Writings by Don Tipping

Join The Agrarian Renaissance!

After watching with great hope many political campaigns that promised change or some new hope with baited breath, feeling that civilization is precariously perched upon a precipice, teetering between disaster and a positive future, I began to fancy myself a revolutionary – in that reform was not enough, and that perhaps we had to deconstruct a broken system and start anew.  However as I meditate on revolution and study revolutions of the past – many are messy and often a charismatic leader full of eloquent promises rises to power and the very thing that the revolutionaries fought against emerges as totalitarian rule begins to dominate once again.

Life in a Nutshell…

2016 Siskiyou Seeds Catalog postscript…525557_385389741558814_234638142_n

Long ago in a galaxy quite near, right here in fact – life emerged. A miracle that sprang from lifeless rock some may have you believe. I myself believe that there were other more cosmic forces at work. Well one way or another, very simple prokaryotes – ancient 3.8 billion year old ancestors of the hyperthermophillic bacteria that cluster around undersea volcanic vents and geysers in Yellowstone, emerged. Prokaryotes (Karyon is Greek for “nutshell”- a reference to a nucleus in a cell) do not have a nucleus or organized organelles – they simply float in a saline solution and filter nutrients utilizing fermentation for metabolism. Another 2 billion years would elapse before something occurred on Earth (perhaps a meteorite containing new DNA?, no one was around apparently) that gave rise to the Eukaryotes – the nucleus containing progenitors of all plants, fungi and animals. Virtually everything we can see that we may describe as alive is a Eukaryote. The advantage of having a nucleus is that chromosomes divide and unite hereditary material in a systematic way. This allowed evolution to accelerate rapidly. Early Eukaryotes are on average 10 times larger than Prokaryotes and metabolism is through respiration in which glucose is “burned” in the presence of Oxygen. These tiny organisms were like committees of simpler ones (organelles) that allow it to do more complex functions. That was quite a fork in the road 2 billion years ago!

But what happened to the Prokaryotes? Did they succumb to some ancient battle between the tiny & the large? Most certainly not! They were here first and get the adaptation award in spades. The prokaryotes include bacteria, cyano-bacteria, green sulphur bacteria, viruses, spirochetes and the Achaea. Pretty much they are the micro-flora that life coalesces around. Many of them cannot exist without a host. Yes that makes some of them parasites…what do you expect, it was one line of their defense. Not only have prokaryotes survived, they have THRIVED – finding niches in every corner, pocket, surface and crevasse in nature. Life would cease to exist without them – they facilitate metabolic processes for everything.

If we can take a step back and view the situation objectively, without any prejudice for the large charismatic organisms that we recognize as life, we might marvel at the creativity of the Prokaryotes for completely infiltrating the Eukaryotes that invaded Earth much more recently. If we can imagine this creatively we can see that they have moved into the cockpit of life known as Eukaryotes (once again: plants, animals and fungi) and begun to either co-exist, or in many instances do battle with other life forms by enabling processes such as nitrogen fixation; absorption of nutrients from food eaten; their own reproduction as parasites through getting their hosts to move about (think Lyme’s disease, Malaria, Cholera, dysentery, and so many more); and untold chemical and biological reactions that are key to life.T4 Bacteriophage virus

I like to view it in a grand mythological sense of the simultaneous battle and peace of the big and the tiny. The deviant branch is trying to deconstruct the larger life forms into smaller pieces for the benefit of all, while the benevolent branch (strictly anthropologically speaking) is trying to build up life into the most grand forms the Earth has known – the dinosaurs, whales, clonal forests, mega-mushrooms and the like. What miraculous intelligence is behind this fantastic spectacle?! Can we truly consider that this is the outcome of random chance? It’s true that scientists have been able to create all 20 of the amino acids (the building blocks of life to create proteins and DNA) in a laboratory, using high 60,000 volt jolts of electricity (imagine lightning hitting the ancient sea, when the atmosphere had 99% more water vapor in it, along with sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and more all close to the boiling point of water) in some sort of archaic Frankenstein moment. I don’t buy this scientific spontaneous generation theory for a minute.

I like the classic cosmic carrier theory myself – repeated meteorites containing new building blocks for life until a domino effect is initiated. I much prefer the idea that the immense biodiversity present on the planet has arisen from more than a mere quirk of chemistry as the lab rats may have us believe. This leaves the door open for much more magic…how sad to imagine a world wherein we have it all figured out…end of story – that’s no fun. Reality is, no one’s read the last chapter on this one, fact is, it hasn’t been written. When we consider that somewhere deep within the primordial intelligence of our cells is that of the Creator of all life from the beginning. I particularly like how Joanna Macy phrases it, “If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for thIMG_0575is life is even greater than their fear. People who can open to the web of life that called us into being.” If we knew that we were going to win [as a species], would we try? Conversely, if we knew that we were going to lose, it’s unlikely that we’d try. Fact is that no one knows what will happen next and that encourages us to have hope and faith.

 

Go with the Light!

Don Tipping, December 2015 @ Seven Seeds Farm in the snow.

Marigold picture credit – Evan Sofro

Woodland Permaculture –

Re-membering the Future

 

SAMSUNG

 

The way forward is not backwards. As we contemplate how to navigate our way out of the quicksand of ecological degradation and cultural genocide that we were born into, a sensible response is to head in the direction of restoration. Let’s go back to what was working in the past. However when we consider the myriad of dynamics at play in an ecosystem that are all responding to one another constantly creating new scenarios that may have never occurred before, going back to some perceived concept of a steady state ecosystem becomes problematic. Considering climate change, cultural change, population dynamics and more, even if we could be successful in restoring an ecosystem to some point in the past, what would we aim for? What species would be present, or absent? Would the yields be utilized efficiently and recycled through the system? Dizzying to put it mildly. It’s like aiming for a moving target while flying in an open cockpit, backwards, with one eye, in the dark, left-handed…you get the idea.

Moreover, after 20 years tending overgrown woodlands with fire-restoration eco-forestry and developing multi-species polycultures broad acre for a living (aka diverse small scale organic farming), I have come to the conclusion that we are guessing at best. At the risk of coming across as cynical, I think that the popular conception of restoration is a myth, like being able to clean up a messy room in a house full of toddlers, or herding cats. There are so many elements at play that each represents new event horizons. So making the assumption that returning a landscape or ecology back to some former state is highly ignorant of the basic premise of evolution in systems. Nonetheless, I do believe that it is a crucial aspect of reading the landscape to study the historical aspects of a site from as many vantage points as possible, learning the botany, geology, ecological succession, indigenous land use, etc.…This is the foundation upon which we begin to build to increase biodiversity, productivity and resiliency as land stewards.

Peeling PolesPerhaps we should take a step back, pause for breath and remember the words of Taoist sage, Lao T’zu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Moreover, from the perspective as permaculture land stewards we approach any system from a vantage point of observation, then we begin to make assesments and typically our actions stem from trying to meet the needs of the site, its inhabitants and future generations. I particularly like how Brock Dolman has rephrased the question by saying that maybe we need “ego-system re-story-ation” rather than ecosystem restoration. What is the new story of the landscape? Can we behold it objectively enough to embrace it from a biocentric perspective that includes humans along with all the other beings? This is the challenge of the task in a landscape of rapidly shifting climatic norms.

 

Picture: Peeling poles from Douglas Fir trees felled
to open up the canopy for sunlight within an Oak woodland.

 

The Situation in the Woods Now:

In the short 23 years I have had a relationship with the forest ecologies of Southwestern Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains that straddle the Oregon / California border I have just begun to notice some trends, only to have them shift with the climate. Recently I have observed that summer has come later, it’s hotter and drier. Winter is drier, with more sun; less snow and weather events are like punctuation marks or episodes rather than chapters. So what ever I figured out a decade ago is only partly applicable. New phenomenon like Sudden Oak Death Syndrome (Phytophthora ramorum – an oomycete plant pathogen) is ravaging oaks to the Southwest of us in northern California, drought-stress is causing heavy beetle kill on pines to the southeast and wildfire has become more prevalent in forests to the north.

