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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

“Eating is an agricultural act”*…


… at least in these post-hunter-gatherer days, it is… and therein lies the problem?

To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.

At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable…

Read Jared Diamond’s (1987) refutation in “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.”

* Wendel Berry


As we hunt and gather, we might spare a celebratory thought for “the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”– it’s Guy Fawkes Day.

On the eve of a general parliamentary session scheduled for November 5, 1605, Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar of the Parliament building, and ordered the premises thoroughly searched.  Nearly two tons of gunpowder were found hidden within the cellar.  The authorities determine that the suspect was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy, largely organized by Robert Catesby, to annihilate England’s entire Protestant government including King James I.  Over the next few months, English authorities killed or captured all of the conspirators in the “Gunpowder Plot,” and also arrested, tortured, or killed dozens of innocent English Catholics.  Fawkes himself was executed on January 31, 1606.

The day after Fawkes arrest, November 5, 1605 Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, “always provided that ‘this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder'”; an Act of Parliament later that year designated November 5th as an official day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance”, and remained in force until 1859.

But as historian Lewis Call has observed, Fawkes is now “a major icon in modern political culture.”  The image of Fawkes’s face has become “a potentially powerful instrument for the articulation of postmodern anarchism” during the late 20th century, exemplified by the mask worn by V in the comic book series V for Vendetta, who fights against a fictional fascist English state, and by activists who were part of the Occupy Movement.



Written by LW

November 5, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The future of the nations will depend on the manner of how they feed themselves”*…


 click here (and again) for larger (and legible) version

This map, compiled and published by meat-packing company Armour in 1922, illustrates the extraordinary range of agricultural activities in America at the time.  The broad message of the map is that America’s strength as a nation was substantially based on its strength as an agricultural power.  The huge expanse of American land and the vast number of climates across the country allowed the U.S. to grow a more diverse set of crops and raise more kinds of animals than other nations.  As Armour concludes, “the United States [was] the most self-sustaining nation in the world”…  but lots has changed in the near-century since then.

How nations feed themselves has gotten a lot more complicated. That’s particularly true in the US, where food insecurity coexists with an obesity crisis, where fast food is everywhere and farmer’s markets are spreading, where foodies have never had more power and McDonald’s has never had more locations, and where the possibility of a barbecue-based civil war is always near…

From Vox40 maps, charts, and graphs that show where our food comes from and how we eat it, with some drinking thrown in for good measure.

* French epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1826


As we pick a peck, we might send tuneful birthday wishes to Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie; he was born on this date in 1912.  Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned their traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his own songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression– and earned him the nickname, “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”

‘This Land is Your Land (in D)’By Woody Guthrie

CHORUS: This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me


This land is your land, this land is my land
From Bonavista to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake Waters
This land was made for you and me


This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to Sanibel Island
From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
O’er the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me, a voice was saying
This land was made for you and me

When the sun came shining and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I went walking, I saw a sign there
On the sign it said NO TRESPASSING
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
In the relief office, I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me


Written by LW

July 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Part Three: Got You Covered…


Readers will recall Europe’s “The Final Countdown” (brilliantly mashed up with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”); now, via Cover Song Archive (“a collection of songs you know, by people you don’t”)…


As we limber our fingers, we might wish an orderly Happy Birthday to agronomy pioneer Jethro Tull; he was born in Basildon in Berkshire on this date in 1674.  While probably best remembered for inventing the horse-drawn plow (around 1701), he is arguably more important for his promotion of sowing seeds in rows rather than “broadcast” (simply throwing them around), so that weeds could be controlled by hoeing regularly between the rows.  To this end, Tull invented a seed drill, which could plant three rows at a time: a  rotary hopper distributed a regulated amount of seed; a blade cut a groove in the ground to receive the seed; then the soil was turned over to cover the sewn seed.  Because of its internal moving parts, the seed drill has been called the first “agricultural machine”; in any case, its rotary mechanism became standard for all sowing devices that followed.

source: Royal Berkshire History


Thou Shalt Not…

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.  In the one thousand two hundred twenty-ninth year from the incarnation of our Lord, Peter, of all monks the least significant, gave this book to the [Benedictine monastery of the] most blessed martyr, St. Quentin.  If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beinecke MS 214, Yale University Library

The MPAA continues to issue take-down notices, the RIAA continues to sue civilians, and the Justice Department enlists the Department of State secretly to negotiate a new– and closed– global intellectual property  regime (the ACTA Treaty), but piracy of CDs, DVDs, and books continues, the industry insists, to be a problem.  The problem.

So the media companies who are animating all of this frantic action have taken the extra step of admonishing its customers with “FBI Warnings” at the head of DVDs, on CD jewel cases, and the like…

But, as Carl Pyrdum, a Yale medievalist, writes in Got Medieval, history is discouraging:

Sometimes people come to me and ask, “How did medieval filmmakers protect their DVDs from piracy?” And I tell them that since so few households had DVD players during the thousand or so years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance that it really never became much of an issue.

But this is not to say that the medievals didn’t face problems safeguarding their intellectual property. Indeed, book owners were so worried about theft and damage to their property that they often included what is known as a “book curse” on the inside cover or on the last leaf of their manuscripts [like the one illustrated above], warning away anyone who might do the book some harm. And in this, I submit, they were a lot like modern day Hollywood. For a book curse is essentially the same as that little FBI warning that pops up whenever you try to watch a movie: a toothless text charm included by the media’s maker meant to frighten the foolish. The charm only works if you believe that words are special, potent magic.

Perhaps the example illustrated above could be a model; perhaps the industry could move to something like…

As we update our copies of Handbrake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), later renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), was formed. The UFWOC was established when two smaller organizations, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), both in the middle of strikes against certain California grape growers, merged and moved under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.

Before the rise of the UFW, farmworkers made, on average, about ninety cents per hour plus ten cents for each basket of produce they picked– work that many did without such basic necessities such as clean drinking water or portable toilets.  Even then, unfair hiring practices, especially demands for kickbacks, were rampant.   And there was little rest at the end of the day: their living quarters were seldom equipped with indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.

Under the founding leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW brought these issues to the public’s attention.  It won many important benefits for agricultural workers, bringing comprehensive health benefits for farmworkers and their families, rest periods, clean drinking water, and sanitary facilities.

The UFW also has pioneered the fight to protect farmworkers against harmful pesticides– an effort that continues, as California proposes to allow neurotoxin methyl iodide as a pesticide in strawberry fields.

Mexican Farm Worker at Home, Imperial Valley, CA; Dorothea Lange (source: Library of Congress)


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