Shop Damn It Shop & Mercurio's Menu

I’m intrigued by the serendipitous nature of how knowledge spreads and how this knowledge can then alter collective consciousness. Take this photo for example. I first saw it on Reuters then went looking for a bigger file that I could download. Found it on the Carfree Tokyo Blogspot where I also found a Warning to the World, and in particular Australia, to not follow Japan’s mistake of building useless infrastructure projects to “save the economy”.

I couldn’t read the bottom line of the poster until I found a close-up of it on Flickr

Still thinking about how knowledge spreads I thought back to friends talking to me about global warming in January 2006 and how that radically altered the direction of my life. For me, word of mouth had a huge impact. Recently I asked one of those friends what he read every day as his source of news. He said he always read Counterpunch, which I’d never heard of. I do, however, read The Independent nearly every day and, as I discovered, Alexander Cockburn, the editor of Counterpunch, is the brother of Patrick Cockburn who is the Middle East Correspondent for the Financial Times and The Independent.

In my websearching I discovered Alexander Cockburn’s piece on Why Indian farmers kill themselves

For hundreds of millions of poor Indians, the brave new world of the 90s meant globalization of prices, Indianization of incomes. “As we moved to fortify our welfare state for the wealthy, the state turned its back on the poor, investment in agriculture collapsed, and with it, countless millions of lives. As banks wound down rural credit while granting loans for buying Mercedes Benzes in the cities at the lowest imaginable interest rates, rural indebtedness soared. In the 90s, for the first time in independent India the Supreme Court pulled up several state governments over increasing hunger deaths. Welcome to the world so loved by the Friedmans – Thomas and Milton”.

From the mid-90s on, thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide, including over 5,000 in the single southern state of Andhra Pradesh. As employment crashed in the countryside to its lowest ever, distress migrations from the villages – to just about anywhere – increased in tens of millions.

Foodgrains available per Indian fell almost every year in the 90s and by 2002-03 was less than it had been at the time of the great Bengal famine of 1942-43. Even as the world hailed the Indian Tiger Economy, the country slipped to rank 127 (from 124) in the United Nations Human Development Index of 2003. It is better to be a poor person in Botswana, or even the occupied territories of Palestine, than one in India.

Through reading Cockburn’s piece I discovered the extraordinary photography …

and journalism of P. Sainath, who also wrote in December 2008, that since 1997 there have now been 182,936 farmer suicides (over 16,600 in 2007). Here is an excerpt from a much longer interview with Sainath – it’s his response to the question of whether small and medium farms are simply unviable in the global agricultural scenario.

PS: First off, I think they’re wrong to question viability in such simplistic terms. If you consciously develop something, and nurture it, then it becomes viable. What we have is a situation where agriculture in India is being made unviable by imposition. Is American agriculture really viable? You have a situation where cotton crop worth 3.9 billion dollars receives 4.7 billion in subsidies. The Europeans are throwing billions of euros worth of crops into the sea. Whose farming is really unviable? In reality, developed world farming is hugely wasteful, not to forget destructive of soils. And yet, the question is asked if Third World farming, especially small and medium farms, can last in the long run.

But let’s address the questions anyway. There are essentially two kinds of people who question the viability of small farms. The first are those who favour corporate farming, and argue in favour of scale, productivity, and so on. They look at agriculture from a ‘production’ or ‘output’ lens. The second group looks at livelihood issues, and asks whether agriculture can really support a lot of people’s jobs going forward. I think we should look at the two arguments separately.

The first kind of argument is plain crap, as I said. It privileges one kind of farming – corporatised production – and lavishes all kinds of goodies and state subsidies on this model, and then questions the viability of others. This is basically the American model. In the US, a 100-odd family farms are going bankrupt each week. Corporate farming, while it is huge, employs hardly anyone. There are 700,000 people employed in corporate agriculture, even their prisons hold three times as many people (2.1 million). So, basically there’s an effort to drive people out of agriculture. And in the Third World, this is projected as the way to go for us too. More corporatisation, and more chemicals. By buying this argument, we’re turning what has historically been a non-chemical farming culture into a chemical one.

The key thing here is choice. No one is interested in giving the farmers any choice. In Wardha, in Akola, input dealers are saying that unless farmers buy Hi-Feed (a new chemical) they will not supply them urea this year.

The really laughable thing is, it’s all offered as part of a ‘free market’. I don’t see how 4.7 billion dollars in subsidy can provide a free market of any kind for cotton. The US farm bill this year can be summarised in four words – more of the same. And the babalog who’ve learned their economics from Tom Friedman – not Milton Friedman, but Tom! – are telling us about free markets, and how subsidies like support prices should be abolished. They turn a blind eye to real subsidies, and want to cut ‘life support’ in the Third World.

There’s no such thing as a free market, and anyone who thinks we’re going to move agriculture towards a free market should have his brain examined. There’s not a single part of the planet where agriculture is not subsidised. So we should end the hypocrisy about subsidies, and begin to talk about who is receiving them, and who should. If corporations are given money as freebies, it’s called an ‘incentive’, and if farmers are given free power in India, that’s a subsidy! So what we’re doing, by giving money to Cargill or ADM or Monsanto is feeding Frankenstein’s grandmother! At least if individual farmers get subsidies, there are some direct social benefits. What’s the point of one more private jet to a corporate CEO?

