Whiplash & the Breath of the Sea

Last week was tough in a way that I hadn’t expected.

I had two events to go to: the first, a climate change conference put on by our state’s climate change commission, and the second, an agricultural bank board meeting.  It was unexpectedly tough to think about the world  in such disparate ways within a few days of each other.  Tough to reconcile their differences, or not to reconcile but bear those differences when they were not reconcilable.  That was the hardest part and it took a toll on me.

There were two different visions of the world that undergirded these two different meetings, two different ideological positions that were the common, unspoken background of most of the attendees at each meeting, and two different set of blindspots. Continue reading “Whiplash & the Breath of the Sea”

Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble

We don’t need more renewable energy to power how we live, but to change how we live so we don’t need that power.  –  Patrick Noble, https://convivialeconomy.com

There are some writers on the internet that get thousands of clicks and hundreds of comments every week.  Generally these writers work hard to build their online community of readers.   Their art is that of building a common language.

There are others who don’t have the knack or interest in building their readership.   I suspect they are the kind of artist that is fascinated by something on the horizon, something that is not readily visible, and even less readily conveyable.  Their art is that of illumination and discovery. Continue reading “Against Complacency: the fierce voice of Patrick Noble”

Economics, Traveling & Brian Davey’s Credo

“Sharing the same motivations and rules of the self interest game created a common orientation and thus a common operating system for economic actors to participate in.”  Brian Davey, Credo, 9. 

For a few days I’ve been sleeping in airplanes and hotel rooms.  There is nothing in a hotel room that tells you about life.  There is a bed, a TV, and some electrical outlets.  The closest thing to life is the water piped in, and the view if there is one.  Everything non-human has been disappeared except as it appears on the breakfast, lunch or dinner plate.  “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once said so famously of Oakland, (By which she meant the place that she had known had been disappeared).  What does it mean to live in a place which is no place, an abstraction made concrete (and of concrete),  a place where appetite is untethered from its context and therefore unlimited in scope and blind ferocity?

These are the places we made in the name of a certain kind of pantheon of economic Gods – in the name of Efficiency and Innovation and Growth and Jobs.  These are the names of the orthodoxy now.   It is difficult to argue with the gods.  It always has been.  These are the places that we make under the influence of our gods – hotel rooms, office buildings, airports.  They represent the ideals of our civilization.  They are clean to the point of sterility, air-conditioned,  anonymous, secure, profitable.  These, it seems, is the realm we make when the rules of the game are determined by the lowest common denominator of humanity: unmitigated self-interest. We make places that are stripped of all life and love of life.  We make places that are cold, efficient, and impersonal.  We make places that reproduce our lowest common denominator – our blind self-interest, our infinite appetite.

As I am traveling in this world of placeless hotel rooms, the  DJ Avicii, a mere boy in his 20’s but a superstar of the Electronic Dance Music scene, is dying of a drug overdose in another hotel room in Muscat, Oman.  It is a lethal world, this world, even for those who are its “winners,” and infinitely more so for the “losers.”

Why am I traveling in the karmic realm (avicii) of hotel rooms and airports?  To protect its opposite paradoxically enough.  Brian Davey’s speaks of such places:

“People living in human communities situated in specific biological communities (eco-systems) may come, over time, to recognise that the eco-system in which they live has a “balance level” of health. This is is not the same as what economists understand by equilibrium but a dynamic negotiation between the different elements beyond which “tipping points” occur and the system slips into a different state altogether. The sense of responsibility for the maintenance of a place and the way of life embodies and embeds a recognition of the need to stay back from these ecological tipping points. This is based on a keen appreciation of the needs of the whole human community, as well as the need to maintain balance in the community of species of which it is a part (the eco-system).”  Davey, 32.

