Teaching Natural Building in the Ozarks

Ecotrain

Natural building is people’s building.

Just watch this singing Tibetan group building a rammed earth house if you don’t believe me:

If I could pin a catch phrase for our passion for natural building, it would run along these lines. When we look at our modern expert culture we think that someone else will fulfill the basic necessities of our lives for us.

Someone else builds our house, grows our food, purifies our water (that we both drink and poop in), prepares the electricity that fuels our home, fixes our stuff, etc. While DIY culture is growing, I think we can take it a step deeper and start to provide our needs for ourselves. Cut out the middle man so to say and realize that it doesn’t take an expert to fulfill our needs.

It’s not only empowering to embody this line of thought, it also is exactly what the earth needs in a time when the bottom line of capitalism has made many of our industries downright harmful for the earth and all of us beings.

Natural building by definition is made from materials which can return to the earth. These are radically simple and accessible place-based methods which are good for our health and the health of the earth! There is abundant magic in this direct connection.

Over the weekend we had the opportunity to teach about natural building and do a demo showcasing slip straw (light clay slip) and earthen plasters at the Ozark Area Community Congress (OACC.) It was the 40th annual OACC and we got many insights into just how long bioregional culture has been thriving in the Ozarks. We sure have some committed elders who have been holding it down! So much gratitude.

We facilitated a brief introduction to natural building followed by a slide show showcasing a variety of buildings and unique finishes.

Touching on some of the basic principles of natural building, we outlined concepts such as buildings acting as a 3rd skin (2nd skin is our clothing) and building with a good set of boots and hat (proper foundation and roofing details.)

The slideshow featured inspiring examples of the variety of materials and finishes that can be used. It was just a taste of what is possible when working with local materials in response to unique climatic conditions. After that we went outside to practice slip straw and plastering techniques on our demonstration wall.

The day before Ini had created a demonstration wall. We also brought buckets full of the components for making a base (or leveling coat) of earthen plaster.

Upon gathering around the demo wall, we began tossing the straw in the clay slip.

Once mixed, we demonstrated stuffing the slip straw into the form and packing it in.

We touched on the basics of plaster and had a chance to explain the concepts behind earthen plasters.

There was plenty of interest and some time for questions.

Part of our goal at Mountain Jewel is to teach and empower local folks to make use of natural resources and common sense to build site and climate appropriate buildings. While not everyone in attendance has the opportunity to build their own natural home, we did offer suggestions for adding an interior earthen plaster to an existing structure.

The slip straw technique is exceptional at filling in conventionally stud framed walls inside of a building. One can then apply a beautiful earthen plaster finish.

This was just a taste for folks and we’re very excited to be offering more opportunities for hands-on learning coming up.

Watching participants react in amazement to this technique was rewarding as we showed them how simple and accessible slip straw is. Nearly everyone has this reaction. It’s pretty amazing to be able to build with earthen materials that feel good, are good for the earth and us and have such beautiful finishes.

In coming weeks we’ll continue building our sauna, practicing earthen plaster with our community as we gather to build from the Earth. Come join us if you like!

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.

Rivercane Basketry | Native Practical Art Inspired By the Cherokee & Choctaw

Ecotrain, Homestead

It’s a new year and I’m feeling invigorated to learn a new craft. Isn’t that funny how something you passed over in the past may strike an inward fancy and seemingly a breeze on the wind can propel one toward learning a new skill? 

Basketmaking

It started off with hopes of purchasing some willow cuttings from Dunbar Gardens. @schoonercreek, whom some of you may remember, recommended them as a source. As more and more beautiful baskets were passing my vision on Instagram, I’d decided I would grow a patch of willow, wait for it to grow and in the meantime teach myself weaving using brambles and hopefully some wild willows that I could find near me. As I started doing research, however, I found an incredible diversity and wealth of inspiration that quickly changed my initial plans. I will likely still purchase some willow cuttings and root them in this year’s Food (and useful material) Forest planting in “the Orchard” (where you’ve seen us recently clearing and planting apple trees.) Yet I will also be using my energy to try out other local materials, ones that have a distinct and superior history of use.

Choctaw and Cherokee

As I was racking my mind to think of different things I could gather to practice making simple baskets, I thought of the grapevines, aforementioned willows, brambles, wild roses, honeysuckle and much more. People have been weaving since before neolithic times – an art many are keeping alive and reviving and the sky is really the limit as far as what you can make baskets and other useful items with.

What I’ve read is that if you can bend the material at a 90 degree angle or if you can wrap it around your wrist and it doesn’t break, the material is good for weaving. 

I wondered, had the river cane, Arundinaria gigantea, our native bamboo (and one of the three temperate native bamboos in North America), been used?

