Monday, May 21, 2018

Permaculture: Revolution or Lfestylsm?

Covering two of my three blog themes—permaculture and resistance—Boris Forkel writes a piece I wanted to republish here:

Capitalism reaches fulfillment when it sells communism as a commodity. Communism as a commodity spells the end of revolution.

—Byung-Chul Han

I’m a permaculturalist. And I became a permie in the first place because I wanted to break free from this culture.

To me, permaculture was and still is highly political. “Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening” is one of my favorite Bill Mollison quotes.

After all, what freedom can we have without subsistence, without having control over our most basic resources, our own food? “There is no sovereignty without food sovereignty,” said Native American activist John Mohawk.

I’ve been so ardent and naive. I thought that the permaculture-approach is so ingenious that it would become a mass-movement, indeed a quiet and peaceful revolution. It would free us from being dependent on the digital food they sell us in grocery stores nowadays, and from the wage economy at the same time, because we would build small, local food cooperatives that would all be sharing the surplus.

Unfortunately, time and experience shows that it’s not that easy.

One of my permaculture teachers, who taught me the concept of the food forest, often said: “I don’t understand what’s the problem for all these critical people. Nowadays, we have all the freedoms we want.” He also articulated a very strange notion about the future: “Once we have reached the number of 10 billion, human population growth will come to a halt. Thanks to Internet technology, humans will then all be connected and serve as the consciousness of planet earth.” Attendants hung on his lips when he said that, and while everybody else was amazed by this perspective of a golden future, I sat quietly, stunned.

I knew in my heart that he was wrong, but couldn’t articulate a sufficient answer to his statements back then.

It made me angry. How can one say that “we have all the freedoms we want,” while the air we need to breathe is being polluted, the greatest mass extinction in planetary history is happening, the climate is being destroyed, the oceans are vacuumed and filled with toxic garbage? In short: when the most basic functions of our planet to support life are being destroyed?

What about the freedom of having breathable air? What about the freedom of having a livable planet? What about the freedom of having a future?

I’ve given a lot of thought to his statements ever since, because they seem so appealing to many people. The Earth never supported more than 2 billion humans until Fritz Haber and Robert Bosch indeed broke the planetary boundaries with the invention of the Haber-Bosch process. Nowadays, we are hopelessly overpopulated. So the number of 10 billion is purely random and nothing but magical thinking. The notion of Internet technology and humans as the consciousness of the planet is nothing more than a new fashion of the good old ideology of humans as the crown of creation. What about nature in this fantasy? With 10 billion (industrial) humans, there will hardly be anything left.

Everybody with a sane mind and a little understanding—especially a permie—should know that the trees, the fungi, the soil, the air, the water, the animals and so on, in short what we call nature, indeed is the consciousness of planet earth. Apparently, the manifest destiny of the technocrats is to eradicate what they perceive as primitive, raw, red in tooth and claw, wild and uncontrollable, and to replace nature with a “better” system of human technology.

Deconstructing that was the easy part. The hard part is his statement about freedom. With all this in mind, the primary question is: what does freedom mean for someone like him?

A friend of mine, who was lucky enough to hear Noam Chomsky speak live, told me that in the discussion after somebody asked the usual question: “What can we do about it?” Chomsky responded that he thinks this is a strange question. People from so-called developing countries would never ask such a question, only westerners, he stated. Apparently, third-world-people still have a clearer sense for suppression and cultures of resistance. “We should rather ask what we can’t do,” Chomsky said.

When I attended a talk by Rainer Mausfeld, of course someone asked the very same question. Mausfeld stated that this question shows how well the soft power techniques he’d been describing work. We can’t even imagine any form of resistance.

For more than a century, the political left’s analysis has been very clear: The suppression and exploitation of the poor (working class) by the rich (owning class), that is the very basis of capitalism, can only be solved by organized class struggle to come from the working class. This concept isn’t hard to understand. It is classic Marxism. But somehow, the ruling class has managed to completely eradicate it from the proletarian minds.

I’ve come across a lot more of what I like to call liberal lifestyle-activists. I understood that most permies chose permaculture not because they want a revolution (like I did), but because they want a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves. They believe that they are free, because they perceive their individualism and their freedom of choice as the greatest freedom, the greatest achievement of modernity. Being part of any group, class or movement is perceived as regressive. The notion of class struggle is so yesterday.

