Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Farmer Politics

Farmer Politics:
I still haven’t given up my faith in democracy or even in the common sense of most human beings. But I also find it increasingly difficult to feel as if I have a political home or even much in common with most of the political rhetoric being thrown around these days. I don’t fit into any of the slots that politics or the media think people like me should be slotted into. And I have no one party to vote for with which I entirely agree.
On any given day, I can wear any number of occupational hats; farmer, writer, teacher, mother, grandmother, cook, bottle washer. And, I can wear any number of political labels, none of which quite fit, but all of which fit some of the time, radical, feminist, environmentalist, redneck, conservative, anarchist, socialist, right-wing, left-wing, ranter, crank. None of them mean very much and some aspects of some varieties of political ideology apply to me only some of the time. And in fact, I am pretty much allergic to any forms of ideology.
In part, because I am a farmer, and because it is how I was raised, and because these ideas make sense to me, I value independence, honesty, strength, endurance, caring for the land, and caring for others. I want to live my own life on my own terms, be responsible for myself, and be free to take the risks I think I want or need to take. I want to raise my own food and be free to share or sell this food to my friends and neighbours. I believe in taking care of my family, my friends and my community. I believe in sharing, in cooperation and in independence. Those things go together.
When my brothers and sister and I were small, we took all kinds of chances that would be frowned on, forbidden, regulated and banned today. We were wild kids. We had matches, guns, hatchets, knives, fishing rods, and boats. We ran loose in the woods. We lit fires, we went swimming on our own right after eating, we hunted, fished, drove tractors, climbed enormous fruit trees, ran barefoot all summer, and worked our guts out. No one ever showed us how to do things; we learned by doing. Our father’s simple words to us were, “You see, you do.”
I think kids need time alone in the woods. I think they need independence, they need to learn to work, and they need to learn to survive. Survival and endurance are learned skills.
Generousity and caring for others is also learned.
As a farmer, I also think small entrepreneurial businesses are great. They are the backbone of small communities.
But big multi-national corporations are not ‘businesses’; they are something else entirely, something destructive and demonstrably uncaring of ordinary people’s lives and of non-human lives.
My parents were small business people. They survived by selling what they grew; meat, milk, eggs, butter, chickens, fruit and vegetables. Almost all of what my parents did would be illegal today. And yet, they fed themselves and their kids, and they fed their neighbours. They had simple values of hard work and friendship. But my parents weren’t conservative. My father was born in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of social caring in Canada. My parents voted NDP all their lives. When my father worked at the mine in Riondel, he was a union man, as were all the miners. Otherwise, they would have been forced to work for peanuts in unsafe conditions by mine owners that cared nothing for their lives. We were always poor but this poverty was not frightening because we ate so well and we had an arrogant sense of our own individuality. I’ve been poor my whole life and what for me, is frightening, is not poverty but lack of being able to do anything about it. What is even more frightening is being so afraid of poverty that I give up my sense of my true self.
But these days, the media and whatever powers seek to control our lives want to put us all in little slots. If you’re pro business and pro-family, then somehow you are also pro giant corporations and pro right wing religious patriarchy and anti-taxation and pro-religion.
No, thanks. I am pro-family and pro-small business and pro-independence and pro society taking care of people who need help and pro-my community. I am also pro-clean air and clean water and wild animals and above all, I am pro-honesty.
And I don’t care what religious beliefs someone has as long as I don’t have to hear about them. And I care far more about how they behave toward other humans and other non-humans than I do about what they believe. I don’t mind paying taxes for schools and health care and roads. I do mind paying taxes for huge corporations that don’t need subsidies, for stupid wars in foreign countries that achieve nothing, for more and more regulations and inspectors and bureaucrats with nothing much to do but complicate people’s lives.
Human beings and non-human beings are facing enormous challenges of many, many kinds. More than ever, people need to be able to speak their minds or write their minds without fear of reprisal. They need to do this is in a caring, mannerly way. They need to do this with honest information, not information that is slanted to make them believe one thing or another.
I’m not right wing, left wing or in the middle of anything. I am just out here in the woods, living a semi-independent farmer’s life, going for long walks and trying to make sense out of it all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is January the meanest month??


There is some dispute around our farm and in the family as to whether January is the grimmest month to get through or February. January tends to be a grey month, warmth locked far away in the ground, frozen snow crusted on the fields, the clouds lid locked over the lake. Not much to do but stay in and work, and for relief, look at gardening catalogues and go for walks, but even walks are a challenge when the snow is crusted and frozen.
I teach online, and I always have stacks of writing and reading to do, so in many ways I welcome winter and semi-solitude it brings. I think writers are fortunate. We are never without something that needs doing. When I talked to my cousin Kerrie, a rancher in Alberta, this fall, she said winters were difficult for her and her husband. Not much to do but feed the stock and plow the driveway. Her husband watched a lot of football and she had various hobbies but winters can be hard for farmers who want to be out and doing. I can’t imagine spending my winter watching television.
February around here is a bit easier since we tend to get some days when it is warm enough to go out and rake the sawdust, prune fruit trees, light a fire. But February is also a tease, warm one day and frozen the next and it drives people crazy. It’s the curse of anticipation and thinking that any day now it will be spring. It’s warmer, but not warm enough. March is when planting in the greenhouses begins but we can’t really garden, can’t actually get digging, raking and planting until the middle of April.
But that doesn’t stop us dedicated gardeners from getting together to go over seed catalogues together. Last year several of us had a seed catalogue afternoon, where we all brought our collected seed catalogues and made lists (not orders yet) of things we might want to grow. An imaginary garden is much easier than a real one.
Gardening is always one of those activities (the opposite of writing) that begins in order and hope and descends quickly into chaos. On the other hand, it is pretty much simplicity itself. Given warmth, light and nutrition, things will grow.
But they have their quirks. I love the fact that there are several happy volunteer wild cherry trees on the farm growing under cedar trees, where no gardener in his or her right mind would ever plant them. Every year, flowers fail where they should flourish and flowers I’ve neglected thrive or bloom on their own in the ‘wrong’ place. Vegetables that should be productive fail, like the giant broccoli plants I grew one year, healthy plants, no broccoli. The pigs loved them.
Last year, the peas and beans, which are normally productive, were eaten off to the root by deer and never recovered. I love the idea of a farm at peace but there are too many deer and not enough predators. I’m cheering for the cougars this winter.
Right now, when the dogs and I go for walks, I can see what they smell, a mosaic of tracks overlaid, deer and coyotes, mice and squirrels, and at the beach, duck tracks that end in spots of blood and wing brushes in the snow. Eagles harass the coots. Coyotes have scraped away the snow to get at mice in the long grass. I love my warm safe house. At night I close the curtains, open the computer and sail away. But in the afternoons, after a morning of teaching and writing, when it is time to go outside, I miss the garden.
But it will soon return.