Sunday, September 27, 2015

Saturday at the Common Ground Fair

Yesterday, I spent the day at the Common Ground Fair, but it was more like being at sort of a far-out alternative university. I attended what amounted to seven "classes" or at least fragments of classes.

(1) I heard the keynote address by Steven Druker on Altered Genes, Twisted Truth - an "expose" of an alleged cover-up by the FDA to withhold, from the public, scientific information which would call into question the current presumed safety of genetically engineered food products, so-called GMO's. This is a serious topic, and it is a highly controversial one. People like Druker believe that the FDA, and a majority of the mainstream scientific community, are "in the pocket" of,  controlled by,  corporations like Monsanto who profit from GMO's. On the other side, the scientists whom Druker believes have been "bought out," consider Druker an ill-informed crank, and equate him with people who believe vaccines cause autism, or worse. They typically say, "Don't bother to read his book: it's full of distortions, illogical thinking, unscientific "howlers" and outright lies." It's hard to find a solid place to stand in this debate. Druker's presentation was convincing enough to cause me to buy his book. I've read enough of it to see that he probably is guilty of some common logical fallacies, and cause me to wish he had had a good editor, but on the other hand,  he is probably on to something. The food industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent GMO labeling. There is a bill in Congress right now  (HR 1599) which would federally override the attempts of states like Vermont and Maine to require GMO labeling. It has been dubbed by its opponents the DARK bill, i.e., the Bill to "Deny Americans the Right to Know." It has passed the House and is in the Senate. You have to wonder, why are corporations spending millions to prevent people from knowing that their food has been genetically altered? They, and the scientists which support them, claim that what they are doing is no different from what nature does "naturally," (e.g., pass genes from one species to another), and what humans have long been doing to help nature (e.g., creating hybrid corn), and they also claim that there is no "credible evidence" that anyone has actually been harmed by GMO's in food. Druker claims that there is such evidence, and that it has been suppressed, and that what corporations like Monsanto are doing is not like that scientists were doing up until about 25 years ago, it does pose a real risk, and needs to be tested under rigorous scientific controls for its safety, something which the FDA does not currently require. I'm not sure I have the scientific background to wade through this minefield, but I'm going to try.

(2) I attended a workshop on "Home Burial." I had attended the same workshop about three years ago, but wanted to be refreshed, and indeed, things have changed somewhat. The personal aspect of this is whether I would prefer being cremated or having a "green burial," i.e., just having my body placed in the ground and allowed to decompose naturally. The latter is a real possibility, especially if I wanted to do it on my own land, but I'm not sure it can be done in the Dummerston Center cemetery. The presenters yesterday said that varies widely and that I need to check the actual bylaws of the cemetery. Some of them were written when that's exactly how they buried people, and therefore may not actually be outlawed in so many words. So I'll check that out. They also gave me some contact information in Vermont. The key organization is the Funeral Consumer Alliance. I also learned about highly creative ways of preserving one's ashes. I don't think any of these particularly appeal to me, but some people have, e.g., had a phonograph record pressed from their ashes, with their favorite music recorded on it; others have had their ashes mixed into fireworks, which are then set off at a grand party. One very creative idea  was having your ashes handed out in little bags at your funeral and asking people to dispose of them at a place of their choosing, but taking a photograph of the place and the act of dispostion, making an accompanying narrative,  and then mailing that back to the family, who make a big board (onlne?) with all the photos and descriptions.

(3) I also attended a presentation on prison reform. I got there late, so missed some things at the beginning. One of the presenters was Ray Luc Lavasseur, an activist who had adopted violent means of protest against war and other injustices which had gotten him 20 years in federal prison, 15 of which were in solitary confinement! It isn't every day of the year you get to listen to someone with that kind of a story. I wondered if he was something of a modern-day John Brown. He was passionate about the need for prison reform, and his arguments, based in part on his own personal experience, were pretty powerful. The other presenter, Lance Tapley, is a Maine journalist who has extensively researched what is happening inside Maine prisons, especially the Maine State Prison in Warren, and does not hesitate to call what is happening "torture." This was a very sobering presentation.

Ray Lavasseur and Lance Tapley
(4) and (5) were on building practices - "Designing and Building a Small House,"  which Ellen and I continue to be interested in (but are having a hard time figuring out how to afford one), and "Passivhaus-Building Ecologically in Maine," which Ellen attended in its entirety and I heard a bit of. These were both interesting and informative, though perhaps providing little we had not heard before, but it's always good to have it reinforced.

(6) was a talk on gardening by Will Bonsall, whom we have heard several times, and always learn from (again, Ellen heard it all, I heard a part).  He has his own very special philosophy of gardening which he is trying to make truly "organic" and "sustainable." His primary source of nutrients is leaf litter, and other growth, which is "naturally provided" by nature itself and just needs some human labor to get it to the right place. He also uses "humanure," which is another very local source of nutrients. He believes that "organic," means "not bringing in nutrients from somewhere else (like fertilizer)." Which of course means that much of what is called "organic" isn't, in his book. Nor is it sustainable. He visualizes and tries to realize a completely self-contained organic system in his garden, and he is largely successful.

Will Bonsall
(7) Finally, I attended a presentation on "humanure," by people who are doing it. I won't go into detail here (and no photos!), but the workshop was held next to a compost pit in which "humanure" was mixed with sawdust and other household compost and it was purring away and was oderless. Hardwood sawdust is definitely the way to go. One of the practitioners has three such piles, one per year, and after three years the first pile is perfectly safe and great compost. There is a book, The Humanure Handbook if you are interested. I tried to buy it, but they had sold out.

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