Raising Fields: What History Can Teach Us

When you come in for a landing at Palm Beach International, you pass over a network of blue waterways, canals, inlets, and bays that link pastel buildings and homes to the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal.  In fact, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that touches my life and yours if you live and work here, is a much larger network that runs North-South, from Norfolk, Virginia to the Florida Keys, some 1,090 miles of navigable interstate.  This Blue Highway is what makes our part of the state so attractive to boat-loving vacationers and retirees alike.  It is also what puts South Florida’s future as a tourist mecca, retiree haven, and agricultural giant (second to California) at great risk from sea level rise (SLR). The experts in local government and higher education know this:

The risks from sea level rise are imminent and serious. This is not a distant problem, but one that is affecting us now and will certainly affect our children.  Sea level rise will impact millions of Americans and threaten billions of dollars of building and infrastructure. – Sea Level Rise Summit 2013

And so do the insurers and activist organizations, and all have our work cut out for us, given the denial in Tallahassee and among billionaire developers.  The latter are (for now), as one Facebook comment had it, so 20th Century.

???????????????????????????????Attorney Mitchell Chester isn’t waiting for anyone’s blessing to bring the message of SLR to whomever will hear it and act upon it. The fastest way to get up to speed on sea level rise is to visit his site SLRSouthFlorida for the latest news on the subject. It’s not good news for us coastal dwellers, but it may also represent an opportunity to save the Florida that people have loved almost to death, and to prosper in an entirely different way (and I don’t mean Waterworld).

I first heard Mitchell Chester speak at a breakout session at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium in July, sponsored by The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for the Everglades, the Oxbridge Academy and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County.  The session addressed the need for our legal and financial systems to “engage the shared emergency of sea level rise.”  Meaning, of course, that they are not doing so in any significant way.  Currently, for example, you will not find any warning about the threat of a rising sea to your property in your real estate disclosure documents.  Mortgage documents also reflect the same myopia.

Last week, I heard Mr. Chester making an electrifying presentation to the Climate Action Coalition meeting about his idea to save the billion dollar South Florida agriculture, “some of the best growing fields in the U.S.”  He was here, he said, “to bring reality to the recommendations” of adaptation and mitigation contained in the South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan.  Without action, our ability to grow 250 food crops (and feed the country) could end “as soon as the second term of the incoming American president.”  Whoa!  That’s within 10 years.

In a nutshell: “For [Florida's] agriculture, it’s either up or out.” As he pointed out, the strategy of containing the sea by building up the land is nothing new. The Dutch have been doing it for centuries, and are still the masters of their dike-and-windmill system in modern times.  The Maya and Aztec also created farm lands on human-made mounds and managed excess water with canals, according to Raising Fields, the website created by Mitchell Chester to educate and make a case for adaptation of this kind.

While the ocean will advance and someday cover Southeast Florida, the use of mound farming and elevated agricultural strategies will serve to extend the life of valuable rural properties and precious growing fields.

For us South Florida residents, it could be an idea whose time has come.  And, as if to anticipate the drum beat about jobs gained or lost that plays through every political discussion, this proposal has an answer.  To build a new agriculture for a wetter, water-logged South Florida — and continue to feed all those urbanites who rely on farmers they’ll never meet — it will be everybody in, everybody working together: engineers, economists, architects, agronomists, water experts, farmers, environmentalists, mapping experts, permitting agencies, planners at many levels. And that’s before the first shovelful of soil.

Links to help you dig in :)

SLRSouthFlorida
Raising Fields Blog  — you can back up into the main site
South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan
EPA Climate Change Adaption SE
That Sinking Feeling – NBC Report

 

 

 

Greenier Than Thou?

OK, I’ll admit that our switch from Florida Power and Light to Pear Energy, a renewable energy broker over a year ago, right after we began our lease of a Nissan Leaf, made me feel a tad smug. Competitions about one’s carbon footprint don’t seem out of line, given the state of the Planet.  Not to mention that I managed to convince a small number of friends to make the switch.