The irony is that more and more people want clean food, not the chemical-contaminated, corporate-produced stuff. In 1984, when I first visited the US, there were only a few small farmers’ markets here and there. This year, there were markets that I found hard to enter, because they’re so crowded.

Sanaith has been described as having a passionate commitment as a journalist to restore the rural poor to India’s consciousness, moving the nation to action. This, I guess, is why it is so important to understand how knowledge spreads and how it can then change collective consciousness and move it to action… after all,  Australia is also a country where farmers have begun to suicide.

Television obviously also has a huge role to play in communicating ideas. This week the show Mercurio’s Menu came to the Mountains to film a programme on Slow Food. It will be interesting to see what ends up going to air because we talked about global warming, food miles, the need for biodiversity, breeding rare chickens, and unusual foods like yacon and pickerel rush:

This is a water plant – you can eat the young shoots and the purple flower spikes (which get much bigger as the plant matures) eventually turn into a grain, like puffed rice, that you can eat.

We also talked about weeds and why they are important for the garden as well as being an amazing and highly underestimated food source available to everyone. I was asked to make a weed pie, so I collected a range of weeds like chicory, dock and dandelion, and combined them with beetroot and broccoli greens, red mustard, kale, herbs like chives and garlic chives, mint, dill, parsley, sorrel and salad burnett and made a filo pie which I served with a garden salad and chilled peach soup:

To make the chilled peach soup you peel the peaches, stud each with a clove, just cover with water, add cinnamon sticks, lemon rind and sugar and boil briefly. Chill and blend and, if you like, add a bottle of sauternes! So refreshing.

Paul Mercurio then made a meal using all local produce. This inclued a frittata made with our Faverolles chicken eggs, purple congo potatoes (thanks Sue for giving me the original “seed”), red onion, spring onion and eschallots, dandelion leaves and kale. (It also had smoked trout and goat’s cheese … not from me)

With a bit of luck, the more people start growing their own food and cooking it, the more they’ll also appreciate farmers and what it takes to get food to the plate. And how hard it is to keep looking after a garden when it gets as hot as it’s been the last few days ….

In the last week I picked my pathetic little apricots (a worse crop even than last year … 1.4 spotty kilos off the Trevatt and only 200g off the Moore Park:

and my fabulous peaches … 3.7 kilos in the first year! I would probably have had another kilo of peaches if I’d picked them a week earlier before they started ripening rapidly in this heat and falling off the tree. As soon as they ripened the insects started to attack … stink beetles, ants and earwigs. Bird netting

can’t stop them.

Another dreadful problem at this time of year is mildew on the climbing peas

…. you can knock it back by spraying with a mixture of 1/2 water and 1/2 milk with a tablespoon of bicarb soda. You might need to repeat it.

But to celebrate more of the successes as well, in this heat my first chilli ripened:

and for the first time ever I’ve got fruit on my olive tree:

The Roman poet Horace claimed to have lived on olives and weeds: “As for me, olives, endives, and smooth mallows provide sustenance.”  Olives are a symbol of abundance, glory and peace – let’s hope this is an omen for 2009 ….

5 thoughts on “Shop Damn It Shop & Mercurio's Menu

  1. Lizzie Connor

    Well done, as usual – on the political as well as the food-gardening front. You’ve convinced me to try the pickerel rush (after a Google search to check its frost-hardiness). And I’m hoping I’ll get my first olives next year.
    I decided a few years ago that apricots and peaches are just too hard for a lazy gardener like me. But . . .
    Having polished off all my raspberries and gooseberries and about to finish my blueberries and loganberries, I’m looking forward to getting lots of ripe plums in the next few days – no pictures to show but I LOVE the look of their deep “blue” clusters amongst the leaves.

  2. Lis

    Oh you’re so lucky with the plums! The one tree that had any plums to speak of in my garden was snapped by a storm last month. Re peaches and apricots, I would probably say give apricots the miss up here but go with the peaches …the only problem has been the leaf curl which, fortunately, I kept under control by visiting the tree daily and plucking the affected leaves off. And, of course, I also netted the tree. Having said that, there’s a tree up near the pub covered in peaches and the birds haven’t touched them! Go figure.

  3. Tracy Dawson

    I’m so jealous of your peaches…I have 2 dwarf trees, yellow & white, and a nectarine and despite my repeated application of an organic fruit fly treatment (spinusoid?) fruit fly decimated the crop as usual. I picked nearly all the yellow peaches green and made chutney & jam, so not a complete waste, but I agree with Lizzie, a lot of hard work.
    Shouldn’t councils be encouraging residents to keep fly under control and reduce this problem??

  4. Tracy

    Hi Lis,
    I watched Mercurio’s Menu on Sunday and decided to check out your blog. It seems a bit ended up on the ‘cutting room floor’ after editing. I guess they don’t want to make too much of a statement on the show. It was lovely to see your garden. Good luck next season with the fruit trees.

  5. Greg Willson

    Enjoyed your segment. Really enjoy Paul too. He has a lovely way about him on camera. Having looked over your site I was hoping to glean more about your property, its structure, development, style of gardening [rotation, perma or astrological]and most of all why weeds are`important. regards Greg – Adelaide [where three heatwaves so far`this summer has also extracted a hefty toll on my garden].

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