Friday, November 26, 2010

Lie Fallow

It's finally cold in East Tennessee. There was small spitting snow flying around today while we uncovered the vegetables at Beardsley. Everything that remains in our garden beds is slowing, withering, fading, and lessening (with the exception of bok choy and cabbage). This time of year inspires me to wear out seed catalogs scheming of things to plant in spring. Despite longing for warm weather and the chance to be outside again, winter is a good reminder of the importance of rest. We know we need rest but seem to be programed in this culture to judge down time as "unproductive" and "lazy."
In traditional agriculture (and by traditional I mean that which was practiced in pre-industrial communities) farmers were urged to let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. This meant letting the field sit for an entire year without seeding it for production. The practice let a heavily worked field build back up an important level of soil health, but I like to imagine that the practice of letting a field lie fallow is also about humility and letting go of control. It reminded the farmer that there was a life of the land beyond its production.

We don't stop working in the winter, or ever really, but it seems an appropriate time to slow down and look at things differently. Perhaps even to set down and let rest the ideas, cliches, and beliefs we work so hard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Personal History

The November 22, 2010 issue of the New Yorker is the food issue and includes a fine essay by Jane Kramer about root vegetables. (You read the abstract here.) Her piece, which the magazine files under "Personal History" is a great example of how our habits are determined by cultural and personal experiences as much as, if not more so than, by the logic of what is good for us.

This idea of culture and traditions influencing diet and behavior reminds me of an article I read about, but did not read, by Ellyn Satter, in which she applies Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to the food choices. She was responding specifically to the idea that poor people with bad health are guilty of making bad choices or ignorant of the good foods they should be choosing. (This links to the pdf of the article.) Here you can see the hierarchy she establishes.

It would be interesting to consider applying this hierarchy (or Maslow's original hierarchy) to the idea of land use and stewardship. Recreational land use in which we test ourselves physically and seek the sublime would be a the top of my pyramid, but I'm not yet sure how to sort out things like agriculture and transience. Would we consider stewardship a foundation of this pyramid or a step to be established after certain base criteria are met? According to the Urban Land Scout model, one begins with observation of the world. So perhaps a baseline awareness of the natural world is the foundation on which we build.

I find myself returning to that foundation of Observation time and again with both stewardship and other work. There is a stillness and humility in observing something without judgment or intention. It is difficult to see without projecting what we think we know.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Local Food and Criticism

This article addresses and refutes the idea of local food being "elite." As with many articles on the internet today, there is healthy dialogue in the comments extending and arguing the author's points. While I am glad to read a piece that tackles the charge of local food elitism, I question her assertion "that the accusation that local food is elitist is actually a product of the industrial food infrastructure - that is, the requirements of an industrial food system, the presumption that the basic structure of food production should be industrialized is what makes the price of good food higher."

Will stew on this.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


What abundance. Hard to imagine it now that the weather has cooled so much.
Image from Urban Land Scout, Shannon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Seed Bombing

This lovely image of seed bomb use comes from Shannon, an advanced level scout and urban gardener. She's also very handy with the Adobe Suite.

Take note that most of the successful seed bombs were mowed within weeks. The most successful plants will be in areas that are never mowed or that can be protected somehow.

Congratulations Shannon.