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Darby Minow Smith's Posts


No country for old men

Why the food movement and family farmers need to learn to get along, little dogies

Nikki Burch

This article is part of a mini-series on the plight of the mid-sized farm. Read part 1 on the difficulties of organic farming and  part 3 on breaking the cycle of bigger farms and fewer farmers. 

If I were still working the Smith family land, I’d be a fifth-generation Montana rancher. Instead, 628 miles, countless pairs of skinny jeans, and one internet job separate me from the family profession. Even after nearly a decade away, though, it doesn’t take much to take me back.

About a year ago, my boyfriend and I were clutching hands and whispering sweet nothings in a dive bar’s midnight air. When the jukebox switched to “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the crowd and smell of stale beer faded away as I sat back, invisible hat in hand, to gaze at a hidden Montana horizon. My boyfriend glanced up from his beer to see his love-filled girlfriend transformed into a wistful, weatherbeaten Clint Eastwood squeezing back a horse-turd tear. “You’ve got to make me a mix of old country songs,” he said. “You don’t make mixtapes of songs like this,” Eastwood growled, squinting and drifting back to Hank Williams, Sr.

I’m gruff and conflicted when it comes to agriculture. While I love the farmers markets and food scene of Seattle, I miss our family cattle ranch, and the wheat farm my grandparents recently sold. I’ll dim the lights, massage my kale, and devour stories about food, but I feel a gulf between the world of the food movement and that of the mid-sized farms I grew up on and around. I watch countless cool-but-teeny urban ag projects pop up in cities across the U.S. that inspire but grapple with problems of scope. Meanwhile, Big Ag strengthens its hold and swallows up everything in the wide miles between -- where much of our food actually comes from, where I come from. And so, whenever classic country comes on, I get dust in my eye thinking of the red dirt roads and the disappearing, simpler life they lead to. But was it ever really so simple?

Read more: Food, Living


Meet the sisters who put the rad in radical vintage

Pendarvis Harshaw

The Drakeford sisters didn't start thrifting because it was the environmentally friendly thing to do. They just had a fashionable reputation to keep up in Oakland, and vintage threads were affordable, unique, and helped them stand out. "People knew us -- 'Oh, the Drakeford sisters,'" Dominique Drakeford told me over the phone recently. "We had this really cool identity."

It wasn't until she was studying business and environmental management in college that everything clicked. "I decided vintage is one of the most radical forms of sustainable fashion," she said. There's no production with used clothing, she says, and the price point makes it more accessible than new green fashion choices.

Read more: Living


Guilty as chard

Are you a terrible gardener? This brilliant tool could change your life

What if I told you there's a gardening system so simple you didn't need to worry about buying or planting seeds, figuring out watering logistics, or weeding? Instead, all you'd have to do is take a deep breath and push a starter ball of parsley into its pre-marked slot. The UrbMat wants to make gardening that easy.


The UrbMat is marketed both as a gardening intro for busy people living in small spaces and as a fail-safe learning experience for tiny, clumsy-fingered children. I'm sure toddlers appreciate any excuse to play in the dirt, but I think we all know it's the dumb-thumbed adults among us who are dropping the wilted lettuce and moldy carrots to do the slow clap. 

Read more: Food, Living


Yes we cannibal

More Americans willing to try cannibalism than veganism, new study finds


Update: Put down that elbow pasta, hug a vegan, and check the date on this post. Happy April Fools' Day.

Celebrity endorsements aside, converting to veganism remains a hard sell to most Americans. How hard? New research hints that more of us would rather munch on our neighbor Larry than give up meat and dairy.

According to a new poll from The Society for Progressive Meat (SPM), 10 percent of Americans would consider trying man meat, while a measly 3 percent could bear to part with all animal products. A poll and questionnaire on its website surveyed 2,500 respondents over a two-week period.

Read more: Food, Living


Why do we work so hard? Cadillac and Ford have very different answers

In an ad that aired during the Super Bowl, Cadillac shared its version of America and electric car drivers by having actor Neal McDonough ask, "Why do we work so hard when other countries take August off?"

For those shouting about the crumbling middle class, stagnant wages, and the death of unions (shh, Kevin Drum!), here's the real answer: Stuff. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

But if you can take a break from gently cradling and kissing all of your precious stuff instead of the children you never get to see, you'll want to see Ford's wonderful response to it.

As a refresher, here's that one guy from TV selling Cadillac's vision:

Now watch Detroit Dirt founder Pashon Murray give her version of the American dream:

So which America do you believe in? The one where stodgy rich white dudes known for playing psychopaths on TV fill the emotional void with underused swimming pools or the one where awesome urban farmers rebuild Detroit with their bare hands? We don't have the desire or dough to trade in our bus passes and walking shoes for electric cars, but in this case we're going with Ford.

N'est-ce pas, Pashon? Indeed.

h/t Stacy Mitchell


Addictive game lets you play subway god, weep at your inefficient creation

Have you ever scoffed at a subway delay? Rolled your eyes at yet another crowded Q train? Looked at a veiny metro map and said, "Give me five minutes and a Sharpie and I'll show you a more efficient system?"

Well, my friend, it's time to put your fingers where your mouth is (unless, oh god, you've recently been holding onto a train pole). The free, in-browser game Mini Metro lets you design your own subway system. Players simply drag and extend lines between an ever-increasing number of stations while tiny symbols wait to catch a ride. A polished version of the game will eventually be released on tablets, PCs, and Macs, but for now, the online version is fun enough.

It's a potent timewaster, too: A cursory look by this reporter turned into a full hour of frantic clicking and cursing at traveling triangles who just want to get home to see their kids. OK, full confession: I'm playing right now.

Read more: Cities, Living


The full Monte: Beloved Montana artist makes bold statement on climate and coal

If you grew up in Montana, the backdrop to your childhood was likely a Monte Dolack print. The Treasure State artist has been painting, drawing, and printing posters for the last 40 years. And Montanans love the stuff. You couldn’t skip a stone on Flathead Lake without hitting a cabin containing a Dolack print or three.

In one of Dolack’s best-known series, wild animals take over domestic scenes. Grizzly bears recline on couches. Trout jump out of bathtubs while feathery ducks paddle next to the rubber sort. The kitschy, kaleidoscopic prints mix iconic Montana wildlife with a healthy dose of humor, winning his work a place on the walls, and in the hearts, of multigenerational ranch families and fly-through fishermen alike. The $35 price tag helps, too.

Return Of Lake Missoula.
Monte Dolack
Return Of Lake Missoula.

Dolack has long worked with conservation and wilderness groups (an alliance that helped cement his place in so many Montana living rooms). In his new show, Altered State, Dolack takes a look at less picturesque and more controversial topics like climate change, coal, Superfund sites, and the effects of extractive companies moving into Montana’s wild spaces.

Monte Dolack, trout fan.
Monte Dolack, trout fan.

I recently dropped by the show at the Holter Museum in Helena, Mont. As I’m from Big Sky Country, I was curious as to how art, environmentalism, and mining mix in a red(dish) state with a strong industry presence. As much as I love Montana, “environmentalist” tends to elicit a negative reaction here. And don’t get started on “artist.”

So how does Dolack navigate this potential cultural minefield? He tries to avoid a “shame on you” mentality, he told me* over the phone. “I wasn’t trying to wag the finger at anyone in particular. This is just the way it is,” he said.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The kids are alright: Erin Schrode helps teens go green

Teens Turning Green co-founder Erin Schrode.
Courtesy of Erin Schrode
Teens Turning Green co-founder Erin Schrode.

Teens are terrible. I might get flack for saying that, but who among us wasn’t awful? Ask your parents, teachers, and siblings: They’ll confirm you were a raging sack of hormones, sadness, and confusion. (I’m not immune to my own assessment: Picture a Dave Matthews Band superfan in ill-fitting khakis, with the heart of Genghis Khan. See? Total nightmare.)

So expecting paragons of selfishness to care about anything outside of themselves -- much less the fate of an entire planet -- would seem beyond the realm of possibility. It's certainly easier to throw up your hands, grumbling "Kids these days -- amirite?"

But in order for the green torch to be passed down to the next generation, we should make some attempt to appeal to the young’uns. Thankfully, there’s Erin Schrode: She’s been wading into that teenage wasteland for the last nine years as the co-founder of Teens Turning Green. And she believes, contrary to previously stated expert opinions, [deep breath] teens aren’t terrible. Or at least they aren’t any more terrible than the rest of us.

Read more: Living


This old thing? San Francisco finds new life for dead threads

clothing pile

Style meccas, tilt your ears: San Francisco's moving sustainability forward along with their fashion. On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Lee announced the debut of a city-wide textile recycling initiative.

San Franciscans trash 4,500 pounds of clothing an hour, according to the SF Environment Department. To put a dent in that number, more than 160 textile recycling bins were rolled out at noon in schools, stores, and libraries around the city.

The bins, and today’s announcement, are the first step in what will be a learning process for both San Francisco and the global clothing recycler they’re working with, I:CO.

Read more: Cities, Living


Russell Brand is a climate hawk as well as a revolutionary

Maybe you've seen this BBC Newsnight interview making the rounds. If you’re anything like me, you probably shrugged it off as another celebrity saying marginally interesting things about politics. If so, you were wrong.

Even if you strongly disagree with Russell Brand’s assertion that we shouldn't vote, it’s hard not to be amused by the ease with which he bats around hardened journalist Jeremy Paxman. He makes an articulate case that politics in the U.K. and the U.S. are broken and corrupt, and he calls for a greener, fairer system.

A political system "shouldn't destroy the planet," he says. "The measures that are currently being taken around climate change are indifferent, will not solve the problem." He calls for "a socialist, egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think they should be taxed."

Watch for yourself: