Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall's Full Sails

 I have to admit, summers in South Georgia without A/C take some getting used to.  The garden for the last few months has not been particularly photogenic, nor have I felt much like cataloguing our sticky existence through the horse latitudes of the calendar.  There was nothing pleasant about it, no refuge or recovery from the oppressive weather, for three solid months.  On at least 3 different occasions I couldn't fall asleep until well after midnight.  It's the first time we've gone without air conditioning, anywhere we've lived below the 47th parallel.  In a climate like this it takes the wind out of your sails for sure.  But the forecast calls for 49 degrees as a low tonight, 70 for a high tomorrow, and 43 the following night.  I think we've dipped below 60 once since the dog days finally ended, I think, if that gives you some perspective.  This is thermometric territory we haven't seen since about March.  And it's bloody welcomed!  I personally can't wait to bust out the fleece and some long pants!

To celebrate the passage of summer and a return to full, non-fried egg brain function (yeah sure), I feel like posting some pictures of the place.  Ella will be your tour guide today...

I've got the onion now, so no talking unless I ask you a question directly!  OK, here we go.

Daddy picked up a new hobby after receiving a call about a wild swarm of honeybees at the country club west of town.  Can't wait to taste our very own top-bar honey!!

Here's my little brother, Oliver, inspecting the peppers.  He doesn't actually like peppers very much, but he still thinks he's an expert on the subject.  Not sure where he gets that attitude.

There's Mama enjoying a wonderfully pleasant day after such a long, hot summer.  Behind the blanket on the fence is the new rabbit doe condo, recently converted from our old large chicken tractor. 

That's our new breeding trio of Black Copper Marans.  The roosters were being mean to each other so we separated them temporarily, until Uncle Andrew gets here Saturday for a rooster cleaning lesson.  Dad's going to show him how to clean his two by clearing out this guy's competition!

Here's why.  The chocolate egg up front is what the Marans lay.  Isn't that pretty?  I love them!  I've heard that good chefs will pay 20 bucks a dozen for these babies!  They must be made out of really good chocolate.

This was our big doomer moment.  We loaded up on some staples this summer, you know, just in case.

Here's that crazy okra again.  Daddy can barely reach the top these days.  Did I mention that he's 6'3"??  That okra must be pushing nine feet tall by now.

Hey, how did this get in here;)?  There's that cute little Ella again, helping build the arbor at the orchard entry.

Without a goat around that mulberry has sure had a good year!  I miss Briggsy, but I can't wait to taste these Illinois Everbearing berries early next spring!  They are first on the list of seasonal fruit.

The peaches have had a good year too.  Maybe Dad will let them ripen a few fruits for me next season.

The pomegranate is like 7' tall now.  See the two fruits hanging at the bottom?  I think we're going to eat them this weekend while we have family in town!

More figs and loquats looking good.  The three little tea camellias in the background have settled in nicely too.  Can't wait to try fresh tea from our garden!

We make most of our living off of the waste stream in Tift County.  Here Dad is preparing a Stropharia mushroom bed out of free pecan shells he gets by the pickup truck load.  He layers whatever he can get on this bed - pecan shells, cotton seed hulls, peanut shells, peach pits, whatever - since the wine caps like a complex substrate in which to grow.  We'll be inoculating this bed by next weekend.

I've been waiting all summer for this!  The first 4 dozen broccoli starts are in, and making me wish it was November already.  We try our best not to buy produce out of season so it's been a while since we had broccoli.

This is one of our new buck rabbits, Clover.  He's a big boy who will hopefully throw some big kits soon.  I haven't eaten any rabbit since we went to the mountains in July, and I'm missing it.  The breeders do double duty as fertilizing machines.  A new pomegranate variety will go in this spot next spring, and Clover and Yarrow will move to the next spot.

This is Clover's view of the garden.  I wonder if he dreams about asparagus, roselle, lemongrass, and strawberries?  I feed him fresh greens every morning, so he eats pretty well I think.

