Too Poor

Our community has always had lots of poor people, by which I mean people with little money and few possessions. People here were poor in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was growing up, and people here are poor now.

But what it means to be poor has changed. In many ways poor people today are better off. Overall, poor people now have more possessions. Things we would have considered unattainable luxuries in my childhood are now regularly available to nearly everyone it seems. Some of that is attributable to easy credit and the loss of our cultural aversion to debt. Some of it is attributable to the fact that things are just a lot less expensive now than they used to be. Regardless of the reason (and acknowledging the fact that there are still plenty of poor people who have neither possessions nor money), it seems clear to me that, as a group, poor people aren’t as bad off now as they were a few decades ago.

But in at least one very important way it seems to me that poor people here are worse off now. I recently learned that people in our nearby city of 50,000 spend over $1 million per month in food stamps (SNAP). I’m confident that we’ve never before been so thoroughly dependent on others for food. When I was growing up, poor people kept gardens, chickens and (if possible) livestock. We hunted and fished. We may not have been able to buy movie tickets or stylish clothes, but by and large people were able to feed themselves.

Of course sometimes we all need a helping hand, and I’m happy to live in a society where people don’t have to go hungry when they’re in hard times. But when we have to depend upon others to give us food, in perpetuity, then we’ve become far too poor.

I wonder how many of the people who are now food-dependent are even aware that they have the ability to grow food themselves. Sadly, as a society it seems we’ve lost the basic knowledge of food production–the most fundamental of all human skills and the one that has assured the survival of our species for thousands of years.

I’m hopeful that the tide will soon turn. I like to imagine a future filled with backyard, community and rooftop gardens–a future in which even people who are poor, are not too poor.

The Wildlife

We share this farm with lots of undomesticated animals, providing us with scenes ranging from the beautiful (such as the sight of a blue heron gracefully winging toward our pond) to the undesirable (such as the snake I discovered slithering toward our chicken coop yesterday). I see so much wildlife every day that it’s easy to start taking it for granted.

We’ve been setting up a trail cam along a farm road on the other side of our place and we’ve captured some interesting images, some of which I shared in a post a few weeks ago. The trail cam allows us to see animals that are careful to avoid our presence, and allows us to see critters that aren’t on alert due to us being around.

We hear coyotes frequently, but I’ve never actually seen one. But we did catch this one recently on the trail cam.

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I see deer here everyday. But to see a doe and her fawn up close like this is extremely rare.

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This impressive buck was curious about the camera. Without it I couldn’t have had a view like this.

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So far we haven’t captured anything particularly exotic or bizarre. If there are cougars or panthers here, as many have reported, maybe we’ll yet capture an image of one. If I correctly identified the fisher I think I saw last year, maybe the camera will confirm my belief.

Meanwhile, I’m still not sure what this is. Coyote? It could be a fox, but it seems too large to me. But maybe I just don’t have a good scale on it.

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And I wonder what is going on here? Same spot, nearly three hours later.

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Goat Babies

New kids arrived on the farm about a month ago and I’ve been remiss is sharing their cuteness. Time to remedy that.

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Note the milk mouth

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Her twin has magnificent ears

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This guy was born a couple of weeks later, also with a twin. 

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The first set of twins, at about 4 weeks old

Penny and Wendy, the goat mamas who had these kids, are among our oldest goats. These may be their last kids.

As always, it’s great to see kids playing in the pasture–truly one of the joys of this life.

Weeds

Trying to stay ahead of the weeds this time of year is a never-ending struggle. I could spend all day every day doing nothing but weeding. Of course if I did that we wouldn’t get anything grown. So I have to allocate time wisely, trying to keep the weeds at bay while accepting the reality that they will eventually win.

For now our sweet potatoes and green beans are relatively weed-free.

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Not so the potatoes.

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Or the chard.

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Or the kale.

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Sometimes I get envious when I see weedless well-mulched gardens. Given the amount we grow, and our one-man workforce, that’s just not possible here. We could use plastic mulch to suppress weeds, but so far we’ve chosen not to do that on this farm. So for now, we’ll just have to live with weeds.

Even with the weeds, this years kale may be the prettiest we’ve ever grown.

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Weeds notwithstanding.

It’s in my DNA

We attended a local food/local history event in town recently and I was a winner in a drawing for a free DNA test from Ancestry.com.

So I mailed off some of my spit to them. Last week the results arrived.

Ancestry

So it seems my origins are mostly British. In fact, as it turns out I have slightly more “British” DNA than the average native Brit.

I was somewhat surprised at the results. I was expecting at least a little France in me, and I wasn’t expecting any Scandinavia. But thinking about it, I realize now that it shouldn’t have been surprising.

I knew I was half Scottish. All four of my mother’s grandparents came from Scotland. Once here they proceeded directly to the Appalachian mountains, already populated with their countrymen, and became quintessential hillbillies. A couple of generations later my mother came down out of the mountains to live with her sister who, like so many poor people of that day, had taken a job in the cotton mill.

