Occupy the Garden

When I went poking about The Weather Channel for links on the warm winter, I was reminded how very much I dislike that site: There’s always a threat or a disaster or a catastrophe of some kind. (My mother would say, of the weathermen when a blizzard threatened, “They get so excited and put on their sweaters.” And then, more often than not, the blizzard would blunder off into the Gulf of Maine.) Climate’s a concern; weather isn’t, unless putting people in fear gets them to buy tickets to DisneyWorld, or buy whatever heap of crud, crap, and corruption the marketers have dreamed up for them depending on whether it’s sunny or snowy or raining. So I went on over to the sane, sober, and fact-filled Weather Underground — no, no, Stasi algorithms and apparatchiks, not that Weather Underground — and found this terrific post from The Garden Coach: “What One Gardener Can Do.”

She begins:

It’s easy to become discouraged these days as we’re bombarded with disheartening news about our natural world. Climate change, polluted water, depleted water supplies, loss of habitat and the creatures that depend on it – the list of parts of the web of life under serious threat is depressingly long.

It makes one wonder if there’s anything to be done, if there’s anything a single person can do.

But gardeners can make a significant difference in restoring the health of the planet by adopting practices that protect habitat and encourage natural vigor and resiliency.

It’s the healthy practices of millions who share this view, taken together, that can have a significant impact. And there are growing numbers of people all over the world who want to help make a difference.

This, to me, is an important and correct observation; we might think of “Move Your Money” as a successful implementation of this concept; not so much a mass movement, but a movement of a very large number of people coming to similar decisions in parallel.

I should start by saying that while I derive great pleasure from having a garden, I derive much less pleasure from working in my garden; in fact, I try to avoid work whenever I can. Further, thank The God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, I’m not a peasant: If the crops fail, I’m not going to starve. That said, I do see growing food as a valuable skill to learn, a hedging strategy (as it were) against the day when The Trucks Stop, which up here at the margins in Maine really is a concern, though a background one at present. Anyhow, read the whole thing; but I’m going to take the Garden Coach’s do-list (items bolded) and comment on it from my own growing practice on my own small patch of land.

My basic perspective is that you should trust the garden centers in the big box stores about as much as you should trust a bankster trying to upsell your their latest and greatest innovation; not at all. Don’t go near them, and don’t give them your money. Like the Weather Channel, garden centers market by putting you in fear — basically, of looking bad to the neighbors or, heaven forfend, losing “curb appeal” — and then getting you to process your garden with oil (pesticides, fertilizers) or other proprietary compounds (“organic” pesticides). There’s no concept of a garden as a seasonal, cyclical, deeply intertwingled and above all uniquely situated system where life proceeds from and returns to the soil, moved by the sun, the air, and water, and moved, too, by our own senses of beauty and taste. Nor could there be, since every patch of ground is different and takes ten years to learn, and there’s no rent to be had from that. The very term, “Garden Center,” is a misnomer: Every garden is its own center. So, things to do:

1. Stop using pesticides. Besides polluting the water and evolving resistance, pesticides kill the “beneficial” insects you want, even if they do kill the insects you don’t want. Think in systems: Use plants to repel insects with their odor, or confuse them with their colors. Encourage birds, who are higher in the food chain than insects, with water and the nectar of flowers that they enjoy. Strengthen plants against insects with soil amendments; often the attacks of insects are the sign of unhealthy plants. And use plants appropriate to your patch of ground; maybe the Japanese beetles are a sign that variety of rose just wasn’t meant to be!

2. Use fertilizers sparingly. I’d say not at all. Think in systems and apply the principle: Let no organic matter leave the property! Compost your kitchen scraps; compost your grass clippings, if any; compost your weeds; recycle any leaves into mulch. Cycle the compost back into your soil. And if you must bring in something from outside, bring in soil or manure or more compost (and not compost from municipal solid waste, either; you can’t really know what’s in it).

3. Rethink your lawn. I’d say abolish your lawn. It’s a feudal remnant. It’s a lot of work for something nobody can eat. And if you start to see beauty in a balanced, humming, blooming, thriving complex system, it’s harder to see beauty in a mono-colored, monocultural closely shaven mat of invasive grasses. Then there’s all the water the lawn sucks up. And the mower, which if it isn’t gas, is coal (from the electric power plant). Abolish your lawn and do something useful and beautiful with the space!

