Archive for November, 2007

Building social capital

I’ve spent far too much time over the past few weeks lusting after farm internships. One of the websites I frequent is Organic Volunteers, another is WWOOF. I found my last internship through Organic Volunteers, and I’ve also made a few contacts there. The contacts are really useful because they keep me connected to farms and farmers, but also because they give me much needed information about the places where I am interested in farming. How these folks got involved in farming, how they’ve managed to be farming right now (are they farm managers? owners? is there an agri-tourism aspect to their farms? are they community-supported?), and all the other aspects of conversation we keep through e-mail allows me to learn a lot and build a network. Most of the people I talk to farm in New York State, which is a hopeful eventual settling place for me.

It seems silly to try to network this many years in advance to owning or managing land in the northeast. Even I laugh at myself for the eagerness I feel when I’m looking through websites and realize how much I want to work there. Who cares if some kid is e-mailing about your apprenticeship when he can’t take it? Some folks don’t. Some have responded and are excited for me. A few have even offered to show me around their respective land and farms.

What I learned in college, though, is that everything works via networks. The people who graduated and immediately had careers or had good placements for grad school, they were all networkers. Not schmoozers necessarily, not the kind of folks who sold themselves more efficiently than a lady of the evening in the red light district, but the ones who took pains to remember all the little details that would let them connect folks in a field together. I’m not saying this networking is going to get me a job (I can hope for that, though), but I know that it will give me more information and might open some otherwise-unheard-of ventures. My former farmer boss did forward a placement for an assistant farm manager to me last month. Who knows what friends could do.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Berkshires seemed dreamlike…

Amanda’s First BlanketThree years ago, about two months after I first learned how to crochet, I started working on a blanket. This weekend, I finished it.

Before you laugh at me, I want to make it clear that I’ve only ever worked on the blanket while I was at my parents. That means a weekend here, a few days there. I’m ridiculously proud of it — I took about a dozen pictures of it, which is even more than I took of the dogs. It’s all lacy and red and scalloped and imperfect, and I love it.

In other news of the Berkshires, this was the second time I’d been home in as many months (and I’ll be home again over Christmas). I didn’t always appreciate my surroundings growing up, but now I generally can’t get over how beautiful and quaint and New England it all is. The InnWe had tea with my aunt, who recently took a position as an innkeeper at a historic inn that she’s worked at on and off for about 20 years. She lives in a beautiful attached apartment, with hardwood floors and bay windows and a big loft bedroom area. She works more or less 4-9, although a lot of that time is just being available to guests if they need her. I hadn’t been inside the inn since I was a child, so she took us on a tour. I very nearly cried when I saw this particular bedroom, with its four-poster bed and fireplace. Then again, it doesn’t take much to make me cry — I’m totally that woman who has to fight back tears during the Hallmark commercial.

Come the revolution… there will still be Muppets

Big Bird, Oscar and Caroll SpinneyDid you ever watch The Muppet Movie? I’m assuming that you either saw it as a kid or with kids. If you haven’t, youtube it first. I promise you’ll like it. Anyway- remember that cameo scene with Big Bird? I think of that scene a lot these days. Whenever I’m thinking of how I’m going to ‘break into’ a field, such as farming, or working with special needs populations, or sometimes getting paid a living wage, I get a mental image of Caroll Spinney in that big yellow suit, dismissing a familiar frog and bear and walking [hitchhiking?] to New York. Ahhh, it appears in the trailer (just in case you didn’t believe my muppet memories).

How is Big Bird relevant, I hear you asking. There are a few reasons, not the least of which is that I once dreamed of becoming a muppeteer. More relevant to the revolution is that he knew what he wanted and gave up everything (save that suitcase, no doubt filled with a duckie, his natural-fiber-knit organic-cotton-stuffed bird, and a flashcard with his favorite word “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz” on it) to do what he knew was right for him.

Now, I’m not 4 (yes, Big Bird is eternally a child), so I have pesky financial concerns to deal with, but I keep in mind his determination when I’m making big decisions in my life. The bigger the decision, the more I need Big Bird to remind me that the ultimate goal is what’s important.

Okay, but I want to be a farmer now!

Happy Saturday!

I’m sitting here in my PJs, drinking chai and eating a pomegranate and feeling generally lazy. Not that that’s anything new. But I collected some links over the course of the week that seemed worth sharing:

Self-Made Farmer
Krystle is a young woman with a passion for sustainable agriculture and the will to be a farmer, no matter what it takes to get there. I not only admire that will, I envy it. Cian and I talk about leaving DC at least once a week — in fact, this week he’s been in touch with some small-scale farmers in the region we’re looking to move to, investigating apprenticeship opportunities — but we’re always brought back down to earth by our debt and our commitments. We’ll get there. In the meantime, we’ll be living vicariously through people like Krystle. Check out her article about sustainable agriculture.

The Good Human: The natural way to clean
Holy goodness is this useful! Which, honestly, is no surprise coming from The Good Human. This is one you’ll want to bookmark, though. It details cleaning solutions made mostly from household ingredients for everything from your silver to your showerhead. My only caution is that “natural” doesn’t always mean safe. Borax is both natural and useful when it comes to cleaning (and killing bugs!), but it’s also quite toxic. Take precautions if you do decide to use borax, and be especially careful if you decide to use it in a house with children or pets.

Former Fat-Guy Blog: The Ultimate Guide to Freezing Food
More usefulness. Ever wonder how to go about freezing all those beets you ended up with from your CSA? Or, you know, pretty much anything else? Yeah, it’s all here.

Chow: Mommy, where do seedless fruits come from?
A couple of months ago I read somewhere that seedless watermelons are regular watermelons injected with growth hormones so that they’ll get big before their seeds develop. That sounded suspicious to me. Here’s the truth.

Farm bill hits the Senate floor. I make dinner.

I’m sick of the farm bill.

Okay, really I’m just incredibly resigned. It wasn’t always this way — just a couple months ago I was passionately rallying for reform, writing to the folks on the Hill and telling all my friends about the bogus bill that pays dead farmers of commodity crops instead of live farmers of fruits and vegetables (what the farm bill, incidentally, calls “specialty crops.” That’s right folks, that broccoli you’re munching is so uncommon as to be called “specialty.” And here you thought that term would only apply to broccolini.).

The bill went to the Senate floor today. It looks like we’ll get crumbs. It’s a shame that it only comes around every five years, because there are a lot of people who’d never even heard of a farm bill before this year who became very invested in its outcome. Hopefully those people won’t be fooled into thinking that crumbs are enough, and they’ll still be pissed the next time it comes around. I suspect that ethanol will be an even hotter topic then.

Blah. I find politics terribly depressing, which clearly means I live in the wrong city. On to more uplifting things: dinner! I’ve got beets, turnips and carrots roasting in the oven. Little bit of olive oil, little bit of salt, a tiny splash of balsamic… mmm. And for dessert, pumpkin gelato from the farmer’s market, which is unbelievably good.

PS: I finally bought rechargeable batteries for my digital camera, so you’ll be getting photos more often I hope!

Loving my Bicycle

NaNoWriMo has begun, and Amanda’s definitely throwing herself into it. That means a great deal of things, not the least of which is that you’re all stuck with me for the most part through the end of November. I promise to try and post often (my goal is at least twice a week, which I will then use to guilt trip Amanda about so that she posts a lot in the winter months) and try to be entertaining.

In honor of entertainment, I’m using Clif bar’s recent multimedia campaign to illustrate my love of my bicycle. I live in a no-car household, and our friends who live local to us also don’t have cars.

Now I hear the chorus of complaints about how this entry isn’t really about what can be done in everyone’s lives, but it is. I grew up in the suburbs- the land of cars. I grew up owning a bike and using it once a month or so during warmer months. It was for me and is for most others a conscious choice to start riding more. I started riding more in college because, well, it was the only way to travel. It was cheaper to live a little further from the bus route and university, which put me a good mile and a half from the grocery store. What’s to be done? Bike, and stop being self conscious about the milk crate strapped to the back of it. Now that I live in a city and bike in city traffic I know how easy it would be to get around where I grew up without a car. Thanks to NJTransit being around for longer trips (commuter rail + bus), biking seems like it would be easy there as compared to here (and it isn’t difficult here), I think I could make it a good long time without needing to get a car.Now, I know better than most cyclists that it’s not for everyone. It’s difficult to restructure your life, but for some it’s impossible. I’m not suggesting that everyone ditch their means of transportation for a bicycle, but I am suggesting that if you can walk, bike, skateboard, scoot, ride, windsurf, or otherwise propel yourself to a few of the places you go weekly without using a combustion engine, you should do it. It’s good for your health, it’s good for your neighbors health, it’s not propelling climate change, it’s a good example for the local kids, it’s cheap. Where’s the downside?

Besides, come the revolution we will have to grow our own (personal- in your garden) fuel if we want to use combustion engines. When given the choice between feeding folks and going twice as fast for closeby trips, I don’t think it’s really much of a question. Also, if I’m making alcohol, it’s for drinking, not burning. Come the revolution you may have the choice of your feet, your bike, or your horse. It’s a lot easier to feed yourself than yourself and a horse, and you can travel three times as efficiently on a bike than on your own feet.

And if you don’t think you can carry the groceries you need for a week on a bicycle, I think you’re full of it. Just check out the Xtra Cycle and the Yuba Mondo . If you can’t buy one, you can always or buy or make a trailer.

Lest I try to get away with a post about bicycles without incorperating Queen:

NaNoWriMo; or, Amanda has lost it

NaNoWriMoSo you may have noticed the dearth of posts following Cian’s introduction. It’s my fault. I take full responsibility. Cian has a couple of really interesting things in the bullpen, but since this is a joint blog he felt like he should wait until I’d said… well… something. I, in the meantime, have been coming to grips with the fact that my big-girl job isn’t going to be ending anytime soon and I might as well settle in. I’ve got lots of things I want to say here too, though, so don’t worry — you’ll be hearing from me.

But. On to the real purpose of this post, which incidentally has nothing to do with the revolution.

Last night, at 11:55, I decided I might want to participate in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo has been happening every year since 1999. The premise is to create a deadline and a set of rules so that all of us who have fleetingly thought “Gee, maybe I should write a novel” actually will. Well, some of us will.

I spent every free moment today scanning through my mental cast of characters (my crazy aunts, classmates from college, co-workers present and past) and the things that I know well enough to write about credibly (um… not much). I decided to give myself until midnight, and if by then there was no idea that excited me — really excited me, since whatever it is will have to sustain me through 30 grueling days — well, then I’d just have to wait until NaNoWriMo 2008.

Then, on the way home, it came to me. I was creating a character in my head, a 27 year old woman named Patience. I passed an intriguing looking woman in tall boots and a skirt (and, yes, a long jacket), and thought that would be a good look for Patience. Only with different hair — something short, curly, blonde. Like a coworker I had in Provincetown. Actually, I thought, that co-worker would make a great character herself. In fact, all of my co-workers from Provincetown were quite the characters. And there were a ton of funny stories, and a central conflict. And Sarah keeps telling me I should write a book about it. And it wouldn’t require any research, and–

At this point, I very nearly put my key in the door of the wrong apartment. In fact, I was on the wrong floor. Such is the nature of an artist’s brilliance.

I’ve decided to think of NaNoWriMo as the Appalachian Trail. Every year, 2000 people set out with the intention of thru-hiking the entire 2,160 miles from Georgia to Maine. Sure, only a fraction of those make it, but who cares? Of those who don’t make it, I’m betting that very few regret that they tried.

Tonight I’ll sketch out the details, and tomorrow I’ll begin writing in earnest. I’ll keep you posted. Cheerleading is encouraged and appreciated!