In the 60’s Joni Mitchell sang, “Give me spots on the apples but leave me the birds and the bees.” That song was a hippy revolutionary call. Her song helped birth a counter culture that is rising again. We are called back to right relation to food, our bodies, and the body of our Mother Earth. I wonder if she knew that.
Born in 1956, I listened to the 60’s on the radio. Our family got a black and white TV when I was 8 or 9. We watched Walter Cronkite and the news, Ed Sullivan, and Disney by the time I was 10, but not more than that. TV was never on during a meal, nor was the living room arranged around or focused on it.
I grew up in a wooded town of Massachusetts on a dead end dirt road. The town was transforming from summer cottages along rivers and a lakes (multiples of both in the town) to a bedroom community. Every day, my after school life was the woods, nature, and creative imagination. I could see auras then as now, perceive nature spirits, follow the animal trails, or listen to a plant as it would tell me if I could eat it or not. Also, the mosquito truck would spray clouds of pesticides a few wooded streets away. Kids would follow the truck thinking that the cloud was fun. Not me; something wasn’t right about it.
During the summer that I turned 9, I noticed less bird song in the morning and fewer hawks through the day. Somehow the frogs and toads weren’t as boisterous, and the cricket population seemed to be exploding. One day when climbing a tree, I saw something I’d never seen before: a nest full of eggs that had crushed and the half formed babies inside were all dead. I asked my father if he, too, had noticed these things and asked about the nest of broken eggs. He told me about the mosquito spraying. The conversation mentioned the “word” DDT. He said he was concerned. He also said that our small town was no longer going to spray because it wasn’t safe.
Joni Mitchell’s song became the anthem of those who started growing apple trees and other produce without pesticides. It wasn’t a movement then, just some hippies smoking pot and growing things (including pot). They “dropped out” of main stream society, set up communes, often as far away from society as was functional, and lived off the land. My dad talked about his wish for that, too, but his practical side kept us where we were. From that summer onward, however, there was a garden in the yard, no chemicals were ever used, and I learned the basics from him.
All of Mother Nature is organic, and up until the early 1950’s crops were grown only that way. Natural fertilizers or soil adjusters (bone meal, seaweed, saw dust, manure, etc) were used as was crop rotation, companion planting, and letting fields go fallow in order to renew. But soon after WWII, something happened: a consumer culture was being created. Commercials were flooding the senses of Americans, and traditional farming could not keep up with the demand. At that time supermarkets did not exist yet, but that was going to change quickly. The idea of convenience, contrived abundance, and shelf-life had been introduced to the public as an aspect of a life made easier. The thrifty Depression-era survivors were being replaced by have-it-all Cold War Americans. Education and a white collar were deemed more upstanding and financially rewarding than the farm or a blue collar task. As a result, federal dollars went away from the farm and the trades and into college education and the skills of the mind and money. A business class was born, and one of its first orders of business was mass-produced grain based foods and a meat based diet.
Born right then and there:
- a grain industry
- a pesticide industry
- dairy and meat industries
- development of processed foods
- food production became a process instead of a life style or a relationship with the Earth
- the health of Americans began to be sold to the lowest bidder, and the health of the soil, water, and air sold out too.
Up until about 60 years ago, almost all produce on the planet was raised organically because that was the only way to grow anything. Up until then, the people of the world ate more vegetables than meat and ate more local cheeses than drank milk. In America, meat and potatoes was becoming the preferred dinner, with grains and milk the preferred breakfast. Enter the ’60’s and the troubadours of those times. The songs of the youth of America and Europe sang a different tune. Most were not about the land but enough of them were about being aware and responsible.