Archives for category: sensing
























over the last couple of days I have been listening to some of the talks of the Sustainable Small Farm Summit. If you have chance, check it out:



















It is quiet on the hill. Fog and drizzly rain means limited activity outside during the day. Still, the animals need attention and the neighbors return home return to their house early evening. Silence. Waiting for the soothing sound of the night owl that marks the end of the day.




Click to access Synaesthesia%20-%20JCS.pdf







































AHHhh, the Senses, primary source of Knowledge & ultimate source of Pleasure!








Apparently, the younger generation is less interested in the environment and taking action to save nature. Therefore, Conservation International is broadcasting a set of videos under the title “Nature is Speaking” featuring actors who give voice to oceans, rain forests and other beauties.

Soil is one of my personal favorites and the message in the video is very poetic and touching. However, it doesn’t tell me why exactly the soils are disappearing and why it is important to take action, not only for future generations, but also for our own personal happiness!

It is complex. In previous posts I have written about soil as a non-renewable resource on the human scale. Soils contain nutrients that we, and other organisms, need to survive. Soils are disappearing at rapid rates. Often, it is thought that technological innovation provides solutions to such problems. Indeed, we can create artificial fertilizers and we use it extensively; this is industrial farming, and also small-scale gardening. To create these artificial means, we need energy, and most of what is used right now is non-renewable energy. The use of artificial fertilizers is also not good for the environment, as it disturbs ecological balance and contributes to soil degradation.

Most foods that are on the world market are produced through industrial farming, even though enough studies have shown that organic and small scale farming are the best way to future food security. It is a difficult problem.

I like the soil message, however, as long as the link between the conditions of the worlds soils, our daily lives, our personal choice for happiness is not clear, the message may not make the intended impact. GET UP and OUT and BE HAPPY! (and eat good food when you can)







Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 9.05.11 PM


Pharma-Ecology – The Occurrence and Fate of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment, Patrick K. Jjemba, 2008.

A Rising Tide of Contaminants, New York Times, Sept.25, 2014

A foggy morning run. Under these atmospheric conditions suddenly you can see how everything is knitted together and sound waves traveling close to the ground enhance this connectedness.


A very different scene than the one I visit later in the day at Mediamatic in Amsterdam. Bio-me is a three-day event functioning as a bio-cultural lab, in which artists, designers, engineers, scientists, farmers, chefs, and public explore and sample bio-based material.





to access NYT articles, follow me on twitter, bottom of the page



Click to access krause_niche.pdf










Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, 1999, The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante



For my favorite research on pulsing visit:




At some points in your life your larger concern confluences with your personal situation. Metaphorically, I have lost ground beneath my feet, sure, I run everyday on different grounds around the globe to stay connected, and running induces feelings of lightness and freedom. In other words, it feels good to realize that you really don’t need much to stay healthy and happy and that minimizing your ecological footprint supports your larger concerns for sustaining human life on this planet. But rootlessness also begs questions.

Like some great men and women who gave up their material possessions to dedicate their lives to a social cause, I come from a privileged background. But, unlike those men and women, I lack their wisdom and focus; I have a hard time feeding my (scientific) beliefs. In this process of increasing lightness, there is also hope of attaining greater insight, especially if you can metaphorically match your situation to your cause. However, along with it is an increasing nagging question: is it just a process of emptying. Am I just becoming a depleted soul?

What is the route to replenishment for soils and souls?






During this year, declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Family Farming, in recognition of the importance of family farming in global food security, the goal is to “promote new development policies…that will help smallholder and family farmers eradicate hunger, reduce rural poverty and continue to play a major role in global food security through small-scale, sustainable agricultural production.” It sounds fantastic, but in this moment it is still hard for small farmers to make ends meet, even to apply for subsidies because they are…too small! If one outcome of this declared year of FF is that farmers are given a voice, it will be is a step in the right direction. One such voice was heard last weekend in the New York Times, with the title: “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers” (Aug 9, 2014) arguing that while local food is celebrated widely, those who do the work of growing this food are not making any money. This is not the first and only voice expressing this concern, and more so, my own experience has given me a clearer idea of the challenges in sustainable farming, where many farming families have to tap into supporting income sources to make ends meet.



So what is the importance of smallholders and family farming in global food security and should we care? If I have learned one thing by spending time and energy at organic farms is that you enter a DIFFERENT DIMENSION OF TASTE, inspiring of something bigger. The incredible intensity and variety of flavors is something experienced close to the source, and many of the products cannot be entered into the market because of local, regional and international food policies and guidelines. It is this we should be concerned about, the imminent loss of the FLAVOR of this world, now associated with the care and dedication of small scale and family farming, will be gone if this is no longer possible. Food makes the [human] world go round, great tasting food exalts us. Now that is BIG.



see also post July 24








The Commons as a general concept can be difficult to understand, as it is not easily defined. David Bollier describes it as “durable, dynamic sets of social relationships for managing resources – all sorts of resources: digital, urban, natural, indigenous, rural, cultural, scientific…” An important characteristic of the commons is that there is no commons without communing, and this, as Bollier explains, is what sets it apart from a public good. In case of the acequia community, the parciantes are the commoners.

