Friday, January 15, 2016

We grow

Great stuff developing in Hazelwood.

Dylamato's Market has a new grocery store.

Everyone's Garden is demonstrating that healthy food can be grown in a neighborhood with a history of industrial pollution.

We're working on getting established community gardens officially recognized as the precious asset they are.

Our children need more positive places to go, and there are people working on it. Learning programs at the library. We can have scheduled outdoor learning labs where young people work and/or play (depending on their ages, inclinations, and abilities) in one or more of the gardens or parklets.

Janet Evans and others at Roselle Court have gotten built eight raised beds for apartment residents.

Hazelwood Urban Farms, a half-acre "micro-farm" bordering the woods on Chatsworth St., is beginning it's second year as a CSA (community supported agriculture) operation with seasonal subscriptions to provide weekly groceries.

Community hopes for development at the former Gladstone School include an urban farming component, with possible rooftop garden(s), greenhouse(s), aquaponics operation, and life science career center.

A healthy local economy is one less dependent on the ups and downs of the larger economy. When you can buy better quality, fresher garlic or lettuce grown locally, why would you source something grown hundreds or thousands of miles away (as much of our food is)?

A healthy local ecosystem is one in which a good amount of the food eaten locally is grown locally, and grown naturally, without pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. The richness of human life in a thriving diverse neighborhood is mirrored by the quantity and complex diversity of the web of life (aka food chain) in that neighborhood.

The Glen Hazel Garden on Johnston Street seems to be shaping up as a hands-on learning/working garden, with now a good metal fence and a tool shed on the way.

Volunteers helped build several garden sheds and a stage at the Summer Marketplace last year before the cold weather set in, and we will be getting them installed in the gardens as the Spring comes on.

The Hazelwood YMCA Community Garden is one place we enjoy working together, and expect to be getting plants started in the greenhouse there soon.

Progress is being made in establishing a little sitting park and flower garden and play area across Lytle from Everyone's.

We are working with the city to replace many of our vacant and overgrown lots with either managed areas planted with perennials or gardens. These green areas can be of many varieties:

community gardens with plots or beds for individuals to take charge of;

community gardens in which people work together on one bigger common plot;

whole plots cared for by single individuals;

plots with gardens dedicated to growing medicinal and/or culinary herbs and/or veggies and/or mushrooms and/or fruits for and/or potted plants (for sale or share with neighbors).

We can have areas with the kinds of plants that need very little care and re-grow by themselves each year. Picnic tables and benches where you can just heal from the jabber of the city. Or walk your dog in peace. We can, together or alone, start plants out to sell or give away this Spring. Aromatherapy gardens, specializing in the most fragrant species, providing a constantly changing mix of pleasant smells to passersby. Home-based businesses selling value-added home-grown products such as horseradish vinegar (a favorite of mine).

Garden seeds will be available for sale at both Floriated Interpretations and Dylamato's Market this year. Both these establishments are welcoming locally home-produced healthy products - Floriated Interpretations specializing in pretty and practical, Dylamato's quality and affordable.

By merging our best hopes we can make our part of the world a welcoming and more comfortable place. As environmental challenges increase, the only logical option we have is to deepen our relationships with each other and so cooperatively solve problems. Many things are possible to be done together which are absolutely impossible to be done by one person alone. Some of the dreams that pull me out of bed each morning:

Wonder gardens, designed to inspire awe at nature's beauty;

Happy, well-fed kids who enjoy playing outside and are familiar and comfortable with bugs, worms, insects, and other living things;

Food forests and curiosity gardens, where people are free to wander off the beaten path and nature is given a certain amount of free rein. One might be called The Serendipity Garden, another The Discovery Garden. We could have a Mister Roger's Neighborhood Garden. A Steel Industry Heritage Garden. A Garden for the Future. A Crop Circle Garden, for those of us (self included) who recognize that we are not alone in the Universe. We get help from afar (and we sure need it at this stage) to the extent we abandon our addiction to the superstition of materialism and become motivated to serve all life rather than just our own.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Hazelwood urban gardening/farming history

Everyone's Garden presentation

I participated in establishing flower gardens in Hazelwood years ago to make the neighborhood more attractive. At the economic downturn of 2008 - with family budget stresses making for difficult choices between spending on food and other needs - there was a convergence of recognition in the city that urban food gardening could be a wise financial choice. In the years since, we've enjoyed working together with the city and individuals and groups such as the Student Conservation Association.

