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Homestead Resiliency

In crisis, we rise. We greet the monster in its full guise, and discover what we need to defeat, defend, protect, survive, and thrive well.

If Death has come knocking on our door, then it doesn’t matter if we open the door or not. Our fate is sealed.

Whatever the situation may be, the truth is our societal infrastructure was already crumbling, masked in a gilded smile of whitened teeth.

We have some idea of what we’re looking at, we have different ideas about it. At the very least, most of us can see and agree that our infrastructure, especially in the United States, is weak. With our healthcare and food supply system being stretched, it will not be long before they exceed capacity.

As a farmer, I did what I do best. I invested my efforts in building soil, planting seeds, preparing new cultivation spaces for food and medicine, beefing up the garden in preparation for it to serve as our primary food supply.

Your garden is cute, but can it provide a continuous supply of food and medicine for your household and community? Can you rely on your garden as your grocery store?

That’s where it comes down to soil health. Maintaining soil health ensures continuous productivity and abundant harvests. I’ve been working on bringing goat manure, compost, gathering seeds, seedlings to our home garden to prepare for a nutritionally complete and pandemic resilient food and medicine garden.

It is at this time that I am bringing together everything that I have learned personally and professionally over the last decade in service to maximizing and optimizing self-reliance and living well at home.

Toilet paper shortage? No problem. Install a bidet, get some family cloth.

No cough medicine at the store? No worries, mallow is an abundant weed that soothes throats and suppresses cough.

A great storm has arrived, and I plan to weather it well. The greatest gift I can offer to all of you is to share with you all of the resources, skills, knowledge, wisdom that I have to empower you with the same level of resiliency in your own home. I created the Homestead Resiliency offering for this purpose.

We can work together to develop a customized vision and plan of homestead resiliency for you and your family. Grow your favorite plants, foods, herbs, flowers, and also make sure your garden design can provide a nutritionally complete meal for your family. I understand food sensitivities, elimination, and autoimmune diets intimately, so we can customize your garden plan to serve those specialized needs.

We can also talk about basic herbal medicine and growing medicinal plants, fruit trees, integrating wildlife and pollinator habitat, water harvesting and conservation techniques, and other ideas for enhancing local self-reliance.

We’ll start with where you are – what you have right now, what you’re interested in and comfortable embracing, and develop a vision and plan from there.

Homestead Resiliency is available for hourly consulting at $125/hr or as a Monthly Mentorship Deep Visioning + Planning program for 5 hours a month, $625/month for 3 months. These will be done through video conference calls.

In the Monthly Mentorship program, we can take the time to dive deep into illuminating the details of your vision for your space, that is integrative, comprehensive, and holistic to meet the needs of your family. We can develop a design and plan to successfully and pragmatically implement your vision.

I am opening up all of my work to flexible payment plans, so please contact me to request a flexible payment plan.

Soilify! Scholarship

A generous donor sponsored 1 full scholarship to the whole Soilify! series.

Submit your Scholarship Application here.

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Top 10 in 10: S/Heroes in a Decade

I decided to celebrate the top 10 influencers of my life and work from the past decade. I cheated a little and went a few years further back, but it was worth it. 😉

These are all people I’ve met and studied with or worked with directly. They are ordered based on when I first met them.

10. Tyrone Hayes (2007) 

I thought it would be a good idea to learn about how hormones work in our body, so I signed up for a General Endocrinology class in my junior year at UC Berkeley. This would be a “fun” science class to fulfill some requirement. Tyrone is by far the best science teacher I have ever had. He showed up to class every day dolled up in a fresh suit, but you’d find him in torn up sweats at office hours in the lab.

We learned about how hormones work, and at the end of the class he unveiled his whole story about how he had been pressured by Novartis/Syngenta to lie about his data showing that exposure to the pesticide Atrazine caused hermaphroditism in frogs, and how his refusal to do so lead to putting his life, reputation, career, and family at risk. He shared with us a rap song about his whole experience.

I got into my first argument with another student about the interconnectedness of science and policy. It was my first up close encounter with science as activism.

9. Eric Holt-Giminez (2008)

The class I wanted to take was in overflow, so I found myself in this one, to fulfill a general ed requirement. It was about International Rural Development, and Eric Holt-Giminez was a PhD agroecologist who had spent 15 years working with peasant farmers in the Global South helping them develop low-input sustainable farming techniques.

