Friday, July 22, 2011

But honey, think of the property value...

I've been thinking a lot about the recent "vegetable felon" cases.  I'd be surprised if anyone reading this blog hasn't heard about them, but the ones I'm familiar with are the "Julie Bass in Oak Park, MI" case, the "Compassion Farm" case, and the "Terrorized by CEDA" case.  The cases are all a bit different, and go to different extremes (i.e., threat of three months in jail, six months in jail, and the property being seized by the city and demolished, respectively).  But no matter how psycho the aims of each are (property demolition, srsly?), there is a common thread underlying all of them--no one wants to see your veggies.

From here on out, I'm basically only going to talk about the Julie Bass case, partially because it's the one I'm the most familiar with, and partially because the other two are so off the deep end crazy that it will only obscure my ultimate point (yes, this post has been brought to you today by an actual point).  So here's the basic scoop:  the city dug up her front lawn to do some needed sewer/drainage repairs--cool, thanks for that.  Then she needed to repair her front lawn because, well, it was big piles of dirt.  The family decided to put in a vegetable garden (after, they thought, obtaining permission from the city).  Ordinance violation citations followed, and now the City of Oak Park is the preferred internet pariah for their Stepford Neighborhood goals (apparently the Casey Anthony thing finally ran its course).

Basically up to speed now?  Good, because I'm going to say something very surprising, that I doubt you would expect to see from my fingertips--I sympathize with the surrounding homeowners.  Please note that I did not say I agree with them, but I do have sympathy for them.  How not?  They're a product of their generations, their society, their upbringing.  Look, I'm a trained philosopher.  One of the real downsides to this is that I am pretty good at seeing both sides of an argument.  It does a great deal of damage to otherwise wonderful rants of righteousness.  (But woe betide the world when, after careful consideration and seeing both sides, I still have enough venom for one side to launch into a rant.)  So unfortunately for me, I can understand the surrounding homeowner's positions.  They bought their houses with certain expectations about the nature of the neighborhood, its look, and the probable nature of their property value.  And they're concerned that the vegetable garden in the front yard will do harm to some or all of these.

Furthermore, they're right.  The vegetable garden probably will affect the character of the neighborhood, the look of the neighborhood, and will likely harm their property value.  [NB:  did you see what I did there?  I only claim that one of those three will actually do harm.  Sneaky am I.]  And this brings me, circuitously, to my point.  We now live in a society where being forced to see food growing nearby is considered harmful.  I don't think anyone seriously believes that if those garden beds had been filled with flowers, that Julie Bass would currently be in the media, or would be enduring harassment by anyone.  Besides, the citations specifically cite the vegetables as the problem.

I was mulling this fact over in my head while working in my own garden tonight.  And yes, it was hotter than Hades, let's just get that out of the way right now.  What is so offensive about vegetables?  I mean, there are many things that will lower a neighborhood's property value:  the presence of crack houses, the installation of a waste dump, the house collapsing or being obviously derelict and falling apart, etc.  I totally get why any reasonable neighborhood wouldn't want that sort of thing, and why there would be ordinances to assist in preventing or dealing with those situations.  Is "seeing food growing" on the same list as "waste dump"?

Yes, seeing food growing is indeed on the same list in a great number of neighborhoods in our country.  And honestly, I think that this fact all by itself goes a long way towards explaining the mess we're in as a nation right now.  What hope could a country have that can no longer endure the sight of food in its natural state?  What is the worth of a citizenry that thinks so highly of itself that not only does each individual feel that he/she does not have to stoop to the level of farmer, but that person can actually bring the law to bear on anyone who forces them to have contact with farming or gardening or food growing in any form.  You see, I might have some sympathy with those poor, benighted neighbors, but I've lost all sympathy for the culture that spawned them.

At root, I think this is a class issue--most things in America are anymore.  What is wrong with seeing food growing?  The same thing that's wrong with seeing laundry hanging to dry, or chickens in the backyard, or any other of the myriad potential offenses that HOAs across America decry.  It's not that it looks unseemly, it's that it looks poor.  We associate growing food with poverty, and thank god we don't have to grow our own food anymore because now we're RICH!  We can afford to make other people do it for us!  (And pay them poorly, and make sure we never see them, and often bring in slave labor to make sure our prices are acceptable.)  And we can afford machines to dry our clothes for us!  And chickens?!  O.M.G., those were from, like, the depression days or something.  No one in their right mind would want to do anything like that again!  Well, except for those folks who were too dumb to become investment bankers or interior designers. They can still do those things, but *ahem* Certainly Not Us.

So I guess my take-home message here, for what it's worth, is that this isn't about an insane property inspector in Oak Park (although that doesn't help), or about an abusive city government, or a freedom fighter woman defending her land (god bless her for it, though).  This is far more systemic than that.  It's about a society that is so deeply, fundamentally broken to its core that it can no longer endure sight of the most basic things that got us out of the trees and made us human beings in the first place.  We've become totally and utterly ungrounded as a nation and a society.

So just imagine how hard its going to go when our economy finally does bite it.

Have a happy weekend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No flogging!



I got my whole list done--DONE, I SAY!  And I was having a record-breaking crappy weekend.  Crappy enough that today at church, various kind people approached me quietly to make sure everything was okay.  Well, no, not a bit actually.  But nothing is wrong that I'm at liberty to discuss (and yes, that includes here as well, sorry).  And having that list of stuff to do hanging over my head did wonders for focusing the mind--sort of like the hangman's noose.  It actually provided some respite for the tormenting thoughts I was otherwise having.

