Good things can come in small packages. Sebastopol in semi-agrarian Sonoma County, Northern California, has a population under 8000. Occupy Sebastopol (OS) recently has been home to a bee-hive of activity in this town’s square that describes itself as “Peacetown, USA.”
We celebrated Occupy Wall Street’s (OWS) second monthly anniversary in small town Sebastopol, with its less than 8000 residents, in Northern California on November 17. We packed a City Council meeting where over two-dozen people spoke in favor of Occupy Sebastopol (OS) and the five-member Council supported it.
Though large cities and police assaults on peaceful occupations fill mass media reports, many smaller and mid-size cities continue with successful, vigorous occupations around the United States.
While recently shoveling aged horse manure around berry vines on my small organic farm to fertilize them, which gives me great pleasure, I thought about what I have learned about the community of the land by farming over the last two decades. I noticed how spreading brown gold–to which I add the green manure of decaying plants–utilizes waste to transform plants and help them grow. The animal-plant connection is essential to life.
Peter and Susan Kendall of Orinda, Northern California, are not your typical political activists. This couple really wants some peace and quiet, so they can be comfortable within their suburban home and with their backyard chickens, berries and tomatoes.
But wait! While at their home recently a siren-pitched, shrieking scream interrupted that serenity—a leaf blower, which some call a debris blower, since it kicks up far more than leaves. The couple had bought three different kinds of leaf blowers, not to use, but to demonstrate how much noise and air pollution they make, even the allegedly quieter ones.
previously published on PressDemocrat.com
‘‘Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment to cut down particulate matter,” recommends the California Air Resources Board. Why?
Simply put, leaf blowers kill. “Approximately 65,000 premature deaths from cardiopulmonary causes may be attributable to particulate air pollution each year,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s only people. Leaf blowers also kill bees, butterflies, insects, plants and wildlife. They are hazardous to human health and to the ground itself.
Also known as debris blowers, these industrial machines explode and then fire up at more than 100 mph hour and kick up chemicals, fungi, spores, animal fecal matter, molds, diesel soot, allergens and other toxic substances. They combine to compose deadly particulate matter.
(Background: This November a City Council member in the small Northern California town of Sebastopol proposed a ban on leaf blowers, which the community and Council are currently discussing. Bans have been passed in many cities around the United States and proposed elsewhere. Though some dismiss this issue as minor, others consider it important.
In addition to the more political articles that I’ve published locally on leaf blowers, the following is a tribute to leaves. Two websites with further information are Zero Air Pollution at www.zapla.org and www.nonoise.org.)
As Autumn matures into Winter here in the Redwood Empire, some leaves leave their dignified, upright positions and glide harmlessly to the ground. I watch them spiral down. Valley and black oaks on the land where I live will soon be stripped naked—mere skeletons without their protective, warm clothing. Conifers drop their sharp needles gradually over time. I look and listen as the leaves fall; humans named this season after their important, life-giving descent. The planet’s rich forest floor maintains us all.
“The three-year-old just walked right past me,” the Santa Rosa, CA, pediatrician reported, “talking into a cell phone.” That stark image of toddler attached to machine has troubled me. “I was amused at first,” the physician continued. “Then I felt sad. She was learning how to relate to people through a machine. It was so mechanical. Cell phones can connect people, but they also speed things up.” Must we rush even toddlers into machines?
“Half of British children aged 5 to 9 own a mobile phone. Some Experts are Unhappy,” headlines a June 23, 2009 article in the UK’s daily “The Times.” It reports that “Lawrie Challies, an emeritus professor of physics who has led the Government’s mobile-phone safety research, says that parents should not give children phones before secondary school.” (Mobile phones for children: a boon or a peril? Times Online – UK) University of Melbourne pediatrics professor Michael Carr-Gregg, a leading Australian psychologist, “is worried about the power of mobile phones to distract and overexcite” and “says that no children should be allowed a mobile phone until the age of 12.” The French Government bans sales of mobile phones to children under 6.
