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Eco-Hero: Jesse Schlesinger

April 2010

By Dina Pugh, San Francisco

Jesse Schlensinger is a San Francisco-based artist/builder/farmer who lives his life by a strong code of ethics passed down my his parents. I chose Jesse as my eco-hero because his authentic, homegrown approach to life and art inspire everyone around him, showing that our modes of production can be both aesthetically beautiful and socially responsible at the same time.

Dina: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your green-oriented work and art projects?

Jesse: I am the son of parents that were a part of the back-to-the-land, living respectfully on the earth, holistic, craft-focused awakening that took place in the US decades before the word "green" became commodified. Cultivated by their education and example, I have become an artist that works in the crafts of sculpture, drawing, photography, farming, carpentry and food. I believe intensely in Wendell Berry's perspectives on agrarianism, and do my best to keep the economy of the household local with an awareness of an internet fueled, increasingly international cultural context.

Dina: What are some efforts you make in your personal life to be green?

Jesse: I eat food from the farm that I work for and other local purveyors. Dirty Girl Produce provides most of my vegetables, Prather Ranch most of my meat, Andante Dairy most of my cheese and Hamada orchards most of my fruit. I shop primarily in flea markets, thrift stores and used bookstores. In so doing, I re-use things and and shop within a budget so that I can afford a level craftsmanship that is harder to find in new products.

I also look to support smaller businesses and those with products made in the USA, such as boots from Red Wing Shoes, or blue jeans from Raleigh Denim. I hope that these are business that care for craftsmanship and quality as I do in my own work.

Dina: Why is "Made in the USA" important to you?

Jesse: I think I can rely on American-made shoes and materials to hold up over time. I also know its keeping the economy flowing within the US and keeping people employed. With Raleigh Denim for instance, I like knowing that they are made in North Carolina, from local denim. It says a lot about their holistic well-rounded approach and it means a lot to me that someone made them by hand with care and love.

Dina: What are the major issues that most concern you when making personal consumer decisions?

Jesse: I do my best to navigate issues such as the local economy, minimal environmental impact, respectful craftsmanship and worker's rights.

Dina: What are the limitations of leading an eco-friendly lifestyle today?

Jesse: I think that some of the most severe issues with the idea of leading a "green" or "eco-friendly" lifestyle would need to be addressed by looking at the use of each of those words. "Green" and "eco-friendly", as with words like "organic", "sustainable" and most especially "natural", have been commodified and reconstructed as to be nearly meaningless. I believe one of the inherent problems arises from a capitalist economy's innate capacity to identify and assimilate these notions, identifying them as quantifiable "trends", and consequently rendering them devoid of their initial importance.

Dina: What are some new green innovations that you may not currently support but hope to in the future?

Jesse: I would love to take part in energy solutions that I do not currently (e.g. solar or non-petroleum based.) Transportation is a particularly complicated issue. Aside from true horse-power, it would be nice to have a Toyota truck that I could use for work that did not inherently have a negative impact on the environment. Maybe I am just dreaming.

San Francisco

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