Pomona in Chains

stinging nettlesBe gone, flee from Toulouse ye red ones,
For the sacrifice to make expiation:
The chief cause of the evil under the shade of pumpkins:
Dead to strangle carnal prognostication.

-The Prophecies of Nostradamus, Century IX, quatrain 46.

I don’t have the gift of vivid obscurantism that has given the rhymed prophecies of Michele de Nostradamus such relevance to so many people over the centuries and provoked so many varied and contrasting interpretations. Nor do I claim to be able to predict the fates of nations and princes as far out as 3797 AD, the way the French seer did. I’m a farmer, yoked to the mundane and obvious. But it’s a new year, and I’m not going to let my plodding, blindered, draft horse mentality hold me back any longer. I have six prophetic visions of stories that will be covered in the food/agricultural press during 2008, and if it turns out they’re not, they should have been. I’m not much of a poet, but you only have to wait one year to see if I’m totally full of bull. As a courtesy to the literal minded or cryptically impaired I provide my own interpretations for three of my oracular raving below, but let’s see if you can guess the rest. Here goes:

The Prophecies

  1. Demeter and Pomona in chains, tied to scaly trunks,
    Of giant eucalypti that smother all new shoots.
    Children in face paint talk to scarecrows at the harvest festival,
    While inspectors certify the parade.
  2. Tattooed youth flash navel rings,
    And suck on silver straws.
    Carried in a hollow gourd, green, frothing and aromatic,
    The vice of Paraguay spreads across the northland.
  3. A new ice age dawns.
    The Queen of Holstein bellows in pain,
    Her breasts swollen to bursting.
    But no men in white hats ride to her rescue.
  4. The apple tree goes up in smoke,
    But the little apple lingers.
    A joint turns on the spit
    While the sated critic looks into the coals.
  5. With a pass of the wand
    Decay shows itself beneath the green.
    The miles, the days— all is revealed.
    A little knowledge is an evil thing.
  6. Stupid thieves have eyes for gold,
    Coins, rings, and the pendent dangling in her cleavage.
    But junkies and men in loafers look beyond the surface,
    And see the wealth that glitters in dull metal.

Suggested Interpretations:

1. Pomona in Chains
: As Americans become more aware of their ignorance about where their food comes from and how it is produced the curious among us naturally want to learn more. Consumers, suspicious of the food for sale in chain stores and fast food restaurants, are turning to farmers markets as a wholesome alternative. But does the farmers’ market industry, as an institution, live up to the image the public has of it, or merit the faith and good will that the public places in it? Consumers can find the same farmer selling apples in at a farmers’ market in Vista, down by San Diego, as well as in others along the San Francisco bay. In fact, if you travel from market to market, you will see a number of the same farms selling all over the state— this in a state with thousands and thousands of farms. “Small” farms that have secured spots in the most profitable markets are becoming retail chains that spread their branches like mighty, water sucking trees, while new, local, smaller farms struggle in the shade to get any exposure at all. And the farmers markets themselves are increasingly organized under umbrella organizations that give consumers cookie-cutter versions of what “small” and “local” means in town after town. I predict that in 2008 an enterprising reporter for the business section, or community-minded bloggers with interest in the vitality of the food-shed, will begin to look beyond the face paint to seek answers for the following questions:

a) What is a farmers’ market legally, and how does it differ from a flea market, a supermarket, or the black market? Does the CDFA have the budget and the staff to adequately fulfill its mandate to oversee the markets? Is anyone really checking to see that all of the farmers are really farmers? Are inspectors or market managers willing or competent to tell the difference between dried apricots imported from Turkey or garlic imported from China? Can anyone explain how some small farms are able to “harvest” perfectly sized, graded red creamer potatoes all year long, while other farmers have to contend with seasonal harvests of potatoes of mixed sizes?


b) Who decides which farms get in to a farmers market, and why? Does the state have an interest in making sure that the institution of the farmers market serves the public as an incubator for a rising generation of new farmers, or should the privileges of a choice spot in a choice farmers market remain with the farmer/vendor in perpetuity? Should tax-paying farmers have to compete for limited farmers’ market stall spaces or divide their retail sales with tax-exempt non-profit organizations? Do farmers pay income taxes on their farmers’ market sales?

c) What role do farmers’ markets play in addressing the public’s increasing concerns about food security? Are the pesticide use reports that farms must submit to county agricultural agents public records, and if so, in this age of digital everything, might the public ever be in a position to know what’s really being put on the crops they eat? Why do some neighborhoods have farmers’ markets and others don’t. In short, what are farmers markets’ really like at the present, and what could they be, or are they perfect the way they are?


