Categories
Kitchen Garden

August is for Tomatoes

Tomatoes on Aug. 1, 2021.

When a gardener plants more than a hundred tomato seedlings they expect to harvest tomatoes in August. Expectations met!

“I made weak coffee Sunday morning,” I posted on Twitter. “I hate weak coffee. I got distracted while measuring grounds into the French press. Distracted by the tomatoes taking over the kitchen. TOMATOES ARE TAKING OVER THE KITCHEN!”

No freak out here. I drank my coffee, cleaned and sorted the tomatoes, and have a home for yesterday’s surplus. I inspected the garden and there should be another crop today. An abundance of tomatoes is a good thing.

Growing enough Roma-style tomatoes to start canning whole ones is the challenge. I planted three varieties, Speckled Roman, Granadero and Amish Paste. Each has good flavor, and if there are enough, I’ll put one variety per jar. Canned whole Roma tomatoes are the mainstay of our pantry.

I used to can tomato sauce, tomato juice, and diced tomatoes. After the current stock is depleted, it will be whole tomatoes only. Canned whole tomatoes provide the best flexibility. It is an example of less being more. I open a jar of canned wholes and can make almost any tomato dish with it. I don’t think I’m going back to the old way.

A couple of 4-6 ounce tomato varieties are in this year’s mix. Their main contribution is flavor. Seeding and chopping them for salsa produces a very nice texture. I made a quart jar of salsa with the abundance. I used to freeze or can salsa and am moving away from that practice. Fresh is better. I’m growing Guajillo chilies to make a winter-time salsa to use on tacos, enchiladas and the like. I’ll add a bit of home made apple cider vinegar to preserve it in the refrigerator.

August is a busy month in the kitchen for a gardener. Not only are there tomatoes, but crates of onions, garlic curing in racks, and potatoes nicked during harvest needing to be used. Pears will be ripe soon. I check the EarliBlaze apple trees daily to see if they are ripe–they are getting close. Once they come in, the first bushels will go to apple cider vinegar making. Harvesting, storage and processing takes up most of August. It’s part of a commitment to growing one’s own food.

This morning I made strong coffee, the way I like it. I’m already fortified for another day in the kitchen garden. It’s life, as good as it gets.

Categories
Living in Society

Leaning into August

Final squash harvest July 30, 2021.

After covering at Blog for Iowa in July I’m ready to turn attention back to this space. July was a tough month in a pandemic that won’t go away. Whatever illusions of safety, comfort and autonomy we may have had are torn away by the ugliness modern society manifests these days. We need to get back to a kinder way of living, yet politics, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, interpersonal rudeness, and economic uncertainty weigh heavily on us.

The extended drought is taking a toll. We need rain, not so much for the crops, but to lift our spirits. To let us know we’ll get through this spell. Yesterday was my first outdoors work shift since high temperatures arrived. It feels normal to work outside for several hours without also feeling like I’ll pass out. There was an air quality advisory because of smoke drift from the Western wildfires, yet temperatures in the 70s were welcome. I made a day of yard and garden work without obvious ill effect.

There are some bright spots. July began with helping our daughter relocate to the Chicago area. In August we plan a visit, something that was difficult when she lived in Florida. We can plan and work on things together again. I hope to bring tomatoes when we visit.

The garden has been the best, producing more food than ever before. My ongoing integration of the garden into the kitchen makes it a useful harvest, both feeding established meal plans and enabling culinary experimentation like this yellow tomato sauce pizza I made for dinner last night.

Yellow tomato pizza sauce reading for toppings.

We are also financially secure due largely to long-range planning and contributions to Social Security during more than 50 years in the workforce. Social Security has enough money to make it through 2034 at the present. I expect to lobby the Congress to fix it in the coming years.

Here’s to August! The time of high summer, sweet corn, tomatoes and vacations. I don’t know about readers, but I’m ready for it.

Categories
Living in Society

Doing The Right Thing

Iowa State Capitol

Governor Kim Reynolds has neither the bandwidth nor expertise to manage the coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t vote for her, yet that is cold comfort. As COVID-19 cases increase in Iowa, and in all 50 states, her latest statement is evidence of her mismanagement. Here it is verbatim.

Reynolds Statement on New COVID-19 Guidance from the Biden Administration

DES MOINES (July 27, 2021) – Governor Reynolds released the following statement following the Biden Administration issuing new COVID-19 guidance:

“The Biden Administration’s new COVID-19 guidance telling fully vaccinated Iowans to now wear masks is not only counterproductive to our vaccination efforts, but also not grounded in reality or common sense. I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support.

“The vaccine remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19, which is why we are going to continue to encourage everyone to get the vaccine.

