Friday, February 26, 2010


I recently helped lead a presentation on sprouting. I've been sprouting regularly for nearly two years now--fenugreek, alfalfa, and clover seeds, and adzuki beans. It's fun, it's easy, and it's a great way to get fresh, healthy food--especially in the winter time.

One of the things that got me started doing this was realizing that while it's easy to find fresh, local greens and other veggies at farmer's markets and the co-op in the summer and fall, here in New England it's tricky to find fresh and local in the winter and early spring. But sprouting is something that you can do year-round.

There is lots of information available online about sprouting. (Here are three different sites, all with basic information on sprouting.)

Some simple directions:

All you need are seeds, a container, air, and water.

Seeds: As I said, I have been doing fenugreek, alfalfa, clover, and adzuki. I've also done 'Green Channa' and chick peas/garbanzos. But you can do broccoli, radish, lentils, kamut, mung beans, etc, etc. You can even do things like buckwheat, sunflower seeds, and flax seed--but these are a lot harder. Learn the easy seeds first and then you can try the ones with the more complicated sprouting. You can also sprout mixes of seeds--for example, alfalfa, clover, broccoli, and radish. Again I would try simple, one type together sprouting first.

Containers: Glass jars are the best (canning jars are great) but I have done it in plastic containers and most sites suggest doing them in bags as well. It's also possible to sprout seeds in trays and some stores sell special sprouting trays. Of course, you can also raid your neighbor's recycling bin for any widemouth glass jars they might be tossing out and get a free source of sprouting containers that way.

Air: Sprouts need air (just like any other living thing) and will die in a closed container. There are special sprouting lids, but you can use a cut piece of fiberglass screen held over the mouth of the jar with an elastic band (which is mostly what I do). You can also punch holes in the lid of the container. (Just make sure that the holes are smaller than the size of the seeds.) The sprouting bags need to be able to let air and water in and out but hold in the seeds.

Water: Sprouts also need fresh, clean water. Right from your tap is fine. I wouldn't use rainwater unless it was sterilize or you absolutely knew it was clean, because any micro-organisms in the water could end up on the sprouts and make you sick.

The process:

1) Soak the seeds, for at least eight hours. I usually leave them overnight. Just fill the container with a good amount of seeds and add enough water so that the seeds are covered by about an inch of water. (Nothing is exact here, but you want enough water so that the seeds or whatever can't just soak it all up overnight.) Here is where the perforated top comes in handy--just turn over the covered jar after they have soaked long enough and drain out the water. Rinse the seeds. Do NOT use this water for plants. The reason for the soaking is to remove growth inhibitors from the seeds and using this water for your plants (for example) will inhibit the growth of the plants.

2) Let the container drain. It should basically be upside down at an angle (roughly 45 degrees). I stick the containers upside in a bowl to drain. You don't want them straight upside down or the top will be covered and won't let them drain--not to mention not letting air in or out.

3) Rinse a couple of times a day--more often in hot weather. I try to remember to rinse them in the morning when I get up and before I go to bed at night. But I find the sprouts very forgiving. I often forget and they turn out fine anyway. (Incidentally, you can water plants with the water from later rinses.)

4) They are ready to eat in anywhere from two to ten days. When the sprouts are obvious, you can try eating them. I just wait until my adzukis grow little tails. For my fenugreek, alfalfa, and clover, I wait until they are green. I like eating fresh grown green things in the winter.

In the summer, if they are grown and have been out a while you may want to refrigerate them the way you would any fresh food.

And that's it. An easy source of fresh food.

(Note: I am aware that I'm currently going all over the place with my posts. I post on what I am inspired to at the moment. There is always--as far as I'm concerned--some relation to social transformation, from changing ourselves, to growing our food, to weatherizing our houses, to looking at the big social change picture. As I say on the side there, 'It's all connected.')