Here are some assesments that I’ve tallied:

  • Increased incidence of severe wildfire
  • Decreased Salmonid presence, hence nutrient flow,
  • Lack of native burning for the past 150 years
  • Extirpation of large mega-fauna such as Grizzlies and Wolves
  • Fire suppression in fire dependent forests for last 100 years
  • Oaks (a keystone species) threatened by disease
  • Industrial forestry has left a legacy of clear-cuts & habitat fragmentation,
  • Non-nomadic settlement patterns predominate among humans,
  • Industrial food systems susceptible to collapse,
  • Prudent to produce food & shelter from available resources
  • Ducks, goats, sheep, turkeys and pigs all love to eat acorns!
  • Controlled fire is a way to generate Bio Char for use in organic annual crops
  • Coppice & standard forestry is a great way to create fodder for browsers
  • Goats love to eat Oak, Madrone and Cottonwoods
  • Controlled burning stimulates herbaceous understory & oak reproduction

 

Considering all assesments, what stewardship models can we integrate into our management approaches if we truly want to inhabit these forests and woodlands for the long haul?

 

As I ponder how wildfires have become more severe in recent decades, simple forest thinning seems to make sense to reduce the fuel load, and minimize ladder fuels that could carry flames into the canopy to avoid dangerous crown fires. This is difficult, physically demanding work involving chainsaws and heavy machinery and well timed use of fire. I suppose that this is the cost for our collective delaying in recognizing that something must be done, lest we simply succumb to wonton occurrence of wildfire near our homes and communities. Indigenous forest dwelling peoples have long used controlled fire to promote certain species, a rich herbaceous understory and general productivity through more thorough nutrient cycling. The degree to which they could actually control fire was influenced by the periodicity at which they were burning, thus related to the accumulation of fuels AND the fact that they were semi-nomadic with movable village sites. So, if a fire were to get out of control and torch their village, it was less catastrophic than what we are faced with today. Add to this the modern disapproval of controlled burning done at sensible times of year when there is less likelihood of it escaping control. When public land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service do burning in spring and late fall it is met with resistance and complaints about the smoke neighboring communities. What to do? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t it may seem. Either way, we must recognize that these forests co-evolved with regular fire.

Multispecies polycultures

FOOD FORESTS – Emulating nature

The longer I spend doing traditional farming models, orcharding, row cropping with animal polycultures using modern low input, no-spray, rotational, regenerative farming approaches; I come to the conclusion that complicates the oft represented models within popular permaculture of Eden-like self maintaining food forests. Farming is work, no way around it, we are dealing with gravity. And in my 25 years of farming experience, our yields are generally directly proportional to how intensively a system is managed. We have a 15 year old food forest comprised of an over-story of traditional fruit and nut trees, interplanted with nitrogen fixing plants such as Autumn Olive, Aronia, Sea Buckthorn plus other multi use plants such as Rugosa rose, artichokes, prickly pear cactus, medicinal herbs, insectary plants and so forth. We graze chickens, turkeys and pigs in this half-acre area. The management is virtually hands off, with no pruning, mulching, watering or thinning. Trees have branches that break under the weight of fruit, plants die, volunteers (both cultivated and wild) come in and a certain element of wild chaos predominates, but, it all works nicely in reality. However, yields in terms of volume and dollars are nowhere near what would be possible if we were to practice a more hands on management strategy. We also have about 8 acres of alley cropped row crops and pruned fruit and nut trees and vines where we practice more active management. This is the ground that pays the bills and feeds us and our community.

So where is the midpoint between wild, untended ecosystems and intensively managed gardens? Enter Woodland Permaculture!

Tree House

Woodland Permaculture – Integrate rather than Segregate

A number of years ago we built a 12×24 foot tree house 20 feet up in the air supported by a Ponderosa Pine, two Douglas Firs and a California Black Oak along a year round stream in a mixed riparian forest of conifers and hardwoods including aforementioned trees plus Pacific Yew, Red Alder, Bigleaf Maple, Pacific Dogwood, Sugar Pine, Oregon White Oak, Black Cottonwood, Willow, Ninebark, Mock Orange, Vine Maple, Madrone, Serviceberry, White Fir and more.  In the process I was given a new vantage point up high, looking down at the understory of this riparian edge, marveling at the diversity of the herbaceous layer with dozens of useful plants. Maybe I was just dizzy from the altitude, but I got a glimpse into the future of permaculture in the Pacific Northwest. That future looks like deeply implicating ourselves into the woodlands, pruning, thinning, burning, planting, mulching, grazing, harvesting, grazing and a many other activities that don’t require machines. In my Rip Van Winkle moment I saw goats peacefully foraging on Madrone and Maple coppice, pigs snorting beneath giant spreading Black oaks amidst forbs and grasses, turkeys strutting in the pine duff, peafowl seeking the shelter of a bramble. I also saw brush fences fashioned from willow coppice protecting verdant Spikenard (a PNW native ginseng relative), Oregon Grape, nettles, mints and similar herbs from curious hungry goats. I saw corrals and paddocks made from Douglas fir poles thinned to open up space around oaks. I also made out the silhouette of Black Walnut and Chestnut leaves against the blue sky; trees planted into clearing created through burning and thinning decades before. Here and there were both Black and Honey Locust and Persimmon trees, obviously planted as we are far from their native range. And across slopes were contour trails formed from Douglas fir poles creating trails and terracing, directing water cross slope.

SAMSUNG

Willow wattle fence

To Re-Member:

This fantastical picture is possible now. What other choice to we have? With climate change accelerating and seasonal norms shifting, I firmly believe that traditional agriculture will (or has) become impossible or impractical across large swaths of land. Leaving the forest to simply take care of itself may prove a sad testament to an over estimation of natural systems ability to bootstrap themselves back into shape after centuries of abuse, neglect and fire suppression. Traditional Ecological Knowledge leader, Dennis Martinez once told me that the native word for “wilderness” generally translated as “uncared for land”. If we interact sensibly and thoughtfully with natural systems, we bring benefit and increase biodiversity and productivity for the benefit of all beings. I know this to be true form decades of Regenerative farming on one site.

If we consider the word “remember” more deeply, we can see that it is actually, “re-member” – to become a member of once again. As I see it, we need to design a future reality with humans integrated into ecosystems, not separate from them. This is my synthesis of many permaculture principles, such as “turning liabilities into assets, stacking functions and making the least possible change for the greatest possible benefit and rolling them into one dynamic strategy. Perhaps blurring the lines between what is wild and what is cultivated is the highest level of stewardship we can offer to future generations? As some may say, you gotta rock what ‘ya got!

 

What’s on your Plate?

An exercise I like to share with students and groups that visit the farm is to visualize what is on our dinner plate 50 years into the future. For myself I visualize, chestnut flour crackers, walnuts, hazelnuts, dried figs, persimmons and Asian pears, aged goat cheese with herbs, apple juice based kombucha, smoked meats, a wild green based Kim Chee and so forth. I think you get the idea – that it be regional and seasonal and awesome. A friend once shared a concept that, “body follows vision” and that if we can see it already done, then the path there has been opened up, all we must do is follow it.

 

  • Don Tipping
  • December 2015

The Dissolution of the Mandala:

DSC2262

Ideas and Reflections Gleaned from the harvest Season.

 

IMG_9

Every fall as I finish pulling in the last of the harvest I feel fortunate when amidst the hustle and chaos of juggling all there is to do; wonderful insights about being with the land and what she shares with us come cascading down like so many yellow, red and orange leaves.  To me it is most poignant when I am tilling under crops that are finished and planting cover crops.  I liken the feeling to the dissolution of a Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala – hours of painstaking precision that goes into profound art of sublime beauty – only to brush the grains clean back into formlessness.  Clearly the magic is in the process the doing and growth, not the product.

