Archive for June, 2011

The Lunatic Farmer | Joel Salatin

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at The People Who Feed Us about Joel Salatin. Make sure to check out his newest book The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer.

You would not be wrong thinking of Joel Salatin as a kind of food evangelist. After all, he travels the country preaching common sense and real food with all the energetic fervor of a true believer.

Recently, Mr. Salatin spoke to a sold out audience (co-sponsored by The Woodstock Land Conservancy and the Woodstock Farm Festival), where he had plenty to say.

He was kind enough to make time to speak with us before taking the stage. His wit, wisdom and salient points made us realize how powerful a speaker, an advocate and, well . . . evangelist he is for the cause of good food practices.

You can view his full-length lecture here.

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Gaia’s Garden – Book Review

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at  Would I Eat It Again Food Blog about Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.

I just finished reading this book.  I have been reading as many books on permaculture that I can for the past month. This is by far the best book on the subject that I have found.  Since permaculture was developed in Australia, most of the books deal with different plant and animal species and you have to constantly exchange north for south and vice versa.  This book deals with plants that are available in the northern hemisphere, our pest, and most importantly it does it on the scale of an urban or suburban yard.  Books from Australia tend to deal with the ideas and concepts without going into detail on how to implement them.  Or they give practical advice if you have acreage, but not if you have a 1/4 acre plot.  

Gaia’s Garden goes step by step describing what permaculture is, what all of the pieces are, how the pieces fit together, how to design your ecological garden, and how to implement it.  While the author does explain how an ecosystem works, it does not feel like an elementary school lesson like most of the other books I have read recently.  Unlike other books that mention a few species of useful plants, most of which are not available where I live or will not survive where I live. The author provide long list of plants that are useful and then provides a very helpful resource section where you can actually find someone selling the plant.  Though the author lives in the north west and I live in the southeast many of the species overlap.  I live in an area that does not freeze enough for many fruiting trees, or it is too hot for them.  But It is too cold in the winter for most tropical plants too.  Still I was able to find many cultivars of the species mentioned in the book that were breed for and available in this area. Ideas like keyhole gardens and guilds that are breefly mentioned in other books are gone over in detail here.  Nothing that I have seen before this book showed how to link multiple keyhole gardens into a functional bed, he does. What little information I have read on guilds deals with individual trees, not an entire yard or food forest.  The author shows how to build a guild around a single tree and how to build multiple connected guilds across a larger area.

This book is not meant to be all inclusive, it is packed with information, but no one book can cover everything.  So he provides a bibliography filled with sources of more information on topics not fully covered in the book.  I feel confident that I can design and implement a permaculture system for my yard based on the information in this book. I could not say that about any other permaculture book I have read.  I got this book from ILL, but it has so much reference material that I will want to read through again and again that I will have to buy it.  That is unless someone wants to buy it for me for a fathers day present.

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Transition Towns – Where Innovation Takes Place At A Certain Pace

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at  Forbes by Haydn Shaughnessy about the Transition Movement. Make sure to check out The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times.

What really drives changes in people’s lives? When I wrote about innovation policy challenges yesterday I noted how important towns and cities are in forging the new economy. Places are extraordinary compounds of activity and while some of the big ideas that emerge at conferences like TED arise in traditional academic/big company  culture, ideas about towns are more down and dirty. The Peak Oil movement, for example, was born in a small and remote town in Ireland – Ballydehob.Re:Thinking Innovation is about trying to break the habit of seeing just one trajectory for change and to look at what’s actually happening or should happen given the changing attitudes and life chances of millions of people. So I want to come back to Transition Towns – now called Transition Network. It began with modest aspirations – can we change the relationship between towns, cities and the 2 – 5 mile band of agriculture around them?

In the world of slow baked transformation Transition Towns is a rallying point. There are now 90 TN initiatives in the USA, 360 around the world, and a swathe of Mullers - groups mulling over how to make a difference to their locality, with increasing exposure in the major media outlets – but here’s the real surprise. Transition Towns began in the backwoods of Ireland, not far down the road from the modest two bedroomed home of Peak Oil founder, Colin Campbell. This is how transition pioneer Rob Hopkins describes his approach:

How might our response to peak oil and climate change look more like a party than a protest march?

Transition Towns are only one example of a wider movement that at its heart is about reclaiming control over the physical side of our lives – take a look here for the New York Times coverage of urban agriculture. And this exceptional project involving Levis – the jeans makers – and the town of Braddock, Pa, surely an example that will soon rank alongside Manor, Texas as a case study of what can be done differently. See also Europe and China’s social innovation parks. What they have in common is a start-up culture that is little different from what we see in the Valley. People want to change the world around them and it is contagious. We ignore this start-up culture at our peril.

Perhaps yesterday I wrote clumsily about the virtual aspects of the new town:

Towns and cities are so much the most important aspect of how we grow, how we innovate, what we do and where we go – their importance is reflected by the way commerce is headed: Towards Local. Google Places, Four Square, Facebook Deals, location-based services. Innovation is street-based,with  neighborhood car sharing and neighborhood kitchens.

The reality is people taking charge and reshaping towns and cities, sometimes one field at a time. Not in enough places as yet of course but this transformation is taking place at a certain pace. A decade ago it would have seemed like an alternative movement, a new era fad, one of those escape to the country interludes that come along to punctuate city living and the enterprise rat race. The reality is though that Hopkins has pinpointed an essential element of a future economy – making the land and the town work together differently – and it seems to coincide with new attitudes, a trend towards more differentiated lifestyles, a desire to be in charge of how we define ourselves instead of following fashions, a decline in the value of ownership. Something new in the small town is definitely cooking. And in the 21st century there’s the other obvious difference – those initiatives are all known to each other and can emulate successes quickly. It’s not just a transition idyll or a social media group but a real working network. Now, can we wrap a policy innovation around that?

Read the original article here>>

Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost)

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at  Urban Veg Patch  about Dave Hamilton’s book Grow Your Food for Free (Well Almost).


