Archive for Adventures in The Southern US

Story of the Day: Comfort

Here’s the Story of the Day: Comfort

Whenever I go on a trip,

I think about all the homes I’ve had

& I remember how little has changed

about what comforts* me.

www.storypeople.com

* = my old worn out feather pillow that mom un-stuffed by hand for just the right level of fluffiness ::  coffee, but good, freshly ground strong fair trade organic coffee in a very large mug with vanilla soymilk & cinnamon :: full, whole body, real hugs in which you can breath in the goodness :: plain organic yogurt :: the crease at the corner of your big brown eyes when you smile :: pigeon pose @ yoga :: wine with mom & lu after a long journey :: cherry red :: long walks outside on a cold or warm day, as long as the sun is on my face :: travel & discovery & long scenic bus rides :: corn tortillas fresh from the comal :: the thought of having a garden full of fresh herbs one day :: loitering all day long at the coffee shop ::  stella & humphrey :: dad’s salt & pepper ‘stash :: enjoying kim crawford savignon blanc :: lenine + jorge drexler + laura’s famous music mixes :: wrapping up in my paisely indian scarf on long rides ::

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Of Lemurs and Liquor Laws in Lubbock County

Lubbock is a curious place. On the first sunny, real summer-like day (yes, it’s already been 88 degrees & sunny), my yoga teacher commented that she had fun that afternoon “letting the monkey out.”  I chuckled internally, not wanting to know exactly what she meant by it. Until she followed it up with, “Yes, we have a lemur, and he’s been caged up all winter.”

While lemurs are legal in Lubbock County, liquor sales are heavily regulated.  My best friend Laura and I rolled into the the gas station on the outskirts of Lubbock on our way into town with the intention of stocking up on some beer for a superbowl Sunday party. When I said that I couldn’t find the beer,the guy behind the counter quizzically responded, “Wel, ma’am, thats be-cawse Lubbock is a dry county.”  Need to re-load on a Saturday night?  Liquor can be bought only at the strip, an exempt group of liquor stores about a 15 minute drive from campus.

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The strip – a string of Vegas-styled liquor stores located within Lubbock city limits.

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final (and only) destination.

On a puddle jumper from LBB to Dallas. I ask the check in guy if this was indeed the plane to Dallas, and he turns to me; ” why honey” ( more of a molasseey huuuuunhay ), “Dallas is the oooonnlyyyy destination from Lubbock.”

I share the 25 row plane with two soldiers- destination unknown- a woman on her way to her mom’s 70th birthday, a few cowboy hats, and a handful of tech students.

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Could local food make West Texas sexier?

Although West Texas isn’t as sexy a subject to blog about as sunny, tropical northeastern Brazil (echeeem, see lack of comments on my two most recent posts, readers!), I’m finding more similarities in the regions, this time related to the local economy and agriculture. Yesterday’s New York Times reports the worst drought that 75% of Texas has experienced in over a century; “Farmers say the soil is too dry for seeds to germinate and are considering not planting. ” I’m currently blogging from this largest contiguous cotton-growing region in the world, with a semi-arid climate in which cotton is suited to grow.  Curiously, I’ve  just moved to West Texas from the largest contiguous semi-arid region in the world, also a strong cotton growing region, in Brazil’s northeastern sertão.

So, two questions arise.  Why in the heck does that matter?   And, would the availability of local fruits & vegetables in make West Texas a sexier blogging topic for you readers? (everyone seemed to like the tropical fruit photos from Brazil).

In relation to the rain, while I haven’t talked to local farmers in West Texas, I did conduct in-depth interviews with farmers Brazil’s sertão as a part of my Fulbright research project on local market access and agroecology.  During my interviews, local Brazilian farmer Dona Elinite told me that, “The challenge of being a family farmer is that it’s like you’re playing the lottery.  Because if the winter was good, you’ll have good production [crop yield].  If the winter was reasonable your production as well will be reasonable, it won’t be at 100% production.  And the great challenge to us is the question of the rain,” (Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, 3 Nov 09).

Referring to the lack of rainfall in Texas this year:

“We make the joke we can’t even grow weeds this winter,” Mr. Abrameit said.

As a result, farmers have found themselves playing a guessing game. Does one plant corn now and hope for rain, or wait for rain, hoping it comes in time to plant sorghum? Or wait still later and plant cotton, which can be grown until later in the summer? Some admit privately that they will plant knowing the crop will fail in hopes of collecting insurance. Others say they may not plant at all.

Source: New York Times, “Texas Ranchers and Farmers Struggle in Drought,” 11 Feb 09.

Compounding the crisis for US and Brazilian farmers alike, falling crop and beef prices are effecting the financial viability of the already difficult farm sector.  A surprising 94% of US farmers are still considered small-scale (gross sales of $250,000 or less).  Just 7% of those farmers make the US average household income.  Falling prices and drought no doubt mean further hardships for farmers in the US farming sector.

In contrast, Brazilians still get 70% of their food supply from their own small farmers, meaning those families who farm on plots of 10 acres or less . In the supermarkets of Recife you’ll be hard pressed to find kiwis from New Zealand and french green beans from Kenya.  By and large, Brazilians still buy local, and there are plenty of passion fruits, mangos, guavas, and pineapples from the region to suit their appetites. Additionally, a very small but growing number of farmers in Brazil’s sertão are moving away from mono-crops (growing just soy, sugarcane, cotton, corn or beans, for example) towards holistic, diversified farming systems via agroecology, organic, perma-farming, etc. Dona Elinite, who talked about the Brazilian farming ‘lottery’ above,  is  one such example.

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Dona Elinite admires her diverse crop production on a small piece of land in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region.  Her agrecological farm is lush & green and boasted 33 varieties of produce when I visited in November — a starck contrast to the dry, yellowing plots of her neighbors, who primarily harvest just corn & beans.

The struggle in Brazil is to keep its food supply healthy and local, supporting rural farming families & culture and Brazilian consumers, as well.  The United States lost a lot of ground over the past century due to a farm policy via the Farm Bill which is skewed towards corporate interests and very large farms who can afford to play the DC lobby game.  (For a great overview of these issues, check out Oxfam’s agriculture campaign)

But I wonder what life in West Texas might be like for local residents and farmers alike if we could all visit the local Amigos or United supermarket and find locally grown crops with multiple varieties of food, proudly labeled ‘West Texas.’  Local farmers would find themselves with a year-round market in this temperate climate, and by altering their farming techniques, may be able to insert some new life into the rural economy here.

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Driving across West Texas, the view is vast and treeless and the land dry dry dry.

It’s working in Indiana; according to the produce industry journal Fresh Plaza, over the last five years, as the demand for local, organic food has grown, small farms have grown by a whole 80%!

Just some early morning farming musings. I look forward to your comments on the farm economy of sexy West Texas.  Or sexier Brazil. Yeeeehaw.

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Lubbock or Leave It.

I’m experiencing a culture shock of sorts here in West Texas, but it’s slight, and I wonder if it is actually being cushioned by the fact that I moved here straight from northeastern Brazil, instead of from the northern United States.  I am finding a surprising number of similarities between northeastern Brazil and west Texas, ones that are a far reality from my life back in the northern U.S. of A.:

  • there’s lots of meat, and in any style imaginable (grilled, fried, baked… fillet, tongue, or liver anyone?);
  • texans, as brazilians, loooove their all you can eat barbecue (churrasco). The earlier in the day, the better;

    img_0020saturday morning’s line at the golden corral all-you-can-eat, chock-full-o-meat buffet

  • the region is considered ‘caipira,’ or hillbilly-ish, by the rest of the country;
  • (note: I personally wouldn’t call folks hillbilly here at all, just chock full of southern warmth);
  • everyone everywhere I go is super-friendly and super-interested in what in gaaaawd’s name brought a chicago gal here (fill-in-blank, lubbock/ recife);
  • radio stations alternate between country, amy grant 80’s ballads, and straight up bible-talk;
  • folks are proud of texas, just as they are proud of pernambuco, brazil, & display their flag at every chance they get;img_00012

    my first afternoon with Uncle Sam at the local coffee shop J&B’s

  • people slip ‘oh gawd’/ ‘meu deus, or ‘jesus!’ or ‘mother mary!’/ ‘nossa senhora do ceu’ — what in brazil i called god-speak or jesus talk–  frequently into conversation.

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the local Barnes and Noble even has a specialty and everyday bible section… as well as 8 rows of books on christian spirituality.  Smart marketing..

However, this is not meant to downplay or to simplify the differences between northeastern brazil and west texas.  One common difference I attribute simply to being in the United States. Most things here are large, exaggerated, and probably requires a car to arrive at.  Preferably a very large car.

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a Saturday night at the local Irish pub, my tiny, shiny red Volvo looked somewhat puny in between these giants

The most surprising difference thus far relates to the alcohol policy of this college-town.  Lubbock lies within a dry county; in fact, alcohol wasn’t even sold here until well into the latter half of the 20th century.  In Brazil I would see small children run down to the corner store at noon on Sunday to buy their drunk dad a bottle of cheap, home-made caçaca (rum).  In Lubbock, the drunk college kids jump in their cars to drive to “The (liquor-law exempt) Strip,” which consists of a bunch of liquor stores lit up by Vegas-style lights which operates outside of the  city’s liquor laws.

l1080852The Lubbock Strip (photo: Laura McFarlane)

It’s so American that it even has a drive-in.

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The Lubbock Strip (photo: Laura McFarlane)

When hearing of my plans to move to West Texas from Brazil, many of my friends warned of the impending shock.  One even pointed me to the Dixie Chicks song, Lubbock or Leave it, which forewarns:

Dust bowl, Bible belt
Got more churches than trees
Raise me, praise me, couldn’t save me
Couldn’t keep me on my knees
Oh, boy, rave on down loop 289
That’ll be the day you see me back
In this fool’s paradise

Though, so far my culture shock is not really attribultable to Texas nor to this fool’s paradise, but rather just the fact that I am back in the land of largess – Miami, Chicago, Lubbock, or L.A.

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