Announcing the September 2012 publication of

Park Songs

A poem/play by David Budbill

with photographs by R. C. Irwin

 $14.95 / 112 pages / 14 b&w photographs /

Trade Paperback Original ISBN: 978-1-935259-16-9 / eBook ISBN: 978-1-935259-17-6

Distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution: 1-800-283-3572

Exterminating Angel Press 1892 Colestin Road Ashland, Oregon 97520 Tel: (541) 482-8779

Media Contact: Molly Mikolowski, (612) 728-1692, molly.mikolowski@gmail.com

E-mail: info@exterminatingangel.com Visit us on the web at: www.exterminatingangel.com

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“David Budbill is a no-nonsense free-range sage.”

New York Times

“One of the most readable American poets ever”

Booklist

“As accessible as a parking lot and as plain as a pair of Levi’s.”

Parnassus

“It takes a fine poet with a good ear and an open heart to express such truths.”

—Vermont Public Radio

“Budbill both informs and moves. He is, in short, a delight and a comfort.”

—Wendell Berry

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WHAT CRITICS ARE SAYING

Park Songs opens up the intersections of poetry and performance  . . . the plainness of the language is deceptive. [This] rhythmic and vernacular play [is] surprisingly evocative.”

RAIN  TAXI, Spring 2013
Lynette Reini-Grindell

for the complete review go to: http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2013spring/budbill.php

Best known for clear, sweet poems, [Budbill] is also a playwright, and his new work is first and last, as he says, ‘raw material that could be a play’: an array of dialogues among the vagrants, pedestrians, passers-by, and hard-luck cases of an urban park. . . . In language that recalls the 1930s, the guys and the couple of ladies around the park debate how to be happy, how to get by with less, and how to make poems that feel true.

 

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
October 22, 2012

 for the complete review go to: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-935259-16-9

* * *

Budbill’s latest collection, Park Songs, demonstrat[es] that he is above all a poet of place . . . [and of] the power of place to mark us, hold us, and bind us to one another . . . The language here is so familiar and conversational, its simplicity detains the reader, inviting us to consider the poetry of everyday speech. . . He ingeniously borrows the authority of the playwright to get away with speaking in a grittier and more guttural register. . . .

Abby Paige
THE BAKERY
December 11, 2012

for the complete review go to: http://www.thebakerypoetry.com/submissions/

* * *

Budbill captures the essence of human communication – the misunderstandings and connections, hurts and expectations.

Deb Baker
CONCORD MONITOR
Concord, New Hampshire

September 9, 2012

* * *

David Budbill is a poet and playwright known for his accessibility and sense of playful humor. . . . The soliloquies and verbal interactions, presented in the course of one day [in this urban park], provide insight into the variety of personalities at work and force readers to reflect on how much we can know—and learn—through our discussions. Also at issue is how much can be misunderstood.

FOREWORD
Jennifer Fandell
September 2012

for the complete review go to: https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/park-songs/

* * *

 “[An] ultra-American twist on Beckettian terseness . . . Park Songs is full of idiomatic vernacular and candid, imperfect syntax, which contribute to a down-to-earth plainspokenness. These seem like people we can connect with, and it’s refreshing (as Budbill’s work generally is) to be offered regular ol’ simple beauty in place of incomprehensible, postmodern mumbo-jumbo.”

Keenan Walsh
SEVEN DAYS
October 17, 2012

for the complete review go to: http://www.7dvt.com/2012walk-park

* * *

 [PARK SONGS is a] beautiful, tragic-funny book. . .  David Budbill’s writing is not just art, it’s a philosophical call to arms for readers to wake up to the world, to go ahead and risk feeling both the pain and the pleasure of being awake. Park Songs is an entertaining read and also one to make you think. It stayed with me and I can feel it connecting with other things I’ve read, helping me live with more heart, helping me notice things.

