I am pretty tuckered out from my last few days of posting, but in order to keep up a good habit, I am going to post something, even if it is a little bit lazy.

Every time I start to put some serious work into my longer article, I was this TED Talk from my personal hero and all around girl crush, Dr. Marla Spivak. This video, along with my own work with the bees started me off on this whole crazy jag, and helps me to organize my thoughts.

This is the problem that is the context to all my thinking in the past year or so, and definitely worth a watch.

First off, I would like to apologize for my comment in Part 1 of this post where I referred to year end recaps as a “cop out”. That is not true. Writing this post has been some of the most draining and irritating writing I’ve done. That being said, I’m half way done, so I might was well keep going.

November

IMG_1484November was the month that I got down to business. I got to 3 different farms, as well as began to explore the National Parks in earnest. I spent the last part of October traveling southward to Coarsegold, California to visit an organic olive oil farm. I spent 15 days on that farm, picking olives from dawn to mid afternoon. It was interesting to compare the differences between Skipley Farm that tried to cultivate a one-stop-shop farm that provided all the staples a person may need, to Blue Bird Trail Oil Farm that focused on one specialty product. I have nothing but fond memories of the olive farm.  I enjoyed getting to know my host and her daughters.

Bluebird was a lot more in keeping with what I thought I would be doing. I had a work schedule that consisted of hours of manual labor. I also got a lot stronger of an idea of what it would take to make a specialty product farm run, which is essentially relying on free labor and a day job that offers you a certain amount of flexibility.

IMG_1357I did end up getting a pretty smug sense as WWOOFer after WWOOFer bailed from the farm. I can’t really see what was so bad about the whole thing. Sure, repetitive, but gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery. It was at Bluebird that I first began to suspect what probably many people already knew: Farming is essentially just doing the same boring thing over and over again, and I find that I get an odd sense of accomplishment looking at a bin full of olives that I spent weeks picking.

It was at BlueBird that I ended up beginning to get to explore the National Parks system in earnest. Previously, I had just been passing through, arriving as dusk and leaving before the afternoon the next day. Since Coarsegold is so close to Yosemite I spent several days there, crawling around on rocks and touching trees, and more or less refusing to have a spiritual experience. I keep trying to come up with a more significant weight to the outdoors, but every time I try, I end up getting bored with myself before anything really locks into place.

It’s just nice to be out in the fresh air and bask in your own smallness. Plus it never hurts to be reminded that, when left to its own devices, nature accomplishes some pretty neat things.

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Leaving Bluebird, I got to visit with a professional beekeeper, and from that experience I learned I don’t have it in me to beekeep commercially. That was something I always suspected about myself, but it was good to have that confirmed. The things it takes to successfully make money through a pure beekeeping venture are not things I want to do, and I am ok with that at this point.

IMG_1700From the olives, I went to Arizona to spend time on a cattle ranch. This was my first time working extensively with another WWOOFer, and I was back to learning about what it takes to run a farm, and it’s not always farming. It’s a lot of maintaining a property. Grass fed cattle requires so much land and there is just a lot of work that goes into it. I learned a lot about property lines, grazing paths and water rights. I love cows, and after my experience at the Gold Bar Ranch, I am left wondering at the price of beef. It is really remarkable that it is as cheap as it is.

Oh yeah, Gold Bar is also the place where I scratched the sh*t out of my mom’s car, and has filled me shame and anxiety ever since.

IMG_1763It’s about this time that Theresa and I settled on a date for her to meet me in Las Vegas, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon Quail Hollow, a large CSA that operates out of Overton, NV. Quail Hollow was by far my favorite experience. Not only did I have two other WWOOFers to get to know, there were goats and chickens and bunnies. There was a schedule to follow, and actual work to be done. The farm was run by earnest, hard working Mormons who know how to buckle down, and by George, get things done. I think Quail Hollow is where I finally did decide that this type of work is for me, at least on some level. The Mormons are astute business people, and know how to exploit their market. It was in them that I found what I was looking for, people who knew a little bit about farming, knew a little bit about business, and learned the rest as they went. Talking with them made me feel like there isn’t anything special I need to know, I just need to focus, be willing to work hard, and be willing to do the same thing day in and day out. Even when you are in a foot of mud and dealing with princess goats.

