What I did on my (endless) summer vacation:
Or, why any obsessive-compulsive gardener and seed saver should include
"Next year in Decorah" in the usual blessings.
This marks my fifth pilgrimage to Heritage Farm for the annual campout
convention, and it just keeps getting better. This time I made a slight
detour to pick up SSE member Jackie in Michigan, after the obligatory
adoration of the grandchildren in Rochester, NY, and a bit of sightseeing
along the way. I got to see Jackie's soon-to-be-certified organic farm
outside Kalamazoo, and assisted her new puppy in finding a hive of ground
nesting bees. Unfortunately, there's no video available...
Long ago, an instructor at a technical seminar told me that most of the
education happened in the coffee breaks, and so it is at SSE. Just put
a hundred plus avid gardeners together with some world class experts, and
let them shoot the breeze. For the record, the featured speakers were as
usual very accessible, as in willing to chat over cider on the
porch of the new visitor's center.(1)
The weather was absolutely perfect: warm but not Iowa steamy in the
daytime, but cool on the campground at night. The new cement "low water"
bridge over a usually dry stream was noted with glee by the weary
travelers, who last year were stranded on the other side for some hours,
following a Sunday night of continuous thunderstorms that had me
scrambling for lumber, a cubit stick, and pairs of animals.
Saturday afternoon, the speechifying began in the loft of the old barn
which newcomers thought was warm. We "old salts" said, "warm? You kids
don't know the meaning of warm! Why, two years ago, the keynote
speaker's notes burst into flame, and the samples of Native corn popped
on their own and filled the loft nearly to the top!"
Kent Whealey filled us on the goings on with SSE.... the organization is
maturing, with plans for the future looking pretty good. I see changes
afoot, and probably a bit of turbulence, but in a good way.
There were four main speakers; all but the most obsessed may skip the
next several paragraphs.
Gary Nabham spoke on the need to preserve not only plant varieties but
the recipes that go with them, especially ones that say something like,
"Take a yellow Aunt Maude's squash...." He's put a lot of effort into
identifying the origins of particular vegetable varieties. Much of the
folklore is dead wrong, but if it's a good story, why not? After all,
if we don't expect truth from our leaders, why worry about it in the
ancestry of a tomato? More and more, I'm learning that truth is what you
make of it.
Jeffrey M. Smith spoke on genetically modified crops, and specifically on
how the fox is guarding the henhouse. Things that have been utterly
rejected in Europe are utterly unregulated here, and the U.S.'s response
is to demand that the Europeans do likewise. Lots of information on
health problems related to GM food and on rigged trials by U.S. companies
to get the "right" results. [personal opinion, shared by many: What's
really going on here is a power grab by a few big companies to control
the world's food supply through easily identified patented seed lines.
If our markers show up in your crop for any reason, you're a thief. And
the courts so far agree.] Whatever you think, if you want to avoid most
GMO foods, look for the big four in the ingredients, and insist that they
be organic: Corn, soybeans, cotton, canola (the politically correct new
name for rapeseed oil).
Carey Fowler was the keynote speaker: He's a major force in the new
Norwegian Seed bank, which is a backup for other global seedbanks.
Freezer storage in tunnels deep in rock in northern Norway's permafrost,
above the most pessimistic future sea level. He described the loss of
diversity in plants as an impending disaster- whenever we run into
disease or insect problems, we go back to old wild food plant varieties
to find the needed genes. Lots of good information, and even more reason
for we wild-eyed radical seed savers to do what we do. And I'm getting
more airtight containers suitable for freezer storage!
Jack Staub spoke on "Exciting Ideas in Vegetable Gardening." Beautiful
garden layouts, bean supports that cost more than my entire garden tool
kit, nice (though mostly dark and hard to see) slides of "four-square"
garden layouts. Most impressive and utterly out of my league.
The barn dance was a lot of fun, though it reminded me that I need to
somehow refresh those basic steps I learned at Vivian Foy's dancing
at the Community Center all those mumble....mumble... years ago.
Next year, the meet will be open to all, members or not. I think that's
a good idea, not to mention a sneaky recruiting tool. I'm going back
next year, and you can't have "my" spot at the far end of the campground.
(1) Many thanks to Amy Goldman the melon maven, who bankrolled the new
Amish-built post and
beam structure. Please buy all her books.
Pictures when I get around to it.
Gary Woods AKA K2AHC- PGP key on request, or at home.earthlink.net/~garygarlic
Zone 5/6 in upstate New York, 1420' elevation. NY WO G