Posted on

I didn’t buy any food for a year – and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been

Rob Greenfield gardened, fished and foraged to eat more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. But to succeed, he needed the community

For the last year I grew and foraged 100% of my food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, not even a drink at a bar. Nature was my garden, my pantry and my pharmacy.

Most people would imagine I live in the countryside on a farm, but actually I live in a city; Orlando, Florida, a few miles from the centre. When I arrived here, I didnt own any land, so in order to grow my food I met people in the neighbourhood and turned their lawns into gardens and shared the bounty of food with them. Im a big believer in the philosophy grow food, not lawns.

I also needed a place to live for my two-year stay in Orlando and I also found this through the local community. I put the message out that I was looking for someone with an unused backyard who could benefit from my being on the property. After a short search I found Lisa, a woman in her early 60s with a lifelong dream of living more sustainably. I built a 100 sq ft tiny house in her backyard and in exchange I turned her entire front yard into a garden, set up rainwater harvesting, composting and grew her fresh produce. Together, we helped meet each others basic needs through an exchange, rather than using money.

Rob Greenfield in his tiny house in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

As well as expecting me to live on a farm, most people would probably presume that I had some serious gardening experience to launch this kind of project. On the contrary, previously I had tended just a few small raised beds, growing greens, herbs and tomatoes.

For the past six years I had spent much of my life on the road and as much as I wished to grow my own food, I had never made it happen.

I gave myself just six months of preparation from the time I landed in Orlando to the start of the year when I would buy no food. That was wishful thinking, but just four months behind schedule I was ready to dive into the deep end and forgo all food from the industrial food system for the entire year.

My first breakfast of the year turned out to be my first-ever 100% homegrown and foraged meal. From then I was fully immersed in my food every meal, every snack, every single bite and nibble.

Although this specific project was new, it was not the first time that I had become totally immersed in my food. In 2011 I was living a pretty typical consumeristic life. I never thought about where my food came from until, through watching documentaries and reading, I woke up to the fact that I was consuming the planet I loved with every bite I took.

I vowed to change my eating habits and to inspire others to do so as well. Over the next year I grew over 100 different foods in my gardens. This included dozens of different greens packed with nutrients, sweet potatoes for my caloric needs, delicious fruits like papayas and bananas, veggies like pumpkins, carrots, beans and beets and herbs and peppers to flavour all of my meals. I raised bees so I could have my own candy shop right at home.

Rob Greenfield took up beekeeping as part of his project to forgo buying food. Photograph: Rob Greenfield

Around half of my food came from my garden and the other half was from foraging. I foraged more than 200 foods from nature. I harvested my own sea salt from the ocean, picked coconuts for a good source of fat, foraged my fruit from hundreds of trees, caught fish from lakes, rivers and the ocean, harvested mushrooms in the woods, and picked nutritious weeds from peoples yards.

Fishing was not just a means of food for me, it was a way to feel connected to the land around me. I used a cast net, typically from the front of a canoe, to catch mullet, one of the most abundant and sustainable fish in Florida.

Protein was one of my most difficult necessities to forage. I was having a hard time catching enough fish, and around month eight I started to become deficient in fat and protein. I remedied this by finding a few deer that had been hit by cars. Some find this to be controversial, but to me its just common sense to use resources that would otherwise go to waste. I know exactly how to identify how long a deer has been dead and if its still good. It may be hard to fathom for someone living in the city, but the details are clear to those who understand the basic signs of nature.

I grew my own medicine and vitamins too, including turmeric and ginger, elderberries to make elderberry syrup to prevent colds and flu and reishi mushrooms. Dried and powdered moringa, also known as the vitamin tree, was my multivitamin when I travelled.

I cooked up dozens of different healthy meals, fermented veggies to make sauerkraut and made delicious beverages like honey wine and ginger beer. I think its safe to say that I ate the healthiest diet of my life. I finished the year weighing the same as when I had started, and I didnt get sick once. I trusted nature and it paid off.

Foraging greens on a local street. Photograph:

This project wasnt just about growing and foraging all my food, though. It was about empowering others to grow their own food and reclaim their health. During the year I built gardens for 15 other people through my Gardens for the People programme, planted more than 200 community fruit trees, sent out more 5,000 seed packs to help people grow their own organic, healthy food and taught free gardening classes to the people in my community.

Throughout the year I worked with five single-parent local families to help them grow healthy food. The programme provided its own challenges, but it was truly beautiful to see the children and their mothers connect with the land under their feet and harvest the food growing freely and abundantly in their own yards.

Ive been exploring food for nearly a decade and I believe that the globalised, industrialised food system is broken. This was my personal quest to see whether I could step away from big agriculture and grow and forage every bite of my own food. I saw that it is indeed possible. Im not saying its possible for everyone. In fact, I dont think it is possible for most of us. More importantly I dont think its even necessary. The answers lie in community.

Read more:

Posted on

‘What they put on the fields contaminates our water’: Iowa’s pollution problem | Anna Jones

Decades of adding fertilisers and manure to drive Iowas crop production has loaded the land with nutrients that are ending up in the water supply

Brent Bierbaum climbs into the ditch running alongside one of his corn fields and dips a nitrate testing strip into the water. He checks the strip: the reading is somewhere between 10 and 20 parts per million. It confirms the water running off this field contains nitrates at levels that would be unsafe, and illegal, in drinking water.

Brent, whose family have been farming in this part of south-west Iowa for five generations, never used to worry about the runoff from his fields. On a hot day, cutting thistles in the corn fields, hed go down to the creek and drink straight from the tile line the water coming off the fields. Cold, clean its the best water around, he says.

Things changed when his local town, Griswold, started having problems with their drinking water. Nitrates are a soluble form of nitrogen that is added to fields as synthetic fertiliser and animal manure; nitrates from Brents fields, and other neighbouring farms, were making their way into the towns wells. Nitrate from farmland in Iowa is already a major contributor to the chemicals making their way to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi river, suffocating marine life in the dead zone. Suddenly what had been a distant problem, more than a thousand miles away, was on the doorstep, threatening the health of friends and neighbours.

Oh my gosh, he says. We all have friends who drink the water in town; we drink the water in town, so we all had an interest in it.

