Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nature's recycling

We humans keep claiming to have invented stuff the rest of the living world has already pioneered. "When was the first needle manufactured?", a teacher asks, for instance, not noticing that's the mosquito's ancient feeding technology. Were we honest and humble enough to see that we're but part of this planet's incredibly complex and intelligent ecosystem, we'd be far less destructive, far more sustainable. We've gotten ourselves into a fine mess trying to control and use the planet's other life forms when in fact we can as yet only estimate even their number. No wonder, for instance, that - for all our technology - disease is on the increase rather than being mastered by us.

So we've come to ignore the growing climate change, assuming someone will invent something to fix it, or someone already has - solar, wind, geothermal, planting trees, energy-efficient light bulbs, recycling cans, etc. - and we don't have to think too much or change too much. I've come to see the problem is deeper and wider than all these, although we do need to do all these things.

Yes, we do need to recycle our waste, for instance. Big time. The contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from landfills alone is enormous. And we need to stop making waste in the first place. We've so radically changed basic natural processes that ever more advanced technology is needed just to survive the feedback effects of what we've done. The treadmill keeps going faster the faster we run. Industrial society has become a nightmare from which we must awake. And in life's creative processes lies much of the solution. Our most advanced science application is needed to restore the ecosystem services which used to be provided free by Ecosystem Earth.

Before we humans went to burning everything we could get our hands on, Nature's oxidation processes were much slower. When a plant or animal died, other living things large and small ate them - that's how they got recycled. Now - intelligent idiots that we are - we send our waste biomass off to the landfill or sewage plant to make problems elsewhere. Never mind that we're all connected, so that downwind or downstream of all of us is, eventually, all of us. So we run around in circles treating our problems like hot potatoes handed off to burn someone else, till they spiral back to burn us.

We need to get back to returning our organic wastes to the soil, the way the ecosystem's been functioning for millions of years. Whether high or low tech is required depends on the circumstances, as each situation is unique. Materials like cardboard, leaves, orange peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, and grass clippings can be easily rotted to make soil, but meats and manures require more expertise and technology.

We are discussing establishing in Hazelwood an environmental technology startup incubator and showplace - called The Soil Center - to demonstrate proven and new, high- and low-tech, small- and medium-scale methods of mending our wounded ecosystem at ground level. Earthworm composting, hot composting, and biochar production at the center would be yielding natural soil inputs to deal with such human-caused effects as loss of topsoil. We have no choice at this point in history but to grow MANY MANY MANY MANY MANY more plants to soak up the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and plants need plant food to grow.

This life is a learning place, and some of the lessons are hard. Maybe they don't have to be so difficult. I have become convinced that the universe is a living manifestation of God. And, since we are part of the universe, we each are part of God. I am convinced, for good scientific logical reasons, that God is Love. So we bring on miracles by getting in sync with that love. Wise gardeners and farmers know that real long-term productivity and sustainability are more about weaving relationships among living communities of species than vainly and self-destructively trying to kill off those we don't like. We're all connected in the web of life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Future seeds

Future seeds

This most interesting moment in Earth history is full of promise and danger. Our responses to the challenges will interact to co-create the future. That we have the power, acting together, to do almost anything we can imagine gives hope but also great responsibility. If the human species is not to go down in the history of the Universe as anything better than a relatively minute, sad chapter, we must wake up and transform our society. There is SO much unsustainable in our current civilization that many thoughtful people are predicting its imminent collapse.

While there is plenty of data and logic that says that we humans ourselves should be included on the endangered species list, whether or not we fall to the extinction event Earth is experiencing right now depends on how we react to these historic changes. If we remain blind to the big picture of what's going on in the world, this does not bode well for us as a whole. All life on Earth is going through a degree of change so large that none of us can really get a grasp of what it all means.

