Beat the Bag Tax with Ohyo and Felix Conran

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ohyo BagThe makers of Ohyo, the collapsible reusable water bottle, originally named “Aquatina”, together with designer Felix Conran bring us now a new product that will not just be something to beat the plastic bag tax hits England on October 5, 2015, but that will also eliminate the use for a multitude of other bags.

The plastic bag tax hits England on October 5th when shoppers will be charged 5p per bag and Ohyo and Felix Conran have teamed up to produce a neat solution to this, namely the Ohyo Bag.

The UK-made Ohyo Bag is a bag that can you use every day for different uses but which can expand to accommodate your groceries. It is something of a transformer bag as it is:

• a tablet bag that increases in size to hold your gym kit.

• a travel bag that gets bigger to accommodate those last minute purchases.

• a backpack that adjusts for a long or short trip.

So, the Ohyo Bag is smart, desirable and can adapt to whatever the day throws at you and it truly is a case (or bag) of one size fits all.

Ohyo Bag launches on Kickstarter in late September with deliveries expected for Christmas.

Felix Conran, designer of the Ohyo Bag said “When Guy came to me with this problem, I was excited about creating a design that was both adaptable and desirable. The result is clever and surprisingly simple; the utility strips coupled with the gorgeous split rings allow you to make the OHYO bag yours!”

Although famously rejected by the dragons on the BBC programme Dragons’ Den (UK’s Shark Tank equivalent) for his original invention, Ohyo the Collapsabottle, Guy is delighted to have proved them wrong with the Ohyo’s widespread customer appeal, 700,000 sales to date, commercial success and international distribution.

“There’s only one thing worse than a bag of plastic bags under your sink, and that’s a bag of re-usable bags that you never remember to take with you. I invented Ohyo Bag to adapt to whatever the day throws at you.”

Ohyo ( manufacture Ohyo the Collapsabottle in Sheffield and manage the Find-a-Fountain campaign to promote free water sources in the UK – for more information visit

Guy Jeremiah, inventor of Ohyo the Collapsabottle, is also the inventor of the Ohyo Bag. Guy was famously slated by Duncan Bannatyne on Dragon’s Den, who threw the bottle back at him in rage. Guy’s more than delighted to have proved the dragons wrong. The bag has been designed by Felix Conran, a London designer and a third generation of the well-known Conran Design family.

The Ohyo Bag, designed by Felix Conran in London, is manufactured in London by Jas Sehmbi at Jas MB Ltd, and the bags are expected to retail at £79, however early bird purchases will be available on Kickstarter for £59.

A great concept as it does away with the need for multiple bags, which is a win-win situation itself, and it also means less stuff.

Once samples are available I hope to be able to give this bag a thorough testing and review it in the virtual pages of this magazine.

© 2015

Experience: foraging nearly killed me

‘We realised we were reacting to something we’d eaten, but as we tried to work out what, we became confused’

I went to Sicily to learn about Mediterranean horticulture as part of my degree. I’d agreed to work in an ornamental garden on a huge estate for six months, helping to grow crops for the local culinary school to use in their experimental Sicilian cuisine. One night a couple of months in, though, things got more experimental than I had bargained for.

I was sharing a cottage in the grounds with two other foreign students, an American and a Canadian. One evening, they returned from a foraging trip with some leaves they’d found on the estate, which they had identified as chard. They were already cooking when I got in from the garden. It was late and I was ravenous, and I ate at least twice as much of the boiled greens as either of the others. It was a good meal, slightly bitter, but that’s not unusual in the region and, seasoned with salt and a little lemon juice, it went down a treat.

For dessert, we had fresh blood oranges, but I took one bite and spat mine out – it was mouldy. The other two had the same reaction, but when we examined the fruit they looked perfectly fresh. Rinsing our mouths out with bottled water didn’t help, either – that had the same mouldy taste. We realised we must all be reacting to something we’d eaten, but as we tried to work out what, we became confused.

Read more here.

LA County Gets Rolling on Turning Ugly Vacant Lots Into Useful Urban Farms


LA has been pushing for tax breaks for owners of vacant urban lots who lease out the neglected land to people who want to farm on it, and now the LA County Board of Supervisors (which would have to approve the tax breaks before they could be implemented) is doing their part to make it happen. County Supes voted today to start hammering out the details of the eventual program that would allow for property owners to get at least a five-year property tax break on lots under three acres that are leased to people who want to grow food on them,says the City News Service.

The tax break would only apply for privately-owned lots in certain, to-be-determined areas of the county, and cities that fall within the boundaries would be able to choose whether they want to be part of the program or not, but some members of the LA City Council have already expressed their support for having LA opt in.

Read more here.

Rural Town Revamps Economy with Food Jobs: The Viroqua Story

Next to Wal-Mart on the edge of rural Viroqua, Wisconsin, a 100,000-square-foot abandoned industrial building is now bustling with new businesses and jobs from an unconventional source: The local food and farming sector.

It’s a turnaround for a small town that lost one of its largest employers and then bet on the growth of local food markets to enliven that vacant space and the area’s economy.

The Food Enterprise Center in Viroqua is also one of an increasing number of food and farm business development centers that are ratcheting up the economic development assistance.

Economic Engine

For Viroqua and southwest Wisconsin, the growing businesses at the Food Enterprise Center are a significant boost both for that abandoned industrial real estate and the regional economy, said Matt Johnson. He is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster and a charter member of the Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA).

Read more here.

10 Amazing Food Co-ops Across America

Cooperatively owned grocery stores exist all over the country. Some have thousands of members and have been around since the 1970s, and some opened within the past few years to serve communities with unusual needs. Watch this video about the advantages of shopping at co-ops, and check this directory for information about food co-ops near you. Each co-op has a story – here are a few!

At Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson, Arizona, community members teach courses; local nonprofits and schools apply for donations; and workshops on water harvesting and native trees take place. In 2013, the Co-op installed a rainwater harvesting system behind their kitchen with a grant from the city of Tucson. The plan is to build an urban micro farm.

Viroqua Food Co-op is located in Viroqua, a town of 4400, in a rural area of Southwest Wisconsin called the Driftless. Like many co-ops on this list, before opening as a store in 1995, Viroqua began as a “natural foods buying club,” a group of individuals who worked together to procure healthy foods for their families. According to a 2005 USDA report about successful co-ops in rural areas, it benefited from the guidance of local residents who’d been involved with CROPP, a local organic marketing cooperative which helps farmers transition to organic production.

4th Street Food Co-op in Manhattan, New York takes its member participation seriously; the store is staffed entirely by members. Working memberships, which require you to work 2.25 hours a week, pay off in the form of a 20% discount. Refrigerators, lights, and electronics are powered by New Wind Energy, and they have a committee that vets products in an effort to stop carrying products owned by multi-national corporations.

Kokua Food Co-op is, according to its website, the only natural foods co-op in the state of Hawaii. The Honolulu store serves up raw, vegan, gluten-free baked goods, hosts movie and poetry nights, and has eight flavors of kombucha on tap!

Read more here.

Making do with less

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It is not so much of making do with less than using what you have and having fewer possessions, especially gadgets and also simpler things.

I am not talking about minimalism here but just reducing the unnecessary things, and there have been times that I have myself been guilty such as buying kitchen gadgets which are then used but a few times and that is. Afterwards they then just sit about somewhere doing nothing. But such and other gadgets are only one part. But I also do not mean throwing out what you have in order to unclutter unless uncluttering is absolutely necessary. Making do with less also means, obviously, making do with what you already have without adding any more to it.

Doing with less also means using the car less and using your feet more instead and the bicycle. You have one, haven't you?

When it comes to a bicycle it does not have to be the most “state of the art” (where is this state, this country, anyway?) one but an old one – done up – will do just as well, maybe even better. And a simple bike, especially a single-speed one, is much easier to maintain.

Such a simple bicycle can easily from an old derailleur gear change one by simply removing the gear changers, shortening the change so that the drive train runs true from either the middle or the outer crankshaft cogwheel to one of the smaller ones on the back wheel cluster. There is no need to buy a simple speed back wheel nor, in all honesty, a conversion kit.

There is no need to buy a new bicycle. An older or even old one can often be found for little money at a variety of places and mostly they but require a little TLC to get them back on the road and save you money and get you and keep you fit at the same time.

Reuse, because we can't recycle the Planet!

All too often people are obsessed with having to have the latest “toys” like as if they had never grown up. Then, maybe, they haven't. At least that is definitely how it does appear. They also seem to have been fiddling with those “toys” all the time, even when they are talking with another person.

I never did, as a child, have many toys. The toys that we did have when I was a child were either hand-made, found ones, or those handed down to us from others, and may be that has given me an edge here as not always to be looking for the latest “toy” but to make do with what I have got and also with what I find and what I can make from trash, for instance.

This is something that, for the sake of the Planet, and also as a preparation for changes in our world that are coming, we all must consider doing, that is to say making use of what we have and that includes reusing and upcycling some of the “waster” that we generate.

There is so much that we can change without having to shell out a single cent only no one seems to realize that and many people seem to think that living a simpler life actually costs them money, in the same way that they believe leading and living a greener life does. And by making do with less this can be achieved easier than with any green gadgets.

Reuse and upcycling is the name of the game as well as repair and not buying unnecessary stuff. Many things that you may need or want you can easily make your self by repurposing, reusing and upcycling and thus living a simpler life and making do with less by way of purchased possessions.

All too many people seem to be permanently buying something new, be this clothes, shoes, gadgets, or whatever, even though they already have enough of everything. I am not talking here about those that don't have enough to live comfortably but about those that have more that enough.

However, even those that do not – almost – have two pennies to rub together also fall for this and are prepared even to go into debt in order to afford all those things that everyone else has, as they think. If I have to go into debt to buy something then I cannot afford it and I will not try regardless if the neighbor has this or that that I may not have.

How many clothes or shoes, for instance, does one need or how many cellphone, TVs or whatever? You can only wear one pair of shoes at any one time and one set of clothes. But, apparently, they have to have at least one pair of shoes for every day of the week and at least two to three sets of clothes per day of the week. And, ideally, all of those clothes and shoes have to be respectable designer brands.

Then there has to be a pair of pajamas for every day of the week it seems and on and on it goes. That also means that there is a great deal of laundry that must be tackled at the end of the week or several times during the week even because of the sheer amount of it and that means energy and water usage by the ton.

We are being told, at least by those who buy all of that, that they need a suit for work, then a set of clothes for after work, and then something to lounge about in in the evening. And you have to have some good special clothes for going out to restaurants and such (and that also seems to have to happen several times a week), and on and on the excuses go as to why they have to buy all of that stuff and why they have to have it all.

We have become possessed by our possessions and while this may not be true for everyone, thank god, it seems true for a great majority, unfortunately. This all comes to the detriment of resources, of the Planet, and everything else.

Apparently there also has to be a TV set in every room of the house, and everyone has to have their own PC, their own this device and that, and on and on the list goes.

There is another way but it is almost as hard a sell as voluntary poverty, and in a way it is part of it, and that is to make do and to live well with less, especially with buying less unnecessary stuff, as said already.

With simple reuse, repurposing and upcycling you can make many of the things that you may need (and want) yourself without spending another single cent often. But most have become so accustomed to and, dare I say, brainwashed into having to buy everything that they need and want. And whatever they may need and want has to be able to be purchased now, there and then. It is, apparently, not possible to wait until one can actually afford it or look for a substitute to repurpose or a way to make this or that oneself.

Among some it has not become fashionable to drink from jars, glass jars, but they have to be designer recycled jars, it seems. To do what was common when I was a child, a definitely with my folk, to reuse a glass jar that had products packaged in them when you bought those products and which cost nothing bar what you paid for them (hidden cost) when you bought the products packaged in them, appears to be impossible. But at the same time they will toss such jars into the recycling bin doing their bit for the environment.

For those that are minded to do it there are so many ways to make things for themselves (and even for others) that it baffles me that there are so very few of us actually doing it. What was once, and that is not even that long ago, so common has now become something a rare a common sense and think of the rarest mineral. Not so long ago most people didn't even consider buy what they could make for themselves in one way or the other. Today, however, they do not think about the simple ways, only about buying, even if they cannot afford it. And, if they cannot buy it because they have not got the funds they bemoan that fact.

Sometimes, I must say, I despair of humanity. We believe to be so advanced but there are times that I am beginning to think that all that technology and the consumerism that we have brainwashed into has stifled everything else. We have lost, it would seem, any sense of resourcefulness and of the make do and mend attitude that existed not so long ago.

© 2015

Surgeon General's prescription for health: walkable communities

step it up


It's not easy to walk in much of North America; most people now live in suburbs that were designed for cars. Now the US Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, is calling for a change.

Walking helps people stay both physically and mentally healthy. It brings business districts to life and can help reduce air pollution. However, there are barriers to choosing even this simple form of physical activity. Many of us live in neighborhoods that can present barriers to walking. Important places, such as shops, schools, parks, or senior centers, may not be near enough to reach by walking; there may be no sidewalks; or there may be concerns about safety. Lack of time can be a barrier, as can health problems.

He is also calling for a redesign of our communities.

People should be able to walk almost anywhere. Designing communities to encourage pedestrian activity will make it safer and easier for all users, including those with mobility limitations and other disabilities. For example, streets can be designed to include sidewalks and improve traffic safety, and communities can locate residences, schools, worksites, businesses, parks, recreational facilities, and other places that people regularly use within walkable distance of each other.

Read more here.

6 Dos and Don'ts Of Pruning

It could cause more harm than good to your bushes and trees.

fall pruning

There's something about this time of the year that makes people crave pruning more than vampires yearn for blood. With fall garden cleanup in full swing, maybe it's all the raking and mulching that has people going bananas. But before you start hacking at your trees and bushes, take a tip from a seasoned gardening expert. "The rules of fall pruning are simple: Prune nothing in the fall! That’s N-O-T-H-I-N-G! Nada! Bupkiss! Zilch! Zero! Ladies—hide the pruners from 'helpful husbands!'" pleads emphatic gardening expert Mike McGrath, author of Mike McGrath's Book of Compost, and radio host of WYYY FM Philadelphia's You Bet Your Garden radio show. That goes for shrubs and plants as well as trees, McGrath insists. "Hang little signs on your roses that say, 'Leave me alone until midwinter; or even better, spring.' There are no exceptions! Do not prune anything now. Got it?"

Do you feel like you just got scolded by a third-grade teacher? Let it serve as a reminder that fall is not the right time to trim trees and shrubs, even though the fallen leaves have exposed all their imperfections. That's right, put your pruning shears back in the shed for at least a month or so. Here are some pruning basics, to be used when it's a safer time to trim back trees and shrubs:

Read more here.

Rethinking waste

Waste as resource not as recyclables

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We must begin, also at home and at work, to see “waste” not as something to be thrown away because there is no away and we must see “waste” as a resource for reuse and upcycling.

So-called recycling, which best should be referred to as “downcycling”, does not cut it, to be very honest, and we must seriously rethink how we handle and what we do with the waste that we generate, and we generate far too much of it.

The first step in our waste management efforts, no doubt, has to be reduction but more often than not us mere mortals have little to no influence, bar changing our buying habits, and by, maybe, demanding that industry change its ways.

As long as that those changes are not forthcoming, however, and they do appear to be still a very long way off, we have to apply the reuse and upcycling mode to reduce the amount that we throw out. Remember, you can't throw anything away as there is no away.

We must change our attitude and come to see waste – at least most of it – as a resource from which to fashion things and not as so-called recyclables.

I know that this statement is not going to endear me to the waste (management) industry, but so be it.

So-called “recyclables” are, in the main, “downcycled” and that at a high cost in the form of energy and there is a much better way. But this is not one that can be tackled commercially and thus is not of, nor in, the interest of the industry and those “in power”.

When it comes to glass bottles and glass jars those should never ever go into the waste stream not even as “recyclables” but instead should “return to sender”, so to speak, to be refilled and reused. Only when they finally break then it is time to recycle them, but into new glass.

On the other hand glass jar, which you, after all, have paid for in the purchase price of the product that you bought in them, have many uses around the home, etc., and should only be returned, or sent for recycling, if all the reuse and upcycling potential for them has been exhausted.

Wood, including and especially pallets, is a valuable resource that to destroy it and send it to landfill is (almost) a crime, and let us not even mention old furniture and such.

Pallet wood and leftover wood from construction sites – often destined for landfill – can be used in so many ways and many an old piece of furniture, with a little TLC, can live on for many decades and more to come.

Food waste too is a resource though ideally of that there should be as little as at all possible though peelings and such are almost unavoidable. This makes great compost for your garden. Therefore, if you have a garden don't give it to the municipal collection but use it yourself to feed your garden instead.

There are many other items of waste and categories that although “recyclable” or “downcyclable” are candidates for reuse and upcycling. The only problem today is that resourcefulness in that department is sadly lacking with so many of our contemporaries, and that even includes many who claim to be environmentally conscious. It all is destined, in the main, for the recycling bin rather than thinking of a reuse possibility.

Even many plastic containers and such have great reuse and upcycling capacities but many people just cannot see them and see the items only as waste to be thrown (away), not understanding that there is no such place as away. Daily we can see such reusable containers being tossed thoughtlessly into the trash bins simply because either people have no idea about reuse or they simply could not care. But when they require a box to store something in will pop to the nearest suitable store and pay good money for such a container. Sometimes one can but despair about today's society.

© 2015

When Is The Best Time To Plant Trees?

Give them the best chance of survival.

planting fruit trees in the fall

Many trees grow well when planted in fall, says arborist Tom Tyler of Bartlett Tree Experts. Although people often associate planting with spring, fall offers some advantages, he explains. "Warm soil encourages root growth prior to the onset of winter, while air temperatures tend to be cooler and more stable, reducing the amount of stress on newly planted trees. Fall rains make it easier to dig and provide ample moisture." Container-grown and balled-and-burlapped trees are best for fall planting; bare-root plants should be planted while they’re dormant.

Read more here.

Agroecology is Working – But We Need Examples to Inspire Others

Using the wrong measure of success is certain to lead to the wrong solutions being adopted. In the economy at large, the narrow pursuit of GDP growth remains the primary tool used by policymakers to assess progress. This has motivated economic strategies that have delivered short-term GDP boosts, but in ways that have harmed the environment and disadvantaged many groups in society.

Food systems are no different. If the measures of progress are too narrow or too focused on the short term, the long-term outlook will suffer. In food systems, success is often reduced to increased yields, net outputs and net calorie availability on a global level. More is better and quantity trumps quality.

This allows many crucial factors to fall through the cracks. How resilient are yields in the face of environmental shocks and disease outbreaks? How much do they vary from year to year? Where and to whom is food made available, and with what nutrient content? How well do these systems preserve the natural resource base for the future? How much employment do they generate, and under what conditions? Do consumers know where their food comes from and how it was grown?

Though some proposals have been made to address this gap, there is no consensus yet on the metrics that can capture these factors comprehensively. But we do have emerging examples of food and agriculture systems that are capable of sustaining, stabilizing and improving yields, preserving the environment, providing decent employment and secure livelihoods, and delivering diverse, nutrient-rich foods – in the places where they are needed most.

Read more here.

Permaculture is Revolution disguised as Organic Gardening

Permaculture Revolution

Co-founder of permaculture, David Holmgren knows the power of cultivating seeds to full fruition

Over the past thirty-five years, he’s seen the seeds of permaculture  grow into a thriving global movement. During his recent “Transforming the Australian Dream” tour on the east coast of Australia, David shared a glimpse into the early sparks of permaculture and offered insights into some of the simple principles of growing and living that can now help us transform suburbia into a flourishing ecosystem of sustainable living on all levels.

“It is perhaps surprising to people that when I was a student in Hobart Design School in 1974, there was a huge interest in what today we would call sustainability. It was one year after the oil crisis of 1973 that changed a lot of thinking around the world. And it was two years after the Club of Rome Limit to Growth report which really showed that industrial society couldn’t keep going like it was. 1973 was also the year that E.F. Schumacher wrote the very influential book on my thinking, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.”

Read more here.

Paper notebooks and adult coloring books are definitely “in”

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

adult coloring book pagePaper notebooks are back in fashion – and that with a vengeance – and on top of that we now also have adult coloring books; yes, coloring books, but a little more grownup compared to the ones we may all have had as kids.

I have written about this resurgence of the paper notebook, whether they are Moleskine, Leuchtturm1917, or others, often cheaper but almost equally as good, ones.

It would appear that especially the new Millennials and young start-ups love the paper notebook and its popularity and resurgence seems to defy the widespread worship of technological innovations coming out of Silicon Valley. Instead of carrying certain tablet devices around with them to take notes, and such, those young and youngish people have returned to using paper notebooks. And the resurgence in the use of the manual typewriter also seems to defy all odds. The problem with the latter, often, though, is that the ink ribbons are difficult to obtain nowadays.

It would appear as if the ascent of the paper notebook is a part of a shift that we might call a revenge of analog, in which certain technologies and processes even as the world becomes increasingly driven by digital technology. The new wood culture and the desire to make wooden objects by hand and to own such objects and to use them also falls into this, no doubt.

Vinyl records and business cards are also making a real comeback and it would appear that the V-card, the digital business card, is almost history. Then again, did it ever really take off?

Personally I could not do without paper notebooks and paper note-taking systems, some which I have even designed myself to be just right for myself and my requirements. And no, using paper is not (necessarily) bad for the Planet.

While some people may wonder as to this “craze” of returning to analog by the new millennials I would suggest that this is a good turn for the books as we all know the problems with digital gadgets; they run out of batteries when we least expect and can do with it, break down just when they are needed most, and so on. The paper notebook and the pen (and especially the pencil) just keep on working, come rain and shine.

Paper notebooks, and I would say paper note-taking systems of any kind, even home-brew, are as relevant and important as ever especially as paper can make the abstract tangible in a way that digital devices simply cannot.

Adult coloring books are, apparently, at the top of Amazon's best seller list, and their popularity is attributed to 'anti-stress' benefits and but also, I should guess, to nostalgia, and they include titles such as Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns and Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book. There are even adult coloring book pages that you can download for free at some locations on the worldwide web.

The paper diary, whether week to a page or day to a page, has in the last couple of years also seen a serious resurgence, and also in my own life; in the latter case as a day-to-a-page book which is used as a time planner as well as a record of certain events, even if only jotted down in short notes.

Paper and other old technologies are definitely making a comeback at this very moment as, it would appear, people have gotten fed up with having an over-complicated life with all the high-tech devices. Even the ordinary – if ordinary is the right word for it – letter, written by word processor or typewriter, but even, dare I say it, by hand – is in vogue again. You remember the thing that is sent by post, often referred to as “snail mail”.

Sure we still are all using our computer and are still using emails and social media but a lot of people have gone off or age going off using computers and other devices for note-taking, for keeping a time management diary, or such, and are returning to older, time-honored, methods.

© 2015

The Nature Prescription

Six all-natural (yet scientific) strategies for improving your mind and body

Florence Williams went to the forests of Japan to uncover the science behind the health benefits of mother nature. For those of you without the time to travel deep into the Japanese wilderness, here are six quick, easy, and natural ways to help your body and mind.

Temper Your Screen Time

What happens to a mind in constant motion? That’s a question we seem intent on answering, one laptop and DVR at a time. In a now famous, years-long study of employees at the Boston Consulting Group, led by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow, 26 percent of participants admitted to sleeping with their smartphones within reach. Fifty-one percent said they check email obsessively while on vacation. Kids are even worse. According to a 2010 survey by the Kaiser Foundation, American teens spend about 7.5 hours a day toggling between text messages, Instagrams, and streaming episodes of Jersey Shore.This nonstop engagement changes how the brain processes information—and, in some cases, changes the brain itself. One alarming study of Internet-addicted Chinese teenagers found signs of “abnormal white matter structure”—atrophy of connective tissue—in areas of the brain involved with behavior and emotional control.