Deb Baker
BOOKCONSCIOUS
August 31, 2012

* * *

I adored this exploration of community and personalities, as well as levels of sanity and security. Budbill was able to crisply portray various voices, and the spin of characters in and out of the spotlight . . .

 

HippieLunatic

librarything.com

Sep 8, 2012

for complete review go to: http://www.librarything.com/work/12863921/reviews

 

* * *

 

Budbill takes the reader to an open space in a city where denizens of a park meet, greet, muse, confuse, reach out and step away. Budbill’s characters speak to all of us. . . Kudos to Budbill for choosing a city park – the great meeting ground of rich and poor, different races, different politics, and different lifestyles – to highlight human needs, foibles, and concerns. . . . PARK SONGS will speak on even after the closing scene.

IsolaBlue

librarything.com

Sep 16, 2012

for complete review go to: http://www.librarything.com/work/12863921/reviews

 

* * *

for an interview with David Budbill conducted by with Marissa Bell Toffoli

go to: http://wordswithwriters.com/2012/10/07/david-budbill/

Words With Writers, October 7, 2012

 * * *

A “tale of the tribe” (Ezra Pound’s phrase for his own longer work), Park Songs is set in a down-and-out Midwestern park where people from all walks of life gather. In this small green space surrounded by a great gray city, the park provides a refuge for its caretaker (and resident poet), street preachers, retirees, moms, hustlers, and teenagers. Interspersed with blues songs, the community speaks through poetic monologues and conversations, while the homeless provide the introductory chorus—their collective voices becoming an epic tale of comedy and tragedy.

Full of hard-won wisdom, unexpected humor, righteous (if occasionally misplaced) anger, and sly tenderness, their stories show us how people learn to live with mistakes and make connections in an antisocial world. As the poem/play engages us in their pain and joy—and the goofy delight of being human—it makes a quietly soulful statement about desire, acceptance, and community in our lives.

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Praise for Judevine (the rural precursor to Park Songs)

“Wrenchingly real, fiercely emotional and unexpectedly funny.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“At once tough and tender [and] not afraid to tell hard stories with a warm heart.”

Boston Globe

“Glows with a contagious compassion.”

Chicago Tribune

“Dramatic story-telling with rare honesty, affection and grace—and with language so precise and descriptive you will know immediately you’re soul-deep in something extraordinary.”

Los Angeles Daily News

“[A] beautifully tender combination of theatre and poetry. Budbill presents us with a vision of ourselves.

—Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“An astonishing variety of characters. We come to care deeply about them and to see the dignity inherent in the humblest of human beings.”

Chicago Reader

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About the Author and Photographer

DAVID BUDBILL has worked as a carpenter’s apprentice, short order cook, Christmas tree farm day laborer, mental hospital attendant, church pastor, teacher, and occasional commentator on NPR’s All Thing Considered. He is also the award-winning author of twelve books of poems, six plays, a novel, a collection of short stories, an opera libretto, and a picture book for children. His books include the bestselling Happy Life (Copper Canyon Press) and Judevine, a collection of narrative poems that forms the basis for Judevine: The Play, which has been performed in twenty-two states. Budbill was born in Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in the mountains of northern Vermont.

R. C. IRWIN, whose absurdist and nostalgic work provides the set design for Park Songs, teaches at San Francisco City College.

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  • Listen to Garrison Keillor read poems by David Budbill on the Writer’s Almanac: bit.ly/KpO1QR
  • Listen to an interview with David Budbill on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition (including a clip from the Lost Nation Productions performance of his play A Song for My Father): bit.ly/KnZdPY
  • Read David Budbill’s blog, view video performances, and listen to more radio interviews at: www.davidbudbill.com

For more from David Budbill about Park Songs and his working class background, please read on.

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 A Conversation with David Budbill

Q: You’ve described Park Songs as an urban version of Judevine, which was set in the impoverished hill country of rural New England. Park Songs takes place in a rundown Midwestern park, which one character refers to derisively as a “human being parking lot.” How did the shift in setting change the way you approached this poem/play (or the voices within it)?

