Archive for February, 2010


Gene Logsdon: Looks Like The New Agrarian Age Has Arrived

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Is back-to-the-land agrarianism—by way of optimistic urbanites—here to stay?

Those who used to be called rebels and malcontents because they didn’t believe in what large-scale agriculture was doing are today not so out of the ordinary. They aren’t called “rebels” anymore—they’re called “farmers.” More people are recognizing the importance of ecological and organic farming, and the optimism is infectious.

Contrary farmer Gene Logsdon recently attended the OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) Conference and witnessed it firsthand.

I define “new agrarian age” as a society in which rural and urban lifestyles become indistinguishable. Roof top vegetable gardens in downtown Manhattan for instance. A more typical example is a landscape where urban agriculture and rural manufacturing exist side by side in harmony.  I saw a photo recently of horses plowing a large garden plot with the Cleveland, Ohio, city skyline in the background. Some years ago I visited Paws Inc., where Jim Davis, the creator of the comic strip “Garfield” has his business headquartered. The location in rural Indiana (where Davis grew up), is so far out in the country that there was no suitable sewage system to handle the waste from his three big office buildings and fairly large number of workers. He had engineers design and build a greenhouse where plants, fish, and other aquatic animals flourished by feeding on the nutrients in the wastewater while purifying it before its return to natural waterways. Aquaculture and urban culture surely joined hands in that greenhouse. Silviculture too because Davis was also raising tree seedlings in the greenhouse to reforest wornout farm land in the area.

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), spending the day signing and selling books and gabbing with people. Those of us who remember the early days of OEFFA were stunned and jubilant at the overflow crowd. So many people wanted to come to the conference in fact, that about 200 had to be turned away because of space limitations, Carol Goland, OEFFA’s executive director told me regretfully.  I looked around the main exhibit hall (a highschool gymnasium) crammed with booths where all sorts of organic and natural farm supplies were being sold. I was remembering the early days, when, said Mike McLaughlin, a farmer and OEFFA official since the early days, “we thought that four exhibitors was a major achievement.”

Read the whole article on TheContraryFarmer.wordpress.com.

Visit Gene Logsdon’s blog on OrganicToBe.org.

 
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LISTEN: BBC One Planet Visits a Transition Town

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

One approach to dealing with the looming crises of peak oil and climate change that has become increasingly popular in the last couple of years is the idea of a “transition network” of so-called “transition towns.” Basically, rather than assigning blame or despairing about the state of the world, the Transition movement eschews the traditional doom-and-gloom of the environmental movement in favor of a constructive approach.

The BBC program “One Planet” recently paid a visit to a key figure in the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, to get a feel for what it’s all about.

You asked Mike to investigate transition towns – so we’ve sent him to one. This week he’s in Totnes in the south of England to meet a key figure in the transition movement, Rob Hopkins. Over 250 towns have now joined the network, and they’re popping up around the world, from Chile to New Zealand. If you’ve never heard of transition towns, don’t worry, Rob will explain all, but in a nutshell their goal is to focus attention on sustainable living and local economic resilience.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.

 
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Berkeley Book Launch for Gordon Edgar’s Cheesemonger Tonight

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

If you’re in the Berkeley area, you may want to make it a point to drop in on the Books Inc. book release party. Author Gordon Edgar (Gordonzola if you’re nasty) will be signing copies of his book, Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge. And there will be cheese. Oh yes. There will be cheese.

Here’s what Amy of “Cooking with Amy” had to say about the book:

Because I was a big fan of the cheese department at Rainbow Grocery, I interviewed Gordon for KQED several years ago and was surprised to learn we went to the same high school. Since then I’ve been impressed with how knowledgeable, funny and what a great writer he is, in addition to being a great cheesemonger of course. So I am particularly happy to tell you his first book is just as wonderful as he is. The book combines humor, politics and all things cheese, especially the stories behind cheeses you may know and cheeses you will certainly seek out after reading the book. I had cheese on the brain while reading the book and it gently steered me away from some of my usual picks over to some more interesting ones. Hello, Explorateur!

Read the whole article here.

The event starts at 7 pm.

Books Inc.
1760 4th Street
Berkeley, California 94710

 

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The Cheese Whisperer

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

When most people think “artisan cheese culture” (if they think about it at all), they probably think effete snobs and pretentious foodies. And to be honest, cheesemonger Gordon Edgar has had to deal with his fair share of these.

But coming out of the punk rock, lefty activist culture of San Francisco’s 1970′s People’s Food System, Edgar sees himself as a translator between the hardworking dairy farmer and the gruyere-sniffing hipster—a fromage émissaire.

