Gardening, Farmers Markets and "Making Things"
Phoebe Wray writes (in response to a post by plant biologist Dale
I let my flower garden go to seed at the end of the season and save
the seeds for replanting, but that's as close as I've ever been
to what you do. Interesting to me at the moment because I'm doing
research on ancient planting methods as a background for my new
novel... and thinking about the act of making things...
things we make with our own hands to be used by us and family or
things made with care and imbued with concentration that seems like
things made while singing or chanting or listening to stories or
gossiping and story-telling...
thinking that in the world I live in, in real time, I rarely make
things and that dis-connects me from the moments of my life. When
I do make things, and not just art things, but, for instance the
joy I am taking in redecorating my house -- it makes my spirit/soul
feel happy. More than happy -- content.
you experience this in working with your corn?
Dale Wilson writes:
Contrary to what people usually think of as "materialism"
these days (loving possessions, coveting items), I think a more
basic problem is the devaluing of things that comes with affluence.
I remember when we lived in Colombia, people would fix cars over
and over, completely rebuild the engine. A car was a luxury, and
the government charged so much tax that the purchase price of a
car was doubled over what it would be in the States. Here, no one
has time to keep a car going for 15 or 20 years. I have heard it
is (perhaps was) worse in Japan, where people dump(ed) their cars
after a year or two. I don't think this is culturally determined,
but determined by affluence.
thing is the direct connection to things that occurs when one puts
their own effort into them. I left after dinner to go do my corn
pollination, and my wife Polly was making cherry jelly. You know,
that jelly will taste awful good from all that effort (well, it
probably really will be good too). But what I am trying to say is,
I value direct knowledge of things (nature) that are not socially
mediated. Yes, I believe that is possible, because we were made
to do it.
also reminds me of comparing undergraduate study to graduate work.
Undergraduate study means learning knowledge someone else produced.
Graduate work means producing knowledge with your own hands.
needs to get ones hands dirty to appreciate nature, and to appreciate
all the good things that come so easily in our affluent society.
To be thankful when you turn on the light switch, one should somehow
smell the burning coal that makes the steam that spins those turbines.
One should have at least a passing familiarity with engineering
to understand the creativity of the engineers who designed those
turbines. One needs to have a garden to understand the effort that
goes into the vegetables on one's table. Seeing how breeding is
done, doing it myself, I understand the effort, the sweat, that
goes into these crop varieties.
think people are made to interact with nature in these kinds of
ways. My daughter Susan and I were digging potatoes this afternoon
and I was thinking about this very thing. The potatoes were not
very good, they haven't had enough water. I mean, they were okay,
just small and one variety was pretty gnarly. But we grew them ourselves,
and at dinner, Susan said with pride "I helped dig those potatoes."
And she knows that potatoes are a special gift, and maybe when she
buys them at the store, she will remember that potatoes don't just
happen in the back of the supermarket.
Do you experience this in working with your corn?
I feel intimate with the corn, I know the plant families, and how
they each respond to the environment, I feel like there is a part
of me in them.
Robert Greenway writes:
Being out in the dirt and weather every day reminds me a little
of raising children: one's consciousness has plenty of "deep
space" to get out of one's own private little diddly concerns.
I remember noticing, when my kids were young, just how much I was
fully in the present - I could hardly remember the stage they were
in the year before. I think there's a genetic basis for this - as
a parent, you MUST grow along with them.
can hardly remember just a few weeks ago when it was finger-numbing
cold, and wet, and the weeds were taking over EVERYTHING.
Now, after a week of warm, bright sunny weather (always kind of
spring-like in this part of the world), I can't remember the cold.
Its just today, and another ton of garlic (literally)
to pull out of the ground.
the sun is breaking through an apricot soft fog, though the ships
coming down the Straits towards Seattle are moaning their deepest
fog horns. The garlic will begin drying under the trees in the shade,
lined up on saw-horse tables.
John Scull writes:
On Friday we returned from six weeks of living outdoors and afloat
and sailing and hiking along the BC coast. It was wonderful. On
Saturday I went to the farmers' market in Duncan for fresh food
and was very grateful that there are people like Greenway who stay
home and work the land on my behalf, even when I'm goofing off.
My 1983 pickup truck started after standing for six weeks, making
me wonder about Dale's comments that people don't use cars that
are more than 10 years old. We had a rainy day, so I caught up on
reading my email - it's good to see that y'all have been busy drawing
distinctions and making generalizations while I was away, perhaps
I'll join in when the room stops rocking back and forth.
a small boat involves paying close attention to nature and then
tuning our activities accordingly -- very different from the way
we exclude or overpower nature in most of our day-to-day lives.
