Friday, November 27, 2015

Great Green Step

Great Green Step
Bobby Derie

The alarm called the farmers to the dawn-singing in praise of the founder. Girgio blinked in the darkness and sang along with the national hymn that blared through the speakers, and stifled a yawn as the automated voice read out the collect of the day.

Self-sufficiency is the hallmark of the individual. The individual is a unit of a family, the family is the unit of the society. Every individual must draw together to support their family, and not depend on government support...

As true dawn broke, Girgio hurried off to catch the train. Free-gardeners were on the streets, teenagers that could not yet afford their own farms and depended on the government dole, unblocking irrigation lines, trimming and weeding, collecting nightsoil, picking up trash, planting bulbs from the great nurseries. Over them stood grey-haired elders, too old to work a plow or pick vegetables, directing the efforts of the young teens, following the orders of the day.

...each man and woman is a farmer, free on their own soil; they eat of the toil of their own hands and land, and they alone have a stake in society. Government must exist to ensure the most freedom to everyone...

Girgio pushed aside the curtain and entered the main tent of the office. Kisha waved a trowel in greeting from a work-bench, sweating from the sun-lamp. In her other hand was a smart bulb, the pale green leaves fuzzy and veined with red.

"We got a call in from Willage-on-the-Green," she laid the trowel down to type one-handed on a laptop. "They're only getting 50% signal from the crop."

Girgio grunted as he took off his coat. "Rainfall has been off the last six weeks. The peninsula is still technically in a drought," he booted up his laptop. "Smartplants need more water than equivalent unaugmented crops, especially in early development. That's all in the documentation."

...We must re-embrace simplicity. Complexity has led to imbalance, technological achievement has outstripped our ability to deal with the consequences. Population boom and urban expansion has led to ecological devastation. We must step back, restructure, and return to a balanced mastery of nature...

At his workspace, Girgio caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the glass holding back his diploma from the agricultural school. The face staring back at him was paler and heavier than in those days, when he and the others in his dorm would rise from dawn-singing for mandatory work in the school fields, and physical fitness classes were conducted at noon, using rakes and sickles to develop muscles and proper form. He was in the first class of computer-aided farmers since the Revolution, and already he had lost his farmer's tan. Just as the Dean of the college had predicted... he shook himself out of the reverie, unwilling to walk through the philosophies once again.

Opening the Cynara cardunculus project file, Girgio lost himself his work. They bought most of the smartplants patents off of little geneshops in the provinces, where megafarming was impracticable and most of the small plots were zoned for experimental farmwork. Smartplants were the target: deposits of metals to form organic antennas along the stalk, sometimes the seeds modified with pre-packaged chips that would merge with the growing plant. Add an external power source, and the antennas would resonate at wifi frequencies, relaying information on the plant's health. A field full of crops that a farmer could gauge the health of with a laptop, becoming aware of insect and fungal infections before their physical symptoms were apparent...

...if Girgio could get the software to work. Smartplants were still very crude, and interpreting the signals correctly was an uphill technical challenge. He spent half the morning wrestling with data from Willage-on-the-Green, checking it against the models in his latest software update.

Kisha's hand on his neck woke him from his reverie, and he heard the work-songs of the fabric factory next door, the men and women on the assembly line already taking their mandatory work-break to hoe the cotton field out back. He didn't recognize the tune; something trendy from the Top Twenty of about fifteen years ago, when the Young Farmhands were just breaking out.

Oh I want to make a little farmhand with you
Just like our mothers and fathers do
Oh I want to make a little farmhand with you
So we can farm our own piece too

Together, they fetched their spades and kneepads and went out into the sunlight, blinking against the wind. Their strip of dirt was token, and stony, mostly potatoes and other root vegetables. Coffee grounds and other office detritus made its way into the compost heap, and there had been some serious talk of planting peanuts or alfalfa to help rehabilitate the soil. Kisha would have liked to make it a showcase for the smartplants, but location conditions didn't permit it. On hands and knees they spent the compulsory period getting themselves good and dirty, weeding, taking soil samples for nitrogen levels, and inspecting each plant for signs of spotting or damage.

For Girgio, it was a fast day, but he nursed a cup of tea as Kisha dug in to her pita bread and bean sprouts. At her insistence, they split the apple, a lumpy-looking archaic variety whose name he forgot, and for a hundred years had been mostly relegated to sauce and cider as it didn't look enough like the bright green and red circles in children's coloring books to make it to market. It was tart, starchy, and not at all sweet. Kisha gave him a kiss that was just the same, and he felt it linger on his lips as he went back to work.

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