Archive for December, 2009


Can Sustainable Values Bridge the Conservative-Progressive Divide?

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Sustainability makes strange bedfellows. In this case, a small Jewish-leaning business and a fundamentalist Christian megachurch.

In his latest article for TriplePundit, Martin Melaver, author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community and CEO of the socially responsible business Melaver, Inc., talks about a strange partnership his company recently entered into. At first glance, the two organizations couldn’t be less alike. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll see that responsible stewardship of this big ol’ mudball we all share crosses faith, party, and ideological borders.

One of our clients is a fundamentalist Church with a mega-congregation. My own company is a small family business with strong leftist Jewish values. You wouldn’t think we’d have much to talk about except the weather and SEC football. The differences could not be greater.

The K-12 school that is a part of the Church has a sign on its football stadium that reads “With God’s help we will crush the enemy.” In my own lexicon, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “warrior” outside the context of a yoga position. The Church finishes all of its meetings with a prayer. Our own company meetings are much more riotous by comparison. The Church evangelizes on television every Sunday. We try to do our talking through various sustainable practices that take years before they come to fruition.

There are some things we are never going to agree on, some other things I can’t even imagine having a conversation about. And yet despite many cultural differences, our two entities are slowly discovering some compelling common ground.

This particular Church is interested in creating a continuum of care for its congregants, a cradle-to-grave development that most of us would recognize in one way or another as good ol’ mixed-use, mixed-income community development. And, as trustees of church coffers, they are interested in energy-saving strategies and water-conservation technologies that reduce costs for its constituents – thus making them similarly invested in being good stewards of our natural capital. In short, a conservative Church finds itself breaking bread with a progressive business on a sustainable real estate  venture.

Read the whole article here.

 

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The Slow Money Movement May Revolutionize the Way You Think About Food

Friday, December 25th, 2009

What is the Slow Food Movement? Well, ask the many different people involved and you might get just as many different answers. But Woody Tasch and The Slow Food Alliance have boiled the movement down to two goals: thinking about money at a macro level and getting money into local food systems. Chairing a network of venture capitalists and investors, Tasch has guided millions of dollars into local sustainable enterprises. His hope is to effect a broader long term change; both economically as well as environmentally, rather than simply investing towards an immediate financial return. The idea is to have the Slow Food Alliance serve as a catalyst; to get the ball rolling and encourage the investment in sustainable enterprises all over the world. And, while it’s too early to see the long-term effects of this revolutionary approach to investment, their are already number of success stories.

The slow food movement that started in Italy two decades ago has gained much attention and popularity, with a blossoming of community supported agriculture (CSA), local organic farms and general awareness of where our food comes from. But money doesn’t grow on trees, and in an economy structured around industrial-scale global agriculture, starting and sustaining small farms and local, sustainable food processing and delivery systems can be a challenge.

About five years ago, veteran financial manager Woody Tasch and his colleagues at the Investors’ Circle began discussing how an intentional and organized influx of investment into localized sustainable food systems could be paired with a general increasing philosophical commitment to slow food principles.

The result is the Slow Money movement, shepherded by the Slow Money Alliance, of which Tasch is executive director. Now 750 members, including individual investors and sustainable farms and food-related businesses, are members of the alliance, and 450 people attended a Slow Money conference in Santa Fe in September.

Read the whole article here.

 

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LISTEN: James McCommons on WPR’s Joy Cardin Show

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Whatever happened to passenger rail?

There was a time in the US when passenger rail was king. But then came Henry Ford and the rise of the automobile, the interstate highway system and cheap gasoline, and passenger rail became something of a relic. Car-choked freeways became the symbol of progress while trains were seen as a quaint throwback.

Meanwhile, other countries have developed networks of high-speed bullet trains that put our woefully inadequate passenger rail to shame. But, says James McCommons, author of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, that may be changing.

From WPR’s Joy Cardin program:

Joy Cardin: What Happened?

