Archive for March, 2010


Watch Michael Ruppert in a Streaming Q&A Session Today!

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

After a screening of COLLAPSE at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Watch it live here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/collapsenet, Friday March 26th (12:30 PM, PDT, 3:30 PM EDT, 7:30 GMT) Note: The film will not be live-streamed, just the Q&As following, which are expected to last 45 minutes to one hour.

Goldsmiths College, University of London is proud to have the first-ever UK screening of the critically-acclaimed Bluemark Films’ documentary “Collapse” followed by a live Q&A with the film’s only subject Mike Ruppert. While the collapse of human industrial civilization and the subject of Peak Oil were either unthinkable or unknown to most a year ago, they seem front and center these days. Ruppert has an estimated 80% accuracy rate in economic, political and energy predictions over a decade of investigative journalism. He accurately and precisely predicted the crash of 2008 for years. Now he predicts that as much as two thirds of the human race may perish in the next five to ten as food disappears and lights go out around the world.

More than half of the predictions Ruppert made in the film – which finished shooting in June 2009 – have already come true. That will make you seriously ponder the other dire predictions he made in the film. Ruppert has authored two books, one of which (“Crossing the Rubicon”) is in the Harvard Business School library. His critically acclaimed new book “Confronting Collapse” was the foundation for the film. (Available through Amazon.com in the US and UK)

****  — “Above all else see COLLAPSE. Above all else” – Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times

Joel Salatin on Edible Radio

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Kate Manchester of Edible Communities interviews grass farmer Joel Salatin about new enterprises at Polyface Farm, acorn-fed pigs, and the “Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer” (the title of his next book).

Salatin is the loudest and one of the most eccentric voices in sustainable agriculture today. His Polyface Farm was held up as the exemplar for intentional, organic food production by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as the producers of Food, Inc., a widely released documentary about our broken food economy.

Joel tells Kate about new ventures at Polyface, including finding ways to bring “porcine temporary disturbance and successional freshness” to more of his land. In English, that means he’s letting his pigs feed on acorns in the woods, where they aerate and fertilize the soil, and eat plants that would otherwise compete with trees.

In an economic innovation, Salatin has extended an offer to a former apprentice to form an autonomous veggie-growing enterprise distributed by Polyface. This sort of business incubation model is a tremendous opportunity for a young farmer. Hopefully other progressive grass farmers such as Mark Kimball at Essex Farm can provide similar opportunities.

Kate and Joel then take a moment to talk about people’s food choices. The two chide those who characterize the organic food movement as elitist, and Joel makes the point that people need to “stop being victims” when it comes to making better food choices.

Hailing from a food desert, I disagree somewhat. I recently moved to Vermont (the land of local milk and honey) from Jacksonville, Florida, which up until  three years ago was a city that took 40 minutes to drive across, held a population of close to a million, and had exactly zero local farms. In 2007, things changed when Brian and Kristin Lapinski started Down to Earth Farm.

Apart from these brave pioneers, there was nothing a non-gardener could do to get local food of any kind. Not to mention urban residents, who deal with a stereotypical slew of problems from industrial contamination to decaying houses–plus being unable to get decent groceries.

While it is always true that people can find new ways to be empowered, we can’t forget all the built-in challenges facing populations for whom choices are limited by factors beyond their control.

For the full interview, go to Edible Radio: “broadcasting edible stories from local communities”.

Woody Tasch: Is It Time for a Green Tea Party?

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Reposted from his article on Huffington Post.

The idea of a Green Tea Party is awfully seductive.

What civility-craving, green-of-center soul wouldn’t want to create something to counter the Tea Party’s name calling and negativity? Is the Coffee Party the answer? (Evidently, it has over 170,000 fans on Facebook in a few weeks.) A Green Tea Party? (Turns out this name was used last year but didn’t seem to go very far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come into play again.)

Yet, however it’s spun, rhetoric of the Tea or Coffee or Green Tea kind doesn’t seem to completely hit the mark. It doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t nourish. It’s the political equivalent of empty calories and junk food, leaving us hungry for the real work of fixing our country, healing our cultural wounds, mending our broken financial system.

