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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Roots (part 1 of 2)

Corne d

Since I can't buy my next system component until payday, and I can't submit my application for permit until Virginia posts the new forms, I'll defuse my frustration by writing about my agricultural roots. (A post on my fishing heritage will help defuse frustration later in the week).

The Mayflower

Turns out I descend from seven individuals who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620: Priscilla Mullins, her parents, John Alden, Richard Warren, Francis Cooke, and his son, John (who married Richard Warren's daughter, Sarah).

The Pilgrims weren't particularly famous for their agriculture, except for the big feast they had at the end of that first summer. Thanks for a bountiful harvest is sweeter when one has expended labor to create that harvest - a level of thanks most folks in America don't experience anymore.

Western Irrigation

Fast forward 200+ years, and my forebears found themselves in the barren deserts of the west. The joke goes that when the early Mormons first saw the desolate Salt Lake valley, they only stayed because they couldn't bear to repeat the trek it would take to get away.

Everyone farmed. The first two permanent settlements were name "Bountiful" and "Farmington." [My ancestors lived in Farmington.] And the only way farming could succeed in that desert was by careful, painstaking irrigation. Pumps, valves, flooding fields (growbeds) - all things common with aquaponics.

Fields of Alfalfa

My dad bought a 200+ acre farm as an engineering graduate student, before I started school. I remember the 30 milk cows, the shiny milk truck that took away the seeming ocean of fresh milk Dad and his hands collected before dark every morning. Mom once performed emergency surgery on a cow who was bloating from eating the neighbor's alfalfa - miraculously plunging her knife into just the spot that would relieve the deadly pressure in the cows gut. Probably stank. I'm guessing.

One day my aunt decided to give me a ride on a neighbor's horse. The horse was loose in that old alfalfa field, without bridle or saddle. My aunt hoisted me atop the hind quarters of the horse. Before I knew it, I was face down with a mouth full of water, mud, and alfalfa. My aunt said I performed the most amazing somersault as the horse bucked me...


I had known a neat girl in high school who was a vegetarian. And one day in college I happened across a can of vegetarian vegetable soup. Then and there I decided to be a vegetarian. This was shortly after the huge gas shortages of the 1970s, when school children were convinced fossil fuels would soon run out. We were all concerned about the future of our planet and trying to find ways to survive after fossil fuels failed (or in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, whichever happened first)...

Ten years later I was a single parent living in my mom's home. I decided to dig out my college-era books, to live my dreams of a green, self-sufficient life. Per the instructions in one text, I created gravel growbeds in dishpans, plumbed them, and dutifully irrigated my gravel--every day. Sometimes twice a day.

I didn't understand why my seeds barely sprouted. When we left town for a vacation, my Mom unplugged my grow lamp.

For some reason everything was dead when we returned a week later.

My family history doesn't make me a natural farmer. But working on this little aquaponics system reminds me of my ancestors, who were "green," because there was no other option.

Here's hoping the modern world of DVDs and the internet will help me succeed with aquaponics despite my youthful failures in by-the-[cheap]-book hydroponics....

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