Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Mononymous Faun

I wanted to devote a post to some thoughts about why I fancy "the faun" as a conceptual costume and mononym.

In my personal pantheon of spirit guides, Pan, the satyr-god of shepherds and flocks, wood-lore and pastoral life in general, is el jefe. It is he, I feel, from whom the highest orders come. He shares his name with the Greek word "pan" that means "all"... but the true etymology of his name is said to be the verb "paein"... "to pasture." His native abode was supposedly Arcadia, the central mountainous region of the Peloponnese—corresponding to the province where my own family is from.

Pan is as old as the forest. Older than the institution at Olympia; a natural anarchist. Artemis got her hunting hounds from him. Apollo learned the arts of divination from him. When he plays those rustic melodies on his pipes - translating the green language of the forest - he is able to inspire stampedes - to instill either fear or lust in his object, depending on his intentions. It is from this power that the word "panic" comes down to us English speakers. Panic is primal, visceral, dancing around the center of our being with its consort; lust. Eros (sexual love) and Thanatos (death) are the electron and the proton of our cellular being. Pan represents the continual consilience of these forces, and he transduces the energy from this yin-yang reaction through a caprine, whimsical dialectic with the environment. Pan is the ultimate swashbuckler—an ironic gentleman in spite of his wildness. He seduced Selene (the Moon), by cloaking himself in a sheepskin. The nymph he chased (and chases forever) was Syrinx, who, unlike the others, rejected his advances and hid from him by transforming into a grove of reeds. It is out of these reeds that Pan fashioned his pipes, which are also called Syrinx, the name of his Beloved... thus when he plays those old tunes, casting spells and chaos, his incantation is achieved with an artifact of his own sorrow. He is Majnun, the insane, itinerant lover whose divine poetry to his Beloved becomes part of the landscape, performing to no one and everyone, his verses repeated perennially by all who hear; a virus that carries the fingerprints of the consuming fire of the Apostles and of the Sufi mystics. He seduces, he loves deeply and often, he reminds us that our heart is a muscle full of blood. An eternal mercenary for Gaia's green revolution, he also is. Importantly, to me he also embodies the trickster, who appears in many guises across the space-time of earthling ecology. Tricksters come in many different forms, languages, and cultures... be they kokopelli, the raccoon, the fox, the coy-dog, Eris or Anansi, machine elves or a gaggle of leprechauns, what is the same about them all is the way they are in the world - the way they form relationships with their natural/social/built environments. It is these whimsically-wise, eternally newborn-curious and tree-ancient game-players that we today have so much to learn from. Oscar Wilde agrees with me, for he wrote:

O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?
No more the shepherd lads in glee
Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?
And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Then keep the tomb of Helice,
Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
And what remains to us of thee?
Though many an unsung elegy
Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah, what remains to us of thee?
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady,
Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of thee.
No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of thee!
A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!
Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!

Tricksters, to me (and other fans of this such game) are characters that teach by prank-playing. Loving mischief. Their didactic technique consists of doing things that are affective, whimsical, playful - that having teaching power, particularly in the face of adversity. They are, like shamans or medicine men, translators - weaving sense out of the chaos of nature on the behalf of their fellow humans - although unlike medicine men, they do not (necessarily) translate to heal; they translate to reveal new ways (or re-vive OLD WAYS) of looking at the environment - (whether artificial or natural). It seems like they are often concerned with re-connecting people to primal desires and urges, reminding us of the roots(routes) of our behavior in a time when it has become increasingly difficult to "trace" such routes through the layers and tangents of the culture that envelops us. Consequently, tricksters are often responsible for moments of profane illumination. Another hallmark is that it is ever-difficult to tell whether tricksters "teach" deliberately or whether their behavior is completely whimsical and arbitrary (and in the end, this is a pointless inquiry anyway). It seems that they act in their own interest - always - (e.g. raccoons in Native American tales) and it is their steadfast focus and graceful navigation along this path that becomes an 'ipso facto' source of wisdom for any who choose to observe. Thus, they make good spirit guides, because they love games of connect-the-dots, and treasure hunts... But they are not gods. They are not transcendent - existing somewhere abstractly - but imminent, in nature, in flesh both growing and dying and exploding. They are connected to the circuitry of the animate forces - plant and animal consciousness, elemental consciousness, earth consciousness. We can see them rounding a corner, feather in cap and medicine-bag slung over their shoulder - and if we watch them we find that they ground themselves by being able to adapt - being always where they stand - being shapeshifters - ready for change but never prepared, because preparing wastes time. But being ready only takes a moment of prayer. They are the animals of humans. They embody the irony of being human.

As heroes in mythology, they conquer through wit - or wit disguised as whim - as opposed to brute force. Thus... they are hackers...

They are also rather QUEER. To quote the Wiki entry:

"Frequently the Trickster figure exhibits gender and form variability, changing gender roles and engaging in same-sex practices. Such figures appear in Native American and First Nations mythologies, where they are said to have a two-spirit nature. Loki, the Norse trickster, also exhibits gender variability, in one case even becoming pregnant; interestingly, he shares the ability to change genders with Odin, the chief Norse deity who also possesses many characteristics of the Trickster. In the case of Loki's pregnancy, he was forced by the Gods to stop a giant from erecting a wall for them before 7 days passed; he solved the problem by transforming into a mare and drawing the giant's magical horse away from its work. He returned some time later with a child he had given birth to--the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, who served as Odin's steed."

This is a picture of me and El Comandante at the stone circle at Four Quarters in Southern PA. An annual three-day hoof-stamping ritual takes places here the weekend of the summer solstice. Pan is ever-present at such dionysian celebrations, winking through the trees... but this time he graced us with a rare sort of presence...

Bless all of dem trickstars. Bless ya.

"A life without festivity is a long road without an inn."

Further reading (with primary source citations): Pan: Greek God of Shepherds & Flocks

Sunday, December 7, 2008

if nominator

The title of this blog post is an anagram of "information". As Anu Garg, the wizard behind wordsmith.org, says: "Anagrams never lie". (Giggle. I believe this is an exceedingly Hofstadterian statement!) :D

Various arts of word-changing to divine esoteric meaning abound in the occult, mystical and apocryphal teachings of all ages. Some essentially involve ciphering, as with gematria, where numerical values are assigned to different letters of the alphabet. Other methods of graph-o-mancy are more concerned with uncovering "hidden" connections within words that connect a word to other words, or transform the word into something else entirely. In Kabbalistic hermeneutics, temurah is one of three ways of meditating on text in scripture. It is essentially a mental exercise of anagram-generation with words in the Torah. But, before I digress further, let's apply this...

I take "if nominator" (a noun) to mean: A mechanism for revealing and proposing (nominating) options (or: if statements). This is, then, an esoteric meaning of "information".

This new word-form then indicates this:

Information should generate innovation.

Maybe I came off as giving "synthetic information" a hard time in my last post. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that we not occlude the true point. Since it's one of the theses of this blog that the world will be saved with an integrated combination of green things and informatics, it is my great pleasure to pontificate... in a discordian manner, of course! ;)

Information itself can not be demonized. It is not "good" or "bad", and its division by some (including me) into categories of "environmental" and "synthetic" or "organic" and "artificial", does not correspond to its value. In fact, such categorization is a rhetorical device - a program for thought, merely.

The point is this:

•Information must serve the people, NOT the corporations.
•It should be enabling and empowering, not controlling.

Antecedently, information should be free.

To further explore the imperative of us creators (artists, mad scientists and ecological designers alike) to properly deal with information, I want to evoke some wisdom from McKenzie Wark's book A Hacker Manifesto. (Salutations, brother!) Btw, please go find books this guy wrote, farmpunks... he's a master arranger-of-words & re-arranger-of-thought! To summarize a bit; In the opening chapter, he defines information as an abstraction of private property, which is itself an abstraction (of nature). Hackers are those who parse and recompile that information in order to create further abstraction: innovation. However, because of the nature of the hacker ethic to promote freedom-of-information and to end abuse of intellectual property, innovations generated by hackers are taken advantage of by the very group that hackers seek to disassociate themselves from. They are subordinated as a class in society by the 'ruling class' (financiers and CEOs) because the latter seek to turn novelty into profit.

In the last paragraph of the introductory chapter in the manifesto, he really captures what I've been trying to grok:

"The time is past due when hackers must come together with workers and farmers - with all the producers of the world - to liberate productive and inventive resources from the myth of scarcity. The time is past due for new forms of association to be created that can steer the world away from its destruction through commodified exploitation. The greatest hacks of our time may turn out to be forms of organizing free collective expression, so that from this time on, abstraction serves the people, rather than the people serving the ruling class."

Italics added.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Vandana Shiva: Bitchslapping Agri-Biz like the Good Lord Intended

Vandana Shiva is a physicist, environmentalist, feminist, and self-styled earth-protector. In simple terms, a saint... a saint with a PhD in Ass-kicking (actually, her thesis was on quantum non-locality... but my feeling is that if you can pwn on the subatomic level you can pretty much wipe the floor with anything and anyone, anywhere). She makes Mother Theresa look like a slow ride to grandma's house. She won the Nobel Peace prize one morning before breakfast.

Ok, I'm done now, but hopefully I've piqued your interest with immature hand-waving tactics, and perhaps you want to hear a bit about this woman's game.

I just wrote a review for her book Monocultures of the Mind, which is a collection of four essays including the essay that the book is titled after. There's a link to the full text of the original essay to the right somewhere, under the "Articles you should read" list. I've retrofitted the following to be blog-worthy and added a healthy dose of preachin' and poetics, cuz that stuff is fun.

Essentially, Ms. Shiva has several fundamental philosophical points that, throughout Monocultures of the Mind, she reiterates and supplements with case studies from specific regions that exemplify the problems she discusses. Her argument is rooted in a criticism of "Western science" as a monopolizing world-view that dismisses other systems of knowledge, and thus is inherently 'colonizing'. She explains that the Western scientific world view is a reductionist paradigm that seeks to explain the natural world in isolation from the social and cultural world. This dissonance presents a problem when such knowledge is actually applied. When 'knowledge' or data from reductionist science is employed for designing industrial, production-based systems that exist in the real world among real people (and thus, among social and natural ecologies) we face many unintended consequences that are ecological and social in nature. These consequences, at their most devastating, are the disintegration of local knowledge systems all over the world (particularly the developing world), where indigenous culture is founded on symbiotic, sustainable and evolved relationships between local people and the ecological niches in which they live. For Shiva, the destruction of biological diversity and the destruction of cultural diversity are reciprocal and simultaneous; they feed each other. Industrial farming and forestry projects in developing nations create vast monocultures and genetic homogeneity that causes mounting losses in local biodiversity. Western science and industry often do not "see" these losses, and moreover sometimes even see such losses as "gains", since multinational agri-business views many plants that are valuable to indigenous people as "weeds".

Shiva explains that the Western pedagogy has divided knowledge of nature into a variety of scientific disciplines that promote specialization and ignore the holistic awareness that is necessary for good conservation and stewardship. For example, she explains that many indigenous societies exist in tropical regions of the world where people depend on forests to supply them with food, fiber, building materials, fodder for animals, and fertilizer or green manure; essentially all their needs. Consequently in many societies - currently and throughout human history - "forests" and "farms" have not been separate things - rather the forest IS the farm. In modern science, "agriculture" and "forestry" have evolved into separate fields in part because of economic pressures (and agendas!). Shiva argues that the bifurcation of crop-science and forest-science reflects the fact that such disciplines have become increasingly production-oriented. Crops are valued based on the yield of the most commercially valuable component - grain - and similarly trees are valued on the basis of obtainable biomass for the timber and pulp industries. This focus on commercial market value is reflected in the growing number of plantations of "high-yielding varieties" of wheat, maize and rice that are displacing previous more biodiverse agroecosystems, which were populated with indigenous varieties that were adapted over time to the specific ecological parameters of the region. Subsequently the same thing is occurring with forests; Shiva evokes the example of the Eucalyptus tree being introduced in India because of its commercial wood value. She points out that native trees like the honge, pongmia and tamarind, which have been central to forest farming for much of the duration of civilization in the Indian subcontinent, are exceedingly more valuable to local people than the eucalyptus. Instead of being single-function trees that produce an over-abundance of one thing, these native trees are able to produce firewood, fodder, fruit, and oilseeds that can be harvested sustainably from the living tree (she gives the example of the tamarind tree's ability to produce fruit for up to two centuries). Moreover, eucalyptus monocultures are detrimental to local ecologies. She explains that Eucalyptus trees are fast growing, but do not produce much crown biomass - most of the biomass is concentrated in the trunk, which of course is why the tree is favored by timber companies. The tree consequently demands a huge amount of water, and does not contribute efficiently to the production of soil organic matter. Additionally, the leaves are not edible to cattle. In other words: the tree does not give back what it takes from the land.

Shiva reiterates that biodiversity is the foundation for ecological stability. In all natural ecologies, like forests and prairies (of which agroecosystems are simplified versions), every component performs multiple functions and also receives input and energy from multiple sources. These components range from plants, animals, and minerals to natural 'forces' like wind and water. Scientific forestry, as Shiva calls it, as well as "Green Revolution" agriculture, are inherently destructive because of their stubborn persistence in measuring "yield" and "progress" in terms of value to an external market, ever failing to take into account the ecological and social value (or detriment) of plants to local regions. Science aside, Shiva's philosophical stance seems to remain that production-agriculture and forestry founded on 'Western science' is in fact an ecological incarnation of imperialism, and only serves to financially and politically benefit a few institutions and power-structures, at huge expense to societies and peoples whose livelihoods are tied to the exploited land.

And now for some healthy digression:

Regarding the operative meme that Shiva is sowing with this series of essays; not only are cultural and biological diversity valuable and essential for ecological stability, but diversity must also be a template for intellectual and spiritual growth - and action - at the personal level. She says: "Shifting to diversity as a mode of thought, a context of action, allows multiple choices to emerge." In the context of game theory, greater returns are more likely if one continually works to cultivate a perspective that informs them of "all" options. To be sure, this must be done sensibly and efficiently, which is why it is so important to look to the evolution of natural systems and the "successes" therein in order to gain a working understanding of practical game theory. The enemy of diversity in thought is of course the monoculture of the mind, which emerges when a culture promotes single, irrational goals and perpetuates single solutions for reaching those goals.

Monocultures that appear in the land - of trees and of crops and even of artificial structures - are symptomatic of crippling biases of their parent societies and their failure to grasp deep ecological principles. Ironic is the fact that the politics of monoculture succeed in coercing people to act against their true (ecological) interests - which is made less baffling when one realizes that it is the nature of this politics to redefine what "interest" is. Vandana Shiva concisely says, "Monocultures first inhabit the mind, and are then transferred to the ground." (NB: The amount of greed currently seen is the present result of continuous ignorant misdirection and mismanagement of human behavior [notice I say "behavior" and not "nature"]. Quite simply, this represents psychological warfare on our own species, obvious war on nature aside). Principles of deep ecology have the power to develop living systems that out-compete current infrastructures. However, these principles are difficult to grasp from the standpoint of reductionist science because they are often not easily quantified by available scientific language. Data becomes impotent without connections and interrelationships with other corpora of data - and exceedingly so as it is farther removed from data about Nature. Absurd extremes of specialization see oceans of what Paolo Soleri calls "synthetic information", which could be described as information about artificial objects, events, processes and systems that humans take it upon themselves to learn. This sort of information can become like an intellectual analog of grey goo, self replicating within cultural milieux so as to occlude intrinsically valuable knowledge of nature. You would be misunderstanding me if you thought I was disregarding the place-value of such information in our society - I am merely pointing out the risks that its existence de facto creates (all information has a right to exist - but integration and holism must be operative, moreover knowledge about natural ecology should be a civil right; see the farmpunk declaration). When, as societies, we lose ecological knowledge, or more specifically when it is replaced by synthetic knowledge (and consequently mechanical/electrical/biotechnological processes replace ecological ones in our human environments) we lose our built-in tool for empathizing with all other creatures of earth. THE EARTH IS THE ULTIMATE AND ONLY TRUE COMMON GROUND! Experience of one's relationship to the earth represents a positionality that can be had by human and animal alike - crossing the boundaries of language and species. Monocultures are the equivalent of computer viruses, and their infection of the land indicates that the programming has taken place inside the human mind.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


This is one of my favorite tales in the grimoire of human ecology. The word "transhumance", which doesn't change much morphologically among the romance languages, literally means the crossing of the ground. As some of you plant nerds may know, we retain the Latin word "humus" in English to refer more specifically to soil organic matter.

