Grass Roots

I’m a word nerd. I was playing scrabble with friends long before smart phones made it a popular distraction from work and I watch the spelling bee if I find myself near a television during “bee season.” I think about how words used often start to take on their own meaning, diverging from their roots and becoming a concept in and of themselves. Noam Chomsky most astutely speaks to this and George Lakoff’s book “Don’t think of an Elephant” outlines the importance of the life of words in the political arena. Words are amazing.

Think of the term “consolation prize.” We know what that is. It’s the prize you get when you don’t win. But it’s aptly named for its role in your not winning: to console any feelings you may have about being a loser. When taken at face value, it’s not much of a prize at all but it is a well-intentioned and gentle concept.

I have been weeding the garden for weeks. I try to stay cheerful about weeding, knowing that I’m an organic farmer and that the weeds are testimony to my commitment to that practice. Still, the rhizome grasses make me want to fall to the ground and pound my fists with the strong fits of a childhood tantrum. Rhizome grasses spread with these underground networks of creeping roots. Their roots shoot out underneath the dirt with horizontal stems and make new plants. So one bunch of grass may be connected to another bunch over a foot away but you won’t know it until you try and yank it up. It’s agonizing to hear that pert snap indicating that the weed has won.

Of course, potatoes are rhizomal as well. A potato is a part of the root structure of the plant. A potato, as Wikipedia puts it, is “a stem tuber, a thickened part of a rhizome or stolon that has been enlarged for use as a storage organ.” So really, my position about rhizomes depends on my relationship with the plant. Potato roots are good. Grass roots are a different concept entirely.

Last week at the Green Life Ecofest in Grass Valley, I met Heather and Jessica. Heather and Jessica are both local to Sacramento, both mothers of three and both struggling with the seemingly complete lack of awareness in their home town about localism, earth-conscious living and transitioning from an oil-dependent society to a life more in balance with the earth. I had lived in Sacramento until a month ago. I knew exactly how they were feeling.

They asked me if Sacramento has anything organized that supports efforts towards transitioning to a post-petroleum society. Organized? In short, no. Sacramento has incredible things going on that work towards this effort but they don’t have anything that brings all of those efforts together in a concise way such as being a registered “transition town.” I suggested that Heather and Jessica go for it. When I hear back about what they’ve started, I’ll post an update. If you know of an organizing force, please post a comment.

Meeting Heather and Jessica got me thinking about grass roots organizing. We know what that is. It’s something that starts as a small group of people holding hand-written signs on a corner at a busy intersection, usually against one of the current wars. It may evolve into something like the ACLU or the NAACP or the National Organization for Women or the Obama Presidency. We learn something when we think about the word and its origins: grass roots.

Grass roots organizing is about planting oneself firmly into the soil of something you believe in and letting yourself grow. Once rooted, you can start to reach out to nearby spaces and connect with others who are firmly rooted. Eventually, a strong network is connected and all but impossible to eradicate. As each of us goes forward trying to make the world a better place, we can reach out to others to connect and make a strong web. If you haven’t already, find someone who shares your interests and beliefs and start a friendship, plant some roots and watch them grow.

Eco Fest 2011: A new approach to “Green”

Too often the term “green” is just another buzz word used to cloak a new business model that tries to consider the environment but is actually just pursuing a different form of consumption, expansion and infinite growth. These types of events, often hosted by budding companies, have historically provided patrons with new modes of consumption rather than focusing on reduction and localizing as a way to realign with Mother Nature. But if you walk around in the same old shit, you’re likely to step in it.

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending Northern California’s Eco Life Green Fest in Nevada County. Unlike other similar festivals, which pay lip service to the trendy but often hollow concept of “green” living, this new, revolutionary approach to the concept boasted a mission “to educate Northern Californians on living a more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle” and aimed for a “zero-waste event…powered by Solar, Wind and Biofuels.” But the event went further than that.

For Eco Fest 2011, the clear degree of being a progressive voice for the earth was measured in the event’s featured speakers: Dimitry Orlov and Michael Ruppert. Orlov and Ruppert have been speaking to peak oil and industrial collapse since back when it was a radical concept with a number of followers thought to be fringe members of an obscure cult. Now that peak oil and industrial collapse have found their way into the mainstream media and public vernacular, Ruppert and Orlov have become, as Ruppert noted in the speech he gave at Eco Fest, “elders” in a modern movement.