A: Well, long before I was a country boy, I was a city boy. I grew up in Cleveland. I also lived for seven years in New York City. I’ve always written monologues and dialogues—I’m a playwright—so this kind of book just came naturally to me. My own background and the way I write made it so that I really didn’t have to change the way I approached this poem/play. 

Q: You grew up in Cleveland. Do you ever think about returning to the city?

A: All the time. I honestly think I could go back there to live. On the other hand, I’m such a country boy now, I don’t think it would work.

Q: The Occupy movement, which has spread to parks and other public spaces in cities across the country, first sprang to being in September 2011 as people gathered in New York City’s Zuccotti Park to protest economic inequality. Park Songs, which you’ve been writing for fifteen years, is very much about the lives—and communities—of the disenfranchised. Were you tempted to make any overt references to the movement?

A: It never occurred to me. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the Occupy movement and the principles it stands for, but I was living and preaching about those principles long before the Occupy movement began. As you said yourself, I’ve been writing about people like the people in this park for a long time.

Q: One of the funniest sections—a Monty Python-esque scene called “Let’s Talk” in which a character vehemently complains (to an attentive listener) that no one will listen to her—also makes a deeply affecting statement about human loneliness and desire. What is the role of humor in Park Songs?

A: All I know is, I can’t live my life without humor and neither can my characters. In “Let’s Talk” specifically I was trying to get at how we hide behind words, how we use words to obscure, not clarify, things. In the end, the two characters realize this and just sit there. This scene also gives me the chance to be funny with words, just be funny, which I always love being and which is a great balm for human loneliness.

Q: Why did you decide to include traditional blues songs? And how do you see the R. C. Irwin photographs complementing the text?

A: I’ve loved the blues and jazz for sixty years. I perform with jazz musicians. And when I came across those two old blues tunes, lyrics that Odetta found, I knew I had to use them somehow, someway, someday. Both those blues fit right into the themes of this poem/play.

There’s an absurdist aspect to Irwin’s pictures. I began my playwriting career, if you want to call it that, heavily influenced by Ionesco, Pinter, etc. I think there’s a crazy, wild aspect to the photographs that fits nicely with the crazy, wild people who inhabit this park.

Q: Is there any advice you’d like to give actors involved in a stage production or film of Park Songs?

A: Enjoy the characters. Even though their predicaments in life are not the best, they are surviving and having some fun along the way too—which is what I’d say we are all doing. Actors should do the same.

Q: In an interview with Vermont Public Radio, you said you wanted your work to be clearly understood the first time it was read, but also be open to new interpretations during the second and third readings. What lies below the surface in Park Songs for close readers to discover?

A: The lives of the people who speak the words of the play, and what those lives say about the structure of our society.

Q: Howard Zinn wrote, “What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.” Do you believe this is an artist’s responsibility?

A: Heck yeah. Why not? Seriously, the artist’s first responsibility—in this case the writer’s—is to tell a good story sympathetically and with passion and commitment. Then it is to try to, as Zinn says, “change the world.”

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David Budbill”s Background

(adapted from a speech given in 1987 and updated in 2012)

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in l940.

My mother was a Methodist minister’s daughter who quit high school in her senior year, and, although she never did get a high school diploma, she maintained, throughout her life, an active interest in ideas and politics, and when I left home to go to college, she immediately gave up her life as “homemaker,” joined The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and went out and got a full time job.

My father, the abused son of an alcoholic cabinetmaker, quit school in the 8th grade to go to work as a bag boy in a grocery store to help support his family of three sisters and a mother, his father being often incapable of maintaining the household, and subsequently my father never returned to any formal education. When I was born my father was a motorman for the Cleveland Railway System; he drove a streetcar. My father said to me again and again, “Stick up for the little guy, Bud.”

