Friday, January 24, 2014

Girl Blew West Diary: Pioneers, Gardens, Farms, and a Food Revolution

"If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers, and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule: That was the American dream." Edward Abbey, as shared by Grow Food, Not Lawns.

A scarecrow standing watch over the garden in the Pioneer Farm Museum in Eatonville, Washington.

The more I document my travels to Washington state which were intended to be about the national parks, the more I realize they were so much about gardens and farms. Our garden has in past years been a feast for the eyes and senses, but I want this year's to be an actual feast. We've only had herbs, which we try unsuccessfully to winterize (my two geraniums are faring much better and I even have a red bloom on one). It's January, we're in a deep freeze, but gardens are on my mind. Do you have a garden? Did you have one growing up?

When I was a renter, I lived in a garden apartment complex, which looking back seems inappropriately named. We had these beautiful trees along the two story building the superintendent decided to cut down because of the 'nuisance' of squirrels. There was an alleged rodent problem, and everyone got a memo Friday that over the weekend any vegetables had to be thrown out or they would be removed. Suddenly pleasing tomato and basil plants, the hallmark of summer, were gone from patios. I mourned for them. A family whose patriarch had his leg amputated from diabetes complications that had started a sweet little vegetable patch had to rip it all out. Of all the things that cause fear in our society, one of them should not be gardens.

We didn't have a vegetable or fruit garden growing up in suburban New Jersey, even though we had a big backyard. My stay-at-home mom did what everyone else did, just went to the supermarket. I asked her about her family's garden. She grew up in rural Switzerland during World War II and they always had one. My mom said my father's father was a schoolteacher in Switzerland and had a garden at school. My husband Steve said his mother talks about her parents having a garden and being able to survive the depression, not wanting for anything.

The Pioneer Farm Museum is for children, but they were kind enough to show us around the grounds.

It's in this sleepy little valley.

I never make my own bread, do you? I'd love to make my own jam for bread. It's funny how food is such an essential in life, and how much I love to eat, but I haven't made it more of a priority in my free time.

Do you sit down at mealtimes with your family? I'm trying to get us in the habit for dinner, the one meal Steve and I are able to share daily. It feels so mindless to eat on the couch which we admittedly do once in a while. I was impressed to hear the First Family always sits together to share meals. If the President has time! Historian David McCullough has suggested bringing back family meal time to drive interest in history.

A complaint on home improvement shows I find most baffling (even more than a "need" for a double sink vanity or granite counter tops) is that people have to go "all the way to their basement" to do laundry and some spend thousands of dollars on a fancy laundry room. I think of what laundry used to be, especially for women whose chore this was. You go to a machine in your home, open a door, insert detergent, press a button, magic, clean clothes. I'm just grateful after years of renting and having to deal with quarters and competition for machines to do laundry any time of day. History = perspective.
I love hang drying laundry so much, I wrote a post about it. Even as it's single digit temperatures, I hang everything on racks inside during the day. The more I can cut our energy bill and reduce energy consumption, the better.
I think of the clothes here too and how little we think of their origins now from a time when materials were so precious. The New York Times has been reporting on the continuing fallout on the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,100 garment workers in April of last year. I commend them for keeping the issue alive. They ran an article, "Clothing Brands Sidestep Blame for Safety Lapses," but don't consumers who buy these clothes deserve a small part of the blame too? Whenever I hear another news piece about the fashion "trends" for 2014 I think of the factory workers making them. How times have changed.
I recently got a very kind offer from someone for their old Kindle since she had gotten a newer version for Christmas. Even frugal loving me who loves free things passed. I love my print books so.
I imagine the great adventure, challenges and changes the children of the West witnessed.
I sat in the schoolroom and considered education then and now. There was a Little House on the Prairie episode where Mrs. Oleson takes over from Laura and teaches the children French and art appreciation. Laura and others were horrified. These were children from a farming community, shouldn't they learn what would be useful to them?  But isn't education too broadening horizons? I think they should have learned the practical and what would take them from beyond their one room school on the prairie. I wish I had learned languages earlier. We started French in 9th grade, though most took Spanish since it was perceived as easier, and I definitely would have liked to been taught about art history.

