Every tenderfoot city-bred person like myself would benefit by reading my friend Stanley Crawford’s new work, The Garlic Papers — A Small Garlic Farm In The Age Of Global Vampires, if only to get the feel of how many skills and tools and thoughts are necessary to work even a two-acre garlic farm beside a small river in northern New Mexico. You think what you do is hard? Try farming! Honestly, I’ve known Stanley for a long time, and long ago accepted that I’ll never be the writer he is. But that he can write so well AND be this farmer? — in truth, I know no one else who encompasses such range.
The new book documents how Stanley and some other concerned citizens have tried to challenge and change the ways China — yes, China, the country — scams U.S. trade policies to bully small U.S. farms. As outlandish as it seems, one writer-farmer and a lawyer are challenging China and China is responding as though Stanley’s farm was an entire enemy country. Witness the amassed power of a mega-country versus a two-acre farm.
The Garlic Papers’ account is vivid, entertaining, revealing, but, for all the book teaches, that’s not why I read Stanley Crawford. Here’s what I wrote to him privately, before I thought of excerpting a chapter for austinsun.us:
Stanley, I am, as ever, in awe of your quiet prose, patient yet urgent (urgent yet patient?), wryly solemn (solemnly wry?), sonorous/conversational — deft! — as you acrobatically handle detail after detail after detail with no strain at all, and the image I get is of a blindfolded juggler.
In the chapter I chose to excerpt, “Apocalypse Shortly,” the book takes a breather from the struggle as some local Dixon, New Mexico, farmers gather for an evening to rest from their various endeavors. Their favorite topic is no doubt familiar to you: The End Of The World.
— Michael Ventura
From late spring until early summer, our main work on the farm is dealing with weeds. They like to grow twenty-four hours a day. They grow while you eat and rest and sleep. They grew especially well under the fine-spun white polyester floating row covers I lay down over new plantings of lettuce and other greens, to protect the crops from nibbling flea beetles and thrips and squirrels and cottontail rabbits. Weeds are markedly fond of drip irrigation. Combine the two, row covers and drip irrigation, and you will be amazed at how well you can grow weeds.
We should be out there weeding twenty-four hours a day, not a mere four or six. I say “we” because the El Bosque Garlic Farm weeding team usually consists of me and another worker or intern or two. Up until she had trouble distinguishing weeds from crops, RoseMary was out in the field with the rest of us.
But now and then we kick back and say, “Hell with it, let ‘em grow, let ‘em flourish,” fooling them into thinking they will be able to take over. Time to walk away from it all, catch a few plays in New York, which RoseMary and I did for three days once in mid-May, a vacation our weeds especially relished.
Or just spend a nice spring evening with friends. A notable escape some years back was a potluck dinner up the First Arroyo, the Arroyo de la Mina, in Dixon, at activist-builder-painter Hank Brusselback’s new house, at a time when his wife, Gaia, had finished transitioning down from Boulder, where Gaia had taught at the university. A dozen of us Dixonistas left our weeds and evening chores in order to inspect Hank’s paintings and to gather in their living room to savor each others’ garden produce and cooking. After dinner, while half the party wandered around the house and yard, the rest of us found ourselves in a circle around the sofa discussing our favorite topic, the End of the World. A few of us were reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
T he conversation started innocently enough about the old days and how there were once five stores and three gas stations in Dixon, now only one and none, and the even older days when the Denver, Rio Grande, and Western Chili Line narrow-gauge steam trains were still puffing up and down the Rio Grande Gorge twice a day. It was common in the old days for families to make a yearly 50-mile round-trip to Española by horse and wagon for bulk supplies — not a daily car trip to Walmart. Everyone in the Embudo Valley farmed and kept livestock as a matter of basic survival. Up until the 1940s, Northern New Mexico probably resembled what Cuba became after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet subsidies: an intensely cultivated patchwork of organic farms — organic because trade embargoes ruled out the importation of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides. And in pre-1950 Northern New Mexico, no one could yet afford such potions, which in most cases hadn’t been invented yet. For lack of hard currency to support petroleum imports, the Cuban solution for agricultural motive power was a return to oxen.
A reflective moment fell over the living room when we all imagined a future without cheap oil and throwaway petroleum-derivative products, a world in which the automobile would become a museum curiosity. We pondered the prospect of all of us having to grow our own food. I thought about my weeds, some of which are edible. Someone who had recently read Clive Ponting’s excellent Green History of the World reported that Ponting estimated that if the planet reverted to a pre-agricultural form of existence, it could support only about four million hunter-gatherers.
It was time for us to lighten up. With some urgency, Karen Cohen, a retired public-health physician, asked, “What will we do about coffee?” In the post-petroleum world before us, when all of us will be spending most of our days planting and harvesting and irrigating (and weeding), we’ll surely need regular cups of coffee to keep us going. Coffee, like most present-day imported staples benefiting from low fuel and transportation costs, is bound to become prohibitively expensive.
Someone suggested that global warming might turn Northern New Mexico into a tropical paradise. We are, after all, at the right altitude to grow coffee. And chocolate. As we all know, chocolate is very important as another one of those enticements that awaits us at the end of a long session of weeding.
This led to more general dietary questions in situations of scarcity. “We could eat pigeons,” Robert Brenden coyly suggested. Brenden is a sculptor who winters in Oaxaca and Guadalajara. There followed an extended discussion of whether the pigeons living in the attic of the Dixon Presbyterian Mission should be eaten first ... or those in the Catholic Parish Hall attic. Someone wanted to know whether squab was still on the menus of fancy restaurants.
Robert Templeton, the Embudo Valley’s expert birder, advanced the interesting fact that James Audubon not only painted birds but also liked to eat his subjects. He found juncos most tasty. Dixon conveniently abounds in the chirpy little birds during the winter. Junco pie? Junco stew? Junco frittata?
Cohen, Templeton’s wife, spoke up again. “That still doesn’t solve the coffee problem.”
Or how to fend off the marauding hordes of Santafesinos who will look north to Dixon as the bread basket, or salad bowl, of Northern New Mexico and who, as supermarkets begin running out of their three-day supply of salad mix, will not much care about the niceties of property rights. Fine, fine, I could hear myself saying, take what you want from the garden, but could you pull a few weeds on your way through? Pointing out that some of them were quite edible, notably lambsquarters and purslane.
Brusselback, our host, suggested that given the rapid approach of the end of the world, it would be fitting to assemble an Armageddon Cookbook. One of his apocalyptic paintings would make a fine cover. Robert Brenden, the sculptor, reported the existence of a Mexican rat poison called La Última Cena, or the last supper. “And there are always grasshoppers, you know. In Oaxaca, if you want to return, you have to eat at least four of them before leaving.”
Silence fell over the small gathering as we contemplated the petroleum-less years ahead and the intractable problems of how to obtain chocolate and coffee — and a regular supply of fresh croissants from Santa Fe. As for the rest, we knew we could all put up with that. The place has not been called the "Independent Republic of Dixon" for nothing.
People yawned and stretched, looked at their watches and cell phones. Finally our host stood.
Stanley Crawford © 2019
Stanley Crawford is an American writer and farmer. His novels include, among others, Travel Notes, The Log of the S.S. The Mrs Unguentine, Some Instructions and Petroleum Man. His nonfiction works include A Garlic Testament, a biography of life on his farm in Dixon, New Mexico. Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico was the winner of the 1988 Western States Book Award for Creative Non-fiction.