Thursday, April 2, 2009
But whether it be the hyper-exploitation of natural resources or the subjugation of other humans, both undermine long term survivability and both stem directly from our innate desire to live lives of luxury and comfort. So I think this is our natural predicament as humans: in tough times we start out by surviving anyway we can, and then, as some semblance of stability is achieved, we reach out for more in an attempt to become more comfortable. This pursuit eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns, usually rather quickly, and mother nature (or hoards of hungry peasants) slap us down to repeat the cycle. And it's pretty clear where we are in the cycle now -- can the class spell O-V-E-R-S-H-O-O-T ?!? yep, time to brace ourselves for an epic smack down.
But there's no need to panic, we can take comfort in knowing that there is plenty of precedent in the story of life on the planet. Ours is a most natural predicament. Indeed, it connects us with every other species on the planet, which thrive and proliferate when their habitats are conducive, and then starve and die off when ecological overshoot is reached, thus maintaining the balance and health of the ecosystem. When considered within this larger context, our so-called 'environmental problems' do not represent a sustainability crisis at all -- life on earth will continue to thrive and evolve, with or without us. All we are left with is one, rather weighty choice: Do we hang on to our precious 'lifestyles' until the bitter end, passing the buck to future generations and multiplying their misery in the process, or to we get a FUCKING grip and take responsibility for the problems staring us all in the face.
Oh yeah, and one other thing I'd like to say: a big FUCK U to our celebrated global political leadership (represented by the UN, IMF, World Bank, G-6, G-8, G-could ya shampoo me crotch!) What leadership? Where was it in Kyoto? Where was it during Greenspan's slick tenure at the Fed? where has it been for the past 60 years, since WWII? Short answer -- in the pocket of Corporate America. The sooner we face the fact that we live in an era of unimaginable corporate greed and govt. corruption, the sooner we can pursue an empowered response. So forget the G-20, it's just a big P.R. opportunity for the leaders of the richest countries in the world. And forget Obama's current agenda (he's a great man, and he's a poignant symbol, but our system is rotten to the core, and you can't slap a band aid on a melanoma and call it all better.) Unfortunately, Mr. O alone can't save us. We are the ones we've been waiting for! We need to boycott the big and the transnational, and support the small and the local whenever and wherever possible. And we need to hold each other accountable. We need to understand the poisons we are ingesting in our conventional food supply, and we need to make some noise about it! Only then will we give Obama the opportunity to respond intelligently to the will of the inspired masses who elected him.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Here is an inteview with Bill McKibben, who has been instrumental in organizing the upcoming events in October. http://globalpublicmedia.com/reality_report_bill_mckibben
Some background about the interview:
The Reality Report talks to Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: TheWealth of Communities and the Durable Future and co-founder of the climate change group 350.org.
Over the past year or so, much of the thinking about the severity and timeline of climate change has undergone a major shift. In the fall of 2007, a report titled The Big Melt came out that reviewed the rapid loss of polar ice and its likely implications. In December 2007 James Hansen presented a paper at the American Geophysical Union in which it was argued that safe levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were at least below 350 parts per million, and in fact may be less than 300 ppm. For anyone familiar with climate science and policy this was a stunning conclusion because current levels of CO2 are over 385 ppm. During the winter of 2008 a new report titled Climate Code Red was released that greatly expanded upon The Big Melt and delved into the socio-political implications of the new scientific information, essentially framing the issue in terms of survival requirements on a damaged spaceship Earth. Soon afterwards, a climate activist group called 350.org was formed by Bill McKibben and friends to spread the message that policy targets need to reflect the scientific imperative.
Previous shows of the Reality Report interviewed Jamie Henn, a cofounder of 350.org, and Philip Sutton, a co-author of Climate Code Red.
This show brings us up to date since those developments--and a lot has occurred, including international climate change policy meetings in Poland, more information from scientists, a new U.S. president, and major disruptions to the global economy.
I am very pleased to have Bill McKibben on the program. Bill has been along-time champion of ecologically grounded economies, a safe climate campaigner, a popular writer, and teacher to many.
For more information, here are two sites dealing with policies and mechanisms on carbon emissions: http://www.capanddividend.org/http://www.carbontax.org/
Monday, March 2, 2009
"The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems
arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources,
the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been
brought about by humanity's trying to accomplish something. Originally
there was no reason to progress, and nothing that had to be done. We
have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a
'movement' not to bring anything about." --excerpt from The One Straw
Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
In places with an ideal climate and ecology for agriculture (like central and western Europe) maybe a sustainable system of food production could feed the locals, but it would still be tough because of population density in those places. The obvious pattern of history is that all the nice places with fertile soil and ample rainfall get settled and civilized first, which means that they now have big populations to support.
