Sunday, August 1, 2010

permaculture intensive

I’m posting this to see if there is any interest for a gathering at my house in Brightmoor, Detroit, MI that would be a permaculture intensive for a week and/or for a weekend this coming fall. I have a few projects that I think would make great learning opportunities for people interested. A lot of people have heard of permaculture, but haven’t got a great deal of experience yet. We could spend part of each day in an informal classroom setting, part doing work projects, and the rest of the time eating together, playing nature awareness/tracking games, hanging out, and going to different projects around the city. The topics and skills that I would like cover include:

-What is permaculture design
-Design Basics
-Soils (increasing fertility and beneficial microbes, remediation, which type for which plants)
-Compost (hot, cold, vermi, sheet)
-Water (storage:tanks, soil, earthworks; I’ll explain the greywater system that I hope to put in next year)
-Mushroom cultivation
-Natural Building (houses, ovens, benches)
-Plant Propagation
-Market gardening and CSAs
-Wild edibles

Here are some hands on tasks and projects that we could do during the week depending how many people show up:

-Sheet mulch/create a large mandala garden
-Build an earthen oven mostly from materials in the neighborhood
-Construct a kiwi arbor from felled logs
-Making and using compost tea
-Propagate plants from cuttings
-Building and using chicken tractors
-Plant fruit/nut trees
-Fall Mushroom hunt

There’s more we could do, but I don’t think we will have the time. We’ll see.

It would be nice to have some discussion about things like race and privilege, the question of domestication, exotics and ‘invasive species’, is urban sustainability possible or desirable and other topics that people are interested in.

I have a fairly large backyard we can camp out in and two small houses people could stay in if that doesnt work for you. We have a fire pit in the neighborhood or we can make one at my place for night time music and story telling.

Generally permaculture trainings are expensive, from hundreds to over a thousand dollars. I’m not into the commodification of knowledge or skills. The cost of courses have also been fundraisers to keep initiatives going or to start new initiatives around the world. That said, this is not a formal training and contributing financially is completely on a voluntary basis. The more money people donate, the more we can spend on trees, mushroom spawn and other projects. Bringing food to share with others is a great way to contribute as well. The energy of having friends around and your help getting things done is really the most important thing to us.

Logistics and details will have to be figured out, but this is mostly to see if anyone is interested. The time frame I had in mind was Sept 11-19 and people could come either for the weekend(s) or the whole thing. I also could do another one in november if this time is no good for you. Please please please let me know if this sounds like something that you’d be interested in being a part of. Also, none of us are experts and welcome you to share your knowledge and skills with us all. Let me know if you’d either like to lead a workshop/skill share or any other feedback of what you’d like to see this look like. thanks

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Jess and I went out today for a little forage. we found a few chanterelles, some wild gooseberries, and some sumac for sumac lemonade. I miss being in the woods. It was great to find chanterreles even though they were a touch buggy and there was only like 5. Hopefully we can get out a bit next weekend too.

Chanterelles are a yellow/orange funnel shaped mushroom that grows in association with the roots of white oak trees(rhizomorphic). They grow as single mushrooms but are often close together and have a very nice apricot smell to them. There is a toxic look alike called a jack-o-lantern which grow off of stumps usually and are in clumps or tufts. make sure you look at some field guides and/or google images for both types to make sure you have the right type!


summer time in the city. I love summer, but its going by so fast. so much is happening in life, but I like it that way.

The garden has been going mostly well. I havent had the energy to put put the time and work I would like to see happen, but its still pretty god for a first year garden. I've done a good chunk of the work myself, though I have had a few very helpful workdays with friends helping out with stuff I never would have got done on my own. I'm running out to get to work as soon as I'm done with this post. I haven't got any of my more "permaculture" stuff worked on yet, but hopefully I will be doing a lot of that this fall. I'd like to have a work weekend or something this fall and invite friends to come out to my house to learn about permaculture theory and techniques in exchange for helping us establish the no dig beds for next year. I'd like to work with the food forest and mushroom stuff as well. we'll see. I would love to have someone or a couple people come live out here for a month or two as well, so if you're interested, let me know.

There's lot of great things happening all over the place right now as well. The church that I grew up has started a huge community garden. I hope that it can have an internal transformational effect in the suburbs similar to the internal/external transformation that is taking place all over Detroit. Freash food and connectivity to the land for all!

