Archive for August, 2011

Edward Girardet’s new book, ‘Killing the Cranes’, is a Scathing Indictment of the Afghan War

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Thanks to David Swanson from War Is A Crime for sharing this! Listen to an interview with Edward Girardet on Talk Nation Radio. Edward Girardet’s new book, Killing the Cranes, a Reporter’s Journey through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan, is a scathing indictment of the Afghan War.

With assassinations becoming routine, and NATO air strikes continuing to enrage and alienate civilians, Edward Giradet says once again, that the war was unnecessary. He further suggests the situation is highly complex with no obvious or easy way forward. This is part one of an extended interview.</p.


Produced by Dori Smith in Storrs, CT

TRT: 29:34

Download at Pacifica’s Audioport here Or at and

Journalist, author and producer, Edward Girardet joins us to talk about his 2011 book published by Chelsea Green Press, Killing the Cranes, a Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan. The book spans his reporting to the Christian Science Monitor and other major media outlets. Based in Paris, he began covering Afghanistan several months before the Soviets invaded in 1979. Just before we spoke with him about his book, the British counsel in Kabul was the target of twin suicide attacks, which took place on the anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day from Britain in 1919. It was a grim reminder that the people of Afghanistan have been struggling against various forces over many generations. We look at the complexities of the ongoing war and occupation, and hear an insiders view of the personalities involved.

Edward Girardet is often described by the US media as, ‘The man who met Osama Bin Ladin.” He discusses the encounter in Killing the Cranes, but the much larger discussion is about the complexities of Afghan society and the seemingly endless US and NATO presence there. In his report in Foreign Policy Magazine July 18th Edward Girardet asks, after more than three decades of targeted killings, is there anyone left alive who can actually run Afghanistan?

Related Links:
Related links: Edward Girardet, Assassin Nation, Foreign Policy Magazine, July 18, 2011.

Image credit: babasteve via flickr

3 Things That Must Happen for Us To Rise Up and Defeat the Corporatocracy

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Most Americans oppose rule by the corporatocracy but don’t have the tools to fight back. Here are three things we need to create a real people’s movement. From author Bruce E. Levine, reposted from AlterNet.

Transforming the United States into something closer to a democracy requires: 1) knowledge of how we are getting screwed; 2) pragmatic tactics, strategies, and solutions; and 3) the “energy to do battle.”

The majority of Americans oppose the corporatocracy (rule by giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials); however, many of us have given up hope that this tyranny can be defeated. Among those of us who continue to be politically engaged, many focus on only one of the requirements—knowledge of how we are getting screwed. And this singular focus can result in helplessness. It is the two other requirements that can empower, energize, and activate Team Democracy— a team that is currently at the bottom of the standings in the American Political League.

1. Knowledge of How We are Getting Screwed
Harriet Tubman conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River raid that freed more than 700 slaves. Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” While awareness of the truth of corporatocracy oppression is by itself not sufficient to win freedom and justice, it is absolutely necessary.

We are ruled by so many “industrial complexes”—military, financial, energy, food, pharmaceutical, prison, and so on—that it is almost impossible to stay on top of every way we are getting screwed. The good news is that—either through independent media or our basic common sense—polls show that the majority of Americans know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and other corporate welfare to oppose these corporatocracy policies. In the case of the military-industrial complex, most Iraq War polls and Afghanistan War polls show that the majority of Americans know enough to oppose these wars. And when Americans were asked in a CBS New /New York Times survey in January 2011 which of three programs—the military, Medicare or Social Security—to cut so as to deal with the deficit, fully 55 percent chose the military, while only 21 percent chose Medicare and 13 percent chose Social Security.

In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows that the deal is rotten.” Well, maybe not everybody, but damn near everybody.
But what doesn’t everybody know?

2. Pragmatic Tactics, Strategies and Solutions
In addition to awareness of economic and social injustices created by corporatocracy rule, it is also necessary to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny and to gain their fair share of power.

Even before the Democratic-Republican bipartisan educational policies (such as “no child left behind” and “race to the top”) that cut back on civics being taught in schools, few Americans were exposed in their schooling to “street-smart civics”—tactics and strategies that oppressed peoples have historically utilized to gain power.

For a comprehensive guide of tactics and strategies that have been effective transforming regimes more oppressive than the current U.S. one, read political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which includes nearly 200 “Methods of Nonviolent Actions.” Among Sharp’s 49 “Methods of Economic Noncooperation,” he lists over 20 different kinds of strikes. And among his 38 “Methods of Political Noncooperation,” he lists 10 tactics of “citizens’ noncooperation with government,” nine “citizens’ alternatives to obedience,” and seven “actions by government personnel.” Yes, nothing was more powerful in ending the Vietnam War and saving American and Vietnamese lives than the brave actions by critically thinking U.S. soldiers who refused to cooperate with the U.S. military establishment. Check out David Zeigler’s documentary Sir! No Sir! for details.

There’s more! Head over to AlterNet to read the rest of the article and join the heady discussion in the comments!

Bruce E. Levine’s newest book, Get Up Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite is on sale through the end of August.

The local food shift: What every public official, political candidate and voter should know

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

This article was reposted from Boulder Weekly.

Don’t forget to join your fellow Colorado folks for Eat Local Week, happening now!

By Michael Brownlee

The local food shift is gaining significant traction in Boulder County, growing well beyond the euphoric early adopter stage into early majority territory. It is unfolding so rapidly and so unpredictably that it could well be called a revolution.

If it hasn’t already, the issue of local food is about to land on the desks of public officials and political candidates, perhaps even in unexpected ways. One candidate, aware of this shift, contacted Transition Colorado and requested “talking points” on this important issue. What follows here is a very preliminary and incomplete briefing intended to help all officials and candidates quickly bone up on some of the major issues and prepare to deal with the challenges that are coming their way.

Since our current food-related laws and policies were created — and most public officials were elected or appointed — long before the local food shift began to take hold, familiarity with these issues could be crucial not only to candidates’ political future, but also the well-being of the communities they serve.

Roots of the local food shift

The essence of this nascent movement is food localization — shifting from the globalized, industrialized food system on which we all are dependent for our food needs to a resilient and self-reliant locally based food supply system, where communities are able to provision their own essential food needs by relying on bio-intensive production methods that restore soil, rekindle connection with the land and rebuild community.

The upcoming EAT LOCAL! Week (Aug. 27 through Sept. 4), organized by Boulder-based Transition Colorado, could be seen as an early cultural expression of the local food shift in Boulder County, combining a community celebration of local food and farming, an experiential connection with the local culture that is emerging around local food, and the recognition of new food and farming enterprises that may presage a new era in the local economy.

What it all portends is that many people in Boulder County are making the local food shift in earnest.

The significant benefits of food localization are well known and worth repeating:

Health: Returning to a seasonal, mostly organic local diet will significantly improve the health of our communities, especially our children, and dramatically reduce health care costs.

Environment: Shrinking our “foodshed,” which now stretches around the globe, will not only reduce food-miles, but bio-intensive cultivation methods will also sequester carbon in the soil, making food localization one of the most effective approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Economy: Rebuilding our local food system is one of the most important strategies for strengthening our local economy; food localization can create new jobs and generate hundreds of millions in new economic activity.

It should be said that this local food shift is not the reincarnation of the “back to the land” movement, nor a nostalgic return to an imagined past. While the movement occasionally draws upon ancient and even indigenous knowledge, its roots are much more recent.

Demand for access

For many, the local food shift appears to have emerged spontaneously over the past several years from a demand among our citizens for increased access to fresh, organic, healthy food grown close to where we live, preferably by people we know and trust — maybe even by ourselves. It was what we wanted for our children, for our families, for our own bodies and for our own well-being.

Inspired and informed by authors and speakers like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Joel Salatin and Will Allen, and jarred awake by such films as Food Inc. and The World According to Monsanto, many people saw something new appearing in our troubled society, an inspiring cultural shift. Long before anyone was calling it a movement, there was something wholesome about this local food shift. And there was a strong undercurrent of joyfulness, even fun, as we began to rediscover our connection with land and neighbors and food.

Preparing locally for the global food crisis

However, from the very beginning the movement was more deeply guided by an underlying but often unspoken realization that it was imperative for our communities to learn how to feed themselves again; that it was necessary to begin to wean our communities from dependence on globalized industrialized food systems; that it was necessary to reclaim our food sovereignty and develop resilience and self-reliance in our food supply at the community level.

The reasons for these necessities are essential to understand.

This perspective will be new to and/or denied by many local residents, but these are the core dynamics:

A convergence of global crises — inevitable fossil fuel depletion (aka “peak oil”), compounding effects of climate change, and unstable shrinking global economies — is likely to disrupt the global food supply in unexpectedly devastating ways.

A thorough analysis of these factors leads to an inescapable conclusion that the growing global food crisis will soon land in our own communities — yes, even in Boulder County.

Therefore, it is now essential (and unavoidable) to shift quickly from a globalized/industrialized food system to one that is far more local, far more human-labor-intensive, and far less dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides — as well as for processing, storage, cooling, heating and transportation.

