Category Archives: Farming

Farm Notes: Early July

It is about 8 a.m. on July 2 and I am wearing a long underwear shirt and winter slippers as I sit here. I’ll go out for my walk in awhile and will pick up my pace through the shade to get out of the chill and the consistent swarm of gnats that seem to congregate there. After that I’ll wander out to the vegetable garden and start weeding. If you wonder what I’m up to this summer, just think weeding.

When I got back from Abbey Country mid May, I could see instantly the price I paid to see my mother and all my friends down there (most specifically The Huachucas–very close friends of mine.) It had been unusually warm here on the Sierra’s West Slope, and instead of the closed, grey winter garden patch I left, I found the half acre swathed in viney weeds and dandelion. “One year’s seed, ten years weeds” the saying goes, and I immediately realized my mistake in prematurely abandoning my garden last fall to turn my attention to work and school and motherhood. Now I have a ten year sentence, and I’m beginning to serve it. At least the conditions are nice. The amaranth has joined the weedy vine now, and the word I am officially farming this summer is pernicious. It keeps bubbling up through my consciousness and coming out my throat like a mantra when I weed: pernicious! pernicious! pernicious! But I am slowly winning. Four five gallon buckets of weeds, twice a day. That’s all my garden asks.

For the entire month of June, I don’t believe it broke 80 degrees here. It is still not warm enough at night for me to germinate basil without heating the trays. The peppers and tomatoes are politely absorbing nutrients and water, but they need the heat’s enthusiasm to kick into gear. The strawberries finally became mystified and began putting out shooters anyway. A Western tanager daddy has been sneaking into one patch, disappearing, and coming out a moment later with a whole strawberry in his mouth, bound for the nest. We made a mental note to always leave some strawberries unnetted. We really like Western tanagers.

Of course this reveals that we are not farmers by nature. Not by a long shot. We are adventurers, travelers, whimsical folks that are still surprised, when we look in the mirror, that we aren’t twenty three or so. It was the nature of the world–not our nature –that drove us into the land rather than over it. Disciples of Edward Abbey, we can only imagine his disdain at our decision. But then again, alcohol not vegetables, made up his favorite food group.

The cooler weather, while retarding our garden, has given us a window to do heavy work. This property has been gradually reclaimed by several owners, and is now, for the first time in about a hundred years, officially clean. A couple years ago I was talking to a farmer friend of mine, and she said that some years the garden is not her focus, but the land is. Her words puzzled me at the time, but now I understand. A family farm is a complete, breathing being, and every inch of it must be evaluated, nourished, optimally preserved. This season, so far, has allowed me time to reflect on that, and the land shows it.

We only have a tiny cabin here, so in the good weather we set up palapas and other seasonal structures, and practically live outside–our tiny space becoming palatial for a few months. Now we are out in the evening in layers of clothing we usually wear in April or November. While the rest of the country is sweltering, we are birdwatching from the palapa in polar fleece vests, staring at the brave melons and beans and cucumbers as they wait patiently for heat, listening to the chamber concert of bird calls from the ring of trees surrounding the garden and the hum of bees, like a baseline, resonating from the forage near the warm dirt.

The bees have returned, undaunted. They’ve made good work of the chives and are now absorbed in the even purpler blossoms of the cooking sage. The butterflies engage in high drama over the Sweet William flowers, and the Anna’s and Calliopes flutter around them and drink from the small circle of water from the sprinklers. The morning glories, like the beans, have yet to put out shooters and reach for the fence. Once they blossom the hummers will have more secure forage.

I experimented more with direct seeding this year, mostly due to my limitations keeping seed trays warm. I’m planting tiny plots and experimenting with crop rotation on a micro-scale. I’m having some luck with cabbage, brussel sprouts, greens, squash of course. My celery and dill remain dormant. The black-eyed Susans, daisies, and cosmos are trying to bloom. The coreopsis and echinacea have, thank goodness, and the bees and butterflies are grateful.

Last year my garden happened at the last second, really (See My Ad Hoc Garden). This year I had more time to plan and, as it turns out, much more time to plant, yet at the moment less to show for it. I am confident it will get hot, probably with a vengeance. My polar fleece vest will find its way to my bottom drawer, and I will finally kick the two wool blankets off my bed. My garden will explode in growth and catch up with my expectations. I will have to get up early to work in the garden while it’s cool, instead of waiting for it to warm up.

I grew up not more than an hour from here, and have lived near here most of my life. Summers weren’t like this in the late 20th century. The Wilderness Wino thinks this patch of earth we occupy is becoming a temperate rain forest. This summer, it sure seems like he’s right. Whatever is happening, it’s clear we need to accept it, adapt to it, and learn as with all things to be flexible and patient. Often I wonder why we decided to engage in exhausting activity outside our comfort zone–especially as we fully embrace middle age. The answer might be, in part, that I wanted to work in an environment where things didn’t happen so fast, where I could watch the cucumber start push its way to the sun in a lazy day’s span. Where, unlike radio, six minutes wasn’t a long period of time, and where relative silence can blanket the landscape for a stretch of hours. I’m so far not a big fan of the 21st century, and this quiet, cool patch of land is my oasis. I’ll take what comes, and I’ll work with it.



Filed under Essays, Farming

The Honeybee: Oversimplification and Unnecessary Drama

Nevada City, California

This piece wraps up my coverage of the 2012 Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

Last weekend at Wild and Scenic, a drama named BEE made its world premiere. (I don’t know why the filmmakers capitalized the title as if it were an acronym–it does not appear to be.) The film festival does not display “documentary” in its moniker, and I applaud the choice to explore different genres of film that deal with environmental issues. The issues must be dealt with responsibly, though. Unfortunately, this is not the case with BEE.

Let’s look a moment at the four main characters in BEE. We have the reluctant, unfriendly daughter, an entomologist at UC Davis, who comes to help her angry father understand why his bees died. In order to get to the truth, she lies to the next door neighbor (while she secretly sleeps with his son, the sheriff). This next door neighbor has been lying and poisoning the dad’s bees. She heroically takes the shotgun away from her dad before he kills the neighbor. Then the father steals someone else’s bees since his died. The sheriff tells his lover that her chronic lying is a problem, but she is fatalistic about her habit. Now–there is nothing wrong with a dark drama; nothing wrong with a drama full of characters who lie, cheat, and attempt to maim and kill other creatures. But how, exactly, does a film with such protaganists inspire environmental activism? BEE left me wondering.

That is the least of the film’s three offenses however. More serious is the creative license it takes with cultural integrity. In the film, the Caucasian beekeeper (the dad) steals bees from a Russian family since his Mexican next door neighbor killed the American’s bees with pesticide. The younger protagonists–the sheriff and the entomologist–discuss how this is called “musical bees”. Stealing bees when yours die, she says, is a cultural norm. When asked about this during the Q and A, filmmaker Raphael Hitzke reported that such bee-stealing was practiced and accepted in Russia and Ukraine. (I was unable to substantiate this through my research.) Hitzke went on to say that he “thought it would be fun” to have an American steal bees from a Russian because of this. Fun, perhaps, and there is nothing wrong with fun. But erroneous threads such as these, even in fiction, manipulate and mislead the audience.

When writing fiction that stems from fact, the writer owes it to both subject and  readers to put material in its proper context, both culturally and factually. Let’s look at Toni Morrison, American author and Nobel prize winner, and her crafting of Beloved. Morrison spent years turning the real-life Margaret Garner into Sethe, the story’s heroine. She pulled her out of hard, documented facts, not out of thin air or whimsy. When asked why she made Beloved a work of fiction rather than simply documenting Margaret Garner’s life, Morrison said that she believed fiction was the more powerful genre for bringing home the atrocities of slavery to her readers. “Some things,” she says, “only artists can do. Only artists can do. And it’s our job.” It is our job–and when we have a political or environmental agenda around our story, it’s also our job to maintain the cultural and factual integrity of what we are writing about.

