Friday, April 25, 2008


I eat local was my first internet video series. What at first seemed a challenge to condense a subject into a three to five minute internet short, later became a way of seeing, hearing and a way to process movement. In this first piece, I realized a lot about really listening, thinking about the connections between visual movement and rhythm. I recommend listening with headphones, for a lot of the richness in found sounds lies deep within the track.

gold rush from mickey murch on Vimeo.
I filmed the entire piece with a tripod and the only sounds in the video are found in the footege. While filming, I did not imagine that the sounds would be such a large part of the eventual piece, and only later, in editing, did I have the idea to expand time and think about the rhythm of harvesting as actual music. By repeating sounds, a sound palette gets richer and more dense, until a breakthrough into a new activity. I liked this concept, as I think it relates to working in the fields where one can find the piece of mind to actually listen, to see, and at the same time busy yourself in a rhytmic dance that is the work.

The next piece I published was a bit more aggressive, "I eat local: pork." In my family, we eat a lot of meat, practically at every meal. We pride ourselves, or at least laugh a lot about converting vegetarians who visit our farm and stay for a meal. After helping to feed our happy animals, seeing the truely good life and husbandry we aspire towards, the visitor has little argument against the treatment of the animals, the conditions, the waste of food that could be fed to humans...I think it is so important to realize that eating meat is, ecologically, not across the board bad.

I eat local. Part I: Pork from mickey murch on Vimeo.
I perused you-tube for videos about slaughtering animals, just to see what was there. No surprise, I only could find videos that made you feel sick, videos about cruelty, factories, despicable things...and as someone who knows that it can be done in a good way, I feel it is my duty to show that. I mean, it is so easy for the negator, the nay sayer, but what about being creative, inventive, taking a risk by showing something that is taboo, but could transcend from the brutal to beauty. This video was my first try, and raw as it is, I still aspire to show my creative "kosher." I know that eventually I will be able to show how each slice with the knife is like a stroke of a paintbrush, and the work is blessed, amazing, and possesses infinite creativity.

Piecing together an understanding of our ecosystem, i find the ocean as a direct indicator. My father always took us fishing as kids and I can remember times catching huge numbers of salmon, halibut, rock-fish. It is so sad to have only this memory, to have lost this practice, this abundance and healthy ecosystem. For the last two years, the King Salmon, which require healthy river systems that are now non-existent in California, have not appeared. Similarly, the Halibut, a flat, bottom dwelling fish, and rock-fish are no longer easy to catch. Foods that I grew up on are no longer part of our diets. Over-fishing happens around the world, destroying the largest protein producing system, the ocean, this means a lot of people go hungry. "I eat local: Dungeness Crab" is a video of the last functioning fishery that we partake in.

I eat local. Part II: Dungeness Crab from mickey murch on Vimeo.
The good thing about this crab fishery is that fishermen only take the large male crabs, leaving the next generation with plenty of females and males. The bad thing, from our standpoint, is that there is no regulation limiting the amount of traps a fisherman is allowed to set. While we fish only 80 traps, some fishermen fish with 800 traps or more. Also, fishermen from Oregon and Washington travel down the coast and fish at the opening of the season. Once the season opens, there are tens of thousands of traps outside of the bay area, and almost all of the legal crabs are caught in the first two weeks. Then, the out of state boats leave... on to the next resource.

I became obsessed with mobile food units. With a concept of the post-modern guerrilla gardener, I began to design a mobile chicken coop. I imagined the setting of a suburban side walk strip, the rolling of welded bike wheels and abandoned fence mesh, resting down onto no-man's land, anywhere USA. It is the idea that you can use the land around you to make the food you old WWII poster, reincarnated. The mobility, for one, allows for the temporary cropping of grass and insects, and the specific application of fertilizer to an area of land. Also, the concept of the guerrilla gardener is that s/he uses land that others have no specific desire to manage, without permanently occupying the space.

I eat local chicken from mickey murch on Vimeo.
The final scene, when a young boy joins the plucking was purely luck, I had no idea that he was going to arrive at that moment, but it supported the intended purpose very well. There is nothing better that broadening boundaries.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Honey Men
The first real "job" I have ever had, though it is lax at times, feels official, I work as part of a team, we convene at eight at the factory, and eventually creat barrels of product... I have been working as a beekeeper. We really spend most of the day driving around the countryside, yet while gazing out the window at the gorgeous pastures and scrub, as a beekeeper, I am looking at our big farm, the valleys wide, us and our bees. I imagine every blossom and bloom, every sweet drop of nectar reachable by bee tongue, passing between my rubber gloves and swollen knuckles. There are many beautiful aspects of beekeeping, yet the most spectacular is how in this form of farming, we don't own the land and the plants we harvest from, yet we are always welcome as husband to the pollinators.  
It didn't take long to get used to the harvest, hauling lugs of anything to the truck has a certain joy, the sensation of making food from the land, the ultimate management. Yet the bees make it a little more exciting than brussels sprouts. First of all, we trick the bees into thinking there is a bush fire. A light puff of smoke at the entrance signals the entire hive to gorge themselves with honey and hide in a food comma in the bottom of the hive. This makes it relatively easy to pry their hive apart with a mini crow bar, a hoodlum breaking into a house; and with a harvest this good, I get the sensation that I am stealing. Blowing the bees off the combs and stacking the oozing boxes onto the truck is a rhythm, a constantly shifting dance with two hooded actors, and the persistent buzzing and stinging of pulsating abdomens. 
We take the booty back to the factory, unload with a forklift. I spend a day processing, filling in, factory boredom. It is also a non-stop shifting of slimy honey covered everything. The smell of honey fills every pore, the acid rots my teeth as I can't resist a perfect piece of the most raw sugar ever and continue to stuff my mouth, chewing the wax cells like bubble-gum. A two inch clear plastic pipe connects the centrifuges and pumps and vats, this two inches of honey, a never-ending stream, pushes through a remarkable contraption that is bound to overflow onto the floor at least a few times a day. This is a scale unimaginable to me, too big for the islands' mouths, a scale destined for cargo containers disappearing into the fog.

The last task this season is splitting the hives. A long day spent well caffeinated, squatting next to the hives, surrounded by idyllic pastureland, looking at every goddamn bee in each hive. Strong hives are divided equally among their basic components, frames of honey, frames of pollen and frames of brood. Each frame may have the one and only queen on it, and we need to find her. It takes me a while to develop her search image, but eventually my eyes glide past the hundreds of bees all doing various peculiar dances, to her voluptuous orange abdomen. The whole strategy is to put her in the bottom box, along with half of the brood-eggs and larva, pollen-necessary protein, and honey to maintain a strong colony. The top box gets a fresh queen delivered by mail and will grow into a new hive. After sitting with the bees for days on end, their familiarity brings a heightened sense of urgency to break my sweet tooth habits and check in with the next farm down the road. 
Clouds of Deer & Dust
Jim invites me to the one day of work that is required each season on his deer farm. "They just don't need much handling," One day is about all it takes when you farm a formerly wild animal.   As the sun rises we enter the deer paddocks on the quad bike. These red tail deer, like all new zealand deer, were originally introduced into the wild in the 1850's. At some point in the 1960's, after a hundred years of eating up all the bush, a global market appeared for venison and the female wild deer became a walking three-thousand dollar bill. Leave it up to a kiwi to jump on it, before the invention of the net gun, some lucky men made their living jumping from hovering helicopters onto the escaping deer and wrestling them down alive so they could be sold to an eager farmer. Hearing this story and seeing this herd of deer in front of me, the division between wild and domestic began to blur.
  And from that morning on, I will never look at a deer the same; as we mustered the deer in the paddock I had to re-access what I wanted to call wild: this herd of deer and cloud of dust, it registered as wild in my mind, yet we so easily controlled them. Dogs that usually mustered sheep were fit with an electric shock collar, less the form of a deer rouse some primal urges, and within minutes the deer were herded up a steep hill into the yards. As we approached the deer, closer and closer, the wild in my mind melted away and we began to sort them, manually. The deer read our body language just as we read theirs. Sorting out the hinds, female deer, and their fawns was a process of approaching the group cornered in a narrow pen and letting the hinds pass to my side, while holding the fawns back by getting in their way. With about a dozen doors and gates at our disposal, all 60 deer could be separated and contained for their autumn checkup. The ultimate moment of domestication was the snap of the ear tagger. Each new fawn was assigned a number, vaccinated and drenched, shooting doses of blue tape worm medicine down their throat with a comically sci-fi gun. 
Being that I am here and available for about anything, I was invited to go up into the "bush" to trap possums with a new friend, Cameron. 
As we ride the quad bike up a narrow bulldozed tract to the edge of the bush, Cam makes a simple distinction, "farm"-meaning cleared land with sheep and cattle, and "bush," what once covered all of New Zealand. We bike up the track and the "farm" gets rougher and rougher, half burnt stumps of native timer surrounded by  tightly nibbled grass paint the picture of how recently the land was slashed and burned and grazed. Like the deer, possums were tragically introduced and quickly overran the forest. They are like little nocturnal monkeys, with a long gripping tail, big claws, and thick warm amazing fur. Cam is the kind of guy who likes to self employ, and hates taking orders from anybody. Since he quit school he has been learning many skills and trades but his serious passion is hunting. Only recently has the price of possum fur gone high enough that Cam can make it his main income.
"See that gully down there, that is crawling with coons," indeed the possums are everywhere, and they come out at night to feast on the tender tree tips and the farm pasture. The first day is spent setting the traps. Cam points out the tell-tale marks of a possum playground and cuts a level notch in a horizontal tree trunk. He sprinkles a "lure" made of white flour and powdered sugar, all enfused with just a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Since the coons are native to Australia, they can't resist the smell of eucalyptus. At night, we listen for their screams but fall fast asleep and in the morning, there is a sense of excitement. We look down on the coons as vermin, we know that they are bad for the forest, there are millions of possums in nz, too many for any trapper. Everyone in New Zealand knows that in many places the government dumps massive amounts of 1080 poison into the bush to kill such vermin. 
As we tramp down the line, more than every other trap has caught a coon. Without waking them, Cam gives them a few strong whacks with the back of his machete, they squirm and we avoid their claws, "last kicks." While they are still warm their fur pulls out in huge wads. By the end of a possum mission, Cam will come out of the bush with some very big, and quite valuable bags of fur. Earning more than the standard wage, he is his own boss, enjoys the wild mountains and spending time hunting deer for food. Cam admits this lifestyle is a bit of an escape, we look down from the mountain ridge at the glow of Palmerston, he tells me of the mess of people down there, the punks on p who just want to fight, the system that wants to corral him into another worker bee. I tell him how I see it, that his role, the bush hunter, is a protector of an important part of nz, that it is not society vs. Cameron, but society with a need for his skill and passion, that making a living off the bush is respectable and inspiring indeed.

The Stock Market: Pending Rain, Shaking Heads
The most common vehicle traveling nz roads is a double semi, loaded three stories high with sheep. A narrow gap for each floor allows them to stick their nose out for a breath of fresh air. Some truckers have a special compartment for their sheep dogs, and his nose too smells the passing air. These trucks take sheep from the farm to the auction where they are sold to the highest bidder. My friend, Stuart, a sheep and beef farmer, took me to see this real stock market, to teach me some basic truths of this dying trade. 
  If we could predict the weather, we could predict this stock market. This year, New Zealand has been in a horrible drought. Without even an inch of grass, many farmers are forced to sell stock because they have no feed. We walk through pens of about a hundred sheep towards a crowd of long faced farmers. Everybody knows everybody, and nobody is happy. Stuart explains to me that a "grass market" is when there is a thick layer of grass on everybodies paddocks. With ample food, farmers can buy a lot of sheep and fatten them up, so the price goes very high. But today, and for this entire season so far, everyone is selling hungry animals and nobody wants to buy. The auctioneers, one holding the lips of a uwe baring its good teeth, and the other waving a clipboard, yell and scream at the crowd. It's as if nobody can hear them, but it's just that nobody can bear to hear the falling prices. So many people are trying to sell sheep that the slaughter houses are clogged. Gradually, the sky darkens,  if only we had a week of rain, the grass would return and farmers could fatten these lambs. Stuart quietly tells me that the lot they are auctioning now are his uwes, "good mountain uwes..." the price falls to twenty dollars as nobody bids, "absolutely... awful..." As we leave the auction yards, the rain begins, yet we can see the blue sky ten minutes away. No false hopes today, the drought is not quenched, the sheep are still hungry, and the ground almost barren.