“Over the years I have travelled down the country rather like a sock slips down inside a wellington boot. … I have found one universal truth that binds all productive gardeners – none of them like to spend any money! … In this modern society we’re so conned into believing we need money to do anything, yet in other cultures around the world where there is no money, people improvise and make do with what they have.”  So says Dave Hamilton in the Final Words to his book ‘Grow Your Food for Free‘.

I apologise for the delayed review of this book, it should have been done weeks ago. Trouble is, every time I pick up the book meaning to speed read it for the review, I get completely caught up in it because it’s so good.

The book is sub-titled ‘Great money-saving ideas for your garden’ by Dave Hamilton (who also co-wrote The Self-Sufficientish Bible with his brother Andy).  So it’s less about how to grow veg and more about avoiding spending lots of money by retraining your eye to reassess and reuse what you already have. Surely a subject dear to the heart of many an allotmenteer?

Please don’t think that the growing, harvesting, storing and cooking of food, whether grown or foraged, is not addressed; the book is sprinkled throughout with tips on propagating, planting out, protecting your seedlings, pests and diseases, drying, storing and using.  Do you know how to get an extra harvest from your home-grown veg?

Sunflower perch

Reams of seriously practical advice draw on Dave’s long experience as a forager and food grower; this advice is particularly helpful to both short-term tenants who may only have access to their growing space for one or two seasons and to new (and very practical) allotment growers who may be contemplating spending money on tools, seeds, composter, shed, etc.

The book is presented in four seasonal parts and further broken down into chapters relevant to each time of year. Apart from practical gardening advice (assessing your growing space and planning), there’s suggestions on acquiring and using free timber – and not just the ubiquitous pallet; facts about the living soil: manure, compost, wood ash, no-dig beds, leaf mould and, my personal favourite, the Chicken Tractor. Edible hedges, building stepping-stone paths, hazel fences, ponds and wildlife gardening, all presented in a very accessible and well-written style. Seriously, I never thought I’d be so enthralled by this; I mean who knew that tomatoes grow better up a string than a cane? Or that peas fare better on horizontal supports as their tendrils work like little hands climbing up a ladder? (Okay, so maybe I’m the last to know but isn’t that what’s so great about gardening, the learning curve? And this book delivers.)

Because of Dave’s self-sufficient background, there’s a fair bit of information on gathering food in the wild which won’t appeal to everyone.  Other information such as building a shed from pallet wood might not be taken up but how to dismantle a shed (should you be lucky enough to be given one on, say, Freecycle) is invaluable.

There’s a lot of information packed into its 240 pages – and clear illustrations and photos on almost every page – but, whether dipping in and out, or reading straight through, it’s like having a knowledgeable gardening neighbour chatting over the fence, fast-tracking you to the good stuff.

An excellent read.  It’s available now from all good booksellers.
Published by Green Books in Devon and printed in the UK on 100% recycled paper.

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A Look at a Slow Money Restaurant: Gather (VIDEO)

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The article below was originally posted by the marvelous folks at Civil Eats about Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. Take a look!

What does it look like to start a values-based business with members of your community? Gather is a sustainable restaurant that serves as a successful model. Located in downtown Berkeley, California and catering to conscious foodies, the farm-to-table eatery keeps thriving with an vegetarian and omnivore-friendly menu and steady reservations. Esquire magazine named it one of the top restaurants of 2010 with Sean Baker its Chef of the Year and New York Times described it as a “Michael Pollan book come to life.”

When owners and mountaineering guide-friends Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel developed their business plan ten years ago, they had no formal culinary or business training. It was smart planning, relationship building, and a new way to raise funds that made their vision possible.

Derfel considers himself an “unusual entrepreneur with unusual motivation.” An inspiring public speaker at the recent TEDxPresidio Business 3.0 convergence and a role model in the green movement, Derfel embarked on a year-long project to collect his garbage–mostly food packaging–during 2007 to challenge himself and learn. This gained him media coverage everywhere from the San Francisco Chronicle to CNN and resulted in an art piece at the 2009 Greenfest festival.

Then during a period of 18 months from 2008 and 2009, Derfel explains how he spent countless hours “tirelessly networking” to open Gather in the new David Brower building–a hub for environmental and social action organizations under one roof, built with cutting-edge green design techniques. The goal was to raise $2.5 million, during what he calls “arguably the worst economic climate during our lifetime.” By creating a long term goal to grow their outdoor adventure company, and later their organic catering business Back to Earth, Fenster and Derfel built the credibility to garner investments and open Gather within their ten-year plan. But building the restaurant from scratch  using environmentally-friendly design proved to be very expensive. Though help came from a community bank and a lending institution, relationships with values-driven investors made the difference in the final push.

Over 65 investors and their partners were drawn to the idea of funding the community food system close to home. Derfel describes Gather’s 100+ co-owners as “an incredible mix of people who wanted to build an institution together.” The vast majority live in the vicinity, invested anywhere from $5,000 to $400,000, and will receive 95 percent of the profits until they are paid back. Together Fenster, Derfel, and Chef Sean Baker own 50 percent of the LLC as managing members with decision-making authority, meeting with co-owners once to twice a year.

Today the restaurant serves as one of the first and best examples of the tenets of Slow Money, a new model of investing in small, local food enterprises that connects investors to projects that revive economies and build healthy communities. Based on author Woody Tasch’s book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, the movement’s principles hinge on shifting investments from fast profit to those that build relationships, accountability, and a better ecosystem over a longer period of time.

“Fast money made sense when corporations were small and the world was big, when resources and places for waste disposal seemed infinite, when mass production was first being tapped to fuel higher standards of living,” writes Tasch. “We must now find new ways to mark our progress.”

Slow Money’s mission is to create billions of funding for restorative environmental projects, beginning with food. Now a non-profit organization with Derfel as its Executive Director, it has helped funnel over $4 million to small food businesses throughout the U.S., including Gather.

Although Derfel and Fenster had received most of the funding when Derfel presented at the first Slow Money conference in 2009, an additional amount from like-minded investors helped open Gather within the ten-year plan. The money came from folks who not only shared the vision for Gather, but also believed in allowing that money to grow in wealth over time.

