Sunday, May 15, 2011

Living the Dream (Dreaming the Life)

At long last the time has come to go, not back, but forward to the land.

When I was a boy I discovered my parents' copy of the Next Whole Earth Catalog and it became my bible for a great deal of time. Stewart Brand, J. Baldwin and the crew that produced this tome of wisdom were my heroes. Despite its ungainly size I carried it around in my backpack in lieu of my textbooks and pored over it for hours, disdaining mere schoolwork and forming a vast vision of what was possible.
It was from this book that I first learned of Bill Mollison's Permaculture, the New Alchemy Institute and Prof. John Todd's work in applied ecology, the incredible insights of the master architect Christopher Alexander and his "Pattern Language" (which later became the basis for the "Design Patterns" movement in software development), the critical importance of Cybernetics and systems thinking, the beautific vision of Bucky Fuller (the only man with a form of carbon named after him), and the "Soft Path" energy wisdom of Amory and Hunter Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, just to mention some of the most prominent rivers of mind-expanding knowledge flowing into my adolescent brain.

Fast-forward twenty years or so to the current day. I've knocked about quite a bit since then. I've lived in Maui, Taos, Montreal, Seattle, Colorado, and of course in my home town of San Francisco, in conditions ranging from squalor to luxury. For the last decade I've been working on and off as a computer programmer while entertaining grandiose dreams of fixing the world and living in harmony with nature.

It finally feels like the right time to make a radical break from my urban consumptive lifestyle and transition to a new way of life, living in harmony with nature and supporting a sustainable future instead of destroying it.

A couple of weeks ago I contacted California FarmLink, an NGO that connects aspiring farmers like me with people who are farming and might want to retire or otherwise pass on their land while ensuring that it remains in agriculture and isn't developed into suburbs or something. (They also provide a lot of additional information and services.) I filled out their "Aspiring Farmer Questionnaire", remitted the modest fee, wrote up a brief introductory note and sent it to Molly Bloom, the North Coast Regional Coordinator, along with a list of my top picks from Cal FarmLink's database.

Monday, May 9th, Wendy Rowe from Lone Tree Farm contacted me and it looks like I'll be spending the summer there living, working and possibly settling down for good.

There's a whole host of reasons and motives behind this move.  I started listing them and came up with quite a lot:
  • This is a foothold for a new sustainable and regenerative economy. Most of my expenses will feed directly into the maintenance of the farm and most of my needs will be met from it. If I'm careful to spend my disposable income only with other people who are likewise situated then together we become the new economy, the one that can last forever.
  • I am feeling an overwhelming urge to live in intimate harmony with Nature. Sunlight and rain, starlight and growth, living things and loving hearts- living on a farm will let me scratch that itch.
  • It will shorten most of my "resource loops". The distances resources travel through our systems and the energy spent to move them can seem staggering.  Here in San Francisco where I'm writing, the water that comes out of my faucets has been brought here all the way from Hetch Hetchey Reservoir near Yosemite through "a 167 mile (269 km) gravity-driven network of dams, reservoirs, tunnels, aqueducts and pipelines" (from the Wikipedia article on the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct)!  I don't know where exactly it goes when it leaves here, but there's a sewage treatment plant a couple of miles away. The water I'll use on the farm comes from rain and a spring, and when I'm done with it it goes back in the ground.  Similar drastic shortcuts apply to most of the other resources I'm likely to "consume" (no longer an appropriate word, eh?) on the farm.
  • Efficiency and scale (I'll elaborate on this in another blog post.)
  • Because of the immediacy and personal relevance of how resources are created or developed in the rustic setting you have to be much more conscious of what you are using and why. Instead of "taps" of water and energy that you can draw on (and squander) as much as you like (you'll be billed later, and you can set up your credit card to pay for it automatically for you, so it's almost like it's free), which is a wonderful illusion, you must practice resource use awareness and direct your usage wisely. In return, the power and water and food and love really do become infinite...
  • Most of my activities will build soil and biomass.  I'll be gardening, mulching, shoveling pony poop (excuse me, "manure") and otherwise doing things that directly add to the health of the land.  (Stuck in a city I feel like I'm in a trap wherein my own struggles only serve to tighten the bonds that hold me. I can't eat a meal without I'm destroying things. No more.)
  • This should be an incredible boost to my health. The best quality food possible: fresh fruits and veggies that won't even have time to realize they've been picked before they're in my belly becoming me! Pure water, fresh air, beautiful views, and ponies. And I get to be outdoors, using my body as an integral part of the processes of my living. No more sedentary lifestyle for me, sitting in front of a computer twelve hours a day like a dalek with no exoskeleton.
  • I'll be getting hands-on experience and education on a working farm.  I've had a Permaculture Designer certification for years now, and the desire to use it, but I'm not kidding myself that I can jump right in and know what to do without a long and not-too-shallow learning curve.
  • Down the line we may be able to try out exotic and awesome things like alcohol fuel production and aquaponics.
  • Wendy hopes to bring up production and sales to a point where Lone Tree Farm can really thrive. With any luck I can help that along. In addition to working in the garden and around the land (and maybe with the ponies! Fingers crossed...) I'll use my internet and computer savvy to help LTF move into the bold new world of "Web 2.0" community building and business. Over and above any potential ownership interest I might someday acquire in the property I want to help Wendy and Lone Tree Farm improve in whatever ways I can. This goes all the way back to Boy Scouts and learning to always leave a place better than you found it.
  • I'll document the above and create an online resource center for other sustainable farmers who want to learn how to use the internet to boost their business (increase profits and decrease risk.) We'll document our own projects and also publish how-to articles and videos. This very article is part of this!
  • I'll also document my transition from urban computer programmer to rustic Permie, both for the entertainment value (such as it is) and to record whatever might be useful for those who would travel a like path. This very article is part of that too!
This incredible pile of motivations includes intricate feedback loops and co-mingling of intent. It reminds me of the Permaculture design concept of "many functions for each element, many elements for each function." I'll have a lot more to say about these subjects in this blog. I can't wait to see how my dreams unfold in the reality  we share.

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