Eating Well

I saw a blog post about new years resolutions. The blogger said she wasn’t going to make her usual “lose weight” resolution. Instead, her resolution was to change some eating habits that contribute to poor health and weight gain–things like “go on less outings that involve eating,””eat less white bread,” and “get more exercise.”

Her reasoning made sense to me. Don’t focus on body weight–focus instead on healthy living. The latter will take care of the former.

A lot of times a person will set a weight loss goal, and adopt some severe or unusual diet to reach it. But unless that person makes permanent lifestyle changes, any weight loss will only be temporary and it might not be accompanied by an improvement in overall health.

I’m no doctor of course, nor do I play one on TV. But it seems to me that a person who wants to improve his health, whether that involves weight loss or not, would do well to consider eating seasonal whole foods. The foods that are ruining our health don’t appear in nature–they’re created in factories and laboratories. The foods that nature has provided for us are rarely harmful to our health.

Because we grow our own, good food is readily available to us. Friday night is our once-a-week “pizza night” treat. Last night the pizza was topped with sauteed spinach, grown here, and wild oyster mushrooms we found growing on a tree in front of our house. I don’t know what an pizza topped with organic spinach and wild oyster mushrooms would cost at a restaurant. Here it was nearly free. Cherie usually has pizza, but last night she passed and just had sauteed spinach and mushrooms instead.

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Wild oyster mushrooms. Delicious and nutritious.

For those who don’t have the ability to grow their own food (an aside–for most of us, it wouldn’t be as difficult as we think), good food can be found at your local farmers market. Shopping there is a great way to both eat better, and to support the local farmers who are supplying the foods are bodies crave.

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We’ll be leaving shortly for our market, and today we’ll be bringing spinach, kale, turnips, radishes, lettuce, sweet potatoes and three varieties of Asian greens–tatsoi, mizuna and maruba santoh.

Just plan meals around foods like that and no special diets are necessary.

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The Last Two Days

We were reluctant to leave the amazing chateau in Arc-en-Barrois, but it was September 16 and we had an early flight on the 18th. We decided to get a room at an airport hotel on the 17th, so we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic and depositing the rental car on the morning of our flight. That meant we had one last night to explore.

So we turned toward Provins, an ancient walled town located technically in Ile-de-France, but within medieval Champagne.

We had no reservation but were fortunate to find a room at a B&B/farm on the edge of town. It was the only time we stayed on a farm during the trip. If we ever go again, we’ll have to be more deliberate about finding farm stays. The owners were pleasant and seemed genuinely interested in swapping information about our farms, but after nearly two weeks of effort my brain was beginning to refuse to process French and they spoke no English. Cherie had some simple conversations with them, but I unfortunately I had to mostly sit them out.

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Our room at the farm

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After a nice day in Provins, which was pleasantly uncrowded, we drove to CDG, returned our rental car and took a room at the airport.

With one last day to enjoy before our trip home, we took the train into Paris. There we went on long walks, and had a nice meal. We visited Napoleon.

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Notice the well-played photobomb

We even saw Mr. Jefferson there.

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Then it was back to the hotel to rest for a day of travel.

For those of you who found these posts boring there is good news–this is the last of them! For those who enjoyed them, I’m sorry it took me so long to wrap them up.

We no longer have the travel bug the way we once did. I’m happy to have landed on a place I love so much that I’m content not to leave it. On the other hand, after having stayed in one place for so many years, it was fun and invigorating to see new places again, and to tickle parts of my brain I’d been neglecting. So we’ve decided, at least for now, to put vacationing back into our budget and our farm plans. Of course it is VERY difficult for homesteaders to travel–both because of the expense and because of the difficulty of leaving the farm. But for those who can manage it, there is much to be gained.

I’ll close with a couple of quotes from Mark Twain.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

***

Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except Heaven and Hell and I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.

Seeds and Spring

Our seed order has arrived and I’ve mapped out our planting strategy for the year.

For the spring, our principal garden will be about 7500 square feet (app. 1600 row feet).We’ll also plant about 1000 row feet of Yukon Gold potatoes. Our raised beds will be planted with lettuce and tatsoi (mostly lettuce).

Our spring crops will be collards, English peas, arugula, chard, three varieties of kale, romaine lettuce, beets, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, broccoli, radishes, turnips, spinach, lettuce mix and tatsoi. Of course we’ll also continue to harvest the over-wintered lettuce, spinach, kale and turnips in the hoop house.

We don’t have a greenhouse and have limited capability for seed starting. So we’ll start our kale seedlings here, but we’ll get our collards, romaine, broccoli and Chinese cabbage from a nearby nursery. We’ll direct seed everything else.

That ought to give us plenty of production in the spring.

I’ve mapped out the summer and fall schedule too. We like to experiment a little each year. This year we’re trying Blue Hubbard squash for the first time, as well as BHN-589 tomatoes, a variety from Johnny’s intended specifically for hoop house growing. Despite my many prior failures, I’m also going to try carrots again. We’ll plant them in our raised beds in the late summer.

I’m still not sure what we’re going to do in the hoop house next fall. We’re still learning, so I’m going to stay flexible on that.

It’s almost time to get the party started. We’ll start sowing seed trays in a little over two weeks.

Unity

Nearly everyone would agree that all things are in some sense connected. Because our actions have consequences that affect other living things, at a minimum we are connected in that way.

But it’s possible to imagine the interconnectedness of things in a deeper and more profound way. Maybe it’s not just that we are connected in the sense of being moving particles that sometimes collide with one another. Maybe our connectedness is more purposeful.

In her recent post about moving onto their new homestead, Katie referred to the earth as a living organism. I’ve had that sense about our farm–that it isn’t two people, some trees, plants and animals that sometimes bump into each other, but rather a unified living organism. But if that’s true and real, then it obviously doesn’t stop at the border of our farm. If we’re part of unified organism, then it must be the entire biotic community. Actually , the organism must be planetary. No, universal.

Pondering this unity of all things can have a significant impact on our worldviews. I know it has on mine.

It seems to me that there are 3 ways to think of this unifying connectedness.

The first way is spiritual. Some spiritual traditions pursue this belief explicitly–the notion that there is ultimately only one unified being and that all perceptions of separation are illusions. Common to mystics of nearly all traditions is the “unitive experience”–the perception, achieved through meditative or contemplative discipline, of a oneness with all things, or as some would put it, the experience of a unity with God.

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Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

The second way is physical. Physicalists and secularists who dismiss the ultimate validity of anything transcendental or mystical nevertheless agree that all material things are connected. In fact, the interconnectedness of all things may be even more obvious at a purely material level than at a mystical level.

There is nothing in the universe today that wasn’t there 14 billion years ago when it came into existence. While human self-consciousness renders us distinct (maybe) from every other thing on this planet, at the most fundamental level we are still ultimately just like everything else in the universe–a rearrangement of the stuff spit out at the Big Bang. That’s pretty amazing.

Scientists can also easily demonstrate our kinship with the rest of the biotic community on earth. Geneticists have been able to prove that not only do we humans all have common ancestors, but we share common ancestors with every other living thing too. That’s pretty amazing too.

So science, like mysticism, reveals the unity of all things.

Lately I’ve been fascinated with a third way to think about this universal unity, a way that combines the mystic and scientific understandings of ultimate unity.

Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh describes what he calls “evolutionary spirituality.” He argues that there is a telos (purpose/meaning) behind cosmological, biological and cultural evolution. I’ve had a sense of the truth of this for several years now, but am only just now discovering that there is a body of philosophical work on it.

I take the fact that all things are connected materially, together with the fact that evolutionary history proceeds ever toward greater complexity and goodness, to be compelling evidence that our spiritual sense of oneness with all things (and with the Ultimate) is valid. I’m persuaded that the entire universe is on a journey toward some goal, and that self-conscious humans are to play an essential role in attaining that goal.

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe human self-consciousness is just an illusion, or some randomly selected evolutionary artifact, and humanity is nothing more than another arbitrary assembly of matter in a universe that has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Maybe, but I don’t think so.

There are probably plenty of other ways to look at it too. But however we slice it, the interconnectness of all things seems hard to deny.

This quote from naturalist John Muir is one of my favorites: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

So from here on White Flint Farm, a component part of our awesome common organism, best wishes for a great week to all my cousins reading this.

I Wonder

Sir Thomas More published his book Utopia in 1516. Early in the book he describes having a conversation with an English lawyer. The lawyer was “speaking with great enthusiasm about the stern measures that were then being taken against thieves.”

‘We’re hanging them all over the place’, he said. ‘I’ve seen as many as twenty on a single gallows. And that’s what I find so odd. Considering how few of them get away with it, how come we are still plagued with so many robbers?’

‘What’s odd about it?’, I asked. ‘This method of dealing with thieves is both unjust and undesirable. As a punishment, it’s too severe, and as a deterrent, it’s quite ineffective. Petty larceny isn’t bad enough to deserve the death penalty. And no penalty on earth will stop people from stealing, if it’s their only way of getting food. In this respect, you English, like most other nations, remind me of these incompetent schoolmasters, who prefer caning their pupils to teaching them. Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming, first a thief, and then a corpse.’

‘There’s adequate provision for that already,’ replied the lawyer. ‘There are plenty of trades open to them. There’s always work on the land. The could easily earn an honest living if they wanted to, but they deliberately choose to be criminals.’

Of course we don’t hang thieves these days. But isn’t it interesting that we’re still having that same basic conversation 400 years later?

A contemporary version would go something like this:

Person A: “Theft is a serious problem. If we want to stop it, we need to punish thieves swiftly and severely. What we’re doing now isn’t working.”

Person B: “That’s no surprise. People steal because they’re living in poverty and in an unjust economic system. If you want to stop theft, quit locking thieves in prison and start investing in creating economic opportunity in their communities instead.”

Person A: “That’s baloney. These people are not stealing out of necessity. There are plenty of jobs out there for people who aren’t too lazy to work. They’re choosing to be thieves because they’d rather be criminals than to earn an honest living.”

My guess is that most folks who read this will have a visceral reaction, aligning themselves with either my Person A or my Person B. I know I did.

It seems to me we’re probably somehow wired to feel intuitively either that thieves are essentially bad people and that the best response to theft is to severely punish them, or alternatively that thieves are essentially driven to theft by poverty and unjust social conditions, and that the best way to eliminate theft is to eliminate the underlying poverty and injustice. And if we hold one of those points of view, we’re likely to think that those in the other camp are either heartless or naive.

But how does Person B feel about wealthy “white collar” criminals who defraud and embezzle? It’s not likely that Person B would attribute those crimes to poverty and injustice. More likely Person B would say that those people are just evil and greedy, and that they should be prosecuted and severely punished (precisely what Person A says of all thieves). This point of view could easily be held by Person B without any sense of contradiction.

And what about Person A, who thinks the best response to crime is to “hang ’em high” (metaphorically speaking)? Would Person A change his opinion if presented with data showing that crime rates are not affected by the severity of the punishment? Probably not. Despite what Person A says (and even thinks), his point of view is ultimately based on emotion, not data.

Here’s what I find most interesting about my imaginary Persons. If asked why they believe what they do, I think they’d both give essentially the same answer: each would likely say that their point of view is based on a desire for fairness and justice. In other words, while they have completely opposite opinions on the specifics of what should be done with thieves, their opinions derive from the same underlying values–that the response to thievery should be one that is fair and just.

My imaginary Person A would probably say that my imaginary Person B wants to let thieves “get away with it,” which is unfair and unjust. Meanwhile Person B would probably say that Person A wants to punish thieves for behavior that their social condition forced upon them, which is unfair and unjust. I can easily imagine these two people becoming angry with each other. I can easily imagine that each would come to believe that the other is immoral, stupid and a prime example of what’s wrong with our society. Each would come to believe that the other, and those all who think like him, are trying to take control of society, so that their stupid immoral point of view can be enforced. So they become enemies.

Both Person A and Person B, if asked why the other holds his opposing point of view, might well respond, “Because he’s an idiot.”

Yet the best answer might be, “Because he wants our society to be fair and just.”

I’ve been pondering this kind of thing a lot lately and I’ve come to suspect that when presented with an ethical issue, the vast majority of us will recognize it and agree that it exists. I suspect we’re wired to see it. And I also suspect that the vast majority of us have a moral intuition that causes us to want to eliminate unfairness and injustice when we see it. We differ, not because some of us have a moral compass and others don’t, but rather because the worldviews from which our basic moral intuitions derive (worldviews which generally we don’t get to choose) lead us to prefer different solutions to the same underlying problem–despite essentially having the exact same motive.

I wonder if thinking critically about their underlying motives would make us less harsh when judging the character of those with whom we disagree. I wonder if doing so might make it easier for us to discover common ground.

Ok, that’s enough wondering for now…

Three Little Birds

I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Thomas Jefferson, 1820

In a democratic form of government, the vote of the most ignorant uninformed citizen counts the same as that of the wisest and most brilliant person in the country. So the preferences of the most affluent and educated people won’t always carry the day. But the alternative is oligarchy, which the vast majority of us would find unacceptable.

I am reminded of two quotes from Winston Churchill:

“The best argument against democracy is a 15 minute conversation with the average voter.”

“Democracy is the worst form of government ever invented, other than every other system that has ever been tried.”

In a classroom of kids, a teacher can only go as fast as the slowest kid.

It’s a beautiful world.

Everything is going to be alright.

Snow. And Gratitude.

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It started snowing last Friday around dusk and snowed all night and into the next day. By the time it was over we had about 8 inches on the ground.

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He has a warm dry stall. But he prefers to stand in the snow until there are icicles hanging off him. Horses are from Mongolia.

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Kids staying warm and dry in the shed

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I worried about the hoop house collapsing from the snow. But as you can see, that wasn’t an issue. The snow slid right off the roof. The problem was that it piled along the side. I spent much of the day shoveling all that snow away.

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It was pretty while it lasted.

Monday morning we woke up to -2 degrees, a record low. A couple of days later it was nearly 70. Winter in Virginia.

Saturday, the day after the snow, was the last day of deer season. But the heavy snow, and the fact that it was still coming down, meant that it effectively ended on Friday.

I put three in the freezer this year, and I’m grateful for that. It’s now been over ten years since I quit eating meat that didn’t come off this farm. For over a decade, venison has been the only red meat I’ve eaten.

The sun was setting Friday evening when I took the last deer of the season, a large buck. The snow was falling hard and beginning to accumulate as I was field-dressing him in the edge of the woods. Nature becomes eerily quiet during snowfall. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it was. I gave thanks to Nature. I apologized to the deer, and thanked him for the sacrifice. I felt deeply humbled by it all. And deeply grateful for the opportunity to live this life.