Peak Moment - Locally Reliant Living for Challenging Times
Patrick Marcus and other motivated citizens sprouted a community garden on city land slated to be a park in Ashland, Oregon. When the garden was threatened by plans to develop the park, they got active. Their research and advocacy led to official policy supporting community gardens in city parks.
In Colorado it's cold for much of the year, but inside this cozy dome greenhouse, the plants are growing happily. Take a grand tour with Buckhorn Gardens manager and permaculturist Breigh Peterson: the greenhouse structure with its interplay of light and water, warmth and air; curving raised beds of vegetables and flowers; fish tanks moderating the temperature; vertical trellises and shelves to use vertical space. Outdoors a huge garden of row crops and a young orchard are complemented by free-roaming chickens and ducks.
How do you grapple with bigger, deeper issues like catastrophic climate change? Author Carolyn Baker and video producer Ivey Cone join Janaia in a wide-ranging conversation about keeping our hearts open while witnessing the crumbling of industrial civilization. We discuss tools for holding our center, supporting each other, gratitude, and witnessing the powers of the universe at work. For Carolyn, grieving is the most important work now. She sees grieving as the other side of gratitude and love. Ivey constantly asks herself, "what is relevant?" to be doing or being. Janaia ponders what the legacy of the human experiment might be, in the vast story of Earth.
Tour Janet and Richard's quarter acre for an example of what's possible in suburbia. Their front yard of edible plants also provides habitat for birds and insects. The backyard radiates out from an herb and kitchen garden to vegetable beds and containers; 25 fruit and nut trees; and a restful Zen garden. Near a future pond is a "three sisters" spiral of corn, beans and squashes. Check out their rainwater catchment barrels system, solar ovens, grid-tied photovoltaics with backup batteries, a low-energy house, solar-heated garden room, and a comfortable "summer palace" of natural & salvaged materials.
Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson discuss the influences behind this heartfelt and riveting documentary on "What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire." Framed in Tim's personal story of awakening to the big global issues threatening everyone's survival: peak oil, climate change, environmental degradation, the rapacious economy feeding Empire. This film will touch you and make you think.
The peak oil message is slow to gain acceptance, says energy analyst Randy Udall, because it's at odds with our optimistic It's-Morning-in-America mentality. Politicians "Don't Do Depletion." Randy describes challenges, mitigations, and exciting opportunities to create a prosperous path to a lower-energy future.
303 Vertical Gardening for Small Spaces "There are wonderful ideas for what people are doing, working with small spaces. There's lots to get you excited about growing -- anywhere." Stephen Hindrichs shows three approaches to growing vertically in limited space in his backyard garden. One is a south-facing wall made from a wood pallet filled with soil held in with weed cloth. The second is a tower garden, an aeroponic system alternately drenching the plant roots with nutrient-filled water, and then air. Its yields are 5-6 times that of soil-based plants. The third is a DIY Barrel Garden. Stephen cut the top off a wine barrel, and drilled 40-50 holes in the sides for plants. In the middle is a mesh cylindrical tube where kitchen scraps are added, along with compost worms. Worms migrate into soil packed between the tube and the barrel sides, fertilizing and aerating. A pan below the barrel collects water so nutrients can be recycled.
“We’ve had 50 years of unusually stable weather… What do we need to do now, to garden in times that are less predictable?” Plant breeder Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, suggests growing a wider variety of crops adapted to conditions where you are; crops needing minimum inputs; and varying gardening patterns with the year. “Short season crops are a premium,” she asserts. She discusses seed saving, and storing enough seeds so everyone in your neighborhood can be gardening if need be. She’s a big fan of growing potatoes and squash to extend each season’s food, plus beans and corn for long-term storage. Carol is breeding seeds with resilience for unpredictable conditions, including open source seeds which anybody can use as they wish without patent restrictions.
What happens when citizens apply permaculture principles to a city grid? They create friendly places within the grid that invite people to come together. Mark Lakeman, co-founder of Portland, Oregon's City Repair Project describes these "creative intervention" projects as placemaking at its best. People learn to work together, build trust and have fun. The results, from painted intersections to cob benches and other organic structures, invite people "to inhabit the planet on our own terms" rather than the grid-locked culture imposed by the city.
"The next twenty years will be totally unlike the last twenty... We’ll face the greatest economic and physical challenges ever seen by our country, if not humanity.” So opens Chris Martenson's much-viewed online Crash Course illuminating the relationship between economy, energy and the environment. Starting with the power of exponential growth, he tidily sums up our economic problems: Too Much Debt. Chris discusses the implications if we continue the status quo, and ways to prepare. He believes that “if we manage the transition elegantly we can actually improve things.”
"My full name is Pawatsqwachitl. I come from Ahousaht on the west coast of Vancouver Island." Following the indigenous custom, Pawa Haiyupis introduced herself, her people and territory. She thanked the Coast Salish people and territory where we were videoing (Victoria, B.C.) This First Nations woman works with youth, elders and spiritual leaders to practice their culture and "activate their blood memories," as one elder calls it. She says: "We're going on medicine walks, we're doing sweats in safe spaces, and we're learning about our creation stories and sacred sites in our culture." She gives a glimpse of a different way of relating to one another and the earth from a culture that has been sustainable for many thousands of years.
“Today we’re looking at a ten percent world,” says J.B. MacKinnon, author of The Once and Future World. “What we think of as nature today has been depleted by 90% in many cases.” Diaries of explorers reveal an abundance of sea life, birds, and animals like bison in numbers far beyond our imaginations: “It’s almost like visiting a different planet.” Our urbanized population has become disconnected from our roots in nature. MacKinnon advocates rewilding by actively building the wild back into our living spaces. We also need to regain the cultural understandings necessary to live alongside the natural world. He asserts, “We NEED the natural world…Not only is it good for us, but it’s good in ways nothing else can provide.” To rewild ourselves, we can start small: sit down and actively see nature again. “Once I began paying attention, what I experienced was so wonderful, that it was easy to keep doing it. It’s so easy to fall back in love with the natural world.”
Amidst cob-wall plastering in the background, co-director Stacey Denton relays the story of the first years at White Oak Farm and Educational Center in Oregon: Acquiring the 62 acres of food and pasture and protecting it through conservation easements, creating their non-profit organization. See food baskets for their CSA (community supported agriculture) program, visit their abundant permaculture-based farm; attend a workshop in natural building; and delight with kids in an educational program "down on the farm."
Trathen Heckman takes us on a step-by-step tour of how to make a safe, ecological and legal suburban home graywater system. Follow the water as it drains from the bathroom tub (and sink and laundry) through a unique valve leading into the backyard garden. It flows into an optional wetland and underground pond for filtering. The water is then piped below ground to several destinations in the yard, where it will supply water for plants growing above it. Trathen discusses the process with local government agencies, the system design and construction (with pictures), costs, resource books, and why to undertake a graywater system in the first place.
It all started with neighbors meeting to save money and share information around energy, water, food and more. It has grown into shared projects, shared tools and deepened friendships. Residents joined brushes to paint a wall mural with unique neighborhood themes, spearheaded by artist Lori Garcia-Meredith. "Eggnabler" Janet Riddell hatched a Chicken Coop Co-op to encourage others to raise chickens, and they now host an annual "Tour de Coop." Patti Parkhouse and friends planted a community orchard and several veggie beds on the boulevard (street-side city-owned land). After meeting with an energy auditor, several families purchased heat pumps to save on heating costs (shown by Jack Meredith and Warren Walsh). And that's just the beginning. Episode 297.
Wanting to live a "reasonable, comfortable life" in tune with nature, Ann and Gord Baird are building a "net zero energy" home on rural Vancouver Island. Their plans: a thick-walled cob house with passive solar heating. Wind and solar panels to provide electricity. Solar thermal hot water for domestic use and radiant heating. Composting toilets to enrich the earth for orchard, gardens and chickens. Rainwater catchment and a well for domestic and irrigation water.
Former energy analyst Jan Lundberg opens by singing "Have A Global Warming Day" and closes with "Schoolmaster." In between is an unabashed look at climate distortion, peak oil, and declining ecosystems, all bringing a necessary collapse of our "pigging out" economy. He envisions a future with radically curtailed energy use, and people coming together groping for local solutions.
Artist Ezio Cusi’s house is a work of art —and also built smart. The cob house with timber-framed upper stories is made with mostly local natural materials. For the cold winters, it has an annualized geo-solar system (AGS) which in summer transfers hot water from solar panels to storage in the ground. In the cool months the heat flows back into the house, warming especially the periphery. It’s comfortable even in the top story. A hand-sculpted dragon provides whimsy as well as warming in the masonry rocket stove — which burns far more efficiently than a wood stove as well as offering a nice warm bench to sit on! Art is embedded in walls while many windows are graced with original stained glass. Enjoy the blend of beauty and functionality.
