Saturday, December 26, 2015

Old Stuff


Like most everyone else, for most of my life I've been sold (and wholeheartedly bought) the idea that newer is better. Most of us still believe that the march of technology is generally a good thing. Sometimes, this idea is based on fact, and sometimes it's not. More often than not, this view is based on ignorance of older technologies, and is almost always supported by a willful ignorance of costs, or a disconnect that makes them difficult to quantify.  I suspect much of the "progress" we've made in recent years is driven more by the profit margin associated with newer goods than anything else.

One great example is that of the traditional straight-edge razor, contrasted with the modern disposable or electric. I've been using a straight-edge for a decade now, and expect that it will most likely last the rest of my life. I've found that I rarely cut myself with it, certainly far less than I ever did with a "safety" razor. Yes, it requires occasional stropping (taking perhaps a minute every other month) and sharpening (about 5 minutes every 6 months), but that's a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new razor every month and then tossing is in the garbage. Unlike multi-blade safety razors, the blade is *incapable* of plugging, which is a big plus when shaving near a beard or when shaving off some multi-day stubble. Unlike electric razors, they actually work as advertised!

Standing in an antique shop once, I overheard a teenage boy looking at a straight edge razor in the display case, and asking his dad about them.  "Looks like a good way to cut yourself to pieces!" was the response. He'd obviously never used one. I decided to bite my tongue, and didn't enlighten them.

Bit brace
Yet another discovery is that of the old fashioned bit-brace. Folks that use the modern equivalent on a regular basis, the cordless electric drill, find that they have to replace them annually. The last one we used (one of the "good" brands) had a battery go bad within the first month, and the charger went belly up a couple months after that. When they're not broken, I find that their batteries are invariably uncharged or have lost their ability to hold a charge, whereas the bit brace's battery is always fully charged and hasn't failed me yet. You can also get new attachments for them which will hold any of the bits for driving screws.
Yankee push drill/screwdriver

For smaller jobs, either drilling or driving screws, the yankee push-drill makes an excellent companion to the bit brace, with all the same benefits.

American Scythe
The scythe is another excellent tool that was buried too soon by a public that's forever infatuated with anything motorized. I remember the first time I saw one in use by a groundskeeping crew at a zoo somewhere in Germany. It was fascinating to watch them mow around trees and fences, and the crew certainly didn't choose it because they were masochists. They chose it because it was the best tool for the job. Aside from the fact that they either give you cancer (2 cycle engine exhaust is nasty stuff!) and stink, or have an annoying cord to drag around, weed-eaters simply don't work all that well. A well sharpened scythe can run circles around them, and is far cheaper to purchase and operate as well as being far more pleasant. Yes, they need sharpening, but you'll spend less time with that than you will monkeying with the weed-whacker's string-feeder, cursing the motor for not starting, or wishing you'd been careful enough to not spill the gasoline all over your shoes when filling it.
European Scythes

American style scythes tend to be heavier than their lightweight European counterparts, and are often discounted by homesteaders as a result. They are, however, much more durable. I like to use mine for clearing heavier brush (it can cut small trees up to an inch in diameter), but prefer the European model for mowing grass or trimming around the yard.

Direct usefulness isn't the only measure we should be looking at when deciding what to use for any particular task, however. Everything has a cost well beyond what we paid for it at the store.

With a disposable razor, it's the extraction of petroleum for a plastic handle, burning coal to smelt the iron for the blades, and a greatly increased transport cost (both to the store and to the landfill) due to the large number of units required throughout a lifetime. Though the units required for the electric are fewer, the impact of each is much greater, particularly if it utilizes a battery. Ditto for the electric drill.  Ever seen China's special rare-earth-metals dumping grounds? Or how about their air? Chinese manufacturing isn't just cheap because of lower labor costs, it's cheap because they've decided to sacrifice their country (and planet) for present day prosperity. Their pollution doesn't stay in China, either.  Check out what we recently discovered in our west coast forests.

Older tools were made in and for a world where energy was more expensive and thus used more sparingly, which is exactly the world we're returning to whether we like it or not. It's the reason they were made to last, rather than to catch your eye with their bright colored plastic. Perhaps best of all is the satisfaction of holding a well worn tool that you can pass along to future generations instead of tossing in the garbage when you're done with it.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Once your entire life is outsourced, you're dead.

The trend over the last century or two has certainly been one towards outsourcing. I'm not talking outsourcing in terms of corporations moving jobs offshore, but rather in terms of personal tasks -- the things we used to do before anyone knew what a job was. The vast majority of us have outsourced the production of our food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, childcare, education, and a myriad of other activities which our ancestors handled on a regular basis.

If there's one takeaway message that I picked up in my university economics courses, it's that this is a good thing. If Joe is an exceptionally good farmer, and Bill is an exceptionally good fisherman, then it's in everyone's interest for Joe to be the farmer and Bill to be the fisherman, each paying the other for their skills rather than doing everything themselves. This is the model of efficiency we've all been sold, and it makes sense from a narrow perspective. The expansion of this trend, combined with the widespread utilization of fossil fuels, is exactly what has made our industrial society the wealthiest in history. It's the reason we all own and use far more than we could ever expect to make if we made it all ourselves. The book, "The Toaster Project" is a perfect demonstration of this.

But, as always, there's more to the story. An increase in efficiency is always paid for with a decrease in resilience. In a village where Joe and Bill both farm and fish, the death of one doesn't appreciably impact the other. However, when tasks are divided, the death of either has a much greater impact, as one of their essential skills is lost.  Should we ever find ourselves in any of the major upheavals of the sort which fill history books, we'll find that a diversified skill set may be the very key to survival.

There's another, perhaps greater cost to our outsourced lives as well. When we specialize only in a particular skill or task (i.e. our "careers"), we experience less and less, to the point that once diverse and multi-faceted lives have become monotonous and repetitious. We're bored. Bored people tend to get fat, develop addictions, bad habits, and physical or mental illness. Anti-depressant use skyrockets, as do the side-effects we regularly hear about on the news.

Though purely economic reasoning would suggest otherwise, we can and should reclaim the experiences and skills we've given up. Monetary return is important in a world that still runs on money, but I'd suggest that it's far from the only issue of importance. The less we outsource, the more we live.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Early Morning

The shorter days have me out well before daylight now, even too early for the cows it seems. They're about as far from the barn as they can get, grazing down the last lush growth on our back hay field, surrounded by woods.  The quarter mile walk to collect them gives me some time to think, and enjoy my surroundings before heading off to my day in a cubicle.

With the scooping done in the barn, I head outside and turn off the headlamp. The world beyond its 20 foot beam opens up.  I'm always amazed at how easy it is to see at night, outside, without a light. The dim light of the moon offers up no colors. Everything appears in black & white, like an old movie. The crescent moon illuminates the broken clouds as they scoot eastward. I get brief glimpses of the stars, and of blinking jets heading east from Chicago. Though we're in the same part of Michigan, the experiences of the passengers are nothing like my own. I'm glad not to be one of them.

The rumble of trucks out on the highway is annoying, but grows weaker the further I walk. It's a little cool for them, but a few crickets still chirp half-heartedly from the osage fencerow we planted a few years back. A ways out, I can hear the neighbor's rooster.

An owl hoots in the woods on the other side of our pond. I stumble on an old dry pile of horse poo that feels like a lost pillow. A larvae glows at me like a star lost in the grass.  Reaching the hay field, I stop and listen, just in case the cows have wandered into the woods.  All I hear is an occasional acorn rattling down through the branches on its trip to the forest floor.

Eventually I find the cows, bedded down at the far edge of the hay field, chewing their cud. They enjoy a little scratching on the top of their heads and then get up to do what cows always do first when they get up. Tails lift and I step back to the safety zone. That stuff splatters much further than you'd think.

The cows don't share my interest in a speedy trip to the barn. They've got bellies to fill, and the tasty alfalfa-grass mix is too much to resist. They encourage me to be patient like themselves, but I resist. I work back and forth between them, prodding the laggards back into motion. Coyotes yip on the other side of the woods, where I've heard they have a den in the stone foundation of what was once a barn.

The cows pick up their pace once we're back on the regular pasture. Our barn comes back into view, with the lights shining out into the darkness through the open door and dirty windows. After a long drink at the stock tank, Maggie and Millie lead Fritz in through the main door. Penny insists on going through the side door (Penny's *special* door), as the others are likely to give her an unfriendly head-butt if she passes too close. She stops to lick one of the barn cats before putting her head through the stanchion, where she shovels aside the picked-over hay with her head.  My day's chores begin.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's ALIVE!

Scooping up in the barn after morning milking, I look up to see the four young barn swallows perched on the edge of their mud nest just above my head. They're eagerly awaiting the next installment of bug-puke from their parents, who sound the alarm when they see me standing too close. In a day or two the kids will be be joining them, swooping gracefully through the air to rid it of bugs. Higher in the barn, in a dovecote built long ago, I can hear the pigeons cooing to one another as they contemplate the creation of more pigeons.

On my way to dump the wheelbarrow full of manure under one of the trees in our orchard, I pass the bird house Henry made from scraps of barn siding. There's a house wren living there, building a nest. He sings beautifully for a girl to come and check it out. On a post at the other end of the fence adjacent to our garden, another of Henry's new birdhouses plays host to a family of bluebirds.  I hear squealing and splashing (they like to jump into their stock-tank) coming from the pig-pen behind the garden.  Mourning doves coo their morning songs.

Next on the chore list are the broiler chickens in their pasture pen.  On my way out to them, I stop at the gate to eat a few mulberries. When I'm done, I shake the branch to knock some down for our turkeys, who are already waiting with eager anticipation.

A swing by the outhouse on my way back from the pasture wouldn't be complete without one of our barn-cat outhouse attendants. Meowy has discovered that it's easy to get some attention from me while I'm temporarily immobilized there. The forever curious turkeys stand in the doorway, craning their necks to see what's inside, and then peck at a bug on the floor. The lambs are calling to their mothers as they make their way out to pasture. Out the window of the outhouse, I can see four painted turtles, sunning themselves on the log we put in the pond for them.

The last stop on my way back to the house is the well-pump. We keep a wooden bucket there for washing hands (one made by Rachel). It's upside down on a sassafras post into which I've hollowed out a cavity as a soap dish. A grey tree frog lives under the bucket, and occasionally invites a friend or two to stay over.  I make sure not to squish him as I return the bucket to the post.

Everywhere I look, the farm is alive. So am I.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Light


A few winters ago, Rachel read the book "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Henry and I in the evenings after dinner and chores. We chose to turn off all our lights and use only oil lamps while we sat down to read and listen, which was a nice complement to the book. Henry enjoyed listening to the stories (based on her husband Almanzo's experiences on an upstate New York farm in the 1800s), as did I. For me, they were also quite instructive!

Despite being interested in the content, I always found myself quite sleepy after the reading. I assumed at the time that this had something to do with the dim light of the oil lamps. As it turns out, I was right, but there's far more to this effect than I was aware of.

I've lately been reading the book Lights Out by TS Wiley, which explains this effect and its tremendous implications. A researcher focusing on diabetes, the author found herself constantly returning to the role played by light in triggering the various hormones that control our sleep, appetite, addictions, and sex drive.

Though it should come as no surprise, the artificial extension of daylight through our use of electric lights (and computers, televisions, smart phones, etc) is in large part the driving force behind the appetites that drive us to favor carbohydrates and sugars. Since these are no longer as difficult to come by as they were in the age our bodies are designed for, we eat far more than our bodies can use. The resulting chronic high blood sugar we experience is what makes most of us insulin resistant and prone to a wide variety of the diseases that have risen dramatically during the 20th century.

The book is largely a highlight of various studies performed by the CDC and NIH. They interview Dr. Thomas Wehr of the NIH, who suggests that on less than 9.5 hours of sleep (a conservative minimum before the age of electricity), people will most likely develop either diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infertility, mental illness, or premature aging. When the authors asked him if he felt this should be made public knowledge, his response was, "Well, yes, they do have a right to know. They should be told; but it won't change anything.  Nobody will ever turn off the lights".

Considering that 35% of Americans are now obese, and 69% of us are overweight, most of us will suffer heart disease (our #1 cause of death), 50% of us will experience cancer, a third of us are expected to develop diabetes, and 13% are on anti-depressants, it might do us some good to learn a little more about this. Though the author's style is a little shrill, the subject matter appears to be quite sound and is a real eye opener.

Another related book which I found quite interesting is Clark Strand's "Waking up to the Dark", It focuses on sleep patterns, comparing historical (i.e. normal) patterns with today's electrically enhanced patterns, focusing on the implications for spirituality and mental health. Anyone with sleep issues will definitely be interested. James Howard Kunstler recently interviewed him in this podcast, which may pique your interest as it did my own.






Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Pope

The first letter to the editor I ever wrote (and which was also published), was chastising Pope John Paul II for his insistence that population control not be discussed at the earth summit in Rio De Janiero, some time in the early 1990s.  For most of the time since, I'd viewed the Catholic church as something of a nemesis, mindlessly fighting against our common future through their stance on population and reproduction.

I'm happy to announce that I no longer feel this way.  Better yet, they're perhaps one of my most influential allies.   From Pope Francis's recent encyclical, I quote,

"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.  The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn"


Monday, June 15, 2015

Going High Tech


Hay slings laid out in the loft for evaluation.
It's been hot this week... mid 80's with humidity to match. It makes my t-shirt stick to my skin and ride up up under my overalls like an unfortunate halter top. Daily rain is nice for the orchard and garden, not so nice for the weeds which can't be knocked back without a little drying time. The animals all retreat to the barn as soon as the sun is up, where they spend the day avoiding the biting flies whose populations seem to rise exponentially with the temperature. The horses stomp constantly to keep the flies off, and the cows all stand sweating and panting like dogs. The still barn air feels about 10 degrees hotter than the air outside, and reeks of ammonia. The stone foundation is dripping with condensation. Horseflies cover the windows, apparently regretting their decision to follow the animals inside the darkened retreat.

The barn that seemed so well maintained suddenly feels impossible, as the animals deposit all the end products of their night-time grazing indoors on expensive bedding. Keeping up with them feels like mopping up underneath a waterfall. I'm scooping out four heaping wheelbarrow loads a day, but it probably needs to be closer to eight (if there were no backlog, that is).

Weather like this always makes me think of moving back to a cool maritime climate. This year I'm dreaming of Sitka, where this week's highs look to be right around 60 degrees. Last year it was Waldron Island in the San Juans, and the year before that it was Lopez Island. Though wonderfully cool by comparison to our Michigan summer, each location seems to be somewhat lacking in gainful employment opportunities and affordable land. Suffice it to say that I'm really hoping things cool down in time for our second cutting of hay in mid July.

With the construction of our new barn, putting up hay has become a little easier. It would've been considered high tech, circa 1910 -- as evidenced by the patent date on the hay trolley. In the absence of diesel, it will again be high-tech. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best way to put up hay without the direct use of fossil fuels, bar none.

The high technology of our new operation revolves around the use of hay slings, rather than the grapple forks used in our original barn. Hay slings look much like hammocks, which are laid out on the wagon as the hay is loaded, typically three of them sandwiched into the layers on a full load.

video
For unloading the hay from the wagon, we lower the hay rope with its two hooks on pulleys, each of which attach to a ring at opposite ends of the slings. The horses then pull the rope, which rolls up the hay (each load looks like a large round bale) and raises it to the roof peak. Control lines are rigged to pull the trolley to either mow, where a release cord is pulled, allowing the sling to split in two and release the hay.

video


What's so good about slings? The biggest advantage is that the wagon can be unloaded in three "bites" rather than the 5 or 6 it typically takes with grapple forks. It's also much easier to attach the slings to the hay rope than it is to set the grapple forks for each bite.  For us, the design of the new barn, with its drive-through center aisle, is easier to use than the bank barn we've been using. The bank barn forced us to park the horses, unhitch the wagon, and roll it in (and out) by hand.

The down side?  Hay slings will load the barn's hay trolley system quite a bit more than other methods, which is why our old barn only gets to use grapple forks. They're also a little more trouble to arrange and keep organized out in the field, as we need to pause to set up the second and third slings partway through each load.

video

So while the new barn isn't quite finished (it still needs a floor, gutters, stalls, and some paint), we're already making good use of it. Now we just need to get it ready for the animals that will eat the hay.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do Less

In most respects, "green" energy is no better than the fossil energy it replaces, and serves primarily as a fossil fuel extender. As with the smoker who opts for light cigarettes, or the horribly misguided popularity of diet soda, the easiest solution is rarely the right solution.

Now that faith in the Cornucopia of Technology (what cool toy will Apple make for us next?) has moved into first place as the #1 global religion, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that so many people are convinced technology will solve the very problems it's created (climate change and peak oil / energy depletion come to mind). Never mind the fact that all of this technology rests upon a crumbling pedestal of fossil energy.

A recent case in point is the much touted new Tesla "Powerwall" home battery. It's a lithium-ion battery, with a 7 or 10 kWh capacity, the latter of which will be selling for $3500. Maybe Tesla has made a dramatic improvement in the lifespan of lithium ion batteries, but I doubt it (they promise a 10 year warranty -- which is about the expected lifespan of a well treated lead-acid battery).

The larger 10kWh battery (with 1/3rd the capacity to run the typical 30kWh household's daily consumption) is roughly equivalent in capacity to 3.3 8D series deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, which I see retailing for $330 apiece. But, because lead-acid batteries don't last well when regularly drawn below 50%, you'll want to double the number of conventional batteries for equivalence, so that's 6.6 batteries. You can't buy .6 batteries, so we'll round up to 7. Total cost for 7 - 8D batteries is $2,310, vs $3500 for the Tesla battery. The Tesla battery will be smaller and lighter. That's a big deal in a car, but not so much in a house. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I fail to see the breakthrough here.

Though people seem to be figuring this out as their sales wane, electric cars aren't really any more environmentally friendly than their gasoline counterparts. "Clean burning natural gas", if you include the environmental costs and emissions of the full life cycle, isn't really any better than coal. Then there's nuclear energy, which we can't afford to get rid of (and will be decreasingly able to get rid of as energy depletion bites ever further into our economies). Did I mention contamination that lasts longer than human civilization has been in existence? I suspect that there are some folks in Tokyo who might take issue with its green image.  Have you read about the latest greatest source of CO2 emissions (accounting for about 30% of all human caused emissions)?  It's the draining of peat bogs in Indonesia for oil-palm plantations to meet the demand for "green" biodiesel.

No matter where you peek behind the curtain on green energy, you find problems which reveal it to be the wrong answer for offering a chance at continued human survival.

The problem is, to a large extent, that we opened the pandora's box of fossil energy, fell in love with all it had to offer, and are now willing to commit mass murder in order to keep it. We've insisted that we could reproduce without limits, fly anywhere on a whim, build homes as big as we like, and fill them with manufactured goods shipped from around the world. As it turns out, we've made what currently looks to be a fatal mistake.