My safety and ability to get to my goal depends on my ability to
adjust to the wind, waves, and currents; I can't overpower them.
I suspect this is true of all human activities, but our technology
masks our powerlessness.
out for an extended period gives a sense of the way all non-human
beings live -- just to be without purpose other than being who/what
we are. Can humans live this way on an ongoing basis?
would happen if we did?
Ann Jarnet writes:
John gave us a wonderful travelogue... ohhh, but I enjoyed reading
are three organic farmers at the downtown farmers' market here in
Ottawa, and dozens more who offer locally-grown items but do use
pesticides. One special couple has the most wonderful assortment
of lettuce I have ever seen, as well as leaves which up until three
years ago I had no idea existed. One of these is mizuna, which I
like both raw and cooked.
my way back from Toronto on Saturday, I stopped at a small-town
market where, luckily, all was grown organically. I came away with
bergamot jelly, nasturtium petal jelly, and home-made bread, and
yes, wonderful garlic.
of the Ottawa women has been experimenting with shiitake mushrooms,
and they are starting to look great. She takes the time to explain
all of that to her customers, and her eagerness is contagious. It's
hard to walk away from her without buying.
bought the biggest bunch of blue, violet and white delphinium --
a true extravagance which will last only a few days. But they just
brought new life to my living room.
to my first couple, for a moment. I look at their faces -- he is
from Morocco and has a very rich chocolatey complexion, and the
kindest eyes on earth. She is French-Canadian, beautiful, with a
smile that would melt your heart. I love to look at their hands
-hands that show hard work, and a closeness to what they do. They
display their veggies in very nice small baskets and, once those
have been sold, they take more veggies from their containers and
place them with care in the vine-leaf lined baskets which make their
whole stand look so attractive.
in the local market come early and buy a lot of their small squash
and other items and you can see the daily menus saying "local,
organically grown by the Belmadanis". Patrons leaving the restaurant
often make a bee-line for the vegetable stand to take things home.
of course, it will be time for the winter squashes and pumpkins
which will fill the entire market, along with hay and scarecrows
and other decorations to make the harvest season a true celebration.
Robert Greenway writes:
You folks, talking about Farmer's Markets, bring tears to my eyes
- so, ecopsychologically speaking, it MUST be an archetypal topic
(in the Jungian sense), and I must be carrying quite a bit of emotion
around the topic.
Is it part of a better new world or is it a last gasp of pre-corporate
Dale can remind us, let me say that American "farmer's markets"
are full of quasi-religious or holier-than-though pretentiousness;
and while not necessarily a "last gasp" or a throwback,
local marketing (grower-direct-to customer) does, in my opinion,
represent very deep-level human programming that places food, markets,
and economics within a community, rather than a corporate, envelope.
I think the distrust of increasingly pervasive corporate control
over food (while corporations appear oblivious to the severe damage
they are causing to communities, and the survival of people all
over the world) is something that people "feel uneasy about"
(or, bless, Betsy) rebel against outright. "Hey folks,"
people are saying, "something's really wrong here", even
as we utilize the benefits of corporate production in so many areas
of our lives (petroleum, electricity, manufactured goods, etc.).
the farmer's markets are, in my opinion, not just a last gasp, and
certainly not a strong move into the future, but an ecopsychological
symptom - of a longing for community, and an expression of something
very good that is an almost last, yeah, "last gasp", I
then, of course, the majority of faithful buyers are vividly aware
that the taste of food locally grown is incomparably better than
stuff shipped thousands of miles, stored for weeks, genetically
manipulated to be shippable and storable, damn the taste. "It's
looks that people want", as the big agriculture-marketing journals
markets are, in my opinion, as wonderful and consciousness-expanding
as, say, sacred sex, or an extended psychological stay deep within
a pristine wilderness. The "handing over" of lovingly
grown food to fellow community members is an incredible experience,
yet, having said all that, the local communities are barely supporting
local growers. Every single local small-scale grower I know, including
myself, is living on the edge. Americans are not used to paying
the costs of food production - just about everything is subsidized,
or grown by semi-slaves in places like Mexico -- or costed out to
support shipping in "off season" from, say, New Zealand
or Chile. But carrots? for, say $1.50 a bunch, when Safeway sells
them at, say, 69 cents a bunch? Garlic, at $6 a pound, when the
pesticide-laden tiny bulbs in California go for $2 a pound?