The cure is, quite literally, out there. “An expanding literature suggests that exposure to nature—either a walk through a park or looking at nature photographs—can enhance attention and memory,” says Arthur Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Read more here.

11 Easy Plants for Your Fall Garden

If your summer garden was a bit of a disappointment, first of all, know you are not alone. It was a wet, soggy, soaking summer around our parts (as well as most of the U.S.) and the gardens grew fungi instead of tomatoes this year.

I have great news if this was your garden … it's time for fall planting. Squeal!

It's time for fall planting.

I have had the most wonderful time the past couple of weeks putting in my fall garden. It's been cool and refreshing, and I have found complete and utter joy in ripping out my soggy, sad, dilapidated summer plants. Good riddance!

There is nothing like a fresh start, especially in the garden.

This is where I want to be. Right here on my knees, playing in the dirt, planting things and watching them grow. There is just nothing else like it, except maybe milking the cow, or bringing home baby piglets, or a kiss from a calf.

Here are 11 easy plants you can put in right now for a fall harvest:

Read more here.

Wall Street Journalist Backs Right to Repair

Geoffrey Fowler has a friend with a Samsung TV that inexplicably stopped working halfway through a movie. Geoff’s friend thought she had no other option than to replace it. Geoffrey—a writer with Wall Street Journal—wondered what it would take to fix the flat screen TV. And so, he went down the repair rabbit hole.

“We ended up with a project that changed my view on our shop-till-you-drop gadget culture,” writes Geoff. “We’re more capable of fixing technology than we realize, but the electronics industry doesn’t want us to know that. In many ways, it’s obstructing us.”

Geoff’s story is common enough. Things break every day—that’s the nature of entropy. But being a tinkerer is knowing that “broken” isn’t the end. Indeed, for most tinkerers, repair techs, and DIY masters, “broken” is an origin story. It’s how most of us got started: with one broken phone, or one broken toy, or one broken radio. And that repair journey broadened into a hobby, or a passion, or even a business. iFixit, for example, got its start after our co-founder dropped a laptop from a bed, broke the charge port, and decided to fix it himself. In the process, he learned that manufacturers aren’t making it easy to repair stuff: most companies don’t release repair information and many don’t sell repair parts to either the public or to independent repair technicians—and that’s something that needs to change.

Geoff came to the same conclusion. Geoff’s 2008 Samsung 40-inch television was out of warranty. A little Google troubleshooting revealed that the television suffered from a problem endemic to his model: a blown capacitor. But Samsung doesn’t publish repair instructions on its website. Instead, a Samsung spokesperson pointed Geoff to an official Samsung repair center, which wanted over $200 for diagnosis and repair—that’s more than half of the cost of a new, similarly-sized television.

Read more here.

Experts Say Change In Diet Is Instrumental In Ending Hunger

The U.N. plan to end worldwide hunger by 2030 focuses on eating more vegetables and reducing food waste.

Experts Say Change in Diet is Instrumental in Ending Hunger (

oes everyone in your family, group of friends or workplace have the same diet? While I love chocolate, I have friends who can’t eat it. Some friends and family are strict vegetarians while others rarely eat a vegetable. Some people may start their day with a smoothie or eggs and bacon or maybe even just a cup of coffee. Some people go hungry.

How people eat is dependent on a number of factors and could vary greatly around the world. Reuters reports that "world leaders are set to endorse a U.N. goal to eliminate hunger by 2030” later this month, but doing so requires the adoption of new eating habits. The change must occur across the board, from the wealthy to the developing nations.

Part of that change, according to Reuters, involves consuming less red meat, reducing food waste and fighting poor nutrition.

"Sustainable and healthy diets will require a move towards a mostly plant-based diet," Colin Khoury, a biologist at the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, told Reuters.

There are 795 million people who go hungry each night, Reuters reports. To achieve zero hunger by 2030, we need enough food worldwide to feed them—not just any food, but sustainable, transportable food that will still be viable upon arrival (in other words, less meat and more grains, fruits and vegetables). If meat was eaten only once a week, commodity prices would decrease "as less grain would go to feed animals, making food cheaper for the urban poor,” according to Reuters.

Read more here.

People turn to gardening for relaxation & wellbeing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro

FamilyAccording to the results of a survey conducted by garden equipment retailer Lawnmowers Direct over 51% of people surveyed turn to gardening for relaxation and wellbeing.

The under-35 age group made up a significant number of the participants, suggesting that more young people are gardening than middle-aged or retired people with the most popular reasons for gardening within this age group being relaxation, maintenance, and growing their own produce.

“It's great to see more and more young people getting into gardening,” said Mark Bartram, Managing Director of Lawnmowers Direct. “Young people are becoming more environmentally and economically conscious, and are often voicing their opinions about food production, so it's hardly a surprise there are young adults who aim for self-sufficiency.”

Just under a fifth (19.2%) claimed their garden was mostly vegetables, or that a vegetable patch was a significant part of their garden and the time spent gardening varied greatly, with around 27.3% gardening for under an hour a week and 36.1% gardening for over three hours a week.

I do not think that we should be surprised by the findings and it is uplifting and enlightening to see the younger generation really understanding that quality “Grow Your Own” produce is far more beneficial to our health. By eating home grown produce everyone reduces the health burdens of the possibility of genetically-engineered foods and of pesticides to their health.

The added benefits of relaxation and being out in the outdoors is another bonus. Mindfulness, stress depletion, increased exposure to sunlight from being in the outdoors, which improves the Vitamin D level in our bodies, will all help to reduce the dreaded stress in today’s world.

Obviously there are risks to being exposed to too much UV radiation from the sun and precautions on that level must be taken, in the same way as we must take precautions when gardening to eliminate other risks of injury, be this from cuts or scratches, or from bending and lifting. But there are ways to do that with regards to most of those risks, from sunscreen to gloves and the right kind of tools and devices.

