MLT Newsletter

Spring 2001

This being a very late 1st issue of this newsletter under my editorship, I think we should just dive into the substance. This 1st issue of the new millennium will start out with an article from the Kalamazoo Community Garden Initiative, to which, the MLT has helped finance. Apologies to them for getting this out late.


Kalamazoo Community Gardens Initiative implements urban gardening, neighborhood beautification and community empowerment through the development of vacant sites. The 2000 growing season opened with new garden sites purchased in the spring. Our gardens are located at 631 Ada Street, 519 Lawrence Street and 1826 Union Street. We acquired the Lawrence and Union properties at a Michigan Department of Natural Resources auction with monies donated by community members and proceeds from a benefit at Bell's Brewerey. Our Second year of gardening began with high energy from organizers, gardeners, and neighbors alike.

We toured potential sites before the DNR auction. KCGI members also canvassed each neighborhood to pass along our mission and to find gardeners for the sites. Workdays to kick off the season were well attended. We arrived with tools and gloves and were quickly joined by curious neighbors. Children from each of the neighborhoods had lots of questions as to what we were doing, soon joining in the dirty work. Ada Street only needed a bit of weeding, fresh dirt and compost. The new lots required a lot of attention before we could even plan out the garden sites. Our initial yields from these gardens were multiple bags of garbage and recyclables as well as couple of truckloads of large debris. On Lawrence Street we built a 2 foot high wall, approximately 20 feet long, with broken cement blocks found on the site.

Once we had clean sites, focus changed to design and construction. KCGI members spent two solid weekends building raised beds. We decided to use raised bed construction for several reasons. The raised beds provide some buffer from ground contaminants as well as provide individual gardening space for participants. We bought (and hauled!) 150 yards of dirt and several yards of manure to fill in each bed. Along with this mixture we also incorporated hay/straw. A local artist and KCGI member designed and painted permanent signs for the road frontage to each garden. Each garden manager designed a flower/herb garden around these signs to welcome all the new gardens. We were ready to garden!

As previously mentioned, we canvassed each neighborhood surrounding the gardens. We explained our mission, provided literature and contact information to each home. KCGI works to make gardens accessible and open to all in our community. We offer the gardens to neighborhood residents first. Any space still available at planting time is offered up to whomever is interested (primarily these were college students). Each garden has a garden manager who has a plot as well as overseeing general maintenance.

Union Street has the most neighborhood involvement among gardeners as well as garden management. Along with the garden manager, there are two dedicated KCGI members with plots. The majority of gardeners on Union are neighborhood residents. This means a constant supply of nurturing and attention. This is also our best space for gardens. Union Street has adequate drainage and proper amounts of sunlight for all of the garden beds. Most of the gardeners attended their plots well throughout the season. The gardens thrived and yields were bountiful.

The Ada garden entered a second season this year. A neighborhood member donates the land to KCGI on a seasonal basis. The community knows the garden and recognizes a couple KCGI members as well. We had a strong mix of neighbors and other community members gardening. The site itself has a bit of shade along one side but still provides a good gardening space. The garden manager for Ada was unable to fulfill her duties as expected. There was a lack of communication around this issue so it was not known among the group as a whole. Unfortunately this meant the garden was neglected for a brief time. This also led to one gardener leaving her site. While KCGI members took on the upkeep of Ada Street, the garden lost much of its momentum. Still the garden did produce and involved gardeners reaped a bountiful yield.

Lawrence Street was received well by children in the neighborhood, but there was little involvement from adults. This led to a new garden mix. We decided to split our largest plot into mini-gardens for the interested children. Members of the community at large occupied the rest of the beds, with a pumpkin patch in the back. There are several large trees on the site, including a black walnut. The site proved too shady for the most part causing poor yields in most of raised beds. We also encountered problems with vandalism and some of the gardeners had safety concerns. The children that gardened needed more guidance than the garden manager was able to provide on her own. All of this led to a lack of participation as the season wore on.

While we encountered a few difficulties with this growing season KCGI still sees 2000 as a very successful season. We accomplished our mission and gardening occurred. We expanded from our first season. This expansion has been a definite learning experience. For example, we have not kept regular meeting times during the gardening season. Last year this system worked well but caused a lack of communication during this season. Weekly meeting times are re-established and a schedule will be kept during the next growing season. Due to the consistent presence of KCGI members at Union Street we plan to have co-managers for each garden next year.

Planning is already taking place for the next season. The gardens provide many unique opportunities for their neighborhoods. There has been discussion of art projects, various planting plans, and onsideration of strengthening the community in "community gardens". We would also like to garden in the Vine and Edison neighborhoods. We are currently considering the possibilities and our capability of branching out.

