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Casaubon's Book



The universal code. Synthesis of all things (or at least all things of interest to me).



Updated: 2018-02-14T14:48:49.499-08:00

 



Just a Reminder

2008-03-04T09:31:37.871-08:00

That I'm no longer posting here, and you should definitely update any links and RSS feeds to www.sharonastyk.com.

Cheers,

Sharon



If You Are Looking For Me...

2008-02-24T07:38:58.207-08:00

You won't find me or my writings here any more. They are over at my new site, www.sharonastyk.com. See you there!!

Sharon



Updates

2008-02-19T10:22:56.287-08:00

A couple of notes for y'all:

1. There are still four spaces left in the online food storage class. The in-person one (much less in depth than this) was a lot of fun - I really enjoyed it, and can't wait to get into more detail about food storage. That class concentrated almost entirely on bulk purchasing and dry grains, but I'm looking forward to getting into preserving your own and a host of other things. So if you were hoping to join, but presuming the class was full up, please send me an email at jewishfarmer@gmail.com.

I'll also be putting up preliminary materials for those following along online next week. I'm looking forward to the blog conversations we'll have about this.

2. So only a short time after I premiered my latest blog, I'm shutting it down - and this one too!

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging (give up my rantings - never!). After I premiered Depletion-Abundance, an online friend of mine, Deb, kindly emailed me to say that she thought the site sucked ;-).

Note: Edited to say Deb didn't actually say it sucked. She said she thought it was kind of underwhelming. I don't want to give anyoen the impression Deb was rude - but it sounded funnier this way ;-).

But she had a cure for this - she offered to help me set up a brand new website that would cover blog, books, and other materials. She wouldn't even take my firstborn son in return - so I hope she'll take my profuse public thanks!

So Deb has designed a gorgeous new site for me, and kicked my behind into taking it seriously. She's been working like a dog on it, and I'll be premiering the site sometime next week. All the material from here will be available there (link coming), including the older archived posts from both sites. Plus there will be new material.

In the meantime, there probably won't be many new blog posts in the next few days, as we transfer stuff over. Bear with us - it should be a short term problem.I'll put up an announcement when the time comes, but I just wanted you to know that it is in the offing.

Cheers,

Sharon



Everyone Talks About their Period, but Nobody Does Anything About It...

2008-02-18T11:13:03.982-08:00

...Except Crunchy Chicken. One of the things I like best about Crunchy's writing is her straightforward bluntness on bodily issues. In fact, she rather puts me to shame - I was once famous for that sort of thing. When I was doing AIDS education, I used to do a "15 ways to put a condom on a banana (or a partner)" demo that managed to embarass almost everyone. But since I've become a staid peak oil and climate change writer, I've hardly even mentioned bodily fluids or the orifices from which they flow. This is a pity, and must change.Well, Crunchy has done me one much better - she's not only talking about menstruation, she's making change in the world. Millions of young African women miss school because they have no menstrual supplies. Commercial makers of disposables are supplying some of them - and getting a lot of advertising credit for it, but the pads are then burnt, and the free supplies are a temporary measure, designed to create a market for disposable products many poor women and girls can ill afford. Crunchy has started a non-profit, working with aid agencies, to get women to sew or donate reusable pads to these women - and asked me if I'd help. Not only do I want to help, but I can't say enough how much admire Crunchy's passion - and her speed. It was less than a week before she had a project up and going.So I strongly recommend that all of my readers read Crunchy's posts on this matter:http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/02/last-monday-i-posted-about-how-i-was.html and http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/02/using-your-sewing-skills-for-good.html and visit her new website here: http://www.goods4girls.org/ and make a donation, either of your time or money. I will be.You will also soon be able to donate through this site, but as you all know, I'm a techno-moron, and the addition of something as complex as a donation button to my blog is way, way beyond my skills. So I'm relying on a kind friend to help me.And, as long as we're talking bodily fluids here, may I also recommend that everyone think seriously about their own, as well as the menstrual needs of the world's poor. Disposable menstrual products bite - they aren't as pleasant or comfortable as the reusable ones, they cost tons more, and they add to landfill waste and used ones produce methane, an greenhouse gas with many times the warming power of carbon. While teenage girls may not yet be ready to carry around used pads (although it is perfectly possible to do so very discreetly), all us grownup women have no excuse.You have a whole host of choices here - long lasting, very comfortable cups like the Keeper and the Diva Cup (I have a diva):http://www.gladrags.com/category/menstrual-cups, and various cloth pads that can be made: Note, the ppatterns Crunchy is using work well for ourselves too: http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/sewing-patterns.html or bought: http://www.moonpads.com/ or some other site - my own come from gladrags, and I've been very happy with them:http://www.gladrags.com/ but She Who Must Be Crunched has a list here:http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/how-to-donate.html.While you are doing good in Africa, if you aren't using reusable menstrual supplies, do good here, for us and the entire planet, and switch over.And men, I don't want to hear any whinging about this post. In fact, unless you are gay or celibate and never interact with women under 60, you should be reading this with some interest. Perhaps you have a daughter, a friend, a sister, or a wife who might be interested in this information. There are lots of women out there who might be nervous about doing this because they've been taught that menstruation is dirty or bad. It helps to have a husband or friend who deals matter of factly with your period, and who (if the relationship is intimate enough to allow for this) is gently encouraging (without pressure) to make the conversion.And please, folks, donate to Crunchy's project. It is such a little thing - and a huge thing - women's education is e[...]



Seize the Day - Threshold Moments and the Hope for Change

2008-02-14T10:24:06.761-08:00

It is common to respond to plans for radical change by stating that it is impossible to get this or that change enacted. This, of course, is manifestly wrong. We have only to look at historical events to see that it is perfectly possible, for both good and ill, to radically change circumstances in a host of ways that looked completely impossible not very long before. The question is, how does that happen? And is it possible to imagine that we could, in fact, change things, and for example, bring about a relocalized economy, or 100 million farmers? Is that even feasible? More importantly, could it possibly happen before it has to? That is, we all know that we'd be a lot more secure if the transition to a sustainable agriculture happened a little before we were all out of food. Is that within the realm of possibility? I think so, but it requires a change in our perspective.Now generally speaking, radical change is enacted one of two ways. The first is by revolution of one sort or another – a violent (not always warlike, but always violent), and deeply disruptive overthrow of what has gone before. In a very short time – the casting off of what has always seemed inviolable – slavery, colonialism, the divine of kings – transforms the landscape.The problem with revolutions is that the costs are extremely high. Even a non-violent revolution means that large chunks of the existing population in power are simply cast out, and often come back to haunt you (think Cuba’s wealthy landowners, for example). Revolutions are vastly destructive, and anyone who simply isn’t ready, either adapts, or is overrun. The other option is culture change – the gradual transition of a society from old values to new ones. It starts as a small movement, growing gradually, until ideas permeate the culture. Most of those who resist are given the chance to acclimate, and eventually come to accept, if not like, the dominant culture view. Eventually, cultural norms make it impossible even for those who espoused previous views to acknowledge them or to express them – think, for example, of the American Civil Rights movement. While racism was once a cultural norm in the US, now if you ask around, there are only about 4 people in the US who will admit to ever having expressed racist views.The difficulty with this method is that it is far too slow for our present purposes – the major advances of the Civil Rights movement, for example, came over a period of 20 years. We simply don’t have 20 years of marching and gradually changing cultural norms.Now it is necessarily the case that every movement contains elements of both of these – that is, the Civil Rights movement did include revolutionaries, and revolutions often begin with demonstrations. It is impossible for me to describe historical courses in any detail in a five page essay – but most such changes are dominated, either by a moment of overthrow, or by the lack of that moment.Are those our only choices? That is, are our only options taking up arms, or marching and singing? Both might work or they might not – we may well be able to transition our culture, given enough time or enough will and anger – to a society that can adapt to the new environmental norms. But we do not have multiple decades to make such a transition. James Hansen, for example, notes that most of our environmental changes will have to come rapidly over the next decade. And because almost all our changes take some major lead time, that means that the period we have to change attitudes is very short.As for revolution, it is simply too destructive, even were it not a bad idea for a host of other reasons. The human costs of radical, sudden transformation are resistance – lots of it. And lots of resistance means either the failure of overall goals or repressive responses that destroy what is created from the inside out.So are there any other choices between the complete rupture of p[...]