Quote of the Day: "Sprouts are very inexpensive (even when organic), always fresh (they grow until you chew them) and have the potential to help solve hunger and malnutrition problems in our communities and in developing countries, because they are so rich in nutrients, affordable, and easy to transport before sprouting. Sprouts are precious in winter, when the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables is declining as their price increases.
"... sprouts nourish and strengthen the whole body..." - Lucie Desjarlais

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

And Their Four Offspring

This is a continuation of my post of 2/14/10, The Four Gardeners.

I started off with the Four Gardeners, the Four Immeasurables, the Four Heavenly Abodes, the Four Boundless Virtues. They are a major first step in changing attitudes. (See my last post, Deciding, 2/19/10, for more on changing attitudes.) What lies beyond them? Beyond these 'Gardeners', are Patience, Forgiveness, Generosity, and Healing. I see them as the offspring of Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity.

Patience is the offspring of Serenity and Compassion. We need to remember that things take time and we and others are doing our best and not to expect change to happen quickly. It all begins with patience--and Patience isn't always easy to develop.

Forgiveness is the offspring of Compassion and Love. We all make mistakes, and some people do awful things. If we want real change, we need to practice forgiveness. (See my post on Forgiveness, 8/7/08, for more on this.) I like this quote from 'A Litany of Atonement' by Robert Eller-Issacs: "We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love." As Patience develops, there is room for Forgiveness.

Patience and Forgiveness are a challenge--they open us up. I remind myself every day (often many times a day) to be patient and forgiving with everyone, including myself. Sometimes especially myself. And Patience and Forgiveness prepare us for Generosity.

Generosity is the offspring of Love and Joy. As we develop Patience and Forgiveness, as we cultivate Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity, we have less need to hold onto things and we feel free to give freely. We want to help those in need and since simplicity appeals to us, we begin to want less stuff and more connection.

Finally, the offspring of Joy and Serenity is Healing. Healing is realizing that there is a lot right with the world and with each of us and yet things can be so much better. Healing is a process, an organic process. I prefer talking about 'healing' to using words like 'fixing', which seems so mechanical. At the same time, we have less control over healing which, like any natural process, occurs at its own pace. We can cultivate Patience, Forgiveness, and Generosity. We need Patience, and Forgiveness, and Generosity, as well as Love and Compassion for there to be Healing.

I like the Jewish concept of 'Tikkun Olam', literally "The repair of the world", but as far as I am concerned, we are not capable of 'repairing the world', although we may be able to undo some of the damage we have done to the world. Instead, I pray daily to be part of 'the healing of the world', feeling that this is a process that we can support, but the world, with our love, will heal itself.

Healing develops naturally when you cultivate Patience, Forgiveness, and Generosity. Interestingly enough, when I did a search on the web from 'patience forgiveness generosity', I got many Christian sites and books. I also got a few that cited a study claiming that Theists felt Patience, Forgiveness, and Generosity were much more important than Atheists did. In the study, the theists outranked the atheists on all the virtues cited but, as one commentator pointed out: "Although the differences between theists and atheists in the importance of values such as honesty, politeness, and friendliness are generally small, moral values emphasized by religious beliefs, such as Christianity, including patience, forgiveness, and generosity exhibit major differences in attitudes (30%+ differences between theists and atheists)." I had trouble believing that Patience, Forgiveness, and Generosity were confined to religious groups. When I consulted with my friend Susan, from the Ethical Society Without Walls, she generously (especially since she was quite busy but took the time anyway to help me out) pointed me to a rebuttal that questions the results of this survey. The study puzzled me as well, since many Buddhists are nontheists but Patience (Khanti or Kshanti) and Generosity (Dāna) are two of the Paramitas, virtues cultivated as a way of purification, and Forgiveness is implicit in the Buddhist teachings.

I believe that anyone can cultivate Patience, Forgiveness, and Generosity, and when they do, Healing will emerge. It doesn't mean that cultivating these virtues is easy, but I think the rewards are enormous.

