Blessed Unrest, Moving Forward

Continuing the Community theme on One Straw this week I would like to chat through some of my reaction to Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest. The underlying premise of the entire book is summed up in the subtitle How the largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One saw it Coming.

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The book spends very little time regaling the reader with the Doom and Gloom, just enough to bring you up to speed if you aren’t in The Choir. Most of the book is spent making the case that the current Sustainability Movement is the largest movement in the history of human society. Hawken lumps both environmental and social justice organizations into the same movement because he believes, and I agree, that the coming crisis of this century indisputably links the two. The results are astounding: over 1,000,000 organizations currently fit this bill. We are part of something, very, very, large.

What is now needed is the inter joining of these groups into a combined and more overt mission of Saving The World. Hyperbole? Maybe. So lets start smaller in a local example of the potential gains of network leveraging. In our community we have a fairly large local organization set up as a watchdog of the Rock River. They are well organized, adequately funded and preform a very valuable service in tracking waterway health and advocating for water issues. Now we also have an active organization in Madison focused on Slow Food that encouraging citizens to savor the culture inherent in, and environmental impacts of, our meals. Dialing in a third organization we have the ubiquitous Master Gardeners- agents of horticultural goodness and often espousing organic ideals. Each is Being the Change and following their mission. They also will most likely never cross paths. But what if?

Take my Victory Garden idea. The Master Gardeners are the most likely sponsors of this plan since it brings more people into gardening and composting. They also have very limited marketing capabilities in most communities and typically work on near zero budgets. But adding the rain barrel brings in the mission of the River Group to connect the (literal) downstream impacts of water use and bring along with their strong ties to local and state governments. Growing local heirlooms and adding monthly cooking classes and newsletter recipes covering whats in season in the garden easily loops in the Slow Foodies with their more urbane following and marketing savvy. Combine the 3 groups and this program shares the strengths of all (better rain barrels, great soil, wicked good meals) and becomes very, very powerful by adding in the marketing muscle and diverse followings of all of them. Local Media is suddenly more interested, local business starts to take notice, and regional grant organizations see Big Potential. Suddenly a program that would have affected a few dozen affects hundreds or thousands -even in rural Wisconsin. This isn’t Pie in the Sky. This is my Spring.

We each are members of separate and numerous groups as varied as our own interests. How may each of them better strengthen each other?

My dream? Imagine if the Nature Conservancy, Christian Children’s Fund, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Union for Concerned Scientists joined forces in a multi faceted media and political campaign on the current, available, solutions to Global Warming? Suddenly we have a conglomerate big enough to stand a chance to fight the lobbyists, to fight Big Oil, to win back the hearts and minds of the American Public before it is too late. Most of the root causes of the missions of these organizations are rooted in the current economic theory that places the focus on maximizing markets over optimizing quality of life. They share much common ground.

All the pieces are in place, but they must be assembled to create the finished puzzle that will allow us to survive this most critical century. All major technologies needed to avert the Doom and Gloom exist. The only things lacking are Political (or Societal) Will …and time. The latter is fixed, but we can change the former.

Be that Change!

-Rob

Community… Get Some

This has been a great week for community in my neck of the woods.  Saturday we had the annual meeting of our HOA.  I was unable to get anyone to take over as president, but I met several more of my neighbors and it was good to catch up after a long winter locked in doors.  From there I quick went home to tuck the kids in bed, and then I was off to another meeting.  This time it was a gathering of some of the 300 or so citizens who have attended one of our The Natural Step study circles in the past year or so.  Over 60 people showed up and over dinner and wine, we heard reports from all the dozens of various groups and their actions spurred on by the circles.  Almost half a dozen are running for local and county elections, there have been severl hybrid car purchases, and every town represented now has an active local environmental group lobbying their local village board, holding educational meetings at libraries and otherwise making themselves useful in the Good Fight.  It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people, people from their early twenties to their early eighties, Being the Change.

This power, the power of Community, the power of Shared Vision, the power of wanting to leave a better world for our children and those that come after us is breathtaking and literally awe-inspiring.   We listened for two hours as we regaled each other with our sucesses -from simply planting a rain garden to winning a seat on the county board to starting 501C3’s- and each passing story further emboldened us with the belief that we are not alone.  And together, we are stronger than we ever imagined.

My kids have been singing a song lately from an new album we bought them: “One can’t save the rainforest, but Toucan, Two Can!”  Amen.

Be the Change!

-Rob

Local Food: The Road to Damascus

Of late I am on a mission to reconnect (sub)urban Wisconsin to get back to their roots. Literally. I want more people growing more of their food. My Sub Acre Ag project is grand -designed to permit a family of 4 to meet most of their vegetable needs for most of a year with good canning, or to trade/sell/donate the surplus at local markets or with neighbors. But its scale and complexity will most likely turn some people off, so I am also looking for a “Starter Garden” to encourage people to grow some food in their backyards… even if it is only in 8 sq feet. As many of you know the satisfaction gained and the sheer taste difference in growing heirloom carrots, strawberries, and herbs can be a great way to change perspectives; to have the scales fall from your eyes allowing you to finally see how far we’ve fallen in two generations.

I am envisioning a program in our county that would be able to work in partnership with city based sustainability groups, Master Gardeners, and local businesses and nurseries to establish a program to get more people growing more food. To that end I am looking for current groups that are promoting backyard growing in urban areas to get ideas and advice from.

