Category Archives: Urban Farming

Indigenous Iowa breaks ground on Earth Mother Camp, an environmentally progressive think tank

Indeigenous activist Cheryl Angel speaks at the site of the new Earth Mother Camp. Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Indigenous Iowa, a social and environmental justice organization rooted in indigenous culture, welcomed the first visitors to the Earth Mother Community Education Camp near Williamsburg, Iowa on Sunday, Feb. 26.

The ceremony began with a song to welcome water protectors from Oceti Sakowin, a camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cedric Goodhouse was

invited to start the ceremonial fire, setting positive intentions for the camp. There were speeches by Oceti Sakowin, Indigenous Iowa and Meskwaki speakers at the ceremony.

Click here to read the full article.

Interview with Herbert Girardet on Regenerative Cities

Author of Creating Regenerative Cities, Herbert Girardet has a nice interview in London Essays on the challenges of transitioning cities off fossil fuels, and the differences between regenerative cities, resilient cities and sustainable cities.

Here’s a clip:

“I argue that nowadays we are struggling to make the transition from Petropolis to Ecopolis, where urban consumption supports and regenerates rather than despoils the ecosystems that nature and humanity need to survive. These days, some people argue for creating the ‘intelligent city’ or ‘creative city.’ Others talk about the ‘liveable city’, meaning a city that offers residents and visitors a good quality of life, with nice parks and safe streets and so on. And of course this agenda is very popular with city people and city governments. Then there’s the ‘smart city’ – the city that exploits all the potential of new IT technology. This is very popular with companies like IBM or Siemens, for obvious reasons, and there’s a lot of money being spent on this by city authorities and companies.

And then of course there is lot of talk about the ‘resilient city’ – although I have criticised this concept because to my mind it is rather like the medieval city that surrounds itself with a defensive wall: in the past it would have been to resist marauding tribes; increasingly today it would be walls to shut out rising sea levels.

And then finally there is the concept of the sustainable city, which dates back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the concept of sustainable urbanism was first defined. A sustainable city is a city where people live in ways that don’t damage the chances of future generations to lead good lives.

I argue in Creating Regenerative Cities that we need to think beyond sustainability because we have not done much to protect and sustain living nature in recent years, particularly in the period since these ideas were first formulated, 20–25 years ago. We have run down the resources of the planet to an extraordinary degree. The idea of the regenerative city draws attention to the need to replenish and make good the damage we have done and to understand the city in all its complex relations to the natural environment.”

Climate Art

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.50.53 AM Check out this interesting story on the Climate Central website about the work of an artist in Maine to explain climate change data through paintings. Maine artist Jill Pelto explains:

“But the point is clear. Data — and the way humans are influencing that data by emitting greenhouse gases — is an essential part of the landscape and the changes that are happening.

And by embedding that message within paintings, the works become a Trojan horse for science to reach a public that doesn’t necessarily think about data points and models.

“Most of the population doesn’t pay attention to the scientific community and research,” Pelto said. “That’s the group I want to target.”

Food Foolish: Waste and Climate Change

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 5.05.28 PM The Food Tank blog has an interesting interview with author John M. Mandyck, whose latest book–Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change -looks at the carbon emissions, methane release and climate impact of our American food chain.

Here’s a clip:

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you and [your co-author] Eric B. Schultz to write Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change? What can we expect from the book?

John Mandyck (JM): In the book, we outline the enormous impact of food waste on hunger, climate change, natural resources, and food security. More than 1 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted, never making it from the farm to our fork. To put that into perspective, imagine 1.3 billion healthy elephants standing on top of each other in one pile. That is what we are losing from the food supply chain each year. Meanwhile, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry – a population equivalent to the United States (U.S.) and the European Union combined. Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment, from its greenhouse gas emissions to the water wasted to grow the food we never eat. The embodied carbon dioxide emissions alone represent 3.3 billion metric tons. That is all the energy that goes to produce the food we never eat, including fuel for tractors, electricity for water pumps, the power for packaging facilities, and more. In fact, if food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S. The water associated with food waste is equally concerning. The water we use to grow the food we throw away is greater than the water used by any single nation on the planet.

We believe that the scale and consequence of food waste must be elevated and examined globally. That is why we wrote Food Foolish; to call attention to the extraordinary social and environmental opportunities created by wasting less food. We wanted to format the data and the implication of food waste in a way that could be readily accessible to anybody. We hope this book can help connect the global dialogue on an issue many think is essential to the sustainability of the planet.

Read the full interview here:

COP21: Ecologist Guide

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.25.45 AM Along with world leaders and negotiators, a lot of non-governmental, environmental and civil rights groups will be converging on Paris later this month for the COP21 climate summit. Here’s a clip from the Ecologist magazine’s guide to some of the activities”

So what’s happening? And how can I get involved?

The conference itself runs from 30th November – 11th December. But to get in, you will need to have got registration already. And if you haven’t, all the easier to dedicate yourself to everything else that’s going on.

A good place to begin is at one of the convergence spaces. The main one so far confirmed is the Climate Action Zone (ZAC), open from 7th-11th December. This will be a central hub for daily updates from the COP, action planning, workshops and general assemblies.

From early November, Jardin d’Alice will be a large art-action space for building tools for the marches and actions (such as giant inflatables and banners) and hosting a 500-person kitchen.

Check out ARTCOP21 for mainstream art events throughout the COP. Place to B is holding a space for creating alternative narratives of the COP for journalists and blogger types (with space for sleeping 600 at reduced rates), and Eroles will be holding a creative space for collaboration, workshops and opportunities to get involved.

Let the Climate Games begin …

On the weekend at the start of the summit (28th-29th November), there will be mass marches all over the world, including London, New York, Paris, Berlin and others. The London march is on 29th November with smaller local marches in other cities including Cardiff and Edinburgh on the 28th (though Belfast will march on the 29th).

This same weekend Paris will also see the arrival of ‘ZAD’ (Zone a Défendre, or zone to defend) convoy-marches of tractors, bikes and people on foot from land struggles all over France (and possibly Europe) for a mass convergence and banquet.

The opening day of the COP (Monday 30th) will see the opening round of the Climate Games, an innovative form of political engagement taking the form of a real-world ‘Disobedient Action Adventure Game’.

Trialed in Amsterdam coal port this summer, it is essentially a framework to allow for diverse tactics – such as civil disobedience, theatre, art and direct action – to be used together. Teams register, complete their stunts and actions, and submit photos and action reports to the website to be awarded points and prizes for innovation, courage and creativity. The opening round has a focus on ‘greenwashing’.

This day will also be a global day of action for students, with students of all ages encouraged to skip school as part of a global Climate Strike, and organise an action for climate justice.

Climate actions

Civil society will gather in Montreuil during the middle weekend (5th-6th December) for the People’s Climate Summit – a down-to-earth alternative to the political circus playing out in le Bourget, with debates, workshops, screenings, preparation for action and a Village of Alternatives. There will also be a Global Critical Mass bike ride on 5th December.

Other actions include: the Pinocchio Awards ceremony for dirty corporations on the 3rd; an International Tribunal for the rights of Nature on the 4th; a day of action on food sovereignty and TTIP on the 9th, as well as a participative Art Not Oil performance protest in the oil-sponsored Louvre; and day of fracking action on the 10th.

Solutions COP21 is a sideshow event to the official summit, exhibiting “products, services, processes and innovations” for addressing climate change.

With corporations able to pay large sums of money for a space in the COP21 itself if they exhibit within the ‘solutions’ expo, activists have lambasted the exhibition as a symbol of corporate greenwash and vowed to target it with protest. It runs from 4th-10th December in central Paris – get there before the 4th to be ready for mass action.

The talks are scheduled to end on the 11th December, but historically have always overrun, so are actually expected to finish on the 12th – hence the 11th / 12th will be the focus for mobilisation. Saturday 12th, or ‘D12’ as it has been dubbed, will be the main day for mass mobilisation and is expected to go down in history.

