The Scoop

Landship Foods is inspired by the conviction that growing and eating healthy food is one of the most important things we can do for both ourselves and the broader communities of which we are a part. The name comes from the language of pre-industrial Europe. Before the enclosure movement and the associated rise in notions of private property swept England, the suffix “-ship” (as in "relationship," or "friendship") referred to an object or an abstraction with collective duties and mutual rights. Thus, the term “landship” suggests that land was an entity through which humans were joined to each other by a set of rights and responsibilities. I advocate for a revival of this awareness.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two Springs

Yes, I have had the experience of two springs this year. I left Athens, GA as "fans-with-open-windows-at-night" season began. When I showed up in Thoreau on June 2nd, it was like turning back the climate clock to February in Georgia time; so I repeated spring in another place. Sure, there were differences, but there were also the common defining elements: lots of temperamental rain, spurts of vigorous growth, and chilly nights. Also in both places, fried squash blossoms and minutes-old bean sprouts - the delicacies of a thrifty seasonal cuisine. And on one fine afternoon in New Mexico's Cibola National Forest, the peach toss - a Gulch staff tradition (See Nate, at right).
Spring. Not a bad season to repeat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


In addition to the main plot, we have put in three other small ones that are down the slope and closer to the trickle of water that is Sawyer Creek. I am using them as "experimental" plots for the future, basically. We are using some of the traditional subsistence techniques of the region (ollas, swales, waffle gardens, and heirloom varieties) in these smaller plots. One plot is not irrigated and we planted it with a dryland corn variety which a Navajo co-worker of mine says (from experience) will be fine without rain (Note to self: remind corn farmers in other places about this). The photos show a different plot where we put in a swale to capture runoff. The swale has a Zuni bowl - a small pool - built into it to slow the water before it hits the plants.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swine Flu Blues

Admittedly, spending hours crouched over in the sun can be an uncomfortable task. But, for me, that is generally outweighed by the immediate and delayed rewards of germinating radishes and savory carrots. Fieldwork also provides time for reflection. Witness my buddy Josh, at right. When I took this photo, he was marinating on the merits of soil carbon cycling as an indicator of ecosystem health. The other day, I was reminded of a story I heard on NPR shortly before moving out here. The reporter was explaining the effect that a swine flu-inspired border closing would have on the labor supply (and, hence, economic bottom-line) for many large American farms. He suggested that crops could rot in the fields due to restrictions on migrants traveling north from Mexico. The story concluded on this note of unsettling concern. While the report recognized the tenuous nature of a global agricultural system, it failed to notice the irony of lamenting a shortage of immigrant labor in the midst of a national unemployment crisis. Although unemployment levels had dominated news reports, congressional concerns, and the national psyche for months, the reporter apparently didn't connect the two stories. It seems that, for many Americans, agricultural labor is not even an option, not viable work. This is not all that surprising, considering most Americans have (a) never planted a seed, and (b) never worked under conditions like those of the large farms to which this reporter was alluding. I hope the demand for local and sustainable food will continue to rise, and will thus support farms that serve as models of how agricultural labor can be rewarding and viable, instead of de-humanizing. In the meantime, I hope some people who need work heard that NPR story and knocked on the nearest farmer's door to ask if they were hiring.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vince the Plumber

One of the great things about being so remote is that it encourages thrift and resourcefulness. Since the late 19th century, the Gulch has been the site of a logging camp, potato farm, and, for the past 70-odd years, an expedition basecamp. So there are plenty of piles to scavenge through; old coffee cans, barbed-wire, toilet seats, and canvas tents abound. But recently we had to call on Vince, a friend of our auto mechanic, to solder a leaking faucet that we couldn't fix any other way. Since it was his day off, we figured that Vince would be wetting his fishing line just a few miles down the road at Bluewater Lake. We were right. Vince said he "wouldn't leave the lake early for anything," but promised to come by at dark on his way home. This gave me plenty of time to go pick up a 30-pack of Keystone Light - the understood exchange for Vince's labor. Actually, an 18-pack would have sufficed, but we still owed him from a previous job. True to his word, Vince showed up at dark and fixed the faucet. In between turns of the wrench and blasts of the acetylene torch, he offered his thoughts on our education system, which teaches English - "something you already know" - instead of something useful, like plumbing or electrical work. Vince made quick work of the faucet and headed out, happy with his Keystone Light. Thoreau has probably always had a tight cash economy, but like many places which share this trait, beer is a widely-accepted (and sometimes preferred) currency...check out the vegetable progress.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Microclimates and Diversity

So, it has frosted the past two nights now, and the squashes, cucumbers, and tomatoes are showing the effects. You may ask, “Why were you not prepared for this?” Good question. I could have at least tried covering the rows. Well, I had checked the weather forecast and it predicted a low of 39 degrees, so I didn't bother. Was the forecast that far off? No; I'm sure it was in the high 30s somewhere nearby, but our vegetable garden got down to at least 32. Another decisive and instructive lesson for the neophyte: weather conditions here can vary drastically in places only a few hundred feet apart. It's the kind of lesson that can only be learned from spending significant time in a place. Working the land in that place makes this kind of education much easier, because the stakes are higher and the lessons more emphatic. The microclimatic variation might surprise many visitors to the desert – as it obviously did me – but it mirrors other diversity that I had noticed. The Southwest has Hispanic, Native and Euro-American histories, which weave a colorful cultural tapestry. The region has sage flatlands and aspen-ringed mountains, often within a few miles of each other. Most people cruising by on their way from California to Texas can't wait to get past Thoreau because it looks stark, desolate, and monotonous. But if you slow down, get off of I-40, and walk the slopes, breathing the desert air, you will see that there is much more to this place than just empty space. The New Mexico desert is diverse.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dry Winds

I wanted to post often, and I have already neglected to do so. The winds have so far been the surprise challenge. 20-30 mph gusts during the day, coupled with the occasional light frost at night make life hard for young vegetables (and migrants from the South, too). Lew Wallace, a New Mexico territorial governor in the late 19th century and author of Ben-Hur, once wrote that, “Endeavors based on experience elsewhere are doomed to failure in New Mexico.” His words speak to me today with as much insight as they did for his audience of 19th century westward migrants, despite the fact that I know much of my historical predecessors' experiences. I can consciously avoid most of their follies, but steep challenges remain. Apparently the mule deer at right faced some steep challenges as well. There has been tenuous progress, though.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In the beginning,...

...God (and billions of invisible microbes) made compost. I guess today marks the official beginning of the farm-to-table project. After a long day of travel yesterday, I arrived in Thoreau and was greeted by both our alfalfa-farming neighbor, Jeff Carver - who rode up on his John Deere 6400 - and Chris, a semi-driver. Jeff disked the field and Chris dropped off 30 cubic yards of premium compost. A great start, and lots more to be done tomorrow...