A four-part, independently produced docuseries looking under the hood and into the operations of mutual aid efforts across North America.

    Struggling to build in a collapsing system, hear the perspectives of over a dozen groups who explore the origins, structures, healing ways, and logistics of collective organizing.

    The Elements of Mutual Aid

    So, yet another school shooting followed by outrage and the familiar call for change. The ugly truth is that we are all the problem, even those of us who don't own guns and who want #guncontrol. We're the problem we because we're too passive. We demand far too little of ourselves as citizens of a supposed democratic republic - by the people, for the people, we've been content to watch passively as "our" government, proves ineffectual at solving problems. Voting and typing isn't enough. #directaction

    A vegetable garden planted in the center courtyard of an apartment complex
    Community garden in courtyard of apartment complex, Memphis, 1993.

    If we want change, be it gun control, addressing climate collapse, protecting abortion rights, confronting white supremacy, we're going to have to get out of our houses and off our couches. The movements are all there, but we all need to help build community power via local activism: co-ops, elections, clinic escorting, protests, ultimately, we probably need to organize a #generalstrike and shut down the whole thing. Real direct action not complaining via keyboards.

    We need real, face-to-face community building and development of relationships. It's messy, difficult, and hard. Sometimes it amounts to very little. Sometimes it changes lives. Little changes, big changes. But if we don't start making the efforts we can be sure that we will fail. But if we get out there and try, experiment, fail, learn, fail again, but keep building. I don't see any other way. Waiting for broken government is just letting others do what they want with our lives.

    People working in garden rows together
    Community Garden, Kirksville, MO, 1991

    Some examples that I've seen or been a part of: Bike co-op (fixing donated bikes, teaching repair skills to kids, #recycling, transport), #Housingcoop (shared housing fostering community, shared resources, #mutualaid, economical), community gardens (learning how to grow food, mutual aid, time spent together, food production), #community tool library (sharing resources), community free schools/libraries. Almost any local business can be built as a co-op. #communitybuilding via potluck meals

    Madison County Cycling Proposal

    A few days ago I started to wonder what a cycling program in Fredericktown might look like. What would be helpful in this setting and for the citizens in this county? I made a few mental notes and then sent an email to the director of a local county health agency who I know. Here’s what I sent with some edits to make it a better blog post:

    I hope you are doing well in the new year! I’ve got a project idea that I wanted to mention as I think it might fit well here, possibly a larger cooperative project with the county or city. In recent weeks I’ve been cycling again. I cycled for 10 years in Memphis until a knee injury. With e-bikes it’s now possible for people with joint problems to cycle with less stress on the knees, it’s fantastic. Anyway, as I’ve been cycling again I’ve also been watching and reading more about community cycling as it relates to individual and community health. For example, here’s a TED talk regarding just one such example

    The more I read and watch I’m impressed by the potential in increasing health and happiness for people. Being in a small town we actually have very safe cycling built in by virtue of the fact that most of our town roads are low traffic, slow and safe. This is the basis for a safe cycling environment and we already have it!

    A few additions, elements of encouragement that might go a long way in increasing people’s interest and awareness in cycling for fun, health and transport:

    • A visible advocacy program
    • Bike racks around town
    • A marked route to City Lake and a walking/biking bath once there
    These three would be a great start. The first two would be the least costly and easiest to get started I think. The last would be a fantastic addition to our community I think. It’s already fairly easy to cycle to city lake from town but there’s no path around the lake (that I’m aware of). That would be a fairly large investment/project but I think it would be an amazing asset to the community. A shame that we’re not currently taking advantage of such a nearby and beautiful lake.

    More on YouTube… Anything from this channel is very inspiring! Here’s one.

    Many of these are about city planning for cycling which we don’t really need to do. But I think they’re worth watching just because they really underscore the overall feeling of walking/cycling towns. These people seem so happy and healthy!

    A few more helpful YouTube links.

    Aside from the health benefits of course is the financial savings of cycling as transportation. Bikes can be great fun but they’re also viable transport for getting places, shopping, etc. I lived for years without a car and in much of Europe that’s also the case. I’d think that, given the general poverty of Madison County, that many would stand to benefit from bikes as transport if it were encouraged.

    I’d be interested in volunteering to help get a project like this started.

    I’m not sure what, if anything, might happen as a result. I did hear back from her today and she seems interested and is going to discuss it with relevant local agency staff at a meeting next week that I’ll be attending. I’m sure I’ll post something about it again if something moves forward. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

    We are the power

    I've not said much here about recent goings on in the U.S. But like anyone not living in a cave, I've been paying attention. I am aware. I am frustrated. And angry. And sometimes frightened. Several weeks ago many folks were posting on Twitter in support of Elizabeth Warren. And then I saw two tweets:

    @danielpunkass: The Senate may be surprised how many previously apolitical people are awakening to the reality of our shameful representatives.
    @danielpunkass: I consider myself politically astute, and I'd been relatively tuned out. Now, many who never game a damn are active daily. New democracy.

    I responded with:

    @dennyhenke: @danielpunkass I would suggest that it is shameful that our citizenry allowed itself to become apolitical. That should NEVER happen in a healthy democracy.
    @dennyhenke: @danielpunkass We have this thing we refer to as activists which is an indicator. There shouldn't be “activists” as all citizens should be active.

    But then, a little bit later I got on a roll, what do the youngsters call it? A thread. And realized after that really it's the sort of thing I should have posted here. So, I've edited a bit.

    I'm not a fan of the 2 party system in the US. I'd love to see it fracture into many. I'd love to see Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders start a new party. Which is to say, begin the break-up of the Democratic Party into several parties. We need stronger progressive politics and the Democrats won't do it as they are beholden to capital just as the Republicans are.

    Not that party politics is the answer. We need US citizens to remember they are meant to be in power. All citizens should be “activists”. And it's not just about politics in D.C. or our state gov. It's our counties and cities and neighborhoods. And it's not even just politics but community. Active citizenship should encompass how we live our lives, which is to say, how we meet our physical needs. How we work and purchase. Democracy, if it is meaningful, should encompass economy and community. It's all interwoven like a tapestry. A participatory tapestry.

    Politics isn't something owned by a group of predominately white guys in D.C. It is our food supply and our electricity and transportation. We make choices everyday that contribute to our problems. We should stop waiting for solutions to be provided by a broken system. We should be the solution in our communities empowering ourselves with green technology and healthy relationships with our neighbors.

    The world is what we make it and for too long we've been silent and complicit. We've waited for solutions to come to us, to be delivered.

    So, what does it look like, this community-built life, this tapestry? It looks like every kind of co-op you can imagine. People working together to recycle bikes and teach each other how to repair them. People growing food together in neighborhood gardens. Community resource centers in garages and un-used spaces with shared tool libraries for check-out. Educational workshops for everything. Each one teach one. It's people taking care of one another. It's meals together. It's bartering and sharing. In other words, it's a life with reduced consumption of resources and energy that is better for the planet and very likely better for all of us. It's reducing the role of middle men we call capitalism. It's a reduction of he profit motive in exchange for greater fulfillment and health.

    Help Send iPads to Barefoot College in India

    Fraser Speirs, who helped set up the world’s first whole-school 1:1 iPad program at the Cedars School of Excellence, has launched a campaign to buy and ship iPads to the Barefoot College in India.

    The Barefoot College is an organization in India that works with women, offering educational and advocacy programs designed to improve village life in a variety ways. The base is the development of capacity to grow their economies and standards of living through training not only in the use of appropriate technology but with a goal of trainees becoming trainers. In other words, each one teach one. In addition to the development of technological skills areas such as women’s reproductive health, sustainability and general occupational skills are also addressed.

    The “Barefoot Enriche Curriculum” is designed to

    “Enriche offers comprehensive training in things like basic technological skills, women’s reproductive health, environmental stewardship and occupational skills.

    The programme’s founders say it is digital, viral and co-created. These three aspects are the foundation of the programme’s unique impact and success.

    1. Digital: Technological tools are developed for specific use among semi-literate and illiterate learners from various regions of the country.
    2. Viral: Each woman trained becomes a trainer, actively participating in the ongoing knowledge transfer to others.
    3. Co-Created: Enriche is developed and delivered in partnerships with local social enterprises and NGOs.”

    By donating to the campaign, you’ll be helping send 100 used iPads, chargers, cables, and battery packs to the Barefoot College. Fraser is looking to raise about $15,000 by the end of August to cover the cost of buying, testing, and shipping. The iPads will help with all matters of education, advocacy, training, communication, etc.

    “The Barefoot College is a place where words like inclusion, social justice and equality are not just words. They are a way of life. We have been championing ideas of capacity building within the rural poor community through solutions like water, solar and livelihood development for our entire history.” MEAGAN FALLONE, CEO BAREFOOT COLLEGE INTERNATIONAL

    Of legends and fuck-ups

    The other day I had to write a difficult email. And then another. It was a part of a conversation that was, in large part, me processing the end of my recent relationship with Kaleesha. In the course of writing it occurred to me that there was much I had never shared with her. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to share it so much as I thought I’d have time. Why rush to share every detail of my life. I figured that in time I’d have occasion to share naturally as things came up. The truth is that she did much of the talking during our first year as she was processing her journey out of religion. And when she wasn’t talking she was crying. She even wrote a book about that journey. It as an intense and interesting time and I was happy to have been a part of the process. We talked a lot less in our second years as other people came into our lives. That’s another story for another time.

    The point of this particular story is to begin a recounting of some of the memories that surfaced as I wrote her. Earlier today I was out walking my new canine companion Cosmo and I mulled over a particular paragraph in one of the above mentioned emails. In particular I was responding to something she’d written that hinted that I was settled down. That adventure and growth was no longer a priority for me but that it was for her. Well, it made me angry. Perhaps I’m sensitive  because while I’m a bit older than her, at 46 I’m far from joining the Fuddy Duddy club.   But the more I thought about it, not just who and where I am now but who I've been, my anger turned into a kind of amusement. I had a pretty good chuckle at myself. I’m a fucking legend. Well, my college advisor once told me that I was a legendary fuck-up. Does that count? Probably not.

