Field Notes From The Farm
This edition of the 'Field Notes' will mark a departure from previous issues. I have been experiencing health problems and have been in and out of the hospital several times trying to stabilize my system and obtain a diagnosis. The diagnosis is finally in: it is Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph glands, Stage III. It is not a death sentence; it has one of highest rates of recovery. The treatment will consist of six months of chemotherapy, but no radiation. My oncologist is Dr. Timothy Lopez at the Cancer Institute of New Mexico in Santa Fe and my personal physician is Dr. Russ Canfield who specializes in integrative, holistic medicine. Dr. Canfield practices in Santa Fe under the name 360 Medicine.
Enough of the details and background, 'Field Notes' is about farming. The direct impact in the near term is that I cannot predict my energy level because of the chemo and therefore cannot call ahead and take market orders. We have cancelled our winter production and will not plant a summer crop. Our neighbors are benefiting (as well as their chickens) from the free produce being sent out into the community. If any of you are out this way in the next month, please stop by for a visit and some free certified, organic produce. Please call ahead at 575-427-0032 to set it up.
We will maintain our organic certification so that our Fall crop will come to market with the assurance you have come to expect of us quality wise. Meantime on the farm, we will grow a few things in the greenhouse for our personal use and trialing some new varieties for next year. We will plant the 1000 trees and shrubs in the hedgerows to support biodiversity on the farm. Other farm projects: roads, irrigation, fencing, utilities will all proceed, but at a much slower pace.
I have enjoyed remarkably good health all my life so the cancer diagnosis came as a shock to me. I saw myself as the energizer bunny who could just keep going and going. Having lived in California for many years, we lived through several major earthquakes. The destruction was horrific, with buildings and freeway overpasses collapsing and crushing people. It made you wonder about the stability of the external world. But I never questioned the stability of my internal world. The cancer diagnosis was an internal earthquake. It shook my interior world. The scales fell from my eyes and I came to my own horrific understanding that I am not invincible.
I want to share with you what my overall perspective and orientation will be in writing the Field Notes in the coming months. My attitudes first. I do not see myself as being plagued by a guilty conscience for either sins of commission or sins of omission. I do not see myself as a victim of the industrial/military complex where I wait for government to come to my aid and comfort. What I do choose to do, is to view myself as a member of a complex, industrial society where we all suffer from its toxic fallout. We can do many things to protect ourselves. There are different pathways open; there are choices that can be made; there are real options that make a real difference. I welcome you to explore some of these pathways with me. As we explore these issues, I would appreciate your comments and ideas. I would like the 'Field Notes' to become more interactive. The overall focus will remain on farming, sustainability, and choices each of us can make in seeking out an organically based, healthier lifestyle.
When we mention living in a complex, industrial society we are also saying we live in a sophisticated, urbane world of incredible technology, beauty and awe-inspiring advances in science. The underworld of this industrial society, as it is structured at the present time, is that it is systematically polluting our environment, destroying the web of life that sustains us and loading our bodies with toxic chemicals that are destroying our vitality as a people. They do not have to go hand in hand. We need to understand these complex systems and learn to separate the good from the bad. We need to learn to make decisions for life and health. We can no longer allow to go unchallenged decisions made in distant boardrooms or government bureaucracies. We must educate ourselves and take action. I am not talking about political action. I am talking about making changes to protect ourselves and our loved ones, personal actions that reverberate in our local community.
Complex systems, whether they be our own bodies, biological ecosystems, regional economies, nation states or full blown empires all have their limits. When the limit is exceeded, the complex system collapses, usually very suddenly. This threshold or limit cannot be easily repaired. The old paradigm is often replaced with a new paradigm, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. If restoration is the goal, it requires energy inputs greater than the inputs that upset the balance in the first place. Looking at my personal history (I was born in 1936), during my early developmental stage when the human body is most susceptible to toxic poisons, there just were not the industrial pollutants around that we bathe our children in today. Over the span of the ensuing years, my body has sustained many environmental insults (including smoking for many years) that have accumulated in my body until I hit my genetic threshold. I now have the industrial disease called cancer.
If you think you can escape to a pristine corner of the world, forget it. They have found PCBs in polar bears in the high Arctic. Dr. Sherry Rogers, in her December, 2006 issue of Total Wellnessphthalalates (plasticizers), fire retardants, volatile organic compounds, Teflon, PCBs, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and a whole host of other nasties. Many of these are in our everyday environment as well as our food.
An article in this month's issue of Organic Processing, citing research published in Europe, explains part of the reason for the collapse of our honeybee population. In the early morning, you will see "dew drops" on the tips of leaves and honeybees sipping this water. This is actually water of guttation from inside the plant itself and it carries with it the chemicals from inside the plant. If the plant has been treated with atrazine, (a powerful member of nicotinyl family of pesticides: imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and acetamiprid), a few sips as low as 20 parts per billion are lethal for honeybees. By contrast, the use of atrazine has been banned in Europe, but because of the industrial agriculture lobby atrazine is still allowed by the EPA and 77,000,000 pounds are applied to our crops every year. Atrazine is applied to corn, soybeans and our other industrial crops and ends up in our food supply, in our soils, in our waters and our wildlife habitats.
It will not be an easy fix. As illustration, an example of the law of unintended consequences. The Winter 2010 issue of the OMRI Materials Review decertified several industrial organic composters in California because of residues of DDE that is a toxic breakdown product of DDT. Rachael Carson's 1962 seminal book, Silent Spring, alerted us to dangers of DDT and started the environmental movement. One of the mantras of the environmental movement was to recycle. California passed legislation requiring municipalities to recycle a minimum of 20% of their green garden waste. The recycled garden waste was composted under organic guidelines and sold to industrial organic farms to meet their organic program requirements. The green garden waste contained toxic residues that are 40 to 50 years old. What is the depth and breath of our toxic legacy that we have to work our way through? The intent of the legislation was well meaning, but I am reminded of the computer adage "garbage in, garbage out", but this time it translates into "toxic in, toxic out". This example illustrates the difficulty of the organic certification process. This time the process worked. Next time? There is real value in knowing your farmer and what he or she actually does to bring you healthy, certified, organic food.
As word has started to spread around about my cancer, I have been overwhelmed by the support of family and friends, their kindnesses and prayers. I want to thank you all. I am viewing this cancer as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being. Being a Sagittarian, I take the big picture approach to things, but with my Moon in Virgo, I can bore in on the details and sort out the nuts and bolts of things. In reaching out to all of you, it is my fervent hope that we can enter a dialog about our world and the place of organic farming being a major part of the solution for many of our complex society's ills.
David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico
If we heal the land,
The land will heal us.
[While I don't regularly give updates when posting these historical Field Notes, I am happy and relieved to report that my dad has completed his chemotherapy treatments and his cancer appears to be in full remission. He now, of course, has to recover from the chemotherapy itself. If only he could heed his doctor's advice to take it easy rather than putting in long days on the farm.]