There is no such thing as local. Apples are from Asia. Corn comes from South America. Potatoes originated in the Andes. All life seems to be on an endless journey to trade
one side of the globe for another. Especially the delicious, nutritious and overall
most productive species. To ask what is local, one must be prepared to trace
backstory beyond backstory. An exhaustive and easy to abandon sort of adventure.
Still, rife with reward.
In the actual locale which inspired and wildly cultivated the feral potato,
it was poisonous. In the same family as Belladonna. Otherwise known as Deadly Nightshade. The journey here ends in a popular, palatable, hearty root but begins
with a toxic tuber buried just beneath rock-laced ground.
Fine sweet yellow and white corn, clean, plain and simple, was once inspiringly colorful.
And the further south and slightly west you go, ancestors of our too-sweet summer crop
still grow traceable back through its roots to grass. Corn is a kind of grass.
Consider that next time it takes you an afternoon to level the lawn.
For the most part local, and what quality the term might suggest, is just an idea.
A hopeful, albeit often fruitful thought. Sort of directional, like a compass-bearing.
And what is north or south really? A vague distance to face head on, pursue,
with all the lessons and encounters and mountains along the way unknowable. Unimaginable.
It is not the destination, but a direction, like east or west.
There is no single answer to the question where did all this food come from.
Because true local is not a place.
It is a quest.
Un-emancipated slave owners
It is incredible how, time after time, on various continents throughout successive eras, the abolishment of slavery has set a few people loose and always failed to eliminate the slave owning mentality. Such an internal, what some would call removed aspect, legislation. Chains. Wars drenched in red blooded civility can not touch it.
The people at the bottom feel a bit more freedom, released from stables and barns directly into the wild, to be grabbed up and used again. Trapped. Controlled, now by economic metal. No loud obvious clanking, moaning, weeping, in fact, it is quite a simple, unsympathetic endeavor. What makes it slavery is that the people on the bottom can not legally turn profits. It is not possible. Profit margins cut off and start middle class and higher. Low class, working, grinding, receive enough, and with a little hope, strike even.
I hear people mention middle class all the time, not knowing they are speaking of tyranny, slavery, but it is still true. A tiered, rigged system, no matter the weakly constructed channels for social fluctuation, the dream only points up. And yet more than half the population is told to look down for a living and keep doing so unending. Help the second class, like a brooding, jealous middle child screaming for attention, more money clutched tight in fists, some other siblings feeling neglected and entitled because of it.
But when someone comes on the screen and breathes a word or two about the majority of us, affectionately called the rest of us, it’s a speech delivered in the sympathetic tone of charity. Not mobilization, upward and rewarding, just charity to keep the poor living laborious lives. There are people at the top, middle, all throughout, who never stopped looking at humans like chattel. They will never change. No emancipation awaits to criminalize their profitable intention, and it is no concern of mine. There will always be men and women who fancy themselves master. It’s fine.
People will give their entire lives for freedom. Slavery ends in shrinking profit margins.
My concern is just not to be collared unwittingly to the short, knotted bind of the minimum wage.
That is my solid, uncomfortable point. For individuals it is illegal, but society still has slaves.
We build better terrariums than homes. When putting together a habitat for an animal, you start thinking in things like replenishable water sources, shelter, feed dispensers and hiding places. When you go to get a house together though, you sort through encyclopedic paint color catalogs and bathroom fixtures and which era invented your windows. If you want to protect a creature, you don’t move it into a suburb. You protect its environment. It is actually quite simple. Until we turn to preparing habitations for people. Food sources? Hell, it’s illegal to garden front yards in most places. There’s no way to forage for a family on a single acre, but nestled in the center of a barren parking lot is a giant air-conditioned food box. They keep it locked, but it opens by little green paper keys they made sure to warn us do not actually grow on trees. The produce off of time-clocks.
It is very much like putting a chicken in a cage and waiting until an egg has been laid before you see the hen paid in pellets and fresh water. We’re taxed upon arrival. Counted on to generate profit before even learning the wholesale rate we paid for our product. We never get a chance to be human. I never thought I’d live a way of life that made me jealous of a squirrel, but such is the way of the human world. Animals in National Parks have more protections on their right to free and uninterrupted life than you or me. Their food sources are insured, their shelter, their water, their right to only be predated on equal terms by peers. I mean, if a squirrel wants a career, they’re out there. But beyond that, an animal has the right to simply exist. I am telling you, for all our talk of freedom and inalienability of self-conscious action, we have not been offered such protections. We are expected to pay for each bite of being, and every deep gulp of water and air has a bill attached to it.
