Food forests & revolution disguised as gardening

Over the last few months, we have been working to establish a food forest on our land in the Andes mountains. So far, it’s mostly close to the house, and it will likely expand in time and as we get more experience.

To me, food forests make a lot of sense. If I have a piece of land, I cannot see any reason not to establish a food forest. I would do the same even if I lived in another climate. (It would be different, of course, but it’s still fully possible to establish a nature garden that produces a good amount of food.)

THE HISTORY OF THE LAND

The land was owned by the same family for several generations and was used mainly for grazing (cows and goats) and small-scale food production (tobacco, yucca, etc.). Only the area close to the main pond has a relatively mature and healthy forest. The rest is eroded, has a young forest of pioneer trees, and/or has grass.

Before then, in pre-Columbian times, it was part of the land of the indigenous people in the area, the Guane. I am not exactly sure how they used it, but I assume they may have had a kind of food forest there. They may have cultivated food plants, likely mostly perennials, inside of the existing native forest.

THE TWO MAIN ZONES

The plan is to have a food forest in the area close to the houses, starting next to the houses and expanding out, and also to have a food forest along the main path through the land. This food forest will consist of native trees, bushes, and flowers to support the local ecosystem, and a variety of food-producing trees and plants to feed insects, birds, animals, and us, and to provide income in the future.

The rest of the land will be a kind of nature preserve, and an organization will plant a mix of native trees throughout the land over the next several months and years. (They sell the carbon credits to big international corporations, and our land gets to be reforested.)

OTHER THINGS WE ARE DOING

We are also doing other things to minimize our impact on the land and our life-support systems in general.

We are building using traditional techniques and local materials. These are rammed-earth buildings that stay cooler during the day and can last for centuries with a little maintenance.

We are in the process of setting up rainwater collection systems for watering the plants. We can get 1 liter for each millimeter of rain for each square meter of roof surface, so that adds up quickly.

We will install a solar power system. Since we are close to the equator, there is a lot of solar radiation, and it’s not more expensive than buying and installing a transformer which would be the alternative.

The big house that’s being built now will have a vermicomposting system. Inside the house is a regular flush toilet, the water goes to a worm composting bin where the solids stays and is eaten happily by worms, and the water continues and is deposited underground to nourish parts of the food forest. It’s a simple and low-maintenance system with a lot of benefits.

I will most likely replace the conventional flush toilet in the current small house with a compost toilet 10-15 meters away.

In addition, we are getting to know and create connections with neighbors and like-minded people in the region with similar projects. That’s crucial for several reasons, including sharing of knowledge and some material resources. For instance, we are right now buying high-quality compost from permaculture friends in the area. (After a while, we will have our own.)

WHY A FOOD FOREST?

For me, the question is more: Why not a food forest?

It just makes sense all around. It’s fun and rewarding. It provides habitat and food for insects, birds, and animals. It helps revitalize and feed the soil. It will provide food for us as well as income in the future. It takes a little effort in the beginning, but when it’s established, there is much less effort required and mostly just harvesting the rewards. It’s an example to others and may motivate others in the area to do the same.

PLANTING & HELPING THE SOIL

The area around the first small house has poor and compacted soil, so we are using a lot of mulch – combined with compost and some organic goat manure – to help it. The mulch helps retain moisture, and it also provides nutrients and microbes to the soil.

Since the soil is so compacted, it’s important to dig relatively large and deep holes for the trees and mix the soil with a good amount of compost and a little bit of manure. That helps retain moisture in the soil, it provides better drainage for the rainwater, it makes it easier for the roots to spread out, and it gives nutrients for the plants.

We also plant a lot of different things around these trees: peanuts, peas, flowers, vegetables, and so on. These provide more variety which helps keep pests and diseases at bay, the plants support each other, they help the soil, and the variety and liveliness is fun and enjoyable.

As you can see from the photos, we are just getting started, and the photos were taken well into the dry season so it’s not nearly as lush as it will be now that the rain has returned.

We are trying to plant as much as possible now at the beginning of the rain season, so they can get a good foothold while the rain is here. Some will likely need some watering during the dry season, but we are focusing on plants that will survive a period of drought once they are established and have deeper roots.

RAINWATER COLLECTION AND EROSION CONTROL

We are in an area that gets a lot of rain most of the year and has a dry period over a few months during the northern hemisphere winter.

Because of deforestation, rainwater runs off quickly and brings the soil with it. The erosion is worse along the ridge that goes across the land.

We are doing several things to slow down the water and help it absorb into the ground. The main project is to plant a large variety of native trees, bushes, and flowers. That takes time, so in the meantime, and in especially exposed areas, we are building dams using rocks found on the surface, and we are planting agave, mata ratón, and other plants that help keep the soil in place.

We are also channeling rainwater into a pond, and will – as mentioned above – collect rainwater from the roofs of the houses.

There is a dry river going through the land. With reforestation on our land, and hopefully also on the land higher up the side of the canyon, we may bring water back to this river.

THE LAYERS OF A FOOD FOREST

A food forest has several layers, just like a mature natural forest.

It has everything from tall to medium to small trees, bushes, flowers, and vines. This helps us make full use of the vertical space.

All of this vegetation and water – in the soil and the plants – also helps regulate the temperature. It changes the microclimate significantly, and this allows other species to grow and makes it more comfortable for us.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE & FOOD FORESTS

Many or most of the indigenous people in the Americas created food forests.

They planted food-producing plants in the forests to have better and more regular access to food.

When I am doing the same here, I feel a kind of kinship across times and cultures. We want much of the same. We want to work with nature. We want to support the native forest and our four-legged, winged and crawling relatives and friends. We want to provide for our own needs in a way that also enhances the life around us.

THE MANY BENEFITS OF A FOREST GARDEN

So there are many benefits to a food forest, or a forest garden as it’s also called.

It requires some work in the beginning – in terms of planning, gaining knowledge and experience, and planting and maintenance. As soon as it’s established, it’s largely self-maintaining and we can reap the rewards without much input.

It provides habitat – shelter & food – for a wide range of insects, birds, and animals, especially when native trees, bushes, and flowers are included.

It’s densely planted, and it makes use of horizontal and vertical space. It works in 3D.

The diversity reduces problems with insects and diseases.

It helps nourish and build healthy soil.

It’s a project that will provide enjoyment, food, and possibly income for decades and even centuries into the future.

It will provide income in the future. We can sell food, compost, seeds and seedlings, knowledge and experience, and so on.

It’s profoundly alive, lush, and productive.

It’s fun and deeply rewarding and meaningful, at least for me.

It nourishes the soil and the soul. What can be better than that?

It creates connections with like-minded people working on similar projects. It creates a community.

THE PROBLEMS WITH MONOCULTURES

This is in contrast to the many problems with conventional monocultures.

They are deserts. They don’t provide much of a habitat for insects, birds, or animals.

They rely on chemicals: Pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides are designed to kill insects, so that’s what they do, and it has led to a dramatic general loss of insects even far away from the growing areas. It’s ecocidal and suicidal. Chemical fertilizers require a lot of energy to produce.

They set the stage for pests and diseases. Having a big area of one plant allows pests and diseases to flourish, which then requires pesticides. Monocultures create a big problem and create another big problem by trying to fix it.

They require a lot of work each year. They often start from scratch each year.

They don’t build soil. Often, through disturbing the soil, laying the soil bare, and using a lot of space between each plant, there is a loss of valuable topsoil. (Which eventually goes into and pollutes the oceans.)

They are inefficient. They often use a big space between each plant, and they only make use of horizontal space.

They are boring. They don’t nourish the soil or the soul.

REVOLUTION DISGUISED AS GARDENING

Permaculture is sometimes called revolution disguised as gardening.

That’s how I feel about this project.

It’s profoundly subversive in the best possible way. It goes against so much of the destructiveness of our civilization (monocultures, pesticides, soil depletion, destruction of ecosystems) and provides an attractive and productive alternative.

