Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Matthew Moore and the Digital Farm Collective

Radishes in Suburbia: Documenting Urban Growth and the End of a Family Farm

When Matthew Moore returned to his family's 1,000-acre carrot farm outside Phoenix in 2003, he was struck by how much the landscape had changed. During the seven years the 35 year-old spent studying sculpture in San Francisco, the city had expanded into the surrounding land. What was once a 30-minute drive into civilization was now a stroll across the road. A new Target big-box store broke ground nearby and a Wal-Mart is close behind.
Few cities epitomize suburban sprawl in the United States like Phoenix, Arizona. Over the last half century, the city has become the nation’s 6th largest metropolitan area, and with more than 4.1 million people, was one of the fastest growing until the housing collapse took some the wind from its sails.
Urban development nationwide has swallowed more than 23 million acres of agricultural land in the last quarter century. As a fourth-generation Arizona farmer, Matthew Moore is not the first to face the reality that one day soon, his family's property will be completely engulfed by urban development.
In 2007, the city of Surprise, Arizona, released development projections for the area surrounding Moore's farm. By 2030, his stretch of farmland is forecast to consist almost exclusively of mixed-use and medium density residential plots. Moore says he gets daily calls from speculators looking to snap up the property while the market is soft. "Every forecaster around here predicts that in 5 years, the market will be back," he says. "It's only a matter of time before we're zoned out of existence."

In order to save his family's farming legacy, if not the farm itself, Moore set about documenting everything his farm produces. He set up solar-powered time-lapse cameras paired with weather-tracking systems, covering the entire growing period of his crops. He collected his compendium of short films into a project called Lifecycles.
Fittingly, Lifecycles had its feature debut in a supermarket. With support from the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Program, Moore set up monitors above the produce section of a Fresh Market grocery store in Park City, Utah. He let the footage run on a loop for 10 days during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
While delicate growing patterns of squash, radishes, and broccoli unfolded on-screen, customers were invited to take a moment to reflect on the effort it takes to produce the surfeit of food to which Americans are accustomed.

Moore says he'd like to expand Lifecycles to stores around the country to spark a nationwide debate about farm policy. "I can get a raging conservative and an organic activist to shut up and watch transfixed for three minutes," he says. "In the process, I can gently wipe their minds clean for a minute."
The developer and the activist might take different cues from Lifecyclesbut Moore says if he can get people to more fully consider where their food comes from, that's a start. "The plain basics are gone from the debate." he says. "How is it revolutionary that people are just now re-learning where food comes from?"
Moore says he packs around 110,000 pounds of carrots a day, yet he's never seen his produce in his area's supermarkets. "It's much like the art market," he said. "I don't know the buyers and the brokers don't tell me." His organic CSA is small but growing and he says his customers seem to take comfort in the personal connection. "The food tastes better because they know me," he says.

Go to original site to see video.
With the initial success of Lifecycles in January, Moore launched a larger, more ambitious expansion of the project called the Digital Farm Collective. The idea would be to replicate his time-lapse cameras and weather stations at farms around the country, to record the particular regional varieties and inherited wisdom of independent farmers.
Moore hopes the eventual online omnibus could simultaneously educate consumers about the ecosystem of food plants while also giving producers access to the collective expertise of aging farmers.
He's looking for start-up capital through the online crowd-sourcing siteUnited States Artists, and he's recruited a pair of farmers in California and Kentucky into his first class of contributors for this summer. Moore hopes to have recording equipment in the hands of six more farmers—including at least two in Arizona—by the end of 2011, as the next stage of his project's world-wide expansion.
"I sometimes daydream that this project will one day find its way to some farmer in Peru," Moore says. "That would go a long way towards re-centering the conversation."
You can watch more of Moore's timelapse videos, including crookneck squash, broccoli, and kale, online here, and if you like what you see, you have until April 29 to help support his Digital Farm Collective. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story later this spring as we report back on Moore's progress.
All images courtesy Matthew Moore.

