Time and a Turning In

Whenever I begin thinking about sustainable food systems, I can’t help but deduce that we won’t reach a sustainable food system until we reinvent a sustainable society. You really can’t have one without the other if we’re staying true to the ultimate meaning of sustainability. Sustainability does not mean “green.” Many times when my mind wanders down this rabbit hole, I come to the conclusion that Americans are currently simply too busy to create and close nutrient loops, to make the time to garden, to walk places instead of drive, to ask big enough questions and find real answers (Houle and Rummage 2015). And too busy is just not a good enough excuse to sanction the destruction and inequity we witness today.

These are just a few examples of where human energy can save fossil energy… if only we had the time. Making the time for using human energy instead of fossil energy would not only reduce carbon emissions, it would make the space for us to actually create real solutions instead of techno fixes. It would, in many cases, improve public health by reducing sitting hours, increasing physical activity, and, I would guess, improve mental health by opening opportunities to stop and talk with one another instead of the isolation we inhabit in our single-occupancy cars and cubicles. The idea I’m reaching for is about quality of life. How can we grant permission for people to have the luxury of time? Time to spend on gardening, creating wholesome meals with your family and community, time to talk… and listen. For me these days, time is the utmost luxury; I spend way too much time in the car and way too much time alone in front of a glowing square. But that is the society we live in. Jobs that demand human energy are generally thought of as second-rate. This has got to change. Communication is done virtually. It would be quite interesting to begin considering ways in which to more highly value careful human labor, quality time with others, and a handmade aesthetic that is kinder to our planet.

But this is an elusive dilemma. Busyness is ubiquitous, efficiency worshiped. Almost no one who is alive today knows how to live completely sustainably in ways that would be acceptable to the masses. So, it is the project of our time to imagine and enact a way in which to live that is not only kinder to the earth, but kinder to ourselves. Some call it creative descent; some call it intentional aesthetics; some call it quality of life; some call it permaculture. We need it all, and it begins with astute critical thinking and turning inside. Once again, the outer world finds its activation switch inside ourselves. How can I create the time to do good? How can I make the effort to really listen to my friend, spouse, child? How can I find the time to think critically about ways to practice my values instead of my routine? How can I have empathy?

Houle, David and Tim Rummage. 2015. This Spaceship Earth. USA: David Houle & Associates.

Urban Resilience and Energy

On my 30-minute commute to my office, I often think about energy. The regrettable drive drags on, during which I listen to podcasts about permaculture and the many energy-related stores on the morning news. The cognitive dissonance is thought provoking. One day, while passing the some of the many stip malls that pock the surface of Florida, I thought, What are we going to do with all this concrete? My internal question was quite literal, as if I were planning for a next week when cheap abundant energy is no longer available. It surprised me.

I participated in a recently held webinar by the International Urban Food Network (IUFN 2015) called “Toward a Climate Resilient Urban Food Systems.” The speakers covered the various aspects about the typical urban built environment which are not resilient in the face of flooding, winds, storms, and heatwaves caused by climate change. One of the speakers, Marielle Dubbeling, was from the Resource Centres for Urban Agriculture & Food Security, and she shared case studies from various cities around the world that have implemented urban agriculture and forestry as mitigation responses to the effects of extreme weather caused by climate change (Dubbeling 2014). I imagined permaculture-inspired ponds, berms, swales, green spaces, and rain gardens throughout cities that could soak up floods, filter water, act as windbreaks, and reduce urban heat island effects. Howard Odum (1973, 225) discusses the need to utilize ecosystem services instead of mimic them with technological gadgets because this results in a waste of energy. 

Odum’s statement that “growth promoting policies and structures become an energy liability because their high energy cost is no longer accelerating energy yields,” exemplifies the vision of a future in which concrete becomes a burden on society. We have paved too much of our urban areas due to the main transportation method in the United States being the automobile. Without the ability to drive everywhere on a whim when cheap energy in the form of gasoline is not available, there is no other purpose for the roads that dominate the urban landscape. We are left with non-arable, toxic, heat-collecting, flood-vulnerable tarmac. Quite the liability indeed.