What if we thought about economics in terms of looking at the whole picture of life on Earth?  What if we let economics be about our better selves – the selves that love and nurture our children without pay, that serve as volunteers in our communities, that feel  and act on our connection to the environment?  What if we advocated for a kind of economics that saw the whole picture of what it means to be alive instead of the current definition that has us fighting over scarce resources, selling ourselves to the highest bidder, bull-dozing “empty” land to make into hotel-rooms, and sacrificing our health and happiness in the name of success?

This is all to say that I am reading Brian Davey’s book Credo (available for free online) where he advocates for just such another kind of economics, and that it’s worth checking out, as well as the website for FEASTA  of which Davey is a frequent contributor.

Also here’s a picture of some lovely snowdrops – which I had never seen before – at Jody’s house.  Amazingly beautiful little things!

There and Back Again, or the SARE Conference report

The birds sang in the bamboo patch and a soft wind blew across the green valley, and so  it was with a twinge of reluctance that I embarked on my trip to Saint Louis, Missouri to attend the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) conference. SARE is a grant program under the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, for which I have the privilege of serving as an advisory council-member. Continue reading “There and Back Again, or the SARE Conference report”

Urban and Small Farm Agriculture

We often read about the environmental damage and unsustainable practices of modern agriculture.  Some people have proposed urban gardens and small farms as a pathway to food resiliency; repairing environmental damage, reducing fossil fuel use, and improving our health and well-being.  Others conclude that it takes too much effort; people aren’t going to change; no one wants to slave away in the garden, kitchen, or on the farm; it can’t be done in every country;  small farms and gardens can’t feed the world’s population.  All these arguments have some merit, but I have found the reality of growing local food becomes quite different once the transformation begins. Continue reading “Urban and Small Farm Agriculture”

Fish in a tank

A few evenings ago he was sitting up on his bed looking troubled. His cheeks seemed blotched and his eyes were flicking and blinking, almost as if he was going to cry. But he’s nine, and I think it’s a point of honour with him never to cry. He said quietly, as I bustled around getting ready for lights-out, “Daddy, there’s something that bothered me today…”. I paused for a proper look at him and asked what’s up? “On the way back we stopped in the Chinese supermarket. There were all these fish in the tank. There were so many they could hardly move…”, and that’s where he tailed off. His expression told the story. Continue reading “Fish in a tank”

Food as Medicine

Hippocrates said “Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.”  At the doctor’s office for my annual checkup I was asked to list any herbs I take and I thought “this should be interesting.”  Sure, I take herbal supplements but what about all the fresh or dried herbs I cook with or drink as tea?  What about Mediterranean herbs in spaghetti, garlic in hummus, basil in pesto, chamomile or mint tea?  What about carrots, sweet potatoes and squash in navy bean soup to boost our immune system and fight off colds?  I asked the doctor if I should list basil in pesto and was told “No, that’s food!” (along with a look that said I must be an idiot).  Well isn’t that the point, that our food is our medicine!

Continue reading “Food as Medicine”

Winter is Coming

Fall has finally arrived.  It’s November, well past the time of year when we normally see freezing temperatures.  This year was unusually warm, a phrase that is beginning to lose its meaning since most years now are usually warm.  The leaves on the trees are finally turning color.  The nights are going to be freezing this week.  I look over the garden and see a few peppers I missed and remind myself to pick them before nightfall.  I collected masses of dill that reseeded itself from spring plantings.  I’ve learned that if I freeze the dill in tomato sauce I canned this summer the flavor in soup is the same as if it’s been picked fresh.  Good to know these things if you like the taste of fresh dill in winter soup.  I look over the garden and see bunches of herbs I need to pick before the frost or they will be lost to the freeze.  I worry about wasting them, and then I smile, remembering that the plants will give me another crop next year.  I’m still getting used to this experience of bounty from the perennials in the garden.  I’m still conditioned to think of food and herbs as things I purchase from the store, not wanting to waste money by allowing them to go bad.  Store bought food is so easily wasted.  Gardens are more generous!

