I started reading Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” the other day — and put it down almost immediately.

I felt guilty.

She had decided she wanted to produce the bulk of the food her family consumed. A worthy goal, and one I wished I could also achieve. So I felt badly that I had not, and it took me time to get over that to the point where I could enjoy her wit and achievement.

She had left Tuscon and moved to the Appalachians in part because you can’t farm in the desert. Or not ethically if there are millions of other humans all around and you need to import water.

My family used to own a farm in the Appalachians. But we didn’t work it, oh no, not us. We had people to do that for us. We sat on the porch and watched others. And we sold the farmland in the depression. We still own half a mountain, beautifully wooded, but steep, and well drained. Our water comes from a spring behind the house. I have tried to dam some of the overflow of the spring, but the soil is too sandy, the water just vanishes.

I have my doubts that any of the hillside could be cleared and farmed; too dry I suspect. Nor do I think I should destroy the forest.

And we have sold off all the bottom land.

My great-grandfather did have his minions clear the hillside below the house, and we have tried planting fruit trees there. They tend to die. Our one success has been the blueberry bushes, which are currently producing a gallon of berries a day (so my mother tells me).

Here in Santa Barbara I feel as Kingsolver did in Tuscon. SB can probably support a few thousand people with the local water. But for me to steal water from over the mountains so I can grow my own melons seems wrong.

No, I would have to move too.

I did once try to “farm” one of those little public garden thingies, and made a total mess of it. About the only success I had was growing sorrel. Now sorrel is a splendid herb, but there is a limit to the amount of it that a single person can eat (and that was before I was worried about what oxalic acid could do to my bones), and I had 6 magnificent sorrel plants producing and producing and producing.

Next time I need to think more carefully before I plant. I might have done better to plant chard.

Or perhaps I should have thought of it as an escargot farm — the snails certainly seemed to enjoy my plantings more than I did.

I’m not yet ready to leave SB to go somewhere that rain happens at any time of year. But I think I should. Soon. Oil prices will only get higher in the long run, growing my own food will become more important as time goes on…


One Response to “Food”

  1. Gary Says:

    George, I think I have a solution for you. SBCC’s sustainability program is having a series of evening lectures that speak to the issues you discuss. Specifically, Brad Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands will be speaking Friday September 12 from 7:30 – 9 PM in the BC Forum on the west campus. He lives in Tucson and has done some amazing things with little rainfall. I have his book and it’s full of great ideas. He will have his book there or you can get a copy at the SB Botanic Garden where my wife works. For more info on the SBCC program go to

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