Can a Year on a Farm Based on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Work?

Barbara Kingsolver with Steve L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food. HarperCollinsPublishers. 2007.    

Barbara Kingsolver says in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food, “Our culture is not acquainted with the idea of food as a spiritually loaded commodity. We’re just particular about which spiritual arguments we’ll accept as valid for declining certain food. Generally unacceptable reasons: environmental destruction, energy waste, the poisoning of workers. Acceptable: it’s prohibited by a holy text.” (p. 67). I say both our land and the food produced on that land must be treated as unequivocally holy! 

 As I began to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I felt that the spirituality and holiness she describes is at odds with who does and doesn’t have accessibility to green places including farms. Certainly, the upper middle- or upper classes could pull off living off the land as an experiment.

I had another response to the book: I realized I shared some of Kingsolver’s ideological and practical concerns about American foodways. Louisiana Voices defines foodways as, “obtaining, preparing, serving food and stories and beliefs about food.”  Perhaps considering some of these concerns could be a bridge to the spiritual and holy when it comes to land and produce.  

Stepping back a bit, Kingsolver describes the purpose of her family’s foodways journey and book: “We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground. (p. 3). She got away from a life in Tuscon where distributors ship in food from far-away places and water is running so low that in the near future it will not support the existing population. Here are the costs: fuel must be purchased to ship the food and when water is diverted to desert places like Arizona someone else has diminished access to water.     

Kingsolver and her family moved from Arizona to the southern Appalachia to live off the fruits of their labor on a farm and limit their purchases to local farmers. The Kingsolver clan made it sound relatively simple: relocate and then experiment on the land for a year.   

 Let’s think it through. “A Year of Food” requires resources, which includes money for expenses, and comfortably owning or renting a working arable farm. Before actually arriving at a farm, the average working- to middle-class family would have to turn on the utilities in a new home–that would be the farm–which could be a challenge. One might ask: Can they afford the gas for the car to make the move? What about motels and food on the way? Can they pay the start-up for some of the utilities? Will they have to physically go and pay with cash or a money order to turn on utilities because of a poor credit rating that does not allow for easy transactions by phone, mail, or the internet? These are real questions and concerns for people living pay check to pay check. Forget actually getting to the point of owning a farm. Most people are not privileged. Kingsolver and her family already own a farm.   

Class is a factor. So too is ethnicity. The farm families around her were probably predominantly white though she is not explicit concerning this point. There is a tension here for me. I grew up in Queens, New York in Rosedale, a working class neighborhood of people of African descent. Later as an adult, I lived in Lawndale, California in a working class Latino neighborhood. I’m not sure if many of the people in either ethic group would readily relate to Kingsolver’s agricultural experiment. Some who work the land to survive might see it as a working holiday. The ethnic disconnect and lack of diversity was problematic, typical of broader environmentalism, including the foodway movements.    

With that said, Kingsolver gives the reader much to think about through her beautifully written prose. Many of her suggestions are achievable without going through the financial duress of relocating and purchasing a farm. Consider two ways or reconfiguring Kingsolver’s experiment for regular folks with finite resources.    

Green tomatoes: it's only June.

  • Farmers Markets: Kingsolver does rely on and support the local farmers market near her farm. You too can do the same since these markets are in many cities across the US. The other benefits are eating local organic foods, and diminishing the fuel used to transport produce. Right now I am in Tennessee and plan to visit the Memphis Farmer’s Market downtown.
  • Indoor Plants and Gardens: The author had a flower garden that was part of the farm. This is not an option for many people live in apartments in cities or townhouses in the suburbs. In both types of housing, keep indoor plants, some that flower for the aesthetics. Consider growing herbs in a box on a window ledge. When I lived in Los Angeles I kept orchids, African violets, and a bonsai. Plants, particularly flowering plants, bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors, which I find soothing spiritually. Tending, watering, re-potting, and fertilizing plants is a break from hectic modern life. Community gardens in cities are another option working side by side with others or carving out a plot of your own. There are benefits to the physical labor of turning over the soil and weeding the rows of plants. At the end of the season, you can enjoy the produce, the fruits of your labor.

