Sunday, April 24, 2011

Your tax dollars at work

I'm moving the post below slightly because of consistent hack attacks on it.

Editorial: Community garden helps in tough times

Community garden in Alpharetta, GA
I love the community-garden concept. It brings people together to build community and improve the environment while providing better food and teaching self-sufficiency skills to young and old. Had the editor focused on those values, he'd be munching a nice cookie right now. Instead heruns down a rabbit trail that has to be amusing for every home gardener, and shows pretty clearly that the editor understands neither gardening nor its economics or larger values.

The editor comes at it from the angle of high food prices, implying that gardens like this provide cheap food, and apparently concluding that a third of an acre of vegetables can have a significant economic effect.

I imagine home gardeners all over Prescott having a deep chuckle over this. The editor seems to imagine that growing your own food is free.

I sincerely doubt that anyone growing less than an acre of single crop in this area is producing anything for significantly less on average than they could get it in a store, even if they don't account their hours of labor. The water, the seeds and seedlings, the compost and other soil amendments, the critter barriers and repellents, the support structures, the weather barriers, it adds up fast if you want a nice tomato.

Ask a family farmer. Those folks aren't exactly rolling in dough lately.

No, editor, if it was about cost we'd all be picking over the trash bins at Wal-Mart. Growing your own is about knowing where it comes from, exactly what's in it, and the satisfaction of making something beautiful and tasty. These are values you can't buy, so there's no way to compare the pricing.

When you fold in the amount of time it takes, a garden absolutely cannot compete with agribusiness on a dollar basis. The idea is ludicrous.

A community garden is a great place to learn and share, and I have no doubt that for the 70 or so households able to participate in this one, it'll be fun and rewarding. For the rest of us the project can serve as an example and inspiration to spur similar projects elsewhere in the community. We have underused plots of land all over town that could be in production right now, cultivated by neighborhood groups, churches, schools and businesses.

Many of our neighbors actively participated in the wartime Liberty Garden effort not so long ago, designed to help reduce retail demand and therefore transportation and labor costs in response to labor* and fuel shortages. Need I point out that current conditions are economically parallel?

Gardening is a great idea in many ways. It's too bad the editor fails to see them.

[Addendum] Note *:  Referring to the shortage of agricultural workers as we scare off Mexicans, of course.


Anonymous said...
Steven, Gotta disagree, we have about a 150sf of garden, and we probably save $150, a season. It ain't much,but it helps. But, truth be told we'd do it anyway.
Have a great day.
Steven Ayres said...
And how many unaccounted hours of labor are you putting in?
David said...
Steve: The amount of labor cannot be counted as a cost of the produce raised unless a person ACTUALLY taking time away from gainful employment to work in the garden. That is as bogus as including in the cost of raising children the hourly wage the wife (or husband) would make if they were working (unless they ACTUALLY WOULD BE working at gainful employment.)
Steven Ayres said...
Everybody's got their own ideas of self-worth. For me, all my time has value.
birther t. bagur said...
My wife grew a 200 sf garden the last 2 years we were in Prescott, and it probably cost me at least $200 more than simply buying vegetables. Cost included a drip system, timers, compost-bone meal-manure-soil-etc. (we made some compost, but we didn't produce enough ourselves to properly work the soil), fencing to keep out javelinas, more fencing to keep out javelinas, various sprays like coyote urine to keep out javelinas and rabbits, and of course a bigger water bill.
Growing a small garden in a dry and warm place with expensive water like Prescott isn't a money saver, it is a hobby that costs money. I was fine with this, given that my wife likes doing it, but I had no illusions that we were being thrifty.
I think if you grew a couple tomato plants in those upside down things or 5-gallon buckets, or planted a couple herbs you like (our basil was one thing that grew well and was fabulous) you might be able to save a few bucks, but if Prescott was meant to be an agricultural area there would be more farms already.

Monday, April 11, 2011

State pulls funding for 9th grade technical classes

Paula gets into the weeds on the budget numbers, but the most important information in this story is missing: a clear explanation of the effects of the cuts.

She references "technical classes" for 9th-graders. What is that? Woodshop? Beautician training? Basic physics? No idea. How does this alter a kid's career path or employment opportunities? No comment. What are the follow-on effects for the community. Eh?

A core reason why many people are so blithe about cutting public spending is that they just don't realize how it will affect them, their neighbors or their families. Here was an opportunity missed.

City manager: What makes "the best" candidate?

In today's "Council direction on city manager search expected at Tuesday meeting," Cindy quotes Laurie Hadley saying that locals "thought it was important to go out there and really search (for the best candidate)" for city manager, and that spending money on a headhunter would accomplish that. To me this clearly illustrates the aridity of the terms of this debate and a generalized lack of both vision and logic at City Hall.

Nowhere in the discussion have I seen any reference to our criteria for hiring the most powerful person in our local government. What exactly makes a good city manager, and how will we find the right fit for Prescott?

In the past these searches have apparently been based entirely on whether the person has previously managed another city of comparable size, and whether he (always he so far) has done an adequate job. In my experience this has led to a succession of generally competent but dully conservative occupants for the office, and unremitting mediocrity in the results.

In my 17 years as a resident, Prescott has failed to progress in any positive way, and has clearly lost some quality of life. We have more big-box shopping at the cost of smaller retailers, more mall space with fewer people shopping in it, fewer middle-income jobs relative to population, more official attention on traffic and less on scenic or neighborhood beauty, and still no sustainable water plan. Our infrastructure spending is at best barely keeping up with maintenance needs. Our economic development department is now focused on tourism. Quality-of-life improvements like the trails network or the YMCA have been exclusively private and nonprofit initiatives. We seriously have to ask ourselves whether this is how we want to continue going about things.

In our form of city government, the Council is equivalent to a board of directors, and the manager to a corporate president. S/he not only carries out the policy requirements set by Council, but s/he also generates many initiatives from staff experience and input. S/he remains in the job as Council members move in and out, and holds the keys to institutional memory and vision. S/he must be both politician and technician, a leader to staff and a servant-leader to Council. Having been involved in City process and observed closely for many years, I'm convinced that the manager has far greater influence on policy and how it's exercised than any elected official can.

So if we're to get off the dime, join the 21st century and have a shot at having Prescott live up to its potential as a great place to live, beyond ordinary managerial skills, the person we pick for that chair must have visionary goals and a chess-player's mind for achieving them. That person is not likely to be out of a job and showing up on every headhunter's list. I think we have to be the headhunter.

Rather than look for the best person available, we should be looking closely at the most successful towns our size across the country and discover what they're doing and how. Then we look for who's making those efforts happen, and when we find a fit, make an offer to attract someone who's already happy in the job.

Will it take a search firm to do that? Probably, but success demands clear direction from us about how to look. I tend to doubt we can find the qualities we need for 20,000 clams. Look what it's got us up to now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cantlon: The right is wrong on boosting economy

Great column by Tom today, exposing what the extremists would have us do in their own words. Just go read it. Big cookie.

Editorial: Fear leadership, not shutdown

The unnamed Courier editor posits that a federal government shutdown won't hurt anyone, so there's no reason not to do it. What he fails to offer is why it would be a good thing beyond its entertainment value.

This is another case of arguing from thin air.  The piece assumes that the reader already understands the situation as the editor understands it, and only needs reassurance that the action both the editor and this imaginary reader want will be painless.

It's possible the editor is doing this innocently, naive in the assumption that most everyone is like him. More often writers use this tactic willfully and underhandedly, to lull the reader into the idea that everyone thinks this way and so the reader should too.

The reader should be suspicious of this position, and not just because of the obvious propaganda techniques employed to sell it. A government shutdown does not mean that the government stops working. It means government workers and contractors just don't get paid.

With three wars in the field, this has some pretty serious implications for our military personnel and families. While there is a bill working through to maintain the flow of active military pay, the services that support those personnel aren't in it.

The shutdown will certainly disrupt most federal public services -- courts, parks, highways, health care, food and product safety, supply contracts, patents, housing, reservations, you name it. To say this will carry no pain is, again, naive at best. 

But the gaping hole in the argument is that there really is no reason for the Republicans to withhold their cooperation from the majority in fulfilling the most important responsibility of Congress, other than to make a political point that can only be sensibly translated as "do what I want or I'll take my ball and go home!" The editor seems to be saying that he'd prefer a non-functioning government to one run by Democrats. That's just asinine, as I know a lot of Republicans would agree.

I have no doubt whatever that there will be pain from a shutdown, not least for the Republicans who are engineering it. So if there were no pain for ordinary people, I'd say bring it on, the result will be politically positive. But it's just not like that. Playing brinksmanship for a couple of days won't matter much, but going beyond a week will guarantee real hurt for a lot of Americans.

"Fear leadership"? Does the editor really think that's a sensible idea? Yikes.