The Call, Column 108 – If these shadows remain unaltered…

10 02 2019

(February 10th, 2019)

The Urban Farmer

If these shadows remain unaltered…

This column is heavy. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. If I had read it 10 years ago, or maybe even 6 months ago, it would have made me uncomfortable. It is making me uncomfortable to write. If I had read it back then, I may have even rejected it as overly alarmist. But now, it’s my constant, waking truth. It is the objective truth. And so it has to be your truth, too. Please read on.

We are living at the end of the world. I don’t make that statement lightly. On the contrary, it was not something I was willing to believe – not a claim I would have even entertained – before the still-not-quite-defined transformation that I’ve undergone in the past month, or 6 months, or year, maybe. It isn’t a truth that I want to accept, and I’m not even sure I have fully come to terms with it yet.

            We – you and I, your friends and neighbors, your parents and children and pets – are living at the end of the world. There, I said it again, for clarity and constancy.

Now, I don’t mean the end of the “Earth”. Our planet will recover…no, scratch that use of the possessive. **The** planet, will recover from the human-caused climate crisis. It will recover, in a short time when measured against its 4.5 billion-year existence, from the damage wrought by human civilization and industry. Many species may go extinct, and certain pollutants may be present for thousands or millions of years before fully decaying, but the global ecosystem will recover.

But if human society continues on its charted course, our descendants will not be present for that recovery. The climate crisis, as it stands unaltered, marks the very real end of the human world, the end of the human species, the end of us.

The end of us, all of us. The end of you; yes, you – Chris, or Ashley, or Jessica, or Mike, or David, or Jen, or Nick, or whoever you are, reading this right now – you are quite possibly living in the last century of human existence on this planet. You will quite possibly live through, and quite possibly die as a result of, Nature’s descent into the most chaotic, violent, unpredictable, destructive version of itself that our species has ever had to cope with, at least in recorded history.

You, or your children or grandchildren, will experience the coming decline in global food production, loss of coastal communities to the rising seas, onslaught of violent and unpredictable weather events, and worldwide resource wars – things that we’ve already seen the beginnings of – and the process of much of the human population dying or becoming climate refugees.

You, or your children or grandchildren, will suffer the rise of global authoritarian fascism – something we’ve already seen the beginnings of – which will serve to concentrate the resources and wealth that still exist at that point into an even smaller number of blood-stained hands, buying them a few more comfortable years on the planet before perishing as a result of their own greed.

Borrowing Charles Dickens’s powerful appeal to our basic moral goodness: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the future”, everybody you know, myself included, is currently living during the collective dying breath of the human species.

These words are unpleasant. But just because they’re unpleasant, doesn’t make them untrue. And the facts I’ve laid out above have tangibly altered the processes by which I make decisions about my life.

As a 26-year-old, I am unable to build my life’s ambitions, goals, and day-to-day existence on the same foundation that my grandparents and parents were. The promises made to them – of a stable livelihood, of a comfortable existence with minimal exposure to global strife, of a long and financially-secure retirement, of a lifespan unprecedented in human history – are promises that I would have no businesses believing, even if some lying excuse for a leader cared to make them to me. I’m not even sure if my parents have any businesses believing those promise, at this point.

I likely will not bring children into this world. I watch basically no TV. I have passions and interests, unrelated to organizing for collective welfare, that I do not spend a lot of time honing. I do not live my life as if I believe I will retire comfortably at some point. I (intend to) go to the gym enough to maintain strength and enough muscle mass, but have dropped my previous goal of being very muscular. And the list goes on.

The thought of structuring my life – my use of limited time, resources, physical and mental energy, and capacity – to devote it to normal American things, to give them so much time that they distract and detract from trying to make the world better, seems foolish. To structure my life assuming the planet will be as livable in 50 years as it is today, IS foolish.

At this point, all of these decisions are contextualized by a suffering planet and the reality of human-caused climate change. They are contextualized by the fact that we are all living during the collective dying breath of the human species. They are contextualized by one very important question. A question that, if you understand the reality we face, you will hear being asked by the figurative lips taking that dying breath: is the human species a failed experiment?

And if the trajectory of global climate change remains unaltered by the (very short-term) future, it seems inescapable that the answer is yes.



My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.


