Weekend Reading

In winter, I relish the extra time in my days to catch up on reading. I can always manage to squeeze some time in the morning over coffee or right before bed to read a few things, but in the height of long summer days I have less time for reading among other tasks. Here are a few interesting reads I checked out this week – share your favorite reads from the week in the comments!

  • Meet Dr. Gregory Peck, the Grand Pomologist of Hard Cider, By Brian Barth for Modern Farmer. I really enjoy Modern Farmer; I think they have a lot of great coverage of agricultural movements and information, as well as many instructional and functional articles on plants, livestock, and more. This article is an interesting read with some great insights into the different orchading and varietal needs for the hard cider industry. I can only hope that more cider apple varieties will be cultivated and available in the coming years – I think a lot of really delicious things can come from the cider industry of the future.
  • The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping by Erica Strauss. I’ve seen this book in stores for a while, and finally got a chance to check it out from the library. This is a fantastic read. Strauss organizes her recipes by season, and includes information on preserving, recipes, natural cleaners, and body care products along with organizational advice for managing the workflow of your home. I enjoy that Strauss considers her homekeeping holistically and as labor to be integrated with a sense of purpose and enjoyment. It’s a great perspective that is empowering and creative with a lot of great recipe ideas as well.
  • Mom’s Boy, by Jane Marion for Baltimore Magazine. This is a profile on Scott Nash, the founder of MOM’s Organic Market, an organic, environmentally minded chain of groceries in the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve been a huge fan of MOM’s since moving to the Baltimore area, and am excited to see their growth throughout the region. They are a company that really stands by their environmentally conscious principles and puts real purchasing power into sustaining our environment through foodways.
  • We’re Just As Vulnerable To A Dust Bowl, by Dan Nosowitz for Modern Farmer. A few nights ago I watched Interstellar, a science fiction movie in which the earth’s crops are dying, causing dust storms, environmental degradation, and a slow depletion of the plant-generated oxygen supply that enables human life. In the movie, astronauts go on to ultimately enable humanity to continue on space stations into the future. The movie was punctuated by recollections contained in Ken Burn’s documentary The Dust Bowl of environmental conditions of the time, and I found myself contemplating many real current environmentally irresponsible farming practices including feed lots, monoculture planting, and the depletion of water resources in ever drier regions of the United States. Nosowitz’s article is another emphasis on those worries, but have also left me contemplating how I can support local (vs. national and global) environmental sustainable and secure food systems.
  • The Vertical Farm, by Ian Frazier for The New Yorker. This article profiles the evolution of Aerofarms, a company that aims to grow food in cities indoors, vertically, and without sunlight or soil. Frazier delves into some additional urban farming history, and looks toward the potential of feeding the masses through high rise, aeroponic farming. I found this to be a fascinating read, but took it with a grain of salt; while the technology described could be use to produce food for the masses of population in our world, including proteins, grains, and nutrient dense vegetables, at the moment it is being used for limited quantities of boutique salad greens. Some critical questions are at hand. Is there a future of secure, sustainable food that is financially available to all people beyond the cultural elite? What are the goals of mass food production? For a time, our society has been content to feed the bulk of our populace with subsidized corn, flour, sugar, animal proteins raised on the same commodity crops, simply so that all are fed. Now, the benefits of a more nutritious (enter salad greens) and environmentally friendly diet are clear, even when they are not being wholly practiced. Still, for me the question really remains – if fewer and fewer folks farm, and food production is ever more mechanized and depersonalized, what are you feeding all of those people to do? By enabling easier and cheaper consumption with less cultural emphasis on self sufficiency of any kind, what will bring meaning to our lives?
  • The Great A.I. Awakening, by Gideon Lewis Kraus for The New York Times. I had an opportunity to read this article a few weeks ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since. It’s a long read that is well worth it. Kraus chronicles Google’s path towards machine learning that has been developed to enhance Google’s translation services, but the implications for artificial intelligence in a host of other areas is fascinating. At the end of the article, the suggestions that A.I. could displace a multitude of higher educated human professions fascinated me, and brought me back to questions I seem to have time and again. As a culture I see us facing some big choices. Will we continue to be units of consumption in support of corporate profits?  Increasingly, technology and information also offer us the chance to truly create meaningful, productive, and innovative lives in tandem with the earth. How will we choose to live?

 

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