There is no them

Hey all,

I know it’s been a while, and I know this post is somewhat unrelated to my usual postings about permaculture and farming, but it’s what seems pertinent in my life right now, and this feels like a good outlet for sharing.

I just moved to Oakland not too long ago, and have been watching the Occupy Oakland movement unfold here. I’ve had a chance to sit in on a few General Assemblies, and have spoken with many gathered in the park and square to get their thoughts on why they’re there, and what this whole shindig is all about. What I’m sharing below are my own thoughts about what the Occupy movement represents, and how I think it can change to speak not just for the 99%, but indeed, for 100% of people who are willing to speak their hearts and minds.

What I wrote in response to witnessing some of the events at Occupy Oakland I think in many ways represents the culmination of many thoughts I’ve been having recently about how our systems and society need to change if we are going to move forward in a way that honors the basic human rights of all global citizens. The basic idea is this: we can’t continue, in any arena of life, acting with a “win/lose”, “us/them” mindset, looking out for the interests of some (even if they are those close to us, or indeed, even ourselves) in a manner that limits or undermines the prosperity or even basic rights of another. It’s about time we truly embrace the “golden rule”, and treat one another with the understanding that we truly all are in this together. At the same time, this should be happening simultaneously with the recognition that different people in different places need and want different things. We don’t need to become homogeneous to honor everyone’s basic humanity. I think the best way to pursue both of these things is to create a place for an open, honest and creative conversation, and to do so in a way that allows everyone’s voice to be heard equally. To me, this is the true revolutionary practice that Occupy is manifesting, and I only hope that we can extract this, amplify it, and couple it with our brightest minds and best technology in a way that allows us to truly begin a conversation about purpose, and the equitable distribution of opportunity to all. Here’s what I thought:

There is no them

There is no them.

There is no joining the Occupy movement – there is only waking up to realize that you are already a part of it, and have been since the beginning.

There is no 99% or 1% – there are only people, who appear to be divided by opinion and perspective. That difference of opinion and perspective is what makes this swelling of true democracy so incredible. If you do not agree with the Occupy movement, then come down, join the general assembly and express it. You will be heard. And if people do not agree with you, then bring more who do. All of you will have a part in the larger voice that is re-Occupying our place in America, our place as members of humanity, where all are entitled to speak from their heart, and to have a say in our collective destiny.

99% is merely rhetoric. There are those who are in the top 1% of our economic sector who see and believe in ending the injustices that are currently rife in our system, just as there are those in the remaining 99% who have yet to have their eyes opened to systematic oppressions that are overt to many. The economic dividing lines are arbitrary, and no less divisive than division of race, religion or ethnicity. 100% of us are human, and we need 100% of us if Occupy is going to become everything it wishes to become.

We must aim to lift the veils from the eyes of those who do not yet see that they are invested in this movement; who do not yet see these systems of repression, and who do not yet see the depths of their complicity. To do anything less is to perpetuate the us them polarities that have brought our political process to a standstill. We must understand that there is a reason why our system has grown to be what it is, the same way that people have grown to be the way they are, and we must believe that those things can change. Otherwise, we are no better than the parent that criticizes the child rather than the action; no better than the person who believes that another in prison is fundamentally bad or violent and not worth helping; no better than the person who is not willing to look at where their trash goes, and who is taking it away.

There are many broken people, be it because of the addictions of privilege or the burdens and bruises of oppression, and we must welcome them all. Those who we would hate the most are those who we must try the hardest to reach and to love, as we are doing nothing less in that process than coming to love those broken parts of ourselves.

If you are met with violence, do not cower and become timid. You may choose to fight back or not – but make that choice not attacking an enemy. Make it with the understanding that you are attacking a brother, or a sister, or a parent, who does not yet see that you are fighting for them. Because there is no them. There is only the inextricably bound mass that is humanity, fighting for a chance to be heard, to be invested in creating a world that is better for ourselves and our children. Despite all our differences of opinion, background and perspective, we all have a part to play if we are willing to allow everyone to play it. There is no them. There is only now.

Would love to hear thoughts on this, and how to continue such a conversation.



P.S. I haven’t see what Occupy Venice is all about, but I do like their artwork.

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Reply to Mark

Note: My good buddy Mark left a comment on my last post, and, though I intended to write a short reply to him, what came out is what you see below! I think there’s a reason I’ve been loving my new job these past three days – this stuff is all fascinating, there’s so much more to learn, and there’s ever so much to be done to get us to where we need to be. Please enjoy the unexpected post below, a reply this comment from Mark comment on yesterday’s post:

I really appreciate your view on waste, and would like you to know I’m personally very careful about what I use. Every little piece of paper, plastic (or worse) deserves the most use it can get. I’m happy to see you care as much as I, and see the incredible waste we create.