Capitalism has its function. There is value to that form of endless value competition. But it has no intention of feeding all of us. That economic system wants us all educated into chickens, and tells us once we lay it an egg we’ll be fed. It tells us there is nothing to be given, and that we must work for a living. Which is a precarious place to keep an animal. In the middle of a deficit and a demand, taxed prior to payday. Trapped between a time-card and a hard, iron-barred place. We have been given the right to accept the high price of an American dream, but no option for basic human function. Making a living living. Being your own currency. Generating the revenue that comes from being you, before taking on one of the endless personas and preoccupations expected of you, here at the tail-end of a ten thousand year reign of specialization. And when the dust settles, we won’t build houses anymore, or use green paper keys to open up our own pantries. We’ll create habitats and embrace environments and take criticisms from nature. We’ll learn to animal again. To apply the human mind to its original purpose. A tool intended for picking locks. For holding thoughts. Imagining just how different humanity might become once we take us out of the box.
An Account with a Lot
A tree farm is like a rural savings account. The initial investment, planting the finest tightly-spaced strictly metered seed of potential growth in rows of infant trees. And forty years of waiting. Interest compounded annually, accruing height, weight, and the attention of other hungry investors. But this account is rooted to the ground, too huge and awkward to be casually stolen, or accidentally misappropriated. Truthfully, a stand of trees is worth a lot more than its equivalence in money in the bank. And besides, there’s even a chance your children may see as much benefit from this venture as you.
Living in a rural area, not only does one see lots full with trees, but also bare unused emptied spaces too, which could be put to use. Not every person tied financially through inheritance or corporate acquisition to a piece of undeveloped land, desires or has the capacity and constant fund of intense effort and too-much capital to farm. But there is a one-time cost planting pine trees chosen from several varieties, or just allowing a stand of hardwoods to take over and grow themselves massive, or fir and cedar covered Christmas hills. Many viable hands-off agricultural options exist.
Like storing up interest, there are other latent restorative benefits to keeping land full and covered by this titanic crop. They rebuild and add topsoil, repair damaged dugout highly eroded areas, provide shade, protection, discretion and even security.
Admittedly, greater value grows in maximum planting. But anywhere from two to ten, to a hundred acres of primarily open spaces, or preexisting untended woodland, or even fields lost to briars and brush, can be remade more profitable. Not everyone has spare land to attempt this breed of in-it-for-the-long-haul agricultural production, and it is a shame. Of all the assets given to people in need, money, stamps to represent money, housing and charity, property would truly be an inspirational tool in lifting individuals out of poverty. While simultaneously providing a means to sustain it once they actually get there. A program that sets people up to lease, rent, rent to own or simply outright own a small lot or group of lots. Not just providing a patient slow-growing payday. This sort of program would function as a mechanism of capitalistic education.
Those individuals who have struggled to save money in the past, who have cleared whole bank accounts on whims and turned over nothing, would benefit from having value rooted to the ground. Too heavy to move or costly to cut early. Too expensive to build hardly any decision on the loose sand of a whim. It is a teacher crop. Forgiving of mistakes and gently beneficial to the environment. Of all the ventures to root yourself to, this situation might be the most outright. Awareness of the hazardous flighty tendencies of money is growing. Most often impossible, too nuanced or deeply rabbit-holed to actually track. But a woodlot is a moderately high yielding, interest-building commodity you can take walks all throughout. Hiding out from summer heat in the thickening shade of future ten, fifteen, thirty thousand dollar payouts. I don’t believe there is a better, more productive way to keep an account with a lot in it.
We also share the cows
Down the street, a couple bulls, several heifers and four or five of their spring calves crowded around a dwarf peach tree, decimating it. Almost a cruel sight. Almost hard to watch. Easy, apparently, for the neighbors to do nothing about.
Too many tellings of the event don’t include the word mine. Neighbor’s cows, a neighbor’s tree. And me. Watching in a sort of frustrated awe at how these titans of grass could so effectively devour a yard tree. No selfless, altruistic, philanthropic thought crossed my mind leaned over lacing boots, grabbing up a short bowed walking stick. But thinking of an unprotected garden just a little way up the road. These cows would see it mowed, and in short time too.
Selfish, a little bit bitter, this farmer gathered up his first little herd of cows into a neighbor’s leased pasture. A solid forty-five minutes work. After searching for weakness in the woven barbed wire cattle fence, I found and temporarily mended it, for which I won’t be paid. By all means, may never even be thanked. And rightly so. I was only thinking of my gardens, one out back and one up the road. There were deep sunk tracks from that big bull already marching heavily across one of them. The moral of this story is that whether or not you ever wanted it, your neighbor’s fence is your fence too. And when it comes down to it, I suppose we also share the cows.