Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The agricultural permit, necessary by Congressional mandate, became even more onerous than it had been. The single inspector going address to address to check for compliance became a full-blown inspection team. The extension office employee took samples in the field, orchard, and kitchen garden. There were the surveyors that double checked field size against harvest claims. There was the specialist who dictated – it was no longer simply a recommendation - what crops could be grown where and by what method using which seed stock. There was the Assessor making sure that all was in compliance and that no potential income was being hidden from the taxing authorities. There was the clerk sent to document every inspection through photographs and endless paperwork. For some reason there was even a social worker who wanted to know all the stuff that wasn’t the government’s business about our family so that they could “help citizens through these tough times.” Overseeing all of the other personnel was the lead federal agent who made sure all of the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. The last members of the group were the armed guards that protected the poor ol’ civil servants who were just doing their jobs.

The first time they switched from a single inspector to the team approach my dad’s blood pressure when sky high. They were nosing into things they had no business nosing into, especially the social worker who demanded to inspect our house even though she had no legal right to do so. They backed down from that one but not until Dad called a buddy from highschool that worked at the local radio station as a news anchor. They did however promise to get a court order and do a pop inspection at their leisure and timing.

Dad took their “pop inspection” threat seriously and by the time they got back around to him we were ready with all of our account books in order – the “other set” - and most everything of real value hidden in the cave. Since they’d never made it into the house they didn’t know what had been there and what hadn’t. They also didn’t know that dad had built a henhouse on one of the ledges down in the sink and had trained some of the chickens to consider it home. When one of the inspectors remarked that there were fewer chickens Dad just said, “Times are tough as you know. We don’t have the crops to feed the animals so we fed the animals to ourselves. Same with the hogs you said are missing.”

In reality the hogs weren’t missing, the hams and shoulders were curing in the cave and the rest of the parts had either been rendered into lard or canned for later use. In a sense it was the truth, we didn’t have the feed to really take care of the animals we had. Dad had butchered two of our three cows before the first team inspection and didn’t that burn the biscuits of the tax man when he couldn’t prove that we had sold any of the meat.

Of course the inspectors didn’t like feeling that someone had pulled a fast one. Dad said at the dinner table that night he didn’t care what they liked or didn’t, he was tired of feeling like a powerless serf to our Chinese overlords. Turns out he really wasn’t that far off the mark.

Because too many people were “gaming the system” even more draconian rules were put into effect. If it was found you had more than your “fair share” or that you were “hording” any given resource (using their definition which fell far from the mark of commonsense) you were re-inspected and your parameters and allowances were changed; said resources could also be seized in lieu of a fine if they so chose. This created a lot of chaos and confusion, especially as people were trying to plan the spring planting season and survive the ever increasing costs at the grocery store.

Additionally, large fines could be levied if they found you hadn’t bought the right kind of permit or had claimed to have harvested one variety when in reality it was something else, even if it was from accidental cross pollination with a neighboring farm. You couldn’t get permits for varieties that weren’t GMO’d against Heart Rot, which was what the mainstream media had started calling the plant disease.

All of the upheaval of the chaos and confusion inevitably led to what you would expect. Rather than creating a strong and bio-diverse agricultural environment that could withstand the disease’s encroachment, it led to a weak environment ripe for severe contamination.

The first cases of Heart Rot in the US appeared in the citrus crops of Florida and California right after Christmas. At first people thought it was a citrus canker causing the fruit to fall and rot before it was ready for harvest. That was the official party line for a while anyway. Then came the destruction of the strawberry crops in and around Plant City, FL where the fruit appeared to rot overnight en masse. The blooms that remained turned out to be sterile.

As soon as Dad heard about the citrus blight he ramrodded us all into helping finish the grow rooms he was building in the deepest recesses of the cave. This necessitated increasing the solar capacity over there but the only way to do that was to take it away from the house and barn. The light came from grow lights he’d “confiscated” from some rental houses that he’d helped to rehab.

He and Momma had been making their own compost for years so the “dirt” they used to put into the grow rooms was sterile and ready. The water for the grow rooms’ drip irrigation system came from the spring. Dad had hidden the spring with natural stone and then piped some of the water so that it went through several filters (again scavenged and rehabbed from abandoned houses) before it was allowed to enter the cave or the animal enclosure as an automatic watering trough. The remainder of the run off was rerouted so that it flowed into an existing stream that disappeared into the BLM acreage.

It was a sweet set up once you got passed the fact that it was what amounted to a hole in the ground. It wasn’t perfect, no natural lighting for one. There were lots of LED solar lights and “torches” that could be used but the conduit that the wiring ran through wasn’t real attractive. Also to help with the lighting problems Dad used Momma’s idea of placing mirrors in certain locations in each room so that what light there was magnified by reflection.

The floor was uneven in places and we had to build platforms for some of the furniture to sit on or it would rock if not outright fall over at the least provocation. The further back in the cave you went you ran into some really cold spots where the temperature hovered in the low 40s. This also made it so that the grow rooms’ temperature had to be monitored. Some of the really warm weather crops had to have off and on year around heating but it was great for cold weather crops like some leafy greens.

Back near the grow rooms there was a little bit of trouble with trapped moisture but Dad fixed that using dehumidifiers and fans and a couple of weather-proof doors to close off the grow rooms from the rest of the cave system. He also built an entry room where people could clean up before entering the cave. This was originally to create security for the cave and to keep the weather out, but it was also useful for keeping any contamination out so that we could make the best effort to make sure our seed stock of heirloom varieties remained safe and so that we could have some fresh food to go with all of the dried and canned food that was stored in bulk for our family’s use.

Then the winter wheat crop totally failed to make seed heads, not just ours but everywhere in this country, and the panic that the rest of the world was experiencing was finally felt in our own living rooms.

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