Monthly Archives: June 2010

Crossing Kansas, wanting bacon

| June 15, 2010

We wanted greasy eggs and bacon and toast soggy in butter. We wanted it bad after spending the night in the truck line of the Hoxie, Kansas Rest Area. Despite the deep diesel rumbling of engines idling and coming and going, the truck side of a rest area is like a safe womb, free of the tweakers and Busch-case boozers hanging at picnic tables at 5:30am only 40 yards away on the rest area’s vehicle side.

We had almost all of Kansas to cross and felt confident in finding a diner with locals reading papers and ready to talk to us about the giant fields of wheat spreading to every horizon. It didn’t happen like that. Just a highway-side trucker diner in Evans and nothing in Russell or Bunker Hill. The Google search said the towns had cafes, but nothing. The Bunker Hill Cafe was shuttered, said open Thursday-Sunday, but I’m not sure I believe that.
So we ate cereal and brewed Sumatra beans on the side of a trucker gas station in Bunker Hill. If feels more like a ghost state than just a few random ghost towns. This is the quiet country, and I understand that. But something feels newly changed. People live here; I see houses with trucks with lights on. But not much seems to move other than big tractors and bigger semis.
We make it to Lawrence, the hip college town with hills and a river and cafes and youngsters in tight jeans. Local Burger has a cool logo so we stop in. Hilary Brown opened the all-local restaurant that specializes in burgers – elk, bison, beef – and even a buffalo hot dog. She discovered the fundamental importance of nutrition and healthy eating when she realized she was gluten intolerant. So she took some courses and opened Local Burger.
We all eat elk burgers cooked perfectly rare. While waiting, a man with sweat in his gray hair and a red bandana around his leathery-tan neck comes in carrying boxes of green leafy things. He’s Bob Lominska, and he owns Rolling Prairie Farm, with a plot in the city and a larger one outside the limits. He brings his CSA shares to Local Burger for Thursday pick-up. He suggests I speak with his partner, Paul Johnson.
Johnson arrives a few minutes later in a floral short-sleeve shirt and carrying more produce. He works a lot with policy and lobbying for a smarter farm practices. I ask Paul about all that blankness to the west, in the rest of Kansas that isn’t Lawrence or Kansas City or Topeka.
“Well, as a state, we import 97% of our fruits and veggies,” he says. “We have 7,700 acres growing fruit and produce. In 1910 we had 140,000 acres.”
And it’s not as if people in Kansas have all become allergic to fruits and veggies. “We as Kansans spend $525 million a year on produce, and we only grow $15-20 million worth of it. Our farms are getting bigger and bigger. We’re moving toward and agricultural aristocracy in this state. Our state’s farm policy directs 69% of all subsidies to 10% of the farmers (ewg.org).
Slow down. This guy’s got more digits than Sammy Malone.
“It’s all Rhonda Janke’s book, Farming in the Dark,” Johnson says.
I looked at ewg.org and he was mostly right. I also found the top subsidy programs in the state between 195 and 2009 were wheat, corn, and sorghum. (ewg.org)
As we roll into Kansas City, we’re curious to see if the slow twist toward a different agriculture must be wrenched from within the city before reaching the prairie. The Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture and a few rogue vacant-lot farmers believe they can grow healthy produce on small farms AND make a profit. The capitalized market approach to the small diversified production farm might be the best tactic for this sustainable agriculture movement to be taken seriously and establish itself as an industry.
Anything to get the greasy spoons up and running in small rural towns. Without ‘em, we’ve lost the great American road trip, as well.

Breaking Through Concrete : Resupply – Karma and Grease

| June 15, 2010

We arrive into Santa Fe at 7:30am on Monday and steer straight to a quiet neighborhood of small adobe houses on tight, narrow streets. RJ lives there, and he has grease.

