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Sunday, October 16, 2011


Like everyone else, I find the Occupy Movement inspiring- sort of. Who doesn't thrill to the idea of the 99% rising up to protest the System that's turned them into wage slaves? How can you not admire people fighting back against those who are erasing all the gains we shed blood to make in the Twentieth Century? What's more historically amazing than people all over the world taking to the streets, mostly non-violently? It makes a '60s kid like me feel right at home.


I have two main problems when comparing Occupy with the mid-century's movements. First off, it isn't really clear who or what these folks are fighting, or whether “They” can even be reached. The Civil Rights struggle was pretty straightforward- end Jim Crow and other such discrimination. Ditto the Women's Movement. The early Environmental Movement had equally clear goals: stop dumping crap in our air and water; stop poisoning the land and People. Stopping the Viet Nam war was also a pretty clear goal. Who was responsible for each of these was obvious. The problems could be remedied by cultural change, laws and regulations. We could vote out the “bad guys” and replace them with more enlightened souls. None of this involved a major overhaul of The System. It was all a logical progression of the earlier gains in the Twentieth Century.

Today the “enemy” is a nebulous agglomeration of corporations. They hold our credit cards, our bank accounts, our pensions, and the bonds and Certificates of Deposit of our local governments. They manage our currency. They dictate trade and monetary policy. They aren't even human persons, but legal persons, with the sole ethic of power and profit. They own politicians and shamelessly biased media outlets. They fund fake grass roots operations like the Tea Party. Aside from some obvious names like the Koch Brothers, this oppressor wears no human face. They are not answerable to us- socially, morally or politically. They don't care what we think, because they make the rules, unchallenged. As long as we participate in their financial and mercantile system all our daily living only strengthens them, like a horde of possessing demons in a B-grade horror flick.

The second problem is that it really doesn't matter. In a very real sense, we're like kids squabbling over sand castles on the beach while a tsunami is coming. We've already felt the earthquakes that have launched it toward our beach. I've talked with long-time Civil Rights, Farm, Women's and other activists; Many are fighting despair because they see that what’s coming will erase every gain that they fought for over decades. Anyone who tells you that Climate Change and Peak Petroleum aren't about to radically change our entire civilization is: A) Lying to protect their own power, which is indescribably despicable; B) In ignorant, fearful Denial, which is pathetic and self-defeating.

What I'm saying is that Occupy, however noble and exciting, is a possibly fatal misdirection of energies. It's trying to fix a system that doesn't want to be fixed, which will be swept away in the next few decades no matter what we do. It's like standing outside in a storm, yelling at the wind and rain to stop, instead of going inside.

So, what IS “going inside?” It's going into our communities. It's becoming locally resilient and self-sufficient: not cut off and isolated, but acting out the truth that the days of resource-guzzling economic giantism has come and gone. It means getting involved, as we have, with Local Foods, the Transition Movement, Slow Money and the like. It means disconnecting from “Their” system, stopping feeding the monster which is devouring us. If Occupy leads to that kind of long-term action, it will be worthwhile; If not, it will just be a flailing about that feels good but signifies nothing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Building the Fifty Dollar Table

There's an old saying:
“If a man invites you to join his poker table, but you only have $50 while he and his buddies each have $5000, Don't Sit Down.

Our food system is that $5000 table.

If you're a farmer, someone who just wants to live in the country, grow some food, maybe have a cow and some chickens, you soon find that you're in a game of high-stakes poker. It isn't Farmville. Outfits like Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, and the bank will tell you what to grow, when to plant it, where and when to sell it, and how much you'll get when you sell it. You'll work long hours and have a big cash flow, but actually make very little money. You buy more and bigger equipment to try to get ahead. No cow. No chickens. No real choices. They'll tell you that other choices like organic farming are too inefficient and don't bring in enough cash flow, that “You can't feed the world on Organics- they're just an elitist thing.” It's a lie. They don't want you to know that theirs isn't the only, or even the best, game in town.

