December 2004

Gardening as an eco-political practice

By Art Goodtimes

WEEKLY QUOTA "The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land." - Abe Lincoln

CLOUD ACRE SPUDS … One of the great impetuses for settling down in Norwood, as I did 21 years ago, was to begin growing some of my own food. Of course, San Miguel County is a difficult place to do that - high altitude, short growing season, periodic scarcity of water, periodic flood. But it has some advantages - few bugs, clayey but decent soil. Betzi Hitz and I started out with a big garden. All kinds of stuff. Fruits, vegetables. Lots of shrubs and trees. After a while, Betzi moved on and I was left with lots of projects, and I couldn’t continue the heroics it takes to be a great gardener in the high mountains … So I settled on something indigenous and easy. Potatoes. Indigenous, at least to the New World. And relatively easy (until the drought) … At first I tried selling my crop, but it was too small and took too much energy for the price I could command. So, now, I give potatoes as gifts, and they provide our family with a bit of our diet … Of course, I wasn’t content with growing your normal russets and cobblers. I started growing heirloom spuds - ones you could only find in obscure catalogues from small wholesalers. Peruvian Purples, French Fingerlings, Yukon Golds … After ten years, I’m up to almost four dozen varieties … 2004 was a good year. At least compared to 2003 and 2002, when drought and grasshoppers combined to almost end my decade-long adventure in organic gardening … The drought drained my pond (for which I actually have an agricultural water right - but without real water, legal rights are just so much paper). I was forced to haul water, and had to hand-water my fields … In 2001 I planted 83 mounds and got a couple hundred pounds of potatoes. In 2002 I planted 526 mounds. But drought killed more than half the crop, and hoppers did serious damage. I began putting burlap covers over my rows, and that worked okay in keeping them from eating the plants to the ground. I was lucky to harvest 100 pounds. In 2003 I stubbornly planted 494 mounds. But the drought continued, and the hoppers were worse. I lost 7 varieties, and my yield was less than half of the year before … At this point, I had to give serious pause to an activity that was taking so much effort and yielding so little results. I was seriously despondent. Should I give up the endeavor? Simplify my self-imposed tasks? It was tempting … But having land carries with it certain responsibilities. And growing one’s own food, even a portion of it, is something I believe in deeply. Like Jefferson. It’s part of what makes a self-reliant democracy possible … So, in 2004 I cut back to planting 194 mounds. I was determined to give it one last shot. Early in the season, the drought continuing, I had to hand-water. But no hoppers appeared. That was a blessing. And then later in the year, the rains came. The pond filled (and it’s still full!). And, in between campaigning and official duties (I was just elected to a third term as county commissioner in San Miguel County), I managed to harvest almost 125 pounds of potatoes, and the yield averaged out to about 10 ounces per mound … Nothing to brag about. A minimum harvest of sorts. But a big improvement over last year’s worst drought year yield of 42 pounds - where I averaged only 1 ounce of harvested potato per mound of planted seed … Plus, this year I’d added some new varieties to the crop, for a total of 39 types of differentiated tubers … Of course, some did splendidly, and some were almost total losers. That’s the beauty of raising so many different kinds. Pink Wink, a new variety I tried just this year, yielded 14 pounds 12 ounces, and averaged 2 pounds 2 ounces per mound. Whereas Australian Crescent yielded 1 pound 5 ounces, and averaged 0.7 ounces per mound. The best and worst on both counts … I also was able to conjecture that the following varieties, which all yielded more than a pound per mound, appear to be drought resistant kinds - Ruby Crescent (1#16oz/m), Desiree (1#7oz/m), Russian Blue (1#6oz/m), Sangre (1#6oz/m), Norgold (1#3oz/m), All Blue (1#2oz/m), and Viking Purple (1#2oz/m) … I’ll know more when I crunch the numbers on last year’s yields for each variety and compare them to this year’s. This coming year, when I compare the yields from three seasons, I should have a better picture of what spuds might be best advised for drought conditions here on the high mesas of the Colorado Plateau … As for individual biggies, All Blue and Viking Purple both yielded 13 oz potatoes … I’d be interested to know how these results compare with any other gardeners in the region. E-mail the Free Press and they’ll forward me your inquiries.

SPEAKING OF FARMING … My bioregionalist friend Alan E. Lewis sent me this excerpt from an article by Sally Fallon ( value_added.html for the full article): “The hardy, independent farmers whom Thomas Jefferson considered the bedrock of democracy are truly a vanishing breed. The United States now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers … It has become unfashionable these days to talk about communism -- this is a thing of the past, the Berlin wall is down. But let’s talk about Marxism a minute. One of the central planks of Marx's communist manifesto was the corporate farm. The true enemy of Marxism - or communism, or world socialism or whatever you want to call it - is the yeoman farmer, the independent agriculturalist, the rancher - because he can survive without the state. Thomas Jefferson recognized that the basis of true representative government was the small, independent farmer … Most Americans would be shocked to learn that the system we have in place today all over the globe is Marxism - slipped in under their noses. Most people would call it Capitalism. I suppose you could debate the point for a long time, but the truth is, there are just two economic systems. One is the system where millions and millions of people can make a decent living; and the other is the system where a few people make millions and millions of dollars and the rest of us are paupers. And for some time now, America has been moving slowly but surely toward an economy in which the population is divided between the superrich and those who are just surviving - a kind of neo-feudalism on the global plantation.”