Growing annual crops is much like this in my experience.  All life has an ebb and flow to its cycles, we cannot pin life down to a moment, or fix the river in place. For all the beauty and splendor of the farm in its peak in August, rain and frost will come and bring an end to the cycle.  In fact, as a seed grower we eagerly await the end of the cycle for the triumph of death to the plant that yield the seed – the encapsulated miracle – patiently awaiting the conditions that will once again liberate the plant that lies in wait for the warmth and tug of the lengthening days of spring.  I am reminded to savor each and every moment as this wheel turns as they are fleeting and will change.

 

Happy Spring Equinox 2014

The Second Copernican Revolution

Here we sit – poised at the balance of light and day – reminded that we each are but specks within a vast heliocentric system.  Everything, yes I mean everything within our world as we know it is governed by the enormous 1.4 million kilometer diameter fiery orb lying 150 million kilometers away.  Containing 99.86% of all the mass in our solar system, it’s light takes more than 8 minutes to reach us travelling at 300,000 kilometers per second!  The ancient ones knew that their lives were interwoven with the sun and its’ cycles and performed ceremonial rites at the equinoxes and solstices and erected temples and pyramids to honor humanities’ (and all other life’s) deep relationship with this celestial giant.

Which brings us to now – born into a technological world, disconnected from natural cycles with the promise that this represents improvement.  One must strive very hard to recapture a the feeling of being interwoven within the cosmos, cycles and rhythms.  The default paradigm is slow to reward this striving towards union with light, the sun, plants, animals, life and the forces that animate it all.  However, I for one find that once I step outside (literally, or figuratively – for all that we perceive is creation), I find the union with life close at hand, head and heart.  In the forests, fields, mountains, shorelines and gardens everywhere in the northern hemisphere we are witness to the great out-breathing of the Earth at this time – encouraged by our axial tilt closer to our sun – the natural world responds with an astounding outpouring of life in all forms.  After winter’s in-breathing cycle, where life surrendered to seed, fruit, death and hibernation, the cycle reverses and a flood of buds, flowers, births, growth and renewal encourages us to align with this cycle inwardly in our thoughts, feelings, emotions and deeds and outwardly with tending gardens, planting seeds, walking in nature and directly soaking up some solar radiation.

I would like to encourage all of us to revisit Polish scientist, Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) published in 1543 wherein he put forth the radical notion that the sun lie at the center of our solar system, not the Earth (as was commonly held by European knowledge of the time).  The world was very slow to accept this cosmic fact.  In 1633 Galileo Galilei was convicted of grave suspicion of heresy for “following the position of Copernicus, which is contrary to the true sense and authority of Holy Scripture”, and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.  It wasn’t until much later that it was finally accepted as fact.  In truth, I personally don’t think that we have fully digested that we life in a solar driven, heliocentered reality, for we still extract much of humanities’ energy from the Earth in the form of oil, coal and nuclear power.  Might I put forth that we herald this Spring Equinox 2014 as a second Copernican revolution and once again turn our head, heart and hands towards the sun and honor the thermonuclear marvel that is the sun as the source of our power and reflect and radiate this into our lives and world.  May our power come from the process of photosynthesis, Vitamin D synthesis from sun exposure, the light of a star and the lovely warmth of sunshine!  Good people!, the original solar power is plants, and the animals that forage on plants and what they do.  We happen to be one of those solar powered animals – it is in our design from our holy Creator.  So go get yourself out in your garden, ditch your watch, turn off your phone, erect a simple sundial, and maybe arrange some rocks (with your kids if you have them close) into your own little stonehenge to mark the seasonal cycles.  May we all be solar powered beings of light and radiate the generosity of the sun to all the world.

“Even
After
All this time

The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

حافظ

-Hafiz.

 

 

Bioregional Seed-sheds

 

I have been growing certified organic seeds in the Applegate river valley in southwestern Oregon for the past 18 years at Seven Seeds Farm.  We sell these seeds through our small bioregional seed company, Siskiyou Seeds and to other organic seed companies for national distribution.  We were fortunate to inherit a seed collection of about 200 varieties that had been grown organically in the area since the early 1970’s by Alan Vanet, Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler, Gabriel Howearth and Alan Adesse through Stone Broke Hippie Seeds, then Peace Seeds and then, SOW Organic.

Our bioregion has been blessed with an ideal mixture of ample water, ample summer sunshine, heat and a relative absence of conventional (chemical input intensive) agriculture.  The majority of the agriculture in the region has been cattle ranching, hay, pears, and increasingly small intensive organic farms and wine grapes.  Growing seeds requires that the crop have genetic isolation from similar species during the flowering phase to ensure genetic purity.  For instance, pumpkins can cross-pollinate with zucchini and broccoli can cross-pollinate with collards and so forth.  More and more small organic farms here have included seed production as part of a healthy diversified farm system with no less than a dozen farms in the Applegate and Rogue valleys growing organic vegetable, flower and herb seed in large part due to our relative genetic isolation from other vegetable producers and especially GMO crops such as corn, canola, soybeans and sugar beets.  From a whole systems perspective, the inclusion of growing high value organic vegetable seed enables growers to dedicate more land to diversified perennial and rotational grazing animal systems.  Organic seed as a cash crop is a largely unfulfilled niche where there exists plenty of opportunity for new skilled growers.

Recently southern Oregon has not been the focus for the production of vegetables by big corporate agriculture until just recently when Swiss biotech firm, Syngenta began producing genetically engineered (GMO) sugar beet seeds in both Jackson and Josephine counties on about 3 dozen scattered small plots.  Sugar Beets (Beta vulgaris) are genetically very similar to both table beets and Swiss chard and they will readily cross-pollinate.  They are a wind-pollinated crop, so their pollen is very small and light and can travel up to 12 miles and has been found as high as 30,000 feet.  A number of organic farms produce both Swiss chard and table beet seed here that are now at risk of cross pollination from GMO sugar beets particularly because of the relatively narrow band of agricultural land in the Rogue valley.  Genetically engineered alfalfa is another new crop to the Rogue valley that threatens the viability of both organic alfalfa hay production and the organic status of animals that may be eating contaminated alfalfa.

The concern over these new GMO crops to southern Oregon has motivated concerned citizens to initiate a ban on the production of GMO crops in both Jackson and Josephine counties. Ultimately we need to come together to determine the best way forward to ensure healthy sustainable food systems for our bioregion that can provide us with vital, organic food now and for future generations.  In May 2014 voters will be able to determine if GMOs will be legal to grow in Jackson county.  Thus far, we have been met with stiff opposition from Syngenta, the Oregon Farm Bureau, the Oregon Cattleman’s’ Association and our local county commissioners.

During the process of organizing small organic farmers who are being affected by the production of transgenic sugar beets it became increasingly clear that having a well-developed culture of seed production greatly assists our ability to legally and politically advocate for pure pollen-sheds.  The Rogue valley of SW Oregon is a fairly narrow long river valley, only about 10 miles wide at it’s widest point, such that very few farms lay outside the reach of pollen drift from Syngenta’s 36 production plots.  Fences cannot contain pollen, so we are now having conversations about what constitutes genetic trespass.  Organic seed crops for table beets and chard are high value crops fetching prices of up to $40/pound for a plant that can yield tonnages per acre.

