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?

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

Aesthetics of Sustainability, A Call From Within

The aesthetics of sustainability is an unsuspected guiding light. The way our surroundings look, feel, are organized or not, and function is a molder of our interest, comfort, motivation, acceptance, and so much more. I believe our surroundings affect how we feel, our outlook, mental health, physical health, and values.

Many people in western society have very little to do with actively creating their surroundings. Our homes are generally built by strangers in preplanned neighborhoods, the plants in our yards prescribed by HOAs, our furniture and accessories bought at big box stores, identical products available nationwide. What if we had a more participatory role in creating our surroundings? How would we feel surrounded by a home our family built from bioregional resources? What stories would would be cultivated and passed on in working a potter’s wheel to make bowls with our grandmother? We might decide not to fill our houses with meaningless stuff, and choose instead a simple lifestyle infused to the core with meaning and stories.

Not only is the industrially-made aesthetic boring, but every stage of production and transport is not sustainable. Uniformity is not a principle of resilience. Even though most of our disposable products are made in China and Bangladesh, the emissions created in those places effect us all. If there’s one good thing about globalization, it’s realizing that we’re all in this together. And even though we’re all in this together, maintaining bioregional cuisine and seasonal living is just another part of the aesthetics of sustainability.

As John Dewey (1947, 45) writes, one cannot form an experience fully without an intellectual aesthetic to “stamp” to be complete. However, on a tangible level, my sense is that aesthetics draw people in, make them feel inspired, at home or alien, and motivate them to action. Aesthetics can be a manipulation tool; think of any tv ad or the decor Whole Foods chooses.

Attention to aesthetics is not and should not be applicable only to those with enough disposable income to “decorate.” Part of the appeal of simple living is that it’s an affordable way to become a radical homemaker. Everyone is affected by aesthetics.

The aesthetics of sustainability are simple, minimal, useful, and handmade; they are bioregionally different and appropriate; they possess a “satisfying emotional quality” and an “internal integration and fulfillment” (Dewey 1947, 45). Many stores are trying to market and sell the aesthetic of sustainability such as Whole Foods, Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie, Etsy, World Market, ad nauseum. The problem is that these are still outlets for the “consumer” and do not contribute to sustainability, but perpetuate consumerism.

My sense is that these businesses are doing so well because people are yearning for the aesthetics of sustainability, and they intuitively know what to look for, but they are either too distracted, busy, uninformed, and overwhelmed with marketing that they don’t realize that they are not achieving what their inner desires seek through their purchases.

Often in pondering issues of sustainability and “how we ought to live,” (Quinn 1995) my mind settles on the lack of quality time. We, myself included, busy ourselves too much to take the time to make things, grow food, and cook by hand. Why do we do this? We do this to put a roof over our heads, eat, and maybe get an education; it’s a capitalist system. I imagine a cooperative system would help us toward a better aesthetic of sustainability. It may be idealistic, but perhaps beginning with an aesthetic of sustainability can help inspire us toward regenerative practices.

References:

Dewey, John. 1947. “Having an Experience.” In John Dewey The Later Works, 1925-1953,edited by Jo Ann Boydston, Textual Editor, Harriet Furtst Simon, 42-63. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

Quinn, Daniel. 1995. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. A Bantam/Turner Book.

Triple Bottom Line

Ven Diagram Sustainable AG Triple Bottom Line

 

This diagram helps underscore the importance of interconnection between the triple bottom line of agricultural sustainability. Another person told me today that sustainability is becoming a bad word, a marketing term, a wash. What else should we call what we’re working toward?

When I die, sign me up for the mushroom burial suit!

In studying the soil, cycles of life, and humus: “the black or brown organic portion of the soil, is a protoplasmic, jellylike substance made up of cells, leaves, and tissues that have lost their original structure. If humus were not renewed by the remains of dead organisms, the soil as we know it would disappear” (Bookchin 1963). I wondered, what about my body after I die? I learned from my classmates that there are more and more options for a green or natural burial, including a mushroom burial suit which detoxes your body as it turns to compost! There’s also the Urban Death Project, a concept for a revolving composter of bodies for an urban setting. Never thought I’d be this excited about the end!

