Um, yeah…

February 25, 2011

Hm.  So yeah, it’s been forever, and given the severe gaps between dates on this blog thus far, I shouldn’t need to explain, but I had some things, er, happen that sort of threw my life a bit.

Actually, reading over the last entry in this blog, the one where I bemoan the likelyhood that I will not get to play pretend tea parties with stuffed toy cats because I am having a boy instead of a girl, is sort of eerie, since the VERY NEXT DAY my water broke!  (Thanks for that Thai food, MOM.   totally jk! <ha?>).   I had that one messy, muddy day, barely looking preg, went home, wrote a blog entry about it, went to bed, and that was it!  The end of normal pregnancy as I knew it!  Midwife-water birth dreams burst!   I mean, I pretty much entered the mouth of hell within a matter of hours.  Just reading that last blog post makes me scoff.  PFF.  Oh foolish, young me–waxing on about snap peas and twisty weeds!  What a naiive little thing I was.  Maybe I should have been thinking MORE of how lucky I was that I wasn’t going into pre-term labor!

That’s the thing about pre-term labor, though: who the hell thinks of that happening during a pregnancy?  Call me naiive, but it never even crossed my mind that would or could happen.  And then when it DOES happen, you can’t help but feel guilty.  I mean, at least a little.  Sure, your doctor can tell you later that they don’t really know why it happens to some women, and I’d have to get a few stitches in my cervix if I ever wanted to have another baby, because maybe it was ‘cervical incompetence’.  (Nice name, by the way.)  And yeah, maybe I should have listened to Luis that one day, the mechanics guy at the farm, when he said, “no, puedo ayudarte!  Es mal para el bebe!” when he saw me ever-so-slightly struggling to carry a crate of onions.  (For the record, he ended up helping me, but maybe I should have never tried to carry it in the first place.)

Oh geez, but it is all over now.  In a good way.  Like, we have a baby.  Let’s fast-forward those months in the hospital (or not, if you like).  And it is the tail end of winter (sort of) and we are all home, a family of three, lots of snow, lots of organizing, planning, databasing, lots of babying,  reading, cooking, and netflixing.  Not as much writing as I’d like, of course…but I am slowly working on my book!  And I am currently writing an essay for an anthology!

Oh whatever, I’m just trying to psyche myself up and make my life sound more exciting than it is.  (Especially with that ‘netflixing’ I threw in there.  Jealous?).   And yeah, we had planned to do a lot more this winter, it’s true.  We had planned to go south and work on some eco farms.  We wanted to go to Wisconsin and do more winter woodsy sportsy things and visit our friends up there.   Instead, we are on micro preemie winter schedule, meaning we can’t leave our apartment very often.  (Short version: if he gets sick, he gets really, really possibly-going-to-die sick).  But we are handling it and for pete’s sake, WE HAVE A BABY.   What we thought might not be possible is, so I can’t complain.  (Well, maybe I can a tiny bit. )

Since I have decided (just now) that this blog will now be my more personal blog, I will just spill the beans and say: I’m pregnant. Almost 5 months. And I am having a boy.

First, let me say when I saw a little penis on the screen when we were doing the ultrasound, I almost didn’t believe it. I guess in the back of my mind I had just thought, of course I’m having a girl. Girl things are what I know. I like faeries and faerie things! For pete’s sake, I have goddess prayer flags hanging in my office at home!

But I must say, blog readers, I came to a realization on Saturday. After a hellishly long day of harvesting (it wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t taken 11 hours), we were pretty dirty. It had rained, and I had been crawling around on the ground plucking low-growing snap peas, trudging through thistle and grass plants. Alex and I looked like two Oliver Twists, if Oliver Twist had worked on a farm in the rain; we had mud everywhere, from our cheeks (Alex more), our hair, our pants, our boots and arms.

My mom had helped that day, working from the morning until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It was awfully nice of her, and I honestly did not think she could take all those hours. Of course, when it began to rain, we immediately pulled her from the field and sent her to the covered washing station. But she did get a little rained on, and did have some mud on her boots.

Later, though the jobs were not done, she insisted on taking me home and treating Alex and me to thai food take-out. So off we drove, and as we parked in the restaurant’s parking lot, my sister called and I listened as my mom told her, “You should see us. I mean, we are about to walk into this thai food restaurant and we look terrible! Oh, you should see Alison! She is covered in mud, with plant material caked to her pants! Literally, plant material!”. It was funny listening to her, because I guess it had just never really registered that this would be weird. What was weird about walking into this restaurant looking this way? Alex and I do it all the time! In fact, sometimes we look way worse! The only times I feel bad is when I have dirt chunks falling off of me and onto a restaurant’s nice carpet or even a grocery store’s freshly mopped floors. (I try to not have this happen and will scrape off huge chunks accordingly.) But as for just looking physically dirt-splattered, I guess I have no shame. It’s not even really on my radar. I mean, I really have no choice…this is my chosen profession, and I certainly, quite often, look the part.

But as I listened, it struck me; maybe it was good I was having a boy. Not to get all gender specific, because as everyone knows I hate that, but, more likely, a boy will not mind going into a thai restaurant looking like a swamp creature. In fact, he might even LIKE it.

I could practically hear my sister’s thoughts as my mom lamented about the horrifying/interesting experience of her day at the farm; “poor al! poor mom!”. She’d not be into it. Even for a day. And as much as I complain about farming and about how hard things seem to be and how I never have time for much of anything else anymore, when I am picking snap peas in the mud, light rain coming down, fogging up my glasses, crawling through the wet jungle of grass and thistle and clover, I actually am having fun.

So yeah, I like girl things. I like faeries, I like little girl tea parties and soft rag dolls.  And unless our son likes those things too (which I am actually hoping for, but understand if it doesn’t happen), I know that I have to let him be who he is, even if he wants to play with toy trucks and make them crash into each other over and over. The upside is that he might also enjoy crawling in mud in chilly rain with his mom and dad.

I have had a good number of conversations with people, usually other organic farmers, who are surprised/appalled at my extreme dislike for NPR’s folksy radio show, Prairie Home Companion.  Many times I will be having a conversation and think we are on the same page, someone will bring up loving to listen to NPR while seeding or making compost in the greenhouse, and then someone (I or they) will bring up Prairie Home Companion.  I will bring it up in a negative way, scoffingly, and they will then exclaim; “You don’t like Prairie Home Companion?  Really??”. 

Yes, really!  I know the arguments to why I SHOULD like it: it’s quaint.  It’s so midwest.  It’s cozy to listen to, a radio version of a warm blanket and cup of hot cocoa.  Fine, I get it.  But it also has Garrison Keillor’s drone of a voice and extrememly unfunny jokes.  This year, I actually put myself through whole shows, while doing things like canning tomatoes or washing dishes, just to gain some clarity, and maybe soften up my anti-Prairie stance.  I mean, maybe I really WAS missing something.  How can all our organic farmer friends love something so?  I know I am, in general, a bit of a hater.  I ruthlessly make fun of many popular things that people adamantly disagree with me about.  So I listened to whole episodes, trying to clear my mind, trying to find the appeal.  I found none.

Admittedly, I like the music.  I like a lot of bluegrass bands that played.  Wilco was on an episode.  But the trouble is, so was Garrison Keillor.  I don’t mind some of his jokes about the Minnesota cold, the ice, the country-time anecdotes, the stories about folks around Lake Wobegon.  But I also do not get the unconditional love.  For me, Prairie Home Companion is a rather boring show, where Garrison Keillor tells soporific stories which a live audience fills the gaps with laughter. 

I also listened to an episode of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross that featured Keillor, and one of the subjects they talked about was political humor.  Keillor said something to the affect of never wanting to make waves, so PHC never chose to make fun of politics one way or another.  Even segments of the show where G.W. Bush was parodied, it never directly made fun of him or Republicans (or Dems, for that matter) or the state of politics. 

