Watch the Squirrels – an introduction to Autumn

Rising Creek Digressions XIV – a bucolic blog

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I wanted to take a brief moment to introduce you to Autumn. She’s been right by your side for a few weeks now, but she moves quietly, so it is understandable if you haven’t noticed her yet.

This is Autumn, she is the most beautiful and original season in the year.

Her favorite spice is cinnamon.

Her favorite household appliance is the blender.

Her favorite container is the jar.

Her favorite desert is pie.

Her preferred activities are alternately reflecting on things, keeping busy, and trying to find repose.

Her favorite vegetable is squash, many different varieties but especially the ones sprawling out and getting huge as if it were a late afternoon siesta.

Her favorite song is Neil Young’s Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), the chorus goes like this

“My my, hey hey,

It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”

And if you doubt that one, just look at the Aspen leaves burning in the high peaks.

Considering sacred geometry and the myriad Medicine Wheel’s of the northern hemisphere, the summer’s direction is the south, while the autumn’s is west, toward the setting sun.  Each day’s setting sun is a glimpse of the way the year sets during the days after the autumnal equinox. As a time of day, we are the gloaming, when the sun has made its way over the horizon, casting alpenglow in the high mountains while retaining a soft light.

The liveliness of autumn may be deceiving. It is like the last huge and audible inhale before a baby’s sleep. You may be tricked into thinking that it is the most vivacious season, but autumn’s bustling has a dark irony to it. We become most alive when we feel an imminent death; or, less morbidly, when we feel the imminence of a period of immense struggle. Look at the squirrels.

If we lived in different times, we would be just over halfway through the calendar year, as October literally means “the eighth month”. Counting from the vernal equinox it is. We are still within Libra, or the sign of balance. Libra’s image is an old balancing scale, representing that the mass of each side is in balance. The hopes and fetches of the summer have finally matched, in mass, whatever it is we are weighing it against. Or so we hope. So does the squirrel, because opposite the gathered nuts on its balance is survival.

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The sun has been king for 6 months, with daytime hours outnumbering nighttime hours. As a mountain climber we always say that the majority of accidents happen on the descent (it is SO far back to the car). As an educator we always say that the most important work is in the transfer of learning (so, we learned all this stuff, now what?) But the descent and the transfer are often forgotten in climbing and teaching, respectively; partly because they are often not as much fun, but also because we’ve already worked so hard to get HERE and we’re tired now. We feel like kicking back and celebrating, and the last thing we want to do is continue working even harder! And, indeed, celebration is a part of it, but only insomuch as it helps us celebrate the work that we’ve done and help us shift our focus for what’s to come. If we spend too long celebrating on a summit, a storm may move in, or night befall us. Likewise, by the time autumn arrives it’s as if we have been climbing for months, and our “summit” is the abundant harvest of recent months. Autumn is a time for celebration, but just like a mountaintop, it is not a time to kick back yet. We have a long ways to go before we’re safe at home. Look at the squirrels.

After an arduous summer of farming or gardening, the last thing you want to do is put the fields to rest and think about next year. You only want to celebrate, maybe take a vacation. And you should do both of those things, while also taking time to descend and transfer the year’s learning. When we get lazy with these things we get the vast hardpan and depleted soils east of the Rockies, where we are forced to dump fertilizers as we plant next year.  But ecologically minded farmers aren’t just growing food; they are growing soil. Sustainability is in the soil, and if I could stretch this education metaphor one last time, transference is in the soil. Take what you made this year and make it better and richer for the next. Try a sheet mulch, or sow a cover crop; make a heaping compost pile and plant some wildflower seeds. Then you can rest, or take a vacation, because most of nature is as well.

And stop looking at all of those squirrels; they’ll make you nervous.

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A season in change

Even though it feels like it has just picked up, September being the busiest month, the Farmette is actually winding down. It is in its final frenzy, which always comes before the winding down. The frenzy is actually a sign of the rest to come. I wanted to post a celebration of the season in the fields, the wood-shop, and at the market, selecting some of Sam and Annie’s recent and colorful photos for a slideshow. All shots are theirs.

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Fire Revisited – from the Amazon to the Rockies

Rising Creek Digressions XIII – a bucolic blog by Tim Hare

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A small “swidden” clearing in the Upper Bolivian Amazon

My three-week hiatus from the digressions is (mostly) excusable. Let me explain.

I was in Bolivia dealing with pressing issues of environmental justice, overhauling corrupt political systems (ours, not theirs), and educating young people at the same time. I was cleaning up drinking water, planting trees, and reversing the retreat of tropical glaciers. I was putting out Amazonian forest fires, speaking convincingly at both big US political conventions, and stopping Monsanto’s encroachment into the South American rain forests. I was preserving indigenous languages, increasing agricultural diversity, and rebuilding eroded topsoil. I got the vote out, got the votes back in, and decided that we had won, forever and finally!

