Sunday, August 21, 2016

We have a teenager in our house!

How much excitement can one household contain in a given month - baby starts walking and the oldest daughter turns 13. Kali is currently feeding bites of applesauce (one of Terah's current favorite foods) to her to attempt to keep her out of my hair. Now Terah has come over to the futon where Alida has applesauce and is begging for her to share. She doesn't want to miss out on anything!

I'll mostly let photos do the trick on this post because at this hour of the day Terah is not easily distracted from her desire for mama! So we'll save reporting on the produce coming in by the bushel-fulls these days and the antics of our kiddos for another post. And while I'm posting about celebrating another year of life for Kali, we are also thinking a lot about Jason's grandma who died last evening (it's been hard to find moments for reflecting on that - the kiddos are making concentrating on even this simple post rather challenging).

We had a wonderful fun celebration with Kali the eve of her birthday. A beautiful rainbow crossed the sky, and the rain was limited to a few sprinkles. Jason and I both felt rather crazy running to and fro hosting, but Kali seemed to feel loved and celebrated, which was the whole point of it. We had just shy of 20 of us gathered around the outdoor fire making pizza pockets, roasting corn, eating s'mores and gabbing.

Two friends slept over and joined us for a birthday breakfast of buckwheat waffles and pancakes, eggs, applesauce and chicken sausage. We all approved of her birthday dinner that evening too, where we outdid ourselves with homemade mint chocolate ice cream. Oh my, was it delicious! And that was after a meal of fried eggplant (Kali had requested a trip to the farmer’s market for eggplant of her birthday – she got a coupon for the farmer’s market but her friends gave her a bag of eggplant for a present).
The celebrations continued with our annual trek to the Rockingham County fair. Terah was pretty fascinated by it all. I was thrilled that the fair had a new addition of a little portable nursing/changing room that was air conditioned. It made a huge difference in our evening! We were joined by Jonas and Emily (who is exactly as pregnant this year as I was at the fair last year – her due date is on Terah’s first birthday). Fun to think of them having a little munchkin with us next year. Alida had grown enough that she wasn't turned away from the bumper cars two years in a row!
 Ok, that's as far as I can get for today! Tomorrow commences orientation week with my work so it will be awhile before I resurface in this space most likely. I've made it through August for many years in a row now, so I expect this to be no different. But it's quite a ride!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

We've got a walker!

While the older girls were on their date night last week with Aunt Emily (August 4 - a week shy of being 10 months old), Terah took her first step solo. Well, almost solo! She had a corn cob in each hand. I actually forgot to mention it in my last blog post - that had been a rather big day all around and my brain often feels on "detail overload" so it skipped my mind when writing. Since that time, she has gotten up to about 5 steps. But it seems she does best when she has something in both hands. While at the reunion in WV, she enjoyed practicing with Kali's hairbrush in one hand and Alida's in the other. I didn't get the camera out in time to get her best walking, but here's a step.

The reunion in WV went so fast, but was plenty long enough to be away from home. I wish I could have connected with lots more family members for longer, but between my committee responsibilities and keeping up with 3 gals I felt rather occupied (mostly with the littlest who wanted to practice her walking and her "getting-into-everything" skills, and was also a tad overstimulated). I was really grateful that the trip to and fro was very uneventful - Terah and Alida fell asleep very quickly both times. That has been Alida's pattern but not Terah's. That was a welcome thing since packing to go had me in quite a fix and packing to return home the same. So the peace and quiet of the ride was needed! It is an indication of how occupied I felt for those two days that I didn't take any pictures or videos other than the few in our cabin when Terah was practicing walking.

Now we are gearing up for a 13th birthday party tomorrow evening and sleepover into her actual 13th birthday on Monday. More on that to come, which is why I needed to catch up on other news before it's too old to be worth mentioning!  My work has been getting more intense but it really ramps up to high gear starting Tuesday with 3 days in town this week and probably 4-5 next week, as well as working in all of Terah's naps (except this one, obviously!). We will also go to the fair this week for our annual picnic, rides and animal viewing!

Those things are the exciting and out of the ordinary things, but we've also got the day to day. I'm still busy making ricotta cheese, butter, and mozzarella (from the milk we are getting for the pigs - we are happy to feed them whey and skim milk and get some good stuff out of it first). We have really enjoyed oregano mozzarella and this week I tried basil mozzarella which was a hit - sliced fresh on tomatoes! I made my own homemade cream cheese and made a cheesecake with that, homemade butter, homemade yogurt and homemade ricotta, as well as our eggs. It was good, but not amazing. And it leaked into my oven horribly. But it was fun to try!

Every other day is a "harvest day" at this point in the year and right now we are getting about a bucket of beans, tomatoes and cucumbers each picking. We also get a quart or so of blackberries and red raspberries, a handful of okra, and the trombone squash is starting to produce. We are nearing 60 quarts of pickles, plus several gallons fermented. We are starting in on dilly beans and fermenting some. I've got a crock of shallots, oregano, green peppers and cucumbers fermenting - needing to get creative due to our dill shortage. My fermenting set up pictured here is not real high tech - enjoying just laying things in a crock, pouring over a salt water brine and then weighing it down with a plate and something heavy from the root cellar. :) It works! And we love the end result!

Last week I canned a batch of pureed tomatoes to prepare for salsa-season commencing - which it officially did last night. Kali declared taste testing her favorite part of making salsa. It's so yummy fresh! We had enough to can a batch even after eating lots. It's all the way at the end of the row - the middle row of canned goods is from the last few weeks. It's awfully green with pickles right now but we'll be working on increasing the amount of red stuff there as I was completely out of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and salsa. So I know we can do it - make salsa with a baby around - though it was definitely a family effort and I can't say that day ended with all of us in good spirits. It seems the evening hours just get away from us and before we know it is late, we've got a half dozen things started, and kids start breaking down. As it was last night, our neighbor also called to alert us that they have a bear around their place, so added to the evening chores was putting ammonia rags on coops.

I feel really glad for our tradition of having a monthly family night where we rotate who plans it. This was Alida's month and she picked going swimming (after we suggested that roller skating might be a better winter activity!). A friend in town graciously had offered that we could use her pool and they were out of town this week so we had the place to ourselves. We swung by the co-op for some birthday party supplies we needed (we aren't yet growing chocolate or graham cracker ingredients so s'more fixings had to be purchased), and grabbed some sour dough bread to go with our fresh homemade cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, pesto, hummus, etc...

It was a very fun evening! Terah was a big fan of swimming, as were her sisters and mommy. Jason was as pleased as anything with the sun warmed brick ledge. I'd call it his "happy spot" for the evening. Kali has never taken swimming lessons but she is now doing pretty well getting around in the water and has slowly challenged herself to go under and this time she even swam a foot or two before sputtering to the surface. I'm proud of how she has taken steps as she has felt comfortable, and with each step I feel better about her being in the water. Alida was grateful for her alligator floaty. Terah enjoyed being in the water but also more of the usual - getting into everything possible - she liked the picnic down at her level without being strapped in her highchair! And I enjoyed it all: seeing the girls having a great time, the view (see below), the feel of the water, the delicious picnic with that good hungry feeling after swimming, and just having a relaxing time all together. We need those times!
 Well, I better keep moving through my list. It's definitely the month out of the year where I have a really hard time choosing what to do next. It doesn't help that I feel like I'm functioning with only a partially working brain. Terah came down with a cold (that is moving through the family), soon after the WV reunion. Last night was a tad better, but I still only spent about 10 minutes in bed and only clocked in a little over 2 hours at a time all night. Yes, that is an improvement on the nights prior to that. I can't say how eager I am for a stretch of sleep that leaves me feeling rested. I know it will come, I'll feel all nostalgic for this time with babies and little kids. But it doesn't necessarily make the exhaustion easier to handle in the moment.

Friday, August 5, 2016

July family book report by Jason

Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka

This book is a translation from the Japanese of what Mr. Fukuoka considered his most important work of writing, since it more explicitly and completely elucidates his life philosophy and perspective and focuses attention on the ways in which the methods detailed in his other two translated books could be applied to the restoration of the planet by means of revegetating ravaged landscapes.

It is a book that will be more difficult than others to characterize with the brevity associated with this series of book reviews.  I shall endeavor to extract some of the most a propos and characteristic passages and situate them in the review by way of some surrounding commentary, which will be italicized so as to be easily distinguished from the quotations.  I am afraid I can do little more this way than to intrigue the reader of this review; Mr. Fukuoka’s outlook is so surprising and refreshing, so carefully and patiently crafted that it simply will not do to attempt to “capture” it here.  I can only hope you, dear reader, might become curious enough to pick up the book for yourself and give it the time it deserves.

We’ll get started trying to understand Mr. Fukuoka’s mind with some words from the introduction by Larry Korn, editor and translator:

Page XIV: “He saw that nature is in balance and perfectly abundant just as it is.  People, with their limited understanding, try to improve on nature thinking the result will be better for human beings, but adverse side effects inevitably appear.  Then people take measures to counteract these side effects, and larger side effects appear.  By now, almost everything humanity is doing is mitigating problems caused by previous misguided actions.”

After a most fascinating spiritual conversion experience in his youth, Mr. Fukuoka spent some time trying to convince others of his perspective, to little avail.  He then decided the best way forward was to put it into practice.  Specifically, he went home to the family farm.

Page XV: “Mr. Fukuoka moved into a small hut in the orchard and spent the next several years observing the condition of the soil and noting the interaction of the plants and animals that lived there.  Recalling that time, Mr. Fukuoka said, ‘I simply emptied my mind and tried to absorb what I could from nature.’

Mr. Fukuoka wanted to create a productive environment where nature would have free rein.  But where to begin?  No one he knew had ever tried that sort of thing before, so he had no mentor to show him the way.  He noticed that the plants present in the orchard were limited to citrus trees and a few shrubs, and while some scraggly weeds grew up here and there, the exposed soil had eroded down to the hard, red subsoil.  In such a situation, if he simply did nothing, nature would continue in a downward spiral.  Because people had created this unnatural condition, he felt a responsibility to repair the damage.”

His first idea was to let the citrus trees revert to their natural form, to stop shaping and pruning them.  Most of them responded by becoming pest- and disease-ridden and quickly dying.  Of that time, he said:

Page 5: “This first experiment, simply doing nothing, was a magnificent failure.  It was not natural farming; it was abandonment.  But I was pleased that at least I had learned from that disaster the difference between nonintervention and taking human responsibility.”

And learn he did.  With astonishing success.

Page 85-86: “The soil of this once fertile forestland eventually eroded down to the clay subsoil.
Years ago, at the site of my natural farm, people tried planting mandarin orange trees, but the trees did not thrive, so they largely abandoned the land.  That is the land I started with.  Since then I have turned the soil of my family’s orchard into soil as fertile as the forest soil it once was.”

And here is his basic grain growing technique in a nutshell:

Page 65: “For the past fifty years or so, I have grown crops without tilling the soil, and without using fertilizers or agricultural chemicals.  I have done practically nothing, and the soil in my fields has become the best in my village.  I simply scattered seeds in clay pellets, covered them with straw, and grew a healthy ground cover including white clover and vetch.  I supplied nature with the tools, and then I relied on nature’s disposition toward fertility.”

After some time and some success, some people began to take notice, and a few approached him for education.  He obliged by hosting them on his farm and training them to his methods.

Page XX: “Mr. Fukuoka purposely had [the students on his farm] live in [a] semi-primitive manner because he believed it helped provide the sensitivity necessary to farm by his natural method.”

He believed in getting the cart and the horse in the right order:

Page XXI: “Mr. Fukuoka told us over and over that the philosophy was everything, and the farming was merely an example of the philosophy.  ‘If you do not understand the philosophy,’ he said, ‘the rest becomes empty activity.’”

Much of that philosophy centers on the notion of “True nature”, a confounding term if ever there was one.  He approaches this with a very eastern bent, not surprisingly.  A few quotes from the section, “The True Meaning of Nature”, which starts on page 8:

“I spent many years of my youth foolishly searching for something I ‘should’ have been doing.  Instead, I should have entrusted everything to the flowers blooming in the meadow.  Even if people do nothing at all, the grasses and trees and the songbirds will live on.”

“I have finally learned that, although nature does not reach out to people directly, people can always approach nature and seek salvation that way.”

“Once long ago, when I was in the mountains, I unconsciously wrote, ‘The mountains, rivers, grasses and trees are all Buddha,’ on a piece of wood.  At other times I would suggest that ‘God’ refers to the absolute truth that transcends time and space.  Perhaps an even better description, I sometimes thought, was Lao-Tse’s term ‘The Nameless.’  I was really just struggling with words.  Actually, I think people would be better off without words altogether.”

Page 11: “…the discriminating and analytical knowledge of scientists may be useful for taking nature apart and looking at its parts, but it is of no use for grasping the reality of pure nature.”

I cannot claim to understand all of this stuff:

Page 12-13: “Seen from a nonrelative perspective, nature transcends beauty and ugliness, good and evil.  Whether we see this world as filled with contradictions, or as existing in perfect harmony, is determined by whether we analyze it using our intellect, or grasp the entirety of nature without making any distinctions at all.  It is only by doing the latter that we can see nature’s true form.”

Page 139: “If you understand the spirit of a single flower, you understand everything.  You understand the religion, philosophy, and science are one and at the same time they are nothing at all. 
It is incongruous to say, ‘I am a religious person.  I understand the mind of God but not the mind of a pumpkin.’  Or, ‘I earn my livelihood by being a professor of philosophy, so I have no need or desire to become a farmer and grow crops.

Without understanding what it is to know things intuitively, people have sought knowledge and have become lost.”

Page 140 (quoting himself): “’When people try to grow crops using human knowledge, they will never be anything more than farmers.  If they can look at things with an empty mind as a child does, then, through the crops and their own labor, they will be able to gaze into the entire universe.’”

The man can say some strangely beautiful things, but then again some things he says are mighty fearsome and equally hard to argue with:

Page 13: “People do sometimes sense the sacredness of nature, such as when they look closely at a flower, climb high peaks, or journey deep into the mountain.  Such aesthetic sense, love, receptivity, and understanding are people’s most basic instincts—their true nature.  These days, however, humans are flying in a completely different direction to some unknown destination, and they seem to be doing it as rapidly as possible.”

He was no fan of religion:

Page 14-15: “In the present age of disintegration the various religions of the world, old and new, large and small, are becoming very active.  Indeed, whenever the world has fallen into disorder, religious movements have flourished…I look forward to the day when there is no need for sacred scriptures or sutras.  The dragonfly will be the messiah.”

With his emphasis on spiritual and philosophical perspective, it would be easy to write him off when the time comes for logic, but he is no slouch there.  The text is rich with pith-flavored logical observations that are hard to ignore, even if I can’t substantiate the assumptions they contain:

Page 42-43: “It is important to reflect on what has happened historically in regard to agriculture and medicine.  We have seen huge advances in modern medicine, but there is little value in the advancement of medicine if the number of sick people continues to increase.  It is the same with modern agriculture.  How can we congratulate ourselves on the advances in modern agriculture, including greatly increased production, if the rate of starvation, scarcity, depletion, and disease increases even more rapidly?”

For all his lack of enthusiasm for religion, he was also no convert to cold, hard science (I would have to agree that “science” is one of the major religions of our age), though he cared profoundly for knowledge and truth.

Page 87-88: “…unlike the typical scientist I have not tried to amass data or systematically formulate measures for preventing desertification.  Instead, my desert prevention measures are strictly intuitive and based on observation.  I arrived at them by using a deductive method.  In other words, I started with the recognition that the causes of desertification in most areas are misguided human knowledge and action.  If we eliminated them, I believed that nature would certainly heal itself…If you believe in intuitive insight, the road will open on its own accord.”  He does recognize, however, that some places are so damaged as to need intervention, the strategies for which he conveys in the book.
Another zinger that I can’t yet translate into meaningful changes, but which I deeply know to be true and can sense peace in the wings, should I learn to trust it:

Page 43: “To speak of creatures as beneficial insects, harmful insects, pathogenic bacteria, or troublesome birds is like saying the right hand is good and the left hand is bad.  Nature is an endless cycle, in which all things participate in the same dance of life and death, living together and dying together.”

He has a penchant for thinking in complete systems.  I can’t vouch for the “efficiency” of the following vision for agriculture (which is presented as a counterpoint to his rebuke of CAFO meat production), but it lines up roughly with where I hope we are headed here on the farm:

Page 92: “In what I would consider to be an ideal situation for raising cows and other farm animals, the flowers of clover and vegetables would bloom in an orchard of trees laden with fruit and nuts.  Bees would fly among the barley and wild mustard that had been sown there and later reseeded by themselves.  Chickens and rabbits would forage on whatever they could find.  Ducks and geese would paddle about in the ponds with fish swimming below.  At the foot of the hills and in the valley, pigs and wild boars would fatten themselves on worms and crayfish, while goats would occasionally peek out from among the trees in the woods.

Scenes like this can still be found in the poor villages of some countries not yet swallowed up by modern civilization.  The real question is whether we see this way of life as uneconomical and primitive, or as a superb organic community in which people, animals, and nature are one.  A pleasant living environment for animals is also a utopia for human beings.”

Garden-variety organic farming didn’t impress Mr. Fukuoka.  He saw it as basically a less toxic (usually) imitation of other forms of industrial agriculture.  I would mostly have to agree, though I am less confident of my solutions than he was of his, and I find his teaching challenging (even if appealing) to my mindset and my tendencies.  What I am confident of is that we have the same goals in mind and the same sense of what is possible.

Page 137: “As far as I can see, the only way is to follow the road back to nature.  I believe that by doing this, we will establish techniques that are far more appropriate than our present technology…It is fine to turn gradually from organic farming to the road that leads to nonscientific, natural farming.  It is fine to set one’s sights on farming that perpetuates itself sustainably, even while enjoying life on a designed farm.  But these efforts should not be centered on rules and techniques.  At the core there must be a sound, realistic way of seeing the world.  Once the philosophy is understood, the appropriate techniques will become clear as day.  Of course, the techniques will be different for different situations and conditions, but the underlying philosophy will not change.  This is the most direct way to create a new agriculture that is more than just sustainable.  It will provide for our needs and also heal the earth and the human spirit.”

Mr. Fukuoka’s searching led him to an even more comprehensive vision of life, much as it does for many of the world’s great searchers and livers of truth.  This passage reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s notion of “The Beloved Community.”

Page 15-16: “When I mention that human society is on the wrong path, I often hear the retort, ‘Then show me a better one.’  Because it does not have a name yet, I will refer to it as ‘natural culture and community.’  Natural culture is simply a way of life in which people enjoy the truth and beauty of nature, a life in which people, with freedom in their hearts, climb mountains, play in meadows, bathe in the warm rays of sunlight, breathe pure air, drink crystalline water, and experience the true joy of life.  The society I am describing is one in which people will create a free and generous community…If humanity can regain its original kinship with nature, we should be able to live in peace and abundance.  Seen through the eyes of modern civilization, however, this life of natural culture must appear to be monotonous and primitive, but not to me…We must realize that both in the past and today, there is only one ‘sustainable’ course available to us.  We must find our way back to true nature.  We must set ourselves to the task of revitalizing the earth.  Regreening the earth, sowing seeds in the desert—that is the path society must follow.  My travels around the world have convinced me of that.”

And there is this beautiful passage that followed a very interesting analysis of a visit to a camp for Ethiopian refugees:

Page 43: “Gradually I came to realize that the process of saving the desert of the human heart and revegetating the actual desert is actually the same thing.”

He was not afraid to present his succinct analysis of rather broad topics:

Page 50-51: “Even if our goal is to protect forests, revegetate the desert, and revolutionize agriculture, if we do not resolve the fundamental problems of economics and people’s way of living, we will not be able to accomplish anything…The capitalist system is based on the notion of ever-increasing production and consumption of material goods, and therefore, in the modern economy, people’s value or worth comes to be determined by their possessions.  But if people create conditions and environments that do not make those things necessary, the things, no matter what they are, become valueless.  Cars, for example, are not considered to be of value by people who are not in a hurry…People could get along perfectly well without unnecessary goods if they lived a life in which nature provided everything—assuming, of course, that they had access to the natural world.”

It was several decades before his methods and ideas began to be valued more broadly.  Eventually he had invitations to speak and consult internationally, and in so doing traveled away from Japan for the first time:

Page XXV: “When he first saw the condition of the landscape in California he was shocked by how barren it was.  Some of that, he noted, was caused by the climate, which lacks the dependable summer rains of Japan, but much of it was caused by careless agricultural practices, poor water management, overgrazing, and overlogging.  Eventually he came to refer to this as ‘California’s ecological disaster.’  After visiting India and Africa, he got an idea of the magnitude of the worldwide ecological crises.  From that time on he devoted all his energy to solving the problem of desertification using natural farming.”

This man may be my new favorite international development theorist, with the kinds of conclusions he drew from his travels.  Here is a passage the stems from a tour of Africa:

Page 76: “…when travelling over land, I saw large trees of unknown varieties.  People told me that several hundred years ago these large trees formed a dense forest.  Naturally, I tried to find out why the forest had disappeared.

From the accounts given to me by an Ethiopian elder and some Somali farmers, the main cause was the colonial agricultural policies brought in by Westerners.  They introduced and exclusively grew commercial crops such as coffee, tea, sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, peanuts, and corn.  Production of personal food crops was forbidden.  This was done in the name of enriching the national economy. 

When I went to apply for a visa from the Somalian government, I was flabbergasted when they told me that any kind of instruction that agitates the farmers and encourages them to become self-sufficient would not be welcome.  If such activity went too far, they said, it would be considered treason.

Today, after two hundred years of colonial rule, seeds of the crops necessary for self-sufficiency have all but disappeared in Africa.  If the seeds are gone, and the farmers are reduced to growing cash crops, they descend from being farmers to simple laborers.  They will have no chance of standing on their own feet again, and any possibility of agriculture that benefits nature will be cut off.  Because the land cannot support the continuous cultivation of coffee and sugarcane, other seeds must be sown to restore the natural cycle, leading to healthy soil.”

I wish all agricultural development workers would be capable of this kind of interaction with their clients:

Page 80-81: “I talked with one tribal elder at length about his community’s situation.  ‘Rain has stopped falling in Africa, and so we can’t do anything.  The earth seems to have died,’ he lamented.
I answered, ‘It may seem that earth polluted by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides has died, but the soil of Africa is just resting.  The red clay is taking a nap.  If the people will work to awaken the sleeping soil, then you will be able to grow anything.’

‘What do we do to wake it up?  Tell me scientifically,’ he replied.

‘The problem is not that the soil is deficient in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  The problem is that these nutrients have been absorbed by the clay and are not soluble in water, so the plant’s roots are not able to absorb them.  What you need are scissors for cutting the nutrients from the clay.’

He laughed and said, ‘The only one with such handy scissors is a crab.’

I responded, ‘The microorganisms in the soil will do it for you, without your having to work hard at all.  You don’t even need to know anything about microorganisms.  When you sow the seeds of crops and trees, just be sure to mix in the seeds of legumes such as Egyptian clover (Trifolium alexandrinum) and alfalfa with them.  The more partners there are, the better.  As the life in the soil returns, the nutrients will become available to the plants once again.’  When I explained it this way, he seemed to understand.”

Here at Tangly Woods, we certainly have a lot in common with Mr. Fukuoka’s assumptions about agriculture.  In my view, his unusual philosophy and life experiences lent him a rare vantage point resulting in some clear-minded opinions.  Take a listen:

Page 89-90: “…while modern agriculture appears to be increasing yields, net productivity is actually decreasing.  If we compare the energy required to produce a crop of rice and barley with the energy harvested in the food itself, we find a disturbing trend.  Fifty years ago in the United States, each calorie of energy invested to grow rice resulted in a yield of about two calories of grain.  Thirty or forty years ago the two figures became equal, and now, the investment of two calories of energy produces only one calorie of grain.  This is largely because of the shift from using such things as hand labor, draft animals, and cover crops to using machinery and chemicals, which also require factories to create the tractors and chemicals, and mining and drilling to produce the raw materials and fossil fuels…So in terms of energy production, modern petroleum-based farming is not producing anything at all.  Actually, it is ‘producing’ a loss.  The more that is produced the more of the earth’s resources are being eaten up.  In addition, it creates pollution and destroys the soil.  The apparent increase in food production is also subsidized by our rapid depletion of the soil’s organic matter.  We are simply squandering this gift of stored solar energy…There is no technology for increased food production that uses more energy than high technology.  Therefore, whoever controls petroleum can control the world’s food supply.  I find this situation really disturbing.”

Page 123-124: “About half of the land in the United States is, or is becoming, desert.  I felt that the expanding American desert was at least as great a problem as the deserts of Africa, but most Americans seemed totally unaware that their country is becoming more arid…they think it is totally natural that when little rain falls in the summer, the grass dries up and the plains turn brown, but it was not always this way.  Americans are so dazzled by the vastness of their land that most people do not seem to be concerned about preserving it…there is no way, amid the ruin of the land, that farmers can become well-off no matter how much petroleum ‘rain’ they use to grow their crops…Agricultural experts and agribusiness are bound by the idea that even land that has lost its natural vitality can still produce crops with the addition of petroleum energy, agricultural chemicals, and water.”

Page 129: “It seems that the main goal in the life of the average American is to save money, live in the country in a big house surrounded by large trees, and enjoy a carefully manicured lawn.  It would be a further source of pride to raise a few horses.  Everywhere I went I preached the abolition of lawn culture, saying that it was an imitation green created for human beings at the expense of nature and was nothing more than a remnant of the arrogant aristocratic culture of Europe.”

Page 108: “Originally, water, soil, and crops were a single unit, but since the time people came to distinguish soil from water, and to separate soil from crops, the links among the three were broken.  They became isolated, and were placed in opposition to one another…instead of thinking that grasses and trees grow in the soil, it is actually the grasses and trees, other plants, animals, microorganisms, and water that create the soil and give it life.”

He does venture into some territory of which I am not yet sure, even while I am truly grateful for his willingness to put forward his bold ideas.  He is working with data I agree with, but his conclusions are startling.  Take this passage:

Page 95 “We cannot simply put things back the way they once were.  Too much has happened.  Conditions are far different today from what they were just one hundred years ago.  Soil has eroded and become drier due to agriculture, overgrazing, and cutting too many trees.  Plant communities and the balance of microorganisms have been altered beyond recognition by plowing and agricultural chemicals.  Animals and plants are becoming extinct from the elimination of their habitat.  The seas are becoming more acidic, and even the climate is changing.  Even if we did go to the trouble of putting back the plants that were native to a certain place, there is no guarantee that they would thrive there anymore.

My idea is entirely different.  I think we should mix all the species together and scatter them worldwide, completely doing away with their uneven distribution.  This would give nature a full palette to work with as it establishes a new balance given the current conditions.  I call this the Second Genesis.”

Here is a similar notion, but less controversial perhaps:

Page 98: “The earth will not come back to life if we only plant a small variety of trees we deem to be useful.  A tree cannot grow up in isolation.  We need to grow tall trees, midsized trees, shrubs, and understory plants all together.  Once a mixed ecosystem is re-created, the rain will begin to fall again.”

A friend of mine refers gratefully and with wonderment to Mr. Fukuoka’s “voice.”  I certainly feel, after reading this volume, spoken to.  I am unprepared to assert anything definitive about how important or unimportant a given teacher is to the evolving project of human spirituality, but this person makes my short list. 

I have often wondered what it is that has magnetized me to agriculture for so long, and through so many life changes, when I started out life as a sensitive, artistic, and spiritually oriented person…not the type people usually associate with farming, let’s just say.  I furthermore have wondered where the restlessness has come from that disallows my becoming content with the standard and current agricultural systems.  Why must I constantly be blazing my own path, voicing and living into concerns that the vast majority of folks know or care next to nothing about, with nobody to hold me to a standard but myself?  If nothing else, reading the writing of Mr. Fukuoka lets me know I am not alone in my concerns or my drive towards this iconoclastic version of excellence.  He names the trouble, laments the losses, and dares to put forward some solutions and some very practical advice to get the would-be natural farmer started.  It is a remarkable work he has done, and most welcome.

Overjoyed and Overwhelmed

It has felt recently that the best way to describe how life feels to me right now is that I go multiple times daily from being overjoyed to overwhelmed (sometimes even feeling both simultaneously!).

