Kitchen Garden Living in Society

Supporting the Food Bank

Garden signage is new this season.

I reached out to a long-time friend who manages the community food bank to ask if they would like some of my excess garden produce.

“We would be most grateful for your fresh produce!” they emailed.

I put a recurring event on my calendar to deliver something every Monday morning beginning June 7 through the end of season. I look forward to seeing her in person on Monday, for the first time since an event during the Elizabeth Warren campaign before the Iowa Caucus.

The goal of a kitchen garden is to match garden production with what a cook can use in the kitchen. Gardeners put a lot of promise in the ground and not all of it comes to fruition. When it does, though, it is time to share the bounty. What better way to do it than donate food to people who need the help of a community food bank?

I participated in a call this week where a group of white Iowans, most with grey hair like mine, were working on a political advocacy project regarding the climate crisis. Halfway through the call, I realized there was no discussion of economic justice, that the people most impacted by the climate crisis are low income, black, indigenous, and people of color. I raised the issue and was surprised by the response. The suggestion was the impact of the climate crisis on low income individuals was mostly in countries other than the United States. OMG! We have a long way to go. The moral is if we don’t raise the issue of economic justice, and its companion, climate justice, it won’t be addressed, even among climate activists.

Thursday was almost perfect, maybe a little hot with low humidity. It was the kind of day I remember from childhood, one without need of air conditioning, where the outdoors was a great place to spend purposeful time. As an aging gardener, I get most of my work done in the morning before it gets hot and humid. Even so, during peak temperatures in the high 80s, it wasn’t so bad.

In driving us to stay home more, the coronavirus pandemic provided a new perspective on daily life. We notice things that our busy lives hid from view. Things like the food bank, climate justice, and the condition of garden plants. That is a good thing.

Living in Society

Beginning a Summer

Plot #7 drying on May 28, 2021.

167.7 million Americans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s 50.5 percent of the total population, according to this morning’s Washington Post. Society is loosening a bit, although when I went shopping last week, most people were wearing face masks in the store.

My sister-in-law came for a visit on Friday, the first time the two sisters spent time together, in person, since the pandemic began. A return to doing certain things has a trajectory of its own. People feel comfortable being together without a significant risk of dying or getting sick. COVID-19 may be lurking in the background, but being vaccinated, we feel okay forgetting about it for a while.

This summer will be a time of re-making how our small family lives. The Memorial Day weekend traditionally, unofficially, kicks off summer, so this post is some thoughts about what is next.

During the coronavirus pandemic we paid off our debt and improved retained earnings on our balance sheet by 12 percent. The pension structure we planned, with Social Security and Medicare at its core, will serve us well for the next 10-13 years. If the Congress does not address the projected shortfall after 2034, our pensions could be reduced. Developing a plan to deal with this possibility is in the mix of priorities, yet not high on the list.

I have little desire to be a wage earner again. I do seek some supplemental income aligned with my interests. No hurry here as we are getting along for the time being.

We’ve been blessed with reasonably good health. Improved diet and daily exercise are both important. So are regular visits to the doctor.

The pandemic changed our transportation needs. Our 1997 and 2002 automobiles need upgrading to a single, newer one with appropriate range to meet our lifestyle. The move will likely be to an electric vehicle, a new one. The question of hauling stuff like bales of straw, garden supplies and home improvement materials remains to be addressed.

This blog changed into something else during the pandemic. I welcome whatever changes are needed to make it relevant going forward. My morning habits have become ingrained. It’s hard to imagine starting each day differently from the way developed during the last 15 months.

Big projects. It became clear that I can work on only one big project at a time, whether it is right-sizing number of possessions, writing, gardening, preparing the house for our aging, or whatever. An air traffic controller can land only one plane at a time and so it is for us. This brings clarity and focus.

Finally, having an active, healthy mind is important. Some things we can’t control, yet a life of engagement in society can maximize use of our critical thinking capabilities… as long as we don’t begin tuning into FOX News. Reading the newspaper and linked articles on Twitter is part of this. Engaging in politics, social justice, and the climate crisis is another. It goes without saying that being supportive of our small family is also important to mental health.

There’s a clear path to finishing the initial garden planting today. My garden work is one of the few things that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. Let’s hope that remains so going forward.

Living in Society


Wildflowers on the Lake Macbride State Park trail, May 26, 2021.

Fourteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it was time to get the newer car serviced. For the most part, the 2002 Subaru sat in the garage or driveway during the pandemic. Wednesday I drove it to town, dropped it at the shop, and walked home along the Lake Macbride State Park trail. It was a near perfect day for a long walk, with clear skies and ambient temperatures in the mid 70s.

Rain is today’s forecast, as it has been for the last two weeks. We haven’t gotten much rain, only enough to retard gardening progress. It looks like drought will be more Iowa’s problem this growing season, although there has been enough moisture here.

In an effort to stop taking a post-operative opioid pain killer, I skipped a dose yesterday afternoon. I’ll likely skip another dose at 11 a.m. today and if the pain is subsiding, switch back to Ibuprofen (or nothing) before bedtime. It was useful to have access to a strong pain killer.

I’ve been mostly out of the garden since I put the tomatoes in and need to finish up initial planting with Guajillo chilies, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and acorn squash in plot seven. I also need to weed… a lot.

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal. It presents a broad history of food in society, focusing on the detrimental aspects of agriculture. I’m reading the chapter on branding — the rise of Chiquita, Campbell’s, Heinz, Kraft and others. In my autobiography there is a section about the rise of grocery stores and branded prepared foods, so Bittman provides a great background for that work just when I need it. The current average rating on Goodreads is 3.88 which seems about right. I can’t say there is much new to me in the book yet he does part of my research for me.

At 9 a.m. this morning there is a 100% chance of rain, according to my weather application. As soon as the sun rises at 5:36 a.m., I plan to grab my spade and turn over as much of plot seven as I can before it starts. After being waylaid for a week, I’m ready to get back to the garden.

Kitchen Garden


Water bath canning.

The first batch of vegetable broth is canned and stored. I am well on the way to meeting a 24 quart budget.

Two different batches went into this water bath canning session. The colors were different because of different greens used. I thought of marking them in vintages as is done with wine, yet that may be a step too far. It’s only broth.

My garden is producing enough leafy green vegetables that the challenge will be using them up. I’m ready to go on my own after the last farm share on Monday. I appreciate the spring CSA share as a bridge between winter and my garden becoming established. Their high tunnels make it possible. I could likely do without it but that would mean changing behavior of nine years — it would be too much coming out of the pandemic.

I strained my shoulder and was waylaid for a couple of days. Luckily it rained so I didn’t feel I was losing garden productivity. I treated with rest and Ibuprofen and the injury does not seem permanent. Can’t say it’s as good as new, because at age 69, who would believe it?

Since the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic on March 11 last year I gained three pounds. I feel healthier than I have in years, although am cognizant of age’s fragility which produces strains and minor aches and pains. I’m doing okay and hesitate to add the dreaded phrase, “for my age.”

Friday afternoon I made black tea with lemon balm. It was surprisingly refreshing. I buy the cheapest bagged tea leaves at the grocer and they make the best iced tea. I use the ones without strings. The lemon balm came with the farm share and I added it to three tea bags in our Brown Betty before pouring the water. It made a scant two quarts.

With nine days left until Memorial Day, finishing initial garden planting is within reach. I started some winter squash in trays yesterday and the rest of what I start indoors from seed will be for succession planting. I’m already on the third round of lettuce and spinach, second of broccoli and cauliflower. With the isolation created by the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected to be a great gardening year.

Living in Society

Shopping After the Pandemic

Onion patch after weeding, May 15, 2021.

Delivery vehicles ply the neighborhood on a daily basis, more than I remember. Increased numbers are partly a function of more online shopping due to restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Postal Service has always been here. UPS, FedEx, and Amazon are also here daily, often multiple times a day. The creamery a few miles away makes home deliveries of fresh dairy products ordered online. Will this level of online shopping persist when more people are vaccinated for COVID-19? Yes, it will.

A pandemic lesson learned is the value in quickly finding what one needs, ordering it, and receiving it within a couple of days without starting a vehicle. How does that impact local retailers? If Sears and Roebuck didn’t drive local merchants out of business, neither will the rise of online shopping. Rural retail has its roots in people ordering from catalogues. Here’s a refresher from the Sears Archives website:

The 1943 Sears News Graphic wrote that the Sears catalog, “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.” The roots of the Sears catalog are as old as the company. In 1888, Richard Sears first used a printed mailer to advertise watches and jewelry.

The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.

History of the Sears Catalogue, Sears Archives.

We piled in our car and went to Sears as a family when I was a child. Frequently it was a special time together. Our lives were more about living than shopping in the 1960s. Automobile trips became family outings and visiting Sears was another trip to make. If father looked over the Craftsman tools while we were there, that was a side benefit. The pandemic taught us automobile culture was not as important as we may have believed.

In a life not far removed from the frontier, shopping wasn’t that important. When my great, great grandparents settled the Minnesota prairie, there were few retail merchants and no internal combustion vehicles. Making do is how they lived. Distribution infrastructure as we know it now did not exist at the time Sears mailed the first catalogues. The pandemic forced many of us to return to making do and online shopping became part of that.

The rise in online retail is significant. I placed my first order with on Dec. 23, 1998. In the early days, Amazon lost money to gain market share. Today they are profitable, more profitable than other large retailers, by a distance. Sears as we knew it is no more. Amazon’s gross revenue is astounding, far surpassing any locally owned store.

There is a nearby ACE Hardware store, about 20 miles away. They suffer from the same lack of inventory as every other local retailer. While helping customers find something, if they don’t have it in stock, they take us over to a computer terminal. They search the store’s inventory and if they find the item, place the order, and notify the customer when it arrives. Why couldn’t I cut out the middleman and find items online myself? I can and during the pandemic, I did.

America is becoming a land of rich people and the most of us who are not. While we don’t want to say it, we have returned to a form of post-serfdom society, similar to Poland during the partition era. Forced off the land and into wage earning, it has become harder to get along on wages. There is no unspoiled prairie to seek and start over. Time, money, and efficiency have become mainstays in our effort to live. If we can get inexpensive, efficient help, and save time by shopping on line, we will.

That is the future of shopping after the pandemic.

Living in Society

Masks Off!

Change is on the horizon regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Or maybe not.

On Thursday, May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new recommendation for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.
Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, May 13, 2021.

Color me skeptical. Physicians have been saying that once one is fully vaccinated the danger of contracting COVID-19 is minimal. That is, the vaccines are effective. At the same time, if vaccinated people discard their masks, what does that mean when a majority of Americans remain unprotected? This one is above my pay grade and I’m not going to attempt to analyze it.

The announcement represents a shift in a pandemic which is far from over. However, a lot of behavior adopted during the last 14 months will persist after the population becomes immune to COVID-19. Some examples:

  • More reading and writing.
  • I will remain retired. No more part time retail work to supplement Social Security and Medicare. I don’t miss catching seasonal influenza and other maladies.
  • Our home owners association will continue to meet via conference call. Doing so has proven more convenient for board members.
  • Continued dinner menu planning. It’s a stress reliever with better meals.
  • Limited travel off property. Exercise, provisioning and visiting our daughter are still on. Everything else is on hold.
  • Attendance at organization meetings only via video conference. It’s more efficient.
  • Fewer trips to retail outlets. More online shopping.
  • Continue to live debt free. Fingers crossed.

Likely other behaviors will persist. For now, though, masks off for us, though it depends.

Living in Society

Will the Pandemic End?

Plot #5 after Friday’s shift.

People are uncertain about resuming pre-pandemic social relations.

Yesterday on a Zoom meeting with 60 participants, the moderator took a poll of our vaccination status. About 93 percent of participants were fully vaccinated, everyone had a plan to get vaccinated, and they are looking to meet in person again soon.

Thursday my spouse and I attended a funeral service for a neighbor on line. No one inside the church wore a mask. The preacher mentioned it was the first time in a long time people could gather together for a funeral because of the pandemic. There were more people attending on line than in the image transmitted from the church.

During my shift at the farm we worked outside. All of us have been vaccinated, although we still wear masks when working inside the greenhouse. Outside, no masks are required. It felt good.

On a long telephone call with a friend, they said they wouldn’t go out again after the pandemic. At least not to the kind of event frequented before.

I organize our home owners’ association monthly meetings. Since the pandemic began we’ve held meetings via conference call. When the city library begins renting the meeting room again, that will be my sign it’s okay to meet in person again.

Uncertainty abounds in all of this.

The pandemic is real. People I know got sick and died from COVID-19. The same is true for almost everyone I know. Because of our pensions, our household can survive without outside work. We used to get so much of our lives from work, yet suddenly it wasn’t as important as staying healthy.

I like not being sick since the winter of 2019-2020. That’s a result of personal hygiene practices in play because of the coronavirus pandemic. I won’t abandon my face masks when going to the grocery store post-pandemic. If I take a job, it will be one in which I can avoid daily, random contact with people, or maintain proper protections when in person. It’s becoming a weird world for which I am not ready.

For now, the pandemic continues, and with it, social protocols. What worries me is not this pandemic, but the next one. People smarter than me say more are coming. Will we have learned anything from our time since WHO declared the global pandemic on March 11, 2020? The last year has not provided much hope we will.

Kitchen Garden

Pear Blossoms

Pear blossoms, April 27, 2021.

During this year’s fifth shift of soil blocking at the farm I got my groove back. That means I maintained a production rate of ten trays per hour. I’ve done better than that, although this year the supplier changed the composition of the soil mix and it’s taking some adjustment. It’s my ninth year at the farm under two different owners.

The farm crew is getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and we’re working through the unmasking process. When I work alone in the greenhouse I’m unmasked, when with others, masked. When the crew makes deliveries, the usual social distancing and masking protocols are followed. There is a fear that contact with so many people carries risk of transmission of the coronavirus. We don’t want the virus brought back to the farm. The good news is we are working through it.

At home, pollination is proceeding. Apple blossoms are open and petals have begun to fall after fruit set. The weather forecast is good for finishing fruit set before a frost. This is a key time in apple production.

The pear tree has fewer blossoms than in previous years yet there looks to be a harvest. Now that the sun is up, I’ll head out to the garden to take in the fragrances of the flowers before they disappear.

Living in Society

Leaving Walt Disney World

Seedling trays at the farm, April 23, 2021.

I won’t likely be returning to Walt Disney World, yet not for the reasons you might think. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the consumer experience was shattered and one of the broken pieces is doing whatever we did for entertainment. Most of us won’t be going back to the way things were.

When our daughter was 11, I felt an urgency to provide her a theme park experience before she got too old. We went as a family, even though we couldn’t really afford a trip to Orlando. It was new even though it was the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. I remember it as a hot yet fun time where we could be ourselves. It was meaningful visiting Universal Studios and Walt Disney World together.

Lately folks are politicizing visits to Disney. Partly they accuse the corporation of playing politics. Please. Corporations have always played politics better than most. What is concerning to some is Disney recently announced cast members are permitted to display tattoos, wear inclusive uniforms, and display inclusive haircuts. I knew about the “Disney look” for many years and couldn’t see how they found enough non-tattooed people to staff the positions. Supposedly cast members being themselves has broken the willing suspension of disbelief many visitors bring with them to the park. Life is apparently crappy and folk need to travel to a theme park to forget about it. That’s a hella way to build a life.

There have always been guests at theme parks with grievances and disappointments. The new grievance of having one’s immersion into make-believe broken because Disney removed the Song of the South from Splash Mountain is something else. Something is missing.

I have no regrets about my trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the rest. It is a part of my privilege that I was able to go. So many were doing it, theme park trips came to be perceived as a norm for people who had the means.

What the coronavirus pandemic taught me is the important part of visiting theme parts was doing something as a family. It didn’t matter what we did and maybe that’s the point about Disney. Mickey Mouse is getting long in the tooth and society is ready to move on. The coronavirus pandemic changed several Disney employees I know… permanently. They are little different from the rest of us.

I’d like to suspend my disbelief in society’s promise. It’s okay with me if it’s with or without the Walt Disney Company. However, the pandemic taught me there’s a better way in sticking close to home.

Living in Society

Low Information Consensus

Lilacs leafing out, April 15, 2021.

An administrative law judge ruled in favor of a bar and grill employee who quit and filed for unemployment because supervisors would not follow protocols for operating their business during the coronavirus pandemic.

She requested the workplace follow COVID-19 guidelines, they didn’t, and she quit and filed for unemployment, according to Clark Kaufmann at Iowa Capitol Dispatch. The judge ruled that a reasonable person would have believed that the working conditions were unsafe and detrimental. She was awarded unemployment compensation.

Owner Kevin Kruse’s quote in the article is telling:

“I think this whole COVID thing was blown out of proportion for no worse than what it was,” Kruse said. “To me, this virus was not scientifically identified and the media just ran off with it like they did. People that would have had it — it would have been no different than having a bad case of the flu. And that is the common consensus of everybody that has come into this place throughout this whole last year.”

Clark Kaufmann, Iowa Capitol Dispatch, April 13, 2021.

This bears repeating: “the common consensus of everybody that has come into this place throughout this whole last year.” While not an example of scientific methods, this is the way many Iowans make decisions. A majority that includes folks like Kruse elected Republicans in the 2020 general election.

There is a utopian impulse in American life in which groups seek to separate from broader society to survive and thrive on their own. It shows itself in the manifest destiny myth, in our outlook toward business startups, and in things as simple as setting up a home. We have a fundamental belief in systems and our role as chief actors in them. The example of Iowa’s remade landscape and the farms and businesses that now populate it offers no more perfect example of utopian creations. I don’t know Mr. Kruse but it sounds like his business was founded on such a utopian impulse, whether he recognizes it or not.

Utopian impulses are commonplace, yet utopian projects or communities, for the most part, have not been enduring. While people continue to make life decisions based on the “consensus of everybody that has come into this place,” the inherent denial of the rest of society will bring with it a reckoning. The insular nature of enclaves like a single business or social gathering, especially as it excludes tolerance of diverse beliefs and adaptations based on scientific inquiry, will reduce the longevity of such groups. In the meanwhile it can be hell to live where such views dominate, as the judge affirmed.

The freedoms of living in the United States include the freedom to be poorly informed about society writ large. To the degree I respect and tolerate low information consensus, I hope its hegemony will be suppressed. I trust society can and will shake off such views.

I also hope my trust is well placed. As English theologian Thomas Fuller noted, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”