I often hear people wishing to relocate so they can live in a sustainable way. I don't know why the relocation is necessary. Sustainability is about changing the way we produce what we need . . . figuring out new ways to do that . . . in all locations.
I want to introduce you to a group of pioneers in that field. They call themselves the Urban Farming Guys. (The number 1 Top Idea on this site.) They are a group of 20 families that invested in the most blighted neighborhood in Kansas City. They are working at building the systems that will sustain them there. I have introduced them to the concept of Community Sufficiency Technologies and they are interested in a collaboration.
The gardening teams are a step toward developing the kinds of technologies we will need to live indefinitely on this planet. There can be any number of next steps, such as those being taken by the Urban Farming Guys. What I hope to do is start the collaboration between all the people taking steps . . . to inspire each other . . . to get new ideas . . . to get more people taking steps . . . to get the society moving toward sustainable systems of production . . .
The following photos are my contribution.
I hope you will join me in this discussion and be inspired to more steps.
If we wait for someone else to fix the world we will be waiting forever.
If you want to make money in agriculture, then, you must discover something patentable and convince the rest of us that buying from you is better than just doing it the old way. The feed back loop is that, since that is were the money is, that is the option that gets advertised, and the rest of us come to believe that is the best alternative. The only problem is that it reduces genetic diversity in the system . . . making the system vulnerable to things like new plant diseases and pesticide resistance.
Our society as a whole is better off if we understand the value of genetic diversity. Sustainability will require it. The money in not buying into the chemical agricultural paradigm is the money you can save by letting nature perform those functions. But, more importantly, genetic diversity means that each element of the system has multiple ways to respond to any given change. Hopefully, some of those responses will be successful . . . or that element goes extinct . . . and that is what makes the system resilient.
One step that we can all take toward sustainability is to
STOP SPREADING POISONS
If you have any influence with people who still believe the marketing on pesticides, use it to explain that point. The creature eating your plants is not a pest. It is food for the creature who wants to protect your plants. You cannot have lady beetles unless you grow aphids for them to eat and, if you have lady beetles, the aphids will not be a problem for your plants. That is just the way it works. Poisons are never a good idea because they reduce the genetic diversity of a place.
I am most eager to read more about your gardening methods, Urban Farming Guys, and especially CST. And perhaps I can get some of this and info about them into my Life Rules blog and online newsletter, www.startingpointnewsletter.com. My book, Life Rules, creates a context for doing exactly what you suggest here. I will probably cite your work in the revised edition.
One of the most profitable marketing ploys ever made was the one promoting hybrid seeds. If you are buying your seeds every year anyway, then of course, you are going to buy the ones that give you the best chance at a bumper crop. It may be true that you can get marginally bigger crops as a result of “hybrid vigor”. The problem is that the advantage of the hybrid is limited to a fairly narrow set of soil and weather conditions.
If you save seed from year to year, you are cooperating with nature's plan to develop the best varieties for each combination of soil and weather conditions. After a few years of selecting the best performing plants from an open pollinated variety, you will have a variety specifically adapted to your precise conditions.
One of the things we like about the gardening teams is the opportunity to cooperate in saving seeds. First, it is time consuming to save seeds for all the plants you want to grow. With a team, each member can specialize in the type of seeds they want to save and then share all the seeds come planting time. The other problem with seed saving is cross pollination. If you grow multiple varieties of corn or squash in the same garden, for example, the varieties will cross and you cannot tell what the seed will produce next year. With a team, with gardens spread throughout the neighborhood, each garden can have a single variety while the team can still enjoy all the varieties.
back yard bee hives
My good friend, Don Studinski, keeps bees. He has three hives at my place right now, including one in one of our Top Bars that he filled with a swarm he got for free this last spring.
Bees are also subject to professional genetic selection. The people who send out packets of bees in the mail stay in business because they can assert that their bees have superior genetics. That assertion is true in the sense of the characteristic for which the bees were selected within a particular range of climate and habitat conditions.