This group of evangelists is one of the many “intangible gems” that Derfel refers to as a return on investment in the Gather business venture.

“The beautiful thing is that those people are now the best marketing one could ever hope for, because they constantly tell anyone and everyone to come and eat at this restaurant,” he goes on to say.

Since opening, Gather has created 75 new jobs, helped support several local farms, cultivated a tight knit staff, and started a chain reaction of restaurants opening in the area. The restaurant has its own dedicated half acre of produce grown at Lindencroft Farm, which includes heirloom varieties of produce, chiles and herbs. Its menu appeals to both vegetarians and omnivores. Benches covered in sleek, re-purposed leather belts, a mural in the bar made from reclaimed packaging from the restaurant’s construction, and elegant salvaged wood are just some of the features that make it stand out in innovative, environmentally-friendly design.

According to Derfel, “Not only is Slow Money possible, it’s happening. Every one of us is an investor, and we all need to begin investing our money like this.”

And it’s growing these relationships, rather than just the profit, that Derfel says has made Gather worthwhile.

“What we needed was money,” adds Derfel, “what we got was a community.”

The First Slow Money Northern California Regional Showcase takes place this weekend in San Francisco on Sunday, June 12th at Fort Mason. If Civil Eats readers are interested, you can register at 50 percent off of general admission with the code: civileats. The Third National Conference is scheduled for October 12-14, 2011, also happening in San Francisco.

Watch for a taste of the restaurant:

A version of this article was originally published on Shareable Design

Vera Churilov is a freelance writer and video producer who focuses on sustainable food, community innovations, and green living. A health educator and nutrition counselor, she guides people toward making healthy food choices with her Green Smoothies ebook, local classes, and coaching programs. visit

Gardens with a mission

Saturday, June 25th, 2011


The article  below appeared originally online at  DesMoines Register about Diane Ott Whealy author of  Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Save.

Decorah, Ia. – Much to Diane Ott Whealy’s delight, bluebirds have returned to her garden at Heritage Farm for another spring.

“It’s so good to see them again,” she said gleefully of the bluebirds as they fluttered against a bright, cloudless blue sky. “Every year, they have to fight it out with the sparrows.”

Ott Whealy might seem to be choosing sides here. She’s not. She is simply rooting for a future that will not be diminished by the disappearance of either species from the air above her garden.

This deep concern about what could be lost in the future placed Ott Whealy and her former husband on a trail-blazing path more than 35 years ago, eventually leading to the preservation of hundreds of different plant seed varieties and the mainstream popularization of the term “heirloom plant.”

A soft-spoken woman of 61, Ott Whealy is co-founder and current vice-president for education of the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange – one of the largest nongovernmental, nonprofit seed banks in the country.

The Iowa native is also the author of a new book, “Gathering: The Memoir of a Seed Saver,” which is being released this week. Regarded by some as the mother of the heirloom plant movement, Ott Whealy writes breezily about how in the mid-1970s, as Missouri homesteaders, she and Kent Whealy had already begun living their “modest dream of saving seed with like-minded people.”

A mother of five, Ott Whealy helped provide a guiding hand over more than three decades for SSE, as it is often called. By the end of the 1990s, the seed bank enjoyed celebrity status, especially among gardeners and farmers on the east and west coasts. Ott Whealy writes jauntily about a 1999 visit by Martha Stewart and her production team.

“That was a fun time in our life,” Ott Whealy said. “We were traveling and we had the kids on the farm and we had a lot of visitors.”

Today, Ott Whealy is the only family member who remains connected in an official capacity to the nonprofit. Ott Whealy and Kent, who now lives in Michigan, were divorced in 2004. Ott Whealy does not dwell much on the divorce in “Gatherings.” Since Seed Savers survived the break up and has flourished, by all accounts, over the past few years, the divorce was more consequential on a personal level than a public level, she said.

“We’re not the first people to get the divorced and we won’t be the last,” she said, adding that she is happy today that Seed Savers “was stronger than a soap opera thing.”

About four years ago, after spending most of her life living on a farm, Ott Whealy moved to a house in downtown Decorah, which is about six miles south of Heritage Farm.

She is enjoying the new chapter in her life in more urban surroundings, she said.

“People are adaptable. I’ve always tried to look for the best of a situation and I’ve found many positives to living in town,” she said, mentioning that she now owns a bicycle and that it is much easier for her to entertain and socialize.

Still, hardly a day passes that Ott Whealy does not tend to her garden, which lies about 100 yards behind the visitors center at Heritage Farms.

“If I did not have my garden to get lost in, I would not be as content as I am now,” Ott Whealy said.

She calls the garden her “wild child” because it consists of mostly self-seeding annuals. She confessed in an interview that it is almost impossible for her to get near her garden “without going in to pull weeds.”

In the weeks and months ahead, she will miss the garden, she said, as she travels to do “ambassador work” for Seed Savers and to promote her book.

It has been only in the past few years, Ott Whealy said, that the nonprofit company has beefed up its marketing campaigns.

“I think you can believe that everybody in the country knows what we’re doing up here, but they don’t,” she said.

When Ott Whealy travels to tell the story of what they are doing up there, she begins by speaking of how the first spark of inspiration came from old morning glory and tomato seeds entrusted to her by her immigrant grandfather, Michael Ott of St. Lucas, Ia., and of her concern about what was happening in the world of gardening and farming.

“We were reading articles that described the dangers of losing genetic diversity,” Ott Whealy writes in her memoir. “We began to see that the introduction of commercial farming had severely diminished the diversity found in food crops.”

“Kent and I had a handful of seeds, a story and a warning.”

The couple also had 29 other gardeners from the United States and Canada in 1975 who had responded to letters Kent had written to various “back-to-the-land magazines – Countryside, Mother Earth News, Landward Ho – in an attempt to discover others who were saving heirloom seed,” she writes.

A year later they printed a no-frills, 17-page booklet, “True Seed Exchange,” on a “hand-cranked mimeograph machine set up in the back bedroom of Great-Aunt Hazel’s house.”

Whealy’s book plows forward from this point. She discusses how from these humble beginnings Seed Savers Exchange became what it is today – the organization that many credit for helping give root to the heirloom plant movement, which has blossomed in 35 years from a fringe-group preoccupation to a mainstream fascination, if not obsession.

The New York Times has over the past decade or so mentioned or written about Seed Savers Exchange more than 70 times, said SSE executive director John Torgrimson. With 13,000 dues-paying members and a $5 million budget sustained mostly by seed sale revenues, Torgrimson said, Seed Savers Exchange is looked at by many avid gardeners and produce farmers as the leaders of a crusade to preserve the nation’s gardening heritage and genetic diversity.

“They were the pioneers and what they went on to do right here in Iowa is save hundreds of plants from extinction,” said Drake University’s Matt Russell, executive director of the Des Moines area Buy Fresh-Buy Local campaign.

For the record, Kent Whealy applied the word “heirloom” to plants in a speech he gave in 1981, according to the website He had asked permission to use the term from John Withee, a Massachusetts seed collector who had used it on the cover of his bean catalog.

Withee told Whealy that he had taken the term from Prof. William Hepler at the University of New Hampshire, who first used the word “heirloom” to describe some beans that friends had given him back in the 1940s.

Hundreds of avid gardeners and produce farmers all over the country rely on Seed Saver Exchange for their heirloom plants, Russell said.

At Blue Gate Farm, in Marion County, Ia., Jill Beebout and her husband Sean Skeehan grow mostly heirloom vegetables and herbs. They have a farm membership to Seed Savers Exchange.

“They have a variety of plants that you really just can’t find anywhere else,” Beebout said of Seed Savers, adding that her farm grows the company’s heirloom tomatoes, peppers and greens, which are sold seasonally at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market.

The farmers who plant heirloom vegetables appreciate them because they tend to be different from most industrialized produce. Standard commercial vegetables are typically selectively bred, or genetically modified, for appearance, shelf life or uniformity that would ensure they are easier to pack and ship, Beebout said.

Heirloom vegetables, on the other hand, come from seeds that “were saved over time by individuals or handed down by families for certain characteristics that generally included taste.”

In “Gathering,” Ott Whealy writes with alacrity when discussing gardens and growing.

“I grew up knowing that you harvested horseradish only in months with an ‘r’ in them and that every day gets ‘a rooster step’ longer after the shortest day of the year,” she writes in her first chapter, “Going Down to Grandpa’s.”

“My life has always been connected to growing things, for food, for beauty, and telling stories about them. So it was natural that I grew to adulthood fascinated by and comfortable with people, seeds and the environment.”

Ott Whealy emphasized in a recent interview that Seed Savers is more a shared grass roots movement than something for which two people deserve accolades. Yes, she and her husband toiled mightily to keep their vision and dream alive, but her book lavishes praise on scores of “noble guardians of our seed heritage,” who made astonishingly nurturing contributions along way, especially in the early days.

All these years later, while she was instrumental in making SSE an heirloom seed powerhouse, Ott Whealy will admit that she is astounded as she looks around the grounds of the northeast Iowa farm they bought in 1986 and subsequently named Heritage Farm.

Set on 890 acres, with a stream that is home to native brook trout, the farm that serves as SSE’s headquarters conducts grow-outs of seeds of mostly heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers and plants in more than 30 gardens.

The Seed Savers Historic Orchard is home to hundreds of pre-1900 apple trees. More than 100 White Park cattle, a threatened breed of livestock, graze in the pastures at Heritage Farms.

In 2006, a visitors center was built. Even though the farm is “off the beaten track” in rural Iowa, as Ott Whealy puts it, about 20,000 guests per year find their way there.

“So much of what has happened far exceeds any dream we ever had,” Ott Whealy said as she sat on a bench under a clear blue Iowa sky while about a dozen visitors browsed the hundreds of seed packets that are for sale at the center. Executive director Torgrimson described as Ott Whealy as “Midwest reticent” about calling attention to herself, but she said she wants readers to appreciate one message of her book – “the fact that amateurs can accomplish great things by starting small, keeping focused and being willing to make sacrifices.”

She writes near the end of “Gathering” that, despite the gulf between her and her husband, they felt as though SSE was still their own – even when it became clear the company would have to move forward without either of them running day-to-day operations.

“The organization was not ours. It was its own entity,” she writes. “It was not about what we sacrificed to make it all work. It was about the mission that led us to create SSE in the first place: To save seeds.”

Because Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit, it is able to focus on preserving all types of plants regardless of whether they would be commercially viable.

“We save the good, the bad and the ugly,” Ott Whealy said proudly, admitting that not every one of SSE’s heirloom vegetables is going to taste remarkably better than standard commercial varieties available at any supermarket.

Still, every seed that has been saved represents one less variety of plant that will disappear.

“We have not saved the world,” Ott Whealy said. “But we have saved much that is precious.”

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Book Review: Chasing Chiles

Friday, June 24th, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at  I Love It Spicy about Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail.

It is not often that ILIS will get an opportunity to be asked to do a book review. So we are delighted to do it, and hope we can do the review as much justice as our usual spicy product reviews. A little about the book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail and it’s Authors’ Kurt Friese, Kraig Kraft, and Gray Nabhan:

Chasing Chiles looks at both the future of place-based foods and the effects of climate change on agriculture through the lens of the chile pepper—from the farmers who cultivate this iconic crop to the cuisines and cultural traditions in which peppers play a huge role.

Chef Kurt Michael Friese is author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland (Ice Cube, 2008), and owner and founding chef of Devotay, a restaurant in Iowa City that is a community leader in local and sustainable cuisine. He is owner and publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley magazine, a board of directors member for Slow Food USA and the Iowa Food Systems Council, and a graduate and former chef-instructor at the New England Culinary Institute.

Kraig Kraft is an agroecologist and writer based in Managua, Nicaragua. He completed his PhD on the origins and diversity of wild and domesticated chile peppers at the University of California, Davis. Kraft is the author of a popular blog titled Chasing Chiles, and has written for several regional magazines, including Edible Sacramento, as well as technical journals, and is currently working on a coffee sustainability project in Central America.