She met my father at a movie theater in town and soon afterwards they eloped. His American ancestors had been here much longer, and all of them had lived within a 100 miles or so of this farm. The original American Guerrant was a Huguenot refugee in 1700, settling with other displaced French Protestants in the Huguenot settlement at Manikintowne, near present day Richmond. But that French blood was diluted over the centuries by English and Irish forebears, leaving me with very little French DNA to go along with my French surname.

The Scandinavian DNA is common in Scotland and parts of England and no doubt came along with my British ancestors. The report identifies as “trace regions” North Africa, Iberian peninsula, Western Europe, Finland, Italy and Greece. The “trace regions”aren’t considered reliable and in this case seem unlikely as there have never been any Spanish, Italian, Greek, Finnish or North African people here. Of course it’s possible that some European ancestor contributed these traces.

DNA testing technology is rapidly improving. Maybe in a few years we’ll be able to just spit into a test tube and a computer will print out our family tree.

The ethnicity results were interesting, but what I found even more fascinating is that report also identifies hundreds of people in their database who have posted their family trees on the site and to whom my DNA reveals I’m related. Someday, when I have the time, it will be interesting to connect with them. Maybe I’ll discover the answers to some family mysteries.

But this is the busiest time of the year on the farm. It’s light at 5 a.m. and doesn’t get dark till after 9:00. Even with all that time, I can barely keep up. I’m digging up literal roots these days. The other kind will have to wait till winter.

Look Ma, I’m on TV

My debut as a guest on a television show. I’m still waiting for my invitation from Oprah.

I’ve also been interviewed on the New Room podcast a couple of times–once on the connection between food and faith and once on the value of temperance and moderation.

The Connection Between Food & Faith

The Wesleyan Value of Moderation (Episode 2)

Not exactly a media blitz, but after all the work and research it was nice to have a chance to say a few words about it.

If not now, when?

Back in my lawyering days I spent way too little time at home. I traveled a lot, and when I wasn’t on the road I was usually in court, a conference room, or hunched over my desk in my office.

For the first nine years of my career, I took no vacation. I convinced myself that I was just too busy for that.

One day in 1994 my wife advised me that she and the wife of one of my fellow workaholic colleagues had booked a reservation at a beach house for a week and that he and I could choose to join them or not, but they were going to take a vacation. I grumbled and fretted, but went along with it. And it was great. We relaxed on the beach, played with the kids, and cooked shrimp boils. I drank beer during the day and was relieved to discover that the world did not stop turning if I took a vacation. After that I made it a point to take a vacation every year, no matter how busy I was at work.

In 2000, we booked a trip to France. I had a zillion frequent flyer miles, so flying the family to Europe was cheaper than going to Disney (which wasn’t our thing anyway). But just a few days before we were scheduled to leave one of my cases blew up. The judge scheduled an emergency hearing and I had to cancel the vacation. Luckily (in hindsight) I stubbornly re-booked for later in the summer, despite a pile of money in fees for doing so. We flew to Paris, stayed a few days, then rented a car and drove through Brittany for a week. By the middle of the week I felt as relaxed as I had been for many years. These were the days before the internet so I was truly severed from the daily grind and “crises” of the office. We just drove until we felt like stopping, with no reservations anywhere. I was off grid. My office couldn’t find me. It felt great.

So after that year we began taking two-week vacations every year. We went to Europe five years in a row, and the trip became something I could look forward during long miserable stressed-out days. It was the only time of the year I could spend all my time with my family.

After we moved to the farm things changed. We took our annual vacation in 2004, when I was still working at the law firm full-time and we weren’t yet doing much farming. But we haven’t taken a proper vacation since then. We went to the D.R. and Haiti for a week five years ago (to visit the orphanage Cherie was doing volunteer work for) and we’ve taken a long weekend to go to the Wild Goose Festival the last few years. But it’s been 12 years since a real vacation.

Honestly I was tired of traveling. I like staying home. It would be OK with me if I never got on an airplane again. But at the same time, I can testify that it is good for the body and soul to step away from responsibilities once in a while. And I’m convinced that travel can enrich life.

So one morning last month, during our weekly farm meeting when Cherie and I do our weekly planning, the question of a vacation came up. Why not, we concluded. Sure we’re busy and summer is a particularly difficult time to leave a farm, but if not now, when?

So the flights are booked. We’re going to France in September. We’ll have a hotel in Paris for a few days, then we’ll pull up the anchor and follow our fancy for a while. We’ve never gone east from Paris, so the tentative plan is to drive through Champagne, Alsace and Lorraine. We’re working on our rusty French and looking forward to a vacation that won’t include worrying about keeping the kids amused.

At this point we don’t know how the farm will be tended while we’re gone. September is peak harvest season. It’s a very busy time. But, we’ll figure out something. And if we lose a couple of weeks of production, that will be just fine.

After all, if not now, when?