Itemization of funds spent from the Michigan Land Trust


Kalamazoo Community Gardens Initiative

PO Box 50811

Kalamazoo, MI 49005

The Michigan Land Trustees has a new newsletter editor. Kudos to Mike Phillips who has done an excellent job as editor for the last ten years. His "rants and raves" tempered with down home reflection with a touch of sadness has left an indelible mark on the newsletter which is not just an outlet for the MLT "platform". I can only hope I can meet the standard he has set.

Of course, Mike similarly had to follow in the footsteps of the original newsletter editor following her death in 1990. Sally Kaufman, my mother, is missed in my personal life. When she died in 1990, I took a path away from my livelihood as a farmer, to go to nursing school and become a nurse, an idea I had been toying with and she was against. While I feel I am much more financially secure (a necessary need at the time because of my young family), I feel less "rooted"in nature, and probably less committed "to saving the world". My mother always kept me "centered" on self sufficiency-a value I will never completely lose. Because the work of my livelihood takes place indoors, I feel the seasonal changes much less acutely if nostalgically, miss observing the flora and the excitement of discovering a rare or exceptional plant or tree(of course, I am not as youthful as I once was!). I can only hope and strive to distance myself eventually from the moneyed economy and bring back those values Sally Kaufman has represented.

It is a confusing and pivotal time. An election hung in the balance, signifying a polarized society, the cusp of a new century and millennium, with environmental restraints painfully obvious to many, but trivial to others, seem to be unresolvable issues. New technologies, untested, beckoning some with promise, and terrifying others with their risks, will be unleashed in the free-market setting without planning, whose only value is money. This frontier mentality really hasn't been removed from our culture.

It is now 2001 and the actual new millennium. It was during my formative teenage years that the Stanley Kubrick film 2001 came out. My mother gave me the keys to the car (wow, what a risk!) and my brother and I went to see this movie at Campus theater in Kalamazoo. In the setting of the end of the 1960's and being exposed first hand to the cultural and value upheavals of that period with its rejection of science, the cautious optimism of 2001 formed a dichotomy which defined my existence, an uneasy melding of hope and anticipation of future promise with the practicalities of "saving the world". Much later, my son Shannon discovered and became obsessed with the movie and I saw it a couple more times. Shannon still thinks it is the best movie ever done.

Not much of that movie was prescient. We have computers but no HAL 9000. Powerful computers sit in many if not most households but are not anywhere near simulating the complexities of human conciousness. But probably that time will be coming. The fact that consciousness can be connected to interactions between billions of neurons at the neuro junction with electrical energy not unlike the on-off nature of transistors, may be nearing understanding with the aid of the processing power of computers. Similarly, we may be nearing comprehension of the structure and cosmology of the universe along with the genetic code-the programming language- of life itself. We have much to be proud of as a species.

There are a lot of striking analogies between "computer code" and "genetic code". In popular lexicon "virus" has many identical characteristics whether it is a computer virus or the biological one. Both are promoted by monoculture whether it is computer environment or an industrial size cornfield. Both are at the "cutting edge" of our economy, and both can have a definite downside. Genetic engineering has led to the further development of monoculture practices and reliance on petrochemicals that more and more characterizes agriculture today. Terminix and BT corn are examples of the use of this technology and result in the corporate control of agriculture. Putting "culture" back into agriculture is turned into a worsening feeble joke.

To put another scare into this discussion and to continue this analogy of computer and genetic code, I recently read an article "Why the future doesn't need us" by Bill Joy, a noted computer programmer(Wired, 8.04 - April 2000). It may not be too far off to conceive of computers (robots) being given the capacity to replicate (remember the obelisks of the sequel of 2001, 2010). At that point, or soon after, we may become unnecessary to these robots. Use your imagination to see the consequences.

Can we manage our successes? It was thought that the nuclear age would bring us power "too cheap to meter". Even with the vast input from the military-industrial complex, this has not happened by a long shot. What would have happened if Jimmy Carter's vision of rooftop solar collectors (he put one on the white house) hadn't been ridiculed and research stopped by Ronald Reagan? We could have been truly living within our means in a true decentralized fashion with electricity maybe not "too cheap to meter" but not metered nevertheless. Some of the progress of the Clinton-Gore administration may be stopped cold by a Bush administration who similarly ridicules hybrid cars and who would drill for oil in sensitive areas instead. We only have to not elect a "Corporation in a suit" as Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate, admonished. Like the cycles of the seasons, our levels of awareness and action relating to environmental choice ebbs and flows. ....Maybe I'll go back and listen to an old King Crimson song "21st Century Schizoid Man".

