Blog | Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness
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The World’s Most Ecological Straw

An 11 year old recently contacted us, asking if we could send him a free metal straw from our straw company because “it looks cool” and he is bored during coronavirus. My first instinct was to let him know “We are not a straw company, we are flimmakers, and you don’t need a metal straw.”

Instead, I drew a crude illustration, and tried to write something that would actually interest an 11 year old, and help them understand that nature has some pretty nice solutions which we adults often ignore. I am posting it here because I think that most of us adults could probably benefit from reading it too…

What is the Real “Final Straw?”

Thank you for contacting us.

Do you know what the original “straw” was made from?

It was made from the stems of plants like wheat, rice, bamboo, and other grasses. These stems are naturally hollow, just like a straw.

In fact, that’s where the drinking straw got it’s name! Nature made straws a long long time before we started making them out of plastic and metal in factories.

illustration by Patrick M. Lydon for FinalStraw.org

Cool, isn’t it?

So the original straw is not plastic, or metal, but a product made 100% by nature.

But why do plants make straws?

Most plants have stems, but not all of them are hollow “straw” stems. Only certain plants — like those in the grass family — have these kinds of hollow stems.

Why did nature invent such a thing as a hollow stem?

Well “grass” plants in particular (things like wheat, rice, bamboo, reeds, and many others) evolved to push themselves really high up into the sky, and to do it in a very short time. In order to accomplish this, these plants needed to engineer a stem that is strong, lightweight, and quick to grow.

Nature’s solution is a special kind of stem, called a culm. Different from the stem of other plants, a culm is strong on the outside, but hollow on the inside. It’s one of nature’s many amazing inventions, and when it has finished growing and it becomes dry, we humans call it “straw.”

The best part about this natural straw, is you can actually drink from it when it is dry, and indeed, that is exactly what people did before we had plastic and metal straws.

What about metal straws?

So, if we can use the abundant straws that nature makes, simply by picking them from a field, why do we need factories to produce plastic and metal straws?

Well, to be honest, we don’t really need factory-made straws. But adults can be idiots sometimes, and we come up with all sorts of inventions that sound cool, but that are actually pretty harmful for the planet.

So, the next time you think about buying a straw, why not try to grow your own, by planting tall grasses (like barley, rye, wheat, oats, rice, lemongrass, sedge grass, bamboo, wetland reeds, or other edible grasses) nearby your home … or ask a local farmer or gardener if they have leftover clean straw that could be used as a drinking straw.

While you are waiting for your straw to grow, maybe you could also just sip without a straw for a while.

In the end, that’s probably the most ecological choice of all.

Making straws from straw

For inspiration, here is a short video by Alice, a 5th grade student in Panama, who makes her own straw from bamboo.

Year in Review & a Look at 2020

Returning from a small tour of the Final Straw film in Korea and Taiwan this winter, we are spending some time with family, ringing in the year of the mouse with winter soups and rice cakes. For many in the part of the world, farmers and office workers alike, it is a time of slowness and reflection on the important things in life.

Sitting here and looking back on 2019, I feel fortunate that this was the first time in nearly a decade where we had a place to call home for a full year. Thanks in part to your support, our home base The Branch Osaka has given us an opportunity to be a part of the flow of life in an old Japanese neighborhood. In some ways, this neighborhood called Kitakagaya, could be described as an eco-friendly neighborhood that doesn’t really know it’s an eco-friendly neighborhood, and there’s much to learn from this. Our life in Kitakagaya has already inspired many contemplations and writings and a story about Osaka’s Trees by Patrick that was recently published in Issue 95 of Kyoto Journal.

Having a home here also allowed us to hold multiple environmental workshops and exhibitions, build community gardens, green streets, and to launch our first ever eco arts festival. If you wonder what else your support has accomplished this year, and what to expect in 2020, well, read on..

Images from our recent natural garden and green street projects in Kitakagaya, Japan.

Free Films, Free Inspiration!