The Call, Column 107 – The Time to Act is NOW

13 01 2019

(January 13th, 2019)

The Urban Farmer

The Time to Act is NOW


“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” ~Edward Abbey~


** The climate is warming. **

** It’s our fault. **

** Yes, we’re sure. **

** And it’s not a good thing. **

** But we can fix it… **

** If we work together! **

As a species, we are presented with – by which I mean, we have caused – the biggest, most widespread, existential threat that we’ve ever faced. This is the truth. This is the problem at hand, and it’s not going away without the hard work of people like you and me.

I was going to write a long explanation about how the start of agriculture and ensuing formation of civilization led directly to the modern exploitive economic system, which is the indirect but actual cause of climate change…but that’s a discussion for another column.

Today, I need you to recognize – I need you to passionately understand – the imminent threat that we all face. These aren’t just words on a page, it isn’t just an arbitrary political belief, it isn’t liberal propaganda. We are literally discussing an issue that, if not addressed quickly and adequately, could result in the demise of the entire human population within the next century or two. You know me, you know how scientific and honest I am in my columns. I’m not playing.

Our use of fossil fuels over the last century and a half – a problem which, itself, is the result of the resource- and labor-exploiting global economy which we continue to allow to exist with few checks on its damage – has caused the carbon dioxide concentration of the global atmosphere to rise significantly, which is in turn already causing notable, serious changes to the global climate, ecosystem, and human economy.

These changes include more disastrous and frequent weather events, loss of biodiversity, melting glaciers and rising oceans, warming temperatures, loss of agricultural production, increase in disease epidemic, and the undue suffering of impoverished, disadvantaged people around the world, who by-and-large did not cause this problem.

What’s more, warming temperatures and melting Artic ice has already created a concerning positive feedback cycle. Huge amounts of greenhouse gases like methane, trapped in the ice, are being released as the temperature warms and the ice melts. These further accelerate changes to the climate, which further accelerate the melting of the ice and the release of the gas. And on. And on.

If the issues above are allowed to continue down their charted paths, they will result in huge extinction pressures to the global human population. Unprecedented disease, mass starvation, the loss of population centers along continental coastlines, and the collapse of ecosystems upon which subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherer tribes rely are all reasonably likely outcomes, and we will probably see them before the turn of the century. And we, in the West – in the United States – will suffer in spite of our relative feelings of economic stability.

As a 26-year-old, there is a reasonable likelihood that my life will end earlier than it would otherwise, as a result of a climate-change-related malady. This may be true of people decades older than me, and is almost certainly true for everyone born after me. If we continue down the charted path – and I write this with a grim, serious expression on my face and the logical center of my brain drawing conclusions that the emotional center wants desperately not to accept – the human species may go extinct in less time from now than the United States has existed.

We are in a global existential crisis of our own doing. And not only is inaction by any individual an unreasonable reaction to this crisis – it is an immoral reaction.

It isn’t too late to change our ways and avoid the most serious effects of global climate change. In the long term, it is necessary to completely reform the global economic system, so that it no longer creates economic and population growth by exploiting people and exhaustible natural resources (namely: fossil fuels and the atmosphere’s capacity to deal with extra carbon dioxide produced by them). That is a fight we should all begin engaging with.

But in the short-term – and as a big first step towards that complete overhaul – we need to make significant reforms to the system that exists.

1) At its most basic, the United States government – the primary driver of global policy and international relations – no longer functions in such a way that it is representative of the interests of the citizens of the country (or the rest of the world, which are more similar to one another than you’ve been led to believe). This is not a Trump vs. not-Trump, Democrat vs. Republican issue. All levels of government need to undergo Good Government reforms so our elected officials are able to represent the interests of their constituents, and provide for the common welfare through their elected office. (Speaking of: visit, and call your RI State Rep to demand that they support the House Rules Reforms that will be proposed by the Reform Caucus next week.)

2) Public outcry needs to grow. This problem is the most serious one we’ve ever faced, and will result in the detriment of the human population in less than 10 generations. Most people recognize this issue (albeit to various degrees), but it needs to be raised to the forefront of our municipal, state, national, and international political conversations. A more representative government along with public outcry results in leaders who recognize, take seriously, and act on the short-term threat of climate change.

3) Climate-specific reforms and policies need to be implemented very quickly. Leaders on every level of government have begun calling for a Green New Deal and similar actions. This is a set of policy goals which would quickly transition us over to a sustainable, renewable-energy based economy, in such a way that economically- and socially-disadvantaged communities will benefit instead of suffer by the transition, and such that our economy can continue growing sustainably, instead of by relying on nearly-exhausted natural resources.

