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Boys and Girls Club Garden Project: Summer Reflections

Blake Burrett

By: Marianna Burrett

Transient

Beneath the towering giant mammoth sunflowers, children can be seen (and heard) discovering the perfect, ready to harvest cucumbers or the three varieties of squash that are the result of their skillful gardening practices. Another child is quick to point out that she believes a gopher ate the marigold flower she planted. Hmmm… Do we need to put the trap out again? Across the garden, another child announces that he thinks one of the watermelons may be ready for harvest. The corn tassels are buzzing with busy bees, butterflies are regularly visiting the stunning purple blooms of the butterfly bush, and the occasional hummingbird zooms in to partake of the garden’s treasures. Time seems to slow down and allows for a moment to pinch off a sprig from the herbs, and simply enjoy the fragrance. Mint appears to be a summertime favorite. There is a lot going on at the Boys and Girls Club garden.

Earlier this year this ground lay fallow, except for a few hearty strawberries and struggling grape canes. All that changed in April when garden designs were drawn up and presented to the Boys and Girls Club of Oakhurst (www.bgcoakhurst.com) by a local organization aptly named “Tend the Earth” (www.tendtheearth.net). The intention was to create an edible garden that was designed to inspire and educate children about growing edible gardens using sustainable, organic methods and practices. The Boys and Girls Club Garden Project was born. Coincidently, a previously scheduled volunteer day slated to happen one week later helped to make the construction of the garden design a reality, and ready to be planted. Once the chance of late spring frost was no longer present, Boys and Girls Club members and staff began casting organic, non GMO seeds to attract bees and song birds, planting organically grown summer annuals, tender herbs and fruit trees.

By mid-July, the fruits of the labors began to emerge. First to appear were the hearty summer squash, followed by the cucumbers. Sweet cherry tomatoes, peppers and watermelons joined the summer harvest in August. In spite of the incredible heat for days on end, the Boy and Girls Club garden continued to deliver the abundance in a variety of ways. Not only was food being produced for members and staff to enjoy, something else was happening; a bonding with this beautiful community garden seemed to have formed. Children could not wait to tell of their discoveries, or tattle on the most recent pests (aphids, deer, raccoons, etc.) that intruded on this slice of heaven! How dare they, and what do we do? It was apparent a partnership with and caring for this cultivated piece of earth mattered. Vegetables and flowers harvested by children became treasures to be cradled and loved with names bestowed upon them. I was personally introduced to a cucumber named “Muffin” as well as an overgrown zucchini called “Maxwell” that had a face etched into it. A beautiful connection with nature on the garden was evidencing itself! Well, except for that darn gopher. Hmmm… Now where is that gopher trap?

As we all grew this inspiring community garden together, we shared in the magic that was the result of many hands (big and small) coming together in community to create and amazing space for abundance, beauty and sheer joy, as well as good healthy food! One can see the aliveness of this garden from across the play yard, but there is more going on here than meets the eye! Beyond the obvious benefits of Boys and Girls Club members learning valuable life skills on the garden, the opportunity to experience a deepening relationship with nature presents itself again and again.

Transition Initiatives: Cultivating Local Resilience One Community At A Time

Blake Burrett

#3 from a series of TEND THE EARTH articles on permaculture

By: Marianna Burrett

Transient

The Transition Initiative movement (formerly Transition Towns) serves as a catalyst for engaging local communities to cultivate local resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and economic crisis. This coming together is designed to foster change within and an empowerment of the local community through creative collaboration in such areas as local food production, farming, local economy, energy, transportation, media, education, the arts, and healthcare, to name a few. The overarching mission is to raise awareness and provide an arena that allows for the emergence of relocalization efforts that restore community resilience and provide less dependence on nonlocal resources. When communities are better equipped with the means to live independently within their local limits, the potential for greater freedom arises, thus increasing quality of life, a sense of place and deeper connectedness.


The seeds of the Transition Town movement were sown in the fall of 2004 in Kinsale, Ireland where permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins and some of his students envisioned what a truly sustainable Kinsale might look like. They developed an historical document entitled the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) which was adopted by the local town council. Hopkins reasoned that the ethics and principles of permaculture might be applied to design plans for communities to wean themselves off fossil fuels, learn to enact local resilience and become more self-reliant as a community. He envisioned the possibility that the ethics and principles of permaculture could empower entire communities to design their own EDAPs and thereby take steps to become more resilient. He put forth the guiding question: “How can we design descent pathways which make people feel alive, positive and included in this process of societal transformation?” The seeds of the Transition Towns movement that Hopkins and his students planted have blossomed since its inception, as today the Transition Movement is being replicated in over 34 countries with more than 428 official initiatives established worldwide (www.transitionus.org). This does not include additional “mullers” who are experimenting with the process.