At the beginning of 2019, we decided to release a free, twenty minute version of our documentary “Food, Earth, Happiness.” If you haven’t already seen it, you can watch it here. The film has slowly been gaining an audience, and now averages over 1,500 viewers every month. Because numbers can never really tell the story of true impact, I want to share with you something a viewer wrote to us this past week: 

“I had tears in my eyes watching Food, Earth, Happiness … I felt like I wasn’t alone and saw people embody the lifestyle and wisdom I want to cultivate within myself and share with the world.”

So many individuals share similar moments, and each time we hear of it, it helps us to know that the work we put in every day is worth it. The short film was also chosen by four festivals since its release: Strano Film Fest, Italy; International Nature Film Festival, Hungary; Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival, Malaysia; and Beijing International Green Film Week, China, where it seems it was blocked from screening by the government. That’s always a good sign.

Today, both the feature length film and its shorter counterpart continue to be used in university courses on sustainability throughout North America. We figure that’s a good sign too.

Images from the “Forest is the Artist” exhibition at PlaceMAK Gallery in Seoul, Korea.

Exhibitions, Workshops, and Summits

As Spring inched its way from the ground, Patrick held an exhibition for a forest in Seoul. Called Forest is the Artist, the exhibition featured seven works on canvas by a Korean forest, and a film about the process. The press had some choice words about this exhibition of “rain water, dirt, and bird shit.” You can read more and watch a short film about the exhibition.

Over the Summer, Patrick traveled to Sorbonne University in Paris where he was on the organizing committee for The Nature of Cities Global Summit, a first time gathering of nearly 400 environmentally focused government officials, urban planners, scientists, academics, and other practitioners from 52 countries.

Patrick’s main role in Paris was to co-curate a platform for environmental arts engagement called the Forum for Radical Imagination on Environmental Knowledge, more casually known as FRIEK. Along with Paris based curators Carmen Bouyer and Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, the FRIEK challenged the normal ways of producing an academic conference. FRIEK launched dozens of arts exhibitions, workshops, and interventions within the larger conference, in a bid to break down traditional barriers, allowing new ideas for sustaining cities to be generated in collaboration between disciplines, and species.

Images from the Forum for Radical Imagination on Environmental Knowledge (FRIEK) events which we co-curated in Paris, France.

Back at home in Osaka, we continued to discover how many edible plants can be found in the middle of the concrete jungle. Suhee hosted multiple urban herb foraging adventures where we shared knowledge with visitors and locals about using these plants for teas, medicines, in cooking, and even herb infused whiskey, which Patrick thinks is a medicine. Later, we were invited to the Asia Book Market at Hankyu, an upscale department store in the center of Osaka. Here, Patrick sprinkled the event hall with images and quotes from natural farmers and Suhee liberated consumers from the need to buy fancy herb teas because after all “You can just throw seeds around your neighborhood, and in a year or so, you’ll have all the herb tea you could want.”

We figured it was only a matter of time before large companies stopped inviting us to give workshops and talks … but then Lexus Korea just invited us to celebrate the opening of their new local food cafe that supports young farmers. Go figure.

Images from Suhee’s herb tea and weed foraging workshops in Japan.

A Eco Art Festival in Osaka

Most of our Fall season was spent organizing the City as Nature Festival, our very first self-produced art and ecology festival. Taking place at multiple venues within Kitakagaya (the old Osaka neighborhood where we live) the festival included the work of more than thirty creative individuals from seven countries.

The festival’s core exhibition was Signaling Water: Multi-Species Migration and Displacement. Here, American artists Robin Lasser and Marguerite Perret brought together an international cadre of artists to voice their concern and commitment to water and all of the lifeforms it supports. A cast of regional artists also contributed works of textile, sculpture, photography, drawing, installation, weaving, film, music, and performance that spoke to their personal relationships with water.

You can watch a short film about the City as Nature Festival.

With the help of local teachers, community leaders, and academics, we produced several well-received public events and workshops where attendees could spend time discovering moments and places where humans and our cities are intertwined with the rest of nature.

Images from our City as Nature Festival in Osaka

The Branch Osaka in 2020 … and Beyond

This year also marks a new step for The Branch Osaka, in our mission to offer time and space for artists and urban dwellers to connect with nature in the city. Though we have hosted numerous international exhibitions here (see the work of mezzotint artist Aya Shimamoto below) we had not enough space for artists to both live and work here. From Spring 2020, we will host our first live/work artists at The Branch Osaka. The artists will live and work at The Branch during Spring (Allison Goodnight) and Fall (Karen Tsugawa) seasons.

