Saturday, July 20, 2013

Soil Science

Now for a three part digression back to Science World. 

When I was at Dancing Rabbit, I discovered that they had a pretty good library.  I spent quite a bit of time there reading various books.  One thing they had a lot of were books on soil science.  (Which make a lot of sense since many people there were into growing food.)

As I was looking through the books, I realized that a lot of the things I'm interested in (composting--see my post Thinking in Circles, 1/6/13, humanure--see Humanure, 1/10/13, and growing food--see Gardening as Social Change, 5/7/10) were related to soil and that soil science was a very complex discipline involving the sciences of geology, botany, microbiology, ecology, and a lot of chemistry. (I will write more about chemistry in my next post.)   I've also written about extensively about soil and my interest in it before--see Food (Soil and Seeds), 5/13/09, and especially The Story of Soil, 3/13/10.  This post will be a recap of a lot of that.

Soil science begins with rock. Due to water and wind the rock is broken down or weathered.  The fractured rock becomes boulders, stones, cobble, and gravel.  This collection of loose mineral material is called 'regolith'.  This is the 'parent material' from which soil is born.

As even the gravel is pulverized, it's broken into the grains which become soil: sand, silt, and clay, each finer than the one before.  A soil of mostly clay won't drain water very well, a soil of mostly sand won't hold water and drains too quickly.  Loam, the best soil for growing things is 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay.  (A little clay goes a long way.)

The most important element in the soil, both to hold water and for plant growth, is the organic matter, also known as humus.  This is the endpoint of things like compost and humanure.

About half of typical soil is solid material (sand, silt, clay, and humus) and half is air and water, which is also very important to the health of plants, since roots need to breath and take in water.  Pores in the soil (the spaces between soil particles) is where the water and air reside.

"Good structure allows the soil to retain adequate water as well as drain excess water; promotes ease of seedling emergence, root penetration, and tuber growth; air movement; and erosion control."  (from Eash, Green, Razvi, and Bennett, Soil Science Simplified, Fifth Edition--this is a good reference book on soil science that I got out of the public library and have been reading since I got back from Dancing Rabbit. It's not one of the books I read while I was there.)

There are also a lot of creatures that live in the soil, ranging from microorganisms such as bacteria, actinomycetes, algae, fungi, mycorrhizae (fungi that live in or around the roots of plants and provide nutrients and water for the plants), protozoa, and nematodes,  (a really good book about all of this is Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, a book I did read while I was at Dancing Rabbit) to larger organisms such as earthworms, springtails, mites, pill bugs, sow bugs, ants, and even larger animals like mice, shrews, rabbits, and moles.

There's a lot more I'm learning about soil chemistry (see my next post), erosion, and types of soil, but this is the basics.  If we are going to focus on the needs of people (which I think any radical social change is going to need to do), we have to realize that plants provide our food and air and basically keep us alive.  Soil is what keeps plants alive.

Quote of the Day:  "The soil is the lifeblood of your land and, therefore, you." - Nicole Faires

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Same Sex Marriage and Social Change

In spite of how it feels sometimes, social change happens--and it sometimes happens fairly quickly.  The Vietnam War was ended.  Racism is not okay today.  It still exists, even if we have a black president, but the very fact that Obama is in office shows how much things have shifted.  Discrimination against women is no longer okay either, even if the Equal Rights Amendment never passed.

But if you want to see the speed at which things can shift, look at what's happened over the last decade with same sex marriage. Prior to 2012, thirty states banned it--including eleven states which voted to ban it in 2004 and seven more voting to ban it in 2006.  However, last year four states voted in favor of it.  It's now legal in twelve states and the District of Columbia, and one of last week's Supreme Court decisions made California the thirteenth state.  The polls have shifted over the last five years from a majority of the country opposing same sex marriage to a majority favoring it. I think the Supreme Court was pushed into their twin decisions last week.  It wasn't hard to see which way the wind was blowing.

While some of this has come about because of protests and other actions, I think most of the change was due to hard work in what I will call 'education' and Joanna Macy refers to as 'A Shift in Consciousness'.  (For more about these ways of looking at social change strategy, see my posts on Creating Social Change, 7/2/08, The Great Turning, 1/15/09, and Social Change: My View, 6/29/10.)  I think that change came about mostly because queer marriage activists kept putting out one clear, simple message:  "I deserve the right to marry the person I love."  They made it clear that this was a matter of fairness and justice.

On Wednesday of this week I went to a public reading (led by the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick) of a speech by Frederick Douglass, "The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro".  It was given in 1852 before the civil war and the end of slavery.  It was a powerful speech, mainly because Frederick Douglass had one clear message in it: slavery was inhuman and violates all the principles implied in the American Revolution.  He makes a very clear and simple case for it--this is just wrong and there can be no argument about it.

I think that the climate change people are trying to do something similar now--putting out a message that fossil fuels cause climate change and we are going to need to stop using them.  We'll see how well it can be heard.

At some point, I'm hoping the message will get out that our whole way of life is oppressive and not sustainable and that we could live very differently--and live quite well.  It's a hard message to get out, but I take heart when I see what's happening with same sex marriage, and what happened with slavery.  Social change is indeed possible, but it takes time and persistence.

Quote of the Day:  "But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? ...
"Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong?  No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such argument would imply." - Frederick Douglass

Monday, July 1, 2013

Nine Communities, Many Thoughts

As of the moment, I feel like I'm done my community touring for a while.  I started off, as you might remember, at the Communities Conference at the beginning of last September.  I went right to the Acorn community after the conference, to begin a three week visit.

Now, ten months later, while I still intend to end the year with another Communities Conference, I feel like I'm done otherwise.  At this point, I've checked out nine different communities, two of which are barely up and running (the community I visited in Pennsylvania and Living Energy Farm), one of which had just ended before I got there (Skyhouse), and six up and functioning communities (from the six year old Still Waters Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance to the forty-six year old Twin Oaks--not to mention Acorn, Dancing Rabbit, Red Earth Farms, and Sandhill).

I did three-week visits at Acorn and Dancing Rabbit and two three-week visits at Twin Oaks. I spent nearly five weeks in Pennsylvania with the couple trying to build a community there and I've done three work days at Living Energy Farm.  I've done tours of Sandhill, Red Earth Farms, and the Still Waters Sanctuary, and I talked with three different people involved with Skyhouse about it (and ate several meals in the building, which is still around).

What have I learned from all this?  First, that community comes in all sizes and flavors--from the hundred folks at Twin Oaks and the seventy at Dancing Rabbit, to midsized communities like thirty-person Acorn, to smaller communities like Red Earth Farms, the Still Waters Sanctuary, and Sandhill.  However, small communities can have it rough--the community in Pennsylvania hasn't really started because it's just the couple that are starting it and Living Energy Farm hasn't really got going because it was also mostly two people (with a bunch of interns).  Similarly, a good part of why Skyhouse fell apart was because it shrank away.

Most of the communities that I visited were rural communities but I have a soft place in my heart for urban communities like the one in Pennsylvania.  (In the nineties I started an urban community that lasted five years.  It also fell apart partly because of the small number of people involved.)  Twin Oaks, Acorn, and Sandhill are all income-sharing communities, as was Skyhouse and hopefully Living Energy Farm will be.  The Still Waters Sanctuary runs on a 'gift economy', Dancing Rabbit has various forms of entrepreneurship (or, as I put it, reinvented capitalism), and Red Earth Farms is homesteads that all run individually.  The folks I visited in Pennsylvania were also trying to do things on the gift economy.

Each community had it's own tale to tell and lessons to be learned from it.  From Twin Oaks I learned if you grow a community large enough, it can last fifty years or more. (At this point I'm sure it will be going strong for its fiftieth anniversary.  It could fall apart--as could anything--but I think it would take a while if it did.)  I also learned that over that time systems will evolve in their own way and may not turn out as anyone would have intended--but may work very well anyway.  From Acorn I learned the importance of persistence (they were down to a couple of folks at one point, but one of them--Ira Wallace--wasn't willing to give up) and the importance of community support (the other thing that got them through was having Twin Oaks nearby).  From Sandhill I learned that persistence can pay off unexpectedly.  After hanging in as a very small community for over twenty years, they persuaded Dancing Rabbit to build an ecovillage near them--and eventually they had a community of communities grow around them.  Likewise, from Dancing Rabbit I learned the importance of building where there was already a community, and Red Earth Farms is even stronger for having two communities nearby. Living Energy Farm is also benefitting (as they struggle to build) from having two large, well functioning communities nearby.  (In spite of their problems, I'd be surprised if they didn't succeed with Twin Oaks and Acorn supporting them.)  The location far from any other communities is one of the difficulties that the crew in Pennsylvania is struggling with, and I'm not clear whether the Still Waters Sanctuary is close enough to the Rutledge communities to really benefit from them.  On the other hand, Skyhouse had Dancing Rabbit all around it, but without the internal connections that wasn't enough.  (In fact, Dancing Rabbit ended up taking energy away from Skyhouse.)

The biggest lesson I've learned is that there's many different kinds of communities out there and communities can be quite different and still function very well.  There's also many wonderful people in those communities and I'm glad that I got to know some of them.  (These were in the communities that I did three week visits at--Acorn, TO, and DR--and obviously not the ones I had just had brief tours of.)

I'm glad I visited these nine communities.  Now I want to live in a community.

Quote of the Day:  " long as I can remember I've had a desire to make some difference in the world.  But the world is one great, big, hard place to make a difference.  Community is a small enough chunk that you can make a difference.  And it also is a good place from which you can, from time to time, try to make a difference in some bigger subset of the world." - Ira Wallace