If you're someone who eats, and just wants good food at a fair price, you're at the table, too. Most likely you have no neighborhood grocery store, but have to travel ten miles or so to a megastore. Aside from paying a few locals near-starvation wages, the megastore sends all the money you give it far away, making your community that much poorer. The food you buy there is full of toxic chemicals and allergy-inducing engineered proteins. This is why many countries around the world will not accept US food for import. Healthy kids? Forget it. Social and Economic Justice? Ditto.

(While I was writing this I came upon an appropriate TED video: It's a bit long, but worth it. If you aren't outraged by what the “$5000 Guys” have done to our food, you aren't paying attention.)

I really don't blame people who don't want to see these facts. As Gandhi said, when a people are deeply oppressed, when hope is banished, they cease to be able to even see that they are being wronged, and accept their situation as inevitable.

But the situation IS NOT hopeless. Many people are working to “Build the Fifty Dollar Table.” Carol and I have proven at least part of what can be done. Just yesterday we had a couple from Southern Minnesota come by to talk about building their own greenhouse like ours, so they and their families can eat real food in the winter.

Here are steps you can take, some easier, some harder:
Don't let the $5000 Guys make you sit at their toxic table! Help us all together to Build the Fifty Dollar Table. This will take work, as worthwhile things always do: Saving our lives, health and local economies is about as worthwhile as anything I can think of.

You Can Do More Than You Think You Can.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Food System Like the Internet

The way food is produced and distributed in the US is the very model of inefficiency and insecurity.

Some will claim that it's very efficient. They use tricky accounting, taxpayer subsidies to ag corporations, profligate use of unsustainable cheap oil, and lax environmental “book keeping” to hide costs or pass them on to future generations.

They'll point to the abundance of cheap food in our stores, not mentioning that perhaps 2/3 of that food's real cost is hidden from the consumer. We end up paying those costs in taxes, health problems and a degraded environment. Nor will they mention that much of what's in those stores is “Food-Like Products;” over-processed things that are full of chemicals, extra sugar and extra salt that are bad for us- things that our grandparents wouldn't have eaten on a dare.

And don't even pretend that the system is secure. It's over-centralized structure and long supply lines make it anything but. Think of the e coli or salmonella scares; those are usually caused by mistakes at only one processing or storage facility, but end up affecting millions of people. And when that food is shipped thousands of miles it's vulnerable to increasing fuel prices, weather catastrophes, epidemics and terrorist attacks all along the route.

The ideal that the Industrial Food System is striving for looks like this:


The more of these steps can be owned by the same company, the better. Forget all images of Old McDonald's Farm: The ideal modern farmer is an industrial employee, growing what The Company says, how The Company says, and ships it to The Company on Company trucks. There is no illusion that the farm belongs to the farmer: both belong to The Company.

Increasingly, every step in the chain belongs to The Company- even the Consumer. Billions are spent on advertising and lobbying every year, training consumers to buy whatever The Company wants to sell, and training lawmakers to stay out of The Company's way. Even the word “consumer” was invented in the mid-Twentieth by Corporate hacks. We're people, not “units of consumption.”

This unsustainable system developed over decades of shortsighted greediness and will eventually, perhaps soon, fall apart from its own contradictions and weaknesses. Cracks are evident and spreading. When it does go, many people will be hungry unless we can build its replacement before that happens.
We, and many others, are working on that new system. It resembles how the Internet is organized. It's no coincidence that that's also how living systems are often organized, something like this:

