the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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the honey locust contest revisited

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In 1926 J Russell Smith launched a contest to gather honey locust pods from across the country, the Savanna Institute are continuing what he started. 

Contest Details & Instructions

Step 1: Photograph the tree

Photograph the tree before the pods have fallen from the tree, although preferably after leaves have dropped. Include the entire tree within the photo. Prior to taking the photo, tack a standard 8.5×11″ piece of white paper to the tree trunk (scale reference). Include the ground. Use the highest resolution camera that you have access to.

Step 2: Collect 25 pods

Once the pods have fallen from the tree, collect 25 representative, dried (brown), whole pods off the ground and put them into one or more plastic grocery bags. The pods should be collected as soon as possible after they fall to the ground to prevent damage from animals. Be sure to choose a representative sample of pods – not the 25 largest! If possible, although not required, please also count the total number of pods that fell from the tree, as this will help calibrate their yield models.

Step 3: Fill out & print the entry form

Fill out the official contest entry form HERE, which includes basic information about you and the tree. You will be able to upload the tree photo here as well. This form will be submitted to the institute digitally, and you will receive a copy via email. Print a paper copy of your emailed entry to include with your pods.

Step 4: Ship your pods & entry form to the Savanna Institute 

Place your bag(s) of pods and entry form into a sturdy cardboard box. Ship your entry to:

Savanna Institute

Attn: Honey Locust Contest

1360 Regent St. #124

Madison, WI 53715

IMPORTANT: If submitting multiple trees/entries, ship each entry separately, using a different box for each. This will ensure that pods from different trees do not mix in transit.

Click HERE for the contest website where there are more details about the contest.


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the peasantry fight for control

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Street demonstration in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) after Provisional Government troops open fire, July 4, 1917. Viktor Bulla / Wikimedia

In a recent article about the 1917 February and subsequent October Revolutions, Jacobin magazine discuss how, as in so many other revolutions, boiling point was reached in the fields and among the peasant class. The peasants were discounted by many at the time, on the right and left alike as ignorant and unimportant, or in the word of Marx as “the class that represents barbarism within civilization.”

Throughout 1917, however, these supposedly backward people surprised their supporters in the intelligentsia with their clever revolutionary activity. While each region and village had its own nuances, the main structures of this largely self-generated politics shared many characteristics.

First, the peasants banded together to form village committees. They also called these organizations peasant committees, although trusted non-peasants were sometimes allowed to take part: teachers, priests, and even landowners found themselves participating in committee activities. The rural workers quickly excluded anyone from those groups who tried to dominate the organization.

Click HERE to read the full article.


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the story of the texas xit ranch

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XIT Cowboys

In the 1880s, the XIT ranch was the largest range in the world under fence and it all laid in the Texas Panhandle. It’s three million acres sprawled across ten counties in Texas. The state of Texas, the biggest state in the union, used the sale of the ranch to pay for it’s red granite capitol, still the largest state capitol on the North American Continent. The Austin structure still houses the Lone Star state government more than a century later, and is second in size only to the capitol building at Washington, D.C.

The story of the ranch is fascinating and the museum brings history to life. If you don’t get a chance to visit the museum you can read more about that history HERE.


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new resource: national sustainable agriculture oral history archive

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credit: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders

The National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive is a collection of interviews with people who have been instrumental in the development and implementation of public policies to advance sustainable agriculture in the United States. It was started in 2015 and has been growing ever since. Several of the interviews are with key members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and their interviews document the process of formation and evolution that has led to the NSAC that we know today. They also discuss the federal policy reforms NSAC, its allies, and predecessor coalitions have achieved over the past four decades.

To date there are 31 interviews available in the archive, most in a video format with accompanying written transcription. The plan for the next year involves conducting 8-10 more interviews featuring  several farmer/civil rights activists in the South among others.

Among the main topics covered in the interviews are:

  • The political and social context surrounding the initial federal policy efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to advance organic and sustainable agriculture;
  • The evolution of what became the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, from its early days as an informal network of grassroots organizations, to the more formal structure of regional Sustainable Agriculture Working Groups (SAWGs) in the 1990s, to the NSAC of today with its 120 organizations from around the country;
  • A review of the policy gains that support organic and sustainable agriculture achieved through federal Farm Bills from 1985 through 2014, including a discussion of where policy proposals fell short, despite the efforts of sustainable agriculture advocates;
  • What now? Exploration of priorities going forward that are needed to strengthen organic and sustainable farming and build a healthy food system.

Check out the archive HERE

The archive is housed at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The interviews were conducted by Ron Kroese (rkroese@visi.com), a senior fellow with the University’s Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems. 


