very unusual. This is not modern-day specialization where all I know how to do is one tiny part of the process. I could chip in to help with anything, but since each has their own strengths, I tend to do the things that cater to them. One was domestic, taking care of the house and cooking. Historically, this was the wife, but more and more husbands are taking on this role in one-income households. One was the income-earner as farmer or laborer or merchant. If you look at history, it’s amazing how many widows went on to take over their late husband’s business, whatever it was. Even the children had jobs- assigning the antsy little boy to swatting flies away from the food on the kitchen table. These days that has turned into asking the kid to fix the computer problem.

This went beyond the family. Once upon a time, each village had a blacksmith and a baker and a cobbler (if anyone even knows what that is anymore). It may not have been advertised, but you knew which women made the best preserves and which men could mend harness like new. Even the weird woman that lived half in the woods had a talent. She was probably the one that you went to when a fever wouldn’t break or a beau wouldn’t propose.

So what does this have to do with homesteading? As much as my independent streak wants me to learn it all and do it all, it’s really not practical. I happen to me mechanically disinclined. When my truck breaks down, I could learn how to fix it. Or I could know someone who is in fact mechanically inclined. If I’m lucky, that person will happen to need some help with their vegetable garden.

Networking is a buzzword that annoys me. Mostly because I’m bad at it. Showing up at a “networking function” to pass out business cards and meet people that might be able to help me in the future just isn’t something I’m good at. However, I’ve been discovering that , it’s noting more than the family and village of yesteryear that could provide what I cannot. In fact, I have started developing a network purely by accident. I’ve offered skills that I have and discovered that others have simply offered theirs in return. Logically speaking, it makes more sense for us to be lifting each other up by our bootstraps rather than ourselves.


Who doesn't like perky ears in the morning?

I have been struggling lately with priorities. The obvious definition of your priorities is what you do. After all, why would you do whatever it is if it’s not important for some reason? My struggle has been that my intellectual and emotional priorities haven’t been borne out by my action priorities. Coming home and eating dinner in front of a movie doesn’t get gardening books read or walks taken. It doesn’t get stories written and I can rarely even claim I’m watching them as research for any of my various projects. I’m getting better about working on my beading project or redesigning my garden spaces while I’m watching, but even with that, I can’t pretend that I’m actually putting my time to good use.

I’m not alone in this, though. After all, look around. What are the priorities, or actions, of so many other people? Eating dinner in front of the TV is hardly exclusive to me. Nor is eating easy, convenient, frequently microwaved foods. When many people go home after work, the first thing on their to-do list is rarely to work on their novel or go out in the wood-shed to see if the coat of varnish on their hand-built table is dry yet. Their priority, my priority, is to be entertained. We consume, we are entertained, we are passive. We don’t create, we don’t entertain, we don’t do. Believe me, my finger is pointed at myself on this one. I am just mentioning that I might not be the only person who should be doing that.

My intellectual and emotional priorities are more and more strongly telling me that I really need to be doing. Learning, creating, moving- it doesn’t matter what, really, as long as it’s doing. I’m happier that way, and more productive. The struggle is, how do I get the intellectual and emotional priorities to become action priorities? Like so many people, I have a day job. It’s easier than some, it’s harder than others, but it eats up 40 hours of my week and more than its fair share of brain cells. By the end of the day I’m tired. Like most people. I don’t have a permanent answer for this question, but I hope I will soon.

In an effort to find that answer, I have been expanding my blog-reading. Today, I stumbled across A Brief Guide to World Domination. It is written with a sense of humor, but it is also something that I intend to go back and read again. Several times. There was one part, though, that is currently sticking in my head. It’s the Ideal World exercise.

The short summary is that you think through your idealized, perfect day in great detail, beginning from what time you get up and what you have for breakfast all the way through what you do for each hour of the day and who you talk to. Then you begin to make plans to adjust your life to get closer to the perfect day you’ve designed for yourself.

As I was reading the summary about what you do when you get out of bed in the morning, a picture flashed though my mind. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t make it up, so I have to believe that it has at least a fair amount of truth to it. I saw myself rolling out of bed and into jeans so I could shuffle out and feed the chickens. (The mental picture was later amended to include feeding the horses. There will be horses.) Some people would probably see themselves rolling out of a bed with silk sheets in a mansion, or dressing in Armani, or even opening up their e-mail from a kid who could finally go to college. Me, I want chickens.

One of the other exercises is to immediately write down three things you can do now to work toward your goals. 1- Write to you. After all, part of being independent is to have your priorities in order. Maybe someone else can benefit from the musings in this post. 2- Dinner will be eaten with a gardening book instead of a movie. 3- Dinner will also be well-made and delicious. Intellectual priorities realized as action priorities.

What are your priorities? How well do your actions match what you want them to be? How do you go about getting them closer together?