This is a very simplified version, but makes the point. This ideal is that a town or neighborhood mostly feeds itself. Local organic wastes go back into the food system as fertilizer. Surplus and luxury items can be traded along from others. What's that? Your town is too big? Pre-Industrial Ag kept some pretty big places in operation with a similar system- we can do at least as well. You can do more than you think you can.
Such a system is:
  • Efficient- Nothing travels farther than it has to. No unneeded middlemen get their cuts. Money isn't spent to make people WANT more than they NEED.
  • Secure- Fewer steps means fewer places for things to go wrong, and if they do they effect far fewer people. It's also like Neighborhood Watch- Farmers who are feeding their neighbors are more careful and accountable.
  • Sustainable- Resources in an area are recycled with a minimum of fuss. Inherent efficiencies and natural rhythms form a system that can last.
  • Resilient- Shortages and problems can be worked around and fixed using neighboring resources;
  • Community Centered- The point is people feeding people, not people feeding those synthetic organisms- corporations.
While taking the needed practical steps, we must remember that the root of the problem is spiritual. It's about who and what we think we are. In the last few hundred years, with the Industrial Revolution, we learned to do many wonderful and clever things with our technology, but we forgot that we are beings firmly embedded in Nature, and in our societies. We've come to see ourselves as units of consumption, tools, counters on a game board, and mere resources. Such an attitude can't help but lead to disaster.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Tahrir Square Moment- From Evolution to Revolution

Revolutions are boiling across Africa and the Middle East, not to mention Wisconsin and Ohio. People are opening their eyes to the failures of top-down, bigger is better, oligarchical government and economics. We all know that The Big Guys will fail us, or worse, so the return to community and human needs is becoming a wildfire all across the globe.

That fire was burning last Tuesday in Milan. We showed how much the Local Foods Movement has changed in only a few years- good food is not just the property of Yuppies any more. About one hundred people; farmers, dietitians, school lunch folks, buyers from big stores, and agency representatives, gathered to discuss how to move from the long-distance, petroleum-based food system to one about “food with a face.” (See the West Central Tribune's article.)

Such a gathering, in a town of 300, with a highly diverse group, could not have happened a few years ago. Many of the speakers talked about plugging along, promoting healthy foods and wise farm policy, for decades. They're amazed at what's happening now. They say “tipping point” a lot. They've toiled for “evolutionary change” in the Food System for a long time- now that's become Revolutionary Change.

There's a repeated saying in the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still: “At the precipice, we change.” That's what's happening around us now. Right now. 2011 is becoming the Year of Revolutions. Only self-absorbed fools can't see that we're in a worldwide predicament. The People sense it. Old ways that have ceased to work are being rapidly replaced. Short-sighted doubters want to clamp down, thinking that a return to some imagined past, or more discipline against dissenters, will see us through. So, following the path to a wiser future, toward dealing with things as they actually are, becomes as much about dealing with violent dunderheads as with solving actual problems.

Local Foods is one of the ways we can adapt and thrive in the new, chancier, decentralized world.

>>>>>Garden Goddess News<<<<<

As you know, FARRMS is financing another printing of our book. We've firmed up the book launch event:
We'll be on hand for both April 2 and 3 in Fargo, at the Green Living Health Expo, signing books, talking, and singing a few songs. The BIG EVENT for us will be at Noon on Saturday- a press conference with us and representatives from other Local Foods-related groups.

Come on out, especially if you're a farmer or part of a foodie or sustainability group. Admission to the expo is FREE with a donation for the Great Plains Food Bank. Come show your solidarity with Local Foods folks from around the region! Meet people who you don't know, but are fellow “toilers in the fields.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

But We Don't Buy Food From THERE

Actually, yes we do- THERE being Africa and the Middle East. A pound of conventionally raised food uses about six gallons of petroleum. Americans pretty much eat oil. And where are oil prices most influenced by?

Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and their neighbors Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Ivory Coast and others, are having a pretty volatile time of it right now. We can admire and stand with The People there, who are fighting for self-determination and dignity. In Egypt and Tunisia things seen to have gone off pretty peacefully, unlike in Libya or Bahrain- though even in those more fortunate countries the final results aren't in yet. Revolutions being what they are, those brave folks could still easily end up with worse than what they had before, gods forbid. Whatever happens, it's a safe bet that we'll soon see oil prices to make the ones in 2007-2008 look low.

