Monday, November 30, 2009

Sustainable Farming is Local Farming

I wasn't a farmer when Earl Butts said,"Get Big or Get Out". He was President Nixon's secretary of agriculture in the early 70's and the USDA made sure that America's farmers answered the call to flood the global market with American commodities.

In 1974 I was a witness to this policy. My dad and I drove east from California. And as we drove for days from the eastern slopes of the Rockies in Colorado, through Nebraska and all the way to the eastern seaboard, we passed through the biggest corn crop America had ever produced. I wonder now how many farms went bust trying to sell 100 acres of corn that year.

Now that a generation has passed, a new generation of farmers and ordinary consumers, environmentalists and foodies are looking for ways to revive and support what was lost in the heady days of the "Green Revolution". Local food, Slow food, Organic Food, Sustainable Food, Clean Food, Safe Food. It's all in the same basket and a new revolution is under way.

When we bought Willie Dunn's farm in 2000, we had no idea what we were doing. But we had an inspiration. We would begin with an organic certification of the land. Organic pioneer Michael Abelman had told us to jump in. But when we asked him what to do and how we would do it, he said, "You'll just do it. You'll figure it out." It wasn't too comforting. But what I've learned from Michael and from my own experience is that each morning you go out on the land. You walk. You look. You feel. You taste. You touch the soil and you read the weather. You wait. And nature speaks.

After 10 years I feel we are just beginning our farm. We're just now gaining the confidence and the skill to get bigger. And we're looking for knowledge that will help us to continue to grow in the right directions. I already know that for us, "MORE CORN!" or "MORE POTATOES!" is not the answer.

As I've shared with you before, my goal in California this winter is to harvest as much "input" as I can to fertilize our dreams at the farm. I've been searching out technology and business ideas and I've reviewed our farm plans and improved our prospects. And I've found a great resource to help water our dreams.

In December, I'll be staying on the Orella Ranch which has been hosting a series of educational programs on sustainability. I'll be attending a workshop there with farmer and author Joel Salatin. His workshop is entitled, "Pathways to Localization".

I'm lucky to be in Santa Barbara now, to attend this workshop. I've been lucky to have mentors like Michael Abelman and the inspiration of his friend, Alice Waters. I feel I'm in the right place at the right time. And I can't wait to share more with you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

California Dreamin'

CLICK - HEAR - Today's Podcast

November in California is my favorite time of year. The days are clear and warm, the nights are cool and the tourist traffic is at a minimum.

I was invited by Westlake Audio to come down to Hollywood for a presentation on the newest Source Connect software from Source Elements. It took advantage of the opportunity to drive down the coast and catch up on some of the latest in audio technology.

Along the way, I stopped in at Emma Wood State Beach to check the surf.

A small day at Emma Wood - On the Way to Hollywood.
(click to enlarge)

The Rincon, Ventura County, CA., from Emma Wood.
(click to enlarge)

Westlake Audio. Jeri Palumbo, Rebekah Wilson, John Quimby, Ryan Kahler
(click to enlarge)

I got a personal tour of the software from Rebekah Wilson. The New Zealand native is the architect of the software that allows studios to connect and record or send high quality audio over the internet. Fascinating stuff and part of the learning I intend to bring back to PEI this spring.

Working on the farm isn't just about growing organic vegetables. It's about growing a business and connecting to the outside world as a professional media producer.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Farmville Goes to Town

I heard on the radio today that some 65 million people are regular players of the game "Farmville" on Facebook. It's a simulation game that allows people to pretend to live on a farm.

It seems there are a lot of people, tens of millions of them, who yearn for a chance to escape their complex daily lives for a few minutes or hours a week on their virtual farm.

People who live in the country know that the hours are long, money is always in short supply, that neighbors are nosy and that the work is hard and sometimes dangerous. It's not nearly as easy or simple as the "farm dream" that propels others into a virtual farm. We too find that the distance between our farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada and our suburban home in Santa Barbara, California is greater than mere miles as the jet flies.

Part of my effort on the Dunn Creek Farm blog this winter is to share with our country friends what it's like to live in the city. Just as there are those who yearn for the life they imagine they'd find on a farm, there are those who wonder what it must be like to live in a coastal resort city.
Well here are a few notes just for you.

I heard an interview with a woman on CBC Radio 1 last year. She was talking about raising kids in Urban North America and said, "We keep our children under virtual house arrest." She was talking about the piles of homework schools send home and the supervised play and activity and the restrictions we place on our kids because of fear. I immediately added to that the hours logged onto video games and TV. Her words have stayed with me.

In the country, we send our kids to the beach, or to the neighbors to play and they walk or bike most places around us. We know they can find their way home. We know that everyone knows who they are and where they belong. And they know that we'll hear about any mischief they get into.

But here, we city people tend to pack our kids into a van and shuttle them off to school and afternoon play dates. We create and schedule organized activities. We have eliminated unsupervised play time and yes, the rest of the time our children are under virtual house arrest. There is very little real freedom for kids here. That thought has troubled me lately. If we want to raise kids to appreciate and value living in a free society, this hardly seems to be the way to go about it. Especially since what we model for them says, "be afraid of your surroundings and don't trust others." It's an extension of the same thinking that keeps us disconnected from nature and willingly ignorant about what sustains and gives us life. It also explains why a lot of kids are overweight and listless. And so today I went on a mission.

My nine year old has a friend who lives about three miles away. When the boys want to get together it's an effort to arrange parent pickup and dropoff, scheduled arrival and departure and of course we must work around all those scheduled activities.

Today I said to him, "We could ride our bikes over to your friends house. And then he could ride back here with us. I can show you boys the shortcuts where cars don't go and we can stay off of the busy streets." He paused and seemed doubtful. So I persisted. "It'll only take us about 15 minutes to get there." He brightened up, put on his shoes and got out his bike.

The ride is almost the same as the route I took to and from high school every day for four years. We had no school bus then and almost nobody thought they had to give their kid a ride to school every day. We all biked or walked in our year 'round climate.

It was beautiful and sunny today as we left our house and crossed past my boy's school heading up through the rolling hills of our San Roque neighborhood. The route took us past my old home street and we stopped near the top of the hill to rest. Then, like Radar on MASH, my ears picked up a familiar sound from 40 years ago. An ice cream truck!

My son didn't hear it. When he did, I had to explain to him what it was. "It's ice cream!" Again my boy looked dubious. The beat-up old truck came chugging toward us with it's merry music blaring and I waved it to a stop. We got a couple of Life Saver flavored popcicles. And there, on the same street where I once ran for the ice cream truck with a shiny dime in my hand, I caught up with it and felt like a 9 year old again. Until that moment my 9 year old never even knew such a thing ever existed.

We met our friend and took off again for home. After a short stop to visit grandma (and the house I grew up in) I told the boys they'd have to navigate on the way back. "Which Way?" they'd say. "Pick a direction" I'd answer. And off we'd go. With a little help they managed to find the way.

As we flew down the streets they learned to dodge cars, play chase and had a running pretend shootout that lasted for a mile. It was fast and it was spontaneous. It was full of laughs and a taste of adventure. It was freedom.

Today's Streetparked Classic

1939 Ford Truck (click to enlarge)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cougar in a Devil Suit

Halloween in Santa Barbara.

Friday evening the boys were on the back deck carving pumpkins with friends.
You'll note that they are in t-shirts and's been very warm here.

Pumpkin Carvers

What could be scarier than a group of teenagers?
Perhaps an overweight mom dressed as a slut.

My buddy Ray and I walked our two 9-year-olds through the hottest trick or treat neighborhood in our area. Lots of great displays of Halloween spirit and hundreds of kids with parents roaming sidewalks and streets. All in all it was very neighborly and family friendly. But after a while we began to count the number of cougars in devil suits. Which leads me to:

Today's Street Parked Classic

The old gal is showing her age and some poor treatment at the hands of a careless world, but this Cougar still has classic lines and a certain grace that can make a man's heart race.

1968 Mercury Cougar (Click to Enlarge)

Another Ground Beef Alert In New England States

Reuters reports on a new ground beef borne e-coli outbreak in New England:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A New Hampshire resident died and two others were hospitalized after consuming ground beef that may have been tainted by bacteria that can cause diarrhea, dehydration and kidney failure.