Friday, October 27, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006


Bob Willard gives a presentation where he makes the argument that building sustainability into business is actually more profitable.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

From Olympia, WA

Ethan about to graduate from The Evergreen State College in rainy Olympia, WA

Sarita and I are back in the USA. After five months of travel we are taking it easy and figuring out our next steps. Maybe a slideshow tour around the northwest.

I'm spending my time doing physical things, starting a garden, walking in the woods, surfing. I'm still processing what I experienced during the trip. In South America, I was exposed to the dismal outcome of a global, free market economy, outcomes like poverty and oppression. In spite of the dismal circumstances I was inspired by so many people working to create a better model, a better world. Now I'm trying to figure out how to integrate my experiences into my future work.

Thanks to everyone who has shown us so much support.

Sarita back in Olympia.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Guadalupe, Peru

We're in Guadalupe, a small town in the north coast of Peru. I spent a few months here two years ago developing permaculture projects and learning spanish. We're on the last leg of our trip. We will be flying home very soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Rape of the Rainforest and the Man Behind it

I just read this article on about the deforestation of the Amazon for soy production. The situation is similar in Argentina. I thought the article would give people a general idea of the agricultural crisis in Latin America. The article does a good job describing the environmental impact but doesn't really go into the social and economic impacts of the soy boom.

A stream winds through a strip of once virgin Amazon rainforest destroyed by loggers, in Mato Grosso State, one of the Brazilian states of greatest deforestation, May 18, 2005. The Brazilian government announced the latest data on deforestation of the Amazon Basin, with a total of 26,130 square km (10,089 square miles) of rainforest destroyed, equivalent to more than nine football fields every minute, during the 12-month period ending in August, 2004. The total is the highest recorded during the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in spite of his administration's announced efforts to contain the destruction. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Grassroots Ecological Agriculture in Argentina

In the US the ecological agriculture movement, for the most part, is driven by the premiums people will pay for organic food. Conscious consumers base their consumption habits on ethical and moral standards. This form of capitalist activism has been very successful; organics is the fastest growing sector of US agriculture. The certified organic movement in Argentina is also driven by this demand. Argentina has the second largest amount of certified organic acres in the world. 95 % of the organic production is destined for export.

In Argentina there is not much of a conscious consumer movement and the organic label doesn't add much value. However there is a thriving movement of local, ecological agriculture motivated by necessity and survival. After the economic crash of 2001 many activists groups turned to organic farming methods to augment daily food needs. Here, the link between sustainability, fair economics and social justice is obvious.

The third world suffers the most from the globalized industrial model of agriculture. The farm workers and their families at the most effected by chemical use and free market economics. In Argentina there is a resurgence of farmer worker organizations such as MOCAFOR that reject the industrial agriculture model and support a return to ecological farming methods. Two years ago MOCAFOR successfully stopped corporations from arial spraying Round Up on genetically modified soy crops.

Probably the most developed ecological agriculture movement in Argentina is in Misiones, the province tucked between Paraguay and Brazil. Misiones has a network of 43 farmers markets where local producers can sell their products. Such an extensive network of both local economics and organic production is non-existent in the rest of Argentina.

The farmers market network was started by primarily women farmers in the Agrarian Movement of Misiones. They wanted to create a viable economic alternative to planting the major crops in the area: tobacco, tea and yerba mate. These crops require high pesticide use and fetch a low price because of corporate control of distribution. The farmers markets encourage families to first produce their own healthy food and then make money selling to their local communities. I visited one farm that was bursting with so much abundance the owner was able to donate all the food needed for a festival honoring the farmers markets. The owner even had a biogas digester built by her 15 year old son that converted cow manure into cooking gas.

This ecological revolution is not just limited to the country. In Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina, urban agriculture has become a life line for the city┬┤s poorest inhabitants. The economic crisis of 2001 left 60% of the population in Rosario below the poverty line and 30% in extreme poverty. Local agrarian activists successfully lobbied municipal support to convert abandoned lots into community gardens. They saw self sufficient food production as a root solution to poverty. People in poverty spend 70% of their income on food. To date they have created 800 community gardens supporting 40,000 people.

In the US I have heard it said that organic food is a luxury of the wealthy. Amidst organic Cheetohs and TV dinners it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of organic farming. However, in the third world, in the most marginalized part of the world, the purpose couldn't be clearer. Ecological agriculture is a practical way of improving the quality of life and escaping from the slavery imposed by global industrial agriculture.

If you want to visit and work with ecological agriculture groups in Argentina or other parts of Latin America visit

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Argentina, Iraq and the Global Dictatorship

Misiones, Argentina-- My partner Sarita and I have been in Argentina for almost four months now, visiting farmworker movements, organic producers and countless activist groups. As I begin to understand the history of the activist movement here I am becoming increasingly concerned about my country's involvement in foreign affairs. More importantly I'm concerned about what my responsibility is as a US citizen. My experiences here have helped me start to understand the connection between the US, the Argentina dictatorship and the Iraq war. It seems like a far fetched connection but let me explain.

Last week we visited the Agrarian Movement of Misiones (MAM). They have been organizing small scale farmers in the Misiones province of Argentina since 1971. When we arrived at their office the first thing they did was point to the pictures on their wall and explain, "that is our founder, he was assassinated, the lady next to him was disappeared and never found, this other picture is of a friend who was exiled for 8 years," and so on.

I'm getting used to hearing these kinds of stories as we visit activist groups. From the mid 70s to 1983 Argentina was under an oppressive military dictatorship. During this time over 30,000 people were killed or disappeared. It has left a deep scar in everyone who lived through the period. As MAM co-director Enrique Peczack explained it set the activist movements back 50 years.

Enrique's brother was the MAM founder who was assassinated. Enrique was disappeared for a year and jailed for eight. He wanted us to understand MAM's history so he brought us to his brothers grave. As we were driving out to MAM's organic mate cooperative we asked what the difference was between being jailed and disappeared. He stopped the truck in the middle of the road and let us know all the details. When he was disappeared he was in the jungle somewhere in a Nazi style concentration camp and no one knew where he was. Most of the time he was chained up with a bag over his head. He would go without human contact for weeks. Sometimes he was fed, sometimes not. He was beaten and tortured repeatedly. When he was jailed he was not treated much better but at least he knew where he was.

When I hear these gruesome stories first hand I can only think how glad I am this kind of thing doesn't happen in the US. But I know the US is far from being disconnected to torture and massacre. It is widely known that the US supported the Argentine dictatorship.

I would like to think that the dictatorship is over. However, I know the military dictatorship cleared the way for the globalized economic dictatorship. Had the activist community not been set back so far there might have been a stronger force to fight the privitizacion of the Menem years. And what was the largest public company sold off to the free market? YPF, Argentina's national oil company. It was the largest initial stock sell off in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. YPF was bought up by the Spanish company Repsol to become the second largest oil company in the world. Where there is oil, there is oppression. Now Argentina is a slave to the global free market economy.

I would also like to think that this is an isolated experience precipitated by random events. But I know that every country in Latin America has a similar story of oppression. Nor is this story limited to Latin America. The same thing is happening in Iraq right now. However, in Iraq US involvement is even more direct and the massacre even greater. The website now says at least 21,000 civilians have been killed. I can only imagine the kind of scar that will leave in the people. And again this tactic of brutal destabilization will leave an oil rich country a slave to the free market economy.

Yet, what has been bothering me the most is that I am somehow implicated in all this. My friends in Argentina can't fight the US global empire. No matter how many times they blockade the highways, ransack the banks and oust presidents they still can't change their place in the global economy. Last week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he will not visit the US again until its citizens liberate the country. I feel that challenge weighing heavily on my shoulders.

However, it seems unlikely that the US activist community will take the drastic actions necessary to overthrow a tyrannical government. We don't feel the direct effects of US domination even if we are opposed to it. We don't have bombs falling on our cities and our families aren't being disappeared. Even though we are opposed to global economic and military tyranny we are still the major beneficiaries. Since we aren't feeling the brunt of the suffering we aren't able to take the drastic actions that other oppressed people take.

In Argentina when YPF was privatized massive groups of unemployed people started using the tactic of blockading highways. When unemployment hit 40% the widespread direct action started having an effect. National strikes and protesters raiding banks effectively shut the country down. Then on December 19 and 20, 2001 massive protests in Buenos Aires succeeded in overthrowing the president...And the next four that followed.

How many people in the US are ready to shut down highways or organize national strikes? Who wants to risk their jobs, families and freedom? Who is ready to face down police with live ammunition? Organizing a national strike would require widespread cooperation between all the major activist organizations in the US. Yet major organizations fear public opinion too much to take such drastic actions. Bush's largest opponent, with 3 million members, won't even issue a statement against the Iraq war. TrueMajority is a little more radical, they distributed a pen that shows how much money is being spent on the war. They even make activism easy for you, click "reply send" and your representatives recieve a form letter. Is that what activism has come to in the US? "Reply send" activism?

I'm not angry at the activist community. I'm not ready to blockade the highways either. That takes unity and confidence that we just don't have right now. It's just starting to feel like we've been put into checkmate.