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Apr 28, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

Wonderful piece Joshua! I've come across several essays/articles on gardening as an act of sustainability, today, but Berry's notion of gardens as a form of sustaining community memory is another aspect to gardening as a political act that I rarely see mentioned. Thanks for sharing this.

Just in case it might be of interest, I wrote a piece for a food publication called 'heated' a while back about Wendell Berry's influence on Michael Pollan's writing: https://heated.medium.com/the-wendell-berry-quote-that-frames-michael-pollans-environmental-writing-8695d70d7f1c?sk=04d226b368468e00fdf980b2c626c23c

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Love your essay, Gavin, and welcome! That idea of salience is really powerful. I do want to acknowledge that there is often some privilege involved in connecting the dots. That is, Berry's environmental writing has been supported, in part, by inherited land -- which is not to say that he's had it easy, just that he's had opportunities for living sustainably that people growing up or raising families in food deserts don't necessarily have. That's where I think Finley and Carter add an important perspective. The question of class and the economic dimension of sustainability is often underdeveloped in Pollan's writing, in my opinion, even though I'm a huge fan (Botany of Desire is a particular masterpiece). Take, for instance, the original context for my Tuesday essay -- the purchase of Iowa farmland by wealthy athletes, who will then lease the land back to local farmers. If you are trying to farm in Iowa and you did not inherit your farmland, you are either forced to accept a feudalistic arrangement by leasing your acres and equipment, or you must absorb the risks and marginal returns that come with small-scale agriculture. Having lived in Iowa for sixteen years, supporting local growers through CSAs and farmers markets, I've seen many visionary and sustainable farmers fail. It is really, really hard to make a living as a sustainable farmer in many places. And a lot of people who do connect the dots -- who understand and embrace sustainability philosophy -- don't always have sustainable purchasing options or the purchasing power to make those choices. In that case, what I find powerful about Berry's essay/lecture is that he encourages affection for exactly those people, not just the small producers, but the people who are ground to dust in other ways by systemic indifference. I don't know if you agree, but this feels less central to Pollan's oeuvre than the ecological dimension?

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Apr 30, 2023·edited Apr 30, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

Thanks for the comment Joshua, glad you found my essay interesting! It was an effort to write a more public-facing piece about my research interests in the very niche field of ecolinguistics. But I really appreciate your perspective on Pollan's writing, I remember seeing those talks from Finley and Carter a while back but forgot how powerful they are, spent the weekend rewatching them after reading your post and thinking about your comment here. I agree with you about Pollan's writing, and his blindspots. I wonder if you think this is because his writing comes more out of a western lineage of American nature writing, and an environmental movement more broadly that has been largely disconnected from the concerns of the environmental justice movement. Maybe I'm answering my own question there. I'm looking forward to reading through your substack, in part because I'm just not very familiar with sustainability issues in agriculture. I grew up in Oregon, but spent the past 20 years or so in Hawai‘i (where I went to undergrad and grad school), and have tried to follow issues with organic farming issues there, and it seems a lot of the issues with sustainable farming you discuss in the Ohio context resonate with problems there with land and water access, only in Hawa‘i's case due to exploitative histories of tourism and militarism in the islands. Anyways, will be reading through your archive and look forward to following your work as well! Just in case of interest, this is podcast a friend of mine started a couple of years ago on environmental justice issues in Hawai‘i, this episode on farming and water access: https://www.rootcauseremedies.com/listen/episode/9b3b4862/s4e3-taking-back-our-waters-with-eric-enos-and-jonathan-scheuer

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"I wonder if you think this is because his writing comes more out of a western lineage of American nature writing, and an environmental movement more broadly that has been largely disconnected from the concerns of the environmental justice movement." Absolutely. The Sierra Club has always viewed the laborer with scorn. It is sexier to lobby for wilderness preservation than to deal with sustainable economic development in rural areas. Standing Rock drew some of those more bourgeois environmentalists because of its publicity, but it was just one of many examples of indigenous people shouldering capitalism's externalities. The documentary HOMELAND: FOUR PORTRAITS OF NATIVE ACTION captures this well, and the book it was based on -- Winona LaDuke's ALL OUR RELATIONS -- includes a chapter on Hawai'i that you may already know. I'll add those links below.