Theresa arrived in the last little bit of November, and after a bit of detour (2,000 miles) for Thanksgiving, she and I made a serious effort for not doing anything.

DECEMBER

December is a month that is better told in pictures and videos. We drove down the California coast, over the Golden Gate Bridge, skirting L.A. to go to Joshua Tree, unexpected sand dunes, the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion. I am not sure if I learned anything too particularly shocking during this last month. Two big things that come to mind. The first is that Utah is one of the better places I have ever been to. The second is that most of our friends and family seem to think that our social skills are so poor that we couldn’t stand each other’s company for very long. (“No, really, you got sick of each other right?”)

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This December has been one of the best one record, and it’s not because it was so easy to forget about Christmas. It was pretty self-indulgent and thoroughly awesome, and an excellent way for shut-ins to spend some quality time together.

After looping back to Las Vegas to send Theresa home, I made my way to Salt Lake City, where I’ve come to collect my thoughts before finally ending my journey. As of today, I have put nearly 11,000 miles on my mom’s car, and will put another 1,000 on it before I am done.

I’m sure it’s at this point that I should have some sort of thesis statement about my trip and what it’s taught me, with supporting examples from the text. But I don’t. My life doesn’t really rest well into discrete parcels that way. And while this may be the start of new chapter in my life when I get home, my life isn’t changed. This was not life changing, because well, life isn’t just one thing and then another. Just like with farming, everything is connected and everything is so much more complicated than all of that.

And just like when I try to disect the National Parks, trying to explain the trip leaves me bored. Sometimes it’s nice just to let something exist as whole.

Man, I was doing pretty awesome there with all the regular blog posting, huh? Well that basically came to a crashing halt once I left Theresa in Las Vegas a few days ago. This is not our typical work style. Normally if the two of us are together, we dissolve into a blanketed mass that giggles uncontrollably at our own jokes, then rewarding ourselves for those jokes with salt water taffy. So you can imagine my surprise at discovering I haven’t actually been super productive since I got to Salt Lake City.

I am going to blame some sort of combination of drinking for the holiday, access to cable Nature Programs and pollution death cloud that settles over the city every winter. All in all, I’ve just been feeling very lazy, and have been doing a lot of reflecting. Which is I guess what people do when they are unemployed and have cable TV.

With both the year and my trip on their last legs, and every internet media outlet copping out in this last week of December with “Year in Review” articles, I thought I would take a webpage out of their book, and do a Walkabout Photo Redux for you. Before we get started, I do solemnly promise, to you, my most dedicated readers [Mom], that I am in fact working on pulling together an outline for the long form article I set out to write, as well as giving some thought to my next steps career-wise.

But let’s recap.

APRIL

dramatic re-enactment

dramatic re-enactment of what most of my spring was like

A visit to Chicago with my mom to do some intensive career aptitude testing leaves me on the brink of emotional and mental collapse. Returning home to find my car illegally towed, a grad school application that was mishandled, as well as a crash course in the more unfortunate aspects of running family business send me over the deep end. I spent several days crying, then quit my job, and after listening to “Measure the Globe” by Astronautalis on loop an embarrassing number of times, I decided I need to do something else with my life.

[I think it’s probably worth noting that in this photo shoot, which has the barista at the downtown SLC Starbucks wondering about me, I am again, listening to Astronautalis.]

JULY

I got my trailer in July, and I quite love it.  My dad’s anxiety level about the trip is skyrocketing, as I find mine dropping. I am not a nervous traveller, because I usually have a pretty detailed Plan and no one to upset if I need to deviate from the plan. Plans are like security blankets and I am coming to the point where I can just cuddle with one, and not have to really pretend to myself that they’ll keep any monsters away.