What kind of satirist chooses to “not make waves”?  It just seems bizarre to me.  Fine if he doesn’t want to offend Republicans–but if you are so careful not to offend people, then be prepared to have some fucking dull jokes.   

….and have people LOVE them!  I may never quite understand the extreme devotion and fervor people have towards PHC.  I have learned that it is not even a generational thing, since many farmers my age love it just as much as older folks.  But just to perhaps nail my point in a little more, here’s this strange Keillor-penned essay that was written this year, as a little bit of ammo for my cause.  I suppose PHC-lovers will defend it as classic Keillor satire.  Problem is, it isn’t funny.  It doesn’t come off as satirical at all.  The “joke”  (and I am assuming/hoping that this IS even a joke) is lost, and, as someone who tries so hard to be apolitical, is just sort of bewildering. 

I wish I could be onboard of the PHC train, because I am in the midwest and would like to have alittle midwestern pride and enjoy jokes that poke fun at the harsh, snow-caked winters here to make them alittle easier to get through.  But I am so not onboard, and it is ok!  It is not a crime again corn-fed humanity.  If PHC wants to gain my love, it would have to be unafraid to be actually funny.  Or at least be interesting.  Sorry, Lake Wobegon.

My dear friend Erin sent me this link, and I am wondering why I haven’t heard of this film before!  I am usually so on top of the documentary circuit, especially when they pertain to farming, and ESPECIALLY when they pertain to WOMEN and FARMING!  And this movie has apparently been on DVD forever.  So I don’t know where I’ve been.

Yay President Obama!

This is very exciting.  I literally had shivers run through me reading this!  Things are going to change, people!

USDA and White House Move on Progressive Food Agenda
By Jim Slama

Local and sustainable food advocates are smiling these days as signals out of Washington indicate major new support for their efforts. The biggest news was the announcement that long-time organic advocate Kathleen Merrigan had been tapped to become the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, the number two position at the USDA. As an aid to Senator Patrick Leahy, Merrigan was the major force behind the Organic Food Production Act which recognized and regulated organic farming.

This follows the decision by Obama to hire their Chicago personal cook, Sam Kass as assistant chef in the White House kitchen. He will work closely with Executive Chef, Cristeta Comerford. Kass is known for his strong support for local and organic foods and did a cooking demo at the FamilyFarmed EXPO in November.

While in Chicago, Kass was the Executive Chef at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum. One of his projects was called Re-thinking Soup in which he cooked up organic soup and bread and served it to University of Illinois students. The gatherings also included talks from farmers, educators, and foodies. These soup kitchen sessions were held in a historic building at the original Hull House where Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. I had the honor of speaking about food in the Obama era at the first Re-thinking Soup gathering after his historic election win. At the time, I had no idea I was on stage with the president-elect’s personal chef.

Kass’ impact on the First Family may already be taking root. At a visit to the United States Department of Agriculture headquarters in Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama brought a Magnolia tree to be planted in their new garden. The garden replaces a blacktop parking lot and will include fruits and vegetables, some of which will be provided to local soup kitchens. Mrs. Obama praised a just announced program at the USDA that will be planting such gardens in all their facilities worldwide. “I’m a big believer in Community Gardens,” she said, “both because of their beauty and for providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables to so many communities across the nation and the world.”

Michelle Obama also offered up a unique local food perspective prior to hosting her first state dinner. Marian Burros reported in the New York Times that the first lady invited a group of reporters and culinary students to tour the White House Kitchen, prior to a dinner in honor of the nation’s governors. According to Burros:

The first lady took the opportunity to put in a pitch for local and sustainable food and for healthy eating, a recurring theme of hers during the campaign and since she arrived in Washington.

When food is grown locally, she said, “oftentimes it tastes really good, and when you’re dealing with kids, you want to get them to try that carrot.”

“If it tastes like a real carrot, and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy,” she continued. “So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they are fresh and local and delicious.”