Digital Farm Collective


Johnny Appleseeds for the 21st Century

I found this this morning at new follower Alice's blog: Alice's adventure: fun stuff and pretty things.... I've come across seed bombs frequently here and there... but this concept is amazing!

"Greenaid Fosters Johnny Appleseeds for the 21st-Century"

Made from a mixture of clay, compost, and seeds, "seedbombs" are becoming an increasingly popular means combating the many forgotten grey spaces we encounter everyday-from sidewalk cracks to vacant lots and parking medians. They can be thrown anonymously into these derelict urban sites to temporarily reclaim and transform them into places worth looking at and caring for. The Greenaid dispensary simply makes these guerilla gardening efforts more accessible to all by appropriating the existing distribution system of the quarter operated candy machine. Using just the loose coins in your pocket, you can make a small but meaningful contribution to the beautification of your city!
It's fun, profitable, educational, sustainable, and interactive. Greenaid is equally an interactive public awareness campaign, a lucrative fundraising tool, and a beacon for small scale grass roots action that engages directly yet casually with local residents to both reveal and remedy issues of spatial inequity in their community.
Whether you're a business owner, educator, or just a concerned citizen we'd like to work with you to get Greenaid in your community. You can purchase or rent a machine (or two, or ten...) directly from us and we will develop a seed mix as well as a strategic neighborhood intervention plan in response to the unique ecologies of your area. You then simply place the machine at your local bar, business, school, park, or anywhere that you think it can have the most impact. We will then supply you with all the seedbombs you need to support the continued success of the initiative.
Text and Images all from  Common Studio where you will find much more to read about!

Great seed robbery | Deccan Chronicle

Great seed robbery | Deccan Chronicle

Great seed robbery

Friday, April 22, 2011

India, activism and a hoped-for plan!

Recently I visited the blog of Soraya Nulliah where I read her post:    
                                      Mother India...why are you killing your daughters?

(go here to read more about the genocide against India's girls)

I retweeted and reblogged her story on the 50 million Campaign. I explained to Soraya that I had plans to get to India if possible this or next year and had been in touch with the Earth University at Navdanya, near New Delhi... the enterprise set up by Dr Vandana Shiva whom I have posted on at this blog here and here... a world famous seed activist working on food sovereignty in India and around the planet. Winner of the Sydney Peace Prize she is an hugely important figurehead for empowerment of woman and men in her own country and beyond.

Navdanya means Nine Crops, which collectively represent India’s food security.
Navdanya started as a research programme at Research Foundation for science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) to help support and guide environment activists. The Punjab Violence made farming and agriculture a fairly violent industry and Navdanya was born out of this quest to find non violent means to farming, especially through the protection of biodiversity and small farmers.
Navdanya’s mission is to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.
More info on and at this excellent brochure here.

(Music 1, mixed media on canvas, 16" x 20", NFS)

Soraya has posted an interview with Indian author and human rights activist Rita Banerji here in two parts - Part 1 and  Part 2.

'Rita Banerji is an author, free-lance writer and photographer and a gender activist from India. Her  Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies was published by Penguin Books in 2008.  She is also the founder and chief administrator of The 50 Million Missing Campaign which works to raise awareness about and fight female genocide in India.
Her writings and photography have been published in magazines and newspapers in the USA, U.K., India, Nepal, Hong Kong and Australia.  The publications include The London Magazine, New Orleans Review, and India Today.  She blogs at Rita’s Blog' TEXT: website

From my garden
photo by Banerji

I've taken an excerpt from Part 2 because of Rita Banerji's connection with Dr Shiva.