This was the class that opened my world to all of the major issues around chemical agriculture, Monsanto, GMO’s, and poor global policies. It initiated my personal journey in self-education and exploration around these issues.

So, introductory food systems and agroecology classes are very important!

8. Elizabeth Blackburn (2010)

A Stanford lab offered me a similar job for almost twice the pay but I declined because my free spirit wanted to live in San Francisco, so I chose to work in the Blackburn Lab at UCSF. They had won the Nobel prize recently for their work on telomeres. It turns out Elizabeth Blackburn was incredibly passionate and devoted to her work as a scientist, and really nurtured the work from a love of science.

The opportunity allowed me to explore the food, permaculture and gardening world of San Francisco. I experimented with a zero waste low footprint lifestyle and blogged about it.

7. Joanna Macy (2011)

I was reading big picture stuff on sustainability policy which lead me to the works of people like Joanna Macy and David Korten, who both expressed a need for a spiritual transformation in order for true integration of sustainable design. I took a permaculture design course in 2011 where she was one of our teachers and lead us through an exercise on systems ecology.

6. Larry Korn/Masanobu Fukuoka (2011)

At this same permaculture design course, Larry Korn was our main instructor. He shared with us both his experiences on Fukuoka’s farm studying natural farming, and also the principles of permaculture as taught by Bill Mollison.

Even though composting is not actually necessary in these natural farming systems, it is still necessary in urban and industrialized areas.

5. Fabeku Fatunmise (2012)

My explorations with my green living blog created a fascination in creative entrepreneurship, and the idea of being able to create a livelihood of my own making, that works for me and excites me and allows me to contribute positive work in the world. I discovered the incredible, life-changing FF. I would call him an artist and business wizard who teaches people about how to create their own coherent structures and blueprints that serve their highest potential and create maximum impact. Much of my approach to my work is inspired by him.

4. Deb Neher (2012)

Much of what I know about soil ecology is thanks to what I learned as a master’s student in Deb Neher’s lab. Her work has focused on the development of ecological indicators, things you can observe as signs of ecosystem health, in soil health and compost quality. This idea has been really helpful because it provides ways to communicate to people why certain management practices are wanted/unwanted. If we can point to specific ecological indicators, then that gives us specific information about whether our practices are helping or hurting the well-being of the ecology. She is also a passionate and dedicated scientist and educator committed to real solutions in partnership with community institutions.

3. Karl Hammer (2013)

My life changed again when I visited Vermont Compost and met Karl Hammer, soil wizard extraordinaire, who makes some of the best compost in existence. He integrates the ecology of the landscape into his site management and process. The first time I ever spoke with him on the phone, he told me very seriously, “We are all walking phases of the soil.”

Karl Hammer talked about composting as a means of industrial mitigation, minimizing the harms of industrial society, but that in an idealized agroecological system it is actually not necessary. He is an endless fountain of knowledge and cunning. The vision of Vermont Compost has been a consistent source of inspiration for my work and approach to composting and farming. 

2. Elinor Crescenzi (2015)

My friend, roommate, and soil sibling Elinor is a next level superhero who has helped get a number of grassroots projects off the ground. I have watched them speak truth to power and stand up to entrenched power figures in every situation, including local and state levels of government. They are a real community devotee, capable of organizing support for all types of community projects. We love to tell people about how you know you’re friends when they drop 300 lbs of moldy oranges at your door and you still want to hang out with them.

1. Leigh Adams (2015)

My forever hero I got to meet because I wanted to try my luck at teaching and speaking in the community about soil and compost at the LA Arboretum. She is an incredible artist, ecological gardener, water harvester, community builder, and now hügel queen. Someone who has never stopped believing in me and has helped me grow and embrace my inner science artist.

Wild and colorful and empathetic as an artist, she is also deeply grounded in scientific knowledge and indigenous wisdom. She is ever reverent to the sacred processes of nature, and always in support of empowering women.

Now you know my top 10 influencers. Who has shaped your world in the last decade?

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Reflections on Larry Korn’s Passing, the Preciousness of Elders, Friendship, Love, Kindness, Care

I’m struck and shaken up very deeply by Larry Korn’s passing. It brought back to life my whole permaculture experience, and my whole journey on my path of life and work.

