Saturday, May 26, 2007

Summer pleasures, Southern style

My dear Texan friend welcomed me to the South recently, after commending me on my happiness here. I mentioned that it was easy to become a Southern girl, because here in NC everyone is so friendly and living here is so pleasant. Unlike in Texas apparently, as my friend put it: "Welcome to frickin' Texas. Get used to it." One reason this area is so lovely is the local concert series sponsored by the local NPR station every other Friday night from May to October at the American Tobacco Historic District. Once the heart of tobacco production in this country, it's now modernized offices and restaurants in the shell of the old warehouse and factory buildings. In the middle, a gorgeous pavillion, surrounded by a shallow moat, is the venue for local bluegrass, blues, community band, and other music performances. The bluegrass is part of the Back Porch Music series on WUNC, and it does feel like we're hanging out in someone's backyard. Concertgoers sit on the soft grass, kids and dogs run free, and everyone dances a jig. Don't get me wrong, Chicago's summer music can't be beat, with the fireworks exploding beside the Milennium Park bandshell. But here in Durham, it feels both modern and down-home.

Another summer pleasure: today I went to the local farmers market and bought a sweet and pungent Vidalia onion, a cucumber, sugar snap peas, a basil plant, and strawberries so sweet, you'd think they were candy. I ate the strawberries with some ricotta cheese and a light drizzle of honey. Maybe it doesn't get better than that.

Friday, May 25, 2007

North Carolina legislative process and Another Farm

Now I know why people have little faith in their government representatives. It's amazing anything ever gets done. Yesterday I got a quick civics lesson in the North Carolina legislative process. Here are just a few things I learned:
  1. State legislators are part-time--they only get paid $17,000 a year, so they have other jobs as well.
  2. Long and short sessions: The state legislative calendar goes in two-year cycles, starting with odd-numbered years. Hence, the new calendar started this past January with a long session that goes until August-ish. During this time, bills are proposed. Bills requiring funding can be proposed at anytime; bills not requiring funding must pass out of either the House or Senate by "crossover deadline," which happened to be yesterday. If they don't pass crossover, they're put on hold until the next long session in 2009 (which essentially means they're dead, unless the bill sponsors are hardcore about getting it passed.) After crossover, all bills requiring funding and others that passed the crossover deadline are debated in committee until August, when the legislature recesses. In Spring 2008, they reconvene in a short session until July to continue discussing (and trying to pass) the bills leftover from the previous year. If the bill doesn't pass by July, it's dead and the sponsors have to start all over again in January 2009.
  3. Local legislation: North Carolina has this archaic policy that all local legislation must get passed in the state legislature. This is an attempt by the state to control and oversee all state and regional legislative affairs, and it takes up a ridiculous amount of time in the General Assembly.
  4. Even though NC is a red state, both the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. Representative Joe Hackney, Speaker of the House, is a lawyer and farmer. This week, he slyly prevented a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage from passing the crossover deadline, rendering it dead until 2009.
  5. Go to to learn more. I'm sure I'll post more this summer--the whole thing fascinates me.
In other news, we're working on another farm next week. These farmers are historic, or "heirloom" farmers, meaning they continue using historic practices with historically preserved breeds of animals and crops. They do use modern farm equipment and just collect the antiques. Heirloom breeds are those not cross-bred or genetically engineered--they evolve with changing conditions through good old survival-of-the-fittest. Farmers breed historically pure animals that exhibit the best traits, and they save seeds from plants that grow well and taste best. And they procreate the traditional way--pollination know. This is the complete opposite of the way most food is produced in the world. Most crop seeds are sold by giant companies like Monsanto and are genetically modified to contain a "termination" gene. This means that seeds saved from the year's crop will not grow. Farmers using these seeds must purchase new stocks every year from these huge companies. This leaves crops vulerable to changing conditions that scientists can't predict, it costs much more money for the farmers, and the crops aren't even nutritionally sound or flavorful. And it certainly omits the element of history and culture.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Instead, I'll recommend reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," by Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family ate only locally produced food in the mountains of Virginia for a year, and her book is about both their experience and the disaster that food production has become.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pimp My Career

The school year ended on a satisfactory note and I'm now almost at the end of my first week of my internship. I suspected it might be a good summer--my supervisor has said many times that he's been looking forward to working together this summer. Right back atcha, guy. My first day on the job, I attended a joint committee meeting at the state legislative building on emergency preparedness and disaster recovery. I must be a nerd, 'cause I was psyched. What can I say, I have become a political junkie. Probably by the end of the summer, I'll have attended enough meetings to be sufficiently bored at them, but right now it's cool. There's definitely a feeling of Southern politics floating throughout the capital. Yesterday I delivered invitations for an oyster roast to the state senators and representatives, and many legislative aides were wearing bow ties and hats with ribbons. Many of them said, "Thank you" in that charming Southern accent that I just adore. Four days into my job and I have already learned so much about the political history and the modus operandi of the state. It's fascinating. A lot of things are changing in North Carolina, mostly for the better; the influx of conservative Northerners and the exit of many conservative Southern Democrat politicians will make for an interesting new mix of agendas.
So my job is fulfilling and interesting, and the work I have done so far has been up to par, thanks to my year of schooling. The watershed class I trudged through last semester is already coming in handy, my adeptness in writing policy memos has served me well, and my instincts are kicking in nicely. I'm meeting with my master's project advisor tomorrow to see how I can turn all this research about sustainable disaster recovery and comprehensive plan development into a project that will torture me for the next year.
Oh yeah, the best part about my job? I can work from home.