Transhumance refers to the seasonal movement of herds of cows, goats, or flocks of sheep between highlands and lowlands in various alpine regions across Europe. This epiphenomenon of alpine pastoral agriculture occurs elsewhere in the world - like in the Himalayas - but goes locally by other names. Essentially, transhumance is a type of semi-nomadism that still exists today. It's also a helluva good idea, says Mother Earth.

Transhumance distinguishes various dairying cultures across Europe - exemplary in the Swiss and French Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Pindos in Greece, which have all produced world-famous cheeses. Villages that developed and relied on traditions of transhumance were often isolated in narrow valleys surrounded by high mountains, where there was limited arable land, short growing seasons and long, harsh winters. Increasing privatization of common lands (= less access to common pasture) pressured peasants to seek non-local areas to graze their herds during the critical summer months; moving animals to higher grasslands during this short seasonal window proved to be a practical resource management system.

Typically, many families would combine their cow, sheep or goat herds and several villagers were chosen each spring to shepherd the animals up into the mountains for the summer. Hut systems were established that enabled herdsmen to basically practice a large-scale version of rotational grazing, trekking from one hut to another every few weeks or so.

I'm in ur hutz, makin' ur cheezes.

The critical part was this: Summer is traditionally lactation time for ruminants in all places Northernly (Nature likes it that way; that's when the grass makes the best eatin') so naturally these animals had to be milked every day. This milk they were producing from lush, perennial grasses was VERY valuable to people who were faced with killing frosts and feet upon feet of snow for the greater part of the year. So how do you distill milk to its calorie-dense essence? You make cheese, of course! And boy, were they faced with a challenge in that respect; the cheese had to be long-lived, to endure the summer and be edible the following winter for the villagers, and had to be physically durable to endure the nomadic travel patterns of the herdsmen. Also, these guys didn't have ready or easy access to salt -- that stuff was expensive when you were far away from the ocean and up in the high country. So these cheeses really had to be endowed with superpowers, because they had to be designed in lieu of the salt that so many of the world's hard cheeses relied on for their development.

Transhumance is still part of rural culture in parts of Europe, and constitutes bi-annual community celebrations where it survives. Sending the animals up into the mountains is sowing the seeds, and welcoming their return - along with cartloads of yummy cheese - is reaping the harvest. See, it's kind of like bee-keeping, only with huge, cloven-hoofed beasts. You send them away, along with a chaperone or two, to graze distant lands and turn faraway green things into milk - which is ecologically analogous to honey, dontcha know...

Many cheeses you know and love were brought to you by the transhumantes. Gruyere, Emmental, Comte... omg, I just drooled a little bit.

The part of my brain that's been assimilated is tugging on my sleeve currently, urging me to note that "transhumance" is phonetically similar to "transhuman". Of course, Transhumanism is not actually etymologically related to "transhumance", but being a student of all things cybernetíque, I cannot completely ignore the crypto-synchronism of these words. Transhumanism is a school of thought that promotes the human body as an open-ended organic machine that can be potentially modified and enhanced by various biotechnologies, and posits that in fact this project is exactly what we should invest our intellectual capital on. Transhumanism theoretically enlists the services of nanotechnology, brain-machine interfacing, robotics, and in the case of the Extropian movement, research on indefinite human life extension. If my vote matters, I'd rather be more like the Predator than the Borg. Just sayin'!

So what does Transhumanism have to do with transhumance? Probably nothing other than this blog entry. What do cyborgs have to do with agrarianism? If I could answer that, then there'd be nothing to blog about.

So if you think of anything, let me know. :P

Here's a clip of a news story about transhumance in France. Yes, it's in French, but you're pretty much seeing what they are talking about - the living tradition.

Here's a cool clip of cows making the journey to greener pastures in the French Alps.

Just so we don't get too carried away - some people just truck their animals up to the highlands in 18 wheelers. lol. But let's take heart in the fact that these animals will continue to have legs, and will continue to be able to eat green things and make milk, meat and fiber from them. The future does not look quite as bright for 18 wheelers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Farmpunk Declaration of Interdependence

In some words of mine:

A farmpunk* could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with a hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society. The art and science of modern ecological design - whether it be earthworks, shelter building, farm design, or urban reprogramming - is best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy. These hermeneutic discliplines are not categorical or reductionist, but open-ended. Natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

I blame my penchant for word synthesis on dead languages, Bucky Fuller, and all the elves in the fifth dimension.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ecology in Hindu Scripture; 001

Oh, hmm, introductions. Okay, think of the Upanishads as the expansion pack to the Vedas.
(That was horrible, but I loved saying it)

The Upanishads are full of wonderful kernels that we can carry with us in our medicine-bags. These notions can remind us earth-worshippers that we are empowered, whether we know it or not, by an arcane cosmography that concerned itself with rubrics for spiritual nutrition, and assumed that this was the point of origin for all other forms of nutrition (physical and environmental). Some of my favorite wordcrystals are "the earth is honey for all beings, and all beings are the honey for this earth" (Brihadaranyaka, 2:5:1), or "This whole universe is fivefold" (1:4:17) [[DaVinci, Sacred Geometry, & Permaculture design all agree with this]], or finally "the whole extent of this universe is nothing but food and what eats food." (1:4:6) [[Vandana Shiva, who is a level 70 shaman, summons the power of that one frequently]] -- this text also dabbles in MAGIC, as in "What introduces differentiation is name and form..." (1:4:7) Y'know, that whole 'nomina sunt realia' chaosmagick game... Oh, I could go on! But let me get to the passage that inspired this diatribe in the first place...(By the way, the noun "diatribi" in Greek means variably "a waste of time" or "a serious employment/study", depending on the intention of the language user. Don't ya know I just love words that have dual potentiality, much like subatomic particles... But as usual I DIGRESS...we'll get to that later!

The following are the very last few verses that conclude the Taittiriya Upanishad. Very giggle-worthy. Such is the effect of hindu scripture on me... and maybe others who grew up in a religious culture that "didn't do" ecology. lol
(psst...ecology isn't patriotic, dontcha know! Plants? Yeah, *total* socialists.) ;)

"This one that is here in a man (purusa) and that one [up] there in the sun, - HE IS ONE.

[5] The man who knows this, on departing from this world, draws near to the self that consists of food, draws near to the self that consists of breath, draws near to the self that consists of mind, draws near to the self that consists of understanding, draws near to the self that consists of bliss; then he roams [at will] throughout these worlds, eating what he will, changing his form at will: and sitting down, he sings this song:

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
I am food! I am food! I am food!
I am an eater of food! I am an eater of food! I am an eater of food!
I am a maker of verses! I am a maker of verses! I am a maker of verses!
I am the first born of the universal order (rta),
Earlier than the gods, in the navel of immortality!
Whoso gives me away, he, verily, has succoured me!
I who am the eater of food!
I have overcome the whole world!

He who knows this shines with a golden light."†

(emphasis my own)

Vedanta extolls the principle, mentioned ceaselessly in the Upanishads, that the Atman (self, ground of being) and the Brahman (reality substrate) are the same thing, as in Tat Tvam Asi. As my Hinduism professor said a few years ago, when asked if the "atman" was like a cupcake and the "brahman" was like a cake made from the same batter, he replied "No... it's like a cake and... A CAKE".

Therein is the idea that the cosmos is fractal in nature, or is A singular fractal that contains many different levels of manifest being that all operate from the very same "mathemagical" principles.

We did have thinking like this in the west, y'know. Abrahamic religion relegated it to "the occult". Meet Hermeticism. You might have heard the maxim that the Corpus Hermeticum is really famous for (similar to the fame of "Tav Tvam Asi" vis a vis the Upanishads)... and this maxim is, in the popular form: "As above, so below". This proceeds from the literal text which says something more like "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing"††.

Mmmm.. sounds like fundamental complementarity to me. This is a principle that is consanguineous and supplemental to the fractal-universe model. It can be evidenced in the study of particle physics, where matter is held together by the co-attraction of "opposites", and in an even more capricious guise, quantum functioning, where subatomic entities have at least dual potentiality when left to their own sneaky devices.

