Get back to where you once belonged. Get your hands dirty, with this week’s grow-op on Radio Ecoshock.
We’ll hear from the young farmers movement, with film maker and dirt farmer Severine von Tscharner Fleming of Greenhorn Radio. Community supported agriculture, organic, getting out, or grow where you are, feed the city, from the city.
Our second guest, Sharon Astyk, says we need a nation of farmers. As the oil and fertilizer get scarce, as climate disrupts the rivers and the crops, we all may need to know, how to feed yourself from the ground up. Places to start, ways to get going.
Radio Ecoshock digs in.
“Greenhorns” – it’s an old term from the American West, meaning a beginner. And Severine is part of a movement of new farmers. Many have not come from farming families, and so they need to start from scratch.
Severine describes many ways to get started. She took courses at an agricultural college, while working each summer on an organic farm. The Severine went around the world “WOOFING” – Working (Willingly) On Organic Farms. It is possible to follow the crops, learn from many different farming techniques, and get “free” room and board, in return for your hard work.
Severine also decided she was an animal person. Some folks specialize in raising vegetables, others fruit and nut trees, but our guest felt most at home with animal husbandry. So Severine traveled to Switzerland, where some of the world’s best small-scale dairies still operate. Learning to make cheeses in the old ways, and how to handle cows, in humane ways.
She also worked at Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s). This is an excellent way for beginning growers to get going. Expensive land can be a barrier to new farming. You’ll need some capital to prepare and plant, and banks don’t want to lend to greenhorns.
But CSA’s can be set up on leased or rented land, or even, as we’ll hear, on state or city owned land (where available). You get the end consumers, the “eaters”, to pay for the coming crop up front. Then, as various crops come in, the customers get a box of the freshest organic food anywhere, every week.
There is another variation, for those with access to a producing orchard, where customers (usually in the city) pre-pay for the crop from a specific tree. When the fruit comes in, they often pick it themselves, getting bushels of fruit the day it ripens.
I expect, as the economy tightens (and it will), and as more unemployed people want good food, that governments everywhere will look for plots of land that could be used for local food production. CSA’s could be the way to go – unless you have that lucky inheritance, or hard won savings, to buy your own property.
Either way, as Severine tells us, only 6 percent of farmers are under the age of 35 in America. The vast majority are around age 57, and want to retire soon. That is going to leave a huge gap in food production, and a possible loss of knowledge. And that is why the Greenhorns movement is finding new ways to support young people who want to get growing.
For example, when I was doing subsistence farming in Canada, I was lucky to find the very last of the old-time farmers still around. I went out to help them, herding in cows, or shoveling shit, which is honorable work on the land (especially if you get a pickup truck load of manure for your own big garden – that’s gold!). But we didn’t have a Wiki or contact with like-minded folks around the country.
Now the Greenhorns and many blogs provide that. You’ll find a country growing knowledge Wiki at thegreenhorns.net – plus a lot of other resources.
And maybe keep your eyes out for collections of old Mother Earth News magazines, plus the Rodale publications.
What a great resource we find in Sharon Astyk. Here is a young woman who can grow things, explain matters well, stimulate new thought, and still admit life isn’t perfect or easy.
I’ve followed Sharon’s blogs (she has two) for over a year. There is her main growing blog (http://sharonastyk.com) and another at the science blogs collection (http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/).
Sharon, husband, and child moved to a country property in New England. She dug in with subsistence farming, starting from scratch. Eventually Sharon had a CSA feeding about 20 families, but then had to decide between having time to write, or having time to feed a lot of other folks.
We’re lucky she chose to write, now with three books from New Society Publishers. There is the classic “Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front“, “A Nation of Farmers, Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil” (written with Aaron Newton), and now “Independence Days, A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation”.
All of them are tips on surviving with style, as you grown your own food and medicinal herbs.
We also talked about the relationship between city folks and those who go back to the land. Not everyone can just take off to try growing food. But everyone can help support community agriculture, buy only local organic food, and start growing right in the city.
When the oil was cut off to Cuba, the people of Havana started planting gardens everywhere. Eventually, the city largely supported its own need for produce.
Peak oil is upon us, and sooner or later oil and gas based fertilizers and pesticides will become very expensive, or hard to get. So it’s past time to get cities into growing mode.
We should tell that to the dunces at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. A group called “Food Not Lawns” dug in some raised beds at the lawn outside the university library. They planted good food and Permaculture shrubs. But the Administration had all that bull-dozed! Way to go, recognizing your students who know what is really happening! Way to support young people in their need to grow food! Idiots…
The students returned, replanted, and that was bull-dozed again. Now there is a fence around the site, with warnings to stay away. An institution firmly planted in the last century, holding on to lawns, not food.
But things are going much better in many parts of North America, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Cities are re-evaluating their anti-growing attitudes.
Here in Vancouver, the local council has just passed a by-law making chicken-keeping legal in the city. You must have a little room for them, and no roosters please! Roosters keep everyone awake, and are not needed to get eggs. It’s a progressive move, by a citizenry that are waking up to the need for local food production, and good farming practices.
Anyway, there is a lot for you to chew on in this Radio Ecoshock “Back to the Land!” special. I wouldn’t trade my ten years growing for anything else on Earth. And some day, I’ll get back to it.
Bumper music credits:
Crow Black Chicken Ry Cooder, album Boomer’s Story; Barnyard Dance Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson, album A Prairie Home Companion; Henry Hall & His Orchestra – The Teddy Bear’s Picnic (1932); Songs from the Wood Jethro Tull, album: Songs From the Wood; “Back to the Land” (WWII Bedfordshire Women’s Land Army) performed by Alison Young, accompanied by Kenneth Young, 2006.