Monday, November 24, 2008

Emotional Economics

You might find the following piece of reading (which is lifted from an eMail to a friend) a decided shift from what I normally write. However, I’ll tell you – that as I go about my daily life – this is very much what you’d hear if you caught, “Mit’s Mutterings” to her friends, customers, and family. In some ways, it might not be considered a “political” screed. Those I leave to my friend Ozy and the Proof . I’m not calling out any party, government agency, or public servant. YET what follows is certainly a political conversation. It’s about the politics surrounding our food, health, welfare, and survival.


eMail conversation with the friend:

"I just heard a piece on NPR ... about a farmer in Colorado who opened up his farm to gleaning this weekend. People showed up before dawn on Saturday - and he estimates there were around 40,000 of them.

It made me cry. Why?

Because I believe we're just at the beginning of these bad times - and that so many people showed up to get some food - it boggles my mind. It made me cry that he was so generous - and overwhelmed - and won't be able to do something like this again because the demand was too great.

I feel like an idiot because I cry over stupid things like this. What’s happening to people right now – and what’s to come. My feelings are the exact opposite of the typical reaction, "Oh well, that's not my problem." I am so grateful that I have a job - and scared at the same time - that I might end up like “these people”.

It’s true, I’m not EXACLTY LIKE THEM … I have savings. The only debt I carry is my mortgage. YET – I’m only one crisis away from joining them. The loss of my job – a catastrophic event at my house (tangent: I got a letter last week that my homeowners insurance had been cancelled. 2 claims in two years, were two, too many. It’s been reinstated at a higher deductible. (Thank You God) But still – if another tree rips wiring off my house – or puts a hole in my roof, I’ll have to cover the first $1,500. That’s a big chunk out of anyone’s savings account (I’m assuming). If another "event" happens I’ll be wondering how I’ll keep MY house, pay for gas to drive to work (assuming I still have a job), feed myself, and take care of my health. Not to mention finance my retirement future."

My friends response to the NPR article was this, “I think what happened there will be more and more common. The food pantries are already short and needing aid, but there's less aid available. It's funny that their time of highest demand means they get the least supply. Bread lines, though far off, are possible sometime down the line.

Although I am slightly well informed outside of my industry, for the most part I only hear what the political pundits say every hour-on-the-hour on NPR in the morning ... or on Market Place or Market Place Money on Sunday mornings. Or when someone tells me something - or links me to something.

But I told him, “I think you're right - it's going to become more frequent (gleanings) .... but you know - that means farmers have to get financing. And have to be able to afford "inputs" ... seed, water (out west), fertilizer, pest-control. Even organic farmers have to find a way to finance pest control (beneficial - be they insects or host plants), fertilizer - organic or manufactured, and labor to bring in the crop.

I think a lot of people (who don't garden) have this romantic idea that it would be easy and cheep to start growing stuff if they had too. But that's not true. Beyond the seeds and mulch, the "infrastructure" (ie: tomato cages; raised planting beds; sprinklers, hoses) costs something ... not to mention the learning curve - and failure expense.

It also means that farmers who grow for mechanized consumption (ie: corn for it's parts; tomatoes/peaches/pears for canning) will have to rethink what and how they produce crops. I'm not sure how quickly/easily they can switch - and IT COST MONEY to change. Not to mention - people in inhospitable regions will have to change their eating habits. And we'll all become more seasonal in our cooking.

It's struck me for years how finding an orange was a big deal (for those not living in Ca/Fl/Az) in the 1900's, teens, twenties, and thirties. That's because that's when citrus in the US was harvested. We're use to oranges year round - but they are not a year round crop. Same with tomatoes, lettuce, etc, etc. etc. I think we'll end up moving back to this cycle of eating and cooking.

For the most part, my comments are focused on produce and vegetables. Because those are the most likely for gleaning. But as a country - the US is very fond of it's protein. You cannot glean beef, pork, lamb, chicken, shrimp or fish.

Which means ... what? People outside of city limits will start raising cows/pigs/sheep outside of the city limits?? Will cities REALLY allow people to raise chicken/rabbits in their backyard? Certainly current zoning here in North Carolina (and many other states) would not support this trend.

