Thursday, June 28, 2007

Photos from Connecticut

Just got back from a week's trip to beautiful rural Connecticut. I'm still settling in, and I hope to post something of some sort of substance soon. In the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip.

Wildlife abounds. In the center is an adult from a family of woodchucks that lives on the property where we stayed (116 acres in central Connecticut). If the photo were better you'd also see a male red-winged blackbird right behind one of the leaves in the foreground. I have never known them to be feeder birds.
One extremely unique skunk eating cat food on the porch.

An adult raccoon wanting to get in on the action during a previous evening.

They feed together (though the coon was hesitant because the skunk had sprayed it the night before near the feeding dish, and while this photo was being taken, the skunk was literally doin' the fakeout on the coon, causing the coon to flinch with fear).

Finally, a shot of the drawbridge in Mystic, Conn. Those are large concrete blocks that apparently utilize the force of gravity to help the bridge open. It was quite a sight.
I'm playing around with ways of posting photos to blogger, so hopefully these come out OK.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A few photos

Well, I finally got around to unloading the camera.

My attempt at doing macro with a crappy auto digital presetting. Came out OK I think. Taken in early May.

Not sure what kind of snake this is, but we stumbled upon it in Iverson, near the Green Circle Trail. Early May.

Finally, this porcupine was moving like full-flavored molasses up this tree in Black River State Forest. A week and a half ago.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On the farm -- Days 2 and 3

It's Monday and I'm still in pain. Friday was a killer day on the farm. Not only was it something like 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky, but we spent most of our time doing squats while weeding and transplanting. We also went back on Saturday in lieu of this coming Friday. My quads are very upset with me, and so are a number of other leg muscles I never knew existed.


So, we weeded more garlic crops. It's a good thing, too, because the weeds were so thick in some areas that the particular plants in the vicinity were obviously stunted. And, remember those nitrogen-fixing flowers we removed last time? Turns out that they were part of the thickness problem in some areas, and we were asked to pick 'em this time so that they don't keep reseeding and become serious weeds themselves.

Then we moved onto transplanting a couple varieties of french crisp head lettuce. It's Farmer Mark's favorite kind of lettuce. They were seeded earlier in the season, and at about 2-4 inches tall they were ready to go in the earth. Mark prepared the bed of soil with his biodiesel-fueled tractor; then we rolled this nifty homemade-looking barrel-like contraption over the area to put divots in the soil that would serve as home base for each plant. I couldn't even tell you how many transplants we did (my thighs say, "lots"), but it was a great experience actually putting our food in the earth by hand. The process consisted of taking the seedling--which was rooted in a "plug" of soil--putting it in the divot, gathering the surrounding soil with our hands to cover the plug, and pushing the plant into the soil so that it would make good contact with the earth. Each plant was thus in its own crater of earth, where any water would readily collect and efficiently hydrate the lettuce (this system of planting is especially important, I assume, with all the hot, dry days we've been having recently in central Wisconsin). Running my hands through the warm, nutrient-rich soil was a peaceful, warming endeavor. I naturally feel connected to the earth, but this was a new type of connection for me; despite dripping with sweat and being inundated by the sun's powerful rays, I felt as if I were sitting lakeside amidst a cool breeze, underneath a thick canopy of trees.

Our remaining time was spent watering the transplants and hoeing. We took home radishes, turnips, some sort of green leaf lettuce, swiss chard, salad mix, and strawberries.


I was already hurting Saturday morning, but it was back to the farm for another three hours. It rained moderately, so we spent almost all of our time rehabbing a long-overgrown greenhouse. Let me tell you, it was like a rain forest of wild plants and remnant oregano in there. And some of those plants had deep roots. And it was so humid. And I'm such a cry baby. But I did end up soaked in my own sweat from head to toe; so, so much for staying dry in the greenhouse.

A couple interesting encounters: we ran into some either thistle or nettle that fucking killed. Grabbing this plant is like grabbing onto thousands of tiny needles that stay in your hand for most of the rest of the day. Also, while digging out the oregano we encountered little bugs that would toss little particles of stuff at us. I don't know if it was a a defense mechanism, but I've never seen anything like it.