The answer is not "green" energy any more than it is "light" cigarettes.  The answer is to reset our expectations. Mother nature and her pesky laws of thermodynamics will take care of our numbers issue in her own less-pleasant ways, because we refused to do it ourselves. Those who remain, if any, will certainly appreciate us making their world a little less bad by making ourselves a little less harmful. That means doing less than we've become accustomed to. Travel should be within walking or perhaps biking distance, not across continents or oceans. Food should (for a million different reasons) be produced (or preferably foraged) locally, by ourselves and our neighbors, as should our modest homes, clothing and tools. I think you'll find that the life we're returning toas a matter of necessity is in many ways much better than the one which we're all clinging to now.  I know that my movements in this direction would suggest exactly that.

When the future we're headed towards turns out not to include us or anything we value, it's probably a good idea to return to the past that does.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Not-so-chocolate Easter Bunny

The cows are out on pasture as of this week, and seem to be enjoying themselves.  I love walking out to meet them in the pasture at first light, with all the birds belting out their morning greetings.  I made my way to the far end of the pasture this morning without finding the cows, and assumed they'd gone to play wild-cow-of-the-wilderness in the small patch of woods they have access to. After searching for them with my headlamp to no avail, I completed a loop around the rest of the pasture, checking the corners where I might have missed them on my way out in the dim light.  Coming full circle, I found them already waiting for me back at the barnyard.  We have sneaky stealth cows, as it turns out.

While milking Penelope, I could hear a bunch of rustling straw in the main loafing area of the barn, which I assumed to be "Ninja" Fritz (our 4 week old calf) tearing around in circles and kicking at imagined foes. Then I heard the screaming, and went to investigate. Burrito the cat had scored herself a baby rabbit and was relentlessly torturing it.

Apparently not hungry enough, Burrito left the bunny to an eager Coon. She's the three-legged cat who became that way while hiding in the tall hay as the horses walked past with the sickle mower one day. Coon carried her prize over to the milking area and made it scream some more before getting down to the crunchy business of eating the cute creature in front of me, starting (as usual) with the delicious head.

In between the screams and crunching, my thoughts turned as they often do to things I've read lately. There's a super El-Nino developing off of our west coast, which is dramatically increasing the die-off of ocean life that depends upon plankton (just about everything, that is). On the plus side, it's also expected to break the 4 year drought in California. On the down side, it's likely to trigger a drought where we live.

Climate change isn't something we might get to experience a few decades from now. It's here, now.  I find it terrifying, and even more terrifying is the complacency and outright denial that grows worse as we watch it wreaking havoc. The same things are happening in Syria, Sao Palo, YemenIran, Ukraine, and California really. It's not just that we're warming, or drying, or seeing unprecedented floods and storms. The problem is that we're losing the stability that has made life possible. We're losing the stability required for agriculture, for forests, and for every living thing.

The drought our farm experienced in 2012 was nothing like the 4 years of drought currently being endured by much of California, but that one year alone cost us several thousand dollars, quickly making the farm a losing proposition. The risk of a similar event in any given year is rising, which turns any farm into a losing bet. Farmers don't just "fail to make a profit" when there's a drought. They lose money, and lots of it. Most are spending hundreds of dollars per acre, every year, for seeds and fuel, and perhaps irrigation. If a crop fails, that's all lost. It doesn't need to fail every year. I'll bet once every third or fourth year would be enough to destroy most farming enterprises and render grocery store shelves bare. After pouring our heart and soul into our own farm for several years now, the thought of it losing viability is gut wrenching.

Look outside your house, and I'll bet you see trees, which are in many ways the lungs of the planet. That makes them just as important as our own lungs. Trees need stability as much as we do.  If the growing conditions that made a forest cease to be reliable, the forest dies. With the rate of change we're seeing, forests won't just move northwards, as many expect. By the time a more southerly species is able to establish, changing conditions will likely kill it too.

A lot of folks are looking to permaculture as the type of agriculture which we should move towards. In a destabilized climate, however, the longer lived species required for permaculture won't do any better (and will likely fare worse) than the annuals that currently comprise the bulk of our agriculture.

But, for now, our farm in spring is beautiful. The breaking buds look like a light green mist settling on the trees. The lambs are bouncing on all fours and chasing chickens that wander past. Our pastures are green and lush, and the cows are fat and happy. For that, I'm thankful.






Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Divestment

Ah, the naivete of youth! Perhaps you've read about them - the students of the divestment movement - pushing for their respected universities to stop investing in fossil energy companies. These kids apparently haven't figured out that screwing everyone's tomorrow is the only way to live well and get an affordable education (cough, cough) today.  Perhaps the students are biased, thinking they have more of a future ahead of them than most of the (older) administrators do.

The typical assumption is that investments should be green (like the little green leaf on the back of cars to make us feel better about using them), or socially responsible. I doubt most of the students in these campaigns would protest against their university administration if they were instead invested in wind and solar companies. This assumption is where the true naivete shines through, however.

There is no such thing as green or socially responsible investment, at least none that would be available in any of the major stock exchanges or brokerage firms. The legal structure of publicly owned corporations ("green" or not) prioritizes the need to generate shareholder return above all else. In so doing, it subjugates the human qualities of morality and empathy that would otherwise temper business decisions. Come to think of it, I'm not aware of a single publicly owned corporation that exists outside of the industrial economy. Any business which uses fossil fuel extracted by the "bad" energy companies, is really just "bad" once removed.

It's not just that public corporations are inherently driven to do bad things, like skirting, ignoring, (or re-writing)  our lax environmental regulations. Investing in corporations is exactly what feeds the beast that has subverted democracy around the globe, with a particularly egregious example here in the US.  You did read that we now fit the textbook definition of an oligarchy, right?

Investment in corporations is what blinds people to the corporate behavior that subverts governments and destroys nations. "Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth" or you'll loose your retirement.

The subversion of democracy is very much in play right now with the Trans-Pacific-Partnership negotiations, which amounts to NAFTA on steroids. NAFTA played a huge role in destroying manufacturing and the middle class in the US while destroying agriculture in Mexico. This lead to destruction of thousands of families in Central America, waves of desperate illegal immigrants in the US, and the creation of new corporate wet-dream worlds such as Ciudad Juarez just south of our border with Mexico. Witness also the rise of super-powerful Mexican drug cartels soon after NAFTA was implemented. Coincidence?

Let's assume for a moment that you're a sociopath with no friends or family, concerns or desires beyond money itself. Social and environmental responsibility mean nothing to you, and you think democracy is massively overrated. I have a convincing argument for you to divest your portfolio as well. It's called peak oil. Oil drove the industrial economy of the 20th century, with stock markets and GDP closely tracking oil consumption.

