Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bloom Chapter 10

     It's blogvel time again! I know; how can you get appropriately excited if you don't know what a blogvel is? In the best tradition of weekly serials, a blogvel is a traveling novel. Each Monday (I know it's Tuesday.) a different writer posts a chapter on their blog. This week it's my turn. If you want to catch up, and you should, you can find the first chapter here at the lovely Michelle Simkins blog. Start reading and follow the trail back. Last week's chapter is at the Inner Owlet (I love the name, too.) and next week's chapter will be at Tightie Writie. For now, here is my contribution to Bloom.

Chapter 10

     The jeep hit a pothole and Jessica groaned from the back seat. Her pain knifed through him. He was her big brother. He was supposed to look out for her. He’d thought when he left and hadn’t come back he done just that.

     He hated that she’d gotten mixed up in this – hated that he’d had to hurt her. But there hadn’t been another way. As much as he loved his plants, he didn’t want his little sister to become one. He could still smell the decaying flower smell, but it was fading. Nothing like cloyingly sweet scent that had poured from his sister’s cuts while he’d sliced through her skin and Wanda stabbed her.

     He glanced at the redhead driving the jeep. Her hands gripped the steering wheel and her lips crooked up in a cruel sneer. As an evil genius, he couldn’t help but appreciate her rocking the Rambo Barbie thing. As a big brother, it pissed him off. She’d been rough with Jessica – rougher than she needed to be. The hair pulling thing was definitely out of line. The jeep jolted again and Jessica whimpered.

     “Watch where you’re going.”

     Wanda turned her sneer on him and glared. “I am,” she said through gritted teeth. “It’s not my fault we’re driving on this crappy road, genius.”

     “You forgot the evil.”

     “No, I didn’t. After that scene back there, I didn’t think it applied.” She tossed her red ringlets and the hard angle of her jaw jutted out from between the curls.

     Ouch. “She’s my little sister. I didn’t want to hurt her.” He was evil. He’d made flesh eating plants for Pete’s sake. Tank and Velvet were probably still following behind them, massacring innocent bystanders along the way. God knew what terror the metal tree would wreck upon the townspeople. “I am too evil,” he murmured under his breath.

     She spared him an eye roll. “We’ll see. So what’s the plan, boy wonder?”

     One moment of compassion and he’d gone from sexy evil genius to Batman’s tight-wearing sidekick.

     "I’m not sure.” Her ‘I knew you weren’t evil’ snort made him cringe. “Magnets might work. There’s not a lot of steel in the plants’ molecular make up, but it might be enough to contain them, provided we can generate a large enough magnetic field.”

     “Where are we going to get enough magnets in this backwoods town?” Her obvious disbelief in his plan hurt. Man, give an evil genius a break.

     “We could get some copper wire and iron, but a battery strong enough to generate the electromagnetic charge we need to stop the plants would probably create too much heat.” He was going to string this out, remind her he knew what he was doing. “There might be a magnet at the dump. Even a town as small as this one needs to sort their recycling. We could use that to create a containment field.”

     “Why don’t we just use Roundup?”

     Horrified, he stared at her. Kill them?

     “No, no, no. I was kidding about the weed killer and the napalm. I can’t kill them.” He thought of the way Velvet’s leaves danced in the sunlight of how she’d teased him with her tendrils. “I don’t want to kill them.”

     “Jamie, they eat people.”

     “You don’t run around spraying living things with pesticide because they get hungry. Everything’s gotta eat something.”

     “Not something, genius.” She sure knew how to hurt a guy. “People. Your creations eat people and the can reproduce.”

     That was a problem. Growth, he’d counted on, but reproduction, that was an unintended side effect. Still, it hardly warranted murder.

     “We’re going to catch them and contain them. We’re not going to kill…”

     Wanda slammed on the brakes and the grab of the seatbelt cut off his breath and the last part of his sentence. A Cadillac, circa late twentieth century, sat across both lanes of the road. The doors hung open and the windows looked like they had been punched out. An aluminum walking cane poked out the driver’s side window and a crocheted shawl with bright yarn flowers was draped across the hood.

     Well, crap.

     In front of the car stood a tree, its leaves shimmering gold and iridescent green in the sunlight. Stooped bushes, tangled and gnarled like laurel, danced on either side of it, their flitting movements at odds with their bent shapes. Roots like spider legs scuttled across the rust-stained pavement.

     That explained it. Old people changed so fast, and it looked like they’d found something to eat. Jamie leaned forward to see why the plants were stopped in the middle of the road, but he could only catch glimpses between the shining leaves. He opened the door, reaching out to stop Wanda when she grabbed her door handle.

     “I’ll get a closer look. I am the evil genius.” He flashed her what he hoped was a sexy roguish grin. “Wait here.”

     “The hell I will.” She shoved the door open and got out, leaving him to scramble out after her.

     They were still too far away to see what was blocking the plants’ path and he didn’t want to risk getting closer. Creator or not, he didn’t like the looks of those bushes. He climbed onto the roof of the jeep, cringing a little as the metal dented under his feet. Wanda jumped lightly onto the hood, and he reached out to help her to the roof. Balancing on the roof rack, he stretched to peer around the flashing leaves.