We all share an abiding frustration at the dysfunctions of Wall Street and Washington. We are deeply frustrated at the damage caused by money that is too fast, investment banks that are too big and government programs that are too complex. But the mark we are trying to hit isn’t in Washington or on Wall Street. It’s much closer to home. It’s right here, in our own backyards, in our communities. That’s why David Brooks wrote last week that both the welfare state and the market state are models that have failed.

So after we’re finished with all the Partying and the protest politics, all the harangues against government that is bogged down and markets that have gone haywire, let’s get down to work.

The new direction in which we must head can be called many things: relocalization, rebalancing, rebuilding, revitalizing, restoration and preservation, redevelopment, job creation, retooling, decentralization. This will take many shapes. I would suggest as one of the cornerstones of this rebuilding process the following goal: a million investors investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.

Investing in local food systems as a remedy for our cultural and political ills? Yes.
The first decade of the 21st century has already been labeled a lost decade, a decade of financial bubbles and terrorism, wars and deficits and a disastrous decline in political civility. Nothing is better suited to the course correction at hand than local food systems. Of all the things that need fixing in this country, none is more immediately fixable or better positioned to effect lasting cultural and economic healing than local food systems.

That’s why when Change.org ran its competition for the Top Ten Ideas For Change in America earlier this month, two of the winners were farmland preservation and school gardens. That’s why Food Inc. was nominated for an Academy Award. That’s why Michael Pollan’s books are bestsellers. That’s why Slow Food has 100,000 members around the world. That’s why farmers markets and community supported agriculture are enjoying such an upswing. That’s why Buy Local campaigns and chapters of the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies are springing up all over the country. That’s why Slow Money (of which I am the founder) was cited by Business Week reporter John Tozzi as “one of the big ideas for 2010.”

We have begun the process of putting our money where our food is. And because our health depends upon more than caffeine (that is, Tea, Green Tea and Coffee can only get us so far. . .), we can sense, as we address the issues of our food system, the beginning of a more fundamental rebalancing.

In a world where our money is zooming around the planet investing in God Knows What, or, even worse, Wall Street Knows What, we should not be surprised to end up with a food system that imports tainted food from China, suffers from e coli outbreaks and recalls, gets only about a dime of every food dollar to the farmer, pumps our livestock full of antibiotics, and results in epidemics of obesity and diabetes side-by-side with hunger.

The litany of problems is long, but the point is clear. We need balance–and the balance we need must be achieved in both our food system and our financial markets. We don’t want to be dependent on crazy financial schemes or far-flung food supply chains, the security of which is impossible to guarantee. We don’t want our investments or our food filled with ingredients that we do not understand. We want new, simpler recipes for economic, social and personal health.

So, let’s start fixing America–restoring our shared sense of purpose and our common dreams–from the ground up, starting with food.

Let’s start building a new financial services sector, the nurture capital industry, to create the products, services and social networks necessary to support 1% of our assets being invested in local food systems. If it is prudent for the largest institutional investors to fund the venture capital industry, investing tens of billions of dollars per annum in a few thousand highly-speculative, high-tech companies, then we must see to it that it becomes prudent for millions of us to fund the nurture capital industry, investing billions of dollars per annum in tens of thousands of lowly-speculative small food enterprises and local food systems.

In a way, what could be more Tea Party-ish than this? The government is not going to fix our country. We are. One local investment at a time. One farm at a time. One school lunch at a time. One small food enterprise at a time.

Woody Tasch is the author of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money (Now available for pre-order in Paperback).

Raw Milk Becomes Contentious

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

David Gumpert, Author of The Raw Milk Revolution, was featured in the New York Times, in an article describing the battle between citizens who believe that raw milk is beneficial versus those in public health organizations who deem it unhealthy.

“All it is is unprocessed milk,” said David E. Gumpert, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author of a new book, “The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights,” which has made him something of a regular on the raw milkie circuit.

“I respect people’s rights to have access to that food, and I have trouble with the public health people who want to deny it,” he continued in a telephone interview.