It feels like a long time ago now, it was around 2011 or so that I took my first permaculture design course. The main permaculture portion was taught by Larry Korn, with guest speakers on other topics. We had some really special guests too, like Joanna Macy (eco-spirituality, Buddhism, systems theory) and Samantha Sweetwater (dance as embodied leadership). There was some drama, but mostly it was a magical experience of connection and learning.

I, wide eyed, young, fresh with excitement, newly embarking on this journey and seeking to make a space for myself. I already knew I would likely be going to grad school for compost biology. I was already sharing this reality with the other students in my class.

I soaked up every micron of the experience – I absorbed all of Larry’s teachings as well as his spirit. I knew it was precious and I indulged in every moment of it. I had gotten to know him as a deeply kind, dedicated, loving, caring person who was prickly at his age, if only in his devotion to the work.

I knew it was special that he had studied under Masanobu Fukuoka, a practitioner and developer of natural farming methods that are more like indigenous agriculture than permaculture, but aligns well nonetheless. There’s definitely an aspect of the movement that can get caught up in the attention and star power, but Larry was none of that. He was like dust and bone, nothing but salt of the earth. He was made of kindness and love.

I held great reverence for Larry, as an apprentice of Fukuoka, and a courageous individual who shared with us about how he had dodged the Vietnam War draft. Fukuoka’s philosophy and approach to natural farming have always remained a beacon for me, the ultimate source of ecological thinking in agricultural systems. Larry translated and edited Fukuoka’s book, One Straw Revolution, which has now become essential reading and education for anyone interested in ecological farming.

Not long after the permaculture course, I embarked on my grad school journey, taking the deep dive into soil and compost ecology, which would shape the next decade of my life and work. Still I struggled to find my place, and a few years into grad school I reached out to Larry for perspective on what I should be doing with my life.

We talked on the phone, and he was very supportive and encouraging to me. One of the things that has stuck with me is how, in that conversation, he told me, “Soil humbles you.” He offered me his friendship, and that made my world. We talked and connected several times after that, and he was always happy to help me and give me advice. I always thought I might see him again some day.

His passing brings to mind the obvious fragility of life, and how our quality time with each other is precious and valuable. To not take things for granted, to make the most of every moment. It brings to mind my whole sustainable farming journey, and all of the incredible, magical, loving, kind, amazing, otherworldly people I have encountered on my path, who inspire me and keep me going – they make it worth the struggle.

To all of those who continue to show up week after week, challenge after challenge, who continue to believe in and hold the vision, to utilize the best of their creative and intellectual gifts in service to the creation of a more sustainable, just, and kind world. You are amazing. I am inspired by you. You keep me going. Thank you for being who you are.

Teachers and elders passing on is such a tremendous loss to me. I feel, in their wake, we are forced to grow and fill in the spaces they have left for us. I feel like a tantrum-ous child. Why did you leave us so? How are we going to make it? Why do we have grow?

Hold tight to the ones you love

A friend posted about a severe health challenge his newborn child was facing, and ended with, “Hold tight to the ones you love, and love everyone you see.”

These are the things that keep me going, that make my world.

Friendships and moments of aligned connection.

The intimidating journey of grad school was ameliorated by the kindness of my graduate coordinator, who offered me his friendship first and foremost.

Kindness is timeless, it never gets old.

Friendship saves lives.

To care is to give a shit, to risk breaking your heart into pieces and move forward anyway.

And I am here for that.

Again and again and again.

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Hmmm… What is Humus Anyway?

Just a tasty chocolate superpower or some strange concoction of randomized order generated from chaos breakdown fractalizing in its tumbling freefall?

I feel like when I try to look for research articles relating to the biochemistry of humus formation, I find many studies from earlier last century, less from recent years, though they do exist. It feels like there’s a bit of a drop off after the 1970’s on this type of work, I had read somewhere once that this happened because agriculturalists chose to focus more on soil chemistry and let go of their interests in soil organic matter, so there’s a bit of a drought on humus ecology.

A paper by Manlay and Swift (2007) characterizes humus / soil organic matter (SOM) as a cultural concept with three phases of perception, shifting from a more tradition humus-oriented practice to a mineral perspective heavily influenced by Josef Liebig, and in more recent decades emerging as a key indicator for soil health and quality, including agroecological health and fertility.

Humus is a complex substance that is not well understood. It still remains a bit of a mystery. The composition is generally described as consisting of “humins”, which are solid complexes, along with humic and fulvic acids which may be soluble, and other water-soluble compounds.