Like most small towns in rural Iowa, Griswold is surrounded by vast fields of corn and soya bean. Giant grain silos glinting in the spring sunshine are all that punctuate the landscape for miles around.

Iowas world-famous soils are packed with nitrogen a gift from nature that allowed commercial agriculture to take root here but decades of adding synthetic fertilisers and animal manure to drive production has loaded the land with nutrients it cant hold on to. Crop production in Iowa is still the main source, but animal manure from the states 20 million pigs has contributed to the problem.

Brent Bierbaum tests the water in a ditch alongside one of his familys fields. Photograph: Anna Jones/The Guardian

The legal limit for nitrates in drinking water in the US is 10 parts per million, equivalent to 10mg per litre. It was introduced in 1962 to guard against blue baby syndrome, a potentially fatal condition affecting newborn babies and infants under one year old. Its caused by nitrates starving the body of oxygen, literally turning babies blue.

Three public wells, fed by an underground aquifer, provide drinking water for Griswolds 1,000 residents. Between 2012 and 2019, according to Griswold City Council, a single well recorded 21 incidents over 9mg/l and four incidents over 10mg/l. Another recorded 18 incidents over 9mg/l.

Studies by the National Cancer Institute found that drinking water with an average level of 5mg/l of nitrate, over a long period of time, may increase the risk of certain cancers. Other studies have linked nitrate intake above 5mg/l with birth defects in babies.

Julie Adams, one of Griswolds busy city councillors, took it upon herself to knock on doors and ring around new mothers and daycare nurseries, warning them of the risks: I tell them, If you have small babies do not use the tap water when youre making formula. Use bottled water. Just to be safe.

The dead zone

The problem is that nitrates are on the move, and in higher volumes than ever before. Iowa is 90% farmland and exports more nitrate and phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico than any other US state, killing marine life there.

Its not an isolated problem. A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that, across the US, 1,700 municipal water utilities most of them rural regularly have nitrates above the 5mg/l safe limit. Worryingly, 120 public waterworks breach the 10mg/l legal limit. On top of that, Iowa has up to 290,000 private wells, many on remote farms like Brents, which are not required by law to be tested.

The state of Griswolds wells set alarm bells ringing at Iowas Department of Natural Resources, which oversees water quality. They called a meeting and delivered a sobering ultimatum either bring nitrate levels down or the council would be ordered to spend $1m on a nitrate removal facility. It would wipe out a third of Griswolds $3m annual budget.

Councillor Julie Adams at her home. Photograph: Anna Jones/The Guardian

We cant afford that, says Adams. We need a new fire station, we need to knock down a derelict building, we need a new park for the children to play in. We have many more needs than we have money.

Fellow city council member Ryan Askeland, who owns and runs the towns only restaurant, was also at the meeting: They described the harm it could do to infants under one-year-old and I thought, Holy cow, what theyre putting on the fields is poisoning us.

Checking himself, he looks around his restaurant and softens his language. An uneducated person would say poisoning. What I mean is, it was contaminating the water.

Griswold is a close-knit community. The town folk value their farmer neighbours and are careful not to cause conflict. Over 80% of the people in here are from the farming community at any given time, says Askeland. Everything in this area is pretty much funded by agriculture. We are all on the same team.

Iowa is agriculture. The state produces the most of many things corn, hogs and eggs and jostles with neighbouring Illinois for the top spot in soya bean production. Hefty property taxes paid by farmers keep the lights on in rural towns, many with dwindling populations, right across the midwest. Its no surprise there is inexhaustible goodwill towards them even when some farming practices threaten their drinking water.

In Des Moines, the citys waterworks did blame the farmers, and brought a lawsuit, but it failed. Des Moines Water Works was bitterly disappointed particularly their outspoken CEO, the late Bill Stowe, who died from cancer earlier this year. A controversial figure in Iowa, Stowe waged war on unregulated industrial agriculture and what he called the powerful agro-elite. He likened those who downplay Iowas water quality issues to climate change deniers and held the farming industry responsible for the public health risks associated with high nitrates in drinking water. If a baby died, he said, there would be a clear path between agriculture and the death of that baby.

Speaking to the Guardian shortly before his death, he said: Its disheartening: the image of Iowa as a sacrificed state at the mercy of industrial agriculture. We will continue to be advocates for agricultural producers taking responsibility for the water pollution they are inflicting on the rest of us downstream.

A water quality notice hangs near the beach at Big Creek state park, in Polk City, Iowa. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

In rural north-west Iowa, Gordon Garrison, a retired corn and soya bean grower, hopes to succeed where Des Moines Water Works failed.

Garrison is allowing his farm to return to wetland. He points down to the creek where he has reintroduced beavers, and beyond to a single-storey white building in the neighbouring field a hog barn, or confined animal feeding operation (Cafo), housing up to 8,800 pigs.

That building has no consideration for environmental impact at all, he says. I have got algal blooms in my downstream water. After they bought the farm, the nitrate level almost doubled.

The pig farm is owned and operated by Minnesota-based company New Fashion Pork. They bought 77 hectares (192 acres) next to Garrisons farm in 2014 and started producing pigs two years later. The building sits over a pit that can hold more than one million gallons of liquified hog manure, and Garrison claims that the manure was spread illegally on snow-covered ground in December 2018.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued New Fashion Pork with a notice of violation and a fine of $4,800 (3,900). Garrison filed a citizens suit, which he believes will be a precedent-setting case in the US. Garrisons hope is that his legal action will set a precedent and pave the way for tougher regulation of pig Cafos in the context of water quality protection.

New Fashion Pork, which runs 53 pig confinements across Iowa, has said it complies with all manure application requirements and obtained permission from Iowa DNR to surface apply manure. Field conditions were not good in most of the state last fall and winter and the DNR routinely granted permission to producers to surface apply manure in December of 2018, said a legal advisor for New Fashion Pork. The company also said that nitrate loss from crop fields is affected by many factors, but that the source of the nitrogen (manure or commercial fertiliser) has little, if any, effect on the amount of nitrate loss.

The only way to solve this problem is if theres peer pressure, says Gordon. We cant let some guys abuse the system and profit from it. If they prevail in this lawsuit thats just a signal to build more and more.

