Disrupting the Way We Buy Produce

farmigoStraight from the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield, a new internet-based project to greatly expand the CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] movement into places where it hasn’t been before. It’s a project designed to connect community organizers – volunteers with a group of friends and neighbors who want to get in on farm fresh produce and other fresh foods – to buy in to local suppliers in the usual CSA manner and set up a drop-off point in their area for deliveries and for members to pick up their weekly food items. The company, farmigo, acts as the middleman to negotiate directly with growers, coordinate deliveries and scheduling, and handle the nitty gritty of the business end. It also maintains the web-based platform for people to manage their accounts, order food, and pay the fees. To support this effort, farmigo receives a 2% fee on food sold and collects this from the producers rather than from the customers.

The idea isn’t entirely new, as CSAs in some regions have already set up their local businesses through websites, and even pooled with other suppliers to make for convenient ordering of variety items and coordinate deliveries. Farmigo is pretty much the same type of thing, but on a much larger scale and including big city dwellers. The farmers, fishermen, butchers and bakers who offer products through the service still get to set their own terms and commitment periods. When you check into the website you can click on a map to receive a list of suppliers in your area with links and information on already established drop-off sites.

Farmigo also facilitates one-time ala carte purchases of things like eggs, flowers, meats, seafood, baked goods and other things that will be delivered to the drop-off point on your usual days, so the customer isn’t limited to whatever crops are being harvested at any given time on their CSA’s farm, but isn’t corralled into long-term purchase contracts with those other suppliers. This also saves the member/customer the trouble of driving around to several different drop-off points to get their food allotments. Some suppliers will even deliver to your home, depending on where you live and the nature of your orders.

Those of us who do our own organic gardening, participate in local tailgate farmer’s markets, trade with our neighbors for crops we aren’t growing ourselves, and who have turned the art of wholesome organic foods, fresh air and hard work into a regular way of [homesteading!] life, of course recognize the value of any system designed to facilitate wider participation, cheaper prices to the customer and better premiums for the growers. As CSAs and the local food movements grow, more and more people will participate, everyone will be a bit healthier, and groups of neighbors working quarter-acre or less sized organic gardens can get together and plan who grows what, pool the results together, and create their own supplier CSA group!

Because I am lucky enough to have spent the past 20 years on my little mountain homestead growing food and “fitting in” with a local culture that was here long before I was, there would be great interest in a community organizer to make the contacts with various farmers producing a single crop or two of staples like corn and wheat and oats, things many CSAs don’t produce in bulk, but which most people consume regularly as part of their normal diets. Whole and milled grains, dried beans, cornmeal (grits, hominy, whatever) in bulk would be a sure seller. Value-addeds for those non-subscription purchases, such as compotes and jam, ciders and juice made from locally grown fruit. Pickles, hot sauces, vinegars, sun-dried tomatoes and other dried foods… the possibilities are practically endless. Not to mention those free-range eggs and honey for those who keep bees – which will hopefully be me by this time next year.

The primary requirement for suppliers is that their products be grown naturally/organically. USDA organic certification is not required, but this means no GMOs, no petrochemical fertilizers or pesticides, etc. Most small farmers and backyard gardeners don’t use such things anyway, as the whole chemically-based food production system was invented for big Agribiz where the economies of scale (like 5 square miles’ worth of corn) and government subsidies disguises the true cost of the foods produced. There are farmers in my area who have rotated 40 acres in beans, corn and wheat all their lives and never managed to destroy the productivity of their land with chemical adulterants they’ve never actually needed.

I don’t know if something like farmigo would make much of a dent in my region, where local farmers and producers have been participating in CSAs since somebody first thought them up, and where local farmer’s markets are easy to find any day of the week in cities, towns and villages throughout the countryside. But this type of modern organizing and management would be a good thing even here, so there is much to learn. The more people who abandon our American Industrial Food System the better, and again with enough organized coordination those economies of scale can ultimately lower the price of good, wholesome food so that more and more people can avail themselves of it. Win-win situation, so do check around and ‘borrow’ some ideas from those who are pioneering the food wilderness.

USDA: Sequester Impacts

Sequester_ImpactsWe homesteaders are among the citizens who pay a good deal of attention to the programs and operations of both state and federal agricultural departments because they can directly affect us (for good or ill). We often make use of our state ag departments’ extension services for education in things like beekeeping, land use, community ag promotional programs, etc. And we keep track – often with some trepidation – of the various ways that the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] can make or break our attempts to make our livings off the land and the work we put into it. Under this rubric come permissions and restrictions for selling our produce and other home-grown products to the public, to local and regional government programs, food banks, schools, etc., as well as all those expensive and tiring hoops we must jump through to obtain and keep certifications for organic labeling, etc.

We live on and off the land, and must keep ourselves abreast of the tricks of that trade. In this blog I have expressed some reservations about Tom Vilsack, who was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama some years ago, due to his corporate-friendly policies. Particularly in regards to Monsanto’s agri-chem and GMO activities, which are a considerable threat to organic producers. He has also been somewhat less than supportive of local producers being allowed to supply raw and processed foods to local schools and food banks, which we see as an important part of the ‘locavore’ – “Eat Local” movement. Buying and eating foods grown and processed close to home removes one of the most environmentally insidious government-subsidized cost-adds to our food supply – the costs of transporting foods grown in other states, regions and countries from farm to processor, and from processors to market. Almost all of it accomplished by the burning of fossil fuels.

The U.S. government has been operating for some months under what is known as “sequester,” one of those hostage threats Republicans in the U.S. Congress used to try and get their policies enacted despite being unable to win actual elections on the merits of their ideas. This seq uester has cut spending levels across the board fairly drastically, and crippled many government agencies and departments to the point where some of their most important jobs don’t get done. USDA is one of those crippled departments.

For example, the sequester has slashed government subsidies to school districts to help support their school breakfast and lunch programs. At the end of this month (October) schools will have to provide their own funding exclusively, though the government claims they will be reimbursed at some point. If the sequester is ever recinded, and now presuming those same Republican hostage-takers won’t keep the entire government shut down indefinitely while crashing the world’s economy by refusing to pay the bills for appropriations they’ve already allotted from the budget.

Concurrent drastic cuts and cut-offs to both the SNAP (Food Stamps) and WIC food programs are cutting deeply into the ability of families – many of them working full time but earning minimum wage – to put food on the table. With neither school feeding programs or food assistance from the government, a great many people will simply have to do without. We know that doing without food isn’t a particularly healthy way to live, but at least one party in our political system doesn’t think that’s a problem. I presume they and their families eat very well, thanks. We certainly pay them enough for that.

Both SNAP and WIC will run out of funds nationwide by mid-November. Just in time for the holidays! Funding for rental assistance has also been cut, and no new farm/business loans are being processed. Farmers who had previous loans through USDA and have sold this year’s crops can’t get the checks cashed because county offices for the Farm Service Agency are all closed. A freak autumn blizzard in the Dakotas killed thousands of cattle and horses, but the conservation arm of the USDA cannot help to get the dead livestock buried. This is obviously a serious issue for the immediate health and well-being of both rural dwellers and healthy livestock.

From here on, until and unless our government flunkies in Congress wake up and do their too well paid jobs, we are all on our own. Severe weather affecting farmers and ranchers will not be mitigated by the usual government emergency loans and/or mobilization of resources. Families going homeless and hungry through the winter will not be aided, nor will they or their pets or any farmer’s lost livestock get buried when they finally die. Hell, in another [not ag related] outrage of Congressional shananigans, the families of our soldiers dying in Afghanistan and elsewhere are no longer receiving the ‘death benefit’ they are entitled to, so not even our war dead are getting buried if the families don’t have cash on hand.

This situation is obviously untenable and cannot keep going for long, but I see no signs that the radical reactionaries in Congress are willing to do anything whatsoever that might save the nation from absolute ruin. If something doesn’t give very soon, by the time agricultural America gets started planning the spring crops there may be no national government at all and no help for anyone to access adequate food.