 Well, while husband and I were working on organic farms in Costa Rica, many things had happened in the States.
Firstly, Obama’s inauguration happened. While I was harvesting bananas not even aware of what the date was, Obama turned president. I went from completely Obama coverage-obsessed to barely knowing if it was still January or not!

And then came the much of the rest of Obama’s cabinet picks.  And like every other organic farmer in the US, I was saddened by his pick for Secretary of Agriculture. Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack is a darling of the Monsanto and industrial ag world. And he’s pro-corn ethanol to boot. So I know there’s a lot of outrage among the progressive small farm community–but really, what did people expect? Obama didn’t run on an extremely progressive platform.   We all pretty much knew that someone completely revolutionary for the farming world was not going to be chosen quite yet.

That said, I still love Obama and have much faith in him and his administration to do positive things within the food movement.  I have a lot of anarchist comrades that are not happy with the Obama-loving.  But I don’t care.  They are not taking away my Obama-loving ways!  So, regarding Vilsack, I am looking on the bright side.  Ahem.  Bright side, here goes:

1. Obama has praised organic farming, an issue that neither Bush nor Hilary Clinton nor the like have ever even touched. He has a few key quotes displaying his appraisal of small sustainable farms in the media, like this one: “The Good Food movement, the organic food movement, is a wonderful opportunity for farmers to diversify. When they can diversify and get other crops going, we can in fact produce a healthier food. And more profits can go into the hands of family farmers as opposed to the big food processors and mega businesses. Then I think we are doing well for everybody.”

2.  Obama’s pick for Secretary of Energy is Steven Chu, who seems fairly progressive and I know is adamantly against corn biofuel.  This makes me think that there will be some serious sit-down talks going on, leading me to think Vilsack will get some sense knocked into him.

3.  Vilsack, I’ve read, is a listener to the people.  If there is enough support for an issue going one way, he is most likely to listen.  This is very much in keeping with Obama, too.  And a polar opposite of the close-minded, fingers-in-ears Bush mentality. 

So I’m not going to be too upset.  I think we have a long way to go, but hope is definitely on the horizon.  Fear not, my fair progressive farming fans.  This is only the beginning.  Rocky though it might be, it is definitely only the beginning.

It’s freezing outside!

December 8, 2008

We are back in Chicago on the farmer hiatus. We are staying at my parents’ house, living like shut-ins, not only not leaving the house, but not leaving our flannel pajamas as well. I can’t believe it’ll ever be warm again! I am also really regretting not buying those lined cartharts back in Wisconsin. I know it’s the organic farming cliche to wear them, but they’re going to be necessary, I think. It’s cold now. And it’ll be cold in April. I know you, Chicago, you wiley little thing! I remember this! Ah yes. I remember this well. It’s Father Winter I speak of!

So while husband and I try not to lose our minds at not having a place of our own, waking up late, and looking out into the black-and-white world outside until it becomes completely dark, we are trying to keep busy. We have lots of farming books to read. There’s lots of Coleman, Jeavons and other organic gurus to boggle us down. Not being outside for most of the day is getting to me.

Tommorrow we are having our interview with the incubator farm we are most likely going to take. I hope it’s not too ugly. I’m bracing myself alittle…this is Illinois, afterall. There are seas of flat cornfields everywhere, looking plain and shaved right now, with short, brown stalks remaining. I guess now they’re under snow. Point being there aren’t going to be many forested areas we’ll be driving through tommorrow. And miles of cornfields truly depress me. But, we are in the midwest. The gritty, corny midwest. It has its perks and downfalls for me.
Wish us luck!

Well.

It’s the wind-down time of this season and this internship and I have documented practically NOTHING.

I do plan to post pictures anyway–although there aren’t many.

So instead, I give you the newsletter I wrote in September:

On the day of this writing, it has officially become Autumn. Soon there will be that cool bite in the milky air and the sky will be filled with the treetops’ fireworks of red and yellow. It’s that transition time where your CSA boxes are full of early Fall Harvest treats and last-of-the-Summer goodies. It’s a time for new beginnings and tying up loose ends.