I'm afraid you'll be disappointed by my archive, since I don't deal with sustainability issues much, except through my occasional essays on gardening as a ritual that helps me heal from academe. This is perhaps an illustration of how difficult I find it to narrow my "brand" on Substack. But I worked in forestry as a seasonal firefighter and wilderness ranger for many summers through college and graduate school and grew up with back-to-the-land parents, so I have an abiding interest in environmental issues and the more complex intersecting philosophies in sustainability.

http://www.katahdin.org/homeland.html

https://bookshop.org/p/books/all-our-relations-native-struggles-for-land-and-life-winona-laduke/8203476?gclid=Cj0KCQjw6cKiBhD5ARIsAKXUdyZJ7IjZ9USHt7FD4yD2zYUYusBpz9T07SFkbibPCLA1XpbgiFfeE1MaAmxdEALw_wcB

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We used CSAs for two years. The first one was failing and failed at the end of our first year. It seemed like a really good one, and I got to know the owner well through provision of Moxie.

We later tried another, and it was abusive. In fact, the owner replied to the community and a specific and seemingly unwittingly admitted that it was abusive. Specifically, apparently buying a "share" at $800 up front only entitled each person to how much he had left over after he sold to local restaurants... But that's not how shares work....

We buy the remainder of our produce from local growers at market, who always sold for much, much less than the CSAs, which I can only suppose were aimed at more well to do people. I've had the same local grower for over 8 years, and she's seen my kids grow up, and through her I learned that there's something fishy about the local CSAs given their astronomical prices (usually 4x more than grocery stores and at least 2x more than other local growers)

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We were a biodiverse farm for 12 years. We own our 10 acres. We sold at many different farmer’s markets over the years. Covid killed our business, we had too many comorbidities to take chances attending markets. We grew small fruit (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, husk cherries & heirloom melons), herbs and we foraged wild mushrooms. Restaurants hounded us for our product, but rarely wanted to pay decent money for our work, we rarely sold to them. So the CSA guy who was catering to them was doing (really) bad business in ignoring his CSA customers, in my opinion. Some farms do charge way too much for their CSA. Some take advantage of the idea that urban folk can’t get good produce otherwise.

The thing many people don’t realize are the games that get played by folks hosting farmer’s markets. Market managers can make or break a farm simply by refusing to admit them to a market for personal or political reasons. One of our market managers despised any farmer who openly revealed a conservative point of view and would not admit them to market. This manager also consistently encouraged high prices to make the market seem more “elite”. One farmer wanted to sell a bag of garlic (12 bulbs) for $5 while everyone else was selling 1 bulb for $2. That farmer was told to fall in line (and sell 1 bulb for $2) or not to bring garlic at all. That’s just one example. The stories I could tell about what this manager wanted us to do with our fruit. Fortunately we were the only small fruit vendors at that market so we pretty much did what we wanted and that meant fair prices. We usually were sold out by 10AM at a market that started at 9AM and went to 2PM. When we announced we couldn’t come to market again in the second year of covid, that manager wanted to come pick up our fruit to sell at market (resell). We retired that year. There’s lots of ugly behind the scenes when it comes to “growing for market”.

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

To clarify my earlier comment, the CSA was selling for an $800 share price. What you could have bought in the local market for $70 pick your market in the region. Given that we run a garden ourselves, we know how well things grow in this climate or not and what the pest situations like. So we were not clueless buyers ourselves. Garlic here is $2 ahead by the way and they're small. They're also appears to be an extreme ethnic difference. The white local farmers sell at double or triple the prices is the southeast Asian farmers. And notably most white folk. Don't shop at the southeast Asian farmers

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Our Asians farmers sell their stuff at high prices, that’s basic supply and demand. There aren’t many asian farmers here. We have an awesome Amish community who sells garlic for 50 cents, and they’re big beautiful bulbs. I grow my own, so for me, $2 is obscene. Country eggs are $2.50 here, at the farmer’s markets, some are charging $12. I don’t get why some farmers can’t be more fair, because you know they aren’t paying the prices they charge. I used to sell our jam (from our over ripe fruit) for $5 a half pint. I saw recently the same size for $7. Jam isn’t hard to do, though some say jars have gone way up. We used to buy pallets, so we’d be using jars from 4 years ago if we were still doing markets. It’s all nuts in my opinion. Especially if you’re natural or biodiverse, you’re input costs haven’t changed that much. Even the organic guys shouldn’t be overcharging these days.

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Collette, this is a postscript from your earlier comment about expressing a conservative point of view. My parents are very conservative, and they operate a large garden and orchard and sell locally. We also sold wild huckleberries when I was growing up. They have always been chemical free, organic-minded (even if not officially certified, and are among the most sustainable producers I know. They don't talk politics at the market, as I'm sure you don't, and their flowers, apples, cherries, and produce is among the best available in the area. It is a conservative community, so they aren't really outliers in any sense. But I expect they would be marginalized if they were part of a farmers market in, say, Missoula. This is really unfortunate. Food is one of the ways I've kept lines of communication and intimacy open with my parents despite our ideological differences. What I'm growing in my garden is something we'll always have in common, and I honor the taproot they gave me in sustainable living.

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Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023Author

Yes -- we frequently bought bundles of carrots and beets for $1 apiece at the market in Pella, Iowa -- from the Hmong farmers. There was no way it was worth the cost of production. Giant heads of cabbage for $3. We typically bought from multiple vendors at the market to spread our support around, but I wish I knew why those veggies were so underpriced. I made many batches of pickled beets with those $1 bundles.

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This is a really important point, Collette. My friends who used to sell at the Des Moines Farmers Market told me about how they simply could not compete with growers from Kansas City who were allowed to sell there. So it's the lease on your booth, but also the rules about who gets to sell which crops and when that impact local growers. If someone from Missouri wants to sell peaches, no Iowa producer will ever be able to compete at the same time in the season. And, as you say, this gets political at times -- there aren't always rational reasons for these rules.

Incidentally, this is one of the rationales for the CSA. If it rains and half the people go to the farmers market, that could mean $2K less revenue for a farmer. Whereas the CSA income provides stability. Trust is a really important part of that equation -- as Jason is saying, if CSA shareholders are second priority to restaurants, that is not best practice. CSA shareholders are a form of insurance. If the harvest is great, they benefit. If it is lean, they shoulder the risk along with the farmer. I believe in that model, and I think communication is a really crucial part of how producers build trust with their subscribers.

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We ran a CSA one year. Our permaculture approach made it almost a no brainer. It included our seasonal fruit, seasonal mushrooms, herbs fresh and dried (we also made herbal grilling rubs from herbs that didn’t sell (or had an over abundance of) which we dried) melons and our honey. Sold out within 2 weeks of offering it. What we found was that we put the best stuff into the CSA baskets and took the rest to market. Having “not the best” sitting on our tables made our farm, we felt, look bad. Some of the other farmers who offered CSA told us to do the opposite, put the mediocre in the baskets and the best on the table. That didn’t feel right so we quit offering CSA.

We had a rain policy, if people felt rain was going to keep them away we’d let them place an order online, took a credit card for payment and then they could “in and out”. Worked pretty well, though rainy days were a big loss. Fortunately, everything we would have that day could be preserved and then sold on a sunny day. Ever had melon preserves? Pickled watermelon rind? Pickled cantaloupe? Fruit jam and preserves, no brainer too.

As for why some farmers charge so little, my experience is only up close with the Amish, they are fine with ten cents on the dollar because they don’t value money, or need much of it where we are. We were also curious, we asked, that’s what they said.

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I don’t envy small producers who have to weigh these choices. Your rain policy sounds great, and those shelf-stable products are smart, too.

I make fermented hot sauce that I’ve thought about selling. But the time and materials alone would make it not financially worthwhile unless I charged something crazy, like $20 per pint, or scaled up to the point of it being a real job. So I make more than I need and give the rest as gifts. But I have real admiration for anyone trying to make a living from food or food products.