There are a few things we can do. First and foremost, call and/or write your congressional representatives and let them know this obstructionism must stop. Now. Let all your friends and family know how important it is that our representatives face harsh pressure on these issues. Get involved with your county and state electoral organizations and help draft decent candidates to challenge die-hards in next year’s elections. Think hard about running yourself if you believe you can do a good job, everyone you know will be thankful.

Get together with your homesteading and farming neighbors and meet with your community aid organizations (like Lions, Kiwanis, 4-H, etc.) to expand community shares programs, community gardens and crop set-asides to go directly to local food distribution services and schools for feeding hungry people. Do as much fund-raising as you can – host events, give public presentations, lobby county and state governments as well as local businesses and corporations – to replace necessary funding for programs to help our communities.

If we go ahead and act as if the federal government is no longer in the business of serving the people, we can make concrete plans to serve each other. Then, when (and if) the dust in Washington settles, we may find ourselves much more committed to each other and much more capable of doing for ourselves. Which, in the end, may be the best lesson the political class in D.C. could ever be taught by ‘We The People’.

Tiny Houses: Part 3 – Cities Developing Tiny Housing

tiny_houseThis blog has examined the new trend toward “micro-housing” in terms of sub-urban and rural settings in the articles Teeny, Tiny Houses in July of 2011, and Tiny Houses: Part 2 in March of 2012. The trend for small, efficiently-designed housing doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon despite a slight bounce-back of the general real estate markets.

Now we are hearing more about big cities either looking into developing “micro-housing units” convenient to downtown workplaces and shopping, at reasonable prices (and rental prices) for young workers, middle income singles and couples without children, and segments of the elderly population.

The Christian Science Monitor for September 25th asks, “Could you live in 150 square feet? Cities try out micro-housing.” They report that San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York have begun trials of ever-smaller ‘efficiency’ apartments – dubbed micro-housing – in the hearts of their metro areas. For those who would eschew living as Bruce Willis’ character in the movie The Fifth Element, the very thought of living in a single room is uncomfortable. For many singles, childless couples and young people coming out of college (where they’ve lived in a dorm room for awhile), living small in the midst of the city doesn’t sound so bad.

Think about it. If you work 8-10 hours a day (sometimes more), what do you really need from ‘home’ apart from some privacy, a kitchenette to store and prep the few meals that aren’t eaten out, a suitable bathroom, a TV chair, a place to do any take-home work they’ve got, and a comfy bed to sleep in?

There is a notorious lack of affordable housing in urban, downtown areas all over the country, and despite the recent economic collapse, the costs aren’t going down. The Japanese have long been pioneers in living in small spaces, but how many Westerners would be happy in 250 square feet or less? New York designer/architect Alexander Gendell, whose company Foliture specializes in fold-away furniture for tight spaces (think Murphy Bed), told CSM…

Low quality of life does not have to go hand in hand with limited living space, he says. He points to Tokyo, where the Japanese have figured out how to make every inch of living space count, he says. “It’s entirely possible to live well in 200 square feet of living space,” he says, as long as every function has been well thought out.

“We are certainly not the first ones to deal with this issue,” Mr. Gendell says with a laugh. “We are blessed in this country with more living space,” he says, but many other nations have proved that it is entirely possible to live in a more concentrated living environment – one that would be better for the planet.

Chicago has built thousands of downtown dorm units in high-density buildings in recent decades, for the income-challenged and homeless population. As housing prices in cities begin to rise again, these small units will become increasingly popular. Moreover, I’d be willing to suggest that as “living small” becomes a somewhat normal thing in cities, the suburban and rural movement toward tiny houses will also benefit. Even stay-at-home homesteaders tend to spend more time outside than in as we work toward our idyllic self-sufficient dreams, many of us are nearing retirement age and the children are on their own. The whole “Tread Lightly On The Earth” philosophy has merits that perhaps in coming years our city cousins can learn to appreciate as much as we do. They’ll need outdoor activities to occupy their time too, so perhaps we can expect a boom in rooftop community gardens as this micro-housing trend takes off.