A further artist, Nishi Ko, will follow, with an exhibition in the Summer season, as part of the 2020 Japan Cultural Olympiad. The Branch will be one of multiple Cultural Olympiad venues throughout Japan, as we collaborate with Lateral Lab and the Robert Callender Residency for Young Artists in Scotland.

Thanks to the success of The Branch Osaka project, we are developing a second venue in Seoul in the latter half of 2020. This will include forming further partnerships to help expand our programming and reach.

It’s big news for us, and we’ll share more as it develops.

Aya Shimamoto’s exhibition and workshop at our environmental art space, The Branch Osaka

The Life and Wisdom of Larry Korn

One of our great mentors, Larry Korn, sadly left the earth this past year. A great inspiration to us, and truly one of the reasons we are doing the work that we do, Larry always reminded us that all human beings have the ability to “make a living in the world, and to feed and shelter ourselves, in a way that allows other forms of life to live.”

Larry’s key to achieving this, gleaned from his time living with Masanobu Fukouka, was to make honest attempts to find our individual roles in this earth by participating in life as part of nature from the inside, rather than as visitors looking at nature from the outside. In other words, Larry understood that once we stop alienating ourselves from nature, we can intuitively understand—no matter what job we choose to do in this life—how to live and work in a way that respects nature.

This is not a prescriptive answer of course. Each of us can only find our unique answer, given our personal character, circumstances, and needs. It’s also not an answer that can be found and then struck in gold. Rather than being like a medal one keeps around their neck, the answer of who we are and how we can live truly, is more like finding a good path to walk along in this life, and then, when conditions change, saying a kind goodbye to the old path and hello to another path that suits those new conditions.

There are places to stop and rest along these paths, but contrary to the advertisements of our consumer culture, there is no final object or goal that, once attained, we will be able to stand at one fixed point and say “I’ve found it, and now I will stay here and be happy forever!”

In this way of thinking, happiness and sustainable living can only be ‘achieved’ when they are transformed into an act, one of walking with our true nature, whatever that may be, and in turn, allowing others to walk with theirs, whatever theirs may be.

You can hear more pieces of wisdom from Larry in our new three part series on the Mind, Farm, and Life of Masanobu Fukuoka — a series made freely available thanks to the kind support of donors like you. Thank you!

Here’s hoping we all find true and good paths to walk along this coming year, and the years ahead.

As always, thank you for your continued support. Sending wishes for a happy, prosperous, and truly fulfilling year, and hope we see you somewhere in the world.

Until then … Yours in Art and Nature,
Patrick and Suhee

How to Donate?

If you want to donate to our work in 2020, there are a few ways:

  1. Donate to us directly (not tax-deductible, we are too small to hold non-profit status. However, 100% of the donation will go to our projects.)
  2. Donate to FRIEC at The Nature of Cities (this is tax deductible, however, you MUST select “Supporting artists and art-based work, via FRIEC” and note “Patrick Lydon, Arts Editor” when you make your donation.) Patrick leads arts programming for The Nature of Cities, so your donation will go towards his urban environmental arts projects here, although a 20% administration fee will be taken from these donations.

New Series: Larry Korn and the Life, Mind, and Farm of Masanobu Fukuoka

We’ve just released a new short film series about the life, mind, and farm of Masanobu Fukuoka. These short interviews with Larry Korn give insights not only into how Fukuoka thought about farming, but how the natural farming way of thinking could be applied to the lives of non-farmers and those living in the city. All of the film footage is made freely available, thanks to donations from our supporters.

Watch The Larry Korn Interviews

You can watch the film in parts on the City as Nature YouTube channel:

Or, you can watch the entire film series — (27 minutes) at the City as Nature website.

About The Interviews

Offering a good companion to the feature film Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness, this three part film series features previously unreleased interviews which we conducted with Larry Korn (1947-2019). After a decade of studying soil, plants, and Eastern culture, Larry spent two years living and studying with Fukuoka in the 1970s, and was instrumental in bringing his ideas to the world.

