Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's STILL Summertime. . . .and the livin' is HOT.

What can I say about a month like June.  How many days on the wrong side of 100 degrees Farenheit?  How extreme is the drought? How much problem is this for our producers? 
Well the drought is extreme, officially so, over half the state, and getting worse everywhere else.  The fact that we don't see giant dust clouds in the air is a testimony to what farmers have learned since the 1930s, but the problems that drought presents to rural producers and communities remain the same today as they were in the 1930s.
Right now the grass and hay crops should be growing, putting on height and weight. There should be plenty of grazing for cattle and other herd animals, the farm ponds should be full.  But the pastures are not growing. They are turning brown and dry. As hay crops shrivel and die, those responsible for livestock look ahead to the winter months, estimate the dwindling supply of hay in their barns and sheds, wonder about what they will be able to cut this fall. . . and then they count their cattle and try to figure out how many head of cattle they can afford to take through this winter into an uncertain spring.  Will the drought break this fall? This winter? Next spring?  Or is this part of a multi-year drought cycle?

We in cities are not so far removed from our pastoral ancestry, where wealth was measured in cattle, or sheep, or goats, or horses, or some combination thereof. We are steeped in those stories in the Bible -- the Hebrew word for cattle appears 56 times in the book of Genesis!  My father certainly measured his wealth in cattle -- the cattle count was a regular feature of our regular round of chores.

The number of mother cows a producer can maintain is determined by how much feed they can produce and/or buy.  "Feed" includes pasture and hay crops (alfalfa, etc), it may include some grain and/or soybeans. Cattle also require water, and in the heat of the summer, that means more water, not less. All of this is true of other livestock -- sheep, goats, pigs, I habitually talk about cattle because that's what my family raised in southwest Oklahoma.

During drought years, the amount of feed produced on a given farmer's pastures and hay fields will be less than a good year with sufficient moisture, unless the producer has access to irrigation water, which is not the case for many Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.  There's also less water in the farm ponds and prolonged drought can effect the underground water table that feeds wells.  Less feed plus less water equals fewer mother cows and fewer mother cows mean fewer steers and fewer steers means less revenue for farmers and ranchers.

This problem adds up fast.  Every mother cow sold into the marketplace is the destruction of productive wealth. That mother cow will produce no more mother cows or steers.  The destruction of productive wealth is not good for farmers and ranchers and its not good for rural communities and its not good for our urban communities either. It's called "eating your capital" and it is a sign of desperation wherever it occurs.

What happens at your house when there's less money?  What happens if it becomes a permanent decline because some of your productive effort is simply no longer there?

What can people in cities do about this?

First and foremost, we can buy food directly from our farmers. With less revenue in farm country, any money siphoned off to the giant corporate food aggregators like Cargill and Archers Daniels Midland is money taken out of rural Oklahoma to enrich giant corporations.  There is little enough going around this year anyway (this drought also killed the Oklahoma wheat crop this year). Buying food from farmers strengthens rural economies and that is good for everyone.

Meats are among the most well supplied items in our local food online supermarket.  Ground meats of all kinds, in particular, are competitively priced, high quality, and taste very good.  All of us need to increase our purchase of these food items in order to support our farmers who are going through this climate crisis.

And not only meats.  I'm encouraging everyone to look at what they bought from farmers a year ago, and then increase that this month and every month left this year. Could you increase your purchase by 10%?  20%?  Don't forget the non-food items too, many of our producers are making excellent body care products and they are such great values that when compared straight on with supermarket products, the initial price might be a bit higher, but since they last so much longer than store-bought soap, the artisinal soaps of our coop producers are actually "cheaper per wash" than anything in the big box supermarket.

This is the month of the "aliums and potatoes" in the coop; and I hope that when the order ends, there isn't an onion or a potato left.  Now is the time to buy onions for the rest of the year. They will keep just fine in most air conditioned homes these days, even without refrigeration. Localvorism requires "looking ahead" and buying when the harvest is upon us, for eating later once the harvest is past.

Everyone needs to work together to mitigate the on-rushing impact of climate change/weather weirding by reducing carbon footprints and fossil fuel usage.  One easy and simple strategy is to cook outside this summer!  Sure, you can afford to air condition your house, and cook inside, and just run your AC overtime to get rid of all that heat and humidity -- but can the Earth afford it?  Look at the brown and dry pastures and fields throughout the state and tell yourself that what you do doesn't matter, except that you won't believe that because you know it isn't true. The truth of the modern dilemma is that EVERYTHING that we do matters -- for good, or for ill.

Cooking outside isn't the One Solution to climate change, but there isn't any such thing as the One  Solution.  Instead, there are ten thousand little things that need to be done, or done differently, and cooking outside is one of those. Do that, get good at it, and then move on and do something else, meanwhile, tell others about how they can save money and help the planet by cooking outside during the summer so they do the same and can move on to something else too.

Sometimes accepting this kind of responsibility is scary. It was sure scary when we decided to build new walls 5-1/2 inches inside of all of our exterior walls so we could 9 inches of insulation in our walls and 14 inches in the attic.  But we have never regretted that work and that expense, not even once.  It was, in fact, the best financial investment I have ever made.  It is certainly a better investment than the money market account that presently holds my 403b retirement fund.

It was scary when the founders of this food coop came together and one day in the hot summer of 2003 decided, "OK, we are going to start this thing in November 2003."  Is there anyone who regrets that decision? Not me, even though it has hardly been a smooth ride, indeed, it has often been a rough, bumpy, and contentious ride, but that's fine, because the cause is just and the food is tasty and those two things make it possible for us to persevere through times of difficulty.

And then there's the "invisible structures" which make it easy to do harm and hard to do good. We need fewer of the "easy to do harm" situations, and we need more structures which make it "easy to do good and hard to do bad."  For example. . . The state of Oklahoma owns over 800 miles of railroad. Isn't it time we put that resource to work and thus reduce our fossil fuel dependence? Wouldn't it be nice if our producers could send their products to delivery day by train?  What about passenger and freight rail service uniting our regional cities with Tulsa and Oklahoma City? There is much that could be done, but the squeaking wheel is the one that gets the grease.

So that's the story of the July Bobaganda.  Everything that you do matters.  For good, or for ill.  There's very little neutrality these days.  I'm hoping that more people will decide this month that they are part of the solution and buy some food from local farmers and then cook it outside to keep from working their AC so hard. No pressure folks, just a frank realization of our own personal responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Joining the Oklahoma Food Coop, and buying some of your food from local producers,. is a HUGE part of the constellation of solutions we need today.  So thank you for that, and know that this month, just like every other month, you can get from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative -- for an honest and reasonable price -- good food that tastes good and does good.

PS.  If you pray, please pray for our farmers and ranchers and coop producers. Pray that they will receive the grace of fortitude to make it through these hard times. Pray for rain, and for protection for all life from the climate craziness that is even as we speak come upon us, for the drought is as hard on the wildlife and birds and bees as it is on the livestock. (I don't know about anyone else, but I have seen very few bees and other pollinators this year.)

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