Things like peak oil, industrial collapse and climate change are as much “just a theory” as gravity is “just a theory” and attempting to “green” the earth by further encouraging the consumption of resources and fossil fuels is like waging war to promote peace. The Eco Fest planners, Ruppert and Orlov conveyed this very message as a part of a new agenda for the earth, rather than push another infinite growth outline or, as James Howard Kunstler puts it, “extend and pretend” mentality. Though Orlov and Ruppert spoke on different subjects, for me, the point of each message was the same: decline to participate in the current paradigm.

This isn’t the same, age-old hippie term coined by Timothy Leary: “tune in, turn on and drop out.” It does encourage the same detachment from convention that the counter culture movement of the 1960s tried to embrace, but it has nothing to do with psychedelics and it doesn’t end with the people in the movement ultimately settling down in a suburban neighborhood after college. No. The battle cry of those in the peak-oil movement is one that demands relocalization and sees the forces of oppression (big banks, big oil, big money) coming unraveled and taking the world down with them.

The earth will realign itself after being raped and pillaged for the last 150 years. Michael Ruppert and others of the peak oil movement have pointed out that there is no such thing as infinite growth on a finite planet. Ruppert noted, “Population and ecological balance will be restored whether humans participate or not.” The earth cannot sustain the current population and its needs and wants. She will adjust accordingly. This adjustment will result in the unsustainable, fossil fuel-based, infinite-growth economy collapsing and taking uncountable numbers of people with it. To survive the inevitable attrition, the proverbial “bubble burst,” and create some semblance of personal stability, those in the peak oil movement, the real green movement, are encouraging people to drop out of the current paradigm.

What does that mean? How does someone drop out of the current paradigm? What does that look like?

-At the very least, buy local. Buy food and goods that are grown or made with small-scale, local operations. Find your local farmers and get to know them or support organizations that support local farmers.

-Fail to participate in big business. Big business will fail anyhow but why line the pockets of a few bad men on their way out? We know what big box stores do to small communities. Their business model is unsustainable and they will cease to be. Investing locally may allow for some commerce locally in the future.

-Stop using money and start giving or trading where ever possible. Orlov noted that, “Money is a monopoly where ever it exists.” If we stop using money, we free ourselves from that monopoly and allow for local economies to thrive.

-Be indebted to no one. When we participate in credit and compound interest, we are accelerating our demise. Orlov pointed out that, “[In a market economy] you don’t have to personally have a relationship with whoever benefits.” Put another way, in the current monetary paradigm, when we put ourselves in debt, we have consented to a master-slave relationship without ever knowing who our master is. Even if you can’t free yourself financially from your debt, free yourself mentally. Your master will not feed you and doesn’t care if you starve. If you are making a choice between paying your minimum credit card payments and feeding yourself, stop making minimum credit card payments and feed yourself.

As more news about Japan’s failing economy reaches the air waves, as more stories about failing power in China appear in the headlines, as further attention is given to the series of disasters in the Midwest and all over the world due to climate change, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the earth’s capacity for peace and production has peaked and we are now heading down the other side of that hill at a speed faster than anyone might have imagined. We can either put our hands up, start screaming and ride with the rest of the planet, or we can get out and walk down this hill. Every time we decline to participate in the current paradigm and adopt an attitude and practice that employs a slower, more local lifestyle, we are taking steps toward personal maintenance and stability. Realignment and localization is the new green. I applaud those wearing it and can’t wait for next year’s Eco Fest and what that will look like.

“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” This Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote from “The Little Prince” runs through my mind over and over on the farm. For the past three days I have been weeding around a set of small bushes known as the Grevillea. They have been hidden by an abundance of misplaced grasses, thistles and rogue tall grains. I spent six hours in the rain yesterday trying to liberate these poor bushes from their detriment and allow them room and sunlight.

Grevilleas are not native to California, or to the Americas, for that matter. This is actually something I have given a lot of thought to. Each time I bend down to uproot what is, more times than not, a native entity, I cringe inside just slightly. For all of my touting of localism and my firm commitment to sustainability, I have had some trepidation about non-native vegetation.

