Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

What should Transition do?

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Rob at Transition Culture asks about important topics for 2013. I had a thought.

Social values.

Our industrialized school systems were instituted to produce factory workers — obedient, understand (read, write, math, social awareness) and follow instructions carefully, respond well to authority, punctual, and trained to work by the clock.

Then, after WWII, the government and big business became invested in scientists and engineers (and universities started receiving all the money, if they would just graduate more students). And elementary and secondary education systems began siphoning off all the “college” prospects, redirecting them from serving their community, to “bettering themselves”, “serving their nation”, or just “because a college education is important“.

Now, as the industrial age comes to a close, how is a resilient community going to take charge of their children’s education. The purpose? First, to assure that the values and experience that nurture and grow the community are indeed passed on to following generations, in such a way that that knowledge base remains reasonably intact despite the opposing needs of competing special interests.

Next, if we worry about local food security, how much more important must it be, for a sustainable answer, to assure a sustainable body of people growing up and investing in the needs of the community, first? How can any social structure survive, without assuring that progeny are educated and raised to serve the community first?

Or should Transition continue to contribute their children to national (special) interests?

Koch as supervillain

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Tam at View From the Porch asks in Uh, yes, Mr. Luthor, I’m applying for the position of “supervillain”?, “Why is the supervillain trying to blow up the planet? What do the bad guys stand to gain from that?

Tam,

I recall reading, back in my college days, a fascinating definition of “good” and “evil”. That was the alignment chart in an appendix to the 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons’ Player’s Manual.

Good — choose to act for the best interest of the (D&D) party, with the assumption that what is best for the party is better for one’s self. Evil — choose to act for the most apparent good for the self, assuming that if one’s self benefits the (D&D) party won’t be harmed much.

A definition of evil from science fiction is that evil cannot accept beauty or value in someone else’s possession, and would choose to destroy anything (coveted) that one cannot possess.

As for someone setting out to poison the atmosphere, that would fall under the evil of genocide, wanting to kill everyone (or maybe just the neighbor’s dog), and be justified under the “destroy it to deny it to someone else” rule, with complete disregard for likely consequences for one’s self. You see this kind of “immediate objective” thinking in those that rob banks, brutalize friends, family, and strangers, and commit other anti-social acts, so scaling it up to deliberate atmospheric destruction is mere, um, hyperbole.

Myself, I think the truth is that, yes, the climate is changing, as it always has. Thirty five years ago scientists of the day proclaimed that the 1950s were the “mildest decade on record” (this after the atmospheric disturbance and carbon consumption of WWII, a definite change from previous decades). It makes sense, to me, that the climate will keep getting “less mild” for several more centuries or millenia.

Making a statement doesn’t make it true. Stating that B. Hussein Obama won more electoral votes in an election with the most voter fraud in history, doesn’t mean that most voter voted for him. Stating that the climate is changing doesn’t mean that burning fossil fuels has anything significant to do with the change, unlike the destruction of old growth forests in Europe, the US east of the Mississippi, the Amazon rain forest, and Asia.

Stating that something makes sense does not make it so. Stating that the climate is changing (it is) doesn’t make anyone’s statement about why the climate is changing de facto truth. “Let’s spend another few hundreds (thousands?) of megawatts of energy to build another new, 3% more “efficient” car, instead of assuring the megawatts already spent to build the cars already on the road continue to function, well, for a few extra years” really should appear absurd to everyone.

The ThinkProgress.org article might as well point out that Cash for Clunkers and other Government Motors programs are generating greenhouse gases merely to enrich labor unions and get B. Hussein Obama re-elected.

Stating that David H. Koch of Koch Industries made his money by polluting the climate is propaganda, slanted and twisted persuasive speech, (evilly) meant to destroy the reputation and prospects of someone that met his community’s needs, employed countless thousands of people, and enabled a *lot* of people to put food on their table.

I didn’t see that the article took any pains to establish whether there would have been more carbon, or less, emitted over the course of Mr. Koch’s career if he had instead become a plumber or college professor. And I still want to see the carbon footprint of money spent on government programs from defense spending to welfare and all the rest.

And, by the way, Koch enabled a lot of investors and wage earners, customers and community members, to breath the air of the climate that is changing for various and sundry reasons including the solar changes that are warming all the planets in the solar system.

Transition careers

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Rob at Transition Culture is looking for a few good people. Or ideas for what they should be prepared to do, in 2030.

Here is what I think.

We are no longer protecting Labor Union jobs in factories. 18 as a working age is no longer the threat to livelihoods it once was.

State run and funded schools seem to be intended to divert children from local crafts and labors, and from continuing in family and community traditions and meeting family and community needs. If such funding were to end, or be rejected (as by home schooling, private schools, etc.), then instead of fueling today’s wealth-concentrating economies (which seem to be headed for the trash heap), we would again, as in the past, recognize that about the first eight years of schooling prepare the student in the basics — reading, writing, arithmetic, social order, pertinent (to someone!) local, national, and world history and geography. That is, eighth grade is intended to produce an informed voter, about the age of puberty. I recall reading that in the US colonies, the average age of marriage was 12-13 years.

Apprenticeships started from age 10-13, as I recall reading. Waiting for youngsters to be indoctrinated in someone else’s bought and paid for agenda, to start orienting them toward local needs and resources, seems wasteful.

Robert Heinlein, in “Have Space Suit Will Travel” (science fiction, 1950s, I think) found the hero’s father unmoved by the high school curriculum, and instituted an independent course of study on top of the regular school work. That is certainly doable today, and a pointed criticism of allowing the state to determine whether a student is prepared to serve himself/herself, their family and community.

Frankly, I can foresee that people suited to the elder list (posted, perhaps, humorously) to be quite relevant today. The opportunities for such employment may be lagging what communities need, but the needs for shepherds, for additional helping hands, do indeed exist. And I think the cottage with garden in lieu of the bulk of wages should be an aspect of the future to be hoped for.

As for future occupations — I think wheel wright comes to mind, and someone to make hand carts. In airports and some shopping malls, there are boutique businesses run from carts and from cart replicas. Whether selling fruits and vegetables, piece goods, knickknacks, tools, tool repairs, or the topless hot dog vendors that troubled Florida a couple of years ago, this level of small business will need the carts. Personal use of carts to move goods and belongings may well grow, as the personal auto becomes less common, and probably should be encouraged.

Shopping carts are expensive, and today’s carts won’t last forever. Besides, shopping carts are less useful off the pavement.

Wooden wheels, and steel rimmed wooden wheels, may be needed for lighter use in the future, if petroleum-based tires become less accessible.

In the short term, I think we need trainers. Trainers to get people started farming who don’t have the generations of wisdom and practice of the land that feeds (mostly) today’s world. Trainers to get people started gardening successfully, that may need more knowledge than which Monsanto product to use when. Trainers to help people learn to salvage and re-use materials, rather than burn tax dollars to fuel traditional wealth-gatherers by “recycling”.

We need home builders that build homes that consume less energy. And trainers to help people adjust to an energy-appropriate lifestyle.

A reoriented community school could both demonstrate and support such efforts.

Another science fiction author comes to mind, Leo Frankowski. The first three or four novels of his Conrad Stargard series, beginning with “Crosstime Engineer” deals a lot with appropriate engineering, and introducing productive small scale, community based crafts and industries.

Free association, checking at WalMart, and cat poop cookies.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

So, there I was, checking (being cashier) at Wal-Mart in the garden center. This family comes through with a bag of kitty litter, a covered litter box and even an odor filter for the box. Being somewhat contrary, and not wanting to sound personal with someone that I don’t know, I commented, “You know, this is the wrong kind of litter pan for cat poop cookies.”

I had to explain the concept to the family (I was shocked this was an unfamiliar topic). Mom was grossed out, and I am not sure she ever really understood that you don’t use cat poop as an ingredient. Dad got it right away, and thought it sounded both fun and something neat to try. Last night I mentioned my surprise to an older couple checking out. They both thought it sounded like fun. My manager hadn’t heard of cat poop cookies. *sigh*

The AllRecipes.com recipe page has a cute photo. I think it is mis-done, but. . .
Picture of cat poop cookies, presented on Post Grape Nuts, in new and unused cat litter pan

Google, last time I checked, had scads of recipes for cat poop cookies. I found one cat poop cookie recipe on MuttCat.com. (MuttCats.com features an animal shelter directory, articles, fiction, pet memorials, discussion boards, shopping and more.)

I also tend to ask customers at my register how their Wal-Mart adventure went today.

I didn’t think this through. Thank goodness.

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Last summer I didn’t get around to hacking down the Johnson Grass growing along the barn, in the pasture, and in the yard behind the barn. So every once in a while, when the tops towered over the pony, I got out the scythe and laid some down. Then a day or two later, I turned it, then came back with the wheel barrow, fork, and a ball of garden (sisal) twine. Gather a bundle on top of the wheel barrow, stretch a span of twine around and snug it tight, and call it a “bale” (though it looks more like a ragged bundle with a string around the middle). I stacked it in the barn “for now”, on some boards I have been saving, and I think there are some extension cords and air hoses under there, too.

I figured, hey, I can flip a bundle, er, bale, over the fence to the pony every day or two, and we can eak out the winter that way.

The last month when the first frost was due, I looked behind the barn and there was all this half-grown Johnson grass just waiting to lose most of it’s nutrients when the frost hit. So the day before the frost I scythed a bunch. I am not getting younger, I don’t do physical stuff all that often, and I get tired, so a “bunch” isn’t like taking down a 20 acre hay meadow. More like about 20 or 25 minutes of huffing and puffing.

I had read about hay stacks, and you you need to do them correctly to keep the hay from spoiling before you can use it. And I looked. A neighbor claimed he played in haystacks a lot as a boy, but never learned to build one. I found an online story where a guy build a frame using four “uprights” leaning to the center where they were bolted together, a frame build about the ground and bolted to the uprights, and used a plastic tarp over the hay instead of doing the traditional haystack building. This story intended to add to the stack over the season, which you don’t do with a traditional hay stack.

I have a hay ring. This is a round steel ring a couple of feet high with eight loops that make eight openings for horses to get to the hay. You roll the thing on edge up to a round hay bale (5×6 foot, nominal), cut the strings/net from the bale, and drop the ring around the bale. The point is to keep the horses from pulling the bale apart and trampling much of the bale instead of eating it.

I have a hay ring, and some used boards. I set two 2×6 boards, on edge, between feeding spots, so the boards are parallel and maybe 5 feet apart. I laid four 2×4 boards crosswise on the 2×6’s to nearly touch the edges of the ring. And I forked that downed, dried Johnson grass onto my new “hay stack”. It turns out that “a bunch” of Johnson grass, when I am scything, doesn’t make that much of a stack on an 8′ diameter. Maybe 6′ high in the middle of the mound (remember, the bottom is already 2′ up off the ground). I tied a plastic tarp over it, using cotton sash cord to tie to the hoops of the hay ring.

The tarp fell.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the cords, which had been at the top of the hoops, were now near the bottom (nearly level with the bottom boards). The mound looked a little flatter, and was definitely shorter. And the pony? Showed a bit less rib than before The Great Haystack Improvisation.

Last weekend I untied part of the tarp, and plumped down three of the bundles, er, bales, from the barn in the middle of the stack. Well, middle, right. Johnson grass gets to be six to eight foot tall, and in casually stacked, ragged bundles I gathered, they stick out both ends. So the bundles were plumper in the middle of the stack/hay ring, but were right there at the edges. Anyway, I cut the baling twine, er, garden twine, retied the tarp, and the pony has been munching right along. It was empty today, and I put out two more bales. Er, bundles.

I put up hay a bunch at a time, and the grass is usually growing by late February/into March, so I don’t need *all* that much more hay. But the five-ten bundles I gathered each haying exercise makes big stacks in the barn. And the bales I have fed so far make a noticeable dent.

Small square grass hay bales are going for $8.50 each, now, if you can find any. There isn’t much here, and most of the time the price is much higher. The round grass hay bales that sold for $25-40 last year have sold for $135-150, and can be tough to find.

So I am glad the pony is doing OK with the Johnson grass, I am pleased that the tarp hasn’t blown to pieces in the wind, and seems to adjust it’s tie-downs as the pile gets smaller, and I am surprised that the Hackney pony doesn’t mind munching hay from under the flappy blue tarp.

I would have fretted myself a treat if I had planned this to come together this well.

Crunchy Chicken goes “Little House” with Pioneer Week

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Okay, so Crunchy Chicken is just thinking about another Pioneer Week low-impact, off-grid practice experience.

But she does outline some important lessons for living a frugal and sustainable life. “Little House on the Prairie” stories nicely illustrate the 10 lessons she found.

Sod.

So I got to thinking. How much sod does it take to make a sod house or sod hut? If you life in a sod house, do you bite your tongue instead of observing, “Dear, there seems to be something growing on the wall.”??

Can you use straw bales for insulation and structure with a sod house? If you drop a bit of sod, and it breaks, does that make you a sodbuster?

Should the roof on a sod house be sod, thatch, or should it be rock (slate)?

Do you paint a sod house, or water it?

Yes, I am being facetious. Well, mostly. The questions might sound silly, but I do kinda want to know. And I figure the amount of sod needed “depends”. Like, how thick the sod is where you dig it up. Like how wide you make your walls. Like how big you want the structure, and how many rooms, I guess.

And is building sod houses where the phrase comes from, “Oh, sod it all!”??

Enjoy!

Making hay, by hand

Friday, June 17th, 2011

I don’t use a lot of hay. My pony gets a round bale October/November, and that usually lasts until grass starts growing. So I want a bit to tide over rough spots.

A few years back I welded up a hay storage bin. About 5 feet square, and a bit over six feet high, whatever would fit out the shop door. I used 3/4 inch square tubing for the frame, and 2×4 welded wire for three sides, with the front open above a ‘keeper’ bar about 1 foot up. This worked pretty well with loose hay.

Where I live is old-growth pasture. The local story goes that it was virgin prairie, and has never been plowed. After 70 years of grazing pasture use, I doubt that there is much original prairie grass left, and Johnson Grass has moved in around the buildings and in the pony’s pasture. Johnson grass was introduced to Oklahoma for hay and pasture, and does well at both. The problem with Johnson Grass is that it is very persistent if you want something else to grow there, and it tends to spread. Widely.

So what I have around the buildings to harvest is a mix of short grasses including cheat, and Johnson Grass, mostly, and a few patches of bermuda grass, sometimes occupying the same space. Next to the driveway is a solid stand of Johnson Grass. When I cut it early, it comes in solid bermuda. Cut that, and it is Johnson Grass again. But it mostly stays green. . .

I have a book on ‘farm implements you can make’, from the 1800s, that shows a wood frame for baling hay. This spring I got to thinking, and got out the two-hand scythe a friend cobbled up out of stainless tubing and regular handles and a brush blade.

The first part of making hay, after the planning and hoping, and watching the grass grow, is cutting. I am still learning to use the scythe, but I did manage to put down some short and tall grasses.

Next is curing. Curing is when sufficient moisture leaves the hay leaves and stalks, so that the hay is dry enough to store well, keep it’s nutrition value and not decompose. Hay put up too damp can rot, and at times generates enough heat to catch fire.

The sun and open are do the curing. I leave the hay a day or so, depending on the condition of the hay and weather, then get out the hay fork (four tines, wider than a three tine or manure fork) and turn the hay so the stuff on the bottom is exposed to that curing sun and breeze.

For short stem hays, a day or so after turning the hay may be ready. Long and coarser stem hays may take another day or three, and another turn or two.

Almost anticlimactic is gathering the hay and tossing it in storage (for loose hay) or baling.

Dad baled hay, and my neighbors bale hay. This includes a tractor, and first a mower or conditioner, then a rake, and finally a baler. The result is, usually, a very consistent stream of round or square bales laid out in the field, to be gathered and stacked until needed.

I don’t have that kind of equipment. I have a ball of Sisal twine, a blue plastic muck bucket, a box knife, and a hay fork.

The bale bucket, the bale fork, and the bale twine

Baling implements

Using the same fork I used to turn the hay, I laid some hay on the bucket and pushed it down in, about centered. A couple-three modest forks full, and it is time to mash the center of the bundle of grass together, grab one end of the twine and reach down one side of the hay to the bottom, reach down from the other side of the grasses to the bottom of the bucket, grab that twine, and pull it on around. A quick (!) square knot while mashing the center of the bundle together and pulling the twine tight, and cut off the bale of hay. Lift the bale out (it looks a lot like a bundle of grass with a string around the center), and repeat.

The twine has been pulled around the bundle, ready to gather, tighten, and tie

Twine just about wrapped around bundle

When I tried it using the wheel barrow instead of the muck bucket, it was easier. The wheel barrow allowed for a bit bigger bale (fewer baling operations), and reaching around the bundle was easier than stuffing my arms into the muck bucket full of hay.

My hand-baled hay.

My bale of hay.

The hay fork is useful transporting the bales, too, as I can usually stick the tines through two stacked bales. I estimate the bales range between small muck bucket size, about two pounds of short grasses, and maybe ten pounds for a moderate sized wheel barrow bale. Toss them into the hay bin, and let them complete airing out.

My problem with Johnson Grass hay is the weather. We have been getting rain showers with little accumulation, just enough to wet everything, and that delays curing. This isn’t great, because the wet/dry cycles are letting the sun bake out the nutrients in the hay, and keeping the moisture up so I cannot gather the hay yet.

The pony stands about three feet, five inches. Johnson Grass runs from four feet to seven feet. The pony likes to nibble the tender ends of the grass. So fully grown Johnson Grass doesn’t feed the pony that well. Where I have cut the Johnson Grass, the new-growing returning stems are short, and the pony (“Little One”) gets a better nibble in. And I get (some) hay put by for later, if it is needed.

I reckon that gathering hay is something folks with livestock could be considering. Hay from along fence lines, along unkempt roadways, on unused lots. Chickens will eat some hay, and use it for bedding, hogs eat hay and use the bedding, cows, goats, and sheep, too. Learning to hay takes practice to learn the grasses you harvest, the tools you use, the process and exceptions of curing, and the techniques for transporting and storing hay.

I turn 59 this year, with back pains and lowering heat tolerance. Gathering in fields at a time is for the young folk. I don’t have a lot of storage, and find the hour or two a day very satisfying (that is, I don’t want more, at the time).

The sisal twine I got from Big Lots, in the garden section. It is light, strong, and traditional for haying. The fork I picked up at a farm sale, a treasure that too many people decided isn’t needed, since they went to crops-only, or automated livestock farming. A modern three tine fork can run from $30 to $40 dollars, hay forks and the larger field hay forks would be much more expensive.

Last year I sharpened the scythe blade with a flap sanding disk on my angle grinder. Last winter I ordered a ‘scythe stone’ from Amazon.com, and it works a wonder. The package the stone came in mentioned wrapping the stone in cloth. I whacked out a six inch wide strip from the leg of a pair of rag-bag bib overalls, about two and a half times the length of the stone (about 10 inches by 1 1/2 inches). I lay the stone in the center of the cloth, lengthwise, and fold the top and bottom over, then the sides. I can stick that wrapped bundle in my pocket for convenience; the stone unwrapped would catch and hang in my pocket something fierce.

The pony, Little One

Little One, in Johnson Grass just starting to grow

Local butter . . and changes to farming

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

MatronOfHusbandry writes about The Pot (of butter!) at the End of Rainbow.

The article is great, and covers a lot of topics which expand even further in the comment, including the impact of choosing industrial-style farming – right down to imported, Irish butter – over finding and choosing locally produced butter.

“I suppose farming will keep on going how it is”

I think that is pretty obvious. Climate and economic instability make our ability to feed our neighbors, our nation, and the world an issue worthy of concern. The current affluent-era, industrial style farming currently meets that need. I don’t see anyone winning anything if industrial style farming were dismantled before local, sustainable, superior food quality production is ready to replace it.

The currently aging industrial farm population, without an incoming legion of apprentice and journeyman farmers supporting, learning, and preparing to continue the practices make such a transition not just desirable, but pose a looming threat to food security.

The current debt deflation crisis (eroding the affluent credit market that makes industrial, Monsanto-style farming feasible) and rising energy costs, as well as threats to oil availability as world demand continues to erode the ability to produce enough oil to meet demand (that is, erratic availability and rising prices of all classes of energy) contribute to that looming threat.

I think looking at so-called “modern” farming practices, and farmers, is the wrong focus. Yes, there will be some fringe few willing to experiment and change. One focus might be to influence state agriculture colleges to investigate alternative practices and promulgate better ways through state extension services. Unfortunately, the focus on what a small farm can do doesn’t relate well when an operation is already at the level of 500 head of livestock, or several thousands of acres under cultivation.

One thought I had was a form of homestead program. An area of an existing, large farm might be set aside, and leased out in a rent-to-own proposition to “homesteaders” – people that would occupy and farm the land, perhaps a 10-40 acre parcel, for 10 years at modest rent (much below industrial-style farm land rent!). County extension or some similar service would be ready to educate, equip, and counsel the occupants on low-energy, sustained fertility, sustainable farming practices. The donor farm and occupants should receive tax benefits during the “settling” years. At the end of the 10 years the occupant would acquire clear title, the county tax base would increase, and hopefully the local food security would improve. Possibly applicants could be targeted to those with backgrounds or interest in farm life – or just desperately unemployed but educable. Farm life, after all, is scary as all get out, for those used to a highly structured corporate or union life.

I don’t see getting all the pieces ever getting put together for such a scheme. But there may be opportunities, where a local farm ceases to operate on the death of the operator – and China and other nations are kept from buying the land for producing food for their own people.

Many of today’s farmers have families that provide ballast that keeps them on the track they are now. Convincing an adult’s mate to choose chores over convenient shopping, making do over the latest advertised fashion or widget, or tearing up part of the yard for (more) garden space goes way beyond the issue.

It gets all the way back to how we choose a mate. The “pioneers” that took wagon trains from their beginnings back east picked a mate, for the most part, that was capable of and willing to work for security and survival. Many mates today are chosen for willingness to cuddle or whether they dress and act like Playboy or Chippendale icons. I can see revering a school football team – with a success record of providing a high number of armed services soldiers and sailors. The local acclaim that is the most any teams today boast is pretty petty and transitory – but it gets a lot of couples together, that have little cultural guidance or values established that emphasize respect, honor, and character. Or service. Too many people in the last several generations have known only the relatively forgiving, affluent life we see eroding around us today.

The real place to start for change, is going to be with the children. This is something the government in the 1950s and 1960s convinced my parents and grandparents not to do – that the nation needed every child to be an engineer (or fashion model or trophy wife), not to learn the culture and craft of their family and neighbors.

Check out Matron‘s delightful photography and presentation of her various small farming techniques – all chosen to maintain and improve the fertility of the soil, improve the quality of the beef and produce she raises, and joy in her life.

Gifting

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The girl and the camera

The little girl, maybe four or five years old, was dressed very nicely, as if just returned from church services with her family. She was bright eyed, impeccably groomed, and very respectful and energetic. She rushed to the Wal-Mart Santa, had her picture taken with a great smile – and rushed to the back of the camera to view the results. She hovered there, watching what the camera captured as her siblings took their turns with Santa.

I was moved. I intervened to speak to her mother. “Please consider a camera for her (indicating the girl). She has been all over that camera.” Mom looked surprised at the suggestion, as if the thought of camera and that girl had never come together for her. I was satisfied.

I was satisfied with my intervention, not because I got that girl a great camera, or even that I was glad her mother was now considering a camera for a Christmas present.

I was satisfied because now I was sure that her mother *noticed* that her daughter *noticed* cameras, capturing images and information. Mom now saw more than just another little girl.

Further thoughts

I don’t know that the camera was the seat of the girl’s attention and interest. Perhaps a sketch with charcoals or water colors – or crayons – would have expressed the core of what drew her attention. So the correct response should not have been an expensive camera, nor one much beyond her current knowledge and skills. I imagine that underestimating her abilities to use a camera is more likely, but still, any basic $12-30 camera should do.

Because the real gift should be the parents’ time. Time to be sure the girl knows how to use the camera – and begin to see how to view the world and capture that image. Her parents should take the time to help explore the things that camera images can build and contribute to – from documenting accidents and injuries, to furnishing family trees, to capturing portraits, to building a portfolio of images that express her feelings and appreciations for some aspect of life, nature, and belief (that is, art).

The gift should be recognition that the camera and the images it captures are a way to view, express, explore, and share the world. Recognizing that kind of gift of the spirit of that girl is an immense treasure. Appreciation by the parents of that sensitivity and artistic flourish is expressed in attention and participation – time – and not in dollars.

cb: On food safety, vs. Senate bill S.510 and the proposed Food Safety Administration

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Sharon Astyk makes a compelling argument that local food production can be safe and wholesome.

The cost, though, is prohibitive. Regulations regard every operation as if they are selling into the mainstream, national exposure of industrial agriculture.

Consider the hamburger, a chunk of meat taken from the ground up parts of perhaps 1,000 different cows, or maybe just one. The point is that the meat industry takes all the pieces and blends them together, so that meat from grass-fed young animals won’t taste one way, and retired (old) dairy cows and bulls (tasting of their stronger hormones) won’t taste another. Blend them all, and the taste stays consistent, hiding the healthier taste and quality into the mix.

Or milk. Milk is gathered from the cow, mixed into the daily gathering’s tank, gathered into the bulk transport, gathered into the processing plant vats. Each gathering from transport, from farm, from cow, must be clean and safe, in order for the bulk tank to be safe, and then for each container filled from that tank to be safe.

When Joe down the road milks his cow, and pours it into a quart jar with his name and date, you need the cow to be healthy, and Joe to work cleanly. And that is it. If Joe makes a mistake, maybe 20 people will be affected; if Joe were selling to a big dairy association (they won’t take Joe’s milk if he has less than a hundred cows), his mistake could affect thousands of households. It economically affordable to be extra sure the big, bulk processing inputs are all regulated and mistake-free (or almost).

Joe and his cow, and the folk that prefer the taste of non-watered milk from Joe’s cow, should be allowed to buy what they want. Even if it doesn’t have enough water added to make it USDA-compliant so-called “whole” milk.

My thought has been to limit regulations to those selling 10,000 servings per year. That would place a fairly reasonable definition of “small producer” on the books.

A local supplier selling their own products, under their label, means that tracking problems back to the source gets quite simple. Different regulations should apply when your products aren’t mixed in with someone else’s products. The tomatoes in a bin labeled “Brad’s Tomatoes” should have different regulations than the bin labeled “Product of Chile”. (I have nothing against Chile or other places, and I am happy to have their fruits when they are available.)

If I sell Sharon a bushel of, say, loofa (if I can get the dang fruit to grow nearly as well as the vine), and it keeps that “Brad’s Garden” identifier right to the sale to the customer, so the customer can call and complain to me or identify me to the county health or doctor or whoever needs problems reported to – that satisfies, and should set that bushel aside from, public health concerns. Because at that point, the exposure isn’t “the public” to “the product” – it is “my community” exposed to “Brad’s Garden”. And that is a personal, entirely different kind of relationship.

Just one for-instance. Try suing Brad’s Garden for $10. I go out of business. And anything I might have been growing is lost to the community. If I should be shut down, then everyone (but me) wins. Should someone think twice about cost to the community, before suing? I think so. Especially if any problem could be corrected in person.

This kind of approach would pose a problem for a roadside stand or grocer that wants to lump the last of apples from Brad’s Garden with the apples from two neighbors into a remnants bin. Maybe.

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