Jon Towne

The following was kindly submitted by Paul Gilk a homesteader in North Central Wisconsin, formerly an MLT board member.

The Meaning of Green Agriculture

The word "Green", as applied to gardening, farming, and agriculture is, in my estimation, pretty poorly understood. In fact, the implications of a "Green" food supply probably cause, or will cause, some uneasiness even to those of us who like to think in terms "organic" or "sustainable" food production.

The word "Green", in the broadest conception of the culture of food production, means a great deal more than just a set of techniques or methodologies applied to food-growing processes. "Green" means a great deal more than "parity" or fair price.

In this society, we are heavily oriented toward a "how-to" approach, we are inclined to think in terms of profit and reward, and so we are disinclined toward, and even impatient with, an analysis that requires us to think in historical, cultural, and spiritual patterns.

So knowing that you can obtain excellent how-to information from a multitude of sources how to garden, how to farm, how to spin and weave, how to put together your own alternative energy equipment -- I am going to tax your patience by talking about history and culture.

First I will remind you of an obvious thing. The biggest word we have for all the aspects of food production is not agri-method or agri-technique or even (though it's becoming so) agri-business but agri-culture. And the Latin roots of agriculture come from words which refer to field cultivation. The words "cultivate," "culture", and "cult" are all related and they reflect, sequentially, the practical methodologies, the social relations, and the spiritual or religious significance of how we grow, share, and are grateful for the Earth products which enable us to live, individually and collectively.

A good part of the Green criticism of and even anger toward agribusiness lies in the recognition that agribusiness represents a kind of how-to, chemically-reductionist tunnel vision-- concerned only with maximized yields and maximized profits. ("Get big or get out," as former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz proclaimed.) Agribusiness does not care about and is not interested in the cultural meaning and spiritual content of non-market food production.

The word "market" is a kind of cultural gate between agriculture and agribusiness. That is, if you believe that the only real way to understand food production is in terms of the market, you are by definition in the camp of agribusiness. Now you may argue for an "organic" agribusiness because of concerns about chemicals or genetic engineering. That would put some Jolly Green make-up on the agribusiness giant. We do realize though, without quite grasping or being able to predict the dimensions, that an "organic" agribusiness would necessitate smaller farms and more labor, for if you can't poison a field or critters into submission, you've got to spend more hands-on time out there cultivating. And that means being more labor-intensive.

This is a small step toward what "Green" means and requires and we haven't yet even come close to Wendell Berry's insight that it is "the subsistence part of the agrarian economy that assures its stability and its survival."

We still haven't gotten to much in the line of history or culture. So here we go -- and I'll give you as short a version of my understanding as possible.

Agriculture is relatively new in human history. It originated in the Late Stone Age and so the anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians tell us derives primarily from gatherers, not hunters. That is, women as the foragers for roots, nuts, fruits, and seeds discovered and were the first to practice the intentional planting of crops for human consumption. The abundance so produced, over time, resulted in a number of things. It led to villages which were stable in location, because people no longer had to follow the food, as it were. It led to a greater density of human population. It made hunting somewhat obsolete because of the eventual domestication of various animals, including the cow, sheep, goat, pig, donkey, chicken, and horse.

This abundance has led one great historian, Lewis Mumford, to talk of "the Golden Age" of the agrarian village prior to the rise of civilization proper.

I am now, perhaps, going to challenge your understanding of history as well as your understanding of what "Green" implies. I want each of you to weigh and measure, inside yourselves, the ethical and moral valuation of the common words, civility, civilize, and civilization.

If you grew up in the same conventional cultural atmosphere I did, you will find inside yourselves a positive meaning for these words. And if were to ask you to name the negative opposites of civiility, civilize, and civilization, you probably would come up with words like savage, barbarian, villain, heathen, or pagan. I will tell you right now that my cultural understanding, largely unconscious, floated in this conventional terminology until I began to probe, in determined seriousness, for the roots of what we now call "the farm crisis.".

In the briefest formulation, this is what I discovered: civilization is the perpetual enemy of agriculture. And I will try to explain exactly what I mean in the shortest possible time.

Every civilization properly identified -- from the Babylonian to the Aztec, from the Chinese dynasties to Stalin's Soviet state, from Plato's Greece to Cicero's Rome, from the Egyptian Pharaohs to the American Presidents -- has been, through violence, organized in such a way so as to cause wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few. In classical terms, the name for this wealthy few is aristocracy. And, in case you haven't been paying attention, we claim to have democratized civilization although we very much continue to have an aristocracy of wealth -- and nobody seems particularly puzzled by this obvious and outrageous contradiction.

