Monthly Archives: May 2021
Our Friends in the Soil Deserve Life
The West Fork of the Cedar River winds through our farm. It is filled with silt from the tilled fields around us. That’s too bad. But the saddest part is the wasted time and God’s creatures who were put here to make our lives better. The unappreciation of a generation for soil that is now only considered a medium to support plants while imported ingredients feed them as if in hydroponics, instead of a complete system of life. Then there’s our new neighbor, who tore up 50 acres of grass to plant organic soybeans as if organic were a more ecological alternative to no till with some chemicals or hay. Oh well.
I hope some of you will respond with questions and especially arguments if you think I need some education on this. I’ve changed my mind before and am always ready for new ideas. Thanks for reading and sharing with others if you will.
Our Friends in the Soil Deserve Life
Mostly what I did in school was look out the window and wait for the bell. I still do a little celebration if I notice the time is 3:15. I was in huge California schools and that probably contributed to the feeling that I was merely moving down an assembly line.
But then I had Mr. Hurst for Biology. Biology was great. It had the universality of math with the excitement of life. We did collections of plants, insects, and sea life. Mr. Hurst, also the football coach, seemed to like academics and coached to subsidize that instead of the other way around. He stayed after class to have little debates with me.
It was kinda weird for a high school kid in Newport Beach to grow spinach but my mom made salad out of it, with bacon. Now I’ve had that habit for 50 years.
I never dreamt back then I would grow things for a living. But here we are, retired from 40 years of row crops, yet unable to tear ourselves away from the cattle. Life is precious. In Iowa, soil is precious. Thinking back to that sand in Newport and in visiting with people from distant places who visit our farm, I could never express enough the appreciation I have for Iowa soil.
We hear more about the soil these days. I listen to Hort Day on public radio and also read articles about “regenerative agriculture.” I see “organic” sections in the stores.
The organic fad has been a boon to my organic farmer friends although the difficulty of the management must deliver rich rewards. It is rather silly to claim this or that result from chemicals that may have effects on distantly far off generations. But as is happening in South Dakota, erosion is visible today. I’ve actually seen photos of road ditches filled with wind-blown soil. Our drainage ditch was just dredged of our neighbor’s soil for the third time since we moved here.
Gunsmoke Farms is General Mills’ 53 square miles of South Dakota farmland being converted to organic production. They plan to use all that land to teach other farmers “how to implement organic and regenerative agricultural practices.”
I do mean to rain on their parade. Organic and regenerative could only mean first you destroy the soil structure and life in the soil, then you put it back. It sounds like the traditional joke about workers digging a hole only to put the dirt back in.
The people I hear on Friday’s Hort Day on IPR are in a tight spot. Since they favor organic production, the more scientific aspect of soil makes for a major contradiction. To get a crop, competition must be limited. Limiting that competition from weeds requires tillage if it’s done on a scale to provide food for the masses. A day’s work can undo much of 450 million years’ worth of building the soil.
My friend Leonard from out West introduced me to mycorrhizal fungi. He developed its use in land restoration projects. Like in a lot of things the unseen is often more important than the seen. A large part of the soil is made of phosphorus. That phosphorus in unavailable to the plants unless converted to a usable form. The mycelium of that fungi grow through the soil and even up into plant roots delivering otherwise unavailable phosphorus.
A 6.9 million pound dragline digs the material in Florida. It is made into a slurry, filtered, scrubbed, washed, dried, shipped, and spread. All this energy is spent so farmers can spend time and energy killing the life that will deliver phosphorus for free.
Mycorrhizal fungi is only one of thousands of living things that work for farmers if left alone. Like in many facets of our world, if left alone it will keep giving. It is a noble goal to eliminate the unknowns of chemical farming, but eliminating the known hazards should come first, especially when it reduces costs as well.
A group of frontiersmen with an advertisement. United States, Montana, 1901.
I just read an obituary for Eula Hall. She quit school after the eighth grade to work as a domestic housekeeper. She married an abusive husband and helped him make moonshine in Eastern Kentucky. She said it was “good, clean and safe.”
She saw a need for better medical care in her Appalachian Mountain community and lobbied tirelessly for it. She got her wish but the service the feds put up was “mostly just a glorified taxi service,” shuttling patients out of the area and bypassing local care and the local economy. Then in 1973, fed up with the failures of federal programs, she founded Mud Creek Clinic, an old trailer on cinder blocks in Grethel, Kentucky.
The clinic, staffed by idealistic young doctors and nurses, became a model for community health centers serving low-income areas. Mrs. Hall drove through the hollers and valleys to pick up people who had no transportation. Many of them had never seen a doctor before.