Thank God I'm a Country Girl! (With Apologies to John Denver)

2008-02-13T13:56:07.275-08:00

This was not what I was supposed to be writing today, but all I can say is that my brain is a strange, strange place sometimes. Had the radio on, caught this song, and couldn't get it out of my head (it isn't like I'm even a John Denver fan, but stranger things have happened) until this came out.

If you don't know the tune, the song is available through Itunes ;-).

Thank God I’m a Country Girl! (With apologies to John Denver)

Well, I was born right here, in these suburbs
Its where I catch my rain and where I grow my herbs
Walk the kids to school, and cross at the curbs
Thank God I'm a Country Girl!

With my husband and kids we’re ridin’ on our bikes
To the farmer’s market, y’know its quite a hike
Littlest one even does it on his trike!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, got a green plan
I’m cookin’ homegrown in my cast iron pan
I can't do it all but I'm doing what I can!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

I live in an apartment on the fourteenth floor
But you can see I’m green when you open up my door
Never owned no car so my feet get kinda’ sore
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well a simple kind of life never did me no harm
My community garden is my own tiny farm
Thrift shop clothes have their own kinda charm
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, I got a green plan
I’m cookin’ homegrown in my cast iron pan
I can't do it all but I'm doing what I can
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Its 33 miles to the supermarket
But I’ve no need for goin’, took the car and parked it.
Huntin’ my own and the deer ain’t remarked it
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

We gone organic when I was just a bride
Now I’m a grandma and we’re riding with the tide
Hard times a’comin’ but folks are on our side
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Well, I got me a fine life, I got a green plan
Cookin’ up homegrown in a cast iron pan
I can't do it all, but I'm doing what I can!
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

We’re just folks who remember what we’re after
We’re not seeking riches, we’re really chasin’ laughter
Those that think we’re crazy, we know they’re daft-er
Thank God I’m a Country Girl!

Country’s not just a place, it is a state of mind
There’s earth under the feet of folks of every kind
The country and the future they belong to me and mine.
THANK GOD I’M A COUNTRY GIRL!

Sharon, who will be keeping her day job ;-)



Online Food Storage Class Info

2008-02-12T12:03:25.648-08:00

Ok, folks, I'm putting together the online food storage class that there was so much interest in. I thought I'd offer it in four weeks, over the month of March.

There will be four components, and this class will go considerably beyond the talk I'm giving on Saturday, so you don't need to feel bad if you live too far away to attend ;-).

-A weekly blog post, with discussion on my regular blogs. This will be open to everyone. I'll also post some recipes from the weekly "how to eat it" section on my blog.

- A set of follow along readings. The list of readings for each week (not required for participation but helpful) will also be available on my blog to anyone who wants to participate.

- A group for registered participants to discuss food storage issues. I'll be around to answer questions and facilitate discussion. This will also include recipes, additional materials, and suggestions.

-Help setting up an individualized food storage program based on your family, concerns and conditions.

The course will be divided into four week long sections.

Week 1: March 6 and 7: The Basics: Why store food? What kinds? How much? Where to Put it? How long to keep it? How to eat it? How to ensure a nutritious, balanced, good tasting food supply?

Week 2: March 13 and 14: Buying in bulk, finding sustainable sources, cooking with grains and legumes, adapting your diet to "store what you eat, eat what you store," accoutrements (buckets, grain grinders, etc...), spices and seasonings, food storage on a budget.

Week 3: March 20 and 21: Food storage local - how to base your food storage on homegrown and local sources. Long term food preservation strategies, storing seeds, meat, milk and vegetables, staple produce as a grain substitute. How to eat seasonally from food storage.

Week 4: March 27 and 28: Special Circumstances, special diets, medical issues, appetite fatigue, infants and children. Community food storage ideas, and getting the idea of storing food out in your own community. Setting up your own plan and implementing it gradually.

The classes will be offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during March. That is, new posts will go up on Tuesday mornings on my blogs, and new discussion topics and materials on the class discussion group. I'll be available to comment, offer help, answer questions and help set up plans during Tuesday and Wednesday each week - that way, no one has to be there at a specific time. On Thursday evenings, I'll post the next week's reading materials.

The cost for the class will $125 for the course, and for this first time, will be limited to 25 participants, so that everyone gets a fair share of my time. It is free to follow along on the blogs, but since this will represent a large investment of my time, and I hope to be able to offer participants help getting started and setting up their own goals, I do need to cover my costs. I don't want to exclude anyone, however, so if you need a sliding scale, email me and we'll talk. My goal is to make this as accessible to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in registering, email me at jewishfarmer@gmail.com, and I'll follow up with you this week, confirming registrations and sending more details. Please bear with me as I get this organized - I wasn't expecting quite the enthusiastic response I got to my initial query, so I'm still pulling things together by the seat of my pants ;-).



Making the Riot Easy

2008-02-11T06:08:10.960-08:00

Kiashu has a terrific post over at Green With a Gun about what a 1 tonne carbon lifestyle looks like. For those who have been terrified by the calculations of the Riot for Austerity, Kyle gives you a mental picture of what a fair share life actually looks like. I was very impressed by this, and the level of detail involved. http://greenwithagun.blogspot.com/2008/02/one-tonne-carbon-lifestyle.html.

I think one of the hardest things about making changes is having a sense of what it would look like.

I particularly liked this point:

"But I can't because...

"In the developed West, the average person can do this. For every person who is 100km from work and won't cycle, there'll be another one who is just 3km from work and can walk, not even having those public transport emissions. Some will need more meat because they're menstruating or recovering from surgery, but others will be vegan. Some won't have any yard at all to garden in, or even a balcony for container plants, but others will have relatives living in the country who'll be delighted for them to plant trees in some disused paddock. Individuals may be able have less emissions in one area but more in another, walking to work but eating more meat, using less electricity but buying more books, and so on and so forth. So this represents an average. Just because you find one area difficult doesn't mean you have to forget the other areas.