After farming for most of the last sixteen years in semi-rural Sonoma County, Northern California, and being raised partly on our family farm in Iowa, I have come to understand that agriculture can serve many functions, in addition to producing food, fibers, and beverages. Some farms–especially non-industrial small family farms–are places where working the Earth can be good for body, mind and soul. Farms can heal.
“Come to the table,” Slow Food Nation invited. And come to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend they did–around 50,000 people attending perhaps the largest food celebration in American history.
Tables and straw bales appeared in the heart of the city’s Civic Center around a victory garden on about a quarter of an acre that had replaced a lawn. It was surrounded by a huge marketplace, which was like an old-fashioned farmers’ market that gets food directly from the farm to the fork, bypassing corporate super-markets.
A couple of miles away by the Bay at Ft. Mason–inside an old military hangar stretching over the length of a couple of football field–people strolled down a long aisle to taste fresh seafood, chocolate, wine, olives, ice cream, Indian bread and other delightful options. They could also attend free film showings and rock concerts at the former military base transformed into a cultural center.
Meanwhile, inside large auditoriums and smaller meeting rooms people discussed the growing global food crisis, how to respond to it, and imagined possible futures for farming. The final panel included the following key voices in the growing world-wide sustainable agriculture movement: Italian Carlo Petri, the founder of Slow Food in l986, physicist Vandana Shiva from India, Kentucky poet and author Wendell Berry, UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant, and “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schloesser.
Slow Food Nation leader Alice Waters–founder of Berkeley’s famous Chez Panisse Restaurant and author of eight food books–spoke at the small town (8,000 people) Sebastopol Farmers’ Market in Northern California August 3. She was interviewed about the August 29-31 SFN celebration to happen around San Francisco by KRCB public radio host Michelle Anna Jordan for her “Mouthful” program to run that evening.
“We want to lift a loud voice to change our food system,” Waters responded when asked about SFN, where over 50,000 people are expected. “We need to change the ways we grow, distribute, and eat food, which needs to be good, clean, and fair. Things are at a crisis point with respect to health and the environment.”
Waters described how the lawn in front of San Francisco’s Civic Center, one of the sites for SFN, has been replaced with a victory garden. “We have been talking about a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. This would be a way to talk about stewardship and nourishment. Thomas Jefferson had such a garden.”
“A big message of Slow Food Nation is that we all need to be planting gardens,” Waters noted. Addressing global climate change issues, she commented, “We need to have more greenhouses in the future, whether it gets too hot or too cold.”
“How we eat can change the world,” Waters has said elsewhere. By combining fresh produce from local farms with European cuisine, Waters helped create a food revolution and transform eating habit. At the Sebastopol market she also signed copies of her newest book “The Art of Simple Food.”
Waters helped kick-off the Gravenstein Apple Month, which has been declared by both the Sebastopol City Council and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. This is the time of year in this semi-rural area where one gets invitations such as the following: “If you want to help grind up large quantities of Gravenstein apples to make fresh juice, drink lots of juice, join a pot luck BBQ lunch, and get covered in apple pulp=come on over!”
“Gravensteins are a tasty apple that got left behind,” Waters explained. The delicious “Grav” apple is at risk of becoming an endangered species. “Save the Gravensteins!” bumper stickers made by Slow Food and Community Alliance with Family Famers (CAFF) are popping up around the country. Slow Food has accepted the Sebastopol Grav as one of the traditional foods to which it gives attention to protect it from extinction.
SFN’s “Come to the Table” call has garnered significant media attention. The New York Times (July 23) and San Francisco Chronicle (June 30) have each published long articles about the gathering that has a budget of some $2 million dollars. Some of its public events have already sold out.
Its main events are a Food for Thought speaker series, taste pavilions, a marketplace showcasing 60 local farmers and artisans, and the victory garden. Live music will be performed across town at the Ft. Mason meadow, an appropriate place to make “swords into plowshares.” Special events include dinners, art, journeys, and hikes. Some are free, whereas others require tickets.
Slow Food was started by the Italian Carlo Petrini in l986 to protest McDonald’s and its fast food culture. It advocates traditional agriculture and food preparation and consumption, which differ from how many in the U.S. deal with food. SFN is the first such large gathering in the U.S.; it is modeled after events in Europe that have drawn thousands to Terra Madre gatherings.
The speaker series includes some of the leading voices in the growing global sustainable agriculture and food movement, such as Petrini, physicist Vandana Shiva of India, Kentucky author and farmer Wendell Berry, University of California at Berkeley professor and author Michael Pollan, author Raj Patel, Native American leader Winona LaDuke, “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser, and the Land Institute’s Wes Jackson of Kansas.
Their topics include “The World Food Crisis,” “Building a New Food System,” “Re-Localizing Food,” “Climate Change and Food,” and “Edible Education.” Award-winning short films and documentaries will also be shown.
The “New, Fair Food System,” as an example, will feature “activists who campaign on behalf of farm workers and meatpacking workers.” It will focus on “how do you create a system in which eating well and treating people well are inextricably linked?”
A Call to Participate went out for a Youth Food Movement “to empower networks of students and young farmers, cooks, artisans, activists and eaters.” Among those attending will be members of Sonoma State University’s Slow Food Club, including its president, Robin Temple, a psychology student. While pruning on a local farm one day in late July Temple described some of his group’s plans, “We will speak in classes during the last week of August to inform students of the event. We will make a film of the youth program there that will be shown at the October Terra Madre gathering in Italy. We have been working to get Michael Pollan and some of the other key speakers to come to campus.”
“Slow food is the opposite of fast food. It is food that comes from local, sustainable farms,” Temple writes in the SSU campus newspaper. “We intend to raise awareness about the profound effects of our food choices on the environment, on our health and on issues of social justice,” he adds.
Some have criticized Slow Food for being elitist and catering to an older crowd that can afford better food and attend its sometimes-expensive dinners and gatherings. Temple represents a younger generation in the Slow Food Movement raising various challenges. “The current industrial model will soon fail for its heavy dependency on homogeneity and petroleum. As such, slow food is about survival,” asserts Temple.
The Youth Food Movement invitation contends that “good, clean and fair food is a universal right.” The youth gathering starts with an overnight retreat August 27 at a teaching farm on the California coast north of San Francisco, includes meeting at an art gallery that seeks to “build community through food and art,” and concludes with an Eat-In at Dolores Park “on a long, 200-person table for a meal curated by Outstanding in the Field.”
By-invitation-only events include a Changemakers Day and a National Congress. Around 600 participants will attend the August 29 Changemakers Day “designed for our nation’s food system leaders.” It will include “26 dynamic presentations on topics ranging from the viability of rare breeds to the nuts and bolts of engaging our isolated urban and rural communities in the sustainable food movement.” Its seeks “to inspire leaders to knit new and diverse networks” and “lay the groundwork for more concrete, inclusive and effective collaboration in the sustainable food and farming movement,” according to its website http://www.slowfoodnation.org.
The organizers expect “the clash of ideas, critical thinking from incisive minds, and inspiring dialog.” The Changemakers Day emerged from a February Town Hall meeting composed of people from SFN and Roots of Change, a San Francisco co-sponsor of SFN.
Panels include the following: “Rising Seas, Shrinking Catch;” “Triple-Bottom Line,” referring to social, environmental, and financial return to investors; “Preserving the Land Base;” “Ensuring Diversity;” “Nutrition for All: Improving Community Health;” “Rich Diet, Poor Communities;” “Going Local;” “Help Wanted: 50 Million New Farmers;” and “Reframing the Slow Food Conversation” to work more for social justice.
“I’ll be a panelist on Changemakers Day,” explained Steve Schwartz, while selling mushrooms from his New Carpati Farm at the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market. “More people are thinking about what they eat these days. Passing by McDonalds my four-year-old says, ‘That’s junk food. It’s bad for you.’”
Watching Schwartz and other farmers at the market talk about their crops, one can see that they are creating food-based relationships. “I’m proud to be a small part of this movement with a vision for a better food system. It can help activate people to work to change food policies.”
Food, after all, is much more than something you just eat. It has traditionally drawn families, friends, and communities together. Agri-culture is at the base of culture. The preparation and sharing of food and drink creates and sustains culture.
