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

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.