Creating social change, Teaching powerdown, Transition movement

Government alone cannot do it.  There are plenty of cries to political entities to “do something about global warming.”

Yes, it is important for government to impose carbon limits — to drive home the seriousness of a unified effort.  To give us all a collective goal to strive toward.  And to rein in the huge corporations, without which this never will succeed, and over which we locals have very little power.

But at the same time as we ask government officials to take action on global warming, we must completely transform our lifestyles.   Continue Reading

Creating social change, Teaching powerdown

The process of divesting from fossil fuels follows a certain timeline.  (What is Divestment from Fossil Fuels? It’s basically un-investing from oil, gas and coal.)  And where an organization is on this timeline determines the type of action, talking points, and answers that activists need to use.

I break the timeline down into the Consideration phase, the Declaration, and the Implementation phase.

Divestment timeline

Continue Reading

Creating social change, Divestment from fossil fuels, Economic Resilience, Teaching powerdown

Divestment is the opposite of investment: you can think of it like “uninvesting.”

To divest from fossil fuels means to sell all the oil and gas company stocks in your investment portfolio (or your university’s portfolio, or your faith community’s portfolio, or your city’s portfolio…).

Every day, the fossil fuel industry moves steadily closer to killing the planet and rendering humanity extinct. It has already begun: People are dying from climate-change-driven storms and diseases. From farmland to fisheries, people’s livelihoods are being wiped out, especially in disadvantaged nations. Glaciers are melting, faster than even the scientists had feared, and weather weirdness is being felt everywhere. A warming planet is disrupting ecosystems and wreaking havoc on wildlife. Scientists state quite clearly that unchecked global warming will mean the end of life as we know it. Yet the fossil fuel industry forges forward on its plans to drill and sell every bit of their reserves, to generate carbon emissions which will extinct us all. When you invest in fossil fuels, you are giving your support, your encouragement, and your endorsement to all of this. Continue Reading

Teaching powerdown, water wisdom

If you’re reading this and you live in L.A., California, or the U.S. Southwest, here are some simple things you can do now — as an individual or as a community group — to prepare for summer heat before the inevitable onslaught begins.

1. Install blinds and sun barriers. Look for thermal drapery lining fabric (available by the yard at many chain fabric stores) which will reduce the amount of heat that comes into your room. If you are a renter, get spring-tension-style curtain rods and there will be no holes for your landlord to complain about. If you own your own property, extend the overhang of your eaves with lattice or similar material so that it casts more shade. Or consider flying some of those triangle-shaped shade sails over patios and driveways that radiate heat.  (If you are able to take on a much bigger project, boost the insulation in your exterior walls and consider double-paned windows.) Continue Reading

Creating social change, Teaching powerdown, Transition movement

We’re caught in the squeeze right now.

Climate change is advancing at an incredible speed. We know we should do something, but we lack the political will to do what it takes to hold it to 2°C. UN committees are now being counseled to prepare for 4°C of warming. To keep it survivable, there’s got to be a powerdown — starting today.

Meanwhile green-tech enthusiasts cheer the rapid rate at which certain countries are installing renewable energy infrastructure. But reports are now surfacing of shortages in the rare earth ingredients needed to make that renewable infrastructure. We don’t have enough rare earth materials to replace the whole fossil infrastructure and continue on our current level of consumption. No one dares speak the little secret: Even with renewables, there’s got be a powerdown. Continue Reading

Teaching powerdown

If you’ve ever looked for an iron-clad case that the fossil energy supply is out-of-control, over-the-top destructive –of planet, wildlife, people’s health and culture– then check out Energy, the latest publication of the Post Carbon Institute.

The word “breathtaking” has become cliche when put with “photographs” but here it really applies. You will gasp aloud as you turn each page. (even my teens did) And then you’ll want to show the pictures to more people, because you can’t keep this kind of stuff to yourself. Coal strip mines. Spawling oil fields. Landscape wracked by palm oil plantations. The debris of Fukushima. And of course the BP oil platform going down in flames. Continue Reading

