May 2008 Archives

What's in your larder?


After scaring myself silly reading Doris Lessing's "Memoirs of a Survivor" during the bleak, short days of late December, I promised my mom I would lay off the apocolyptic reading until spring. My friends and family kept me in light reading with a dozen hilarious Janet Evanovich books featuring Stephanie Plum as an inept, but lucky bounty hunter.

Well it's spring. The grass is a delectable green, the wheat is sprouting in the field past the slough. Oil prices dropped to $125 a barrell from $135. The world is fresh and new and full of promise. Now my mind can once again return to thoughts of an uncertain future. So I decided to put away a few days worth of food in case of an emergency. This is what I bought.

what's in your larder.JPG

I laugh just looking at that pile of empty calories. I bought this food based on one criteria-- calorie density. One can of condensed milk would satisfy the caloric needs of my three kids for an entire day (although I just now wondered if I would be able to make them eat it?-- hmmm didn't take that into account).

In comes Alma-- "mmmm Kool Aid!" So I start explaining to my 8-year old that this is emergency food that we'll keep in the basement. If we need it, we can mix the butter flavored crisco with the sugar to make little energy balls. Alma says "I think I'll bring crackers." After showing her how you'd pop the top on the Spam and some vague words on emergency preparedness so as not to alarm her, she says to me:

"So. I guess we won't be eating healthy."

Maybe I should get some dried, organic cranberries to mix in those energy balls.

20 years of food in 2 days


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cherry blossoms --photo credit Dennis Fiser

The title of this blog entry shows an arrogance towards the natural world-- it lacks humility. But I couldn't help it-- I liked the cadence of "20 years in two days".

In the past week we (and I mean we) planted 75 feet of strawberries, 30 feet of asparagus, and 12 fruit trees - apples, pears, plums, apricot, and cherry. God willing (injecting humility) these perennial crops will bear fruit for 20 years. A hard two days work for some ever bearing returns. Now I know the work doesn't end with the planting-- we have weeding, watering, and harvesting. But it feels good to see those strawberries bursting with new leaves already and the bright pink apple blossoms. And if I hadn't left the camera on and drained the batteries you'd be seeing actual photos of the farm.

Here's an interesting aside. The man who delivered and helped plant the trees works with a number of Hutterite and Amish people at the greenhouses. One of the Amish women told him that they up and moved here from Pennsylvania about 8 years ago because God told them to. They woke up one morning and God had instructed them to move to Milbank South Dakota (just on the other side of the Minnesota River from us here at the headwaters). They had never heard of Milbank SD before, but followed God's instructions.
Steve was skeptical.
I was comforted.
Imagine-- I moved to a place where someone heard God whispering for them to go. I'll assume a whisper-- that's how I picture God would talk to us in still, calm moments.

I just read James Howard Kunstlers "World Made by Hand" -- the story of a small town in post-oil America. Kunstler paints a fascinating scenario of a world-- probably set just 10 years out from now-- reduced to walking distance and your food coming from what you can grow or barter for. One of his many points is that without all the constant barrage of tv, radio, video games... some folks can more clearly hear the voice of God. I'll do a book review in the next few days. This is the most hopeful post-collapse book I've read-- and that's my genre you know.

In the mean time--
inch by inch, row by row
someone bless these seeds I sow.

Our farmer


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I asked Todd if I could take a picture of him for my blog and he said he wondered why he hadn't been on it yet. This is Todd-- he's a stand up guy-- and he's our farmer. Todd has been farming this land for about 5 years-- some good some bad-- and he'll be farming most of it again this year. Todd is also known around here as the Rock and Roll Farmer. He dj's at all the good events and has a depth and breadth of the music scene. He's made us a few discs of his musical finds and selections. We're so glad to be friends with and have a farmer like Todd for so many reasons.

