What tastes better than fresh hot – almost-too-hot-to-hold – corn on the cob, still sweet from picking? Whether each succulent kernel is coated in melted butter, or my new favorite, melted blue cheese (I get an award winning block of Blue Paradise from its friendly creators Tony and Julie Hook ) at the Dane County Farmers Market and add it to the fresh corn in my dangerously heavy shopping bag every Saturday.)
Soon, I will be growing my own corn, and perhaps it will be one of the crops that I contribute to the local food chain. Through constant study, Doug and I are slowly cultivating our farming plan and taking baby steps toward real food production. See my post Buckwheat Beginnings. I am leaning toward the kinds of crops that are preserved by drying because I don’t envy the farmers who must rush their produce to market while the Perishability Clock ticks loudly in their ears. I visualize leaving the ears on the stalk and then stringing them in the barn to dry. This way corn can be parched, which is a bit like popping corn. The concept intrigues me.
- Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon, which sings the praises of growing corn the traditional way.
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, which describes commercially grown corn – the kind that agribusiness feeds to pigs and to people with the same result – to fatten them up. Even more timely – check out Pollan’s response to Obama’s televised talk on health care in yesterday’s New York Times Big Food vs. Big Insurance
Gene Logsdon’s book (second edition just issued in 2009) is a must have for a farmer wannabe like me. It is detailed and accessible. He calls corn America’s Amazing Maize and names it his first choice for all purposes because this sturdy plant can be harvested and planted on a few acres mostly by hand. That is how I want to start. Minimize the fossil fuel is one of our credos.
Logsdon says the cost of growing agribusiness corn was $600 per acre in 2008 but he slashes this cost by using his own livestock manure for fertilizer and he keeps his fuel costs down by using his own labor instead of fossil fuel where possible. He reckons his corn costs about $90 an acre or less.
Of course the yield is lower, but it is enough to feed oneself and some others – rather than producing a commodity and throwing oneself on the mercy of a market that is influenced by so many random forces.
He says, “Farm activities that may mean ulcers for the commercial farmer can spell relaxation for the garden farmer…..Gardening and homesteading are two of the very few pastimes (I hesitate to call them ‘leisure’ activities) that can actually save you money. In fact, compared to money spent on golf, traveling, skiing, or flying, raising your own food can be profitable even if you have a crop failure.”
Whether we like corn on the cob or not, Pollan says that most of us are made of corn and the by-products agribusiness continues to cook up. It’s not a pretty picture. All those miles and miles of monoculture hybrid corn grown in military precision give their high yield because of the way they are crammed together. Bred to stand upright in cramped conditions, he likens modern corn fields to crowded city life for plants.
All for the sake of higher yield. And what happens as a result of that yield? Bad things. Bad things for our health, our economy and our environment.
I don’t buy the argument that we need this kind of agriculture to feed the world. If you look around, you will see that in this country, and most industrialized countries, we are not feeding the world – we are over-feeding it. It’s like some kind of agricultural arms race – an apt analogy since the fertilizers and pesticides foisted on farmers by agribusiness grew out of the explosives and chemical weapons we mass produced during World War II.
In keeping with the release this week of the re-mastered Beatles body of work: All we are saying is give peace a chance. Let farms be farms – not factories.
And please, pass me another ear of locally grown corn.
Categories: SUSTAINABLE FOOD