We actually plowed under a large, quarter acre crop of Rainbow Swiss Chard that we discovered was within a mile from a GMO sugar beet test crop that Oregon State University was leasing ground to Syngenta to grow.  I was doing a collaborative seed-growing project with a prominent organic vegetable farm in the area that had over 100 acres in high value organic vegetables.  We realized that the likelihood of contamination was very high, with beet pollen being wind pollinated.  We had to weigh out that it’s is a lot of effort to harvest, clean and test the seed to discover that it is contaminated and essentially worthless for sale on the organic market.  A frustrating learning experience…

 

At a crossroads…

In conversation with fellow seedsman, Richo Cech, who oversees the medicinal herb seed company, Horizon Herbs, he postulated that it may become necessary to abandon the commonly grown crops for which the biotech companies have developed GMO versions.  Crops like corn, beets, alfalfa, canola and their genetic relatives that are becoming increasingly contaminated genetically may be too difficult to maintain reliable growing isolations for reproducing them far enough away from GMOs to ensure purity.  It may become necessary to turn to other food crops to become the staples for our food supply than to try and rescue drowning and imperiled species.  From a whole systems, permaculture, diversified foodscape perspective I can see logic in this assessment.  Already many crops such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, goji, coconuts, and other unusual species are being adopted into the culinary leanings of many gardeners and people.  Personally I think that we should do both: develop new food sources and tendencies such as a more paleo diet that consists of a diversity of greens and animal products from stock raised in diverse woodland ecologies in a rotational scheme.  Concurrently, I am of the opinion that it is not too late and we should organize ourselves and make a stand for GMO free pollensheds where legally, politically and culturally we place strong emphasis upon the production of non-transgenic species and preservation and advancement of open-pollinated genetics traded open source in the public domain.

 

Bioregional Seed-sheds

Most of the 300 varieties of seed we sell through Siskiyou Seeds are grown right here in SW Oregon.  About 60% of the total varieties that we sell are grown on our home farm.  We also work with local farmers within a 25-mile radius to help diversify our offerings. After much experience, we have come to the conclusion that certain crops such as carrot are at risk of crossing with the very abundant Queen Anne’s lace, or wild carrot, to be offering quality seed grown in our bioregion.  Other crops such as varieties within the Brassica oleracea including cabbage and broccoli are susceptible to pollen desiccation when the temperatures exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit during flowering, resulting in small poorly formed seed with low vigor and germination rate.  Henceforth, seed from nearby, but cooler summer regions perform and yield much better.

Exceptions aside, crops that been grown in this area for multiple generations ensure that the plants that perform the best in this climate will produce the most seed, thereby conferring bioregional adaptation.  This adaptation also shows up as resistance to disease, pests, climactic extremes, and soils and in increased nutrition and agronomic traits.  We performed a large kale trial of 16 different varieties of kale with multiple strains of each variety.  The different strains had been grown in different bioregions and we noticed distinct adaptation patterns.  For instance, we had Red Russian Kale seed that we had grown for over a decade here, a strain from Colorado, one from Washington and another from Southern California.  The Washington strain couldn’t handle the summer heat and was covered with aphids, while the others were fine, their seed having been produced in warm summer regions.  The strain that had been grown in southern California failed to overwinter, having adapted to mild winters there.  We have observed many similar adaptations in other species of vegetables.

Does this mean that these seeds will not do well if you don’t live in the area where they were produced?  Not necessarily.  The reality is that the Pacific Northwest is one of the best seed growing regions in the world, so as a result many varieties are produced only in optimal regions and then distributed globally.  For instance SW Oregon is a great area to produce onion, melon, lettuce, beet and chard seed.  Whereas the Skagit Valley in western Washington produces great spinach, cabbage and peas for seed.  Also, as the kale trial example illustrates, obtaining seed grown in a region with a similar climate is a sensible option.

Unfortunately, the predominant trend within the seed industry is a near complete lack of transparency of where the seed was grown.  Nearly all of the big mail order companies do not specify this information.  The seed buyer for one of the most popular and prominent mail order seed companies told me that 70% of their seed was obtained from China.  Imagine that!  Chances are most of the seed coming from the big guys is being increasingly outsourced to regions where labor and production costs are cheaper.

With consolidation in the seed industry over the last few decades we have lost hundreds of regional specialty seed companies that focused upon breeding and reproducing the varieties that thrived within that region.  Admittedly it is quite difficult to produce exceptional seed of everything in any given region.  Some plants need heat, cold, dry or other conditions to thrive.  Also there can be cross-pollination issues with wild relatives like the wild carrot (Queen Ann’s lace) example that I highlighted before.

Nonetheless, there are gardeners from Alaska to Hawaii and from California to Maine and they are best served by seed that has been reproduced for generations under the conditions that the future progeny will be growing in.  We have a small 10’x12’ temperature controlled, strawbale seed room with about 500 varieties of vegetables, herbs, grains and flowers that we maintain through regular grow outs on our farm or by growers in our watershed.  It is my sincere belief that every agricultural watershed on the planet needs something similar (or a couple of them).  Plant domestication is not an endpoint, rather it’s an on-going process and it requires that we remain engaged in continual reproduction and selection, looking for superior traits and adaptation to our microclimates.  It is my sincere belief and observation that thoughtful seed saving is likely to be the most salient response to global climate change that humanity has. 

 “Through nutrition our bodies become receptive to spirit”, Rudolf Steiner

 

By Don Tipping

Don Tipping and his family have stewarded Seven Seeds Farm for the past 18 years in Williams, Oregon.  They produce fruits, vegetables, seeds, wool, eggs, and lamb. Seven Seeds helps to mentor new farmers through internships and workshops. Don helped to found the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, which manages a 200 share CSA, commercial seed growing, and an equipment co-op and internship curriculum among 12 cooperating farms.  He also co-founded the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative.  Siskiyou Seeds is a bioregional organic seed company operated from the home farm.  We will be offering a 5-day intensive Seed School on the farm in mid-May.  www.sevenseedsfarm.com

 

 

 

Such glory this time of summer is – fruits of the land surrendered to nourish life and disperse the potentiality to do it all over again and again and again. This surrender is a tiny death – a falling into trust, alignment with the cosmic spiral. The plant reaches towards the heavens, then flowers in beauty to embrace pollinator and wind. Visited by pollinators in search of nectar and pollen, she is fertilized and a ripening process occurs, densifying all that becomes future generations of plant into a wondorous encapsulation of matter. I find it so incredible that within the endosperm of the seed exists the intelligence for all that will become the future plant – leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruits, pollen, life ether, and more seeds!
So at this time of year as we gather seeds from plants whose life force is waning to yield in deep trust millions upon millions of tiny seeds that will lie in wait until their time to initiate a great cycle is bestowed upon them by the loving hands of a gardener somewhere. I bow in humble awe at our role in stewarding this magic. May we all be blessed to behold the mystery and let that seed of hope for the future germinate in our soul to birth a world in deep alignment with these cycles of creation, death and rebirth.
26069_1301416493578_1175401950_30814537_1933333_n
A 15 year old young man wipes the sweat off his brow onto the tacky tawny surface of his buckskin trousers, clearing his vision and aim. He takes a long sip from a drinking gourd filled with peppermint, nettle, yerba buena and pine needle tea, harmonizing with the spiritual forces of his plant allies.  A deep breath coincides with a prayer of permission to the holy Creator, and the pinch of home-grown and cured Hopi tobacco in this arrow clenching grip falls to the Earth.  A pileated woodpecker’s call off in the distance signals Creation’s consent and he lets his arrow fly.  A boned tipped, bamboo shafted, turkey feather fletched arrow whizzes from a springy, well seasoned yew-wood bow.  A half second later this arrow lodges deep in the chest cavity of a hybrid wild/heritage turkey and lets forth a squawk of defeat and thanks, thankful to have been raised in a good way, the product of prayers and loving tending of a diverse woodland environment, full knowing that it will nourish the stewards of this home to its future relatives.  The young man retrieves his arrow from the now lifeless bird praying to its spirit for a positive rebirth, and returning it to his hand tanned quiver made from a racoon pelt.  The bird will feed his friends and family for a Sunday feast and bone broth for the next few days, the bones will feed the dogs that protect the young turkeys from wild predators and the feathers will adorn earings, arrows and much more.

