Sustaining the Okanagan 14: Plant Tech

We exceeded the valley’s population carrying capacity 25 years ago. Our issue is water. You’d think it would limit human population expansion, but humans are socially clever and limit social access to water instead. To forestall an inevitable class revolution, it’s time to develop new water technology now. The plant world offers many examples of what can be done. All that is absent is the application of human cleverness to something other than social manipulation and IT. For example, the beautiful weed, Bladder Campion…P1180659

Silene latifolia

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Look at how the flower forms around an open chamber, with a spray of petals around its lips.

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This arrangement is not designed to capture water, but no matter. We have the technology to use this example to create water collection devices, which could stand inert until it rained, catch the rain, and store it by funnelling it from their petals into their bells. At that point, the water could be drawn down a hollow stem (tube) into a larger collection device, or when the level in each bell reached a certain weight the bell could tip, the water would pour out into a trough, which would then deliver it to a collection or distribution point. Alternately, little collectors like this (or banks of them) could be placed beside individual plants. They could collect rain, just as the plant, its root systems and the soil do, with this exception: when the water evaporated out of the soil with the sun that follows rain these little bladders could release more water, slowly, to make up for the loss. I’m sure devices could even be built that could be laid out as sheets, or which could be laid out in banks like solar panels. We have the technological intelligence, we have the manufacturing ability, we have a university, we have the thunderstorms, we have a great need, we have burgeoning social pressures, and we still have the possibility of a bright future. Bright futures are made. We would do well to get in focus.

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The Okanagan Meets Its Salad and Lemons Go Away to Cry

Remember my green grapes?
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That tasted, I promised, like lemons?
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Because until they turn colour, grapes are little suns made out of citric acid —so, like lemons, right?
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Well, I picked some.
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Those are Bacco on the left and Concorde on the right. Here are the Baccos. Very sour!
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And then I juiced them.
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Oh, my, soury-sweet. The colour settled down to pink (from the stems, I’m guessing), and, oh, if I may say so, it’s sooooooo perfect. It tastes like lemon juice, with a hint of fresh berry. Sour, but not overwhelming, and perfect for my salad, with apricots, spinach, romaine, and a few dashes of Greek olive oil. This is a very exciting day in the transformation of this valley! I’ll preserve this litre of juice in eight 125 ml jars. Do you know a chef who needs one of these? By the way, these grapes were growing wild, without irrigation. No birds will eat them at this stage … what potential!

Sustaining the Okanagan 11: Weaving Water to Combat Desertification

I know, I know, Chinese elms are a weed.P1180479

They grow well here, though.

Their flowers feed spring birds.

In turn, those flowers have a zillion seeds …

… and pop up everywhere.

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Everywhere.

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Thing is, though, they do a couple interesting things. For one, in environmentally simplified landscapes capable of only producing social stratification symbols for humans, who like that kind of thing, a lot …

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From 200 species to 1. It gives aficionados a shiver of power right down the back of the neck. Much desired in elite social classes.

… in a kind of stratification that is often quite remarkable for its naked power …

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The simplification here is from earth-as-living-and-working-space to earth-as-recreational space (the recreational activity is “looking” or “aesthetic enjoyment.”) It watches life flow away, as if human intelligence were not part of it.

Well, human intelligence is what you make of it, and what I’ve shown you so far today are social representations of human power. The elm, however, for all of its problems, offers a different one. It offers habitat, where habitat has been destroyed, while offering as well human social good, such as beauty …

… and the transformation of water into storable energy.

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Check out what the lightning did a month ago.

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That is transformed water there, bound with the sun and storing carbon for a human generation. No hydroelectric dam necessary. No one wants it, for some bizarre reason. It is quite portable…

…and can be used in measured amounts, according to need… the rest can be stored for many years.

When its elements are returned to the earth as water, energy and carbon, new elms will take them up again.

(Note: One doesn’t have to “remove” carbon from the atmosphere to remove problem carbon. One has to replace elemental understandings with process.)

The thing about elms is they grow everywhere in this climate, can be harvested quickly or after a generation, can be stored for a short period or for a generation, and can be used in measured amounts, in balance with new plantings.

