The Last Key Blog

So for latecomers, the title is a pun on “key log”, which is the log that you have to remove to break up a logjam. I tend to conflate this with something the like the key note, which is the tonic in a scale, the note on which songs frequently (but not always) end. As my one remaining regular reader knows quite well, I always take the Sunday after Thanksgiving to make a reference to Aldo Leopold’s discussion of the key log in his foundational work on environmental ethics, A Sand County Almanac. Way back in 2009 I wrote:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Leopold was trying to get us to see that our community was more than human, that we are in community with the land. His ethic was revolutionary in many ways that we are only now starting to appreciate.

  • The original key blog went on to talk about how focusing on food might be a good way to act on Leopold’s desire to incorporate the land itself into our understanding of community. That’s a nice theme for a blog written under the auspices of a Community Supported Agriculture. It was, I hoped, something that we could see as a fundamental part of the CSA way.

Well, I’m not backing off from that thought, but I am done writing the Thornapple Blog. You’ll just have to get through the winter of 2016-17 without me, I’m afraid. I’m sure I won’t disappear from cyberspace completely, but the routine of sitting down every Sunday and ginning up 400 words or so has gotten tiresome.

Happy Thanksgiving, America. And may God’s blessings go with you.

I’m sure you’ll need them!

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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Beans for Breakfast

July 10, 2016

After racking my brain for several hours trying to think of something funny having to do with cucumber beetles, I finally gave up. Bing tells me that there are two kinds of cucumber beetle, one with stripes and one with polka dots. There is apparently nothing funny about either of them because once they have gotten established, you might as just forget about all that bok choy you were hoping to stir fry up with some tofu about this time of the year. The robot on my computer does not think that bok choy is a word, which goes to show how “smart” robots can be of a time. Bing is telling me that picking off the cucumber beetles by hand and throwing them into soapy water is an effective way to control them, but I think that this advice is pretty much in the same category as thinking that bok choy is not a word. So much for the robots this week.

Since there isn’t anything funny about cucumber beetles, let’s change the subject. Let’s ask Bing about having beans for breakfast. I should start out by saying that this query does not please Bing. Bing offers some helpful suggestions:  “Beans for chili?” “Beans for diabetics?” “Beans for protein?” Then Bing goes back to the diabetes thing again, just in case you overlooked it the first time before deciding that you are just off your rocker and trying “Bean Ford West Chester” I didn’t click on that one. Even the best crazy tangent has to stop somewhere.

However, if you persist, you will discover that “Beans for Breakfast” is, in fact, a food song by Johnny Cash. We should be setting this blog aside for the next food songs month, I suppose, but I’m too deep into it to give up now. The general thrust of it is that a no-good man who won’t listen to his wife winds up eating beans for breakfast. This suggests that beans are not an appropriate breakfast food.

Bingo, Bing! It looks like we hit a food ethics vein that we can mine for a least another couple of paragraphs!

So why, you are asking I’m sure, did you and Bing get off on this peculiarly off beat tangent this Sunday? Well I’m sure it has something to do with cucumber beetles, but more to the point it was because I had beans for breakfast this morning, along with a fried egg, toast, some broiled tomatoes & mushrooms, a sausage, some streaky bacon and a black pudding. An English breakfast, you say. Actually it was Scottish, but their other differences notwithstanding, the English, the Scotts and the Irish have some similar breakfast habits, and they all include Heinz baked beanz. You might also be eating beans for breakfast at some taqueria down in Texas, but they wouldn’t be beanz and you probably would not have any black pudding with them.

So if there’s supposed to be some wrap up here, I’ve got nothing. Maybe it was flying all night and eating breakfast in Edinburgh. But I’d prefer to blame the cucumber beetles. It just goes to show that neither Bing nor Johnny Cash are particularly global when it comes time for breakfast food.

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

May Day

May 1, 2016

I wake up and sit by the gas fire with a book. Eventually I go into the kitchen hoping that the oatmeal Diane cooked still has enough heat left in it to melt a pat of butter in the bottom of my bowl. I’ll eventually add a little bit of sugar and some milk. It’s a routine.

