Archive for October, 2009

Bee There, Do That: Organic Apiculture in a Chemical World

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Why keep bees? And why go to the trouble of raising them organically?

Honey…candles…and the fact that bee pollination is the keystone of all life on planet Earth. No big deal.

Colony Collapse Disorder is no joke. There’s little doubt that the chemical loads that have built up in the environment have contributed to an ecological tipping point where bees the world over are dropping like flies—so don’t be too surprised when that expression becomes “dropping like bees.” That is, unless we do something about it.

In this article for the website Grist, Chelsea Green’s Makenna Goodman interviews Ross Conrad, former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association, about beekeeping, pollination, and the growing culture of small-scale and urban beekeeping.

Makenna Goodman: Your book, Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, offers up a program of natural beehive management, and an alternative to conventional chemical-based approaches. So—why organic beekeeping?

Ross Conrad: History has shown us that the industrialized “economy of scale” approach does not work when applied to agriculture because we are dealing with living biological systems, not an inert assembly line food production system where the economy of scale approach can be applied across the board.  One of the biggest issues is the large number of chemical contaminants that are being found in beeswax and pollen, often at very high concentrations. Toxic chemical contamination has been implicated in Colony Collapse and the reality is that there is no effective regulation of chemicals in Western society. Let me tell you why:

When the EPA was created in 1970 and sanctioned with the task of regulating chemicals, all the chemicals that were already used in commerce up to that time were grandfathered in. Additionally, since the EPA is given very limited personnel and financial resources, the agency ends up relying on the chemical manufacturers for the majority of the scientific data that is used to evaluate the safety of the regulated toxins…a serious conflict of interest. When chemicals are evaluated for toxicity, they are studied in isolation. Little thought is given to the chemical’s break down products which can prove to be more toxic and longer lasting than the original chemical itself, such as in the case of Imidacloprid Olefin, which is produced as the neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid degrades. Once in use and released into the environment, chemicals, and their breakdown products, will combine with other chemicals already in the environment to form new compounds. The synergistic effects of some of these combinations have proven themselves to be hundreds of times more toxic than either compound on its own.

Recent research into endocrine-disrupting chemicals (the kind often used as pesticides), reveals that the timing of exposure combines with the amount of exposure to produce a chemical’s effect. Thus, a certain dose might be very toxic to an organism in its developmental stage, while not having any obvious detrimental affects on the organism once it has matures, or vice-verse. To make matters worse, in some cases low doses of a chemical can be more damaging than higher doses. These new understandings of chemical toxicity have proven wrong Paracelsus’s 450-year-old maxim, “The dose makes the poison.” Today we know that often the timing can make the poison and that sometimes less is actually worse.

Add to this the many studies that now show that a cocktail of “insignificant” doses of several chemicals each acting on their own can combine to have significant results. In other words, exposure to very low concentrations of several chemicals at the same time can cause biological effects that none of the chemicals would have on their own. Thus when an living organism is exposed to a mixture of chemicals, every component contributes to the overall effect, no matter how minute their concentration. The only sane answer to our ignorance in the use of these toxic compounds is to stop using these chemicals, not only in our hives, but in our everyday lives. Thus, organic beekeeping came into being in just the last 20 years as a response to the fact that chemical use in bee hives has became the common way to try to control Varroa mites. Organic beekeeping is not only possible, but necessary.

Read the whole article here.


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Gallup: Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits All-Time High

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Public support for legalizing marijuana reached its highest point this year, according to a new poll released by Gallup.

Fort-two percent support legalization, with 56% opposed. At the current rate of growth, 1–2% a year, support could go over 50% in as little as four years.

PRINCETON, NJ — Gallup’s October Crime poll finds 44% of Americans in favor of making marijuana legal and 54% opposed. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25% range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31% in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade.

Read the whole article here.


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Investing Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

When it comes to bailing out small family farms, restaurants that buy only local produce, or struggling cheesemakers, Uncle Sam isn’t in much of a hurry. Those guys aren’t too big to fail. They won’t wipe out your pension fund or bankrupt a school system. They won’t tank the global economy.

But for socially responsible investors, that’s a feature, not a bug. The Slow Money movement is a way for investors to connect with their money, to see the physical fruits (sometimes literally) of their investments. It’s a way to invest in the future.


Fed up with the stock market? Sick of greedy megabanks and Wall Street bailouts? Then take your money and invest in what you eat. That’s the idea behind slow money, a movement coming into its own at a time when interest in local food is rising and exasperation over a global financial system gone wild is high.