James McCommons: We started to build a road system beginning in the 1920s that sort of paralleled the passenger rail network, and of course aviation came in in the 50s, the interstate highway system was really the stake in the heart of the passenger rail system, and we just moved away from the rail to cars. And a lot of freight as well. So by the late 1960s, early ’70s, the railroads in general were in bad shape, and Amtrak was created as a way to save some freight trains, but mostly to save the freight railroads. Many of them were going into bankruptcy because they were losing so much money on passenger service.

Listen Now

Visit Joy Cardin on WPR, Wisconsin Public Radio.

 

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The Hook: Joel Salatin Named Person of the Year

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic farmer and “high priest of the pasture” (New York Times Magazine) Joel Salatin has been farming sustainably for decades. His fiery oratorical style and verbal dexterity has earned him legions of fans and followers. Now, after a glowing profile in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a couple of star turns in some big documentaries on food safety, most notably Food, Inc. and Fresh, people are really starting to sit up and take notice.

For instance, The Hook just named Salatin their Person of the Year. From ReadtheHook.com:

It’s been quite a year for Joel Salatin. The Shenandoah Valley farmer starred as himself in two popular food documentary films and  received a $100,000 award from the Heinz Family Foundation for his creative, eco-friendly practices.

“The big corporate farms can no longer tell us that pollution will always come with farming,” said Foundation leader Teresa Heinz. “Mr. Salatin’s work shows us that is not true, because on his lands, farming is no longer part of the problem; it is part of the solution to a better environment.”

While Salatin’s solutions have long been known in Central Virginia, he received a bumper crop of publicity in Michael Pollan’s 2006 best seller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In turn, the producers of the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh helped make him America’s most famous  farmer since George Washington Carver.

“I first experienced him in the 1980s when he premiered his idea of an ‘eggmobile’ at the first  [Virginia Association for Biological Farming] conference,” says Tanya Denckla Cobb, associate director of UVA’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation. “He was a firebrand and electrified the crowd, receiving a standing ovation. Nobody had ever seen the likes of him. Now the rest of the world is starting to catch up.”

46 restaurants and stores
Since Salatin declines to ship his food and discourages everyone else from buying food from sources more than 100 miles from home, his success has become Central Virginia’s good fortune.

Of the 46 restaurants and food stores in Virginia where Salatin’s salad bar beef, pork, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits are available, half are in the Charlottesville area. Last year, gourmet burrito chain Chipotle, which has 900 locations in the U.S. and Canada, chose its Charlottesville store to begin sourcing local pork because of its proximity to Salatin’s Polyface Farms. Today, 100 percent of the Charlottesville Chipotle’s pork is supplied by Polyface.

According to the 53-year-old Salatin, it all started with his late father. William Salatin, an accountant, had tried to start a sustainable farm in Venezuela in the 1950s but lost the land amid that nation’s turmoil as it transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy. The family then returned to the United States and started over, buying some dirt-cheap land in Swoope.

Read the whole article here.

Photo: Dave McNair/The Hook

 

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What Confucius Said: On Greed and the Public Good

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

By David Budbill

From the Community Blogs

In New York City, down on the Lower East Side, in Chinatown, about a block south of where The Bowery crosses Canal Street, out in the middle of the traffic where Division Street splits into a Y and joins Bowery, in that triangle of asphalt and concrete created by the forking Division Street, in the middle of the stalled, horn-blaring, weltering confusion, the chaos and noise, on a stone pedestal about seven feet high stands a silent and serene, ten foot bronze statue of Confucius looking out over the swarming crush of humanity.

On the base of the statue chiseled in the stone is the following quotation from his writing called The Great Harmony, the TA TUNG.

When the great principle prevails the world is a Commonwealth in which rulers are selected according to their wisdom and ability. Mutual confidence is promoted and good neighborliness cultivated. Hence men do not regard as parents only their own parents nor do they treat as children only their own children. Provision is secured for the agéd till death, employment for the able bodied and the means of growing up for the young. Helpless widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely as well as the sick and disabled are well cared for. Men have their respective occupations and women their homes. They do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification. They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. In this way, selfish schemings are repressed, and robbers, thieves and other lawless men no longer exist, and there is no need for people to shut their outer doors. This is the great harmony.

Imagine such a society. Imagine leaders in a society having this ideal toward which they strive.

In 1998, when I first began this essay, I saw a program on one of the TV networks called GREED. This was months before the game show of the same name. The show was an open and unabashed defense, and promotion, of pure and simple greed. Ted Turner–not exactly Mother Teresa himself–was on the show as a kind of straw man, a fall guy, to be ridiculed for giving away a few million of his dollars, by other corporate CEO’s who argued that the best thing for everyone in America is for people like themselves to make as much money as possible and keep it all for themselves or use it to generate greater profits for their businesses.

The program posited the idea that since profits in the private sector are what make our country prosperous and strong, any notion of anything even remotely approaching the idea of “the public good” is not only laughable but, in fact, actually bad for the economy.

These words from Confucius about the nature of the social contract and the public good, about how to be just and caring with your neighbors, and how unchecked greed and the profit motive will destroy anything and everything, seemed surreal, laughable in the late 1990s. Today, a scant ten years later, they are prophecy.

How far have we as a people strayed from the kind of Confucian humanism presented by that quotation from the TA TUNG?

Or perhaps my mistake is to imagine that we Americans have ever shared this Confucian vision of a social contract and the public good. Perhaps the real American vision is a loose fitting anarchy devoted exclusively to the aggrandizement of the individual and his or her ability to acquire money and power. Perhaps Donald Trump is the only true American god.

Yet a part of the American dream has also been movements devoted to something bigger than the individual. I think about J. Phillip Randolph and John L. Lewis and the Labor Movement born to resist the greed of the Captains of Industry, or the cooperative Credit Union movement born to overcome the rapaciousness and usury of bankers. Both of these movements sprung from visions of something bigger than the self, both come out of the idea that cooperation can benefit all.

Or what about the phenomenon of Frederick Law Olmstead and the creation of public parks all across America–spaces for The Public to enjoy? Anybody who has wandered through Central or Prospect Parks in New York City or The Emerald Necklace in Cleveland or walked along the lakeshore in Chicago knows the joy of a public space. There is a tradition of “the public good” in America. It’s just been trampled to death by greed.

Yet I keep hearing a quiet voice coming from that statue of Confucius, a voice saying that human community is better, fairer, easier, kinder, gentler, more effective and more just when we know there is a social contract and something called The Public Good. Why is it so hard to hear that small voice?

At the beginning of this new millennium the Stock Market soared off into the stratosphere or crashed or did one and then the other, but no matter what happened the New Rich drove off into A Bright New Day in their Sports Utility Vehicles decked out in their Designer Clothes sipping a double-half-caf-decaf-organic-low-fat-latte. It truly was what Ronald Reagan said it was: Morning in America. And, because it finally truly was Morning in America, finally Free Market Capitalism and “the private sector” could stand up and shout to the whole world what they’ve meant to say all along:

Anything public is not only bad for the economy, it is, in fact, evil and must be eliminated as soon as possible: public parks, public transportation, public agricultural and medical research, public libraries, public health care, public education, public care of the poor and the mentally ill–they all must go.

Even though we are now almost a decade into this new century, this attitude is nowhere more evident right now than in the vicious “debate” over Universal Health Care.

When self-aggrandizing greed and personal gratification are all that matter, when Money and Me and an open hatred of “the public good” stand at the center of our society’s profoundest philosophy of life, it is impossible to remember our own traditions of cooperation, impossible to hear that small Confucian voice talking about the public good.

What Book Is Hugo Chávez Reading?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

By Makenna Goodman

It’s four days before Christmas. If you’re like the other snowed-in 40-something percent of consumers this year, you’re probably way behind on gifts. If so, you may want to give the (last-minute) gift of…the book that Hugo Chávez is reading.

Let me back up a minute. When browsing for books, are you the kind of person who goes to the “New Nonfiction” tables at Borders? Perhaps you get genius ideas from the New York Times Top Ten lists? The Holiday Book Review? For a gift, do opt for a classic, or the new Sue Grafton? Something people will actually read, or a book that will make you feel well-read, as you hand it to your whatever-in-law? The queries could go on, but quite frankly, book giving is rife with politics and projection. So when you stop and think about it (even if only for a moment), your best bet may be to look at what a President is reading — he/she runs the country for crying out loud, so you know the book on his or her nightstand is worth the time.

Because let’s face it; consumers by and large base their choices on other “more important” people’s choices. Whether it’s book reviewers, the people who choose what’s featured on the front tables at B&N, and last but not least…celebrities. The stars who are photographed up the wazoo (along with their accessories), and worshiped more than most spiritual leaders.

We’re not above this game. The book business is partly based on this paparazzi-fiendish, adolescent idolatry of celebrity. If you can get Oprah to hold up your book on her show, or it’s found in Tiger Woods’ crashed car, or perhaps falls out of Angelina Jolie’s bag on her way to Darfur–hell, if you can get Posh Spice herself to tote it around in her Birkin bag–you’re golden. And so, people in publishing spend weeks figuring out ways to get the book into the right person’s hands. And with good reason–when it works, it seriously works. Look at what happened when Obama named Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals as one of his favorites. Boom. Bestseller list.

But what about the indie publisher? How are we, Chelsea Green–a small group of folks working in an old Vermont factory–supposed to get our books into the hands of the leaders of nations? The leaders who, in many cases, support the corporate model, and therefore corporatized titles from large-scale houses who have a much heftier budget than we do? How can we get our soy-inked books into the Birkin bags of Us Weekly’s pages? Into the carry-on bags of the worldly and influential? Into the Oval Office…even better.

How, for example, did one of our books get into the hands of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez?

At the international climate talks in Copenhagen last week, Hugo Chávez railed against capitalism. According to him, in order to reverse the downward spiral of our climate, we need to change the system itself. He pointed out the product driven capitalist system that commodifies true democracy, and results in a global hegemony ruled by a few rich and powerful nations, who perpetuate the top-down model of iron-fisted rule.

President Chávez then held up a copy of How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (Spanish language edition), which was given to him personally by author Hervé Kempf in Copenhagen, and proceeded to read from the author preface:

To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware– “Think globally; act locally”–we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: “Consume less; share better.”

Watch the video here.

A best seller in France–and already translated into English, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Korean–Hervé Kempf’s How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth describes the invincibility that many of the world’s wealthy feel in the face of global warming, and how their unchecked privilege is thwarting action on the single most vexing problem facing our world. And Hugo Chávez–yes, Hugo Chávez!–held the dang thing up in the air, pointing directly at the title, describing why it was the book everyone needs to read, and all but gave ordering information and advice on gift wrap.

So as we think about where our company is going in 2010…we’re incorporating sleeping bags into the budget. For our authors. To camp out on Presidents’ lawns. World leaders, man. They sell books.

 
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

Raw Milk Protestor: “We have a broken food chain”

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Raw milk proponents converged outside the Vernon County Courthouse to show their support for one of their own, a distributor and seller of raw milk. Supporters say that raw milk has salutatory benefits that should not be dismissed. In addition, they say the issue is really about the rights of the individual to choose his or her own food.

From the LaCrosse Tribune:

VIROQUA – A toast of unpasteurized milk kicked off a rally Monday to legalize the sale of raw dairy products.

About 100 people gathered outside the Vernon County Courthouse in support of Max Kane Farley, who goes by Max Kane, who was challenging in court the state’s efforts to get information about his distribution or sale of unpasteurized dairy products through a Chicago-based private club.

People held signs and cheered as several speakers defended raw milk.

“It’s about our right to control and choose the food we want,” David Gumpert, Massachusetts author of “The Raw Milk Revolution,” said at the rally, which had the theme of “Real Food for Real People.”

Wisconsin law requires that all milk sold to the public be Class A pasteurized by a state-licensed handler.

A bill to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk is making its way through the state Legislature.

“We have a broken food chain,” said Mark McAfee of California-based Organic Pastures. “We’ve got consumers starving and malnourished, and we’ve got farmers that are bankrupt and desperate. … The middle of the food chain is taking it all.”

Read the whole article here.

Photo: LaCrosse Tribune

 

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Annie’s Closing Saddens the Chevre Snowman

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

By Gordon “Zola” Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge

From his blog.

 

Well, I guess I’m a little hung over from last night’s worker party. Still, I come to the internet to bring you the most impressive creation in the history of cheese. Behold the snowman made of chevre:

 
Chevre snowman3

No, I didn’t create this, my co-worker Sarah (warning: music starts right away on link) did.

The snowman looks very sad because our party was at Annie’s Social Club which is closing down after New Year’s Eve. Goodbye Annie’s… we will miss you very much.
 Chevre snowman4

What the World Needs Now… Is a Morale Boost

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Depressed? Demoralized? Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s society.

There’s an alienation epidemic, and modern psychiatry doesn’t seem to have much to offer beyond brain-chemistry-”correcting” medication. How do we fix this?

From the Portland Press-Herald:

I can’t tell you how many times I have mentioned to people that I am a writer and they ask me something to the effect of: “So, how do you make a living?”

Never mind the arduous research, personal dedication and thought given to every writing endeavor. It is demoralizing to have one’s occupation viewed through such a jaded lens. Off-topic, mean-spirited letters from readers don’t do much for the soul either.

This is why I am sometimes jolted when I receive compliments about my efforts. Recently, I received an e-mail that read, in part, “I hope that your evolving focus, verbal energy and acuity continue to afford us new surprises, insights and gratifications. Thank you for your good work.”

All ego aside, that one garners a prominent place on my office bulletin board. But, why is it so surprising to me and others that we hesitate standing up for our life’s endeavors and often feel discouraged to the point of not taking constructive action to offset our sense of despair and social oppression?

Why do I hold back telling people that my low-paying work is part of my aspiration to help make the world better and more engaged?

“What gives people morale? Encouragement. Small victories. Models of courageous behaviors. And anything that helps them break out of the vicious cycle of pain, shut down and immobilization,” writes Bruce E. Levine, author of “Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy.”

On a larger scale, why is it increasingly more difficult for Americans to fight back against injustices? For example, about 47 million people in this country have no health insurance and millions more are under-insured or losing their coverage. But, where are the protesters against the undue influence of insurance companies blocking health-care reform?

According to Levine, polls show that the majority of Americans oppose U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the taxpayer bailouts of targeted members of the financial industry, but a very small few people boycott against these circumstances.

“U.S. citizens do not actively protest obvious injustices for the same reasons that people cannot leave their abusive spouses,” states Levine, also a clinical psychologist. “They feel helpless to effect change … ultimately to deal with the painful humiliation over inaction in the face of an oppressor, we move into shut-down mode and use escape strategies such as depression, substance abuse and other diversions, which further keep us from acting.”

Levine adds that most Americans are also held down by financial fears. He asserts that there is the possibility of legal debt associated with speaking out against powerful authority, and other debts with non-compliance on a job. Young people face college debts and the fear of having no health insurance in the future.

Social isolation is a key component is our sense of helplessness. A 2006 American Sociological Review study, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,” found that in 2004, 25 percent of Americans had no individual to confide in.

Read the whole article here.

Lee Welles Makes History—in Corning, NY

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Lee Welles, author of the Gaia Girls book series, will soon be making history as the first woman to serve as deputy mayor of the city of Corning, NY.

From the Leader:

Councilman Lee Welles, D-2, will soon become the first woman to serve as city deputy mayor, pending a rubber stamp approval.

Republican mayor-elect Rich Negri recently chose Welles to fill the post.

The council will vote on the issue at 7 p.m. Jan. 4 at City Hall, during its first monthly meeting of 2010.

Negri, who vowed non-partisanship during his campaign, said Welles, a Democrat, will do an excellent job.

“She is my choice,” Negri said. “Lee is going to make a very good deputy mayor, she is non-partisan and bases all or her decisions on the facts of the situation and her personal thoughts on the matter.”

Negri said he recently sent letters to all council members and to City Manager Mark Ryckman informing them of his recommendation.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Welles, who will be starting her third year in office in January. “I often tell people that on a local level we just shouldn’t do party politics. We need to do what we think is best for the city.”

Read the whole article here.

Photo: Jason Cox | The Leader


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