Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Star Trek Utopia (aka Three Little Yappers)

 Have you ever noticed that whenever the Star Trek Enterprise crew has an away mission to visit an advanced society, the inhabitants of that society frequently live a life of voluntary simplicity? There’s usually a weapon of mass destruction sealed away in a cave somewhere they’ve sworn never to use again, and the good, gentle people of that society quietly practice their arts, sciences and mathematics to the benefit of all their kind. You will notice as the Enterprise crew walks about the quiet but cheerful village, each modest but well-kept home boasts a small vegetable garden and a few clucking hens for fresh eggs.  Perhaps even a goat grazes the front yard of some of the homes. You do not hear the roar of planes, trains and automobiles and there’s no industrial pollution. There is no welfare, no poverty, no want and certainly not the clamor of ringtones or loud music booming from an open car window.

(Scree-e-e-e-e…!) That was the sound of a record needle across vinyl, if you’re old enough to remember what those were.

We moved from the heart of the city to what is loosely referred to as “the country” about 10 years ago. It isn’t REALLY the country, but it’s as close as we can get while we pay off old debt and become as self-sufficient as possible. We have 10 acres and an old house that was built in 1907 (and looks it!). It sports 2 WHOLE bedrooms, 1 bath and more repairs than we’re likely to get done in this lifetime.

I must admit I went into culture shock when we first got here. Or in retrospect, perhaps it was that I re-experienced culture for the first time since I was 18 and left the small town in Texas where I grew up. In any case, I began gardening because there was no decent supermarket produce to be had at that time out here in the boonies. I had spent the first 5 years of my marriage learning to cook and cook well, and with a variety of fresh foods shipped into the city from all over the world, and suddenly, I found myself staring down at a head of pale, sickly-looking iceberg lettuce wrapped in plastic as the only lettuce selection in the grocery.

One thing led to another and before I knew it, we had hens for eggs and we learned to butcher chickens for meat. We have not purchased an egg or chicken from the market for our table in over 8 years. The gardens have evolved from the simplest of things to grow (like black-eyed peas, summer squash and radishes) to a cornucopia of varieties that feeds us, our extended families and a few friends year round.

During that time, I have watched the United States that I grew up in awaken to a whole new reality – though certainly it was predictable on every level and at every turn: Terrorism, climate change, world overpopulation, a dwindling fossil fuel supply, a worthless health-care system, and now a recession that shows no real signs of improving for some time to come – if at all – in spite of what the “experts” are predicting.

It is time for us to embrace that Star Trek Utopia. And yet…

People resist it with every fiber of their being.

There is ONE thing almost every homeowner (and even some apartment dwellers) can do to TRULY make a difference in the world right now, and that is GROWING A PORTION OF YOUR OWN FOOD. If you are throwing money at “green” charities and businesses and hybrid automobiles while your food is being shipped from 1500 miles away, you are attempting to BUY a better world, NOT create one. I’m not saying that everyone has the space to grow food, but there are plenty of you out there that do.

The biggest problem with securing your own food supply (other than apathy and laziness) is your neighbors. For years now, I’ve listened on internet boards and groups to people complain about how they can’t garden or keep a few hens because it’s against city ordinance or the homeowners’ association’s policy. They spend $250K on a new McMansion with a 6’ wooden privacy fence, only to find out they aren’t allowed to actually do anything useful on their pricey plot of real estate even if they were so inclined. They attempt to plant edible landscaping only to be told such things aren’t sophisticated enough to be allowed in their gated communities. A few REALLY brave souls might attempt to keep a few meat rabbits or a couple of laying hens in their backyard – which gets them a visit from the city ordinance police AND the president of the homeowner’s association. If their neighbors had the good sense to actually OWN pitchforks and torches, I’m sure they’d show up wielding them!

There are many beautiful AND edible plants. And who’s business is it anyway what you do behind that 6 foot privacy fence?! Most people think that in order to have fresh eggs, one must keep a rooster. That is a myth. Hens will happily lay eggs without a rooster present. And no, hens are not completely quiet, but they don’t crow. They will recycle every last bit of food scrap from your kitchen and their favorite day of the week is the day you clean out the fridge! A few pens of rabbits will supply your family with meat and your garden with organic fertilizer.

Meanwhile, city ordinance allows homeowners to keep a maximum of (usually) 3 pets. My experience of living in the city was that this was usually in the form of 3 worthless (but cute!) little yappers that bark at their own shadows all night long. Your neighbors’ dogs can keep you awake all night, but they’re worried about a rooster?! And of course, if their dogs make it into your yard and kill your hens, it’s certainly not the dog-owner’s fault – you shouldn’t be allowed to keep livestock!

Now don’t get me wrong. I LOVE pets, and even the little yappers have their purpose. But this model is seriously flawed. If we are ever to progress to a more green and utopic society, we’ve got to get used to NOT sneering at people who want to raise some of their own food on their own land. Sadly, this attitude has spread beyond the city and I find it really sad when people live on large farms & ranches and eat not so much as a bean from their own property, much less any of the ornaments that are grazing in their pastures. I am sad to say that Texas is one of the biggest states in the nation full of farmers & ranchers who eat NOTHING from their own property & complain that they’re having a hard time “getting by”.

Unemployment is at an all-time high. Fuel is expensive and sometimes unaffordable. Food has never cost more due to rising fuel prices and climate changes in many parts of the country. We have become enslaved by our own spending practices and most of us now have little choice but to swallow the high cost of living just to keep making ends meet.

Growing at least some of your own food is one of the few things you still have the choice to do that will make a huge difference in your health and well-being, the good of the planet and will save you some money at the same time. Furthermore, you'll never need a gym membership when you're dedicated to using your own manual labor by eschewing IC engines and other labor-saving devices that run on fossil fuels while you do it. Isn't it time we stand up to the yard police and make our planet not only beautiful, but also sustainable?


say what? said...

Every Utopia works best if there are no humans. Humans as they have existed for the last 20, 30 thousand years. I don't see an evolutionary change on the horizon, one that changes Man into something else, but I've been wrong before.

Great first blog. I'm looking forward to more thoughts from "fly over country".

Diane said...

Most people won't accept change until it's forced upon them. And evolutionary change is a very, very slow process, millions of years in the making. But I'd like to believe you & I have evolved just a little in the last 9 years -- maybe there's hope for everyone else? :)