A combination of tactics is necessary to achieve these goals. Citizens need to pay attention and engage with the electoral and legislative processes – we need to elect well-informed, well-intended fighters to office, and hold them accountable. We need to educate the public about the issue at hand and the things we all need to do to solve it. We need to work as hard as we can to form coalitions of interested, concerned citizens that can leverage their combined power to force changes. And we need to perform direct actions to bring about media attention and use our collective voice to forcefully call for change. (Side note: I had the fortune a year ago of joining Climate Action RI, a group committed to effectively and quickly do just these things.)

There’s one thing that I need you to understand. Western people born earlier than, say, the 1970’s were born into global economic prosperity. They were largely promised – and will likely fully collect on that promise – that as long as they did their work, grew their families, and didn’t rock the boat, they could live a relatively comfortable life and retire and die without significant hardship.

That promise no longer exists. And for the foreseeable future, it will not exist again. People born later than that should not reasonably assume to enjoy the same stability. They won’t enjoy the same stability. If you were born after that, there is a reasonable possibility you will become a climate refugee, or die of starvation or from some eradicated disease buried deep in the Arctic, before the natural limit of your life. And if you were lucky enough to be born before that, your children or grandchildren will suffer as described.

At any rate, the calculation about your life’s ambition needs to change. The recent UN Climate Report gave us 12 years to lay serious groundwork for climate solutions, or else we will guarantee and submit to the future I’ve described.

Twelve. Years. I will be 38 years old at that point. If you or a loved one is pregnant, that child won’t be in high school yet. In all likelihood, you reading this will still be alive at that time.

Twelve. Years.

Those alive today – you, reading this – can no longer make the calculation that living a normal American life, and ignoring this problem or just talking about it with no action to back that up, will mean you can trick the system and get off scot-free.

At this point, refusing to take action is no longer just a long-term illogical choice. It is an immoral one. I’m asking you, as someone who will live with the consequences of what we do today, to commit to helping solve the climate crisis.

Because it can be solved. We can do it. But we need to work together in solidarity. We need you. I need you.

Email me at and I’ll help you get started.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call, Column 104 – The Urban Farmer Comes Home

12 12 2018

(December 2, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

The Urban Farmer Comes Home

Hello, my fellow urban farmers and rabble-rousers. You may have noticed – especially if you’re a long-time reader – that a lot of my columns over the past few months have been reprints from previous years. While it’s all good material (if I do say so myself), I much prefer to write a new column every two weeks. You may be wondering why I haven’t been doing that.

Well, today, I think I owe you an explanation. I will preface it with a promise that I will be around (I guess I’d call it, “in newspaper-space”) a lot more, writing mostly new columns and maybe starting up some interview-based columns again. And considering the dire UN Report on the immediate necessity of solving climate change, I will issue as many calls to action and opportunities to help as I can.

And on that note, it’s time for my explanation. In the past year or so, and especially in the past 6 or 7 months, my friend and I have gone from basically not involved, to being full-fledged political activists.

As of this past spring, we became leaders in Climate Action RI, a group that I mentioned a few columns ago. CARI’s mission is to facilitate a quick solution to the climate crisis by advocating for legislation, performing peaceful demonstrations, facilitating public education, and helping to elect climate leaders into public office. The group has grown by leaps and bounds since then, and we’ve meaningfully contributed to that mission. This group of people, and our combined energy and drive to help solve the existential problem of climate change, is my heart and soul. I look so forward to our meetings and actions and canvasses, and work hard to help plan a lot of them. If you’re interested in getting involved, shoot me an email.

As a result of being active in CARI, my friend and I are also CARI’s liaisons to the EnergizeRI coalition. The coalition’s goal is to draft, advocate for, and pass legislation to curb our carbon emissions in Rhode Island, and move us towards the renewable energy future. I’ll talk more about this after January 1st, once legislative session begins and EnergizeRI begins our very public advocacy work.

I’ve also been doing a lot of community organization work. I am on the Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative, whose goal is to organize events and aid in the revitalization of Woonsocket’s main street and surrounding area, and the Autumnfest Steering Committee. I look up to Garrett Mancieri, Melissa Murray, and other community leaders who are responsible for much of the good work accomplished by these organizations. I’ve learned from the best, and it is my honor to help these groups revitalize our city. Again, shoot me an email if you want to get involved in either of these organizations.

