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The refuse company sent everyone in my area an informative trifold last year about how the recycling center functions. It showed pictures of the machinery that separates the various materials and the belts where human workers pulled out items that couldn’t be recycled.

Part of the purpose of the flyer was to exhort people to recycle; the other part was to remind everyone of the items that cannot be placed into the recycling bins. The flyer explained that the recyclables were not recycled in the U.S., but were baled, sold and shipped to China to be made into second-use products. Our city is given higher prices for these bales if they are not filled with non-recycleable garbage.

Yeah, there were a lot of quips passed around about how our milk jugs turn into garbage items that we buy, but I honestly didn’t think much about it. With so many people in China, it made sense that they need to import as many types of raw materials as possible.

Last night, I stumbled across China Hush’s article on Lu Guang’s photography. The pictures look apocalyptic, but it is now, people live there, and they are dying. I’ve known about the pollution issues, but to actually see them in a passive light as art really snapped my attention.

Selling our recycling to China is just another transfer of responsibility for pollution. I know it is more complex than that, that the coal factories and the decision to pump waste into the rivers and treat humans as disposable is something handled largely on foreign corporate and governmental levels. But for me, recycling just got dirtier.

I know that people on the West Coast get effects from China’s pollution. We truly are a global population, and this type of environmental destruction will not be solved with a backyard garden and a compost pile. And hermitting myself off to a piece of land to homestead organically will not remove me from this issue.

I know that this is a political and economical issue way outside my scope. But China is starting to open up communications about the effects of pollution on their population. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, World Health Organization and Greenpeace China are working with China and the U.S. to help reduce the pollution.

Approximately 1/3 of the pollution from China is from manufacturing goods for the U.S. While the greater powers work on the problem, I’ll take another look at what I buy, what it is wrapped in, and where it comes from. And I will still be gung-ho about recycling, but I need to look for ways that I can re-use items before they are recycled.

Humanity still has a distance to go, but at least the issue is being discussed on a global level, and plans are being submitted to promote change. This was just my wake-up call on how big the issue really is, and how it will affect me, miles away, tending my own little garden.

let it grow

I grew up on a series of 2-3 acre homesteads. The houses were handyman specials, the land was rocky, the animals were runabouts, and I’m pretty sure that no one knew what they were doing. Add in poverty and familial disgruntlement, and growing up “on the farm” was a miserable, chaotic existence that I gladly escaped when I moved to the city.

Fifteen years later, I dream of land. I feel like I’ve tried out every city stereotype, living in hot spots and running after my career. My fella and I currently own a house on nearly a quarter acre in a small town surrounded by an industrial city. There are two drugstores, a coffee shop, and a gas station within walking distance.

I thought a nice garden would cure the itch for land.This year, we covered 78 square feet of prime front lawn with compost and planted food and flora. We plotted out a blueberry circle and will be using an old hot-tub foundation frame as a permaculture potato bed. I have planters inside our living room window and onions sprouting in the kitchen.

I thought going to farms and canning produce for the winter would sate my longing. After gallons of applesauce and marinera, I’m still looking at the yard, seeing less grass and more corn. In the back yard, by brain superimposes a chicken coop (nice and tidy and urban), a greywater pond system and yet more plants. And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to sell the house with those changes.

I caught myself trolling Craigslist like a villain last week, looking at the ads for rabbits, goats, chicks and cattle. Chicks and a rabbit are definite additions for the next year. But why am I scanning for grazers? My neighborhood has a distinct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but I don’t have the property to do anything more. In any case, I don’t want to push at the neighbors’ tolerance for those “crazy environmentalists” next door.

The more I connect with the land, with the food cycle and life cycles of season and bug and beast, the more I must follow it. Observing yeast, the changes in a growing bean, the continual birth, growth and eventual passing on for everything to the next stage of the cycle – it feels right at the core of my soul. Perfect, salient, and I want to persue it.

Overcast and early, a friend and I arrived at the Blueberry Park in Tacoma armed with buckets and totes, intent on making our haul. We had discussed the best time to forage in the city, briefly wondering when dawn actually cracked in the morning; we didn’t want to be lost among the crowd of weekend blueberry hunters.

We arrived and as we walked up the paved paths and through the rows of bushes, we realized that perhaps we were too early. Berries were decidedly green, with one in each cluster a startlingly plump purple. My friend calls this her “Tomato Principle”: One ripe fruit in each cluster releases natural ripening chemicals that tells the rest of the fruit to ripen. In a week, the bushes would be dripping with ready fruit.

Metro Parks and a group of volunteers keep this little-known park cleared and groomed for use by the public. We explored row after row of the 400+ man-sized, semi-wild blueberry bushes, eventually picking over 2 quarts of berries while still enjoying a fresh-picked breakfast.

As we plucked, we chatted with each other and the other harvesters that arrived and wandered through our area. At one point, I heard someone ask at large, “What are you going to use these berries for?”

The calls came back and forth energetically through the bushes:

“Jelly!”
“I’m gonna use ‘em in my juicer!”
“Nom-nom, eating!”
“Gonna freeze for winter!”
“Or smoothies!”
“Pancakes!”

There was a pause, then from a different area, “Man, now I want pancakes.”

After the laughter, we heard a small girl running excitedly through the bushes, unseen, “Grandma! Grandma! I found blackberries!”

A cross-hatch of Tacoma wanders through the bushes. College guys with gallon-sized bags and bags lining recycled buckets. Young parents with children excitedly playing and snacking on the berries from the lower branches. Grandparents, singles, men, women, all races, chatting and picking and being friendly.

The Blueberry Park is really a lesser-known treasure in Tacoma. Formerly an abandoned blueberry farm, the park was rescued by city grants and now encompasses 20 acres. There are 5 different types of blueberries planted; there’s plenty to please any palette.

Volunteers meet at the park every Saturday to help maintain the bushes and pathways. Invasive blackberries and raspberries are held in check by goats that the city rents as needed. The blueberries are free to anyone who wants to pick them.

A former farm in the middle of Southside, this city park helps to show a connection of what we eat and where it comes from.