ALL TOGETHER NOW

WORDS & IMAGES: ERICA NEAL

One of my favorite quotes about self-sufficiency is from plant breeder and author, Carol Deppe.  In her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, she addresses the conundrum of human nature and the goal of self-sufficiency.  The conundrum is that humanity thrives in community but pursuing sufficiency can sometimes push people to extremes of striving for independence from community.  As a healthier alternative, Carol proposes interdependence:

In ordinary and good times, we don’t really seek true independence, but rather enough knowledge and skills so the we can build and hold up our end of honorable interdependence. … [W]e need the kinds of skills that allow us to be valuable  and contributing participants in honorable interdependence in both good and bad times.

  
The beautiful thing about this goal of mutual reliance is that it requires differentiation.  In the sufficiency movement, we often find comfort and strength in communities of like-minded individuals. However, in our most immediate communities – our partners, roommates, and families – we can’t always bank on equally shared passion.  While that might seem like an obstacle, I think it could be fertile ground for cultivating resilience.

My immediate community is a family of five.  Myself, husband, and three boys, age 6.5 and younger.  I could paint an image of my entire family sitting around the dinner table, enjoying completely organic meals, having thoughtful discussions about our sustainability efforts.  I could tell you that we so profoundly influence our boys' ideas, that they are growing into little conservationist clones of us.  But that would be a fat lie, and of no use to anyone.  In reality, our kids – even the toddler – are already so distinctly themselves, and they assert that individuality on a daily basis. They have favorite things, preferred pastimes and particular dislikes. Most of our meals are spent negotiating vegetable consumption and trying not to laugh while reminding them that we don’t tell potty jokes at the table. They are the riotous rhythm of our family.

My partner and husband is also a part of this circus.  And while we’re in this together, we do not have equal investment in every aspect of sufficiency.  He is a city boy through and through, loves technology, and thinks in pixels.  I’ve always had one foot in the woods, loved books and think in a tangle of stories about the past and future.  Admittedly, the idea of connectedness with nature, urban homesteading or building resilience was mine before it was his.  However, we found our common ground in compassion, a desire to be good stewards, and a conviction to place value in creating good things vs. constant consumption.  Once we agreed on the heart of our mission, we made space to learn together.  As simple as it sounds, communication, listening and openly accepting each other’s differences is what enables us to build.

What has evolved from this open and patient exchange, is interest-based involvement.  Rather than trying to get all of us on the same page at the same pace, we explore the entire book of opportunities and hone in on our favorite chapters.  I’m passionate about food, natural wellness, and building.  Mr. Pixels is fascinated by beekeeping, finding ways to reduce waste, and the potential for critters.  Big Brother doesn’t love dirt; but he’s our captain of water conservation and recycling.  Little Brother is my garden helper.  He loves checking on the plants, watering and almost anything involving cooking.  As for Baby Brother, we’re just happy that the he eats more vegetables than he tears out of the ground.  At this stage of life, this is our honorable interdependence – flexible and unifying. 

Could your work or journey benefit from more inclusion and latitude; more minds and helping hands?  For those of us who are used to getting things done on our own, who’ve gotten where we are because of our determined independence, it can be difficult to trust others with our vision.  A vision is its own kind of baby.  While they’re still in infancy, we guard them closely.  Though at some point, if we want to see them growing out in the world, we will have to rely on the help and wisdom of others.  At some point, we all need the village.  

In the work of building resilience and sufficiency, this principle of necessary connection and valued differentiation eliminates the sense that we and our households need to be completely self-sustaining.  Everyone isn’t going to be able to keep livestock or grow all of their groceries (and everyone shouldn’t).  No single person or micro-community will possess all of the knowledge and experience needed to be entirely self-sufficient.  So the only true means to achieve resilience in our homes and communities is to do it together – with a mutual respect for our strengths, patience with our weaknesses and supportive reminders that we’re all working towards a shared goal.  