Let's begin with a snippet of a moment of being overjoyed. I guess in this case it is Terah who is the most overjoyed. We head out today (I know, I don't really have time to be putting up a blog post...) for a family reunion in WV, one that I've been on the planning committee of for the past three years. One of the events of the weekend is a talent show Saturday evening. Here's Jason practicing his juggling skills, though the real show is probably watching the baby enjoy it:

Swinging to being overwhelmed: that was how I felt when I got home from town recently to find my computer with an odd reboot error. Rebooting failed (multiple times) and so Jason dropped it off at EMU to get diagnosed. Bad news: complete hard drive failure, nothing retrievable (at least not without sending off the hard drive and probably not for less than a few hundred dollars).  In the craziness of life lately, I had neglected to back up our pictures and videos for the past two months. That, in addition to our short and long term Tangly Woods project list, felt like a pretty big loss.
Jason suggested (as he tries to look at things positively) that maybe losing the project list is good - gives us a "fresh start" in some ways - maybe some things will never make it back on and that would be ok. In the end, maybe we'll feel that way. And maybe we'll feel grateful to have two months of our life narrowed down to the highlights on the blog. I'd say in the short term it added to me feeling rather disoriented for a good part of this week.

Much has happened since I last wrote. The older girls enjoyed an entire week with grandparents and cousins in WV. Terah and her parents survived the week without them, and even had some fun! But we were very happy to welcome them home...

I had hoped to get this blog post up last evening but I had that good tired feeling after a day of food processing and it was about 11 p.m. before we all (baby included) crashed. The day got more involved than expected since we aren't so good at turning down a corn gleaning opportunity - especially on a cooler summer day with breezes blowing! So the day involved making a cold bean salad for 70, canning a load of pickled beets, canning a load of dill pickles, starting a gallon of fermented dilly beans, and then freezing 15 quarts of corn. We squeezed in lots of nursing, diaper changes, four hours of office work time, and washing many dishes (my I was a lot of dishes on a daily basis!).

Ok, the baby is not so content in her doorway jumper as she would rather get into stuff! So we'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking! Enjoy:
Practicing "stand up" during one of our many recent blueberry gleaning stints.
And, well, being awfully cute in the patch, even if she was not overly helpful!
What a trio! They are something else - they are a bit part of the overjoyed part of life (the littlest one contributing more than the others to the overwhelmed part).
She has learned to life the seat of the composting toilet. Oh dear! And is quite interested in it (here only the door separates here from the object of her fascination...
The play kitchen at its old location. Now moved to the main kitchen so that Terah can "cook" while I attempt to keep mouths fed and bellies satisfied around here!
The cook that will soon far surpass her mother in her abilities! We continue to be spoiled weekly by her meals. This week she made a green bean saute with fresh tomatoes and basil, with a dill cucumber salad and bear sausage. The week prior we enjoyed beet chick pea patties with dill yogurt sauce and a cheesy leek bake.
Alida is pretty proud of her tomato plants, and with good reason. She may even be upon a new tomato variety - already has two setting aside for seed. I love seeing our girls getting into seed breeding!
And very occasionally I get to join the rest of the family in some gardening task - though tends to be still in the harvesting realm (here we are pulling onions - so glad to have some after their rough start).
Don't know what we would do without these helpers!
We promise to turn the garage over to Mom and Dad! Right now it is occupied by drying onion matter, seeds and garlic...Rental fees will be paid in produce. :)
Terah is pleased with this job - getting as dirty as possible and into as many things as possible while we aren't looking...
Here's the crew heading off to WV for the week. I was feeling sad as I took this - well happy for them but missing the girls and they hadn't even left yet!
In their absence, she enjoyed her first large tomato. Oh, what a fan - juicy, yummy AND messy!
This girl is serious about meals now! Anytime we are eating she wants to be part of it. And each meal time normally needs a major clean up and new outfit following!
This little one is a major daddy's girl right now. Cries for him if she can hear him, see him, or hear a noise (like the mower) that she associates with him. Pretty sweet - and has made my office stints lately a piece of cake as she really doesn't seem to miss me!
Kali and Alida took Terah to the fire ring the other evening for me to get a little burst of work done in the kitchen. I told them I didn't care if Terah got dirty. They took me seriously! We all needed showers when they returned!
Enjoying Kali's most recent meal! She really is spoiling us - and seems to be enjoying herself immensely in the process!
Terah loved the wagon rides to and from the corn patch yesterday. The girls and Jason went all together while I enjoyed a luxurious session of food processing all by myself!
The second ride back home was just a tad too much for her. This is how I found her when they got back. So sweet!