Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I have schizophrenic musical tastes that run the gamut from the 70s Rock and Roll of my youth to some jazz, pop, and almost anything in between. Lady Gaga and Katie Perry are awesome. My father invited Michelle and me to the Kingston Symphony with him last spring for their “Opera” afternoon. I know, I know, you’re thinking “Opera”? What a snob! Well it wasn’t real opera. It was Opera’s “greatest hits,” and most of us can easily recognize opera music that we’ve heard in TV commercials and movies. I learned to love opera from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. The cartoon where Bugs Bunny is shaving Elmer Fudd with a straight razor uses Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” as the music. There were lots of opera songs used in cartoons. I don’t think I could sit through a 3-hour long marathon of one opera, but the greatest hits, sung in part by Julie Nesrallah from CBC Radio 2, were really enjoyable.
My daughter, who’s doing archeological digs around Ontario, has learned to enjoy country music while driving around in a van with her work crew. As much as I like to kid her about listening to Country, some of this stuff isn’t too bad. I started liking the Dixie Chicks when Natalie Maines told George Bush that as a mother she didn’t approve of young men dying in a needless war. And I liked Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” and hoped that big “C” would never enter my world. Guess I’ve gotta take up skydiving and Rocky Mountain climbing, but I don’t plan on riding a bull named “Fu Man Chu.”
Recently my daughter Katie pointed me to the most important song I’ve heard in a long time. It’s called “On the Combine” by High Valley. Check it out here.
Wow … it’s the best song and video ever. It speaks to my obsession with combine harvesters that started this summer when I grew my own wheat. I center my diet around grains ... breads, pasta, pizza, subs, waffles… all my favorite foods begin with wheat. Sorry Atkins’ Diet followers, but I haven’t gained a pound since high school. Guess it’s my metabolism. So after growing wheat and finding out what an insane amount of work it is I gained a huge appreciation for what most of us never think about when we’re getting that bagel from the coffee shop in the morning… it’s a miracle any of us can afford one! The economies of scale that industrial agriculture have achieved and the standard of living it has provided to all of us is truly the pinnacle of human endeavor. It’s not putting a man on the moon and it’s not getting 5,000 songs on a iPod the size of a cigarette lighter - nope, it’s the miracle of feeding 6 ½ billion people! In North America an increasingly smaller portion of the population works to feed the rest of us. And a growing percentage of the population is awfully dependent on a group they often hold in distain. Sort of a “Blue State” versus “Red Sate” thing.
Being a city refugee (cidiot) who now lives in a farming community I’ve been on both sides of the city/country divide and I’ve got to tell you that I’d rather spend time with people who grow food than people who program “apps” for smart phones. You might go into withdrawal if you’re out of cell service coverage and can’t plug into the matrix, but you can’t go very long without food. Most of us don’t grow it ourselves and are very indebted to the people who do. I guess this is why this song really resonates with me… “... every time I climb that ladder, takes me back to things that matter.” Harvesting wheat matters. “Workin’ real hard to keep it in a straight line, nothin’ you can do but pray for the sun to shine…” While you’re frolicking on the beach on a summer’s day some farmer’s blood pressure is through the roof wondering if the sun will hold so he can get that crop harvested. This country music talks about important stuff.
In my small town we have farmers and we have city refugees and often the two don’t mix. City refugees eat at “The Bakery.” Farmers eat at “The Corner Store.” At the lunch counter at The Corner Store you’d better be able to hold your own talking about the price of beef or how the hay harvest has been or you’re out of your element. I always feel a bit like a fish out of water at The Corner Store. That was until we had a workshop about “switchgrass” a couple of winters ago here in Tamworth. Farmers around here mostly produce beef and the prices have been low for years. Switchgrass is a perennial grass that converts sunlight into biomass very efficiently and can be grown to pelletize and burn for heat. As natural gas and other fossil fuel prices continue to rise, switchgrass could be a great crop. For my part of the presentation I discussed where we are in terms of energy in North America.
Later in the day I was in “The Corner Store” and a local farmer and township councilor called me over to talk about switchgrass. When we were finished another farmer on the other side of the counter called me over to talk about putting solar panels on his barn. Look at me! The farmers want to talk to me! It’s like when you were a kid and you came home with that artwork or that assignment that you got a great mark on and you were just bustin’ to show it to your parents. Back in 1986 in my former life in computer sales I was asked to speak at a computer conference about electronic publishing systems. Desktop publishing systems were new to the marketplace and I was selling them. The speaker just before me was Bill Gates from Microsoft. That seemed pretty cool at the time, but it doesn’t hold a candle to my day at The Corner Store when real farmers wanted to talk to me. “Hey mom, look at me, the cool guys what me to hang out with them!”
That’s it then - I’m going to cut down my forests and plant 150 acres of wheat! Or maybe I’ll sell my place here and buy 1,000 acres in Saskatchewan and spend half a million dollars on a combine harvester and grow wheat in a big, big way! Whoops, I’m about a million dollars short of that dream. Guess I’ll stick with selling garlic and books about living sustainably. It isn’t as cool as owning a combine, but I’ll have to ramp up to that. In the meantime, at least I can listen to country music and dream…
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