The urban gardening/farming movement has mushroomed everywhere, with feeding people not the only benefit recognized. Pollination, biodiversity, local healthy food and community nutritional status are all integral to a place's economic health. The microbial diversity a neighborhood has when its gardens have healthy soil improves the immune status of everyone.

Our second I named Everyone's Garden because often people asked whose garden was this and I answer "Everyone's. It's like a park; everyone's welcome."

Veteran community gardeners know there are many hindrances to people working together. Some think a garden should only have plants. Some want to make money from a garden. Some want camaraderie and a friendly neighborhood, and see that as a goal for establishing a garden. Children see a garden as a place to play in and - with guidance - learn about eating what's produced there. Many adults and children have been raised to fear insects and other larger wildlife. The definition of a garden in some minds is one that is orderly, as contrasted to a woodsy/forest area, and so "uncontrolled" plant growth somewhere engenders nightmare images of vermin and criminal behavior, whereas others looking at the same situation might think it a pleasant wooded area. Given it's location, Everyone's serves via medicinal/culinary/aromatherapy/beauty plants such as mint, rose, chives, oregano, sage, thyme, garlic, fennel, dill, lemon grass, marjoram, purslane, lambs quarters.

Everyone's Garden has, other than a little span of ornamental wooden fencing, no fence. That means wildlife and people are allowed. There is no 24/7 managing presence, so people can and do trample, pick (ripe or not) veggies or fruit or herbs or flowers, along with anything else they want to do. I'm a garden steward, not a warden.

For this particular location, given the lack of interest in the average neighbor in food production (except when it's time to eat), the benefits of not having a fence exceed the costs - actual cost of the fence, exclusion except when unlocked of people and other wildlife, etc. It became clear that growing some things was not productive. Melons can get picked before they're ripe, kids can throw them at each other,... People sit down and talk, drink beer, smoke. Peach, apricot, fig, apple, and a pine tree. Volunteer sunchokes, collards, dill, fennel, tomatillo, arugula, and sunflower shoot up in expected and unplanned places.

Wood-chipped walkways give clear definition as to where the beds are - where you're NOT supposed to walk. The pile of wood chips maintained at the front of the adjacent lot serves as source for replenishment as the walkway chips slowly biodegrade (which, by becoming soil feeds the beds and other plantings). The wood chip pile, periodically added to by local landscapers, serves also to provide habitat for spiders and food source for earthworms and other soil life. The quantity and variety of life on a site tends to biodegrade synthetic organic toxics and chelate metals into less harmful forms or even forms usable as mineral nutrients. So simple application of wood chips can begin to clean up a polluted site. A wood chipped area can also serve to grow mushrooms in.

I know of shared gardening in Hazelwood that goes back to the Great Depression and the Victory gardens. Food being a necessity, growing food can (and at times does) serve as context for bitter conflict. Sharing growing food - doing community - is not something many are used to. Our first garden, which the city and Grow Pittsburgh and neighbors cooperatively established, was eventually bulldozed because it had become unused. The group which began the food gardens is no longer functional, in spite of the fact that we had raised money. We can't all work together. We have instead now the Urban Ag Group, in which we coordinate and work with each other in a variety of settings - both commercial small vendors such as the Kogel/Pattison micro-farm and community venues such as the YMCA Hazelwood Community Garden (at the greenhouse of which we intend to get potted plants and herb and veggie starts to distribute in the community and also sell). We have Floriated Interpretations as a plant retailer and Dylamato's Market as a food retailer, including some of both food and plants we produce.

Everyone's produces learning and food to the neighborhood. When people widen their cultural boundaries by learning about foods they hadn't heard of before (such as lambs quarters, a highly nutritious and easily grown common wild green) those without affordable transportation can better survive those nightmare times between jobs.

Everyone's Garden, the second garden we established, started just after the demolition of a problem building at a problem intersection. The site had a basement full of bricks which was covered with sand, leveled off, and planted with grass covered with straw. We salvaged bricks from the demolition, built a barbecue pit and garden beds with them, and also placed 7 raised wooden beds. We at present have a bench and some chairs. The inside border, adjacent to a residence, is lined with rose-of-sharon as a living fence. There is a planting of comfrey, horseradish, five or six varieties of mint, three patches of figs I'm hoping people will take babies from, strawberries and French sorrel and hyssop and gladiola and daylillies and lillies in various places, a total of thirteen beds. The six peach trees produced a significant crop for the second year this last season, but their fruit was small; we're learning as we go about e.g pruning some peaches earlier in the year so that the ones left on the tree get bigger. Peppers, and tomatoes are problematical because people pick both tomatoes and peppers before they're ripe, so the peppers are small and green when they get eaten, and the tomatoes are mostly fried green.

With climate change and biodiversity and pollination in mind, I would like to manage the back part of the adjacent lot as more of a "foodforesty" habitat type of place- depositing wood chips more than halfway back allowing some place for birds, moles, rabbits, insects, etc to nurture.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


To decide what to plant and when at Everyone's Garden next growing season, maybe it would be good to list some of the "ecosystem services" an urban garden can provide, then see which benefits to emphasize given the needs and limitations of this particular garden/grove.

Filtering the air - something all plants do. Providing oxygen - always in short supply in our combustion-fueled cities. Now that many forest areas are burning from global warming, even more important.

Providing food. Feeding people in a healthy and lasting way inevitably entails nurturing the whole community of life, since the quality and quantity of life in an area is a major part of the health and consequent productivity of a soil. So you have to feed not just the people but the honeybees and the other insects and the plants which flower and the worms and little bugs in the soil and the birds and other wildlife. It's a big picture, whole-system way of looking at things.

We humans at this great moment in history are also being seen as vital members of the ecosystem. We have, in so many destructive activities, shaken the foundations of the function of the planet. We are now called to service - to humanity and to life - to work together to regenerate our wounded ecosystem. WE are an ecosystem service. From re-stabilizing the weather to re-balancing the ph of the oceans so that life may thrive again there, we have plenty of work to do.

There's 100% full employment saving the Earth. Whether you're an urban farmer or a landscaper or a builder or truck driver or whatever, there's all the work we could possibly ask for.

Pollination services. Not just honeybees but insects in general are necessary. Love your bugs.

Pollution treatment. A healthy urban planting, via the cooperative magic of an extremely complex microbial ecosystem in the soil, biodegrades (breaks down by consuming) a wide range of toxics common in our cities. Metals also tend to be locked up into less harmful organic forms by germs and molds in a healthy soil.

Beauty is an ecosystem service too. Just being somewhere enjoying looking at and smelling life improves mood and brain function. We need fifty more gardens in Hazelwood, including healing gardens, just there to be enjoyed.

Medicinal plants.

Inevitably you have to narrow your general goals down. The last two years I emphasized biodiversity and pollination, so there was a good variety of insects on the flowers. Right now I'm planting lots of garlic, with the expectation that, it being easy to grow (the wildlife doesn't eat it), this wonderful food/medicine (especially good for you uncooked) will supply myself and my neighbors. I'd welcome help coming up with a more complex and deeply thought out strategy for this garden.

This coming growing season gardeners will be able to sell what they grow through Dylamato's Market, so start thinking about what YOUR garden strategy for next year is gonna be. Mine includes constantly keeping in the back of my mind the seriousness of the coming environmental difficulties.

Some Hopi elders are of the opinion that we (the people on Earth) are in the prophesied time they call "The Great Purification", which will be followed by a time they call "The Renewal". This makes sense to me. We each have been born into a world that in many ways has been falling into collapse for thousands of years. The planet used to be covered by forest, with waters full of life. Some of us still think we humans will be able to master Nature, but the best we will ever be able to do is learn to do our part in wisely managing the ecosystem. As yet, being in the time of the Great Purification, we are still trying to force our wills on our environs, and it's boomeranging on us.

We have taken down so much of the ecosystem that we will have to step back from a lot of our previous habits and ways of doing things. There is no business as usual any more. The planet is purifying itself of a lot of old ideas which no longer work.

Some think only bad things are happening now, with earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and forests burning and radioactivity leaks and terrorism and warfare. But, looking from a much larger and longer perspective, what's going on today makes perfect sense. Everything is connected by cause and effect, so what you do unto others is bound to come back to you.

We're all learning from the School of Hard Knocks that we have ourselves played a part in the creation of our own enemies. Those of us still unwise enough to fight are finding ourselves enmeshed in deeper and deeper conflict, with seemingly no way out as the enemies keep morphing and coming back on us in unexpected ways. We are being overwhelmed by problems, and that is the purification part - forcing us through our suffering to look at ourselves and see what we need to drop.

I doubt there's a single soul on Earth who isn't wounded, consciously or not. The only way out is by widening our circle of compassion. We have to become wounded healers.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Saturday, November 14, 2015

We can.

Picture, if you will, a body of water on a roof, fed by the rain but allowing the addition of tap water when needed, with a diversity of plant and animal life - algae, anacharis and other submerged type plants, snails, fish, clams, oysters, insect nymphs, tiny life forms barely able to be seen without a microscope feeding the larger life forms, floating water plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce and water lilies, humans from time to time, turtles and frogs on a little island, a floating wooden raft with oyster mushrooms growing on it,...honeybees and other insects from the neighborhood pollinating those water plants that flower above the surface of the water. On the margins of the water people read, enjoying the sun and seeing woodsy areas from atop the building, take water samples, wiggle their toes, converse,...

Outlets of water flowing from the roof pond (made of transparent material to let in sunlight to nurture plant and other small life forms within them) winding circuitously (in spirals, say) at varying inclines, to the ground where they contact and flow through first larger rocks and then smaller rocks and then larger gravel and then smaller gravel and then larger sand and then smaller sand and then, finally clay (all planted and inoculated with life forms appropriate to each of the microecosystems - earthworms, fish, watercress, iris, mint, clams, oysters, snails, assorted small water life,...).

Imagine the water flow through this "living machine", cleaned now by the combination of mechanical filtration (of the rocks, gravel, sand, and clay) and biological filtration accomplished by all the life forms. This water is cleaner than the rain and/or city water input to the pond on the roof.

This is a picture of the ecosystem services that used to be accomplished on Earth in every pond and stream before we destroyed so much biodiversity. This is what humans used to swim, fish, and boat in.

Imagine, if you will, this now cleaner water coming from the roof feeding an interpretive trail in the woods which is planted with all manner of edible plants and mushrooms, meandering through this food forest in various flows in different directions, with little footbridges over which employees, neighbors, visitors, and other wildlife may cross the streams.

Imagine inside the building (which has transparent walls because it is a greenhouse) a giant aquarium (a "photobioreactor" or "fermentation tank", if you will) exposed to both sunlight and artificial light a single algal species or microecosystem of species including algae. From this fermentation is produced, say, hydrogen (and/or other product(s)) which is able to feed fuel cells (which give off oxygen and water, and produce electricity and heat).

