Thursday, June 10, 2010
As a result of years of research into the viability of intentional communities as a solution to current world economic collapse, Peak Oil, ecological distress, and non-functional social and urban systems, I have decided to form a Blog and a Facebook Group for the purpose of active discussion about the formation of a sustainable, self-sufficient intentional community here in rural Western Kentucky.
Other purposes of this group will be the sharing and learning of essential knowledge and skills necessary for the implementation of sustainable and self-sufficient living, to discuss goals and community economic and social models and establish a common goals statement, to explore and intertwine personal goals and skills for the purpose of community and individual benefit, and as a platform for group interaction, planning, and goals achievement.
The objects are to get off the grid, be self-sufficient by raising and preserving food, the meshing of unique personal skills for earning, cooperation in collective activities for maintaining the "Farm", and providing for the basic food and shelter needs of the participants, while creating a stable and secure base from which participants are able to pursue their own betterment individually.
With the belief that most "collectives" are too restricting and too communistic, I contend that although all members should participate in the activities necessary for growing and preserving food, building, repairs, animal husbandry, etc, and for establishing and maintaining the self-sufficiency and well-being of the communal experience - the possibility for individual expression, achievement and success beyond the communal project should also be supported.
With the current and future expected continuing economic depression, the overwhelming lack of jobs, and with Peak Oil looming in the very near future, it is essential that we re-skill and learn what we need to know to become self-sufficient and to generate an alternate form of earning an income to supplement or even replace the current economic system, which has collapsed.
This can be done by developing personal skills necessary and in demand in a post-peak oil world, such as organic farming, carpentry, masonry, electrician, plumbers, permaculture, animal husbandry, alternative energy installation, internet and wireless technologies, sewing, food preservation and preparation, and/or so many other skills related to farming, sustainability, and innovative "cottage" enterprise solutions.
Given the affordability of rural land in this area, the excellent growing conditions, and the overall suitability for a successful sustainable communal venture here, I believe that the idea is a viable one.
I would like to start a discussion with others who may be interested in such a project, with the hope of being able to turn this dream into a reality.
There are no restrictions nor requirements on race, religion, gender, political leanings, age, marital status, disability, financial worth, nor sexual preferences. Everyone is valuable, and everyone has a "talent" and is an integral part of the community!
The only thing required is an honest desire to help build a sustainable community where respect, cooperation, hard work, and appreciation for each person as an individual, results in a community that offers collective safety after Peak Oil, living off the grid, and self-sufficiency, which would not only ensure the well-being of its members, but also provide a stable base to enable individual success in personal endeavors beyond the communal home.
It is not required that you be an active member of the actual physical community to join this group, because this is a discussion, sharing, learning, and planning group. This is a medium through which both active members and non-community members can exchange and learn essential survival and sustainable living skills.
To read an exceptional article written by fellow hubber JimmyTH about sustainable gardening, please go here: "How to Plan and Tend a Survival Garden" This hubber has written one of the best articles I have ever read about real gardening, and I highly recommend it.
The author and her beloved Arabian stallion
"Gayraff Rhosabi" ("Gay") in 2001
I would like to introduce you to the Western Kentucky area, and try to give you an idea of what it is like here; what sorts of advantageous connections and opportunities there are here for a sustainable community, and what you could expect from this area generally.
Actually, this is a very optimal region for anything to do with growing crops. We live in the USDA Hardiness Zone 6, and just about everything does well here. We have a very temperate growing season with very mild winters, and only get 1 or 2 light snows each year. The growing season here is actually long enough that you can do 2 or even 3 plantings of some food crops, especially tomatoes and greens, and also some others.
With 88,000 farms, Kentucky is fourth in the nation in total number of farms and second in number of family farmers per capita. Kentucky currently has 88 certified organic farms, and at least another 100 uncertified organic farmers.
Kentucky's certified organic sector has been growing faster than those of all but one neighboring state.The Ky Dept. of Agriculture has recently published or helped sponsor a Farmers Market Directory, an Organic Producer Directory, a Farm Direct Food Products Directory and a Fruits & Berries Producer Directory.
