The Dark Upside to Education

While on sabbatical I’m taking a couple of classes in KVCC’s new sustainable culinary arts program – to what end, I don’t yet know, but it’s such a great idea for a program I thought it was worth exploring. Rachel Bair’s Sustainable Food Systems course just wrapped up, and, though I’ve taught a bit about the topic in an environmental philosophy class I offer, I couldn’t be more glad that I took it. For one thing, it was good to see what an intro-level course looks like from the students’ side of the room! But, more importantly, there were all sorts of things I learned more about than I knew before (e.g., migrant farm labor in Michigan, consolidation in the meat industry, how food assistance reflects issues in the larger economy), and I met some really passionate and interesting people.

There’s a kind of dark upside to taking this course though. Continue reading “The Dark Upside to Education”


red peppers 3 (2)

We bought 45 pounds of red peppers at the last two Bank St. markets from Dennis at Blue Dog Family Farm. These were ones that were either too small to sell or had some minor imperfection, and since otherwise they’d have gone to waste, he was happy to give us a deal on them. Most will get deseeded, sliced into two or three pieces, jammed into Ziploc bags, and stuck in the freezer. When thawed they’ll be too mushy to eat raw, but my son likes the crunch of frozen ones, and they’ll still be great for cooking, so we’ll have no problem using this many up over the next few months. Plus since we keep our house pretty cold during the winter, every time we look at the $6+/lb. peppers at the store this winter, our smugness will warm us up just a little. Continue reading “Peppers!”

Plowing Ahead: Or why if I had a lot of money I’d give it all to Tillers International

Speaking (as I did in my last post) of the 19th century and the need to draw on the history of localism in a careful and critical way, I’ve recently learned a lot more about Tillers International, based nearby in Scotts, MI. We’ve gone to Harvest Fest at Tillers for many years, my wife has taken a few of their classes (if you talk to her, tell her to make more cheese!), and we used to buy stuff from their former market gardener Gina. So I’ve been aware of their local footprint for awhile, and I’ve known they do some sort of education of African farmers focusing on using animal power. But recently I learned a lot more, and I was totally blown away by how thoughtful their main mission is. It also provides a great example of how the past can inform the present without any pretense of “going back” to some ideal world that never really was. Continue reading “Plowing Ahead: Or why if I had a lot of money I’d give it all to Tillers International”

Local Everything?

I’m slowly making my way through The Relentless Revolution, a KPL staff-recommended book by UCLA historian Joyce Appleby on the historical development of modern capitalism. It offers (among other things) a striking reminder of just how much this development was both enabled by and helped cause the decline of local everything — local government, local language, local trade, local armies, local you-name-it.

Taking the case of Germany, Appleby notes that before it became a unified nation and an industrial powerhouse in the later decades of the 19th century, “the 350 German principalities” — i.e., the various independently ruled districts in what we now call “Germany” — “lacked uniform weights and measures, excise duties, road rights-of-ways, and commercial practices, not to mention currencies, banking institutions, and toll-free transportation” (170). You can imagine how much this slowed the exchange of goods, labor, technologies, and ideas: it would be like if we here in Kalamazoo had to exchange our currency, pay tolls and taxes, and figure out new units for measuring our goods every time we wanted to take our goods to Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor. Homogenizing those legal and economic aspects through centralized government made economic exchange much easier and helped Germany become a leader in steel and other industries over the course of just a few decades. Continue reading “Local Everything?”

‘Tis the Season

[The title of this is supposed to be “‘Tis the Season,” but for some reason WordPress isn’t showing it and I can’t seem to fix the problem.]

No, not that season. My son loves singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” year-round, knowing that I don’t like Christmas carols except after Thanksgiving, but I am in no way following him in his flagrant disregard for the proper progression of holiday commemoration. No, I mean the season of the squash, the period of pumpkin and pork, the era of…ok, I’m out of alliterations, but you get where I’m going. It’s fall, people! But it’s pre-frost fall, when a few tomatoes are still hanging on (though the smallest shake sends them tumbling), the last cucumber is on the vine (though the leaves around it have gone crisp and brown), soft leafy herbs still wave in the breeze (though the basil plants look fatigued and ready for retirement), and eggplants still shine from the tables at the market (though you can’t but think they wish they’d brought their sweaters).

tomato october (2) basil october (2)

Sometimes I think late August is the best time of year for eating, since you can take pretty much any fresh vegetables you can find, treat them minimally, and have a meal no chef could surpass, but during these couple of weeks when summer produce is still there to lend its fresh hands to the warmth of fall dishes, I think right now might be even better. Continue reading “‘Tis the Season”