Category Archives: Zombie Permaculture

Blog articles covering topics in Permaculture, Taoism, and Philosophy.

Pizza Permaculture

One of the main principles of Permaculture is to grow by chunking, or to start with a manageable piece of a site and build off of it so as to connect each area within the larger context.  In other words, pick a spot that makes sense to you and go from there.  “There” can be the back door of your new home in late Spring, where you only have space and time for a small kitchen garden.  It can be a barn that holds your front-burner project.  Whatever you choose, once you start working Permaculture into your site, it becomes easier in a way.

For my intern, who is building a cob pizza oven for this year’s Village Building Convergence on a double lot in Northeast Portland, Oregon, a Pizza Permaculture garden made sense.  We assembled a design team and met on-site several times to assess and prepare the space for holding the workshop. 

Design considerations were limited by other activities and features sited nearby:

·    Sun exposure needs for the plants differ from that of the mushrooms, so I sited the tomatoes next to the “crusts” (burlap bags containing mushroom spawn & growing medium at the tops of the beds) without the use of cages.  This will allow the tomatoes to drape over the burlap bags and shade the spawn inside, creating a microclimate.
·    Proximity to the cob oven makes it easy for owners and their guests to bring fresh ingredients to the prep area when the pizza dough is ready to be topped.
·    Leaving adequate space for movement around fire pit seats and the wildlife tree bench ensures a welcoming and comfortable space as well as a functional garden.
·    Narrowing paths between beds allows for such a small garden to inhabit this special sun-drenched spot amidst other activities and gardens.
·    Visually linking the garden to pizza via shaping the beds like slices is a fun way to key potential users into the social side of Permaculture.

Permaculture principles adhered to included:

A.    Observe over time & design for specific site & client.  The owners have lived at the site for six years & have been able to witness & cooperate with site microclimates, as well as weave the pizza garden in with other design elements, namely the cob oven.  In addition, following the installation, they will be able to observe its success and make adjustments over time, extending the observation period.
B.    “Start small with intensive & productive systems that are manageable.”* The design is for a very small overall area, but inside it much is happening.  From soil layering to mycoremediation, the pizza garden allows for growth by chunking.
C.    Obtain a yeild.  Herbs will continually produce, and so will mushrooms.  Plants like Basil and tomatoes are fun to plant each year and widely available.  Giant zucchini can be shared with neighbors or provide potluck dishes to help the owners continue to build community with their neighbors and the Permaculture network of Portland.
D.    Connect using relative location.  We’ve placed the pizza garden in useful relationship to the wildlife tree bench, firepit, and cob oven.  This means being able to walk between all of these areas, carry produce fresh-picked from the garden to the oven’s prep counter, and sit comfortably on the bench and around the firepit.
E.    Use biological & renewable resources.  Donated plants & organic compost & mulches, & volunteer design & labor contribute to social as well as natural capital, or the long-term establishment of beneficial relationships & stored energy.
F.    Turn problems into solutions.  When we recognized that the beds had been sited 12” too close to the bench in an effort to give room for firepit seating, we were able to plan for narrowing the bench around the wildlife tree as well as move the beds out.  This solved the problem of people not being able to lean back against the tree before when sitting on the bench.
*paraphrased by Tom Ward

Watch this video from one of our site prep meetings:  Beds Are Dug, Now Let’s Talk A Bit

Here are the steps of the workshop:

1.    Scrape to bare clay earth, about 4 to 6 inches depth
2.    Lay down a thick layer of innoculated hardwood chips (6 months’ old Alder, Maple, Birch, Cottonwood, Ash = no more than 20% of pile)
3.    Spread a compost layer on top of wood chips and mix with chips
4.    Layer with cardboard that is 3/4 wet and has been punctured with holes for each plant

5.    Plant and topdress with compost

 

 

 

Following the installation of the mushrooms and plants, children immediately began playing a guitar and swinging near the new garden, and a chicken hopped in next to the smallest Basil plant.  We erected a chicken fence.

I wanted to make the workshop replicable, so that anyone not familiar with Permaculture could use it to get started in a manageable way, or show their grandparents how fun and useful Permaculture can be.  A young woman from San Francisco wanted to use the workshop to introduce her summer camp group to sustainable gardening.  A designer from Montana took inspiration from the lively discussion during the workshop for seeking a more deeply satisfying niche.  Look for the workshop again soon.  And start preparing your spiel to your grandparents.  🙂

Demonstrating Permaculture – Two Easy Ways

They walk by at least once a week, sometimes more often.  They gawk; it’s natural, especially when the landscape is so devoid of anything happening, anything exciting.  Who or what are they?  Pedestrians.  Delivery Personnel.  Soccer Moms.  Tourists.  Husbands And Wives Returning Home From Work.  People Who Took A Wrong Turn.  Future Leaders.

Not everything is worth taking with you.  Teenagers home from school on break might use the front lawn to lounge in bikinis for a week each year, but otherwise traditional lawns are an out-dated throwback to a time when America put down the roots it had always known.

To put it bluntly, it’s rather boring to drive or walk through most suburban neighborhoods.  One reason is that there’s nowhere to go, no adventure to have, unless you get off the sidewalk and hike into an undeveloped area nearby.  If you are lucky enough to have such a natural amenity.  Overall, most lots look about the same, with minor variations.  I’m not saying personalization isn’t meaningful.  What I’m talking about here is service to a higher good, something not done in the age-old race to meet the accepted standard and fit in.

It is simpler than it might seem to reinvent a front yard and utilize it as a demonstration site that promotes sound ecological principles while also offering a gift to the block on which you live.  In my work I have seen many old installations that were clearly thrown in by the property developer as an afterthought.  Usually, trees are planted only a few short feet from foundations and have to be removed, adding carbon back into the atmosphere and killing a tree that, if sited correctly, could have fed the biosphere for years.  Shrub varieties chosen for their mega-durability are often plopped in a haphazard arrangement, leaving no room to use the landscape in a satisfying way.  Other species are not doing well because they were improperly placed for growing requirement considerations.  These are just some of the tappable opportunities to start with.

A key step is to consider that your transformation needs to be understandable to viewers not used to seeing ecology in an urban or suburban setting.  Creating manageable wildness, so to speak, will give passersby the framework for seeing and accepting something not seen much yet in this context.  Here are two ways to accomplish this.

  1. Frame your demonstration yard with expected border material.  This can be anything from wood to structural plants and can extend around the perimeter if you are using your entire front yard as a demonstration site or just around a patch if you want to start small to test this out before committing.  Some research indicates that people respond well to “messy” ecology when it is contained.
  2. Provide a description of what is happening on the site or a way for visitors to interact with the landscape.  A sign pointing out plant species and their function for wildlife and water conservation, as well as descriptors for other features and their uses can legitimize a site and add to its educational service for children or ecology class field trips.  Perhaps you have the space to create a footbridge over a water feature with an invitation to walk over it, a bench with inviting fragrant flowers, or a kiosk where neighbors can share books and post fliers for activities.

If given the chance to experience something different from the norm, different people will have individual reactions; however, with some key considerations from the design end, another ho-hum turn around the block can become:

  • a destination that gets people out of their homes more often because they want to see what’s happening
  • an ecological oasis providing wildlife with needed stopovers that link larger habitat pockets in a dwindling ecosystem
  • a demonstration of how to make the transition from outdated to relevant
  • a stopping place to chat and enhance real community

In meditating on what to do with a front yard, consider the opportunity you have to lower your own costs as well as labor inputs while beautifying your neighborhood and showing your friends a new standard for keeping up with the Joneses, one which serves the greater good and not the ego.  Well, once you (and your neighbors) see it in full swing, maybe just a little bit of pride is okay.

Mycelium Demonstrating Taoism

Mushroom guru Paul Stamets showed the first video ever of mycelium in action a year or two ago at the Oregon Country Fair. His laptop kept shutting down, and he rebooted five or six times before ending his presentation early. I had been building the Front Porch that year, and Paul’s talk was the one presentation I made it to at my camp’s booth, wandering by in the early evening on my way back to camp and realizing I’d happened to make it to the talk even though I’d forgotten about it from a full day of frolicking in the woods. I lied atop the numerous carpets and cushions we had spread under the canopies hung from the forest and watched little streams of material flow along the fungal network.  Stametz had discovered from making the video that mycelium make a web of routes so that if there is a dead-end at any point along the network, the fungus always has an alternate way.

When my van wouldn’t start on a drizzly Saturday recently, I found myself at a mechanic’s shop instead of my yoga class.  I thought about all the ways I could find meaning in the unexpected change in my schedule, and Taoism came to mind.  The ancient eastern philosophy reminds us to go with the flow and not see the day’s turn of events negatively, since, as Alan Watts once said, they aren’t done yet. After studying and doing my best to live according to its principles, I have arrived at a sense that Taoism is mainly about going with circumstances instead of resisting and judging them, since they are a part of a large orchestration that didn’t start at a specific point in time and doesn’t particularly have an end either. It seems that fungal mycelium are directly demonstrating this principle.