A quick search found some jawdropping creations by this region’s original inhabitants, the Choctaw and Cherokee.

Here are some samples of their works, though follow the links if you want to be further impressed. Some of these were even made to be watertight!!!

Cherokee

Single weave rivercane basket by
Cherokee basket maker
Lottie Queen Stamper

 

Choctaw

Large pack baskets, such as this one, were used by Choctaw women for transporting many types of large or bulky objects. These baskets were used to harvest fields, to collect wild food and other resources, to pack a family’s belongings for travel, and even to carry the soil for constructing earth mounds. Most pack baskets, including this one, have a leather tumpline, or strap that goes over the forehead to help stabilize the load.

 

 

Taposhake chufa, pointed basket

 

Immediately, I was intrigued. This is the same river cane that we have here and I live on a creek called Caney Creek!

Ini and I have always looked at the cane and wondered what we could do with it. Our neighbors have rich stands of it and it lines the creek that abuts our land’s western edge. People don’t seem to value it much, though I am increasingly learning of its importance and in the importance of tending wild stands.

Cane favors stream banks and acts better than hardwood trees to stabilize the bank from erosion and to filter run-off pollutants. In fact, the big stand of cane on Highway 209 was planted as a stream bank stabilizer by the landowner, on the advice of the county agricultural extension agent, about 40 years ago.

Researchers estimate that some 98 percent of the canebrakes present when the Europeans arrived have been lost. The usual suspect is the enclosure of animals, especially cattle, which eat the tender cane shoots as they emerge. In Cherokee, the tribe has sponsored a restoration project to ensure native basketmakers having a supply of cane for their work. Preserving river cane is one way to recognize the history and value of this hardy and beautiful grass. Source

It’s very important that we treat this process with respect and as Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, writes,

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so
that you may take care of them. Introduce yourself.
Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

To this end, I want to tend wild stands near our creek, spreading the rhizomes and making sure I am adding back what I am gratefully taking. 

Foraging & Learning

My first foraging mission happened yesterday, as many of you caught on to in my DTube video and post. I took my Gerber machete down to the creek and just looked around. I found a lot of wild rose, catbriar and grapevine and finally made it to a canebreak, the name for the cane stands.

I had done a bit of research on making basket materials from the cane, but sadly it is sorely lacking online so I wasn’t sure what size or age I was looking for. I took a few big ones (the size of my thumb- which I later learned are the size you want) and some smaller ones to experiment with. I used my machete to chop off the leaves, which reside at the nodes of the cane.

That evening I brought them into the cozy cabin after googling my heart out for more information. I had found out a few things and watched 1 video which helped me understand a bit more what I was after.

Experiments

That first night was quite funny as Ini tried to split the cane in half and then into quarters and trip the inner pith out. Today I finally found a couple Youtube videos which demonstrated what needs to be done- not what we spent hours last night doing! Hah! But it was good practice and it’s important, I think, to experiment and just try.

This morning I went and harvested more cane and practiced using the new techniques I found out. Thank you past humans and those who have carried this tradition on! I got some usable material.

It’s incredible to believe that this is just Step 1! Next, they usually would then dye the pieces, walnut and bloodroot are two popular local options, and then weave! I found some weaving demonstrations online, but I may practice using brambles as it is a lot of embedded energy in each cane piece and I would like to have a wee idea of what I’m doing before I use them.

Into the Future

I’ve also found some Choctaw classes in Oklahoma (about a 4 hour drive) that I may attend to learn more about these techniques. I am so thankful they’ve been carried on and I’ve watched many Youtube videos and been very heartened to discover that though not quite popular, this art has been carried on and is currently being passed to the next generations.

A fire burns inside as I study these techniques and look with wonder at the baskets and other practical items the Natives to this land created for thousands of years. I seek to honor them as I learn this craft and likely blend techniques as I gain in skill.

Exciting times! Stay Tuned!

of the wild things: bear the herbalist, teacher and friend

Ecotrain, naturalmedicine, permaculture
“When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grows stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know?”
Mary Oliver in Upstream
In many North American Native traditions the bear is renown for leading humans to the medicinal roots. In early spring, once leaving his hibernation, he shrugs off the stagnancy of winter in search of that which will cleanse, invigorate and purify. These plants have been held as sacred “bear medicine” to the peoples and we have learned many things from the animals who instinctively use these special plants for themselves.
Osha or bear root is the first such plant that I have used within this context. Hailing from the high altitude Rocky Mountains in Southern Colorado & Northern New Mexico, Ligusticum porterii is a sacred and supremely useful plant. Often overharvested for commercial sale, we must tend the wild populations that we consciously harvest these roots from. The bears are known for digging these roots in spring.
(pic of osha)

Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers?