So, other than that the protests were kicked off by food shortages and killer food prices, why is this a local foods issue? Ask a conventional farmer. The ones I know are very nervous. Industrial Ag is very petroleum intensive. As oil prices rise, they wonder whether they'll be able to afford fuel and petro-based fertilizers and chemicals. I truly feel for them. The practices they've been crowded into adopting have them over the barrel, literally. It's criminal short-sightedness, and not the farmer's fault.

If farmers can't afford to grow crops, where will the food come from? Who will fill up the trucks bound for Wal Mart, SafeWay and the A&P? Who will patronize small-town stores? Whose kids will go to the schools? Who will pay the taxes to undo massive deficits?

Carol and I eat about 60% things grown by us or our neighbors. In a pinch we could make that 100%- and we're working in that direction. Can you say that? How many people can?

Many people COULD get there if they tried, and many are working toward it. This may just be the summer when things get REALLY crazy. This is the year to plant that garden, build that winter greenhouse, and get to know your local, sustainable farmers. Organize your church, your temple, your mosque, your school, your neighborhood, your extended family, or all of them. Resurrect the solid American tradition of Community Mutual Aid. The Big Guys will not do this for us.

You can do more than you think you can.
It's time to do it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Presidents Day Blizzard (and other snow jobs)

OK. This is officially getting old. I've lost count of how many “record weather events” we've had in the last six months. I expect that even that number is itself a record.

I worked the morning shift at KDMA-AM on Sunday. When I got there the station parking lot was mostly bare, with no snow falling and no real wind. Still, there was that slight electrical tang in the air that Minnesotans know means a big storm is coming. I set up the studio news computer to continuously show weather radar and road condition maps.

As the morning progressed the “big blue blob” on radar crept nearer and the road conditions deteriorated. The phone rang constantly with church cancellations. I started to get nervous, since I live 20 miles from the station. I found someone from town to cover and left early- an hour later and I'd never have made it home. Carol and I hunkered down for the duration.

The next morning a four-foot drift lay in front of the door to our garage and greenhouse, and the south face was buried five feet deep. It took quite a bit of digging just to get inside.

Once inside, we found-

plenty of happy greens, part of our lunch reward for hard work.

The moral of the story is the triumph of the Garden Goddess Greenhouse. It's withstood the worst that the prairie can throw at it and kept on producing. We don't get Seasonal Affective Disorder. We don't get the blahs from eating stale long-distance vegetables.

We're all going to need many more such greenhouses, and soon. Besides the obvious health and economic benefits, crazy weather and unworkable fuel prices will soon seriously endanger our food system.


Speaking of endangering the System, like everyone else we're watching the situation in Wisconsin. It's clearly another sign of the Social Contract breaking down, as is the shrill tone of most political discourse today. You may be tempted to see the marches and sit-ins as like the protests of the 1960s, but they're radically different, pun intended. The folks marching in the streets today are a kind of reverse mirror image of the hippies and students fifty years ago.

Back then, the country as a whole had a positive attitude. The “rebels” operated from Love, simply wanting us to apply that attitude to living up to the promises of our founding values.

Today, people are afraid, made so by constant harping on their worries. Today's rebels have gotten themselves elected to many offices, crusading in Fear and Hate, believing that “only people like us must triumph.” They don't realize that their fears have made them cat's paws of plutocrats

The Local Foods Movement is rooted in those older values of acceptance, diversity, and community mutual aid. The antidote to political and societal madness is coming together to create the “Beloved Community” spoken of by Doctor King, to take care of each other's needs. We have to- the Big Guys won't. In a world going crazy in so many ways all we have is each other. We can do more than we think we can.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Working Together

There's a phenomenon that we run into wherever we go in Local Foods Land. Picture it: An outfit that nobody ever heard of comes out of the blue and announces their Big Event Where They'll Explain How To Fix Local Foods. Folks who've been working on these complex issues for years, even decades, feel shut out and insulted. This happens on both local and regional scales. Nationally, this has been happening wherever Jamie Oliver goes with his “Food Revolution.” I've heard innumerable complaints from hard-working, long-suffering folks. They appreciate what he's doing, but feel that his attitude, and lack of involving prior efforts, is a slap in the face to them.

