Tag Archives: sustainability

Starchy Perennial Plant Ally: Sunchoke

A long term steward of the northeast, Sunchoke aka Earth Apple aka Jerusalem Artichoke aka Helianthus tuberosus. This plant is a sunflower species with a starchy, potato-like root that propagates itself (usually easily) from year to year.

In the video below, Ben Falk harvests and discusses a 400sq.ft. area that grows sunchokes year after year, with minimal maintenance, while building soil. This year’s harvest offers 90lbs of starchy “J-choke” tubers, leaving some in soil to regrow the patch for next year’s harvest. He notes using them as pureed soup after some slow cooking, as well as pickling and lactofermenting them. I have only had them a few times. When I cooked them I cut them thin and stir fried them, cooking them for a while and adding other veggies and seasoning into the mix. They are dense plants and feel like a good staple, able to significantly help mitigate ‘the hunger gap’ as Ben says regarding strains on food supplies and ecology. I look forward to growing, harvesting, and cooking more of this perennial plant ally.

I give thanks.

Community Gardening Solutions: Micro-Scale Infrastructure for Resilient, Trickle-Up Economics

Notes from “Social Resilience and Urban Design: NYC and the COVID-19 Pandemic” webinar (hosted by architecture and urban design firm Cooper Robertson) with inspiring points made by Raymond Figueroa-Reyes and other speakers.


As we look to community gardening to provide food, as it has in the past (e.g. ~40% of food in U.S. during WWII; Cuban urban farming during its Special Period food shortages), we can look to Worker Protection Gardens and Community Gardens during the Industrial Revolution and Redlining period respectively.

Food hubs are on regional scale, but we need to bring them up in micro-scales, as distributed infrastructure for basic needs. Emergent food hubs can help aggregate and distribute food available from existing production systems as well as community gardens. (One example is in the Bronx worked on by this webinar’s speaker Raymond Figueroa-Reyes and others.)

Trickle up economy: focusing support to empower communities with micro-food systems, and the benefits will rise up through the system, growing diversity and resilience.

Can industrial technology save civilization from industrial civilization?

Industrial-scale green energy (including distributed small-scale technology developed at industrial-scales) is more of the same industrial, fossil-fuel addicted rise to heights out of the bounds of first principles. We need appropriate technology at appropriate scale to succeed in the water-food-energy nexus.

Documentary on “green technology” and the dissonance of many modern environmentalists..:

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The Buck Stops at First Principles

One idea for ‘where is the real limit’ is ‘first principles’, meaning the phenomenon studied by natural sciences.

For example: according to the patterns (we sometimes call laws) in physics, biochemistry, and agroecology, is it feasible to grow food in monocultures that rely on external inputs and petroleum products? Not for the long haul, not at all. Yet we do it, and further, we rely on economic systems (e.g. multinational corporations, global prioritization of financial profits) that make it difficult to do the opposite! (Opposite being, for example, ‘restoration agriculture’ or cultivating highly productive, highly diverse agro-ecosystems that mimic natural ecosystems in structure and function over time and space.)

Economics (as in, how we manage our ‘households’ at different scale) and political will is often where we stray from first principles (for some time). We can economically incentivize all we want, we can make all the political noise we want, but eventually we get constrained by higher and broader drivers. “The buck stops”…here and now, in accordance with natural trends and constraints.

We’ve pushed well out of bounds, so it will take some change to get back ‘within our limits’. A framework to work on is ‘relinquishment, resilience, and restoration’ a la deep adaptation (https://jembendell.com/2019/05/15/deep-adaptation-versions/). May peace be upon you.

Silvopasture and Soy Side-by-Side

soil-regenerating pasture growing happy healthy 100%-grassfed animals who have one bad day in becoming proteins and nutritious foods. peace be upon them
that pasture replacing and adjacent to non-organically grown GMO soybeans (>95% U.S. soy) grown with petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and more. how at peace are the creatures involved? peace be upon them
eating meat ain’t necessarily good for the environment, CAFOs are something to carefully critically consider before you source your food from them if you have choice in the matter. silvopasture and holistic grazing though? productive ecological restoration, we got a lot of work to do y’all, let’s make it real! peace be upon you

“Regenerative” as a Distinguishing Term

This idea’s not new to this site but it’s worth repeating and articulating in different ways. The text below is from a response I gave to a public Facebook post about terms like “regenerative” and “sustainable” being insufficient descriptors of permaculture.


I like the term regenerative, and its polar opposite degenerative, as descriptors of different practices depending on their ecological impact.

Lots of terms, like “sustainable” as I think you’d agree, are somewhat ambiguous either in their meaning or their subjectivity of success. A horrific example of that is how susceptible the 3 ethics of permaculture are to corporate greenwashing. Paul Wheaton of Permies.com has emphasized that, noting that companies like Monsanto could hijack permaculture ethics, e.g. claim they’re practicing “people care and fare share” by “creating jobs” or using tech to mine food from soil. The techniques they use are bad in so much as they degrade the systems we rely on.

Regenerative and degenerative are not so ambiguous or vulnerable. Does this activity regenerate or degenerate the systems it relies on? I need food, I buy food, what systems and processes are needed for me to buy food? Does the way I buy food regenerate, or degrade, the systems needed for me to buy food?

Contrasted with degradation, “regenerative” becomes easier to understand. It’s a term that can serve as a sharp distinguishing factor. I also suspect regenerative vs. degenerative practices correlate with mutualism and diversity: Is there mutual benefit? Is there diversity? Maybe all the more likely it’s a regenerative activity.

Tree Based Livelihoods

It’s a great situation to be in to always have a need for more trees in an area. Imagine a farmer or forester, happy to enhance and be enhanced by more trees in their life system. Life in mutual benefit with life itself: net primary productivity, biodiversity, etc. (e.g. Biodiversity promotes primary productivity and growing season lengthening at the landscape scale Oehri et al. 2017).

Akiva Silver of Twisted Tree Farm – a regenerative tree nursery near Ithaca, NY – once said how despite growing thousands of trees, he feels bad to find himself turning down customers when sold out of trees. It’s a wonderful problem to have, wanting to grow more trees! So long as they’re able to grow – sadly worth noting considering environmental and economic degradation and deforestation.

Thankfully, trees beget trees in many ways! Supporting the propagation of future generations of trees; providing material for the propagation & other operations; regulating the environment to facilitate life; and facilitating regenerative culture in all our lives.

How can you integrate the right tree in the right place for the right reason in your life? Think beyond the tree itself. What end-goals can (and do) sustainable, regenerative tree systems satisfy? Some ideas from the 6 F’s forests offer: Food, Fiber, Fodder, Fuel, Farmaceuticals, and Fun.

  • Food (fats, carbs, dietary fiber, protein, mushrooms and micronutrients from tree crops and products; soil enhancement for other staple crops)
  • Fiber (paper, lumber)
  • Fodder (animal foods and wildlife)
  • Fuel (firewood, pellets, biomass and biochar)
  • Farmaceuticals (tree-based chemicals and medicines, wild grown medicines), fun (culture, recreation and wildlife).

Renewing Northeast Home Forest Gardens

We live at a time where there is widespread disturbance all around us. The ground is open and waiting for seeds. We can bemoan the tragedies that nature has endured or we can cast seeds and plant a future. We can and do influence the ecosystems around us more than any other species. That influence can come through reckless destruction, blind abandonment, or conscious intent.

– Akiva Silver, Excerpt from Preface to Trees of Power

Imagine suburban homes in good repair with lush gardens and neighbors well-known to each other. Heated comfortably with renewable energy, including coppices of trees and living fences which provide firewood, food for both wild and domestic animals including humans, along with numerous ecosystem services such as soil production, water and temperature regulation, pollution mitigation, and more.

Imagine rural landscapes which provide for themselves and broader communities, while regenerating the very sources of those provisions: tree crops which become more fruitful and productive over time; farms that grow more fertile as their surpluses are cultivated; buildings which shelter stewards of the very materials they’re made of.

A practitioner and professor of ecological restoration, S.D., helped teach me the value of imagination. Imagination and love guide us toward healthier ecosystems, and these guiding acts are a unique gift humans can offer. The work of restoration is lead by Nature and brought about by many creatures, and imagination and love can catalyze that transformation toward better ways and better days, toward regenerative landscapes and lifestyles.

Imagination is a useful tool in design, and design is an essential tool to permaculture. In this evolving posting, you can find my imagination applied to aid permaculture design: below is a work-in-progress planting pallet for retrofitting regenerative harmony back into suburban and rural homes of the northeast U.S.A.

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Honoring the Harvest: Subliming Shame

Consider the source of any bounty. A delicious dish of roasted brussel sprouts. A beautiful diamond. The materials to build a satisfying shelter, either piled up on site or arranged as they are when the build is complete. In each case, what is the source like, what is the harvest like? What is the supply chain like? Is there appropriate reciprocity, mutual benefit, and honor?

It can be either way, a virtuous regenerative cycle or a dishonorable, self-destructive cycle.

Consider this in your own life, and what do you find? Being among the people who can read and write on the internet, it is likely that we’re engaged in much forced-taking and dishonorable harvest. For example, the Earth provides some food freely or with mutually beneficial work, but much of the food in the United States comes to us through forceful production, harvest, transport, etc. in a cycle which depletes the very resources (e.g. soil, clean water) which it relies on.

Should we be ashamed of the dishonorable harvests we’re engaged in? Many are not our conscious choice or something we can easily affect; this is simply the world we’ve been born into, and it’s quite convenient at that! Yet I’d argue we should be ashamed, for who else will be? It is like a first step to improvement: acceptance. Accepting the dishonor of these processes is a first step. But do not let shame get you stuck in place. Let it inspire you to improve, to make the small steps you can each day on the long journey toward regenerative landscapes and lifestyles, rather than forceful, dishonorable and depleting harvests.

Don’t waste your hate, rather gather and create
Be of service, be a sensible person
Use your words and don’t be nervous
You can do this you’ve got purpose
Find your medicine and use it.

Manifesto by Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People

This applies to the internal landscape as well as the external one. Cultivating contentedness of mind, speech, and body.

Learn Trade Skills

Motivational graphic for repairing, building, making (and don’t forget gardening!)

“An ally in leaving the world better than one found it!” – My own saying

“Build a better world by doing good things instead of being angry at bad guys.” – Paul Wheaton of Permies.com

Repair, Recycle, ReUse

Go to a Repair Cafe near you!

– Fun hobbies
– Fulfilling & educational
– Meaningful, build resilience
– Direct action to build a better world environmentally, socially, productively
– Save money

* Not all trade skill applications equal, YMMV