     A black Hummer with tinted windows blocked the road in front of the plants. A figure, clad in black, stood, feet shoulder width apart, on the roof and pumped something. Jamie shaded his eyes, trying to get a better look. When the figure looked up, he heart took a roller coaster ride from elation to horror.

     Armed with an ordinary green and white handheld garden sprayer, his mother fought off his plants.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Which came first - the restaurant or the farm?

It's been so long since I blogged; it would be easy to assume I'd spent time in the pen because my pig didn't stay in his. Thankfully, that is not the case. After a terrifying appeal, all the charges were dropped. That is a story for another time, but it bears remarkable similarities to the recent Hatfields and McCoys movie. "Is the pig in the courtroom, today?" asked the judge. "No, sir." "Why not?" "He's done been et." My story is not quite that colorful, but it's damn close.

One of the coolest things I've done recently (and in the running for one of the coolest things ever) was to interview Dr. Steven Hopp for Lancaster Farming [LF A03 6/16/12.] Dr. Hopp owns the Harvest Table Farm and Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia. He is also married to Barbara Kingsolver who happens to be one of my favorite authors. Her characters in the Poisonwood Bible are so clearly drawn; you can turn to any page in the book and tell who is speaking - without gimmicks. Prodigal Summer, The Bean Trees and most recently The Lacuna are all fantastic. I could go on and on. If you haven't read her, you need to.

I rarely go to concerts and have never been a groupie for anyone. When I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, the book Kingsolver wrote with Hopp and their daughter Camille, however, and found out that she too lives in Virginia, I was tempted to start stalking farmers' markets, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Instead and because, pigs notwithstanding, I am a law abiding citizen, I did the next best thing and asked my editor if I could cover the Harvest Table Farm for the paper.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (AVM,) Kingsolver and Hopp documented a year of their family's attempt to source their food locally. It's a treat for anyone, but particularly for anyone living in the mid-Atlantic region where your seasons will mirror the family's. I revisit the book again and again and have read sections to my husband and squirming kids. The kids are pretty familiar with where their food comes from. We've done plenty of agritourism farm visits, we grow a decent sized garden, and they've eaten Daddy's venison, Mommy's Fat Boy and rooster enchiladas.

The parts of AVM I was most interested in reading to them were Hopp's essays on petroleum use in agriculture, GMO foods and artificially low food prices. Hopp makes very clear arguments about the amount of fossil fuel it takes to raise our food (about 400 gallons of oil per year per citizen) and the artificially low price of food ($725 per household per year to subsidize the use of fuel, etc. in agriculture.) Even better than his writings, he's put his time, money and energy where his intention is.

After the Kingsolver Hopp household figured out how to eat locally, Hopp pushed the idea to include a restaurant where the food, with very few exceptions, is sourced locally. The farm was a natural extension, allowing them to raise what the restaurant needs and extend the growing season on either end. Matt Sanders and a collection of the nicest, fresh-faced interns in the world run the farm. Sanders and chef Philip Newton talk every day, taking time in December to plan for what the restaurant will need throughout the year. It is a beautiful symbiotic relationship, and the food is fantastic.

I don't agree with Dr. Hopp about everything. I know my Dad's generation of agriculture believed their increased efficiencies would feed the world, and I've watched the pride in the small grain farmers' eyes when they accept trophies, worthy of any bowling league, for their yeilds per acre. Hopp would argue that the increase in yield is solely because of an increase in fiber in the plant and not an increase in nutritional value. I don't know if he's right, and we've certainly made interesting choices when it comes to how we raise corn that often don't relate to food for human consumption, at least not the way we were intended to consume it.

I do know, however, how important it is for dairy farmers to raise wholesome food for their families and their neighbors. I've sat through enough milk toasts to know there is no artifice involved, just lots of hard work and a surprising amount of attention. In 1944, there were about 25.5 million cows. By 2007, that number had dropped to 9.2 million. Milk production, however, increased over 258 percent. It takes 65 percent less water, 90 percent less land and generates 76 percent less manure to produce a gallon of milk than it did in 1944. It's not because of rBGH; dairy farmers have gotten much better at their jobs.

The world's population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. With organizations like the World Wildlife Federation stating we need to "freeze the footprint of food" to maintain the planet, those kind of efficiencies are going to become crucial.
I also know that without government safety nets, years like 2009 could turn herds of dairy cows built on generations of genetics into hamburger. That doesn't serve anyone. Subsidies aren't always evil and the Farm Bill doesn't only protect the big guys.
I have an enormous amount of respect for Dr. Hopp. I'm impressed with his commitment to put his muscle behind his mouth. It's obvious he believes in community, and he's worked hard to foster his. I'm grateful for the time that he spent talking with me. I'm also grateful to have made it through the actual interview without gushing about Barbara Kingsolver. Although when Hopp said Barbara told him to change clothes before he met with me, my heart did flutter a bit.
Thanks also to Matt Sanders for taking time to talk to me on market day. If I was 20 or 25 years younger, I'd intern at Harvest Table Farm. What a wonderful life enhancing / affirming way to spend a summer.
If you want to know more, check out the Harvest Table and Meadowview Farmers' Guild.