Saturday, January 30, 2010
The course is currently over-enrolled by 3 (only 25 students can officially sign up, but 28 is OK) and because of this, I'm having to turn people away, which is difficult for me. This class should continue to run each semester (I'm going to try, believe me) and I believe permaculture is a subject that should be taught more regularly at academic institutions...as there are so many young people looking to make this world a better place. Permaculture, a very broad term, incorporates this entire way of living - beyond sustainable - to regenerating the land and our planet.
This coming week I am taking the class to Sirius Community - an educational and sustainable ecovillage in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. We will be leaving UMass campus at 1:30 and arriving in Shutesbury a little before 2:00. Class will be held from 2:00 - 4:00 and then we will split up into groups and begin cooking dinner. There will be over 30 of us from UMass (including me, my TA Sam Billings, and former students of Sirius) and close to 20 others from the community. Our class split up into groups of approximately 5 students and each group took one of the following dishes (see event flyer below!)
After dinner, I will be showing the movie "FRESH" (description on the flyer.) If you would like to attend and are not in the class / coming to dinner, please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More updates to come!
Monday, January 25, 2010
I don't think that Will is expanding Growing Power for money – not at all. I think he's expanding it for more to see, and to inspire more people. Spreading his message for a more equal and healthy world is his main prerogative, from my observation. He is a true healer and an amazing human being. But like you said, it would be much better if he shared some of his control and brought others (mainly his employees) closer in to his circle. - Ryan
Sunday, January 24, 2010
My three week stint at Growing Power has finished and I am back home in
They are under the compost right now, eating away the bananas, apples, orange peels and newspaper we fed them. We'll be adding tea and coffee grinds, sweet potatoes, other citrus fruits (they like all this stuff best) and then some other kitchen wastes / cardboard that they will also eat.
We became friends at Growing Power.
Our truly "Sustainable Kitchen" in Amherst, MA.
The remainder entry is going to focus on my entire time at Growing Power and the lasting impressions it had on me. I'll start with the people. Growing Power attracts such a diverse group of individuals: local volunteers of all ages, races and backgrounds – and long-stay interns from all over the country. People come to support their community, to learn how urban farming works and because they are interested in affordable sustainable food production for low-income areas ("food deserts".) I made some incredible friendships during my short stay that will last me a lifetime: I am so thankful to have met all of you.
I am leaving Growing Power with a head full of knowledge and a heart full of inspiration. One focus of mine will be collecting food wastes, coffee / tea grounds and other "waste" materials in the local community – thinking of starting of a composting business. I will begin forming relationships with grocery stores, coffee shops, breweries and restaurants – collecting their wastes on a weekly basis. Some things I'm going to need include:
- 5 gallon buckets! Buckets used for bulk food storage (pickle buckets) with lids – I need A LOT of! I'll be checking craigslist and freecycle… or if anyone has any or knows of a company that has excess and throws them away - please let me know!
- A plot of land (nearby) where I can do my large-scale composting. If anyone has some land in/around
that they are willing to donate / lease for cheap, please let me know! Amherst
- Along with the land, it would help enormously if there was a bobcat on-site that could be used weekly to turn the pile.
- A truck – I'm going to be trading in my Chevy Lumina for a used pickup truck. It's probably going to get beat up with all of the loads I'll be carrying – something cheap is what I'm looking for (any leads, let me know!)
- Possibly a dump truck, but not right away. This will depend completely on the quantity of waste I'm dealing with. Growing Power hauls away over 15,000 pounds of beer mash per month… which would be way too much for one person to handle shoveling!
- Also, I'm very interested in starting up a small-scale urban farm - a smaller, local Growing Power... who knows what the future beholds. If anyone else wants to exchange ideas, contact me: email@example.com
Although excited to be home, I'm already missing those 15 greenhouses, the chickens, goats, turkeys, ducks and worms (but some came along), and all the great people working there. The great food, the routine, the lifestyle and even the shoveling manure and chipping. I learned a lot at Growing Power and it is an experience that I will never forget. Unfortunately I did not get to see much in terms of education and school partnerships during my 3 weeks at Growing Power. The other interns got to teach composting workshops to schools, but I wasn't there long enough.
And lastly... Will, you are a great man, but there is frustration among your staff. I have to be careful with what I say, because I don't want to get anyone at Growing Power in trouble. People come to Growing Power because they are interested in ending racism, fixing social inequity and for educating and feeding low-income urban communitites. The employees need to be more involved with the behind-the-scenes activities, and know more than 20% of what's going on. Please let this happen.
