Looking Back at My Experiences Volunteering at Foundation Farm in the Fall of 2014

In this post I’ll explore food and why not just organic, but sustainable food production is a key capstone to a sustainable life.

As we explore alternatives to conventional agricultural systems which are part of agribusiness, we need to consider that current economic social and technological frameworks of organizing resources in modern societies discourage real shifts towards sustainable healthy living.

However, neither organic or sustainable farming systems are realistically configured to replace the current grossly unsustainable agribusiness food production complex. So thus we need to consider this reality as we advocate more sustainable systems of food production.

I want to talk about my main experience with produce farming (other than working in the Arcosanti greenhouse from 2009-12). It involved spending several months volunteering at Patrice Gros’ Foundation Farm, in the winter of 2014/15.

Patrice has decided to take a break from farming and he is now working at a culinary school in Bentonville Arkansas. He’s working in procurement and in an effort to source supplies from local farms when possible. His long-term wish is to get back into farming at some point, focusing on highly compact and intensive farming practices.

Despite its small size, Eureka Springs, is a mecca for people seeking an alternative lifestyle nestled in the Ozark Highland Plateau. There are some unusual amenities for a town its size (pop 2100). This includes things like a health food store and not one but two farmer’s markets, several “Farm to Table” restaurants and several weekly newspapers.

Patrice told me as we got to know each other that he started out on the non-farm path working in corporate finance in San Francisco Bay Area. He gradually realized that his calling was farming, getting his hands dirty working the earth and making it fertile.

In 2007, he established Foundation Farm, his third farm, on 6 acres of land about 10 miles north of Eureka Springs. The Farm is located on a county road just off AR State Highway 23 right on the border with Missouri.

The farm included several open ended hoop greenhouses. These were used for much of the year, but especially needed in the cooler times of the year.

Patrice is a follower of several well known sustainable farmers including Eliot Coleman who pioneered cold weather farming techniques at his Four Season Farm in the Northern US. Joel Salatin is also an influence, popularizing the idea of introducing aquaculture principles into commercial agriculture.

Patrice practiced No Till Farming at Foundation Farm – which I knew very little about until I came across his farm. The benefits are that you do not disturb the soil. This of course this reduces the amount of energy needed to run the farm and need for large equipment to plow and till the soil. To address the weed problem he uses a lot of wheat straw for mulch. This has multiple benefits of not only fertilizing the soil but also reducing the weed problems.

Since we have been trained to see certain things like cultivation, the use of mechanized equipment as the necessary progress of modernization, its sometimes hard for us to consider no-till alternative farming techniques as practical or viable. No doubt its still hard for us to imagine producing a significant amount of food for the bulk of humanity in this way, but much of that is because so few people farm today not because the land is not available used for other things like parks, golf courses, lawns and cemeteries.

What this is really about is not just organic food but the building of healthy, sustainable, locally owned and oriented food systems:

  • Small human scale farming systems for communities to grow more of their own food rather than rely on supply chains and corporate systems that do not reflect their collective values
  • Putting power back in the communities that historically made up the backbone of societies
  • Feeling good about what you do
  • Eating healthy locally produced foods

This may not be for everyone but if we want to consider deeply what sustainability means we have to reexamine many of the assumption of modern agriculture and consider whether they are consistent with how a sustainable society might look like or operate.

Its a common sentiment in mainstream society that organics is a waste of money. One point is that the level of pesticide residues is so low in the produce that it has negligible impact on human health. I don’t reject this assertion with complete confidence but if I can avoid any chance or trace of toxins in my food supply, I will.

Supporting organics is not just about the health of the food supply though, it’s about the larger impact of the practices of conventional farming on the soil, the land, and the groundwater. The health of the workers and families involved in the farms also needs to be considered because many of the pesticides used are toxic to humans as well as pests.

The idea is that organics isn’t just a waste of money, its irrational consumerism. Its bad enough to waste money but to exhibit irrational consumerism – well lets be done with it then. Lets go back to default of allowing the same substances they put in yoga mats into our food supply – to make our bread look better and more fluffy. Because we’re not just talking about organics, we’re trying to encourage people to ask questions about where their food comes and whether these practices are ecologically, socially and even economically sustainable over the long term.

Advertisements

Is Arcosanti really the “City of the Future?”

Motherboard (a youth oriented hipster styled magazine that is a subset of Vice) recent on October 30s published an article about Arcosanti titled The City of the Future is Hiding in the Arizona Desert. The article featured an interview with Cosanti Foundation President Jeffrey Stein providing the familiar narrative…

The assertion put forward in liberal media like the Atlantic is that “The City of the Future is Already Here” and the mainstream society just hasn’t been looking very well to find it. Arcosanti suffers from a victim complex that its been neglected. Soleri felt he’d been neglected by the mainstream society, depriving him of the funding and support needed to actually build Arcosanti as the Prototype Arcology that he intended in its original founding to be the city of the future. He saw himself as a failure because he didn’t live to see his magnum opus life work fully materialize into a functional Arcology model.

In central Arizona there exists an experimental town called Arcosanti. It’s built on the principles of Arology, which combines architecture and ecology to envision a city that works in tandem with the Earth’s resources. In this short documentary, The Atlantic goes inside this distinctive urban space to understand how Arcosanti plans to reconstruct how humans envision cities. Author: Sam Price-Waldman

There are several ways to address this idea of Arcosanti being the “city of the future.” One is to say its not even a city but a small settlement of 50-70 people, so why are we considering it in much more grandiose terms? It is compact and interesting, and has some aspects of what compact urban living should or even might look in the future, yes but there is no critical mass level of development. This idea of what it will actually take to create a Critical Mass level of development (which was pegged arbitrarily at 500 but I suggest 150 is a good number to consider Arcosanti as a urban model if other goals could be met as well in terms of culture, social, economic development and sustainability) has been talked about (to death actually) but for reasons described more deeply in this essay, its never been achieved. Soleri acknowledged this, making a clear distinction between what it is now and what he aspired it to be as the “world’s first prototype Arcology.” I suspect he wouldn’t agree with the idea of linking Arcosanti to the idea of city or even urban life as it is quite isolated and small in a rural area of the semi-desert of Arizona.

In my view any serious futuristic city model would necessarily would have real ecocity bonafides. It would have many cutting edge sustainable technologies to make it a center of innovation in the green economy and ecological design fields, a “walk the talk” model of sustainable development and living. My tendency is to get a visceral reaction to this kind of portrayal about Arcosanti, because I felt having lived there for over 4 years that real efforts to develop appropriate technologies have never really been encouraged or considered at Arcosanti. Soleri never encouraged these sort of technologies the ones you would expect a sustainable future city to have because its takes away from status as the creator of the Arcology. We got into countless debates about this at School of Thought when he was alive. His argument at the turn of the 21st century, at least, (when solar panels were much more expensive that they are now) was that they had not developed enough to make them practical. He called them “trinkets” as a way to devalue them and their significance.

Continue reading

Considering Pelletizing of Bio-Waste as a Source of Food & Energy

As we consider what an compact Arcology themed Ecovillage might look like as the first step towards larger more ambitious EcoCity Development, we need to look at where the energy is going to come from. Its seems to be understood that such a model of development should be self-reliant in the production of energy if possible. The type of energy mix would depend on the location and assets of the property where the project was located.

While Arcosanti itself may not seem like the ideal location for a biofuel facility given that is located in a arid/semi-arid region of the world, the fact that much of the property of the project is part of riparian zone does permit some consideration of woody biomass potential. Indeed several of the buildings at Arcosanti are heated by fireplace and despite this it seems to only have scratched the surface of the total woody biomass capacity of the site, as evidenced by the many fallen branches and trees seen on a hike of the riparian areas.

Regardless I wanted to talk a bit about the promise that pelletizing might have in relation to converting waste biomass into fuel and feed in a ecovillage with many characteristics similar to Arcosanti.

Continue reading

Paolo Soleri Memorial: Day 1 Cosanti – 09.20.13

Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.
Jim Carnahan explains the agenda and his role.

After a long trip from MA to AZ by car, I finally arrived at my destination: Cosanti in the Phoenix suburbs to begin a discussion about how the alumni of the Arcosanti Workshop Program could become more involved in moving the Arcosanti project forward in a decisive way. It also included those from the Cosanti Apprenticeship Program, which ended in 1970.

About 150 people participated and they ranged in age from 92 to 20. While there was an element that involved the honoring of Soleri, it also included several sessions to discuss the way forward and possible ways that alumni could support the further development of Arcosanti. The first day focused on giving a space and a soapbox for members to express their views on things in a more general way and then ended with a panel discussion of local experts familiar with Soleri which I missed.

James Carnahan, who did a workshop in May 1972 as was on Staff from 1972-77 was introduced to the group. He had worked with Jeff Stein on preparing the sessions and brining in professional facilitators to help us guide the process in an effective way. While I was skeptical at first about this it seemed it worked rather well and folks generally seemed rather pleased on the outcome of this event and were looking forward to getting down to business.

Event Discussion Agenda – A draft agenda was put together that basically went along these lines:

  1. Friday, September 20, 1pm to 4 at Cosanti Foundation: The Legacy of Paolo Soleri – what are the important ideas and how can they be implemented locally and globally?
  2. Saturday, 9am to noon at Arcosanti, two broad topics:
    1. How might Arcosanti function in the future?
    2. Discuss organizational forms suitable for implementation of the ideas coming out of Friday’s conversation.
  3. Sunday, 8am to 10am at Arcosanti: What role(s) can the alumni continue to play in support of the various missions, goals & objectives we have been talking about?

The following content I cobbled together based on my incomplete notes so I probably missed a lot of good stuff. Its my attempt to compile a set of reports on each of the three days we participated in this event together. If you have any suggestions, additions or corrections, please let me know by email at: buderman@gmail.com.

IMG_7263
Cosanti Foundation President Jeffrey Stein speaks to Arcosanti and Cosanti alumni.

Continue reading

Greenhouse MA Community College Greenhouse: Pushing the State of the Art in Sustainable Greenhouse Design?

Recently I have been discussing ideas on how to effectively move forward the Arcosanti Energy Apron Greenhouse Project with David Tollas and other Arcosanti Workshop Alumni on Facebook. This was a discussion David initiated to discuss some of the challenges he was facing in getting the project completed as planned.

Last night, Eric Fedus just made me aware of an advanced greenhouse that incorporates state of the art integrated systems for maximum performance in sustainability. Its Just north of where I am now (Williamsberg MA). The Greenfield Community College Greenhouse is a nearly 600k project that includes a 400k DOE grant and also a large individual donation of 200k.

This project is an example of my assertion in the discussion that research does not always have to be tied to financial sustainability. While that should ultimately the goal of any projects work it may not lie directly in the scope of it. In the case of this project, it sought to demonstrate how its possible to build a greenhouse that provides an ideal growing environment for plants without the use of fossil fuels or other energy sources that emit CO2 into the environment – a Net Zero building.

The design of the project is also noteworthy because it does incorporate something similar to what the Arcosanti greenhouse design calls for: to design a slope to the greenhouse for cooling. This allows a natural airflow to develop between the top and bottom of the structure so that the cooler air coming into the greenhouse moves up as it heats, resulting in a cooling effect that minimizes the use of active air cooling systems that require moving parts and the use electricity.

Besides the design to stimulate a natural airflow, it also includes the integration of infrastructure for photovoltaic, solar thermal and geothermal systems.

In the PR from the college about the facility, GCC President Robert L. Pura states that the project:

will be a demonstration teaching and learning space for our Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Program, support Horticulture and Botany classes and any future coursework in Sustainable Agriculture, and provide another lifelong learning resource for community members through our Community Education Department.

The building was designed by NPS Architects, but the actual engineering systems seem to be engineered by a group from the Wentworth Institute of Technology. This group wrote a paper from 2008 that outlined the basic concept and the engineering behind it titled: DESIGN OF A CARBON NEUTRAL GREENHOUSE FOR GREENFIELD COMMUNITY COLLEGE.

A key question that often comes up with these kinds of project is whether it really had to cost this much to demonstrate a sustainable greenhouse design. The Solviva Greenhouse for example also provided similar designs and for considerably less cost.

European Tour Stop @ Mont Cenis Academy in Herne Germany

Entrance to Mont Cenis Academy

At Arcosanti I had a chance to learn about many exciting green or sustainability projects around the world including one which was named Mont Cenis Academy. This was made possible due to my participation in the launch of Ecosa Institute Total Immersion Course on Ecological Design in 2000. It was through Ecosa that I first learned about Mont Cenis Academy in Germany. At that time I saw a possible link between the two projects and often referred to Mont Cenis as one of the more inspirational ecological design projects that I was aware of.

While in Europe, I decided to make a visit (on May 19th) to the place and to explore what it is really like and how successful it is in becoming a model ecologically designed project/building.

Continue reading

Arcosanti at a Crossroads: Is it a Museum and Monument to Soleri’s Legacy; an Experimental Urban Laboratory or both?

Arcosanti is at a key place in its history with a new president succeeding the founder Paolo Soleri. A little over one year ago when I was still living at Arcosanti as a resident, there was much hope regarding the fact that Soleri had finally handed over the reigns of power. The time when Soleri motivated and inspired people to come and work for him at his project to promote his idea of Arcology as a potential model for the city of the future had long passed.

The question for the project now is what is Arcosanti and why should people commit their lives to this so called city of the future? Especially if it is the case that there is no longer a strong and passionate belief (as well as a realistic and believable plan to implement them) that the plans created by its own founder Paolo Soleri will ever be realized or completed?

Continue reading