Then there is the relatively recent phenomenon of desert boomtowns -- which is literally unprecedented in history; Vegas, Phoenix, Dubai, the entire country of Saudi Arabia. These places were very poor until very recently, and they will likely be poor again. Who knows how bad it will get. Anyway, I've stayed true to form and gone off on a tangent without answering my own question. That's because I found a website that answers it better than I could. This is from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:
Sustainable agriculture is one that produces abundant food without depleting the earth’s resources or polluting its environment. It is agriculture that follows the principles of nature to develop systems for raising crops and livestock that are, like nature, self-sustaining. Sustainable agriculture is also the agriculture of social values, one whose success is indistinguishable from vibrant rural communities, rich lives for families on the farms, and wholesome food for everyone. But in the ﬁrst decade of the 21st Century, sustainable agriculture, as a set of commonly accepted practices or a model farm economy, is still in its infancy—more than an idea, but only just.
Although sustainability in agriculture is tied to broader issues of the global economy, declining petroleum reserves, and domestic food security, its midwives were not government policy makers but small farmers, environmentalists, and a persistent cadre of agricultural scientists. These people saw the devastation that late 20th-Century farming was causing to the very means of agricultural production—the water and soil—and so began a search for better ways to farm, an exploration that continues to this day.
Conventional 20th-Century agriculture took industrial production as its model, and vertically-integrated agri-business was the result. The industrial approach, coupled with substantial government subsidies, made food abundant and cheap in the United States. But farms are biological systems, not mechanical ones, and they exist in a social context in ways that manufacturing plants do not. Through its emphasis on high production, the industrial model has degraded soil and water, reduced the biodiversity that is a key element to food security, increased our dependence on imported oil, and driven more and more acres into the hands of fewer and fewer "farmers," crippling rural communities.
In recent decades, sustainable farmers and researchers around the world have responded to the extractive industrial model with ecology-based approaches, variously called natural, organic, low-input, alternative, regenerative, holistic, Biodynamic, biointensive, and biological farming systems. All of them, representing thousands of farms, have contributed to our understanding of what sustainable systems are, and each of them shares a vision of "farming with nature," an agro-ecology that promotes biodiversity, recycles plant nutrients, protects soil from erosion, conserves and protects water, uses minimum tillage, and integrates crop and livestock enterprises on the farm.
But no matter how elegant the system or how accomplished the farmer, no agriculture is sustainable if it’s not also proﬁtable, able to provide a healthy family income and a good quality of life. Sustainable practices lend themselves to smaller, family-scale farms. These farms, in turn, tend to ﬁnd their best niches in local markets, within local food systems, often selling directly to consumers. As alternatives to industrial agriculture evolve, so must their markets and the farmers who serve them. Creating and serving new markets remains one of the key challenges for sustainable agriculture.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Homeward Bound: Agroecological Civilization and the Quest for a Sustainable Society A Conversation with Pramod Parajuli
"To restore any place, we must also begin to re-story it; the stories will outlast us."-Gary Paul Nabhan, Coming Home to Eat
Dr. Pramod Parajuli is an internationally renowned interdisciplinary scholar, sustainability educator, and anthropologist. A native of Nepal, he has traveled widely and done research and published prolifically on the topics of sustainability education, bio-cultural diversities, knowledge systems and environmentalism of the global South. With a research grant from the McArthur Foundation, he has established a multipurpose family farm in Chitwan, Nepal, which educates people on the possibility of peasant livelihoods.
Dr. Parajuli is part of the faculty at Portland State University (PSU), where he co-founded and also serves as the executive director of the Portland International Initiative for Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning (PIIECL). He serves on the boards of a PSU student-run Food for Thought Café and Oregon Tilth. Currently, he is working on a manuscript entitled Learning Sustainability: Ecological and Cultural Foundations. A sample of his writings is available at the research and publications section of PIIECL website: www.piiecl.pdx.edu.
This interview is part of a longer conversation with June Rzendzian, who is pursuing a masters' degree in "Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning" within PIIECL. June is involved in the Portland-area Slow Food movement and interested in sustainable agricultural issues.
JR: Where does agroecology fit in the larger context of ecological and sustainability debates?
PP: Agroecology represents one major branch within a broad movement. In a way, as we know it, environmentalism in North America has come of age. Even if we count from 1970, it is about 33 years old. The time is ripe to critically look at what has been said and done in the name of environmentalism. I identify three distinct schools of thoughts, plans of actions, and choices.
