13 01 2013

And so, in the end, it still comes back to thinking globally, and acting locally.  And locally, there’s an opportunity coming up for those  of us who think along these lines and live in the Nashville neck of what’s left of the local woods to get together and consider our options.  The winter gathering of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council is coming up next weekend, the 18th through the 20th of  January.  This year’s theme is “Climate Calamity:  Cool It Or Lose It.”  You can read the details on the group’s “Meetup” site.  Just in case you’re not familiar with the term “bioregional,” here’s my shot at a definition:

Bioregionalism” is a word that came into use in the late 1970’s as a signifier of “the new paradigm,” i.e., a holistic way of understanding the human situation and life on Earth in general.  The bioregional view is to see the world as a network of interlocking, interacting biological regions, each defined by a loose combination of common  plant communities and watershed boundaries.

Thus, the “Cumberland-Green River” bioregion encompasses the drainage basins of the Cumberland and Green Rivers, as well as the Highland Rim areas south and west of the Nashville basin, areas drained by the Duck, Buffalo, and Elk Rivers, among others, which flow into the Tennessee River from the north or east as it flows west through northern Alabama and then turns north through central Tennessee.

The gathering will kick off on Friday night with a mixer, a great opportunity to talk, reconnect with old friends, and make new ones–well, that’s the idea for the whole weekend, really.  Read the rest of this entry »

HOW CAN WE CREATE A BETTER WORLD….if we can’t even get along with each other?

15 10 2011

Last Saturday,I was invited to speak, on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, on the topic of “How can we create a better world.”  Here’s the text of the invitation:

Still being planned. Educate people against corporatism and militarism. This will be held at the Belmont United Methodist Church. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! If you want to be a speaker on any related topic, or create and staff a literature booth on any topic that is related even indirectly, or help in any other way, contact J. H.  (note: NOT Jason Holleman!)

It seemed to me that the Green Party was a natural to participate in this event, so I invited another Green Party member in town to get together a table for the event–but then we got the word back, that because the Green Party is a political organization, and this is being put on by two 501(c)3 organizations, they couldn’t have any political organizations represented. This seemed pretty bizarre to me, and I decided that I would bring Green Party material to the teach-in and mention the exclusion of the Green Party in my remarks.  Here’s what I said:

Good afternoon!  I’m here on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, an organization which has been encouraging people to think local, non-corporate, low-tech, and sustainable for the last twenty-eight years. We are loosely affiliated with the North American Bioregional Congress, which holds hemisphere-wide gatherings every few years. The most recent one was actually here in Tennessee.

But, before I go into our long and honorable history, and our continued relevance today, I want to speak up on behalf of an organization that was disinvited from this gathering–yes, told not to come–The Green Party.  We ( I say ‘we” because I am a member of the Green Party of Tennessee) were told that we are “a political organization” and that inviting us to this teach-in would violate the not-for-profit, charitable/educational status of both Belmont Church and the Peace and Justice Center.  I have also been told by the organizers that  they excluded a half-dozen Democratic Party tablers on the same grounds.  Now,  a half-dozen representatives from one of the parties that is generally held to be the cause of all this mess seems a bit much, but I think it would have been “fair and balanced” to allow one Democrat table and one Green Party table.   Republicans?  Maybe they could run a dunking tank–” See if you can dump Bill Ketron in the cold, cold water–3 throws for only two dollars!”

But seriously, as I understand the IRS’s rules, not allowing the Green Party–and the Democrats– to participate in this teach-in is a misunderstanding of IRS guidelines, which state:

“…the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

There is no impending election (unless you’re a Republican Presidential candidate). The Green Party’s representative at this gathering would not be a “candidate for public office,” –nor, considering the current political climate in Tennessee, would the Democrats be likely to produce a candidate, either–or at least, not a viable one.

The IRS’s guidelines further state:

The presentation of public forums or debates is a recognized method of educating the public. … (nonprofit organization formed to conduct public forums at which lectures and debates on social, political, and international matters are presented qualifies for exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3)). Providing a forum for candidates is not, in and of itself, prohibited political activity. Candidates may also appear or speak at organization events in a non-candidate capacity.