I know many of you do, dear readers, and still I think this is one of the most important conjuring questions of our time.

In a world replete with the splendors and side effects of globalization we will again be called back into place, to know a place well and develop relationship with it. This doesn’t mean only one place (for many of us are transitory) and it also lends itself to the cross hairs of similarity found all over the world (in this I am speaking of what Susun Weed calls “camp plants” or those plants that follow humans around wherever they go, ie yarrow, wild roses, plantain, chickweed, dandelion, etc).

If you do know about the plants near you, do you know how to use them and in what season and especially do you know which plants not to use? 

Excitement

For myself, I feel no small excitement when forging these relationships and I do believe it springs forth from a deep well the desire to share this information. It’s in our cells, our DNA this urge to share. That’s why people do “wild plant walks” (check for local ones near you) and we really haven’t totally lost this information over time. With that said, it is time to bring it to a larger scale, to reinvigorate this age old connection of which the bear reminds us.

The old people knew and they observed the bear, had relationship with him, and learned from him. He is both teacher and friend. What a joy and gift to resurrect these bonds and glorify the knowledge contained therein.

Baby in the Garden & Cats on Woodland Walks

Ecotrain, Homestead

Return from Holiday

Just got in at 2 am from visiting my sis and her family near some mountains in Colorado and @birdsinparadise and my dad were there too! Conked out after we got in and woke up to a balmy 45 degree temp so I decided to take a walk in the garden.

Being the garden nerd that I am, I go around and greet my plants, even though some of them are simply roots underground. I can still feel them. My sis and bro in law made Ini and I this cute little cement foot of their new child, my nephew Brooks! What a better place to put it than on the old stump next to the crystals near some raspberries, goumi & asparagus! I am already hatching plans to have my nephew spend weeks in the summer here where we can indoctrinate him with plant lore and alternative lifestyle visions… And what a sweet little foot he has…

 

Good to be Back

As you know, we spent most of December away! A dear old friend visited upon our return and then we flew the coop again, spirited away to visit family. We’ve hardly spent any time here! Since the temps were so balmy, it was great weather to take a walk into the woods. Even though our place is 18 acres, which really isn’t too big, we don’t make it to certain parts of the land.

Today we took a jaunt over to a North East slope where there are some awesome overhanging rocks.

 

Woodland Walks with Cats

I always take it with a little smile inside that our cats follow us on walks. Sometimes just one or today 3 of them… It’s cool they want to be near us and fun to see them scamper and play. They’re clearly happy to have us back and our dog is happy to be home (we had her at a kennel) and she was doing loops around us as we walked through the woods.

 

Into the Future

Winter is such a great time for rest and we’re reading, cozying up by the fire, eating nourishing food, meditating, spending time with friends, planning for the year ahead, moving plants around (today moved and split up an elecampane plant), and finishing up odds and ends around the homestead. I feel like there is so much space and that’s such a welcome feeling after the rush of necessity inherent in the last 3 years.

 

We talked about this a bit with the friend who just visited. She’s built log cabins in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in the interior of Alaska… and then left… after 2 years each time. At that point, she said, things had just begun settling down from the necessity of getting food, shelter, water, etc worked out.

 

I feel like we’re finally getting there, to that spot of equilibrium where we aren’t rushing around taking care of our core needs. And that feels really fucking good.

 

Yet the house plans are also on the horizon and talk of inviting interns into our space. 2019 will be a good and full year and I feel that we’re filling our reserves and holistically preparing for what comes ahead! I’m excited!

In Other News

A happy holiday season to all of you! Wishing you the best from our mountain homestead! I’ve enjoyed sharing our SP and will be taking back the delegations shortly after posting this. I hope you all have had a good time with them and been able to grow your accounts a bit and share the love!

 

Looking forward to coming into 2019 strong, healthy and clear! Steem On & Much love!

Taking the Fart Out of “Jerusalem Fartichokes” Aka Sunroot or Topinambour

Ecotrain, Homestead, permaculture

Topinambour

Though this plant, also known as Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunroot or Sunchoke, is making a revival, I have heard much negative press about this forgotten, yet increasingly popular root vegetable. Largely the negatives reside around the side effect of flatulence due to its inulin content (the same characteristic that has earned it the title of a nutraceutical) and the flavor.

Last night Ini and I made our first harvest of these tubers in the sunflower family. A wild plant to the Americas, they were first tended and selected by Native Americans in the eastern part of the continent, yet now they are popular all over the world after early Europeans brought them home with them.

We have already written about the plant and showed you some very sexy photos of the plant in bloom here so today I want to focus on the roots, their preparation towards the tastiest (and easiest) of dishes and ways we can reduce that fartaffect.

