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The Village Idiot

I canít dance and itís too wet to plow

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(5/2011) Iíve heard that expression many times over the years and never understood it until this April. I canít dance and it certainly is too wet to plow! So I sit here, surrounded by 90 pounds of seed potatoes, wondering when theyíll begin to rot. Or if my tomato and pepper starts are going to be overly leggy before planting time.

The pea seasonís mostly gone by, though I may take a shot at a fall planting, to feed the deer and rabbits. Iím feeling some regret for the wildlife around the acre/someday garden. Iím sure they will consume more of our efforts than we will. However, I will harvest something from that ground, be it tomatoes and beans or venison. Iím not much for killing things, especially mammals, but Iím going to take what is offered. (Besides, itís ridiculous being a bow hunter safety instructor/archery coach whoís never taken a deer!)

While we await the call, "Come help me hook the plow to the tractor." Iím left with little to do but cogitate about all that can go wrong. Iíve been raiding the public libraries with the hope Iíll catch a clue from some book on gardening! So far, Gene Logsdon has had the most practical advice for dealing with wildlife in the garden, kill it and eat what you can of it. I canít say thatís cheered me up as the rain pelts down and the "high water" sign goes up on our street. (Even if the acre had been plowed, weíd not be able to work it because of the rains.)

When Iím not reading about farming (gardening an acre is not farming, but working that much ground requires some farming tools so Iím sort of farming.) I think about why anyone would bother farming in the first place. Itís so much easier to just buy groceries.

All this cogitatiní has led me to conclude, at what should be a comfortable age of 56; Iíve enough years behind me to see some things have gone seriously wrong. My grandparentsí generation had members living into their 90s. Not a few such long-lived, but an average! In my parentís generation, the aunts and uncles arenít faring as well, their children even less so.

Air and water pollution come into play with the shortening of my familyís life spans. All my grandparents and most of their siblings grew up on, lived on and raised their children on farms, far from city pollutions. My parentsí generation grew up with the automobile and airplane. My generation couldnít live without aerosol cans of spray everything and air cooling systems in houses, cars and work places. I suspect the pollutants of the last several generations will be with the human race as long as we last on this rock.

I also see a change in our food. The stock market can rise or fall with little impact on me, politics donít require my input as politicians usually ignore me, but what I eat affects me as soon as I bite into it! The soils our foods are grown in, the chemicals we use on the soil and plants, and the genetic manipulations of plants have all changed what we eat in comparison to what my grandparents grew and ate!

While some manipulations of vegetable genetics have produced varieties that concentrate certain vitamins or minerals, it is obvious that our modern factory farming methods have seriously reduced the nutritional value of the foods we consume. The drive to produce more at less cost had to be balanced by something. Quality is the easiest factor to dump from the equation. Just as it usually is in most factory models.

Growing plants for food quickly depletes a soil of nutritional value. Farmers use to move on to virgin soils when their cultivated land was exhausted. Manuring became a natural and practical means of rebuilding soils once virgin land became scarce. Allowing a soil to lay fallow for a few seasons also restored some of its nutritional value. As those methods are seldom practical on modern factory farms, nutrients have to be returned to the soil by some reliable, convenient method. Since the advent of petrochemical fertilizers most farmers have given up the older, more natural methods of fertilizing. Theyíve reduced, or stopped altogether, the spreading of aged feces and vegetative matter on the soil. (Iím referring to factory farms mono-cropping thousands of acres each year. It is impractical for such operations to haul manure to their fields.) With most of Americaís cropland depleted, or being depleted, of nutritional value and heavily supported with manmade chemicals, the top of the food chain has been separated from the rest of us animals. (The top of the food chain is not human. Itís microscopic.)

Soil, flush with diverse microscopic life capable of growing healthy plants that are nutritionally complete in their natural form is becoming rare in this country! Our demand for more and more food, at cheap prices, led to our poisoning the countryís most productive soils after we depleted them of their natural essences. The use of unnatural fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides may have made some small sense 60 years ago had they been applied sparingly or only from absolute necessity.

If the top of the food chain has been disrupted, everything below it has to be in chaos. We went for quick, cheap and convenient over natural, balanced and mindful of those who follow us. (By the bye, "convenient" is among the most evil words in our dictionaries.) Today, manmade chemicals are still allowing the production of unimaginable quantities of low quality food, but the payment Nature commands is coming due.

So, what can I do to change all that I think has gone wrong? Actually, not much. I believe we are doing just what weíre supposed to be doing. Do I understand that? No. But I donít understand much of anything, though I struggle to grasp the thinking of others studying all this "grand design" and our place in it. "Saving the planet" canít be done. The planet will save itself if it needs saving. Saving myself might be something I can achieve, if I ever figure out whether or not Iím worth saving.

So itís back to school boy. Only this time the classroom is an acre of ground, the goal is education and understanding, not the control and manipulation I suffered the first 12 years of schooling. Sadly, most of the books Iím reading on this topic are all about controlling me! Still, some miniscule grains of truth sift out of them. Whether Iím smart enough to spot them, comprehend them and pass them along so my familyís future generations might live as well, and as long, as the past ones did remains to be discovered.

We come from the soil. If we donít understand what soil is we understand nothing else.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.