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Students hiking through cleared cloud-forest in the upper Amazon of Bolivia

I was . . . actually working in Bolivia over the past two weeks, but I’d say that I am grossly exaggerating the heroic efforts of my work. We really did talk a lot about these things, but didn’t really act on any of them in particular. I have been involved in education, for a Boulder-based international experiential education program; education, in one of its best manifestation, gives folks the skills to deal with complex global and local problems like those above; but does not, in and of itself, actually do any of the solving of the problems. How could it be any other way? If it were another way, it may cease to be education, and then become advocacy, no? We would be activists instead of teachers. Or should we be both?

Writing creatively is the same. In its best manifestation it can spawn interest, inform, and allow the reader’s mind to diverge from its ordinary trajectory. Can it also have an agenda?

Wait, I am now really digressing, where was I?

I was in Bolivia, where I have spent the majority of my past 6 years. I am always there this time of year, and it is always my least favorite time of year because of the chaqueo, or the burning. Even the La Paz valley, at a lofty 12,500 feet, fills with smoke from the fires in the tropical valleys just over the high passes. It is suffocating. Planes often cannot land because of the fires, as they settle over cities like the thickest blanket of fog. Unfortunately, this seems to be a year of fire, from Rockies to the Andes and the Amazon, and in both areas the fires have been simultaneously a nuisance, tragedy, and a necessity. This post is about the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia, but much can be learned about the ecology and business of fire from this, including our relationship with fire in the US.

Chaqueo is an old tradition. Fire has been used for millennia around the world to prepare fields for planting. It is always in late winter, when things are at their driest, and right before the spring rains. The prairies of North America were burned in this way, and new archeological studies in the Amazon show that even the lush forest there was burned seasonally as well. Fire (especially low-intensity) can have incredible benefits for some ecosystems. Even in the high Andes of Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador farmers will burn the utterly ubiquitous ichu bunchgrass in the most extreme of places, believing that it will come back thicker and stronger. Even though it looks like barren alpine grassland, it is actually perennially cultivated for fodder and building materials. Likewise in the Amazon, the shifting agriculturalists native to the area have historically been in 5 by 20 year cycles. Small acreage plots are cleared, first by axe (or most commonly now by chainsaw) and then by fire, to be cultivated for 5 years and then allowed to grow back to forest for 20 years. This type of swidden, or slash-and-burn agriculture may even be the key to the Amazon’s unique biological diversity. Constantly shifting areas of cultivation opened clearings and created endless ecological edges. In ecology, edges, or landscape transitions, create the greatest diversity.

Additionally, the famous terra preta,or fertile “black earth”, of the Brazilian Amazon was largely created by amending charcoal (created by low-intensity fires), potshards, manure and other goodies to the clay tropical soil. It remains from advanced pre-Hispanic agricultural societies (although there’s contention in academia about the intentionality of it) and is still virtually the only fertile soil in the otherwise infertile Amazon basin. Low-intensity fires create a wood-based biochar that attracts stimulates mycorrhizal and other microbiotic activity, while also attracting organic matter and, incidentally, pesticides because of its ionization. Without this, the heavy rainfall leeches important nutrients from the soil. Biochar additionally has the potential to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. These same effects do not occur from high-intensity fires, or when material other than wood is burned.

So why is fire an issue now? And what do we do, let the forests burn? Re-introduce fire to the North American prairies or Rocky Mountain lodgepole or Ponderosa pine forests? Well, maybe.

In some ways it’s a matter of scale. These days the scale of the fires is unprecedented and mostly influenced not by traditional small-scale fires but massive ones clearing forest for the introduction of industrial agriculture. The fires introduced for large-scale industrial cattle and soybean production are not the same as those introduced for small-scale yucca or pineapple production. They scorch and sterilize the earth rather than creating biochar. Nor do they allow the forest to grow back, and are often part of larger agricultural schemes hatched in Brazilian government offices or Cargill or Monsanto board-rooms, rather than by local indigenous farmers. Traditional swidden agriculture may clear an acre or two at a time with a seasonal fire, while larger domestic or transnational interests could decimate 10,000 acres with the stroke of a pen and the hope of vast financial returns.

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A large clearing in the Beni Department of Bolivia for cattle production

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More fire for beef in Bolivia, in the Pando Department

Then, there are political issues, with the Brazilian government aggressively attempting to populate the vastly under populated Amazon; or the Bolivian government creating a policy that by clearing land with fire you have rights to it.  There is also the War on Drugs, which pushes coca growers in the Upper Amazon (or poppy farmers in other parts of the world) into ever-more-remote stretches of jungle to cultivate their crops, using fire to open farmland.