It’s the dark chocolate cake left behind after all the fresh leaves and apple stems have fully decomposed. Organic matter is feasted upon by primary decomposers, bacteria and fungi, including actinobacteria, and secondary and tertiary decomposers in the soil food web, like protozoa and nematodes, facilitate the transformation of organic matter into plant available nutrients and beneficial enzymes, which is described as the process of “mineralization”.

While much organic matter goes into the mineralization process of nutrient cycling, some of it goes into humus formation (humification), a means of long-term carbon storage. It is thought that the breakdown of lignin is the primary source of humification, which is often facilitated by fungi, such as white-rot and brown-rot fungi, as well as actinobacteria. Ultimately these lignin breakdown products undergo a self-condensation, or sugar-amine condensation. As FJ Stevenson describes it, there are an “astronomical” number of potential combinations that the compounds could come together, so every humus complex is different.

Those fungi keep showing off their carbon sequestration skills. They may be more efficient than bacteria at sequestering carbon into their bodies (Six et al, 2006), and are also important to the lignin degradation process of humus formation.

In terms of practices, this means that greater abundances of soil fungi are going to support enhanced carbon sequestration and the build up of long-term storage pools of carbon in soil. So, less disturbances, more quality fungal foods like woody materials. Less tillage, more mulch. More trees. Integrated cultivation systems. Trees, shrubs, herbs, animals, berries, vegetables, compost.

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Art + Science

Movement + Culture Building

There is a new level of communication that emerges when art and science come together. Art speaks to our emotional intelligence and intuitive wisdom, science to our practical reality as evidenced through our physical senses. I think about learning as the process of integrating and understanding new information in such a way that it becomes a part of who we are, it becomes embodied within our being, and we have the option to live the learning. We have access to a new level of understanding that informs and influences the way we perceive, assess, synthesize the world around us, as well as how we choose to respond or contribute.

Learning new knowledge changes who we are on some level. We can choose whether we want to shift our lifestyles or actually take action on that new knowledge, but regardless of whether our actions change, our awareness has. There is no way to “un-know” something. You can choose to ignore it, stop it from influencing the rest of your life and actions, which is an act of influence in itself. But there is no way to erase it from your awareness. You could try really hard to forget, and to a certain degree that can work.

The power of art and science together in education and communication is the potential to engage both emotional and mental awareness – to really understand new concepts in a way that are easy to integrate as one’s being. And with that, the potential for this new understanding to translate into new action.

We live in a world of commercialized art, like logos and branding and jingles, serving capitalistic motives for making more money. The potency of business and branding lies in both the art and science embedded behind it. But we can utilize this same power for education and awareness, for building movements for justice, ecology, community.

It’s exciting that many more people are interested in devoting their careers to bettering the environment and community well-being. And, my perspective is one that integrates professional and personal – where the boundaries between work and life are blurred. At this point, it becomes evident that there is a need to create new forms of culture that support this type of livelihood, that supports people devoting time (whether that’s professional or personal) to the pursuit of a more just, sustainable world. The arts have always been an integral part of creating cultural identities, and so they can be reclaimed to nurture our work in community as well.

Bridging Divides, Blurring the Lines

We have a need to utilize the best of both of our senses and skills in art and science. In this time, we are navigating political chaos and climate crisis, and we want to be prepared to re-design our world in such a way that prioritizes people and planet. We need to work together, build relationships of love and trust, and co-create a new world that is rooted in equality, justice, empowerment, and ecological harmony.

This requires us to acknowledge ourselves as complex and integrated beings with seemingly limitless potential, to bridge the divides that seem to separate us, to embrace interdisciplinary and cooperative approaches to making things happen. We are not one thing or another, we are all of the things at varying levels of maturity. We have the potential to refine those aspects of ourselves, to excel in the areas we are already naturally inclined to with innate talents and gifts, and to manage or build up those areas we are not naturally inclined to embrace.

We need to walk away from the things that limit our capacity for discovery, creativity, innovation, loving connection, and respectful collaboration. We need to nurture our differences, nurture diversity and inclusion, and bring these seemingly opposing aspects together on the same page.