So there is a bridge between Kingsolver’s experiment and incorporating nature into the daily lives of regular people. 

Going a step further, I feel a connection with Kingsolver because of my own environmental concerns. I worry about the planet. I worry about the limits and our dependence on fossil fuels. I worry about how many Americans are disconnected from the land and don’t understand how plants actually get to the supermarket. 

Kingsolver develops a parallel argument: when the oil runs dry, and we have to return small-scale agriculture to sustain ourselves, we will not have the skills to produce much needed food in rural settings. 

Perhaps if we resolve to treat the land and our food as edible holy objects, we can save the planet for our children. 

Photos by Dianne Glave Except the Book Cover 

Advertisements

A Scratch-n-Sniff “All Shades of Green” Blog Carnival

Welcome to the April 2010 Diversity of Science Carnival (DiS) #9  titled “All Shades of Green” Diversity in Outdoor and Environmental Awareness. Details are already available for submissions for the next DiS Blog Carnival #10. Many thanks to Danielle N. Lee who was kind enough to invite me to guest blog at her DiS Carnival this month.   

I am Dianne Glave, your host at the center of the carnival ring of bloggers. Our theme is all things April: celebration of earth day, arbor day, environmental awareness and all  earthy-eco-related things through the written word and images of the blog. There’s some scratch-n-sniff in here too. I am excited about this month’s submissions.   

Each blog highlights the April theme of “All Shades of Green” Diversity in Outdoor and Environmental Awareness. In addition, I asked contributors to describe the smell of April and what they are up to.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Take a look at the blogs and their responses to my questions:   

Hatched from the Same Egg Interview with Jared Manos. “Sun warming the waxy green out of live oak tree leaves.” The second edition of Jared’s Ghetto Plainsman is available at your local Barnes and Nobles Bookstore.    

   

Anne Jefferson’s More Tributes to Reds Wolman From all Those Who Miss Him. “April smells like mud. And I mean that in a most complimentary way (I study mud).” She is in the midst of the end-of-semester hamster-wheel, trying to stay on top of courses and grading while keeping up with her own research sputtering along.   

∞     

Rue Mapp’s Easter Egg Hunt. “The smell of April is FRESH!” Rue Mapp, the goddess of all things outdoor and afro, just returned from the White House Summit in DC on Outdoor Recreation and the Environment. She will be running a program to connect kids and their parents to the great outdoors this summer.   

   

Danielle N. Lee’s Travelog San Francisco: Protecting the Coastal Bay. “April smells like flowers.” Danielle is graduating with her Ph.D. Learn more at her blog Urban Science Adventures!.    

Boys Scouts Planting a Tree, Cascade United Methodist Church

Rona Fernandez’s Turning Garbage into Black Gold. “The smell of April is green like moist grass after a rain, yellow like daffodils and blue like the sky after a storm. Rona is headed to the Macondo Writers Worship, hopefully to do more nature writing for Brown Girl Going Green blog!   

   

Suzanne E. Frank’s Weeding in the Forest. “April generally smells like freshly turned wet earth, and then, of course, the smell of new mulch that everyone is laying down all over.” Suzanne is busy with aa spate of plant sales and a flurry of planting, as she ends up buying more than  she can possibly fit into her garden beds, but will manage to pack in somewhere. 

 ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞      

Diana R. Williams’ Sharing Our Stories: After Natural Disaster. April smells like sweet rain, cool and refreshing.” As the president of Candler Women, she just accepted Emory University’s Campus Life Outstanding Student Organization Event Award for the 100 Women at Candler Luncheon.   

   

Kristina Necovska’s A Conversation wth Nalini Nadkarni, “Queen of Canopy Research.”   

Vegetables Just Pushing Up, Organic Garden, Emory University

 Susan Horton’s Everyday is Earth Day for These Women in Science.  

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞    

Sam Lemonick’s A Conversation with Seismologist Kate Hutton.   

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞    

At the Texaco

I smelled something too: April is the sweet smell of the honeysuckle that crept along the fence of the parking lot that was the playground at my Lutheran grade school. I snapped the base of the flower and drainied the sweet honey-taste into my mouth. I blogged April too in Bees and Boys at the Texaco and Sacred Moments: A Baby Owl and Two Strangers in a Parking Lot.   

Cherish the last smells, sights, tastes, and sounds of April.   

PHOTOS BY DIANNE GLAVE   

 

Hatched from the Same Egg: A Jarid Manos Interview

I’m excited because the second edition of Jarid Mano’s book Ghetto Plainsman is out and available at amazon.com and your local bookstore. Jarid is also busy with Restoration Not Incarceration, a program for teens that is part of the Great Plains Restoration Council.  

When I opened up Ghetto Plainsman I was struck that he was often asked, “What are you?” I get that too. I remember being in an elevator in Century City in Los Angeles. Some guy blurted out, “What are you?” I don’t remember what I said but was disturbed by that intrusive moment with a stranger. Jarid also looks like people in my family. Genetically we could be hatched from the same egg. Culturally too.  

Read more . . .  

Emdangered Fort Worth Prairie Park

DIANNE: Hello, my brother. Jarid, how about we interview one another? You first.  

JARID:  That sounds good. I love that mutual.  Hope it’s all going down good out there in the ATL! You know I can’t wait to come back there.
D: When you come to Atlanta, you can be the tour guide so I can see the city through your eyes! Ok, how come you can’t keep your shirt on? I don’t see what that has to do with the plains.
J: Hahahaha…   You know, we crazie like that.
D:  We . . .  ha?! I keep my shirt on. Based on the “What are you?” question, what does being and feeling different define how you have related to the environment, nature?
J:  It seems that a lot of the time, people really want to put things (and others) into boxes, but that is so constraining and diminishing.  I’m not even sure this is done intentionally, it’s just become custom. For example, even the words “environment” and “species” sounds so objectifying, so separating, to me. Like they’re objects. I understand their usage, but on a personal, spiritual tip, it’s Earth and animals to me.    

Evita Tezeno, GPRC Board Member

My organization Great Plains Restoration Council does its ecological work through its social work, and when our Plains Youth InterACTION team is out  working to save the Fort Worth Prairie Park, we know this is a place of refuge, and the wildlife that thrives and flies and migrates and breeds and rests though this place is fam — family. We are proud to produce serious, high value conservation work, with the help of some of your best master naturalists and restoration ecologists, but our personal approach is different.  

Protecting the Earth and our children’s health and future is a civil right and responsibility. And ecology is a cultural and social movement. And animals are now objects and quotas, they are lives and cultures with stories and histories and yearnings that course like a creek through the prairie and our own lives.   

We belong, instead of being separate. Being different, opening new ways of looking at things that may have, beneath them, significant suffering,  sadness, and/or loss, yet immense opportunities for new millennial exhilaration, takes us to a new day where we can begin a deeper healing. In my opinion, without that, we are not moving forward.
D: You currently live in Houston, Texas. What’s it like for you in the city during the spring?  

J: I love Texas. I actually live in both Fort Worth and Houston, though I’m spending more time in Houston now as we develop new programming.  Houston is located in the original coastal prairie of Texas. It’s where the prairie meets the sea, two halves of a whole, the place of original fertility, and where it all began in 1528 when the Moorish slave Esteban the Moor washed ashore on Galveston Island with the ragged conquistadors Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, etc. 

Houston has changed dramatically over the last ten years — I think people elsewhere think of Houston as this big, polluted city, but while it still has work to do, I’m finding myself amazed at how livable and beautiful the city is. There are a lot of parks in the city, not least of which is Buffalo Bayou, the river that runs to and and through Downtown. They’ve kept it wild, and it’s like a linear little wilderness right through the city. Texas can get seriously cold during the winter when those frigid winds blow down across the plains from Canada, but winter doesn’t last too long, and we’ll warm up for days here and there even in the middle of the winter when the north winds don’t blow.  In spring, Texas all over bursts with wildflowers backed by lush green grasses, and you can watch them start to ripple northward from Houston to Fort Worth delayed by a few weeks. Also, since we’re less than an hour from the beach, you know we’re back out there in the water in  March, (though the ocean temps might still be a little uhhh cool.). 🙂  

Wild Flowers in the Foreground and Houston in the Background

D: Your book titled Ghetto Plainsman is in its second edition which was just released. Congratulations. Speaking of your book, hat is it like in April, in the spring on the plains?  

