Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bean Politics

Last May I spent about five dollars on three packets of beans.  It took me about 20 minutes to plant them, several hours to shell them once they were mature, and who knows how many hours to weed around them when the plants were seedlings.  The yield?  About two pounds of beans, black and anasazi.  If organic dried beans command about $2.00 per pound at the supermarkets, and if "boutique" dried beans cost as much as $5.00 per pound at farmers markets, I might be sitting on as much as $10.00 worth of dried beans.  Subtract the five bucks for seed, and you're looking at a whopping $5.00 profit.  This is no way to get rich.  So why do it?



Well, if you don't like the labor, you shouldn't do it.  Most home gardeners work a plot of land that is too small for low value crops (like dried beans) to compensate their investment of time and, more importantly, the space the beans take up.  The truth is that, from a dollars and cents perspective, there is absolutely no reason to plant and harvest your own shelling beans.  I'm gonna dub them "pantry beans" right now, because mine are currently in my pantry, and they look fantastic in their jars.  Does that make them more valuable?    It does to me.  I don't play the stock markets, and I don't have life insurance.  I don't have dental insurance, but I don't drink Coke.  Are we getting somewhere now?


I might be playing a fool's game, running this miniature farm in my front yard.  Spending as much time as I do to produce food (and luxury goods like flowers).  The market can easily undercut me.  Time is money, but I still invest my time in the "profitless" enterprise of gardening and self-sufficiency.  Why?  The answers are many.  Here are three:  (1) The high quality food I get cannot be obtained at any grocery store for any price; the goods are simply not available.  Not even the most high-brow posh brands can compete on quality.  (2) The work gratifies me.  When I tend my garden, I feel good.  My garden keeps me interested in living this life.  For someone prone to depression, putting a price tag on time spent in the garden is an impossible and foolish enterprise.  Finally, number (3): beans are political.  Anymore, I don't rant about the gross injustices of this world, but I do plant beans.  I prioritize my time so that I can do what I intend to do, and I intend to run a mini farm in my front yard.  Penny for penny, the massive food corporations can beat the pants off me.  They can sell me a pound of dried beans for peanuts, but at what cost and to whom?  If I replant a handful of the beans I harvested this year, next year I will know the entire arc of the beans I harvest.  I will know the entire arc of their existence.  The beans that tumble out of the bluk bins and into my baggie at the grocery store...I don' t know squat about them.  I don't know who picked them, who shipped them, who hauled the heavy sacks of them on and off a bunch of trucks I don't know anything about.  The point is that the food system is a system like any other, but also that you can opt out of it with each bean you shell.




Can I opt out completely?  Probably not.  Would I even want that?  Is that even a good idea?  Also probably not.  But is it important, both actually and symbollically, to take the power back?  You bet it is.  That's the real value, and it's a value that's hard plug into a spreadsheet.  And it must be this way.  In a world driven by dollars and cents, by profit, the meaning of "value" is flattened out, it becomes, to use the term coined by Herbert Marcuse, 1 dimensional.  Value has only one meaning, and that meaning is $$$.  This is precisely what the powers that be want.  They want their value to be more valuable than your value.  They don't even want you to have your own notion of value.  This why I plant beans: I don't like those guys; I think their value stinks. 

28 comments:

AgingGal said...

I grew up as a cotton farmer's daughter in West Texas, so I truly feel your pain. Funny, I sometimes feel like blogging is very similar (planting seeds, sowing and watering, always waiting for results). Good luck to you! Aging Gal

Barbies4Sale! said...

Congratulations on your Blog of Note!
from Barbie and Ken of the Barbies4Sale blog.

Elise said...

Having just discovered your blog, having only read today's entry, I am heartened by your contemplations of value. This is a constant topic of thought, frustration, conversation, battle and debate in my own existence. Measuring value, recognizing value, defining value, giving value, acknowledging value--the ability, power and choice is in our very hands, every moment. I acknowledge your manner of defining worth. It mirrors mine. I would choose your beans every time. I sorely wish more of us would.

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DUNIA HUKUM said...

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DUNIA HUKUM said...

good article,

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Mickie_G said...

I tried growing black beans this year in my "garden" (a few large pots and a small raised bed). Unfortunately, the heat created an early demise for most of my plantings. I did get a handful of beans, though. BTW, your images are wonderful.

Bill said...

Ah, who are "they"?

PUJA said...

nice blog

Joy Ni dhomhnaill said...

I love this post..I also feel your pain, I live in Ireland and our weather is good for two things, cabbage and potatoes. I grew both this year. I also planted tomatoes and waited months for them to yield about 15 tomatoes. They were good tho..anyway, really like this post!

mjunta said...

nice picture!

Tony Payne said...

It's always good to grow your own, as long as they don't go the way of the tomatoes we grew last year. The fruit grew nice and large, but stayed green, then got a disease and we had to pull up the plants and throw them all away.

G.N.SHAW said...

Nice artical.

Jono Tosch said...

Thanks everyone.

Bill, "they" are "us."

Jono

Shobby said...

Thanks.....

bizandlegis said...

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Jones Andersen said...

Congrats on the blog of note :D

Dan Deeny said...

fantastic blog, well done

Candy Dayz said...

Fascinating article! Just past by my colleague, Dan.

1904 Blogger said...

interesting pictures

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Dmarie said...

gosh, excellent post! congrats on being named a Blog of Note. I look forward to seeing more of your blog!

Bumblechick Food said...

I'm including two links. The first is about sports. Really? Sports? Yes, it's an article on the NBA lockout talking about the "psychic benefits" of owning an NBA franchise. Value is not just about dollars and sense. It's about getting what you want out of life:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6874079/psychic-benefits-nba-lockout

The next link is to my food blog. Feel free to read and/or follow and/or ignore. I enjoyed your perspective:

www.bumblechickfood.blogspot.com

P.S. Congratulations on "Blog of Note" status!

88Keys said...

I dont like those guys either. They set the value, control the value and keep all economic societies wrapped around their little fingers. I truly appreciate your streak of rebellion, imagine if everyone in the world did something similar, maybe only then, when each person refuses to play their game in their own way can we break out of their tangled web of control. Beautiful blg :)

dbw said...

Great writing!

Just Me said...

Well done - blog of note...

Just Me said...

Well done - blog of note...