Thursday, January 24, 2013
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
|Sifting corn kernels from chaff before grinding|
Hands On Nashville
|Feeding neighborhood kids at their|
|Nashville street musicians, Free Dirt!|
Saturday, November 17, 2012
What inspiring organizations! I had the opportunity to offer my hands to both of them while in Detroit and St. Louis and to be influenced by the inspiring people working with them. In Detroit, the Superheroes camped for several days in a neighborhood where the inspiring community activist Jasahn of This Hood is Ours was working. We fixed, cleaned, composted, painted faces and played with kids, and painted abandoned houses with the people in the neighborhood. In St. Louis, I happened upon Rebuild through a Sunday brunch potluck organized in one of their spaces. Dayna, the organizer, gave us a tour of the current projects and showed us the community space that they are creating around children, arts and education.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Instead, field after field sits still covered with corn's tall stalks and soy's leafy sea..but all the yellow and brown of death, unsalvageable and worthless. The drought across the midwest this year made farmer after farmer lose huge percentages of their crop. According to a USA Today article, the USDA estimated that US farmers would havest the smallest crop in six years this year (and according to the New York Times, the smallest since 1995). According to the NY Times, "The drought has affected eighty-eight percent ofthe corn crop, a staple of processed foods and animal feed as well as the nation's leading farm export." The drought that "settled over more than half of the continental United States in the summer of 2012 is the most widespread in more than half a century."
The Times article makes note of how widespread the drought's effects are:
- Land for all major crops is affected
- Seventy-two percent of land for cattle was affected
- Water levels in town resevoirs have dropped and levels have dropped in major rivers like the Mississippi and Ohio
- Shallow waterways are a dilemma for water needs. Barges are forces to make trips half-full carrying lighter loads, and loss of crop, too, will affect the business of barges, along with that of trucks (and the jobs of those working in barges and trucking)
- There have been record wildfires
- Public infrastructure like highways, power plants, rail lines and runways have taken extra wear and stress for torrid degrees of heat
This is no small phenomena: fifty-five percent of the continental United States experienced moderate to extreme drought this summer.
According to one driver with whom I hitched, there is a giant ethanol processing plant in Decatur. This year, it only received 10% of the corn it had expected from area farmers (this I looked up to verify but found nothing, and there is no reason to assume he should be an expert on the subject). He found the situation hilarious after working for them and as a laborer all his life. He had little good to say, and he had no sympathy for a system that uses unhealthy corn to burn and maintain unhealthy animals on giant unhealthy feed lots.
The detached, academic me says, "Perhaps this was mother nature's suble way of nudging to 'diversify'?? If not that, it is certainly incentive to consider ditching the big two (corn and soy). Rather, turn the ground and don't plant a thing other than perhaps some cover crops. Let some grasses grow, and buy some cows. Let them replenish the ground (that you made infertile with chemical farming) for a few years, and in the meanwhile you have the potential of milk, cheeses, auction cows, and meat to sell."
While that "academic" perspective speaks loudly, I also recognize the pain suffered by the families who work this land and who sowed these seeds (or who sat high up on giant tractors to do so). Their perspective will be far different from mine: they do what they do for the same reasons I have taken unfullfilling waitressing jobs--to support themselves and their families--and it seems that the average factory farmer in this country today is more of a businessman who retains relatively little knowledge of the natural world, including about the systems that s/he is using, and not holistically knowledgeable about the other options available to her/him. Humankind tends to habituate to the status quo: to do what parents, family, and neighbors do, even if it makes little sense to the outside observer (or the academic who is ironically prized for questioning but expected to actually do nothing).
I am lucky enough to be staying in a household incredibly connected to small farms, exactly where I hoped to make connections. Amanda works for the urban gardens of the city; Rob does a work-exchange on the raw milk farm; Mike works a couple of days on an orchard. The forth roommate does urban planning for bicycles and pedestrians: I am such a good match for this bunch it is dumbfounding!
- Repeating x 3
Bloomington has not only many community gardens, but it is small enough that they are organized collectively (not even conceivable in my oversized NYC). The city partially funds both the gardens and actual paid employees (also not conceivable in NYC)! There is a garden plot rental program through the City of Bloomington, gardening classes and information accessible through the city's website. Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, a Bloomington nonprofit based on food as a human right, also runs several of the gardens. They strive to ensure wide access to healthy food by maintaining a food pantry; by providing youth education and gardening education programs; and by maintaining several community gardens both with personal plots for individuals and collective plots that staff manage and volunteers help maintain from which anyone can come and take.
- There is very little dancing. I was enthusiastic to explore any and all available dance, and found little supply and little demand. If they worked on this, there may be less need for the alcohol!
Dorothy Day was the founder and main visible symbol of the movement until her death in the 1980s. She considered herself a "Christian Anarchist"--"Christian" in the sense of radical christianity, retracing back to roots in service, voluntary poverty, and acceptance, and "Anarchist" in the acceptance and approval of resistance against illigitimate authority.
"The Catholic Worker Movement began simply enough on May 1, 1933, when a journalist named Dorothy Day and a philosopher named Peter Maurin teamed up to publish and distribute a newspaper called "The Catholic Worker." This radical paper promoted the biblical promise of justice and mercy.
Th CW movement has no centralized body and is comprised of entirely autonomous groups in different cities (or sometimes autonomous groups even within the same city) who rather than take orders ask themselves, "How can we live the mission and do good where we are?". In that regard, it is much like the "Food Not Bombs" movement.
Thus, each is structured differently. CW houses have "workers" and guests, whether they be semi-permanant, short-term, one-night, or visitors for meals only. At Bloomington's CW, there are 6 permanant workers and space for about twelve guests. Guests are allowed to stay for up to one year and can participate in the community at almost any level. They must be out between the hours of 9 and 5 Monday through Saturday, but have a room and the option of participating in community meals every evening. They are not allowed to contribute finanically--they are allowed the time to get back on their feet. One of the few rules is 'no untreated mental illness and no untreated drug problems' (implying that if they are actively seeking help, they are supported).
Workers, on the other hand, are expected to work part-time and contribute 50% of their income to the collective pool of the house. The other 50% is theirs. That money will cover food, housing expenses, etc. for everyone. Other CW groups have completely different financial systems: some ask you to contibute all income, while in larger city like Chicago, for example, volunteers may be expected to give 40 hours a week at the CW. Some have meetings to decide whether you can take out money from the discretionary funds for something you need/want, while others allow a weekly allowance that you can use as you like.
In Bloomington, none of the workers are Catholic, but most associate themselves with some religion (Quaker, Methodist, Buddhist, etc). Some are markedly non-religious; some only allow Catholic workers. Bn
I decided to join the family for the midweek church service for the experience. I did not realize until we arrived that the father was the pastor! The church was simple with wooden pews, a piano but not a single musician, and hymn books to be shared. There were about 20 people in attendance: 11 of whom being the family and myself and 2 more grandparents. Low attendance may be a good sign for heathens everywhere. The service was terrible: a form of torture. The wooden pews felt as though a team of scientists had studied ergonomics and then designed to oppose their findings intentionally (perhaps preventative measures for sleeping in church). No carpenter could have accidentally gone that wrong. There was no music to join our singing, and all of the songs sounded quite meloncholic and depressing (even "No Tears in Heaven" was so depressing it made me want to cry). The pastor had no intonation, no interest in his voice, none of the liveliness that other cultures expect in their church. There were no bibles to be found; everyone carries their own regularly. They ALL have memorized and can randomly recite bible passages.
The children participate in the yearly "Bible Bee". The second eldest, now a freshman in college, has gone to nationals all three times that he has competed. They study regularly: in the car, one read the title to another (such as Job 1:1 - 2:10), and the daughter of about 12 recited verse after verse of King James with language so dated that I could not understand most of it. To think of what it would take my brain to memorize like that; I can only imagine the amount of time these kids spend with their Bibles!
After 12 days of sleeping outside in Missouri's fall; living, eating, sleeping, and sharing close space with thirty other people; and barely showering with modest sanitation, it was only a matter of time before a stomach bug attacked. The second friday of our course my belly began to churn. I could tell it needed to send toxins out, but still by night everything inside hadn't been able to escape.
To precede this story with a description of our accomodations, we are living extremely modestly. There is a long path that has been cleared: half of the path in the woods and half in a prairie at the crest of a hill. We have all of our tents in the woods on one side of the path, right where the woods and the prairie meet. The path widens near the camping quarters to fit both the cooking quarters--a tent for food storage, two rocket stoves, and a timber frame barn--and the university--the clearing where we pull up strawbales to sit on in a circle for class. At the other end of the path is the compost toilet, about a 100 meters away.
Knowing that the walk to the compost toilet is the last thing I want to come out of my tent to do in the middle of the 30 degree night, I made one last attempt before going to bed, with no success. I fell asleep with a deep rumbling in my stomach and hoped for the best. Several times I awoke with the thought, "Oh, god--I should go to the bathroom", but, naked in a sleeping bag to save body heat and afraid that after fully dressing, putting shoes on, climbing out of my tent, and walking 100 meters my stomach would still not be ready to expell, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Finally, though, it was clear, and as I sat up, it was far beyond clear. I pulled on my sweater, grabbed a flashlight, zipped out of my tent into sandals and made a run for it. I made it no further than fifteen yards when it was clear that I had to find a closer solution, so I darted into the woods across the path (where I thought that no one was sleeping). My stomach had made up its mind after hours of indecision and it had no intention on waiting for my convenience. As I reached a few steps into the trees, I tore down my underwear and squatted to explode full force onto the ground out one end and began dry heaving out the other. My two exit points finally calmed as I squatted--pantsless--in the forest in 28 degree cold under the starlight. I turned on my flashlight and saw my underwear--shit! Literally: there was not just a drizzle but a complete bag full of diarrhea. The explosion must have occured faster than my panties cleared the path of exit, creating a sort of bowl, perfect for diarrhea catchment. Peachy fucking fantastic, I thought. I pulled them off, wiped out the contents on the forest floor, and once back on the path set them down as a marker to find my way back to my poo-spot. Then I waddled--carefully, as to minimize dripage--through the open clearing the rest of the 85 meters to the compost toilet. On my return, I brought the compost toilet yogurt cup filled with sawdust (what we use to cover waste inside the compost toilet as an alternative to flushing fresh water), took a right at the soiled panties, and covered my pile. I then threw the yogurt cup into the path for someone to find in the morning and hopefully return, picked up the offending panties and wrapped them in a piece of cardboard, and ran back into my tent.
Needless to say, in the first morning I did not go down to the pond for morning breathing and meditation practices or do yoga; I did not wake for breakfast, and I stayed in bed for morning bread labor--or service on the land--as well. I did not stay in bed because I felt so terrible; rather I feared that my still queazy stomach would explode again, only this time in the daylight as a broad spectacle for everyone to see. (I am not sure which would have been worse. When I did rise, all that was left stayed in. But now, over a week later, my stomach still has not returned to normalcy.) I finally rose and found that the yogurt cup had been returned to its rightful location at the compost toilet, certainly by a helpful but perplexed class member earlier in the morning. I found a shovel and headed for the woods; then I began the process of detoxifying my panties.
Later, when one of the course teachers realized I had been sick, he said, "Oh, that was you last night? I heard something right near my tent...I have my tent pitched in the woods on the opposite side of the path, away from everyone else's."