An aerial view of the Iowan countryside: crop fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Ditching the manure of 20 million pigs

There are already more than 7,000 hog farms in Iowa raising around 20 million pigs at any one time; thats a lot of manure for one state to dispose of. Its long been said Iowa needs a third cash crop to break the dependence on corn and soya bean. As one farmer put it: Weve found one. Its called bacon.

But its not without risk. In Marshall County, 25-year-old Ryan Pickard is a third-generation row crop farmer, growing 1,820 hectares of corn and soya bean who diversified into custom pig production in 2015 to spread the risk from low grain prices.

Ryan and his 29-year-old brother, Brandon, borrowed nearly $1.5m to build two Cafos, with one still under construction. They each house 5,000 newly weaned, 18-day-old pigs. Theyre thinned out as they grow bigger, with half being moved to another site. Ryan fattens the remaining 2,500, which are sent for slaughter direct from the farm.

The brothers do not own the pigs and receive none of the profit. They are paid instead for head space in the building. They do own the manure, which drops through slats into a pit holding up to 800,000 gallons. They also own all the risk associated with it.

Ryan is ruled by the pit. When its full, its full and must be emptied. Its spread once a year on a nearby 80-hectare (200-acre) corn field. He tries to plan ahead, working around the weather, but if theres a spill or run-off, the full responsibility rests on him.

Its something I think about constantly, he says. If not managed properly it could give me a very bad name and I dont want that. If the pit leaks, we need to find the problem and fix it before we can go back into production.

For Ryan the threat of being shut down is all the incentive he needs to manage the pit properly. But across Iowa there are more, and ever louder calls, for real regulation to protect water quality.

At the moment there is nothing in place but a voluntary approach, as laid out in Iowas much-lauded nutrient reduction strategy (NRS) which calls for farmers to plant 5m hectares of cover crops, which are proven to reduce run off and pollution. Iowa-based environmental and citizen groups believe the NRS is a dismal failure, with no deadlines, no rules and no enforcement. The most generous estimate suggests cover crops have been planted on 307,500 hectares, just 2% of Iowas farmland.

Jennifer Terry, executive director of the Iowa Environment Council, says. Its unfair to pretend to Iowans that we can get there in a reasonable timeframe via voluntary means. It will take us thousands of years to get these practices in place at the current rate of implementation.

And do cover crops even work? In Griswold, faced with a $1m bill, the town started working with four local farmers to plant cover crops in the 250-hectare capture zone around the town wells. Brent Bierbaum is one of the farmers involved. We explained to the farmers what was going on and that we were really hoping they would help us, and they were all on board, says councillor Julie Adams.

But despite their efforts, water quality has still not improved. Nitrate levels spiked in 2017 and 2018. At the most recent inspection in February, one well showed an increase of nitrates to 10.5 mg/l.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, nitrates may continue to leach because of legacy nitrogen stored in the soil and continued rates of fertiliser application. One study of a row crop field that had been restored to prairie found that groundwater nitrate concentrations reduced at a snails pace of approximately 0.6 mg/l per year.

Adams is willing to give it more time but admits the trend is going the wrong way. Fellow councillor Askeland has resigned himself to whats coming.

I think cover crops are a band aid, he says. Weve got a wound thats bleeding and eventually were going to need something bigger than a band aid and thats the filtration system.

Read more:

Posted on

Dark crystals: the brutal reality behind a booming wellness craze

The long read: Demand for healing crystals is soaring but many are mined in deadly conditions in one of the worlds poorest countries. And there is little evidence that this billion-dollar industry is cleaning up its act

In February, crystals colonised Tucson. They spread out over carparks and gravel lots, motel courtyards and freeway footpaths, past strip malls and burger bars. Beneath tents and canopies, on block after block, rested every kind of stone imaginable: the opaque, soapy pastels of angeline; dark, mossy-toned epidote; tourmaline streaked with red and green. There were enormous, dining-table-sized pieces selling for tens of thousands of dollars, lumps of rose quartz for $100, crystal eggs for $1.50. Crystals were stacked upon crystals, filling plastic trays, carved into every possible shape: knives, penises, bathtubs, angels, birds of paradise.

It was the month of the Tucson gem shows, a series of markets and exhibitions that collectively make up the largest crystal expo in the world. More than 4,000 crystal, mineral and gemstone vendors had come to sell their wares. They were expecting more than 50,000 customers to pass through, from new age enthusiasts with thick dreadlocks and tie-dye T-shirts, to gallery owners, suited businessmen and major wholesalers. Deals done here would determine the fate of tens of thousands of tonnes of crystals, dispatching them across the US and Europe into museums and galleries, crystal healing and yoga centres, wellness retailers and Etsy stores.

Five years ago, crystals were not a big deal. Now, powered by the lucrative combination of social media-friendly aesthetics, cosmic spirituality and the apparently unstoppable wellness juggernaut, they have gone from a niche oddity associated with patchouli and crushed velvet to a global consumer phenomenon. On Instagram, hashtags for #crystals and #healingcrystals tick into the tens of millions. In 2017, the New York Times heralded the great crystal boom and in 2018 Hello! described them as the years biggest health and wellness trend. Sold as lamps, sex toys, facial massagers or vaginal eggs hawked by Gwyneth Paltrows lifestyle empire Goop, there is now a crystal for every possible occasion. As Kim Kardashian was recovering from her robbery at gunpoint in 2016, she embraced healing crystals. The model Miranda Kerr has said that she filters all her skincare products through rose quartz to give the vibration of self-love.

The Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, Arizona in 2014. Photograph: BAE Inc/Alamy

In the US, demand for overseas crystals and gemstones has doubled over the past three years, and quartz imports have doubled since 2014. (Those numbers capture raw stone, but not the crystals imported under many other categories: jewellery, home goods, decorations.) Daniel Trinchillo, owner of Fine Minerals International, a high-end crystal dealership, told me that his business makes between $30m and $40m in sales each year. Trinchillo caters to a growing cohort of celebrities, collectors and investment buyers who want rare and valuable crystals. The most expensive single piece he has sold went for $6m, but he knows of some that have sold for $10m. Trinchillo estimates that high-end dealers now account for about $500m in annual sales. Include the lower end, he said, and you are talking about a highly profitable, multi-billion dollar industry.

Believers say crystals conduct ambient energy like miniature phone towers picking up signals and channelling them on to the user thus rebalancing malign energies, healing the body and mind. First popularised in the west in the 1970s, crystal healings recent resurgence has coincided with growing interest in alternative spirituality and healing practices. According to Pew Research Center data, more than 60% of US adults hold at least one new age belief, such as placing faith in astrology or the power of psychics, and 42% think spiritual energy can be located in physical objects such as crystals. Not surprisingly, then, scientific criticism of crystal healing has done little to dim demand. Last year, Paltrow faced (and settled) a misleading advertising lawsuit for claiming that Goops vaginal egg crystals had the power to balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles. But still, the rise of crystals continues.

Despite that explosive growth, the way the crystal industry operates has largely avoided close scrutiny. There is little in the way of fair-trade certification for crystals, and none of the industry-wide transparency schemes developed for commodities such as gold and diamonds. Tracing a crystal from the time it is dragged, dusty and cracked, from the earth, to the polished moment of final sale requires a journey backward down the supply chain: from shop, to exporter, to middleman, to mine, and finally to the men and women who work below the ground, on whose labour a billion-dollar industry has been built.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, but beneath its soil is a well-stocked treasure chest. Rose quartz and amethyst, tourmaline and citrine, labradorite and carnelian: Madagascar has them all. Gems and precious metals were the countrys fastest-growing export in 2017 up 170% from 2016, to $109m. This island country of 25 million people now stands alongside far larger nations, such as India, Brazil and China, as a key producer of crystals for the world. And in a country where infrastructure, capital and labour regulation are all in short supply, it is human bodies rather than machinery that pull crystals from the earth. While a few large mining companies operate in Madagascar, more than 80% of crystals are mined artisanally meaning by small groups and families, without regulation, who are paid rock-bottom prices.

If you want to know where the rose quartz on your shelves comes from, Anjoma Ramartina is a good place to begin. A collection of villages that sits atop some of Madagascars largest rose quartz deposits, it is a days drive from the capital city of Antananarivo. The further you travel from the capital, the greater the security risks. Large swathes of territory are described as red zones, considered unpoliceable by state forces. Rural villages often face raids from armed gangs known as dahalo, who steal cattle, sometimes killing, robbing or raping villagers. In January, the week we arrived in Anjoma Ramartina, three men armed with machetes were killed in a clash with village police. Do not travel or go out at night, people warned. Drive in convoy. Stay off the roads after 5pm.

madagascar map

Most homes in Anjoma Ramartina have no electricity, no running water, no phone or network connections. Malnutrition is common. According to the World Bank, around 80% of those outside Madagascars cities live below the $1.90-a-day poverty line. Health researchers found around half of parents in Anjoma Ramartina had lost at least one infant child to illness or hunger. As we made our way there, the driver noted that the road had recently been sealed a vast difference from the deeply potholed gravel nearer town. This is one of the best roads I have seen here. He laughed: Here in Madagascar, the road only gets made when there is something they want to get out.

In a cool, dark room in the town council hall, Many Jean Rahandrinimaro, the deputy mayor of Anjoma Ramartina, sunk into a black vinyl couch. Crystal, amethyst, rose quartz, he said. Everything except sapphires and rubies, we mine here. He placed a few stones on the wooden table in front of him: polished clear quartz and purple amethyst. He estimated that from a population of about 10,000 people, up to a quarter of locals now depended on the mines for some income. Between two and four men died each year in the crystal pits surrounding this village, he said only two last year, but often it was three or four. Sometimes its very dangerous but they still mine, because they want money, he said. Theres the possibility of landslide, that happens a lot here. The soil falls on them and they die.

Landslides are not the only danger for miners. Smashed rocks create fine dust and quartz particles can penetrate deep into the lungs. There, they fester, inflaming surrounding cells, increasing the risk of lung cancer and silicosis. Child labour is also widespread: the US Department of Labor and the International Labour Organization estimate that about 85,000 children work in Madagascars mines.

A few days after our first meeting, I returned to the town hall. In a ruled exercise book, Many Jean traced a finger over the towns registry of deaths, tapping entries on the page: here and here, the two men who died in the mines last year, recorded in neat cursive handwriting. And here, Benoit Razafimahatratra, who had died two years earlier when he was looking for quartz at a quarry to the east. Many Jean knew where Benoits family lived, and offered to show the way on his motorbike.

Rose quartz lies in the sun at the edge of a mine near Anjoma Ramartina. Photograph: Tess McClure

Bomber jacket flapping behind him, Many Jean took us to the next village. Sitting in a small shop that sold fritters and dried fish was Jean Gregoire Randrianarisoa. He looked tired. Yes, his older brother had died, he said. What killed him was digging for stones, about 15 metres deep. He went into a tunnel and it collapsed from above and he was buried someone called for help: Help! Zafimahatratra is buried down there! Thats when I went with his children to dig him up, he said.

Benoit was about 55 when he died, said his widow, Josephine Rasondrina, a tiny woman, less than 5 feet tall, with hair neatly divided into braids. She brought out a photograph of him. His features had faded. Josephine gestured at her two granddaughters, about six or seven years old, sitting on the steps. Since my husband died, they stopped going to school. Since my husband died I got really tired. She raised her fingers to her temple. I am really tired. Emotionally and physically because I have to work the field to feed my children.

Common crystals, such as quartz, can form almost anywhere around the world, when water and steam carry mineral particles into fractures in the earth. Drawn together by the mutual attraction of their electrical charges, their molecules stack in orderly sequences, forming defined planes and repeating facets that can create the pleasing shapes geodes, prisms that theyre sought for. In the mineral-rich earth of central Madagascar, villagers often find quartz and citrine deposits by chance, when they are revealed by landslide or washed down to nearby riverbeds. The mines dug to meet growing demand are often improvised, operated off the books and without permits.

