Friday, June 30, 2006
- Organic Farmer - PEAS Farm, Youth Harvest
- UM English Language Institute, ESL teacher to Japanese college students
- MHCOP, Residential counselor to native american high school students
- Teacher's aide, Sussex School
- The Shipping Depot, Missoula MT
- Peace Corps, high school English teacher in Gabon
- Chef at Buffalo Horn Ranch, Meeker CO
- Chef on private ranch in Colorado. Cooked for Tarajumara runners and Tibetan lamas.
- Private chef for Henry Luce III and Leila Hadley Luce for one week. They liked me because I was a SLC grad, but still wanted me to wear a maid's uniform, so I quit.
- Owner, Montana Gourmet --catering, event-planning business in NYC.
- Temporary Admin. assistant to executives at BMG, Estee Lauder, MAC, Sony, etc.
- Melissa Media Associates - publishers of Greek and Latin texts, art and history books. Editing, admin.
- Kinko's copies, Missoula, MT. Promoted to "shift-leader"
- George Trescher Associates, NYC Event planning...including the 75th Anniversary of TIME magazine where I danced with Jack Kevorkian, shook hands with Gorbachev and Walter Cronkite, escorted General Schwartzkopf to his table and had to put up with Harvey Weinstein's "don't you know who I am?? I'm Harvey Weinstein!"
- Gardener in private NYC gardens and caretaker for Park Ave (planted flowers, cut the grass, picked up hypodermic needles) between 80th and 90th Streets.
- Michelle's Kitchen - a deli on Lexington across from the Barbizon Hotel where I was living with artist, Linda Scott. I served coffee and pastries in the morning. All the workers called me "habibe," but the owner tried to pretend he was French and not Arab.
- Nanny for filmmaker Lavinia Currier, The Plains, VA
- Made and sold fleece hats.
- Little Caesar's Pizza
- Hostess, chinese restaurant, Grove City, PA
- Made and sold papier mache fruit.
- Made jewelry and had a gallery in Seattle, WA
These are just the ones I can remember...Unfortunately, this list doesn't begin to give a sense of the crazy stories associated with each experience. I'll have to fill that in eventually...to be continued...
I'm glad the slaughter was optional. It had been on everyone's lips for the past few weeks and some people were very eager to be involved in his demise. I was more wary, especially because I have memories of a goose slaughter I attended at the age of 8 or 9. I don't recall visiting too many farms as a youngster, although at the time we lived in rural Pennsylvania and drove through farm country all the time. We belonged to a great dairy and I remember going there about once a week to get milk in glass returnable bottles, the smell of silage, the feeling of a black and white cow licking your hand... The only other farm experience I remember was the goose slaughter. I remember my father thinking it would be a good idea to expose me to this reality and I've wondered a lot since about why he thought that was necessary. From that experience I remember a bloody funnel nailed to a post through which the neck of the goose would go. I remember big white feathers littering the yard and the rancid smell of freshly dead birds being plunged into boiling water to remove the feathers.
I was a bit torn about whether or not I should attend Walter's end. Part of me felt that as a consumer of meat, and now as a farmer, I should witness the moment of and take some responsibility for the death that turns Walter into dinner. But I didn't want to do it. I wasn't nearly as squeamish when Josh asked me to take two mice that had been discovered in a bucket in the shed and feed them to the chickens! I had no idea that chickens eat mice! I guess my curiosity overpowered my reverence for life at that point. I took the mice to the chickens and watched as one of them was pursued by a big hen, killed by her strong beak and then pecked apart and eaten. The other one escaped with his life by running under the barn.
The pigs were my responsibility this week. I changed their water twice each morning, picked up food scraps from local restaurants, mucked out their trough, fed them and created a mud hole for them to sit in during this week of hot weather. On Thursday when I arrived to shovel out the dirty slop, there were Walter's feet amidst muddy grapefruit rinds, onions, whole potatoes and other things the pigs won't eat. Walter's claws were the size of acorns. His skeletal breast bone, neck and head were there too. One of the pigs was choking on something and vomiting. The whole scene made me sick to my stomach too. In the kitchen, Walter's breast was on the counter--the breast alone was as large as a normal Thanksgiving turkey. Kimberly was preparing to bake it for our lunch but when noon came, it wasn't yet ready to eat. Thank God!
I marvel sometimes at my mind's ability to dissociate from the complexities and contradictions of life. I am disturbed by the process of nurturing a life for the express purpose of taking it. And yet I continue to have no aversion to buying drumsticks and thighs, ground beef or chipped ham. These contradictions upset me, I think, because my love for the animals is too moderate to change my behavior...
Sunday, June 25, 2006
September 29, 2003
Yesterday I had an “Annie Dillard” experience. Maybe because of her, I noticed something I would otherwise have missed. The sun was strong, a breeze was blowing, and I thought of the approaching rainy season like the respiration of the planet. She breathes in and the water is drawn up from the ground through the leaves and into the clouds. She breathes out and rains all the water down HARD, pounding it back into the ground. Breathes in—day. Breathes out—night. Most of the world’s oxygen must be produced right here, and I feel its breeze on my skin. I took a deep deep breath of pure oxygen and realized that I probably haven’t breathed that deeply in years, except to sigh.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Monsanto buys Seminis
The biggest player in biotech is now the largest seed company in the world following a purchase worth a cool billion.
