Eating Our Bombs, Revisited

This is a revised version of a post I wrote a few years ago. 

Old Weapons, New Tools

A few years ago I read a brief essay by Karen Coates about Laotian craftsmen who are literally turning modern day swords into plowshares. They are recovering the remainders of the long American bombing campaign in their country and repurposing them to work their fields.

“An American bomb detonates on Laotian soil; 30 years later, a villager exhumes the pieces. He delivers them to a scrap-metal yard. There they sit in a heap until one day, a Hmong man named Lee Moua plunks down a little money for a mangled chunk of that bomb,” writes Coates. “He takes the metal to his homespun blacksmith shop in a parched backyard among pineapples and sugarcane. He fires a bed of coals, working beneath a rusty roof on a bamboo frame. His bellows are made from a parachute flare canister – more war scrap; his anvil, an artillery shell driven into a stump. Lee Moua heats and pounds his bomb fragment into shape, toiling most of a sweltering afternoon. And when he’s done, we have a garden hoe… he hands us the silvery object, straight from a blistering fire. Its blade is wicked-sharp, capable of practical things. The transformation has taken about three hours — from a sorry piece of bomb scrap to a useful new tool.”

Coates reports in her piece that “Between 1964 and 1973, the United States pummeled Laos with bombs: 4 billion pounds of bombs, 580,000 sorties, one raid every eight minutes for nine years.” She continues, “And 30 years on, people still die every week. Up to 30 percent of those bombs never detonated, and they remain embedded in Laotian soil. Every week, farmers die while plowing their fields. Women die while tending their yards. Children die while playing with little objects they pluck from the ground…”

This story still, even after so many readings, leaves me breathless and haunted. The story comes from Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War. Visit Coates’ website ( to read more and see the stunning pictures of the land and people in Cambodia today.Continue reading “Eating Our Bombs, Revisited”

The Widening Gulf Between Local Communities and National Policy

Last night, Orion Magazine invited me to speak to their monthly “Green Drinks” event in Great Barrington, MA. This summer Orion published a piece by me on grassroots media and democracy and in my talk I wanted to explore one key theme, that I was only able to touch on briefly in the article itself. Recently I have been mulling over the ways in which technology has put more and more media in the hands of the people, while the media policies that shape everything we watch, read, and hear are putting more and more media control in the hands of corporations. What are the implications of this tension?

Here is what I said last night, but it just scratches the service or this much larger question:Continue reading “The Widening Gulf Between Local Communities and National Policy”

Can The Can

Offices, classrooms and civic groups around the country are gearing up for their annual canned food drives. From now until the new year people will pile prepackaged, non-perishable food items in cardboard boxes and promptly forget about hunger and homelessness for the rest of the year.

Obviously, this is a generalization, and likely a bit unfair. But as the season of the can drive bears down on us, I have to wonder – is it time to can the can?

We need a new kind of food drive. One that helps build a sustainable infrastructure for healthy local food for everyone. One that is premised on valuing the land and the people in our community. One that is rooted in justice, not charity.
Continue reading “Can The Can”

Eat, Read, Organize

For almost ten years my wife and I have held regular potlucks at our home. These dinner have been one of the most consistent parts of our life together. We have moved more than five times, changed jobs at least six times, got married, had a child, and through it all we have hosted these dinners. What began as a weekly gathering of some close friends and coworkers in Providence quickly spread until we had strangers showing up at our doorstep, and were meeting people at parties who would say “oh you’re the people who hold those potlucks…”. Continue reading “Eat, Read, Organize”

Fostering a Food Revolution

Ever since seeing the incredible momentum that gathered behind the effort to get the Obama’s to plant a garden in the White House lawn, I have been wanting to jot down some thoughts about this effort. However, this is one of those cases where procrastination actually pays off, because while I dawdled, Tom Philpott jotted. He has a post over at that hits the nail on the head.

Go read it here: Food, class, and the new, new agrarianism

In general, the post actually focuses more on the coverage of the new garden at the White House, than on the garden itself. Of particular concern is the issue of class. These are some of the points that stood out for me.

Continue reading “Fostering a Food Revolution”

Of Guns and Seeds

A while back I did a few posts on guerrilla gardening and guerrilla harvesting that included terms like “seed bomb” (a ball of dirt with seeds in it that one lobs into empty lots in urban areas). At the time, while reviewing links and articles about these topic I stumbled on two odd projects that combine guns and seeds in unexpected ways.

From the Plant the Piece website.
From the Plant the Piece website.

The first was a project called “Plant the Piece” in which the artist created “Seed Guns” made out of “red clay, dry organic compost, and a mixture of annual-perennial species of wildflowers native and naturalized to any area, they can grow when left directly on the surface of the ground.” From the description of the project:

In 2004, the Richmond, Virginia homicide total reached 101. That same year, the traveling art installation, Plant The Piece, memorialized each murder victim by creating a “Gun”. As venues became available, ten original installations containing “Guns” were erected and the public was able to view an unfortunate statistic in an extraordinary light. The exhibit was inspired by the techniques and philosophies of Japanese radical gardener Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Each installation was a unique reflection of it’s host venue and audience. The traveling exhibit was enormously successful as it tackled a most sensitive matter that had no apparent solution. Continue reading “Of Guns and Seeds”

Two Takes on Food, Farms, and Community

On October 7th, the New York Times published two separate articles that explored the connection between food, farming and community. The two articles, published in two different sections of the paper (NY Region and Food & Wine), are interesting for the fundamental differences in the stories they tell.

Published in the NY Region section of the paper, “Sweat Equity Put to Use Within Sight of Wall St.” by Jim Dwyer profiles a small community farm project in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The article describes Red Hook this way:Continue reading “Two Takes on Food, Farms, and Community”

You Are What You Waste

I stumbled on this blog post in my ramblings across the world wide web and the headline – “US wastes 27% of food available for consumption” – caught my attention. I thought it might catch yours too.

When I was in college one of the big activities of the Environmental Action student group was a multi-year “Waste-watch” in the campus dining halls. We essentially stood by the trash bins and as students came up to toss their left overs we had them scrape the food waste in one bin and the paper/other waste in another. At the end of the night we would weigh the food waste and post it up in the dining hall – challenging students to do better.

Continue reading “You Are What You Waste”

How We Value Food: Organic, Local, Diverse

In the beginning, organic was radical. Not long ago authors and foodies, environmentalists and farmers, took up the mantle of organic as a key principle in our fight for healthier communities, healthier diets, and a healthier environment. It was a way for small farmers and local businesses to compete with an increasingly super-sized economy made up of industrial agriculture and big box stores. The organic label allowed small farmers to compete and distinguish their products on the store shelves and a combination of factors coincided to make organic not only good for our health, but hip too.

However, if there is one thing capitalism is profoundly good at, it is subsuming counter culture ideas just when they are getting hot, and using them to make a profit. Before long every retailer from the local grocery store to WalMart had organic products on their shelves, and the idea of organic, while still serving as a sort of moral and health compass began to get increasingly watered down. As big box stores began to mass-produce organic versions of all their products, we saw that the industrial economy could be applied to organic food as well. Continue reading “How We Value Food: Organic, Local, Diverse”

Eating Our Bombs

Bread bombs pinWhen I was growing up I had a fairly substantial button collection. Many spent the long arc of their life in a box, collector’s items only. However, there were a few that I wore constantly – lapel declarations – pinned to jackets or backpacks. They changed over time, charting out my moral development in pin pricks and political slogans, but there was one that I still have today. It was a small white button with roses on it that read “Bread not Bombs.” It was aged and must have been passed down from my parents. The simple juxtaposition of bread and bombs seemed to epitomize my idea of justice back then. Bread or bombs. Creation or destruction. Life or death.

While my understanding of justice has deepened and grown much more complicated since then, I still find something profoundly moving in that simple statement. Recently a number of things have reminded me of that pin. Each of these reminders has reasserted the simple, yet powerful choice that button suggested, while also serving to complicate my ideas about both bread and bombs. Continue reading “Eating Our Bombs”


I stumbled upon this poem the other day and really appreciated it. While it is not explicitly about food, it touches on some of the themes that reoccur on this blog: planting, making, protest, etc… In part, it was that it reminded me of the title of a book by the democratic/radical educators Myles Horton and Paulo Freire: We Make The Road By Walking. But there was more than that. The lack of punctuation leaves every line open, full or potential and possibility. The way that so many lines end in verbs seems to fill the poem with movement and action. The fact that each person who reads it could imagine something different coming after the line “we will make,” as though they are speaking the poem themselves. It just seemed like a good reminder that every day we are moving, building, planting and making change possible.Continue reading “Wherever”

Farming in Vegas

From VerticalFarm.comIn recent posts I have been writing a good deal about the intersection of farming and urban landscapes. However, nothing I had imagined up to this point prepared me for the news that surfaced earlier this month that Las Vegas was planning to build an agricultural high-rise. Billed as a groundbreaking new era in urban sustainability, the thirty-story “vertical farm” is estimated to cost $200 million, and will supposedly feed more than 70,000 people a year. One has to ask, is this a bold experiment in local food or simply a new version of industrial agriculture?

One thing is clear, the plan for the vertical farm is not intended to meet the needs of local people in Las Vegas. This is no community supported super-farm. It is however, another kind of CSA: casino supported agriculture. The primary funders of the veggie-tower are Las Vegas casinos who have already laid claim to the majority of the produce which would be grown there.Continue reading “Farming in Vegas”

Seeing the Trees and the Forest

This is part two in my response to comments made on the post “Making Eating Public.” The first post looked at reframing the idea of guerrilla gardening to consider ways of taking advantage of what already exists in the community around us through “guerrilla harvesting” or urban fruit gleaning.

The second point Dave pondered in his comments was about how the Community Supported Agriculture Model might be applied to orchards. I have always dreamed of eventually having a small orchard and so this idea was really intriguing to me.Continue reading “Seeing the Trees and the Forest”

Guerrilla Harvesting

In my recent post “Making Eating Public” I talked about the potential shift that we might see if we made our eating, our growing, and our food choices and values more public. I mused about guerrilla gardening and other urban agriculture projects. In a comment on that post, my friend Dave suggested two ideas that had not occurred to me previously but are worth considering further. In this post I’ll cover the first.

Noting that guerrilla gardening can be seen as confrontational or even destructive by other community members, Dave suggested we think about what it might be like to do more “guerrilla harvesting.”Continue reading “Guerrilla Harvesting”