Thursday, November 12, 2009

what is wrong with this picture

I know a farm. Not personally, but I met a man some 30 years ago who owned the farm, and whose father had owned it before him. He was important to me and he also gave me my first Tom Robbins book. By his account, this family farm had been “organic” and “green” since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. After being away from home, as in halfway around the world away from a home that he did not recognize as home until after his dad died, he came to the free place to live and cast about to find a livelihood. Not all that critical with the inheritance. And the land. Eventually he took to collecting grants to teach farmers who’d been farmers for generations how to farm. Once the grants ran out, however, well, then those immigrants were once again strangers in a strange land. Wanting to “retire”, because after all, someone else should do the work after awhile, old Joe of no relation has the farm attempting to wrest a living wage from growing small amounts of food. Living wages are not all they are cracked up to be anyway, and trying to get one out of growing a small amount of food isn't even in the realm of infinite possibilities anyway so his failure after failure is no surprise to me.

What is a surprise is this: “More flooding today washed away the topsoil that we imported.” If it has been an organic farm for nearly fifty years now, what sort of “organic” and “sustainable” processes and procedures led it to need imported topsoil? And what mismanagement led to it being washed away? (this paragraph in DayGlo)

I know what the place looks like . . . a field beside a creek. It is not a big surprise that a creek floods. It is what creeks and rivers and things like that do. Droughts are no surprise either. They happen. You live through them -- or you die. It is no secret that anything covering soil breaks the impact of rain . . . and that if you have naked soil (as it is so often in row cropping and mono-cropping and the like), just the impact of raindrops on the soil is a significant eroding factor. So you need something over the soil to break that impact (leaves, mulch, biomass) as well as roots to hold it in place. And organic material to act as a sponge. And generous riparian boarders on any flowing sort of place. It is how it works. All of it together. Nothing in isolation. It doesn’t care if you were counting on a crop. Or if you think the creek is pretty all cleaned out. It cares if you care correctly for it or not. “Correctly” is generally in close approximation of nature. And if you do not, it will bite your a**. It is not awful; it is reality.
It is a really good thing that the earth is so good at healing herself. I have a neighbor here who is doing hideous things to his plot of land. Hideous. We ourselves have spent twenty years figuring out how to keep our road from washing away. We’re always improving. But where the old road was twenty years ago? You can’t even walk through that it has grown up so thickly. So the neighbor’s land will one day host blackberries, then brush, then a forest on its steep sides again.

We are eating salmon tonight. It is not a sustainable thing to eat. I expect it will collapse like the cod eventually. Like so many fisheries have. Lack of fish is one reason for so much piracy and famine in parts of Africa. But would it do any real good for me to forego salmon as a protest or example? I’m thinking not. It is the tragedy of the commons. I will eat it while I can. And although that is living high, I will also live low. I will seek out ways that I think are truly sustainable, and I will seek to live dreams too. That is my picture. It is not a balancing act: it is grounded in reality. Disillusionment is a good thing.

Sounds like life to me it ain’t no fantasy
It’s just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it’s tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me
(Darryl Worley song)


Madcap said...

I don't have a comment about your post, I think you've pretty much summed it up. But that new profile picture is pretty coy!

CG said...

I was so tired of the old one and can't find a new one I like. Including the one that is on there.