Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Studies

The garden is starting to yield. Parsley, basil, mint tops, and early lettuce have all been picked and the first lesson of gardening is in hand; you must be a brutal realist.

Pruning and Thinning. Salad greens are topped, flowers are dead headed, and herbs are pinched back every day. If you harvest early and often you increase your yield. So by eating more mint, I get more mint?! Yes. You delay bolting and the plant going to seed. It is counter-intuitive.
When sowing seeds there are two major schools: One lays out rows, drills holes for individual seeds and assumes they will all be vital. The other plants the entire seed packet, waits to see which seeds produce sprouts and then thins the row to the proper spacing. You lose half or more of your sprouts. You get more yield.
When growing fruit trees you learn to prune back, to thin, in order to increase quantity and quality of yield. You mean if I knock or pick off every other apricot on that tree I will get more apricots?! Oh yes, and fuller, more flavorful fruit and a tree that can bear the weight.
Dead heading, (removing drooping flowers and their seed stems), your petunia, pansy, geranium plants will increase their blooms and their blooming cycle.

All of the above require intense hand labor. Determine how much you want to work and plan the size of your garden accordingly. End of lesson one.

You will learn to kill. Is it killing if I don't see my prey? Carrie, a near Jainist, will turn her fingers green with the bodies of the dead aphids she strips from her roses.
Pest control often evolves in the following cycle: Squirrels are cute, they are part of the scheme of things, it's fun to have them in the garden. Lets get a HavaHart and move the critters out. Does the city allow air guns within its borders.

Gardening will turn your world view upside down. No matter the scale, be it a single pot or a plot, you will never bemoan another rain shower. You will monitor frost warnings. You will learn to be sensitive to direction of and intensity of sunshine. You will become attuned to the vagaries of nature. There are going to be far more complications to this process than you imagined. The easy acceptance of the concept "organic" is going to be challenged. You will understand failure in new and important ways. You are not in control of your environment despite your best efforts. When all else is failing you will spray with chemicals, or, you will retire from the field. You will come to understand that every crop you plant is the result of genetic modification. The horror stories and the resulting rampant fear of GMO's may or may not be warranted. The patenting of our food supply is terrifying.

A garden is never "vital" for our sustenance, that is our privilege. It can however become a classroom for understanding the larger forces at work in the world. That is the promise of school based garden curriculum elements. They stop way short of the kind of truth telling that our citizens need to learn to appreciate where their food comes from. You get no second chance in a crop field. It is not a classroom. End of lesson two.

Promises of the learning power of the garden that won't be fulfilled include your understanding of your connection to the earth. At best you have a patch, a highly controlled and defined space. It is no more a microcosm of the earth than a goldfish bowl is to the sea. Growing a successful tomato in no way informs your understand of how you are going to sustain yourself in November. Gardens are not agriculture and large scale gardens, despite our desire to believe, are not capable of feeding us. Some of us may be able to afford $40 a pound greens but in the scheme of things that is irrelevant. Thomas Jefferson had most of it right at Monticello and in his design of The University, The Academical Village. From the time of Plato's "groves of academe," gardens have been linked to the contemplative and scholarly life as well. Jefferson described the University as a set of buildings "arranged around an open square of grass and trees." The Pavilion Gardens provided both a place in which to study and a subject of study. Jefferson wrote that "such a plan would afford the quiet retirement so friendly to study." As I continue to harp on the University as the available model of how we might live in the real world visit the UVA web site and appreciate that faculty and students alike fight to stay within the Village.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Class of 2010

This blog space has intended to infill the gaps in the formal curriculum that you have just completed.
Prior posts have dealt with ancillary housing options, yet more shelter strategies, dorms as models of "real world" possibilities , economic survival options, and the ultimate in "sharing" programs.
I posted a short list of supplemental courses that I called "the art of crap detection" within this post.

All of the above pointed out that the most important lessons you were learning were informal; living in groups, being carless, the economies of scale, and that having access is more important than owning.
If you insist on leaving the "ideal world" you just inhabited, where you literally had it all, then consider the following my commencement address.

The decision you are going to make re. where to live is more important than your career choice. Typically, media stories will list cities that are attractive to recent grads and list the criteria supporting their choices. This story by Richard Florida goes so far as to cite that which is "important" to 20 somethings; bars, restaurants, and entertainment. (You are worth no more than your ability to consume). What everyone of the chosen cities have in common is that they are already what they are going to be. As a migrant to any one of them you are chasing a dream already realized by those who preceded you. You hope to become part of that which already exists. "I am moving to NYC cuz that's where the hipsters live". What you can't know, because your teachers like Richard Florida haven't a clue, is that you are about to participate in the "next biggest sucker syndrome". The person who is about to leave for someplace where she has a chance of actually carving out a living for herself, needs someone to whom she can sub-lease her too expensive 350 sq ft apartment. Don't be that person.

Its is going to take some backbone to resist the kind of marketing crap proffered by the merchants of cool so lets use some common sense.

The criteria that I would suggest you apply when considering where to live include: What is the total tax burden of the place you might live? What is the cost of auto; insurance, registration, and taxation? What are the rules regarding house sharing? What is the speed of the local ISP provider? What are the average utility costs? What is the fiscal status of the town, state in which you might reside? What is the cost to have a dental filling? What is the ratio of others to whom you might be attracted? Are there viable and independent media outlets? What are police practices regarding victimless crimes? Applying the above criteria would automatically rule out California.

The places that do qualify are invariably going to be the subject of bad news. You are going to hear about the abandoned, the broke and broken places that are the casualties of the economic collapse. This is exactly where I suggest you begin your quest. Only when a place is degraded enough does it become possible to have an opportunity for real growth. Consider that Georgetown, D.C., Harlem, NYC, The Mission, S.F., SoBe, and now the Design District in Miami, are examples of what were once neglected slums. Their reconstruction afforded their pioneers the opportunity for employment, new think, and identity. Now those very people couldn't afford to live in any one of these neighborhoods should they chose to move there today.

In a world where one can literally buy anything from anywhere and have it delivered, where the newest ideas are instantly available on the web, where affinity networks thrive, the pressure to be within the hip cores is unimportant.

The myth that there are "creative communities" belies the fact that the most significant wellsprings of art are often at a remove, giving the artist the space they need to create their own identities. Think Morgan Freeman, Clarksburg Ms., Dennis Hopper, Wilmington N.C., the crowd at Black Mountain, N.C. or Georgia O'Keeffe in Abiquiu, N.M.

More important than any of the shibboleths that are so indicative of mob think, absorb the most important principle you weren't taught during your college days, buy low! This is just as true in real estate as it is an adage in the stock market.

When a place has become cheap enough that you, or more importantly a group, can pool resources and actually gain a foothold, then you have a real opportunity. Exploit the social network you have developed, form a gang, and move somewhere. The wants and needs of that place and the opportunities will sort themselves out. This is exactly what happened in Hardwick Vt.

What a fabulous example of the success of people who went their own way. Other food oriented activities are located through Balle.

Get busy. There has rarely been more opportunity.