Each person will want to do his or her own corroborating homework, of course, but once each of us grasps these dynamics, we will realize that there is little choice but to rapidly localize our food system to the maximum extent possible. The critical issues are: How long will it take us collectively to recognize this? And how long will it take us to respond at the scale that will be needed?

A tale of two cultures

Public officials will discover that some of their constituents are not happy about the prospects for food localization and may consider it a threat to their way of life. On the simpler side, some residents adamantly oppose having small agricultural operations in their neighborhoods, even if it’s rural, complaining of sights, sounds and smells that they consider unpleasant and fear will reduce their property values.

Meanwhile, the most vehement proponents of conventional farming — sounding like the agricultural equivalent of the Tea Party — charge that the move towards local and organic food production amounts to nothing less than a form of neocolonialism, complaining, “You’re trying to shove ‘organic’ down our throats.” Export commodity farmers (who receive substantial federal subsidies) claim that for local government to support local organic food production (which is completely unsubsidized) is unfair and are pressuring current county commissioners to curb their apparent enthusiasm for food localization.

There is a profound culture clash taking place here, often driven more by emotion than reason.

This conflict can be witnessed firsthand in the spectacular if slow-moving drama currently unfolding around the controversy over the use of genetically modified crops on county-owned open space land.

It’s worth noting that “conventional” or “traditional” agriculture has only been around since World War II, largely the result of big chemical companies persuading farmers to become dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The methods and technologies of the so-called Green Revolution may have temporarily increased crop yields, but they have also unleashed a storm of unintended consequences including soil degradation, massive environmental pollution, reduced biodiversity, an epidemic of food allergies and other food-related diseases, and ever-greater dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water and agrochemicals.

Such industrialized agriculture is destined to go through a radical shift, because it is a profoundly unsustainable system that contributes a significant percentage of our greenhouse gas emissions — as much as 31 percent, if the whole system of processing and transportation is included. It’s heavily dependent on fossil fuels for fuel, artificial fertilizers, chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics and global shipping. Conventional agriculture will inevitably transition to a more bio-intensive system, one that is largely organic (though not necessarily certified).

Barriers to localization

Sadly, there are many barriers to increased food localization, and elected officials may be asked to shape policies and regulations to ease them:

The lack of a local food infrastructure — for processing, storage, distribution and marketing — is one of the main reasons why less than 2 percent of the total amount of food we consume in Boulder County (a whopping $947 million in 2010) is actually grown here.

There is a significant shortage of qualified young farmers, even to meet the current mandate to have just 10 percent of the county’s open space land devoted to food production for local consumption.

Farmland is extremely expensive in Boulder County, making the cost of entry for new farmers very high. Financing is often very difficult to obtain.

Limited infrastructure, particularly in processing and distribution, means that many local growers and ranchers do not have ready access to potential markets for their products.

Adequate labor is also problematic. Commodity agriculture has largely supplanted human farm labor with heavy machinery. But organic speciality-crop agriculture is highly labor-intensive.

In addition, many farmers consider existing land use codes to be one of the greatest limiting factors to increased food production and farm business diversification. Those seeking approval for season-extending greenhouses and hoop houses (even root cellars), residences on farmland, and agri-tourism often run into a buzzsaw of onerous regulations and bureaucratic paperwork that leaves them in despair.

‘Slow Money’ and the local food shift

The recent arrival of the Slow Money approach to food localization — based on Woody Tasch’s extraordinary book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered — turns out to be one of the key enablers of the local food shift: new forms of local investment “that catalyze the transition from a commerce of extraction and consumption to a commerce of preservation and restoration.” This means, especially, investing in local farming and in the enterprises that are needed to support a healthy food and farming system.

Slow Money is all about “Restorative Economics,” following the core principles of carrying capacity, cultural and biological diversity, sense of place, care of the commons and nonviolence. This may be one of the most significant economic visions to land on this planet in recent decades.

One of the goals of Slow Money is that over the next 10 years one million Americans will invest 1 percent of their assets in local food systems. As a result, new food-related enterprises are beginning to emerge in Boulder County, fueled by Slow Money investments in the form of microloans and joint ventures. Some of these initiatives will be unveiled at an investors briefing during EAT LOCAL! Week on Sept. 1, and Slow Money founder Woody Tasch will be a keynote speaker that evening.

Attendance at these events could be very important and meaningful to a political candidate’s constituents.

What we need to know about GMOs

For some, the burgeoning local food shift is a direct response to the nightmarish takeover and corruption of our food supply by big agribusiness. For a nation founded in the name of freedom and equality, it is painfully ironic that we have unwittingly allowed major corporations to undermine our food sovereignty and food security.