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learn about the history and anthropology of mead with this awesome mead-zine

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Check out this awesome zine about making mead sent to us by our friend Jonathan Tanis. It starts with an introduction contextualising fermentation as a political act which is both democratizing and embraces the commons, bubbling away with “unrealized possibility” for forming human connections and alliances. It then moves on to explain the historical and anthropological contexts of mead making. Humans have been consuming honey for nearly 9,000 years and mead has featured heavily throughout our civilizations. Naturally there are also instructions and a recipe for brewing your own mead at home!

This is a fascinating and inspiring read full of history, art, poetry and politics, and as the authors say, in this time of global strife and agitation, make mead, not war.

If you or somebody you know is an artist, poet, academic or farmer, and would like to  get involved with future Culture & Agriculture or Agropunk zines, please contact Jonathan at justjontanis@gmail.com.


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on this day in 1845, a fateful step was taken towards enclosure of the commons

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credit: Bob Embleton/Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1845, Westminster, the UK Parliament passed the 1845 enclosure act. Although not the first step in the enclosure of the commons, this act created enclosure commissioners who were given the authority to enclose land without prior parliamentary approval. In total, over the course of 300 years, the British government enclosed nearly 7 million acres of the commons in Britain alone. In doing so they created the ‘working class’ and systematic private property in one fell swoop.  This model became a worldwide blueprint that has led us to the situation in which we find ourselves today. Enclosure of the commons, coupled with imperialism has ensured that hundreds of millions of people are unable to access agricultural land and billions more live in abject poverty, despite living in regions of abundance. Continue reading


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biochar, worth all the hype?

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I first heard about biochar from a gentle and unassuming older lady who was making biochar at home in her kiln. She explained the role that biochar could play in both the fight against climate change and the improvement of soil quality, before gifting me a small bag of it to try out in my own small vegetable garden. I decided to carry out some citizens science in my back yard and put biochar to the test. I planted 5 squash plants and added biochar to the soil for two of the five. To be frank, I didn’t really know what to expect but I will happily test anything that will  organically allow me to fight climate change and grow better vegetables at the same time.

Continue reading


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from the horses mouth

Okay, so perhaps we don’t like to repost to some of the bigger, traditional purveyors of economics, but here is a podcast on alternative local currency coming at you from Bloomberg…

The episode focuses on BerkShares, which is currency started in the Berkshires, MA. If you’re familiar with E.F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) you may also know that his thinking inspired some very cool projects that continue to this day. One such initiative is the local BerkShare, one of the longest running and successful alternative currencies in the US.

So, back to Bloomberg – here is one of the largest US media publications ,that focuses on the economy (re: free market), taking the time to look at local currency. Hey, that’s pretty good news and it’s also a very informative and interesting podcast!

Give it a listen here.


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read a book: agee and walker’s “rediscovered masterpiece”

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During these turbulent political times where the country feels more divided than ever, we should still take the time to put away our devices, crack open a book, and see what the history of our country can teach us.

Enter writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. Many of us are familiar with their seminal work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Published in 1941, the book was an instant American classic. Agee’s words and Evans’ photographs shone an unflinchingly honest eye at the daily lives of sharecroppers in rural Alabama during the Great Depression.

What’s more, Agee wasn’t afraid to look inward at his own privilege and role as a reporter in documenting the lives of impoverished farmers. This theme is expanded upon in the duo’s lesser known work, Cotton Tenants: Three Families, a “rediscovered masterpiece” about Southern cotton farmers that was shelved and finally published in 2013. As a critic from the New York Times wrote:

Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families. . . . What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about.

 

In these days of “alternative facts”, attacks on the media, and a supposed urban/rural divide, both books are well worth a read. Cotton Tenants can be purchased HERE or run on over to your local library to borrow it!


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resistance of the heart against business as usual

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Bread and Puppet Theatre, Vermont

by Samuel Oslund

Today might have us thinking a little obsessively about some big level tsoris.

But let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the reasons why we choose to get into farming in the first place. Speaking personally, I decided to farm because I felt it was a very concrete way to have some sort of impact on the troubles I perceived in the world. Disillusioned with politics, education and these broad means of change I saw farming as personal direct action.

Through the repetitive act of farming I slowly stopped seeing it as a political statement, and with each year that past, each additional scar on my hand and wrinkle on my face, I began to see the world through the lens of agriculture. I began to see the connections it makes – how good stewardship of land can bring a community together, that it’s about a lot more than vegetables and cows and endless hours- because through this daily act we begin to see ourselves in relation to all of these things.  Continue reading


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how the wolves saved yellowstone: a lesson in keystone species

The first of two videos that we have for you nature lovers this morning!

Some brief and interesting context for the information presented here: wolves did not disappear from the Yellowstone landscape by incident or historical coincidence. In fact, historians say that since nearly the beginning of westward expansion by European settlers, settlers and ranchers (whose cattle were at risk of being poached) engaged in what some historians call a “war with the wolf” that culminated in the early 20th century in a governement-sponsored nation-wide “wolf control” policy. The history involves mountains of wolf carcasses, canine bounty hunters, rifles, traps, and poison– tactics so widely supported to have included environmentalists like Teddy Roosevelt and John James Audubon. For more information on this, we recommend this piece from PBS.

Just goes to show that when it comes to the incredible fragile balance of ecosystems, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Interested in learning more about how these majestic canines shape the landscape of the park? There are great resources on Yellowstone’s website.


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10 things to know about standing rock

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Thanks be to High Country News for this latest piece that brings us back to a much-needed review of the ins-and-outs of our representative federal form of government as they relate to the latest events at Standing Rock. Have you found yourself wondering over the past few months, how did we get here, why can this happen in our country, or, even, wait, what does usufructory mean? Then we can’t encourage you more to take five minutes to read “Back to Civics Class: 10 Things to Know About Standing Rock.”

This is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READING. Just because it’s a well-worn cliched doesn’t make it any less true, friends, knowledge is power. Short, clear, and so freaking well-written, these ten points review historical moments including the Louisiana Purchase, relevant supreme court cases, and the current status of treaties with Native American nations.

For instance, point one: usufrcutory rights; it is an important legal construction that is currently so obscure in our collective consciousness that spellcheck reports that it is not a word. (Spoiler alert: usufructory rights have nothing to do with high fructose corn syrup and mean  the right of tribes to hunt, gather and fish in their “usual and accustomed places.)

As the culture-war rhetoric simmers with caustic venom on the Northern Plains, the results of the civics survey mentioned earlier are sobering. Is it not disquieting to learn that 70 percent of us lack a rudimentary understanding of the basic principles of federalism? At what point do we cease to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and become a nation of the blind leading the blind?


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Agrarian Trust Symposium speaker Kim Stringfellow’s cool ass project!

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The Mojave Project is really just kind of the bomb-diggety. But don’t take our word for it: to learn more, we recommend this absolutely gorgeous video. The project is an “experimental transmedia documentary led by Kim Stringfellow exploring the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert.” Browse the current projects here.

And while we’re talking about the Mojave Project, they’re asking you to
SAVE THE DATE!
WHAT: We pleased to send you this SAVE THE DATE announcement about our autumn program OUR LAND 2: Tracing the Acequia Commons, a series of talks, exhibits and happenings to advance the broadening discourse on land commons and farmland futures.

WHERE: New Mexico! Most events Free and open to the public.

WHEN: November 9-17th in close association with the Quivira Coalition and Biodynamic Association annual conferences, Agrarian Trust invites you to join us in fine company  to approach topics of Public Trust, Acequia traditions and commons culture, emergent urban commons, water enclosures and new topographics; through lectures, documentary films, open archive exhibits and an walk along an Acequia irrigation ditch, flowing continuously for four centuries.

WHO: Mary Wood, Rick Prelinger, Kim Stringfellow, Tezozomoc, Devon Pena, Ruth Breach, Stanley Crawford, Wes Jackson, Emily Vogler, Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, Eric Holt Gimenez, Kate Levy… and more

 


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greenhorns releases: MANIFESTA!

We are so proud of this awesome collaboration. If you’ve been wondering how a maritime art stunt fits into the mission of an organization that supports farmers (I mean, talk about your landlubbers!), this publication is for you! Manifesta lays out the story, history, discourse, and activism behind the Maine Sail Freight project last summer! The un-monograph is a fun and galvanizing read, and we think it is going to make a real believer out of you!

This is a story about a group of young farmers staging a pageant-like protest about the terms of trade in our agricultural economy, and the nature of transportation and exchange within that model.

It’s an elaborate stunt, invoking colonial history and the maritime ex- traction economy of coastal Maine as a platform for discourse on a more regional, more prosperous, and more diverse food economy for the future.

We claim the ocean as an ally and a commons—a venue to imagine what a world where 60% of the retail price goes to the farmer, and view- point from which to watch the farmers of the region operate, and co-oper- ate to circulate wealth and add value. We raise a flag for food sovereignty on the mast of our sail boat.

We are not content to labor where 70% of the agricultural work is performed by those without citizenship. We are not content to operate
in a high-volume, low-value commodity extraction economy. We are not content to be silent while our nation negotiates yet more free trade agree- ments freeing only those at the top of the capitalist slag heap and chaining the rest of us to their terms.

This project is our retort!