WPSU

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We Ain't No Farmers

We’ve said this is a “voyage of sustainability,” and one thing we want to seek out as we travel is examples of sustainable agriculture.

Meanwhile, back on the boat, we are embracing a longstandingtradition of British Canal boaters: we have a big pot full of flowers and a couple windowboxes where we are growing herbs.




It’s not exactly local farming, but it’s quite a treat to cook a spaghetti dinner and liven things up with a little fresh basil and oregano. We even grew one salad’s worth of lettuce.

As for finding local farmers, we don’t always arrive in a town when the farmer’s market is open. But back Phoenix, (on the Oswego Canal), I did score.

I was taking a walk in town before dinner when I saw ahand-painted sign advertising “locally grown strawberries.” It led me to a farm stand right next to the main bridge in the center of town. Outside a little tent were rows of annual flowers in six-packs, plus shrubs and perennials. Inside were a few kinds of vegetables and exactly one box of strawberries.

I bought them, along with a jar of honey from a local farm, plus an oregano plant for our herb boxes.

I asked the guy about his farm. “Oh, I used to farm, but I don’t anymore,” he said. Apparently he lost his shirt trying to grow artichokes. They were absolutely beautiful, he said, but the price couldn’t compete with tired ‘chokes trucked 3000 miles on a tractor- trailer from CA.

So now he’s an aggregator. What a modern concept. Just like a website aggregates news content, he goes around to little farms in the area and picks up stuff to sell at his stand, which unlike a farmer’s market is open every day.

Is this a viable model? Does everyone make enough money to make it worthwhile? I don’t have enough data to say, but the stand owner seemed upbeat about his choice. It was the end of the day, the strawberries wouldn’t keep till tomorrow, he didn’t have change . . . he gave me a price break on everything

The berries were delicious on granola the next morning. When we run out of store granola I plan to make more, using the honey.

Funny coincidence: The next day, I took our clothes to the laundromat, a few steps from the dock. Through an overhead speaker, a country music station was playing standards.

Then there was a break for programming: an audio essay froma guy named Earl Pitts. Ol’ Earl wanted to rant, and the subject of his ire was something he’d read in the paper, about how people with gardens are now calling themselves “Backyard Farmers.”

Earl said, “I’ve SEEN farms, I’ve owned farms, I’ve worked on farms . . . and mister, you ain’t no farmer.

Sez Earl, “Boy, if your biggest piece of farm equipment is a roto-tiller, you ain’t no farmer!

“If your “irrigation system” is a garden hose, you ain’t no farmer

“If you bought your ‘barn’ at Wal-Mart, hey, that ain’t no barn! it’s a SHED . . . and you ain’t no farmer.

And if yer tomatoes are growing upside down, you DEFINITELY ain’t no farmer.

Earl sez, he’s been out in real farm fields, and tomatoes? They grow UP!

I had to admit Earl had a point. How many of us start out in the spring with packets and packets of seeds, and good intentions, and come fall, our total crop is enough tomatos for three salads, at a cost of roughly $21.50 per pound?

Of course there ARE people who get great yields from gardens. It’s what the Victory Garden movement was all about, during WWII. And Victory Gardens  got a revival in the recent economic downturn. A third of an acre—the average backyard—really is big enough to grow a significant amount of food for the average family, assuming you have sun in your yard and a reasonable knowledge of gardening.

I suppose if our boat roof weren't covered with solar panels, we could grow a nice little crop up there. Plants would get full sun, watering our crop would be easy,and the benefits are manifest. We once heard of a guy on Big Moose Lake, in the Adirondacks, who bought an old boat and anchored it off his dock to grow tomatos. It was the only garden in town completely safe from deer and woodchucks.

So I feel a tad sheepish about our rooftop herb boxes,which we are giving a ridiculous amount of tender, loving care. The time we spend watering and weeding and pinching and transplanting and shielding from wind is truly disproportionate to our yield. But Earl, let the record show: We never claimed we are famers!

3 comments:

  1. If I don't say it, Scott B will - "And that's how Canada became Communist."

    Tell Old Earl you're a "Boat Farmer". That should do.

    I would never call myself a backyard farmer. I a supplier of supplementary nutrition to chipmunks, squirrels and assorted birds.

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  2. It's all about the journey you take and not the title of the journey...
    As long as you are satisfied with your endeavor, and you aren't hurting anyone or anything - who should care?

    Planting and nurturing your food/resources gives one an appreciation of how uncertain the farmers' livelihood.

    Gee, I hope you don't run into a hale storm or locust!

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  3. Awesome boat! But I also like the house I am staying in - Cathi Alloway

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