The Hermetic maxim is a riddle, because as "You-know-who" (Bucky-ballz) points out elsewhen, the only directions worth talking about in Universe are "in", "out" and "around". This is due to the effect of gravity on the space-time fabric - think of the S-T Continuum as a big bedsheet stretched out taught in all directions. If you were to roll a baseball onto that sheet, it would make a little depression, right? And then say once the baseball had settled in the middle somewhere you were to toss a couple of marbles onto the sheet. Where do they roll? Into the "gravity field" of the baseball, obvs. This is a bad model, since it itself is privy and dependent on REAL gravity to simulate fictional gravity, so we're still inclined to think that the marbles are rolling "down" into the baseball's gravity field. But imagine this happening on a celestial scale, so instead of a bedsheet, it's a void. A bit less comfy sounding. But in that case, there is no "up" or "down" in a cosmic sense, since those notions proceed from our orientation as earthlings to our mother earth (and that concept is important to hold, too - I don't mean to discount it).

So the translation of the hermetic maxim can be a bit misleading at first, because it appears, in English, as well as many other earthling tongues, very married to the dimensions of "up" and "down", which can sound a bit Heaven-n'-Hell-esque. Do not be fooled! The Great Above and the Great Below are but metaphoric prepositions. This antithetical word-string IS a template with infinite applications; the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, the organ and the organism, the breathing of your body and the breathing of the world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, matter cannot be created or destroyed... etc. etc. etc.

Which reminds me, Hermeticism was onto the laws of thermodynamics WAY before the fact. Chapter VIII of the Corpus is titled "That No One of Existing Things doth Perish, but Men in Error Speak of Their Changes as Destructions and as Deaths." This veritably lays out the first law of thermodynamics which states in common terms that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, they can only shapeshift (and thus the net energy within the 'mainframe' always stays the same)
Jeez. You hardly even need to watch the movie now, eh?

Winks and love,

Omnivorous Faun

p.s. Hakim Bey, ever ahead of the pack, has written a manifesto heralding the return of such ideas in the west... and this time, the Hermes T's incarnation is clothed in GREEN. Haven't read it yet, BTW...Can us well-informed tricksters not spot viral meme potential a mile away? Good old Mercury is strong in me. ;)

Hindu Scriptures. Trans. R.C. Zaehner. Everyman's Library, 1966.

†† Download the Corpus Hermeticum as a PDF

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Media Permaculture

I don't want to make a habit of depending on other people's words and thought-scapes for blog content -- indeed, the influences of many people nourish my own thought-scapes.... but in lieu of the time to digest, ferment and re-synthesize the following, I would simply like to share it with you, the way people like to share a cake someone just left on their doorstep... or something...

I am re-copying here an excerpt from Antonio Lopez's book Mediacology. The excerpt can be found on the P2P foundation wiki... which is a project devoted to all forms and kinds of open sourcedness, peer to peer synergizing, etc. - many concepts of which I personally believe to be quite applicable to meatspace as well as cyberspace, btw... That said, their entry on permaculture is unfortunately only one sentence long. This should change (get on it, farmpunks!), since I quite consider permaculture to be no more than responsibly applied ecological cybernetics.

Anyway! I digress. Take it away, Lopez.

"The necessary change in our pedagogy is quite simple, but incredibly profound. To quote graphic designers Bruce Mau and Jennifer Leonard (2004, p. 11), our work is not "about the world of design; it's about the design of the world." In a nutshell, this encompasses the tension between an old world approach to media literacy versus one that is ecological, because most education efforts focus on the world of designed products, meaning advertising or commercial media, but not the design of the system itself. By design I don't mean an analysis of the economic power structure of multinational media corporations or the ideology of liberal capitalism, which are what I consider to be symptoms of deeper issues. Here I want to consider what environmental educator David Orr (1994) calls "ecological design arts," which he defines as a "set of perceptual and analytical abilities: ecological wisdom, and practical wherewithal essential to making things that 'fit' in a world of trees, microbes, rivers, animals, bugs, and small children. In other words, ecological design is the careful meshing of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world and the study of those patterns and flows to inform human purposes" (p.104). Orr proposes that we need "biologic": "When human artifacts and systems are well designed, they are in harmony with the larger patterns in which they are embedded" (p.105).

In this context it is important to consider Wendell Berry's (2005, pp. 33-4) concept of "designing for pattern," which argues that design solutions should not create more problems, but on the contrary, should solve other problems as well:

"A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them. A bad solution solves for a single purpose or goal.... A good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns-and this harmony will, I think, be found to have the nature of analogy. A bad solution acts within the larger pattern the way a disease or addiction acts within the body. A good solution acts within the larger pattern the way a healthy organ acts within the body. But it must at once be understood that a healthy organ does not -as the mechanistic or industrial mind would say-'give' health to the body, is not exploited for the body's health, but is a part of its health. The health of organ and organism is the same, just as the health of organism and ecosystem is the same. And these structures of organ, organism, and ecosystem-as John Todd has so ably understood-belong to a series of analogical integrities that begins with the organelle and ends with the biosphere."

  • * *

If permaculture is a design solution for the biosphere, then "mediacology" is a design solution for the "semiosphere"-the "synchronistic semiotic space which fills the borders of culture" (Lotman, 2001, p.3). Mediacology achieves these permaculture principles by applying cybernetic thinking and paradigm mapping. Cybernetics takes the view that our information environment is inherently a feedback system. As such, mediacology uses natural models based on systems thinking to map and reconfigure media education pedagogy by applying a circular inquiry process called the "Media Wheel."

It is my sense that media literacy represents a "sick" pedagogy, so mediacology is meant to "remediate," using both senses of the term. On the one hand remediation means mending troubled ecological niches, and on the other the media theory concept that newer media forms incorporate older media forms with the contradictory purpose of having immediacy and opacity. Mediacology "remediates" (fixes) the industrial model of mass media literacy and its print literate perspective, and it also remediates (incorporates) alternative epistemologies to become more fluid.

As a design solution, mediacology promotes sustainable human cultural and economic practices in its approach to content by revealing patterns of thinking that underlie the forms of media systems. Intrinsic to this approach is a multicultural view that recognizes perceptual and semiological border worlds called "mediaspheric niches." These zones are the mediacological equivalent of bioregions, which are ecologies defined by watersheds. As such, mediacology is an approach that can be flexible according to particular community needs, just as sustainable agriculture needs to be practiced according to the particular characteristics of a bioregion. To extend the cultivation metaphor, synthetic communication produced by corporate mainstream media can be likened to industrial agricultural, whereas community media is akin to organic farming and permaculture. This means integrating the local with the global, thereby "glocalizing" our practices."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Update on the wheat scene in VT!

From today's Seven Days! This article is full of great information and the low-down on some ongoing projects that the UVM Extension is involved in. I just saw Heather Darby lecture about some of this at Northeast Animal Power Field Days. Enjoy!

No Grain, No Gain

As wheat prices soar, will Vermonters start growing it again?

"It’s hard to believe historians describe Vermont in the years before westward expansion as “New England’s bread basket.” In those days before supermarkets and Wonder Bread, our state boasted commercial wheat growers, and many Green Mountain landowners maintained small plots for home use. (It wasn’t as common as tending a patch of tomatoes or keeping the root cellar stocked, but it wasn’t unusual.) When their grain was ready, families brought it to the nearest mill to be ground into flour.

But Vermont’s wild, wet weather is hard on wheat, which is vulnerable to a variety of funguses. As the drier midwestern territory was settled and the Great Plains were converted from buffalo pastures into “amber waves of grain,” North Country farmers turned to dairy and other forms of agriculture.

All that could change. With wheat prices fluctuating wildly on the commodities market — they doubled earlier this year, then crashed last week — and the localvore movement issuing a clarion call for breads made from local grains, Vermont’s wheat fields are making a comeback. “There is definitely a . . . much greater demand than there was five years ago,” posits grain expert Heather Darby, a farmer and assistant professor at the University of Vermont Extension. “There are more farmers interested in growing grains. Some are starting to grow them, and others are in the information-seeking stage...”
:::::continue reading at 7dvt.com

Monday, October 13, 2008

i heart feudalism.

warning: sarcasm ahead

Now that I have your attention... let me clarify that I KNOW some people have compared current government-subsidized agribusiness to some really large-ass version of a feudal system... because it basically has turned its farmers into serfs who are being 'forced' to grow corn & soybeans due to a really dumb pyramid scheme, ETC. ETC. ETC. (A good example of a pyramid scheme is ironically the food pyramid itself, which you might remember from the back of cereal boxes. But I digress...)

