Thursday, February 26, 2009

permaculture interns

Garden of zomba is seeking interns interested in learning about forest gardening, permaculture design, and diy urban homesteading. We're looking for energetic and creative folks who can offer 6-8 hours each week (ideally, two mornings/afternoons per week) to transform this little house in the ghetto into a permaculture research and education center. Well, actually, it already is that, but we're looking to expand. We have a lot of projects in the queue, waiting for people interested in doing them. There's a lot of information and skills to be developed, in a practical setting (my daughter would call it playing). Ideally, we'd like to produce a heck of a lot of food, and use low-tech, low-cost means of achieving some level of sustainably aware living, and do it in such a way that it is accessible for anyone else with the time to do it.

What we can offer includes a share of produce from the garden, and access to tools and resources as they flow through the place. You can pick the brains of two people who are certified permaculture designers (and who heartily add that they are still very much learning), as well as access to our post-apocalyptic library (including lots of good permie books). We also have food preservation skills, mostly fermentation (sauerkraut, kombucha, wine) and canning. You can gain skills as we do, accessing the creative parts of our brains so unused in "real" work.

We have one-quarter or so acre of thick black soil, with a couple dozen fruit trees and several berry patches. We are interested in establishing perennials for food, fuel, and fiber (and beauty!). These are our short abbreviated goals for this year:

Start seeds, and have transplants ready to put in the ground in spring.

Convert south side former lawn/straight bed gardens to one of beautiful design, integrating flowers, vegetables, and herbs into one functioning low-maintenance garden.

Establishing many types of small gardens for identification as in a botanical garden; such as, insectary, pollination, Chinese medicinals, and native plants.

Designing, installing, and maintaining a system of rain barrels, swales, and graywater systems.

Planting standard fruit trees, nut trees and bushes, and berry patches.

Exploring mushroom cultivation (for eating, and for use in bioremediation).

Exploring bioremediation for recovering land bordering the street.

Exploring micro-climates, and the use of vines as more than just food.

Building a diy wood shed.

Breaking up concrete and utilizing resulting urbanite in landscape design.

Exploring the options of micro-livestock.

There is enough land (it's amazing how much land 1/4 acre is, when you think about covering every square inch of it with forest gardens) and not enough time, so if interns would like to pursue projects of their own design, we most likely would be up for providing space, and possibly assistance. We're very happy with self-motivated people, but if someone is seeking guidance and teaching, we can try to provide that as well.

If you're interested in interning at the garden of zomba for 2009, give us an email at zombans at yahoo dot com.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Income distribution in 1992.

I'm not sure what inflation would make this graph be in today's dollars, but notice the peak of the not-quite-bell curve plateauing from $10-12,000. Click on the source link to see the rest of the right side of the graph, but I can imagine you know where it's headed.


Monday, February 9, 2009


I open the encyclopedia to: "In Ancient Times, labor was closely related to slavery. Victorious nations often made slaves of the prisoners they captured in war. Many thousands of persons were born into slavery." It wasn't until the Middle Ages that labor got some respect, which was around the time of money making its way back into European during the bloom of Renaissance, inviting the birth of the bourgeois who made their bucks transitioning goods from common to elite, subsistence to excess. Pour in some Puritan work ethic, some notion that the streets of America are paved with gold, ripe for the picking (work and ye shall receive money), and you get the modern-day American notion of work.

This week in the zomban calendar has had quotes and other interesting thoughts about work, so I thought I'd share. Drapetomania is a term from the days of legal slavery in our nation, and was used to describe the "disease" of slaves who were "addicted to attempting escape or escaping slavery". The cure was to cut off their toes. If it was still a disease, rather than a quaint notion, I would be considered a drapetomaniac, no doubt.