The flip side is also true. Newcomers with new ideas can feel shut out. We've experienced this ourselves: Even back in the planning stages, there were loud voices from some Sustainability Old Timers that we could never do what we were talking about- it was just plain wrong, not How Things Are Done. Who did we think we were? We're thankful for folks like the Land stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings instructors who encouraged us. There are still organizations that want nothing to do with us as presenters, while others can't get enough of us. Blessings on them both.

Anyone who's read the works of Saul Alinkski or other great organizers knows that these sorts of problems are common in any Social Change movement. Don't kid yourself- in the last few years Local Foods has gone from a fad indulged in by yuppies and others of the “Comfortable Class” to a for-real Movement. It's as much about Societal Reform as the Civil Rights, Environmental, or Antiwar Movements. Community gardens, all manner of urban farming, Farmers' Markets taking SNAP benefits, churches buying CSA shares for poor families, these and more prove that this is a revolution against a broken food system.

We've seen how the problems I started out describing are hurting the Movement. They waste our time, energy and resources. They sap enthusiasm from our souls. When we're fighting or snubbing each other, we're building NOTHING. We need to talk and work together, respectfully, with our eyes on the prize. Certainly, we need to feel ownership of what we're doing, but we shouldn't get proprietary.

This doesn't mean that we need to move in lock step, all coordinated from on high by some central planning committee. I like John Michael Greer's word- dissensus. To be honest, none of us really knows what's going to work, so we need to each pursue our own visions and plans- but we can do that respectfully, purposefully and with coordination.

This isn't easy.

Another thing that I've noticed in Local Foods Land is many people of faith. They don't all have the same faith, but a shared concept of how things could and should be, embodied in whatever religious tradition works for them. I've sat at the table with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, and Druids, even some radical Secular Humanists, and what we had in common was far more than what we disagreed about.

In fact, I don't believe that you can effectively work for change unless you feel you're “On a mission from God.” You need that moral compass when making hard choices. You need to feel that something bigger than you is backing you up when The Man says that you're nuts. You need to “hear that real, though far off, hymn that heralds the New Creation.”

As Shepherd Book said in Serenity, “I don't care what you believe. Just believe it!” I believe that we all have a huge task ahead of us. I believe that we'll hit both passive ignorance and active opposition. I believe that we must respectfully work together. I believe that we can do more than we think we can.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Musings and Big News!

Last Saturday I presented at the "Living in the Avon Hills" conference at St. John's University. It was a very mixed group, with upper-middle-class folks trying to live more charming lives while helping the planet,  long-time "woodsies" looking for new ideas, crafters, nature lovers, conservationists and just plain curious folks.
The display area was grand, indeed, located in the Great Hall, the former church. A huge Byzantine-style Christ and a crowd of Seraphim gazed down on woodworkers, photographers, writers, and vendors of many sorts of grains, honey, maple syrup and baked goods. Over 300 people in clothes ranging from LL Bean and Carhart to home-made flannel and down mingled cheerfully.
I've presented there before, and noticed a difference in my sessions this year. The mood was notably more sober, with people's questions focusing more on the nitty-gritty of building a greenhouse, growing and storing vegetables. People are starting to realize how serious we need to get about taking care of ourselves and each other in a time of dwindling resources and growing craziness.
There was a couple who'd attended my sessions before, and were raving about all the fresh greens they'd been eating over winter. That really got people's attention-  It isn't just me making claims!

Another sign that came to me this week was the invitation to take part in a new group of experts on various kinds of what I call "Shielded Agriculture-" conventional greenhouses, Garden Goddess greenhouses, hoop houses, low tunnels and other growing structures. Goofy weather, rising fuel prices, the need for more Urban Farming, and the seemingly inexorable advance of chemical- and GMO-intensive agribusiness are moving those plant-protecting ideas into the forefront.

We can do more than we think we can, but we have to actually DO it.