What if circumstances provide the architecture for energy to flow through our lives and carry us somewhere? Under the colorfully lit nighttime canopy of Oaks and Vine Maples that night at the Country Fair, I’d reasoned that the streaming stuff within the fungal network of the mycelium was information of some kind, and that it had to move, but that it didn’t necessarily have a destination or end-point in mind.Stamets  showed slides of the human brain next to the mycelial networks, and it appeared that the human neural network is practically the same as the mycelial one. In a macro/microcosm, the most mammoth principle can be seen in the smallest forms, and vice-versa.

Considering the events of that Saturday provided me with insight into new ways to work with circumstances as if they are the architecture through which my experience is able to flow, suggesting that accepting the avenues that present themselves will allow me to continue to move and thus grow, change, and evolve.  Mycelium provide a striking visual example, thanks to the videography work of a mushroom pioneer.

In the larger scheme of things, if nothing else, evolution is certainly a prime goal, for we do not know what we are, regardless of what our science thinks this week, and we cannot see where we are headed, except that there is a path opening before us in every moment. We can live in a rut, retracing the same path until we move into the Great Mystery, or we can choose to see the beauty in the ever-changing structure which houses the immaterial substance at the core of our bioenergetic species identity, and go with it.

Costco Only Place Big Enough for Zombie Meetups?

Breaking News:  Zombies have been seen using big-box stores to meet.  The implications are grave, with possible strategy sessions for infiltration and takeover occurring during these Z meetups.  This article breaks down an analysis of what’s happening and makes recommendations for nipping further outbreak in the bud.

The scene:  Milling about somewhat aimlessly, several shoppers were observed recently in Wal-Mart displaying behavior indicative of infection with the zombie virus.  Symptoms observed included leaning on shopping carts to displace normal (and sometimes abnormal) body weight, trudging as if in trance, staring into space, and eating while in the store, thereby spending half a day inside.  Glaring fluorescent lights gave many the appearance of under-eye bags and slightly gangrenous limbs.

The issue at hand for discussion is how contagious the disease is, and whether or not the zombies’ use of big-box stores will spread the virus or could perhaps contain it, as the types of people who shop at Wal-Mart may be of a similar demographic.

Sourcing demographic information for Wal-Mart might be as easy as making several trips there and extrapolating the data collected to stores nation-wide.  Several photographers have already begun documenting certain regular appearances of what seems to be a specific and unified population visiting Wal-Marts across the country.  The typical behavior of those infected seems to include habits similar to those detailed in the article documenting Black Friday earlier in this blog.  Shuffling, slumping posture, empty gaze; lack of eye-contact, missing consideration for others present, surrender to store conditions and situational dangers associated with the general shopping frenzy, etc.

Stores like Wal-Mart are possibly a kind of breeding ground for the zombie virus.  They may be, however, places where these creatures are actually being contained to some degree, cut off from portions of the population less susceptible to consumer culture/adverting.  They do leave the stores to sleep at home, though, and this commute may expose others to the disease.  It is unlikely that many shoppers of Wal-Mart use public transportation to get to and from the store, so the car (or personal transport pod) shields people from direct contact.  Family members can be considered exposed and infected for the most part.  Neighbors most-likely are either safe from transmission for the time being, as modern suburban and urban design leaves out public gathering spaces or pleasant walking routes to and from homes.

Keeping up with the Joneses as a sort of way of life in America has implications for cross-pollination, much of the supplies used for growing a greener, more uniform “monolawn” coming from big-box stores, where zombies no doubt at least make visual contact with one another and susceptible parties some of the time.  Observation does impact choice.  Store culture, malls and big-boxes in particular, establish mores for dressing (to hide the unique soul and any human vulnerabilities), behavior, and lifestyle choice.  Elements of this ‘culture’ include product tastings, interactive displays, food courts, and sales.

Recognition among shoppers occurs via products stacked on carts for purchase, attendance at sales ‘events,’ and the clothing worn by participants.  Even if shoppers do not interact verbally, they are visually reassured by each other of their normalcy (fitting into American standards) and subtly encouraged to spend even by their level of purchasing power in comparison with each other.

The virus may therefore be being transferred in stores like Wal-Mart and Costco via a subtle strand which links sensory hubs without requiring any physical contact between people.  Disease transference by proximity without touch frustrates the standard triage and patient zero medical containment approach.  Without an understanding of how to prevent the subtle yet pervasive suite of disease transfer avenues at play in shopping centers and big box stores, containment and protection turns difficult.  Touch made unnecessary and replaced by visual prompting then supported by a competition-based set-up (get the new deal before your neighbor does) makes elusive the hero’s approach.  Being aware of the elements of transference of this disease is usually not sufficient to make any difference.  It is like a child throwing a pebble in a pond already bombarded by rocks tossed by a group of adults, the ripple is not enough to effect a change in the wave pattern.

Additional obstacles include sound controlled inside the stores to cue passivity, dullness of mind, and consumption, including probable subliminal advertising tracks under the musak.  Developing and maintaining a strong mind and healthy sensory reception template as an individual is not so difficult, especially if one starts out in a less susceptible place within, such as with basic progressive consciousness or little time spent inside these kinds of stores.  However, even talking with the infected in these places becomes ineffectual because the hero and the infected are both surrounded by multiple streams of sensory interference.  One might be able to maintain independence from the virus while the other remains unable to make a mental bridge to lead them out of the inundation and system domination occurring in effect via their lack of appropriate protections against the stimuli all around them in the big box or the mall.

The issue of zombification affects more than might originally be obvious, such as what people wear or think.  One major area of importance remains the nation’s food supply.  Those who shop at big-box stores make up a large portion of the mainstream population and therefore determine supply within the heavily-controlled boundaries of what the stores offer up for purchase.  Perhaps reports on factory-farmed beef sales are weighted by contracts between big-box stores and those producers, the infected being largely unquestioning of the back story of the food on display, by way of their disease.  In this way, these kinds of stores make perfect breeding grounds, petrie dishes for zombie ‘culture’ to grow like a silent fungal colonial takeover.  Meanwhile, the animals in factory farms suffer unspeakably and zombies gobble it up like fresh brains.

Without comment or improvement (more human and humane considerations), the pseudo-places commonly referred to as malls and shopping outlets are projected to remain hot breeding grounds for the zombie virus.  The method for infection is largely unrecognized, and therefore unchecked, and infection is thus spreading steadily in the ways postulated above.

The actions one could take in prevention of further spreading of the disease include a general list of basic activism.  Letter-writing to Congress, the Senate, and the big-boxes, regular use of  the technique of visualization of a much more sane store structure and relationship with suppliers, including accountability for inhumane treatment of food animals and corporate pollution generated by production facilities as well as consideration for local and organic growers, is one major avenue of containment of this plague.  It is easy also to boycott, as if one thinks about it, none of the things sold at them are that necessary.  The lower prices are not actually low at all, when one stops to account for the loss of life, ecosystem integrity, indigenous communities, and small farms that are just some of the parts of the equation not shown on typical accounting sheets.  Shopping instead at local cooperatives, buying directly from local farms, and visiting farmers’ markets are easy and fun ways to change the tide. Another action with concrete results is to create or join a community discussion/action group, one in which members write letters to the editor of local and national newspapers and create artwork to expose and encourage discussion about what is happening inside big-box stores.

For more information or to make inquiries, please feel free to become a follower of this blog, leave a comment, or contact the author directly.

Black Friday

Black Friday.  Biggest US shopping day of the year, treated like a holiday.  Stores open up in the middle of the night and offer sales.  People stream in from their homes, some never touching their beds, packing tote bags full of circled ads, hand-held television sets, and a will as strong as any athlete to win.  Only at Black Friday winning is about grabbing the sale items before anyone else.  Each year, at least one person is trampled to death somewhere in the United States on Black Friday, by other shoppers more eager to get their deals than respect the lives of shoppers with less of an iron will than them.
A group of 4 or 5 friends grabbed a video camera, a still camera, and a voice recorder and stayed up ’till dawn in order to interview these people while they waited in lines at the Malls and big stores for Black Friday.  We thought it would be revealing to talk to these folks and find out what motivated them to wait in lines all night long just to shop.  We shared a sort of fascination for uncovering the intriguing reasons behind the popular support for this consumer holiday.
I have never particularly enjoyed shopping myself.  I do it more because I occasionally need something from a store.  So I expected to be disgusted, but what our little group found surprised even me.
We started at the Lloyd Center Mall.  One woman waiting at the front of a line for Old Navy in the mall wore a pink sweatshirt and carried her own personal television to watch while waiting to shop.  I can’t imagine what was on at that hour of the night, infomercials maybe?  I haven’t owned or watched a television in over a decade, unless you count that one time I met a date in a sports bar, where something like 15 T.V.s guaranteed that any direction I looked in kept me up to date on the basketball game.
Strangely drawn to her pill pink coat, we made our way over and talked to her first.  Her family, she proudly told us, had come to Black Friday for the past 25 years.  We asked her why she had a television along, and she explained that she used it to keep up with what was going on.  I held my tongue, because I didn’t have anything nice to say.
Another woman in the line had brought along a tote bag that she had stocked with an organized 4″ thick pile of ads she’d carefully removed from newspapers in anticipation of the night.  I was more surprised at the way she showed these to us as if nothing was at all wrong with any of it than I was by the pile of ads on the edge of careening forth from the bag at any moment.