Teaching powerdown


“Can she bake a cherry pie?” chants the American folk song.  That didn’t mean opening a can of goo from the supermarket and dumping it into a frozen pie shell.  It mean knowing when the cherries were sweet and ripe, harvesting and pitting them, creating the pie shell from scratch (perhaps hand-churning the butter), and knowing what other local and available ingredients to mix in to make it all taste good.  The song referred to a real and necessary skill base which our ancestors recognized was essential to survival.  A skill base that most of us alive today no longer have.
Most of our ancestors grew food.  They preserved food.  They knew the seasons of their food, and they knew how to “get by” with limited food supply between harvests or through tough times.  Today, food production is a lost art.
Most people alive today have grown up on a food supply produced by industrial-style agribusiness.  Massive fields.  Massive combines. Factory farms.  Global transportation networks.  It is a system which is deeply dependent on nonrenewable and now‑depleting fossil fuels.  This system is pillaging irreplaceable topsoils, polluting our waterways, draining nonreplenishing ancient aquifers, generating atrocious waste, perpetuating socio-economic and cultural repression, and drawing enormous financial subsidies from our government in order to continue to do so.
The system is doomed and failing.  And we have no backup plan.  We have no “Plan B” for our food supply.  We need to reclaim the lost art of food production.
Into the middle of this, global warming is throwing a swift left hook.  Even as we scramble to recover great-grandma’s lost knowledge and create a backup to the broken industrial system, even as we scurry to discover what might work here in Southern California, global warming-driven weather disruptions are bringing wild weather surprises.
In Winter 2004, funnel clouds touched down in the Ladera Heights part of Los Angeles.  In 2006-2007 we experienced extreme drought conditions.  The next January we had record-breaking freezes.  In December 2010 rain clouds dumped record rainfall.  Looking to the future, scientists forecast heavier rains in some places, amplified droughts in others.[i]  For large-scale industrial farming operations – the food system we have depended upon – these weather shifts present challenges for which they do not have answers.  We desperately need to have backups in place.
And backups – particularly when they involve acquiring new skills, creating new habits, and cultivating widespread social change – take time to set up.  We have to get it moving.  Now.
Organic techniques are a critical element in all this.  “Organically farmed soil stores carbon.  A lotof carbon.  So much, in fact, that if all the cultivated land in the world were farmed organically, it would immediately reduce the climate crisis significantly.”[ii]
As you’ll learn in Chapter 2, “organics” is much, much more than just subbing out the chemicals with a few homemade sprays.  Organic techniques demand an entirely  different outlook upon farming, land, soil life, air, bugs and butterflies, our seed heritage, ecosystems, and humanity’s place within those vast systems.
Organics works.  It’s the way humanity has farmed its food since the dawn of the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago.  Compare that to what we think of as “regular” agriculture which has only been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century.  Some might debate that we have “better living through chemicals” but that’s only because the marketing departments have told us to think so.
And organics is cheaper.[iii]  (But the chemical companies don’t want you to know this.)  When the natural ecosystem is working on your behalf to feed and nourish your plants, there is no need to buy stuff.
Facing a world which will soon be without cheap petroleum and petrochemicals, a world where the economic situation continues to worsen, we’d better rediscover organics.  We’d better get back in the habit.  We’d better figure out how it was done in the past – plus how we can make it work for a very different present with more than 82% of Americans living in cities and 7 billion people to feed.  We need to rediscover a lost art, and we need to modify it for a dramatic new future.
The plot thickens:  Here our particular local spot on earth – in Southern California – agriculture is a relative newcomer.  Native Americans in this area didn’t “farm” in the European sense.  For 5,000 to 8,000 years since coming over the Bering Straight, they obtained much of their food by being careful stewards of the existing terrain.  They harvested native oaks in their season, and gathered local plants like chia, Miner’s lettuce, cattails, and manzanita berries.  The Spaniards farmed a little, but they had the luxury of vast tracts of land and relatively few mouths to feed.
Humans do not have an agricultural history with the land here in the way that people do in other places.  In communities like Tesuque Pueblo in New Mexico and St. Helena Island in South Carolina, people have cared for the land and cultivated its fertility, nurturing it into ongoing production in some cases for hundreds of years.  In Europe, some lands have been producing food since the time of the Romans.
Thus here in Southern California, we are not merely rediscovering the art of long-term, ongoing, sustainable food production and soil fertility.  In this place – with its unique year-round growing season – we are the pioneers, exploring it for the first time.


Welcome to the journey.  We do not have the answers yet.  You are part of the discovery process – you and all around you who are engaged in growing food.  Share this precious knowledge as you discover it.  Share what worked and what didn’t.  We need you.
“There’s too much to learn!”
But look at what you already know.  Look at the massive amount of knowledge you have acquired in the past 3 to 5 years to learn to effectively use that electronic communications gadget you carry in your pocket or purse.  A decade ago, you didn’t know those skills.  You acquired them recently and rapidly.
Look at the vast warehouse of knowledge you have about how to get around in a consumerist society.  Need new sports shoes?  I’ll bet you know where to go, where to get the best prices, what route to drive to get there (not to mention the skills of driving), and what hours the store is open.  Salad for dinner?  Another store, another set of memorized characteristics.  You think nothing of knowing how to best get across L.A. or O.C. in cross-town traffic, how to use the internet or Facebook, and a bazillion other peak-of-petroleum skills.
Growing food effectively with great yields sounds daunting to us because we are on the front end of the learning curve.  We haven’t yet acquired the body of knowledge   But unlike cell phones (which are completely optional in my regard), at this point in human history, learning how to grow food is no longer an option.  It is essential to survival.


