Sunday, September 06, 2009

I'm moving! New name, new URL

To here, to there
Image: © L. Kathryn Grace
Six years ago, when I first published this blog, I had two objectives: To encourage discussion about the Village of Ordinary, and to collect stories about real people and real technology that show just how possible Ordinary is today.

What I've discovered is absolutely amazing: Thousands and thousands, perhaps millions of people, all over the world are working to grow a social structure more like Ordinary than not. I've posted a few of their stories along the way, but there are many, many more.

To reflect that Ordinary is no longer merely a vision--a dream to which we can only hope and aspire--but a real-world possibility right now, I am pursuing the work under a more appropriate name: Building Ordinary. You may not see a big difference right away. Cosmetically, only the name and URL have changed, but you may notice that the new blog is more personal in nature, occasionally more political, and more strongly encourages your participation. That's because we need each other. Building a sustainable, peaceful community requires connection, a deepening understanding of one another.

Join me there, won't you? Together, we are building a better world, one blog post, one energy-efficient light bulb, one straw bale house, one organic garden, one micro-loan, one eco-village, one re-charged aquifer, one political action, one kindness, one life saved, and surely one day at a time.

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi

One of the most exciting environmental stories in a long time is this one. A dedicated researcher/activist in rural India, Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi, using modern and ancient technologies, proved that it is possible to recharge small aquifers and spring catchments. Why is this exciting, you ask? Because water is life. Without it we die. In recharging dormant springs, Dr. Joshi brought life and hope for a better future to one of the poorest regions of India, and just possibly to all of us, as water shortages loom worldwide. Here's the story.

Thousands of years ago, the people who live in India's Himalayas built their villages near natural springs sheltered by dense forests. For eons, annual rains recharged the forest-shrouded springs and the aquifers that fed them. The tree canopy, and the organic offal it sacrificed to the forest floor, preserved moisture and assured the springs continued to bubble year round. The springs nourished the rural agricultural economy of the region, and the villagers were well-fed and content.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. After almost two hundred years of British colonial rule (pp.3, pdf file), India leapt into the industrialized world as a sovereign state and began its steady march toward becoming the fourth largest economy in the world (4th largest in 2009 GDP PPI). India's rapid growth, industrialization and centralization took their toll on the forests and watersheds of the Himalayas. Deforestation laid so much land bare that the spring catchments no longer held enough water to serve the villages year round. Many dried up altogether.

Without water, the people could not survive. Many abandoned their waterless villages. Others struggled with increasing poverty and hunger as their crops no longer supported them. Families were broken: The men moved to urban centers, often thousands of kilometers away, looking for jobs, leaving the women and children behind to work the land alone, dependent on their husbands and fathers to send money to get them through the drought seasons.

Enter Dr. Joshi and his organization Himalayan Environmental studies & Conservation Organization (HESCO). Himself once a child of the hills. Dr. Joshi believed that science and technology, together with ancient, tested wisdom, were the keys to improving quality of life and to developing the region economically.

Dr. Joshi recruited a team of scientists to locate a number of spring catchments. When they knew where the springs collected water, they built small dams and embankments called green bunds, which is ancient Hindu technology, to capture moisture and recharge the springs during the rainy season. Villagers built and filled storage tanks to provide a year-round water supply. Now the villages grow and harvest crops for food and for markets outside their area. Farms are prospering once again. Young farmers are staying in the region to till the land and turn a profit.

More, the villages are tweaking another ancient technology, water mills, many of which have been operating for centuries, to provide power from their springs and streams. Generating their own electricity takes them off the less reliable, centralized national grid. With plenty of dependable, locally-generated power streaming to their homes and businesses, in some cases for the first time, the people of the Himalayas can start new businesses and cottage industries with confidence, knowing they will not have to work in the dark, or wait for sporadic energy to power their equipment.

That's not all. Most of India's energy is derived through coal-fired plants. By generating their own power using their recharged streams and springs, rural communities are lowering their carbon output.

Not only is this story exciting for the people whose lives it has changed so dramatically in India, it is exciting for the world as we all face more and more severe water shortages in the decades to come. Dr. Joshi's work shows us that a decentralized water supply, using a mixture of new and time-tested technology, can save and sustain lives, spur local economies, and save the planet.

What's more, this is only one of literally dozens of innovative, life-changing, life-enhancing projects Dr. Joshi has initiated to help rural India raise itself from poverty to an ever-improving quality of life. Learn more about the man and his life work at HESCO, whose creed could be a model for any of us.

HESCO Philosophy
  • Serve in the spirit of dedicated volunteerism
  • Acknowledge and develop the natural talents of the people you serve
  • Give freely of your knowledge and time
  • Encourage self-sufficient and "simple" solutions to the practical problems of those you serve
  • Promote the practice of "shridan": that every village which is helped with development, will in turn, adopt and help another village in their locality
  • Promote sustainable development with a priority on environmental protection and economic independence


For choosing to return to his homelands and utilize his training and knowledge to help his people lift themselves from poverty to prosperity, for honoring the wisdom of millenia and melding it with the science and technology of today, for committing to utilizing local materials and resources to solve local problems, for decentralizing energy and water sources while improving their reliability and availability, and for living among and listening to the people he serves, the Ordinary Heroes Award is offered to Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi with respect and gratitude.

With gratitude to Tweet timlawler who introduced me to Dr. Joshi in his 6/28 tweet: "The Mountain Man The Better India: A bright student, he did well through school and college and after completi..".