The first and perhaps the most common-sense view is that the Earth is wild and sacred so we as humans should protect it and revere it. Humans should not be around her except for times of meditation, nature walks, hiking, and contemplation. Among others, people like Henry Thoreau, John Muir, and Leo Tolstoy could be considered the "bachelors" of nature. A modern manifestation is the fascination with the idea of wilderness, parks, and sanctuaries as a form of saving and protecting nature. This has grown to be a big industry in itself. Its credo is: Nature is more pure if it is untouched by humans. So, as the logic goes, we should have fewer people and more nature. In an extremist version, this might justify killing, eliminating, and displacing people in order to save nature. There is a reason why this thinking has a strong hold. When you don't like this techno-industrial life, a natural response is that you want to run away from it and get wild.
The second view is the extreme antithesis of the first, and it could be characterized as nature as a factory: tame, subdue, and extract from nature. We have seen enough of the "hit and run" model of clear-cutting and monoculture in agriculture and forestry. This is the story of the all-too-familiar mainstream techno-industrial worldview that sees nature as an obstacle to progress and the expansion of the frontier. Ideally, in this view, nature would operate in the model of a machine--measurable, quantifiable, predictable, and thus controllable.
The Earth as a household, or an agroecological worldview, is the third way of thinking. It is most often misunderstood, and less talked about. Poet Gary Snyder eloquently represents this view when he suggests: find a place, dig in, and stay put. This view carves the middle path between the other two views by overcoming the projection of culture and nature as binary opposites in the techno-industrial mindset. In this third school of thought, the agroecological householder can be considered as a housewife or a husband of land and nature.
The idea of husbandry or housewifery is a mode of using and being in nature that I call the "moral ecology of using nature." In this mode there is a possibility of overusing, abusing, and also appropriately using nature by humans. A majority of peasant and indigenous cultures and ecological thinkers/activists such as Vandana Shiva, Mahatma Gandhi in South Asia, Wendell Berry, Gary Nabhan, and Gary Snyder in North America share such views. In some ways, Emiliano Zapata's "land and liberty," Sandino's struggle for land in Nicaragua, and other "land to the tiller" movements can be recognized in this framework. During my visits in Mexico in 2001, I found a form of "Zapatista ecologism" alive and well.
Agroecological communities are coming into focus today because of the biocultural diversities they nurture. Tobias Policha's travelogue "Mexican Plants, Places and People" (In Good Tilth, December 15, 2003; see contact info. at end of article) amply demonstrates the rich biocultural diversity nurtured by an agroecological civilization. Occupying merely 1.4 percent of the global landmass, how is it that Mexico hosts 10 percent of the global flora (26,000 plant species)? Furthermore, of the nine countries in which 60 percent of the world's remaining 6,500 languages are spoken, six of them are also the centers of megadiversity. Those six countries are Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, India, Zaire, and Australia. In Mexico, those languages and biodiversities are nurtured by 54 main indigenous groups who speak 240 languages and dialects. In geographer David Harmon's overlapping of the top 25 countries with the highest number of endemic languages, 16 also had the highest number of endemic wildlife species.
In 1996, I also found another prophetic example among the peasants in the Peruvian Andes, where a host of grassroots peasant organizations inspired by Proyecto Andino Tecnologias Campesinas (PRATEC) are revitalizing the age-old practice of exchanging seeds and cultivating biodiversity in the chakras (farm fields). They call themselves an agri-centric civilization that depends on nurturing nature and being nurtured by nature. Although I am from the Himalayas, I was astounded to find that the Andean peasants were farming at 14,000 feet. I wondered and asked, "Isn't it too much that you are farming on the top of the mountain?" They said, "No, we are farming in a different way. This farming is for the gods because gods see the top of the mountain. We are farming for them and then by farming at the top of the mountain you get a different kind of potato that is not possible in the lower elevations." By respecting the ecological niche of the top of the mountain, they are strengthening biodiversity.
Perhaps agroecology is the mean between these two extreme worldviews: earth as untouchably sacred and separate from us, and earth as a factory to be managed and exploited. This middle path is our quest for a sustainable future.
JR: It seems like you are not merely talking about agriculture as we know it. By adding the flavor of ecology, agroecology offers something more.
PP: Yes, the issue is not merely whether agroecology is a better economic system. I am engaged in a deeper unearthing about the very possibility of human life and that of other species. I am looking at whether humans have been a co-evolutionary animal in the rise and decline of biodiversity. Is biodiversity merely a function of nature or have humans played a role in it? In what ways could linguistic and cultural diversities contribute to biological diversities?
