Why people vote

Last fall I had a running argument with friends that voting ought not be made too easy because voting is an act of civic participation and therefore part of the fabric that binds a democracy together. People making atomized decisions in their living rooms are not participating in anything; they aren’t given the opportunity (or, perhaps, forced) to see themselves as part of a democratic society. The act of going to a polling place and voting in the presence of one’s fellow citizens, on the same day and in the same place, is as important to a democracy as the vote itself.

But all the cool kids are doing it

I read today in the New York Times Magazine that Alice Waters is on a new crusade to make school lunches in Berkeley organic and to have kids grow their own food in school gardens. A middle school garden she created has an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven in it, so the kids can bake pizzas from the produce they grow. Taste, she argues, and not health concerns, is what drives kids’ decisions and will make them support local and organic produce. That’s in contrast, I’d note, with adults, who buy organic food — if they do — overwhelmingly out of concern for personal health.

Now I’m all for giving kids something decent to eat at school, although I wonder how many parents would be willing to cough up five dollars a day for an organic lunch program. And while I’m all for school gardens in principle, I’m not sure that this is a case where change will start with the young. Nearly everyone I know who grows their own food or is a dedicated farmers’ market shopper either grew up in suburbia with no exposure whatsoever to this sort of thing, or else grew up on a farm. They’re either doing what their parents did or reacting strongly against what their parents did. I can’t think of any serious moral or cultural decision that anyone I know has made because their teachers told them to.

car smashed by trees after the ice storm

Gourmet survivalist

car smashed by trees after the ice storm
(Photo by Justin Watt)

Last December we were hit with an ice storm unlike any storm I have ever seen. It began as snow early on a Wednesday afternoon as I draped the last of the Christmas lights over the holly bushes. By dusk the innocent snow had turned to the dreaded “wintry mix” that FCC regulations prohibit meteorologists from calling by a more appropriate term. By bedtime the trees were groaning; at 2:30 we were awakened by a vicious tearing sound and a crash: a tree had fallen on the power line to our house and ripped the line, assembly, and electric meter from the back wall. We called the electric company, an act of purest pollyannism. When the storm subsided, eight inches of ice had fallen. The evergreen boughs of our Southern pines caught much of that ice; weakened by months of drought, more of them lay on the ground (and on cars, and on houses) than after a category two hurricane six years before. None of the crashing limbs caused irreparable damage to our own property, but we lost running water for four days, electricity for nine.

wheel bug

The wheel bug of life

wheel bug

Photograph by Ronald F. Billings of the Texas Forest Service, USDA Forestry Service Archives, image 226085.

Since we began gardening several years ago—when we moved into our first house—we have grown our vegetables in raised beds. This has always been primarily a practical decision. Had we topsoil to till, I would gladly till it, amend it, and leave it where it lies. But in our present home we had to cart in, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful, two pickup truckloads of soil and compost just to get started. There was no point digging it into solid clay; far better for our backs and our crops simply to dump it on top and build a box around it to keep it in place.