You worked with the Chipko women’s movement under Dr. Vandana Shiva. Did that experience shape you in any way? If so, how? Can you share with us why ecofeminsm works and how it empowers women? What was it like for you personally to work with Dr. Shiva?
I was introduced to Dr. Shiva by Dr. Leslie Lovett-Doust, who is an ecologist and was also my freshman advisor. So that’s how I ended up in India as a Charles Dana fellow to do a project with her. I really liked working with her – because she gave me ample freedom and scope for individual judgment which I always need for any work I do. She gave me a couple of projects to choose from, and from there on I was on my own. I’d report to her once a week, and we’d discuss what I was doing and if there was any problem with anything. 

I had to create a herbarium of the species of plants in a 1 km radius, to establish the biodiversity of the region, and do a general ecological survey of this subvalley called the Sisiyaru-khala valley (in the Doon Valley), where lime stone industrialists were strip mining the mountains. The locals helped me first classify the herbarium according to the folk system – which is entirely use based (like food, fuel, fodder, medicine etc.) And then I did a scientific (Linnaen) classification of it, and that herbarium was used as evidence in court. Two years later, I was in the U.S. when I got a letter from my friends in the village telling me that they had won the case against that particular quarry and it had been shut down! So that felt great. 

Yes, it did have a big impact on me. I was veering towards genetics at that point in combination with ecology. But with the Chipco, the implication of eco-diversity in context of people, culture and lifestyles hit me in a big way. So when I eventually entered my Ph.D. program it was actually in conservation biology (more macro instead of micro – so I had evolution and ecology instead of genetics as tools of dealing with diversity and conservation). 
The thing about Eco-feminism, as promoted by Dr. Shiva and many others is that it sees parallels between the productivity and the exploitation of women and natural resources by a virulently patriarchal society. And I think that as enthusiastic as I was about this at that time, as I grew older and got more into the field, my perspective on this has evolved. I think that communities like the one in Nahi-kala that are isolated, (they had no roads or running water), and are very dependent on their environment will naturally move to protect their environment because that’s survival for them. And yes, women do spend more time in the fields and forests, but in communities like this, and from my observation even in more urban, sophisticated settings there are men who are just as tuned in or connected to the ecological rhythms of nature. Conversely, there are just as many women in some rural and more so in urban settings who are not in tune with the ecological rhythms of nature. In the U.S., studying native American tribal philosophy on nature (the famous quote by Chief Seattle about teaching your children that we are connected to the web of life and what we do the earth we do to ourselves), I am convinced men can be just as connected. It is not a male/female thing. 

 Here's a post from Rita Baneriji's blog on a topic that speaks precisely to the politics of food sovereignty that Vandana Shiva has worked tirelessly to bring to global attention.

When Potato Cartels Kill

A potato farmer, Maktabul Hussein, only 18 years old, committed suicide today in Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal.  Why? Because the price of potatoes have dropped so much that he could not make up the money to pay back the Rs. 500,000/- loans he had taken to cultivate his land.
Maktabul was getting only Rs. 1.80/kg for his potatoes.  And this is what is bizarre! Over the last few months everyone in town has been complaining about how the cost of potatoes has been soaring, along with that of onions, lentils and rice.  At one point potatoes was selling for Rs.20/kg! If the middle-class was feeling the pinch, just imagine how it has been for the poor.  Potato after all has been the poor’s sustenance! What more – recently the West Bengal government announced that there has been such a surplus of potatoes that they are going to be exporting them!
What are we supposed to gather from this? Is there a potato cartel at work here?  That odious middle-man?  Does he hoard the potatoes – and rips off the poor farmer who breaks his back cultivating it.  And then turns around rips off the customers by charging them 10 times the cost?
In the book Needless Hunger, the authors show that it was exactly this kind of food cartel that had resulted in Bangladesh’s famine, when hundreds died of starvation.
Talking biodiversity here's another post from the blog - click on title to go to blog post!

Why women in the Andes grew 4000 species of potatoes

Photo Credit: Association ANDES and Åsa Sonjasdotter.

I'll leave you with this to think on....

