Wednesday, August 06, 2008
My new life (or old life, depending on how you want to look at it) means that I spend every day trying to learn something about farming--in addition to trying to keep up with Japanese gossip, culture and news. And finishing my novel. And going back to dance class. But I digress.
If you read mainstream news, the most important thing about food is that it is suddenly expensive. This has given rise to speculation that we may run out (we won't). My recent trip to the farmer's market included a lengthy discussion with one of my very favorite vendors who is convinced that in two years things will be tight, and we will need to move to Nebraska to be safe and have enough to eat. He even offered to build me a temporary house out of bales of hay. I did not know that such a thing could be done in such a way as to keep mice and other pests from crawling into the pantry. But what do I really know about house construction?
Anyway, in my attempt to educate myself, I've learned that farming is a vast world, if you want to understand it completely. Many of the subjects have been introduced to me over the course of my life: the global market, no-till farming, machinery worthy of a George Lucas movie, genetic engineering, global weather and so on. To understand farming now means to try to understand topics far beyond what is happening in your own little plot of land. At present, I find this much more interesting than what is happening in the incestuous world of publishing. (While I think it is important for writers to understand the business side of their lives, it's even more important for writers to have a point of view about the world--where else does art come from?) And, of course, I have been scouring the net for blogs on farming that reflect the big picture.
My new favorite farming blog is written by a young and erudite gentleman in Denver, who seems to pinpoint many of the salient issues. Yesterday he quoted James Madison, and today writes about water shortages. As I am from Northern California, I am no stranger to water shortages. Every dozen years or so we go through a drought (which my father pronounced "drowth") and which prompts residents to remark the the Indians would have known that this was coming. Given that we are looking at some dry ground in Nebraska (please, oh, please rain so we can plant), I'm not surprised that water is a critical issue to think about. Alex makes this point:
Few commodities have perfect substitutes; corn is not exactly the same thing as wheat, barley is not a perfect substitute for rye. But if the wheat crop fails, we don’t all starve; we substitute other grain products for wheat and get by. Water, of course, is different. There are some marginal uses for water where you can find substitutes; cars don’t have to use water in their radiators, they could use other fluids. But for most of the things we use water for – drinking and irrigation – it’s water, or nothing.