Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Nature of Truth

We awoke in a remote KOA in Southern Utah. [You knew that KOA was founded in Montana, right?] Although they are independently owned, it is one of my favorite franchises for the dependability of finding a basic, clean place.  Some have lots of extras but getting to land the Land Whale at a KOA is comfort just knowing what is at hand.

Among the many Land Whale quirks have been the few times it has not started when asked.  I suspect some deep electrical problem like a loose wire or a short.  Paul is convinced it is the solenoid getting set to conk out on us.  He used to drive a truck when he was younger, and I drove a truck when I was younger.  I took "Auto and Small Engine" as a shop class in high school but have forgotten most everything Mr. Stubbs tried to teach me other than the theoretical bits which I have a passable recollection of.  Once, when the Land Whale wouldn't start, Paul took to whacking engine parts with an axe.  We have lots of tools on board, but no hammer and Paul's experiences with solenoid problems were solved by hammer whacks.  We are not even sure we have located the solenoid but subsequent to Paul's whacking, the Land Whale started. He claims credit AND vindication for his bad solenoid theory.  I am skeptical still.  Which is why when we woke up at the KOA it was to a blissful, brisk near-frost, I announced to my companions that I had fixed the air conditioner.  Using an axe.  Hilarity ensued.

Our destination for the day was True Nature Farms in Southern Utah.  Again, I piloted the Land Whale over washboard farm roads of uncommon steepness, at least for Land Whales.  When we got to the Farm we found we had time for a tour with Eden, one of the head workers and someone I became convinced was totally on board with the whole permaculture idea.  He showed example after example of things he had tried with different outcomes, but each was a successful outcome because he had learned something new about the farm and how to bring forth its bounty.  Eden fit the profile I have come to recognize in the farmers we meet: patient, thoughtful, observant, thinking a couple moves ahead.  His browned face and eyes focused mid-distance in thought showed he was the real deal.  No poser, he.

Soon it was time for Paul's presentation.  Folks started drifting in from near and far enthused to hear Paul's thoughts on permaculture and specifically on the subject of "making the big bucks in permaculture."  Very few people make a decent living at farming unless they are big corporate outfits capable of bringing in the big subsidies or plugging into the immeasurable amount of corporatism.  Most farmers take on huge debt and often get jobbed by markets.  Everybody is in line to eat food, and a great many people are becoming wise to selecting good food for themselves and their families.  How, then, to make the connection between farmers willing to raise good food, and consumers willing to pay for it?  Several communities feature CSA's or 'community supported agriculture.'  That is a form of subscription shopping that fronts money to the farmer who then provides food on a weekly or other basis throughout the season.  That helps in making the connection and evens out the market, but Paul lecture was all about helping farmers--permaculture farmers--grow products that command high profits.

One example he used is of the hams that come from free-ranging black hogs in Spain that sometimes fetch $4,000 apiece.  These hogs run free through oak forests on their farmer's land and consume the acorns and other forage they find.  The hogs are known for their unique taste and if there is a caviar of 'jambon,' this is it.  Paul noticed that the presentation was being distracted frequently by the sound of falling acorns landing on the audience.  He asked, "how come no hogs here?"

Not every farmer is going to make it selling luxury hams at $4,000 apiece.  The market of those consumers able to pay those prices--and granted, the ham is sold by the VERY thin slice which does make it affordable, but it still means selling a LOT of thin slices to add up to $4,000 a ham--has a predictable saturation point.  The basic laws of economy mean that there will arise product substitutions, producers finding efficiencies in production that drive prices down, etc.  I don't think anyone in the audience thought otherwise.  There was some discussion about the strategy of marketing to upscale consumers and whether there was something about that that wasn't right.  After all, I think most farmers would be thrilled to sell their farm products to cover their costs and enjoy a profit that gives them an even chance at becoming debt-free and enjoy a decent standard of living for their families.

Paul held forth for nearly three hours before we finally broke for the potluck.  It was fun to see the people tuck into the wonderful spread that appeared with those in attendance.  The True Nature Farm folks also augmented the fare with their own contributions and no one went away hungry.  Afterwords it was time for talk around the campfire with those who did not have far to go to get home.

Like many of the permaculture outfits we have visited, True Nature Farm relies heavily on the work of interns who trade their labor for knowledge and experience.  True Nature was running with half a dozen or so of young men and women who heard some calling about bringing forth good food from the earth.  Many had done extensive research and reading about farming and, in particular, permaculture.  They basically live in their own tents and share a communal kitchen and meeting space where they socialize and organize their work schedules.  True Nature is populated by foreign born workers and I counted Israelis and, I believe, French among the accents I heard.

At the end of their season on the farm, these young workers will get the chance to go through a PDC or Permaculture Design Course, which is kind of the basic Jedi training for permaculture practitioners.  Successful completion of the PDC gives the first recognized level of accomplishment and getting it is a near-term goal these Interns are working toward.

 I had a rather long conversation with a young woman--hi, Angela!--who had left an established career in the hotel industry when she woke up to find her soul was being sucked out by her work.  After selling off the accoutrements of her past life, she wandered around and found her way to True Nature Farms where she was finishing her internship.  The next phase of her life after True Nature isn't quite clear to her now, but she impressed me with the development of her deeper principles and of her commitment to developing a Self that will contribute great things to the planet.  Whenever I encounter a person like Angela, it makes me wish I had had the kind of questing and yearning she has when I was her age.  I don't kid myself that her path is easy or that she is due for some profound enlightenment.  My experience is that it doesn't work that way.  Still, I wish there were something I could offer her that was more than best wishes on her journey.  I asked her to keep me up to date on her life because like a great story, I am deeply interested to know how it turns out!

This morning we woke to a pleasant rain--the first rain to speak of on this trip.  After a quick good-by we cast off and ran the Land Whale up through the Dixie National Forest.  We climbed to 9600 feet and saw some awe-inspriring scenery.  We sailed on up I-15 to visit Paul's friend, Andrew. We are back in the land of multiple lanes of traffic, but like the horse who knows it's headed to the barn, I can tell that I-15 connects me to Montana.  I am eager to get home.

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