So, let's get out there and enjoy a spot of gardening and enjoyment it should be rather than a dreaded chore.

© 2015


Climate change and environmental destruction are contentious and disputed topics.

In the US, for instance, there is a powerful faction of Republican politicians who flat-out deny that climate change even exists. In Britain, the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, is also a climate change sceptic, oddly enough.

These denials go against science: carbon emissions have increased by 35 per cent since 1990, and climate change is responsible for over 300,000 deaths a year, a figure that could rise to half a million people by 2030. It is blindingly obvious that we are heading towards environmental destruction and any failure to admit this is negligent and dangerous.

The international system has set numerous targets to resolve the crisis, such as the UN Millennium Development Goals on the environment, but they are rarely met. The many environment summits which regularly take place also fail to produce tangible results, with the big powers failing to agree on terms.
The 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference is a case in point – we’re three years later and no agreements have been reached. All these meetings are mere rhetoric aimed at duping the public into thinking that our leaders are taking action.

Read more here.

The Moneyless Man who gave up on cash and embraced foraging and farming

Mark Boyle chose to go without money for three years. Now he has begun a community smallholding that is as cash-free as possible – and is opening the world’s first free pub

Mark Boyle proved how, in a world dominated by money, he could live in Britain surviving entirely without cash – by bartering, swapping and connecting with local communities. And after three years, what was his first cash purchase? A £4 pair of trainers from a charity shop.

“It was such a weird moment. Living without money had eventually become completely normal for me, and there I was standing in a charity shop handing over a piece of paper and walking out with this really useful pair of runners. It felt as strange as giving it up in the first place had,” he says.

Boyle is the unlikely hero among those who feel consumerism in the west is running out of control. His 2010 book, The Moneyless Man, which sold more than 75,000 copies in 17 countries, not only showed that it was entirely possible to survive in Britain without ever touching cash, but also offered an alternative way to lead a more sustainable life.

He restored and lived in an abandoned caravan, and cycled everywhere. By using a combination of bartering, swapping or gifting his time, and foraging for food – both in hedgerows and supermarket bins – he demonstrated that one could thrive, while at the same time reconnecting with local communities.

Read more here.

Aspen is third U.S. city to reach 100% renewable energy

Aspen is one of three U.S. cities to run on 100 percent renewable energy, according to members of the city’s environmental and project departments.

The shift to energy that is generated from natural resources — including wind power, solar power and geothermal heat — follows a “decade-plus” city goal, said city Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher.

“It was a very forward-thinking goal and truly remarkable achievement,” Hornbacher said. “This means we are powered by the forces of nature, predominately water and wind with a touch of solar and landfill gas.”

The first two U.S. cities to reach the goal were Burlington, Vermont, followed by Greensburg, Kansas.

Aspen’s transition to 100 percent renewable occurred Thursday after the city signed a contract with wholesale electric energy provider Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, in order “to achieve this final leg of our goal,” Hornbacher said.

Read more here.

Are Social-Democrats socialists?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The short answer would and must be No. They are not socialists in the main even though there may be one or two socialists among the ranks of the Social-Democrats in this or that country. In the main, however, the social-democratic parties are a bit in the vein of the liberal parties in that they think that they can tinker at the edges of capitalism without needing to change the system too much and thus give workers a little more influence. This does not work.

While it may be possible to have a kind of free-enterprise socialism where small businesses, as in owner-operated or family businesses, operate different to larger ones which all should and must be worker-owned as the means of production must be in the hands of the worker, capitalism with a social face and -conscience does not socialism make, not even socialism-lite.

The latter is, however, what many social-democratic parties, the British Labour Party included, are trying to achieve. They try to work with the bourgeoisie and capital rather than doing the right thing for the workers and society. Capitalism cannot be reformed into something that will give the workers a fair share; it is not in its character. The two are diametrically opposed, to be truthful.

And when it comes to the term of social-democracy we are back at that word democracy and the true meaning of it and it just does not work in the way that most parties, even those on the very left, including socialist and communist ones see society and the world. Democracy means that the people govern themselves and as long as there is a state and a government the people are slaves to the two and do not govern themselves. But, for some reason, everyone seems to believe that being permitted to vote for this or that party and this or that candidate a democracy makes. It does not. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I paraphrase: “If voting would make any difference they would make it illegal”. Got it?

Just to recap, social-democracy does not equal socialism and most social-democrats are not socialists and a great many of them are scared stiff of the very idea of true socialism because they are themselves so enmeshed in the capitalist system that they are afraid to let go of it. The politicians especially would basically remove themselves and they no longer would have any power but that is why most ever got into politics in the first place; to be able to wield power over the “little” people.

© 2015

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

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture, writes GRAIN - and it's justified by the need to 'feed the world'. But it's 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 United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. As part of the celebrations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its annual 'State of Food and Agriculture', which this year is dedicated to family farming.

Family farmers, FAO say, manage 70-80% of the world's farmland and produce 80% of the world's food.

But on the ground - whether in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain - rural people are being marginalised and threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land.

Read more here.

It turns out we’ve been trying to control the weather since forever

Don’t let the recent hype around geoengineering fool you — our attempts to control the world’s weather and climate way, way predate our current climate crisis. This week, historian James Fleming appears on The Adaptors to chat about humanity’s earlier attempts to literally make it rain, starting back in the 1870s. “General” Dy’renforth took it upon himself to attempt to end the Western drought by recreating Civil War battles in West Texas, the reverberations from which were intended “shake” the rain out of the clouds.

Did it work? Well, not really — but that didn’t stop Dy’renforth from taking credit for what rain did fall during the three weeks he spent firing cannons at the sky. But Fleming says we can give him the benefit of the doubt — he wasn’t a crackpot, just “sincere and deluded.” Which, of course, opens a bigger can of worms: What do we do about so-called “pathological science” — when well-meaning and even well-respected scientists can’t see past their own delusions — today?

Read more here.

Keeping A Tidy Wood: Yes or No?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The answer should definitely be yes. It has been so in the past and should be so again.