Why are wind turbines so bad? Anti-wind energy sentiments in Norway

I have noticed there is a strong anti-wind energy sentiment among many otherwise progressive and sustainability-oriented people in Norway. Some even advocate for nuclear energy (!).

To me, that doesn’t quite make sense.

Yes, wind energy has drawbacks. It’s visible and changes the scenery locally, and it does harm and kill some birds.

At the same time, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

ENERGY CONSUMPTION

We have a society, lifestyle, and civilization that depends on high energy input, and Norwegians use more energy than most similar countries. Our priority should be to reduce our energy consumption.

It’s possible to reduce energy consumption quite dramatically through more efficient design and changes in lifestyle. (When someone lived in our tiny house in the Andes last year, that person used several times as much energy as I do when I am there.)

THERE IS AN IMPACT NO MATTER WHAT

We have to get energy from somewhere, and there is an impact no matter what. Our energy-hungry lifestyle inevitably has a big impact. The question is: What type of impact are we OK with?

Wind energy is an easy target since it’s often local and easily visible. The impact from most other sources of energy is far more severe, although it’s also often less visible, at least locally and short term.

For instance, fossil fuels may not have a very visible local impact in the short term, but it has a huge ad devastating impact globally and long term. The same can be said for nuclear energy.

It’s not good that some birds are harmed by the blades of wind turbines, but there are ways to reduce that impact. For instance, there are wind turbines without blades. In any case, the main impact on the bird population comes from elsewhere – especially loss of habitat, loss of healthy ecosystems, pesticides, loss of insects, and so on, and it’s far more important to make changes there.

THE TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF NUCLEAR ENERGY

Nuclear energy (fission) is a bad alternative.

It moves the cost to future generations which itself is ethically questionable. They don’t have a say.

The waste storage requires ongoing maintenance for millennia, and something will inevitably go wrong. When it goes wrong, the impact is immeasurably worse than the impact of wind energy. It can devastate life in a whole region for millennia. (This can happen even after humans are gone, so we are pushing the consequences onto whatever life is here then.)

Fusion energy is an exception. If we could develop useable fusion energy, it would have a much lower impact and likely generally be a good solution. The drawback is that it requires a centralized system, and it’s still years or decades in the future.

SOME SOLUTIONS

So what’s the solution? Here are some places to start: Reduce energy use. Use more local renewable energy, whatever makes the most sense where you are. (Solar, ground, wind, ocean, water, etc.) Find better storage. Keep looking for better solutions.

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A kincentric view on life

This kincentric – or life-centric – view on life is far more aligned with reality than our traditional anthropocentric view. It’s informed by ecology, experience, and common sense.

It’s also crucial for our survival. We need to transform the systems of our civilization to align with ecological realities, and a kincentric view will help us do that.

For more from Enrique Salmón, see Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship | I Want the Earth to Know Me as a Friend

Why do we focus on climate change and not global ecological overshoot?

Why do so many focus on climate change these days?

It’s good that ecological issues get attention, of course, and it is an important topic.

At the same time, it is a kind of distraction.

GLOBAL ECOLOGICAL OVERSHOOT

The bigger overarching issue is global ecological overshoot.

We have been in overshoot for decades already, and we haven’t seen the real consequences of it yet since we have been living off the “savings” provided by our planet. (To not deplete our ecological “savings” we would need two Earths to support our global population, and more than five if everyone lived as Westerners.)

We have not yet reached the bottom of the savings account.

When we do, we can expect massive unraveling and collapse of ecosystems and human civilization.

There is no other way it can end.

WHY DON’T WE FOCUS MORE ON OVERSHOOT?

So why don’t more people focus on ecological overshoot?

After all, overshoot is easy to understand. It’s undeniable. It’s far more relevant and serious than climate change and just about any issue imaginable.

I honestly don’t know. A superficial answer may be that people don’t know about overshoot, which is true enough. But the fundamental idea of overshoot is very easy to grasp, it is something anyone with a bank account knows firsthand and relates to on a daily basis. And many in the world do know about it and talk about it, but it does not make it into mainstream discussion.