The Transition movement recognizes the following as a set of principles and practices as they strive to reduce carbon emissions and foster community resilience:

Peak Oil, Climate Change and the Economic Crisis require urgent action.

Adaptation to a world with less oil is inevitable.

It is better to plan and be prepared, than be taken by surprise.

Industrial society has lost the resilience to be able to cope with shocks to its systems.

We have to act together and we have to act now.

We must negotiate our way down from the “peak” using all our skill, ingenuity and intelligence.

Using our creativity and cooperation to unleash the collective genius within our local communities will lead to a more abundant, connected and healthier future for all.
(www.transitionsus.org)

The question emerges: How resilient is my local community? Measures of viability might include indicators such as the percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius, the number of businesses owned by local people, the proportion of the community that is employed locally, the percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius, the percentage of water consumed and energy produced within the town, the number of people able to grow 10 different varieties of fruits/vegetables with a given degree of competency, and so forth.

Historically, our elected leaders have been expected to source solutions to the problems we face. Now however, the issues we face have become so complex and interwoven (e.g., climate change, uncertainty regarding future oil supplies and economies) that new approaches are required as no one can legitimately claim expertise along these lines. It is up to us within our local communities to start working now to mitigate the complex effects of peak oil, climate change, and the economic crisis, before it is too late. The days of looking elsewhere or to someone else to “fix it” are quickly fading, because we can’t solve these issues inside the same box that helped to create them in the first place. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Together we are making a difference.

The Transition Initiative movement encourages all of us to explore the transition from an oil based economy to one of localized community systems that foster greater resiliency. This is done by creatively using our heads (facts), our hands (doing), and our hearts (feelings) as we proactively plan new options and responses to the complex and intertwined issues rather than respond with knee-jerk reactions as the systems continue to degrade. Transition Initiatives do not claim to have all the answers to the intricate problems of our times, but rely on unlocking the creative genius, skills and ingenuity within our communities, while building on the wisdom of the past. Profoundly practical and powerful, the Transition Initiative movements asks each of us to step-up and into our own power and take full responsibility for our piece of the puzzle in the mosaic called community. All of us matter and have a vital part to contribute to the circle. When this is blended with joyous exploration and an enlivened sense of community well-being, the benefits of the Transition Initiative Movements are unleashed!

REVCOM Tour

Blake Burrett

A whirlwind west coast tour aptly called REV COM (short for re-creating revolutionary communities) took place this summer.  The event was spearheaded by Cindy Sheehan and the veterans who accompanied her. They committed to spend the year networking, planting seeds of peace, and cultivating those already working on a holistic approach to a new paradigm of thoughtful, meaningful, actual change.  A simple, fundamental question was asked: What are you doing in your own communities at a grassroots level to make this world a better place and to make your communities more resilient? The posing of this question seeks to unite both individuals and entities that are forming community at a local level by meeting basic needs, addressing pressing issues surrounding energy use and environmental issues and generating peace.

With that as their focus, Cindy Sheehan and the Veterans for Justice packed up the 35 foot REV COM bus called Squadron 13 and headed out across the landscape in search of answers.  That is when the mountain communities of Mariposa, North Fork, and Oakhurst responded together with a resounding: Check out what we are doing to foster more resilient communities!   And indeed, the REV COM bus swung through this beautiful mountain community to hear our stories.

The stories told of the wisdom of permaculture, transition towns, growing local organic gardens, seed saving and supporting our local organic farmers to increase food security and sustainability within the food supply.  Some demonstrated alternative forms of energy and modes of transportation that use less gas or none at all, as a way of decreasing our dependency on oil and reducing CO2 emissions.  Others shared how local currency, bartering and banked hours are helping to stimulate the local economy and keeping revenues closer to home.  Still others stressed the importance of being in community with one another, gathering in meditation circles and women’s circles, painting new pictures together. We were inspired to step up, show up and be visible for peace, network with and learn from one another, and share our piece of the puzzle. Face to face, heart to heart dialog was abundant during the potluck that provided a delicious feast for those who attended.  And to top it off, Jimmy Collier (musician for Dr. Martin Luther King) who was accompanied by Joe Nelson,  played rousing songs throughout the day, reminding us of the importance and joy of music when it comes to re-creating revolutionary communities!

Each story that was shared brought a vital piece of the puzzle of a holistic approach seeking to mitigate a converging global crises (economic, energy and environmental) by engaging in home-grown, citizen-led education and actions designed to increase self-reliance within local communities. These shared stories reflected real grass roots endeavors that are currently in motion cultivating hands-on approaches that implement thoughtful, meaningful and actual change toward supporting sustainable, resilient communities.This coming together of the various people from Mariposa, North Fork and Oakhurst areas to answer Cindy’s original question allowed us to see a larger collective at work as well as provided us with an opportunity to learn from one another and partner with our combined resources. It allowed us to connect the dots and see a larger picture emerge, as we experience our own stories as being housed within a larger framework of many more stories.  This is community at its source.    We move forward together, one pot-luck at a time, contributing our piece of the puzzle, evolving and re-creating revolutionary community.  

What Would Nature Do?

Blake Burrett

#1 from a series of TEND THE EARTH articles on permaculture.
By: Marianna Burrett

Transient

Permaculture provides us with valuable tools that are forged in connecting more deeply with Nature’s patterns and wisdom. Initially this is engaged through observation of Nature and deepening an understanding of what fosters the sustaining endurance of these natural systems. When we ask the question: “What would Nature do?” we open up a dialog and a relationship that seeks to partner and emulate rather than dominate. Permaculture shapes our ideas and how we approach designing the structure of our lives as well as the structures in our lives.

Permaculture shifts our perspective in such a way that allows us to mirror what is modeled for us in the natural world and mimic these processes and systems within our own habitats, be they our gardens, our homes, our farms, our businesses, and our communities. We end up connecting the seemingly separate parts to envision a greater whole. It is a synergistic effect. Thus, it translates into all aspects of our lives, as we focus on creating mutually beneficial relationships that encourage more harmonious, efficient and energy wise systems.

The term permaculture is derived from two words: permanent and culture, and was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970’s to explain
an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species
useful to man”. This definition has evolved to reflect a larger focus on “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs”. Thus, the aim of permaculture is to design sustainable human communities based on ecologically sound and economically prosperous practices and principles.

At the very heart of permaculture is its three core ethics: 
1) Caring for Earth, 
2) Caring for people, and 
3) Fair share (reinvesting surplus created). 

This is the bedrock upon which permaculture is founded. Earth is recognized as the source of all life, and humanity is not separate from nature. We are a part of it. The way agriculture is practiced today has produced a myriad of problems for earth, such as soil depletion, top soil erosion, heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and GMO seed, and pest vulnerabilities based on monocropping. CAFOs (confined animal farming operations) are highly polluting and are known to originate human diseases. Permaculture’s approach to Caring for Earth is to focus on moderate and local rates of production using methods and principles that restore healthy and mutual relationships between people and the environment. In People Care, emphasis is on supporting and helping each other to develop alternative ways of living that create health and well being. It asks that the basic needs of any society be met, such as food, shelter, education, employment and social relationships. Fair Share is living lightly so that others may live, by placing limits on consumption, and using earth’s resources in wise and equitable ways.

Nature teaches us that change is inevitable. How we adapt to and cope with these changes is entirely up to us as individuals as well as collectively. Permaculture provides us with the toolkit necessary to cultivate a world that is more healthy, equitable and ecologically balanced for all; a world suitable for the 7th generation.

While these are globally shared ethics, not exclusive to permaculture, these philosophical ideas are put into actions that are definable and measurable. We go from thinking to doing, which gives rise to the twelve design principles found in permaculture.

Next time: We will focus on permaculture in action by putting ethics into practice based on the 12 design principles.

Sustainability in Action: Principles of Permaculture

Blake Burrett

Transient

#2 from a series of TEND THE EARTH articles on permaculture.
By: Marianna Burrett

In my previous article, the ethics of permaculture were introduced. The principles of permaculture put these ethics into action and provide us with guidelines that are ideal for designing sustainable systems. So what exactly do we mean by sustainable? The word sustainability seems to have lost its original meaning in a cultural morass of hype and consumerism.  What does this word really stand for?  Sustainability implies a system of balance in which inputs are squared with outputs, thereby providing the capacity to endure and remain viable over time. It also implies stewardship which focuses on partnering with and learning from Nature’s patterns and designs. Sustainability reflects a long view that seeks to provide for future generations.  

