Sunday, March 20, 2011

chop wood, carry water. grow tomatoes

I was doing some research on the phrase 'eighth acre farm' before naming the blog, and found a lot of interesting stuff.  There was an article claiming that a 1/8 acre would be sufficient area to support a human being if they were to farm it intensively and eat a vegan diet.   There was another attacking 'sustainablity types' for the notion that eating vegan or living on a "micro-farm" would save the world and going so far as to suggest that doing so would somehow be harmful to the actual remaining family farms as well as the notion of urbanism itself.

The photo at top is the produce I picked out of our garden on an average August day last year.  We had tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant (with some bug bites- but they're organic!) and cucumbers.  I probably could have included a massive armful of kale, but it's not quite as photogenic and my goal was more a pretty picture than an accounting of what we grew.

We won't ever feed our family entirely off of our backyard and our community garden plot and I won't save the world by trying.  Saving the world is becoming more and more difficult every week anyway.  Seeing the tsunami footage and watching the resulting slow-mo meldown of the nuclear reactors is horrifying. My heart goes out to the people affected.  I get the same familiar feeling of wanting to do something, and not knowing what.   There's the familiar request for funding for the Red Cross or any number of other agencies, some probably legtimate others not so much.

More satisfying by far would be to go there and try to help- but actually thinking through the consequences- and of how useless a white guy who doesn't speak Japanese in that situation would be- and even how counterproductive- brings me back to reality.  I had a co-worker express the same sentiment while we were driving to a survey site on Friday.  He said that he had the urge to (and I paraphrase) "just go there and help however I could- but I didn't do that during Katrina, and that was my own country- how could I think that I would be able to go to Japan?"  This guy wasn't a bleeding-heart liberal like me- actually more of a Tea-party sympathiser, but the sentiment was the same and it surprised me.

I had the same feeling reading every day about the rebel advances in Libya- wanting to go there to be with the rebels and make everything right.  Even more of a pipe dream- I know, but it's hard seeing people in the situation that they were in, and not wanting to do something.

Now our government has sent in the fighter planes and missles and it has the feeling of something that was grassroots and positive which has been co-opted by something less pure. 

I'm glad that the Libyan rebels are not being slaughtered, but I'm sure I'm not the only one to wonder how this is going to end.  Particularly given how all the other actions in the Middle East in my lifetime have played out.

As the western world seems to tip into a slow sort of decline, building a little homestead, a little island within it becomes a sort of lifeboat.  Read Dmitri Orlov's "Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century" for an illuminating, and a bit frightening account of the fall of the Soviet Union and how regular people dealt with it.  The interesting thing to me about the account of how people lived, is how much the little things people did to adapt and be self-sufficent mattered.  Having a backyard garden made the difference between being able to stay in place or having to become a refugee in one's own country.  Something as simple as gathering mushrooms and pickling them to make comfort food made life more tolerable.  People found ways to muddle through, and I assume that many have found a new sort of equilibrium in their new post-empire country. 

I'm not a fan of pickled mushrooms, and I know I can't feed a family of four off 1/8 acre, but we can grow a surprising amount of food with what we have.  From May to November, almost all of the vegetables we eat are from our yard.  We freeze and can the rest, and eat it most of the winter.  As our fruit trees grow, I expect we'll be able to add fruit preserves to the root cellar.  Right now, it's a way to save money, but it may become more important as time goes on. 

I don't believe that an apocalypse is on it's way, though I enjoy reading blogs like James Kunstler's anyway.  It seems like we're in the middle of something more like an unwinding,  the slow decline of a large and powerful empire, that can subsist on its past greatness for years and decades before finally accepting that it's best is behind it.   I was talking with my wife the other day- and remarked that England is about 70 or 100 years past the peak of their empire, and England today isn't a bad place to live at all.  Same with Italy- maybe 2000 years past their peak?  But definitely in a sort of equilibrium now- after hundreds of years of booms and busts and successive building and crumbling of mini-empires and principalities.  The transition may be difficult, but a post- empire may turn out to be better to live in than the empire itself.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree wholeheartedly with those who say that living on a micro farm will hurt traditional family farms. (Veganism is a different story.) I find that people who grow their own food become more interested in other people's homegrown food. The first year I participated in a farmer's market, I frequently came home with no more cash than I went with but a lot of different products from others. There is no way I will be making cheese on my third acre.