My understanding of what that means is that there is no legal reason why The Peace and Justice Center cannot have a representative of the Green Party at this teach-in, and a Democrat too.  But it seems to me that, if we are going to talk about how we can create a better world, it would be important to have the Green Party in on the discussion since it, unlike the Democrats and Republicans, is not in thrall to our corporatocracy.  If electoral politics have a role in our future–and sometimes i wonder how long that will continue to be the case–the Green Party has a very important role in this movement, and needs to be included.  Just for openers, the Green Party does not accept corporate contributions, period.  While we are best known for our national candidates, we has had the most success in local races, which brings us back to the Green Party’s bioregional roots.  The Green Party in the United States, and here in Tennessee, was started by bioregional activists who wanted to bring bioregionalism’s local, ecological focus into the political arena.

OK, enough about the Green Party–back to the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council.  Nearly thirty years ago, when the Bioregional movement first took shape, peak oil and financial, political, and ecological breakdown were barely a whisper on the horizon, but when I look at what we were envisioning, it seems that perhaps we were intuiting a future in which human social organization would once again be highly decentralized and limited by how far a person could walk or drive a horse cart in a day.  Our message then, as now, is to dig in where you are, to get to know not just the people in your neighborhood, but the natural world you inhabit as well, and to base your decision-making not on short-term gain for human beings, but on the long-term benefits for the whole ecology.

“Know your watershed,” we have urged–know where your water comes from and where it goes, and make your watershed the basis of your political awareness. We view watersheds as embedded in “bioregions,” areas unified not just by proximity but by biotic community–similar forests, rocks, wild animals,  and weather.  Now, nearly thirty years on, this way of viewing the world seems more important than ever.  As global warming and other modes of increased human interference with the environment bring vast, unintended, and nearly unimaginable changes, more than  ever we need to cultivate a deep awareness of our local environment.  The odds are increasing on the likelihood that our watersheds, and not the global market economy, will be what provides us with food, shelter, medicine, household goods, and a social life in the future.  We had better learn the skills we will need to do this well, while we still have the leisure to do so.  A graceful future is still possible.  While it’s true that mere lifestyle changes aren’t enough to induce the transformation the world needs, without lifestyle changes the transformation won’t happen, either.  We need to pursue both the personal and the political.

I have a confession to make:  i don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job of getting connected with  my own neighbors.  My wife and I don’t seem to have a lot in common with them culturally, or counterculturally, and so we doubt that we would be very effective organizers. We don’t sit easy with that, and are looking for ways to cross the cultural divide without having to act like we are something we are not, or acting like we are not something we are..  We’re open to suggestions.

There’s another aspect of our experience in the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council that I can’t stress too much, and that’s the long-term relationship aspect.

In its earlier years, the Council was a kind of “Tennessee, North Alabama, and South-Central Kentucky Federation of Hippies, Anarchists, and Activists,” and in many ways, it still is.  Back then, however, our quarterly convocations at members’ country farms and communities were great tribal gatherings, with a hundred or more–sometimes many more– adults and children camping out, sharing practical knowledge during the day, and then having delightfully wild parties that, for some at least, lasted until dawn, and beyond.  We sang, played guitars and an assortment of other instruments, drummed, danced, and interacted deeply with each other.  Those of us who are still involved from those early days are bonded in ways that are rare and precious in the alienated culture in which we are all now enmeshed.

But not all of our early companions are still with us, and  I don’t mean because they have already died, although that is a seemingly inescapable part of life.  With deep interaction comes not only the possibility of deep bonding, but the possibility of deep wounding.  We have lost people from the Council due to betrayal, divorce, and disappointment, to name just a few of the separating circumstances.–not to mention the occasional participant who became so obnoxious when the energy was up that few others wanted to keep including them in our activities.  What led to this dispersal, to a certain extent, in my opinion, is that we lacked a common psycho-spiritual technology that might have enabled us to be more sensitive to each other, to listen to each other better, to let go of our own neuroses–you can’t make anybody else let go of theirs, all you can do is try to set a good example–to give each other the love and attention, not to mention the appropriate treatment, that might have kept our ranks strong and united. There are ways for groups of people to do that with each other, ways with names like  Nonviolent Communication, Active Listening, Empathic Listening, Mindful Listening.  I can’t say a lot about these, because I don’t practice any of them in a formal sense myself, but I like to think I’ve benefited from what exposure I’ve had to them, as well as other practices I have been involved in.

