Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Sunday Evening

Just put a few more logs into the woodstove before heading upstairs to bed. So many books and seed catalogues on my bedside stand that if I roll over too far and hit the stand, the carefully balanced stack crashes to the floor. On the top of that stack is a fascinating book which I am now reading entitled Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington. Montgomery spends much time discussing early working landscapes and how cultures often disappeared because of soil depletion or climate change. I have scanned forward into the book a bit to see that he discusses land reform and how land has affected this country and legislation. I am now reading about how the Chinese addressed land issues in earlier millenia. For instance, according to Montgomery, "the Yao dynasty (2357-2261 B.C.) based taxation on a soil survey that recognized nine distinct types of dirt." When one considers how land is taxed in Vermont - views, location, and criteria other than dirt, I wonder if taxes might rise significantly for all those corn spreads in those beautiful river bottom lands.

Over the past thirty or so years, I have sadly watched beautiful farmland slowly fall into decline and either grow up to puckerbrush or slowly be sliced, graded and traded into some form of tract housing because the land "perced." So often the land between the homes becomes a mowed landscape, often without a vegetable garden cut somewhere into the turf.

As we sat at lunch today, I thought about the number of people in the village who still had a summer garden and there were very few who still planted one. As I tried to remember driving out on the back roads in Town, I recalled far fewer vegetable gardens than there once were thirty, forty years ago. Considering our present economy and how far worse it might devolve, I wonder what it's going to take to motivate people to again have a garden to produce food for not only the summer but to hedge in some small way for the winter.

The decline of the village center, the questionable convenience of the automobile, availability of out-of-season food in markets which has been shipped in from who knows (cares) where...
How far can education deliver us from this weakened state of non-productive consumerism?
Anyway, back to Dirt.



The taxation system based on types of soil is fascinating. One of my former neighbors in Castleton traces his family back to the first families in town. One of his fields was directly across the road from my house and I watched annually his "better living through chemistry" style farming on visibly depleted dirt. My limited understanding of a more wholistic agriculture (gleaned from "academically" trained friends, Green Mt. College alums) wouldn't classify it as "soil".

Western Rutland county, is a hot bed of small organic farming, in part thanks to GMC. It is a sad joke amongst these farmers, old and young, that Charlie B. is the "only farmer who sells his topsoil"....

docjohn said...

I was struck by that tax system concept. The chemical model is essentially wrong, very wrong and
large scale farming is addicted to it. I recall the agronomist Wes Jackson in a lecture at UVM relating how the drinking water in entire counties in the midwest has been rendered undrinkable because of the long-term and pervasive use of chemicals, be they fertilizer or herbicides. What does it take for a paradigm shift to replace big industry with a healthier scale of food production. GMC and many small networks in this State are way out ahead, yet, most of the food in commercial markets here comes from larger scale production farming.

Clair said...

If the economy keeps going down, we may see a rise in what used to be called "Victory Gardens." And of course, the farmers here, in the Great Depression, were poor and mostly self-sustaining to begin with. They, for the most part, weathered everything without life-shattering changes. The CFV stuff shows a huge rise in farmers' markets. And this would indicate a similar rise in the number of people creating gardens to feed these markets. Let's hope this trend continues.

docjohn said...

Yes indeed, the farmer's markets have been increasing as has the quality and variety of food and other locally produced goods. I would also advocate that individuals plant some food if they have even the smallest plot of land. XXX to huge lawns!