City homesteading can be ‘a thing’ too!

Senate Passes Outrageous New Farm Bill

New_Farm_BillYep. As of this writing, February 4, 2014, the U.S. Senate has passed a new Farm Bill that has gone way out of its way to exclude any real farmers as well as more than two million people who rely on food stamps to eat, and channels all the supposedly ‘saved’ money back to Big Agribiz as crop insurance rather than crop subsidies. As you can see clearly on the chart over there on the left, no money is actually “saved.” All these new non-subsidy subsidies and millions of hungrier Americans will cost us all 58% MORE over the next 10 years.

The cuts to SNAP benefits (food stamps) in the bill are $8.7 billion over ten years (about 1% of the entire program). It also repeals $4.5 billion in annual direct cash payments based on acreage – planted or not – and put that money into subsidized crop insurance that benefits the big players. The Environmental Working Group estimates that just 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 per year in subsidies for the insurance (some over a million dollars), while 80% of the rest of the nation’s farmers will receive a mere $5,000.

Another program that will suffer under this new bill is Price Loss Coverage, where farmers are guaranteed a baseline price for 14 crops if the prices dip below a certain level when it comes time to sell. The raises the floor price, guaranteeing that the bigger players will receive more no matter how much of a glut there may be in the market. Another part of the bill will cover ‘shallow’ losses not covered under crop insurance deductibles, thereby ensuring full coverage for any crop losses suffered.

Moving away from direct payments and toward indirect insurance subsidies is an example of what author Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state.” So many federal social programs lurk underneath the surface that the public cannot get a good handle on who benefits from government largesse. “Appearing to emanate from the private [insurance] sector, such policies obscure the role of government and exaggerage that of the market,” Mettler says. And the vast majority of these programs benefit the wealthy, refuting the conceit that the rich boldly succeed without a government safety net protecting them

The bill is also cleverly crafted to ‘lock-in’ an overall rise in commodity prices that will be paid for by the taxpayers on April 15th and at the grocery checkout line. The disconnected political class probably thinks they’ve brilliantly crafted yet another shift of costs onto the middle and working classes in this country, while at the same time reducing government aid to the working poor, disabled, retired, and very poor so that they can pay more for food too. Just never forget, There Is No Inflation (our government tells us regularly). And since they refuse to count the costs of food, clothing, shelter or transportation, it works out great on their balance sheets.

But not to worry, some say, because all those “food insecure” children who can’t get enough to eat at home get all those free lunches at school, right? And sometimes breakfast, though many state legislatures are trying to impose severe budgetary limitations on that sort of thing as well. And then there’s the kids of working people who don’t qualify for free school meals, but who have trouble paying for them anyway. Why, just last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40 students at Uintah Elementary School had their lunches taken away from them after they’d sat down to eat, and promptly thrown in the trash. That’ll teach ‘em!

Honestly, it looks like the more the ‘haves’ in this country have, the less they want the ‘have nots’ to have. It’s a mean, mean climate out there, about which most of us can only shake our heads in despair. Still, things like this just make it more imperative that we homesteaders and small farmers and other independence-oriented folks make efforts to reach out to each other and our broader communities, work together to ensure the well-being of all even in our limited environs. Please check out some of the posts linked below about the political maneuvering, and about ways to help deal with hunger in your community…

Informative Links:

“Peak Food”?
Politicians Harming Americans. Again.
Hunger in the Heartland
Feeding The Hungry [3-parts, linked]

Some Good News Projects

Tiny Houses for the Homeless

nbc15 WMTV MadisonVolunteers graduated into social/political activism via Occupy Madison [Wisconsin] have been working to deal with homelessness in their community. What they’ve come up with are tiny houses of 98 square feet. The Madison Common Council – city council – voted to amend the zoning code to allow the tiny houses, so long as they have wheels and towbar, to be set up on private property, or to be parked on the street so long as they are moved every 48 hours to a new location. Though the non-profit is seeking permission from area churches to allow longer term parking in their lots for up to three of the tiny houses at a time.