I (Daddy) grew these sunflowers for my cousin, Monique's wedding this Sunday.  I hope she likes them!

Ooooo, look what Grandma Betty bought for us a couple weeks ago!  Wasn't that nice of her?  I have no idea why, but none of us are complaining!  That MIG beef operation is looking more likely by the day.

We spend so much time in this room that it seems a shame not to include a picture of it.  The garden is wonderful, no doubt, but the kitchen is where my parents really hook it up.
Oliver says thanks for all the good groceries!!
See you next time...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

St Francis Explaining Grass to God

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now.  But, all see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites! They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: 'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about...

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Use Oil, Not Too Much, Mostly To Build Procreative Systems

I have no doubt that my last post left a sour taste in the mouth of some of my readers, and no doubt the more invested the reader in the industrial system the more sour the taste that lingered in that particular mouth. Let me make it clear that I don’t think investing is in any way evil or selfish, just that our current investment-mania is the product of a culture that has been on a collision course with extinction ever since we started accidently selecting favorable traits in wheat 10,000 years ago.

My point was that the western view of economics – that affluence is objectively (and obviously!) measured almost exclusively in terms of consumption – is wholly unsustainable, a physical non-possibility. That investing itself is generally focused on eliminating our need to work, simply because our wild access to energy has given us a warped relationship to work. Any society that wavers none at all from increasing automation, regardless of how many unemployed citizens it creates, is pretty twisted. And that we have a warped sense of value of our extended families, because of our economic theory and access to anomalous amounts of energy. Without a personal vehicle and the economic “freedom” to leave our families behind, I doubt we’d see divorce rates anywhere near current levels, and nursing homes would go out of business in one generation. Not to mention that the industrial medicine culture (notice I didn’t use the term “health” in there anywhere) we’ve created costs far more than it should, both physically and monetarily. A system that enriches and glorifies a care provider (administrator might be a better term) who only becomes rich and glorified if his patients are regularly sick is, well, a profoundly sick system. I don’t know how else to say it. There are distinct alternatives; the Chinese don’t view healthcare this way at all. They pay their doctor at every monthly checkup UNLESS they are sick; if I’m sick my doctor isn’t doing his job, they say. And if this is the basis of our relationship to health, imagine how screwed up our relationship to money is. An elderly family member that can’t physically contribute to life’s day-to-day needs should be valuable enough, in terms of useful knowledge and wisdom, to be supported by the younger, more able-bodied members of the family group. This is assuming of course that we still live in some semblance of a family group, and that that elderly family member actually spent his or her own able-bodied life acquiring useful knowledge and wisdom. Industrial culture has summarily ushered both of those assumptions to the door, so it’s off to geriatric camp for grandpa once he stops earning, and starts spending, my inheritance. How pathetic is that?

But I certainly believe that investments can be made in sustainable ways. For instance, let’s say your young friend with some nice pasture land wants to start a MIG grazing program that returns a legitimate and measurable sequestration of atmospheric carbon, plus a top shelf and very healthy meat for the astute consumer. Grazed properly, that meat represents an actual net gain of energy within the human environment by removing more carbon from the construct than it liberated, which increases the organic matter content of the pasture soils – creating a more robust and nutritious forage composition, a more resilient food production system, and holding more water (100,000 gallons per acre per percentage point of OC!) in the soil for longer periods of time, reducing if not eliminating the need to irrigate, even in drought, as well as eliminating the need to import any feed or hay. Oh, and a world class dietary step in the right direction. The implications of such an innovation should be obvious, as long, energy-intensive supply chains churning out meat of questionable worth come to a grinding halt, power stations start reducing their output, and human health improves, laying the medical problems of industrial culture to rest where they belong: on the doorstep of a system that bases itself on access to truly obscene (and truly cancerous) amounts of energy. To say that grass-based meats are the number one way to clean up our collective act might seem like a stretch at first, but when you consider, for starters, that roughly 70% of the 92 million acres of corn grown in the U.S. (2011 figures from the Chicago Board of Trade) are grown just to feed to cattle – not livestock, just cattle – the implications should begin to come into focus. In fact I believe that eating grass-fed beef instead of grain-fed would almost single-handedly eliminate the need to engage in costly and immoral overseas resource wars. (Which will happen one way or another, eventually, but I sure wish we possessed the chutzpah, as a culture, to make that choice proactively.)

That’s one example of an investment with some real satiety value. Surely there are others. Though not nearly as many as most people imagine.  If man is engaged in a life’s work that truly fills his soul there will be apprentices to pick up where he leaves off, people who care what happens to him when he is too old to work, and who have greatly benefitted from his efforts. The fruits of his labor will envelope him, and if they are worthy he will thrive in their midst. He will have no need for the consolation prize of a gold watch and a pension. Those things are the trimmings of a culture based on what can only be a temporary arrangement. Oil made us, not the other way around. Eons of solar energy wrapped up in a tight little highly-stable, highly-portable package cannot be replaced by the instantaneous energy of the sun striking a PV panel, no matter how efficiently we collect it. Not even plants can harvest that much solar energy, not by several orders of magnitude.  It took entire geologic eras to gather the energy represented by a barrel of oil. Homo sapiens has been around for a mere hundred thousand years, and industrial culture less than two hundred, the modern era less than seventy. We learned how to exploit that petro-energy, and we’ve used it to do some pretty cool things, like land a man on the moon, create a global internet, and build those PV panels. Panels which will serve the very temporary duty of easing spoiled rotten industrial man’s transition from the great energy mountain back down to the constant plains of human existence.

How much damage we could avoid if we would just skip it!

Instead of using up the oil as fast as we can and using the last of it to attempt a transition to whatever phantasm of free energy most occupies our collective wishful thought at that time, we could instead just try to grasp that there is no energy like it to be had – not even coal and gas are as energy dense as oil – and properly respect the working potential it embodies. Radical and concerted conservation of this most precious resource would carry our species far into the future, keeping chest freezers online, chainsaws running, and low-energy short-wave radios broadcasting signals to other humans no longer reachable by personal vehicle or global information systems. If someone in Jacksonville, FL, could tell me that a hurricane was headed toward our farm that would be a useful bit of information! And coming in over the short-wave it would cost a tiny fraction of what the internet requires to operate. We could trade in our condos and cars for urban workshops and suburban farmlets linked by light rail to local trade networks. We could cut our energy use by 80% without even seriously compromising our lifestyle, just by adopting a more realistic perspective of the energy situation and altering some very bad habits. These things would keep us in business for a long time to come.

But that’s not what humans do, is it? If it was then perhaps we could think of ourselves as truly special, above the other biological populations on Earth. A reality of radical conservation might be able to hold court with the religious ideas of human exceptionalism. But that isn’t our reality, is it? We’re more like a bunch of rednecks that just won the lottery, and can’t figure out how to spend stupid sums of money on stupid shit fast enough. “Look, Ma! I got a NASCAR team garage attached to my brand new triple wide!” The speed at which we are spending our inheritance seems only to be limited by the number of ways we can come up with to spend it. And the whole of industrial culture seems to be bent to the task of justifying that spending, or loudly proclaiming how and why our hand-wringing about energy is unjustified. Meanwhile, at least a few of us are getting on with the task of reducing our activities steadily down toward a level that the planet can actually support. One without airplanes, hedge funds, or Facebook.

There is nothing in the world wrong with redirecting our use of non-renewable energy, creatively using the oil we're mostly wasting now, toward creating a support system that can function without it – say, using a tractor and diesel fuel to build a small organic market farm that can be managed by human power in perpetuity – but to pretend that our current access to energy is normal, and can be perpetuated by whatever brand of magical thinking is in vogue at the time, to continue living off of our planetary capital instead of our planetary income, is a recipe for large-scale catastrophe. Saying these things doesn’t make one a monster; ignoring them does.

To modify Michael Pollan’s famous phrase:
Use oil, not too much, mostly to build procreative systems.

(And do it quickly, please!)
Tripp out.