After several years of absorbing large volumes of information from many sources and interweaving these separate pieces together, the information began to manifest a pattern. At first the pattern was indistinct, so several of us continued gathering information from books, articles, documentary films, and freeform interactions with other people. Gradually, the patterns came into focus, and the transition was made from information gathering to action:
Something needs to change at a very fundamental level if we are to become beneficial and symbiotic with the ecosystem in which we live, rather than continuing to be largely parasitical and destructive. In fact, something needs to change to increase our chances of surviving the current parasitical trend. To illustrate this point, what happens to a parasite when the host dies?
Some things we’ve been thinking on:
We need to start being able to grow our own food. It is hard to say how much longer our system will be able to sustain the population. Peak oil has been (pretty much) reached, and costs of transport are predicted to rise. As the transport of food becomes more expensive, so will the food. There are many proposals to build an astsronomically priced, ecologically destructive system of superhighways across the United States in order to ensure efficient military and trucking transport. Are these roads being built to prepare for a war to be conducted here? Is the US government considering future plans to invade Canada for her resources should ours be depleted? I don’t put anything past this government in the event that it is beseiged by its own shortsightedness and checkmated by the changing world climates and depleted resource availability it has created. This would certainly explain why the US government has made it a “Number One Priority” to build these highways. See http://www.permatopia.com/peak-traffic.html for more information about the planned superhighway network. All speculation aside, the question remains, why are they building these highways instead of enhancing the rail system and trying to create less parasitical communities?
While the true reason for the superhighway network remains in the realm of speculation, one thing is certain: These roads will be expensive to use (possibly $7 or more per vehicle per day in tolls if you look at the ICC project), so they are obviously NOT being built to serve the needs of “the people” as the proponents like to claim in order to put a positive spin on their war machine (war against nature as well as people with less power). They will be even more expensive to build, and this money will no doubt come out of the ever increasing taxes levied by a government that no longer listens to anyone but its own greed and lust for domination — a government whose supporters stand to gain from the added bonus of the petroleum-based profits that will result from these roads.
The building of an even more monster network of highways, should it go foward, will translate into higher transport costs, higher food prices, and even more destruction of the environment that would have otherwise been a habitat for the non-destructive residents of this planet, and would have been a self-renewing source of food for animals and people (without disrupting the forests). More importantly, areas of wild forest, which are basically the immune system of the surface world, will be destroyed. In light of these trends, what I think we need to do is to enhance our own small corner of the planet as much as possible. Will this save us? The answer to this is not known, but as long as the ability to do so exists, we have decided to try. By growing our own food, we cut down on transport costs, and we know what goes into the food. We know that it is not genetically modified, and that no chemicals were used to produce it.
Assuming this is a convincing argument, where does one start?
Everything has to start from the ground up. Many soils in most areas of this country are rather damaged, from excessive extractive forms of farming, toxins, and missuse/abuse. To clear the soil and surrounding or underlying waters, Paul Stamets recommends the use of mushroom mycelia. Mycelia are the main body of fungi – the mushrooms are just the fruiting body. Mycelia exist underground and can act as a filter as the water passes through them, and also feed upon and convert some toxic materials in the soil into harmless substances. Mycelia also bond with the root systems of many plants, and form a symbiotic relationship with them. The symbiosis serves to increase the speed of transfer of nutrients from the soil to the plant. Consequently, many plants grow far better in myceliated soil than in soil that has been plowed or otherwise disrupted by humans.
In order for the mycelia to grow effectively, they must have something to eat. Composted kitchen waste and wood chips make a fine meal for most mycelia and are an excellent way to get them started. Composting can be done by means of an outdoor compost pile if there is room, or by means of a composting tumbler if space is limited to an indoor area. Composting that which is commonly referred to as “waste” begins to eliminate the concept of waste, and we begin to put back into the soil that which we take out. True sustainability cannot be achieved without this. Once the compost is ready, it can be fed into the soil, giving the mycelia a better chance to gain a foothold. It should be noted that not all mycelia are beneficial. Honey Mushrooms, for example, can kill an entire forest. (that said, they may be correcting another imbalance that we have not noted, such as the need for more soil from decomposing matter.) Other types of mushrooms, on the other hand, will live symbiotically with trees and other plants and benefit them greatly. Therefore a little research is in order before myceliating a garden.
Most of us don’t have much space and do not wish to use vast amounts of water to keep a garden. There are methods of gardening that are best described as “Horticulture” rather than “agriculture”. These methods use a minimum of space by making maximum use of the available space. Terracing, container gardening, and other means are used to get the most out of your available area. To minimize wasteful water use, the garden should be designed so that very little water runs off – in other words the traditional straight rows are right out. Circular gardening, or better yet, spiralling downward toward the middle, is a way to make sure the water does not leave the garden, and also provides different heights so the plants that need less water can be at a higher elevation. The use of rainwater cachement systems to harvest rain from house gutters, as well as the recycling of greywater from showers, dishwashing, and laundry, also reduces the amount of fresh water required for the garden. Of course, the use of biodegradeable soaps is required when recycling greywater.
If the garden is designed using the concepts set forth in Bill Mollison’s book, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, it will continue to produce throughout the year with a minimum of effort – not your normal backbreaking farm labor at all. The main effort that goes into permaculture is mental – you must plan the garden carefully. Mollison’s books are the best references for designing a permaculture garden (permanent [sustainable, renewable] horticulture). He has successfully implemented such gardens in famine zones on the African continent.
Food production is not the only area we need to reclaim as our own. The building industry is another major knowledge base that has been taken over by “experts”. How many of us know how to construct a comfortable shelter? This total ignorance was not always so prevalent. Homes were once mostly constructed by the people who live in them together with their extended family and friends. Recapturing this knowledge may be a very good idea. The problem is, many building materials used now are highly toxic and have a huge impact on the environment around them in terms of footprint, toxic chemicals, and greenhouse gas production. Some building techniques have a less onerous impact on the ecosystem than others and use materials that are compatible with the Earth (and other living creatures). One of our favorites is cob building. More can be learned about these wonderful, do-it-yourself “clay pot” homes at http://www.cobcottage.com. The best part about them is, you can make them any shape you want. You are not constrained by corners and squares, which has to be the most unnatural shape into which to squeeze a living being. As one friend put it, “If I have kids, and one of them wants his or her own room, I’ll just say, ‘Sure! Build it yourself!'”
The last, and most important component of a sustainable community are the people who form it. None of this can be done alone. It would take one person or conventional ‘family unit’ many, many years to create all the things necessary to sustain itself. The family unit consisting of two parents and a few kids is something relatively recent and, once again, is not the golden rule handed down by God that its proponents like to claim. As usual, they lie through their teeth. A more natural situation is the extended family, which consists of several generations. In our present situation, we don’t often have that luxury – the older generations may live in other states, or may have passed on. In this case, the need still remains for a “tribe”. Otherwise, how can one successfully raise children, build homes, grow food, and accomplish all the things that make life worth living? How can there be the ferment of ideas that spark the imagination? The first glimmerings of tribe formed because of the internet – people once again bonded into an extended family. It isn’t always as easy in person to form a sustainable tribe. There are no manuals, as there are with permaculture, on how to form a sustainable 21st century tribe. There are no hard and fast rules, and each group has a slightly different (sometimes very different) dynamic. But the principles of open communication and exchange of ideas remains the same – the same principles that got me started on all of this in the first place…
In conclusion, the main thing most of us need to do right now, is to learn how to supply our own basic necessities. How many of us besides the Amish know how to exist if the power grid goes down or if the trucking industry is somehow immobilized and the shelves are empty? How many of us even know our neighbors or could rely upon them to fulfil a function in time of emergency? We have been raised in a parasitic culture, in which we were not required or even permitted to do the things that would make our communities truly self-sustaining. New Orleans is a prime example of what happens to a community that does not know how to feed itself, and which has been dependent on Santa Claus™, the Great Pumpkin™, the Government™, God™, and Jesus Christ™ to save them. As illustrated by New Orleans, nobody will save us. I believe that the time to reverse this trend is ..
The following list of books are some I have read in the past several years, and highly recommend for a thorough introduction to the concepts I’ve been studying:
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (Paul Stamets) This is the definitive book on mycoremediation.
Other books by Paul Stamets are available at http://www.fungiperfecti.com. His field is mycoremediation, which is the science of purifying and enriching waters and soils using mushroom mycelium. The first thing that must happen when an area is remediated is the restoration of native mycelium, if possible.
The Humanure Handbook (Joseph Jenkins) – To be truly sustainable we must put back into the soil what we take out. Composting of all waste (so essentially there *is* no waste), is a key to achieving this. Mr. Jenkins has been doing this for over 20 years, and has shown quite remarkable results. I would combine in the use of mycelium (shaggy manes, in this case) to further treat the compost (and get food as well).
Lasagna Gardening (Patricia Lanza) This book discusses a method of gardening that involves building layers of compost with sheets of myceliated newsprint or cardboard in between. (ok, we are into the bringing in of the mycelium in to large portions of what we are doing. You do not need to combine things quite the way we are trying out…(grins) The effect is kind of like lasagna. This allows horticulture with a minimum of effort, space, and disruption of the ecosystem. It makes much use of layering, terracing, and water conservation, instead of spreading out over a large area.
Gaia’s Garden: A guide to home-scale permaculture (Toby Hemenway)
Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture (Dave Jacke)
Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally (Robert Kourik)
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (Bill Mollison) Mollison is the one who started the whole permaculture movement. If you have a yard, or even a balcony, why not use the space you have to produce food year-round? This book says how.
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability: David Holmgren brings into sharper focus the powerful and still evolving Permaculture concept he pioneered with Bill Mollison in the 1970s. It draws together and integrates 25 years of thinking and teaching to reveal a whole new way of understanding and action behind a simple set of design principles. The 12 design principles are each represented by a positive action statement, an icon and a traditional proverb or two that captures the essence of each principle.
An Introduction to Permaculture (Bill Mollison) Bill Mollison’s second book, which elaborates on the concepts introduced in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual
The Hand-sculpted house (Ianto Evans) You can build your own house out of clay and sand. Some structures made of this substance have lasted for over 500 years in England. Special attention is given to the thickness of walls, breathable natural plasters, the orientation of the house for maximum passive solar heating, and a roof and foundations placed so water is kept away from the house. There is more information about cob building, courses, and apprenticeships at http://www.cobcottage.com. This organization is based in Oregon where it is very, very wet year round – so cob building works in wet climates.
The Culture of Make Believe (Derrick Jensen) (and all other books by Derrick Jensen). This book discusses the cultural assumptions we make that we take as gospel truth, but which are nothing more than a fictitious reality, created by those in power. Stop believing so easily.
Strangely like War (Derrick Jensen) A discussion of the systematic destruction of nature, and how it is, in fact, a consciously perpetrated war.
Endgame (volumes 1 and 2) (Derrick Jensen) A descussion of how the cultural assumptions we make perpetuate the destruction of nature and prevent true sustainability. In fact, civilization as we know it *requires* the destruction of sustainable communities, according to Jensen. Is he right? You be the judge. More books by Derrick Jensen are available at http://www.derrickjensen.org/
(This essay is a bit of a joint venture…so you can attribute it to Rialian’s Realm. This is the first of probably many.)