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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Going into this project, I am trying to keep as open mind as possible regarding the issue. I am coming at it from a place of being fairly ignorant, a little skeptical, and ready to learn.

But this is what I am learning. Not only does no one know how to fix the problem, no one can even seem to really agree on what The Problem actually is. It’s very easy as a person coming from white privelage to read The Omnivore’s Dilemna, and decry the vices of agribusiness. It’s also very easy to find similarly minded individuals, who have also read that book, and then stopped thinking critically. But that usually lends itself to a lack of perspective and diversity, and leads to missing often vital parts of the conversation.

For many, this is conversation about ideals, about what we need to do reform our greedy, selfish ways, about address our American obsession with convenience and cheap abundance, about how to save the planet. But issues of food are more complicated than just what we choose to eat, because it is also an issue of poverty and public health. In some situations, healthy food choices are just not an option. And for those living in that situation, these issues are not about saving the planet, its about the very immediate impact on health and money.

For an overlooked point of view on the Food Debate, and the importance of maintain diversity on all levels of the conversation, check out this article:

America’s food debates are just white men talking: The Big Food-versus-Michael Pollan rhetoric ignores what low-income communities are already doing to get healthy

I have been keeping bees in the Twin Cities area for about 5 years now, and more and more, it seems my life is taking me in that direction. As you can imagine, I spend quite a bit of time talking to people about bees.

This last week was a particular intense time for me and bee related outreach. A friend and I recently went to see More Than Honeya German documentary about what I will call the “situation with the bees”. (side note: worth seeing, but very agenda laden.)

In addition to that, this article hit the web about new research coming out as to what is causing such devastation to the bee populations around the world. The title of this article is mildly appalling to me. “Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and its worse than you think”. The article cites a combination of factors, including fungicides, neonicotinoids, and other chemicals as contributing to bee deaths. The article goes on to state that its likely the interaction of these factors that is causing it.

For those of us who keep bees, who study food policy, animal welfare, agriculture, this is not new, and it’s certainly not worse than we thought. We have known this for years, and leading experts have been trying to call this to the public’s attention for decades. There is an odd sort of bittersweet-ness that comes when someone asks me in a tone that is always abashed, and sometimes accusatory, that if I know anything about it. It’s a cross between glad public awareness is increasing, and frustration about how reactionary and sensational the national conversation is.

Whenever these news articles come up, these documentaries come out, I rub my temples and find myself repeating, “But it’s so much more complicated than all of that.”

The current practices of commercial beekeepers come from a long-standing tradition in this country and others of having food be both abundant and cheap. This tradition comes from everything including sociology, global and domestic economics, business development, and hundreds of other unseen factors.  And it’s not helpful to vilify commercial beekeepers or anyone else. Fixing the problem will only come self-reflection and asking how all of us together got into this situation.

Pollinators are vital to our food system, and are themselves a litmus test for the environment. The bees are starving. They don’t have good food to eat, and so are getting sicker and sicker, and less and less likely to heal themselves.

But I will leave the dissertation on bee health and its causes to others who are better qualified. I bring this up to remind myself that everything is more complicated than all of that. As more and more important conversations are being had about public health, food safety, sustainability, organics, and on and on, I am constantly reminded that this is a problem that, like the bees, touches everything.

Recently, I met with a small group of friends, all of whom have a distinct expertise that lends itself to sustainable agriculture, to discuss issues around sustainability. We talked for hours, because it’s complicated.

Ultimately, the solutions to the problems facing the bees, facing the pork industry, crop failure, global warming will be the result of extensive conversation, and redefining how we, as consumers, relate to our food and our environment.

Like with most complicated issues, it’s going to be exhausting. So let’s getting ready for the long haul.

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone for the warm reception to this blog. I appreciate all of the feedback and encouragement I have received. It’s means a lot to have the support of my friends and family. And a special thanks to everyone for their offers of help, both professionally and personally. Special thanks to Theresa and Valerie Stanton, Julie Nelson, and, of course, my mother.

Last time, I addressed some bigger concerns about undertaking this trip, such as theft and personal safety. But to be honest, the ones that are giving me the most pause are seemingly minor concerns. How am I going to take enough lotion with me? Oh, right! I’m going to need prescription drugs and allergy medication! What’s going to happen to my pepper plant? I’m not going to have access to ice cold water ALL the time, like I do now.

But when you eliminate practicality and convenience from the equation you start to look at your Life Stuff differently. Everything about me has to fit in the trailer, so begins an odd sort of self-examination. When you have to take your life and cram it into a trailer, and then drive that trailer across the country from your home and away from  the places you’ve come to rely on, interestingly enough, to help sustain yourself, you start to think about your life a little differently.

Brushing my teeth? Multiple times a day. Coffee? Could probably learn to go without. What shoes? Well, I have a lot of options. Probably have to cut those down. Thank god I enjoy cold showers already, because I bet that would suck getting used to.  And what on EARTH am I going to do with all my stuff?

So, now my life is now being filed into descrete categories. What I want with me, what I want to come back to, and what I should just get rid of.

Toothbrush? With me. Cute wooden turtle carving? Come back to. Sacred Heart of Jesus candle I impulsively bought at Cub foods? I should just get rid of.

Independence and problem solving? With me. Career path and relationship choices? Let’s revisit those when I get back. Outdated, stifling relationships? Time to let them go.

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I recently underwent some intensive aptitude testing and career counseling. It was highly valuable for me, and I had a lot of my thoughts confirmed about myself. I have always wanted to be an editor, but I love beekeeping, and have always been interested in policy. All of the tests and counseling confirmed that all of my divergent interests are not actually all that different, ultimately, and that I would be successful in any of them. 

But the most helpful part to me was pointing out that one of my weaknesses is mid to long range planning. I had never been able to articulate that particular weakness to myself before, but suddenly everything that I struggle with in my life snapped into place. Everything from not being able to grocery shop to the metaphorical anxiety seizure that comes from someone asking for the 5 year plan. 

I have been affectionately referring to this dilemna as my “lack of vison”.  Being aware of this challenge has freed me up immensely. Typically in my life, I have unconsciously coped with this by setting short term goals: Get to Japan in the next 12 months, go to Sweden in the next 12 months, find an apartment by December, finish my degree in 4 semesters, take the foreign service test. I was able to accomplish all of these goals, but each goal has functioned independently of the others, and I haven’t been building towards anything. 

When I get these goals, I become hyper-focused and end up planning for every possible contingency, and end up with a very regimented and paceled out schedule, and then its on to the next project. If I don’t have a goal to work towards, I start to feel lost and restless. And I am starting to realize its because I feel as though all my goals and projects need to be moving me towards something. They all need to be apart of the same thing, they all need to be in my 5 year plan. 

Well, 5 year plans are for chumps. Well, not for chumps, but certainly not for me. I am trying to accept that my life will not be on the traditional linear career trajectory, but as long as I am doing challenging things, that help develop my skill set as a whole person, and not the compartmentalized, regimented verison I have been trying to make it. 

This means I am trying to cool it with the over planning thing. To help with that mental and emotional exercise, I am asking myself what is the worse case scenario and what amount of planning can actually help. Well, folks, here they are:

Theft. Well, things happen. The car has an anti-theft system, and I can buy a trailer lock to make sure the trailer can’t be removed from the car hitch. Prepping for wallet theft by keeping photocopies of my identification and credit cards in case of left. 

Serious injury. I have a first-aid kit, and I can bring an emergency beacon with me. Plus, lets be honest, I am no more likely to hurt myself on the road than at home. Accidents happen and you just have to be ok with that. 

Car breaks down. That’s what credit cards are for. 

Running out of money. Then I guess I have to come home then don’t I? Probably not a bad idea to hide cash/seperate credit card. 

Getting lost. Seems unlikely I know given all the GPS systems and whatnot. But rural routes tend not to appear on maps and cell coverage can be spotty at best. Good thing my dad used to leave me out in the woods with a compass and a map.(He called it “orienteering”, and apparently it was an organized activity.)

But that’s it. That’s all the worrying I need to do about it. Having every minute of the trip planned won’t reduce the risk of any of those things happening, and it having it planned out won’t get me further down the road on my five year plan.

Being ok with my lack of vision, and being at peace with a non-traditional career path is a big part of what I am trying to accomplish with this trip, so stay tuned for more ruminations on just what will mean for me.  

After sleeping in the trailer, I realize that the primary skill that I am going to have to develop is ignoring the inevitable delusional feelings of bugs crawling all over me. This will be tricky because sometimes there are in fact bugs crawling on me.

I woke up several times during the night, but none of that is unusual since I am by nature a very poor sleeper. Since I was only parked in my parent’s driveway, I didn’t draw the shades so I woke up with the sun. I am a big supporter of making your sleep schedule match the sun. (9 out 10 insomniacs agree, if the sun is down, you should be sleeping.)

I got up very earlyand stepped right outside. That was a nice feeling. After taking the dog for a walk, my parents and I headed up north to go fishing. This is giving me a warm up for my life without readily accessible internet, which I think will be my greatest challenge. That and the probably-imaginary-but-maybe-not bug thing.

It’s also giving me a chance to reflect on how much pragmatic knowledge I am missing. And the equipment I am missing. Going away for just 5 days to a cabin that is full wired with plumbing is quite the affair. It gives me a little pause about the undertaking of 120 days.

Currently, I have2 months and 10 days to prep and what I have for supplies begins and ends with the trailer and a borrowed car.  If I think about it too hard, I do start to panic. But then I remember that this project is in part learning to accept that minute planning is not helpful to me. It is ok to have a loose plan in mind, and not everything needs to be settled 70 days in advance.

That being said, 70 days is not a long time, really, and it’s time to get organized. I will be purchasing supplies and equipment gradually over the next few weeks. This is in part to help absorb cost, and to slowly get used to the idea of how different my life will be for these four months. (Embarrassing confession: I am 371 words into this post written without internet access and have tried to access Facebook twice, purely from habit.)

So, in order to keep myself organized, I will be creating a Supplies page that I will be updated with new purchases, and things that I may inevitably discover to be useless and discard throughout the trip. The first big purchases when I get back will be a spare tire for the trailer, and work boots for my time on the farm.

So, it’s my first night in my trailer. It’s not as exciting as it seems. It’s parked in my parents drive way, but it feels like a milestone. I am here because in the morning, the folks and I are headed out of town and I am trying to buy a few more minutes of sleep by coming down tonight.

It’s giving me a chance to reflect on why I enjoy being in the trailer so much. I keep thinking about crate training dogs. In order for the dog to feel happy and secure the kennel has to be just th e right size. If its too small, it will be uncomfortable. Too big and the dog won’t feel safe.

This trailer, I conclude, then, must be me-sized. Luckily for me, I have the capacity to tow my home around with me, pulling the security of home with me as I traipse about.

I am swept up in the romance of the notion of having the security of being at home so portable. Where can’t I go? My home comes with me! (Well, Europe comes to mind, but let’s keep things to scale)

I can already hear people wondering can you really be comfortable in something that small? My resounding answer is yes.

I am excited that this may be the first night’s sleep I’ve been able to get in a week without spooning an ice pack.  I live on the top floor without air conditioning, and boy, does that air get stale. Today was about 90 degrees, with killer humidity, as it has been all week. Chugging water, swapping damp towels in and out of the fridge, are all designed to keep me from going insane. Using a laptop in those conditions is nothing sort of hellish, so there goes any productivity.

But, now, I am watching Dexter and blogging in my trailer, quite comfortably, as the mild breeze is able to ventilate this small space. Hell, the trailer is even better lit than my apartment.

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While I’m sure in the months ahead, there will be times when I’m cursing this trailer, for now, I am quite enjoying my self-sized new home.