In agroecological thinking, the issue of body, health, food, and eating is central. By eating, all of us participate in interspecies communion--agricultural cycles and cycles of the wild. Among others, I encourage people to read Gary Paul Nabhan's two books, Coming Home to Eat and Cultures of Habitat. As an alternative to the famous Cartesian dictum, "I think, therefore I am," one might say, "I eat, therefore I am."
It is worth doing a bit of historical stretching. Human culture has 40,000 years of vertical axis and horizontal spread of about 6,500 different languages, about 2,000 different cultures and ecological variations in plants and animals. Each culture is a result of cross-fertilization between cultures as they interface through migrations and adaptation and conflicts. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania has demonstrated that people's genetic makeup has evolved in synchrony with their food collecting and processing practices. After tens of thousands of years with one set of foods processed in a certain way dominating their diets, people physiologically adapt to the digestibility and nutrient levels of those particular foods. Maladaptations can result in cases such as the diabetes among Native Americans or obesity among North American children.
JR: What are the sources of your ideas? Will you describe the community and setting where you were raised?
PP: It has a lot to do with where I was born and how I was raised. I was born and raised in a mountain village in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal. It seems as if, although I left Nepal for graduate studies in the United States, Nepal did not leave me. The agroecological Nepali culture is growing within me even deeper. My village was considered to be very remote, even by Nepali standards. The first time I had to go to Kathmandu (the capital city), I had to travel three days to reach the nearest bus stop. To reach there, we'd walk on foot through forests, going uphill and downhill and crossing rivers. So we were considered to be kind of a hinterland, like you might say the Appalachian range in the American sense, or Chiapas in the Mexican sense.
JR: What form of agroecology did you practice in that village?
PP: In that village in the Himalayan foothills, we had figured out almost all aspects of sustainability and agroecology. It was what I would now call a kind of agroecological civilization. Except for salt and kerosene oil, the village produced almost everything. People did most of their labor, without buying and selling labor, through what was known as parma, a form of labor-sharing with your neighbors. Through parma, houses, fences, farm terraces, and walls were built and repaired, crops were planted, weeded, and harvested. Life journeys such as birth, coming of age, and death were celebrated without much cash exchange. However, a set of forces unleashed in the early '60s unsettled our village economy and culture--one of those being my own departure for Kathmandu and eventually to the United States. While merchant capitalism, trade, marketing of goods, wage labor, and English-speaking schools gradually moved in, we saw the accelerated erosion of the agroecological base and the customary laws that governed it.
JR: Was there a systematic knowledge system embedded in these traditional ways?
PP: There was an implicit science in a very so-called unscientific world out there. For example, when I began to develop a multipurpose educational farm in my own land in Chitwan (located south of the mountain village in the plains of Nepal) in 1993-94, I began a systematic study of these plants in the traditional agricultural and medicinal texts and found that there were books and chapters written on the quality of those plants. Some of them are used for manuring and fermenting seedlings. They can cure you when you are sick, and you can brush your teeth with the twigs of at least five plants. Perhaps the people didn't know the term "nitrogen fixing," but they knew which tree was beneficial for the soil and which was not, which one needed to be kept near the garden, which one by the end of the field as a windbreak, which trees worked together and which did not. The more I recognize how holistic and integrated that system was, the more it puzzles me.
It's puzzling in the sense that the system functioned as if without claiming anything, without telling other people, giving lectures, or putting up a "no trespassing" sign--as if all was embedded in the daily rhythms of life, as if knowledge was not separate from life.
I will give you an example. There was an implicit understanding that you not cut trees around water sources. I distinctly remember within a mile of my own house, there were about six or seven water places--springs sprouting directly from the earth. They were basically carved-out small places where the spring was just bubbling up. These water sources were either within larger public forests or where there was a thick forest cover around the water sources. Nobody could even think about cutting that forest. That is what we call the sacred. Interestingly, lots of deities were placed at the bottom of those trees just so that people would also say that this was not only a watering place but also a place of the Nagas (the serpent snakes) who were supposed to be the givers and regulators of water. In each and every source of water, the idea was that there was a certain kind of god or certain kind of goddess living there.
JR: The water sources are connected to the sacred grove and then the groves to the Nagas, serpent snakes? You are talking about not one actor in nature but many. Do humans and their cultures have a role?
PP: The work on nature is not possible by one but always requires many co-operating hands, including humans. All are bound by a need to protect a place, bring fertility to the soil, or continually maintain a water source. I found similar examples in the tribal communities of India and many other indigenous peasant cultures in the Cornwall region in England, peasant communities in Peru and Mexico, and Maori communities in New Zealand.