    I've decided it's time to write down a few things that I’ve probably not shared with family or friends. I know for a fact that much of what I might write will be news to my family and at the very least I’d like them to know these things. Not that I’m anything special, but as much as I want to know my fellow humans it’s also nice to be known. It’s nice to share and I think I’ve lived an interesting life, or, at least an unconventional life. I might make this a series of posts over the next few weeks. Of course, I often contemplate such themed posts but never get around to it.  But this is the first time in a long while that I’ve really felt the urge to write. Maybe it will stick. I think I’ll leave out the racy scenes for the moment. Not sure I should really get into that. Ha! Maybe I should. Any good story that purports to be about a legendary life should include a bit of the spicy stuff, no? I’ll contemplate that.

    Perhaps this will serve as an overview and future posts might be an elaboration? Sure, that sounds doable. So, what kinds of activities and life choices might be examples of an unconventional life? Let me offer up this as a sampling:

    I’ve been to jail for pirate radio broadcasting on a rooftop and I’ve had to kick beer guzzling pirate punk rockers out of my home. I’ve lived with beer guzzling pirate punk rockers.  I once woke up to a flaming couch outside my door and then proceeded to drag said couch until my fingers blistered and bled to keep my house from burning down. It wasn’t just smoldering, it was in full on flames. I’ve been in sweat lodges and fed hundreds of homeless people. During my time doing work for political prisoner Leonard Peltier I camped outside a federal building for a week and quite literally told the FBI to go fuck itself. I’ve drummed  and marched with thousands of people at multiple rallies in DC and helped kids in Memphis fix their flat tires.   I’ve helped make two documentary films and been on the crew of various others. I once took a midnight tour of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Eeeeeerie. They were closed but we were outside showing some traveling activist friends where Martin Luther King was assassinated  and the guard came outside and invited us in. Maybe he did that all the time for anyone but we felt pretty special. I’ve literally faced down a screaming, hooded clansman and been teargassed by the police. I’ve interviewed rockstars on their tour bus (do Chumbawamba count as rockstars?) and helped teach illiterate adults how to read. I’ve helped put in at least 7 different community gardens. I’ve organized conferences and taken phone calls in the middle of the night from someone issuing threats through a voice altering device. I helped found a housing co-op that I lived in for 5 years during which time I lived with over 50 different housemates and hosted 240+ travelers and two different activist oriented conferences.  I’ve raised a baby deer and seen it return to the wild to have it’s own babies. I’ve raised my own poultry and on a couple of occasions butchered them for food. I helped organize two indy film festivals. I helped found and run a micro-radio (pirate radio) station for 2 years. Said station ran out of our home and hosted 50+ volunteer DJs during it’s time on the air. I once misjudged the duration of an acid trip and ended up working  my first night as a barista at a coffee shop at the peak. I pulled it off and went on to co-manage the shop a few months later.

    Maybe I’m still hallucinating but I don’t think that’s a typical list of life activities. And it’s just a small sampling. I just wish I’d had an iPhone for that period of my life so I’d better remember more of it. And to emphasize, this isn’t so much as a self-congratulatory pat on the back or bragging about past deeds so much as my not wanting to forget them. And also as a way to be better known. Many might look at that list and see things to be ashamed of. It is what it is. For the most part I don’t regret my life choices. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes but a life without mistakes is probably not very well lived. I believe in the notion of admitting a bit of foolishness into our lives and, even more, celebrating it (hat tip to Steve Jobs).

    To make sense of any accounting of deeds and misdeeds it often makes sense to order it as a chronology of sorts. It seems smart to start when things took a turn from the typical and that was, for me, college at Truman State University. Why don’t we start with  that cranky advisor that I mentioned above. He thought I was goofing off far too much. He thought I could and should take academics far more seriously. Maybe he was right. I was working on my BA in anthropology from 1987 to 1992 and for much of that time I was more concerned with my budding identity as an activist. My upbringing was basically very similar to an episode of the Simpsons in that we lived in suburbia and my parents were not very political or religious. I could pick any number of other examples of suburban family life portrayed in popular culture but the point is that it was a pretty average life that emphasized the usual for suburban middle America. Within the context of this typical life I, as an individual, was pretty laid back and not all that adventurous. And totally unaware politically. I had little idea about the workings of government or the historical evolution of culture and politics in the U.S. or anywhere. I thought Ronald Reagan was a swell guy.

    Antioch College students visited the deCleyre co-op two years in a row for
    their environmental racism and justice summer course. 2001
    In my time at university I took a big step away from the person I’d been growing up and not just in the usual ways that college kids do. I did the usual and then I kept going. By the third year of college I’d concluded that I didn’t care much about a good job or accumulating wealth. I’d wager this was a bit of a shock to my family as I think their initial and primary motivation in encouraging me to attend college was that I might have better “career” opportunities. For them it was about my earning potential and better employment. I’d guess that this is the norm for the parents of college kids and for most college kids. The focus is getting the degree so that a better paying career  might be had. For me college was the beginning of life long learning, activism and poverty. Well, financial poverty but that was by choice.

    It was chance, perhaps, that got me off on the left foot  because I was randomly assigned a biography of Gandhi for freshman orientation for which I was suppose to give some sort of report at a session of said orientation. This was the story of an unconventional life and it stuck to me right off. That’s right, Gandhi was like a big wad of HubbaBubba bubblegum  stuck to my shoe. Not that I tried to pry him off. I was content to have him stuck in. His story proved to be just the first seed in a series that would take root in my mind and begin to open my perspective up to a different kind of life. I was corrupted by an adorable little Indian guy that also happened to kick ass (in a very nonviolent sort of way of course).

    Within that first year I’d begun attending meetings of the “World Peace Group” and Amnesty International.  By the third year I’d discovered the Greens and the Green Party. I’d attended the only environmental club on campus that was focused on recycling and decided they were far too limited, too narrow in scope. I wanted something that addressed not just the “environment” but something more encompassing that went at the social root of ecological problems.  I opted to start my own organization based on the larger green movement and simply called it the Northeast Missouri Greens. It was my first step into a process that would lead to a fundamental and radical shift on my understanding of what it meant to be a human being as well as what it meant to be a citizen. I’d never organized anything or spoken in front of a group of people. The room was overflowing at our first meeting and it probably goes without saying that I was a nervous wreck as I spoke to 40+ people, many of whom I’d never met. That was the beginning of my identity as a radical “organizer” and a personal evolution that continued for for over a decade and which continues in some ways today. I’m no longer involved with radical community organizing but as recently as 2010 was active in a local “mainstreet” revitalization organization in our local town. My hope then was to guide the group towards the “Transition Town” model of organization. Sadly the group disbanded after disagreements regarding how to address problems with the local police force. One of our last projects was the creation of a local space for art and culture which hosted poetry readings and art openings as well as discussion groups and even a dance party. Good times.

    Since 2012 our little community (within the larger community) has evolved. Our activities, open to all, range from monthly community potlucks to star parties. For awhile I did a series of astronomy presentations at the local library but that’s been on a hiatus for over a year. The point though is that while my personal life is no longer one of a green-anarchist activist in a college town or city, it is still one of engagement. While I’m not opposed to participating in a protest or activities of a more radical nature my role of late has been to try to nurture the practice of creating community, specifically a community of people that tend towards skepticism, atheism and science. It seems like a good counter to the anti-rational and often anti-science culture of religious rural Missouri.

    In a way that is a summary of it all with a bit of the beginning and a bit of the end or, more accurately, the present. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the details of the adventures that happened in the middle. The stuff of legend? I may have exaggerated but I will say that at the very least it has been an adventure.

    Oh, and for the record,  I’ve known people well into their “golden” years who have persisted in living full lives in every way they possibly are able. I intend to be one of those. Life is meant for living and if I’m going to take up space on this planet I’ll not waste it. So, as I do age, I'll not be one that pretends otherwise. Aging is a part of the process. But I'll also not be one that stops adventuring. Not unless I have to and as long as I have some mental clarity, well, I won't have to.

    Skeptics on the Creek

    Skeptics on the Creek at Make-it-Do Farm! Good food, drink and conversation. Missing in these photos are the kids who were upstairs all night playing D&D.

    Exploring the Universe Together

    NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy
    Recently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?), she provided a wonderful description of her current explorations of the universe as an amateur astronomer. My  post here is something that grew out of my initial comment to her on her blog.

    What I enjoy most about being an amateur astronomer is learning about the Universe through a blended process of observing distant objects  and then reading about those objects in the Wikipedia which is usually supplemented by a related episode of Astronomy Cast.  It adds so much to my life to be able to look up through a telescope and view the Sombrero galaxy, to really take it in and ponder its existence.  I wonder, who may be there and are they looking out in this direction?  In my last viewing of that galaxy I spent nearly 30 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and taking the time to notice the details. After a time of looking through the scope and seeing so many beautiful objects, supplemented by the research, I can say that now when I look up with my naked eyes I see it all very differently. There is now a deeper awareness brewing in me, fermenting knowledge, of the details and I more fully appreciate what I see and the emotions I experience as a result.

    But of course we don't explore this Universe alone do we? At the forefront we have a global community of scientists cooperating and collaborating and challenging one another through this amazing process we call science. This open community, based on finding the mistakes and correcting the theories and adding in the details as they are discovered with newer, better instrumentation, sets the example for how we can better get at the truth. It is a never ending process, an ongoing adventure and exploration of our Universe and one we can all take part in. Those of us that are not scientists have a role as well.

    As citizens of our planet it is our responsibility to make our own effort to learn and to explore. It is our responsibility to reach out, to share and engage with one another and with the knowledge being produced. The internet is allowing for increased communication between the public and the scientific community. For those interested in astronomy and related fields there are the sites I mentioned a couple days ago: CosmoQuest,  the Planetary Society and the Citizen Science Alliance, all of which have at their core mission an attempt to engage the public and even to create a space for them to participate. Most of these groups are also involved with Google+ hangouts which allow for real-time video conferencing with the scientists doing the work. If you can't be around to watch live they are all archived on YouTube. For example, here's the Planetary Society's Channel.

    There is an essential trait that we need to borrow from the scientific community before we can move forward: a willingness to embrace our mistakes and our ignorance. It seems to have become a common cultural trait to fear our fallibility but such fear holds us back from moving forward as individuals as well as collectively. Not so in the scientific community which is based upon a willingness to fail and a recognition that with failure comes knowledge and a better understanding of the Universe. It is in the moment of embracing failure, mistakes, and ignorance that we grow.

    It is perhaps one of the great failings of the past 60 years that we have come to think of ourselves as alone and with that we have come to feel isolated, alienated. In that kind of world it is easy to become fearful and when we live in a culture of fear and insecurity we tend to avoid failure. We avoid growth out of fear of failure and we avoid accepting our mistakes because to do so is to admit we are fallible.

    Fortunately, for us, the Universe that we actually inhabit is not one in which we can ever be alone or alienated, at least not physically. We might come to feel separated and alone in our minds due to our perception and our culture, but as far as the reality of the physical Universe that we live in, we are all very much connected:
    When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” - Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    It is natural for us to share what we know or think we know and it is natural for us to be curious. It is these natural desires, coupled with critical thought and the scientific method that we can lift ourselves up and, just as importantly, lift one another up. We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other.

    We truly are in this together. There is no such thing as alone in this Universe and the sooner we remember that, feel that, and understand that, the sooner we can get on being whole again. We are but one species sharing this planet sharing this cosmos. I did not know Kaleesha or her husband or children until just a couple months ago and am thankful to Bill (another of our community and local librarian) for sending them my way when they indicated interest in astronomy. As a result they have become an important part of our little outpost of science advocates in this out of the way rural community. As long as I'm expressing my appreciation I think I'll also mention how happy I am to have connected to Frances, Russ, Angie and Karen, all humans with which I am grateful to have met since moving to this little corner of the Universe and who have shared the exploration with me.

    A vintage desk, cooperatively built

    How appropriate that my recently purchased used desk was made by a furniture co-op?! It is a beautiful desk that seems to been made in the 1970s. Now that I know this about the company I appreciate the desk even more. This fall when the weather cools I'll be giving it a light sanding and will give it a new clearcoat to protect it. From their website:

    Community Playthings has always manufactured products right here in the United States. It all started in 1947 in an old barn in Georgia, supporting a little cooperative community. Not long after, the co-op joined a larger group in New York and brought the business with them. Today, the “community” in Community Playthings is a group of families who earn their living crafting toys and furniture for children. We manufacture primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, with wood responsibly harvested from the Northeastern U.S.

    I will add that I think that it is products like this that we need to be building in the United States. Built by a cooperative, demonstrating a high quality of workmanship and made of sustainably harvested wood! We often speak of products as "goods" but they are not always good. In this case I think the term fits.


    First Friday in the new Gallery!

    First Friday.jpg

    It's been just over a month since we got the keys to the space at 120 West Main and in that time a great team of 12 or so volunteers have put in well over 160 hours transforming it into the new Gallery. We've painted, cleaned, removed carpet and more. We're taking care of some last minute details tonight and then will be hanging art in the next day or so. Come join us for our first art opening in the new Gallery! First Friday Fredericktown is an art opening, potluck, poetry reading and live music the first Friday of each month. This month we'll be showcasing art from local artists Jami Knight, Abi Borrego, Kathryn Buff, Julie Miller and Corey Warner as well as St. Louis artist Aime Oberheim.

    It's exciting to have a real space in Fredericktown to display art and host music, poetry and community potlucks. From June through October Fredericktown Revitalization will also be hosting movies and live music in the park on North Main. The Farmers Market will also be there. Our plan is to build the event into a community block party during the warmer summer months with opportunities for any organization or business to sponsor events/games. Chalk art, horse shoes, karaoke and quite a few things have been discussed.

    Solar Air Heater!

    Solar Hot Air Heater!

    The new solar air heater leaning up against the well/shower house where it will likely be installed as it is a near perfect south facing wall. Thermometer reading after just a minute behind the air outlet? 100 degrees and that's with outside air of 48. NICE! My guess is that this would easily heat our little shower house to a comfortable 70+ degrees on sunny days during the winter. A big thanks to Rick for building it!

    Update 1: Went back out to get another temperature reading, 110 degrees! From what I've read online they can be expected to output air between 100-130 degrees or more on sunny days. Even on cloudy days they will put out air that will warm a space though obviously not as effectively.

    Update 2: As of this update (1pm) it is 50 degrees outside and the current reading is 120+ (my thermometer tops out at 120) that's a 70 + degree gain.

    So, cost on these, is 4x8 plywood, 2x4, paint, caulk, silicone, tempered glass assuming it is all bought new probably $100-150. My guesstimate is that in one winter the savings on electricity would be $300-500 depending on the use scenario. Cost on keeping our well/shower house heated to 50 degrees this winter has probably been $60-80, maybe more. To keep it heated to 75 for comfortable shower house temps would have been MUCH higher, easily $200+ as it would require an actual heater, not just the two heat lamps I currently use. Using the solar air heater, I think we'll be able to keep this structure heated to at least 75 on sunny days, for free next winter.

    Simple Life, Community Life

    Big CrappieAround 5 pm yesterday my uncle Ron (and neighbor) showed up at my door with a very large fish, a 16 inch Crappie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Crappie of that size. As he walked up I thought he was carrying a good sized bass. He offered him up and I happily accepted. I’d planned on having a bit of pesto pasta for dinner and now that would be complimented with fried fish. I watched the sunset while I ate and listened to the emerging frog song and the chickens as they wandered off slowly towards their coop. I was just about finished when Petunia (the deer) showed up for an evening snack of corn and a sprinkle of chicken scratch.
    Pesto pasta and fried fish
    I’ve happily lived well below the poverty line for my entire adult life and have always been very content with living small or in shared spaces with others. Of course this is easier with no children but is still entirely possible with them as I’ve confirmed with a bit of research. But it requires a different outlook on life. I’m not the least bit interested in a huge house full of material possessions. That generally requires a life long commitment to wage slavery. Give me a part time job or freelance work and I’ll enjoy the free time gardening or working on a community project. I can’t enjoy the pesto if I don’t grow the basil and sharing it at a potluck almost always makes it taste better!

    Strangely enough living the “simple life” allows for the freedom to become a much more complex person through on-going self-reflection and education. This is not to say that those with large houses and full time employment cannot continue to learn, but to say that there is something important about the pace of living. When I lived in Memphis I mostly got around by walking or riding a bike. Yes, it took me longer to get where I was going but along the way I picked figs and literally stopped to smell the roses. I learned the local bird population and met neighbors. I also got the health benefits of the exercise.

    Out there in the nation trouble continues to brew. The fundamentals of the economic/financial/energy system have not changed and we’re still headed for collapse. The political system of the country, guided by corporate media, become more divisive and less constructive. It is a system which has served the wealthy elite for far too long but most working people, be they “conservative” or “liberal” don’t seem to get the fact that they are being used. The two party system should be destroyed. Our sense and understanding of what is possible is far too limited. We’re letting ourselves be emotionally manipulated by a cultural process designed to divide and herd us around like livestock.

    I think we need to slow down. We need to stop listening to the party lines, stop aligning ourselves with the party lines. We need to remember what it is like to be humans. We need to remember what it is like to grow and harvest food and then to share it in community. We need to remember what it is to feel connected in community. Community is like a complex tapestry with many weavers. We all share the task and add our bits, we weave it together. It is our work, comfort and support and it tells our history as well. It’s long past the time that we get back to this task and that we remember that it is up to us to do it well. It is up to us to do it together.

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    Geek in the Garden

    Please excuse this momentary lapse into a bit of geekitude. A few years back I started using geekinthegarden for email and various account user names because I was, after all a geek who spend a good bit of his time in the garden. These past two years living at the homestead I’ve been much less a geek and more a gardener. In fact, a big part of my push to move to the homestead was to get my hands back into the soil and to finally learn more about permaculture and put it into practice. Beginning in 2005 I’d started to see a pileup of evidence that peak oil and general collapse were finally at the door and felt it was time to get serious about growing my own food.

    As I’ve gotten a bit more involved in town via the Fredericktown Revitalization and in working with the city on their website this past winter I found myself at the computer more often and have really enjoyed the work. I’ve built a few new websites as well as a pretty extensive FileMaker database. Something that I’ve really taken note of is the lack of local utilization of technology by the small businesses and non-profits around main street. Most people know the basics but VERY FEW get beyond the web browser. I’ve met lots of folks that could benefit from knowing more about the available tools. Small businesses should not be tracking inventory with a spiral bound notebook in 2010.

    It was easy to sit at the computer during the cold days of winter but now that the weather has warmed it is increasingly difficult and the internal conflict has gotten me thinking a bit about the future. What is the role of technology in our lower energy future. Is this kind of work to build the digital literacy of a community a wasted effort given the kind of future we have coming? Just how important will laptops and iPads be in two years? Five years? What about websites, spreadsheets and databases? While I really like the idea of sharing the knowledge I have about these kinds of digital tools spring suddenly reminds me that this is the time to grow food. Should I also be shifting my community time in the same direction?

    I’m also thinking about this in the larger context of the FRI and the larger Main Street movement. I strongly support the general idea of building the local economy as well as the preservation of historical main street architecture. Neighborhood and main street revitalization is a good thing but there should be a balance in our efforts to build (or rebuild) the local economy within the context of a limited energy future. Peak oil is here and will only become more obvious. Have I spent too much time thinking about building/stabilizing the local economy and not enough time thinking about the local food and energy system? I realize that it does not have to be either/or, there can be a balance. When I joined up with the FRI I knew it was a Main Street group and had (have) no problem with that but I was more interested in the Transition Towns idea. Main Street is in the right direction but I’m impatient with our lack of progress and what often times seems to be a lack of interest in the local business community.

    As an anarchist I’m not all that interested in the profit motive or volunteering my time to help others make a profit. I don’t have a local business, they do. They don’t seem to understand the interconnection between their business and their community. That said, I AM interested in building the self reliance and resilience of the local community and that means working with business owners to some degree. I suppose what this post comes down to is that I’m trying to find a balance in how I spend my time. I’m wondering what folks in this community want and need most, trying to understand how I can have the most meaningful impact.