A young woman gathers madrone flowers in the early morning dawn, wet with dew, quietly chanting a song to the goddess of the wood, placing them in a willow basket woven the spring before from shoots harvested from a coppice of willows growing round a pond that her father planted long ago.  She places them in a glass bowl filled with crystalline fresh spring water and meditates upon the curvaceous strength that the Madrone tree inspires us with.  This will become a flower essence to share with young men in her tribe and village that may benefit from this plant ally.  This is Woodland Permaculture.

An elder man drums on a hollowed out white oak log drum with a goat hide skin that his grandson fleshed and scrapped the summer before from a nubian goat that foraged in woodlands upstream.  It is  Lllamas, midsummers’ eve – celebration of the grain harvest, waning of the solar cycle and the fruits are coming in and the is cause for celebration and the fire burns bright and sweet with the wood of apple and pear prunings, while a pig is prepared for roating on the coals of the fire to honor our thanks to Creator for all the blessings of summer.  The dancers ready themselves with their regalia – feathers, garlands of flowers and sweet herbs to pound their prayers into the Mother Earth.

This is Woodland Permaculture, a cornerstone of our hope for the future.  We must develop an identity of permaculture for the forested bioregions of the Pacific Northwest and beyond that takes from the endless cycle of garden based agriculture with the soil micro-organism destroying tillage, and long distance/fossil-fuel transported fertility only to rely on preserving our garden bounty with nutrient destroying heat (canning), or life-force depleating and energy-inefficient freezing.  As old uncle Bill Mollison hinted, 70% (or more) of our food should come from systems wherein, animals are foraging for their own food from ecologies that largely self manage.  There does exist a place for small, intensive, mulched gardens of annual vegetables.  But more and more my inner wisdom is directing me to further develop the animal/woodland systems that incorporate stored rainwater in ponds for aquaculture, pigs, goats, sheep and turkeys that fatten on acorns and fall- fruiting seeds, nuts, pods and fungi.  What about tonic herbs from PNW native medicinal plants and appropriate naturalized adaptogens.  How about feralizing asparagus, artichokes, sunchokes, parsnips, chard, kale and more in woodland edges with seed balls?  Or imagine baskets of willow and hazel, fencing and wattle hurdles, and wattle and daub walls of the same?  Let us drink deep of seasonal festivals honoring spring wildflowers and underburns that favor their flourishing.  Satisfy our hunger for authenticity with rites of passage that are completely woven into the regular rhythmic tasks of tending the woodland.  Ritual, ceremony, rites of passage, growing up, story-telling producing food clothing and shelter and medicine will re-weave themselves into the fabric of our life as we embrace the native eco-systems and implicate ourselves and appropriate exotic plants within them.

I invite you to join us here at Seven Seeds Farm on Saturday, May 11th from 10am-1pm as we dive into Forest Gardening/Food Forests and Woodland Permaculture.

May spring bless you with peace and green insight!

mqdefault images

 

 

 

Thank you for opening up this page as it represents the culmination of many years of tireless dedication to the miraculous process of observing the growth cycle of cultivated plants and coaxing them to produce seeds to share with a wider circle.  I have been fortunate to have been growing seeds for the past 18 years.  Increasingly I see this relationship as one in which seeds have chosen me rather than the other way around.  This is a blessing! On the farm we witness the entire cycle of life: from gathering the seeds in the fall, drying and cleaning them, labeling and bagging them, to waiting for the right time to plant again and waiting patiently to watch them emerge and push through the soil.  We nurture these tender plants as they grow, protecting them from pests, disease and challenging weather.  We watch in wonder as they flower and pollinators in a myriad of forms visit this riot of beauty, or as the wind wafts clouds of fine pollen from plants such as spinach, beets and corn floating over the fields.  Then we rejoice as flowers give way to young seeds that ripen to fullness in the heat of late summer.  As the days shorten in August and September most of these seeds are ready to gather once again.

So we dance on, circling round we go, this is the rhythm of the year, the spin of the cycles and the wondrous glimpse we get into the mystery of life.

It is my sincere belief that we are light beings, that is to say that we feed on light (lightevores if you will) that has been filtered through the process of photosynthesis in plants or a bit of a longer journey of plants through the digestive tract of animals.  So please consider this perspective when planting your garden, and then as you consume those foods, luxurious crops of black Tuscan Kale, Peacevine cherry tomatoes, Tangerine pimento peppers, Pepe de Rola beans, Israeli Haogen melons and more…that you will become the living embodiment of these photons, temporarily residing within plant tissue.  Our life force does indeed derive its source from the sun, a giant magnetic ball of hydrogen and helium plasma, 146 million kilometers from the Earth, whose light takes 8.3 minutes to reach us!  Staggeringly the sun contains 99.86% of the mass in our solar system!

So what we are doing as gardeners is carefully tending and arranging a living solar array to capture light and transmute it into a form that we find visually, and culturally appealing.   Alchemical transmutation!  And then consider the seed if you will….a dormant encapsulation of the full potential of the plant organism…it’s all in there- roots, leaves, stems, flowers, pollen, fruit…just waiting for the right conditions of moisture, warmth and fertility to burst into growth.  Blessed are we, the midwives of this magic, gardeners at the gates of creation, dancing with the divine.

May your gardening efforts be rewarded with beauty and diversity that flourishes beyond your wildest imagination and blesses you, your family and the Earth with nutritious bounty and renewal for the soul!

Farmer Don’s Soapbox Rant:

Here at Seven Seeds Farm we follow Rudolf Steiner’s Biodynamic agricultural practices to assist with our commitment towards healing the land and the organisms that make it alive.  Steiner was once asked by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, “why is it that your followers to whom you give so much spiritual impulse seem to be having so little spiritual growth?”  His insightful reply was that it was a problem of nutrition. He continues:

“Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life.  A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action.  Food plants no longer contain the forces people used for this.”, Agriculture, by Rudolf Steiner, 1924

The way I see it, through growing seed with both organic and Biodynamic practices we help to open a portal for the awakening of spiritual insight to locate this bridge from will to action.

Wake up folks! da mojo is in da seed.

Looking at patterns in natural forms – fractals, spirals, and more; the blueprint of the created world reveals so much subtle brilliance.  Can we align with this divine design through the simple act of good intent and magical microbial mixes brewed up from indications from an old Austrian philosopher?   Is it possible to broadcast this good intention, this prayer for all life, and this outrageously optimistic hope for humanity through seeds?  Is it possible that somewhere someone will open up a humble packet of seeds, pour them into their hand, contemplate them, pick one up and place it in the soil and unlock a tsunami of spirit to come flooding into their awareness about their place in the cosmos, the wheel of life and the tremendous power they hold to live a life committed to love and kindness?  What if this simple seed grew into a plant that produced leaves and fruits that increased one’s capacity for goodness and positivity? That would be a good thing.  May it be so.

Can planting seeds really make you more spiritual?  Yes, if you find spirit in quiet sunrises in the garden, or the peaceful shade found under tall sunflowers with pole beans climbing their hairy stalks, or watching worms do their wiggly thing, or squeezing snapdragon flowers with a child, or eating fresh ripe fruits and vegetables harvested by you and your family lovingly prepared into nourishing food.  Will this make you happy?  I say YES.  Is planting seeds really going to bring around world peace?  If enough of us chose this reality together this can be our world!

I wanna see permaculture paradises filling in all those negative spaces left behind from the credit crunch and the complete debt-riddled insanity of the fractional reserve banking system.  Imagine how many gardens could be started if the government built just one less fighter jet?  Now how about a whole lot more of that type of thinking.