Because last night, let’s just say I was nearly gassed out of my house between Ini and the dog and my own digestive track was doing the rumble and “letting wind” — I have a personal stake in the matter.

 

And as their perennial nature of self propagation, ease of growing, and health benefits, I am not even close to giving up on this plant.

Digging them was like digging for treasure and as we collected the smaller heads and filled the hole with a big head and spread them around the property, we realized what an easy staple food crop this truly is.

Only, how to prepare it and reduce the gas?

Acidify

As one article says,

 I learned that indigestible polysaccharides such as inulin can be converted to digestible sugars by “acid hydrolysis.” In layman’s terms, that means bathing the inulin in something watery and acidic. Lemon juice, perhaps?

and furthermore,

 “Boiling Jerusalem artichokes in an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar will hydrolyze the inulin to fructose and small amounts of glucose,” Rastall advises.

 

Ferment

 

Here’s another solution: Traditional fermentation-style pickling also removes sunchokes’ gaseous effects – while retaining their artichoke flavor. Gardening mavens Linda Ziedrich and Rose Marie Nichols McGee developed a game-changing recipe that yields completely gas-free Jerusalem artichoke pickles that keep all their wonderful crunch and taste.

 

Build Up A Tolerance

 

His fix for the overdose of inulin in Jerusalem artichokes? Build a tolerance. “Rather than avoiding all inulin, I suggest that people consume small quantities on a regular basis,” he notes. “Their gut microbiota will adapt – the proportion of beneficial bacteria will grow, while the gas-producing bacteria will diminish – and after a while they will be able to eat Jerusalem artichokes without discomfort.”

 

The Long Cook

Another site adds this helpful tidbit,

In On Food and Cooking (2004 edition), page 307, Harold McGee indicates that the… erm… flatulent effects of sun chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) are due to complex fructose-based carbohydrates that are not digestible by humans.

> Long, slow cooking allows enzymes present in the fresh of the tuber will convert these fructose over time. McGee recommends 12-24 hours at 200 F / 93 C.

And also,

“About half of the remaining indigestibles can be removed by boiling in a large volume of water for 15 minutes.”

Storage

 Harold McGee addresses this subject in his excellent book, The Curious Cook (1990). He explains the Jerusalem artichoke in great detail in the chapter titled, “Taking the Wind out of the Sunroot.” His conclusions are (a) the quantities of the responsible carbohydrate are somewhat dissipated during cold storage of a month or more.

Late Harvest

 As one of the other answers outlines: the most accepted remedy is cold storage or late harvesting. When left in the groud during the winter, the tubers transform the inulin, thus enabling us to effectively digest the Sunchokes. This means that if you are growing your own, you can just harvest the tubers on the day you eat them, provided you do so late in the season.

First Things First

This is so exciting. Ini and I dug up a bunch of sunroots today and last night and will be selling some on the @homesteaderscoop for SBD! We bought these from a reputable nursery and they are select varieties!

First things first, I have some wonderful fodder here to experiment with. I think, to start, we’ll try the fermented aspect. As you know, we’re going on a 10 day meditation retreat shortly and will start a couple batches of classic lactofermentation using these sunroot and some salt (and other herbs and spices, and perhaps vegetables, as the mood strikes.)

 

The sky is the limit when it comes to learning how to most effectively partner with perennial vegetables. One thing is for certain, I feel the joy of life moving through me as a I work with this plant and I feel the familiar happiness and wonder at thinking of all of the humans whose hands this vegetable has passed through and how it has traveled all over the world (via humans and yes of course rodents, which are known to move little tidbits around gardens everywhere– and the plant will grow from the smallest tidbit!)

 

How do you like to eat Sunroot? Start small and let our bodies, which aren’t used to high amounts of inulin, get up to speed with this nutraceutical and it sounds like we’ll be off to a better start.

 

Let me know your favorite ways to eat it in the comments below!

150 Years | 7 Generations Thinking: Inheriting Things From Strangers

Ecotrain, Homestead, inspiration

The other day I read that the 7 Generations thinking (originated by the Haudeneshone ie Iroquois Nation) is about a span of 150 years.

That’s really not that long, if you think about it. Those of us who are fortunate to have family records (or some freak down the line who pieced it all together -and I can say that because I’m likely taking on this role for my family), possibly even know the name, profession, or even the face in a rare still black and white photograph.

Were these people thinking about you?

In our day in age, we are very much geared toward the Individual- the rise, the fall, the accumulation and somewhat the passing on. What strikes me so much about the perspective of 7 generations thinking is that it requires a long term view of our actions. What are the ripples into our environments from my actions?

In a world with so many people, too, I think this Individualist thinking is also spurred on because we inherently believe our actions don’t really have that much of an effect.

