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.

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Exploring the Long Term Implications of the Obama Presidency

Paul Krugman’s in-depth summary of the Obama Admin confronts the prevailing view that its a failed presidency by saying he is one of the best presidents.

Maybe I would not go that far, but its clear that anyone trying to promote a more conscious and thoughtful approach to governance would face a lot of challenges.

We have to accept for example what while we might advocate for him doing much more than he has, the political reality today is that the political forces that defend the status quo and the vested interests behind the scenes that benefit economically are very powerful.

The fact that Obama was able to get any health care reform at all was a accomplishment as imperfect as it was.

Having said that its obvious that more could have been done by Obama to exercise the type of leadership needed to effectively move forward important legislation on financial reform, Global Climate Change and the demobilization of our military intelligence complex and the War on Terror. Of course now it must be noted any reduction in the military spending seems unrealistic due to rising geopolitical concerns.

I think a case can be made that on many levels in America today things are not that bad, but the question on many people’s minds is, are the fundamentals strong for sustaining America society? When people are asked, is the country going in the right direction, they seem to feel not very confident that it is.

For me such a question relates to whether he’s been effective in putting this country on a eco-sustainable trajectory and of course this is still not driving the mainstream consciousness. Yet its not totally outside of them either. Its not just about putting forward the kind of policies that would confront issues like the income divide, Climate Change, but a mapping out of a scenario for the future that is a fundamental shift away from the current status quo.

This involves a strong presidency that is able to begin to realign current policies with that more long term view. What I am talking is something along the lines of what FDR was able to achieve. This includes of course moving the political and economic dynamics towards a trajectory needed to build a more ecologically and socially sustainable society. So far I have not seen much sign of that from President Obama.

The Benefits to Overcoming the “Climate Change Status Quo

I have been thinking of the recent news in relation to Global Climate Change. Even among those who agree that there is problem and that its human induced issue is pulling us apart. Something’s missing from the discussion both in the mainstream and the counterculture so a finger pointing dynamic is driving the debate in a divisive way.

In order to effectively develop consensus needed both nationally in the USA and globally we need to figure out how to overcome this bickering. The discussion needs to be reformulated so that we’re clear that band aid solutions that with the symptoms are not going to work. And in the current discussion that’s not at all clear that we have this understanding. Many are afraid to confront the core economic and social issues that appear to “Deep Ecologists” to be causing the problems that we face such as this continuing believe in exponential economic growth as a solution to the problems humanity faces.

While it seems Liberals and “Deep Ecologists” can agree on is that not nearly enough is currently being done both at the global level and national level in the USA, there is little being done to offer a compelling model for action that can bring us together both nationally and globally.

This is my attempt to put together some of my thoughts in an attempt to hopefully insert something meaningful that might lead us to a breakthrough and put together an more thoughtful explanation of these extreme complex and contentious issues.

I began rethinking the topic after Chris Watkins one of the people involved in the Appropedia.org wiki and I got into a debate on Facebook about the merits of an article by NYT columnist and liberal economist Paul Krugman Could Fighting Global Warming be Cheap and Free?

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Whitehouse.GOV: Engage and Connect

The Whitehouse recently sent me one of their mass emails (at one point I subscribed to get updates from the Obama White House) with a request to fill out their survey:

ENGAGE AND CONNECT

President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.

They asked what the primary issues of concern were for me and I answered that no 1 was the Environment and no 2 was Education. There was ample space after each to explain my answers.

Below is my response:

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Rugged Individualism & Arcosanti

We’ve had a stream of documentaries coming out or being worked on about Soleri and they probably all help to give different and possibly valuable insights about Soleri and his lifework.

Most recently an Italian-American magazine called The American in Italia presented the story of Lisa Scafuro who has been devoting much of her life to another video about Soleri titled The Vision of Paolo Soleri: the Prophet in the Desert.

I’m not sure how this movie portrayed Soleri or Arcosanti but I suspect its another Soleri-centric documentary. I’m still hankering for a true to life documentary and not a PR piece that just shows us the best of Soleri – as many of the documentaries I’ve seen seem to gravitate towards. I’d also like to see more efforts at documenting the many incredible stories of the people that lived at and made Arcosanti Arizona. This leads me to consider some of the deeper issues that may have prevented Arcosanti from being a place where many great minds could have come together to create Arcosanti Critical Mass much sooner than now seems possible.

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Rethinking Paolo Soleri’s Theory of Arcology

My view is that we are at an interesting intersecting of events and ideas as well as experiences. Possibly this is the real meaning of  the 2012 prophesy? And I know all the skeptics and how they say the predictions are not accurate. I am not an expert on all of this, but what I know is that we have a lot of people who in history and throughout it seemed to attach a lot of significance to these days in which we now find ourselves together in. I feel this also intuitively and I know many others in this world share my feelings.

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Exploring what “Being Less Bad” Means in relation to the Sustainability Movement

Paolo Soleri in my view is better at taking ideas and repackaging them into a holistic explanation of reality called Arcology than creating something totally new.  Indeed Arcology is a amalgamation of a diffuse set of ideas including: evolutionary biology, big bang physics, organic architecture and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin‘s Omega Point philosophy.

A case in point is the fact that in researching this post, I just realized that people had been discussing this idea of “being less bad” in relation to the “dumbing down” of the sustainability movement, years before Soleri began talking about “Better Kind of Wrongness.” Yet it was Soleri’s take on this concern of “being less bad – by focusing on superficial choices that might be used to give one an undeserved “green stamp of approval” – was what dominated my mind’s eye. It colored how I saw the world and often this is the danger of seeing the world too much in the lens of one way of thinking. Group think is a relatively new word that describe how a very smart group of people can be trapped by the insularity of their thinking, especially if they see it as just one solution or way seeing the world. That is one challenge to places like Arcosanti and those who are attracted to Soleri’s idea of Arcology is that they may become stifled by the projection of one influential visionary’s idea of how the world works.

I’ll be exploring this idea of GroupThink and the implications on Arcosanti and Arcology in future posts. For now lets to take a retro look at the good ole days of School of Thought discussions at Arcosanti and consider this idea of Better Kind of Wrongness and what it means to us in relation to putting forward a better way of living on this world.

An important thing to remember in this process, is that if we can’t figure out how to temper our passions of critical thinking about the power brokers and decision-makers at the top of society who often formulate the world’s ideas often without us, we may become more like them than we might want to admit. For what is most important today is not just to point out the WRONGNESS, but to see the shining lights of the people all over the world trying to create nodes of Convergence around the RIGHTNESS. Focusing not just what is wrong but to cleverly figure out how to change people’s minds by point out what is right,  is the only way we’ll create the kind of change we’re hoping for. Continue reading