Dead Bees, 4th of July & Sacred Tobacco

July 4, 2014

July 4, 2014 - When I read the news this morning of how Home Depot and other major retailers are selling home gardeners plants which are treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, now known to be a principal factor in the collapse of bee populations, it sent me into a disquieted reverie.

tobAs I’ve previously written about at length, the neonicotinoid poisons causing the collapse of bee colonies are a synthetic form of the sacred native plant tobacco.

For millennia here on Turtle Island (North America) tobacco has been known and respected as the chief, or most powerful, of what are spoken of as the four sacred herbs, which also include sage, cedar and sweetgrass.

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and other framers of the Declaration of Independence – which we celebrate on the 4th of July – smoked sacred tobacco when they met and consulted with representatives the oldest living participatory democracies in the world, the Haudenausenee, or Iroquois Six Nation and the Lenape. Used in a proper manner, native tobacco has potential for great good.

Out of those meetings, sanctified with tobacco, native traditions of democracy became a key influence on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is a much-overlooked part of America’s history as detailed in Gregory Schaff’s book Wampum Belts and Peace Trees.

Later when the founders finally did constitute the US of A they made a grave omission by leaving out a core element of Native democracy: the role of women. Thus American democracy was not whole. Women had no voice in US government until the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1920.

Likewise, when chemical corporations took up the tobacco plant as a model they overlooked the whole, sacred dimension of the plant and created a limited, synthetic version. They exaggerated the yang element of tobacco to produce nicotine analogs bearing names such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, and thiamethoxam.

Rather than using sacred tobacco in a respectful manner to promote life, the chemical corporations  manufactured life-annihilating poisons – the neonicotinoids – which are now killing off our bees and other pollinators. Tobacco has been perverted, chemically synthesized to an extreme yang (masculine) state, and has thereby become a major factor in collapsing the balance of nature – essential to our survival.

Gardeners who buy plants may become unwitting accomplices in this destruction of life. According to the Friends of the Earth, until further notice gardeners should assume the plants they buy from most garden centers contain neonicotinoid pesticides. We need to ask questions and continue to advocate for revolutionary change — a natural, healthy balance in our gardens and farm fields.

Otherwise, as the New York Times has editorialized, “nothing less than the world’s ability to produce food is at risk from these chemicals.”


Historic Pivot Point for Food Democracy

April 24, 2014
Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, from Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, Wikimedia Commons.

“Something is happening at this point in history,” Katherine Kelly said as she brought to conclusion an April 17 lecture by international farm activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. “We are at a point in time where we can make an important change. Dr. Shiva is helping to lead the way. The rest is up to us.”

Kelly, the Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, articulated an overarching context for Shiva’s acute critique of the food system as well as her inspirational entreaties.

The context of Shiva’s presentation was further framed by three signal events. National Geographic had just published a cover story focused on the increasingly pertinent “New Food Revolution.” Meanwhile, more significantly, US merchandizing behemoth Walmart announced a program to create an industrialized organic food production system that they intend to use to “drive down the price of organic food.” The same week merchandizing rival Target Corp. also announced it was increasing its offerings of “natural, organic and sustainable” food.

Love Window CROPPED and STRAIGHTENEDIn counterpoint to these industrial-scale, profit-focused initiatives, when Dr. Shiva took the stage at Unity Temple in Kansas City, she swept her arm back, gesturing to a stained-glass window with a star burst and the word love spelled out. “That’s it,” she said. “Love. Love is the altar. It’s all about love, about bestowing attention, fostering, cherishing, honoring, tending, guarding, and loving the Earth which provides our food. The only way we can cultivate that essential ingredient of love is with community and diversity.”

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

* * * * * * * *

A physicist by training, Dr. Shiva became an activist for small-scale, decentralized sustainable agriculture in 1987. That’s when she acquired insight into the motivation behind industrial farming and genetic engineering. She attended a conference on biotechnology and heard representatives of chemical corporations say that they must do genetic engineering on crops because it is a way to start claiming ownership over life.