So far I like the idea of Future Farmer’s Victory Garden’s 2007+ program -be sure to check out their video to see the community and education possibilities just in the building phase of the project. Their garden is small, but would still provide room for alot of plants with a dense interplanting ala sq ft gardening. The fact that it is so small actually works in its favor: it allows the use of high grade items like wood sides for the raised bed (I would use cedar here in WI) to promote aesthetics, it could be watered by hand from a rain barrel, and it is not overwhelming. Fertility would be easily maintained by adding compost yearly from small backyard bins. Essentially the garden would be input free using resources on site.
See already we have not only grown several dozen salads worth of food, but we are integrating at home water cycling, reducing waste streams through composting, and doubtless the simple acts of growing food will spur thought on how in hell ripe tomatoes are available in Wisconsin year round and why they taste like cardboard. Gardens are a great “in” to teach sustainability!

I know that many readers are involved in local gardening programs in their areas of the country. I would love to hear your thoughts as well as any other links to programs that we can learn from.

Be the Change.

-Rob

Permaculture Concepts Video

Right.

So anyone reading this blog has probably figured out that I feel that in many ways overt and subtle, Conventional Agriculture as sold by Monsanto and ConAgra is destroying the very fabric of society on top of our ability to feed ourselves. When you look at the physical and social damage done in the Tropics of the Third and Fourth Worlds it is downright criminal. The only reason Industrial Ag and the Green Revolution worked here was that the Midwest had 12% organic matter in the soil that was many feet deep. With a resource reserve that deep you can ignore losing 5 tons of topsoil annually as long as yields are increasing -or so the propaganda goes. In the tropics, as well as most non savanna lands, the nutrients are stored in the in the plants themselves with the topsoil not very thick at all. Conventional farmers look at a Rain Forest and drool at the fertility they believe to be in the soil, but completely miss the boat. Permaculture is one of many answers for the productivity needed to feed our growing population in the 21st Century while restoring the lost fertility of our soils, be they in a Suburb of Milwaukee or South Africa. </rant>

Even I get tired of reading at times, and videos help me explain Permaculture to my kids -at least during the winter when it is a little esoteric to point to a 24″ twig and call it a Paw-Paw tree. Here is a great video found on Google videos that is a fab 1 hour primer on Permaculture Concepts. Grab some popcorn and a local (home?) brew and prepare to be inspired!

I am also in the works of compiling a playlist of the best permaculture videos on You Tube. I find it reprehensible that many of these amazing videos have views in the low hundreds while Import Drift Racing videos get 1,000,000…

Sustainability needs a better marketing department.

-Rob

Phenology and Other Hard to Pronouce Words

I see two keys to a sustainable ag system -either sub acre or otherwise. The first is to restore the soil to very high fertility levels, including ecosystem diversity, and then maintain those levels despite harvests. The second is to build a stable ecosystem around the farm that reduces pest pressures to acceptable levels in most years. There is an immense amount of material on the first issue -cover cropping, crop rotation, manuring, tilling strategies, etc. The second takes some serious digging to find the only recently building body of knowledge.

Agro-Ecology and Permaculture are making significant strides in discovering how Nature does what She does, but I recently discovered another strain of research that seems to be very interesting as well: Phenology: using indicator plants or phenomena to determine when things like weather conditions are beneficial or when pests will become active. Much of Phenology sounds alot like Old Wives Tales:

“Plant peas when maple trees flower”, “Transplant when you see swallows swooping close to the ground”, “Sow potatoes when the leaves of the white oaks are the size of a cats ear”

But hidden in the folklore is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that is only know being “verified” by modern testing techniques. What that science is telling us is that plants typically preform their various stages (flowering, leafing out, etc) at very specific times, often in relation to soil temps which vary year to year in regards to the actual calendar. Our ancestors knew that the general soil temp correlating with flowering maple trees was allot more consistent than planting peas every year on, say, March 14th or 6 weeks before the first frost date like the gardening books tell us.

Applied Phenology is now becoming a more accepted practice, especially with the rise of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in more conventional Ag. I found a good primer from the University of Wisconsin here, as well as 1.4 MB of text on ATTRA -most of which are links (God I love ATTRA!!!). There is allot to learn out there!

My hope is that Applied Phenology will be one tool to help me to better match flowering plants around the garden plots to the life cycles of pests I am seeking to control by fine tuning my flower selection via bloom times.  150 years ago this Top Down approach was not necessary, but the more I research, the more I learn that to be Sustainable we must first restore much of what we have damaged: be it soil fertility or biodiversity in the soil, the hedgerows, and the plants themselves.  “You must unlearn, what you have learned…”

I also find all this stuff just fascinating… I love it when science has to eat crow and go back to folklore to learn a thing of two!

-Rob

150 MPG Extreme Hybrid SUV

That last post was too depressing, even if its real. This blog is not about Doom and Gloom. Accept the reality, then work to avert the future it portends. Be the Change!

Oh Crap.

Inconvienent Truth and other studies from the past decade drew the publics attention to the ever rising amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, and most recent numbers put The Limit of catastrophic CO2 concentrations at the 400ppm level.  But this recent (ok its 3 weeks old) column in the Washington Post drops that number significantly.

Research shows 350 parts per million is as much as the atmosphere can tolerate without dire consequence. We’re at 383.

Fighting our way out of this mess just got allot harder.  Time to get busy living or get busy dying.

Be the Change!

-Rob

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