The permaculture model of gardening, a new-age adaptation, more of a rejection really, of modern agriculture, incorporating regular growing forests into modern practices and integrating native sustainability with human and animal nutrition. It is, perhaps, the most revolutionary of soil sciences since man dissolved the hunter-gatherer method and intentionally seeded a field for the first time. Permaculture takes sustainability and organics to newer, more insightful and gentle dimensions, some would say, even more so than biodymanics. This is saying a lot since biodymanics is amazingly whole-systems, and is, in and of itself, is a fairly new practice. But like all technologies and innovations, development and evolution is running faster than ever before. Thankfully, there is much neo-agricultural production that focuses on earth-healthy foundation and native preservation. It is a welcome and revolutionary response to the terrible agro-business that has completely derailed the earth’s natural nutrition and defenses. The farm I live on is a developing, living life-force, founded on modern agricultural but thriving with a biodynamic and permaculture model. Still, there are some legacies to contend with.

I am, as most of us are, a non-native resident of the Americas. I am not Cherokee or Oneida, Blackfoot or Dakota. Still, I am healthy and participating. This is sadly more than I can say for the honey bees. Honeybees are also an American non-native, a product of the Jamestown colony. With my deepest gratitude, much ink has been spilled on the plight of the honey bee and, as such, I will defer to proceeding scientists and passionate hobbyists on the subject and let my readership Google the topic.

Our farm has seven hives. The presence and tending of honeybees was adopted, not as a novel attempt at honey, but as a sad necessity. For many self-sufficient farmers, keeping bees became a necessary practice but a few years ago. Plants that used to come to full maturation on their own, with appropriate watering and fertilization, were no longer able to thrive as the honeybee population faced decimation from what is known as colony collapse disorder. Farmers went from soil and pest navigators to pollination nurturers.

The Grevilleas on this farm serve the bees. The bees love them because they provide the nectar that the bees are genetically used to and hope for. When I enable the Grevilleas, I enable the bees at a life and environment they may not otherwise find a place to thrive in. The bees didn’t ask to be here. And 400+ plus years ago, when they were charged with the task of pollinating and sustaining the many plants that also didn’t ask to be here, we tamed them and the plants we hoped they’d tend to. And we are responsible, forever, for that which we have tamed.

When we think of farming, we have to think of the whole picture, not just what lived here before we got here and not just what we put here historically and intentionally, but all of it together, as a system of life-force.

Maybe our generations aren’t responsible for what came before, but we are responsible for what we have now. We are responsible for the bees. And the apples. And the potatoes. And all the rest of the bounty that we’ve inherited. We’ve been charged with their care. The legacy is ours. It’s what we do with that legacy that matters. As for me, I’m on my way back to weeding the Grevilleas.

Plant Something

If someone were to tell me that I had an office job, in a cubicle, just three days ago, I would need he or she to describe said office job. Fact is, I did have an office job two days ago. I sat at a computer, drank too much black tea and processed paperwork. Day after day. For over six years. I have always wondered what that repetition has done to my brain. I wondered what would happen when I finally broke the cycle.

Effective Tuesday, not hours after I left my forms and state regulations, I started my life on a farm. Life on a farm starts at sunrise and ends at sunset. At least it does on this farm because life on this farm starts with releasing the chickens and ends with tucking them in bed. In between there are dogs to be fed, crops to rotate, weeds to pull, water to cycle, bees to keep, hummingbirds to tend, seedlings to separate, eggs to collect, beans to sprout, floors to wash and fresh vegetables to eat. And that’s the short list.

Sleep on a farm is a luxury. I had no illusions about the hard work ahead of me when I adopted this undertaking but I was clueless even so. Food security is a full time job. For those watching the economy collapse and thinking that planting vegetables is an easy fix will find themselves a bit surprised when life comes to that.

I feel joy for my friends with their community plots and backyard raised beds. Even tending to a moderate food source is a step each person should take, not just for the peaceful recreation of gardening but for the connection to the earth and its bounty. We are better when we acknowledge mother earth and her cycles.

So much ink has been spilled recently about the American eating disorder our society has collectively engaged in with our fast food and grocery outlets, entities that keep us from real nutrition and a most basic understanding about where our food comes from and what we put into our bodies. For those that haven’t read “Omnivore’s Dilemna” by Michael Pollan of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, I highly recommend going out and purchasing both immediately. Both books, in different ways, outline a terrible disconnect between food growth and mouth. I have to personally credit both books for helping to lead me to where I am today.

Despite the hard work, the physical labor and the extra hours, I would not trade the fresh air and sunshine for air conditioning and the tippy tap sounds of keyboards nearby indicating what’s thought to be production. The past six years of my life afforded me the regular societal indicators of success: cable television, ample meals in nice restaurants, memberships to various wine clubs, piles of sparkly, plastic jewelry that was so eye-catching I had to have it and a number of reckless trips to Target that produced countless household goods I never needed and recently donated to a thrift store.

Real production lies in creation. And the joys of planting seeds to watch them become a living, breathing being, something that will one day provide sustenance and nourishment, is among the most beautiful forms of creation I’ve ever experienced. It is, for me, in the same place of soul where we create music, poetry or art. For those looking forward, wondering if they might be laid off soon, wondering what job to go back to after displacement or just miserable after years behind a cubicle wall, I say to you this: decide whether those indicators of success actually make you feel richer and find a way plant something.

Lawlessness

Recently, many people have been prophesying about the fast-approaching end of the world. Billboards along major freeways warn of Christ’s second coming and have set the date for May 21st. People who follow the economy are expecting a bleak immediate future once some of the real impacts of the Japanese disaster become clear. With sky-rocketing gas and food prices, most American families have run into the wall known as “hard times.” But even for off-grid, independently-wealthy atheists, there is a storm on the horizon.

In a report by KCRA, a local Sacramento News station, Sacramento Police have openly criticized Sacramento’s budget plan for the next fiscal year. The Sacramento Bee also published an opinion piece by the California Peace Officer’s Association outlining what they see as a very serious budget short fall when it comes to public safety. Tara Golden, the cooridator for the Lavender Angels, a Sacramnto public safety group funded by the Midtown Business Association and composed of volunteers concerned about public safety, recently warned of public lawlessness in her personal blog. I am reposting the blog here with Tara Golden’s permission:

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A Warning of a Storm Approaching

I do not enjoy what I am writing right now. In fact, I have been putting this duty off for far too long. But it has become essential, due to recent events, that I finally sit down and pen this missive to those out there in the world that I care for.

I don’t claim to be anything other then what I am – a simple human being with some unique perspectives and experiences, but underneath it all… just me – which isn’t anything particularly worthy of any acclaim. I do not have advanced degrees in this subject. I have won no awards. I have not even spent any significant time working professionally in law enforcement. What I am, simply, is a concerned citizen who has been granted a small window into the world of “The Law.” But that small window has granted me a view that I think I need to share… because out that window I see a storm brewing that threatens to be the storm of the century.

Let me outline for you what I have seen and heard from professionals in the business, which are concerned enough to speak openly and candidly… which is, in itself somewhat disconcerting knowing their usual cautious natures and general reticence to reveal any situation that is not in the past and safely closed and sealed. What they have revealed to me, they have done freely and without any requests to not reveal what I have learned. I think they simply see that this information is available to anyone who is reading the signs in the sky, in the air, in the winds blowing.

What we are talking about is a complete break-down of something we have come to accept as a central pillar of our society. Ten years ago, if I had been asked what would be the first pillar of our society to fall I would have put money on the financial system, or maybe, as I toyed around with in a story I started to write, the electrical grid: our power based on limited, non-renewable resources. But both guesses would be wrong… although both are starting to crack under the strain of the weight of our society. What is shattering instead, is our legal system. And I am not one prone to fear or outbreaks of paranoid delusions – outside of the safe confines of literature; however, this has me frightened to the point where I am trying to remember a good night’s sleep free from nightmares. But, “forewarned is forearmed,” is the cliché pertinent to this situation. And I have been more and more assured of the fact that I must pass on the information that I have received so that those I care about can prepare for the coming storm. It is their safety and well-being that I am most concerned about and that haunts my sleep. So this is what I have to relate, take it as you will and do with it what you will. And, as a friend of mine, Captain of the SacPD Central Command says, “Good Luck.”

The first aspect of our law that is breaking down is our police force. They have been devastated due to cuts in their budgets. It seems that every day I read in the paper that more officers in cities around California have been laid off due to budgetary demands. Just today San Jose gave pink notices to over a hundred of their officers, and Stockton has had their forces decimated to the point that they are asking private individuals to help citizens form community patrols to keep some sort of order. And the other cities and municipalities of California are not far behind. Sacramento PD is just a short time away from a near-complete shut-down as well… and I cannot imagine life without those I have come to know and admire only a phone-call away to guard and protect us as Sacramento citizens.

The second aspect of our law that is breaking down is the court system. Our courts too have lost funding, and are over-booked with cases which they simply have no resources to deal with. And, our courts are also aware that there is no jail space for inmates. Therefore, their hands are tied and they generally try to plea bargain even the most heinous criminal’s sentences down. The honorable Judge Brown told us at the F.B.I. citizen’s academy that he sees a wave of criminals being turned loose back into the populace of our state simply because long jail terms are not possible in our current situation.

What is really troubling is the third aspect of our law that is falling apart: our jails. Our jails are full to capacity. And they too have faced cut-backs. There is also another problem looming. Our federal jails are now offering to pay for beds in the state and local jails. State and local criminals are not funded in this manner, therefore, in order to stay in the black, our jails – which have been privatized in many cases, are going to turn out state and local criminals in order to make space for beds paid for with this federal largesse. And, to make matters worse, the parole officers have also been cut, which means that many of the even violent criminals released will be unmonitored and be free for all intents and purposes other than a piece of paper stating them as parolees. In other words, a huge wave of violent inmates soon will be released back into our communities.

Combine the crumbling of these three aspects of our legal system and you have the perfect storm brewing which is soon to hit our communities. It is hard for me to even comprehend lawlessness. The closest I can come are the post-apocalyptical movies and some news footage of third-world countries which I have seen and been amazed by. To think of that coming to our communities, here in America, where my friends and family live and work… is difficult for me to even wrap my head around, and it is what keeps me up at night.

How do we even prepare for this coming storm? How do you prepare for something that is not even in our social paradigm? I do know that there are some who are beginning to consider private police-like agencies to try to take over… but the dangers of this are obvious. Mercenaries who are beholden only to those who are paying them are simply not an option.

The only other option that I can, with my limited imagination and intelligence, imagine is to train average citizens to form community watches and to police their own streets. But this too is fraught with inherent problems and conflicts of interests. But we simply have no other options. We must learn to stand up for ourselves and fill in the spots of the social net that is the basis of our civilization to protect our way of life, the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, and the entire democratic experiment that is America.

And maybe we need to learn to think small again. Rather then thinking about protecting the entire country that we live in, which boggles the mind, maybe instead we learn to think from small to large. Start by thinking how to protect our houses and immediate families. Think of how you are going to protect that in your heart and immediate lives. How is your house for security? Do you have ways to defend it? Do you have a way to contact each other at all times? How are your stock-piles of basic emergency supplies? Have you gone over emergency plans as a group?

Then start thinking about your immediate neighborhood. Do you know everyone on it? Do you have a neighborhood watch? Do you have a contact tree in case of emergency? Maybe it is time to talk to your neighbors and fill in whatever gaps exist in your neighborhood safety net.

Then, when all that is secure… how about your friends and family outside of your immediate vicinity.

It is this sort of outward moving circles of awareness that are necessary now. There is no more megalithic structure to provide you and yours with safety. It is time for us to do this for ourselves… and for those we care about.

I don’t know how this all going to turn out… what the final result of this set of circumstances will be. No one does, no matter how they may insist otherwise. We simply have never been here before. This is not a part of our cognitive map, and we will all have to learn on the fly. And, it isn’t going to be easy. But it is what faces us, and burying our heads under the covers and refusing to look at the coming storm will only leave us unprepared and unable to face the challenges facing us. It may just be a temporary situation, or it may be that it is the beginning of a new era that is outside of our abilities to even guess what the future holds.

But I have to maintain hope. I have to believe that we are in a time-period of change in our society and in our world. I have to believe that even though these changes may be frightening and brutal… the end results will be that we are a better, more aware community with a heightened social consciousness. I have to believe that history shows that positive change is always a brutal process and often bloody. Things do not end, they are reborn… and we are facing the end of some aspects of our culture and our historical period. What lies in the future? It is impossible to tell, but I believe it will be better… that we always, forever progress towards a better reality.

Either way, now is the time for conversation and planning and becoming forewarned and forearmed and I sincerely wish good luck to all, good luck to California and good luck to America.
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To get involved with the Lavender Angels, you may contact Tara Golden at: lavender.angels@saccenter.org

To get involved with your local Sacramento Neighborhood Association: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/ns/nadb/alpha.cfm