grass finished beef, Colorado, sustainable farming, sustainable ranching, pasture pork, pasture lamb

Solstice Newsletter 2018

December 22, 2017

As I embark upon this Last Annual Kretsinger Holiday Letter I admit to being creaky lately after years of assault by the big boys on Good Food.  Incoming missiles just keep coming. 

        Most recent was the ruling by the National Organic Standards Board to allow hydroponically grown produce in organic certification.   While there were questions about whether growing things without soil is actually an organic process, the mother lode of opposition was with regard to the process by which the decision was made.  Many of those who opposed it were pioneers of the organic industry, who have witnessed the growing trend to serve the interests of agribusiness behemoths, for example, the world’s largest conventional berry producer that was involved in making this decision.  (For more info., go to organicconsumers.org.)
        It seems the consumer gets lost in the shuffle.  They don’t feel they can trust labels – any label.  And they’re right.  They care about the environment, care about their health, but they don’t know what to believe.  It’s a mess.  I get so emotionally stove up over it, I was even in a quandary about how to observe the Solar Eclipse, as if this most immutable phenomenon could be Disney-fied. 
                                                                                      
John and I settled on observing the Eclipse according to the Diné tradition, which follows the patterns of livestock, who settled under shade, without eating or sleeping during such celestial events.  It is considered a moment for self-reflection, during this sacred communication between sun and moon, an opportunity to show our respect and gratitude to Nature.             


Cathy O’Neill and her nieces in the hoop house nee wedding chapel, where Cathy and Patrick were married in 2014. It’s still full of love. 


 Zen Rose, still the radish maven

     We made a date to meet that Monday morning in our hoop house garden, a meditation of earthy aroma, flowering goodness, warmth, and the zany bombast taking place beneath our feet in the soil.  The hoop house is an unheated greenhouse that extends our growing season by about two-three months on either end.  As I write this in mid-December, we are eating our last salad, as opposed to early October. The hoop house also protects against wind and creates an environment that even TOMATOES like in our climate, granted they are Siberian varieties that actually RIPEN in our short, high altitude growing season.  My intention in the hoop house this season was to grow things that did not usually do well here - tomatoes, okra, eggplant, and peppers - and to produce all the things I like to put in stock – celery, parsley, leeks, carrots, fennel, cilantro, onions.  They all did great, along with a nice variety of vegetables and a small assortment of dried beans – the prolific Colorado River, Holstein (black and white), and the dramatic tiger’s eye.  I planted them with Mexican corn, so there were only two of the three traditional sisters, since squash would take up too much room.  The corn reached the ceiling, with stalks the size of small trees, which bean vines wrapped around. 

        The day of the Eclipse, inside this magical place, as we felt encroaching mystery, the world seemed suddenly very, very still.  Birds quit chirping, bugs quit buzzing.  Darkness set in, in the middle of the day.  It was so amazing to be able to stop, absolutely stop motion and take in this miracle. 
        As the quietude subsided, we began talking and wondered what it would be like to live like this all the time, to just step out of the hullabaloo of doing business.  Even though they might trip right on past it, most people at least consider the notion of retirement as they age.  But, John, who was ten days from turning eighty at the time of the eclipse couldn’t imagine it.  “What would I do?  I’ve been working since I was three, milking cows.  Then, picking cotton, pecans, baling hay, threshing peanuts, wheat harvest, the oil field. 
Hell, washing dishes...  ”     
The list of the Colonel’s employment can take a while.  “You could do anything,” I cut him off.  “What if we just went somewhere?” 
                                                                                          