The tiny houses have a bed, kitchenette, bathroom and storage, and the group is hoping to complete ten of them before the end of 2014. At some point they’d like to purchase land on which they can create a 30-unit ‘village’ of tiny houses for the homeless. Community donations are covering the ~$3000 cost in materials, the construction is all-volunteer. One of the first recipients has spent countless hours helping to build his own soon-to-be residence.

“There’s no comparison between having a place to go at night, and close the door, and sleep comfortably, and not freeze to death or have your possessions stolen. There’s no substitute for that” says Luca Clemente, one of the project organizers.

No word on whether the units come with ‘hookup’ ability for a water supply and electricity, or if they’re using waterless composting toilets (these are surprisingly nice) and perhaps a rechargeable battery for lights.

Tiny homes a little larger (and not on wheels) are occupying a tiny housing development called “Quixote Village” in Olympia, Washington, on a 2.17 acre lot leased from Thurston County for $1 a year. Residents will pay 1/3 of their income toward rent to the non-profit Panza, which grew out of the faith community that has been supporting Olympia’s homeless encampments through the years. After having spent a couple of years or more in roving tent camps allowed temporarily by area churches on their lots, for many these tiny homes represent a stability they’ve not enjoyed for a long time.

There are 30 150 square foot “cottages” on the lot, all with heat, plumbing and electricity, and each one comes with a front porch with tiny garden space. Two of the units are handicap accessible. They boast a bed, a desk, half-bath and closet. There is a common clubhouse with stocked kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, mailboxes and a large common room with television and fireplace. The bus stop is nearby, and an 8-passenger van was donated to the village.

In Olympia the village is zoned as permanent supportive housing, and meet the city’s building codes.

Even better, the idea of tiny houses for the homeless is apparently one whose time has come. Austin, Texas has launched a project called Community First! Village that will house up to 200 chronically homeless citizens on 27 acres sprinkled with a mix of tiny houses, teepees, refurbished RVs and mobile homes, launched on crowdsourced funding and volunteers.

There will be a 3-acre community garden, a chapel, a medical facility, a workshop, a bead and breakfast, and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater. Could it be that after so many decades of endemic homelessness in America due to the ever-widening ‘income gap’ and imposed austerity policies that cut off unemployment benefits, food stamps, disability and fixed pension benefits, etc., is there finally to be locally-inspired kindness shown to the (politically determined and enforced) chronically poor? Sure would be nice to think so.

And as such community projects are built and occupied, it’s an excellent seeding ground for urban homesteading on a cooperative scale. That’s a good thing for everyone.

Politicians Harming Americans. Again.

Major Issues in Farm Bill Negotiations

AmericansAfter costing the nation plenty to pointlessly shut the U.S. government down for two weeks beginning October 1st, the Republicans in the House and Senate are now back at their job of desperately seeking ways to hurt as many Americans as possible.

Seems nobody was impressed by the shutdown grandstanding, which cost my region of Western North Carolina a million dollars a day to our biggest industry – tourism – at the very height of Leaf-Looker season. The Blue Ridge Parkway was open for driving, but all amenities were shut down. Smoky Mountains National Park was closed down entirely. All so the Tea Party wing of the Republican bloc could throw their little temper tantrum over the idea that Americans might be able to obtain affordable medical care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010. So now that they’ve cried uncle on that, they’re going after SNAP [“Food Stamps”] big time as the Congress tries to clear its slate for the year for the session before the members go home for the holidays.

SNAP benefits are already being cut on November 1st as the 2009 stimulus bill, enacted in response to the Great Recession of 2008 when a consortium of the world’s biggest banks and insurance companies crashed the economy and threw tens of millions of Americans out of work, expires. The Senate version of the Farm Bill cuts $400 million from the SNAP program, while the House version seeks $4 billion in cuts. The two versions will have to be reconciled in order to bring about a bill the President can sign into law, so hold on to your napkins!

SNAP has been part of farm legislation for many years, as it is tied in with certain farm subsidies. Now, few of us small-time producers would be very upset if ADM or other huge Agribiz outfits lost their lion’s share of subsidies, but a growing number of us understand only too well how much of a good economic stimulus the program really is as our outlets have been authorized to accept SNAP benefits for produce and value-added food products we work so hard to offer our neighbors and larger communities. Worse, some of us are only too aware of how much this is going to hurt our normal customer base as children and families are forced to do without something so vitally important as food. In America! What is wrong with these politicians?!?

There are a number of petitions circulating to denounce these cuts, and I also urge my fellow homesteaders to get in touch personally with phone calls and letters to representatives and senators in D.C. Let them know that making hungry people do without food is NOT an acceptable fall-back position after your attempt to make sick people do without health care fails. There are mid-term elections next November. Make sure all eligible voters in your household are duly registered and can jump over the voter suppression hoops Republicans in several states (including mine) have erected, then vote for some real honest-to-goodness humans who don’t see their task in life as making sick people do without medical care, and hungry children do without food.

How ‘Food Security’ Killed the Farm Bill

The grand rivalry of political philosophies and established systems of government known as the good ol’ Cold War offered for many years the stark differences between Communist-style 5-year plans for food production, and Capitalist-style Big Agribiz dominated mega-farming. Sure, Big Agribiz has long been subsidized directly by public money (taxes paid by average citizens) just as in the old Soviet bloc, but the high profits accruing to those who control production and trade in food commodities goes to the corporation (which pays little to no taxes) and/or its shareholders through Wall Street and the commodity exchanges.

Food_Security

The United States won the good old Cold War some time ago, with most historians placing the actual surrender in 1991. I mention this because farm policy in the United States began including in the 1930s a government program designed to distribute the vast excess production of already-subsidized foodstuffs to the many in this country who were going hungry – thus belying (for practical propaganda purposes of our ‘enemies’ in the Green Revolution… er, War) our wondrous ability to produce far, far more food than Americans alone could ever consume. Not even expanding export markets managed to dent the surplus significantly, so the government again stepped in as final purchaser – at discount price – for bulk commodities like excess grain, milk, cheese and such. Which became the original generics with those plain black and white labels stamped with USDA generic descriptions and portioned out at the county extension level to community members who wanted or needed it.

That program morphed during the Cold War 1970s into the subsidy being switched from the farmers to the people, who were issued a sort of play money called “Food Stamps” [SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], which could only be redeemed for food. Now there’s debit cards, same restrictions. So that the poor, the working poor, people in temporary straits, etc. could at least eat and feed their children. Republicans of course don’t like the program, any more than they liked anything that became policy known as the “New Deal” back during the last Great Depression, or any later extensions of the “Great Society” that came later in Lyndon Johnson’s time. So the allotment in food stamps has been going down steadily in purchasing power as well as necessary funding over the past 15 years or so. Still, it’s something. With nearly half the population unemployed or underemployed, losing their homes and life’s savings, going hungry has become endemic even as the funding for the program has gone nowhere but down.

Thus has the issue of SNAP become a major stumbling block to Congressional passage of a workable Omnibus Agricultural Bill, in a Congress fatally crippled by partisan bickering to the point that its general approval rating is somewhere south of 20%. Every time a Congressional session fails to pass a new Ag bill, that entire section of our economy must remain funded at the last Ag bill’s level. Minus the cuts to SNAP they’ve included as riders on unrelated legislation in the last 4+ years, and the portion of USDA/FDA budget cut by the current Republican-caused “Sequester.”

People are going hungry in this nation. While that has always been true, the situation since the economic collapse in 2008 has grown much worse. Thirty Million More are now in the SNAP program than were there just ten years ago. 30 million MORE. Conservatives don’t like it one bit. The House of Representatives passed a farm bill earlier this month that removed the SNAP program entirely.

The Senate is entirely unlikely to approve the House’s bill. Its own version passed earlier contains $4 billion in cuts to the program, but doesn’t remove it from the agricultural end of things entirely. So for another year at least SNAP will be funded at current levels.