When the peak in conventional crude arrived as predicted circa 2005, the economy started sputtering. Attempts to fill our tanks with unconventional oil since then haven't helped much. After 2007's now forgotten heart-attack, the stock market is again climbing quite nicely. Do you think that's because the economy is still really growing, or even capable of significant further growth? The Quantitative Easing game of twister currently employed by central banks around the world might make you think so, but eventually this tangled mass is going to fail.

So let's say you're a normal person still set on the concept of retirement, or are already retired. Our culture of the last several decades says that investment (in anything!) is a-okay so long as you don't peek behind the curtain too often. No investment means no retirement, and who wants to keep working until the day they die?

Well... sometimes there is no good answer, but there may be less-bad answers than business as usual. My own answer thus far has been to first invest in myself. First of all, paying off any debt. This will usually garner greater returns (through the fact that you will forego *paying* interest to someone else) than you can expect from much investment now anyway, and the returns are guaranteed. That's a no-brainer in my opinion.

So you're already debt free, and need to invest just to have income? I can't recommend any sure thing for returns, but I do have a suggestion which might ameliorate the damage of investing. The closer you are to your investment, the better.  Perhaps that's investing in yourself through classes that might allow you some increased returns (monetary or otherwise), or skills that may be useful now or in the energy-constrained future.  Perhaps it's a friend or family member that runs a business. Perhaps it's just someone you trust to remain human, and who is operating on a scale which makes that possible. The point here is to avoid the separation of monetary and human interests which occurs with larger corporations.

Ultimately, all investment will again be as it once was - with people we know personally and see daily, and probably with no money involved or needed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are your teats sore too?

I tend not to relate much to the Tea Party, but they are in fact on the right trail in some respects. I don't personally mind paying my taxes. I do mind, however, not getting anything in return.

In the interest of improving efficiency, I'd like to suggest that we all petition the IRS to allow us to make our tax payments directly to the corporations they're ultimately ending up with. The robots we've created - the ones with the primary purpose of generating shareholder return - are working exactly as designed. Not surprisingly, they've converged on one of the largest, most easily diverted streams of wealth on the planet. It's the stream that flows from you and I to the federal government in the form of federal taxes.

Never fret though... "mainstream" media articles like this are written to make us feel better about being robbed. Apparently people in other countries pay more than we do, on average. This article forgets to mention all the things they actually get for their money that we don't, however (free university education, healthcare, etc).

A few weeks ago, I received a call from the Farm Service Agency, who is tasked with providing money to farmers, ostensibly to support farmers. Our farm is classified as having the potential to grow commodity corn and soy (a fate befallen most farms in our area), which makes us eligible for price supports even though we don't grow either crop. The price of both are down this year, meaning it should be a good payment year, though I don't yet know just how good.

In the absence of such price support payments, farmers would stop growing until the prices rose to the point of making it worth the effort again. Because all farmers receive the supports equally, such market forces are greatly reduced.  These payments serve only to keep the price of such commodity crops artificially low.  Thus, the payments aren't really going to the farmers -- they're going to the purchasers of such commodities, such as ADM or Cargill, and ultimately large industrial producers of "food" like General Mills or Tyson. These industry giants have all the assets they need to ensure that such subsidies "for the farmers" stay in place, especially in a government where being a corporate sell-out is a requirement for successful campaign finance.

This business model isn't limited just to agriculture, as it turns out. Retail corporations have figured it out too! They've figured out that social welfare programs, when given to their workers, allow them to accept starvation wages without actually astarving. Wal-Mart is even known to provide paperwork for such programs to their new hires, demonstrating how important these programs are to their business model.

How well does it work?  Apparently very well indeed, as 6 members of the Walton family of Wal-Mart now have more wealth than the bottom 40% of all Americans (128 million people).

The ironically named "healthcare industry" now has their own program as well. The pharmaceutical industry has Medicare part D, in which our legislative and executive branch promised to let the industry set their own pricing without any negotiation on our behalf.  Strangely enough, prices paid by Americans for various medications are often orders of magnitude greater than those paid by others in the rest of the world.

The "Affordable Care Act", which has doubled my own family's insurance rates for what appears to be nearly identical (i.e. crappy) coverage, has been a real boon for the insurance industry, who turns out to have written most of the bill. How are they faring as a result?

Never one to be left behind in terms of government teat-sucking, the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about has far exceeded his worst nightmares. With the collusion of a purchased corporate media, they've convinced most Americans that we need to blow up just about everyone else on the planet, preferably with ultra expensive hardware.

They've even convinced us that we need to poke the nuclear-armed Russian bear, by encouraging and funding the neo-nazis in Ukraine to attack their own people, and then blaming Putin for "aggression" when he helps the ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Unbeknownst to most Americans, Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) once served as the capital of Russia.  Brezhnev was from Ukraine. When I asked a Russian friend about his thoughts on our antics Ukraine, he was incredulous. "It's like Russia funding a revolution in Michigan, and then blaming us for American aggression in trying to keep it!", as he put it.

The F-35 joint strike fighter, deemed un-usable at a current cost of 1.5 *trillion* dollars, has in fact performed exactly as intended by the military-industrial complex.  It has transferred enormous amounts of your tax dollars to someone else, for which you've received absolutely nothing. Better yet, the carrier specifically designed to accommodate the fighter is apparently going to need numerous expensive upgrades in order to actually accommodate it.  Strange...

Somehow, I don't think voting for Jeb or Hillary will change any of this, as they both have a long history of catering to corporate wealth at our expense.  We're going to have to stop choosing our candidates from the corporately sponsored menu if we're to ever be to the land of the free.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Choices

The gently sloping property to the west of our farm has been in the conservation reserve program since the 1980's. It's a big plus for us. We don't need to worry nearly as much as most rural Michiganders about pesticide or nitrate contamination of our well, for instance. It's been a haven for wildlife, and has undoubtedly made our farm a nicer place for hunting. It's also the reason that my bee hives survive the winter much better than those near conventional farms (which often experience 100% mortality).

I was a little concerned, then, when I saw the neighbors clearing and disking their fields last summer. Big changes were clearly afoot. Turns out they were preparing to plant hay, as the conservation reserve program was making expensive demands that had turned it into a losing proposition. That seemed like a good thing for us as well, since we could likely purchase their hay directly out of the field at a discount. The location couldn't be more convenient.

A couple weeks ago, I received a call from the owners. Some family health problems were jeopardizing their plans, and they wondered if I might be interested in leasing 21 acres of their property. I said that I was interested, and would get back to them after discussing it with Rachel.

This set in motion a bunch of number crunching and soul searching that I'd had the luxury of avoiding until now.

We currently produce about 1/3rd of our own hay requirement, and none of our straw or purchased grain feeds (though we have grown small amounts of both). Most of our hay is put up with horses -- something which I'm quite proud of. However, doing everything with horses is not easy. Upon learning about our practices, one astute farmer noted "You can do about 10 acres that way, but no more." He was absolutely correct. Our current hay acreage is about 6-7 acres, and some years (particularly during second cutting in mid July's heat, humidity, and horseflies) I swear that it's nearly enough to kill me. Our horses probably don't like it a whole lot either. Getting it all cured and in the barn before the next rain invariably feels like a race against time.

Though our farm is nowhere near self sustaining, we're far enough down the path that I have an idea of what it would take to be that way. Without the use of fossil fuels, it turns out that meeting your own food requirements is a full time job for an entire family. Attempting to sell some of your production, when your competition invariably makes as much use of fossil fuels as possible, has got to be one of the fastest routes to a new life at the local gospel mission. It's like challenging someone to a race in which you'll wear sneakers while they drive a Maserati. You might enjoy the race, and leave the world a better place than the driver will, but you're gonna lose big.

With all this in mind, it's a given that 21 additional acres of hay, if we were to lease it, would not be managed without fossil fuels. We would probably have to use chemical fertilizer to keep the fields in good shape as well, since our manure spreader is always loaded by hand and our total manure production is not enough to cover that much ground.

If we were to harvest it ourselves, we'd need a bigger tractor to make it practical, along with a haybine, baler, and likely a new rake and additional hay wagons. That's several thousand dollars at a minimum, which we're woefully lacking as we recover from the recently finished barn. We'd ultimately need yet *another* barn to store all this equipment.

So the question then becomes whether we can find someone who would be willing to bale it for cash or on shares -- without costing us more than it would to simply purchase the equivalent hay. We have a neighbor who's expressed interest, but I do worry that this hay won't be a priority in such an arrangement. Hay that isn't prioritized gets rained on.

There are, of course, other criteria to be evaluated beyond the purely financial. No matter how it's harvested, hay from the field next door is invariably an environmental improvement over hay cut in the next county (or, at times, much further than that). Hay which we grow won't be sprayed with nasty insecticides for leaf-hoppers as may be done with purchased hay. Keeping the field next door under our control also ensures that we won't be drinking pesticides in our well water or losing our bees every winter to neonicotinoids (which are used on nearly all corn/soy seed).

Leasing opens up other options as well. While they're unlikely to be utilized while I'm pouring 50 hours a week into my day job and commute, we would potentially have the option to grow a significant portion of the grain (corn, oats, soy, etc) that we now purchase. We could, in theory at least, do some of the hay harvest with the horses as well. Raking or tedding hay, for instance, is nearly as fast with horses as it is with a tractor.

Last but not least are my ever present Chicken Little concerns. I've had these for a while, but thus far they've been delayed by lots of creativity (damn you Ben Bernanke and your quantitative easing!).  They force me to see things not just as they are, but as I expect them to become. First and foremost is the consideration of how long oil will be readily available or affordable. When that becomes a problem, there will be no hay or feed available at any price.

At least I'm in relatively good company. Both the Pentagon and the German Bundeswehr, among many others, have produced studies which point to 2015-2016 as the most likely period for the onset of significant problems with regard to global oil production. We don't need to wait for oil to run out before we have problems, as *any* supply constraints are likely to trigger economic gyrations that could easily derail us -- and make oil supply problems even worse.  If these studies are correct, now might be a *great* time to have a bunch of hay growing next door which we'll still have the ability to harvest, at least while our equipment holds up.

On the flip side, business as usual might well be sustained a bit longer by more creative economic contortions, making my concerns moot for the time being. If we go ahead and lease the property, I could easily spend *more* to lease, plant, and harvest hay than we do currently to purchase hay, while working ourselves to death for the privilege. We would also carry the entire risk of failed harvests, as has happened in two of the last three years on our existing hay fields.

I suppose it all boils down to this. So long as the industrial economy continues to function, it's the only place to make a living, and will remain a force with which we cannot successfully compete. Once it fails, clinging to it in hopes of a revival (a popular choice, I suspect) will be a recipe for certain failure. In the mean time we have to straddle both worlds -- making a living in the present while preparing for an uncertain future.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Revenge


I'm always a little offended when I see it.  Horse drawn plows, manure spreaders, grain drills, wagons, cultivators, etc, parked in someone's front yard for display.  

Sure -- the people who commit such crimes probably don't intend to offend. Some might even share my love of old farm equipment, but are having trouble expressing it in a proper manner. It absolutely kills me to see these things rotting and rusting away for no good reason, particularly the implements which started out in perfectly usable condition when they were parked there in the flowerbed.

Why should it bother me? It's like dancing on the grave of a more noble era. An era in which we had yet to go completely insane, and were less hell-bent on destroying our future for today's fleeting convenience.  An era which we'd do well to emulate rather than memorialize.  It's a burning of the bridge that offers the only route to a future.

Propping up a bit of our past like this seems to say, "Gee, isn't it great we don't have to use those things anymore!?", when we'd be much better off if we still did. Don't these folks understand that our "modern" lifestyles and technology are but a brief blip in the timeline of history that also threaten to end it? Apparently not.  We should look twice before discarding our past into history's waste bin.

I have a revenge planned, to be implemented as soon as I become fabulously wealthy from my dairying habit. I'm taking the biggest, baddest six hundred and twenty horsepower John Deere tractor -- the flagship of diesel fueled, chemically enhanced agriculture -- and I'm parking it in a flower bed. Watching it rust will warm my soul each time I gaze upon it.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Finished! Well... sort of.


Though finished is a relative term, our new barn is finished.  Well... at least finished aside from things like paint, gutters, stalls, rigging the hay trolley, glazing the windows, installing the surrounding fencing/gates, putting in a floor and/or concrete thresholds, water lines, electric service (not sure if I'll install that or not), cistern, and a multitude of other projects I'm purposefully ignoring for the sake of sanity. It is now barn-shaped anyway, and I think it's pretty. The pigeons don't seem to like the new siding so much, as they haven't figured out a way inside.

The new garden tool shed has a roof, and some framing is up around the windows-to-be, but the siding is still a bit lacking.  There are some leftovers from the barn, but I think most of it will have to be ordered separately.

February has been a rough month, with temps dropping below zero quite often.  Fortunately for our sheep, the lambs haven't started popping out just yet, but we've been expecting the deluge to start any day now -- for the last month.  Skiing has been quite good this winter, with no coverage problems whatsoever. Henry has really taken to his skis, and has been challenging us to ski races.  For some reason, he always arrives at the designated finish line before Rachel and I do.


With the cold temps and deep snow preventing a lot of other activities, blacksmithing has been a little more appealing. One day I spent out in our open-sided smithing / sugaring / lumber / wood shed watching the howling blizzard while I hammered away at a pot rack, which is now hanging above the cookstove.  
Now that our hogs are no longer slurping up the milk surplus, Rachel has become the cheese queen, with some great results.  Hard cheese making seems to be a real art, with very subtle differences in technique making for dramatic differences in the end product.

I've lately been reading quite a bit of Ben Hewitt's work, both his books and blog.  He and his wife Penny live in Vermont and have set up a neat homestead. They're also homeschooling their two boys in ways that I find quite impressive. Michigan does certainly have some advantages, but I've gotta say I'm envious of the community that they're situated in, where handcrafts and homesteading seem to be much more appreciated than they are in most of the country.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Five Little Piggies

Those of you who watch The Simpsons may remember an episode where Homer took a second job to pay for his daughter Lisa's pony (a birthday present). Having slept right through my alarm twice this week, I'm starting to feel a bit like Homer in that episode. In my case, however, the second job *is* a pony (well... 3 horses, 5 cows, 17 sheep... you get the picture).  Unlike Lisa, I refuse to give it up.

A significant part of my day is devoted to poop. Not my own, mind you (I don't have the time for that anyway), but rather that of our cows, who fill a few wheelbarrows with the stuff every day. To keep myself entertained during this twice-daily Scoopin' O' the Poopin', I've adapted a few songs. I have my own version of James Brown's "SexMachine", and Lennon's "Imagine". My versions just replace the appropriate nouns with situation-appropriate fecally-oriented words.



The barn project -- the same one I expected to be finished last March -- has gone on a tad longer than expected.  The hay lofts are filled with snow rather than hay this winter. We finally let the perennially absent original contractor go and hired another Amish contractor we've had good experiences with before. He was able to get some more siding up before having to go back to another previously scheduled project, and has more coming from his brother's mill. For now, the local pigeons really enjoy the open "perches with a roof" configuration.

I feel a bit like a toddler imitating his parents as I work next to the barn crew, but I'm having fun. My project is a tool shed for all our garden implements. I'd initially envisioned something more the size of a closet until Rachel suggested that bigger would be better. Sensing an opportunity to make use of the timber framing knowledge gathered from my class last spring, I set to work cutting down some of our many dying red pines (Inhofe is right -- climate change has benefits!), which have slowly become the frame of our new shed.

The only sawn lumber thus far is in the roof, and all came from trees cut when we were making room for the new barn.  The foundation is made of partially buried boulders. The roofing is steel siding salvaged from the moved barn as well. Being contrary as I am, I decided to make the rafters the old way, using pegged mortise & tenon joints without a ridge pole.

Henry helped out with the roof as well. It's pretty neat seeing him go from nailing random scraps of lumber together to doing truly useful tasks -- and doing them well to boot!

This last weekend we saw our pigs off to freezerland. Our usual on-farm butcher (a vietnam vet getting up in years) was out of commission, as was a backup butcher, forcing us to bring them in ourselves. In anticipation of this, I parked our pickup in their pen a week in advance.  We loaded their feeder in the back and constructed a ramp for them to reach it. After learning that hogs are terrified of heights exceeding 6 inches or anything which could be construed as slippery (like a gently sloping ramp), I managed to make something they would use.

When their fateful day arrived, we had trouble getting them all in the truck at once. Attempting to keep some of them in the truck while we lured the others in only made matters worse, as they freaked out, shoved us aside (a 300lb hog is very strong!) and bolted back down the ramp. Eventually we managed to get two of the five loaded and made it to the processor with them. After consulting with the butcher, I decided that my best option would be to dispatch the remaining three at home for delivery in a somewhat less animated state.

Though I've always been present at slaughter time, it's the first time I've had to kill our own hogs. It's just a .22 shot to the brain followed immediately by slitting their throat to bleed them out. I don't think I enjoyed it any more than the hogs did, but I do feel better about doing it myself. I've long felt that everyone eating meat should participate in butchering. Hiding the reality of meat production really cheapens the lives of the animals that we rely upon, as does hiding them out of sight in hog barns.

Clover (our border collie) has been quite distraught over fact that her "Piggy TV" was suddenly dropped from the airwaves, and regularly checks their pen to see if they've returned. We grew quite attached to this year's batch, and feel immense gratitude that we were able to know them during their brief lives, despite their demonic squealing and leg biting (or were those love bites?).
video

Friday, January 16, 2015

Home of the Free (to experiment on)


If you live and eat in the US, you and your family are part of the experiment. No sign-up was necessary, as your free pass is one of the many benefits of life here in the land of the free. In fact, we pay for the privilege of becoming lab-rats, first for the experimental food and then for the extortion-priced healthcare. The results of the experiment are in full view everywhere we go whether we see them in the shoppers at the local grocery, at work, or in the mirror.

People often have trouble connecting the conditions they see with the experiment they've been part of, but the link remains. Strangely enough, lung tumors don't show up on x-rays in the shape of a Marlboro logo.  Thunder thighs and oversized guts don't often have "Coca-Cola" logos on them either.  But, given the right information, most reasonable people can make the link.

Experiment #1:  Plastics

No matter what you eat, if you bought it, chances are it's packaged in plastic. Even if it's in a tin or aluminum can, it's packaged in plastic (modern cans all use plastic lining material). Long thought to be wonderfully "inert", we've since learned that this isn't the case.

From the NY Times article linked below, regarding the mice on the left: "They’re genetically the same, raised in the same lab and given the same food and chance to exercise. Yet the bottom one is svelte, while the other looks like, well, an American.

The only difference is that the top one was exposed at birth to just one part per billion of an endocrine-disrupting chemical."

The most widely known contaminant is BPA (bisphenol-a), which gained widespread recognition as one of the components of polycarbonate water bottles. There's plenty of reason for concern here. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that your body has receptors which capture it and react to it at extremely low levels, as our body does with hormones we produce ourselves.  In fact, you don't even need to be directly exposed to any BPA at all in order to experience the effects it's been linked to (obesity, autism, diabetes, etc). It has trans-generational effects lasting as long as three generations.

Lucky me, I've got this stuff in my teeth, as does most anyone with composite fillings.  Are mercury amalgam fillings any better? Yet another reason not to eat the concentrated sugars and starches of the modern industrial diet, which are what typically cause cavities.

BPA, as it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg. One study tested a wide variety of "food safe" plastics, discovering that 95% of them were leaching compounds also thought to be endocrine disruptors, but which are less well known. This includes plastics and can-liners which are now being touted as "BPA free".

It also turns out that phthalates -- chemicals often used to soften plastics used in soda bottles -- are directly linked with insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.  Drink pop from a can and a bottle (one in each hand, of course), and you're likely participating in all 3 of the experiments I've listed here today. What's not to like about going blind and having your digits and limbs amputated, while going bankrupt for the privilege?

Yet another reason to grow your own, or at the very least avoid packaged and processed foods.  Go for the glass jars or bottles when you can.

Experiment #2:  Pesticides

Back in 1962, Rachel Carson published her now famous book, "Silent Spring".  This woke a lot of us lab-rats up to one of the experiments they'd been subjected to, resulting in a ban on DDT in 1972. Unfortunately for us, this pesticide is quite long lived, and still remains the most common contaminant found in the mud of many lakes and streams. It's still used in countries like China (but, hey, what isn't?) where we get a lot of our food here in the US. (hint: avoid anything made with apple juice concentrate that's not explicitly US sourced)

A Washington State University researcher recently discovered that DDT also has trans generational effects, just like BPA.  It makes people fat, though not from direct exposure.  The effects are noted primarily in those whose great-grandparents were exposed to it.  They're apparently even greater than the effects of the above noted BPA.

As I noted earlier, "Roundup" -- which is sprayed on the vast majority of all corn and soy in the US, among other crops, is now being implicated in the dramatic rise in autism. But you don't eat corn and soy, you say?  Au contraire!

I've railed on enough already about my favorite pesticide -- Atrazine. Suffice to say that I've met a lot of breast cancer patients here in the corn belt.


Experiment #3:  High Fructose Corn Syrup

Judging by the carts piled high with suitcases and 2-liter bottles of pop at my local grocery store, it seems to be a hot commodity. Judging by the physique of the people pushing (or, oftentimes, riding on) these carts, that may not be such a good thing. Yes, like most industrially produced food, pop is cheap. Aside from the benzene, BPA, mercury, and phthalates it contains, it has yet another problem. The high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten pop (and ketchup, cookies, and a whole host of other foods from companies you should avoid) triggers insulin resistance.

Michael Pollan noted in one of is books, if you've ever seen something advertised, chances are you shouldn't be eating it. That's just a start, but I'd say that's excellent advice!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who's to Blame?

Back in 2007, while selling our former home/sailboat, one of the prospective buyers and I got to talking about farming. His brother was raising organic beef on a ranch somewhere out west, and was apparently having a tough time of it. The other ranchers in the area -- all conventional -- saw his organic methods as an indictment of their own, and treated him accordingly.

Though I haven't met any that seemed at all hostile, I often wonder if some of the surrounding farmers -- anyone who knows a bit about our small farm -- think the same of us. Perhaps others assume that I look down upon conventional farmers because of their methods.

As a former commercial forester, I've been one of the "bad guys" myself. People expressed their contempt for our company in various ways, whether that meant writing letters to the editor, sending us damning email, or slashing tires on our pickups at the local gas station. I was directly involved in everything from dousing the Cascade foothills with herbicides, to clearcutting, to helping with salmon-stream destroying logging roads. I chose forestry as a profession not because I was a proponent of any of these activities, but in part because I thought I might be able to lessen some of their impacts.  I'd suspect that many farmers see themselves in the same position.

Farmers are typically independent business owners rather than employees, but they don't have much more latitude in their decision making than I did as a forester. Both foresters and farmers are working within the confines of a system that's been set up for them, with relatively lax bounds when it comes to practices with negative impacts. Those bounds are set in part by an unconcerned and ignorant public that grows less connected to the natural world by the day. Increasingly, they're also set by the large corporations that seek greater profit margins, using lobbyists and campaign "donations" to further degrade the regulatory environment.  They even write the laws themselves!

In the anything goes environment that dominates agriculture nowadays, those with the least moral fortitude set the standard for profitability. The rest of the farmers who must compete with them must also emulate them or they'll drive themselves out of business. A public that purchases anything based on price alone drives the standards ever lower, punishing the rare farmer who might dare to forego the benefits of Atrazine or Roundup.

Americans, not surprisingly, spend less of their income on food than people in any other country.  We also spend more than anyone else on healthcare.  Coincidence?

People who have educated themselves and make the attempt to improve matters by purchasing organic or directly from responsible farmers still harbor price expectations based upon the prevalent industrial methods. The minority of farmers who cater to this expanding market typically find that the higher prices they can command still don't justify the additional expenses of responsible production methods. Thus the organic farmer with a second job.

Our personal and environmental health aren't just a concern for hairy sandal-wearing hippies, either. Even the pentagon brass is concerned.  Perhaps they just need to consider the formation of a new Rascal Brigade?  Just imagine if we had to mobilize our country as we did for WWII.  Can you see them trying to make their way to the summit of Iwo Jima?   Maybe an upgrade would be in order, for the special forces at least.

So who is to blame for the fact that our food and water are now loaded with harmful and often peristent chemicals?  Who's to blame for the well documented drop in soil health and nutritional quality of the food it produces?  Who's to blame for 50% cancer rates, diabetes rates trending to hit 30% in my son's generation, and 30% obesity rates?

It's the family buying groceries with an ever shrinking budget, and little concern for how their food was produced. It's the grocer who stocks them with concern only for salability and shelf-life. It's the doctor who treat cancers, never speaking out against the cause of his patient's ills. It's the industrial food processors and their executives, hoping to climb the corporate ladder to a bigger McMansion and nicer car. It's the regular people who invest in the food processors, demanding only shareholder return in hopes of a comfortable retirement. It's the bankers who finance such companies while turning a blind eye to their effects. It's a corporately funded media that doesn't dare to inform the public and thus risk their valuable advertising dollars. It's the farmer who dares not read anything beyond the MSDS on the pesticides they use, for fear of learning how his wife got her breast cancer or his son developed autism. Everyone is to blame, and everyone needs to try a little harder, perhaps even taking some risk to make the world a better place.