Making a Difference

I don’t know about you, but every time I hear more bad news, I think to myself, how do we turn this craziness around? We are getting hit with so much insanity, so much destruction and evil, it can put the strongest person into apathy, thinking it’s hopeless and why bother. But I don’t believe that. I know the power of beings, which is so much greater than anyone would allow you to believe, or even think sometimes, that there is always something that can be done about it.

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Alive food grown in organic soil, the bounty of nature and the result of good soil building. Kale, lettuce, and wild vegetables growing in a bed at Hillside Gardens, Ga..

I also believe in the power of the little thing. If everyone in the world put a penny in a pile, the accumulated sum of that pile would run into the millions of dollars. Nine billion pennies when added together can create a very big effect. The same goes for the accumulated effects of kindness, or deciding to make things better, or getting together a group to solve problems. The history of the earth is filled with stories of people doing this.

So, we live in a world right now that is polluting itself right into the destruction of life forms from the tiniest microbe up to the largest whales and elephants, with humans in the middle. Geoff Lawton, famous Permaculturist calls this ‘bio-cide’. Like genocide but not just people.

We’re loosing our farmland. Dr. Mercola in a recent article (who is a champion of labeling GMO foods, health, and doing something about it) discusses the fact that we are 60 years away from loosing the topsoil on earth. This means no place to grow food, feed plants, animals or people, and provide the plants which convert carbon dioxide to oxygen which we need to breathe. So, not only are we in dire danger of loosing our food, but linked to that is water we can drink, air we can breathe, or a planet that supports life.

Ouch, that’s scary! And rightfully so.

So, here comes the little thing multiplied by a million or a hundred million people doing the right thing to change things around.

Since top soil is what supports life on planet earth, preserving it and recovering it is absolutely critical to our survival. We don’t think it’s that bad because when we go to the grocery store there are piles of food to buy. We turn on the tap and out comes water. We fill our lungs with air and we think ‘no problem’. Right?

But if you drive across the valleys in California where up until recently a great deal of our food was grown only to see it turned into a desert again (which it was before it was irrigated), or see the devastation of Texas farmland in the face of severe drought, or see whole areas of the Midwest which would not sustain food growing without tons of toxic agricultural chemicals being sprayed on them, which renders the soil all but dead, you would see it from another perspective.

I am not a gloom and doom person. I always look for the solutions in the face of challenges and I’m always surprised at how amazing those solutions can be. People are by nature creative unless they are among the relatively small numbers who are so self centered and only profit motivated that they are living destructive lives. I don’t believe you are one of that number or you wouldn’t be reading this. So, you are among the ones who are the solvers of problems, not the creators of them. Do you know you are able to do this? Well, you are if you know how important taking that viewpoint is to you, your children, and the world.

Growing food has been left to the big farmers, who have been all but totally taken over by the large food corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, General Foods and the like. They view food growing as an industrial process, not as participants in the web of life. They don’t consider long term implications and are basically intent on mining the soil instead of working with it as partners. Like any mine whether it be a gold mine, a salt mine, or a diamond mine, the resources in those mines are finite – they run out, there is no more in that mine. The mine closes up, the machinery is left to rust or is moved onto the next site, and that is that.

Unfortunately, moving onto the next site means finding another planet. Do you know of any available to the human race? Personally I think we better take care of what we have here or we are going to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. We’re very nearly there now. We just don’t think about it because we have delegated our food growing activities to others and think the problem is solved. That’s for the farmers, right? But the farmers are the problem now because they are at the mercy of the economy, the agricultural industry, the commodities market, the government’s control over water, and the big corporations who make them sign contracts for their own land and the government who is forcing them to buy seeds and not save their own for the future. In Iowa right now, a farmer can go to jail for saving his own crop’s seeds for next season.

On so many fronts, the big agricultural growing is controlled by the soil miners, the chemical pushers, the big banks and financial stranglers. So, we have to by-pass. When in danger, by-pass! This is definitely a danger situation. It means finding a way to grow one’s own food, or at least a portion of it.

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The summer garden grown on a steep hillside, on an area that had formerly been bare of growing things, now growing tomatoes, squash, and a variety of other vegetables.

It means taking care of the soil we grow in, and add to its productivity and fertility at every turn so we are rebuilding the top soil. The whole subject and wisdom of Permaculture Design is that it contains the ethics of restoration of the earth as a first consideration. The three ethical principles of Permaculture Design are: Care of People, Care of the Earth, Return of abundance to the earth and equitable sharing of resources with the people.

It also contains the technology to rebuild even the most devastated growing lands. Geoff Lawton has a wonderful video of turning a lifeless desert in Arabia into an oasis of fertility and life. Called Greening the Desert. That’s an extreme case scenario, but I know that restoration of the topsoil and fertility of the land is possible anywhere. Even on land that is so polluted and contaminated with toxins and chemicals that one would think it would be better bull dozed up and buried someplace.

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Eroded, weedy, area of garden before repair, down to Georgia clay.Featured image Same space after terracing and soil building.

Where I live is on a steep hillside in NE Georgia, where the topsoil has been removed by developers leaving concrete-like Georgia red clay, almost entirely divested of organic matter and only naturally grows the heartiest weeds – nature’s bandaides. When we moved onto this .7 acre subdivision lot, the only thing growing was Bermuda grass (in very sparse amounts) and where it wasn’t dented by erosion, scratchy weeds.

Now after 8 years, there are over 90 productive garden beds, a “food forest” organic orchard with over 100 herbs, a large collection of flowering plants and bushes for butterflies and other pollinating critters, and 5 kinds of planting beds. We grow food year round, and abundantly provide for much of what we eat or trade for things we want. We seed save, collect water from the roof of the house, make our own liquid fertilizer as compost teas, make our own personal medicines such as ointments and tinctures, and eat very well thank you.

We trade for things our steep hillside can’t provide, though we are not capable of growing certain things and must still make money and buy stuff. But the soil where we have worked to re-establish top soil is so rich and fertile, soft and viable, that almost anything will grow here. At first I spent money buying organic matter to put into the soil, but I have since learned how to collect autumn leaves, compost all my kitchen waste, have a worm bin, chip our own organic waste out of the garden, and make use of free wood chips from the local electric company who delivers piles of beautiful chips for paths and tree root insulation.

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Creating soil using organic matter, leaves, crushed mineral rich granite, and home made compost builds top soil and makes a wonderfully alive environment for plant roots.

Yet my neighbor across the street, who never put a seed into the ground before we became neighbors, now has a single 4’x8’ raised bed and several containers in pots. In those things she grows tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, cucumbers and several other delicious foods and is teaching her young children how to do it too. It is a beginning and they have a lot of fun with it. Her little daughter comes to my garden in spring and I give her the first fresh green beans from my beds which she thinks of as candy. Now she tells her mom she wants to grow up and be an organic farmer. That may change with age, but the point is, there is a change of thinking now.

I started her off on 3 good sized plastic planters that look like terra cotta pots. Into that I showed her how to put in planting mix and to plant seedling starts. She had some questions at first and some failures, but now she’s an old hand. Later she and her husband made the larger raised bed.

Think of it this way – if everyone in our neighborhood put in a garden growing fresh fruits and vegetables, and everyone planted two fruit trees of their choice, if the grocery stores shut down, we would have a variety of foods growing which could be traded and shared, and we wouldn’t go hungry. If every third family kept a milking goat, a hen house, or a milk cow, we’d have our protein. If we took one of the empty lots in our subdivision and put in a fish pond, into which we threw our organic food scraps and had in the pond tilapia or catfish, we’d have fish to eat.

I know at this moment in time that doesn’t sound very practical or even possible. But since I’ve started my garden in this neighborhood, 3 neighbors on our little street have put in gardens. Another one had a garden but they had a baby and ran out of time to keep it going. But I have a feeling once their child is a few years older, they will get it going again.

If you really knew how empty of nutrition your food from the grocery store, or even worse, from the fast food restaurants, is, you would run to the nursery and start growing at least greens and salad makings, some tomatoes, maybe some zucchini, cucumbers, radishes, beets and carrots, so you could get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

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A morning’s harvest. Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Watermelon, and Summer Squash.

Did you know that vitamins are useless without minerals? One researcher – Dr. Charles Northern issued this apocalyptic warning:
“ . . . Countless human ills stem from the fact that the impoverished soil of America no longer provides plant foods with mineral elements essential to human nourishment and health. Millions of acres no longer contain the valuable trace elements . . . It is not commonly realized, however, that vitamins control the body’s appropriation of minerals, and in the absence of minerals they have no function to perform. Lacking vitamins, the system can make some use of minerals, but lacking minerals, vitamins are useless.”

So, even if you are supplementing your diet with pills or drinks, if you aren’t making sure you are getting sufficient trace and macro minerals in your food or also supplementing them, your money and your time to take them are wasted, pretty much. The best thing you can do is grow your own food at least so you are eating some of it every day, preferably raw but lightly steamed or cooked depending on which kind is important. It must be grown organically though to really be worth the effort.

Food grown with chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides kill off the vital micro organisms and worms which convert inorganic minerals in the soil to organic minerals (chemically this means that carbon and oxygen are attached to the plain mineral making it absorb-able by the plant’s roots and thus absorb-able by your own body). Without the little microbes in the soil performing this function, even if the plant manages to take up the plain undigested mineral, it just flows right on out of your body making no benefit and not working with vitamins.