We wait for others to do things because of this. Certainly I couldn’t be the one to … start a business on the Steem blockchain… make a sustainable invention… solve a puzzling world mystery, etc. These things are reserved for other people, people smarter, more attractive, wealthier, younger, etc. Yet when we start to think about how our actions ripple throughout the next 150 years, we realize that we do have a say about the shape of things.

Is an ancestor thinking about you right now?

I want to broaden the scope of an ancestor through writing this article. This subject has been on my mind a lot lately because Ini and I are talking with a local man about the possibility of taking on a position in carrying on his life’s work which involves a certain forest in our area. This person has been working tirelessly to create a sustainable livelihood in relation with this forest. The forest is too small to employ anyone to sustainably manage it (usually over 30,000 acres are needed unto that effect) and so this man had to get his creative thinking cap on.

On Balancing Wrong Action

Many people know that Corporations make Wrong Actions, especially regarding our ecosystems. Notoriously, driven by capitalistic bottom lines, extract, exploit and devastate more, while adding overwhelming amounts of pollution to the environment. They cut corners, dump toxic waste, and have leaky pipes in the Gulf and through the veined corridors through which they run in this country, which pollutes bodies of water all over the place.

The EPA and governmental organizations make a farce of stomping down this type of action, usually their pockets are lined with bucks, too. One such idea to balance this is the Cap & Trade System. The idea is totally new to me so I can’t write much on it, but essentially it allows those who produce a ton of Carbon into the atmosphere to pay people, essentially trading with them, who are sinking carbon back into the earth from the atmosphere.

What a Forest Does

Forests, of course, through the incredible respiration of trees, naturally act as carbon sinks. This is now scientifically documented at what rate this process happens and a large corporation, that has scientifically deduced the rate at which they are releasing carbon, can invest in a long term trade with a forest to balance out their negative effect.

Our friend has engaged the aforementioned forest in such a Cap & Trade deal, which will last for about 125 years. It is this role which we are talking with him about managing.

 

Could someone you don’t know right now be an ancestor to you?

The fact that this person, who we’ve only known for about 3 years, has worked for the past 25 years setting this up and devising a way to make a sustainable business in our local area – for someone who will come after him! Is incredible. He has essentially worked with the next 7 generations in mind not knowing who would take the work on for him!

Ini and I aren’t sure if we’ll have kids and while we have 1 niece and 1 nephew at this point in time, there’s no telling if a blood relative will want to pick up and carry on what we’ve created here. Fruit and nut trees will be abundant by the time they’re entering college, but who can say what their dreams will lead them to. We’ve often wondered who will carry on our dreams. Could we, like our friend, be preparing something for someone not even born yet who we’ll meet many years down the road?

 

If you can complete your dream in your lifetime, you’re not dreaming big enough.

Winona LaDuke recently crowdfunded a hemp farm that will empower Native American youth and in one of her emails she wrote the quote above. It has sat with me ever since. Am I dreaming big enough? Including a vision which propels and energizes the next 7 generations? Am I dreaming something which is viable or healthy for the next 150 years (and not only of humans, but the entire biosphere)?

Am I thinking of water, soil, income streams, food, shelter, and more? Though it may sound like a lot, I really don’t think it is. It is living in alignment with our true nature which is connected to everything. To be out of balance with this nature creates disharmony and though we may reap short term gains and excuse ourselves for trying to survive, how are we influencing the lives of our great great great grandchildren or even the children of a stranger who will show up one day and fit magically into the puzzle we have created.

I think our friend I mentioned above is the first person I have met who has dedicated so much of his life and toiled to create a sustainable job for someone he’s not even sure will come. He does it because it was his promise to the woman who donated the land into a land trust, which is happening more and more nationwide. How do we not only “preserve” these places, but also allow them to bring in salaries based on good livelihood as we talked about yesterday in our “Putting the Eco back Economics” post? Balancing the negative effects of greedy corporations is one such way.

Putting the Eco In Economics

Ecotrain, inspiration, writing

We’re all familiar with the concepts of economics and ecology, but how often are they combined? Eco economics is not a new concept; in fact it is the original form of economy.

 

Before a globalized industrialized economy, we were much more closely tied to the capacity of the immediate ecosystems. But we’ve strayed from the path and now, as in no other moment in time, it is absolutely imperative that we reintegrate the awareness that we live and are supported by a finite planet. It not only behooves us to ally with and rearrange our lives in relation to eco economics, but it is imperative for the very survival of *homo sapiens* and countless other species whose survival depends on our actions.

Energy Slaves

Since the industrial revolution (and indeed before in some cases) the capacity for human’s influence on the planet has increased at an alarming rate. With the advent of liquid refined petroleum, we could utilize the massive stored energy from sunlight from millions of years ago at a rate previously impossible.