The kids love him. Todd's had his share of back troubles-- including surgery last winter. So every night the boys say their bedtime prayers and race to see who can say first "God bless Todd's owey back!" or "God bless Todd's better back." It's gotten quite competitive to see who can bless Todd first and in fact, it's been ending in tears and punches being thrown the last few weeks. I'm sorry-- but I can't help laughing at them pounding each other over who gets to bless Todd. He's that special.

Scared of the dark



On my way to the Cities I ritualistically stop after turning out of my driveway (usually around 3:30 - 4am), turn off the lights, and look at my farm on the prairie. I see the halo of the yardlight, the silhoutte of the farm house.

This morning there was no trace of my farm. It completely disappeared.

Agralite, our electric coop, owns and maintains the yard light on the condition it comes on automatically dusk to dawn-- there's no switch. I'd been stomping around because "what's the use of living on a farm way in the country if you can't see the stars for the yardlight." So we bought the yard light from Agralite ($50) and put a switch on the light pole which is about 100 feet from the house. It is switched off. It's nice to step outside in the early morning dark and see the stars. This morning, however, I left the house at 3:30 am and couldn't find my car 20 feet from the house.

When I stopped at the end of the driveway and turned off my car lights it was downright scary. Pitch black with no reference point of home-- no yellow glow from the farm yard-- no silhoutte of a house. I rolled down the windows thinking I could see better. Nothing but complete and still darkness. I rolled up my window and drove the 2.5 miles to the blacktop road.

That's when I realized that I didn't just put out the light for my family-- but I put out the light on another farmstead in Big Stone County. I used to see the light of our farm from that blacktop road. Now I saw an even larger expanse of black prairie-- depopulated--dark. A couple of our neighbors put out their farmlights lately (saving $10-$15 in electric per month). A couple months ago I actually missed the turn to the farm because the farm on the corner turned out their light which was my landmark at night.

Do you remember-- does anyone remember-- the nightime rural Minnesota landscape 30 years ago? As a child, sitting in the back of my mom and dad's Delta '88 cruisin' between Hayfield and Dodge Center, WCCO on the radio, driving home from grandma's -- my head against the glass looking at the series of barns with their lights on at 6 pm. All of them milking cows.

It's darker now on the prairie. This morning I saw one barn with lights on in 200 miles of driving -- one red barn with what I'll guess is one old farmer who just loves (or doesn't know how to stop) dairying. So I've turned the light off on my farm. One less light on the prairie.

Terroir-- the Taste of Place


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Photo credit: Kelley Reber
Idea credit: Maggi Adamek

The buds burst yesterday. The first hints of green trees dotted around. I had this wonderful moment sitting on a 5-gallon bucket on the porch putting beeswax foundations into the frames for my beehives. Mike and Lake walked down the lawn and Jens ran to catch up- his determined little arms pumping in the air. They walked across the makeshift bridge over the intermittent stream that is full of spring water-- laughing, playing, on their way to the chickens.

It's planting time and our garden is going in-- we're (which means Mike) planting a big variety including brussel sprouts, parsnips (to Mike's objection), 5 kinds of edible dry beans (black turtles to great northerns), herbs, 3 varieties of potatoes, watermelon... Leona is gathering herbs for a tea garden. The bees will be arriving here in hours. I'm gaining an intimate sense of place-- the moisture in the soil, the way it works, the temperature of the soil (someone actually ASKED me the soil temp yesterday and I could say "it's only about 42 degrees"). This is the part of being a soil scientist that I hadn't experienced in class or text books. Good classes too. When I took Soil Morphology from Terry Cooper a whole new world opened up to me-- the beauty and awe of a soil profile.

One of the senses of place is taste. The French call it Terroir-- a taste of a place. This is the subtle taste that comes from a place-- why different regions in France have wines that taste differently because of the soil, the slant of the sunlight, the microclimate. Perhaps why a Colorado peach is so peculiarly good. I've been told that there is no place on earth where the vegetables taste as good as those grown in the Red River Valley-- and that maybe they are especially nutritious.

