Farming Over the Edge



Fawning over the Gentle Miwok

By Steve Quirt


A reader of this newspaper commented that I drone on and on, in a sentimental cloud of naive admiration, about the “gentle Miwok” that die at age 37… The reader is correct in his criticism, and I thank him for pointing this out—I may have failed to get my point across clearly so let me explain with a minimum of droning on and on.


It’s not about the Miwok and other California Native American cultures specifically—it’s about their deeply rooted, productive and balanced culture of feeding themselves and keeping their environment clean. There are powerful lessons embedded in their extinct practices. Today, we are operating at the extreme opposite position in all aspects of this and it is a global condition.


“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture, you can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)” Mark Bittman NYT January 20, 2015


There is something happening here, but you don’t know what is, Do you Mr. Jones? (to quote Bob Dylan). Who controls what you eat? You could argue that most of our time is linked to efforts to secure food. Like the hunter gatherers, most folks work to “put food on the table”, or to “make ends meet”, or to “pay the bills.” This is where the majority of people are today—working all the time to just eat. The newest scary data says that 80 (eighty) people control 46% of the “wealth” of the world, which makes it harder for the rest of us to “buy” our food. Not everyone lives a Marin County lifestyle. The point Mark Bittman makes is that everything happening today, especially on the global scale, is founded on a harmful, or even suicidal system of greedy overproduction and control of our food by industrial finance moguls. How far from the around a planet does food need to travel to be eaten? These are burning issues, and it is getting harder and harder to ignore them.


I was once a graphic designer with a busy, successful studio. Sometimes we would get snarled up with a design project that wasn’t working. The more we tinkered with the design, trying to salvage it to justify the time already invested, the worse it got, the uglier it became. When this happened, we had a strategy of trashing the wasted hours of work, sacrificing conference and studio time to the design gods, and start over with the simplest design possible. Why work with broken tools and dirty windows? It always worked. The old had to be replaced with something new, clean, functional. The system that we live under today doesn’t work, and if you argue that it does, you haven’t done your research—or you are not living in the same world as billions of your brothers and sisters. We have a right to be concerned. We need to start with a new, fresh, morally upright design that feeds “need”, instead of serving “greed”. Sound idealist and frothy? Just try it.


To bring healthy, innocent (yes, this sounds dreamy and idealist) food from land to mouth in a practical fashion in an environmentally sound way is nearly impossible today. There is no economic gain in operating like this—the forces of greed and control make feeding mouths without the profit incentive impossible to do without confrontation with the entrenched, self-centered Establishment. Ask small farmers, those who have managed to survive, about their scramble to keep going off of something beside idealism and the desire to live a meaningful lifestyle. To play you need to pay.


Where are we headed when people are economically, politically and culturally cut off from the ability feed themselves on a local level? A few lucky ones from privileged backgrounds are able to do this, but visit a local food bank and talk to some of those folks. There are way more souls in line than souls doing fine, and this is the new reality.


The perennial, boring question remains, “What are we going to do about this?” This is worth a good long, think. How do we mesh this most basic of activities, from earth to plate, with the crazy world that we create and sustain? Is it even worth the time to consider? I mean really consider? The evidence is piling up, day by day. Watching polar ice caps melt into the oceans may be interesting to see on the science channel, and it’s fun to explore carbon credit trading, but the soft focus and the intellectual distance of these abstract efforts mask the deeper pain and fear of what we are doing to the planet and ourselves. This won’t last. Here is the question I ask myself about every action I perform, 24-7:

Does this act support my inner understanding of truth and fairness?


If it doesn’t, what am I going do about it?


If I resist, truly resist down to the roots of my belief, am I willing to act?


Most poignantly, am I willing to pay the price to stand up for my deepest conviction?


This kind of focused analysis automatically casts us into the deeper meanings of our choices. I think the Buddha would approve of this kind of introspection, this sharpened attention on what we are really doing with each action. Actions build on themselves and launch more actions thus perpetuating both thinking and action. Once again we hear the Buddha say,


1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a selfish thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.


2. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a selfless thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.


That is a pretty good argument for the power to change, for the power to act effectively to help change our collective direction. Think about it, and I promise, no more Miwok sentimentalism.