The soil here is not especially rich and loamy. We have red and even blue clay, which turns into cement around the roots of your plants and suffocates them. So the soil needs building up with a combination of manure, mulch, compost, and sometimes sand, along with fertilizer. We are usually low on selenium and/or potassium here, and the soil is rich in calcium and phosphorous. So the soil must be amended accordingly. It is almost a given that you will need to have your soil analyzed and go from there, if you want to succeed at farming here. The local Cooperative Extension Office can help out here:
There are some plants that just plain can not be grown here - the ones that I know don't thrive here, are blueberries, lilac bushes, rhododendrons, and any kind of lavender (which breaks my heart, because I had dreams of a lavender farm!) Rhubarb does not seem to like it here, either. We can, however, grow beautiful peaches, wisteria, azaleas, hydrangea, and pecans!
Farmers here can grow just about anything, and do! Some major crops grown around here are corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco,wheat, barley, tomatoes, alfalfa, oats, and many other vegetable and fruit crops. We have large tomato farms, strawberry farms where people pick their own berries (they are quite popular here!), and there are several farmers' markets where farmers can take their produce and sell it. Many local restaurants and other businesses rely on local produce.
Produce usually sold around here at the markets is quite varied - including all types of vegetables such as: yellow and green zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, turnip, collard, and mustard greens, cauliflower, eggplants, tomatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, okra, pumpkins, cucumbers, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and other fresh greenies.
Some of the fruits that do best around here are: apples, peaches, strawberries, plums, and pears. There is nothing better than eating your first sweet, juicy tree-ripened peach at the farmer's markets here! We also have a lot of nice wild blackberries here that grow on their own everywhere - they make wonderful blackberry cobbler!
Farmers here bush-hog and round-bale their sweet grass and use it themselves or sell it to horse owners. If you have a tractor and a bush-hog, you can usually find a job cutting someone else's fields for half the sweet grass, or get paid to do it.
We have a lot of blue fescue here, which although pretty, is not very good for some livestock, especially pregnant horses! You have to be careful about that! Some minerals also need to be replaced as far as your grazing critters...
There is a lot of invasive Japanese honeysuckle here, and also kudzu. It doesn't much bother anything, though. And the honeysuckle smells divine! It is one of the things I like the best about living down here.
We have an annual Dogwood Festival here, with a Dogwood Trails route complete with lights, that people enjoy every year. It is a very beautiful time of year, with so many trees blooming, both dogwood blossoms and redbud trees. Also prevalent here are the Bradford Pears, which are the first trees to bloom each Spring.
The Dogwood Trails are beautiful!
Pink Dogwood Tree
Bradford Pears - These trees are the first to bloom in the
Spring - they always keep their perfectly round shape!
To get a real good idea about how people think around here, a town close by, in Benton, has an annual "Tater Day" celebration, complete with parade, good food, entertainment, contests for the kiddies, even "best groomed pet", and "best trained pet". (My little 4 year old niece won first prize one year for her beautifullly groomed lamb and her cute little costume!)
"Tater Day" started way back in the 1800's; and on that day each year, all the settlers from the farms in the area would bring in all their produce to barter for the things they needed. It was harder to travel back in those days, so it was a time to visit with friends and family not seen in months, and to stock up on needed items not produced on their farms. It is a tradition that has been preserved all these years.
Paducah, in McCracken County, also hosts an annual "Barbecue on the River" at the riverfront. You've never seen so much barbecue, and they zealously guard their "secret recipes", hoping to win the "best barbecue" title.
People here are down to earth and not snooty, as a rule. They are pretty self-sufficient and hard-working, have tradtional values, go to church and love their families. Most activities around here are family-oriented.
We have two fairs here every summer in McCracken County. Other outlying counties have additional fairs and festivals. There is quite a bit of local participation at these affairs, with livestock judging, jam and pie contests, tractor pulling contests, and lots of other good stuff.
We have a harness-racing track here, with a training facility, at Carson Park. They board, train, and race Standardbreds there. You can go and look at all the horses there - this is one of my favorite past-times. Carson Park is where I also go to shovel up a load of horse manure for the garden, too! You can go get a load of mulch dumped into your truck bed for about $5 at the city shredding places. There are a couple of places where you can get sand.