corporate farms are "going organic" -- with all the efficiency
and marketing skill and "economies of scale" at their
disposal --steadily dropping the prices of organic produce, and
steadily putting the small, local growers out of business. I maintain
that the root of this problem is people's understanding of the food
they buy, and their willingness (or un-willingness) to add to the
cost of local super-market food the costs to the environment. Of
transporting food thousands of miles (not to mention the costs to
community; and the costs to the enjoyment of the taste
of food picked the same day it is sold). "Buying
organic" is only half of it; "buying local" is the
other half - and it's a last-gasp losing game, except perhaps in
a few places here and there, with enlightened people like John,
Amy, and Ann.
somewhat against our principles, but urgently needing to market
our garlic before it gets moldy in this damp climate (and extra
damp summer), we cleaned up a few hundred pounds and took it to
one of the "hot" farmer's markets in Seattle last weekend.
We sold out (over a grueling 7-hour period) at $6/lb over 200 pounds
of garlic -- our urgently needed cash crop to pay for all the money
we lose growing broccoli and carrots for local consumption.
these Seattle-ites crowded around our table (my daughter-in-law
made these up-scale signs, and insisted I shave and wear clean clothes),
and were wowed - "Seven different kinds of garlic? You've got
to be kidding!" "Now would this Sicilian Blue
be good for making pesto"? (even my Salt-Spring-based garlic
sold well!). And it was kind of fun, and exciting to be selling
out - all that money! We were tempted to go out on the town and
pay $25 for a fancy organic meal!) - but it was weird, not knowing
anyone. The community connection was gone, even while the economics
don't know what the answer is, but I do believe that whatever corporate
domination of globalization means, "farmer's markets"
all over the world are the opposite.
Ann Jarnet writes:
Boy, Robert, you are in fine form this morning.
reading your thoughts on farmers' markets, I went a bit further
into my heart as to why buying organic food is so important to me
(as well as buying from local producers). Naturally, there's the
health aspect, and I think this is really important. However, there
is one particular reason why I do it - it's because I can. I know
this may sound arrogant, but I don't mean it that way. What I do
mean is that I am privileged to have the means to spend $4.99 on
a broccoli in wintertime from the organic farmers' market when it's
$1.49 at Safeway. I dont have three children to support on
minimum wage and no one is deprived if I spend that extra $3.50
on the vegetable. Which means I feel that I have an obligation to
do this: to support farmers so that they can earn a decent wage
and maybe get away from living on the edge; to join those who are
mobilized to support farmers and increase the demand for such produce;
to participate in a mindfulness about how we feed ourselves and
become "solidaire avec la nature".
The "handing over" of lovingly grown food to fellow community
members is an incredible experience ....
That's exactly how I was feeling when I described how the Belmadani
family presents their food in their stall. I feel the love coming
through those vine-leaf lined baskets, and how either of them takes
each individual zucchini and places it gently in my bag. Even though
I am paying for it, it feels like a gift. I've asked them if I can
interview them during the winter about this kind of thing and its
relationship to environmental education. They've agreed (oooooooooo
I am so excited about this).
of the things I like most about the organic farmers' market (far
from where I live so I only visit occasionally) is that there is
no competition. They work together, so that not all of them are
bringing corn. There's the corn guy and the herb woman and then
the root vegetable family and "I-have-20-varieties-of-potato"
guy who is right next to the strawberry person - very little overlap.
Customers make the rounds and everyone gets a bit of each customer's
an air about the place. People look contented when they carry their
baskets and bags back to their bikes or cars. You can almost detect
an energy which says, "I can't wait to get home and make something
with this" (which is not, not, not the air I detect when I
go to the supermarket!).
went on to say):
But carrots? for, say $1.50 a bunch, when Safeway sells them at,
say, 69 cents a bunch? Garlic, at $6 a pound, when the pesticide-laden
tiny bulbs in California go for $2 a pound?
Yes, but these are the same people who would go out of their way
to buy "GAP" garments for their kids, instead of at K-Mart.
It's ok to spend $75 on a Ralph Lauren polo shirt for a three-year
old (go ahead and gasp those of you who would never consider doing
this!) who will grow out of it quickly, or wreck it through playing
on a swing-set. People feel the pressure of not being a K-mart parent,
but haven't progressed to "Well, we're going to have to sacrifice
on the fancy clothes so we can get some organic strawberries into