Pear Energy imageWe stuck with Pear despite accusations in social media that the company was engaged in ‘green-washing,’ because here in South Florida, there seemed to be no better choice.  The company’s move from Miami to Amherst, MA, gave me pause but it was business as usual. Here’s a link to the discussion between that convinced us we’d rather fight than switch back: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/pear-energy-how-green/ I’ve written some damage-control PR in my life, so I appreciated how Pear answered its critics:

… it is important to keep in mind that we are an independent REC seller, which is a different model than that of a local utility’s green energy program. Local utilities are established, profitable businesses that simply add REC sales into their mix of services, as one very small share of their overall operations. These established utilities do not need to generate additional revenue through REC sales because they use their profits from selling electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy to provide a tiny subsidy to their purchases of clean energy RECs. By contrast, because REC sales are one of Pear Energy’s main activities, a portion of our charges must go to supporting our staff and our business operations. So, to summarize: 100 percent of all of our business activity supports the development of green energy in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, when I received this email.

Dear Marika Stone,

Your Pear Energy account is officially closed as of November 10, 2014. As previously mentioned, Pear Energy is no longer offering our residential renewable energy service for homes and small businesses.

  • You will receive utility bills again. Please make payments directly to FPL normally. In addition, you may be receiving a verification email from your utility due to the recent changes made on your account.

Thank you again for supporting renewable energy and helping to build the green economy.

Sincerely,

The Billing Department
Pear Energy
(877) 969-7327
www.pear-energy.com

Apparently, I wasn’t the only customer who was upset at the news because today, another email arrived from Pear Energy offering us renewable energy via one of its partners, Acadia Power.  We’ll look before we leap, of course.  I won’t be surprised if there is a whole lot more of this kind of shaking out as we move toward renewables, and neither should you be.  In fact, I welcome it. Stay tuned

REC – Renewable Energy Certificates

https://www.facebook.com/PEARenergy

Gallery

Walk to the grocery store challenge

This gallery contains 35 photos.

Originally posted on Walkable West Palm Beach:
Strong Towns recently issued a challenge for its readers to walk to the grocery store. The idea is to get out of the car and experience this essential activity from a different perspective…

Symphony of the Soil, Part II

When I teamed up with fellow activists, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida and Brian Kirsch of Gray Mockingbird Community Garden, to bring Symphony of the Soil, Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, to a packed Muvico cinema in West Palm Beach last year, I had no idea that 14 months later, I would be up to my own elbows in dark, rich-with-compost soil and a new community garden.

This project, a first-of-its-kind partnership between CROS Ministries, the gleaning organization that supplies thousands of pounds of food to local food pantries, and my home congregation, 1st UU of the Palm Beaches, is itself symphonic in that it is composed of many different elements blending harmoniously.  As our minister, Rev. CJ McGregor, realized that 1st UU has plenty of well-drained open land on the congregation’s property, most of it bathed by 6-8 hours of sunlight, year round, he didn’t need much persuading to take the next logical step.  CROS Ministries brings dedication to feeding people in need, experienced volunteers, and growing knowhow.  Gleaning director, Keith Cutshall, has the patience and kindness of someone with deep practice in soil management, growing vegetables, and working with volunteers of all ages. CROS Ministries also supplied its own truck for transport of soil, mulch and other necessaries.

garden expansion1We received a gift of dark, compost-rich soil from Green Cay Farm, the life and work of Ted Winsberg, farmer, soil scientist, and local philanthropist.  Ted and his wife, Trudy, are well-known in their community of Boynton Beach as instrumental in the creation of Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center on 170 acres they sold to Palm Beach County for one-third of its appraised value in 1997, specifically for that purpose.  Ted also provided our project five sturdy wood frames for the raised beds, all built of recycled lumber on his farm.

This enabled us to follow the no-till method of raised bed growing, developed by the University of Florida Extension, originally introduced to us by the garden founder, the late Wayne Reynolds, after whom the garden is named.  In addition to saving enormous amount of labor, albeit supplied by an enthusiastic team of volunteers within the congregation, a not unimportant side benefit of the no-till method is that no heavy earth-moving equipment is needed so the surrounding area is left unscarred.   When you’re planting among established trees and shrubbery, the value of this is obvious. First, we had to determine an overall layout for the garden.  For aesthetic reasons, we decided to organize the boxes in a semi-cigarden expansion17 step 1rcle around existing vegetation, mulching around them so the whole becomes a no-mow area. Mulching on the planted areas after seeds sprout, will also help conserve water. Thanks to another generous gift, we will be investigating drip and soaker hose type irrigation. Ground cloth goes down first, right on the grass, followed by the wooden frame which helps anchor it.  Keith Cutshall had picked up the wood boxes from Green Cay Farm earlier in the week and delivered them to our site.

garden expansion 18garden expansion 20

Recycled cardboard — the kind of sturdy box-stock movers, supermarkets and liquor stores have in abundance for the asking, get split and laid over the cloth next.  This also helps keep the soil moist and the grass out of the growing area.  Soil was hand shoveled from the truck and hauled over by wheelbarrow and bucket.

