Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Local Growers Guild makes food issues visible

I am on the board of the Local Growers Guild, which met in our back yard this evening. I wonder how many other such groups exist across the United States?

The Local Growers Guild was featured last year on Earth Eats, when Maggie Sullivan was the director. You can read or listen to an interesting interview with her there. Maggie is also one half of the Green Couple, with a blog about "learning to live green, and live together." (There's another Green Couple on facebook, The Green Couple, from Edmonton, Canada.)

The Local Growers Guild has a new director now, Kim Kanney, with the same focus and commitment to supporting a stronger local foods economy.

The mission of the Local Growers Guild is this one: The Local Growers Guild creates a local foods system that provides quality food to communities through direct markets and retailers; preserves the viability of family farms; improves the quality of life for growers; makes food issues visible; and promotes practices that preserve and protect the Earth. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Photos from the May Day Parade from In the Heart of the Beast

Living uproariously large, sometimes on stilts: a few photos of the May Day Parade and Festival yesterday in Minneapolis, with thanks to the photographer, Jeanne Lakso. They capture much of the heart, and the beastiness, of this wonderful, ephemeral event. (I want a version the "breathe" sign for my wall..)

What innumerable traces exist in our collective consciousness, thanks to this event, I wonder? What do they look like, and where do they go? (Here's a clue: the captcha I got when posting this to facebook was "giant Demeter"!)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In the Heart of the Beast MayDay Parade: Uproar! for a better city, better life

It's just about to begin – my favorite public art event: the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater MayDay Parade and Festival. The MayDay Parade and Festival has helped build a "better city, better life" for 36 years now in the Twin Cities. (Here's the link to where I wrote about the event in 2009.)

The theme this year is:


A call to be fully present to the uncertainties of these shifting times

In this Year of the Tiger*, we stop to inhale the immense beauty of the world we share.
We exhale into a thunderous UPROAR! an embrace of multitudes joining together with collective strength for the present and future health of this world.
*according to the Buddhist, or Chinese, lunar calendar
Social genius Sandy Spieler, founder of In The Heart of the Beast, posted some photos by Andrew Kim at her facebook page, giving a glimpse of the artistry and effort that goes into MayDay. The parade travels down Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis, to Powderhorn Park, where there is a ceremony at the edge of the lake.

Here is more about the Tree of Life Ceremony, with its suggestions for a reflective census:

The Tree of Life Ceremony 2010

In this year of the census when we are asked all manners of questions - name, age, race, how many are in your household - our Ceremony asks:
  • What if we "counted" all the trees, beetles, fishes, the waters, worms and raccoons?
  • What if we asked each other questions toward our wellbeing?
  • What if we asked questions of wonderments, of outrage?
  • What is immeasurable?
  • And what if these questions opened channels of compassion, action, and love, throughout the land? 
Anyone can help contribute to MayDay, where the donation page makes this observation:

Your contribution is critical to the programs that delight the senses, push the issues and prod us to see the world through a different lens.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"Better City, Better Life"? Expo 2010 opens while housing activists remain in detention

It's the opening day for Expo 2010 Shanghai China , the largest world's fair ever, with a logo from the Chinese character 世 ('world', Chinese "shì") modified to represent three people, with the 2010 date at their feet.

More than 70-100 million people are expected to visit Expo 2010, which runs through October 31, making it a high impact energy event, one that would require a heck of a lot of carbon offsets. In a promotional movie, Expo 2010 presents itself as "a magical world of sustainable development, as a world without traffic jams or pollution." That does, indeed, sound like magical thinking.

I guess it's much better than spending money and energy on war, which is what our world cultures tend to do. Still, there are many back stories involving displacement and exploitation, power moves of the first order.

You can see images of the rather ingenious pavilions at Design Boom, including this Macau Pavilion, which takes the shape of a jade rabbit lantern. Designed by the Chinese firm Carlos Marreiros Architects (such a Chinese name!) this building is wrapped with a double-layer glass membrane, with fluorescent screens on its outer walls. Balloons serve as the head and tail of the "rabbit", which can be moved up and down to attract visitors.

The Macau Pavilion is constructed from recyclable materials, with solar power panels and rain collection systems. The design was inspired by rabbit lanterns popular during the mid-autumn festival in south China in ancient times. I have to say that while I find it to be in some ways "delightful" (and would love to see it in a Pixar movie), this construction reminds me more of a take-out container for some kind of fast food item. Not so sure about it as a livable or workable habitat – it's pretty sterile.

DIE's Dr. 
Doris Fischer
A good source for news about Expo 2010 has been DW World DE Deutsche Welle, where there was a piece about a month ago about the last minute chaos of construction. Since 2000, 18,000 families have been evicted, often without compensation, to make way for the Expo, and historic sections of Shanghai have been razed. One result was the expansion of the Shanghai housing rights movement, which is largely led by women.

