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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

Everything Old is New Again

One of my students, Hoà, recently discovered our mulberries. Apparently she also has them in her native Vietnam and was happy to have a familiar taste here in the US. She harvested the berries and made a delicious juice concentrate that she shared the next day. That pretty much started the craze. After lunch all the students wanted their own supply of mulberries. Most people see the trees as a messy nuisance but I remembered seeing some older Hmong ladies harvesting the trees in one of the parks in Madison. They laid down blankets and began hitting the trees with bats and rackets. I told the students about this so we thought we’d try it. Sure enough, this produced a torrential downpour of the berries. Between laughing fits and screams of joy we were able to gather almost a full 5 gallon bucket in a matter of minutes. After seeing this, Hoà commented it had taken her almost an hour to pick the small amount by hand.

This little exercise got me thinking; does all this “progress” really help us? Take farming for example. We spend years and millions of dollars to create new inventions that are supposed to help us when an old tobacco planter works perfectly, maybe with a few minor tweaks. We spend years in labs creating the perfect fertilizers and pesticides only to have Mother Nature create a stronger bug or fungus. Look at organic farming; the new craze. The truth is organic farming is the way it used to be. We haven’t found some new miracle. We are going back to what our grandparents and great-grandparents did every day.

I have to admit I do love my smart phone. Being able to be in the field and look up a bug or a possible disease as I’m standing there is fantastic. But I do wonder every so often if it’s really necessary. I could walk inside and grab a book or even look it up on my old fashioned laptop, it just wouldn’t be as convenient. I worry that all this convenience and efficiency has enable us to live in some weird dimension of time. We’re not really in the present but we’re not yet in the future. Gautama Buddha said, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” I think I’m going to put that on my to-do list!