“I am proud that we recently put new laws in place that will protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing.”

Governor’s website, July 27, 2021

The kernel of truth is the third paragraph about the COVID-19 vaccines being our strongest tool to combat the virus. The rest is political bluster.

Iowa is a state where on Wednesday, less than half the population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This statistic is from the Washington Post as the governor has decreased the visibility of state coronavirus statistics by reducing reporting frequency to once per week. Her decision to hide daily data begs for transparency.

The vaccine is widely available and free, so the distribution system created by the Biden administration is not the problem. The governor needs to act more aggressively in her encouragement of vaccination of the remaining half of Iowans. I propose she become a more public advocate of getting vaccinated. Her behavior has been to drop a press conference or written statement and remain otherwise silent.

Much has been made of the Iowa Board of Health missing a meeting because the governor has not appointed enough members for a quorum. While appointing a full board would be nice, helpful even, lack of a board of health is not the main issue. There is plenty of competent guidance about what the state should do. If the guidance doesn’t fit the governor’s framing, she’s not listening.

She closes by saying. “I trust Iowans to do the right thing.” It is a purposefully vague and meaningless statement subject to interpretation. This phrasing has become a political talking point. The way I interpret it is to listen to the Biden administration, do my best to comply with the new CDC guidance, and work hard to elect a new governor in 2022. Especially that last part.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Sustainability

76th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

World War II veterans were still living when our family moved back to Iowa in 1993. In each conversation with one of them, I asked about the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan and the Nagasaki bombing three days later. To a person, they felt the bombings were warranted, agreeing with President Harry Truman’s decision to drop them. As they aged and died a couple changed their minds.

We have come to accept what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev said in Geneva, Switzerland 36 years ago, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Since then, the U.S. rushed to undo arms control measures. Under President George W. Bush we withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Under President Trump, we withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Deal), the New START Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty. Hard work of arms control, and compliance with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, seemed to have been abandoned.

On the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings we are heartened by the June 16 meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders released a joint statement, “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” They pledged to launch a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue to lay the groundwork for future arms control. We can only hope this time it sticks.

~ First published in the Solon Economist on July 29, 2021.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Back to Work

Apple tree viewed from top of a ladder.

The owner of the orchard and farm asked me to return to work as a mapper a few weeks ago. The mapper helps customers find ripe apples in the orchard during u-pick season. I first worked there in 2013 and did every year since, except for last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I noticed on Instagram they were already picking Viking and Pristine apples so I texted him. It is typical for me to begin work there in August.

After seven messages we determined he continued to need me and that I would go over today to fill out employee paperwork. There is a new manager of the retail barn sales operation to which this position reports. There have been other changes since 2019 as the orchard and farm expanded its offerings beyond apples. I’ll need an orientation. I haven’t worked for someone else since April 2020.

This work suits me. It is two days per week with a fixed ending date of October 31 when the last of the fall apples ripen and are picked. I earned about $2,000 in 2019. You can’t live on it yet there is a use for the income. I don’t work solely for the money any more.

While cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Iowa and across the United States, I’ve been vaccinated and most of the work is outdoors. Hard to say what I’ll run into. In evaluating the risks I didn’t see many of them. After being at home for more than a year, I’m ready for regular human contact with apple seekers.

Working at the orchard adds a fruit element to home food processing. I checked my store of apple products and I’m still working off applesauce, apple butter, apple cider vinegar and dried apples from previous years. My three trees look to produce a big crop this year, and I’ll get some pears. I’ll mainly use apples from the orchard for varieties I don’t grow and use my own harvest to ferment more apple cider vinegar and eat fresh.

Work at the orchard fits well into my idea of a kitchen garden. With a continuing big harvest from the garden a greater portion of each day is spent cleaning and processing vegetables. Adding fruit makes sense. Working at the orchard provides a chance to discuss seasonal produce, cooking, and eating with other people interested in the same thing. By the time I get to October our pantry and freezer should be stocked and the household well-positioned for winter.

I believe I’ll be a better person for going back to work.

Categories
Living in Society

What Work Will We Do?

Working the Garden

Conventional wisdom is there is a worker shortage in Iowa.

“Companies are really at a tipping point with respect to their workforce,” Iowa Business Council Executive Director Joe Murphy said in an interview with Perry Beeman of Iowa Capitol Dispatch. “They need people more than ever.”

The surge in demand for products and services in the second year of the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, there is no shortage of workers. It is a shortage of jobs people want to do.

My colleague Tony Lloyd put it this way: “Can we stop saying that ‘Companies can’t find workers’ and start saying ‘Many corporate work environments are toxic. Workers weren’t thriving before the pandemic. Now they realize that life is short.’ The way you spend your time is the way you spend your life.”