Still, there is an even larger problem with BEE, and that is its oversimplification of the mystery that is Colony Collapse Disorder. The film was selected to screen because of this focus,and yet it dangerously encourages the emotionally based misinformation that permeates the issue. In BEE, the entomologist tells the next door neighbor that all he has to do to avoid killing her dad’s bees is to spray pesticide at night. Imagine for a moment if the solution were that simple. As I outlined in a piece from last year’s festival (“Bee Summit: Experts Discuss the Honeybee’s Dilemma”), there are four complicated factors thought to be causing CCD. Only one of them relates directly to the spraying of pesticides, and the specific pesticide, rather than the time of day it is sprayed, is the relevant issue. Since the daughter in BEE is an expert, this oversimplicity is particularly seductive. Even though it is a work of fiction, the film’s viewers see the entomologist as an expert and take her theory to heart.

Recently an article in Grist (“Honeybee problem nearing a critical point”: claimed that there was new evidence linking the pesticide clothianidin to Colony Collapse disorder. This is old news (see “Bee Summit”) with a new twist. Clothianidin, part of a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, is not usually directly sprayed on plants but rather used to treat their seeds before planting. “Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD” the article states. I checked in with renowned bee scientist and local bee keeper Randy Oliver. “There is no such evidence!” He explains, “In fact, every scientific study that has looked into this has exonerated the neonics. Dr. Jim Frazier reported exactly that at the national conventions these past two weeks.” Rather than simplify the problem or demonizing agricultural practices, Oliver advocates a scientific approach to deciphering CCD. “The problem that occurs when environmentalists take extreme or unsupported positions is that it discounts their credibility to the regulators,” he says, “Better to stick to specific, documented issues.” Oliver continues to dialogue with Bayer and Monsanto about those issues, and he believes that beekeepers are making progress.

Such progress is hindered, though, when a film such as BEE dumbs down the concept of CCD to be a matter of spraying a pesticide (which pesticide?) at a certain time of day. Such oversimplifications, once a part of our belief systems, lead us to divisive conversations and polarized communities. Although any filmmaker has a right to make a film that does this, environmental film festivals have a responsibility to screen material that has accurate scientific information. People believe what they see, particularly at an environmental film festival where almost every single film is in documentary format. Films that further the festival’s mission should honor cultural and social integrity by portraying situations that inspire activism rather than cynicism, honesty rather than deceit, and critical thinking rather than reactionary response to random propaganda.

During the Q and A after the 20 minute film, an audience member asked Raphael Hitzke what he was going to direct next. A feature length thriller, he said, on the same subject. This idea is full of potential. Let’s hope Hitzke does his homework next time and portrays the subject accurately. Let’s hope also he gives us characters with integrity and intelligence. That would inspire activism, indeed.

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Filed under Farming, Polemics, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Festival A-Buzz with Success of “Quest”

Nevada City, California
photos courtesy of Whirled Beet Productions

The Quest for Local Honey (Part One) had its world premier yesterday at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. Wild and Scenic combs the globe for the best environmental films; it is rare when a film made in Nevada City shares the stage. Such was the case when Quest screened to a capacity house. Filmmakers Karin Meadows and Jen Rhi Winders were there to share their process of making their first film and forming Whirled Beet Productions.

The Quest for Local Honey is an ambitious film, both in its form and content. A creative mix of narration, animation, traditional documentary footage, and captions, Meadows and Winders take us on a whimsical journey toward their better understanding of how to procure and secure local honey. Unlike many environmental films, it avoids the pitfalls of over-simplicity and the kind of “we’re sunk” mentality that leaves audiences hanging their heads in defeat. Instead, Saturday’s capacity house remained on the edge of its seat laughing, nodding enthusiastically, and appreciating the people who work with the bees.