4. Attract beneficial insects and birds by planting natives. Here my own practice is not what it could be. Although Maine has many seed companies, and I do buy “cold hardy” seeds from them, I can’t say my garden is native in the sense that all my seeds are saved from my patch of land. However, ever since the honeybees began to disappear, I’ve been careful to attract new pollinators into their niche with masses of flowers: Some of these flowers also repel insects (marigolds); others improve the soil (clover); still others attract birds (bee balm, hummingbirds). Here and as usual, note the multiple roles played in the system by each single component.

5. Plant a tree – or several trees. We all make the same error: We put a few tomatoes in the ground, and then, five years later, we discover we are becoming real gardeners, and want trees. Well, if we’d put the saplings in the ground five years ago, we’d have trees today! But I didn’t do that. Anyhow, I’m not sure about trees. Trees, although they do sequester carbon and provide a home for birds, are the enemies of roofs, and in the wrong place, they take light from the vegetables. I’d cut down most of the trees I do have, and get a season’s wood into the bargain. Although perhaps some espaliated nut trees might be nice. Edible!

6. Use water wisely. Watering is work, so I want to avoid it. Water is also a resource (for which I pay a water bill) so I don’t want to waste it. So I use sheet mulch! My system is to cover all the beds with (from the bottom up) compost, newspaper sheets, and straw, and then punch holes in the sheet mulch for the seedlings. The effects of sheet mulching are deeply, deeply intertwingling. At the least: The straw soaks up rain (and mist and dew). I didn’t have to water my garden once last summer; no dragging of the hose, no burying of the soakers. Natural rainfall took care of it all. Further: The newspaper is a light barrier, and so there are no weeds. Weeding is work, so I like avoiding it. Further: As the compost rots, an air gap opens up between it and the newspaper, which retains heat. Earthworms like that. And finally the whole system rots and is replaced year after year, enriching the soil. I’m totally high on sheet mulch and recommend to anyone. In fact, sheet mulch is how I save the time from watering and weeding to invest in items one through five above.

This year I’m also going to connect my garden to civil society, I hope in two ways. First, I’m going to solve my distribution and storage problems by giving vegetables away. There are people who need food, so why not do that? Second, I’m going to see about setting up a little library. I’ve got a ton of books, so why not put them into circulation?

Now — giving away food and setting up a library aside — what does all this gardening geekery have to do with Occupy?

First, and most obviously, it really is about holding space. The garden centers see our gardens as profit centers — as black boxes into which products — “Miracle Gro!” — go and out of which money comes. In their simple-minded vision, one black box is just like another. They do not see gardens — our space — as alive or unique. That vision needs to be cut off at the roots and left to wither where encountered; local food people know all about this; single payer advocates do; people fighting extractive projects do; Occupiers do. It’s all about finding the highest and best use for the space that we hold: “The augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life,” as LeGuin puts it. Compare the complexity and intensity of a lawn with a garden.

Less obviously, as I’ve tried to show, it’s all about thinking in systems. So many of us don’t get the chance to think in systems at all, because the cube or the warehouse or the register or the office or the aisle doesn’t encourage such a thing. But there are a lot of systems to be thought about right now, and so anything that encourages large numbers of people to use their space to think in systems is good. (I’d also note that many on the right are genuinely passionate about gardening and food, and so there is at least one way toward a sort of common ground.)

Even less obviously, it’s all about beauty and happiness. Even if the slugs get everything! I remember coming back into the country from overseas, and seeing, as if for the first time, that the airport had bad signage, was poorly lit, not very clean, and had the oppressive feel of the second-rate national security state that indeed it represented. The only people who looked calm, confident, and well-clad were the guards; the crowds inside the barriers looked stressed, dumpy, unhappy, and shoddily clothed. This was the public face of my country. This is what the 1% has brought us too. I think people crave beauty and happiness, but many don’t know where it is to be found, and are actively deceived and deked about where to find it; not in a gardening center, that’s for sure! So anything that encourages large numbers of people to hold and use their space to create happiness and beauty — and vegetables! — is also good.

Oh, and no petroleum, no toxic chemicals, a lot less water, carbon sequestration, healthy food.

NOTE To me, almost by definition, a garden is a vegetable garden. I suppose most of the above would also apply to a flower garden.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Peter Dorman

    There’s a wonderful quote from John Dewey, which I can’t find at the moment, that goes more or less like this: Voltaire was right and we should cultivate our own garden, but the garden has no walls and opens out onto the whole world.

    If any readers know the source, I’d be much appreciative.

    1. hermanas

      “Following the example of a neighboring Turk, Candide decides that his household will no longer debate philosophy, saying “we must [simply] cultivate our garden.”

  2. PQS

    LS! Good on you out in the garden. I’m a gardener, too, up in the bountiful Pacific Northwest (well, if you let the corn and tomatoes go, which I do. It’s just too iffy around here for hotties…but there is always, always the farmer’s market, and beans and squash are tough enough for even a cold morning or three….)

    I like your mulch idea – and have tried it myself. However, my #1 favorite mulch is LEAVES. I have several nice maple trees with small leaves. Those make the best mulch, and they do not degrade in a single year, or even two. They form a thick mat on my raised beds, and I just poke through them to install little plants, and keep adding year after year. It is even LESS work than newspaper. If you want to add compost, rake them off and redistribute.

    Also, if you are not a dry bean grower, try some. I had great success with two varieties last year. And nothing will make you feel more self sufficient than making a bean pot or bean soup in the middle of winter with your own crop, which will take much less time to cook and will be of a variety you won’t get at the store.

    “Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” — Thos. Jefferson

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Now go do a knowledge share ;-)

      Seriously, sustainable ag is huge up here, and there’s an overlap between the Occupy Groups and sustainable ag, because they can see how hard it is for them, and how easy it is if you want to go the petroleum and Monsanto-based route.

      Adding, yes, leaves are great. I bank the house with them in the winter, let them rot over the summer, and then spread them on the beds in the winter (while banking the house with the new cycle). Then I layer the compost, newspaper, and straw on top of them in the spring. I could use your technique, I guess… Does an air gap open up?

      1. PQS

        I have noticed that the leaves stay loose enough to allow plenty of air and water to penetrate. Once in a while a weed or two will start up, but they don’t find purchase too deep, and can easily be dealt with…weeding is probably my least favorite chore in the garden!

    2. Up the Ante

      The “bountiful Pacific Northwest” needs to keep these concerns in mind,


      Radiation data from Seattle-area survey may be withheld by Feds for national security purposes

      U. of Texas researchers: Fukushima release “so great” that radioactive aerosols in Washington were up to 100,000 normal

      The only “bounty” allowably collectible should be those of the germanium scintillator makers.

      Gardens are a good thing, but the time may not be now for ‘losing onesself’ in certain areas of the country.

      The fellas at Hanford would like to engage you with this type of offering,
      89 sieverts per hour measured in soil near Columbia River in Washington

      89 sieverts !

      1. PQS


        I stay as far away from Hanford as possible! At all times!

        And to think we moved up here from the Southwest, which I was convinced was going to fall to global warming….still am!

        1. Up the Ante

          And to think, the Native Americans of the Columbia basin to this day fish the Columbia and eat.

        2. Up the Ante

          And I’m sympathizing with the bountiful northwest. The natives of that area were well-fed.

          As with Fukushima, the winds are not always blowing to the east, and your only defense against that uncertainty is a good radiation detector.

    3. Alboro

      Especially beneficial are hardwood leaves, especially Oak because their is a lot of fungal matter growing on them and this innoculates the soil around your fruit trees with just what it needs, miles of little white hairs that append them selves to the roots and enhance their ability to pull in
      moisture and the minerals disolved by the acids that the
      fungi generate.

      Highly recommend this website for all the information you could ever use as a gardener.


  3. Peripheral Visionary

    The philosophy on lawns varies widely depending on what part of the country you are in. In the Northeast, the lawn is a sign of laziness – they grow naturally with only the effort of mowing them every now and again, and so they are the default for those who do not want to bother with a garden.