A quote from Lame Deer: "You can tell a good medicine man by his actions and his way of life. Is he lean? Does he live in a poor cabin? Does money leave him cold?" The words of Daniel Quinn: "I'm afraid it's true that most people are content with lifelong wage slavery, so long as they have a lifetime supply of drugs to deaden the pain--drugs in the form of television, booze, Valium, cocaine, and Prozac." Poet and former L.A. gang member Luis Rodriguez: "Prison is full of entrepreneurs who, in another environment, would have been thriving capitalists. They're the first ones to tell you, 'I was just trying to make money.'" Not exactly off the topic, C. Latrans: "Democracy is different from aristocracy because in democracy we get to vote for the aristocrats."

I love these old encyclopedias from the early 60's, written when America was at the height of power and glory. The entry on free enterprise system, that being American capitalism, states: "Many of us consider this economic system a basic part of our way of life. We wish to see it maintained and strengthened, partly because we have fared well under it, and partly because we feel that all our other freedoms may depend upon freedom of enterprise."

In economic theory, this means that each individual has a choice of what to buy (the seller doing his best to listen to his customers, and to give the best product for the least price), whom to work for (each employer producing the best product possible, thereby attracting the most money from consumers, and paying their workers the most money), and how to divide it up (with the warning that "This way of distributing income always produces an unequal distribution of income because no two individual share exactly equal resources. This fact can lead to serious problems if the people of the society are not willing to accept a substantial amount of inequality in the distribution of the total income.")

"One of the most important problems confronting a free enterprise society is how to make sure that each person can get ahead only by offering more for less" (though it seems like we're now in a mode of getting less quality for more money).

There is even a voice for our environment: "But it takes more than the labor of human beings to produce goods in a modern, industrialized society. It takes land, coal, oil, buildings, tools, and machinery as well. What assurance is there that these nonhuman resources will do what consumers wish them to? ...Self-interest, made effective by the device of private property, will lead to the use of even the nonhuman resources in the way that the consumer wishes them used." And then put those nonhuman resources into landfills; thanks for cleaning up after yourselves.

"The great point of strength of free enterprise, and the factor which promises well for the future of the system, is its record of accomplishment. Under this system, the American people have reached a level of economic well-being never before equaled in the history of the world. They are better fed and better clothed, and enjoy more luxuries, than people of any other country. Free people, making free decisions in economic life, and using some of the world's richest natural resources, have produced an amazing record of economic progress."

Of course, "Free enterprise is also threatened by problems from within. As the system works, it shows some obvious faults. Its tendency to fluctuate from prosperity to depression is one of the more important problems of the system. The existence of poverty in the midst of plenty is another. However, problems of this kind can be reduced. The future of free enterprise depends chiefly on whether the majority of us will be willing to accept the features that make the system work, and vigilant in maintaining the conditions necessary for it to work properly."

It was hard to maintain my composure by the last of it--lots of low whistles and head shaking at all that line of reasoning out the manifest destiny. We now have 40 years of hindsight in which to view the economic American dream. The reason we live under this system is that it put us on top. Of course, as a nation we're a lot poorer now than we were when this analysis was written. We still seem to have a lot of stuff, and our infrastructure and food supply are still intact, so we're not quite in crisis moment, although we are deeply in debt. (In addition to the 1/10,000th of a quarter that you all are paying to support my family's food and energy habits, you and I all owe over $35,000 each for the national debt. I don't think it's reasonable to believe that my family could pay off our share of $105,000. Can yours?) Total debt is over $10,000,000,000,000 (is that amount even conceivable?).

We no longer have a wealth of natural resources, having converted them into dollars long ago. We don't have much in the way of nontoxic water or food. We have crumbling infrastructure, not enough money to take advantage of the low price of oil, and a way of life that doesn't seem to work for many people anymore.

I get the feeling we have forgotten the value of money, and possibly because the value is so abstract, it is no longer meaningful. How many zeros does it take to give a one some weight? We also seem to have forgotten the value of our time. I wish the society in which I lived valued the things that I value, namely community. I wish I could go about my daily life, working in my area of interest, doing the best I could do, and earn a paycheck/way of living for it. No doubt, there are "green jobs" or whatever you would like to call them. But not a lot that I find value and meaning in, nor do I find value in being managed by bureaucrats. I am not afraid of work. I work hard. People thank me. I just don't seem to get paid for it.