Let me illustrate this with another example from my own mountain village. Human rituals recognized the role of more-than-human communities in making this agroecological life fecund and possible. For example, in the month of July, there was a particular day for snakes or serpents, including the Nagas. This has to be the fifth day after the full moon, called Nagapanchami, literally the fifth day of (and for) the Nagas.
We believe that the Nagas are the regulators of the underworld, and they connect different water levels and let water springs come out. My given name according to the ritual calendar is after one of those serpents--Padma Naga. By looking into my nature and the day and time of birth in the month of July, my father (who was also an astrologer) gave me this name.
On the day of Nagapanchami, we as a priestly family--my father was the priest of the whole area--our job was to draw pictures of all these serpents. And there is a particular drawing design about how you could untangle all these varieties of 36 different kinds of serpents. We also had to acknowledge the spider, the scorpion, the snakes, and the earthworms--all the things that were in the soil. In today's language you could call them the ingredients of the soil food web. Our job was to put these hand-written posters on top of everybody's front door. Then we performed pooja (worshipping) and said, "Let this house and family be safe. Let this house be fertile. We are aware that you are around (all these serpents and these beings, the crawlers and critters of the world). We are respectful of you. Don't frighten us and don't harm us. Help us because without you our culture isn't possible."
What we were trying to do during Nagapanchami was to purify water, to make it healthy through the protection of the forest around the water because water is basically a product of trees. As scientists have now recognized, a full-grown tree can transpire 2,000 gallons of water on a hot, dry day.
JR: Are these actions deliberate in recognition and respect for other than human beings?
PP: Let me share with you another ritual from South India. In South India women of the household draw different designs in front of doors and in the yards with powdered rice flour. These patterns are known as Kalam. The patterns vary because they express the women's dreams, their anxieties, current events, etc. A cultural anthropologist might say this is the human invention of art, but here we see clearly that it is also an ecological act. It has the creative idea about designing the pattern the way you like it, but then it is basically about offering the product of the earth to other species such as ants. You are offering rice, which is the product of the soil, to the ants as well as other things that come and eat. That means you are in partnership with the ants and other critters that need that food and acknowledge that they have a role in your harvest. That is the sustainability of spirit.
Now, you might say, you are hungry but you are feeding these ants! From an economic perspective it might be a stupid thing to do. But what they are doing is nurturing nature's economy, sharing the bounty of nature with more than humans.
JR: Let's talk more about agroecology in the general sense. How exactly do you define it?
PP: Agroecology basically means doing agriculture according to ecological designs and principles. Doing so, you can get agricultural crops without overtaxing and in some cases actually enhancing nature's vital principals. In economic terms, you could say you are using the interest rather than the principal of nature in doing agriculture and pursuing your livelihoods. In a nutshell, a move towards agroecology from this techno-industrial society is a move from emphasis on the accumulation of technomass to the nurturing of biomass.
The option ahead of us, as Wendell Berry aptly says, is not whether to live with or without nature. We can afford to live only with and in nature. But we can choose how, in what scale, in what speed and velocity, with what degrees of reciprocity we want to live in nature. So the division between the wild and domestic is the function of a techno-industrial mindset. The answer is not in creating national parks and sanctuaries; the challenge is in creating different ethics for using nature. I talk a lot about this in my article, "How Can Four Trees Make a Jungle" (see www.terrain.org/essays/14/parajuli.htm).
JR: Younger generations think that pursuing an agroecological civilization would be like going back in history. After all, somehow, didn't the techno-industrial civilization emerge from the agricultural one?
PP: Even if one wanted to, one cannot go back. That is the secret dynamic of history. In history we evolve and co-evolve (again not only among humans but also among more than human species) but do not go back to an earlier historical period or experience. As the saying goes, you cannot jump into the same river twice. But what we can do and many have chosen to do is to carve out a future in a different path. Among others, Helena Norberg-Hodge talks about Ladakhi society and proposes that these could give us inspiration towards our "ancient futures."
The second point I want to bring home is how many innovations and how much good thinking have gone into refining the new mode of agroecological civilization, bringing into fruition indigenous traditions and new innovations. There is a blending and the flowering of convergence between the old and new.
JR: What are some examples of this?
