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"The Year We Went Inorganic," at Front Porch Republic
An essay about tough decisions
My essay dropped on Front Porch Republic today. You can find it here. It already got some comments and I found it interesting that the comments so far cleaved in two directions: one toward a quantifying of the risks of the inorganic solutions I’m using, the other response telling me to not beat myself up over it.
Below is an excerpt from the article.
Maybe it’s best to start with this picture of a raccoon trying to eat GMO feed corn out of an old toilet I put into the woods. I feel similarly to this raccoon when trying to maintain a homestead with a toddler and an infant in the house.
On to the excerpt:
I’m behind on everything. Chores have piled up in my distraction. Summer thunderstorms and bright sunshine have let the woods creep onto our property, and there’s more work to be done than seems possible.
Tonight, once I close the laptop, I’m going to suit up. Venturing onto the homestead to do the normal round of chores will involve swapping into another outfit, fueling up power equipment, and lots of hacking and slashing. My outerwear has been pre-soaked in permethrin to guard against deer ticks. I’m going to use a gas-powered “brush cutter,” a weed whacker that uses a spinning blade to pulverize plant matter.
It feels like I’m going to war.
In a previous essay, I described how ten years of homesteading had changed my political philosophy: I practice a sort of country bumpkin anarchism. But beyond the triumph of a suburbanite discovering the boondocks is a harsh truth: as we shape the land, the land can easily shape us. The romance of the countryside flees when it comes time to push back against nature.
It wasn’t always this way. My wife and I went out of our way to work organically. We did surprisingly well, at least until this year.
In this essay, I’ll talk about our history of using hand tools, organic pesticides, and other “natural methods,” what made us change our mind about using inorganic methods, and what I’ve learned about age, responsibility, and externalities.
Your skin, your bones, your virtue
The psychedelic retelling of a 14th century story, 2021’s The Green Knight contains a haunting speech that I can’t seem to shake. Wondering aloud why the titular knight of the film is the color green, one of the characters launches into a chilling monologue that ends with the following:
When you go, your footprints will fill with grass. Moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues. This verdigris will overtake your swords and your coins and your battlements and, try as you might, all you hold dear will succumb to it. Your skin, your bones. Your virtue.
Anyone who has ever lived at the edge of civilization knows the truth of this speech in their bones. It takes almost no time at all for nature to erase everything you’ve built. Sooner or later, the green comes for us. And no matter how much energy you have, the green has more.
Keeping nature at bay, through any means necessary, runs deep in our consciousness. Rattlesnakes are extirpated in my region because, as the more-than-90-year-old woman down the street tells me, they killed rattlesnakes on sight back in her day. My county and the state Department of Agriculture quietly dumps pyrethrin-based insecticides by airplane to kill black gnats, midges, and mosquitoes, all in an attempt to forestall outbreaks of West Nile and other diseases. Elk reside in Pennsylvania, but only in the far north central mountains of the state, even though their range included my southeastern corner of the state. Reintroduced after full extirpation over a century ago, these transplanted Yellowstone elk immediately left the mountains to level farmers’ cornfields. The Game Commission had to mediate the wildlife conflict battle. They won’t ever finish trying to keep the massive elk from eating crops and farmers from shooting them.
When my wife and I started our rural homestead, we were suburbanites with a lot of ideas. For one, we’d do everything organically. No question. Second, we’d endeavor to only use hand tools. Scythe, sickle, spade. We’d become experts in the old ways. And third, we’d limit outside inputs. Among other ethics we’d imposed on ourselves, these three were in line with the permaculture principles that guided our work. We thought it was our responsibility not only to our own land but also to our community and the planet: as landowner Doug Duren puts it, “it’s not ours, it’s just our turn”.
Nature humbled us. When we started our podcast to record our homestead adventures, we spent a lot of time recounting our failures: acres-worth of organic crops lost to pest damage, groundhogs digging tunnels under our outbuildings, and, probably the most notorious story around here, a mouse breaking into the garage to eat my wife’s tomato seedlings, just a few days emerged from the soil.
We kept on grinding. Ten years later, we’d managed to only use two gasoline-powered tools: a chainsaw and a chipper-shredder. Ten years later, the strongest chemical we’d used was Neem oil. And then, ten years after we’d started, we had our second child.
Continued at Front Porch Republic... https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2023/09/the-year-we-went-inorganic/
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