Why I’m not a farmer

I received these two photos from my CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) farm in the last two weeks. (Photos courtesy of Tipi Produce.)

On the left is a strawberry plant in bloom, coated in ice. On the right is a fresh strawberry from the same patch. On the night of May 29-30, they irrigated the strawberry field to protect it from frost. (For those unfamiliar with this, in the process of changing state from a liquid to a solid, water gives up a lot of heat. This heat is transferred to the plants and protects them from freezing. In the morning, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, they irrigate to melt the ice.)

A week later they irrigated the same strawberries to protect them from 90 degree (32 Celsius) heat. And, by the way, we are in the midst of a drought and a week plus of 90 degree heat.

For all of that work we got a handful of strawberries this week, though more should be coming in the next week or two. If my rhubarb hangs on, we could have strawberry-rhubarb pie next week. The only thing better than rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie. And the only thing better than strawberry-rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.

I have been with this farm since they began their CSA adventure. That’s not the whole truth. I have been with this farm since 1975 when I was the produce buyer for the Willy St Co-op, a member-owned grocery store (now three stores) since 1974. (We opened in the fall of ’74, after the growing season.) Back then, there was no organic certification system. We collected affidavits from farmers, in which they would attest to their growing methods. And I would pay surprise visits to farms to verify this.

But back to why I am not a farmer. Besides the fact that the hours are long and the pay is low, there is the chance that that irrigation trick would have failed, and there would be no 2021 strawberry crop. How many crops can one lose before one loses the farm? I’ll take a paycheck.

If a little frost isn’t bad enough, consider the summer of 2018, when fields were underwater. Or the year before that, when corn leaves looked like spears. It was so dry that the plants adapted to try to cut their evaporative losses. As consumers, we want our food. We don’t care about the weather. And we don’t want to hear any excuses when the price goes up due to weather.

For those unfamiliar with CSA, the concept is that a group of member/consumers invest in a farm at the beginning of the season. Our investment helps the farmer to buy seed and meet other preparation expenses during the time of year when there is no income. In turn, we get a share of the crop when it comes in. If there are no strawberries, we get no strawberries. If there are a ton of peppers (as there were last year) we get a ton of peppers. Right now I am seeing a lot of greens, including the biggest head of red leaf lettuce I have ever seen. It is a way for city slickers to feel some involvement – a sense of ownership and responsibility – a connection to the land and an understanding of the food system beyond the notion that food simply appears: whether on the table if you’re young enough, in the refrigerator if you’re a little older, or in the store if you do the shopping.

We take our food for granted. We get mad if it doesn’t look perfect and then we expect it to be grown without pesticides or fertilizer and still look perfect. We expect a food to appear any time of year, even if it is only ripe in another hemisphere at the time. Somehow the notion of “carbon neutral” goes out the window. If I want peaches in January (in North America), by golly, I’m gonna get peaches in January, even if they come from Chile or Argentina.

And we are obsessed with “bigger is better”. I find the need to put quotation marks around the word strawberry when I refer to berries imported from California. The strawberry is not meant to have a long shelf life. It is not supposed to survive shipping thousands of miles. A strawberry is not supposed to be too big to fit in your mouth, and it is certainly not supposed to be hollow if you slice through it. (The berry in the picture above is on the large end of the spectrum, if you ask me.) A strawberry is meant to be eaten now, or chilled quickly and eaten soon. A strawberry should melt in your mouth, not crunch when you bite into it, like an apple.

Now that’s a strawberry!
And it demands to be eaten now.
It lasted a few seconds after the picture.

Don’t say nothin’

We’ve probably all been to a meeting where a lot of words were spoken but nothing was said.

I was at a meeting where someone got in trouble for what wasn’t said…apparently a look caught on camera.

This is an ode to all of those meetings.

In case the links don’t work, or you want to hear the whole tracks instead of the clips, here is the medley:

Clip medley:
1) Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”

2) The Cookies “Don’t Say Nothin’ (Bad About My Baby)”

3) Joe Jones “You Talk Too Much”

4) The Go-Gos “Our Lips are Sealed”

6) The Beatles “Good Morning, Good Morning”

7) Delaney and Bonnie & Friends “I Don’t Want to Discuss it”

8) The Coasters “Yakety Yak”

The other day we posted a photo of a tree in the trail. Here is what now remains of said tree:

The foot is for perspective re: size of the tree.