In summation, it’s easy to be in solidarity with people for a few weeks or months of struggle.  The tricky part is keeping the bonds of affection alive through years of changes,.  Sooner or later, we will show each other our worst, in spite of our best intentions . Can we keep looking each other in the eye through that?  The changes I see happening in the mid to long-term future are going to shrink the world each of us inhabits.  At some point, the internet will go down, and we will lose all our “Facebook Friends,” except for the ones who are actually part of our daily lives. To build a graceful future, we will need to really be friends with each other, and not withdraw from each other forever at the first sign of anger, selfishness, or foolishness.  It’s certainly not always easy; but I have seen the alternative, and it doesn’t work very well. The bioregional movement provides a coherent vision of a sane future, but it takes more than ideals to keep a movement together.  It takes the work of consistently caring about and connecting with other people.  That, in the end, is what will make or break our revolution.

That’s what I said, to an audience of about a dozen people, in a room whose acoustics were awful.  I’m not sure how much my audience actually heard.  One young woman apparently misheard my message and used up most of our discussion time accusing me of being a Luddite.  I’m not a Luddite–I love technology, I’m even dependent on it in more ways than I’d like to be, because I’m not sure how much longer we are going to be able to maintain this amazing, magical web of complexity.

The strongest energy at the teach-in came from the mostly young people who were there in association with Occupy Nashville.  Their main meeting at the teach in was held in the same acoustically-impaired room I had talked in, so I stayed there and, with some difficulty, observed the way they took care of business.  I was impressed–they seemed much more organized and balanced than the wild, passionate SDS meetings I remember from the 60’s.  It’s reassuring to have a sense that the younger generation is, in some ways, an improvement on the older one.  Here’s a music break, and then I’ll talk more about the “Occupy” movement.

music:  Steve Earle, “Amerika v.6.0″


15 10 2011

When I first heard of David Kennedy’s recent book, “21st Century Greens–Leaf Vegetables in Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture,” my mind flashed back to the last time I had seen him, nearly twenty years ago, when he was a member of the Flat Rock Community near Murfreesboro and active in the Cumberland-Green Bioregional Council.  At one of our quarterly gatherings, David demonstrated how you could take edible leaves, juice them, and then curdle the juice to create a green, tofu-like substance, which he called “leaf protein concentrate.”  Interesting, certainly, but it seemed like a lot of work, and for what?  I filed the information and occasionally wondered what had ever happened to David and his fascination with this odd food.  Meanwhile, suburbia and entropy ate the Flat Rock Community, leaving no trace.

Then, a couple of months ago, a friend of mine told me that David had migrated up to Berea, Kentucky, where he is living in a largely Quaker intentional community, and put out a book on leaf protein concentrate. My friend, who had helped design the book, had been given a copy and wondered if I would be interested in reviewing it.  A whole book on the subject seemed a bit wonky to me, but I was curious, and, once I started reading the book, I was delighted–for 21st Century Greens ranges far beyond its “green tofu” core.  The book is very holistic–in order to explain the importance of his subject, David lays out the general theory and practice of nutrition (and malnutrition)  in simple, easy-to understand language, then lays out various methods of growing and preserving leafy green nutrition, weaving in the importance of sustainable farming practices along the way.  He also goes to great lengths to expand our conception of what constitutes edible greens.  In this respect, the book has already made a tangible difference in my life:  I have started eating sweet potato leaves.

I also discovered that, while I have been rooted here in America, beating my head against the brick wall of creating a serious cultural change in this country, David has been traveling around the world, mostly the third world, teaching and learning about the web of nutrition, culture, and agriculture.  Twenty-First Century Greens is not a theoretical tract.  It is based on wide-ranging, hands-in-the-dirt, wood-smoked experience.  Our bioregion’s homeboy has done good.

The answer my original question–“why make green tofu?” turns out to be that leaf protein concentrate can be dried or otherwise preserved to provide nutrition out of season, or to be transported to someplace where there are a lot of malnourished people and not a lot of leaves.  The concentrate is high in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A and E, among other nutrients.  The other significant thing about eating leaves, fresh or concentrated,  is that, as David points out, leafy crops have a far higher per-acre yield than any fruit, bean, grain, tuber, or farm animal.

Because this book speaks for itself so well, I am going to share with you a couple of excerpts, interspersed with my comments.


A fascinating exception to the pattern of animal-based foods leading to heart disease and cancer was found in France.  Although the French diet was rich in meat, eggs, and cheese, and thus high in animal fats and cholesterol, they had much less heart disease and cancer than the Americans.  This “French Paradox” was thought to be linked to compounds called antioxidants in the vegetables, garlic, and red wine so popular in France.

Initially, scientists tried to isolate the active antioxidant ingredients that were responsible for reducing the risk of cancers.  They focused on beta-carotene, the pigment that gives carrots their orange color.  They were surprised when three studies showed that beta-carotene alone did not reduce cancer risk.  Gradually, they came to believe the benefit was coming from a wide variety of compounds working together in whole fruits and vegetables.

This was a powerful blow to the dominant view of both nutritional and medical science.  The prevailing approach in these fields had been reductionist.  First a protective mechanism in the human body would be studied, and the key active ingredient isolated.  Finally the results would be reduced to a powder that could be distributed as a dietary supplement.  It was a strategy that had proven effective (and profitable) with vitamin and mineral supplements as well as a slew of pharmaceuticals.

The findings from research into antioxidants simply suggested that we should eat a greater amount of different kinds of fruits and vegetables.  This was not a message that could be easily reduced to a product and was obviously not a message that enhanced the mystique of modern science or its spokesperson, the guy in a white lab coat. (pps. 6-8)

That excerpt comes from the chapter called “A perspective on our Food Supply,” and comes after a similar deconstruction of the conventional idea of “progress” in regard to “improved diet,” and before a section that brings together Rachel Carson, the ultimate failure of the insecticidal approach to farming, and the rise of antibiotic resistant staphylococcus.   I could just have easily have quoted either of those sub-chapters, because they all share the same understated, just-the facts, approach.  Without ranting, raving, or rhetoric,  David Kennedy’s writing completely demolishes the foundations of the dominator culture, all the while gently pointing to a better way, as in this quote:

Skeptics often portray organic agriculture as if it were a radical and unrealistic fantasy capable only of overpriced salad greens.  The reality is that our bodies evolved eating wild organic foods.  Humans have been successfully practicing agriculture for 10,000 years.  For 99% of that time we have used exclusively organic methods.  It is “conventional” petroleum based agriculture and biotechnology that are radical new techniques…..

….if we are able to create a sustainable food system, the human population will no doubt adjust to it.  We are faced with two daunting global food quandaries:  First, how do we quickly make a transition to a food system that minimizes damage to natural ecosystems without undue human suffering?  Secondly, how do we achieve a long lasting equilibrium between a sustainable food system and a relatively stable human population?

Simplistic free market capitalism and its handmaiden, reductionist science, may prove to be instruments too blunt for the creation of a durable and ethical food system.  Perpetual growth and total control are infantile illusions.  We need less powerful and more elegant solutions to our food problems.  An elegant technology is one with a high ratio of output to input and a minimum of unintended consequences.

This is where biology shines.  Spurred on by competition for limited energy, nutrients, water, and space, living beings  have developed an astonishing library of elegant designs  Those natural designs that prove themselves to be sustainable, usually demonstrate flexibility, adaptability, and creativity; traits that human food systems will also need to become more sustainable…..