Now I’ve made the topic broad and complicated, and maybe lost the reader in these tangents. But fire is complicated. It brings up panic, confusion, intrigue, and an innate sort of pride and confidence in humans (especially men). It is our earliest ally in our departure from the animal realm. And now it is consuming the planet, and us in the process, in our Age of Combustion and climate change. There is good reason to fear it.

In the Rocky Mountain west we’ve been so afraid of it that we’ve had too few fire, so then when our overgrown and diseased forests burn, they explode like two did this summer in Colorado. When cattle ranchers and soybean farmers burn the Amazon, they burn too much, and it leads to the statistics that make your heart ache about loss of tropical rainforest. But could we have an understanding of both wild and anthropogenic fire in the ecology of the planet that is more balanced and integrated?


Highway 36 Revisited – The Lyons Folks Festival

Rising Creek Digressions XII – a bucolic blog by Tim Hare

FOLK MUSIC is the loudest and most ferocious whisper in the middle of a hurricane. And with just enough intention it can turn a tropical depression into a fantastical expression, and it can even push and pull the tides while it’s at it. It is a lily in the swamp, or a naked spinning dance through a thorny political rally. It stirs ghosts, flattens gravestones, and constantly calls our ancestors to a standing ovation. The folk musician smokes the day’s sacred leaves for eternity, beating rhythms in tune with the present and past pulse of the populace.  Folk is unplugged, unknown and underground, or it is plugged-in, played loud, and waking your neighbor. It is the granite summit of Longs Peak, the core of things, revealed once everything else has been chiseled away by wind, ice, and water. It demands your full attention – this is no background music. Don’t listen to it with headphones sitting on a subway or flying on a fixie, but, instead, memorize each and every word and sing folk music to friends and strangers.

These days we rarely tell stories of the past – thus is the way of our tradition-trampling totalitarian tautology. Instead we gawk and gossip of the gaudy goings-on, or fantasize fantastically about future fears or flights. But take a minute, or a lifetime, to listen to your local storyteller that is the folk musician – the one that mocks and muses, magnifies and mystifies. Autochthonous, ambitious, all-encompassing, folk is the generous gentile genre that gallops and grinds through centuries and across oceans. Folk music has the super-hero ability of time travel, and also the gift of flight. It is infinite, timeless, and placeless. It begs you to lift your petticoats and curtsy, to slap your suspenders and twirl your moustache, or to stare into your whiskey glass and think real hard. In Chile it would coax you into a cueca, and you’d be contemplating the complexity of spurs, handkerchiefs and a pursuant partner dance. In Senegal it would compel you into the middle of a circle of friends to jolt your hips and move in unimaginable ways. It is yours, and mine too, and it will be your child’s, just as it was my great-grandparent’s.

Folk is a flute, dobro, fiddle, bongo, kora, quena, guitar, sitar, lute, and banjo. It has a twang, whine, whistle, drawl, and noticeable colloquial accent. There are folk dances, folk instruments, folklore, folktales, folk-legends, folk-heroes, folk-healers, folk-wizards and Folks Festivals. Folk is, John, Johnny, Gillian, Bob, Sam, Jolie, Arlo, Woodie, Patty, Leonard, Joni, Connor, Ani, Lyle, Alison and the neighbor girl singing in her swing. It can change your life and will always change the world.

This past weekend Lyons has hosted its 22nd annual Folks festival. The Farmette supplied the event with some fresh veggies and cut flowers. My family sent out our most sincere wishes to the universe to provide us with tickets for at least one of the days, having been slow on the draw when the tickets went on sale months ago. This, along with repeated Craigslist searches, and persistent plug to friends this weekend turned out nary a glimmer of hope for us. And so, my family headed to bed Sunday evening, having only heard muffled melodies from across town of the fantastic Folks that have blessed Lyons with their presence the past three days. This is an ode to them, and to the revolutionary, shifting, and soulful qualities of the Folk music genre, the music of the people.


A Season for the Local Epicure and a Summer Squash Recipe

Rising Creek Digressions XI – a bucolic blog by Tim Hare

Photos by Tim and Sam

August and September make farming and gardening in Colorado worth it. In a sense, this is what we’ve been working for since March. By now, we’ve been through cycles of greens – both salad and hearty varieties. They are tasty, and darned nutritious – but they’ve also lost their novelty in some ways. Alas, seasons change. And for the past few weeks now, and now the really fun stuff has been happening in Colorado’s fields and markets. By fun, I mostly mean BIG – melons, peaches, sweet corn, apples, cherries, herbs, and even tomatoes. These are the ephemeral local foods that are the heart of the regional epicure’s year. So instead of digressions this week, I will go for directions.

I am terrible at following directions; thus, I rarely allow cooking recipes into my kitchen. But when I saw the size of the largest zucchini and summer squash coming off the Farmette’s flourishing “squash quarter”, it moved me to try to follow directions. I didn’t do the best job at that task, but I made a sincere attempt. Taking the large yellow summer squash and green zucchini squash into our kitchen this evening, we did the only thing you could possibly do with plants of that size (we had unusually large ones, and it is worth mentioning that there are also more delicate and manageable sizes coming off the fields here too). We looked up a recipe, and decided stuffing them was the right approach to getting them into our mouths.

If you looked around (and wouldn’t have to strain too hard to do so), just about all of these ingredients could be found locally (yup, even the quinoa). Cucurbita is the genus that includes squashes, part of the large vegetable family of Cucurbitaceae. These are the gourd-family that was first cultivated in Mesoamerica, and part of their “Three Sisters”, along with maize and beans. So, not only is squash a currently locally available food, it is also millennially local, dating back thousands of years in much of the Americas.

My fiancé and I tweaked just about the entirety of the recipe we found online, so it is worth writing here anew. Here’s what it involved for us:

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Vegetarian Quinoa and Mozzarella Stuffed Farmette Summer Squash

Time: 1 hour

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

Two massive Farmette (or other) summer squash

1 cup quinoa

One vegetarian bullion cube

½ chopped red onion

½ chopped green bell pepper

Two cubed tomatoes

4 cloves chopped garlic

2 teaspoons fresh oregano

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

Salt and black pepper a gusto

Fresh sliced Mozerrella

Cooking oil of choice

1/3 cup breadcrumbs

One egg

Directions:

Take your shirt off, and put on a sweatband – the kitchen will get hot and you will sweat if you’re doing this in August without AC.

Prepare the quinoa. Add one cup of quinoa and one vegetarian bullion cube to 1.5 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and cook on low heat until water is entirely absorbed.

While quinoa is cooking, place squash in cold water and bring to a boil. We didn’t have a pot big enough (these squash were absurdly large) so we used the largest pot we had and boiled one half of the massive squash-rods and then the other. It worked, but a larger pot would have been useful. Boil for 10 minutes, or until squash is tender. Do not overcook, since this will be baked later.

Meanwhile, begin preparing the filling. In fry pan, heat oil. First add onions, cook until translucent. Then add garlic, herbs, salt, black pepper, and finally bell peppers. Cook to your liking, but similar to the squash take care not to overcook, since this will be baked as well. Let this mix of goodies cool a bit.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F (this is what we did, but you could consider cranking it up to 425 F and just keeping an eye on things). Wipe the sweat off your brow, and re-adjust your sweatband, maybe changing it out if it is saturated.

Once the squash has boiled, slice the two giant bludgeons in half and remove the insides into a bowl, making the squash into little boats. Mix the inside of the squash with the vegetable fillings once it has cooled, and add the tomatoes, egg and quinoa – mix thoroughly. Butter a baking tray and set the halved, hollowed-out squash in the tray. Scoop the yummy filling into the squash boats. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and layer fresh sliced mozzarella.

Place in oven for 20 minutes, or until cheese has turned a slight golden-brown. In the meantime, take a cold shower, especially if you have guests over. Remove, let cool for 10 minutes and,

Buen provecho!

Since we strayed further than squash plants run from the original recipe – such as by using quinoa instead of ground beef, among others – we encourage you to do the same. To be honest, ours didn’t turn out as supremely delicious as we had hoped. To improve this, next time I would mix Parmesan cheese with the breadcrumbs, and drizzle some olive oil over the squash boats before baking. We also talked about mixing Gorgonzola cheese in the filling (for those that are into the funky cheese, which I am).  You could also consider a kind of spinach, olive, and feta filling. A green of some sort (kale, chard, or mustards) would have enhanced the texture the filling too. OR how about a Mexican theme? Or Thai coconut rice and veggies? I see endless possibilities with these cucurbit calabash clubs.

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Como Se Llama Tu Llama?

Rising Creek Digressions X – a (not-nearly) weekly blog by Tim Hare

Photos by Tim, Sam, and Betsy

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If the Farmette’s llama picked up its name in Peru, it would be spelled variously Cusco, Cuzco or Q’osco, the name derived from Quechua, a language which had no written script. While ‘Cusco’ is the most common English spelling, ‘Q’osco’ gives a better idea for how it would be pronounced in the Andes, especially if the person saying it has a mouthful of coca leaves. It starts deep in the throat, moving briefly to the tongue before sliding again down the throat. The word is often translated as “navel”; the famous city in Peru from whence the Farmette’s llama’s name is derived was the center of the Incan Empire, both geographically and cosmologically. During its time, “Inca” was the name for the king, not for the kingdom, which was actually called “Tawantinsuyu”, or the “Land of the Four Quarters”, which all converged in the capital of Cusco (let’s stick with this spelling for the sake of the blog).

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Cusco’s central plaza at night

If you wander the cobblestone streets of the chic San Blas neighborhood of Cusco today, you’ll likely find yourself staring into the eyes of a Quechua girl asking “Sacame una fotito?” while holding a leash attached to a llama, who has likely turned its aloof head to the side, revealing its prissy profile. The girl will hold out her palm hoping for money in exchange for a photo of her colorful dress next to the llama. These snooty, smart, beautiful and fluffy creatures are the postcard animals of the Andes.

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Llamas in the Cordillera Real of Bolivia

Biologically, llamas are sometimes referred to as a New World camelid, which is a fairly ethnocentric classification; the World was only New to European settlers, not to the millions who already lived here for millennia. Camelids originated in the Americas, crossing the Bering land-bridge to form the humped camelids of their Asian, Middle-Eastern, and North-African relatives when the oceans rose and isolated the Americas; on each side of the ocean they maintained the long neck, multiple stomachs, snubbed nose and princess personality. Also in the group of American camelids is the domesticated alpaca (shorter, furrier, softer, and fatter); as well as the wild guanaco and vicuña, which both elegantly graze the slopes of the Andes in different regions.

The Inca are not responsible for domesticating the llama, but by the time Tawantinsuyu came to dominate the Andes, llama and alpaca husbandry, were an integral part of mountain life. They were the only large domesticated mammals of the pre-Hispanic Americas. Used for wool, packing, fertilizer, fuel and ceremony, llamas were literally the thread that held Andean society together. In many parts of the Central Andes they still are.

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Cusco cooling off at the Farmette

Llamas have recently made their way north in large numbers, by no migration of their own. Outdoor adventurers and North American farmers have found a useful niche for them, especially in the cool mountains of this continent. As pack animals they have been used for thousands of years and, indeed, were the only beasts of burden of the pre-Columbian Americas. They hauled potatoes, coca leaves, quinoa, and other Andean crops along the impressive network of ancient roads. If you have had the fortune of visiting some of these old trails, you will immediately understand the agility required to maneuver the steep staircases that plummet into the lowland Amazon rainforest from passes over 16,000 feet high. Llamas have evolved as an ideal inhabitant of the mountain environment, with soft padded feet that delicately move across rock and tread softly on trails. For this they have found their way into wilderness outfitting, where they have a softer footprint on our trails than mules, donkeys, or horses. Llamas carry around half the load, and they probably won’t let you ride them, but their personality more than makes up for these deficits.

In addition to their traditional role as livestock, llamas have found a niche within other herds and flocks as guard animals, especially for goats and sheep. They spit fiercely, and are also swift, large, and amazingly agile. Their snooty upturned nose can turn into a snarling downturned one that could potentially chase off a coyote or fox, especially if they have the chance to hurl a wad of green, phlegm-filled, partially digested cud at the potential perpetrator. But our darling Cusco on the Farmette shouldn’t intimidate you too much; we are yet to see such antics. In fact, we kind of wished he did a bit more cud-hucking at the foxes that snatch away a fat bounty of poultry each season.

While not a gallant guard-llama, he is a tall, proud and handsome fellow, with a stark-black coat (unless it is matted and dread-locked in dirt) for those that haven’t made his acquaintance; he made his way to Lyons as a rescue from southwestern Colorado a few years back. He spends his days skipping around the field with the goats, batting his eyelashes at cooing visitors, and taunting you to pet his thick coat, which he keeps barely out of reach of most hands.

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Cusco the (sometimes) courageous

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Cusco with his loving family


Independence Remembered

Rising Creek Digressions IX – a (mostly) weekly bucolic blog by tim Hare

I’m over a week late and perhaps a bit unoriginal in terms of themes for a blog around the 4th of July, but I felt it as good a time as any to shamelessly and courageously delve into the roots of independence.

Traditions change over time, and often their origins are forgotten. So let’s think back to the origins of our independence day. During the century leading up to July Fourth, 1776, the Enlightenment had cracked open a wave of radical thinking in the West that led ordinary folks to think more freely. Independence was coming in different forms and functions – independence from tyranny, independence from the ruling elite, or personal independence in the form of freethinking. Some cite the printing press as the impetus for the first Enlightenment in Europe. For the first time in history, common people had access to knowledge, quickly heard about new and radical ideas, and could participate in deep and important philosophical debates en masse. Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s principle author, was steeped in Enlightenment thought, and philosophies then, as now, moved across oceans.