One of these makeshift mines lies about an 18-mile hike from Anjoma Ramartinas nearest road. Rakotondrasolo, the man who villagers called the mine owner, found the site about 20 years ago, and continues to work there, along with his family, to this day. One morning, he agreed to show me the mine. Rakotondrasolo is tall and very thin. His worn flannel shirt was buttoned over a T-shirt with the face of Andry Rajoelina, Madagascars newly elected president. (The T-shirts were everywhere, after being thrown from trucks and doled out at political rallies across the country during the 2018 election campaign.) The red dust of the landscape had worked its way into the weave of his clothing until every garment was infused with terracotta orange.

As we made our way along the red dirt track to the mine, the sun was directly above, shimmeringly hot. Here and there was a sparkle among the scrubby grass: hunks of pink crystal, scattered at the paths edge. Walking behind Rakotondrasolo, his wife pointed: The stones are beautiful, she said quietly, but the work is very hard. Then the grass of the track ended sharply and the deep red cavern of the mine fell away in front of us. Keep away from the edge, said Rakotondrasolo, gesturing to where the ground was cracked and unstable. The pit dropped 15 metres deep, narrowing as it deepened. On the sheer face of rock were cross-hatched marks of spades and pickaxes. At the far side of the cavern, a huge pile of rose-coloured stones caught the sunlight. At the bottom, a passage disappeared, curving out of the light.

Rakotondrasolo, a miner from a village near Anjoma Ramartina, at the edge of the rose quartz mine where he and his family work. Photograph: Tess McClure

Be careful, he said, as we trod over the edge of the crater, the rocks are sharp. Rose quartz cracked underfoot: jagged, gleaming, a little translucent, shining like the flesh of a fresh-filleted tuna. Later, he lifted a worn trouser leg to show the scars he had acquired from a lifetime of mining: on the right leg, where falling stones crushed his shin, and on the left where a sharp edge split the skin, requiring six stitches.

At other times, this crater would have been busy with the sound of men at work his sons and nephews, who would come to dig and then split the cost of stone they sold but today it was silent except for Rakotondrasolos careful footsteps. They had stopped work: rains had been heavy, and they worried that the water made the cavern less stable. I was afraid, and was afraid for my children because of this soil. It can collapse on them. I asked them to stop working here, Rakotondrasolo said.

He threw in a handful of gravel and it tumbled to the bottom. Of his 10 children, seven worked with him in the mine. The boys started at the age of about 14. When they find a thick seam of quartz they smash it out of the rock, then chain the pieces together. Some blocks are small, but others are 100kg or even 200kg. The miners drag the boulders out of the hole, sometimes five people hauling together, up on to the grass embankment and toward the hill where lorries come to load them.

I asked where the crystals went from there. To the ports, Rakotondrasolo shrugged. He did not know. Somewhere overseas. A long time ago a client brought him a rose orb, cut and polished into a sphere, to show him what eventually became of some of the stones he had mined. But the buyers mostly say little about what the crystals are used for or where they end up. They pay him and leave about 800 ariary, or 23 a kilo, he said 17 for lower quality. It is not much when the money is split between the men at work: 800 ariary buys a cup of rice at the village market.

As Rakotondrasolo stepped away from the crater, a low hiss sounded behind him. We turned back to see a thin layer of red gravel, loosened from the wall, slide down into the hole.

While some mines are large, open pits, others are claustrophobically small: networks of tunnels piercing the earth. About 120 miles east of Anjoma Ramartina lies Ibity, a small village surrounded by tourmaline mines, where you have to dig deep to find stones.

The deeper you go, the more difficult it is to breathe, said Italy Miliama, a shopkeeper at the centre of the village, scooping coffee into enamel cups.

Once you see a stone, you follow it to find the other stones, said one of his friends. We dig, dig, dig. We call it the stone way, the way of stones.

Tavita, 14, working at a mine near Ibity. Photograph: Tess McClure

The mines at Ibity spread out like an ochre moonscape. On the morning I visited, about 20 people were above ground sifting through the soil. Among them, a local miner named Jean Baptiste Rakotondravelo and his son stood barefoot, turning a large, improvised pulley. Their backs strained against the weight. A moment later, up came a large yellow jerrycan, full of red earth from below. Jean Baptistes son carried it to his mother and young siblings and dumped it on a pile of dirt that they sifted with their fingers. The day was hot, the sun nearing its peak. Its extremely hard work, Jean Baptiste said. It cant be done by a few people. It has to be done by many.

At his feet was a hole about a metre in diameter, with sheer sides like a well. Shining my torch down the hole, I couldnt see to the bottom. Every so often a faint shout echoed up from the darkness, and Jean Baptiste and his son put their backs again to pulling up the bucket. His other sons were working down there, Jean Baptiste told me, digging for tourmaline. He shrugged: Go down if you like.

Near the top of the hole, it was possible to make out mosquitoes catching the light. As they turned the pulley and I descended, gripping the rope with both hands, the light retreated. The passage down was tight, the damp earth walls grazing my back, elbows and knees. Reaching the bottom, the air felt thin and it was a little harder to draw a full breath. On one side, there was a small horizontal tunnel with room only to crawl.

I crouched and shouted into the darkness. Salama! two young voices called back, and deep in the tunnel, pair of dim headlamps turned to face me. Two boys blinked into the torchlight. The smallest wore a yellow cloth baseball cap, and his eyes were wide, mouth slightly open with surprise. Their names were Roland and Tavita: Jean Baptistes sons, who he says are about 14 and 17. They started working down here two years ago, spending hours digging underground, crouching in the dark, backs curved, calves aching.

Tavita (left) and Roland, 17, hunting for tourmaline around 15-20 metres below ground. Photograph: Tess McClure

Deep underground, we looked mutely at each other for a moment. Ducking into the crawl-space, I was conscious of the weight of dirt resting above us: about 19 tonnes of soil and rock, suspended only by its own natural cohesion. Roland and Tavita squatted, jamming a spade or crowbar into the soil to dislodge it and pack it into the jerrycan. When it was full they would crawl back toward the light, shoving the heavy dirt bucket ahead of them, to be dragged up top.

When its too long they can have difficulty breathing, so they come out, Jean Baptiste said, back at the top of the well. Above ground, the boys mother, Odette, sat working alongside two generations of children, the youngest a fat-cheeked six-month-old girl. Odette sifted through the dirt, searching for a rock shaped differently from the rest: the small, wine-red and green crystal, tourmaline. Sometimes we go months without finding any, she said. They had found just one today, about the size of a knuckle.

Odette held it out to me, streaked with red dust, in the middle of her palm. At that moment, it was worth just a few cents. But in the months to come, it would slide along the global supply chain, its value multiplying with each stage of the journey.

For the crystals mined in Anjoma Ramartina, the path out of the country is through a company called Madagascar Specimens, which exports about 65 tonnes of carved crystals a year. At its premises, a converted house in the outer suburbs of Antananarivo, boxes of crystals were stacked against the wall. A row of shining SUVs were parked outside the house. Samples stood on the disused fireplace: carved angels, pyramids, geodes, wands. The rose quartz had been trucked in rough from Anjoma Ramartina by a local middleman, the villages former mayor, who bought large quantities from Rakotondrasolos mine.

The owner of Madagascar Specimens, Liva Marc Rahdriaharisoa, a tall man in dark jeans, wire-rimmed glasses and a navy T-shirt, gestured to the stack of boxes to his left, packed for shipping. This, for example, is going to Canada. This to Netherlands. This to the United States, he said.

He lifted the lid on a box of quartz massage wands. These are very popular. Then another box of rose quartz hearts: Some of our best sellers, he said. Crystals are the most popular stones now many customers are looking for it, because Im not sure of the English the medicine with crystals is very popular now. Like therapy, the belief crystals have healing power, you know? Its very how do you say? trendy.

The gem and mineral expo in Tucson was a key point in Liva Marcs year. That is where youre looking for customers, he said. You see all customers from around the world: Chinese, Japanese, New Zealand, Australian. It is the biggest market in the world. We go there to exhibit, to sell, but most important is to find customers there.

Between the buyers in the US and the mines in Madagascar was a gulf of experience, which, sitting in the courtyard of Liva Marcs small factory, he found hard to express. Its like two galaxies, he said, grinning and shaking his head. Its a big difference. If I say to people at the mine what Tuscon is like, they will never understand. And if I say to the Tucson people to come here, they will never understand. Its very different worlds.

He acknowledged the poor conditions at the mines he bought from. You were shocked, but I was shocked, too! When you see in the rough, [stones weighing] like 50kg, 60kg, they drag it four, five kilometres, two or three per day, and earning only $1? You know, its He paused. Sometimes you cant imagine how they can do this.

Madagascar Specimens exports some crystals rough, but its workshop in Antananarivo also works the stones, cutting them into shapes, grinding and polishing the faces. From Liva Marcs perspective, refining the stone in Madagascar means creating steady jobs and keeping more of the value of the crystals in the country. With stone that was exported rough and then carved in China or the US, almost none of the profit stayed in Madagascar.

Maybe they [shops in the US] dont explain it to their customers. Its business for them, they want money. They will never say: I buy this for $1 and I sell to you for $1,000, he laughed, but thats the reality.

The plunder of Madagascars resources for profit is nothing new. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the country was a source of slaves, bought by Europeans and sent to work in brutal conditions, often on sugar plantations on the islands of Mauritius, Runion and Rodrigues. When the French colonised Madagascar in 1895, they outlawed slavery, but ushered in a new era of forced labour and extraction, with tens of thousands of tonnes of rosewood and millions of francs worth of gold shipped offshore each year. More than a century later, the countrys riches still rarely benefit the Malagasy people, says Zo Andriamaro, a sociologist and human rights analyst. Gold, cobalt, sapphires, crystals: she sees them all as part of the same old story, resources siphoned out of the country for the benefit of foreign companies. There has to be some more systematic way of controlling and regulating the market for all types of minerals coming from here, she says. It is totally unjust.

Mining also threatens Madagascars rainforest. When new mining sites are discovered, sometimes thousands of men migrate to mine, encroaching on protected environmental areas and threatening the survival of endangered species. Embracing mining on a larger scale is intrinsically, fundamentally unsustainable and destructive, Andriamaro says. You can never pretend that you will restore the environment to its initial state.

The month after we spoke in Madagascar, Liva Marc and a shipping container full of his stones landed in Arizona, bound for the Tucson shows. I met him in a hotel lobby, one of three retail spots he had in the city. Business was good, he said. Buyers from all over the world had come.

The stalls around him showcased towering display pieces: rose quartz boulders, massive amethyst geodes. They had been cleaned, polished and set on display, but he still looked at them and thought of their origins. All these big pieces imagine how they must dig it. How difficult it must be, he said. Imagine how it starts.

While the crystal business is booming, and largely among consumers who tend to be concerned with environmental impact, fair trade and good intentions, there is little sign of the kind of regulation that might improve conditions for those who mine them.

Julia Schoen, co-founder of the crystal drink bottle company Glacce (tagline Luxury Spiritual) told me that ethical sourcing is the No 1 priority for her company. Schoen was speaking on the phone from her office in New Orleans, where she told me she was surrounded by crystals that had been unboxed and laid out, waiting to be blessed by staff, who would burn sage smudge sticks and pray to cleanse them before use.

Glacce sells water bottles and metal straws embedded with rose quartz, amethyst and other crystals, which are supposed to transform ordinary water into a crystal elixir, where the water takes on the healing properties of the crystal. The bottles were touted by Vanity Fair as 2018s Status Symbol and are sold by bohemian-themed fashion retailer Free People, as well as Goop. Schoen said sales of the bottles, which retail for $60-$100, had increased exponentially since they started the business, and demand often outstripped supply.

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in 2012. Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy

But even with a booming market, she said, the company didnt yet have a budget to track their crystals to their source at the mines. Instead, Glacce depended on Chinese middlemen to select crystals, including those from Madagascar. Schoen told me that Glacces suppliers know that we do not want to be having our money go towards a mine thats using child labour. They know all these things. At present, she said, they considered transparency a high priority and hoped to develop relationships with individual mines by 2020, but could offer no concrete reassurances about the current conditions of their miners.

In an industry that has not been so regulated and maybe hasnt had so many eyeballs on it, there are obviously practices that most people who are purchasing crystals would not want to know about, Schoen acknowledged. You know, at the end of the day its like, our intentions are she paused. I think were clear what our intentions are.