Gary Paul Nabhan is an award-winning author, plant conservationist, and sustainable-agriculture advocate. His collaborative work in agricultural conservation has been honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Quivira Coalition and the Society for Conservation Biology, and with the Vavilov Medal. A pioneer in the heirloom seed movement, he raises rare chile peppers and Mission-era orchard crops in Patagonia, Arizona.

The two reviewers we have for this chile book are fellow chile pepper author Michael Hultquist aka Mike from Madness, and the one and only Scott Roberts. I do not think you will find 2 more diverse opinions than in these two reviews. Wow. See what I am talking about…

Mike from Madness

Scott Roberts

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The Environmental Rabble-Rousing of Diane Wilson

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The article  below appeared originally online at  The Rag Blog by Robert S. Becker about Diane Wilson’s newest book Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth.

Environmental activist and author Diane Wilson will be Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, June 24, 2011, 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on Austin’s community radio station, KOOP-91.7 FM, and streamed live on the internet.

Diane will also speak about her book, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, at Book People, 603 N. Lamar in Austin, Thursday, June 23, at 7 p.m. and will appear at the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Shindig & Soiree at Pine Street Station, 1101 E. 5th Street, Austin, from 4-7 p.m., Saturday, June 25.

Legendary Texas journalist Molly Ivins once joked about rebel-rouser-activist Jim Hightower: “If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Jim Hightower would be that child — mad as hell, with a sense of humor.”

Well, Hightower has a protest soul sister, the inventive, congenial, yet fierce “eco-outlaw” named Diane Wilson. Unlike armchair activists and witty journalists, this champion takes risks, gets bloodied and arrested, and endures jail — then turns her adventures into good-hearted, epic tales reminiscent of Mark Twain.

And what progressive battles need, more than ever, are inspiring protest leaders — and crowds in the street. Otherwise, we fail to learn from the insipid, conspiracy-ridden, if effective escapades of the Tea Party. One hard-won lesson I take from this hell-raising muckraker from Seadrift, Texa, is that petitions, donations, columns, and news interviews are nice but don’t save lives, jobs, America, or Mother Earth.

Diane was featured in a terrific PBS documentary called Texas Gold, voiced by Peter Coyote, and, with Coyote, produced a hilarious satirical commercial for the film – about bottled Gulf water you get to drink once. Wilso was interviewed on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, and performs daring CodePink disruptions. [Wilson was, in fact, a founding member of CodePink, the theatrical direct-action peace group.]

Diane has also penned two inspiring protest memoirs — real-life, laugh-out-loud, unflinching stories reliving what happens when a terrific activist puts her liberty on the line. This woman walks the line, until she gets forcibly removed. Her two full titles alone justify the price of admission:

Her tactics are “unreasonable,” of course, only to cancer-inducing, worker-killing resource predators (well-shielded by official protection) whom she ambushes with inventive schemes. Eco-activism here is downright fun, mostly, like anti-war ’60′s agitation (though absent the crowds). She invites all of us to do local agitation.

Where she’s best known as Corporate Criminal Enemy No. 1 is Calhoun County, Texas, which — alas, B.D. (Before Diane) — was a remote, Gulf coast pushover ripe for chemical dumpers, and by 1989 had won the EPA’s dubious prize as America’s most polluted place. That shocker woke Diane up, and she’s been confronting polluters (and now related war-mongers) ever since.

Teaching by bold example

I found out about Diane because my wife is writing a young adult novel and needed to check background about the Gulf, shrimping, and endangered sea turtles. So, who better to learn from than the liveliest, most notorious, ex-professional Gulf shrimper living between Galveston and Corpus Christi?

Naturally we jumped in the van and drove eight hours when hearing Diane was to keynote a women’s literary celebration in Santa Barbara. Her simple if hard to execute message: trust your heart, assess the damage, disregard most well-intentioned warnings and, above all, don’t sweat outcomes impossible to know in advance.

Progressives are forever talking and talking about direct protests, so time to learn from Diane’s fearless bravery, lit up by over 50 arrests. Would be 100 were she less even-tempered, her outrage tempered by quiet irony and southern courtesy, even to abusers.

She never hides, however, the fact that maximizing bad publicity against huge public menaces means getting roughed up, inconvenienced, and punished. The system discourages disruption and, judging by her harsh prison depictions, many here would pipe up, “Is there a Plan B?”

Click here to read the entire article>>

[Robert S. Becker was educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English). Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, a high-end audio company, from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing, consulting, and writing; since 2002, he has been scribbling on politics and culture, looking for the wit in the shadows. This article was originally published at -- and was distributed by -- OpEd News.]

National Dairy Month: All Dairy and Cheese books on SALE!

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

June is National Dairy Month, first started in the 1930s to promote dairy products during the time of year when production is at its peak. Here at Chelsea Green we publish the leading books on milk and cheese.

Our entire collection of milk and cheese books are now on sale for 25% off.

Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge is Gordon Edgar's funny and thoughtful story of life as a cheesemonger in San Francisco's worker-owned Rainbow Grocery Cooperative.  It's a memoir of life with cheese, touching on everything from the politics of dairy farming to the art of creating some of the world's finest cheeses.

From the other end of the dairy industry, David Gumpert digs into the controversy over raw milk, and the government's strict crackdown on producers, in  TThe Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. This in-depth investigation questions the government's rationale for banning the sale of raw milk, and the tactics regulators have used to drive the raw milk trade underground.

Starting with illustrated descriptions of traditional and industrial cheesemaking, Italian Cheese: A Guide to Its Discovery and Appreciation takes us through the processes of buying, tasting, and storing cheeses. Dictionaries of tasting terms and the language of cheeses and cheesemaking provide essential preludes for the heart of this book  

More than ever before, the people who choose to become farmer-cheesemakers need access to the knowledge of established cheese artisans who can help them build their dream. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor brings to life the story of creating a successful cheesemaking business in a practical, organized manner. It will also appeal to the many small and hobby-farm owners who already have milking animals and who wish to improve their home dairy practices and facilities


American Farmstead Cheese: The Complete Guide to Making and Selling Artisan Cheeses explains the diversity of cheeses in terms of historical animal husbandry, pastures, climate, preservation, and transport----all of which still contribute to the uniqueness of farm cheeses today. Discover the composition of milk (and its seasonal variations), starter cultures, and the chemistry of cheese.

