Archive for April, 2008

RAFT Featured in The New York Times

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Today, the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times featured, on its front page, Renewing America’s Food TraditionsGary Paul Nabhan’s collection of cultural histories, recipes, and folk traditions associated with the rarest food plants and animals in North America. While offering a eulogy to a once-common game food that has gone extinct—the passenger pigeon—the book doesn’t dwell on tragic losses. Instead, it highlights the success stories of food recovery, habitat restoration, and market revitalization that chefs, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and foresters have recently achieved. Through such “food parables,” Renewing America’s Food Traditions builds a persuasive argument for eater-based conservation.

Read the Times article here.

ForeWord Magazine: “Chelsea Green books are the bee’s knees!”

Friday, April 25th, 2008

OK, so that’s not an exact quote, but we are proud to have learned that three of our books, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor by Les Leopold, Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier, and Javatrekker by Dean Cycon, are each finalists for ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award in their respective categories, Biography, Home & Garden, and Travel Essays. The winners are announced on May 30. Nice going, guys!

A New Web Site for Chelsea Green

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Chelsea Green is pleased to announce the launch of a completely new company web site, and as you’ve likely guessed, a completely new company web strategy. This new site incorporates all the best features of our previous site (secure e-commerce, book information, author events, etc.) with a slew of new community-minded features. The largest change we’ve made is that we’ll be publishing a blog on our main page. This blog will feature excerpts from our books, interviews with our authors, original articles related to our mission of sustainable living, and links to content around the ‘net that we find particularly interesting.

Every aspect of this new site has been designed with one goal in mind: to build a community. We hope that by publishing original content relating to the politics and practice of sustainable living, we can attract people from all regions of the globe and all walks of life to take part in an on-going discussion of the best ways to move toward a sustainable and future.

We’ve put together some initial content to offer at launch, and we’ll be steadily adding more articles, videos, podcast episodes, and books as time goes on. So please take a look around, sign up for an account, and stake your claim in the beginnings of Chelsea Green’s new community.

I’m Jesse, the Web Editor here at Chelsea Green, and I’m happy to help any of our community members with any questions or concerns. Feel free to email me if you need anything. Enjoy!

Sacred Ecology (Book Excerpt)

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

The following is an excerpt from the chapter Sacred Ecology in Not In His Image by John Lamb Lash. In this chapter Lash offers readers some insight into our spiritual relationship.

If there is any real prospect of recovering and reviving Gnosis today, it will require looking closely at problems endemic to the Piscean Age, which the telestai were unable to solve, or denied the opportunity to solve. Deep ecology may well find the spiritual and mythic dimension it lacks in the Sophianic vision of the Mysteries—such, at least, is the premise of this book. I cannot predict how this will happen, or even if it will happen, but I can offer a rough sketch of the conditions required for it to happen.

Gnosis is not a religion, yet it could well be formulated in a holy trinity: Gaia, other species, Anthropos. Each point of the trinity concerns the ultimate question of how we as human beings view life. In other words, the trinity comprises three perspectives: our view of Gaia, the living planet; our view of all species apart from ourselves, including microbial and molecular entities; and our view of our own species. The issues left unresolved by the telestai involve working through to a clear formulation of all three of these views. I propose to look upon this process, not as a grim chore of tackling arcane, exasperating problems, but as an adventure we are invited to undertake in order to reclaim the Sophianic vision.

A Sentient Planet

Consider first our view of Gaia, the living planet. This is, let’s say, the apex of the trinity of sacred ecology. After many years of reflection, James Lovelock is careful to qualify the theory he introduced to the world: “I am not thinking in an animistic way, of a planet with sentience,” he says in Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine. Well, he may not be, but a great many others are. The central problem in our view of Gaia is how to look beyond what hard science supposes, but without going all fuzzy with mystical pretensions. This is precisely where the Goddess mystique fails the day, of course. It brings into play a set of wooly animistic beliefs about the planet. Both James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis resist the animism inherent to the mystique, and for good reason. The confectionary haze of New Age mysticism and the soft gloss of Neopagan sentimentality both obscure the Sophianic vision. Animist beliefs will not meet the challenges left unresolved by the seers of the ancient Mysteries, but Gaia theory will become animistic, one way or the other. It is just a matter of how.