But it IS possible to take confident action even without knowing what effects our actions have. We are going through a paradigm shift, on the other side of which is a lot saner, more harmonious, and loving world. Though it has always seemed that violence was a necessary part of nature, we are learning now ways of, for instance, feeding ourselves with less suffering caused to other species. There is no inherent necessity, for instance, to eat meat. All human nutrients are available via either eating plants or fermentation processes. Consider this: All food originally comes from inert soil - ground up rocks. Plants and microbes work together to feed animals. Why eat animals when you can eat either plants directly or microbial foods - such as yogurt, cheese, bread, kefir, sour cream - and/or supplements formulated with vitamins and other nutrients from fermentation processes.

I'm convinced the great environmental changes going on now are Nature's way (or God's way if you will) of telling us to stop fighting (either each other or the other life forms on Earth). The massive amounts of organic waste going to landfills (via municipal garbage collection) and streams (via overwhelmed sewage treatment operations) are causing atmospheric and microbiological problems, aside from wasting valuable soil-building resources. Spending on weapons and conflicts neglect the alternative of making friends with the enemies. The same what I call "enemyship rather than friendship" relations with the non-human species of our ecosystem ends up backfiring. The honeybees and other insect pollinators (including flies) are in decline, and so are the birds. Think about it. If we kill off all the bugs, what are the birds going to eat?

We humans are going to have to forge a new relationship with the rest of the living world. We are NOT going to be the masters. The extreme genetic flexibility of the smaller, faster life forms - such as microbes, some of which can reproduce and so mutate within minutes (as contrasted to humans, which have to reach adulthood to reproduce), makes microbes the final rebuttal to our vain assumptions about our species being the most powerful.

Recognizing the new friendship with nature attitude that must come, some of us in Hazelwood are working together to regenerate the tattered web of life. We want to grow food here, process it here in healthy ways, distribute it here, and return our organic waste to the soil to start the process anew next year - just like it was in the old days before our technology became enslaved to the profit motive (making things that don't make sense solely to make money). We have the Hazelwood Urban Farms micro-farm and more neighborhood gardens of all types. We have young people learning the plant business with Floriated Interpretations. We have the Hazelwood Summer Marketplace selling local healthier produce and prepared foods. We are working on an organics recycling operation to divert some organic waste from going to landfill where it produces greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. We have Hazelwood YMCA Community Garden reaching out to the neighborhood to play it's part in this great agricultural transformation some of us know is needed. We have Center of Life gearing up gardening, environmental and nutritional awareness, and food industry training programming.

And, the nicest thing for me - many different types of people are working together. Aware of the great problems of our time, some of us are choosing to make it feel like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood around here. I love this place.



Jim McCue
412-421-6496 http://bioeverything.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rainbow Earth

One of the nicest things about this region is its water. That we have more than our share of misty, moisty mornings is one of the reasons Pittsburgh became a great industrial city. While those living in other places spend great effort securing and conserving water, we have it as a constant backdrop to our daily activities. We're awash in it; we even think of all this rain as a problem, complaining about the lack
of "nice" weather days here. People less blessed with this resource wish they HAD this kind of problem; let's treasure this resource.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Here we are pining to get away to some far-off place for a vacation when we have it all here now, everything we need. Because chambers of commerce and travel agencies emphasize the good side of destinations (while conveniently neglecting their problematical sides), we find ourselves victim of the illusion that we have to go somewhere else to be happy. But, because everything is connected, problems as well as people can travel. Diseases, shortages of healthy food, pollution effects, overpopulation, economic troubles, crime - all stubbornly persist.

We need a re-orienting of our value systems right here in River City. Rather than getting up in the morning with that swift self-kick in the pants administered via caffeine, maybe we should more often slow down and smell the roses. "Wake up and smell the coffee" could become "Arise to the becoming dream of a better, more harmonious world." Working together cooperatively, we could make a heaven on Earth, rather than the human-made hell it is more and more becoming because we're fighting.

This stormy time in our planet's history will pass. Sooner or later we'll agree that we can't pollute our water in the pursuit of natural gas. The 2-d black/white/gray mindset that says we must fight for limited resources will dissipate with the gearing up of many alternative energy sources - accessed via sharing relationships with all types of people. Then we will see a beautiful rainbow of abundance.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Let's get growing!

