Monday, June 17, 2013

The Permablitz! Creating a Permaculture Urban farm in one day (more or less)

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2013-06-17 "The Permablitz: Transforming Urban Homesteads in a Single Day"
by De Chantal Hillis []:
Do you remember that 'night before Christmas' feeling... the one you used to get as a kid? The night before my Permablitz, an 'I don't know if I can wait until morning' impatience had me pacing, while a slightly buzzy feeling took hold. Yep, it was 'the night before Christmas' all over again -- even though it was mid-August, and I was 32 years old. Why was I so excited? To make a long story short, I knew that before the sun had set on my (suburban) home the next day, my medium-size backyard would have been transformed into a mini-farm, an urban homestead to rival the best of them. And it would all happen in a day. The plan was: my entire front yard lawn would be ripped out and a pretty but water-hungry gardenia bed would be demolished, along with quite a lot of decorative landscaping. In its place, a front yard orchard would be planted. A newly installed chicken run would weave through this, cementing our reputation as complete eccentrics within the neighborhood. Next to front-yard chickens, the raised garden bed (complete with wicking system) would look almost normal. The plans for the backyard were even more ambitious. At the rear of the house, a series of raised garden beds (to be built from old railway sleepers) were to encircle our traditional Australian, 1950s style 'Hills Hoist' clothes line. Massive water tanks would be installed at the side of the house. These would catch the run-off from the roof of both the house and garage. With the right kind of irrigation system (our problem, to be solved later on), we would be able to direct all the water from the roof back into the garden onto our vegetable beds. What made everything so exciting was the fact that everything was going to happen in 24 hours. I was about to become the 100th person in Melbourne, Australia, to host a Permablitz. I would not be paying builders and gardeners, because 50 volunteer gardeners were going to arrive in the morning and make it all happen free of charge. I was only paying around $500 for materials, because many of the materials that I needed had been scavenged or donated. If I were to actually pay a tradesman or two to do all this work, the project would take months, and the cost of labour would run to many thousands of dollars. If I were to do all the work myself, it could take years, and I would (probably) lose my mind in the process. Luckily, I was part of a movement of volunteers who were determined to bring food production to the cities. It was Permablitzing, and it was a very, very good idea. What is a Permablitz? As a concept, a Permablitz is very similar to the barn raisings of 18th and 19th century rural America. Barn raisings were big events for country folk because, back then, a barn was an essential piece of infrastructure for a farming family. Barns were used to keep animals sheltered and safe from predators, and to store vital farm equipment and stock fodder. A barn was also far too big -- and far too expensive -- for an individual family to build by themselves.
In order to overcome these challenges, and to provide farming families with barns, a tradition called barn raising developed during which all the people within a rural area would come together to build a barn for a household within that community. Old-timers who had helped to build many barns over the years would lead the process, instructing younger and less-experienced individuals, who provided the raw manpower that was needed to get the job done. Everyone helped out in whatever way they could -- by bringing pies or tools; donating nails; and giving, lending, and contributing what they had. People were not paid for their participation because, in those sorts of communities, everyone knew that ‘what goes around comes around.’ They knew that their neighbors would one day help them, if and when they needed a barn of their own. Food and fun were part of the barn-raising process; these were festive events with a big communal lunch and a celebratory atmosphere. These days, many urbanites choose to grow food, keep bees or chickens, and harvest rainwater. They seek a degree of self-sufficiency which will allow them to reduce their eco footprint while connecting with the pleasures of the land. Unfortunately, a whole lot of lonely, back-breaking work is usually required in order to make that dream a reality. Because most people need a 'real' job to keep the cash rolling in, weekend and holiday time are often sacrificed in order to get large-scale projects finished. It’s not unusual for small-scale urban growers to spend weeks, months, and even years setting up composting systems, building poultry runs, and connecting water tanks. That's why Permablitzing makes sense. During a Permablitz, an army of volunteers, friends, and neighbors descend on a home and transform the yard (back, front, or both) into a food-growing wonderland. Permablitzing is a way of turning lawn into micro-farm and suburban house into urban homestead. The term 'Permablitz' is, in fact, a portmanteau of the words 'Permaculture' and ‘Backyard Blitz.’ Permaculture is a design system for sustainable agriculture. Backyard Blitz was an extra-cheesy Australian reality TV show wherein a team of pro gardeners and landscapers would descend upon a backyard and give it a one-day makeover.
Reflecting on the Permablitz concept, Asha Bee wrote: “Basically, a Permablitz is a permaculture-inspired backyard makeover where people come together to share knowledge and skills about organic food production in urban gardens while building community and having fun. The basic idea is that by converting their lawns into organic food-producing gardens, people will be able to back away from a dependence on industrial agriculture and the shipping of food back and forth across the world. At the same time, it makes organic eating accessible to more than just the upper-middle class. The whole Permablitz thing started with a group called Codemo (Community Development and Multicultural Organisation) a local community group composed primarily of South American immigrants and a permaculture geek named Dan Palmer. Dan started hanging out with the Codemo crew -- some of whom expressed an interest in growing food in their backyards. The first permaculture backyard makeover was held at the home of Vilma from El Salvador. And Permablitzes have been spreading all around Melbourne since. Permablitzes involve a combination of learning, practicing, and socialising. I'd say the social community-building aspect is just as important, or even more so, than the garden makeover itself. In our socially atomised suburbs, with our tall fences separating our yards from our neighbours', its rare to get to know those living closest to us.”  And while Permablitzes do involve hard work, they are also an incredibly fun, deeply emotionally fulfilling way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. Gardening in the sunshine is a wonderful activity. Conversations are free-flowing and pleasant; it is easy to get to know new people as you work together building poultry runs, shoveling dirt, or hammering together together a henhouse. I have seen children have an absolute ball rolling around in piles of straw. When a watering system sprung a leak at the last Permablitz I attended, all the kids jumped under it for a bit of midsummer water play. In an era where both children and adults spend the majority of their lives indoors, Permablitzing gives people the opportunity to form a connection to the natural world.
Permablitzing is also a great way to learn new skills. Volunteers get to see chicken coops built, water tanks connected, and raised garden beds wicked. If you have never used a power tool before, a Permablitz is the ideal place to practice wielding a cordless drill with the assistance of a friendly mentor. If you have wielded a cordless drill before, chances are, there will be someone at the Blitz with the kind of skill and knowledge that helps you move to the next level. Turning oneself into an apprentice for a day is a great way to swap sweat work for knowledge. Planning a Blitz is, I admit, a huge undertaking. It is more than exhausting, it takes weeks of preparation, and it requires massive amounts of cooking. Blitz hosting is not for the faint-hearted. But, for me, hosting a Blitz was an amazing experience. It was Christmas and New Years' rolled into one. It was a party and a working bee rolled into one. Like a wedding, it was a commitment to the future. It's a great thing to see your child collecting snails with someone else’s child. It's fun to get covered in mud, to work up a sweat, to exhaust yourself planting trees and to watch the sun go down with a beer in your hand. It beats watching television. More than one hundred Permablitzes have been held in Melbourne, Australia, so far.