That’s why eating organic produce and pasture fed meats (which are eating organic grass) is so important – it actually has minerals in it. The funny thing is, we are told our soil has been stripped of the minerals in it. That is not actually true. Only the organic minerals have been used up. The inorganic minerals which are waiting there to be converted into organic minerals are still there. What has happened is that the soil microbes which do the converting from inorganic to organic mineral forms have been killed off with the industrial fertilizers and chemicals so nobody is doing the conversions needed. The food looks nice and edible but it’s like a coin purse with no coins.

We kill our weeds on our lawns so we get these picture perfect green swards that look like a carpet. People around here consider this a status symbol – acres of green carpet. But those weeds are nature’s way of rebuilding the top soil.

A dandelion has a tap root that can go down 50 feet into the subsoil. It absorbs minerals from deep underground and draws it up into its leaves. Those leaves dry up and fall off, containing the minerals. Then the worms come up from the soil, eat the rotting or dried leaves. The microbes in the length of their bodies reproduce given that food, and their trailings called castings are like a microbe factory. The worms leave tunnels that air and moisture can travel along, making the soil looser and giving the plant roots channels to grow along.

As the weeds, many of which have various kinds of these tap roots, work through time to bring up the minerals lower down and continuously replenish the used up minerals. It takes nature a hundred years to produce one inch of viable top soil. In our agricultural system currently, a farmer is told using up 1 ½ inches of top soil a year is good soil management. See what I mean about calling it soil mining? How long do you think we can keep eating up soil that takes millenia to reproduce?

Soil samples were taken along the East Coast about 50 years ago, and we had about 12 feet of top soil in the areas sampled. Recently another researcher came along and measured the same areas. They had only 6” left of that lush top soil. In 50 years we lost 11 ½ feet of growing soil. It wasn’t replaced, it was eroded by wind from recklessly plowing and soil preparation disking. It was washed away by rain and little floods when the soil was vulnerable in the spring. It was eaten up by plants absorbing the nutrients and carbon in the soil. And it shrank as the soil microbes were killed off. Instead of putting the organic matter back into the soil, often that was burned off, leaving only ash which blows away in the wind, we continued the same practices. The definition of insanity comes to mind “Doing the same thing but expecting different results”. Even ash is vital as it contains minerals. But if it isn’t stopped from blowing away, that too is lost.

We have cut down our forests and trees. It used to be rows of trees for wind stoppage were grown around farmers’ fields. But when the big machinery was introduced after WWII, when we lost so many of our farmers and the industrialization of farming replaced the war machinery companies products needed for the war, the motto became “Get Big or Get Out”. The rows of windbreak trees were cut down, and we got into what is now called ‘mono-cropping’ – thousands of acres of one crop like soy beans, corn, cotton, wheat or other grains, all the same. The trees with their tap roots were at least bringing up minerals from below the surface depositing them as leaves on the ground. They also kept wind erosion from occurring mostly, and their root systems held in moisture, and attracted rain. Their interconnectedness under the soil was also lost which nature used to hold in soil from eroding with water.

All this was done in the name of efficiency and profit. But those practices have been loosing millions of tons of top soil every year, not to be replaced. And the chemicals have been busy killing off the vital microbes in the soil which convert the needed minerals. So, we’re back to the coin purse with no coins. It must be reversed if we are to continue living on planet earth. It’s up to the little gardeners, the small family farms which are making a comeback, to the farmers markets which make it viable for the small family farm to live at a profit, and it’s up to us as consumers to demand organic growing practices for the things we buy and eat.

Little things like going to the store manager and asking for organic produce, complaining about the GMOs in the food in the aisles, writing letters to the local newspaper about demanding organic practices in our foods, and by buying only good foods. The dollar is a kind of vote in the market. When the dollars aren’t going to the industrial foods full of chemical toxins and poisons, but to the organic farmers, and enough of us do it, it changes the complexion of the entire market. It’s happening, we just need to step it up and be louder – squeaky wheels all of us!

We can do it by growing our own food, patronizing our local farmers markets, demanding better farming practices, talking to our family and friends about this to do the same, communicating on every means – face book, local newspapers, emails, whatever. We can do this. And we can actually make it fun.

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A new farmers market forming with local vendors, plant growers, and interested gardeners. This is the beginning of out reach and renewal.

I believe in people and our ability to make things right. Apathy is a tool used against us to quit trying to make a better world. But in between all the “Don’t try and it’s useless” ideas are these huge areas where we can just go ahead and fix things. It just looks like the “Don’t do it and bad news” is bigger than us. That’s the big lie. We beings are clever souls and together working in accord, those nay sayers and bad news makers are no more than fleas on the back of a very large dog. I say “Woof – and go forward”!

Diann Dirks, 3 Feb, 2015

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