Strawberry moon and summer solstice

Beautiful, orange, almost-full moon this morning at the Delta outpost.  Meadowcreekers are most interested in the longest day of the year tomorrow–when the moon will be full.  A full moon on the summer solstice hasn’t happened in 70 years, according to those who keep track of such things.

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Here’s what one of the cognoscenti says about it:

The 2016 North American summer solstice happens on June 20, 2016 at 6:34 PM EDT. That’s the very moment when, essentially, the sun stands still at its northernmost point as seen from Earth. Its zenith doesn’t yearn north or south, but waits patiently at the Tropic of Cancer before switching directions and heading south again. This is where the word solstice comes from; the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop).

It’s the day of the year with the most sunlight, the grand dame of long summer days. Even though technically it is only the first day of summer, it may actually be the best one of all. In New York City, we will have a whopping 15.05 hours of daytime. (You can check your day length at the Farmer’s Almanac sunrise and sunset calculator, if you’re so inclined.)

The summer solstice alone is iconic enough. It’s a day with a time-honored history rife with pagan celebrations and all things Stonehenge. But this year we get the big beautiful bonus of a full moon, which hits its peak on the same day. This hasn’t happened in 70 years.

“Having a full moon land smack on the solstice is a truly rare event,” says Farmer’s Almanac astronomer Bob Berman. “We probably won’t push people off pyramids like the Mayans did, but Slooh [a live-streaming global network of telescopes] will very much celebrate this extraordinary day of light with fascinating factoids and amazing live telescope feeds.” (See below.)

Meanwhile, adding a touch of poetry to the whole shebang, the June moon was known as the Strawberry Moon to early Native American tribes, who measured time by things like the moon, rather than a grid on a piece of paper or an electronic device. The full moon that happened now marked the season of strawberries – as it still does. More and more people have started harkening back to these more-seasonal full moon names; it’s an especially lovely practice.

(Read more about the full moons here: Full moon names and what they mean.)

Meanwhile, Slooh along with the Farmer’s Almanac will have a live broadcast of the summer solstice/strawberry moon one-two punch from their flagship observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands. You can view it here … or better yet, go outside, gaze up and pay homage to the heavens above.

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Supersalesmen, food and belief

Recently, the Resilience Project was invited to visit Malawi–the poorest country in Africa. It’s a lush and beautiful country populated mostly by small farmers.  Our job was to develop a model marketing plan for small producers in Malawi.  Most farmers love to farm, not sell.  That’s why cooperatives can be helpful.  They enable farmers to band together to hire folks to do the selling, so that the farmers can concentrate on production.

Farmers-Market

What small producers often don’t realize is the difference between selling and marketing.  Good marketing is a system of feedback from the customer to the producer so the producer modifies the product to meet the consumers’ needs.  The goal of marketing is to make selling superfluous.

Many small farmers are finding that they can sell much more than just food.  They can sell an experience that promotes health.  When they sell a tomato or a guava, they can provide much more than the large company.  Small producers can often sell a product which is fresher, tastier, healthier and comes from a family who really cares about the well-being of their customers.

Large companies often don’t have products which can compete with the small producer.  Their products have to be tough so they can be shipped long distance and look good on the grocery shelf for days.  Small producers can sell tender produce picked at the peak of nutrition and bred for taste, not shelf life.

So large companies have to employ supersalesman.

Supersalesmen sell themselves first, then their product.  They sell a story about how unique and remarkable they are. Then they tell stories about their product—for instance, how the soil and the plants were lovingly tended, how persistence resulted in triumph.

Supersalesmen are never in doubt. People are more likely to believe in something if they see others believe strongly in it.  Supersalesmen know this. So whatever they believe, they resolve to believe it strongly and passionately. That gets you to drop any last doubts about what they’re selling to you.

They can say, “This is the best” with a straight face. And with perfect confidence. Because they truly believe their product is the best.

Supersalesmen know a high price is often seen as proof of value.  The reality is that many people don’t want to buy the cheapest brand available. They want to be associated with Gucci, not Sears.  Supersalesmen recognize small farmers often don’t charge as much for their products as they should.   The supersalesman creates the perception that he or she is simply worth more than you. If you price yourself like a Hyundai while others price themselves like BMWs, people will see you in a dimmer light, even if you’re better than the competition.

Small producers can learn from the supersalesmen.  We have a product which is much better than theirs and should command a higher price.  Since we have a product we believe in, so will our customers.

Unfortunately supersalesmen are invading the world of local, sustainable and organic foods.  Many farmers markets have folks who sell supermarket cast-offs as if they had grown them. Luckily most of us can identify them for the evil they are.  And we can alert others to their presence and root them out..

Grit and resilience in narrow mountain hollows

Driving through the beautiful, green mountains of Eastern Kentucky, we stop the truck now and then to talk to local farmers.  Their joy, independence and persistence are infectious and inspiring.  Grit is the psychological equivalent of resilience.  A person with grit is able to survive and thrive through a variety of disturbances, similar to a resilient food system or community.  Individuals with grit arise in very dysfunctional families.  A farmer with grit may survive and thrive in a declining community.

Appalachian_Outlaws_about-EGrit and resilience depart company, however, when we look at sustainability beyond and outside the individual.  Resilient systems at such scales depend on qualities beyond the grit of individuals.

Resilience Project staff are on a research trip in central Appalachia.  We’ve met lots of farmers with grit and determination to develop systems which survive and thrive in the face of disturbance.  With some, however, the system will end with them.  Their children have moved on to other endeavors and they haven’t succeeded in recruiting their neighbors into their system. Their systems lack what ecologists call redundancy.  They are so independent their system will die when they do.

Other ecologically sound farmers here are tightly connected to their communities.  They are part of multigenerational families who are marketing and processing locally.  They use rotational grazing, integrated pest management, and build their soil organic matter.  They focus on creating healthy food for themselves and their community.

Such Eastern Kentucky families are a very small minority in the region. Other families have become dependent on government welfare checks, drugs and unhealthy foods.  Coal mining by large outside companies has supported a huge population which lacks land for locally organized productive enterprises.  Dark, narrow hollows are chock-a-block with trailers and ramshackle housing and no space for even a garden.

We are beginning to see how Eastern Kentucky can have resilient farms amidst low health and high poverty.  Two parallel and opposite cultures have diverged in Appalachia.  One with grit and resilience.  The other propped up by well-meaning charity.

These correlations are the opposite of what we have found in other regions.  In most places, high resilience of food systems is associated with good health and low poverty at the county level.  But all counties have pockets of lower health and higher poverty.  Maybe Eastern Kentucky is just an extreme version of many of our communities.  Resilient and dependent cultures seem to coexist in many places.

We’ll continue our observations for awhile, but the future looks steep and rocky here.  No matter how tough a seed, it needs at least a little soil to grow and reproduce.  Little good soil is available to expand the few resilient agricultural systems of Eastern Kentucky.  The culture of dependency is steep and rocky land on which to build resilient communities.  Especially when the superficially attractive culture of drugs and welfare and unhealthy foods is allowed to capture and enslave new generations.

You’re a part of Nature, act like it.

 

Cities have done a good job of destroying natural systems.  Some city folk are so out of touch with nature, they see it as something totally different from Man.  The only solution they see is to remove people from Nature if we want to save it.  They want to save Nature as an untouched, pure oasis, unsullied by the hands of humankind.

REMOTE-3What they don’t realize is that pristine Nature does not mean untouched by man. A recent study shows that our impact on the planet didn’t simply take off with the Industrial Revolution, but was actually observable many thousands of years before in the Late Pleistocene, in the form of species extinctions linked to movement of people from Africa into Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The researchers say the most significant example of this is the dramatic reduction in megafauna between about 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, which had dramatic effects on ecosystems in terms of things like seed dispersal.  The original settlers of Europe, Asia and the Americas killed off megafauna wherever they went.

The advent of agriculture put even greater evolutionary pressures on plants and animals, creating “unprecedented and enduring impacts on species distributions”. But these impacts didn’t just lead to extinctions. The kinds of animals humans favored – such as domesticated dogs, plus sheep, goats, chicken, and cattle – surged in numbers.

Humans also colonised islands, which had big effects seeing as islands’ natural ecosystems lack “the resilience of continental biomes”. As new species were introduced, indigenous ones were overpowered. The expansion of trade from the Bronze Age onwards has compounded many of these effects, and all long before the Industrial Revolution kicked off.

In other words, simply by colonising new land and farming animals we wanted to eat, we had an impact on every single part of the planet.

The researchers say the discovery of this long-term human environmental impact means we should take a broader and more pragmatic approach to conservation efforts – as clearly it’s in our nature to alter nature, and we’ll need to plan accordingly if we realistically want to help save the planet from environmental threats.

“If we want to improve our understanding of how we manage our environment and conserve species today, maybe we have to shift our perspective, by thinking more about how we safeguard clean air and fresh water for future generations and rather less about returning planet Earth to its original condition.”

According to the researchers, we should focus on the good we can do for the sake of the planet as it is now, rather than aiming to restore a long-gone oasis that only exists now in our imaginations.

“Rather than an impossible return to pristine conditions, what is needed is the historically informed management of emerging novel ecosystems to ensure the maintenance of ecological goods and services.”

Cumulative archaeological data clearly demonstrates that all humans transform their environments.  It’s in our nature.  It’s what we do.

“Now the question is what kind of ecosystems we will create for the future. Will they support the well-being of our own and other species or will they provide a context for further large-scale extinctions and irreversible climate change?”

The evidence of archaeology also argues against the inclusive, grassroots, indigenous approach to Nature.  The only way to preserve ecosystems is a top down approach which convinces and enlists the average person in enjoying and preserving natural ecosystems.

Man, left to his own devices, has always destroyed ecosystems.  Unfortunately, only in places where an enlightened few have led campaigns of conservation and preservation have endangered species ever been restored to resilience.  So get out there an organize, cajole and work for conservative innovation to integrate man with Nature.

 

I have decided . . .

Some folks find it hard to say “I have decided to . .[plug in go to Kentucky, follow Jesus, farm, move to Meadowcreek or fill in the blank].”  But it’s a foundation of personal resilience and personal resilience is the foundation of farm and community resilience.  Everyone has doubts, but at some point you just have to put them aside and go with your gut.  It was a pretty easy decision yesterday to leave the hot and muggy Delta and head up to the Ozarks.  This morning at Meadowcreek you can see your breath, its that chilly.

70826842.nBdH9c4G.AmishBoyThe cool air blowing past me from one window even made the moisture in my breath condense inside.  The warm molecules of water lost their energy and changed to a gas right before my eyes.  Pretty fun.  So I decided to just blow air in and out for awhile and enjoy the Zen of cloud creation.  I’ve decided to not decide for awhile.

The best way to make decisions is with someone who loves to collect facts, but can’t decide.  Last night we needed to decide what time to leave for Kentucky.  I didn’t want to decide for everyone, so I just stated some facts:  nine and half hour trip, like to get to Natural Bridge before dark, want to stop a few places on the way, etc.  Then MRS said, OK, let’s leave at 7.

She’s one of the most resilient folks I know.  She has no problem with decisions.  Making decisions are easy for her because if she fails, she just picks herself up and tries another tack.

Sometimes she really should collect more information before she acts.  Some would call her impulsive.  From chaos research, we know we are all bundles of conflicting impulses.  Adolescents are especially prone to following impulses without much thought.

Resilient societies have mechanisms to help the young learn to choose appropriately from their many impulses.  The Amish give responsibility to their children before they even enter  adolescence.  Amazing to see 10 and 12 year olds manage huge equipment on an Amish farm.  Adolescence doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

Resilient societies dissolve when they are unable to direct the impulses of adolescents.  Eric Hoffer said it well:

Perhaps a modern society can remain stable only by eliminating adolescence, by giving its young, from the age of ten, the skills responsibilities, and rewards of grownups, and opportunities for action in all spheres of life.  Adolescence should be a time of useful action, while book learning and scholarship should be a preoccupation of adults.  It would be also particularly fitting were the training and coaching of the young done by retired skilled craftsmen, technicians, industrialists, scientists and politicians.

Notice he said retired politicians.  Politicians who have not yet retired can harness the impulsivity of adolescents of all ages to destroy all resilience of a society.

Advice for the next President

America will have a new President in a few months.  What should that President do about food and the environment?  Resilience project staff will be deciding just that at a national meeting of sustainable agriculture organizations in Maine in August.

We’d like to bring along your ideas to the meeting.  So tell us what you think the President should do.  Make a comment here or send us an email (meadow@deltanetwork.org) or call us at the Resilience House (870-363-4711) or come by Meadowcreek anytime if you want a long policy discussion.

And share this with your friends, so we get even more ideas.

Specifically, we are looking for input in three areas:

  1. First Hundred Days:  Changes the new President can make immediately without any further act of Congress (no new laws, no new money).  We are looking for low hanging fruit with a big bang for the buck.  These recommendations should send a strong message about how the new President will work hard to create a resilient food system, resilient communities, a resilient nation.
  2. Immediate Budget Requests:  The outgoing Obama administration will have produced a draft budget, but that budget will go through major editing by the new administration.  This is an immediate, must-do task for the new President.
  3. Input for Administration’s Farm Bill Proposals.  Not quite as urgent as the first 100 days administrative actions or the immediate budget request actions are recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill. If a new Administration hopes to have any input going into the farm bill debate, it will need to have its proposals on the table by late 2017 or early 2018, meaning that they have months and not years to get up to speed and be prepared.

If you’ve followed our work over the last few years, you probably have guessed the Resilience project will focus on recommendations to help farmers help the planet by creating better soils by pulling carbon from the atmosphere.

However, in August in Maine, we’ll be developing recommendations on all sorts of topics, including:

  • New and Minority Farmers
  • Good Food (local, regional, food access, organic, product labeling, etc.)
  • Conservation and Environmental Stewardship
  • Farm Safety Net Reform
  • Food Safety
  • Fair Competition and Contract Reform
  • Agricultural Research
  • Immigration Reform

So send us your ideas on any policy changes in anything which impinges on rural America and the food and environment of all Americans.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Practice resurrection

Embracing chaos to encourage transformation is one of the most difficult parts of resilience.   Productive people like stability.  They like things predictable and consistent. They don’t like risky and dangerous policies.

Resilient folks, in contrast, know things will change and work hard to incorporate that change in their farm, their community, their politics.  Resilient folks like to stir things up now and then.  Resilience Project staff are off to Kentucky this weekend, hoping to stir ourselves to new realizations about health, poverty and resilient food systems.

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Every time you head to Kentucky, you need to reread Kentucky’s most famous farmer, Wendell Berry.  He has a wonderful poem focused on transformation.  Read and share:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

—————

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, by Wendell Berry