I'm thinking about asking around to see if I anyone is interested in doing a zine with me. I miss it. I think we might put it in PDF format though, that way we wont have to shell out hundreds of dollars for printing and shipping. Each issue has cost about $300 after receiving what people donate, which is not something that I can afford right now. I'm too busy to worry about writing for a zine right now though.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Just found at that the title little house on the urban prairie was already taken for a in Detroit. that simply won't do so I'm going back to the original name of sitten' in the mitten. bummer.

We got compost dropped of yesterday and Nate and Ralph came over to help fill beds. We got all the beds that we removed sod from filled. We have 17 of the 28 beds filled with compost. Two of them are already planted in black raspberries. We'll start planting lettuce and brassicas tomorrow. It will be nice to finally get a jump on growing.

In other news, I was passed a great and thought provoking article on the idea of urban homesteading. Its very critical about what the word homestead actually implies. These are crucial things to be thinking about in light of what's happening here in Detroit. Check it out if you have the time. I may post more thoughts on this later. Urban Farm Hub

Thursday, May 6, 2010


SO I think I've officially sold out. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it is what it is. I've decided not to do any more zines for the time being, but instead write this blog. Way too much time, money, and thought went into doing the zines. I know a few people did really like it, but most people never really shared if they liked it and the ones. Instead of using money to cut down trees to print my words, I'm going to use that money to buy fruit and nut trees. If people would like to read my words, they'll be here.

Aside from selling out to cyberspace, I've also recently become a home owner and I'm working on buying the lots around my house. While most of me believes that land should not be a commodity that can be owned, the reality is that if I want to work on land in a permanent manner, I need to have some assurance that the city or others aren't going to come in and demolish all the time and money that has been put into the land.

I don't know how often I'm actually going to post things on here, but I'd like to document what we're doing at our house, as well as some other projects that we'll be involved in. I have some photos of the new house and the progress that we've made so far. I will try to post some up as soon as I can. We are more than half way done with removing sod and constructing the 3,000 sq/ft garden for this year. Next year we're hoping to double it so we're going to sheet mulch the rest of the area if we can gather enough materials. So far I've also got two apple trees, two pear trees, two paw paw trees, three hardy kiwi vines, an elderberry plant, two black berry plants, a fifty foot row of black raspberries planted, and the plants for a 4'X 50' bed of strawberries. I became certified in Permaculture Design a couple weeks ago and used the land around my house as my design project. With over 75 trees and shrubs, its going to be awhile before I have the funds and/or the plants to really implement the total design. I also want to make a lot of observation to see if that plan really feels appropriate and figure out what I should change. We hope to get our first vegetables in the ground next week. exciting times!


This is an article that I submitted to conspire for the spring issue about place, but it didn't quite make the cut. I'm not sure if this was the final draft that I submitted or not, just was in my google documents so I figured someone should read it. comment with thoughts if you like. situations are different now then in the winter, but thats ok. enjoy...

Looking out my window, I see a blanket of snow covering the lawn, the apple tree, the gardens, and the cars out front. I'm sure that it's covering the many burned out houses, empty storefronts, and the abandoned school in the neighborhood as well. It's winter here in Detroit, which for me is a time of sharing meals and stories with friends in our living room, reflecting on the last year and filling my head with new dreams for what is to come. This year will be I'll be getting settled in a new neighborhood. It will be my sixth new address (and zip code) in as many years. That seems somewhat ironic for someone who's grown to value fidelity to people and place over almost any other thing. Perhaps more challenging, I'll be living in yet another temporary living situation. There is tension in my soul between relocating to learn and experience new things and rooting myself to make a lasting covenant with a people and a place. For the most part, I have tried to be purposeful in my choices to travel. I left Michigan six years ago to do internships and live in different communities. I've met so many amazing people and learned so many important lessons and skills. This has also helped me avoid the debt that enslaved many of my peers that have pursued a full college education. The people that I have met and the places I've been on my pilgrimage thus far have completely reshaped my perspective and allowed me to see the place where I was raised in a new light. There are always more life lessons to be learned, more places to see, once in a life time adventures to be had, and more people to meet. While this line of thinking contains much truth, there is a certain insatiable quality that reflects the consumer culture in which we live. As William Cavanaugh notes in his book Being Consumed, consumerism is less about an irrational attachment to material things (read people and place!), and more of a detachment from anything and everything. There is a certain addictive thrill and intrigue that comes from whatever is newer, bigger, better, smarter, and sexier. It allows us to consume goods, people, and places without ever asking what they may require of us. I've yet to find a ten step program to help me break free from this addiction. Fidelity may be one of the most meaningful and affective forms of cultural resistance against consumer culture.

In her book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, Old Testament theologian Ellen Davis explores the Hebrew Bible's concept of nachalah (נַחֲלָה). The word is often used to describe the land inherited from a previous generation, and is most likely rooted in the Exodus story. The Hebrew people were to understand the land as belonging to God, and it was to be passed from generation to generation. This is an agrarian imagination, which contrasts greatly with the imperial agriculture of ancient Egypt and the industrial agriculture of our day. There is a certain quality to this understanding that exposes the folly in a way of life based on extraction, rather than observing the delicate cycles of nature where soil is a graveyard and a continual site of resurrection. All of Creation is a complex cycling of the elements that sustain life. Death for one becomes food for another and life continues. Our lives and the life of the earth itself rely on our willingness to obey and participate in this cycle, or else the nachalah received by the next generation will be a curse rather than a blessing. We inherit the gift of land, but also the responsibility that comes with that continuity.

During my time in Camden I designed a medicinal herb garden in an abandoned lot that I hoped could heal our bodies, and perhaps the brokenness of spirit. The overgrown lot was situated in an area surrounded by drugs and prostitution. The garden seemed like it would add some color and solace to the chaos all around. It seemed a simple task. All I would do was build a few irregularly shaped raised beds and plant the herbs that I had started in the greenhouse a month or two earlier. I soon found that the soil was too polluted to grow anything in, so I decided to dig out much of the soil and put in a barrier to prevent the roots from making contact with the polluted soil below. After getting nowhere with a shovel, a generous neighbor lent me a pick ax. It would be weeks of long days in the sun until I was ready to construct the garden beds. I hated almost every minute of it. This piece of land sucked. It wasn't my fault that there was pieces of building foundation in the soil, not to mention pieces of cars, drug needles, and huge chunks of metal. People waved at me as they walked by, sipping their forty. Rarely did anyone stop to help, though a few did. It wasn't my fault Camden is so desolate or smelled so terrible. Why wouldn't they help me make their neighborhood better? Would anyone even appreciate this? It didn’t take me too long to see the futility in my aspirations, and at times I sort of wished I had a forty of my own. Nonetheless, I pressed on.

While nachalah usually refers to inheritance, the word also means heritage and entitlement. It seems fitting to look for “my nachalah" in Detroit. Many generations ago, my family came to this area to start a new life as farmers. The [white] people of Michigan desired statehood. Land was given away cheap to whoever would settle it, and so they came. My family came to the so called "New World" with the Pilgrims several generations before that. That sense of entitlement to land seems in keeping with the Hebrew conquest of Canaan, though it gives me a deep discomfort. Manifest Destiny is a way of thinking of entitlement similar to consumerism: it takes what it wants while assuming divine right, without asking what is required of the settler (including "we don't want you here!"). As a post-modern, ecologically homeless nomad, I feel that perhaps now I can at least begin to ask the unasked questions of previous generations.

As I move to this neighborhood, I am in a sense a cursed man inheriting a cursed place. Like all of us, I am inheriting the curse of Cain, the first farmer, murderer, and builder of a city. Like any urban farmer, I'm inheriting soil that could be toxic. More than that though I am inheriting white privilege and entitlement. If we’re going to claim ‘relocation to the abandoned places of empire’ as a mark of our movement, it is important to remember that we are not entering a land without persons or history. While I get excited about cheap houses and tons of arable land, there are ghosts haunting this place. Why are houses so cheap? How did a populated neighborhood become an urban prairie? And though I am excited to ask the land and the river what it requires of me to be an agent of healing, I must also ask my neighbors what they require of me. What if they don’t want an urban farm or me in their neighborhood? Perhaps first I need to see and treat them as my neighbors. Hopefully in time we can learn to trust one another, and see our well being reliant on one another.

I don't know if the herb garden in Camden ever brought anyone in the neighborhood healing. I can say that a transformation happened within me. While I wasn't responsible for the condition of Camden, I realized that my family line might have unintentionally created "Camdens". Harder to swallow, I realized that my way of life was definitely creating "Camdens" in other people's communities around the world. Though the work was fairly miserable, I found joy by understanding it as penance. My life now is a continuation of that. I didn't choose white privilege. I didn't chose to be born without connection to place and people. I can choose to work to overcome them. The garden in Camden was completed and made more beautiful by others in the community after I had moved away. Likewise, it’s likely I'll spend the rest of my life working and living in Detroit for something that I will never see completed. My hope is that the nachalah that I leave for my children one day will be a gift rather than a curse.

