I'm No Expert

Sunday threatened a storm, but didn't completely follow through. A drizzle here and there subsided in the late afternoon and early evening to reveal a split sky. You know, a split sky. When you look in one direction and the sun is especially bright - the way it shines brighter after rain has moved on - but if you are to turn your body directly around, in the other direction the sky is the darkest of dark greys. A good chunk of our crew spent some time in an orchard, picking Burgundy and Ginger Gold apples, beneath that split sky.

It would be a challenge for even the likes of Jim Cramer to deny calm's conquer in the orchard. The property is simply breathtaking. But then, for some, this orchard creates mass confusion, distaste, and is a huge turn off. I'm talking about Lepidopterans, of course. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, the number of Lepidopteran species (butterflies and moths) "is second to only the order Coleoptera, the beetles." But, very few of the nearly 155,000 species in this order find sanctuary at Wilson's. There is good and bad news behind that fact. But don't worry, the bad news is not insecticides. I suppose that's the good news.

Wilson's uses pheromone disruption as their pest management.  The synthetic pheromone is sprayed above crops or orchards that are susceptible to Lepidoptera pests. Specifically - in an apple orchard - the yields can easily fall victim to larvae that are born to moths and butterflies. The use of pheromone disruption is said to be safe for the environment, but establishments using it cannot be certified organic because the substance has not made it onto the USDA's National List of Allowed Substances (for organic growers). This is because in some places it has been petitioned for further long-term human effects testing (in these places, there were plans to overhead douse an entire city). But, that's not how we test our potentially harmful chemicals. We test them on animals. That was successfully petitioned as well.

So, here's how it works: these pheromone disruptors are synthetically engineered and sprayed into the air to put off males of the species in question. The males would usually be attracted to the sexual pheromones coming from their female counterparts and would be able to track the source, but the pheromone disruption method - or mating disruption - confuses them or makes it impossible for them to find the females. If they can't find the females, they can't mate. If they can't mate...you get it.

Of several ways to do this, the adaptation method of mating disruption employs overexposure to a particular scent making that scent undetectable after some time. Sort of like when you come home and think, "Oh, I forgot to clean out the litter-box. Good god." But then, before your guests arrive that evening, you've forgotten and since disgustingly grown accustomed to the smell and can't figure why everyone is making the it-smells-like-cat-shit face.

So, with this pest management, species are put out of their natural habitats but the insects are not directly murdered. We all know that if a decline in mating occurs, so will the same trend in a population. Is this method endangering or causing extinction of species? Is that a step we are willing to take as an alternative to other ecologically devastating chemicals? If we answer yes to that question, do we know the consequences of losing yet another species at the hands of our industry? If only we could just offer higher education for our female Lepidoptera. Surely that would lower their population.

As a plus, this method of pest eradication does not leave residue on the fruits. Nationwide, store bought apples were worst in The Environmental Working Group's report this year of fruits and vegetables with remaining pesticide residue (48 different pesticides were found on the apples in the study). No matter your opinion on pheromone disruption, Wilson's certainly has an advantage to the typical "bad" apples.

I'd be surprised to hear of any herbicides being used at Wilson's because the plant diversity was quite apparent. But then again, I'm no expert. To help my case, here are some tiny wild flowers I spotted after picking my first apple.


Gypsy Feet

Today's much needed rainstorm made its appearance early in the day. As it rolled out, and the sun lit up the still wet streets and garden, Sassy cat couldn't help but roam the house looking for the best view of the outdoors.

If you've never met Sassy, you are surely fooled by how serene she appears to be here, pictured above. She's sweet but also very temperamental. Lady - a 40 lb. Chocolate Lab - actually finds alternate routes while walking about the house just to avoid the unprovoked wrath of this fussy feline. If the door is open and you aren't watching closely, she'll be out in a flash. Sassy has the gypsy feet; always wanting to see what's behind the next door. But - no matter how much she'd like to think so - not all cats are made for the outdoors.

If Sassy is ever to escape she jets (in her fastest fat-cat gallop) directly into the moderately traveled street, topples over, and then begins to roll around. The events to follow never fail:
  1. The Blame: "Why did you let her out?"
  2. The Defense: "It was an accident!"
  3. The Chase: "Here Sassy. Here kitty-kitty."
  4. The Capture: "Sassy, you can't lay in the street. You were almost hit by a car. Have you never heard of Darwin, cat?"
  5. The Denial: "Hissss."
Poor Sassy. She comes by it honestly - being raised by me, another sassafras with an intrinsic longing to see as much of the world as possible.

Tomorrow marks 2 weeks until my departure. Traveling to visit hosts associated with the WWOOF organization, I will be living and working in 3 countries over the next 3 months. For my work with various sustainable endeavors, my food and lodging will be reciprocated. I couldn't be more excited. Here's where I'll be:
HOP EN GRUT farm in The Netherlands

The work is mainly in the garden. Keeping it clean, harvesting fruit and vegetables and seeds. And we like it a lot when wwoofers help out in the household etc.

