Want to double world food production? Return the land to small farmers!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dachas1_webIf we want to double world food production and be able to feed a growing population we will have to return the land to small farmers and also establish more small farms.

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture and it is being justified by the need to 'feed the world'.

But it is the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases. We must give them their land back!

The agricultural industry, the huge farms with large heavy machines are not the answer and neither are genetically-modified (engineered) seeds and such. In the same way that the so-called “green revolution” is and was a disaster so is this playing with genetics.

The large farms with the heavy machines also do serious damage to the environment in that they compact the soil, destroy in this compacted soil mycelia, and other organisms, vital to soil and plant health, and then we wonder why our soil washes away, gets blown away, and why it is getting more and more infertile.

The same goes for forestry operations. Here the powers-that-be also seem to be entirely ignorant as to why we are short of all that important small wildlife and fungi in the soil that it once used to teem with. The answer is the use of heavy machinery, including and especially the so-called timber harversters that run to ten tonnes or more in weight and with their wheels, which often have large cleats on them, which compact the soil to a depth of a foot. No fungi or invertebrate can live in soil of that kind.

As far as farming for food production, especially as regards to vegetables and fruit, the small farm is more efficient than the huge industrial farms. While the former may be somewhat more labor intensive the latter are polluting the environment from machinery exhaust fumes to chemicals used for all manner of things, often massively overused.

Many of the “officials” in the farming industry, in the the ministries, especially in the industrialized countries, claim that only large farms have a future and can feed the nation and the world. This is utter baloney as most of those farms can only exist by means of massive subsidies from the tax payer.

The system of the small farms that have returned to Russia, the former USSR, and the fact that those small farms, the Dachas (and no, the dachas are not – in the main – holiday homes) produce the majority of all fruit and vegetables sold and consumed in Russia.

In most industrialized countries we are dealing with Nature, in our factory farming and -forestry operations, as if She were a factory floor. But She is not. She is a living organism that requires a completely different approach and handling than the one that we have, over the years, been using.

We throw chemicals at the soil trying to have it yield more and more and still more, without ever properly caring for the soil. In addition to that we spray this pesticide and that against this or that pest and against weeds, which are now also classified as pests, it would seem, and many of those chemicals in turn appear to be killing our bees in a direct or indirect way. It really does not matter in which way it happens; without bees we will have no crops, with a few exceptions.

All those chemicals, aside from damaging the soil and our pollinators also leach into the water courses and into the air causing still further damage. And that is aside from the pollution from the heavy machines that drink diesel like sponges take up water.

Most smallholdings and small farms, on the other hand, whether in the Third World or elsewhere, such as in Russia, and other places, often are from the start working the organic method, which we could also call “the way farming was done before agrochemicals”, and thus have a much smaller environmental footprint and are far less polluting (if at all), and it is that that we need.

© 2017

Why upcycling must become an economic sector

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sinnlos sammeln und sortieren - recycling bins1Upcycling is, in general, the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained – though not always, and we will come to that later – and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also (just) be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Ideally, however, upcycling should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better then than not doing that.

So why should upcycling become an economic sector then, you may ask, and part, the first part, probably, of the waste management economy.

Because recycling, as it is being done at this the present time, simply does not cut it. So-called recycling, and I am talking here about commercial recycling, mostly recycles nothing really but only downcycles. The problem with our current way of recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

Post-consumer waste paper, in most cases, is not made into new paper for writing, printing and books, but rather into packaging materials, and also paper insulation for buildings. Unlike in the German Democratic Republic where post-consumer waste paper became new paper for school exercise books, for books and for newspapers, elsewhere it is generally not post-consumer waste paper, or only between thirty to fifty percent. The rest is made up of pre-consumer waste, that is to say waste from the paper manufacturing industry and even virgin pulp. True 100% recycled paper from post-consumer waste paper is very rare and then only used for printing books, predominately paperbacks.

100% recycled sounds very good but in many cases it just is not true. This also goes for many “100% recycled” plastic products. Some beverage brands claim to have 100% recycled plastic (or 100% plant-based plastic) but when one reads the small print then one finds that the contents of the recycled (or the plant-based) is less that 40%. That does not equate 100%.

The problem is that post-consumer plastic, when remade, is not of a good enough quality for many new products, with the exception of the likes of garden furniture, and products such as benches, and others, that are made from so-called “plastic wood”. But that is a different story.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Making furniture and other things from pallet and pallet wood, as well as other “waste” wood, one could call recycling but, even this, as with the PET bottle being turned into a string, is more of an upcycling process as a product of a higher use value is being made. We are cycling the product up rather than re or down. Each and every time that we are making something better out of an item of waste rather than the same or a lower product we are upcycling.

While recycling, if it were done “properly”, is, no doubt, important upcycling is by far better and reuse, and the rest of the Rs that were discussed in a precious piece, also. That is because recycling simply, on a commercial level at least, is not done the right way, and only leads to products of a lower value and grade. It is for that reason that upcycling must become an economic activity and sector. There is a great deal of scope for it and as those products, in the main, will be made by hand they will also be made to last – or so, at least, one should hope, so as to break the cycle.

An example for an upcycling company is US-based TerraCycle, though the making of the products is outsourced to places such as Mexico, China, etc. TerraCycle “makes” a large range of different products from pre- and post-consumer waste. Another example would be Feuerwear, based in Germany, who upcycle old fire hoses into a variety of bags and such. Aside from those two there are others from very small to larger businesses in other countries, including (and especially) Third World countries, that are upcyclers, who upcycle things like bicycle inner-tubes, etc., but even combined all of those together they are but a drop in the ocean. That is to say we need more of them, many more, and upcycling must become a serious economic activity.

© 2017

Regrowing vegetables from kitchen scraps

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Leaf cabbage regrown from root_webYes, it does work. At least with some vegetables. Potatoes are the most prolific ones in that department and they seem to be able to grow from even the smallest parts left, for instance, in compost. That is how I end up with potatoes growing in many of the containers in which I grow other vegetables – I only garden in containers, at home, basically – where I never planted them. Even after two to three years in the composter those scraps are still viable.

Other vegetables, however, can (also) be grown from scraps in different ways. Though I have to add a caveat and that is that some will regrow and others won't and that of the same type even.

Celery: The bottoms of stalk celery often will regrow and will then keep producing new celery stalks. I have done it more than once but also managed to kill them more than once. How I killed them? I have no idea.

Cabbage: I have tried this successfully with the bottom of a shop-bought leaf cabbage (a savoy kind of cabbage) and while it took some while (a couple of weeks) it works to regrow new leaves in head formation though they will never set proper heads again, and even multiple “heads” may appear.

Theoretically, more than likely, all cabbages will regrow from such scraps though I cannot entirely vouch for that not having tried and done it. Proper heads, however, even if it was a “head” cabbage will not form again. Or so the theory goes.

Spring Onion: Put the bottoms of those, the bulbs, for you really, theoretically and practically only use the green bits (just like large chives), into a pot and they will regrow. Keep cutting and using the green regrowth.

I have also been running a trial to regrow radishes, for the leaves though as they can be eaten, for new radishes will not happen, by having planted the tops in pots. A couple, unfortunately, died but while others did grow and that quite well. The leaves can be used in stews and such, though they also could be used in salads but they are quite peppery in taste.

Lettuces, of all different kinds, apparently, can also be regrown from the bottom bits but I have not, as yet, experimented in that department as I am not the greatest lettuce fan, even though being vegetarian.

Apparently there are also several others that can be regrown, such as turnips (from their bottoms), as well fennel (also from the base), as well as onions (from root base, though it more often than not does not work), garlic, and apparently even mushrooms can be regrown from the stalk. Will have to give that a try some day.

Maybe it is just a case of experimenting with what can be regrown from scraps (not seeds) – or from cuttings, such as in the case of basil. There may be more there than we are aware of. Most herbs can be regrown from cuttings, but then again those cuttings are not really kitchen scraps.

Then there are others that can be regrown from the seeds that we discard as scraps in the kitchen, such as bell peppers, and as well as others. Getting bell peppers to grow properly in the British or similar climes is not too easy though.

Come on, give it a try. I sure will try more.

© 2017

Plastic packaging – the bane of the modern world

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Platic_Tub_Waste1_webAlmost everything that we buy today is packaged in plastic and sometimes double and treble. And the greatest bane, at least in my opinion, is the plastic that is hollow formed into different shapes, whether as dishes, trays, or the shape of an apple or orange and then they are stuck into them individually. Aside from the fact that many of those packages have no secondary use in any way they also take up a lot of space in the bin.

There are some of those though that can be reused and repurposed but very few seem to see the potential. I am thinking here specifically of the bowls and such for prepacked ready-made salads, the apple and other fruit snacks, and such like. Those are bowls that could easily be given a second life by being reused. The plastic often enough is not a bad strength at all and food grade and thus those items could serve in the kitchen and/or elsewhere. (The one in the picture has now got a second life).

While it would be good if we could get away from plastic packaging altogether – which is not all that likely to happen – making use of as much of it as possible is the way to go, I think. Packaging designers too could help here somewhat more in that they could create plastic packaging (and packaging in general, including glass) that would automatically and obviously have a second use. This was the case once, for glass, and should be again and also for such plastic containers. It is not rocket science. But, I assume, that even then the majority would still treat it in the same way as they do now, as disposables. But then they even treat plastic products that they have bought as disposables when they take them on picnics. Somewhere along the line some people definitely have lost the plot, and they didn’t even have an allotment.

© 2017

A warmer world may bring more local, less global, temperature variability

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20424118_10209854490866312_555979097128336310_oMany tropical or subtropical regions could see sharp increases in natural temperature variability as Earth’s climate warms over coming decades, a new Duke University-led study suggests.

These local changes could occur even though Earth’s global mean surface air temperature (GMST) is likely to become less variable, the study shows.

“This new finding runs counter to the popular notion that as the climate warms, temperature variability will increase and weather will get more volatile everywhere,” said Patrick T. Brown, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the study while he was a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Our research suggests a different scenario: Global unforced temperature variability will actually decrease, not increase, as Earth warms, but local decade-to-decade variability could increase by as much as 50 percent in some places,” Brown said.

Unforced, or natural, temperature variability can be caused by interactions between the atmosphere, ocean currents and sea ice. These fluctuations can either mask or exacerbate human-caused climate change for a decade or two at a time, he noted.

Because billions of people live in tropical or subtropical regions that may experience increased temperature variability, and because these regions are critical for biodiversity, food production and climate regulation, “it’s vital that we understand the magnitude of unforced decade-to-decade variability that could occur there, and the mechanisms that drive it,” he said.

Brown and his colleagues published their peer-reviewed paper Sept. 4 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To conduct the study, they first inspected a climate model run under pre-industrial conditions. The model, which was developed at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, simulates climate under perpetual atmospheric conditions similar to those experienced on Earth before the widespread emission of industrial greenhouse gasses. This allows scientists to get a clearer picture of the forces that cause variability in the absence of human drivers.

“To isolate unforced variability, we looked at the model’s output without changing any of its environment parameters, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, solar radiation or volcanic activity, over a theoretical 900-year timespan,” Brown explained.

On the second run, the scientists doubled the model’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to simulate projected future conditions.

“In the doubled-CO2 run, we saw a 43 percent decrease in global temperature variability, but with local increases of up to 50 percent in many land regions of the tropics and subtropics,” Brown said.

Consistent results were obtained using similar experiments on other climate models.

What’s happening, Brown said, is as Earth warms because of increasing CO2, there is less ice at high latitudes, which means less albedo – the less reflection of solar energy back into space.

“Albedo feedback is a large contributor to decade-to-decade unforced variability. When Earth’s atmosphere naturally gets a bit warmer, more of the reflective sea ice at high latitudes melts. This exposes more water, which absorbs solar energy and amplifies the initial warming, enhancing the GMST variability,” he explained. “But we found that when you double the CO2 levels in a climate model to mimic future conditions, the sea ice melts so much that this albedo feedback can no longer play a large role in amplifying natural temperature variability.”

The end result is less variability globally – especially in the high latitudes – but more variability in the tropics.

“This suggests that the pre-industrial control runs we have been using are not ideal for studying what unforced variability will look like in the future,” said Wenhong Li, associate professor of climate at Duke’s Nicholas School. “But it might inspire more modeling groups to run models under perpetual conditions that reflect what we expect in the future.”

Yi Ming of Princeton University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Spencer A. Hill of UCLA and the California Institute of Technology co-authored the new paper with Brown and Li.

Funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense the National Science Foundation.

However, there are, more than likely, also other events and happenings that can and must be blamed for what is happening. The tilt of the axis of the Earth, which occurred somewhere around two years or so ago and which also the Inuit in Alaska have observed and reported, from celestial observations, and the change in the Earth's magnetic field, also play a part here.

Furthermore the Earth has, through the ages, gone through natural changes in climate or why does anyone think that the Danes, aka Vikings, called Greenland Greenland? No, they were not colorblind. When they arrived there the place was covered in forests and meadows.

When the Romans were in the British Isles they grew grapes for wine all the way to Hadrian's Wall but when they left – finally – around the 6th century they did so not just because the Empire was falling apart but also and especially because the climate was getting rather cold and damp. But not half a century later Leif Eriksson landed in Newfoundland and was, according to Viking Sagas, presented with sweet lack grapes by the Natives there. Sweet black grapes in Newfoundland? Well, apparently so.

Whatever the reason, the climate of our Planet is in flux – not that it has not always been – and undergoing changes at the present which will, more than likely, lead to serious weather extremes the pinpointing and predicting of which will be almost impossible.

Instead of huffing and puffing we must, aside from seeing as to whether we can mitigate and even reverse it, though if at least some part of it is natural then that we won't be able to change, prepare for any event. But preparing for a possible – or even inevitable – change no one seems to want to do.

The Earth, has trough time, gone through cataclysmic climate events and changes and it could just be that the Great Flood, of which is talk in the Bible and the Scriptures of other religions, which befell the Earth more than likely is one of those.

While such events were catastrophic then it would and will be more so today with the amount of people on the Planet and our dependence of infrastructure and all. But, as said, it would appear that no one, especially no one in government, will want to admit this possibility and that we need to make preparations. Noah's Ark, more than likely, tough, is out of the question.

© 2017

Crude oil prices continue to fall drastically

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dachas1_webCrude Oil Prices continue to fall drastically and some investment banks predict the recent stockpile drops with continue after the summer season ends. As growing US output could reverse the inventory trend later this year.

Despite this, however, energy companies have and are increasing their prices claiming high the wholesale price of oil and gas being the reason for the price hike. We must, therefore, come to the conclusion that either the prices for oil (and gas) are falling and the companies are lying to us or that the analysts are wrong; take your prick. Nor, I am sure, has the motorist noticed any reduction in the price at the pumps. It always amazes me that when the costs go up the prices immediately do too but when they go down, the costs that is, there is barely a downward movement, at least not a significant one in line with the drop in costs.

The Bank of England voted to keep their Interest Rates low and cut it's forecast for growth and wages as it warned that Brexit was weighing on the country and previous speculation was over-estimated. This gloomier outlook has impacted on the strength of the Pound, with Sterling hitting a nine month low against the Euro shortly after the announcement.

Prices in UK shops fell slightly faster in July, say the statisticians, though not that most shoppers would have noticed, than a month before but are likely to pick up again later this year. As a result of the increased cost of imports after Brexit, food prices were pushed up, however, contrasting to the deflationary trend of the last 4 years due to supermarket price wars, say the “experts”.

So, the food prices were pushed up with the increased costs after Brexit, even though we actually have not left the EU and the customs unions as yet. So who is trying to make a quick buck out of something that has not, as yet, happened?

While it may be true that import costs for food (and other things) have somewhat increased due to the Pound having fallen in value in comparison to the Euro there seem to be some things that do not completely add up.

On the other hand it shows, yet again, that our dependence on food imports is not a sustainable position and that we must produce more food for home consumption. But farmers seem to be, often, more concerned out exporting their produce and animals rather than with the home market. Each and every time we hear them on the radio, for instance, they are worried that Brexit will impact on their exports. What they seem to all forget is what the job of the farmer is, namely to produce food for the people in the country. Export should only be a secondary thought, as to exporting surplus that cannot be sold at home.

© 2017

Growing Self-Sufficiency – Book Review

Enjoy chicken, eggs, fruit, veg? A simple way to grow your own

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Growing Self-Sufficiency
Realize your dream and enjoy producing your own fruit, vegetables, egg and meat.
By Sally Nex
Published by Green Books September 2017
240 pages, paperback, 255mm x 205mm
ISBN: 9780857843173

Growing-Self-suffiencyGrowing Self-Sufficiency is a practical and inspirational guide for both the beginner and the experienced gardener. It explains how you can enjoy the satisfaction and pride of providing food for yourself and your family, whether you have just a small balcony or back yard, a large garden, or a homestead or smallholding.

Learn how to:

  • Enjoy fresh and tasty vegetables in season
  • Grow delicious fruit for eating all year round
  • Produce your own chicken, eggs and lamb, guaranteed free from harmful chemicals and additives
  • Preserve your produce – from freezing and drying to making jams, chutneys and pickles
  • Make your own drinks: juices, cordials, cider, wine and liqueurs
  • Grow medicinal herbs and make your own herbal remedies
  • Provide more food from your plot than you ever thought possible!

If you ever feel a pang of guilt as you look at the label on your food, realizing that it has traveled thousands of miles to get to your dinner table, then Sally Nex’s Growing Self-Sufficiency will inspire you to make the change and shrug off of the type of 'salad crisis' we had this winter when shop shelves were bare and produce was rationed.

But not only have your fruit and vegetables from abroad traveled long distances. Even the “fresh” fruit and vegetables that you buy at the greengrocers and which do come from the UK have first been heading from the farm to the large wholesale markets and then, via some other buyers, to the greengrocers in your city, town or village, even if the fruit and veg have been grown virtually next door. That is the way the market operated, unfortunately.

Then there is the thought of the additives that keep vegetables artificially fresh for so long. Now think how much healthier you will be and how much needless pollution you will prevent by eating the most local of food, namely that that you have grown yourself.

Sally’s unique three pot method will guarantee you a supply of tasty, inexpensive home-grown food throughout the year. Not just helping to save the planet, it will help to save money too and Sally has plenty of tips on how you can feed your family at only a fraction of the cost. She explains how you can:

  • start a vegetable plot on your balcony
  • create a herb garden on your windowsill
  • grow a mini orchard in pots

This book deals with about every aspect of growing and raising your own food, as well as preserving the harvest, collecting seeds, etc.

The 240 page are jam packed with information on every aspect of home grown and the advice about growing in containers should be of interest to all those that do not have much of garden space, by way of ground in which to grow things.

Personally I almost exclusively garden in containers though my containers are all kinds of things, from tree pots and tubs of various sizes, all the way up to shopping carts, and everything else in between, such as window boxes, hanging baskets, and any other kind of receptacle that can be repurposed into a growing container.

"Taking control of your own food is one of the easiest ways to tread lighter on the earth: as easy, in fact, as planting a seed." Sally Nex

Sally Nex has been feeding her family with home-grown fruit, vegetables and preserves for the last 20 years or so, as well as eggs from a motley gaggle of hens and more recently, lamb from her small flock of rare-breed sheep.

It all started with a few beans in a concrete handkerchief of city garden in London, but an allotment, job change, house move and several rented fields later, it's probably true to say the 'hobby' is well out of hand.

In 2006 she left 15 years as a journalist on BBC radio, television and World Service to devote her time to horticulture. She is qualified in horticulture to RHS Level 3, and has a planting design diploma from Capel Manor College. Sally now writes, teaches and gives talks about veg growing and self-sufficiency all over the country and is a regular writer and columnist for BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, the RHS journal The Garden, Grow Your Own, and The Guardian.

As far as self-sufficiency is concerned we all have to bear in mind though that, to all intents and purposes, no one can ever be truly self-sufficient in all things, and that includes growing food.

© 2017

Dead-simple pocketknife is the best

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ndeg06_carbone_web (1)A dead-simple pocketknife is the best to carry, especially on a daily basis, and the Opinel fits that bill on all levels.

Over the years I have owned and used many different pocketknives, some of them not directly cheap, single and multi-bladed, but I have found none as good and reliable than the first kind that I ever owned (or one of the first ones, for my very first was a different one, if I remember, but I was given that as a rather small boy of five), the Opinel. The next one that I was given was an Opinel #6, about two years later, and an Opinel #6 or #8, the latter though rarely, has been a constant companion ever since.

Many of us, outdoorsmen, bushcrafters, and such, seem to be gadget lovers when it comes to knives and other things and many seem to believe that the bigger the blade(s) and the more of them the better. The bigger the better belief is also there as regards to size when it comes to fixed-bladed knives. I seem to be an exception as I don't run after all those gadgets and such and neither do I like knives that are too big, unless I want to use a machete.

However, the best blade is the one that is just big enough for the job and your knife, whether belt knife or pocketknife is not a hatchet or a machete; it is a knife; simple.

The Opinel #6 is my daily-carry-knife, and has been for very many years, and that for more reasons than one. The main one, nowadays, is that carrying any knife – even a folding one – with a cutting edge longer than 3-inches can get one into very hot water with the police. Another the fact that the knife is big enough for almost all jobs that require a knife; a bigger one is not, actually, needed on a day-to-day basis. Then there is the fact that is is light and handy and I just love the lock and the wooden handle.

