Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You should have seen Ethylene Pam....

So Horticulture class has been chugging along. Got an A on my mid-term, am learning a decent amount, but the text remains brutal and the focus seems to be on large-scale commercial agriculture. It's all I can do not to scream when I read things like, "Perhaps someday we can discover how to reduce transpiration to save water." (Transpiration is the process by which plants take water from the ground and put it into the air. It's what makes them temperature regulators, and our allies in fighting global warming.)

The more I learn, not only am I more fascinated, I'm horrified. I walk into the produce department, even at Whole Foods, and as I read signs telling me of the various near and far origins of various fruits and vegetables, my mind fills with images of artificially applied Plant Growth Regulators, Controlled and Modified Environments, CO2 and ethylene saturation. I know most of this stuff has been picked Mature Green, and that a ton of energy (mostly from fossil fuels) has gone into presenting what I see before me. I know that nutrition decays first, then flavor, then appearance.

"You lie," I whisper to the bright, pure-looking fruit..

And at the bottom of it all, I get this sense that most of this knowledge that I struggle to remember is something any decent farmer, or someone who grew up knowing how to feed themselves just.. knows. That understanding how food grows should be something we all know, rather than have to learn from a text book. For instance, many people know that in order to hasten the ripening of bananas, you put them in a paper bag. I now know that this is because bananas give off ethylene, a maturation hormone, and trapping it and concentrating it in the bag hastens the bananas' ripening, (and that of other fruit put in there with them). But is it important to know this, or sufficient just to know that it works? In other words, is someone who knows to do this less knowledgeable because they don't understand the chemical process?

Still waiting to hear whether I'll get into the Master Gardener Program. With that practical grounding, I'll pursue private permaculture studies. And if I still don't have a job next summer, I'll see about interning at a farm.

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