There are complex and controversial issues here. But for now, consider that at the very moment that the local food shift seems like it’s beginning to take hold, global forces of the biotech industry and big industrial agriculture are making bold moves to gain pervasive control over our food supply through genetic engineering. We’re no longer just talking about GMO sugarbeets, feed corn, soybeans and cotton. Monsanto has recently announced the advent of GMO sweet corn, the first consumer product actually developed by Monsanto.

A recent article in Fast Company tells the tale: “Up until now, the company’s GM crops have only been available in processed foods — in other words, in little bits and pieces. But now Monsanto is making a move into the consumer market with GM sweet corn, which will be found in a supermarket produce bin or farmers’ market near you starting this fall.”

Monsanto cucumbers and other table vegetables are reportedly soon on the way. They’ve also announced plans to introduce an Omega3producing GMO soybean that produces “fake fish oil.”

The mantra of big industrial ag and biotech is “We must feed the world,” and it’s repeated endlessly by many a “conventional” farmer. The irony of this is that it is largely industrial-scale agriculture that has made possible the dramatic rise in human population over the past 150 years or so, to the point that we are now clearly in population overshoot. The more we attempt to “feed the world,” the bigger that human world gets and the more impossible it is to feed. This is a recipe for global disaster, yet this is precisely the direction that big agribusiness is taking us. There is a name for this: madness.

This mindless drive for growth must come to an end, and it will. But will it mean the end of a way of farming for many conventional farmers? Yes, of course it will. The idea that farmers can grow whatever they want to grow, using whatever methods or technology they choose, and then sell their products anywhere they want or can is an artifact of an era that produced devastating long-term climate change and the greatest planetary extinction of species in 60 million years.

However, it is important to recognize that our conventional farmers are not to blame. They are actually victims of the very system that is driving us all over the cliff.

Here’s the bottom line on GMOs, from widely read French columnist Siv O’Neall: “The greatest threat to the future of food production in the world is the introduction of genetically engineered foods from the biotech industry. Contrary to their mendacious propagandized promises of solving the problem of world hunger through the so-called second green revolution, the biotech companies are instead in the process of destroying the world’s ecosystems, and thus the natural food chains and life cycles. Their goal is certainly not to solve any problem at all, but instead to fill the corporate coffers with the profits from selling their dangerous products to countries with already high mortality rates from malnutrition and starvation.”

Michael Brownlee is co-founder of nonprofit Transition Colorado and its newly formed Slow Money initiative, Localization Partners LLC. He can be reached via email at [email protected] For more information on EAT LOCAL! Week or Transition Colorado, go to

Tropical Storm Irene Causes Heavy Flooding Across Vermont

Monday, August 29th, 2011

We were keen on encouraging everyone else to get ready for the storm, and we probably should have taken our own advice! It seems that while New York City and other major urban areas along the northern East Coast were spared the worst-case-scenario damage, our very own state of Vermont is not faring nearly as well.

Although major media outlets are not reporting many details, we’re tuned in to Vermonters across the state via Twitter and Facebook, and we’re hearing some scary stuff. Luckily it seems that few people have been injured, at least not many injuries are being reported. But many towns are almost completely isolated as heavy flooding has washed out the surrounding roads. Many of Vermont’s historic covered bridges have also succumbed to the rising waters. That may not seem like much of a problem, so what if some antiques get washed away, right? Unfortunately, Vermont’s charming covered bridges are not merely antiques. They’re often the only way to get across the typically calm rivers that flow through the Green Mountain State.

Here are some resources for anyone looking to find out more about the conditions in Vermont.

We hope you’re all safe and dry. Wish Vermont the best in what may be a mucky, lengthy recovery.

East Coast Braces for Hurricane Irene; Here’s How to be Prepared!

Friday, August 26th, 2011

As the first major storm of the 2011 Hurricane season closes in on the East Coast megalopolis (the giant city stretching from DC to NYC), we’d like to take a moment to encourage you to get prepared.

Hurricanes can cause severe damage to infrastructure you probably take for granted, but without which your home and city simply won’t work. Electricity to heat your water, cool the summer air, and light your way down the hall at night. And running water, which due to flooding can become contaminated or stop flowing altogether.

But if you’re ready to stay safe the storm doesn’t have to wreck your weekend. Instead it can be a kind of scary adventure! So to that end, we’ve got some tips to keep you safe should Irene come a-knocking.

Matthew Stein is the author of the book When Technology Fails, an incredibly thorough guide to dealing with life…well, when technology fails!

He’s recently finished a new book, When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival. Smaller in size than WTF, more concise, and focused on the challenges posed by particular types of disaster, this new book belongs in everyone’s preparedness kit—along with a radio and batteries, water, clif bars, and duct tape.