The word "crisis" - meaning both danger and opportunity - very well describes this moment of Earth's history. Emerging now is the outlines of a wonderful new age, with technological development and harmonious relations between people all over the world. But before that can come we have humanity's biggest emergency yet. Abrupt climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, industrial pollution, toxics in food, new types of weapons, environmental feedback effects, overpopulation, wars over resources,...No words are too small for the degree of danger we're all in.

Or the beauty of what's possible. If we as a species don't crash and burn we're going to establish an Earth civilization so unfathomably gorgeous we'll forget all the struggle it took to get us there. We have right here in our trembling hands the capacity to solve all of our problems. All we have to do is stop fighting and work together.

Here in Hazelwood we stand on the threshold of some very positive developments . We can benefit both the beauty of our neighborhood and our community nutritional status by making a significant dent in the amount of biodegradable waste that goes to the landfill. At the neighborhood level, plain (non-colored) newspaper, cardboard and paper bag can be immediately - simply and safely - returned to the soil in our gardens and other growing areas. In the meantime, there is a possibility that we can get going projects in which a larger variety of organic wastes are recycled - via enclosed systems of various sizes, designs, and technology levels. The key component of a really successful urban gardening and farming movement is production of soils. Without being able to greatly increase the variety and quantity of organics recycling, we will not have sufficient good soil to service a thriving community greening effort.

Picture 50 new gardens in Hazelwood. Where would you put them?

In some ways our society has been stagnating for a hundred years. Technologically, many of our best ideas have been suppressed by the fear of change of those comfortably in the ranks of the status quo. Our addiction to fossil fuels and nuclear power is a direct result of the stifling of progress by those who would stand to lose financially from alternative ways of providing ourselves with energy and feeding ourselves. Solutions are everywhere - except in some centers of power, where corporate lobbyists have been keeping them at bay.

The one good thing about this world crisis is that it involves absolutely everyone. There is no Planet B; no one gets to run from this intertwined complex of problems. Being all on the same side means we don't have any enemies, so we can all work together.

Here are some helpful websites to get us back on track to sane agriculture and organics waste management:
http://www.growingpower.org/
http://www.kidsgardening.org/
http://edibleschoolyard.org/
http://pittsburghpermaculture.org/
http://www.cityfarmer.info/
http://foodsecurity.org/
http://rodaleinstitute.org/
https://www.facebook.com/ufarm
http://www.earth-policy.org/
http://www.biohabitats.com/
http://bioshelter.com/Links.html
http://foodfirst.org/
https://www.organicconsumers.org/
======
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
http://www.iatp.org/
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Enjoy yer cold

Thriving in Winter

I love winter. One winter (decades ago), during lambing season on a small family farm in West Virginia, I made the mistake of complaining about the cold. "Don't you EVER second-guess the Lord!", my farmer boss reproached me. "For one thing, this cold weather kills the bugs." He knew what climate change experts know - that if temps don't get down below a certain range (different for each different species of insect), then the coming season would have more of that particular bug. In the big picture web of life, insects play an important role (such as food for birds); but they are kept in check by weather, and by being eaten by birds and other creatures.

Now that weather patterns are changing and species of life are going extinct (faster than at any previous time in human history), we need to hold dear all forms of life and protect them whenever possible.

The more we learn about history the more we realize how liable to change things are. Assuming that things will keep on as they are will get you into all kinds of trouble. If you happen to be frustrated about one thing or another in the world (And who isn't?), don't worry because this too shall pass. The only thing we can be sure of is that things will change. So, as Thoreau said, go confidently in the direction of your dreams. You don't know what will happen, but if you try you can know it'll be something more to your liking.

The peacefulness of winter, like the relative quiet at night, allows for deeper thought, big picture analysis, getting a handle on how you might want to try and do things differently next time. You don't have to feel bad about the things that didn't work out last year. Just look at it from a creative new point of view. I learned in the rooms of recovery not to "stand on the corner singin' my coulda shoulda woulda's". A new growing season is coming, and I'm going to try some new things.

In it's beginning, our first community garden - the Ladora Way Urban Farm - showed how all types of people can enjoy working together to help beautify and feed the immediate neighborhood. If you're feeling some winter doldrums right now, watch this sweet little video-clip about that garden; guaranteed it'll raise your spirits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z1gzYQ9JBE .

