Frames of Reference

If you’re like me, you’re probably already following more blogs than you can keep up with. But just in case you’re interested in discovering another one, I recommend you check out Frames of Reference, a blog associated with the Rowley Gallery in London. (HERE)

Their posts are well-written and beautifully illustrated. They remind me of pamphlets one might purchase in a gallery or museum. I especially enjoy the photographic guided tours of long walks in the countryside.

Check it out, if it sounds interesting.

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Lost in Whole Foods

This, from McSweeney’s (original HERE), may bring a chuckle:

A WHOLE FOODS CLERK’S ALL-STORE ANNOUNCEMENT FOR A LOST HUSBAND.

By Kira Jane Buxton

Mrs. Germann, could you please come to the front? Your husband is lost and waiting at customer service for you to collect him. He says he promises that he initially remembered the three things you asked him to get: kale, Irish butter and some other stuff. He went in search of the kale, but got confused upon finding dandelion greens and chard, which looked shadily like kale and all the other land seaweeds. He says he is baffled that dandelion greens are masquerading as an exorbitant superfood when he is forced to spend his weekends nuking them with RoundUp. He says as a direct result of his revulsion at these shriveled lettuces, he panicked and loaded up a nearby cart with “all the weeds.” Then he got distracted by a fruit that called itself a deviled horn melon because it sounded awesome and looked like a weapon from Game of Thrones. That one is still in the cart because it’s baller and he says he’s not putting it back. You can’t make him.

He found the Irish butter section, but didn’t know whether you wanted the one with the salt or what. Is it cheaper to put in your own salt bits? He figures it is and has nabbed a Himalayan neti pot salt bag. He says you’re welcome.

He then tried to find you to ask about the mountain of weeds he was hoarding, Mrs. Germann, but got distracted in the frozen food section by beef-free beefy crumbles, chicken-less chicken nuggets and what this meant existentially.

He says then he thought he saw you, but it turned out to be another lady who wears purple Lululemons and stocks up on organic tahini like we’re in a post-Cold War recession. He felt embarrassed for manhandling a total stranger in his desperation and quickly dashed to the area that sold venison nuggets for cats that have the same monetary value as a new kidney. He says his hands were getting cold and stiff from gripping the stupid salt-less Irish butter and he couldn’t find you, or remember the third item and it was starting to feel lonely in this Whole Foods that is only slightly smaller than the state of Nebraska.

Then a woman offered him brownie samples that tasted like sunscreen and since they were free he had twelve miniature cups of blackberry-hibiscus chia drink that looked like frogspawn while another woman offered him fermented cod liver oil pills that cost the same as a Playstation. Another nice lady in a white hat was offering small cups of toe-food curry which sounded gnarly, but he tried the toad-food anyway and liked it, but then he started to feel guilty realizing there is a whole subculture of freeloading snackers that no one is talking about and it’s a serious problem! He’s on to those grape grabbers! Twisted by guilt, he says he lobbed a gluten-free zucchini cake, a $14 granola bar and a cranberry feta log onto the mountain of weeds in his cart and tried not to look anyone in the eye, ignoring offers of help while speeding down the aisles, staring at his shoes and running over small children with his cart. A guy in the meat department said, “Can I get you something?” He panicked and said, “Meat?” and then ran away at top speed, cranberry feta log spearheading the retreat.

He says he honestly thought you were going to stay in aisle five, but you were gone. So then he went to the “safe spot” you both decided on in between the beer and the artisanal cheese and his palms were sweaty and he had a sample of Guinness cheddar, which cheered him up a bit but he took in the plethora of microbrews around him and felt a sense of doom.

[Adult male sobs in background]

He says there are too many to choose from! How will he ever drink them all or remember which ones he liked. And they bring in new ones every week! He wants you to know that he’s knackered and he felt overwhelmed when a staff member told him that almonds can be milked and that he himself would have to massage the kale. He says he was excited to show you the hedge of mint he gathered to make mojitos, but I’ve just pointed out that it’s actually cilantro which he hates even more than the satanic phallus that calls itself a banana. He solemnly swears that from now on he is happy to live on Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and other non biodegradable Hostess products.

Mrs. Germann, it now appears your husband has passed out in a bulk bin of couscous. Please come and retrieve him now.

Avoiding Burnout

Two of my favorite podcasters, John at Growing Farms Podcast and Ethan at The Beginning Farmer, have both recently taken extended breaks from podcasting and both have discussed how close they have recently come to giving up farming. And a few of my favorite bloggers (you know who you are) have scaled back their farming/homesteading this year. They’re helping to remind me of the risk of burnout.