Yo, unless you are a breathairian, we all eat, and most of us enjoy the process when provided good food. so let’s grow some and share it.  Maybe even save some seeds yourself and share them and let us once again become a nation of farmers, tending the Earth with love & respect.  May you be blessed by your tender approach to saving rainwater, tending the microcosmos of the soil flora and fauna, inviting children to play with you in the garden, saving seeds carefully and creatively and marveling at the beauty nature reveals to us every day. Keep planting…

Don Tipping,

February 2012

Watersheds and their realtionship to vibrant Eco-Agriculture video talk:

Here is another video about the Williams Community Forest Project and their efforts to stop a 300 acre clearcut slated to happen this spring upstream of the community of Williams, OR and numerous organic farms (including ours).  You may also visit the Williams Community Forest Project website at: http://www.williamscommunityforestproject.org

Learn More: http://youtu.be/pWtKZLct3-o

Pattern Literacy

I think that math should begin at an early age with an exploration of the Fibonacci sequence that is readily apparent in many natural forms.  It is based upon the mathematical formula depicted in the overlay of the human ear in which a square with a side =1 is added to itself 1+1=2, then 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13, 8+13=21, 13+21= 34, 21+24= 55 and so forth.  So the Fibonacci numbers would be 0, 1, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 and onwards.  The video link below demonstrates the theory artfully using pine cones, flowers, cauliflower, and more.  When I look at these natural forms together and consider the mathematical descriptions, it is as if a veil is lifted hiding the magical design of the universe.  Creation pulses with sacred form and beckons us to play along too.  Permaculure design invites us to emulate these forms to creation human settlement patterns that harmonize the natural elements of the landscape.  When we extrapolate pattern literacy into time and spatial dimensions, permaculture principles such as, “the problem is the solution” are veritable roadsigns directing us towards designs that are the embodiment of working within the blueprints highlighted by patterns such as spiral geometry, such as composting, multi-species polyculture, roational grazing, rainwater catchment, myco-remediation and more!

Fibonacci Spiral Video:

Cleaning Seeds:

I am in the midst of revamping the Siskiyou Seeds <www.siskiyouseeds.com> catalog & website and wanted to share where it’s headed!

Thank you for visiting us here on the web.  We feel tremendously fortunate to be in a position to deliver vital, vigorous seed right from our farm and the fields of our growers to you.  We want to help you manifest your own version of a planted paradise!  The photo above is a snapshot of one of countless gardens that have exploded beautifully into reality at Seven Seeds Farm in southern Oregon.  Pictured above is Jasper Canyon Tipping, 4 years old at he time of this photo, making a salad amidst a forest of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, Cosmos, Red Russian Kale, Genovese Basil in flower, mustards, gomphrena and so much more.

We are creating a new paradigm in seed distribution: farmers selling fresh, organic seed direct to other growers. How novel! Siskiyou Seed is a bioregional, certified organic seed bank and seed source for gardeners and small farmers. Our offerings are the result of connecting seed growers, gardeners and farmers in a mutually beneficial relationship to support small-scale agriculture with superior genetics selected for the Pacific Northwest. We grow and distribute certified organic, open pollinated seeds through seed racks, a catalog and our website. Our goal is to produce most of the seed on our farm, Seven Seeds Farm and fields we manage in Southern Oregon’s Applegate valley. We also work with successful, organic seed growers in the Applegate valley to increase the diversity of our offerings. In this way we are able to offer well-selected fresh seed of exceptional vigor and quality that larger commercial sources cannot match due to their having to rotate stock through a variety of middlemen. Through developing this network of seed producers we are strengthening our local seed security.  Siskiyou Seeds is one spoke of a larger movement that is occuring under the name of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative

It is my sincere belief that we are light beings, that is to say that we feed on light (lightevores if you will) that has been filtered through the process of photosynthesis in plants or a bit of a longer journey of plants through the digestive tract of animals.  So please consider this perspective when planting your garden, and then as you consume those foods, luxurious crops of black Tuscan Kale, peacevine cherry tomaotes, golden pimento peppers, Pepe de Rola beans, Isreali Haogen melons and more…that you will become the living embodiment of these photons, temporarily residing within plant tissue.  Our life force does indeed derive its source from the sun, a giant magnetic ball of hydrogen and helium plasma, 146 million kilometers from the Earth, whose light takes 8.3 minutes to reach us!  Staggeringly the sun contains 99.86% of the mass in our solar system!

So what we are doing as gardeners is carefully tending and arranging a living solar array to capture light and transmute it into a form that we find visually, and culturally appealing.   Alchemical transmutation!

And then consider the seed if you will….a dormant encapsulation of the full potential of the plant organism…it’s all in there- roots, leaves, stems, flowers, pollen, fruit…just waiting for the right conditions of moisture, warmth and fertility to burst into growth.  Blessed are we, the midwives of this magic, gardeners at the gates of creation, dancing with the divine.

May your gardening efforts be rewarded with beauty and diversity that flourishes beyond your wildest imagination and blesses you, your family and the Earth with nutritious bounty and renewal for the soul!

Pictured Above: Cassiopeia Popcorn -a diverse rainbow of early maturing popcorn

developed by Don Tipping over the past 12 years.  Also a germination sample of corn & kale

The Yellowing of the Leaves….

Rudolf Steiner made the insightful observation that during the fall when the leaves of trees change color and shift from green to yellow and other hues that there is a phenomenon similar to spring.  In spring as the Earth bursts forth with growth and upward flowering  and fruiting and a multitude of outward expressions of spiritual forces manifesting into physical form.  During the time of the yellowing of the leaves in the autumn many of these same processes occur inwardly, the abundance of harvest in fruits, seeds, nuts is matched with a surge in “the gleaming, shining soul-spiritual element…as the counter-manifestation of the fading sense-perceptible.” (Steiner, The cycle of the year as breathing-process of the earth).  Our soul is preparing for the journey towards Solstice and the inner light that Winter cultivates within us.

This time of year blesses us with the outward harvest from the Earth and an inward harvest as we look within and towards the quiet time of the year.  For those of us who tend the land, we welcome the shorter days and cooler weather that compels us towards other activities and more meditative states.  The yearly cycle can be seed as the outbreathing and inbreathing of the Earth.  During the later spring and Summer the Earth is breathing out – expansion, flowers, birth, fruits and seeds.  As the leaves yellow and fall the Earth is taking a breath in – withdrawing growth and productivity, death forces increase, dormancy and densification.  We may also perceive that the elemental beings that inhabit the unseen realms are withdrawing into the Earth as well.  Typically in temperate latitudes this occurs around Halloween.  We can observe that these forces return around Candlemass at the begining of February when the willows bloom, cottonwood buds swell and hazelnut catkins emerge.  At this time the Nature spirits are moving upwards through the plant realms and animating life once again with a rich outward expansion.

I find that excitement builds for next years goals and projects at this point of the year, but I must wait to initiate them until all the seeds are harvested, fall grains sown, fields put to bed, and I finish picking and sorting the last of the tree fruits.  Here at Seven Seeds we are looking towards expanding our offering of seeds both in diversity and quantity as we partner with the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative and develop our infrastructure as a whole system seed production, testing, cleaning and distribution hub.  Check the website for the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative (FFSC) at http://organicseedcoop.com/about/about-family-farmer-seed-cooperative to learn more about this pioneering vision for a new model for seed production and distribution in North America.  The model that we are developing is to support bioregional production and seed cleaning hubs that interface with a central facility (at our farm for now) to serve the national scale.  We currently have projects underway in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, North Dakota, Idaho, New Mexico, California and Nebraska.

New murmerings are rustling in the falling yellow leaves of new potential here on the land that you may read about under the new “Tribal Culture” page

Social Permaculture & Pattern Literacy

It is my observation that humanity possesses all of the tools and techniques to live in right relation with the Earth and other species, be it sustainable agriculture, natural building, ecoforestry, herbal medicine, consensus decision making, ecovillages and more.  However, our society and culture currently don’t motivate and inspire us to enact this type of life – this Permaculture.  Increasingly it is apparent to me that we could truly benefit from Social Permaculture, the ideas below represent what I feel to be my most meaningful way to contribute to the re-emergence of Tribal Culture in the industrialized world.