Mr. Gumpert allows that raw milk is probably more hazardous than pasteurized milk, but, he says, there haven’t been any reported deaths from it in the past quarter century (there have been a few deaths from pasteurized milk, but it’s consumed in vastly greater quantities), which makes it seem something less than an imminent health threat.

“Is this a public health crisis?” he asks rhetorically. “My feeling is that, no, it isn’t, so the medical community gets hysterical about it, and part of the reason they’re hysterical is that there’s a growing demand for raw milk.”

For the full article, please visit The New York Times.

Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company: A Is for App

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

More and more classrooms are filled with laptops, smartphones, and other handheld devices. Fast Company’s latest cover story, written by author Anya Kamenetz (Author of DIYU: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education), suggests that we are ‘witnessing the start of an educational revolution.’

Gemma and Eliana Singer are big iPhone fans.They love to explore the latest games, flip through photos, and watch YouTube videos while waiting at a restaurant, having their hair done, or between ballet and French lessons. But the Manhattan twins don’t yet have their own phones, which is good, since they probably wouldn’t be able to manage the monthly data plan: In November, they turned 3.

When the Singer sisters were just 6 months old, they already preferred cell phones to almost any other toy, recalls their mom, Fiona Aboud Singer: “They loved to push the buttons and see it light up.” The girls knew most of the alphabet by 18 months and are now starting to read, partly thanks to an iPhone app called First Words, which lets them move tiles along the screen to spell C-O-W and D-O-G. They sing along with the Old MacDonald app too, where they can move a bug-eyed cartoon sheep or rooster inside a corral, and they borrow Mom’s tablet computer and photo-editing software for a 21st-century version of finger painting. “They just don’t have that barrier that technology is hard or that they can’t figure it out,” Singer says.

Gemma and Eliana belong to a generation that has never known a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology. American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media — as much time as they spend in school. Even more remarkably, they multitask across screens to cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. More and more of these activities are happening on smartphones equipped with audio, video, SMS, and hundreds of thousands of apps.
The new connectedness isn’t just for the rich. Mobile adoption is happening faster worldwide than that of color TV a half-century ago. Mobile-phone subscribers are expected to hit 5 billion during 2010; more than 2 billion of those live in developing countries, with the fastest growth in Africa. Mobile broadband is forecast to top access from desktop computers within five years.

As with television, many people are wondering about the new technology’s effect on children. “The TV set was pretty much a damned medium back in the ’60s,” says Gary Knell, CEO of Sesame Workshop. But where others railed against the “vast wasteland,” Sesame Street founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett saw a new kind of teacher. “They said, Why don’t we use it to teach kids letters and numbers and get them ready for school?”Sesame Street, from its 1969 debut, changed the prevailing mind-set about a new technology’s potential. With its diverse cast and stoop-side urban setting, the show was aimed especially at giving poor kids a head start on education.
Today, handheld and networked devices are at the same turning point, with an important difference: They are tools for expression and connection, not just passive absorption. “You put a kid in front of a TV, they veg out,” says Andrew Shalit, creator of the First Words app and father of a toddler son. “With an iPhone app, the opposite is true. They’re figuring out puzzles, moving things around using fine motor skills. What we try to do with the game is create a very simple universe with simple rules that kids can explore.”

For the full article, go to FastCompany.com.

An Open Letter to OSHA, By Diane Wilson

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Diane Wilson, author of An Unreasonable Woman, has written to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, expressing concern over hazardous conditions present at the Formosa Plastics Facility in Point Comfort, Texas. Formosa Plastics in Taiwan was recently discovered to have 302,000 times the safety limits of carcinogens in the area’s soil and groundwater (the company has since announced there are no ways for the toxins to escape).

LETTER TO OSHA

We are the Injured Workers United from Calhoun County, Texas. We are writing this letter in the hope that we can have a meeting with you to express our concern about the Formosa Plastics facility in Point Comfort, Texas. We are former and current workers of Formosa who formed a group in order to support each other through our disabilities, illnesses, financial hard times, and the experience of working under a company that, we believe, has shown, and continues to show, a high disregard for its workers, community, and the environment. Some of us have been working at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas since the plant’s start up in 1981. Many of us have given eighteen years, twenty years, twenty-five years, and twenty-seven years of service to a company that has shown a consistent callousness for the worker and a dangerous inaptness about how they run their company.