You can see a little bit of our earlier experiment with cinderblock for a raised bed in the above photo.   Wood looks more attractive, but cinder block can be painted and the open areas can also be used for planting complementary herbs or marigolds to control pests without artificial additives.  Here is the sugar snap pea bed, readygarden expansion5 for the time when they need a place to climb.  Just look at the color of the soil! Seeds — pole beans, peppers, tomatoes and sugar snap peas — were also donated by Eden Organic Nursery Service, and El Sol‘s Sunshine Community Garden, already a partner of the congregation, supplied us with hardy tomato seedlings.  El Sol’s weekday hot lunch program will be the beneficiary of our harvest of fresh, locally-grown vegetables.  CROS Ministries will remain on the project, Keith assured us, their volunteers helping ours to tend the growing beds from now through harvest time, and beyond.  When the work was done for this sunny, cool Saturday, we celebrated with an ample lunch supplied by another 1st UU volunteer.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone — just another day in the life of a constantly surprised convert to the power of growing food and community.

Miami Dice

I love Miami. I love the amiable mix of cultures, the scene at Hoy Como Ayer in Little Havana, the outdoor murals of Wynwood, the new South Pointe Park, the art deco homes, the new Perez Museum, built inexplicably enough on Biscayne Bay, next to new science museum under construction. Miami is a mere 77 miles from my hometown and along the same coast, so what happens in Miami isn’t going to stay in Miami. My county may be a foot or so higher in sea level, but we share the same porous limestone, the same array of barrier islands with their luxury high rises, and the same professional climate change deniers.

The sense of carpe diem might have had as much to do with our choice of Miami as a destination to celebrate our 30th anniversary this past summer as the city’s many undeniable attractions. So, we treated ourselves to three nights at the Marriot on Biscayne Bay where the management – alerted to the occasion by a child – gave us an upgrade that included a sweeping view of the Bay, Causeway and cruise ships. To my surprise, this Marriot (as in West Palm Beach) is growing food on site for its restaurants. Lettuces, tomatoes and herbs are the edible landscaping by the pool area.

That ‘farm to table’ glimmer aside, I am worried about Miami. It is clearly failing the test in how coastal cities will need to adapt to a rising sea. The $500 million earmarked for a new pumping system for Miami Beach is already acknowledged as a mere stopgap. I am concerned about friends there who recently spent weeks and a small fortune to install stronger new windows in their ground floor condo. I fear for the stalwart efforts to forestall what appears inevitable, even if we were able to cease using fossil fuels immediately. One of these is a permaculture food forest, right in the heart of the city, designed by Deva Marcus Thompson, founder of Permaculture Miami, whose intensive at The Mounts Botanical Garden I attended this weekend. Eve Mosher’s High Waterline project to show just how high the water will rise, is another. Also, Colony1, a sustainability research center that combines art and science. Closer to home, and heart, Transition Palm Beaches.

Sunshine_State_movie_posterIt is uplifting to see smart, persistent media coverage on the climate crisis, e.g. a feisty overview of what keeps The Sunshine State from becoming a solar energy giant in a blog post from Fred Grimm in The Miami Herald last Friday: Florida Utilities Stay Shady…  While Florida denies, he writes, neighboring Georgia is preparing to add 900 megawatts of solar by 2016, thanks to an unlikely alliance between environmentalists and the Tea Party, aka, The Green Tea Party (the latter on free-market principles).  When you realize that some $12 million has been allocated by our largest utilities to fund, “on average, one lobbyist for every two [Florida] state legislators each legislative sessions between 2007 and 2013,” you know what we are up against.   The choice at the polls has never been clearer.  Or the need to rid politics of money.

On the local level, my Unitarian Universalist congregation has become a partner in the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida, joining the UU Fellowship of Boca Raton, The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, Oxbridge Academy, the local chapter of Organizing for Action, and League of Women Voters, among others. Our goal is to educate our municipalities on the risks we face as small cities and citizens, and get them to sign the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan. We hope to bring Eve Mosher’s High WaterLine to our area.  There is mounting evidence that local politics may yet do, piecemeal, for Florida what the big boys can’t, see: Pragmatism on Climate Change Trumps Politics … 

Pitch in, please, every way you can. It sure beats relocation to … Anchorage.

Read more:

High Water Line: http://grist.org/cities/street-artists-trace-against-time-and-sea-level-rise/

http://highwaterline.org/building-a-resilient-miami/

High Tide on Main Street, John Englander

Safer Cities

Gloves Off Arts Activism

“If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.” ~ Art Buchwald.

That’s one of the things that has long concerned me about many of the environmental organizations we have supported for years. Example: the beautiful Nature Conservancy magazines that arrive every month with their gorgeous covers, great writing and photography.  You can’t help but get an impression of a polite, established organization dedicated to conserving pristine swathes of nature for those who have the time and money to enjoy them. This is far from the whole truth, of course, but by its own definition, TNC prefers “non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions” over, say, dressing up in a gorilla suits and scaling a wall to protest rain forest destruction in Indonesia, a Green Peace stunt that caused giant Nestlé to reconsider where it accesses palm oil for its popular KitKat brand.

From my perspective, we need it all, the whole shebang of responses to avoid a continued mismatch between the urgency of the planetary crisis and what can be done to arrest the worst impacts on species, including us. Which is why kudos to the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group for inviting two local arts activists to show and tell about Artful Activism for Pro-Environment Community Engagement. The event at the Jupiter Library last Saturday morning deserved a larger audience. But what it lacked in size it made up for in age-diversity and enthusiasm, and I left with a sense that we might all access our inner artist, and/or support the professionals in their efforts, to reach people emotionally. And while we’re at it, let’s broaden the definition of art to include poetry, spoken word, improv, street theater, and more, to arrest the slide to ecocide we are currently headed for.  Here’s a model: Eve Ensler’s one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, has morphed into an international V-Day movement to end violence against women.  Clearly, it has a long way to go. The epidemic of domestic abuse currently in the news is a sign that facts alone are not going to get us where we live.

My friend and colleague, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, led off with a slide of the Stone Crab Alliance which, that very afternoon (October 18) marched on Gov. Rick Scott mansion in Tampa, brandishing banners that read: It’s All About Our Water.  Founded seven years ago, EcoArt SF aims to integrate and infuse art into sustainability strategies: “Art and science, as twin knowledge forms, must be tapped in tandem to create the wisdom, and activate hope, that underpins sustainability.” See an example of ‘social sculpture’ by Jackie Brookner at Elders Cove, West Palm Beach, and click the link to find drip-mist-2 (1)out more about the organization’s goals and projects.

Dr. Aagerstoun then showed slides of other groups that are using art activism in their communities, many of them examples of exactly the kind of prankish, gloves-off approach that Green Peace favors in its campaigns. Two resonated especially strongly with me (see the list at the end of this post for more).
The Illuminator’s mission is to “smash the myths of the information industry and shine a light on the urgent issues of our time.” During the recent People’s Climate March weekend in New York City, it projected this glowing message #FloodWallStreet Stop Capitalism! End the Climate Crisis! on the side of a building.  I also love the BackBone Campaign and supported their work for the People’s Climate March with a donation. Their mission is “to train progressive activists and organizations nationwide who are working toward human dignity, environmental sustainability and peace.”

Next up, visual artist and research biologist Diane Arrieta, with examples of her work which “illustrates the links between biodiversity (including endangered species), healthy ecosystems and human health.” Like street artist and activist, Banksy, Diane uses available exterior walls as a canvas for her stunning murals. If you can get this image out of your mind, you’re more organized (or is it Little Panda 2distracted?) than I. While Miami is a public space art-friendly city, Arrieta has found that getting permission is no easy task in some municipalities. I cannot imagine my hometown allowing public buildings to be used for art activism of this cutting-edge kind.  But maybe no one has put it to the test.  If people we elect to serve our needs fail to grasp the connection between a healthy ecosystem and the wellbeing of our cities and citizens, what is the point of clean, tree-lined streets, top-notch schools, and excellent sports facilities?   Join the Scouts’ beach cleanup by all means,  but first do everything possible to ensure that there will be a beach for us and our children.

The Sierra Club audience was more eager to share ideas than talk about their response to the art, per se, but you could read that as a sign that we intuitively ‘got’ how powerful and edgy arts activism could be, and were already thinking about ways around roadblocks and new forms of expression. Why not more artists-in-residence so they are paid for their work? Why not students teaching their peers? Why stop at buildings and overpasses?  Why not project messages on clouds? How about a more mobile form of message delivery where by the time someone complains, the show has moved on? How about peel-off art activism decals with potent images and messages for our homes and/or cars? Why not? Michael Moore, move over.

More resources from the presentation:

Beautiful Trouble — A Toolbox for Revolution

The Yes Men

Raging Grannies

Living Planet Report — “…not for the faint-hearted.”

Overpass Light Brigade

Rude Mechanical Orchestra

The End of the Known World?

Tipping point:  “The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, tipping point, like the Chinese characters for crisis that combine danger and opportunity, describes where we are as a species. On the one hand, our climate is approaching a point of no return where it tips from ‘change’ — which is already evident, particularly in South Florida where I live — to ‘chaos’ about which we can only offer educated guesses, none of them good.  On the other hand, we have unprecedented opportunities to reverse the damage caused by capitalism gone rogue, and see the fruits of our effort in our lifetime, and/or in the lives of our children and theirs.

boiling-waterDon’t expect to find guidance in political promises that continue to insist we can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Generally, scientific papers do a better job in framing the problem than in pointing to solutions.  For some — my spouse and I, for example — the thing we can do is right under our feet: soil to be healed, food to be grown, and forests to be started.  We are enrolled in an introductory permaculture course this month at the renowned Mounts Botanical Garden, about which more later.

In Soil Not Oil, physicist/environmental activist/author, Vandana Shiva, builds a clear relationship between healthy soil and our survival as a species.  Could it really be that simple?   “Every step in building a living agriculture sustained by a living soil is a step toward both mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she writes.   James Hansen makes a similar urgent argument for sequestering carbon in the soil.  And Rodale Institute’s White Paper on regenerative agriculture points out:

Excess carbon in the atmosphere is surely toxic to life, but we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil is a tonic that can support ecological abundance.

What if we reject options like geothermal engineering or methods of extracting fuels from photosynthesis or seawater for the risky business they are.  What if enough of us put our attention on reclaiming land to plant trees and grow food? Where’s the downside?

As the documentary, Growing Cities, points out, Americans have reverted to this simple idea in times of crisis.  The Victory Gardens of World War II come to mind, and Michelle Obama’s anti-0besity campaign that includes a vegetable plot on the grounds of The White House.  Then, when ‘happy days are here again,’ we ‘forget’ how powerful these choices make us and surrender to the ease of supermarket shopping and Big Ag dominated food system.  The good news: skills may lie dormant, but they don’t go away.

One of the projects of Transition Totnes, the UK’s first Transition Town,  was to interview elders about their life experiences of an earlier, slower time.  People who grew up during the Depression and World War II are an ever-shrinking group now, but there are plenty of 70- and 80-somethings with good memories of growing up on a farm or living in small towns where everyone knew each other by name and often worked together in some common enterprise.

I am thinking about the series of interviews FAU professor and performance artist, Sherryl Muriente, conducted with elders in the Italian town of Artena, subject Regeneration City, a documentary about The International Society of Biourbanism summer school in July 2013.  She uncovered among the nonnas of Artena a tradition of bread baking that had all but disappeared, and was able to revive it in an inspiring local festival.  (A second screening of the film was held in Lake Worth last weekend.) This could be a great project for any Transition Town in the making, and, nonna that I am, feel ready to work both ends of the interview.

Degrowth is far from a popular idea in my circles (yet), but it could be that better days are ahead if we can let go of the world we’ve been conditioned to accept and open ourselves to the one that is possible, and possibly superior, to this one. Samuel Alexander, founder of The Simplicity Collective, thinks so.  He makes a persuasive case for a degrowth economy, one that achieves a steady state within the Earth’s biophysical limits:  “Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.”  This is also at the heart of Transition’s energy descent philosophy.

Self-identified ‘degrowth activist,’ Charles Eisenstein is eloquent on the subject. From The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible: “When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small-scale, is therefore a political act.”