At the root of the aristocracy of wealth lies civilization proper, for civilization is the predatory theft of agrarian abundance from the villages of the "golden age", and from all subsequent peasant villages and farming communities. We have no historical model for a civilization that does not steal, by one method or another, the production of primary producers. An at the base of primary production stands the peasant village, for nothing is more basic than our need for food.

With the emergence of civilization came institutionalized warfare and institutionalized slavery. These two realities -- the expansion of the boundaries of empire through war and conquest, and the enslavement of vast numbers of conquered people who were forced to produce and construct -- lie open to view in the history of civilization up until the implementation of the industrial revolution. At that point, while expansion of empire in some instances wildly accelerated, the overt enslavement of people was mitigated by new technologies that now enslaved nature directly, with machines and chemicals, rather than with human labor.

Well, you may say, even if all this historical claptrap and cultural gobble-de-gook is true, so what? What does any of that have to do with the meaning and politics of Green agriculture?

Needless to say, Green politics has emerged out of the growing ecological crises and growing ecological awareness of the last fifty years or so -- since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say. And one of the main ecological insights (global warming, for instance) has to do with the relatedness of so many seemingly separate aspects of life and human conduct. Another Green insight is this: the total commercialization of food production -- the destruction of what Wendell Berry calls "the subsistence part" -- occurs precisely as civilization achieves an historically unprecedented degree of global control. The culture of the peasant village, of small-farm neighborhoods, is in the process of being destroyed all over the world. The self-provisioning aspects of non-civilized food production are being globally wiped out, and the murdering thief who overran the agrarian villages at the end of the Late Stone Age is now in command, with his terminator seeds, the world over.

What this means is that Green politics is a revolutionary force, for at the core of Green politics is Green agriculture, and at the core of Green agriculture is the unconditional demand for the rectification of the great historical evil committed by civilization against the agrarian village and the Earth. The ultimate goal of Green politics is to encourage and create the conditions for ecological living on Earth. At the core of ecological living is the question of the culture of our food production, for our most fundamental need is to eat, and we eat from life which grows on Earth.

The most basic ethical teachings of the world's great religions stand on two legs. One leg is stewardship in Creation. The other leg is sharing among our own kind. Green politics embodies a new synthesis of de-centralized, ecological, democratic socialism integrated with a compassionate, Earth-based global stewardship. Green politics does not yet recognize how politically revolutionary and ecologically conservative it truly is.

The eventual victory of Green politics requires the cooperative resettlement of the countryside, an economy of real needs, energy conservation, de-militarization, reverence for nature, racial integration, gender reconciliation, spiritual respect -- and the end of civilization as we know it. Green thinking has begun to lead us out of the civilized slavery of consumerism. But we have to do our part. We not only have to envision Green culture, we also have to trust that Green culture is sustainable, and that living it will be a blessing and joy.

Green culture is, in fact, the only sane option for civilization supreme is violence, murder, theft, and slavery supreme; and that kind of supremacy, in a world with literally thousands of nuclear missiles, warheads and bombs, is a global disaster, a mammalian extermination, waiting to happen.

The Green political task is multidimensional, as the Nader candidacy has shown. There are a few brilliant leaders who, by their selfless dedication to issues of public policy, have an extraordinary grasp not only on the complexity of ecological, cultural, social, political, and economic problems, but a set of powerful proposals for structural correctives. And although Green politics includes basic socialist insights and proposals, Green is not about creating a larger and larger economic pie. In this respect, Green politics is, of ethical necessity, daringly unique. More of everything spells ecological disaster; and so Green stands alone in its demand for the disciplining of consumption, for genuine economic restraint, and even for a kind of environmental asceticism.

This, again, is a cultural gate with spiritual hinges. That is, Green culture presupposes a certain Creation-based spirituality which is not only willing to forgo the shallow allurements of sensational modernity, it also presupposes a fundamental trust that a good, culturally rich life is not only possible in the exigencies of ecological living but, by taking our foundational spiritual teachings seriously , inevitable.

But because the agrarian village lies, humanly speaking, at the base of the civilized pyramid, squashed by the economic, political, and cultural presumptions of civility, the liberation of the agrarian village -- of agriculture -- is the keystone of Green revolution. Agriculture is the soul of Green politics: an ecological socialism, a resurrected peasantry, and culturally rich, cooperative re-inhabitation of the Earth.

Paul Gilk

The Loghouse N3920 County E

Merrill, Wisconsin 54452