We are learning the taste of this place. Our chickens, eggs, the water. When we moved here I kept using the Britta water filter pitcher that my mother in law left us. Now we drink straight from the tap (and yes the waters been tested and is good). The water has a distinct flavor-- even strong sometimes of iron. But not consistently. I think I detect the taste of that water in the chicken meat-- really.

Over the years we Americans have lost that sense of terroir --a taste of place-- as the food industry succeeded in delivering the same consistent taste bite after bite, visit after visit. I think that people have actually become afraid of tasting something different—reticent to have variation and distinction. So now our family will find out the taste of Big Stone County—of a clay loam soil in the prairie pothole region. The taste of the water, the fruits of the soil, the pollen and nectar of the crops and prairie, the sunlight, and the moonlight.

An unexpected View From Here


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Well, this was the View From Here I didn't expect to see. Sitting in the back of an ambulance, in a back stabilizer-- I watched my farm fade away through the thick white cross symbols on the back windows of the ambulance.

I took a spill. It wasn't so much the fall as what I fell on. A solid sturdy wooden stool that cracked in between my lower spine and my ribs.

Funny how my first, urgent response was to get to Mike. He was in town attending a funeral, his second of the week. Marriage is a funny thing. Power struggles over chicken coops, two-way exasperation over kids, schedules, and housework. But when the world narrows to excruciating pain and fear there was only one person in the world I wanted to hold my hand and look into my eyes. Mike. The funeral director found him in seconds. He called home and said "call 911." By then I was starting to go into shock.

I wish I could say that help was there in a heartbeat. It wasn't. I hung on listening to Elmo's World in the background trying not to pass out. I thought by the time Elmo was over help would arrive. It didn't. Living in a remote rural area means having to wait at times like this. The first responder (one of only 3 in a county of 528 sq miles) was Nita who has been the first responder for 30 years. She gave me oxygen, took my vitals, said a silent prayer.

Then Rusty arrived. When I saw his face I could have cried with relief. I'd sat with Rusty in meetings for Big Stone Area Growth. His emergency radio clipped to his shoulder-- pausing his conversations and thoughts to listen to the squeaks of his radio. They are all volunteers you know. They got me to the hospital. No fractures. A few days on pain meds and I'll be fine. Mike surprised me by saying to the ER staff, "I didn't expect Kathy would be the first one to take an ambulance ride from the farm." His View From Here includes ambulance rides-- mine didn't. But then farming is dangerous and he's seen the ambulance at this farm before.

My friend Kris had just given me the book Population: 485. Meeting your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. A collection of poignent essays on being a first responder in a small community. Friday I found myself in one of those essays.

Thank you to Rusty, Jim, Nita, Mom, and the sheriff who came to my rescue. Thank you to the 10's of people who called offering help. Blessings to all of you.

The 40 minute mile


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Actually a 40 minute mile would be on the fast side. When the weather is nice, and even when it isn't, the kids and I walk the 1/2 mile long driveway to and from the school bus. Those walks bookend my days when I am home- a slow, distracted walk in the finest sense. At least in the afternoons there is no rush- no intent in the walk. Time to kneel, sit, to look at the clouds, grass, rocks in the driveway, ducks, geese, play in the puddles, feel the wind and the changing seasons. We've laid in the grass watching flocks of geese approaching and passing close over head.

Between walks to the bus I had a great day. Fascinating conversations, spreadsheets, pursuing ideas of great promise- some to the end point others to the beginning point. Lightening fast multi-tasking. Feeling like all the plates are spinning as they should be-- delightful actually. But distracting in a way that narrows the world to the laptop and the phone.

My boys turned 4 years old yesterday. They've all grown so much this year. Alma is 8--her baby face completely matured to girl. It takes those 40 minute miles to really observe these sweet children. And to accept this gift from my kids -- the gift of a walk unfettered by purpose.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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