Make friends with a farmer, eat more kale

Nice to see a front-page feature on the growth of community-supported agriculture in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this week. The Strib story says that 11,000 Minnesotans are now receiving food through CSAs, which puts us a little behind the national trend (US estimate is about 270,000 households), but still great growth. (And, for full disclosure, much as I’m a huge fan of CSA, I have yet to get things organized and sign up for a share in the springtime. I suck. One does have to be a little intentional about this, although the internet has made it a lot easier to get connected, with sites such as Local Harvest.)

Favorite quote from the Strib story about why this is important, beyond just providing good support for farmers – you end up eating healthier.

“We’ve learned to eat things we never would have tried,” said Judy Goebel of Richfield, a member of Philadelphia Community Farm for more than 15 years. “Like arugula. The first few times, I wasn’t so sure. Now I’m crazy about the stuff.”

Amberson said she tried kale for the first time last year after finding it in her CSA box. “It’s a great way to introduce new vegetables into our lives,” she said. Her household is eating healthier since joining a CSA, in part because “I hate to waste anything. Last year, we’d have two or three vegetable servings at dinner when normally we’d have one.”

CSAs are also great for linking the consumer to the farmer’s world. You end up following the weather and rooting for the crops to grow. Even though we haven’t yet signed up for a CSA, my children and I do pick berries all summer. We’ve had a cold and wet spring here and we’ve been sad about the late and meager pickings for strawberries, just like our local farmers. Those of us up here in Minnesota can get pretty boring talking about the weather all the time. This at least gives us a good reason to do it.

More Visual Enchantment in the Land Named for It

It seems like New Mexico Museum of Art always manages to put together the best exhibits. In 1986 I saw one of my favorite-ever exhibits of paintings, an exhibit called Empowered Painting, which featured works by painters of the likes of Fritz Scholder and Holly Roberts, one of the best assemblies of paintings outside the top floor of Musee d’Orsay in Paris.  Now there’s an exhibit that combines two of my favorite things – photography and peoples’ connection to the landscape. Earth Now runs through October 9. Makes me wish Santa Fe was still only a six-hour drive away.

Community out of Faith and Water

For several hundred years before the United States of America became the custodian of the public lands roundabout, the inhabitants of what is now northern New Mexico managed to thrive in their valleys nestled high in the Rockies, thanks in part to a thriving communal system of water ditches and grazing lands. High Country News has a wonderful article and photo essay on the acequia system and culture, which persist to this day. (There’s also a wonderful interview with photographer Sharon Stewart to go with it.)

The origins of the acequia are a bit mysterious. It is said that along with establishing the church, they were among the first things built by the Spanish settlers when they migrated up from Mexico around the time that the English were founding Jamestown in Virginia. They seem to combine the irrigation technology and organization the Moors perfected in Spain during their 600-year reign and native American irrigation. What’s remarkable about them to a visitor is how a few hundred locals could build and maintain such a sophisticated system to distribute water to where it’s needed. In these days where one political party is continually advocating defunding and dismantling the government and public enterprises, the alternative requires a lot of work and that people stay local and do hard work to keep up their corner of the earth.

The intersection of water and faith is also interesting. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but the only other non-public irrigation works in the West were the irrigation systems built by the Mormons in Arizona and Utah.

The communal grazing lands – known as ejidos – that were also a foundation of these communities didn’t survive the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (which ended the Mexican War in 1848) and its aftermath. Much of these lands were stripped from locals outright, and rights to others passed to anglo hands thanks to the imposition of fees for grazing rights, a serious challenge in the largely cash-less economy in the area at the time (a story told wonderfully in novel in The Magic Journey by John Nichols). Just as happened with the many native cultures that were progressively run off their lands by the incoming Europeans, we didn’t figure out until the late 20th century how to legally create communal spaces free of private ownership and speculation. Even the acequias nearly went dry water rights speculation in the 1990s, but fortunately they have survived.

Yay to New York on Marriage Equality

New York joins Iowa approving marriage equality for gays. It’s the largest state to approve it so far, joining states like Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Especially good on the Republicans who ventured across the aisle.

Interesting to note that none of the lib’rul-leaning lefty states on the left coast have yet made a move. It just shows that they don’t quite live up to their reputation. Of course, we haven’t done it up here, either.

Six Reasons to Love the Prairie Region

Yahoo published a list of the 10 most affordable cities in the US, balancing the cost of housing against income. These are places where you can live affordably and at least theoretically spend more of your money on living and less on living quarters. Six of the ten are from the prairie regions, stretching from southeastern Minnesota and Iowa down to Oklahoma. Cass County, ND (home of Fargo) and Brown County, SD (home of Aberdeen) were #1 and #2 respectively.

It shouldn’t be totally surprising: today in the midday open thread of a blog in which I regularly participate, one commenter asked another why he would move from the coast to Des Moines, IA. (The commenter noted that his preference was to live on the coasts.) I nearly piped in that I had once clung to the coasts with similar fear, but since I had moved steadily toward the country’s center (from Oakland to Tucson to Denver to Minnesota), life has gotten better.

Then again, there’s no arguing that one. Most people look at the prairie and its lack of trees fills them with fear of dread. (Even before the wind starts blowing.) And maybe that’s all for the best. We often joke that were it not for its legendary winters, Minnesota would probably be overrun for its glorious summers. It’s our protection against becoming the next boom state. And why it’s so cheap.