Part of the new beginnings for this year in particular is that of election time. In November we will have a new president elect. A key issue for many people that has had a looming presence over the election this year has been that of climate change. How can we alleviate our dependency of fossil fuel? What alternative forms of energy are best to invest in? By now, many of us know it is not just enough to screw in CFL light bulbs. We need to do more than that, and a big issue people need to talk more about in terms of combating climate change is food. What we chose to eat is every bit a part of fighting climate change as the daily bike ride to work.

According to the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, one-third of the world’s human-made greenhouse gas emissions stems from food and agriculture. That includes industrial farms’ pesticides, herbicides, and factory farm runoff. Even many packaged “organic” foods are a part of the culprit. How much energy did it take to process that organic General Mills’ cereal, and how long did it take to assemble that lengthy list of ingredients into one final product?

Eating local and whole foods is a crucial way to fight climate change. For many of us, by being raised on a steady diet of fossil fueled food and media-driven images telling us what we want to eat, the consumption of meals throughout the years has been confusing journey. But the vegetables in your CSA box are not only local and grown organically; they’re also 100% whole. So rest assured; there is no malodextrin in your kohlrabi, nor is there any dextrose in your tomatoes. What you have in your box has not been processed and never seen the light of a factory’s interior. Its purity intact, there is no energy required to develop such food into a final food “product”, unless you count the energy of one of our hands picking it from the vine/ snipping it from the plant/ pulling it from the earth.

How does one begin to counter our damaging mainstream food system? Joining a CSA is a great start, but don’t stop there: shop at your farmer’s market. Rip up your lawn and grow your own mini-farm and get a plot at a community garden. If you eat meat (or cheese or eggs), buy locally-raised, grass-finished meat from family farms. Minimize the amount of frozen food that you buy in cardboard boxes with huge paragraphs of ingredients. Preserve your CSA or garden veggies for the winter. Also, compost your kitchen scraps instead of just throwing them out in the garbage; the food that ends up in landfills are big emitters of greenhouse gases.

These food choices are not just for personal health’s sake, but for the planet’s health’s sake as well. There are many things we can do and need to do about climate change. Food choices are just the tip of the melting iceberg. And, on the brighter side of things, it’s also a delicious starting point.

 

We are Farming!

April 24, 2008

Our reasons for leaving Austin to become Wellspring interns in woodsy southern Wisconsin were simple: to not be boiling hot for a summer, to be close to family, and get a real taste for what it was to run a manageably-sized CSA farm.

We are an engaged couple to be married this summer. For a long time now, one of our goals has been to run a small CSA together. With fossil fuels rapidly depleting and the environment degrading from industrialized farming, we’ve developed a fiery passion for localized agriculture. We strongly believe in supporting local farmers financially and directly, cutting out the middleman. We also believe in community-building, and knowing the origins of a community’s food. We think this is where the future lies, and that CSAs’ popularity will only escalate with time. Not only will CSAs become increasingly desireable, but most likely also very necessary.

Wellspring provides us with an adequate model for the kind of CSA the two of us would like to run someday. It is truly a team effort here, complete with some shareholders who work either for a day or every week. The vegetables are truly loved, each planted with loving care. Everyone at Wellspring, including the shareholders, is taking a part in the good fight. Modern agriculture has made a beeline toward disaster. But CSAs are working to counteract this industry and reconnect people to the land and locally grown food. Right now the two of us are just learning all we can, stashing it away for later use when we someday have a place of our own. So far this year we’ve had some disappointments (drowned-out spinach) as well as nice surprises (carrots re-seeding themselves after tilling). But learning to cope and problem-solve is all part of this way of farming. CSAs are very much grassroots efforts, complete with the roots’ clumpy soil that sometimes needs shaking off. Wellspring’s community should be proud, because we are all part of something big. As long as community-based, sustainable modes of life exist, we are not without hope.