The real question is: Why doesn’t it make it into mainstream discussion? Why is there an apparent resistance to it? It’s obviously a hugely important topic, more so than just about any topic already in our collective mainstream dialog and conversation.

Maybe it’s too big? Maybe it’s obvious that our usual solutions are not enough?

Maybe it’s more comfortable to focus on something more peripheral and less serious?

That may be one reason why climate change is getting so much attention. It’s apparently more debatable, more peripheral, and less serious. We can tell ourselves it has easier and more peripheral solutions. (Of course, none of that is really true. Climate change itself is serious and requires a profound transformation of our civilization and the worldviews we operate from.)

THE ESSENCE

We live in an ecocidal civilization that assumes infinite nature – infinite natural resources and infinite capacity of nature to absorb waste and toxins.

One of many expressions of this is climate change.

Global ecological overshoot is far more fundamental and far more serious.

And the only real solution to all of it is a deep and thorough transformation of our civilization and our most fundamental assumptions about ourselves, nature, and our relationship to this living planet.

(One practical expression of that would be a transformation of our economic system to take ecological realities and the limits of nature into account.)

Image created by me and Midjourney

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Old blogs and rants

I just added a link to my old blogs in the about section, and thought I would add them here too.

Here is a list of my my old blogs, where the most interesting one may be the Rants. It’s mostly about US politics, and I see  lots of beliefs there!

I also have a few old essays listed, and these are also included and more easily read on this site.

Ecospirituality – an outline for a presentation I gave in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ecospirituality: an outline of a worldview – text fragments for an older website.

Ecopsychology, ecospirituality, deep ecology and health – a letter translated from Norwegian.

Økopsykologi, økospiritualityet, dypøkologi og helse – et åpent brev

Evolutionary Times

February 12th is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. While reflecting on the life and legacy of this great scientist and devoted husband and father, I’ve been struck by how an evolutionary understanding of the universe has, in fact, REALized my religious faith. I now enjoy all the benefits and blessings of religion from a place of knowledge rather than belief. When I look to the past, I am filled with awe and gratitude. When I look around me in the present, I feel love, compassion, and a desire to do everything I can to ensure a healthy world. And when I look to the future, including a future without me, I feel a deep and all-embracing trust….
– from a post by Michael Dowd on Darwin.

I am enjoying reading Evolutionary Times, and can highly recommend it for anyone interested in science and spirituality. Each post is a gem.

Michael Dowd in Oregon!

jesus_darwin1.jpg

Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow are back in Oregon, giving a string of presentations in early April.

They will be in Roseburg April 9, Eugene April 10, Portland April 12 and 13, and Salem on the 16th.

If you happen to live around here, it is well worth attending. They are both amazing speakers in the area of evolution and spirituality, and Michael often uses the aqal framework to organize his presentations.

If you live somewhere else in the US, you can find their schedule on the Thank God for Evolution website, where you will also find audio and video snippets.

World changing: many possible outcomes and what to do

There is no doubt that we are in for some big changes ahead on global, and so also personal, levels.

As usual, we don’t know how it is going to look. And white areas on the map is where we draw in monsters and Shangri-las, one or the other and sometimes both.

Cuba and peak oil

This came up for me again as I watched The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil at the NWEI volunteer retreat this weekend.

The basic information and message is not new to me, and wouldn’t be to anyone who know a little about peak oil and Cuba. Still, it is a well made movie and very inspiring to many.

It shows a transition that many of us would like to see in our own communities, peak oil or not. And it shows how a potentially scary situation can be revealed, and made into, a gift, if nudged in the right direction. (Of course, in Cuba they have a – somewhat enlightened – dictatorship, which may make those transitions easier in times of crisis.)

The Great Turning

The world is always changing.

And right now, there are lots of carrots and whips at play which invites a deep culture change into a more life-centered culture and civilization, a Great Turning as Joanna Macy calls it.

Will it happen? Well, we don’t know. But it sure is more fun to be a part of nudging us towards it, whether it happens or not.

Carrots and whips

We all know some of the whips

Climate change, or climate chaos as some folks more accurately call it.