Children's toys. A woman wrote into an advice columnist and said she asked her mother-in-law who wanted gift ideas for her four-month old to buy blocks.

The mother bought her a baby laptop and said she "didn't have time to travel back to the 1950s to buy him blocks."  If I could, I'd travel back to the 1950s and to the 1800s to a time when something simple like blocks were appreciated.

I was reading that children are getting "aged out" of toys younger and younger. One writer in a local paper said he observed a father offering to take his son to Toys 'R Us, and the son had no interest. 

Michelle Obama is behind an impressive garden at the White House (more about this in a later post) and talks about the modern problem of children being in front of screens 7 1/2 hours a day and getting them interested in gardens and where their food comes from. We need to plant these seeds, both in our minds and the ground.

Driving to our next destination, we couldn't resist stopping by a few garage sales when we saw signs for them. We love so much about garage sales: the frugality, giving money to neighbors in your community, not paying taxes (we pay enough), not supporting questionable cheap foreign labor and the corporations who source there abroad instead of domestically, recycling and keeping things out of the landfill.

Donating some plastic toys for children can be an issue, and we see so many on the curbside. I often wonder if something isn't safe to donate, why would it be safe to use in the first place? I also look at the incredible amount of excess. Remember how beloved Laura's Charlotte doll was in the Little House books? How can we cherish things when we have so much to distract us? Are we setting  ourselves up as adults for having too many "toys?"

There's a Lean Cuisine ad with a woman in a workout suit, grabbing her bottled water, saying she's going to go on a protein diet using real protein. I'm not sure how a factory farmed chicken cooked in plastic (probably in a dirty microwave) is a healthy choice. Most of the weight loss industry promotes doesn't seem to have to do with health (living longer, reducing disease risks, having more energy, etc.), but plays into issues of vanity. I also remember a time before the masses were convinced to pay hard earned money for water (much of it filtered tap) that has been lingering in plastic, wrapped in plastic, and trucked in.
No sterile packages of meat from the supermarket. Killing in pioneer times was a part of life. These weren't faceless animals in a factory farm like today.


My grandparents kept rabbits, and my mom said my grandfather would get so upset when he'd have to kill one of them for his sister-in-law. I wouldn't want to have to kill either.

We also stumbled upon Little Eorthe Farm in Orting. When I see a sign for fresh strawberries, I turn around. This is how strawberries should look. Different sizes (not Frankenstein jumbo strawberries), not artificial looking.

Not going in the landfill, these old boots, repurposed as planters.

This blue eyed kitty stands in front of an old Sierra Club map on the wall. I reflected how much of the land I still want to see.
There was an article in The New York Times about some fans wanting to draw interest in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," a film from years ago they thought didn't get enough coverage. A project I'd like to draw interest in I thought didn't get enough attention: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, which aired for just two seasons (one, in Huntington, West Virginia and two in Los Angeles) and showed his efforts to revamp the food culture promoting gardening, cooking skills and eating whole foods, with a large focus on school children.  I love that Jamie was described as a "food activist." He's done shows on factory farming of chickens and pigs in his native United Kingdom. Can you imagine network television airing that here? Steve, who is a chef who works with troubled youth in a state facility, knows the forces against Oliver, a large part of which is the money involved in these school foodservice contracts.
It's hard to believe Ryan Seacrest could be behind such horrendous programing as Keeping Up with the Kardashians (and worse yet, the baffling public interest in them, since the show will be in its 9th season, so someone is watching) but he was the producer behind the Food Revolution.  I'm saddened a show about what's so important to our own health didn't have more than two seasons. Survivor, in contrast, is up to season 28.
You can watch the Food Revolution on Youtube. I remember this clip when school children in West Virginia couldn't identify basic vegetables. It's not just a problem isolated to the United States. A statistic on the Food Revolution web site says 20 percent of children in Australia think pasta comes from animals. While I'm grateful for progresses from pioneer times - the top of which are medical advances to the practical (indoor plumbing!), I think of not how far we've come, but how far we've fallen. 

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