My friend and I have also been doing a lot of work for political candidates. Up until the primary, I was what’s called “a super-volunteer” (and sometimes event organizer) for a bunch of progressive candidates: Melissa Murray (Woonsocket), Aaron Regunberg (statewide), Laufton Ascencao (Bristol-Warren), Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Providence), Sam Bell (Providence), Jeanine Calkin (Warwick), and Matt Brown (statewide). I learned so much while canvassing, poll-working, making calls, organizing high-rise events, and doing all sorts of other work for these candidates. Many of them won their primaries (and went on to win their generals), which is a really good thing for sustainability and climate action in Rhode Island.

And all that work before the primary led to a position I was really proud to take on: Campaign Manager for (now) State Senator-Elect Melissa Murray! Melissa was a two-term, progressive city council member in Woonsocket, and decided to run for Senate District 24 (Woonsocket and North Smithfield). She is an amazing advocate for so many important issues and things that I care about, and is the best thing that has ever happened to Woonsocket. She cares immensely about our city, doing right by us, and advocating for the best policies statewide.

From a practical standpoint, I am thrilled to have had the experience of working as Melissa’s Campaign Manager. The public outreach, advocacy, and coordinating that we did on that campaign was really important (and not to mention, educational), and those skills will also make me a more effective public advocate and organizer in my other political endeavors. The amount of work was immense, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. Melissa is a genuinely good person and an able leader…qualities reflected all too well by her 58.9% win on Election Day!

Finally, I wanted to mention an exciting event that I helped to organize with Climate Action RI on Friday. It all started when recently, a restaurant in Westerly called Amigos Taqueria y Tequila drew criticism from State Senator Elaine Morgan (District 34), for exercising their First Amendment rights, being openly critical of the President and his policies. Morgan called for a boycott of the restaurant, making slanderous, false accusations and mobilizing people to act against the owner and establishment.

President Trump has not been a friend to the climate. His administration denies the scientific truth of climate change, and is unwilling to enact any meaningful climate actions in order to subvert the disastrous effects in the little time we have left to do so. Naturally, CARI disagrees with his stances and unwillingness to act, and calls in our elected officials and private citizens (including businesses) to stand for truth in these and other matters, and in the fight for a more sustainable future.

We were deeply disturbed to hear the news of the inappropriate behavior by Senator Morgan, so CARI got together a coalition of activist organizations, and quickly organized a group of over 20 of our members, activists, and community members to travel to Westerly and patronize Amigos in solidarity. We were shocked to learn about the harassment that the owner and staff have endured over the last few weeks, and the cost in emotional stress and thousands of dollars spent to ensure everyone’ safety, as the result of harassment by an elected official.

This event, while not directly related to climate action, was really heart-warming in its utter success, and the way it served to bring together a group of concerned activists, citizens, and businesspeople. In these times of political turmoil and looming environmental disaster, we activists on the right side of history must stand together in solidarity, fighting for what is right along with those in the community willing to speak up for the same.

I’m happy to have a little more time now, and excited to revitalize my column with new material and energy. I hope you all have a great start to the holiday season. We will touch base again in two weeks!

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call, Column 103 – Don’t Be Afraid to ‘Fall’ In Love Again

25 09 2018

(September 23, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

Don’t Be Afraid to “Fall” In Love Again

Can you feel that slight chill in the air? Have you noticed the first brushings of color on the still-green trees of summer? Is your garden producing more than you can possibly eat?
I felt the weather break this week; you know, that hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it feeling, where you can tell that the summer sun is no longer beating down, and the heat of the last four months is starting to retreat and give way to an orchestral change? It’s always very emotional for me when the weather starts to cool down and it’s obvious that summer is ending, something I think I share with a lot of other people.

Why do you think this is? Of all the seasonal changes, why do you think the transition from summer to fall is the one that makes the most people stop, and think, and feel, and notice? I, for one, have been so busy, so wrapped up in politics and work and my social life that I haven’t really “experienced” the summer this year…but even in that mental state, the slow creep of nature’s clock really has me paying attention this week.

I have a feeling that this shared emotion is probably an evolutionary and cultural remnant from millennia past. Throughout our species’ time on Earth, this point in the year was probably the most biologically significant in terms of survival. Nature is most productive, putting forth food and fibers and fuels in a quick burst before the colder temperatures usher in the minimally-productive winter months. The fall is the time of year, at least in temperate regions, where our preparations and decisions would have meant life or death in the threatening winter weather. It seems to make sense that each year’s transition into the fall represented enough of an evolutionary pressure, that instinctively paying attention to it was – and is – a biological imperative.

And it probably follows that cultural norms were built around that deeply-ingrained biological imperative. We all intuitively know that it is becoming fall; that the weather is about to change significantly; that the natural world is about to dance, and sing, and deck itself out, in a last-ditch attempt to prepare itself for winter…and that we should respond in kind. That’s where the culture around the harvest originated, with ancient festivals and celebrations (like the pagan Samhain) and modern (capitalism-driven) iterations of “pumpkin-spice-everything” and obsessions over fall-related activities. We all intuitively know that something big is going to happen, and that we need to pay attention…

So that’s what we should do. Fall has always been my favorite time of year, probably much for innate biological and cultural reasons I’ve discussed (and also Halloween, which is a once-or-twice-removed example of the same). Even in this most busy year in my life, I’ve already begun to slow down my body, mind, and calendar a bit, to pay attention and allow myself to enjoy the season.

And that’s what I want you to do, too. Go apple picking. Decorate with some pumpkins, and carve them for Halloween. Enjoy the typical foods of the fall – the pumpkins and apples, the spices, the corn, the soups and pies and warm beverages. Go on a hayride or to a haunted house. Spend time outside, in nature, with friends and family and your community, and be a part of the natural world’s well-choreographed transition from growing to storing, from summer to fall.

In addition to feeding those deeply-ingrained evolutionary and emotional and spiritual needs, allowing yourself to experience these things is good for small-scale agriculture. It gives you a good excuse to patronize local orchards and farms for most of the typical fall products: apples, corn, mums, cornstalks, hay bales, pumpkins and gourds (even if you have a HUGE, compost-pile-sourced, volunteer pumpkin patch, like I do), cider, and all of the produce and meats that go into your favorite warm dishes.

And doing this further feeds your soul. Being connected with the people who produce your food, and watching as they curate this burst of productivity from their land, and offer the goods of the harvest out to their community…this is a tradition as old as human civilization itself.

So this fall, slow down a bit; pay attention to the weather, and the leaves, and the agriculture, and the people and culture around you. Pay attention to the natural world, and remember that you, too, are a part of it.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call, Column 102 – Keep Calm and CARI On: Acting for Climate Protection

17 09 2018

(September 9, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

Keep Calm and ‘CARI’ On – Acting for Climate Protection

Hey fellow urban farmers! You may have perceived this a bit, by the nature of some of my recent columns, but I’ve been keeping myself SUPER busy over the past few months, with involvement in various environmental and political endeavors. Much of it has centered on climate change and environmental action, with lots of other progressive activism stuff thrown in. I just wanted to give you all an update today, and discuss some ways you can very easily get involved.

The first thing I want to talk about is Climate Action RI – “CARI”, for short. This Providence-based group has very quickly become my family in the environmental and progressive movement! I got involved with CARI this past winter, when my friend and I went to a demonstration against offshore drilling in Providence, which was organized by the then-fledgling group. We and a bunch of other attendees signed up for an email list, went to our first meeting a week later, and haven’t looked back!

We, the new members, have grown alongside CARI in the six months since then. In that period, many of us have gotten heavily involved in protesting, legislative action, and electoral politics, where we weren’t before. I am one of those, and it is really inspiring to watch this unfold from the inside!

CARI’s basic founding principle is right in its name: the push for immediate, pragmatic action on climate change. This generally includes legislative action (lobbying for good bills like carbon pricing and renewables investment, and against bad bills like efficiency caps), electoral work (endorsing and campaigning for environmentally-minded candidates), public education, peaceful protesting, and fostering a supportive environment amongst those of us activists who are acutely aware of the dire, existential threat of global climate change that we are currently facing. CARI has done a lot of good work in all of these areas, both before I joined and in the time since.

So my first suggestion: JOIN CARI! It’s an amazing group, growing more every week, and together we have the tools, voice, and energy needed to foster serious, pro-environmental action in the Ocean State and beyond. The more members we have, the more power we can build. Email me if you want to get involved.

As I said earlier, one of the important parts of CARI’s work is endorsing and helping out political candidates who are proven climate leaders. I am CARI’s Politics Chair, and our political subcommittee has spent countless hours poring over candidates’ platforms and records, and talking to them personally, to find prominent environmental leaders in RI. We have made nine endorsements for the 2018 Primary Election.

For the Governor’s seat, Matt Brown has CARI’s enthusiastic endorsement. Matt has a vision for Rhode Island that includes 100% renewable energy by 2035, and a well-detailed plan to develop solar and offshore wind capacity to exceed Rhode Island’s usage and meet that goal. He understands the nuance of environmental issues, and would guide the legislature to a much greener future.

For the Lieutenant Governor’s seat, Aaron Regunberg has CARI’s enthusiastic endorsement. Aaron is a two-term Representative for Providence, and in that time has sponsored and passed an incredible amount of environmental and climate-related legislation in the State House. He is a proven, vocal champion for climate action and environmental protection, and will use the Lieutenant Governor’s seat to push the General Assembly towards concrete action.

We have endorsed seven General Assembly candidates.

Jeanine Calkin (Senate District 30, Warwick – incumbent) has made environmental action a primary focus of her platform, working on carbon pricing and a gamut of other climate-related legislation, and demonstrating alongside us against offshore drilling.

Laufton Ascencao (House District 68, Bristol/Warren) has worked for years as a citizen activist on carbon pricing and other environmental legislation, as well as doing renewable energy installations around the state. He is ideologically-driven and committed to climate action.

Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (House District 5, Providence – incumbent) has been a vehement supporter of carbon pricing and environmental action, and has made environmental justice a prominent part of the conversation in the State House.

Justine Caldwell (House District 30, East Greenwich) has a broad environmental focus woven into her campaign, focusing not only on climate action, but on plastic pollution, mass transit, and responsible municipal development.

Sam Bell (Senate District 5, Providence) is a proven environmental activist, demonstrating alongside CARI against offshore drilling and aiding in a variety of climate-related campaigns over the years. He has well-thought-out plans for green urban development in Providence and carbon reduction goals statewide.

Terri Cortvriend (House District 70, Middletown/Portsmouth) sits on a slew of environmental- and climate-related boards in her area, and has made climate action a prominent part of her platform. She approaches it from the perspective of a coastal community which will be unduly affected by sea level rise, and therefore injects climate resiliency and preparedness into the conversation.

Paul Roselli (Senate District 23, Burrillville/Glocester/North Smithfield) has been a prominent climate activist for years in Rhode Island, and has vehemently protested the proposed Burrillville power plant.

CARI has focused on statewide environmental activists in our endorsements, and we have every faith that this slate of candidates will come through for climate action in the state house. The primary is this week, Wednesday September 12th. Make sure you get out and vote!

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call, Column 101 – Designing for Resiliency in the Urban Farm

12 08 2018

(August 12, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

Designing for Resiliency in the Urban Farm

How important is it to design a system to be resilient, as opposed to working to avoid the worst stressors that might test its resiliency and cause it to fail? This was the central question of a particularly interesting conversation in our last meeting of Climate Action RI, the environmental group that I am a part of.

That conversation really focused on the effects of climate change, asking whether we put more effort into infrastructure and other projects – projects that will protect our coasts and people from the worst effects of climate change – or instead, more effort into legislation and other changes to prevent those effects preemptively.

We reached a sort of consensus, somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. But I think this discussion is useful in a broader sense: we can apply it to climate change, but also to urban farming and life in general. That’s what I want to do today.

So what does it mean for an urban farm to be resilient?

To answer that, we first have to figure out what stressors an urban farm might face. A stressor is anything that would challenge the short- or long-term health of the urban farm system, testing the limits of its design and possibly causing it to fail. Pests, plant and animal diseases, neglect, and weather-related stressors (torrential rain, heat waves, drought, frost, etc) are all good examples of these.

There are a set of generally good gardening practices, all of which help to create some level of resilience against the above.

Keeping the soil well-mulched prevents a lot of soil-born diseases, makes it harder for pests to take hold, and creates a sort of time-water-buffer, so the soil doesn’t dry out due to high heat, lack of rain, or neglect.

