Category Archives: Energy

Waiting For The Electrician, Or Someone Like Him

That’s the title of the first album by the crazy Firesign Theatre audio troop, cut back in 1968. It also describes me over much of the weekend, which is part of the price you pay for living in the Texas Outback.

No power again this morning, so I’m writing the first draft on actual analog paper, with a physical pen – can you believe it?

Yesterday, a transformer blew before noon, going off like a shotgun, which I reported to the proper authorities at the CenterPoint Energetic Monopoly of Houston. Unfortunately for us (in this case) our modest, aging and eclectic neighborhood lies 36 miles outside the megalopolis.

So yeah, two and a half hours rolled by and yet no CenterPoint crews had set foot in the neighborhood, notwithstanding their regional facility just down the street. One grows used to such fate on the fringes, so one hauls out the propane generator, fires it up and prevents the food in one’s fridge and freezer from spoiling. Then one might contemplate the wondrous beauty of an incredible fall day for another couple of hours until, somewhere around 4:30, utility crews actually show up and fix the problem.

electric_transformer.jpg

Until 8:30 the following morning (today), when we repeat the whole exercise because, well, just because.

I don’t know why, but I am reminded of a day many years ago, 1985 to be exact, when I patrolled the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a roving country reporter in South Carolina. And lo! after many decades, a tiny village area tucked away down a small road from “civilization” finally was hooking up with The World electricity-wise. And it turned out an elderly man of nearly 90 years was discovered to have lived all his life in the rural community. And a reporter was tasked with asking the gentleman how he thought his life might change now that he finally could hook up to the grid.

“Ain’t ever needed electricity before,” he said, or something approximate. “Don’t see what I need it for now.”

Also posted in Country Life, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

Hello. I’m Bob, And I Am An Addict

I am addicted to factory food.

If anyone should know better, it’s me. I have attempted to grow and produce an increasing percentage of my family’s food for years now. I know how much effort it takes to produce my own food, and I know the costs hidden behind the grocery store prices. I know the U.S. food distribution system is not even close to sustainable.

Yet I keep going back to the grocery store for more.

This is because I am like (most of) you: I only have so much money with which to pay unavoidable expenses and purchase life’s necessities. I have researched my monthly expenses and, based on past costs, I have allocated a set amount to cover the cost of food. I know that my family would be healthier and my local region would be on an ever-so-slightly stronger economic footing if I would frequent local farmers markets and buy pasture-raised meats and home-produced eggs all the time instead of once in a blue moon.

But I am afraid I can’t afford to devote a larger portion of income to food.

There is hope for me, however. Economic pain, too, but hope. Ironically, it comes from Mexican drug cartels.

I found this out after two recent grocery store trips in which I found that two small, hard unripened limes were being offered for a dollar at one store, while the other was offering a single lime for the price of 80 cents. In the recent past, good, ripe limes were being offered at the rate of five or, sometimes, 10 for a dollar.

Food prices in general have been rising at a very fast pace so far in 2014, but the soaring price of limes has just been extreme, so much so that I attempted to find out what’s behind it, and eventually found this.

In a nutshell, U.S. grocers import most of their limes from Mexico, even the Key Limes you thought came from the Florida Keys. The most important lime-growing regions in Mexico are under the thumb of the cartels. The drug cartels, like other organized crime ventures before them, have learned to branch out. Among many other things, they have become adept at siphoning money out of the lime market, and also the Mexican avocado market – at every level. Read the various news articles listed in the Google link at the end of the previous paragraph if you don’t believe me, or are interested in details of how this has transpired and what the implications may be.

I personally had believed that our food distribution system would be more likely to fall apart due to increasing fuel prices, since studies I’ve seen say more than seven units of fossil fuel energy are now consumed in order to produce one equivalent unit of food energy. I had not considered that extortion from organized crime might become so prevalent that it would cause people to seek more local and sustainable sources of food.

When Life Gives You Lemons - You Don't Need No Stinkin' LimesFor me, I happen to have an abundance of really good lemons. And while I realize that lemons just aren’t as good as limes in some cases, in others, they are. I’ll for sure be using my own lemons before I pay 80 cents for a puny drug cartel-controlled lime. And, while it’s just a tad too cold around here in winter to plant my own lime trees, people locally do grow them in big pots and protect them in cold weather. I might just try that.

On a more serious note, though, the lime fiasco and the major increase in grocery prices overall (due in large part to the major increase in fuel prices) just foreshadows the inherent weaknesses in a system where we obtain a large portion of our food from giant agricultural operations located thousands of miles away, while ignoring local growers because their operations are too small for a Kroger or Walmart to consider.

Eventually, I believe, we’re going to have to buy more of our food from local sources. But the rub is that good, local food will cost us more. Unless we grow it ourselves.

Also posted in Big Ag, Economics, Factory Food, Farm

Daniel Boone’s Ice Box

There’s a lot to be said for the peaceful serenity of country life far off the beaten path. This is not one of those stories.

This is more about the evils of planned obsolescence and expectations involving the power grid and modern conveniences and how participants in what’s laughingly referred to as the service industry generally tend not to be responsive to requests that hail from even just a few miles out in The Sticks,

This is a story about a major appliance gone awry, to be precise. Although three weeks ago or so, when I’d gone out to the farm to rescue some plants from yet another early spring freeze, it appeared disaster had been averted.