“If we can claim ownership,” the corporate representatives reasoned according to Shiva, “then we can then collect rent or royalties on the seeds’ capacity to reproduce themselves.”

Shiva argued that it is absurd that corporations are allowed to codify life as a patentable and profitable form. “GMO,” she said, “has come to mean ‘God Move Over.’ It violates the rights of the Earth, the rights of the farmers, and the rights of the people who need to eat food to live. The patenting of life violates every principle of law and ethics and morality.”

278187This kind of one-dimensional, profit-based thinking is the core of what Shiva wrote about in her seminal 1993 book, Monocultures of the Mind. Coming at the subject from her mastery of particle physics and her understanding of the fundamental inseparability of all facets of life, she concluded that “issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.”

Shiva argues in her book and in her lectures that a mechanical monocultural mindset has led to vicious circle of injurious impacts in the realms of farms, food and the environment.

“A monoculture of the mind in the economic system is what has led to corporate globalization,” she said in her Kansas City talk. “A monoculture of the mind makes it appear as if the only market that there is, is the globalized market controlled by the global giants, whereas the real market, and the real economy, are the economies of nature. That is where local food movements and systems are becoming the solution to the multiple crises created by the monoculture monopoly system.”

Our mainstream food system is designed by corporate entities having a responsibility to shareholders, investors, and private owners, she said. The bottom line is the almighty dollar. But in maximizing certain kinds of production, we are systematically ‘weeding out’ other kinds of life.

Through the monoculture of the mind we have been establishing what Shiva termed an “Empire of Man” over the earth and lesser creatures (which for people immersed in the monoculture of the mind also includes women and indigenous peoples). It constitutes an attempt at a mechanistic takeover of the universe.

“Diversity has everything to do with food,” Shiva said. “In fact, any system that is not a diversified agriculture system is something else. It’s an industrial system that is producing non-food, food that is unworthy of being eaten and that is creating huge problems in health. Real food provides the diversity of nutrients that our body needs – the trace elements, the micronutrients…Diversity creates decentralization, and decentralization creates democracy.”

Having greater diversity of seeds and of local, smaller-scale farms and food processing operations creates a wealth of options, Shiva said. “We need to intensify diversity and biology, and we can do that only through love.”

Diversity loves diversity, because it is freedom. This, she has said, is a political act, a kind of revolution. To further that revolution, and to save seeds in her home nation of India, Shiva founded Navdanya, a nonprofit organization named for the nine crops that provide food security in India.

* * * * * * * *

With Dr. Shiva’s analysis in mind, one cannot help but question the impact and outcome of Walmart’s and Target’s announced intentions to aggressively exploit what Wall Street financial analysts have branded as “the hot organic market.”

Doubtless some good will arise from increasing the number of farms using chemical-free growing practices, and the wider availability of food with decreased chemical contaminants. But the entry of such large-scale corporate players into a traditionally modest-scale and decentralized endeavor is a game changer. It’s also representative of the industrial mindset that Vandana Shiva – and advocates of food democracy – regard as profoundly troubling.

The burgeoning interest of people in clean, local food, and the accelerated entry of Walmart and Target into the realm of organic food and sustainable agriculture, establishes a critical pivot point for the food democracy movement.

As farmer John Peterson of Angelic Organics recently explained to me, farmers get beat in to the ground when they work for prices set by wholesalers, and must struggle to make their mortgage, equipment and labor payments and all the rest.

When retailers and wholesalers are in command – as they are in industrial-scale operations – efficiency and profitability become the dominant values. Farmers are contracted under these values and thereby relegated to the role of corporate vassals, laboring in servitude to fulfill the terms of contract on quantity, quality, timing, and pricing – all factors that have little to do with nature or with the rising spirit of the food democracy movement.

“You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure,” farmer Peterson told me. “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism. It cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also.”

