Sam Burnham, Curator
It is doubtful that anyone would think less of you if you were unable to locate Bhutan on a map. Nestled in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, this Buddhist kingdom is noted for monasteries and fortresses, so seclusion and obscurity have kept Bhutan independent over the centuries.
In this age of globalism, however, there is almost no place that isn't susceptible to the all-seeing eye of modern opportunity. So I wasn't really surprised when the South Asian branch of the World Bank tweeted out an article on the profit potential of Bhutan's forests. The nation is currently estimated as being 71% covered by forests. The nation treasures these forests and has constitutional restrictions that set 60% as the minimum allowable coverage area for forests. Sure the article is peppered with terminology suggesting that the World Bank is wanting to help maintain the forests and protect Bhutan's natural beauty.
But I'm still skeptical. Really that's a conservative way of saying it. Honestly, I'm calling them out here. It is too easy to use the right words, say the right things, put on the right appearances, and then rob some good people blind.
Consider the way Atlanta markets itself as "the city in a forest." Anyone who has sat in traffic on the Downtown Connector anywhere between 14th St and University Ave knows that such a claim is a load of manure. Sitting in the Grady Curve with a blown AC unit on a hot sunny day, window down, choking on the fumes in the humid air will make you wish you were in a forest. No, Atlanta is a city in what used to be a forest. It might even be a city surrounded by a forest.
But back to Bhutan.
A nation that is 71% covered by forests remains a net importer of forest products. Is there something they could do to add economic strength with their forests? Of course there is. Wendell Berry talks a lot about the economic potential of the forests in his native Kentucky. But he champions truly sustainable ways of doing it. There are ways of managing the forest, of harvesting timber that is good for both the economy and the forest. It is also essential that Bhutan, rather than China, India, the United States, or the World Bank, determine the way in which their forest is monetized. They certainly don't need the forces of globalism tweeting out that they have untapped resources for every greedy industrialist waiting to make a quick buck at someone else's expense.
Bhutan might need some advice on how to develop this corner of the economy. But we should also remember that the most secure culture in the world is found on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean where the people tend to be hostile to outsiders, eating the majority of the visitors who have appeared on their shores and usually trying to kill outsiders before they land. Just because we might think Bhutan needs our help, doesn't mean that they want it. Just as we don't want arrogant outsiders poking their noses in our business, it stands to reason that Bhutan feels the same way.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Christmas has so many traditions that they often get lost in the crowd. Some of the ones that survive have origins that are forgotten or lost. So I was excited to learn that the orange I often found in my Christmas stocking is an old tradition with a story. I really agree with this Smithsonian article that this tradition, which has fallen into obscurity, needs to make a comeback. I’ve found just the way to make it a Southern tradition.
Santa Claus is traced back to the 3rd Century Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. A story from church tradition relates that there were three woefully poor maidens and that St. Nicholas came one night and dropped three balls (or bags, or bars, or coins, depending on the storyteller) of gold through their window to serve as their dowries. Without this generosity these ladies would not find husbands as a dowry was a necessity in those days. That story is connected to the tradition of the Christmas orange that often appears in stockings on Christmas morning. The orange’s bright hue represents the glow of the gold. Hanging stockings for Santa became a tradition in the early 1800s and placing an orange in the stockings seems to have come into fashion about that same time.
I’ve only recently learned of the story and the tradition. I have a love of oranges and this connection is just one more reason to love them. The fruit is a reminder of my family roots in Florida and the sight of the expansive citrus groves that were much more common in my youth. Florida was much more rural then. Many of those acres that once produced citrus are covered in condominiums, shopping centers, or golf courses. I remember standing in a Walmart built on a former grove that had not once single piece of Florida fruit for sale. That was a huge shove towards Agrarianism for me.
This year the oranges are a little closer to home. Literally. The particular fruit I’m talking about are satsumas. My friend Brandon Chonko is raising them on his Southeast Georgia farm. The University of Georgia extension service recently recommended the cultivation of satsumas to Georgia farmers. The idea sounded just crazy enough to work so ol’ Birdmane put trees on the ground to see what would happen. After a couple years of attentive care and maintenance, he has harvested glorious Georgia citrus. Not just peaches or nectarines, we’re talking oranges. I never would have expected to have a serious orange raised north of about Howey-In-The-Hills or maybe Ocklawaha. But these oranges are from above that. North of Palatka, north of Green Cove Springs, north of Yulee, keep going, cross the St. Marys River and go out into the dirt roads of “Souega.” That’s where these are from.
So what’s the verdict? That’s the best part. I hate California citrus because it looks like the fruit in a dollar store still life or maybe some of the wax fruit in a bowl on your grandmother’s table. It’s perfect, bright colored, without a blemish. It tastes like candy, such a juicy sweetness but without that tart sassiness we love in our citrus. Florida citrus looks like it woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t dare mention it’s appearance for fear of retribution. Oh it has a delicious sweetness but it also has that sting of the citric acid, that slap in the mouth that makes you feel alive.
These Georgia satsumas are like their Floridian cousins. They section like a clementine, meaning they peel easily and separate into individual sections. The beginning of each bite is that sweet juiciness that you expect but it has that same tart finish. It’s so odd to explain, that sweet and sour taste in the same fruit. But it’s so familiar, so beloved. It’s a piece of home.
This Christmas, if you’re down in the Souega - Southeast Georgia - area, look up Grassroots Farms and get you some of these delicious satsumas while they last. Drop them in your loved ones’ stockings, if you can resist eating them immediately.
Sam Burnham, Curator
With the news that the disaster relief bill has stalled out in the Senate, we sit here scratching our heads. With much of South Georgia still struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael as well as tornadoes that damaged small towns and agricultural infrastructure, farmers were counting on federal disaster relief to make repairs, buy equipment, and to be eligible to secure loans for seed. And now planting season is upon us and those who lost last year’s crop to weather have lost this year’s crop before they even had a chance to plant it. Many may lose everything they own.
As Washington becomes more and more divided and the two major parties make moves only in the interest of gaining or maintaining power, the pawns become odder. This is not a frivolous topic. Sure, agriculture is the livelihood of those affected but their livelihood is the most important one on Earth. It’s not only the biggest industry in Georgia, it’s where we get our food and it’s what drives our industries. It is all of our livelihoods.
The Judge, Augustus Romaldus Wright, put it this way:
"Agriculture is the foundation of all production absolutely necessary for the use or comfort of man. He must eat and be clothed, to live, to think, to modify matter into ten thousand forms for his use. By locking up the soil, you dry up the fountain of life and being."
This failure is locking up the soil. That’s not an option we can accept. We cannot allow this to happen. It also seems that we cannot expect to change what goes on in Washington. The only option that leaves us is to start conversations on how to never be at the mercy of Washington. We have to be able to handle this at the state and local level. That requires us to develop sustainable systems of finance, energy, agricultural practices, and disaster relief that are completely independent of Washington. The answers will be local, local, and local.
I don’t have answers and don’t claim to. I’m saying we gotta start talking about these answers among ourselves and with anyone in Atlanta who will listen. And we might have to talk a little louder to those in Atlanta who won’t listen.
Washington is not the answer. We were fools to think it was. Our survival depends on a future with limited influence from Washington. If we don’t count on them, they can’t fail us. It’s time to count on us and to set the example for other states to do the same.
Got any ideas?
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire