Who’s Got the Time?

A dear friend of mine just wrote a spontaneous meditation on time entitled “A Curious Loss of Time”, which is all about how life is speeding up, how we are run by a linear, clockwork kind of time which colonizes our minds and our bodies and makes us inward slaves to an outward illusory master. It’s been a provocative read which, quite honestly, I haven’t had the time to finish…

So when the alarm clock rang this morning at 6:30 (which was really 5:30 because of the dastardly invention called “Daylight Savings Time”) I cursed, and rolled over for a good long time before I managed to pull myself out of bed to make my daughter’s lunch and breakfast. The morning was cool and grey with fog overhead – a beautiful relief from the early heat we are experiencing here in the butt end of a nearly non-existent northern California winter.

And I was thinking about time today as I planted 12 lettuce plants, 6 pac choi, 10 dino kale, 27 beets, 15 broccoli, 12 cabbage, 8 cauliflower, some spinach seeds, and watered the pea and beet seeds I had scattered the other day. I was thinking about time as I did some weeding and fed the greens to the chickens, and also gathered up some errant snails that were hiding under leave and fed those to the chickens too.

People ask me all the time how much time it takes to be an urban homesteader. They say, “Who’s got the time?” They say: “I don’t have the time.” They feel judged because they don’t make the time to grow more food, or save more water or energy, or do any of these more “time-intensive” “less convenient” tasks that are part of the homesteading lifestyle. I admit I have been challenged by the question because I’m not in this to guilt trip people, but I have found it so essential to my own sanity and way of living to take on these tasks, to find the time, and so I have thought a lot about the question.

I don’t work a 40-50 hour job away from home – I am lucky in lots of ways, and that is one of them, though it is a choice that also has real consequences – so I do have, quantitatively and objectively, “more time” than many people I know. But all in all, I spent about 2 hours in two different gardens, planting this early spring bounty. I spent about 35 minutes a few weeks ago moving some compost from the compost pile onto these beds to prepare them for these plants. And I’ve spent little tiny dribs and drabs of time all winter dumping kitchen scraps into the compost bin to let them turn into dirt. It doesn’t feel like it takes much time for me to get these beds ready for spring planting. The time I took today, turning over the soil, separating the starts, planting them in small holes alongside their own little drip irrigation spout will eventually yield my family many meals of salad, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, eventually some sauerkraut.

The total cost for all the plants I put in today was about $30.00, and some of those plants were gifted to the woman who loans me her backyard for one of my gardens. The cost of the food that I will eventually harvest will far exceed $30, probably at least by a factor of four. If we count my time at the exorbitant rate of say $100/hour, a fee I dream of but rarely get, the total “cost” of my time today is about $200. If we charge about $35/hour, which is more like it, we’re well under $100 of time and money to make this happen.

I’ve just made that connection between time and money that is one of the pernicious problems with time, and money, in our culture. But I am just trying to parse the value of my time, and come up with an answer to the question: Who has the time? It seems I do, and I venture to bet that you do too – 2-ish hours sometime during the first weeks of spring to plant the first garden of the year? That just doesn’t seem so much, on any kind of time scale, to me. And for what you get in exchange, well worth it.

Living with Roses

I had the opportunity to write an article for Taproot Magazine www.taproot.com, a beautiful, full color, ad-free, paper magazine put out by homesteaders living in the Northeast. This magazine has no significant on-line presence: they really want you to get the object, live with it, read it, love it.

I suggested one piece about water and one about “eco-somatics”, my personal blend of ecological and body-based consciousness (a favorite theme), and was surprised when they went for the latter.

Here’s how it starts:

Walking Up the Hill

Walking up my neighborhood hill this morning, it is brisk, nearly November. The trees are turning yellow and red. My hands are cold. It feels good. Footstep after footstep, I join in the ascent. I walk this hill to get my dose of daily perspective—as I turn and face the down slope I see my little city coming to life for the day. I am aware of all the activity in the valley below me, cars and people, houses, trees, the noise of the freeway, a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, how long it’s been since it last rained.

Burdened with a demonic and persistent awareness of the rapidly advancing depredations of climate change, questions run freely through my mind on my walks: How can we adapt to the changes of the 21st century? What’s a resilient response? What do I know that is relevant to the world that is coming into a being—a harsher, more dangerous world, a world with different opportunities and limits? What actions make a difference? Am I prepared? Will we survive?

That’s me, always sweating the small stuff.

On a bad morning, the broken world lies in front of me, unfixable. It’s too late, the damage is done, our goose is cooked. I count every tree that’s been cut down, every extra car in the fast lane, every corporate-sponsored attack on the earth: another Target! another CostCo! another outlet mall! I am so tiny in the face of this juggernaut. I forget my connection to everything, that how I think and feel and act matters. Crouched in this stance, I am a cog in the wheel of the culture of despair.

On a good morning, I remember the daily practices that connect me to the world. I remember that as an ordinary mom living a local life, I have some power, but not much, to affect the dominant cultural mudslide, i.e., “doing the best I can” really is doing the best I can. I know that the small acts we take toward the healing of the world are the only steps we can take, and that the way change happens in this country is from the grassroots, a rhizomatic, perpetual motion, like the beautiful, pernicious bindweed in the garden. And that I am part of that motion. In this stance, I am a solutionary dedicated to the culture of life.

That’s all I can give you because they want folks to buy the magazine. It’s bold to try to distribute cultural information without posting it on the web, and I support them. You can find the rest here: www.taproot.com


Root Simple podcast

Also got the chance to talk with Erik Knutsen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and steward of the dynamic blog site Root Simple, about the work we’re up to with the 13Moon CoLab, Permaculture from the Inside Out. Erik and I have a lot of overlaps in our lives–from our commitment to urban homesteading, to our desire to spread the good word, and our constant inquiry into living the “good life” here at the end of the American empire. He’s funny and feeling-ful. We were joined by his partner Kelly Coyne, his partner in urban homesteading goodness, for a really nice talk about what we’re up to, what the movement’s up to, and how to get involved, wherever you are. Check it out.


Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

I got the opportunity to talk with Scott Mann, host of the Permaculture Podcast, about permaculture from the inside out, the connections between somatics and permaculture (inner repair, outer repair) and the work of accepting who we are and what our unique offering is in this time of the Great Turning. I am always psyched when a host says, “Wow, this conversation went in a direction I never would have expected for a conversation about permaculture.” Bringing together the realms of inner healing and outer land repair is territory ripe for exploration. Join us!


Sustainable World Radio podcast with Rachel Kaplan and Delia Carroll

Last week, my 13Moon CoLab collaborator Delia Carroll and I had the chance to talk with Jill Cloutier, sourthern California permaculturist and community organizer on the Sustainable World Radio show she has been hosting for some years.

Our conversation ranged from “permaculture from the inside out” to personal repair, to city repair, to urban and suburban permaculture strategies. Check it out!


City Repair in California

If you have not had the opportunity learn and play with Mark Lakeman of Portland’s City Repair, here’s an opportunity throughout California to learn from the City Repair instigator of wild goodness. Check it out and share it with your friends and neighbors. This is how streets and communities and cities get to change…

California Tour: March 15 – April 3, 2016!

This March and April, City Repair will hit the road for a three-week tour of California, spreading real world tools for building participatory culture and manifesting lasting change through physical interventions. Join us at one of our many events throughout the Golden State! Contact Kelley at kelley@cityrepair.org for more information.

Tour Flyer web

Tue 3/15 – Davis, CA @ N Street Co-housing Common House - Fabulous Dinner and Mark Lakeman talk on Neighborhood Placemaking, 6:30pm-8:30pm

Wed 3/16 – San Francisco, CA @ Hayes Valley Art Works - Placemaking Storytelling: The Village Heart is Everywhere with Mark Lakeman, 1pm-5pm || Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainabie Living - PLACE Power, The Village Heart is Everywhere, evening storytelling and public presentation, 7pm-9:30pm

Thu 3/17 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking ambassador training, 10am-5pm

Fri 3/18 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking ambassador training, 10am-4pm || San Jose, CA @ Joyce Ellington Library - Creative Interventions in the Public Right-of-Way: A Workshop About Linking Art, Neighborhood Engagement & Traffic Calming Techniques, 7pm-9pm

Sat 3/19 – Bolinas, CA @ Regenerative Design Institute, Four Seasons Permaculture with Penny Livingston-Stark || Bolinas, CA @ Bolinas Commons - Placemaking Storytelling, 5pm-7pm

Sun 3/20 – Ojai, CA @ The Chaparral - Placemaking Storytelling, 6pm-9pm

Mon 3/21 – Ojai, CAPilot Program Intersection Repair, 10am-4pm

Tue 3/22 – Los Angeles, CA @ Holy Nativity Church, Placemaking with Mark Lakeman, 7pm-10pm

Wed 3/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Intersection Repair and Dedication Ceremony, 10am-5pm

Thu 3/24 – San Diego, CA @ Emerald Village - An Evening with City Repair and Mark Lakeman: The Village Heart is Everywhere, 7pm-9:30pm

Fri 3/25 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage - Placemaking Storytelling, 7pm-9:30pm

Sat 3/26 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage - Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking training, 10am-5pm

Sun 3/27 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Ecovillage Urban Placemaking for Cultural Transformation, 2-day placemaking training, 10am-4pm

Mon 3/28 – Pasadena, CA @ The Shed - Placemaking Storytelling, 6:30pm-9:30pm

Tue 3/29 – Los Angeles, CA @ OTIS College of Design - Human Ecology class, 7pm-9:45pm

Wed 3/30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Full Circle Venice - The I.AM.LIFE Project hosts Mark Lakeman: An Evening of Connection and Community, 7pm-11pm

Thu 3/31 – San Luis Obispo, CA - Looking for collaborators!

Fri 4/1 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Downtown Santa Cruz - Village Building and Public Placemaking with Mark Lakeman, 1:00pm-6:00pm

Sat 4/2 – Oakland, CA @ PLACE for Sustainable Living - Oakland Intersection Repair ceremony, 12pm

Sun 4/3 - Sebastopol, CA

A comfrey exchange

Had a nice visit from my fellow homesteader, Darshan Ahluwalla, yesterday morning. He was in search of comfrey to plant among his trees on his property in Butte County, CA. He wrote a nice blog post about our fruitful exchange.


Always feels good to have so much more than I need through no real work of my own, and to share it with others.  That’s one of the best things about the homesteading way — you plant a couple of plants, and years later, they make so many more plants that you can share them with your friends. Becoming a plant propagator is one of the surprising upsides of the homesteading way. Nature does its dance of fertility and when we participate in tending that cycle, everyone benefits.

“Urban Homesteading” Trademark Cancelled by Federal Judge

Finally! California Federal Judge decided what we all already knew: the Dervaes family supplemental trademark for “urban homesteading” has no merit. Now we’re all free to keep on doing what we’re already doing: growing food and community in the places where we live.


Permaculture — Peace with Creation

An act of war brought me to permaculture. On September 11, 2001, I had been a mother for little more than three weeks. I was immersed in the care and feeding of my tiny, vulnerable, perfect baby girl. There was milk dripping from my breasts and I was tender in all ways.

As I sat and watched the towers fall, holding my baby in my arms, I knew that the world was going to change, and probably get worse. Motherhood being what it was, my central concern was with the health and safety of my baby, her care and feeding and continuity. What was it going to be?

The answer didn’t come immediately, but the war following the fall of the towers, and a move out of our city, led me circuitously back to the garden, back to re-skilling in the kitchen, back to worms and compost and the joy of co-creation with the earth.

A few years later, I trained in permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. Penny Livingston-Stark, Lydia Neilsen and James Stark were my teachers. During the year I studied, the problems I saw all around me start shifting and morphing into solutions. Not enough water? Tap your greywater and divert it to the landscape. No food security? Grow it yourself. Fossil fuel energy ruining the globe? Tap into the power of the sun. And so many other practical, logical and accessible skills were revealed.

I found myself easily able to learn, master and apply these skills in the place where I live. Now these many years later, the permaculture way is just how I live. I feel that permaculture is a beautiful, evolving design science that teaches us peace with creation. Rather than thinking of the world as a resource base for my use and deployment, I am a steward of the land where I live (rented), the waters that I use (diminishing), the food that I grow (abundant), and the connection to earth energy (all around me.)

My daughter is 13 now, and I work as a permaculture educator and advocate, as well as a somatic psychotherapist. I see these paths as being the same—healing the multiple traumas of our violent and disconnected culture, on both the inner and outer levels. Permaculture has brought us a way of living in place, sharing our values and dreams with the people we care about, and a way of educating our daughter into a life in the earth. This has brought us a delightful posse of earth-loving creators, artists, farmers, and free folk we now call friends. We consider ourselves blessed by the bees and beets and buckets of water that surround us.

Permaculture creates peace because it is a hands-on, appropriate technology; an adaptable and flexible way to live within the limits and opportunities of our place. It teaches us, through ecological principles, to observe and interact with our world, and to take actions rooted in reality, not in some fantasy of domination or control.

Permaculture creates peace because it teaches us that we are both small and powerful, that our daily actions make a difference in changing the world where we live. Permaculture creates peace because it gives us a template for living in respectful relationship, not only with the animals and plants the surround us, but with the people with whom we share our home place.

I have found, paradoxically, that it is simpler to grow carrots than it is to get along with my neighbors. I don’t think I am alone in practices of polarization and projection that make it hard for us to view one another as allies. Permaculture has taught me how to do the right thing—use less, share more, slow down and listen, design from patterns to details. If peace is the pattern, the details must rest in how we act every day—with an open heart, or a closed mind. When operating from within the permaculture ethos, where we hold earth care, people care, and fair share as our guiding ethics, the open heart leads the way.

Permaculture helps us cultivate abundance where we live. This makes it possible to extend into the world in a spirit of enough-ness, offering generously and with gratitude. This cultivates inner peace, and the ripple effects of peace with all creation.

While it is true that world continues to turn to war, no matter how many times I turn my compost bin, I’ve also learned from permaculture to get right-sized—some of what is happening in our world is in my hands, but mostly, it’s in bigger hands than mine. Knowing that, I embody the permaculture maxim: “If the world is going to end tomorrow, I am going to plant a tree today.” This helps me live through some of the hardest passages of human aggression and cruelty, while cultivating a soil where something else can grow.

This fall I am honored to be offering a year-long permaculture design course with three other women than we call Permaculture from the Inside Out. My co-teaching team is called the 13Moon Collaborative, and we are Kyra Auerbach, Rachel Kaplan, Delia Carroll, and Cassandra Ferrera. Our course is an offering of the classical permaculture curriculum with the addition of a deep focus on the inner environments we inhabit. It is time that we compost consciousness toward peace, as readily as we compost our kitchen scraps. It is the mission of the 13Moon Collaborative to bring the body back into the center of the conversation about sustainability and community resilience. It is our contention that tending to the inner garden, while we tend to the outer landscapes we inhabit, will help us make wiser, more grounded and more appropriate choices with positive and peaceful effects in our world.

English: Permaculture Course Welcome

Permaculture from the Inside Out, 13 Saturdays, once a month, starting October 2014 and running through October 2015. $1200 early bird registration fee through September 27 (mention the Shift Network when you register). For more information and to register, go to www.13MoonCollaborative.com, or heirloomskills@gmail.com. We welcome you in this co-creative journey of growing our sense of peace with creation.


S.F. property owners to get tax break from creating urban farms

A new law taking effect next week will mark another innovation for San Francisco: The city will be the first in the country to offer a financial incentive for urban farming.

