Sunday, December 16, 2012

Experiences of QPOC students at Smith College & Junot Diaz on decolonial love

This was just passed onto me. A great short documentary made by a senior at Smith College on the experiences of queer people of color (QPOC) students on campus. Check it out!!

While I'm at it, check out Junot Diaz's keynote speech at Colorlines' Facing Race 2012 convention. He speaks about decolonial love and the difficulties of facing the privileges that we each hold.

A quote from Diaz's Q&A session:
The funny thing about our privilege is that we all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us. Most of us will identify privileges that we know we could live without. So when it comes time to talk about our privileges, we’ll throw shit down like it’s an ace. And that shit is a three! I understand that. You grow up and you live a life where you feel like you haven’t had shit, the last thing you want to give up is the one thing, the couple of things that you’ve really held on to.

I’m telling you guys, we’re never going to fucking get anywhere—if you want to hear my apocalyptic proclamation which I would never repeat, but which I know you motherfuckers are going to tweet about—we are never going to get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble, more or less, the economy of attraction of white supremacy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Awesome videos

1 - BONES: Season 8 Episode 6 was kickass for a number of reasons; heartwrenching murder mystery, stories of 9/11, real character development. My favorite part though was this: intern Arastoo Vaziri (Pej Vahdat) relaying an interesting and awesome speech about separating 9/11 from the Muslim religion as a whole.

2 & 3 - Brave New Voices Slam Poetry: Spoken word amazingness! Call out that racism and shadeism.

White hipsters who care about animals more than other human beings? Fuck that shit.

Shadeism of the light skinned brown folk

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Notes from the garden: chicken raising

Hello, hello! Long time no write. There is much to write about with the garden, so I'm going to split up the posts by topic.

We got 4 chickens at my house in July. They're Isa Brown hybrid breed chickens, bred for egg laying. Each of the chickens had their own personality. The littlest chicken, whom I call Henrietta Lacks after the African American woman whose cancer cells became the first human cells to grow in-vitro, is the most curious and unafraid of people. The two alphas push everyone else out of their way to the food and occasionally like digging up the seedlings that I plant in the garden. The light colored one has the most distinctive personality - her name is Queen and she is by far the pickiest of the lot. She is last to emerge from the coop every morning, walking daintily on the board down while everyone else crashes out in search of food. When she eats sticky food like banana or apple, she'll wipe her beak against the ground or board. And she is always the least tempted by what I give her.

Chickens enjoying some food scraps

Within a week or two of arriving at their new coop, they started laying eggs of a lovely pink shade. It was really great to have fresh free range eggs on hand. Whatever you've heard about free range and organic food, trust me when I say that there's a HUGE difference between free range and non-free range eggs. Free range eggs are much yellower in color and firmer in shape, and when you cook up scrambled eggs, they actually fill you up.

Eggs, eggs, eggs!

Taking care of chickens is like taking care of any other pet. I wake up at 7:00am every morning because the chickens start making hungry noises and demand to be fed RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Sleepy eyed, I drag yourself out of bed to pour feed into their bowls and to watch them peck at their favorite seeds, leaving the ones they don't like at the bottom because of course every chicken has their favorite foods. After I've properly waken up and gotten breakfast, the chickens have finished eating what they will of the feed and start cooing for more food. So I go out to the garden again and start pulling some greens for them. Make sure to grab the broccoli leaves and not the comfrey, even though it's known as chicken fodder, because the ladies have a taste for vegetable leaves.

The chickens had early on associated the appearance of humans with food, so they always without fail run up to the fence and coo excessively anytime one of us returns home. I usually stop to wander through the garden and pull out some weeds to give to them to eat. Chickens also have a love of watermelon, bell pepper seeds, rice, bread, and chopped up garlic. Feeding them is a chore, but it's a fun chore (as opposed to cleaning up the coop, which is less than fun).

Chickens looking very hopefully for a sign of food

I've only had chickens for 5 months, but it's been a great experience to be a chicken farmer. Sadly, we have to give our chickens away because we're about to move house. But I'm looking forward to when I can own some land and start raising chickens again.

Goodbye, Queen! I'll miss you!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Affirmative action and other social justice articles

An Open Letter to Abigail Fisher: Really amazing opinion letter about affirmative action case at University of Texas. "Your white skin is not an entitlement pass. Mediocrity wasn’t adequate at the University of Texas at Austin and it is not acceptable in life." Agreed.

Top five myths about Asian Americans and affirmative action from Angry Asian Man. Affirmative action does Asians good, so don't hate it!

How media clearly reflects the sexism and the racism we cannot see in ourselves. A teacher reflects on a casting exercise with film students and how people of color/women are constantly being stereotyped into the same roles, even though these students are 'liberal'. It's NEVER just a book or movie, the media is how society learns these stereotypes in the first place.

We're a Culture, Not a Costume. For Halloween, choose costumes that don't perpetuate racist stereotypes!