Quote of the Day: "Patience is not learned in safety. It is not learned when everything is harmonious and going well. ... There is no cultivation of patience when your pattern is to just try to seek harmony and smooth everything out. Patience implies a willingness to be alive..." - Pema Chödrön

Friday, February 19, 2010


What does a gay co-counseling leader have in common with a Mormon business consultant?

"David Nijinsky " (not his real name--and that's a long story) is the Assistant Liberation Reference Person for Gay Men in Re-evaluation Counseling, also known as co-counseling.

I was a co-counselor for many years and I think it is an extremely worthwhile tool for personal growth. It's a process for listening to another person and encouraging them to 'discharge'--basically, a process of emotional catharsis--in order to free up their thinking. This allows them to 're-evaluate' their experiences. I've been to a number of co-counseling classes and workshops, but David's workshop for Gay and Bisexual Men that I went to in 2007 was by far the best workshop I've taken.

I went because I'm bisexual and wanted to explore a bit more about my sexuality. I expected a workshop focused on issues around sexuality and discrimination, and there was a bit of that. But the real focus of the workshop was on working on ourselves in order to be better agents of social change. David was very clear that he was urging us, in whatever way we felt appropriate, to make change in the world. His stated goals began with 'An end to Gay oppression' and went onto the 'Complete transformation of society'. He even used the word 'revolution' several times--the first time I've heard it seriously advocated since the eighties.

Even when he dealt with issues about shame and guilt around sexuality, he made it clear that he wanted us to move beyond them so we could be more effective in the world. He told us the reason to work on this stuff was "It's not that we're bad and need to be fixed, it's that we're important and we need our minds."

But David's main message was that we needed to decide how we wanted to be in the world. He pointed out that walking with an attitude of despair was not conducive to influencing people to change. He said that being hopeful wasn't a feeling, it was a decision. Being completely confident, according to David, is a decision. He put signs on the wall that said: "HOPE ", "CONFIDENCE", "ENTHUSIASM", and "UNITY", and he expected us to decide to be hopeful, confident, and enthusiastic.

In co-counseling, one of the tools that's used is what's called a 'direction'. It's a statement that is expected to bring up feelings but often points us toward where the counselor or leader thinks we should be going. David's direction that year for gay and bisexual men was that we should say: "From now on, I will fit in, at the center, WANTED, CONNECTED, CONFIDENT, CO-OPERATIVE, and IN CHARGE, and I will see to it that everything around me goes well, ESPECIALLY MY LIFE." I now say a variation on that every morning as I start my day. I think that it's an incredibly useful direction/affirmation/pledge (or whatever you need to call it) for everyone, gay or bi or straight, male or female, trans or cis. Try saying it slowly, pausing at the commas, and see how well it fits what you are doing in your life. This is about deciding how you want to be in your life.

Stephen Covey is a Mormon, a business management consultant, and a professor in the School of Business at Utah State University. His book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 15 million copies since it was first published in 1989. One of the blurbs inside (and there are seven pages of blurbs inside my copy of the book) is from USA Today, claiming "Covey is the hottest self-improvement consultant to hit US business since Dale Carnegie." He is not someone I would expect to be a major influence in my life.

But the book, The Seven Habits, is just very, very useful. It is a straight foreward blueprint on how to change your life and is as helpful to those wanting to change society as it is for those wanting to rise on the corporate ladder. I hope to do a whole post on it in the future. (Or maybe I'll cover it a chapter at a time...)

The first chapter in The Seven Habits focuses on first habit: to 'Be Proactive'. Covey begins by telling the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who was put in a concentration camp by the Nazis. There he was subject to dehumanizing treatment. Frankl lost all of his freedoms except what he called "the last of the human freedoms"--being able to choose how all of this would affect him. In other words, no matter what the situation, he was responsible for his attitude. Covey goes on to quote Eleanor Roosevelt ("No one can hurt you without your consent.") and Gandhi ("They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them."). He differentiates proactive and reactive people by saying that "Proactive people can carry their own weather with them."