Isn’t it odd that the Roman god Janus looks backward to the old year and forward to the new one just at the dead of winter? Or maybe even a little bit before the absolute dead of winter, because psychologically at least it’s going to get worse and worse at least until sometime in February. Of course we all know that this routine is highly relative. That empty set of blog readers from the Southern Hemisphere is headed out to the beach when old Janus rouses himself from slumber to announce the transition from endings to beginnings, looking forward by also looking backward.

But I persist. Why isn’t May Day the beginning, and why isn’t the night of April 30 a time for drunken revels and recalling the days gone by? It seems fitting here in Michigan at least. We’ve rounded the corner even if was below 40° out this morning. Our farmers are smart enough to anticipate a few days of frost here in May, but they’ve also been smart enough to know that they can start getting the soil ready and putting things out a good six weeks or so before May Day rolls in. I probably should be fulfilling my contractual obligation to remind you that Cinco de Mayo is even closer at hand. It’s time to see if you can find the ingredients for some pico de gallo. But I think I’ll just stick with May Day itself this time around the old calendrical continuum.

There’s nothing totally arbitrary about arbitrary distinctions. We mark these junctures on the continuum with the comings and goings of Janus or Persephone for a reason. Maybe just to express the hope that the oatmeal is ready. No reason to be too deep. For some unimportant but not altogether arbitrary reason my friend Michael Eldridge came to mind while I was sitting by the fire. We miss Mike deeply, but I recall some remarks his wife Sue made at a memorial service. She said that his family never really understood what his work as a philosophy professor was about. The just loved him as a person. Well, we all did.

To illustrate her point Sue talked about how right before his death, Mike had been working on an essay. She looked at the file on his computer, which was called “Continuum”. When she read bits of the essay, she couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but if he was working on the continuum, it was probably important, she said. Well, I have a theory, because I had a file on my computer named “Continuum”, too. I could be wrong of course—Mike was and I am a falibilist. But I think Mike was working on his contribution to a collection of essays that was slated for Continuum Publishing. In such arbitrary coincidences great cultural misunderstandings are sometimes born.

So let’s just settle back here and think of May Day as a time for beginning. Since it’s cold outside in Michigan, let’s lift a cup of cheer and look back on auld lang syne. Let’s cook some black-eyed-peas and put on our Janus face as we think about the veggies that will be rolling in from Thornapple CSA before we can say ‘Jack Robinson.” Instead of quoting Robert Burns, let’s look to the Steve Miller Band (or maybe it’s Ben Sidran): Tomorrow’s come a long, long way to help you. Yes. It’s your saving grace.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

 

CSA Philosophy

February 21, 2016

Thornapple CSA is a community supported agriculture group in the Lansing area. They host the website for the Thornapple Blog. It’s not entirely clear whether they are supporting the blog, or whether the blog is supporting the CSA. It’s certainly true that the Blog sits on a website that is maintained by the CSA. All the other pages on the website are dedicated to CSA business. You can find information on the crops being planted, the membership fees and you are supposed to be able to find a form that you can use to apply for membership. There are also some photographs of the farm, or at least there used to be. This is also a place I could point out the we also maintain a Facebook page, where you will probably find more useful and practical stuff than you will turn up here at the website. All that would suggest that the blog is kind of an addendum to the activities of Thornapple CSA.

And it is. The blog was created after the first season in November of 2009. It was originally conceptualized as a weekly delivery that would continue over the winter months in Michigan, when CSA members wouldn’t be getting anything that they could eat. Food for the soul. That kind of thing. The blog was, in that sense, supporting the CSA. Trouble is, the blog just kept going even when the veggies started to roll in during the Spring of 2010. They just couldn’t stop the thing once it got started.

It’s now enrollment season for the 2016 season. It’s an occasion to shout out here in the mid-Michigan area in case anyone is looking to join a CSA, but it’s also an occasion for a brief thought on CSAs for the larger world of readers interested in food ethics. Maybe February is a good time to do this, because I don’t want Thornapple members to think I’m talking directly about them. This week, it’s about the ethics of the CSA idea, in general.

