Revolution: Orderly and (Mostly) Quiet

As revolutions go, the local foods movement is relatively well-behaved and filled with activists who are not afraid to get their hands dirty.  Its goal is ambitious: to get people to  switch their allegiance from farm products shipped thousands of miles at an unsustainable carbon cost, to locally-grown and raised foods.  If enough of us do this, the reasoning goes, we will not only have fresher, healthier foods to eat, we will develop community resilience that can withstand disruptions in the food supply chain many foresee as inevitable as the climate changes.

In Palm Beach Country where I live, the movement is embryonic compared to, say, the San Francisco Bay Area or most of the state of Vermont.  But on a sunny Saturday at Gray Mockingbird Community Garden, with the lively sounds of the Lake Worth High School Steel Drum Band making my feet tingle, it was possible to dream big.  The occasion was Local Foods/Local Gardens and I was on hand Brian and Marikawith partners, Brian Kirsch of Gray Mockingbird Gardens, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, and my spouse, Howard, to talk up and sell tickets to a special screening of Symphony of the Soil, a  documentary by award-winning filmmaker and Palm Beach County native, Deborah Koons Garcia,  November 17 at the Muvico Parisian in City Place, West Palm Beach.  The film makes a powerful connection between reclaiming our soil (and farms) from Big Ag and food security for all of us.

The timing could not be better.  In about a year, Solid Waste Authority which has been providing free compost to local backyard and community gardens in Palm Beach County, will phase out of this service.   The screening, and a Q&A with the filmmaker and other local soil and gardening experts, is intended to help launch a conversation with all parties concerned on how to address our composting needs in the future.

Robert and Paula FarrissWhen I wasn’t in the Gray Mockingbird booth, I was schmoozing with people like Robert and Paula Farriss of Farriss Farm who offer free-range eggs that taste like eggs, and  100% grass-fed, pastured livestock.  The term ‘pastured’ denotes animals that have been raised humanely, without hormones and antibiotics because, simply, they do not need them to thrive.  It is encouraging to know that there is a burgeoning market for products like this, for both health and ethical reasons.  I’m not likely to be a convert to mammal meat (though I have recently sampled pastured duck), but I do come away from conversations like this with a better understanding of why large herbivores are necessary for sustainable agriculture.

I had a good chat with John Zahina-Ramos of Just One Backyard about the challenge of getting the foodservice industry, restaurants included,  to understand how composting their vegetable scraps could actually impact their operating budgets.   John is an ecologist and  makes a convincing case for a more holistic way of agriculture.  JoJo Milano of Goodness Gracious Acres was also there, promoting her goat-milk based soaps.  Currently, unpasteurized goat’s milk cannot be sold as food for human consumption, a situation that I hope will change.  Joanna Aiken, Community Service Coordinator of Solid Waste Authority, also stopped by the Symphony of the Soil table and I feel confident we’ll work together well on a composting solution.  I bought some honey sticks from the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association booth (yum!), and met Facebook friend, Susan Lerner of the Rare Fruits Council.

A fun morning invested in a cause I am passionate about.  Let the revolution spread!

(Photo credits: Leonard D. Bryant, 2013)

Thinking About Water

A water drop
sliding from the faucet
responds to the pull of gravity,
follows the path
of least resistance.  It will
find its own way back to the Source,
flowing through, over, under
or around any obstacles it encounters.

Have you ever observed
how the water molecule
cannot be separated
from others of its kind,
or how water assumes the shape
of whatever it is poured into,
or how amenable it is to change?

Have you allowed yourself imagine
the lengths to which water must go
before it returns to us,
as runoff, rain, mist, ice or snow?

What do you do with the knowledge
that six-tenths of you is water?
Do you wonder what would happen to you,
to everything you can see, touch, taste, feel, smell,
if water went away?

Howie at Grassy WatersWhen I was a teenager living in Rangoon, Burma in the 1950’s, water was not the reliable resource we take for granted here.  From 2-4 pm every day, water came through the tap, courtesy the municipality, and it was our job to store it in large wooden barrels located in the kitchen and bathrooms, to satisfy all our household and personal needs, including manually flushing the toilets.  Water wasn’t safe to drink without additional treatment.   We stored drinking and cooking water in recycled liquor bottles, and although I’d never heard of ‘gray water’ then, it was exactly what we were using for the small grove of bananas in our backyard and flowers in the front.

It was a lesson about how precious water is that I’m glad to say I have carried with me into adult- and elder-hood.  It really resonates today in South Florida where I live now,  at risk from too much of one kind (storm-driven flooding, beach erosion, and salt-contamination) and not enough of the other kind (fresh waters springs like Grassy Waters which supplies West Palm Beach).

If you think that a water crisis here (the topic of sea level rise is on most municipal agendas) will arrive before we feel the effects of higher prices for fossil fuels and everything that depends on them, you may want to deepen your own education about water as well as water usage awareness (Navy showers, anyone?)  Which is probably why I stumbled upon Last Call at the Oasis  (Pivot TV) one rainy (yes!) evening and was reminded just how extreme the water issue is.  It isn’t just that huge swathes of the Western  United States and Australia are suffering severe, crippling drought.  It is also that our predominant way of farming is poisoning our water supply even as its adherents (chiefly the biotech companies who profit mightily from pesticides and herbicides) claim we couldn’t live without their help.  And it’s also that energy generation itself  takes water to produce (see the University of Colorado link below), lots of it.

If you are like most people (myself included) you find education without the aura of crisis is much easier to absorb and process (which is the problem with so much that is written about climate change and the environment these days).   But I’m ready to swallow the pill, however bitter, if it means I can make some better, wiser choices about my future, and help others do the same.   Here are a few links to information I’m working with.

Water – University of Colorado Boulder — see the other videos too

Last Call at the Oasis

New York Times Review

Environmental Health News on Atrazine

Battling Syngenta

High Tide on Main Street