Another essay at Deutsche Welle, by social development expert Dr. Doris Fischer, considers some of the social ironies of an event on this scale. Fischer argues that "the challenges facing China's big cities are in some ways strikingly similar to topics and visions addressed by legendary science fiction silent film Metropolis":
The Expo is a global event, not only representing China. Still the motto seems to especially address the challenges posed by China's metropolis. Will the exhibition live up to the expectation of the motto? ["Better City, Better Life"] Or will we just see another futuristic view of cities, the beautiful part, blinding out the ”underground” workforce and machinery that may be needed to keep the wealthy and shiny part running?
Amnesty International has also reported on the emptiness of the motto "Better City, Better Life" to those housing activists who have been held in incommunicado detention for protesting eviction from their homes. You can call for their release here: please do, especially before participating in any global utopian enthusiasm for Expo 2010.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Maggie's painting anticipates May

April is drawing to a close, and on this glorious day I felt little desire to dig with either squat pen or fraught pixel. Instead, after dinner I planted ramps in the vicinity of our oak savanna, at the suggestion the other day of Daughter Number Three.

Those, and a rose bush, and lots of onion sets. A chokecherry, and a red oak, given away today by Sycamore Land Trust at all of the Bloomingfoods stores.

We have a newly expanded garden center at Bloomingfoods East, with bamboo plants grounded in mulch swaying in the breeze as perimeter fencing, courtesy of Needmore Bamboo. It's a beautiful thing: taking the parking lot partly back to nature.

Here's a vibrant image that reflects my mood, and my gratitude for this vanishing April: a wildflower bouquet painted by Maggie Bruce.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Watermelon brickyard hails from Japan

And now for something completely different: practical application of the square to the phenomenon commonly known as watermelon.  
These images were at the Huff Po today, of watermelons incubated inside cube-shaped glass boxes, conforming to confining angles as they grow. First available in Japan (where they once cost about $75 each), some growers are said to be trying this in Brazil and California. Square fruits take up less space in the ice box, doncha know.

I just have to say: that factory where the women sort, shrink wrap and label those bricks looks pretty depressing to me. 

Also over at the Huffington Post today, a rant about convenience foods by Michael Ruhlman and a recipe by Stephanie Bejar for vegan banana chocolate chip muffins.

Ruhlman was fresh off what looks to have been a fascinating IACP conference (for the International Association of Culinary Professionals) in Portland, Oregon, and he had this to say (in a somewhat hectoring tone) about that prevalent notion that "everyone seems to believe and propagate: that we all lead such busy lives that we have no time to cook. 

[B]ullshit. Maybe you don't like to cook, maybe you're too lazy to cook, maybe you'd rather watch television or garden, I don't know and I don't care, but don't tell me you're too busy to cook. We all have the same hours every day, and we all choose how to use them. Working 12-hour days is a choice."

Hear, here. Once you choose to loosen up and start to cook things, it can become a great stress reliever, a pleasure, a way to process your your life and the features of your day. Ruhlman goes on: "..spending at least a few days a week preparing food with other people around, enjoying it together, is one of the best possible things in life to do, period. It's part of what makes us human. It makes us happy in ways that are deep and good for us. Fast and easy has nothing to do with it." 

And when you don't want to cook anything time-consuming or complex, improvising with real food is in fact surprisingly fast and easy (dare I say?). Quick oats in little individually packaged bags, at outrageous prices? Regular oatmeal can be made in less than five minutes flat. Saute your ramps, eat an apple. Slow down and chew your food.

While you're at it (and while I'm dispensing commands): make sure that your melons stay round. Filling up every last inch of space in the fridge (or on the shipping truck) isn't high on my list. I do think those melons, in some sort of recyled material, might make a nice building material: their patterns remain quite reptilian and appealing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ramp it up for local greens

Daughter Number Three participated in No Impact Week last week, a project of Colin Beavan (author of No Impact Man), described as a "one week carbon cleanse." She wrote about trash, energy use, local food, water conservation, and transportation, warning that it could be TMI week at her blog: the sustainable, like the political, has its highly personal dimension.

Wednesday, April 21, was Local Food Day, with the challenge to eat only local food. She posted this wonderful photo of ramps from Wisconsin, and confessed to also eating fiddleheads from ostrich ferns (I wonder what those taste like?), and sorrel pesto made from a plant in her yard (sounds delicious). Let's hear it for all the pestos and green sauces: basil, cilantro, parsley, sorrel, thyme, chives, oregano, marjoram, sage, mint. Horseradish greens are also amazing, with a strong spicy taste.

My friend Cheryl reminds me that Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a great place to read about asparagus and ramps (next up: garlic scapes) as harbingers of spring. I have the book, and that's my sign – time it crack its spine.

I ate ramps, asparagus, and local egg for breakfast: it was divine.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mint sauce, like poetry, deserves a revival

Okay, folks – here is more about mint sauce, from our friends at Wikipedia. I am determined to place it on the table, as did Seamus Heaney's mum. With a bit of local lamb, or some new spring peas. Notice the line here about how this sort of sauce "became less common and mostly died out as Europe entered the Modern Era." (That's anything after the Middle Ages, apparently.)

I did have mint sauce at Sunday dinners in Ireland with Eithne and Fred Kiberd, parents of Declan, Damian, and Marguerite. Eithne, like Heaney's mother, would have known and been able to perpetuate the secrets of an older way of life, one that included an admiration for all that rife mint.

I just planted six kinds of mint a weekend before last, purchased at the beautiful expanded garden center at the East Bloomingfoods. Now I have a chokecherry bush waiting for a bit of digging. Here are 10 Essential Herbs to Grow.

This is what I love about Heaney: there is always both a poetic and a practical application to his lines, appealing to the eager part of the mind, as well as to the digger's hunched rump.


Mint sauce is a sauce made from finely chopped mint leaves, soaked in vinegar, and a small amount of sugar. Occasionally, the juice from a squeezed lime is added. The sauce should have the consistency of double cream. In UK and Irish cuisine it is traditionally used as a complement to roast lamb (but usually not other roast meats) or, in some areas, mushy peas. Mint sauce can sometimes be used in recipes in place of fresh mint. For instance, it can be added to yoghurt to make a mint raita. "Sweet and sour" sources such as Mint sauce, and Cranberry sauce were common throughout Medieval Europe, (with the use of mint being more common in French and Italian cuisine of the period than that of the English [1]), however they became less common and mostly died out as Europe entered the Modern Era[2] [3].


  1. ^ The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, Silvano Serventi, translated by Edward Schneider, University of Chicago Press, 2000, ISBN 0226706850, 9780226706856, page 107
  2. ^ http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/medieval!opendocument&startkey=medieval
  3. ^ Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650 by Ken Albala, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 ISBN 0313330964, 9780313330964, page 15

External links

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Seamus Heaney's 'Mint': snippets for the eager parts of the mind

On request, prompted by a question, the last poem Seamus Heaney read here on April 15th was "Mint," from The Spirit Level, reprinted below:


It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we'd failed them by our disregard.

-- Seamus Heaney
Note how "defenceless" is spelled the British way, more easily suggesting a "fence" pun around the trope of liberation and letting go. This poem linked back to Heaney's first ("Digging") and to the topic of memory:  

My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Heaney's mother made sauce from the mint; he made a kind of music:

The given line, the phrase or cadence which haunts the ear and the eager parts of the mind, this is the tuning fork to which the whole music of the poem is orchestrated, that out of which the overall melodies are worked for or calculated. [from Heaney's essay "The Makings of a Music: Reflections on Wordsworth and Yeats" in Preoccupations.]

Look how that poem moves from the small green beloved-yet-underestimated sauntering thing (every time the word "saunter" appears in Irish literature we have a vivid echo of Joyce, who "owns" that word) – like a mint plant sending out tenacious underground runners. It concludes with another "last thing": the disregarded/discarded "ones we turned against/ because we'd failed them by our disregard."

We turn against "the disregarded ones" and not the other way around, because of our failure to regard, to notice. It's a poem that ponders the enduring appeal of those "almost beyond notice" things (or "ones") we often neglect, that might nonetheless be ripe/rife for transformation .

A few fresh minted snippets of memory, reshaped and arranged – for the eager parts of the mind.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Seamus Heaney at Indiana University

Seamus Heaney visited Indiana University on April 15th, with conversation and poetry. "Famous Seamus!" It was a wonderful occasion – a packed hall in the Fine Arts Auditorium, a hushed awe, excited buzz. His tender wry voice, enduring words, verbs and verbiness ("all verb"), stocky nouns, the arch of a life story in which themes are elaborated and refined, dug up, returned to the ground of poetry over time. He talked about that.

The rhyme in time: the same words repeated, loaded, downloaded, delivered to new ears. The familiar cadence of his voice. His wit, humility. The aging process doing its work on an enduring specimen. White hair now. A right hardy specimen of a man.

Sweetness. He gave me a little wave as he got in the black car and was driven off after the reading. I've seen him a few other times in my lucky life, in Ireland and Minnesota, though that's all quite a long time ago now. And the next time? I hope there is one, somehow.

Heaney began, as he often does, with the poem he says was his first, "Digging." This video catches him reciting that poem in various moments over the years. (Thanks to Jenny for passing it along. Image courtesy of Indiana University.)