3. An Ice Age Dawns: It’s all the rage to bash illegal immigrants for all the jobs they’re stealing, and politicians of every stripe outdo each other in promising how fast they’ll throw the Spanish speaking terrorist/parasites from our country, but none of them want to discuss how the work is going to get done if they don’t also make it possible for trained workers to become legal. ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, has been stepping up workplace raids. I have a farmer friend who was next door to a dairy out in the valley when ICE raiders hauled the entire workforce off to Mexico in a bus. “You should have heard the cows bellowing,” my friend said. What happens to all the cows with engorged udders when the dairy workers are deported? Who feeds the confined cows or checks their water when, all of a sudden, the cowboys are shipped off to Mexico? Does anyone really believe that there’s an available pool of trained, legal milkers available to take on the burden of milking several hundred extra cows for an employer who’s just been raided? Does anyone really think America’s unemployed come crowding into the milking barns at 2AM to regain the jobs that were stolen from them two generations ago? If the mainstream press doesn’t hear the cows mooing for relief, the “vegangelical”/animal rights activist blogosphere will. Got milk? Got mercy? Got a clue?

5. A Pass of the Wand: “Use-by dates” are on every box of milk, but what about bags of prewashed ready-shreddy salad. Actually, given the amount of press given over to “fresh and local,” it might be far more interesting for shoppers to learn when something was picked, and where. After all, you can use your eyes and nose to tell when your veggies are rotten. In a basement laboratory somewhere a tech nerd with an interest in food science is even now inventing a tiny gadget that can be installed in every cell phone. Soon, all the information about where and when “farm-fresh, triple-washed” salads were harvested will be digitally contained on bar codes on the side of the bag. Industry already keeps this information to comply with health and safety regulations— or at least they’re supposed to— they just haven’t focused on how and why they could/should share it. Impossible? Know this: Even if digitalized harvest data gets lost or computers crash when health inspectors go looking to determine who’s responsible for an e coli outbreak, the information was gathered. Modern corporate “farms” are more like interlocking partnerships than “Old MacDonald’s” back forty. Behind a “label” and an advertisement showing a little girl in an Edenic setting, there’s a sales company that represents the label, there’s a wash plant that blends the harvest of dozens of far-flung fields, there are “independent” harvest companies that do the cutting under contract, hauling companies that get paid by the load to deliver greens from the field to the wash plant, and there are finally even farms that plant, cultivate, and irrigate the product. At each step of the harvest process there are reams of data collected, not to satisfy the health inspectors should they ever come calling, but to help the accountants who must reconcile all of the bills and bills of sale that are passed around. If the health inspectors can’t figure out where something came from, then maybe they should ask the book keepers. Accurate “picked-when, picked where” information will be appreciated by stores and consumers alike. Shoppers will appreciate knowing when and where their greens were harvested before they choose to buy their salads, and stores will find new cross-marketing opportunities for sedatives by offering bottles of pills in little racks next to the jars of salad dressings. The information age could come to the produce aisle.

That’s my idea of what Nostradamus meant by “evil under the shade of pumpkins,” and I’ve tried to give you some “carnal prognostication” to strangle on. I look forward to seeing if anyone hazards a guess as to what the other three prophecies mean. Have a happy New Year.

copyright 2008 Andy Griffin

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*please do comment on this piece if you have questions/comments for Andy, I’ll remind him to post replies; and please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! thank you. -jw

5 Responses to “Pomona in Chains”

  1. 1 Kate Malsbury

    Thanks for another thought-provoking and insightful entry! Especially informative for a city-dweller such as myself to get and understanding of the food producing machine.

    As for your challenge of the undefined prophecies, I would hazard that #2 is the harbringer of doom regarding the increasing popularity of yerba mate as a new fangled stimulant for the hipster set and the consequences that would have for the production of its ingredients from exploitable countries.

  2. 2 nora garvey

    As an east coast city dweller who primarily purches food from the farmers markets when in season, I would like to thank you for bringing a couple of questions I have been rolling around in my brain for quite some time. The farmers market seem to have the same perfect produce at each market. With the same farms selling there produce. Interesting

  3. 3 Sheri Blaylock

    Greetings from the Great White North!
    As the Executive Director of the newly formed Farmers’ Markets Association of Manitoba, I read with interest your explanation for #1. FMkts in Manitoba are not as extensive as in CA or Ontario or BC, but it is interesting that everywhere they are a bigger force the issue of a “real” farmers’ market has to be dealt with. Makes me quite sad that in the future we too may have to deal with this problem. I SO don’t want our organization to become the “police” of the farmers’ markets. I often wonder about some farmers too, like the one I’ve heard about who grows “organic” veggies when everyone knows (or seems to know) that she sprays with RoundUp! Where’s the integrity? Can we trust no one??

    Nice to see that Freddy’s influence is rubbing off. Good luck with your apples Steven! (this is a comment for the page I was on before this one…) :)

  4. 4 Gary

    Well, having sampled some of the “yerba mate” at Andy’s place, this appears to put some hope that Starbuck’s will attempt to bolster their flagging fortunes by going in search of exotic but legal stimulants.

    Although, are the tattooed youth patrons of Starbuck’s??? Hmmm. Reminds me of the time I was with Andy and some other friends in downtown Santa Cruz when we were sneered upon by such a metal dangling leather bound youth who accused us of being “vicious yuppies”. Me, sure, but Andy?

  5. 5 Gary

    Little apple clearly refers to manzanita, which makes for a long burning roasting fire. Steering clear of counterculture interpretations of “joint”, we’ll simply state that this is the hunka hunka burning meat turning on the spit. That critic better getta cuppa yerba mate before he falls headfirst into the fire!

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