….In the long run–and agriculture was never a sprint–weeds and insects are best managed with an integrated system that relies on careful observation and the least intrusive interventions that will get adequate results.  Fertility is best managed by maintaining vigorous soil ecology.  These strategies take more time to yield results and require more labor or, if you prefer, less unemployment.  Beyond bio-mimicry is the realm of eco-mimicry or designing whole systems that imitate the elegant self-supporting interplay of species in mature ecosystems.  This is the most promising direction to look for guidance in building a truly sustainable agriculture.  (pps. 107-108)

And a truly sustainable agriculture is only possible in the matrix of a truly sustainable culture–but the guidelines David Kennedy lays out in this section will create a sustainable culture, as well as sustainable agriculture.  There is no blueprint, and there is no need for a blueprint–like a plant, a sustainable society will construct itself appropriately.  On the surface, “21st Century Greens” is a book about gardening and nutrition, but its implications range far beyond the realm of food.  David has been gracious enough to give this book away in electronic form, but I hope you will be gracious to him and buy a hard copy of it.  As I said, I think this is one of the books of our “New Agricultural Testament” and it should be on every cook and gardener’s shelf–and I hope that those two categories include all of us.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Peace Call”


13 01 2008

In the heady days of the 1960’s and 70’s, when it seemed like our time was coming any day, we began to re-imagine the world. It was, and is, easy enough to point out how crazy things are–but what would “better,” radically better, look like?

By “we,” I mean those of us who were hippies not for the sex, drugs, and rock n’roll, (although, to be sure, we appreciated them!) but because we were (and in many cases still are) visionaries who could not sit down, shut up, and work like normal ants–I mean, people. We saw the artificiality of political boundaries, and the reality of natural ones, like watersheds and biological communities. We saw the futility of trying to make ignorant people change their ways through legislation, and found the satisfaction that comes from walking our talk and teaching by example. We founded magazines and movements like Co-evolution Quarterly, The New Alchemy Institute, Esalen Institute, and the Farm, and, for a while, seemed poised to turn the entire state of Vermont into a countercultural domain.

Two visionaries in particular found their tongues and began to frame a movement with a name. The name was “Bioregionalism,” and the visionaries were Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann; and true to the bioregional ideal, they were very different, but very complimentary.

Dasmann was the older of the two by a generation, and perhaps not ever technically a “hippie,” but certainly a visionary. He did study at UC Berkley as an undergraduate, but that was before World War II, which turned him into a soldier and sent him to New Guinea. By 1970, he was travelling the world for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and thus became one of the first scientists to get a global view of the ecological situation. His globetrotting brought him to the first UN environmental conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972, which is where he met Peter Berg, who, while also a Californian, had been treading a very different path.

Peter Berg had been a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the mid-sixties. The Mime Troupe, which still exists, specializes in radical street theater. Berg, in 1966, had the inspiration to take it one step further. That further step has come down to us as “The Diggers,” a group that tried to radically alter human relationships by making everything a free work of art–food, clothing, shelter, medical care. They were in effect the backbone of the seminal Haight-Ashbury counterculture community, and when it was ultimately overwhelmed, Berg found his way to a small commune way, way up in the Sierras. It was from there, as a self-appointed representative of the North American counterculture, that he went to the UN conference in Stockholm.

Berg’s meeting with Dasmann resulted in the creation of Planet Drum Foundation, an organization which to this day promotes a wholistic view of this world we live in. Berg used Planet Drum as a platform from which to convoke a “North American Bioregional Congress,” which he saw as parallel to the convocation of the first Continental Congress. His hopes that it would result in a radical reorganization of North American politics have not yet been realized, but the first North American Bioregional Congress is the point at which this story starts to become locally relevant.

Milo Guthrie, an herbalist and activist from the Nashville area, wanted to go to the bioregional congress–but only delegates from bioregional councils were entitled to attend. So he formed one–the Cumberland and Green River Basin Bioregional Council, named for the two major river systems (besides the vast Tennessee River basin itself) that define our area. The group’s name has conventionally been shortened to “The Cumberland Greens” and confused with the Green Party, which is inaccurate, although there is a relationship–the “Comittees of Correspondence” (another borrowing from the first American Revolution) that were formed out of the NABC did in fact form the nucleus of the Green Party of the United States.

“The Cumberland Greens” are not a political party, but a bioregional council—a group of people from around the bioregion who do our best to fully inhabit the places we live, to eat locally and dream globally. We meet to share our strengths and visions and take what action we can, and yes we know we are carrying a banner that was passed down to us from the hippies of San Francisco. We will be meeting January 19th at Brookmeade Congregational Church here in Nashville, and you and your visions are welcome to come. Contact Eric at for further details.

music: Incredible String Band, “Douglas Traherne Harding”


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