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Apr 28, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

On sustainability through affection

As my life has progressed, I have found myself more and more to be, as one colleague put it, "the keeper the of the lost." I have always gravitated to the marginalized, and especially those whose marginalization is invisible. Invisible because no one cares, or because people don't see it as marginalization. I know the maintenance people, whom others pretend don't exist. I "see" them, offer even the quiet dignity of being recognized as a colleague, and persist for years on end. I see you. I will know if you are unwell. I will know if you are gone. I will remember you, even if we never speak a word. One of my colleagues gave me the now-cherished title of "keeper of the lost" when I was looking after another colleague, who is embittered by hardship, by what should have been, and who is shunned by the others. It's not lost on me that the marginalization is as much ethnic as dislike for her calling them out on unprofessionalism.

I mention this kind of affection because, as I often do, I find the lost, the unspoken, the accepted but never quite comes to mind. I could have written about my experiences of rural community, which is still new to many urban dwellers, but I seek to find those whom others hide in plain sight with their disregard. Sometimes I find whole communities, and sometimes just a solitary individual who didn't really need my help.

Maybe sometime I'll write about Joe Runningwater.

I rarely write of such things, and I cringe at how much I write of what I do, because reactions in the past have treated it as so weird or pretentious. I will admit that I've grown world-weary at the gravitational pull of social unseeing. But I do think it will be better received here.

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Well, now you've got me curious about Joe.

I hear what you're saying here at the end about judgments. It can be pretty difficult to express care or concern these days without being accused of performative insincerity, saviorism, or some other form of overreach. But I can't imagine any objection to communicating to people that you see them or care about their suffering or are willing to listen. This was the subject of a NY Times article recently. The best thing to do to support someone who is sad or grieving or otherwise struggling is to break their sense of isolation: start a conversation.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/23/well/mind/sad-emotional-comfort-support.html

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Apr 28, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

Josh,

You know that comment about Joe was a hook!

It means a tremendous amount to me that you instantly understood where I was coming from about being performative, saviorism, etc. It'd been even more obvious if you met me in person. My persona bears so many of the marks of growing up in a military household--both parents and generations back--that are seemingly inconsonant with my childhood nickname of "momma bear." I am quite angry at society for, despite its claims, its inability to see BOTH the vestigates of traditional masculinity and a new ethic of care in a male person. It's one of the reasons I look in The New Fatherhood from time to time, i.e., to not become my father (leave parenting to Mom and not to be bothered, as was too common among Boomers).

Oh, there's a lot of silent objection to that here, at my employer, and implicitly in this region. The Des Moines metro has some of the strongest and weirdest ethnic and racial segregation I've ever seen. Hey, maybe I should tell you about the time I mentioned Mormons in my ethics class...

I met Joe Runningwater on the streets of Carbondale, Illinois about 20 years ago. He is a member of one of the tribes in the Dakotas, and was living on the street when I met him. He greeted me warmly, and as is my way, I greeted him back and got to know him over the years. He left the tribe when young and got into trouble with gangs and drugs in the South during his youth. Had typical prison tattoos. He reformed, and I met him in his 40s (?). His heritage was marked on him body and soul, as he often told me stories. His is a story of being lost to himself, finding himself in violence and machismo, and refinding himself on the streets after prison. He was gentle and serene when I met him, and was always warning me about watching the ravens.

People have such an intuitive aversion to those who they don't see as "one of us," and I have many such stories. I guess it's less surprising now to note that I became a social ethicist. The blindness of most to these social divisions astounds and perplexes me, and I've even been accused of being autistic in my recognition of them (presumably for violating sociocultural expectation to severely for some to fathom). Side note, I generally do like autistic people precisely because they strongly tend not to do this; autism can really be a strength and this is too often overlooked.

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Your last point is quite profound and reminds me of a fantastic essay by my friend Carol Roh Spaulding. Check it out: "Autristry."

"Perhaps we sustain the metaphor of autism as entrapment because it does

poetic service. Isn’t it human to be filled with worlds of inexpressible content?"

https://www.carolrohspaulding.com/_files/ugd/01e2fe_68e7a110eec640c58efe0f5a38b59199.pdf

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Ross Gay writes at length in his new book, Inciting Joy about gardening as a form of community and entanglement. With clear nods to Berry, and Anna Tsing

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Thanks for the recommendation, Charlotte!

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Apr 28, 2023Liked by Joshua Doležal

I'm just doing it more than reading about it.

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Looking forward to following your writing, Rick.

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