We could simply extract a material that contained so much potential energy that our capacities to “get stuff done” grew in leaps and bounds. This ability allowed for previously unknown levels of exploitation of natural resources at a rate far more quickly than they were being reproduced.

Previously (and sadly still currently) the discrepancies between the “haves and the have-nots” are real and felt by us all. The bourgeois own the property and means of production while the proletarians or peasants do the work. Tenant farmers of serfs worked the land owned by people in positions of power and did so at times against their will. Human slavery was the ugly crutch that these systems relied upon.

With petroleum, all of that changed.

No longer were (as many) human slaves needed, for this liquid fuel in the form of gasoline or diesel enabled the enslavement of petroleum slaves. The physical workforce was no longer needed and so fewer people could affect larger areas of land and sea.

 

Ecosystem Limits

What this did was further disconnect us from natural cycles and the innate limitations of local ecosystems. All natural systems have a carrying capacity, an upper limit of growth, after which point the system culls or sheds the excess. Trees in an overcrowded forest get choked out and die, booms of animal populations lead to busts and heavy mast years are followed by lean harvests.

 

But this is not the case with our human economic system, which strives for infinite growth. With a system that is based upon non-renewable sources of energy (the very core of industrial society), it is by definition doomed to fail. The problem lies in the paradigm, upon which our entire economic system was founded: the belief that there is an infinite pool of resources to draw from to be extracted and manipulated. We humans are not living in accordance with Earth mandated limits. Operating under this false pretense is wreaking unimaginable havoc on many levels.

 

Humans have created a sick society that is propped up on this lie of infinite growth fueled by infinite resources. The economy that believes and in fact requires constant and rampant growth is one that is destined to fail.

 

To begin addressing how eco economics might play out, we must first grasp how ecology worked and at least entertain (if not embody) the Gaia theory that espouses that the Earth is a single self-regulating & living organism.

A body not unlike our own that communicates throughout a system of interconnected parts and feedback loops (much like our own aches and pains, joys and excesses.)

 

This reality runs counter to all the mechanistic understandings and beliefs that are brought to the table with industrial capitalism.

 

In nature, there are natural checks and balances.

There are shortages, illness and destructive forces of nature, but they occur as a natural balancing tool of any ecosystem. This is one element that is sorely lacking in our capitalistic driven economy. The free market will sort itself (or be bailed out- but where is the true cost of this bailing…) we are told, but where is the feedback for whether the foundation upon which all of this rests is sound or not?

 

The current model of privatizing profits and socializing costs is one where the many bear the cost while the few benefit. This is never the case in a natural ecosystem, but this excess and imbalance only takes place when fuelled by greed and fear of scarcity. This has allowed governments and banks to subsidize industries that don’t work! Without subsidies, the structure crumbles and the people have borne the environmental and financial cost of continuing to operate failing industries. This is NOT eco economics

 

Modeling an economy after billions of years of evolution seems wiser than one that is only a couple of hundred years old doesn’t it? The amazingly complex and interconnected web of life has proven effective and supporting life thus far, so why not learn a thing or two?

Wisdom from the Sun

The basis for terrestrial life is incoming energy in the form of solar energy. This is transformed into sugars through the magic of photosynthesis and creates the inputs needed to support life. This is said to occur at about 1% efficiency, meaning that the ecosystems operate with a 1% surplus. The sunlight turns into plant and algae tissue, which feeds the rest of the system. This is a great starting point for modeling our economy after. If we had our economic systems tied directly to real life, we simply could not grow beyond the carrying capacity for life.

Thus as a starting point for eco economics, the growth of any economic endeavor must be directly linked to an ecosystem’s potential to support that growth.

  B Corp

B corporations are making great strides to be more ethical and transparent in their business and this is a great step forward. Fair labor practices, healthier production methods and distribution of wealth are all great improvements. Still there is an undercurrent of constant growth required for business to continue. We must take lessons from past civilizations whose growth outstripped the carrying capacity of the Earth. The result was the destruction of vital resources like water and soil through deforestation, erosion and loss of biodiversity. Simply put, death follows in the wake of this destructive and short-sided acting.

Positive Movement

Moving forward there is great hope as many brilliant minds are working towards a healthier and more sustainable future. We cannot rely on governmental bodies or regulations to determine our direction– it is up to each and every one of us to make the necessary shifts to build momentum toward eco economics. Movements like Permaculture, restoration agriculture (pioneered by Mark Sheppard), the work by Paul Stamets, Vandana Shiva, Wynona LaDuke, Rowan White and countless others illuminate the future of eco economics.

 

We have the potential to turn this ship around and avoid disaster, if only we learn form the wisdom of nature. The fate of the next 7 generations lies in the decisions of us all. What decisions are you making today?

