Saturday, June 30, 2012

An omnivore's dilemma

You guessed it.  It's coming up again.  I am questioning my omnivorous lifestyle.  I was born an omnivore, turned vegetarian, a brief stint as a vegan, back to vegetarian and finally settled back into omnivorous life.  As a Buddhist I am/was even okay with this.  There's a feeling among some sects of Buddhism that everything is life and everything is Buddha, so whether I eat plants or animals is not such an important distinction. 

A few things have happened to make me reconsider my choices.  I started reading a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  He promised in the beginning it wouldn't be another book stating the case for why everyone should be vegetarian.  I admit, so far I don't think he is living up to his promise.  I have a variety of issues with the book but one thing that stuck with me was his comment that "you can't call yourself an environmentalist and eat factory farmed meat."   I am not sure if I "call" myself an environmentalist but to the extent that we all need clean air and water I think we have to be on the environmentalist spectrum and talk about it honestly.  What the repercussions are of every choice we make about food.

Another interesting point that the author made is that these days it is pretty socially acceptable in the United States to tell people you are vegetarian.  They might even ask when they invite you over for dinner.  But telling people you only eat humanely raised meat is like calling them puppy dog killers or something.  It is kinda important to me not to be "that person" who is such a pain in the butt that no one wants to eat with you or at least have you over or go out to a restaurant.  This begs of course the question about our social and emotional relationships to food and to each other.  Belonging is important.  Eating is important.  How do these things relate?  How do social conditions dictate what is acceptable to eat?

As an environmentalist I also have to acknowledge that conventional farming of fruits and veggies may be just as damaging to the environment as animal farming.  AND then there's whole issue with the "organic" label.  That organic meat, eggs, milk can and often is produced on large scale "organic" farms that are just as terrible as conventional farms.  I'll spare you the details.  So in the end, whether or not someone cares about the wellbeing of animals or whether animals have feelings, we can all admit that farming practices are directly related to the health and longevity of the planet which is directly related to the length of time humans can survive here and our quality of life. 

I ask you.  Can I save the world living and farming in this beautiful place?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Can we eat our own poop?

This past weekend most of the farm and garden apprentices went on a fieldtrip to John Jeavons' Biointensive farm in Willits, CA.   It was an amazing weekend of camping, bonding, learning, laughing, and discussing really scary, controversial, exciting, hopeful things.  The first wave of us went to Jackson State Forest outside of Fort Bragg to camp.  The car was packed full, we chanted a little chant for travels and then hit the mix CDs and hella traffic then some rain.  It felt great to be on the open road with these amazing four people.  Jackson State Forest is way the heck out there.  Perfect.  Redwoods.  A river.  QUIET.  The next day we lounged, read, knitted, talked, ate, ate and went into Fort Bragg for a little meander and some beer from the North Coast brewery, makers of Scrimshaw, Red Seal and Brother Thelonius among others.  Great day, sitting around our mediocre fire sure the others were not going to make it that night.  Then low and behold at about 9pm old faithful, Danny's minivan, rolls down the hill with the second wave of the party with more food and more beer!

The next morning we're up and at 'em by 6am on the road by 8am and at Ecology Action Biointensive Farm by 9am on the dot.  And the next wave of adventures begins.

Many things have lead John Jeavons, a student/mentee of Alan Chadwick, to this system of farming and currently his farm is a research farm (yay!).  One of his main things is how can we farm on a small space with maximum yield in a way that provides for our daily nutrients and isn't killing the planet like conventional farming is doing rapidly and surely.  His farming system does not include animals.  The only manure it uses is human-nure ;-)  This is what makes it a "closed-system," humans plant food, eat it, poop it out, put the nutrients back into the ground as compost and keep the cycle going.  Give and return.  In part his system is a response to the assumption that fossil fuel has peaked, population continues to grow and large scale agriculture is hugely inefficient and turning farmable land into desert.   This gave us a lot to talk about on the way home.  Although we weren't sure we'd make it home when the first car left with the keys to our car and a third car had to go chase them down.  Alas we all made it back with a quick detour to Taqueria Bahia in San Rafael.  Yum.