Founding Whirled Beet Productions and producing The Quest for Local Honey took Meadows and Winders over three years. The two produced fundraisers and educational workshops along the way. (One workshop is featured in my article “Bee Summit: Experts Discuss the Honeybee’s Dilemma”:

from left to right: Jen Rhi Winders, Randy Oliver, Karin's daughter, and Karin Meadows at Randy Oliver's place. Nevada County beekeeper Randy Oliver is an internationally known beekeeper and bee scientist, and a key interview in Quest.

A fundraising flyer from "Quest". Whirled Beet Productions began the project in 2009.



Although the film is locally produced with footage from Nevada County, Meadows and Winders weren’t content to leave the story in town. They traveled to Washington D.C. in the hopes of seeing the White House’s beekeeping operation. When they got the run around, they spent time with the beekeeper at the first president’s house, and were relieved to find that he didn’t have an in at the White House, either.

Bee paradise at Mount Vernon

Nevada County locals will appreciate the appearances of Paule Castro, who provides narration as a sort of psychedelic, bee-friendly Alistair Cooke. (Remember him, from Masterpiece Theatre?) Local bee heroes such as Janet Brisson and Helena McDaniel offer their expertise. Integral to the success of the film is the soundtrack of local composer and musician Jay Tausig. His original score, mixed with occasional music from local singers like Chris Crockett, creates a seamlessness and spaciousness for the visually busy–but delightfully uncluttered–cinematography.

The Quest for Local Honey will screen in its entirety on February 25 at the Magic Theatre in Nevada City. If you’ve traveled to Wild and Scenic from out of town, you might want to book a hotel room now. And make a note to keep track of Whirled Beet Productions. This is Meadows and Winders’ debut film; I can only imagine what they’ll do next.

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Filed under Farming, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Twenty-Seven Minutes of Inspiration: “The Kings of Flint”

In the 1970s, Flint, Michigan was the richest city per capita in the United States. Now, it is the poorest. The population has declined 40% while violent crime has increased inversely. Buildings are boarded up. People are in despair.

In the heyday of General Motors, one of the thousands of factory workers was Jacky King. Unhappy on the assembly line, Jacky and his wife Dora decided to open their own karate studio, King Karate, and to begin working with the youth in their community. They soon realized that if they wanted to teach self-defense, there was something even more important than karate: farming.

“I may never need to kick and punch somebody, but I’m always going to need to eat,” Dora says. The Kings founded the Youth Karate Club and Harvesting Earth Farm, and now mentor young people with the gardening, harvesting, and selling of fresh vegetables and fruit in Flint.

Before land can be farmed, it must be reclaimed, a process that–after up to forty years of dumping–may take years in itself. Having already reclaimed the land they own, the Kings now look for abandoned land to begin reclaiming and farming. In the half-deserted city of Flint, trashed houses and lots are easy to come by. “You going to tell me that I can’t have chickens, but I can have a drug house? A house of ill-repute? I’ll see you in court,” Jacky says. He predicts that Flint will be the #1 hub for urban farming within the next ten years.

The days of getting forty acres and a mule may be gone, Jacky says. He tells his students to “take four tenths of an acre–and a bike.”

Flint has long felt abandoned by the automobile industry, but lately Ford returned to deliver to Harvesting Earth Farm a check for $50,000. With that money the Kings will install geothermal power into the hoophouse, increasing their growing season by two months. The farm has also relied on support from the Ruth Mott Foundation. The Kings hope that by 2014 they won’t need to accept grant support. “You can make a living selling vegetables,” he says. “And it’s legal!”

“Poverty sucks the life out of people,” Dora King explains. “The sense of hope is the one inoculation we have against poverty.”

The Kings of Flint screens Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at Wild and Scenic in Nevada City, California.

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Filed under Community, Education, Farmers Markets, Farming, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival


Part of my coverage of the 10th annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival: January 13-15, 2012, in Nevada City, CA.