    In the West, the philosophy is very different – lawns require considerable work just to keep alive in the dry weather and extremes of hot and cold, so maintaining a perfect lawn is a sign of sophistication. It has something of a “man conquers the wilderness” feel to it, because it is so contrary to the natural environment, which has a strong preference for dry grasses and weeds. Add to that the passion for golf, and lawns are virtually sacred spaces in the West. I think the golf courses of Scottsdale and San Diego have done more to elevate the lawn in American culture than any relics of the British aristocratic image ever did.

    On another note, distributing the products of home gardening is a great idea. Just please, take it easy on the zucchini . . .

      1. different clue

        Did you eat the zucchinis when they were small? 6″ long or less? And if so, did you STILL not like them, even at that optimal young stage? Of course if they get a foot or longer, they become pretty tastless.

        It reminds me of a description I read decades ago in a child’s book of astronomy about our expanding universe. Take a balloon and take a magic marker. Put many black dots on the balloon. Each dot represents a galaxy. Blow up the balloon. See how the galaxies all move away from eachother? Well! it occurred to me that a black-dotted balloon is also a good model for an expanding zucchini. Each dot represents taste and flavor. Blow up the zucchini and see how the flavor dots all move away from eachother?
        You want to eat the zucchini when it is small.

      1. aletheia33

        thanks, i loved that post about the gardening family in vietnam, when it first came out.

        here’s another one for ya:


        this garden was planted in 2009, when vermont became the first state in the nation to have a state house vegetable garden. california and wisconsin capitols have them now too.

        many of the folks in these photos are state legislators, who clearly wanted to get in on the gardening. huge yields have been harvested and donated to a local food pantry. the garden was not funded by the state or any other entity but planted by volunteers with everything that was needed donated.

  4. Erik

    For those that can’t garden (or even those that can), there are other ways to support and consume healthy, sustainable food. Shop at your local famers market or join a CSA (Community-supported Agriculture).

    This piece is great because it does encourage all of us to think about our “food system”, which is depressingly feeble from both a human health and sustainability perspective, and is, like so much else, tilted to favor the large multinationals and those that profit from them. Most food regulation, labeling laws, and subsidies are lobbyist-designed and industry-backed. Monsanto is a monster, and I have never know a single person who learned more about them who didn’t go running for the hills.

    The hard part is re-learning how to cook and eat. Opting out (even if not 100%) is hard. Giving up the freezer section at the grocery store along with other processed foods is hard enough. It’s even more difficult to opt for small, local farms, because it means that you eat primarily what’s in season in your area. We’ve gotten used to strawberries and asparagus all year ’round, which has only been true for the past 30 years. However, every strawberry that you buy in February is shipped from Mexico or California, conventionally grown and sprayed with all the worst chemicals, picked by impoverished workers, and profiting mostly the largest agribusinesses. Keep that in mind when you shop at the supermarket.

    Just like the profits of big finance are built upon the backs of a million struggling home owners who allowed themselves to be sold a bad mortgage, the profits of big agriculture are built upon people not really understanding what they are buying and eating. Plus, even as big agriculture prices out smaller, local producers, fracking and other land development schemes take away the land and destroy the soil – forever. In that sense, supporting local producers is all about holding space.

    For anyone interested and still reading, I started eating this way about three years ago and have seen vast benefits. For the sake of friends and family that wanted to learn more about what my fiance and I were doing, we started a website to help people cook with the seasons. http://www.eatlocal365.com.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Nice point that local food is about holding space — and extractive projects like fracking (or mountaintop removal (or pipelines (or landfills))) are directly in conflict with that.

      Come to think of it, this concept might be a good way to scale Occupy out of the cities. Hmm…..

      UPDATE Moved to the right place…m

  5. wendy davis

    I garden, and would suggest buying a soil test kit; it can help you discover what your soil lacks, or has in excess especially pH. We’re very alkaline in SW CO, and need to mulch and spade in acids: leaves, pine needles, and epecially good is compsted cotton bolls (Back to Nature is one brand).

    There are lots of minerals that can be spaded in to bring nutrient levels up, too. I use epsom salts for their magnesium, different rock dust fertilizers (rock phosphate, etc.) steamed bone meal….

    Anyway, I’m out of time, but nice diary, Lambert.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think the best use of a soil test kit is for substances like lead. If you know your soil is clay, or sand, or whatever, you know enough about its acidity or lack thereof, and you don’t need the measurement, which is in any case an average over the entire garden. But even in my own tiny patch, there are great variations in soil quality, because many areas have different histories and were brought under cultivation at different times. I think the best instrumentation is the plant itself — though I am only now coming to learn the correct gaze to capture this “readout.”

      UPDATE Adding… In a way, this exchange is a continuation of Yves’s remarks in Adrift in a Sea of Data: “One [of] the symptoms, and it takes place way too often, is when people rely unduly on a single or very few metrics to analyze a complex phenomenon.” For example, pH. We all know that you incentivize behaviors around what you measure. I’ve heard the idea expressed that pH as a metric informs the alliance between the Extension Services (which do great work, I hasten to add) and the garden centers, who want to sell lots and lots of bags of rock (lime).

      1. F. Beard

        I think the best instrumentation is the plant itself — though I am only now coming to learn the correct gaze to capture this “readout.” Lambert Strether

        Hear that, MyLessThanPrimeBeef? Lambert is running medical experiments on plants! The horror!

        My mother’s lawn on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will grow clover and some pretty weed (forgot the name) but NO grass. Anyone have any suggestions why not?

      2. Anonymous Jones

        Now, *that* was cool, bringing it back into the complex systems dialogue. Could not agree with you more.

        Also, thanks for the post. Gardening is not just “better” for all the reasons you mention, but it is also an evergreen source (hah, even I do stupid puns) of a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that comes along with being part of a process of creation (at least for me…).

        Very, very cool.

    2. CM

      Agreed about testing the soil. I know someone in Portland, Oregon, who has toxic lead levels in their soil – a problem in the city due to the industrial past.

      Also, we did extensive soil testing and amending (organic) for the past couple of years. As an experiment, we sent in potatoes for testing, and found much elevated mineral levels. Like vegetables used to be…

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          I’m told that sunflowers do this, but I’m not sure. One then faces the issue of what to do with the sunflowers. Paul Stamets, who really is a genius, advocates mycoremediation, but I can’t say it’s been used for heavy metals, though one demonstration project looks like it works for petroleum.

        2. Up the Ante

          I’ve read the enzyme that makes chlorophyll takes up lead and stops its ability to produce chlorophyll.

          That would be an interesting plant if it exists.

      1. LucyLulu

        Sorry for being a little late to the party. I was looking up something else last night and ran across our local gis service (geological information services, or close to that). I know they had one where I lived in FL too. It contains maps with different soil types that is pretty detailed. For example a 7 acre plot I looked at was shown to have four different types of soil. It might be a quick way to get some information. It also maps out topology, watershed and flood zones, in areas with more annual rain, perhaps the maps will offer more detail about soil saturation levels??? I found the site at the county government website, linked to the tax appraiser’s site where you can find your plot of land as it appears on a map. Even if you don’t garden, it’s interesting to see the aerial views and I learned things about my property I didn’t know.

  6. Carolyn Memphis

    A foreclosure garden is a food garden for defense against the Bankster horde and their sinister, criminal militancy. You want money? Sure, take these some of these turnips, tomatoes and greens. The farmer is the man, eat well you bastards!

  7. Economystic

    Love you people. Long time NC lurker but longer time cat-lover & gardener. Have just come from my Hoop House to open ‘er up because spring is six weeks early (after our non-winter) here in NW Arkansas.
    My landlords have gotten into a feud with their kids (heirs) and cut a deal to take all the fill dirt from the region–in order to raise the grade above the flood plain–a couple of acres of soon-to-be mud eight feet deep…they think this will make it sellable!
    But I persist with my 1000 sq. ft. fig trees, lettuce, tomatoes etal. Will be moving in the fall. Hopefully I will be able to upgrade my land tenure arrangement above the current *no pay (rent), no say*–in bone-headed land use decisions.
    It is truly amazing what can be done even in a small space.
    Thanks for the spring Blog Therapy Lambert!