These interviews were filmed at Larry Korn’s home in Ashland, Oregon in 2012, during production of our feature-length documentary film. They tell the story of Fukuoka from the perspective of a man who spent much of his life dedicated to bringing ideas of East and West together by finding truth within soil, plants and in turn, within humans.

This film was independently produced by City as Nature art and media studio with previously unreleased archival footage from our feature length documentary, Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness.

We would like to thank the following supporters, whose donations made this interview series possible:

Andrew Sblendorio, Johanna Fredenberg & Omstallning Pargas, Janine Lydon, Syanne Cole, MISS D E A SMITH, Peter Brandis, Cenk Rullas

A Natural Farming Event with Lexus?

We had a surprising request a few months back from Toyota / Lexus of all companies.

Lotte World Tower in Seoul, Korea / image: Patrick M. Lydon
Lotte World Tower in Seoul, Korea / image: Patrick M. Lydon

Apparently Lexus Korea were opening a cafe in Gangnam, in the ground floor of the Lotte World Mall–adjacent Korea’s tower of all towers, the Lotte World Tower. They wanted us to come and show the Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness film, and talk about food and farming.

If you know us, you know we would think this sounded highly suspect, not to mention totally uninteresting.

However, after a bit of digging, we found that Lexus in fact have a program to support young, small scale, organic farmers in Korea, and that cafe was one way to support these farmers, and to bring their message to the general, everyday car-buying public.

To be sure, it’s a bit of a PR scheme. What we do like though, is that young people are being supported to start farming, and to do it in a way that ensures the health of the planet. We need more of that, however we can get it. Now, if somehow all car companies were required to offset the pollution and environmental destruction caused by the manufacture and use of personal motor vehicles, well, then we’d be talking about a really interesting program. For now, it’s just one small opportunity to reach the general public with an important message about how they can help build a more beautiful future.

I’ve been party to multiple conversations lately, where environmentalists and industry are at the table together. In each case, both sides realize they want the same thing, and that instead of making enemies of each other, they can support each other. Both sides know what is at stake. Neither side wants to see a desolate future for humanity, let alone to be seen as the cause of it. In the end, both realize that they have some learning to do in order to achieve it.

In this spirit, Suhee and I accepted the screening and talk as an opportunity to show the film and have a chat with folks in this most unlikely of places.

Patrick and Suhee talk with the audience after a screening of Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness at the Lexus ‘Connect To’ Cafe in Seoul, Korea / photo courtesy of the event

We were surprised.

The audience included many young people who are beginning their farming careers, and who have the desire and energy to figure out how they can grow good food in ways that support the health of people and our planet.

If a company like Toyota/Lexus is moving this way, well, that’s one of many signs we’ve noticed lately, that industry leaders are at least beginning to acknowledge what needs to happen, even if they are not yet necessarily doing anything fundamentally different in their business practices — and let’s be honest, Toyota is still a company that intends to sell as many cars to as many people as possible.

The next step is for Toyota to figure out how they fit into a world where people rely on cars less than they do today, and how the cars that are produced will be built to last generations and cause net-zero environmental degredation.

There’s a lot of work to be done, not just with cars and food, but with all that we grow and build in our society.

This is a start.

Let’s keep going in this direction, folks.

More Images

Festivals & Events – Summer 2019

From film festivals to infiltrating global academic conferences with natural farming knowledge, we’ve had an eventful Spring/Summer so far!

We are happy that the new “Food, Earth, Happiness” short film has recently been selected for two festivals. The first of these is the Strano Film Festival in Italy. We are one of 29 films selected, and it’s especially compelling that the festival’s theme “A FESTIVAL OF THE LAND” is not just lip service, but a call to action for a region to re-connect their way of living again with the land. If any of you are around Capestrano (the Abruzzo region of Italy) this would be a really special event in a beautiful old hillside town. The second festival is the International Nature Film Festival, which amazingly, is a festival about nature sponsored by János Áder, the president of Hungary. The festival takes place in Gödöllő, and will screen films in 30 other locations in Hungary.