Humans have a need to categorize and organize – I wonder if we are one of the more OCD species on this planet? Nature doesn’t fit well into our categories, and doesn’t seem to distinguish between these things. They are all part of the landscape, all available to be used and played with. Art and science are tools we can use to craft new worlds.

Art = Science = Magic

The intelligence of nature is rooted in both art and science. Sacred geometry permeates our biology, providing the structural blueprint for everything from molecular structures to flower petal patterns. We have researched and distilled the processes of evolution and development of living systems down to their biochemical reactions. We have correlated our emotional intelligence to their neuro-biochemical mechanisms. Our experience of love and connection is because of a molecule named oxytocin.

This is the intimacy of art and science in nature – they are two sides of the same coin. Modern day treatments of depression can include nutritional therapies – getting more fermented foods and B vitamins all help. And so do art-based therapies like art, music, dance, gardening.

These are the shaping forces of our world, and we can use them to shift and shape the world into one that we really want to and feel good about living in.

Our technology has advanced to the point of outsourcing our cognitive functioning and even ability to learn new skills to artificial intelligence. We have self-driving cars and space tools that have probed the outer reaches of our space-time continuum.

And yet, our society is still rooted in extractive violence, oppression, isolation and disconnect, and a limitless pursuit of numbers behind this $ sign. Maybe this is nature too, because nature is as much murder and rape as it is beauty and inspiration.

But we have a power of choice, of free will and sovereignty. We can choose the rules we want to play by. We don’t have to settle, but we have a lot of work to do.

There is a magic that emerges when art and science come together. The events we do that integrate art, music, ecology, and farm to table food are magical. An atmosphere is created that allows for this experience of connection to arise.

It is a time of change, transformation, evolution. We can be open to new ideas that create the kind of impact we want and need. If we can sing and dance and feast our way into a new world, that sounds much more fun than coercion or shaming and blaming.

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Non-hierarchical Microbial Ecologies; or Everything is Everything

I’m fascinated by the story of Lynn Margulis, an evolutionary biologist whose theory on endosymbiosis is considered one of the great achievements of 20th century evolutionary biology. Originally met with great skepticism, it has since been validated through experimentation thanks to advancements in molecular methods. She opposed the idea that competition was the primary driving force of evolution, as was the currently accepted Darwinian standard, and asserted that symbiosis and cooperation were actually the main mechanisms of evolution.

Symbiosis is when different organisms come and live together. It is any sort of close biological interaction between 2 different biological organisms, with any sort of benefit/cost relationship. These include mutualism (mutually beneficial), commensalism (one benefits, the other is neutral), and parasitism (one benefits at the expense of the other). Cooperation is when organisms work together for a collective benefit, and this can be mutually beneficial or altruistic in nature.

The theory of endosymbiosis says that the mitochondria in our human cells were originally free living bacterium that were swallowed up by another organism. It decided to crash on the couch in exchange for respiring oxygen and producing energy, and made itself at home for good. Same thing with plants – the chloroplasts in plant cells were originally free living photosynthetic bacteria that were swallowed up by another bacteria. A place to crash in exchange for a solar power plant, essentially, transforming sunlight into energy. And, the creation of a new species through the collectivization and integration of individuals coming together. Evidence that the mechanisms of symbiosis and cooperation contribute to the evolution of new species.

Bottom cell with mitochondrion = the basis of our human cells; Top cell with green chloroplast (photosynthesis) = the basis of plant cells

Along those lines, she also asserts that multi-cellular organisms evolved out of cooperatives of bacteria. Our brain cells and blood cells were once specialized bacteria of their own kind, that came together and found better collective fitness living and working together. In another “few million years, for example, the microorganisms producing vitamin B12 in our intestines may become parts of our own cells. An aggregate of specialized cells may become an organ.” (Microcosmos, p. 33)

She has a reputation as being a rebel scientist, as her theories later in life were increasingly controversial. She was married to Carl Sagan for a few years, and had two children with him. She said it was impossible to have a relationship, children, and a successful career in science all at once.

