Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
love your food!
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Almost Spring?

When we're looking for summer, we head down the mountain.  When we look for winter, we head up hill.  The increase in altitude leads to a decrease in temperature - there is less atmosphere to hold in heat!  In Squaw Valley, the difference is pronounced.  We own and rent land in the area, and our rental field - just down the street - is more than 1000 feet lower!  It's been spring there for about a month, and now it is just starting to be spring up on top of the hill.  Down in the valley, it is more than 2300 feet lower than it is at our camp on top of the mountain.  It's mid summer there!

Changes in altitude are one thing, but changes in latitude are another.  Going north means going colder, and going south means getting warmer (until you get to the equator, that is).

It is important to stagger fields north and south, uphill and down hill if you want to supply similar foods all year long.  Spring has come and gone in the Valley, but is still coming up in the hills.  On the plate, it's spring, spring, spring!  Summer is also easily found.  So is winter!

The nomadic farmer is not a new thing under the sun.  The Egyptians invented the technique, boating up and down the Nile, hiking up and down the hills.  The Egyptians even went so far as to bring their bees from pasture to pasture, increasing their honey production: some farms today still do this today, trucking bees from Colorado's Western Slope to California's Central Valley with the change in seasons.

Back in ancient days, bee spills would happen as much as in modern days.  But then, there's an argument for sedentary farming.
 
 

Mighty Quail

Every morning, one of our neighbors (a nice couple of Quails) steps out for their promenade.  Mr. and Mrs. Quail live in our fence, which is not your usual barbed wire contraption.  It is a lean-to of large tree branches and small sticks, and resembles a very long dead tree, or perhaps a dead bush.  It is ideal habitat for quail, rodents, and other critters that don't like to be bothered at night by large predators.

Of course, the foxes love the fence too.  They and the coyotes and bobcats can easily pass through and over, but find it difficult to hunt in the fence.  They commute to work in our fields through the fence daily.

But, in the morning, the fence belongs to Mr. Quail, who gives it to his Mrs.  He climbs atop the tallest post and bellows out his territorial call while Mrs. Quail admires him from below, singing encouragement to him.  He then invites her up to see the view, and know that it is hers.  They then go about their work.

We love all the wild animals - they care for our fields, and their company presents that "universal sympathy" so expounded upon by the naturalist Enos Mills.  They remind us of our place in this world, and - with our customers - the reason why we farm.

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March from Water

Recently while on deliveries, we noticed a farmer in the valley who was carrying on a trailer a sign bearing the message that water was essential for farms.  We didn't get the chance to talk with him - he was going the other direction at more than a mile per minute - but we had to laugh when we imagined his impression of the beautiful farms of the desert, or of those so-called "less fortunate" farms without water.

 

While it is true that water is necessary in most of California for the most popular foods in demand, it is important to remember that water is not needed for food itself.  Many wild plants and fungi grow without any help from human hands that are edible, nutritous staples of the human diet, delicious treats, energy, fiber and medicine.  Many animals grow - without help from human hands - that produce necessary fiber, food, medicine, treats and draft power. 

 

It is inconcievable to suppose that huamnity would have thrived so long and so well on this planet if there was not enough food to do so, and a sin to doubt that the good earth cannot continue to provide for our needs.  As one of our customers pointed out to us ina discussion on the subject, "it is our own fault if we are hungry in this world of plenty." 

 

Farmers depend on others for their livelihood.  We depend on our laborers to work hard, we depend on our customers to tell us what they want.  But we also depend on either nature for water - or upon our government.  That the drought is causing so much concern among farmers for water demonstrates that they have not only sinned by fearing for their customers' hunger, but that they are dependent upon unnatural governmental action for their water.

 

At every meal before we eat, we take a moment to remember that all things are given to those who need them when they are needed most.  Though we do enjoy our cabbages - a water loving plant - we also enjoy our dandelions, our dates, our oats, our beans, our squashes... the innumerable other things that require less or no water. 

 

We take a moment to remember that irrigation improves yields of these foods, but is not necessary for their production, and that the total production is not incresaed more than the value of that water.  Even if we had access to subsidized water from a ditch (our well would not be subsidized by taxpayers), it still would not change the basic fact that the water is not producing more food than it is worth.  The water belongs to the river and the city, as the farmer does: the farmer serves their nation by protecting natural resources and providing food to their neighbors.

 

It is this unwillingness to serve nature and their neighbors that has led to this agricultural crisis.  Do we continue to produce oranges when there is no water to do so, when other fruits are more wholesome?  Do we listen to our customers when they - out of ignorance - demand that which would strip their children's children of a great inheritance? 

 

Many farmers say yes.  They carry signs.  They are terrified to produce against market demand, afraid that their customers will buy somewhere else.  They are terrified that if they do the right thing they will be punished. 

 

We at Re Rustica are now at a crisis of our own.  How can we produce those foods which endanger our water resources?  How can we afford the risk of our customers preferring to buy from those farms which would not look after the earth as much as the market demand? 

 

And our customers are in crisis too: the desert's foods, while less expensive, are less demanded for lack of familiarity.  The customers simply don't know they want them - when would they have tried them?  How can the customer risk trying them - supporting a farm with their limited money - when they don't even know they will like what they buy?

 

Together we stand in the sin of doubt, the correct path laid before us, waivering as if there was reason for confusion.  Drought will destroy us if we choose wrongly or hesitate too long.

