Monday, May 03, 2010

There is a time to sew, and a time to write

All the cool kids in the neighborhood are turning into farmers.

Jimmy down the street dug up his backyard and planted a corn field. His plan is to use his corn for ethanol production and later, carve out a baseball field because if you build it, Kevin Costner will come over.

Ricky is growing wheat to make his own bread, as did William Alexander is his new book "52 Loaves: A Quest for the Holy Grain." NPR interviewed the author on Sunday morning.

Melanie and her kids are planting a vegetable garden and raising chickens. They're going to to eat the vegetables and the fresh eggs and eventually dispatch the chickens for Sunday dinner.

My plans are modest. Expand my vegetable garden by a few cubic yards. Plant tomatoes, beans, various lettuce varieties, spinach, broccoli, peas. I'm hoping the strawberries come in after a winter under layers of mulch. I'm hoping to get a few more plums from my plum tree and apples from my apple tree.

But no chickens. Neighborhood chicken-raising should be encouraged. If you know anything about corporate chicken-farming, you'll want to avoid the grocery store brands. Local purveyors of chicken and beef and bison sell their wares at farmers' markets.

My grandparents would get a kick out of us urban and suburban farmers. Three of my four grandparents grew up on farms. My fraternal grandmother, Florence, was a Baltimore city kid. Her family probably had a garden, as did most people back then. My maternal grandfather, Martin, grew up in the rocky wilds of Ireland's Roscommon County. The family farmed something. Grandpa was never specific, but it probably was potatoes. In America, he always had a garden. So did my fraternal Grandfather Raymond, who grew up on a farm outside Iowa City. Raymond grew beautiful tomatoes in his Denver garden. Iowa farm boys know how to grow things.

With the exception of a few real farmers and some back-to-the-land hippies, my generation worked to be as far away from the sources of food production as possible. Suburbs gobbled up farm land for big houses and huge stores, including Super Wal-Marts and the ever-expanding grocery store. Out in the hinterlands, farms got bigger with the rise of corporate ag. Cows and pigs and chickens were raised in factories. Gigantic food distribution systems were created to meet the demand. Ridiculously low fuel prices made this system possible.

This shift to corporate ag and corpulence has been well-documented in books (Michael Pollan) and films ("Food, Inc.").

Now we're all gardeners and we frequent farmers' markets. We say nice things about family farmers and curse the corporations. Yesterday, I read an L.A. Times article about an ex-Marine who formed a company that builds, maintains and harvests backyard gardens for suburbanites. First we pause to say tsk-tsk to those Yuppies too lazy or busy to garden. Secondly, though, we have to admire the pluck of this entrepreneur, who's seen an opportunity and seized upon it. New green jobs are created with this new cadre of "Mr. Greenjeans." And, when it comes right down to it, a backyard garden is a backyard garden. Here's another batch of veggies that's homegrown and not shipped from far away places.

I'll remember this in a few weeks when I'm down on my knees sewing seeds and replanting seedlings. There is a time to sow, and that comes late in May in Cheyenne, Wyoming. There is a time to reap, as long as the wind and the frost and the hail don't get the plants. When the planting is done, I can sit back, sip a Fat Tire, and admire my handiwork. I will be serenaded by a symphony of Melanie's backyard chickens.


bigfrank said...

Chicken laws need to be changed in much of this country. With the fear of grasshoppers instead of the state forcing land owners to spray they should give out hopper killers in the form of chickens.
There is so much we can do and this state can do. How about fruit trees in city parks instead of nothing trees. Free for all. Pick all the fruit you can get! Trees on the side of the road. Sucking up all that CO2 that they need to live and that the great government says is poison.
Increase your yard value by planting an arctic kiwi, grapes grow great here, blackberry, hops and such.
Also put down the fat tire and brew your own. I havent bought a store beer for a few years now. it is so easy to do and better all around for the enviroment. You get great compost or chicken feed along with better tasting beer.

mpage225 said...


Let's hope Melanie's chickens are all hens. My neighbor had a rooster a while back and just as advertised, they do the old cock a doodle do thing at the crack of dawn. Not fun and I was quite relieved when they finally disappeared.