03 July 2010
Traveling and quality blog maintenance are intrinsically not linked. I learned this the hard way in Argentina, where the ratio of things that I wanted to write about to time I had access to a computer and the Internet was about 1000 to 1. While we are better equipped electronically on this trip, we are already suffering from the too-much-information-to-share blues. Not so much the blues as the impatients. Please bear with us as we take the feast or famine approach to solving this, starting now!
We are in Asheville, North Carolina today, 382 miles from Washington D.C, or the place we last took a shower. However, we came here on far from a direct route and since our last update have had the opportunity to jump right into our “mission” of visiting some local, organic farms.
We left D.C. on Thursday morning and headed directly to Loudoun County, VA, our nation’s wealthiest county per capita and, unexpectedly, home to Snow Bear Vegetable Farm and our new acquaintance Jim “Wyoming” Dunlap. What we expected to be a brief tour and quick follow up to the interview we had started the day before turned into over three hours of intensive time with Jim, during which we discussed everything from the cost of small farm equipment to the lack of work ethic possessed by our generation (insert uncomfortable feet shuffling here). As he showed us his flourishing crops he talked us through the progress he and his wife have made since starting this farm project just four years ago, after Jim retired from the CIA and completed a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
Jim’s farm is not located in an area that is currently used for farming. Though the former site of a “traditional” farm, today his property is surrounded by suburban McMansion sprawl and notably, acre after acre of neatly mowed (read: lifeless) lawns. According to The Lawn Institute (yes, there is a lawn institute), there are approximately 25 million acres of lawn growing in our country today. According to a slew of concerned organizations including wildlife protection groups, environmental groups and urban farmers, these same 25 million acres represent an “eco-disaster” (Appel, 2010). Long story short, animals and insects (including insects responsible for pollinating other plants, including those that bear the fruit and vegetables that we eat) are not attracted to close cut, non native grass that is usually dosed in fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, many simply see these 25 million acres as a tremendous waste of fertile space.
Jim is of this latter opinion and is vocal about it, to say the least. Standing amongst his potatoes and tomatoes we can see on four sides of us innumerable acres of matching lawn, barren but for a handful of purebred pet horses. Snow Bear Vegetable Farms is not only a stark contrast to the land use around it but also a tremendous divergence from a trend in our nation. In less than a century, farming has left the hands of the common farmhouse dwelling farmer and is now dominated by the giant agri-businesses responsible for the production of virtually all of our staple grains (such as corn, wheat, and soy) and the majority of the food we buy at a typical grocery store. Jim is one of a growing number of small farmers who hopes to challenge this trend through hard work and education on a local level and small scale. His is the story we set out to hear (and to tell) on our journey and we were struck by our good luck in meeting him so early on.
Feeling instantaneously inspired and terrified, we left Jim late in the afternoon, heading west towards Shenandoah National Park where we planned to spend the night camping. We enjoyed a scenic drive into the North end of the park and were surprised by the cool night (actually pretty freezing) after so much heat during the day. In the morning, we wasted little time before hitting the road, with the goal of visiting Polyface Farms near Staunton, VA and then carrying on the spend the evening with an old friend Becca Williams at Bio Fuel Farms in Pittsboro, NC.
To Be Continued….
Appel, A. (2010, June 10) U.S Lawns Getting and Eco-Makeover. IPS News. Retreived June 17, 2010 from http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51805.