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    In Transition 1.0

    In Transition 1.0 is Now Available!! » Transition Culture: "‘In Transition’ is the first detailed film about the Transition movement filmed by those that know it best, those who are making it happen on the ground. The Transition movement is about communities around the world responding to peak oil and climate change with creativity, imagination and humour, and setting about rebuilding their local economies and communities. It is positive, solutions focused, viral and fun."

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    Welcoming natives and critters into our garden

    This is the sixth article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

    In my last article I discussed the benefits of using natural forest ecosystems as models for no-till, sheet mulched gardens. This time around I’d like to extend on the idea of learning from nature to help us understand the beneficial roles of native plants and critters in our garden. The critters I’m most interested in seeing in my garden are small and usually very colorful. Birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, and insects are a part of almost any ecosystem in the Midwest and they are welcome in my permaculture garden anytime.

    My guess is that some of you might be shaking your heads at the thought of inviting insects into your garden. Today’s gardeners and farmers have been taught that insects are an enemy of any effort to grow food crops and a huge industry has made a great profit from that way of thinking. Over the years corporations such as Monsanto have been very happy to sell gardeners a stew of chemical insecticides intended to eliminate any kind of insect life in the garden or around the home.

    Permaculture approaches gardening very differently. In fact, from the perspective of permaculture the annual vegetable garden is just one part of a much larger integrated site design which also preserves and recovers natural biodiversity. In such an ecological landscape annual food crops such as tomatoes, squash, and corn are likely to be interplanted with native perennial wildflowers such as Purple Coneflower, Butterfly Milkweed, Bee Balm, Yarrow, Goldenrod, and Spiderwort. By creating a design using native perennials we ensure a steady supply of food for beneficial insects which perform many duties in the ecosystem including the fullest possible pollination of our crops. Yet another function of many of these native plants is as medicine for us. Purple Coneflower is perhaps one of the better known medicinals, its leaves and roots can be harvested for tea and tinctures for stimulating the immune system.

    It is true that insects harmful to our crops do show up but in a well developed, healthy ecosystem the treatment for those insects is, of course, other insects. While ladybugs are perhaps the most well known predator of insects such as aphids there are a great many more beneficial predators that are likely to call our gardens and food forests home. Parasitic insects such as flies and small wasps such as braconids lay their eggs inside of other insects which are then eaten by the hatching larvae. As adults these insects consume pollen and nectar.

    Yet another member of our community are spiders which act as a valuable control of the insect population and, as it happens, prefer the dark moist environment of a mulched garden. Round out this eco-community with lizards, frogs and toads which will do their part as well. These critters will also benefit from a thickly mulched garden as well as small piles of rocks placed around the garden. Even better, build a small garden pond in or near the garden which will not only provide habitat for the reptiles and amphibians but will provide a space to grow more food crops for you. An example is Broad-leaved Arrowhead, Saggittaria latifolia which provides us with edible tubers which
    can be eaten like potatoes and which have a few medicinal uses. Lizard’s Tail is another easy to grow pond plant which has several medicinal uses.

    Our feathered friends, wild and domestic, are another part of the surrounding ecosystem as well as our permaculture design. Many of the native perennials which are beneficial to pollinating insects are also suppliers of seed to a fantastic variety of wild birds. In the summer and fall leave your dead coneflowers standing where they are and watch birds such as the American Gold Finch feast on the seed. Not only do the birds benefit from the nutrition but they’ll help spread the seeds around and you’ll start to notice new plants popping up without any help from you.

    Chickens and guineas are fantastic consumers of ticks and insects, turning that source of protein into protein for us: eggs. Use a chicken tractor to move them around different areas and they will till the ground with their constant scratching and leave behind manure which increases the fertility of our garden.

    Because permaculture designers take a broader view of the “garden” as just one part in a larger system, the variety of multiple yields is much greater. Once a permaculture system is established it should produce more energy than it consumes which is largely the result of taking an approach that recognizes the possible connections between organisms in our system and which seeks to maximize their output to our benefit.

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    Not an orchard, a food forest!

    This is the seventh article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

    In my previous articles I’ve touched on the idea of learning from natural forest ecosystems to aid us in our gardening. I’ve discussed no-till sheet mulching which emulates the thick layer of decaying materials found on the forest floor as well as the benefits of using native plants to foster a healthy population of pollinating insects and other critters. I’ve also discussed the idea of creating guilds of trees and plants which work well together. I’d like to build on these previous articles to discuss the importance of including fruit trees, fruit bushes, and vines as well as perennial vegetables in the design of a food producing system that goes beyond the standard fruit tree orchard.

    Before I really delve into the article let me ask a question that’s been nagging at me for quite awhile: why do we not have fruit trees and fruit bushes planted in every yard and park in America? For a very small investment of time and money fruiting trees and bushes will produce a fantastic amount of fresh, tasty and healthy food for many years. I suppose you could say that money really does grow on trees. Now, let’s get to it.

    A food forest is not an orchard. The standard fruit orchard is often planted in neat rows of trees of the same species surrounded by a tidy lawn of grass. There are several problems with this scenario. First, fruit trees do better when they do not have to compete with grass lawns. Such lawns do nothing to support the pollination of the fruit trees nor are they much use to other beneficial insects which can help control the populations of insect pests. Even more, the lawn is a waste of growing area which could be producing even more food for us. The orchard is really a model for large scale agriculture which provides easy access for quick maintenance and harvest of one primary crop.

    The food forest is a completely different model with a different goal: a healthy forest-modeled ecosystem with a diverse yield. While food forests can be quite large, anyone with at least a small yard can easily create a highly productive food forest that will yield not just fruit but also herbs and salad greens for medicine and food. The food forest starts with one or two fruit or nut trees. If limited space is an issue these can be semi-dwarf or dwarf trees. The area surrounding these trees should be heavily sheet mulched from the start. As you add to your “forest” you can easily poke through the mulch with a spade or shovel.

    Imagine the structure of a natural forest. Large canopy trees are surrounded by a lower layer of smaller trees which are in turn surrounded by a layer of lower shrubs which are surrounded by a layer of plants which are often surrounded by ground covers. Interspersed in these layers are vines which often grow up the largest of the trees in search of sunlight. In our food forest we will create these layers and by doing so more efficiently use the vertical space around our fruit trees. We can surround our full size fruit trees with semi-dwarf or dwarf trees and around these we can plant a fantastic variety of berries: currants, gooseberries, blueberries, juneberries, and black elderberries are a few to choose from. The next layer would be comprised of perennial herbs, vegetables, flowers as well as self-seeding annuals: comfrey, fava beans, borage, loveage, good king henry, chives, dill and cilantro. This layer provides us with food and medicine as well as insect habitat which will increase pollination and control of insect pests. The next layer would be the lowest growing plants such as strawberries, nasturtiums, lingonberries, and thyme. The vine layer might include hardy kiwis, grapes, clematis, wisteria, cucumbers, peas and beans.

    In designing such a food forest we want to think about the best use of vertical space as well as light and the evolution of our system through time. In the early years of our food forest our fruit trees and bushes are smaller and offer little shade. During this time we can take advantage of the sunlight by planting a variety of large leaf annuals such as squashes which will not only offer us a high yield of vegetables but also provide ground cover. At the end of the growing season the plants can be chopped and dropped for an excellent fall mulch. Four or five years into the system and we’ll begin to see far less sunlight as the system matures and any sun loving annuals will have to be planted along the southern edges.

    Of particular note when planning a food forest (or any garden really) is a very special plant: comfrey (which probably deserves an entire article do discuss the many benefits). Easy to grow from seed, after it is established for a couple of years this fast growing perennial will develop a fantastic root system which draws up minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil and accumulates them in its thick, fleshy leaves. Three to four times in a growing season you can chop it down to the ground and use all of those leaves as mulch around your fruit trees. In four to six days they will turn into a goopy brown sludge that delivers all those minerals and nutrients to the top levels of the soil providing a great benefit to your trees, bushes and other plants. You can also dump the comfrey leaves into buckets of water at let them stew for a couple of weeks into a tea which can be strained into a sprayer and used as a foliar spray which can be directly applied to any plants in your garden for a quick boost. The high protein leaves can also be fed in small amounts to chickens though there is some debate about feeding them large amounts over long periods of time as it may be toxic to the liver.

    Other considerations in choosing our trees, shrubs and plants might be soil conditions and use of plants which might be invasive. If soil is poor a bit more time might be required as a succession of species can be planted that will help improve the soil for the fruit trees. In addition to comfrey, nitrogen fixing plants such as alfalfa, clover, peas, blue false indigo or shrubs such as siberian pea shrub and autumn olive or tree legumes such as black locust will all improve the soil. When choosing soil improvement species special care should be taken with non-native species which may be invasive such as autumn olive which can quickly get out of control and spread to other properties. Our permaculture homestead has well established and large population of autumn olives and they do produce an abundance of very tasty berries but I will be gradually cutting them back as the majority of them are replaced with less aggressive fruit bushes. Other strategies for soil improvement include heavy mulching and rainwater harvesting with swales.

    In the early years of a food forest a bit of care is required, mostly pruning and mulching but this work is made easier by planting mulch materials nearby for quick chop and drop. Once established a food forest is, for the most part, self maintaining thanks to the increasing shade and leaf litter of the trees and bushes that contribute to the mulch layer. All that is required is a bit of pruning, harvesting and cut back of plants of established plants. If left alone the system might become crowded but will still continue to produce an amazing amount of food with absolutely no energy or time input from us.

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    Rooted in a place

    Several weeks ago I finally made the short journey down to see Roger’s place. I’d met Roger this past fall through Ruth Ann and the Cowboy Coffee. It’s funny actually, the first or second time I’d gone into the coffee shop Roger was at the far end with Ruth and Juli and they were dancing and goofing off and it was at that moment that I knew that the coffee shop was going to be my favorite reason to drive into town.

    Since then I’ve had some great conversations with Roger and he occasionally mentioned his farm south of town in the foothills of the Ozarks. It was obvious the very first time he told me some of the story of his family and this farm that this was a connection to the land far deeper than the norm. Of course, really, that’s not saying much is it? We live in a time when the norm seems to be constant migration with little to no connection to the land. Family farms and land based living has declined steadily for many decades. The norm today is the suburban subdivision or a place in the city. There are rarely any kind of long term connections formed to these places as they are simply meant for relatively short term occupancy by any one family, often 15 years or less.