I wonder about this economic system that has a high level of accomplishment, but that now seems to have fizzled out. When Communist Russia fizzled out in the early 90's, it was a victory for our country and for capitalism. But now that the U.S. is losing, who gets to claim the victory? I don't think it's fair to rely on an economic system that has its "whoopsie daisies" with bust and boom cycles. Anyone with a lick of common sense could tell you that buying debt that has no hope of being repaid is a losing proposition. It may look good on paper, but the reality is something different entirely. Why do plain old normal hard-working Americans lose their jobs and have a rough time of it, because of the stupidity of those who had the power to make a lot of short-term quick bucks and worked their magic that also, unfortunately, resulted in long-term economic depression? (I think the president used the term "catastrophe".) It's likely our nation will not recover from this event firmly in the #1 spot. Can we handle this? Our empire has fallen.

I'm not a fan of capitalism, nor money. It's a necessary evil, and I strongly question how necessary it is. I participate in the capitalist economy because it's an alternative to eating out of dumpsters and sleeping outdoors in the cold. If I had a choice, I wouldn't participate. I think participating in the economy of community is something we can all benefit from, and I highly recommend it. It's not a model of competition, like capitalism and imperial government (I trust not the government, nor the corporations that rule our country), but a model of cooperation. It's also been called the gift economy, but translating community into dollars and back unnecessarily degrades community.

Caring about people, helping out, sharing resources, nurturing children, loving elders, smiling at people, having conversations with modern-day untouchables (the homeless in our town), planting food and cooking and eating it with other people, adapting as a community to crisis or abundance, taking responsibility for what our nation's social services are failing, entertaining ourselves, educating ourselves--all these things make up a vibrant community.

Community has wealth that is more abundant the more it is shared. It is based more upon the lines of equality--we each have more of an equal shot of being a person wealthy in deeds than we do of being wealthy in dollars. In short, it is the economy in which I wish to participate. I just have to figure out how to transfer my money economy needs into the community economy world. Now there's the trick!


p.s. Thanks to all our friends and friends-to-be who gave us support in the face of righteous indignation. We appreciate the kind words.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

insurmountable opportunities

I want to talk about the apparent crumbling of capitalism as we know it, and the opportunities it brings. It is likely that people will be hungry and cold as the world around us crumbles, and no doubt there will not be much sympathy or help if we continue to run on this idea (our operating system) that if you work hard, you get rewarded with a lot of money, and it makes your life easier. Fact is, a lot of people work hard and don't get squat. I've read that 3/4 of the world does not even participate in the money economy, but in the informal economy (which might be a bit more real even). It's not hard for me to get over the idea that capitalism is bogus, having been blessedly (ha) born a white American, but firmly at the bottom of the heap.

So all right, we who blog, who discuss ideas on these screens, dreams in hand, visions in mind, what are we going to do with this opportunity? It's not often that capitalism appears be having the big one, in the words of Fred Sanford. Not having to spend time impeding and overcoming the overwhelming tide of money and power can be a blessing. And on to being beyond the buzzwords of proactive and sustainable (maybe when there's no money to be made, they'll stop the greenwashing). Can we provide the things that cease to appear when money dissolves itself and jobs disappear? Can we share knowledge, skills, and resources to provide for ourselves and each other our shelter, food, water, and clothing? Can we step up to guide ourselves, make our own decisions for what's best for our communities and our children, take care of ourselves in times of crisis? Can we entertain ourselves, and begin to feel human once again?

We'll have time on our side--lots of it, many of us with "nothing" to do. We'll have time to think about things, talk about things, and work on projects together, and learn from resulting feedback. We'll have time to get back in touch with natural cycles of celestial and earth, feeling all of the growth of living things around us (much better than the deadening feeling of pavement). We can hold babies, play with kids and do fun things like build rocket stoves with them, convive with each other, listen to our elders. If community is there to fill the void of capitalism, it will. I can't imagine any greater resource we have than each other and the earth beneath our feet.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

enacting a different story

Still thinking and talking a lot about the feedback we've received from airing our private lives to the general public. While I've been a bit shocked and surprised at the amount of vitriol spewed our way, the knee-jerk self-righteous judgments, and the overall astounding stupidity of some people (you make your child beg for workbooks? you evil people!) in their comments, I have to say, I am equally surprised and amazed at the supportive comments we've received.

There are people who don't necessarily like supporting people on welfare, but give us grudging respect for working hard both on our land and in volunteering in our community, and raising our child rather than sending her off to an institution. There are people who whole-heartedly support what we're doing, and a few others who have written saying "tell me more!" I didn't know this many cool people existed in Springfield, and I encourage y'all to come to a food not lawns meeting, if you can, so we can get in touch.

If interested more about our philosophy and what we're doing, I made a video last summer and put it on YouTube. It should be apparent that I am not a videographer, nor much of a public speaker. But here it is:
Watching it makes me realize how much I miss green growing plants! Those lambs quarters look delicious!

I am hopeful for a future in which the work we do is valued. What if we had as many well-paid jobs with benefits for community organizers as we do for prison guards? What if we as a community put our mental, physical, and monetary efforts behind making a world with low-tech functioning systems that create viable thriving human communities? Would we be in economic and global climate destabilization crises now? Would we force ourselves to toil at soul-deadening jobs that create yet more landfills and deserts and pavement?

Honestly, though, I'm not looking to be paid for what I do. Money is part of the world I hope to leave behind. I feel like I am walking the line between this world and the next. I have one foot in each, and can see each world clearly. Is this what straddling paradigms is like? It's exhilarating, but frustrating. Trying to explain a clear vision of What Else Can Be is difficult. It's like describing over and over the parts of an elephant, but people can't really get what I'm seeing until they see it for themselves.

Well, we'll keep sharing our time and resources with those we care about and who care about us. It starts here (among other places), and we take it out into the world. The more of us that share this vision, and spread these memes, the easier it will be for us all to function, and to share this vision with other people. If we want there to be a future, we're going to have to figure out a different way to live, and to enact a different story in which to raise and nurture our children.


Monday, February 2, 2009

welfare: the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity

Yesterday ran a column by Dave Bakke, here is the online version. We've gotten positive responses from people we know personally. Online responses, however, are fairly hateful and negative. The ideas of living a simplified life and trying to transition into a world of community were eclipsed by the fact that we are on food stamps and receive energy assistance. I've been thinking a lot about welfare, so here we go.

Welfare began in the first Great Depression (remember how we called WW1 the Great War until ww2 came along?), because there were simply no jobs, and currency was hard to come by to trade for food. Most everyone was in need, especially after the remaining banks came to own a lot of the land. Then my historical recollection of it is a bit fuzzy, until maybe the 80's, when welfare came under scrutiny because the hard-working people of this country were being fleeced by welfare cheats who did nothing but pop out kids as fast as possible to get more and more money, in between eating donuts and watching tv. And then in the 90's, I think, there were the welfare reform laws aimed at getting people who lived off welfare back into the workforce. Welfare reform in these ideas refers to the money people get in cash assistance every month.

And now we're here, and here we are. Last winter we received about $100 a month in food assistance. We ate a lot of beans and dumpstered bread, as you can imagine. This summer our food assistance went up to a whopping $450, and we ate meat, cheese, dairy. It was a nice change. Now we are receiving $380 a month, which can provide for us quite nicely. This money helps us, obviously, and also helps the grocery store where a link card can be used to buy groceries, and also helps all the food processors and industrial ag businesses that get government subsidies to grow the stuff. Food assistance averaged out to about $3000 last year.

We also received about $500 in energy assistance. This normally pays the bulk of our two hardest months of winter using our natural gas furnace, plus a few months of electric. Our energy bills are ridiculously low in spring, summer, and fall, and only when we are stuck inside with the cold outside do we consume more energy. This winter is different, with using the wood stove. When we cut our gas in a month or two, the bulk of the unused portion will return to whence it came.

Altogether we receive, via the public dole, $3500. (For anyone interested in determining whether I commit welfare fraud, I dutifully turn in all the paperwork requested of me. They decide the amounts; I don't.) To put $3500 in perspective, it's less than the Iraq war costs for one second. One second. One second of death and destruction and moral ineptitude puts food on the table for my family and pays for a couple of the hardest months of utility demands of the winter.

If people want to talk about how their tax payer dollars are wasted, I will be up there talking with them. I pay taxes too--in the form of sales tax and property tax. Look at how much money is wasted in war. We have military bases all over the globe, sticking our imperial noses where they don't belong. Add the cost of Afghanistan to Iraq, and you get $4745 spent per second. A lot of that goes "missing" or is mismanaged, or is flat-out given to Cheney and his cronies at Halliburton. Look at industrial farms getting subsidies. We spent $35 billion in taxpayer money, and the bulk of that went to the top 10% biggest and wealthiest agri-industrial corporations.

Let's talk about how much money we waste putting people in prison for petty or consensual crimes. I hear the Sangamon County Jail is now five people to a one-person cell. Our nation can't spend the money on community centers, or allowing mothers to stay home and raise their kids, but the more prisons, the better! Look at the pavement we subsidize--yet more roads and subdivisions, even though the roads and sidewalks we already have are crumbling, and we can't seem to find the money to fix them. Look at what we pay for educating our nation's children, and the test numbers haven't increased. And I could go on. I can't stand government waste either, and it looks like big corporations are getting the bulk of the welfare. Time for them to get real jobs!

Included in Dave Bakke's column were the numbers I had written up for our family's year in review. This was the income we received and the money we spent. We made the most of the money we received, including the money we earned. Our tax refund and economic stimulus money--when wealthier people get these, they are not considered welfare, and I do not consider these payments to be welfare for me either.

We get an adoption subsidy provided for by the state, for adopting an abused child. It helps keep the roof over our heads, and we are thankful for it. It has made the decision to stay home and take care of our priority, our child, much easier. It's not easy raising a severely traumatized child. If you'd have asked me a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible that she would ever recover. But now it seems, things are going well enough. It takes a lot of patience and determination, and most importantly, time and love, to overcome that. No matter how good a teacher or daycare worker is, they are no substitute for a loving family and caring community in overcoming adversity like that.

Back to welfare. There are 154 million Americans with jobs, and about 80 million without. Approximately 11 million are unemployed, with about a third of these folks joining this statistic in the last year. I kind of wonder how those 80 million people are managing to live. Some are, no doubt, stay-at-home parents whose spouses have jobs. A lot are likely like me--working, sure, but making ends meet however possible, even if it means standing in a crowded welfare office with many other people trying to make ends meet. After all, even with the ubiquitous fast food jobs, 11 million competitors are not good odds. Those who have other options take them. When Wal-Mart starts down-sizing, you can pack it in. There's not going to be much economic recovery after that, and talk otherwise is just talk.

Welfare is often criticized by people who work but aren't rich. Understandably so. They work their butts off, often at places they don't really enjoy. They have to work to pay the bills, and they get really pissed when someone else gets a free ride. And then if they lose their jobs, or their spouse gets sick or dies, they find themselves on welfare, and they understand what it's like. This happens more than you might think.

And now back to us. If I had known our food and energy assistance were to be so scrutinized, I would have figured some different numbers, mainly in the form of value received and value given. In the form of what we contribute to society, we volunteer with food not lawns, about 30 hours a month. Even at minimum wage, we output a couple of hundred dollars of value each month. For people who value assistance in learning about organic holistic gardening and appreciate free worms, kombucha mothers, assistance, garden design, and workshops, they might put our value at a bit higher than the minimum.

In addition, we homeschool our child, so the almost $7000 allocated on her behalf is not being used (we sure don't get it for her home education). If she were in public school, my intelligent spirited active daughter would most likely be quite a drain on an already overworked teacher in an overcrowded inner city school, or possibly, highly medicated. Of course, we'd never charge to teach our daughter, already being emphatic that knowledge is a human right that should not involve money in any way, shape or form.

And forget numbers, because really, when you get down to it, money is imaginary. I mean really. A couple of years ago, when we were surfing this bubble dream of the ever increasing pile of more money, we had no idea that it would all crash (well, some people did). I can't find the exact statistics, but $1.2 trillion poofed into the ether on just one day--Sept. 29 of last year. In October, almost $10 trillion vanished from stock markets world-wide. This money existed, until people stopped believing in it, then it disappeared. You can call it a correction, but I call it the imaginary idols of a disturbed cult whose rituals stopped working.

I feel like I've said my piece on welfare. Yes, I use one second's worth of what our country spends in the war in Iraq to make ends meet. I put some dollar figures out there that seem to outweigh what we receive. But putting the emphasis on community and not on dollars, that is the important part. We are here, on a daily basis, interacting within our neighborhood, with our friends, and our child, and also with our community at large. It is a real blessing to be able to do this. We're trying to figure out a way to live without toxifying our habitat. If our government valued this, we'd be rich, wouldn't we? We'd be making a lot more than $3500 per year, wouldn't we? (Note to self: get in line at the bailout window for sustainable urban homesteading research. Wait, is that more welfare, or is it economic recovery?)

Planting forest gardens, that's what I'm interested in putting my time toward, and I think I'm providing a better value to my community of Springfield and my community of Earth than repeating do you want fries with that? ad nauseum. Raising a kid who can think for herself, who is raised with values and taught skills to survive whatever may come, a kid who is creative and intelligent--that's my contribution to my descendants. This effort, this adventure, this is my insurance, my retirement plan. You got it. I am a willing worker for a future that makes some sort of sense. I find beauty in my yard in the ghetto, my neighborhood, my community both close and far. I'm done playing checkers with dollars forever and forever. I've found something a lot more meaningful. I'm done talking about welfare.


"Go forth, tear this iron cage down,
My sons," thus the wise woman spoke,
"And set every fantasy free,
And every crushed worker unyoke."

from Vachel Lindsay's "The Woman Called 'Beauty' And Her Seven Dragons A Poem For Those Who Desire An Aesthetic Utopia."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

woo! the washer we've been waiting for!

I've been thinking about a non-electric washing machine since we stopped using the dryer (currently using clothesline and drying rack). I got the idea from Lehman's, which sells a ready-made manual washer for way too expensive a price for us. They also sell washtubs and a steel frame for a more affordable price--but still too expensive.

So, I was overjoyed yesterday, stumbling across this old double-basin washer at an antique mall, for $20. It even has spigots on the bottom (hard to see), that drain the water. With the addition of a plunger, or the fancy Rapid Washer that Lehman's sells, we are good to go. It is my hope that we'll be able to use the water we capture from our roof in our rain barrels to provide water for washing. Then we'll be able to drain it into a mulched basin that will replenish ground water and add to the moisture available to our garden. I'm still in need of a wringer, which may make itself available, or if all else fails, I can buy one from Lehmans.

I will be excited not to have to pay money for the electricity, nor for the chlorinated drinking water our washer currently uses. Then we'll be able to give our electric washer to someone else who can use it. Of course, during the winter, we might have to use tap water to wash clothes, although it seems plausible to divert our used shower water to wash our clothes. Otherwise, I can do it the old fashioned way of starting with the least-dirty clothes (the whites), and use the same water to wash progressively dirtier clothes before I drain it.

Little by little, the homestead is coming together. With this beautiful day, Don is out chopping wood for the stove, and K is out making mud pies. What a blessing to be alive to enjoy it.