This groundbreaking work is the first internationally published book to examine the link between a protein in the milk we drink and a range of serious illnesses. Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk brings together the evidence published in more than 100 scientific papers. The evidence is compelling: We should be switching to A2 milk.This is an mazing story, one that is not just about the health issues surrounding A1 milk, but also about how scientific evidence can be molded and withheld by vested interests, and how consumer choices are influenced by the interests of corporate business..



The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese is the first reference book of its kind and a must-have for every foodie's library. Jeffrey P. Roberts lavishes loving attention on the growing local food and farmstead movement in what is fast becoming a national trend. This fully illustrated atlas of contemporary artisan cheeses and cheese makers will not only be a mainstay in any cookery and cuisine library-guiding consumers, retailers, restaurateurs, and food professionals to the full breadth and unparalleled quality of American artisan foods-it will be the source of many a fabulous food adventure..

Organic Dairy Production is part of a series on organic principles and practices for both the beginner farmer as well as established farmers looking to convert to organic, or deepen their practices. You'll get the information for manure management, crop production, grazing management, livestock selection, marketing and regulations of milk and much more.


Hopefully they will help you better understand where your food comes from, and make more informed dairy choices, whether it's which pecorino romano to grate over your next pasta dinner, or making the leap to trying raw milk from the small farm down the road.


For more on the raw milk debate read the blog post, "10 Things You Should Know About Raw Milk," and check out the trailer for Farmageddon, a new documentaryFarmageddon is a behind-the-scenes look at what harsh governmental regulation is doing to small family dairy farms, and how agricultural policies disproportionately benefit huge agribusiness over local organic farms.  We hope you find it as inspiring and revolutionary as we did.


Descending the Peak: Vermonters in the Transition Town movement address an uncertain energy future

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The article below was originally posted at Seven Days about transition towns in Vermont.

The table at the back of the Hayes Room in Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library holds a colorful bounty of prepared dishes. There’s a pot of venison chili, a slab of broccoli quiche, a loaf of freshly baked zucchini bread and a bowl of salad made with eggs laid that morning by backyard chickens. There’s so much food that no empty spot is left on the table. But that’s good, because there are a lot of mouths to feed.

About 65 people have squeezed themselves into the small community room on this Saturday afternoon — the highest turnout yet in the many months the event has been recurring. The participants have brought an abundance of provisions, but they’re here to talk about a dearth — specifically, an impending dearth of oil on the planet.

It’s not a topic that would draw most people out of bed, let alone to a meeting in a stuffy library, on a sunny weekend day. But increasingly, at least in central Vermont, peak oil is on people’s minds. And understandably so. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests we have reached, or will soon reach, the point at which half of global oil reserves are gone. And considering that everything from sneakers to computers to contact lenses is made from oil, that prospect threatens life as we know it.

The potluck is one of a handful of events organized by Transition Town Montpelier , a diffuse but burgeoning social movement dedicated to helping people build resilient communities to prepare for the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change. The Montpelier group is one of 90 official Transition Initiatives operating in the United States and one of 360 such efforts worldwide.

The idea underlying a Transition Town is that, currently, communities are not prepared to weather a major climate disaster or energy crisis. Much of what we consume is made with oil or requires oil to get to us. We rely heavily on imports, because local economies provide only a sliver of what we need to survive.

As crude oil prices climb and increasingly extreme weather events wreak havoc around the world, some communities are seeking ways to deal with what they consider inevitable changes. If oil becomes so scarce that it’s prohibitively expensive or disappears altogether, how will we carry on?

Transition Initiatives help people prepare for and adapt to a future beyond fossil fuels through the two pillars of transition philosophy: relocalizing and reskilling. The movement’s devotees reason that, by producing some or much of what we need in our own communities — food, clothing, medicine, building materials — we will be able to withstand severe climate, energy and economic shock while actually improving our quality of life.

“This is an opportunity to take the future in our own hands,” says Carolyne Stayton, executive director of Transition United States, based in Petaluma, Calif.

The transition movement began just five years ago in Totnes, England, and has spread to 34 countries and more than half of the States. The concept of Transition stems from the work of a permaculture teacher and natural builder named Rob Hopkins, who sought a proactive solution to the world’s worsening energy and climate travails. In his 2008 book The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, published by White River Junction’s Chelsea Green, Hopkins outlines strategies for preparing communities as they face potentially dire changes. He sums up the movement’s mission this way:

Rebuilding local agriculture and food production, localising energy production, rethinking healthcare, rediscovering local building materials in the context of zero energy building, rethinking how we manage waste, all build resilience and offer the potential of an extraordinary renaissance — economic, cultural and spiritual.

Not surprisingly, the transition movement found a home in Vermont. In addition to Montpelier, which has the largest, Charlotte, Hardwick, Manchester, Putney and Shelburne support Transition Initiatives. Many of the practices Hopkins advocates — robust local food sourcing, natural building — are already happening on some level in the state. That doesn’t mean Vermont is prepared to handle the fallout of a cataclysmic energy crisis — say, grid failure for an extended period. But, overall, the state is better off than most, Stayton says.

Transition Town Montpelier was founded three years ago as a spin-off of a postcarbon sustainability group. Since then, the movement has ballooned and now boasts more than 1000 members, according to its website. It encompasses nine working groups covering topics ranging from health and wellness in a post-oil world to root cellaring and seed saving. One of those working groups has been collaborating on an Energy Descent Action Plan, or what its authors call a “vision of a powered-down, resilient, relocalised future” — a blueprint for survival as we hike down from peak oil’s summit.

Carl Etnier is one of the founders of Transition Town Montpelier, along with Annie McCleary and George Lisi. For Etnier, transition, or creating sustainable post-oil communities, is an idea whose time has come. The longtime peak-oil activist had been doing slide shows on fossil-fuel decline when he happened upon Hopkins’ book.