    Roger and his family have woven a different kind of story which is based on an intimacy with a landscape that is hard to really understand. His family first began living there in the mid 1800s and have been there ever since. Roger grew up there and continues to live in a house he built in the 1980s. The house he grew up in, built around the turn of the last century, is a stone’s throw away and is his son’s home today.

    On the day of our trip my time was a bit limited so I got the “short” tour. I think we were there for maybe 1.5 hours and having seen what I saw in that time I know that it was the short tour. One could easily spend a day there. Or a lifetime. This is no ordinary place. As we walked and drove around Roger narrated with fantastic detail the various stories of the generations of his family.

    The farm is deep down in a valley and feels protected, cradled by the hills. It stays cooler down here. The soil is pretty rocky too though there are quite a few areas which have been cultivated over the years.

    We started with the beautiful white two story turn of the century home that he grew up in and then slowly moved further into the landscape and as we went the stories he told went further back in time. There are three springs on the property which, over the years, served as the family’s primary water source. In fact, the proximity to the springs was a primary reason for the location of the homestead. At one of these I bent down and for the first time in my life cupped my hands to drink the sweet water from a cold, natural spring. It flowed from under a tree into the rocky creek gravel. Fantastic.

    From there we worked our way down the creek to the original family house which had been cut into three sections and moved from the original location further back which we also saw towards the end of our tour. This was an old, old house. Roger’s grandfather’s bedroom was left as it was when he died many years ago and given the state of the house and lack of windows seemed surprisingly intact. Roger told me of another spring that had been directed to the house using a pipe and showed me the buried tub that had been used to keep fish after they had been caught and before being eaten. In the cold flowing creek just outside the house a very nice bit of water cress was growing and I enjoyed several bites. I’m going to have to see if I can get some of that growing here because it was very tasty!!

    Something else that Roger was sure to point out were the trees. So many wonderful trees were growing here! There was a nice mix of very old and young trees as well and the diversity of species was really fantastic. I’d imagine that it would be very interesting to explore the evolution of the land here in much greater detail. Roger knows trees and he knows the trees growing on the farm with great intimacy. In fact, he seems to know every inch of the land which brings me to the heart of this post. While I was in awe of the beauty of this landscape I think it was Roger’s connection to it that really struck me.

    To spend an entire lifetime in one place seems very rare these days. That it is such a beautiful place and one that has served as a home for so many generations of a family only deepens an already profound relationship. I cannot really fathom such intimacy with the land. Those of you that know me or that read this blog you know my current adventure trying to co-create this permaculture homestead. I’ve barely been here a year and I already feel more at home. This is a place I spent many of my childhood summers and so there is that connection too. But my childhood memories and my knowledge of my ancestors includes several states and cities and many different yards and homes. There is no long term base for our family.

    From the old family house we passed the remains of an old wagon worked our way down and through various pastures and to the creek where there were many beautiful pawpaws growing. Roger relayed the story of the all-day trip to pick-up the wagon from Farmington which, like another story about his grandfather walking to Mine La Motte (20+ miles each way), really gives perspective to life without the combustion engine. It also serves as a reminder of what the automobile has done to change our relationship to the natural world around us. You don’t see many details, smell any honeysuckle, or hear the song of birds when you travel in an air conditioned bubble at 60 mph.

    The creek served as a place to swim, play and get cleaned up and I can’t imagine a better place to spend an afternoon. As we crossed the creek on foot to see the steep hillside opposite of the field I was again reminded of the amazing diversity of species in the area. I think if I were to spend much more time there I would begin getting a sense of the patterns and history of the plants and trees but in such a short time it was too much to take in. On the far side of the field away from the creek was a pine covered hill and small pond, an ideal area for blueberries I’d imagine. It was around this time that we circled back and my tour ended.

    I look forward to another trip down there when I have more time to take in the details without feeling so overwhelmed. As I come to the end of this post I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something. I think when you’ve had a glimpse of something like this, something special with a history you also leave with questions. History is a story and an old homestead such as this feels like a window or, more accurately, a door that can be stepped through. Having Roger there to tell the history no doubt deepens the appreciation and understanding even as the stories evoke a sense of the unknown. In a strange way it is also a very direct connection to the ongoing flow of history. Roger is a part of it. We all are.

    “Time is an enormous, long river and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it. My elders were the tributaries and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, every song they created and every poem they laid down flows down to me and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, take the time to reach out I can build that bridge between my world and theirs, I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
    –Utah Phillips from the song Bridges

    Communities and Guilds

    This is the fourth article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

    In my last article I discussed the importance of connections between the structures,organisms, and landscape in a design that captures energy flow such as rainwater formore efficient use. I also applied that kind of observation and design principle to ourtown to show that energy and resources which are currently thrown away or not capturedat all can be used to our immediate benefit.

    This time around I thought we might explore another aspect of this thinking with adiscussion of building guilds on our site and community in our town. We’ll start with theidea of a guild. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary one definition of guildis “an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal” which appliesvery well if you think of our town or most towns. In the context of a permaculture site aguild is an assembly of plants which are, in a variety of ways, mutually beneficial. In sucha guild we might combine medicinal and cooking herbs, pollinator attracting flowers, a foodcrop, and soil building plants. Such a guild will not only be beneficial to the plants but also toour needs for food and medicine. Let’s have a look at an example which I’m using at my ownsite.

    Unlike many gardens which are rows upon rows of annual vegetables and occasionallyplanted with a border of flowers, my site is modeled after the surrounding natural ecosystem. Ihave fruit trees planted in guild arrangements which include annual food crops layered into thesun facing sides of each group. Each guild is centered on a fruit tree such as apple, plum, peach,pear, or paw paw. Around the trees from the trunk to several feet out, are a mix of nasturtiums,chives, garlic chives, fava beans, bee balm, yarrow, and comfrey.

    Just outside this ring which is formed by the drip line of the branches are a mix of gooseberries,red currant, and black currant fruit bushes. The south facing side is planted with sundemanding annuals such as squash. This guild requires little to no watering thanks to the thicklayer of cardboard and straw mulch.

    In these fruit tree centered guilds plants, arranged to take best advantage of vertical spaceunder the trees perform a variety of functions and maximize the collection of sunlight. Theyattract a diversity of pollinating insects including predatory wasps that will aid in the controlof insects that can damage our plants. The fava beans will add nitrogen to the soil and thecomfrey provides fantastic, nutrient rich leaves that can be used as mulch material at thebase of the fruit trees or anywhere in the garden. Each circular guild connects to the next and,taken all together, form a larger “food forest.”

    Villages, towns, and cities might also be viewed as a series of connecting and overlappingcommunities. As with our permaculture site, beneficial relationships between people ina town are the foundation of those communities. Just as any ecosystem’s health is based uponits diversity, our community’s health and stability are increased by the variety of personalities,characteristics, and skills our people. We all have something to offer which makes the wholework better and a part of the process of living in a community is developing connections andrelationships so that our offering fits in.

    But something seems to have gone wrong in recent years and the health of our communitiesand the relationships that bind them together seems to be rapidly failing. After World War IIAmerica engaged in a steady and very rapid build out of suburbia, a living arrangement not basedon community relationships and local economics. In many towns and cities the familiar relationshipsof the local gave way to anonymous shopping experiences in sprawling malls and hugebig-box stores. As real community faded away the “Friends” on television were pushed into ourliving rooms to fill the void.

    I’d like to propose that an important part of the solution to our many social and economic problems isthat we get back to the basics of family and community relationships. By becoming more aware of theserelationships and potential relationships we can nurture and expand them so that they are more usefulto us as individuals as well as the over-all community. Like the bees in my food forest, the people ofour town wake up everyday and get to the business of living. We have a variety of social and economicinstitutions and networks that we use to organize the work that we do, ranging from family to schools to small businesses to local and regional government. Building and maintaining a healthy community, like a garden, takes a great commitment and willingness to share our time and energy.

    It is not an understatement to suggest that it is in the context of community that we can live our livesto their fullest potential. It is in our community that we might become better people by learning andteaching one another. Our relationships help define who we are and who we might become. The beautyof community is that, at its best, it is a place in which we co-create one another. It’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that it is the quality of our community and the relationships we have within it that largely determine the quality of life we will live.

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    Connecting and Cooperating

    This is the third article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

    In my last article I discussed how permaculture systems are designed to be self-contained ecosystems that use a variety of organisms such as bees and chickens that add value and produce to our gardens. I also related this making our town more self-reliant and efficient by producing more goods with local resources and consuming them here as well. This time around I’d like to talk a bit about the importance of connections and cooperation between the structures of our system as well as the organisms within it make life easier as they increase production. This not only applies to our permaculture gardens but also to our town.

    A key principle in creating a permaculture system is the complete capture of all energy that flows through a system. Every single day energy and resources such as sunlight, wind, and moitture animate the earth around us and much of it is used in the natural processes going on around our garden. But a great deal of it is never used at all. Rainwater is a fantastic example of a resource that is often wasted and can even become a problem. Everyone is familiar with the erosion that can lead to gullies and flooding around homes and roads after heavy rains but the problem is not the water. Rather, it is how we have altered the landscape with buildings, pavement, and hardened soil surfaces that lack natural organic matter.

    Why not use this rain to our advantage thus turning it into a valuable resource rather than a force that causes property damage that requires money and energy to repair. One of the easiest projects is the collection and storage of rooftop water into rain barrels, cisterns and slow draining garden ponds or swales. In a week- end and for less than $200 a series of 5-10 55 gallon rain barrels can be easily plumbed together with pvc pipe and elevated on a stand to allow for a gravity feed of water to a hose for watering a garden.

