Planting Rebellion: Seed-saving as a subversive act…


“In the course of getting a plate of food to our table, we’re paying a lot of attention to the farmer, the chef, the farmers market — all of that is as it should be, but we pay very little attention to the thing that starts it all, the seed.” That sentiment comes from Janisse Ray, farmer and author of the new book The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.

And it’s true; for many of us, seeds are a mysterious, invisible piece of the food puzzle. While we’re busy thinking about how to fix our food economies, seeds often slip through the cracks. And we’ve lost an almost unfathomable amount of genetic diversity as a result; depending on whom you ask, anywhere between 75 to 95 percent of our fruit and vegetable varieties have been lost for good. Highly functional, often bland, hybridized and genetically engineered varieties have taken over the commercial market — as opposed to the more delicate, complex heirloom varieties with stories and names attached, such as Dragon Tongue beans, Country Gentleman sweet corn, and May Queen lettuce — and Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta now own over half of the world’s seeds.

So, you might say Ray’s book has appeared just in time. In it, she makes a compelling argument for seed-saving as a subversive act that has the potential to undermine industrial agribusiness and takes readers to the farms and gardens of people around the country who are growing, collecting, and swapping seeds.

“Our grandparents and great-grandparents were caretakers of seeds. Now we rent them,” she told me in a recent interview. Eighty-eight percent of corn is genetically engineered, for instance, says Ray, and it has been engineered so that it’s impossible to save.

Transition: Manifesto for a post-growth economy…

America the Possible

From YES!
Transition Voice

Editor’s introduction: Gus Speth has been a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advisor to presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the head of the United Nations’ largest international assistance program, and Dean at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“Right at the time I should be settling into a rosy retirement,” Speth says, “I find I am instead quite alarmed about the appalling future we’re on track to leave our grandchildren.” His new book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, is about how transformative change can come to America, what life would be like in the attractive future that is still within our power to build, and what we need to do to realize it.

In this excerpt adapted from America the Possible, Speth takes on the tricky issue of post-growth prosperity. For more specific details about the policies under discussion here, check out the book.

We tend to see growth as an unalloyed good, but an expanding body of evidence is now telling us to think again. Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for most it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people, and creating more problems than it solves for those in affluent societies.

Americans are substituting growth and ever more consumption for doing the things that would truly make us and our country better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States rose sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction.

Revolution: TV tells the Inconvenient Truth…

Post Carbon Institute

From the NBC website: Well, one day, like a switch turned off, the world is suddenly thrust back into the dark ages. Planes fall from the sky, hospitals shut down, and communication is impossible. And without any modern technology, who can tell us why? Now, 15 years later, life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down, the lanterns and candles are lit. Life is slower and sweeter. Or is it?

And so, no matter how implausible or improbable the storytelling, Revolution offers an entry point for millions into a deeper understanding of energy scarcity issues.

I just watched my first prime time television show in years, NBC’s Revolution.

It’s fifteen years after the Great Blackout. The United States, at the very least, is entirely free of electricity for reasons as yet unknown (but it sure smells like, get this, a conspiracy!)  Humans have left the cities for the countryside to live in communal villages or prey on one another. The good guys sport henleys and hoes.

Gina Covina: Fall Equinox…

Laughing Frog Farm

Here we are at the equinox, that small moment of balance between summer and fall when day and night divide the hours equally and half the summer garden is finished. I’m feeling the expansive generosity of summer’s abundance and the anxious urge to hoard for winter in equal measure, spiked by sudden washes of sadness at all the endings.

The weather has been combining summer and fall in equal portions for the past week – lows in the upper 30s, making early morning chores something to wrap up for (or postpone), while afternoons still reach at least the upper 80s. In the cool evening I make the rounds of the gardens retrieving layers of clothing shed during the day.