By 8am Michael and I are on our backs beneath Lewis attempting to lower the vegetable oil tank and check a new, mysterious leak. I imagine wrestling a greased, aluminum rectangular pig would be a similar sensation. Then – why not – the coolant hose spews its steaming red syrup onto us. We scramble into Lewis and look into his belly (engine compartment accessed from inside cab as well as via hood). We clamp ‘er down and that, at least, stops.
Back below, the grease leak drizzles on. We fill our reserve tanks with RJ’s stash anyway and run 60 miles on the grease remaining in the leaky tank.
Heading out of Santa Fe, now with a crack-o’-noon start and 400+ miles to cover to Denver, we pick up some good karma in the form of a young couple and their puppy. They look nice and turn out to be extremely clean hippies-in-training from Pennsylvania on a summer hitchhiking tour. At the moment, in fact, they are cleaner than me. For eight hours the college-age kids lounge in the back of Lewis Lewis reading our magazines while Michael and I rotate between driving and working at the laptop station up front. (Charlie is away for three days with family.)
I can’t help but wonder what they think. Hitching laws follow an inverse relationship between luxury and availability – the nicer the vehicle, the less likely to carry hitchhikers. Here this lucky pair has been scooped up by the most luxurious old school bus. Their wildest dreams come true, right? Yet we are not smoking pot and tapping drums in the back. Rather, we edit photos and text on Mac laptops, make phone calls to arrange meetings, and crank out push-ups.
Meanwhile, northern New Mexico, the southern end of the Great Plains, rolls by. Late May means expanses of green grassland sweeping into buttes and mesas and north to the distant snow-capped Rockies that poke through the horizon near the Cornudo Hills after I-25 passes through Las Vegas, NM.
Hard to imagine this far northeastern corner of New Mexico during the 1930s Dust Bowl when overgrazing and mono-cultures of wheat, cotton, and corn stripped the soil to nothing. Also hard to imagine that despite that historical lesson, the Great Plains continue to be dominated by large-scale mono-crops.
We enter Colorado via Raton Pass. Covered in piñon pine trees and broken by horizontal layers of yellow bluffs, the pass overlooks the Rockies to the north and west and the distant, extinct volcanic cones to the south.
The hitchhikers depart us at the exit ramp in Colorado Springs. They’ve located a Couch Surfer member and will stay with her. I hear the next day that a group of volunteers has planted a vegetable garden on the Colorado Springs’ City Hall property – budget cuts pulled the plug on the traditional flower beds, but local citizens are digging in.
Pick up Charlie on the corner of a downtown Denver street and park Lewis Lewis in the 24 Hour Fitness-Grocery Store-Starbucks parking lot: i.e. shower, milk, bathroom, respectively. Quite the amenities.
Denver Urban Gardens and Delaney Community Farm coming down the pipe…

Crossing Kansas, wanting bacon

| June 8, 2010

We wanted greasy eggs and bacon and toast soggy in butter. We wanted it bad after spending the night in the truck line of the Hoxie, Kansas Rest Area. Despite the deep diesel rumbling of engines idling and coming and going, the truck side of a rest area is like a safe womb, free of the tweakers and Busch-case boozers hanging at picnic tables at 5:30am only 40 yards away on the rest area’s vehicle side.

We had almost all of Kansas to cross and felt confident in finding a diner with locals reading papers and ready to talk to us about the giant fields of wheat spreading to every horizon. It didn’t happen like that. Just a highway-side trucker diner in Evans and nothing in Russell or Bunker Hill. The Google search said the towns had cafes, but nothing. The Bunker Hill Cafe was shuttered, said open Thursday-Sunday, but I’m not sure I believe that.

A young woman we meet at our dinner spot in Vona, CO, in the Great Plains near the Kansas border.

So we ate cereal and brewed Sumatra beans on the side of a trucker gas station in Bunker Hill. It feels more like a ghost state than just a few random ghost towns. These is the quiet country and I understand that. But something feels newly changed. People live here; I see houses with trucks with lights on. But not much seems to move other than big tractors and bigger semis. 

We make it to Lawrence, the hip college town with hills and a river and cafes and youngsters in tight jeans. 

Local Burger has a cool logo so we stop in. Hilary Brown opened the all-local restaurant that specializes in burgers – elk, bison, beef – and even a buffalo hot dog. She discovered the fundamental importance of nutrition and healthy eating when she realized she was gluten intolerant. So she took some courses and opened Local Burger. We all eat elk burgers cooked perfectly rare.

While waiting, a man with sweat in his gray hair and a red bandana around his leathery-tan neck comes in carrying boxes of green leafy things. He’s Bob Lominska and he owns Rolling Prairie Farm, with a plot in the city and a larger one outside the limits. He brings his CSA shares to Local Burger for Thursday pick-up. He suggests I speak with his partner, Paul Johnson.

Johnson arrives a few minutes later in a floral short-sleeve shirt and carrying more produce. He works a lot with policy and lobbying for smarter farm practices. I ask Paul about all that blankness to the west, in the rest of Kansas that isn’t Lawrence or Kansas City or Topeka.

“Well, as a state, we import 97% of our fruits and veggies,” he says. “We have 7,700 acres growing fruit and produce. In 1910 we had 140,000 acres.” And it’s not as if people in Kansas have all become allergic to fruits and veggies. “We as Kansans spend $525 million a year on the produce and we only grow $15-20 million worth of it.” 

“Our farms are getting bigger and bigger. We’re moving toward and agricultural aristocracy in this state. Our state’s farm policy directs 69% of all subsidies to 10% of the farmers (ewg.org).”

Slow down. This guy’s got more digits than Sammy Malone.

“It’s all in Rhonda Janke’s book, Farming in the Dark,” Johnson says.

I looked at ewg.org and he was mostly right. I also found that the top subsidy programs in the state between 1995 and 2009 were wheat, corn, and sorghum. (ewg.org)

Paul Johnson sells CSA produce at Local Burger, Lawrence, KS

As we roll into Kansas City, we’re curious to see if the slow twist toward a different agriculture must be wrenched from within the city before reaching the prairie. The Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture and a few rogue vacant-lot farmers believe they can grow healthy produce on small farms AND make a profit. The capitalized market approach to the small diversified production farm might be the best tactic for this sustainable agriculture movement to be taken seriously and establish itself as an industry.

Anything to get the greasy spoons up and running in small rural towns. Without ‘em, we’ve lost the great American road trip, as well.