By Matthew Dillon
This article first appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Organic Broadcaster
Excerpt:Diamond v. Chakrabarty
In the 1960s, a few larger seed firms began to purchase smaller companies (mostly to acquire strong hybrid holdings). But the consolidations of this period were minor compared to the frenzy that would come with a Supreme Court ruling on June 16, 1980, in the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty. Prior to the Chakrabarty decision, a plant (or animal) could be owned, but the genetics could not. This case cleared the patenting of life forms on the bases of their genetic coding. The PTO granted more than 1,800 such patents following the ruling. Companies that had no historical seed interests—primarily chemical and pharmaceutical firms—began purchasing seed companies. In a few short years, there were billions of dollars in mergers and acquisitions—with little to no regulatory oversight—creating for the first time a majority ownership of plant genetics by a few multinational companies. No other natural resource (marine, timber, minerals) has ever shifted from public to private hands with such rapidity, such intensity of concentration, and so little oversight.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Today we visited the Missoula Food Bank on our Friday farm fieldtrip. The PEAS Farm grows and donates 15,000 lbs. of food to the Food Bank every summer, and so today we decided to go and check out how that food gets distributed. According to Aaron Brock, one of six full-time staff, there are 120 regular volunteers serving 12,689 clients (2005 figures)--that's one in eight Missoulians who have sought and received food assistance. Aaron explained that there aren't just one or two causes of hunger, but that it can result from a lot of different factors.
Our visit to the Food Bank brought up a lot of thoughts for me, particularly about how we define poverty, and the concept of who is "in need." As I sat listening to Aaron's stats about Food Bank patrons and the causes of hunger, my own financial reality sort of rose up and smacked me in the face.
Being a student these days, I have become reacquainted with a life financed entirely by student loans. Since last September, every meal I have eaten, every bag of groceries I have bought, has come out of a loan disbursed to me in the form of a check which gets deposited as cash into my account. This feels like real money--but comes with the price of 5.5% interest. I wish I could do the math about how much my milk and eggs will actually cost me by the time I have finished paying those loans 20 or 30 years from now. And by then, if I choose to continue living according to what society proposes for someone in my position, I will also have DEBT for cars, property and higher education for my kids!
As we sat at the Food Bank today, I wondered, in fact, what is the difference between the "poverty" we think of as poverty, and the situation that most Americans are living in, which is way beyond their means and up to their ears in DEBT? In actual fact, I have NO money--no cash. But my position in society, within a particular class and with a certain set of opportunities and advantages, situates me in such a way as to present DEBT as a resource at my disposal. Because DEBT is seen as a resource to which I (and many people) have almost unlimited access, it is assumed, even expected, that I am supposed to rely on it, even to meet my basic needs. My revelation today was that if I chose not to participate in such DEBT reliance, I would be among those who need to rely on the Food Bank to make ends meet.
I have been fortunate in my life to have the support of loving, middle-class, working parents who have encouraged and helped me to continue my education through college to the graduate level. I am also fortunate to attend a prestigious institution such as Harvard; a fact which, if I chose to pursue the more lucrative opportunites upon graduating, almost guarantees an adequate future livelihood. These two factors, as Josh pointed out, create a "safety net" that separates people like me from those who are truly living in what we call poverty. While I fully acknowledge that there are people who are struggling to survive and fulfill their needs without the privilege and opportunity that I enjoy, the balance sheet will indicate that there is no financial difference between us. The difference between me and what we call poverty is class privilege and expectation, not cash.
I resent the expectation imposed upon me that I should rely on DEBT and my future ability to pay it back in order to fulfill my basic human needs. While my conscience would agree with anyone who argues that the Food Bank should be reserved for those who are in greater need than myself, I am beginning to re-evaluate what that means... Who is actually "in need"? Why are we not assisted by society to fulfill our basic needs without relying on DEBT? Why should we accept the idea that "people like me" shouldn't take free food but should actually pay double for it (when all is said and done and credit card bills are paid)? Somehow "we" think that we are supposed to be financially, materially better off than those living in "poverty"--even when we don't actually have a real dollar to our name! And because of the possibility of future prosperity, the person who has taken an opportunity to pursue higher education has little choice but to go into the serious red now.
23% of students are using credit cards to pay for tuition and fees.
While one might argue that in my case I am relying on DEBT now because I have chosen to be a student (that if I had made another choice, I might actually be working now, with a sufficient income on which I might be able to live and break even) I would wonder if I've really ever had a choice. I was just caught up in the stream of expectations like the rest of us, waking up to the truth of the matter after ten years of playing along. And now I'm not sure I know how to make the choices that would free me from DEBT reliance.
In fact, I've made such bad choices because I was never aware of the real game I was being forced into. If we think about it, we might wonder why high school students are not taught the very basics of money management. Why were we never taught to reflect on our economic choices? Why were we never cautioned against living beyond our resources? Is it not true that with a population heavily relying on debt, and at ease with the convenience of plastic, our economy thrives and grows? If we were all doing our best to live within the constraints of our income, would we not show much more restraint in our purchasing, and would our economy not suffer for our moderation? It is not simply out of neglect that I was never taught about money matters; in fact the country thrives by keeping me ignorant.
Of students surveyed by Smith College, 55% said they had never taken a course about personal finance.
I have $15,000 of debt for my undergrad degree--a diploma, though from a "good" school, that qualified me for nothing in terms of well-paying work. Had I been monitarily motivated and ruthlessly strategic, I might have landed some kind of entry-level professional job after college, and perhaps by now I'd be making a decent salary. But I have always been more motivated by learning and trying new things, developing projects and exploring new places. I wasn't ready to play the game after college. And so what I got was a BA that was good for almost nothing, at a cost of about $110/month (my minimum payment on my student loan). I graduated in '97 and though making the monthly payment, I have not made a dent on the principal balance. So it has cost me $1,310 in interest each year (minus two years in Peace Corps and this past year in grad school). That's $7,860 in interest alone that I have paid in the past ten years for the privilege of that BA degree, which has served me only by qualifying me for graduate school. My advice to any young person now would be to avoid that high school game of getting into the "best" college. Go for the cheapest! Get that BA for the least amount of money, work while you're in school, carry as little DEBT as possible, and get good grades. With a BA and good grades from anywhere you can get into a decent grad program.
I wish I had been smart enough to work my way through college. Even if it had taken me six years to work and earn my tuition, it would have really served me in the long run. By the time I end up paying off that $15,000 DEBT for my undergrad degree, it will likely have cost me over $20,000 in interest. Why didn't anyone explain that to me? Instead, what I remember being told is that "everyone takes student loans--that's just the way it works." It's hard to pay your own way thorugh expensive liberal arts colleges. It was always "my choice" to go there, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for. My choice was based on the societal priority of prestige and privilege; things that attending a fancy college promises to deliver, but which in fact don't amount to much at all.
The average college graduate has more than $2,200 of revolving credit card debt and 20 percent of student credit card holders carry more than $10,000 of revolving debt.
DEBT reliance creates so much anxiety and a sense of futility in our whole society--we find it necessary to accept the mundane, passionless life which comes from work sought out and performed with the sole aim of making money. We work to pay bills. We choose our careers, we build our whole lives around that profession that will situate us in life according to our desired level of material comfort. As my friend Thoreau points out in Walden, we're spending a good third of our entire life's time and energy just to address the debts we have already accumulated by living beyond our means out of ignorance and a sense of class entitlement.
"The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laborer's life, even if he is not encumbered with a family...so that he must have spent more than half his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned...
When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money--and we may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses--but commonly they have not paid for them yet...The man who has actually paid for his farm with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him. I doubt if there are three such men in Concord."
Those who do not have a negative net worth are those who have inherited wealth, or those who have played the game perfectly--mortgaging their entire existence until such point as their education secures them in the very groove they were intended to fill--those young doctors and lawyers who can finally begin to pay back their $300,000 student loans because they are making six figures right after grad school.
We have been so conditioned to seek money that we forget what life is about and we think that so many people choose such careers of their own free will and natural propensity for such work. But I would venture that most choose such careers for the knowledge that they will be able to beat the DEBT reliance before the rest of us. They see such professions as the key to eventual independence--giving perhaps only one third of their lives to the payment of DEBT while the rest of us may never escape it, working our entire lives without breaking even.
No matter what you make, there is a way to live within your means, stay out of debt and save enough for your short- and long-term goals.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration lists agriculture as the second most dangerous occupation in the United States.
Rural Migration News
The New Americans (must see film!)
I don't know much about his days as a farm laborer, but I imagine that he loved every part of it, as I do. He probably loved the traveling too, and the sense of freedom and independence he had in not being tied into an office job. If he had a problem with any situation or authority, he could just move on. He seems, in his photos, to be a man who preferred to be outside in the sunshine working with his hands. From this perspective, the latter part of his life seemed to be such a compromise--the house and family, the steady desk job. My grandmother made him stop playing his music, because it might wake the baby.
If he were still alive, he would be so proud of my sister's musical success. In a sense, it is the fulfillment of a repressed family project or characteristic...is it coincidence that a talent denied and unfulfilled in one generation should manifest itself in a later one? My mother believes that each of us ends up doing, in some fashion, our family's work. She is able to see, from her perspective, the qualities in her parents that were transmitted--it seems--to her children. My ultimate vision has always been of a farm. Is that my own idea, or simply the unconscious stirrings of a deep family trait manifesting in my own orientation to life and the world?
My grandmother, Magdalena Merck (later, Madeline Rosera), was the youngest daughter of a German farmer who emigrated to Russia with a wave of other Germans attracted there by Alexander I to populate areas acquired from the Mongols along the Volga River, and from the Turks in the Black Sea region. As the story goes, my great grandfather, Joseph John Merk, after serving 4 years in the czar's army and with the approaching Russian revolution, decided that he did not want his seven sons to enter into military service. He decided to move his entire family to Brazil, and then to Argentina to work on banana plantations before emigrating finally to North Dakota.
My grandmother was just a baby during the South American years, and grew up, mostly, as a North Dakota farm girl, until moving to Portland as a young woman and taking work in a hospital laundry and as a seamstress in a casket factory.
The farm life is the essence of my family's past, and for me it manifests itself just as the sensations in a long-lost appendage. The Farm has been invisibly there, the ghost of my family's struggle, as the fuel and the toil that resulted, several generations later, in the privilege, the comfort, the education and the opportunities that I enjoy.
The Farm is the man behind the curtain to my Emerald City life.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I sincerely regret my profound ignorance of the Native history of this place, and regret even more my inability to retain the information I have read in the past about Native cultures, only remembering vaguely the stories of Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph but knowing, practically, NOTHING else about the people who still share this land with "us."
Last summer, during my work with the MHCOP students, I was struck by the fact that I had grown up in Montana, yet received almost no information about Native Americans as part of my public (or private) education.
It's interesting how privilege protects itself--"mainstream" American society learns nothing of the marginalized communities living in its midst. How was it possible that I grew up in Missoula and had no contact with Indians, no formal or informal introduction to their cultures, no sense that they were a significant part of this place, historically and currently. My only exposure was the annual Kyi-Yo pow-wow at UM, which isolated and generalized Native cultures in such a way that it became a spectacle no different, to my youthful ignorance, than the annual Shriner's Circus which was presented in the same venue--the university's basketball arena! It was interesting and magical, but I made no connection between it and the community in which I was living. And I don't think most people do. Even trips through Arlee and St. Ignatius were only occasions to buy little trinkets at Doug Allard's and admire the beauty of the mission mountains. I got no sense of reservation life while zipping along in a comfortable car...
Now, I can only feel ashamed in conversations like the one with Clayton. I try to avoid insulting him with my ignorance. I try to ask sensitive questions. But ultimately there is no excuse for how little I know, and I am angry at the privilege I have inherited, which promotes and perpetuates such ignorance, which only maintains the racist tendencies which have continued to separate Indians from whites since we came into their land. While I cannot be blamed for my initial ignorance, I must accept responsibility for the privilege I enjoy at others' expense, through no effort of my own. If I don't continue to educate myself, such knowledge of my own ignorance might just turn into "white man's guilt." To avoid it requires continual learning about race and class inequalities in the U.S. and deepening sensitivity to the ways and moments in which white privilege facilitates my personal abilities and opportunties.
The most helpful tool in this examination can be found in Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Here is an excerpt. There are 50 such statements in all...very interesting!
Daily effects of white privilege
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined. As far as I can tell, my African American coworkers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or frequent contact in this particular time, place and time of work cannot count on most of these conditions.
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
Another really interesting site is: http://www.whiteprivilege.com/
I am fortunate compared to others, some of whom are maintaining 20-40 hrs of additional work per week in order to cover their expenses. I don't know how they do it. I have only enough energy for an occasional trip to the grocery store or laundromat, cooking breakfast and dinner, reading a little bit or watching a movie in the evenings.
I need to pay more attention to what I eat and drink and have started to do a little research about nutrition. Next I will try some experiments to see what works and what doesn't. According to the following article, and contrary to what some of us were thinking, protein is not as essential for increasing energy as carbs and lots of water... I certainly eat enough carbs, but I haven't been drinking nearly enough...and only when I feel thirsty. Being under an intense sun most days, this is possibly one cause of my exhaustion.
For the whole article see:
Water is the ultimate ergogenic aid—but because the body has a poor thirst mechanism, you must drink before you feel thirsty. Once you are thirsty you are already slightly dehydrated, and your performance will be diminished.
To stay well hydrated, you need to drink about a quart of caffeine-free, nonalcoholic fluids for every 1,000 calories of food you eat, assuming you maintain your weight. To ensure that you are well hydrated before you exercise, drink 2 cups of water or sports drink 2 hours beforehand. To avoid dehydration during exercise, begin drinking early and at regular intervals. For exercise lasting an hour or less, 4 to 6 ounces of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes provides optimal fluid replacement.
During exercise that lasts longer than 60 minutes, carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages containing 5% to 8% carbohydrate should be drunk at the same rate to replace fluid and spare muscle glycogen. Also, consuming sports drinks during intense activities such as soccer or basketball may enhance performance. After exercise, replace every pound lost during exercise with at least 2 cups of fluid.
Eating for Peak Performance
by Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The first week, perhaps even before starting at the farm, I had a dream that it was the first week of the semester back at Harvard--the "shopping period" during which everyone is sampling and choosing classes. The most coveted and talked-about class in my dream was a class called, simply "Carrots." The fancy Harvard wood-paneled lecture hall was packed with potential students...there was a waiting list subject to the approval of the professor. There was a fancy powerpoint presentation on carrots in their various stages of development. In the dream I was desperate to get into the class; not so much because I cared anything about carrots, but because it was the popular thing to do. I wasn't sure why it was so important to so many people, but I figured, if it was so coveted, I too needed to try to get in. I had a full schedule already and was trying to figure out what to drop in order to take the Carrot class...
I woke up laughing about that one, because it was such a great and humorous illustration of conformity, as pointed out by my friends Emerson and Thoreau.
I'm curious to know the best way to raise the fattest chickens in a place such as Gabon where processed feed is not available.
Not a Total Loss:
Mike (The Headless Chicken) (1945 – 1947) was a Wyandotte rooster (cockerel) that lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. Many people thought it was a hoax, so its owner took it to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and had it examined, which confirmed that it was not a hoax.
We lost our entire crop of potatoes over Memorial Day weekend to three days of intense rain. In another downpour last week, we replanted them.
With both the loss of the chickens this morning, and the potatoes last week, I have been very impressed by the reactions of the seasoned farmers, Tim and Josh. They are visibly disappointed, surely, but no feather is ruffled, nothing more said than, "what a major bummer" or a brief comment on the power of weather vs. the best intentions of the farmer. There is resignation to the risks and consequences of the profession. No doubt for Tim and Sarah, losing their chickens constitutes a major financial blow--I think I heard Josh say in the neighborhood of $3,000--but a farmer has no time to cry over spilled milk. There are weeds knee-high in the onions. The greenhouse needs to be cleared out and tilled up for tomato plants, beds of beans need Remay, the tractor needs a jump-start, and the kids need to get to their soccer game or gymnastics practice on time.
Limited human energy can be better spent than on lamenting the Acts of God. The farmer bears nature's whim with the least grief, and focuses on the living survivors, awaiting his attention. Yesterday threatened hail storms. "What can we do, Josh?" we all asked. "I DON'T KNOW!" Josh replied with his hands in the air. "At least the chard will just grow back."
- Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes in about 200 BC.
- French Fries were introduced to the U.S. when Thomas Jefferson served them in the White House during his Presidency of 1801-1809.
- During the Alaskan Klondike gold rush, (1897-1898) potatoes were practically worth their weight in gold. Potatoes were so valued for their vitamin C content that miners traded gold for potatoes.
- In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, and eventually, feeding future space colonies.
Monday, June 12, 2006
(4th Quarter, 2003)
By Lydia Zepeda
...In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Almost overnight US$6 billion in Soviet subsidies to Cuba disappeared. At the same time, the US trade embargo tightened, and Cuba was plunged into an economic crisis. Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 25% between 1989 and 1991. Cuba entered what is euphemistically called the "Special Period." Special, indeed: Oil imports (and consequently fuel) fell by 50%; the availability of fertilizers and pesticides fell by 70%; food and other imports fell by 50%; and most devastatingly, calorie intake fell by 30%. Further exacerbating the economic crisis, in 1992 the United States passed the "Cuban Democracy Act," which prohibited assistance to Cuba in the form of food, medicine, and medical supplies.
Recent ReformsFaced with this crisis, Cuba radically changed the state sector in 1993; about 80% of the farmland was then held by the state and over half was turned over to workers in the form of cooperatives—UBPC (Basic Unit of Cooperative Production). Farmers lease state land rent free in perpetuity, in exchange for meeting production quotas. They may even bequeath the land, as long as it continues to be farmed. A 1994 reform permitted farmers to sell their excess production at farmers' markets.
The reforms emphasized five basic principles. Foremost of these was a focus on agroecological technology, supported by the state/university research, education, and extensions system. There had been researchers, outreach specialists, and faculty devoted to agroecology before the crisis. The crisis not only brought them to the forefront, but universities, research centers, and agricultural policies were reoriented to make agroecology the dominant paradigm. To begin to understand the magnitude of this reorientation, imagine for a moment that your local college of agriculture reoriented its entire curriculum, research, and extension programs to agroecology. Pick yourself up off the floor, and now image that all the universities as well as all national agricultural policies in your country were reoriented to agroecology.
A second principle of the reform was land reform; state farms were transformed to cooperatives or broken into smaller private units, and anyone wishing to farm could do so rent free. In effect, a right-to-farm policy was implemented. A third principle of the reform was fair prices to farmers: Farmers can sell their excess production at farmers' markets; average incomes of farmers are three times that of other workers in Cuba. A fourth principle of reform is an emphasis on local production in order to reduce transportation (and hence energy) costs. Urban agriculture, a key to this reform, produces nearly the recommended daily allowance of 300 grams per person of produce. The fifth principle of reform is farmer-to-farmer training as the backbone of the extension system.
Impact of the ReformsWhat were the results of these reforms? Production of tubers and plantains tripled and vegetable production quadrupled between 1994 and 1999, while bean production increased by 60% and citrus by 110%. Potato production increased by 75%, and cereals increased by 83% between 1994 and 1998. Calorie intake rose to 2,580 per capita per day—just under the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization. This is despite Cuba being the second poorest country in the Americas.
The conversion of Cuba's agriculture to more sustainable practices has focused on urban agriculture and domestic crops. Indeed, these practices seem to free up scarce chemicals for the traditional export crop, sugar. Sugar continues to be produced in monoculture, but increasing amounts of organic sugar are being produced, largely for export.
Urban agricultural production climbed from negligible in 1994 to more than 600,000 metric tons in 2000. There are more than 200,000 urban farm plots ranging in size from a few meters to a hectare in size. Production practices rely on organic matter, vermiculture, raised beds, crop rotation, companion cropping, and biopesticides. Yields are between 6 and 30 kilos per square meter and are predominantly roots, tubers, and vegetables. A proposed project called Calle Parque (street parks) will extend urban agriculture and provide much-needed urban cooling by converting some streets in central Havana to parks and gardens.For complete article, see: www.choicesmagazine.org/
While Cuba is probably far from prosperous as the result of such a long blockade by the U.S., I am very interested to investigate exactly what they have managed to produce in such isolation, and whether or not Fidel is truly working in the best interests of the people. I would like to believe that he is. It seems that he has been utterly demonized by the U.S. and I'm wondering why socialism is so threatening?
I would like to learn more about their agricultural and educational efforts. In an NPR article, Castro insulted George Bush by saying that a Cuban ninth-grader could out-debate our American president. I don't doubt it.
According to an article by Warren Richey,
The Bush administration has developed a 400-page plan for how to confront the challenges of post-Castro Cuba. In August (2005), it appointed a Cuba "transition coordinator" at the State Department to carry out the plan. The post-Castro plan addresses everything from water quality to drafting a new constitution to how best to punish Castro's foreign allies.http://www.globalpolicy.org
What right do we have to write the constitution for another sovereign nation?? It's fascinating how we push capitalism on the rest of the world in the euphemistic form of "freedom" and "democracy." We use words like "dictatorship," "communist," and "regime" to describe one man's vision for another way to live. I have to admit that I am ignorant of the situation, and that perhaps Castro's idealism has fallen short, perhaps he is more of an oppressor than a liberator of the Cuban people. Yet, I have a hard time believing this is the whole story about a man who has come to the aid of other such "Davids" fighting the encroaching capitalist "globalization."
What worries me most is that the American brand of globalization leaves no room for dissent. It turns any opponent into a monster, a "terrorist" or a possible harborer of terrorists.
According to Wayne Smith,
On April 27, 2005, the State Department released their annual report on State Sponsors of Terrorism. Once again, Cuba was included on the list without just cause.http://ciponline.org
If the U.S. Government can construe Cuba as a hotbed of terrorist activity, upon Castro's death it will have the presumed support of the American people to take charge and insist on instituting it's own brand of "democracy" in the interest of the safety of American soil. The U.S. has also apparently accused Cuba recently of developing biological weapons--a fact which Castro has outrightly denied, welcoming any inspectors to come and see for themselves. It's sickening how masterful the U.S. is at painting its opponents as absolute monsters, playing on the deepest fears of Americans and relying on spin and untruth to create the conditions for "apparent" justification of it subsequent actions. Who will be the change-makers? Let's assume that a man like Fidel Castro has the best of intentions and the purest heart for making improvements in his country and in the living and working conditions of his people. What chance does such a someone have against such malicious and selfish slander?
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Honeybees use nectar to make honey. Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. In fact, if you have ever pulled a honeysuckle blossom out of its stem, nectar is the clear liquid that drops from the end of the blossom. In North America, bees get nectar from flowers like clovers, dandelions, berry bushes and fruit tree blossoms. They use their long, tubelike tongues like straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers and they store it in their "honey stomachs". Bees actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach. The honey stomach holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full, it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honeystomachs.
The honeybees return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee's stomach through their mouths. These "house bees" "chew" the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive. The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees make the nectar dry even faster by fanning it with their wings. Once the honey is gooey enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with a plug of wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey.
The peas are up twice as high as they were last Monday. The kale and mustard greens and cabbages are bursting in their beds and waving gently in the breeze their giant purply green bodies—tough and leathery like farmers’ hands. My body aches every day…I thought by now this would be easier on me, but as it turns out, my rhythm is just changing to one of hard physical work in the morning, often under a hot sun, followed by a weariness like I’ve never known. It’s not complete exhaustion, but like a depletion of the energies needed to do anything else productive with the day. I take long, deep naps that I never really wake from and spend the evening listing and dazing…eating and maybe watching a movie. The concentration needed for any kind of serious reading or thinking eludes me these days.
On Monday, I was hit by a car while riding my bike to the farm. A young driver pulled too close in front of me and I ran into the back of her car and fell on my knee. Nothing is broken, but for the week I’ve been hobbling and limping around the farm, daily tweaking it again while trying to jump over a bed or wrestle a hose. I should have taken a day off to let it rest—I’m a bit worried about it now that I seem to re-injure it every day—but I guess I don’t like to sit still. Josh remarked that most people in my position would have gotten angry, gone to the hospital, complained of missed work days and missed pay and extracted some restitution out of the girl. I told him that I dislike that aspect of our society—that we’re so eager to sue, to blame, and to take advantage of such situations for financial gain. I knew I wasn’t seriously injured (although I’m thinking I should have filed an accident report, just to document it) and so I just continued on my way.