Peak oil, which is happening as we speak. It means the end of cheap oil and big changes to our petroleum dependent civilization. It may well also mean the end of globalization as we see it today, and may be one of the factors that (probably sooner than most think) brings down the US empire. And it is likely to mean a new emphasis on local communities, on more complete and compact communities, more efficient use of energy, and renewable energy in its many forms.

Human-made toxins everywhere: in the air we breathe, the food we eat, in the tissue and blood stream of every living creature.

And some of the carrots

The joy of living in a more life-centered way. We all know that many aspects of our current lives in industrialized countries are not life-supporting and life-enhancing, and that takes its toll on us, whether we are aware of it or not. Living in a more life-enhancing way is inherently joyful.

The joy of stronger and more vibrant local communities, where tools, time and resources are shared, whether by necessity or otherwise. Where we know our neighbors. Where we know the people who grow our food. Where we know the people who make some or many of the things we use daily.

The health benefits of walking and biking more. Of eating locally grown, fresh, organic produce. Of being more outdoors, maybe even growing some of our own food at our own plot, a community garden, or from a few hours work-exchange at a local CSA farm.

Diversity of outcomes

Most likely, the changes brought about by peak oil and other whips and carrots will be quite different in different regions.

In areas that are already poor, and where most of the population may be at ego- and ethno-centric levels of development, it may easily mean even more devastation.

In places like Iceland the situation is quite different. They are already doing a lot. They are shifting away from petroleum dependency and towards being mostly or completely self-reliant with essentials such as energy and food – and they can do this due to easily accessible thermal energy. Most of the population is at world-centric levels of development (orange or green in the integral model).

Among all the countries and regions of the world, Iceland is maybe the one that has the best chance to look more like the sustainable, life-centered paradise that some envision.

Although not even Iceland is immune to what is happening in the rest of the world socially, and ecologically – rising sea levels will stronlgy impact Iceland too.

The situation in the US may be more shaky. Larger segments are here at ethno-centric levels of development which in a crisis can get ugly. Just look at Iraq. At the same time, many are at world-centric levels of development which may offset some of the havoc. And many of the leading-edge developments in sustainability and local self-reliance is happening right here. The knowledge is available, if it is made use of. Still, as we are heading further into the ecological bottle-neck, the US is not the place where I would choose to be.

What could happen in Europe? It is difficult to say. Larger segments are at world-centric areas of development, at least in western Europe, so that may make for an easier transition. Their mindset is already more aligned with sustainability and an emphasis on local communities. And they have the resources to allow for a softer transition.

At the same time, Europe shares land-mass with areas less fortunate, and this can lead to mass migrations, the prevention of these mass migrations, and quite a lot of ugliness. We are seeing some of this already. And we’ll probably see more of it, not only in Europe.

What can I do on a personal level?

What can we do on a personal level?

For me, the answer is in several areas, and it is found in that which is enjoyable and rewarding right now, in itself, and is also likely to be useful in more difficult times.

What can I do to be part of the Great Turning? What is my role there? For me right now, it is mainly nurturing culture change through my involvement with NWEI, starting up local groups at businesses, churches, other organizations, neighborhoods, and open groups in the community.

What types of skills can I learn now that may be of particular use in the future, and is enjoyable and useful even now? Growing food is one. Learning to repair and make things is another. And exploring whole systems design skills, for instance through permaculture, yet another.

How can I strengthen my connections with my local community? I can do this through getting to know people, share resources, barter, and so on. The more ties, the more likely that we’ll stay together during more difficult times as well.

These are all at the outer and interpersonal levels, quadrants two, three and four in the aqal model.

What about quadrant one? What can I do there that is rewarding and enjoyable right now, while also useful in more testing times?

By far the most useful and practical tool I have found is The Work. It allows the charge in thoughts and ideas – including those inducing fear, panic and the like – to fall away. And this frees up clarity and energy so I can respond a little more sanely to whatever situation I find myself in, from a place of more compassion and wisdom.

Other forms of self-inquiry, and forms of mediation and yoga, are also very useful here.

Great Turning II

None of us know what the Great Turning will look like. We only know that our civilization will change, and that it will change dramatically. There is an obvious/inherent expiration date in operating from a view of unlimited resources while being part of a finite planet. And the transition may be in the form of an ecological/social crash or a softer landing. In any case, the change will be deep and dramatic.

As Joanna Macy says, it is the third major revolution in human civilization – after the agricultural and industrial ones.

And it may involve a collective “dark night of the soul”. Our current collective identity – especially in the industrialized countries – will have to be stripped off and replaced with a more ecological identity.

From seeing ourselves as separate and entitled to unbound consumption, we may see ourselves as interconnected and living with limited resources. The “hole” in ourselves that we tried to fill through consumption, is now filled (more reliably) through a sense of intimacy and richness through our interconnections.

This is a process that many have gone through on an individual level, and as more of us do so – the collective changes are likely to be easier and less painful.

Great Turning

Joanna Macy talks about the Great Turning from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

And an aspect of this turning is the change of worldview.

Currently, we operate collectively from a fragmented and dualistic worldview. We see the world as separate objects bumping into each other, with no inherent mutual connection apart from being in approximately in the same space at the same time. This is a worldview that leads to power-over mentality, and to isolation, lack of meaning, fear, accumulation, insatiability, etc.

A collective more transdual worldview helps us see everything as aspects of a seamless fluid whole. The Universe is a holarchy of nested systems, one within another. We can make distinctions, but within the context of this fluid and seamless whole. There are no absolute boundaries. This is a worldview of flow and connections, and one that sees power as power-with. My own health and well-being is intimately connected with that of all my subsystems and all the larger systems I am part of. From this sense of connection comes a sense of deep belonging to the Earth and the Universe, a sense of meaning, a sense of trust (although not naive or blind), and a sense of fullness and richness. With this worldview, we operate in a very different way.

And we can experience this worldview through experiencing our inner wholeness – of body/psyche – awakened through for instance an integral practice. When we experience the whole that embraces this body/psyche, we also experience being an integral part of the larger whole. There are no absolute boundaries. Everything is part of a seamless fluid whole.

Footnote: An integral practice can include all our relationships – to the body, energy system, emotions, thoughts, intimate relationships, social and ecological relationships, and our relationship to Existence. Typical components may be meditation, yoga (any form), exercise, nutrition, studies of/within an integral framework, and – for instance – inquiry.

For me right now, it consists of Zen practice, Breema (bodywork and self-Breemas), Byron Katie‘s inquiry, being with/being what I am experiencing right now (Raphael Kushnir), deekshas, studies of/within the AQAL model, walking/biking/hiking, solution focused culture change engagement (initiating NWEI courses, permaculture etc.), and the Big Mind process (facilitating myself and others).

The View from 2205

I participated in the Northwest Earth Institute National Gathering over the last five days. Joanna Macy was the guest of honor, and we did a number Deep Ecology group activities – going through the cycle of gratitude, grief, shift in view, and engagement.

I thoroughly enjoy these activities, especially as they – as the Big Mind process and other practices – help us shift views and make our identity more inclusive, porous and fluid. We have a direct and visceral experience of being not separate from the Earth and Universe, or from past and future generations. Everything is here/now. It is all a seamless fluid whole.

For the Double Circle (aka Seventh Generation) activity, I was a human being from 2205 – living in a life-centered civilization some time after the Great Turning. I listened to a succession of human beings from today, 2005, speaking about how it was for them to be alive in these times – with the destruction and denial all around, and how they find strength to go on.

Then I spoke, expressing my profound gratitude for them and what they are doing as part of the Great Turning. I asked them to remember that their intentions and work as part of the Great Turning are supported by all of life – by the Earth as a whole and all past and future generations.

It became clear that all the problem which face humans in 2005 (and several years before and after), are all very insubstantial. The toxins and weapons are of course very substantial and real, but the problems all arise from confusion in the human mind. They are all made by the human mind, and can be unmade by the human mind. They could go > poof <>poof<>poof< at any moment.