The Gaia hypothesis and deep ecology appeared in the world almost simultaneously. These two propositions would seem to be closely related, but so far they have not merged, nor have they become associated either in popular or specialist discourse. One reason may be that specious assumptions attached to Gaia theory, mainly by New Age visionaries who champion the idea of a sentient planet, block the very facets of the theory that might be compatible with the principles of deep ecology. The specious assumptions concern the questions, Is Gaia benevolent? (denied by Margulis); Is Gaia able to control the planet in a conscious, intentional way? (denied by both Margulis and Lovelock); and Does humanity have a special role to play in Gaian biophysics? (variously disputed by both Margulis, Lovelock, and others). But if the advocates of the Goddess mystique that has grown up around Gaia theory are to be believed, the answer to all the above questions is a resounding yes. This affirmation inspires and encourages many people who are deeply concerned about the fate of the planet—but is it true? Or is it just wishful thinking on a global scale? A case of cosmic makebelieve?

In the initiatory revelation of the Mysteries the participants came to know Gaia by direct contact with the Organic Light. But that was mysticism and not science, right? Lynn Margulis defines science as “a way of enhancing sensory experience with other living organisms and the environment generally.” With a sharp glance in the direction of Goddess worshippers, she warns against “debilitating biomysticism” and the “deification of the earth by nature nuts.” Well, a Gnostic would say that her definition of science is a pretty good definition of biomysticism. It is not the least bit “debilitating” to enhance sensory experience by deepened rapport with nature. On the contrary, the practice of biomysticism restores the palingenesis of the ancient Mysteries: regeneration through rapturous surrender to the life force.

In this book, I have advocated animism and asserted that Gaia is sentient, but not as matters to be accepted on belief, or rejected because of their unscientific character. Rather, they are propositions to be tested. How would we verify the sentience of Gaia, anyway? How could it be tested scientifically? How can we know that the planet can feel and respond as an animal does? To put the question in another way, How might Gaia communicate her sentience to us? The first point of the trinity—our view of the living planet—raises the formidable issue of communication. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby stated the issue with elegance: “How could nature not be conscious if our own consciousness is produced by nature?” Thinking logically, Narby assumes that the consciousness we have cannot have evolved from anything less conscious. But human consciousness is intimately bound up with language. If nature (Gaia) is really conscious, how can she let us know that she is, unless she has the language to do so?

Ah, there’s the rub. Our view of Gaia will stall out in blind speculation unless we can allow that she can communicate with us in language as we know it. Unless this is possible, we will never be able to confirm that she is sentient in the same way animals are, and we ourselves are. Ratcheting Narby’s question to another level, I would ask: How can nature that produced a species gifted with language not be capable of using the language of that species to communicate with it? The Peruvian shamans who initiated Narby into visionary rites with the psychoactive potion ayahuasca attested to such communication. They said that the sacred plants talk to them, teaching them many things, including how to use the plants correctly. That is, nature talks to them in the language she enabled them as humans to evolve. Is that not utterly logical?

But it can be objected that Gaia, Mother Nature, does not have a larynx, mouth, and tongue. She lacks the physical organs of speech. Yes, she does, but we also speak without using those organs. Thinking is a subvocal language that we hear as if it were audible. We do not need a tongue to communicate mentally. Granted, most of our mental communication consists of talking to ourselves “in our heads”—the internal monologue. If we cannot yet communicate telepathically, one to another, this is only because we lack the skill to deliberately receive and transmit the subvocal language of our thinking. But what if Gaia, who equipped us with our communicating faculties, can already exhibit telepathic abilities that we may only evolve in the future? That being so, she could talk to us in any language on earth without needing a mouth and tongue. According to the testimony of native peoples who use psychoactive plants to access the Gaian mind, this is exactly what she does.

Nature Mystic

I believe that most of what was said of God was in reality said of that spirit whose body is the Earth.

Gnostics taught that the sentience of the earth is an expression of Sophia’s Dreaming. Sophia dreams us out of cosmic plenitude, from the heart of the Pleroma. The optimal future for humanity is to reciprocate, dreaming Sophia.

The life force of the planet is animated and animating, giving expression to creatures who sense they are alive. The perception that the world is alive, not the mere belief, is animism. Gaia theory in its scientific form forces the question of animism, but cannot answer it. The revival of animism does not involve the mere assumption of the sentience of nature, but direct experience of it. We would already have this experience naturally and spontaneously, as part of our ecognostic capacities, if impeding beliefs were removed, including the belief in single-self identity. Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick said that Gnosis consists of “disinhibiting instructions” that allow us to access a vast store of innate, intuitive knowing. What I propose to call silent knowing is a state of rapturous attention to the presence of the earth. This is the eloquent muteness of being awed. The testimony of people who have experienced a spontaneous upsurge of silent knowing can teach us a lot about communication with Gaia. One such testimony comes from the Irish mystic, writer, and painter known as AE.

George William Russell (1867–1935), who wrote under the pen name AE, asserted that “the immortal in us has memory of all its wisdom.” In a simple, yet far-reaching analysis of his own mystical experience, Russell connected the immortal wisdom-bearing memory with the faculty of imagination. “This memory of the spirit is the real basis of imagination, and when it speaks to us we feel truly inspired and a mightier creature than ourselves speaks through us.” The emphasis on through signals what I have called transentience. Lynn Margulis’s SET theory is about endosymbiosis, creatures living through each other. Animistic perception confirms that living-through is a primary aspect of the ecosystem.

Russell’s eloquent memoir, The Candle of Vision, is one of the great classics of Western spirituality. No one else has described tellurian vision in quite this way, with such candor, simplicity, and richness. As an adolescent walking through the fields of Armagh in Northern Ireland, Russell became convinced that “a myth incarnated in me, the story of an Aeon, one of the first starry emanations of Deity, one pre-eminent in the highest heavens.” In a library in Dublin he came across a dictionary of religions with an entry on Gnostics, and his eyes fell on the word Aeon, the Gnostic term for a god or divinity. From this spontaneous clue he took his signature, AE. The starry emanation of Divinity that he intuited purely from the resources of his inner life was the wisdom goddess, Sophia.

Russell was a writer, painter, and social visionary of some importance in Irish political life. He was the éminence grise behind the Celtic Revival, an Irish cultural and spiritual movement that formed part of the European occult revival, lasting roughly from 1885 to 1915. He was a close friend of Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, who led the Celtic Revival. Both Yeats and AE were members of the Theosophical Movement founded by Madame Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott in 1875. Theosophy had a profound influence upon many artists and intellectuals of the era—for instance, Vassily Kandinsky, who wrote an influential book art theory related to theosophical concepts, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. AE, who coined the word “supernature,” was a natural mystic who needed no theory to guide him into cognitive ecstasy. In spontaneous trance he experienced a series of vivid cinematic visions of pre-Christian Europa or possibly Atlantis. His understanding of these experiences was aided by reading about the Gnostics and the Sabians, a sect of stargazers who lived in ancient Iran. AE claimed that his visions arose because he was disposed to “vital contact” with the natural setting around him.

In The Candle of Vision AE identified the Celtic river god Manannan with the visionary streaming of “the divine imagination,” the sublime force that swept over him in his trances. (The root man- occurs widely in world mythology, always with the connotation of a human but supernatural guide: for instance, the Hindu Manu and the Native American Manitou, which are versions of the Mesotes.) Like that other natural mystic, Romantic poet William Blake, AE identified the power of imagination with Christ, whom he called “the magician of the Beautiful.” Describing the sensuous allure of the nymphs and dryads encountered in his visions, AE said that they had “a beauty which had never, it seemed, been broken by the act of individualized will which with us makes possible a choice between good and evil, and the marring of the mold of natural beauty.” AE was an exceptional mystic in that his clairvoyant faculties did not operate by blind “channeling,” as occurred, say, with the “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce, and Jayne Roberts, the famous medium who produced the Seth material. His observation that the strict dualism of good and evil locks human awareness into a cognitive setting that cannot accept beauty, or “go with the flow” of nature’s perpetual revelation, is a genuine Gnostic insight, and merits deep reflection.

Russell’s visions were entirely body-based, somatically grounded, and all that he saw was as alive as himself. “That Infinite we would enter is living,” he testifies. As the visions came on, he felt “a growing luminousness in my brain as if I had unsealed in the body a fountain of interior light.” The invocation of a fountain of light occurs in several revelation discourses in the NHC, as we have seen. AE’s candle is a humble metaphor for the soft glow of the Organic Light. The candle burns for us all. “In every mind exists the Supernal Light of the ineffable Mystery” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 67.10).

