News, Views, Happiness Pursued

Preparing, Not Prepping

by | Apr 9, 2020

illustration/Sweetgrass

The end is not near and COVID-19 isn’t the biblical prophecy of Armageddon. But this coronavirus won’t be the last catastrophe, because modern life is so tenuous. More powerful and deadly troubles, man-made and otherwise, loom on the horizon. Climate change. Rising sea levels. Asteroid collision. Electromagnetic pulse (a.k.a. EMP). Or, maybe, an armada of spaceships filled with hungry Grays or angry Reptilians, looking for a new world to conquer and fur-less mammals to enslave, breed and devour.

Life is a dangerous game. Joy mixed with tragedy, fraught with accidents, amplified by bad politics and intensified by social inequality. This virus has revealed the many flaws of the free market and our health care system, while highlighting the depth of our insecurities — economic, food and otherwise.

Tumultuous times like these, however, make societies ripe for revolutions both large and small. United, with the collective memory of hardship still fresh in our minds, Mainers can achieve radical changes that will quickly make our state stronger and boost our ability to deal with future cataclysms.

For example, achievable legislative efforts to turn Central Maine Power into a public utility are already underway in Augusta. Having Maine’s electricity under the control of Mainers, instead of the Spanish multinational Iberdrola, seems like a win-win for everyone. Except the corporatists. The next step should be to mandate that the couple hundred large wind turbines in our state provide power locally before selling the juice to green-washers, living in Connecticut and Massachusetts, eager to fund the blasting of our mountaintops and forests in order to charge their devices and hang Christmas lights carbon-guilt-free. Both of these power-based, public-sector takeover goals are doable and would soon have positive impacts on society, the economy and, most importantly, the environment.

Another relatively easy change to make, legislatively, would be to heavily tax the Poland Spring hydro-extraction racket, sending a clear message to the international water pirates to get the hell out — and stay out — of Maine. Many future catastrophes are likely to have water-related components, and it’s foolhardy to allow such a wondrous natural resource as water, legally owned by the people of Maine, to be exploited, further enriching the faceless plastic-bottle distributor known as Nestle, the parent company of the extractionistas.

(By the way, right now, before an EMP knocks out the Internet, visit findaspring.com to locate the free-flowing Maine spring closest to your neighborhood. There are a couple dozen listings for Maine, all of which usually flow 24-7, independent of any power source. Then, invest in carboys or jugs, fill ’em up, and never worry about access to clean drinking water again. Urban dwellers not in close proximity to a spring could start a water-hauling cooperative, taking turns making the trip to keep the whole collective hydrated.)

If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that, from a global perspective, we are all one big family. Unfortunately, that also includes the knuckleheads, hoarders and con artists. For centuries, the warmongers have portrayed our earthly kin as enemies worthy of annihilation. The military-industrial complex — and its elected minions — urged us to despise “the other.” To view them as a threat to our existence and our way of life. So many years of death and destruction, hatred and propaganda. Countless lies about invasions and aggressions. So much fear and worry instilled in the herd, and so many trillions of dollars squandered on inflated defense spending, black budgets and weapons of mass destruction that serve no purpose other than to terrorize, and terrify, fellow members of the human race. 

Yet our allegedly mighty empire is nearly brought to its knees by an enemy so small it’s practically invisible and so delicate that soap destroys it on contact. 

No race or religion or nationality or cult or gang or political ideology is immune. Meanwhile, we’ve been LARPing, believing that imaginary borders drawn by dead white dudes were worth defending. Our society is responsible for the debt, moral and monetary, incurred due to our imperialistic tantrums and mass murders, which continue to this day. That too can change. Because of the pandemic, people from all over the world have been sharing resources and ideas in the battle against our common foe. Hopefully, that kindred universalism will grow after the virus is defeated, and we can join together as a species, united forevermore.

As the prophet Isaiah said, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Perhaps we’ll even receive the “peace dividend” that’s been promised, but has yet to be delivered, since the end of the Cold War.

Here in Maine, we can end the corporate welfare and tax breaks for General Dynamics, the sixth-largest defense contractor in the world and owner of Bath Iron Works. They treat their workers terribly, but worse than that, their products are designed to kill sailors and unarmed civilians. Turns out the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, at a couple billion bucks each, and the four-billion-dollar Zumwalt-class ships are useless against the only invaders who’ve actually breached our shores and killed Americans. And yet we continue to fund this madness. Maybe taxpayer handouts for BIW could be continued if the shipyard pivoted to building hospital ships. If COVID-19 is any indicator of future battles, the One World Government is gonna need a fleet of floating clinics and quarantines, a rapid-response flotilla capable of being quickly deployed anywhere around the globe. 

The coronavirus has exposed deep cracks in late-stage capitalism, including the desperate need for “health care for all,” drug and medical-device supplies immune from profiteering and price-gouging, and a living wage for the millions of essential, low-wage workers cleaning hospital rooms and stocking supermarket shelves so we can all keep living.

The hoarding that’s happened demonstrates the weakness of our supply chains and the depth of our food insecurity. This, in a state with a proud agricultural sector still struggling to connect with consumers. For instance, while shoppers were fretting about empty shelves and coolers at Hannaford and Shaw’s, farm stores across Maine had freezers full of nourishment. Ethnic markets have also maintained an abundance of staples. And here in eastern Oxford County, the local Food City — owned by its workers — has often had paper products, flour and butter in stock while the Hannaford a mile down the road had none.

As for libations, we’re blessed with amazing craft beer and liquor, and even Maine wine ain’t half bad. We’ve also got some of the best cannabis grown anywhere in the world.

More good news: spring is here, providing the perfect opportunity for us to further boost our commitment to the local farm economy. No need to eat the dehydrated factory rations found in the survivalist’s bunker. Here in Maine, our food dollars are easily converted into beef, chicken, eggs, pork, lobster, fish, milk, cheeses and butter, all thanks to family farms and co-ops. Local growers are also poised to provide a bounty of potatoes, carrots, broccoli, greens, tomatoes, garlic, blueberries, apples and strawberries. And, unlike the stockpiles purchased by preppers, buying fresh meat and produce keeps money in Maine.

For those who can, investing some of that federal stimulus cash in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, or buying a Maine-raised pig or a side of local beef to put in the chest freezer (for a year’s worth of carbon-friendlier protein) is the best use of your food dollar. The UMaine Cooperative Extension maintains a great database of Maine farmers and fishers with whom you can make such arrangements. 

You can also turn some of that fiat money into a Victory Garden — either at home or in a community plot — using seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in Winslow, or Fedco Seeds, a cooperative based in Clinton, or seedlings from the many plant nurseries across the state.

Already gardening? Maybe this is the year to dramatically expand your growing space. Rip up the yard, transforming a time-and-water-wasting weekly chore into a micro-farm that can help feed family, friends and neighbors.

Here on the Dreamstead, we’re gonna raise four pigs — on a diet of local grains, garden waste, cannabis leaf and apples — who will use their snouts to turn sections of pasture into a half dozen, 50-foot-long garden rows. Where the pigs worked and played, we’ll then plant seed garlic that will be harvested in July of next year. This pork-to-garlic project — using just two strands of electric-fence wire to contain the pigs — is scalable for any land-clearing, even in suburbia (subject to local zoning codes that can also be changed, or ignored, as necessary). 

For the land-less and those on tighter budgets, foraging is a fun way to get free Maine food, and maybe earn a little something extra. Fiddlehead season will soon be upon us. Delicious ramps and other greens are sprouting too, followed, later this year, by the super-valuable mushrooms. Foraging books like Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide, by Tom Seymour, can teach any urbanite how to find eats growing in the wild (and sometimes right in the middle of civilization). Or learn from re-wilding experts like Arthur Haines and others who have websites and lead workshops on what’s good to eat (and, equally important, what’s not good to eat). Successful foragers can trade their treasures for other precious loot, including gold, silver and ganja.

Another low-budget food-gathering technique, practiced in the fall (and with permission), is gleaning fields or orchards after farmers have finished the harvest. And most small-scale growers love to barter, so volunteers can often labor in exchange for fresh food. Better yet, quit your current gig and find a farm job. The two years I spent with the good folks at Nezinscot Farm in Turner transformed my relationship with food, and life, forever.

Working the soil, communing with the natural world, feeds both the body and soul. Gardening and foraging and tending critters also have depression- and stress-relieving powers that many will find beneficial during these nutty pandemic times. 

So don’t wait: get your hands dirty. Then wash ’em for at least 20 seconds.

All thirteen episodes of the first season of Crash Barry’s investigative podcast, “Devils and Dirtbags,” are available for free listening on mainernews.com, devilsanddirtbags.com or via the usual podcasting platforms.

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