From Forest To Fungi: Growing Shiitake Mushrooms

Ecotrain, Homestead

Shitakes are on at Mountain Jewel! This is our first flush of these fantastic medicinal and prized edible fungi. Not only are we stoked to be eating more of this top quality food, but we are also inspired by the cycles and synergy this process represents.

 

The transformation of tree to mushroom is truly awe inspiring.

 

Nearly 18 months ago, we cut logs from our forest in an effort to liberate the healthiest but overcrowded canopy species like white oak and black walnut. This is part of much bigger picture and yielded plenty of 4-8” diameter logs, perfect food for shitakes. Once cut, we inserted inoculated sawdust into holes in the logs and sealed them up. We stacked them up and let the mycelium get to work.

 

This method takes some patience but is well worth the wait! Known for it’s firm texture and exquisite taste, shitakes are a gourmet mushroom that lends itself well to outdoor cultivation. Shitakes also contain many beneficial compounds that support of immunity. From Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods:

 

”Neutral thermal nature; sweet flavor; beneficial to the stomach; said to be a natural source of interferon, a protein which appears to induce an immune response against cancer and viral diseases. Used in the treatment of cancer, especially against cancers of the stomach and cervix.”

 

We are following in the footsteps of thousands of mycophiles, forest lovers and woodland artisans that came before us.

By creating the conditions for fungi to thrive we are simply guiding a natural process to yield large amounts of a particular fungi, in this case shitake. This technique of inoculating oak logs (although many other species can also be used) is centuries old and was first know to be practiced in China and Japan. Tools and techniques have evolved but the essences remains the same: *create a hospitable environment for mycelium to digest the food you provide them and harvest the fruits.*

 

This is one of the lowest input forms of mushroom cultivation, and we’re happy it’s now yielding as it inspires us to continue.

 

Taking trees as part of our Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) strategy, we choose to cut any less vigorous, crooked, gnarled or otherwise inferior trees.

 

The best part of this situation is that it’s a win/win/win. We give preference to high value trees with strong genetics (btw this is the *opposite* of how most forestry is conducted) so they may propagate, we get mushroom to eat and the forest gets fed from the logs once they’ve been digested by the mycelium.

 

While we could high grade our land and harvest the best and most valuable tress, we are choosing to let the healthiest and biggest trees continue their life here. This has been proven to be a far more productive (for the forest and the economics of forestry) strategy than the short term cut and run approach. Furthermore, we value to long-term approach and keeping trees alive that are already over 80 years old adds incredible value to the landscape.

 

In our efforts to steward this land with integrity and encourage diversity and abundance, we chose to plug these logs with shitake spawn, in hopes of turning small diameter oak wood into high quality medicinal food. One more layer of connection that we are designing into our lives.

 

We’re stoked to share with you the harvest and will be surely cutting and plugging more this spring.

 

This type of cultivation suits our situation well and is much les intensive than indoor methods. That said it also requires logs (which are HEAVY) and land to let them run and fruits. There are many ways to cultivate mushroom and I’d encourage all of you to investigate and immerse yourself in the fabulous world of fungi.

 

Thanks for tuning in!

 

Are We Listening? Are You Paying Attention?

Ecotrain

This morning I woke up to yet more news of fires ravaging the landscape in Northern California. Northen California and indeed the Pacific Coast itself is a place I love dearly. There is a feeling of freedom and lightness in the air, perhaps because of the ocean. I grew up going to Southern California to visit family, but when I got older I was attracted to Northern California. I worked on Pot Farms, marveled at the grandeur of the old redwoods and sequoias and I met kindhearted, earth-loving people (and plenty of crazy ones too).

 

It is devastating in so many ways that the force of fire increasingly ravages the landscapes of California. The fire burns homes to a crisp and displaces entire communities of both humans, wildlife, and trees. We are seeing a full scale cleansing.

 

[Photo Source]

 

I woke up and checked my Instagram feed. It is a cold morning on the homestead- the coldest night yet and after I read the post about the fire, I settled in to make a fire in the cabin to warm up the place. As the poem I am about to share so brilliantly conveys, fire is a friend and, in excess, one of the deadliest foes. Yet instead of pitting fire as the “bad guy,” what if we dig a bit deeper and look at the message fire is bringing.

 

Great Fire,

We see you.

We bow before your power

Your majestic roar of life transforming

Everything we thought so solid & sure

Into dust.

Great Fire,

We honor you.

Master agent of Transformation

You teach us

True Radical Release.

Not the wishy washy letting go of some comforts &

conveniences, no.

Us humans.

With all our habits.

Raw coconut water in plastic bottles,

<< Oh but I recycle! >>

No.

Not enough.

True

Radical

Release.