With the elements of open communication, interest-based involvement, flexibility, and staying centered on the heart of the mission, we can all lay the groundwork for a stronger, resilient network of interdependent individuals, families, organizations etc..  We can engage younger generations in ways that foster their unique skills and inspire their own conviction. We can reach out to older generations with their wealth of knowledge and experience.  We can collaborate with our peers in ways that makes room for differing life paths and scheduling conflicts. A simple tweak in the language – inter- vs. in- – suddenly alleviates the pressure and the weight of complete self-reliance.  There’s nothing to prove by doing it alone and everything to gain by including others.  The best way forward is all together.   

EMBRACING PROCESS

WORDS & IMAGE: ERICA NEAL

By seeing our dream as a sum of smaller goals, our joy isn’t hinging on one sweeping lifechange.  This perspective nurtures the agility required to make progress in spite of uncertainty.  

 Either the most fulfilling or the most frustrating thing about pursuing passion is that it’s a journey without an ultimate end. Even when we finally accomplish what we set out to do, we have to figure out how to keep that thing going. And just to make life more interesting, our original goal might branch out into several unexpected, new ideas along the way. So we set our intentions. We craft a vivid narrative to inspire us. And then life comes along with its change-ups, demanding flexibility. How wonderful, and how exhausting it is to be on a path hewn by passion.  But romantic language aside, when our main focus is walking from arrival to outcomes, the exhaustion can easily outweigh the wonder. Fulfillment is often overshadowed by frustration.  I doubt anyone would willingly give up opportunities for wonder and fulfillment; but we do whenever we don’t recognize all the ways we arrive, before ever reaching our intended destination. That is the gift of embracing the process.

So much of our culture orients us towards celebrating outcomes.  Process has become a subject that’s meaningful in the context of a beautiful, dramatic, or inspiring success.  It's the “How did they do it?” question that we eagerly ask those who are where we aspire to be. And there’s value in that. We learn from the processes of those who have done what we hope to do.  However, there is also value in extending that same awe and curiosity to our own lives.  How have you gotten this far? What new habits or perspectives have you developed? What have you read and/or learned? This is your process. Pay attention to it.  Be grateful for all of the elements that have worked well, and all the ones that haven’t. When we learn from our own lives, it keeps us from being consumed by comparison.  

I know this because my family is not in the place or in the midst of circumstances that reflect our ultimate desire. We also deal with the temptation to measure our success and progress against others gardens, fields and charming low-impact lives.  However, when we consider our journey with gratitude, we realize that (setting and chickens aside) we are already living more of our dream than not.  We’ve been building sufficiency right alongside life’s surprises and challenges.  With that knowledge, a peace settles in that allows us to keep moving forward rather than getting stuck on the perception of lack or failure.  By seeing our dream as a sum of smaller goals, our joy isn’t hinging on one sweeping lifechange.  This perspective nurtures the agility required to make progress in spite of uncertainty.    

For example, in our first attempt at growing food, the greatest success was the bevy of ways I managed to kill plants. But by understanding that gardening was a skill that we would learn over time, the endeavor became about the learning process rather than a boast-worthy harvest.  This shift in perception is what kept us replanting again and again.  If we gave too much weight to the poor outcomes of our first season, we may have decided that growing food wasn’t really our thing, and quit.  The same is true for sewing, making a sourdough starter, or sketching house plans.  Multiple iterations, trials, and experiments … an immersion in process is what produced a fruitful second season,  delicious, crusty bread and shirts with restored buttons.  When we lessen the focus on outcomes, and dig into the details of the work we’re passionate about, we make more progress and are happier along the way. 

