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Monday, January 14, 2013

Growing Power

The power of people had, for centuries, been used to transform the landscape. Over the past hundred or so years, that power has yielded and been subsumed by the industrial revolution, the chemical age, and the nuclear age. In the post industrial era, we will need to rediscover this power if we are to stave off or avoid altogether the negative impacts of the last hundred-fifty years of industrial contamination and the ruthless extraction, that the planet has faced, for building both tools of war and more powerful industrial processes that continue to despoil the landscape and leave poison in their wake. The legacy of toxic contamination in "civilized" parts of the world, as well as the sterilizing effects of industrial agriculture need to be overcome by people power and life giving approaches to breathing life back into these toxic landscapes.
We can look back across the ages at the pyramids at Giza, the mammoth cathedrals of Europe, or the aqueducts of ancient Rome and get a feeling for what humans are capable of, but to really appreciate the industrial rape of the planet is much harder to grasp. In many cases, we need to get down to the microscopic level, without losing sight of the macro-cosmic forces that we humans exert using all of the tools at our disposal. In addition to eliminating 90% of the forests that greeted the pilgrims as they stepped ashore and 90% of the wetlands that existed before our rough hand crossed this continent, so too, about the same percentage of native microorganisms has been erased as well. In most areas, 90% of the most fertile soil (the top few inches) has been either dug up, and carted away, washed away by rains, or blown away by wind and ice crystal in the winter. The tiny percentage of soil that is left has been attacked mercilessly with chemicals that try to replenish important macro-nutrients at the cost of what makes soil truly healthy, the micro-organisms who inhabit those precious top few inches.
Often, we look at systems after their inevitable collapse and try to attribute their demise to a specific event. In the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, we often say that people just walked away from their responsibilities of keeping the canals open. Perhaps they did get too comfortable enjoying the fruits of "civilization" to want to do any substantive work. Perhaps, with the bounty they had created, a class structure developed that allowed many of their chief administrators and community leaders to ignore their own part in a complex system. We may never know. At this time, and with our resources, we have the power to walk away from a non-functioning system, but the toxic legacy that is left behind will stun and bewilder anthropologists of the future. I wonder if they will be able to understand the clues left behind. I wonder if we will find enough people, disillusioned with the military, industrial, financial complex, that we just let them come to their inevitable screeching demise.
Growing Power, a local not-for-profit, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is demonstrating how to build good, organic soil inside urban America, protected from the toxic legacy of collapsed cities. Their way of allowing healthy life and community to thrive in the very areas that the ultra-wealthy and super powerful interests have written off is the beginning of a new way of using our human power to change the world in ways that even the most optimistic among us will be shocked to realize and eventually understand. The demise of agricultural communities across the breadbasket of our great nation, those that had based their entire economic system on mechanized, chemically based and what basically amounts to corporate welfare that encourages subsidized extraction is not surprising. In fact, production of nutrient dense food can take place at much higher levels on less ground, when people, not petrochemicals, are a significant portion of the input on what is sure to become the farm of the future. Instead of creating commodities of dubious quality, to be sold into world markets, we need more people who are willing to grow what we really need, healthy food.
Micro-acreage farms and those that respond to specific needs of their communities continue to flourish because the other option is to kill off more and more life for the sake of just a few species of genetically modified organisms tainted with poison and dosed with chemical fertilizer. A beautiful spirit and friend has a three acre farm that specializes in Biodynamic herb production. She has twelve employees on her micro farm, eight outdoor hands during the growing season and four indoor staff year-round who process the herbs that they grow there into everything from soap, lotions and healing ointments, to salves and teas. I have seen awesome photographs of the gardens at her place. She has over 150 healing herbs and flowers living in profusion, set about be bees, butterflies and creatures of all sorts. Trying to establish markets for healing products, rather than cash crop corn may not be as lucrative, and the government will never establish crop insurance schedules for calendula or mugwort, but the people who put the time in to making their land healthy do not suffer from the same problems that industrial agriculturalists do. Rarely does a diversified ecologic system suffer a 90% drop in production. Losing 90% of a single species is not even an issue if you are raising 100 different crops. By contrast, a farm based on raping the planet, with the same number of employees, could destabilize hundreds of acres, leaving them scarred for many generations.
The growing power that I am speaking of in this post is not of the traditional type. Slave labor, or being beasts of burden, like an ox or ass is not the type of human power that makes these changes possible. It is using our mind, our hearts and our spiritual constitution to "see" what is right and good and making the commitment to enhance those things by our practices. Putting our brains to work to solve some of the most pressing problems and putting our hands to the task of renewing a relationship with the planet as well as one another. a few such techniques that allow me to reach out across generations to infuse the future with sustainable soils are creating biochar, and adding it to the soil, aerate compacted soils that commercial/industrial agriculture has left sterile in it's wake and to love up the soils by enriching them with compost which helps stabilize them. A community of people world-wide is looking for answers to life's most pressing issues. We can surely find our way toward a more sustainable culture. What is perhaps most important is to have each one of us realize that the art of the give-away has to re-emerge if we are to have a chance of survival. Those in the biodynamic community give of themselves in service to a greater whole. Their land holdings, are seen as a unified organism whose "waste" is the food that we consume. These farmers give in ways that cannot be fathomed by corporate giants like Monsanto or Cargill. Giant corporations think of themselves as too big to fail. That is where they are wrong. They have failed us already. What they deliver is guilty by association with our contaminated landscapes as well as being deeply suspect because of the rising tide of disease in our culture. Brave souls like Will Allen, from Growing Power are stepping into community building. This territory includes rescuing impoverished areas from their isolation in food deserts. Building life and society from the ground up is what every major civilization has done up until now. The top down approach is failing all around us and We The People have both the right and the responsibility to share what we have learned as well as what works if we are to come out the other side of this revolution with our bodies intact and our soils capable of sustaining us into the future.

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