2019 International Nature Film Festival Program

Here in Japan, we have been invited to give a talk and exhibition of images from the film the ASIA BOOK MARKET which takes place in the center of Osaka’s main commercial district at the Hankyu Department Store. It seems an uninteresting venue, but we should let you in on a little secret: this store was the location for a few scenes in our film (the scenes that poke fun as consumerism). Thanks to IN/SECTS Magazine, we have the opportunity to do a bit more of this, from the belly of the beast so to speak. The events will take place from July 24-29 at Hankyu Umeda, located directly in the central Osaka train station.

Lastly, Patrick just returned from Paris, where he was one of three curators (along with Carmen Bouyer and Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro) of an exhibition called the Forum for Radical Imagination on Environmental Knowledge (FRIEK). Together they designed, built, and curated an arts platform to augment the Nature of Cities Summit, a global conference of ecologists, urban planners, and others from academic and government roles who met at Sorbonne University this June. A total of 371 attendees came from 52 different countries to figure out how to build cities that work together with nature rather than against it.

Part of the FRIEK installation and workspace at The Nature of Cities Summit in Paris, France.

The role of the arts exhibitions and performances was to help challenge the framework of established knowledge, allowing new ideas for sustaining cities to be generated in collaboration between disciplines and species. The art installation included several components related to our documentary Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness, including film clips, a tree meditation workshop by Emilio Fantin, and a bookshelf highlighting knowledge from Masanobu Fukuoka, Larry Korn, Yoshikazu Kawaguchi, and others.

2018 Year in Review

Twenty-Eighteen was a big year for us at Final Straw!

We re-launched our rag-tag media production collaborative, and we’re now called City as Nature. We’ll be releasing new Final Straw-related short films, and hosting eco art exhibitions in Seoul and Paris this year, and will continue our other media works, syndicated widely through our partners. To kick things off in 2019, we released a special 20-minute version of the Final Straw: Food, Earth Happiness documentary for free (read on for the link).

One of our main goals in 2018 was to build a physical space where we could bring together people to put into practice concepts from the Final Straw film in an urban context. Over the course of the year, we did this by transforming an old house in Osaka into a physical space for ecological art, media, and community activity.

That space, affectionately called The Branch, quickly became hub of activity. You can see stories and images of the amazing transformation in The Branch: Before & After.

Whether you donated, watched our documentary, attended a workshop or exhibition, or just sent a friendly hello to us, we want to share our thanks. All of it made a difference.


Building “The Branch” an urban farm and eco art space in Osaka, Japan

By the Numbers in 2018

Here are a few things that your support helped us accomplish this year:

  • 7 workshops were held internationally
  • People from 17 countries walked into the door of The Branch, including visitors from Turkey, Germany, Korea, Malaysia, Belgium, Taiwan, Switzerland, United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, India, Canada, and of course, Japan
  • 22 events and workshops were held inside The Branch
  • 407 people happily squeezed into events in our tiny space
  • 12,000 people watched our films globally
  • 85,000 people read our articles, blogs, essays, and the book “불안과 경쟁 없는 이곳에서” (roughly translates to “A Life Without Fear or Anxiety”) written by Suhee and Patrick and published through our friends at Yeolmaehana Publishers in Korea

Global Recognition

Our Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness documentary has been chosen as one of 25 Global Environmental Justice films, to be used in university courses throughout North America beginning in 2019.

In the field, from starting independent farms and food co-ops, to quitting jobs and pursuing dreams, multiple individuals told us stories of how their perspectives and lives changed after attending one of our workshops, exhibitions, or screenings.

To top it off, The Branch was awarded a special commendation by the Nick Reeves Award for Arts and Environment!

A Gift from City as Nature

We feel especially fortunate to have so many visitors and supporters from afar who believe in the value of what we are doing. To thank you, we have been going through footage and secretly working on a special ‘condensed’ version of our documentary.

To close, as we promised at the beginning of this article, you can now watch this 20-minute special film, Food, Earth, Happiness for free at Films for Action and on our new YouTube channel.

