Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Threshold of Deliciousness

Our family has participated in the CSA (community supported agriculture) at Little Seed Gardens in Chatham for nearly eight years and has relished every moment of seasonal eating because of it. Each fall, when the shares begin to fatten with squash, pumpkins, leeks, onions, garlic and fall greens, we savor the intensity of flavors. The summer sun's sugars have condensed into the wrinkly, deep khaki leaves of kale and the deeply grooved, orange flesh of the pumpkins and squashes that we bake to satisfy our need for warmth as the days shorten and the earth cools. A frost is especially desirable to concentrate the winsome character of the parsnip and the carrot. Just a nip will do here, we don't want a hard freeze to turn our lovelies to mush. Loving the fall, and summer, farm shares as much as we have I always felt a little heedless when I found myself longing for fruit to be a partner to my vegetables, maybe even in the same box. I understood full well the magnitude of my request. Organic apples and pears and peaches? In the northeast? Where we have the dreaded apple maggot and the scab and the mildew and the RUST? The sooty blotch and flyspeck and root rot?! Surely, I was told, you jest. And, indeed, one could swoon when looking at the damage caused by these dreadful diseases and organisms. On the face of things, they do seem insurmountable. Most orchards spray and spray and spray. And you can understand why. When we're talking orchards, we're talking about millions of dollars in infrastructure and product all potentially ruined and destroyed by forces seemingly outside our control. There are cultural controls available of course; proper planting and pruning, timing of thinning and removal of mummified apples and rotted wood...all these contribute to the health of the orchard. But the risk feels huge and scary and maybe just not worth taking when you're talking about your livelihood and all that entails. But knowing all of this still didn't answer my question or resolve my desire. I still needed to know; can we or can we not grow organic orchard fruit here and if we can, where can I get my hands on it?
The answer came to me when Little Seed entered into a relationship with a local orchardist who offered a fruit share as an extra to my CSA pickup. Hugh Williams and Hanna Bail of Threshold Farm are growing biodynamic peaches, pears and apples in Philmont on five acres of their 45 acre farm. With over forty years of growing experience between them, Hugh and Hanna are offering up eleven varieties of apples to their CSA members and others of us who seek them out. The idea of biodynamic agriculture came from the anthroposophical teachings of Rudolph Steiner in the early twentieth century and centers around the idea of a farm as a web of relationships that create one centralized individual with the use of certain preparations and techniques supplementing and supporting the web. So, for instance a certain blend of herbs and compost will be made, from the farm, and fed back to the plants of that same farm. Animals are included on the biodynamic farm of course, for the utilization of the manure is essential to the well-being of the entire organism. This all made sound complicated and radical and it is. The dedication to healing the earth and contributing to the health and well-being of the local community and economy can be intense and angst filled. Anyone who walks a path that isn't well beaten down will find themselves wondering when the time will will come when people will finally “get” what they are doing.
It's possible that the time is now. With the advent of the CSA and the growing population of locavores who want seasonal, organic and locally grown foods the popularity of the product of a farm like Threshold can only increase. And make no mistake; the fruit of Threshold Farm is incredible.
The apples are like no other apple we've eaten. They are antique varieties that we'd never heard of like Paula Red, Macoun, Liberty, Ida Red, Baldwin and Cox Orange Pippin. The taste is so intensely different from grocery store apples that there simply can be no comparison. There is also a difference in the look and feel of the apples that make you understand, in one bite, just what it is that we've lost through mono-culture agricultural practices. Where, I ask you, have you ever seen an enormous, lumpy apple with a blackish blush on one side and little bumplies all over the other and that tastes like berries and wine? Or a middling sized, plain Jane apple that tastes like honey? Or a reddish, orange beauty that tastes almost effervescent, as if it were carbonated somehow? Oh, and did I mention the crispiness? No mealy, travel weary, soft and elderly apples here. No, these are toothsome and satisfyingly crunchy, with just the right give at the skin. And that's just the apples! There are six delectable varieties of peaches and four of pears that educate us to the true diversity that is available to the consumer who is curious and hungry enough to seek it.
For three years now, in late August and early September our family eagerly anticipates “Hugh and Hanna's” fruit. Sometimes, when we get our bulging bag of yumminess we aren't even sure what variety we're eating; we just grab and eat and smile at the deliciousness of the apple or pear or peach.
Now that I know that we can, in fact, grow organic orchard fruit here in the Hudson Valley and I even know where I can obtain it I shall never again be satisfied with the green peaches, rock-hard pears and two varieties of apples available in the grocery store.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Something disturbing...

