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    Botany of Desire Looks at Human/Nature Relationship from Unexpected Angle

    Botanydesire_cover2 Humans frequently assume that we are the architects of biological change, rather than mere participants. Genetic mapping and engineering do paint a compelling picture of us in the genetic driver’s seat. But what if we’re manipulated by the very agents we believe we’re manipulating? What if, for example, in our attempts to create a more cold-tolerant tomato, we’re unconsciously fulfilling the tomato’s desire to expand the environment in which it thrives? It’s discomforting – some would say, ridiculous - to think of ourselves as haplessly duped marionettes in an elaborate drama manipulated by the omniscient tomato – especially when things like consciousness and desire are not frequently listed among the tomato’s better-known traits.

    And yet it cannot be denied that the tomato has achieved a depth of genetic diversity and breadth of distribution that it may never had known, had it not appealed to a specific set of human desires. In making itself so delicious (entire cuisines are built upon it), nutritious (rich in lycopene and Vitamins A & C), and easy to preserve (thanks to high acid content) it earned a free boat ride from the New World back to the European mainland, where it proceeded to re-write culinary history. Thus did a lowly, spindly member of the sometimes-poisonous nightshade family manage to effectively put human legs and boats and farmers to work for it, moving it from its original western Andean home to farms and backyard gardens around the world.

    We have grown accustomed to the idea of measuring the environmental impacts of our consciously chosen actions. We’ve come to see that many of our choices have unintended environmental consequences, many of them harmful. But what about those unconscious choices that have sprung from pure desire, whether it be a desire for control, for taste, for intoxication, or even the simple desire . . .

    Continue reading "Botany of Desire Looks at Human/Nature Relationship from Unexpected Angle" »

    Simple Pleasures at Good Times Farm

    Barefoot 

    A blister formed on the palm of my hand, between my forefinger and my thumb. I always thought I had tough hands. I mean, I’m supposed to be a professional rock climber and my hands are supposed to be like leather right? But not this part, not at all. This part’s soft and tender, and my back is starting to ache a little too. Man, I thought I was tougher than this. What the hell?

    Editor's note: Patagonia rock climbing ambassador Sonnie Trotter sows the seeds for a lovely weekend with this sweet story about getting dirty on the farm. [All photos by Sonnie Trotter]

    I stuck my shovel in a mound of dirt and looked around for my girlfriend Lydia. I knew she had a bottle of water stashed around here somewhere. It’s mid September but the sun is high in the sky and still very hot. The earth is cool beneath my feet; it was Sarah’s idea to remove our shoes and dig our toes into the soil. I lost track of time a few hours ago but I think we arrived about 10am, late for farming standards. At this point, I’ve completely sweat out all remaining caffeine and started fueling myself with wild apples found on a nearby tree.

    Continue reading "Simple Pleasures at Good Times Farm" »

    Freedom to Roam: A Rancher and an Environmentalist Search for Common Ground on Wolves (Part 2)

    Image[5]_2

    Last week, in regards to the recent delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species and in conjunction with our Freedom to Roam campaign, we brought you Part 1 of an interview between NRDC’s Senior Wildlife Advocate Louisa Willcox and Montana rancher Becky Weed -- two individuals with two distinct points of view and a shared willingness to engage in constructive dialogue. Here's the second half of the interview. [Photo: Roy Toft, California Wolf Center]

    Q: How common is it to find ranchers who believe there is a way to protect wolves and their way of life?

    Becky Weed (rancher): ‘Seems like a simple question, but in fact no one has really good data on this. It is safe to say that many, many ranchers wish wolves had never come back and that wolves are yet another threat to a precarious way of life; that is certainly the dominant stereotype. But it is useful to remind ourselves that quite a few ranchers have already begun “living with wolves” since the reintroduction in the '90s. It has been difficult and has come at considerable cost in some situations, but some ranchers are climbing this learning curve in spite of themselves, and right now we have no systematic mechanism for monitoring that progress. Sometimes I fear the zeal of passionate enviros (and the inflammatory rhetoric that they are fed from distant fundraisers) blinds them to the embryonic progress that is so vital for a long-term conservation ethic that transcends rural-urban divides.

    It is also useful to remind ourselves that the sons and daughters of many of today’s ranchers are growing up amidst shifting paradigms of wildlife and agricultural perspectives. Many such young people have no desire to show disrespect for their parents’ traditions but they also know that they need to find their own way, and for some that means a new tolerance for carnivores. I can’t give you an exact figure on how many people are thinking that way, but several have visited our ranch, daring to explore the rancher/conservationist turf. The exact percentage almost doesn’t matter to me; these are the "early adopters," the innovators, the leaders. The numbers will come later – if we as a society do this right.

    Even though no one can answer your question precisely, I think we can say that the more  ranchers that are encouraged and supported concretely in their efforts to ranch alongside wolves, the more such ranchers there will be. To me this means that some lethal control will be part of the story, but it will not be the whole story. There may be some ranches, or some parts of ranches or grazing allotments where people conclude it doesn’t make sense to run livestock, but I and many wolf advocates do NOT favor simply running ranchers off the land. Such an oversimplified policy would be tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our face. Ranchers, like wolves, live and work in communities and ecosystems. Thus the most strategic responses to wolf problems and benefits will also operate at that level.

    Louisa Willcox (NRDC): More common than you might think from reading the papers. I have met a number of ranchers who believe there is a way to protect both wolves and their way of life. But these ranchers often do not want to be publicly identified as being “pro-wolf” because of the potential for negative repercussions from their more conservative, anti-wolf/rancher colleagues. As long as hardliners like the Farm Bureau are in charge of the debate from the ranchers’ side, there is little incentive for the pro-wolf ranchers to engage. But thankfully, there are a number of tolerant ranchers out there. Without them, we would not have made as much progress as we have towards wolf recovery.

    Continue reading "Freedom to Roam: A Rancher and an Environmentalist Search for Common Ground on Wolves (Part 2)" »

    Is 2009 the Year for Industrial Hemp?

    P1020266_2 Back when we were just budding bloggers I wrote a post about the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007. Unfortunately, the bill never made it to vote, but that was two years ago when things were a lot different. Now it's time to try again.

    Earlier this month, Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA), along with eight co-sponsors, introduced H.R. 1866, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009. With a struggling world economy and the desire to create new jobs and new industries at home, will this be the year we finally free industrial hemp from the chains of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937?

    [Fear not, your feet won't get high from walking in the Men's Olulu shoes. Photo: Free]

    Continue reading "Is 2009 the Year for Industrial Hemp?" »

    KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN - Industry reps fear organic garden

    The industry in question is the agroindustrial genetically manipulated monocrop chemicalification comglomerate. It's a mouthful, which is why folks in this business like to refer to themselves as representatives of "conventional agriculture," companies like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Crop Protection. Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that our friends in the agroindustrial complex have been hard at work redefining "conventional agriculture" to mean "requiring the extensive use of synthetically engineered petroleum-based fertilizers to biologically barren soils with the aim of promoting growth of genetically manipulated, non-replicating seed-like products, upon which vast quantities of industrially designed petroleum-derived biocides must be applied." Instead, let's focus for the time being on the news item at hand.

    Not long ago, Michelle Obama announced that an organic garden would be planted on the White House property. The first of it's kind in approx. 60 years, the garden was planted to feed the presidential family, but also serves a more symbolic purpose. It's this purpose that has some folks "shuddering" in fear.

    Continue reading "KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN - Industry reps fear organic garden" »

    Sunshine, Bug Bites and Sweat

    City_farm Today’s post is about an environmental internship at Chicago’s Resource Center-City Farm. It comes from Dylan Reynolds, one of the staff at our Chicago store who took part in one of Patagonia’s coolest programs. Jenny Demitrio and Ron Hunter took the photos.
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    The staff at Patagonia’s store in Chicago decided that after a hiatus of several years, it was high time to organize another summer environmental internship. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunities Patagonia offers its employees to volunteer for nonprofit environmental groups, learn about themselves, and work on behalf of our environment. After a thorough review of our options, we proposed an internship with Chicago’s Resource Center-City Farm.

    Continue reading "Sunshine, Bug Bites and Sweat" »

    White House Organic Farm Project Hopes to Change Political Landscaping

    P1010958_2 Here's a story to keep you smiling as we all await the results of today's historic election. On Monday, September 15, Patagonia Ventura employees were greeted by a very unique school bus in the parking lot. Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow, the two-man team known as the White House Organic Farm Project, or WHO Farm, had just rolled into town to share their unique vision: getting the next President to plant an organic garden on the grounds of the White House. Inspired by Chez Panisse chef and slow food activist, Alice Waters, they've been driving across the country drumming up support for the project through an online petition they set up at thewhofarm.org.

    [The bus was purchased from Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's fame who modified it to depict upside-down budget priorities. Daniel and Casey keep an organic garden on the roof and call the inside home. Photo: Free]

    Make the jump for a tour of the WHO Farm bus.

    Continue reading "White House Organic Farm Project Hopes to Change Political Landscaping" »

    Action Alert: Genetically Modified Animals Step Closer to Your Dinner Plate

    Salmon Patagonia has long taken an interest in the genetic integrity of our food supply. A 2002 essay by company founder/owner, Yvon Chouinard focuses on the question asked by many of our customers: What Does a Clothing Company Know About Genetic Engineering?

    Six years have passed, and genetically-modified foods are, if anything, a bit closer to our dinner tables. Fresh off the newswire is this story about the use of genetically modified animals as a food source. The story comes from the National Public Radio news briefs for Sept. 18th.

    FDA To Consider Allowing Sale Of GM Farm Animals

    The Food and Drug Administration took a step Thursday toward considering proposals to sell genetically modified animals as food.

    The agency issued a proposed legal framework for resolving questions about the environmental risks and the safety of using genetically altered animals as food. The move could lead to faster growing fish, cattle that can resist mad cow disease, or perhaps heart-healthier eggs laid by a new breed of chicken.

    The FDA has said it considers DNA inserted into an animal during genetic engineering to be a drug, so first the agency will ask if it is safe for the animal. If it is deemed safe, the FDA will then look at animals intended for human consumption and see if they meet current food safety standards.

    Continue reading "Action Alert: Genetically Modified Animals Step Closer to Your Dinner Plate" »

    Solar Cooking

    Xtracycle_2The following post comes from author and urban homesteader, Erik Knutzen. I recently had the pleasure of working with Erik on a talk he gave at Patagonia Ventura about urban farming, vegetables, chickens, hooch, bicycles and cultural alchemy.

    I'm a big fan of backpacking sufferfests, which often involve a long drive followed by hiking thousand of feet up and over challenging, rocky terrain. The sense of accomplishment and breathtaking scenery is always worth the effort, but something is also to be said for an alternate camping scenario we’ve taken to recently, involving loading up our cargo bike (the amazing Xtracycle) and biking to our destination, all the while carrying almost as much as we would car camping. After rolling into our campground, we’ll spend the weekend kicking back at the campsite, taking it easy and pretty much not going anywhere or doing anything. With the carrying capacity of the cargo bike, we can get fancy with the food and libations, allowing us to skip the usual dehydrated camping chow.

    These sittin’ around type of trips, or even a lazy Sunday afternoon at home, are the perfect occasion to deploy a solar cooker. Best of all you can build a solar cooker yourself for pennies out of cardboard and aluminum foil. For some foods, such as rice, it’s actually easier to cook with a solar cooker than it is on a stovetop. Put some rice in a pot, place the pot in the solar panel cooker, stick it out in the sun and two hours later you have lunch.

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    Why Can't It Just Be 'Milk'?

    Cowface Wholesome. It's one of the first words that comes to mind when someone says "milk." What about milk isn't wholesome? It is a basic product of mammalian life that--when delivered from mother to offspring--is unassailably pure. It is so fundamental and unadulterated that its nature and constitution are seldom questioned. Which is why it caught me completely off-guard when a Swiss friend asked me "What is 'organic' milk? Milk is milk. Why do you have all this 'organic milk' in the United States?"

    Jura_village The question came as we stood, literally, at the foot of Switzerland's Jura, a velvety green sweep of mountains in the border region shared by France, Switzerland, and Germany. The Swiss Jura is home to many of the country's most picturesque pastoral villages, and where much of the milk comes from for the legendary Swiss cheeses and chocolates.

    We had just finished a meandering bike tour of the area's vast array of mountain trails, which wind seamlessly from forest to pasture to village. I had commented on the unbelievably short distance between pasture and product in these villages; from where we stood--on the edge of a pasture and, oddly enough, the town square--we could see each element of the town's dairy foodchain. In the most dramatic example, a scant 50 feet lay between the town's cheese shop and the cows whose milk made that cheese.

    And that's when the question came.

    "Why do you need to call this organic?" my friend asked, as he kicked at the lush green veld. It was one of those 'ah ha!' moments for me, and I saw with new clarity something I had always overlooked back at home.

    [Top: image used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License, Photo: Andrew Duffell. Bottom: Swiss village, localcrew collection]

    Continue reading "Why Can't It Just Be 'Milk'?" »

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