The challenge of sourcing crystals ethically is one faced by the industry as a whole: Glacce, Goop or any given Etsy vendor are no more culpable than the next crystal dealer. Every retailer I spoke to raised the question of price. Would crystal consumers really be willing to pay more to guarantee safer, child labour-free mines, or a fair wage for miners? Schoen compared it to the organic food movement: if enough people wanted assurance of their products provenance, the supply systems would develop.

At Tuscon, in the marquee for crystal vendor The Village Silversmith, I asked owner John Bajoras tall, tanned and broad-shouldered, with an enormous shark tooth around his neck where the responsibility lay if crystals were coming from mines where people, many of them children, were risking their lives for meagre pay. It is all about the customers, Bajoras said. Its a complete conundrum. I get somebody with dreadlocks, and a peace-hippie attitude, and you try to sell them a piece of labradorite from Madagascar for $12. And theyre like: Ill give you $6, dude. Thats where the fucking problem is. If they were like Its $12? Well, how about I give you $20? [then] you could kick $8 back down the line, sure. Thats the problem. The problem is your end consumer. Not anybody else in the pipeline. The end consumer is the person who sets the price.

Bajoras visited Madagascar often, but rarely made it out to the mines, opting instead to deal with middlemen in the cities. But he knew the villages of Anjoma Ramartina and Ibity: Yeah. All our rose quartz comes from that area. All the tourmaline comes from there, he said.

And if some of the conditions are truly awful? Awful is relative, remember, he shot back. The volume of his voice rose slightly, but he was still smiling. Your job looks horrible to me. I feel for you. Im glad that youre willing to do it, because we need people like you to do it, but I aint fuckin doing it, no way. I would rather die in a mine, any day, no doubt. Holy shit. No. Not happening. Spell check? Youre out of your fucking mind.

Meanwhile, the $4.2tn wellness industry rolls on, bolstered by profits from cheap crystals and a generation looking for alternative modes of healing. Bajoras was confident his stones had healing power. After all, he said, if uranium could kill you, why shouldnt lithium quartz be able to help cure your depression? And when you broke it down to an elemental level, he said, people are mostly minerals and water anyway. Youre hydrated mineral powder, he told me. You are! Youre like Kool-Aid.

Beneath a tented canopy beside the Tucson freeway, his colleague Alexa Stamison was selling an array of Madagascan rose quartz, carnelian and amethyst. Stamison had a warm, open manner and an encyclopedic knowledge of their stones.

A woman dressed all in white crocheted shirt, maxi skirt and headscarf draped over her top-knot approached the stall. How much is this carnelian? she asked. The stone was $30. A stone of empowerment, Stamison told me, great for women going out on their own or moving into a new home.

I think I need it, it was just calling to me and I couldnt walk away, the woman said. I dont need a bag, Ill just carry it. She walked away, cradling the stone.

If anything, Stamison wonders if the circumstances of miners in Madagascar, makes the pieces a lot more special. Because I know some person in a little baby hut was actually polishing it by hand, and theyre setting their intentions into it, too, she said. Peoples intentions and peoples energy are put into the stones as theyre producing it.

So the circumstances theyre mined in, they are embedded into the stone somehow? I asked.

I think so. A little bit, it has to be. It has to be.

Additional research by Holifeno Hantanrinoro and Teddy Rahenintsoa

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more:

Posted on

Record heatwave ‘made much more likely’ by human impact on climate

Scientists state July a minimum of equated to and might have beaten most popular month on record

The record-breaking heatwave that roasted Europe last month was a one-in-a-thousand-year occasion made up to 100 times most likely by human-driven environment modification, researchers have actually computed.

Around the world, July a minimum of equated to and might have gone beyond the most popular month on record, according to information from the World Meteorological Organization. This followed the hottest June on record.

Temperature records were broken in numerous nations, wildfires continue to ravage large locations of Siberia , the Greenland ice sheet is melting at a near record rate, and the danger of dry spell has actually grown more intense throughout large locations of eastern and main Europe.

The severe heat is especially uncommon since it is not an El Nio year– the phenomenon generally related to extended temperature level rises. Rather, researchers state it is driven to a big degree by carbon emissions from vehicle exhausts, power plant chimneys, burning forests and other human sources.

How much these aspects filled the dice in the 2- to three-day heatwave throughout the recently of July was the topic of an attribution research study by a consortium of meteorologists and climatologists at the UK Met Office, Oxford University and other popular European organizations.

It discovered that the severe heat in France and the Netherlands, where temperature levels peaked above 40C, was made a minimum of 10 times and potentially more than 100 times most likely by environment modification. In the UK, which set a record of 38.7 C on 25 July, the human effect on the environment made the heats a minimum of 2 to 3 times more possible.

There was substantial variation from location to location, however in all the studied areas the researchers stated it would have been 1.5 C to 3C cooler without environment modification.

of smoke from russian wildfires” src =””/>
A Nasa satellite image reveals winds bring plumes of smoke over Russia, centre right, as wildfires raved in Siberia. Photo: Joshua Stevens/Nasa/AP

Although the current heat has actually been referred to as historical, it is not likely to stay that method for long, according to the authors of the research study. “It will not make history. These records will be broken in couple of years,” stated Friederike Otto, of the University of Oxford. “What we see with European heatwaves is that all the environment designs are ignoring the modification that we see.” She stated additional research study would examine how most likely it was to have 2 extreme heatwaves in the area of 2 months.

The paper states the severe heat will have an effect on human wellness, though the information on this typically lags, which can indicate it stops working to draw much spotlight.

“Heatwaves throughout the height of summer season present a significant threat to human health and are possibly deadly,” the paper states. “The complete effect is understood just after a couple of weeks when the death figures have actually been evaluated. Efficient heat emergency situation strategies, together with precise weather report such as those provided prior to this heatwave, decrease effects and are ending up being a lot more essential due to the increasing threats.”

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, who has actually called an unique environment top of world leaders in September, stated the seasons were moving amazingly far from their typical course. “We have actually constantly endured hot summertimes, however this is not the summer season of our youth. This is not your grandpa’s summertime,” he stated. “Preventing permanent environment disturbance is the race of our lives, and for our lives. It is a race that we can and need to win.”