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

This is one of the key points Vandana Shiva strove to get across in her Kansas City visit. We have arrived at a pivot point for the food democracy movement. We need a fundamental transformation in the way we regard and relate to farms and food. An industrial-scale monoculture of the mind, and a monoculture of putative organic farms and food, are unlikely to fulfill this ideal. Instead they present a complex range of potentially corrupting possibilities.

“We need to cultivate freedom, to cultivate hope, to cultivate diversity,” Shiva told the Kansas City audience. “We need to build the direct relationship between those who grow the food and those who eat it. Care for people has to be the guiding force for how we produce, process, and distribute our food.”

“We need to shift the paradigm of economics to measure the well being of people,” she said, “not the profits of the oligarchs.”

Shiva spoke about the drastic climate changes underway, and also the corporate hegemony at work around the world. “Our responses must be quick, but not desperate, and also simple,” she said. “Simplicity is the highest order – the simplicity of good food, safe food, and food produced and consumed in love. This can only come out of community. Cultivate compassion, love and food democracy. Food democracy is about action, changing the way we eat every time we take a bite. It’s about people learning, engaging and acting in our food systems.”

“Every movement for human freedom throughout history has needed people to lead, people who stand for love and for higher law. That’s the challenge we face now,” Shiva said. “That is what we need.”

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.


Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices

March 14, 2014

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a major new two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices (Macmillan). My chapter on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is among the many elements of this comprehensive resource.

Achieving Sustainability coverSustainable development is essential to our future.

Designed to increase understanding, inform actions, enrich academic assignments, and enhance research, Macmillan’s Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, And Practices is a reference work intended to meet the needs of students and educators in high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges, as well as the interested layperson.

Aimed at readers who are not experts in the field, the material is relevant to courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

This title presents and analyzes the underpinnings of the multi-disciplinary concept of sustainability. A two-volume encyclopedia containing more than 130 signed entries, Achieving Sustainability covers economic and environmental ideas, as well as governance, demographic, and socio-cultural aspects of the concept.


The Future of CSA Farms: Podcast Conversation

March 4, 2014

pcastCommunity Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an agrarian movement that arose in America starting in the 1980s. In an era of general farm consolidation and industrialization CSA has continued to develop. By now there are many thousands of farms and many hundreds of thousands of households networked directly with local farms.

The initial vision of CSA arose in the context of wide recognition of the necessity for renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. The vision united farmers and consumers in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet, and explicitly recognized the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of human cultures. CSA emerged as a web of relationships.

Recently I had an opportunity to engage in conversation about the movement and its future with two renowned CSA farmers: Jean Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm in New York, and Allan Balliett of Fresh and Local CSA in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

My thanks to Allan for creating and hosting BDnow Podcast 017 – The Future of CSA, and to Jean Paul for sharing his experience and insight.

As it happens, I must demur on the matter of “foremost…philosopher,” which is a descriptor applied to me in the podcast. CSA farms arose as a community supported concept. “The idea of CSA was in the air in the late 1980s.” Many different people were contributing to the thoughts and practices, including Jan Vander Tuin, John Root, Jr., Andrew Lorand, Robyn Van En, Elizabeth Henderson, Anthony Graham, Lincoln Geiger, and Alice Groh. Trauger Groh – my coauthor on Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited – had a profound and eloquent grasp of farming and of the budding CSA vision.  My role with CSA in those days, and ongoingly, has been not to philosophize, but rather to listen closely and then to write about what I learn.

Farmland,_Stokenchurch_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1013299

#csa #organicfarmers #organic #agrarian


CSA Farm Book Goes Global

February 3, 2014

Höfe der ZukunftA pioneering book that helped spark the CSA farm movement in the United States has now been published in a German-language edition.

