A Bit of OK

Choose a Word that You Like Best and Describe It in a 250 Word Essay

i choose ok
	(that’s 3)
none can beat this little paragon of utility
it means
bug off
very cool
without a doubt
i don’t think so
yes, let’s
we’d rather not
no way
	(that’s 40)
i have heard it, bundled with like and yeah,
	used as an entire medium of communication
i have heard it, abruptly,
	used to end any further attempts
it is english bushman
	or at least american bushman
it is like jazz
	fluctuating in meaning only by minute inflection
two syllables
two letters	
	four, if you’re sophisticated
	(that’s 100)
it bursts out of enthusiasm
	is drawn out of the depths of sorrow
	is a rallying point
	is a deep sigh
what it cannot express
	does not exist
		an entire universe
	encompassed in two consecutive sounds
and what else can express
	all with the same elan
equitable, always ready, concise
i say
	crown ok as the symbol of our society
	the official word
	the perfect sentiment
	the postmodern world
		the global economy
it’s all ok
what other word can describe us
how much
	smaller, faster, better
can you achieve
and yet
	such a simple device
why do we not honor 
	the human
	who first uttered this little gem
or did it fall from heaven
	like a blanket of manna
covering all our communicative needs
	with sacrosanct aplomb
i’m ok
you’re ok
he’s ok
life is ok
(and . . . 250) 

Now that I’ve made you smile (theoretically), I’d like to follow up on Friday Thoughts for last week with a few points on why you should do for yourself, particularly on food.

Most supermarket foods come from industrial scale agriculture which relies on huge inputs of fertilizers and poisons for life forms that we don’t want in our crop fields. This is true even if the food is organic — which merely means the chemicals used are not synthetic, not necessarily non-toxic or damaging in large scale application. This has many consequences for health and well-being for those who eat these foods and for all the things that come in contact with industrial farms. But I think the most critical problem is that conventional agriculture — remember, that which is focused on making a profit, not making food — is destroying our planet’s water systems.

It is draining aquifers worldwide. Large swaths of traditional grain belt farmland will not be viable in the very near future because all the groundwater will be pumped (or poisoned from the other big aquifer destroyer, fracking). The Ogallala Aquifer will be 70% depleted (that is, difficult to pump anything) within 50 years. This is the only dependable water source for the entire mid-section of the United States — from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, not coincidentally the place where most of the world’s grain is grown.

Conventional agriculture produces runoff that is creating dead zones covering 6000-7000 square miles (that is, as big as the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined) around the Mississippi delta and extending into the Gulf of Mexico. This is the biggest anoxic area of many worldwide. Lake Erie, for example, is so full of phosphate run-off that its waters are a poisonous green from algal blooms — which, in addition to being toxic to ingest to be in skin contact, are also giving off a stench that makes being down-wind from the lake unbearable in summer. The last time water chemistry was this disrupted in this short a time span, more than 80% of all lifeforms on this planet went extinct. There is no reason to expect that humans will be in the 20% given that those creatures tended to be microbes and very simple animals.

Conventional agriculture is also destroying soil structure which is bad enough in and of itself. Soil is the source of all nutrients for all life forms, beginning with the plants that grow in it. But soil degradation also affects water cycling. First, there is compaction and exposure, mechanical destruction, that does not allow water to penetrate the surface, creating chemical-laden run-off and eroding topsoil. Then there is the loss of subsoil life that is a direct result of the chemicals placed on the surface. These life forms not only feed the plants (which begs the question of fertilizer…) but they create the soil structure that retains water both in their bodies and in the subsoil pore spaces they create. Soil life is a living sponge. Soil without living creatures is desiccated and dead.

So protecting our Earth’s water systems is a big reason we all need to stop shopping at the supermarket and take on growing things locally, at smaller scale distributed over many more farms, and largely without profit motive. We need to be growing food, not wealth. 

And for the record, there is no wealth without food. And water.

Another reason we need to start growing locally is that what we are growing now — and in particular where we are growing it now — will not be viable in a warming world. We need to relocalize our foods to be adapted to local growing conditions if we want food security.

We don’t know if wheat, barley, or oats will grow in a 2°C warmer world. Germination temperatures of existing strains suggest that they will not. We need local-adapted strains, those that can germinate at higher temperatures and those that can grow in the low light levels of high latitude winter. We also need to wean much of the world off these cold-adapted grains. People who live in warm regions will need to produce other carbohydrate foods, probably more taro and other starchy root crops than seed-bearing grasses. Which also need more water to grow than the same calories from root crops.

Climate warming will also increase evaporation and run-off. More water falls in fewer but larger storms, usually in liquid form. So much less penetrates the soil surface. And any surface water that is not moving fast will be sucked back into the atmosphere in warm weather. This will affect all our crops, but one in particular will be difficult to grow — maize (what Americans call corn). The few strains we grow now are all high water users. Not only that but there is a very narrow range of water tolerance. There must be about 4” of precipitation a month that reaches the roots of the plants. (So big storms that leave nothing behind are useless.) But soil can’t be saturated, there can’t be standing water, for more than a few days before tassel-development (the generative organs for corn) is inhibited. Combine this with the pervasiveness of corn grown in the world, largely driven by the biotech companies that sell patented seeds, and you quickly get a sense of impending doom. The world depends on this one very temperamental crop that probably is not going to grow within our lifetime. We need to develop foods that grow in whatever water conditions we inhabit.

Finally, warming is, well, warming. And we have many food plants that require cool temperatures. There are the grains that won’t germinate — though these are at least easy to shift to cooler regions as the planet warms because grains are generally annual plants. However, many of our fruit trees also require cool temperatures. They need a certain number of hours below 40°F and preferably below freezing. These chill hours are required to set buds. There will be no fruit if the tree does not count the proper rest hours. (Somewhat like you don’t stand much of a chance of reproduction if you don’t sleep, though it’s more complicated than that for the fruit trees.) There will be no apples in a 2° warmer world unless we are actively developing warm-adapted strains and planting them now. Yesterday actually. Because it takes a decade or more for trees to bear fruit after planting. Moreover, we need to be planting ahead of the cold line. That is, we need to plant trees in places where it is currently too cold for them to thrive and set fruit. By the time the trees are mature enough to bear fruit the warm temperatures will have shifted. 

Incidentally, this is an excellent business opportunity, and not only for fruits that currently grow in the mid-latitudes. It will soon be warm enough to grow coffee in Tennessee, olives in Arkansas and pistachios in much of the Great Basin. Whoever plants these things now and works to develop strains that adapt to changing local conditions will have food to sell when lower latitude areas become too changed for large-scale production of these staples.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021

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