While some of our summer crops are through for the year – melons, winter squash, corn, soybeans – others gamely continue to produce, albeit at a slower pace. Now is the time to assess the cold tolerance of tomato varieties – Japanese Black Trifele, Greek Asimina, and Black Cherry have barely slowed their pace, while others balk. Asian cucumbers keep on (with hoop house protection). The bulky Feherozon paprika peppers are finally moving through orange to red, after months standing pale yellow on the plants (the yellow stage is delicious, but we’re growing them for seed this year so all summer we’ve just looked).

This moment of balance at the equinox is spacious but brief – already it’s time to resume the harvest, make apple sauce and raisins and pie, water the fall garden starts – to fall headlong into the new season. It’s not called fall for nothing.

Vandana Shiva: Organic farming is the only way to produce food without harming the planet and people’s health…

Common Dreams

Myths About Industrial Agriculture

 “The food revolution is the biggest revolution of our times, and the industry is panicking,” says Vandana Shiva

Reports trying to create doubts about organic agriculture are suddenly flooding the media. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, people are fed up of the corporate assault of toxics and GMOs. Secondly, people are turning to organic agriculture and organic food as a way to end the toxic war against the earth and our bodies.

At a time when industry has set its eyes on the super profits to be harvested from seed monopolies through patented seeds and seeds engineered with toxic genes and genes for making crops resistant to herbicides, people are seeking food freedom through organic, non-industrial food.

The food revolution is the biggest revolution of our times, and the industry is panicking. So it spins propaganda, hoping that in the footsteps of Goebbels, a lie told a hundred times will become the truth. But food is different.

We are what we eat. We are our own barometers. Our farms and our bodies are our labs, and every farmer and every citizen is a scientist who knows best how bad farming and bad food hurts the land and our health, and how good farming and good food heals the planet and people.

One example of an industrial agriculture myth is found in “The Great Organic Myths” by Rob Johnston, published in the August 8 issue of The Tribune.

William Edelen: Dogs of Valor… Dogs of Eminence…

Toward the Mystery

In my 50 years of writing newspaper columns and essays, no other column has been such a “labor of love” as this one on the War Dogs of combat who brought many members of our fighting military home safely. My journey for this emotional and educational experience started with my personal friendship with world-renown sculptor, A. Thomas Schomberg and his wife Cynthia, who often attend my Sunday Symposium in Palm Springs. Thomas was the artist who did the War Dog Memorial in front of the Museum at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California.

It was built by the support of veterans and the public without one cent of government money, in an effort to honor each and every valiant war dog and their efforts to save lives and prevent countless casualties. In Tom’s own words: “It is to illustrate the sacrifice that these two figures have made under combat circumstances, and to illustrate the bond between humans and their canine friends.”

A veterinarian serving in Vietnam wrote: “Without these dogs there would be a lot more than 50,000 names on the Vietnam wall.” Dogs in warfare have a long history starting in ancient times. War dogs have been trained for combat and to be used as scouts, sentries and trackers. War dogs were used by Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Slavs, Britons and Romans. Frederick the Great used dogs during the “seven years war” with Russia, and, of course, in  all American wars to the present day of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. Captured Vietcong told of the fear and respect that they had for the dogs. The Vietcong even placed a bounty

Will Parrish: Coastal Trail Or Trail Of Tears?


The physical geography that First Nations people have historically inhabited conveniently remains a mystery to most people in the dominant society. Seemingly, those willfully ignorant of such knowledge would include everyone in decision-making positions at the City of Fort Bragg and the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) who, for the better part of a decade, have been devising an infrastructure project along 4.5 miles of coastline outside of the city without bothering to consult the people who have inhabited the land since time immemorial.

Those people, the Northern Pomo, lived along the coastal bluffs and contiguous redwood forests in and around what is now called “Fort Bragg” for at least 10,000 years prior to the arrival of Gold Rush-era California intruders. Many Northern Pomo people are currently part of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria in Willits, which is comprised of various coastal Pomo people. But some still live right in the vicinity of the historical Pomo village of Kaidu, near the mouth of the Noyo River.

The infrastructure project, known as the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail and Restoration Project, encompasses virtually all of the beachfront land west of the city, north of the Noyo River, and south of the Georgia Pacific Mill site.

On the surface, most people would view the project as entirely benign. It dovetails nicely with the cultural sensibilities and economic interests of most people in the area, outdoors enthusiasts and those linked to the coast’s tourist economy being chief among them. The project would develop a network of trails and walking paths

Todd Walton: Moving Experiences

Under The Table

Marcia and I are moving from the house we’ve rented for the past seven years into a house (five miles away) we just bought. Miracle of miracles, the little gem came to us as if in a dream, and in the dream we could afford to buy her, so we did. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the new (old) house has required a great deal of work (eight weeks every day from morning until night) to be habitable when we make the great leap to living there this coming week, and the worse news is that we have to leave this house we have become so deeply attached to, and in so moving deal with ALL OUR STUFF!

Moving Experience #1: I confront a heavy cardboard box I dragged from Santa Cruz to Sacramento in 1979, Sacramento to Berkeley in 1995, Berkeley to Mendocino in 2006, and now Mendocino to another place in Mendocino in 2012. In faint felt pen on the outside of the box are the words Todd stories, go through. And I realize that I have never followed the dictates of that bygone felt pen but have continued to schlep this fifty-pound archive around with me for thirty-some years because…

Maybe I had better things to do. Maybe I had more room, more time, more tolerance for mysterious stuff taking up space. In any case, now I open the box and spend a couple hours skimming through dozens of short stories, two plays, and two novels I have only the vaguest memories of writing, though each novel consumed a year or more of my life. I end up saving a few of the stories and the two plays because a few of the lines grab me and hint they might lead to something good and new. The rest I dump into the recycling can to be picked up tomorrow, and as I dump those thousands of pages I feel a brief twinge of sorrow followed immediately by stupendous relief.

The Inevitable Decline of Retail…

of two minds

Online shopping is rippling through the economy, affecting not just retail but energy consumption and the job market.

Correspondent Marc A. responded to my recent entry Is Anybody Else Tired of Buying and Owning Stuff? (September 7, 2012) with an informed commentary on how online shopping is affecting the retail sector.
Here is Marc’s commentary:

“Yes, online shopping has much room for growth. Given three days the “Brown Truck Store” has an infinite breadth and depth of inventory. A good example are the $39.95 Asic Gel running shoes I’m ordering from an eBay vendor. “Free shipping”. They have my size and are much cheaper than local shoe stores which are also often ‘out’ of my preferred size and style. I can wait four days.

And it’s infinitely cheaper in terms of fuel and energy for one Brown Truck Store to deliver to 600 consumers a day than it is for these 600 consumers to sally forth in 600 vehicles to local stores that are more expensive and aren’t nearly as well-stocked. Once delivery densities in neighborhoods grow large enough UPS and FedEx will add additional men to trot the packages up to doors while the truck rolls slowly down the street. They do this at Christmas time already. Soon it will be standard. But this is only an interim solution.

Once delivery density is high enough UPS & FedEx ground will do what Waste Management has already done. Waste Management compelled the use of standard green wheeled bins that can be picked up by a mechanical arm. And they fired the 50% of the labor force that was riding the back end of the truck and emptying garbage cans manually. UPS/FedEx/DHL/USPS will organize the compulsory installation

Taxes Over The Life Cycle…


Mark Thoma has the best data post so far on the execrable Romney speech, linking to the Hamilton Project work on taxes. This work makes a crucial point: even aside from the fact that there are other taxes besides the income tax, even aside from the larger point that lower-income working Americans are hardly grifters, the fact is that the vast majority of Americans do pay income taxes at some point in their life:

Thanks to the child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, a fair number of working families with young children pay no income tax; thanks to the exemption on Social Security, many older Americans pay no income tax. But in middle age, close to 80 percent of the population pays income taxes, and even more, of course, pay federal taxes of some kind.

So the notion that almost half of our citizens are grifters isn’t just vile; it’s also based on a complete misunderstanding of tax realities.