PP: Let me start with some living examples from indigenous and peasant traditions. Recently, there was a delegation of people from Ecuador, the Mamallakta, in Portland. They gave several lectures and also distributed an e-mail defining who they are and what they do. The first paragraph in the e-mail read: "We come from the Ecuadorian Amazon, which is a cultivated forest (le silva culta)." This is one of the most profound statements in the history of agroecology. The Amazon is supposed to be the wildest place untouched by humans, right? Now, what are the indigenous people saying? Yes, it's a forest but it is cultivated forest, not only by humans but also cultivated by birds, insects, plants, and mammals. No wonder the Kichwa word Mamallakta means "mother community."
Another example is the "forest islands" (apêtê) found among the Kayapo people in the Brazilian Amazon. In the campo-cerrado in Brazil, the Kayapo have concentrated plant varieties collected from an area the size of Western Europe into a 10-hectare plot. One hundred-twenty species were found in ten apêtê.
What on earth are these human artifacts of forest islands doing in the heart of Amazon? As shown by the late anthropologist Darrell Posey, these are the centers of biodiversity but nurtured by human knowledge and labor. Apêtê begin as small mounds of vegetation, about one to two meters round, created by ant nests in open areas in the field. Slight depressions are usually picked out because they are more likely to retain moisture. As apêtê grow, they begin to look like up-turned hats, with higher vegetation in the center and lower herbs growing in the shaded borders. The Kayapos usually cut down the highest trees in the center to create a donut-hole that allows the light into the older apêtê.
From the southwest US and Northern Mexico, ethnoecologist Gary Paul Nabhan reports that more than 400 plant species are eaten by the tribes of the northern Sierra Madre; historically, the Tarahumara alone utilized at least 220 kinds of native plants as food. He also reports the multifunctionality and purpose of an ironwood tree. Sixty-two reptiles and amphibians, and 64 mammals use ironwoods for forage, cover, and birthing grounds. An ironwood-bursage habitat also shelters some 188 kinds of bees, 25 ant colonies, and 25 other types of insects. That adds up to an extraordinary level of biodiversity.
I am currently reading an inspiring book called Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway who lives in Southern Oregon and has written one of the most intuitive books about biocultural diversity that can be maintained in permaculture gardens. I highly recommend the book. He documents many innovations. You could think about edible landscaping meeting wildlife gardening. Basically, it is the idea of the wild and domestic, the forest and farm disappearing as dividing lines and blending with each other. It becomes a continuum where there are polycultures and there are some annual cultures helping each other.
Wes Jackson'sLand Institute, based in Kansas, also offers a provocative model. There they caution us, "Wait a minute! This annual agriculture is too much! We are taking ourselves too seriously by doing annual agriculture, by planting and weeding and harvesting and storing." We're taking too much of an active role. What humans should do rather is let nature do perennial polycultures and harvest from nature's labor of love. Perhaps the future of agroecology is in the combination of some form of bio-intensive garden, permaculture designs, polycultures, animal husbandry, food-forests, agroforestry, farming within forestry and so on.
JR: Any final thoughts?
PP: Humanity is at the verge of knowing how to create our livelihood while following nature's designs and meeting nature's needs. We are enriched with foresight provided by the past and a vision for the future. That's the new terrain I want to explore, a sustainability of the spirit! Sustainability is, in my recent metaphor, a move from outward bound to homeward bound. Earth is our home and making a nest within that home is the basic challenge right now. We are already in the middle of that journey and we do not need a huge violent revolution to get there, either.
As Manfred Steger and Perle Besserman write in Grassroots Zen: "We don't have to create waves when the ocean is flat.... Finding ourselves in the middle of a big wave itself presents us with an opportunity. All we have to do is dive right in."
A slightly different version of this interview first appeared in the February 15, 2004 issue of In Good Tilth, 470 Lancaster NE, Salem, OR 97301; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pramod Parajuli, Ph.D. is Associate Professor, Education, and Director of the Portland International Initiative for Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning (www.piiecl.pdx.edu), Graduate School of Education, Portland State University, email@example.com. June Rzendzian is a masters' student at PIIECL. See introduction for fuller bios.
©2004 Talking Leaves
Spring/Early Summer 2004
Volume 14, Numbers 1 & 2
Person and Place: Adventures Here, There, & Everywhere
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Saturday, January 31, 2009
The so-called Green Revolution of the 20th century delivered the large scale, mechanized model of agriculture to much of the world, and as grain harvests grew, so did population. This model of food production has been extraordinarily, almost miraculously productive. So it is not surprising that it has surpassed traditional, lower impact methods of agriculture as the preferred method of raising food.
But, as always, agriculture comes at a cost to the land base. Since the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, intensive cultivation of the soil has been an ecologically taxing endeavor. Farmers have always walked an agricultural tightrope -- it's a balancing act between producing enough to feed a growing population and exhausting the soil upon which the entire system depends.
