3D Greetings

Homegrown Evolution’s holiday gift to our readers is a headache. Well, to be precise, we offer you three dimensional images of two of our favorite garden plants. Above, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) and, below, spearmint (Mentha Spicata). To view these two images in three dimensions follow these instructions, specifically the bit about “parallel viewing”. Be persistent, like all good things it might take some practice.

We taught ourselves how to free view three dimensional images a long time ago and, in additional to it being good for your eye muscles, it opens up a whole world of fun with old stereoscopic images such as these.

To make your own stereographs all you need to do is take two pictures slightly spaced apart. As long as your subject doesn’t move you can do it with just one camera. Full instructions here.

For those of you who, after an hour of reviewing those parallel viewing instructions, now have a headache can’t uncross your eyes, we suggest downing a few cups of eggnog to make things just fine in the new year.

Bikin’ in LA

LA Bike path with billboard courtesy of SoapBoxLA

When riding a bike in a city like Los Angeles I’ve come to the realization that it’s best to cultivate a stoic, ninjaesque calm while squeezing betwixt the masses of cell phone wielding Neanderthals piloting their four ton land yachts. Unfortunately, I sometimes lose my temper. But over the past few years since I climbed back on a bike, I’ve discovered that it’s best to brush off the inevitable indignities and pretend all those Neanderthals are rushing off somewhere important like, say, to save a drowning puppy or sing Christmas Carols at a nursing home.

The ethos I try to live by is: on the bike stay calm and enjoy the craziness of it all (it’s like skiing with SUVs, after all), off the bike raise hell. And, as the bike path photo above from über bike activist Stephen Box’s SoapBoxLA blog demonstrates, there’s plenty to raise hell about with Los Angeles’ terminal car-centric design. For me the issue ain’t about bikes–I actually enjoy hauling ass through congested rush hour traffic on two wheels. Instead my off bike ire is more about two questions that, I hope, everyone will care about whether you ride a bike or not:

1. Can children safely walk or ride their bikes to school and thus avoiding becoming fat, Xbox addicted idiots. Or, do they have to go everywhere tethered to mommy and daddy in steel and glass bubbles never learning anything about independence.

2. Can elderly folks safely walk to a market, church, bingo hall without having to get behind the wheel of a car.

In Los Angeles and most of the rest of the country the answer to both of these questions is a big fat, obese NO! However, we’re at a turning point here in L.A. The testifying and lobbying that we in the bike community have been working on has begun to pay off and, I hope, make life for everyone here better.

When folks talk to me about national politics I say, sure you should vote but it’s the local that really matters. It’s by speaking at city council meetings or just writing letters to local officials that we can make the changes to our world that need to be made. In the case of transportation, it doesn’t matter whether you are right, left, libertarian or whatever. We all have the right to safe, inexpensive mobility no matter our age, race or income level. Tell your local officials!

To find out more about what’s been going on in Los Angeles read:

Los Angeles Magazine’s account of the local bike community
The recently revived SoapBoxLA
StreetsblogLA

Do Something Day

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, we present a memorable Craigslist ad found by our comrade, neighbor and art blogger Doug Harvey while looking for a refrigerator to replace the one that got fried in a freak electric storm the other night,

“Never used, brand new 2008 GE Energystar fridge in original box. Blessed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama upon his last visit to Los Angeles, this fridge is sure to maintain the temperature and spiritual balance of all food. Due to health and dietary restrictions and my strict belief in the tenets of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, I asked his holiness Tenzing Norbu to bless the fridge upon his last visit. He guaranteed blessings and long life would be bestowed upon the fridge and the contents it protects. We have not used the fridge yet and unfortunately we need to move and can not bring the fridge with us. It is sad, but we are happy to give this spiritual appliance to another.”

At $1,500 Harvey passed over the Dalai Lama blessed “spiritual appliance” due to budget constraints and, no doubt, queasiness attributing supernatural qualities to an refrigerator. An ad for BMW takes this animist notion of consumer objects to the next level, simultaneously making fun of our obsession with consumerism and, in a kind of post-modern mental judo, using that perceived obsession to sell cars (a healthy dose of sex doesn’t hurt).

It’s this type of hyper-consumerism that provokes a backlash from organizations such as Adbusters, the folks behind Buy Nothing Day. Yet, I wish that Buy Nothing Day was, instead, Do Something Day or, perhaps, Build Something Day. In our book and presentations we’ve distanced ourselves from the dourness of the environmental movement, preferring ideas to be presented in the positive rather than the negative, in the form of actions rather than protests. So rather than head to the mall today we propose learning an odd and useless task, say the feat of balancing on chairs.

From Practical Projects for the Handy Man published in 1913,

Among the numerous physical exercises is the feat of balancing on the two rear legs of a chair while one foot rests on the front part of the seat and the other on the back of the chair. This may appear to be a hard thing to do, yet with a little practice it may be accomplished. This exercise is one of many practiced by the boys of a boys’ home for an annual display given by them. A dozen of the boys will mount chairs at the same time and keep them in balance at the word of a commanding officer.