Covey talks about the differences in the language of reactive and proactive people. Reactive people say things like "There's nothing I can do," "That's just the way I am," "I have to do that," "I can't," and "I must." Proactive people say, "Let's look at our alternatives," "I can choose a different approach," "I will choose an appropriate response," "I choose," "I prefer," and "I will." He claims reactive people focus on the "Have's", as in "If only I had...", "If I could just have...", and "I'll be happy when I have..." In contrast, proactive folks focus on the "Be's": "I can be more patient, be wise, be loving. ... I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be more creative, I can be more cooperative."

Stephen Covey says that "the very heart" of this approach is when we are willing to make (and keep!) commitments and promises. In other words, we need to make decisions. We get to choose who we are. We are responsible for how we are. This is where a gay counseling leader and a Mormon business consultant (not to mention a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps) agree. No matter what the circumstances, you get to choose your attitude. You get to choose your response. It may be hard, but it's still your choice. You decide.

Quote of the Day: " is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. ...
"Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self... Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions." - Stephen Covey

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Four Gardeners

I am getting tired of staring down the Four Horsemen: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. They seem to be in the news everyday. If you believe many people, things are getting worse and the Apocalypse is around the corner.

I don't doubt that we are in serious trouble. I don't know how on target all the predictions of peak oil (see my post of 7/18/08) and climate change are, but I don't doubt that the economic situation isn't going to get much better anytime soon--or maybe ever.

If you've been reading my blog, you know that what I'm advocating is that we cultivate Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability. But how to do this in the midst of the chaos around us? I am going back to the beginnings of this blog where my third post was on 'Loving-Kindness and Social Change'. (6/24/08) Yes, I think we need love. We need Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity.

In Buddhism there is a set of concepts called the four Brahmaviharas. I've heard these called the Four Heavenly Abodes, the Four Limitless/Boundless Virtues, and the Four Immeasurables. In Pali they are Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Upekkha, often translated as loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. I simply think of them as Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity.

Love, loving-kindness, caring, concern, or unconditional positive regard (as Carl Rogers put it) is the wish and the will to want the best for everyone. We are not talking about romantic love here, we are talking about 'agape'--selfless altruistic love, Compassionate Love.

Compassion, sympathy, empathy is the real concern for others. It is literally a suffering along with another person's suffering, sorrow at another's sorrow. The wikipedia article on Compassion claims that the Buddha said, "It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."

Sympathetic joy, altruistic joy, and (my favorite translation) appreciative joy is the joy at another's joy. It is similar in some ways to what poly people call 'Compersion'. It's the opposite of jealousy--you are really glad for another person's achievements or delights. Strangely, when cultivating these virtues, Buddhist practices begin with cultivating them toward ourselves in all cases except Mudita--and I don't understand why this is an exception. I think we should all be joyful at our own joy as well as the joy of others. That's why I simply use the word joy.

And finally, equanimity, equipoise, or, as one teacher that I like put it, balanced calm. I like the word serenity because, frankly, I can pronounce it easier than equanimity. And it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer. It also reminds me not to get too attached to things and to work toward being calm and serene no matter what. I think it was Sharon Salzberg who told the story of the teacher who always said that he was fine. Someone asked him if he didn't have bad days as well as good days. He said that he did, but on his good days he was fine and on his bad days he was fine.

It's important that we balance our love and compassion (and joy) with serenity so that we don't get too pulled off base. Love without serenity can be a rollercoaster ride; but serenity without love is basically unfeeling and uncaring. We must work on bringing all four of these virtues into our lives so that they can balance each other.

So I think that we need to replace Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death with Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity. These are qualities that we need to cultivate, because they will cultivate a better world. Instead of Horsemen, I see them as Gardeners, nurturing positive change. I call them the Four Gardeners of the Great Turning. (See my post on the Great Turning 11/15/09.) I think we have to focus on these Gardeners as the chaos swirls around us. They may be the only thing that can stave off the Apocalypse.

Happy Valentines Day!