Russell cites the late classical mystic Proclus on the Divine Mind: “It had not yet gone forth, but abode in the Eternal Depth, and in the adytum [inner sanctum] of godnourished Silence.” This snippet of Mystery lore could have been lifted right out of the Egyptian codices. Proclus, who was born in the year Hypatia died, studied at the Museum in Alexandria and was certainly initiated in Gnostic lore. Sige, Silence, is an Aeon in the Pleroma, the company of gods from whom Sophia plunges in her Dreaming of an emergent world. The line AE cites explains how the Aeons remain eternally placid, absorbed in the Uncreate, even when their ennoia (intention) produces worlds outside the Pleroma. This detached actuating process is typical of emanation, the cosmological process taught in the Mysteries.

AE would have had no access to original Gnostic writings, virtually unknown in his time, and he does not appear to have known G. R. S. Mead, the resident Gnostic scholar of the Theosophical Society. The Candle of Vision contains no allusion to the Aeon Sophia or an “earth goddess” of any kind, except for homage to Dana, the Celtic mother goddess. Yet everything AE says about the memory of Nature can be applied to the Sophia of Gnostic teachings. His visionary experiences were Sophianic reveries drawn from vital contact with the earth. As such, they are excellent models of animistic perception of the Goddess aspired to by people today.

AE said of his visions that their creator is transcendent to the waking self and even to the self that dreams at night, and yet this power, “a mightier self of ours,” makes itself “our slave for purposes of its own.” This language comes close to the Gnostic intuition that the fallen Sophia relies in some sense on human collaboration to achieve her correction. Russell’s sublime little book does not answer all the questions that arise on the path to knowing Gaia, but it sets the mood to contemplate those questions. His invocation of Sige, “god-nourished Silence,” is particularly apt. The self-conscious mind cannot reach silent knowing, but silent knowing can reach into it at rare moments when the internal talk ceases, allowing other things to be heard. Everyone has these moments, when the world turns quiet and an indefinable calm washes over us. To enter and abide in such moments is part of the mystical discipline that sustains the Sophianic vision.

Sacred Ecology

By John Lamb Lash

Be an EcoDaredevil

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

This special Earth Day op-ed comes to us courtesy of our own EcoDaredevil herself, Diane Wilson. Nichols gave an incredible presentation at Bioneers last year (the one held in California), and is a self-professed “turtle geek.”

Jump the Chasm: Are you an EcoDaredevil?

By Wallace J. Nichols

In the 1970’s, I idolized Evel Knievel. He was rock star, sports hero, and folk legend in one. His death-defying jumps inspired me to launch my bicycle over puddles and many a hapless friend.

Now, I find new inspiration in my childhood hero. In 1961, before he became “Evel,” Robert Craig Knievel hitchhiked with the rack of a bull elk from Montana to our nation’s capital to protest the culling of elk in Yellowstone. The Kennedy administration responded and countless elk were saved.

Today, we face more serious crises—loss of biodiversity, a warming planet, collapsing fisheries, looming food and water shortages, and

pollution in every corner of the globe. Scientists forecast a “2050 Scenario” in which Earth is hotter, dirtier, and overcrowded with nine

billion people who are left to wage wars for what little remains.

Jumping this chasm will be the greatest challenge we have ever faced. It will require revolutionary changes in society and technology. To

succeed, we must be brave, creative, and outspoken. We must undertake the audacious, the impossible, and the dangerous. We must risk our financial, social, and physical comfort.

In other words, we must become EcoDaredevils.

Everywhere I go, I meet EcoDaredevils. They are debating, creating, evolving—yes, sometimes crashing—but always, always coming back for more. Two Texas women cleaning a beach and inspiring Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup that is now half-a-million

strong. Sir Richard Branson greening aviation. Feliciano dos Santos campaigning with music for clean water in Africa. Architect Renzo Piano turning a massive roof into a meadow with solar panels. WaterKeeper Julio Solis drag racing in Mexico to raise awareness of our ocean crisis.

Changing light bulbs, inflating tires, and toting reusable bags are each important gestures. But it’s going to take action far more

thrilling to make it over this canyon. But, we must do something for the planet—something that invites personal risk.

They say that Evel Knievel broke every bone in his body at one time or another. But, he kept on jumping. His steely will enthralled me as an eight-year old. It still does today.

So, it’s Earth Day 2008. Look deep inside. Grab hold of your inner EcoDaredevil. Strap on a helmet, some red-white-and-blue leathers, and let’s go for a ride.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a Senior Scientist at Ocean Conservancy and a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences.

The Benefits of Perennial Vegetables

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

The following article is from Perennial Vegetables, winner, 2008 American Horticultural Society Book Award.

Think about how much work your perennial flower beds take compared to your annual vegetable garden. In a busy year, your perennial garden largely sails through despite neglect. Once your perennials are established, and if they are suited to your climate and site conditions, they can be virtually indestructible. An annual vegetable garden, as we all know, requires much more watering, weeding, and work to get a good crop. Once established, perennial vegetables are often more resistant to the attacks of pests, due to their reserves of energy stored in their roots.

Many readers undoubtedly grow, or have grown, asparagus. In fact, asparagus is the only perennial vegetable most people can think of. Let’s take a moment to reflect on your experiences with asparagus. Every year it comes back, providing a long and delicious season of harvest. Sure, it needs some weeding and fertilizing. But I know a lot of people who neglect their asparagus terribly and still have good harvests. Many other perennial vegetables are a lot tougher than asparagus. In fact, some perennial vegetables fend for themselves so well that they require frequent harvesting to keep them from becoming weeds. This phenomenon of little care for multiple years of harvests is, to my mind, the number one reason to grow perennial vegetables.

Their deep roots and soil building abilities make them more self-sufficient in terms of watering, and their canopies which leaf out so much earlier than annuals better suppress the growth of weeds. What else can these remarkable plants do?

Perennial vegetables are great soil builders

Perhaps the best ecological benefit from perennials is their beneficial effect on soil. Bare soil quickly dries out, and can be eroded by wind and rain, especially in sloping gardens. Tillage also kills many beneficial elements of the soil food web, particularly some of the best kinds of mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi that share nutrients with crop plants). Well-mulched perennials don’t need any tilling once they are established.

But the soil benefits of perennials are not just from an absence of tillage. Perennials improve organic matter, soil structure and porosity, and water holding capacity through the slow and steady decomposition of roots and leaves. Perennial vegetable gardens build soil the way nature intended—by allowing the plants to add more and more organic matter without tillage, and letting the worms do the work of mixing it all together.

Perennials provide ecosystem benefits

Perennials, especially trees, slow global warming by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Trees also moderate microclimates, making the areas around them cooler and moister. Large numbers of trees can moderate the climates of whole regions in a similar fashion. The root systems of perennials catch and store water and nutrients that would otherwise be washed away. Perennials provide critical habitat to a number of animal, fungal, and other life forms, many of which are highly beneficial in gardens.

Perennial vegetables extend the harvest season

Perennials often have different seasons of availability than annuals, helping to spread the season of harvest throughout more of the year. While you are starting seeds indoors, and transplanting tiny vulnerable seedlings out to the garden (which must be watered and weeded frequently), perennials are already in robust growth and ready for harvesting. In my own garden I begin eating the first tender perennial shoots not long after the snow melts. Later, in the heat of mid-summer, I visit the sweltering hot beds along my driveway to harvest some delicious tropical heat-loving greens. Perennial vegetables can “pad out” those times of the year when your annual garden doesn’t have much to offer.

Perennial vegetables often can perform multiple functions in the garden

In addition to years or decades of low-maintenance yields, and soil building benefits, perennial vegetables can do other important jobs in the garden. Many are beautiful ornamental plants, offering the potential of attractive edible landscapes. Some species can function as hedges, groundcovers, or erosion control for steep slopes. Some provide free fertilizer for themselves and their neighbors by fixing nitrogen or accumulating subsoil nutrients. And some help out with pest control, by providing habitat or food for predatory and other beneficial insects. Vines like chayote and perennial cucumber can be grown over trellis frames to create “edible shadehouses” to snack in a cool place out of the sun. See page X below for tables of multifunctional perennial vegetables.

Drawbacks of Perennial Vegetables

No crop is perfect, and perennial vegetables are no exception. Here are some of the disadvantages of growing perennial vegetables.

Some perennial vegetables are slow to establish, and may take several years to begin yielding well. Asparagus is a classic example.

Like annual crops, some perennial greens become bitter once they flower. Thus their greens are available only early in the season. Perennial vegetables are not meant to replace annuals, but to complement them. In this case, perennial greens are available early in the season, providing greens until the annuals are up and running.

Many of the minor perennial vegetables have rather strong flavors, especially those adapted to cold climates.

Many perennial vegetables are so low-maintenance that they can become weeds in your garden, or escape and naturalize in your neighborhood.

Perennial vegetables will also not fit into your ordinary annual garden management plan, and will need an area to be set aside for them (just like you probably do now for asparagus, globe artichokes, or rhubarb).

Perennials have special disease challenges. First, you can’t use crop rotation to minimize diseases. Second, once they have a disease, they often have it for good—for example, plant viruses are problematic with some vegetatively-propagated perennial crops.

You will find suggested solutions for each of these challenges under “Techniques” (page X).

A note on “perennials grown as annuals”

One occasionally sees a crop described as a “perennial grown as an annual” (some of these crops re referred to here as “plant/replant perennials”). Sometimes there are good reasons to grow perennials as annuals. For example, if left in the same place year after year, potatoes would build up terrible disease pressure. On the other hand, many crops usually grown as annuals make fine perennials (such as skirret, which actually has better flavor when grown as a perennial). In some cases, we just don’t know what would happen to these crops if they were allowed to persist for multiple years. Perhaps new techniques would need to be developed to manage them in this fashion. It is my hope that readers of Perennial Vegetables what happens.

Why you’ve probably never heard of them before

Why are asparagus, rhubarb, and globe artichokes the only perennial vegetables most gardeners have heard of? I have a few practical answers, and some speculative ones addressed in the accompanying article.

Lack of information

When I first became interested in perennial vegetables, I found that I had to fish for little bits of information here and there. There was no single book or website devoted to perennial vegetables. One could read many gardening books, review issues of garden magazines, and never get an inkling that this other class of vegetable crops even existed. My sincere hope is that the publication of this book will help to rectify the situation.

The chicken-and-the-egg problem

Only a small number of nurseries and seed companies offer even the best perennial vegetables – some are still commercially unavailable in the U.S. and Canada as I am writing. These plants will never have the chance to become popular if no one can acquire them. On the other hand, nurseries and seed companies will never offer them if there is no demand.

Readers of Perennial Vegetables can break us out of this cycle by requesting (nay, demanding!) perennial vegetables from your favorite companies. With your help, these useful and delicious plants will soon be widely known and grown.

The Origins of Annual Agriculture in North America

In the United States and Canada, most of our gardening traditions come from Europe, where there are few perennial crops (except fruits and nuts). But much of our land mass is well suited to crops from warm and tropical regions—where, it turns out, there are numerous perennial vegetables.

But why haven’t people been growing perennial vegetables in the United States and Canada for centuries? In the tropics there are many more perennial vegetables. Why were so few perennials domesticated in colder and temperate climates? The answer may have its roots in the multiple independent origins of agriculture itself, and the historical peculiarities of the areas where crops were domesticated.

In tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, agriculture developed strongly around root and starchy fruit crops as staples. This enabled crops to be grown in mixtures of trees, vines, perennials, and annuals. Cold and temperate Eurasian agriculture was built around annual grains and legumes. Why did this happen? Partly it is a question of the plants available as raw material for domestication—perhaps, with a far greater diversity to choose from, more perennial candidates were available in the tropics.

But, remarkably, Europeans actually took some perennial wild edible plants and bred them into annual crops, such as beets and brassicas. In contrast, ancient Andean people domesticated the perennial, rather than annual, forms of arracacha. In fact, a strikingly high number of perennial vegetables originated in the tropical Americas, like chayote, chaya, and perennial beans.

One possible explanation is that the Americas were without domesticated draft animals to pull plows. All farm work had to be done with hand tools, allowing different parts of the farm to get custom treatment with no real extra energy cost. In most of the Old World, draft animals were used to plow up large areas. Growing perennials would have required areas set aside for different management systems. Perhaps this explains the “annualizing” of perennial wild crops like beets and brassicas.

Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel offers an intriguing history of agriculture. It turns out that agriculture in Eurasia began in the Mediterranean, in a winter rain-summer drought climate that favored annuals. These crops were adopted in Europe, and may have superseded any development of perennials that might have otherwise occurred.

Another factor could be that early crop domesticators’ most important goal was getting enough food to eat. Perhaps raw material from annuals gave quicker rewards than perennials, particularly in cold climates where a short season often requires several years for perennials to begin bearing.

Whatever the origin of our neglect, there is certainly no longer a valid reason to ignore these useful and productive crops. They can be made much more widely available, and I believe that a network of gardeners will prove them to be an important new component of food production in the United States and Canada in the coming years.

By Eric Toensmeier

small Change, big Change

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

This update in from Chelsea Green author Dan Chiras (The New Ecological Home), and his ongoing efforts to help rebuild the small town of Greensburg, Kansas.