Great Fire, great modeling of this.

When we evacuate

We realize how little needs to come with

How no thing really matters.

When our houses burn

We are left with no thing

We are left so… Alive.

We let go.

All that has been lost.

It is quiet.

We realize.

Being together is all our hearts want.

And all our business burns away.

Us humans, so important is our doing

Until there’s nothing to do but

Be in it.

Great Fire,

You’ll come teach us

Until we learn. “We can’t solve the problems

With the same kind of thinking we used

When we created them.” (Einstein)

So wipe our minds clean

To dust.

Let the Ash inside of us feed

Dormant seeds from long ago.

Let us remember.

Let us pause.

Let us not be so hasty to “rebuild!” If we build it this way

It will burn again.

What does it mean

To start

A

New?

Regenerate.

 

 

Poem by the Gaia School of Healing in California. You can check out there website here.

 

 

What most touched me about this poem is the deep reaching respect the author has toward fire. The admission that the way things had been carrying on would no longer work. The truth that the fire is a message, a wake up call.

 

It is beyond devastating to see destruction on this level. It is even more devastating to think that the clinging of humans (to not let forest fires burn naturally, for example, as is there regenerative cycle, which actually prevents the fuel accumulated which creates large scale fires of this sort) led to this. Their insistency to not pay attention or realize something needed to change.

 

“We can’t solve the problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Einstein

 

When Ini and I looked around for a place to call home to create our land-based, long term dreams, of course we wanted to move to cool and hip places like California, replete with likeminded people to form community with. Yet the proximity to huge population centers, lack of water, prevalence of fires, and inflated land and living expenses, ultimately kept us searching.

 

When my parents said they were going to move to Naples, Florida I had a similar reaction. Why move to a place that is notorious for getting hit with natural disasters? Why move to a place that could be under water within our lifetimes with rising sea levels? The year they moved there Hurricane Irma hit and they evacuated from their home. It was a crazy situation, but surely we all saw it coming. Even now the Atlantic coast of Florida just underwent another crazy natural disaster and many lost everything.

 

Are We Listening?

 

These types of things aren’t going to slow down. Weather patterns are erratic, it’s getting colder when it’s cold and hotter when it’s hot and sometimes cold when it should be hot and vice versa. Are we paying attention?

 

When I asked my dad how they could live in a place that may not be there when his grandkids reach maturity he laughed and said that he would be gone so it wouldn’t matter. I don’t mean to throw my dad under the bus – he takes everything with a good dose of humor – but the truth is that many humans are still perceiving things this way.

 

It doesn’t matter because it won’t matter for me.

 

This isn’t 7 Generations Thinking.

 

Deep in my heart I feel a surge to think 7 generations into the future and align my actions with the wellbeing of those who will come after me. Are my actions creating a better world or simply going along with the destructive flow?

 

We need to start thinking differently and choosing actions that have different results. I’m not saying no one can have any fun (and why is it that that’s how people immediately react, like to align our actions with the health of future generations is a kill-joy?), but that we need to take a good look at the course we’re on and change directions.

 

A mentor and guide for me in this time is consistently Joanna Macy. I’ve mentioned her books before. In this passage below she is questioning on of her teachers, Choegyal, about the Shambhala warriors in the prophecy.

 

 

“So in this time, the Shambhala warriors go into training. When Choegyal said this, Joanna asked, “How do they train?” They train, he said, in the use of two weapons. “What weapons?” And he held up his hands in the way the lamas hold the ritual objects of dorje and bell in the lama dance.

 

The weapons are compassion and insight. Both are necessary, he said. You have to have compassion because it gives you the juice, the power, the passion to move. It means not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Then you can open to it, step forward, act. But that weapon by itself is not enough. It can burn you out, so you need the other- you need insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. With that wisdom you know that it is not a battle between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. With insight into our profound interrelatedness- our deep ecology- you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern. By itself, that insight may appear too cool, too conceptual, to sustain you and keep you moving, so you need the heart of compassion. Together these two can sustain us as agents of wholesome change. They are gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world.” (pg 61 Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy)

 

Eyes of Wisdom

 

During these trying times, we must pay attention to what is before us. We are being given signs from every angle and truly life cannot go on as normal, as it has been going on for so so long. We must make a shift. Maybe, as my dad says, it doesn’t matter – Ice Ages and other full scale, sweeping clean catastrophes have happened many times over and this is just another catastrophic epoch. Yet, that urging deep in my heart, that compassion, combined with the insight of interrelatedness, even with those generations who are not born yet, who will come after me, tells me differently. It does matter and it’s for this reason that we’ve come into these times.

 

I feel like I share it all the time, but here are some key lines from the Hopi Elder’s prophecy, fitting for a closing statement.

 

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.