Simple Tech

At the intersection of third world need and our first world’s gadget obsession lies a number of non-profit organizations attempting to help poor folks through the development of clever low-tech interventions. The rocket stove we featured earlier exemplifies this approach. With a rocket stove, which is made out of simple, easy to repair materials, you can burn twigs, newspaper and scrap wood rather than cutting down whole trees to make charcoal for cooking. Rocket stoves if adopted in wide numbers, have the potential to slow deforestation.

Another example is a wheelchair made out of the ubiquitous plastic lawn chair developed by an organization called the Free Wheelchair Mission. At just $44 a chair to manufacture and ship, the Free Wheelchair Mission hopes to, as they put it, “Transform lives through the gift of mobility”. The wheelchairs they produce use simple, cheap and easily replaceable parts, important in places where you can’t just shuffle down to the local Home Depot.

Our favorite source of what we call “simple tech” can be found in a huge compendium of on this suspicious site. We especially like the “APPRTECH” section which consists of detailed information on everything from solar stills to pedal powered devices.

Much of the tech info for third world counties is a strict one-way proposition. The university educated experts parachute in to offer advice to the locals but don’t bother to take any lessons back. Sometimes this arrangement goes bad when the technology developed by the “experts” breaks down when the parts can’t be sourced locally.

There can also be a considerable amount of arrogance in asking poor folks living in places decimated by the legacy of colonialism, and our rapacious WTO/World Bank/global economy to “make do” while we in the first world bleed them dry for the raw materials that keep our SUVs, plasma screens and iPhones running. Isn’t it time we in the first world used some of these low-tech ideas–say by replacing our iPhones with a flock of chickens?

Do you know how many chickens you can get for the price of an iPhone? Two hundred. Of course your deluxe $100 iPhone calling plan courtesy of AT&T will only pay for around 400 pounds of chicken feed a month, so the fiscally prudent will trim that flock down to around 65 chickens. Of course if you let that flock catch the spill-over from the draft horses that will replace your Chevy Yukon when the shit goes down, you can save even more.

Nuts!

As of fall 2007 truly raw almonds will no longer be available in the US or Canada, because the USDA, FDA, and the California Almond Board has released a marketing order that all almonds be pasteurized. This is due to two recent salmonella outbreaks, the cause of which, in Homegrown Revolution‘s opinion, is the usual poor factory farming practices. But it gets worse, according to the folks at the Weston A. Price foundation,

There is an even bigger issue. The FDA has decided not to tell the consumer the truth about this processing step. The almonds you will buy in Wholefoods this fall may still say “raw almonds but they will have been subjected to high heat and a five log kill step…that they are calling Pasteurization”. This lie is being permitted by the marketing order!!

But there’s even more bad news since pasteurization, according to the Almond Board of California, involves a choice of steam, high heat or, we kid you not, highly toxic and carcinogenic propylene oxide once used as a racing fuel, an insecticidal fumigant and an ingredient in thermobaric weapons. Thank you Almond Board and FDA!

But it turns out we all may have been buying pasteurized and bad tasting almonds all along without knowing it. Hidden in this little reported story is the dirty secret of how Trader Joe’s is able to offer cheap nuts. According to D & S Ranches, which runs a group of orchards in California’s San Joaquin Valley,

The Almonds that you see in retail stores, particularly the big chains, and membership stores, are usually very inferior for a number of reasons.

First, they are almost never a single variety, but rather a “mix” of many different Almonds. They are rarely sized for uniformity or inspected for quality and they contain a large portion of broken and scratched nuts and are mostly smaller nuts. This reduces the wholesale costs on the nuts and increases the profit for the store..

But the biggest problem is the transportation and storage. They are usually not stored properly and are exposed to odors around them in warehouses that contain everything from cases of motor oil to TV sets. They have endured truck rides around the country, in and out of long storage periods in hot warehouses or “distribution centers”. Proper industry standard cold storage is critical to maintain nut quality, and large chain stores do not have the facilities, the expertise, and frankly don’t care very much about, proper storage.

Recently large chains like Trader Joes and Costco have begun obtaining “pasteurized” Almonds This is a disaster. It effectively destroys all the delicate Almond Flavor, but it has one big benefit. It allows enormous profit for the store. This is because, “just any old nuts” including ones that are years old, imported from unknown sources and perhaps not USDA inspected, of questionable quality, to be “thrown into the pasteurizer machine” and the resulting nuts can be made safe for human consumption! They are tasteless and terrible, but you can safely eat them, and you will be happy to know that you are helping the share holders of that big corporate chain, because they bought the nuts for a fraction of what quality fresh nuts would cost.

The other moral here is to incorporate nut trees into your landscaping. Why plant a useless ficus tree when you can plant something that will provide food? And come harvest time you wont need to mix in any racing fuel.

A New Source of Fuel


Homegrown Revolution comrades, the Yes Men have pulled off a rather nice stunt:

June 14, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

EXXON PROPOSES BURNING HUMANITY FOR FUEL IF CLIMATE CALAMITY HITS
Conference organizer fails to have Yes Men arrested

Text of speech, photos, video: http://www.vivoleum.com/
GO-EXPO statement: http://newswire.ca/
Contact: [email protected]
More links at end of release.

Imposters posing as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC) representatives delivered an outrageous keynote speech to 300 oilmen at GO-EXPO, Canada’s largest oil conference, held at Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta, today.

The speech was billed beforehand by the GO-EXPO organizers as the major highlight of this year’s conference, which had 20,000 attendees. In it, the “NPC rep” was expected to deliver the long-awaited conclusions of a study commissioned by US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The NPC is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, who is also the chair of the study. (See link at end.)

In the actual speech, the “NPC rep” announced that current U.S. and Canadian energy policies (notably the massive, carbon-intensive exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands, and the development of liquid coal) are increasing the chances of huge global calamities. But he reassured the audience that in the worst case scenario, the oil industry could “keep fuel flowing” by transforming the billions of people who die into oil.

“We need something like whales, but infinitely more abundant,” said “NPC rep” “Shepard Wolff” (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), before describing the technology used to render human flesh into a new Exxon oil product called Vivoleum. 3-D animations of the process brought it to life.

“Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production,” noted “Exxon rep” “Florian Osenberg” (Yes Man Mike Bonanno). “With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.”

The oilmen listened to the lecture with attention, and then lit “commemorative candles” supposedly made of Vivoleum obtained from the flesh of an “Exxon janitor” who died as a result of cleaning up a toxic spill. The audience only reacted when the janitor, in a video tribute, announced that he wished to be transformed into candles after his death, and all became crystal-clear.

At that point, Simon Mellor, Commercial & Business Development Director for the company putting on the event, strode up and physically forced the Yes Men from the stage. As Mellor escorted Bonanno out the door, a dozen journalists surrounded Bichlbaum, who, still in character as “Shepard Wolff,” explained to them the rationale for Vivoleum.

“We’ve got to get ready. After all, fossil fuel development like that of my company is increasing the chances of catastrophic climate change, which could lead to massive calamities, causing migration and conflicts that would likely disable the pipelines and oil wells. Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us.”

“We’re not talking about killing anyone,” added the “NPC rep.” “We’re talking about using them after nature has done the hard work. After all, 150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects every year. That’s only going to go up – maybe way, way up. Will it all go to waste? That would be cruel.”

Security guards then dragged Bichlbaum away from the reporters, and he and Bonanno were detained until Calgary Police Service officers could arrive. The policemen, determining that no major infractions had been committed, permitted the Yes Men to leave.

Canada’s oil sands, along with “liquid coal,” are keystones of Bush’s Energy Security plan. Mining the oil sands is one of the dirtiest forms of oil production and has turned Canada into one of the world’s worst carbon emitters. The production of “liquid coal” has twice the carbon footprint as that of ordinary gasoline. Such technologies increase the likelihood of massive climate catastrophes that will condemn to death untold millions of people, mainly poor.

“If our idea of energy security is to increase the chances of climate calamity, we have a very funny sense of what security really is,” Bonanno said. “While ExxonMobil continues to post record profits, they use their money to persuade governments to do nothing about climate change. This is a crime against humanity.”

“Putting the former Exxon CEO in charge of the NPC, and soliciting his advice on our energy future, is like putting the wolf in charge of the flock,” said “Shepard Wolff” (Bichlbaum). “Exxon has done more damage to the environment and to our chances of survival than any other company on earth. Why should we let them determine our future?”

About the NPC and ExxonMobil: About the NPC and Exon Mobil
About the Alberta oil sands: About Alberta oil sands
About liquid coal: Sierra club on liquid coal

The Rag and Bone Man


Loyal Homegrown Revolution reader Ken M wrote us with a challenge for us to figure out what can be done with old rags. Ken says that he’s made a rag rug once and proposes the intriguing idea of “patching a pair of jeans with rags for so many years that eventually every single thread from the original has been worn away and replaced by rags.” This sounds a bit like a poetic inversion of Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece“, in which she sat motionless on stage and invited the audience to slice off bits of her clothing.

So what to do with the rags?

1. Compost them–cotton rags will decompose just fine.

2. Mulch–a layer of cotton will make a good first layer. We’ve used newspaper in the past with organic material on top, but in our dry climate here in LA the newspaper can actually prevent water from getting to the soil when it rains. We’re guessing that cotton might work better.

3. Household cleaning–this is obvious, but we do go through quite a few rags with our too few household cleanings, not to mention keeping the bicycle chains clean.

4. Paper making–one traditional method of paper making begins with fermenting cotton rags in water for a few weeks and then beating them to a pulp with hammers. The rag and bone man pictured above is collecting rags for paper making (the bones went to make glue and other things). The contemporary version of the rag and bone man are the thift stores that ship our old clothes to the third world putting local garment makers out of business.

Ken also speculates about weaving rags, which as this website shows, yields some attractive results. The thought of weaving with rags reminds us of the late “Slim” Sirnes, a resident of the bizarre ghost town of Goldfield Nevada, who Homegrown Revolution was privileged to have met up with a few years ago. Sirnes found a way to shred aluminum cans and weave them on a loom of his design creating a unique metallic fabric that he used as a building material and to make art. Watch Slim in action here.

Plastic or Wood?

Some time ago the folks at the FDA and USDA recommended that we replace our wooden cutting boards with plastic ones (such as the fine Elvis model on the right). This injunction rose out of rising fears of salmonella and e-coli poisoning in our food, which are, by the way, the signature bacteria of our deplorable factory farming system. But that’s another rant.

This rant is about the boards. So as we were saying, it was out with the nasty, old-fashioned, disease harboring wood boards, and in with the shiny space age boards. We fell for it. The Homegrown Revolution compound boasts a set of plastic boards (though not Elvis ones). And now what do we find out? Researchers at both UC Davis and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have discovered that plastic is not only quite good at harboring bacteria, so good that the small cuts in a cutting board are uncleanable by any means but also, and this is the kicker, wooden boards actually kill bacteria.

Researchers inoculated plastic and wooden boards with raw chicken juice fortified with bacteria. Within three minutes 99 percent of the bacteria on the wooden boards had vanished, while the bacteria on the plastic boards remained healthy. Puzzled, the researchers left the boards to sit overnight. The next morning the plastic boards boasted a healthy and increased bacterial population, while the wooden boards tested bacteria free.

FDA Bastards! Could they not have run this simple test before scaring us into buying the plastic boards? Did the plastic industry pay them to make that recommendation?

This just drives home what we already knew, and what just proves more true every passing day: plastic sucks. It is a dreadful mistake of the last century which has to meet its end this century–though of course the plastics we’ve already made will haunt us for all eternity. [Editors note: Mr. Homegrown Revolution is not crazy about plastics either but not quite as zealous, noting that Mrs. Homegrown Revolution typed this missive on a device made almost entirely of plastic. Steve Jobs has yet to come out with an iBook made from bamboo and corn husks. That being said, this haunting video about the impact of plastic on the ocean drives home the point that we need to drastically cut back our consumption of plastics and only use them for essentials]

Okay, these are the new rules. We are going to phase as many plastics out of the homestead as we can. We won’t toss what we have in the landfill right now, but when it is time to replace it, this is how it’s going down:

Wood and metal utensils instead of plastic
Glass storage containers instead of Tupperwear
Wool blankets instead of Polarfleece blankets
Down filling instead of polyester filling (even for allergy sufferers)*
Silk and wool fabrics for athletics instead of petroleum based technical fabrics
Sigg bottles instead of plastic water bottles
Sturdy reusable shopping bags instead of disposable shopping bags
Washable dish cloths instead of cellulose sponges
General avoidance of plastic packaging at the supermarket.

*Dust mites breed in much greater profusion in synthetic bedding than in down.

Our Favorite Searches


Homegrown Revolution occasionally gets a laugh reviewing the search phrases that land people on this blog. At times the phrases resemble a kind of random internet haiku. We thought we’d review a few of them and respond.

“is Roundup bad for cats”

YES! Roundup, Monsanto’s ubiquitous herbicide, is bad for all living things.

“how to survive living out of your car”

We’d suggest a subscription to Dwelling Portably for answers to that.

“how to make methamphetamine using a 5 gallon bucket”

Can’t help you there, but we can suggest a healthier use for a 5 gallon bucket.

“pizza dough peak oil flour”

It may be shameless promotion, but we think we’re the only source for a pizza recipe for peak oil fans. Of course, sticklers for detail will point out that we did not grow and grind our own flour. We’ll get to how to do that soon.

injera get bad without refrigeration”

We made a very successful batch of the Ethiopian bread injera back in March without any refrigeration involved. In fact refrigeration would probably prevent it from fermenting as it’s supposed to. Comrades, it’s time to overcome your food safety paranoias!

“Accidentally flushed tampon applicator”

Our favorite search phrase, and in fact something we’ve witnessed first hand when we paid a visit to a sewage treatment plant back in February.

Homegrown Revolution at the Silver Lake Film Festival

Thanks to the cinematic revolutionaries at the Echo Park Film Center, Homegrown Revolution’s debut video “How to Build a Self Watering Container” will premiere at the Silver Lake Film Festival, as part of the Sustainable LA program on SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY May 6th at 11:30 a.m. at the LosFeliz 3 (1822 North Vermont Avenue-map).

We’ll be sharing a program with composting Culver City comrade Elon Schoenholz, the Fallen Fruit dudes, and even the illustrious Midnight Ridazz, who have agreed to wake up before noon to attend.

Join us for the after-party, and the after-after-party during which we’ll go find a barricade to storm.

The Survivor

We interrupt this dull series of articles about rainwater harvesting for important breaking news at our urban homestead–the development of the SurviveLA signature cocktail–the Survivor.

For a long time we’ve cursed the previous owners of our compound for their useless, inedible landscaping. One of the plants they left us that we’ve lived with for all these years is an ornamental pomegranate tree (Punica granatum) that, while attractive, we had previously assumed was useless due to the very small fruit. We’ve tried to eat them, and found the flavor a little too tart, and the seeds difficult to extract. Thanks to a tip on the internets, we discovered that the answer to using ornamental pomegranates is to juice them.

The fresh juice was surprisingly sweet and flavorful, leading us immediately to grab the cocktail shaker and develop the long overdue SurviveLA cocktail:

3 oz pomegranate juice (from your own tree, of course)
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1 oz citrus vodka

Now, we’re more the stern gin drinking types around here, but the citrus vodka seemed to provide the right note of tartness to balance out the sweet pomegranate juice. The name, Survivor, is in part a dedication to the plant itself. Pomegranates can survive with little or no water in terrible soil and never seem to need to be fertilized.

As a symbol the pomegranate can be found in all of the cultures of the Mediterranean. From the Wikipedia entry:

In the sixth century BCE, Polykleitos took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a royal orb, in the other. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” whispered the traveler Pausanias in the second century AD, “for its story is something of a mystery.”

We propose that Hera ditch her scepter and instead grasp a cold martini glass containing the newest cocktail of 2007, the Survivor.