Nature has a different approach. Nature will produce genetic variations and test them against the particular climate and habitat conditions of each place. The way we could assist nature in her process of finding the best genetics for this place, considering the mites and viruses and the poisons being used, is to help her make a lot of tests. To do that, we would make the effort to find a place for every swarm that can be found and do what we can to get that swarm to the point of the next swarm.
The first part only takes having a simple hive in every back yard and people to gather the swarms who know where there are empty hives. Getting the hive to the point of the next swarm will depend on the genetics of the bees and the quality of habitat we provide. Fortunately, bees like the same habitat we do . . . lots of flowering plants.
With enough swarms each spring, bee keepers could renew their hives, with bees with genetics proven to survive here, for free. And that would ensure plenty of pollinators and honey in the system. We may not be able to accomplish that in our life time. But, if we start it, every generation to follow will thank us.
trees with seeds
If you go to the nursery to buy a tree, they will offer you seedless varieties. Those trees are either sterile or all male. People demand trees that don't produce anything but shade and leaves because they don't want to have to clean up the seeds or fruit. What that means is that the tree is not producing anything for the seed and fruit eating creatures. The squirrels will have nothing to eat but your garden. It is a lost opportunity to attract participation in your garden by the creatures who would eat those seeds.
My good friend Susan Bloomquist is passionate about trees. Susan particularly likes those locust trees that produce great big seed pods in the fall. The seeds in those pods can be used by all sorts of creatures like squirrels, horses and humans. The locust is also a legume so it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Any tree that produces seed will support an increase in the number of species that can live in your garden. There are probably some trees that would work great volunteering back in the fence row right now. You know that those volunteer trees are adapted to your climate and you don't have to buy them. They want to grow in your garden. Each new participant the tree can attract has a unique contribution to make to the whole cycle of nutrients in your garden system. Each new contribution opens the door for even more participation. We call that an upward spiral.
All you have to do to get those nutrients into your system is to plant the tree, and maybe give it some supplemental water. A tree with seeds will contribute to the system year after year with nothing further from you . . . probably past your life time.
whole soil ecosystems
If we just leave nature alone, she will build nutrients into the system. The way that happens is through a whole soil ecosystem. She uses a complete set of organisms to cycle nutrients through the entire growth, decay and regrowth process. Those organisms evolved together in a habitat that included a regular addition of new organic matter on top, creating layers of increasing decomposition. When we till the soil we destroy that habitat.
Like all habitats, the habitat for soil organisms is created by the organisms themselves. When we do the job of the worms, by tilling, we change the relationship between the worms and the other organisms. When we do the work of other creatures by composting, we take away their livelihood. Those creatures who would break down the organic matter can no longer participate in creation of the soil habitat. By taking away their job we create a situation where we have to replenish the nutrients in the system every year . . . when those creatures would gladly do the work for free.
What happens when you till in finished compost is that all the nutrients are available for your plants immediately. However, your plants don't need all those nutrients immediately and the unused nutrients start to leach from the system. Your plants evolved in a whole soil ecosystem that continuously produces nutrients through the work of the soil organisms. That is one reason that we use the sheet mulching technique and why we get the results we get.
The other reasons we use a sheet mulch are about the gardener's relationship with the garden. When all volunteer plants are mulch not weeds, when we automate the delivery of water where needed, when we accept the gift of the organisms that dedicate their lives to tilling and fertilizing our soil, you become a partner in the creation of your own habitat. That is a source of healing for yourself, your soil, and the earth. That is why we use a No Weed, No Water, No Till, Deep Mulch, Drip Irrigated gardening system.
Why would you go to any extra work when you get better production without it?
places of many uses
This process that I have been talking about . . . life creating habitat through a diversity of interactions . . . applies at all scales. It applies in the soil and it applies to the set of interactions that you experience every day. We each have the power to enhance that process, but we generally do not see those opportunities.
In our market oriented culture, each transaction is evaluated independently based upon the monetary value involved. Money is a measure of relative scarcity. That measure of value is not useful for measuring the value of things that are abundant. When we begin to see the value of other things that are impacted by a transaction, and begin to measure the value in whole cycles of transactions, we create better choices.
My good friend Tim Watson, an architect, practices a discipline he calls eco-restorative design.
By looking at values other than the monetary cost of the structure, we can include the value of the beauty and services of a whole ecosystem. It can include the value of eliminating the cost of heating and cooling. It can include the value of reducing pollutants. It is an investment in the health and well being of the residents of that place, both the humans and rest of life there. Our health in the context of a healthy system is the ultimate value . . . and the value of health cannot be measured in money.
My good friend Rose Ann Bennett wrote with links to some DIY projects that interest her.
When you do the work yourself, or as a group of neighbors, you eliminate the money cost of labor and the need for a profit. In that way you change the calculation of the monetary value as far as return on investment. But more than that, every dollar you save producing something, like energy, for your self, that you would otherwise purchase in the market, is a dollar you can invest in more capacity to provide for your self. You are building self-reliance and improving your ability to respond to fluctuations in the market. Self-reliance gives you peace of mind . . . and the value of peace of mind cannot be measured in money.
My good friend David Olivero and I have been talking about a greenhouse that can be attached to the south side of any structure, that does not require supplemental heating in the winter. That kind of greenhouse could serve multiple purposes, including a year round supply of fresh food . . . an investment in both health and peace of mind.
I use the term 'integrated systems of production' to describe the process of designing for whole cycles of value.
It requires awareness of the value inherent in a complex set of relationships and thinking about the transactions that create that kind of value.
comments on places of many uses
I am posting these essays in three different forums and on a e-mail list I have complied over the past few years because I believe it is important to hold a conversation 'across interest and expertise', instead of continuing to talk amongst ourselves within our 'areas of interest'. That is because we have come to the end of the usefulness of understanding each of the parts and need now to understand how the parts fit together.
Following are comments posted in the e-mail exchange that I want to share with those who may be following the forums. If you would like to be on the e-mail list let me know and I will add you.
In reality, money measures demand as a fraction of supply. Abundance -- large supply -- of something that has low demand won't be judged as worth much. What you seem to be suggesting is that we increase the demand of one thing by showing the relationship between it and things that already have high demand. Effectively, Nature is the "package" that everything else is part of.
Is this a fair summary of your point? If so, then without a major push in education, we may be doomed by the sick logic of traditional economics to wait for Nature to be in very low "supply" before people sufficiently value it so it doesn't disappear entirely.
It is only by first valuing Nature that we get the mental state of not abusing it as a "resource" to be used. There was a day that everything necessary was just provided. No one had to "work" at getting what they needed ... other than hunting around for it.
When loss of "commodities" like trust, traditional skills, hope, the well-being of children are washed away in a tsunami of natural destruction, we should revalue nature based on these lost, quintessential qualities - not just money. The "law" of supply and demand is irrelevant if we are socially, biologically, and emotionally bankrupt.
Although we're trained to believe the environment is inside the economy, we can and /will/ learn otherwise, in our generation. Are we too manicured, too comfy, too brainwashed to stage a revolution in defense of the source? What are we willing to live for, and even die for?
I am going to reveal my age. The comment by my good friend Brad Jarvis reminded me of the lyrics to a Joni Mitchell song . . . 'you don't know what you've got till its gone'. I disagree Brad. People do value things like health and healthy environments. There is just no market for them . . . and therefore no way to measure that value in money. I also disagree with Don's comment. If we think of nature as something apart from ourselves . . . try to preserve it somewhere 'out there' . . . then we do not participate in the value of a diversity of interactions . . . our habitat begins to degrade.