Etnier liked the inclusivity of Hopkins’ approach, as well as its strong participatory and celebratory aspects. Hopkins doesn’t just tell people the bad news — he gives them practical, hands-on suggestions for buffering themselves against the effects of peak oil and climate change. For example, planting public edible spaces, instituting a local currency and learning to make a root cellar are some of the ways people can contribute to transition.

Hopkins’ message seemed to dovetail perfectly with sustainability initiatives already happening around the state, Etnier explains. “People are really ready to engage with this,” he says. “We’re on a trajectory that isn’t sustainable.”

If Transition Town rhetoric sounds a bit back-to-the-land-ish, that’s because they share many principles. But the transition movement in Montpelier, and around the globe, isn’t just for homesteaders, homeschoolers and survivalist types. At the recent potluck, attendees ranged from octogenarian knitters to thirtysomething natural builders to corporate retirees new to the area. While transition is not yet mainstream, it’s anything but fringe. The movement attracts all kinds, including climate activist and widely published writer Bill McKibben of Ripton, who sees Transition Initiatives as powerful allies in the fight against global warming.

“I think [Transition Town is] creating deeply powerful change in many towns and helping them get ready to hunker down against a century of hard weather and economic shift,” McKibben writes in an email.

Nor is the movement about romanticizing the past or wishing to go back in time. Transition Initiatives have benefited greatly from modern technology, and participants don’t suggest eschewing computers and cellphones in favor of letter writing and telegrams.

But transition advocates are in favor of a future that’s less reliant on oil and more focused on local systems and communities. That vision is increasingly attractive, both around the world and here in Vermont. As Transition Town Montpelier grows, it’s picking up participants along the way. Here are brief snapshots of some of its members.

The Homesteader

Annie McClearyAnnie McCleary works in her herb and vegetable garden in Woodbury. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

If there is one person who’s prepared for the upheaval of a post-peak-oil world, it’s Annie McCleary. She came to Vermont in the early 1980s to homestead and never looked back. She can darn her own socks, mend her own clothes, can her own food and make her own herbal medicine. And she is happy to share those skills with anyone willing to learn.

As the coordinator of Transition Town Montpelier, McCleary has a role not unlike that of den mother. Since the initiative became official in 2009, she has kept it organized. She manages the email list, coordinates the monthly potlucks and heads several of the organization’s working groups, including the Greenhouse, Root Cellar, Seed Saving, Hand Scything, Etc. group and the Fibers, Textile Arts, Mending, Sewing group. She lives by the movement’s maxim: “Bringing the head, heart and hands of communities together to make the transition to life beyond oil.”

McCleary, who owns Wisdom of the Herbs School in Woodbury, is a spitfire of energy wrapped in clothes mended many times over. She is devoted to her 4000-square-foot garden and the many plants and animals that inhabit the woods around her home. During a recent interview, McCleary pauses to catch a hummingbird in her hands after it wanders into her garage and becomes disoriented.

The 63-year-old came to the transition movement in 2008 by way of a local sustainability group in Montpelier. McCleary has believed for decades that the planet is changing dramatically, she says, but she wasn’t sure what to do about it. The Transition Town model gave her a road map for moving forward.

“What worked for me is that it faces clearly: OK, folks. Here’s what we’re up against. No sugarcoating,” McCleary says. “We are in straits. It’s happening. It’s real on all levels, from spiritual to physical to metaphysical to social.”

Rather than fret about potential changes on the horizon, McCleary, like others who subscribe to transition philosophy, sees them as opportunities. She’s looking forward to humanity slowing down and turning inward. And she’s enjoying the conversations that have already happened about how to prepare for a future with less.

“There’s nothing that can replace the amount of energy fossil fuels give us. We won’t be as globalized; we’ll be more localized,” she says. “When you’re connected to the Earth, you’re more likely to take care of it. You’re less likely to asphalt over your dandelion greens when that happens to be your vegetable for the day or week or month.”

McCleary realizes not everyone is going to emulate her and go back to the land. But the point of transition isn’t purism; it’s about the adaptability and resilience people need to improve their postcarbon options.

“Peak oil says we’re going to change, climate change says we should change, and Mother Earth says, You’ll do what I damn well tell you,” McCleary suggests. “What will happen, will happen.”

The Builder

Ben GrahamNatural builder Ben Graham stands in a greenhouse addition he is building in Montpelier. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

When Ben Graham was an architecture student at Rhode Island School of Design, his professors questioned his passion for natural building. They didn’t consider making dwellings from cob and clay sophisticated enough to be called architecture with a capital A. But Graham was undeterred.

Years later, naysaying professors be damned, Graham is on the cutting edge of sustainable architecture and design. And he’s spreading his skills and knowledge as chair of Transition Town Montpelier’s newest working group, focused on shelter.

Graham, a 36-year-old with a long, red, braided goatee and wild eyebrows, has been a builder for as long as he can remember. He comes from a family of builders, and the trade is in his blood. He loved tinkering in his father’s workshop and making models; that he would go into architecture was a foregone conclusion.

During a trip to the West Coast during college, he learned about natural building. “I took a tour of one of these earthen houses, and I was like, Holy shit! This is fucking cool,” he says. “It was just one of those moments that changed my life. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Originally from Cleveland, Graham moved to Vermont in 2000 after falling in love with the state during a bike trip. Shortly after, he started his own company, Natural Design/Build. In 2001, he built his first straw-bale house.

For Graham, the Transition Town model of relocalizing melds with his own design principles — using “bioregional” materials to build ecologically sound dwellings. His building materials aren’t made from petroleum and come primarily from the earth.

“If you said, ‘OK, you can build this house out of foam and aluminum siding and pressure-treated wood. Or you can build this other home from trees and dirt and reeds.’ And it’s, like, duh, you know?” Graham says as he sketches the stairs for a greenhouse he’s building.

Not only does he believe natural building makes sense in terms of energy consumption and resource management, but, Graham says, it represents how humans were meant to live. We aren’t built for living in concrete structures with vinyl siding and fiberglass insulation, he claims.