Doing these emissions-reducing things, living the one-tonne-carbon lifestyle, is not something everyone can do, because we don't have the public transport or renewable energy generation capacity. It's a bit like becoming rich - anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it. The difference between this lifestyle and becoming rich is that as we put in the public transport and renewable energy infrastructure, everyone will be able to live like this, whereas it'll never be the case that everyone can be rich. As the public transport becomes used more, and more people sign up for wind energy and so on, the infrastructure will be built. This is why even though the lifestyle suggested here you could live tomorrow, in the Goal Emissions article I allowed a decade for everyone to change to this lifestyle. That also allows ten years while you say, "but I can't because..."

And a lot of us can do a lot of this sooner, rather than later. We live out in the country, and my husband can't bike to work in the winter, but he can carpool, and I can stay home altogether, and share my emissions with him. My oldest son has to be bussed to a school for kids with disabilities, but his brothers can be homeschooled, and share their fair share of emissions with their big brother. We can all change our diets to a degree. We can all do some of this now, and a little more each day.

Nice one, Kiashu!

Sharon



It is Time For a New Victory Garden Movement

2008-02-10T10:41:39.939-08:00

There is little question that it is time for us to create a new Victory Garden movement. That's one of the central premises of Aaron's and my book, and I don't think there are very many people who understand what we're facing who would deny that this is true.In fact, there are quite a number of people in the Community Garden movement, and the blogging community who have supported the creation of a new Victory Garden movement. Some people doing this work include Bob Waldrop, whose call to action on local food systems has drawn considerable attention here (among other places):http://depletion-abundance.blogspot.com/2008/02/bob-waldrop.html , Foodshed Planet's site has inspired others, http://www.victorygardendrive.blogspot.com/ and the group Revive the Victory Garden, who have called for 2 million new gardens to combat climate change in 2008: http://www.revivevictorygarden.org/, and there are literally too many others for me to list. But the movement is nascent, still beginning, and seems to need a little midwifing to get things moving along.The reality is that interest in really, really local food is growing, and so is interest in food production, as food prices skyrocket and quality falls. And the best news is that this is a case where grassroots action not only can work, but it is the only thing that ever has worked - that is, in the US during both World Wars, in Cuba, in Russia - gardens for food security began and grew under the aegis of ordinary people acting to improve their world. While we can enable it from above, the creation of a victory garden movement is a person to person, blog to blog, neighbor to neighbor project.Why do it? A host of reasons, personal and political.Victory Gardens Mean:-Better Food - Fresher, better tasting, straight off the plant food money literally cannot buy!- Better Health - More nutrition in just picked vegetables, grown without chemicals, while getting the kind of exercise many of us pay the gym for! Safety from industrial food contamination and toxic imports.-Food Security - Food in your pots as prices get higher, supplies that can't be disrupted by energy shortages, greater regional self-sufficiency. Millions of new gardeners can make sure that Americans don't have to wait for distant food supplies to be trucked in - weeks after they are needed. Every gardener makes your region more secure.-Higher Quality of Life - A more beautiful environment, stronger community, a better environment.-More Money in your Pocket, More Time for What Matters - If you don't need as much money for food, or to work as many hours to pay the grocery bills, you can use that money or take that time for what you really care about.- The Chance to Serve Others and Create a More Just Society - Your Victory Garden can be a strike against hunger and poverty - you can have food to donate, and the ability to teach others to fish, and thus, eat for a lifetime.- Reduce Corporate Power and Improve Democracy - We cannot simultaneously deplore the power corporations have in our society and depend on them to supply our most basic necessities. If we stop giving our hard earned money to the corporations who undermine our democracy, they will be less powerful!-Protect Against Climate Change - Humus rich soils, full of organic matter can sequester tons of carbon, quite literally - and grow the best vegetables. We reduce our carbon emissions when we don't have to drive to the store or buy fossil fuel grown food.-Reduce our Energy Dependence - Fossil fuels are used in agriculture, both industrial and industrial organic at every step, from the fertilizer in teh ground to the refrigerated truck to plastic bag they come in. We can eliminated fossil fuels from almost every step when we grow our own.-Create Peace - We are at war for oil - reducing our fossil fuel dependency through Victory Gardens gives us hope for Pe[...]



Where to Live?

2008-02-09T10:57:34.054-08:00

This is by far the most commonly asked question I receive. I'm going to answer it in two parts, first, broad regional issues, and next I'll do the city/suburbs/country question. Or rather I'm not going to answer it at all - that is, I don't think that there's only one good answer to this question, so I'm not going to try and provide them, so much as offer some things to think about.First let us dispense with the obvious. I assume you know that the north is cold, the south is warm and that this is mostly a matter of personal preference. That is, you can live quite well on little or no energy in the very cold north, or the very hot south. You might not like it, but it will not kill most people. Every time I say this, someone argues that heat and cold do kill. This is true - they just don't have to, for the most part. Yes, there are a few medical conditions that make you especially sensitive to one or the other. And yes, you can die from both heat and cold. But even without powered heating, people are designed to tolerate a lot of cold - if they weren't, we'd never have survived until the invention of central heating. If you dress warmly, bundle up when sleeping, wear a hat, layer, sleep with another human or a dog, and move around during the day, you can live with no supplemental heat. You probably won't like it very much, but you will do fine. It is worth noting that the Lapp people routinely slept out in -50 temperatures in tents heated only by our body heat – if they can do that, we make a four-poster bed and layer up and do the same at night. During the day, just keep moving. People who freeze to death in their homes are generally elderly or children and don’t know how to respond to growing hypothermia – they may even feel warm and take off their clothes. The best cure for this is being together, and adults watching over the very vulnerable, and making sure they get enough calories and are protected from the worst of the cold.The same is true of heat. Yes, people die of heat stroke - but mostly they are elderly or disabled people who are alone, muddled by the heat's affect on their bodies, who lack the ability to do simple things like put their feet in a bucket of water or hydrate adequately. As in the cases in California recently, most of the people who die of heat stroke or cold, die because they are isolated, not because of the weather per se. Have close communal ties and a system of support for those without family, especially those with medical conditions, infants and the elderly, and understand the basics of physiology and treating the early stages of hypothermia or heat exhaustion, and such deaths could be greatly reduced or eliminated.All of which means that temperature in and of itself is largely a matter of personal preference. My personal preference is that I will gladly live with minimal (I sleep already in a room heated only by the ambient heat of a distant woodstove, as do my children) heat all winter than live in a place with 90+ degree temperatures all summer long.This is a matter of taste - I hate the heat and like the cold. This is one of those pick your poison issues - snow, ice and cold or heat. You should be aware that all regions will get warmer gradually, so be prepared to live with not just what it is now but what it will be in a few decades. In the meantime, if you like neither extreme, there are some options there, too - the Pacific Northwest and the southern Appalachians, for example.Then there's the matter of neighbor prejudice. This you can get in bulk at various websites and in various books, so I'll try and keep it to a minimum here. The idea that right thinking people don't want to live near conservative Christians, that scary Asian pirates will depopulate the Pacific Northwest, that Latinos will rule the Southwest with an iron han[...]