What’s more, they take up water that otherwise flows as an element through a species-poor earth (made of lone elements), and in the process provide habitat for species that are otherwise homeless. They are arks. Yes, they are weeds, but they are healing the kind of error below, which wastes potential.

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That’s a green of the Golf course at the Rise behind the young Douglas fir at the crest of the slope. The patch of green in the middle of the image is yellow clover that is mining water that has bled out from the single-species (well, two, a fir) zone of the golf green. Excess water and waste fertilizer is collected in the road cut you can see just below the fir, which spills down the infill from the road. It wells up as a wave over the bedrock under the post-glacial gravel. This is a way in which the earth heals herself, by giving forth life from gravity. From gravity! Here’s a paper wasp, finding forage in the yellow clover that would otherwise be lost — weightless, shall we say, only a place for elements to pass through, like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber. Weeds, however, turn deserts into life.

A reasonable goal would, I think, be to create the greatest amount of life, to use the greatest amount of water within the systems of life, and to harvest the excess as human social energy. This must be the definition of sustainability. Mustn’t it? Because this isn’t:

Death Maker: B Reactor, Hanford

This machine makes nuclear bombs: the most horrific human social arbiter of them all.

So, here are the elms (below), in a hillside reduced to knapweed, an abandoned landscape nursery, rock, yellow clover, mustard, gold finches and wasps. The gold finches feed in the elms in the early spring. They feed in the clover in July.

After a generation of drawing off carbon from the very technological excess which has allowed for the bulldozing of this living landscape and its reduction to a single-species vineyard and a single-species golf course up above, both human social displays, it can keep us warm in the winter dark, cycling water through human social space not as liquid but as life, and giving to us life, and roots, rather than liquidity, that either evaporates (witness the promise that the bulldozing attempted to fulfill) or flows away, leaving a desert, or, in human social terms, poverty. Choose life. Oh, and plant sunflowers, so the gold finches have something in August …

… because whatever they ate naturally is gone, and looks like human social strategies to turn the simplification of the earth into human class power (in this case, the irrigation of a vineyard to increase the social display value of houses, through the removal of that water from the earth):

… and without gold finches, and the memory of them across a span of fifty years or more, as is mine, from the elms that sifted them out of the air in migration in the Similkameen fifty years ago, for a few hours every spring, to the present …

… without that, we live in a desert, a desert which includes the barrenness of human individual life, crying out for connection but ultimately leading to isolation. In the image below, a lot of water was removed from life to create this coloured plastic, as a place for a human child to play in nature — a nature known as “outside”, and one otherwise unwanted, except for the social distance it provides between the next human “inside”. It is space — almost empty space.

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Water is life. That is not a metaphor. If we take it away from life, it is just technology creating the illusions that are human social display …

Winemaking in Okanagan Falls

…and human class power.

This isn’t a war. We’re in this together.

We don’t have to remain alone.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 10: 24 Apple Pies

We know who makes the best summer apple pies. Here she is, the summer pie maker.P1180166

She was born in Russia 220 years ago. Look how young she looks in my garden.

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Here in Vernon, she usually ripens in late July. This year, three weeks early (two weeks before my apricots). Here she is, hanging out with marigolds, tomatoes, garlic, spinach (for seed) and marjoram.

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These are amazing pie and sauce apples. We could have a massive industry here, supporting a large processing and food industry. Instead, we have sweet fall apples to compete with industrial-scale production from Washington, while the warmer contours of the food industry are left to wine: a luxury product, exuberantly priced. People want pie. Don’t you? And tart apple sauce for those pork roasts in October? Of course you do!

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The sustainable beauty of transparents is their sweet tartness, their earliness and their processing suitability: no cosmetic pesticides necessary, and a very short season for other pests. What’s more, they respond well to climate, so we could pick them continuously for a month, from the bottom of the valley to the top, using water in the cool zone, where water consuming fruits like this belong. Besides, they’re even better when grown to be picked in September, just before mountain frost. And they are a remarkably easy tree to grow, incredibly resistant to bacterial disease. Look how clean they are!

