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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


The word of the day is ambiguity. The two most memorable events of the past week or so reinforce my belief that its important to be able to accept ambiguity; to recognize that many things are not black or white, true or false, good or bad.

First, we recently finished the fence.

Nearly everyone commented on how nice it looked; how ordered and neat; or how clean and established. My initial impression was the same.

But I also have to admit some lingering unease, too. As the guiding concept of landship suggests, I think the long-standing trend towards privatization has come with serious costs. And fences go hand-in-hand with these changes. Fences, at best, can be aesthetically pleasing and functional, yet they can also be divisive and exclusive.

The tour of the Farmington agricultural extension fields was even more ambiguous. Those who readily criticize extension agents would have been disarmed by the obvious passion the agents showed for agricultural research.

Critics might also be surprised to learn of research directed towards small-scale growers and nutritional health of local populations. But, then again, there were also agents like the herbicide specialist. The most charismatic and vocal scientist at the experiment station, I would also nominate him if there were a poster-child for all that is wrong with the extension service. He introduced his corn research by indicating the weeds and stunted growth in the control plot. Then he simply regurgitated the equally-stunted logic of the chemical companies: if you don't use herbicide, your productivity will suffer a reduction of 75%. This is not a surprising argument to hear from herbicide corporations, but from a government official entrusted with serving farmers and the general public it is essentially dereliction of duty. The problem with his stance is several-fold: there are myriad other ways to decrease weed pressure that don't involve herbicide (under-sowing; mechanical cultivation; etc...); weed pressure doesn't always compromise crop growth - it can even be beneficial; lastly, defining agriculture narrowly as large scale mono-cropping neglects what are arguably the most exciting and thoughtful trends in his own field. Rounding out his reactionary politics, he explained to the crowd his belief that the Gulf oil spill would be cleaned "if it weren't for environmentalists protesting all the best solutions." The problem with black-and-white logic such as this is that it denies any room for ambiguity. It fails because: all "environmentalists" don't think the same; there is no consensus from any camp on ways to remedy the catastrophe; finally, solutions for a crisis as far-reaching and complex as the oil spill will have trade-offs that are just as complex, so there is no clear-cut "best" solution. Very few things are truly black-and-white. To proceed as if they are is like trying to dissect a hummingbird with a golf club. The task calls for a more subtle and precise tool.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Canyon Farming

This afternoon the basecamp cook and I are taking off on a desert food and agriculture tour, complete with a visit to a NMSU extension field day in the appropriately-named Farmington, NM. Before I leave, I wanted to post briefly the highlight from my most recent trip: Canyon de Chelly. The canyon area is a hodgepodge of public and private land, the bottomlands being largely owned and farmed by Navajo families.

The bottom of the canyon was amazing: protected, verdant, and wet. Still harsh, to be sure, but one could easily see why people would choose to inhabit the bottomlands. The most interesting thing to me about the farming methods was that, from above, one could see that the fields were layed out to catch the snowmelt that cascades off the rim in the early spring. The dryland techniques developed in this area involve planting seeds deeply (8-12") immediately prior to spring rains and run-off. The seeds germinate quickly with the flood of water and the ground stays moist at the deep planting depth most of the growing season, even with virtually no rain.
The one major drawback to settling in the enclosed bottomlands is that you would be vulnerable to floods and pillaging neighbors. To solve this, the ancient peoples simply built shelters into the cliff walls. Awe-inspiring is the only word that comes to mind.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

California or Bust...?

Back in New Mexico after an aborted roadtrip to California, I now have the nervous habit of testing locks for their ability to unlock prior to entering a bathroom. That's right. My virgin voyage to California was derailed by false imprisonment in a state park outhouse. The view from the canyon rim was nice, but unfortunately I couldn't set my gaze on it from the outhouse.

If you have ever been in a desert latrine you will understand that I was as concerned about the ailments I might catch from the swarming flies as I was worried about again seeing the light of day. After pounding on the door for 15 minutes, some ATV'ers eventually drove up with a toolbox and were more than happy to help me destroy state property. They took the pins out of the hinges on the outside of the door and I then kicked it down from the inside. In that brief moment as boot struck metal, I not only secured my reentry into the world but also relieved my claustrophobia-induced anxiety.

This brief detour through the outhouse was not to be the final hurdle on my journey, however. Car trouble struck my accomplice and I near Flagstaff, AZ. I decided to call the ill-fated perambulation to an end, boarded a Greyhound bus and headed back to Thoreau and the known variables of my growing operation. Despite the shortened trip, I could still notice change in the vegetables. Farm update soon...

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Thunder Rolls

We finally got a soaking rain yesterday afternoon. Clouds threatened all morning and around four o'clock in the afternoon they finally let loose with their sweet, sweet nectar.

The crops have responded already. I firmly believe that rain is better for plants than irrigation; they do, after all, derive from entirely different sources. Gary Nabhan finds in his studies of traditional agriculture in the Southwest that many "old-school" farmers in this most arid of environments don't consider groundwater to be true water. Water falls from the sky.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July Happenings

I pulled my sleeping bag over my head this morning as I woke up. In those first fuzzy moments I tiptoed on the border of sleep and wake, but soon jolted up off my bed when I realized that I never have to pull the covers up for extra warmth unless it is close to freezing. I got down to the thermometer near the crops at about 6:30; it read 35 degrees. I feared this meant that a few hours earlier it had been 32.5, if not less...
We spent the rest of the day hauling ponderosa pine timbers out of the hills for a fence around the main plot.

After dinner I walked through the plot and found what I feared: frost damage on the young zucchini sprouts. Frost on July 6th. A light and patchy frost, but a frost nonetheless.

As a farmer, you have to learn to shake your head and chuckle at most of the bad luck and undesirable news. If you can't do that, you won't stay in the field for long.

Whenever I needed to laugh today I just dug up my favorite fourth of July memory: While waiting in line for a funnel cake, I saw a woman with a shirt on that read "Land of the Free, Home of the Awesome". 'Nuff said

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Desert Smells Like Rain

As you can see, the rainy season has started here in the high desert. Over the past week we have had showers dancing across the horizon almost daily. It has resulted in only thirty minutes of rain, though, as most of the clouds skirted our perimeter. I read recently that the Papago Indians - who hail from what is now the US/Mexico borderland - refuse to talk about the likelihood of a rain shower, seemingly because of the kind of unpredictability we have been experiencing recently.
Despite the fact that most of this rain has side-stepped our crops, they are really starting to take off. The few showers have helped. It is warmer at night now, around 45 degrees on average. The occasional clouds are providing a little respite from the scorching sun, too.
Tomorrow is the 4th of July rodeo in Grants, NM, so I must go take care of last minute chores...more soon.