Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Great Frost of 2007

The first weekend of April in 2007 will be remembered in these parts as the Great Frost of 2007. An Arctic cold front swept down from Canada mid week and sent temperatures plummeting. Three nights of hard frost were the result. Record lows were recorded all over the region. The last frost date in my area happens to be April 15, but we haven’t had a frost this late in years. Furthermore, this frost was unusual in its length and intensity.
The worst thing about this frost however, was not the frost itself, but rather what happened before it. Spring has been coming earlier here every year. This year, it warmed into the 60s in February. All of March the temps were into the 80s and sometimes breached ninety. All the trees leafed out early. Plants sprouted sooner than usual. Crops and fruit trees bloomed. Then came the frost. If the early warm up hadn’t happened, the damage would have been limited or non-existent. As it was, early reports indicate that 90% of the state’s crops were destroyed. This includes all the fruit, nuts, winter wheat, and the first plantings of corn, alfalfa, and spring wheat. Spring vegetables –broccoli, radishes, etc, also took a hit in many places. Including in my own garden. No one knows what the final tally will be. One thing is sure, however: there won’t be a lot of fresh fruit in Alabama this year, and food prices are going to rise.
Welcome to the age of climate change.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A New Perspective

Growing my own food has given me a new perspective on many different things. Primary among them of course, is food itself. I have grown flowers many times, but food is so much different. You don’t eat flowers, so it doesn’t matter how long they take to grow or how long they last. Before I planted my first vegetable seed, food had an entirely different meaning for me. It was something that I would buy at the grocery store or the supermarket, bring home, prepare if necessary, and eat. Eating out is even simpler: other people even prepare the food. Intellectually, I knew that there had been more to getting that food to my mouth; it had to come from somewhere after all. It had to be grown, harvested, processed if necessary, and transported. I knew all this. But I had no idea, on a real, gut level, what really went into growing food until I tried it myself.
I planted those first few seeds, watered diligently, and waited. And waited. And waited. After a few days my radishes sprouted. Slowly, they started to grow. I checked excitedly every day but there wasn’t much change from one day to the next. The back of the package said they took 28 days to mature. That’s a month! Time began to take on a whole new meaning. The humble radish takes a month to grow from seed until it becomes eating size, and yet it is devoured in two seconds, with just a single bite. Once I understood that I began to see food in a new perspective. It takes a month and a half to grow a head of lettuce, four months for a tomato, many more months for the wheat we use to make bread and so much more, and years to grow a fruit tree. And yet, all of this is devoured in a single sitting. And we must have a continuous source of food to survive.
All of these revelations left me dumbfounded. I am still trying to integrate them into a new worldview. Food is so essential, so precious, and it seems to me that we as a society have forgotten that. We waste TONS of food every single day. We treat the land as if it were a machine, as if it is our right to pillage and destroy it. We give no thought to were our food comes from or how it is grown. Once, our ancestors understood this. They knew it intuitively. Their very lives depended on it. But we have forgotten this. What will we do if the supply chains break down? What will happen if the if the store shelves are empty?* What will happen when (not if) the majority of farmland becomes too degraded to be used? I keep pondering these questions, and the answers –or rather, the lack of answers –are not comforting.

*there are several things on the horizon and presently happening that could cause food shortages in the coming months.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Just Enough To Pay The Rent

One of my friends is 72. She’s retired, and lives off a fixed income. It’s not much, but she keeps her expenses down and is able to make it. She also runs a small used bookstore at a local artist collective. She rents half of a stall for her store and only sales a handful of books every week. (She brings in much more than that though, so she’ll soon be out of room!) Most people wouldn’t keep going. It wouldn’t be worth it to them if they weren’t making any money. However, she’s not in it to make money. She does it just because she enjoys it. She says that her only goal “is to make enough money to pay the rent”. And she does, though sometimes just barely. It’s funny to watch her after she’s made the rent and a little extra. She’ll leave her stall when she doesn’t have any customers and wander through the market, chatting with and patronizing other artists. She’s not afraid of people stealing her merchandise; she says that anyone who would steal a book needs it more than she does!

I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. My thoughts have been along the lines of what the world would be like if more people had her view. What if everyone only cared about making enough to meet their expenses, and a little bit more? What if there wasn’t all of this greed, all of this striving to accumulate the most stuff and the most money, regardless of the costs to others? What if we all did something just because we enjoyed it? I can’t help but imagine a world like that.

I think it might just be a much better place.

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