She applied her understanding of evolutionary ecology to human politics as well:

“As symbolized by the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, it is folly not to extend the lessons of evolution and ecology to the human and political realm. Life is not merely a murderous game in which cheating and killing insure the injection of the rogue’s genes into the next generation, but it is also a symbiotic, cooperative venture in which partners triumph. Indeed, despite the belittling of humanity that naturally occurs when one looks at “Homo sapiens sapiens” from a planetary perspective of billions of years of cell evolution, we can rescue for ourselves some of our old evolutionary grandeur when we recognize our species not as lords but as partners: we are in mute, incontrovertible partnership with the photosynthetic organisms that feed us, the gas producers that provide oxygen, and the heterotrophic bacteria and fungi that remove and convert our waste. No political will or technological advance call dissolve that partnership.” (Microcosmos, p. 16)

While her predecessors had spoken of the evolutionary advancement and importance of humankind, in her view humanity was “simply one among other microbial phenomena” (p. 19), and she believed there were no solid boundaries or distinctions between humans and microbes.

“In Microcosmos we take a stance against the division of human beings from the rest of “Nature.” People are neither fundamentally in conflict with nor essential to the global ecosystem. Even if we accomplish the extraterrestrial expansion of life, it will not be to the credit of humanity as humanity. Rather it will be to the credit of humanity as a symbiotically evolving, globally interconnected, technologically enhanced, microbially based system.” (p. 19)

She asserts that there is no hierarchy between humans and microbes – we often think of humans as being on the top of the evolutionary pyramid, and microbes at the bottom. But if we are simply mass vehicles of microbial communities, then we are not really on the top of the evolutionary pyramid. And, it is not about inverting the pyramid either.

“The problem with the reversal that places microbes on top and people underneath is that dichotomization – important versus unimportant, essential versus unessential – remains. […] Confronting our ecological arrogance does not solve the problem of the pedestal: it is still assumed that one organism is better, higher, or “more evolved” than the other. Once we recognize our energetic and chemical intercourse with other species, however, and the nonnegotiability of our connections with them, we must remove the pedestal altogether.” (p. 21)

I imagine overlapping circles of shifting landscapes of microbial communities. This challenges ideas about our identities as being solid, unique, and independent. It pokes holes in our boundaries between ourselves and the world around us, our relationship to other living beings. It would seem as though we are simply a shaping point in a sea of microbes. Everything is everything, there is no such thing as not being affected by things happening outside of ourselves, or in other parts of the world.

I find it interesting that in her research on microbial ecology and evolution, she stumbled upon ideas around political structures and hierarchy. For those who think science and policy should be separate, distinct fields of study and education, perhaps our microbial ecologies already have their own political structures in place, upon which they rely for their cooperation, organization, and collective evolution. Perhaps if we are thinking of evolving more collectivist and cooperative models of decision-making and living and working together, we could stand to learn a few tips from our microbial comrades.

I opened up my 2nd class in Soilify on the Role of Soil in Climate, Human, and Community Well-being with a look at this work by Lynn Margulis. You can learn more about it there, as well as modern microbiome research, and other principles in microbial ecologies that relate to our health and well-being.

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What is an ECOFARM?

ECOFARM is an acronym for Ecological and Community Oriented Farming and Resource Management, which is essentially an integrated community compost farm that is deeply rooted in ecological design and increasing community access (to healthy food, healthy soil, and other resources) and connection. It is a model some friends and I have worked on developing in recent years, and we have officially launched 2 pilot projects so far.

There are many important aspects of this model, making it multi-dimensional in nature. I would not say one aspect is emphasized over the other, though it depends on the community members involved in executing the model. In which case, that depends on the skills, resources, and inherent biases of that community.

In this model, community input is integrated into the design so that it serves the immediate needs of the neighboring community. The whole site is designed under ecological principles, which can include any number of garden elements, such as vegetable beds, food forest, composting, medicinal and herb gardens, native and pollinator gardens, community gathering areas, beehives, a seed library, water infiltration basins and swales, ponds, flowers, etc. Generally when we ask the community, they are interested in having all of these things.

The composting aspect is intended to be a fully fledged organic waste processing program, which receives food waste from the community, and composts it with farm trimmings, manure, and wood chips. Thus, there should be some kind of food waste collection program, whether that’s a drop-off program, or a hauling collections program.

My personal mission is to manage these compost piles very well, so there are no odors or pests, and the composting part is pleasant, inspiring, and welcoming. I do this by ensuring the compost reaches hot temperatures, meeting EPA standards for killing off human pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli. This is done by ensuring a good initial compost recipe, so our site managers are trained to build piles in this way. In this way, our collections programs can accept meat, dairy, bones, and other plate waste.

