Category Archives: Agriculture

Let’s hear it for the invertebrates!

The Xerces Society has a new website. Yay, bugs!

Xerces Society

I mean, seriously, just because they lack endoskeletons and have more appendages than you do is no reason to get all squeamish.

Here, we’ll start you off slowly with some really, really important bugs: native honeybees and bumble bees (one of my favorites). And they’ve got all these cool books and guidelines.

You Tube Happens, or, Adventures in Eponymous Googling

This is what happens when the press visits: they come, say g’day, take some video and then disappear. Many moons later, you suddenly find yourself on You Tube.

Well, they spelled my name wrong, but the video is still pretty good. (Don’t worry, I’m as shocked as you are at how good I sound. They must have done some heavy editing to make me seem so coherent.)

Electric Buzz

Debby on Alice -- Barefoot\'s proof of concept electric ATV

Yep, that’s me looking all farmer-like last winter sitting on Barefoot’s electric ATV prototype named “Alice.” My crew and I have had the luck of being able to test this Barefoot Motors prototype; which basically means driving it all over our vineyards and trying to break it. And we did — except all it needed was a quick cable reconnect and a replacement 12V battery and we were up and zipping around again.

You can see Alice in action on this Mythbusters clip: Barefoot ATV on Mythbusters!

I don’t know if you’re familiar with regular gas ATVs, but if you’ve spent anytime in that saddle, then you know how loud and stinky they are. Oh yeah, still fun, but loud and stinky — and HOT. Hot right where your legs are supposed to go since you are basically sitting on a combustion engine and gas tank with four wheels. Not something that is enjoyable to ride for the hours we put in on them while working on the farm vineyard. Plus all that exhaust and noise are not so good for the environment. So, when I first heard about what Barefoot Motors was trying to do, I was pretty excited.

Recently, Barefoot had a release party at our winery (read more here: Electric ATV Easy on Environment and Budget) — and I got to test drive their new prototype named “Betty.” Where Alice was a gutted and retro-fitted Polaris, Betty is a complete redesign from the ground up (by the well known electric vehicle designer Ely Schless, no less!) — the only thing she had in common with Alice was a Polaris skin. I took her for a spin (sorry no pictures, but I can show you the bugs that got caught in my teeth) around our ranch and, like the Bionic Woman, she is better, faster, stronger. And so quiet the rabbits didn’t even know I was coming.

Barefoot is still working on options such as cruise control as well as better torque control, but we’ve got our deposit down and are looking forward to getting our hands on our own vehicle once they build it for us. In the meantime, we are very happy beta-testers.

Why “Cheap” Organics is a Bad Idea

Who didn’t see this one coming? None of us in the organic ag industry are surprised. In fact, we’ve been worrying about it for at least a year now. Remember, bigger is not always better, especially when it’s Wal-Mart. Ok, kids, I’m posting the whole article here, complete with original links, as it’s relatively short and well, the more widely it’s circulated the better . . .

OCA Calls on Consumers to Boycott Wal-Mart for Degrading Organic Standards

Organic Consumers Association

Jan 17, 2007

Straight to the Source

Six months after OCA requested in a widely circulated “Open Letter” that Wal-Mart stop selling Horizon and Aurora Organic milk coming from intensive confinement factory farm dairies, and stop importing cheap organic foods and ingredients from China and Brazil that could and should be supplied by North American organic farmers, the nation’s largest and most ethically-challenged retailer has done what you would expect, nothing.

In addition, as the Cornucopia Institute has pointed out over the past two months, Wal-Mart continues to post signs in its stores that mislead consumers into believing that non-organic items are actually organic. Meanwhile Wal-Mart’s friends in the USDA’s National Organic Program have, of course, done nothing.

Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic and fair trade sector has generated much fanfare and publicity, at great benefit to a company seeking to re-brand itself in the wake of broad-based criticism of its business practices. While seeking to improve both its reputation and bottom line by moving into the organic and fair trade market, Wal-Mart has systematically lowered standards for these products by squeezing suppliers and sourcing supplies from factory farms and overseas suppliers. Currently, the demand for organic products outweighs the supply, and Wal-Mart’s entry into the market has only exacerbated the problem.

The popularity of organics for consumers has in large part grown from the knowledge among purchasers that products they purchased were raised and produced in a safe, humane and environmentally friendly manner and in many cases were produced locally or regionally. The industrialization of organics by companies like Wal-Mart threatens the ability of consumers to be certain that products they are purchasing are indeed raised and produced according to true organic standards.

Basta! Enough is enough. It is now obvious that organic consumers and anyone who cares about health, justice, and sustainability should stop “bargain shopping” for organic products at Wal-Mart and its Big Box competitors. Breaking the chains of mindless consumerism means taking into consideration that where you buy an organic or green product is just as important as what you buy. And please keep in mind that boycotting Wal-Mart is not just a symbolic gesture. Over the past year, as OCA and hundreds of other groups have shined the light on America’s retail Death Star, Wal-Mart has lost somewhere between two and eight percent of its former customers, sending tremors through Wall Street and causing the company to lose sales and profits. In countries like Germany and South Korea, consumer rejection has forced Wal-Mart to close down its operations entirely.

So today and everyday please boycott Wal-Mart and the other Big Box chains. Whenever possible buy your organic and fair trade products from your local co-op or independently owned natural food store, or from your local farmers directly. For more information on where you can find organic and fair trade products in your local area, go to: Organic Consumers Association

Poor Taste, Indeed

This is a very good article, titled Poor Taste, on Grist debunking a recent anti-sustainable, anti-organic and anti-local food rant in The Economist that even invokes one of the chief architects of the ill-fated Green Revolution.

I mean, point well taken that creating a truly environmentally conscious and sustainable food system is NOT just limited to what you put in your grocery cart, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater . . . Heck, in this case, they are throwing out the entire bathtub.