When Disaster Strikes covers how to find and store food, water, and clothing, as well as the basics of installing back-up power and lights. You’ll learn how to gather and sterilize water, build a fire, treat injuries in an emergency, and use alternative medical sources when conventional ones are unavailable.

Now, if only it were back from the printers in time for good ole Irene…

In lieu of that, we’ve got the hefty original, When Technology Fails , and this quick video from the author, in which he explains how to put together an emergency preparedness kit. Watch it now, then get to work! She’s on her way!


Mark Bittman: New Farmers Find their Footing

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Eliot Coleman was one of Chelsea Green’s very first authors back in the mid-1980s. His easy explanations of deep organic farming techniques have been inspiring others since then, and now a legion of new farm entrepreneurs are following the path he helped blaze.

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman looks at Coleman’s legacy, and sees that young organic growers are figuring out how to make a nice little pile of green (money, that is).

When Brenna Chase was farming in Connecticut a few years back, new farmers weren’t always welcome by oldsters. The pie, she says, just wasn’t big enough. “But now,” she said to me here, where she now farms, “the feeling is that the pie is getting bigger and that the more people that get into this the better it will be for everyone.”

By “this,” she means sustainable farming (here I use the term interchangeably with “organic” because many ethical farmers can’t afford organic certification), and the poised 33-year-old, who began farming in high school, is representative of young people I’ve met all over the country. These are people whose concern for the environment led to a desire to grow — and eat — better food. And although chefs still get more attention, the new farmers deserve recognition for their bold and often creative directions.

There’s only a quarter as much land in farming in Maine as there was 100 years ago, but that’s changing. There are more farms today (up around 50 percent since 1992), more acres in farms and more money generated by farming than there were 20 years ago. This is, at least in part, thanks to people like Ms. Chase, who follow in the footsteps (foodsteps?) of one of the granddaddies of can-do, intensive organic farming, Eliot Coleman.

Mr. Coleman runs Four Season Farm in Harborside with his wife, the gardening writer Barbara Damrosch, and has squarely faced nearly every challenge a new farmer can since he started in 1968. Now, the 1.5 acres he cultivates, mostly in vegetables, are not only almost unimaginably lush (Ms. Damrosch’s gorgeous flowers don’t hurt), but they’re so productive that, in his cheerful, wise way, Mr. Coleman almost gloats: “You couldn’t be in a less likely spot than here to do what we’re doing,” he says, “and yet we’ve transformed a poor, wooded area into a place where there’s nothing we can’t grow.” I marvel at his artichokes; he responds: “I grow them just to make the Californians nervous.”

Now 71, Mr. Coleman maintains his long-range view. (He delights in telling the story about unloading a truckload of free clamshells when a county agent came by. “The agent,” says Mr. Coleman, “was incredulous: ‘Those aren’t going to break down for 100 years!’ But I was thinking, ‘I have 100 years of free fertilizer here!’ ”) And he clearly loves the work. (“If work is what you do when you’re not doing what you want,” he quips, “I haven’t worked a day in my life.”)

Read the entire article.

Join Transition Colorado for Eat Local Week!

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Readers in the Rockies, and other frontier foodies, get ready to sample the best Colorado has to offer. From August 27th to September 4th, Transition Colorado is celebrating Eat Local Week 2011. Learn, attend lectures and films about key food issues, and of course, EAT! Visit Transition Colorado for more information, and to register for special events.

Food has always been integral to the way we live. Nowhere are we more powerfully connected than in the daily cultivation, preparation and enjoyment of food—and food is the central component of our health, culture, environment, and relocalization/sustainability efforts.

Transition Colorado’s 2011 EAT LOCAL! Week celebrates the delights and benefits of locally grown and locally processed food, featuring local family farms and farmers’ markets, along with the outstanding restaurants, grocers, and organizations which support them. Please join us for nine days of inspiring and informative events—and an abundance of fresh, delicious local food!

And if you get jazzed about the Transition Town concept while sampling the local finery, take time to learn some more with a book on the subject. Rob Hopkins is the author of the original Transition Handbook, and he’s just finished a new book on this fascinating, five-year-old, global social experiment, The Transition Companion.

A Memoir of a Life Spent Saving Seeds

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Very few people in Iowa have had a greater impact on the movement to protect real food than Diane Ott Whealy. Co-founder of Decorah’s Seed Savers Exchange, she is the author of a new memoir detailing a life obsessed with seeds and soil, farm and family.

In Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver, Ott Whealy takes the reader gently by the hand and retraces a journey that began when her great-grandparents emigrated from Deuschendorf, Germany, and settled outside the tiny immigrant enclave of St. Lucas, in northeast Iowa.  Two seeds that they carried with them on that journey became the motivation for a life’s work in preserving and protecting heirloom seed varieties.  They were what became known as the German Pink Tomato, and Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories.