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As another bonus, there’s a variety called Lodi, which ripens five days later, and stores longer. We could further extend our production. The trick of surviving in the Okanagan is about using water cleverly. These apples which take up water in our wettest month, June, and then are done, are a good start. We could exceed the employment of the grape industry, easily, which is a darned good use of our water, too. Think transparents. Think pie. If you’re in the Canadian Okanagan, there were some at Quality Greens last week. They’re probably all gone, but you might like to check.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 9: 1 Hour, 42 Jars

Keep your eyes open.P1180010

Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore

Ripe when the stems turn red.

Spend an hour.P1180151

Go to the kitchen.P1180156

Soon you will have 30 Jars of jelly and 12 jars of herb-and-honey-spiced reduction. Share the wild. If you’re sharing domestic fruits you are sharing domestication. Sure, if you want to become industrial nitrogen.

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The choices are clear. Off you go. There’s still time this year. Imagine, though, if we bred these things and cultivated them everywhere water gathered at the foot of stone slopes. We’d change food culture world-wide, because there’s little that can compete with Oregon Grapes.

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If we stopped spraying them with pesticides, herbicides and other gick in landscaping planting, every building could be a habitat. Every building. Food doesn’t have to be private property.

 

Giving the Children Water: The Bigger Educational Picture

Last night, I wrote about the benefits of environmental transformation that could come through the simple mechanism of attaching a wetland to every school in the Okanagan. It’s worth elaborating on, because the concept is vital. So, let’s dive in.

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1.Why schools?

In the culture politically and socially dominant in the Okanagan Valley today, it is commonly accepted that schools are where children will be educated, that they will be educated in groups, along certain subject areas, and by professional teachers. In many cases, the work done in these schools is inspired. In many cases, the children who go there are inspired. Nonetheless, these institutions embody cultural choices, not human verities, and they come with costs.

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2. What about classrooms ?

Culturally, schools today are divided into a number of rooms, each with approximately 30 students, a professional teacher, and, depending on the class mix, one or more assistants to help with students unable to thrive independently in the classroom environment. The goal of the classrooms is to help each student realize their full individual potential, with oversight from a professional trained in multiple modes of learning, with time to adapt instruction to the individual needs of each child. The goal is also to make this process affordable for society, by grouping students together for this work. Much of classroom time is accordingly spent managing the social dynamics of this concentration of students within this particular instructional model. This is one of the costs and benefits of the system: so much attention is devoted to social dynamics that they become a prime educational tool and even a goal of the educational process. The assumption is that the social skills learned in this immersive process will be expressed in the adult society of which the students will ultimately be a part. That is all admirable. Nonetheless, these rooms do a few other things: they divide children into manageable groups, they align them by age and subject of study, they often place adults in positions of authority, curriculum is set at a distance (not in particulars but structurally), and they are reliant on imported representations of the world: books, videos, reports, tweets, photographs, and so on. This is a cultural choice, not a human verity. It is also not the cultural choice of traditional (Syilx) cultures in this valley.

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3. What is this cultural choice?

The cultural choice is ultimately scientific. It employs the profoundly powerful scientific method of breaking unified experience down into abstract categories, which can be simplified to a high degree, logically understood, and reassembled into new world views with a bias towards intervention, management, and industrialization. Given that Okanagan culture is a part of a larger capitalist culture, ultimately these world views are developed in order to be capitalized, either as public infrastructure or for private profit. It is a model that matches the classroom model.

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4. What about “culture”?

Indeed. Much of contemporary Okanagan understanding of how water, wind, air, soil and sun work in the valley is based upon the detailed work and powerful methods of this approach. Much of contemporary Okanagan art and literature is also based on this method. A typical poem within the valley’s dominant culture, for example, dissects or reimagines experience, “proves” it with personal observation, and  ends in a moment of transcendance, in which this dissection, reimagination and presence is unified in a powerful image of the living, unified earth, as an expression of human understanding, or of urban space unified with logical understanding. These objects can be very moving. Then they end.

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5. What’s wrong with that?