I think I discovered something a little, well, disturbing about myself. I was looking through an email and there was a small ad at the top for clothes made by a woman named Lilly Pulitzer. The dress in the ad was super cute. So, I clicked on the ad and Oh. My. God. The clothes are so cute! They are the best! So then I started poking around to see what else she did/made and started to run into the most amazing web sites of cool clothes and shoes. This is obvious to most of the rest of the world and doesn't sound disturbing, on the face of it. What IS disturbing is that I recognized that I have always loved things like topsiders, canvas bags, LaCoste shirts, (aka alligator shirts), khakis, pink and green, sweater sets, pearls. Okay, you say. Not disturbing what is the deal with the woman?! Well, the disturbing part is that all of these are the signature of a PREPPY!!! Wait. It gets better. I have two dogs. Not just one. Not a teeny little dog in a jacket but two HUGE hounds that slobber and shed and think they can get on the furniture and have names like Rufus and Lincoln. I sail. I have a cottage (we call it camp but...). I vacation in places like Castine and Biddeford Pool, Maine and Hilton Head. OMG. This was all starting to paint this picture that I simply was NOT aware of. To make matters worse I love William F. Buckley. Thank goodness I don't play tennis or send my children to private boarding schools. I would be in deep trouble then. But at least I could wear my pearls.

That lovely exhaustion

The last few days have been gloriously sunny and cool and I have taken that to mean that I should be outside from dawn to dusk working my fanny off in the gardens. I've been mulching and weeding and mulching some more, pruning the dead-wood from my overgrown rugosa, inspecting apple trees and berry bushes and praying over the cabbage and brussels sprouts that I feared had succumbed to last week's frost. The hauling of mulch and compost uses muscles that I haven't used over the winter, even though I maintain a fairly moderate level of activity and exercise and I can feel that deep achy feeling in my arms and legs. I have fallen asleep instantly when I hit the bed each night after spending the day in the gardens. It's a lovely feeling of tiredness that I don't get when I've been sitting and thinking all day long...not that I actually do much of that!
It seems like a total cliche to talk about how being outside in the warm sunshine and the cool air feels like a panacea for all the world's ills really does. I don't think about the hideous oil spill in the gulf, the crashing economies of Europe, the war in the middle east or the fact that my dearie is unemployed and may be so for many months to come. I don't worry about the rising tax rates, the fall of the middle class or any of the other fifty nihilistic routes I could travel down. I think about whether the apples will make it to fall for a real harvest, whether I should put the tomatoes in this bed or..that one? Should I move the rugosa? Divide the iris? Trim the euyonomous back even further? Let this bed just go to pot and work on that one instead? And what about those adorable ducklings in the coop? Should they be moved to Chez Canard or leave them in Chez Poulet? Will they all be eaten by Mr. Fox or will we actually get some eggs and entertainment from them? I worry about the corn and the arugula and the pole beans. I worry about things that I actually have a modicum of control over, rather than these grand landscapes of anxiety that I cannot navigate. The economy. War. Environmental disaster. Etc.
I've taken enough college level psychology to understand that this is about my feeling a lack of control over, well, just about everything and the need for a sense of direction; a rudder during what is a particularly trying time in the life of this country and this family. I mean, I understand that this is not just about me but about the way western culture has shifted since 9/11. Still, the momentum that I've gained in taking over responsibility for our food and general food security has brought me to a new level of awareness with regard to what is going on in the world and helped me to keep trying to move forward. But, we are in the midst of big change. Big B, big C. And change is difficult and uncomfortable and messy. It could mean encountering tricky situations and the calling up of emotional and mental resources that one wasn't really aware one possessed. Or faking it if necessary. And all of that is beyond our, my, control. The garden and its there is something that I can wrap my head around and maybe even control a little bit. And apparently it's good for sleeping too.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hunters Among Us

Tonight my husband and I went out for the first time in months and months. We went to a local pub and ate samosas and drank ale and it was fine. During that lovely time we started discussing the various articles and topics of the day and one of the major ones that came up regarded ADD. I had recently read an article that compared the mind of an ADD child with that of the ancient hunter mind. The author felt that the symptoms and conditions that a child, or adult, with ADD exhibits directly mimic what we know about hunter brains. Obviously, we can't study the ancient hunter brain now since those folks are all dead but there are still people living in the remotest corners of the earth who have been relatively untouched and not influenced by the creep of modern civilization. The Yonomamo in the Amazonian rain forest, for example, were not even discovered by Westerners until the twentieth century and until the 1960s had retained the same culture for thousands of years. Once contact was made, anthropologists were able to study them in depth and over a long period time; taking note of their culture, their habits, their lives. A documentary called Magical Death was produced in 1973 to present these paleolithic people to the world. Of course, once contact was made the Yonomamo were forever changed.
Still, their very existence allowed us to begin to understand not only who we are but also, perhaps, who we've been. Who we were. What we've lost and gained, for no change, no matter how positive and uplifting comes without grief and loss.
Make no mistake, we and the Yonomamo have the same brains. We have not physically evolved beyond that ancient hunter-gatherer brain and body. Being the highly adaptable life forms that we are, we have been able to adjust and adapt to our ever changing cultural landscape. Well, most of us have. Except, maybe people with ADD. The implication that folks with that diagnosis are not somehow disabled, not less than those of us without it is pretty huge. It means that, rather than drugging the shit out of every little boy who can't sit still during Fun With Dick and Jane in school but needs to be moving his body, outside, we have to take responsibility for what is appearing to be the fact that not everyone can be closed up in the box called school. Every day. All day long. That not everyone is designed for that task. That there are hunters among us still who long to move their strong, lithe bodies and use their smart, focused brains to chase and hunt and protect. How shall we accommodate those hunters? How shall we acknowledge and accept their differences? That is the question that we must pose to ourselves, our schools and our medical professionals. Perhaps these children need to be freed from the cages that hold them and given opportunities to use their ancient brains in the way they were meant to be used. But what those opportunities are I don't really know. Let's ask the hunters.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Okay, it's really about the chicks

So, I'm over my rant from the other day and just want to brag on my little chicks and ducklings. Oh. My. God. Are they ever cute. We get them every year because we have a large predator mafia hanging in the woods here; fox, coyote, hawk, name it. We lose chickens and ducks like crazy. My dear, four year-old rooster, Mr. Backus, was eaten this spring along with six or seven hens and an old duck. It was a little traumatic to come home from a trip, where a house-sitter had been employed, to discover that the hen house was nearly empty. Just a few scrawny bantam roosters and their girlfriends. And the ever-present Guinea Hens. Don't get me wrong. I love my Guineas. Beautiful and ugly all at once and the best watch dog, er, birds we've ever had. Sorry Rufus. Anyway. This year, after my dh was laid off, I was sad for the lack of chickens in my life. And then! I went to Tractor Supply for feed for what was left of my poultry and lo and behold! Chicks for .50 each!! Even a broke, unemployed wife of a broke, unemployed man couldn't say no to that. So, I bought six and my daughter bought two ducklings with her own money. And now we have happiness cheeping in the dining room. They are warm and soft and look at you like, "who are you again?" every time you peer into the box. Life is good when you have baby hens and ducks singing themselves, and you, to sleep.
Having chickens, a bread oven and a large garden helps me to feel like I have a little more control over my life than I probably actually do. But does that teensy little bit of rationalization harm anyone? And in the end doesn't it, maybe even help the world in a small way? Because, if I am helped by it and it keeps me sane and able to be a contributing human being in this current incarnation of craziness then that has to be good for something. I mean, really. If I reacted to the news like any sentient being should I could just hop into bed and spend the rest of my natural days there, crippled by despair. But by exercising my freedom; my right to grow my own food and educate my children the way our family sees fit, I somehow am able to keep it together for another day. To get out there and be as productive and helpful as possible. This is good. And I have the chicks to thank for it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's the Peak, Stupid!

So, after 21 years of gainful employment as a software developer my dh was "laid off" last week. His current project was "outsourced" to India; "right-sized" and "focused". Just another way to say fuck you to a loyal, dependent, expensive employee. Cause, see, that's exactly what it boils down to. Expensive. If you stay too long and you know too much and become a pretty valuable team player you get expensive. 20 years? Many tens of thousands of dollars in salary. Many, many days of vacation. Many costly health, life, eye and dental expenditures. And we can't have that. We mustn't make it possible for workers in America to feel like they've really accomplished something in their professional lives. We must only, and I do mean ONLY, make sure that the people at the very top of the management slag-heap get the most money and even that they too don't stay too long.
Business in America right now is a curious thing. Everyone says they want secure, stable jobs where people don't have to be freaking out thinking they might lose the house or have to move every six months. The media shrieks incessantly about creating an economy where children grow up in one place and have a sense of their community. We must be concerned about the children! At all costs! But in reality? That's a load of bullshit. In fact, there's almost a dissonance between what people say and what they do. Oh, yeah, that's called irony. The Nouveau Americana. Will we, I wonder, get our own version of Norman Rockwell; dressed in black with tats and piercings everywhere painting on the backs of old Walmart bags; exploring his oeuvre of homelessness and empty main streets?
What people really want is money and they don't care how they get it or what colleague they have to "lay off" to ensure that they don't lose it. Worked with you for ten years and totally your supported your local-foods-support-your-farmer movement? Yeah, but that was just for fun! This is serious and you no longer have a job. Worked with you for ten years, met your two or three or four little kids and your wife or whatever, understood your dedication to putting out quality work, your desire to not-compromise when it came to customer satisfaction and right-livelihood? Yeah, but you cost too much and rather than working with you to reconcile that, we're letting you go. Dude! They can do that for way less in Bangalore!
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know that there are millions of people unemployed. That they've been unemployed for YEARS now. That people don't have health-care, that people are living in boxes by the railroad tracks and setting up tent-cities outside major California cities. I know that all manner of programs in this country were cut, are being cut or are going to be cut. I know that dozens of state parks in New York are closing this summer, that bridge and highway repair work will not be done and that we won't gap our current budget shortfall in my lifetime. And I know that everyone without two brain cells to rub together thinks that it's somehow Obama's fault. But, seriously? When the sector of the economy that was supposed to save us all; that was being hailed as the savior for our energy dependence and food shortages starts laying people off and when those people can only be re-hired as "contract" workers and they become industrial nomads who can't afford to take their kids to the doctor for their asthma? That kind of looks like the shit has hit the fan. And if the technology sector is dead, then, what's left?
The automobile industry has been tanking off and on since 1978. We've exported most of our manufacturing to ChInduStan. We don't make our own clothes, appliances or entertainment. We take our brightest minds from MIT and put them on...Wall Street!! We don't even do our own customer service!! Go ahead! Call any company but LLBean and see who answers the phone! If we don't make anything or fix anything or even think about anything anymore, what can a person do? We barely even have newspapers or a postal system anymore! What shall I tell my children they should plan to do with their lives? Medicine? Maybe. Law? Puhleeze. Move to Canada where they can at least go to the doctor? Maybe...
This rant is all leading up to my admitting that I'm thinking more about what I've known was coming. To be honest, I wasn't really certain how it would look. I kept telling my husband, no, no. Peak oil is not a fast-crash thing. It's not going to be this "ohmygod everyone is losing their job and we will be living on the street" kind of scenario. And I still don't think that it will be. I still don't think we're headed for Mad Max. But what if I'm wrong? What if there are no more secure jobs anymore, for anyone?What if people just have to figure out on a daily basis how to get by? What does that mean for our society and our culture? If more and more of us sink deeper into Maslow's hierarchy from "Esteem Needs" to "Safety" and "Physiological Needs", what will that do to our societal infrastructure? People who are worried about their housing and food are generally not interested in much else. Reading? Art? Music? Who cares when I'm trying to figure out how to make dinner from dandelion greens and some buggy wheat berries.
Most people who read the news and follow energy trends understand that this last economic "recession" was triggered by the outrageous oil prices of 2008. Remember $147.27 for a barrel of oil? Remember the crash just after that? See how we're all resigned to $3 for a gallon of gasoline? Well, how about $10? Would we be resigned to that? $15? How about that? These price spikes seriously hamper the American economy which seriously hampers our way of life. And I'm not talking about hampering it like, "Darn! I can't afford to fly to Cabo this winter!" I'm talking about "Darn! I can't drive to work this week!" Or, "Darn! We can't afford these employees anymore!" This is all related people. The most troubling piece of this puzzle is our complete inability to rely on anything that was once considered pretty rock solid. And I wring my hands over what to tell the children.
In the end, I guess what I'll tell them is what I'd like to tell everyone right now. The world is changing faster than ever before. It is moving in a direction that cannot be predicted or changed. We are all trying desperately to adapt to that and while we are, we must come to the realization that whatever it was that we thought was stable is not. Our time of depending on much of anything is over. It's a reckoning for America, how we deal with it remains to be seen but in the meantime we all must cope. So, depend on no particular area for your livelihood. Depend on change and upheaval and risk. And most of all, depend on yourselves.


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