Those morning glories are grown every year along the south face of the historic, well-preserved post-and-beam barn that is the center of Heritage Farm; the 890-acre spread a few miles north of Decorah that Seed Savers Exchange now calls home.  They are not alone there though, for on that spread they now grow out 10 percent of their massive seed inventory each year to protect and replenish the stock of many thousands of heirloom varieties.  The farm is also home to the historic orchard of over 700 apple varieties and 100 grapes, as well as a small-but-growing herd of endangered Ancient White Park cattle.

Ott Whealy’s pride and joy there, though, is the Preservation Garden for which Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories are the backdrop.  Her “little slice of heaven” displays many of the organization’s most popular varieties of herbs, vegetables and flowers, but more importantly it stands as a testament to her lifelong commitment to a cause.

That cause is important, as Monsanto and other global conglomerates work feverishly to patent various forms of seeds, not with “plant patents” as has been done for centuries, but with “utility patents,” the same kind used, for example, for Microsoft Windows.  This gives them ownership not just of the seed but of all its progeny, thus making the ancient art/science of seed saving illegal.  To the degree that they accomplish this, we all become serfs in a land baron’s fiefdom.

Gathering introduces us to how Seed Savers started as a dream on a small farm in Missouri, shows us how it went from there back to the author’s ancestral home in the driftless region of Iowa, and how it has spread across the world through a contributing membership that numbers in the thousands.

Ott Whealy’s story goes step-by-step, chronologically through the long journey that her grandfather had started for her, through the finding of friends and kindred spirits who would contribute, for example, 1,185 different samples of beans all in one UPS shipment.  Two years later, legendary Rodale seed saver John Withee sent the rest of his collection.  Soon after that, a friend who worked in a Florida hospital would send 3000 half-pint glass infant formula bottles with airtight lids.  Seemed a shame to hide these beautiful bean seeds in opaque plastic.

She also tells of her introduction to another hero of Iowa agriculture (there are several in the book) named Glenn Drowns, who’s Sand Hill Preservation Center in Calamus is now doing for poultry and fowl what SSE is doing for plants.

More recently, Seed Savers Exchange has sent a total of 1,660 open pollinated varieties to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway since it opened in February 2008.

This decision was not without its controversy, as some decried it as a violation of Seed Savers mission because of the involvement of some of the same genetic manipulation firms that are endangering the free exchange of heirloom varieties.  The board of directors of Seed Savers Exchange, though, is steadfast in its belief that contributing to Svalbard makes their stock safer rather than jeopardizing it, because all its seeds remain the property of SSE and cannot be distributed to third parties.

Iowa and the world owe Ott Whealy and SSE a deep debt of gratitude for work that may one day literally save all humanity.  Her memoir is a stirring account of why that is so.

Review reposted from Civil Eats.

Chef Kurt Michael Friese is the founder of Slow Food Iowa City, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors. He is chef and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay for 13 years. Owner and publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley, Friese is a freelance food writer and photographer as well, with regular columns in local, regional and national newspapers, magazines, and online. His book, A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland, was published in 2008, and his most recent book is Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail.

Back to School with Apples, Teachers, and a Modern-day Johnny Appleseed

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I’ve actually only once seen a fellow student place an apple on a teacher’s desk. It was last semester in an upper level philosophy class the day before our final grades were due, and a student who hadn’t said a word the entire semester walked in and silently placed a juicy red apple on our professor’s desk en route to his own. Whether or not this maneuver was effective I never will know, but one thing I do know is that had the student chosen another fruit, such as a pear or an orange, it wouldn’t have been as funny nor nearly as meaningful. Apples are a part of North America’s culture in ways that no other fruits are. Just think of the ways apples have been incorporated into our everyday language:  “You’re the apple of my eye,” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and, one that I have found most handy in arguments, “You can’t compare apples and oranges.”

How did apples come to be such an important part of American culture? In his very impressive book Old Southern Apples, Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. answers this question in very well-researched detail, explaining that about one hundred years ago apples were an important staple of any Southerner’s diet. Fresh apples, pie, cider, and applesauce are just few of the countless ways Southerners incorporated the fruit into their meals. As one of the elderly Southerners Calhoun cites in his book recollects, apples were in some way, shape or form a part of every meal.

Calhoun is a pomologist (a fancy word for apple aficionado) who has spent the last thirty years growing, researching, and hunting for apples. By hunting I don’t just mean sifting through the bins at the supermarket for good apples—rather, Calhoun has devoted his time, energy, and passion to tracking down and locating as many possible of the thousands of varieties of apples known to exist in the South at one point.