My team of compatriots loosely interviewed and interacted with those waiting in line.  Not carrying a recording device, I was free to roam, observe, and converse, some of which was caught on tape and some recorded for posterity in my memory.  From what I could tell, people in the lines were blissfully engaged with the event.  They didn’t question the situation in the least, and they actually reacted defensively when questioned in some cases.  One grade-school teacher gave our cameraman an earful after he engaged her in a playful dialogue about American consumer culture.
Later in the night, we discovered a tired line stretching the equivalent of two city blocks creating a pseudo-social scene in front of Best Buy out by the airport.  Moisture from a light rain reflected from the dark pavement and created small puddles in the low points of the asphalt landscape.  At the front of this line, a gaggle of about 6 twenty-something kids giddily shared with us their plan for buying as many laptops as possible and reselling them for a profit.  They had eaten their Thanksgiving dinners in line.
I was struck by my observation that a number of people I talked with displayed an almost humorous attitude towards what they were doing, as if they were aware on some low level how F-ed up it was to stand in line for three days and nights to buy electronic gadgets.  To me, their upturned lips were a thin veil hanging between their decision to be there and their full sensory awareness.  Despite how close some of the Best Buy line seemed to admitting their craziness, all of these folks stood their ground, like I might at any time seek to pull them out of their place in line.  The energy of the scene felt dysfunctional, disturbing, akin to that of a factory farm or other place where you know things aren’t right.
Everyone on my team agreed that the richest material by far of the night came from Wal-Mart.  At first not being allowed to enter with recording devices seemed indicative that something going on inside was officially being hidden from scrutiny.  After about fifteen minutes of useless haggling, we actually got past security due to a more pressing issue suddenly needing the attention of the security staff.
When we got inside, all of us were simply blown away.  Everywhere, people pushed shopping carts loaded higher than their shoulders with crap.  They drove the carts in all directions, and so it was simply mayhem inside the store.  The strong lights, the muzak, and the drone of urgent voices (oxymoronic perhaps, but true) all combined to make me have to physically and psychically shut down my natural flight responses.
I witnessed one young man narrowly miss tripping an elderly person walking gingerly with the aid of a cane, after which he unaffectedly ran onward toward whatever product special was calling his name.  It was like watching ice-skating championships – I held my breath and then let it out only after the elderly man carried on in an upright position.
One of the most bizarre elements of the scene was the effect created because shoppers were made to wait in lines filling the store from wall to wall until 5 a.m., when check stands opened.  My team of hobby investigative journalists couldn’t break through the lines inside the store and had to walk around to the ends of them to exit the building.  I felt like I had a numberof years ago when the bus I was on sat in traffic for an hour in an attempt to leave New York City one weekday evening a few years ago, utterly trapped.
Our still-photographer began pushing a cart filled for display with all of the store’s supply of GPS for automobiles.  This one act carried much weight, as many people proceeded to glare at her or check out the stack of green boxes as if shopping in her cart.  That’s when I first noticed the eyes of Black Friday shoppers.  Each person’s attention seemed to dart around jaggedly, no one made eye contact, and all body language was slumped and shuffling.
I realized that people had to slip inside a kind of zone to blend in and get into what was occurring in that unnatural place.  People couldn’t unfurl their senses there, or they’d all be burnt off, singed beyond later functionality in the real world outside by a deadening combination of atmosphere, program, and a landscape that bred disconnectedness.
It seemed an agreement made silently within each individual person, some mixture of observation and feeling that when set produced a sort of zombie stance that stuck to the program of buying and milling about, getting excited about gadgets, distracted and lured by packaging.
After we went home, exhausted and simultaneously awakened by what we had witnessed first-hand, I was lucky to speak to a former employee of three stores regularly participating in Black Friday.  She unabashedly told me that people shopping seemed like they had an uncontrollable illness, a need for a bargain so deep that they didn’t realize anything that was going on around them.