RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— There was a palpable air of activity at the farm this week as planting the fields began in earnest. Rows were cultivated, marked with string in straight lines, and one-by-one, seedlings were lined up in measured intervals and put in the ground. The rows were straight and long, a display of spring’s hope and promise.
My role was to make more soil blocks and plant cabbage and broccoli seeds. The trays in the greenhouse were all used up, so as soon as the planting crew finished one, I secured the empty and replanted it. The greenhouse has become a brief way station in the life of the farm.
The CSA has begun distributing shares and this week included lettuce, Bok Choy and “grazing greens.” Because of the high tunnel, these varieties were available so soon after a wet, cold spring.
11 weeks into the work, I am beginning to feel a valued part of the farm operation. People work their whole careers in an office, or as a professional, and never feel that way. Caught up in tedious acts of drudgery— driving, shopping, waiting, social drama— feeling disconnected from the most important things in life. It is nearly impossible to feel that way when working on a farm. It give the phrase “will work for food” a new meaning. Finding meaning may be what life in society is about.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Preoccupation with mixed greens can be a good thing when working in a warehouse. The repetitive tasks, and long periods without human engagement create an open mind that will fill with worry if one lets it. Yesterday I got two bags of mixed greens from the CSA, and spent the second shift thinking about making a frittata made from local ingredients.
A couple of notes:
There is an abundance of Iowa artisan cheese. The trouble is the expense is more than a working person can afford on a daily basis. After trying many kinds of cheese, we settled on Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar (yellow and white) which retails at less than $4.50 per pound. Not really local, but affordable, made with vegetable rennet and what one expects a sharp cheddar cheese to taste like.
Vidalia onions are in season, and were addressed here.
Mixed Greens Frittata
Making frittata is somewhat flexible. Part of my workingman’s dream of local food included the ingredients in our pantry: the mixed greens mentioned, half a Vidalia onion, sharp cheddar cheese, a Jalapeno pepper from last year’s garden and Farmer Kate’s bell pepper – both from the freezer, chopped stems of local Bok Choy, spring garlic and chives picked this morning in my garden, and four eggs – locally, but mass produced. Enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the frying pan.
One can see from the photo how the vegetables were prepared. The stems of the greens were cut into small bits and reserved. The remaining mixed greens were roughly chopped. Here is how:
Heat a non-stick frying pan on high heat. Coat the bottom with extra virgin olive oil and when the oil heats, add diced onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the onions for a couple of minutes and add in the following order: bell and Jalapeno peppers, Bok Choy stems, chopped mixed greens stems, and spring garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped greens and stir constantly until the leaves wilt. Don’t overly cook the greens.
Whisk four whole eggs in a bowl, and pour over the cooked vegetables to cover. Turn the heat to medium low and cover the frying pan with a lid. Cook about six minutes, or until the eggs are cooked through. Sprinkle a half cup of grated cheddar cheese on top, turn off the heat and cover with the lid. When the cheese is melted, transfer to a serving plate and garnish with fresh chives.
Serve with a slice of your favorite bread, a piece of fruit, and a cup of coffee for a working person’s breakfast.
LAKE MACBRIDE— After the U.S. Air Force removed 17 nuclear weapons launch officers from duty this week for marginal job performance skills, it should be a wake-up call. Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, which is responsible for all Minuteman 3 missile launch crews at the Minot, N.D. Air Force Base, indicated there is “rot” in the force.
According to the Associated Press, “underlying the Minot situation is a sense among some that the Air Force’s nuclear mission is a dying field, as the government considers further reducing the size of the U.S. arsenal.”
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley was quoted, “it is the duty of commanders to ride herd on those young officers with this awesome responsibility of controlling missiles capable of destroying entire countries.” No sh*t Sherlock.
With all the public posturing about nuclear deterrence and missile defense in Washington, D.C., a simple truth is that the care-takers of our nuclear weapons program are not always the best. Situations like the one at Minot creates a risk of a nuclear mishap, which could have devastating consequences.
There has been a long series of nuclear weapons mishaps, and while some credit is due to the Air Force for inspecting and taking action regarding the program, as a taxpayer, one has to ask how did the men and women holding the nuclear umbrella get to be in such sorry shape?
Along with changing climate, a nuclear weapons exchange is on the short list of things that could end life as we know it on the planet. Incidents like this week’s sidelining of nuclear weapons launch officers provide evidence that there is more risk than reward in the deployment and maintenance of a nuclear weapons program.