Installing a basic irrigation system (drip or otherwise) definitely protects against neglect by ensuring the garden gets watered, even if you can’t make time or forget; also, well-watered plants are healthier and more able to fight pests and diseases.

Keeping perennials (and some annuals) well-pruned makes it harder to pests and diseases to proliferate.

These are just a few examples of practices that lead to resiliency in the urban farm. There is a basic distinction that I like to make, between elements of system design on the one hand, and constant inputs from the urban farmer on the other.

Things that are done infrequently, or just at the beginning of the season, like mulching or installing a drip irrigation system, are system design elements. You trade some overhead cost or effort for a higher level of resiliency throughout the life of the system (i.e. one layer of mulch can last for months, and improves the soil while protecting it from the above without constant attention on your part). These are the best types of methods to use (better than others, which require constant input from you), because they, themselves, are resilient against the worst stressor on an urban farm: neglect.

And that sort of brings me to the more general point in this column. In urban farming and beyond, it’s important to try to design our systems to be resilient to our own neglect. I am by no means good at doing this yet, but it is always on my mind when I make decisions and take on projects.

It is oftentimes the case that we are busier, or more tired than we anticipate, and that can mean our urban farms and other projects falter if they rely on our constant input. That’s why things like mulch are great, because they significantly reduce weed growth, pest and disease proliferation, and watering requirements, all of which make the garden more resilient against not only those problems, but against the urban farmer’s inability to monitor those problems.

As you continue caring for your gardens and animals, I urge you to give some thought to what types of methods you can employ to make those systems more resilient. I would love to hear about any specific ideas that you use, or come up with, that I haven’t mentioned here, so please shoot me an email. Until next time, enjoy the much-needed rain.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.

The Call, Column 97 – Further Thoughts on Saving the World

10 06 2018

(June 10, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

Further Thoughts on Saving the World

I almost hyperventilated this morning. In my 25 years, that’s never (almost) happened as much as in the past couple of months.

You see, I was tending to my chickens outside, and realized how out-of-control my raspberry and blackberry patch has become – sprawling, un-pruned, and way-too-infected by weeds for my liking. And that realization spawned another, bitter thought: how comparatively little time I’ve given to my garden this year. There are so many things that I want to do in my garden, so many things that I “need” to do, but I’ve been so busy with other obligations that I haven’t yet been able to give it the attention it deserves and requires. And then, the heavy breathing began…

Why am I telling you this? In my last column, I waxed poetic on the virtues of saving the world. “Saving the World”…really? The point of that column was to try to deal with some of the anxiety that we as woke urban farmers will absolutely feel while trying to both contribute positively to the collective (environmental) good, and also enjoy our own lives…after first, of course, doing those mundane things required to keep ourselves alive. I never pretended to be an expert, but the two weeks since I wrote that have made it abundantly clear how my personal exploration of this topic is both incredibly important to my wellbeing, and ironically, woefully infantile. And also how important that exploration probably is to all of you.

So today, I want to talk about sustainability efforts as expressed by two distinct types of actions: individual/lifestyle changes on the one hand, and collective/legislative/political/community-wide changes on the other. I will preface this discussion with my view that both have a place in our society and each of our lives, but I think we need a lot more nuance in how we talk about, approach, and allocate time to these efforts.

What are the individual changes I’m talking about? These are things like switching to LEDs and other energy efficiency retrofits in your own home, buying sustainably-grown food, turning off lights and water when not in use, recycling, composting, gardening, refraining from creating plastic waste, etc. You get the picture.

They are the sustainability-oriented actions which make us feel the most accomplished – they require the most effort and time, produce the most tangible results, and make us feel more intimately connected with the systems we wish to change for the better. And relative to the 350 million people in the United States, and the 7 billion people in the world, these actions in isolation produce basically no positive effect towards our species’ move to sustainability…Ouch, bet you didn’t see that coming.

What about the collective changes? These are actions in the political and societal realm – lobbying for legislation, voting and otherwise working towards the election of environmental leaders, protesting, contributing to environmental lobbying and action groups, urban farming on a wider community scale, and volunteering. These actions likely produce the most positive change for the time/money/effort spent, but with the exception of volunteering, there is often no concrete, tangible outcome to celebrate. And so effort towards collective change can often leave us feeling empty or unaccomplished. Double “ouch”.

So what are we to do? How should we allocate our time on individual versus collective change, and how can we derive meaning from both? And what does that have to do with my unkempt raspberry bushes? Glad you asked.