The Enlightenment was one of the most important periods in western history. No, not because America gained its independence at its close, but because individuals in America, and many other places in Europe at about the same time, were finally being encouraged to have political and social agency, and to shape their own future. Once manifest politically, many were offered inalienable rights and the power of the vote. At least on paper in the USA once the Constitution was then written, they were also allowed to think, speak, and live freely (as long as they were white, land-owning, and male, but that is a different conversation).

The Enlightenment had a number of downsides as well, but history’s changes have consistently been flawed. One of the more persistent failures of it has been that it set the focus on the head over the heart, which has been damaging to both culture and environment through reductionism and specialization (which, like most negatives, also had their positives). But in one sense the main agenda of Enlightenment philosophers was to open individuals to engage their own intelligence and have their own agency. They trusted the individual’s ability to reason and use their heads.

Independent thought has often been considered dangerous, both then and now. But consider divergent thinking as a type of independent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to see multiple routes to the same destination (or to be able to envision an entirely different destination altogether), or multiple uses for one object, rather than just one pre-determined route or use. This is the foundation of creativity, and creativity is exactly what is needed to shape a viable future.

Let’s consider the present. Information (and misinformation) is being spread at an amazingly rapid rate. The Internet is a kind of modern equivalent of the printing press. It is like a printing press blessed with a magic wand – it makes things bubble, sizzle, and turn to magic dust that is whisked away in the ether to emerge in 1,030,862 other “hits” in seconds. Want to build a chicken coop? YouTube it. Want to learn about intercropping on Andean terraces, or particle accelerators? You get the idea. Humans are learning a lot, about a lot of different things – and fast. But, more importantly, they are sharing their successes and failures with one-another, and by using this collective information, more and more people are able to branch out into divergent modes of being and thinking. It is too early to determine whether we are becoming smarter, as our phones tries to convince us, but at the very least we can say that something is happening to our intelligence.

What does this have to do with the USA’s independence? Well, (North)Americans have been known to have a sense of optimism, and a good, hefty laugh, albeit feigned or awkward at times. So in our finer moment’s we tend to expect a better future. We were also one of the first modern federalist states, wherein smaller, local governance is allowed and granted a level of autonomy within the national sphere. This allows for a fair bit if independent decision making for communities, although the leash has been shortened since our country’s founding. This may be the most important element in shaping our future – declaring community independence once again. An Independence Day for the modern world in which our national government, military, banks, and outrageously bloated corporations feel, well, too far away for us to really trust or lean on when we need them. And the vast majority of things that are important in day-to-day life could be left to sort out amongst neighbors – from what we buy, to what we eat, to what we do with available land. Consider the emergence of local and urban agriculture, community-based schools, local currency, or local energy grids. These are divergent ideas from divergent minds, acting creatively about a new kind of independence that gives primacy to the interdependence of all aspects of life in all corners of the planet. And this could be all the more possible with the ballooning access to information.

The Farmette has had interesting experiences with these themes recently, from Joel Salatin’s visit last fall (www.polyfacefarms.com), to the Democracy School’s workshops this winter (www.celdf.org/democracy-school), to a visit from Boulder’s Unreasonable Institute fellows (www.unreasonableinstitute.org). These are each examples of a new kind of independence in which individuals and communities take more agency in shaping their future, revisiting a few of the more nobler Enlightenment ideals such as the use of freethinking and creativity in place of fear.


The Heat of the Summer

Rising Creek Digressions VIII – a weekly (sometimes) bucolic blog by Tim Hare

As we have passed the solstice and turn the corner of summer I felt inspired to write a poem to summer’s generosity, and gravity – to the need for the hard work of cultivating food to continue while most others take vacations. This summer is a unique one, most definitely one to be taken seriously. Speaking of which, stay tuned for next week’s Fourth of July special!

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Summer In All Seriousness

Summer is for the sun

For the great flame

Don’t take this the wrong way, but

I assure you

That fire makes summer

 

Fire in the furnace

This is the stuff

Of growth

 

Summertime is

Make it

Or break-time

 

Half of the year, days grow longer

New rays of light

Add day to night

 

Half of the year, days grow shorter

Each passing day

Swaps stars for sunlight

Contraction for expansion

Obscuration over illumination

 

Light dwindles yet

Ahead we have

The hardest days

 

We tread our way

Against the most powerful forces

After the summer solstice

Half-way to the solace

Of still winter

 

Start now

We can begin to take things seriously

Because if not now?

