August 2016

Freshly Dug Potatoes

Freshly Dug Potatoes

While Europeans vacation in Italy and the South of France, I’ll be writing some 12,000 words on Blog for Iowa. August is neither recess nor vacation for low-wage American workers.

I’ll have a chance to earn a little more money to pay corporations for things we need like fuel, communications, health care and insurance, loans, and electricity. There’s also taxes wanting cash.

It’s been a struggle to earn enough money to pay monthly bills, so if I write as well, my life can correctly be characterized as “struggling writer.”

Not sure I like the moniker.

Yesterday a fellow said I needed a haircut.
“I don’t have the money,” I said.
“Haircuts only cost $15,” he said.
“If you give me the $15, I’ll get a haircut.”
“It’s really about the money?”
“Yes it’s about the money.”

I work in low-wage jobs to understand what people experience. It’s an attempt to be grounded in society and inform my writing. With a comfortable platform, that includes a line of credit and no mortgage, good health, and two working cars, my family has it easier than most.

The main challenge of low-wage jobs has been physical. Assembling kits, selling produce, demonstrating products, lifting bags of bulk commodities, chainsawing trees, and farm work all required standing and use of upper body strength. I’m stronger than I was, but my aging joints are taking a toll.

Writing jobs have been good when I could get them. There was little money in freelancing while the newspapers sought to do more with less. I filled a specific need for editors, and once the need went away, so did the offer of stories.

In August I’ll post my articles on Blog for Iowa, then here a day later. This site is home for my writing, so most everything I write longer than 140 characters finds its way here.

A new writing adventure begins and I’m so looking forward to it.

I hope readers will follow along.

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100 Days of Work

Locally Grown Sweet Corn

Locally Grown Sweet Corn

Today begins 100 straight days of work.

Monday through Friday I’ll be at the home, farm and auto supply store, Saturday and Sunday at the orchard, and in between there is writing, gardening, cooking, home maintenance, yard work and living.

It’s not a life of fun. It is doing what’s needed to sustain a life in Iowa.

I bought two new pair of blue jeans to accommodate the new schedule and get by with once a week laundry. Other than that, the logistics were already in place and I’m ready to go.

Next week I begin editing Blog for Iowa — at least one post a day. The 23 August posts have been roughly framed, although what happens in society will drive what gets posted when. I’m looking forward to posting 500-600 words daily.

Preseason Saturday at Wilson's Orchard

Preseason Saturday at Wilson’s Orchard

On Saturday at the orchard cars were lined up for preseason raspberries, blueberries and Lodi apples. With 50+ people in line, I didn’t go inside. If this crowd was any indication it’s going to be a very busy season.

I will work in the sales barn although the chief apple officer and his operations manager weren’t sure what I’ll be doing opening weekend. The octogenarian friend who got me the job four years ago has given up driving the tractor-trailer that provides tours. I enjoy working at the orchard because it is a nexus of contact with people I’ve known most of my life.

Missing is a plan to get enough rest in the coming days. While not a high priority, it needs consideration. I better get on that too.

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New Saturday Night

Audio Cassettes

Audio Cassettes

Music filled the Saturday afternoon gap left by Garrison Keillor’s retirement.

Not radio, but music recorded on audio cassette tapes.

It is amazing there is even a player in the house. (There are two that work). The sound quality of this outdated technology was surprisingly good.

While processing vegetables into meals and storage items, I listened to Shaka Zulu and Journey of Dreams by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon. I hit the pause button when I left the room so the tape wouldn’t run out without hearing it.

When Jacque returned home from work we had our first sweet corn meal of the season: steamed green beans and corn on the cob. As they ripen, tomatoes will replace green beans. There is nothing like seasonal Iowa sweet corn. I made a cucumber-tomato salad as accompaniment using a recipe found by googling on-hand ingredients.

The Saturday kitchen produced a gallon of vegetable soup, refried bean dip, daikon radish refrigerator pickles and sweet pickles made with turmeric. Outside was hot and humid although nowhere near as oppressive as the summer of 2012 when we had record drought.