I do have many other pocketknives as well – I have sort of got a few over the years – but when it comes to it my first choice is always the Opinel, but never bigger than the #8 to be very honest though. As indicated, the #6 is the one that is always with me.

And to make sure that I have one definitely with me at all times I have, because there was not one available to buy – made my own sheath for it (see picture) that enables me to carry it around the neck. Well, I guess even if I could have bought a sheath of this kind I would have still made it myself, as I do love working with leather, as well as with wood. Not only do I make such and other leather goods for myself. Nay, I also make those and others to order.

Neck holster for Opinel #6As far as performance of this dead-simple pocketknife goes the Opinel is, in my opinion, though not just in mine alone, I understand, second to none. All Opinel from #6 upwards come with the rotating ring lock and I have yet to be able to break that lock. I have managed to break the handle at the lock before through misuse and abuse but not the lock itself, unlike with some, even expensive lock-back knives. And in the latter case(s) with very little abuse, so to speak.

The design of the Opinel is timeless and has changed little since its inception, with the exception of the introduction, in the mid-1950s, of the Virobloc rotating lock, and then at the beginning of the 21st century the redesign of this lock so the blade can also be locked in the closed position. Otherwise, generally, it has not change since almost day one. But then why change something that works and works well.

The KISS system is always best, especially when the tool is to be used in the great outdoors, or even not not so great one. It is because of its simplicity and reliability, I am sure, that the German forest schools use the smaller lockable Opinel knives, that is to say the No.6 and the No.7 versions, and that in the standard blade and not the child's version, and we are talking here about those blades being used by children between 4 and 6 years of age. That speaks volumes for the knives' safety.

The Opinel pocketknife embodies the KISS system in its design, reliability and simplicity, to its fullest and makes it the ideal day-to-day companion, and not just in the outdoors. I don't think that it can be beat and definitely not as far as quality and value for money is concerned, considering the relatively low price that it is being sold for. Generations of French mountain people can't be wrong to having stuck with the Opinel knife.

© 2017

The Scent of Time – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Scent of Time cover_Blog

The scent of time
A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering
By Byung-Chul Han
Published 1st September 2017 by Polity Books (Part of Wiley)
Paperback 146 pages
Price: £9.99
ISBN 9781509516056

In his philosophical reflections on the art of lingering, acclaimed cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han argues that the value we attach to ceaseless activity is producing a crisis in our sense of time. The hyperactivity which characterizes our daily routines robs human beings of the capacity to linger and the faculty of contemplation. It therefore becomes impossible to experience time as fulfilling.

Han argues that we can overcome this temporal crisis only by relearning the art of lingering. For what distinguishes humans from other animals is the capacity for reflection and contemplation, and when life regains this capacity, this art of lingering, it gains in time and space, in duration and vastness.

Drawing on a range of thinkers including Heidegger, Nietzsche and Arendt, Han argues that we can overcome this temporal crisis only by relearning the art of lingering. For what distinguishes humans from other animals is the capacity for reflection and contemplation, and when life regains this capacity, this art of lingering, it gains in time and space, in duration and vastness.

Byung-Chul Han is a Korean-born Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies who teaches at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He is the author of more than 20 books. Polity has committed to translating his work into English, and The Scent of Time will shortly be followed by Saving Beauty, which also publishes in Fall 17, and other titles in 2018.

While the notion of this book about the need for deceleration of our lives is good and true the book itself is very much a serious philosophical work that is not something for the reader looking for a how-to approach. It is also rather heavy reading so not s book for anyone thinking to get a light read for bedtime.

Many of the points made are extremely valuable and important though it would have been good if G-d would have been left out of the discussion. Alas, time and again the author harps on about G-d in the book.

Notwithstanding the above our lives have become far too hectic and fast and we seem to want to go faster and faster still. In doing so we miss the entire point. More productivity say the capitalists, more growth, more experiences. But what for? For our own sake and for that of the Planet we need to slow down life and everything that goes with it.

© 2017

Needs and wants and being frugal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

21034533_1455313397883264_6962462607872370993_nVery often wants are mistaken for needs and on other levels a want culture is being and has already been created where even the smallest child screams that he wants that because he needs it.

Parents must start here by putting a stop to such demands but instead of doing that they just give in to each and every demand of the child believing that the child would be disadvantaged if he does not get what he wants. By allowing this to happen they are responsible, and this has been going on for some decades already, of creating, and having created, the entitlement culture that we have today.

Also to blame are, obviously, but to some extent only for the power lies elsewhere, the advertisers whose commercials create in the viewer, child and adult alike, depending who it is target towards, the belief that they need this things shown to be happy or more fulfilled, or whatever. That it costs them dearly more than likely on more than one level the person in whom this desire is aroused rarely recognizes.

The true difference between needs and wants are that needs are, to an extent, but a few, wants, on the other hand, can be and are legion.

The child wants this or that, be it a toy, or whatever, the parent gives in and gets it for him and then, how long does the interest in whatever it was last? If it is a bicycle then, maybe, almost for ever, but when it comes to toys and such, often no more than a couple of days after which he gets “bored” with it and demands yet another one.

Oh, I was a child myself (obviously) and, although the “I want” better was not something that was said in a demanding voice or reinforced with a tantrum, and “I want” actually was better not said at all; more a “I'd like that?” or “Can I have one of those?” and it might happen. Though most of the time it didn't and I would be told to go and do some jobs and earn the money to get it. We didn't have much in the way of money coming in when I was a kid and I learned to appreciate the value of things.

I did just that in the case of roller-skates. Every kid on the block, almost, had a pair and I just needed to have a pair too. Oh yes, I needed a pair though a need it definitely was not but. Found some jobs to do for people against payment and I managed to get the money together and bought a pair. That was a bad move. Why? Because I just could not get on with them at all and after a few tries gave up, put them away, and they were never even looked at again. That also taught me a great lesson.

Over time I learned that what I really needed was different to that what I wanted and soon learned that the fancy stuff that everyone wanted to have I actually did not need – and also could not afford to have and want. That does not mean that over time I have not bought some (more) white elephants. Some of my kitchen gadgets speak for it, such as the deep fat fryer (used probably four or five times), the juicer (oh what a rigmarole cleaning it), and one or two others.

But there were those toys that I made for myself like my catapult, or that wooden tractor that an “uncle” had made for me and that got repaired so many times. How I loved that tractor and to this day I wish I had kept, just for the sake of it. Those really got used. Same as tin can stilt, wooden stilts, and so on. Well, and not to speak of the bicycle that I was given. It may have been a secondhand one but to me it might as well have been the most expensive one in the world. Those things I used day in and day out.

The catapult (slingshot) for instance was with me every day and I practiced with it every spare minute and hunted with it for the pot. We also made our own toys out of bits of wood, things from the forest and things found in the trash and we played more with those things than we ever did with store-bought toys. And I think we also looked after the things we made for ourselves or which someone had made for us much better than after those gotten from a store – with the few exception of expensive things that we bought ourselves from hard-earned money.

The same goes for fashion, aka clothing, whether the Nike (or whatever brand may be in fashion at the very moment) baseball cap. The gimme-hat from the country show, that often are given out for free, are just as good only that you are advertising a brand of tractor or something of that nature. OK, it might not have the right “street cred” but so what. It meets your need for a hat and that's what counts.

Saving money is the main part of being frugal and if you can’t make something yourself then look at getting it second-hand/used and this is the same with clothes as with other things such as a bicycle or whatever.

When I was a kid we all wore hand-me-downs that came from other peoples’ children and also many of our toys came that way too if we did not make them ourselves or got them made for us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with good second-hand clothes or other goods.

While clothes from the charity shop may not be the latest fashion they more often than not are good quality and that at a small fraction of the cost. With the exception of certain clothes, such as socks and undergarments, all my stuff comes from charity shops and my wardrobe is well stocked; overstocked in fact.

I take the greatest pleasure on the frugality front though in making things I need and want from things that otherwise might be thrown away or which have been thrown away and I do take that, probably, to the extreme. But so be it, as far as I am concerned.

Anything and everything that can be reused, reworked and upcycled is on that list. Reuse here applies to reusing an item of waste that can be used for this or that purpose, which would be more repurposing than reuse, as much as something that someone has thrown away and which still works well, such as in the case of a multi-tool that came into my possession in that way.

Reworking and upcycling is a somewhat different kettle of fish to reuse and it all depends of what comes my way here, be that items of waste at home or stuff found, but I look at everything with an eye for doing just that and see what I can make from it and out of it for my own use or even, hopefully, for sale.

So much of what the general population sees as “waste” is transformable into something useful or into art. Personally I prefer the useful side rather than that of artworks but, if all else fails, then artworks are still better than landfill, especially if it is something decorative that one might actually want to have in the home or office.

© 2017

#GreenLiving #greenlivingtips #needs #wants #frugality #makingdo #children #lifelessons

The Rs and the U

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Paper napkins are not recyclableWe have always told, and still are being told, that there are three Rs when it comes to “going green” and that those are “reduce, reuse, recycle” but, in fact, there are more than just those three, or at least there should be. And then there is also the U for upcycle. Recycle should come at the very bottom of the list, and that is why I have put it here.

Reduce: Just use and buy less. Also, obviously, reduce your waste, especially the stuff you send into the waste stream. When it comes to food and food waste use everything and leftovers are used the next day. That's the way our parents and their parents did things. It works, would you believe it. Oh, and guess what, reusable cutlery, plates, cups and such are meant to be washed after use and used again.

Return: Producers should take back what they sell. This is not going to happen very soon, of that we can be certain, even as far as packaging, and over-packaging goes.

Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon. Reuse also must include not just continued use of what we have but reusing and repurposing items of waste such as glass jars and much more. There often is another life for many of so-called waste products.

Repurpose: That is taking reuse to another level in that the product is used for another, often “higher” purpose.

Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.

Rework: Taking an item of waste and making something new, which could include changing the shape of the original waste product but does not have to be and is akin to upcycling.

Refurbish: This is a little like repair but may go a lot further than just simple repair, that is to say fix and mend.

Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%. In many countries of Europe beer bottles are also returned, washed, sterilized and refilled; alas not in the UK. Apparently, according to government, it was never done in Britain and thus could never work here despite the fact that until the end of the 1970s this was done, last with lemonade bottles and until not so long ago – and in some cases still – with milk bottles.

Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.

Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Reducing and reusing also saves money, as do many of the other Rs, aside from being good for the Planet they are good for your wallet and bank balance too. If that isn't an incentive I don't know what ever would be.

And now for the U, even though this one should come well before this stage and that is:

Upcycling: This is the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Upcycling ideally, however, should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better than doing that.

Recycle: Yes, I have put recycling at the very bottom of the list, and not just of the Rs because of the way recycling, at least commercial recycling, generally, works. The problem with recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Just some food for thought, maybe.

© 2017

Himalayan salt lamps

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

salt_lampHimalayan salt lamps are not made with salt from the Himalayas for starters. They also do not release any negative ions or anything like that. They look pretty when lit by a light bulb or a candle, but that is about all.

Claims that salt lamps release any appreciable amount of negative ions have been shown to be untrue, and from a scientific point of view, not possible. You simply cannot alter the chemistry of salt using a light bulb or candle flame. But they can be quite pretty, so enjoy them for that reason, but don't get sold on any unproven therapeutic powers. http://www.snopes.com/salt-lamps-cure-everything/.

The so-called Himalayan salt is more than a bit of a misnomer as it does not actually come from the Himalayas but from the Pakistani Khewra Salt Mine in the Punjab region of Pakistan which is nowhere remotely near those mountains.

What goes for the lamps also goes for the so-called Himalayan salt that is claimed to have such great health benefits. Hello folks, it is just rock salt, only difference is that it is orange due to iron oxide, in other words "rust". This rock salt, aside from the color, is no different than any rock salt that you may buy in the shops, except that some cooking salt, as well as table salt, which is all rock salt unless it is sea salt, has iodine added.

While some self-proclaimed health experts will now scream that iodine is bad and should not be added, etc. ad infinitum, what is it that you would (hate to) take in the event of a nuclear accident or such? Yes, you got it, iodine. In fact, the iodization was done for health reasons. Iodised salt is table salt mixed with a minute amount of various salts of the element iodine. The ingestion of iodine prevents iodine deficiency.

So, just to recap on Himalayan Salt: it is rock salt that does not come from the Himalayas and is orange in color because it contains iron oxide, which is another word for rust. It has no negative ions and is not different to any other rock salt, such as you ordinary table or cooking salt, whether iodised or not. Don't fall for the clap-trap of the snake oil salesmen and -women.

© 2017

British festivals are utter rubbish!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

festival rubbish1The UK's biggest festivals churn out over 1,600 tons of all kinds of rubbish. Put into perspective that is as heavy as:

2500 cows, 250 T-Rex, 200 elephants, 20 Space Shuttles, or 15 Blue Whales. That is rather heavy, isn't it? And a load of rubbish that does not have to be.

June 2017 – An 800-strong clean-up crew descended on the Glastonbury site following the exit of 200,000 revelers, to tackle around 1,650 tons of waste – the most extensive cleanup effort in history!

Those 1,650 tons of waste include:
- 5,000 abandoned tents
- 6,500 sleeping bags
- 400 gazebos
- 54 tons of cans and plastic bottles
- 41 tons of cardboard
- 66 tons of scrap metal
- 3,500 airbeds
- 2,200 chairs
- 950 rolled mats

But it doesn't need to be this way:

For campers & attendees, why not consider the following:

  • Only pack what is absolutely essential - Remember to only take the bare minimum
  • Take home the tent - clean it up and save it for another festival, recycle it or donate to a homeless or refugee charity.
  • Put your rubbish in bins and recycle points
  • Bring reusable cutlery, crockery and cups
  • Share transport or use public transport

Food & drink providers can support the environment through:

  • Use biodegradable cups and food containers
  • Implement recycling rewards for customers such as half price drink in exchange for 20 recycled cups
  • Bring compost bins and recycling facilities
  • Give discount to those carrying and using their own reusable cups

While the festival season is slowly coming to an end for this year with the next two big ones being the Reading and Leeds festivals which will be finishing off this summer of music, I would like to ask both attendees and merchants to actively consider their impact on the environment, by making small changes. Together we can all make a big change. It is not rocket science.

© 2017

Londoners turn their bottles into beats for a Party in the Park

Revellers across the capital this weekend power a party to help keep parks green

x-defaultLondon, Monday 21st August (Press Release): London’s parks were left a little bit greener this weekend – as park revellers traded in their empty bottles for music beats.

Arriving unannounced into the capital’s most popular parks, the Kopparberg ‘Recycling Rig’ made its first stop across a number of hot spots, including London Fields, Victoria Park and Finsbury Park and powered music in exchange for empty cans and bottles.

Set to hit the road again across the bank holiday weekend - Londoners are being openly invited to a Kopparberg party in return for their environmental efforts. Taking place at East London’s Number 90on Saturday 26th August, attendees will be able to sample complimentary Kopparberg fruit ciderand lager and enjoy exclusive DJ sets from Pixie Geldof and DJ Yoda.

Built from up-cycled materials including reclaimed wood, the three-metre-high truck features a total of 30 music speakers, which are powered by the empties handed in by Londoners. The more that are handed in, the longer the music plays. The Kopparberg Recycling Rig is trading empties for retro playlists including remixes of popular classics and summer inspired hits hosted by a resident DJ.

Rob Salvesen, Senior Marketing Manager at Kopparberg says, “We have noticed that London’s parks have often been left in an untidy state on a summers day. As one of summer’s most popular drinks, we’ve launched the Kopparberg Recycling Rig, which is encouraging us all to do our bit, whilst having a good time too. This reflects a saying we live by in Kopparberg town, called Fanga Dågen, which translates to life is what you make it.”

Source: W C Communications

From plastic lotion bottle to tool holster (Reuse Recipe)

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Those plastic bottles that held hand lotion, or sun lotion, or the larger ones that held cleaning product of one kind or other, lend themselves very nicely to be upcycled into belt pouches/holsters for small tools like secateurs, etc.

lotion bottles to holsters1_webAnd it does not just have to be lotion bottles. There are also plastic cleaning material bottles that can thus be upcycled. Lotion bottles are somewhat smaller/shorter than the cleaning ones and thus the former need a belt loop of sorts added. The larger bottles can have it incorporated. One could also use purchased metal belt clips and attach one of those to the thus created holster.

The lotion bottles also make for useful “pocket protectors” in that they can be slipped (with the tool or without) into a back pocket or such. Those are also extremely useful for the DIY-er for screwdrivers, spanners and such, so as not to damage the pocket(s).

Ingredients:

  • Plastic lotion bottle (or similar)

Tools:

  • Xacto knife (Stanley knife in UK)
  • Cutting mat/board (I use an old plastic cutting board from kitchen)
  • Scissors

How to:

  • Using the Xacto knife carefully cut off the bottom of the bottle
  • With the scissors trim the cut off area (if it is a larger bottle then you may wish to cut it similar to the one on the left in the photo)
  • For belt wear you could cut slots in the back through which to thread the belt or, alternatively, using some other plastic stock from, say, plastic milk bottle, you could create a belt loop (see Harvesting Tub). (If you don't have rivets to use then a couple of small short bolts, nuts, and washers will do that equally well).

And, voila, ready...

© 2017

Urban gardening: The real green revolution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

urban gardening1Urban gardening, the gardening in the towns and suburbs, is highly political. Anyone who belittles this movement blocks his own view of this societal change.

If one would want to measure the success of a movement on the number of those that claim that it cannot possible be any good then the Urban Gardening Movement has during the few years that it has been in existence come a long way already.

Unfortunately there are some writers in newspapers and other media who belittle this to the extent that the state that those who long for the countryside and for gardening and farming should move to the countryside because towns and cities have been sealed, poisoned, and so on. They find it laughable that people are planting Marigolds in front of their doors or tomatoes on their balconies.

But many of those writers have actually no idea, it would seem, what this urban gardening and urban farming is all about. It is not about just growing food for oneself but to actually grow food for the people in the city, and in some cases those urban gardens are created in such a way that everyone can have the food for free (or almost for free) and the movement is growing regardless.

Urban gardening does not mean annexing of ground for private use but free access for all to grow food. It is a fact that the almost 500 urban community garden in Germany, for example, are some of the few places in the gentrified towns where people from different social strata meet in the public realm and interact by creating such gardens and working them.

Those urban community gardens are an innovative contribution to the restructuring of the living together in towns and cities where there is an increasing delineation between the different classes (and I do use the word class/classes here deliberately) which produces a great many risks for our living together in those spaces.

While growing produce for use by all, in community gardens “managed” and worked by all, by people from different strata and classes in the city, is one part of it such gardens also and especially aim to overcome the borders that have been created between people of different groups in society, in our increasingly gentrified towns and especially cities.

Through gardening together in reclaimed public spaces collective forms are created that can be seen as part of an ever strengthening commons movement even and especially in our towns and cities. Those forms could be the basis for new political framework to change society and all for the better.

Though not everyone may be realizing the potential that the urban gardening movement has to change the political structure and through it society as a whole. The powers-that-be, however, are well aware of its potential and thus use the media to belittle those that participate in this, whether in the form of community urban gardens or simply by trying to be somewhat more autark by turning their front and back yards and their balconies, etc., into spaces in which to grow at least some of their food.

People who are independent – to some extent – from the markets and people who join in community of whatever kind are perceived as a threat by the powers-that-be and thus every attempt possible is being made to discredit them in they eyes of the majority not as yet involved.

© 2017

Smallholder farmers need seat at climate table

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

DachaShort-term, reactive solutions are not enough to help smallholder farmers cope with climate change, according to a 2015 report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“If we are going to sustainably improve the livelihoods of the developing world’s smallholder farmers in the context of a changing climate, we need to ensure that their priorities are understood and reflected in policies,” says IFAD’s Vice President Michel Mordasini.

The report, prepared by IFAD, suggests that practical technical interventions, such as enhanced seeds and accurate weather forecasts, are not enough and that ultimately national policies, a legal framework, strategies and budgets will shape the opportunities for large numbers of rural women and men to adapt to a changing environment.

The report points out that smallholder farmers know best the realities they face, and if they are not adequately involved in policy processes, they risk losing out and being sidelined in decisions that directly determine their ability to cope and adapt. The report highlights IFAD’s support for policy dialogue between governments and farmers, including special provisions to ensure that the adaptation priorities of women, young people and indigenous peoples are also heard.

The report presents five country case studies of how IFAD is strengthening the enabling environment for farmers trying to cope with climate change. One of the featured case studies is from Sudan.

“In Sudan, IFAD is supporting the development of 300 community adaptation plans that enhance resilience of women and men,” says Khalida Bouzar, Director of IFAD’s North Africa, Near East and Europe Division. “IFAD is building capacities of technical staff at local and state levels and strengthening their understanding of climate change adaptation and natural resource management, promoting arrangements that help reduce resource-based conflicts, as well as supporting policy through the development of a Sectorial Adaptation Strategy relevant to the livestock sector. This strategy will in turn be implemented through the community adaptation plans, as we believe that while climate change is a global problem, climate action is a local solution.''

IFAD is also working to support governments in embedding smallholder adaptation priorities in national policies. In Mozambique, for example, IFAD is working with the Centre for the Promotion of Agriculture to support the mainstreaming of gender and climate change adaptation into national policies on horticulture, cassava and red meat production.

“IFAD stresses the importance of reinforcing national institutions in dealing with climate impacts on smallholder farmers,” says Margarita Astralaga, Director of IFAD’s Environment and Climate Division. “In the Gambia we support policy makers learn from the experience of countries facing similar challenges.”

The report highlights the importance of global processes, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), as opportunities to keep smallholder adaptation priorities in the limelight.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided nearly US$17 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 453 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN's food and agriculture hub.

But what IFAD actually does is concentrating on small farmers in the Third World – no, I am not playing the pc game by calling those countries “developing countries” – but seem to have little if any time for smallholders in the so-called developed world. They have to fend for themselves without anyone carrying the flame for them.

All the smallholders and small farmers the world over must be given a place at the climate table, so to speak, for it is, in fact they, and not industrialized agriculture, that will mitigate climate change and feed the world.

We need more small farmers and smallholders rather than large farms to feed the world and to capture carbon and prevent agricultural pollution reaching air and water courses, especially when the farming is done on a more or less organic level.

A look needs to be taken at how the small farms in Russia are working as to feeding the country and how more of such farms everywhere could really change food security. To get more such farms, however, would mean a serious land reform where those that truly are prepared to farm in a sustainable way to create food security for the nation (and the world) will be given land. This land can only come about, though, by expropriation of the large farms and also, such in the UK, the large, often unproductive, feudal estates, and the sooner this is being done the better.

© 2017

Are we living in a fake democracy?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

14883678_1319724531373984_2297869749991571431_oPlease see that question as a rhetorical one as the answer is not only yes, yes, and yes, but that we have nowhere, and I repeat and mean nowhere, democracy. Not in a single country of the world at this present moment.

Being permitted to vote every four or five years for the next captain and crew of the ship only to have it continue on the same course towards the abyss is not democracy. The truth of the matter is that we are not even living in a fake democracy; we do not live in any democracy at all.

As Mark Twain said, if voting would make any difference they would make it illegal. And as they have not made it illegal in all those years it must mean that it does not make an iota of a difference.

The fact is that not a single country that claims to be democratic and have democracy is and has nothing of the kind. They who claim that and they who believe that have no idea what democracy actually means in reality.

With every year that passes, another corrupt politician or political scheme is exposed. With increasingly right-wing political parties serving the interests of capitalism over the basic humanitarian needs of the people, is it possible that our system, for democratic it is not, is rigged against the majority in favor of an elite minority? I think the answer here is also a very loud and definite yes.

We only need to look at the European Union and especially with regards to the way they are dealing with Greece. Predominately the reason for having made it is difficult as possible for the Greek government under Syriza is that the great majority of Euro-Zone member states wish to remove the radical left Syriza from power in Athens.

Other methods of the EU are also more than undemocratic, even in the way democracy is seem by most at the present time, in that they, if there has to be, in a country, a referendum will, should it be a negative outcome, as in Ireland with regards to the Lisbon Treaty, force the member state to keep holding a referendum until the outcome is a positive one. If people still believe that we have democracy anywhere then they must be rather daft.

Now, let us look what democracy actually means. It means “the people govern themselves” as the word democracy comes from the Greek “demos” which has two meanings, in the same way that the second part of which the word is made up, “kratos”, has a second meaning. “Demos” means either “the people” or “the village” and “kratos” means either “govern themselves” or “pulls the cart itself”. So it is either “the people govern themselves” or “the village pulls the cart itself”. In both cases it is the people who do the governing, if you get the meaning.

And now someone show me any country where such democracy exists, where the people actually govern themselves. Such a self-government of the people also means that there is not state. The state and its apparatus are diametrically opposed to true democracy and it is this that we need to understand before we can even look at establishing democracy.

Democracy came from the village and to the village it must return, I wrote a while back, and this because true democracy can only work in small groups, in the village or the city block, which must become the village in the city. You can read my articles on this subject of democracy needing to return to the village here and here.

© 2017

Sloyd spoon carving

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

smal_spoon_paper_birch1_webLet's first quickly look at the meaning or etymology of the word “sloyd”. It comes from the Swedish “slöjd which is translated to mean sleight of hand, skilled or crafty, in other words, handcrafts or made by hand. Often it is put together with green woodworking but just means handcrafts and no more. Nowhere does it actually mean that the wood has to be so-called greenwood, that is to say wood that is freshly cut or laid up for no longer than 18 months.

Many a tutor in spoon carving will teach methods and often quite elaborate ways. But do we really need that? Personally I do not think so. It actually often gets in the way. The piece of wood will tell you what it wants to become and, within reason, it is much better to follow this rather than to work against it.

Often many things are made to appear so much more complicated than they actually should be and you can look at all the complicated ways that some people do things and how they, more or less, try to achieve what I would call “production runs” with everything looking almost the same. You only get that when you force your will upon the piece of wood, and I would always advise against that.

I always suggest the KISS system; keep it simple stupid. The most important thing is (1) to develop your own way and (2) to allow the piece of wood, as I said, with in reason, to be your guide via the grain structure as to what it wants to be and now it wants to look when done.

This requires, as so often in forestry and working with wood, the development of “the eye”, the skill to see what a piece of wood is destined to become by the way it is shaped, and then by the way the grain runs.

Yes, you can impose your will onto the piece of wood but often that means, possibly, weakening the grain structure at times. Best to follow the grain as much as possible and by doing so producing entirely unique pieces. This goes as much for carving spoons as for other treen goods.

© 2017

The photo above shows a spoon made from Paper Birch which fought me all the way but is an indication for letting the wood guide you as to shape, etc.

Matching neighborhood skills

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

20139988_1539078376130193_5453055660688507791_nThere was a time when everyone knew their neighbors and that not only in a village and they all knew who did what for a trade or who was good in this or that and, even more important, everyone was prepared to help one another.

Today, however, we barely acknowledge our neighbors let alone know them or know who in our community – what community? – we can go to for help in this or that matter.

There was a time when everyone knew that “Uncle” Erik just down the road was a barber, though he may be working in some other job now, and would be prepared, at his place or at your home, to cut the hair of the family. Or there was Old Bill (no, not the police) who did all manner of woodworking, or James, the mechanic, who would be prepared to fix this or that, including a car, on the weekend.

The community that government so often speaks of no longer exists and in many cases the very destruction of it, such as in the working class areas and the villages, was aided and abetted by the very government that keeps harping on about it and, more often than not, throws every conceivable spanner in the works when people want to bring community back into their areas. Obviously people that do things for themselves are a threat to the powers-that-be (but should not be, the powers I mean) on a local as much as on a central level.

If we, the people, want really and truly resurrect the community in our areas where we live then it is up to us to do it. Government is not going to do it. It will more than likely do its damnedest to prevent it, although in a clandestine and subtle manner.

Get to know your neighbors. Most of them are not going to bite. Start by acknowledging their existence. Smile, say “good morning”, “good day”, or whatever. Some may blank you initially but do persist. The day will come when they don't just reply but may actually engage in conversation. And then the ball starts rolling.

There is no community and can be no community if and when we do not know our neighbors and engage and interact with them.

When I was a youngster we had real community in our villages and even in especially the working class districts in the towns and cities. The drawback of that was though that when you got home of an evening your parents already knew what you had been up to during the day, good or bad. Everyone popped in and out of each others' homes, even if only for a natter, a cup of tea, to borrow some sugar, or whatever and everyone looked out for everyone else's children as if they were their very own.

You knew who had this tool or that you could borrow, who could fix your bicycle if you could not do it yourself, or who had a long ladder. You knew which skills everyone had in the community and also how prepared they were to help out, either for a fee or on a barter trade basis. People swapped garden produce and seeds, books, you name it and all the children called the adults uncle or aunt.

In the working class areas of the towns and cities it was, as already mentioned, equally the same and they were like little villages in that respect. Then again, those districts arose from villages and many still had that feel, to a degree, and definitely as far as community was concerned. That many of the men (and later also the women) working in the same factories and workshops probably also helped to cement this community and community spirit. And then, in Britain and elsewhere, came the redevelopments to improve the areas which was, more often than not in fact, social cleansing, and in London it is really in full swing more today than ever. Communities have been and are being broken up and people dispersed far and wide, as nuclear families and not as a whole community.

But it is up to us to build and rebuild our communities into real living and thriving ones, whether or not the powers-that-be like it or not. Attempts of this building and rebuilding of community are growing in many places, such as via the Transition (Town) Movement or their German equivalent, the Kietzwandler. But those are but a few of many. This aside from those that create alternative communities and even entire towns and villages on a new model, or new models.

As far as Transition Towns in the UK are concerned, aside from its small town of Totnes in Devon, where the movement sort of, started, it would appear that the greatest successes are had, for some strange reason, in the more urban areas, including and especially in inner London, such as Transition Town Brixton. In the more affluent areas, such as rural and semi-rural Surrey, etc., this ideas, and others of this nature) seem to be getting nowhere and are falling on deaf ears.

So what do I mean by matching neighborhood skills and why it is a good idea?

It means matching the skills, trades and what-have-you to the needs, so to speak, that members of the community may have. Need a plumber? Joe at No.10 is a professional plumber, so give him the job instead of calling in an outsider. Thus the money stays in the community. Need you PC fixed? Call on young Richard just a round the corner who knows how to do it and who builds his own systems. And this goes for every job – well, almost – that someone in the neighborhood may need doing and even the almost is with a great caveat for there may be more skilled people out there in our neighborhood, or people with skills, than we may be able to guess until we actually find out.

If we all use local skilled people to do the jobs that we may need doing the money stays in our community or it may even be done on a barter trade and thus does not go into the pockets of some boss somewhere. It is the same if you get your vegetables, eggs, etc. from local farms rather than the supermarkets or purchase other things from local makers.

Not only do those who perform the tasks benefit but we may actually get the job done cheaper and better that if we would go to an “outside” firm and at the same time we get to know those in our neighborhood and create some form of community cohesion (which can serve as the foundation for a real community).

One of the biggest problems today is that people have become very insular and shut themselves off from those around them. We hardly, if at all, know our neighbors and often do not even acknowledge them when we see them, out an about. But we can all change that in that we act differently. A smile, a “good day”, and such cost you nothing and if the other person does not reply still keep doing it. There will come the day when – suddenly – they will respond and the first steps to getting to know one another and to building some neighborliness and community are taken. That is the first step to Community Building. But, as said, it is just the first step. The rest really follows on from that. A blueprint for building community to give I do not think to be possible but a Community skills database for the purpose of sharing and caring but also allowing people to make some income is a great step in this direction also.

Such a database would match skills with needs and vice versa and can go a long way to bringing people together through mutual beneficial actions and thus can lead – and we should surely hope so – to real community where we go to our neighbors, close or not so close, to get things done or to learn skills rather than calling in outsiders.

But, in order to set up such a database and to match neighborhood skills with possible neighborhood needs requires that we get to know our neighbors first of all, at least the organizer(s) of such a database and matching service. So, let's go and do some matching and through this build communities in our neighborhoods.

© 2017

Nation wakes up to coffee cup recycling on-the-go-go

Veolia’s coffee cup recycling bins brew up a solution

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

NoPapercupUnderpinned by insight into coffee cup disposal habits and with trials supported by partners such as Costa and Starbucks, Veolia, the UK’s leading resource management company, is rolling out a national coffee cup recycling solution.

With 84% of takeaway hot drink consumers still using disposable cups, Veolia’s coffee cup solution aims to collect takeaway cups as soon as the consumer has finished their drink to reduce cup contamination and increase recycling rates.

The solution is now available to existing customers nationwide and to potential new customers, as part of a packaged service, and offers multiple service options. These include a specialist designed in-house recycling bin, a bulk collection option and a post back service – which is available to all business types nationally.

By capturing cups before they enter the general waste stream Veolia’s solution aims to get a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product. And the public is onboard.

The latest YouGov research shows a staggering 88% of the public would use a purpose-built bin to ensure their disposable paper cups is recycled. Almost half (47%) would even be willing to hold onto their cup for longer if they knew they would pass a purpose-built bin, and nearly a quarter (24%) would go out of their way to use one. As a result, Veolia is calling for more disposal locations, such as train stations, university campuses and offices, to step-up and help solve the coffee cup conundrum with them.

For regular takeaway hot drink consumers, those that buy at least four drinks a week or more, the most popular location for cup disposal is at work. In fact, over half (52%) cite the office as a disposal location, with ‘on-the-go’ locations such as train stations, service stations and on trains, the second most popular (40%) and then in coffee shops third (31%).

Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice-President at Veolia UK & Ireland, comments: “Over the last six months a lot of activities have been taking place with our customers, such as Costa and Starbucks to overcome our biggest challenge – contamination in the cups. As a result, we’ve worked on a solution that will separate the cup from the general waste stream as soon as the customer has enjoyed their drink – and we’re thrilled to see so much public support for cup recycling.

“Coffee cup recycling is now happening across the country but I’d like to take this opportunity to further encourage a mass collaboration between designers, manufacturers, vendors and consumers as we all have a part to play in making all of our packaging more environmentally friendly and ensuring our resources are kept in the loop for longer.”

Once the consumer has ‘Tipped-it, flipped-it and stacked-it’ – a process to ensure any remaining liquid is drained and the lid, sleeve and cup are separated – Veolia undertakes a further separation process to guarantee all rogue items have been removed. This is key because it will help to ensure a higher quality of material that can be reprocessed into a new product.

After the cups have been debagged, separated, checked for quality and contamination, and baled up they go on to further treatment at paper pulping facilities, which recover the fibers and separate the polymer plastic lining. Working with a number of outlets, the fiber could potentially be used to make a multitude of products such as egg boxes or cup holders given back out in stores or alternatively used in the manufacturing of cellulose-based insulation for homes.

OK, so much for what Violia UK says and now let's looks at the way the world really works, at least according to what I am being told by other experts in the waste management industry.

Violia UK is claiming to have a facility that can separate cardboard from the polymer liner of those cups. If that is the case than this is the only such plant and no one else in the waste industry heard of it being possible.

I know that I am a skeptic and rather sarcastic with regards to this but when 99.9% experts in the industry tell me that those “paper” cups with their polymer linings cannot be recycled and that separation of the two components is not possible I find the claims of one or two companies questionable in the extreme.

As I have said it is either the case that Violia UK has a facility that is capable of doing the things that the vast majority, bar one or two, claim cannot be done or somewhere along the line someone is rather economical with the truth.

It would be better by far if the beverage industry would get away from those cups and people would carry their own. There are enough alternatives available.

© 2017