Recently, the EPA hit Formosa Plastics with a $13 million penalty. This is not news to us. Almost all of us are whistle blowers. We have documented unreported EDC releases, unsafe towers, tack welded ladders, and uncontained vinyl chloride leaks so plentiful that the alarms were shut off in the control room. These complaints were sent to Formosa’s management, where they went nowhere. A few more of us were whistle blowers for the state and federal agencies and provided information in 2001 for the wastewater investigation in which the FBI subpoenaed Formosa’s wastewater documents. That went nowhere, too. A toxic investigator said in our last meeting with him in 2009 that even though the EPA/FBI/Texas environmental task force had a case against Formosa, the investigation was dropped.

Certainly, the violations haven’t stop. We suppose that is the reason for the recent $13 million settlement/Consent Decree against Formosa Plastics. I guess even the EPA gets fed up. Recent findings by EPA investigators at the Formosa facility in Point Comfort, Texas showed extensive Clear Air Act leak detection and repair violations, including failure to properly monitor leaking components (500 in one unit), failure to include chemical manufacturing equipment in its leak detection and repair program, and failure to timely repair leaking equipment. The inspectors also found “extensive” leak detection and repair violations, as well as other hazardous waste violations at the site and wastewater discharge violations.

In January 2009, the science journal Ecotoxicity, published a report by scientists at Texas A&M. The report revealed changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage in cattle as far as six miles downwind of Formosa. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproductive damage. Because of the strong, steady wind from the southeast, researchers expected that if Formosa Plastics was the main culprit, then cattle located downwind or northwest from the facility would show larger genetic disturbances. The results provided a “strong indication of increased damage.” Wesley Bissett, lead study author and veterinarian at Texas A&M College of Veterinarian Medicine, said the cattle with the DNA damage were “orientated around the Formosa facility, with the highest damage occurring with those nearby and those downwind.” Bisset reported damage to cattle both within close proximity of the Formosa facility and in areas where the prevailing winds would blow the toxic gases.

In October, 2009 the EPA conducted a meeting in Port Lavaca, Texas regarding Formosa’s extensive ethylene dichloride contamination that has been caused, in part, by their process exceedances, overflows, spills, and general inadequate housekeeping that has forced closure of a nearby state rest area on Highway 35, buy-out of subsequent nearby property, and the contamination of the groundwater in 2 millions part per billion and nearby Cox Creek in the thousands part per million. The safety of local water wells is unsure at this time.

Our reasons for writing are several. We believe that Formosa’s poor environmental record can only mean that their occupational record is equally suspect. We, ourselves, are proof of it. Many of us have documented thrombocytosis, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, severe peripheral neuropathy that can only be treated with a surgically implanted plant that delivers morphine to the spinal nerves 24/7. One member is now in the hospital undergoing repeated surgeries to remove cancerous tumors. Another member has a friend in his unit that died from brain cancer. Another worker that sniffed the leaking valves and flanges, for which the EPA recently cited Formosa, died of angiosarcoma, liver cancer. A number of workers have developed knots on their heads and have been told by friends to get a biopsy, but they haven’t because they are afraid of what they will find. Brain Cancer.

The concern abut brain cancer among the workers has been so severe that Formosa sent out a memo to all the vinyl employees that they were bringing in a doctor who could talk about brain cancer. Basically, the doctor told the concerned workers that there was no link between vinyl chloride exposure and brain cancer. Who knows what caused it. Probably the barbeque they ate. Too much water. After all, the dose makes the poison.

One of our injured workers was involved in Formosa’s daily logging of vinyl chloride leaks in the PVC unit. He said the leaks ranged from 1.2 to 7 to 13 to 35 to 177 to 987 to 2,000 parts per million, and this for every hour of very day of every year. And he was there for 25 years. Another time EDC (ethylene dichloride) was sent in error to the PVC/VCM unit and the workers waded in the stuff for three days with nothing but rubber boots and gloves to protect them. Another time, the wastewater line was tied into the drinking water line and the workers drank wastewater-tainted coffee. This worker’s last act at Formosa was after a supervisor requested he falsify a four-ton vinyl chloride release so that the company could report 2.79 pounds to the EPA.

Randy Smith, vice president and general manager at Formosa Plastics, Point Comfort, Texas recently, and in reference to the $13 million settlement, said, “there is no significant environmental or health issues.” That is ludicrous and deserves a response. It is one of the reasons we are requesting a meeting with you. Hopefully you can help us understand why OSHA in Corpus Christi has responded to every complaint we have sent them (eight in one year’s time) with a letter to Formosa, then subsequently closing the case.

Our group is currently consulting scientists from Tulane University, Texas A&M University, and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who have scientific knowledge and expertise regarding exposures, health effects, and risks that many of these chemicals have. The hospitals in Taiwan call the worker illnesses related to Formosa the “Formosa Syndrome.” We have the same problem here in Texas.

Utne Reader Asks: ‘What Is Slow Money?’

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Jeff Severns Guntzel sat down with author Woody Tasch to talk about the concept of ‘Slow Money‘ in a web exclusive:

The Slow Food movement revolutionized the way many people think about food with its mantra: “good, clean, and fair.” Entrepreneur Woody Tasch wants to introduce the Slow Food ethos into the world of finance. In his book, Slow Money (Chelsea Green, 2009), Tasch writes: “Be forewarned: slow money is no ‘ism.’” He is organizing for change. What does that change look like? It’s right there on the homepage of his non-governmental organization, the Slow Money Alliance: “A million Americans investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.” The Slow Money philosophy is gaining momentum, and was given some attention recently from the document of record for the fast money crowd: the Wall Street Journal. I spoke with Tasch about the effort and its genesis.

Jeff Severns Guntzel: Do you find the argument easier to make now?

Woody Tasch:
Oh, absolutely. When you say the words “slow money.” It’s very intuitively obvious to the vast majority of people. I just say, “Before we start talking about slow money, just think about fast money for a second.” It’s obvious to a lot more people now than it was a year or two ago. There’s this idea of money that’s zooming around too fast to manage.

Severns Guntzel: When you were writing this book, whose hands did you imagine ending up in?

Tasch: It wasn’t like written for a specific audience. It was written for the investor part of all of us.

The full article can be found via Utne Reader.

Deirdre Heekin’s Almond Butter Cookies with Anise Recipe

Tuesday, March 23rd, 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.

Ciambelline

Almond Butter Cookies with Anise

Rome never sleeps. Beyond its many blocks of government ministry offices is a neighborhood complete unto itself: cheese shops; groceries and produce shops; hardware and motorcycle accessories stores; wineshops; shops selling hosiery, linens, discount clothing; and bread bakeries and pastry shops. The pastry shop on via Barletta is open twenty-four hours a day.

At a restaurant we found around the corner and a few blocks away we were served a ring-shaped cookie (a ciambella) along with a sweet red dessert wine. Unfortunately, we left without the recipe. So good was just the memory of this cookie that we were forced to reconstruct it once we had returned home.

Here is our recipe.

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • Scant cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole anise seeds
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, pulverize almonds with 1/4 cup of the sugar until fine. Combine the almonds, flour, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds in a large bowl, mix together, and set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and remaining sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Add one-third of the dry mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the remaining dry mixture in two additions.

Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment.

Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto the greased cookie sheet or parchment paper. (Or you can pipe them out as 3-inch-diameter rings with a pastry bag and a plain tip. If the batter is stiff and difficult to pipe, loosen it up by adding one beaten egg white.) Bake until cookies just begin to turn golden brown at the edges, about 12 to 15 minutes, but watch carefully.

 

DIYU’s Anya Kamenetz Talks Higher Education

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Shareable.net caught up with Anya Kamenetz, author of DIYU: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, to talk about the book and ways students can take advantage of open learning resources.

Neal: Why are traditional universities struggling? Which universities are the most vulnerable?

Anya: Traditional universities have a broken cost model (tuition is up more than any other major good or service for the last 20 years), which is interfering with their ability to meet burgeoning demand. On top of this, their teaching models are having trouble keeping up with the pace of change in knowledge generation. Students are learning more relevant knowledge and skills through internships and campus organizations and socializing themselves through Facebook–these are workaround, ad hoc models that don’t directly bear on what happens in the classroom.

The most vulnerable universities are in the worst value-for-money quadrant: Undistinguished, middle-tier private schools that charge a lot of money but aren’t particularly selective or innovative.

Another conversation was started over at The Chronicle of Higher Education (FYI: subscription required), where she describes a ‘moral imperative to cut [education] costs’ with technological resources.

Q. What is the one take-away you want to leave people?

A. Ideally, I hope this is a message of empowerment. I really think that the simplest and fastest thing that can change is for families and students to think differently about what higher education is and what it can be. So that they don’t think of it as this monolithic institution that is rejecting me or accepting me, and I should have to abide by their decisions and let them tell me who I am and how good I am, and when I get out I’m going to hope they can help me find a job.

None of those parts of the decision hold true anymore. It’s really learner-centered education. It’s people forging their own path with the resources available to them and not counting on these institutions to tell them who they are, and that’s really what DIY U means.

Sovereigns of Sustainability

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities by Carlo Petrini. It has been adapted for the Web.

Sovereigns of Sustainability

To achieve food sovereignty, products must respect the ecological integrity of the places in which they are produced. A community has this integrity at heart, precisely because it represents its prime means of survival. The food community does not want to jeopardize its natural resources, but rather to make them yield as well as possible. In other situations, where the goal is to constantly boost production through the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, whole areas are raped and pillaged, and huge concentrations of monocultures and livestock farms installed. The outcome is that the inhabitants move elsewhere, and soil fertility and biodiversity are compromised for decades to come.

Never in the history of the earth have we witnessed such devastation of the soil and of aquifers. Resources that ought to be public, such as water sources and aqueducts, are being privatized, and the seas are being exploited and polluted.2 As a result, entire edible species are being put at risk.

Instead of upsetting local economies by imposing on them the concept of development, international organizations ought to focus more of their attention on communities and their existing modes of production. Instead of teaching them how to increase output to keep up with the needs and caprices of the global “free market,” they ought to ensure that communities are effectively working in the interests of their own food sovereignty, flushing out any “wise guys” who happen to be adopting unsustainable practices at the local level. It’s a role that would lend undoubted authority and prestige to these organizations. And it’s a role they could play without much difficulty, seeing that they have sizable economic resources at their disposal and would certainly have the cooperation of the communities themselves, which have every interest in preventing their lands from being threatened. Not that a respect for the sustainability of processes and the integrity of ecosystems can be taken for granted at the local level. Unfortunately, the temptation to get rich quick often prevails even in small local areas, where it is easy to meet characters out to make money unscrupulously. If communitarian self-regulation failed to suffice, it would be necessary to set up a controlling body, a sort of food-dedicated UN organization, ready to intervene wherever food sovereignty is under threat.

Often farmers themselves are blamed for the advent of industrial agriculture, as if they had mindlessly endorsed it. An oft-cited example is that of the farmer who, following expert advice, spread fertilizers on his land and sprayed pesticides on his crops for the first time. The results were positive, so the second year he increased the amounts, and ended up ruining the quality of his soil. His reasoning was that, “If a certain amount was good for the soil and increased yields last year, this year I’ll triple the amount!” None of the salesmen or agronomists who used to roam the countryside promoting fertilizers, pesticides, and the like ever stopped to tell farmers that it was wrong to use more than the prescribed amounts. Farmers were thus deceived and unknowingly became parties to the crime.

The time has come to stop telling farmers how to do their job. The time has come for them to say no to the system and start again from where their fathers and mothers left off.

Subsistence

Primordial agriculture was subsistence agriculture; trade came later. Today, in many of the places described as “underdeveloped,” a minimal form of subsistence agriculture still yields food almost exclusively for self-consumption. This is why, to supporters of the market and consumerism, claiming the right to produce food for oneself may sound like a return to the past and the wretched life of the world’s poorest peoples; they identify subsistence as a province for the “underdeveloped.” Yet growing food in a courtyard or rooftop garden is subsistence too, and it’s also true that many farmers who produce food for local or farmers’ markets use it to meet their families’ needs first before they sell the surplus to others. And who says that swapping the ability to produce diversified foods in exchange for a monoculture or an intensive farm isn’t a form of subsistence, too? After all, people who do this might still hang on to a kitchen garden. Who knows?

Speaking of gardens, they are one of the best ways of developing a minimum form of subsistence at all latitudes and in all contexts. With the support of Slow Food and its Foundation for Biodiversity, Terra Madre has given life to garden projects all around the world.

In the Ivory Coast, for example, as part of the Consommons Ivoirien, Equilibré et Sain dans nos Cantines Scolaires scheme, the Slow Food Foundation has worked with the Chigata Slow Food chapter to promote a consumer-education project in the northern village of N’ganon, fifty miles from Korhogo. Devised mainly for schoolchildren, the project has involved all the villagers and has had positive outcomes for the local micro-economy. It now guarantees the village school two meals a day, featuring traditional Ivorian dishes made from fresh local ingredients.

The story began at a lively meeting in April 2008, when members of the Slow Food convivium presented the project to the inhabitants of N’ganon. The head of the village subsequently agreed to donate a seven-hectare plot of land, which two hundred women pledged to work to provide the school with the ingredients for its meals. Three months later, the seven hectares had been tilled, plowed, and sown with the seeds of the most suitable crops, specially selected by agricultural technicians and engineers.

In the meantime, the women of N’ganon formed a cooperative and, besides supplying the school with food, began to sell their produce at the local market to help fund the project. The one hundred pupils at the school in N’ganon thus eat traditional meals every day, and the economic situation of their families has improved.

This is just one example of the many gardens that have sprung up spontaneously in the recent past, alongside others sponsored by the most diverse institutions. In Italy there are now about two hundred such school gardens, and many Slow Food chapters around the world have promoted this simple form of education-cum-subsistence. From New Zealand to Switzerland, from Germany to the United States, from South America to Africa, the number of school gardens is multiplying all the time.

If this is happening, we have to say a special thanks to people like Alice Waters, the American chef famous for her Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. A pioneer of the organic movement in the States, she created school gardens in California to spread the practice round the world and thereby inspired many others to follow her example. Credit must also go to people like young Sam Levin, whom I cited in my speech at the opening ceremony of Terra Madre 2008. Sam planted a garden at his school, involving many of his classmates and supplying food to the cafeteria. Today Sam is much in demand as a speaker all over the United States and abroad, especially in Africa. Hearing him explain why and how he developed his garden, other kids are inspired to follow in his footsteps.

This is where a food system that guarantees food sovereignty has to start; from subsistence, from the right of producers to produce food first and foremost for themselves, from the freedom of anyone to grow plants and raise livestock. All this is possible anywhere, and it doesn’t signify a return to the past. It applies to people who live by subsistence alone and to people who supplement subsistence with trade and purchases made with the income from that trade. In other words, whether we are speaking about the South of the world and the most “backward” communities or the wealthy North and farmers who sell most of their food, the argument is equally valid.

Food, by definition, stands for subsistence. If farmers, people directly in contact with the earth and nature, don’t practice subsistence agriculture, then the world has little or no chance of returning to reason. Allowing everyone the opportunity to cultivate what they want to eat and what their community wants to eat is not a return to the past. On the contrary, it lays the foundation for a more democratic food system, controllable and capable of yielding a reasonable profit, without infringing on anyone’s rights, least of all those of nature: a system in which food is produced first of all to be eaten, then to be sold.


Notes

  1. The rate of desertification caused by climate change is startling. If we calculate that 70 percent of the water used by humans goes to agriculture (industry accounting for 22 percent and domestic use for 8 percent), and in view of the present demand for an increase in the production of food, it is not difficult to see what the next global challenge will be. Without wanting to, the Bolivian town of Cochabamba has become a symbol of the world water problem. Following the privatization of the local aqueduct, in April 2000, its inhabitants, none of them well-off, saw their water bills go up by 300 percent overnight. All of a sudden, they were spending 25 percent of their income on water. The riot that followed made history.

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