We’re producing way more food this year than we can eat or sell. We enjoy giving food to the local food bank, and we’ve been giving them plenty this year, but even that isn’t an adequate outlet for all of our excess. And, of course, giving away our produce isn’t a sustainable economic model.

I love working outside and I love growing food. But I can’t keep up with all of our gardens in the summer without neglecting the rest of the farm.

I’m going to finish out this year as planned. But when winter finally settles things down around here I’m going to carefully reassess what we’re doing. I don’t plan to ever stop growing our own food. We are homesteaders first and foremost. That won’t change. But I’m seriously wondering whether it makes sense for us to keep trying to grow food for so many other people as well.

In the meantime, we’re going to market tomorrow with more produce than we’ve ever taken before. I’m not burned out yet.

 

 

Jackson Luttrell

I’m going to share a little bit today from Joe Bageant’s excellent memoir Rainbow Pie. I don’t think he’d mind.

Jackson Luttrell, the man who hauled the tomatoes for Cotton Unger, was a successful farmer by Morgan County standards. He was never rich, but he was successful because his farm was a model of common sense and productivity. Over his life he won awards for his farming practices. Jackson’s farm was better than most, party because he was one of the rare ones with a modest, formal agricultural-school education. But mainly because Andrew Jackson Luttrell practiced thrift as a high art form, yet never as mere stinginess. Jackson was a generous farmer when it came to those in need. When he stopped his truck even for a short moment to talk to a passer-by, he cut the engine to save gas. He wore the same heavy-canvas barn-coat three-quarters of his life, and never once threw away an empty coffee can or a bent nail that could be straightened and used again. Over the years, he expanded his holdings beyond grain and vegetable crops to include cattle, hogs, orchards and, later, a small tomato-caning operation of his own. Throughout his life he also cut men’s and boys’ hair on his back porch for ten cents a head. He was a fair barber, a very good farmer, and a thoughtful Democrat. He was a straight-up Methodist and a hauler of tomatoes of democracy, in a system where everyone benefited through an economy of labor, with the small money of farmers supplying the grease for the common-sense machinery of community sustenance.

***

The frost was on the pumpkin one morning in 1960 when Jackson Luttrell dropped the wagon bolt into the tractor hitch, then stepped up onto the tractor’s axle, easing himself into the cold, iron seat. He’d done it ten thousand times, but this day it took him three tries. Sixty Novembers in the fields exact their rightful toll, and he was more than feeling his age. Five minutes later, Jackson was down in his bottom land loading corn shocks onto the wagon. (You don’t waste a big truck on light loads.) A skiff of snow covered the dark soil around the corn stubble, or “stobs”, as he called them. Every remaining stub of a cornstalk represented one whack of a hand-held corn cutter–all fifteen acres, some 300,000 of them, wielded by either Jackson himself or neighbors with whom he’d exchanged such work for forty years. So now he dragged each shock to the wagon, rolling it up the sideboards and dropped it onto the bed.

Twenty years ago he’d have heaved them over in a single motion. Between shocks he’d catch his breath, surveying the fields and woods around him with a squint that looked as far into the past as it did the landscape. The bottom field’s right-hand corner was where he’d killed his first buck at the age of eleven. And beyond that was a hillside where mountain laurel sprang up each year. It had been a secret trysting place for him and Audrey when they were courting. Year later, they still laughed together about “the blanket in the laurel”. To his left lay what was once a farmed-out, washed-out gully he had slowly filled in over the decades with stone and earth until it was now level ground upon which he had planted trees–walnut and hickory, with a few butternut trees thrown into the mix. He thought of it as a sort of wild nut-grove. The squirrels, mice, and deer saw it as their winter larder, once they were done with his summer corn crop.

Jackson pulled his canvas barn-coat up around his neck, and snapped the ear covers of his red woollen cap under his chin. The wind was beginning to bite at the back of his neck and make his bones ache. How many hundreds of wagon loads–thousands, really–of corn and hay had come out of this field since his grandfather had started farming it in 1859? How many corncribs had it filled with burnished ears? How many tons of oats had been hauled from this earth into this barn’s granary?

During spring, this bottom field had always made him feel good because it was dependable and had been well-cared for. Always it was a producer, bursting forth each spring with the season’s promise. You could get two hay crops here in a good year. And later, during wheat-threshing or hay-mowing season, when the rivulets of sweat cut their way through the thick layer of face-blackening hay dust, the metallic taste of cold well-water guzzled from the galvanized bucket with the tin dipper went down like bright wine.