At the same time, they’re usually educated people, and they know that a lot of things are going badly wrong. But as liberals who are taking power out of the equation, and individualists lacking any concept of social group our class, they must take it all on themselves. “It is all of us who are causing the destruction,” they’d say.

As a result, the only thinkable form of political action are personal consumer choices. Buy organic soap and feel better.

A great example of this are vegans. No doubt that factory farming is horrible and has to stop. But as a lifestyle-activist, all you can do about it is to stop consuming meat. In your worldview, the problem can only be solved by everybody stopping eating meat.

For liberal lifestyle-activists, “having all the freedoms we want” can only mean the freedom to consume (or not consume) whatever we want, whenever we want, in any quality and quantity we want. This is the kind of “freedom” with which capitalism has hijacked us. If we can afford it, of course. But within neoliberal capitalist ideology, there is no such thing as a suppressed class. The poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough, or they are simply to stupid to sell themselves well enough.

“Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.”

Byung-Chul Han

For radicals, the question remains: Without the possibility of mass movements, how do we stop the destruction of the planet that is our only home?

For a new generation of serious activists who are tired of all that shit and ready to take action, DGR has the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Blog to know: Tropical Self Sufficiency

A Puna, Hawai'i resident named Spencer has been experimenting for a couple of years with perennials in the tropics, and he's written up some excellent experience based species profiles. You'll find many of the species explored by Toensmeier's Perennial Vegetables, one of Spencer's inspirations. Some species are purely tropical, but many are familiar friends (or could become such!) of temperate permaculturists as well.

The site is loaded with information on propagation, growth, harvest, and use of perennials, in a combination of collated research and original discoveries. Multiple photos accompany each entry, usually including shots of the plants living in polycultures, with the surrounding species conveniently named as well. As the site title indicates, there's an emphasis on staple crops.

All in all, my kind of info-dense resource! Check out Spencer's site at Tropical Self Sufficiency.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Puna Hawai'i avocado bearing seasons

Wade Bauer of Malama Aina Permaculture compiled this useful list of 18 popular avocado varieties, based on info from David Frenz and Plant it Hawai'i. The bearing times should be accurate for the Puna district of the big island of Hawai'i, but may also be useful in other areas, at least to give an idea of relative order of ripening.

  • Fujikawa - spring
  • Linda - spring
  • Murashige - spring (late spring to early summer)
  • Yamagata - spring - summer (March - July)
  • Hulumanu - summer
  • Pohakulani - summer (June - Aug)
  • Malama - fall (early fall)
  • Tagawa - fall (Aug - Sept)
  • Kahaluu - fall (Aug - Oct, can be alternate)
  • Beardslee - fall - early winter
  • San Miguel - fall - winter
  • Ota - winter (late fall - winter)
  • Sharwil - winter (Nov - Feb)
  • Beshore - winter
  • Sphinx - winter
  • Green Gold - winter - spring
  • Kainaliu aka Shatauer #1 - late winter - spring (Feb - April)
  • Minicado - winter then all year when mature

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville and violence of aggression vs self-defense

As some of my readers know, I was born and raised in Charlottesville, VA. I moved away at age 21 (almost half a lifetime ago, wow...) I've followed the reports from last weekend with shock, correlating sites which are now major flashpoints to my naive childhood memories of these places. But I don't feel any more knowledgeable about current events there than anyone else who can read the news, and I wouldn't normally spend the time to write about current events anyway. But a relative still living in Charlottesville sent a group of us a vile piece by David Horowitz which I couldn't let pass without a reply. So I may as well post the reply here.

My relative commented on the piece:

Right on!
I am sick of the lawlessness condoned in our country.

I replied:

Dear [relative],

I'm really confused. From what I've read, the neo-Nazis and their supporters were posting copiously in advance of the gathering about their plans for violence, showed up armed and defended as if for rioting, and then carried out their violent threats to the point of murder. (And committed dozens of incidents of vandalism, harassment, and physical assaults, which would be shocking were they not overshadowed by the vehicular homicide.) Trump's statements implicitly condone this lawlessness, and the piece you sent is in support of doing so. Why do you say "Right on!"?

The piece also greatly misrepresents the facts:

No one believes the racists came to "defend a historic monument" (Lee's statue is not under threat; it's simply being moved from a place where it has no historical relevance except in its use to enforce institutional racism, to somewhere more appropriate/relevant.) (See also: National Review perspective.)

Trump's politics have been racist from the start. He's deliberately appealed to a white working class base who've been screwed over by the capitalist system (as you taught us, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer -- and this has only gotten more extreme over the decades.) White working class economic interests would be best served through unification with the working class of all backgrounds, but Trump (not the first politician, surely not the last) has successfully used this wedge issue to divert their energies away from economic inequities and against people of color as scapegoats. It's incredibly disingenuous to claim that "the anti-Trump left [is using] race to divide America."

Characterizing BLM and Antifa as "violent groups" is equally disingenuous. (As you know, corporate media is heavily biased towards maintaining the status quo, so independent research is required if you want to understand these groups.) Most crucially, there's a clear legal and moral difference between the violence of aggression and the violence of self-defense. Trump and Horowitz are deliberately conflating the two to obscure how deeply racism is embedded in our society, how we (whites, especially white males) benefit, and the struggle necessary to obtain social justice.

"Who started the fight is really immaterial." <--- Classic line of abusers.

Of course you're in an ideal situation to talk with people who were on the ground, so I highly recommend you do so if you want to understand what happened over the weekend. That would give you a much more accurate picture than the opinion of an author trying to capitalize on events to sell his political agenda, or any other distant observer such as myself.

If you can't take advantage of your opportunities to talk directly with locals who were there, you can also read r/Charlottesville for eyewitness accounts.

Love,
Norris

Friday, June 02, 2017

Incredible Wild Edibles by Samuel Thayer: pre-order now!

Samuel Thayer, my favorite foraging author, is finally coming out with a third book. If it's anything like The Forager's Harvest (read my review) or Nature's Garden, then this is well worth getting. Of the three dozen profiled plants, I recognize at least two dozen as either growing around Portland or already under cultivation in my old garden. I'm sure that after I read this, I'll wish I'd known then what I know now...

Although very few of these plants are likely to grow for me in my new home of Hawai'i, I plan to buy the book anyway. Thayer's entertaining writing is reason enough for a plant geek or rewilder to pick up the book, and I'm sure I'll learn some new things about the old friends I had to leave behind.

I was happy to organize group buys in the past for Thayer's books to get us all wholesale prices. Although I can't do so for this one, you can pre-order the book directly from Samuel Thayer for $18 with free shipping. You can support his superb work while getting yourself a great discount on what's sure to be a great book. He's also offering discounts on his first two books if purchased along with the new one.

Enjoy!


Description of Incredible Wild Edibles From Samuel Thayer's website:

Sam's 3rd book on wild edible plants.  There is no overlap in what is covered in this book or his previous 2 books.  The plants contained in this book include:

  • Black Mustard
  • Bladder Campion
  • Sweet Flag (Calamus)
  • Caraway
  • Chickweed
  • Chufa
  • Creeping Bellflower
  • Fennel
  • Wild Garlic
  • Gooseberry
  • Hickory
  • Hops
  • Japanese Knotweed
  • Kentucky Coffeetree
  • Maple
  • Miner's Lettuce
  • Mulberry
  • Pawpaw
  • Persimmon
  • Poke
  • Prairie Turnip
  • Purple Poppy Mallow
  • Purslane
  • Quickweed
  • Rose
  • Sassafras
  • Shepherd's Purse
  • Sochane
  • Strawberry Spinach
  • Sweetroot (Sweet Cicely, Aniseroot)
  • Violet
  • Watercress
  • Water Parsnip
  • Wild Radishes
  • Wintercress

Incredible Wild Edibles covers 36 of the best edible wild plants in North America: fruits, berries, nuts, shoots, leafy greens, root vegetables, culinary herbs, teas, and syrups that boast exceptional flavor and nutrition. The plants chosen represent every habitat and every region in North America, from the northern forests to the southwest deserts, from the largest cities to the wildest mountains. Rather than cover hundreds of species in brief accounts that leave the reader unsure of how to proceed, Samuel Thayer encourages readers to thoroughly learn one plant at a time. Each of these traditional foods has a rich culinary and cultural history―a wholesome past that is still relevant for our health and happiness today. The text is fully accessible to the novice, but remains botanically accurate and has the in-depth information that seasoned foragers crave.


     Sharing the wisdom of a lifetime of daily foraging, the author answers all of the reader’s questions about each plant: How do I identify it? What might I confuse it with? Where can I find it? What part do I use, and when is it ready to be picked? How do I gather and prepare it? How can I be sure to harvest it responsibly? This discussion is accompanied by more than 350 color photos showing all the key features for identification, including potentially confusing species. Photos also depict the exact parts to use and the proper stage for collection. All of this is delivered in a familiar but authoritative tone, along with humorous anecdotes and insights from extensive real-life experience with each plant covered in the book.


     Incredible Wild Edibles contains an index, bibliography, illustrated glossary, range maps, and foraging calendar. This third volume in Thayer’s Forager’s Harvest series has no overlap of the plants covered in the first two volumes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

"I fear that a world made of gifts cannot coexist with a world made of commodities."

Robin Wall Kimmerer transcends boundaries, and so does her latest book. Simultaneously a botanist and author-poet, scientist and Potowatomi Nation citizen, professor and mother, she brings together unusually diverse perspectives and ways of knowing. The result is a gift to readers: beautiful writing exploring knowledge and ideas often buried in academia or dismissed as "unscientific." As in her first book, Gathering Moss, her enthusiasm for nature and learning comes through strongly, a joy for any nature lover to read. She softens and contextualizes modern hard facts by relating them to indigenous worldviews developed over thousands of years. She reconciles art, appreciation of the natural world, and science (in many ways just now catching up to traditional knowledge.) Rejecting human exceptionalism, she considers all the beings with whom we share the earth while addressing deep questions of ethics and morality.

Braiding Sweetgrass draws on stories from elders and on Kimmerer's own experiences for its 32 chapters. Each could stand alone, ranging across seemingly disparate subjects: relationships between masting nut trees and squirrels, gift economies vs market economies, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, harvesting plants in a regenerative manner, and what it means to be a good citizen. But the chapters are tied together by recurring elements, most notably the titular sweetgrass. Sections entitled Planting, Tending, Picking, Braiding, and Burning Sweetgrass organize the individual chapters, and sweetgrass appears again and again as part of traditional legend, knowledge, and practice. The book is densely multilayered, with specific material practices seamlessly integrated into broader teachings about the physical world, and then into deep philosophy. The real magic comes from Kimmerer skillfully interweaving themes of relationship, gratitude, and responsibility into a story larger than the sum of the parts. Her art mirrors a well-lived life which has transformed individual experiences into holistic wisdom.

The overarching theme, drawn forth through the dozens of stories in hundreds of ways, is reciprocity. A fundamental difference between the culture of civilization and those of indigenous peoples is a mentality of exploitation vs one of gratitude. Derrick Jensen defines sustainability as giving back more than you take, and Kimmerer richly depicts a worldview in which that ethic is held first and foremost, even (or especially) when harvesting the lives of others. Her multiple detailed accounts, backed by science, of human interactions with other species to the benefit of all rebut the belief that humans are intrinsically destructive. We have the potential ― indeed, the responsibility ― to take up a supportive role in the web of life.

Building on this revelation, Braiding Sweetgrass challenges the reader to consider how an individual, or a culture, can become indigenous to place. With the vast majority of the earth under siege by settler cultures with a domination mindset, this is an urgent task. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), collapse will render industrialism and globalization infeasible, reigning in civilization's ecocide. But local cultures unable to develop reciprocal relationships with their landbases are doomed to continue the destruction, even if at a smaller scale.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that everyone has gifts. Birds have the gift of song, stars the gift of shining. But with each gift comes a responsibility to use it in the service of life. Birds have a responsibility to greet the day with music, stars to guide night travelers. What gifts do humans have, and what responsibilities? And more personally: as Carolyn Raffensperger asks, “What are the largest, most pressing problems that you can help to solve using the gifts that are unique to you in all the universe?” With the world at stake, contemplate the question. Find your answer. Then take action.


Review first published at the Deep Green Resistance blog


Braiding Sweetgrass is available as a paperback, ebook, and audio book.

Derrick interviewed Robin Wall Kimmerer for the September 25, 2016 episode of Resistance Radio. Readers who enjoy Braiding Sweetgrass will probably also enjoy Derrick's The Myth of Human Supremacy, and vice versa.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book review: The Bio-Integrated Farm by Shawn Jadrnicek

A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens, and More

In my experience farmers and gardeners aren't philosophers, they're doers. They want to know why ― but most importantly they want to know how.

In this quote, Shawn Jadrnicek summarizes what I like best about his book. When I first got into permaculture in the mid-2000s, most books were heavy on theory, but light on practice. Bill Mollison's epic Permaculture: a Designer's Manual has lots of great ideas and big claims. But good ideas on paper don't always result in good results in the real world, and details of implementation can make or break even the best ideas. For successful replication, a designer needs to know what worked and what didn't, under which circumstances. Which elements need to be included? What patterns matter?

Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier's Edible Forest Gardening provided the needed details, grounded in ecological science, for a field until then mostly dependent on anecdotes. Now Shawn Jadrnicek, with the help of his wife Stephanie, has applied similarly rigorous analysis to the subtitular greenhouses, ponds, compost piles, aquaponics, and chickens, all system elements popularly used by permaculture practicioners. There's plenty of information out there about how to build and manage each of these elements in isolation, and much of the permaculture literature offers good ideas for building functional relationships between them. But this book, based on experience with commercial- and home-scale areas, shares the knowledge and wisdom people need for successful integrations.

For example, Mollison and other permaculture authors suggest that chickens, greenhouses, and plants can coexist in a natural and easy combination. When temperatures get cold, chickens move into the greenhouse, adding heat when the plants need it, and improving plant growth by increasing CO2 availability. Jardnicek opens the section "Connecting Chickens to the Greenhouse" by stating:

Before implementing this project, I'd read a lot about connecting chicken coops to greenhouses ― and in theory it works. But as with all theories, the application itself presented challenges. In a nut-shell, chicken coops connected to the greenhouse are both beneficial and problematic.

After experimentation in his South Carolina location, he discovered drawbacks to the theory: plants don't use the extra CO2 at night, when the chickens spend most of their time in the greenhouse; failing to open the coop early each morning may cause heat stress to the chickens; high heat levels may dissuade the chickens from returning to the greenhouse to roost on summer nights; ammonia from poop can quickly build to levels harmful to plants; and chicken dust doesn't mix well with raw veggie crops. He concludes that northerly climates are better suited to the combination than areas with hot winter (and even hotter summer) days. In fact, in any locale, it may be better to situate a chicken coop next to the greenhouse and move filtered air, rather than try for full integration,

The book excels in its attention to detail for the many uses of water. Jardnicek addresses residential needs, crop irrigation, multi-purpose ponds, moving nutrients across the land, and even using water flushes to separate acorns from leaves, with formulas or at least approximations to guide design in each area. He thoroughly covers moving water into and out of tanks, ponds, basins, and fields, and integration with greenhouses, plant nurseries, fish, aquaculture, and chickens. One of my favorite ideas is a system of self-watering seed trays, floating in ponds on Styrofoam rafts weighted to submerge the bottoms of the trays. The detailed description gives me confidence that I could make it work for myself.

Two factors prevent me from raving about the book as I did for Edible Forest Gardens and Martin Crawford's Agroforestry News. The first needn't hold back most readers: my tropical location makes much of the discussion of heat trapping and storage irrelevant. The second is more universal to anyone concerned with sustainability or self-sufficiency. Jardnicek relies heavily on industrial products: chicken and fish feed; pond liners and covers; pipes, pumps, expansion tanks, and valves; tractors and trucks; shade cloth and greenhouse plastic.

As Lierre Keith puts it in The Vegetarian Myth, "The absolute bottom line is: what methods of food production build topsoil while using only ambient sun and rain? Because nothing else is sustainable".

To be fair, much of what Jardnicek describes is for commercial-scale operations where the goal is almost always "less harm" rather than sustainability, and of course each reader needs to decide for him- or herself how much to design for true sustainability. But I think most of the described systems have unwise and irresponsible levels of industrial dependency, and the ideas need to be read with caution.

That said, I do recommend the book. I'm glad I read it, glad I have it for ongoing reference, and will likely reread it when the time comes to design my own homestead. Many of the principles and concepts could be adapted for my tropical needs and non-industrial ethics. I'm already brainstorming about seed trays floating on bamboo mats, or maybe on pond weeds...