Please won’t you be my neighbor

church remodel
Larger image.

Looks like we’ll have new neighbors soon. If any of you are thinking about moving to Ithaca, have I got a place for you.

One of the charms of this location when we bought our house here in 1999 was the little country church across the road. My recollection is that it was built in 1896 specifically for a wedding of one of the members of the founding family of Ellis Hollow. I posted an aerial picture of it last spring.

Attendence was always light. (You couldn’t get 20 people to show up if you were selling salvation five for a dollar, a curmudgeonly neighbor told us when we moved in.) Seems like it closed for long stretches in midwinter and midsummer. There were occasional weddings that always brought a tear to my eye — one just a couple and the preacher alone on the front lawn.  (If I was a novel writer, I’d have come up with a back story for that scene.)

Well the church closed for good a couple years ago. Eventually, a local developer bought the property and since last fall has been remodeling the church and building a ‘carriage house’ (three-car garage and apartment) behind it.

It’s a small lot. But if any of you fine garden bloggers want to be our neighbor, we’d gladly share some of our gardening space with you.

The price, you ask? Only $650,000. Though I suspect there’s a little wiggle room in that.

More pictures and details at the realtor’s website.

Blue alliums

Click on images (most of them, anyway) for larger view.

blue allium

I had to step away from the screen at work this afternoon. I don’t do it enough, but I took a quick spin through Minns Garden — a lovely garden right outside the Plant Science building at Cornell University. I was moving faster than a stroll and paying more attention in my head to what needed doing back in the office than what was going on in the garden. I actually got three steps beyond these alliums before doing a double-take and going back for a second look.

blue alliums

Unfortunately, no tag. So I can’t give you a variety name. There were some other interesting alliums on the other side of the garden, too:

yellow alliumyellow allium

More midsummer highlights in Minns: Anemones. Boy I’d grow a lot of these if it weren’t for the deer.

yellow alliumyellow allium

And the potted bananas, which are getting huge. (They’ve overwintered a few winters in the greenhouse. But I’m not sure there’s room for them this year.)

potted bananas

OK. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering about the technique on those alliums. Cut a small hole in the center of a paper plate and a slit connecting the hole with the edge. Slip it around the stem of the allium to catch the drips. Shake the can well and spray. At least that’s what this year’s garden tenders told me they did.

Is local food better, energy-wise?

ward and cassAn article in this morning’s NY Times calls into question whether or not local food is actually better, if you’re concerned about reducing energy consumption. (See Food That Travels Well, by James E. McWilliams, who wrote “A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America” and is a contributing writer for The Texas Observer. What’s the story on this guy, Austin folks?)

An example he provides is New Zealand lamb imported to England. Sheep put on weight very efficiently on the famously lush New Zealand pastures. Sheep in England need to be fed energy-intensive grains — enough apparently to make it cheaper (from an energy-use perspective) to ship lamb from down under.

This is no surprise to American dairy farmers. They know how much cheaper it is for pasture-based New Zealand dairies to ship milk powder into the U.S. market than it is for us to produce it here. Another counterintuitive example I’ve read concerns spuds. Turns out taters shipped by rail from Idaho to New York City use less energy than trucking potatoes to the Big Apple from Maine.

I don’t think this blows the local foods movement out of the water. But it does mean that we might need to be a little more sophisticated in our thinking about this issue.

This also reminds me that this whole local foods thing isn’t new. I remember when I first worked for Rodale back in the early ’80s. They sponsored The Cornucopia Project. The project staff did studies of how much food was imported and exported by each state and pointed out how many ‘food miles’ (as they’re called now) were invested in different commodities in different locales.

But the big thing I remember about their findings: When you think about all the energy that goes into the fertilizers and the plowing and the processing and the packaging and the shipping, do you know the least efficient step in the whole food system from farm to table?

Hopping in the car and driving to the store to return home with an average of 33 pounds of groceries.

Note on the image above: It’s an old one that I found on my hard drive, almost certainly shot in the ’80s by my old friend Tom Gettings, former photo director at Rodale Press. The farmers there are heroes — Ward Sinclair and Cass Peterson. Ward used to work the farm policy beat at the Washington Post before he and Cass started farming. Before CSAs were hot, they used to haul ‘shares’ to the WaPo’s offices during the season to appreciative co-workers. Ward died way too soon. I’ve lost track of what Cass is up to these days. But if there were a Sustainable Farming Hall of Fame, they would be charter members.

Update: Much discussion of McWilliams article at ReasonOnline.