Shameless Self-Promotion

2008-02-07T13:46:25.821-08:00

I was thrilled to see the idea of 50-100 million farmers percolating down into the mainstream in this article:

http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/view/columns/4720535.html//

"Without some miraculous new energy source, muscle power could soon again be a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels for growing food. Blunt economic pragmatism seems set to out-shout nostalgia in the call to put more farmers on the land.

Just how many more farmers would it take to cure farming's fossil fuel habit? Lots, according to farmer and writer Sharon Astyk and "Oil Depletion Protocol" author Richard Heinberg, both leading activists for facing up to life after world oil production peaks.

They estimate that without cheap fossil fuels, we would need 50 million new farmers. That's one farmer for every two households in theUnited States, 25 times more than there are now.

This isn't a move-to-the-boonies-or-starve ultimatum. In fact, many people are ideally positioned to become farmers right where they are-- it's the silver lining to suburban sprawl."

It isn't just the idea of millions of new farmers, either - in the past few weeks I've been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and an AP reporter about life changes due to climate change and peak oil. Although this is still a part of a "weird" subculture, that's the first step to ideas being accepted - getting them out there at all.

Meanwhile, as long as I'm engaged in shameless self-promotion, I'll be giving a free class on the basics of food storage at 3pm on Saturday February 16, at my friend Joy Heckman's bulk foods shop, The Olde Corner Store, 133 Factory, Gallupville, NY 12073. I'll include materials on what a month or year's food supply looks like, how to find local, sustainably produced sources, how to store it, how to cook with storable foods, etc... Everyone is welcome!

BTW, I'm considering offering this class online at some point, if there's interest, so let me know if you think that would be worthwhile.

Cheers,

Sharon



Garden Dreaming

2008-02-07T13:22:36.698-08:00

Whole family is down sick, so the several longer essays I've been working on are on the back burner while I wash sheets and tend cranky little people. My own retreat when things are in crisis is to the perfect spring garden of my imagination - especially valuable after several days of pouring rain (and our roof needs replacing) and then a giant ice storm.

My roof may leak, the children whine and I'm not feeling so hot myself, but in my head, it is spring, and I'm sitting on a mulched pathway, transplanting delicate baby seedlings into the garden bed. In my imagination it is warm, and sunny, and smells of earth and herbs.

And I get to fantasize about new things - what will the wolfberries taste like fresh? How much skirret do I want? And of course, my garden will be plenty - no running out of strawberry jam in January next year, this year's strawberries will burst off the vine and into the jars all by themselves.

And, of course, there seed catalogs to "help" me envision it. Lush, perfect plants in world without weeds in color saturated photos - of coures my herb garden will look just like that, with the orange calendulas, the purple sage and the chive blossoms harmonizing.

It won't be like that, not quite, although it will be wonderful, but a girl can dream. What are you dreaming about?

Sharon



52 Weeks Down - Week 36 - Change Your Aspirations

2008-02-05T09:53:03.376-08:00

Can we take it as a given that the earth can't support 8 billion middle class people who want cars and air conditioning? If we can't, then you might look at Jeff Vail's latest post on Jevon's paradox and the new Tata Nano here:www.jeffvail.net , but I'm not sure it really needs to be articulated. There are some techno-optimists out there who think that energy and money are the only things that we need to all be rich, but the truth is that all economic output is polluting, and all economic output draws down natural resources to one degree or another. You can refine the degree, but growth eats it up. So starting from that position, we have, as I see it, three choices. The first is to repress the aspirations of those who wish to join us in the middle class. There are two problems with this. The first is that we can't - our economic power days are over, and we can't control the growth of other economies. In fact, right now, other economies largely control us. The second being that even if we could, this would be both wrong and politically unpalatable. That is, growth capitalism has long told everyone that they can be rich, and thus allowed a majority of the populace to believe, however falsely, that opportunity simply hadn't knocked for the vast number of poor people. That is, economics erases intentionality and a whole host of truths, and tells us that we're doing our very best to make poor people richer. A change over to a dynamic in which we had to openly admit that we want to exploit the poor and make them poorer so that we can get richer would be politically difficult - ignoring, of course, the moral issue. This also makes for all sorts of good excuses for people to blow things up.The second choice, and the one that we presently seem set on, is the creation of a different middle class, from the wealth of the old middle class. That is, we can gradually (or not very gradually) impoverish the old rich, and replace them with new rich from what was the poorer world. Several studies have suggested that in fact much of China's growth has come at the expense of America's working class. This has the advantage of greater equity, but isn't very much fun for the former rich (us) and comes with political consequences, and probably military ones as well, since the former rich still hold on to a lot of big guns.The third choice is this - we come up with a new set of aspirations. That is, we find something compelling to hope and dream about that everyone in the world pretty much can have. And we teach our children to aspire to that goal, and offer it up to the world as we have offered the dream of affluence, and hope to G-d it takes hold. What could that be? I know a very elderly woman whose daughter told me that her mother had once told her that what she hoped would be said about her on her death was "She never said anything unkind to anyone, and she welcomed everyone who came to her door." And it made me think about what the aspirations of prior generations have been. It isn't that our eulogies are sufficient to address this, but they provide a way of getting at the essence of what we want to accomplish. That is, it was common for prior generations to be content that they had never taken a handout, put money in the bank each year, and tithed some of their income. Or to take pride in having worked every day of their lives, to have earned and received respect, to have been able to do business on their handshake and sense of honor, to have always had food on the table for their children and clothes on their back, and to grow to be good men and women.To an extent, these past ambitions may be overstated - the romanticization of the past is always a danger. But we all know people, mostly much olde[...]