We had a new Youth Harvest kid on the farm this week—Donny. Donny felt very “out of his comfort zone” at the beginning of the week, but it was great to see how his attitude began to soften as the week went on. I had a good interaction with him on Monday—telling him that he doesn’t have to like farming, but that he might gain a lot just by opening himself up to having a new experience. By Weds, I could see that he was much more into the work…I think watching Hannah’s enthusiasm for the work really helped him to relax into it.
We planted tons of peppers, tomatoes, celery, summer and winter squash this week. We moved all the plants out of the greenhouse on Wednesday, and then in the pouring rain on Thursday, we moved them all back in again. I learned to drive the tractor and till the soil. I tilled in several beds of rotten potatoes—damaged by the rains over Memorial Day weekend. It’s the biggest loss the farm has experienced, according to Josh. In the pouring rain on Thursday, new potatoes were planted by a team of very muddy, but happy, PEAS farm interns while Josh,
The highlights of the week were the quick lecture about honey bees from a man who brought Queens for our hives all the way from
On Friday, Josh gave us a little class about direct seeding vs. transplanting. We got to talking about the Solstice and its significance to plants/ farmers. Josh gave the example of onions, which spend their energy as the days are growing longer to produce the green part of the plant. After the solstice, as the days begin to get shorter, the plant diverts its energy to the bulb, which grows in proportion to the greens which developed before the solstice. Josh said it’s like they’re on a dimmer switch: as the light gets “turned down” the onions grow bigger. These are called short-day onions. There are also long-day onions which react in the opposite way. They need to be planted in the fall (this works best in southern climates) because the bulbs develop as the days grow longer after the winter solstice. I want to learn more about this.
The first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives. This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the "grand [sexual] union" of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, "newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon."
After our class, we visited the Ten Spoon vineyard and winery in the Rattlesnake. It was a very interesting operation. It was particularly fascinating to hear about the meticulous way in which the vines must be cared for. Each trunk has two cordons (or arms) from which new growth sprouts each spring. The previous years’ growth was pruned in the early spring (Feb?) to leave several “spikes”—the last year’s growth which is cut down to 3-4” sticks. From the spike, three new shoots are allowed to grow (others being removed). Two shoots will grow grapes (they are pruned before flowering to two bunches per shoot) and one shoot will become the next year’s spike and will not have any grapes on it. This is done to every single plant. Then there is all kinds of other pruning that takes place throughout the season. Compared to a vegetable garden where the tasks are alternated every few minutes, vineyard work looks incredibly dull and repetitive. However, I suppose the financial return must be much higher in the end. But this winery is seven years old and is not yet turning a profit. It takes at least five years to achieve the first harvest. I was quite impressed not only with the knowledge of Katie and Casey, the two young people who were in charge of the vineyard, but also by the fact that they are learning so much as they go. It’s great that they can be hired to actually learn as they go, rather than being expected to know everything before getting the job. Much of what they are doing now is trial and error—Casey said he hasn’t had the opportunity to visit many other vineyards. One would think that might be a good idea! But the plants look really healthy, and the wine apparently tastes good, my colleagues tell me…
Thursday, June 08, 2006
November 7, 2003
Fifteen kids from the English Club came over this afternoon to start their garden. I’m pleased with the results. They cleared my back yard, weeded the whole garden, cleaned out the rain barrel and put it under the eaves to collect water. The girls, nine of them, don’t seem too interested in gardening. Some of them came dressed to go to a nightclub. Sometimes I have very little patience for teenagers!! They obviously just came to “be seen” by the boys. I try to figure out what may be going on between who and who, but I have no idea, actually.
It’s amazing how kids use their teachers. I wouldn’t have it any other way—it is as I have wished, that they USE me! But it makes me realize how hard my teachers had to work to be as cool as they were, to be as available as they were, to be as caring as they were. I wonder if people can fully realize this without being teachers themselves. It is flattering that the kids have chosen to make their garden at my house. They know I will give my all for them. They are comfortable with me, to the degree that they can be. But they take my help for granted! Just as I took my teachers for granted, had no idea how hard they worked for me, had no concept that they might rather be doing something else. I assumed they existed to help me. But I can’t deny that it is fulfilling work. If I weren’t so lonely, everything would be in its proper place. I wouldn’t depend on the students to fill the void in my life, I wouldn’t have to be afraid to let my love show.