The Ride (part 2)

There is this guy, George (my wife refers to all of her clients as George, or Georgette if they identify as female). He is definitely George, as will become obvious. And he’s not my wife’s client. I just borrowed the name.

George was planning a marathon athletic endeavor and thought he would visit his PCP (primary care provider) for a checkup, specifically to be sure he could embark on this months-long endeavor.

The good doctor suggested a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, as George was of a certain age. They discussed the pros and cons. (It is not a particularly reliable nor specific [despite its name] test and can result in unwarranted worry.) Please note that nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice. If you have questions or concerns, consult your primary care provider.

The result was worrisome (a greater than 50% chance of cancer) and the doctor thought George should see a urologist. The urologist ordered another test, which yields a ratio of free to total PSA. This shows a percentage chance of cancer if the overall PSA level is in the grey area. This again showed a high probability of cancer. Looking at the two tests, the doctor told George he had a >60% chance of having prostate cancer.

The next step was a prostate biopsy. This involves the rectal insertion of a small tool which snips out 12 pieces of tissue. If you imagine a clock face, one snip is taken at each hour mark. The theory is that, if there are cancer cells present, you’ll find some in at least one of those twelve samples. The test has a couple of side effects. George would likely pee blood for a few days and he might not want to sit on a bicycle seat for a while. If his marathon athletic endeavor were to include any time on a bike, doing this test while in training might not be the best idea.

George and his urologist talked it over and decided there were three possibilities: 1) George didn’t have cancer, and the test would keep him off his bike long enough to disrupt his training, possibly throwing his trip into jeopardy; 2) George did have cancer, but it would be a slow-growing cancer. (Hence the oft-heard “prostate cancer is a cancer you will die with, not of.”) Again, his trip would be in jeopardy for no good reason; 3) George had a fast-growing and aggressive cancer. He would need serious interventions which may include chemo, radiation, and surgery. His trip definitely would be canceled, likely forever.

George decided that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. If 1) he had no cancer, he didn’t want to lose the chance to embark on this endeavor. If 2) he had a slow-growing cancer requiring no treatment, he didn’t want to waste his training. If 3A) he was going to require extensive treatment, or 3B) he was going to die soon anyway, he didn’t want to miss out on this (now clearly once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity. His doctor agreed that he could go on the trip and come and see him after it was over. George told no one of this, not seeing any reason to worry others.

He went on his marathon athletic endeavor (which might be compared to a coast-to-coast bike trip), and went back to the doctor afterward. They repeated the PSA tests. It now showed a 20% chance that he had cancer. A year went by. The numbers were back up again. He had a prostate biopsy. He peed blood, he stayed off his bike for a while, and the result was negative. He didn’t have cancer.

Why did the test show he had a 60% chance of cancer before the trip and 20% chance after? Did a marathon athletic endeavor cure him of cancer? Not likely. The doctor said that inflammation could cause a false positive. Would sitting on a bike seat for two months make inflammation in that region more or less likely? Well, more, it seems. Evidence is inconclusive – the best evidence we have (a meta-analysis of multiple studies [Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, 2015]) shows no correlation between bicycling and elevated PSA. So why would he have inflammation before and not after? The doctor couldn’t say.

So what is this prostate cancer thing? And why is it so hard to detect? The symptoms look a lot like the symptoms of BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy). That just means your prostate got bigger but isn’t harmful. BPH is considered a normal part of aging. The symptoms are things like: needing to pee more often (including waking up multiple times during the night); incomplete bladder emptying (therefore needing to pee more often – maybe even peeing, going back to bed, and getting right back up to go finish the job); urinary urgency – having to pee right now.

The National Cancer Institute says there were nearly 200,000 new cases in 2020, with more than 33,000 deaths. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men (after lung cancer) (World Journal of Oncology, 2019). The incidence is higher for Black men.

Side effects of treatment may include urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. There continues to be controversy over whether men should be tested and, if cancer is detected, if they should be treated.

The Carbone Cancer Center performs research and treatment. One of the trials is known as the International Registry to Improve Outcomes in Men with Advanced Prostate Cancer (IRONMAN). Seems fitting for George, eh?

Prostate cancer tends to be ignored because it is “seldom” fatal – tell that to the 33,000 men who will die this year. In September I will be riding to support the Carbone Cancer Center to help people like George. Please join me in donating at: https://runsignup.com/half-fast. Thank you. (Since this is not a scholarly article, citations are incomplete. Ask if you want more detail.) (This post dedicated to KR2 and “George”.)