She told the son of one of those doctors (who wrote her biography), “I’m just too damn stubborn to sit by and let the world be cruel to my family and friends.”
Her clinic burned in 1982. She set up a picnic table and served patients next to the ruins. Hall began raising money for a new clinic by holding potlucks and yard sales. Sympathetic police officers looked the other way when she set up a roadblock to collect donations from passing drivers. A story on national television brought donations from far-off places which helped enable the construction of what is now called the Eula Hall Health Center.
The most interesting thing I found in researching this story was the number of times she was portrayed as advocating for government healthcare when her life epitomized the opposite, and proved it.
I have a young friend, self-employed. The other day he said, “I’m for universal healthcare.” Almost anyone who doesn’t have health insurance in a group plan is looking for a job that provides it. Costs are out of control. So naturally we want to control them.
The first step in trying to solve a problem is to look at the cause. Back in 1964 Medicare became law. Like the murder of Kitty Genovese, that same year, people stood by and let it happen. Medical costs have skyrocketed ever since because costs are best controlled by competition. I still hear people say the government should crack down and limit prices, completely ignoring the idea of individuals saying “no” themselves.
A 2013 study by Imperial College found that death rates in hospitals controlled by the National Health Service (universal healthcare) in the U.K. were 45% higher than in U.S. hospitals. Another study found that many of those deaths were from neglect and mistakes.
Are these really the kinds of things we are willing to accept because we actually believe medical care is free and all the research and work will be done by people like Eula Hall while we sit around and trust “universal healthcare?”
We’ve lost a few good people lately. We should honor their memory by taking over where they left off. Mrs. Hall wasn’t just a piece of the white 93-year old demographic. She was like each of us who sees something needs to be done and does it. Only individuals actually do something. She was one to emulate.
Here’s Rosanne Cash. Dawn recorded Tennessee Flat Top Box while accompanied by Hans Hogedal, her Swedish brother on guitar all the way from Sweden to put on her Face Book page. Better than nothing since the secession of social interaction. This one out of 300 something worked especially well. Photo taken a year before Dawn was born. Glad that happened!
Notes On the News
After being under the Saudi thumb for decades, American entrepreneurs discovered that oil could be extracted from a broad area while disturbing a place the size of a Walmart parking lot. After thousands of “heroes’” lives were lost, gas was cheap enough that we could drive down the street for a pack of cigarettes. We were finally free.
Yesterday Biden’s energy secretary, Jenifer Granholm, said fuel is best moved through pipe in answer to a reporter’s question about the “hacked” Colonial Pipeline and a rail alternative. This, less than a year after her boss shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline. This, while East Coast gas stations are running out of gas due to a computer hack. Thank goodness we have plenty of $80 million F-35 fighter/bombers to protect our country (which costs $36,000 per hour to fly, by the way). Is there a priority problem, or a cronyism problem?
Lumber prices are up 250%. Republicans blame Biden because a more complex answer would cause people to throw up their hands. Yuck! When thousands of only remotely susceptible people were sitting at home and the mills sat empty, real people outside the lockdown mandates continued on with their lives, building decks and gazebos. This was happening when Trump was the main hate object occupying the minds of the blame seekers. Tree farms in the South can’t give their logs away because the mills can’t keep up while lumber is priced out of reach for you and me.
I’m hearing this thing like the wind. It’s constant, “ I prefer to listen to experts!” What it actually means is, you are a fool and I refuse to discuss it because I read government press releases and think they were written by journalists. What if all the experts are not heard? Michael Yeadon was a vice president for Pfizer in charge of research for 16 years. He questions the effectiveness of lockdowns and masks. He questions safety of gene-altering therapy marketed as vaccines, especially when we are told to wear masks after the so-called vaccination. How dare he? I paid attention in biology class. He has a point.
An inquiry is desperately needed, I hear, into the deadly insurrection. A report like the 9/11 Commission Report would be nice. This would be great, except it would simply be another waste of time because, like the 9/11 Commission Report, any information that rocks the boat will be redacted. Remember the 28 pages? That’s the part where national security would be compromised. Make that government or elite security. No critical thinker actually believes those 28 pages would threaten the lives of U.S. citizens without a title.
The spring break crowd in Florida this year made those Trump goofs look like choirboys. Where was the fire? Where were the weapons? The only person killed by violence was an unarmed woman shot at point blank range by an unidentified cop. Attacks on churches are generally frowned upon. Unruly tourists at the Capitol were heretics to the cathedral of the government religion.
On the job front we have businesses who can’t find workers and workers collecting unemployment. One little ray of hope… our governor is rejecting federal unemployment supplements that price workers out of the market. I hope this nullification will be expanded to all forms of federal interference.