“We’re taking this old technology and developing it for present modern living,” Graham says. “People have it ingrained in their bodies to live in structures made out of natural materials, and that’s why we’re tweaked now, because we’re living in these weird things.”

In an effort to spread the gospel of natural building, Graham helped found Village-building Convergence, a sustainable skill-sharing conference of sorts that is part of Transition Town Montpelier. On June 14, Graham, who regularly teaches at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, will present a workshop on practical solutions for sustainable shelter. He’ll remind participants that, with all the mainstream “greening” of home construction these days, it’s easy to forget that people have been living in natural structures forever.

“I’m trying to make natural building accessible to everyone,” Graham says. “We’re showing engineers that natural materials actually perform better than this other shit that you’re working with that’s actually destroying the planet. But it’s not easy to convince these people.”

The Neophyte

Deb LismanTransition Town Montpelier steering committee member Deb Lisman. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

If there is an archetypal Transition Town member, Deb Lisman isn’t it. Until recently, she held a corporate job, admits she’s no good at gardening, and has always held a dim view of activism.

But for the last two years, Lisman has been knee-deep in all things transition. She wants to learn how to homestead. She’s becoming well versed in emergency-preparedness strategies. And she’s working to build a network of neighborhoods in Montpelier, where she lives.

This transition to Transition Town happened concurrently with what the 53-year-old calls a “midlife crisis kind of thing.” She was working in leadership development at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters when she decided she needed a change. She took a four-month sabbatical to help her figure out her next move.

During that time, Lisman, an enthusiastic talker with short, dark hair and an eager smile, researched numerous topics, hoping one would spark her interest. She kept returning to sustainability.

In 2008, Lisman went to a lecture given by Naresh Giangrande, a cofounder of Transition Town Totnes. She was hooked.

“It was completely positive community building. It was about creating a resilient community that has much more of a sense of community,” Lisman says.

So inspired was Lisman by the presentation and the concept of transition that she began working on her own community’s resiliency by building a website aimed at connecting her neighborhood. The neighborhood network never quite took off, but Lisman’s organizing gusto caught the eye of McCleary, as Transition Town Montpelier was just getting off the ground. McCleary asked Lisman to consider joining the group’s steering committee.

Those early days weren’t easy for Lisman: “I didn’t know near what everyone else knew,” she says. “But I just continued to learn as I went.”

She bought stacks of books on peak oil, community building and local food systems. She participated in workshops on gardening. She tried to figure out how to make her lifestyle more sustainable. All of it was outside her comfort zone.

“I’m Joe average citizen,” Lisman says. “I do everything wrong.”

Except she doesn’t. She’s not perfect, but she’s embraced transition. Little by little, Lisman is making changes in her life, the biggest being readying herself to handle some kind of crisis.

A year ago, Lisman quit her job at GMCR. In that time, she has been working on NeighborNet, an initiative aimed at connecting people who live in close proximity. She has designed a curriculum for neighborhoods to determine how prepared they are to weather an emergency such as a power outage — or, closer to home, serious flooding. The seven-week course revolves around a series of potlucks where neighbors examine key areas of survival and preparedness. People who feel informed and connected will experience less panic if a crisis does happen, Lisman says.

Rather than giving her discussions a doom-and-gloom tinge, Lisman tries to make them fun — hence the potluck format. That way, drawing participants becomes more of a pull than a push, she says.

Lisman’s zeal for neighborhood organizing and emergency planning still surprises her. But she’s settling into her role and growing more comfortable by the day.

“It’s really bizarre, the fact that I’m into it,” Lisman says, laughing. “But it feels like the right thing to do.”

The Pragmatists

Wayne OhlssonWayne Ohlsson of Montpelier. Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Wayne and Jan Ohlsson were living in Salt Lake City when Wayne first picked up a copy of The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins’ post-peak-oil manual. Having been interested in alternative energy since the 1970s, Wayne was intrigued by the guide and its strategies for building resilient, fossil-fuel-free communities.

But no one in Salt Lake seemed to get it. Or, if anyone did, the Ohlssons couldn’t find them. So, when Jan retired from her management job at 3M Health Information Systems, the couple began seeking a new home where transition was understood. After much research, they settled on Montpelier, which seemed to have a vibrant and growing Transition Town movement.

The couple have been in Montpelier only nine short months, but already they’ve rolled up their sleeves and started to work. Jan is interested in local food systems, while Wayne is passionate about developing Transition Town Montpelier’s Energy Descent Action Plan. Together they’ve been working on a project that would marry elements of the state’s farm-to-plate initiative with a more comprehensive sustainable energy plan.

Both Wayne, 66, and Jan, 64, are no-nonsense midwesterners who met as undergrads at the University of Michigan. Wayne, who has a shock of white hair and sky-blue eyes, spent much of his career as a medical researcher, but harbored a desire to run a sustainable mini-farm. Jan, a matter-of-fact woman who is not afraid of a challenge, has always loved canning and preparing the food her husband grew. Together they make a formidable, motivated team.

As they explain their work with Transition Town Montpelier, the Ohlssons talk over each other, such is their enthusiasm. They finish each other’s sentences as they convey their seriousness about creating change to protect their community from what they see as the inevitable end of the oil age.

But, as passionate as they are about transition, the couple are realistic enough to know that many people find discussions of peak oil alarmist and off-putting. They understand that not everyone can do everything in service of transition ideals.

“A lot of this depends on whether people have the time, effort or the means,” Wayne says. “A lot of people have full-time jobs and kids to take care of. How do people like that have the time? And do they have the interest and inclination?”

“I’m a little less dogmatic [than some involved in transition],” Jan says. “I just want people to be aware. I can’t change people’s minds. But eventually they’ll get it when they’re paying $2 for a tomato.”

The Ohlssons’ flexibility sets them apart from some of their Transition Town compatriots. But they still feel part of the community and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with the movement. They believe it’s designed to make room for all kinds.

“Everyone can find their niche,” Wayne says.

Click here to read the original article. 

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