Monday, July 25, 2011

on matters of meat

I have just posted on Facebook about the recently released report, Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health.
Thanks to our friends at the Environmental Working Group, who have produced a very clever little chart which shows us which meats (and animal "products") have the most environmental impact.
Of course this somewhat misses the point, as there are matters of nutrition and ethics to consider. In that respect, any consumption of conventionally-produced food is going to have not just an environmental impact, but major impacts on human health and nutrition plus the attendant ethical issues relating to how these animals are treated.
You would think that it would be easier to simply switch to eating vegan wholefoods. But no. And then enter stage left, George Monbiot with a comment on this book which he read recently. Meat: a benign extravagance, by Simon Fairlie discusses the view that feedlot cattle, fed on grains is not the most effective and efficient way to raise cattle. We knew that. But then he goes on to explain that pigs raised for eating are also deprived of their natural diet (and a few other things that are natural to pigs). If we were to fix this, not only would we be better off in relation to our carbon footprint, but we could - as it were - have our meat and eat it. Not sure that i would want to pursue this path, but i can see how it must make my fellow meat-eaters feel 100% more comfortable about their food behaviours.

All of this is intertwixtedley implicated in how we approach permaculture design solutions. it is an ongoing conversation in the more enlightened of permaculture circles as to how an integrated permaculture design can meet human needs without compromising the needs of (exploiting) non-human animals. Simon Fairlie's view is clearly coloured by his experiences on a permaculture settlement. Interesting. I wonder why he won't name which permaculture community it was.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Are Town Planners From Outer Space?

Reading Robert Guyton's recent post about a woman who dared to plant a vegetable garden on her front lawn, i am agog at the craziness of this.

Eat The View. if it's good enough for the first lady on the whitehouse front lawn, then what happened to the Oak Park, Michigan town planners?

Yes, this woman could go to jail for planting organic vegetables in her front garden. Never mind getting yourself a permit. Makes the TDC look tame by comparison!

Friday, July 8, 2011

the electric car, it's not only possible it is happening

Battery purchase can be a prohibitive expense in buying or retrofitting an electric vehicle.  Little Hartley's electric vehicle shop does conversions for $25,000.  The significance of that is they make their own batteries using a lithium salt solution. 

Behind this effort is Charles Daglish, a retired mechanic who got his inspiration from the electric vehicle industry in the UK. His electric sports car powered by battery, charged by solar is a snappy little model.

Progress is being made on electric vehicles in Australia. Melbourne City Council is voting on the installation of 12 electric vehicle charging points to make usage of electric vehicles an attractive and viable option.

Renault is going to be releasing an all-electric vehicle (the Fluence ZE) in 2012 that will be priced competitively with similar sized petrol hatchbacks.  Better Place Australia has joined with Renault to start rolling out battery-swapping stations in Australia.

This means that battery purchase won't be part of the sticker price, but there will be a battery-lease arrangement that gives you freedom to swap batteries and keep driving.  And of course the batteries will be charged with 100% renewable energy.

Beyond sustainable transport and renewable energy, there is "renewable transport", described as the integrated use of renewable energy, smart grids, and electric-drive vehicles (both private and public) for the decarbonisation of stationary energy and transport systems in our cities.

The electric car is certainly leading us into this era, though it not about the car. It is about the integrated system. Definitely the subject of another post. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What the heck is permaculture?

according to David Holmgren, co-originator of Permaculture: ecological design theory applied to an everyday context

These are notes and excerpts from Week 2 of a Permaculture Design Certificate course being held in Sydney this winter 2011 at which David and his partner Su presented.

And here's a brief overview of what was covered in Week 1.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Uncommon Currency

It is not often that i want to completely transcribe from another source, but this recent article from New Zealand's newspaper The Dominion Post so impressed me i wanted to share it with you all.

Written by Johanna Knox, it tells the story of community currencies, with a focus on the time banking system that the small town of Lyttelton has pioneered.

