Category Archives: Texas

The Meaning and Making of Place

LGMbolivia.jpgGetting ready to move to another country, and in a hurry, creates a certain intensity of nostalgia in everyday experiences that will soon be absent. Just driving down the highway with all our typical American billboards, fast food chains and big box stores makes me realize that i still feel a certain stake, an ownership in this place. It’s just unfortunate that every other place in the United States looks the same as mine. Listening to Texas Rebel Radio reminds me of everything I love about Texas and being from Texas. Camping, fishing and swimming on the Guadalupe brings back a lifetime of memories.

I don’t know entirely what to expect of Santa Cruz, Bolivia or my Low-German mennonite brethren. I don’t want to have too many expectations. Over these years I’ve realized the importance of place. Our hyper mobile culture and homogenous strip malls tends to eradicate the meaning of places. We’ve done our best to export this around the world. In the cracks of this culture of sameness grow the flowers of places and people that defy the pressures of conformity both out of necessity and choice.

Place matters.

santacruz.jpgFood, whether organic, natural, local, processed or industrial is from somewhere (or many somewheres). People, no matter their background or history, are shaped by specific places and experiences. They are not generic global citizens abstracted from the reality of the politics and peculiarity of places. For some people it is easy to love humanity, but hard to love people. It’s easy to love the planet, but difficult to love the complex, messy people and places that actually make up that planet. You can love the “environment”, but find it hard to love tobacco farmers in Appalachia.

indigenous.jpgWe are preparing to uproot ourselves, violently tearing at the fabric of our lives and community, and transplant our lives in a foreign land, language and culture… no wait two foreign languages and cultures (Bolivian and Low German Mennonites). The redemption of this cross-cultural activity done in the name of Christ is that it forces us into the same choice that God made in Jesus. Are we to be detached, abstract global citizens who are from everywhere and nowhere, committed to nothing, belonging to no one? Or are we to become an incarnational collective Body, covenanted to the people and places where we find ourselves on this pilgrim journey, committed enough to stay, to give ourselves completely to the other for the sake of the other?

The difference is subtle and can easily lead to justifying the status quo of our privilege of travel, capital and influence, while wearing the mask of service and love. Our only hope is incarnation. I hope that our time in Bolivia can be one in which we cross the “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) and learn to love Bolivians and Low-Germans in a way that honors them and their place.

Picture of Low-German Mennonites from MCC: http://mcc.org/stories/galleries/bolivia-life-mennonite-colony

Pictures of Bolivians from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/7146559.stm

Ending Hunger in Texas

KWTX did a story last night on the Texas Hunger Initiative. They interviewed me about the farm’s connection to the initiative. I’m also hoping to work with the initiative after the farm so this is now part of my resume.

I’m pleased to say I didn’t sound dumb. Therefore I will happily share the video with you.

Farm and Food Session 7

This session was a panel on Climate Change and Agriculture. The panel included:

Malcom Beck, author and founder of Garden-ville
Leighton Steward, author of Fire, Ice and Paradise
Andy Wilson from Public Citizen

Another good session on a very controversial topic. Malcom Beck, the king of compost, may be my new hero. I’m becoming somewhat obsessed with compost, as you can tell. He pointed out that carbon is one of the important things that plants need. The difference between organic fertilizers and conventional is the higher carbon content in organic fertilizers. Leighton Steward in his presentation said that CO2 is not a pollutant. I agree that it is important to recognize the role that CO2 naturally plays in the ecosystem. The goal certainly should not be to get rid of CO2. The question is the role of CO2 in the ecosystem, how much is acceptable in the atmosphere and where this CO2 might be coming from.

Leighton Steward had an excellent presentation with lots of colorful graphs and statistics. His basic thesis is one you may have heard before, that CO2 is a lagging indicator. CO2 levels rise only after temperatures rise and sometimes hundreds of years later. The indicator that he says does track with the changes in temperature is solar radiation.

Andy Wilson from Public Citizen did respond that there was significant debate in the scientific community on this issue. He also pointed out that the majority of climatologists working on climate change that were published have reached consensus about human activity as a cause of climate change. The majority of his time was spent on impending legislation and changes regulating CO2 emissions and the impact of things like cap and trade on both agribusiness and small sustainable farmers.

Here are some of my overall thoughts on a very complicated topic.

I’ll be honest, I generally stay out of the debate on climate change because I don’t base what I believe we should be doing on whether or not climate change is anthropogenic (caused by human activity). I know that there is another side to the debate that would have rebuttals for Leighton Steward’s claims. It’s a good debate when it is based more on science. Unfortunately it seems too often to devolve into politics on both sides. One side says the IPCC scientists are not real scientists, but politically motivated and manipulated. The other side makes the same claim about some of the scientists who discount human activity as a cause of climate change. If it’s possible to keep the debate scientific it’s a good conversation. At this point it seems impossible to keep politics out of the conversation.

I also feel manipulated anytime someone throws too many statistics, charts and graphs at me. Data is never objective. First of all the collection of the data always happens by human beings who use a process to decided what’s important and what’s not. That is the way it has to be, but is important to recognize that it is the case. After the data is gathered selectively it has to also be interpreted. What does this collection of numbers mean? Time and again you see different people look at the same set of data and make wildly different conclusions depending on their assumptions or interpretation of what the data says. So, someone’s charts, graphs and stats sometimes tells me more about their assumptions than any objective facts.

I do agree that CO2 is not a pollutant. However, doesn’t it matter what kind of CO2 or where it comes from? Isn’t there a difference between the CO2 that mammals exhale and the CO2 coming from factories, cars, etc.? I would be interested to hear more about comparing CO2 from different sources and used in different ways. My hunch is that the concentration of CO2 in factory farms, factories and urban centers would be different than the CO2 occurring naturally in the ecosystem.

At one point Mr. Wilson said that the goal was for sustainable agriculture to compete with industrial agriculture and that cap and trade (if done right) has the potential to do that. Is that the goal of sustainable agriculture? What would we sacrifice to “compete” with Big Ag? It seems counterproductive to me for that to be the goal. Part of the reason we have industrial agriculture is because the Secretary of Agriculture in the 70s said “Get big or get out!” What happens if we say the same to small-scale sustainable farms?

One of my favorite statistics was that Texas is #7 in the world in greenhouse gas emissions… in the WORLD! That’s just crazy!

Thoughts?

Farm and Food Session 6

This session was on the 2009 Texas Legislative Session. I’m glad it was in the morning, because too much government policy talk late in the day would put me right to sleep. I have nothing to say or add. It’s important stuff for someone to follow, but I’m realizing that I don’t think I could do a job that required me to be a Congress watcher.