Anyway, after about 2.5 hours or so, we succeeded in turning the "weed" rain forest into earth that is almost ready for crops (the soil is well-compacted from being trampled for so long). It was quite a transformation. Wish I had my camera.

We've subsequently used our crops in several salads and sandwiches. It was my first-ever taste of swiss chard, which is so yummy I can't recommend it enough. It has a very earthy, crispy, hearty flavor unlike any other leafy green I've had, and apparently it is much more nutritious than spinach even. It works good raw (especially when its young, but if not, just remove the stems for cooking at a later time), sauteed (I cooked it with fresh garlic, olive oil, and onions), and steamed.

Today, I'm trying for the second day to recover from the farm work (I could barely walk straight yesterday). I thought my legs were strong, but I guess I fooled myself. Tonight I'm making stir-fry with turnips, radishes, turnip greens, chard, onions and tofu, all over a brown-rice/wild-rice mix. Not sure what the sauce is gonna be yet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ruining the climate change party

How about that An Inconvenient Truth? I actually think that Al Gore changed the world like few people have in recent history. Don't ask me how he made such a tremendous splash with a PowerPoint presentation. I guess it was the straightforward, few-frills approach. It's quite unexplainable. Whatever the case, we've reached a tipping point, where a critical mass of people stands up to tell our leaders (and everyone else in the panopticon) that something needs to be done or shit is really going to hit the fan. Even non-chemists know what the hell CO2 means now. Every company that wants to continue making money has learned that they have to "go green" and proclaim their love for "the environment" publicly. For fuck's sake, even Rupert Murdoch, in what must be a sign that the Four Horsemen are on their way, has said that he is revamping News Corp. to be more, as the kids say, ecofriendly.

I'm all for it (ignore my cynical panopticon reference for a moment), as long as people back up their talk with action and we see the earth and its creatures (people too, for you anthropocentrists) begin to heal after a couple hundred years of industrial onslaught.

But, I'm a party pooper, too. See, there are two major problems with all the rage over climate change: 1) some people are faking their concern or using it to cover other misdeeds, and 2) the welcome but overly obsessive focus on this issue has taken almost all attention off other equally important ecological issues.

Regarding point 2, yeah, it sucks that so many people are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at such high rates. But it also sucks that so many people are destroying (both legally and illegally) such large quantities of intricately evolved habitat that unique species are losing their only homes and niches, and localized ecosystems are quickly (in the blink of the earth's eye) collapsing. Biodiversity is on a rapid decline thanks to direct (as opposed to, for example, the secondary collapses associated with climate change) human destruction, which has got to be just as urgent a situation as greenhouse-gas emissions. Let's not take our eye off the larger ball.

I mean, people are obsessed with the topic of climate change. They say, "We're reducing our emissions." That's great and all, but I think reducing emissions and encouraging companies by buying into their emission-reduction advertisements is missing the whole point of making a change. Whether people are reducing their emissions is not really the central concern here: the key question we need to be asking each other is, are you adjusting so that you no longer needlessly wound the earth? In other words, are people reducing their emissions simply because reducing emissions seems like the righteous thing to do , or are they reducing their emissions because they understand it to be part of their wider obligation to protecting their home? If it's the former, we're screwed; if it's the latter, well, then we are automatically concerned with more than climate change and will make a real difference. Wholesale changes are needed, not fads or marketing campaigns.

What I really worry about in the short term with the whole banging of the environmental drum is that people are going to paint themselves green in order to take advantage of the wildly popular image they can create. The cases are popping up already because companies know they can make some serious money if they lead the way.

Here's one example--

Gulahiyi thoroughly informs us, in several well-written posts, of the very recent bursting of a dam that was part of the exclusive, highly touted Balsam Mountain Preserve (nice name, huh?) golf course in the mountains of North Carolina:
Balsam Mountain Preserve is an interesting case. Ever since they set up shop here, they’ve garnered plenty of press. But reportage has been almost entirely public relations, with hardly any NEWS. Chalk it up to a Balsam Mountain Preserve public relations team that understands media, understands the message it wants to convey, and understands how to use environmentally-friendly jargon designed to project a certain image.

