portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting portland metro


VBC Speech: "Key to Growing Food is Awareness"

I have never attended a Village Building Convergence event that you have to pay admission for. I have never had the resources to do so. This year I have been invited to speak at the opening night, on Friday, May 23rd, which is just such an event -- pay or volunteer to enter. So, to open the experience up, I am writing the speech ahead of time in order to post it here to indymedia first.

Here it is.
I have been asked to speak here tonight because of the way I have been spending my time lately, which is growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs in a bunch of different plots around Southeast, and doing most of the traveling, hauling, etc., by bike. "Bicycle-based urban agriculture," it has been called. I am running the operation as a CSA. A CSA -- which stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" -- is a business arrangement in which a set of households provide resources, fiscal and otherwise, to a farmer in the Winter and Spring and in return recieve produce throughout the Summer and into the Autumn.

Together with my farming partners, who also ride their bikes everywhere, we are growing food for 40 households out of all these plots. We also have "The Staple Foods Project", with its own set of supporters, which is intended to raise survival foods such as quinoa, soybeans, sunflowers-for-oil, soup peas, lentils, and more. The overall goal of these projects is food independence, for a small number of people anyway, by this winter. Also, we will share whatever it is we learn with whomever wants to know. When it comes to food growing, none of us can afford to make any trade secrets.

Many people come up to me and say they think that what I'm doing is "cool". I think thats a ridiculous thing to say for two reasons: First, the very act of deciding whats "cool" or "not cool" is the luxury of decadent society that is flabby, sloppy, ungrounded, distracted by the superficial and doesn't know how to take care of itself. I'm not interested in any of that. Secondly, all I am doing is working with the resources that happen to be in front of me at the moment. That's all that everyone is doing, no matter what their percieved position in life is, or what resources are available to them. I, personally, am not special, and certainly not "cool". I am no different than anyone else. The bike, the many gardens, the so-called "sustainable" methodology. None of it means anything. We are all the same.

I have been told that the theme for this evening is "Big Vision". I don't know how much of that I have. I'm not sure if I even know what the term means. What I will say is that, as far as I can tell, the key to effective food growing is the same as the key to anything, and that is: Awareness. Paying attention. Being present with your situation. Listening to your senses. Going with the flow.

All of these phrases refer to the same unwordable state of consciousness. It is something that cannot be learned. It can only be discovered. No one can teach it to you. Only you can find it. It is not intellectual, rational, or logical. It emerges only when the mind is clear, and not filling itself with a bunch of big ideas. Awareness cannot be modelled. Awareness is not a system. Awareness is free of dogma. There's nothing to map and no design course you can take to achieve it. Everyone is on their own with this one, no matter who they are, where they live, or what theyare doing. Again, we are all the same.

Farming is mostly about the logistics of particular tasks -- such as preparing beds, sowing seeds, harvesting crops, or -- common here in Cascadia: clearing blackberries or responding to slugs. These tasks are often quite simple. They come and go quickly and it's on to the next the thing. In Buddhist circles, this type of activity has been described as "carrying water and chopping wood". It's the stuff you have to do to get by, and it generally involves no more than moving something from one place to another, or making changes to its percieved physical state. You cart, bury, cut, wash, or cook something, for example. It is on such logistics that the survival of the physical body generally depends. How we eat, clothe and shelter ourselves.

These logistics -- how we "carry water and chop wood" -- vary from situation to situation. The way I choose what method to use is by trying to find the Path of Least Resistance in every situation. In the case of the mutliple garden plots that I tend, I have found that each has its own way. Soil, sunlight, and water vary from place to place. No one-size-fits-all model would work on all of them. What is entirely inappropriate in one place might be the best thing to do someplace else. I have no place for the present progressive tense in describing the work I do: that is, there is no methodological answer to the question of how I "do" anything, as in, "How do you find your plots," or "How do you plant your beans," or "How do you water?" Each situation has been its own, unique and unrepeatable. The only consistency is that I attempt to find the Path of Least Resistance by cultivating as much Awareness in myself as I can.

Over the ages, people have suggested many different methods for cultivating Awareness: meditation, yoga, diet, chi gung, music, dance, tantric sex, psychedelic drugs, and more, including gardening. While all of these things can certainly have some effect on one's consciousness, none of them "give you" Awareness. There is nothing to recieve. You already have it. We all do. It's simply a matter of letting go into it, and living from there. No one method is guaranteed, required, or predictable.

"Dogma" is nothing but the elevation of one given method above the others, despite the fact that one given method will never work for everyone. Dogma creates clutter in the mind, and crowds out Awareness. Dogma interferes with finding the Path of Least Resistance in our carrying of water and chopping of wood.

It is the blind following of dogma, for example, when, in the name of "Permaculture", one elevates sheet mulching as a preferred method. Under the standard of "sustainability", people have buried acres of soil under cardboard, mulch, and god knows what else, and named the whole thing after the lunch special at some Italian restaurant. I have never personally sheet mulched a garden plot because it has never been the Path of Least Resistance to collect and convey all those materials, especially by bicycle. For those with a single small plot or money to spend, it is perhaps not as logistically challenging. Those people should go for it if that's what they want to do. I do not recommend or not recommend any one method over another. I have noticed, though, that unsheet-mulched plots provide a better opportunity to experience the volunteer plants that thrive in the area, and which show something about the spot. Here in Cascadia, many of these plants, both native and naturalized -- an even "invasive" -- are desirable or useful as food or medicine. I have a lush colunteer chamomile patch I can show you sometime as just one example.

In this way, I say that "dogma" is a kind of sheet-mulching of the mind, which buries the volunteering sprouts of our own Awareness, which are the vibrant sources of our own essential resourcefulness.

If you want to know basic gardening information, such as planting dates, seed depth, water requirements, harvesting methods, etc., you can look them up in a book, call the extension service, talk to a farmer, or use any number of other reference tools. That stuff is no big deal. Just make sure you're looking at accurate information for your bioregion. The heavy mulch that works so well in New England, the Midwest, or the South, for example, just creates slug heaven in the Spring here, in my experience. So, start with the experiences of others if you would like; then find your Awareness and you will see what works and doesn't work for you in the particular place you are in. Such clarity is undescribable; the truth cannot be spoken. All these words I have spouted tonight on the topic are meaningless bullshit.

One final thought:

These situations -- of finding the Path of Least Resistance through Awareness -- give us the opportunity to have an Ego-Free experience. This is because there is no reason to take chopping wood or carrying water personally. The fact that one individual knows more about one method or tool than someone else doesn't matter. The knowledge of logistics is a big pool and someone has this bucketful and someone else has that one. Working together or by ourselves, we can set ourselves free of our Ego Attachments -- that is to say, of our expectations, fears, and hopes about ourselves and the world -- and focus on simply getting the task done, whether that's growing food, making clothing, or building shelter. Along the Path of Least Resistance, Ego is a form of friction that blocks Awareness. It befuddles us from following the flow. Don't think about it. That doesn't work.

An acquaintance of mind has this quotation at the bottom of his email, attributed to John Barlow and Robert
Weir, 1982: "The future's here, we're it, we're on our own."

Indeed. Here in the future, we can all let go -- of artifice, attachment, and ego -- and live from the perfect and eternal Awareness that we all already have within. There is nothing to wait for. Enjoy.

homepage: homepage: http://www.trashfactory.net/sunrootgardens

beautiful 23.May.2008 12:43

jordan fink

great speech, K.

thanks for making this available!

Thank you for loving the plants 24.May.2008 02:35


I have met few people who loved the earth and the plants as much as I do. Kollibri knows how to tap into the earth and bring this knowledge to others. Thank you for your effort!

Soil 24.May.2008 08:55


Hey K thats great that you are doing so well but one suggestion would be to talk about the soil a bit because the real key to growing nutritious food is healthy soil. Without healthy soil plants don't grow and then neither do we. Its hard to carry water and chop wood if your food isn't giving you the nutrients you need to grow a strong healthy body. Good luck and keep up the good work.

slugs and soil 24.May.2008 11:20


Hey one thing I'd like to point out is that slugs are often a sign of soil compaction. When there is a compaction layer deep in your soil, water pools and creates a layer without air where only anaerobic bacteria live. They produce alcohol, which attracts slugs.

My sense is that mulch takes a slug prone situation and escalates it. Slugs spend a lot of their time living and feeding underground in the soil, when you mulch, they spend more of their lives closer to the plants... BUt i also thing that if you deal with the issues of compaction-especially in urban in environments where people and machines have left compaction layers deep.

Compaction can be dealt with with chisel plowing, proper use of compost teas, etc.