Makenna Goodman  @  ChelseaGreen

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Back to the Land, and Grapes of Wrath

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2009 at 1:37 pm by Makenna Goodman

It's been two months and one week since I moved from New York City to rural Vermont, and I'm in the middle of reading Grapes of Wrath. It's so…current. Maybe it's the notion that something intangible runs our way of life–our food, our shelter, our land, the future of our children–and in the same way that it provides us work, it grinds us down, wears us thin, and kicks us out of our own house. Steinbeck called it The Monster. From the layoffs, to the Madoffs, to the big corporate payoffs, what I find craziest is that up until recently we've been fine with this economic system. Now we're pissed, but shouldn't we have expected this? The American economic system has been one of inherent exclusion and exploitation, and it's not the first time in history the economy has had to reckon with its greed and negligence. So why are we surprised by the current in-sustainability of massive production and wealth amassment? It's just like Grapes of Wrath! I read somewhere one of Madoff's victims quoted as saying we should "stone him to death." Which–for the novice in antiquated execution methods–is throwing stones at someone for a long time until they are dead. I mean, I'm as furious as everyone else, but isn't this the twenty-first century, people? What's next, burning witches at the stake? I'm hiding my homeopathics under the mattress.

Anyway.

This weekend, another New Yorker came up to visit the farm–Claire, my best friend from childhood. She told me about my aloe plant I gave her when I moved (it's since gotten huge), and the strawberry and tomato plants she has on her windowsill in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It made me think about urban gardening. Could I have lasted in New York if I lived in Brooklyn, or had the capacity to grow my own food? I know people, like Claire, who are doing okay in Brooklyn, who have more space, or are close to the park, or have backyards where their dogs can run. Maybe it has to do with the "dailyness" of food production, and what that means for a person. For me, at this point in life, I need to touch ground and see mountains. I love the daily process: waking up and feeding the fire, then the cows, feeling Vermont's air, the crunching of hardened snow…how my mind revs up and what revs it.

This morning, for example, I woke up early, while the moon was setting. After feeding the cows, I took my coffee to the car and started out. My commute is about an hour each way–which sounds like a lot to everyone–but I'm in love with it. Turning off our muddy road, the sky appears, massive and blue from horizon to horizon. The snow is mostly melted (for now), and the earth is a dusty brown. Route 110 follows rolling hills that dip and curve and salute the sun. People say you should pay to drive this road; the warm light reveals each beam in every house along the way, the brilliant red from barn siding, each pointed needle on the pines, and every wave on the river that has now loosened up and flows along the roads. To see this, first thing every morning, is a gift (although I should probably consider bio diesel.)

This weekend, besides read Steinbeck (and US Weekly, a gift from the big city!), I made myself a seed diary in a simple composition book (black and white, like in grade school) with handmade duct tape dividers, arranged by vegetable type. I recorded everything we ordered for this season's garden, and plan on noting what grows well, what fails, and what flourishes, for reference sake. I'm not usually this organized, but it's helping me familiarize myself with the seeds, the growth period for each type (early, mid and late season potatoes for example: French Fingerling, Gold Rush and All Blue), and I'm beginning to visualize where things will go in their beds come planting time.

I experimented with fermentation, too. I had some cabbages in the fridge and decided to make sauerkraut, Sandor Katz style. I sliced up some purple and white cabbages, diced some garlic, and threw them in a bowl with a bunch of salt. It's so simple, and yet I have never taken the time to make my own! All you have to do is squeeze the salted cabbage for a while until it starts to expel liquid. I think I added a little too much salt because my hands were stinging. In about ten minutes I pressed down the cabbage until it was submerged in its own juice, and then stamped it down, weighted with a can of roasted tomatoes on a plate. Down in the root cellar it went, along with Gordita, the nosey cat who pees in the basement. In about ten days once it's fermented, I'm going to fry up some sausages and try it out! I hope it doesn't mold.

Until then, I plan to finish Grapes of Wrath, eat leftovers, and think about what it means that I fled to a farm, as opposed to being kicked off one. Not to mention how to stay positive in a world that sounds like it's crumbling…and bankers who keep getting bonuses.

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