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Is it getting old? My husband feels like some of the activism and fervor for “women” is diffuse, unfocused, maybe a little misplaced. I’m paraphrasing, and will come back and clarify if I misspoke. But I understand that position. American women, speaking generally, have so many freedoms, today. Opportunities their grandmothers would be dazzled by, and that women in many other parts of the world will not see in their lifetimes. Yes.
But one thing I’ve found to be a huge obstacle in my white, middle-class life as a mother is this: I have become the one in our family that engages in hours upon hours of unpaid work; work that is unseen, unmanaged, receives no raises or accolades, and is mostly solitary. I know I complain about it a lot, and am a real bitch for doing so, since it’s something I can “afford” to do—many women don’t have partners who make enough money for them to stay home and do unpaid work for the family (take care of children, make meals, etc.). Most of the poorest women in the world do heavy shares of unpaid work (taking care of children, the family, food, housework) WHILST returning to paid work. I’m lucky, and feel rich most of the time. But the fact that my work is difficult…and yet does not get the kind of honor, in our money/career-driven society, that paid work gets, has been hard for me to process.
I’m not sitting around wishing I could get medals for wiping butts and picking dirty clothes up off the floor. I’m not cleaning the fifth mess of the day off the kitchen floor with gritted teeth, so bitter that I can’t get a raise for this. I don’t walk into the tenth cloud of the day of baby whining, baby songs, baby questions, baby toys, and baby-throwing-a-crying-fit-in-the-middle-of-the road-while-cars-are-waiting-for-us-to-cross, jockeying inwardly for First Prize in Enduring Brain-Deadness. Nope. I’ve moved into what I truly believe is a healthy appreciation for the work I “get” to do. I’m finally mentally and physically healthy enough to find that the joy of being a mother is simply enveloping, simply transformative—thank God. Bye, PPD.
HOWSOMEVER. It is impossible for my husband to understand the work I do all day, since he hasn’t experienced it firsthand, and since I can’t explain why taking care of a baby/toddler should be so difficult that I just can’t get to the sixth kitchen floor mess, or clean the bathroom, or get to the dishes in the sink, there’s a lot he just can’t understand about my daily work. I’ve done a terrible job of trying to explain it to him. Not because he doesn’t care or want to know, but because I just find it hard to articulate why this job is so hard. And I’ve been unwell enough that we now have a track record of pretty awful fights originating with this very issue: Why is the house such a mess? What did I do all day???? Marriage 101: Fights with the purpose of showing that one’s work is more difficult than one’s spouse’s work are unproductive and there is no moral high ground to retreat to when things get loud. Make a note of that.
So a lot of the work I do at home every day continues to feel invisible to everyone in my life … but me. (And I suck enough at Peaceful Joyful Parenting that the idea of this being my & my daughter’s “secret life” doesn’t really do it for me, either.)
But when I come to today—International Women’s Day—and re-watch Hillary Clinton’s iconic “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, and remember that billions of other women are walking our common path, doing paid work for public view, and unpaid work that’s hidden deep in the underground of history, I can do my work with a sense of community and support. Even if I don’t participate in the strike. I can honor and advocate for societal changes that will support women and the work we do: like paid parental leave, which will benefit fathers too, who need it and often don’t get it. Like equal pay for equal work, and a recognition that mothers can and should contribute their skills and knowledge to the “workforce,” with more help from employers. Like childcare not COSTING A SHIT-TON and basically being unaffordable for most people. I could go on. These are causes I stand up for.
Today I’m working: I’ll be taking care of my daughter at home this afternoon. Probably doing some cool stuff like looking for our favorite snails under our favorite snail-hiding rocks. I’ll be working for a couple hours at my place of employment (notice how this phrase implies that anywhere I’m not being paid, I’m not working? Thanks ‘merica.), Care of the Earth Community Farm, which is owned and run by a woman and her husband, and is shaped and buoyed by her generous vision and principles—I’m inspired by her and her husband every day. I’ll also be doing some unpaid volunteer work for a nonprofit, Nourish Knoxville, that does excellent work and is steered by another hard-working and visionary woman. These women, and all women who do good work, I want to honor today…with my work.