It was a Friday morning and none of us had been to the place in a while, and when I entered the kitchen I noticed the stove and microwave clocks were blinking, telltale signs of a past power outtage. I opened the refrigerator door to stash a couple of things but found no light on inside.

Damn! I thought, now I was going to find a bunch of ruined food. But no, apparently the power outtage had occurred recently. Chickens and racks of ribs remained frozen in the fridge’s freezer. Ice cubes still were ice. Good fortune! Except that the refrigerator wasn’t working.

A quick check of the electrical box showed the circuit breaker had tripped, on the circuit into which the fridge was plugged. I reset the breaker, went back to the kitchen and checked the fridge and found the light was now on when I opened the door, and I could hear the motor running. I went to work bringing plants inside the house before a late winter storm rolled in. Everything went well.

Or so I thought. Fast forward another two weeks, and I’d gone back out to the farm to put the plants back outside, because finally Spring was here and the weather was warming noticeably. I walked into the farmhouse kitchen and thought I’d caught a whiff of something like a dead rat as I passed through the door. But I didn’t see anything, and wasn’t really sure I’d smelled anything either.

Until I opened the refrigerator door. Oh, the motor was humming away, and the light came on. Bright enough that I could easily see all the horribly rotten food, and the putrid meat in the freezer compartment. Believe me when I say without going into detail that insects had somehow discovered and begun inhabiting this goldmine of decomposition. If I were commissioned to create my own version of the Gates of Hell, the damned probably would be made to walk through something very much like what I found in our fridge, dead motor mocking me from the grave with a live lightbulb.

(Did I mention this total failure of a refrigerator was a mere 2 years old? By contrast, I once inherited a Fridgidaire from the early 1950s, and used it to keep food perfectly cold for another 12 years. What the hell has become of the manufacturing sector? Have they no shame, sir?)

I’m going to stop now and not describe the excruciating clean-up process, the removal of the offending appliance, nor the effort required to remove that offense from sight and olfactory gland.

I will say, however, that our country place is used as a weekend getaway and, since we’re gone more than we’re there, we have opted not to pay for monthly garbage collection. Instead, we haul out what garbage we generate. That system has worked fairly well. But when you find your plastic trash bags are filled with rotting meat, you tend to dissuade yourself from the idea of putting said bags in any vehicle that you own or might have to drive.

The only thing I have left to say on the matter is this: I believe I now could dispose of a body if that became necessary.

As for the so-called service industry, nobody wants to come haul off a broken refrigerator full of rotten meat. They don’t even want to haul off a broken fridge without the meat.

And they don’t want to deliver a new replacement appliance either, not into The Sticks, not into the Texas Outback, not anywhere outside SuburbanVille apparently, especially if you don’t have a mailbox. Now I’m pretty sure I know why Daniel Boone was so cranky.

Also posted in Country Life, Farm, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

3 More Reasons

Here are today’s three reasons why it’s better to buy your food from local growers/producers than it is to get your food from companies who buy it cheap from other countries, then ship it across the continent (or the planet) to a store in your town, which then jacks up the price to cover shipping costs, but won’t vouch for the quality. Or safety.

→ 1. Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc. of Coral Gables, Florida is voluntarily recalling 4,992 cartons of cantaloupes… because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella Panama, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems…

The cantaloupes, grown in and shipped from Del Monte Freshs’ farm Asuncion Mita in Guatemala, have a light brown color skin on the exterior, with orange flesh…

This cantaloupe recall is being implemented following a notification from the FDA that there is an epidemiologic link between the cantaloupes and approximately 12 reported cases of Salmonella Panama.

→ 2. March 18, 2011 – WorldVariety Produce, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA is recalling Serrano Peppers, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems…

The affected Serrano Peppers were isolated to 300 cases from Lot # 69073901, product of Mexico…

The affected Serrano peppers were sold from bulk displays (at Wal-Mart stores) between the dates of March 1, 2011 through March 18, 2011…

The recall was as the result of a routine sampling program by the USDA which revealed that the finished products contained the bacteria.

→ 3. As mothers fretted over supply, Japanese farmers worried about demand for their food, tainted by the government’s advisory that residents not eat 11 leafy vegetables grown in prefectures near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, citing elevated levels of radioactive materials found in them.

The advisory has left farmers across the country wondering about the impact on their livelihood as consumers weigh the risks…

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries sent a letter to banks this week encouraging them to provide loans to farmers who want to rebuild. And the government has promised that the embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the nuclear plant, will provide stipends to farmers whose crops have been contaminated.

As I picked what probably will be the last of my two rows of unradioactive spinach yesterday, I thought of Tokyo Electric Power, whom NRG Energy still has not rejected as a partner in the planned (but hopefully, DOA) expansion of an aging nuclear power plant about 75 miles from my garden. Even while nuclear reactors continue their slow-motion meltdown in Japan, our own Nuclear Regulatory Agency actually is considering allowing NRG to continue operating this 20-plus-year-old nuclear plant for an additional 20 years after what was to have been its effective life.

Have we learned nothing over the past 20 years? Or the past 10 days?

Also posted in Be Afraid, Big Ag, Factory Food