But please, dear readers, hear me out. The White House knows jack shite about how to distribute land to us commoners, and it will indubitably stay that way, because honestly there's just no hope for governing [the right kind of] food production in a country this big. Do you hear me, D.C.? DO NOT TRY YOUR HAND AT FEUDALISM, PLZ & THNX. What I'm really endorsing here is manorialism. Why? Because it's a fancy medievaly word and is less-scary sounding than libertarian socialism. Seriously though, it's because when I "choose" to live in a city, I want my municipal government to provide me and the fruit of my womb (this is hypothetical, so bear with me) with a 400 square foot plot of arable land someplace within city limits. A place where I can grow much of the plant matter that I eat. And I'd like to pay... let's see...how about $40 dollars rent per year on the plot? I'd also rly love a little toolshed there and I'd like to actually be legally allowed to make a freeking compost pile.

But Mr. President, before you throw me to the socialist-avore beasts in front of a roaring crowd of Republica...Romans, let me point out that our dear friends in the U.K., where allotment gardening is federally supported, do EXACTLY this! I wasn't even kidding about the $40 per year. Similar programs exist in quite a few other Northern European & Scandinavian nations. These setups are different from what we might think of as a "community garden" (which is a rather loose term), in that a piece of city land is alloted by local government (under state or federal mandate) for subdivision into gardening plots - each plot intended for one family. So in this case the "profit" isn't measured in money to a company, but rather in nourishment to humans. I suppose you could call it socialized community gardening. Or socialized healthcare. lawl! For some more information, Wikipedia has a rather informative article on the subject.

Medieval Manor:

Allotment gardens in Germany:

In thinking about this, which is a means of production for vegetables and (to a lesser extent) fruit, I wondered - what about a similar system for eggs, or even meat or milk? That would require something more like a manorial open field system, which you can think of as allotment gardening but with pasture and hayfields as well. Much to my nerdly delight, the town of Laxton in Nottinghamshire somehow sneakily escaped the whole enclosure thing and still practices agriculture in a modified open-field system.

Now if only we in Vermont could get the state to really get behind the Burlington Intervale...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

!Danger, danger: Farmpunks in the New York Times Magazine!

It's Colombus-day weekend - the peak of the leaf-peeping frenzy in Vermont - and this weekend's issue of the New York Times Magazine is all about food (with a special focus on the farm & garden and the SMALL as opposed to the supermarket and the big!) it's been a long-time coming and the deep-forest oracle with which all faunz consult sez that the FARMPUNK MEME IZ GOING VIRAL (although it goes by many various names)... One featured article, "Food Fighters", showcases several farmpunx who are saving their local earth-spot by doing what they're doing. Need I say more?

read "Food Fighters" and see pretty pictures of green things

I found this beutious papercard at Seasoned Booksellers in Rochester, VT (fairy-owned & operated). Rochester is where my grandparents put final roots down. My grandmother was a story-weaving unicorn from arcane appalachia and my grandfather was tall & skinny, also a creature empowered through moveable type. But one was a fiction-teller and the other a non-fiction teller.

It sent my mind down a silly river:::

Your hands and feet are where your blood turns back around. They are like the destination of each hearbeat... where the lifeblood reaches its crest and starts the journey back to be re-inoculated and inhaled-into.
Proverbs famously speaks of the power of the tongue to either damn or bless. That is all well, good and true, and it's a great place to learn about SPELLCASTING since words can be spells or hexes and we're much better off once we know that...

BUT... sometimes the words we utter with our tongues are too quiet to reach the earth - their half-life too short. We have to speak louder so the land will respond and so our future-selves will hear us. This is when we speak with our hands. Designing and building and earth-working is, as the Masons have frequently known, the ultimate and only-sufficient form of worship for hairless bipeds with opposable thumbs. To intentionally build a dwelling for earthlings that also functions as an energy-transducer for the encompassing earth (FARM in our vernacular) is to build the temple.

So I suppose when we put our hearts in our hands, we don't make a fist - we make love. We also sometimes make sense, and this is especially important when we are building language with our hands like I am doing at this very moment. But love. yes. in.deed.

I think I'm more prone to forest-enchantment after the Harvest moon and before the snow flies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don't cry over unpasteurized milk, part 1

Let me just forewarn you that we MAY or MAY NOT reach our destination topic in this entry - that topic being regulation of the human consumption of raw milk and some of its many implications. The reason for this disclaimer is that I, at my most aligned (which coincides with my writing for FUN) tend to 'think like a river' - that is to say that if I intend to tell a story about one thing that has been frequently catching my attention, I end up telling a story of life, the universe and everything through the lens of that thing. (It might sound grand, but it can sometimes be a little ridiculous and inefficient. Srsly!) So I start rather far away from my central "talking point" and move inward in an orbital spiral-actic fashion. It ever seems that this method of storytelling wants to happen regardless of my plans. Besides, nature is known for being incredibly redundant and wholly containing elements that perform many functions. Perhaps our storytelling should follow suite.

Milk is a substance in which I have a special interest. Really if you want to get all personal, the production of milk for various types of human food is what guided/pushed/shoved me along the path that would bring me to the sublime non-destination that is GRASS. (Maybe it's just safer for me to replace "grass" with "the ground", because that's like a less-syllabic version of "grass or the lack of grass". Oh dear...) Ehem...So for most of this journey I was and am extremely nearsighted and like many hairless apes see only what is right in front of my snout. Although one could choose to see this "gift" of the humans as rather embarrassing and worth-covering-up, it is precisely what makes life so incredibly exciting for me. Where the hell would I be without my beloved treasure-hunt metaphor?

Oh, what was the point of that last paragraph? I think I wanted to make the connection between milk and grass. Yeah! Well, mammals eat grass (and legumes!) of various kinds - be they highly processed grain (like corn) that doesn't look at all like grass by the time it enters their mouths, or - ideally - mouthfuls of live perennial forage that animals actually harvest by their very own selves, with NO adult supervision! (Note: Cow [and sheep and goat] mouths are in fact designed to harvest and eat live-in-soil grass; chewing hard grain pellets is an inefficient and awkward act for them. Actually, I secretly think their mouths were designed BY grass. The Pope and I disagree. Sad face!)

Ruminants are even-toed ungulates (fancy nomenclature for the royal cloven-hoofed) that have a multi-chambered stomach system; an epic saga in which the first and largest chamber - the rumen - is the action-hero. Ruminants are amazing earth-technologies because of their ability to digest cellulose, which you might be familiar with from Saran Wrap™. (insert sarcasm mark here). This ability is incredibly worth obsessing over because cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on God's Green Earth. It is commonly showcased in green plants where it is none other than cell walls. And get this - cellulose is a carbohydrate! It's a really-freaking-long chain of glucose molecules linked together all stubborn-like. "Then why can't I eat it?" You wantz to know. Well, scientifically speaking, cellulose's staunchly stubborn character makes it hard for our liberal omnivore digestive systems to empathize with (digest)!

The cloven-hoofed, though, are not only capable of converting plant carbs into protein, but would be completely reliant on this method of energy-harvesting if need be. Today, the only reason our uddered-friends don't fully rely on this superpower of theirs is that they are fed refined grain in order to get them to either gain weight faster or produce more milk so humans can obtain said meat and milk in an ever-shorter amount of time. The reason this can be seen as silly is that all the grain that is poured into the food animal industry is edible by humans. Isn't the whole point of domesticated animals to get them to utilize components of the environment that they have evolved to utilize and that WE as HUMANS can't utilize, and then place this energy-conversion in a system where it will nourish us and the earth? Have I gotten romantic again? No, you silly goose, I've just gone for a little romp in the DeLorean to the time when agriculture began!)