Sustainability is so easy, once the infrastructure is in place. However, our society of junk has made it easier to throw things away than it is to recycle. It would take such a drastic shift in culture, because unfortunately sustainability habits (or lack thereof) are a learned behavior. So many kids learn it’s okay to waste because their parents do so. Kinda like other social problems in our culture like racism or abuse.


Dude – love your feedback, engagement, and your commitment to being conscious about what you use!

It’s interesting what you say about sustainability being so easy with the infrastructure in place. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that lately. In some sense, I think one way of framing the question of sustainability and infrastructure is: to what degree do we localize and centralize our societal processes? For example, does it make sense for everyone to have a compost in their back yard, or a slightly larger bin for a given neighborhood block, or perhaps a compost facility large enough to accommodate the organic waste of a city, or even a county? These same questions can be asked of waste, and of how we grow our food. To some degree, I think the answers to these questions lie in the intersection of efficiency and awareness. If everyone had their own landfill in their backyard, in all likelihood, their habits throwing things away would shift dramatically! The same goes for compost, and the decisions we make buying food. However, having a landfill in everyone’s backyard probably isn’t the most efficient or even feasible way of going about things. After all, waste removal/management (as I understand it) began primarily as an effort to improve promote public health. Too much trash in the streets = more animals, smells, dirtiness and disease.

So how to achieve that optimum intersection of efficiency/conscious behavior? I feel like we should, and to some degree are, shifting to a model that taps into the efficiencies on all levels of “centralization” – in effect, taking the best of what the individual, community, city, county, state, region have to offer. We currently exist in a society where most of our utilities are not produced at the individual/community level, and most things are coming from far away. It’s relatively rare that anyone will grow all their food, generate all their own power, and process or eliminate all their own waste (and it would be awfully tough for them to do so in an apartment or even a suburban lot!). But what if we began putting more of the responsibility for managing these utilities back down the chain a bit, while not eliminating all of these city/state/regional/global processes? Not everyone needs to get solar panels, and indeed, many people have homes for which solar panels would not be ideal – but what if the house that had the best exposure to sun on the block shared power with the other houses? And what if the house next door to that, which has a thriving plum tree, shared its plums with the next door neighbors? And what if there was a community compost that provided soil for everyone’s garden in the neighborhood, or for the community garden that everyone opted into? It’s a little more work (potentially), but a huge leap in overall production and efficiency, and furthermore, having these mechanisms that exist at varying scales produces a huge amount of redundancy (read: security!) if one piece of the system fails.

SO – phew! What about trash? How to raise awareness to increase efficiency, without putting a landfill in everyone’s back yard? At this point – since I think centralization of waste management makes sense to some degree, I think there are three large axes of engagement: 1) Education (which is why I love what I’m doing!) – literally going to people and telling them wassup, and especially ingraining this knowledge/these habits at a young age; 2) Litigation – having the political will power to develop the appropriate laws that get businesses to do the right thing (’cause otherwise, let’s be real – they won’t, especially if the economic bottom line isn’t there – though it is in many cases!), involving: reducing the wastefulness of current practices, while at the same time claiming responsibility for the end life of the products that are produced (i.e. not designing products without having a plan for how they’ll be handled once their usability has expired – see this interesting article about the pros and cons of automobile recycling); and 3) Livin’ it! I’m glad to hear you’re already doing this! Now – if you want to help with the other two, the help is needed! It can be as simple as having these sorts of conversations with your friends and family, or be as bold as tuning in to the politics of your local area, and speakin’ up on these issues. I feel lucky that the Bay Area is so progressive, and it’s going to take some people raising their voice to bring about big changes in other places! And – I know you – you’ve got a big voice! πŸ˜‰

At the end of the day, too, I think it’s really important to keep in mind that most of what exists today in our society came about for some reason, and even if it seems terrible or immoral or ridiculous today, most things were not developed with the intention of screwing people and the planet over (most things ;). Learning more about the history of our current systems is crucial to informing our assessments, and thus, developing our next steps. Sustainability in my mind doesn’t mean developing a system that is going to last forever – that’s just crazy talk πŸ˜‰ It’s about understanding that everything is always changing, and that a system that is also willing to change and shift over time is that sort of system that is going to last.

Wow – didn’t realize I’d have that much to say in response to your fantastic comment! Looks like this is enough for a new post! Would love to hear your continued thoughts, or potential plans for putting these ideas to use!

Good times

Much love,

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A week of good work

I’m about to head to bed, but thought in the brief moments before closing my eyes that I would jot out a few thoughts.

For one, I’m realizing that at the current rate, attempting to catch up on an entire summer is probably not going to happen. It seems to me this may be another great reminder that living in the present seems the wise thing to do, and to incorporate remembrances from a wonderful summer in the woods as it makes sense over the coming weeks.

While I don’t have any photos from the past few days, I figure I’ll just toss in a few from the summer to spice things up that may or may not be completely relevant to what I’m typing.

Essentially, the big happenings this week have been: starting my new job with (so cool), prepping for my first lesson as an after school sustainability teacher at the Contra Costa Midrasha (read: Jewish after school program), and pouring my evening and weekend hours into studying for the GRE. Why you ask? I ask too.

Than preppin' the garden

One event to note: both Than and myself have shorn our locks, and Than has shorn his beard! Ahhhh! I am rapidly reaching the point where the eccentric flair of the haircut I received this summer from the bunk of G-1 girls at camp is beginning to flirt with the limits of “professional appearance”. (admittedly, part of me enjoys that though)


I suppose I wanted to write tonight because I feel again on the cusp of another wave of incredible event., My orientation at my new job has been going swimmingly; by the end of this week, I will know whether I am qualified for a graduate education; and by the end of the next, I will be back in Maine, helping my brother kiss his bachelorhood goodbye. After that, its back to California for another week of training and teaching, and then back to Maine for – yep! – another wedding! Whoo hoo! Love is in the air it would seem.

In the air

Though I suppose a guy writing a blog about permaculture didn’t need any particular coaxing, today I took a powerful field trip along with my new colleagues to the Davis Street Transfer Station, which sorts a large portion of the waste from Alameda county before it’s ultimately driven to the landfill or shipped overseas to be recycled (yes indeed – that’s where most of Alameda county’s recycling goes!). Now, I know when I hear things like “1.4 million tons of trash a year” or “2,800 tons of trash a day” that its a lot (the former number is from 2008, and the latter from today), but I gotta say – seeing it all in one place, and seeing how it’s handled – I found myself pretty disgusted. And not so much with the trash itself – more just the idea that we waste all this stuff, and for the most part, don’t think twice about it.

I’m sure there’ll be more to share specifically, but I suppose I wanted to point out that even with all the automated systems there were in place (which themselves cost millions of dollars, and are often in need of maintenance – as they were today), there still were people that were needed to sort through all the trash, picking out valuable materials, and making sure particular categories of waste weren’t cross-contaminating. For me, this was the most unsettling thing to see and to think about: it is someone’s job, 365 days a year, to stand on an assembly line and sort through all our refuse.

Now admittedly, I didn’t have a chance to stop and speak with any of these folks, and maybe it’s a job they love, maybe it’s a job that they grew up wanting to do. But something tells me if they had a choice, they probably wouldn’t be putting on their gloves and respirators every day and heading to the transfer station as the preferred way to pay the bills. Yet at the end of the day, because of the way our society operates, someone’s got to do it. The question for me is: how did it get this way, and does it have to continue to be that way going forward? Can we possibly change our attitudes, behaviors, designs and systems enough to eliminate the need for full time trash sorters?

Oy, I can feel my hair getting longer already πŸ˜‰ Anyway, more idealistic musings to come.

Long hair

Love for now from the East side of the Bay,

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Not sure why…

But tonight just seems like a good night to get back to the writing.

Somehow, a whole summer has now passed since I last took a moment to jot down my thoughts, and as the days keep passing, more keeps happening that merits a story or recollection. I would like to explore these day to day happenings once more, and also take the time to reflect on all that has happened in the past few months – from experiences taking teens to farms around the Bay, to camp sustainability committees, to songs about compost, to yoga and salsa dancing and studying for the GREs, ideas and commitments to self.

Tawonga Garden - Before

I am just now looking back at pictures showing the state of the Camp Tawonga garden at the beginning of this summer, and am realizing how much it has flourished since the late days of May. I wonder how much I have grown, too, and in what ways. I feel like I am at a point now where I am able to take what I’ve learned in the past year and apply it, teaching it to others, and really amplify the impact of my learnings.


For the months upcoming, I truly hope to make an effective use of my time, devoting my “work life” to meaningful endeavors I believe in, and supplementing these commitments with continued exploration and creative applications of my interests and love.

Tarp folding

Music? Poetry? Plays? Street theater? I’m not sure what form it will take, but I can feel the hankering for something to channel that which I’ve come to care about into forms that make others laugh, pause, think, feel, or perhaps have the room to experience for themselves.


A bit of ramble to kick things off again, but nice to be writing again nonetheless. Here’s to what comes next.

Around the bend

Much love,

P.S. Just so this post doesn’t seem too serious:


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Where I’m sleeping

Access to wordpress has been granted, but time is limited! Suffice to say for now, this is the view from where I’m sleeping:

Misty mountains

And these are the folks I’ve been spending my time with:

Chickens and kids

Normally they’re less blurry πŸ˜‰ Than left camp for the day, so I’ve been in charge of prepping the garden and getting the starts started. I have to say: there’s something immensely satisfying about finding manual labor tasks that require me to fully exert myself/throw my body weight into something. Things like dragging a tarp full of straw across a muddy field to spread mulch atop our garden beds. If anyone needs a last minute substitute to help run the Iditarod (and I mean attached to the sleigh), you just let me know.

Other quick highlights: blackberry and red pepper pizza with goat cheese, the first real thunder and lightning storm I’ve seen in a while, playing camp’s delightful Martin acoustic guitars, and catching up with good friends for the first time in a while. All in all, not a shabby way to kick off another summer.

Until next time – love from the Sierras,

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This post has a kilt in it

The days are just packed

That’s how my time has felt since arriving in Portland. I realized today that the one thing I didn’t account for in looking ahead to these ten days: the need to get some sleep! Thankfully, a nice power nap today has put me back on my feet, and the keyboard beneath my fingers once more.

There are general thoughts I want to share from these days about the notion of community design and village building, but first, I feel like y’all need to experience what’s been between my toes these past few days. That’s right: you’re about to get a tour through the process of making earthen plaster. Caution: this post gets squishy from here on out.


Step 1: Sand (1.5 Buckets)


Step 2: Clay (1 Bucket)


Step 3: Fibrous Material (1 Bucket of – brace yourself! – clean* horse manure)


Step 4: Just add water, and stomp!


*So, step 3. I know. It sounds pretty gross. But it was a great learning experience! From what I gathered speaking with one of the “mud girls” (a society of female professional natural builders), the horse manure had undergone a process to remove all of the gnarly bacteria, but which still retained all of the enzymes and other natural materials that help to create a stronger resistance to rain. While almost any fibrous material can be used for earthen building (the standard being straw), it sounded like manure was chosen because of the organic materials it contained and the density of its fibrous content. This was particularly important given that the earthen plaster I was making/stomping on was intended as an outer coating to seal off the more sand heavy cob interior.

Walled in

All in all, I would definitely recommend this process of earthen plaster and cob making for anyone interested in teaching natural building with kids. It’s amazing that mud, intelligently applied, can be turned into structures for housing, cooking and more. And seriously – it’s just a ton of fun to play in the stuff!

Ton of fun

Ah well, I’ve already gotten pretty far down in this post, and feel like it may be best to leave the musings on community building for a concluding post, wrapping up my time in Portland at the VBC. Until then, if anyone is wondering what to get me for my birthday next year, it’s this:


Yep, it’s a utilikilt. And I’m pretty sure, somehow, some way, I’m going to have to get one. Fashionable, no?


Puts a whole new spin on the tune, “Whatcha got under yer kilt yer kilt?” (a sawzall?)

Like a double rainbow through sporadic downpour,

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Portland you’ve got it going on

Please read that title with this tune in mind.

I can’t even begin to express how full my time in Portland thus far has been. The basic breakdown of each day has been something like this:

8:00 – Wake up, shower, and rush to village building class
8:40 – Arrive ten minutes late to class
9-11:30 – Learn about creating community
11:30-2 – Have ridiculous moments of synchronicity and serendipity (or lunch, depending on the day)
2-5 – Work on village building projects
5-8 – Attend village building evening sessions, with lectures, music and food
8-Late – Catch up with old friends in Portland

That’s been the basic sched. Here’s a few specifics:

Village Building Flier

Flier time

As part of our class, we were instructed to develop a hypothetical flier to help bring together a hypothetical community for an initial potluck and discussion. Now, while this may seem like just any other assignment or classroom activity – and it was in some sense – having spent so much time this week focused on the union of process and intention, I found myself blown away at just how much this exercise truly came to embody the process of building community.

We knew we had certain goals and intentions, and we had a rough idea of the place we were heading (i.e. a flier), but how that flier would look, what it would say, how we would engage our neighborhood without being disingenuous – all of these things simply had to “emerge” as the four of us in our group collaborated and stumbled our way towards a final product.

What blew me away was, not only was the process in and of itself incredibly rewarding (it felt great to work on something organically with three other folks I had only just barely gotten to know), but the end product ended up being something that really went beyond my expectations, and certainly beyond anything I could have created by myself (especially in the 20 minutes or so that we had!). Wonderful word plays like “Cul de sack lunch” and “Bring your dishes, bring your wishes” emerged almost spontaneously, as did the overall design and layout.

Flier up close

We did that with crayons in 20 minutes. Imagine what a whole community could do with a couple weeks.

Permaculture Song Hits the VBC

Wouldn’t you know it – after making the rounds on YouTube, a number of folks who I’ve never met before have been coming up to me at the VBC to let me know that they “like my song“. Among them: Mark Lakeman, founder of City Repair (sweet!). Also among them: Andrew Millison, permaculture professor at Oregon State. Andrew and I had been coordinating by email after my permaculture design class back in December, and last night, he stopped by the VBC evening session to give a talk about bringing permaculture into government and universities. As I made my way towards the front row, we spotted each other, and after a jovial meeting, he exclaimed, “Dude! Is there a guitar here? You gotta play the song!” Me: “Uh, sure – mine’s in my car.” Andrew: “Go get it man!”.

And thus, at the end of Andrew’s presentation, he invited me up in front of the crowd to play the permaculture song. What a treat, and what a great response it got! The permaculture song lives on, and continues to bring wonderful connections and experiences into my life.

Michael Becker

You may not have heard of Michael Becker, but my bet is that it won’t be long before you will. Oregon teacher of the year in 2007, Michael Becker has almost single-handedly worked to design a school curriculum designed according to permaculture principles, and completely changed the way middle schoolers in Hood River engage with their work, perform on standardized tests, and prepare for a healthy, happy and productive life.

Michael Becker

The guy reminds me in many ways of Will Allen, the gentleman who started Growing Power out in Milwaukee. Both of them started small: bringing a food stand to a food desert in Milwaukee, growing a garden in the shady, blackberry wreathed periphery of a middle school; and both steadily, because of their commitment to community and clarity of intention, grew something that has completely changed the face of their community, and now, the industries they’re involved in.

Imagine: 8th grade students building an aquaponics system almost entirely by themselves. Or running a farmer’s market stand with food from a garden that they’ve grown, tended to, and used as a basis for lessons in math, science and social studies. Michael Becker is helping facilitate all this and much, much more. Hearing him made me realize the change that one person acting with clear intention can have, and how small projects can grow into big statements about how we might bring positive change to larger systems.

Good Friends, Good Family

One of the best parts of being back in Portland has just been the chance to reconnect with a community of folks I haven’t seen since October. From incredible existential conversations with my good friend and former Yale compatriot Amanda, to tasty brews with my firefighting buddy Carver, to dinner tonight with the Reiffs (who took me in on my way back from Driggs Idaho two years ago!), it’s been absolutely incredible spending time with fantastic folks, beloved buddies and the occasional serendipitous pilgrim.

A quick note from the Reiffs: a) they have an incredible garden built on a slope; and b) I learned that it’s best to cook salmon between barbecue coals so it doesn’t get overcooked, and that one can soak mesquite wood chips in water, to be tossed on the coals towards the end of the cooking process to sweeten the meat just a touch. Mmmmm… Copper River salmon + asparagus and pasta, with a little bit of Ben and Jerry’s over a brownie for dessert. Portland – you’ve got it going on!



Intersection Repair

Lastly, today, I got my hands dirty for the first time since arriving to Portland (I know, it’s terrible!) helping paint one of the most ridiculously awesome intersection murals I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen like, three. But seriously though, this thing was nuts! Just look!

Intersection of glory

The best part about the whole process though:


Mom can I?

Everyone was getting involved. I don’t know how, but they managed to pull this off over the course of just a couple of days (after months of prep and design of course). While I gather the process wasn’t always hunky-dory, seeing members of the community of all ages working together and welcoming those from outside to help in the process was just what I had come to Portland to see: true village building in action.

Glad to have converged,

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If they build it, it will hum

There is so much I want to reflect on after our second day of village building class here in Portland. I am going to start at what feels like the end, and see what ends up getting woven in as I run through this post.


More and more, I find myself coming back to a central point, a central purpose that is underlying all my pursuits and all my thoughts for a sustainable (in every meaning of the word) future: intention is everything.

Today, I used the movie Inception to make this point. In the movie, the main characters realize that, in order to affect a change in someone that they may be opposed to it, there has to be the sense that it was “their” idea. Otherwise, they recognize it as foreign, and reject it.

I’m finding that we’re running into the same concept very early on when discussing the idea of creating community and creating place – creating anything that people buy into, and are invested in making last: it has to feel like it was their idea. How many community greens are there with beautiful fountains and gazebos that 364 days out of the year go unused because of limited buy in from surrounding residents? It may even be that people want things like this – but because there’s no sense of ownership or co-creation, there’s a lack of desire to be involved over time.

Another strange revelation I had: as we were discussing what it is that has led to social isolation in our neighborhoods and cities (i.e. the “why don’t I know my neighbor?” condition), it struck me that a big part of it is the legitimate (and disturbing?) lack of need for neighbors. Bear with me for a sec, because believe me, I’m not trying to advocate not having neighbors!

Over time, we’ve built tools and institutions for ourselves that allow us greater and greater flexibility to function independently: we have cars to get us around, we have houses that can keep us comfortable in almost any conditions, we have supermarkets where we can pick up all the food we need for days or weeks at a time, we have TVs and computers to turn to for entertainment and interaction without ever having to leave our beds or the couch – the list goes on and on. Now, are these tools and the ends they achieve bad things in and of themselves? I don’t think so. But the unintended consequence of all this is that we’ve gradually eliminated the need to actually interact with other human beings. It’s not to say that the option isn’t there – at any point in time I can turn to the person next to me or to the person living next door and say “hey, how are you? I wanted to take a sec and really spend some time with you,” but for the most part, we don’t do that.

Why? I would submit that there are two major reasons: 1) as mentioned above, we don’t need each other the way we used to (i.e. I no longer need my neighbor to share food or supplies, or for tools I can buy at the store), and 2) because, surrounded by what appear to be infinite options that we have constant access to, we are presented with the implicit question, “well why would I settle for anything less than what is absolutely ideal for me in this moment?” In other words, why would I reach out to my neighbor, who just happens to live near me and for whom I have no other basis or need for interaction, when there are infinite other people I can easily reach out to who in all likelihood I may get along with and enjoy being with more – who can, in some sense, offer me more?

Given that time already seems like such a precious commodity in so many of our lives (time is money after all, isn’t it?) why would we do anything with our time that wasn’t as worthwhile as possible, knowing that we have the tools to find and apply ourselves to what we deem to be “worthwhile” endeavors? What happens if we invest time in our neighbors, and find out we honestly don’t like them? Well what if they start wanting to hang out more? Or start wanting to borrow stuff that belongs to us? What a bummer! Who has time for people they don’t want to hang out with, who can’t offer more than other folks?

To take another leap, I would submit that part of this problem is that we’ve fundamentally begun to view most things in the world around us as “resources” toward certain ends – plants = food for satisfying our hunger; oil = resource for getting us from point a to point b without having to worry about the rain, snow or sleet; wood, sand, iron and limestone = resources for building shelters around us. My question (and potential concern is): Have we also gotten to the point where we view people as resources too? Are we implicitly asking ourselves such questions as: will interacting with this person improve my happiness? Will this person help me move ahead with my career? Will this person help me learn more about myself?

This is where I return to my earlier point about intention. When we live in a world of ends, it is difficult to truly live in presence with the means to get there. It is truly difficult to dwell with intention as an end to itself, without being concerned with the end this intention produces. And it takes an awfully big leap of faith to assume that the ends we find letting go of the ends we think we want are ones we’ll be satisfied with.

Let’s return to the example of the neighbor. If I lack an intention that is not ends-focused in interacting with my neighbor, I will only be concerned with the ends I can realize in my interactions with them. Since, for the most part, I no longer need any resources from my neighbor, I likely will only interact with them if I implicitly sense that there are some other ends that can be achieved: will this person make me happy? Will interacting with this person make my life easier? Is there something this person can do for me that improves my life? “Hey – could you pass the creamer?”

However, if I am not concerned with these “ends”, and set an intention that extends beyond myself, perhaps “can this person and I together find meaning in this moment?”, I can interact with that person (and indeed, I would say any person) without need for walking away and saying “ahhhh, what a worthwhile interaction for me”. I can be with them simply because they are there, and we both simply are here. And from here/there, maybe we can build something together, with the intention of facilitating future moments and greater ease/enjoyment of “being”, and, perhaps, more creation.

The beauty of this whole thing I believe is that, without intending to, we do walk away feeling that such interactions are worthwhile, often far more so than those where we achieve some outer ends! What’s the point of a $200 meal made with all the finest local ingredients, prepared by a chef who has cooked for his whole life, if we can’t truly taste the meal? Everything ends, and when we pursue things only for their end state, before we know it, we’re at our own end, wondering where all that stuff in the middle went.

I don’t think any of these are particularly new thoughts, but they have fascinating implications for design, building and sustainability. What happens when we start to build things that are meant to inspire nothing more than being, and being together? We can do many of the same things we already do – but what’s the difference? The intention behind how we do them. How we eat, how we get from point a to point b, how we build and design. Just being with others for the sake of being with them I think is the first step towards discovering what it is that we might want to do and create together.

As a disclaimer for all of this: I don’t think these things are easy! Walking up to your neighbor and interacting with them simply for the sake of interacting with them is a strangely difficult thing! But in my mind, recognizing the things that we desire from one another is the first step to not letting these desires get in the way of a truly meaningful interaction: I am here talking to you not because you have something I want, but because I simply want to enjoy this moment with you.

I feel like I’m chasing my own tail a bit here, but I suppose that’s the point of writing these things out sometimes. Tomorrow will be the first evening session I’ll be attending at the VBC, and I’m excited to hear from some of the founding members of City Repair. The more I learn about the organization, the more I am blown away by the depth of intention and preparation that led to their first painted intersection, something that on the surface seems so simple, and to many, so “useless”. This could very easily be the case, if it wasn’t for how people used it.


P.S. Tour de Ferment – say what?


And lookin’ back on the South Bay. Mmm hmm.

South Bay

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In it

I think this may be the longest gap in my writing since the blog has begun. There are a number of reasons for this, but suffice to say, we’re back, and I hope to be blogging strong over the course of the next week.

Not that life wasn’t full of interesting things to learn and experience in Berkeley over the past week! For now though, I once again find myself uprooted, and about to plunge into another chapter of exploration.

To sum up the past week in brief prior to said plunge: reveling in a final few days of work on the farm, planting flowers and prepping beds; hidden hot springs bathing off of route 1 on the way to Bolinas (you gotta love a hot springs that’s only accessible once a month, when the tide is exceptionally low); biking across the East Bay as part of the the “tour de ferment“, sampling some of the community’s finest home-brewed offerings; and a heck of a lot of time in the south bay, hiking, enjoying vegan Chinese food, and just generally relaxing and enjoying time with Amanda (whom you may have met in an earlier post).

After all that, I packed up my things in my car, and have made my way once more to where, in many ways, I feel this whole journey towards a deeper understanding of sustainability began: Portland, OR.


I have come here for an event called the Village Building Convergence, and its concurrently functioning village building design course. After a blazing eleven hour drive up the 5, broken in two only by a brief visit with an old friend in Eugene (who just happens to live by the Ninkasi brewery and a great soul food restaurant called Papas, both of which I whole-heartily and full-bellied-ly recommend), I arrived in Portland last night at 10:30 in the evening, and proceeded to have a 4 hour conversation with my good friends and Portland hosts Amanda (another Amanda πŸ˜‰ and Nat about our lives of late, and the state of affairs in the world.

I love coming to a place, and immediately finding myself among people who are taking an active look at the world, trying to take an earnest appraisal of the full depth of its problems and challenges (as well as the joys that persist), and then doing their darndest to document, process, and help others to understand these issues through videos, documentaries, gatherings and just general wit and good humor, that we might work towards fairer and more just lives for all. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few months, it is indeed that the seeking of knowledge and truth are important tools for invoking the sort of changes we may wish to see in the world, and for creating systems that are truly “sustainable” over the long haul. It’s one thing to identify and address the overt symptoms of a problem – and it’s another to identify its source, and actually fix things.

I’d like to wax poetic on this idea, but to ground things a bit, let me apply this idea to what I have thus far surmised about the Village Building Convergence and its umbrella organization, City Repair. From what I understand, City Repair started a little more than a decade ago as an effort to plug community spaces and village-like connections back into the grid system of neighborhoods of Portland. The simplest form this took was the infusion of circles into what has typically been a system of squares and rectangles – in this case, the painting of large mandalas in the center of neighborhood intersections with designs determined by local inhabitants. Around these circles then began to grow any number of different community objects, tools and spaces: neighborhood bulletin boards, cob benches, garden beds, compost bins, free boxes, mosaics and more.

Seen from one perspective, City Repair has taken a look at one of the strange the paradoxes of modern cities and urban neighborhoods, which I think can best be summarized as “why don’t I know my neighbors anymore?”, and sought to address this challenge not through imposing a solution, but helping others to manifest a solution for themselves; giving tools to communities to help those communities through a productive and collaborative design process, that ultimately leads to a sense of ownership, and a sense of connection that permeates both process and product. It would be one thing to go around the city painting mandalas at intersections; it’s entirely another to start with one, to get community investment and input, and to then slowly share the tools and processes with others who have similar questions and desires, and who may simply be looking for a little guidance and motivation to get started.

Fast forward eleven years from the first City Repair project, and you’ve now got close to thirty neighborhoods all working on projects as part of the 11th annual Village Building Convergence here in Portland. In my mind, City Repair’s success comes from a wonderful combination of thought, action, and finally, inspiration (the most intangible and perhaps important tool for change of them all). The intentions of the program are clear, but adaptable, its products and projects bound by this system of intent, but open to the inputs and needs of different communities, and its impact a combination of the more immediate outward, physical changes, coupled with the long term inward shift that comes from collaboration, involvement, and investment.

As someone who has given a lot of thought lately to clarifying values, creating with those values in mind, and then has been trying to figure out how to encourage a similar exploration and creative, productive process in others, I feel really lucky to be where I am now, after months building an urban farm, and to be learning from the folks at City Repair. Over the course of the next ten days, I’ll be in classes for the mornings, and then heading off to spots around Portland to participate in hands on projects in communities, putting the theoretical into practice. I expect there’s be a lot to learn, as well as a lot of folks to meet and connect with – and I’ll do my darndest to keep on top of it all and share as it’s happening!

I’d love to hear your thoughts as this dense week and a half of learning takes place! Until then,

Much love,

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What a week

Well I’ve learned my lesson – a week is just too much to pack into one post! I shall do my best though.

Three big things to share: 1) We’ve got a second greenhouse on the verge of completion! And 2) I got to join Than and a few other bearded fellows as a member of Swanman Travels and the Bearded Ladies, playing mainstage at the Whole Earth Festival in Davis. Mumford and Sons – eat your heart out. 3) An incredible impromptu trip to Harbin Hot Springs.

1) Gettin’ housed

Up from below

Remember those mistakes I was mentioning?


The mistakes we’ve made have been some of the best reminders that communication is key to clarity and efficiency. We’ve been flying through our construction of the greenhouse (it’s taken us just under a week to get everything but the plastic up), and along the way, little details here and there have gotten lost. All along though, people have kept a positive attitude, and our minor mistakes have been major learning experiences that we’ve all benefited from.

And what’s a day on the farm without some delicious homemade black bean hummus and guacamole for Cinco de Mayo?

Black bean what?

Later that week, Sid and I worked putting up the hoops:

Hoopin' it

Just check the focus here:


And the curly hair. Phew – it didn’t take long to get longish again! P.S. – Did I mention Sid is incredible?


Spiderman is a joke compared to this British bloke.

That same day, Amanda stopped by to help pin up the purlins. Ain’t she sweet?

Heck yeah

2) Yes, that’s me in a skirt

Mmm hmm

We were called the bearded ladies after all. And I figured the Top Gun shirt offered a great contrast.

The Whole Earth Festival was incredible. A good friend Dylan (the Bearded lady on the bass) was one of the directors of the whole festival, and when not up on stage with us, he was busy coordinating volunteers as they biked plates in carts to be washed, delivered food scraps to compost piles, and kept the festival up and running for the weekend.

The band

And wouldn’t you know it – we got to make the major debut of this classic song.

What really blows my mind about the Whole Earth Festival is that it is completely student run. For two days, there are musicians playing across two different stages, speakers (like Penny Livingston Stark of the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas), vendors selling their wares across the quad, a dj pit with dancing, student group performances, workshops and more. It was an incredible collection of people who showed up, from the grittiest of permaculturalists and natural builders, to curious students, to dancing hippies, to hoola hoopers, acrobats, parents and children.



It reminded me that I have so much more left to learn about pathways to sustainable living (as if I needed a reminder). So much of this comes down to a complete shift in mindset and perception of self as connected with one’s surroundings – but this, I think, may be best captured in another, more philosophical posting.

3) Harbin Hot Springs

All I’ll say is: hippies, hips, and hot springs. Harbin, as expected, was a wonderful chance for a bit of spiritual exploration and rejuvenation. A place can never be all that bad when it’s got hot springs, a garden, a badass temple, yoga three times a day, camping by the creek, massage, and a shared kitchen. Sounds a bit like spending the summer in Yosemite come to think of it… πŸ˜‰

That’s the quick scoop for now. A day at the office tomorrow, then Friday farmin’, Yale Day of Service Saturday, and Sunday Work Day!

So good

Somewhere between the hot pool and the cold pool,

And one more, just for good measure:


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