Sunday, October 3, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
After the initial excitement-shock subsided, I paused for a brief second in my decision to go to Ecuador. I knew that accepting this internship meant leaving behind what I’ve built on my own soil so far: my community of family and friends and my lovely garden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled, but I’m equally nervous because I don’t know how ready I am to face this challenge alone.
Of course, I know that I have to seize this opportunity. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live among and learn from a people that practice a solid kind of community cooperation. It seems that neighborly cooperation is almost non-existent in our society these days, in part, because of modern technology, with which I have a like-dislike-love-hate relationship. Guy McPherson makes a great argument for the lack of community in the “Age of Entitlement” in his latest post.
What I’m hoping to gain from this internship is a sound knowledge of what it means to be a part of a true community. I believe latinos know how to do this best, but I’m clearly biased in my opinion. You see, I’m writing this post as I eat reheated left-overs of arroz con gandules, my Puerto Rican grandmother's specialty.. it reminds me of home. We're growing pigeon peas, cilantro, onions, garlic, Cubano peppers, love and nostalgia in the garden, so we will soon have nearly all key ingredients for the freshest version of the dish. I decided to cook up this traditional food for dinner last night as something of a celebratory offering, as a spiritual food-connection to my heritage (and also because it's delicious-AND-nutritious). During this exciting time in my life, within the prospect of having this A-mazing life-altering journey, I give thanks to my loving parents and husband. Eric was teaching me self-defense moves last night, just in case (“hi-YAH!”) and my mom and dad have given me helpful advice and unconditional support. But when I’m out there in the coastal jungle, I will only have myself to rely on, so I’m preparing a mental bucket of tricks:
1. Learn Ecuadorian terminology. (can’t get by with Puerto Rican lingo there)
2. Be trusting, but always aware.
3. Self defense is about out-witting your opponent, not out-fighting them: Maintain my balance, use my hypothetical international assailant’s forcefulness against him/her, and pull him/her towards me instead of away from me. (It’s sort of counter-intuitive).
4. I will most likely get sick in my 2 mo. stay in the tropics, so when I do, I will remember what my mom always said, “you know you’ll feel so much better when the pain stops”.
5. Be open-minded, listen to people, and become humbled and appreciative of a new culture and way of life.
6. Focus on my past successes and use my current self-knowledge to guide me steadily, and confidently, through this spiritual and physical journey.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
...Ok, so not quite yet.
But let me start from the beginning. As you may or may not have gathered from my posts (or by knowing me personally), my passion lies in creating a self-sufficient lifestyle. Ideally, this life would exist within a like-minded community of people who treat the Earth kindly and responsibly. Recently, my husband and I went on an expedition to visit Guy McPherson at his homestead. It was a great opportunity to see and experience some of the challenges and rewards of living a self-sufficient, durable lifestyle. It's more difficult than I ever imagined to live a "simpler life", but I welcome the challenge. Fueled with our desire to live resourcefully and responsibly, we have since been trying to accommodate ever-bearing rabbits and broody hens into the yard of our rental house while preparing the garden for the spring and summer months.
I have been teaching myself permaculture techniques from Bill Mollison's text and reading Fukuoka's "One Straw Revolution". Mollison, the father of permaculture, stresses a life of permanent productivity within a sound community (see my last post for more on Mollison). Fukuoka, in an intellectual connection with the Earth, formulated a non-invasive heavy mulching gardening technique to mitigate the problems caused by pests. Fitted to larger scale production, Fukuoka's techniques might even relax the evolutionary arms race between pesticides and pests. This Red Queen effect is a problem in agriculture noted by many scientists and authors, but dismissed and/or used for profit by agro-corporations such as Monsanto (who conveniently have one of the largest monopolies on seeds, fertilizers, AND pesticides! But I digress). Fukuoka became loyal to his philosophy by quitting a scientific research position studying plant pathogens. He left the microbiology lab to move back to his family farm to grow organic foods. Along with Mollison and Fukuoka, I've been time and time again inspired by Barbara Kingsolver, author of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and alumnus of UA (just like me!). What I like about Kingsolver is that she puts the self-sustenance ideas and practices within the reach of ordinary American people. Kingsolver herself moved to the Appalachian Mountain region from the nearly-waterless, hustling-bustling city of Tucson, Arizona, to craft a self-sufficient lifestyle for herself and her family. The point is: I aspire to the kind of life all of these authors believe in, the type of low-impact occupancy the Earth deserves from the human species.
So what about Ecuador? Well, I've applied for a permaculture internship at the Jama-Coaque Reserve in Western Ecuador. Not only is this the perfect chance to refine my Earthen philosophies and permaculture techniques, but it is the chance to be among people that believe in the same givebackwhatyoutake future that I believe in. I could finally put my degree in Ecology and Evolutionary biology into practice by studying native plants and animals... No, not to bring samples back to the lab, but to gain a practical understanding of an ecosystem while establishing a pure appreciation for it... to literally coexist in an ecosystem (I think Fukuoka would give me a high-five or say "
How is it that we humans have fallen so far from our ancestral tree that we mimic nature so poorly? The answer to that, I may never know. But Ecuador may be step closer to my own ancestral bearings. LIVING SUSTAINABLY in the RAINFOREST! A dream come true. Now, I anxiously await for my dream to become a reality.
I might as well be productive at home while I wait for the invitation to go abroad. The hubby and I are finally building a chicken coop this weekend! Buckets of nails, dirt, and sweat should get me through the weekend just fine.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I’ve been researching and reading several books on the topic of permaculture, agriculture, and ethnobotany. According to Bill Mollison’s (pictured) Permaculture Designer’s Manual, Permaculture is a form of permanent sustainable agriculture that aims to “foresee results or to design integrated systems” in accordance with their natural ecology. One could argue that anticipating outcomes is one thing modern Scientists endeavor to do best. Scientists specializing in Evolutionary Biology and Population Genetics*, spend their time delving into the unknowns of a tantalizing molecular world for answers to questions like: “How did organisms arise and proliferate?” “How are past and present organisms dispersed and distributed?” and “How did their operation in their past environments lead to their existence in current environments?” These scientists experiment with the genetics of model organisms to understand everything possible about them, to attain a seemingly unattainable knowledge from the past for the future. One could argue that this tinkering force, the quest for the truth for innovation, is a purely human attribute and is what has created powerful technologies and industrialized economies. I am not blaming these particular scientists for endeavoring this feat, but I take issue with the dissemination of knowledge about the genetics of organisms. I disagree with the way government, policy-makers, crop scientists, and engineers have used scientific knowledge and innovations to cater to an ever-excessive global demand for food resources.
I believe many species today are threatened by extinction or proliferating ruthlessly in part because of the human “intellectual conquest”. Humans have sent species spinning on an unforeseen evolutionary trajectory because of a hunger for knowledge and an uncontrollable need to tinker, to constantly experiment and manipulate the natural world. Inevitably, humans are enticed to create "good solutions" to bad solutions to naïve solutions for unforeseen, self-created problems. One frustrating example of this is the introduction of invasive species, many of which have been introduced as potential solutions to human errors or demands, and have responded by taking over key habitats and driving out native species. Another example is mono-crop agriculture, which I want to focus my attention on at the present. Mono-crop agriculture, as any good permaculturalist will attest, has ravaged soils and eroded land resources in many key agro-producing countries. I argue that the problem in the modern agricultural system lies in the lack of organismal diversity. Scientists, economists, commercial agriculturalists, and crop scientists don’t have to look far to realize that what they are constantly attempting to replicate is a success that already exists in the natural world. This success has been perpetuated for over a millennium through complex interactions between organisms within diverse environments.
The abstract of a recent article in Science caught my eye because it seemed to be focusing the gaze of agricultural science in a direction I could agree with. Entitled Smart Investments in Sustainable Food Production: Revisiting Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems (Herrero et al. 2010), this seemed like a paper I could sink my teeth into. Mistakenly, I took it for a science-clad and camouflaged version of a permaculture text. Instead, it was an article calling for increased policy and management for mixed-crop agricultural systems on small farm lands, which were not projected to be as mixed as I expected. Herrero and his collegues blame the governmental conduct, lack of federal aid, and political schemes for amplified worries about food security. Predominantly, the authors site a general “failure to appreciate the differences in diverse agricultural systems” as the cause of food scarcity and decreased crop-yields (Herrero et al. 2010). I agree heartily that governmental agencies and politicians in the U.S. not only neglect the small farmer, but also bow down to the large-scale commercial producers who benefit from the increasing urban demand for cheap food. Excitedly, I thought, “What we need is more than just an ‘appreciation’ for diversity, we need to put this idea into practice once and for all!” In an injured economy with a fast-growing population, the answer seems clear: modern agriculture must focus its attention on plant and animal diversity as it occurs naturally in forested environments.
As I read on, I became more discouraged by Herrero's article. What I expected was a message to the policy-makers to promote small-scale natural community farming and a call to the state’s Agricultural Department to relax their strongholds on subsidies and move away from their intoxicating relationship with corporate producers. As it turned out, the article was a weak message about mixing a few grain crops together, figuring out more efficient fertilization and watering methods for bigger crop yields, and deregulating research of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As I have already said, mixing crops is a good idea, but mixing needs to occur to a greater extent than 2-3 grain species. Secondly, fertilization already occurs naturally and efficiently, through nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants, decomposing organisms, and animal feces. In such a diverse, naturally fertile, and productive food-forest, precipitation also increases naturally. Finally, to suggest GMOs as a potential solution to viruses, pests, and diseases seems to me a proposition that is missing the point. Permaculturalists and other “synergistic gardeners”, such as Masanobu Fukuoka and Emilia Hazelip, have been saying for years that plants and animals act symbiotically within a naturally-rich, diverse environment to ward off pests and diseases. In an article regarding so-called mixed-crop agriculture and livestock, these scientists may like to focus their gaze a little more closely and perhaps take their own proposition more seriously. This type of sightless behavior reminds me of a passage I read in The Cosmic Serpent quoting the late Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu saying that, at times, answers can be found simply by "objectifying one's objectifying relationship" (Bourdieu). Becoming aware of their own words and focus, these scientists might actually realize that what the mixed system they are proposing is a watered-down version of a knowledge that indigenous peoples, small farmers, and permaculturalists have been using all along: in order to use mother nature's resources efficiently, one must follow her lead.
*I use Evolutionary Biologists and Population Geneticists as examples of scientists in this case not in an attempt to blame them specifically for the world's trouble, but only because it is the type of scientific study I'm most familiar with.
On a positive, less critical note: I've been sprouting tomatoes, romaine lettuce, marigolds, and garlic in the closet from seed (yikes!) and they are all doing well. More seeding and preparations tomorrow for the spring garden! Also, a couple of dominique layer chicks may be coming home to roost! The only buckets I can control are those that hold seed bombs, chicken feed, and fragrant soil. Spring can't grace me with it's bees and blossoms fast enough.