Thursday, November 11, 2010

My 2010 Bioneers Report, and Lennon, Too

Last Saturday
Last Saturday was a jam packed day for Ag bloggers and about anyone else here in Boulder. The weather was perfect at 78 degrees but, unfortunately, I found myself in lecture hall auditoriums most of the day. My day started out at 8:30AM for the Bioneers plenary presentation video broadcasts from San Rafael, California. After three Bioneers talks, at noon I paid a visit to the 3rd last Farmer's Market of this season, communed with some John Lennon art, and made a quick stop to buy a few city-wide discounted promotional bike lights for the family, both for safety and to avert the possible $50 fine for not having them.

In the afternoon, I had to prioritize my time, and traded my bicycle for a Corolla to drive to Longmont for the Boulder County Open Space's third community forum on sustainable agriculture. Local community comes first, so this was an easy decision. In the evening, it was back to Bioneers for our local resident National Geographic speaker's talk on the current state of the Colorado River.

Lennon Traveling Art Show

One of my mid-day stops was on Pearl Street for the not-to-be-missed John Lennon art show. Ok, so maybe this wasn't essential for an Ag blogger, but the right side of my brain is very important to me, and I find myself suppressing it too much lately. As a little background, I was doing art, more specifically, Asian-style watercolors prior to blogging and was selling a lot of my work, a dream-come-true. Once I got to Lennon's show, it was apparent that this was the place to see-and-be-seen in Boulder that day. It brought out every 1969 reminiscer, wannabe, John-worshipper, "imagine", "dream", art and Beatle's lover which is a pretty significant percentage of Boulder's population. Believe-it-or-not, today John would be 70, and Yoko Ono is 77.

Since John's Picassoesque art was a beautifully simplistic style not unlike the style I was trying to achieve in my own recent art, I found the show fascinating. The show gave me an even greater appreciation for John's seemingly unlimited artistic genius, mystical nature, and the depth of inspiration behind his words. It included handwritten lyrics which revealed a handwriting more artistic than readable, the hallmark of a true artist. I predict that his visual art will become ever more significant generations from now, lasting much longer than his music.

Please know that I wasn't into painting and drawing the pornographic labeled art like his which was confiscated during the 1970's, included in this remarkable show. His attempts to start at one point and draw a subject without lifting the paintbrush and finishing it with a carefully placed red stamp while expressing admiration for Asian culture and Buddhism did overlap with my humble art, however. All-in-all, wow.

Bioneers 2010
For those unfamiliar with it, Bioneers promotes social and scientific innovators advocating for social change. Their annual California conference out of San Rafael, California hosts over ten thousand attendees and is now broadcast to 20 satellite sites. This is Boulder's eighth year to participate. The conference features inspiring global visionary speakers each year.

Gary Hirschberg

The first talk I heard was purely agricultural and I was in heaven listening to Gary Hirshberg tell the story of how his little organic yogart company started with seven cows in 1983 on a small New Hampshire Farm, Stonyfield Farm, and became a successful $340 million enterprise now supporting over 165,000 acres of organic agriculture and thousands of organic family farmers with over 100 different crops. The French company, Danone, or Dannon has acquired it.

In his talk, Hirshberg quoted Churchill, "Success is the ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." He said that farming has always been about taking. Taking soil, water, farmer's rights and unborn children's rights.

Hirshberg said that his organic yogart company focuses upon the farmer's profitability and that "scale doesn't mean we have to screw the farmer". Benefits of organic production include the fact that animals raised organically live twice as long, particularly herbivore cows fed grass. He also said that in one-hundred commodities studied, organic methods reduced the cost of production by 50% while increasing productivity.

Other points he made:
  • .5% production is organic
  • there is no money in the federal budget for the transition to organic and there needs to be
  • $8.5B per year goes to support conventional agricultural production
  • no pesticide studies have been done since 2001
  • since Obama took office, $28B has been spent in agribusiness lobbying, $15B by Monsanto
He cautioned on the many myths:
  • be careful with eat local movement assumptions using the example that it can be more carbon neutral to import New Zealand grass fed milk
  • there is a negative carbon footprint for recycling (The fact we need to recycle is an indication we've failed.)
  • a myth of entitlement to cheap foods, while cautioning that we need to be careful that organic food isn't a product for the elite
He said that we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good and that campaign finance reform is the single most important issue of our time.

In concluding, he quoted Ghandi, "Anybody who thinks they're too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito."

John Warner

In college, I earned some income by being a chemistry lab assistant, so this talk by musician turned famous chemist who founded Green Chemistry and spoke on Biomimicry, was my favorite talk.

Warner entertained his audience by tying together the history of his blue-collar Massachusetts family of which he was the first to go to college, and the transition of his love for musical studies in college leading to a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from Princeton. He claims that chemistry isn't a difficult subject, it's just poorly taught. His talk tied together nicely the amazing sequence of life's inter-related events and personal connections which can guide an astute person who pays attention to them.

In a surprising emotive twist, his story of his national awards from the National Academy of Sciences and being featured as a student in Celebrity Magazine for being a leader in synthesizing numerous new chemical molecules became his dreaded history after his two-year-old son died of a rare birth defect. He realized that he'd been allowed to do unlimited numbers of chemical syntheses without ever being required to take a course in toxicology. On its website, the EPA has a page he authored with his partner, "The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry". He describes how China and India are far ahead of the U.S. in teaching and research using green chemistry principles.

Andy Lipkis
The President of Tree People, Andy Lipkis is an inspirational environmental organizer who has the ability to bring the power of the people to take action and make a difference. He is rooted in Los Angeles, where he has led volunteers to transform their surroundings through planting and caring for thousands of trees in a citizen forestry movement.

Two quotes that I took away from his talk, were "blue green collar jobs" and "when people hold hands it produces lovely solutions".

Jon Waterman
big picture agriculture

Why do people's names so often reflect what they do? Just yesterday, I went to a Boulder talk on city water and learned of a man with the last name of "Creek" who lives next to an upper water reservoir and is in charge of managing the water gates of the reservoir full time.

The Boulder Bioneers keynote speaker (live, not telecast) was Jonathan Waterman, National Geographic writer and photographer who is the author of nine books and has made four television films. This talk was about the Colorado River. He started the 1,450 mile adventure at its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and floated his way down to Mexico, studying it every bit of the way. The trip included aerial views by plane, visits with naturalists living along its banks, and an in depth tour of the Hoover Dam. The trip was featured in National Geographic and led to his National Geographic published book, "Running Dry."

The Colorado River irrigates 3.5 million acres of farmland and supports 30 million people on arid lands throughout the western U.S. and northern Mexico. It is one of the most diverted and litigated rivers of the world and was over-allocated by law back in 1922. The river is ranked 25th in volume in North America but drains one-tenth of the area. The first of many diversions is the 16 mile long grand ditch which carries one-third of its headwaters to the front range of Colorado.

Waterman was received negatively by the fly fishermen in the early part of the trip who consider river floaters trespassers. Throughout the presentation, he compared old post card photographs with current photographs of the same scene, to show us how much the river and its surroundings have changed. He experienced a few dangerous hydraulics, the worst being "Satan's gut" in Utah. I chuckled to myself when he said he'd intentionally avoided Lake Powell all of his life, but this trip took him there, because I've also had no desire to go there.

He called going through the Grand Canyon like traveling through a time machine due to the geological experience. Ten million year old sandstone and 1.7 billion year old granite surrounded him in the least light polluted area in the Southwest. He was lucky to have a river-guide reveal to him an 800 year-old piece of intact pottery in a cave overlooking one spot of the river.

He spoke of Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in North America. The Hoover Dam, which forms it contains enough concrete to build a highway from Boston to Seattle. If the reservoir falls eight more feet, they will declare it an emergency level for Arizona.

Waterman sees hope in the way of agricultural conservation, in looking forward, since 78% of the Colorado River's water is used for agricultural irrigation, and much of it ditch-style. He decries the growing of cotton using irrigation from this river, for example. He also sees industrial feedlots as abusive use of the river's water in the lower Southwest. His description of the 80% dried up Delta at the end of his trip was also hopeful for a very unique and special geographic area that is now embracing geothermal power.

Not bad for a day in the life of an Ag blogger.