Slow money is named after the slow food movement that developed to counteract our fast food, eat-on-the-go society. Championed by Woody Tasch, a venture capitalist, slow money is Tasch’s antidote to what he calls fast money — “money that is disconnected from people and place and so is zooming around the planet invested in very complicated, large-scale, distant things,” he explained. Slow money “is the opposite, investing in things that are close to home, that you understand, where you can know what your money is doing.”

Right now, slow money is focused on investing in local food enterprises — the organic farmer, the restaurant that uses local ingredients, the neighborhood microbrewery. But there’s no reason why the slow money principles couldn’t be transferred to other local ventures — your neighborhood news source, your independent retailers, local energy sources, you name it.

Read the whole article here.


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Social Change 2.0 a Winner in the 2009 National Best Books Awards

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Great news! Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing the World is the winner of the 2009 National Best Books Award in the Environment – Political/Social category and a finalist in the Social Change Category.

Author David Gershon, founder and president of Empowerment Institute, has spent three decades in the trenches of large-scale societal transformation. His Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life As You Want It was a bestseller, and his Low Carbon Diet: A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds, won the “Most Likely to Save the Planet” Independent Publisher Book Award.

Congratulations, David!

LOS ANGELES –, the premiere online magazine and review website for mainstream and independent publishing houses, announced the winners and finalists of THE NATIONAL “BEST BOOKS” 2009 AWARDS (NBBA) on October 20, 2009. Over 500 winners and finalists were announced in over 140 categories covering print and audio books. Awards were presented for titles published in 2009 and late 2008.

Jeff Keen, President and CEO of, said this year’s contest yielded an unprecedented number of entries, which were then narrowed down to over 500 winners and finalists…

Environmental: Political/Social

Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing Our World by David Gershon
High Point
ISBN: 978-0-9630327-7-5

Read the official press release.

See the list of winners.



How to Farm Sustainably and Make Money Doing It

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Is it possible the have a sustainable business plan and still make money? Do you want to know how to put a plan into action? Are you worried about having to sacrifice your morals just to bang out a buck? Read on.

The following is an excerpt from The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall. It has been adapted for the web.

A few years ago at a New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference, I presented a talk on farm profitability with a fellow farmer. He opened the talk by saying, “Sometimes I think I should have listened to my parents and become a doctor or a lawyer—but you know, I don’t think I could take the pay cut.” Wow.

Here was a vegetable grower standing up in front of a room full of farmers and telling them he makes more money than doctors or lawyers. He was serious. Jolted as the audience was by that seismic statement, I knew I had a tough act to follow.

Farming conferences are terrific sources of information—seasoned farmers share their experience and knowledge, and agricultural professionals update attendees with the latest research and news. But the overwhelming majority of information at a conference focuses on aspects of production—how to grow crops, which seed varieties are hot, which tractors and tools increase efficiency, and pests and diseases to watch for. Very few presentations address the business side of farming.

Similarly, farming books almost all focus on production. Yet good production techniques alone will not make an organic farm sustainable. Most people go into organic farming with a love for the land and for growing food, and that love is essential to staying committed through the years of hard work. Too many farmers, however, never consider a farm’s profit potential, or the various costs of production that ensure its financial health and longevity—and all too often they burn out because of it.

Organic farms comprise many different enterprises that get averaged out financially in a year-end profit or loss. A diversified organic vegetable farm may grow forty or more different crops, such as kale, broccoli, and sweet corn. Even a dairy farm with one product, milk, has different enterprises: milk cows, heifers, calves, silage, hay, and grain. Thank goodness for the IRS. Annual tax filing is often the only reason farmers look at their bottom line; without a Schedule F, the farm’s current checkbook balance would be the only indicator of financial health.

Production techniques rarely limit a farm’s success; rather it is the lack of dependable profitable returns. Farmers enjoy their work for lots of reasons: sowing seeds, working the soil, marveling at the plants that grow. Fundamental satisfaction comes from producing food, working outdoors, being your own boss, and working intimately with nature. No one’s motivation to farm came from the desire to be better versed in IRS employee tax codes and workers’ compensation laws, or to learn about pro forma balance sheets. Yet the farming and business worlds inevitably collide, and farmers are often uninformed about the business concepts and tools crucial to navigating forward effectively and profitably.

The information that follows draws on decades of personal farming experience and my thirst for smart and appropriate business tactics. I know firsthand the joys, frustrations, stresses, and challenges of starting and operating an organic farm. Contrary to what most people believe, a good living can be made on an organic farm, and what’s required is farming smarter, not harder.

My goal is to highlight the necessary tools for successful and profitable farming for new and seasoned farmers alike. This first chapter starts with some “soft” business concepts, to lay the foundation for the practical step-by-step road to profitability.

The Mile-High Fence
Imagine a mile-high fence surrounding your farm or property. The fence is continuous along the outside perimeter of your land; it is open at the top so that sun and rain may enter, and it is porous for wind, birds, and insects to pass through. The air is naturally full of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, and the land is a living soil full of minerals, microbes, and organic matter. There are no breaks in the fence, except for one small gate. Your job as farmer is to monitor what goes in and out of that gate.

Most farms bring in lots of material like fuel, fertilizer, seed, and packaging; mix them up and change them a bit; then send them back out the gate. When you think about it, this business model isn’t much different from that of a plastics factory. And yet our farms should not be places where petroleum-based inputs are turned into food. Our ultimate job as organic farmers is to use what is freely available to us in nature to generate true wealth. In this light, I see farming as one of the noblest endeavors: a real generator of healthy products using natural cycles.

The Mile-High Fence analogy is a novel way of looking at farming, placing the responsibilityfor monitoring farm inputs and outputs on the farmer. As an organic farmer, what are some things that come in and go out of your farm gate?

To answer that question, I’ll start with a simple and idealistic model of a dairy farm: Sun, rain, and atmospheric nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide photosynthesize in grass that is growing in the living soil. Cows feed on the grass, drink water (from the rain), and mature and rear their young. Cows are milked, the milk is exported through the farm gate, and money from the sale of this milk is brought back to the farm. Nutrients in the manure from the animals recycle within the farm system. Milk leaving through the farm gate is mostly water, and it is produced from grass grown with free sunshine, readily available elements in the environment, and soil nutrients, most of which are replenished with applications of manure. Given enough land, young stock are raised, and the process sustains itself indefinitely.

True sustainability is thus made possible by recycling what nutrients are readily available, and using rain and the energy from the sun.

So if we have all this free rain, solar energy,nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and microbially rich soil, shouldn’t it be easy to make money farming? Sure, there are some obstacles, but a truly sustainable farm is based on these fundamental principles.

A number of years ago, the farm gate flow of my farm looked like this. Coming in the gate were:

• Borrowed money
• Seed
• Organic fertilizers
• Compost
• Fuel oil
• Laborers
• Organic pesticides
• Packaging—labels, bags, and boxes
• Greenhouse frames
• Greenhouse plastic
• Potting soil
• Plastic pots
• Electricity
• Telephone service
• Tractors, trucks, and other equipment
• Tools
• Parts for repairs
• Money from sales of farm products

Meanwhile, exiting the farm gate were:

• Produce raised on the farm
• Laborers returning home
• Trash, and payment for the landfill
• Loan payments
• Payments for seed, fertilizer, compost, fuel oil, laborers, and all the other purchased items listed above
• Payments for taxes, insurance, memberships, and trucking
• Payments for living expenses

This is a little more complicated than the simple example of sustainability in the dairy farm portrayed above, and a little more realistic for an organic vegetable farmer living in today’s world. The job of the farmer standing by the one gate in the mile-high fence is to monitor what goes in and out. However, this is not to say that as many items as possible should be eliminated. Different farms have different inputs and outputs, and some farms have more than others. Importance needs to be placed on the relevance of each input and output to how it utilizes natural cycles.

Solar Dollars
Money is a medium of exchange. I use money to buy a chair, and I receive money when I sell a bag of carrots. I don’t need to trade my carrots directly for the chair. Money is very handy, and it comes in various forms: coins, cash, checks, and credit cards, for example. But let’s talk about the origin of money—what generated those dollars in the first place? I’m not talking about the printing press at the US Mint or thefractional reserve banking system, but rather a novel way of money classification.

A mentor of mine, Ed Martsolf of A Whole New Approach in Morrilton, Arkansas, taught concepts of Holistic Management,* which include some interesting ideas on money and on goal setting. Martsolf described money falling into three nontraditional but distinct types: mineral dollars, paper dollars, and solar dollars.

Mineral dollars are generated when products of value are mined or extracted and then sold. Gold, oil, coal, granite, and rock phosphate are some substances that generate mineral dollars. If I owned a quarry of granite, my sales would be in mineral dollars. The upside to mineral dollars is that the money from the granite is real and can provide a sizable income stream until the resource is used up. The downside is that its source is finite, and that eventual depletion of the resource will terminate the flow of mineral dollars. Mineral dollars are a one-way street.

