While we’re on the subject of oil, this past Sunday, the New York Times magazine re-ran Sebastiao Salgado’s 1991 photo documentary of the burning of Saudi oil fields. And, holy crap, they are, without doubt or exaggeration, some of the most stunning photographs ever taken, highlighting both the unequivocal devastation of war and the abject threat posed by mere existence of oil fields.
In a new introduction to the photographs, Salgado writes in the Times, “It took billions of dollars and years of work to clean up the mess of Saddam Hussein’s failed scorched earth policy. Twenty-five years later, wars are raging in much of the Middle East, and oil fields have already been set aflame. We must remember that in the brutality of battle another such apocalypse is always just around the corner.”
The film presents the social and economic history of the Great Plains — from the time of the settlement of the prairies, through the World War I boom, to the years of depression and drought. The first part of the film shows cattle as they grazed on grasslands, and homesteaders who hurried onto the plains and grew large wheat crops. The second part depicts the postwar decline of the wheat market, which resulted in overproduction. Footage shows farm equipment used, then abandoned. The third part shows a dust storm as it rendered a farm useless. Subsequent scenes show farmers as they left their homes and headed west. Department of Agriculture. Farm Security Administration. Information Division. (ca. 1937 – ca. 1942). Note that this is the version without the epilogue.
The Experimental Farm Network seeks to preserve the world’s biodiversity one seed at a time. The best case for a plant’s survival is for people to grow it widely.
Taylor is part of the Experimental Farm Network, a New Jersey-based group that connects farmers and gardeners to exchange rare and threatened varieties of plants, including those from a Syria upended by war. The network is concerned with plummeting biodiversity, and encourages collaborators to develop new types of fruits and vegetables in a kind of democratization of rare genetic material.
This year, he became especially interested in Syrian seeds. Most of us don’t think about agriculture as one of the losses of war. We think of the loss of human life, the rubbled cities and the looted archaeological sites.
But agriculture, too, is an ancient heritage that can be vulnerable. In Syria, some farmers cannot access the seeds they need, fertilizer or irrigation, according to several Syrian agricultural experts and a July report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
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