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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 (