One of the reasons I am interested in the ecological design of a compost project is that the increased biodiversity and ecological health and function of the space all help to minimize pests and pathogens around the compost. The compost can be used immediately on site to improve the land right there.

Principles of ecological garden design look to wild systems for inspiration on how best to facilitate ecological health under human-managed vegetable cultivation. Increasing biodiversity, increasing wildlife and native pollinator habitat, native pollinator habitat, integrating trees, and developing erosion mitigation and soil building strategies. So we are not just growing food or growing soil, but we are growing whole ecologies.

And that extends to human ecologies too. Low-income neighborhoods lack access to fresh healthy food, so it’s important for this food and medicine that is grown on these sites to contribute to the livelihoods of disadvantaged folks. Accessibility is about distance, affordability, and cultural appropriateness of the food.

The farm is managed collectively. There are some paid staff in charge of running the farm and coordinating volunteers. The paid farmer organizes the tasks for the day, and works with volunteers to accomplish all of these tasks. Community volunteers get to take a share of the harvest home with them. This is different from the conventional community garden where each individual manages their own plot as well (or not) as they want to.

The idea is that everyone has a voice, and as a community we can integrate as much of everyone’s individual desires as much as possible. So if there is something you want to grow, we can grow it. The benefit of collective management is that you can be there tending to your favorite spots, and it’s okay for you to be busy too, the community is still caring for your favorite parts of the garden. There will still be food and medicine waiting for you when you return.

Ecologically, the site has a better chance to develop as a whole ecosystem, which increases its efficiency and function and overall health. Issues around pests and pathogens can be troubleshooted as a whole ecosystem issue, rather than an isolated issue that relates to your personal skill and ability as a gardener.

One of the great shifts in perspective that this type of collective management brings is the idea of stewarding common resources – acknowledging our commonality, and choosing to collaborate and work together to manage those resources responsibly and equitably.

Beyond that, I personally just want to have fun. So creating spaces for educational events, creative opportunities, and community gatherings are an integral part of these projects. It is magical to bring people together over a farm to table dinner, with fresh flowers, juices, fruits, and just harvested garden salads.

It takes a lot of work, labor, and resources to install a fully featured ECOFARM like this, especially when it is taking a new spin on community gardening. Because it integrates community decision making processes, things often happen on a slower time scale. More people feel included in the process, which improves the relationships within the community, and people are less likely to feel undervalued. However, it does mean that one person can’t just blaze on and create the whole thing, which might give you a beautiful overnight garden, but doesn’t have the community trust built in behind it.

There is more education and communication that is necessary for this model to work. Some perspectives on community gardens are that they are better served as an organizing tool for community members to come together and empower themselves to advocate for better services and resources. The ECOFARM model can also work in this way.

I am working with some friends to formalize this model and house it under a 501c3 non-profit organization that is utilizing cooperative leadership structures. So yes, if you want to fund us, we’ll be happy to take your money. We have leads for more opportunities to implement this model, so your money will always go towards expanding ECOFARM. You can donate to ECOFARM using the Donate button on the right, or Click Here to Donate.

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Transcending Cultural Identities for Community Healing

We are at a threshold moment of climate crisis right now. Our science is great and it hasn’t been able to move the political and economic machine to stop global warming. Words from environmental leaders such as David Korten and Joanna Macy have also expressed the limitations of science and technology, calling for a spiritual transformation.

I believe this to be true, that the real shift we need for environmental regeneration is one rooted in values and culture, as well as political economy. But I wish Gus Speth didn’t say, “We scientists don’t know how to do that,” because it so incredibly limits the purview of scientists, and locks them in to an intellectual box where they can only be valued for their technical expertise, and cannot be seen as whole, nuanced, complex human beings with emotional values, creative instincts, and transformative life experiences.

Holding onto these cultural identities too tightly ultimately limits our collective potential. The idea that because you are a scientist, you cannot be a good artist, leader, facilitator, activist, or community organizer. Or if you are an artist, you cannot be a good scientist. If you are a city person, you cannot possibly know anything about soil and plants. If you are a country person, you cannot know anything about fine art and culture.

Art and writing have been my blood and bone since I was born. I grew up in urban areas on Windows 32 and Super Nintendo games. I have a master’s in compost biology, and I am taking this knowledge and scholarly skill and applying it to my work in the field, in developing urban-scale, community-based integrated ecological compost farm and garden systems.