[i]Union of Concerned Scientists, “Climate Choices,”
[ii]Maria Rodale, Organic Manifesto (p10)
[iii]Why then is “organic” more expensive at the supermarket?  Government subsidies are awarded to the biggest mega-farms (80% of the subsidies go to x% of the corporations).  In most cases government subsidies keep the cost of conventionally-produced food artificially low.
Teaching powerdown


To consume means to destroy.  That’s why “consumption” was the name given to tuberculosis.
– Vandana Shiva[i]
Producing food.  For the most part, people alive today have lost touch with this most basic of human activities.  Instead, we have become consumers.  We acquire things.  We accumulate things.  We value ourselves and others based upon the things we have accumulated.  Quite a few people are now trying to “green” their lives and plant gardens, but (as a recent L.A. Times article inadvertently demonstrated) if they remain immersed in that acquisition mindset, their “greening” efforts simply don’t pan out.
We have forgotten what it means to truly produce – to produce the basic food necessary to sustain our bodies, to locate and capture water, to make clothing and build basic shelter.  Our food gardens are, for many of us, our initial foray toward learning what it means to become a produceragain.  And becoming a producer goes far, far beyond “having” a vegetable garden, or anything we can go “buy” at a store.
Becoming a producer means leaving behind the acquisition mindset.  There is a reason we have the phrase “working a garden” in our language.  It takes work: muscles, sweat, sometimes tears.  Reacquiring the lost art of growing food means learning new skills.  It means growing:  growing plants and growing a new sense of who you are.  It means stretching:  both your physical body and your psyche.
Even when you go out and buy a garden-ready 6‑pack of vegetable seedlings, there will be no guarantees.  If you plant them in searing sun, you may get curly, withered little sprouts.  If you forget to water the plants, they will dry out and die.  If slugs crawl over from the nearby overwatered lawn, they’ll eat all the tender young shoots.  Or sprinkler overspray might cause mildew.
This is nature.  This is the wild world of your urban back yard, which comes complete with opossums, hungry birds, and cabbage white butterflies.  You’ve emerged from the slick and shiny artificial world of climate-controlled, chemical-cleaned, overprotected buildings into the precarious real world, where the vagaries of sun and rain and wind and grasshoppers rule.  Humans are estranged here.  We don’t fully get it, and we cannot control it.
For a very brief period of human history we have told teach other a myth: that humans were above it all, that we could control life forces with our intellect, with paper dollars, and with the harnessed power of fossil fuels.  Mother Nature let us think humans were winning for a little while, but now the truth is dawning upon us: Humans are part of a vast and myriad interconnected web of life.
The folly is over, and we are suddenly faced with an urgent need to learn how to fit in.  We need to learn how to produce food without fossil fuels, how to capture water in areas where this resource is precious, how to clothe and shelter ourselves with local materials and far less impact on the planet.  We need to learn how to fit into the lifecycles of this small planet and how to fit into the specifics of our local place upon this planet.
Gardening food is about feeding our families.  It is about access to clean, organic, health-building, truly-fresh food.  Growing food is about the most basic nourishment – of body, mind, and spirit.  As you read these pages and venture deeper into the world of food growing, it will change you.  It will touch you in ways you cannot even imagine.
The word “touch” is key.  At the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, here in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, we have noticed a few things:  Once people begin to get their fingers into the soil, the changes begin to unfold.  Perhaps you begin by buying a plastic pot and some potting soil and a little 6-pack of chard to plant out on your balcony.  You find yourself drawn to check on your little plants.  Maybe you amble outside clutching your morning cup of coffee, to see whether they’ve grown overnight.  You might notice that the soil around your babies dried out; the weather was a little hotter yesterday.  If you were still inside a climate-controlled office, you might not have noticed the weather, but now you do.
The potting soil is pricey, but soon you learn that you can make your own, so you begin to compost your kitchen scraps.  One weekend perhaps you get impatient – one pot of chard isn’t enough for a garden, you yearn to grow more.  You find a spade and dig up a rectangle of lawn.  Your journey has deepened.
You notice that rainwater makes your plant babies grow better, so perhaps you venture into capturing rainwater.  You hear about an unusual Italian vegetable and at a seed swap you discover seeds.  Your plant palette broadens a little, and with it your dietary choices.  You learn the injustice of “food deserts,” and yearn to help out.  Suddenly you’re volunteering to create new community gardens for others, even as you are learning yourself.
We warn you:  It won’t stop.
You thought you could go out and buy a few things to “get started” in gardening.  And in that you were partially right:  it was a beginning.  It was the beginning of evolution into a whole new outlook – upon society, upon the world, upon life itself.
Welcome to the journey.  You are beginning to grasp the clean, fresh feeling, the wholesome pride, of what it means to become a producer again.


The scale of how much food it really takes to feed a family is astonishing –many bags of vegetables per week.  The prospect of achieving a large part of this with locally grown food is absolutely staggering.
The scale of how much food comes out of a biointensively-planted urban space under yield-conscious design is quite amazing!  Bins and bins, week after week, even on days when our garden team had thought in overview that there would be “not much to harvest.”

[i]Vandana Shiva, Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed, South End Press, 2007