Farms of Tomorrow, the first book on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), authored by Trauger Groh and Steven McFadden back in 1989-90 when they were neighbors in New Hampshire, has just been published in a German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

Journalist McFadden, a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska for the last several years, is the author of 12 other nonfiction titles including Profiles in Wisdom, and The Call of the Land. The various editions of the farm book he co-authored with farmer and philosopher Trauger Groh have helped to catalyze the development of CSA in America.

CSAs are farms and food distribution systems that directly unite farmers and consumers in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet. Consumer households invest in shares of a farm’s harvest in advance, and the farm reciprocates with weekly supplies of fresh, clean locally grown food.

By now there are well over 8,500 CSAs in the USA, and many thousands more in other nations, including Canada, France, Australia, Israel, and China. The steady growth and development of these new farms in the USA has come through an era beginning in the 1980s when traditional family farms have continued to decline for a host of reasons, and to be swallowed by increasingly larger operations.

farmscover.thumbFarms of Tomorrow was published by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association in English since 1990; the 2nd edition of the book, Farms of Tomorrow Revisited was published in 1998, with many new chapters including one by Marcie Ostrom on CSA coalitions. The book has also been published in Japanese, and Russian translations. Now, nearly a quarter century after the CSA farm book first came out, it’s available in a handsome new German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

German farmer and scholar Wolfgang Stranz worked for over a year to translate Farms of Tomorrow, and to write a special new chapter for readers in Germany and Austria.

As Resurgence Magazine noted in a review, “it is rare to come across any practical farming guide that sets out, from its inception, a set of principles that embrace social, spiritual, and economic concerns on completely equal terms. The wisdom and clarity of philosophy are striking throughout.”  CSA is a dynamic movement at the heart of agricultural renewal.

The German-language edition of the book, Hofe der Zukunft, is available here.

The English-language edition of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, published by the Biodynamic Association, is available on Amazon.com and through Steiner Books.

 


The Future of Food is Local

November 19, 2013

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln (author photo)

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln
(author photo)

Michael Brownlee stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska on Monday evening and gave a talk about local food. Detailing the systemic weaknesses in the juggernaut of industrial agriculture, which now provides about 98% of our food, he commented: ”food is the one area where we are all most vulnerable, and where the need is most urgent.”

Brownlee and his partners at Local Food Shift are out to catalyze the national movement in local food helping to take it to the next level — from a culture of consumers, to a culture of contributors. He considers their efforts in the Front Range of Colorado to be a Whole Systems Demonstration Project.

“The way we feed ourselves is the most important social, environmental, health and economic undertaking of our times,” he said. “Food is going to come soon to the forefront of emerging human calamities.”

Brownlee cited the draft report leaked earlier this month from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In blunt language, that report spells out the trend: “climate change will seriously damage the world’s ability to feed itself in the coming decades. The report confirms previous studies’ findings that climate change could exacerbate poverty, strain water supplies, make extreme weather more common and increase conflict around the world.

Local food is a core response to impending catastrophes, accentuated by climate change. The world’s agricultural areas will shift, causing an overall decline in agricultural production. The movement toward local food comes at the juncture of a troubling array of global environmental and economic crises, he said, and responds to them in a healthy and positive way.

The Local Food Shift campaign is designed to empower communities to marshal their efforts in beginning to shift their food systems towards the local. They are creating and making available tools and processes to empower the local food movement.

“The global food system is now teetering on the edge of collapse,” Brownlee asserted. “The future of food is local – as close to home as possible. Local food production helps to reverse the wide spiral of damage caused by industrial agriculture and the industrial growth society.”

Brownlee concluded his talk with a quote from economist Herman Daly, author of several books, including For the Common Good (1994).  “If economics is reconceived in the service of community, it will begin with a concern for agriculture and specifically for the production of food. This is because a healthy community will be a relatively self-sufficient one…The most fundamental requirement for survival is food. Hence, how and where food is grown is foundational to an economics for community.”


World Food Production & Local Food Production

June 21, 2013

StalkWhen I heard about the historically feeble wheat crop of 2013 I began to look around again in the realm of world food production, and once again to connect dots. The sad state of the wheat crop in America’s Central Plains is happening right in my back yard of Nebraska, so that’s what captured my attention again. But the wheat tribulations of the Heartland are but part of far larger story about world food production with far greater implications for local food production.

Anyone paying attention to news about world food production should have snapped to attention by now, and should be motivated for action to promote, develop and expand local food production systems. That’s just common sense. The pattern of the news about food and farms is a steady concerning drumbeat, a thumping call to attention.

Yet further rigorous international studies released this week declare that the world is lurching towards an agricultural crisis, with crop production falling behind rates needed in coming decades.

stormIn one case, in a follow up to the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Risk Assessment, a just released official report stated that climate change abroad would have a more immediate effect than climate change at home. Taking the most reasonably optimistic view possible, the report states that the UK is likely to be hit by increasingly volatile prices of many food commodities as the climate is disrupted.

Global production of many key foodstuffs is concentrated in a just few countries. Those countries are likely to suffer increasing episodes of extreme weather. As a consequence, the report states, the biggest threats are shortages of particular items, increased volatility in food prices in general, and constricting protectionist measures over food.

Threats from climate change overseas appear an order of magnitude higher than domestic threats, the report’s authors told BBC News.

Those same events would, naturally, also impact the economy, food supply, and the cost of food in North America, and elsewhere. Like it or not, we are all one planet. That’s an inescapable fact of life in 2013.

The paper regards climate change not only as fact, but as a multiplier of other threats. “Already price volatility of resources is the new normal,” the authors told BBC News. “This only looks as though it will get worse.”

Meanwhile, arising from the Southern hemisphere, another report warns that famine and its ancient, aggravating companion, war, are becoming an increasingly likely part of Australia’s future as the world struggles to feed itself.

“Clearly, the world faces a looming agricultural crisis, with yield increases insufficient to keep up with projected demands,” according to authors of the report. ”We have no time to waste.”

Shortages and rising prices are creating a double whammy: families struggling to put food on the table, while at the same time governments in the US, Australia and elsewhere are cutting back on food support and other social welfare programs.

tpIn concert with obvious climate concerns is the political-corporate context. America’s Green Shadow Cabinet has just formally opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an assault against food sovereignty. According to the Cabinet’s analysis, the trade agreement – now under secret international negotiation — places the profits of multinational companies ahead of the food security needs of individual nations.

One corner of our backyard garden in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One corner of our backyard garden in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Access to food is a basic human right, the Cabinet asserts. The TPP, however, expands the cold, materialistic notion that food is just another commodity subject to financial speculation and exploitation to increase the profits of multinational corporations.

TPP promotes not local, but rather export-oriented food production. In its analysis, the Cabinet found that  passage of the trade agreement would increase global hunger and malnutrition, alienate millions from their resources of land, water, seeds, and technology and, thwart generations of accumulated cultural knowledge.

“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to control their own food and agriculture…to guarantee the independence and food sovereignty of all of the world’s peoples, it is essential that food is produced though diversified, community based production systems.”

* * * *

Open Harvest food coop in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Open Harvest food coop in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In the context of all these dots of information about world food production, and many others, local food production emerges as not just wise and beneficial for a host of reasons, but also imperative.

In my own life I think not just of my backyard vegetable garden as one wee element of local food production, but also of our local food coop, Open Harvest, which is now nearing 40 years of operation. Open Harvest is an active market agent buying food from over 110 organic, sustainable farms ranged around Nebraska’s capital city of Lincoln, and then selling that food at reasonable cost. Just participating in a local food coop as one of thousands of member-owner makes a huge difference in the push to develop local production systems.

There are hundreds of other proven pathways open now for the development of our local food systems, ranging from local farms, CSAs, coops, farmers markets, community kitchens, farm-to-school programs and other community agrarian initiatives. If you are paying attention to world food production, you will recognize that it is time now to be active in local food production, something both wise and increasingly imperative.


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