Most of my life I’ve been a person who worried about waste; don’t waste electricity, don’t waste your food, “There are starving children in China”.  I wonder what was in the news in the 60’s when my mother used this phrase to make us feel guilty for not eating all the food on our plates.  Were there stories of people starving in China?  What happened, I wonder, to all the starving children?  I remember the oil embargo of the 70’s and the impetus not to waste energy.  I was old enough to understand about the lines at the gas stations, but ignorant of a thing called “peak oil”.  I remember the school placing plastic cards around light switches reminding us to turn off lights and conserve energy.  I understood about turning down thermostats and wearing a sweater.  Perhaps growing up in Minnesota we understood wintertime better than people living farther south.  To this day I still hear my mother’s voice complaining if a door is held open too long, worried that I’m ‘letting out the heat’.  I remember my father taking the screens off the windows and putting on storm windows.

My grandmother told me stories of living through the Great Depression reminding me not to take resources for granted because there might come a time when we need them.  She never wasted a thing.  That was her nature.  I’ve been conditioned by the times I’ve lived to think about energy, but mainly the cost of it more than the supply of it.  I remember the taking of our embassy personnel in Iran.   It was my first inkling that the Middle East would impact life in America for decades to come.  Ronald Regan took office and told us “Today is a new day”, and somehow people believed him.  The 80’s led to the 90’s consumption binge as if there was no need to worry about tomorrow. Credit was cheap.  We forgot about the embargo.  We forgot about saving money and living frugal.  We seemed to forget that bills always come due eventually.

Today it seems we have another Republican led effort to ignore the limits and pretend our actions won’t have consequences.  “Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.”  “Coal jobs are coming back.”  “There is plenty of oil for us to pump when the arctic ice melts!”  The cognitive dissonance this requires is profound.  If the arctic ice is melting how can we not be concerned about climate change?  As the storms, floods, and wildfires raged this year I wondered if a tipping point has been passed, if the rate of climate change is accelerating, if the dark time of climate chaos and weather disasters is upon us.  Winter is coming.  The time when food becomes scarce, when the softness of nature retreats into submission, and storms rage with callous fury.  It’s a time when we don’t know who or what will be left when spring arrives.

My ancestors are Scandinavian.  I often think their fears of winter starvation still reside in my DNA.  Those who lived in the north understood the necessity of putting up food and firewood enough to last through the winter. Winter was the time of harsh choices; when they were forced to choose the strong over the weak.   Scandinavians are often known for their stoicism.  My grandmother would fit that category, yet she had a heart big enough to love all of us as if each of us was her most cherished.  She never complained about the past, yet I knew she suffered many things.  She lived through hard times during the Great Depression, and yet still maintained the inner fortitude to keep living even when life was as hard.

Will my future be different?  I hear in people’s voices their fears of what might come, not knowing the horrors only imagining their likelihood.  I want to offer hope, but how?  How can I explain what I learned from my grandmother; that life is worth living even in the worst of times.  Family and God were all that she had but they were worth everything to her.  She had unshakable faith in the goodness of this world.  Her heart was big enough to endure pain and suffering and live through it…for us.  We were her future.  I wonder whether people truly realize how much our addiction to oil, to cars, to conveniences is going to affect our children and grandchildren’s future?

Yes, winter is coming.  But before it arrives I pause and give thanks for what I’ve received this year.  Fall gives us colors, a wild celebration of summer’s growth.  The last of this year’s crops are picked and stored away.  The wood piled high and dry under the eaves of the barn; enough to make many a warm cozy fire when the snow lays deep.  I hear the call of the wild geese passing overhead and remember how they sounded in my childhood, high in the sky, the V shape they flew as they winged their way south for the winter.  Here in Indiana they stay all year, winter and summer, never flying north.  Change has come, and more is coming.  It’s time to pick those herbs and finish my chores.  There will be plenty of time later to sit by a fire and ponder our future.