Of my uncles, my uncle Judy sorted mail at the Post Office; uncle Freddy ran a metal lathe in a factory, uncle Riley worked as a minor official in a metal polishers union local in Cleveland and uncle Bill was a traveling salesman

Everyone thought this traveling salesman uncle, uncle Bill, was more successful, that is, somehow further up the ladder, than the other uncles because he sold school supplies. I think everyone thought that because he worked more or less on his own and out of his car and traveled around and did not carry a dinner pail—he ate his lunches out in restaurants, sometimes with clients—that he was better, smarter than the others. And he traveled from school to school, he had to talk to teachers and principals and everyone knew that to do that he had to speak well, be charming and articulate, have good grammar, in other words, because he sold school supplies, the circumstances of the job must have worn off on him, given him a better education. Surely his job was better than stamping out fenders for cars or working in the heat and filth of a blast furnace or stuffing mail in little pigeon holes at the Post Office all day long.

Of my aunts, when they worked outside the home at all, they worked as domestics or waitresses or in print shops, running presses or addressograph machines, or they worked on assembly lines just like their husbands, all, that is, except my Aunt Grace who not only had graduated from high school but had gone to college for a year and was an elementary school teacher. But then, she was married to my uncle Bill, the school supplies salesman, which just proved that uncle Bill was smarter and more successful than the rest. After all, he married a teacher.

Almost everyone I knew as a child was a member of what then was called The Working Class. They worked, along with masses of other people, for someone else. Almost none of them had graduated from high school and none of them, except my Aunt Grace, had gone to college.

These people, the people of The Working Class, considered going to college a right of passage, a ticket into a different and better world, a world where you could make more money, do less damage to your body, stay cleaner on the job and sweat less, where you could do something that had a little creativity to it, that demanded you use your mind and imagination, that, in short, was not so thunderously, deadeningly boring as so many factory jobs were. It meant you could become more than just another cog in the gigantic, industrial machine of modern America. And, perhaps most importantly, it meant that you could get yourself some respect. People would admire you, you’d get status, dignity, you’d be something more than just a laboring stiff, just another speck among the millions of insect-like humanoid creatures who kept the mills and factories of industrial America going. Going to college meant raising yourself above all that, above the mass of laboring humanity, above your parents. It meant getting ahead.

But raising yourself above your parents meant inevitably separating yourself from them also and from the rest of The Working Class out of which you had sprung.

On the day I graduated from college, which might have been the proudest day in my father’s life, after the ceremonies were over and we were all milling about and standing around on the lawn outside the gymnasium in the June heat, my father shook my hand; he was beaming from ear to ear and he said, “Well, congratulations, Bud, you did it.” Then his countenance changed and he grew angry and resentful. He pulled his hand away and said, “What’s your trade? What are you prepared to do?”

This admiration for and suspicion of education that The Working Class had, and still has, I think, created a tension in my life that has stayed with me to this day. And to make matters worse, by the time I graduated from college, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a poet, for god’s sake, of all things. What could be worse, more useless, less profitable, a greater waste of an education than to become an artist, and a poet no less.

When I became an artist, I created in myself an overwhelming and sometimes unbearable tension between my populist, egalitarian, common, ordinary, Working Class attitudes and background and the unfortunate, and I mean disgusting, attitudes of the elitist world of art in America.

I am the son of a streetcar driver from Cleveland, Ohio. Yet I became an artist, that species of creature who spends his or her life dreaming and making things into existence, things, which we say, in our pomposity, are for the benefit of all humans.

An arts council button announces: “Art is for Everybody.” Ah, would that it were true. It is not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Art is produced for and consumed by a tiny, only sometimes well-intentioned, often arrogant, elite within our society, and that elite uses art as one of its means to separate and distinguish itself from the mass of humanity.