Founded by Dr Vindana Shiva:

Bija Vidyapeeth is Sanskrit for “Seed Learning Centre” with “bija” meaning 
literally “seed” as well as “origin” or “source.” The Bija Vidyapeeth seal also
 says “vasudhaiv kutumbakam” in Sanskrit. This means “one world family.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paolo Viscardi: Natural history collections - why are they relevant?

Last week I found this article through twitter that I thought was very worthwhile... so I tweeted writer Paolo Viscardi to check if I could reblog it here.

Thank you Paolo for willingness to share!  If you pop over to the original article you can view two videos included in the piece!

Lately I've come across related reports on the critical role Museums can play, despite the fact from time to time they attract attention for controversial here's some positive food for thought!

Punctuated Equilibrium by GrrlScientist

Natural history collections –- why are they relevant?

A curator at the Horniman Museum tells us why natural history collections are important to research -- and to the public
Natural history room of the Horniman Museum.
Image: Wikipedia commons/Simon and Ashley.
I'd like to start by thanking GrrlScientist for inviting me to set out my thoughts on the relevance of natural history collections here at Punctuated Equilibrium – it's an honour.
The subject is one that's close to my heart -- I'm a natural history curator, a member of the Natural Science Collections Association committee, a natural history blogger and an administrator for Ask a Biologist (amongst other things). I view natural history collections as being very important and I want to provide some of the reasons why.
Museums in the UK
Let's start with some context. Few people would argue that museums in general are unpopular –- last year there were over 42 million visits to DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport) sponsored museums alone. When you factor in the Local Authority museums and independents you're looking at a substantial proportion of theUK's population of 62 million people attending museums.
But these visitors are mostly seeing the tip of a very large iceberg, since the vast proportion of most museum collections (90-99%) is in storage. But that doesn't mean that the majority of collections aren't used. Far from it. Museum collections are used for all sorts of things, from filling in gaps in family trees and inspiring art (some of which is frankly nombrilistic) to research that is of value to wider culture and science.
The role of natural history
Apart from being hugely popular with the public, natural history collections play a vital role in our understanding of biodiversity, evolution, population genetics and the environmental impacts of climate change, pesticide use and so on. This is because historical collections provide base-line data against which modern observations can be compared and to produce predictive models.
The most fundamental role of natural history collections is safeguarding type specimens. These are preserved specimens of the individuals that were used to describe and name a species. Every plant, fungus and animal you see in your garden has a scientific name that comes from such a description and each new proposed species needs to be compared to the preserved types of other similar organisms in order to ensure that it is in fact different to anything already described.
Obviously the life in your back garden is pretty well known by now, but there are still parts of the Earth that have not been thoroughly investigated and new species are coming to light all the time –- particularly in the oceans and tropical forests.
Beyond the important type specimens, museums also hold voucher specimens [pdf], which are examples of organisms collected during biological recording and other research. These specimens are physical proof that work has been conducted and that species have been described accurately. Most importantly, they have good information about where and when the specimens were collected.
The value of specimens
Every natural history specimen with good data provides a physical snapshot of a species or community at a particular point in time and space. It is this physical record that makes museum collections so valuable –- you can't extract DNA from a photograph and you can't test a written description for pesticide residues, but a physical specimen can provide a wealth of unexpected information.
Specimens collected before DNA was even known are now able to provide information about how populations have changed over time and how that might influence conservation of threatened species. This kind of study is of particular interest where populations have suffered dramatic decline and face genetic bottlenecks, as with several beleaguered bird species from New Zealand [link opens pdf] and tumorous Tasmanian Devil.
But it's not just preserved DNA that can be useful. Much of the research that led to tighter controls on pesticide use in agriculture (including the banning of DDT) came about by comparing the thickness of eggshells in museum collections from the 19th-20th Centuries [pdf review and related research on British Thrush eggs].
Challenges facing natural history collections
For research to be possible, museums need to be able to care for their collections and make the associated information as accessible as possible to researchers. The Internet provides a fantastic medium for access, but unfortunately many museums are struggling to get information onto databases due to the volume of data and lack of staff.
The museum sector is undergoing a period of substantial change in which priorities and models of work are being reassessed in light of funding cuts. Social Enterprise has been embraced by some museums [pdf] and may provide some good opportunities, particularly if the development of partnerships can increase collections access. However, change also brings the potential for considerable threats, particularly if focus shifts away from long-term collections care, access and development. An additional danger, particularly for hard-hit regional museums, may be the loss of the specialist staff needed to identify appropriate partners and develop the relationships needed to survive the uncertain times ahead.
Natural history collections are demonstrably important –- not just for education and cultural reasons, but for wider environmental reasons too. If we want to maintain our biodiversity and understand changes in our environment we need to sustain our natural history collections. In the words of Suarez & Tsutsui, 2004:
Nothing will ever replace the taxonomic knowledge and training that museums provide; funding in this area should become a national priority. Otherwise, knowledge of this planet's biodiversity, and of all the potential benefits therein, will be lost.
Paolo Viscardi is the deputy keeper of natural history at the Horniman Museum in the Forest Hill area of London. He is also involved with science outreach through theAsk a Biologist website and he writes the excellent blog, Zygoma.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