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace, all rights reserved.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Making ripples: Three bloggers whose word pebbles tickle my toes

TranquilityImage by Sean Rogers1 via Flickr

I just discovered another must-read, must-follow blogger, Tamara Cameron of A passion shared. A "seeker of health, happiness and all things green and local," Tamara's latest posts include Food, Health, Life & Michael Pollan and Local Beef -IT's What's For Dinner!

Another greenie, and one I read every chance I get, is Wendy Gabriel of My Green Side. She's on top of green parenting, does a regular and fun Photo Friday post and frequently interviews an eco mover and shaker with four questions. Her latest is green foodie, mom and writer Robin Shreeves.

Heart-shaped strawberry on leafFor thought-provoking discussion, a sparkling photo journal (one a day, almost, like the strawberry shown here) and respite from the storms, I visit Wanda at What would Wanda do?. It's my cup of tea moment on the weekends, and almost always the last thing I do Sunday night before sleep. Wanda's posts calm the mind and spur the spirit to right choices, right living.

Wanda, Wendy and Tamara touch me with their energy, passion, love and spirit. I give gratitude for their commitment to share their wisdom and lives with their readers. They are among the many people in this world whose work brings us all a little closer every day to the vision of the Village of Ordinary. Who are you reading today, and what do you learn from them?

Content spacer graphicStrawberry image courtesy Wanda of What Would Wanda Do?
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July all!

May all people everywhere soon celebrate independence and freedom, and may we all make peace. Thomas Berry gives us much reason to hope.

May peace prevail
I would suggest that we see these early years of the 21st century as the period when we discover the great community of the Earth, a comprehensive community of all the living and non-living components of the planet. We are just discovering that the human project is itself a component of the Earth project, that our intimacy with the Earth is our way to intimacy with each other. Such are the foundations of our journey into the future.

Yes! Magazine: "A New Culture Emerges"

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Denise Cerreta

Denise greeting customers
Denise Cerreta wants to eliminate world hunger. She started in her own neighborhood, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2003, when she opened One World Cafe, serving delicious, in-season organic food. Her vision was to provide a living wage to each of her employees, turn no one away for lack of money, and care for the planet by minimizing waste.

One more thing. Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

  • We are dedicated to eliminating world hunger.
  • We are dedicated to serving organic unprocessed food.
  • We are dedicated to feeding and including all members of our community.
  • We are dedicated to eliminating waste in the food industry.
  • We believe that we can trust our customers to be inspired, honest and fair in their exchange of money and/or work for the fresh, gourmet, organic food we prepare both mindfully and in a heartfelt way each day.
  • We will keep believing.

One World Everybody Eats vision statement

One of Cerreta's chief concerns in opening One World Cafe was the tremendous food waste from commercial kitchens. American restaurants are particularly notorious for serving enormous portions. How many times does your order arrive at the table piled high enough to serve a family of four? Do you ask for a box and bag to take the leftovers home? How often do you (or your dog) actually eat them? Or do they languish in the refrigerator, pushed ever further back, until one day you open them to find something that looks like a science experiment gone awry?

Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

Denise greeting customersWhen Cerreta's guests choose their prices and their portions, she says they tend to take only what they will eat, eliminating much of the food waste we see so often in traditional establishments.

Serving those less fortunate, and helping them retain their dignity, is another of Cerreta's objectives. One hour's work in the restaurant earns a voucher for one meal. Out of work parent? If your children are under eight, they eat free on the same one-meal voucher. If you have neither money nor time, there is always at least one staple dish, such as rice and lentils or rice and dahl, available to the hungry with no strings attached.

In 2006, spurred by requests from all over the country for help establishing similar ventures, Cerreta filed for non-profit 501(3)c status and founded the One World Everybody Eats Foundation. Since then, she has referred to the cafe as a community kitchen. The foundation explains the change this way.

Since our beginning, we have recognized the spontaneous community building that happens as a result of our venue, which we now call a "community kitchen" rather than a "cafe". We also believe that nothing will further our vision better than having the strength of community behind us.

Denise Cerreta in "Message from Founder Denise Cerreta"

One World Organic GardenEventually, Cerreta established gardens to support another of their founding principles: To serve wholesome, nutritious, organically grown foods. Much of the organic produce used in the kitchen comes from the garden in this image. Some also comes from kindly gardeners who produce far more than they can eat, preserve and give away.

These values and principles are among those that make Denise Cerreta a fine candidate for the Ordinary Heroes Award.

The reason our heroes are so important to us is because they do extraordinary things. They take risks, venturing into untraveled territory, often with inadequate preparation. High risk almost guarantees some failure. Mistakes will be made.

It's not easy launching a restaurant which expects its patrons to set the price they're willing to pay for their food. Keeping the cafe going for six years borders on the miraculous. There have been less-than miraculous bumps along the way. Cerreta herself has said more than once that she was ill-prepared for the venture.

In October 2008, she and the foundation's board reportedly fired its "long-time" manager, which in turn spurred the entire staff to walk out, alleging bounced paychecks and disrespectful treatment.

The One World Everybody Eats web site does not address the staff allegations directly, though you will find mention of it in some of the articles posted on their newsroom page. While I hope Cerreta will confront the allegations head on at some point, her initial vision to serve the hungry as well as the affluent, and expect each to pay as they are able for the bounty they receive, along with the courage and stamina she has shown in keeping faith with her vision, are heroic acts at a time in which we hear so much of rampant greed and outright swindling (Bernie Madoff, anyone?).

Despite the near loss of the One World venue, as Cerreta calls it, she and One World Everybody Eats are back on track in 2009 and continue to inspire others. There are now five similar kitchens in the United States, in Denver, CO, Spokane, WA, Charleston, SC, Durham, NC, and a brand new one in Arlington, TX.

Cerreta plans to focus more and more on helping others found community kitchens with no menu and no prices. "Our goal is to continue to move the One World Everybody Eats vision to larger audiences," she says in a personal message. She continues:

We see that mentoring and networking fledgling efforts around the country is where our energy can be best spent. And we are working to connect those people and efforts. Because by letting everyone who is striving to establish their own effort in their own community see they are not alone, we think it may help the establishment of successful endeavors nationwide even faster. And we relish the role and opportunity to help the no-menu, no-prices community building model to fruition everywhere.

To that end, Cerreta travels wherever she is needed to assist in establishing a new community kitchen. She has volunteered as much as a month of her time, working the counter in new kitchens. She and the foundation provide a free online how-to, "Spirit in Business: A Guide for Starting a Community Kitchen," (pdf format) which they are planning to expand to a full book.

Ordinary Heroes Award Badge

For visioning a world free of hunger, for trusting her patrons to pay a fair price for the food she serves, for assuring no one who enters her doors leaves hungry whatever their circumstances, for setting the standard of serving wholesome, organically grown, nutritious foods, for encouraging other food purveyors to consider the no menu-no price model, for working diligently to eliminate food waste and for making a commitment to pay employees a living wage, this week's Ordinary Hero Award is humbly and gratefully offered to Denise Cerreta.

Content spacer graphicImages of the One World community kitchen and garden courtesy One World Everybody Eats newsroom.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How to build Ordinary when Iran is beating and shooting its citizens and North Korea threatens to annihilate us all

Tehran ProtestsImage by .faramarz via Flickr

While every aspect of Ordinary exists or has existed somewhere on the planet, the world of Ordinary does not yet exist, as is so evident with recent events in Iran and North Korea.

People in Iran risk their lives every day to send us images of the violence they endure. The images shock the soul and tear the heart. Documented and undocumented stories abound of police, military and militia kidnappings, beatings, arrests, imprisonments, torture; of hospitals forced to turn over bodies and the wounded to be carted off by government officials to unknown destinations; of families of the dead removed from their homes and relocated to undisclosed locations; of hired thugs from foreign lands wielding clubs and axes indiscriminately on men, women, pregnant women, children.*

Tehran ProtestsImage by .faramarz via Flickr

In its efforts to silence its people, the Iranian government has imprisoned journalists, foreign embassy officials and staff, politicians, professors, students, and ordinary citizens. Nightly, the government sends its militia to raid homes, tearing out and destroying their satellite dishes so the people cannot receive news from the outside world.*

Watching the government beat, torture and shoot its citizens in cold blood, I learn that this recent violence is only that. Recent. Documented stories tell of decades of imprisoned, tortured and disappeared journalists and citizens, one individual after another.

Human painImage by .faramarz via Flickr

Among the videos tonight is one, in six segments, not of this uprising but of the public execution at six o'clock in the morning a few years ago of a sixteen year old girl, Atefah Sahaaleh, for crimes against chastity. Coerced and raped by a 51 year old man, Atefah had been sentenced to die for adultery. As they do in Iran these days, and as the story revealed with graphic examples, they hanged this young woman from an industrial crane. Her rapist received one hundred lashes. She had received many more before her death.

There are more such stories. The number seems endless. I am in a stupor of grief and shock.

All this from a country who desperately wants the nuclear bomb. Which brings me to North Korea. They already have the nuclear bomb and have trained several missiles on the United States. Of course, the bombs are not aimed only at the United States. South Korea is most at risk right now, and even China and Russia are concerned enough that they joined the United Nations in sanctions against North Korea, a rare stand for these traditional allies.

As if irreversible climate change were not already occurring, as if the world economy were not struggling to reverse a nose dive, as if water scarcity and ozone depletion did not threaten all of human kind, we ordinary citizens once again face the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation and the sure, very graphic, up close and personal images of human beings beating and slaughtering other human beings in a political power struggle.

If we choose to make ourselves aware, it is not difficult to find similar stories in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Nepal, and a host of other countries. (In fact, the United States State Department today lists travel warnings for no less than twenty-nine hot spots around the world where upheaval and violence make visitation dangerous. Where there is violence, human rights abuses are almost always found.)

DSCN4307 2Image via Wikipedia

All big picture stuff, right? So how do we build Ordinary when we are faced with so much violence and threat? What can you or I possibly do to mitigate any of these situations?

Turns out there is a lot we can do in regard to human rights. We must honor the people in Iraq and elsewhere around the world who have risked their lives to show us the horrors they face and endure. We must take action, however and wherever we can. Below is a short list of organizations that work to protect and promote human rights. Several have a page of direct action you can take right now. Go to them. Find at least one action you can take today. Make a date with yourself for the next action you will take and keep it. When you do, make another date and another. Knowledge is responsibility. We no longer have the luxury of pretending we are so far isolated from these world events that we have no power to act. Please act now.

For a more comprehensive list, visit the Human Rights Web Resource Page.

That brings us to the second big issue. How to respond to the nuclear threats posed by North Korea, as well as the numerous other countries, including our own, who possess the power to destroy the world many times over? The following are a very few of the organizations that work to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons around the world. They too have action pages.

For a comprehensive list, including links to webs sites on international law, visit Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's web links page.

To the direct actions available to you on the above web pages, I add stand for peace. Standing for peace every day, even for five minutes a day, makes a difference in my personal life. It also gives me the courage to watch a few of the videos from Iran each night and broaden my personal commitment to taking action to promote peace.

Can any of this work possibly be enough? Who can say? I know I cannot continue as though I don't know the people of Iran are asking for my help and my voice. So I write this. I pray. I stand for peace. This is how I am building the world of Ordinary right now.

Please, can we talk? Just as we pile one brick on another to build a community center, so we can build a peaceful world, one non-violent action at a time. In the comments below, tell us what you are doing What single step will you take this week? What date will you make with yourself for additional action? What other ideas about making peace here and abroad can you contribute?

Content break symbol*With the exception of the two relatively tame images above, I have not linked to the articles, images and videos that document these events, but if you feel compelled to see and judge for yourself, you won't have far to search on YouTube or most any search engine to which you subscribe.

The Iran images in this post are used with permission under The I wage peace image is courtesy Bruce Barrett.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Iranian Woman

Tehran Protest, Monday June 15, 2009Image by misterarasmus via Flickr

After its recent election, and in the face of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of protesters demanding an investigation into what they suspected was a fraudulent result, the Iranian government silenced foreign reporters. The government also attempted to silence individual Iranians by restricting their access to the Internet.

Many brave Iranians have found ways to get news of their protest rallies, and the violent government response, out of the country. Yesterday may have been the bloodiest day yet. Some have dubbed it Iran's Tienanmen Square. Others call it a massacre. Many Iranians posted horrific images on Twitter, YouTube and FaceBook. Reportedly, whenever they post, they risk discovery, arrest, beatings and perhaps death.

One woman somehow managed to call CNN directly and spoke live to reporter Ivan Watson. We do not learn her name, presumably because of the danger to her and her family, and it is difficult to verify her story. In the video, though, Watson indicates to her that they have received similar reports from other sources inside the country, and I have watched a slew of video clips tonight that support her allegations as well.

Here is her story, in her own words, as reported by CNN. Warning: It is a deeply disturbing account.

Update 6/25/09: Apparently the video above has been removed or disabled, at least temporarily. Another user has posted the same video here. Please let me know in the comments below if this one disappears as well. Meanwhile, I will try to learn why the video is no longer working on the original site and will update when and if I learn anything.

Ordinary Heroes badgeAnonymous, traumatized, terrified, the caller nevertheless risked her life to share what she had witnessed and to plea for help.

For refusing to be silent in the face of injustice, for standing with courage and doing what she can to help those suffering around her, for working with the resources at her disposal to bring the world a little further from the chaos of reprisal and bloodshed and a little closer to cooperation and peace, the Ordinary Heroes Award is gently offered to this unnamed Iranian woman with hope and prayers that she and the people of her country soon may live in peace and harmony.

It is also given with a desire to answer her call for help.

Because this woman, and so many other Iranians, are successful in broadcasting their stories to the world, we who read, listen and watch in horror are forced to accept once again that unmitigated cruelty exists in the world. To stand by and do nothing would be to collude with the perpetrators.

I take only one side, that of compassionate peace, and that leaves me with no clear, direct path to be of use to the caller and to the people suffering. I am mindful, though, of the powerful message of Sharon Mehdi's book, The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering. I have witnessed the miraculous results that can be found in focus and prayer, particularly when more than one person is engaged, and so I call on the grandmothers, and any who would stand with us, to stand for peace.

Stand in your churches, your homes your places of work, on your street corners and buses and playgrounds. Stand for peace. Stand with the intent that this woman's anguish be healed, her country be healed, and that the leaders of the country be healed. Now is the time.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Cranky grandmother stands for peace

Where will this end up?Image by tomeppy via Flickr

The first couple of weeks I stood for peace, I noticed that I seemed to be, well, rather cranky. I found myself showing irritation to people on the bus and sidewalk to whom I would ordinarily give way. In fact, I cursed out loud the automatic checkout machine at a supermarket I patronize infrequently.

Its disembodied voice insisted I had more items in the checkout bay and wouldn't let me pay. Worse, once it took my money, it immediately chided me to pick up my packages and exit while I waited for my change and receipt. I fumed in, ahem, colorful language. When the attendant standing nearby laughed, instead of chuckling with her at my frustration and inanity, I frowned and told her how much I dislike shopping in her store, perhaps a little more loudly than I wish to recall. The poor woman! It's not her fault her company chooses to remove the small bit of human exchange we enjoy while shopping.

As a young woman, I dreaded my weekly grocery shopping trips, trying to fit our growing family's needs into a budget that was not growing with us, but the friendly banter with the checkout clerks at the supermarket, meat, milk and health food stores (yes, shopping was an all-day chore) made up for the stress and sometimes mitigated the headache I almost always developed by the end of the day, when I knew I would be faced with my husband's scowls and complaints over the money I had spent. (Did I buy the ice cream, candy and cookies he bought when he shopped? No! Frugal housewife that I was, I avoided all empty-calorie foods.) Eventually, I wised up and delegated the shopping to him. No more shoehorning the budget. No more headaches. No more grumpy husband. Lots of sweets and salty foods in the house. Now that's one way to make peace at home, folks, though it wreaks havoc on the diet.

So when I found myself behaving increasingly surly those first few weeks, I was puzzled. Here I was, enjoying this delightful interlude of quiet, humbling peace each evening, yet uttering mild profanities under my breath when unconscious or just plain rude urbanites bumped into me on the street or spit in my face while coughing on the bus.

Now I ask you, how was I making peace?

One sunny morning, my sweetie and I ambled down the street with our granddaughter in the stroller. Repeatedly, groups of individuals approached from the opposite direction, spaced four abreast across the entire width of the sidewalk with no sign of shifting to make room for oncoming traffic (us). Customarily, we moved as close to the right as we could, but inevitably, the nearest oncomers bumped or brushed us as they passed, apparently oblivious to our presence. This time, instead of pulling behind my partner and the stroller, obstinately, I held my ground. The young man immediately in my path ran smack dab into me, full on, as though I were invisible. (Believe me, it took effort not to dodge at the last second.) To his credit, while his friends snickered and chortled, he turned back after our collision with the briefest "Sorry!" I, on the other hand, scowled in return. Now I ask you, how was I making peace?

I belie my intent to make peace when I behave with intolerance or worse, without compassion.

My face and my name are on public web pages for the world to see. When I'm out and about, since my readership is quite small, it's unlikely someone will recognize the crabby old woman muttering under her breath about rude bus drivers or flashing a "What's with you?" hand and stare at the impatient driver honking while she hobbles across the street. Still, making my stand for peace public also makes me responsible, not just for being the peace I want to see in the world, but for exemplifying peaceful responses to annoying situations. I belie my intent to make peace when I behave with intolerance or worse, without compassion.

The good news is, standing for peace every day raises my awareness to the minute and varied ways I can bring more peace to my life, and that brings me a little closer to the vision of The Village of Ordinary and the respect the villagers show for one another and for peoples far beyond their village. That's a good thing.

Content break symbol

If you feel inspired to stand for peace a few minutes a day, I encourage you to Tweet about it and use the hashtag #5minutes. By Mother's Day next year, perhaps there will be millions of us standing for peace in our homes and gardens, churches and parks, and on the steps of City Hall.

My gratitude to Flickr member tomeppy for making the image above available under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Return of Nutrition, or does your tomato splat and split when it falls?

An arrangement of fruits commonly thought of a...Image via Wikipedia

Last week, blogger Ryan Harb, a budding permaculturist, posted an article on The Return of Nutrition (pdf file). The article begins: Did you ever wonder why today's supermarket-purchased fruits taste like mostly water?

I know I have. I was fortunate during my daughters' early childhood to provide them with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from our small garden. They may still have body memories of the rich flavors, textures and juice of the apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, and many vegetables we grew together. Thanks to their grandmother, who brought a seedling from her favorite peach tree shortly after their father and I married, every autumn we gathered more succulent, sweet, fragrant peaches than we could possibly eat. The juice ran down our arms when we bit into them, so good we licked it off shamelessly, rather than lose a drop.

Many children then and many more children now have no idea that a true peach is not hard and crunchy like an apple, but soft and squirty with juice. Nor do they know the acidic deliciousness of ripe tomato, nearly bursting from its thin skin. If a small child, gnoshing sun-heated tomatoes from the vine let one slip through her fingers when I was growing up, it split, spilling its seeds and fluid on impact, however soft the soil. How long has it been since you last dropped a tomato--supermarket-bought, organic, or farmer's market--only to watch it thump to the floor with nary a dent?

Bringing back good-tasting produce is more than a mission to satisfy the senses, according to The Return of Nutrition author. It's a mission to feed our bodies foods rich in the nutrients we need to thrive, fight disease and live long. The answer is in the soil.

You see, as Big Agriculture has co-opted ever larger tracts--square mile after square mile--of land to monoculture food-growing factories, fueled by petrochemical fertilizers, antibiotics and tons of pesticides, the soil in which the crops are grown has become merely a holding material, it's own rich nutrients systematically stripped away.

The people of the Real Food Campaign and Remineralize the Earth, both featured in The Return of Nutrition, seek to replenish our depleted soils that we may once again taste foods rich with vitamins and minerals, trace elements, bright colors and the flavors and juices some of us are fortunate enough to remember. I encourage you to take time to read the article.

Reclaiming our soils is a matter of survival for our species, and not only ours. Many of the animals with whom we share the planet are as dependent as we on the nutritive qualities of our soils. Without good soil their habitats, already diminished by ever-expanding human settlement, are less and less fertile, increasing their exposure to disease and possibly hastening extinction.

There's more, and it's good. Imagine simple fruits and vegetables so mouthwatering delicious that we don't need heavy sauces or sugary concoctions to make them palatable. Imagine food so satisfying that we experience no residual cravings and leave that post-dinner pint of ice cream in the freezer without regret or feeling of sacrifice. Imagine the colors, scents and textures of food so pleasurable that cooking and dining became a family affair again, the nightly meal a time of energetic discussion and creativity.

It is no accident that food is an integral part of the vision of the Village of Ordinary. Villagers take direct responsibility for their health and well-being, and much of that depends on the foods with which they fuel and nourish their bodies. More, they genuinely enjoy the time they spend together preparing and eating meals.

I'll be researching and posting my findings on food often in the coming weeks and months. Not only is a local, sustainable model important to the story, but some climate researchers feel that reclaiming our soils and returning to smaller, family-style agriculture may be the single most important way to slow global climate change and ensure plenty of fresh drinking water for generations to come. Our food source and supply is that important.

So important, in fact, is this issue that I urge you to delve deep and engage in dialogue with me, with your family and friends and with your elected officials. Some of our most foremost and respected scientists believe we need to solve these problems by 2020. That's just eleven short years from now. Others think that's an optimistic figure. One thing is certain. There is no time to waste, so please share your own food journey and resources in the comments section below.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Katie McKenna

The visiting nurse told Peace Corps volunteer Katie McKenna that her Guatemalan village of Chuisac had one of the highest rates of childhood diarrhea in the region. The cause: Inadequate sanitation facilities. As many as fourteen people in the village of 140 families shared a single latrine. Lacking proper toilets, children frequently defecated in their yards and patios. Desperate to save their children and improve overall health, the villagers planned to build a latrine for every household that did not have one--about one hundred. Cost per latrine was $150, and the villagers could provide half that in labor and materials.

Water Charity, a non-profit organization with a mission to provide clean water and sanitation to people who don't have it, learned about Katie's work with the village and offered to provide the additional funding.

While Katie and the villagers worked to dig and begin building the latrines, Water Charity raised the remaining funds, one small donation at a time. Katie pulled a substantial portion of the funds herself, hitting up family and friends back in the States.

Water Charity credits Katie's determination and perseverance for the success of the program.

Villagers building latrine
In many cases, we have 13 people currently using 1 latrine, and the picture of the men building the latrine is in a house where there is NO latrine. They had the hole dug, but they didn't have the money to buy the little house around it and the seat.

These families worked day and night to get the holes and latrines done, digging holes 23 to 50 feet deep! It is scary work in a hole that deep and narrow. For the latrine you see being built, the family went down 120 feet!!

Water Charity Progress Report
on Katie M's Latrines

All told, Katie and the villagers built 91 latrines. They also educated the children on safety and hygiene practices.

Family with new latrine

The faces of one family, shown here standing in front of their new toilet, tell us exactly how important this asset is to their lives.

It is easy in our land of plenty, where many of us enjoy multiple bathrooms in our homes, complete with hot and cold running water, to forget the enormity of sanitary waste disposal. We flush, wash and go. For billions of people elsewhere, a simple toilet can be the difference between life and death.

According to the United Nations World Health Organization, every year there are 1.6 million diarrheal deaths related to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene—the vast majority among children under 5.

Water Charity

For giving selflessly of her time, energy, skills and talents as a volunteer in the United States Peace Corps; for working respectfully with the villagers of Chuisac in their quest to improve the health of their children; for building cooperation through partnership with local Guatemalan organizations as well as international organizations such as Water Charity; for providing a perfect example of a conscious and conscientious member of our world village, and thereby bringing the Village of Ordinary a little closer to reality, the Ordinary Heroes Award is kindly offered to Katie McKenna with humble gratitude.

Image credits: Images of Katie and the villagers courtesy Water Charity. Used with permission.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Ordinary Heroes will return next week

Too sick with flu last few days to post, folks, but will return as soon as possible. In the meantime, would love to hear from you how you are making your life a little more Ordinary these days.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What the guy with no arms and no legs said to the high school kids

Sometimes life throws us a rotten tomato. It's easy to blame external circumstances when we fail to meet our goals. Sometimes we live down to others' expectations of us. Sometimes we collapse into a debilitating depression, unable perhaps even to get out of bed. Nick Vujicic had every reason to give up on life from the get-go, but he didn't. Look at his face. Listen to his voice.

People say to me, "How can you smile?" ... Then they realize "There’s got to be something more to life than meets the eye if a guy without arms and legs is living a fuller life than I am."

Nick Vujicic
Attitude is Altitude

Whatever you think is keeping you down, isn't. You're keeping yourself down. Get up. It's the Ordinary thing to do.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Watch Home, please

Today is World Environment Day.

Listen to me, please. ... Listen carefully to this extraordinary story, which is yours, and decide what you want to do with it.
Film's Narrator, Glenn Close

This is the trailer. For the full video, click through to YouTube. It's an hour and thirty-three minutes in length, so get comfy. I'm watching it as I write this. You and I are the stars. Only seventeen minutes in, and the scenery and story are equally beautiful. Looks like lots of people are watching tonight, as the feed is rather slow.

I'll update this post after I've seen the whole thing. Let me know if you watch it, won't you?

Section break symbolGratitude to Tweep @kalsing for posting the link to blogger Mashable's post featuring the video.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Christine Nielson

Watch this.

Who knew that a simple act, such as choosing organic cotton over conventionally grown cotton, could save lives? Christine Nielson knew--and did something about it. A former school teacher who had helped indigenous women in Mexico use traditional skills to raise their standard of living, Nielson developed the entrepreneurial "fire in the belly" when she visited the cotton fields of her friend Sally Fox. Fox is a hero in her own right. She revolutionized the cotton industry when she developed plants that grew long-fiber colored cotton, reducing the need for bleach.

Nielson saw Fox's beautiful, cotton in earthy, natural colors as an environmentally sound and humane alternative and founded Coyuchi. Its mission, according to Coyuchi's Joanne Sims, in Hope & Luxury: To stop the production of conventionally grown cotton.

From the beginning our mission was to work with sustainable agriculture. Organic and fair trade means these farmers are paid an extra amount and it gives them a meaningful improvement in the quality of life.
Christine Nielson in Marin Independent Journal

Cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop on the planet. Doing an organic cotton bedding line is a way of offering people a quality product, as well as--since sheets are big and heavy and use a lot of fiber--making a substantial contribution to pollution reduction.
Christine Nielson, as quoted in
SF Gate/Organic Materials

Frequently cited as the first company to manufacture organic cotton fabric for commercial use, Coyuchi launched a line of luxurious organic bedding and bath products and placed them strategically in upscale boutiques and shops, where trendy patrons couldn't get enough. Leveraging the growing demand for her products, Nielson forged exclusive relationships with mills and growers in India. Demand continued to grow, enough that prices came down to within reach of ordinary people like you and me.

In its December 2007, issue, Ode Magazine asked Nielson: What can make growing organic cotton sustainable for the farmers? Her reply was simple:

Only with the added benefit and support of fair-trade certification can organic cotton farming work over the long haul. The higher price for organic cotton in addition to the premium for fair-trade certification assures more returns. Half of the fair-trade premium goes to farmers’ committees and will be utilized for projects that benefit the community, such as setting up schools and providing drinking water.

In providing Westerners with gorgeous comforters and sheets, pesticide-free crib bedding on which to lay our baby's heads, and luxuriously soft towels in the bath, Nielson gave nearly destitute cotton farmers in India, many of whom were already sickened from exposure to insecticides they used on their conventional cotton crops, a hand up and hope for a much brighter future. How did she do it? By giving them a market for cotton fibers grown in the traditional--and organic--way, as they had grown them for thousands of years.

If you watched the The Conventional Trap at the beginning of this post, you'll be heartened to learn what Coyuchi and its partners have achieved in Growing Back to Organic, here.

Not only did Nielson pay more for organic cotton than GMO prices (Note: Due to lower yields in early years, returns are about even with GMO returns, but expected to increase as the soil is replenished.), but in partnership with Solidaridad and the Chetna Organic Farmers Association, she helped bring fair trade practices to the farms, insuring that workers are treated humanely and compensated fairly.

Also with the Chetna Organic Farmers Association, she helped initiate the Livestock & Field Infrastructure Development Project, which she dubbed "The Cow Project," according to OrganicStyle, which explains the project here.

It Takes Six Villages/The Cow Project

Although Chetna trains and supports its members in organic growing practices, the farmers are missing some essentials - most importantly, livestock. Cows and bullocks provide the manure for making compost; their urine is collected, fermented, and applied to cotton plants as a concentrated soure [sic] of nitrogen and natural pesticide. Meanwhile, the cows' milk supplements family diets and provides an additional source of income. On average, the calves born each year contribute more than 3,000 rupees, or $75, to the the groups of farmers and their families.

Together, Chetna and Coyuchi have developed a pilot program with the aim of acquiring 91 cows and constructing 10 cowsheds for six villages as well as building shelters to help lengthen their life expectancy.

Nielson did not stop with the farmers, however. She partnered with fair-trade mills to ensure their workers were also compensated fairly, without discrimination, and that dyes and finishes are safe. Your baby, sleeping on a Coyuchi crib sheet, will never inhale residual formaldehyde, for example, which is used in most conventional cotton products.

This year, Nielson sold Coyuchi to Organic Style, Ltd. "I didn't have the fire in the belly anymore to want to keep investing tremendous amounts of energy into commerce," Nielson told Organic Bouquet's Clark Merrefield.

The work Nielson began will continue under the leadership of Organic Style's founder and CEO, Gerald Prolman. Says Prolman, "You've got six thousand growers in India that are counting on us to sell their goods. I'm going to scream the Coyuchi message as long as I'm running this company."

Ordinary Heroes Award badge
For changing the way we think about organic products, for providing us with beautiful bed and bath linens made of sustainably grown, harvested, milled and shipped fibers, for saving lives, for improving the quality of life for textile laborers from field to packaged goods, for helping farmers to earn a better living, safely, while replenishing the soil upon which we all depend, for going beyond her company's needs and working with local organizations to provide safe drinking water and livestock for food and crop management, for caring about the earth and the generations to come at home and abroad, and for bringng the vision of the Village of Ordinary a little closer to reality, the Ordinary Heroes award is kindly offered to Christine Nielson with deep gratitude.

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For more about organic cotton, including links to numerous organic cotton products and suppliers, ranging from baby toys and crib blankets to high fashion white shirts for men and yummy fashions for women, visit my Squidoo lens, Why Buy Organic Cotton. For more on the effects of conventional cotton growing on the lives of growers, see the PBS documentary, The Dying Fields, on the cotton farmer suicide epidemic in India.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Heart blessings

Sometimes something so beautiful comes along that it stirs the heart--deep, pure, blessed. This is one of those moments.

Julian Smith won third place in the 2009 Britain's Got Talent competition today (The winning performance is not yet posted on YouTube; this is the audition that got him to the semi-finals.) I hope and pray we all have many more opportunities to hear this amazing musician.

In the world of Ordinary, children are encouraged to develop their talents and share them with society. There, like Rose's partner Cheyenne, a musician such as Julian would spend the majority of his time making music, just as Rose gardens, Janine cooks and Noah documents and catalogs village life.

The world will be far richer when each of us can devote our best time to our best talent, don't you think? Whose hearts are you blessing with your gifts today?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Alice Waters

Ordinary Heroes Award Badge

She's been called revolutionary.

She made a name for herself doing what she loved--cooking delicious, gorgeous food.

She introduced picked-same-day, locally grown fruits and vegetables in her dishes, because they taste best and have the most vibrant color, and started a fresh new cuisine that changed the way millions of us eat.

She used her earned fame to help launch a movement for slow food.

She takes a lot of flack for being outspoken as the link referenced here shows, but she led the campaign for an organic garden on the White House lawn, and First Lady Michelle Obama dug one.

She's been teaching children how to garden and cook since 1996, beginning with The Edible Schoolyard. Now she's lobbying the White House and Congress to plant an edible garden at every public school in the land. More, she's lobbying to get organic, locally grown, healthy food into free breakfast and lunch programs at every school.

You're gonna pay. You're either gonna pay up-front, or you're gonna pay out back. Do you know that one in two kids is gonna have diabetes? Let us subsidize real food instead of fast food. Let's feed every single child in school breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, for free, and feed them real food.

As quoted by Eat Me Daily

Sparks flew at the Connecticut Forum's Food for Thought program May 14, where Alice Waters appeared with celebrity foodies Anthony Bourdain and Duff Goldman. Bourdain made a good point that people who cannot afford to pay seven dollars plus for a gallon of milk are unlikely to care where their milk comes from, so long as they can afford to give their children milk at all. Alice got that, and her response was equally provocative and, more importantly, a marvelous solution to a big chunk of the problem. Chef Duff Goldman made a keen point as well. It's all captured in this video. Take a look.

CAUTION: Two of the chefs speaking on this panel use profanity. Do not watch if four letter words offend you.

Who do you think is right?

Waters may be equally well-known for her political activism as for the delicious meals served up at her Berkeley Restaurant, Chez Panisse, which is almost as much a Bay Area tourist attraction as the Golden Gate bridge. (Among a slew of salivating visitors, @nguyenthuyviet tweeted on May 27 that she was planning "chez panisse reservations, renting bikes at gg park, a's vs o's tailgating, & ghost hunting" on an upcoming trip to the Bay Area.) But there's another aspect to Waters' work that is of vital importance to our collective future.

Sustainability has been a hallmark at Chez Panisse from the beginning. So important is this aspect, the restaurant posts their Commitment to Sustainability. Here's part of it.

We seek farmers who know their seeds and soil, ranchers who care about the food their livestock eats, winemakers who know what their grapes have known, fish merchants who are concerned about the health of the seas. To them we add kitchen and wait staff who care about the material of their work, knowing they will enjoy and take pride in the technical expertise they add to it. We reaffirm our commitment to all this, knowing that it is central to both the deepest and the most joyous of human activities: generosity, companionship, nourishment, growth.

For doing what she loves, for building on what she loves, for using her best talents and skills to help others, and for creating positive change through action, persuasion and deed, the Ordinary Heroes award is kindly offered to Chef Alice Waters with deep gratitude for deepening the vision and widening the path to the Village of Ordinary.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saving ourselves, saving the planet

Thirsty? A recent Harvard study indicates that when we quench our thirst with bottled water, we increase the bisphenol A (BPA) in our bodies two-thirds as fast as when we drink from a reusable stainless steel bottle. Taking care of the environment is so often linked with taking care of ourselves, don't you think? It's the Ordinary thing to do.

With gratitude to @MBHolistic for her/his 5/22 Tweet that highlighted the U.S. News and World Report article linked here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Marion Nestle

Ordinary Heroes Award BadgeIf The Personal is Political,* there is little more personal than the food we eat. Yet Americans entrust our food supply almost entirely to big (really big) business. Wholesome, bucolic images of rosy-cheeked farmers jauntily pitching hay while black and white cows graze amiably in green pastures blaze from our television screens, magazines, newspapers and yes, on our blogs and web pages, but the truth about the food we eat is seldom close to these pastoral images.

Marion Nestle (pronounced Ness-ul) has been working to pluck the wool from our collective eyes since 1976. Food is political, she says, and if we are to protect our own health and the health of future generations, we need to get this and vote with our dollars every time we push a cart through the aisles of our local supermarket.

Her three books, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health,Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorismand What to Eatare more than enough to win her the Ordinary Hero award, but it's something she did last week that brought her to focus today.

She had been nominated to the Smart Choices board of directors. Smart Choices is going to put a zippy little green check mark on the packages of food that meet its criteria for healthy, wholesome food. They'll also tell us how many calories are in a serving of that food and how many servings are in the package. Sounds cool, huh? This might seem a prestigious and appropriate post for a woman whose entire adult life has been in the service of working to assure our food supply is safe and as healthy as possible.

Marion Nestle declined the nomination. She declined the nomination because Smart Choices "is a food industry-initiated plan to put a check mark--a stamp of approval--on processed food products that meet certain nutritional criteria," criteria that, upon scrutiny, she felt, did not provide the reassurance promised in that little green check mark.

The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products.

U.S. News and World in interview with
Marion Nestle and David Ludwig

To understand better why Marion Nestle doesn't trust that green check mark, check out 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know, including item 2: "The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products."

Dr. Nestle places the blame for America's obesity epidemic squarely on the shoulders of Wall Street and its demand that corporations show ever increasing quarterly returns. She makes a fair and lively case for it in this video titled Food Politics filmed at the Alworth Center for Peace and Justice. Dr. Nestle doesn't take the podium until around four minutes in, and the visual is fairly monotonous, so I recommend that you grab a cuppa and a biscuit and sit down with a jigsaw puzzle or your favorite mindless computer game while you listen. She's definitely worth your time and I guarantee you'll come away with something interesting for the water cooler tomorrow.

For a lifetime of watching out for the quality and safety of our food, for standing up to the corporate giants again and again and again, and for teaching us how to find safe, healthy food (see How to Find Green Fish, How to Buy Organic Milk, How to Buy Green Produce), and in doing so, helping us all get a little closer to the world of the Village of Ordinary, the Ordinary Heroes award is kindly offered to Marion Nestle.

Learn more about Marion Nestle on her web site and keep up to date on the latest at the intersection of food and politics on her blog.

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Thanks to Tweep @AmiraElgan for introducing me to Marion Nestle through her May 12 tweet "HERO ALERT: Nutrition professor tells why she declined nutrition society's nomination to head a prestigious program."

*With a bow and a nod to Carol Hanisch, Shulie Firestone, Anne Koedt and Kathie Sarachild.