-greetz arthur and benedetta

Les Jardin d'Elise in France

You will participate in the dynamics of the daily work of our gardening  (planting, transplanting, maintenance, harvest, put in the basket and distribution AMAP) and our orchards maintained by our eight geese and our ten hens (size, crop, compote, jams and apple juice, according to the season). A real life of peasants softened by the "hum" of our four cats!

-Elise et Sam

Cascina Ca'Rossa in Italy

There will be a lot of work to retrieve an old plantation of hazelnut and an old abandoned vineyard. We will work in the forest to make firewood and poles for the vines, there will be a lot of work for sustainable renovation of an old house (it will also become the home of WWOOFers) and then we will be working in the garden.
-Pino (Giuseppe)

So long as my gypsy feet don't guide me into the middle of busy European roads to roll around - as Sassy's might guide her on such an adventure - I'll be home in December. This cat is made for the outdoors. 



Unseasonably pleasant weather this morning gave way to the creation of a very, very messy counter top this evening. The beautiful day carried me downtown and after 2 hours I carried back bags full of fresh rosemary, yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes, kale, a spaghetti squash, my favorite salsa, goat cheese from the happiest free range goats (and goat owners) I know, gladiolas, and 3 small magnets. As I fumbled through crowds of local supporters, I overheard an announcer from a mobile radio station being broadcast at the corner of 3rd ave and 2nd st. The voice reported a record number of vendors at today's farmers' market. An extra block was even dedicated to the market today -- very exciting.

With foreshadowing, we were warned of this handsome market growth. Updated numbers coming from the USDA earlier this month recorded over 7,000 new farmer's markets opening all around the country so far this year (a 17% increase since 2010). CR was not represented in that figure as we haven't had an increase in the number of markets held. But - even better - we have had an astonishing and optimistic ~66% increase in market visitors. That's right, folks. Just about 15,000 patrons (up from 9,000 in 2010) have been accounted for at each market this year.

Are they bored? Just curious? Did some talk about ethical eating and obesity rates and the end of the world finally sink in? Does it matter? If not for anything else, and for whatever the reason, I am proud of Cedar Rapidians for getting out in loyalty to our extraordinary farmers' market disguised as a giant street carnival.

No word yet on the rise in dog attendance, but I know one very special pup who made an appearance at her first CR farmers' market today. The heartland's most beloved dog will dream of this day - the day at least 15 strangers pet her, she watched a juggler, listened to a band, chose/stole her own toy from a sale bin, and ate some bread that someone dropped in the street - for a long, long time.



With certainty of heat settling in the afternoon, Lady (loyal pup and pal), inspired me to enjoy some time in the yard Wednesday morning. Bearable humidity offered her chance for play in the grass as I filled my garden basket with cherry, roma, and big boy tomatoes. Like sweet babies I conceived (planted), bore and birthed (watered and weeded), and carefully guided to maturity (time for picking) - the tomatoes pictured below were ready to leave the nest; to fulfill their life's destiny (to be eaten fresh or canned and stored in my basement until winter). Success. Being parent to a garden rather than to children is much easier. And tastier. Aside from consumption, a perk of "garden babies" over real ones? I entered into garden parenthood with book-know but no real experience -- and it shows -- but next year I get to start all over.

A few years ago I went camping with a group of folks who constantly struggled to keep conversation flowing and with whom I had nearly nothing in common. Christ, were they boring. As an aid, my used copy of Book of Questions: A Conversation Starter accompanied us on the trip. Around the campfire we passed the book around, asking and answering questions for entertainment. Someone read a question along these lines:
If you could, would you want to be able to predetermine the characteristics, interests, talents, education, career, etc. of your unborn child?
As my fellow campers quietly answered, one at a time, in an orderly, clock wise fashion (I love that my good friends never play games like this -- we all yell and answer over each other in the most annoying yet delightful way) they said ridiculous things like "Oh, yes. Profession? Um...a doctor or a lawyer." Or, "Sure. I'd predetermine they had good style." Ugh. Here are some of the private thoughts I can remember having in that moment...

  • What would I predetermine for my unborn child? Uh, that it be born to different parents.
  • Hmm? Profession? Just not a lawyer.
  • These born-again bores are all saying "yes" to this question??! Oh, yes, of course, because this scenario would be possible only with faith, not science. (Is sarcasm legible in blog-thought form?)
  • So, there are or are not smores?
  • Eew. Bug.
  • If I ever had a kid (IF!), I would just want them to be happy. Whatever was right for them would be right for me. If I could predetermine a true sense of self or simple but genuine contentment for life -- sure, why not...

Yes, the voice in my head is a rude but witty, sappy and selfish, judgy atheist. We're working on it.

So, in the end, there were smores, I stopped spending time with those folks, I kept the book but still find that question (and many others) to be irritating, and I still don't want kids. But my garden? Well...I am its mother. I will continue to predetermine the characteristics of the plant children born in my yard by predetermining what I plant. Each year I will be able to predetermine characteristics of my unborn plants based on the good or bad characteristics I chose the year prior. I get to start all over. Next year? I'll plant non-hybrid tomatoes. Like these. That's right, I just surf the internet to find what I want my new kids to look and taste like. Ah, parenthood.