 

If a bee wants honey

Fly now

 

If a farmer wants a harvest

Work

Now

 

The Farmette’s summer schedule is now packed with dinners, volunteer groups, weddings, our weekly farm stand, and other inspired gatherings and we’re looking forward to sharing in the frenzied summer celebrations with you all.

As the days grow shorter after the solstice, some things have had a way of easing off and lightening up, while others have a way of picking up. Folks are feeling a need to keep working hard, especially as the dry-spell lingers on, but also enjoying kicking back by the creek, partaking in the upcoming music festivals, or heading out on nearby trails, rocks, and rivers. We still need a lot of help in the fields, so please join us during volunteer days. We’d also encourage folks to make Sunday a local produce shopping day and come on down to our stand for seasonally available foods. And foods most definitely become more fun as the summer moves along, with cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes dropping their tasty fruits.

Enjoy your Fourth of July!


“Hey, your faucet’s dripping money!” A local vocal

Rising Creek Digressions VII – a weekly bucolic blog by Tim Hare

As a Natural Resources student at Colorado State I attended a presentation by Wes Jackson of The Land Institute in Kansas in which he fielded a question “Which is better, local or organic food”? He replied in favor of both, but that forced to choose, he would pick the former. This question is perhaps the most important of all in the realm of sustainable and ethical food systems.

The USDA defines “local” as either coming from the same state or within 400 miles from the origin of the product. But there is more to this. Shopping locally is not just a distance but also a state of being, an intention. Common values, interests, and a sense of a shared future are what define communities. So what is really in conversation here is the design of the systems in which we live.

There are a number of ways local agriculture has manifest – farmers’ markets, farm-to-table dinners or community-supported agriculture. Farmers’ markets are not only fringe occurrences in progressive towns, they are properly woven into the weekly routine of many communities across the country – over 5,000 of them at last count. Farmers’ markets are one aspect of the broader concept of local economies.

One principle of permaculture design recommends keeping energy high in the system: build swales to slow gravity’s pull on water flow, use rainwater catchment, ponds, etc. The same principle is at work with local economies, you are conserving financial energy high in the system, holding it close to home, for yourself and for your neighbors for as long as possible. Not hoarding, but consciously consuming. It’s kind of like fixing the leaky faucet in your bathroom, so you can use it when you need it.

A commonly cited study on bookstores found that of $100 spent at a large chain, only $15 remains in the local economy, while $45 remains when spent at a local bookstore. When you shop online the number is virtually zero.

On one side you can consider shopping locally because it is good for those in your community, which makes you feel good and improves quality of life and interpersonal rapport. On another, you can also consider it as good for yourself, since increasing local wealth has a tendency to increase quality of life for everyone around. So, you may pay more for a mesclun salad mix grown here in Lyons than you would at Costco. But when you pass the cash (or, maybe it’s barter instead of cash) off directly to the person who grew it, you know that that person will have more to spend at your local coffee shop. And then when they buy their double mochachino at your local coffee, they know that you will . . . and on. This is true and honest wealth generation defined by John Maynard Keynes as the “multiplier effect”. It actually works, and it is no coincidence that poorer regions of the country rely most heavily on large chains.

The success of a system’s design can be assessed against its intended function. It should also be assessed based on its resiliency and in consideration of the elements that have been left out (basically on its honesty, integrity and “blind spots”). A market, in a globalized capitalist model, has the intended design of moving goods and services to the consumer in the quickest and cheapest way possible. The producers win when they can make things cheaper and move them faster, while the consumers win when they can have an abundance of goods and services in their lives. It could also be argued that it has made life more comfortable and “easier”, as these seem to be values of many humans. Within these intended functions, global capitalism functions amazingly well. But what has been left out? And what of its resiliency?

The short answer is that the majority of costs have been left out. The cumulative costs are astonishing, in the cultural and ecological realm, where ecosystems and human systems are being devoured almost as fast as Big Macs. The cost of losing a species or losing an indigenous language is relegated to the realm of “market externalities”.

As for durability, let’s consider the fact that the very foundation of our entire economy is built on credit – the loaning of money, at interest, for future re-payment. The root of the word “credit” comes from the Latin credo, meaning “to believe” or “trust”. This is a revolutionary idea, and has its place for sure. But what happens when people stop believing or trusting? Think 1929 stock market crash, 2000 default in Argentina, or recently and ongoing financial issues in the US and Europe. As for trust, maybe the old credo of “never trust a stranger” is most appropriate here.

Moving the conversation to a positive realm, what is important is not about being in opposition to large, global economies, but being for local economies, because local economies are actually better and more successful within a broader set of criteria. Global economies are very effective at delivering cheap products and (occasionally) macroeconomic growth to an increasing number of regions around the globe. So within a value system that defines this as success, sure, the system is successful. But local economies are softer on the environment, better at generating local abundance, have a tendency to expand social capital (i.e. human-to-human contact), and even have the potential to eliminate international conflict. I may be so bold as to say this is the most powerful solution to the environmental, social, and political woes of our world. In a polarized, oppositional climate, it is easier for folks to be against things – against big oil, against big government, against war. This is a rare opportunity activists to say YES instead of NO.

The Farmette kicked off its weekly market this past Sunday. Featured items were the Heirloom food truck and the day’s harvest – Swiss chard, kale, a spicy salad mix, glorious stalks of delphinium, and bundles of chamomile, and sage, among others. And the season is just getting rolling. It most definitely set the stage for a stellar year of sharing community and shopping locally. Come join us next Sunday!


MyCelia

Rising Creek Digressions VI – a weekly bucolic blog by Tim Hare

This post inspired by Sam and Annie, for Celia Luna Hare, born May 25th, 2012

One and a half billion years ago, fungi made their way onto land, long before plants and animals. This is the biological kingdom that includes mold, mushrooms, and yeast. The famous Mycologist, Paul Stamets, points to research showing that they were a pioneer kingdom of “higher” life-forms, creating a land that was then habitable by plants and animals, because they created soil. As they made their way over the terrestrial earth, they blanketed every mineral surface of this newly constructed landmass with networks of mycelia, the “body” of many fungi. They wove their way through cracks in rocks and began to do what they do, break things down and re-purpose them for future life. During this time they were almost the sole inhabitants of the earth (excepting microscopic organisms), with massive mushrooms sprouting in the otherwise barren landscape.

This is not a Ken Kesey kind of vision, but one possible scientific history of the earth that we inhabit; and upon this blanket of mycelia, the rest of organic life has set up its existence. These mycelia are kind of like the nervous system of our planet, a system that has breadth, and ubiquitous reach and communication, but no real tangible form. In this vein, at least two other mycological mentors, Terrence Mckenna and Richard Evans Shultes associate the use of psilocybin mushrooms with (early) religious experiences, cognitive development, and even the evolution of human consciousness. But that digression is for another piece.

Don Alberto, a traditional Huachipaire medicine man in the Peruvian Amazon, showing  of his harvest

Fungi are largely microscopic or even fully invisible phenomena, and for this reason they are barely understood in the life-sciences, perhaps less than any other kingdom. They live, almost entirely, inside of other things (soil, dead logs, skin tissue), only popping their heads out into this world to fruit, which is only a tiny fraction of their existence – most of their anatomy you can’t really see. Break apart soil that has mycelial growth and you can identify it as the powdery-white stuff that looks like cotton-candy. Mycelia is actually a weave of infinitely small hyphae that creep between everything from rock crevices to cell walls, passing nutrients and information back and forth. The Fungi kingdom is the macabre one, but for this it is also the one closest to new life. Fungi decompose everything that was alive, and ecosystems without it are only partly alive.

We have been testing mycelial benefits in the soil here at the Farmette, sprinkling fungus dust on our soil and new transplants. It is also coming in from the piles of mulch and compost dumped on the fields. This will fortify and activate the soil, stimulate nutrient uptake in the crops, and make a more resilient and pest-resistant ecosystem. In addition to soil health, mycelia has the potential for more miraculous feats, having been found consuming radioactive waste in Chernobyl, as well as eating plastics and petroleum in the Amazon, and returning each to benign states.

Mycelia, the back-end networks of mushrooms, are largely a mystery. But this isn’t surprising; all of biology is a mystery when we trace life back to its source – not just the how, what, and where of existence but the why, from what, and from where. Making a big jump to cosmology, where do we locate the wellspring of the infinite animate souls that pop forth into this world? Is there one? And what is it? If there is an omnipresent source for all life, then mycelia are an apt metaphor. A mushroom from a mycelial network is like the birth of a new soul into this world, stemming from the universal source of all souls, which is infinitely beautiful, pervasive, and intangible.

Or if you don’t want dive into religious ponderings, how about psychological? Consider the collective unconscious of Carl Jung. Mycelia, like the collective unconscious, are everywhere at once and nowhere in particular. They exist threaded through all other things, from whence the occasional fruit pops forth, bringing potential for new life and growth. Ideas and archetypal images, like mushrooms, pop up in our minds whether we live in Borneo or Boulder, and regardless of our upbringing or time in history.

The point is that each of these things is formless, largely inexplicable, and move from one place to the next as if through ether. Considering fungus beat all other complex life to land, formed the foundation for all higher life, and that it is the one kingdom most responsible for returning ashes and dust to new life, maybe there is more to this than just metaphor.


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