     One day in early December, out of the blue, a glimmer in his eye, John said, “Let’s go poke around the grasslands.  Just see what we can see.”  He was giggly with the prospect of it.   We’d been reading about the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.  He wanted to see that country and pay homage to the Soil Conservation Service’s recovery efforts.  The SCS later became the Natural Resources Conservation Service that has done substantial work to help people help the Earth, such as participating in a cost share to build our hoop house.
       Thankfully, we found some reliable babysitters for our life, and set forth, the opposite of the exodus of farmers fleeing the ruinous dirt laden winds in the 1930’s.  For us, there was no necessity, just whim.  We had no mattress strapped to the roof of our car, no cookware or coffee pot hanging off the side rail of our flatbed. We were headed into the Dust Bowl, to see what you can’t really see from Interstates, or from a Google search on the computer. 
        We decided to take a day, then two, then three, our travel time easily extended by any suggestion of a roadside attraction. We stopped at every little thing we wanted to investigate, sniffing a track.  We traveled roads through places we’d read about for years, but never been to.  We even traveled roads we’d read about, namely the Santa Fe Trail and Route 66.  And we traveled roads that supposedly didn’t exist, especially since our maps lacked detail and our GPS was a city girl.  Once off the craggy path of the old Santa Fe Trail, we got blissfully lost, entranced by geological formations of fiery red earth. 
        Past south eastern Colorado, across the north east tip of New Mexico, we stepped onto the Oklahoma panhandle, No Man’s Land, the path of the most devastating manmade environmental cataclysm in history, though according to experts, we are still experiencing alarming rates of top soil loss, largely because of our farming and ranching practices.  We wanted to see what was happening from the ground up.  What was being done to prevent another such catastrophe?   


Better than a pot of gold

Bothe staining our new porch

With the Black Mesa behind us, the land opened up onto subtle hills covered in the lush, diverse vegetation of the National Grasslands.  We were relieved to see the diversity of grasses, but there was no evidence of grazing, which, if properly managed, would be mean more resilient stands.  Going east, the land further flattened onto cropland, a center pivot here and there, with groves of trees mostly about the Colonel’s age.  The crop lands we saw are still heavily plowed and planted in monocultures of sorghum, wheat, and cotton, but the fields did have residual stubble to help prevent wind erosion.  Most notably, there was very little bare ground.  
        Grasses, trees, land terracing and revised tillage practices were all brought to the devastated southern plains in the 1930’s by the Soil Conservation Service, put in place by the labor force of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Not only did the programs help break the pattern of the Dust Bowl, the gainful employment and job training of millions of Americans helped turn the economic devastation of the Great Depression.  Aside from field work, youth and adult crews of the WPA and CCC built infrastructure across the country - parks, bridges, roads, schools and other public buildings.  They made films, posters, paintings, murals, wrote books, and plays.   Like the grasslands, the structures still stand, beautiful, sound, and uniquely identifiable. 
        One such structure is the stunningly beautiful Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, on the west side of Denver.  John’s Uncle Jack Kretsinger was part of the CCC crew who built Red Rocks.  It was a grand adventure for a north Texas farm boy, and a way out of grim poverty back home.  These programs are proof that it is possible for our government to act responsibly and compassionately on behalf of its people in a way that builds the economy and the environment.
      


Wind energy and grass: hope on the Plains

Amazingly, the towns of the Dust Bowl still exist, some in better spirits than others.  We stopped in Boise City for lunch at the Bluebonnet Café.  The local food movement has yet to hit the southern plains.  And even though the raw materials came off a national food service truck, we enjoyed the iconic dishes of our cultural roots:  chicken fried steak, okra, and SWEET tea.  While we ate, we learned Boise City is poised on a bit of hope for the future. 
       “It’s pronounced ‘boys city’,” a fellow diner told us, “which means ‘wooded’ in French, and the developer who named it was th’owed in jail for misrepresentation. There wasn’t a tree in sight.  The other two developers died untimely deaths from tuberculosis.  What d’ya call that?  Karma?                                “Boise City’s just hanging on by a thread,” he said.  “It’s got about the same population now as it did in 1930.  But, it’s about to change.  We’re going to have the world’s largest wind farm. 1900 wind turbines.  3,000 jobs to build it.  Eighty jobs to keep it going. It will mean a lot to this town.”
        This makes so much sense on this windy plain.  And it’s great this community is about to hit a lick.
The Colonel and I had a grand time traveling together.  We decided we could happily do more of it.   Perhaps this is what happened to the Anasazi – one of the tribe just up and got wander lusted and she persuaded the others to hit the road.  I’d like to think that’s what happened.  I doubt the Colonel and I will just up and leave like that, but something’s going to change.  I don’t know what it will be, but it will be something.  I’ll let you know. 
        Have a Sweet Solstice.  Enjoy the dark.  Be kind to that septic and it will be kind to you. 


Photograph by Christi Bode

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