    Other structures beside the home can also be used to collect rainwater. The design of our combined greenhouse/chicken coop results in several rain barrels that will collect drinking water for the chickens. Even better, rain barrels, placed along the back, interior side of the greenhouse and painted black collect and hold heat in the early spring and late fall to keep the greenhouse warmer. Once the sun goes down the hot water will slowly release heat and keep the plants and chickens warmer late into the night. So not only can we collect and hold water for later productive use, we can collect and store energy from the sun that would have otherwise left our system. We spend less time keeping our chickens sup- plied with fresh water and in the winter we have more produce to eat. Over the course of a single summer such a system will result in several thousands of gallons of water being diverted to constructive use.

    We can use these same principles in town to organize projects that will save us energy, time, and money in a similar way. From the perspective of permaculture there is no such thing as waste, there are only resources that we fail to properly utilize. The key is to observe energy and resource flow to identify what is not being used or not being used efficiently. The next step is to connect those resources in such a way that they are efficiently used on site or in the com- munity.

    As an example, think about the trash gener- ated by businesses which then have to pay to haul it away to a dump or recycling center. Any retail business that has goods shipped in for sale likely has lots of cardboard some of which my get recy- cled, some of it thrown away. Why not divert that cardboard to anyone in town that has a vegetable garden? It makes a fantastic mulch when covered with leaves, grass clippings or straw thus saving garden- ers time and water as heavily mulched gardens need practically no weeding and much less watering even as they increase the fertility of the soil.

    Another such project might be a composting co-op to take advantage of res- taurant food wastes which could be collected and composted for a community garden or for use by gardeners in their home gardens. Most restaurants have coffee grounds, egg shells, and a variety of vegetable wastes that could be col- lected fairly easily. A rotating stock of plastic buckets, a small bit of land, some hand tools, and a few volunteers or one part time employee would be the main ingredients for such a project.

    Our town, like many towns, is full of resources and energy not being used. The above are just two examples that were easy to think of, both of them fairly easy to implement given a bit of communication and cooperation. In fact, it is communication and cooperation which are the key components of any project or larger plan to help make our community function more efficiently for the better- ment of us all.

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    Return to the Local

    This is the second article in an ongoing series that I’ve written in our town’s alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I’ve also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town’s transition into this new future we have before us.

    In a recent article I defined permaculture as permanent agriculture or permanent culture which puts forth a system of designing food producing ecosystems which produce more food but require less energy. Permaculturalsystems, as sustainable systems, are designed to be largely self-contained in that once set up they do not require inputs of energy from outside systems. These concepts of self-reliance or self-contained sustainability are also aspects of our town and the surrounding region.

    Let me offer two examples: honey and eggs. On our permaculture homestead we’ll be setting up bee hives as well as a chicken coop. Not only will we benefit from the main products of honey and eggs but we will also see many other benefits from this more complete ecosystem. For example, our bees will increase the pollination of our fruit trees and garden plants resulting in more produce and we’ll have beeswax for making candles. The chickens will increase the productivity of our garden and orchard with their manure as well as their control of insects that might otherwise eat our produce.

    We’ll likely have more eggs and honey than we can eat which means we’ll be able to share or sell to family, friends, and neighbors. They benefit from fresher food produced with no chemicals and harvested ripe with no need for preservatives. We all benefit in that local energy and resources are being used for production and consumption within our community. This is opposite of the oil-based global economy which places no importance on keeping production and consumption local. When we go to Wal-Mart or other big box stores for our food not only are we are sending our money out of our community, we are allowing ourselves to become dependent on others for our most basic survival needs.

    With every day we increasingly see the dangers of this system. Produce which is harvested before it is fully ripe so that it can be shipped across country before it rots is not as tasty or healthful as produce which is harvested at full ripeness and eaten two hours later. Even worse, food produced by large scale industrial agribusiness is tainted with a variety of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, waxes and recently, sometimes bacterial contaminates such as salmonella.

    The problem is not just our food production. We hear about banks and businesses which are too large to fail and yet they are failing, bringing the entire global economy into a depression. Such a system is not sustainable and the more energy and money we spend trying to prop it up, the less energy and money we will have to develop our local alternatives which we control directly. It is a problem perpetuated not only by government bailouts but by us as well. We failed to maintain our ability to take care of ourselves and one another in our communities. In the last century we chose a way of life that emphasized good deals on gizmos and hyper consumption which was based on cheaper production in China and elsewhere which meant jobs lost in the U.S. Even worse, this entire global economy is based on cheap fossil fuels, primarily coal and oil. We have likely reached a peak in production of oil and are now realizing that never-ending economic growth is impossible. The ponzi schemes of Wall Street created the illusion of growing wealth throughout the past 20 years but we know now that it was an illusion and it is now collapsing before our eyes.

    While we may not have any control of the global economic system we can work to build our local economy which we can control. Everyone reading these words can grow some of their own food. In the summertime we can buy local food at the farmers markets which we can eat fresh and preserve for winter meals. Every single tomato grown and consumed locally adds value to the health and vitality of our community. Taking greater control of our lives and building a more secure, sustainable future starts with me and with you.

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    Getting through this

    I thought I’d direct folks to this fantastic post at The Automatic Earth regarding the costs of homes in relation to personal income and the role of banks in removing wealth from our communities. Some interesting points there about the end of a functioning capitalist system as well as a sensible, community-based approach to dealing with foreclosures. The only thing I’ll add is that we have been far too focused on wishful thinking in this country and that has to end. The longer we try to hold back reality, the more energy we spend trying to go around this mess rather than through it, the more intense and longer lasting it will be.

    Why is 3 times income a reasonable price for a home? Shouldn’t the prices perhaps be
    exclusively set by the cost of building a home? If 3 times income were
    “normal”, consider that prices have become easily 3 times the cost of building
    the home. So most homes cost 1 time annual income to build. And that’s just
    the start. A mortgage of the elevated value will cost 3-4 times its notional value
    to be paid off in full. Thus instead of living in a home paid off at 1 time annual
    income, buyers will need 10-12 times annual income to own a home free and
    clear. All this is money that disappears from communities, and into the vaults of
    big faceless banks. It’s little wonder that communities and individuals have an
    ever harder time establishing a decent level of services and decent living
    standards, health care, education, water treatment etc.

    Why do we accept so easily that speculation is a good thing when it comes to
    our basic needs? It will come back to haunt us in a very aggressive way. Now
    that the speculators, banks and developers can no longer rely on housing for
    their gambling incomes, they will turn to other basic necessities, none of which
    are shielded from the so-called free market. Thus, as incomes drop and
    deflation expands its rule over the earth, prices for food, water and energy will
    be set by “free” markets.

    If we would stop handing money to the banks, which are insolvent anyway,
    take the troubled mortgages they hold or have sold to Fannie and Freddie, who
    would also receive not one additional penny, and give them to the communities,
    who can negotiate with the occupants about a reasonable rent that would allow
    them to remain on the premises (perhaps the Obama 31%-38% of income?!),
    providing the communities with income, we do away with the need for all these
    bail-outs. In one fell swoop.

    A situation such as the one I’m painting here will eventually and inevitably
    come to fruition. But our political and societal structures will not let it, not
    voluntarily. And that will unnecessarily raise the suffering to levels we do not
    even dare to fear. Free market capitalism is dead, and I don’t say that because
    I have communist sympathies. I just look around me and see that no society
    can exist that allows too many of its citizens to fall into utter misery. What
    killed our capitalist system is the inclusion of basic human needs in an economic
    system based on speculative games. If you set up an economy that propagates
    gambling with basic human necessities, you will of necessity end up gambling
    away the lives of the people who depend for their survival on those necessities.
    Our societies have played these games beyond our borders, in Africa and Asia,
    for hundreds of years. And now, because the system dies of it cannot grow, it’s
    our turn.

    I cannot resist to also share this excellent quote about Obama’s $275 billion plans to halt foreclosures, also from a recent post at The Automatic Earth :

    The fact of the matter, of course, is that the $275 billion will not, and are not
    meant to, benefit the homeowners. They are provided for the benefit of the
    lenders, the banks. They are meant to guarantee an ongoing flow of funds
    towards the vaults replete with toxic debts based on the very homes the
    government now showers with cash. They are meant to artificially continue to
    prop up US real estate values, which, if they were allowed to simply follow the
    course of the markets, would bankrupt not only the owners, for which
    Washington cares preciously little, but also the banks, for which Washington will
    bend over backwards any time of day. The main problem is that it’s way too
    late. The banks will drown, and everybody knows it. So the only real purpose
    served by these measures is to transfer ever more of the public’s funds to the
    banking sector. It’ll go on until the nation itself is completely broke and broken.

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    Good old days...

    My good buddy Brandon recently sent me an mp3 of his work in progress audio documentary of Free Radio Memphis. Loved listening to it and thoroughly enjoyed the rush of memories. That was a fun time…. well, the getting arrested was not so fun but everything that came before that. Take the wayback machine to the website of the Constructive Interference Collective.

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    deCleyre Co-op's new site

    Very nice, check it out: DeCleyre Cooperative

    Winter Business

    In these cold and beautiful days of winter I spend most of my time gathering, moving, chopping or burning wood. When I’m not doing that I’m usually reading, cooking or playing ball with Talula. But I do have a few relatively new and unexpected activities that have spiced up life in the winter woods.

    I’ve mentioned here before that a few months back I had wandered into Cowboy Coffee, a coffee shop and restaurant in town. This has turned out to be a great discovery for a number of reasons. I initially made a habit of going in once a week during my usual supply run for food, straw, and chainsaw blades. Not only do they have good coffee but also great brownies and pie. Even better, thanks to the free highspeed internet I could download any large files I needed. Of course I’ve felt for many years that coffee shops are perhaps the best place to meet and get to know the most interesting folks of any community. This has turned out to be the case.

    Thanks to my visits I first discovered the a great little community newspaper, The Madison County Crier which then lead to meeting Karen and David which led to Thursday night craft nights at the coffee shop which meant meeting even more very nice local folk. Even better, thanks to Karen who publishes the above mentioned newspaper, I’m also getting a chance to do bit of writing and page layout, both of which I enjoy. Local newspapers are essential to community culture and democracy so I’m very happy to be involved with this. The Crier reminds me of our short-lived community newspaper effort in Memphis, Mid-South Voices which we published after the FCC shut down our beloved Free Radio Memphis.

