About a year ago this month, just before I headed off to Haiti, friend and fellow designer/builder Robert Redecker of Earthworks Natural Building Group invited me to do a few renderings to help flush out a circular cob and superadobe bench concept to be installed between three big shade trees at what was to become the Emerson Avenue Community Garden at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester. At the time the “garden” was just a stretch of patchy lawn sandwiched between a soccer field and a few grand ideas. The 26-foot diameter seating area was going to become a teaching hub within the garden, a place where the school kids could gather around and learn about permaculture from a potential litany of travelers and luminaries in the know.
I punched out the renderings you see above, then got caught up with the journey to Haiti, then with dropping the Geo at clubs and the water harvesting system at Sugar and the Hanging Garden, and well… you get the idea. Then Robert called me about two weeks ago: “They’re starting the project this weekend and want our guidance.” So with camera and shovel in hand as Saturday morning dawned, I made my way out there for the groundbreaking, got introduced to something like 40 volunteers and found that a good part of the lawn had become, indeed, a community garden. We got busy on the building fast, and here’s a time lapse to tell the tale.
As you can probably tell, we just got to laying out the urbanite floor and setting up the trench for the foundation pour and there’s still more work to be done. Two more workdays are scheduled April 15 and May 5 and more volunteers certainly welcome. (Here or here for more details).
Robert himself has become a devotee of cob and superadobe building, both methods of building using almost entirely earth from the locale where the build takes place, meaning cheap, sculptable and simple construction that’s labor intensive but beautiful, deeply soothing, health- and ecology-enhancing and virtually indestructible when built by competent hands. Check out The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage by Ianto Evans and Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques by Nader Khaili if you’re interested in learning more; these two books are sort of the earth-building “bibles” and are full of methods, design philosophy and examples of some pretty amazing projects around the world.
And I must add that once lots of people get to work on grand ideas, they have a way of happening. Patchy lawns become hubs and hubs spawn more hubs. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s something afoot with gardens in the schools and it’s only a matter of time before their unused spaces become bona fide food forests cum education and activation centers. Then the food forests start to expand, partly because of people, but also because of birds and pollen and bees and it’s exciting to be here at the beginning of the evil plan for world liberation. Enjoy!
Blowing Through the Bottleneck & Occupying Opportunity: A Hanging Garden for the Venice Community Garden
Well some of you might have perused the blog here and seen some cool design projects emerging into some sort of business and then a few rants on new economic models. “Make up your mind,” you might have found yourself thinking, or you might have just wondered how the threads were eventually going to merge, sort of like Cirque and Soleil… is it a Barnum & Bailey circus or risqué theater… which is it…? Well, I’m happy to tell you that the threads do merge into one, and it will become a bit more obvious how here. Opportunities to rise to the occasion and to step into one’s vision often come in strange packages.
This particular opportunity came a few weeks ago as the second client, the Venice Community Garden, lined up for a Vertecology Hanging Garden. Our discussions were filled with excitement. Their existing grant could cover it and they had a spot already picked out.
We all saw that a Hanging Garden, eventually perhaps several, would be great for the Community Garden. A three-level unit could turn one square foot of blossoming, mulching, carbon-sinking, food-making garden space into three with trellising to boot. It would bring beauty and novelty that would make people curious, draw them in and peak their interest in gardening, community, food forestry and permaculture. It could even inspire more creativity, yield potential new gardening students, and bring more income to the community garden’s capable users and teachers.
We saw as well that it would be good for the earth. It is said that an organically-sourced 1.6% increase in soil in currently farmed lands throughout the earth would be the death knell for global warming. Enter the Hanging Garden as soil multiplier. It could create new “edge” and microclimate conditions where biodiversity thrives. It could bring more life into the area, helping to make the whole neighborhood more fertile: think new varieties of plants in each of the boxes attracting the birds and the bees. Meanwhile it would be pulling reclaimed wood out of the waste stream, or at the very least putting income into the hands of sustainable wood suppliers and intrepid CNC Do-it-yourselfers.
And it would be great for me. I’d earn an honest keep, would reinvest the surplus funds to refine the product, design a cool stand to create a freestanding option, develop a manufacturing process, and get lots of footage for outreach and for the Kickstarter campaign I’ve been contemplating. It would bring more exposure for the concept and for Vertecology and new clients to my doorstep.
Great for the community, good for the client, good for the earth, good for the creator; everybody wins. Why then wouldn’t it happen?
Well then last week, the deflated message landed in my voicemail while I worked away at my new full-time “day job” that’s quietly morphing into a part-time job… “The grant is almost gone. We can’t afford the Hanging Garden.” No new blossoming, mulching, carbon-sinking, food-making garden space. No curious visitors. No new inspiration, no new potential students, no new soil, no new biodiversity, no more fertility in the neighborhood, the wood ends up in the garbage after all and the FSC suppliers are a little more broke, no design innovations, no footage and I’m sitting on my hands worried once again about making rent.
We have all been taught that this is the way of things, that there is no other way the world could work. Well-meaning peers remind me of what I already know: that this sort of thing happens all the time. It is to be expected. The best thing is to just plan on it happening some big percentage of the time and move on to the next sale.
But as I said before, opportunities to rise to the occasion often come in strange packages.
Perhaps a year or so ago, newly armed with a Permaculture Design Certificate and ready to kick some ass, I spent the $3 I had in my pocket and a good solid day at a coffee shop exploring how I could launch what is now emerging as Vertecology. It was just an idea then, and in there somewhere was the beginning of a notion of how to break through the bottleneck inherent in the economic monoculture. The point was to be able to do the “good” kind of work, the “work to be done” as Starhawk once called it, the kind of work that liberates the 100% forever, not just the 1% for a little while, that restores the earth’s plenty, the work that continues to yield real ecological, social and technical and artistic “profit” generations after our hands have stopped moving and creates time… The point was to liberate myself and others to be able to do this work and yet share the in the bounty our current economy at least appears to promise.
So here’s the idea, now being called into the game. I was already planning a Kickstarter campaign as I mentioned earlier. A little one, maybe a thousand dollars or so, to work out the refinements, manufacturing and delivery of the Hanging Garden enough to say I can deliver to expectant buyers in a timely fashion. The plan was to start it after the Venice Community Garden install. I have begun already to compose letters to a couple of very green and like-minded companies for sponsorship. Maybe you’ve heard of the LifeBox? Think receiving your Hanging Garden in a LifeBox, then cutting up the box, throwing the shreds in the hanging planters, water and voila!
Then it struck me like a lightning bolt; roll the Venice Community Garden design/build into the Kickstarter! We’re brought together by our common vision and desire and now a wider community can decide if the project is worth it. The amount of money to be raised wouldn’t need to change and the prototypes would get a home right away. The outreach can be to thousands instead of hundreds of people, and all those stakeholders in the success of the Community Garden, Vertecology, Venice, Los Angeles, even in the ideas of permaculture, regenerative economics and community gardening themselves, can vote with their dollars. To the extent they have the dollars… Well, the idea in this first stage of implementation isn’t completely bottleneck-proof, more on how to solve that in a minute. Just saying that for now the Kickstarter idea is enough to get this ball rolling.
And so what about the second stage of the idea, the second stage which could make our unfolding un-bottleneck-able? Truthfully, it makes sense to test the first stage first, but here goes a little preview, inspired by the new openness and willingness of all you Occupiers to hear. I just can’t help myself. The future, say the day after next Tuesday…
Take out the word “Kickstarter campaign” and replace it with “IOU.” As in: the Community Garden issues an IOU, interest-free, backed by its ability and willingness to redeem the IOU for equivalent value to anyone who hands it back to them. To the degree that the community trusts the Garden to redeem the IOU on request, we accept it as money. I can use it at restaurants, in parking meters, at the car wash, to pay rent (which is a lot lower with the loan interest off the landlord’s back). I can issue IOU’s too but of course the same terms apply. Maybe I’ll call mine Buckys after Bucky Fuller. You can issue too. What would you call yours? Einsteins maybe? After all, the power to issue and the power to choose what you accept or decline is a fundamental human right, just like air, and there wasn’t even anything that says it was illegal, even in long ago 2008 (I’m just sayin’). But little Jedis, with great freedom comes great responsibility. If I’m trustworthy with my IOUs and you charge interest for “loans” and play games like cooking the books while trying to force everybody to accept only your IOUs, karma’s going to getcha, just like our bankster friends. My Buckys will soon be worth four of your Einsteins and good luck dear sir!
Anyway back to the present with the caveat that this future is already being worked on, read about it in Thomas Greco’s Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, and ‘nuff said. Once I have enough experience, partnership and clout with Vertecology, I’ll be investing Vertecology’s resources into helping to make that last paragraph a living reality. Then there won’t be any trouble getting Hanging Gardens out there till something truly better for everyone makes itself known. For now, forget I said anything. Scratch it from memory.
Norma at the VCG is already excited about the Kickstarter idea and I’ll be launching in the next month or two, as we get the materials organized. The Venice Community Garden will get its Hanging Garden after all. Stay tuned & thanks for your continued interest!
You won’t hear about it on the evening news. The papers might cover it on page 30 of section Q, but a groundswell is underway in LA that could become one of the cornerstones of an emerging “Pangaea food forest,” a meta-solution and rebirth of the commons I’ve shouted out about a few times on this blog.
Here are a few shots from recent community garden builds at LA public schools, one on the Westside, the other on the Eastside.
The Westside: Coeur D’Alene Elementary in Venice, there’s me working alongside around 200 volunteers coordinated by Norma Bonilla and Frances DellaVecchia one recent Saturday. Thanks also to Creative Artists Agency, 44 rocking YouthBuilders, Robert Redecker, Francisco Castillo, Boho Chic and a whole lot of others.
The Eastside: George Washington Carver Middle School in Watts, where there’s been a roughly weekly happening coordinated by Athena Demos of Burners Without Borders and Clarency “Lucky” Luckey of LAUSD, thanks also to WorldWorks volunteers and a whole lot of others.
Like any decent permaculture move, we get multiple benefits from just the simple (though not easy) act of getting a school garden started. Free organic food for the locals. Oil-dependence and money-dependence giving way to economic, political and spiritual self-reliance. Neighbors working side by side, getting exercise and sun while connecting with each other. Kids learning the nature of nature from nature itself, getting a deeper reflection of who they are and what’s possible. Inter-generational cooperation, restoration of the “hoop of generations.” Healthy ecosystems bringing biodiversity to the neighborhood. Authentic public space where minds meet and create the unpredictable, sparking true cultural evolution and resilience. And on and on it goes
So… let the games begin. We’ve got the baddest gardens. No, we do, Westsiyeeed…! Let it rip! Vertecology’s gonna get nasty and play both sides.
For more on the Carver Garden and how to get involved if you’re in the LA area: www.laburningman.com, click on the “Carver Garden” menu link.
For more on the Coeur D’Alene Garden and how to get involved: contact Norma, the Garden teacher at email@example.com.
Well, I spent the last week and a half building a pergola for Vertecology’s first private residential client. This was an exciting milestone personally and for Vertecology, the name inspired by “Vertical Ecology,” though going with the “e” instead of the “i,” has turned out to be quite the creative inspiration.
Through Vertecology I am committed to the permaculture principles and one of those principles is “stacking functions.” That means making each element you design produce lots of abundance for the whole – the ecosystem, people, the community and the planet. For example a tree provides shade, habitat for lots of plants and animals, mulch and building materials. It fertilizes and stabilizes the soil, raises the water table, creates diverse microclimates supporting biodiversity, and keeps moisture in the locale (the trees are responsible for as much as 50% of the rain that forest regions receive).
A pergola or patio structure like this if well designed, placed, and planted can aspire to that level of multi-dimensional function. At the very least it can do lots more than look pretty, and that said, I still look forward to photos of this one in a year or two.
First and foremost in the client’s mind was beauty, and shade and enjoyment in the warm months. The lady of the house is looking forward to warm-weather entertaining.
And yet this pergola will mean more than 300 new square feet of growable surface area for oxygen-producing, flowering vines. Structures like this and some much wilder ones in the works are one way to make small urban and suburban yards, nooks and crannies unique, compelling and ecologically productive.
Covered with vines that leaf in the warm months, this pergola will shade the west (back) wall of the house in the afternoon, helping to keep the house cool with less air conditioning. In winter the afternoon sun will shine through much thinner foliage from a lower angle, warming the rear wall and therefore the rest of the house with less electric heating.
The client is considering a flowering, climbing vine such as wisteria which while inedible to people, is a big attractor for moths and butterflies who will pollinate gardens throughout the neighborhood as they make rounds and attract birds as they do. The birds will control bug populations, fertilize a bit of ground themselves and possibly bring seeds from other locales.
And finally, this project was built entirely with Forest Stewardship Council certified wood from Anawalt Lumber. While I prefer to work with reclaimed wood, the finer detailing and longer dimensional lengths desired here meant taking another approach. So the pergola also helped finance a supply chain that takes ecology into account and even me a happy ending after an hour on hold: asking the local Home Depot buyer if they carry FSC lumber, he responded “No… but, you’re the second to ask this month, I’m going to make some phone calls to make it happen.”
Build it and they will come…