There is also a racetrack, where you can go to watch thoroughbreds racing and bet on the outcomes of the horse races.
As far as livestock, the kinds of animals raised around here are beef cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and turkeys. Shorthorns and Jacob sheep are a big thing here, as are Boer goats, Barred Rock and Domenique ("Dominicker") and Barred Rock chickens.
Mostly everyone who lives in the country and has the room, has horses. People here like their Quarter-Horses, and quite a few breed Tennessee Walking Horses. Shelbyville, TN, is not that far from here, and there are quite a few breeders here who show their Walking Horses there. And of course, we have the trotters, the Standardbreds, Saddlebreds and Foxtrotters - and some thoroughbreds, but mostly you see the thoroughbreds east of here, closer to the Kentucky Derby track.
We have lots of good farm supply stores around here, and lots of greenhouses where you can buy plants, trees, and bushes. I have a particular favorite where I get all sorts of very hard-to-find herbs at very cheap prices! I loved their orange mint and variegated oregano plants, among other stuff that makes me drool when I find it...
Every year around the third week in April, McCracken County hosts the National Quilt Festival, visited by quilting aficionados from all over the world, coming to look at the beautiful quilts, and to vie for the coveted First Place Quilt title of the year.
And of course, we have the river and the accompanying barge industry. Lots of people here work for the barge companies - they call it "working on the boat" - there are several barge companies here that hire pilots, cooks, and deckhands. They usually work 30 days on and 30 days off the boat. It takes a little doing to get hired, but it's well worth it, because they pay exceptionally well! (With the economic collapse, it is probably pretty hard to get hired there at all right now, though.)
And then there is Kentucky Lake, and Land Between the Lakes, which is a UN protected biosphere, a peninsula, a strip of land between the long legs of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, which are man-made lakes built by the US Army Corp of Engineers after the Big Flood down here in 1937. It was made by diverting the flow of the rivers via locks and dams, which also serve to accomodate the passage of river transport.
Kentucky Lake hosts several very important Bass, Crappie, and Catfish Fishing Tournaments. You can see more about the fishing around here at my web site about the topic here:
You can also see a video there about Western Kentucky, Kentucky Lake, Land Between the Lakes, and the Paducah area. There is definitely a lot of fishing going on around here, whether at the lakes, or in the rivers. We are the home of the Largemouth Bass and the Striper, we have the best crappie fishing in the world, and bumper crops of catfish.
Land Between the Lakes, as mentioned, is a National Park managed by the USDA, and is a designated UN Biosphere area. You can camp there, go fishing along the entire length of the lake, and go hiking, ATV riding at the trails at Turkey Run, horseback riding. There is a Nature Station for the observation of local wildlife and plants, and you can join in guided field trips and plant and animal identification classes. There is the Golden Pond Planetarium, a real 1800's working Homestead Farm to visit, a Fallow Deer Sanctuary, and an Elk and Bison Prairie that you can visit and see the animals.
Worth mentioning is Hematite Lake, where there are hematites all over the place, and many other things you can do around here. And of course, there is the the Kentucky Opryland where you can hear aspiring country singers. A big thing for young people here is the Talent Search contest each year, where winners get to go on to Nashville!
Kentucky still leads the nation in burley tobacco production, even though the federal tobacco price support program was discontinued in 2005. The state is second in the U.S. in total tobacco production and is in the top 20 in corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.
Kentucky is the leading beef cattle state east of the Mississippi
River and is eighth in the nation overall.
Jacob Sheep & Baby
Boer Goats (Raised as meat goats)
Nubian Goats - Nubians are milk goats.
People here are not fancy - they are "country folk". They don't care much about fancy clothes and such. They are set in their ways, good-hearted and friendly, but full of piss and vinegar if you tangle with them! I've never seen a Kentuckian yet who would back down from a good fight! In fact, I think they really enjoy a good knock-down cussin' fest. They will respect you more if you sling it right back to them. They will grin at you and shake your hand later, if you do. It's some sort of a "cultural" thing here, a rite of social passage.