1st May - Catholic Church, Winchester Street, Lyttelton

Lyttelton was at the epicentre of the February 22 earthquake. The disaster claimed two local lives, tore up homes and livelihoods, and reduced the township’s treasured historic buildings to rubble. Now, with no end in sight to aftershocks, you might think Lyttelton would be (to use a phrase the media has become fond of) a town ‘on its knees’. Instead, this small port community defies anyone or anything to break its spirit.
Its people rushed to help each other as soon as the February quake hit. Just four days later, as hillsides continued crumbling and more streets were evacuated, residents gathered in a park for an all-day party, celebrating their strength.
What’s their secret? Margaret Jefferies, Chair of Project Lyttelton, says, ‘Much – but not all – can be attributed to our community time bank.’
 The Lyttelton Time Bank initiative has been running since 2005, but has only recently come to wide attention. When the first major quake struck in September 2010, Lyttelton people didn’t wait for authorities to help. Thanks to their Time Bank network, locals who could offer help or resources were rapidly connected with those who needed them.
After the far worse destruction wreaked by the second quake in February, the Time Bank’s value has been in greater evidence than ever. Jefferies says, ‘It’s as though the first [earthquake] was a rehearsal for the devastating one.’ At the local emergency centre, Civil Defense, Council, and other volunteers work closely with the Lyttelton Time Bank – because it provides ‘an amazing network of people with identified skills’ that can be tapped into fast.
Groups like the Time Bank quietly exist the length and breadth of the country. A time bank is a community currency. Community currencies take diverse forms and go by many names, but are always underpinned by the conviction that the national dollar is not the only way to trade, and that using a ‘complementary currency’ brings myriad benefits.
Community currency fans enthuse about making new friends, supporting their local economies, decreasing food miles, reducing debt, feeling extra cash in their pockets, and discovering skills they didn’t know they had.
Time banks are proliferating in New Zealand, and just as prevalent are local exchange trading systems (LETS) – sometimes called green dollar schemes.
In both systems, transactions are logged on a central database, or use vouchers. Members trade with whoever in their local system they want to, and check their balances like a regular bank account.
In a time bank, the unit of currency is an hour. Participants earn hours of someone else’s time by giving their own. It’s an egalitarian system; whoever you are and whatever you do, your hours are worth the same as everyone else’s.
One important rule ensures that time bank trades are not subject to tax: you cannot trade services related to your normal business activity.
Jefferies says a time bank unites people from all walks of life. It’s ‘like the blood supply through the body of the community. It facilitates, it links, it feeds our humanity.’
The Lyttelton Time Bank was New Zealand’s first. With a grant from the Tindall Foundation, it developed a system tailored to its locale, but ready to be adapted to others. Since then Lyttelton has supported the blossoming of time banks in Kaitaia, Whakatane, Otaki, Gore, and two suburbs of Christchurch.
With more in the pipeline, Jefferies and her colleagues hope soon to launch a national time bank organization, although local earthquake relief efforts take first priority.

Helen Dew, a founding member of the Living Economies Trust, which fosters community currencies in New Zealand, sees a core difference between a time bank and a LETS: ‘The primary purpose of time banking is community building, whereas a LETS enables its members, including business participants, to trade in goods and services, with community building a spin off.’
A LETS, or green dollar scheme, has its own unit of currency, generally equivalent in value to the national dollar. On joining, you open with zero in your account and can start trading immediately – sell and go into credit, or buy and go into debit.
Debt is not frowned on; the system couldn’t work without it. But members should move between debit and credit at least once a year, and so no one goes irretrievably into debt or hoards credit, members keep within certain limits on either side of zero. Amongst New Zealand LETS, limits range from 100 to 1000 currency units.
Perhaps most importantly, debt in a LETS scheme attracts no interest.
Dew is an active member of the Wairarapa LETS, which calls its currency units WAIS. As well as selling excess garden produce, she’s a local distributor for Bokashi composting systems and Koanga seeds. She trades happily in WAIS, conventional cash, or a combination of the two.
Several years ago she renovated her home, paying around WAI$3,000 to fellow LETS members for labour and NZD$8,000 to local businesses for materials. She says it was a ‘win win’. She avoided a bank loan, local businesses benefited, and work went to locals who wanted it.
The Wairarapa has been hit hard by the current economic crisis, and Dew says LETS allow communities like hers to genuinely add to their wealth – and keep it there. ‘One hundred percent of the wealth generated from exchanges within community currencies is retained and recycled locally’.

Golden Bay is home to one of the country’s most successful LETS. Around 8% of the population participates – 420 people.
LETS have a way of getting puns and acronyms flowing. Golden Bay currency units are HANDS (How About A Non-Dollar System), and co-ordinator Joanna Piekarski holds the official title ‘HANDy messenger’.
She subscribes new members, sends newsletters, organises events, ensures balances stay within their limits, brokers sales, and more. ‘I'm just generally helpful to members to keep everyone happy.’ She earns a few HANDS for what is in theory two hours’ work a week, but in practice, much more.
While regular money is often compared to oil greasing the wheels of an economy, Golden Bay folks see their community currency as something stickier – a ‘social glue’. Quarterly markets, where members are paid to have stalls, are highlights of the local social calendar.
LETS schemes often offer a way to afford a few luxury items, but can cover basics too. Piekarski says members have used HANDS to buy food, get cars repaired, and even pay part of their rent.
In response to Government funding cuts to community education, Golden Bay instigated its own programme where HANDS members teach classes and students pay partly in community currency.
Recently launched is ‘Young HANDS’, allowing Golden Bay children to open their own HANDS accounts without the small levies adult traders have, and with lower credit and debit limits. Budding entrepreneurs offer baking, handcrafted jewellery, dog walking, and chess help.
Other LETS schemes are in various stages of development around the country. Whanganui, for example, has REBS (River Exchange & Barter System), with a 2009 turnover of $R22,594.

Taking the art of the acronym to new heights is Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Back Yards). Initiator Pete Russell credits his wife Katherine with the name: ‘I came up with Oooog, Out Of Our Own Gardens, but Kat trumped it.’
Ooooby’s raison d’etre is to support local produce, and encourage home food growing.
Ooooby organisers wanted to make it as rewarding as possible for home gardeners to grow abundantly and trade amongst themselves. The answer was a special Ooooby currency, and what else could this small store of value be called, but a Roooby?
Russell and cohorts began Ooooby in Auckland and have watched the idea take off across the country, aided by an Ooooby social networking site they set up on Ning.

While Ooooby supports backyard growers who’d never produce the volume to sell in supermarkets, a project in the Manawatu town of Ashhurst takes a different tack, placing businesses at the forefront of their efforts.
LOAVES (Local Origin Ashhurst Voluntary Exchange) was cooked up by Sharon Stevens with help from her husband Phil, a team of volunteers, and a grant from Palmerston North City Council’s Local Initiatives Fund.
Phil Stevens explains, 'We haven't yet formally launched, and that date will be determined by a critical mass of business participants in the scheme ... We have over 30 individuals who’ve pledged to use the currency, and over a dozen businesses have expressed early interest in a commitment to accept the currency.
‘Working with businesses helps to make LOAVES visible and viable, and it creates a strong core for a vibrant small economy.’ Additionally, the team hopes to structure their system so that if New Zealand should enter a period of financial volatility, businesses could maintain stable prices when using LOAVES.
Especially important is for LOAVES to equal New Zealand dollars. It means ‘businesses don’t need to do additional bookkeeping -- trading in LOAVES will have the same tax and accounting implications as the cash economy.’
Despite their current business focus, Stevens says, ‘We're at least as interested in household-to-household trade … and we're asking people to consider what they will grow or make, and what skills they will trade …’

Perhaps they don’t need to ask. Users of time banks and LETS often say there’s something about the very act of joining such a system that has you asking yourself not just, ‘What could I buy?’ but, ‘What else could I offer?’
Since the onset of the economic crisis, we hear exhortations from many sides to consume less and produce more. Community currency advocates say their projects encourage exactly this change in mindset. But they also remind us that it’s not just about the money.
As Margaret Jefferies says of the Lyttelton Time Bank, it ‘builds social capital’.

Key websites:
Living Economies Trust

Lyttelton Time Bank (with links to other time banks in NZ)

The Community Exchange System – an international network of LETS where most New Zealand LETS are housed


The LOAVES project

The Complementary Currency Resource Centre

The Role of Time Banks in Crisis Response, from Community Currency Magazine, 10 March 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Untouchable Girls

Linda and Jools Topp, Cathedral Square, Christchurch
Today, I found myself taking in the atmosphere in Cathedral Square where the World Buskers Festival brought cheer to the earthquake-ravaged city. Of course I had to come in to witness The Topp Twins doing what they do best - entertaining. These girls are part of my personal (and political) history, growing up in Aotearoa NZ.
And I have something in common with Jools.
It seems that their documentary Untouchable Girls has become NZ's top documentary film, grossing $2million at the box office.
Though they didn't sing many songs, Linda and Jools managed to demonstrate the essence of great busking (and great performance), spontaneity and interaction with the audience.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blueberry Bliss

blueberry fields forever
Yes indeed it was bliss as I gobbled my way through handfuls of delicious fresh blueberries at Halswell, near Christchurch. It's the height of the blueberry season here and the weather has been kind. This is a bumper crop and the people at Blueberry Bliss, this family-owned "pick-your-own" farm, do not spray the berries. Maybe one day they will also stop spraying the grass too.

Meanwhile, I managed to bring a 1.5kg bucket of berries back with me (minus the ones I munched on in the car on the way back). This will make for great eating over the next couple of days, and Elvi promises we will be going back there before I leave Christchurch.

Some Nutritional Facts About Blueberries
Blueberries are high in Vitamin C . A single 100g serving contains 9.7mg, 20% of the recommended daily requirement. They provide us with many essential minerals including manganese which plays an important role in bone development and metabolism of macronutrients.

100gms of Blueberries contain:
Vitamin C19.9mgms
*this information, courtesy of NZ Blueberry Growers Association

All of this goodness can have the following effect:
•    beneficial in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke
•    useful in treating and preventing urinary tract infection
•    a protectant against the damaging effects of free radicals
•    beneficial in helping treat some cancers
•    helpful in reversing the effects of age related deterioration

berries in abundance at Blueberry Bliss farm
Blueberries: origin and uses

The humble blueberry is a native of North America and captured in American culture as blueberry pie. In pre-colonial times it was the native american indians who gathered blueberries for food. Their folklore explains how the blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star. Elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent "star berries" to relieve children's hunger during a famine. Parts of the blueberry plant were also used as medicine and the juice was used for dyes.

Today, America produces about 90% of the world's blueberries. This includes a wild-harvested variety local to Nova Scotia. As a food, they are eaten fresh, frozen, canned, juiced, and used in muffins, pancakes, sauces, cakes, salads, smoothies. sorbets. My favourite way of eating them is fresh. But i also enjoy them in a banana-berry smoothie (fresh or frozen).

Blueberry Production

Blueberries are a member of the plant family, Vaccinium along with 450 other species of plants. Included amongst these are the bilberry, cranberry and many other esoteric varieties of berries not often seen in commercial production.

Blueberries grown commercially fall into three main groups:
a) northern highbush: this is the variety most often found in Australia and New Zealand production. It grows up to 1.5m high.
b) southern rabbiteye: named thus because the calyx of the berry resembles the eye of the rabbit. Most common in southern USA.
c) lowbush or "wild blueberry": cold-hardy dwarf bushes surviving in the wild as far north as Arctic North America.

Eating more than i picked!
A bucket of beautiful berries to take home.