>>>>>>>> Garden Goddess News <<<<<<<<
We have very good news! The Board of FARRMS, , has approved their funding of a large printing (2000 copies) of The Northland Winter Greenhouse Manual, so it will be available again in early March, 2011. Preorder yours now, at $25, which includes shipping and handling. Businesses contact Partners Book Distributors for large orders.

We're still selling the PDF versions. We're asking $10 for an emailed PDF, or $15 to send it out on a CD. The CD also includes my 2004 novel, Phoenix, Minnesota, and many photos from the construction and early growing phases. I can email the PDF to you, or send a CD, once we have a check in hand. 


We also had a visit from R T Ryback, Mayor of Minneapolis, and his wife, Megan O'Hara, on Sunday. She heads the Home Grown Minneapolis effort-  They wanted to talk about hiring us to help set up a team to build greenhouses like ours in Minneapolis, tailored to specific neighborhoods. We'll see where that goes, as such things take time to set up.

It just keeps getting better! Tomorrow at 1 PM I'll be LIVE on the "Beyond Sustainable" internet radio show. The link is
Let's keep this good food revolution going!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Garden Goddess News Flash

On next Wednesday, February 16, 2011, Chuck will be appearing on the Beyond Sustainable internet radio program on the Be Prepared Radio Network. The host is Jerri Bedell of Homesteader's Supply, an interesting source for heavy-duty off-grid and household goods. We'll be talking about winter greenhouses, local foods and preparedness.

Also, the U of M West Central Partnership has announced that Sarah Goodspeed, a graduate student at the Humphrey School, has been hired to conduct a major survey on the needs of institutional food buyers in our region. A coalition of producers is coming together to provide the economic, social and health benefits of Local Foods. Progress! We can do more than we think we can!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Report From Fargo- With an Eye on Egypt

We had a very pleasant time at the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Fargo last Friday, February 4, 2011.

This gathering of farmers, from cattle and llama ranchers to grape growers and CSA operators, drew folks from across the northern tier states and prairies provinces to share expertise and network.

We were privileged to present two workshops on our greenhouse methods. The good questions and lively discussions that followed lasted longer than the formal sessions. These were solid, practical, experienced ag people who could see the market for such an innovation. We discussed ideas for greenhouses built into hillsides, into barns and attached to houses. Some folks wanted to build large units as another business enterprise for their operations, and others just wanted to feed their families better over the winter. It's always a joy to see people's eyes light up and the wheels start turning when they realize what off-the-shelf technology, skillfully applied, can accomplish.

As always during such gatherings the networking was as important as the formal sessions. We had good conversations with many producers, folks from the the White Earth Reservation and representatives from non-profits and Sustainability groups. We brought home a stack of business cards and a sack of literature and samples.

The exhibit hall had about forty booths, representing seed companies, gadget makers, non-profits, government agencies, and growers with wares to peddle.

We spent a lot of time at the FARRMS booth. We've done workshops with these people before, and are planning some joint ventures in the near future-WATCH THIS SPACE. They also sold many of our Manual PDF-CDs- which led to occasional crowds.

As we've seen at other such gatherings, these folks tend to be very well read and aware of the World situation. Talk turned to Egypt more than once. Being keenly aware of such factors we all noticed that news stories generally downplayed, but occasionally featured, the fact that food prices and shortages are motivating much of the unrest across Africa and the Middle East. This comes as no surprise. As much as Industrial Agriculture wants to tout that it “Feeds the World,” the fact is that it doesn't anymore. It's petroleum- and capital-intense system is breaking down. Peak Petroleum and Climate Change are part of that, as are speculators acting like jackals. That System is not designed to benefit The People, but to concentrate wealth. People are just resources.

Sometimes I want to cry when I see what's going on, then attend a gathering like last week's. The tide of trouble is rising- that's when it's good to be with clear-eyed, inventive people who are “building dikes.” Goodness is always most poignant and inspiring when set beside rumbles of tragedy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I love it when a plan comes together

The trouble with writing a blog like this is that it's a moving target- what I'm writing about changes faster than I can write about it. To catch up a bit, here are pictures of a couple of greenhouses based on our ideas:

On the Great Expectations Charter School in Grand Marais, MN. ( These folks are in their first full year of operating the greenhouse. It feeds the kids, and teaches them about both growing and sustainability.

