Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Nasty Tradition of Disconnecting Ourselves from Nature

Despite the rhetoric of green living, Americans live in the wake of an industrialization that has cut us off from our roots of experience. It is so much so that the idea that we can be a part of nature, honor it, conserve it but also participate and use it seems to be a great contradiction. Most recently farming has been interpreted as "profoundly unnatural," in the Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.

"[Farming] has led to widespread deforestation, environmental destruction, the displacement of 'natural' wildlife, and the transplant of plants and animals thousands of miles from the original habitats. It involves the genetic modification of plants and animals to create monstrous mutants that do not exist in nature and often cannot survive without human intervention...Agriculture would surely not be allowed if it were invented today."

Standage's book contains chapters of quick studies one of which is the domestication of corn. Standage makes a strong argument that that human intervention has radically changed this plant from its original roots, making it dependant on humans for its cultivation. The same can be said for the domestication of wheat. How Standage qualifies these alterations puts humans as the Dr. Frankenstein of nature. This may be more of a case with genetically altered foods. But by classifying farming or the process of changing plants to human needs as unnatural, characterizes humankind as a rouge species, alien to its own world.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Most Persons Do Not Know What a Superlative Watermelon is Like

As millions of people do not have gardens, so are they unaware of the low quality of much of the commercial produce as compared with things well grown in due season. Most persons, depending on the market, do not know what a superlative watermelon is like. Even such apparently indestructible things as cucumbers have a crispness and delicacy when taken directly from the vine at proper maturity that are lost to the store-window supply. Every vegetable naturally loses something of itself in the process from field to consumer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Resource for Our Food Essentials

I am afraid that our food habits very well represent how far we have moved away from the essentials...we want everything that is out of season, necessitating great attention to the arts of preserving and requiring still further fabrication; and by this desire we also lessen the meaning of the seasons when they come in their natural sequence, bringing their treasure of materials that are adapted to the time and to the place. L.H. Bailey, The Holy Earth

Just this weekend in a produce section of Michigan grocery store I spied the displayed landslide of tomatoes. Tomatoes in Michigan isn't a great mystery but tomatoes in January? Only via Mexico. A lot of ground to travel for a tomato. Cucumbers? Yup, Mexico. I don't even want to get into bananas. What did people eat when items were out of season? Worse, how does one unravel the carbon footprint of boxed and packaged items? Is it just as bad to purchase wine from Australia? No answers yet to that one but here is one resource that can unravel some of the food mysteries: As their website explains, "There are three simple things everyone should know about their food but don't: Where did it come from? How was it made? What's in it?" You can learn not only the ingredients of a product but also its environmental impact. It also has an iPhone app for the more technological savvy. It's another way to get back to our "food essentials." Now about that Australian wine...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quotable Bailey

War is organized anarchy.

The popular notion that the electing of any man to office is democracy, if only he is an upright citizen, is one of our precious fallacies. It is no more to our credit to " pass around " the offices than to ask first one neighbor and then another to serve as the family physician.

The wealth of a democracy lies in its people, not in its government or its goods. The product of democracy is self-acting men and women. The well being and progress of society require that every citizen, of whatever age, may have the opportunity to discover himself or herself and to make use of himself largely in his own way.

Responsibility, not freedom, is the key word in democracy,—responsibility for one's self, for the good of the neighbor, for the welfare of the Demos. Until every citizen feels this responsibility as an inescapable personal obligation, there is no complete democracy.

All quotes taken from Bailey's fourth Background Book, What is Democracy? (1918)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What's Gardening Good For?

By Scott J. Peters, Ph.D., Associate Editor, Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement; Associate Professor, Department of Education, Cornell University.
Excerpted from Dr. Peter's 2005 Keynote Address: What's Gardening Good For?, New York State Master Gardener Conference, Ithaca, NY, June 1, 2005

Up against the big pressing problems of our time, problems like the loss of decent jobs, increasing disparities of wealth, a shrinking tax base and rising taxes, terrorism and war (just to name a few), gardening seems, well, trivial.

It’s not going to turn the economy around. It’s not going to provide us with thousands of good jobs. It’s not going to transform our political and economic systems. It’s not going to bring peace and security.

Given this, we might well ask: What’s gardening good for?

And here are a few more questions we might ask, given the tremendous squeeze on taxpayers these days, and on the resources that government has to spend on public services and programs:
Why should educational organizations like Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, organizations that are funded in large part with people’s hard-earned tax dollars, be involved in gardening? Can gardening be a medium for meaningful education—that is, for education that really matters? If so, what kind of education, and what is it good for?

There are, it turns out, some very good answers to these questions.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Quotable Bailey

A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire. ~Liberty Hyde Bailey

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Cornell Gardening Resource

A new year and time to begin planning the garden. Dean Bailey's adopted home of Cornell University and its Horticulture Department offers a great online gardening resource. Check it out:

Nature practices a wonderfully rigid economy. For nearly half the summer she even refused rain to the plants, but still they thrived; yet I staid home from a vacation one summer that I might keep my plants from dying. I have since learned that if the plants in my borders cannot take care of themselves for a few weeks, they are little comfort to me. - L.H. Bailey, Garden Making