Category Archives: philosophical

A Minnesota Writer Muses on Being Called “Anti-Farmer”

John G. White is a “somewhat retired” award-winning newspaper journalist from the state of Minnesota. Besides newspapers, has written for numerous magazines and is a free lance photographer. I was lucky to have discovered his writing and photography in this piece below, as he echoes my own thoughts and photography which I’ve done a few times on this site before, mine with a Nebraska perspective, his with a Minnesota perspective. Same song, different verse, or, if you will, same subject, different state.

His writing is enviable as he explains what he stands for when a farmer-friend accuses him of being “anti-farmer”. John was gracious to allow me permission to republish his post here. Please, I encourage you to visit his site, Listening Stones Farm – Life on the Western Minnesota Prairie.


Bygone Ethics


Recent rains have given us a rare opportunity to revisit the long-gone prairie potholes that were part of the original, post-glacial landscape.”

Recently a friend who happens to be a farmer asked, “When did you become so anti-farmer?”

After my initial surprise and denial, and later, after subsequently rolling through the countryside, I began to realize how my comments and rants could be taken in that manner. My growing up as a child and teenager was in a different era, when having a thick thatch of grass growing where water could create rills of erosion in a field was not only expected, but common. Also common was leaving a swath of anchoring vegetation along riverine embankments. I can also remember my father’s concern when Earl Butz, as Secretary of Agriculture, began preaching his “fence row to fence row” philosophy.

“That will ruin farming,” my father said. He meant the land, although it has also altered farming into a Catch 22 cash chase.


A recently “refurbished” grassland where the rocks were removed and the trees cut and piled.

Realize, please, that my father and I had many rifts and disagreements, politically and otherwise. Despite that, I grew to firmly respect his attention to real conservation farming practices as well as his trepidation on the Butz preamble.

My father lived long enough to watch as neighboring farms grew quite large over the hills of northeast Missouri where grass and grazing was a better ecological fit. He watched as abandoned farmsteads were leveled, burned and the ashes buried, and he watched as hedge rows were dozed along with tree lines and windbreaks. Fences were pulled, wires rolled, and posts, mainly hedge, burned. Forty acre fields became 80’s, and 80’s 160’s, causing him to sadly shake his head. Folks back in my home country now call this “Minnesota farming.”


“Where’s the grass? Tons of soils have washed off fields where rills and gullies were created by heavy rains and moisture.”

Yes, this is precisely the treatment of the land we see all around us. Industrial road grading equipment is used to extract glacial rocks from fields (which are then stored for sale in faraway cities to landscapers), and groves and farmsteads dozed and burned. Sod and prairie grasses, CRP land … all being plowed. Painstaking efforts are made with a blade to cut just enough of a two-foot deep furrow through fields to aid in the rapid flush of water. In many cases these furrows are too shallow to qualify as a legal ditch, meaning a mandate for buffer strips, and once cut, are carefully skirted by tillage equipment and planters. Cattails are allowed to grow … until hit by contact killing Roundup.

In fields already tiled, new and more efficient patterned tile systems are being installed. Although the technology is readily available that would allow farmers better water table management, the devices have been a tough sell despite years of positive presentations at many winter meetings. At least one watershed project had staffers basically begging farmers and landowners for a single demonstration installation … to no avail. Flush is seemingly the norm for managing water tables, not the holding back or storage of melt nor rain.


Shallow water escape routes are cut in fields that won’t technically qualify as a drainage ditch, therefore not mandated for buffer strips.

Hilly lands that should never have been tilled stretch for miles with no regard for erosion. In wet springs and early summers, like we’re having again this year, runoff water carries tons upon tons of soil off the higher land. We passed a field with corn nearly two feet tall in the valleys with spindly, four-to-six inch stalks poking up on the rest of the acres. “That’s where all the good soil has washed off to,” said Rebecca. Typically, 20 percent of a field has the healthy stalks. The rest? Will it qualify for USDA emergency subsidies?