So in conclusion, no one has all the answers.   But getting out and seeing what others are doing and hearing the wisdom of their experience is crucial to helping each of us figure out how we can each save all beings.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Viva la Resistance

In the garden these days life is good.  The sun is hot and the flowers are just exploding.  Just when I think it can't get any more beautiful it does.  Two days a week we spend hours cropping flowers of all kinds and making arrangements for the community and bouquets for the farmers market.  We also get to do crafty things like make lavender wreaths and wands.  Totally my cup of tea.

We are in full swing of compost season.  Every week adding layers of straw, food scraps, green waste and manure so that in a year we will have amazing nutrient-rich soil to add to our cultivating beds.  Making and using compost is a defining feature of organic farming.  Without it we could not maintain the health of our soil.  As we take nutrients out in the form of food we have to give carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and other minerals back.  Simple as that.  It may go without saying but I'll say it anyway, large scale conventional farms are not doing that.  They essentially use up the soil, adding sub par chemical fertilizer that is only partially absorbed (the rest leaks off into ground water supplies) until the land just doesn't produce any more and they move on.  Read: we may run out of farmable land...

As Derrick Jensen said in his talk on Thursday in Berkeley, this method is not sustainable.  And we do it this way for many other systems, like fishing and meat production, fossil fuels (gas), etc.  If you have read any of his books (or even some of their summaries) you know the facts.  The depressing, apocalyptic, and accurate facts about the type of future we may have to envision if we keep living like we do.  There were eight of us Green Gulchers who went to his talk at the Edible Schoolyard Project at Martin Luther King School and while maybe some of us didn't feel particularly inspired towards any specific type of action it stimulated much conversation and, as a writer, maybe that's all Derrick Jensen can hope for.  He talked about other things that just might be too controversial for this blog ;-) or at least too intense but I did like how in his talking about the health of the planet he felt he had to discuss power dynamics and the nature or origin of our exploitation culture.  I will mention that the word patriarchy entered that convo several times...

My first thought was to say that everyone should be exposed to this type of information and maybe listen with an open mind.  But on second thought I know that there are people that will, to the day they die, disagree and even exact violence in order to quiet these voices.  Maybe nothing can change...maybe a little can change...or maybe everything will change no matter what we want or hope for.  In the mean time I know that being here at Green Gulch and taking care of this land, learning how to listen to and see the sheer magic that is nature, and trying to live in harmony with all types of people is an important part of fighting the status quo. Of working towards change that can help save the planet.  I'm trying to "wake up" or see the world clearly every minute of every day.  And have a little fun while I'm at it.

Aren't these eggs worth changing our lifestyle?  A computer can't possibly create a blue this beautiful.  You have to see it with your own eyes.  Robin's egg blue.

P.S. I would like to make it known that I too enjoy (am addicted?) to modern conveniences.  Imagining life without fossil fuels is almost impossible.  No one ever said this would be easy :-)

Dito-Keith Adventures

A few weeks ago the Dito family reunited to celebrate the wedding of my cousin Jennie.  As Austin said, it was so fun it was like being at our own wedding.  It was up in the Woodside hills outside Palio Alto, home to Stanford University and many large shopping malls.  The ceremony and reception were both held on the grounds of an open space preserve where the groom's sister is the caretaker for the house.  It was simple, laid back, full of love, some ancient tensions were disspelled, cousins reconnected and there was a hella lotta dancing!  The night finished out with some rides on a golf cart and late night pizza.  Just to make the weekend a little sweeter, the brothers Dito were both in town and Brian, the youngest, made a little visit out to the farm.  He had some lunch, put in a few hours cropping lavender and weeding, visited Muir Beach and then we went into Mill Valley, ate way too much food, drank a few beers and had a good catch up session.

Last weekend was also jam packed, after a week having a particularly rough cold I was back in action.  Austin and I went to visit with some out of towners in San Francisco. We did some book shopping at the famous City Lights book store in North Beach then we did as the tourists do and went to the Haight Ashbury Street Festival which actually turned out to be pretty fun.  Taking the buses around SF took me back to the days when I lived in the Sunset, it was nice to be there.  Austin and I finished out the day by heading back to North Beach, setting up shop in a cafe, reading our new books (mostly about the environment, eating animals, etc), and discussing the issues over coffee.  And finally we ate at this small, packed, old school Chinese restaurant recommended by a local cop that was almost too authentic for my American palate.

In case you're wondering, just because we live a semi-monastic lifestyle does not mean that we're always relaxed, quiet or meditating.  It seems our weekends are just as busy and social as ever before, maybe more.  Can't stop til ya get enough!