It is more reason to support the administration’s slow, but steady progress in moving toward a world without nuclear weapons.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Last night the seedlings were protected, and it worked. The only tracks in the garden plot were mine, and no evidence of deer, rabbits or other predators to succulent seedlings. As the old Cristy Lane song goes, “one day at a time sweet Jesus. That’s all I’m asking from you. Just give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do.” Made it through the night.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Our garden is on a deer path. They have likely been using it much longer than we, so when I put out new garden seedlings, they are protected as best as possible with existing fences, cages and stakes. Today, yellow squash and zucchini seedlings went in the garden in three by three foot sections. I placed them apart from each other so there would be less cross pollination. I also tended to the onions, which are rooting well, and planted Brussels sprouts, broccoli and Anaheim peppers. Here are some photos of the garden today:
LAKE MACBRIDE— Two of the four apple trees are developing blossoms today. There should be plenty of apples this fall if flowers become fruit. The risk is a late frost before they are pollinated. I barely dodged the bullet last year, having good pollination just as the frost hit. The good news today is that I saw a few bees out. Fingers crossed that the blossoms open today or tomorrow and get pollinated. I suppose we can’t rush Mother Nature.
Our home owners association has a rule about cutting the grass. I ignore it completely. Some neighbors have mowed three times already and the border of our properties resembles the scene in The Great Gatsby where Nick Carraway compares his ragged lawn to the expansive and neatly trimmed one of his neighbor. If people pay attention to this sort of thing, one is assured the neighbors are grumbling about my unkempt lawn.
I let it go during the spring for two reasons. First, I want to see what wildflowers show themselves— vestiges of the time before we developed the property. Second, the first cutting in the spring makes excellent mulch for the garden. Last year, the drought conditions produced only a scant amount of grass clippings. This year, I am going to take advantage of the rainfall and use every bit of this abundance. If I cut too often, the small pieces of grass blade fall to the earth and mulch the lawn. That’s not bad, but the garden means more to me than a neat and tidy lawn.
Monday morning inspection of the garden revealed that the lettuce looks like lettuce, the arugula is growing, it pays to sow radish seeds properly spaced and one at a time, and there are spinach and turnip plants popping into the sunlight. The spring garlic should be ready to harvest soon. I intend to share that with our CSA and will dig some and take it to the farm on Wednesday for a proper evaluation. The next step is to plant the six trays and five buckets of seedlings. The ground was too wet for that this morning, so maybe tomorrow.
It is a glorious day to be outside working in the yard. There is much to do, so I’d better close for now and get back outside to the garden.
LAKE MACBRIDE— The last eight weeks have been a retreat from my recent life in society. Eschewing standing relationships, wrapped in a cocoon, endeavoring to earn money for the tax man, insurance companies and lenders, the universe of human contact has been reduced to a very small circle of family, close friends and work. I got out yesterday to attend a political meeting. It was a mixed bag.
On the positive side, I spent time with like-minded people I have known for a while, engaging in ideas and strengthening relationships. On the downer side, there is a lot of work to do to make social progress, and the voices heard often are the loudest, regardless of the efficacy of their arguments. My take-away was an unsettling feeling of cultural dissonance.
The droning of talking points— the would be muezzin called for prayer from a seat in the back of the room. Her schedule followed no holy book, her themes were less than holy— the whims and fancies of enthusiasms founded in self-identified diatribes. She leveraged the event to support her secular devotions. Absent another voice, it’s all those gathered would hear. We have to be an alternative voice to the vapid droning.
It cannot be that social progress can be made only by the affluent class, people that earn more than a living wage. But it takes an economic platform to be active in society— source of finance, a safety net. It is beyond the means of most people. Many struggle to achieve such a platform their entire lives, wrapped in a social cocoon, getting by as best they can.
We each feel a sense of dignity and worth that comes from our indigent circumstances. We live in a society that would suppress our native instincts and bend our will to meet the economic, social and political needs of others. We must resist with all of our strength, remaining true to ourselves.
There is a personal responsibility to contribute to social progress, and it is hard to do under any circumstances. After examining yesterday’s events, my conclusion is that I have to get out more.
MORSE— State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann held a town hall meeting at the Morse Community Center, where 25 people gathered this afternoon to hear what is going on in Des Moines. He wanted to hear what we had to say, and some members of the audience had a lot of it. Kaufmann reported that local celebrity, Laurie Tulchin of the Newport Road clashes, helped pay for the hall.
Johnson County Republican party chairwoman Deborah Thornton approached, after the formal part of the meeting, and asked me to sign a petition changing how we would be represented on the county board of supervisors. I don’t support the proposal and said so. She said, “that’s okay,” and moved on to others, after mentioning the Rand Paul event coming up in Coralville. It was an example of the new Republican diligence in what they may see as a Graham township opening to expand their base. Kaufmann won only 42 percent of the vote in Graham precinct during the 2012 general election. I know Graham precinct and believe her effort was futile. However, one had to appreciate her diligence and persistence.
I liked Bobby Kaufmann the first time we met, and still do. What is surprising is now that I have a Republican representative in the state house, I also like divided government. Even more than the so-called trifecta, when Democrats, under Chet Culver, controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature. (Note: The three branches of government are executive, legislative and judicial. Legislators seem to forget the judiciary in their tripartite calculus).
In divided government people have to work together to conduct the state’s business, each holding the other party accountable. For a working stiff like me, that’s as good as it gets in government.
After the 2012 general election, I wrote in the Tipton Conservative,
“In the 85th Iowa General Assembly, House District 73 will be typical of Iowa, where our state representative and state senator, Democrat Bob Dvorsky, will be in the majority in their respective chambers. In order for anything to get accomplished, the senate and house must seek bipartisan common ground as a first step.
The mistake of past house Republicans has been to get some house Democrats to join in legislation, call it bipartisan, and lay blame in the other chamber when it was rejected. This went both ways.
Kaufmann has an opportunity to differentiate himself. If he rejects the stale blame game house Republicans have played with the Iowa Senate, and, as he promised during the campaign, works toward bipartisan solutions to get meaningful legislation passed and forwarded to the governor, then he will grow his base of support and help his re-election prospects.
However, if he plays the blame game, his prospects for re-election diminish.”
It is too early to tell how the session will play out, and for me, everyone is too chummy over in Des Moines. Today, Kaufmann demonstrated that whether or not he read my letter, he gets what I had to say and has been working toward getting something done in divided government. He repeatedly mentioned his relationship with Democrat Dave Jacoby of Coralville (and their seven lunches together this session). He gave Jacoby credit for helping craft bills that gained true bipartisan support when put to a vote. It is hard to legitimately complain about that.
As a citizen, I believe our legislature doesn’t need to do dumb things like prop up the nuclear power industry, support economic development deals like the one with Orascom, or turn away an expansion of Medicaid in some reasonable form. If I don’t agree with Kaufmann on some important issues, he is doing the work of representing the district. At the same time, my state senator is protecting me from Republican bad ideas.
Now that divided government has come home to roost, one finds it not very progressive, but better than expected.
LAKE MACBRIDE— There was a time when our life on the Iowa prairie resembled what now is referred to as the middle class. My mother worked at home and at the school cafeteria, and my father had a shift job at a meat packing plant, Monday through Friday. We kids went to school and church, played in the neighborhood, and from time to time, our maternal grandmother came over for Sunday dinner. We had little money, and didn’t need much. After Dad’s death I found one of his pay stubs in his basement workshop indicating $89 per week.
Dad was involved with our family, the union, politics and getting ahead. After work on Fridays he would head to Pete’s Midwest Tavern to socialize, and blow off some steam. On Saturday mornings he slept as late as he ever did, his wedding band and watch on the bedside table until he rose. As he struggled to get ahead, he took up golf as a means of socialization and networking, although he didn’t call it that. Eventually, Saturday morning sleep-ins were replaced with an early tee-time. It turned out he was good at playing golf, not quite a scratch golfer.
It’s been a lot of years since Dad passed on— it is difficult to tell, beyond the gene pool, whether I am like him or not. He would likely disapprove of my current temp job as a shift worker, as he had better things in mind for me. He never said exactly what, but provided career advice, “don’t become a grease monkey— keep your hands clean.”
After a week of warehouse work, my workmates and I do thank God when Friday arrives. It is a bit lame that I don’t know if bars are open after midnight. Always, I have headed home, although someday my younger cohorts may invite me out after work. I would go if they did.
My hands swell from the manual labor I perform. I take off my wedding band and place it on the dresser near where the watch I haven’t worn since the 1990s rests, its battery dead. I sleep in on Saturday morning, and it’s okay to break from society and its conventions.
The way the phrase “middle class” is used today seems spurious. A marker for a political agenda, rather than a condition or status in society. Demographically, the term is meaningless because of the vast range of economic status of the group falling between the haves and the have nots— the have somethings.
I feel working class when sleeping in on Saturdays, tired from the preceding week of manual labor. Whatever one calls it, luxuriating in being who we are is important to maintaining our sanity in a turbulent world. Even if it only lasts for the brief time between sleeping and waking on Saturday mornings.
LAKE MACBRIDE— The sound of rain dripping in the downspout woke me. Opening the blinds revealed a queue of cars protecting school children from the rain at the bus stop. It is an overcast day, with rain we surely need. The school bus arrived, and I moved trays of seedlings outside to harden them. Better plants be hardened by the weather than children. Life will be hard enough as they finish grade school and begin to grow up.
Spring has been a time of lessons learned in Big Grove.
Cooperation with neighbors enabled me to borrow a rototiller and till the garden as well as it has ever been at no financial cost. That benefit, combined with working together in a common enterprise, is a reminder of our local culture, and the need to nurture it.
Seeking out people with experience in similar interests can provide benefits. Working together with them is even better. The inspiration to plant more seeds in trays this year was working with experienced growers at a local farm. Seeing the success others have can inform our own successes.
Adaptation to the sometimes crazy weather was the climate reality with which we lived. The cold, wet spring retarded progress in yard and garden work. Though delayed, the trees and plantings are now thriving. It is better to focus on what progress can be made than to complain about the weather, and other things beyond our control.
Life is what we make of it is the old saw. Quotes, proverbs and sayings aren’t worth much unless we put them into practical application by doing things with others. It takes time and effort. Sometimes it takes replacing bad habits accumulated over time with something better.
Perhaps the best lesson of this spring has been the reminder that we can’t stop living. If there is any hope for social progress, it is in working together with others toward a common good— a lesson that extends beyond spring.