Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘TED’

03 APRIL, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture: Top 5 Innovation Efforts

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What sheep have to do with high-rises and Obama first oversight.

We’re big on sustainability. The real, policy-changing, culture-redefining kind, not the I-Heart-Recycling graphic tee kind. Which is why we think agriculture, the literal lifeline to our vitality, is a tremendously potent tool for ensuring a sustainable future. Here are 5 innovative projects that propagate progress through smart, sustainable food initiatives.

HERDSHARE

The days of making small talk with the milkman may be long gone, but the relationship doesn’t have to be.

herdshare Australian startup Herdshare is building a platform that enables farmers and their shareholders to form and manage their herd share arrangements, essentially cutting out the middleman and making the relationship delightfully personal.

For the un-initiated, a heardshare is coop of people who buy a small herd and pay a farmer to take care of their animals, milk them, and deliver the goods. Herdshare is founded on principles of fair pricing, food quality, landcare, better animal husbandry and, above all, simplicity.

The site itself is still being built, but we have high hopes for the project. In the meantime, you can read their brochure to find out more.

FOODZIE

Farmers markets have long been the scene of the grassroots eco-eating movement, especially with the recent emphasis on local over organic as the more sustainable consumer choice. (Ideally, of course, we take ours local AND organic.)

foodzie Unfortunately, not every city is as lucky as Philly, with its legendary Reading Terminal Market, North America’s first and largest indoor farmers market. Enter startup Foodzie — an online farmers market where small growers and artisan producers can get their foodstuffs to the hungry and socially conscious masses.

An Etsy for food, Foodzie features anything from bakery to herbs and spices to meat and seafood. You can find such delicious divinities as the hazelnut truffle cookie, the Vindaloo curry sauce or the hickory-smoked buffalo jerky strips. You can even shop by location, if you subscribe to Google’s 100-mile-radius philosophy.

sugar Foodzie also carries occasion-specific treats, like the curret selection of editorially-curated Easter products — so grab yourself a sheepie-shaped sugar cookie and tell your favorite local farmer about the site. It’s a grassroots movement, after all, so your individual word-of-mouth may have more power than you suspect.

via The New York Times

LOCAL HARVEST

You know we’re talking grassroots when there’s a hideously designed yet brilliantly conceived site in question.

Which is exactly what LocalHarvest is — an online tool for finding local, organic food across nearby CSA (community-supported agriculture) initiatives, farmers markets and family farms.

We’ve mentioned the project before, but it’s worth a revisit since it’s constantly adding new farmers markets as well as new site features — you can do anything from finding a CSA subscription to reading the blogs of the actual farmers whose food is on your table.

Food really doesn’t get more personal than that, and we love how LocalHarvest marries the old-timey relationship between the spinach-eater and his spinach-growing neighbor with the tools of today’s web-centric culture.

POLYFACE FARMS

We’ve sung the praises of Polyface Farms before — extensively — so we won’t over-elaborate. But we will say that when agricultural activist Michael Pollan puts his seal of approval on something, there’s good reason. (Which is a shame, since Obama recently shot down The Sustainable Dozen, Pollan’s recommendation for head of the Department of Agriculture — a big mistake by Obama, in our generally Obama-loving opinion.)

Polyface founder Joel Salatin has a vision far broader than the food itself:

We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.

What’s unique about Polyface Farms is the uniquely designed permaculture system that the six different animal species inhabit. They’re all engaged in a fascinating ecological dance, brilliantly orchestrated by the farm to maximize the symbiotic relationship the animals have with one another and with the land.

Polyface is a hopeful exemplar in sustainable agriculture, a model we hope will be replicated on a scale large enough to truly impact the entire industry’s business model and thus its cultural and ethical footprint.

VERTICAL FARMING PROJECT

We had the fortune of seeing TED 2009 live, where urban farming pioneer Dickson Despommier presented his brilliant Vertical Farm Project, an urban agriculture initiative that takes indoor farming to a new level — literally.

The project aims to increase our ecosystem’s food efficiency by using urban space — high-rises in particular — to start a new movement of city farming for today’s urbanites. Vertical Farming offers so many rationally indisputable benefits we have to wonder why it hasn’t been considered seriously until now — you get year-round crop production, maximize space (1 acre indoor is equivalent to 4-30 acres outdoors, depending on the crop), it’s weather-controlled, so no crop loss due to droughts, floods or pests (unless you count your roommate in the latter), and you can grow fully organically, without pesticides or herbicides.

These are just a few of the multitude of benefits — and now it’s over to the design side, with a number of architectural plans already proposed.

To find out more about the brilliant rationale of vertical farming, take a look at the library of concept presentations. And stay tuned for when the Despommier talk becomes available on TED — this is an idea worth spreading, if we ever saw one.

02 APRIL, 2009

20 Steps to Sustainable Cities

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Why changing our city-dwelling ways is the only way to keep our cities.

We’ll be brief today, because our video spotlight isn’t. But it is as culturally relevant and compelling as they come: It’s a talk by World Changing founder (and TEDster) Alex Steffen, given at the Danish Architecture Centre, where he makes a radical case for sustainable cities with 20 proposed solution spaces, each the domain of great urgency for change.

Long as it may be, the talk is altogether excellent — if there ever was a blueprint for a healthy planet still inhabited by our urbanite species, Alex Steffen has just laid it out.

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26 MARCH, 2009

The Library Rethought

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How to one-up the Greeks and what Shepard Fairey has to do with Copenhagen circa 1891.

Libraries have a special place in history as a hearth of culture that kindled the greatest feats of science and the grandest works of art. Yet today, they’re in danger of being left precisely there — in history. As our collective use of libraries dwindles in the digital age, five brave efforts are innovating the concept of “the library” in ways that make it as culturally relevant today as it ever was.

PENTAGRAM FOR L!BRARY

Almost nine years ago, NYC design studio Pentagram got involved with the Robin Hood Foundation in an inspired effort to build new elementary school libraries throughout NYC’s five boroughs — the best architects were to build them, private companies were to fill them with books, Pentagram were to design the inspirational atmosphere and craft the entire identity for what became The Library Initiative.

But they found something interesting — even though the libraries were mostly located in high-ceiling old buildings, shelves could only be as high as the kids could reach, leaving a lot of space between the top of the shelves and the ceiling. Pentagram saw this space as a canvas to fill with something wonderful, so they partnered with a handful of top-notch designers to create murals that are just that — absolutely wonderful.

Today, these inspired murals can be found in more than 60 libraries across the five boroughs, featuring the work of designers and illustrators cherry-picked by the Pentagram team — from a series of photographic portraits by Dorothy Kresz, to a visual interpretation of words through silhouettes by Rafael Esquer, to books hidden in images in the iconic illustration style of Christoph Niemann.

Needless to say, we love the idea. Design is only as valuable as the change it ignites — in our understanding of beauty and truth, our conceptual and aesthetic literacy, yes, but also in our greater social sensibility. And harnessing the power of design to enhance “literal literacy” by turning libraries into cooler, more inviting hangouts for kids, well, that’s just pure beauty and truth.

LIBRARY OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

We’ve featured philanthropic geek Jay Walker‘s Library of Human Imagination extensively before.

So for today’s refresher purposes, his fantastic TED talk should get the job done.

We’d love to see Jay open up his library to those with the greatest urgency of fostering the spirit of human imagination — children. Because whatever is behind the doors of our cultural library, a school bus should be in front of them.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON FLICKR

It’s always a delight to see the stiffest and most traditional of institutions embrace fundamental elements of today’s social spirit.

Which is why we love seeing The Library of Congress on Flickr. Their collection features nearly 6,000 images of historic hallmarks — from the evolution of the women’s rights movement to incredible World War I panoramas to a breathtaking century-old grand tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Go ahead, get nostalgic over ages you didn’t really live in to remember. It’s okay, we did too.

LIVE FROM THE NYPL

Turns out, you can actually talk in libraries. Some even hand you a mic — at least if you’re on one of the NYPL Live panels, a fantastic talk series by and at The New York Public Library. The events are available as free audio podcasts on iTunes, with short video highlights viewable online.

We were recently taken with NYPL’s REMIX event, an excellent discussion titled Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson and sponsored by Wired, the conversation between Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig and now-legendary street artist Shepard Fairey, whose Obama “HOPE” poster became the most iconic political design of all time, offered a fantastic discourse on the intersection of creativity and “fair use” — a particuarly timely discourse amidst the AP’s preposterous lawsuit against Fairey.

Watch the full program online for brilliant insight into the absurdities of today’s copyright legislature and the unnecessary ways in which it hinders the inevitable mergence of  today’s mashup culture.

INTERNET ARCHIVE

Web entrepreneur, activist and digital librarian Brewster Kahle, possibly the most influential figure in today’s digitization movement, is out to gift the world with universal access to knowledge.

Since 1996, his Internet Archive has amassed an enormous collection of cultural artifacts — text, audio, moving images, software, even archived web pages — offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars and anyone else interested in the cultural anthropology of our civilization.

We really need to put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. If we don’t do that, we’re going to get the generation we deserve — they’re going to learn from whatever it is they have around them.

Inspired by an inscription above the door of the Boston Public Library — Free To All — Kahle set out to, essentially, “one-up the Greeks” by building a hub of culture that puts Egypt’s Library of Alexandria to shame, using technology to bring all of the world’s knowledge to as many people as want to make use of it — everything that was ever published and meant for distribution available to anyone who ever wanted access to it.

Kahle’s TED talk is an excellent introduction to the many facets of this monumental movement, which will no doubt reshape today’s relationship with history and tomorrow’s conversation with today.

Explore the Internet Archive and, while you’re at it, consider that the very act and opportunity of doing so makes you the envy of the Platos and the Gutenbergs of history. And, really, how incredible is that?

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