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Sneak Peek: Cosmic Compost

Stage 1. Mesophilic Initiation:
Lactobacillus + Leuconostoc

I’m launching Cosmic Compost, a design collection acknowledging the significant microbiota of decomposition ecology. I’m starting with a small series of 6 bacteria significant to compost microbial ecology, organized based on their roles during the 3 main phases of hot composting.

The designs are available as greeting cards, posters, art prints, notebooks, stickers, throw pillows, and mugs through RedBubble. Something fun for your favorite science or microbe loving friend.

This initial phase is a fermentation phase, with organisms like Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc leading the charge. Both Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc are found in fermentation communities, such as in the production of sauerkraut, cheese, kefir, kombucha, and even the anaerobic composting method bokashi.

During this initial phase of decomposition, it is the compounds that are easily degraded that are the first to be metabolized, such as simple sugars, starches, and lipids. After a few days, the frenzy of microbial metabolic activity releases heat and the temperature begins to increase.

I’ll be revealing the rest of the collection later next week, and will be sharing a weekly exploration of each organism. Consider this a sneak peek.

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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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Spontaneous Vegetation with Nance Klehm

I was interviewed by compost artist Nance Klehm on her live podcast series, Spontaneous Vegetation. We talk about what got me into composting, the ECOFARM model, death as the source of life, environmental justice, remediation, challenges in permitting + policy, microbes, and Soilify! my new online class series. Listen to it here.

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Soilify! Soil + Compost Ecology Online Course

I am super stoked to announce the launch of Soilify! an online course series on Soil + Compost Ecology for Creative Activists, Community Composters, and Small-Scale Farmers. It is a series of 8 classes on soil, society, health, justice, compost, lab testing, ecological site design, and fungal ecology. Take your soil stewardship to the next level by rooting it firmly in ecology, justice, and creative culture.

Click Here to learn more about the class and register.

I am kicking off the series with a free class on Composting for Environmental Justice, happening Tuesday, June 25, 2019, at 11am PST. I will be talking about the metaphorical aspects of compost, introducing concepts in environmental justice, community-based composting models, and principles of starting your own community compost project. We’ll finish off with a poetry reading. Register for the free class:

All future announcements about the class will happen on the Soilify! email list, sign up here:

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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.

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Summer of Soil

It’s a busy summer this year! I am preparing to teach the Composting Ecology course at the University of Vermont for a month from mid-July to mid-August. Before that happens though, we are celebrating the launch of a community compost program in Claremont, CA. And I am giving a talk on the Power of Soil at the Pasadena Library. Both events are free and open to the public. Come check them out if you’re around!

Community Composting at the Claremont Friends Meeting: Sunday, July 1 from 11am – 1pm we are having a Launch Day Celebration. This program will accept residential food waste from 30 families from within the Friends Meeting House program. This eliminates transportation emissions associated with hauling entirely, as member families are already going to the Friends Meeting House for community programming, and will just need to bring their bucket of food scraps with them. At our Launch Day Celebration, we will talk about the basics of composting and build our inaugural pile. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other like-minded folks, get some physical activity, and do meaningful work together. This program is being launched through a local organization called Sustainable Claremont.

The Power of Soil at the Pasadena Library: Saturday, July 7 at 10:30am I will be talking about the importance of soil health in maintaining the health and well-being of people, the environment, and our communities. I will provide a broad overview of soil and society, the importance of the microbiome, and the transformative power of community scale programs.

I’ll be visiting farms and compost operations in New England while I’m there. If you’d like to have me speak, teach, or consult on any kind of compost program, I’ll be available in September!