Monday, June 25, 2007

The Angler: Dick Cheney as you only guessed

The Washington Post has a four-day series about Dick Cheney and the powers he wields. The article includes testimony never printed before from sources in-the-know. It's fascinating and scary at the same time. Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Getting used to the humidity

Today I went to a rally outside the legislative office building about hog farm waste. It was an interesting mix of seasoned grassroots organizers and over-the-top cheerleading. At the end, they said a prayer. Cause that's how they roll in rural North Carolina. Gotta give them credit, they were certainly creative and fairly effective. No matter their rallying technique, the fact is that hog farms produce a ridiculous amount of waste that pollutes the lakes and streams, as well as the air that farm neighbors breathe, and thus far the politician have been mostly willing to let the huge factory farms do as they please. There's a bill up for discussion that would change that, so perhaps the state will see some change soon.

Other summer activities have included the farmers market, where I bought blackberries so delicious, it's hard to believe they're the same fruit you can buy at the store for twice the price and half the flavor. Real blackberries have almost a hint of spearmint to them, and they don't just taste like dark raspberries. I've also been hiking in the Umstead state park and Eno River state park. I had forgotten how much I missed real hiking. As my friend put it, that is my religion. Who needs a stuffy synagogue and boring rabbi when the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors are so much more moving. My new bedroom window faces a little wooded area between the building and the fence that separates the apartment complex from the road. Each morning, I awaken to a bird symphony, complete with a bird call that sounds kind of like a duck but surely isn't. My kitchen window also overlooks the area, so I can gaze at the trees while I do dishes.

I have also been taking advantage of the free or cheap learning experiences my school offers. I'm learning how to use the Geographic Information Systems program to create maps, and I took a class about environmental sustainability and Capitol Hill. That class was most inspiring because after marveling at how little must actually get done in government, I heard from some people who actually got stuff done. It gave me a ray of hope through the cloud mass that is the 2008 presidential candidate roster.

Speaking of politics, I've heard some interesting discussion happening here and there about where our country is and how it got to this point. After many years of Iraq, of corporate ownership of our government, of food unsafety and health problems caused by pollution, we're still looking to others to place the blame. How could Bush lie to us? How could the pharmaceutical companies deceive us? How could bacteria-ridden spinach sneak onto our grocery shelves? By now, we need to stop asking how others could do this to us, and start asking how we could let them get away with it for so long. We voted for these politicians, and we didn't protest hard enough against their policies we don't agree with. We rely on giant corporations to give us the food, clothing, medicine, and a surprising array of other things at cheap prices, without asking how they're doing it or what the environmental and social prices are. We don't hold others accountable for their actions. So now here we are; some people are starting to ask the right questions, and some things are starting to change. I believe I criticized John Ashcroft at some point years ago (if not here, then certainly in conversation) for being an overall scary conservative who lost to a dead guy in the 2000 US senate race in Missouri. The big joke now is that he's starting to look like one of the good guys in this administration.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Historic farming

Yesterday we did some farm work yet again, this time on a mostly meat farm where the emphasis is mostly on education. The farm has some Dexter cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, catfish, ducks, and a small garden, as well as two Haflinger horses and a mule to do some of the heavy pulling and two livestock guard dogs and four border collies for herd management and companionship. So yeah, a lively bunch. At one point, one of the horses was put into a different area for demonstration with a bunch of students visiting the farm, which freaked out the other horses, riled up the goats, and excited the dogs. There was lots of running, barking, bleating, and such, and we couldn't help but stand by and laugh. The goats also tried to hijack the John Deere equipment and had to be shooed away every few minutes.

Aside from the comical nature of the farm, the owners want to practice and teach others about historic farming, which includes using animals bred for hardiness and practicality that require little use of antibiotics, hormones, or artificial diet supplements. The cows, goats, and sheep mostly graze and eat some grain; the chickens and ducks eat the bugs roaming around and spread the manure; the pigs eat mostly stale bread donated to the farm and leftover veggies from the garden. In the barn, the family also has some old farm implements, as well as old kitchen that they now use for canning and cooking. The owners also want to teach crafts like weaving, stitching, canning, quilt making, candle making, etc. The idea, which they're currently working toward, is to keep the functioning farm and bring in school groups and individuals to learn about life on the farm before modern farm practices, but still with the feeling of modern life. All of this historic farming is important as sustainable (or balanced) agriculture and it fosters a real sense of appreciation for how difficult it is to live completely off your own land.

My farm experiences thus far and reading Barbara Kingsolver's book prove why factory farms and large-scale production has become so common: it's HARD WORK to sustain a small farm on limited financial resources and no use of the current practices that encourage quick growth and survivability during transit. To support a family of four on only what you can produce or buy locally is really a full-time job that requires almost constant vigilance and work to plant (or raise), weed, breed, harvest, prepare, and store the fruits of your labor. The owner of the farm we worked at yesterday described the tendency of third- and fourth-generation farmers who happily adapt to modern farming conveniences or sell the land outright for large sums of money, because sustainable agriculture is hard work, and it's hard to make a living because the products come in smaller quantities. When you grow your own food, your life revolves around food. I'm exhausted thinking about it.

I find myself feeling guilty for not growing more in window boxes or shopping at the farmer's market more often or eating some things that would never grow around here out-of-season, if at all. But I guess doing some things are better than doing nothing. Supporting local farmers is important, and I couldn't now imagine living somewhere without access to a farmer's market.