“Thousands” is not an exaggeration. Calhoun hypothesizes that about eighty percent of the apples once grown in the South are extinct, yet he still managed to locate 1,800 varieties, all of which are anthologized (and some illustrated) in Old Southern Apples.

Why so many varieties? Part of the answer to this question is practical, part of it is biological. On the one hand, Calhoun points out, each apple was grown for a different reason. While most of the apples we consume today are eaten fresh, the opposite was true one hundred years ago, when apples were used more for cooking, drying, cider, and vinegar. Only a small percentage of apples were eaten fresh, and because of this Calhoun explains that simply biting into an old apple variety will not give a modern apple eater the right appreciation for the utility of the apple. “It is a waste of time to bite into an old apple variety and then disparage its taste or texture,” he says. While an old variety might not be as crisp or sweet to the taste as our modern standards would like, it might have made the best applesauce around. Calhoun encourages his readers and those who purchase apples from his own nursery to extend the use of apples beyond fresh eating. “The only way to appreciate the full palate of old apples is to make the effort to use them in the varied ways they were intended originally.” Because there were so many uses back then, there were so many varieties of apples.

But there’s also something genetically unique about the apple that makes so many varieties possible.  Flowers on apple trees contain both male and female sex parts—the pistil and stamen respectively. This means that apples can be cross-pollinated with pollen from different apples, a process performed by bees and other insects and which yields fertilized eggs that develop into apple seeds. Because these seeds contain genetic information from both the mother tree that carried the apple and the father tree from which the pollen originated, each apple seed is genetically unique. If planted, Calhoun says, each seed will produce a tree different from all other trees. Many trees are planted accidentally, and every once in a while one of these accidental trees will prove to be exceptional.

Calhoun reflects that in this respect, apples resemble humans. “Most of us are born, live, and die as ordinary people, with little to distinguish us from the millions around us. Only very occasionally does a human rise above the crowd by mental genius or exceptional ability… the analogy holds true for apples; every apple seed will grow into a unique tree, but almost always this new tree and its fruit will be quite ordinary. Only once in a long while, and unpredictably, will a seedling apple tree rise above the rest.”

This review was reposted from OKRA: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum. 

Hey Bill Gates, Here’s the Toilet that will Save the World

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Dear Bill Gates,

Your search is over. Please send the $42 million check to my house. I have invented the toilet of your dreams.

On July 19 of this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a strategy to help bring safe, clean sanitation services to millions of poor people in the developing world by investing in the research and development of a new, affordable, and sanitary toilet system. The Foundation is offering $42 million in grants to make this happen.

AKA, the Composting Toilet.

Actually I didn’t invent the composting toilet. It’s been around for years.

In some respects, it’s been around for centuries. It’s not really an invention, more like a discovery. Like when Columbus “discovered” America. Meaning he really didn’t discover it at all, judging by the thousands of people who were already here when he arrived. Some people like to remember it that way though, as crazy as that sounds.

So, like Columbus, maybe I can gain fame for “discovering” the composting toilet when all I may have done is reveal it to people who just don’t know any better.

And judging by the monumental investment by arguably one of the most technologically informed people in the world, it appears this may indeed be the case. Just like the ‘New World’ that was there all along. It’s just new to some people.

I might note once again that it is indeed the 21st Century and this problem of poop should really be solved by now. People have been taking craps for a long, long time. It crosses all races and all religions. It knows no borders. We Are the World. And We Crap. A Lot.

So why haven’t we learned the simple and freely available methods to make use of such a valuable resource. Why do we insist on treating it like toxic waste worthy of multimillion dollar techno-solutions?

What this Century deserves is an equation to solve the poo problem: N (Nitrogen from Poo or Pee) + C (Carbon from any normally compostable plant material) = the solution for all the pootastrophes of the world.

N + C = $

The key to this equation is the addition of ‘C’ (Carbon; plant material) to the ‘N’ (Nitrogen; Poo and Pee). Adding the C allows the most efficient composting action to take place and that completes the equation, resulting in the $. Most crap disasters around the world occur simply because of the lack of adding Carbon in the form of plants.

In practical terms, this simply means Covering Your Stuff with things like straw, hay, weeds, moistened sawdust, peat moss, fine wood chips, etc. Choose any and apply thick enough to thoroughly Cover Your Stuff and snuff out the smell (keeps the flies away as well). If you smell it or see it, you haven’t added enough ‘C’. Cover. Your. Stuff.