They were expecting to be doctors, accountants, lawyers, chemists, physicists, historians, anthropologists. Instead, the twenty some, twenty-something farmers featured in Grow! took to the land. The film tells their story.

Shot exclusively in Georgia, Grow! profiles a dozen organic farms and the farmers that own or manage them. Some farmers began as share-croppers, others teamed-up with family or friends who owned the land. The intergenerational relatiohship, though is a constant: the older generation has the land, the younger generation has the stamina to farm it.

Of particular note is the 1/2 acre urban farm in Atlanta: Oakleaf Mennonite Farm. Past John Wierwille explains that the land used to be lawn. He saw the irony and, with his parish, asked God to send him a farmer. Shortly after, Tim and Krista were on the scene, tilling up the grass and planting okra, carrots, onions, and  many other vegetables in its stead. Krista realizes that providing true food justice must go beyond the soup kitchen. “Our food issues are related to injustice,” she says, and for her, growing the food for the homeless and hungry is the best way to manufacture that justice.

Joe from Love is Love Farm in rural Georgia came to farming after years of traveling and experimenting with his career and self image. “Farming has given me the chance to be the anarchist I’ve always yearned to be and the capitalist I’ve always run away from,” he says. He appreciates that “knowledge doesn’t have to be an intellectual property right. We share–with everybody.”

The farmers keep afloat with a balance of CSA, farmer’s markets, and restaurant clients. The days are long, humid, and challenging. Elliot arrived at Hope Grows farm in Georgia to help manage and work the farm with his friend Arianne. The farm was in a state of disrepair when he arrived, and Arianne was overwhelmed. “We’re gonna make one thing work. Then we’ll make another thing work,” he spoke of their process, adding with a grin: “No health insurance, but lots of fun!” “Part of the Zen of farming is expanding your own patience and your own grace in response to adversity,” Arianne explains.

Grow! features stunning cinematography, some aerial, and explores, as the best farming films do, hundreds of shades of vibrant green. This Anthony-Masterson film weaves the stories of these dozen farms and their farmers together in a gorgeous, edible tapestry. Grow! screens Friday and Sunday at Wild and Scenic. The filmmakers will be on hand.

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Seeds and Sweets: Early Winter on the Farm


“I used to believe that life’s a road you’re travelling/A straightshot down until you reach the promised land./But now I see that life is a river ramblin./ Each day you wake and try to do the best you can.”  Jennifer Berezan

Early Winter is settling in at the farm. A year ago, our present life was little more than a series of imaginings. Although we did not meet our lofty expectations, we did accomplish what was most important: selective logging and improving our infrastructure, most notably increasing our fuel and water storage. This spring, we’ll begin a new battery of projects spawned by this winter’s pipe-dreams. Right now it is time to take a breath. Hopefully it will snow soon and the cover crop will be nestled under its white blanket, waiting to delight us late spring.

Here at the farm we are literally limping into winter.  Late last fall Mr. Lightcap had ankle surgery (and is recovering nicely), and my shoulders don’t seem happy with the new load they must carry–they keep baulking and going on strike. So, even though we are used to a quiet December, (see ‘Tis the Season:, these last few weeks have been especially still. Some days I look out over our three + acres and see all that I’ve left undone. At these moments, I feel like Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth–spoon in hand and facing the sand pile. As I struggle to remember our accomplishments–creating infrastructure off the grid is hard work–I also sift through my list of undone tasks, concentrating on which seem the most important. The December drought has been my friend in this, and despite the dry hurricane winds that whipped over the ridge top, there were still seeds to harvest.

Seed harvest: pole beans, Thai, Red Rubin, Genovese and Sweet Italian basils. echinacea and morning glory.

Many of the morning glory seeds had blown right out of their pods in the wind. I’m wondering where they will show up in the spring. I collected the grandmother seeds for these flowers from my friends in North Columbia; they have sentimental value.

