dsc_4120This is the last post in my Omnivore’s Delight Challenge week of blogging What a marathon that was. You can read all the older posts here.

All the folks in my household enjoyed the Omnivore’s Delight Challenge. Turns out we didn’t have to change our eating habits much – only our shopping habits. Still it was an interesting and inspiring exercise that can take the dread out of changing one’s food culture, and a good “test run” for more permanent changes.

The following is a wrap up of what was most valuable, challenging, surprising, and eye-opening. No doubt more thoughts will offer themselves as the experience reasserts itself, in no small part because we’re keeping several aspects of the diet.

Eye on the prize. This “diet” lasting only a week, and it being the end of summer, the season of optimal food abundance, made it rather easy. Imagine eating locavoraciously (locally sourcing at least 50% of our calories) in the middle of winter! The trick then would be to keep our eye on the prize: a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all. Time and time again, as our small pilot group sat around the dinner table examining yet another thwarted eating habit, touching on the sacrifices we would have to make were this a permanent deal, this is what we asked: would we give up bananas, coffee, rice at any time of the year, fresh peaches and tomatoes out of season, if the result was a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all?dsc_3961

It would take more work, more time, more ingenuity, more community involvement, and quite a bit of preparation to make it possible at all. New England Food Vision, of which the Omnivore’s Delight is a component, is for 2060 after all. Both in terms of availability and variety, much of the food that New England could be growing in 2060 isn’t here yet. Some of it is as yet only available to those who have the extra income to pay a premium price, the time and means to drive the extra mile. I for one felt privileged to be able to do so for a week, and I plan to keep paying that forward as much as I can so that local markets – the farmers and the local shops who take a chance by giving their products shelf space – can continue on in lean time and grow into prevalence.

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Dinner of haddock, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, all local ingredients except for the pepper, salt, nutmeg and paprika.

Food group changes. The Omnivore’s Delight first of all recommends a caloric intake for those food groups that can be grown in New England due to its climate, soil, etc. We were already eating well within those parameters (I wrote about our Baseline here). We eat less meat, refined grains, and warm climate fruits, and more whole grains and vegetables, than the average New Englander. In fact, our diet was already closer to the Food Vision’s “Regional Reliance” diet, which adjusts to local growing circumstances even more. But in the spirit of the challenge, we cut out almost all the processed snacks, and all the bananas. I suspect we ate more fish and meat than usual (though still within Omnivore’s Delight parameters) simply because we were excited to have found them locally and wanted to feature them on the table and in the blog.

dsc_3901_500Local sources. So our main challenge was the 50% local/regional provenance of the food. Though I don’t have exact numbers, I would estimate that about 75% of our food was locally sourced. This was a major adjustment and we made big changes in all the food groups, except for vegetables, which we usually get from our own garden, our CSA, the Farmers Market and local farm stands – rarely did I buy California strawberries or a Florida tomato. But I had not been conscious about grains, dairy, meat and fish, simply assuming that they were too difficult, or too expensive, to get locally. They weren’t easy to get, required research, some extra driving, and they sometimes cost more, but in many cases I found them worth those costs.

dsc_3884_500In that respect, what does “local” mean? Beef and chicken from Codman Farm in Lincoln at 7 miles is fairly incontestably local. Anything grown outside of New England is not. But what about wheat berries from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA, at 75 miles (I wrote on grains here and on beans here)? Or if you consider 100 miles to be the magical radius, milk from High Lawn Farm in Lee, MA, 113 miles away (I wrote on dairy here)? Those are still in New England, but though I would conceivably drive to Northfield to pick up a year’s supply of grains for myself and preferably some other families, I would not do the weekly drive to Lee, or even to Shaw Farm in Dracut, only 30 miles away, for a couple of gallons of milk. Fortunately, both Four Star and High Lawn are already stocked at local-enough shops, and hence I count them as local.

dsc_1984_500Distribution lines. The Food Vision is an economic, political vision, a plan for the community of New Englanders working together. It doesn’t advocate individual or household self-reliance: everyone growing all they need for themselves. Hence the importance of supply lines. For instance, I can buy those Four Star Farms wheat berries from Volante Farms in Needham, MA, 8 miles away, or I can buy them from the Four Star Farms online store and have them shipped straight to my house. The latter would even be $2 cheaper. Nevertheless I have learned enough to choose the former. I wrote them an email to explain:

I just love it that you stock Four Stars, and I want to encourage that. My research into local food has taught me that a major part of promoting locally grown is supporting the supply lines too, and farmstands and shops like yours are to be commended on being the first to give shelf space to these emerging markets.

dscf9204The same thinking goes for the drive there, and back: I want to show support and keep this market growing so that more local stores will also take up the baton of local food. It’s not ideal, of course, but that shouldn’t stop us from working toward the ideal, and that comes at several costs (money, time, convenience, car emissions). Still, we should work to minimize that cost, so I hope I can drum up more friends and neighbors to carpool shopping trips with.

$Cost$. Speaking of costs, I found that most locally grown vegetables, bought straight from the farmers at the Farmers Market or a farm stand, or through a CSA, are cheaper than in the grocery store (some of this has to do with foregoing organic, about which later. Having discovered how easy it is to bake our own bread, the premium I pay for local grains and flour is very little compared to what I used to pay for baked loaves at the grocery store. Local milk and cheese do cost more, as do fish and especially meat (which is also costly to grow, economically as well as environmentally). Again, and as I also wrote here:

The first step has been taken by passionate, incredibly hard-working people whose love of good food, happy animals and the land overrides the need for a job security and a stable income. Now it’s up to the customers to grow the demand for the food they grow, so these small businesses can become more stable and so that other farmers can get started as well. These first customers pay a premium, just as the early adopters of solar paid much higher prices. They got that market going, then prices went down and others with less disposable income could get in. The question is: can our household be that customer? If we eat less of it, we could.

dscf2837Time. This “diet” did take more time but, except for the driving, all of it was well spent. I count the research and sourcing of local food stuff as a one-time investment. Getting to know the farmers, shopkeepers and other customers makes for constant edification and great community building and food activism. The cooking was more careful and the eating was slower because we felt committed to the ingredients, their flavors, and the experiment made us more experimental. That is all good.

dsc_3788_annotated_1000Thankfulness. This brings me to what was probably our most intense and most lasting learning. We were so much more mindful of the food that sustains our every action. Much less went to waste (in my household that means, into the compost), not just because some of it was more expensive, or not just because we knew it was more scarce, more difficult to come by. This food has become personal. We had studied where it came from, who grew it, what the cows ate who made the milk and who grew that food, who conserved the land these cows were grazing on, and so on. In many cases we had met the people who grew it. This food was no longer anonymous. It came with strings attached and it had made us responsible for it. We also felt more thankful and awed at the achievements that were, each and every one, necessary conditions for it to make it onto our plate. Land and soil, animals, farmers, truckers, distributors, salespeople, buyers and cooks all got recognition. Eating like this, food is no longer fuel, but a gift. Dinner is no longer a meal, but a feast!

dscf2633Food culture. Food for the belly nourished us twice as it was also food for thought. The gathering being made up of several food cultures (European, Indian, American), the food on the table inspired much story telling about memorable meals, favorite recipes, old ways of cooking and praising food. As I wrote, it gave us the courage to question our food habits and entitlements. We thought out loud about what we could give up for our food system to be sustainable and equitable.

Organic, how animals and soil are treated. We spoke often about how food is grown, how animals are treated. Wayland Farmers Market Manager Peg Mallett and I discussed this and we both concluded that for many customers at Farmers Markets, local trumps organic. Before the Challenge, that was the case for us as well with respect to veggies, but this time I applied the same thinking to milk and grains. At the store, the “organic” label is my only guarantee that the food is grown with certain methods and under certain circumstances that I prefer. But at the Farmers Market I do my own certifying simply by getting to know and trust the farmers.

dscf8072smallI had a very interesting conversation with The Kid (11 years old) about eating meat or fish, and how having known the animal – which ranges from it having been a pet chicken, all the way to having caught the fish – bears on whether one should, or even can, be eaten. The Kid stated that once she had looked into the animals living eye, she would not eat it.

The Food Vision considers a vegetarian diet as well, but it recommends meat and fish because those are sources of nutrients that grow well and can be grown quite sustainably in New England. So they’re on the menu. “Sustainably” is of course the key word. What does it all mean? In this respect I had a conversation with a vegetarian friend who gets a good percentage of her proteins from eggs. When I mentioned that some of the local hens from whom I get eggs are getting old and be culled before winter, she was aghast. I asked her what she thinks happens to the hens who lay all those eggs he eats? Does she think they all have a happy, well-fed retirement of about five years after their one, two, three (at most four – depending on the operation) years of laying?

dsc_3894“The fifteen.” Of course, some things just can’t be got locally, not yet, or will never be: coffee or tea (though I did manage to grow some Sochi Tea trees a couple of years ago), or peppercorn (though we could grow substitutes), or rice (though New England farmers are working with native wild rice), or bananas (forget about that one!). I think personally I could give up all of those (some easier than others) or enjoy the substitutes. What about salt? The ocean is nearby and local salt is available – I just didn’t get it on time for the Challenge. New England should also be able to make sugar, but then there is honey, which “grows” not fifty feet from my front door. Anyway, we did eat all of these, counting them into the fifteen percent “discretionary calories”.

dsc_4069What will we keep? Definitely, the homemade bread with local whole grains, the local milk and homemade yogurt with local milk, the local eggs and local fish. We’ll do our best with cheese and meat (possibly by joining a meat CSA). We’ll continue to eat less purchased snacks, cookies, etc., and make more ourselves. I decided to stock up at the farmers market and freeze, dehydrate and can, a lot more than I usually do, for more local winter eating. We’ll also continue our research, grow our relations with the farmers, and have “food conversation” at the table.

dsc_4049The biggest obstacle? Keeping score! I started with a data sheet (calories, ounces, $$), but it was impossible to keep track of five people, three meals a day. When I tried a couple of free online caloric calculators, the results were hilarious. As these programs are calibrated to one person per day, my plugging in pounds of potatoes and gallons of milk for five and, one day, even seven people over several days, resulted in several alarms!

Rest assured that if we decide to invite more people to this challenge, we will also offer a fun and friendly recording tool.

The last couple of days have been “bee days,” as they’re called in our household. Mama smells of smoke, and a honeybee inevitable gets into the house or a car or a bee suit (yikes). But it’s all good. The aim is to get all seven hives ready for winter. I have some strong queens there.

Three Italians. Three out of the four Italian queens have been amazing. Even though first-year packages, they’ve given enough worker bees for three splits as well as 45+ lbs of excess “people honey”. If Borgia, Constanza and Beatrice make it through winter they’ll make for good production hives (honey makers) as well as for good genetic material for splits.

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The four on the right are mine (right to left: Borgia, Constanza, Beatrice and Katharina). The blue one all the way at the left end is a split (Tatjana). The other hives belong to two other “Common” beeks.

Three Russians. Bianca was a bust early on, and after giving that colony a chance to requeen, Bianca’s daughter, Laura, lasted less than a month: she came back unmated and I had to cut off her head. I replaced her with a Russian, called Katharina, from Dan Conlon’s amazing outfit. Katharina is one of three queens Russians. Tatjana was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the strong Italian hives on 6/25 (moved to the Home Yard for that purpose, then moved back to the Common in August). Anna was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the same strong Italian hives on 7/9 and has remained in the Home Yard.

One Mutt. The first split I did, from the same origin colonies, was made on 6/8 and to them I gave Queen Sam – a Sam Comfort “mutt.” They too remain in the Home Yard.

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Food Stores

After inspecting each hive, inventorizing their food stores, and checking for disease (sugar rolls on the three Italians, all under threshold which is a huge relief), and a couple of nifty bee escape moves, I had plenty of capped honey frames to distribute to those in need of it.

The Italian populations are plenty large. They also have great honey stores, much of which they’ll need, being so large (typical of Italians), but much of which I felt fine robbing out to give to the weaker hives. Katharina’s colony is large enough too, but they didn’t have as much honey, so they got an extra super with robbed honey. These four “big hives” each have one deep and two mediums for nest boxes. The idea is to switch to three mediums for nest boxes next year. The deeps are just too heavy for me to lift, and mixing deeps and mediums is a hassle as the frames aren’t interchangeable. Come spring, these colonies should have moved up into the two mediums. I plan to use the drawn out deep frames for nucs to sell.

The splits, Sam and particularly Tatjana and Anna, are understandably smaller, and hence they are housed in one deep and just one medium. But I’m not worried. Sam’s population is large enough, and the latter two are Russians and they’re supposed to be more “conservative”: they have smaller populations going into winter and need less honey to make it through. Still, they got some from the Italian honey hives.

With all this honey, I won’t have to feed sugar, of which I’m  glad. I’ll be ready, though, to give it them if they need it.

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Tatjana, a split from the Italians with a Russian Queen, split on 6/25 and moved to the Home Yard, then moved back into the Common on 8/29.
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Home Yard: Anna (split on 7/9) on the right, Sam (split on 6/8) on the left. A super being robbed out of uncapped honey and protected from the recent rain by an outer cover, leaning against Sam’s hive).

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Other Measures

I need to close the screened bottom boards and/or replace them with solid bottom boards. I also plan to give each a candy/quilt winter box, like the ones I made last year (see here). That way they’ll have ventilation and moisture control, and should any of them be in need of candy, I’ll have a place to put it. I also plan to wrap each of them, like I did last year as well (see here). I have some time for that, still, but I’ll try not to underestimate the time it takes to cut all those insulation boards, and to actually do the wrapping.

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Looking Ahead

I plan to split each surviving hive at least once as soon as they are ready for it – which will also prevent swarming. The early ones will have to make their own queens, as no local queens will be available yet that early in spring and the whole point is not to get queens from elsewhere. I also plan to start rearing queen (I’ve got all the toys-I-mean-tools ready). I aim to rear lots of bees so I can offer my local beeks local nucs and local queens. But it will also be good to have a couple of production hives to make some honey money to offset at least some of the costs of the whole operation.

Fingers crossed for a mild winter, and especially one that doesn’t have a deep arctic blast at the end of it!

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We’re racing against the clock here. A week ago I drastically snipped off 3/4 of the leaves on the tomato vines. Many of the fruits on them have been full grown for a month, but very few of them were ripening. The pruning has redirected the plant into ripening, but I think I may have acted too late. There are still a lot of green tomatoes there!

Ah, the troublesome double nuc: time to get rid of it. The two splits (Hive 6 with queen Tatjana and Hive 7 with queen Anna) were growing out of it. The plan: to move H6 – whose entrance was facing west (“backward”) – to the common apiary (3 miles away), and to move H7 into her own 10 frame deep in the same location (home yard; entrance still facing east). But how to move those bees? You can’t just pick them up: there are two colonies in one box. DSCF8321

I went in yesterday evening around 6 pm, when they were all home, planning to transfer the 8 frames into a deep, then to move them. Simple. However, there were too many bees stuck to the sides and bottom of the lower box, which is of course “attached” to the other hive, so you can’t shake those bees off.  I walked away and returned today when the bees were flying. I set the new deep right next to the box so the entrances aligned. I moved over the top four frames, took the top box off and shook the bees off it into the new deep. Then I had this situation:

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Still a lot of bees in the bottom box, but not too bad. I could at least make out if the queen was there (I hadn’t spotted her as I moved the frames) and, relatively assured she wasn’t, smoked those bees and scraped off the burr comb on the side. It ha brood in it so it would entice some nurse bees to stay with it. The foragers were coming in hard and going straight for the new entrance/box. Soon the bees in the nuc box were pouring out the exit and moving over as well. Satisfied, I closed the new deep with the outer cover and put the old outer cover on top of the other nux box (weighing it down with the top nuc box) – a deja-vu configuration.

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Around 7 pm after I saw the nuc box was empty, so I walked over, picked up the deep off the bottom board and set it down inside an upturned inner cover, using it as a tray. It being a warm, humid evening, quite a few bees were stuck to the front of the box, and quite a few bees were left behind on the bottom board. I shook and brushed as many as I could into the deep, quickly closed it with another outer cover. This, I’ve found,  is the best way to contain the bees: there is no hole or gap for the bees inside to escape through.The bees still stuck on the outside of the box, however, as a different matter. I grabbed a sheet, wetted it thoroughly, and threw it over the box, then carried the darn heavy thing into the back of my car (a station wagon). The sheet worked out nicely: no bees bugged me on the 5 minute drive over.

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< Here I am, all geared up. The elastic  of my bee vest is shot, so I put a belt on – it’s not pleasant to have a bee in ones vest or veil! I wear the heavy boots not so much for the bees but for the ticks.

Unfortunately it was already a little too late and darkening. Bees hate it when you go in at night. On top of that, one of my fellow Common Yard beeks had just done a sugar roll on the hive right next to the open spot where I was to place Tatjana. I hadn’t even opened my bees yet or his were spitting at me. But, no turning back. I set up the cinder block hive stand, the bottom board, then lifted the box out of the car, sheet and all, and set it down on the grass. The moment I pulled the deep out of the outer cover tray, the effect was startling. Bees poured out on all sides, and I’ve never heard such a roar – I’ll hear it all night. I kept on, maneuvered the box onto the bottom board. The tray was full of bees and I arranged it in front of the entrance so those could walk in. I tried to see if the queen was on it, but it was too dark already.

I took a few brisk walks around the field to try to shake the five or so bees chasing me, then got into my car and drove home, suit still zipped up, bees buzzing around  me. Didn’t get stung, though!

Tomorrow I will return to retrieve my smoker bucket and sheet – had to abandon those. I won’t inspect for a couple of days. I’ll leave them bee for a bit…

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{Update} Tatjana’s bees look okay, very busy. Here they are in the new field. They need an entrance reducer. It’s robbing time. I’ll give them a super with honey in a few days, when I’ll also check on the queen and install some hive beetle traps.

The move of Hive 7 with Queen Anna went smoothly this morning: I moved the 8 frames over – looking good! – then set the old boxes in front of it so they can crawl in. Easy peasy, that one.

Interested in honeybee virology and mite vectors? This article covers a new study with lots good info.

DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.

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Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

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After over a week of temperatures in the 90s and scorching full sun, it is cooler overcast with some mild rain (still not enough, though). I get to catch my breath. Today I weeded, pruned and trellised tomatoes. Tomorrow I may really get to the wood chip piles: add them to Wood Chip Heaven and (this will require carting them up our hill) as a mulch to the perennials up top and in the paths in the vegetable garden, all the while pulling weeds. If I have any oomph left I may even move some into the chicken yard, or I may start laying out some paths on our slope.

In the meantime one more critter has joined the menagerie of bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and lots of birds in the clover:

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We are also seeing some interesting insects, like this one, which Amie called the cotton candy bug, literally on our doorstep:

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I’m finally harvesting tomatoes, peppers (hot and green) and zucchinis. I pulled all the garlic, 125 bulbs for about 6 lbs.

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For seed I am saving the largest heads, as well as the actual garlic seeds from the scapes I allowed to mature. These seeds are also planted in Fall, and make great bulbs. I also finished the disappointing potato harvest: 6.25 lbs of tiny potatoes for about as many of supermarket potatoes that I put in – I blame it on those seed potatoes, next year I may splurge on actual seed potatoes. This means I have two more empty beds for the Fall harvest plantings. This year will I actually have a Fall harvest?

It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.

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My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

toensmeierbookcoverI just received Eric Toensmeier’s Carbon Farming Solution, A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security (Chelsea Green, 2016). Reading this, along with Peter McCoy’s mind-blowing Radical Mycology, as well as the third US Department of Energy Billion Ton Report (just released today), and also listening to presentations such as the one in Concord last week, on carbon sequestration by a group called Biodiversity for a Livable Planet, I realize I feel optimistic again.

Cautiously optimistic, of course. And not hopeful.

I love it that none of the writers of  the blurbs and reviews on the back of Toensmeier’s book use the word “hope”. They use instead “opportunity”. This is so very important to me.

Early on, in all these years of doing to work – educating myself and others and practicing it – I did away with hope. I am one of those people who, in Transition Inner Work and Work That Reconnects gatherings, has an almost visceral reaction to the word. The concept (we call it a feeling – “I feel hopeful” – but I doubt it is one, I think it is instead a cultural construct) is useless to me and, I fear, destructive to what needs to be done. In most cases, hopeful people just don’t allow themselves to be upset enough to get off their asses and start doing the work. Their hope that “it will work out” (notice the expectation in this expression that the speaker doesn’t have to do anything) is based on fear – fear of work, fear of failure, fear of having to give up entitlements, fear of guilt. To combat this fear, they use more hope, the third in the trinity of cope and dope. That’s the thing with hopium: when the buzz wears off, it makes you believe that all you can do to make it better is to take another hit. It is not based on scientific data, on a real community and fellow-feeling or, most importantly, on actual work. And it is only by work, now, that we build the future, but “I hope” keeps putting it off. This made, and makes me, angry, and obviously I stopped going to these workshops which inevitably end on the hopeful note.

Not that I advocate hopelessness. Hopelessness too leads to despair and paralysis.  No, I reject the false choice between hope and hopelessness. What I have instead is work, because it has to be done, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome. I opt for now, put all my eggs in the basket of now, not some hoped-for (or despaired-of) future. I don’t count on hope, but on joy. Hence the subtitle of this blog, the quote from Wendell Berry: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts”.

That joy is now growing, because some of those facts have changed. Namely, it is increasingly becoming clear that, if we work with her, the earth can sequester the excess carbon that we already put in the atmosphere. This was the missing piece, the missing fact. Previously we feared that, even if we stopped putting carbon in the atmosphere, we’d still be dangerously overheating because of our past emissions, which are called, powerfully, “legacy carbon.” I am awed and convinced that the earth, the soil, the soil bacteria and fungi and plants can do it. In fact, it doesn’t surprise me at all, but here now we have scientifically convincing proof.

Can this realization, which effectively wipes away the “it’s too late anyway” argument, silence those who are against quitting fossil fuels? Can we now do both, stop putting new carbon in the atmosphere and sequester the legacy carbon? Toensmeier, p. 36:

So can carbon farming alone solve our climate change problem? Not even close. Carbon farming doesn’t work without dramatic emissions reductions (including clean energy an reduced consumption in wealthy countries), as even a small fraction of the remaining 5 to 10 trillion tons of carbon in the fossil pool would far overwhelm the theoretical maximum sequestration capacity of soils and biomass, estimated at 320 billion tons. (note) Emissions reduction also doesn’t work without carbon farming  since even if emissions stop today, we’re already over the tipping point with no way to return without sequestration.

This isn’t hope, this is opportunity. And what Toensmeier gives us in this book is also not hope,  but a toolkit. The opportunity and the toolkit are here: you grab it now and get to work. Or not. I know what I’m going to do. You?

 

(note) Rattan Lal, “Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security,” BioScience, 2010, 60, 9, pp.708-721. (You can read this fascinating paper here).