Sunday, September 27, 2009
I'm seriously thinking about raising another milk cow.
pros: they live for 15-20 years; they love you and give you milk and a new calf once a year; they produce lots and lots of manure for the garden; in the winter when you milk a cow her flank is warm and wonderful to lean your cheek against; milking gives one incredibly strong wrists, hands and forearms; Guernseys and Jersey's have beautiful eyes and rough warm tongues; you get 2-5 gallons of milk a day to share and play with; cows come when you call.
cons: cows (even a small breed) produces lots and lots of manure; they have to be milked twice a day for at least nine months a year; 2-5 gallons of milk a day (yes, every day!) is a challenge to find a use for; finding a large animal vetranarian who has access to AI (artificial insimination) to bred the cow regularly might be difficult; there has to be a barn/milking shed; there are NO vacations unless you train someone to step in to milk when you need a day off; when a 700-900 pound animal steps on your foot you know it.
Someone talk me down.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Self-reliance vs the ideology of self-sufficiency
None of us are self sufficient. We all need somebody! Despite the often nostalgic retro-interpretations (our idealization of Little House on the Prairie comes to mind!) Americans weren't self sufficient in the colonial past, the Revolutionary Era nor the long 19th century. Few people or families, if any, ever possessed all the varied skills or owned all the necessary tools to produce enough cloth, iron tools, crockery, wagons, harness reins, shoes, or staple provisions such as wheat flour, to name a few basic items of those more rural times. The 'rugged, intrepid pioneer' family made what they could, but they purchased or traded for what they couldn't. And as soon as a general store opened in the neighborhood folks rushed to buy industrially manufactured consumer goods; needles, tea kettles, ribbons, jack knives, rum, sugar, cloth by the yard, paper and ink, to name just a few items. In many cases plantation owners bought barrels of readymade rough clothing and shoes for slaves which they found via ads in urban antebellum newspapers. Ladies (both urban and rural) bought the newest fashions found in the same sources. In truth long before Columbus arrived Native American cultures traded over long distances for interesting and innovative products not available locally; the red soapstone (Catlinite) for tobacco pipes is one example, decorative bird feathers another.
From the late 19th century till well into the 20th Montgomery Ward and Sears supplied Americans on the farm and in small towns with all the tools for self reliance but nobody was fooling themselves with some idea that they didn't need anybody else. Folks farmed to sell crops to enable them to purchase the tools that would help them lead a more comfortable farming life. The local blacksmith might repair a plowshare but the iron stock he used to do it came from afar.
Today rather then judge ourselves by some illusory benchmark of rural American self 'sufficiency' we might better make an effort to be more self-reliant. By self-reliant I mean making efforts to do as much as possible for one's self. When organizing a household - whether in an urban apartment, a suburban lot, or a small acreage - learn to cook what you can, grow what you can, barter and buy what you can within your local community, and beyond that to understand the costs and production realities of the things you do buy from the wide world of regional, national and international trade. No way to avoid it; we all use gasoline and electric power, we buy tools made by someone else, we buy foodstuffs grown by others. But we can discipline ourselves to participate in the world economy in a more conscious way and to strive for a level of self reliance appropriate to our life circumstance.
The vast majority of Americans live in cities and suburban settings; they are not going to make their own cheese or harvest their own wheat. But they can support local producers of fresh vegetables, they can cook from scratch, and we all can vote to create conditions of food justice for others both nationally and globally.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
James E. McWilliams Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. Little, Brown 2009.
With the emphasis on 'just' McWilliams asks all Americans concerned with issues of food production to look beyond our own immediate and often elitist solutions to understand the true global implication of our activist food policies and politics. All in all many of his ideas are interesting and worthy of discussion.
And I was right there with him up to the chapter on meat animals. I don't like factory meat farms either but becoming a vegetarian is not the solution I'd choose to combat them. What bothered me was the 38 pages of chapter 4 "Meat - The New Caviar: Saying "No," or at Least "Not as Much," to Eating Land-Based Animals" which came down to an elitist demand of vegetarianism as the solution to American meat eating. To give him his due McWilliams does offer a full chapter on the potentials of aquaculture as potential sources of animal. But more important than my difficulty with McWilliam's meat position is that he makes literally not one mention of dairy products, egg or feather production, leather and wool production; all of which require the raising of herds and produce food and income for millions of the world's people. While it is within the realm of possibility that (some) people would (someday) give up beef, pork, chicken, there's no way people will be giving up dairy (cheese, yogurt, butter, not to mention milk among lactose tolerant populations), eggs, shoes, or wool textiles. In the long conversation on food policy we have to include this broader more generous perspective or find we are only speaking to ourselves. So anyone sucking down a yogurt smoothy and wearing a down jacket while they rant about meat should probably re-access their positions.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
After reading, it seems, so many of the current books on local, sustainable, and responsible farming, gardening, and eating I have at last been introduced to an author who articulates a nuanced mid-ground between the ideals of the locavore movement and the necessities of global food production!
JUST FOOD: WHERE LACAVORES GET IT WRONG AND HOW WE CAN TRULY EAT RESPONSIBLY by James E. McWilliams. Little, Brown 2009.
Half way through it I have already underscored and commented on more pages than pretty much all the other books combined. More reaction to follow.