Time Magazine published an excellent in-depth blow-by-blow article on the situation, entitled How Food Stamps Killed the Farm Bill that is well worth a read if you are keeping track of things affecting the agricultural portion of our individual homesteading experiences.

It seems to me that our government can always find money to finance endless (and sometimes illegal) wars, to bail out the wealthiest segment of society and their business concerns (banks, Wall Street, insurers), and Big Brother spying operations hoovering up every bit and byte of our digital and telephonic lives. If they’re really so worried about the debt, there are a good many extremely expensive budget items that could be slashed in half or more without materially affecting the average American’s lifestyle and/or relative ‘security’. Taking food out of the mouths of hungry children and adults who would love to have a good job if there were any is mean-spirited enough to cause serious consternation. Shame, shame, shame.

It almost seems like since we don’t have the old Soviet Union to kick around anymore, all public-spirited programs designed to make life in the US of A look preferable are on the chopping block so that War, Inc. can maintain its global hegemony.

We who have chosen to live on this beautiful land, we who maintain and caretake it and those of us who try to make their living by living this way, have a stake in the ideals that made this country great and allows us to live where we live and do what we do. Everything this nation wanted so badly to be, and tried so hard to accomplish back in the days where getting rich involved imagination, skill and industry instead of just money-changing and unbridled greed.

Homesteaders are among the few in this modern world who still value the land and water, who caretake the wider nation and its beautiful places, who conserve and often practice skills and industry drawn from imagining that it can be done. And doing it. This country needs us, it needs us to care. And to sound alarms when alarms are necessary. Ex-President Jimmy Carter told Germany’s Der Speigel this week in an interview that asked his opinion of the NSA spying scandal, that “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” He’s right.

We homesteaders are rural dwellers by choice, members of extended rural communities of like-minded people as well as the local old-timers who have always lived on and worked the land. Our thoughts and contributions are important in those communities, even if we’re ‘just’ artists. There’s a mid-term election coming up that is more than just your local Sheriff and Registrar of Deeds. There’s also a congresscritter who represents you in D.C. on the ballot, and maybe a Senator as well. And he/she/it only draws the loyalty of about half the voting population. Some concerted on-the-ground effort on our parts locally could help a lot to change the current gridlock situation in Washington. We must get rid of the stonewallers, get some representatives who will actually represent us.

At any rate, that’s my political rant for the quarter, and a heads-up about the political maneuvering in the nation’s capital that will end up directly affecting rural dwellers to a significant degree. There will have to be workable farm legislation soon. It’s going to have an impact on our lives, our environment and our plans for the future, one way or another. So please, my homesteading friends, don’t forget to vote – every chance you get!

Resources:

How Food Stamps Killed the Farm Bill
GOP Fumbles Farm Bill
Holy cow! A farm bill about farming

The Mountains Cry: A Vibrant Voice Passes On

Mountains_CryThis blog has covered many environmental issues, perhaps the one dearest to the heart has been the astounding destruction wrought by King Coal on the beautiful, peaceful, ancient mountains of southern Appalachia in the name of profit: Mountaintop Removal. The [West Virginia] State Journal reports that long-time environmental activist and tireless mountainkeeper Larry Gibson died September 9th at the age of 66 while working at Kayford Mountain, his family home in Raleigh County. Larry was born at Kayford Mountain, and spent the last decades working to protect Kayford and all of these majestic mountains from King Coal and the rampant destruction of mountaintop removal.

Larry Gibson traveled across the country to speak at schools, churches and other public gatherings to spread his simple gospel about these mountains: “Love ‘em or leave ‘em – just don’t destroy them.” Gibson established the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation in 2004 to support mountain communities threatened by King Coal and its mountain-shearing machinery, and the family requests donations to the Foundation in lieu of other expressed condolences. A private funeral is planned, with a public memorial service to be announced later.

One of the most heartfelt remembrances is from Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign, entitled The Mountains Weep for Larry Gibson. Rest in peace, friend.

Please see the post The Last Mountain: A Call to Action for many more links to coverage of Mountaintop Removal Mining in this and other blogs, educational resources and activist groups.