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

This Week’s Local Eats

What a booty we received from our local fruit bike ride meanderings today! The starfruit tree is fruiting again, and these babies are so tasty dripping ripe right off of the tree. My friends and I also visited an avocado that I have not met before, a beautiful variety with black edible skin called Mexicola. We got to meet a neighbor who lived by the tree and shared some of the starfruit with him. Finally, I learned today that strangler figs actually make edible figs – and they’re quite tasty! I collected some of the tiny brown seedy sweet fruits and made some fig oatmeal cookies. The strangler fig in our yard is a grandfather tree and as the wind blows you can hear the tiny figs dropping to the ground to join the millions lying on the Earth. Abundant. (By the way, what you see in the photo is probably about a third of the amount we actually picked.)

It truly seems as though each week a new plant is fruiting and there are edible things all around. It is so intriguing and satisfying for me to get creative and find ways to make new dishes from funky fruits, or simply host a huge basket of fresh fruits on the counter that was picked in my neighborhood. As summer culminates this mid-August, I look forward to late summer plantings of vegetables, but I can’t help but be so grateful for those plants that fruit in this heat and I feel so provided-for.

As of today, we have quite a collection of small fruit trees in our urban homestead yard – mango, loquats, avocados, strawberry fruit tree, tamarind, papaya, starfruit, key lime, grapefruit… They aren’t producing yet (except the awesome strawberry fruit tree), but someday, they will be a huge source of food for whoever cares to climb their limbs and shake their branches. Who knows how some of the fruit trees we harvested from today got there, by planting or accident, but it is quite miraculous to live in a neighborhood with so many mature fruit trees. To me, it seems like every day should be arbor day. A high quality fruit tree costs anywhere from $50 to $100, and often less than that. Truly the best kind of investment, many families spend more than that on one trip to the grocery store. A fruit tree will give you more fruit than you and your family can eat at least once a year. I love the idea my parents practiced by planting a tree with the birth of their children: a maple for me and a holly for my brother. If they’d have known me better then, they might have planted a mango!

Eating Seasonally

It’s amazing how abundant Sarasota is! There always seems to be something blooming and something fruiting! Check out this week’s local fare:

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We’ve got a slice of banana boat squash, grown by a friend in Orlando; figs, bitter melon, Okinawan spinach, Roselle, jalapenos, sweet peppers, and lime basil from the Gocio school garden; starfruit, Nopal cactus, African blue basil from our neighborhood; avocado and passion fruit from Peter at the farmers’ market; eggs from local really free range chickens; Monstera deliciosa from my aunt’s house; and lemon grass from Roger’s garden. What a bountiful harvest! And they say you can’t grow food in the summer in Florida!

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The red arils of the bitter melonMomordica charantia, are edible, but the white seeds inside are poisonous.

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Starfruit, passion fruit, lime basil, African Blue basil, Roselle.

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Recode Oregon

I’m constantly amazed by the ingenious and progressive ideas coming from the western US. Recode Oregon seeks to recode changes codes to legalize sustainable building practices by creating collaborative relationships with communities and regulators.

On spaceship Earth there is really no “away” to throw things. It’s time our legislation reflect a zero waste outlook and local government support a different way of supporting natural building, ecological sanitation, and other more closed-loop means of living.

“If you knew how you ought to live, then the flaw that is man could be controlled. If you knew how you ought to live, you wouldn’t be forever screwing up the world. Perhaps, in fact, the two things are actually one thing. Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.” – Daniel Quinn

Ample Harvest

If you grow food in your yard – veggies, fruit, nuts – consider donating it to AmpleHarvest.org. AmpleHarvest.org connects 40+ million Americans with excess food in their garden and local food pantries. Garden by garden, home & community gardeners and other growers are fighting hunger and malnutrition in America.

What an awesome idea! Grow food, prevent food waste, feed people, share, give.