So what did I accomplish?  Let's review:

  • temporary chook pen:  done and done.  It is the definition of the word "kludge," but that's where my DIY skills max out, so it's just as well.  I'll try to get pics soon.  The baby chicks are now happily installed in their new homes, protected from outside evils like raccoons, owls, and the adult hens eyeballing them through the chicken wire.  The interior of the pen is a bit difficult to access--I did mention that it's a total kludge, right?--but otherwise, it's all good.  And though it was designed to be temporary, I might keep it up as an isolation area, in case I have a sick chick, or a bully that needs to get taken down a peg or two.  Of course, if I do, then my next weekend list will have to include "paint roof of temporary chook pen."
  • I made the new waterer with the chicken nipple, and gods alive, they figured it out!  I ended up using the "put jam on the nipple to encourage them" method, which was just the trick.  The babies now have fresh and clean water in an easy-to-refill setup.  And the hens have taken notice since they've been outside.  I think I'll make another one and hang it on the outside of the pen, near where the baby chick's one is, and see if the old hens can be taught any new tricks.  (Wondering what the hell I'm talking about?  Click here.)
  • I made a wheel of Wensleydale.  I'm not sure how it will turn out, though.  I might've been too rough with the curd during several of the milling steps, and it's also really quite hot in our house.  I think the combination of these two factors might have created a "catastrophic butterfat loss" situation--it was leaking out everywhere.  Ah well, we won't know for another 3 weeks when it comes out of its cave.  My guess is that it'll be good, but very crumbly rather than smooth and creamy.  Live and learn, right?
  • Garden paths:  weed-whacked.  And I totally deserved the flying object right in the eye, since I couldn't be bothered to take an additional 5-10 minutes tracking down my safety glasses.  No harm done, but it was a good warning shot.
  • Blackberry brambles are as back under control as I'm likely to get them this year.  And some of the blackberries are neeeeaaarrrrllllyyyyy ripe.  Mmmm, blackberries...
So I'm digging this whole "public accountability" thing--I got more done this weekend than I have in a long time.  On the other hand, that's just about the maximum I can get done in one weekend, and I really didn't have any time to relax or enjoy myself.  True, I do enjoy doing much of what was on my list, but a bit of time to kick back, read, spin some yarn, whathaveyou?  Yeah, that didn't happen.  Maybe I'll get some spinning done tonight.  I've got some lovely suri alpaca roving gifted to me by my dear friend Dave, and I've been itching to get to it (and he's been needling me, too).  Pretty soon I'll be getting my niece's adopted llama's fleece to process, which he'll be helping with, so I'd better clear this other roving out of the way first, right?


Thursday, July 7, 2011

This weekend

Okay, here's the deal.  I am going to very, very publicly proclaim Those Things What I Will Do This Weekend(tm).  You, in turn, will publicly shame me until I actually accomplish at least half of what I list.  No, you do not get to shame me until Monday.  Yes, flogging is approved (but only with wet noodles).  But I draw the line at being put in the stocks--how am I supposed to finish my list then?!

So, here's the list:

  • Finish the temporary pen for the new chooks.  (No, I'm neither British nor Australian, I'm just a snob and I like that bit of slang.)
  • Create a new water-feeder for the baby birds using the water nipples (damnit, one set of birds is gonna figure this thing out if it kills me).
  • Make a new wheel of cheese--my husband has selected Wensleydale (Hi Wallace!!!).  I shall be following the method a la Monsieur Gavin, my new favorite cheese blog.  Okay, my only favorite cheese blog.  But if there were more than one cheese blog out there, and even if lots of them were my favorites, I think that Gavin's would still be my most favorite.
  • Weed-whack the garden paths.  Again.  (Godsdamned crabgrass.)
  • Get my blackberry canes back under control.
I pulled my first potato out of the ground today.  Lunch tomorrow!

And hey, did I tell you guys that I've made my first Cheddar?  It's true!  At least, I really hope it's my first Cheddar.  I guess we won't know until we actually try it.  It might be my first, "Dear, I'm not sure this is Cheddar."  (Sort of like "I can't believe it's not butter" but ... well ... not.)  Right now it's in a little cooler in front of a fan, sitting on top of a plastic thingy of ice, developing a rind.  I'm then going to vacuum seal it (unless my mom gets me cheese waxes for my birthday, in which case I'll wax it), and put it into *da da daDUM* The Cheese Cave.  What's with the cooler?  Well, it's like 85*F in our house right now, which is well and truly too warm to be letting a cheese sit out to develop a rind--it will start leaking oil everywhere.  So I've tried to put it somewhere that it will stay at least in the mid-70's.  And the cheese cave?  What, do you think I did major excavation on my house last week?  *snort* If you haven't figured out how much I suck at DIY yet, you haven't been around long.  I scored a sweet little dorm fridge off of Craigslist for $30.  I just plugged it in and set it at its warmest setting, and we'll see where that leaves us.  Cheddars should age at ideal temps of around 50*-60*F, which I sorely doubt the fridge will achieve.  I may put it on a timer and only run it for a few hours a day, see if that works.  If I get both desperate and dedicated to cheesemaking, I may spring for the $75 external thermostat.  And if I get dedicated to cheesemaking and my husband gets re-dedicated to beer & soda-making, we might spring for a full-sized fridge for our basement (which is also about 70*F).  

Hm.  There were a lot of "and"s running around that last paragraph.  In italics, even.

I'm having a great deal of fun at work these days.  We've got a great group of new interns who are all completely keen to learn whatever we have to teach them.  We'll be doing farm field trips, breadmaking and cooking workshops, environmental philosophy seminars, spiritual direction meetings, and oh so much more!  I'm completely psyched!

And, in my final story for the night, I'm reasonably sure I've been given approval from my boss to become our resident herbalist.  SCORE.