Quote of the Day: "Metta or loving-kindness is... the fundamental attitude that must be cultivated to develop motivation for service, capacity to work harmoniously with others, and, above all, nonviolence. ... Compassion (karuna) the second Sublime Abode, is ... the translation of metta into action on behalf of others. ... Mudita... is the joy one reaps in beholding the effects of this service. ... the fourth abode, upekkha, equanimity in the face of praise or blame ... helps preserve... workers from 'burn-out'." - Joanna Macy (explaining how the Four Abodes are used by the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Last weekend I attended a presentation on 'Sustainable Gardening'. It was put on by Cindy Conner of Homeplace Earth and the focus was on the Biointensive method of growing things.

A couple of years ago I was prowling through a bookstore when I spotted a book called How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. The double subtitle was "(and fruits, nut, berries, grains, and other crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine". I was intrigued to say the least. I bought it and took it home and read quite a bit of it.

I'm not sure I understood it all. The method in the book is called "GROW BIOINTENSIVE" (often followed by a little registered trademark symbol). I will simply refer to it as the Biointensive method. The presentation with Cindy Connor was helpful. She gave out a handout that said (among other things):

Sustainable Mini-farming

Deep Soil Preparation
makes possible
Close Plant Spacing.
The use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
to grow
Carbon/Calorie Crops
for carbon and compost materials as well as
Special Calorie Root Crops
for area efficient calories with good
Companion Planting
provides sustainable soil fertility and a complete
balanced sustainable diet within
A Whole System.

The bolded words in the above excerpt are the eight principles (essential aspects) of Biointensive agriculture. These same principles from the Ecology Action website:

  • Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  • Composting
  • Intensive Planting
  • Companion Planting
  • Carbon Farming
  • Calorie Farming
  • The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  • A Whole-System Farming Method

A lot of this isn't new. John Jeavons and the folks at Ecology Action out in California learned most of it from Alan Chadwick, an English horticulturist, who combined Rudolf Steiner's Biodynamic approach with French intensive farming. Here's what these points mean.

The most controversial part of the method is the initial, double-dug beds. This is the 'Deep Soil Preparation' from Cindy Connors hand out. The method is illustrated in a little animated piece on the Wikipedia article on Biointensive. At the presentation, a couple of folks had questions about this, pointing out, not only all the work involved, but that this destroys the whole soil ecosystem. (I will post on soil ecosystems at some point in the future, I hope.) Cindy said that even though some people think the double digging should happen every season, that it is probably only necessary initially as it recharges the bed, uncompacts the soil, and is the necessary preparation for the work.

Compost should be added often to build up soil fertility. Like the permaculture folks, biointensive gardening is done with very close spacing between the plants ('Intensive Planting') so that there is little need to weed or mulch much once the plants are grown.

Biointensive focuses on what they call 'Carbon' crops--crops that are grown to add carbon and other nutrients to the soil. These are sometimes referred to as 'compost' crops or (in garden magazines) 'cover crops'. The biointensive folks believe that 60% of your crops should be these compost crops. They include things like bean and cereal crops as well as traditional cover crops like alfalfa and clover (both of which add nitrogen to the soil, as do the bean crops) and rye and timothy. The Homeplace Earth folks sell a video on Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden for $35.

The focus on 'Calorie' crops is about the idea that each person should be able to grow enough in their garden to live on--and therefore, in addition to vegetable and fruit crops for vitamins and minerals, the Biointensive approach focuses on high calorie crops, to allow each person to get enough calories from the food that can be grown in a small amount of land. They particularly single out potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic (garlic?), burdock, and parsnips as high calorie crops that don't take up a lot of acreage.

Biointensive encourages companion planting which several other systems do as well. They encourage the use of Open-Pollinated as opposed to hybrid seeds--again something many other organic gardening methods do. (Someone at the presentation asked about which seeds were open-pollinated, and Cindy Connor pointed out that all Heirloom seeds were open-pollinated although not all open-pollinated seeds were Heirloom. She also pointed out that the seeds in the catalogues that say 'F1' next to them are hybrid.)

Finally, Biointensive advocates see this as a 'Whole System'--in other words, if you skip any part of this, you aren't doing Biointensive farming. This is important because, as John Jeavons points out, if all the elements aren't used together, many of the techniques can deplete the soil faster than conventional agriculture. And one of the key purposes of Biointensive gardening, the reason it's referred to as 'Sustainable Mini-farming', is that it is a way of building up the soil as food is grown. Biointensive agriculture is meant to be sustainable for the grower and the earth.

Quote of the Day: "Start now with just one raised growing bed. Self-reliance in your own 'foodshed' will make all the difference in the world. Each one of us has tremendous potential to heal the earth." - John Jeavons

Friday, February 5, 2010


I haven't written much lately, partly because I was involved in organizing what we refer to as a 'Weatherization Barnraising' last weekend.

The name comes from the rural tradition of neighbors gathering together to put up a barn. When a family needed a barn, they gathered the supplies (wood, nails, tools, etc) and then gathered their neighbors and with a lot of folks working together, the barn was built in no time. (These were major social occasions as well, with lots of food and conversation.) The Mennonites and Amish still do them.

In the 1970's there were 'Solar Barnraisings' done around the Boston area, where people gathered together to put up passive solar panels. (Actually, the house that I currently live in has one of these panels which can heat our third floor well on a sunny winter day.)

A couple of summers ago, there was a discussion organized in Cambridge around the idea of forming an energy co-op (which is being done in Boston). I went to it out of curiousity. At the event, someone brought up the idea of Solar Barnraisings and suggested that we should do them again. Someone else complained that solar power was sexy but largely symbolic. It really didn't make as much difference in energy usage as weatherization did. A third person grabbed the two ideas and suggested that maybe we should start doing Weatherization Barnraisings. The idea excited a number of people and an event was planned. It was haphazardly publicized and the organizers thought that maybe 15 folks would show up. Forty people turned up for the barnraising, and things were off and running. Someone came up with the name Home Energy Efficiency Team--acronym HEET--and a lot of people liked it. Now these barnraisings have become very organized.

HEET has weatherized over 30 houses and institutions in Cambridge alone. As it grew, other cities and towns began adopting the idea. The HEET website now lists twenty 'affiliates' including Albany, NY, Providence, RI, and Portland, OR--not to mention Massachusetts sites from Boston to Worcester.

The cool thing about these barnraisings is not only the fact that people cooperate to help weatherize someone's house. Even the thirty plus places in Cambridge that have been weatherized is a drop in the bucket. What is great is that people who volunteer for these events learn skills that they can use at their own houses, even if their house never has a 'barnraising'. I went to one event over a year ago when my housemates were about to start our preparations for the winter and was told, for once, not to do registration--my housemates wanted me to learn about windows, because the ones in our house were so leaky. I came back from the barnraising and told them about V-Seal. That year we V-Sealed all our windows. Recently I saw Tyz-All used on some windows at a barnraising and now I'm wondering if that could replace the plastic we've been putting on the windows. And then there is Q-Lon for doors, and who knows what else. It's amazing what you learn at these things. And people have fun doing all this. There is often pizza or other food afterwards, and sometimes music. It becomes a work party--not that far from the social occasions that happened with the original barnraisings.

But the model goes beyond weatherizations. The community I am in has started 'GardenRaisings' where a bunch of us get together and build a raised bed garden in someone's yard. I hope that this idea is as successful as the weatherization barnraisings. Imagine how many more vegetable gardens there could be if this idea spreads.

And what else could we do together? As we work together and work with each other, we become powerful. We become a force for change. We move from only thinking about ourselves to thinking about the community. And from the community, who knows...

Quote of the Day: "On the surface, one house a month doesn't make a big difference. But... people learn the skills to weatherize their own homes, and our hope is that it has a multiplier effect." - Steve Morr-Wineman