Farming for Future Generations with Fred Kirschenmann

My interview with Fred Kirschenmann at The Land Institute’s Prairie Fest 2016 at went live last week on The Permaculture Podcast.

I met many amazing people that weekend. While inside for shelter from a rainstorm I met Lisa Stoke of Food Democracy Now who suggested I talk to Fred about “The 50 Year Farm Bill” She introduced us and I met with Fred early the next morning. He was insightful, hopeful and encouraging. Fred is a contemporary of Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. I continue to be impressed with people like Fred who have been doing the work of cultural and agricultural transformation for decades. Enjoy this interview!

1703 – Farming for Future Generations with Fred Kirschenmann



How to Achieve Cultural Restoration, One Small Step at a Time

Is Cultural restoration possible? When I say cultural I mean all of the aspects that make up a culture including sociological and economic systems. Things are very dire in our world and sometimes it is hard to stay encourage and empowered.  I say YES it is possible! But how?
To set the stage please allow me to speak in negative terms for a moment. Then it will end positive I promise.
My job takes me to many small towns in Missouri. This give me a unique perspective to life in the rural communities. It is an object lesson in one part of American culture. You can clearly see where the old story has failed this generation or two of elderly people, at least in the middle and lower income brackets. The promises that were made to them were for the most part not kept. This has a huge cost for all of us. Them because their lives were often a drudgery of very hard labor in factories and menial blue collar jobs often in toxic environments that have resulted in poor health. A cost to us because we are paying for the expense of poor societal design in insane health costs, rampant corporate greed  that manifests itself in the destruction of the environment and the erosion of culture. There are sociological parallels to what has happened to the earth because of Industrial agriculture, clear cutting forrest, exploitive mining operations etc. Just as the ecological function is disturbed by clear cutting the top of  a watershed. The cultural costs of a society focus on profit above all else is displaying its fruit with decayed relationships, communities and nations, increasingly poor health caused by Industrial agriculture practices which effects quality of life and quality of relationships and increased financial costs to everyone via increased taxes for things like Medicare, Medicaid and other expensive programs and skyrocketing cost for health insurance. The cycle goes on and on. You can see the results of bad worldview and life philosophies filter down through a society with the result of slavery and oppression. Sometimes literal sometimes psychological or spiritual.
Arguably our educational system has  been designed to create workers and consumers not creative people functioning at the peak of their vocational potential. Not to say that this does not happen, it just happens in spite of the system. The result of this is a poverty of thought and culture. There is no way out of the prison of mind except stepping outside of it and seeing the broader world that is available to those who can transcend a degenerative culture to see and believe and act in a way that  can bring something more meaningful and beautiful.
Some would say that we need to go back to a simpler time. There is no way back to where we were at in some idillic time in the past. Things have moved too far along for that. There is only the way forward integrating truths and realities from different cultures of the past that had regenerative practices and combining them with current wisdom and knowledge. Once you understand that we are citizens of earth, a global community you can’t go back to the nation state idea of living. A world view divorced from this reality that we are all together on this journey, that we are interdependent that we need to unite against the real common enemies of ecological destruction and parasitic economic practices and cultural practices that are much more prone to war than peace can only end in violence as we have witnessed in that past several centuries. The real issue is illustrated so well by John D Liu in a talk he gave at the Permaculture Voices 2 conference. Check out the whole message on The Permaculture Voices Podcast
“We’ve made a mistake. Ecological function is the basis of wealth but we’ve said that productivity and trade was the basis of wealth but its not true because if you’re doing trade you need infinite growth but you can’t have infinite growth with finite resources, its an impossibility.
We valued scarcity above abundance, this is a huge mistake. And the way to correct this is to realize that money is not based on production and consumption of goods and services. Money and wealth is based on Ecological function. And if we do that then all of human effort will go to restoring the natural ecological systems on the planet and thats what we need in order to ensure that we can survive and become sustainable. I call this The Great Work of Our Time. We need new economic models, there are many but I think we need to meditate on them.”
A world where people are governed by a common need and desire to restore ecological function and diversity so that we can all live well is the only ideology that matters. This need transcends all ideologies of religion and politics, in fact they’re both irrelevant if we destroy the earth. These are world values, guiding principles that lead to life for all. If we can get to a place where regenerative practices are the norm in all nations then in fact real religion and politics will also taking place. ” John D Liu
In the face of many complex issues these simple focus on Ecological Function is a building principle. In closing I’d like to suggest an exercise I heard given by Ethan Hughes at The Possibility Alliance:

Make 3 lists
One list of everything you would like to be doing but your not
One list of everything you like that you are doing that you like
One list  that are doing that you don’t enjoy doing because it’s not in line with your ethics
Starting the next day either pick something your not doing and would like to be doing and start doing it.
Or pick something that you are doing and don’t enjoy doing and remove it.
Only one, that’s the rule of the homework. Pick only one of these things  and live in to it until it feels like its part of your life.
Then go back to the list and incorporate another one and you’ll be on the path to being really joyful and connected.
Only add one or subtract one  and wait until you feel like you are really balanced and then do another .

Let me know how it goes. Post your experience in the comments section below.

Coffee Cups, How Small Efforts Can Have Big Results

I was recently challenged while having coffee with a guy who lives out the EcoThinkIt worldview at a much higher level than I do. What challenged me was not his neighborhood stirring Permaculture project or his use of public transportation and a bicycle. It was something more simple and less expensive. We met for coffee to talk about the amazing and wonderful realms of Ecological thinking and living and the conversation was great in many ways but the most significant thing I remember was the fact that he was drinking his coffee out of a stainless steel travel mug while I was using the paper cup provided by the cafe.

Small thing maybe but I was immediately convicted of my wastefulness and had images of all the landfill I am personally responsible for and all the energy wasted producing those cups and lids. A little bit of an extreme reaction on my part but the take away was clear. This is a small thing that if we all did it could have a significant impact. Had I thought about this before yes, that’s why I was convicted about my lack of consciousness. And maybe that is the key to global transformation. A series of small conscious decisions that cumulatively add up to a transformative ecological and social restoration.

Everyone wants to change the world and if you are from America you tend to try to do it with grand gestures and massive effort. But perhaps the Permaculture Principle number 9 of “Small Slow Solutions” is much more the answer then global recycling campaigns or political efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions. What are other small ways could you EcoThink your way into a better world?

Whole Systems Paradigm. Two Videos That May Change Your Life! They Changed Mine.

My introduction to Permaculture and whole systems thinking happened on July 26th 2011. My Birthday. I was hanging out with some new friends and they showed me a few YouTube videos that blew my mind! They were “7 Food Forests in 7 Minutes with Geoff Lawton” and “300 Year Old Food Forest in Vietnam”
I was so excited! Not just for how amazing a food forest was in and of itself but also for the implications for all other areas of life. If you can partner with nature to create these regenerative systems then these same principles would also apply to relationships, community, business. My mind was swirling!  Something just clicked inside of me and a new day was dawning. It resonated so deeply with me because it helped me to put a finger on things I had felt or suspected for years but had no language to articulate. It is a peculiar thing, many people intuitively know something is wrong with the way we are living, the way we grow and consume food, the way we live in houses with our home entertainment centers so insulated and isolated from our neighbors. It is not news that something is not right but we don’t know what it is so we continue the way we have aways done because it is all we have ever known(In our short life span). Permaculture gave me language to begin to understand how things should work and how connected we could be and should be with the earth, with our neighbors, with the cycles of nature. It opened up a new place in me to explore and grow. It is almost 3 years later and I feel like I still am at the very beginning of a great journey. Take a look at these videos and let me know how you are affected?

7 Food Forests in 7 Minutes with Geoff Lawton (7:03)
I was amazed with the progression of what happened in just a few years. Also I was blown away with the whole concept. I did not know that ecosystems worked in this way.

300 Year Old Food Forest in Vietnam (5:56)
Incredible! The abundance! This video really put me over the edge. 28 generations! The knowledge of every plant and tree for food and medicine was passed down generation to generation. That is a real education, learning about trees and plants and their interconnected relationships to one another and to us. Imaging the sense of “place” they have. Imagine eating Mangos from the same tree your grandparents did. That land must sing with harmony and memories. All the life events that happened there in their family. Births, death, weddings, such a rich history. It is a little piece of Eden!

Inception: Ideas and Revelations About Our Relationship with Water

Inception, how planting ideas grows meaningful change.   Our decisions can bring change that creates either Abundance that we all want or Scarcity which most of us are trying to avoid, except for those to look to profit from it.

Can water be created or destroyed on planet earth?

No to both, it can only be managed in a sustainable or even regenerative ways creating abundance or mis-managed creating scarcity.  This is encouraging because water has been in a continuous cycle of being used and dirtied then cleansed again throughout the history of the earth. This quote from Charles Fishman illustrates the point.

“And we only have that one allotment of water — it was delivered here 4.4 billion years ago. No water is being destroyed or created on Earth. So every drop of water that’s here has seen the inside of a cloud and the inside of a volcano, the inside of a maple leaf and the inside of a dinosaur kidney probably many times.” Pg. 17 of  The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

Fascinating isn’t it. One allotment, that kind of makes you want take better care of it. What I really like is that it can’t be destroyed. Water is very resilient. There is an ecology to the planet and their is an ecology to your body. But what I am discussing today is how both of these are effected by the ecology of water as it relates to Scarcity and Abundance. 

In the words of Brad Lancaster:

“By cycling the water we infiltrate, conserve, and clean within our lives and landscapes, we empower ourselves to do far more with far less. So, more is available for everyone, creating abundance. We enhance our own water resources and those of others, especially those downstream and downslope. Rather than commodifying fresh water or turning it onto a limited-acess commodity to be bought, sold and hoarded, we communify it by working together to enhance our local water resources and manage their fair use and equal accessibility. As we enhance our natural resources within our own lives and throughout our neighborhoods, the “community watershed” and the community resources are enhanced many times over.

This must occur in the more water consumptive government, commercial, agriculture, and industry sectors as well as at home, but at home is where it begins because every government official, teacher, student, businessperson, farmer, and industry worker lives in a home.  If we realize the potential or water harvesting at home where it is easiest to do so, we can realize it elsewhere, because we will have learned from direct experience, we will be motivated by our success, and we will be living the example we are trying to set. “Pg. 18 “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond”

By starting at home we can actually effect change on a much larger scale. It’s kind of like in the movie Inception where before implanting an idea into someones mind they had to strip an idea down to its most elemental form so that the person believed that it was their own idea and so it took root and changed the course of their life. Ideas are planted by people experiencing the power and the satisfaction of doing what is right for themselves and the planet, as those actions are witnessed then those ideas with move up into corporations and governments.

Because we are disconnected with where our water comes from and how it moves through our landscapes and lives we have handed over the control of it to someone else. This does not have to be so. To thrive in the coming years we as individuals have to take back both responsibility and thus control of  our water.  Great change happens when many people do small things consistently. Isn’t it great that you don’t have to wait for someone in Washington DC to do something?

If you want to stick it to the man put out a bucket or barrel and harvest some of your own rainwater today. It’ll do your body, soul and spirit good!