In contrast, creative descent from fossil fuels would prescribe the relocalization of our lifestyles and deem car transportation obsolete. We should convert the many roadways into bike paths, walking paths, energy-efficient mass transit, and arable or wild lands to better adapt to the weather that anthropogenic climate change has inevitably caused. As Odum (1973, 227) concludes, “Use available energies for cultural conversion to steady state.” Odum’s advice is forethinking. Dave Jacke (2005) warns that the social and economic sides of permaculture are the hardest to address and change in our society. How can we promote a culture that is not causing extreme harm to the planet (Jensen and McBay 2009)? We can start by implementing school and community gardens to teach a love of growing food, bring food security, increase green space in urban environments starving for it, and increase overall resilience. 

Fortunately, I observe people naturally responding to green spaces in cities. They want to see trees and other natural features. The fact that urban agriculture projects would increase resilience to climate change, provide food to urban residents, reduce transport costs and infrastructure, improve urban aesthetics, provide shade to cool the city and reduce the need for cooling, accomplish other ecosystem services, and other means to decrease fossil fuel energy consumption in cities makes taking steps to implement green space in the urban environment a very strong case.  

Dubbeling, Marielle. 2014. “Integrating urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry (UPAF) in city climate change strategies.” RUAF Foundation, June. http://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/Final%20report%20Urban%20agriculture%20and%20City%20Climate%20Change%20strategies%20programme%20June%2012014.pdf.

IUFN. 2015. “International Urban Food Network. Accessed November 12. http://www.iufn.org/en/.

Jacke, Dave. 2005. Edible Forest Gardens: Vision and Theory Volume I. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.

Jensen, Derrick and Aric McBay. 2009. What We Leave Behind. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Odum, Howard T. 1973. “Energy, ecology, and economy.” Ambio Vol. 2, No. 6, Energy in Society: A Special Issue: 220-227.

Kenyan Pastoralists Fighting Climate Change Through Food Forests

Photo: Robert Kibet/IPS

This is a fascinating article about reversing desertification in Kenya.

“[The] initiative to help the Samburu community plant the 18 species of indigenous fruit trees which are drought-resistant and rich in nutrients is also part of a major conservation effort in that the combination of ‘small-scale food security and conservation of indigenous trees. will also create a linkage between people and trees and they will protect them.'”

The world’s poor are suffering worst from the effects of climate change, such as in Africa and Pacific island nations. It seems this initiative is giving tools to people for furthering sustainability efforts that surpass where supposed “first world” nations are at.

Naomi Klein writes in her 2015 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate, that countries which are being asked to preserve their natural resources, like rain forests that benefit the entire globe, deserve and are asking for remuneration from historically heavy carbon emitters like the UK and USA. Because rich countries are responsible for most of the carbon in the atmosphere causing climate change, I don’t see why we shouldn’t pay countries to preserve rain forests and other carbon sequestering natural resources.

Florida House Summer Garden Success

The Florida House on Beneva in Sarasota held space this summer for demonstration gardens. Camille Vansant, along with volunteers, planted permaculture style kitchen gardens around the house as well as a larger demonstration plot canopied by shade cloth. Despite the heat, the gardens are absolutely thriving, and the Florida House plans to make its first delivery to All Faiths Food Bank next week.

I find this initiative inspiring not only because the Florida House is showing that gardens can be productive and beautiful in the summer, which is usually known as the off-season in Florida, but also because they demonstrate such abundance can be produced to be shared with the food bank as well. Camille, a chef, is teaching others how to utilize these less common crops, another opportunity for expanding our palates for seasonal flavor and increasing dietary diversity. If you’re a Floridian interested in relocalizing your diet, you can eat well in the summer on yummies such as malabar spinach, katuk, papaya (green and ripe), pumpkins, okra, melons, pigeon peas, Okinawan and Chinese longevity spinach, early avocados, late mangoes, basils, and mints.

Check out the luscious gardens below to get inspired to visit the Florida House and plant your own summer garden!

Papaya planted less than six months ago loaded with huge fruits!

Papaya planted less than six months ago loaded with huge fruits!

Squash and melons enjoy the shade.

Squash and melons enjoy the shade.

Sweet potatoes creep under okra.

Sweet potatoes creep under okra.

Kitchen garden displaying papaya, sweet potato, lemon grass, lemon basil, and more.

Kitchen garden displaying papaya, sweet potato, lemon grass, edible hibiscus, okra, and more.


Southern Sustainable Agriculture Conference

What an inspiring event! I highly enjoyed the conference and learning more strategies for Farm to School, policy, community building, and edible mushroom cultivation.

I was happy to present my first poster, with Zach:

"Procurement Tracking in Sarasota County Schools Farm to School Program"

“Procurement Tracking in Sarasota County Schools Farm to School Program”

The trade show was interesting, and I met a lot of great people and exceptional businesses! My favorite three trade show exhibits were:

Common Wealth Seed Growers, Virginia.

Common Wealth Seed Growers, Louisa, Virginia.

Sapphyre and Edmund and other farmers started Common Wealth Seed Growers cooperative about a year ago, and they specialize in breeding downy mildew resistant seeds. As you can see in the photo above, they grow beautiful gourds and pumpkins – that’s what attracted me to their exhibit! I brought home some of these to try:

Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin

Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain!

Mushroom Mountain

Mushroom Mountain, Easley, South Carolina

Tradd’s presentations were SO interesting and inspiring. It’s been a while since I grew my bag of oyster mushrooms, but I definitely feel empowered to give it another go after listening to his talks. I also highly recommend his new book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Micoremediation.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the conference was the seed swap. I brought a variety things – okra, Seminole pumpkin, tulsi and some others. I met the folks from Sow True Seed there as well, and I was able to swap for some calendula, Corsican gourds and other goodies! It was a wonderful week, and I hope next time to see some new Florida seed companies!


Sow True Seed, Asheville, North Carolina

The Song of Gaia

“I saw old farmers in Kentucky last spring who belong in another century. They are inhabitants; they see the world they know crumbling and evaporating before them in the face of a different logic that declares, ‘everything you know, and do, and the way you do it, means nothing to us.’ How much more the pain, and loss of elegant cultural skills, on the part of non-white fourth-world primitive remnant cultures who may know the special properties of a certain plant, or how to communicate with Dolphins, skills the industrial world might never regain. Not that special, intriguing knowledges are the real point: it’s the sense of the magic system; the capacity to hear the song of Gaia at that spot, that’s lost.”  – Gary Snyder

Life Place

“Bioregionalism is simply biological realism; in natural systems we find the physical truth of our being, the real obvious stuff like the need for oxygen as well as the more subtle need for moonlight, and perhaps other truths beyond those. Not surprisingly, then, bioregionalism holds that the health of natural systems is directly connected to our own physical/psychic health as individuals and as a species, and for that reason natural systems and their informing integrations deserve, if not litter veneration, at least our clearest attention and deepest respect. No matter how great our laws, technologies, or armies, we can’t make the sun rise every morning nor the rain dance on the golden-back ferns. To understand natural systems is to begin an understanding of the self. When we destroy a river, we increase our thirst, ruin the beauty of free-flowing water, forsake the meat and spirit of the salmon, and lose a little bit of our souls.” –  Jim Dodge 1990, Home! A Bioregional Reader

Eat Near: ECHO Global Farm

Ever since I learned about them, ECHO‘s soft-spoken and knowledgeable presence in Ft Meyers, Florida has been a source of inspiration and information about everything from worm composting to Florida-friendly plants to permaculture gardening. As home gardening and urban farming become more and more popular and vital to our food security, ECHO will be a key partner moving forward toward urban foodscaping initiatives, education for FL growing techniques and plants, and permaculture methods.

Check out this article to learn more: Eat Near: ECHO fights hunger abroad and in its backyard.