    Karen and David as well as all of the other very interesting and active folks I’m meeting at the Coffee Shop: Juli, Ruth, Roger, Kyle, Bill, Shannon, and Katie (to name a few) have all been incredibly kind. I left my active community life of Memphis nearly five years ago and have spent most of those years feeling somewhat confused and depressed. Really, that is another very long story, bits of which I’ve written about before. The real point is that when I moved to the lake to start this homestead I did not expect that I’d be getting involved outside of my own project but that has changed and I’m very happy about it.

    As spring approaches I’m also making plans for the garden. Of course there is the usual seed buying frenzy but this year we’ll also be adding in chickens and, hopefully, a hive of bees so I’ve been doing a good bit of reading on bee keeping. I’m very confident about the chickens, less so about the bees but I’m fairly certain I can handle it. Given the serious problem of Colony Collapse Disorder which is affecting bees across North America I’m beginning to think keeping a hive or two of healthy bees might be more of a responsibility than an option.

    Two other projects for spring and summer will be the processing of both cultivated and wild plants for our use as food and medicine. While I know the basic ideas and processes I don’t know the details.

    I’ve spent a good bit of my past five years in Missouri learning about the native plants that grow here and have gotten fairly good and identification. The past summer I began an informal inventory of the native plants around our homestead with particular attention to medicinals. I’ll be putting together a much more detailed inventory this summer and will also begin to harvest, process and store those things which seem most useful. To that end I’ve ordered Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech. I’ll also be planting those essential medicinals that I have not yet discovered here, namely Purple Coneflower and Goldenseal.

    In regards to food, the goal is to not just can, but dehydrate, smoke, and ferment. The simplest of them would be dehydrating, canning and fermenting. The more complex is smoking which is more about meat and specifically fish because that’s currently the only meat I eat. I’m most interested in fermenting and will likely focus on that first. I’ve ordered Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz.

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    Community Technology or How Do We Grow Our Tomatoes? 

    Much of this article is taken from my writings in 1994. If you’ve read my blog you know I’m very critical of the general state of the world. I thought I’d post some of the underlying thought for my criticisms and perhaps begin to paint a picture of where I think we need to go. I’ll warn you now that the following is a bit radical. I’m not for reforming the current system because I think it’s flaws are too fundamental. We’ve gone on for far too long accepting the basic ground rules of our current social, political, economic, and technological systems. This first resurrected essay addresses the issue of technology as it relates to community and society…

    How can we begin to define new social ecological and community technologies? What is the role of these technologies in a social ecological revolution? Can we use these technologies to empower people in their communities and through this break the strength of the capitalist nation-state? Indeed, how can these technologies be reclaimed by communities and elaborated to work bioregionally from within the community? 

    **Eco-Technology in Organic Society **

    In order for us to understand the social ecological potentialities of technology we must first understand the origins of, development of, and current condition of science and technology. Humans, unlike all other species on the earth, have become dependent on tools for their survival. In our slow and graded development in the natural world we were required by our physical weaknesses and propelled by our developing mental capacity to create and use tools. At first it is probable that we used objects as we found them. It did not take long, however, for early humans to begin to alter and improve upon the things they found. They began to create an early technology and along with this they began to create a social matrix in which their technology was rooted. 

    a garden area, surrounded by lawn in the center of an apartment complex Community Garden in an apartment complex of the Southern-Highland neighborhood of Memphis, TN, 1993

    In early, organic society, technology was intricately intertwined with the natural world and was used by the small community. This technology was guided by an organic outlook which was often highly democratic and based on the needs of people not their every whim or desire. In short, their technology was carefully crafted from within their community and the natural eco-community of which they were a part.It is of critical importance that we understand that this technology was not created to dominate and exploit a machine-like nature. Rather, it was a technology which, like the people who created it, gracefully fit into a spontaneous and balanced nature. The people of this time did not objectify nature and so the tools they created were to work from within nature–from the inside, pushing out to further elaborate themselves and the natural world. This is directly opposite the modern view of dominating an objective nature which must be forced from the outside to “yield her fruits”. 

    From Organic to Modern Technology 

    How has our technology become what it has–what kind of society produced it? The technology that we have today has as its base two aspects of 16th century philosophy and science. In her book The Death of Nature, Carolyn Merchant describes the transition from an organic outlook to a mechanical one: 

    Central to the organic theory was the identification of nature, especially the earth, with a nurturing mother: a kindly beneficent female who provided for the needs of mankind in an ordered, planned universe. But another opposing image of nature as female was also prevalent: wild and uncontrollable nature that could render violence, storms, droughts, and general chaos. Both were identified the female world. The metaphor of the earth as a nurturing mother was gradually to vanish as a dominant image as the Scientific Revolution proceeded to mechanize and to rationalize the world view. The second image, nature as disorder, called forth an important modern idea, that of power over nature. Two new ideas, those of mechanism and of the domination and mastery of nature, became core concepts of the modern world. 

    It is important to understand that while this transition to a mechanical view of nature was crystallized by Bacon’s development of scientific method, its evolution was gradual and did, in fact, take thousands of years. 

    The second philosophy which has helped form our current science and exploitive technology is that of Kant. For it was with Kant that we began to study our systems of knowledge instead of nature. Kant undermined the idea that we could ever truly understand an objective nature. Bookchin writes that “Kant denatured nature in the Presocratic sense by removing the material ‘grade of being’ as such….Kant left us alone with our subjectivity”(Philosophy 64). Kant removed any inherent meaning within nature. Whether nature was viewed as an organism or a machine was no longer of importance. There was a fundamental shift in science from an “objective” study of the outside world to a study of humanity and its perceptions or interpretations of that world. Science as a discipline of “objective” observation of “natural laws” developed alongside of an increasingly objectified and meaningless nature. The natural world had laws but it had no meaning or, if it did, science and philosophy was no longer concerned with what it was. This was to be the grounding for the dangerous technologies that were developed along with the elaboration of an increasingly powerful capitalist nation-state. 

    So, modern technology has developed without reason and without an ecological ethics. To be specific, “our” technology developed without the careful and rational reasoning human beings are capable of. We have been asking how rather than why. It is a technology that has been stolen from people and communities and is now controlled, to a great extent, by multinational corporations and the nation-state. The “science” which produced this technology is a shallow, instrumental one which is used, not to meet the needs of people and communities, but to obtain greater and greater profit for those in control. One such example of this which was mentioned earlier is that of General Motors' 1950’s successful plot with oil and rubber companies to dismantle the entire U.S. trolley system. Another example might be today’s attempt by agribusiness to genetically engineer foods to thrive in the chemical bath that now constitutes agriculture in this country and others. Monsanto does not care about people’s health or the stability of ecosystems. Rather, Monsanto is concerned with profit, and technology which will increase profit. As we will see, this may sometimes include new “ecological technologies”. 

    Ecological Technology of the Capitalist State 

    With the 1970’s energy crisis and the developing “environmentalism” of that time we begin to see a slow and insignificant shift to greener technologies. These “eco-technologies”, however, have only been a forced adaption undertaken by the capitalist nation-state in an attempt to sustain the current system of control and domination. Let me illustrate with the example of the immense development of solar collection fields taking up several square miles of California desert land. This was the development of a potentially revolutionary technology by a huge corporation called Luz, not to improve people’s lives and challenge the existing social order but, quite simply, to make a profit by selling energy. Indeed, Luz failed not only beause of its huge scale, but because according to government/industry standards, it was not big enough to qualify for the tax breaks that drive the power production industry. In this case, however, the technology used for the profit was, to some degree, an “ecological” one. But it is just as authoritarian and out of control of the community as even a nuclear power plant. 

    Another example that I will site is one in which I have had personal experience. I was employed by the Squash Blossom Market of Memphis Tennessee for approximately ten months. In this short time I was able to carefully analyze one example of “green capitalism” and the cooptation of one ecological technology by capitalism. Organic or, more correctly, sustainable farming, has been slowly growing for the past twenty or so years with a boom in the last four to five years. While the “organic” farming industry does seem to be making some progress as far as educating people about the technology of sustainable farming, it is, at the same time, turning this technology into just one more way to further capitalism and make a profit. Indeed, it is becoming a multi-million dollar industry. The result is highly centralized growing patterns (you guessed it, California is a huge exporter of organic foods) which contribute to very high prices and little gain for local communities. To be certain, this sort of “development” of sustainable food production does nothing to make communities self-reliant and is, in fact, little-to-no better than the modern methods of chemical farming. The food is still produced in one place and then shipped across country to people living in far away cities. There is no integration of town and country, just the continuation of a resource dependent city and culturally dominated country. 

    several people working together in a garden with defined rows of soil and mulch straw A community garden created by a local group of Greens in Kirksville, MO 1991

    Ecological Technology Directed by Community 

    The role of ecological technologies should be the empowerment of people in their communities. If they are to be any kind of solution at all they must be radicalized and decentralized so that they are controlled, not by huge multinational corporations or state governments, but by democratic communities. These social ecological technologies must play a supportive role in our development of our communities by adding to the social life and material base of our neighborhood revolutions. In Community Technology Hess writes that: 

    So long as technology actually seems that remote and that majestic, it will not serve us. Like a monarch, it will rule us. Rather, those who manage it will rule us. The fact is that technology is simply the way we use tools, actual tools in the material sense, and tools of knowledge in the sense of skills and craft and technique. It is not majestic. It is quite earthy. It is not remote. It involves us all. It involves shopkeepers in crowded cities. It involves farmhands. It involves kids. Everyone. People here. People around the world. We are all tool users and knowledge users, from the tribal farmer scratching a seed furrow with a pointed stick to the high-energy physicist aligning a particle accelerator, from the shaman to the molecular biologist(7). 

    From the perspective of social ecology, when we examine and seek to develop technology we must do so from within the community in which that technology will be used. The many projects of the Peace Corps in “developing” countries are a clear example of what “good” intentions can result in when they are imposed from outside a particular community and its surrounding eco-community. The technologies often worked against the existing social forms and institutions of the local culture in which they were placed because these were not considered in the “plans”. 