I'm going to stop there for tonight. I wish I had only positive things to say about Growing Power, but even the most progressive, do-only-good organizations have imperfections. To sum things up, my overall feeling is that any organization, once it gets successful, will begin to expand and will keep on expanding to get on-top. Then things start declining little by little. I think this might be in the beginning stages of happening at Growing Power. The un-seen things, such as employee moral, are being overlooked due to the bigger, visionary plans. A good practice is to keep things small and manageable (if that means stay small, then stay small) – things only get more complicated as you get larger. Why expand anyway? Money is one reason. Spreading your message to more people is another. I think my intern-housemate, Chris, sums things up well with this statement:
The best way to live life is to live simply, be compassionate and be generous. My addition is to love yourself for who you are and how you use your energy.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Ever since I arrived at Growing Power, I've tried my best to ask as many questions as possible to every single staff member. I've been asking about logistics, financials, greenhouse construction, plant-related questions and also how all the employees feel; are they feel satisfied working here. This is where it gets difficult for me to be honest... as it may mean that I'm never allowed back to Growing Power.
Some of the employees here are frustrated with how things are run. (My opinion should be taken with a grain of salt as my time here has been so short, just 2 weeks) What it seems like to me is that Growing Power is growing super-fast and the organization is in way over its head. Again, this is solely from a short-term intern's perspective - I'm not at all qualified to be stating these things as fact.
But here are a few examples of why I say this:
- A woman came in yesterday morning to Growing Power. She was a frustrated teacher from the Milwaukee Public Schools system who has been contacting Growing Power countless times for weeks. Everytime she calls and leaves a message, nobody gets back to her. And it's because nobody has time to.
- Growing Power got a $150,000 check recently from Chase to partner with the Milwaukee Public School system. This is great except the person who sets up these partnerships is completely swamped with on-site work. And she is also in charge of these outreach programs, which is way too much for one person to handle.
- Last Saturday there were about 40 volunteers who came to Growing Power... people from Americore and other local school groups. That was a larger than usual turnout, but every single day there are volunteers coming here to work for free. It's incredible and totally inspiring. Will Allen's name is getting so big that he is getting calls to speak at different places every single day. How can an organization with 40 staff members handle that kind of fame? Obviously, they need to grow. And that is what's happening right now; the organization is growing super fast and it's very hard to manage it all. Growing Power needs some outside help, but that's probably not going to happen...
I wrote something similar to all of this (including the employee frustration part) to Will. I tried my best not to come across as arrogant, knowing it all, egotistical... but I guess I did, being as I've only been here 2 weeks and he is the one who created it all. Will didn't exactly take my letter in a positive fashion. He was very unhappy about what I wrote, and he explained that to me personally for about 45 minutes. And I don't blame him - my letter probably did come across as an arrogant intern being here 2 weeks and thinking he knows how to change things for the better. But I truly feel that my concerns are valid.
Each staff member I spoke with had very similar concerns and therefore it made sense to bring these to the attention of Will. Everyone here knows that all decisions go through Will. He has been brilliant with just about everything thus far - please don't let me come off as bashing him in any way - but now his name is exploding in popularity and I just think he should be more open to some restructuring.
Maybe I should have waited to write this until Friday night, my last night here, but this is what I feel. I'm not trying to make Growing Power look bad, because they are doing so much good for the community, both local and global. They do have faults but this is by far the best best large-scale urban farm in the world, and that's why they are so popular. But unless things change, it will not stay this way. There needs to be more inside people who stay with Growing Power long-term, not just the two main managers and Will. People seem to burn-out from here in less than 2 years.
I don't know if I'll come back here for a full 3-month internship next fall/winter or summer. It's certainly a possibility and I would gladly stay that length of time now had I not committed myself to other things back home in Amherst. However, I can't see myself staying here long-term if the structure / unspecific job roles were to remain the same. I love Growing Power for what it has accomplished and how inspiring it is... but it can also be brought to other communities and have more organization (the other communities will not be as famous, but can be more successful locally.)
That's all for tonight - I feel like a weight has just be lifted off of my shoulders. I did not plan on writing this on my blog, only in my journal. But as I said, this is all coming from my heart, and everything I've said is my opinion and nobody elses. I love where I am, despite its imperfections, and I think Will Allen is a true planetary healer. He will go down in the history books as one of the greatest and most influential people of the 21st century. I feel so honored to be here, to have sat down with Will on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to honor another healer who is a big reason why I'm here in Milwaukee and surrounded by diversity today.
I am so thankful for all of these experiences I've had thus far in life - I am truly blessed for the existence I was given and I try to remind myself of how fortunate I am each day. My purpose in this life is to be a healer and share what information I gather with those who's paths I cross. Thank you for reading and I hope you gained a little more about me from this entry. Goodnight everyone.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Last night / today turned out much different than expected. I was on my way to Chicago to hear Will Allen speak when we got word he wasn't feeling well. His daughter, Erika, spoke on his behalf but we really wanted to see Will. So we turned the car around and came back to Milwaukee, vowing to see him speak at a later time. Instead of spending the day in Chicago, I'm here in the intern house reflecting on these past two weeks, as well as something larger. It's nice having an actual day-off regardless of where it's spent.
Since I'm not working, today's post will be about something entirely different; the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I've been in sort of a bubble here at Growing Power - internet is very shotty and we don't watch TV - therefore it's very hard to know what's going on outside these doors. But I've done a lot of reading this morning and I'm collaborating with a good friend back home to start fundraising for the Haiti relief effort. Our goal is to eventually get down there and do some volunteering - but right now it is only experienced disaster relief workers and medical personell who are being allowed in.
Haiti needs a lot of outside help to rebuild their community and for now, the most we can do is donate. I'm ususally hesitant to give money to most organizations (even reputable ones like Red Cross) since I'm never sure where my money goes after leaving my hands. I've done some research and came across a small organization based out of Portland, OR.
Mercy Corps is sending a team of emergency responders to assess damage, and seek to fulfill immediate needs of quake survivors. The agency aided families after earthquakes inI'm going to continue researching different organizations that are completely transparent with the handling of their funds and who also lead groups of volunteers. In the meantime, I'm going to open a bank account strictly for collecting donations, while this event is still on people's minds. We will select an organization that allows us to follow the money to Haiti and see first-hand what is being done with it. A group of us will go down to Haiti, maybe as soon as June, to help with the rebuilding. If this sounds like a cause you feel like donating to, please leave a comment below, or send a check to:
Peruin 2007, Chinaand Pakistanin 2008, and last year. Indonesia
3 Willow Lane
Amherst, MA 01002
I will be updating this blog with our progress so please keep checking back. Today is just the beginning and our plans will further develop and become more organized in the coming weeks and months. I have a good feeling that a lot of UMass students will jump on board with this and together we can do a lot of good. Thoughts, suggestions and questions are all encouraged.
Thanks for reading - I can't help but think how fortunate we all are for what we have, where we are and the cards that life dealt us. I thank the universe each day for this existance.
Friday, January 15, 2010
This is Baiwan and Jeremy, my roommate.
So much compost...
This is Valentine...
... and this heart on his back is why.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I also spent a lot of time with the goats today. This afternoon was a bit troubling: a man came inquiring about purchasing one of our goats, which meant slaughtering it for food. This doesn’t happen on-site, but apparently the same man came before insisting we do it for him in the barn. When we said no, he said he would do it himself in his car. I didn't know all this until after he left, but the goat that he did want today ended up being Valentine; the most friendly goat with the liveliest personality of the bunch. His fur is white with a brown spot on his back in the shape of a heart.
It was a terribly anxious scene: about 8 of us stood around the goat pen while this man stood inside tugging Valentine by the leg, then twisting the goat's ear. None of us would tie up Valentine because nobody wants that goat to go. The entire staff loves that goat and there are many who are extremely attached to Valentine. I observed the 7 Growing Power employees looking very tense and feeling extremely anxious. Everyone there was clearly being so protective… and in the end the man didn't end up buying Valentine. He argued with the staff about the goat's weight, age and didn't think he was worth $100. It was an eye-opening experience watching this scene unfold as it did. The rollercoaster of emotions that everyone felt – I could literally see it in the air.
This post was dedicated to Valentine, who will live at least one more day… though I think many of us were considering buying that goat ourselves and maybe housing it in the intern house for safe keeping! At least until that man disappears for awhile…
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
We're at the point now where we've gotten into this routine at Growing Power: Each morning us interns wake up around 7:00 – 7:15, get ready / eat breakfast together, walk out the door at 8, and the first thing we do is take care of the animals. There are chickens, goats, turkeys and ducks here on-site (and fish but we aren't assigned to them.) Personally, I've taken a liking to feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs (we put them on the refrigerator truck which is constantly running outside, which is plugged in so it doesn't use gasoline). The goats are also really fun to have on-site, though we don't milk them so they don't produce anything to sell. It seems kind of odd that Growing Power has them, since they require a lot of input and only sell for ~$100 after years of maintenance (hours of manual labor.) But then again, the goats in the middle of a city are a great marketing piece, and draw a lot of volunteers / interest to the organization.
There are six of us living in the intern house right now. Today was a typical day except it started off a little sad when we discovered one of the chickens died during the night. It was a first experience for me having to pick up a dead animal and dispose of it. Regardless, it is still a great experience feeding 100 or so chickens, gathering 5-6 dozen eggs per day – all in the middle of a city
The day got better as I spent more time indoors than I ever had before. It was a day spent reordering and checking on the plants in the aquaponics systems. We had to remove the underproductive pots for re-seedeing and move the others around so that the tallest pots were on the north side, and the shortest on the south side, so that all the plants get as much sunlight as possible. I feel very connected with plants, more so than animals even, and learned a lot by being silent and listening to / observing them. I felt the compactedness of the soil in some of the pots inhibiting the plant's growth as well as the moisture content being low, high or just right. I tasted many leaves of both the underproductive and highly productive plants and looked deeply into their cell structure.
