This past month I built a large high tunnel for winter growing at PA Bowen Farmstead in southern Maryland. While it was a bit of a haul to get down there and build on my weekends, it was a great project to get more experience under my belt. I was able to buy a set of quality professional tools, hire my good friend Matt to help out and finish more or less on schedule and on budget! The farm is a wonderful dairy and meat farm owned by Sally Fallon Morel, author of Nourishing Traditions Cookbook, and director of the Weston Price Foundation. But truly it was great to have an excuse to hang out on the farm and get to know Mike and Barb, the farm managers, some incredible hard working, creative thinking, sustainable farmers. The farm is a place just bursting at the seams with life. Whats best of all, I may have two more greenhouse projects this fall, both much closer to Baltimore!
There is a paradigm shift silently occurring in the modern understanding of our relationship to the natural world. I am seeing signs of it in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times regularly. We are not separate from nature but in fact are part of a complex system of interrelated and interdependent organisms. It seems so simple and obvious, but this concept, just like the acceptance of evolution or climate change, has been demonized in our daily interpretation of the world in western culture for generations. For decades the law of the land in modern science and medicine was to wage war on microbes, and the faultlines of this battle are far from resolved. Hand sanitizers are on the walls in every public facility, we engage in biogenetic warefare on our soils and biosphere across the globe in the form of GMO crops, over use of antibiotics, promotion of formula milk instead of breastmilk… the list goes on. It seems like we have a phobia of the microbiome, and like all phobias, we seem to be afraid of what we do not understand. As it turns out we are only 10% human. Thats right, for every human cell in our body there are 10 microbe or fungi cells that call us home. (Some of My Best Friends are Germs) Our bodies are superorganisms living in a complex balance and symbiotic relationship with microbes. And in our modern climate of germ-phobia there seems to be a greater risk of putting ourselves at risk by being too clean! Without the germs and organisms that co-evolved with us over the past 100,000+ years we are at risk of higher cases of auto-immune disorders, allergies, cronic illness. These diseases are reaching epidemic proportions in the modern world. We need to reconstitute the human biome, it is elemental to our evolutionary biology as a species and our basic functioning, from digestion to synthesizing basic vitamins and proteins to a healthy immune system. So don’t wash your hands before dinner, eat your probiotics and fermented foods and embrace the magic of our invisible co-habitators.
Another great recent article in the New York Times (The Hidden World Under our Feet) is helping bring light to a new understanding to the importance of the microbiome in our soil. Soil and the communities of microbes, fungi, and decomposers that compose the living crust of our planet, are key to global biodiversity.
Soil lies at the interface of life and death, of plant, animal and microbe kingdoms. It is the achilles heel to every great civilization that has come and gone. We better take note.
“Suppose we did our work like the snow, quietly, quietly, leaving nothing out.” ~ Wendell Berry
I have been listening to alot of podcasts while at work lately operating front-end loaders full of compost around the warehouse. It keeps things moving and engages my mind while I work. One podcast that I can’t get enough of lately is the Extraenvironmentalist. This has really elevated my thinking about the state of the world and the possibilities and grave dangers that await our culture. Our planet and culture are on the verge of severe collapse, austerity is only the beginning of the end, we need to embrace a steady-state, post-scarcity, gift economy!!
I started a new job this month at Chesapeake Compost Works, a new company in Baltimore started by my friend Vinnie. Adjusting to a new schedule has been hard, I am officially now a commuter, driving from DC to Baltimore everyday has given me a whole new perspective on the ball and chain of driving. I’m hoping I can relocate to Bmore in the coming months to be closer to work, not to mention I think it may be good for my soul to be a little further from the partisan hellhole that is DC.
As many of you may know, soil has been an interest of mine for some time, see previous posts, Peak Soil & Geeking out about soil. I am excited to wrap my head around the logistics of turning food waste, high in nutrients, into high quality living soils. We accept source separated organics from haulers who pickup daily from restaurants, hospitals, caiterers, universities and others and pay tipping fees for dropping it at our site. After a relatively short turnaround period this organic material is broken down into rich humus, a valuable soil amendment for landscapers, farmers, gardeners and restoration projects. If you want to learn more and see it for yourself, we are having a Grand Opening Celebration on November 9th from 3:30 to 5:00pm. There will be a tour the facility, speeches from local business owners, farmers, and community leaders including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake.
Right now we are still building out the facility, an approx 3 acre site of indoor warehouse and outdoor yard space in a heavy industrial part of Baltimore’s southern port. We are installing a series of aerated bays that pull air from within the warehouse through the compost piles and outside into a biofilter. The biofilter pushes the air through a woodchip and compost media that uses activated microorganisms to scrub odors. In the coming months as we reach full operation we will be processing 30 tons of food scraps per day.
Climate Chaos/ Soil Alchemy
So far it has been exciting to be part of a new venture, and one that I can truly get behind in, as I believe that composting is on the verge of nationwide adoption just as recycling took hold some 30 years ago. Topsoil on earth has twice as much carbon as the atmosphere and all living vegetation combined. In the past 20 years we have lost nearly 50% of soil carbon in our most productive agricultural soils due to industrial ag. Thus any solution to the climate crisis must address closing the loop in our soil fertility. On the other side of the equation One ton of food waste in a landfill generates 0.25 tons of methane (or 6 tons of CO2) as it decomposes anaerobically. Composting instead turns this into stable form of organic carbon and by applying it to the soil, is one of the most effective ways to reduce CO2 into the atmosphere.
One thing I love about composting is its close association with the cycle of life and death. I am reminded how we are composed of the same elements which compose all other life on earth. How the earth passes in and out of our bodies just as we pass in and out of the earth. Everything that was once living goes into the compost pile, wood, apple cores, meat, even bones, and after the decomposer communities of microorganisms are done, out comes one uniform consistency. It really brings the “everything is connected” idea to the level of a daily mantra.
I had to share these two videos of two DIY innovators who could very well change the world. Not only are these entrepreneurial ecological designers re-inventing how to solve some of our most basic needs, like heating and housing; they are eloquent and knowledgeable advocates for a new green economy in a post-scarcity world.
Tom Gilbert of Highfield’s Compost in Vermont connects the dots between how the fossil fuel economy has broken our natural cycle, the fight for food sovereignty and the role of compost.
Marcin Jakubowski, of Open Source Ecology, and their Global Village Construction set.
I am starting my new job on Monday and it will be the first time in my life where I will be doing a serious commute, about 34 miles each way. So with some hesitation I bought a car in a bit of an unusual way. I was looking for a car that was around my $2000 budget and got 45-50 MPG and could run on biodiesel. That basically meant that I had to find a rare car. So I bought a one way ticket to Tampa, Fl and purchased a 1991 Volkswagen Jetta for $2100 and drove it back to DC. Kind of crazy I know, but there is a precident for me doing this, back in 2010 I flew to Miami to buy a school bus. The car is in great shape for being 20 years old and gets great mileage; I drove from Tampa to DC on just one and a half fuel tanks! This spring I will complete a full veggie oil conversion on the car and setup a small filtering station in my garage. Yay for no fossil fuels!
It is with much anguish that I announce I will be moving on from ECO City Farms at the end of this month. As a founding board member and then as farm manager, I have seen ECO evolve and grow in many ways. I am so proud of the work we have accomplished in a relatively short period of time. As an educational urban farm, we are not only in the business of feeding people, but we exist as part of a greater movement to challenge the paradigm of our times, and frankly, people in our community are beginning to rethink their food choices and the connection between our health, our food and our land. It’s been an honor to be part of a team of some of the most committed, talented and innovative co-workers I have known. And while I will greatly miss being part of the farm I know that there are many great things on the horizon for ECO and the Port Towns community.
I will be moving on to work with a good friend on an exciting new project, Chesapeake Compost Works, a start-up company in Baltimore, MD. Composting closes the loop on waste by taking thousands of tons of organic material out of our landfills, it has real benefit for the climate, and it’s a critical up and coming industry in building a new green economy. Turning food waste into life sustaining soil in a former weapons factory in the port of Baltimore couldn’t be more demonstrative of the type of world I want to help build out of the shell of the old. Soon to be the largest commercial composting operation in the state and the only indoor facility of its kind, I am honored to be able to contribute my skills and experience to this effort.
It has been a blessing to meet so many incredible and inspiring people from all different kinds of backgrounds through my time here. Thanks so much for the support you have given and the work you all continue to do and please do stay in touch.
Since putting in my two weeks I have received so many leads and opportunities for some very interesting collaborations and projects that I know I will be staying busy in the coming years. I am so thankful that my time at ECO truly allowed me to experiment and develop a set of skills that are truly unique. I wrote this in my notebook when I was having a good day. This is how I want to remember my time at ECO…
Our farm is a dynamic mosaic of interdependent micro-enterprises. Small is possible! This is Urban Ag 2.0…. A commercial/educational farm on sub 2 acres featuring year-round bio-intensive hoophouse veggie production for market and CSA, that recycles tons of food waste from the greater community each month, and in which worms, fish, ducks and chickens all play their part in the greater whole to nourish our bodies, our soil and our sense of place. Food grown here has a nutrient and flavor profile as rich as our soil. Water is captured, recycled and re-mediated on our farm. Fruit trees and native plants excite our taste buds and nourish our pollinators, the web of life is whole. Salvaged materials are crafted into a community kitchen where the craft of food preservation is preserved and youth learn nutrition and the joy of fresh. Knowledge seekers convene here, history is honored here, stories are shared here. This is not sustainability, this is REGENERATIVE agriculture, this is what a resilient community looks like. We will thrive!