Paper dollars are the most common of these three types of money. If I buy a tractor for $5,000 and immediately resell it for $5,500, I’ve made $500 in paper dollars. Paper dollars come from transactions. No real product is involved, just my time, and knowledge that an opportunity exists. With paper dollars, there is always a winner and a loser. One person profits at someone else’s expense. Our financial institutions all deal in paper dollars: The stock market, banks, and businesses are all involved in buying and selling. There is no overall net gain in paper dollars unless the government or banks create more money.

Solar dollars are unlike mineral and paper dollars. Solar dollars generate true wealth. They are forever sustainable and transcend the winner–loser scenario. In the Mile-High Fence example, natural cycles use freely available components and the sun’s energy to create a product of value—a product of solar dollars. The growing of plants and animals following basic natural cycles generates solar dollars. And while paper and mineral dollars may be used in conjunction with solar dollars, the focus on solar dollars is vital to any organic farm. [...]

In Marijuana Policy, a Shift Toward Understanding

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The government has been repeating the same message about marijuana for over three quarters of a century—that it’s a dangerous gateway drug—while Hollywood continues to get a lot of mileage out of the familiar pothead stereotype, avoiding realistic portrayals of marijuana users. The result? Too many people believe the propaganda, and we end up with overcrowded prisons and a whole class of people stigmatized—fearful of arrest, of being seen as some kind of burnout, of damaging their health.

Because of marijuana prohibition and the endless, futile War on Drugs, society has suffered.

As more people become informed of the facts, however, the tide finally seems to be turning. Medical marijuana is legal in 13 states, and society hasn’t crumbled. Quite the opposite. States that allow medically prescribed cannabis have seen an economic bump, not just in cannabis sales, but across related industries.

Steve Fox, Director of State Campaigns for Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, talked to the L.A. Record about the continuing struggle to legalize marijuana state by state, and about changing the way we talk about marijuana.

Of the politicians in Washington D.C. who are opposed to marijuana legalization, what do you feel is the breakdown between those who are benefiting from the anti-drug campaigns, those who are privately in favor but politically opposed, and those who are just legitimately opposed?
Steve Fox: Fear is probably the biggest reason of all. When you think of the American public and how they’ve been convinced that marijuana is a dangerous drug, elected officials are at a whole other level. Many of them have been convinced that marijuana is a dangerous subject for them. They just know from their little playbook that’s given to them when they’re running for office: ‘Here’s what we’re going to say when anything about illegal drugs comes up.’ I think it’s really going to take public pressure for many of them to change, and that is what our book is all about. The book is about giving people the confidence to be more outspoken. There are so many people out there that are supportive of changing marijuana laws or maybe even using marijuana themselves. In the past—though they believed that marijuana was safer than alcohol—they weren’t prepared to talk about it at length. Instead they would get caught up in talking about, ‘Well, this is a waste of government resources!’ We want to make the simple point that all you need to talk about is, ‘I should just be able to choose.’ Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. I should not be punished if I want to use the less harmful substance. We should be asking our elected officials why they want to force people to drink instead of using the less-harmful option, and make it about alcohol and not about marijuana.
When Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams got suspended for smoking pot and retired early, I thought the sports media really played up the pothead stereotype rather than discussing the fact that NFL athletes use toxic pills as pain relievers instead of the safer alternative.
Steve Fox: We’ve certainly been waiting for a situation like that, and while I was working on the SAFER campaign, we tried to push that as hard as we could. We even put up a billboard in Denver encouraging Ricky to come to Denver with the people who support his safer choice. This was based on the fact that we put an initiative on the ballot in Denver to make marijuana legal, and it passed. So we were glad, and we did get some national coverage from that effort. But discussion of the deeper issues just doesn’t happen. The same thing with Michael Phelps when the picture of him smoking from a bong was released. The ignored part of the story was that he was drinking heavily and hitting on women and being obnoxious, but nobody really cared about that. That part is ignored. But he takes one hit, and that becomes international news. People have to think about the fact that we are steering people toward alcohol for no reason.

Read the whole article here.


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LISTEN: The High-Speed Rail Revolution: An Interview with James McCommons

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Anyone who’s serious about changing our energy future for the better knows that a vibrant train infrastructure is an essential part of weaning ourselves away from our car culture.

In this interview, author James McCommons talks about the troubles and travails of Amtrak, the history of rail travel in the US and internationally, and the future of passenger rail.