And yes—it is the job of a feminist to honor women, and work for equal rights and opportunity, and it is also a job of feminism to recognize the value of ALL peoples’ work, including that of people of color, lgbtq people, fathers, indigenous people, veterans, etc. When there are days to honor the paid & unpaid work of another group, I want to hear about it, and participate. It’s not the job of feminists to ignore other groups who need recognition. I always feel like that goes without saying, but I think I’m wrong about that. There’s so much pushback that I’ve experienced, in the past couple of years, against “feminism” that I do see the need to be as clear as I possibly can about what I mean.
Go forth and strike; alternately, go forth and work. Either way, know that your work has iceberg-like value: only 10% is on top.
P.S.! A shout-out to the women who organized and continue to run the childcare programs at First Presbyterian Church and Washington Pike United Methodist—these programs run (so lovingly and well!) on a shoestring, and have impacted my life deeply. More generous women for which I am SO thankful.
Plants I’m growing in my herb garden:
It feels ominous to be so optimistic. Don’t know why I *must* add things like that, but apparently I must.
Plants I’m growing in my vegetable garden:
- Principe Borghese
- Italian Heirloom
- Matt’s Wild Cherry
- Speckled Roman
- San Marzano
- Bird Egg/cranberry/October beans
- Tiger Eye beans
- Whippoorwill peas
- Winter squash
- San Jose Mountain Club Squash
- Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
- Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
- Celery (I’ll let you know how it goes…haha)
- Clemson spineless
- Storage onions (Valencia?)
- Tennessee Red Cob
- Cherokee White Eagle Blue
- More flowers, for the pollinators
- Black-eyed susan
- Chamomile, yarrow, monarda, calendula
Isn’t that so exciting? Yeah our springs are getting shorter (and earlier, in aggregate) every year, and yeah this year we’re 20 days ahead of where we should be, temperature-wise, and so on & so forth, but “for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” speaking of Hopkins, and I mean to bring them up.
Things I want to do with these plants (now this is where I’m getting way optimistic, someone hold me back):
- Can maybe 10 quarts of tomato sauce, freeze lotsa tomatoes
- Dry all herbs
- Freeze basil pesto
- Dry beans
- Cure and store onions, winter squash
- Become That Person who gives away tons of garden produce. You know who I’m talking bout. These neighbors that you don’t hang out with but who hang plastic bags of tomatoes and okra on your front door knob. That kind. But I’ll try to be kind of clean and presentable and maybe speak once in a while. So I don’t fit the type too much. I’ll be like…a gardening millenial, or young-mom-with-unusual-hobbies.
Omg I forgot we have that pear tree. Geez I wish somebody could tell me how to manage this tree & its heavenly bounty. It’s one of the old pear trees, with pears that end up with more of an apple-texture than regular Anjou—crisp, juicy, sweet. But it’s a huge tree and I don’t know how to tell when they’re ripe, or what to do with them when they all get ripe, etc. A little overwhelming. We have a huge, unpruned apple tree back there, too, which may actually set fruit this year since we’re replacing the diseased peach tree with two little apples. Someone planted a single apple tree and then wondered, each year for like 10-15 years (it’s a BIG tree) why it flowered but never fruited. Anyway, crossing fingers we get *some* apples this year.
Do any of you parents out there find it unfair that JUST as you’re getting up earlier, the sun is also rising earlier, and therefore your toddler is also rising earlier? I have to go to bed at like 10:00pm every night if I want to get up at 6:00am, and I just cannot tell right now if that’s a bridge too far. Because Mary used to get up at 8; now, thanks to ridiculous annoying sunrise, she gets up at 7:30. Unspeakably obnoxious, wth. But I just don’t know if I can go to bed at 10 every night. It’s diametrically opposed to our cemented habits.
My last thought for this morning, before Mary gets bored of whatever toys survived the night with her in the crib and starts yelling for me: there seems to be a huge black walnut stump in our yard *precisely* in the area I wanted to plant little apple trees. Last year we cut maybe a thousand suckers off of it, so it’s still got some juices down there somewhere. How bad would it be to plant there, anyway? I’m talking about the “toxin” (if that’s the right word) that walnuts produce in their roots and spread through the soil, some substance that acts like a repellent for other plants. I’m not sure what effect we’d have if we tried to plant little trees 10 feet away from this dying stump. Anyways. Maybe if I asked someone at the nursery? I guess I’ll do that.
I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.
I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”
So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.
I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.
Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.
I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.
The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.
These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?