On Friday Donnelle Eller posted an article about corn sweat at the Des Moines Register. Corn and soybean plants, which cover Iowa farmland, transpire moisture. During pollination and ear formation as much as 4,000 gallons of water per acre of corn is released into the atmosphere daily, making it feel humid. There were a number of articles about corn sweat in the media last week.

What makes this year different is not corn sweat. The first half of 2016 was Earth’s hottest year on record. This impacts the hydrology cycle, change in which is a primary manifestation of climate change. With global warming the atmosphere can hold more moisture until a precipitating event makes a rainstorm. It is more often a gully-washer.

The high winds and heavy, short-duration rain have become more frequent in recent years. This week a storm caused significant damage to the garden. In addition to losing the Golden Delicious apple tree, the cucumber towers blew over uprooting about half of the pickling cucumber plants. The Serrano pepper plants blew over, breaking the stalk of one near the ground. The high deer fence blew down and deer got into the kale and pepper patch by jumping the low fence. The cherry tomato plants blew over, however I was able to upright and re-stake them without damage.

Climate change is real, it is happening now. It is time to act to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Political Event with Tim Kaine at Bob and Sue Dvorsky's home in Coralville, Iowa on Aug. 17, 2010

Tim Kaine at Bob and Sue Dvorsky’s home in Coralville, Iowa on Aug. 17, 2010

Hillary Clinton announced Senator Tim Kaine would be her running mate this weekend. Friends were posting photos all weekend from the August 2010 event he attended in Coralville. If he wasn’t the center of attention then, as the photo suggests, he will be now.

I’m torn about viewing the Democratic National Convention this week. Hopefully key speeches will be available for viewing afterward and I can avoid social media enough to think clearly about what Hillary Clinton says.

As Sunday begins, I’m not sure listening to recorded music will adequately replace Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. It’s here. It’s what I can do to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

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Cook or Quit

Harvest for the Weekend Kitchen

Harvest for the Weekend Kitchen

I put on my rubber boots and went to the garden in the predawn sunlight. I left a trail where my boots scraped against the dew drops formed on the lawn.

Fresh deer droppings lay moist under the oak trees and two rabbits stopped and watched as I made my way through the clover. I picked cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish and everything in this photo.

In the kitchen I made salsa using fresh ingredients, some old relish — everything that made sense. It was tasty and spicy, quite delicious.

The future of any local food movement is in the hands and kitchens of people who do these kinds of things.

If you ask my mother’s generation, “what is local food,” they often mention sweet corn and tomatoes. Hard to argue with the taste and seasonality of those two vegetables, but there is more.

Cooking goes against the grain of a global society increasingly and intentionally seeking to remove creative, engaged prep work from the kitchen and replace it with heat and serve processed food. Here’s an example.

While on break at the home, farm and auto supply store food preparation became a conversation topic as it often does.

A colleague explained how he bought a bag of prepared frozen meatballs from COSTCO and warmed them in his favorite barbecue sauce. He then took a small loaf of white bread, halved and toasted it, and spooned the meatballs on the bottom half making a meatball sandwich. He said it was really good as we listened.

If taste and ease of preparation is all we seek, the industrial food supply chain can meet our needs. In that case, when it comes to local food, what’s here becomes local.

I’ve been spending time in the kitchen this week. At 5 a.m. I stop what I’m doing and make breakfast. Stirfry, roasted vegetables, and because they are in season, fresh steamed green beans with every meal. It feels a little weird, but I felt better all day because I ate mostly what I grew before 7 a.m.

The local food movement is just not going to happen based on a small number of farmers, chefs and advocates and there’s the ceiling. If it becomes a part of our daily lives, which include vegetables from the garden, eggs from chickens we know and preparing food to taste, then the local food movement has a chance.

What it reduces to is either cook or quit.

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Farm Transition

View from the Barn

View from the Barn

RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP — Yesterday was the Practical Farmers of Iowa field day at Carmen Black’s Sundog Farm.

Carmen and Susan Jutz explained their farm transition process in a simple duet about bankers, government agencies, insurance companies and community.

Like everything Susan has done since I met her almost 20 years ago, the transaction of selling the farm had a home made feel to it. It looks like Carmen will continue that localized and home made culture.

Attendees walked the farm, with Carmen and Susan explaining pest control practices. Highlights included treatment for flea beetles, tomato blight, worms and cucumber beetles.

What I hadn’t thought about was providing proper space for air to circulate among tomato plants to prevent spread of disease. The wall of cherry tomatoes that blew over in yesterday’s storm is a good example. The wind caught the entire planting like a sail. If they were separated more, wind might blow through them, leaving them upright.

Susan’s eventual departure from the farm is another instance of my generation going home. On Sundog Farm there is a chance for sustainability as Carmen adds farm management to her experience. Opportunities like this are rare and Carmen appears to be making the most of it.

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A Brief Storm

Fallen Apple Tree Branch

Fallen Apple Tree Branch

A brief storm made a decision for me.

The last branches of the Golden Delicious apple tree blew over in a gust of wind during an intense thunderstorm.

I hoped there would be fruit again but not now, not ever from that tree.

I’ll chain-saw the stump for the fall burn pile, finishing the work time brought.

When I planted six trees on the day of my mother-in-law’s funeral I had no idea about apples. The second Red Delicious tree was the first to go, and the Lodi was felled by another storm. Three trees remain and I know a lot more about apples today.

The storm blew over the row of six-foot cherry tomato plants and some of the hot pepper and kale plants. The cucumber cages were also blown around. I straightened everything as best I could. There was some damage, but not ruinous. The wind exposed a generous crop of slicing tomatoes under the leaves. Here’s hoping everything makes it to maturity.

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High Summer Harvest

Cherry tomatoes, Fairy Tale eggplant, green beans and a pickling cucumber harvested July 16, 2016

Cherry tomatoes, Fairy Tale eggplant, green beans and a pickling cucumber harvested July 16, 2016

Photographs of kale can only be interesting for so long.

The leafy green and purple leaves are producing in abundance — so much so I pick only what is needed, removing imperfect leaves from the plants to the compost heap.

Seven kale leaves stand in a jar of water on the counter to keep them fresh and ready to use.

If summer were only about kale, this one would be an unmitigated success.

Something else is going on.

This week I conversed with a group of twenty-somethings about the new application for smart phones, Pokémon Go. It was the most animated they had ever been. I asserted the application represented the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. They didn’t dispute it. One had already tried the game and moved on to something else. Apparently there are not that many Pokémon to find in rural Iowa.

The continuous stream of violence manifest its latest event Thursday with a terrorist attack in Nice, France. More than eighty people were killed and as many as 300 injured as a lone driver drove a large truck through a crowd gathered to view a Bastille Day fireworks display. The terrorist made it two kilometers before he was shot dead by law enforcement. French President Francois Hollande seeks to extend the existing state of emergency put in place after the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

In American political news, the Republican top of the ticket is set with Indiana Governor Mike Pence named presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate. The less said about this pair the better. Suffice it that I disagree with them on just about everything. The national political conventions are imminent, with the Republicans this week and Democrats the following. Something unexpected might happen at either convention.

In a strange turn of events, twice failed U.S. Senate candidate Tom Fiegen made a post on Facebook that blogger Laura Belin re-posted:

FB Post Belin

Belin makes sense if Fiegen, not so much. The episode represents further coarsening of Iowa politics. Fiegen likening an effort to persuade him on his presidential vote to sexual advances is plain weird. I know I wouldn’t want to get in the back seat with him on a dark gravel road. Whatever virtue he may have had vaporized after he quit being his own person and hitched his campaign wagon to Bernie Sanders. His current, post being a Democrat, rants serve as an example of how low politics has gotten. I know my mother said if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything, but Fiegen lives in our house district and may foment more ill will. I hope not.

Lastly, this week Deadhorse, Alaska set a record high for any Arctic Ocean location. Is it climate change? How could it not be.

At least for now there is plenty to eat and fewer photographs of cruciferous vegetables.

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