Most people down here will tell you they are Rebels, and even though Kentucky actually was officially "Yankee", many Kentuckians fought in the Confederate Army for the Southern cause, making Kentucky a divided state in those times. But nowadays they are proud of being Rebels, and are insular about "Yankees". If you are from the North, you will always be a "Yankee" to them. You should not let that bother you too much, but if someone calls you a "DAMN Yankee", this is an indication that they think you should vacate the area. (Might not be a bad idea, either!)
I know it sounds complicated, but despite all their idiosyncrasies, they will always help their neighbor out when needed. It takes a while to "learn them", as they themselves will say. Hospitality and family loyalty and pride are very big things down here. So are the "social graces". Southern hospitality is still very much alive here.
Things just seem to move slower here. No one is in a big hurry to do anything. It might take you a while to get used to it at first, if you have been a person who has been punching a clock, rushing to meet deadlines, and running back and forth. But, after you settle in, you will feel the tension, and all your anxieties and depression start to melt away... You can start to enjoy your life for the moment, and not be so pressured to "hurry, hurry, hurry". You will be so relieved to be able to shed the "city trappings" and the pretensions, to just be yourself, and let the day be whatever it decides to be.
This is not to say that people here are lazy or not ambitious. Because they are really hard workers, very conscientious and punctual, and strive to excel in whatever they are doing. But they just don't "look" like they are beating the hell out of themselves while they are doing it. And they take time out for quality time with their friends and families. People here spend time at home with their families, much moreso than they do out "running the streets".
I hope this kind of gives you a picture of what things are like here.
I wrote it from off the top of my head. I have been here for thirteen years - I guess that makes me a Kentuckian now. (Of course, a native Kentuckian would not agree with that statement!)
I don't know if I have missed anything or not. I am sure I have. If anybody from Kentucky reads this, add whatever you think of, and I'll appreciate it if you do!
"Quick-Key Guide to Wildflowers," by David Archbald, Rosemary V. Fleming, ... and other useful information regarding planting and growing the wildflowers ... Kentucky Wildflowers of Western Kentucky http://gardeninglaunchpad.com/WF.html
Purchase Area Master Gardener Association
Located in Western Kentucky, our members live in the 7th District which includes Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Graves, Lyon, Marshall, and McCracken Counties ... http://www.pamga.org/
Monday, May 10, 2010
I recently read a very well-written article by Alex Steffen called "Resilience and Ruggedness: Why Faster, Bigger and More Complex May Be Better", in which he states that he believes that to achieve genuine sustainability, we must concentrate on "making sustainable places, and in the modern world, where metropolises drive the economy and culture, that means making sustainable cities". He suggests that we should be directing more of our energies towards building high density, green urban areas, and not so much towards individual, more secluded efforts.
I found this article to be very thought-provoking and interesting, in spite of some of the opinions of his readers as to its shortcomings. The dilemma that he has put forth is the same one that I, myself, rack my brain over constantly. I'm sure plenty of other people have wondered about this, too. Will the system provide for us? Or will it collapse and leave us all helpless, to fend for ourselves? Can we make our government do the right thing? Or are we on our own?
We all know we are at Peak Oil, and that the way we live is not sustainable; and what's more, the systems we all depend on are about to come crashing down at our feet. It is inescapable that we must come up with a substitute that is not only sustainable, but that will ensure our own individual survival.
I believe that many, including myself, have recognized that due to the difficulty (impossibility?) of mobilizing the masses without intelligent and cohesive direction by our government, together with the concerted efforts of a crowd of the most talented engineers, scientists, architects, ecologists, economists, and agriculturists all working together, it is highly unlikely that widespread, across-the-board urban greening projects like this could ever happen. The plain truth is that, given the corruption, greed, and corporatist takeover of all of our systems, it is not likely that any utopian vision of building new, large-scale systems for the equitable survival of us all, will ever become a reality.
I am certain that without a clear vision and dedication of purpose on the part of "the powers that be", and the removal of all negative and counter-productive political and corporate interests, it will not be possible to achieve utopian "urban greening" on a mass scale.