Besides the seeds, this little corner of the farm house sports art from two friends of mine: Jerianne VanDiik, left, (Sacred Play) and Erin Noel (Stay Sane It Is Wild). Also in this precious corner is a handmade pottery bowl, made decades ago by friend and artist Jennifer Merrill.

How many bees can you count in the Genovese basil? (photo taken September, 2011)

Staring at my seed cache, I thought of course about why I had so many basil seeds, and yet seeds from greens and other vegetables were not as forthcoming or salvageable. Then I remembered how the bees begged me to let the basil go to seed. (See My Ad Hoc Garden ( for more captures of basil, and Welcome to Lightcap Farm  ( more information on the bees.)

Once the seeds were harvested I turned to my favorite baking project of the year: Hernshen.  My long-ago-mother-in-law gave me the recipe, so it is Helen Holden’s Hernshen to me. This year the baking is limited to treats for us, goodies for one petanque party, and gifts to our next door neighbors and brethren homesteaders. If it weren’t for this extended family–now four generations strong–and their many talents and generous hearts, we would feel much more remote and alone. They had already gifted us with delicious cookies and cheesecake when my shoulder eased up enough for me to pick up the rolling pin.

Hernshen: Phase Two complete!

Hernshen is made in three phases. First, I combine equal parts butter, cottage cheese and flour. That settles overnight in the fridge, and then I roll out the dough and dot the center with strawberry jam. Roll and bake each crescent for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool and frost with powdered-sugar icing. I use lemon or orange juice in my icing.

Ready to deliver! Happy Neighbors!

Sometimes, when I’m daunted by all I don’t have time or talent to do, it helps to zoom in on the few things that matter most. Today 2012 begins. As I do each year, I’ll invoke Helen Holden’s famous toast: “Here’s to us! There’s naybody like us!”  And our neighbors will finally get their Hernshen.

What’s done got  done. What didn’t get done won’t, or it will later.

I will spend much of the winter in town, able to focus more on writing until I begin sprouting seeds at Lightcap Farm South sometime in the spring. (I’ve found it much harder to be both a writer and a farmer than I thought I would. Wendell Berry makes it look so easy.) Hopefully I’ll make it down to Abbey Country this winter as well. Definitely I need lots of Chi Gong and yoga these coming months–my shoulders have a date with the fields outside come late spring.

It was a year ago I began this blog–with coverage of the 2011 Wild and Scenic Film Festival (  Thirty-three posts and thirty-three followers later, I’m eager to start another year of blogging. So much still  to do, yes.  But I’ve begun.  Thank you for sharing this last year with me here.

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Filed under Essays, Farming

Thwarting Our Best Intentions: A Polemic

It has been a typical couple weeks on Facebook in the land of leftie politics.  Whether I am visiting the group for Save The Scenic Santa Ritas down in Abbey Country, or reading a post from a local food activist here in Nevada City, or perusing the many leftie slogans that litter my news feed, it is pretty much the same. People who care fervently about their causes are driving potential supporters away with their rudeness and their inaccurate and objectifying language.  After ten years of covering left-wing politics as a reporter, this doesn’t surprise me.  There is a reason why our frequent refrain in the newsroom was “fucking lefties!”  There is a reason why it is a cliché that the left forms firing squads in a circle. But what somehow surprised me about what I’ve witnessed on Facebook these past weeks is that the people spouting their venom and lies—spouting them in the hopes of prosthelytizing —know they are venom and lies but don’t care.

First, let’s go to Abbey Country, where Arizonans have been engaged in a feisty debate for months now. A Canadian company doing business as Rosemont Copper Mine wishes to build and operate a mine in what is known as The Scenic Santa Rita Mountains. Thousands of birders, hikers, wine enthusiasts, and other tourists visit these mountains each year and strongly oppose the project.  There is also a great deal of support for the mine, especially with Arizona’s unemployment rate finally catching up with the rest of the nation’s. With publication of the DEIS delayed more than once, the state has been in limbo. Now that the document has been published, public hearings are being held and there may soon be some actual movement.  It’s very much the same story line as Nevada County, gold, and Emgold.

Every few weeks I visit the group page Save the Scenic Santa Ritas on Facebook. When I went there late October, I observed a conversation between two women, we’ll call them Katey and Amber.  Katey was speaking passionately against the mine; I don’t know what her role is with the organization Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, but she posted with authority and obviously a great deal of knowledge. Amber popped in to the group having just been to an informational meeting sponsored by Rosemont Copper; she had follow-up questions.

As typical with Facebook, I saw the end of the conversation first, in which Amber sarcastically thanked Katey for her rudeness, since it had helped win Amber over to the side of the mine’s developers.  Having been to one of those informational meetings at Rosemont, I can see how Amber’s decision might have been made easier. The spokespeople at the meetings are very nice, quite calm and yet passionate, plus they had out free beverages and chips.   Treating people well is a great way to seduce them; Rosemont gets that but Katey doesn’t seem to.  As I skimmed through their conversation, I was stunned by Katey’s rude tone and dismissive approach to Amber’s questions.  Amber and I tried to tell her not to be so rude.  “A little honey with your vinegar?”  I wrote hopefully, only to also be chastised that Katey doesn’t have time for oversensitive people because it was a “fight” so she had to fight.  (I regret I cannot quote Katey more specifically, because she or someone on her behalf went back and removed every single one of her comments from the conversation. I attempted to contact her to follow up, but not only her posts but apparently her profile have disappeared from Facebook.)

In the rhetorical nightmare that embodies the flaccid ineffectuality of left wing politics, Katey has hit the jackpot.  Meanwhile, Rosemont Copper Mine has a new supporter. Amber is a small business owner in Tucson, so I imagine that she already has a sign up in her shop window supporting the mine.  Has Katey won the “fight”?  Hopefully the gorgeous Santa Ritas have wiser spokespeople in their camp—or else it will be Rosemont Copper Mine in Abbey Country.  More jobs, less tourism, American copper sold to China to make more cheap shit we’ll buy at Walmart.  Katey does not see that she is actually fighting for the enemy.  Perhaps she’ll get a thank you card from Rosemont Copper.

(And we need to remember that Katey, Amber, or both women could be on Rosemont’s payroll. Corporations regularly hire shills to infiltrate and affect grass roots groups, and given Rosemont’s manipulative television spots, I wouldn’t be surprised.  I have no evidence of this; I am merely saying it is possible. If either woman were to be on their payroll, I’m sure that the company feels its money is well spent.)

The Scenic Santa Ritas. I took this photo standing in the exact spot of the proposed mine.

Meanwhile, in Nevada City last October, I attended a dinner-and-a-movie fundraiser for a local farm defense fund.  The event was at The Willo, which impressed me, because it’s not a typical leftie venue.  It’s a venerable old roadhouse famous for its steaks and affordable cocktails. And eat steaks and drink cocktails we did, before we watched the film Farmaggedon, which offers vivid evidence and video footage of the USDA raids on artisanal and organic farmers across the country.  In the film, the footage of these raids is frightening to say the least. Machine guns and children in the same room, people’s yogurt, chickens, grains, sheep, confiscated before their tearful eyes. The raids are violent, the technology and firearms ratcheted up to the point of absurdity.  Before the film began, a spokesman for the farm defense fund gave a speech, as is customary at such events. He said there had just been a raid in Placer County, and that soon they expected equally dramatic events in Nevada County. As we listened to him, we were all sobered by the reality that USDA tanks and guns could soon be rolling down Cement Hill Road and Highway 174. It seemed far-fetched, hyperbolic–until we saw the film.