Starting Sept. 8, owners of empty lots could save thousands of dollars a year in property taxes in exchange for allowing their land to be used for agriculture for five years or more.

It’s part of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, a state law spearheaded by local sustainable land-use advocates and state Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. The law encourages would-be urban farmers to turn trash-covered empty parcels into gardens with the assurance they won’t be forced out after putting in a lot of time and money.

San Francisco will be the first to enact it because the Board of Supervisors has already passed the necessary local ordinance.

“It takes so much time to get a property in shape for farming, including building fertility in the soil and getting the infrastructure in place,” said Caitlyn Galloway, who has run Little City Gardens on a three-quarter-acre rented lot in Mission Terrace for four years. “That’s why this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Little City Gardens supplies produce to local restaurants and Bi-Rite Market and is one of the only commercial farms in San Francisco, but educational farms can also take advantage of the law. Cities with much more open space, such as Los Angeles and Sacramento, are closely watching what happens in San Francisco.

The bill was conceived as a way to help cities reduce blight and give residents more opportunities to grow food, even to raise livestock where health codes allow it.

Long waiting lists
“I have heard from literally hundreds of residents who would like to have the opportunity to farm, but the waiting lists for a lot of our community gardens are over two years long,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who wrote the local legislation. “There is simply not enough space.”

This law could change that.

To qualify, a lot must be at least one-tenth of an acre with no permanent dwellings. The property would be reassessed at the average price for irrigated farmland, currently $12,500 per acre.

For a comparison, the double lot that houses the 18th and Rhode Island Garden has been valued at around $2 million – although its current assessed value is lower since Aaron Roland has owned it for 17 years. Still, after he applies for the tax reduction, his annual $6,000 tax bill will drop significantly.

Roland offered use of the property to permaculture gardeners Kevin Bayuk and David Cody in 2008, who turned it into a demonstration garden that offers permaculture certification courses and hosts school groups. The garden’s pathways and benches are open to the public, and volunteers harvest whatever food it produces for low-income residents.

Roland gets constant requests to sell the property, which has a view of downtown, but he wants to hold on to it partly in case his children want to build a house there one day.

“I also like what’s going on now with it. It’s this marvelous garden in the middle of the city that’s growing food,” he said. “Hopefully there are other people like me that eventually might want to do some development on their land but aren’t in a big rush, and meanwhile want to let it be used for this kind of public purpose.”

Karen Peteros hopes that Clear Channel, which owns the site of her educational bee farm, under a billboard in Visitacion Valley, decides to take advantage of the new tax break, which she estimates could reduce its current bill of around $21,000 a year to about $50.

A spot for bees created
San Francisco Bee Cause’s lease on the property is $1 per year for four small lots. In 2012, Peteros and her co-founders and volunteers removed two pickup trucks full of trash from the site, put down soil, planted fruit trees and other bee-friendly crops, and established a bee colony.

They teach beekeeping at the volunteer-run farm, and get funding from the sales of the honey. But about a year after they started, Clear Channel decided to take back half of the parcels to use as a parking lot.

“They swept the lot clean of all the great soil we had been building,” Peteros said. In the end, the company couldn’t get permits to finish the project.

Under the new law, the five-year contract stays with the property even if it’s sold, but if an owner wants to get out of it they can pay back taxes and interest. San Francisco’s ordinance limits the tax savings of individual property owners to $25,000 per year; if the savings are higher, an official review is necessary. City officials in Sacramento, Fresno, San Jose and San Diego have expressed interest, but haven’t yet passed the necessary local legislation.

Los Angeles is close to doing that, and Clare Fox of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council estimates there are 8,600 parcels within Los Angeles city limits that qualify.

“It’s about food security and food access, but it’s also about transforming blighted vacant places that are prone to illegal dumping into community places,” she said.

“It’s a way to beautify the neighborhood and stabilize real estate values. Plus, there are the environmental benefits. There’s a whole slew of reasons why urban agriculture makes sense.”

Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.