Anyone who worked on a farm knows how hard physical labor can be. Factory workers are well attuned to the toll repetitive tasks take on their bodies. Retail workers figure out ways to eek out a living on low wages. People who are self-employed–housekeepers, landscaping contractors, beauticians and barbers, child care professionals, crafters and creatives–often feel one step from the debt collector with slim chances of making it. We go on working partly because we want to, yet mostly because we need income in 21st Century society.

Labor unions of the post World War II era framed what worklife can be: a 40-hour work week with paid overtime, a safe work place, vacations and holidays, health insurance, sick leave, and other perquisites. About one-quarter of all U.S. workers belonged to a union in the mid-1950s, yet only 10.8% of U.S. workers were union members in 2020. The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.8 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.3 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While we are friends of organized labor, their model has not worked for the majority of Americans in the workforce.

Most small, family-run businesses I know seek to avoid hiring people unless they must. Everyone from the owner to the dish washer pitches in to help get required daily work done. Yet small businesses have been and continue to be acquired by larger ones, or are run out of business through market competition.

American business favors a structure where management expenses are minimized, and to do that, scale is important. The bookkeeper for a $1 million dollar a year operation may stay busy, yet the better use of such labor is said to be that same bookkeeper managing a portfolio of ten or twenty such operations. To do that businesses need scale. Scale well-serves the owners of business–the richest one percent among us–but that’s where trouble came in. It was noticed during the pandemic.

Scaling business to reduce overhead costs, and taking the individual decision-making aspect out of operating a small office or outlet within a large corporation is what created the “toxic work environments” to which Lloyd referred. If there is will to do something about it, I don’t see it in public. As we answer the question, “What work will we do?” our options are limited by the corporatization of the United States.

Wouldn’t it be great to work like this:

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

Sony Music Publishing or Sir Paul McCartney, who knows.

Unfortunately, even something as simple as “getting by” gets complicated. How we spend our days is made more difficult by the corporatization of worklife and the increasing divide between the richest people and the rest of us. The question remains unanswered.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

At the Food Bank

World War II Gardens

Volunteers at the local food bank couldn’t wait to taste the cherry tomatoes I donated Monday morning. As soon as they were weighed in they tried some as I pointed out different varieties. It is surprising our city of 2,615 people has a need for a food bank, yet business is brisk. I enjoy the social aspect of donating to the food bank.

A group of civic-minded people noticed a number of area residents drove ten miles to the county seat to use a food bank. They felt the local need was real. The community pantry was organized in 2012 by a board that consisted of local residents and representatives from area churches. “It is able to provide food and needed supplies to residents due to the generosity of our community and businesses,” according to the pantry Facebook page. Here’s a link to the Cedar Rapids Gazette article from when it opened.

A key consideration for gardeners is reducing food waste by timely consuming, storing and processing garden produce. Having a local food bank provides one more way to reduce waste. So far this season I made six donations. While they aren’t much in the scope of things, everything helps feed people who are struggling to put food on the table. Why shouldn’t pantry clients receive fresh produce?

Local food production makes a difference in reducing reliance on the drought-ravaged growing areas of California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Just like with victory gardens during World War II, the aggregate effect of local people growing food is positive. As dry conditions continue, especially out west, consumers will have to rely more on local food production.

If you garden, figure out how to donate part of your production to help others. It makes a person feel like an important part of society and that alone makes it worth doing. The benefit to recipients is tangible.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Reasons to Source Food Locally

Garden produce on Saturday, July 24, 2021.

Despite near drought conditions most of this growing season, our garden is producing the best crop I can remember. Our ability to irrigate is most of that. I’m also becoming a better gardener. We don’t have it as bad as California does.

Because of dry conditions over an extended period of time, California farmers are letting fields go fallow. Without rain or irrigation there is no point in putting seeds in the ground. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued three drought emergency proclamations this year, in April, May and July. The state called for residents to reduce water use by 15 percent to stretch supplies and protect water reserves. While this drought is not the worst on a 1,000 year time line, it is bad and if it continues it will affect what shoppers see in grocery stores. It goes without saying prices will trend upward.

Because of drought in western states, what we do in our Midwestern back yards increases in value.

When Michael Pollan released this video in 2010, the landscape for local food was different. His focus was on the amount of fossil fuel it took to produce vegetables in California and distribute them across the United States. He also discusses the energy required to make processed foods, like Hostess Twinkies. While avoiding global warming remains a reason to eat locally, with drought made worse by climate change, supply becomes an issue. If California farmers are not planting crops, if almond trees are not sustainable there, how will we get nutritious food? There are few better solutions than growing one’s own and sourcing locally.