To be sure that the inspiration keeps coming to your screen, sign up for the City as Nature YouTube channel, and lastly, if we can’t eat, we can’t film, edit, write, or translate. This is a huge part of what we spend our time doing, and it’s done independently, without support from corporations or special interest groups. If you have the means, consider making a donation to help us keep producing this content.

With Love, Yours in Nature,

Patrick M. Lydon & Suhee Kang

A Nature Mandala in a Shopping Mall

As much as we could—and albeit, it’s not much in a Japanese shopping mall—our experiment in engaging with holiday shoppers at MUJI this past weekend offered subtle notes: nothing is permanent, slow down, listen to nature, be closer to nature, play with nature, you don’t need to buy anything to do this.

 

We began by building a small centerpiece for the mandala, and then setting a framework for a larger shape to take form. As people came by, we invited them to participate by placing leaves within the mandala, following three simple rules:

    1. Slow down and consider the beauty of each leaf, working only with one at a time
    2. Feel where to put your leaves, rather than thinking about it
    3. Instead of passing judgment, simply be aware and accept whatever happens in the mandala

As Usual, a Child Shows the Way

Bustle of shopping carts around, people from ages 3 — 70 stopped to pick up single leaves and as they did, their pace noticeably slowed.

The most beautiful moment must have been witnessing a little girl who, for at least half a minute stood there calmly, looking at her leaf so carefully, feeling its shape and texture, peering down at the other leaves in their places, then back at her leaf. Finally, she walked to the edge of the growing nature mandala, bent down slowly, and placed her leaf. As she stood up, her face was determined, almost meditative, as if she had just made an offering. She continued to work in this way until her parents—who were also busy placing leaves, yet not quite as elegantly as their child—coerced her away.

Speaking of parents, a good handful of them were more focused and involved than their children.

Growing Your Seed

I don’t know whether or not these acts ever make a big immediate difference in people’s mindsets or habits, but frankly I don’t think they need to. To measure such things would be a disservice to what this kind of community engagement is about. This work focuses on tending to the seeds inside of each of us, giving them a bit of water and light. You can not easily measure the effect of such exercises. As such, these little moments of beauty are often ignored or brushed aside by most others in the environmental movement.

However, when I see parents, kids, and the elderly, stopping in their tracks to consider the beauty of a leaf, I already have all the information I need to know that something good and useful is happening. I have enough information in front of me in such moments, to know that, whether they sprout today or not, the seeds which our society needs to grow within ourselves are being tended to for a moment.

One of our chief needs as a society is to increase the occurrence of such moments.

Each of us can do this quite easily. We each help to grow these seeds, in ourselves, in our neighborhoods, in our cities. A nature mandala in particular is not a difficult thing to do. You could make one today with your children, or with friends. You could do it in a park, on a sidewalk, or in your backyard. All you need are leaves (or any natural materials), a mind that is ready to cultivate its relationship to nature, and a centerpoint from which to start working.

While you’re doing it, you might just feel that seed within yourself growing, sprouting, flowering, too.

This post was originally published on The Branch Osaka blog

Spring 2018 Updates from Final Straw

A man on a bike looks up at the last of the cherry blossoms in Sumiyoshi Park, Osaka, Japan (photo, P.M. Lydon, cc by-sa)

It’s getting into late spring here in Osaka, and the cherry trees that burst into pink-cotton ball-like spectacles have given way to a welcome green foliage all around the city. The heat and humidity has not yet reached us, so we’re enjoying being outside as much as possible. Much has been going on with the film and our community activities, so here’s the long and short of all that…

The Branch Pocket Farm

We are fully into garden-building mode in Osaka.

Having been granted use of an abandoned lot, we are now building a “Pocket Farm.” Filled with herbs, wild flowers, vegetables, and open to the public, this space is an east-meets-west undertaking, inspired by the “pocket parks” of Patrick Geddes (Scotland), and built in the spirit of natural farmers such as Masanobu Fukuoka and Yoshikazu Kawaguchi (Japan).

Our wish is for  The Branch Pocket Farm to become a space where neighbors can reclaim their relationship with nature, with all activities based in developing a compassion for all living beings. The herbs grown here will be used for teas, herbal oils, tinctures, and all other sorts of good things that you can enjoy at our community cafe; as well, much of the harvest will be given freely to our neighbors.

