Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The $250 Tool

No, not Jim.

There's a phenomenon I'm noticing as I move more deeply into our homesteading adventure that I call the $250 tool. It seems like each new hobby or activity requires a tool that costs somewhere around the neighborhood of $250.

There's the cheese press: $279.95.

There's the grain mill, which is a two parter:

the electric version at $269.99, or the non-electric version, which comes in at $395.95, considerably outclassing the $250 tool phenomenon.

There's the honey extractor: $245.00.

There's the water filter, also a two parter:

the Big Berkey, which comes in at waddya know... $250, or the Aquarain at $239.99.

There's the broadfork, a bargain at only $166.00.

There's the six row seeder I want that about doubles the tool phenomenon at $505.50, making up for any savings on the broadfork.

Don't forget the scythe, which will run at least $180 and must be tailored to the individual. Since there's about a foot difference in height between Jim and I, we'd each need our own.

Then, there are the really big ticket items like a cook stove, or solar, or a fancy high tunnel, and this doesn't even count the $250 tools I've already purchased like the milk machine, dehyrator, vitamix, stand mixer, and pressure canner.

This phenomenon verges on the uncomfortable brink of a new, green consumerism that's fast becoming fashionable in our society—because, dahling, green is the new black. I try to be cognizant of falling unaware into the yawning consumer abyss... well, not really yawning, but looming, or... lurking maybe, rising behind me like one of those giant venus fly traps in the new movie Journey to the Center of the Earth. (Which, by the way, look disturbingly like giant vaginas, but I'll refrain from doing the whole gendered reading of consumerism and venus fly traps.)

No worries now, though, as I've just provided Jim—my priceless tool—an accurate accounting of all the things on my wish list, so he'll be sure to nix them all as too expensive. Brendan Fraser's got nothin' on him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Simple Living the Easy Way, Part IV

To start bringing this series to a close, I'm going to come back around to discussing exactly what I mean by simple living the easy way. What I'm advocating is a mindful relationship with both the machines and the people whose labor we use and depend upon, a relationship based on awareness and out of which flows both gratitude and respect.

Simple. Basic. But not necessarily easy. Awareness needs to be cultivated in each small moment of the day with reminders of our indebtedness and embeddedness in the world around us. Central to this awareness needs to be an acknowledgment that we are not in control but in an ongoing partnership with a myriad of elements.

What I'd like to see is a world in which human labor is fairly valued, in which consumer goods are rare luxuries or investments in the future, in which the sense of entitlement so pervasive in our culture has given way to a gracious and humble acknowledgment of privilege instead of whining and pining for more.

I'd like to see us return to a world in which machines are valuable contributions to our labor rather than throw-away things to be replaced next year with something new, shiny, and a la mode. Down with the planned obsolescence and up with the small-town repair shop. Our throw-away culture with its cheap manufactured goods designed to break or become useless in a year needs to end, and a large part of that means a willingness to buy high-end tools that are designed for a lifetime of use, rather than low-balling and buying the cheapest version the big box store has to sell.

With that, too, would hopefully come a valuation of human labor, a return to craftsmanship and practical knowledge. Enough of the accountants and bankers and lawyers and stock brokers who've made such a mess. Let's start valuing real work with real money. Support the artisans and the farmers and not the MBAs and CEOs.

Sure, I'm biased in all of this, but I think our priorities have gotten totally out of whack in this culture, and I'm guessing most of my readers would agree. So, perhaps I'm just preaching to the choir here, but still I think these things are important to voice and reaffirm. We all need to sit down and do a personal accounting of our own priorities and how they fit in with a sustainable future. Those of us lucky enough to have money to spend, how are we spending it? Those of us lucky enough to have able bodies and minds, how are we using them?

Too many folks are out of touch with what goes into the most basic element of our survival: food. Most people don't even know what's in their food, never mind what it would take to make a real approximation of the things they eat without all the refinement and additives. And the really sad part is that most don't even care. Food security isn't even on the radar for most Americans, and if Katrina is any kind of lesson, they'll be wandering the streets in a disaster situation, looting the convenience stores until all the twinkies and chip bags and bottled liquid are gone wondering what the hell to do next.

So as much as I've tried to dismantle the idea of self-reliance, I'm now wanting to prop it back up with a somewhat different twist—intertwined with gratitude and respect.

Part of the gift self-reliance gives us is the realization of value and the understanding of labor. The idea of being able to go into a glaringly fluorescent grocery store open 24 hours a day and purchase a jar of jam off the shelves for just a couple bucks boggles my mind now that I understand the value and labor contained within one of my jars of jam.

Of course, five years ago I didn't give it a second thought—where else would jam come from but a grocery store? Because I was raised in a world where everything came from a store. Growing food and preserving it were what my people did in the Depression because they were too poor to do anything else. (Of course my maternal grandparents, both of whom grew up on farms, were fond of pointing out that they were also too poor to know anything different and they always had plenty to eat.)

The gift that my own journey towards self-reliance offers my children is the knowledge that everything need not come from a store. It demonstrates the amount of work that goes into growing the berries, harvesting the berries, and preserving the berries to make that tasty jam. But also there is the awareness that we did not grow the sugar that goes into those preserves and we did not make the electricity that pumps and heats our water. That awareness, in turn, generates gratitude for the luxury the big bag of sugar and the flow of electricity represent.

Of course, these kinds of things are just glimpses into the ideal that flickers on the cave of my brain, and my household only ever approximates this ideal, myself included... lest anyone think that I'm touting some kind of perfection or claiming to have it all figured out over here where the grass is greener. My kids vacillate between an amazing grasp of knowing where food comes from and what goes into producing it and falling into the typical consumer mindset of whining and pining. I vacillate between having my feet firmly planted on solid ground and wistfully admiring a pretty sweater worn by a CSA member, remembering a time when I spent money on hair and clothes, remembering my hands, which although never glamorous, didn't look as if they belonged to a mechanic.

Oh, sure, I could scapegoat our consumer culture, television, technology, whatever for this vain longing in myself and the consumer ennui of my children, but the dilemma is really about living with a foot in two different worlds and how we navigate that dilemma because, as I said in an earlier post, we can't live in isolation as if the entire world, such as it is, didn't exist.

So how do we straddle that fence between two such different worlds?

Well, personally, I don't want to straddle it. I want to redefine and keep more of my choices on my side of the fence, the part where I can actually have some effect. But I want to be able to do this in a way that respects how others around me want to define their side of the fence as well, and that's meant embracing some things that I might choose differently because after all, I'm choosing to spend my life with those I love on the same side of the fence.

Part of that redefinition includes, as I've said, the paradoxical relationship of independence and interdependence. By taking responsibility for such things as food, health, and education and becoming independent of elaborate social systems designed to replace our own brains with experts, governments, codes, and laws, half of which are designed to protect us from ourselves, or at the very least to keep us from thinking for ourselves, we become more capable of interacting from a place of personal empowerment. Through our own independence, we're more able to realize an interdependence among autonomous parties, lending individual strength to the larger whole. Gone is a servile dependence or blind acceptance that builds a community based on tyranny and ignorance.

So many of these ideas are easy to pay lip-service, or to ponder obsessively while performing manual labor in the field, for instance, but they're not always so easy to implement.

Like I said: Simple. Basic. But not necessarily easy.

Walking the walk for me has meant embracing the very foundation of self-reliance: liberty. Liberty as an ideal needs to apply to everyone, or it's not really liberty at all but just another form of dictatorship, however benevolent it may be. And it's that part of the American myth of self-reliance that I seek to root out and replace with gratitude and respect. It's that part that I think the founding fathers—idealists like Jefferson—got wrong because they couldn't quite imagine humanity extended to women, people of color, or children. The revolutionary ideals of equality were, unfortunately, nourished in the intellectual soil of the benevolent master, and the vestiges of those ideas continue to inform the current myths of self-reliance.

Like so many things in life, my thoughts in this series really can be boiled down to just a few cliches:

1) No man is an island entire of himself;

2) Live simply so that others may simply live;

3) Do unto others as you would have done to you (or better yet, as they would have done to them).

But sometimes those cliches are worth unpacking a bit because even though the journey to get there is a bit longer, the devil, as they say, is in the details, and it's only by taking the time to consider and understand the details that we can consider and know our selves. And in knowing the self and its relationship to the world around it, to all the things necessary to sustain the self, we begin to understand that there is no such thing as self-reliance but only an embedded and embodied self in a particular historical moment.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 8

Among other local meals this week, we enjoyed barbecue ribs, mixed beans, and country home fries made with our potatoes, onions, and peppers. All zero mile.

We also served a mostly zero mile menu for Emily's birthday party yesterday: roast turkey carved for sandwiches, slow-cooked pork shoulder, and homemade potato chips. Yummm. Sandwiches were served on bread made local to my in-laws who joined us for the celebration. There's just nothing quite as good as Jersey bread products.

Independence Days Week 13

Not much to report this week between the rain, birthday activities (happy birthday Em!), visitors and holding the farm together while Jim was out of town. I was, however, lucky enough to have a couple of visitors willing to work for their supper, such that it was, so we knocked out the tomato trellising that desperately needed to be done down in the market garden. A huge thank you to Cindy and Jim!


Nothing this week, but I will be jumping on the fall planting this coming week for sure.


tomatoes, basil, peppers, lettuce, mini onions, green onions, carrots, beans, dill, borage, summer squash, cucumbers, eggs, milk.


I made chevre and butter. Cindy, bless her, tried her best to cajole me into pressure canning with her on Friday, but it was more than I could handle this week. We made a pact that we would both use our new pressure canners for the first time before a month is out, so hopefully she'll hold me to it. My readers, too, are invited to encourage, harass, harangue, whatever, if I don't post by August 25th about my successful foray into the pressure canning world. Black beans, here I come!


Canning lids.


Nothing this week.


Trellised tomatoes and beans. Cleaned out and organized my kitchen pantry cabinet, making use of my half gallon canning jars for storing bulk grains and nuts.


Nothing new.


CSA delivery to 10 families: lettuce, beans, carrots, mini onions, green onions, summer squash, pickling cukes, Asian cukes, red new potatoes, dill, basil, borage, eggs.


This week's tip: drying plastic bags. My method of drying my reusable produce bags and ziploc bags takes advantage of the several glass vases I've acquired over the years. I keep these in the deep sill of my kitchen window behind the sink. They're pretty to look at (when not covered by plastic bags, that is) and convenient, but they also make perfect perches for drying bags of all sizes. They keep the air flowing inside the bag and also make use of the sunshine to help dry.


All about my pressure canner, whose manual I'm reading cover to cover.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Finally, Some Sense

According to a recent New York Times article, Texas governor Rick Perry has requested that the EPA requirements to add an everincreasing amount of ethanol to gas be relaxed:

Mr. Perry says the billions of bushels of corn being used to produce all that mandated ethanol would be better suited as livestock feed than as fuel. Feed prices have soared in the last two years as fuel has begun competing with food for cropland.

“When you find yourself in a hole, you have to quit digging,” Mr. Perry said in an interview. “And we are in a hole.” His request for an emergency waiver cutting the ethanol mandate to 4.5 billion gallons, from the 9 billion gallons required this year and the 10.5 billion required in 2009, is backed by a coalition of food, livestock and environmental groups.

A decision is expected soon, though apparently the request has been met with lobbying from farmers and ethanol producers objecting to the freeze.

Here's to hoping that the EPA makes the sensible decision.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Independence Days Week 12

Wow! We've been doing this for three months now. Hard to believe.

Last week I did 5 days of work in 3 in preparation for a weekend at the beach. My in-laws have a house on the Jersey shore, which we don't get to enjoy nearly as often these days because it's so hard to get away from the farm. While the idea behind the independence days challenge is to become more self-sufficient, the reality is that it's all too easy to become a slave to one's homestead. I weeded and harvested like mad just to get on top of things and be able to sneak away for 3 full days. Of course, this week has been spent playing catch up because the garden waits for no woman.


Nothing this week. I'm on hiatus for one, maybe two weeks before fall planting begins in earnest. Which means that I've been focusing on clearing out space for that to happen, pulling many of the plants I've allowed to go to seed and yanking all the others that are just past their prime.


Lots this week. The first tomato—a lovely little sweet olive grape tomato that was quite tasty. Hopefully this means more on the way! The peppers, too, are just about in, along with the sweet corn.

Also lettuce, beets, green onions, garlic, mini onions, dill, basil, chives, last of the garlic, carrots, summer squash, mixed beans, slicing cukes, Asian cukes, pickling cukes, 100+ lbs of potatoes, eggs, milk, 39 broilers.

We also harvested the 15' x 60' test plot of hulless oats yesterday. They now reside on three pallets in my garage to finish drying before threshing. We're taking bets on how many oats we'll get. Jim thinks just a tiny little container. I'm guessing about a 1/4 bushel. Wanna play?


Seeds saved this week: cilantro, spinach, and radish. Leeks and chard aren't quite ready yet. Neither is the endive. I'm leaving the broccoli to go to seed and hopefully act as a trap crop for the flea beetles now that I've uncovered the eggplants.


39 broilers, garden seeds, shallots and garlic, though the garlic is all going for seed stock. (pouty face here)


Picked up 3 small oil lamps, needles and safety pins (thanks to Sharon's recent post), and bamboo knitting needles for the girls. I also ordered some tomato clips from Johnny's thanks to a post over at Nita's blog, and I now seem to have a lifetime supply of those. Luckily, they're small and light, and so fit my criteria for storing. ;)

Our 25 lbs of red clover seed arrived this week for cover cropping after the potatoes. I'm still searching for a good bulk source of beet seeds to reseed the grain plot, which will enable the piggies to self harvest during the winter.

Ordered 75 slow growing broiler crosses for our fall batch. These guys are double breasted, typical meat birds, but are very healthy and active, unlike the industry standard bird, which grows way too fast. The slow growers take about 12 weeks as opposed to the 6 weeks for their industry counterparts. Yikes!


Everything! The gardens are going crazy, and we've hit the stage in the year when it feels like we have about 5 different balls up in the air. Like I said, I have about one more week before I need to get the fall gardens going in a big way, so I'm trying to figure out where all that's going.

There's also the mundane stuff like cleaning all the feeders and waterers, moving the animals onto fresh pasture, filling the water barrels from our rain catch, etc. I realized that I often don't mention that kind of stuff.

I finally got into my bee hives again this week after a 2 week hiatus. Hive #2 is doing so much better after stealing the frame from Hive #1, and you'd never even know the difference in #1. They both have lots of honey stores, much of it capped. I'm hopeful that they'll go into the winter strong.


Nothing new this week. Too much pressure!


CSA delivery to 10 families: mixed baby greens, carrots, beets, green onions, mini onions, summer squash, mixed beans, slicing cukes, Asian cukes, basil, dill, potatoes, eggs.

Bartered some raw milk for new kombucha cultures.


This week's tip is about how to store food in the fridge without resorting to plastic.

Besides having some lovely glass refrigerator dishes, both vintage pyrex and some newer Anchor-Hocking, I also use this little trick for covering bowls: just put a plate on top. Simple, huh?

It not only keeps the air out, but makes for a nice, stackable surface that saran wrap can't beat. Of course, this is such a simple, obvious solution that most of you probably thought of it long ago, but I do think it's a good one. This is some garlic olive oil for dipping bread, but I also find it useful for large bowls of rice and pasta and such.

I still use plastic, but far less often, and I'm careful to wash out the bags for reuse. I just haven't yet found a good solution for bulky items like waffles and pancakes. Oh, and I do love the repurposed yogurt and sour cream containers for freezer storage. But now that I have my pressure canner, all that may change! Woohooo.


Still learning all about seed saving and small grain production. So much of this is just one grand experiment.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 7

This week, among other meals, we enjoyed a delicious fresh rotisseried chicken from our farm, mixed beans, small red new potatoes, salad with onion, cucumbers, grated Italian zucchini, and chevre cheese. The garlic in the sour cream and on the garlic bread was our own, and the bread was made locally to my in-laws whom we visited last weekend. The sour cream was store-bought, all else was zero mile but for the balsamic vinaigrette.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simple Living the Easy Way, Part III

So, we left off with the myth of self-reliance and the underlying guilt that I suspect fuels the perpetuation of that myth. The big question, as I see it, is why Western culture in general, but American culture more specifically, has at its center the idea of self-reliance as a moral virtue?

I would argue that the whole idea of the individual, independent or dependent, is a product of the Enlightenment and the colonial culture that went along with it. Prior to roughly the 18th century or so, "individual" wasn't a Western concept in the same way it is now. People were part of larger wholes: family, church, community. At the time when John Donne wrote his "No Man is an Island" meditation in 1624, death was an ever-present part of life, and community was integral to survival. People felt strongly their connection to and embeddedness in larger systems, and it's that sense of connection that Donne sought to convey:

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

As real property and the aristocracy began to erode and the middle class arose triumphant on the wave of colonial consumption in the 17 and 1800's, the idea of the self-made man—the individual as we have inherited the concept—was born. Philosophy and literature were heady with the infinite possibility presented by the self-made man, never mind the nagging little fact that he was made on the backs of women, children, and people of color who didn't get to self-define.

Well, there was a whole lot more history in there, but that's the general gist of things. Writers like Locke and Hobbes paved the way for thinkers like Wordsworth over in England and his Romantic counterparts Thoreau and Emerson over in America decades later, who eventually gave way to Whitman, radical individualist and author of "Song of Myself," a celebration of that particular brand of rugged American individualism. Over on the continent, Friedrich Nietzsche was extolling his very own version of radical individualism in works like Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil.

Radical individualism, then, is a huge part of Western consciousness, built over centuries of political and social thought. So, too, is it an important part of the American dream and a deeply rooted meme in the American psyche. Think Marlboro Man. Only, the Marlboro Man didn't have a wife or children, did he?

No. What we get instead is a very different version of homesteading independence when families are involved, but still with the rugged patriarchal figurehead firmly at the helm. Think Pa Ingalls, who moves his family from one place to another in search of his own illusive self-reliant masculinity only to be thwarted at nearly every turn by the government, the weather, and just plain bad luck—not to mention haunted at the margins by rebellious natives. Maybe a more admirable figurehead is Mr. Wilder who discourses persuasively with Almanzo on the true freedom enjoyed by the self-reliant farmer versus the servile dependence of the businessman in town. But he, too, even in his level-headedness represents the benevolent master in all his glory.

What I'm seeking here—both in this long-winded post and in my life on our homestead—is not a replication of that kind of authoritarian self-reliance that depends upon the unacknowledged work of others but rather a kind of interdependence that seeks its model outside the pervasive myths of our culture, leaving guilt and force behind.

What does that model look like, you might ask?

Well, that's a really good question to which I can only respond that, for me, that model is unfolding day by day... in the thousand little steps of the journey and the thousand little ways in which I respond to those around me: partner, children, animals, plants, soil, creatures, earth, universe.

Some moments are better than others, and I work in harmony with the life forces I share this independence with, following a mutual path of least resistance and least harm. Other moments, I lose my way and find myself resorting to force. But something—usually the utter ineffectuality of trying to force a particular outcome—jolts me awake to a more mindful way of relating and I come back to the knowledge that I am only a very small part of what holds this self-reliance together even as I am, paradoxically, a huge part of it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Independence Days Week 11


3rd round of summer squash, 3rd round of beans, two more batches of lettuce


Lettuces, carrots, mini bulbing onions, green onions, garlic scapes, dill, basil, beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, summer squash, pickling cukes, bush beans, eggs, milk.


7 lbs butter, sorrel seeds.


another gallon of drinking water


Ordered pressure canner, butter crocks, cover crops,


Weeded gardens, continue to eat down last year's stores.


Made a double cream chevre.


CSA delivery to 10 families: lettuces, beets, end of kohlrabi, carrots, summer squash, beans, mini bulbing onions, green onions, garlic scapes, dill, eggs.


Besides the usual, I thought I'd try to share a tip or trick that has helped me in my reduction journey. These are ongoing and often things I've been doing for a while, and maybe folks have already thought of these long ago, but I thought I'd post about them anyway.

Tip: In order to help reduce our hot water usage, I put red electrical tape around the hot faucet handles to remind us to grab the cold instead of hot for small tasks. Obviously, this only works if you have separate handles for hot and cold water, but for us, it was a helpful visual reminder to break the habit of reaching for the hot.


I continue to read and learn about cover crops and seed saving.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 6

Just to get off my zero mile high horse for a bit... because OLS is largely about showcasing local foodsheds:

We don't produce our own beef here on the farm (though with the new cow, that will hopefully be changing in the next couple of years), so we buy it from two different farms down the road. Well, one farm is up the road: Groff's Content grass fed beef. The other farm, Legacy Manor, is down the road, closer, and more convenient, but we wanted to try both. I know both farmers, and I'd highly recommend beef from either, though LM grains their beef while also pasturing. The pure grass fed beef definitely has a gamier flavor that may take some getting used to. Personally, I like them both.

This week we enjoyed our first red potatoes. Yay! After the drought last year, I can't tell you how much we've been looking forward to these babies!

We also had broccoli and the first of our green beans, together with a salad of mixed greens, onions, and grated zucchini and balsamic vinaigrette; herb focaccia; marinated beef kabobs from Groff's Content; and a garlic herb butter to top the potatoes. All from our farm.


Here's to more potatoes! The fingerlings will come out to play next week.

And while Touch the Earth Farm is definitely part of the Northwestern Maryland food shed, I think it's also useful for folks to see how much of their food they could actually produce themselves with just a little land and a lack of restrictive covenants. We have 5.25 acres—not very much by farming standards, but plenty in terms of creating a zero mile food shed. Get to know a few other local farmers, and voila! You've some great local eats. Even an acre can produce an excellent veggie crop, eggs, maybe a bit of goat's milk, and a few broilers to boot for those who eat meat.

Some good resources for farming on small holdings:

Path to Freedom

The Modern Homestead

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Independence Days Week 10


Sunflowers and nasturtium.

Transplanted: yarrow, feverfew, motherwort, mullein, evening primrose, bergamot, wormwood, valerian, saltwort, salad burnet, joe pye, skullcap, arnica, woad, horehound, marshmallow.


Raspberries, black raspberries, lettuce, carrots, zucchini, squash, onions, garlic, shallots, broccoli, kohlrabi, beets, dill, oregano, basil, rosemary, chives, eggs, milk and our first potatoes—yay!


7 half pints black raspberry jam, 20 half pints raspberry jam, 7.5 lbs butter.


Nothing this week, unless you count the preserves.

Well, not really "storing" per se, but we did have two goatie babies born on the farm this week, and we lucked out with little girls, which means more dairy animals on the farm. They'll be keepers, so it's kinda like storing. Yeah, it's a stretch, but I got to include gratuitous baby farm animal photos.


Jim made more bullets for hunting, built a more solid backboard for target shooting, and sighted in his deer rifle.


Trellised the cucumbers with cattle panels, and they're much happier. Continue to monitor plants for insect pests: squash bugs, borers, japanese beetles, potato beetles, bean beetles.

Harvested garlic and put it up to cure before braiding. I'll likely replant most of it this fall, as I'm trying to build up my seed stock this year. Garlic is sooo expensive to buy.


Raspberry jam. I made the black raspberry last year, but this was my first time making the red raspberry.


CSA delivery to 10 families: lettuces, kohlrabi, carrots, onions, beets, dill, chives, eggs.

Finally purchased hair care and toiletries from local, organic company Terressentials after using up all the various little bottles of stuff around the house.


Continue to compost, reuse plastic containers, reduce electricity usage, use reusable shopping bags, reduce driving, reduce reliance on grocery stores, harvest rainwater, etc.


Researched more on grains, pressure canners, and local coffee roasters.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 5

We had some friends stop in for dinner on their way home from dropping their daughter off at camp in Central Pennsylvania this week, and we enjoyed a delicious homegrown meal.

Wine: Boordy Vineyards Chardonnay.

Roast heritage turkey from our farm; couscous with mini bulbing onions, basil and garlic from our garden and chevre from our milk; salad greens, carrots, onions, and kohlrabi from our garden topped with a balsamic vinaigrette. The bread is an Italian bread local to my in-laws and brought down on a visit—ain't nothin' like Jersey bread.

For dessert we enjoyed fresh raspberries from our farm, whipped cream from our milk, and fresh shoofly and peach pie from a local Pennsylvania market where our friends were visiting. As far as I can recall, this was the first time I've had shoofly pie, and I'm a total convert. Yummmm. The earthy density of shoofly was the perfect foil to the raspberries and just-barely-sweetened whipped cream. The photo isn't very appetizing because, as you can see, I've already heartily tucked into it as I remembered to take a picture. Ummm, and yes, I'll admit to having three slices of that pie, though in my defense, they were little personal pan pies and tiny slices.

*Note to self: must learn to make shoofly pie.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

WALL-E Achieves What Kunstler Failed to Do:

To paint a moving characterization of a dystopic future, that is.


Although garbage rather than peak oil is the downfall du jour of Pixar's latest movie, the messages of environmental disaster, human greed and hubris, and the end of the world as we know it are admirably represented.

My generous guy Sam, who made the most money from our recent yard sale, decided what he really wanted to do with all that cash was to take the girls and I to see the movie he's been awaiting. Yup, all that marketing hype hit home for him, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by our cinema experience.

Well, pleasant may not be the best description, as this may have been the darkest children's movie I've ever seen. In a nutshell, humans shit up the planet so badly that it's no longer habitable. But, with the typical human hubris, the multinational robotics corporation BNL, whose CEO is now president of the world, turns to technology to save humanity and the planet—not to mention make a few bucks on the side, I'm sure.

Humans get to go on a fabulous, fun filled space cruise for five years while a fleet of WALL-Es— the lovable little mobile trash compactor—stays behind to clean up our mess.

Unfortunately, things don't quite work out that way. Best laid plans and all. And the movie opens to WALL-E tooting around a trash filled planet, still dutifully making garbage bricks and using them to build sky scraper sculptures, eerie mirrors to the abandoned buildings all around him, acting as monuments to a long-gone culture of consumption and waste.

WALL-E is a lonely little robot with only a twinkie eating cockroach for company until a space ship arrives with a fancy, shiny egg shaped probe named EVE. Robot love ensues, which is sweet and suitably endearing, but of course, not without some trouble along the way.

As EVE fulfills her directive on earth, she clamps back into a shiny egg and calls home. WALL-E follows EVE into space, an adventure which finds the remains of the human race still cruising along 700 years later. Only now, they're all so fat they can no longer walk unsupported, not to mention the bone density loss from a lifetime in space, and they spend all their time floating in robotic versions of those little electric scooters that resemble chaise lounges, drinking their food from robot-delivered super size cups, chatting and surfing the web on virtual computer screens that float in front of their faces, blinding them to the real world all around. Only by falling off the wagon, or being knocked of by WALL-E to be more precise, do the people begin to see what's right in front of them: stars, pools, each other. As my kids observed, there are babies and adults, but few kids on the ship, and if the people never touch each other, how are the babies made?

Good question, as the movie pans to a nursery filled with bassinets and virtual mobiles in a scene that rivals any good sci-fi portrayal of mass body production and corporate brainwashing. Pixar's movie is a pint-size Matrix, pitting man against machine with some very dark undertones.

I'll skip the total spoilers to say that the ship's captain rises to the occasion, managing to haul himself to his own two feet and take the first small steps forward for the new humanity, albeit with the kind of grace seen only in sumo wrestling matches. The writing on the wall as the final credits roll gives hope, definitely, but also the clear indication that humanity is starting from scratch. The earth will heal, human bodies will get stronger as they rediscover labor and meaning in both the soil and each other. Even if pizza plants never materialize, viewers are left to hope that eventually all the ingredients to make a pizza may, indeed, be possible.

While WALL-E may not be the wake up call the world needs (and oh, the irony of the pre-movie marketing consumption!), it does offer wonderful fodder for conversation and a place to begin talking about sustainability with kids, though hopefully without the scapegoating of fat people that this movie comes dangerously close to doing. It also does a really great job of raising difficult and painful ideas within a relatively safe space, which might... just might offer adults the opportunity to consider conservation and sustainability on a wider scale. MAUS it is not, but the movie achieves a similar effect of demystifying collective denial by using innocent images of cartoons and cute little robots.