The more skilled and experienced guide the process. Photo credit: Used under Creative Commons license.

Before and after a Permablitz. Photo credit: Used under Creative Commons license.

A good old-fashioned barn raising. Photo credit: Used under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Public Banking

2013-06-05 "Direct Deposit The Public Banking Institute says there's a way to build a stronger and more resilient local economy" by Leilani Clark from "Northbay Bohemian" []:
With a price tag of $6 billion, the Bay Bridge retrofit is one of most expensive engineering projects in California's history. And in the end, taxpayers will pay nearly double that cost—an amount that won't be paid off until at least 2049—with a huge chunk of interest paid to the banks funding the project.
If a state-owned bank had backed the project, say proponents of a growing public bank movement, the interest could have gone back into public coffers, benefiting California taxpayers rather than bank shareholders.
"We've given a free pass to Wall Street," says Marc Armstrong, executive director of the Public Banking Institute. "We're paying them millions in interest. We've never held that piece under the microscope, and it's about time that we did. If we funded the Bay Bridge retrofit ourselves, the net cost would be zero because we'd be paying interest to ourselves."
Unlike privately owned banks like Bank of America, a publicly owned bank is ostensibly run for the people of any sized government—county, state, national—or community able to meet the requirements for setting up a bank. Currently, private banks are the only entities large enough to handle the huge amount of funds generated by cities, counties and states. But what if tax revenues were placed in a public bank, one run by salaried public employees with a transparent pay structure? What if these tax revenues then became a source of credit to be lent out to the community for things like infrastructure or student loans?
This story of lost potential was just one of the items discussed at the second annual Public Banking Conference, held June 2–4 at Dominican University in San Rafael. Over 300 people attended the conference to learn about banking with public—and not private—interests as the priority.
High-profile supporters like Matt Taibbi have come out in support of the idea. Taibbi, the Rolling Stone investigative journalist who famously described Goldman-Sachs as a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," spoke at the conference's "Funding the New Economy" conversation on opening night. Taibbi has made a career of calling out the malfeasance and misdemeanors of too-big-to-fail banks, and "corruption at the molecular level of the economy."
Armstrong and his cohort have been working to educate the world on public banking since 2009, after getting their sea legs at an Economics of Peace conference at the Praxis Institute in Sonoma. They were inspired by Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break Free. President of the Public Banking Institute and a featured speaker at the conference, Brown has argued that banking should be a public utility, and money a public asset, protected from the "parasitic pyramid scheme" of loans and interest perpetrated by private banks.
The movement has a precedent. Formed in 1919, the Bank of North Dakota is the nation's only state-owned bank. In 2008, as other state legislatures contended with huge revenue shortfalls, the state of North Dakota came out on top, with low foreclosure rates and a large surplus.
The history of the Bank of North Dakota is detailed in an April 2013 American Prospect article, in which writer Abby Rapoport describes how the bank was founded over 90 years ago when populist farmers grew tired of being exploited by the big banks. With a deposit base of $5 billion, which comes from state taxes and funds, the bank partners with community banks and credit unions to provide loans to farmers, students and others, who then pay interest that goes back into the public coffers, to be used to fund more lines of credit.
Called "Bolshevik" and "socialist" by detractors at the beginning, the bank now has supporters among the state's most conservative, who've seen the economic benefits of keeping capital in-house.
In the end, Armstrong says, big banks are looking for short-term profits, rather than what might work for the good of individual communities, and that's why public banks deserve a second look.
"The Wall Street banks are redirecting a lot of the money that we're putting in as deposits to other countries," Armstrong explains. "They're buying bonds in Brazil or funding Chinese manufacturers. That credit is not being used for the good of the people that pay the taxes that are deposited into the bank in the first place."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Poverty Summit in Sonoma County

2013-06-01 "Nurturing Equity in Our Communities; North Bay summit promotes equity as key to economic growth"
by Bonnie Allen from "Sonoma County Gazette" []:
To download the "The State of Working Sonoma 2013: Income Inequality, Poverty, and Low-Wage Employment", go to []. For more information about the North Bay Organizing Project, see []

Good news: Unemployment in Sonoma County has declined to less than the national average, and far less than the rest of California. But how good is the news really?
For those who might not have thought economic inequality was a concern for Sonoma County, the April 27 People’s Equity Summit—sponsored by a coalition of nearly 20 labor, faith, environmental and community organizations under the umbrella of the North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP)—was an eye opener.
A report by East Bay researcher Ginny Brown based upon U.S. Census data from 2007 to 2010 found stagnant wages and increasing poverty, with real median income falling, deepening disparities along racial and gender lines, and a rising cost of living—especially health care—that is increasing burdens on working families in the county.
Most job growth occurred in the low-wage sector at the expense of middle-class jobs, resulting in an hourglass economy with high and low wage jobs and very little in between. Nearly 50 percent of new jobs are projected to pay less than $15 per hour.

Equitable and ‘Just Growth’ -
Chris Benner’s keynote speech, “Just Growth,” based on his book of the same name, pointed to other troubling trends nationwide: Increasingly, record growth in GDP parallels slow growth in jobs. Job growth has gotten slower with each recession since 1961. The economy has been restructured, and income inequality has grown.
In many ways, inequality drove our economic crisis, said Benner, an associate professor and researcher at the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis. But there’s a way out, he said. It centers on restoring that equality, or equity.
Benner and co-author Manuel Pastor spotlighted four communities around the country that defied the downward trends. Among them was Jacksonville, Florida. A historic site of brutal racial repression, Jacksonville has transformed itself. It did this, interestingly, by expanding its city limits to the entire county.
Thus, suburbanites, city dwellers and the rural poor were brought together to find common goals. Negotiating for a larger common good has increased equity among residents—and it’s been good for growth and prosperity in Jacksonville. Benner saw a lesson here: the more diverse the decision-making body, the greater the social equity and economic growth in those communities.
Benner noted that growing populations—and economies—tend to be diverse ones. So we’d better find solutions that incorporate that diversity.
Following the keynote speech, workshops addressed inequity in several areas, with organizers giving concrete examples of what works to bring about equity in the areas of transportation; workforce diversity; organizing around race, class and gender; the school-to-prison pipeline; and labor and immigrant rights.

Immigrant Rights and Comprehensive Immigration Reform -
Jesus Guzman came to the United States when he was a year old. He’s as American as, say, John McCain.
Yet Guzman is an undocumented immigrant. The 23-year-old student, program manager at the Graton Day Labor Center and chair of the NBOP immigrant rights task force, invited participants at the immigration rights workshop to write what they knew about their immigration history on a sheet of paper and tape the paper to an appropriate place on a time-line of immigration history. Those who preferred were invited to draw their story.
One hauntingly simple drawing showed a flag of El Salvador. It showed a stick figure with a gun in the process of shooting at another stick figure. It showed more stick figures lying on the ground, with their eyes exed out to show they were dead.
It’s easy to paint the undocumented with a broad brush, but many are hardworking young adults who came to the U.S. as children and have few ties to their country of birth. NBOP is working to give them a path to citizenship by lobbying for comprehensive immigration.
Their successes to protect immigrant rights at the local level include getting the police to recognize the Mexican Matricula card as valid ID in traffic stops, so that those carrying them would not have their vehicles impounded during a routine traffic stop because of having no driver’s license. The task force is also lobbying local elected officials to end law enforcement’s practice—not required by law—of holding undocumented lawbreakers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Labor Organizing in the Service Sector -
Immigrants, documented or not, struggle to make ends meet in the mostly service sector jobs available to them. Union membership has declined since its heyday in the 1950s. There’s a reason for this, said Wei-Ling Huber, president of Unite Here Local 2850, representing employees in restaurants, hotels, airports and the textile industry who are mainly immigrants, women, and people of color.
Manufacturing jobs became unionized during an era when a manufacturing job was the route to a middle-class income. Workers fought hard for this right.
But manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for decades. Service jobs—such as those in restaurants and hotels—once considered low paying and unskilled work— can become good jobs if the immigrant workforce is unionized. A living wage and good benefits for these jobs is crucial to rebuilding the middle class.
With the help of unions, Huber said, “we can create jobs that are similar in income to the old manufacturing industry.”
“One example is San Francisco hotels, where nearly every hotel is unionized. So we have a cook making $23 per hour, compared to a cook in Santa Rosa, who’s making about $10.” A barista makes $15 per hour and a housekeeper, $18.50. For each job, $2 per hour goes into pensions and benefits.
According to Marty Bennett, research and policy analyst for the union, hotel employees in strong union cities where most employees are in unions make an average total compensation of $3 per hour more than employees in weak union cities.
Union organizing in the service sector is hard, said Huber. Employees are easily intimidated. Some are undocumented and many immigrant workers have limited English skills. They can be fired without cause at any time.
Bennett said it was the union’s focus on training its members as organizers and building community-labor coalitions to support labor organizing that enabled Unite Here’s success, in Las Vegas and San Francisco, and close to home at the Petaluma Sheraton, Sonoma County’s first union hotel. “We are one of the unions that are growing, because of our emphasis on organizing.” Honoring its diverse makeup, the union also bargains for the rights of undocumented and immigrant workers.
Locally, the union has the wind at its back, thanks to an agreement that ensures a free and fair election process for union representation for 1,200 employees to be hired at their new Rohnert Park casino in October. With a living wage and comprehensive medical and retirement benefits, these tax-paying employees could add to Rohnert Park’s troubled tax base and could be a source of economic growth in Sonoma County.