California habits challenge resilience

While Meadowcreek slumbers in the cold and the residents enjoy the wood they were smart to cut on those beautiful clear fall days, a few of us are waking up to the last day of our climate change excursion to California.  I’m typing this with my door open to the sound of Pacific waves crashing.  It’s hard to not look up to watch the waves breaking and the sky turn colors as the sun gets closer to splitting heaven from earth.Surf-on-Davenport-Beach-California

In a few hours we will be back at our beloved Meadowcreek, remembering this morning on the beach along with a myriad of other inspiring agricultural systems.

For the last few years we’ve been working to understand resilience in local food systems and farms in Arkansas and the Southeast.  Now we’re out trying to see how our ideas play in the “big city.”

California is head and shoulders above any other state in climate change legislation.  For details, just ask our hosts based in Sacramento, CalCAN or California Climate Action Network.

Thanks to CalCAN, we’ve had wonderful visits with insightful Californians we’d never met till this week.  I grew up with a little distaste for California.  Hollywood, I was taught, is a vortex of villanous, vile, degradation-spewing, vegans.  The Central Valley is a tribute to the power of capital to destroy ecosystems while enriching the rich.  And amidst all this, Californian secrete this odor of superiority.  They are more convinced than Texans of the primeness of their state.

But they have reason to be proud.  They are far ahead of all other states on environmental law, especially climate change.  However, we’re not interested in the letter of the law.  We know how little impact the letter of the law has on scofflaws (such as those who go 60 in a 55 zone) and how much the virtuous should ignore the letter for the spirit.

We sought out those with the spirit–those who are building resilience to climate change on the ground while creating profitable enterprises.

We found Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm–an amazing example of a resilient farming system which creates wealth and opportunity for its workers.  Rotation from broccoli to strawberries is how they keep diseases under control.  Conventional growers have to use tons of deadly chemicals to do the same thing.

We found Carol Shennan, who does research on Jim’s farm and uses natural processes of water and heat generating anaerobic conditions to destroy disease organisms in strawberries.

Others we visited enlightened us about how lacking in resilience much of California agriculture is, including the recent trend of investors paying $25,000 per acre, putting  $6-7000 more in to lay irrigation lines and plant water guzzling almond trees, doing it square miles at a time.  And each time they do it, leaving 640 acres of bare ground to be eroded.  All in a drought.  Planting trees in the desert in a drought.  Resilient?

We visited a university cattle research farm where the manager is using management intensive grazing to improve his pastures, while researchers at the same university advocate shipping cattle between Idaho and California to find good pasture.  Not local, ot resilient.

And we found John Teixeira outside Firebaugh, caring for his almonds as he creates a new system with ancient grains, heirloom tomatos, hogs, goats and a myriad of value-added enterprises.

He and many others were inspirations for us, as was the crashing surf on beautiful January days.  Luckily we have an even more interesting little valley to go back to–Meadowcreek.





Jimmy Driftwood at Meadowcreek

If you read the post on Jimmy Driftwood’s song about the scalawag Bill Dark and how he got his comeuppance, then you might like to hear the song.  And if you like the song, you might want to reread the post:



Stepping outside in January in Michigan makes a Southern boy question his resilience.  Why would people willingly come to such a cold, wind-blown place?  I guess the Netherlands in the 1880s must have been even worse.

michigan winterAnyway, the Dutch who migrated to western Michigan a little over a hundred years ago have certainly created a little chunk of European civilization.

Academics love to despise “modernism,” but I kinda like modern conveniences.  The question is: how resilient will our modern systems be? As we deplete and destroy the resources which our modern comforts require, we are undermining our future.

Why do we destroy our system’s resilience for the sake of momentary comfort?  One ecology researcher came up with an answer more than 20 years ago.

Richard Norgaard contends that five basic assumptions have led our modern American culture into the morass of climate change, species extinction and lack of resilience.

Today the acronym for these assumptions is even more trenchant: OMUMA.  If you thought Obama was bad for the country, you have never met OMUMA.  It explains why all our recent leaders and would-be leaders are pushing our culture to destruction.

OMUMA is Objectivism, Mechanism, Universalism, Monism, and Atomism.

We like people who know stuff at Meadowcreek, unless they are sure they know everything.  We are rightly suspicious of everything they say. Then again, we take everything with a grain of salt.

Traditional engineers and scientists, poor folks, are especially apt to fall for the dead end of OMUMA.

See what Norgaard had to say about it in his 1995 book, Development Betrayed:

Once you have digested OMUMA, you will have some tools to address the failings of traditional engineering approaches to ecological problems.  Some engineers are beginning to wake up, but many  need to hear from those of us who know the whole is often greater than the sum of their parts, systems are seldom mechanical, universal principles are wholly dependent on context, systems cannot be understood apart from the past effect of our values on those systems, and any one view of reality is inescapably partial.

It’s a hard sell, you’ll find out.  Nearly all who need to appreciate the destruction wrought by OMUMA are immersed in the sound bites which pass for wisdom in today’s dominant cultures.  No politician can admit he doesn’t have all the answers. This first step is required before you can ever learn to run away from OMUMA.

Atomism: Systems consist of unchanging parts and are simply the sum of their parts. Holism: Parts cannot be understood apart from their wholes and wholes are different from the sum of their parts.
Mechanism: Relationships between parts are fixed, systems move smoothly from one equilibrium to another, and changes are reversible, Systems might be mechanical, but they might also be deterministic yet not predictable or smooth because they are chaotic or simply very discontinuous. Systems can also be evolutionary.
Universalism: Diverse, complex phenomena are the result of underlying universal principles which are few in number and unchanging over time and space. Contextualism: Phenomena are contingent upon a large number of factors particular to the time and place. Similar phenomena might well occur in different times and places due to widely different factors.
Objectivism: We can stand apart from what we are trying to understand. Subjectivism: Systems cannot be understood apart from us and our activities, our values, and how we have known and hence acted upon systems in the past.
Monism: Our separate individual ways of understanding complex systems are merging into a coherent whole. Pluralism: Complex systems can only be known through alternate patterns of thinking which are necessarily simplifications of reality.