One of the most effective ways to foster all of this gratitude, shift in perspective, love for the details and process is to document our journeys.  Whether it’s a public feed, a private journal, a collection of artifacts, or a combination of multiple means, creating a record of our beginnings, lessons learned, the beauty and the struggle is like banking encouragement.  The truth is, most of us are forgetful while en route to a dream.  When the present confronts us head-on with disappointment or unintended results, we forget all of the good that preceded it. On the other hand, when we experience those moments that make us feel like champions, we forget all of the failures that came before the win.  Being able to recall our growth and story up to that point – good and/or bad – keeps the heart balanced.  There’s less room for crippling discouragement or the follies of pride, and more space for continued learning and growth.

Now, at some point we do want to actualize our dreams.  The practice of embracing process isn’t about consoling ourselves into complacency or justifying procrastination.  What it does is remove the angst that comes with being dissatisfied until we get everything aligned with our vision.  Embracing the process with gratitude sustains our pace. It channels our passion into persistence and productivity. It swaps our frustration and exhaustion for wonder and fulfillment.  And we have to move in that current; because the work, causes, and projects we’ve chosen will continue to grow.  As long as we care about creating magnificent resistance, that sense of destination will recede into the pursuit of more goodness. So let’s give ourselves the best odds for a joyful pursuit.              

A SUSTAINABLE NARRATIVE

WORDS & IMAGES: ERICA NEAL

Starting today, Erica Neal of Yellow Swing Garden will be sharing a four-part series on suburban homesteading, cultivating community, and nourishing sustainability. Erica's compassionate and experimental approach to living lightly on this earth—by caring for herself, her family, and her home—has truly inspired me. Herewith, Erica's first column. 

Life is wrapped in story—history, fiction, social media—it’s all a form of narrative. From cave paintings to films, humanity has used words and images to capture, communicate, and inspire life for millennia. On a personal scale, we aim to live lives that offer good stories in our golden years.  Whether grand or modest, we are creatures that crave a plotline.  
 
You might be wondering what this has to do with homesteading or environmental stewardship.  When you or I think about our passions and the good work we hope to accomplish, even that is a form of storymaking. Romance, resistance, reconciliation; regardless of the motivation, something sparks a desire within. However we set out to pursue that goal is the story. Yet we don’t typically think of our desires and decisions from the perspective of being a personal narrative. In the moment, we don’t always consider that our choices are writing our stories every day. And we should; because a powerful thing happens when we do.
 
When we set out to accomplish a goal with story in mind, we set intentions. We envision progress and challenges along the way to a stunning destination. We generate or gather imagery and language that invokes passion.  And most importantly, we create a space in our memory that can recall these vivid dreams when our hope needs help. Even a dream as simple as sustainable living deserves the support of a vibrant, intentional story.  
 
This is where our family started—looking forward, and imagining a story about our future. Before we had any idea of what reality would actually look like, we painted the broad strokes of the life we hoped for.  It was the talk that bubbled up over coffee on a Sunday afternoon, or drifted across the table during a casual evening out. In those loose, non-plans, there were seeds of conviction, beauty, and bigger-than-us ideas. I’m sure you know these types of conversations. Listen to yourself. Hear your friends. The things we discuss in those moments—be they joyful or conflicted—deserve our attention. That’s our heart speaking. That’s our protagonist quest.  
 
Our story was inspired by a passion for food quality and equity, green space, creativity, and family. Those were the adventures that called us; and we nearly had to draw our own map.  In 2007—2008, one in our immediate circle was talking about homesteading, sustainable food culture or pursuing a slower pace of life. We were all in our mid-twenties, battling burnout and working to establish ourselves in one field or another. So we had to find other sources of information, support, and ways to do fulfilling work. I left a toxic career for creative nonprofit work, moved into an even smaller studio apartment, and started scouring the internet for blogs or articles about sustainable living. We stepped outside of our immediate circle to find volunteer opportunities and reconsidered our buying and eating habits.  Each of those choices—the life changing and the lunch changing—were the growth of earlier ideas, the product of our personal narrative.
 
Even today, with the widespread knowledge of threats to our environment and communities, organizations dedicated to each of them, and the connective power of social media, it’s possible to find yourself without an immediate support system. Your family and friends might think of building sufficiency, or living lighter as completely backwards, or just a passing trend. You too may need to draw your own map and step outside of familiar environments to find the way forward. In 2017 that first step might be curating your social media feed(s), and being more mindful of the content you consume on a daily basis. Make new connections within and beyond our physical communities. Whatever the means, establish influences and outlets that feed your goals.  
 

The next elements are patience and adaptability. Living is a creative process, not a “To Do” list.  Therefore, we’re not likely to move along a path, reaching each checkpoint free of obstruction.  So brace for interruptions and breathe in patience. Patience makes it possible to persist when life demands immediate responses in place of our story-driven choices. And while that waiting time may feel like a pause or lack of progress, it’s actually a point in the journey that creates space for reflection or new ideas. Allow yourself to be frustrated. Then adapt, edit, edit and get moving again. We can repeat this process as many times as necessary, as long as we don’t give up.
 
Finally, we set intentions, craft visions of beautiful futures, and keep moving forward. Take full advantage of the present.  It can be tempting to go from story as inspiration to story as trap.  “When I get to X place, I’ll do Y.  When we have Y, we can do Z.” There are too many pathways on the way to sufficiency to ever truly be stuck. If you don’t have space to grow your own food, learn to preserve, ferment, or bake from scratch. If you can’t build a tiny house just yet, cultivate skill through volunteer construction opportunities. Support an organization you believe in until you can start your own.
 
One of the most revolutionary components of building sufficiency and living sustainably is that no one can actually stop us. No regulation, setback, HOA, or government administration can completely stop us from making choices that will create positive impact in our lives and the world.  The only thing that can stop us, is us. And risk of quitting increases without an established mission and motivation… without a powerful story.   

 

LOAM IS LIVE

LOAM IS LIVE!

From interviews with revolutionary agroecologists to immersive herbalism guides, Loam: Permaculture in Practice is both a celebration of sustainable living and a call to radical action. Searching for strategies to embody hope? Want to learn how to eco dye? Eager to build a thriving garden? Consider this luscious issue of Loam a vital resource in your pursuit of love-filled and world-building experiences. 

We are SO excited to share this gorgeous issue with you all, loamy loves! Flipping thru this work of art brings me wild hope and joy. Our contributors—from Adriana Moreno of Moonshadow Goods to Saqib, Jocelyn, and Sita of People's Kitchen Collective to ceramic artist SiouxBean—have helped give life to a truly special guide to arts as activism.

Snag a copy today to support artists and activists making waves in the environmental movement(s). There is so much power in the people. 

PRE-ORDER LOAM: PERMACULTURE IN PRACTICE

We are so excited to share that the latest issue of Loam is now available for pre-order. We're exceptionally proud of this magazine, and in awe of the many activists, artists, makers, and movers who have contributed their fiery spirit, radical art, and ideas for building a better world to Permaculture in Practice

This issue of Loam is particularly rich in stories of resilience, herbal how-tos, and strategies for sustainable living. From exclusive content from the folks at The Tiny Mess to an interview with local food advocate (and professional surfer) Cyrus Sutton to a vibrant photoessay on the People's Kitchen Collective, our magazine truly is a toolkit for radical change in the guise of a work of art. We hope that this baby "book" will be something you can treasure for years to come, as we work together to cultivate a resilient environment and heal our precious earth. 

PROJECT RELENTLESS JOY

WORDS & COLLAGE: KATE WEINER

Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.

Rebecca Solnit

Rad author and activist Rebecca Solnit is inspiring to me for a million and one reasons. But I'm especially grateful to her because reading her words from Hope in the Dark gave life to my mantra for 2017: relentless joy.

Like many of you, I'm wracked with anxiety about our planet and our politics in the coming year. The last few weeks, I've felt afraid to celebrate, to adventure, to embrace, because it's too damn sad to be wildly in love in this world when I'm so worried about losing her. I know, I know—it's stupid. But lately my turbulent heart has craved mindless distraction. 

