Monday, February 4, 2013

Tales from the Organic Cowboy!

Yeehaw!  Tall tales of sustainability and living on the land from wild New Mexico. Except they’re true tales of woe and hope, told by the Organic Cowboy, Doug Fine.  

Doug Fine is not a burly leather-faced man with tattoos, stirrups, lasso in one hand, and hair poking out from everywhere. But he calls himself the Organic Cowboy on Twitter.  

He wears a cowboy hat. 

And he does look pretty organic too, wearing a handmade long sleeve hemp shirt, like a sensitive new age guy who eats granola. Does he? 

Considering that Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) and Upcountry Sustainability co-presented his sustainability talk last week at the UH Maui campus, I’d say he probably does.

Doug talks about the sprawl and fall of other civilizations.
We're not the first.
Speaking to a well-attended room at the UH Maui campus last week, Doug injected some humor and lightness into the often, oh-so serious topic of sustainability. 

For some people, taking care of the environment implies lifestyle changes, in the same way that good health implies going to the dentist and giving up bacon (or in Hawaii, eating less spam). You know you should but you don’t want to.

This person is not giving up spam!
At check out, 3 cases of spam or 36  tins of spam.
Longs must be having a sale. 

Doug Fine insists that sustainability is not about deprivation, about doing without. 

He thinks one can still enjoy the comforts of civilization (electricity, running hot water, internet access), live sustainably, and not go crazy like the Unabomber. Even if you’re 28 miles from the nearest town. 

And there’s even ice cream involved. 

Homemade, thanks to one’s own goats. Doug’s message is one of hope and inspiration. 

If a “me generation” kid from suburban Long Island could learn to milk a goat, raise chickens or run his car on vegetable oil, you can too! And with fewer mishaps, since he’s already made them and can tell you what not to do.

Doug also could have labeled his talk, All I ever learned in life I learned from my goats, or 

Making solar panels that are goat proof: Are you kidding me?

or Sustainability or the Apocalypse: How I stopped worrying and learned to love my goats. 

Er. I take that last one back. That’s not what I meant. We’re not talking about Montana, where the men are men, and the sheep are afraid.

A Maui goat who did not attend the
sustainability talk by Doug Fine. 

Here are a few highlights from Doug’s talk (and stand up comedy show) on lowering one’s carbon footprint:

1.   If he can find ways to be sustainable, then anyone can. Doug talks about almost electrocuting himself, dealing with impossible mud, and drowning his bed in a solar heated waterfall from incomplete plumbing. 

    It can’t be as hard for someone on Maui to do things he tried 7 years ago: implement solar, run on biodiesel. He said the biodiesel part is really easy on Maui – just fuel up at Pacific Biodiesel. His biodiesel was filtered vegetable oil from fast food restaurants, so the car smells like Kung Pao chicken and gives everyone the munchies.

2.   He’s been really pleased with solar energy. He said any one can do it. New Mexico, where he lives, is a lot like Maui. “You can point the panels to the ground and still get enough sun.” He did admit that the nightmare with solar is battery storage and battery issues, so urged students in the audience to become the next Einstein in that field.

3.   You can be sustainable and still be human. He shows a slide of himself going to Wal-mart to get a plastic bucket for the goats, because the bucket just broke and that was the only place to get it. And maybe he could have waited but he really wanted the bucket for the goats. And besides, they threatened to eat his rosebushes. You could even say, “They got his goat.”

4.   Gardening has been amazing with manure from his goats. He doesn’t understand how commercial fertilizer first got started, when we’ve used manure for eons. I actually have an answer to his question, “Who first started commercial fertilizer and what was his trip?”  Read The World Without Us, Chapter 11, The World Without Farms. John Bennet Lawes made the first artificial fertilizer at Rothamsted Manor.* 

5.   Doug shares a slide of home made ice cream. Almost zero carbon ice cream, meaning the ingredients for the ice cream didn’t travel thousands of miles and have a big carbon footprint. It’s made with milk from his goats, a local sweetener (which one can get at Mana Foods easily. Hint: it starts with A and looks like a cactus), local eggs and vanilla. The vanilla is the furthest ingredient that travelled, but Doug says even thousands of years ago, people traded from far away places. They did it sustainably and he thinks we can too.

Plus, there were innumerable stories about raising goats, grumpy Billy goats, UPS drivers, and biodiesel encounters in truck stops. You’ll have to visit his site or read his book for those.  Or I’m sure that Doug could be arm-twisted to come back to Maui. And Maui has plenty of goats.

Goats in Kula.

The one great audience question that I remember was, “What advice can you give to people who don’t own their own homesteads or land on Maui? 50% of Maui’s population rents.” 


That’s a tough question for someone who has been to Maui for the first time and is still high from swimming with sea turtles and has just found out that Maui time is like New Mexico time. In New Mexico, Doug contends, if you arrive on the same day as an event, “You’re on time.” 

So he answered the question in general terms, like developing co-ops for goat milking, using Pacific Biodiesel, or doing micro-intensive agriculture which he thinks we could do easily on Maui (even during the winter).  But that’s a great question, and I’m going to ponder how to answer that in the near future. As a renter, I can relate to that question! 

As I write this, I imagine that Doug is riding off into the New Mexico sunset, reeking fumes of Kung Pao chicken grease and being chased by Vicious Attack Billy Goats. I’m sure he could be convinced to come back to Maui. Yeehaw!

*Lawes was also fascinated with soil samples and field tests. Rothamsted Manor has the world's most comprehensive soil samples from the 1800s to the present. Lawes was hugely successful and in later years, became worried about depleting the land and soil.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I hadn't missed that. One little sustainable step at a time, right?

    Sounds like a great talk.


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