Teaching powerdown

In less than a month, the National Heirloom Festival will be held in Santa Rosa. Are you going? This celebration of seeds and vegetable plant diversity is lots of fun!

And this year, I will be speaking!  I’ll talk about Cityscape Seeds, the micro-scale seed enterprise that Matt VanDiepen and I have run (selling seeds at Mar Vista Farmers Market) for the past four years. And I’ll talk about Seed Saving in the City: what’s special about it, what are the advantages, and what you need to pay attention to in order to get reliable seed. Continue Reading

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,” http://www.climatechoices.org/ca/index.html
[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.