I’m Not Interested in Finding a Truce in the Culture War. I’m Interested in Winning It. This is an interesting article. The author cites a book by Jonathan Haidt about how the Democrats and Republicans are locked in an endless war of pushing each other's buttons, refusing to give in on women's rights/abortion and religious freedom. But the author argues that access to healthcare (ie birthcontrol pills or abortion) is not an equal comparison to religious freedom, so is adment that the so-called culture war is not a real debate.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Affirmative Action at US Colleges

The affirmative action case in the US: I haven't read many articles on it yet, but man oh man. If they overturn affirmative action on the basis that "we don't need it anymore" or "it's unfair to white kids", I think I might throw up. There is still such a huge achievement gap between African American and Hispanic students with white or East Asian students and guess what, a lot of that is attributed to socioeconomic class. It's not because different ethnicities are inherently better or worse, it's that they don't have the same opportunities as white kids. Sorry, white girl who appealed to the Supreme Court about this, but I'm willing to bet that your job opportunities NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO TO SCHOOL will ALMOST ALWAYS be better than the Hispanic, African, Southeast Asian, or Native American kid. That's the white privilege kicking in. Poor whites might lose out on this, true, but I'm still pretty certain that their chances of success are still better than poor minorities if said minorities weren't offered that spot in the university. Racism is inherent in the system and we HAVE to fight this by giving our kids as many opportunities in education as we can. Affirmative action isn't perfect, but damnnit, it's still necessary.

Friday, September 21, 2012

amazing articles and videos

1 - Glamourbaby Diaries

Ruby Veridiano nurtures young women of color to challenge the fashion world and what it means to be beautiful, especially for Asian Americans. Amazing workshops!! I wish I could participate!

2 - PSY and the Acceptable Asian Man

PSY is the Korean pop star who wrote the song Gangnam Style that mainstream US has caught on. Very interesting article about how Asian pop stars are having trouble breaking into mainstream US music (hint, it's because of the Asian stereotypes/caricatures in American society).

3 - ChristianMuslim

Check out this music video for "ChristianMuslim," written, recorded and performed by Jason Chu and Rah Zemos. It's a really cool hand-drawn stop-motion animation piece speaking out against violence and bloodshed between people who "believe that we're all God's children".

4 - Refusing to Date Asian Men

Essay by Kathy Zhang '11 on the Patriarchy in US society and how stereotyping of Asians as feminine and non-sexual came from the need to suppress the minorities to uphold the dominance of white supremacy. An excellent read.

5 - Islamic History and Women You Never Hear Of

Kahula bint Azwar is the legendary woman you've never heard of. My new heroine!!

6 - PSY's Gangnam Style and what it ACTUALLY means

Analysis of PSY's hit song and putting it into context of Korean history. Excellent read.

7 - Citation Needed by allmypenguins

Article on how China isn't as suppressed as you think it is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This made my head explode

SECRET VIDEO: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters

Quote from Romney:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Yeah, because only poor people eat real food, everyone else just eats their money. WTF????

Quote from article:
Here was Romney raw and unplugged—sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative. Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney.
My sentiment: How dare someone who claims he wants to be president of an entire country just turn around and diss half the country? Not surprising that Romney holds these views, but what has US politics turned into if a major political party thinks this sort of perspective is acceptable??? The role of government is to make decisions and manage resources for the welfare of the people and if the esteemed leader of said government can't even stand half the country, then we as a nation have a very serious problem.

This and the comments about 'legitimate rape' from Missouri senator candidate Todd Akin just really infuriates me. I want to take the Republican Party candidates seriously because a true democratic system would have legitimate points of view from both sides of the political spectrum, but all they do is alienate voters and make very poor judgements about policies. It's not politics, it's just ideology talking.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Check these out!

A few articles and videos worth checking out!

CinderFella - a twist on the heteronormative Disney stories

Shadeism from ammabia productions on Vimeo.

This documentary short is an introduction to the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that exists between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of the same community. This documentary short looks specifically at how it affects young womyn within the African, Caribbean, and South Asian diasporas. Through the eyes and words of 5 young womyn and 1 little girl - all females of colour - the film takes us into the thoughts and experiences of each. Overall, 'Shadeism' explores where shadeism comes from, how it directly affects us as womyn of colour, and ultimately, begins to explore how we can move forward through dialogue and discussion. Worth a watch!

Sexism, Racism, and Swimming: Article about the "controversy" over Ye Shiwen's world record gold medal swim, which basically amounts to the Western world being racist against the Chinese.

Jessica Colotl: Eye Of The Storm. Jessica Colotl is an undocumented immigrant who was brought to America as a child – and who now faces deportation. Reporter Ryan Schill and artist Greg Scott bring to life the story that has become a flash point for America's immigration debate. Really great comic.

A story of a Muslim lesbian couple. Family can surprise you sometimes.

Remnants of Anti-Chinese Violence. This New York Times photo gallery highlights the work of Seattle photojournalist Tim Greyhavens, whose new online project, No Place for Your Kind, visits and photographs the sites of anti-Chinese incidents and vicious racial violence in the American West that occurred over a century ago. The photos are mundane, but the history behind them are not.

But We're Not Muslim! Article on the Sikh murders and stereotyping. When minorities feel they have to distinguish themselves from the "bad" minorities, what are we actually telling people? It's just perpetuating the stereotypes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pollution, Poverty, and People of Color

One of the biggest environmental justice issues is the interconnectedness between pollution, poverty, and people of color. Too often, the victims of pollution are those already marginalized in mainstream society by class or race and those with fewer voices to fight with. But even with the difficulties facing them, some communities managed to win against the big corporations and industries polluting their water, air, and land. This past June, the Environmental Health Network launched a special news series highlighting the environmental justice issues facing seven different communities across the United States. Check out the articles!

Day 1: The Factory on the Hill. The people of Richmond, CA live within a ring of five oil refineries, three chemical plants, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports and marine terminals.

Day 2: 'We are Richmond.' A beleaguered community earns multicultural clout. Richmond's jumble of smokestacks and storage tanks overlooking a port is one of the most industry-dense areas in the San Francisco Bay Area - and one of the poorest and most beleaguered.

Day 3: Stress + pollution = health risks for low-income kids. Facing financial strain, racial tension and high crime rates can wear down immunity and disrupt hormones, making kids more vulnerable to everything around them, including the lead in their yards and the car exhaust in their neighborhood.

Day 4: No beba el agua. Don't drink the water. “They think it’s normal not to drink water from your tap, that it’s normal to have to go buy bottled water. Part of our job is telling people, ‘This is not normal,’ ” said Susana De Anda, co-founder of the Community Water Center.

Day 5: Sacred water, new mine: A Michigan tribe battles a global corporation. The Keweenaw Bay Indians are fighting for their clean water, sacred sites and traditional way of life as Kennecott Eagle Minerals inches towards copper and nickel extraction, scheduled to begin in 2014.

Day 6: Dirty soil and diabetes: Anniston's toxic legacy. As a cleanup of West Anniston stretches into its eighth year, new research has linked PCBs exposure to a high rate of diabetes in this community of about 4,000 people, nearly all African American and half living in poverty. Even today, people there are among the most highly contaminated in the world.

Day 7: Falling into the 'climate gap'. Climate change is adding a new dimension to the three-decades-old environmental justice movement as researchers and activists focus on the inequities of the impacts. The rich can turn up air conditioners, move to higher ground, get bailed out by insurance. The poor and minorities are left – as with other environmental injustices – to cope as best they can.

Day 8: Asthma and the inner city: East St. Louis children struggle with life-threatening disease. What is it about this city, and other poor, African American cities, that leaves children with a disproportionate burden of respiratory disease? Is it the factories? The traffic exhaust? The substandard housing? Medical experts have struggled to unravel the mysterious connections between inner-city life and asthma, and they suspect they know the answer: All of the above.

Day 9A: Birth of the movement: "People have to stand up for what is right." A Q&A with two environmental justice pioneers. Just before the 30th anniversary of the protests against a toxic waste landfill at Warren County, North Carolina, Ferruccio and Ramey talk with EHN about their days as pioneers in the environmental justice movement.

Day 9B: Opinion Essay by Bullard: Much of America has wrong complexion for protection. In commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Warren County protests, we cannot celebrate too long because the “NIMBY” (not in my back yard) practice continues to be replaced with the “PIBBY” (place in blacks’ back yards) principle.

Day 10A: Opinion: Fighting environmental racism in the name of charity and justice . The “have not’s” or “have nothings” of the world often get blamed for their poverty as a moral failing on their own part. But perhaps the “haves” are the ones whose hardness of heart is the true moral failure because they don't act upon environmental inequity and destruction.

Day 10B: Opinion: Environmental policies must tackle social inequities. Even today, 30 years after residents of a poor, rural, predominantly African American county in North Carolina tried to block a hazardous waste landfill, the burden of proof still is placed on communities to demonstrate hazards and push for action. This needs to change. Social equity concerns should be incorporated into environmental policies and regulation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Other Inconvenient Truth

I've been feeling pretty drained after spending weeks and weeks writing this urban agriculture review, almost to the point of wishing I'd never heard about it at all. But then I watched this following video and now I'm very much determined that the work I'm helping with is important and necessary.

The following is a short video on the HUGE impact agriculture is having on the planet. We need food for the 7 billion people on this earth, but we need to produce it in a way that won't kill the planet. Think that we can keep going the way we are now with agriculture? Think again - we're running out of land, water, and energy to sustain what we have now. There is no silver bullet to this problem so we're gonna need everyone on board to talk about solutions. Every place is going to have a different solution, be it GM crops, local food, greywater, drip irrigation, or vertical farming. But it's important that we all do this.

A more complete version of that video is given here with Jonathan Foley's talk at TEDxTC. Summary from TED shown below.

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin "terraculture" -- farming for the whole planet. Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jame Oliver: Teach every child about food

This is one of my favorite TED talks. It's SO, SO important to teach kids now where their food comes from, especially with supermarkets everywhere and agriculture becoming less and less a tangible idea for kids growing up in the cities. It's not just about the feel-good urban agriculture of community gardens or farmers market, it's about knowing what goes into growing food and learning how to be self sufficient. If this generation of kids can't tell what the basic vegetable names are, society has a pretty huge problem on their hands once the current generation of farmers are gone. Everyone's gotta eat and someone has to grow the food.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Birke Baehr: What's wrong with our food system

This kid is 11 and he's talking about organic farming and the local movement, stuff I never even thought about until college! Man, I wish I had his oral presentation skills at his age! This is what the world needs, more kids like him. That being said, I wouldn't be as quick to dismiss genetically engineered food as he. Genetic alterations happen naturally (think transposable genetic elements) and having some genetic strains that are more drought tolerant will definitely be useful in the future. The problem with such GM food is decreasing the genetic diversity and not having the whole pool of diversity to go back to if something happens (ie flood happens and you don't have any genetic strains that survive better under very wet conditions). And of course, there's always the possibility of introducing a combination of genetic material into the ecosystem that reacts poorly.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why Art? Community Art Project Video

Ever wondered what the point of doing art was, what benefits there are to participating in the arts, or how you might get involved? You've come to watch the right video!

I've been involved in a year long community arts project with the Centre of Multicultural Youth. The artist in residency project started off as focused on the very broad topics of building relationships between young people of color and art organizations, developing best practice models for art organizations, and ways to encourage families and young people to participate in art. Over a series of brainstorming sessions and discussions, we spoke a lot about of the role of art, identity and labeling, addressing social issues with art, skills developed during the process of art, challenges art practioners and organizations face, and more. Eventually, we narrowed down our focus to getting families and young people involved in the arts through examining why art is important. We interviewed a bunch of people over Nov 2011-Jan 2012 (including me!!) and came up with the short documentary video below. I'll shut up now and let you watch the video because it is AWESOME and speaks for itself.

The long term intention is to build on this short video and develop a feature length documentary on the many issues touched upon in this video. But for now, the goal is to get the word out to as many people as we can about this video. We're planning on distributing it to as many families and young people as we can. But they won't be our only target audience - it's important for city councils, community organizers, youth workers, and funding bodies to watch this video too. If you can forward it to your networks and get them to watch it, it will really help!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry's Commencement Speech: Wellesley College May 2012

Professor, political scientist, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and rising "nerdland" icon Melissa Harris-Perry addresses the members of the Class of 2012 and an international audience of their families and friends at Wellesley College's 134th Commencement Exercises on Friday, May 25, 2012. Some good words of advice for the women who will redefine success in the world.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Plant the Plate

A great new infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists does an awesome job of showing the discrepancy between the typical American diet and the one recommended by the USDA. It also shows how subsidies to producers of the Big Five commodity crops (wheat, corn, soy, rice, and cotton) prevent U.S. farmers from planting the fruits and vegetables we need to be healthy. To make the essential transition to plant what's actually recommended for Americans, it would take $90 million, less than 2% of what's currently spent (more than $5 billion) on subsidies for the Big 5 commodity crops. Given that the outcome would be job creation for local food systems, better health for Americans, less reliance on foreign exports, and more local eating, I think it's a really worthwhile investment.


Image and information courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists. More information and full sized image available here

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rough Guide to Community Energy

Rough Guides, a world travel guidebook company, and M&S has recently come out with a free book on community energy. This book, Rough Guide to Community Energy, brings together resources and advice about creating sustainability in local communities through citizen action.

It's often been said that individual action is too small to make a difference and government action is too slow to change anything, but communities are the right scale to get the movement going. For anyone who's interested in starting a community group to tackle climate change or solar energy, but doesn't know where to start, this book provides a lot of cool case studies from the UK and many a practical advice on getting a project off the ground. The guide only covers energy issues and only draws from successful models from one geographic region, so there's a lot more out there that's possible, but it's a good starting point.

The book is available for download free on the website here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guerrilla Girls: Conscience of the Art World

I went to a lecture tonight by two of the founding members of the Guerrilla Girls. Best decision I made in a while, I must say. The lecture was AWESOME, very enlightening and humorous. I remember the first poster I saw of them was of a nude female statue with a gorilla mask on and the caption, "Do women have be naked to be in US museums? Only 3% of artists in the Met Museum are female, but 83% of the nudes are female". Apparently they did a resurveying of the Met a few months ago and now the statistics read, 4% female artists and 74% nude female statues. So CLEARLY, there's a lot of work to be done still about the representation of female artists and artists of color.

Guerrilla Girls 2007 Shanghai poster

The two Guerrilla Girls spoke a lot about the lack of museum ethics (trustees paying their way to show their private collections, fixed art auctions, tokenism), the evolving set of issues they've addressed over the years (from complete lack of female artists in exhibition to token multicultural or female artists to the bad money issues to other social justice issues), politics, and many a museum protest. Who knew museum directors make so much money?? The black market for art is 5th behind drugs, sex, guns, and human trafficking. I mean, I kinda knew that art was lucrative, but not THAT lucrative. It's funny how the museums have now started to invite the Guerrilla Girls to exhibit their work and they've taken the opportunity to make some criticial pieces of tough love against the system. But it does get the message out.

The take home message at the end (and directives for future aspiring Guerrilla Girls):
  1. Complain, complain, complain. Every person who stands up to demand more female and minority presence in museums and other institution makes a difference.
  2. Be anonymous. There's a lot of power in the mask - it takes the focus off the personality and on the issue.
  3. Don't be afraid to make liberal use of the F word - FEMINISM.
  4. Do one thing at a time and if it doesn't work, try something else. There are a lot of social justice issues out there and trying to battle them all at once is pretty overwhelming. Just take it one step at a time and don't give up.
  5. Be funny! A little humor goes a long way in getting awareness about social justice issues.
  6. Tough love to the system! Don't be afraid to speak your mind about it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day! We often think of Mother's Day as a holiday of those Hallmark cards with the perfect blond mother with her perfect children giving her breakfast in bed and dear husband with flowers and chocolate. But really, there is so much more to motherhood than that. So here's to all the strong women out there, the single mothers, the women of color, the disabled, the queer, the incarcernated, the poor, the stay-at-home carers, the professionals, and everyone in between. Keep fighting the good fight. Today is the radical envisioning of what can happen when you put women in the center of action. Make sure to check out the Strong Families Initiative, read the stories from all the complexities of motherhood, from nursing to sexuality to working to race and immigration, and show some appreciation for the women in your life today!