Presenting Social Permaculture as part of the “Training for a Re-evolution Series” at Burning Man 2011

At Center Camp on Saturday, September 3rd at 9:25 a.m.

I would like to share in a brief talk about Pattern Literacy an how agriculture, natural history, art and tribal culture can evolve through refocusing our innate ability to recognize patterns in our environment to more effectively activate all of our sense perceptions, including those that probe the unseen realms.

As I see it humanity itself is undergoing a rite of passage of sorts, a maturation into recognizing its role and responsibility for its own survival.  Increasingly I perceive that we acknowledge the need for a radical revolution at a foundational level of our relationship to the Earth, source of our sustenance.  The evolutionary process of mass culture has failed to deliver us into genuine happiness and fulfillment.  As a result, many people now seek deep and profound rites of passage, a stepping through the fire type of experience that tribal culture once facilitated throughout an individual’s life to demarcate the growth and evolution of one’s soul.  Paradoxically, the way back to tribal culture is not always back-wards.

For millennia, cultures relied on oral traditions to distill and transfer important information about how to live in right relationship with the Earth and each other.  These ear-based cultures were circular, not linear and generally exalted the divine feminine.  Books and computers have ushered in an eye-based culture that coincides with Patriarchal governance.  Ear based cultures reinforced pattern recognition and helped to train the mind to perceive patterns in nature and behavior.  Developing pattern literacy activates right brain processes more effectively than traditional educational models and stimulates creative responses to challenges.

Central to whole systems theory and permaculture is the idea that pattern understanding unlocks the blueprints of how the created world, the mind, relationships and so on are laid out.  Mathematical concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence, also known as the Golden Spiral provide a mapping system for spirals based on prime numbers as expressed in seashells, spiral galaxies, flowers and many other forms in nature.  Training the mind to effectively perceive patterns accelerates our ability to make connections across diverse disciplines in science and the arts.    Training the mind to recognize patterns involves:

• An assessment of the pathways through which you receive and process information and exercises to tease this info out (right vs. left handedness, dominant eye, cross dominance, multi-lingualness, cross cultural awareness)

• Understanding basic core models for patterns in the physical world (Fibonacci sequence, spirals, fractals, branching patterns, annidation, plant forms, etc.)

• Spatial & time dynamics for patterns in culture, periodicity, planetary rotations, revolutions, synodic waves, cycles

• Integrating pattern literacy as a way to activate the accumulated cultural wisdom stored in our DNA and accelerate implementation of meaningful progress and manifestation of tribal culture.

Evolutionary Agriculture:

An idea for a new approach to agriculture and raising food in a holistic, sustainable manner has been ruminating and brewing in the wild edges of my organic farm for years.  The more effort that I invest into traditional methods of tillage, planting tender annual vegetables, weeding, etc… I see the inherent wisdom in emulating native vegetation communities and plant guilds with their associated animals and fungi.  As a design theory, Permaculture holds open the door into this world, and empowers us to enact techniques that follow nature’s patterns and echo Gaian wisdom.  For many years I have been chewing on these and related ideas and recently what is emerging for me as a relevant, appropriate response to the challenge of growing food and honoring air, soil, and water is what I would like to term, “Evolutionary Agriculture”.

This idea itself is evolving and emerging as what I see to be the way to implicate and embed agriculture into native ecosystems.  We had a quarter acre, 10 year old raspberry patch that had been productive for many years, but we were experienced diminishing yields in recent years.  Research into the cause of this productivity decline suggested phytopthra root rot disease issues. So we considered taking out the patch, tilling it under and starting anew and then a subtle voice of feminine Earth wisdom began to whisper in my ear that there may be a different option.  I have been aware that often the most successful implementations of permaculture on the land are when we are able to listen to this subtle voice, although for myself I typically recognize that it was this voice that I heeded when observing a project after it been manifested and had a chance to grow and thrive, rather than right at the moment of assessment and design.  Moreover, this voice intuitively influences my actions, rather than told me to do such and such.  I believe this voice to be a synthesis of elemental forces, nature spirits and other beings within the unseen realms that appeal to our more intuitive mind, enticing us to play and create in cooperation with the forces of nature, making manifest Edens of ecology.

Sooooo, rather than tilling the raspberries under, I pondered, “how would this raspberry patch evolve if left to its own devices?, What would it look like?  What species would inhabit this realm as it matured and how much of this should we accelerate with intensive plantings, versus more hands off approaches?”  So, I went for a walk with 3 of my farm interns up stream to check on the intake of our gravity water line and then walk back through an old growth riparian forest.  Start at the source…our water, and I mean “our” in the greater collective sense that includes ALL species.  We bought along some shovels and dug up thimbleberry runners, native Hazelnut layered cuttings, Oregon grape and other edible and medicinal forest natives growing along an old irrigation ditch where I knew from years of observation that they would just be trampled or grubbed out as ditch maintenance occured from neighboring farmers, so I felt fine about relocating some of my plant friends to the raspberry patch.  We also dug up comfrey, yarrow, Aronia/chokeberry, rugosa rose, seedling French prune plums, Japanese flowering quince (hummingbirds LOVE them) hardy kiwis, winter Jasmine, Filberts,nitrogen fixing Autumn Olives, red currents, sunchokes, and many more perennials to interplant amongst the waning raspberry plants that we knew would still give a yield.  In essence we were helping to accelerate the evolution of the raspberry patch into a multi-species, multi- layer food forest.  Now just stand back, water and watch and wait for an explosion of food, flowers, fiber, medicine and fodder.  In time we will include chickens, turkeys and geese will inhabit this forest along with a myriad of native, birds, reptiles, mammals, fungi and nature spirits!

I am excited to continue to overlay this understanding of helping foster productive evolution of our permacultre food systems and encouraging enthusiasm among others to try their hand at assisting nature with appropriate stewardship.  Keep on Growing and listen to the sweet voice of magical nature that does not speak in words, rather pictures, pattern and gesture.

I’ll be writing more about this soon as to me it represents the most exciting aspect of the plant side of permaculture in Pacific Northwest cultivated ecosystems.  In the meanwhile, if this whet your appetite I encourage you to pursue further study through the smattering of excellent books on the subject of Forest gardening.

Nuclear Radiation Thoughts

I know that I for one have become overwhelmed with following the unfolding horror that is the Nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima reactors.  We humans like stability, it is what gave birth to agriculture and civilization.  Instability forces nomadic behavior and populations to ebb and flow in numbers and general health.  Unfortunately, stability can no longer be an assumption for a whole variety of reasons that I will not go in to, because if you are reading this you have probably already reached some conclusions that have helped you re-prioritize the Earth, Water, Food and Air.  We have work to do, future generations implore us to do so, hope for the future is a necessary condition of love.

I just watched a very unsettling talk by Dr. Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate who has founded several associations dedicated to opposing the use of depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, war and military action in general. She hosts a weekly radio program, If You Love This Planet.  She also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.  Moreover, we should be listening to wise women like this!  Below is a link to her recent talk about the Fufkushima Disaster:

http://youtu.be/4ITrXVJMKeQ

To overview the talk, she explains the severe gravity of the situation with strongly worded statements such as, “Do not eat any food from Turkey, or the whole of Europe  for that matter”, due to lingering radiation from the Chernobyl incident in 1987 (24 years ago).  One half pound of Plutonium could kill everyone on Earth with cancer.  There are almost 500 pounds of Plutonium in each of Fukushima’s 6 reactors.  The situation is so incredibly bad it’s very depressing.  And this is not the first time…there are nuclear disaster zones all over Germany, Japan, the USA, Russia, India, the south Pacific, Canada and Iraq (Iraqi doctors have strongly requested that women stop having babies in the Fallujah region due to rampant birth defects such as babies being born without brains as a result of the US Army using depleated uranium shells there).  We are really just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of a situation of monstorous proportions.  I heard a well intentioned ad on the radio yesterday urging support to find a cure for cancer and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the futility of that effort.  Cancer is the inevitable by-product of the industrial way of life.  Radiation manifests as cancer in months or many years later.  Wanna cure cancer?  Well let’s start with the complete dismantling and bioremediation of all nuclear facilities, then move onto chemical plants, military bases and on and on.  Perhaps we should should start with healing and transforming the pathological affliction that has infected the minds of many men who created, financed and built this toxic infrastructure.