The thing about this work is that it is ultimately about community well-being on all levels – mental, emotional, physical. People come to the garden to heal – from depression, grief, loss, chronic illness, and the simple isolation that runs rampant in our world today. So these spaces we are creating are not just about ecological regeneration and sustainability, but they are also about facilitating meaningful connections and providing healing sanctuaries for the people that need them.

In this work, all hands are on deck. All of your skills, resources, talents, gifts are wanted, necessary, important. Your whole self, with all of its broken bits and hurting bits and shining bits, are wanted at the table. It doesn’t matter what your professional identity is, we are here to heal whole communities. And that means the personal is professional, and the professional is personal.

There are really no limits to the human potential. To think that because you a technical person you cannot have the capacity to understand values transformations in people is incredibly limiting and disempowering.

The calls for a spiritual transformation by these environmental leaders have inspired my journey to embrace my creativity and explore earth-based spiritual practices. To always have my whole self along for the ride in pursuit of a career in soil making and community healing. To always pair my intellectual exploration of the ecology with a reverence and respect for the land and its communities.

Part of the challenge with science education is that it doesn’t engage people who are not naturally inclined to be technical thinkers. For a creative person, thinking technically could possibly be a great challenge. Why should they expend the effort to understand the material? Why is important for them to dig in deeper? Addressing these deeper why’s help to facilitate the scientific learning experience. This is what inspired me to begin opening my soil and compost ecology classes with art, poetry, and history, as a way to create connection and generate cultural context for the deep dive into technical knowledge. When we feel inspired, when we understand why this is important on a visceral, body level, then it is easier to do the hard work of understanding scientific information.

The article contains an interview of Gus Speth’s life and career at the nexus of race, environment, and politics. He talks about how he got started with the NRDC and the environmental movement during the civil rights era because they were inspired by the black community. He said they did not work to include the black civil rights movement into their environmental work, and he considers that a great failure of theirs. He goes on to say that the source of the ills affecting black communities and the environmental movement are the same – the political economy and inequitable power dynamics of capitalism.

This is where the work of racial equity is not any different than other types of non-profit or community transformation work. It is the work. Environmental justice is the movement that brings both pieces together, acknowledging the intimate relationship between the two. Working in marginalized communities alleviates their burden. Engaging in social and restorative justice is environmentalism. Empowering disadvantaged communities is environmentalism.

Sometimes it can be easy to think that to call yourself an “environmentalist” you have to have a zero waste farm to table off grid lifestyle, and leave the smallest footprint possible. But focusing on lifestyle has its limitations. For one thing, it can continue to feed into an isolationist, competition-driven mindset that is more about cultural status than real community transformation.

It is harmful to engage in competitive comparison of who is more green, and we squabble over plastic bags and plastic straws. The real issue at play though, is a messed up system of design, production, and distribution that generates plastic waste. These are controlled by powerful corporations. The real issue at play is inequitable power dynamics. Corporations have too much power – we the people can do very little to sway their design and production decisions.

We the people need to discover our inherent power, we need to learn how to trust each other, love each other, connect, collaborate, organize, and otherwise work together to build the structures and systems that truly benefit us and the environment. Our professional culture does not require such things as love and trust, but these are the things we need to do this work. They are the real roots of the work. Otherwise, we continually end up in the same grooves of oppressive hierarchies leading to power inequity.

Understanding power and leadership as a lens of love and trust is part of the transformation that needs to happen. Power and leadership are a means of facilitating and stewarding the vision of ecological regeneration and community healing. In that sense, they are not characteristics unique to an individual, but rather they arise in relationship with community.

When people ask me what my advice is for them to do their part in saving the planet, I tell them to go out into the community and do their work there – build collaborative relationships and work together to make your community a better place for everyone. Because if we have strong collaborative relationships in the community, we can do so much more for each other than just using metal straws. We can organize and advocate for better policies, we can develop community programs that teach zero waste practices as a communal responsibility, provide opportunities for composting and growing chemical-free food, as well as safe spaces for all members of the community to visit and gather.

And so I work with science and spirit hand in hand, empowering everyday people with ecological knowledge, with loving encouragement for them to grow and be their best selves, so that we can work together better and collectively create more powerful transformations. When I teach science, I want laypeople to know that this knowledge is for them too, and it’s not just about science – it’s about love, healing, equity, justice, and empowerment.