A couple weeks later, about the end of the month, a farm activist posted on Facebook: a food swap organization shut down in eastern Nevada County, in the town of Truckee. The farm activist, let’s call her Sheila, announced the incident with screaming caps on both Facebook and email:  RAID in Nevada County.  I checked in on Facebook with the group who’d organized the food swap, Tahoe Slow Food, and saw that the spokeswoman for the group was already putting out that fire.  “I would like to clarify,” she said,  “There was no raid!”  She went on to explain the relatively polite exchange between the group and the health department, and said they hoped to resolve things with further conversations.  (Not as exciting as a raid, I know.)  I went to Sheila and said, “Look, no raid.”  Her response: “a minor difference to me. Swapping food is still illegal.”

Most people, particularly food consumers who are not activists, would see more than a minor difference between an armed USDA raid and a quiet conversation between health department officials and a slow food group. Those people, who can’t quite grock that the USDA raids are even real, will brand Sheila’s hyperbole as hysteria and say something like this:  “Those left wing nuts. Talking all this shit about raids when there aren’t any. We can’t believe a word they say. Go Monsanto!  Go Walmart!”  Sheila joins Katey in getting a warm, fuzzy, thank-you note from her enemy. The more misinformation is out there, the less mobilized the public will be to engage in causes that are central to their lives.  But, like Katey, Sheila can’t see beyond her strident view to the larger rhetorical concern.

I had been thinking about Katey and Sheila, about the frustrating reality that so many people with profound ideas about the future are marginalizing not only themselves but also the very causes they dedicate their lives to. Incidents such as the two I’ve described are as commonplace as they are polarizing.  Why is this, I’ve been wondering. Meanwhile, on Facebook, I began noticing a trend developing—a trend that began about the same time the Occupy movement went viral.  People began creating and sharing slogans and testimonials through photographs.  One stream of these photos is dedicated to the 99%, one person at a time telling his or her story about their fall from the middle class.  These, at least, have some text and explanation for why they are saying what they are saying.  Less so the slogans, which encapsulate complex social dynamics into dangerously simplistic ideas.  For example: “I have nothing against God, it’s his fan club I can’t stand.”  These slogans seem to make people happy; I think that’s because it does feel good to have one’s philosophies and ideas wrapped nicely and placed beneath the Christmas tree for others to “ooo” and “ah” over. These slogans are as dangerous to the left as are the rash actions of Katey and Sheila. The absurd generalization that God’s “fan club” can be lumped into one demographic is insulting not to the faithful but to the intellectual capacity of the left.

It is easy to fall through the trap door into the soft, pillowy comfort of smugness. Back in 2003 when I was a reporter I remember asking Jeremy Skahill, who’d just returned from months in Iraq, how the Iraqis felt about Americans.  Skahill was as nice as he could be when he told me how ridiculous my question was: “There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, each with his or her own opinion,” he reminded me. When we do as I tried, and attempt to reduce the complexity of a nation into a pat, sentence-long encapsulation, we oversimplify.  When we oversimplify complex issues, we polarize our audience.  “Where is tolerance?” a Christian I know and love wrote on Facebook.  “Why are there so many posts about how evil we are?”  The creator of the “fan club” slogan wasn’t picturing my friend, a hard-working, home-schooling, fair and open minded woman who happens to get strength from a different place than he does. He was objectifying her, oversimplifying the dilemma of organized religion and the harm done on its behalf, and in the process creating more hate and angst. He was, in essence, sabotaging his mission just as completely as Katey and Sheila sabotaged theirs.

Creating animosity, misinformation, and polarization are all ineffective, counterproductive ways out of the mess we are in.  There are mountain ranges to be stewarded, wholesome foods to be protected, and individual choices to be honored. Only when the left begins to treat others with the respect it demands for itself can it truly help the 99% it claims to care about.  Offering faux compassion to a massive body of people is meaningless; we need to care for and respect each individual that contributes to that statistic.  Furthermore, we need to make a commitment as individuals to go beyond the slogans, to challenge the hyperbole, to demand honesty and integrity in our daily conversations. If we can’t do that, how do we seriously think we change an entire planet for the better?


Filed under Abbey Country, Community, Essays, Farming, Mining, Polemics, politics, Sustainability