OK…breathe…..

Meanwhile….we must deal with the fallout….literally….the rain that falls from the sky carries toxic radiation, food from the ocean will likely be carrying high levels of radiation for some time now.  I think that it important to educate ourselves about how radiation functions with the human organism, or any life form for that matter.  We are all aware how some are advocating taking potassium iodide supplements to flood the thyroid gland with iodine to avoid its uptake of radioactive isotopes of iodine 131 & 133.  It may work, but at a significant health risk.  So let’s take a step back and consider the general pattern of how radioactive materials find open spots on our chromosomes and damage DNA, which results in cancer at some later date.  Considerable research has found that increased consumption of antioxidants can flood our receptor sites with beneficial compounds that help avert gene damage.  Here is quote form a scientific journal by Byron Richards on the subject,

“Many nutrients contain antioxidants and many of these behave in your vital antioxidant network to protect your DNA from damage. In your diet these nutrients come from fruits, vegetables, whey protein, and whole grains. Additionally, almost any nutrient supplement with antioxidant properties, such as vitamin C, will help bolster your antioxidant team. I would suggest to everyone a broad base of antioxidant support as the minimum

Tocotrienols are a unique form of vitamin E that offers protection that regular vitamin E does not. In a recent animal experiment carried out by the U.S. Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute it was shown that gamma tocotrienol can protect against whole body radiation exposure.

Lipoic acid is a very small and versatile fat- and water-soluble antioxidant. Animal studies show that it helps maintain the antioxidant defense system in multiple body tissues upon radiation exposure, especially protecting the brain, liver, spleen, kidney, and testis.

Recent animal research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that blueberry and strawberry extracts helped prevent brain damage from radiation exposure. Interestingly, the polyphenols of each fruit protected different areas of the brain – supporting a variety of dietary berry intake and/or supplements with multiple berries.

Having an adequate antioxidant defense system for more optimal health is common sense. During times of increased stress your needs for antioxidants rise – and this relates to any type of stress. Radiation exposure is simply one more type of stress – a rather nasty type.”

The whole article can be viewed by clicking this link: http://www.newswithviews.com/Richards/byron206.htm

We can’t let fear completely rule our actions, the biology of our bodies is a complex and amazingly adaptable system that is capable of seemingly magical actions.  Consumption of super foods like those listed above and countless others is likely our best proactive defense from the nuclear war on biology being perpetrated by the  Nuclear Industry.  I am also highly curious about the role that the fungal kingdom can play in helping us as both nutritional supplements (see Paul Stamets line of Mycomedicinals, or better yet educate yourself about harvesting fungi by respectful wildcrafting) and actual mycoremediation of using fungi to clean up toxic sites.  And let us always remember the contributions to our understanding of the physical laws which govern our known world (that is besides Einstein’s insights into nuclear fission technologies).  Specifically I am thinking of Newton’s law of motion, which states that, “to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  In this vein this inspires me to believe that no matter how dark and ominous a situation appears there is an equally hopeful and bright situation in existence.  There is great potentiality and I firmly believe that we can use this tragedy to radically shift humanities’ relationship with energy, the Earth and the entire biological community that we share this home with.  Keep the faith!

Don Tipping, easter morning 2011 at Seven Seeds Farm on the north slope Sugarloaf mountain

Invitation to Participate in the Revolution

Time is short people…the integrity of the fabric of creation is being compromised in ways that have severe consequences.  Yet, while most of us are in agreement that something must be done, very few of have a clue as for what to do.

This is unsettling.

I for one have strong feelings about a number of alarming occurrences happening now from the poisoning of the oceans with crude oil, to deforestation of both tropical and temperate rainforests, cultural genocide, Transgenic manipulation of our food supply, consolidation of the seed industry by multinational chemical companies, climate destabilization and the looming spectre of peak oil.  The list goes on and is certainly frightening enough to drive most sane, feeling people into their shells like so many turtles subsumed by a delirium of  ignorant bliss.  Arrested by apathy as the biosphere suffers.  Well, like it or not, we too are woven into the tapestry of creation here…as our home planet suffers, so do we.

What to do?

Sit and wait for someone to lead the charge of revolution?

I for one feel like I see plenty of leaders standing tall and acting and speaking encouragingly and I am thrilled to co-create the emerging ecotopian culture that will be what remains as the corporate greed culture fails.  I don’t see  much sense in patching holes in the ruptured hull of the Titanic as it sinks.  I’d much rather recycle the materials at hand into more lifeboats so that we can retain some sense of dignity as Babylon crumbles around us.

I propose a peaceful revolution of growing food!

And while we’re at it let us  delight  in the splendor of nature in Edens made manifest from the love and thoughtfulness of our intentions.  Interacting with plants and animals in nature heals us in a way that mends the tears in the fabric of our subconscious biology.  We are in many ways the dream of the plant world put into motion…we are what has sprouted from the seed of oxygen…

let us ponder photosynthesis if you will.

Solar energy from an unfathomably powerfully pulsing thermonuclear reaction 93 million miles away travels 8 minutes to reach leaves outstretched to take in this light food and transform it into cells. The primary fuel for this miracle is carbon dioxide, the lubricant is minerals from the soil and water, and the waste product is Oxygen.  This is nothing short of a miracle!  So when we breath, every cell in our body is being nourished with oxygen that has filtered through the cell of a plant somewhere, mixing with its own unique biochemical signature, swishing with alkaloids, essential oils, phenols and phytonutrients to help our blood and that of all other animals, run red.  Consider this when you take your next breath.  Can you identify the plants responsible for the air you are breathing, without which you would be dead in a matter of minutes.  If you can’t actually see any plants, perhaps a change of scenery is in order!

Recently I was blessed with a poignant reminder of the miracle of air while visiting family in southern California.  A few days in the horrendous smog of the valley had left me feeling congested and one of my boys had a cough, the other a sore throat…so we escaped to the coastal oasis of Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach.  We climbed up a rough trail through coastal scrub to be rewarded with sweeping vistas of the sapphire blue Pacific and hills undulating beneath a cloak of sage, sumac and ceanothus.  I was taking it all in while my 4 and 8 year old boys marveled at the crystaline structures in rocks newly unearthed by heavy rains, taste buds still buzzing from some freshly peeled and eaten fruits of wildcrafted prickly pear cactus; when I was over come with the scent of sagebrush during some deep inhalations and I was flooded with an incredible awareness of the interconnectedness of the plant and animal kingdoms through gas exchange that shook the very pillars of my being.  Although difficult to describe in words as I try and massage them out on this keyboard, I felt as though I was gifted with a complete and instantaneous transmission, a desert download if you will, from those desert plants as to the importance of maintaining a gracious awareness of our inter-relationship through the simple and mostly unconscious act of breathing.

To expand on the saying, you are what you eat, in reference to breathing, consider, that plants are what we exhale”.  Put a little something extra into when you breath out, and go ahead and exhale a little deeper, you really don’t need that CO2 anyways, and try and spin prayers into our own contribution of CO2 going back into the mix as the plant world could certainly use whatever magic that we can muster in these challenging times.  Im visualizing this potentized exhaust compelling the plant world to bless us all with some extra special oxygen power to inspire us all to behave as though we are indeed another cell in the amazing organism of Gaia!