So on this first Do Something Day, the crashing sound heard around the Homegrown Evolution compound this weekend will be the sound of a middle-aged eco-blogger falling over backwards . . . Now go out and Do Something!

The New Home Economics

photo above by whiteafrican photo on right by Wayan Vota

So what is this simple, elegantly designed object? It’s a bottle opener from Africa as seen on one of our favorite blogs, AfriGadget. Tough times call for elemental solutions, not to mention popping the cap off a beer.

And speaking of tough times and ingenuity, with our economy continuing to meltdown and unemployment on the rise (check out this youtube interview with author Nasim Nicholas Taleb and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot for a real scare), we’ve begun to see sudden interest in the long forgotten topic of home economics. A good example of this new home economics is 30 bucks a week, the recipes and strategies of a couple in Brooklyn attempting to limit their grocery bills to, yes, just $30 a week.

But back to that African beer bottle opener pictured above. Yes, it exists in the context of poverty, but it’s also a symbol of hope, of facing adversity with resourcefulness, a sense of style and play.

Vote Yes on 2 (if you’re in Cali)

Homegrown Evolution ain’t making any political endorsements regarding that little election thingy happening tomorrow, with the exception of California’s Proposition 2, a measure that would, “prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to tum around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” Whether you are left, right, center, libertarian, carnivore, vegetarian or none of the above we think this measure is an important first step in reforming appalling and unsafe agricultural practices that have become all to prevalent since the disappearance of family farms in the 1970s.

Does Proposition 2 address the underlying problems, i.e. bloated farm bills and agricultural policies that subsidize and incentivize large scale industrial farms? Is keeping chickens in big sheds with no sunlight (“cage free” and “free range”) a good idea and will prop 2 take care of this? Sadly, no on both counts. But we’ve gotta start somewhere.

We were especially ticked off to see that University of California veterinarians, supported by our tax dollars (not to mention our past tuition dollars), have lent their support to the anti-prop 2 campaign alleging that removing animals from confinement will lead to disease outbreaks. Since these researchers get their funding from industrial agriculture, one can’t expect anything but biased, junk science. Given the funding situation, it’s also wise to view all extension service advice, even tips directed at home gardeners, with skepticism.

We’ll be voting yes on 2 and, sorry UC, you’ll never see any alumni contributions from us!

Food Fight

Homegrown Evolution readers in the Los Angeles area can catch a free screening of a new documentary by Chris Taylor called Food Fight on Saturday November 8th at 3:15 p.m. at the Mann Chinese 6 (6801 Hollywood Blvd.). Food Fight centers on the influence of Alice Waters founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley restaurant that pioneered the use of fresh, organically grown foods and what later came to be called “California Cuisine”. In addition to Waters, Food Fight features interviews with food pundits Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Dan Barber and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Homegrown Evolution viewed a preview copy and particularly enjoyed a segment on Chez Panisse’s mercurial chef Jeremiah Tower and the quixotic attempt by congressman Ron Kind to reform the last farm bill. While the California-centric local food movement portrayed in Food Fight can easily be dismissed as an elitist lifestyle for the wealthy, (it ain’t cheap to dine at Chez Panisse, any of Puck’s eateries or shop at farmers markets) Food Fight makes the case that we all pay a hidden cost for cheap processed supermarket food, namely obesity, diabetes and a host of other nutrition related maladies.

For more information and to view a preview go to www.foodfightthedoc.com

Bisphenol-A


Above, the bisphenol-A or BPA molecule, a type of plastic found in all kinds of products including baby bottles, plastic food containers, Nalgene bottles, some wines (from the plastic stoppers and the lining of fermentation tanks) and the lining in metal cans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s safe, a viewpoint contradicted by at least 100 studies. The problem: BPA is a endocrine disruptor linked to a host of problems, according to some researchers, including cancer, obesity, childhood hyperactivity and the early onset of puberty in girls.

We’ve done our best around our little urban homestead to eliminate plastics from our lives, but where we still encounter BPA is in canned foods which we like to have on hand. Next time you pop open a can take a look at the inside–odds are there is a nearly invisible clear plastic lining which is where you’ll find the BPA. So with BPA we have yet another one of those throw up your hands in disgust, anger and desperation moments at the supermarket. What to do?

Canning your own food is one good option. We started doing this last year and it’s surprisingly easy. The Ball company’s website can get you started on that project. Drying and pickling foods are other alternatives. Also, not all processed food manufactures use BPA. Eden Foods, available at health food stores, skips the BPA.

Separating industry sponsored junk science from government policy is another important, though much more difficult step. Within the means of each of us is developing our own scientific literacy as individual citizens. Read the studies, write your government representatives and fire up that hot water canning bath.

