Friday, 30 June 2017

Restorative justice.

I wonder if the farmers around here are intuitive enough to take this as a hint ..

The farmland here is rolling, gentle hills. A little rocky here, sandy there, and clay-ey closer to the river. The farms are small, traditionally it's been all about cattle, with fields sown in hay, alfalfa & corn for winter feed. Some rotation, of course; oats do well here. Barley is iffy thanks to summer storms.

It's only in the last decade or so that we're seeing more and more soy, and only in the last few years that we're seeing 'modern' farming techniques being used. Massive, computerized machinery. Fields 'burned down' with chemicals to get rid of the weeds, hedgerows and sugar-maple bushes taken out to make room, and vast fields of that soy, year after year, crop rotation be damned.

Remember how I told you about our excessively snowy winter and the ensuing spring rains resulting in a whole lot of moisture? That was early May, and it's still raining. Now going on July and the fields haven't recovered; an awful lot of them remain unplanted. Boggy, that's what they are, especially (of course) those fields where the hedgerows and maple-bushes that surrounded them have been removed - that modernization greed has left the water table fucked. Fields that may have been just a bit damp are likely to now be unsalvageable for years to come.

I know it's "wrong" of me but I'm finding it rather satisfying to see. Even more fun is the utter disregard Nature seems to have for the attempts at chemical burn-down. Spring brought acres and acres of bright yellow dandelions to fields where nothing was supposed to grow, summer is bringing forth daisies, burdock, yellow dock, and hawk-weed in populations we've never seen the like of before. Cattails are springing up in the low patches where the land is still under water, these are places that haven't seen cattails in, likely, generations. It will be a great summer for asters, goldenrod and St John'swort, too. I suppose they got rid of some sorts of weeds (which ones I have no idea) but the land itself, it knows best, and is doing its best (or worst, depending on your point of view) to bring some balance back to that soil. Those weeds, given a year or so, would bring the soil back to recovery. Within 5 years the poplars and aspens would spring up, within a decade or so there would be the beginnings of decent little forests.

Of course we know that Big Ag - and the farm insurance companies - will convince the farmers to double down on the Round-Up. Not that Round-Up does much, so they'll have to add other poisons and triple the frequency of spraying. They'll be having to put in drainage pipes too. After spending all that money and effort, just how much profit is there in soy, I wonder? They'd have been better off with 50 head of cattle.

And that's the irony. Pontiac cattle are renowned, as is Pontiac hay. It's not so much that they're raised for their meat, but for breeding purposes; the gene pool here is the envy of the cattle breeding world. Yet with stars in their eyes from the promises of Big Ag, farmers fell for the idea that this rolling land could produce the same sort of crops as vast flat prairies. But it can't. The old farmers knew it, and said so, but as their sons left the land they've been forced to sell to the big investors who, it seems, are happy to have this land to exploit for insurance & tax write-off purposes. Those local men who've stayed on the land have been coerced into following the same destructive methods as the big players. Bastards.

Meanwhile, who suffers most?

This year, not the bees, happily. As the land goes wild we've got a population explosion of bumble bees and the honeybees, too, are working the weeds with delight. The birds are doing exceedingly well, the mosquito (over)population bodes well for the swallows, bats and dragonflies. Nature is having a very good year here. The beavers are literally reshaping the landscape. While there is far more water than usual in most areas, we've noticed some streams have all but disappeared and a couple of very large swamps are now strangely dry. That's because the beavers have decided to make new lakes; damming here, draining there and - hey presto! - a new meadow appears where once was swamp and a deep lake where once was shallow wetland.

But the men who work the land suffer economically, and the businesses that depend on them too. But more to the point, its the health of the farmers, their wives and children that will be affected most by the chemical residues that daddy chooses to use. There are some interesting, nasty, and little known associations between pesticide use and suicide risk  . Did you know that wives of men who handle pesticides have higher rates of cancer? No one mentions why it might be, but the rates of childhood cancer and birth defects are extremely high in our area.

I went digging for stats to back up my statements there but man, science just doesn't want to commit to what people know already, does it. I found plenty of 'maybe's' and 'more study is needed', but nobody in authority saying 'let's err on the side of caution for once'.

Meanwhile, you and I know full well that if it's poison to bugs or plants, chances are it's poison to people. So farmers and their wives and kids and anyone downwind or downstream? Collateral damage as far as Big Ag is concerned.

Bugs and plants are part of a bigger picture, and overall, Nature is willing to sacrifice the few in the short term to ensure the the health of the many in the long term. After all, She has all the time in the world to fix what we fuck up. Our comeuppance comes in the form of failed crops and nasty illnesses, karma for our lack of foresight.

Too bad we don't get lightening bolts from above and a booming voice saying

                                                     "CUT IT OUT, YOU MORONS"

Or do we?

Front page news on our local paper this week:

Caleb Nickerson, THE EQUITY
Heavy winds on June 18 brought down *********’s large hay barn in Litchfield. ***** said that the collapse destroyed his sprayer and did extensive damage to one of his tractors and other equipment. Luckily, several tractors and a backhoe that were usually stored in the barn were elsewhere when it fell. “It’s a big loss,” he said.

I blocked out his name because I have nothing against him, personally. But I can't say I'm not glad it happened.

Meanwhile, those of us who are 'in the know', who see what She's doing, know that Nature hands us gifts at every turn. As She plants the seeds that farmer's hate She's offering up some of the very nutrients those nasty 'modern farming methods' have stripped from the land.

That's not irony, it's justice. Restorative justice.

Of course, there's 'something for anything that ails us' now growing in the meadows that have been sprayed, but there are extras in the ones that haven't. Restorative justice is available for the humans, too, if we'd just use our eyes and our brains and have some faith in She-Who-Provides.

Below is a meadow that's been allowed to be a meadow.The farmer who owns it might call it a hay field, I don't know; we'll have to go back and see if it's been hayed in a few weeks. I doubt it, as there are some toxic plants in there too. But right now, it looks like this:

another view, because I know some of my readers like to see the big sky we have here:

See the mists of white flowers in the lower shot? That's cleavers. Here's a nice long monograph on cleavers (also known as goose grass or bedstraw) and here's a shorter one.

If there is one health issue that dominates in our area, it's kidney troubles. If there's one plant that dominates the landscape this year, it's cleavers, a sure kidney remedy (among other things).


Restorative justice. Whether we deserve it or not, She's there for us, in Her way.



  1. Splendid piece. Wish we could send it to every farmer who has bowed to the corporate farming gods. Breaks my heart to see what devastation they wreak. At the same time, I have the joy knowing how nature fixes things when she has her way!

  2. Interesting stuff on the link between chemicals & farmer suicide. Might add another dimension to the story of mass suicides in India, at least partly because of gm and pesticide-resistant crops being pushed on the farmers there: 100s of thousands of them have ended their lives over the last couple of decades, and though the main theories point to destructive cycles of debt (eg: farmer buys roundup-ready 'terminator' seeds from Monsanto, crop fails anyway, farmer now has to take out a loan to buy next year's seed, rinse & repeat until suicide, often by direct ingestion of pesticide fittingly enough). But if the chemicals also add to the depression +biologically+, that would show it up as an even more self-destructive activity in addition to the depression farmers must surely suffer from seeing the wreckage of the land they love from these changes that +they themselves have imposed+, albeit under coercion in a lot of cases.

    Nice pics, and good example from cleavers about the land producing medicine right where & when it's needed. It's had a good year over here too, where we call it 'goose grass' or 'sticky willy'. Every time I weed it out of someone's flower bed I get masses of the little seeds sticking to my gloves, socks, shoes etc. and thus help to transport it from contract to contract, providing ideal growing conditions in recently dug soil... The bonus being that we keep on getting asked back to start over on the same beds! I think it's called a co-evolved symbiotic relationship :P


    1. Same here, I thought of the farmers in India when I came across that study too. I'm not aware of any degree of suicide/depression in our area. Just lots of kidney diseases & cancer.

      Too bad people don't appreciate cleavers more, although it does get rather exuberant .. good business for you then. It smells so gorgeous when it's flowering, too.

      Nice to 'hear' from you again.

  3. IT IS (as in "I AM") restorative! And that's the hope that allows us to consider death. Anyhow---

    My dad is a farmer, as was his father. We talk a lot about how he farms now. He is not a bad guy. He'd come pull you out of a snow storm or show you the way to some hidden landmark you're trying to find. Give you a free gallon of maple syrup from his sugar camp. Put in several extra ears of sweet corn for a baker's dozen. He loves the land he farms and knows it very well. Each piece he farms differently, unlike many farmers in his area. As much as he can think to at his stage, he cares. He uses Roundup and he feels that his use of Roundup is much less detrimental than the multiple pesticides and herbicides he used when he was younger. I discuss that perhaps he should move away from soybeans and corn as crops, and it just really never dawned on him that he could or would. ("How would we feed the people?") But last year he planted a field in turnips for the soil benefit. That intrigued him greatly. Perhaps if he had a another decade of farming, his ideas, mine and the internet (he enjoys reading about Dr. Davis of Wheat Belly and then asking me questions :-) ) could get him a new set of eyes (restored eyes).

    1. We love farmers, if we didn't we never could have moved out to the boonies. Your father sounds like most (but sadly not all) of the older generation of farmers up here. They love their land. It's been stunning to see the changes here as the land is bought up by investors, not real farmers like your dad. You'd think they'd see $$ in the old maple bushes that ALL the farms used to have but nope, they're taking them down. It's idiotic ..

      Turnips, eh? Very cool. The old crop rotation always included red clover, another plant that's very good for the land; it's a nitrogen fixer. So is alfalfa too, I think (?). And hey, even soy is a nitrogen fixer, so if it wasn't for the round-up-readiness factor and the massive fields they insist on planting it wouldn't be so awful.

      Have you heard of Joe Salatin? I bet your dad would be interested in his methods. This guy here:

      To anyone else reading this, I quote the bumper stickers we see on many a pick-up truck - "If you ate today, thank a farmer!"

  4. It's not hopeless:
    There's more and more farmers as time goes on who either abandon the land they've ruined or change. There's ruined farms being taken over by farmers who are doing no till/cover cropping and restoring the soil.

    Farmers are also intercropping. The smart ones are.

    Sort of like my little 20 by 25 foot allotment here in Toronto. Polyculture. The neighbours think I'm crazy but it seems the plants love to live like this. I've never seen such a variety of insects ever. 15 varieties of flowers and 35 varieties of 'vegetables'.

    I'd recommend Gabe Brown (North Dakota) or Dave Brandt(Ohio) for cover cropping for improving the soil. There are others.

    1. Absolutely, it's not hopeless. We've been really surprised to see this backward trend happening in our area, the old timers know better and there's certainly plenty of innovation happening, too. It seems there's just the one big time 'investor/farmer' (from Holland, I'm told) who is buying up or renting fields up here and .. well I won't get back into it. Maybe this wet year will be the ruin of him.

      Congratulations on the polyculture! I can't imagine gardening any other way. It lends itself very well to small spaces, too, like yours. It's infectious, no doubt your neighbours will start to copy you.

    2. You'd think a Dutch based investor would know better.

      One of the things that Gabe Brown says that it's not because farmers become 'enlightened' that they are willing to start with cover crop/no till. It's because of consumer pressure for organics where no artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are used. Egg, chicken, pork, and beef producers are wanting organic non GMO feed because that's what 'consumers' are increasingly demanding.

    3. Unfortunately, farmers who are up to their necks in the existing system are having a hard time making the transition to the crops and methods consumers want. The issue I'm hearing most about is that the insurance companies are refusing to cover them if they're not using the pesticides and GM crops, and unless these guys are already millionaires, they NEED crop insurance. It is, as a friend of mine used to say, a clusterfuck. This may well be a local issue, I don't know.

    4. Gabe Brown said that about insurance, so he doesn't carry any. I'm not sure which episode of these lectures, maybe the last one, he shows the facts and figures on what it costs to farm one way or the other. It works out to be much cheaper to do cover crop/no till. Dave Brandt uses a roller to flatten the cover crop and then uses a seeder to plant whatever it is he wants to grow.

      The numbers indicate that even if a field produces a tiny bit less of cash crop, the cost of that field is significantly less than farming with chemicals and tilling. Lots of cash crops are money losers for the farmers. I don't know how they keep going.

      Here's a guy who raises cattle, sheep, and chickens partly on his own and partly on leased land. Listen to what he says about his financial situation past and present:

    5. Here's Gabe's farming and money lecture:

    6. Gabriella, sounds to me like you've found your next career.

    7. I've watched so many farming/gardening Youtube videos since last summer, I am getting spammed by an online farmers' dating site.

      And, no. I am experimenting with cover cropping. Gabe says you can cover crop in a window box. Right now 2/3 of the garlic is harvested because we had some dry days and now have rain daily again. I just don't trust the situation. Immediately I sowed Fava bean, Field peas, Black eye peas, 3 kinds of kale, Daikon radish, Chinese Chrysanthemum, and barley. I figure I've got a good 90 days. Not expecting to harvest Fava beans but there ought to be pea shoots, kale, and maybe black eye peas.

      On Saturday I dug and built a Hugel mound. The transplanted zucchinis look happy. I was planting soaked coriander seeds into it this morning and it's warm.

      The neighbours tell me I'm crazy. I was harvesting before they were planting. So who's crazy? Now they are talking about hoops and row covers and cold frames..... they really need to stop tilling and let the earthworms do the work.

      I'm waiting on the garlic competition (oh yes, allotment gardening is competitive!) Not because I care. I know mine are bigger. ...snicker....

    8. Wow, Hugelkulture AND cover cropping, you've got it goin' on over there!

      We haven't had more than 2 dry days in a row since the snow melted. Sure could use some more sun. I'm not doing any veg other than a couple kale plants in with the flowers, husband has taken over that side of things leaving me free to grow far too many flowers. All edible of course.

    9. It's just a Hugel mound. Not massive. 3 by 6 feet and 12 inches tall. Altogether from the bottom of the hole I dug, the material of the Hugel mound is over 2 feet thick. If this functions well, I may build bigger one later at the end of the growing season.

      Yeah, this has been a sunless, wet, not warm year so far. Spinach, Collards, Georgia and Japanese mustards have been harvested and did well. Lettuce is enjoying the conditions. But the beans are a write off. What didn't rot in the ground was eaten by voles and if the voles didn't get 'em, the slugs did. Green peas are going to be done this week. Most of the shallots and garlics are drying on the table at home. Last year I figured shallots and not onions are what's worth growing.

      The lettuce appears to really appreciate the conditions.

      I only started last year so I'm still learning. Singing Frog Farms in California is a real eye opener. And J.M. Fortier at Hemmington, Quebec. The produce is sold at Jean Talon market.

    10. What did you use to make the mound? I've only seen the Sepp Holzer versions, they use green wood, (I think, it's been a while since I looked into it). As I understand it they begin to perform better in the second and third years, is that what you're expecting?

    11. Over here they cut down a pine tree and I asked the guys if I could take some. About 40 pounds of pine. It was wrapped in a huge canvas drop cloth in the back of the car for some number of days. The inside of the car smelled wonderful and I'd be liberating moths everytime I'd open the car door and throwing spiders out the window. My car is a garden shed on wheels because we are not permitted to have sheds. There's no room for a shed on 20 by 25 feet anyway. This is not England.

      It's green wood. I figure pine is a soft wood and will rot faster than some of the other types. I'd have preferred birch but a person gets what they can. On top of all the pine I dumped 36kg of composted sheep manure. This was watered well, jumped up and down upon. Then I placed two upside down strips of sod. All the soil had been shovelled onto a tarp and then shovelled back in reverse order. 3 hour job. When I put my hand in this morning to plant coriander seeds, it was warm.

      I don't know what to expect although I suspect it will be warmer than a regular raised bed, so plants will germinate and grow earlier. My number one concern is about rats or other burrowing animals finding their way down inside the mound.

      I bought two extra pieces of sod and had them in the car for 24 hours. They were getting warm. I used them upside down on a couple of walkpaths (wall to wall broadloom) because the ground slopes a tiny bit and I raised the edge of the beds there by shoving sod underneath. I think drainage will improve now. Then the sod was covered up in shredded pine bark. I don't know how long it will take for this to rot down but I hope it makes some difference longterm. All the walkpaths are covered in pine bark 'mini' nuggets and straw. The straw was winter mulch on the beds but was not required at the 'winter thickness' for the growing season, so ended up in the walkpaths.

      Maybe the wheat was short because there was a lot of wheat in the bale. Mrs. Bunny ate well all winter and gave birth to two litters in straw nests in the garden. Despite her best efforts at chowing down on wheat berries and leaving me a carpet of rabbit poops, I have wheat in the garlic bed.

      I have yet to see an attractive Hugel mound. Mostly it seems they end up looking like a mess.

      At the end of the growing season, I'll make a bigger mound in the 6 by 6 bed. That one will have some perennial flowers and herbs planted on it. Longterm project.