top-soil

By: Caroline Golbeck 7 November, 2016.

Note: Vulgar Language

ForeverDirt cologne sells for $20.00 per ounce online. How do you feel about that?

If I’m lucky enough or if I really try, I can sometimes recreate the smell of it in my mind. Excessive rain planted us in way more antique shops than beaches on a family vacation to Michigan a few years ago, and in maybe the fifth shop we stopped at, I came across a tiny bottle of the dirt cologne. I’ve thought about it ever since.

So why? Why would a company pay money to create something that emulates what we all try to avoid smelling like? And more importantly, why am I so into it?

I’m slowly finding answers to these questions through a class that I’m currently taking at the College of DuPage. It’s a class that I didn’t mean to take – two classes, actually. It’s an honors seminar course called Seed, Soil, and the Soul: A Critical Analysis of World Food Practices. Basically, we learn about environmental biology through the context of films (usually documentaries) in an attempt to help us answer a few questions. Why do we eat what we eat? Where does it come from? How fucked is the future of our land, and what can we do to apologize to Mother Earth?

You’ve probably got a question too by this point – why am I telling you all of this? Well, I’m bad at deciding on what to watch during my free time, and when I finally do make up my mind, I probably could have watched one Harry Potter movie and at the very least, two episodes of The Office. Since time is the number one nonrenewable resource we have, I want to provide suggestions on some of the fantastic documentaries I’ve had the pleasure of watching – all on accident.

A Place at the Table, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, and Dirt! are the three that I’ll recommend in this article. For starters, we have A Place at the Table, which focuses on the concept of food insecurity in America.

food in·se·cu·ri·ty

noun

the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food

I won’t go into detail on what’s considered ‘sufficient’, but through watching the film, you can gain a better idea on the scope of this problem as a whole. A Place at the Table puts a face to hunger, and that’s what’s so striking about it. In our minds, we probably all have a mental image of what ‘malnourishment’ looks like.

Think about that image.

Delete it from your mental browsing history.

Now reread the definition of food insecurity.

rosie

Rosie, one of the kids facing food insecurity featured in A Place at the Table.

Do you see the part about “affordable, nutritious food”? That’s the kicker. An overwhelming number of people facing food insecurity are also struggling with obesity. Why? Because a mother faced with the choice of buying one apple for the same price as a family sized bag of potato chips will almost always opt for the bag of chips, because it yields more for the same price. As a grocery store employee, I see this pretty frequently and, on occasion, will get remarks from other customers about the bad example mothers are setting for their kids. A Place at the Table reminds us to stay empathetic, because that “bad example” could be the difference between a child having two meals a day or one.

Why it’s important: Food insecurity is a real issue affecting many in DuPage County alone. It’s such a growing problem that students at the College of DuPage (myself included) have been working to open a food pantry on campus to provide for those in need of sustenance. A Place at the Table brings much needed awareness to the ever-growing problem.

 

The Real Dirt on Farmer John is about an eccentric Illinois born-and-raised farmer named (you guessed it) John, whose experience at a liberal arts college transforms his family farm into a creative safe-haven and an experimental disaster all at once. For me, the film is a whirlwind of emotions. We smile as Farmer John rides his tractor while wearing a bright feather boa. We laugh as he prances through his fields in a bee costume (fully equipped with wings and antennae). And we cry when his life-long neighbors turn their backs on him as he’s forced to give up the land that, in essence, is everything he has.

farmer john

Farmer John looking fabulous in his bee ensemble.  

Through further experimentation and a few failures, John finally gets the farm up and running again as a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) farm.

com·mu·ni·ty-sup·port·ed ag·ri·cul·ture

noun

a system in which a farm operation is supported by shareholders within the community who share both the benefits and risks of food production.

This practice of community involvement in his farm (Angelic Organics, as he named it) gives John a sense of purpose again, and perhaps more importantly, the support he needs to believe in himself and his ability to create again.

Why it’s important: CSA farms are cropping up (get it? crops) in more and more areas across the US – including right here in DuPage! A perfect example is the Sustain DuPage Victory Garden that came to fruition just this summer. Community members worked together all summer long to sustainably grow fruits and vegetables on a small plot of land, and the bounty was incredible. CSAs are tremendous community implements because they not only provide stellar food from stellar farmers – they bring people together in ways that only food can.

Okay, time to bring this thing home with the last documentary I need to talk to you about – Dirt! The title really sums up all 86 minutes of the film – it’s about dirt (soil, if we want to be more environmentally literate). Right from the beginning, dirt is personified as the living, breathing skin of Earth. To keep with the theme of providing definitions for each of these films, I quickly looked up ‘dirt definition’, and I hate what I’ve found.

dirt

noun

a substance, such as mud or dust, that soils someone or something

Synonyms: grime, filth

 

dirt

noun

something or someone vile, mean, or worthless

 

dirt

noun

any foul or filthy substance, such as mud, grime, dust, or excrement

Alright, what? Why so much negativity? My initial anger was eased by looking up ‘soil definition’ and finding some more positive descriptions, but still. Regardless, let’s get to…

Why it’s important: DuPage County is home to multiple prairies, and prairies are environmental powerhouses. They build nutrient rich soil through decomposition cycles, trap sediment, sequester carbon, and support pollinators. Through many different avenues, these things join together to promote a healthy community environment. And isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

vandana shiva

Vandana Shiva, environmentalist and dirt lover featured in the film.  

On a final note, I want to touch on one of the main things I took away from Dirt! It’s this:

We treat dirt like it’s dead because we don’t understand its language.

I think it’s the French farmer named Pierre who brings this up about halfway through the film. Farmers in certain parts of the world still treat soil as a sacred being. At times, the farmers are fathers, making sure that the soil is cared for. During harvests, soil becomes their mother, providing them with food. All the while, their intimate understanding of one another and their give-and-take relationship links them as lovers.

Maybe that’s why there’s a dirt cologne out there after all.  

Link to purchase dirt cologne, if you’re so inclined: http://demeterfragrance.com/dirt.html

Dirt Cologne

Reviews from ‘real people’ consider it:

“A masterpiece” – Lotte from Denmark

“Pretty DIRTy” – Nikki W.

“Just like it sounds like” – Mrs. S

and just because we can all relate:

“I love dirt LOL!” – Paisley

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

newspaper that says "mulrow in NYC!"

By Andrew Van Gorp on 28 September, 2014

Today we are joined by John Mulrow of Wheaton, who grew up on the North side of the Morton Arboretum. John graduated from Stanford University with a focus in Earth Systems and is currently serving as the Business Industrial Sustainability Specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center as well as a board member for The Plant in Chicago, an organization that works as an incubator for businesses of the Sustainable Economy. John, Welcome.

Thanks Andrew, I’m ready to Sustain Dupage!

Nice! So John, you recently attended the World’s first and largest Climate March, The People’s Climate March in New York City, is that correct?

We are at the point where we need folks to move their physical selves into action to get the solutions we need. So I signed up to attend the March as soon as I heard about it back in February and I took the “People’s Climate Train” along with about 250 other climate demonstrators who boarded between San Francisco and Chicago, headed to NYC.

The People’s Climate March was an event that some sources say brought roughly three to four hundred thousand people to demonstrate in New York City alone with 2,646 events happening in solidarity throughout 162 countries on Earth to raise awareness of the impending effects of Climate Change and Disruption. A slogan was put forward by Bill McKibben of 350, the primary organizer of the event, that “to change everything, we need everyone.” Do you feel that this number, was enough?

There were actually professional crowd spotters and analysts from Carnegie Mellon University that conducted an assessment of the final number of marchers, I think the final number, was 311,000. That’s important because it really was the largest demonstration for a social cause in a single location in the United States in the past 10 years. Regardless of number, knowing that nothing has mobilized more people than this issue in the past 10 years is huge. It means people from soccer moms to scientists care about saving the planet. And I don’t use “saving the planet” lightly. The choice whether to do so or not is literally here, in our laps.

After such a show of numbers, many might wonder where or how the follow-through for this day of action might become manifest. Given your background, when you hear the phrase that was put forward by Bill McKibben, “to change everything, we need everyone”- how would you interpret the ‘to change everything’ part?  For our readers at home, could you identify a few tangible issues that you see might need to be changed in order to prevent Climate catastrophe?

I really like that phrase, but it does assume a certain amount of knowledge or understanding. You almost have to believe “everything” is in need of changing in order to be fired up about that phrase. But, if you’re swimming in student debt, sunk under the weight of a mortgage, angry at banks and politicians, or stuck in front of a computer or other piece of repetitive machinery every day – then you probably have an inkling of an idea that “things aren’t right.” It turns out our environmental problems – climate change being one – are a function of the economic system that rewards what Harvard Professor David Korten calls “Phantom wealth” – power based on investments, capital gains, and other forms of effortless value accumulation. Our financial system does a great job of demonstrating how far humans have come at doing math, but the outcomes in human happiness and environmental health show that we have gone backwards in terms of true awareness and wisdom. To reverse that trend I do think we need to change everything.

Some tangible things? 

Financially – we can drastically reduce the income tax, re-incentivizing the employment of more workers, while keeping or raising taxes on capital gains, inheritance and luxury goods. Fossil fuels must be more expensive and they will be, through current regional and future global climate legislation.

Culturally – we need to re-introduce farming as a respectable career; tie all science, math, and history curriculum to environmental case studies; and teach at least 2 foreign languages in schools, from Day 1.

Infrastructurally – Bike lanes EVERYWHERE. Also, I should say there are some amazing groups documenting a range of exciting approaches to a livable future.

Can you give us an example of some of those people doing work to draw up a list of needed objectives to create change?

David Koren, who I mentioned, is one. Author Naomi Klein is another, and also someone I used to work for at the Worldwatch Institute, Erik Assadourian. You can check out the New Economics Foundation and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) at Stanford.

 

Thank you for that. Can you speak a little to what you personally would consider an itemized list for how the world should move forward on Climate Change? What are the steps that we as a planet need to be taking?

Well, there is an ongoing international discussion and treaty-development process happening around Climate Change. The UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) set forth back in the 1990s a series of protocols and procedures for getting nations to formulate and ratify treaties aimed at regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto protocol is the famous international agreement that grew from the UNFCC. The US has notably never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Countries are hoping to put forth a replacement agreement – to be finalized in Paris in 2016. That is a huge process, worth following, and critical to the future of climate action.

But we also need to regain trust in our political leaders, and I’m not sure we can do that until the leadership starts looking more like the population – ethnically and economically. That’s why the Climate March was so cool – they did such a great job teaming up with a diversity of groups: religious, indigenous, and ethnic minority groups were a huge part of the march – they made up the first 1/3 of the marching crowd. That’s another part of the “Need everyone” story I failed to mention before. An annual Climate march, with local marches throughout the year might be a good step!

John, thank you so much for weighing in on this historic day. 

Thank you for having me!

 

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!