"We've alienated ourselves so much from nature that our whole way of producing food is by trying to dominate nature. We're not really connected." Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds (B.C.), points out how corporations now control most of the seeds and food products worldwide. They are poisoning plants, us, and the planet with pesticides. He passionately advocates our reconnecting with nature by gardening and farming "heirloom" and "heritage" plants started from open-pollinated seeds, just as our ancestors have done in 10,000 years of agriculture. Decades ago he helped start "Seedy Saturdays" for garden-loving people to swap seeds and information. His latest venture is a local Seed Library where people can borrow seeds, and return them at the end of the season complete with growing notes. "It's about love," he says. "Appreciating and enjoying and sharing life. It's about giving, not getting."
“This place is famous. People loving coming by here because at any time of year you can get something to eat.” Architect Mark Lakeman, co-founder of the City Repair project, gives a tour of the corner sidewalk outside his Portland office building, where a food forest is bursting with life. A diagram shows where over 80 plants are located in six or seven vertical layers. Tall fruit trees, flowers, a grape arbor, herbs, berries, small vegetables, and ground cover are abundant. This demonstration project is a haven for insects, and a provider of shade on hot days and the sun’s warmth in winter, which keeps utility bills down and the carbon footprint small. In addition to demonstrating permaculture principles, Mark notes that in this lush garden “what we’re doing here is letting the earth burst forth with self-evident meaning and wonder, so people can just stand here and be appreciative.”
“Each of us was born to do something unique on this planet, and to give our gifts. That all comes from heart and soul and spirit. Without those in [our] work, we cannot really feel satisfied or fulfilled or truly rewarded…” Ellen Hayakawa, author of The Inspired Organization — Spirituality and Energy at Work, delineates four pillars to help us find our unique gifts. Values are what are important to you. Your Life Purpose is with you throughout your life, regardless of how it might be expressed. Visions and Missions can change over time, and may involve working with other people on a shared mission.
If the trucks stopped rolling, how long could locally-produced food sustain your community? A farmer friend of Whidbey Islander (WA) Vicki Robin calculated “Two weeks in August [peak harvest time].” Vicki went on a one-year 10-mile diet, building relationships with her neighboring producers of meat, milk, eggs, and produce. This led her to learn about large-scale food systems which have largely replaced the local food economy.
After a terminal diagnosis, Steve Hamm asked a circle of friends to be with him in his dying. With guidance and support from end-of-life caregiver Kippi Waters, Judy Alexander and other friends were deeply changed as a result.
“If we’re going to really be present in this predicament, we’re going to have to befriend all of our emotions. So we teach some tools for how to do that. Being present with your body. How does the body fit in with all of this? Then, we teach some tools for how do we really see each other?” Carolyn Baker and Dean Spillane-Walker continue with specific tools and practices they’re offering as part of “Living Resilience.”
“Every single metric [of abrupt climate change] has been accelerating since I took on writing the book [The Impossible Conversation] in 2014,” says Dean Spillane-Walker. “But … the calling of our times, is: who will be together in the face of these predicaments?” Dean and Carolyn Baker are offering “Living Resilience,” an online body of resources, workshops and a supportive space for sharing inspiration, learning, and community. They support participants to reconnect with their deeper wisdom, with one another, and with the Earth in the context of the unfolding global environmental and economic crises. As Carolyn says, “…so we can build resilience. Not so we can build survivalists, and store lots of beans and bullets… so we can be truly resilient physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in every way as we navigate this unprecedented experience that humanity has not had to face before.” Episode 331. [carolynbaker.net, livingresilience.net]
“Nature knows Best,” says Cate Shanahan, M.D. “Just do what people used to do….” For their book Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, she and her partner Luke researched early American cookbooks and worldwide cultures with intact cuisines.
Every year for the past two decades, the neighbors near Sherrett Street in southwest Portland repaint their colorful street intersection. Resident Mighk Simpson gives us a tour on painting day. On the sidewalk corners are spacious cob benches (with roofs), a children’s playhouse woven from tree branches and found materials, a beehive-shaped dispensary for the monthly neighborhood newsletter The Bee, a 24/7 Tea Station, and the first-ever “Little Free Library”, an innovation which has now gone viral around the world.
Plant breeder Carol Deppe is passionate about making seeds available for all growers, rather than being in the control of a handful of corporations. “If we want to control the kind of food available and the kind of agricultural system that we want, we have to do our own breeding,” she explains. “What Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) does is create a pool, a protected commons, of germ plasm which will always be available for breeding.
“I ask the groups that hire me to pay me what feels good and right and fair to them, an amount they can afford, and that they can give joyfully… I basically trust them.