Beautiful Canvas Needs Artist

By Bob | May 5, 2011 |

Barn in Winter

The picturesque Sogn Valley near Cannon Falls, Minnesota has seduced me. With no farming experience but a passion for sustainable agriculture we went and bought a 55 acre farm in this lovely area. The farm includes 25-30 acres of rich bottomland with a small creek running through it, the balance is south-facing woodland with old oaks, younger birches and, we’re told, lots of morel mushrooms. The fields have been rented for conventional corn and beans but this year I’m planting oats and alfalfa to begin organic transition. There are two barns but no dwelling at present, though there is one building right with the property.

We bought this land because I think it has enormous potential: the soil is excellent, it is within an hour of a major market, it is near a transport corridor (Highway 52 runs from the Twin Cities to Rochester) and not far from a lively college town, Northfield, the hillside offers excellent solar resource in addition to its historic oak savannah ecology. But how do I realize this potential? I’m not a farmer, I’m a musician and scholar (ethnomusicolgy – go figger . . .). My dream is to find some folks who want to help creating a thriving, sustainable, resilient farm on this land integrating the fields, stream, woods and buildings. I don’t know what the best crop choices will be, but I suspect that a variety of products will yield the best results: some critters grazing, small fruits or berries, wood for heat, small grains, CSA or market vegetables, maybe hops for the burgeoning local brewing scene. I’m expecting some serious trial and error!

We’ve only owned the land a few weeks so I’m overwhelmed with ideas and projects. But in the end I hope this will be home to a farm family of some sort that will thrive and, in time, take ownership of all or part of the enterprise. There are many, many steps between here and there but that’s my dream. I wonder if there is someone out there who’d like to play in this sandbox . . .

Offer accepted . . .

By Bob | March 4, 2011 |

Just heard that our offer for this property has been accepted. 55 acres – 39 tillable – in the Sogn Valley, about an hour south of Minneapolis near Cannon Falls.

Adventures to come!

A State of Transition

By Bob | July 14, 2010 |

At the weekly informal Transition gathering at the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe this morning, prompted by a new and thoughtful presence (welcome, Pierre!), we considered the state of Transition in the Twin Cities. Here is one take . . .

Diffuse. There are pockets of Transition interest and activity in various neighborhoods around town and in various community groups. At present, none of these nodes has coalesced into a formal ‘Transition Initiative’. The Blue Moon gathering continues to provide a safe haven for folks concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change, but awareness (or willingness to consider) these issues is largely absent from the general public as far as we can see.

This observation prompted discussion of just what Transitioners hope to – and can reasonably – accomplish, given the real world in which we find ourselves. We acknowledged that getting the message out is not among our strengths (we’re clearly not getting that job done – as wonderful as our tiny group is, it’s still tiny). Thus the massive systemic changes that most of us believe are needed are far beyond our reach – at least for now.

Given that, what might be more modest but achievable aims? The consensus this morning was: leading by example. Mostly around food but also energy and community, individuals are increasing their skills (reskilling?). In our collective view, the larger society will come to grips with the issues only when it is forced to do so. When that happens, we’d like to be ready to provide examples of resilience in our lives, homes and communities.

And we want to have fun doing it. Sharing food, music, dancing and the arts is essential as we work together towards our attractive shared vision of a more connected, more human and lower energy world and as we cope with our ‘End of Suburbia’ moments and other challenges.

What is the State of Transition in the Twin Cities? No one has the authority to say, but by example and by trial and error we all hope our individual efforts may serve not just ourselves and our families, but others as and when they decide to join the party.

How Economies Grow and Peter Schiff

By Bob | July 7, 2010 |

Ok as far as it goes . . .

Peter Schiff’s How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes offers a gently amusing introduction to his take on Austrian School economics by allegorically representing the United States as an island with an economy based on fish. While the book effectively presents his views and offers useful insights into the current economic morass, I want to mention two of its significant weaknesses. First are the inherent contradictions of Schiff’s biases and second are the enormous gaps left by realities not measured by economics.

“The Market” is Schiff’s demigod: its magic solves all problems and leads to the highest and best use of all resources. If Government would just get out of the way, The Market would take care of everything. Unfortunately, there are several problems with this view. Most obvious to many folks today is that the present Government is effectively a subsidiary of the businesses that comprise The Market. Look at the astonishing speed with which the Government decided to lend trillions to private banks with effectively zero oversight. Consider the revolving door between business and Government brought to new heights under Bush II and barely touched by Obama. It’s a complicated mess to be sure, but at this point in our history, Government primarily serves rather than hinders business (permits for Deep Water Horizon . . .). The massive debt problems of such great concern to Schiff expanded because The Market persuaded The Government to stop regulating just as Schiff would advocate. Sadly, reality doesn’t match the tidy absolutes of Schiff’s allegory.

But there is a deeper weakness to Schiff’s work and it starts at the beginning of his tale: Schiff’s island has an unlimited supply of fish. Ask a Canadian fisherman about the Grand Banks: resources deplete. Would Deep Water Horizon exist if there was an easier way to get the oil? Resource limits are absent from Schiff’s world, but not ours, alas.

Why an Economy Grows provides a pleasant introduction to aspects of economics, and a valid critique of our unsustainable financial ways, but ultimately, something smells fishy – and I hope some of the reasons are now a bit clearer.