Without Slaves:Jeffersonian Agrarianism and the Question of Slavery

2008-02-03T11:40:05.139-08:00

Writing a book called _A Nation of Farmers_ and arguing for Jeffersonian democracy brings you, sooner or later, bang hard up against the question of slavery. And it is not possible to address that question either by eliding the problem of slavery, as many of Jefferson's advocates do, or by claiming, as many anti-agrarians do, that Jefferson's slave holding makes the whole question of agrarian society so irrevocably tainted that it cannot be useful to us any longer. That is, Aaron's and my opinion is that the only answer we can come up with is to go towards this vexed question full steam ahead.Jefferson made quite a number of statements arguing that independent farmers were the best candidates for democracy. He claimed in "Notes on the State of Virginia," "Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of god, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. " Speaking slightly less effusively, he went on to say in a 1785 letter to John Jay, "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to its liberty & interests by the most lasting bands."His opposition to Alexander Hamilton's plan to create large state supported financial institutions and move towards industrialization represents one of the great philosophical battles at the founding of our nation. Henry Cabot Lodge famously called it the founding debate of our society. And it would be easy for agrarians to see Hamilton, and Hamiltonianism as the bad guy - that is, Hamilton supported the notion of concentrating wealth in the hands of an elite, and moving the nation towards trade and manufacturing. But the undercurrent of their debate, less popularly considered, was slavery. Hamilton was an abolitionist who regularly attended New York Abolition Society meetings. He believed that manufacturing was the only alternative to an agrarian slave society - wage labor, he felt, would end slavery. Jefferson, of course, was a plantation owner and slave holder. That he was ambivalent about slavery and at times worked for its overturn does not erase that at times, he also supported it, and he had no desire, to see, as Hamilton did, African-Americans working alongside white people in independent agriculture or factories. Jefferson imagined that freed slaves would be sent to Africa or Haiti, rather than they would grow independently alongside white people.Roger Kennedy, in his Book _Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause_ argues that in fact, Jefferson's agrarianism struggled with two conflicting impulses, and ultimately operated to reinforce slavery in our society. Jefferson's agrarianism, he argues, wasn't quite what it seemed to be. While independent, largely self-sufficient farmers with good educations and a great deal of civic engagement were a norm in the North, the South was largely divided between white, wealthy plantation owners, and small backwoods farmers, mostly illiterate, who Jefferson regarded with a great deal of distaste. When Jefferson claimed, for example, "Ours are the only farmers who have read Homer" he was not, in fact, referring to the Southern Scots-Irish self-sufficient farmers of his region, but to Northern farmers (who had a 100% literacy rate in the Colonial period by some accounts, higher than it would ever be again), or plantation owners. Kennedy makes a compelling case that Jefferson's vision of agrarianism, which included the slave plantations, enabled westward expansion, and the subjugation of the Native population - he does a fascinating analysis of the rate at which plantation owners destroyed their [...]



Adapting Our Farms and Gardens to Climate Change

2008-02-02T13:24:23.996-08:00

When I worry about climate change, I often think first about human consequences. But the line between human losses and nature’s losses is pretty fine – literally a tree falling in the forest question. That is, if the sugar maples that turn my region into a blaze of red, the hemlocks that overshadow my creek disappear, who loses me or natures? The only answer is “yes.”My own guess is this – if it is not already too late to avoid many of the worst effects of climate change, it shortly will be, and if we do not act quickly, our losses will grow each year. I see no signs of quick action. I hope for them, of course, and work for them, but there comes a point at which we all need to turn to the problem of mitigation.If climate change is happening, if we will see our gardens move south steadily, that brings us a host of challenges. The first is that we will need to find ways to feed ourselves in our new climates. For some, this may not be difficult. For others, moving into a hotter, desert like world, it may be very, very painful.But the land we husband can do more than simply feed us – it can soften the blows of climate change, help bring new and valuable species into regions just becoming able to support them, or on the contrary, help breed and adapt new varieties of old residents of our areas, so that they not lost to us. They can provide wildlife habitat for new and old species, and even microclimates, in which things being chased to extinction can survive. To an extent, we can even hold back raging floods and deserts with our hands. Does that sound too extreme? It is, nonetheless, true. That is, one of the most remarkable examples of what small scale husbandry can do is shown by Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which has planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya, a nation deforested by a combination of colonialism and poor management. As deserts encroached, Maathai demonstrated the only way to keep them back was to create oases of trees, producing food, drawing up water, cooling people and making areas livable. The trees were planted, almost all by poor women, most of them desperately poor, who carry water to their trees each day by hand, because they know that the way to fight the desert is trees. My friend Kate worked for a while with the Green Belt Activists, and she said that in Kenya, trees are powerful – they free up labor for women who no longer have to walk miles for firewood, and provide food and security. But most of all, the trees create life – it is possible to live in a place shaded and lush with green, in a way it is not for most of us in the desert.How many of us live in places where topsoil washes away, where rising temperatures are reducing water? We need a worldwide Green Belt movement, bringing suitable, food and wood producing trees to the driest and hottest places. That is the beginning of our gardens – the planting of the trees that will make them possible, that carry water from the deepest places, repair and hold soil, and create places we can live.We will have to choose our trees carefully, especially in the hottest and driest places, but we must plant them – and if necessary, carry water the way the women of Kenya do. One tree that more of us ought to consider is Moringa, a naturalized shrubby tree that has several highly drought tolerant strains, but will grow as a die-back perennial as far north as Atlanta. The leaves are enormously nutritious, a single tablespoon of dried moringa containing 100 % of the Vitamin A, 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium and 23% of the iron needed by a small child. The fresh leaves are rich in Vitamin C as well. The seeds make a[...]



Economic Self-Stimulus: Ideas for One Last Financial Orgasm

2008-02-01T11:23:06.369-08:00

Well, it looks like we're all going to get a check in the mail, as part of the "economic self-stimulus, please masturbate the economy into some state of excitement so we can pretend the fundamentals aren't as frigid as Condoleeza Rice"plan.http://home.peoplepc.com/psp/newsstory.asp%20cat=TopStories&id=20080201/47a2a750_3ca6_15526200802011968915813And since the government, instead, of say, paying down its ridiculous debt or investing in something we might need, like renewable energy, is sending it to you, in the assumption that as usual, we'll blow it all on porn and beer. But that might not be entirely wise, and I feel honor bound, as your Friendly Neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix to offer some helpful suggestions about what to do with the money.For those of you who live in other countries, where their governments, when on the verge of financial collapse, don't send you checks and accellerate the proces, while spraying imperialist goo all over the rest of the world, all we can do is pity you. And wish desperately we could move to your country. How do you say "I am not personally responsible for my country's economic or foreign policy in Finnish again?"Now I would dare say that things are, fiscally speaking, going to hell in a handbasket - I don't claim to be an expert. My friend Roel is, though and the blog he shares with a couple of similarly knowledgeable sorts http://www.theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/ is an excellent place to go for all the crappy financial news.Now it may be that this particular economic crisis will pass a la kidney stone, and we'll go on to later climate and peak oil crises, but it is also not impossible that this is the beginning of those crises.We are being handed the cash for one more climactic shopping trip - and here I am with my black boots, riding crop and firm demeanor proposing, that just perhaps, you might want to think about this as the last big burst before a very, very, long dry spell. So here are some suggestions to spend your money.1. Forestall foreclosure. Pay the mortgage, and then use what strategies you have to keep your house: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/05/how-to-keep-your-house.html. Or, better yet, if you are already teetering on the cusp of foreclosure, consider getting in touch with these people: http://www.youwalkaway.com/index.html. They don't seem to charge much - you could come out of this with enough cash to put a downpayment on a rental. If you are secure in your home, perhaps invest in some extra fold-away futons, warm blankets and spare towels so that when your family and friends who aren't so secure lose their homes, you can all live together comfortably: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/08/brother-in-law-on-your-couch-vision-of.html2. Send it to Haiti - here's why: http://depletion-abundance.blogspot.com/2008/01/i-often-say-that-worst-excesses-of-rich.html My own favorite Haitian relief charity is the Mennonite Central Comittee - they've sponsored a number of programs that I know some of the players in, and they are generally a really good charity.Here's information about their Haitian programs: http://mcc.org/haiti/Heifer International and Doctors Without Borders are also excellent Charities that work in Haiti3. Buy livestock. Seriously, food prices are rising rapidly. Your annual organic milk costs could probably be covered if you had a cow or a couple of really teeny, super cute Nigerian Dwarf goats. Same with your eggs for chickens. Here's Edson's essay about what he's thinking of doing with his economic stimulus:http://greenbluebrown.blogspot.com/2008/01/when-are-you-gonna-blog-about-cow.htmlPoultry are excellent starter livestock,[...]



Haitians Eat Dirt, Cars Eat Corn

2008-01-30T13:26:15.894-08:00

I often say that the worst excesses of the rich world are actually less ethical problems than grammatical problems. I say this for effect, of course, because they are deeply ethical problems. But a part of the difficulty is our articulation of the difficulty. Consider this story, about Haitian people who cannot afford even the most basic staple foods are literally eating dirt:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080130/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/haiti_eating_dirt;_ylt=At.SCYedMcllZmKLaFqaJqBw24cA"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth."And,"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."Now this simple fact is that the rich world is doing this to this woman. Our society, and the people in it. There is no doubt about it - the rise in food prices is closely tied to biofuels, used by rich people to feed corn and soybeans to their cars, rather than to people, and by meat consumption.It is also true that virtually no one in the rich world, as we struggle to deal with our own political and personal strategies, chooses to phrase this relationship in a grammatically correct way. That is, we say things like "I have to go do this thing or that thing - I have to commute long distances, because that's where my job is, or I have to go bring my kids to visit their grandkids, or I have to go get a dress for the wedding." And all of these facts are absolutely true as far as it goes - that is, often our society doesn't give us a lot of choices.But what we never say is "I have to commute to my job, so those people in Haiti have to eat dirt" or "I have to make sure my kids spend time with their grandparents, so some Bangladeshi farmers have to drown." That is, we leave out the second clause in our sentences. And that's because we couldn't live with ourselves if we articulated the whole of our statements.Now whenever I say these things, I royally piss people off, because they don't want to hear this. No one wants to think that they are responsible for harm to others. We don't intend it, we don't want to be, we want badly for us just to be able to go about the basics of our own lives without doing harm to others. We want this so badly that we change the structure of our sentences so that we don't even have to think about the full consequences of our actions.On the same point, no one much likes the conclusion that we may already have pushed the climate and other natural resources so far that we may not have a lot of good options for fixing it - we may have to live a very, very different kind of lifestyle. We dislike it so badly that we're willing to do all kinds of twisting and turning to avoid teh conclusion that we may not be able to have most of the things we want.I've spent a lot of time coming to these conclusions, and they no longer freak me out - too much. But that's not the same thing as saying I like them. That is, I've gotten pretty good at reducing my emissions, and using less energy, but what I really want is for the projected reality to be just about the level that makes me comfortable - that is, I want us to be able to do a renewable build out that has enough energy and is used in particular ways so that I can do my happy little low energy thing and feel good about it. That is, I want pretty much what everyone else wants - I want to go along living my life without worrying about whether I'm doing harm, or I have to push myself to a scary, different place. And I want that r[...]



The Cure is Worse Than the Disease: Can We Afford a Build Out?

2008-01-29T11:11:56.370-08:00

I'm sure people are getting sick of me responding to Stuart Staniford all the time - "Does she read anything else?!?" you all must be thinking, but if you'll bear with me one more time, the reason I do it is because even when Staniford annoys me, he's usually a little bit right, or at least pointing in an interesting direction. In this case, Staniford has offered me a tool to try and analyze something that I've intuitively suspected was true for a long time. In Staniford's latest post, he tries to come up with a unified energy plan for how to fix the world's environmental problems. My own take on the post is that his postulates, including unending growth as the earth is depleted, simply don't hold up. But that's not what interests me.What I've been wondering for a while is whether, in fact, we actually can build out renewable energies and create other large scale industrial solutions, without tipping the planet over into a climate disaster. That is, one of the questions that has been bugging is this - do those who postulate our going on based on a massive build out of our infrastructure risk destroying more than they create? Is, in fact, relocalization the only remaining viable option?Now I'm biased in favor of relocalizing, as we all know. That is, my bias stems from the sense that I believe for a host of moral as well as empirical reasons, that relocalization would improve our society. But it is hard for me to determine whether my bias is a chicken or an egg thing - that is, I have long believed, without doing the math carefully, that the odds were good that another layer of complexity and build out is not feasible and would be destructive. That is, I believe relocalization is a good thing, but part of the reason I believe it is because I believe it may be the only choice that prevents a climate disaster.These are, I think, important questions to ask. Joseph Tainter, in _The Collapse of Complex Societies_ observes that collapses come precisely because we keep layering on new, more complex, more energy and resource intensive solutions to the problems that our old solutions created. At some point, the sheer weight overturns the edifice, and things come tumbling dow. Staniford's post, with its proposition of a global energy grid - or really any other worldwide techno-fix, is a heavy weight of complexity. If it worked, if it actually reduced emissions and gave us nearly unlimited, cheap energy that could be equally distributed, that would be great. The problem, of course, is that that's unlikely, and ahistorical. That is, most of the problems we have now are *caused* by our technological solutions to other problems - and the problems we're creating are generally worse than the things they were fixing. Trying to forsee whether any solution is actually going to create a greater problem than it fixes is, I think a basic necessity to avoid making more of the same mistakes.Now to figure this out, we need some kind of metric, and Staniford has thoughtfully provided me with one in his article http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3540#more. Most importantly, he's provided me with useful parameters - a model for a global transition off of fossil fuels, the cost of doing so, and the time frame. While I personally find the likelihood of global solar grid very, very tiny, this is a useful set of parameters for the purposes of this discussion. We will imagine things go just as Staniford describes in his highly optimized scenario - although it is worth noting thatStaniford's scenario is probably most valuable because it isn't totally out of scale with other proposed scenarios, including[...]