Indeed, an observer can easily see the change in soil color and tilth … light tans compared to a rich darkness … in field after field, mile after mile. A keen observer can also tell that many are ignoring either the advice or statutes that call for grassed buffer strips along artificial drainage ditches, and any thought of a grass “waterway” would be considered absurd!

Most of us know by now that 99 percent of the wetlands are drained, with a like percentage of native prairie tilled. Where is the rage you see with the distant Brazilian rain forest?


The banks have held and the buffer strips on either side have kept both the field and the drainage ditch in good condition.

Driving through the rural byways in the winter months can just be sickening with mile upon mile of “snirt” — that dirty combination of snow and dirt. Overwinter cover crops are rarely planted, and any thought of leaving stalks to hold soils in place is basically unheard of. Our food supply is threatened in that one day fields will be barren of healthy prairie dirt. Realtor’s will be challenged to barker farms with no soil left to sell.

One wonders where the crops will be grown, of how subsequent landowners and farmers will continue to “feed the world.”

Have we become so selfish as farmers that we can only think of today, of mining the soil for the most cash possible with crops with little direct food value and staunch government policy support?

If we’re blaming policy for the woes and goals of the tractor jockeys, then perhaps some teeth should be placed into the policy smile … a net zero erosion factor as a qualification for any USDA commodity benefits ­— mandated buffer strips on all riparian waters, including drainage ditches; grassed waterways; winter cover crops, especially following soybeans and sugar beets; an actual crop rotation that includes nitrogen fixing legumes; banning practices that threaten pollinators; and so forth.


Common to many ares around the prairie are “ghosts” of the old prairie potholes — wetlands — that perhaps should not have been drained.

Am I anti-farming? Or, am I simply someone concerned about a future that appears ever more ominous for a climate challenged earth that will be incredibly feeble environmentally for our children and grandchildren — indeed, for all future generations.

Am I anti-farming, or am I someone who simply wishes for the bygone ethics of conservation farming practices that promotes soil health and keep earth’s dirt in place?

Am I anti-farming, or someone who wishes to keep our people, our land and our rivers healthy, and in place for future generations. Surely this answers your question.


A beautiful buffer found in Chippewa County.

Human Apocalypses. Mysteries. Cycles.


Flickr CC photo by Cuba Gallery “sunset”

If this world weren’t so mysterious, I don’t think it’d be half as fun. One of today’s looming questions seems to be if we are facing some kind of apocalyptic scenario as a nation, or even as a species.

Predicting apocalypses has been common through the ages. There are always those who expect that a collapse is imminent. Are you one of them? Because it certainly seems like here in America today, the percentage of people with a doomer outlook is pretty high. Doomerism comes up in the media fairly often, and I find it mentioned in conversations surprisingly often among friends and acquaintances that I’d never expect to hear it from. Just what is going on out there that is making us so uneasy?

Here are three examples of preppers that I know of personally. There are more.

• Very recently, an older and wise friend confided that he is acquiring precious metals that he’s keeping in his home office to “buy bread” if the time comes that he needs it.
• A young male acquaintance has a survival kit including a water filter that he keeps while in graduate school, and he plans to steal a bike in his city and bike across a couple of states back to his home if the world should go to hell in a hand basket.
• While on holiday last month, when taking an early evening walk on Balboa Penninsula in California, we visited with a man farming his tiny front yard. There were a few tall corn plants growing, along with a variety of vegetables. He said that he thinks a collapse is imminent and he has a bigger farm in the Pacific Northwest that he can go back to. His approach to dealing with his fear is to grow his own food and learn other skills to be self-reliant.

Many pessimists are fearful about feeding the world in the future. Luckily, being able to adjust our diets and our crop choices gives us more resilience than most people realize. Modern global communication using cell phones and the internet are allowing the exchange of agricultural information and farming knowledge to be shared freely like never before. Contrary to those who always assume the worst in the future of agriculture, on some days I am a cornucopian about the prospects of improving and advancing food production and food production methods in future years. The bigger concern is right politics for healthy food production, in addition to the wild-card of weather conditions caused by climate change.

That said, we do live in the real world and black swan events do come along every now and then, and life moves in cycles – as do civilizations.

I’ve made a list of my top concerns, below. Most of these apocalyptic scenarios would only apply to regions or large groups of individuals in the shorter term.

1. Chaos resulting from political system failures could happen here or anywhere else if people become too polarized, too dissatisfied, lack basic needs and services, or aren’t being represented by their own governments. Rebellions, anarchy, riots, and unrest could become daily events.

2. Survival in our developed nations is reliant upon electricity and liquid fuels, and there are many future energy supply unknowns. The energy industry is becoming increasingly complex technologically, which increases its vulnerabilities. We could be faced with a major oil supply shock due to geopolitical reasons, or we could face a rapid decline in energy availability for various other reasons.

3. Does complexity and technology make us more, or less resilient? At some point, for some reason, we will experience a massive technological failure. We are putting so much trust in technology today that it has become our biggest risk factor and it is our biggest blind spot. Most technology is reliant upon electricity. If we had solar flares or cyberterrorism that knocked out much of our power supply, many of our systems would fail. Very few of us are self-reliant anymore. The technology that we use and take for granted each day is complex so that we can not make the things we rely upon ourselves nor can we fix anything ourselves, like our fathers and grandfathers could.

4. Terrorism, or multi-orchestrated terrorism events including bioterrorism and nuclear or radioactive terrorism are frightening possibilities.

5. There is the possibility of a rapid climate change. This could cause unbearable situations for different reasons in different places and lead to mass human migrations.

6. We could have a global disease epidemic or superbugs that can’t be treated, either of which could cull our human population numbers quickly.

7. We could experience a super volcano or a giant asteroid. These have happened in the past, and will happen again. If large enough, either would be capable of wiping out the food supply of most of the planet.

8. Plundering is part of our human nature, anyway the male part of human nature. There will be more world wars, use of bombs, chemical warfare, drones, and other war technologies which could be related to resource scarcity, or just plain aggression, desperation, or insane leadership.

9. We could have a global financial contagion crisis, failure of our currency or banking systems, or a failure of electronic money. We could have a crisis of confidence in the currency.

11. We could see an end to global cooperation, given certain stressors.

12. We might pollute ourselves into oblivion.

13. Water scarcity could occur where there are large populations. This might require migration or a great deal of global cooperation.

14. Besides water, other resource depletions include topsoil, loss of biodiversity, and multi-species extinctions. Many of these are due to our land use changes in agriculture.

15. There could be planetary tipping points we aren’t fully aware of such as amount of rain forests lost, or the health of the oceans, or ozone changes in the atmosphere.

16. As most population on the planet is locating in cities and urban areas, those areas could become vulnerable if infrastructure or supply chains required to keep them functioning gets damaged.

17. Overpopulation is usually found on lists such as this, yet, the term is difficult to define due to standards of living, geographical circumstances, longevity, water supplies, regional carrying capacities, and so on.

18. Control of media, internet, and electronic communications by evil hands could instigate wrong thinking that could lead to horrific crimes against portions of humanity.

That’s my list. I’m sure there are many more that could be added. So all of you worriers and preppers out there, I invite you to tell us what worries you the most.

One of the greatest mysteries to me is how well man can be a problem solver. Can we evolve to live in peace and harmony? Will neuroscience and new physics discoveries take us places we can barely dream of today? What will future technology, engineering, and scientific discoveries look like? Will people 50,000 years from now view this list above as primitive? When humans do eventually become extinct on this planet, will our DNA go on elsewhere? Will our consciousness survive?

Celebrating Plants at the University of Colorado’s Greenhouses

“Every plant has a story.” —-Tom Lemieux

The University of Colorado operates a few greenhouses on a shoestring budget, categorizing them under the “shop” category, enough to earn them once a month cleanings, but even so, they contain an invaluable resource of genetic wisdom from the global plant world.

Run under the guidance of a man whose muse is plants, which is obvious from the first moment that you meet him, Tom Lemieux grew up in Maine and California, and studied horticulture at Berkely. Lemieux has traveled the world on plant expeditions and he believes in starting plants from seeds, which means that many of the exotic species in CU’s “Greenhouse Facilities and Collections” have been propogated by him and his staff from seeds. One plant they started from seed was a date palm, from a bag of dates purchased at Costco, for example.

Last month the greenhouses were open to a small number of community members for a tour and I jumped at the chance.

Lemieux began our introduction to plant appreciation by talking about “convergent evolution” in plants. He demonstrated the concept with a cart full of unique species from the plant world.
Convergent evolution is the term used to describe how very different plant species can evolve into very similar plants in an attempt to survive in similar conditions through adaptation. (See the photo at left to help understand the concept.) It is a fascinating subject that demonstrates to us the resilience of life itself.

In the study of plants we are able to see firsthand Nature’s wisdom, its creativity, its beauty, and even, its sense of humor. We marvel at Phi, the golden proportion found in the plant world. And, we realize that our very existence as homo sapiens requires plants to clothe us, to feed us, to medicate us (or alter our minds, if you will), to shade us, to shelter us, and to help us find solutions for engineering problems – through biomicry.

When Lemieux gives school children tours of the greenhouses, he challenges them to try to go two weeks without using plants, a challenge which makes them think about how much they rely upon the plant world for survival.

The photos below, which I took during the greenhouse tour, will show you some of the marvels that are housed in CU’s plant collections, and they are a sampling of the plants which have evolved and exist on our amazing blue marble.


Natural curls


Cactus with white fuzz and white flowers


Star shapes


An unusual plant with an unusual trunk


A ball shape


This is an example of an ant plant, which has large holes in its codex base.


This is a pair of Cuban Pako Palms, which are the same ages, and demonstrates how much better the plant thrives in the ground, versus a container.


A provocative smelling flower seeking to entice insects inside


Stripes


Exotic


A drama queen of color contrasts: green, pink, and purple!


Pieces of this plant, Lycopodium huperzin (from China), have been requested by a lab in another state for Alzheimer’s drug research, according to Lemieux.


Not only does this plant have fascinating spots and dots for adornment, it has red undersides to its leaves.


Interesting texture with bumps that look like reading braille – is this plant’s hallmark.


What kind of environment required this shape for survival? There are both leaf succulents, and stem succulents in the plant kingdom.


There were many plants with stickers in CU’s plant collection.

I took far more photos than this, and felt like a kid in a candy store while snapping one shot after another following the tour.

How noble is the plant kingdom!

A favorite Willa Cather quote of mine is, “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” What an enviable philosophy of life a plant has compared to we humans who are never satisfied with anything at all, always chasing after that which we think would make us happier or more comfortable instead of just blooming in place. Indeed, every plant has its story, but you are going to have to study it to learn what its story is, and even then, you’ll never know all of its secrets.

Video Clip from the Movie Samsara

Samsara is a Tibetan word that means wheel of life, or passing through, a concept both intimate and vast, which defines the soul of everyone.

This short clip is from the 2011 documentary film “Samsara” and contains some video of factory food and livestock production under the topic of overconsumption.

Poignant. Suffering. Human and animal.

La surconsommation from Lasurconsommation on Vimeo.

h/t rjs

The Cadence of the Cicadas


The approach to the Royal Arch. Photo by UCFFool on Flickr CC.

Thursday as Luddite Day offers me a weekday respite as an online site keeper. So, yesterday morning, I set off to hike up to the Royal Arch. It was summer, breezy, and the trail was somewhat crowded. It is that time of year that on hikes around here your brain buzzes to the mesmerizing drumming of the Cicadas in the trees, and the sound never stops.

The trail was crowded because my town has turned, once again, into a tourist town. The Texas license plates have started to take over and Eben G. Fine Park is becoming the usual hangout for those scantily clad who like to wile away their hours next to a cold creek communing with others who like to wile away their summer hours next to a cold creek.

I love the Royal Arch hike both because it’s a good workout, and because the reward at the end is a wide and high view overlooking Boulder, Denver, NCAR, and the assortment of wind generators over at NREL. Once or twice I’ve had the spot to myself and that’s a real treat, but I also enjoy meeting strangers up there from all over the world, and I’ve heard some of the most bizarre stories while there.

Yesterday, a guy told us about his part-Boxer dog who’d lost all of its skin but had laser surgery that cost five grand to repair it, and once a young lady told the story of observing a Spider-Wasp attack a Tarantula at a kid’s camp in Colorado. A couple of times I’ve watched incredulously as people scale over the top of the arch on foot. And once I saw a person up there accidentally drop his water bottle to its untimely death far below.


A view of NIST and the Univ. of Coloardo and beyond from up top the Royal Arch trail.
Photo by UCFFool on Flickr CC.

Don’t ask me why, but so often when I do that hike, I get inspired to write something, and this time was no exception.

I belong to a very large women’s writer’s group here and many in the writing community swear that you have to bare your soul to get a reader audience. My b.p.a. site philosophy has been to present information that can’t be found elsewhere and maintain an unbought independent voice that is so rare in agriculture, then, know a little about how the search engines work, and the rest will take care of itself. And to some extent that has happened. Even so, some of my writer friends tell me they can’t cope with my site, it is just “too much”, others tell me to write for that 5th grade level to reach far more people, while still others think it is outrageous to write unless paid $.50 or a dollar per word — or else be a travesty to the profession.

Whatever.

Today I’m going to be baring my soul here more than usual, and then I won’t do it again for a long time.

Read on only if you want to learn what I’ve learned. Some of it relates to writing online, some of it doesn’t.

I’VE LEARNED THAT this site’s acceptance last December as a Google News site was both a blessing and a curse. G. News rarely ever accepts a single authored site, so I was very pleased, but the downside is that their news bots expect daily “news”. So, if I feel like taking two weeks off for a break, I might lose my news bot friends. That’s the curse. Which makes me nothing more than a bot’s bot.

I’VE LEARNED THAT it is really fun to meet my readers. A first for me happened a few months ago, when I attended a local event unrelated to agriculture. A nearby audience member asked me whether I was K.M. who writes b.p.a. Wow. That person is now a friend and site helper — letting no good opportunity go wasted. Then, last week, I met with a long time reader downtown who was truly a most delightful young lady and I was in awe of her achievements. I shall meet with another reader soon. Perhaps we can get a local coffee group going eventually.

I’VE LEARNED THAT you can’t please ‘em all. My stance on GM technology has cost me many would-be readers, especially in my own community. I don’t let things like that bother me. I just keep going.

I’VE LEARNED THAT the internet sucks. People will cut and paste entire articles that you’ve worked so hard on and never credit you. People you know will even use your “stuff” and pretend they didn’t. Or, you can make an a – - out of yourself for the whole world to see.

I’VE LEARNED THAT the internet is an amazing platform that offers a writer unlimited opportunity. It takes one click for someone to get to the NYTs, same as it takes only one click to get to b.p.a. It is the great equalizer.

I’VE LEARNED THAT life eats life. You can judge that all you want but you won’t change it.

I’VE LEARNED THAT although I love Nature, I think the most beautiful things of all are those which combine Nature with human efforts. Like architecture in a nice urban landscape design. Like a Japanese garden. Like a beautiful bicycle path. Like a well-designed bridge over a river.

I’VE LEARNED THAT life is unpredictable and can change on a dime in a good way or a bad way, precipitated by the most unlikely of events.

I’VE LEARNED THAT death is very mysterious and if we understood it better we would understand life better.

I’VE LEARNED THAT this world is a magical place if we just pay attention.

I’VE LEARNED THAT you can’t tell much about a person just by looking at them.

I’VE LEARNED THAT life was good to me when husbands were handed out. My husband has the patience of a saint and helps to make life easier for me. AND, he likes cats.

I’VE LEARNED THAT not all of the best things in life are free.

I’VE LEARNED THAT I will never ever be caught up on the technical work aspect of having a site such as this. Or, the reading.

I’VE LEARNED THAT a year and a half ago my average reader was a 65 year old male with a PhD. Now, that has supposedly changed to more female readers with college degrees. Not sure I trust those stats, however.

I’VE LEARNED THAT the U.S. Navy likes to keep a very close eye on this space. Since I’m opposed to biofuels categories that don’t make sense, this bothers me just a little.

I’VE LEARNED THAT the Dept. of the Interior is paying a lot of attention to my loss of CRP land and loss of soils posts. Maybe one or two persons can make a difference.

I’VE LEARNED THAT I become exhilarated when I get reader comments that are brief and hard to interpret from remote places on this Earth, but they are making an attempt to express gratitude for my series of posts on water-saving techniques. That happened again just yesterday. The best I hope for is that this site has some positive ripple effects. The worst is that it does someone some harm someway.

I’VE LEARNED THAT opposites like good and evil are in balance.

I’VE LEARNED THAT what you think was the worst thing that ever happened to you can later prove to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

I’VE LEARNED THAT this site continues to evolve. After four years of online writing and learning, I feel I’m headed towards writing less here and more elsewhere — eventually, particularly when it comes to analysis. It felt really good when an editor approached me a couple weeks ago, offering me a paid writing job. I’ve got many ideas that I’m toying with, but am still honing in on them. Some very valued readers have expressed, “but where would I find this information if you stopped providing it?” to me, but they also understand that it is my time that is involved, not theirs.

I’VE LEARNED THAT reading books containing Eastern philosophy soothe me and provide a nice counterbalance to my intense writing for b.p.a. I’ve learned that a few perceptive readers figure that out without me having to ever explain it.


Light reading at Pfeiffer Beach in May.

I’VE LEARNED THAT I’ve acquired quite a global list of agricultural writers for readers. Perhaps this is my niche. I present info and they can run with it from here. I even have reason to believe that I am influencing some who wield a pen far more powerful than mine.

I’VE LEARNED THAT you can learn something worthwhile from any human being.

I’VE LEARNED THAT there are a few gurus that you can learn way more from, the challenge is to recognize who they are.

I’VE LEARNED THAT the more you learn the less you think you know.

I’VE LEARNED THAT some problems are unsolvable.

I’VE LEARNED THAT as Rod Stewart ages and loses his voice, I am less infatuated with him. Same with Bruce Springsteen. But, not with Leonard Cohen.

I’VE LEARNED THAT I never have enough hours in the day to do everything that I would like to do.

I’VE LEARNED THAT people can have convictions without understanding why they have them.

I’VE LEARNED THAT I love green tea ice cream mochi balls even more than “Endangered Species” 88% chocolate bars.

And, finally, I’VE LEARNED THAT everything in life is a metaphor.

TED Talk: Photographer Salgado’s Journey – Humanity, Rainforests, and the Natural World.

Sebastião Salgado, born on a remote farm in the rain forest of Brazil in 1944, reflects upon humanity and how we are treating the Earth in his interesting life’s story which he shares with us in this TED talk. After working globally in the world of Economics, his obsession with photography and work in Rwanda led him to lose faith in our very own species.

When his parents died and he returned to the farm on which he grew up, he began a rainforest restoration project which became a successful model and the foundation of an organization.

During the years that he did photography, he published the following books documenting human stories through black and white photographs:

Salgado credits his photographic work for his insights and the evolution of his introspective life journey.