Business at Turkey Hill is starting to pick up, and I start to feel guilty about saddling my dad with a lot [all] of the work. I also am overtaken with a sense of indignation that I should feel guilty and overcompensate with pure selfish-ness that is probably only acceptable in young people. I was coming off a long period of not knowing what to do with myself. There is a certain kind of emotional gymnastics that accompany self doubt that I just don’t have the flexibility for. It’s exhausting not being able to trust yourself, and the amount of introspection that comes with over analyzing every decision is not something I can muster for very long.

Me, being awesome.

Me, being awesome.

If I am being honest, I felt broken and exhausted, and buying the trailer put an end to that. The trailer was the only thing that I didn’t have an anxiety about. Having the trailer in my possession made me feel confident again, and that I was in my own estimation, awesome. The only other decisions I can compare it to is the one to get my first tattoo. I did it because I could and I wanted to. The tattoo and the trailer are symbols of my often ignored impulsiveness and came at the end of long periods of not trusting my better judgement.

SEPTEMBER

Much of the early part of September was spent pretending to everyone that I had more of a plan than I did. While I was pretty ok with the total lack of firm plans for the first farm visit, most people I talked to really weren’t. This was a great exercise for anyone who wants to be a writer, I think. When people would ask me what I was doing, how I was doing it, or for god sake’s WHY, I had to find a way to turn an ambivalent shrug into a satisfactory answer that was good enough to prevent more in-depth questions. It’s an art, really, trying to turn something that is profoundly selfish into something that other people can relate to.

I left my parent’s house September 19th, with some hard farewells from the dudes in my life.

My dad shows his love the best way he knows how. Checking to make sure I hitched the trailer right.

My dad shows his love and relieves some of his own anxiety by checking to make sure I hitched the trailer right, for probably the 30th time. Not pictured: him checking the tires, oil, and probably lowjacking the car.

IMG_0963[1]Max is also ready for me to leave. He is just not sure why he doesn’t get to come along

I spent the next few days heading westward, making stops in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Glacier National Park, getting introduced in the RV life. Trailer life involves mostly discussing your rig with retired folks, and explaining that I can stay warm enough in that thing, and working very hard at finding a way to back into a camp site without anyone watching.

I also am starting to learn the ins and outs the blogging world, and have to come to the ego-killing realizations that the posts that get the most engagement are not ones that I write, but ones just have pictures from National Parks. So kudos, US Department of the Interior, you win.

After some quality time with my cuz in Spokane, I make my way out to Western Washington to spend 3 weeks on Skipley Farm.

OCTOBER

IMG_1234I spent three weeks on Skipley Farm, and it was my first WWOOF experience. It was not what I was expecting. I was impressed with the welcoming and helpful attitude that the men on the farm demonstrated, but it was hard to find my place. I was expecting an sort of up at dawn, work til sunset kind of way. But I quickly learned Skipley boys set their own pace.

The farm was beautiful, and very focused on perennial agriculture. I learned a lot about plant biology, and progressive farming ideas. Skipley Farm is out to improve the world, and their idealism and passion is admirable. Their style of farming is all ideals and academics, and I found it hard to get practical questions answered. They knew the what and the why, but had a harder time with the how.  It was not hard to leave Skipley Farm, emotionally at any rate. The disorganized nature of the farm made it very hard to actually get in the car and go. I was antsy to get going and make a visit to Seattle and to see my family.

I am also starting to concede that selfies can be useful, especially when taunting your work-mom.

I am also starting to concede that selfies can be useful, especially when taunting your work-mom.

In Seattle, I felt some pretty impressive love and support from my friend who flew out to spend an afternoon with me, showing me her favorite spots. Being downtown in a major city was definitely a reminder of all the travel experiences I had before, and am fairly good at. It reminded me of the type of travel I had enjoyed previously, and with the time spent in Pike’s Place market made me feel like there is a way to reconcile two important parts of my life: playing outside, and being in cities. Plus, getting to share that experience with Erin reminded me that I have some pretty badass people in my life.

IMG_1322I rounded out my October with some time spent with my remaining cousins in Portland. I got to hand it to my family for being a pretty accomplished and supportive bunch. That’s a pretty great thing to have in a family. Because while they make you tear out cabinets when you come to visit, damn if they don’t get sh*t done.

So, it’s Christmas, and I am dwelling in comfortable solitude in Salt Lake City. And even though I haven’t been posting much since Theresa left, I am claiming taking a break for the holidays.

But I will direct your attention to this Salon article, with an interview with farmer and author Kurt Timmermeister, and small scale farming and Christmas feasts.

For the record, I will be enjoying red curry with green veggies as a part of my holiday festivities.

We will return to our regularly scheduled blogging soon. Maybe.

I think it’s a pretty normal human condition to criticize the status quo, and much more rare to produce an answer, especially reasonable actionable ones. It’s always easy to spot problems, and considerably less easy to spot solutions. And when dealing with a huge problem like food system and reform, it’s pretty easy to just want to chuck the whole thing, and just go play outside, then hunker down in your trailer and watch 3 seasons of Homeland in a week.

Well, I did that. But my perfect blend of couch potato and adventure/explorer was not to last, as my self-conscious reminded me to get back to work. It did this by sending me a stress dream where I got a comment on the blog indicting me for being such a downer in response to my preachy meat article. The commenter (my subconscious) called me out for not only bringing everyone done, but not providing any hope for anyone. Why am I focusing so much on what people are doing wrong? Isn’t there something that people are doing right?

What it says about me and the post modern world that I need to talk to myself through a fantasy digital correspondence is a wholly different topic that may need to be addressed with a professional. But the me-commenter had a point.

A fantastic article came out on NPR last week that I feel provides a great view-point and tempered response to the Rolling Stone article’s sensationalism of meat production.

While the advice to developed, wealthy countries remains “eat less meat”, researchers want to provide a more global context to this. From the article:

Given the range of human nutritional needs and the different ways of raising livestock, Herrero and co-authors argue, decisions about how to make meat and milk production more sustainable should probably be local ones. In other words, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” blueprint for sustainability for farmers.

That’s because when it comes to raising livestock, the contradictions abound, the authors note.

One example? While animals provide nutrients for farmers’ crops (think manure), their waste also pollutes the land and water. While grazing animals can be beneficial to a grassland ecosystem, overgrazing can destroy it. Questions of health can be equally complex: Animal milk and meat are critically important sources of protein and other nutrients for many people – especially the poor – but they also contribute to obesity and chronic disease.

What this means is that a cattleman raising 10 cows on cruddy grassland in Zambia and the manager of a major Kansas feedlot have starkly different priorities when it comes to how they manage resources.

And the authors say the same goes for consumer choices about animal products in rich countries versus those in poor countries: While most Americans could forgo a third serving of bacon for the week, mothers in Cambodia may very well need to seek out more milk and chicken for their children.

But that nuanced global perspective is missing from the conversation about meat production, Hererro says.

So, while understanding that a meatless and livestock free globe isn’t necessarily the best solution, and isn’t really a viable option, what does that mean for us in the developed world? Cutting back on what you consume, but also focusing on a de-centralized farming system would be a good start. With community supported agriculture organizations becoming more and more popular, the next step is beginning to coalesce in many cities. The newest trend in the local food movement is development supported agriculture. Similar to CSA model in which consumers own a share in a farm, developers and city planners are beginning to plan for land that includes food production. This includes things like community gardens, orchards, and even livestock.

This integration of farming and residence is an economic boon for farmers, who frequently have the dilemma of getting food to the consumer, and revitalizes the notion of the neighborhood farm which fell out of fashion in the post-war  urban exodus in favor of the insular suburban developments we see today. It also spreads the cost of large farm purchases out into the community and not place it solely on the farmer, where a large machine purchase can break the farm.

These sort of DSA communities are already enjoying a lot of success in areas like Fort Collins and Atlanta, and its easy to see how this type of model can be parlayed into subsidized housing to help alleviate food security and health in impoverished areas.

Ain’t that neat? Kudos to everyone working out there to move food reform into a positive actionable response. While I know these solutions are being developed out of a much more egalitarian motives to improve their communities and whatnot, I mostly appreciate it from the selfish stand point of being able to say something good, and not feel like an accusatory d-bag. Without having to worry about being such a bummer, I can really focus up on Homeland.

To read more about development supported agriculture, check out this article, again, from NPR.

Theresa here again.

Cori went out to solo adventureexplore some more at Arches National Park and well, I am doing the opposite of that. Instead, I am locked in a death match music battle with the Motel 6 cleaning staff who are outside our room in the hall. To be perfectly honest I like their music more than mine but I am too tired to walk across the room and turn mine off. Yesterday’s adventuring wore me out  and then after a long, hard, couple of hours of waiting for Cori to do my laundry, I had to hunt and gather a pizza for us, since every four days we start to feel bad about eatiing only candy.

I might have hid under the covers after I provided dinner.

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We stayed in a motel the last couple nights because it’s just a wee bit cold at night here.

While I absolutely do not recommend travel expeditions while waiting to schedule a hip replacement, this trip has been lovely. Until today I haven’t been in particularly rough shape, and waiting an extra week in Portland for my wheelchair to show up was about the most complicated this trip has been. Cori might beg to differ that California driving caused the most stress.

Usually I try to get out as little as possible during the winter, but traveling in December has turned out to be pretty perfect. The national parks are less crowded, the surrounding tourist towns are delightfully abandoned during the off season, and we have been practically the only ones in a couple of different RV parks. I have fallen pretty hard for little Acorn the teardrop trailer. She keeps us from getting cold and is the absolute perfect cure for even the worst cases of insomnia. I want one to live in forever and ever amen.

Here are our reflections trailer camping near Joshua Tree

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Here we are not eating candy

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And the crazy sunset we enjoyed that night

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Also here is Cori demonstrating our running joke of how shut ins travel. Pull into a national park and open the trailer doors (or just the air vent depending on how nature social you plan to be, and then continue doing what you were already doing – usually reading or watching Netflix if you are us.)

photo 4

 

I have some more adorable nature pics here 

We have a couple days before we head back to Vegas where I fly back to Minneapolis. So now is the time to betting on how early we’ll fall asleep in Vegas. Hint: we usually make an effort to last until at least 7:00 pm.

 

 

 

 

As a child I was very fond of the WB cartoon the Batman/Superman Adventures that aired after school. For those of you who are not in my particular age group, the show alternated between episodes featuring the two titular characters. I remember very vividly on one of the Superman episodes, Clark Kent returns to his home town of Smallville. and we are introduced to his parents. The running gag throughout the episode was that the Kent parents were small town rubes, with very little going on in their lives, so much so that they would comment endlessly about what was growing in their neighbor’s fields.

Well, here it is, some 15 years later, and I have become Superman’s parents. Driving over miles and miles of states’ nearly abandoned rural routes, I find that often the only words that pass between me and Theresa are quips that point out what’s growing, or some mild discussion of whether that is some variety of kale or maybe swiss chard.

Am I as boring as Superman’s parents? Will city children be taught to think I am tedious and boring? Well, if I am so be it. I thought it was pretty damn cool to see cotton growing for the first time.

So, sure some people might think that its boring, but wait until they see the 800 pastures with SHEEP grazing. Now, that will get them excited.  Read More