On May 4, 2007, one of the most powerful tornados ever witnessed in the United States leveled the town of Greensburg, a small community of 1,000 people. The nearly two-mile wide tornado killed 10 residents and destroyed 95 percent of the town’s buildings. Homes, businesses, schools, and churches were leveled by the fierce intruder.

Soon after the tragedy, the town’s citizens rallied behind a new idea: to rebuild the town green, creating the nation’s first model green community. Their vision of the new Greensburg calls for a town powered by abundant renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy. They envision super energy-efficient green-built homes, offices, churches and schools made from healthy, environmentally friendly materials.

To help raise funds for support this work, groups are asking individuals to contribute their spare change to help rebuild Greensburg. You contributions can be earmarked for:

• The Green Club – a student program to exchange ordinary light bulbs for compact fluorescents;
• Greensburg GreenTown, Chiras Team – to support construction of two model homes that will serve as eco-lodging for visitors who come to watch miracles happen and learn about green build; and,
• Greensburg GreenTown, General Fund to support work of this nonprofit group that has taken a lead in rebuilding Greensburg.

Take your spare change to the bank each month and cash it in. Then, send a check to: Daniel Wallach, Director, Greensburg GreenTown, 900 Kansas Ave, Greensburg, Kansas 67054; (620) 549-3752 or (620) 723-2790; [email protected]

Keeping the green in Vermont

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

If you’re in Vermont and you want to help divert money away from the same old corporate and government robber barons, consider keeping your money here in Vermont.

A new effort, supported in part by Chelsea Green, is called “Keep it in Vermont” and is urging Vermonters to consider re-investing their $600-1200 federal rebate checks back into the Vermont economy during the next three months.

“Most Vermonters we know have bills to pay and are working hard to make ends meet, and this is an astonishing opportunity for Vermont neighbors to jump-start our own local economies in time for spring,” explains small business owner Robin McDermott, a Localvore Vermont leader and co-founder of the “Keep It In Vermont” campaign. “Why run out and buy a new plasma TV, when we have remarkable Vermont farms, businesses, and nonprofits offering high-quality goods and services?”

Adds one other leader in the effort:

“If every one of our 250,000 tax-paying households in Vermont re-invested their federal rebate checks back into our Vermont economies, we’d inject $150 million back into the pockets of our local neighbors during a national economic recession,” states Vermont Commons editor and Champlain College professor Dr. Rob Williams.

For more information, go to

Fixing the climate without soaking the middle class

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Author Peter Barnes (Climate Solutions) has a new article circulating, and a new website promoting his inventive Cap and Dividend program as a way to ensure that everyone benefits dfrom either a carbon tax, or an auction of carbon emission permits.

As Barnes notes,

There’s also an attractive premise behind cap and dividend: the atmosphere is a commons that belongs to everyone. Those who pollute the commons should pay to do so. And the income should go to the commons’ owners, one person, one share.

If I were a Presidential candidate, I’d latch on to cap and dividend in a flash. After all, what’s not to like? With cap and dividend, we’d limit carbon emissions, spur private investment in clean energy, create jobs, and send money to everybody. Who wouldn’t vote for that?

Barnes also reminds us of this very important fact:

Fighting climate change is going to cost all of us money. That’s because the price of dumping carbon into the atmosphere must, necessarily, rise. Whether the price rise is prompted by a tax or a cap makes no difference — we will all pay more.

Impact of Emissions Reduction on Families

As you can see from this chart, current “solutions” would hit lower income families the hardest, which adds to the appeal of the cap and dividend proposal, as it’s progressive in its economic impact. Even though higher energy prices hit the poor the hardest, the poor actually gain when dividends are added in, Barnes adds.

To read more of Barnes’ argument, click here.

The lesser evil is a lot lesser

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Think Clinton is a self-aggrandizing, power-grubbing jerk? Think Obama is a neophyte, empty-rhetoric chump? Think Nader is an absolute joke? Okay, you are more than welcome to your opinion, but keep the following in mind as you allow yourself to stew in a cynical stew of “they’re all the same.” From Juan Cole:

… In other words, elect McCain, my friends, and you are summoning the awful genie of another 9/11. I said it. I mean it. I’m not taking it back. That man’s announced policies could well produce a blowback that will lead to the end of democracy in the United States. It is a momentous decision.

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