Reading Rebecca Solnit's words reminded me that existing numb and neutral to the world isn't where it's at. I can't fight Trump, can't do the good work that needs to be done to heal our earth, if I'm spending my evenings curled up inside. I want to be a body in this world, baby! I want to be full of joy and daring and dreaming.

So my mission for the new year is to fearlessly pursue happiness. I'm going to throw a feast for friends for my birthday next week and travel to snow-kissed hot springs with my beloveds and plan an epic hike on Inauguration Day to counteract all that sadness with relentless joy. This isn't a call to pledge blind allegiance to happiness because it's healthy—hell, it's necessary—to experience anger, frustration, and sorrow too. Rather, it's an opportunity to give myself permission to celebrate the thousand and one beautiful things that are growing gorgeous in this world even in spite (or maybe because of) all the shittiness. 

Relentless joy is a radical act right now. How are you, sweet creature, going to party? 

HOW TO GROW GREEN EVEN IN THE COLD OF WINTER

WINDOWSILL HERB GARDEN

The cold, dark winter months are beautiful & blue. I love the frosty chill and snow capped mountains but I also find myself craving green. That's why planting an indoor windowsill garden with starter plants is such a comforting project to dive into. With sufficient sunlight, love, and water, you can cultivate a healing farmacy of your very own in just a few short weeks. 

Tools:

1  15’’ x 6’’ x 4’’ Planter Box

Cilantro, Sage, Thyme & Basil Starter Plants

Organic Potting Soil Mix

Rocks

Steps:

  1. Layer the base of your planter box with rocks. This will help with drainage and provide a strong foundation for potting soil mix.

  2. Fill planting box with potting soil. Make sure to leave a little space between the surface of the potting mix and the side of the box.

  3. Plant herb starter plants per the instructions on the packet. 

  4. Water thoroughly after planting. With regular sun and water, you should see leaves unfurling in just a few weeks!

Resources:

The Healing Kitchen  Holly Bellebuono

Container Theme Gardens  Nancy J. Ondra

 

P.S.: Want something super simple? Check out the Garden-in-a-Can goodness from rad food start-up Back to the Roots

 

 

ESPERANZA PALLANA: A STARTER GUIDE TO ORGANIZING

WORDS: ESPERANZA PALLANA

 

Not sure how to turn your anger into activism? Celebrated organizer Esperanza Pallana shares six strategic steps you can take today to begin building a better world. 

Like many of us, I was horrified and deeply saddened by the election of Donald Trump. While I have been open to hear the many reasons people chose to vote for Trump, I cannot accept that his is a platform based on hatred of others and this was not rejected. My friends and family are now living in an even less safe world. In response, it is our duty to find our strength, focus our grief, pain and anger, organize and act. Here are some first steps I believe we need to take:

1) Assess what your resources are and what you are willing to invest. This goes beyond financial but also time, expertise, and networks.

2)  Identify opportunities in community to connect, talk, unify and strategize work and volunteer opportunities to address key demographics and issues targeted by the Trump administration. Consider how to go beyond online petitions, social media, and protest marches. Ask how you can invest yourself more deeply. Be practical about what you can and cannot do.

3) Keep a quick access list of local, state and federal elected officials that you can communicate with on issues. Don’t be afraid to call! Jamming phone lines remains an impactful way to convey our mass concern. Be respectful so you can be heard.

4) Your first duty is radical self love. Take care of your body, your mind, your inner life. Foster your strength and remember our collective journey. As Junot Diaz so eloquently wrote: “…we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same. This is the joyous destiny of our people—to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone.”

5) If you don’t identify as a demographic targeted by the Trump administration, but rather as an ally: A) Consider that in truth, until we can all live without oppression and violence on any part of our society, freedom does not truly exist, and even you are at risk; B) Learn what allyship is! Learn about privilege, power, humility and leadership rooted in love and respect.

6) Never give up.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?