Debris and such left lying around the forest create nothing but a fire ladder and a hazard, for both fire and biological in that such material is a haven for the bark beetle and other pests that gladly will attack your standing timber as soon as they have finished their first lifecycle in the old dead and decaying timber.

The environmentalists who insist that we, the foresters, woodsmen and woodland owners should leave debris such as the cut tops of tress and branches in place out in the woods “for the wildlife”, in my view, do now know what they are talking about and that is also the same as regards to those that insist that we need to leave out old coppice woodlands unattended so they can revert to proper wildwoods as they were hundreds of years ago, and such baloney, in order not to use a rather harsher word.

The only “wildlife” that will take up residence in old branches, tops, and the like are, in general, with a few exceptions, pests that will destroy standing trees as much as they will eat their way thru dead wood. And allowing ancient and not so ancient coppice woodlands to “revert back to wild woods” does not work because as soon as coppice stools are left unmanaged for too long they will break apart, the trees will fall and that is the end of the woodland as most of those trees will break apart virtually at the same time, seeing they more often than not are of the same age. It would appear, however, as if the environmentalists do not want to listen to that as they keep on about that we are only interested in making money out of the woods. Those who say that have no real knowledge of what actually drives a true forester and woodsman in his work. But I digressed. I shall come back to this, however, at some other occasion.

In the days of old and even in the not so distant past very little if any branches were left littering the forest floor; it was all used for crafts such as walking stick making, bodging, heating, etc. and there was still plenty of wildlife – more than today in actual fact – but very little on forest pests.

Today with our mono-cultures of whatever wood – I am not just talking about the often ugly regiments of conifers where they should never have been planted – despite leaving cutting litter everywhere, often rather higgeldy-piggledy there is less proper wildlife but many more pests set to ravage our trees. Combining that with the lack of bio-security when it comes to imports of stock, for instance, and the rather daft practice of collecting seeds here and then sending the very same seeds abroad to be grown on and reimporting them, the result of which is Chalara dieback of ash caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (and probably other tree diseases) and we have a recipe for absolute disaster.

Many of the pests affecting woods and forests nowadays seem to have been virtually – in their current strengths and numbers – unknown in the past when woodlands and forests were much more intensively managed and kept clean & tidy but which were, also, generally not single species mono-cultures.

In my childhood fallen branches were cleared away rather rapidly and that not by forests staff only who used them for heating their homes but also by people who had permits to collect firewood in the form of fallen branches from the woods and forests.

Might it just be that the so-called management of our woods and forests today is the wrong kind of management? It very much would appear to be the case and much of the blame may have to be, aside from the mono-cultures, laid at the door of the heavy machinery that it used nowadays for felling and timber extraction, especially the so-called timber harvesters.

The weight of those machines and their special wheels seems to churn up the woodland and forest floor to such an extent that it may – and I say may as we do not have proof for that – destroy the mycelium that is the communication network between trees and plants and also all small wildlife, as in invertebrates and other small creatures that live in and on the woodland floor.

It is time to reactivate the old management methods for our woods and forests, with coppicing at the top of the list, to rebuild the woodland communities, the ones of trees and soil, as well as those of people and not try to apply a band-aid on the damage we keep doing by our modern practices of mono-cultures and heavy machinery use.

© 2015

For more on coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.

Why reusables are better, even when water is scarce

dishes in the sink

Large amounts of water are used to produce the very disposables that are supposed to be reducing the amount of water we use. It's important to think "single purchase," not "single use."

Disposables are increasingly being touted as a green alternative to washing. Cloth diapers and dishes are two things that were commonly washed and reused on a daily basis, but now a growing number of people, particularly in drought-stricken regions such as California, are turning to disposable versions because they think it uses less water. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

I’ve received several emails and comments from readers who have read my stance on reusables and are left feeling confused by the conflicting messages they’re hearing from all sides about water usage.

Steve writes: “I have been using cloth diapers and love them. I was going to buy some for a friend in California for her baby shower, but she brought up a good point. They are in a severe drought. Are cloth diapers still the most environmental option in cases of extreme drought?”

Read more here.

The farmer who’s starting an organic revolution in Cuba

Fernando Funes Monzote’s theories of ‘agroecology’ bear fruit as he aims to inspire others to make the most of their land

Like all homestead stories, Fernando Funes Monzote’s starts with an epic battle against harsh elements and long odds. Funes, a university-trained agronomist, settled on a badly eroded, brushy hillside outside Havana four years ago and began digging a well into the rocky soil. The other farmers nearby thought he was crazy, or worse – a dilettante with a fancy PhD whose talk of “agroecology” would soon crash into the realities of Cuban farming.

Funes had no drill, so he and a helper had to break through layers of rock with picks and hand tools. Seven months later and 15 metres down, they struck a gushing spring of cool, clear water. “To me, it was a metaphor for agroecology,” said Funes, 44, referring to the environmentally minded farm management techniques he studied here and in the Netherlands. “A lot of hard work by hand, and persistence, but a result that is worth the effort.”

Today Funes is one of the most sought-after figures in Cuban culinary circles. Finca Marta, the eight-hectare farm he named in honour of his late mother, supplies organic produce to many of Havana’s top-rated “paladares”, the privately owned restaurants that are transforming the island’s reputation for uninspired dining. Funes grows more than 60 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs in carefully terraced planting beds designed to conserve water. He’s planted woody shrubs to divide his cattle pastures with “living fences” that also provide habitat for birds. His beehives yielded 1.5 tonnes of honey last year. The farm and its irrigation systems run almost entirely on solar power, and Funes operates a “biodigester” that captures methane from manure and pipes it right to the kitchen stove where it burns clean and blue.

Read more here.

Couple turns lawn into ecosystem; officials threaten to mow it down

The one good thing about drought is that the lush green lawns outside your neighbors’ houses act as a sort of banner, proclaiming ASSHOLES LIVE HERE. But lawns aren’t just water hogs: They are also monocultures, as devoid of diversity as suburban school districts. Lawns lack the fauna that bees and other important pollinators need to survive. The mass mowing and fertilizing of lawns pollutes the air, the soil, and the groundwater.

