May is Transition Challenge Month

Transition Challenge Month, yup. Brought to you by the Transition United States, yup. Clearer now? Until I was asked to teach a Backyard Chicken class for a Reskilling Festival co-hosted by Transition Ann Arbor, I did not know either. Nor had I heard the phrases "peak oil" or "energy descent". But in my humble opinion, the Transition movement is awesome.

Awesome in the sense I am in awe. Committed people walking the walk - building communities through reducing local energy use, reusing materials for building, reducing reliance on new items, educating a new generation in such practices, creating local currency, and (of course) focussing on the role of food (they LOVE local food).

And why? Peak Oil and Energy Descent!

Peak Oil is the term used to describe the point at which "the maximal rate of petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline." The exact tip of the bell curve is debated, but most experts seem to agree that the oil that is remaining to us will cost more and more energy to extract (ie it has peaked, but no one is committing to that position). (Offshore drilling or shale oil extraction compared to the bygone days of black gold striking Clampetts for those of you who like visual comparisons.)

A member of the Transition Ann Arbor group 2 years ago shared with me what distinguishes the Transition Towns Movement from the other groups involved in local and self-sufficient food, transportation, and reducing energy paradigms. It is the assumption of energy descent. It is a notion that, to move forward we actually need to ramp down our energy use substantially. Nothing that we have out there, in terms of the green technologies out there is actually going to replace the oil infrastructure that we have right now ... What we want to do is creatively descend in our energy use, not ramp up to try to replace the technologies that oil has given us."

As I type at my computer, surrounded by my digital camera, cell phone, camera, television, and looking out at the streetlights glowing in the rain, I think I know of what she speaks.

This is the month to get involved. There is a national transition challenge happening throughout May focussing on five great areas:

Take food, for example. You can start a garden, get backyard chickens, plant a fruit tree to trade with your neighbor who gets chickens, plant a row for a local food bank (and check out AmpleHarvest to find your local bank!), start a worm bin, make your own bread, preserve (kombucha is delicious!), save seeds, etc etc...

The Transition Challenge in 2011 logged over 1500 actions and the national goal this year is 2012. Register your Action, check out their Action Map to see what is happening around you. Last but not least, did you know that National Potluck Week is May 20-26? Sounds like a  delicious way to celebrate your new dehydrator!

Though I may not be the best at riding my bicycle in the rain, or always taking the extra 10 minutes to hang my clothing on the clothes line - it is nice to know there is a community of people committed to safeguard our beautiful earth and its resources by thinking outside of the paradigm of abundant oil - and dare I say, their calf muscles are all the stronger for it.

For those of you who are still curious to learn more, here is a TED talk given by the co-founder of the Transition Network, Rob Hopkins.

Here is the piece on Real Time Farms!

Why I stopped eating popcorn at the movies

David vs. Goliath. Ma & Pa corner store vs. Big Box stores. These are images that resonate with all of us. As I debate between purple carrots from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine and cucumbers shaped like apples from Seed Saver’s Exchange, it is easy for me to ignore the big box equivalent of seed companies: DuPont, Dow Chemical, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer CropScience and, of course, Monsanto.

I am very happy to ignore them because every time I actively think about them I can feel my blood pressure rising. My blood pressure pounds in my ears because of GMO (genetically modified organisms). A recent article in The New York Times threw a spark onto the pool of gasoline that washes around my belly regarding this issue. The article was about the rapid rise in seed prices and the concern the administration has about the monopoly certain companies have on the seed market.

“Agriculture Department figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135 percent since 2001. Soybean prices went up 108 percent over that period. By contrast, the Consumer Price Index rose only 20 percent in that period.”

The lack of competition means that companies can charge more and their rationale for doing so is the amount of research they need to do to create more GMO seeds. According to the article, “more than 90 percent of soybeans and more than 80 percent of the corn grown in this country are genetically engineered.”

We insert DNA to make certain plants resistant to certain herbicides (mostly Roundupâ„¢, or glyphosate) so the farmer can spray fields without having to worry about damaging the crops. We insert genes into a plant’s DNA to make them more resistant to certain diseases because the plant itself produces its own bioinsecticide. We combine those traits together. Why not?

And the names are out of a science fiction comic book: Genuity™ Bollgard II® with Roundup Ready Flex Cotton, Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Canola, Genuity™ Roundup Ready® Flex Cotton, Roundup Ready Corn 2, YieldGard Corn Borer, YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2, and YieldGard Rootworm.

The same people who engineer plants resistant to certain insecticides manufacture those same pesticides. So you need to purchase both. It is not surprising the government is concerned about monopoly practices.

GMO plants were introduced to the U.S. market in the 1990s. I did not know they existed until I went to England and read on labels that a product was “GMO free." What is a GMO? I had no idea, but I soon learned, no thanks to our system of labeling in this country.

Corn, soybeans, canola and cotton are the plants that are the most likely to be genetically modified. Vegetable oil made from these plants (today is not the day for the hydrogenation discussion) is everywhere in our industrial food chain.

I am a fan of David, of Ma & Pa stores and of not putting a food into my body that is capable of giving off its own pesticide. I am a fan of not planting plants that could infiltrate our entire collection of seeds, breeding into who knows what (pollen doesn’t understand real estate boundaries). I am a fan of having genetically modified food labeled in this country, so that I can choose with my eyes wide open.

Until that day, I just eat carefully, and sometime my choice is one of sadness. One of my favorite treats when I was growing up was popcorn at the movies. Hot, salty, warm and perfect. Roundup Ready Soybeans â„¢ and YieldGard Rootworm with Roundup Ready Corn 2 â„¢ took that treat away from me.

Here is the article on