Traditionally, farming societies would have been forced to periodically rotate crops to avoid pests and disease, and they replenished the fertility of the soil through simple but effective forms of fertilization, such as slash and burn agriculture and the application of animal manures. And even with this relatively low impact, low yield system, population had a tendency to outstrip food supply and there were occasional famines due to variable harvests from year to year. These early farming societies also sometimes exhausted the land base to the point that agriculture became impossible or inexorably changed for years to come.
Examples of ecological mismanagement leading to such collapses abound (e.g. deforestation on Mediterranean islands, soil salinization due to over-irrigation in the once-fertile crescent, damming and diversion of the Nile leading to loss of seasonal alluvial deposits). But modern farming has changed the rules of the game (at least in the short term).
The use of manufactured, ammonia-based fertilizers and petro-chemical pesticides enables us to grow the same crop year after year without giving the land a rest and without actively managing the health of the soil through natural processes. You can see the results if you drive through Kansas (which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy) -- county after county of monoculture plantations of grain.
This is the factory mentality of economy of scale and assembly line production applied to farming. The soil is reduced to an inert, lifeless recepticle for a host of soil additives, and farming itself is reduced to a highly monotonous form of trucking. After all, hopping on a tractor and driving around in circles all day is closer to long-haul trucking than it is to true land husbandry. And let's not even talk about the cramped feedlots where our animal protein comes from (just read "Fast Food Nation" for a short cut to veganism).
Traditional farming demanded a wide range of skills and careful management of the soil to ensure a healthy, balanced system. Now there are very few such farmers left, and the majority of our food comes from thousands of miles away as a result. God how boring must it be to grow nothing but corn! And to do it in complete solitude with nothing but heavy machinery and chemicals to keep you company. It is a sad bastardization of farming and agrarian life. This alone is an outrage, but it gets much worse!
Consider for a moment the longer term, cumulative effect of these practices on the environment, and you won't just be a little aggravated, you'll be justifiably frightened. The great irony of modern farming is that while it is amazingly productive in the short term, it actively undermines our ability to feed ourselves in the long term. If we don't catch a clue, modern farming may be setting up the world for widespread famine (particularly in places like Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa, Indian sub-continent, etc. which depend on grain imports to feed their populations).
What happens when the Ogallala Aquifer finally gets sucked dry? What happens to all that wonderful agricultural land in the California desert when soil salinization finally reaches the surface? What happens when we no longer have the cheap, abundant fossil fuel necessary to keep the fertilizers, tractors and pesticides on the fields?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
"The "change" we face in agriculture dwarfs even the death throes of Happy Motoring (and is not unrelated to it either). A lot of people are likely to starve in America if we don't get our act together pronto in terms of how we produce the food we eat. Petro-agribusiness faces a set of disturbances that are certain to induce food shortages. Again, the Peak Oil specter looms in the background, for soil "inputs" and diesel power to run that system. But all of a sudden even that problem appears a lesser danger than the gross failure of capital finance now underway -- and petro-agriculture's chief external input is credit. Credit may be in extremely short supply this year, and hence crops may be in short supply as we turn the corner into spring and summer. Just as in the case of WalMart versus Main Street, the reform of farming in America is one of those "changes" much larger than most of us imagine. I'd go so far to say that a large proportion of young people now in college will find themselves not working in office cubicles, but in some way or other in farming or the "value-added" activities connected to it." -- jim kunstler 1-19-09
This is a severe scenario, I admit. But assuming for a moment that some version of it is true -- the result being that more of us inhabit the countryside, adding value to natural materials, and producing healthy local food. Suppose fewer of us make a living sitting at a desk all day, and more of us actually make our living by being good stewards of our collective land base. Is that a bad thing? I embrace this future.
CNN) -- Jamaal Young was watching Barack Obama and his family greet an ecstatic crowd in Chicago, Illinois, on Election Night when he realized that something seemed wrong.
Obama didn't shout at his wife, Michelle, to shut up. The first lady didn't roll her eyes and tell Obama to act like a man. No laugh track kicked in, no one danced, and no police sirens wailed in the background.
Young had tuned in to celebrate the election of the nation's first African-American president. But he realized that he was witnessing another historic first. A black family was being featured as the first family, not the "problem family" or the "funny family.
"They are not here to entertain us," says Young, a New York Press columnist. "Michelle Obama is not sitting around with her girlfriends saying, 'My man ain't no good.' You're not seeing this over -sexualized, crazy black family that, every time a Marvin Gaye song comes on, someone stands up and says, 'Oh girl, that's my jam.' "
The nation didn't just get a glimpse of its new first family when Obama and his family waved to the crowds on Inauguration Day. The Obamas are offering America a new way to look at the black family, Young and other commentators say.
America has often viewed the black family through the prism of its pathologies: single-family homes, absentee fathers, out of wedlock children, they say. Or they've turned to the black family for comic relief in television shows such as "Good Times" in the '70s or today's "House of Payne."
But a black first family changes that script, some say. A global audience will now be fed images of a highly educated, loving and photogenic black family living in the White House for the next four years -- and it can't be taken off the air like "The Cosby Show."
Obama's girls about to go into the fishbowl
Michelle Obama's urban chic heads to D.C.
Washington abuzz about Obamas
"The last time we had an image of a black family that was this positive it was "The Cosby Show," but this is the Real McCoy," says Jacqueline Moore Bowles, national president of Jack and Jill of America Inc., a predominately black organization for youths.
A new vision of black intimacy
The new first family could inspire some of their biggest changes within the black family itself, some say
In 1965, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic senator from New York, warned the nation about the rise of fatherless black families. The "Moynihan Report" concluded that many black families were caught in a "tangle of pathology."
The relationship between Obama and his wife may help untangle some of that pathology, some black commentators say.
It could start with black intimacy. The American public is routinely exposed to sexually charged relationships between black men and women. "Street lit" books with titles such as "Thugs and the Women Who Love Them," and "A Project Chick" now crowd bookstores and public library shelves.
Yet the new first couple offers America an example of a black, passionate, marital relationship, says Jennifer Brea, a writer for EbonyJet.com.
"They are the most natural and accessible first couple this country has ever had," Brea says. "You see a politician give a peck on his wife's cheek after a speech and often it looks staged. When you look at them, you feel like that there's this chemistry and spark."
Several black women actually sighed as they talked about how much Obama seems to touch his wife and exchange soulful glances with her in public. They said Obama will show young black men how to treat women -- and young black women how they should be treated.
"We don't get to see black love," says Heidi Durrow, the prize-winning author of the forthcoming novel, "Low Sky Dreaming."
"But every time you see them [the Obamas] on stage, it's been super," she says. "It's an amazing image to see these dynamic, smart, progressive people just openly affectionate. I'm all for it."
Obama's apparent closeness to his wife may help untangle another pathology -- the preoccupation with skin color and "looking white," Bowles, president of Jack and Jill, says.
Bowles says some powerful black men marry women who are white or fair-skinned. Obama's decision to marry a darker-skinned woman like Michelle Obama shows black women that black can indeed be beautiful.
"Too often successful black men look for other things ... a white woman or someone who light, bright and darn near white," Bowles says. "She [Obama] is a true sister, and she makes no bones about it."
'They're not 'Bebe's Kids' '
But what about those blacks who haven't been considered "true sisters" or "true brothers." A black first family changes that script as well, some say.
Obama's family shows that there is not one way, but many ways for someone to claim membership in the black family, some say.
Brea, the writer for EbonyJet.com, is the daughter of white mother and a Haitian-American father. She says she felt pressure to claim one race growing up. She never quite felt like a full citizen.
Obama's biracial background and his "exotic" upbringing relieves her of that pressure. Obama will help other blacks who come from multiracial backgrounds and immigrant communities to be comfortable in their own skin, she says.
"It's changed everything," she says. "You can sort of be whatever you want in all of its complexity, and it's something to be proud of."
The Obama's two daughters, Malia and Sasha, also offer America a new way to look at black kids, others say. Throughout Inauguration Day, the two girls stood before the cameras and waved, smiled and played to the cameras.
Durrow, the author of "Low Sky Dreaming," says it's refreshing to see well-spoken black children on television who act nothing like "Bebe's kids," the unruly black kids from the ghetto immortalized by the late black comedian Robin Harris.
"It's wonderful for people on the world stage to see young black kids who are so poised and vivacious," Durrow says. "They're not 'Bebe's Kids.' I see them and I get the sense that they're going to be OK."
Though the new first family may seem like a novelty to some, but for others they are familiar.
Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples, and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.
She didn't need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.
"It's not new, but it appears new," she says. "The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.
"It's the only family I've know in my life."
Friday, January 16, 2009
Baking Bread In A Wood Oven
Tour of the PodChef's Smallholding
Farming With a Chicken Tractor
Winter on PodChef Island
Pasture Pigs Part 1
Pasture Pigs Part 2