Raising an animal (which also takes money/time/skill) is not the end of the "I'll supply my own meat" assumption. They (the animals) must also be processed. There aren't a whole lot of small time butchers/meat processors left - and how many of them pass USDA inspections? (If they're selling to the public - then they are ... but I'll submit these businesses are easier to find in rural settings than downtown Chicago/New York/San Francisco/Los Angeles, etc.)

I haven't even touched on "aqua-culture". Have you read all the warnings about eating fish, shellfish and crustaceans out of our streams and rivers? Not to mention how many times you go fishing ... but come home empty handed?

So - all that rant to say - I don't know how much more of this we'll see in the future - 'cause that's not how agriculture works today." (end of my eMail rant)

Here’s his response:

I think you'll see more communes... and more community organizations, like co-ops. Grow what they need, sell the excess. They'll do the same for energy. A city, or county, or whatever, will build its own windmills, or solar fields to provide their energy. If they don't have enough resources, they'll produce something else and buy it.

You see, a problem with the job market is the increased specialization. Every job is now specialized. You've been lucky to take your experience and transfer it from one career to another, but where else can that take you? Could you get into healthcare at the same level (the digitalization of records)? You should consider it, if you can.

Anyway, it used to be one job qualified you for many. A business major could be in accounting, marketing, management, human resources, and a host of other jobs. A machinist could do a lot of things. Now? A programmer isn't just a programmer... What languages does he program in? What OS does he program for? IT is a catch-all, but there are a lot of jobs inside that umbrella.

I think communities will be more and more specialized. The South will probably be the new rust belt, the west will be IT, the southwest will give us energy, financial stuff will be the east coast.. and so on and so forth, with communities inside the regions providing goods and services for that region, and excess gets sold off to other regions

We're sort of like that, anyway, only it will become a more formal arrangement. You not only move into a community, you move to a co-op, get it?”

What do you think?


Wanderjenn said...

I hear you, but I think that the South (or at least NC) is an IT as well as a BioTech powerhouse.

MitMoi said...

Jenn - I think you're right. Here in the RTP we are bigger than just ag. But you look a little farther to the east ... and what do they have besides ag, tourism ... and ??

Anonymous said...

I think I'm running away to join the circus!!


Anonymous said...

I think Allie has the right idea !

Do you get Bob Brinker, investment advisor, on the radio ? He's less discouraging than the people you are listening to, I think.

Yes, it's scary for all of us, but I do pray that the stock market will start to slowly recover. That won't affect all the people who have lost houses and jobs, tho, I am aware. tp

Proof said...

I only have one experience with gleaning and it is my own: Once, down in Southern California for a conference, some friends of mine and I went to a farm that was open for gleaning. This was, I'd guess, maybe ten years ago, maybe more...
It was a field of carrots. The mechanical harvester had been through and picked the majority of the crop, anything left would either be gleaned or plowed under for the next season.

Neither my friends nor I were there because of economic reasons. It turned out that those were the best carrots I'd ever eaten. Farm fresh, as they say!

So, don't automatically presume that everyone who shows up to glean is swirling the porcelain bowl economically. (I know you don't. The topic was emotional economics.)

Some might be there just for the "good eats"!

Anonymous said...

I hope this reassures you at bit. Proof is right. Big farms (in the South at least) mostly all allow gleaning for the immediate community. I think this was so huge because the farmer 'advertised' it somehow.

I sort of agree about work and skills, but from my (ongoing) experience a lot of the problem has to do with the changes in the HR departments. They are looking for specifically specialized people more than they are looking for knowledge and transferable skills.

The Purple Panda said...

On one hand, I say thank God for such farmers and their overwhelming service. On the other hand, I say how sad that so many showed up. But here's the thing. You said you feel like an idiot to cry over stupid things. I think it's far from stupid, and your tears are evidence of your human capacity for love. The way of the co-op may not be an earthy-crunchy-tree-huggers paradise any longer -- it may the way to go. But we've got to learn to shut down our screens and function as an honest-to-god community, and not as a virtual one.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mitt! I'm gonna gorge myself with Food Network all day tomorrow!!!