“I went to Slow Food Nation’s parent, Terra Madre in Italy,” explained the manager of the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market, Paula Downing. “It was life-changing. I plan to go to Slow Food Nation because I do not want to miss another chance for a life-changing event.”
“Terra Madre was a heart event. It was a thrill to see families still making the food they have made for centuries. You feel this human thing. It was very emotional and made me cry. Some recipes for corn bread, for example, had been handed down for twenty generations,” Downing continued. “I love the apple farmers here in Sonoma County. They are courageous. There is a history here that we need to remember.”
“Slow Food is an opportunity to re-connect with our food and local growers and to understand the plight our planet is in. Our immunity and the immune system of the Earth are linked; building from here is a source of our healing,” explained Ana Stayton of Golden Nectar Farm. “It helps create a sense of what real nourishment is. It brings farmers, children, and the community back into the food system, rather than leaving it in the hands of large corporations. Slow Food encourages people to grow and cook their own food and remember the pleasure in that.”
“Being at Terra Madre was a powerful bonding experience,” Stayton added. “It was intense being around people from over 150 countries in their traditional dress who have this common bond and language of the land, growing food, preserving local food cultures, preparing, serving and nourishing others.”
“I discovered Tierra Vegetables last December while shopping,” Mary Killian explained near the Slow Food table. “They have a delicious heritage bean. They so inspired me that I bought them as Christmas presents and included information about Slow Food.” Slow Food also provides heritage turkeys from Sonoma County, one of its most active chapters.
Networking is common at Slow Food events. One grower at the Sebastopol market, Deborah Ramelli-Toth of Gratitude Gardens, was proudly carrying a couple dozen free-range eggs, though she has no chickens. “I traded them for tomatoes, of which I have many,” she explained. She also made arrangements to share her canning equipment with a friend, Deb Kindy, who lives nearby in another town.
Waters spoke about the need to do something with all the food that is wasted, “We need to do more foraging and gleaning. Lots of food is wasted on the ground which is very edible.”
On the land where Ramelli-Toth lives there will be a Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Slow Dinner the week before SFN, hosted by the Culinary Underground and Voluptuous Smoke under the apple trees at Nana Mae’s orchard. According to the invitation the Gravs “have a long history yet are mostly ignored by the culinary mainstream.” It adds, “Eating is a political act. Eat your view!”
“We’ve been writing a declaration and petition calling for a new national food policy,” explained Michael Dimock at the SFN table at the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market on July 27. Dimock has chaired Slow Food USA, been active in California Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), and is president of Roots of Change. “We need healthy food and agriculture,” Dimock asserted. The declaration will be released Aug. 28 and will include a preamble, set of principles, and call to action.
The August 28 National Congress is composed of 300 delegates who represent the 16,000 U.S. members of the international Slow Food Movement, which has over 86,000 members in more than 100 countries. They are organized into what internationally are called convivium and are beginning to be called chapters here in the U.S., where there are around 200.
The Congress takes place every four years. Participants will engage in peer-to-peer networking and in leadership training and professional development. They will also vote on revisions to the National Statue. This year, for the first time, 35 Slow Food in Schools projects leaders will meet to discuss their garden-to-table efforts.
“When kids grow and cook their own food, they all want to eat it,” Waters explained from her experiences with edible education programs. “They want an interactive education. They are happy to be in the garden. Kids are not just hungry for food. They are hungry for people to take care of them and for nature.”
Direct democracy is important to the Slow Food Movement. When asked about the leadership of the Russian River Slow Food chapter in Sonoma County, Paula Shatkin explained that they have a leadership team of eleven persons, who do not have a hierarchy.
(Shepherd Bliss, email@example.com, has run the Kokopelli Farm in Northern California since l992 and currently teaches at Sonoma State University. His writing on agropsychology and agrotherapy are scheduled for various books during 2009.)
by Shepherd Bliss
May 29, 2008
Peak Oil theorists such as Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Matthew Simmons, and others turn out to be correct. Petroleum supplies are declining as demand increases. This unfolding trend will radically change human habitation on the Earth. Among the consequences will be the drastic reduction of food and fresh water available to people, not only in poorer parts of the globe, but throughout the planet.