Categories
Living in Society

Miller-Meeks: Divisive Blabbermouth

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks ran a successful fourth campaign for congress and now represents Iowa’s Second Congressional District. People argue with that statement, saying they stopped counting the votes, yet it is accurate.

Her first three campaigns (2008, 2010 and 2014) were won consistently by Dave Loebsack, even in 2010 when Republicans began taking back control of the state. Loebsack won in 2010 with 51 percent of the vote to Miller-Meeks’ 46 percent.

Her several campaigns created many opportunities to hear her speak and ask questions over a 13-year period. She is a relatively known entity.

What is new and a bit unexpected, is she used her long awaited victory to become a blabbermouth. Today, my Google Alert finds Miller-Meeks saying something noteworthy to someone a couple of times a day. With her regular appearances on FOX News, she attempts to carve a peculiar narrative of her drawn-out election victory. I preferred it when our district’s member of Congress had less to say and wasn’t constantly spinning talking points.

During the time constituents were represented by Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack, we didn’t hear from them much. Our expectation was we wouldn’t hear from them unless it was important. We are used to our member of Congress being above the fray. Leach and Loebsack were the ones who evaluated data and legislation with their district foremost in mind. While Leach was definitely a Republican, he presented an image of bi-partisanship that won him many district fans. Miller-Meeks evaluates legislation based on her partisanship first and make no pretense about it.

Miller-Meeks’ no vote on the American Rescue Plan epitomizes her partisanship. No Republican in the Congress voted for the law. At the same time Iowans specifically benefited from features of the law. Although the congresswoman has been less vocal about the benefits, her staff is in a position to have to help Iowans with the programs. While voting no, she gains favorable attention by helping constituents.

It is more than she speaks excessively. Miller-Meeks is purposely divisive and the district has not seen this for decades. Jim Leach’s reputation was built on being the guy who could be persuaded to cross the aisle on legislation. Miller-Meeks votes against laws she recognizes will pass without her vote and enjoys the benefit of Democratic policy among voters. She is able to cynically say, “I voted against that bill” to her base, while her staff helps constituents secure benefits. Perhaps the correct descriptive term is Rep. Miller-Meeks is a “divisive blabbermouth.”

For the present, the congresswoman is who she is and as she speaks openly and often, constituents have a chance to get to know her. I doubt people are as tuned into her daily activity as we are at Blog for Iowa. Her frequent unexpected and divisive statements are money in the political bank for Democrats–a reserve that will be spent as Democrats identify a candidate and begin the 2022 Congressional campaign.

Let her go on talking. There will be a price to pay before her term is up.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Living in Society

Laundering Face Masks-Again

Washington Post Screenshot, July 21, 2021.

Laundering home sewn face masks is back on the to-do list. It looks like we’ll need them.

On Monday I wrote we are not really taming the coronavirus in Iowa or in the United States as a whole. Too many unvaccinated residents are in social situations without protection. The unvaccinated make up the vast majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19. If you missed it, click here to read the post.

To my point about children returning to school this fall, also on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools for everyone older than age two.

While that recommendation was churning in the vessel, both political commentator Sean Hannity of FOX News and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made strong public statements that people need to get the COVID-19 vaccine in their arms. McConnell was particularly direct, with a “get vaccinated or else” statement. Here is the clip:

What gives? Are we at a turning point in addressing vaccine hesitancy? We know Hannity and McConnell are not sincerely concerned about those who died or are afflicted with COVID-19. Was it Monday morning’s 750-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Did they have a come to Jesus meeting… with Jesus? I’m sure I don’t know, other than it is self serving. Maybe they are worried too many of their anti-vaxx constituents will die of COVID-19, yielding the political fight to Democrats.

My cynicism about conservatives’ motivation aside, the increase in number of COVID-19 cases is alarming. While the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, there have been prominent people who, while fully vaccinated, have contracted a new variant of COVID-19. On the one hand we have to go on living. On the other, there are unknown risks to be addressed.

The upshot is get vaccinated if you aren’t.

If you are vaccinated, the CDC recommends you comply with federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations regarding protection from the coronavirus, including local business and workplace guidance. If a merchant requires you to wear a mask on their property, just do so or walk away. Seek to get along in society knowing the pandemic brought out the worst among some people. Seek safer activities if you are in doubt, the CDC made a handy list.

And launder those reusable masks. Don’t be afraid to wear them in public. A mask won’t kill you but the coronavirus might.

Editor’s note: Sean Hannity spent time on his Thursday radio program back tracking on his encouragement to the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa