Farming: Not So Easy

February 5, 2012

It seems that during food icons month I managed to refer to Lady Eve Balfour as “nutty”, Xenophon as “sexist”, Ralph Waldo Emerson as “bogus”, Liberty Hyde Bailey as “racist” and George Washington Carver as a “Tom” who wasn’t actually a great scientist. My intention was to single out each of these individuals, to celebrate their accomplishments and suggest that people engaged in the food movement should learn more about them. All of which apparently goes to show, with friends like me, you won’t really need enemies. Go back and check it out, if you don’t believe me.

January was also a month with a few genuine comments that appeared amongst the robotic link-seekers. True to form, I’ve “approved” them all, and also according to my pattern, I’ve closed comments so that I don’t have to spend hours sorting through all the automata noting, “we like to honor websites we like…” or touting the new Zune. Those of you who don’t blog or manage websites would be truly amazed at how much white noise there is on the web. But I’ve complained enough about robots before. Go back and check it out, if you don’t believe me.

And speaking of which, it seems my blundering attempt to celebrate food icons has generated some hard feelings over in Van Buren County. Rather than drag regular readers of the Thornapple Blog into it, I’ll just provide this link, and then I’ll apologize to those who took umbrage at my choice of words. (If any of them find their way over to this corner of the World Wide Web, that is.) And then I’ll move right along to another puzzling leftover from food icons month: Xenophon’s claim that the principles of good farming are just so dead obvious that anyone can do it. Amazingly, no one called me out on this, though there is a fascinating new comment on “Blind Owl” Wilson’s influences (which apparently did not include the Anabasis, as I speculated). Go back and check it out, if you don’t believe me.

For readers outside the mid-Michigan area, the Thornapple CSA has a relatively unusual structure for community-supported agriculture. We’re based on the subscribers, not the farm. So far, we’ve had to go out and recruit a new farmer every year. We’ve found that it’s not easy to find one with Ischomachus’ level of knowledge, and as a result, one of the experimental components of the Thornapple CSA involves being willing to work with learning farmers, or at least farmers who are learning organic and sustainable methods. This means that sometimes the Brussels sprouts get covered with aphids, or that we fail to get out in the field on the first dry weekend in May, or that weeds overtake our carrots. Contrary to the Xenophon quotation I provided, I think these occurrences are less evidence of a recreant soul than a lack of sound farming knowledge on our part. Pull your copy of the Oeconomicus (in the original Greek) off the shelf and check it out, if you don’t believe me.

Maybe this is obvious enough, but it’s worth saying anyway. In Xenophon’s day (which is to say 2500 years ago) everybody knew something about farming, even urbanites like the urbane Socrates, who was able to answer all of Ischomachus’s questions on good framing correctly and with little coaching. Urbane urbanite that I am, I could not have done so. Fortunately for the Thornapple CSA, we do not rely on our blogger for farming knowledge. Our core group (that apple thing, again—check it out if you don’t believe me) has recruited a farmer for the summer of 2012 who will, I am sure, rival Ischomachus with her ability to astound and amaze us with the arcanae of sustainable horticulture. Melissa Hornaday will be meeting Thornapple members at an event Diane is organizing for Feb. 12. Come on over next week and check it out if you don’t believe me.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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