The out-of-town investors behind the project claimed that the waters they managed in the "preserve" were uber-clean, their practices were so environmentally friendly, and their water was the last remaining haven of southern brook trout. In the meantime, rivers downstream from the golf course were slowly silting up and wildlife was dying. Oh, and it turns out that they were wrong about the trout. And then, the damn burst and people downstream were really up a creek. Luckily no one died. But the local media are apparently doing a shitty job of reporting on the situation.

Golf courses and rich folk retirement/vacation communities are going up all over the mountains (ah, to enjoy nature's beauty, right?), leading to landslides, water quality problems, erosion, and general habitat destruction.

Monday, June 11, 2007

On the farm -- Day 1

It was an eventful weekend for Meagan and me. Friday morning was our first day ever working at a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. For those who aren't familiar, CSAs dot rural America and are a much better way to attain most of your food for much of the year. CSAs work in two primary ways.

One way is for you to find your closest CSA and buy a share for the year. At our CSA, Sunny Sky Farm in Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, a share costs $420 for the regular season, which gives you a weekly average of 10 pounds of delicious, local, pesticide/herbicide-free, land-preserving, picked-yesterday food that will feed a family of four on a mixed diet for a week. Sunny Sky has convenient pickup spots in each of the 5 most populous cities in central Wisconsin. You get resupplied every Thursday/Friday from June through November, and you have the option of buying a storage share of hearty vegetables at the end of the year that you can preserve, so you can extend your consumption of local goodness for several more weeks.

The other way: you actually work for your share. At Sunny Sky Farm, we each put in approximately three hours of work in exchange for a full share. Being only two, we plan on shifting to a more vegetable-based diet in order to best take advantage of our earnings. Right now, the shares are on the lighter side, as it is early in the season, but later on, the boxes are supposed to get quite heavy; so we'll have plenty to share.

Your mileage may vary at other CSAs.

So, on Friday we earned our food by taking the tops off of radishes, hoeing between salad crops, preparing a greenhouse for planting, and weeding the garlic crop. The work was harder than we thought it would be, especially the weeding part, which was hours of bending and squatting and pulling. But besides overlooking a couple boxes of radishes and weeding what we thought were weeds (a.k.a. wildflowers) but were actually nitrogen-fixing crop covers, it was a decent start to the season. Having been raised in a megalopolis, we're gonna fuck up a few times, I'm sure (Farmer Mark is very understanding and nice). But we're learning how to raise the food that we and other community members eat to live. There are not many other things I'd rather do right now than learn how to tend my own food--to know what goes into it and what piece of land it comes from.

Our reward for working was a peaceful Friday morning in the country, a gigantic bag of spinach, a head of romaine (I think) lettuce, a bag of salad mix, a large quantity of Rhubarb that leaves me at a loss, a bunch of radishes, and a decent quantity of turnips. The selection of crops will change as the season progresses. The spinach was so delicious that we ate it all this weekend (sandwiches, wraps, salad, on pizza, in tomato sauce, and in a dish with mashed turnips, tofu, garam masala, turmeric, garlic, ginger, ghee, and onions) . Everything else is excellent too--except, I'm not sure about the rhubarb, which, as I said, perplexes me. Meagan says we'll make cobbler with it, and everyone else says "Rhubarb pie, duh!" but I still just sit there and shake my head wondering what I really can do with rhubarb. We'll make it work though.

Besides feeling the rather unexplainable joy of helping my sustenance grow straight out of the ground, I feel good knowing that most of my food takes minimal machine energy to produce and transport and that it is a sustainable operation. What better model could there be? You contribute either a fraction of your time or a fraction of your paycheck, and in return you get the most delicious, well taken care of, produced-nearly-in-your-backyard crops, as well as a connection to your community and the land.

Industrial agriculture, with all its pesticides, herbicides, disease, destruction, cruelty, GMOs, and pollution, is a failed model. As more people become aware of the CSA option, and as CSAs of all different kinds start to connect with each other across their localities, I'm sure we'll see a long overdue revolution in agriculture that actually serves to alleviate hunger and environmental damage thanks to the way CSAs bring commonsense, efficient, generations-tested yet fully modern methods of basic living to our refrigerators.

Time for some salad.