Friends of the Earth International are planning an evening rally of speakers and music at Place de le Republique on the 11th, and the closing round of the Climate Games will be on 11th/12th.

‘Climate disobedience’ at Le Bourget …

Plans are coming together for the ‘largest ever act of climate disobedience’ in the form of ‘Red Lines’ occupations encircling the summit, being organised by an unprecedented coalition of NGOs, trade unions, youth, faith, and grassroots groups (Coalition Climat 21, or CC21).

The red lines represent minimum limits for a just and liveable planet, that the negotiators are expected to cross in their lack of ambitious action. The occupations will fill roads around Le Bourget with huge inflatable red lines, farmers with tractors, Occupy-esque tent villages, frontline communities, and thousands of determined people.

At the same time, around the world red lines will appear on targets for action in 2016 – sites of fossil fuel extraction, infrastructure and affected communities. The action is being organised in a way that avoids police escalation (though it is impossible to predict police behaviour), making it accessible and safe for people who have never taken civil disobedience before but want to take bold action at this crucial moment.

Plan to be in Paris by noon on the 11th at the latest for briefings and non-violent civil disobedience trainings. And remember – if there’s one activity at which the French excel, it’s demonstrating.

Mass rally in central Paris

For those not comfortable with the idea of civil disobedience, a rally will also be held in central Paris on D12. Precise details are still being worked out, but current thinking is that twelve blocs will march from twelve locations, carrying red lines representing different themes, to join a giant human chain around Place de la Republique and create a ‘Grand Clamor’ with drums, bells and sirens sounding.

The human chain will surround representatives from affected communities from around the world who will sing and speak before plans are made for an unprecedented year of action in 2016. The whole day will close with a clear link between all of the actions in Paris and around the world.

Updates on plans for D12 will appear on the CC21, and Climate Justice Action (CJA, a large international coalition of grassroots groups) websites as plans develop.

After having the final word on the talks and claiming the moment to build a strong movement for action in 2016 and beyond, whatever the outcome of the UN summit there will be a celebration and Climate Games Award Ceremony on Sunday 13th. Check the Climate Games website for updates and don’t miss the party!

Study on Climate Narratives in an Age of Climate Cynicism

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.01.37 AMCheck out the findings from a new study, “News Media and Climate Politics,” by the Climate Justice Project, led by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the University of British Columbia, on effective climate narratives in an age of “climate cynicism.” According to the authors: “It is often said that society is at a crossroads of climate change, and that is particularly true for how journalism will choose to represent climate politics in the future. News media can continue to direct a narrow spotlight upon the failures of governments, political elites and international negotiations. But to capture the full story of climate change, reports of failure could instead be juxtaposed with some of the countless ways in which individuals are coming together in new forms of solidarity, community and action. The path that is chosen may well have a critical impact upon how and if people who are already concerned and alarmed join with their fellow citizens and become active participants in, rather than helpless observers of, the politics of climate change.”

Here are the key results:

1. Success stories about climate politics have a positive impact:When participants read such stories, they were eager to learn more, and their perspectives shifted to become more optimistic.

2. People are especially excited by stories of entrepreneurial activism and everyday heroism — that is, tales of people who, through their own initiative and creativity, open up new spaces for political engagement for themselves and others. These stories provide concrete examples of the connection between individual and collective action. In the absence of this connection, desire for action can default to more familiar but limited ideas of individualized behaviour change (recycling, reducing energy consumption, etc).

3. As people increase their awareness and understanding of political successes, they are more likely to contradict others’ cynicism by bringing up these success stories. This is a strong argument for giving such stories a more prominent place in the mix of news about climate politics.

4. People engage more strongly with localized information about the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as solutions. Such examples make it easier to identify with and understand the issue.

5.Descriptive communication is more powerful than prescriptive: Moral injunctions to “get active” in climate politics are a common feature of environmental communication, and they may have some positive impact. But they also risk increasing feelings of guilt and frustration. On the other hand, news that provides compelling stories about the experiences of people who already participate in climate politics —including not only why they are active but also how that experience affects them — can provide a much easier point of entry into political engagement. People come to understand different forms of democratic engagement as normal activities that people just like them are doing (and enjoying).

6. Information about how to engage politically, and the effects of political engagement, is just as important as information about climate change science. While our participants were reasonably well informed about the science of climate change and about national and international climate politics, they had much less understanding of individual and collective political agency. News media could provide more stories about how a single political action by an individual (e.g. voting, joining an organization, participating in a campaign) can, together with the single actions of other individuals, create a collective political force with transformative consequences.

CGRER: Climate Narrative Project – Spring 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.24.44 AM Climate Narrative Project fellow Nick Fetty reviewed the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project final event for the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research blog.

Here’s a clip:

Nick Fetty | May 9, 2015

Fellows with the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project presented their works on Thursday night at Art Building West on the University of Iowa campus.

The Climate Narrative Project is “a special media arts initiative in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Iowa, designed to reach across academic disciplines and chronicle regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, water and waste management, community planning and transportation.” Fellows participate in a semester-long graduate-level workshop where they developed ideas ranging from documentary films to dance performances. This semester the fellows focused on “regenerative agriculture, urban farming and food policy, with a special focus on schools.”

During Thursday night’s event – Urban Farms, Real Food, Edible Campus: An Evening of Film, Art, Dance and Storytelling – I was the first one to present with a documentary entitled “Soil Mate: It Takes A Teacher.” The film focused on Iowa City soil educator Scott Koepke and the influence he has had on children in the area. Koepke stresses with his students the importance of organic gardening techniques, composting, and healthy eating.

Anna Kilzer presented next with her project “Edible Campus: Beyond a Public Health Building” in which she laid out ideas for planting vegetables and other plants near the UI’s new College of Public Health building with the hope that the rest of the campus would eventual embrace this concept. Kilzer presented her project in the form of a monologue, describing what the UI’s campus would look like if it emulated edible campus models such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“I can see Pawpaw trees and raspberry bushes outside McBride Hall stretching down the sidewalk like a corridor to Clinton street. The wind carries the aroma of basil, thyme and rosemary, as leafy greens reached out of raised beds with the gentle pokes of kale, spinach, and arugula. . Students swing in the Hammocks studying and napping between classes. And those famous writers at their workshop – they were meeting in the middle of rooted vegetables and walnut trees, bookended by pages of lettuce. Engineering students argue over the water irrigation system, as the math assistants measured the perfect amount of water to each vegetation. The PE students lounged on the chairs and benches designed by the 3D design students on display for the general public to enjoy. And down below, the Iowa River teems with life and as the boats cart the boxes of fresh veggies, and food carts and truck lined up with the fervency of filling sand bags–though this time, filling bags of real food from the Edible Campus to feed students, faculty and community members of Iowa City.”

Sophia Finster then took the stage for a dance performance entitled “The Dinner Party: Processed vs. Unprocessed Food.” The performance consisted of four dancers and their struggles to eat healthy unprocessed food when faced with the monetary constraints and the busy lifestyle of being a college student. The story was told through the medium of dance but also used statistics and facts about the environmental impact of processed foods.

“Forty percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Every year 60 million tons of food waste is generated in the U.S. and nearly 40 million tons of that goes to the landfill. Unprocessed food often has much less packaging than processed food and around 45% of our food system’s carbon emissions arises from the production of food that is never eaten. But that’s another conversation for another time. What’s really in our food, safely sealed up in crinkly bags and flashy boxes?”

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Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster’s performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)

The night concluded with Bridget Fonseca and her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond,” a question and answer session between herself (an aspiring farmer) and four characters who played the role of real-life female farmers in the Iowa City area. Fonseca asked the farmers about monetary and other struggles they face to maintain a sustainable operation. At the end, she reflected on her project and reevaluated whether or not she wanted to pursue a career in farming.

“Over this journey, I’ve gained a new perspective on the realities of owning a far. It’s not as flexible [or] glamorous as I initially though. Farming is hard work and the answer is hot that we all have to become farmers to save the food system. What we need is more support for out farmers, for our environment, and for our health.”

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Climate Narrative Project fellow Bridget Fonseca presented her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond.” (Photo by Nick Fetty)

The Climate Narrative Project is currently accepting applications for six fellows for the fall semester. Those interested in applying should contact UI writer-in-residence and workshop leader Jeff Biggers (jrbiggers[at]

Gary Nabhan: Will superweeds, regulation create a perfect storm in Iowa farmlands?

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 12.17.53 PM Renowned biologist Gary Nabhan looked at the issue of superweeds in an important Des Moines Register oped last week, and how “farmers, USDA agencies, segments of the ag industry and Wall Street now agree that environmental and farmer health are now vital economic concerns.” Nabhan identifies five emerging drivers of change that will affect agricultural policies in Iowa: “Slipping sales of herbicide-tolerant corn seed and associated agrichemicals; new Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on using glyphosates because of difficulties controlling superweeds; a World Health Organization report allegedly linking glyphosate exposure to higher risks of non-Hodgkins lymphoma; and the tripling of the Fish and Wildlife Service target numbers for recovery of imperiled monarch butterflies in Midwestern farmscapes.”

Here’s a clip:

“Let’s unpack what has happened. Farmers’ dissatisfaction with rising costs of herbicide-resistant weeds has been evident since 2008. But another superweed, Palmer amaranth, has now arrived in five Iowa counties. By 2004, this weed was already costing Southern farmers $35-40 an acre to control. Now even more tolerant to herbicides, this amaranth costs as much as $150 per acre to control in some states. But EPA’s decision to constrain glyphosate use is not just focused on Palmer amaranth, because a dozen other superweeds also plague 60 million acres of U.S. croplands. As Iowa State University’s Mike Owen conceded, “Simple and convenient tactics are failing rapidly and farmers must diversify, not just the herbicides they use, but everything.”

In March, the WHO claimed a possible link between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Conclusive or not, this report will be hotly debated. But what is not debated is that non-Hodgkins rates in the U.S. have doubled since the 1980s. It has become the fifth-leading cause of cancer in the United States. Farmers’ and farmworkers’ exposure to a variety of stresses already affects their health. Since they are the people who feed America, our agricultural workforce must consider whether additional safeguards are needed to avoid potential health risks.

Farmer dissatisfaction with rising costs and liabilities may be one reason Midwestern farmers have planted 4 percent less corn this year. But such concerns now reach beyond farmers themselves. As declining first quarter corn and chemical sales and stock values came in, Wall Street analysts claimed that biotech and herbicide firms have been dealt “a major blow” because such issues have become “a big concern” that has created “image problems.”

Both Monsanto and Bayer CropScience have recently made significant contributions toward farmland habitat recovery of monarch butterflies and other pollinators. These companies no longer dismiss the need to protect bees or butterflies. They recognize that the numbers of monarch butterflies have declined by as much as 97 percent over the last 15 years. They now want to collaborate with farmers and agencies on forging solutions.

The speed with which new solutions are needed has been accelerating. Director Dan Ashe recently tripled the Fish and Wildlife Service’s goal for recovery of imperiled monarchs. Within five years, Ashe wishes to recruit 300 million butterflies by planting milkweeds for them.

Glyphosate decimation of milkweed in croplands has devastating effects on monarchs because it is the sole host plant for them. But new USDA studies also question whether exposure to the neonicotinoid insecticide, clothianidin, is an additional stressor. Ashe’s new target is so high that agencies and industry cannot simply pay to have new milkweeds propagated if chemicals then damage them once they are established on farmlands.

What’s new about the convergence of these issues is how farmers, USDA agencies, segments of the ag industry and Wall Street now agree that environmental and farmer health are now vital economic concerns. If superweeds fail to be controlled, it will hurt not only imperiled butterflies and bees but also farmers’ operation costs and land values.

We are at a critical moment. With rising risks and diminishing returns, farmers need to collaborate on effective solutions to these problems. Let’s avoid a “perfect storm” by fostering innovations that provide greater yield stability, lower production costs and more consistent, safer weed control.”