Monday, April 21, 2008

MFC - Do Not Miss The Planting Time

I know the time is now. It's written in big letters right on my calendar: "Do Not Miss the Planting Time."

But then I look further at the instructions I've left myself for this week -- "prepare outside soil for cultivation" – and I look outside to see ... snow.

Something is wrong with my calendar. Or with the weather. And I have a sinking suspicion that although the growing season is pushed later with this seemingly endless winter, I can't count on the difference being made up at the other end.

If I wait for the weather to comply for my spring plantings, I'll be watching green tomatoes freeze on the vines in September.

I am especially eager to start this year's garden for several reasons. I wasn't able to do one last year because my husband was injured badly in an accident, and keeping him alive became our only mission.

Most of my garden never got planted last year, and I had to abandon the plots that I did start, as multiple trips to the nearest big city hospital in Spokane took precedence over weeding, planting, watering or harvesting.

It was a hard summer. For a time, I had no functioning car, phone, computer, plumbing, or husband. I wasn't able to can any fruit or vegetables, or raise any meat birds, and my husband didn't get to hunt or fish or cut wood. That made for a hard winter.

When things fall apart that badly, you really find out what you, and your relationships, are made of. Thankfully, I've never been overly attached to modern conveniences. When my husband and I first left the city, we spent nearly a year living in a one-room, off-grid cabin, trying our hands at various self-sufficiency skills.

It was one thing for us to take on those challenges by choice, together. It was a lot less fun this time around; I felt more like a pawn of the fates than a proactive decider. And while my newborn baby and two toddlers were great company, they posed their own challenges.

To get by, I adopted my husband's Marine Corp. training with the mantra, "Adapt and overcome." I started picking up more of the jobs that traditionally fell to my husband in our division of labor, and I had to ask for and accept a lot of help from family, friends and neighbors.

My husband is not back to full strength yet, but he is well on his way. And after our long, hard year, we are approaching this growing season with an eagerness, urgency and gratefulness like never before.

That's why the snow I see on the ground isn't going to slow us down. It can't. The planting time is now, regardless of what the reality is outside.

Starting seeds indoors or in greenhouses is already a necessary way of life in these parts. I just didn't expect to have to build a fire or put a heating pad under the seedlings to keep them warm indoors at the end of April.

Each day that this unseasonable coldness keeps us indoors is another day spent researching, developing and employing growing techniques that make us less reliant on good weather.
For example, we've found an impressive collection of cold hardy fruits at One Green World nursery in Mollalla, Ore. ( Many of those fruit varieties are imported from Siberia, where farmers are known for using another cold weather trick: deep composting. The heat put out from biological decay can dramatically raise the soil temperature when compost is buried under cultivation beds.

My husband is also back to his pre-accident endeavor: setting up low cost hydroponics systems. And our children are now old enough to participate in an exciting series of growing experiments as part of their home schooling curriculum.

One way or another, my tomatoes will ripen this year. That is something I am bound and determined to see after last year's missed growing season.

Angela Black writes on freedom and farming issues from her home in Lostine, Ore. She is online at

Friday, April 18, 2008

Column archives

I'll be posting past My Free Country columns at this blogsite, back dating them as blog entries on the dates they were published. I'll build an index of titles at this entry as they are added, with publication dates, since some of the columns were published on multiple days by more than one paper. If you are looking for one column in particular and it hasn't been added yet, feel free to send an email asking for it. My contact information will remain at the bottom of the page.

My Free Country archives index:
Natural abundance or artifical scarcity? - 5/9/08
Do not miss the planting time - 4/21/08
Successful farms of the future will grow freedom - 4/11/08
Put local free trade on the fast track - 3/28/08
The memos DHS never sent, but should have - 3/13/08
Control of food, life an ominous proposition - 2/07/08
The mark on the beast: Say 'no' to mandatory animal ID - 2/01/08
Evidence mounts: It's time to end U.S. hemp ban - 11/30/07
Cheers to the milk runners - 11/11/05
Take another look at hemp - 5/13/05

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Conserving what?

I have to thank a My Free Country fan for making me the subject of his April 10th blog at Interestingly, his previous day's posting took conservatives to task for, well, not being very conservative. The reckless deficit spending of the Republican leadership has many rank and file conservatives upset as well.

Let me be clear, the liberal and conservative terms are more trouble than they are worth. Instead of trying to get your head around these slippery terms that divide us unnecessarily, we should categorize political ideologies in a way that has concrete and logical meaning: are you authoritarian or anti-authoritarian? Both camps include both types, which is why Americans are screwed no matter who's in charge.

I get more fan mail from self-described conservatives, and that's probably because they've always been the primary audience for my writing. But I get equally laudatory emails from self-described liberals. I speak to the anti-authoritarians in both camps.

Since the party of fiscal conservativism started spending money like there's no tomorrow, many self-described liberals and conservatives are confused. The relevant question to ask is: What are conservatives trying to conserve?

My conservative fans are trying to conserve resources, values and traditions, including the traditional American right to be left alone. The problem is that the people who control the conservative camp are trying to conserve only one thing: power. That's why conservatives are right wing, which describes the side of the aristocracy and monarchy in parliamentary proceedings leading up to the French Revolution.

The other problem is that the conservative leadership has misrepresented liberals when they tell their rank and file that liberals are liberal with government spending and power. In fact, liberals desire to be liberal with freedom - that's where the term comes from - liberty. Real liberals want to see people left alone to live their own lives just as much as the rank and file conservatives.

But the liberal camp suffers from the same disease that's crippled the conservatives. The liberal camp is controlled by people who want to be liberal with just one thing: the use of power. You can understand why many liberals fall for this because the supposed "free market" has generated such problems that those who love freedom often think some exercise of government power is needed for the basic defense of rights.

Of course, as my writing frequently illustrates, we have no free market in America or globally, and the conservative leadership doesn't actually want one either. Otherwise they'd be hacking away at the unfree market foundational controls of our economy: our central bank monopoly, the corporate personhood doctrine that shields corporations from accountability, and drug prohibitions, especially the prohibition on hemp, which keeps farmers from competing in untold numbers of industries.

With only two choices before them (liberal or conservative), most Americans pick a team based on stylistic preferences. Are you a freak or a square? Do arguments for social freedom resonate more with you, or arguments for economic freedom? Anyway, it's a moot question because the leadership of both camps have no intention of delivering real freedom of any kind.

There you have it folks. The left-right, liberal-conservative divide is a trap. It's the oldest trick in the book (Machiavelli's book, in fact - remember divide and conquer?)

So stop trying to rationalize your membership in one camp and stop trying to blame those in the other camp for all the problems in our country. The authoritarians in both camps are the problem. Freedom is the solution.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MFC - Successful farms of the future will grow freedom

Last week, I received a note from a Willamette Valley, Ore., family farmer with a common dilemma: "How to convert this farm from our current model to a farm of the future?"

This farmer produces grass seed and vegetables for processors, and recently set aside 25 of his 1,000 acres to convert to organic production. The family is having a hard time figuring out the economics of this transition toward organics and local sales as their next generation prepares to take over.

"I really am interested in learning more about food security. I just don't get the idea of hauling lettuce to Portland once a week or keeping high-end restaurants supplied," he wrote.

The switch to natural production and local sales shouldn't be so hard, but it is.

When our forward-looking farmer changes his mind, he disrupts the business plans of some powerful companies. And while our farmer might be newly awakened to the need for reform, the companies whose profits he now threatens have long been lobbying for laws to support their business plans.

This change is going to be an uphill battle. You can't just go organic, you've got to overcome drug-addicted soil. You can't just supply local stores, you've got to do your own retail in "alternative" markets. You've got to actually seek out a customer base among the supermarkets' other outcasts: the granola-crunching, tree-hugging, counter-culture liberals.

This really is going to be an uphill battle. Generally speaking, farmers and hippies were enemies in the 1960s, and many of them and their descendants remain so today. But if these wounds aren't healed, the farmer will go under and we'll all be eating "soylent green" before too long.

As it turns out, the counter-culture had (and still has) some legitimate complaints about how this country was (and is) being run. If you still doubt that, read William Engdahl's book "Seeds of Destruction" and watch the documentary film "The Future of Food."

Then read Michael Pollan's latest writings and you'll understand where our hapless consumer stands. People are downright scared of conventional food these days.

Pollan is informing millions of Americans that what fills supermarket shelves isn't food, it's "foodlike" stuff. And the farmer knows this to be true because he only gets paid for the few cents worth of actual food in the shiny packages. What's more, Pollan informs that this foodlike stuff is making people sick.

The hapless consumer now worries: Is that meat actually fresh or is it just red from the carbon dioxide? How often are downer cattle mistreated and used for food? Does this have genetically modified ingredients or not? And what pharmaceuticals were in the water that was used to process this stuff? Yikes!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have one piece of advice for the farms of the future: Grow Freedom. I mean it. Start thinking of freedom as your over-arching crop, and everything else will fall into place.

This line of thinking is not hard. If you are able to pass on a successful farm to your children and grandchildren, they will enjoy some measure of freedom in this world. If you can start producing food for your local community - not just lettuce, but three squares a day - then your neighbors can enjoy independence from supermarket food.

And as farms successfully transition to diversified, "biodynamic" farms of the future, the places themselves will become well-balanced living organisms, independent in their own rights.

Instead of merely measuring a farm's carbon footprint, we should start measuring its bio-empowerment quotient. On a scale of 0 to 100, many conventional farms would measure in the negative numbers, while 0 could represent "no harm, no foul," on up to 100 points going to the farm that thrives entirely without inputs, using every organic tool in the arsenal to grow free people.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


As anyone could've predicted, a daily blog is just too ambitious for my busy life. I'll set this thing up so you can get an email letting you know when it's been updated.