I have never felt comfortable with my life as an artist because it separates and alienates me from the people out of which I come, from the people I love more than any other, from the mass of humanity that the world sees as merely plain, ordinary and completely without distinction. On the other hand those people I love the most are the least interested in what I make as an artist. Why should they be interested? They know that one of the reasons I became an artist was to leave them behind, to rise above them; they know, as I do, that art is a useful means to the end of separating and distinguishing oneself from that insect-like mass of humanity marching off to the factory.

In short, I live suspended between The Working Class, peasant world of my birth and the elite world of the arts into which, because of my own secret loves and insecurities, I have insinuated myself.

I find both worlds irresistible. I love both and I hate both, and because of that I have chosen to live both physically and artistically on the edge of the world of art. I have worked it out in my life so that I am simultaneously an outcast from and a part of the world of art in America.

 

 

Read More...

Dear Friends,

I’ve got a problem. I need some advice.

In recent years, I’ve been writing mostly poems about growing old and dying. (Some people say that’s all I’ve ever written about.) I have the distinct feeling that people don’t want to read such stuff. They don’t want to deal with death and dying, even though both are inevitable.

My last book, HAPPY LIFE was on the poetry.org bestseller list for 29 weeks, and here, almost a year from its publication date it still pops up on the list from time to time. I wonder if one of the reasons it is so popular is because of its title. What do you think?

Also, this: after a reading this spring, during the Q and A, a woman commented that the closer to death I get the brighter my outlook on life becomes. She thought my early poems, the JUDEVINE poems, were a lot darker than the more recent stuff, even though I now deal with death and dying more than ever.

For those who know my work, do you agree with that?

I’m asking all this because, even though I’m older now, my attitude increasingly is one of greater gratitude for this life. Take for example the poem:

Gratitude

I see more and more clearly

as I grow older how gratitude

is at the center of my life, at

the center of all life, how it is

the core of living. Without it

life is bitter and inconsolable.

Yet, it seems so hard to really

be grateful for this life, most

especially when we are young,

which is why we need to be

grateful for the older ones

who can teach us

how to say thank you

for our lives.

On the other hand, here’s another poem, a quite recent one:

Pain

I can feel myself slipping, fading away, withdrawing

from this life, just as my father did. When the pain

you’re in is so great you can’t think about or pay

attention to anything but your own pain, the rest of

the world, all of other life, doesn’t matter, slips away.

I think about my friends with dementia, cancer,

arthritis and how much more pain they are in than

I am, but it does no good. Their pain is not mine, and

therefore, no matter how magnanimous I might want

to be, their pain is not as important to me as my own.

My question is: who wants to read that?

Answers, responses gratefully appreciated.

More next week.

 

Sincerely, David

25 June 2012

 

 

 

 

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Jun

22

2012

ON BEING NATIVE

On Being Native is also available through HD Download (On Being Native HD.mp4  1.15 GB):

 

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THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE: A Cyberzine

An On-line and On-going Journal of Politics and Opinion

#51

25  June 2012

*****

To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.

Wendell Berry

*****

FOOD: Part III

*****

In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES

A review of Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE

STEALING FROM GIANTS

Ben Hewitt

WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Jeremiah Church

A LETTER FROM JAY LORENZ

*****

DAVID’S NOTES

a review of

BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE: On Farming and Food

by Wendell Berry

with an introduction by Michael Pollan

Counterpoint, 2009

         I’ve got to get something off my chest. In the November 9, 2009, NEW YORKER, Elizabeth Kolbert (born in 1961) calls Michael Pollan (born in 1955) “the Father of the Local Food movement.” This statement is an insult to Wendell Berry (born in 1934) and to Sir Albert Howard (born in 1873) who is the father of all of this. Wendell Berry was advocating for and preaching about all the current hip topics like eating local and organic this and that for decades before Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver (also born in 1955) and so on were out of diapers. And Wendell wasn’t even in diapers when Sir Albert Howard was born. But typical of Wendell Berry, he gives full credit to Sir Albert Howard for being everybody’s progenitor. Too bad Elizabeth Kolbert didn’t do her homework and isn’t as knowledgeable and magnanimous as Wendell Berry. Both Pollan and Kingsolver are Johnny-come-latelys to this movement; they both know it and admit it. Kolbert should have known it too. Okay, that’s out of the way.

First, before anything else, anybody who wants to learn how to write should read Wendell Berry. As Michael Pollan says in his introduction to BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, “I have learned as much from the construction of his sentences as from the construction of his ideas.” Berry’s prose is elegant and simple. (Can anything ever be elegant and complicated?) It’s Biblical, which is not surprising since Wendell is too.

Second, BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE is a compilation of articles about farming, farms, farmers and food that Wendell has written over the years. Now between the covers of a single book, these essays are essential reading for any interested in food, for anyone who eats. As Wendell says, “To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” This book is a kind of Wendell Berry Farming and Food Bible.

There, in the two preceding paragraphs, are two reasons to get this book and read it. I hope you will. It’s a pleasure to read and to think about.

I have a series of quotes from BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, which I culled from the book while reading it that I am forbidden from publishing because the quotes are too long; they are longer than the usual short quotes allowed in a review and there are too many of them. Each has a category title I made up. I would be happy to send the quotes to anyone who is interested, with, of course, a recommendation to buy the book itself. Write to me at david at davidbudbill.com and I’ll email them to you.

*****

STEALING FROM GIANTS

by Ben Hewitt

In middle March I walk the upper pasture, stumbling under the weight of a pair of five gallon buckets sloshing sap. The ground is nearly bare; the winter past was a feeble, fleeting thing, almost dreamlike in its rapid passing. Did it really happen? Was I really there? Why, I got the plow truck stuck only once, and two full rows of firewood remain in the shed. I’ll be glad for them come fall.

A gallon of sap weighs eight pounds and I carry ten of them (or maybe nine; I’ve lost some over the bucket rims). Seventy, eighty pounds. Not so much, but the far taps are a quarter mile down the field, hung from the old maples that define the border between our land and Melvin’s. Big, graceful trees, overseers of decades and generations. I think of all the cows that have loafed in their shade. I think of all the storms they’ve survived, all the haying seasons they’ve known. The horse-drawn mowers, then the old Ford’s and Massey’s, and now Melvin’s big Cat that can lay down the entire field in an afternoon. And every year, I take their sap. It humbles me to consider all they have seen and all I has taken from them, as if these somehow juxtapose each other in a way that makes me unworthy of their gift.

I am suddenly glad for the toil of it all: The trudging through the late-February snowpack to drill and tap and hang, and now the daily shoulder-burning haul up the field to the small evaporator, where we’ll boil down to the sweet essence of it all.

Halfway there. I stop at another tree, but of course the buckets are too full. I’ll have to come back.  Down in the valley, I hear the distant whine of a two-stroke engine, either an end of season snowmobile run along some shaded ribbon of snow or an early season dirt bike. I hear the change in tone as gears shift. Dirt bike. It fades into the distance and now I can hear the high-pitched bleating of the lambs in the barn and I know they are running to-and-fro, energized by the warmth and sun and perhaps some instinctual knowledge that soon they will be turned out to the season’s first tender shoots.

This spring has felt more relaxed to me than usual. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because the winter was so mild. Or maybe it’s simply because I’ve gained another year of perspective, another 12 months in which to consider that things will unfold as they unfold. To be able to work and live amongst my family and farm for another year is an honor so great it leaves me almost breathless, and I’ve come to feel as if I owe something to that honor. I’m not sure what, exactly, but to approach it with as much equanimity as I can muster seems a good place to start.

I heave the buckets off the ground and resume the slow walk home.

****

 WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Editor’s Note: On August 10, 2009, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio called AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR ALL about the new whole foods movement and who can afford the food and who can’t. It looked back on my 40 years as part of the Back to the Land movement here in northern Vermont and asked some questions. To read the commentary or listen to it (it takes 3:06) go to: http://www.vpr.net/episode/46665/

This following essay by Jeremiah Church is a response to my “Affordable Food for All” commentary on Vermont Public Radio

WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Jeremiah Church

I am a student and farmer in Morrisville, a 23-year resident of Vermont.

David Budbill’s commentary raised my blood pressure because it carries an assumption that I’ve long wrestled with: that local food is more expensive than “conventional food.” I want to challenge this on a few fronts, but first, let me agree with him: it is, in most cases, more money up front.

However:

1. Local food is not ALWAYS more expensive. To give a few examples: Ben Gleason’s Vermont grown and milled wheat flour is less than 1/2 the price of King Arthur’s equivalent. Cabot cheddar trim from Cheese Traders is $3.00/pound. Raw milk is available in my area for $4.00/gallon. Shelburne Orchards sells pickup beds full of apple drops at the end of the season for $50. Granted, these examples are specific and inconvenient, but such are the characteristics of local food. “Specific” means they each retain the character of the place, and “inconvenient” means you might have to go out of your way to meet your neighbor and enjoy better food.

2. Gardening is cheap, and has always been closely aligned with the local food movement. The recent economic downturn led to a tremendous increase in the number of folks gardening across America. Local farmers and organizations offering seed exchanges, gardening know-how, tomato starts, and community garden plots provide a support structure for gardening.

3. Local food is cheaper in the long run. Here is a short list of the unpaid bills of the industrial agriculture system:

  • Federal commodity subsidies: in 2007, the federal government paid $5 billion in commodity subsidies, of which Vermont received $1.8 million. The average state got $17 per person while Vermont got $3.  The commodity structure is so skewed towards enormous industrial farms that states with lots of small-scale ag like Vermont get very little.
    • Solution: Allow Consumers to choose
    • Source: http://farm.ewg.org/farm/dp_analysis.php?fips=50000&yr=2007
  • Illegal Monopoly Profits: Record low dairy prices over the past year have forced Vermont farmers off their land. Meanwhile Dean Foods, which controls 70% of fluid milk in the region, posted a 150% gain in net profits over 2008.
    • Solution:  Eliminate the middle man to give a greater portion of the food dollar to farmers.
    • Source: http://sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=8f6da8d9-cfc5-4099-8773-4d8506323bd6
  • Federal/state energy subsidies: It takes about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy in the industrial system. This energy itself is also subsidized- the federal government paid about $16.6 billion in energy subsidies in 2007. The upshot? Artificially cheap energy allows industrial farmers to continue inefficient practices on taxpayer’s backs.
  • Peak Oil, Mass Extinction, Global Oceanic Dead Zones, Obesity, and Heart Disease: all symptoms of an industrial food system; all of which we or our children will eventually pay for. Why not just eat better now?

Bottom line: local food costs less if you pay the full price for industrially produced food.

4. Americans CAN afford local food. Check out this graph:

Source: http://www.ilfb2.org/fff06/51.pdf.

We spend less than 10% of our income on food, the lowest in the world. The average country shells out 20% of its income on food. Many, if not most, of us can afford better food.   (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/Table_97/2007table97.htm).

For some, access to good food is a real problem. The local food movement addresses food security through the work of Salvation Farms and the Vermont Food Bank in gleaning 88,000 pounds of food from farms in the Lamoille Valley over 3 years, among other ways.  In this way, vibrant farms contribute to food security for all members of a community. http://www.vtfoodbank.org/our_programs/gleaning_program/.

Budbill ended his commentary with the question “How is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?” The solution has to cut both ways: consumers need to understand that the industrial food system is artificially cheap, and farmers need to continue to work make good food available for everyone. Consumers are waking up to the fact that they pay for their food once at the supermarket, again in their taxes, and again in their health care bills. Local farms have long been a proponent of affordable food, from EFT machines (food stamps) at farmer’s markets, to grow-a-row programs, to community gardens. The continuation of these trends will see a local food movement that serves everyone.

*****

A LETTER FROM JAY LORENZ

David,

Here is a story that I heard many years ago and is a reflection of the status of modern American agriculture.

Lettuce—grown in California with water transported across a basin from Arizona. The field worker picks off the outer layer in the field. It gets washed where another layer is peeled before being boxed for shipment to New York City. There, the prep cook washes the lettuce peeling off yet another layer. A leaf goes on a plate with a scoop of tuna neatly placed on top. The patron eats the tuna and the lettuce is thrown out. Think of the amount of fossil fuel that was used to grow and transport a vegetable that is essentially water across the country…just to be thrown out.

And another bone I have to pick, this one involving the production of biofuels, particularly ethanol. This is a subject that sees little daylight in daily politics. Commercial ethanol production requires distillation of plant material, typically corn.

What is the energy source for the distillation? Most often it is fossil fuel. Simple laws of thermodynamics: you can’t get a net gain in energy by converting corn to a liquid energy. Think of the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into fertilizer, herbicides, the production of farm equipment, the fuel to operate the farm equipment, the fuel to transport the product, and then the fuel to distill the product to ethanol. We could reduce our dependence on foreign oil a lot more by just burning gasoline directly in our cars than by using the fossil fuel to produce ethanol.

And would the land-base be better utilized for growing food for people? There can be some justification for ethanol if the energy used in distillation were wood or coal (I can’t burn either in my car). However, I’m not seeing the value in such a trade-off.

How often are business and personal tax incentives used to mask the true costs of our actions?

I know of no right answer for our food and energy issues, but one thing I do know is there is a place for truth and honest discourse.

Jay Lorenz

*****

CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTES

Ben Hewitt lives with his family in Cabot, Vermont. You can read more of his work at www.benhewitt.net

Jeremiah Church is a young farmer who lives in Morrisville, VT. He has a portable stone oven that he hauls around on a trailer behind his pickup truck to various locations to make pizza for people.

Jay Lorenz met David while studying the ecology of the eastern coyote in Judevine in the mid-1970s. Currently, he is a senior biologist with a leading full-service engineering firm. One of his current projects is environmental permitting of a wind farm in California.

David Budbill is a poet and a playwright and editor of this cyberzine. His website is at: http://www.davidbudbill.com/ 

 

                  Coming in JME #52:

                  Something Political

                  just in time for the election

                   

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Dear Friends,

Is anyone out there having trouble with infestations of flea beetles in their gardens? Any suggestions from anyone will be greatly appreciated.

I’m a long time gardener, more than 40 years, yet I’ve spent most of this week battling the pests. I do know about reemay row covers, but I don’t use it. I’m not sure why.

Also, I’ve begun watering my garden–morning, 6:00 a.m., and night, after 6:00 p.m. I hate to do this. It’s much better to have rain, which soaks the soil much better than watering. I water a total of 30 to 40 minutes a day, but that’s barely enough, probably isn’t enough. On the other hand, it’s so hot and dry and early this year, it’s only mid-June, that I figure I’ve got no choice.

All this, I’m afraid, is yet more signs of global warming which here in northern Vermont is making itself know in many ways. There are oak trees beginning to grow in the woods around here. That’s unheard of here in the north-country. And the maple syrup producers are seriously worried about the future of their industry. Sugar maples are a sign of the north. If they fade out so will the maple syrup industry. Also there is a fear that the quality of the syrup will go down, as it did this year, the syrup getting buddy and dark earlier and earlier in the season.

I moved here more than 40 years ago because I wanted to live in the north, a cold climate. 40 years later I’m wondering if the south–or at least the mid-west, where I’m from–is coming to meet us here.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

18 June 2012

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