The topic of this column was inspired by a couple of different things: an article that I encountered a few weeks ago, about the best solutions to climate change; a couple of very deep conversations with my close friend; and, naturally, a Facebook post about food waste and “sustainability-shaming”. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as of late, and it has actually sort of shifted and fine-tuned my views.

One initial comment, from that Facebook post: “sustainability-shaming”, valuing someone’s commitment to sustainability based on how well they recycle and efficiency-retrofit their home – is ineffective, classist, and ignorant of the actual problem. Climate change and environmental degradation are industry-level problems. You, reading this, did not cause climate change. Your neighbor, who works two jobs and doesn’t always have time to separate her recyclables, did not create the landfill. And your grandfather, who uses an entire bag of salt every time it snows, is not causing soil degradation.

Environmental problems are structural problems, largely perpetuated by the fossil fuel and other industries who stand to gain from (to quote that same friend from above) “internalizing profits and externalizing losses”. The fossil fuel industry’s business model relies on freely polluting the global environment – with particulates, NOx and SOx pollutants, and of course, fossil carbon dioxide – while making money off of you, a necessary consumer of energy who likely cannot reasonably produce it yourself. You, and your neighbor, and your grandfather were simply born into, and more-or-less have to participate in, this incredibly damaging economy. Be wary of anyone who frames environmental issues on the individual scale, because the very industries causing the problems stand to gain by making us blame each other.

Now, our approaches to change-making – the use of our time, money, and personal energy on things beyond our individual happiness – are influenced by two very different motivations. The first is efficiency: which actions produce the most positive change for each dollar, minute, or unit of psychological wear-and-tear they consume? The second is gratification: which actions make us feel most accomplished, give us the best “warm, fuzzy feeling” inside, and satisfy our deep desire for tangible outcomes as the result of our expenditure of money, time, and effort?

Ultimately, it is your personal values, socioeconomic situation, and mental/emotional/spiritual state that should inform how much you weigh each of these motivations, in deciding how to spend your “saving the world” resources. If you are already burned out – from trying to save the world or anything else – it may be better to focus on more actions that produce gratification (individual-level changes) to help alleviate that. If you are just starting out, or find yourself with more than enough time and energy, it may be better to focus on more efficient actions (collective changes). But most of us lie somewhere in between.

In fact, I made a pretty remarkable realization while writing the above: if your goal is to maximize the positive effect you have on the world, it may actually be necessary to divide your time between effective collective action, and gratifying individual action. Wait, what?

I think it may be something like a bell curve, where the extreme left side is hyper-focus on collective action, resulting from the efficiency motivation, and the extreme right is hyper-focus on individual action, resulting from the gratification motivation (any correlation to the political left and right is completely unintentional). Let me explain why.

If you hyper-focus on only efficient actions, especially ones that don’t produce adequate levels of personal gratification, you will probably burn yourself out. So while that next hour or dollar or ounce of emotional drive might be most efficiently spent at another protest or legislative hearing…if doing so then means you then have to sit in your car for an hour, screaming and swearing about how imbecilic certain politicians can be and how climate change is going to be our species’ downfall and we aren’t doing enough about it (definitely not speaking from personal experience or anything)…you aren’t really maximizing your positive effect. Alternatively, while the next hour or dollar or ounce of emotional energy might be most meaningfully spent watching Food, Inc with your vegan club for the 16th time…you aren’t really maximizing your positive effect.

Do you see my point? The truest, most effective way to save the world lies somewhere in the middle of that bell curve. Spend enough time on efficient, collective action to produce results that you often won’t see, but enough time on gratifying, individual action to motivate you to keep trying. I firmly believe that there is a balance that each of us can strike, which will keep us happily saving the world for the rest of our lives.

So that brings us full circle, right back to this morning’s almost-panic-attack. Do you want to know why my berry patch has become so unkempt? Because I have spent a HUGE amount of time in the past few months on collective action, towards climate change and other issues that are important to me. Judging by the fact that a few weeds (like many other things these days) had the effect of making me want to flee into the woods and live as a hermit…I think, maybe, I’m not doing enough of those gratifying, less-efficient actions, like sitting and watching my chickens fight each other over a worm for half an hour. If that’s what it takes to be willing to get up tomorrow and engage again in the political realm, then maybe that’s just what the doctor ordered.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.