Industrial societies with their industrial agriculture are dependent upon fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal for many things, including transportation, electricity, and making plastics and other modern essentials. Oil is the main ingredient in conventional food. As the supply of petroleum and other fossil fuels decline Peak Water and Peak Food will follow. In recent months we have seen the return of food riots in the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.
In April food prices in the United States saw their biggest jump in 18 years, according to the Labor Department. Prices are up an average of 41% from last year for commodities such as corn and cotton. Fertilizer prices are up a dramatic 65% from a year ago.
“Saving Water: From Field to Fork” titles a new study reported in the article “Food Security Requires New Approach to Water” in a May 24 Inter Press Service (IPS) article. A growing scarcity of water threatens food supplies. Food production and agriculture are the largest uses of fresh water, consuming about 70% of water globally, according to the study by the Stockholm International Water Institute. In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines,” Heinberg says that over 80% of fresh water goes toward agriculture in the United States.
Scare supplies of water, according to the IPS article, “will be a key constraint to food production.” If there is no change in current practices in food production and consumption, according to a contributor to the Stockholm report, “it is likely that twice as much water as that used today would be required by 2015 to produce the world’s required food.” But that amount of water would not be available, indicating the possibility of widespread food fights and even famine.
“Peak Food” is a term that California farmer and author John Jeavons uses in workshops. Jeavons “says peak food is actually related to four other intertwined crises: peak farmable land, peak water, peak oil, and global warming,” according to the article “Monocrops Bring Food Crisis” by Alex Roslin in the Canadian publication www.straight.com.
A solution–according to Jeavons in his classic book “How to Grow More Vegetables”–is to revive small-scale farming, such as used to prevail in the United States. In addition to Jeavon’s biointensive farming, others advocate the system referred to as permaculture. Heinberg calls for the de-industrialization of agriculture. He says that a key will be getting more farmers and re-ruralization and re-localization.
“Food Banks Face Rising Costs,” headlines a May 26 MSNBC article. “While demand is up, supplies and donations are down,” the article reveals. “The way it’s going, we’re going to have a food disaster pretty soon,” the MSNBC article quotes Phyllis Legg of the Merced Food Bank in the foreclosure-ravaged Merced County in California.
“If gas keeps going up, its going to be catastrophic in every possible way,” the article quotes Ross Fraser, a spokesperson for America’s Second Harvest–The Nation’s Food Bank Network. “The price of gasoline is going to drive the price of everything else,” Fraser asserts.
A food bank in Albuquerque, N.M., runs out of food and turns people away. Public school students in Baton Rouge, La. bring home some of their lunches to have something to eat for dinner. A food bank in Lorain, Ohio, meets only 25 to 30% of the need for food. In Stockton, Ca., which has the highest foreclosure rate in the country, customers line up several hours before the food bank’s 10 a.m. opening.
“When people go to the gas pump and watch that dial roll over, there goes breakfast, lunch and dinner. People are living on the edge,” Don Lindsay is quoted in a May 26 article in the New York Times-owned daily Press Democrat of Sonoma County, where this reporter lives in Northern California. Lindsay is operations director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank. It feeds 50,000 people in our semi-rural county of around 500,000. Such pantries are an essential aspect of the safety net that is diminishing.
“Present and future generations may become acquainted with that old, formerly familiar but unwelcome houseguest–famine,” writes Heinberg.
The electrical grid in Baghdad is not expected to be restored for many years and is already down in other parts of the world, making electricity and it many benefits unavailable. An increasing number of people in parts of Hawai’i, California’s North Coast, and elsewhere are planning for the future by making homes that are off the electrical grid. Industrial societies run on electricity powered by the cheap energy of fossil fuels. As the supply of those energy sources decline and world-wide competition for them through wars and other means heighten, more electrical grids will fail, and with them access to both food and water.
The pace quickens. The signs are more numerous. We need even more than food security; we need food sovereignty. Who controls your food? Growing at least part of one’s own food–and having something to trade–will be essential to survival.