But now, in the late autumn, it stirred the reveries known only to old men. In his mind’s eye appeared a younger, shapely Audrey coming down the hill toward him in her home-made cotton sunbonnet with the fresh, cold well-water. And it was for that vision, and a thousand others like it, that he kissed her on the neck each evening when he got home. Not on the mouth, though, because that kind of affection at their age might cause suspicion that he’d been taking a nip of whiskey out there in the field. And surely he did that if the weather was right. But he’d judged it not yet cold enough on this day, which would be the coldest of his life. The wind kicked up flakes of snow as he bent over his last corn shock.

When old farmers fail to show up for dinner, old farm wives all share the same sense of dread. Audrey called their son, who found Jackson’s body slumped over the steering wheel of his old John Deere. The wagon was fully loaded. In the middle of a heart attack, Jackson had shut off the engine to save gas.

 

Keeping It Going

We’re in the midst of a summertime food avalanche.

We’ve had bumper crops this summer of tomatoes, eggplant, squash and zucchini.  This may be our best year ever for tomatoes, and we’re enjoying them at nearly every meal.

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A one and a half pound beauty

It wasn’t that long ago that we were swimming in kale, collards, chard, turnips, radishes, beets, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce and the like. But those cool weather crops were all done in by the summer heat. In due course, as they faded out, they were replaced by green beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, etc. And our recipes and the meals changed with the season.

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But, alas, no sweet corn for us this year. We were defeated by raccoons.

Now the green beans are gone, the zucchini is dying and the squash and cucumbers are beginning to fade. It’s transition time again.

But even as those favorites retire for the year, we welcome the arrival of other favorites, like okra and watermelons.

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I cut our first watermelon of the year today and it was amazingly delicious. The first taste of the year of a newly arrived favorite food is a special treat–a thrill even. It’s one of the joys of seasonal eating.

We’ll be awash in midsummer goodness for a while longer, but we also have to be thinking ahead.

So today I sowed broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, radicchio, and Chinese cabbage. After all, fall will be here soon and we have to keep it going.

 

“Our” Jobs

Our jobs are being taken by foreigners. Our jobs are being sent overseas.

I hear statements like those a lot. There is a lot of fear, anxiety and anger in the air these days over the loss of “our” jobs.

I get it. My sympathy and loyalty is with the so-called working class–my people–, who are having the economic rug pulled out from under their feet by the “new” economy. Lots of folks who once held manufacturing or mining jobs that could support a family, for example, are now left scrambling for much lower paying jobs and seeing their middle class dreams vanish. I just read that in West Virginia over half of adult population is unemployed. One man featured in the story lost his $28/hour job as coal miner and is now working for $11/hour in a pawn shop. He lost his home and he and his family had to move in with his mother. And he was one of the lucky ones. Of course this isn’t just a problem in West Virginia.

Since the Civil War, the dominant industry and principal employer in our community was a textile mill. But the mill is history now–just abandoned buildings. Once the largest cotton mill in the world–and the economic hub of our community–the company finally gave up the ghost in 2006. It just couldn’t compete in the new global marketplace, where labor is much cheaper in developing nations.

So thousands of “our” jobs went overseas. But how did they come to be “our” jobs in the first place?

When Dan River Mill was founded in 1882 there were already plenty of textile mills in the U.S. They were predominantly in New England. But the impoverished South had something to offer that New England didn’t–lots of poor people willing to work for very low wages. In fact, the wages paid at Dan River Mills were 30-50% lower than the wages paid at New England mills. The lower cost of labor enabled Dan River to thrive and grow, driving the New England mills out of existence, costing their employees their jobs and destroying the economies of their towns. That’s just how the system works. Dog eat dog.

So when “our” jobs (jobs that paid the bills for many of my friends and family) went to Mexico, India and China, it should not have been surprising. That’s what industrialism does–it seeks out the cheapest possible labor, then moves on when it discovers people who are willing to sell their labor even cheaper.

And this is why it is foolish to stake our economic future on manufacturing and industrialism.

Our community’s elected leaders continue to promise that they are going to bring industry to our town. But why would “industry” come here, to a mainly rural and not highly educated community? There would only be one reason–cheap labor. So the only thing we have to offer to “industry” is a poor population willing to work for low wages. That is not a path to prosperity.

Meanwhile we are surrounded by some of the best farmland in the word, and most of our community dutifully goes to the grocery store every week to buy food grown (or more often manufactured) thousands of miles away.

Maybe it’s time to make our jobs be truly OUR jobs.

Happy

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless — Ecclesiastes 5:10

Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers — for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. –Osho (h/t FeyGirl)

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