 

As we write this, our coyote friend - who hunts in our fields - is playing friendfully with our geese.  After a long time of distrust, they have come to terms of friendship.  Through our help there is plenty of good food for the coyote, and our geese have no reason to fear him.  We work along side him - though he is not tame.  By confronting our fears, our courage earns us greater rewards than we could have imagined.

 

And so we ask you, our customers and friends and our fellow farmers, how can we lead each other towards what we must do?  We, on our part, provide free samples of desrt foods and foods that need less water (though they are not asked for, we do provide them periodically to our customers).  When we occasionally and radomly follow up as to why they are not ordered again, it is because they are not the foods they are familiar with.

 

How can we work together to ensure that there will never again be a drought crisis?  To ensure that farmers never need to fear for lack of water?  How can we bring these foods to be an essential part of the daily diet?  These foods are loveable and nutritious, enjoyed throughout other parts of the world.  Why can't they be enjoyed here?

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Nature Provides All We Need

Food can have amazing effects on you.  Some foods make you happy, others make you sad, some make you healthy, others can kill you.  Some foods make you hallucinate, others clarify your mind.  Food is a magical thing, and it is important to remember that - as enjoyable as the daily meals are - they are important to your mind, body and soul.

What we eat we eat for pleasure, but also for nutrition.  We balance our diet upon the reccomendations of nutritionists, following the USDA food pyramid religiously.  A varied diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, oils and sugars is so important to us - the "treats" at the top of the pyramid no less so than the "staples" on bottom.  How could we go a day without delicious beans? Or skimp on our favorite olive oil?  Our oats are as important as our fruits and nuts and veggies. 

Every once in a while, we don't feel well.  Or perhaps a friend doesn't feel well.  We give them some foods to make them better.  It's magic: eating the right food can make you strong!

Nature provides for our needs by giving to us at the right time those things we need most.  In the autumn we recieve our oils, our heavy carbohydrates, our foods we need to hold us through winter.  In winter, we feast upon the bounty of autumn, but also seek out those vitamin and mineral rich trees and berries nature preserved for us to find.  Digging through the snow, we find joy for our plates: the ruby red rosehip is a treasure for the palate.  In the spring, the taraxacum and the other spring greens and roots give us the health to make the most of summer's bounty.

When we are overborne by the weariness of the world, we make a special and interesting dinner.  Nature already makes sure we vary our diet, keeping our love for natural foods alive with constant and pleasant surprises.  Nature cares for our needs, and provides for us.

As farmers, we work with nature.  We help those plants that are our friends grow bigger and stronger, so that those friends we feed them to are made stronger still.  We give our friendship to the birds that lay our eggs.

By providing food and shelter to all the animals of our world, we fear no hardship.  The coyotes leave our birds alone to hunt rabbits in our fields, singing us beautiful songs at night. The foxes eat grasshoppers.  The worms, ants and various insects tend our crops.  Life is not spent at leisure, but upon completing that most essential job that none of the animals can do:

the love of all living creatures.

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the Duck named Rooster

The duck named “Rooster” thinks that he is a chicken. He was raised with two hens and, when we adopted the three friends at the shelter, was quite confused. He takes good care of his hens, making sure they find ponds to bathe in (though they don’t want to bathe in the water - they prefer dust baths - he pushes them in). He finds them good things to eat and then eats them himself to demonstrate that they are good, urging them to join him with his “tasty” call, which they do not understand. He herds them about with his mallardly mastery using words and gestures they understand as well as those used by real roosters. He also sits on their eggs and defends them.

His inability to communicate with his hens is a problem, but nothing so severe as to break his love for each other. They are his hens and he is their rooster - er, duck.

He also take care of the other chickens. He has a special friendship with Scuttle and will treat him like a hen. Ducks can’t tell the difference easily between roosters and hens.

We love “Rooster” almost as much as the hens and real roosters do. He stands guard at night over the entire flock like a rooster ought to, taking shifts with Rodney and Scuttle (the other roosters are too tired to take a shift). Like a rooster, he sings them songs to let them know everything’s alright, or alert them that something strange is happening. He announces when we come by, and a few of the chickens stagger up to us to see if we’ve brought them a treat.

Any time two species make friendship or love each other, they learn how to talk to each other or otherwise serve each others’ needs. When humans adopt a pet, either domesticating a wild critter or taking in a domestic one, we teach them some of our language so they can help us, too.

All our birds know how to “go home,” “find your rooster,” “hide,” and “come to the coop!” We teach them several dozen commands. Some are very friendly, and enjoy being picked up. Because, when they are young, we help them if they are injured in front of the entire baby flock, they know to come to us when they need help.

Yesterday, some of our geese got attacked by a coyote. The coyote lost, and now looks for mice to eat, but one of the geese got a scratch on her leg. She ran up to us and wanted to be held, so we told her to give us her leg for us to inspect. We told her it was alright and gave her some treats. She rested for most of the day, and her flock kept her company.

Like our “Rooster” duck, all animals understand more words of another species’ language than they can speak. Though we could not express ourselves in “goose” we could express ourselves in english, and she understood, giving us her leg and holding still. She could tell us something was wrong with her and we understood. The duck can tell his hens about the joys of bathing and… well, perhaps some things can’t be understood.

 
 
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