We're so used to our combustion technology it's hard to imagine making electricity without either burning something or running water through turbines like in a nuclear power plant or hydroelectric plant, but that is what fuel cells do. Years ago, when the J&L/LTV coke mill was still depositing dust in our lungs, a retired scientist living in Hazelwood who had done research with Westinghouse, at a meeting of CHOC (Citizens Helping Our Community) said, in discussion about polluting technology, "I would like to see a fuel cell plant here [at what is now called the ALMONO site]." He had participated in research using "waste biomass" (organic waste) to make electricity via fuel cells.

There has been opinion that we need to convert our transportation fleet from combustion to electric vehicles supplied in part by fuel cells (not necessarily fuel cells placed in the cars). With the destabilization of our climate and the acidification of our waters caused by carbon dioxide from combustion, we don't have the choice of staying with combustion technology. It's a massive technological transformation we have to take on, but we shouldn't allow ourselves to become discouraged.

As individuals we can do little. Working as one community, we can accomplish great things. Si, se puede! Yes, we can!

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Our children are being sold down the river. Not by evil foreigners or criminals or extraterrestrials or religious zealots. We ourselves are destroying their future, and ours - by putting money foremost in our decision-making.

Money is important, but we have become addicted to an idea. Can you eat it? Can you burn it to keep warm in the winter? Can you use it to keep cool in a summer disrupted by rapid climate change? Buying personal comfort and safety will be impossible in a society which has had its whole fabric torn by the problems connected to the environmental crisis we are all now facing.

Money was never, is not, and never will be something intrinsic to life. Look at the birds; do they eat money? Do they burn it to keep warm? Do they drink it? Do they breathe it? How about the flowers - do they need money? How about the honeybees?

Do the deer care about money? No, they're worried about the people that make and use arrows and guns and bullets. My, aren't we humans intelligent, though. We're all the time figuring out how to take down Nature for our enjoyment.

So we have as a species painted ourselves into an historic corner. It's anybody's guess who all will survive. Think I'm exaggerating? Think I'm a little hysterical? Think I'm only thinking about your great great grandchildren or your great grandchildren or your grandchildren or your children? No, the destabilization of our climate and overfishing and the acidification of our waters and pollution and the loss of Earth's biological diversity and the increasing number of earthquakes due to side effects of human activity and our (seeming) inability to stop fighting (and with ever more advanced weaponry) - are all making for environmental change so immediate that it is OUR generation that is in trouble. It is WE that are in a fix, NOW. Not in the future. It's time to wake up.

I know we all need money to survive. But there was a time when people didn't. So let's talk about REAL progress, about growing a REALLY sustainable economy, not one that throws people all over the world away because they can't fit in to the system. We need an economy that pays people to grow and feed people REAL food, not industrial processed fake food that kills slowly. An economy that pays people to plant food forests rather than to cut forests down to make paper for junk mail advertisements. An economy that pays people to learn how to use our technology to solve our problems rather than exacerbate them.

We have forgotten how to get along with and help each other and live in harmony with nature.

So, let's grow up. The only thing that gets me up in the morning in the face of all these problems is that I'm thoroughly convinced that the core nature of reality is miraculous. We are only now on Earth growing mature enough to see that we have always been part of a living universe, which is infinitely more intelligent and knowledgeable than us and has been helping us all along. There are civilizations out there far more technologically and spiritually advanced than we. We have to put down all our tribalism and nationalism and speciesism and racism and survivalism and moneyism and materialism. The only way to survive, paradoxically, is to stop fighting to survive and surrender to the love that is our basic nature. Only then will we survive and be part of a great growth rather than an extinction event.

Jim McCue 412-421-6496

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Earth birth

Earth birth

This particular time on this planet is no better or worse than any other time, but it IS a time of great change. Like the birth of a human child. There's no stopping the creation of a new age that's coming. Everybody's trying to predict the future, but all bets are off - the future is sure to be none of the above. Some think the economy's gonna crash, some think it'll soar, and some are trying to get loose of it. And some think things are going to go on the same...Not.

Many now think our ecosystem is dying, and in some ways it IS collapsing. But there is absolutely nothing that makes it a certainty that the planetary extinction event we are in cannot be slowed or even reversed. Humanity is at its highest point of evolution. We have the technology to quickly re-green damaged land, for instance. And our communications technology makes it possible now for all humanity to get on the same page.

In our planet's memory (though few think about it) is the fact that what is now the United States was once abundant from coast to coast with an incredible diversity of life. A species capable of going to the Moon is surely able to end war and work as one to get off the suicidal destruction of the living environment we as a species are engaged in at the moment. High-tech cooperation - using new applications of technologies already existing but kept secret and proprietary by militaries and businesses - can transition us away from ever again having to go under ground or water to get coal or oil or gas. We can get off combustion entirely.

As a result of global average warming, methane (natural gas) is now leaking from formerly frozen areas under ocean and land. We don't have to frack any more because we're literally now awash in natural gas which is going up into the atmosphere where it is adding to the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. This runaway greenhouse positive feedback effect is one of the reasons some scientists think it's too late for us. But there are technological ways to get rid of methane already in the atmosphere and decrease the amount going into the atmosphere in the first place. One thing we can do is harvest natural gas from areas it's already being emitted into the atmosphere and use it in fuel cells to make electricity. The natural gas boom will soon turn into an all-out effort to slow its emission and harvest some to make electricity without having to burn it (which makes carbon dioxide).

Carbon dioxide and methane are only bad when they are thrown into the atmosphere as waste, where they increase the global average temperature. So let's stop wasting them. Every third grader can learn to help plants (from one-celled algae to giant trees) grow to use the co2 we have too much of. We're surrounded by opportunity!

As we learn to stop telling Nature what to do, and rather learn to nurture and harmonize with the infinite diversity of life, we'll be on the way to restoring our home, Earth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sacred Life

If I were running the planet, here's what I'd do:

I'd make everybody throw away their lawn mowers and let their lawns grow wild. We need all the plants we can get, to soak up carbon dioxide for one thing.

I'd make it illegal to make or sell junk food. All that processed crap is ruining our health and making us addicted to stuff like sugar.

I would decree that from now on every neighborhood has a bakery which makes only whole grain bread fresh daily. No more white bread, and no more adding preservatives.

I'd stop anybody from cutting down trees, and put people to work planting them.

I'd shut down all casinos and tell The Donald to stop getting haircuts.

I'd welcome all travel from one country to another regardless of the income status or money-making capacity of the traveler. There would be no such a thing as a "foreigner", since the whole Earth is one country and all life is one family.

I'd declare all water the common property of all life forms. Nobody owns it; the Great Spirit (of which we are a part) owns all water and all land.

I'd put every able-bodied person alive to work, at a living wage, reclaiming our doomed future by regenerating Earth's ecosystem. All life is One. We need to restore both the quantity and the diversity of life.

I'd make it illegal to put any biodegradable material in the municipal trash stream.

I'd mandate the composting or otherwise recycling of all biodegradable waste, from cardboard to manure. If we ever grow out of our childish defensive habit of blaming others we'll see we all - each and every one of us - have been unconsciously committing crimes against the Nature of which we are a part.

I'd make it illegal to kill any bug other than those that bite people, unless you're going to eat them. Insects are part of the web of life; their ecosystem services include feeding birds and pollinating flowers and (in most other countries) feeding people.

Radical times call for radical solutions. Rather than the many short-sighted but ultimately self-destructive solutions many of us engage in - such as pesticides and war with other countries and protective walls - I propose we keep constantly expanding our circles of loved ones. Until we see that the whole world is alive and miraculous, we humans will continue making a pest species of ourselves and the Earth will eventually kick us out of the community of life.

Jim McCue 412-421-6496