Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Alphabet Soup

There are some big changes afoot in our lives, and though I'm going to keep them under my hat for the moment, I do want to pull up a question from the new matron in the picture for closer scrutiny.

Before the big dinner and discussion a few weeks ago, she asked me what my experience in gardening/orchards was.  I gave a fairly stock answer for someone of my experience level that went something like this - "well I have a degree in biology from the University of Florida, with a minor in chemistry, my great-great-grandfather was a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my great-grandfather was a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my grandfather is a fantastic gardener/orchardman, my father is a fantastic gardener/orchardman - I just grew up immersed in big, productive gardens.  My professional experience is in watershed ecology, botany, and soil science, and I practically live outside in my gardens and orchards full time, and have for several years.  (And then cheekily,) I do go inside now and then to sleep!"  OK, and to blog eight times a year.

But why should I list my "official" credentials first, when I have lived in and participated with a garden for most of my 42 years (how is four years better than four decades?), and surely had some subconscious genetic leanings, not to mention extensive nurturing, in that direction passed to me through generations of garden-loving forebears.  Even in my wayward 20s and ladder-climbing early 30s, whenever I rented a new place my greatest affinity was for the raspberry thicket at the back edge of the yard, or the hops growing up to the second story bedroom window, or the little sunny patch in the side yard deep in the student ghetto at UF where I could grow a few tomatoes.  Or at least try to.

Why do we put so much emphasis on a few years of intense (but rarely practical) study?  In fact, as soon as one reaches a certain level of practicality the academic community tends to redefine that more as "technical" school.  Obviously implying a lesser entity.

Nah, the years of experimentation (and what decent gardener doesn't experiment constantly?), the thrilling successes - the spinach leaves bigger than my hands!, and probably most importantly, the failures, mean so much more than the alphabet soup we sometimes like to dangle behind our signatures.  At least they do to me.  And I think they should more generally.

There is merit in the letters, though, I think.  In a way it's a concise means of conveying that you care enough about a subject to have taken the time (and probably the debt) to spend 4 years of formally-sanctioned (and expensive!) study to further your chosen path.  But honestly, I've learned at least an order of magnitude more about my chosen path SINCE college than I did in it.  And it didn't require the psychological and not-insignificant social pressure of student loan debt either.  Debt that may not ever get repaid.  As a currently-popular millennial musician says it, "between student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter."  Or was that ladder?

But even that concise packaging really only works because we live in a culture that identifies closely with credentials, so sometimes credentials feel necessary.  I for one would love to see a general return to apprenticeship systems, slowly wedging their way into the space currently (and fairly securely) held by banks and universities.

How many psych majors with 50k in student loan debt does the country really need?  At what point do the rest of us start discouraging young people from wasting their time on such things?  At what point do we get tired of education (and medicine, and...) costing as much as it does at least partly because of the number of administrators and regulators, the number of layers of people on the dole, requiring themselves to be paid before the letters of recognition can be passed on.  It's like we've had to make jobs up (and pay for them all!) to fit everybody into a space that just doesn't require them.  Because, well, what else are we going to do with all these people in a country selling its jobs abroad as fast as it can?

Energy descent will eventually make all that look like the folly that it is, but it will take a while.  Nobody's going to offer up their job willingly on the altar of efficiency, nor take a new, more practical one in the name of resilience.  But perhaps we should consider redirecting some of our cultural energy toward prying the death-grip of the banks and universities from the throat of the overly-credentialed and under-employed populace!  Just thinking out loud here.

Maybe it's time to realign ourselves with practicality, and give some of the certification outfits the boot to the backside they so richly deserve.

Meanwhile, here's something practical for another spring immersed in severe colony collapse disorder among our honeybees, an ongoing threat no doubt presided over by plenty of knuckleheads dangling alphabet soup behind their names.  (Alphabet soup that probably aligns better with doctrine than critical thought.)

Our first top bar honeybee hive!

And a darling little future beekeeper (my daughter Ella) modeling the new bee gear.  Bees in two weeks.  Can't wait!

Happy Spring everyone.
Tripp out.


  1. Well said, and even though I immensely enjoyed university and was lucky enough to get a job thanks to those extra letters, I agree completely. My work associate, who is about to retire, gained his qualifications under a cadet system. All new employees however require a minimum bachelor level qualification (plus 3 years experience of course).

    I like the look of your new bee hive. That design seems to be cropping up more and more.

  2. While direct experience and apprentice type knowledge transfer are simple and effective, "higher" or college education can be a way for wider dissemination of the best practices, and a way to assure learning is preserved and available for all. Unfortunately, as Wendell Berry evocatively observed years ago, the land grant colleges strayed from their original mission, and now focus on industrial ag, or other less pragmatic specialties. So farmers who are on the leading edge of sustainable agriculture have to figure it out themselves, or through informal networks.

    When you add the fact that college has become yet another profit focussed enterprise, the role of universities in the future might be much less appealing to the young who can see where we are heading, to the college "industry's" detriment.

    I get my bees on April 23rd!

  3. My college years at UGA were amazing, Herschel Walker and the Dogs won the NCAA football championship, B-52's and REM rocked the night!!
    Girls everywhere!!! Thats all I really remember. No debt. Pay as you go. Cheap.
    College is presented as a way to "Get Ahead"..."lead the pack" etc... its actually for followers. Pick a narrow niche and drone ahead at medium speed. The world and the economy are where it all happens. Elon Musk has done more for the world than all the college grads combined.

  4. Damo, thanks! I really enjoyed my multiple university experiences, too;) Rolling stone and all that.

    Steve, I'll be very curious to see just how utterly maladaptive the theories developed, and disseminated, during the tremendous growth period that's just ending now, are in a world of ongoing contraction. I really think what we're facing is different enough to turn what we think of as useful and self-evident on its head. And I believe that the bank/university model is among the conventional cultural rituals that will take a pounding in the coming decades. But hey, I could always be wrong. Bees bright and early Sunday morning! Pretty excited.

    Nathan! I completely forgot that you were in Athens at the same time my parent were going to school there, which means young Tripper was there, too! Love Herschel, REM, and the B-52's, though I must admit, I had to develop a taste for the music later in life, as I was in kindergarten at the time! And listening to CCR.

    But you're going to have to educate me on Elon Musk's value, beyond his role as a world-class alt-energy subsidy dumpster. I could just be young and naive...

    Cheers, y'all.

  5. good answer. I was using Musk as an example of innovation...which is really the only way man has improved upon its standard of living. If college just help people get jobs then we are stuck in time. We need innovations that bring sustainable productivity gains, like solar powered electric cars.
    Meres some really good news by the way :)

    Snowed a foot here this week while we are eating greenhouse goodies!!

  6. One more tidbit of REALLY good news

    Forge on