Among other things, I'm keeping busy with a litter of Akbash livestock guardian pups born Feb. 16. We began our Wallowa Mountain Dogs breeding program in 2004 with Tsar and Abby. This litter is from their son Goliath, and Cybele. We chose this breed for their natural protective instincts, large size, gentle nature, intelligence and smooth white coat. All told, we've place about 30 pups in working positions throughout Oregon and Washington, and a few in Idaho and California. We're keeping two females from this litter to raise with our children, and we kept two males from a litter last summer to place as more mature dogs since many rancher prefer a dog who can handle himself with the predators he will encounter in the field. Pictured here is a six month old pup, Chavez, with our baby Liberty.

I'm also keeping busy supporting my husband Jay in his efforts to get a new business off the ground. Jay was badly injured in an accident last spring and almost died a few times over the summer. He went from a strong-as-an-ox 220 pounds down to 134 pounds at his lowest weight. He is still recovering and has some setbacks now and then, but is gaining weight and strength and is on path to a full recovery. This has been a huge shake-up in our family, coming right on the heals of another terrible setback: Jay's father's death last Christmas.

It is a very good sign that Jay is now well enough to launch his business, PanTerra (he could've called it Whole Earth but he's not a hippie). Initially he is specializing in setting up inexpensive, practical hydroponics on any scale (indoors or out in the field). Over time he'll be putting together a nursery, growing hops for breweries, and restarting his mycology business (innoculating properties to create edible and medicinal mushroom patches that filter and clean up pollutants while building soil fertility).

I continue to write My Free Country columns for Capital Press (appearing on the second and fourth Fridays of the month) and for the Wallowa County Chieftain (appearing once a month). Newspaper editors who'd like to pick up the syndicated column should email me at

The kids (Wolfgang, Anastasia and Liberty) are doing well and enjoying their HomeSchool for Heros. My heart goes out to the California homeschool families who recently were told by that state's Supreme Court that parents do not have a right to home school their children. Hogwash! California will now threaten parents with criminal charges for trying to educate their children without a teaching certificate. This decision will not be upheld over time, and I encourage homeschool families to stand their ground.

On the food security front, despite my column's headline in the April 3rd Chieftain stating that "Wallowa County is on the fast track to small-scale, local free trade," nothing could be further from the truth. I didn't give it that title; I merely launched a Food Security Initiative here. But the point of the column was that we are on a slow boat to food security across the nation in spite of multiple concerted efforts to build a local food supply structure. The primary reason is that independent small farmers can't get their products into grocery stores, where the vast majority of Americans get their food, while the government subsidies a consolidated long-distance food supply structure through ag subsidy programs and welfare support programs.

Wallowa County is a poster child for demonstrating the retail access hurdle that small farmers face. Though cows outnumber people in this county, we have no licensed USDA processing facilities (they are too expensive to pencil out for our relatively small production needs), so in order to get local meat into local stores the cows must be shipped out of state over mountain passes to the nearest facilities and then imported back to the county. The transportation costs, stress on animals, headaches for ranchers, etc., mean that only a couple ranchers exercise this option and the local meat that does make it into our stores is unncessarily expensive. We do have a state-licensed butcher who does custom processing, and it is ridiculous that we are not allowed to buy and sell this much safer and healthier alternative in our local stores. Dairy faces other regulations with the same outcome: no access to stores and therefore the local food production infrastructure that used to exist in the county isn't being rebuilt.

I've racked my brain to figure out ways to work around the laws and found a few potential options. These include using a cooperative to facilitate direct meat sales so that lower income people (who lack freezer space or funds to buy a whole side of beef at once) can access this option. Or, CSAs (community supported agriculture) could pool their efforts to create their own farmshare stores. Or, private stores could be created, just as some people have created private after hours clubs to work around alcohol regulations. But really, why should we twist ourselves into pretzels to get our meat and dairy into our stores?

I've long-advocated for a blanket regulatory exemption to allow farmers to sell their products in stores in their local areas. But don't hold your breath waiting for the "free market" enthusiasts of this country to pick up that banner. So much effort has gone into allowing "free trade" between countries, but there is no freedom to trade between family members, friends and neighbors within our own country. Thus, the economic system that America is exporting around the world should be called phree trade: freedom only for the elite players in the economy, not for regular people. "Freedom" on a foundation of countrols.

In order for this paradigm to change, America needs a Small Farmers Union, with local and regional chapters, and including all small farm supporters, from the farmers themselves to their customers and independent retailers. Obviously I'm too busy to start this union on my own, but this is something that should grow organically anyway. I'll stay active in my own local community, and I encourage you to do so in yours.