To read a short overview WHAT IS THE COMMONS and why it is important:

In this overview, Bollier further states that the enclosure of the commons is one of the great unacknowledged problems of our time. This refers to many resources that are increasingly being commodified and commercialized, from classic small-scale commons focused on natural resources, to –recent– digital networks/information, and privatization of water on large scale.




The connection between interior (architecture) and exterior (landscape) is something that is central in my own work, understanding differences in spatial experience and design in different cultures, and builds on the work of Tadahiko Higuchi, a researcher/spatial scientist –also- from Japan, He published a book on visual and spatial experience of the landscape in 1983, but more than that, his research also provides insight in the different role that architecture plays in Japan in this dynamic relationship, where the walls are not meant to exclude the outside.


I am on a hill. The hill is steep. At first I thought it was like any hill, but running around I noticed that this hill is a bit lower than, and protected by the surrounding hills, creating an interesting microclimate. The farmhouse is typical in the region, with thick stone walls and relatively small windows. From inside it is difficult to maintain the (visual) connection with the surrounding landscape. Luckily, I am outside large part of the day, and I am reminded of the stories of Shono and lessons of Higuchi.



Now a national monument, the Fortress, with its curvilinear walls, and almost round shape represents an ‘architecture of transition’, was created for a new form of warfare using bombards. The fort became also known through rescue operation during WWII, saving about 10.000 artworks from the Marche region, Rome, Venice, and Milan, from the hands of the enemy.

While walking around we noticed the –material– remnants of the procession related to the celebration of San Giovanni that had taken place earlier that day, catholic symbols on the street surface, created with thousands of flower petals, a tradition known as infiorate.


I was reminded of the beautiful Kolam designs in Southern India and was curious of any of these ephemeral paintings were enlisted on the UNESCO intangible heritage list. It appears that the Kolam tradition was proposed, but not selected in 2011.

This year, a UNESCO “proposal for the declaration of ephemeral art carpets as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” is presented at the V Congresso Internazionale delle Arti Effimere, on June 26-29, in Rome. Here, the events aim to revive the ancient tradition of floral decoration on the feast day of the patron saints of Rome.




In this fantastic article, “Flavor network and the principles of food pairing”, written by Ahn, different ingredient pairings in regional cuisines and cultural traditions are analyzed with the objective to clarify if there are any underlying general principles at work.

Sources like the “The Flavor Bible” are based on the food-pairing hypothesis, rooted in the idea of pairing food based on shared compounds as is common in Western traditions. Based on their data-driven approach, the authors found that in East Asian cuisines compound sharing ingredients is avoided, and that Southern European cuisine is closer to Latin American cuisines in signature ingredients than it is to Western European cuisine. If you don’t feel up to going through all the statistics in the article, please just take a look at it for the great visualizations of the differences in FOOD ART. It is enticing and invites you to experience and expand your world through your eyes and taste buds. Oh, and also through your NOSE. Exercise your senses!



So what about saffron, does the experience warrant the effort and price of producing it? First of all there is the visual sensation, the intense color it gives to food and non-food. I ask Silvia to comment on the description of saffron in “The Flavor Bible.”

“Taste: sour-sweet-bitter”

According to Silvia, the aroma is sweet, experienced through your nose. The taste is bitter and after swallowing the taste is diffused and the bitter, but not aggressive taste, persists in the mouth. Saffron is not sour, except fermented saffron from Iran or Greece has this quality (after the saffron wilts, it obtains a hay-like smell). In Italy, the saffron is not fermented, however in Sardinia the saffron is wetted with olive oil, which gives it an acidic note. This process of wetting doubles the weight and should therefor be less expensive than pure saffron.



“Function: Cooling”

Silvia does not understand what is meant by this, the function for her is digestive. Cooling is not a characteristic she associates with saffron.

“Tips: Add later in the cooking process, saffron is activated by the heat of cooking”

On this point Silvia disagrees. The aroma (sweet sensation) is lost above 50C°, it also loses its medicinal properties and is only bitter.

The way to use saffron is to let the saffron pistils soak in COLD water overnight. If you use powder, this time can be considerably less, about 10 minutes. Depending on your recipe you can adjust the amount of water you use. The water will extract the taste and aroma and is added to the dish at the end, when is cooled enough (below 50C°). The pistils can be added for visual sensation.