  8. IdahoSpud

    Check out intellicast.com for awesome web weather. It has lots of wonderful goodies like zoom-able java loops from the drop-down menu.

  9. citizendave

    Beware of Black Walnut Toxicity

    (I’m trying to relearn how to use html tags, so I apologize in advance if this attempt at a link is mal-formed.)

    Speaking of trees, beware of the black walnut tree. Black walnuts, and related species such as butternut and shagbark hickory, produce a toxic substance called juglone that adversely affects many plants that grow in the drip zone and root zone. Plants as far away as 50 to 80 feet can be affected.

    Over the past few years we’ve noticed that some formerly thriving perennials, such as a peony we inherited, have been stunted, have stopped producing blossoms, and appear to be on the verge of demise. My mind recently furnished up an old memory, from working with one of my sisters, who manages a local independent “garden center”, and together with her husband operates a commercial apple orchard. They won’t let a black walnut grow anywhere near the apple orchard. It gets tricky when you find one growing just on the other side of the neighbor’s fence line.

    That’s what we may have here on our urban lot — the neighbors to the north have two young trees which could be walnuts. We have not yet positively identified the species, but if they turn out to be black walnuts we intend to talk to them, find out if they are “weeds”, or if they care about them. We’re prepared to go to considerable trouble to get rid of those trees if they are implicated in all the problems we’ve been having on the north side of the garden.

    On a (somewhat) related note, last year our neighbors to the east on the other side of the block (we don’t have an alley), two doors south, removed two tall walnut trees. By my estimate we gained about an hour of morning sunlight on the roof of the garage where I intend to install solar collectors.

    My purpose today is two-fold: first, I think most people are not aware of the toxicity of the fairly common black walnut tree; and second, there is an interesting area of law surrounding sun rights among neighbors. If you have close neighbors and have trees or plan to plant trees, think about where the shade will land at maturity. At this point we don’t have an inkling about legal rights to be free from juglone toxicity.

    1. LucyLulu

      Black walnuts are also toxic to livestock, or at least horses, should they decide to munch on them. I imagine that means they would be toxic to smaller animals such as pets although probably less enticing. But if you have any horses around, make sure you remove any black walnuts within their reach, including falling leaves. Others are cherry, peach, plum, and red maple. Their leaves contain cyanide when they get wilted. Smaller plants I know that are poisonous if ingested are yews and oleander, and some people get allergic reactions if they come in contact with oleander as well. (Either had horses or cared for them most of my life.)

  10. annie

    i too garden–mostly in italy, where same principles apply. back in nyc i used to go to farmers’ markets, but now they’re absurdly, abusively expensive–and very little organic!
    this morning though went to union square looking for container plants. what shocked me today was a ‘honey stand.’ (i make honey in italy–or rather, our bees do. so little labor for the human.) smallish jars of whipped and flavored honey were $15! i spied a tiny jar of regular honey, one i could easily finish in three weeks on breakfast toast. how much? $20!
    ‘our most expensive,’ young woman said proudly. why? ‘it’s new york city honey!’
    there are some old-timers, like hawthorne valley, i’d buy from, but really i think new yorkers should stop paying outrageous prices.
    near us in italy, sting has a bio-dynamic farm with a wonderful farm shop selling produce most reasonably.
    yes, this is a joke but it’s true.

    1. citizendave

      Speaking of NYC and high prices at farmer’s markets, there is an interesting treatment of that subject in “Green Gone Wrong” by Heather Rogers. She spent time with at least two organic farmers in New York. Their conclusion is that the only way to survive economically in organic farming is to inherit the land and have outside income from a member of the family. In an afterword, she tells that she talked to one of the farmers two years later and learned that despite doing everything right to transform the farmland into a rich organic environment, he feared that he would be forced to give up and sell, probably to developers. The high prices at the farmers markets were still not enough to sustain the organic farming operations.

      Support from the USDA for healthy, sustainable farming has far lower priority compared to the big agribusinesses. As in so many other areas, the bottom line reigns supreme, while health concerns are viewed as hippie-cultish, or otherwise not mainstream. Mainstream is what leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. — buts that’s ok because all that illness makes the GDP figures grow.

      Here is an interview with the author:

      I was afraid the book would turn out to be a conservative put-down of fair trade and organic farming, but I found it to be very valuable and well worth the time and money spent. She did not offend my sensibilities even once, and I’ve been paying attention for a long time. I found the discussion of organic farming to be particularly poignant. One of the farmers was so thorough in his pursuit of true organic practices that he went so far as to eschew the USDA-compliant “Organic” label because they are so heavily compromised that instead of it being a badge of honor, it was more like a warning label. But despite doing everything right, he could barely stay afloat economically.

      1. annie

        i want to and would pay more to support local organic farmers. one of my main peeves about farmers’ markets is that they are outrageously priced for NOT being organic. i buy produce in a grocery near me that carries only organic and not outrageously priced, but the lovely produce is obviously not local because of the year-round supply.
        my g.p. in park slope years ago, ken jaffee, couldn’t survive as a family practice doctor (despite being listed each year in nymag’s best docs), quit medical practice (much to my family’s regret because he was the smartest doctor i’ve ever had), moved to his summer place upstate to raise grass-fed beef. you can buy his beef on-line.

      2. aletheia33

        here’s the end of the interview citizendave linked to.

        the point made is that one has to become engaged.
        and so do a lot of other people too.
        there will soon be enough baby boomers hangin around without enough to do, there’s no reason this can’t happen.

        the 15,000 people doing it together in freiburg that she mentions seems promising.

        II: If consuming smarter isn’t the answer, does it come down to consuming less? And how do you drive that message home to people who don’t want to hear it?

        HR: We need to consume less, bottom line. Part of that is having a mature politics, whereby we can figure out how to do that without diminishing our quality of life. If we can separate development from growth, then we make steps in that direction. It’s not a product that people can buy — it’s a political and social process. We all need the environment; the point isn’t to not touch it — we need the food and materials that we extract from it to meet our daily needs. But how can we do that without destroying the planet? There’s nothing innately human about the amount and toxicity of waste that Americans create — it’s [a function of] our economic and political system.

        II: So is this a question of policy, or individual involvement?

        HR: Well, it’s both. In Freiburg, Germany, 15,000 people live in two different eco-communities that have been around for over a dozen years. They have super-energy-efficient housing, transportation systems that prioritize mass transit and bicycles over cars, they have car sharing for people who need cars — it’s a very welldesigned project with a mix of energy sources like wood waste, solar and wind, and some natural gas, but they use their energy very frugally. The community is mixedincome.

        And the neighborhood is the product of an ongoing process of engagement. The people who live there worked together to start the neighborhood and continue to maintain it. They work with the local government — they’ve influenced some federal policies — but they understand it’s an ongoing process. The day after I left, there was a meeting with the City Council, because the city is constantly trying to get the community to ease their rules [regarding car ownership], and they don’t want to.

        There’s going to be pushback. There’s going to be political pushback and pushback from corporations, so we need to have an engagement that goes beyond the point of purchase.

  11. Scott Supak

    I’m a regularly reader, but don’t comment much as I’m still learning economics at this level. But here we have something with which I am familiar.

    As my long time organic gardening guru (who you can find at my site supak.com) Mort Mather says, “The soil is your bank. You cannot make withdrawals without making deposits.”

    A fitting quote for this blog.

    You will need manure. You can buy steer manure. Up here we buy organic horse manure from a road side honor cart, and this year I’m going to have some steer manure delivered and actually till it in, something I don’t do often. But if you want to grow a good amount of food, you’re going to need the nitrogen.

    Know what you’re working with. Get a soil sample tested. Your local extension agent can tell you how.

    There are also many exciting urban gardening projects to get involved in.

    Oh, and don’t plant a tree where it will shade your garden area.

  12. lambert strether

    And speaking of Monsatan, here’s a list of non-GMO, heirloom seed suppliers:

    * Sustainable Seeds
    * Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    * Annie’s Heirlooms
    * Johnny’s Seeds (check for heirloom varieties)
    * High Mowing Seeds

    I use both Johnny’s and High Mowing.

    1. Carl

      Please do a column or blog on the importance of the California ballot initiative to place the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food on the ballot.

      If Californian voters sign in large enough numbers, the proposition will be on the ballot. If voters approve it, all food sold in California that is gentically modified will have to be labeled. This will be the end of Monsanto and all the others because of the size of the California market.

      More here:


  13. fcc

    What I do not understand is why no one thinks of NOAA for weather information.
    They gather the data (real data! by scientists!) that all weather services use to conjure up forecasts. NOAA sits atop what may be the best historical database of weather history in the world, supported by technology without peer, interpreted by scientists whose skills are world renowned.

    Outfits like the Weather Channel and Weather Underground then leach the data and forecasts developed by NOAA, inject a healthy dose of guess, ignorance and hysteria, then pass it all off on a page laden with advertisements and bullshit.

    In short, we ignore information we pay for with our taxes, then flock to the same information presented by hacks and entertainers.

    Then we claim government does not work.

    I will never understand this.

    1. aletheia33

      yes. here’s one of my favorite NOAA pages: the national mosaic, full resolution. i go to it when major events are approaching, to get the big picture.


      here’s another great one with mouse over for just about everything i ever want to know about a current unfolding scenario, like a blizzard:


      and these monthly temperature graphs out of the NOAA albany office (closest office to me) are really cool, you can see what your temperatures are doing relative to past years, and there’s a graphed year-long temperature trajectory.

      hope i’m not cluttering up this thread too much with this stuff. it’s not always easy to find things at NOAA.

    2. citizendave

      I use weather underground most of the time. I don’t like the advertising — I almost never like advertising — but I understand how the world works, and I find great value in the weather information provided, so I simply ignore the noise.

      A unique feature, AFAIK, on Weather Underground is the people who have personal weather stations, who feed their data in Real Time (Rapid Fire?) or Near Real Time to the web page, so I can see what’s going on a mile or two away in another part of town. One of my goals is to build a weather station and feed my data to Wunderground. The nearest station to me is on the north side of town, a bit more inland from Lake Michigan than I am. They are often a few degrees different from our location. The forecasts around here always say “cooler near The Lake” in the warmer months. The local micro-climate effect is often dramatic, with temperature drops of ten degrees on a still summer day as you approach within a few blocks of the Lake. The Lake is two blocks away from our house — I steadfastly refuse to install air conditioning. Most houses in this neighborhood don’t have A/C. We only suffer a few days each year, when the wind is blowing toward the Lake. Then, to cool off, you need to be IN the Lake.

      The Lake tends to moderate in the winter as well. And we get “lake effect” snow. One of the heaviest snowfalls I’ve seen was in late March, maybe late ’90s, when lake effect snow buried my car. Less than a mile away to west, there was almost no snow at all. We probably won’t see anything like that this year — the forecast for this week is 50s or 60s every day, which is very much above the average temp. Our very mild winter continues.

      The more people who add local reporting stations to the web, the finer the resolution on the mental picture that arises out of the data.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      Those NOAA sites are neat. I guess the government needs to do more marketing. (Does that qualify as a complaint?)

      UPDATE In fact this expanded table is totally neat and extremely informative. (It’s a little counterintuitive to mouse over a table cell and have the map change, but it does compress a lot of data and combine with a visualization, which is not an easy design challenge to meet.)

  14. different clue

    I do a tiny garden in my co-op micro-yardlette. So far it is just expensive and physically-challenging fun. I don’t achieve enough to cite my results as any kind of example. Maybe in the next year or three I will get serious. For now, I know more about the literature of gardening than I know about gardening.

    For people who have a large to vast yard and can accept low-yield per surface-area, there was a woman in Vermont (I think) who successfully did that and wrote a couple books about it.


  15. required

    For years I’ve let my “lawn” go. Every year the fescue seems to recede a little more. I guess in part due to the lack of aerating and reseeding, but probably more to due with the “poor” quality soil.

    This winter has been mild and wet. Not sure if that has contributed to the healthy emergence of the ground cover which has steadily crept in over the years while the grass receded: moss.

    I’ve grown quite fond it this winter. I hope it continues to spread. It’s not as green as the grass (on fertilizer) and it’s kind of lumpy looking, but it’s become quite luscious – and it grows extremely well in my “poor” soil and from what I read it’s low maintenance.

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