Liz Bellina's near Rushford, MN.
When I took this picture of her greenhouse-in-progress a few years ago I warned Liz that that it would make her famous. She doubted that, but found out, as the schools, 4H and others want to use her space or buy her greens. When we asked her how much greens it puts out, she said, “How many do you have time to pick?”

We know of several other greenhouses, although I don't have pictures, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York State, Virginia, Wyoming, Manitoba, Ontario, and others that I've missed- Sorry

We spent a pleasant time last weekend at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota ( The occasion was a retreat for the Board of EarthRise Farms (, who have asked us to sit on their Board. Our missions are very similar- we are planning much closer cooperation in the future, so watch for news.

On Friday February 4th, 2011 Chuck and Carol will be presenting at the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag conference in Fargo, ND ( We look forward to seeing many friends there, such as from FARRMS (
On Saturday, February 12, 2011 Chuck will be presenting at the Avon Hills Conference at St. John's University (

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Switching Doctor Who for Star Trek

Popular media can be a powerful tool for gauging the spirit of a time and place. It's modern mythology, embodying the values, hopes, fears and metaphors of a culture.

I was a child of the '60s. We believed that no problem was too big to solve. We believed in peace, plenty, equality and freedom. Civil Rights, the War on Poverty, going to the Moon, and Women's Liberation were all faces of the same dream. Heck, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Trekkie. We believed that the future of Captain Kirk and his comrades was inevitable, that white men, black women, Asians, green alien guys, even Russians, would one day be brothers and sisters spreading a kind of “tough love” across the galaxy. We had faith that all we had to do was to keep growing and pushing and inventing, and it would automatically drop into our laps.

The trouble was that that faith was based on a twisted myth, a set of very American beliefs: that of Manifest Destiny, of the “eternal frontier,” of unlimited progress as our birthright. People talk about America as the “New Israel,” as a reprise of the Moses story of captivity and release. That makes some sense, especially for African Americans. The trouble is that the Messianic aspects of the myth got blown WAY out of proportion, spawning a society that saw itself as entitled to perpetual growth, of having no limits. Tragically, our highest ideals of Liberty and Equality became wedded to the basest kind of exploitation. Ask Native Americans about “Manifest Destiny.”

The ideals and ethics of the crew of the Starship Enterprise and Federation were of the highest caliber- Did you know that University textbooks have been written about them? But in the 1970s we lost our chance at creating their world in two ways; we lost our nerve and we squandered our inheritance.

We saw Peak Oil coming back then. We saw Climate Change coming back then. Many of us were working on things to avert them: food co-ops; the Back to the Land Movement; Permaculture; The Whole Earth Catalog; recycling; lots of wind generators and solar panels. The government even gave tax breaks for many of them. We were on top of things, tackling our troubles with a can-do spirit. But bad presidents, a totally screwed up Indochina war, gas shortages, the Cold War, assassinations and more killed that spirit.

That loss of nerve led to squandering our inheritance. We lost our nerve to face our problems as they were, and to sanely build for the future, preferring to become fearful consumers of stuff for stuff's sake. We wasted our “trust fund” of fossil fuels on a gluttonous spree, not on building for the future. We had seen the coming night, but wanted to party like it was “morning in America.” We couldn't rebuild the Apollo program now even if we had the guts to try. We lost thirty years of preparing for Peak Petroleum- we lost thirty years of dealing with Climate Change- and we lost the stars.

If Star Trek was a metaphor for the Sixties, now is an age more like West Side Story: choreographed political gang fights; clueless, ineffectual public officials; well-meaning folks doing exactly the wrong things; good people getting ground up in the middle.

