Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Farm Fresh to You: Cheap Local Eats!

I've been receiving boxes from Farm Fresh To You for a couple of weeks now and it's great stuff! I had a CSA with Full Belly Farms, but canceled it when I decided I wanted some more flexibility in what I bought. Farm Fresh To You allows me to do some customization of their box and still get good prices on the produce. My brother gave me a promo code that shaved 20% off the sticker price for my first box, which saved me about $10. If you're looking for a farm that's doing an innovative CSA, try getting a box from Farm Fresh To You.

(P.S: That promo code is 3034, if you want to save on your first box too)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bamboo "Paper"

Well, kind of. The sheaves from younger bamboo shoots provide an interesting surface, but because they are brittle, I don't think they are the ideal textile in terms of durability and ease of use. However, the ancient Chinese method of using bamboo slips (long slices of bamboo tied together, almost like a modern bamboo mat) as scrolls is interesting. I'm guessing that bamboo slips, unlike bamboo paper (which apparently has put a great deal of pressure on some tropical bamboo forests), could be made from bamboo varieties that can be grown locally in North America. No one is going to be turning in their college thesis on bamboo slips soon (try to adapt printer settings to that!), but it is a beautiful textile.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Whose Permaculture?

Ever since I flipped through Bill Mollison's original Permaculture I/II books, oggling the illustrations as if they were Penthouse fold-outs, the ideal of permaculture has captivated me. Granted, I have always been dubious about some of the more grandiose claims made by Mollison and others. The utopia of self-sufficient homesteads with perfect south-facing exposures sketched out in the Permaculture books always seemed to hide the dirty realities of eco-pioneering.

Recently, I've been checking out the accounts of different self-proclaimed "permaculturists," attempting to set up eco-villages in Central America. Reading about their experiences has challenged me to re-think the concept of permaculture as a living movement. After all, permaculturists do adhere to a (now global) label, creating a community that seems to share distinct characteristics (I'd insert a jab about dirty hippies, but I'd be an armpit-hypocrite).

A topic for further inquiry: how can we understand the permaculture movement in the context of globalization? It was very gratifying to read the account of a family of California transplants establishing an eco-village in Costa Rica. Clearly, these were people who had put their environmental/social beliefs into practice, constructing a physical manifestation of their ideals. However, these are still Western people bringing what are presumably Western concepts to a very different, "Other" place. What distinguishes them from a California conglomerate or Western media?

Obviously my questions are blunt. They ignore the subtleties that truly define this situation. Nonetheless, it's a realm of inquiry I'd like to delve deeper into.

Haiti Aid: Perma-aid or Perma-imperialism?
Costa Rica Settlers: Green Globalization?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lean, Green, Editing Machine?

After graduating from college several months ago, I've been doing an assortment of odd-jobs to make rent. Between brief panic attacks (the next check...where's the next check coming from!) I've had a considerable amount of thinking time to ponder...well, just about anything. One of the subjects I find myself returning to is the future of American labor. What will the average job look like in a decade or two? At the risk of setting my ego afire and parading it before the two people that (when they're bored) read this site, I would like to invite you along for a ride in my silver DeLorean of the future.

Most of my insights will not come as any revelation to you. For example, in my humble opinion (and that of every byline printed in Wired) the Internet will be instrumental in cutting overhead costs to provide a hyper-flexible workplace. The field of tutoring/editing is one place where this is already happening. I have long been employed by an English PhD who makes his living as an editor. Aside from being a delightfully cantankerous gentleman who issues me a 1099 form for mowing his lawn, he has been remarkably successful in marketing his services to people in remote locations like Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, and anywhere else with a high-speed connection (sorry Iowa Hill).

The moral of this story? The Internet is already providing a workplace free from time/place constraints. In the past, these limitations have required us to build expansive highway systems, lose innumerable hours in transit, and confined us within the nine-to-five cage. Putting aside the potential environmental benefits, the possibilities for social change are immense.

A summary of this post: That AT&T ride at Epcot was actually correct. Aside from the part about AT&T logos being on everything...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Forget the Tandem...

My girlfriend and I are selling our beloved tandem. Tandem bicycles are a load of fund, but using them in conjunction with public transportation (or even fitting them in smaller cars) is difficult. While it's hard to let all the good times go, we can use the money to buy a more flexible transportation option.

I don't think the Human Car is the ideal replacement, but it's an interesting alternative to the neighborhood golf cart. Green Planet claims that the Human Car can travel in excess of 60 MPH. Looks like the most bad-ass surrey you're likely to find.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What are you going to do when they see the bright lights of the big city? Well, to the folks back on the farm, I hope your kid is an aspiring Luddite, because then you just have to wait for him to come crawling back, eyes squinted from the electric onslaught.

But I over dramatize. Last Tuesday (8/25/09) I made the return to civilization, cruising at a comfortable 60 MPH down I-80, making me the first person to obey the speed limit since...well, they put in the highway. Sadly, it's hard to criticize the need for speed on 80. It is said that for every outlet store that opens between Sacramento and Vallejo, an angel gets his wings. From the looks of things, there are a lot of angels flying around the Central Valley these days, shaking magic development powder all over the place.

Having returned to Berkeley, I began to experience farm withdrawal. Fortunately, the city hasn't been entirely paved over (yet), so I was delighted to venture forth and collect some blackberries along the Ohlone Greenway, a bike path which parallels the BART tracks through Albany, El Cerrito, and beyond. Stumbling through the bushes, I managed to find a patch of semi-wild grapes. Using a dehydrator that was kindly given to me, I dried those suckers out and now am the proud purveyor of a raisin packet. Despite being seeded, the raisins are surprisingly delicious, particularly with a bit of yogurt. Plus, those seeds are good for you; loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and that magical substance that makes Sardinians live forever (actually, that's booze. Yep, just lots o' booze.)

But my urban foraging didn't stop there. Volunteering at the beautiful Berkeley Youth Alternatives garden, I collected some of their coddling moth-infested windfall apples (truly satisfying my orchard withdrawal here; I spent a lot of time at Green Cedar beneath apple trees with a five-gallon bucket). Carefully cutting out the worms and icky-parts, I dehydrated these with the grapes, making sumptuously sweet snacks for my mid-day meals.

Last time I checked, there weren't a thousand fruit trees lining University Avenue. Despite the lack of urban food production, it is comforting to know that, if you're willing to allow a bit of wilderness into yourself, you can find a bit of that country cornucopia even in the asphalt jungle. Stay tuned for more tips on foraging, fighting elderly women for figs, and wearing funny hats.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Down on the Farm

Since the Casual Luddite always has to stay up to date with the modern vogue, I have developed an interest in agriculture, specifically, the “sustainable” alternatives to the dominate forms of industrial agriculture. Of course, us followers of Ludd have a natural aversion to mechanized implements of cultivation. However, since we are somewhat lax in our rejection of the fruits of this system, it is difficult to dismiss it out of hand. After all, even the hardliner Luddite can have some appreciation for the benefits of modern medicine and the convenience of the internet. Can these products exist without the purported abundance of industrial agriculture? Is “sustainable” agriculture so labor-intensive that it would dramatically impact our lifestyle? Do white people look funny in big hats? By interning ourselves at an organic farm, my girlfriend and I hoped to find the answers to these questions and many more.

Green Cedar Farms isn’t much of what you or I would label a “farm.” Positioned on the commanding heights above Oroville in the foothill community of Berry Creek, Green Cedar offers glimpses of the Central Valley, where agricultural operations are hundreds of acres in size. In contrast to these gargantuan flat land farms, Green Cedar is nestled in a complex geography on a foothill ridge. This terrain comes as a relief for a linearly-disabled person such as myself, the curves and turns of the land making straight lines into a futile Cartesian wet dream. Most of the 15 acres here are orchard. Although apples (in many different varieties) predominate, pears and peaches are also to be found along with a scattering of plum, cherry, fig, and other fruit trees.

Our first week saw a good bit of hard labor. Although the orchard is the focal point of Green Cedar, Frank Mazarino and Sally Shea (the operators of Green Cedar and our gracious hosts) also maintain a large garden for their private use. Prepping the beds involved a fair deal of brush clearing (using a small hand-scythe called a coma), adding soil amendments (a mix of gypsum, azomite, kelp, and fertilizer pellets), then turning the soil with shovels.

Outside of the garden we hung pheromone lures to distract the coddling moth, a common pest of fruit trees. By turning the orchard into a sex-crazed moth dance party, we hope that they will not send their worms burrowing into the apples. It appears that this tactic is working, as casualties have been light among the crop, although the unseasonably cool weather we have been getting can only help our efforts to disrupt the moth breeding cycle.

The orchard at Green Cedar is strongly influenced by the no-till ideals from the “do-nothing” school of Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese luminary in sustainable agriculture. No-till farming allows the abundant growth of what other farmers would consider “weeds” among the trees, waiting for them to seed, and then chopping them down with mowers. Green mulch such as this augmented by material from the garden builds nutrients in the soil and improves soil structure.

Another task has been thinning pear and apple trees that have been over profligate in their fruit production. Thinning helps prevent branches from breaking under the weight of fruit, as well as assuring that the fruit will be sufficiently sweet for the consumer’s palette. Frank and Sally both pursue a high ideal of “flavor” in their products, not only in culturing sweetness, but also making sure that their diverse array of apples represent a wide spectrum of other flavors, from tart to fruity. Although I consider myself to be a relatively healthful eater, I cannot pretend to be as cultured a connoisseur when it comes to fruit. I’ve been plucking both Gravensteins and Pink Pearls (two early season apples) and enjoying their tart, pre-ripe flavor.

Unfortunately, while Frank and Sally are faithful to their ethics and attempt to channel nature in the most productive way possible, conflicts are inevitable. The early part of our stay here involved a prolonged struggle with the birds, who had their sights on the farm’s several cherry trees. Even netting and distraction trees (alternatives to cherries, such as mulberries and native cherries, planted specifically for the birds) could not dissuade the determined flock of tanagers, stellar jays, grosbeaks, and robins from taking a sizable portion of the crop. However, now that we are past the cherry season, Frank is already starting to sing the praises of his avian friends, claiming that they are helping suppress the coddling moth by eating the worms before they penetrate to the apple cores.

I’ll have more to report in a few days; even in this long of a post many things have gone unreported. I swear that the happenings on the farm have not been half as boring as I have made them seem. Well, there are some slow times weed whacking…but there is plenty of bird fighting, good stories, good food, and yes, white people in big hats to entertain anyone. But more on that next time.