Mother's Day card from the Strong Families Initiative

Saturday, May 5, 2012

International Permaculture Day Celebrations

May 6 is International Permaculture Day! It's a day to celebrate sustainable, productive, and self-reliant households and communities. Check out the Australian and international events here.

For Melbournians, here's a local Permaculture Day event.

Sunday 6 May, Permaculture Celebration at Fairfield Community Garden

Time: 10am to 4pm

Address: 1 Hamilton St., Fairfield, Vic, (behind Interactive Learning Centre)

Come and join the celebration of Permaculture Day at Fairfield Community Garden!

-10:15am Weeding and mulching the paths
-11:00am Autumn Leaf Harvest (also a TD event)

Other highlights
- Gardening workshops
- Child's play area
- Book corner
- Sustainable finger food ( 12.30 to 2pm , by donation)
- Talks on sustainability
- Music and much more!

Please bring your picnic rug, food, cups, plates, cutlery, garden tools or skills to share and enjoy a day out in the garden!

Entry: $5 or by donation

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Review: Tomatoland

Book review of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook

Estabrook presents a critical look at the US tomato industry, particularly the agribusiness in Florida, where most of the US winter grown tomato crop comes from. Tomatos are among the bottom of fruit and veg for taste. The book offers a few possible reasons - tomatos bred for shelf life over taste, the diminishing genetic diversity among varieties out on the market. Most of that is fairly common among agriculture - bananas around the world, for example, are all the same clone species. It was interesting to read of field expeditions to find wild tomato plants in South America and to read of the history of the tomato species. To think that we'd never eat the fruit if one or two key people didn't persist in growing them from the rather inedible ancestors!

There's a lot to be said about the big agriculture industry and overuse of pesticide and fertilizer, but many other organic-local-sustainable ag advocates have already covered this issue. What makes this book different from the rest is its coverage of the huge labor abuses occurring in the industry. If you think that slavery is dead and gone in the US, think again, only this time replace Africans with Latinos. Many agricultural workers are treated like slaves - trucked out from south of the border, tricked into job contracts they can't read, and then told they have to stay to work off their "debt" for the ride up and the crappy housing. If they try to leave their establishments, they get beaten, threatened, chained to posts, and on and on. What's even more chilling is that the few legal cases against these labor abuses happened within the last 2 years and they've barely made a dent in how agribusiness operates. Workers still use the most dangerous and carcinogenetic pesticides and herbicides on these plants without any basic protection. Many still have no healthcare, no minimum hourly wage (paid by the amount picked instead, which hugely depends on how close you are to the truck), no compensation for waiting times, no decent housing. I find it frustrating and aggravating that the state government would turn a blind eye to this and offer lackluster enforcement of existing laws against such abuses. Not only do we not treat the people who pick our food right, but we also suffer from eating tasteless food.

The only criticism I have of the book is that a good few portions were repeated several times, almost phrase for phrase. But other than that, I think the book offered a fresh look at agriculture, tomatos, and labor. Definitely worth the read!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finally, the day of our permablitz!

Saturday 21 April was our very own permablitz at the rental property I share with my 4 other housemates in Preston. The weather was very cooperative! It started out a cold misty morning when the delivery truck came by with our 4 cubic meters of mushroom compost and mulch, but soon the sun came out for a very nice day. Volunteers started rolling in around 10am and started straight to work digging the fence for the chicken run and weeding the marrow by the peach tree. There were fewer people than we expected, but that turned out to be exactly the number we needed to get the job done.

Before: the back yard

Before: the back yard

Before: the back yard

Before: the front yard

After opening circle and a round of stretches lead by Pat, we split up into the morning workshops. Phuong spoke about the importance of ponds and got several volunteers to help dig out the pond. Pat facilitated the finishing details on the chicken coop (the bulk of which was built the previous weekend), such as sanding down, painting on several layers of paint, and adding on the roofing. Moz worked on the chicken run fence with Hans and Freddy the majority of the day, digging in the chicken wire to prevent foxes and securing the fence posts. I managed the laying down of wet cardboard over the grass for our no-dig technique on the veggie patch. It took a lot more cardboard than we expected to cover the entire backyard! We actually had to make several extra trips to the supermarket recycling bin for cardboard (luckily it's close by).

Stretching during opening circle

Weeding the marrow

Digging the pond

Painting the chicken coop

Digging out the fence

Putting in the chicken run fence


Lunch was a delicious vegan serving of potato salad, dahl, chickpea curry, and rice cooked by Pat. It was an excellent opportunity for everyone to network and get to know one another. There were a few people who were involved with the transition town movement, and I got to learn a bit about how they operate. I'd love to get involved with Transition Darebin in the future - the grassroots nature of transition towns is really appealing.

Cardboard, dirt, and the beginnings of the veggie patch

A long row of bikes on our front porch

Our veggie patch before planting
After lunch, we continued to work on the veggie patch, wheelbarrowing mushroom compost from the front to the back. We were initially worried that we wouldn't have wheelbarrows to carry the compost, but our callout for tools was readily answered by our volunteers, who all seemed to bring a shovel or other handy tools. Indeed, some dedicated few even brought everything on their bike trailers. Our house setup made it easy to have two wheelbarrows going at once and soon the entire backyard was covered in mushroom compost. Chamali and I used string to measure out a circle for the bike-wheel design veggie patch and soon volunteers were planting seeds and seedlings.


The chicken fence was finished quite early so the rest of the volunteers soon moved on to building the composting toliet. Some measuring, pounding, and many a toilet joke later, our simple little composting toilet was finished.

Composting toilet workshop

Everyone was so efficient with the work that we had our finishing cake and tea before 3pm. Vegan chocolate cake and fruit after a long day of gardening was very welcome. Some volunteers stayed on to help with the front yard. We used the same no-dig technique out there with cardboard and mulch to suppress the grass, and soon the natives were all planted. The volunteers even dug out the concrete border and hauled it to the back, where we turned it into a nice little border around the laundry line.

Group photo!

All in all, I'm really happy with what we got accomplished. It took a lot of work in organizing, planning, and managing, but it was worth it. Permablitzes generally take place on land that the host owns because let's face it, gardening takes a LOT of time, energy, and money. So there aren't very many permablitzes that occur on rental properties. But I think that it's important to show what can be done on rental properties. With a little ingenuity about where you get materials, you can do a lot. Even if we don't end up staying at this house, having a garden will increase the value of the land and add to the urban ecosystem. So now comes the fun part of watching our garden grow!

Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage

This video is awesome! Very creatively done.

Gardening in small spaces

If you have a balcony, courtyard or small backyard and want to make the most of it, come and learn how to create an inviting oasis at a FREE two hour workshop to see the latest for gardening in small spaces.

When: 6.30pm to 8.30pm, Wednesday 30 May 2012

Where: Blue Room, Level 1 Melbourne Multicultural Hub, 506 Elizabeth Street (opposite Queen Victoria Market), Melbourne

Bookings: Entry is free but bookings are required via Healthy Habitat.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Style = Substance

I came across a great little article yesterday. There are so many stories on the women who didn't fit into the same old depressive stereotypes of minorities in the US, but we always hear about their hardships and the pain, never their ability to just be normal women. Here is a short article celebrating just those women, defying the time and age while looking real slick (poofy hair and everything).


Here’s what I wish I knew back when I was in high school and so proud of myself for being the exceptionally compassionate, caring person I believed myself to be: focusing only on the pain and degradation of any oppressed group of people does another kind of damage to those individuals. It turns them into stereotypes of pain and damage and ignores everything else about them, including whether they’re funny, or stupid, or weird, or brilliant, or irreverent, or stylish, or creative, or boring, or selfish, or anything else that people are capable of being. It takes away their complexity and vastness and reduces people to one-dimensional figures. So yes, this is a post about style, but more than that, it’s a post about not denying these girls the dignity of their multitudes.

Never underestimate the power of small acts. Even something as trivial as hairspray can be a radical act.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on organizing a permablitz

My housemates and I spent all last weekend buying materials and sorting out the plan for the permablitz next week. Organizing can be hard work, especially with many different tasks! But at last, the mushroom compost and mulch is ordered, the wood sourced, the tools accounted for, seeds and seedlings bought, the call for volunteers made. We'll be expecting around 20-25 people on Saturday to come help us finish up the chicken coop and the run, dig the pond, build the composting toilet, and put in the vegetable patch.

The process of organizing such an event is in itself a really good learning experience. Here are some thoughts on how to avoid great frustration and stress:

  1. It can be difficult working on your own for this, so it's important to have good team work and to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
  2. Everyone working with you should be familiar with the permaculture design principles as well as the ethos of a permablitz (creating edible ecosystem gardens, building community networks, skill sharing). It's not just about getting the garden the way you want it, it's also about teaching other people how they can do something similar in their neighborhood and creating a knowledge network.
  3. Task delegation is very important!
  4. Good communication between hosts, facilitators, and designers is key so no one is left out of the loop.
  5. Don't try to bite off more than you can chew. As tempting as it can be to put in every single great idea (fruit trees, climbing pumpkins, oh my!), you have to be realistic about your budget and your time. Are you really going to spend 30+min in the garden every day to tend to everything you put in? If not, then you might want to scale back.
  6. For plants that take a long time to bear fruit (ie trees), you can put them into portable pots for greater mobility and flexibility.
  7. There is free material everywhere if you're willing to spend time looking for it. We got a good amount of free wood from Gumtree (Australian's version of Craig's List) and free cardboard from off the street.
  8. Do your research! Whether it's buying materials, looking at companion planting, or designing the garden, going in with some prior knowledge will be essential.
  9. Empowering people by letting them have ownership of the project is very important.
Some great resources for hosts, facilitators, and designers are available here on the Melbourne Permablitz website for those looking to organize a permablitz of their own. Definitely read through them!

So what's our garden going to look like anyway?
Backyard design plan

We'll have the center vegetable patch (bike wheel style) where we'll rotate different veggies in depending on the season. It's in what's known as the zone 1 area, really close to the house and easily accessible.

To the left of the patch is our chicken run, where Henrietta Lacks and sister chicken will live. Some chicken-friendly plants, like fat hen, dock, comfrey, wormwood, and dandelion will be planted along the fence for the chickens to eat. The idea of having the chicken run next to the veggie patch is so that we can do our rounds in the veggie patch and swing by the chicken coop to check for eggs every day. Easy!

Above the vegetable patch is the herbs area, for herbs like basil and rosemary. We'll have some beneficial insect plants as well, basically anything that will attract pollinators or shelter predators of pests. These include cosmos, queen anne's lace, borage, and chamomile.

Up by the bike shed, there's some frames. Later in the year, we'll try growing vertically up them with pumpkins or peas or zucchini. If the area is warm enough, we might try for passionfruit as well!

Behind the shed is an evergreen area. We'll plant some evergreen natives, bamboo, and maybe some honeysuckle to attract birds and increase the biodiversity of the garden. It'll make a good reflecting spot if we have a nice little path leading to the back.

Across from there is the wet area where the pond is going. If we're really ambitious, we may add in a bench and turn it into a really nice area for relaxing and reflecting. Mint, peppermint, raspberries, coriander, and later lemongrass and ginger will be grown there.

Next to that area is the composting toilet shed. Yes, you read that right, the composting toilet. More details on how that's gonna turn out later! Hopefully we'll angle the venting pipe so that it doesn't go straight into the faces of people in the entertainment area.

Next to the house will be our propagation area. It'll be a really simple "table" made of wood or slabs on top of our rainwater tanks. We can check on it every day when heading out and make sure it's covered via a shade cloth. By putting it next to the house, the seedlings can be protected undercover.

So that's the plan! We'll see how it turns out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Planning for Permablitz

My housemates and I are finally going to permablitz our garden in April! This is my first time designing a garden and seeing the design through. I first heard about permaculture through Wellesley's Edible Forest Garden Project in 2010, where I got to help design a fruit tree 'guild' including supporting plants for the fruit tree. But I graduated before the actual planting got started. So I'm really excited to see our design made real this time!

The first step in doing a permaculture design is to incorporate the permaculture principles. The basic premise is to model natural ecological systems in the backyard/garden so that the humans can sustainably use the space for growing edibles or enjoyment. Deep Green Permaculture has a good description of the design principles and there are many books on permaculture, notably by Bill Mollison, Dave Jacke, and David Holmgren. Here's a short summary of the principles:

Design Principles
  1. Relative Location – every element is placed in relationship to another so that they assist each other
  2. Each element performs many functions
  3. Each important function is supported by many elements
  4. Efficient energy planning – for house and settlement (zones and sectors)
    -Zone Planning
    -Sector Planning
  5. Using Biological Resources – Emphasis on the use of biological resources over fossil fuel resources
  6. Energy Cycling – energy recycling on site (both fuel and human energy)
  7. Small Scale Intensive Systems
    -Plant Stacking
    -Time Stacking
  8. Accelerating Succession and Evolution – Using and accelerating natural plant succession to establish favourable sites and soils
  9. Diversity – Polyculture and diversity of beneficial species for a productive, interactive system
  10. Edge Effect – Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect
  11. Attitudinal Principles
    -Everything works both ways
    -Permaculture is information and imagination intensive
(source: "Introduction To Permaculture" – Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay)

Our garden design incorporates most of these principles. If we had oodles and oodles of time (and money), we'd do everything here and use all the space in the backyard and front yard. Imagine passionfruit growing up the fences, herbs by the kitchen window, grape vines out front! But baby steps first, especially since this is our first year living at this house and we haven't gone through all the seasons yet. It's important to get a feel for how the sun/shade hits the space and where the different microclimates are (like how the corner by the rainwater tanks might be warmer because the sun hits the tanks and bounces off).

backyard sketch
Our backyard dimensions

Our plan for this upcoming permablitz is to build or put in the following:
  1. a chicken coop. Chickens, as I've written about before, are really great for the garden for fertilizer and pest management.
  2. a propagation table/shed. The propagation shed is a handy protected space for growing seedlings. You can use a table or even just a tray that's undercover. We might be opting for the table rather than a whole shed for simplicity.
  3. a composting toilet. Speaks for itself, why not? We only have one bathroom in the house for 5 people, so it'd be handy to have a second bathroom. Biosolids, if treated correctly, can be really great fertilizer for the garden.
  4. a pond. This goes back to the idea of emulating natural ecosystems. With the pond, we can attract frogs, insects, and birds, all of which help with increasing the biodiversity of our garden. It's important to have support for the pollinators and pest managers that frequent the garden.
  5. a vegetable patch. Our main purpose! We'll be doing the no-dig technique and simply laying down newspaper, cardboard, manure/mushroom compost, and mulch to suppress the weeds before planting. The veggie patch will be in a bicycle spoke design, allowing us to rotate veggies between the 'spokes' and easily access each section.

More details to come later when we do the permablitz!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Adaptation and mitigation of small island agricultural systems

Australia's Primary Industries Adaptation Research Network (PIARN) and National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility recently ran a webinar on adaptation, mitigation, and management of agricultural systems, focusing on the research work done on Tasmania. The webinar featured Professor Holger Meinke with the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. He spoke on improving early warning systems and risk management of the increasing flood threat, which will enable farmers to adapt cropping systems, and produce methods that will have applications throughout Australia’s flood-prone farmland.

Professor Meinke gave a very informative presentation, which is available to view below. PIARN records the presentation and also allows the public to access the presentation remotely via the internet such that they can interact with the presenter from a distance. It's a great way for the information to be accessed more widely. The presentations so far have been geared towards audiences with a basic understanding of climate change and agriculture, but are not so technical that those not in the discipline cannot understand.

Adaptation, mitigation and the responsible management of agricultural systems - a 'small island' perspective from Climate & primary industries on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

FAO Recycling water for agriculture

This FAO animation is awesome! It explains in simple and easy to understand graphics how cities can use water in alternative ways to grow agricultural goods. Check it out!

FAO Recycling Water animation in English (Flash required)

There's also a Spanish and French version of the animation too!

More information about the FAO Water Development and Management here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Compost Death Star

A few weeks ago, my housemates and I bought a tumbling compost ball. It's pretty much the most amazing thing ever and it looks like a Death Star, which makes it even more amazing (because I am a Star Wars geek and now I have my own dark side of the garden). Most composts don't get turned over often enough or don't get enough oxygen inside, including our last compost bin at the previous house. Having a compost ball that you can roll around helps with turnover and mixing. The design even has little holes for oxygen to breathe in.

Another common problem that people have is an imbalance between the nitrogen-heavy material (your food scraps and garden greens) and the carbon-heavy stuff (dry leaves, newspapers, straw). Too much of one or the other slows down the decomposing process and makes the compost bin really smelly. So far, the compost ball seems to be working - no funky smells. We've left it in the sun to help decompose faster and have made sure to put in lots of newspaper. It'll be a couple more weeks before we get stuff to use in the garden though, so I'll post later about that.

My only problem with it is that the cover is kinda hard to open! It does come with a "key" of sorts, but it takes a certain amount of strength to pry the cover open, and if bits of food gets stuck at the top, that doesn't help.

Now for the exciting photos of the making of our compost ball!

Compost Death Star

The different "layers" of the ball

Compost Death Star

The holes for oxygen

Compost Death Star

Putting things together

Compost Death Star

How the oxygen gets in

Compost Death Star

Putting the middle parts together

Compost Death Star

Pat really likes the ball...

Compost Death Star

The completed Death Star!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wellesley empowers women

Today, I was talking with several women in my field of research in environmental science and we spoke about how women are lacking in leadership roles within science. Apparently, they have all worked with ONLY men in their workplace. WTF, where are all the women?! They said that women in general are hesitant to speak up for bigger roles and more benefits. I ended up telling them about how Wellesley really cultivates an empowering environment for women to go after ambitious career goals and teaches us not to be afraid to be offended or to stand up to bs from our male colleagues etc etc. The others were really impressed with this and said they really wished their schools had the same kind of atmosphere. Empowering women is really honestly a hugely important part of a women's education (in my opinion)!

Also, apparently it is unheard of (or at least really gutsy) to feel comfortable just calling up alums and networking with them because they are alumnae. Wellesley's alumnae network is one of the biggest pulls for me and I'm so proud of how alums are willing to bend over backwards for other alums or students, and as a young alum, I've been able to repay the karma for several students as well. I honestly believe in the quote "There's a special hell for women who don't help out other women" - if you're breaking barriers, make sure to throw down a rope for the others behind you.

I just wanted to share that story and give a shout out to all the Wellesley alums out there who are inspiring, glass-ceiling-breaking or just otherwise kickass role models for all the rest of us. Here's to you all!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tram Community Art Project

This is a bit of a different post from the norm - I wanted to share the results from my community art project that just finished up.

Last month I finished up a community art project with Melbourne's Centre of Multicultural Youth (CMY) and Yarra Trams. It was my first community art project and I loved it! The task was to come up with art designs on the themes of diversity and multiculturalism for two tram stops along the Route 96 line on the corner of Elgin and Nicholson Street in Carlton. Yarra Trams wanted to install artwork in hopes to preventing graffiti on the tram stops and to promote a positive image of youth. A team of 4 young people, including myself, and CMY's artist in residence, Reeham Hakem, started working on the project in September 2011, with lots of discussions and brainstorms on what multiculturalism and diversity meant, how it can be represented via art, and what messages we wanted to send.




Our brainstorming sessions

We came up with two different concepts. The first was a text based design that answered the statement: "I am more than ___ ". Each one of us is more than what others might perceive us to be. No one is simply a face, and no one can be taken for face value or stereotyped under one word. We decided to go around Carlton to ask people to complete the statement "I am more than" and the various 'answers' would make up a word cloud for the design on the tram stop.

text tram before

Text based design tram: Before

The collection of the words was great fun and we got to talk with a variety of people, from university students to shop owners to maintenance workers to schoolchildren, which sampled the diversity of the Carlton community. One kind restaurant owner even treated us to a pizza lunch!

tram stop text final

The text design

The second design was based on the idea that we all have different paths and backgrounds, but come together to form a larger diverse community. We used abstract shapes to represent this and the final design was done in aerosol spray. The panels were stenciled before they were installed onto the tram stop and then we spent a week doing touch up work on the tram stop itself. It was pretty miserable weather during that week, complete with rain and wind, and every 15 minutes, there'd be a tram running by. But we got it done in time.

aerosol tram before

Aerosol tram: Before

aerosol work

Stenciling the panels


Installing the artwork

The artwork was officially launched in February 2012 after 6 months hard work. I had a lot of fun with the team, both in the discussions we had and in the art making. And the idea of transforming a public space into an unexpected art exhibition is awesome.


Text design tram stop



Aerosol tram stop


finished installation

Thanks, Route 96 team! You guys have really inspired me to continue doing community art projects! =)