Worldview: Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Fanaticism

There’s something about the sustainable food movement in all its various incarnations that brings out the fanatic in people, both pro and con. I admit that I am just as bad as anyone.

Yet, there is an underlying problem with that fanaticism that undermines the whole attempt to improve the way we feed ourselves, and it finds its voice in purity tests voiced by some that demand things that are unrealistic or downright impossible.

Among the worst of these tests are calls for laws that threaten the livelihoods of the very kinds of people trying to make change happen. For example, there are those who want to pass laws that would require sustainable farmers and vegetable producers to get licensed before they could produce.

I understand the motives that drive such calls because I experience them first hand. I also know they only serve to threaten the very undertaking we’re all supposed to be working together to achieve by making it harder to do what we are doing.

Perhaps, instead of calling for laws, boycotts, and bans, if we see a problem, we should be working extra hard to solve it and let the chips fall where they may. All that effort spent trashing others could be used in a far more productive way, and in the end, that properly applied effort might just produce something better than what we already have.

DLH

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Worldview: Consequences for a region

The City of Dayton‘s recent decision not to extend the lease for Synergy Incubators has much larger consequences than just for the city. Synergy Incubators is a regional asset, opening opportunities for food entrepreneurs to create and sustain small-scale enterprises in seven counties bordering Montgomery County by providing them a place to prepare and package food for local markets. The decision by the city has the potential to affect as many as a million people in the Dayton Metropolitan Area, and the potential economic impact affects all of southwestern Ohio.

These observations are not hyperbolic. The Dayton area is one starved for jobs, opportunities, and hope. Synergy Incubators is one of the recent innovations offering these things to the region. By refusing to extend its lease, the City of Dayton has decided that it wants to kill these things for everyone in the entire region in favor of protectionism, parochialism and petty politics that really only benefit a few politicians and downtown Dayton businesses.

If we the people of the Dayton region cannot trust the government of the City of Dayton to show leadership on our behalf, then it is time for us to show that leadership ourselves by taking whatever power the city might have left out of Dayton’s hands.

You can do so first by signing this petition calling for Dayton to extend Synergy Incubator’s lease. Failing their action to do so, you can help by helping Synergy Incubators find a new home. In any case, you can consider helping them by contributing to their cause.

The Dayton region will live or die on the actions of all its citizens. One city government should not be able to dictate to all of us what opportunities we have. Let’s make the region a better place, without Dayton’s government if we have to.

DLH

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Worldview: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Liberty, and Choices

Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a lot of posts from a lot of people on the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Online Monday, all all the other money spending days before Christmas that have come to represent our holiday season.

I respect the sentiments of the people who want to salvage holidays and redirect the money spent on those days to other things. I also respect the liberty people exercise when they choose to work and shop on those days. Whether or not I choose to participate is irrelevant to what anyone else decides to do, and everyone should be at liberty to make their own choice.

But understand, that whatever you decide to do, you are making choices. Powerful choices.

You see, the most democratic action any person in the world engages in is how he or she spends money. In spending money, each person decides what, how much, and to whom his or her money should go. That choice reverberates with every person who touches every dollar someone spends and echoes around the world.

I could selfishly try to persuade people to spend money the way I think it should be spent, but the fact is that persuasion is just my opinion. Sure, I think people should shop as locally as possible, select merchants that treat their employees fairly and their customers honestly, and use their money to help their neighborhoods, communities, and states before anything else. But, I realize that opinion is just one among many.

I don’t care all that much if someone does or does not decide to shop on a certain day or a certain place so much as I care whether that person thought through what they were doing before they did it. What I want during this holiday shopping season–and during every other time anyone spends money–is for people to be aware of what their money is doing. As surely as I want people to vote with a full view of the consequences in mind, I want them to spend with the same way of thinking.

I suspect that, if people thought more about how they spent their money before they spent it, the world would look quite a bit different than it does. So, I challenge you: prove me right or prove me wrong. Think about it and be content with your choice.

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Where’s your foodshed?

I just came across a term I really like. It’s called foodshed. Like a watershed, it refers to the idea of where one’s food comes from.

So, where’s your foodshed? Is it big enough? Does it grow the kinds of food you want to be eating? If not, what are you doing about it?

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

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Worldview: Occupy Yourself, or a better way for the Occupy Wall Street protesters to succeed

One of the ironies of the Occupy Wall Street protests is how many of the protesters refuse to acknowledge the contradiction of their outrage against the rich and corporations even as they demand taxes, jobs, and benefits from the rich and corporations. They seek to overthrow the very institutions they also want to depend on for their livelihoods and well-being, and they seem to have no plan for the chaos they could unleash if they succeed.

From my point of view, the protesters need to stop depending on Wall Street taxes, jobs, and benefits if they want to end Wall Street corruption. What they need to realize is that they can’t have it all and that they are the ones who are going to have to make something else happen if anything is going to happen at all.

I think the protests have a place in the grand scheme of making things happen because they draw attention to problems that do exist, but the protesters need to define what they’re for as much as what they’re against. And, no, they are not creating this definition by demanding more taxes on certain income earners or better benefits.

Instead, the protesters need to put their money where their mouths are, sometimes quite literally, and stop supporting the very corporate enterprises they are protesting against with their consumer habits. The sea-change these protesters could awaken in the United States, if they chose to do so, is a return to local economies for the benefit of local people, the very thing they claim, after a fashion, that they want.

And they could do so as part of their protests by seizing the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship the protests themselves provide. Why does the City of New York have to provide sanitation for the park where the protest is being held, for instance? Why hasn’t someone in the protest community figured out how to make this happen?

Establishing self-sufficient sanitation is one among the thousands of things the protesters and their supporters could be doing to change the way Americans think about how they do just about everything. There are opportunities in food, clothing, shelter, logistics, and even medical care that present themselves if they would take the risk to make them happen.

But they need to show the creativity and initiative to do these things first. The world is watching and waiting.

DLH

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Farming: MENF 2011: Show me the money

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think.

There are as many ways to make raising your own food pay for itself as there are people trying to do it, but I’ve noticed that most of the cash efforts seem to center around two kinds of things: greens and chickens.

First, the greens. Greens, sprouts, and salads have become the most common acknowledgement most people pay to trying to eat healthy. If you’ve noticed the lettuce display at your local grocer, you will have noticed people seem to be eating a lot of the stuff, and they seem to be willing to pay quite a bit for what they get. As an aspiring food grower, you can tap into that market, especially in the off-season.

The simplest way to grow such greens is to set up a simple greenhouse, hoop house, cold frame, or low hoop over a row of greens. One speaker I heard recently grows sprouts and microgreens on an Ikea bookcase fitted with cheap florescent lights from Lowes. While it is important to do your research and make sure you’re doing it right, growing greens can be simple and produce a good crop year around.

Of course, marketing such a product can be its own challenge, but that’s where due diligence comes in. Let’s face it, family and friends and word of mouth is the best way to sell your product. Local year around farmers markets and greenhouses are often looking for new sources of the products they sell, or you could sell them there yourself. Try getting your product into a local restaurant by giving them a sample of what you produce.

Second, we have chickens, and really poultry of just about any kind. Poultry flocks give food growers multiple benefits, but the one we’ll concentrate on here is the income from eggs and meat. Depending on your market, pastured chicken eggs can go for as much as $6 a dozen, and a flock of 12 birds can produce as much as 4 dozen eggs a week, though it’s sometimes a less. In addition, laying hens can pay for themselves twice, once in the eggs they produce and once again in the meat they produce later. Keeping a few roosters on hand can guarantee meat chickens as often as every 16 weeks depending on the variety you raise.

Granted, poultry has a higher start-up cost, and you may incur ongoing costs as a result of needing to buy feed, but I think in the long-run chickens are one of the simplest and most profitable undertakings any food grower can invest in.

There are many other ways you can make money from your food growing operation, limited only by your creativity and willingness to put out the effort. The key to these undertakings is to keep them as simple as possible and to remember that small steps are better than no steps at all. Don’t get impatient if things don’t happen right away and keep focused on the result instead of the work.

DLH

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Worldview: Stop trying to preserve government programs and do it yourself

As the budget and deficit talks between Congress and the White House drag on, I have been reading a lot of articles, especially from progressive sources, about how people need to act to preserve this or that spending program because of how beneficial it is. Almost every one of those programs shares very specific characteristics: they are almost always focused at a local problem and are almost always focused at helping individuals do something.

Here’s my idea: why not abandon the federal programs and try making these things happen ourselves if they’re really worth doing.

“But,” you might say, “where is the money going to come from?”

Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Because the federal government is taking so much money out of the the economy in taxes, there is no money for local people to do local things. If that reality is the case, then it makes sense to let the federal programs expire, let the money reenter the economy, and let local people take over doing local things.

Of course, the problem is a lot more complicated than that. For instance, even if the federal government makes these cuts, it won’t add up to the $1 trillion in deficit spending projected for next year, nor will it really dent the $14 trillion in debt the federal government has already accrued.

No, even if these locally focused federal programs expire, there still may not be money, and that reality must force local people focused on local things to consider an even more aggressive approach. In my view, it’s time for us to rebuild our localities so that they can withstand the disaster our federal–and state, really–governments have inflicted upon us.

This aggressive approach means abandoning the government solution in favor of hard work and sacrifice at the local level. It means accepting that the government, and the people who continue to benefit from government spending, is going to continue to rip us off. It means deciding to work together to find local solutions to local problems even when there is no money. It means caring enough about what happens to us and our neighbors that we’re willing to do what it takes to make things work for us.

These things can happen, but people have to do them. I will give you an example:

This year, the village of Covington, Ohio and several enterprising individuals started a farmer’s market (Facebook) on Friday nights in the parking lot of the government building there. It’s a small market, one I participate in, but it has the distinction of having no government involvement except at the local level.

Now, this market will live and die on two things: will people from the area who are doing things participate, and will people who live in the area frequent it? Frankly, this is a test of whether people believe a local thing can work, and it’s up to the local people to make it work.

Some might say that it’s just a farmer’s market, but I say it’s more than that: it’s local; it’s independent; it’s focused on the community; it’s the way jobs and the future will be created. But, these things will only be true if people actually participate.

So, here’s the test: will people participate locally, or will they keep expecting someone else to solve the problem for them? It’s up to you to decide.

DLH

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