52 Weeks Down - Week 34 - Vote Your Conscience - And Tell Everyone Why!

2008-01-29T07:38:30.059-08:00

My formal apologies to readers in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa etc... for running this column on the late side for you. I used to live on the NH/MA border, and my assumption is that anyone who gets to vote early has to work hard not to be a tremendously educated voter - the candidates basically stand in your yard yelling at you until you agree ;-). But as most of the nation heads to the polls for super-Tuesday, it is worth thinking a little about voting.I know a lot of discontented people who feel crappy and powerless, disheartened and angry at a system that regularly disempowers them and seems to be heading towards fascism. And I know a lot of people who accept the "participate by not participating" notion. But unfortunately, not voting doesn't operate like boycotting commercial products - that is, there's no evidence at all that I can find that not participating makes us more powerful. And while it is absolutely reasonable to be angry about our crappy choices, that doesn't mean that we can say "oh, I don't want to vote for the lesser of two evils" - we have only to look at the last eight years to know that the difference between "kind of evil" and "Gets drunk regularly with Satan" is pretty huge.Your vote won't make a legitimate third or fourth party in the US. It won't get you a candidate who will enact radical environmental changes, in likelihood - although it will certainly get you something better than what we have unless you vote for Romney or Guiliani ;-). If you live in my state and vote democrat, already sold to Hillary Clinton, your chance of getting, say, Oprah elected in a write in campaign are ridiculously low.But there is something you can do if you vote that makes an enormous difference. Tell people how you make your choice and what issues matter most to you. I got polled last week, and when I told the pollster that my first concern wasn't even on her list - it was climate change and energy policy she said, "Oh, I've started getting that. I think they may even make that a choice on the next poll." And the impact *there* is potentially greater than we think. Take a look at this post of Greenpa's:http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2007/11/iceberg-moves-again-and.html discussing the changes in public perception of global warming issues. Obviously, they are slow and too slow - but they are coming. And the hope of the next president, whoever he or she is, doing anything about it depend on the perception that we care, that we're willing to do what's necessary.If you have a candidate you care about, that's a great reason to vote - I hope you do. If you don't have one you care about, vote for the lesser of two evils. And if you are struggling somehow to figure out what that is, vote anyway, and hang around after and get polled, or talk to the news people. Answer the phone when those polling places call. Write it on your blog - you can still say "the process sucks" while saying "and I'm trying to make a difference anyway."Recently someone argued with me that none of the little things we do make a very big difference. That is, someone hanging their laundry or composting their scraps is just a tiny drop in a very big bucket. For some of us (some of us live in swing states), voting is like composting, a little drop in the bucket - but the net effect of each drop, and moving others to understand what we are doing, is filling the bucket, however slowly.Happy voting!Sharon[...]



Is it Really Tough to Be a Guy in Hard Times? - Speculations on the Biology of Limits

2008-01-27T11:43:42.914-08:00

As I wrote in my latest post over at http://www.depletion-abundance.com/, I've been thinking about the likelihood of collapse lately. And one of the things that struck me is that nearly all the source material I've ever looked at on what a crisis looks like suggests that it is really, really tough to be a man in a changing society, particularly a middle aged man - in fact, that it is so tough that sometimes they die of it, or very nearly.For example in the recent essay "Survival in Times of Uncertainty: Growing Up in Russia in the 1990s" http://www.sott.net/articles/show/147683-Survival-in-Times-of-Uncertainty-Growing-Up-in-Russia-in-the-1990s, the author observes,"Personal survival and the survival of the family depended on a right mix of flexibility, on one hand, and staying true to oneself on theother. The more invested people were in their job-related identitiesand past achievements, the worse it was for them. In general, women fared better than men. The elderly were in trouble. When it came to the world view adjustment, the middle-age men were hit hardest; too many were paralyzed with all the changes and were content to sit around in their cold and empty engineering or accounting offices, drinking tea or stronger drinks and swearing at the government. Oftentimes it was their wives who buckled down and traveled the railroad with the striped coffers in hand."Dmitry Orlov makes much the same point in his essay "Post Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century," observing that women did better than men, and middle aged, career oriented men worst of all. The high rates of alcoholism and mortality are mentioned in both cases, with Russian men still averaging a lifespan 12 years shorter than Russian women.This is a theme that shows up around other areas. A while back, Rob Hopkins had a very widely discussed post, "Is Peak Oil Pessimism A Generation of Men Coming To Realize How Useless They Are?"http://transitionculture.org/2006/12/04/is-peak-oil-pessimism-a-generation-of-men-coming-to-realise-how-useless-they-are/ in it, Hopkins argued that some of the doomerism in the peak oil movement (and its male dominated character) is based on the sheer shock men face when they realize that their whole lives have been focused on things that may not be there in the longer term. This post was widely discussed in the community, and seemed to touch a nerve.In Jeane Westin's book _Making Do: How Women Survived the '30s_, she notes that a recurring theme in her interviews was the husband who just couldn't handle the job loss and loss of his role as provider. Women, she argues, seem to do better. One woman, "Pauline" notes: "My husband was ready to roll over and die, but the kids still had to eat, and so I didn't have the choice."The final quote I'll offer on this theme comes from Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen's _The Subsistence Perspective_. In it, Mies talks about going to speak at a conference where she was the token woman. In response to an MIT scientist's claim that we are all doomed to ecological collapse, Mies notes that the same predictions were made at the end of the Roman empire, and that her father used to grow potatoes on the old Roman road that fell apart at that "end of the world." She goes on to speak of a strain of apocalyptic thought she observes, particularly in scientists (and mostly but not exclusively male ones) who, at the end of their careers, begin to fear for the state of society. They are, she says,"...those prominent male scientists who, at the end of their lives, are horrified when they look a[...]



Changes or "Just What the World Needed, Another Blog!"

2008-01-26T14:33:42.348-08:00

For a while now I've been putting off dealing with a couple of competing issues. The first one is the fact that as this blog has progressed from "Sharon, ranting vaguely to empty space" to "Sharon, ranting vaguely to a bunch of people too kind to tell her to shut up," there has been more than little dissatisfaction voiced with my blog, particularly the title. That is, when I speak, and people have to introduce me, they can't pronounce it. When they send links, they can't spell it. And perhaps the most common single email query I get is "who the hell is Casaubon?!" The next most common is "What the hell does George Eliot have to do with Peak Oil." And it is hard to spell. It is hard to pronounce, and as much as, in my role as a former English teacher, I feel like I should tell everyone that they have read _Middlemarch_ it isn't my favorite novel either - if I'm going to bug people to go read novels, I'll pick one that's considerably more fun.You see, Casaubon is the old man who Dorothea Brooke, heroine of Middlemarch, marries because she wants to do something important. Casaubon is writing a great book, a book that will reveal universal truths, that he calls "The Key to All Mythologies," and she imagines that she will be part of a work of genius. Unfortunately, Casaubon turns out to be a complete fool, and his project is a work of ego.Now my old Professor, John Burt, used to say that his young female students want to be Dorothea Brooke, and his male ones want to be Stephen Daedalus. Frankly, I always thought Dorothea was a twit, and would much rather be Stephen Daedalus myself. But what I always worried about becoming was old Casaubon - allowing my ego, and what I want to be true, to alter my thinking a bit too much. Thus, the name "Casaubon's Book" was a reminder about my own tendency towards hubris. Essentially, I named it this so to remind myself not to be too big a fool.If you've been paying attention, the name hasn't checked me that much - I still have a bit too much hubris, and I'm still working my way through a host of thoughts on how all the pieces of our societal crisis - ecological, psychological, economic, democratic - go together. But I like to think that maybe I'm a little less arrogant for the reminder.Several people, with my new professional interests at heart, however, have gently suggested that a different title would be in order. And one person I pay a lot of attention to has suggested it not so gently "Sharon, that title sucks - change it" was about the size of it. At the same time, a bunch of other changes have been occurring. One is that writing two books in 14 months and running a CSA is not something I can do - not and do all the other things I'd like to accomplish with it. Time is at a premium, and right at the moment, writing is taking up a lot of it - as are kids, food preservation, homeschooling, speaking engagements, and all the new agricultural projects we're taking up. Something had to give, and reluctantly, we're letting the CSA go. Instead, we're working on subsistence agriculture, more pasture farming, farmer's market sales, and hoping to turn the farm into a site for teaching subsistence gardening and other related skills. We have an enormous old house, and it has occurred to us that maybe what might make sense is to use some of that space to help others adapt.Because of that, I'm also working on finding some other sources of income. Like all of us, I'm stuck in an economy growing unstable, a bit worried about the spousal job that prov[...]