The Branch Art Lab

Since the early winter months we’ve been preparing, demolishing, and re-building the inside an old house in Osaka, and now our first physical space for promoting social and ecological wellness, The Branch Art Lab has just hosted its first few exhibitions and events. We’re happy to have already enjoyed visitors from the neighborhood, and from around the world (France, USA, Germany, Turkey, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan so far as we could count).

Our first workshop was with two Turkish luthiers (stringed instrument makers) Melike Bozkurt and Erdem Temel who, in keeping with the theme of environmental stewardship, decided to help participants build instruments from trash that the found around the neighborhood.

The group came up with guitars, flutes, marimbas, a hand-held drum kit, and a wild clarinet/saxophone-like contraption.

Our first artist in residence, Jeongran Choi wanted to help visitors see the beauty in everyday moments. She brought her painstakingly created works of otchil (natural lacquer) and enamel, and spent nearly the entire time filling our small gallery full of tiny drawings as gifts for anyone who stopped by to take home.

The Branch Pocket Farm and Art Lab are made possible in part by donations from our amazing crowdfunding backers, and with assistance from Chishima Foundation for Creative Osaka, and our good friends at NPO Co.to.hana.

Final Straw in Scotland, Japan, and Turkey

The film seems to have taken on a life of it’s own and is wandering around far parts of the earth these days!

Over in Scotland, Final Straw will be screening at City Art Centre in Edinburgh from 12 May – 8 July, as part of the exhibition of works by the late Robert Callender, Plastic Beach, Poetry of the Everyday. As alumni of the Robert Callender International Residency for Young Artists, we were deeply touched by this man’s work and life, and are pleased to have the film play a small part in this exhibition. If you’re around this part of the UK, we highly recommend a visit to see the inspiring work on view.

In Japan, we’ve finally released the film for streaming with the help of associate producer Kaori Tsuji. The Japanese version of the film can be found on Gumroad.

Final Straw in Turkish

In Turkey, we’ve recently helped a volunteer group finish a subtitle translation, and screenings of the film are underway with the help of Yabani Tarım and friends. The group are arranging a screening tour and series of events related to natural farming. The film is also available for download in Turkish through our distributor Gumroad.

Books and Writings

With much effort from Suhee and our publisher Yeolmaehana, our second book related to the film has been published in Korea. The title translates roughly to Without Anxiety or Competition and it’s available in bookstores around the country (sorry USA, no English version yet!) The book is filled with intimate stories of individuals who are abolishing the social and economic contracts that are no longer working for them, and forging new contracts based in collaboration with this earth and each other.

불안과 경쟁 없는 이곳에서 (Title roughly translates to: Without Anxiety or Competition) a book by Suhee Kang and Patrick Lydon, published by Yeolmaehana, Seoul, South Korea

It all honestly this book turned out more beautiful than we could have hoped for. Our publisher insisted on very high quality ecologically-conscious paper and full-color photographic reproductions to compliment the narrative of travel and life changes during the time spent with social and ecological pioneers around the world.

Filled with positive stories that enrich, enliven, and celebrate the possibilities of life as human beings on this earth, we hope that this book helps plant the seeds of well-being in our actions and in our lives.

Over at The Nature of Cities, Patrick has been co-chairing some interesting discussions about human relationships with elements in nature, as seen through the eyes of practicing artists. The first discussion, Artists in Conversation with Air in Cities, brings together seven intriguing stories —  from the flight of birds and clouds, to the breath of trees — from artists and creative practitioners around the world.

More exciting news in the pipeline, in due time.

That’s a wrap for now. I’ve got to get outside and say hello to the sky before the sun sets!

 

Final Straw to Open Eco Art Space & Farm in Japan

It’s now going on seven years since we began the journey of making and touring the film. To date we’ve done nearly 200 events and projects related to Final Straw in several countries. The film has been translated into seven languages and counting, and last year we released a book in Korea, chronicling the journeys and interviews with natural farmers.

A sampling of Final Straw / SocieCity interactive projects in 2016/2017

Through all of this, we’ve heard so many wonderful stories of life-changing events and natural farming efforts inspired by the film. This in turn has also inspired us greatly, and gives us the energy to continue. These years have been a beautiful gift, but at the same time, living out of a suitcase with no place to call ‘home’ has worn on us both physically and mentally. Last year we decided that 2018 would be our time to transition from what has been a nomadic life, to something more grounded in a place.

With this in mind, we are happy to announce that on 1 March 2018, we will open The Branch, a space for art, environment, and well-being in Osaka, Japan!

As space that is being re-built with out own hands, The Branch will serve as our home base for ecological art and media, and will come alive with workshops, events, and a series of local and international artists, farmers, and fellows in residence. Together, we will learn, grow, and share perspectives on how to better live together with this earth.

As usual, our collective artworks, films, community projects, and writings will continue, under The Branch moniker. So too, will continue our work with natural farms in Japan and internationally, and our dedication to help volunteers spread the film to more countries and more languages.

These works will be shared with you periodically, however you might also like to follow The Branch on Facebook, or Instagram, to stay in the loop!

On a final note, we are just now ending our fundraiser for The Branch and over 90% funded to date! This is the last push to support the project before we launch on 1 March!

Thank you for your support (in whatever form it comes), and thank you for what you are all doing in your own lives. Remember each day, how each and every effort can make an incalculably big difference in the world. Please feel free to send us a note and let us know what’s going on in your area of the world, and of course if you’re in the neighborhood, come by and see us at The Branch in Osaka to say hello and have a cup of Suhee’s fresh herb tea.

For more, visit The Branch at http://branch.sociecity.org

Yours in Nature,
Patrick and Suhee
Final Straw Film Co-Directors

Small Works of Art in the Forest

Autumn is here, and last Saturday we took the subway out to Yangjae Citizen’s Forest, an urban forest in the southern part of Seoul to join a seasonal festival called “Small Works of Art in the Forest”.

Participants in a “Nature Art” workshop led by Suhee Kang and Patrick Lydon at Yangjae Citizen’s Forest in South Korea make artworks using color from natural materials gatherd in the forest. (photos by SocieCity)

We led three workshop sessions during the day, all of them using natural materials from the forest floor as paints.

A good friend of ours, American artist and filmmaker Patrice Milillo, joined us on the day, and as the morning mist cleared we ventured out with him to gather berries, leaves, stones, flowers, and other materials. His remark about this process of gathering materials was typically to the point “So the forest is our art supply store today?”

Indeed. It was, and it is, every day. “No need to buy art supplies here” I concurred. “Nature has everything we need.”

A mandala forms the center of the table (and color palette) during our nature art workshop at Yangjae Citizen's Forest in South Korea. (Image by SocieCity)

We decorated the tables with mandalas made from natural materials, and had the participants – young kids, parents, and a even some intrigued college students and office workers – join in taking pieces from the mandala to use directly as pigments for their artworks.

There are only two rules we have at these kind of workshops:
1) Realize each material as precious, and use it with gratitude, giving thanks to nature and the lives in the forest which produced the material.
2) Try not to judge yourself or others, simply feel and let your work come to life.

The day was one of those perfect-weather days for being in the forest, warm sunlight filtering through pine needles and leaves above, a calm breeze running through the branches. In this setting, rubbing, squeezing, and banging their way along, the participants produced vivid works that reflected the Autumn season’s color palette.

A child paints with natural materials during a SocieCity workshop at Yangjae Citizen’s Forest in South Korea (photo by SocieCity Collective)

Kids, as always, had endless fun with this, and yet we also noticed one father who was extremely focused on experimentation and constantly amazed with the outcomes. It seemed like he may have been having even more fun than his son!

For a more sensory experience of the festival, have a look at the humorous and  entertaining short film that Patrice Milillo (Director of the Art is Power organization) made about the day…

Thank you to everyone who participated, to the city for their support of this wonderful event, and to Eunhee Shin from Value Garden for inviting us here.

Patrick Lydon and Suhee Kang pose for a photo during their nature art workshop at Yangjae Citizen’s Forest in South Korea (photo by SocieCity)