This particular cultural choice does not allow for points of view which start at the moment of unity, because that moment goes against the basic principle of the cultural method: to take things apart so that they can be put together in a new form. In other words, this cultural choice transgresses the root understandings of syilx (indigenous) culture and teaches in the main a process of dissection, coupled with a creative process of reassembly, which uses two materials: dissected material and human physical experience. This is a perfect map of colonial experience. It contains profound, innately racist social choices which are, at least, essential to talk about, if Canada, and the Okanagan, are to be unified societies. If they are to be disunitied societies, God help us all. Furthermore, if the method is displaying itself in these subjects in this way it is likely doing so in science as well.

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7. Why Syilx?

Apart from the essential point, that a study of the culture that grew up with this landscape and maintained it for 4,000 years, in schooling situations that did not centre around classrooms, would be invaluable for the continued sustainability of human culture in this place, and the secondary point that the current lack of productivity of the natural landscapes reflects a 160-year-old turning-away from such knowledge, syilx culture is an invaluable doorway for fulfilling the current directives of the Ministry of Education of British Columbia for mandated inclusion of First Nations knowledge into the schooling curriculum. Applying a non-classroom model, centred around wetlands, would fulfill a major part of this mandate. Other benefits of a wetland-based learning area would connect the wetland with culture, history, environment, food production, and understandings of the relationships between people and the earth. Not only would such a model fulfill the Ministry’s mandate, but it would fulfill many other areas of education at the same time, without descending to a special class on Indigenous studies, without significant opportunities for it to enrich the conversation of the school with society as a whole. Besides, have you ever met any syilx people? I just plain like them.P1160057

8. Why a wetland classroom?

Schools aren’t classrooms. Classrooms are schools. Marshall McLuhan said it perhaps best: “The medium is the message.” To translate his slogan into the present, across more than half a century:

Where an action takes place determines the nature of the action.

In other words, if you have water on your mind, have the experience of water as your frame. To explain that a little more, as I mentioned last night, classrooms are courses within schools. What I meant was that the placement of children in classrooms teaches them about classification and abstraction, how to think in groups and how to put their words into sentences. That is actually the outcome of the course. Should an understanding of the environment, the earth, its air and its water, its living things and its rocks and mountains, be a desired outcome, that material has to be brought into the classroom in a broken form, and abstractly reconstructed in childrens’ heads. No one is building a mountain on the teacher’s desk. Better to make it the teacher’s desk.

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Nonetheless, bringing material in abstracted form into a classroom is not entirely a bad thing, of course, because it is one means of teaching invaluable and much-needed abstract reasoning skills. Nonetheless, it is a cultural choice, and does not represent the breadth and depth of responses to and relationships with the environment which we will need to survive here in the long term, or to have a living earth to survive in. This is where the idea of a wetland classroom in every school comes in: if the room is the outcome of the course, and an improved or different outcome is desired, change the room. If we want children to solve our water issues (and, boy, we have them) twenty years from now, it starts with a wetland classroom now. That will be their environment. They will know more than we ever did, and will have relationships most of us today, and most likely almost all of our engineers, do not have. If we wait five years, the outcome will be delayed five years, if not more.

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9. What kind of thinking can we expect?

Well, ultimately I would love every single child to have an intimate, unmediated experience with water that they will remember for their entire lives and which will inspire them towards dance, science, agriculture, mathematics, hydrology, family life, canoeing, literature, urban design… and on and on and on. I want the children to lead us, by their delight and wonder and I want them to have this experience when they are young enough that what they experience is not limited by, or pre-determined by, words and structured experience, whether in film, books, lectures, explanations, scientific diagrams, and so on, because as wondrous as those are, and as powerful and necessary as they are, they should come after the moment that changes childrens’ lives; if they come before it they will determine the shape of that moment in accordance with existing knowledge, and what we need right now is new knowledge. We need our children.We need them to teach us wonder and to help us live on the earth.

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10. What about creativity?