From Mother Nature Network:

“I think the term ‘activist’ as an identity really needs to be destroyed,” says Gordon Edgar, who has a lively and extensive history of activism himself. Edgar is a longtime cheese buyer and handler at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery store. He is also a popular cheese blogger, and his smart, funny, and sharply analytical memoir Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge has recently been published by Chelsea Green.
Edgar and I are discussing the different strains of “snob culture” that meet at the famed worker-owned co-operative’s cheese counter. Rude sales reps aiming to intimidate cross paths with pretentious foodies spouting jargon they don’t understand, but neither is any more malignant to leftist movements than sneering militant activists who look down on the less-enlightened consumer and are unable to discuss their politics without patronizing.
“[Activist as an identity] sets you apart from the people you should be talking to, as if there are ‘activists’ and ‘non-activists’ and the activists are somehow more evolved. A lot of people think ‘oh, Rainbow Grocery, it’s going to be this ultra-political place.’ It is and it isn’t. Workers running their own business is a radical thing, but day-to-day you have to be real. You have to be able to talk to the person who comes up to the counter who hasn’t studied the locavore movement. You have to be able to have a conversation and explain why we sell the things we do without sounding like we’re judging someone because they haven’t already come to the same decision.”
 
Rainbow Grocery is a survivor of San Francisco’s 1970s People’s Food System, a network of food justice and environmentally oriented collectives and co-opertives that was sadly destroyed, as so many ambitious leftist projects are, by sectarian squabbling and power struggles. It is now a part of the emerging US Federation of Worker Co-operatives.

Read the whole article here.

 

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LISTEN: Keith Farnish: Could Global Warming Be Stopped by a Total Economic Collapse?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Like Derrick Jensen, author Keith Farnish believes that our current society can be described as a Culture of Maximum Harm. In essence, economic growth relies on stripping the Earth of its resources without having to put anything back. And for our economic system to continue as it is, it requires endless growth, which is of course unsustainable in the long run.

Farnish appeared on Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith to talk about possible solutions to this state of affairs:

I think that undermining, or sabotaging the economic growth machine is a fundamentally good thing; some people have said and written that that is effectively terrorism – well, yes, in a way because the…there is something, and I don’t know what the term that is used in the USA but in Britain it’s called Critical National Infrastructure, and the large financial organisations within the UK are protected under various laws, various security laws, and no doubt they are protected under the various Patriot Acts and other laws in the USA because they are considered to be fundamental – they make money for the economy. It is a complete misnomer to place them in the same context as the kinds of things that actively save peoples’ lives like medical services. Yet, they are considered – these financial organisations – are considered by governments to be just as important as medical services, as the water supply, as the food supply, and there’s got to be something wrong there.

Listen Now

Read a transcript of the program on CultureChange.org.

 

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Anya Kamenetz and Diane Sawyer Talk Credit Card Bill of Rights

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

The new credit card consumers bill of rights went into effect yesterday. The new legislation will put a stop to some of the more egregious practices perpetrated by the credit card industry—at least, until they can worm their way through the loopholes. (In fact, some banks have already preemptively raised their rates to get around some of these regulations.)

Author Anya Kamenetz (Generation Debt, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education) explains what this means for you the consumer on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer.

The new credit card consumers bill of rights, signed into law by President Obama, takes effect today. Its goal is to give consumers more protection against credit card policies.The measure mandates that credit card companies need to give 45 days’ notice before an increase in interest rates. It also puts more restrictions on issuing credit cards to students.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Leahy to Hold Hearing on Bush-era Torture Memos

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Vermont weekly Seven Days reports the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Patrick Leahy (D-VT), will hold a hearing Friday to look into the recent Department of Justice report on the “torture memos” authored by the Bush administration’s office of Legal Counsel—namely former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee.

From Shay Totten’s Seven Days staff blog, “Blurt”:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Friday to delve into the recent report issued by the Department of Justice regarding the so-called “torture memos” authored by the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility found that former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide “thorough, objective, and candid” legal advice in creating memoranda regarding the “enhanced interrogation” of detained terrorist suspects, while his boss Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee acted in “reckless disregard” for failing to provide “thorough, objective, and candid legal advice.”

OPR said it wanted to refer its findings to state bar disciplinary authorities where Yoo and Bybee are licensed. However, a top DOJ official rejected those findings, after reviewing responses to the report by Yoo and Bybee. Yoo is currently teaching law, while Bybee is now a federal judge.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced the hearing on Friday, claiming the report should force Bybee to resign his lifetime judicial appointment.

“I have serious concerns about the role each of these government lawyers played in the development of these policies. I have said before that if the judiciary committee, and the senate, knew of Judge Bybee’s role in creating these policies, he would have never been confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. The right thing to do would be for him to resign from this lifetime appointment,” said Leahy in a statement. “As a United States Senator, as a former prosecutor, and as an American citizen, I am offended by the premeditated approach taken by former high-ranking officials in the Office of Legal Counsel in constructing the legal underpinnings of seriously flawed national security policies.”

Read the whole article here.

 

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ANNOUNCING: The Earth’s Best Story Now Available

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

The following is an excerpt from The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution by Ron Koss and Arnie Koss. It has been adapted for the Web.

Earth’s Best began as a speck of alluring light on a distant shore. It was a complete fantasy, and, like any good fantasy, achieving the impossible (as in reaching that light) was central to the plot. For some reason, Ron saw this light in 1976, well before it became visible to the collective naked eye. Maybe it was a destiny thing. Maybe it twinkled just for him and he happened to be looking.

Or was it me who saw that light way back then? Ron and I have endlessly debated this question. This is a twin thing. Sometimes our lives inexplicably merge, and it’s hard to tell whose experience was whose. Regarding that alluring light in 1976, Ron is more certain than I am about the moment, so for the record it’s his light.

For fantasy to take form, it insists on dreamers with a hell-bent passion to take center stage. Success may bring accolades such as “visionary” and “genius.” “Failure” and “fool” are also possible associations if the dream is a bust. The entrepreneurial personality tends to envision only success. If failure is more the preoccupation, it’s a red flag indicating some kind of mismatch between the venture and the prospective adventurer.

How does an idea successfully journey across the wasteland separating fantasy and reality, a vast expanse littered with the wrecks of fantastic ideas, brilliant people, and sure things, a place where colossal failure and entrepreneurial heartbreak is recorded? It would be fantasy in its own right to be tricked by the mirage that the best ideas, the best educated people, and those with the most money and experience are the most likely to navigate through this wasteland. Strangely, but perfectly, that is not the case.

The Earth’s Best Story is the tale of our journey from fantasy, through the wasteland, and into reality. It is as much a “how-not-to” story as a “how-to” story. More so, it is a “how-we-did-it” story. It will be an eye-opener for those who feel both righteous about the greatness of their ideas and entitled to a free Advance Directly to Go card, as we sometimes did, or for those who straight up seek the gold and power of entrepreneurial success.

On the face of it, our story is the tale of a journey to launch the first organic baby-food company in the United States. While of course true, our inspiration soared beyond baby food to a grander, multidimensional imagining, an imagining where the face of agriculture was transformed and the chemically dependent agribusiness paradigm was reduced in its prominence.

We envisioned a world where organic foods would become dominant, with an organic avenue right through the mainstream food thoroughfare. And in our dreams organic baby food would be a catalyst for that paradigm shift: a shift that would support and protect our fragile ecosystems, safeguard farm workers and their families, and walk the talk about doing right by those who are most vulnerable and precious to us—our children.

More personally, this book reflects the voyage of the Koss Brothers, Ron and Arnie. It is a story about our battle to overcome generations of encoded Koss family defeat and bitterness in business. It is also a story about our twin-ness and the unbreakable bond that began during the nine months we shared our mom’s womb.

Unbeknownst to us, as we traversed childhood and adolescence, a foundation of trust was laid that would one day become the bedrock to support the incalculable weight of an emerging Earth’s Best. And unexpectedly, we would discover the immense potential of the synergies resulting from this trust and leverage them in all ways possible. No energy would be wasted or sleep lost wondering about the other’s intentions, commitment, or integrity. We were free from such distractions and free to immerse ourselves in what really mattered—bringing Earth’s Best Baby Foods to life.

Interestingly, Ron and I could not retell our story in one voice, because despite the sameness (i.e., identical genes) it really is two unique stories, merging dynamically together. The writing process has been cathartic for both of us. You will soon clearly understand why.

Our shared hope is that The Earth’s Best Story, while in many respects a sobering tale, will inspire others to smartly venture off and do something amazing and positive to make a difference in a world that needs difference makers.

We invite you to take the Earth’s Best journey with us.

Buckle up!

Arnie Koss

Stracotto al Vino Rosso: An Excerpt from In Late Winter We Ate Pears

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

The following is an excerpt from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber. It has been adapted for the Web.

Stracotto al Vino Rosso

Beef Braised in Red Wine

The beauty of this dish lies in its preparation. It will require only about 30 minutes of your attention, and the rest of the time the meat just talks to itself in the privacy of the braising pot. You will need a heavy casserole with a tightfitting lid, or that old cast-iron Dutch oven your mother gave you (either should be suitable for the stovetop), or you can just use a roasting pan and tin foil and do the braising in the oven. Which means you can also bake a cake and roast some potatoes while the meat is cooking. Serves 4 to 6 people.

