Sunday, June 22, 2014

First Day of Summer

Summer Solstice Evening
When you live in a box, things warm up quickly. Right on time, the heat blasted me awake on the first day of summer. This year, I have taken to wearing only shorts and a sports bra while working on the farm, which sounds much sexier than the reality. 

Still, why be modest when there is nobody around? Time to go native. Whenever I start to use my turn signal - after decades of dutifully doing so - I laugh, knowing that nobody - and I mean NOBODY - is behind me to care enough about which direction I am going.

Things on my mind include the stagnated US hemp industry (thorn in my side), the local Farmers Market (which I now lead), my upcoming Smile Train fundraiser, glyphosate in our blood (active ingredient in RoundUp) and, oh yeah, my garden, my reason for being here.

Not hemp seeds, tomato
This week, I spoke with Rachel at North Dakota Department of Agriculture about obtaining a license to grow hemp. She told me that getting a state license is one thing - and fairly simple - but you have to get approval from the DEA as well, and that is less likely. “There is currently 0% acreage of hemp being grown in the state at this time,” she said, with a sigh of frustration. 

Evidently, you can bring hemp seeds across the border from Canada but only to make oil or other products, not for planting. If you have seeds, you must provide a sterilization certificate to accompany them or you're in hot water.

The minimum amount of acreage for hemp production in North Dakota is 10 acres, quite do-able but still, I have questions:
  • How would you harvest? Are there hemp headers out there?
  • Who would you sell it to? Do we have industrial hemp production facilities here? 
  • How much would a bushel sell for? What is the market rate? 
  • I'm told Kentucky farms grow hemp like crazy but I wonder, what do they do with it? 
Bugged Rep. Massie about it on Twitter but got no response. (Also, have a friend in Kentucky who is going to make a call.) He is the lead sponsor of H.R. 525 and S.359, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 which would, "amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana, and for other purposes." 

This would clear the way for the US farmers to finally cut in to some of Canada's billion-dollar hemp industry pie. Money on the table, people!  


Had to cancel the Farmers’ Market debut last week due to rain, which we needed. I don’t have any produce yet to sell but baked goods ladies were going to come, plus somebody who makes homemade doggie biscuits. I was just going to play my ukulele and see if anyone had questions. Plus, I'm going to start taking orders for funky homemade ice cream because, well, why not?

Impending disaster
Also, I hired the beau to make me a wooden sandwich board sign. Unfortunately, I agreed to do the lettering which has proven disastrous. The black paint made the cardboard stencils stick to the wood. Brent lent me some brass stencils but in the meantime, I tried big, fat black Sharpies, which unfortunately, have produced similar results. Wish I was talented enough to just do it freehand. 


Prep for my annual Smile Train Comedy Improv fundraiser is chugging along. The festival is going to feature 40 performers at four different venues in Denver and Arvada, including the famous Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret in downtown Denver. Somewhere around this time, I also must attend a very important wedding in Denver and, if possible, my 30-year high school reunion in Long Beach. Great time for the beginning of harvest, no?

I fear it will involve planes, trains and automobiles and my already maxed credit card in various orders.


The super sharp Robin Talbott alerted me to the idea of glyphosate testing on Facebook the other day. DUH. Why didn’t I think of this before? 

Sprayer, in action
Glyphosate is an herbicide, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Seems like a no-brainer, except there are few tests available for the human body. How much of it sprayed in the field ends up in our cells? Turns out a test is difficult and expensive to obtain. A recent effort by Moms Across America was made and the results are being debated but I've contributed to this IndieGoGo campaign to get a nationwide testing effort going. 

As for glyphosate's effects on our systems, I do not trust Monsanto with their assurances of safety. They only point to the studies that they themselves commissioned and funded. (The same could be said about the Moms campaign, I suppose.) Color me officially suspicious, but I long for a un-biased third-party long-term study. Y'know, other than the one currently being done on our children...

As a rule, I hate needles but this is one little prick I would welcome.


Believe it or not, I am still planting in the garden. I KNOW, but I am feeling older and slower this year! Sometimes, I look at the size of the plot (approx. 50' x 100') and think, "What the hell? How am I supposed to do this by myself?"

However, everything long-term - melons, squash, popcorn - has long been in the ground. Everything going in now is fairly quick - lettuce, radish, spinach, flowers and herbs. 

Sadly, no hemp in the ground yet...SOMEDAY. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Bugs, Beauty and the Lessons of Now

I met this wee rooster on his fourth day.
At this exact annual moment, I always wonder what I am doing here. Doubt sneaks in to my brain like a thief trying to steal my vision, my resolve and any shreds of sanity laying about. Internal arguments ensue until physical exhaustion, social isolation and relentless bug trauma wear me down into a groove that I now know well.

More fun than the real thing.
Regarding insects, how is it that something so very miniscule can steal all the focus - can suddenly run your entire life? Oh, the invoked terror that comes with the high-tin buzz of one lone mosquito in a tiny RV bedroom! Or the slow realization that a wood tick is crawling somewhere it shouldn’t be, which is everywhere on my person. My now-robotic gesture of pinching, capturing and immediately drowning ticks is my only real form of defense. I once picked off two in the middle of a conference call without breaking my sentences. (I’m up to 5 today but my record is 8 in one day.) And don't even get me started on the gnats - loathsome bastards, every last one.

But when I come out on the other side of this dubious, buggy darkness, my eyes register the stunning beauty of the season.  I am surrounded by endless carpets of budding green fields, made orange every evening around 9:30 p.m. by a falling sun slowly diced even by a flat horizon. And though everyone here proclaims victory over dead dandelions, I find the sunny yellow dots endlessly charming. These prairie images leave me gobsmacked and my crush on North Dakota intensifies. Now, snug in the belly of the Mae Flower, I hear vigorous thunder from Canada.

Green and blue, everywhere.
As for the garden, between intermittent rain, bug swarms and an aching lower back, the planting isn’t happening over night. Like the real farmers around me, I often play the hurry-up-and-wait game, dependent on weather and soil conditions. But instead of an elaborate plan, like in previous years, I am going in relatively plan-less, with more focus on planting long-range crops first. Also, when my seeds were stolen last fall, it was a gut punch I hadn't let myself feel until recently. At the time I rationalized it – balance of the universe and such. “Bad things don’t happen to me that often,” I said bravely, “if this is my slice of Life Shit That Ain’t Fair, then I’ll take it.” I had successfully avoided my white hot rage, I dared think, but in reality, I'd only postponed it.

Just a few weeks ago, standing before a double rack of seeds at Echter's in Arvada, Colorado, I took a deep breath and began to peruse. I was exhausted, a bit hungover and emotionally detached; I just wanted to grab some seeds at random, then go. But the more seed names I recognized from my former stash, the tighter my lips and fists got. Clenching my teeth, the rage eeked out just a bit.

“Assholes,” I hissed. “JUNKIE FUCKERS!”

I had underestimated the emotional whack that loss delivered - it knocked the wind out of my agricultural sails. But I'm working to get it back. I bought a tobacco plant yesterday and the novelty of bringing back dried tobacco for smoking in LA tickles me to no end. Little tricks like this, y'see.

Brent, filling up the garden's water tank

Also, I'm now running the local Farmers Market, which is bizarre. The previous lead, my friend, Victoria, called me up over the winter with a request. "Please, please, PLEASE run it next year! You're much better than policing people than I am." A-hem. It's true that I lack that layer of Midwestern Nice that comes naturally to the locals, and I am not one to shy away from confrontation, but was I really the right person to take over?

Doesn't matter. It's already happening. Thankfully, we've got a Facebook group so communications are easy. I've already met with the Chamber of Commerce dude and we picked a more visible spot for it - no longer in the gorgeous City Park but right along Main Street. I've scheduled a vendor meeting, taken over the bank account and contracted my main squeeze to build me a sandwich board sign reading: "FARMERS MARKET OPEN TODAY" so wheels be turnin'.

I've never done any of this before but why let inexperience that get in the way of a juicy challenge? After all, isn't that why I've come here? To learn?

Ah, yes. Now I remember.....