under the microscope....

view Sarah P... on Flickr

NB: Wonderful images to be found at Sarah's flickr site! 

At my previous post I introduced my Tumblr site Seed Capsules - scroll down to following post... (or click on older post).
What this Tumblr site does so well is archive things I wish to save to view or read later... and although it may appear as an extremely eclectic hotch potch .... this content may often relate to what I may be thinking about in relation to this blog. Many artists are drawn to science at this time...  pursuing art/science research across the expanding disciplines of science.
It is curious that one may not even realise how something being worked on could have any relation to science... but given the spectacular profundity of the macro and micro worlds... its hard not to be  subliminally influenced ... if not directly.

All images here can be found via my tumblr - the text will click through to the source in most cases. All comments here are from the sites where they were first posted!


bacteria colony

ohscience:  bacteria colony


It’s slightly disturbing how much I like microbiology. I mean, look at all the petri dishes! So cool! /nerdery

amy-119: It’s slightly disturbing how much I like microbiology. 
I mean, look at all the petri dishes! So cool! /nerdery
Francis Crick doodle, Wellcome Trust

This is the first sketch of the DNA double helix, drawn by Francis Crick. Read the article

ohscience: Fern sorus at 400x. Dark field microscopy, taken by me last spring. (submitted by burbles)

vagina cells
ohscience: vagina cells



ohscience: grape
I found these images worth musing on... as both scientific subjects and visual possibilities... the wood cells of holly reminded me of knitting ... no wonder those pursuing Biomimicry are fascinated with nature...  really how can one not be! 

Our view of reality has shifted profoundly with each passing year... and yet how curious  it resembles at times the knowledge systems of the indigenous peoples of this earth. Knowledge is endless... all we can really do with anysurefootedness is stay open and be curious!

I'll leave you with this  brilliant ( I think) quote from Ronnie at Art & Life blog.

“In Egypt, libraries were called the soul’s remedy treasure because, in there, it was possible to cure the ignorance, the most dangerous of all diseases and the source of all others.”

J. B. Bossuet
(via bookron)

Biomimicry or biomimetics is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems. The term biomimicry and biomimetics come from the Greek words bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate. Other terms often used are bionicsbio-inspiration, and biognosis.


Humans have always looked to nature for inspiration to solve problems. One of the early examples of biomimicry was the study of birds to enable human flight. Although never successful in creating a "flying machine", Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds, and made numerous notes and sketches on his observations as well as sketches of various "flying machines".[1] The Wright Brothers, who finally did succeed in creating and flying the first airplane in 1903, also derived inspiration for their airplane from observations of pigeons in flight.[2] To read on title above.

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