The dinner was good, the conversation lively; a way to exchange food and solidify relationships. It is exactly these traditions and farming methods that are inscribed in the UNESCO intangible heritage list and are intended to be preserved according to EU heritage regulations (see post June 13). Also, the small-scale farmers are considered a key component in meeting the challenge of global food supply in the future. These landscapes and traditions however may disappear fast.


Last week (June 13) the New York Times ran an article entitled “From Untended Farmland, Reserve Tries to Recreate Wilderness From Long Ago”. It describes one project, as part of a a larger trend in Europe to ‘rewild’, if that is a verb. In many of these projects species are introduced that were part of these regions at some time in the past. One of the criticisms is that the science is not solid or absent in these projects. Another criticism is that these projects that purport to be environmentally driven, are in fact a covert component in the carbon trade exchange market (‘landgrab’). When atmosphere and water become economic commodities and are no longer part of the commons we should pay attention.

In Spain, the projected revenue from increased tourism as a result of the Reserve did not happen.

“Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe”, published by Transnational institute (TNI) for European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands of the Land network, April 2013.

“Smallholders, food security, and the environment” report IFAD, UNEP, 2013





The horsetail (genus Equisitum), classified within the large FERN family has been around since the early days in the Paleozoic era. Although it offers a variety of benefits to humans, it is also considered a weed, even listed an obnoxious weed in several countries, it continuous to grows everywhere in the world.

I love this plant. And now I have a reason to show it in relation to saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. The Beauty and the Beast.


The crocus (Crocus sativus) is very sensitive. Like ferns, the crocus does not reproduce through flowers, even though it is a flowering plant. Reproduction needs human assistance, each corm, the bulb-like underground part of the plant, divides into cormlets that can grow into new plants, but have to be dug up. Each corm can grow up to four flowers, the better care given, the more flowers the longer the stigmas (saffron).

The corms however are susceptible to fungi that will destroy/’eat’ the corm, and fungi thrive in wetter conditions. I don’t know exactly how it works biologically, but my host mentioned she uses horsetail, planted in the crocus beds to control the fungi, in wetter periods. A perfect couple.

Some of my favorite artists who have interpreted the story of the Beauty and the Beast written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780):

Jean Cocteau – film 1946

Philip Glass: opera triptych 1991-1996 – homage to Cocteau






I am currently on an organic saffron farm in the Marche region. Saffron is known as the world’s most costly spice, made from the dried stigmas of the crocus flower (Crocus sativus) Although often thought of as native to Southeast Asia, the cultivation of saffron most likely originated in Crete during the Minoan period. The ideogram for saffron is recognized in Linear B tablets (1450 BCE), documenting large amounts of saffron either cultivated or gathered from the wild. Frescos in Knossos also depict saffron gatherers.


COUNTING THREADS. SAFFRON IN AEGEAN BRONZE AGE WRITING AND SOCIETY, Jo Day, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 30(4), 369-391, 2011

The spice is a valuable agricultural product, in the past and today, because of its variety of uses. It adds flavor to a variety of dishes, is used medicinally, and is a powerful coloring agent for skin, hair, and cloth. The production methods have not changed significantly since those early times and this explains the high price of saffron.


Crocus sativus does not grow in the wild, but derived from the Mediterranean plant Crocus cartwrightianus. The reason why it needs to be cultivated is because the crocus does not produce useful seeds. The corms, the underground bulb-like part of the plant must be dug up, broken apart, and planted again. The flowering period is in the fall. To harvest the stigmas and obtain high quality saffron, the flowers need to be picked before dawn when the flowers are still closed.


Right now is the time to dig up the corms…



What is the CUBIC METER PROJECT? If you read my “About” section, you know I am trained in geospatial technologies, for instance the interpretation of satellite images, and I like to use these technologies in humanistic applications. – Confusing? Maybe, but please follow along. To view the earth’s surface from space and the changes on it, such as melting glaciers, the sensors on the satellites collect data. The resolution, that is, the area that 1pixel represents, is often 1meter. This means that everything within a square meter on the ground will be recorded as an average value (sorry statistics). For instance, if most of this is ‘grass’, and there are wildflowers in that area, the image will show the pixel as grass. If you have a large area of grass with wildflowers, but dominantly grass, it will all be categorized as grass. WE NEED A CHANGE OF SCALE, to balance the big picture.

Because, Organic/small scale farming and wild taste doesn’t work like that. In organic fields, variation, mixing vegetables and weeds are the norm, and great tasting wild vegetables are all around us in the world’s rural areas, forests, and even urban settings. The variation within the meter is incredible.




To get a better understanding of the taste of natural farming and plants in the wild, I introduce the cubic meter. Selected ‘cubicles’ show the variation of plants, in fields and forests. These will be identified in my current ‘nest’ with the help of a local Alpine guide: what are these plants, which one are selected by the goats, which ones are edible and tasty for us! Stay tuned..

Click to access kraus+niche+hypothesis.pdf




Imagine smell & taste: