I talk a lot (or at least I think a lot) about how we can best bring together to world of the ecological, and some might say, the primitive, and the world of the technological, the innovative. There are so many modern comforts and methods of accelerating our lives that even decades ago would have been difficult to imagine, and yet, so often, we drive ourselves to work and move at such a pace that we forget why we’re moving so fast in the first place. In the world of nature, of permaculture, of Masanobu – things move slowly, the comforts aren’t always as numerous, and we dwell closer to the dirty work of life, but more often than not, these actions are conducted with intention and presence.
On the farm, I continue to feel like we are remaining cognizant of this balance, and doing what we can to keep our work fun, focused and light, while always driven and efficient. The fearless leader and founder of Urban Adamah, Adam (go figure, right? ;), led a few of us through our first Qi Gong class today, and a major point I’d like to apply to today’s post taken from this practice: why not always aim to do everything in life with the least effort possible?
To bring this back to the farm: today, we began to really pump through our bed-building tasks by breaking up our apprentice team into an assembly line. Peter was breaking apart pallets like a champ, Sid was cutting hardware cloth rolls into two halves, Kalia was slicing the halved hardware cloth into 188 inch segments, I was bending said hardware cloth in half again with the help of a jig, and Alex was assembling these parts into a finished pallet bed.
To expand outwards a bit: In my mind, the assembly line is one of the most essential elements of our innovative culture, and also one of the most dangerous. The assembly line has brought us the modern car, fast food, and the ability to mass produce technology at an astounding rate (among other things). It also, I would argue, has pushed us to accept a society where many of the jobs we perform are the same task repeated over and over again, in isolation, with very little room for deviation or creativity. Not to mention it encourages people to operate with their focus on one particular area, often with little perspective on the larger picture. My feeling is that this general attitude then percolates outwards into much of our design process: how often are buildings, cities and products designed with only certain ends in mind (often to the detriment of the environment, or existing peoples/communities)?
I realize I’m scraping the surface of a larger issue – this is all to say: I think it’s important to approach the assembly line with mindfulness, and with an eye for the larger picture. At Urban Adamah, Sid’s been working hard to ensure that we all understand each component part of the beds we’re building, why they were designed the way they were, and how they all come together, in order that any one of use could independently build one, and furthermore – so that any one of us can offer creative feedback when we notice areas where the design or building process might be improved.
There’s something about taking the time to review the bigger picture, and involving everyone that, even though it may slow us down initially, I think overall contributes to a more productive and more fulfilling process. As soon as we master one aspect of the construction, we are teaching one another, such that we all improve together.
Is this a scalable idea when you start talking about more complex designs? Two thoughts: 1) If a design is too complex, it probably can and should be simplified; and 2) I think that when one steps back and assumes an overall purpose of improving quality of life, both those involved in a project and those touched by it, the time lost in slowing down to gain perspective is worth it in the end, because everyone gains a broader view of why they’re spending they’re time doing what they’re doing, and in my mind, the end product is superior in quality (I’ll again recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for anyone interested in a look at the definition of quality).
Oy – what a diatribe! Let me finish by saying: it was SO FANTASTIC that our first bucket of soil to be dumped into our modular beds was dumped, by me, not into the beds, but over and onto the ground! After a momentous build up and drum roll, Sid and I lifted the soil-laden wheelbarrow high, and in an attempt to flip my hand over and tip the wheelbarrow, I lost my grip, let an expletive slip, and lo and behold – our soil returned to the earth! Much laughter ensued, not the least of which came from me. ’cause really – if you can’t laugh at yourself, how can you expect to grow?
Sid departs us tonight to secure a visa for the upcoming year, so tomorrow is our first day building without his expert guidance. We’ll miss you Sid – and we hope you’ll be back ASAP!
Spilling out some love,
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite shots of the man himself. What a guy.