Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Food Comes from the Grocery Store

This week’s edition is about food and farm labor, but first a little bit about Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

I have quit the Robert Sund School. He always said boil it down, throw it out, and less is better....... Now I am learning from Charles Dickens. Many of his novels are over 800 pages long, and they're good. Dickens repeats himself a lot -- that's part of his style. He's like the anti-Hemingway. He's like the opposite of Elmore Leonard. You gotta read at least 300 pages before David Copperfield even gets started. The first 300 pages are sort of a warm-up and lay of the land. I am at page 450 now -- it's starting to move and get serious......

Being influenced by Dickens, if I write a short piece now, and if I like it, I make it much longer.

Tannic Acid

I work with plants. Plants are made from chemicals. One of those chemicals is tannic acid -- found in grape skins and oaken wood. Tannic acid occurs naturally and you can eat it or drink it. You could drink one gallon of tannic acid and not die. But if you're that stupid you might also drive your car into a tree at 50 mph to see if the air bags worked.

Anyway, it's out there in nature. Also you can buy a pound or a ton of tannic acid from a chemical supply company and use it for a variety of projects.

It quickly gets very technical. I did a drawing by hand of the tannic acid compound. Using your hand is a powerful reinforcement of learning, so now I feel at home with this chemical.

Today I'm learning about vanillin -- the chemical which is the essence of vanilla flavor. You can get it from nature, in which case it comes with hundreds of little smidgeons of other compounds and that gives natural vanilla extract a fuller and more complex flavor. Or you can cook up a gallon or a hundred gallons of vanillin in your lab and use it to flavor food. That's legal. It won't kill you. It doesn't taste as good as natural vanilla, but it's a lot cheaper.

Mesa Harmony Garden in Santa Barbara

I have worked at community gardens quite often. They depend on volunteer labor. Planners consistently overestimate the supply of volunteer labor. They begin projects with a burst of enthusiasm and discover a weed-choked mess several months later.

The garden where I volunteer has wisely learned from those experiences. We use volunteer labor on a sustainable basis. We have lots of wonderful ideas and things we like to do, but we talk ourselves out of it. I serve on the board of this garden, and I have been known to say, "I'm not willing to do any work on this. I might do a little bit of work, but not much."

My fellow board members often agree with that assessment. You might say we are lazy. We have designed an orchard of fruit trees, choosing projects that require the least labor -- that gives us time to sit in the shade and enjoy the view.

And money. I am opposed to any project that will cost money. In order to get money we have to do fundraising and that is an irksome task. "But we could spend a little money on that. Yeah, that might be okay."

Conserving labor and money generates harmony. Since we are not over-worked or over-spent, we enjoy ourselves more and do not squabble. This is the best way to run a community garden.

I should say that I do not speak for the garden board, just for myself.

The Drought in California

The drought in California is a problem most people notice. They know it hasn't rained in a long time. It is possible to gain the attention of the average Californian concerning this problem and they might be willing to do something about it, such as curtailing certain habits.

This is how human beings handle problems -- they deal with the problems that are right in front of them........ And any sound environmental policy should incorporate that powerful motive. We ought to reward short-term thinking because that's what we are good at. Human beings are incredibly adaptable and capable of quick changes when under pressure. We are fast learners.

But long-term thinking -- we're not too good at that. Climate change 30 years from now -- snooore, boore. We're not equipped to deal with that scenario. We're not built that way. It's not natural. Expecting people to behave contrary to their nature is close to stupid. Won't happen. Waste of time.

I forgot to save for my retirement and you expect me to worry about climate change? I have a hard time thinking about next month.

But go ahead, give us the warning -- it goes something like this:

O ye prophets of doom!

Perdition looms!

The seas will rise and swallow the earth!

Strange, violent creatures will eat our flesh! ..... etc, etc

I propose simpler environmental policies. If you like monarch butterflies, plant milkweed. If you like honey bees, install a hive in your back yard. If you like chickens running free, get some. If you're concerned about the drought, use less water. Don't litter……. You can add some sensible gov’t regulations to this -- to nudge and encourage what we agree is good behavior.

Human beings, so highly adaptable, are also capable of cooperation -- as long as you don't push it too far. They will join together to solve a larger problem – you can easily get a hundred volunteers to fill sand bags and staunch the flood. That’s the short-term, but you can’t count on these same volunteers to come back the next day after the flood has passed – they’re gonna go home and mend their own fences.

Oh yeah, California is about to pass a statewide ban against plastic grocery bags. I know that some of my friends are advanced people, motivated to serve the higher good. They can foresee problems that I have not noticed. They told me there was a whirlpool of garbage a ways out there in the ocean, and if I use plastic bags at the grocery store, I will choke a fish. Okay, I will take this on faith and stop using the plastic bags..... But don't use me up. I will take a few things on faith -- only a few.

I work on an organic farm – a small market garden and greenhouse -- not because I believe that the use of artificial herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers is harmful to the earth. No. I work at an organic farm, because they pay me and because it smells good. I have no quarrel with conventional agriculture.

Food comes from the Grocery Store

You know where food comes from? The grocery store. That's where I get my food. And they get if from farmers who grow it. We have a lot of food in America and it doesn't cost very much. Most of our agriculture is mechanized and done on a large scale because most of us don't want to be farmers. We buy our food at the store because that is what we like to do.

There's a few of us who enjoy getting our hands in the dirt. And there's a large number of us who talk about the wonders of rural life and simple farm-folk. But it's talk. Only talk. You can't build a sustainable policy based on talk. We buy our food at the store and we don't want to pay very much for it. Any sustainable policy needs to be built on that fact. The rest is just air.

It's been a phony message since Thomas Jefferson praised the yeoman farmer. Thomas Jefferson never did a lick of field work in his life. It was talk and you can't build a better policy based on talk.

Okay, that’s enough for now,

Thank you very much,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is Fred Owens

My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

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