The World Meteorological Organization anticipates 2015-19 to be the hottest five-year duration ever taped. “July has actually reworded environment history, with lots of brand-new temperature level records at regional, international and nationwide level,” stated the organisation’s secretary general, Petteri Taalas. “Unprecedented wildfires raved in the Arctic for the 2nd successive month, ravaging as soon as beautiful forests which utilized to take in co2 and rather turning them into intense sources of greenhouse gases. This is not sci-fi. It is the truth of environment modification. It is taking place now and it will intensify in the future without immediate environment action.”

Read more:

Posted on

Jakarta residents to sue government over severe air pollution

The Indonesian capital topped the charts for the worlds most contaminated city a lots times in June

Tired of breathing in a few of the world’s filthiest air, a group of activists and ecologists in Jakarta has actually chosen to take legal action against the Indonesian federal government to do something about it.

Air quality in the south-east Asian city has actually plunged considerably in the previous month and taped even worse conditions than infamously contaminated cities such as Delhi and Beijing.

Social media users have actually published photos of the Indonesian capital blanketed in smog under the hashtag, #SetorFotoPolusi.

Varadhita Eriyadi (@dhitavarra)

Taken from my workplace, 24th flooring. SCBD. body link”class=”u-underline”> #SetorFotoPolusi

June 26, 2019

On 25 June, the capital signed up an air quality index (AQI )of 240 according to the vibrant IQAirVisual index. For contrast, London’s present index reading is 12 while San Francisco is on 26.

The Jakarta smog has actually now triggered more than 30 complainants, consisting of activists, ecologists, civil servants, artists, and businesspeople to unite and deal with sending a civil claim versus the federal government this month.

The case will be submitted versus the Indonesian president, along with the ministries of health, house affairs and environment, and the guvs of Jakarta, Banten and West Java.

“We hope that through this claim the federal government can enhance existing policies and take efficient actions to get rid of air contamination due to the fact that present policies are not working,”described Ayu Eza Tiara, a legal representative from the Jakarta Legal Institute, which is dealing with the case.

“In the recently of June, based upon our information, the air contamination index is typically truly bad, “stated Ayu,”It is typically high at a loss zone, which is categorized as extremely unhealthy.”

According to the vibrant IQAirVisual index, Jakarta topped the charts for the world’s most contaminated city a minimum of half a lots times this June.

The AQI reading is based upon measurements of particle matter, consisting of PM 2.5, little particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size that can be breathed in and trigger major health issue.

Last year Jakarta was ranked the most contaminated city in south-east Asia, based upon a research study by Greenpeace and AirVisual, released this March.

In addition to Jakarta’s infamously bad traffic , Greenpeace thinks the city’s markets, prohibited and legal smelters, open-waste burning and coal-fired power plants are likewise to blame.

But the Indonesian federal government appears hesitant to acknowledge the issue.

The acting head of the Jakarta ecological firm just recently dismissed the bad June readings, stating the federal government “does not actually react to real-time information”and in basic the air quality had actually been”moderate”this year.

Jakarta guv Anies Baswedan has actually put the issue to the high variety of automobiles on the roadway, however Greenpeace energy advocate Bondan Andriyani argues that is just part of the photo.

” In 2018 the information revealed that traffic in Jakarta was enhancing, however the air quality, decreased. It’s a contradiction,”stated Bondan, “The PM 2.5 information revealed that variety of unhealthy days practically doubled in 2018 from the year previously.”

Read more:

Posted on

Fukushima disaster: first residents return to town next to nuclear plant

Parts of Okuma are open for organisation when again, however just a few hundred previous homeowners have actually moved house

A town beside the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor partly resumed on Wednesday, 8 years after a triple disaster required 10s of countless individuals in the location to leave.

About 40% of Okuma, which sits right away west of the plant, was stated safe for homeowners to make a long-term return after decontamination efforts considerably lowered radiation levels.

However, media reports stated simply 367 individuals from Okuma’s pre-disaster population of 10,341 had actually signed up as homeowners, recommending that extremely couple of individuals will go back to areas that have actually been deserted because a fatal earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple disaster at the nuclear plant in March 2011.

Most of Okuma, nevertheless, stays off-limits due to high radiation levels. Homeowners have actually been allowed to make daytime gos to to keep their houses, however Kyodo news reported that just 48 individuals, coming from 21 families, had actually up until now signed up to remain over night.

Local authorities hope the opening next month of a brand-new city center and other facilities tasks will encourage more individuals to return.

Concern over the possible health results of direct exposure to radiation stays high amongst individuals from locations near the plant, especially households with young kids. A survey by the Asahi paper and a regional broadcaster discovered that practically two-thirds of left homeowners felt nervous about radiation in spite of main claims that decontamination work had actually been a success.

Part of Okuma is likewise being utilized as an interim storage website for countless cubic metres of hazardous soil collected throughout an unmatched decontamination drive to decrease radiation to levels that would make it possible for 10s of countless evacuees to return house.

The federal government has actually pledged to move the soil out of Fukushima prefecture by 2045, however has yet to discover an irreversible storage website.

u-responsive-ratio”> Central
Central Okuma in April this year. Parts of the town are open for locals to return. Photo: 183641 +0900/ AP

The crises at 3 of Fukushima Daiichi’s 6 reactors triggered huge radiation leakages, requiring 160,000 individuals to leave.

While evacuation orders in the majority of the preliminary no-go zones have actually been raised, limitations are still in location in numerous locations closest to the plant, consisting of the majority of Okuma and all of neighboring Futaba. More than 40,000 individuals were still not able to return house since March, and a number of those whose houses have actually been stated safe have actually chosen not to return.

The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will go to an event on Sunday to mark the partial lifting of the evacuation order in Okuma. Abe, who has actually promoted the reboot of atomic power plants that were closed down in the wake of the catastrophe, might likewise check out Fukushima Daiichi for the very first time in more than 5 years, according to Kyodo news firm.

Abe is eager to show that life in Fukushima is gradually retuning to typical ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, drawing criticism from advocates.

As Japan marked the 8th anniversary of the catastrophe last month, a Greenpeace examination exposed high levels of radiation in locations that have actually been stated safe, and implicated the federal government of misguiding the worldwide neighborhood about the threats dealt with by returning evacuees and decontamination employees.

Read more: