Time is on our side

It’s easy to get frustrated and depressed about the condition of our world.  Don’t fall for that trap.  Embrace resilience.  Once you do, you’ll realize time is on our side.  No matter what the crisis, it will pass.  Resilient systems will survive, non-resilient systems won’t.

dust bowlPeople often come to Meadowcreek or come up after one of our resilience talks or workshops and ask: what are the best articles or books on resilience?  If we had to name one it would be W. C. Lowdermilk’s classic Conquest of the Land through Seven Thousand Years.

This book resulted from the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, now know as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).  This agency resulted from Hugh Hammond Bennett’s adroit lobbying, the timely clouds of black soil sweeping over Washington D.C. from the hundred million acre Dust Bowl, and the responsiveness of the administration of FDR and Henry Wallace.

Many nations have never had such a confluence of events and the destruction of their soils and capacity for resilience are still diminishing.  Go to any of dozens of African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries and experience the dust clouds and barren landscapes and be glad you live in a more resilient society.

Lowdermilk’s classic was used by thousands of teachers across the United States to instill basic awareness of the lack of resilience of nearly all agricultural systems man has historically used.  Many elementary students are still taught yearly about contour plowing, strip cropping, windbreaks, cover crops, and a host of other practices to increase resilience by stopping soil erosion and building soil health.

Traveling the country today, you can see many situations where these lessons are no longer in evidence.  In pursuit of quick profits, many farmers ignore what they learned in elementary school.

But this too shall pass.  Non-resilient farms, communities and nations will die.  The resilient will survive and build new systems even more resilient than any we have known in the past.  It’s possible that our entire species may disappear (as dinosaurs and innumerable other species have) and let other, more resilient species take over the mantle of managers of the planet.

Far more likely is that non-resilient nations, societies and communities will collapse, perhaps slowly, while resilient communities survive and thrive.  Some of us will survive and some of us won’t

So don’t get depressed or frustrated, get out and act to create more resilient systems where you live.We’ve got lots of tips to get you started in our book: Roots of Resilience.



If you were President . . . healthy food and healthy farms?

If you were President, what would you do to create a more sustainable, resilient food system?  One advocacy group recently asked all Presidential candidates to respond to 10 questions about federal agricultural policy.  How would you have responded?  Here’s a short paraphrase of how one farmer responded.  The answers are very consistent with ecological resilience research, though they definitely do not fit any of the mainstream candidates’ positions.  Maybe some of the candidates will see this, see the light, and help create a food system which supports health and resilience instead of rapacious corporations and other big donors..

selfie at capitol1. In 2014, a group of leaders in the food justice movement, including food writer, Michael Pollan, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, argued that the United States was in urgent need of a National Food Policy. Do you agree? If so, how do you plan to implement this policy?

Federal government is often the problem, not the solution. Official policy currently includes the right to patent life (GMOs), the right to indiscriminately spray toxic poisons all over the environment, encouragement to feed cows dead chickens and chicken manure, subsidies for land-destroying farming practices, dietary guidelines that refuse to differentiate between Twinkies and fresh-sprouted whole wheat sourdough bread. I don’t see any positives from these policies and don’t see any national will to alter these policies. Until someone can show me that more Americans want grass-finished beef and compost-grown tomatoes than their nutrient-deficient cheap counterparts, I think we’d better quit making policy to let things sort out on their own. Often the best policy is to take your hands off the airplane controls and let the plane establish its own equilibrium. We’d actually be a much healthier nation had the federal government never created a food pyramid or pushed hydrogenated vegetable oils. Since we’ve tried federal government meddling and it’s yielded disastrous results, how about we try having the federal government stand down and see what happens? Maybe we heretics would have a better chance of getting our message across instead of being burned at the stake by the USDA, FDA, Monsanto and the fraternity of orthodoxy that runs Washington.

4. According to the most recent census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old. This is roughly six years older than the average age of farmers 30 years ago. How would you and your administration encourage young people to consider working in agriculture, and give beginning farmers a leg up?

Let’s offer a Food Emancipation Proclamation to free up direct producer-consumer commerce from bureaucratic tyranny. I have not forgotten that as a young aspiring farmer in the late 1970s I was kept out of farming for several years because what I wanted to do—milk 10 cows and sell the milk to neighbors AT REGULAR SUPERMARKET PRICES—was illegal. And in fact, over the years government agents have tried to shut our farm down numerous times. If young people could access the market with embryonic entrepreneurial products, the explosion in successful young farmers and food choice would completely invert the food power structure. Ben Franklin was right when he said citizens willing to give up freedom for security get—and deserve—neither. Truer words were never spoken. Aspiring young farmers do not need subsidies, grants, or funding help:  they need an environment of liberty to express their passions and ideas without jeopardy that failure to check a box or dot a workmen’s comp form will land them in criminal proceedings. We’re not lacking for ideas; we’re lacking in liberty.

5. In 2015, Forbes reported that 7 of the 10 worst-paying jobs in America are in the food system. Additionally, farm workers often struggle with injustice and lack of safety standards. What would you do to improve the conditions of those who work in the food industry, both on an agricultural level and in food production and sales?

As long as people worship at the altar of cheap food, food workers will be poorly paid. People have been duped, partly as a result of USDA official-speak, to believe they could get healthy food for pennies. As with most ills in society, this is not the government’s problem; it is the people’s problem. Unless and until people quit patronizing the system that rewards worker abuse, we will have it. If the government were not manipulating and official-speaking in the food system, perhaps we wouldn’t have so many people believing a lie. Asking for more government involvement, based on the record, is like asking for more foxes to guard the henhouse when a few foxes begin taking the chickens. Consider the government’s track record: hydrogenated vegetable oil, the food pyramid (Twinkies encouraged), feeding dead cows to cows (mad cow), genetically modified organisms (patenting life), chemical use, chlorine dredges—this list could go on for a very long time. To assume that the government is somehow more pure than business is naivete to the nth degree. We, the people, created this problem. We, the people, do not need to buy ANY food from outfits who abuse their workers. So get your nose out of People Magazine and research and then patronize food and farm organizations that treat their folks with the values you value. It’s really that simple. You can’t be for local food and bigger federal government. The two are completely antithetical.

6. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a domestic hunger safety net that helps ensure that all families can afford healthy food. This program reaches even further with the help of Double Up Food Bucks, which partners with other anti-hunger leaders like Wholesome Wave to give participants double the money to spend on locally grown produce. However, it is often devalued and deprived of resources. What would you do to eradicate hunger in America, and give families access to wholesome produce?

Ever since Lyndon Johnson started the War on Hunger, we’ve given trillions of dollars to eradicate hunger and it’s arguably higher today than ever. Clearly, what we’ve been doing has not worked. First, we need to appreciate the personal responsibility in this issue. It is not compassion to give a hungry drunk money so he can go buy some more alcohol. It is not compassion to give a smoker money so he can buy food AND cigarettes. I submit that most people who are hungry simply mismanage money so the hunger is symptomatic of a deeper underlying problem. Teresa and I deprived ourselves of TV, nice housing, and a respectable car for years in order to start this farm. If we didn’t grow it, we didn’t eat it. I’ve been to about three movies in my lifetime. We never ate prepared food. Victimhood is rampant in our country, and it does not help people either negligent, lazy, incompetent, or ignorant to give them money taken violently from folks who work their fingers to the bone and live on pennies.

7. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts, or areas without access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Do you think that the government can play a role in eliminating food deserts? What would you do as President to ensure all Americans have access to healthy food?

See above. These issues are all related and they have common solutions. As someone who has felt the sting of government agents telling me that open air processing of poultry is inherently adulterating and unsanitary, that eggs not washed in chlorine baths are inherently inedible, that a farm cannot employ a delivery driver, that I can’t make a chair and sell it from a tree grown, cut and milled on my own property because that’s manufacturing and disallowed in agricultural zones—folks, whatever we’ve tried to solve with government intervention has created more problems than the risky and free-wheeling world of liberty. Frankly, I’m tired of people looking to the government for solutions. I see that attitude as exacerbating the problems identified here. Yes, these are problems. But if the government made them worse, why would anyone seek the government’s help to make them better? Let’s try some liberty for a change. I submit that freedom would not impoverish, demean, disrespect, or disempower nearly as much as increased government meddling. I think our country would operate far better if our federal government were about 20 percent of its current size and we let folks govern on a state and local level. Think of the innovative ideas that we could try if we got the heavy-handed one-size-fits-all federal government out of the arena. One area could try one solution, another, another solution. Then we could all compare different options and see track records. Right now we can’t try innovative political answers to society’s questions because we’ve arrogated to the federal government every solution, and that inherently reduces options for innovation. You can’t be for local food and then ask for bigger government; the two are diametrically opposed.

8. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increasing temperatures, droughts, floods, and other impacts of climate change will have a drastic effect on food production, particularly in the developing world. What plans do you have to mitigate the agricultural symptoms of climate change, and to help farmers adapt?

The answer is to take carbon out of the air and put it in the soil. That requires a fundamentally carbon-centric system. I sure wouldn’t do what Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe did last year, giving subsidies to a Chinese company to take crop residues off fields. I’d eliminate all energy subsides—all of them; shut down the Department of Energy. I’d shut down the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and let anybody brew alcohol who wanted to. Want to make biodiesel? Anybody could make it and sell it.

All of these things would make carbon extremely valuable, so that it would be more valuable to use than to waste. Chemical fertilizer would become so expensive that thousands of jobs would be created in the private sector harvesting diseased and crooked trees for composting on farms to build soil and feed earthworms. Ultimately, my policy would be to stop making it easier to destroy soil carbon than to build soil carbon. That includes corn subsidies and alcohol subsidies that make monocrops more valuable than polycrops and annuals more valuable than perennials. Ultimately, I’d use my bully pulpit to explain to people that they can patronize farmers who build soil carbon, but I wouldn’t regulate it. I’d just preach about it and let the constant barrage of self-help citizen empowerment and the strength of a hopeful, sacred, and righteous message shame people into realizing THEY are the answer, not another government program or agency. People tend to step up to the task when armed with proper information and inspired by possibility.

9. The White House initiated several sustainable food initiatives such as Let’s Move, the White House Garden, and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Do you plan to continue these sorts of programs in your presidency?

I’d sure have a White House Garden and I’d encourage exercise and kitchen-centric homes, but I sure wouldn’t start agencies that steal money from hard-working folks just so I could redistribute it to people more like me. Good can never come from stealing, even if it’s well intentioned. What I’d do is dismantle all the impediments thrown up by the government that encourage societal dysfunction. First and foremost, I’d repeal the Food Safety Modernization Act that is terrorizing small farmers and especially unorthodox farmers and fire Michael Taylor, the czar in charge of the program, who in his younger days shepherded Monsanto’s GMO agenda into being. This kind of regulation and tyrant negates the positive initiates mentioned above. We don’t need positive initiatives. We need to quit destroying positive initiatives. That is enough to create hope and change among the citizenry without stealing more tax dollars from hardworking folks trying to make ends meet.

10. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, improving our diets by eating more fruits and vegetables could save 100,000 lives and US$17 billion in healthcare costs. What would you, as president, do to ensure that every American has access to food that is sustainable, safe, healthy, and affordable?

This is getting like a broken record. I would quit funding the things that make this access more difficult. That includes food safety laws that restrict two consenting adults from voluntarily engaging in the act of private contract (farmer selling to customer). We’ve seen a plethora of choice initiatives recently: marital choice, sexual choice, reproductive choice, gun choice, education choice—how about food choice?

For the record, I do not believe food is a fundamental right. The Biblical admonition that if a man will not work, neither let him eat indicates that unlike right to life, right to speak, right to assemble, the right to food has some requirements. While that does not mean we look the other way toward the needy, it does mean that we cheapen true human rights when we throw in being fed. Some people don’t deserve good food. To say so is to speak reason into an assumption that has become both unreasonable and uncharitable. It is not charitable to steal from a hardworking person to insure that a drug addict has enough food to rob a commuter to get money for another hit. That is enabling, not helping. And until we quit this nonsense that elevates to human rights status something that is not a human right, we will not actually attack the underlying societal causes that ultimately create more problems.


For the entire response see: http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2016/02/17/21233/

All hat and no cattle

Teaching business students is an eye-opening experience.  Being a liberal arts major means looking askance at such folk.  We saw them as greedy leeches, eager to make lots of money without learning any productive skills.  Later, when I was a psychology professor teaching applied psychology to business students, I learned how ethically challenged many of them are.  They seemed ready to do anything necessary to get good grades and also undercut their fellow students.

cropped-10247385_10152418555680097_7538287246898082227_n.jpgStill later, while helping small farmer cooperatives get established in poor Appalachian counties, I did meet one MBA who was really dedicated to helping small farmers and from whom I learned a lot about cash flow, business plans and spread sheets and realized there is some useful knowledge imparted in business schools.  He went on to an illustrious academic career and continues to be a colleague on rural development projects in the U.S. and overseas.

So I belatedly realized that not all business students are evil incarnate.  Since then, I’ve encountered dozens of lazy, unethical, greedy folk who make my old business students seem like pikers.

Some even say they love small farmers and want to help them start cooperatives.  In recent years, this seems a go-to position for folks who don’t want to work, just want to jabber about cooperatives and farming and permaculture.  Recently, I handed one a trowel to dig up an onion and she couldn’t do it.  That and other experiences with her showed no evidence she had ever dug in the dirt in her life.  Yet she had the lingo down.  She could talk a blue streak about hugelkulture, biochar and all the other trendy memes of alternative agriculture.

“All hat and no cattle” describes a person who is all talk and no substance; full of big talk but lacking action; a person who cannot back up his/her words; a fake; a pretender–originally used in reference to people imitating the fashion or style of cowboys. These people wore the hats, but had no experience on the ranch — thus, all hat, no cattle. Similar to talking the talk without walking the walk (which was originally used in reference to wannabe gunslingers).

After dealing with a couple  of these folks lately,  I have concluded they are just lazy and  feel entitled to do as they please.  “No lazy hippies at Meadowcreek” is one of our mottoes.  Hard-working hippies are another matter.  You gotta know how to work and know how to play to fit in at Meadowcreek.

Lazy, sloppy people have no place here.  There are so many hard-working people who deserve a chance to learn ecological farming that we can’t waste time and space on the lazy and sloppy.

As we work to increase resilience of our community at Meadowcreek, the most difficult to deal with are those who are gifted with words, but are lazy, entitled and unskilled.  They sometimes convince some who don’t see them in action that they really have something to offer.

Luckily we’ve had a lot of experience with such folk over the years at Meadowcreek.  A bunch of “all hat, no cattle” folks almost sunk Meadowcreek back in the 1980’s.  We learned our lesson.  Unfortunately, sometimes such folk slip in for a bit, but they don’t last.

If you are thinking about coming to Meadowcreek, don’t let the above stop you.  We love to meet new people who are interested in resilience and sustainable agriculture.  Just be prepared to move on if you are “all hat and no cattle.”


Mardi Gras and Resilience

The Resilience Project was doing interviews on local food systems in New Orleans. Our laser focus on resilience had left us blissfully unaware we had scheduled the interviews for the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  Also known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.  After the interview (which took place on a the front porch of a house in the Garden District), traffic was heavy and the roads laden with parades, so we decided to just see what New Orleans Mardi Gras was like.  It turned out to be pretty smelly with a decided frat boy flavor.  The frat boys evidently couldn’t find bathrooms.

120210032807-mardi-gras-parade-horizontal-large-galleryEarly in the day, before the smell got too bad, the costumed crewes and early parades kept us anything but bored.  Families were everywhere early on.  The locals told us that no local folk go to the French Quarter at Mardi Gras, but us country folk decided to go anyway because we don’t get to the city much.  A litte debauchery won’t hurt us, we decided.  So we braved the crowds and smells and found a ratio of 20 frat boys for every girl.  And that girl was urged by her 20 compatriots to do something, in exchange for beads, which you can imagine.  Several of the more drunken girls did, only to be immediately swallowed in a crowd of frat boys.

We quickly got tired of this rigamarole and found a place to listen to good jazz and let the hubbub die down.  After a relaxing session of saxophones and trumpets we followed the road less traveled out to our motel.

In the morning, heading down to the lobby for coffee, frat boys were still straggling in from downtown New Orleans.  Others were scattered on the lounge chairs near the pool.  Evidently they hadn’t had quite enough energy to get to their rooms, or they had forgotten where their rooms were.

We got our coffee and headed up the highway back to Arkansas before most of them had woken up.  We briefly considered going back to the French Quarter to get some ashes on our foreheads at the iconic St. Louis Cathedral across the park from the Cafe du Monde.  But we’d already had their café au lait and beignets the day before.

Besides the ashes just didn’t seem really fitting for us white Anglo-Saxon, more or less Calvinist, country folk.  We’d had ashes on our foreheads and all over us plenty of times in the past. Especially lately when we have started making biochar and amending our soils with it.

It’s great fun burning wood down to just the right level, burying it in soil, innoculating it with the native microorganisms of our best soils and mixing it in our new beds.  Inevitably you get ashes on your forehead.

Going into a gilded building in the city to have a white robed priests dab ashes just didn’t appeal to us.

So we headed north into Mississippi and away from Louisiana debauchery.  We made it up highway 1 to Onward for lunch.  The only restaurant in Onward has real tamales–the ones wrapped in a real corn husk.  Best tamales on the planet, eaten husk and all.  We come back as often as our resilience work calls us to make sure they are still the best.

Onward is noted as the place where President Teddy Roosevelt went bear hunting, but pardoned a bear which had been tied to a tree for him to shoot.  The press broadcast worldwide his magnanimity and toy manufacturers saw an opportunity and created the teddy bear so many children love today.

But we can’t stay long in Mississippi.  It has sold its soul to the casino industry.  We speed out on the great highways the casino money has built and head back home to Arkansas.  Crosssing over the Greenville bridge, we get to see the Mississippi River one last time before we head north to our Ozarks.

Back to our isolated county where there is no liquor sold, no casinos, no Mardi Gras and never any debauchery.




Bats, rats, innocence

Ever been woken up by a bat crawling across your face?  It happened to me last night at Meadowcreek.  I flicked it off with a start and a yelp.  When I was totally awake, I realized I needed to capture the bat or it would be back on my face before the night was out.  It wasn’t flying too well and mainly fluttered along the floor.  I captured it with a big pan and a lid and released it outside.  After all that excitement, it was tough to fall back asleep.  Bats on your face just are not dream-inducers.


Some of the not-quite-country-yet residents of Meadowcreek told me about the bat.  They’d been watching it for days.  One extreme newby even petted it.  They’ve had it trapped in a closet off the room where I often stay in winter.  It’s been so warm this year that I’ve been staying in an upper room with big windows so I can see the stars when I first wake up.

So I just opened the closet door night before last and slept upstairs as is my wont.  The bat moved out of the closet and into the great room.  While watching the Super Bowl stream live last night, I noticed it clinging to a curtain near the sliding glass doors to the patio.  That will make it easy to release, I thought, but didn’t deal with it because I was too tired.  It’s easy to put off things you know you should do when you convince yourself you are too tired or a myriad of other reasons our native laziness makes up for us when we let it.

Also because I was lazy, I moved the Super Bowl into the room where the bat has been living the past few days so I didn’t have to haul the computer upstairs.  The bat decided during the night that it liked me and the old room better than the now empty great room.

That set the stage for the “Great Bat on the Face in the Middle of the Night Adventure” and the bat’s return to a habitat much nicer than the closet.  It’s still warm at night and getting really warm during the days so maybe it will find a good place to hide out the oncoming winter.  Or maybe not.

The not-yet-country newbies will probably sympathize for the poor bat out in the cold.  Just as some of their friends and relatives are worried about them out in the wilderness with no central heating and miles of gravel roads to the closest grocery store.  And just as they don’t want to poison the mice and rats that love country homes.

Sooner or later, if you become a country person (which most never do), you become inured to death.  You realize death is just a part of life.  Without the death of a tree, the fungus can’t grow.  Without the fungus digesting the tree, the nutrients can’t be released for the next generation of trees.  Everything is food in nature.  All our wastes are valuable resources for other species.

Well, maybe not some of our electronic inventions with tons of heavy metals available for ingestion.  But all wastes, all death, in resilient systems, is food.  The complementary diversity of such systems takes care of all wastes to complete a cycle providing more and more resources.  Not necessarily the metals and hydrocarbon fuels the environmentalists often means when they speak of resources being depleted.

We’ve explored how to deal with that in previous posts.  So search life cycle analysis, if you like.  I’m not going to repeat it here.

But the Ukrainian approach to bats, I must mention.  Though Ukraine is right next to Romania and you can visit Transylvania and Dracula’s castle a short drive from the border, Ukrainians don’t really fathom the American obsession with bats as evil incarnate.

Once, my favorite driver/translator in Ukraine, a former spy who was one of the first from Soviet Union into Vietnam after America pulled out, felt under the gun and was driving really fast to get to an appointment.

I told him he was driving like a bat out of hell.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  Bats are not associated with hell in Ukraine.  But my comment did get him to concentrate on cultural and language differences and he slowed down.

You, too, might slow down and appreciate  the bats who crawl across your face.  Or like me, flick them away and wonder why the innocent city folk coddle or imprison wild animals.