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • 2 or 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 top or bottom round roast (about 3 to 4 pounds)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Red wine (choose something that you would want to drink with the finished dish)

If you are braising in the oven, preheat it to 350 degrees.

Put all the cut vegetables into your braising pot or roasting pan along with the herbs and mix them together. This is the bed on which the meat will braise. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet until a haze forms over the pan, put in the meat, and brown it well over high heat for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Keep the heat high. Use tongs or a pair of forks to turn the meat and get all its surfaces browned.

Remove the meat and transfer it to the braising pan, resting it on the vegetables, and season it all over with large pinches of salt and pepper. Add the wine to the pan, enough to cover the vegetables and some of the meat. Nestle the meat down into the vegetables and cover the pot.

If you are braising on the stovetop, bring the covered pot to a very gentle simmer and keep it there. If you are braising in the oven, cover the dish with aluminum foil, pushing the foil down around the inside of the pan so that as the juices steam onto the foil they end up dripping back down into the pan and not outside.

Braise the meat for 2 1/2 hours. Remove the lid and replace it askew (or loosen an edge of the tin foil if using the oven) so that the juices can reduce and thicken a little bit, and cook for 30 minutes longer. Remove the meat from the pot to a cutting board and let it rest. Remove the bay leaves from the dish. Transfer all the braising liquid and vegetables to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Taste the sauce and correct for salt and pepper. Slice the meat across the grain and arrange it on a serving platter. Pour over the sauce and serve.

Hunger Moon: Lean Winters and a Recipe for Roasted Root Vegetables

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

The reason we chose this excerpt from Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection by Jessica Prentice has nothing to do with the release of Universal Studios’ The Wolfman this weekend. We swear.

The following excerpt has been adapted for the Web.

In the deep of winter, when the earth in the North has been covered with snow and ice for many moons already, comes the Hunger Moon. This late-winter lunar cycle was called the Hunger Moon by many peoples in various languages, but always for the same reason—the frozen land yielded little to eat, and game was often scarce.

European American settlers in the New England area adopted the name as one of the full-moon names used in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. They adapted it from Native American calendars, particularly the ones used by the various Algonquin peoples that lived in the northeastern areas of what is now the United States, from New England to the Great Lakes.

Indigenous names for the moon were as varied as the languages that they came from, but often carried similar meanings. The Choctaw name for this moon is translated Little Famine Moon; a Cherokee name is the Bony Moon or the Bone Moon because it was said that there was so little food, people gnawed on bones and ate bone marrow soup to survive. All of these names lament the scarcity of food. In the days before refrigeration and wide-scale shipping of produce and staples, hunger often became a real threat by the end of a long winter. Both hunter-gatherer societies and farming peoples subsisted on very little after months of bitter cold.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Serves 1 person for every 3/4 cup of vegetables

You can use any of the following vegetables, in any combination:

  • Celery root (aka celeriac), peeled
  • Parsnip
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip (either white, purple, or golden)
  • Beets (either red, golden, or chiogga), peeled
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes (any color)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 475° F.
  2. Peel any vegetables that have thick or blemished skin. Cut the vegetables into a uniform dice—1/2-inch dice, 3/4-inch dice, or 1-inch dice—or just quarter or half the vegetables, if they are on the small side. The only important thing is that all the pieces are about the same size. The smaller the size, the faster they will cook. The larger the size, the longer they will take. Half-inch-dice vegetables can roast in 20 minutes or so. Figure about I cup of vegetables per person as a side dish.
  3. Coat all the vegetables with olive oil. I do this by getting the pan I am going to use—a cast-iron pan, sheet pan, or roasting pan, preferably metal—and pouring in a generous amount of oil. I put my hands right in the oil and spread it all around the bottom of the pan, getting my hands oily. Then I pick up the vegetables in handfuls, rub them with my hands to cover them in a thin layer of olive oil, and drop them in the pan.
  4. Ideally, prepare enough vegetables for a single layer in the pan you are using. You do not want to pile up the vegetables. If you have too many to fit in a single layer, get another pan, grease it with olive oil, and put the rest of the vegetables in there.
  5. Sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper over the vegetables. It is hard to say how much salt to use. It is better to use too little than too much, because you can add more later. You also don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the vegetables with salt. So just sprinkle lightly at this stage, until you’ve roasted vegetables often enough to know what you are doing.
  6. Put the pan in the oven on the top rack and leave for at least 15 minutes before opening the oven, then check them. They should be starting to brown. You can use a spatula to mix and flip the vegetables in the pan, or just shake the pan. Stick a fork in the vegetables to see how tender they are. If they feel pretty tender, try eating one. Check them regularly like this until you are happy with the results. Add more salt and pepper if you like and serve with fish, meat, or egg dishes, and a fresh salad.

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