J: Thanks. That book took me over 8 years to write. What’s interesting about the plains is that we’re defined by sun, wind, grass and blue sky — and weather. In the winter, it’s a constant battle of the northerly or southerly winds. When a cold front comes down across the plains from Canada, you can track it as it causes a serious blizzard in South Dakota or Colorado and, while it modifies as it passes toward the lower latitude landscapes, you know you’ll be getting at least some very cold temps. In March, the winds pick up, as the increasing solar energy warms things, and by April, while we’ll still have some swings, we’re pretty much into the beginning of the long warm season by then. Neotropical migrant birds are nesting, in late April the Monarchs have come back up from Mexico, buffalo (where they exist, though there are still no truly “wild” buffalo except in Yellowstone and even there they are shot or hazed the minute they cross the Park boundary) will be calving, and out on the western High Plains we’re all looking forward to pronghorn antelope having their babies in May.

Kaiden, Jarid's Son on a Remnant of Coastal Plain on Galveston Island

D: I know there’s a focus on the plains in your non-profit Restoration not Incarceration? Tell us more.
J: Great Plains Restoration Council is the non-profit, Restoration Not Incarceration is our new program in planning and design now. RNI is emerging out of the successful practices and principles of our signature program Plains Youth InterACTION which basically has damaged young people healing themselves through healing our damaged native prairies and plains.  In Fort Worth, with the Fort Worth Prairie Park, our work is largely a preservation issue, since these 2,000 acres on the backdoor of 5 million people are part of the most endangered major ecosystem in North America.  

Restoration Not Incarceration. based in Houston, and addressing the coastal prairie, entirely a restoration issue, as averse to preservation, because there is less than 1% of the original native coastal prairie left and it’s on the verge of extinction. This work is being accomplished in partnership with the Harris County Attorney’s Office, Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, and Katy Prairie Conservancy. We are setting up a program where temporarily incarcerated individuals and probationers can enter a Three Tier program that will a.) provide skills-training, b.) social work in a trust and motivational environment, properly implemented, and c.) work in nature as a therapeutic modality.  We hope to have the first pilot effort up and running, with boots on the ground, by the end of December.  

Part of this initiative is also stimulating new green jobs in wildlands restoration– a whole new sector in the emerging Green Collar Economy.  Carbon pricing alone will be one of the economic drivers, because native prairies soak carbon from the atmosphere and their deep roots can sequester that carbon for 8,000 years or more in the soil.
D: April 22nd was Earth Day. What does the celebrations surrounds this day mean to you?
J: Sigh. I’m like that cartoon I saw once of a seagull looking over a pile of trash on the beach and saying, “What about the 364 other days?” 
D: Let’s shift a little. What does April smell like?  
Sun warming the waxy green out of live oak tree leaves.
D: From an environmental perspective, what’s next for you?  J: I’ve been involved in environmental and social justice work for a long time. GPRC passed its ten year anniversary this past October. It’s taken a long time to grow this non-profit from nothing, and now with my team in place, I am looking to grow exponentially and wield some real health for prairies and people on a scale that was only a dream when I first started.
J: Now it’s your turn.
D: Ah Jarid, we are out of time. Your turn will come. Let’s do this again over the summer. By that time we will be little brother and sister chicks with more to say about the great outdoors . . .  

Photos by Jarid Manos

Vibe Vixen O’ De’ Day: Responsibility, Environment, and Jewels

Anybody remember Vibe Vixen? The magazine didn’t last very long. Yet I miss flipping through the pages.  We still have the memories easily googled or binged on the internet. Here’s Kimora Lee Simmons on the cover going back to 2006.

Inside the pages of the magazine, I found some tips on being environmentally responsible concerning jewelry.  Go to page 95 for more. Hey, black people care about the environment too!

More people started thinking more about the source of their jewelry including blood or conflict diamonds with the theatrical release of “Blood Diamonds” starring Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo DiCaprio came out. Kayne West even rapped about the jewels in “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” My favorite part is Shirley Bassey laying down the track singing the classic “Diamonds are Forever.” A few of Kanye’s lyrics:

Good Morning, this ain’t Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms for real
Little was known of Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own
When I speak of Diamonds in this song
I ain’t talkin bout the ones that be glown
I’m talkin bout Rocafella, my home, my chain
These ain’t conflict diamonds,is they Jacob? don’t lie to me mayne
See, a part of me sayin’ keep shinin’

Learn more: “Diamonds of War: Africa’s Blood Diamond.”

Black and Birdwatching

That's Me in the Blue and Black Jacket With Students , Louisiana Coast Marshland, March 2005

I once birdwatched. In 2004, when I lived in New Orleans, I saw so many waterfowl in the springtime. One day, I spotted a bird with white feathers, yellow toes, and a black beak at Audubon Park in uptown New Orleans. A small part of the park, had a bit of marsh filled with birds, if I remember correctly. The Mississippi River wasn’t too far away either–probably less than a mile–another draw for birds. So it made sense that I spotted this waterfowl uptown. So ok, the bird had me intrigued: it was pretty.

I quickly ordered a laminated chart of southeastern birds and a bird guide. I learned that it was a Snowy Egret!

Snowy Egret

I kept the guides in my car so when I saw a bird that caught my eye while driving around southern Louisiana, I could identify it. Who knows where my guides ended up when I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta. I tried rooting around some closets to find them. No luck.

I had completely forgotten about my brief interest in birds until I picked up John C. Robinson’s  Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. Although the book is for everyone, Robinson does focus on African Americans. Many people often ask why African Americans do not enjoy the great outdoors, why they don’t embrace nature. Robinson gets more specific detailing why people of color, including African Americans, are not birders or birdwatchers.

He offers several reasons:

  1. Rejection of black culture: If blacks appreciate the outdoors, what is perceived as a white activity, then they are rejecting their own people and values (Robinson, 47)
  2. Lack of participation: If blacks do not see other blacks at birding clubs or organization, they generally won’t join (Robinson, 47)
  3. High cost: If blacks spend money on equipment like binoculars and hiking gear then who will buy the baby’s shoes and pay junior’s school fees? (Robinson, 51)
  4. Limitation of time: Blacks have little time for leisure activities because they are hustling to cover basic expenses like the electric bill  (Robinson, 52)
  5. Company and training: They cannot find company to go birding, nor is there anyone to teach them this outdoor activity (Robinson, 52)

Robinson also alludes to fear of wild places. And I would add a form of racism on the trail when whites stare at blacks who actually make it outside is a deterrent. And perhaps some would say birds were meant for plucking, cooking, and eating not watching.

Photo from early 1900s.

I say give it a try. Hey, I identified a Snowy Egret all on my own steam.

Black Heritage Month, Buffalo Soldiers, and Shelton Johnson

I will be a historian until the day I die. I can imagine reaching with my wavering hand stretched out for my computer so I can go look up something at the Library of Congress website. That’s why when Black Heritage Month comes in February, I perk up.

The celebration of African American accomplishments was launched by Carter G. Woodson, the granddaddy of African American history. He first named the annual celebration Negro History Week, which was later expanded to Black History Month. Many now call the month of February Black Heritage Month.

Gloryland by Shelton Johnson

I could go on and on about environmental (that would include technology, science and medicine in my mind) contributions by African Americans. I am inspired to share a few things in the month of February 2010.

The Buffalo soldiers first come to mind. I learned about them many years ago. I knew they were a branch of the U.S. military launched after the Civil War. I also knew of two stories of why Native Americans gave these African Americans the name  buffalo: Native Americans believed African Americans were fierce fighters and had curly hair much like the buffalo.

As for the environment, African American men in the military serving in the American West, crossed and worked on numerous landscapes from deserts to prairies after the Civil War. News of the publication of  Gloryland: A Novel by Shelton Johnson led me to look for more online in connection to the novel, which was revelatory. What I did not know was that Buffalo solders served as some of the first national park rangers in California!

Learn more about the Buffalo soldiers and Shelton Johnson:

President Barack Obama and Shelton Johnson

Shelton Johnson

http://shadowsoldier.wilderness.net

Johnson has worked for the National Park Service since 1987 and is currently one of few African American park rangers at park ranger in Yosemite Park. He appeared in Ken Burn’s “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea,” a PBS documentary film. In 2009, Johnson’s  Gloryland: A Novel  was published by Sierra Club Books. It is the story of Elijah Yancy who was born on January 1, 1863 and traveled West in the early 1880’s. The novel is filled with environmental themes including rich descriptions of the landscape Yancy traversed across the country.

Guest Blog: Grey Gundaker on African American Yards

No Space Hidden

For many years I was fortunate to visit and learn from around fifteen African Americans and their yards in detail. Most of the yards are located in small towns and cities in the South and a few are rural. I wasn’t looking at that them from an environmental perspective, but more at their design–the total layout as well as placement of plants, art works, and other areas.  I wanted to know what these places meant to their makers and neighborhoods.  Mainly I looked for memorials to ancestors and loved ones.  Each yard had areas that represented “wildness” and those that role modeled how to be “cultivated”–a mature, responsible person. These different areas has different contents. Wild parts were jazzier and looked like little forests. Cultivated areas were more symmetrical and planned. Eventually I realized that these yards built in some valuable information about an African American environmental philosophy that is very old and also mentioned in memoirs from the past  Some of the ideas in this philosophy  include:

  • We are part of  nature.  If we “lose our nature” we are in trouble, with no zest for living. So instead of nature– (or environment) —versus—society, there are three kinds of land/places in the world that involve different kinds of responsibility: Wild, settled (or cultivated) and ruined. The first two are both “natural.”
  • “Cultivation” does not oppose nature. We have to work with and in nature to grow plants and to mature as people. For example, it is a part of nature to make homes and take care of them.  But this care-taking and imposition of order can be too much– too rule-bound for good health, carried too far. So wild and cultivated ideally balance each other.   Kongo scholar Fu-Kiau Kia Bunseki has written: “a place with one kind of trees can never be a forest; it can only be an orchard.”
  • “Wild” places are defined as being unpredictable, beyond human control and diverse– not  pristine or untouched by people, as they is said to be in much mainline American environmental theory.  Wild places are unpredictable because the more diversity there is, the more that can happen. This as true in the city streets and in the forests. But diversity means wild places are where new, healing ideas and resources come from, too.
  • So wild and cultivated can cut both ways: to be right the have to interact and balance each other.
  • But RUIN IS “unnatural” because from a religious/moral perspective some place is only ruined through irresponsibility: it is an affront to God’s Creation.  Studying Old Field Succession is now a standard part of  environmental science.  But during Reconstruction after the Civil war, African Americans in Virginia called “old field” “ruined land.” They said that the plantation land had been “made” from wild into cultivated by their work and that the whites were too lazy to keep it up after they lost their forced laborers.  Saying that is an accusation of moral failure.

These words have given me a lot to think about. It seems like much African American environmental activism is directed at avoiding and healing human beings’ moral failures through pollution of the earth and bodies, too, through crack and drugs.  The aim of activism to restore well-being for all– not to get to a pristine state or remove human beings from the forests. Thus healing neighborhoods is as “natural” as  cleaning up a polluted river.  Anyway, I would really like to know what all of you are thinking and doing.

By Grey Gundaker

Read: No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African American Yard Work

Suggested Reading: Black & Brown Faces in American Wild Places

Photographed and Written by Dudley Edmundson, Cambridge, Minnesota: Adventure Publications, Inc., 2006.

Black and Brown Faces

I was on Amazon searching for books on African Americans and the environment. When I opened up the link to  Black & Brown Faces, I recognized two familiar faces: Frank & Audrey Peterman. They like nineteen others tell their own environmental stories within the broader tapestry of the broader African American communities. Shelton Johnson reminisces about traveling alone through Yellowstone Park by snowmobile to deliver mail. And like a griot, he recounts some of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers protecting national parks. Cheryl Armstrong also organized the James P. Beckworth Mountain Club to take urban African American children to wilderness places.

Pick-up a copy and read more.