Maybe I'll save the action-packed intricacies of the ruminant digestive system for another entry... Just kidding, here I go. :P But; essentially the rumen is like a big fermentation tank (anaerobic digesters copied it!) that is populated with an amazing array of microflora (bacteria for the most part) that live in symbiosis with the animal and produce enzymes that break down cellulose and hemicellulose. It is more correct to say that the microbes in the rumen do the digesting, lest we think that it is the single-agent-animal that does all this sleight-of-hoof by itself! Eventually these plant carbs are transformed enzymatically into volatile fatty acids, lactic acid and pyruvic acid, to name some. The fermentation process produces methane and carbon dioxide as byproducts, which take up space in the rumen normally and are periodically expelled through BURPING. In fact, all this acid being produced always KILLS a bunch of the bacteria in the rumen (which are eternally regenerating), and then that dead bacteria (=PROTEIN!) passes into the animal's abomasum and intestine where it is DIGESTED and turned into the FLESH OF THE ANIMAL! That's ruminant digestion in a nutshell. And I'm excited.

So, I should modify my language from 'milk production' to 'milk collection' - since of course our cloven-hoofed friends are responsible for the creation of milk in their magical udders; we merely design 'milk catchment systems', and on the other end we design nutrition-management-systems. We have a history (mainly within the last century) of being terribly bad at these two ventures. This mismanagement comes from wrongly-motivated-focus that can be summed up by something a PhD-possessing professor of mine (bless her heart) said: "cows are [now] appendages of their udders". I bless her because she is wonderful and was not making a political statement - she was simply reflecting truths that she sees evidenced in her work as a livestock vet.

Naturally, milk from cows that eat fresh grass all the time is going to be a very different biochemical beast than milk from cows that are grain-fed - or fed TMR. I mean it's kind of like how [m]animals poop different poop when they eat different stuff. But alas, that comparison can only take us so far -- because in fact milk production from the mammary gland is quite a miraculous and deliberate process in nature, designed as, among other things a mechanism for delivering calcium to neonates. On a closer look, these beasts of burden for calcium are casein micelles; large conglomerations of casein molecules (which are themselves long squiggly strands of +/- 200 amino acids, and comprise most of the protein in milk). Casein micelles have calcium phosphates suspended inside them and have a polar surface, allowing them to mix with water. Milk is essentially a really intelligent emulsion of water, fat and protein.

To cut to the chase here, when cows are fed GRAIN forever in commercial feedelot situations, it makes the microflora in their rumen behave differently, and can (and does) make the rumen pH drop below 6, which is WAY TOO ACIDIC and verrah BAD. This will kill much more of the bacteria in the rumen than is normal. Many cows in factory farms - both meat and dairy - have subclinical acidosis that is simply kept at bay through the use of human-engineered hacks like Rumensin, which essentially re-programs bacteria in the rumen so that previously unnatural inputs of starches (grains) can be tolerated. Since metabolic function dictates how our life-energy flows through us, animals inevitably suffer a host of abnormal health issues when their (our) internal power-plants are not doing what they have evolved to do. One thing that is chronically affected by grain-only & no-green-grass-allowed feeding in dairy cows is the quality of the milk. Now here's where we have to go in and clear up what I mean by "quality". If you use milk's evolved function as a standard to measure 'quality' against, then 'good quality milk' is milk that will maximally nourish and *protect* the offspring of that particular, individual animal.

But DUH, huge dairies that produce milk destined for: a processing & bottling plant/ the supermarket/ and the refrigerators of humans, respectively, understandably don't [invest] care in producing milk as nature intended... and why should they? They invest care in the volume-producing capacity of udders that happen to have cows attached to them.

What does this all have to do with the "controversy" over unpasteurized milk? The key point is this: The current milk-production infrastructure has the pasteurization process deeply embedded into it because it is the only way to ensure that "clean" milk is produced from an industry of such scale. The promise of pasteurization reduces the need for strict[er] regulations governing how clean the milk has to be (coliform count, somatic cell count, etc) before it gets trucked from the farm to the plant. Moreover, cows in large-scale feeding operations just don't produce milk that is as nutritionally viable, needless to say not something that this mammal wants to consume straight from the cow. Grass-fed (ergo "naturally normal") milk is higher in butterfat, much higher in conjugated linoleic acids (nutritional superheroes), and will provide a more friendly environment for the lactic acid bacteria that are naturally present in milk. This has serious ramifications in terms of the ability of the biochemical micro-environment of the milk preventing contamination and overgrowth of 'bad' bacteria. Lactobacilli ferment lactose (milk sugar) and produce lactic acid, which is a natural antibiotic. This kind of fermentation is naturally occurring in raw/unpasteurized milk, which is one of the reasons we say that raw milk does not "go bad" -- it simply "goes sour" or "ferments" organically over a period of time. Pasteurized milk is really dead milk, and yes, it rots.

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon warns/commands that "raw milk is inherently dangerous and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose."
Yes, dear Mike, of COURSE we shouldn't drink unpasteurized milk from a dairy farm that's part of the infrastructure that you oversee. I'll gladly take your word as an expert of that oligarchy. But what happens when food-systems pop up outside the matrix?

So, what's the right way to incorporate unpasteurized milk into patterns of human consumption? See next entry, farmnerdz!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

All the thrill of industrial farming from the comfort of your bedroom

So apparently tractor & "farm" simulation games are really popular in Northern Europe. When I out of curiosity searched for game-cam clips of SimTractor, they were all set to Finnish happy hardcore or German metal.

Far be it from me to take a jab at gamers. Totally not the purpose of this entry. What I find kinda silly is what's going on developer-side. John Deere has an entire suite of farm simulation games for sale and a French company makes SimTractor which realistically simulates operating combines, sprayers, tillers and pretty much all those one-job beasts made by the world's biggest industrial farm equipment manufacturers (Deutz Ag and Massey Ferguson, to name a few). I'm not saying I haven't done my time with WASD, but I think that this sort of propaganda that showcases the 'technological fruits' of Agri-Biz and dubs it "farm simulation" is kinda fishy. And by fishy, I mean that fish meal has mercury in it, yo.

Depleting the soil of organic matter has never been so action-packed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The American Dairy Industry: Now in Technicolor

Well, technically it's in Kodachrome. :P

{{click the picture to watch the film}}

The part where "Professor Chapman" is like "Say there TOM, have you given any thought to the dairy industry?" -- I am immediately reminded of a guest lecturer at one of my Animal Science classes. He was like Mr. Big Dairy-Biz-Man. More on that later. In the meantime, watch some dairy recruitin' propaganda. It gets a bit repetitive after the first five minutes.

Getting Permacultured in Vermont

I have to take a moment to be an emissary for Yestermorrow Design & Build School in Warren, Vermont. I took their Permaculture bootcamp course this past weekend... and it was worth far more than I paid for it, in great part due to the expertise of my instructor, Andrew Faust. He's quite a jack-of-all-trades (and master of many of them) - naturalist, builder, designer, gardener - I suppose I'd call him a "medicine mason", because he is someone who heals by design. Bucky Fuller, for example - who I will probably refer to incessantly, btw - resides in my personal mythology as one of the modern progenitors of medicine-mason consciousness...

Among other things Andrew teaches Permaculture Design Certification classes - one of which is a 12-day course taught at Yestermorrow - and has recently started an edible garden consulting and design business in Brooklyn (his main game is called The Center for Bioregional Living, which was previously born from the generation of his biodynamic homestead in West Virginia)

And yes, the Yestermorrow creature is just as fantastic as it has always sounded. This place is the local Jedi training grounds. Every flavor of green craft is available in forms easily digested and expressed by the brains and limbs of earthlings, respectively. There are also a lot of courses that focus on the more psycho-spiritual side of green-craft, like applications of sacred geometry and dowsing, or naturalist know-how like tree identification, reading the landscape & general geomancy. They just added a course on Farm Design, too. It looks delicious, and yes, I cry every night because my job as a professional student prevents me from participating. (You can transfer credit from some of the 1 and 2 week courses to UVM now, too!)

Here's Yestermorrow's blog, in which they mention the upcoming exhibition at UVM's Fleming Museum that chronicles the design/build movement in Vermont in the sixties and seventies - our local incarnation of the first post-industrial back-to-the-land movement.

::teleport to the exhibit's webpresence::

Monday, September 22, 2008

My positionality...