Typical failures around the world of just burying the N and making a huge underground pile of it (though in small quantities that will work as any house cat will tell you) are not adequate. Doing this will eventually contaminate ground water because for populated areas it’s too much Nitrogen in one place. And you can’t just throw it in a river as if clean water isn’t a valuable resource like they do in other poor places. Neither can you make an Olympic-sized pool of it like they blindly do on industrial farms with cattle manure. The stink will float for miles, disease vectors (like flies) will proliferate, and the aforementioned contamination of water will eventually result. I mean, what can you expect to happen in these situations? A poo fairy to take it all away one blessed night?

You must complete the equation above by adding the C.

And this modern folly of taking all that Nitrogen, mixing it with perfectly clean drinkable water, and flushing it down tubes and tanks, sending it in a tremendous stinking underground tidal wave of What-Everyone-in-the-City-Just-Ate, miles away to a multimillion dollar treatment facility that nobody wants in their backyard is so fantastically ridiculous that one has to wonder if we’ve really made any progress at all as a species. Are we homo sapiens or homo ignorans? Are we lost in such a technological fantasy world that we believe the only way to solve simple problems is through gadgets and machines? What would Spock do? Beam that Stuff to outer space? Illogical.

Cashing In

Every so often, you have to empty the CYS toilet by dumping it on the compost heap. Then, the real magic begins. Raw stinking “waste” material quickly reveals its true essence, an essential resource; soil fertility in the form of finished compost — humus. By applying it to your garden, a loop has been closed, a wound has been healed in Nature’s optimum system and it is now operating in sustainable-mode again. And that’s just as essential to the survival of humanity as clean water and clean air.

And once the work of depositing the N + C mixture on the compost heap is done, there are no further inputs required. No batteries to charge or replace, no fuel, no machines to maintain or parts to repair, no workers to monitor and be monitored. The rest occurs without effort in Nature’s optimum system. A gift to humanity that has been here since humanity began. No Columbus necessary. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s the answer to the $42 million question. And it’s free.

An additional benefit of composting poo and pee is the sequestering of carbon into the soil, which is about the only effective way to reverse global climate change.

Of course, I have been assured man-made climate change is a hoax, so no one should ever talk about it or do anything about it and we should just shut our mouths and go back to admiring these “natural changes” in climate because even though all evidence points to man-made climate change, some say the sample of evidence is too small so we must naturally conclude that the exact opposite of the evidence must be true because there is not enough evidence to be 100-percent certain. Therefore, because we are not 100-percent certain, we must throw the full weight of evidence in the exact opposite direction until we reach 100-percent certainty. Then, and only then, when we reach 100-percent certainty, can we switch over and accept the ‘theory’ as true and do something about it because the definition of a theory is; if you don’t like it you can ignore it, and that is what a sane person would do, as any half-wit will tell you…

Good Books on Poo

Here are two wonderful resources if you want to take advantage of all the valuable products you produce every day.

Joseph Jenkins is really the Columbus of composting toilets. Or if you prefer, the guru of poopoo. He wrote the “bible” of poo: the Humanure Handbook.

Another book on the positive use of poo on the farm and at home is titled, and I kid you not: Holy Sh*t, Managing Manure to Save Mankind,  by Gene Logsdon.

How to Make Your Own CYS Toilet

You can buy a simple bucket composting toilet from the Humanure website or make one yourself like I did. Follow this link for plans to make your own.

Composting Bucket Toilet Plans

The idea is to keep it simple; just a place to comfortably sit on your bucket. Easy to clean, easy to assemble, make it out of scrap wood for almost no money.

The construction and materials are simple. This one is made out of 2 x 4 framing lumber (ripped into 2 x 2s), plywood leftover from another project, and some extra cedar siding. You could use fence boards or scrounge up any scrap board for the sides though. In my case, the only parts bought specifically for this toilet project were the seat, hinges and buckets.

Back To Bill and His Big Toilet Initiative

Of course, maybe the CYS toilet doesn’t fit Bill’s model of the future. The Gateses of the world envision tubes and lights and machinery and technicians glowering over control panels. Perhaps Nature’s systems, in their eyes, are as obsolete as last year’s software upgrade. The CYS toilet is not gadget worthy. If you can’t imagine Captain Kirk using it, it’s not part of the future. They need Steve Jobs to come out with an iToilet (quickly obsolesced by the iToilet 2 of course). That, unfortunately, is how progress is measured today. May our children be the wiser.

Ode to Poo

In the year 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
discovered an old, old world,
and called it ‘New’.
500 years later,
we’ve gone to the moon,
and still we know not,
the value of poo.
That’s not quite true,
Bill Gates named a price,
at least for the loo,
it’s in the millions,
about 42.

James Young is the owner of Blue Wheelbarrow Landscaping in Edmonds. This article was reposted from

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