111 Cardoons, Medlars and Hipster Toilets

On the podcast this week, Kelly and I read and respond to listener questions and comments about cardoons, medlars and Toto’s Eco Promenade toilet! Here’s some links to the topics we rap about:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

110 A Report from the 2017 National Heirloom Expo

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On the podcast this week are three interviews I recorded at the 7th annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California in the first week of September 2017. The organizers of the expo, Baker Creek Seeds, hold a press conference in the midst of the fair and that gave me the chance to talk to some really interesting folks including:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

A Celebration of Craft

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

The highlight of the National Heirloom Expo, for me, was running into three people who epitomize the value of dedication to a craft.

I’ve found that such craftspersons keep no secrets and are more than happy talk about techniques and tips. They are also, according to Matthew Crawford, an antidote to our culture’s narcissism. Crawford says, in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,

The moral significance of work that grapples with material things may lie in the simple fact that such things lie outside the self. A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption. Constantly seeking self-affirmation, the narcissist views everything as an extension of his will, and therefore has only a tenuous grasp on the world of objects as something independent. He is prone to magical thinking and delusions of omnipotence. A repairman, on the other hand, puts himself in the service of others, and fixes the things they depend on. His relationship to objects enacts a more solid sort of command, based on real understanding. For this very reason, his work also chastens the easy fantasy of mastery that permeates modern culture. The repairman has to begin each job by getting outside his own head and noticing things; he has to look carefully and listen to the ailing machine.

The trio of craftspersons I ran into at the expo included a baker, a tomato farmer and a nursery owner. They share common qualities: humility, openness and an attention to detail.

The baker is Dave Miller who I helped bring to LA to teach a series of classes. Miller specializes in whole grain breads made from freshly milled local grain. Most “whole grain” loaves baked in this country are actually white flour with food coloring, sugar and a small amount of stale whole grain flour. Miller can turn wet, sticky whole grain lumps into perfectly formed, airy loaves with one deft flick of the wrist. He has the skill to build an empire the size of La Brea Bakery but is happy working at a smaller scale selling loaves at the Chico farmer’s market once a week. I think he’s the most talented baker in the U.S.

I also ran into tomato farmer and breeder Fred Hempel who was a guest on episode 79 of our podcast. Like Miller, Hempel has a humility that goes along with a sincere engagement with the natural world. Like Miller he’s more than happy to discuss his craft.

A third person I met at the festival is Alice Doyle, owner of Log House Plants a wholesale nursery in Eugene Oregon. In her lecture she went alphabetically through a list of edible plants she thought were interesting. By the end of the hour, I think she reached the letter “J.” I wished we could have had a few more hours to get to “Z.” And this is another quality of the craftsperson, a selfless enthusiasm that can turn a list of vegetables into something way more interesting than what passes for entertainment in our culture. I’ll see if I can get Doyle on the podcast.

We are, I think, entering a dangerous new age of extreme narcissism fueled, in part, by Silicon Valley tech bros who have figured out a business model based on self-affirmation. We need more people like Miller, Hempel and Doyle.

Figs Happen

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You can stand around complaining that the squirrels got every single peach, that the rats got every grape, that there’s not enough time to weed, that the garden looks like crap. Then bam, figs happen. Lots of figs. So many figs that you start having to think about fig jams, fig compotes and figs with cheese and honey. But you’re also lazy so most of the figs get eaten somewhere between the tree and the front door. You promise figs to friends and neighbors but somehow that never happens.

If you’re the score keeping type let it be known that we’re talking about a Mission fig tree we planted around 2009 in our front yard.

How’s your garden doing this summer? Where do you live and what are you growing?

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What Tree Should I Plant? Cal Poly’s SelecTree Has the Answer

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 8.19.02 AMTree knowledge is not one of my stronger skills. Thankfully Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has us tree ignorant Californians covered with an extensive, searchable tree database called SelecTree that will help you find the right tree for your yard.

Or, let’s say, you’re bored with hours spent adding movies to your Netlix queue that you never plan to watch (one of my vices). How about searching for oddball trees instead? What about a California native tree with favorable fire resistance, low root damage potential that produces edible fruit? The database came up with two options, the hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) and the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea).

Let me also put in a plug for our favorite tree, the Fuerte avocado (Persea americana ‘Fuerte’).