These are subtle differences in point of view. Rather than bankrupt, I think of it as an adolescent blindness. If we stop spreading poisons and begin saving seeds, keeping bees, planting trees with seeds, building whole soil ecosystems, and otherwise investing in the capacity to provide for ourselves, then we are 'profiting' from our relationships with nature . . . and nature is profiting from her relationship with us.
We are created by a single pattern of flows generated by all of the relationships in the system, but we also create flow in return. The only thing we control, individually, is the kinds of flows we consume and the kinds of flows we create. Some of what we create can flow out through the market . . . it has exchange value because it is relatively scarce to someone else. That is no limit on what we might create to improve our own habitat for its own value.
I completely agree that we are not separate from nature, we are but a part of nature. Anything I said that implies otherwise was a mistake on my part.
As my previous writingdemonstrates, I personally believe that measuring value in purely economic terms, as that which humans are willing to trade with each other, is sheer folly -- if not outright evil. Over time, people have been willing to trade just about anything, including people and other species. Now, we even trade the right to breathe, through the creation or suppression of pollution; and we have recently entered a new realm where our economic activity affects the climate we live in. Like it or not, harming each other and the planet is an economically rewarding activity.
Attempts to reduce that harm have taken the form of taxes, legally imposed penalty payments, and the addition of natural and societal "services" and "production" to the costs and benefits of doing business. All these approaches retain the concept that everything can be produced or consumed, and therefore measured in terms of money, albeit imperfectly in practice. Because of this, they may reduce the harm, but they don't necessarily eliminate it.
I share the alternative view that there is an innate value that we share with all other life, that must be considered as a system to be fully appreciated. In this value system, that which maximizes the amount and longevity of life is good, with more variety contributing to both as it gets the most use of non-living resources such as energy. Healthy ecosystems preserve this innate value, while healthy economies aim to maximize human happiness (which ours doesn't, except for a limited few) through the maximizing of consumption -- which is directly counter to that value.
Civilization has successfully created an artificial world at the expense of the natural one, with different rules for survival. In the so-called "developed" world, many of us have been trained to believe that anything outside of that artificial world exists to feed it. Changing that belief requires an open mind, new experience, and collaboration with others who have come to understand the reality of our situation. If we're lucky, our natural instincts will kick in and make it visceral enough to propel us to action. If not, then we will likely remain enslaved to the thing that is killing us.
I've never chipped in before in this private discussion, but just a thought here...
regulation is external, and one of the areas I'm investigating is the creation of a new type of entities that have internalized sustainability and 'thriving through sufficiency' ...
see the concept of Phyles for one such formulation:
Phyles are global 'material' organizations, connected with the global shared innovation communities and local production units that they sustain, and are for-benefit, mission-oriented and community-supportive through their internal constitutions.
Thank you Michel. I particularly like this concept:
"Abundance logic is a seminal concept introduced by Juan Urrutia in 2002 as the basis on which to understand what was then known as the "new economy".
The classic example is the comparison between newspapers and the blogosphere. In a newspaper, with a limited paper surface, publishing one more line in an article entails suppressing a line somewhere else as in a zero-sum game. By contrast, in the blogosphere, a space where the social cost of an extra post is zero, any blogger's publishing his or her information does not decrease anyone else's publication possibilities. The marginal cost is zero. The need to collectively decide what is published and what is not simply disappears. As opposed to scarcity logic, which generates the need for democratic decision, abundant logic opens the door to pluriarchy.
In such a universe, every collective or hierarchical decision on what to publish or not can only be conceived as an artificial generation of scarcity, a decrease in diversity, and an impoverishment for all.
For a generation and a professional domain whose work tools work under such a logic, even economic democracy must be seen as a lesser evil, a truce with reality in those social spaces – such as business – where scarcity still prevails. In that way, innovators in the domain of social networks or Internet design rediscover traditions as old as cooperatives from a new perspective.
I will have more to say about abundance in my next posts but, right now, I feel the need to share this exchange with the other three forums in which I am posting. I have assembled this e-mail list because you have expressed interest in something I am interested in . . . which is almost everything. I like the transition movement because it assumes that peak oil will require us to change how we do almost everything. That is the way I see it. The market cannot solve all our problems because the market only values that which is scarce. That means that we need a different way to produce that which we want to be abundant. To create such a complementary system of production requires us to stop talking amongst ourselves within our 'areas of interest' and start a conversation 'across interest and expertise.'
My good friends Sidnie O'Connell, Dave Wann and I got together the other day to talk about Sidnie's idea of setting up garden tours. Dave is an author of such books as 'Afluenza' that explore the idea of what is really valuable. He recently sent me a link to his latest work on how those of us who live in the suburbs can actively create our habitat.
I particularly like Dave's idea about garden tours for gardeners based on sharing techniques. Following up on my good friend Larry Victor's comment, each of us has a limited capacity to understand all of the relationships that are necessary for a whole thriving system in upward spiral. We still need people to dig into the details of the needs of each potential participant in our habitat and the potential uses of each contribution they might make.
I don't think that it has to be limited to gardens either. If you think of all the skills that are necessary to produce what a neighborhood would need to thrive . . . food, clothing, shelter, education and health care . . . even a renaissance man has less than all that is required. But I would bet that within the average neighborhood that there are skills to accomplish almost anything. If you have not looked at it in awhile, it may help to understand the way I see it to review Community Sufficiency Technologies.
We cannot change the world from the top down because it includes all of the bridges on which people rely for their survival and every person, including all of us, will do what is necessary to preserve those bridges on which they rely. When we work together to apply the best information available to understanding how our choices affect the people, plants and creatures around us, we stand at the edge of a whole new world of possibilities for creating value. We can begin to change the world from the bottom up by creating new bridges that create new value and in that way change the pattern of flows.
We are not talking about sacrifice for good of the earth. Every contribution we can make to a healthier habitat enriches us as individuals, enriches those who participate in that habitat with us, and the whole system itself.
My newest good friend, Ellen LaConte, asked me to review her book, Life Rules. Ellen discusses 9 aspects of “Life's Economic Survival Protocol” that continuously puts life into upward spiral in spite of the geologic history of crises that life has faced. Her analysis is insightful and fascinating. For our purposes, I particularly like:
“Life's basic units of economic activity are locally self-reliant, interdependent, mixed species communities.” (For the other 8 rules you'll have to get the book :-).
Life is built up from individual interactions that produce the flows that constitute the system. Every living thing needs every thing it needs to survive within the range of its ability to interact with the system. It is that set of interactions, within each locality, that constitutes the habitat that we experience. Humans have expanded our 'ability to interact with the system' to include the entire planet. However, certain aspects of that expansion leave human systems vulnerable, such as the need for money to have that kind of range, the reliance on cheap fossil fuels to achieve that range, reliance on a market system that has no use for nearly half of the human population, and the loss of an understanding of the importance of local interactions (or the interactions in a hand full of soil).
Lest we forget, humans are also animals with a genetic make up. We are social animals who evolved in relatively small groups. We are capable of participating in large organizations but, beyond a certain size, organizational decision making becomes inefficient whether we use a top down hierarchy or a democratic process. Research on the genetic basis for the efficiency of small groups has been done by Dunbar, and others, resulting a concept called Dunbar's number.
That research indicates that there is a limit to the number of people for whom we can feel empathy. Within a group that does not exceed that number, there is no need for a lot of rules because we are genetically disposed to work together for the common good. That number appears to be somewhere between 100 and 230 . . . the size of a neighborhood. It is also within this local sphere where we can come to understand our relationship to the plants and creatures that participate in the creation of our habitat . . . who do not have planetary range. It is my thought that, if we focus on building new bridges within the context of that 'locality', we begin to change the world from the bottom up.
For the purposes of the rules humans need at the neighborhood level I have proposed these three simple rules:
Everyone gets to make their own decisions,
What ever we do is open to all residents, and
We measure progress by the diversity of the people, plants and creatures participating.