In the book-classroom-dissection model of contemporary dominant culture, creativity is the practice of reassembling cognitively examined segments of continuous experience into a new understanding, which is a way of saying “assembling them into a new self.” That is a culturally-specific process, as I noted above, and not determined by human nature. I went on in my discussion last night with the observation that if wetlands became the natural habitat of our children, as they were here 150 years ago (and, heck, 50 years ago I was splashing through them, too, watching dippers dive under the water and rise out of it again in a splash of light, chasing tadpoles, and marvelling at little minnows frozen in the winter ice.), and surprising things might happen. I can image this, in this dry, dry climate, which is only dry because we have turned our collective knowledge away from the wetlands that stretch the entire length of the valley in an unbroken chain. Here’s what I said:

We could have a wetland city, in this dry climate, 400 miles long. We could work to extend water rather than to extend roads and parking lots, and could work hard to find room, here and there, for roads, as we now do for water.

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First the water, then the water. It’s that simple. We don’t have to reimagine anything — none of our infrastructure, not a thing. We just have to give our children water to live in, teachers to guide them, and let them become the water keepers, like the beaver of Conconully above. There will be time for the hard questions. This has been the time for the vision. P2200975Welcome home.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 7: Going Lemonless, Mmmmm

Every day trucks from Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and no doubt all sorts of other places with names and histories of their own drive north full of lemons for the houses and restaurants of the Okanagan Valley in Canada. They sure are pretty things.lemon-181650_960_720

Nice sour things full of citric acid.lemon-1117568_960_720

Mmmm.
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Thing is, we have citric acid here too, and it looks like this (well, growing over the fence of my neighbour down the way.)P1170375

That’s right, until Veraison, that special time when the grape vine lays down malolactic (apple) acids in its skins and starts to colour up with all kinds of exquisite sparks of taste and complexity (in the skin), grapes are almost 100% citric acid.
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Veraison usually comes in the third week of July or so here, but it’s going to be early this year. Before then, vineyards need to thin out their extra clusters. They throw them away. We could have a second crop on every vineyard, tens of thousands of hectares of production, of wonderful grapey citric acid, for our salads and all our other special things. I tried it last year, a little past version, and the juice made wondrous salads, with gentle grape flavours, and the whole thing was not so sharp as a lemon, but subtle and very fine.P1170379

Without spending a drop more water than we are spending now, we could transform our food culture and add a completely new souring agent, one with hundreds of complex variations, to the world food table.P1170384

We would be a global food destination. Talk about added value. Talk about something you chefs should be getting onto like last week. I mean, the wine is getting to be pretty generic these days, and vineyards are scarcely paying and all, and this could change everything. Let’s go!

The Sustainable Okanagan 6: Let’s Go Nuts

As part of the effort to make the Okanagan sustainable, we should plant filberts. This scrubby and beautiful bush provides a rich harvest of nuts in the fall.
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Filberts are native here, and would grow well in all the boundary areas where Russian olives now thrive. Russian olives are sour dates, with more pit than fruit. No one wants to eat them.

But filberts, ah, they’re wonderful, and their catkins are gorgeous in the winter.

There’s a wild bush down my road, and the one I planted five years ago, as a four-foot-tall sapling, is now fifteen feet tall and rich with nuts. Here’s the wild one, hanging out with a sumac.

There’s room in every yard, along thousands of kilometres of fence lines, along Okanagan Lake, all the way through the wetland hayfields between Penticton and Brewster, for these nuts. There’s no need to bring nuts in from the Coast, where they have squirrels and fungus. Wouldn’t you like your winter’s supply of nuts to come with no additional water expenditure? Wouldn’t you like our recipe base to expand deep into winter? Filberts, that’s the thing. A filbert and almond orchard was planted at Palmer Lake back around 1980, and was abandoned, and turned into horse pasture. The thing is, after all these years, despite the predations of starving horses …

… the filberts are still alive and well, as is that almond you can see in the back. Almonds are more tender and a more finicky choice. This is a remote location. The people are in the main valley, and mostly in the Canadian Okanagan. It’s time to do this right. But, hey, if we want to do almonds as well, I’m all for that too.

But we should do it.

Eliminate Black Plastic Now

This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:

  1. It warms the soil for earlier crops.
  2. It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
  3. It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
  4. It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)

The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.

Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …

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…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.

Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is  actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …

Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …

… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…

… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.

By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:

Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.