My personal metaphor for decades was Star Trek, but no longer; Now I identify with Doctor Who. He has pretty much the same ideals as the Star Trek folks, but rather than being a representative of a Federation, is an exile from an immensely advanced society in its terminal decadence. Everywhere he goes he meets greed, stupidity and violence, yet he doesn't give up on his ideals. He and his traveling companions try to help wherever they go, however they can, against long odds, with little thanks.

That's where we are in the Local Foods Movement. We're companions, working with high ideals and hopes to build something good. We seem to be surrounded by forces determined to do the stupidest, greediest things that they can. Sometimes we feel like exiles from the world that could have been.

Monday, January 24, 2011

News Flash- Minnesota to China

We're tickled by this article in USA Today: Shi Yan, a focus of the article, spent a summer in our area, learning at and doing research from EarthRise Farm- We've partnered with EarthRise on many projects, and distribute their eggs via our CSA. I see our greenhouse influence in her hoophouse picture.

Shi Yan, right, says she was inspired to start Little Donkey Farm when she worked for six months in 2008 at a community-supported agriculture project in Madison, Minn.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Pessimistic Optimist

I'm starting this blog because I'm a “pessimistic optimist,” someone who believes that we'll eventually have a sane, just and Green civilization, but in the meantime things are going to get very rough. I want to say things that need to be said but haven't been said nearly enough. We can only deal with our predicament by facing squarely the things that are really happening. It's not the End Of The World, but it IS the end of a certain way of running our civilization.

Remember the old Stages of Grief list? When people are facing a tragedy they tend to first deny it or get angry, then try to bargain or blame, but most eventually accept what's happening and can work through it. That's where we are with Climate Change and Peak Petroleum. Plenty of voices are loudly and angrily denying that anything's wrong- Sorry guys, the evidence is in; It is. Others are bargaining that energy conservation or ethanol or wind power will see us through the transition to pretty much the same habits but in a new style- Folks, I hate to tell you; The physics and agronomy just don't work. The thing is, we CAN work through this situation once we accept it. I'm serious. We can build a new kind of world- a very different one, but a better one.

In a recent group conversation with an African American activist friend, someone said, “You know, these two gorillas in the room are going to devour everything we've accomplished in the last fifty years.” Maybe it won't be quite that bad, but the concept is valid. ANY planning for the future, from ANY philosophy, faith or political party, has got to include the fact that “business as usual” for the last couple of centuries is OVER. Done. Finis. Kaput. “Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

What has this got to do with Local Foods? Simple- people have to eat, and we have to start preparing somewhere. The average pound of industrial food eaten by a North American travels thousands of miles, and consumes upward of five gallons of petroleum and similar amounts of water. That just isn't going to work with the southern ag states getting blizzards and hard freezes, or with gas prices expected to top $5 per gallon by late 2011. In about 2005, when gas was over $4/gallon, the grocery store in our little town ran out of many items because the supply trucks couldn't afford to stop there. At the fuel prices they're talking about in the next few years, there'll be stores in mid-sized towns and core urban neighborhoods running dry. That's bad enough even if there is industrial food being grown through the crazy weather- and it might not be.

My wife and I grow and sell fresh vegetables through the Minnesota winter, on the prairie where it's seventeen below Fahrenheit today, not counting the wind chill. We do it using very little energy. You can too. Other people have more great ideas like ours. We can do this. We have to roll up our sleeves, put on our thinking caps, and work together as communities.

That's what this blog is about. I'll get picky about some things, tell some stories, whine and cry a bit, pass on some news and sound some alarms. Not every posting will be obviously about Local Foods, but will be about the ideas behind what we need to do. We can do more than we think we can. I know. I have.

---Garden Goddess News: 01/22/11---
The first printing of our book, The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual, is sold out. We're now offering emailed PDFs of the Manual for $10, or deluxe CDs of the Manual, my novel Phoenix, Minnesota, and an archive of construction photos for $15. If you're interested, contact us at

On Friday February 4th, 2011 Chuck and Carol will be presenting at the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag conference in Fargo, ND (
On Saturday, February 12, 2011 Chuck will be presenting at the Avon Hills Conference at St. John's University (