    One of the best examples of this program was the widespread installation of gas and diesel powered water pumps and new wells in Africa. These pumps and wells lasted long enough to change the local settlement patterns and then, sometimes after only two or three years, they failed. Not experienced in the technology and not provided funds if they were, many villages were forced to leave and resettle closer to other water sources. Thus, the end result was the disruption of native lifeways which were, to a great extent, adapted to the original water supply. One analogy that might apply here would be attempting to transplant the organ of a wolverine into that of a badger; this, quite simply, will not work because the bodies of the two organisms have evolved differently and so the internal organs are too specific to be able to adapt to that kind of imposition. 

    It is common sense which tells us that imposing one specific technology on many different places will never work. The technology must be adapted or developed by the people living in the community for it is they who can determine their needs and they who know the surrounding ecological community. Indeed, social ecology asks not just how to develop a specific technology but, more importantly, why develop it. For the question of how tends toward instrumentalism while the question of why tends toward ethics. An ecological technology must be developed carefully and democratically so that it is based on an ethics of not just sustainability, but freedom. Just as important as the technology is the social matrix from which it is elaborated. In discussing the problems of technology Bookchin writes that: 

    Just as serious as the extent to which we have mechanized the world is the fact that we cannot distinguish what is social in our lives from what is technical. In our inability to distinguish the two, we are losing the ability to determine which is meant to subserve the other. Herein lies the core of our difficulties in controlling the machine. We lack a sense of the social matrix in which all technics should be embedded–of the social meaning in which technology should be clothed(Freedom 240). 

    The social matrix of which Bookchin in speaking must be highly democratic and participatory. Technology is not the solution but only a part of the solution and it should be carefully crafted by people who are engaged in the practice of citizenship. It is from this social and community matrix that an ecological ethics and technology will evolve. 

    Sustainable Food Production in the Community 

    Since the period of the World Wars food production in the United States has become more and more centralized. We grow our food in one place (California is my favorite example) and ship it far away to cities. The centralization of food production has been, for the most part, based on the development over the past 50 years of the huge agribusiness industry. The industry has its roots in the weapon industry with early fertilizers being made out of chemicals (mainly nitrates) left over from the mass production of bombs. As this industry grew in size so to did the size of farms. Relatively small, family owned farms gradually went into debt and were bought out by corporations with many small farms being swallowed up by the greatly expanding cities. Today, practically every city is dependent upon these distant “centers of food production”. According to Co-op America Quarterly, “When you sit down to eat a meal the food on your plate has traveled an average of 1,300 miles to reach your table. Supporting local agriculture improves economic self-reliance as well as providing healthier food”(Spring 1993).   A handpainted white sign in front of a house with this wording: The deCleyre Cooperative OUR GARDEN RESOURCE CENTER AND CAFE Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Books, magazines, journals on topicssuch as anarchism, ecology, women's liberation, race, class struggle, and labor. Come enjoy a cup of organic coffee or tea with us too! The deCleyre Co-op actively works to promote cooperative living and permacultural design through community education and radical media. A sign in front of the deCleyre Cooperative in Memphis, TN. The sign reads: Our Garden Resource Center and Cafe Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

    Books, magazines, journals on topics such as anarchism, ecology, women’s liberation, race, class struggle, and labor. Come enjoy a cup of organic coffee or tea with us too! The deCleyre Co-op actively works to promote cooperative living and permacultural design through community education and radical media.

    Community food production is possible anywhere: small cities, towns, huge cities, and, most obviously, in the country. All that is required are simple hand tools, soil, kitchen food waste, seeds, people, and the desire to learn about ecology. There are many sustainable technologies which may be used by a community to grow its food supply including both the Biodynamic/French Intensive and permaculture methods. These methods are very space intensive and rely upon the principals of ecology for their basis. In his book How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons describes the philosophy of the biodynamic/French intensive method of horticulture as: 

    a quiet, vitally alive art of organic gardening which relinks people with the whole universe–a universe in which each of us is an interwoven part of the whole. People find their place by relating and cooperating in harmony with the sun, air, rain, soil, moon, insects, plants, and animals rather than by attempting to dominate them(2). 

    Using these methods a city community could begin to grow a percentage of its food supply and in a few years could most likely be growing most of its food. How can this be? For one, biodynamic horticulture and permaculture are not just ways of growing food. They are far more. They are art and design. There are countless ways in which we can begin to integrate food production into our existing neighborhood spaces. Obviously vacant lots can be transformed into gardens but what about rooftops, alleys, windows, front yards, and basements? And in a future with fewer cars we could begin to use some ares which are currently paved after the soil was tested and detoxified. 

    Thus far I have only spoken of gardens as a place in which we can grow our food but it is also important to consider the side benefits. For example, in city neighborhoods, gardens often serve to be far more than places of food production: 

    On a smaller scale are community gardens. Community gardens are transforming urban vacant lots, strewn with garbage, into a center of community. Neighborhood gardens serve as a catalyst for community development, beautify local areas, reduce food costs, and provide valuable recreational and therapeutic benefits. Community compost projects can be coupled with community gardens(Co-op America Quarterly Spring 93). 

    As well as being food producers and beautiful places gardens can also serve as recycling centers for organic wastes such as leftover food items, wood, leaves, manures,… All of these are essential in nature’s recycling process. If we take out nutrients during the food growing process then we must replace them by composting our organic “wastes” into humus. In her book Start With the Soil, Grace Gershuny writes that “Composting is a low-cost, nonpolluting alternative to sending household food and yard wastes to the landfill…On the compost pile, yard wastes will recycle themselves quickly”(67). 

    In cities with more open spaces and in smaller towns in the countryside one productive form of food production might be the CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. While a CSA could also work in a city it tends to require more land than is often available. According to Coop America Quarterly : 

    Community supported agriculture (CSA) offers people a unique way to reconnect with their food and the land through a direct relationship with a farmer and a local farm. Through CSAs, a community of citizens purchases shares in a farm. A share entitled the shareholder to a set amount of organically grown produce during the growing season. By paying up front, the shareholders also share the financial risk of farming. The guaranteed income means the farmer can focus on growing high quality food, rather than on what crops will get the best price(Spring1993). 

    We should also remember the relationships that can be created between the countryside and the city. In the past, cities have, as we can so clearly see today, evolved a parasitic relationship with the countryside. Often times doing more harm than just draining away resources without returning them, cities have come to dominate the countryside culturally as well. It is important that we restore a balance to the relationship between town and country–ecological food production must figure into this balance. This balanced relationship must replace the historical development in which the countryside has become little more that a chemical food factory (or a place for other resource extraction or victim of urbanization). 

    The Bicycle as Community Transportation 

    Of all the devices invented by human beings to increase their speed of travel the bicycle is perhaps the most beautiful. Why is the bicycle beautiful you ask? The answer is simple. Bicycles are relatively cheap. They require very little material for their production. They can be easily modified to suit practically any need of a community. Their construction is simple enough so as to allow a community to manufacture its own supply. They are easy to repair. Last, but certainly not least, they cause little pollution in their construction and maintenance, and emit no pollution of any kind when they are used. 

    Two people walking and working on a bicycle in a work stand with tools in a nearby workstation

    Revolutions Bike Co-op, Memphis, TN

    Also very important in the community is the conversion of “normal” bicycles into working bicycles or, put in another way, bicycles which can carry heavy and sometimes awkward loads. According to an article entitled “Making Workbikes for the Neighborhood”: 

    Better bike designs for hauling loads were first available nearly a century ago, then fell into disuse with the advent of the combustion engine. But today a tiny international network of ecology- minded bicycle engineers is leading a renaissance for workbikes. The old bikes are being brilliantly redesigned with lessons of the past century in mind, including the experience of being overrun by the automobile industry( Rain Winter/Spring 1992:14). 

    It is important that we understand the potential of bicycles as a completely radical and ecological technology. This is a technology that can completely undermine the oil industry and one which can, with a little work, be controlled by communities. What is needed is a shift in technology and the development of inexpensive tooling devices for the neighborhood bikeshop. Indeed, “local economies benefit from decentralizing and personalizing bike production. Custom Italian bicycle frames are famous throughout the world because each Italian neighborhood has bike designers and builders”(Rain: 15). The bike shop becomes a community institution of ecological technology. A place in which neighbors can learn not just about bicycle technology but technology in general. And the bike shop could very easily serve as a catalyst to further development of various eco-technologies. 

    Kids at a bicycle repair workshop are repairing bikes in with shelves of bike tools behind them

    Revolutions Bike Co-op, Memphis, TN

    Recycling “Junk” in our Communities 

    Recycling is one of the most accessible of ecological technologies easily available to communities. Anything from wood to metal piping to an old grocery cart can be “recycled” and made into new, useful forms to improve the material base of a neighborhood. While it is necessary to carry on with the more common “recyclables” such as aluminum and steel cans, glass, newspaper, and other such items, we must also begin to see that these and other recyclables be turned into a community resource not a profit for BFI (Browning Ferris Industries) or city hall. It is, unfortunately, becoming a common practice for cities and states across the country to extend wastehauling relationships with large corporations into recycling relationships often times resulting in the coercion of people and the enforcement of recycling. In these instances a potential neighborhood resource is taken away and shipped elsewhere for processing and reproduction. 

    One possible solution to the recycling problem is the creation of neighborhood recycling and technology centers. A center of this kind could easily be located in an old garage, storage building, or some other kind of structure that is not being used or has been abandoned. Someone in the neighborhood may even have extra space and volunteer that. People in neighborhoods should also begin to form technology and recycling collectives to work in the centers they create. Such centers should develop eco-tech libraries and could, after becoming established (or as a part of the process of becoming established) offer community workshops and technical assistance on projects such as solar and wind energy, permaculture, building weatherization,… It will only be through this hands-on work that our neighborhood “junk” will be turned into community resources and an added material base for self-reliance. 

    The overall beauty of community technology is that the resources for it already exist in most neighborhoods–the potential is there, waiting for us to develop it. It is imperative that, as we create our communities we also work to create an ecological, community controlled and developed technology. It will be with this technology that we feed, cloth, and shelter our bodies and it will be through this technology that we interact with nature. We should create this technology just as we would a garden: first, with careful and artistic planning, getting our hands into the soil, then we nourish and craft it as it grows.