CSAs take many forms, but most of them are operated with a philosophical vision working somewhere in the background. Diane and I first got involved in CSAs when we lived in Indiana, where Jim Rose and Signe Waller were trying to get away from hawking their stuff at the farmers’ market every week by starting two CSAs, one that would deliver in Indianapolis, and another that would deliver in the area where we lived, around Lafayette. Their vision involved making a break from capitalism, though one could question whether farmers’ markets really represent a capitalist model.

What they objected to was wheedling and deedling over prices that they experienced every week. You know how that goes: Shoppers stalking the row of farmer’s lined up with their weekly harvest of squash, beans and kale arrayed before them. Going from one to one, comparing price and quality. Some show up early to get the best rutabagas, others show up late to get discounts on the dregs. The farmers often feel like they are themselves the wares being picked-over by these discriminating shoppers, however friendly and conversational everyone tends to be. It irked Jim and Signe and they idealized the idea of producing for a group of friends—members of their community.

The original CSA idea that came over from Japan held that the members would be subsidizing some of the risk that farmers take when the put a crop in the ground. Some years, the potatoes just don’t make, you know, and other years the mealy bugs eat up all the tomatoes. Members would share that risk with farmers by paying up front and being happy with whatever they happened to get.

This idea is not well maintained in very many American CSAs. Members get huffy when they don’t like the share and tend to drop out. Sometimes they demand their money back. Other times members offer helpful suggestions about how the CSA could do a better job of “marketing” their product. Then they get into a snit when the farmers (who are generally overwhelmed just getting the crop in) don’t pick up on their suggestion. It’s not supposed to be the CSA way, but that kind of consumerism is pretty deeply ingrained in the American mindset.

Here at Thornapple, we’ve got a few special twists to CSA philosophy. One that’s not particularly unique is that we run with the idea that CSAs are supposed to promote edification about our relationship to food and to the broader natural environment. We do that by getting in touch with seasonality and the kinds of stuff you can actually grow in Michigan. We also try to get people out to the farm now and then for workdays and celebrations. The blog plays is small role in that, too. Our other special twist (unusual in our area) is that we are run by members and we hire our own farmer. We’ve learned that this involves a certain amount of risk sharing, too. This year we are feeling more confident because James Benjamin is coming back for another year. But generally speaking making this food thing work for both the farmer and the eaters is a major issue in food ethics. Thornapple CSA is just a microcosm of that problem.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

 

And Still Another Key Blog

November 29, 2015

We set aside the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year for the key blog. It’s a tone-setting effort that reiterates the environmental theme that is intended to be the overarching orientation to all the other blogs, serious and irreverent, that get written every other Sunday of the year. There is a backstory to the key blog that I’ve spelled out on previous post-Thanksgiving Sundays, but if you are a latecomer and want to pick up that thread, I think I’ll just link you to last year’s entry, from whence you will be able to trace the narrative back to its origins in 2009.

I always make a respectful reference to Aldo Leopold, the conservation biologist who is sometimes also regarded as the founding voice in environmental ethics. Leopold decried the tendency to cook up dollar values for those aspects of nature that we love on the pretense that we are just not being economical. Leopold was thinking specifically of songbirds when he made this observation. He was poking a little fun at the economists who were trying to convince people that losing songbirds was the same as wasting money. Better, Leopold thought, to just recognize that we love them. Of course not everyone does love them, so sometimes these economic arguments do some work in a policy context. But this is not an economics blog, whatever you might have thought, and Leopold’s insight is a pretty important step toward thinking philosophically about food, farming and the broader significance of what we eat.

In fact, I’ve distrusted a certain kind of food ethics for a very similar reason. It recommends eating as an act that produces a more environmentally sound world: Buy local because reducing the distance your food travels will have a positive impact on climate change, and eat vegetarian because reducing the emission of methane from livestock production has a similar effect. One can worry about whether these things are really true, but that’s not my issue. What I distrust is the machine metaphor that I see working in this kind of argument: Do A to bring about B. Why? Because B is a mechanistic result caused by A. Long ago (in The Spirit of the Soil ) I put forward the argument that this kind of thinking is just an invitation for more technology: Let’s figure out some way we can still do A, but not bring about B. And I have to say that the clever innovators in the agricultural science world have been remarkably effective about doing just that.

Now just to make things even more complicated, I’m not against technological solutions. At least I’m not against them when they actually work, which is, to be fair, less often than claimed. My complaint is that in thinking that we address ethical issues by short-circuiting the causal connection between our action A and the undesirable consequence B, we are actually short-circuiting the process of ethical reflection itself. Focusing on technological solutions is actually a way to not think about what we are doing in a reflective and careful manner.

I’ve found that it’s pretty hard to engage in reflective thinking when you are limiting yourself to 1000 words or less, and trying not to be so boring that no one would want to look at your effort on a bright but chilly November morning, to boot. At least it’s hard for me. So I wouldn’t necessarily take an overweening pride in what we’ve accomplished over the last six years here at the Thornapple Blog. The blog was originally conceived as something that would remind members of their weekly delivery, even when the Michigan winter has shut down meaningful production of organically grown veggies. So maybe we will go for seven years, if the Thornapple CSA can keep itself together for another season.

And currently it is looking like it will.

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

 

Breakdown Lane

October 25, 2015

I’m writing on the bus from Xitou to Taipai City, and the traffic is heavy on Sunday evening. Things run in a smooth and orderly way here in Taiwan, unlike the roads around Beijing. Still and all, I see quite a few drivers zipping past on the right in the breakdown lane at about 70 mph. I’d hate to have a flat tire here.

And speaking of which, we’ve kind of had a flat tire year in the Thornapple CSA, haven’t we? We’re ten days or so past the last distribution day, and maybe it’s a good moment to reflect on the past. I always have to be careful with this, because Diane is afraid that Thornapple members reading the blog—she’s crazy to think there are any—might think I’m speaking for her. Well for the record, Diane and I are on opposite sides of the globe. My e-mail is not working, and I can’t get cell service here. Meanwhile she doesn’t have an internet connection. So I’m speaking just for myself.

Looking back on seven seasons, I’d say we’ve done well for the members on five of them. We had a rocky year some time back, but memories are short. This year there were a number of things that members were hoping for that never materialized in the weekly baskets. Hopefully next year will be better.

But there’s another side to this and that’s how things work out for our farmers. As both long-time readers and most local Thornapple members probably know, we have a “core group” of members that takes on responsibility for steering things on behalf of the entire membership. Unlike farmer-organized CSAs, we hire a farmer at Thornapple. Often it’s a relatively young and idealistic person or couple hoping to get a start in small-scale organic farming. In fact, I can’t think of an exception to the “young and idealistic” part of that, but maybe the fact that it seems that way to me reflects more on me being old and cynical than them being young and idealistic.

I’m not going to do a tally, but I will say that more often than not, the main thing these young and idealistic types learn is that this small organic farming life is not really everything that it had been cracked up to be. Many of them would not like to hear me say that. They have often remained idealistic even as they have confronted some disappointments. And there’s no single failure mode here. Sometimes the physical labor has just been too much, and at other times the ability to build extra income through sales at farmers’ markets or the like has just not proven to be as lucrative as it needed to be in order to make being the Thornapple farmer into a viable lifestyle. Sometimes it was just that a more attractive alternative beckoned. For many of those years we would have been happy to have a farmer come back, but wound up searching for a new farmer over the winter months.

But let’s face it members. We have a tendency to wear out farmers. Making all the pieces fit in terms of matching work expectations,  meshing a communication style with the needs of our members and then jibing with the facilities at Appleshram is just not a trivially simple affair. It’s kind of amazing that on 5 out of seven tries, the membership has come away with warm and fuzzy feelings about the CSA way, even when on three or four of those occasions the farmers have concluded that it is an experience they don’t need to repeat. Coming to appreciate that complexity is one of the lessons that the whole CSA experience is designed to teach us urbanites, disconnected from our food systems as we tend to be. Let’s not forget that as we start planning for a more satisfying year in 2016. I hope all the members who do read this can see their way clear to shaking off that flat tire and giving it one more try.

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

An Additional Appearance by Our Favorite Satellite

August 2, 2013

We have finally made it to August. In Michigan, that means tomatoes. I realize that some of you may have been enjoying tomatoes for several weeks now, but give me a large break. It’s not only Michigan, where we never get tomatoes much before the last week of July, it’s been kind of a cold and wet summer. It’s still a little too early to tell how all that’s going to affect our tomatoes. Probably not for the better, but I’m still hopeful. We have a few little boys from last week’s CSA share sitting downstairs on the counter right now, trying their hardest to get just a little bit redder. You can hear them working diligently if you are quiet, squirming and a puffing almost inaudibly in that winning way typical of domesticated garden plants.

Diane and I went out to the farm on Friday night for the Thornapple CSA Blue Moon Party. I must say that it was pretty rowdy event, reaching a peak when core group member Ryan Apple (no relation to Appleschram) and Farmer Paul (no relation to Paul Thompson) broke out in a stirring fiddle toon. Or maybe it was a stirring fiddle tune. In any case a wonderful time was had by all and you can gaze at pictures on the Thornapple CSA Facebook page.

There is, in astrological fact, a bit of confusion about the blue moon. I suspect that it is closely tied to the confusion that prevented us from making an appropriately forthright statement about climate ethics a couple of weeks back. Thanks to John Zilmer for straightening that one out for the legions of readers that flock to the blog’s website on a regular basis. Or maybe they flock only once in a blue moon.

The confusion arises in virtue of the fact that a so-called “blue” moon is in fact an intercalary lunar phase—an extra cycle above and beyond the twelve normal (e.g. non-blue) moons that occur during a typical year. Those of us who are deeply schooled in metaphysics know that there is, strictly speaking, never a typical year. There are only years whose atypical nature goes unnoticed by the shuffling hoards. But that’s probably altogether much too depressing for an August blog, so forget that I brought it up. Unfortunately for those who like to keep their peas and their mashed potatoes from touching one another, our calendar (that would be the one by which we reckon that today is, indeed, the 2nd of August, 2015) is solar, rather than lunar. And there are about 12.37 lunations in every solar calendar. Which makes seven blue moons in every Metonic cycle.

I bet five dollars to a donut that you did not expect to encounter the word “lunation” when you opened up the Thornapple blog. This would be a good name for spells experienced by Larry Talbot (as memorably portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr.) whenever the moon was full. Remember, “I saw Lon Chaney walkin’ wi’ da Queen. Dah dah dah. I saw Lon Chaney JUNIOR walkin’ wi’ da Queen. They were doing the werewolves of London,”? Well it’s actually supposed to be the third lunation in a seasonal cycle with four instead of three moons that counts as the blue moon. But that’s just a little too complex for us lameheads to grasp, so we typically just call the second full moon in a month the blue one, which is what we did last Friday night, when the second full moon showed up on July 31st while we were out singing songs and cooking wienies at Appleschram orchard with Ryan Apple and Farmer Paul.

An intercalary chapter is a little extra insertion that does not advance the plot. Not that we would stoop to such nonsense in the Thornapple Blog! John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is loaded with intercalary chapters, providing American high school students of a certain era to become familiar with a crazy word that might show up on a pop quiz. Knowing this, we were not surprised when an intercalary lunation showed up last Friday. We didn’t see any werewolves, though.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State Univesity

 

Asparagus

May 31, 2015

In the spirit of our penchant for obvious and not-so-timely reminders, we note that May is asparagus month. Fresh, asparagus is a favorite for most true foodies, and by “fresh” I mean picked this morning or at least yesterday. That makes asparagus an inherently local food as well. We’ve been in asparagus season here in Michigan for the last three or four weeks, and with a bit of luck we will have two or three weeks more. So reminding people that this is the time of the year to be on the lookout for asparagus may not be entirely futile.

The first pick-up for Thornapple CSA will be on Wednesday of this week, but I must advise expectant members against looking for asparagus in the first weekly share. You don’t just plant asparagus in January or February with the idea that you will be eating it in May. Asparagus needs a good 3-4 years to be in harvestable condition, and some say you should really not expect much for seven years. 35 years ago when I came to Texas A&M as a newly minted faculty member, lots of us thought of the place as a temporary stop on the way to a position at a more attractive place. My colleague Dick Becka used to say, “Living in College Station is not so bad; it’s the thought of dying here.” Some of the newcomers came around to the idea that A&M was actually a pretty good place to work, while others resigned themselves to the limited mobility of the increasingly tight job market for university faculty. We would recognize this transition in an individual’s attitude by noting whether or not they were planting asparagus in their backyard garden. Anyone who puts out asparagus expects to be around for a while.

As a result, asparagus DOES NOT appear on the list of vegetables that you can expect to get from your participation in the Thornapple CSA. We did put out some asparagus at Appleschram a couple of years back as an experiment, but it hasn’t really taken. One problem is that it’s hard to keep people out of it while it get’s established. Casual visitors easily convince themselves that they have stumbled on an unknown treasure trove. They yield to the temptation to help themselves to a few stalks, thinking that it couldn’t possibly hurt anything.

This is an instance of a collective action dilemma—a problem theorized in the 1960s by Mancur Olson. I met Mancur Olson once in the hall at 1616 “P” Street in Washington, DC. It probably would have been less than a year before he died, but I suppose that this is too much a tangent even for the Thornapple blog. A more accessible version of the problem was formulated by Garrison Keillor for one of his A Prairie Home Companion monologues. It’s called “The Living Flag”, and it was popular enough that it was one of the stories celebrated in the 25th anniversary collection. But that’s all I’m going to say here. If you want to hear how Keillor explains collective action dilemmas, you can go to this link.

The long and short of it is that we are at least a year or two behind in getting asparagus established for distribution in Thornapple shares. This will not, however, deter our farmers Paul and Chelsea from providing a sumptuous helping of salad greens, and maybe some kale and radishes. Yum. In the meantime, look for asparagus on the menu at any appropriately hip or “local” eatery, or find some at the produce section in your local market. It may not have been picked yesterday, but it will still be pretty damn good.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

Plastic Houses

November 23, 2014

There’s an old saying to the effect that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Good advice for bloggers, I think. If you are “out there” and visible, you should think twice about digging in to someone for something that you could be dug into yourself. There’s also a variation on the adage that has something to do with grass houses and ends with the admonition “…shouldn’t stow thrones.” Figuring out what that has to do with a food ethics blog would be a fine tangent for this week, don’t you think?

But as has become my custom of late, I resist the temptation to make sense of that to get right along with the main theme for the week, which has nothing to do with bloggers who expose their own vulnerabilities (not that I would ever do that) or glass houses, for that matter (though here we are getting nearer to the point). The point such as it is being not glass but plastic houses.

Thanks to my friend John Biernbaum plastic houses are all the rage among sustainable agriculture types here in Michigan. Of course no self-respecting hippie farmer would refer to them as plastic houses. They’re high tunnels or low tunnels (depending on whether they are high or low) or maybe it’s the hippie farmer who’s high or low. They’re also hoop houses. This would not need explanation if you have actually seen one of these babies. A bunch of my students and I went up to the UP earlier this summer to help John build a particularly big one, and I was caught on film (well maybe it was pixels) with a sledgehammer in my hand putting up the support for one of those hoops. I wish I could put that photo in my annual report.

So even though us calloused hands, sledge-hammer swinging, hard-working, dirt on the face sustainable farmer types wouldn’t literally live in one of these plastic houses, the whole routine about not throwing stones would still be highly relevant. Holes are a bad thing. They kind of screw up the whole convection heating phenomenon that allows Michigan farmers to grow spinach or broccoli well into this time of the year. Maybe not this year, because it has been so damn cold, but you know what I mean.

But stones thrown, thrones stowed or what have you, a hoop house is going to occasionally need some first-order maintenance. Which basically means another plastic sheet big enough to cover the whole damn thing. Not cheap, mind you, but also something that requires a whole raft of people just to maneuver around and actually get on top of the skeleton so that it can be fastened down to keep the little budlings toasty when it’s freezing outside. And that whole raft of people thing brings me to my true and honest reason for posting a Thornapple blog (aside from the fact that it’s Sunday). Which is that it’s time for the hoophouse out at Appleschram farm where we grow veggies for the Thornapple CSA to get a new sheet of plastic.

The big event is scheduled on Wednesday from 3 to 4 in the afternoon, assuming the wind is not blowing too hard. Cold will not deter us, but wind well might. If you’ve longed to be part of barn-raising on the day before Thanksgiving, this may be as close as you’re going to get this year. Call Diane (you know the number) if you have any questions, and bring your own sledgehammer if you are in it for the photo op.

Paul B. Thompson is the W. K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University.

 

The Blue Food

August 17, 2014

The late comedian George Carlin used to do a routine in which he feigned deep puzzlement in asking his audience “Where’s the blue food?” Of course folks in Michigan know blue food, and I’m here to tell you that even if they are “late” and even if, as some are saying, it isn’t a particularly good year, the blueberries are in. Diane and I were cruising the Oryana market last week and we found these big white boxes of organic blueberries sitting there. Ten pounds worth, to be exact. Pricey, to be sure but we decided to splurge. We had a bunch of company in and if there is ever a time when you can expect to consume ten pounds of fresh blueberries in a week, this was it.

And consume them we did. Blueberries with yogurt and granola, blueberries with ice cream and occasionally, just blueberries. No blueberry pie this year, but we did have several rounds of blueberry pancakes. We have a bit of a family dispute about exactly how many blueberries are supposed to be in a blueberry pancake. I’m of the persuasion that the entire middle of the pancake should be a pure mush of blue, while Diane is much more parsimonious. It’s the one time of the year when I prefer to cook my own pancakes.

I think it was last year when we did a blog on the nutritional attributes of blue food, so I’m going to skip that the second time around. I’m contractually obligated to do some blogs during the summertime extolling the virtues of fresh fruit and produce. Due to the aftermath of our polar vortex and the freezing of the Great Lakes, the fresh fruit and produce is coming in a bit late this year. The cold was really good for some of it, not so much for other bits. I’m told we shouldn’t expect much from our tomatoes this year. So in the spirit of the community supported agriculture, we just have to suck that up and celebrate what the season does bring us. If you follow the link above you will find that the blueberries were “in” for a blog on July 21 in 2013, so there does seem to be something to this polar vortex thing.

But maybe I should go back to Carlin, and quote him at more length:

Why is there no blue food? I can’t find blue food — I can’t find the flavor of blue! I mean, green is lime; yellow is lemon; orange is orange; red is cherry; what’s blue? There’s no blue! “Oh,” they say, “blueberries!” Uh-uh; blue on the vine, purple on the plate. There’s no blue food! Where is the blue food? We want the blue food! Probably bestows immortality! They’re keeping it from us!

There are already a number of blogs on this floating around in cyberspace, as well as links to the original 1975 performance on U-Tube. If you are deep into Carlin’s question, I would refer you to a 2011 blog from Cecil Adams, the world’s smartest human. He insists that blueberries are blue, and I agree. Adams wrote this informative post in December, but I’m writing in August. If you are in December (and especially if you are in Michigan) you might want to spend an afternoon researching the scientific basis for the relative dearth of blue foods. But if it’s August you can be outdoors enjoying a spectacular day (especially if you are in Michigan). And of course you could be eating blueberries.

We don’t grow blueberries as part of the Thornapple CSA, but our experience attests to the indisputable fact that you can get some. And I would advise that you do it.

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