Homegrown Evolution at Modern Times San Francisco

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution will be delivering a talk and doing a book signing of our book The Urban Homestead at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco this Wednesday October 15th at 7:30 p.m (Mr. Homegrown will be resting his polyester clad derriere back at the urban homestead in Los Angeles). Modern Times is located at 888 Valencia Street in the beating heart of the Mission District. Come on out and support this indepedent, collectively owned bookstore which has been in business since 1971 and hear Mrs Homegrown talk about vegetables, chickens and much more.

Friday Afternoon Linkages–Some Fun, Some Scary

Life is like a seesaw with a rusty bolt–a good kid on one end and a bad kid on the other and no way to tell whose ass is gonna hit the ground hardest. On the fun side of life’s pesky algebra equation this week:

Mark Frauenfelder is experimenting with a unique way of drying persimmons using a traditional Japanese method as pictured on the left.

Meanwhile, in a busy month of blogging, the intrepid urban homesteaders over at Ramshackle Solid show you how to make depression style candles, sweet potato and yam chips, and acorn flour. All great projects for our world’s ongoing “deleveraging”.

And, speaking of deleveraging, on the oooooh, scary we’re all going to die side of the equation:

David Khan of Edendale Farms has a video from peak oil partisan Matthew Simmons on a run on the gas station scenario that we’ll let you all ponder.

And in the really scary department, Dr. Oerjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University, aboard the Russian research ship Jakob Smirnitskyi in the Arctic Ocean, reports:

“We had a hectic finishing of the sampling program yesterday and this past night. An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface.”

No comment other than . . . yow! Full story here.

Homegrown Evolution Visits the Los Angeles County Fair

There’s a guy I sometimes see on my morning jogs commuting to work on what looks like a kid’s scooter outfitted with an electric motor. The high price of gas has, in fact, driven folks here in L.A. to increasingly bizarre forms of transportation: barely functional 1980s Mercedes Benzes running on deep fryer fat, scooters, golf cart like electric cars etc. I’m waiting for folks to adopt the glorious, 19th century bicycle, and while many have, I’m not holding my breath until gas prices get much higher. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know the “pain at the pump” has gotten really bad when we start to see the return of draft horses to Los Angeles. To preview that possibility and experience the fading agricultural glory of Los Angeles County we headed to the Los Angeles County Fair this past week. Here’s a pictorial tour:

It was a real pleasure to view the elegant moves of the draft horses and their handlers. The competition we watched involved maneuvering a carriage around obstacles, backing up into a tight space, stopping at a mail box and weaving around some cones. Good training for pulling that carriage into L.A.’s many mini-malls. All that was missing from the competition was text messaging while driving.

The big highlight of the fair for us was visiting the beekeeping booth, viewing a display hive and talking with a knowledgeable beekeeper (didn’t get a decent picture). Best of all we made contact with our local beekeeping club, and we’ll have information next month for those of you in the L.A. area who are interested in keeping bees.

From beekeeping we jumped on over to the home economics competitions and marveled at the preserved foods display. With the recent success of Pickle Fest 2008, we predict a new batch of competitors in next year’s competition.


Mrs. Homegrown Evolution got obsessed with determining the judging criteria of the bizarre “tablescaping” competition. Mr. Homegrown Evolution marveled at a tablescaping entry that managed to incorporate LA subway maps.

Sadly, there was a lot of lame stuff at the fair as well. Los Angeles was once the wealthiest agricultural county in the United States. Now, as one local agricultural official put it to me, “we grow houses” and our county fair that reflects that fact. Out went the 4-H clubs and in comes the corporate sponsors.

Taking the place of what used to be livestock competitions was a farm animal exhibition called “Fair View Farms” sponsored by McDonald’s. Do I need to comment on the irony of that bit of branding? Fair View Farms featured bleak panoramas, such as this large pen of pigs with, oddly, a bunch of ordinary roosters pecking around.

What happened to all the different animal breeds I remember from the San Diego Fair?

McDonald’s also sponsored a revisionist nutrition re-education compound, the educational content of which would make papa Stalin proud. When I dropped by, a bunch of bored school kids, sitting amongst straw bales, were being taught how to make a fruit smoothie by Monica Montes, R.D., who was sporting one of those wearable microphones just like the drive-through cashiers at McDonald’s use. I fled, fearing that I might ask something snarky during the question and answer session. I guess every R.D. has their price. Who knows, with the high cost of Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s recent root canal, you may soon see our backyard chicken flock hit the road sponsored by, say, Carls Jr.

And speaking of Stalinist re-education, the dairy council entertained us with a heavily pixelated web video transferred to DVD all about the wonders of industrial milk production. They carefully glossed over the way cows are kept in massive pens with no access to pasture and, instead, wisely decided to focus, in great detail, on how they manufacture plastic milk bottles. They even showed us how the bottles are shrink wrapped and placed on pallets. And what says “fun day at the fair” more than watching “palletizing” on a TV placed in a vintage 1980s entertainment cabinet while sitting in 100º heat?

To end on a less cranky note, we’ll leave you with these lovely vintage diagrams done in a classic early 20th century sign making style, one below and one at the top of this post. It’s really hard to say when they were made.