Friday, June 02, 2006
After our soil discussion we took a trip to
Sitting under one of her trees looking at photos of her farm over the years, I realized that this farming experience is a very significant event for me. It was almost an after thought to work at the PEAS farm when another plan fell through, and yet it was not a random decision, but a serendipitous one. I realized today how long I have dreamed, imagined myself in my visions, to eventually live on a farm. Why have I never considered working on one? Learning about farming? What an idiot I am sometimes. Wake up, Sara! This IS the life you have imagined, wondered about, envisioned creating…why is it just now, and practically by accident, that you are finally doing it? Well, it’s not too late. And it feels really right; like I said, significant and important. I don’t feel that I am meant to be a farmer. But I am one step closer to experiencing the life I’ve imagined for so long. What else have I kept as just a fantasy without realizing that I could be living it? I wonder who I will be by the end of the summer? I am grateful for the hand of God gently transplanting me from my hesitant dreams into such vibrant, crawling, sacred and fertile soil.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
I’m trying to bring together two aspects of myself that maybe cannot actually be harmonized. While I’m eager, in theory, to reflect on my first impressions of the work I’ve begun at the PEAS Farm, I’m finding it hard to know where to begin…I’m finding that a structured organization of my thoughts and observations is actually contradictory to the rhythm and attitude I’ve only begun to experience by working every day on the land with my hands in the dirt and my skin meeting the sun again after such a long time. Where have I been since those days when I had a healthy glow? A year of study has turned me into a pasty, soft hermit—nothing but brain and organization and efficiency. I now feel a loosening, just beginning. I’ve been like a hard-packed soil. Staid. Solid. Sedentary. I feel fingers now digging into my inertness and the artificial structure of “organization,” loosening, crumbling the clumps, refining and re-organifying; dislodging, freeing my rootboundedness, breaking the form, the mold of my first growth.
There is something very satisfying about digging down into the dirt with your fingers. A tilled bed develops a crust after a few days. The soil is slightly moist below it. It needs to be worked and reworked and prepared for the seedling. I like digging the small hole, crumbling the clumps into gentle dirt, splitting the roots of a young plant fresh from the greenhouse, liberating them from the small world of a seedling cup and transplanting them into the warm, moist larger world. I prepare their entry place, clear it of rocks and the snarl of quack grass roots, sift the soil through my fingers and secure the young plant to its ultimate destiny. It is the moment that nurtures and determines the potential of the plant.
I was noticing today that each farmer has his or her own planting style, and some are very careless. What are they thinking about as they breeze through such special moments? The soil, the plant, the farmer are for that moment integrally bound in the act of regeneration. It is a very special moment, each time, each plant. I realized today, after watching someone who didn’t seem to care—who just poked the broccoli into the pre-made hole with one finger and moved on to the next one—that I send each plant off into its future with the best of intentions and hopes for its fullest potential, and that I really do all I can so that it will have the best possible chance to survive, grow and be the ultimate specimen of its species. I care for each one. I never realized that before. And I believe that care—even love?—is a huge part of successful farming. The farmer is the catalyst who introduces the plant to its ideal environment. And this must be done carefully. This is my bias. I realize there are others who may be perfectly good farmers who do the one-poke method. And maybe the plants grow just fine…? I’d like to experiment…
We’ve done a lot since I started last week. We’ve planted corn, broccoli, lettuce, flowers. We’ve moved irrigation pipe several times, made potting soil, transplanted seedlings in the greenhouse, weeded the onions and strawberries, dug quack grass in the orchard, planted tomatoes and cucumbers in the hoop-house where it’s very hot, learned a bit about soil building from Steve at Lifeline Farm last Friday. We’ve eaten lunch every day together from things we’ve grown…mostly bok choy, kale, potatoes and spinach so far, supplemented with a lot of lentils. Tomorrow we’ll learn more about building soils and then take a field trip to another farm up near the Bison range.
Farming is a beautiful activity. I am especially impressed by the fact that there are endless layers of knowledge required of the seasoned farmer and available to the learner, and yet anyone can jump in and begin farming immediately in a group such as this. Each individual brings his knowledge and experience to the whole project, but an interested novice requires no knowledge to begin working. I believe there is something about farming, about growing food, that is inherent to human capacity. Though successful farming overall requires mastery on so many levels—biological, mechanical, climactic, geological, social, etc.—on an individual level, it requires only hands. Just put something in the ground. It is so simple. It feels to me like it is almost part of our nature—but I suppose we were gatherers before we were cultivators. The human relation to plants, either way, is incredibly special but subtle, silent and profound. I realized today that I care for them as if they were my children. It’s not something I’ve decided to do; it just seems natural. Steve at Lifeline Farm last Friday philosophized about farmers having replaced indigenous peoples. He said that farmers are important because they carry on the knowledge and the direct connection to the earth that our society, for the most part, has lost.
I feel a little better this week than last. My thoughts were so negative during my first week. I’m giving myself some transition time from Harvard head-work to Farm body-work, because it’s quite a drastic shift. It never feels like a big deal to me, but I try to remember that it is and try to go easy on myself. When we take the seedlings out of the greenhouse, they have to spend a night or two of adjustment outside before they are established in their new environment. The shock from one to the other might be too much for them. So they get a taste of their new climate while keeping their feet in a familiar place. The transition hasn’t been too rough on me…in fact, it feels great so far, although the work is physically exhausting and I seem to be eternally tired these days. I am riding my bike each day to the farm and back (from Russell & South to the top of