Salmon Leather Wallet

I find the upcycling of downstream waste into viable products incredibly compelling: here’s [Tidal Vision](, which takes salmon skin from the Northwest fishery and turns it into leather that is then made into wallets.

I remember also talking with a local architect about taking rice hulls and mixing it with concrete in order to produce a building material that was both rigid but also, thanks to the hulls, lighter than regular concrete and with air pockets to increase its insulation value. I believe he was also interested in rice straw bales as building materials, but I think the problem there is that farmers typically don’t bale that material, but rather combines return the chaff back to the fields to compost.

I grew up in the land of sugar cane, and I remember seeing bagasse turned into garden mulch, but I think now it is mostly burned to power the mills where the cane is processed.

What’s leftover these days that could be still useful in some fashion? That strikes me as an opportunity.

USDA Economic Research Service

One of the readers for _The Makers of Things_ asked for a chapter on rice: I had written a draft of one, but pitched it before submitting the manuscript. As it turns out, the 5500 words I wrote over 5 days and wrapped up this past Friday is a much better chapter. I could write that quickly because I had ridden in enough tractors, boats, and combines and spent enough time walking fields, but I also needed the occasional bit of statistical information, and the [USDA’s Economic Research Service][] was a real boon. While I wish, for my purposes, they had a greater historical coverage, the fact that so many of their reports were downloadable as Excel spreadsheets made the work of grabbing facts, compiling numbers, or, occasionally, creating graphs a really joy. (None of the graphs are likely to make their way into the book at this point, but it was nice to be able to use them for analysis.)

[USDA’s Economic Research Service]:

3 Trends Affecting Our Future

[According to the Aspen Ideas Festival][a] — I’d like to get invited to one of these things one day (or, maybe, it’s a matter of being able to afford to go — I suspect that will remain beyond my reach for quite some time), there are three large trends that should effect how we consider the future:

1. the rapid, astonishing pace of urbanization
2. climate change (which has proved somewhat of a threat to cities)
3. globalization

Judith Rodin observes:

> These three factors form a crucial social-ecological-economic nexus, one that has huge—and, frankly, frightening—implications, especially for cities. The shocks and disruptions we experience today, like floods, wildfires, acts of terror, and pandemics, will only get more frequent, more intense, and more dangerous for more people. At the same time, cities also must confront chronic stresses, like crime, which develop more slowly than shocks but are equally devastating over time. We can’t continue to delude ourselves that things will get back to “normal” someday. They won’t. It’s a losing game to continue to devote our resources to recovering from disasters that, by now, we should know to expect.

And then concludes:

> The good news is that today we have the tools, the networks, and the know-how to become more resilient. We at The Rockefeller Foundation define resilience as the capacity of individuals, communities, organizations and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of shocks and stresses, and even transform when conditions require it.

Rodin works with the Rockefeller Institute which is funding a *100 Resilient Cities* initiative. It sounds interesting. My own work in _The Makers of Things_ is an examination of the resiliency to be found in agricultural economies.


India’s Rice Revolution

Anything with rice in the title is going to catch my attention. Not only is rice is an integral part of the research when I am in the midst of wrapping up — and it saddens me to say goodbye to it (more on this in a moment) — but I love to eat the stuff. And so, given the demands on the world’s agricultural system, it’s good to know that there have been in advances in rice culture in India that have resulted in the [doubling of output][].

[doubling of output]:

Recent patterns of crop yield growth and stagnation

[Nature]( is reporting on a recent study that “examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans” and concluded that “although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse.”

That’s not good news for an increasingly urbanized population dependent upon complex, and all too distant, agricultural producers. It is, potentially, good news for farmers — and here I am thinking more of family farms and not agribusiness.

[Stowe Boyd’s meditation on the future][wwmf], focusing on what some call “speculative design,” really ends up focusing mostly on food. 40% of the energy used in American homes is for cooking food. Cooked food is 10,000 years old and was itself a transformation of human energy usage, which had focused our ancestors for one-third of every day, chewing. Tomatoes are 90% water, and yet we insist on raising them in the California desert only to truck them to places like New York city which gets 45 inches a rain a year. (And, it turns out, 40% of the food consumed in Shanghai is grown within the city — fascinating!)

I was especially astonished to discover that only 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled, and Boyd’s mind leaps from such facts to provocative statements like this:

> I have been following food tech for a few years, and that’s happening, but slowly. It’s growing quickly though: it’s one of those spiky, fearful futures. Can we dismantle the industrial food system before it has a Lehman moment, and the world’s dicey, massively interconnected, patchily regulated food system crashes like the housing market?

My experience among farmers is that they are an amazing resources that we completely ignore. Here I am, living and working in a state that has a fantastic agricultural base which has proven itself capable of incredible innovation — e.g., the crawfish boat — and the leaders of my state our focused on doling out tax subsidies to the entertainment industry, as if that’s our only future. This completely ignores the light manufacturing base that has grown up around the oil industry but could be focused on almost anything: these people are incredibly smart and flexible. One need look no further than the [Provost brothers][pd] who re-invented the surface drive watercraft industry.


A Bee Hive for Every Home

The Philips’ design team has come up with an ingenious idea: a bee hive that can be mounted in a window so that home owners can not only support the insect which is vital for our ecology but also can have their own built-in, quite literally, supply of honey. There is a great collection of photographs of the prototype, but here is the diagram:

Texas Farm, 1952

[Texas Farm, 1952]( This stuff is just amazing. The glimpse it gives you into the past. This is a collection of color film reels, without sound, taken by an amateur filmmaker — it appears to be the farmer himself.

Farmer Browne, 1942

[Henry Browne, Farmer (1942)]( More great stuff from the Prelinger Archives on Amazing document of farming of the era. Farmer Browne is African American, but that is not the focus of the film.

Agricultural Equivalents

In an episode of Modern Marvels on the History channel, the history of agricultural labor was delineated as follows:

* With a sickle, one man could harvest one acre of land a day. This remained the standard from the time of the Egyptians until the sixteenth century when the scythe was invented in what is now modern day Germany.
* With a scythe, one many could harvest three acres of wheat a day.
* With the McCormick reaper, a farmer could harvest twelve acres in a day.

GM Crops Are Toxic According to Monsanto’s Own Data

The title about says it all. The article that does the analysis is [here]( and is published by the [International Journal of Biological Sciences]( The abstract states:

> We present for the first time a comparative analysis of blood and organ system data from trials with rats fed three main commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize (NK 603, MON 810, MON 863), which are present in food and feed in the world. NK 603 has been modified to be tolerant to the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup and thus contains residues of this formulation. MON 810 and MON 863 are engineered to synthesize two different Bt toxins used as insecticides. Approximately 60 different biochemical parameters were classified per organ and measured in serum and urine after 5 and 14 weeks of feeding. GM maize-fed rats were compared first to their respective isogenic or parental non-GM equivalent control groups. This was followed by comparison to six reference groups, which had consumed various other non-GM maize varieties. We applied nonparametric methods, including multiple pairwise comparisons with a False Discovery Rate approach. Principal Component Analysis allowed the investigation of scattering of different factors (sex, weeks of feeding, diet, dose and group). Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.

I read the article to the best of my abilities, but that doesn’t mean I am in a position to evaluate it. GM crops seems like such a terrific thing, but it may be that the technology has outpaced our ability to understand its impact on complex ecosystems, including ourselves.

The View from Inside a Rice Bin

I was lucky enough to be invited by Dwayne Gossen to watch him and his son unloading rice. While a series of augurs swept the rice from inside the bin up to a chute that dropped into a waiting truck, I was invited to see things from the inside of the largest grain bin I have ever seen. Here’s what things look like when you’re inside looking out:

The View from inside a Grain Bin

I love my job when I get to do things like this. These are incredible people doing incredible things: the rice on that floor could end up on our dinner table in a few months time.