This whole place is magical and draws so many great people here. There are many aspects of permaculture present here at Growing Power. The permaculture ethics: earth care, people care and resource share - food comes in and an abundance is produced… things getting shared among the staff and interns - earth care with the making of compost from food waste / plant waste – people care in building the local community.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
It's been a crazy weekend here at Growing Power. There was a conference here beewhich 80 or so people attended...from all over the country. The group was pretty well diversed - a whole mix of people interested in urban farming, starting their own non-profit similar to Growing Power, wanting to learn about different sustainable (permaculture.esk) activities: composting, vermaculture, aquaponics, hoop.houses, sprouts / marketing and bee keeping. The two workshops I attended were composting and hoop house construction.
Will Allen's composting workshop at Growing Power.
That's a farmers arm... Will never works out...
Fortunately they let us interns participate in the breakout sessions rather than spending the day shoveling and mulching and other hard-labor activities. But I actually crave shoveling a little each day...even in this sub freezing weather. I thought I'd be much colder than I am... but we're moving around so much that we actually break a sweat! That and I live right on-site, so I can go home on any one of my breaks and have a warm stew from the crock pot waiting to warm me up / re-energize me.
Composting / vermiculture was the workshop I participated in today, led by Will Allen himself. We had a great group activity talking about starting up a business in our local communities and having no money to start whatsoever. We had to take into account it was a poor area, with high crime rate, and we want to help ex-offenders get jobs and also help out the children. What would we do? We talked about fund raising to get some initial startup capital, then making composting using all free/cheap local community waste-resources. It starts by collecting high carbon material such as wood chips, hay, newspaper and cardboard then layering it in a bin with high nitrogen materials (food waste, manure, grass clippings.) The bin should not be sealed because you want it to be an aerobic (not anaerobic) process. 50/50 is a good ratio of carbon to nitrogen material, although Growing Power uses and recommends 75/25% ratio (more carbon than nitrogen) as this decreases the smell, flies and rodents. The more carbon in the winter will also help retain the heat better.
Digging for worms!
Compacting the compost bins. Awesome.
Then I did a hoop house construction session yesterday…which is great as I plan on building a few this spring in
We bent those steel poles using a simple jig that we made using 2x4s and flat pieces of wood.
Katie and Jordan - great people - Growing Power staff and new friends
One of the workshop attendees...it was freezing cold so none of us wanted to take our gloves off to do this part.
I thought this picture summed up the day pretty nicely.
Jon being Jon.
Vermiculture and aquaponics to come later! Hope everyone had as good a weekend as
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Today was a crazy day. There was a lot of shoveling (it snowed and currently still is), we did re-mulching of paths (outside and in greenhouses), wheel-barreling compost to the sides of hoop houses (it acts as insulation and a heat source!), and lots and lots of cleaning. Tomorrow the weekend workshop begins – the commercial urban agriculture session is once a month for 5 months while the individual breakout sessions (compost, vermicompost, aquaponics, hoop houses, etc.) are just on Saturday and Sunday (but they get repeated once a month for whoever is interested.
Blogging is becoming harder and harder with the limited time that I have. I won't have a chance to write again until probably Monday, but please keep checking in! I hope all is well back home – things are great here and I will talk more about what I said – that Growing Power is going through some growing-pains – in a later entry!
I thought I'd get to sleep without blogging but I finally got internet to work right as I'm heading to sleep… I'll be quick with this entry. Today we all but finished building the aquaponics system, which has been a pretty awesome experience. Here are some pictures of it:
Today also involved some sifting of worm castings, taking care of the farm animals and covering the beds in the hoop houses.
After work we made dinner (not as elaborate as previous days) and then went to the organic market to get some things. Katie, a previous intern and now office assistant drove Jeremy and I to the store and also to the airport to pick up our new roommate, Trisha. We got some beer and cheese and had our other roommate Jon, make a loaf of bread for the occasion. Trish seems awesome – coming from
Here's a few more pictures of the compost at Growing Power's headquarters. I'll note my first problem tonight with this organization which is the amount they charge for compost. Maybe it's not so bad of a price for what people pay around here…but what they charge per yard is $75 compared to $30 in
Ending things on a better note, we are gearing up for this weekend's conference which is expected to bring together a group of nearly 100 folks from around the country. I'll hopefully be sitting-in / helping with the hoop-house building workshop, as I'll be building some with Nuestras Raices in March.