Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sitting With the Dhamma Brothers (Part Two)

Part Three: (I've got to give you some background in order to make sense of Part Three.) For many of us in urban communities, gardening is probably one of the most relaxing and personally rewarding hobbies. It is a way to forget the pressures of daily living and of the intensities at work. It cleanses us of the static noises and electrical waves invading our bodies from all of our "devices." What gardening does is it literally grounds us to the earth. It brings us back to a direct connection to our ancestors and our human heritage. There is an absolute oneness you can feel - if you allow it - to the very nature of our commonality and connection to all living things. That oneness is real especially when you feel its nurturing aura as you cultivate the earth, bringing alive the meaning of "Mother Nature," and you realize that we are all her children.

Unfortunately, the human sector of her children has been behaving badly for the last 200 years. I’m sure most of us have never thought of ourselves as the black sheep of the family. So, here's a sobering thought: right now, today, 99.99 percent of all living things that have inhabited the earth are extinct. That's a scientific fact. Humans, on the other hand, have proliferated at an extraordinary rate going from one billion in 1900 to six billion in 2000.

From the DNA evidence, we homo sapiens have been uniting sperms and eggs for 200,000 years. From way back then until 1900, it required THAT length of time to reach a billion. Then in just one hundred years, we increased by five billion! It's projected that in 50 years, we'll add almost four billion. Not that all those extinctions are our fault - we weren't around when that monster meteor collided with the earth and caused a chain reaction killing all the dinosaurs. We; however, have gotten to a level of arrogance which seems to command entitlement to whatever we wish without much considerations of the consequences. This has included a justification for killing, especially of things, animals and people who get in our way. With some people, extinction seems to have become a part of business and a part of life.

The more we've dominated the landscape, the more oblivious we get about all the sand we’ve kicked into our mother's face. But the times, they are a’changin’, because Big Mama hasn’t enjoyed the facelift. It's obvious she been getting more pissed off lately and there is no doubt: an immense tantrum is brewing below the surface. Lately, she's been thinking about scrapping the whole mess and starting all over again. If you're familiar with Thomas Friedman's book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded" you'll take note that some earth scientists are saying the human species may be on the chopping block by 2100. Just think, we'll go from 9 billion to zero in three seconds flat in anthropological terms.

So, how does this all relate to gardening? And for that matter, how does it relate to the killings in Oakland? The short answer: there is a viable solution to our urban crisis if we take our human evolutionary history and incorporate the simple, ancient craft of gardening to replenish the earth and use it to build a new urban industry employing thousands of inner-city workers - but not necessarily in the way you might think. The concept is so simple and so old, it might not make sense to the powers-that-be because it requires a shift in the bureaucratic paradigm especially since it won’t cost much and may not bring much in federal stimulus money. But that’s the exact reason we should do this – high impact, low cost. My experience so far has been that ignoring (aka ignorance) has been easier than trying to understand its impact as a benefit to our communities. We all know that the same old solutions and the same old arguments have produced the same old results, and we’re still in the same old place, not to mention the enormous taxpayer monies that have been wasted. That’s why a groundswell on the Internet needs to happen. Bottoms up!

So, let’s describe this solution: instead of gardening for gardening’s sake, how about if we grow plants that will have a real value to our communities? What if we started growing fruits and vegetables across our urban landscapes and began thinking in terms of “micro-farming” where thousands of open spaces – even just a stair or deck could be utilized as a food producing site? The benefits would be enormous just by this simple act:

  • More people will take control of their foods while saving tons of money.
  • Foods will be grown organically, more nutritiously without harmful pesticides.
  • We’d reduce our carbon emissions because our foodswon’t have to be trucked or shipped an average of 1500 miles.
  • Rather than just decorative trees, plant apple, avocado, peach, pear, orange trees etc. everywhere, thus, removing more CO2 and growing an ample supply of fruits for everyone.
  • Develop simple business models so that low and middle income urban residents can make micro-farming a career or at least a part time job to supplement their incomes.
  • Incentivize partnerships between micro-farmers and local businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and food kitchens so that overall food costs are reduced and local economies can thrive.
  • Develop an organic micro-farming industry that establishing guidelines, best practices and technical assistance programs as part of a new economic strategy for our cities. (In 2007, for the first time in the world’s history, more than 50 percent of the population lived in urban locations. In 20 more years, that figure will jump to 70 percent; thus, making even more sense to establish urban farms.)

Some of these urban farms are already in existence throughout the country, and no less than Michelle Obama has been instrumental in moving this agenda forward by planting a micro-farm within the White House garden. But could we expand the micro-farm concept for people even if they have no land?

In Africa, Central America, New York City, Newark and Chicago, they’re already doing it using what’s called “self-watering containers.” There are tens of thousands of these growing foods in regions that have been prohibitive for farming previously. There is no need to reconstitute the soil, no need to break apart concrete - all you do is place the container atop just about any surface. Here in Oakland, the initial steps have been taken: land is available through the Parks and Recreation Department and the Oakland Housing Authority. The Oakland school district’s Adult Education program has given us their blessing for training people in micro farming. Now, we just need a growing movement of people to participate and join the rest of the world’s progression into urban farming.

Self-watering containers are a relatively new invention that’s been available to the public since 2001. The best known of these is called EarthBox (www.earthbox.com). There are now other manufacturers with various sizes and shapes. But they all conform to a common principle: the containers hold a reservoir of water in the bottom section and through natural capillary action, move the water upward into the soil. This process is so water efficient, that for most plants, you’ll only use 40 percent of the water in comparison to the traditional in-ground system. The soil should be organic, and it will require only one application of fertilizer for the entire growing season. The process is so simple and the results superior to standard farming, it has revolutionized how we can grow our foods. The containers are nearly 30 inches in length, 14 inches deep and 11 inches tall, but the results can be as much as double your in-ground method.

Now, anyone with about eight hours of sunlight and a deck, a stair, a driveway, can join the self-watering container, micro-farm movement. I want to encourage each of you to have at least one self-watering container and push the movement forward. Proliferate it as a simple solution to food, environment and employment. Let's make it the iPod of urban farming. And that’s the point, anyone can do this; and if motivated, anyone can turn this into a successful business or a social cause which would be the final point of this blog. To be continued

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