In our part of the world, we have gotten into some very destructive habits. As we rest this winter, it makes sense to calmly consider some of their consequences. And to consider trying some new things. I'm more convinced daily both of the depth of our problems, and of our ability to deal with them. Balance can be maintained by realizing that the human-caused problems are growing in synch with breathtaking scientific advances that - properly applied - can help us solve those problems. We can, literally, create a heaven on earth - if we learn to work harmoniously together.

For my part, I want to serve life by facilitating the safe, proper recycling of various types of organic wastes. We have profoundly torn the web of life. In previous history, when animals or plants died, their bodies returned to feed new plants - not to a landfill. When animals excreted, that organic sector also returned to nourish Earth's web of life. By returning to being a part of a system that nurtures both quantity and diversity of life, we can work as part of the community of life to put our ecosystem back in balance.

We can thrive by recognizing we each have a unique part to play in the universe. With the increasing rate at which climate change is taking place, we need to appreciate the value of cold weather as well as hot - and everything else in between. Enjoy your cold.

Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)


composter and biotech researcher
412-421-6496

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Green = Green

The color green is in the exact middle of the spectrum visible by humans. I wonder what this says about our species; other species perceive other wavelengths. Green is said to be a healing color. It certainly seems so to me; I find that - especially in the winter or when I'm somewhere where there's not much of it - I'm attracted to what little green there is. Studies have shown that people are healthier, happier and more productive (outdoors and in) when there are either other living things present or at least nature is depicted in photography or art. I wonder if anyone's done a study to find out if just the color green by itself tends to make people happier or healthier or more productive.

Green is one of money's nicknames. Money is an interesting substance. I've had times when I've had it and times when I didn't. I've had times when I had more money than good sense...and I still think about the consequences of the decisions I made at those times. I've had times when I didn't really have enough money, and those times taught me to appreciate that green.
Nowadays, like everyone else, I'd like to be secure in the knowing that I will always have a comfortable income. I'd like that for the whole world. We all know that's not going to happen, but it's a good ideal to work for - sustainable economics for everyone.

Each of the enormous number of plants on Earth each has green somewhere on it. One of the best memories I have from childhood is of looking at the one-celled plant spirogyra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirogyra under a microscope; the green spiral chloroplasts in each cell link up to form strings. You wonder where this orderly beauty comes from. Now that some scientists are saying that the planet we are a part of functions in some ways as a living being, I'm developing a more spiritual perspective on how all the beauty of living things comes about.

Picture in your mind this incredibly complex planet with all it's activities. One relatively minute part of that unfathomably complex functioning whole is taken up by the human species. Another relatively minute section of the functioning whole Earth system is the world's economy. So a proper perspective on people and money would have a big dose of caution and humility, since we never know what's going to happen in the financial world. And, for that matter, we never know what Nature's going to deliver either (though we can make some - hopefully educated - guesses).

The words "sustainable" and "sustainability" must have been used millions of times by now, and their translations in other languages millions more. Economics thinkers I bet have used the phrase "sustainable economics" thousands of times. Since the world's economy is a subset of it's ecosystem, the best whole system economic analyses will include Earth's ecosystem services - those things that living things do which help such other living things as us humans. From this point of view every butterfly is worth money. And every earthworm, every plant, and so on. So striving towards the best possible cost/benefit analysis of any decision we make means we try to take Nature into account. This is, of course, only an ideal - something we should try to be mindful of. So many of life's decisions have unexpected consequences; all you can do is do the best you can by your own lights.

Some of the fastest growing business start-ups today have to do with green plants, from one-celled algae fermentation processses to huge tree plantations. The advancing biotech sector which nurtures various types of green plants is skyrocketing, partly because there's no shortage (by any stretch) of the plant nutrient carbon dioxide available now. And partly also because too much carbon dioxide is causing climate change and ocean and soil acidification, and so is (aside from it's role in photosynthesis) a pollutant.

It is a tribute to the wise leadership of some of our leaders (including at the city and county level) that Hazelwood is developing in a green way.

We as a city have been blessed by an abundance of water, which is an essential nutrient of every living thing. But we have also been blessed, in the long run, by our challenges - such as the fact that our topography has lots of ups and downs. Those developing cities which started out on flat open ground were uniformly de-vegetated and developed with many straight and perpendicular roads; their trees were pretty much all cut down. But Pittsburgh has always had spaces that were just too steep to build on. And, eventually, we started to realize that those spaces where wildlife still survived had value just to be left alone. That we developed laws against buying and building on what we now call "Greenway" areas (with exemptions possible) has supported Pittsburghers' quality of life and so standard of living. This is one reason Pittsburgh has so often been voted most livable city.

Jim McCue (St. Jim the Composter)


composter and biotech researcher
412-421-6496
http://facebook.com/alllifelover

http://hazelwoodhomepage.org

2/5/2009

http://bioeverything.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-greening-of-hazelwood.html

http://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/power-plants/Content?oid=1341462

http://hazelwoodharvestinc.blogspot.com
http://hazelwoodurbangardens.blogspot.com

Monday, November 17, 2014

Growing better

Growing better

A garden should have a name. And a concept, a reason for being. And a design.

I know of a garden place that ought to be called Dante's Paradiso.

A resident has her eye on a certain site for an aromatherapy garden - a place for rest and healing in the ocean of difficulties around us.

There's been a suggestion for a "pizza garden". From a little distance it might look, say, like a pizza with everything - circular beds for pepperoni, flowers laid out in lines to look like slices, maybe with one pizza slice missing as an entrance for the garden. Everything in it would be edible - tomatoes, oregano,...and if it was my pizza garden it would be growing hot peppers, because I'm crazy for hot pepper. And garlic. That would make one helluva pizza.

Everything changes. We can take advantage of this by enjoying imagining good things happening. Later, we'll actually accomplish those happy things by grabbing at each little chance to make them real. A future garden site may be a total wreck right now - filled with rocks and other things you can't see the use of at the moment. But pick that rock up and move it somewhere you like better and your garden's begun. You won't finish today, but little by little all those rocks and other stuff can be carted off or used to build something you want.

When Michelangelo made sculptures he first saw what he wanted, as if it were already in the stone or whatever he was carving; then he chiseled everything else away. This guy Adam Purple in New York City took a community garden in the Lower East Side (which was a slum at the time) and went wild with it. A picture of it was in Newsweek. Seen from the surrounding apartment buildings, the Garden of Eden community garden was absolutely gorgeous, with different color flowers and herbs in each bed, the whole thing laid out in a giant spiral. You can read and watch a video about the Garden of Eden, which is gone now, at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BygHjTKqz7c
and
http://www.nycreligion.info/garden-eden-213215-eldridge-street-series-god-nyc-gardens/ .
I was there when there was just piles of bricks and railroad ties for garden beds and three huge compost bins. This guy Purple was, "crazy" enough to see something of beauty in a falling down side of Manhattan with terrible problems.

Like creating gardens (one action at a time), community meetings may not seem to be accomplishing much. You'll surely hear skeptical comments by those not yet willing to buy in to future hope. But the good side of knowing that nothing in this world lasts forever is that the essence (if not all the specific details) of your dream CAN become real - IF you keep talking about it and working on it.

One idea that came up at a recent meeting was to build a garden in the shape of a "crop circle". Regardless of whether you believe some of these designs that appear (usually in farm fields) are created by intelligence greater than human (I do), there are thousands of stunningly attractive shapes to choose from.

Our living world is so full of "accidental" beauty. Once you fall in love with a place and start to see all the plants and animals and bugs and birds and other wildlife in and passing through it as family, your garden will already be growing. And you already have a myriad of helpers - all the living things already in the area, most of which can be "tamed" - made friends with...with, of course, a LOT of compromise.

The essence of a great dream can come true, but there's usually no getting there directly. You have to dance around the problems and talk to people and talk to yourself and adapt your ideas to synch with others' and do one thing at a time and...In the end your garden may not look at all like what you had originally envisioned. But it will be beautiful.

Jim McCue
412-421-6496