The blog is an interesting type of narrative because of its nature as a veritable log of mental events that are made available for an audience relatively near the time they have been transubstantiated into text. Blogs don't contain beginnings or ends unless we choose to fabricate them - thus they tend to begin "in the middle" of the story, so to speak, and often a narrative can only be inferred by observing patterns (over time!) that emerge in these rivers of digital print. Indeed, there is something organic about them because they reflect a process that teaches you why it does things only through its own continued unfolding... it is a rare example of entelechy in media (needless to say the majority of media is framed in quite a different way). In the strange synthetic landscape that is the internet, which is always at various stages of decay and growth, and in some places even fossilized, blogs are like these things that somehow seem more alive and autonomous than the other edifices of code that populate cyberspace. They have roots in another world, and it is from there that they are fed, and like a taproot - it is there where they mostly exist.

The reason I'm waxing poetic about blogs as narratives is because I've been thinking, in light of what I've written here so far, about how I might be perceived by someone who doesn't know me and happens upon this blog. Indeed, that is in one part a purpose of this writing project - to reach people who I can't touch with speech, people whose existence and spirit I could never possibly be aware of. I am sensitive to the fact that it is difficult to impart through text things like cynicism and sarcasm -- and I like to entertain myself by devising textual techniques by which to do this, as I value the music of live speech so very much.

I suppose I'm visualizing this entry as an addendum particularly to my post about wheat & grain. My treatment of the Green Revolution may come off as somewhat unmindful. I want to be clear that cynicism should not be mistaken for demonization. I'm not saying that poor Norman Borlaug, or dwarf wheat varieties, or any cause, effect or component of what we now call the "Green Revolution" is or was 'bad', per se. What you see written here are eddies, bubbles, tiny manifestations of a much vaster dialectical river - and as the wetware component to this local dialectic, I have to tell you straight up that I see no phenomena - social, ecological or what-have-you - as inherently good or bad‡; what I am much more inclined to think of as detrimental to my own health as an earthling is something deeper than such superficial phenomena - something that cannot be captured live or seen by any one pair of eyes at one time. This beast is infrastructure. It, like every other system outside of fiction, evolved - however industrially - in response to various pressures; in this case human needs. But whose needs, exactly? Yours? Mine? I can only speak for myself, and I can surely say not mine. This infrastructure is exceptionally good at presenting itself as in servitude of you - it hopes that you will think of it as a process that leads to you and ends with you. But in my experience this is very far from the case. Large artificial systems that replace ecological processes with mechanical ones are uninterested in human health and happiness. And yet (!) I'm still not trying to demonize them by saying that - because they aren't interested in being a detriment to human health and happiness, either. We encounter a challenge when we, with our language that has been designed for human-to-human interaction, come up against a corporate entity that seems to be alive, because it speaks to us by proxy - (through advertisement) - but is in fact not alive the way we are and therefore does not possess the agency of an individual. I know this may sound obvious, but honestly, we do not escape the effects of this continuous mis-communication.

So you have to ask yourself, for example, who does big Agri-biz benefit, and HOW does it benefit them and what is benefit? I certainly know that what I think of as benefit might be very, very different than what someone else might think of as benefit. And honestly, I do not know that any two people might see this word in exactly the same way. All I can know is that it's quite unlikely that its actually a word that has any real meaning given the state of affairs right now.

...I can't help but think, though, what would a plant say, if asked what benefited it? My guess would be, to be concise: Sunlight and water, and nutrients from the soil - moderated to the "right" levels by the natural function of the surrounding ecosystem. It needs not just raw commodities (water and sunlight) to be healthy - but it needs the co-thriving and co-benefiting of other animate beings in its local ecology. IT NEEDS THAT!

We could learn a thing or two from these blade of grass guys.

For example, it does not benefit me that record harvests of grain or corn are being made in the Midwest - in fact, if I check out the EPA's data on how contaminated all of our rivers and streams are because of Agri-biz - then I would find that the extent to which it hurts me far outweighs any way it would "benefit" me (when I say "me", I suppose I mean an earthling sharing a continent with an infrastructure that farms with pharmaceuticals...)
It does not benefit me as an earthling that cows are injected with rBGH so they can produce more milk. Actually, it benefits (the definition of benefit here is "gives money to") industries of scale because when they crunch their numbers they find that they will save money by getting more milk out of one cow as opposed to going to the trouble to feed more cows. I highly doubt that industrial dairy organically benefits ANY human being, much less any plant or animal being. When rBGH was approved in '94, we did not need more milk in this country. The whole market for rBGH was created by its coming-into-being (you can thank Monsanto for this, btw). The reason rBGH was adopted so readily wasn't that Americans wanted or needed more milk - it was because dairy farmers needed to pay the bills. The minimum price processors can pay farmers for milk per hundredweight is set at the government level - if you are a dairy farmer selling liquid milk, you basically have control of what goes into your cow and that's all. Once rBGH existed it was a no-brainer for many. (IOW: You want control; make a value-added product with your milk and SELL IT LOCALLY.)

More food is NOT better in a centralized and vertically integrated food system. It will NOT solve world hunger, or even come anywhere close, I am [not really] sorry to say. It will at best provide short-term "give a man a fish" solutions, much to the detriment of any long term ones. It will also continue to convince people of its own false validity and worth because of the illusion of abundance that it constantly churns out. Sorry, but this is the WRONG KIND of abundance. There are different kinds, see.

We are creatures of habit, yes... and Agri-biz has made a habit out of us. The design of environments and systems that we live within controls our behavior and does a great deal more to dictate our needs than we even realize. For me, deprogramming is as simple as going out into the woods and asking myself "what do I need?"

We have an incredible amount of power as individuals in the space where we choose to act (or not act!) in relationship to the food industry. If you try and explore this power during your walk on earth - you'll never get bored. Guaranteed best game ever.

an expansion on "good and bad", courtesy of the Foreword from "Critical Path" by Buckminster Fuller.

**Warning: He reads like e.e. cummings writing particle physics**

"(Foreword) It is the author's working assumption that the words good and bad are meaningless. This is based on science and not opinion. In 1922 physicists discovered a fundamental complementarity of disparate individual phenomena to be operative in physical Universe. This was fundamentally amplified with the subsequent discovery of the always-and-only-different, always-coexisting proton and neutron which, with their always-coexistent electrons, positrons, neutrinos and antineutrinos, are intertransformable.

No longer valid was "the" building block of the Universe. It was discovered that unity was plural and at minimum sixfold. All the intercomplementations are essential to the successful accomplishment of eternally regenerative Universe. Science's discovery of fundamental complementarity has frequently occasioned individual scientists' realization that the word negative used as the opposite of the word positive is at best carelessly and misinformedly employed.

Since complementarity is essential to the success of eternally regenerative Universe, the phenomenon identified as the opposite of positive cannot be negative, nor can it be bad, since the interopposed phenomena known heretofore as good and bad are essential to the 100-percent success of eternally regenerative Universe. They are both good for the Universe."

(Yes, you read it correctly; he doesn't like using the definite article in front of "Universe". Hence things are "in Universe" (as in, interbeing, or in symphony (in poetic VERSE)) instead of being in "the Universe", which would suppose that the Universe is a noun. To Bucky, it is a verb - as are we.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sod houses and earth shelters

The relationship that grass has with the soil can bear many fruits for the one who can use sod or living earth as a structural component or building medium for their dwelling. You may be familiar with the term "sod", which is basically living grass along with the soil it is rooted in. You often hear about sod or "turf" as a commodity created on large facilities that essentially grow lawns for people. Then there is just the "wild" sod that exists as the topsoil in prairies and grasslands. When Americans were first colonizing the prairies, sod houses were common - as they were quick to erect and the incredibly thick, dense root structure of the wild prairie grass made them rather bombproof. They served as both permanent and temporary shelters -- the ones intended to last longer often had their walls reinforced or sealed with a combination of wood, stucco and plaster. Here's an example of the very simple, ad hoc design:

(from the Nebraska Historical Society)

This is a reconstruction of a Viking settlement in Newfoundland:

This is an example of a potentially longer-lasting design. The A-frame is more of a natural form than a cabin-type design, and you can see that the living roof connects seamlessly with the ground. This will be much more resilient than the previous example to natural elements like rain, wind and earthquakes.

In rare cases colonial North American sod houses have lasted an unusually long time, due to original innovations in design by individual builders. An example of this is the Addison Sod House in Saskatchewan, which is over a century old!

Today, this type of organic building - cutting large blocks of sod out of pastures or prairies to use as the primary component for walls - is not ecologically viable, and the same effect and functionality can be achieved avoided by using cob for walls.


The term "earth shelter" does not necessarily refer to a house made entirely of sod, although I suppose it could be. Earth shelter building usually takes advantage of the features of the landscape in order to construct a dwelling that is recessed into a hill or partially underground. Indeed, living sod is of utmost importance to earth shelter ecology; grass is inevitably the vegetative ground cover that holds the soil together as well as keeping it cool, managing rainfall, etc. Living sod is an excellent insulator. Moreover, these types of shelters utilize the thermal mass of the earth extremely efficiently. In principle, the earth is always around 55° Farenheit at a depth of approximately 40 inches (those numbers are probably slightly different in tundra and the antarctic). This geothermal temperature is very static regardless of the changing weather conditions above the ground. Even a house that is built completely above the ground can take advantage of the thermal mass principle by earth berming, in which earth is excavated and piled in a slope against the walls (and then inevitably seeded with grass or some combination of ground covers). A popular earth shelter design involves having three recessed, or bermed, walls and one exposed wall, usually south facing so as to take advantage of passive solar heating.


A stone house on a dairy farm I apprenticed at just had one bermed wall on the back side, and they only benefited from it!

As with most building methods, there are climate-specific challenges for earth shelters. But in any case they alleviate the need to invest in extra energy to both heat and cool the dwelling space when the outdoor temperature fluctuates, which is something that - in a temperate, 4-season climate like Vermont - we are faced with annually.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Small scale grain farming

Preface: This is based on a blog entry that I recently published on my facebook profile. I know. It is probably such bad blog karma to do this. But you have to forgive me. I'm trying to ameliorate some of my intarwebs-stage-fright, here.

So, we've all heard the praise for cheeses and wines with terroir... but what about something a little more intimate? That off-whitish powder in your pantry? Yes, flour has rights too.

So much of grain production since that whole "green revolution" riddle has been shaped in one part by the so-called "high yield" I-can-grow-anywhere-if-you-pump-me-full-of-drugs stuff, which kind of eliminates that whole thing that nature likes to do... you know, recombining thingies so she can best adapt to herself (a brilliant idea, we should all take a page...)... and grain production has also been guided along, in another part by the animal feed industry (you can use your imagination for that tirade). ;)

Wheat was one of the first plants domesticated by humans; Einkorn and Emmer wheat were two of the three cereals known to have been cultivated as far back as 10,000 years in the Fertile Crescent. The other cereal crop was barley, which is also a grass, but of a different genus. Einkorn is the oldest cultivated species, and has 14 chromosomes like nearly all wild grasses do. Emmer wheat has 28 chromosomes, deriving from wild emmer; which is the only 28-chromosome wheat to occur by natural selection. Then modern bread wheat is a 42 chromosome variety that has only occurred through artificial selection; a hybrid of 14 and 28 chromosome wheats.

So the wheat that is grown in vast monocultures in the American midwest is inevitably some modern variety of Triticum aestivum, variably referred to as "common wheat" or "bread wheat". The modern wheat industry classifies the stuff into six groups: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, durum, hard white and soft white. The flour obtained from milling hard wheats is favored for making bread, pasta, pizza dough, and the like; Soft wheat flour often finds itself in the Little Debbie section of the supermarket - coveted for the fact that it doesn't have as much annoying protein as the hard wheat varieties. Who loves cake?

All today's industrially-grown wheat varieties are actually dwarfs. I apologize. The less wheat-offending term is "reduced-height". This is the result of a man named Norman Borlaug, who I think is called "the boss of the Green Revolution". That was a joke just now. Anyway, Borlaug worked for the International Wheat and Maize Center in Mexico from 1940's onward as part of a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that sought to help farmers in Mexico increase their wheat yields in the face of unfavorable social conditions (poverty) and ecological conditions like plant disease and drought. There, he lead research that culminated with the development of dwarf, "high-yield" and disease resistant wheat varieties. The need to create a dwarf variety arose during the course of the project, as the use of chemical fertilizer (a lovely little byproduct of WWII-era weapons research!) caused growth that traditional varieties of the wheat plant could not support. Stems would bow and bend under the weight of the grain-laden ears and the stress of fertilizer-induced growth spurts. Thus a variety with a shorter, fatter stem was sought after. "High yield" is somewhat of a misnomer; so-called "high yield" crops only do so with unnatural inputs of nitrogen. As one of my professors says, it's more correct to call these super-crops "highly responsive", because they are designed to utilize certain artificial inputs for maximum growth and without any apparent injury to the plant.

Indeed, Dr. Borlaug and his gang of "high-yield" crops have been credited with saving one billion people from starvation. (What does that even mean?) Between 1960 and 1990, due in part to the agricultural initiative that he had spearheaded, world food production increased by %1000. Statistics creep me out, by the way, because they can often oversimplify things and take them out of context. Actually, that's what statistics are sort of FOR... Ok, back on track: As "improved" as many claimed these crops to be, the situation in countries that had welcomed the Green Revolution has shown that the cost of production is unsustainable. These 'supercrops' NEED fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation to do their whole high-yielding thing - an infrastructure that doesn't just magically appear once a farm family starts planting a high-yield or GM crop. (And who, pray tell, sells these now-necessary commodities?) Borlaug's wheat, for example, needs three times the water input of most heirloom varieties. Needless to say, these crops are not adapted to any bioregion. They aren't native to any place. They are Borg. Borlaug, even.

Dr. Borlaug would like you to know that - and I quote - "the 'greenies' have nothing to do with the Green Revolution, which is all about alleviating world hunger." Ah, Señor, you are right, I am just a 'Western greenie' who doesn't know what it's like to feed the multitudes. Admittedly, my personal strategy involves learning how to feed myself first. And as to models for feeding the multitudes, I can't help but evoke the old "give a man a fish" chestnut... I believe the model adopted by the Green (un?)Revolutionaries would be filed under 'giving a fish' rather than 'teaching how to fish'. Too much exchange of technological artifacts and not enough teaching. In fact, not only is there NO teaching, but it's like there is un-teaching going on - the transfer of knowledge into technology, the commodification of that technology, and the inevitable loss of local knowledge located in human wetware. Jesus is really mad about this!

In our country today, various "wheat quality laboratories" work to develop wheat varieties that meet the needs of large food processors. Needless to say such laboratories are in fact funded by said food giants. These needs are undoubtedly not intended to meet nutritional requirements of human individuals, but rather to meet corporate goals like preservation, uniformity, texture and other scary benchmarks that I don't want to know about. One example is the exciting new waxy wheat, which apparently promises to not only help you forget what you're eating by improving mouthfeel, but to also "improve the rollability and flexibility of flat breads such as tortilla and pita bread". My favorite part is when the company's president talks about cake: "'This is quite a big area for exploitation, and could well present new opportunities in baked products, especially cake,' he added."


Indeed, mass-processed flour from monocultured wheat is another farmpunk frontier that is starting to become visible to our eyes, evidenced by these local grain growers and millers springing up here in New England!

And visible enough for the New York Times to weigh in, much to my delight! (This article is very worth reading and actually what inspired me to do a little more wheat-research, which then resulted in this blog post... so please do check it out!)

One of my favorite mentions is the Hungry Ghost bakery in Northampton, MA. For lack of local wheat farmers and gristmills, they have encouraged many of their customers to grow home-plots of wheat. Outsourcing that would do Mama Nature proud. Now THAT is the undictionary definition of synergy!

...Several months ago I realized there was local flour available at Burlington's City Market, from Gleason Grains. The wonderful and IMO best-in-show Red Hen Bakery in Duxbury uses Gleason grain to make one of their CSA-specific breads! :D

Salt Spring Seed's website gives some helpful tips on growing your own small plot of wheat, and they also sell heirloom seeds. Another great resource for seeds is Bountiful Gardens in Willits, California. Both places sell seeds for many other grain crops.

"Cast iron grist mill". Say that out loud. Doesn't it just feel good in your lexicon? More things should have hand-cranks. Even ornamental hand-cranks would make lots of things easier on the eyes.

(I know you want one, and you can buy it here.)

/the faun