This has been a week of inspiration and new energy. First, there is the story of Will Allen:
Like others in the so-called good-food movement, [Will] Allen, who is 60, asserts that our industrial food system is depleting soil, poisoning water, gobbling fossil fuels and stuffing us with bad calories. Like others, he advocates eating locally grown food. But to Allen, local doesn’t mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project.
And this is why Allen is so fond of his worms. When you’re producing a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of food in such a small space, soil fertility is everything. Without microbe- and nutrient-rich worm castings (poop, that is), Allen’s Growing Power farm couldn’t provide healthful food to 10,000 urbanites — through his on-farm retail store, in schools and restaurants, at farmers’ markets and in low-cost market baskets delivered to neighborhood pickup points. He couldn’t employ scores of people, some from the nearby housing project; continually train farmers in intensive polyculture; or convert millions of pounds of food waste into a version of black gold.
And then there is the energizing commencement address of Paul Hawkin to the class of 2009, University of Portland, OR:
This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.
With all that inspiration to keep me going, I’m offering my weekly update:
1. Plant something – This week, I ‘planted the pantry.’ I raided my pantry for seeds – anything I thought might grow – and planted them in recycled plastic containers. I don’t know what will grow, but that’s the fun of it. My pantry yielded: four colors of pepper corns, fennel seeds, coriander, allspice, cloves, caraway, poppy and chia. I didn’t have to wait long for the chia – it was up the next day. We’ll see what the rest does. I also planted a chunk of ginger from the grocery store – since the expensive piece I ordered from Gurney’s rotted in the ground.:-(
2. Harvest something – mostly herbs but a few okra pods. I harvested some dollar weed from the garden but haven’t gotten up the nerve to eat it yet (why is that so hard, I wonder?) My garden has really slowed since the weather got so hot and dry. I recently found a couple of leaks in my soaker hose so I’ve switched back to hand watering. Maybe I’ll get better results now. I hope . . .
3. Preserve something – maybe never? I did buy a book, Well Preserved: recipes and techniques for putting up small batches of seasonal foods by Eugenia Bone. Bone gives basic advice as well as detailed instructions for preserving foods – everything from cherries in wine to smoked scallops, along with recipes for using the preserved food. Stay tuned.
4. Reduce waste – I was in Target this week (hey, my shopping options are extremely limited . . .) and noticed that the Starbucks counter was giving away bags of used coffee grounds to one and all. I took all they had. I also asked my mother’s hairdresser for her hair clippings. I had read what a wonderful mulch/compost they could be and thought it worth a try. But the hairdresser pointed out to me that the hair contains not only all the good stuff from our system (vitamins, minerals), but all the drugs as well. Changed my mind!
5. Preparation and Storage – I learned to make my own pita this week. I used the recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg and Francois. Wasn’t all that hard and turned out really well. I did find out that cooking the pita less was better than more, more being rather tough and crunchy.
And I’ve spent huge amounts of time on the internet – I discovered Freedom Gardens, an interactive community where I joined groups all the way from ‘making ink’ to ‘permaculture’ to ‘culture club’ (as in yogurt and sour dough and other cultures . . . )
And I’ve been fantasizing over property in other, more amenable-to-self-reliance locations. This place is just too hot, too dry, too sandy, and too vulnerable to hurricanes!!
6. Build Community Food Systems – blog (on occasion) and comment on other people's blogs.
7. Eat the Food – I made a fantastic Greek salad with cucumbers and peppers and herbs from the garden (to go in my yummy pita bread). The okra goes in my ‘refrigerator soup’ made from leftovers.
And that's it for this week.