The 12 Principles of Permaculture to keep in mind and practice are:
1) Observe and Interact
Permaculture design requires the key element of still observation, paying attention with deep focus on Nature as our guide. The very act of thoughtful attention detecting Nature’s patterns slows down our fast paced world, thus allowing us to notice subtle and sometimes not so subtle influences and changes happening in Nature. We take note of the lay of the land and the patterns of sunlight, wind and water flow over the span of the seasons.  This allows for better care of the earth, planning and design for our environments. 
2) Catch and Store Energy
Through observation of Nature, we can seize opportunities to capture on site energy resources.  This means being aware and taking advantage of sunlight, water flows, micro climes, and cycles as an opportunity to increase yields and become more self reliant.  By becoming more resilient and utilizing energy efficiently, we become less reliant on having to outsource externally for our energy needs.  
3) Obtain a Yield
As we strive towards self-reliance, it is imperative to ensure the viability of the systems we have put in place for the short term as well as the long run. Remember the adage: “One cannot work on an empty stomach”.   Finding flexibility and creativity in generating new ways to obtain yields ensures the viability of the systems designed.
4) Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback 
What appears to be a mistake is actually a useful tool for learning and adaptation.  Accepting feedback is the ability to effectively evaluate what is working and what is not working, connect the dots and act accordingly and responsibly.  Planet earth (as the Gaia hypothesis) is seen as the archetypical, self-regulating whole system; a living organism that provides an excellent example of this principle. Nature responds, corrects and adapts to ensure viability over time without regard to preference. 
5) Use and Value Renewable Resources and Service
Permaculture favors resources that can be renewed over non-renewable resources and resource depletion.  Renewables generally refer to living systems and their products that assist with yield, reproduce and build up over time.  The goal is to conserve our demand for nonrenewables (eg. oil, coal) while simultaneously making the best use of local, renewable resources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass) available.   
6)  Produce no Waste 
“Waste not, want not” is a proverb that speaks to frugality as well as care and maintenance of material goods.  In times of abundant consumerism, an inclination to be wasteful can become prevalent. However this waste becomes pollution when there is no use for this output. With Nature as our guide, nothing is wasted. 
7)  Design from Patterns to Details
The emphasis here is on “big picture” thinking.  Attention to details follows a more holistic understanding of the entire eco-system.  Workable complex systems emerge from simple ones that work, so discovering these macro patterns precedes deciphering the details.  
8)  Integrate Rather than Segregate 
Emphasis is placed on relationships that weave elements together forming integrated systems.  The connections formed amongst elements are as beneficial as the individualized element itself. This is as true for people as it is for our gardens, our businesses and our communities.  The emphasis is on mutually supportive relationships over competitive and predatory ones.
9)  Use Slow and Small Solutions
This principle speaks to small scale, local systems of operation. Many small and diversified local gardens are seen as more resilient and sustainable than large agribusiness practices reliant on fossil fuels for application and transport of long distances. When we engage in self reliant practices and shop local we are applying this principle. 
10) Use and Value Diversity
The familiar proverb: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” insures viability over time, as we hedge our bets against the trials and tribulations that life presents. Healthy ecosystems are created when biodiversity is present. 
11)  Use Edges and Value the Marginal 
Edge used here refers to the intersection or blending of two different environments. An edge in Nature for example is where river and ocean meet and create estuaries.  This inter-relationship between the elements creates edges that increase opportunity for unique life to emerge, thus fostering more diversity. 
12)  Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Comprehending change is much more than understanding linear statistical projections and trend lines.  The dynamic balance of Nature teaches us that the seeds of change are inherent within the overall design. As observers of Nature, we do well to take our cues from Nature and adapt to fluctuations and changes as they become apparent.  

These principles of permaculture, based on the works of Bill Mollison, David Holmgren and others, indicate the degree to which true sustainability is achieved when applied and practiced.  Permaculture’s ethics and principles encourage us to follow the wisdom of the natural world. If we observe Nature closely we witness extreme efficiency at balancing the inputs and outputs, and keeping equilibrium within systems. As we seek to rebalance our own lives and livelihoods, we would be wise to experience Nature as our guide.