Innovation and progression are the key to a successful agricultural future.

by Rick GushJuly 15, 2011
Fireworks in Rapallo, Genoa, Italy

Photo by Rick Gush

The Madonna festival in Rapallo, Italy, has seen many innovations throughout the years.

I’m a big fan of innovation. Not much drives me nuts more than to hear someone say, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” I wrote a musical comedy about a group of Neanderthals, where the protagonist was an inventor from the Stone Age who had trouble convincing people that his ideas were useful. The other cavemen didn’t like the fire he showed them because it was too dangerous and it made food too hot to eat. They used his newly invented wheel as a toilet seat, and they thought his idea of deliberately cultivating plants and animals was ridiculously funny. Sometimes this is what happens with innovation; people are scared of it.

In the 10 years I’ve been watching the Rapallo, Genoa, Italy, Madonna celebration, during which they anchor a barge in the middle of the bay and use it as a platform to launch fireworks, the organizers have progressively innovated their schedule and show. This is a bit odd for Italians, the kings and queens of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

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First, the organizers scheduled both daytime and nighttime fireworks displays. A lot more people, especially kids, are able to enjoy daytime spectaculars. Emphasis is placed on lots of really loud noises and whizzers during daytime fireworks. Next, they started putting paper cutouts in the rockets so it looked like whole crowds of people were falling down from the heights. This year, they used a lot of wild-colored smoke. There were fluorescent greens, wild reds, a bunch of different blues and even some crazy shots that looked like huge dahlias with yellow and orange petals trimmed with lavender stripes. I can’t wait to see what innovative ideas they come up with for next year!

Currently, I’m writing a short piece for Urban Farm’s sister publication, Hobby Farms on the topic of new agriculture; in particular, about the race to develop perennial grain crops. This isn’t a new idea. I remember talking about it in the ‘60s. It’s great to see our collective intelligence finally realizing that relying so much on annual grains, which need a lot of petroleum products, we produce is in fact not a good idea in the long run. Personally, I think the single largest agricultural research effort in China these days is the hunt for types of perennial rice.

I think Americans are being ignorant about perennial agriculture and new agriculture in general. Although there are a few organizations talking about the need to develop perennial grains, the huge corn and soybean industry is doing everything it can to quash any talk of its practices not being good for society. Rome stopped becoming innovative and we all know what happened to its. The U.S. needs to wake up and start rethinking our agricultural system.

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