In short, those prissy, manicured lawns are wasteful and useless — and that’s without mentioning the basic nuisance of waking up to the whine of your neighbor’s push mower at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.

In Ohio, Sarah Baker and her partner decided to tackle the lawn problem by letting their rural one-acre lot go wild. They stopped mowing. And when they stopped mowing, Baker writes in The Washington Post:

A diverse potpourri of plants began to flourish, and a rich assortment of insects and animals followed. I had essentially grown a working ecosystem, one that had been waiting for the chance to emerge …

The un-mowed plants in our yard attract plant-eating bugs and rodents, which in turn attract birds, bats, toads and garter snakes that eat them. Then hawks fly in to eat the snakes. Seeing all this life emerge in just one growing season made me realize just how much nature manicured lawns displace and disrupt.

Town elders, however, didn’t see Baker’s lawn as a functioning ecosystem; they saw it as a nuisance.

Read more here.

Banned pesticides pose a greater risk to bees than thought, EU experts warn

New study by European Food and Safety Authority finds ‘high risk’ to bees from neonicotinoid pesticide sprays prompting calls for extending ban

Three pesticides banned in Europe for their potential to damage bee populations could pose an even greater threat than was thought, according to a new assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa).

Already proscribed for seed treatments and soil applications, the Efsa analysis says that clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam also pose a ‘high risk’ to bees when sprayed on leaves.

The UK is currently facing a legal challenge to an emergency exemption it granted, allowing use of two of the substances, after protests by the National Farmers Union.

But far from supporting the British case, the advisory expert assessment will add to pressure for an extension of the ban to apply to fruit orchards after blooming, and crops gown in greenhouses, Greenpeace says.

“The commission should expand the EU-wide ban to cover all uses of neonicotinoids on all crops, and end the self-service approach to derogations. Viable non-chemical alternatives exist and the EU should encourage farmers to use them,” said the group’s agriculture policy director, Marco Contiero.

Read more here.

Reusable metal cutlery thrown into trash after picnics

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Reusable metal cutlery is being thrown nowadays almost routinely into trash after picnics in parks and woods.

It would appear that people now buy metal reusable cutlery especially for picnics – the receipts often are with the cutlery in the trash – and then when the items have been used they simply toss them (often placed in plastic bags) rather than taking them home to wash them. This is stupid in the extreme.

While it may not be expensive to buy a set of six knives, forks and spoons, all nicely shining stainless steel, at places such as IKEA – in fact they are very cheap indeed – cheaper almost than plastic cutlery the point is to reuse those items rather than to toss them. That, however, seems to be a point that escapes those folks.

It seems as if people buy the metal cutlery feeling better than getting plastic and then still throwing the pieces after they have been used as if they were “disposables”.

Using reusable metal cutlery instead of plastic and then tossing the pieces into the trash when they have been used and are dirty makes absolutely no environmental sense whatsoever.

But it would appear that those who leave behind their, often newly purchased, reusable metal cutlery, believe that they do the world a favor by not using plastic and trashing that; so they go an trash reusable cutlery instead.

Yes, it is true that metal cutlery can be recycled much better than plastic and, if it does get into the ground ferrous metals, such as steel, rust and in time decay entirely, something that plastic does not do, but again that is not the point. The point is that those pieces of cutlery should, after use, be taken to be washed and reused.

I have to say that over the last couple of years I have amassed enough cutlery that people have thrown after picnics that I could equip a small cafe-restaurant with them. Not that they all would match, mind you, but that hardly matters.

© 2015

There’s a new sustainable ag technique in town, and it’s cleaning up

The farming technique known as push-pull — which involves planting grasses with special properties to protect crops — started out as a rudimentary defense against stem borer insects. But it just keeps getting more sophisticated. It has evolved to fight off parasitic weeds, while also providing animal fodder and fertilizing the soil. Now, in a paper published this month, scientists have described ways to use it in areas without regular rainfall or irrigation.

The story of push-pull starts 22 years ago, when entomologist Zeyaur Khan arrived at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology station in Mbita, Kenya, with an assignment to find a way to ward off the stem borers that were plaguing corn fields in eastern Africa. When he began studying the stem borers’ lifecycle, he began finding grasses that had evolved with these insects. There were some grasses that the stem borers loved to eat — five times more than they loved the corn. There were other plants that had evolved chemical defenses against the bugs — some by repelling them, and others by attracting wasps that ate them.

Read more here.

What Is 'Liberation Permaculture'

Is permaculture about re-creating Eden or about changing the world in every way, even politically? Graham Burnet and Nicole Vosper make the case for a politically engaged, 'liberation permaculture'.

Credit: James Taylor/London Permaculture Flickr

Does permaculture design have a place within the current 'political' narrative? Do ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares inform our strategic thinking in effectively responding to what is happening in a political arena that is so clearly diametrically opposed to such values right now, or do we continue to doggedly insist that permaculture is 'neutral' and stick to designing our gardens and insist on being 'nice to each other' rather than speaking our truth to Power? Graham Burnett and Nicole Vosper discuss the idea of 'Liberation Permaculture' and some questions that arise...

There's a quote attributed to Buckminster Fuller that many permaculturists seem fond of using whenever 'political' issues arise;

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

In many ways this is a nice little phrase that neatly encapsulates what Joanna Macy calls 'The Great Turning' – the need for a paradigm shift in the human mindset; fundamentally reassessing who we are, what we assume we need and how we are related to our living planet and to each other. But as with all sound-bites, there is also the danger of using these words as a substitute for critical thinking, without exploring what they truly mean or imply.

Read more here.

America’s growing love affair with the most wasteful thing to drink there is

Once an occasional indulgence, bottled water is quickly becoming America's drink of choice.

The average person in the United States now consumes more than 35 gallons of bottled water per year, according to data from market research firm Beverage Marketing Corp. That's about 270 bottles, and more than twice as many as people drank 15 years ago. And that number is only going to go up: By 2017, the average American is expected to drink almost 300 bottles annually.

For perspective, consider that over the next two years, bottled water is expected to eclipse soda as the most consumed packaged drink in the United States.

Read more here.