Friday, March 12, 2010

two longish videos from a conference I attended a couple weeks ago

These were good talks. One was with the director of Food Inc and the other was with some of the leaders of the urban ag movement here in detroit among others.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Corporate farming in Detroit...

Many months ago, a major business man here in Detroit John Hantz announced his plan for a giant commercial urban farm that he pledged $30 million of his own money to create. I was instantly skeptical and mostly against it, but considered that maybe there was space in the city for both the grassroots urban farming movement that I am part of and hantz's plans. I think in the end, the city and community and many folks in the suburbs are commited to small local agriculture, and it would win out. I stumbled across a CNN article from about a month and a half ago thats converted me into a fierce opponent to everything that Hantz represents. From his hyper-capitalistic reasoning, to his technocratic life destroying & culture-less methods, to his arogant attempts to create a legacy for himself that will be remembered always...I just can't stand these plans.

Here's a gem of a quote: "...Hantz plans on making his farms both visually stunning and technologically cutting edge. Where there are row crops, Hantz says, they'll be neatly organized, planted in "dead-straight lines -- they may even be in a design." But the plan isn't to make Detroit look like Iowa. "Don't think a farm with tractors," says Hantz. "That's old."

Read the whole article

Friday, January 8, 2010

addicted to plastic

I stumbled across this film online, and I felt it worth the watch. Though they point to new scientific innovation as a solution to the "plastic problem", this film certainly made me trust technological innovation less and reaffirmed thoughts about making as much of the things that you need to live as possible.

If it only plays half the video...just remember the time it stops at and come back to it a little later. Im not real sure how this website works, but at least its free.

Visit for free online documentaries!

ohhh 2009

Well...its 2010. What can I say? 2009 was a very full year. A year full of difficulty and joy, hope and disappointment, confusion and new found clarity. I'm grateful t have made it out alive and well and felling excited, optimistic and energized for the next season of life. We're moving in about 3 weeks. Go to my Flickr page if you'd like to see some of the pictures of this past year. Here's a taste...


Wendell Berry Poem

I've been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry poetry lately. There are many that I have fallen in love with, but I think that this one may be my favorite. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Some Further Words

Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.

Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home." Economics
is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief. And the ghost
of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer,
returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."

I think the issues of "identity" mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a "fetus" is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?

I would like to die in love as I was born,
and as myself of life impoverished go
into the love all flesh begins
and ends in. I don't like machines,
which are neither mortal nor immortal,
though I am constrained to use them.
(Thus the age perfects its clench.)
Some day they will be gone, and that
will be a glad and a holy day.
I mean the dire machines that run
by burning the world's body and
its breath. When I see an airplane
fuming through the once-pure sky
or a vehicle of the outer space
with its little inner space
imitating a star at night, I say,
"Get out of there!" as I would speak
to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.
When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.

My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched
by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time
to the old. I don't want to live
on mortal terms forever, or survive
an hour as a cooling stew of pieces
of other people. I don't believe that life
or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire
the household of the human soul,
and all the creatures are burning within it

"Intellectual property" names
the deed by which the mind is bought
and sold, the world enslaved. We
who do not own ourselves, being free,
own by theft what belongs to God,
to the living world, and equally
to us all. Or how can we own a part
of what we only can possess
entirely? Life is a gift we have
only by giving it back again.
Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy
of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows,
which must be freely told, or labor
dies with the laborer. The farmer
is worthy of the harvest made
in time, but he must leave the light
by which he planted, grew, and reaped,
the seed immortal in mortality,
freely to the time to come. The land
too he keeps by giving it up,
as the thinker receives and gives a thought,
as the singer sings in the common air.

I don't believe that "scientific genius"
in its naive assertions of power
is equal either to nature or
to human culture. Its thoughtless invasions
of the nuclei of atoms and cells
and this world's every habitation
have not brought us to the light
but sent us wandering farther through
the dark. Nor do I believe
.artistic genius" is the possession
of any artist. No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world,
from the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead--
an intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but --
to those who have it more dear than life.

And just as tenderly to be known
are the affections that make a woman and a man
their household and their homeland one.
These too, though known, cannot be told
to those who do not know them, and fewer
of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world
like the colors of extinct birds,
like the songs of a dead language.

Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader-a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I'm for, the side
I'm on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of
myself, though for realization we
may wait a thousand or a million years.