It's a nice vision, but given the reality of greed, corruption, political maneuverings, and corporate strangle-holds inherent in every organization, and throughout all of our present systems, it's just simply not going to happen. The only kind of "mass green urban construction" we are going to get is the kind that is going to cost us our every last penny, is going to make big, new monopolistic "green" corporations a whole bunch of money, will keep us under the foot of the "masters" for generations to come, and will happen only for their benefit and not ours.
My conclusion is that since we can not realistically expect "utopia" to happen, then we must start somewhere. And that "somewhere" is with ourselves. With each of us; personally, and individually. We must stop relying on the "system", and we must refuse to be a part of it. The "system" as we have known it, is a sinking ship, and it's time we jumped off and let it go. We must make up our minds to do this, and just do it. Work toward this goal, little by little, but with determination.
Get out of the cities, and get to a rural area, if you can - somewhere where you can still get land for cheap (the southern states still have land for $1500-$2500 an acre!) Learn how to drive a well, and learn how to build a solar/wind power system. Learn how to build an energy-efficient dwelling. Learn how to grow, harvest, and preserve food. Make friends and hook up with other like-minded people, and form communities. Share knowledge and skills, and work together on building sustainable community projects.
Once you get your project going, hook into the larger communities around you, with the object of creating alternative social, political, economic and employment networks. It will be essential to build new economies and means of income, because the ones in place now are failing, and will soon fail entirely. Our economy has been built on a fictitious foundation of manufacturing and credit, which have been based on the availability of oil, and both of which have collapsed, and are no longer viable. (If you don't believe that, try to find a T-shirt that was made in the USA, or a job in a factory!)
We must take back the manufacturing of our own products, earn and keep our own profits, and we must figure out how to do it perhaps without oil - basic necessities made locally. The integrity and skill of the craftsman or tradesman will be in high demand again very soon.
We must relearn the skills that our ancestors knew: skills necessary for survival, that we can use in a Post Peak Oil world, where we will no longer be able to depend on the power grid, nor on present means of transportation and communication.
Think about trades you could learn that would be in demand in a world without oil. Consider things such as home building, wood-cutting, well-digging, alternative energy installations, agriculture, food preparation and preservation, wireless networks, communications, and animal husbandry. We will need people who can build wireless networks so we can continue to be able to communicate with each other. And we need to work on how to power machinery for agriculture and for transportation, without oil.
Don't give in to feelings of despair and inadequacy. Dig down into your own inner strength, and your resourcefulness. Picture in your mind what things might be like if the oil runs out, the power grids go down, and the economy fails - and think about how you personally could contribute with a needed skill, and how you can fit your own talents into this new way of living. For example, I have learned how to build a solar energy system with a wind turbine, I could raise food and preserve it, and also I know I could raise a healthy flock of chickens! What do you think you might be good at?
Preparing for Peak Oil is not going to be done overnight. This involves a complete and total restructuring of our values, our expectations, and our way of life. It has to start with each one of us. And the natural consequence of us all doing this, will be that we will, over time, build a new way of living, new communities, and new economies. Even the way government works will change - it will necessarily become more local, and will be based on completely different priorities.
Creating those "pockets" of green within urban and suburban areas will later be very important, and should not be disdained as of small value. When our power grids go down, and when there is no gas for farm machinery, nor for those trucks that transport food to the supermarkets, those pockets will be feeding the rest. If you intend to stay living in a city, you should either be creating one of those green pockets, or you should be joining up with one.
Learn how to survive with less, and how to take care of yourself. Your ancestors did it. They built and lived in sod or cob houses, raised their own food and livestock, made their own clothing and furniture, and they did NOT have electricity, nor did they have cars. With the knowledge and technology we have today that they did NOT have, we can learn how to live a much better life than they did. We know about solar and wind energy, disease prevention, sanitation, and many other things now, that can help us make the transition into a new, better, and more sustainable way of life without oil quite successfully!
We Americans are a tough and resourceful bunch - we hacked our way through the wilderness before! And we can do it again!