How Big is a Farm? Who is a Farmer?

2008-01-26T13:59:56.954-08:00

Well, the game of post-riposte is winding down over at TOD, 400+ comments, etc... on my response to Stuart Staniford (his original essay linked at the top of mine or in my last post) http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3541#more, complete with Staniford's response to me, and back again.... Fun and all, but back to work. Although if you'd like a nice, short post on the subject, check out Dmitry Orlov's comments on the subject:http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2008/01/on-fallacy-of-reversibility.htmlOne of the problems in this discussion is the question of "how big is a farm?" That is, when we talk about "farmers" who are we actually talking about? What's "agriculture", and what's "gardening?" Where does "homesteading" "smallholding" "horticulture" and "subsistence farming" fall in the mess? BoysMom was helpful enough to ask about that in comments, and I thought it had been long enough since I covered this topic that it would be worth discussing it here. Is part of the problem of discussing "relocalization" that our definitions of "farmer" vary so widely that we're talking past each other?Personally, I have a strong opinion on this subject (gee, could you have guessed?) I think (and yes, all the real farmers yell at me, and I don't entirely blame them), that "farmer" should be the umbrella term for remunerative food production. That is, I think you are a farmer if you grow food for sale, for barter or as a large portion of your own personal economy - that is, I think we call them "subsistence farmers" for a reason. If farming either provides a significant part of your income.My criteria for this is simple - we don't live in isolation - the word "farmer" should mean something across national and cultural boundaries. That is, a "farmer" in India, and a "farmer" in Canada should be able to recognize one another as fellow creatures with a shared profession, and art. As we are speaking now, the word "farmer" as it is used in the rich world erases the vast majority of world farmers out of the language, and that shouldn't be acceptable to us. As important, it gives us a mistaken sense of what agriculture actually is- even what agriculture was. In the 1940s, a large amount of victory garden literature spoke of "garden farms" - that is, home gardens that operated, like farms, to both supply the subsistence needs of the family and to serve the large public interest by freeing up food to be sent overseas.That is, it isn't that long even in North American history that a "farmer" has been a guy with a thousand acres. And in the rest of the world, it may never work that way:http://www.ifpri.org/events/seminars/2005/smallfarms/sfproc/Appendix_InformationBrief.pdf.As you'll note from the first paragraph, even the experts have a hard time with the naming problem - and so they just call them "farmers." (My computer does not permit me to use PDFs, and for some reason I can't copy text from the html format, so I'm afraid you'll just have to look back). That is, the World Bank and the UN FAO have essentially deemed as farmers anyone who calls themselves a farmer, sells food, or subsists primarily on their own food. The distinction they make is "small farmer" vs. "large farmer" - but all of them are farmers.Right now, the majority of the world's farms are small farms. The average farm size in Africa and Asia is 1.6 hectares (for those who are accustomed to acreage measurements, a hectare is about 2.5 acres - thus, the average farm size in Africa and Asia would be a bit under 4 acres). This [...]



Crunchy Chicken Made Me Spit Tea All Over My Monitor This Morning...

2008-01-25T07:27:26.782-08:00

Go to Crunchy's site www.crunchychicken.blogspot.com. Scroll down on the sidebar to peak oil. You'll see it.

Sharon



What I Was Doing When I Wasn't Writing This Blog

2008-01-23T04:42:32.013-08:00

Something of a dearth of posts this week so far. So let's see... first I was goofing off with college friends, and then I was reading Stuart Staniford's latest impressive analysis, where he takes a shot across the bow of relocalization and the idea that local agriculture is going to feed us here: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3481#more. Then I was writing a 15 page rebuttal that will appear today or tomorrow on The Oil Drum. And then I was required to play 4 consecutive games of chess with chess obsessed Simon, talk to my visiting mother, put various children to bed and deal with my own sleep deprivation. Today is DH's day to put his work life in order, and I'll be tending little people, hanging laundry, making food and reading _Owl Babies_ 150 times or so.

All of which is a long way of saying I've been neglecting the blog for other things. If you are dying for some stuff to read, I'm sure Staniford's piece, plus the 400ish comments over at TOD will keep you entertained! I'll be back for real tomorrow.

Sharon



The Home Front: Let's End the Individual vs. Political Action Debate

2008-01-18T08:54:11.368-08:00

Over at Colin's NoImpactMan site, there's been an interesting spate of posts on the value of individual action vs. political action: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/a-little-more-o.html, http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/a-little-more-o.html, (there more on his site). I think Colin's attempt to assert the value of both is important, but I admit, I don't think this is quite the right way to frame this debate. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this issue lately, because I wrote a whole chapter of _Depletion and Abundance_ about it - mostly about how whenever we enter a time of real crisis, those distinctions disappear - that is, everything we do - what we eat and how we work, how we travel and how we fight - all those things operate in the service of larger societal goals. So I had to ask myself - why is it that it matters whether we waste food and energy during time of war, and not the rest of the time?But of course, that's the wrong question - it isn't that war or other crisis makes what we do in our kitchens matter as much as what we do in the voting booth, a the protest or in public service - it is that in the heightened awareness of crisis we recognize something that is always true - that the line between "individual" and "public" is very, very fine. It is true there are things done in the dark of night in our own rooms that have no political context whatsoever (at least according to most folks on the left - there are other ways of thinking about it out there), but most of our individual choices involve public, political engagement. The distinction between "individual" and "political" is largely artificial, a remnant of the cultural legacy of older ideas about public and private. Thus, if I make a donation to a political candidate, that's a "political" act. And if I go shopping at a store, and the store uses some of the money I give them to make a donation to a political candidate, that's "individual" - but not because one has political implications and the other does not, but because those are the categories we are accustomed to sorting things into. Virtually all human acts both involve "individual" choice and "political" context."Individual" acts are generally quite collective in any given society - and especially so in a media-driven consumer culture. What may look to our habits like private choice is driven by a whole host of public resources, energies and moneys, often with strong political interests - the shape of our economy is a political concern. Thus, for example, our "individual" food choices over the last fifty years have been shaped by "private" corporations operating in public through media, subsidized by public policy. The fact that 'Coke or Pepsi" is a choice, that it is deemed a meaningful one, and that "clean water" isn't one is all in play when we go make our "individual" choice between sodas that taste like highly sugared battery acid.Any discussions of "individual vs. political" choices ultimately must include gender. Think about how many of the "individual" choices so often demeaned by some environmentalists (among them Monbiot, Schellenberger, Romm, etc...) who say they can't make a difference were traditionally "women's work" - from things that are tied to shopping or not shopping(and since women make or influence 90% of all purchases, including traditionally male-associated things like tools and cars, this rem[...]