McCommons spent much of 2008 in trains.  He talked to travelers, workers on the railroads, policy makers, professional planners, politicians, including many of the people who have been most involved in passenger rail policy for the past 35 years.  Waiting on a Train is not a sentimentalist’s approach to rail travel.  McCommons tells us plainly what the challenges are for those of us who want to see mass transit developed into a meaningful alternative to automobile and air travel.  And he does not pull punches – developing passenger railroads is not going to be easy and it will not happen quickly.  It’s important to realize that only 2% of the American public has actually ever ridden a train – a stunning fact I learned from this book.  I’d recommend this book for anyone who loves trains, an easy call, but I’d also like to see people who have never even thought about riding on a train read this book so they will understand why rail must be an essential component of the American transportation system of the future.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.


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WATCH: Farmers Arrested for Planting Hemp in DEA Front Lawn

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Local farmer Will Allen got together with some of his friends last Tuesday to dig up a little earth and plant some seeds. As they expected, they were all promptly arrested. Why? Well, the seeds they were sowing were hemp, and the place they were planting them was the front lawn of the DEA in Washington.

Allen, along with David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and five others, were protesting the restriction on growing industrial hemp within the US. Their argument goes something like this: hemp is not marijuana and it won’t get you high. Hemp has a variety of industrial uses, and its prohibition means American farmers are losing millions of dollars to other countries that permit the cultivation of hemp, like China and Canada.

Now that the Justice Department has signaled its intent to cease prosecuting medical marijuana users who comply with state law, the time has come to re-examine the wrong-headed ban on weed’s non-psychoactive cousin.

From Alternet:

Fresh from the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual convention last weekend in Washington, DC, a pair of real life farmers who want to be hemp farmers joined with hemp industry figures and spokesmen to travel across the Potomac River to DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where, in an act of civil disobedience, they took shovels to the lawn and planted hemp seeds. Within a few minutes, they were arrested and charged with trespassing.

Hoping to focus the attention of the Obama administration on halting DEA interference, North Dakota farmer Wayne Hauge, Vermont farmer Will Allen, HIA President Steve Levine, hemp-based soap producer and Vote Hemp director David Bronner, Vote Hemp communications director Adam Eidinger, and hemp clothing company owner Isaac Nichelson were arrested in the action as another dozen or so supporters and puzzled DEA employees looked on.

“Who has a permit?” demanded a DEA security official. “A permit — that’s what we want from the DEA,” Bronner responded.

Read the whole article here.


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Joel Salatin: Leading the Charge Against Industrial Agriculture

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Thanks to the success of the locavore movement and media attention from films like Food, Inc. and books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, more people than ever are paying attention to where their food comes from and how it was raised.

They’re sick of government-subsidized industrial agriculture that has no respect for animals, workers, consumers, or the soil. “Cheap” food carries hidden environmental, social, and health costs that more and more people are unwilling to pay.

Food-activist and sustainable agriculture pioneer Joel Salatin

goes “beyond organic” in his farming methods by observing and mimicking natural systems on his 500-acre Polyface Farm. Salatin isn’t afraid to passionately denounce the existing system—and he shows that you don’t need pesticides, cruelty, or genetic engineering to be successful.


Joel Salatin is fighting against America’s genetically-modified foods and for local subsistence farming.

Leading his crusade from the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, this anti-globalization messenger who dubs himself a “Christian Libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer” has become the face of healthy eating and agriculture.

“The desire from consumers to eat this kind of food is exploding,” Salatin said at his 500-acre (200-hectare) farm in Swoope, Virginia.

Small farmers’ markets — still scarce just a few years ago — are now in full swing in the United States.

The online Farmers’ Market Directory lists 5,274 markets across the country, a 13 percent rise from 4,685 a year ago. The number has grown by nearly 4,000 nationwide since 1994.

“Nobody trusts the industrial food system to give them good food,” said Salatin, surrounded by the many cows, pigs, turkeys, rabbits and chickens he raises in methods that remain unconventional in the highly-industrialized US agricultural sector.

“The distrust is very real.”

Read the whole article here.


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Federal Government to Issue Medical Marijuana Guidelines

Monday, October 19th, 2009

An important, and long overdue, step in the scaling down of the War on Drugs is being taken today by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. As President Obama promised during his candidacy, federal agents will no longer be arresting people for using, prescribing, growing, or selling medical marijuana in compliance with the laws of their state.

This is fantastic news for AIDS and cancer patients lawfully using cannabis to ease their pain, and it should be considered welcome news by states’ rights advocates as well. As Glenn Greenwald said, there’s no downside.

From NPR:

Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued Monday by the Obama administration.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.

The guidelines to be issued by the department do, however, make it clear that agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes, the officials said.

The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

Read the whole article here.


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