Rubber Sidewalks Rescue Trees

Homegrown Neighbor here:

I love trees and all of the things they do for us. They shade us, feed us, house us. Trees are something we just need more of here in Southern California.
I used to work at an urban forestry non-profit, TreePeople. So I am familiar with the challenges of the tree/sidewalk interface. I have fielded calls from people frantically trying to save trees that are being ripped out because they are lifting the sidewalk. I have also received calls from people eager to remove trees for the same reason. Sadly, I have also heard from people that would call just to complain about a tree being messy and littering their sidewalk or driveway. My personal take on that is it isn’t the tree that should be removed- it is the concrete. Leaves falling off of trees is a good thing. Leaves make glorious mulch or compost and that hardscape is just in the way of some healthy soil.
Nonetheless, in a city there are sidewalks. There are also commonly trees near sidewalks. The wrong species of tree or a tree that is too large for the available space, can lead to problems. Cracked or raised sidewalks can be hazardous or inaccessible for the disabled, people with strollers, cyclists, skate boarders and those of us who are just generally clumsy. Rubber tiles in place of concrete can be a solution. They allow the tree roots to grow yet they are flexible. They conform to the contours of the roots. This eliminates gaps and provides an even surface. They are safer than ordinary concrete and allow the tree to thrive as well. I have heard of these rubber tiles before but I had never seen them in person until just a few days ago. I came across this tree and the rubber sidewalk in a leafy, pretty suburb along a major boulevard with a lot of foot traffic. Viva el arbol!

More on this material via the Charlotte Observer,“When the rubber meets the sidewalk (at $80 a foot)”.

The company that makes them is called, not surprisingly, Rubber Sidewalks.

Digital Farming- What’s The Deal?

Homegrown Neighbor here:

So here in the world of urban homesteading things can get pretty busy. We can become so preoccupied with work, chickens, vegetable gardening, cooking, cleaning, blogging duties and email that we can miss some of the things going on in the world. I do like to occasionally check in with the world at large by reading the newspaper. I just read an article that I have to comment on.

A recent New York Times article titled, ‘To Harvest Squash, Click Here,‘ introduced me to the world on online farming. Apparently people spend a lot of time “farming” on line. Twenty two million a day in fact, according to the article. There are several farming games on Facebook, Farmville being the most popular. You can get seeds to plant, watch your crops grow and then harvest them. Some people are so addicted that they are eschewing real life responsibilities and social obligations to harvest their virtual soybeans.
It is even suggested that the popularity of these farming games is indicative of a collective yearning for a more pastoral life. I’m not sure I get this. I spend all day outside in the dirt making things grow. At sundown, I lock up the chickens. Then I harvest something to make into dinner or on a special evening, I’ll make a big batch of jam or sauce and spend hours canning. I’d rather spend as little time online as possible.
I can’t wrap my head around how a video game can in any way replicate the experience of farming. I may be an urban dweller, but I get my satisfaction by getting real, not virtual, dirt under my fingernails. Can any one explain this trend to a clueless non-gamer like me?

The modern woman-things to put in your apron pocket

Aprons are so cute and oh so functional. I’m often out and about in the yard and around the homestead and I find my apron a very useful accessory. An apron adds a flirty, feminine touch when worn over jeans and is a nice layer of protection for a dress. I tend to get very dirty and need a lot of pockets, so an apron is handy indeed. Whether I am at the farmer’s market, pulling weeds in the backyard or at the chicken coop, here are the top things you are likely to find in the pocket of my apron:

5. Money- small bills for the farmer’s market.
4. Seeds. I tend to collect seeds in my pockets.
3. My keys.
2. An egg. I certainly can’t put an egg in my jeans pocket.
1. My iphone. Very convenient place for this indispensable item.

The Original L.A. Urban Homestead

You know that band you saw play at your local dive bar back in the day that is totally popular now and playing in arenas? Well, the L.A. Eco-Home is kind of like that. Long before glossy magazines were doing “Green” issues, before hybrid cars and composting became hip, Julia Russell had been giving tours featuring the environmentally friendly aspects of her home and garden. Julia is pictured here in front of her Gordon apple tree which bore over 500 lbs. of apples last year. (We counted, seriously.)

The Los Angeles Eco-Home Network has been educating Angelenos about simple ways to conserve energy and other resources, grow their own food and live a happier, healthier lifestyle, since 1988. The house is a charming bungalow full of warm dark wood. It features a small solar array, a fabulous greywater system and many other features that make this cozy home worth a visit. The most educational part of the Eco-Home, in my humble opinion, is Julia’s actual lifestyle. Sure, technical features such as solar and greywater are great, but living lightly is more about how you live and small simple choices you make everyday. Julia is in her 70′s and doesn’t drive. She bikes. Pretty impressive. She has a nifty cargo bike that she uses to get groceries. The house is surrounded by mature trees that provide deep shade in the summer, keeping the house cool without the need for air conditioning.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson would be environmentalists can learn from Julia and the Eco-Home network is the absolute lack of pretentiousness and holier-than-thou attitude that can plague the green movement. Julia is down to earth and just wants to share her passion for living a green lifestyle. So if you are in L.A. check out one of their tours and bring a friend.
The Eco-Home Network- being green and keeping it real since ’88.

City Repair LA

Mark Lakeman stares down the new Bimini Street salamander.

Portland architect and activist Mark Lakeman, founder of the City Repair movement, is in Los Angeles for a week of lectures and activities. Lakeman believes in actions that correct what he believes is our disassociation from nature and our alienation from each other. He’s a passionate opponent of the grid, the imposition of street networks and regimented thinking that he traces back to Roman imperialism. He’s probably most famous for inspiring groups of like-minded neighbors in Portland to adorn their streets with furniture and elaborate murals, usually done without asking for permission (see examples on an interactive map). He wants to empower us all as “villagers”, in charge of our own collective fate, rather than as serfs subservient to distant bureaucrats and moneyed interests.

Author and Creekfreak Joe Linton executing a reverse Sistine Chapel maneuver.

What I like about Mark Lakeman’s actions is that they aren’t “actions.” There is none of the attention seeking, pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric that one finds in activities such as “guerrilla” gardening (or perhaps some of our own past activities!). Instead the focus is on problem solving through getting neighborhoods together and doing things rather than standing around and complaining. Yesterday I had the great privilege of participating in a city repair street mural painting with my friends at the Los Angeles Ecovillage and their neighbors. The Ecovillage folks who organized the event had knocked on doors and enlisted the help of their neighbors. They blocked off the street themselves without getting a permit, set up refreshments, put on some festive music and laid out a mural design in the intersection in front of the apartments that house the Ecovillage. Whole families came and the kids had a great time participating in what became a giant coloring book. At the conclusion of a day of painting under the bright LA sun, a piñata was hoisted, bashed apart and candy rained down across the colorful new street mural.

Jimmy Lizama operating the piñata.

The mural incorporates lizard and ocean motifs, and enhances the crosswalks in the intersection, which is adjacent to a public school. The mural will act as a traffic calming device and counter our Department of Transpiration’s usual ignorance of pedestrian safety. While not asking for city permission is provocative, this was not a Boston Tea Party moment. It was simple problem solving in the form of a neighborhood party. Everyone had fun, and the street will be safer and more attractive. Thinking about the day yesterday, I woke up this morning with an overwhelming sense of happiness and empowerment.

The new mural nearing completion in the early afternoon.

Can every neighborhood rush out and paint a street mural? Probably not. At Lakeman’s lecture on Friday, I could sense a familiar skepticism in the audience. He showed slide after slide of happy Portlanders creating cob benches, tea houses and street mandalas. The people of Portland have built one of the most livable and desirable communities in the US. But here in Los Angeles we have many obstacles and far less cohesiveness. And I was not alone in wincing at the aesthetics of many of the Portland projects. Lakeman himself acknowledged that a lot of people ask him why everything has to look like hippies built it. Here in Los Angeles and elsewhere we’re going to have to devise different city repair strategies and aesthetics. It’s easy to get hung up on street murals and cob benches. Like Lakeman says, we’ve got to look to nature and at each other to devise the form of our cities. The form these villager led interventions take in Los Angeles, Austin, Iowa City and Brooklyn are going to be different. What all our cities share in common is the need to get started immediately to undo a century’s worth of bad planning and disempowerment.

Thyrsus: the new hipster accessory

Ancient thyrsus on left, modern hipster version on right.

The traveling exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa, currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has a few nice tchotchkes worth considering for those of us attempting to garden in Mediterranean places. One of the centerpieces of the show, a large fresco depicting a garden, includes many familiar plants: chamomile, oleander (who knew oleander existed before freeways!), strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and date palms.

But what kept capturing my eye in multiple pieces, was a ceremonial stick carried in Bacchic processions called a thyrsus. Consisting of a stalk of giant fennel topped with a pine cone, occasionally accessorized with a grape or ivy vine, I realized that, here in Los Angeles thanks to our similar climate, I could step out the back door and make my own thyrsus, which I promptly did. For my modern thyrsus I drilled a hole in the pine cone and fennel stalk and inserted a metal pin to hold the pine cone to the stalk.

The combination of a pine cone and fennel stalk symbolizes the unity of farm and forest, of the cultivated and the wild. And you don’t need to be a Freudian to grasp, shall we say, the meaning of a long shaft topped by a bunch of seeds. Roman homes and gardens were, in fact, full of phallic fertility symbols that seem crass to our modern eyes. Exhibitions like Pompeii and the Roman Villa, sadly, censor this imagery. You’ve got to visit the secret cabinet in Naples to see this stuff (way not safe for work!).

Censorship of these ancient fertility symbols is related in my mind to modern fears of the fecundity of nature. It’s these fears that lead landlords to pour copious amounts of concrete and gravel to smother every living thing. It’s what causes neighbors to launch irrational tree and bush killing rampages over the property line lest any bit of foliage fall and mar their precious SUVs.

As rampaging forest fires send Vesuvian plumes of smoke over Los Angeles, it’s time to wave our freak thyrsi high to counter the naturefobic forces out there! As Euripides says, “To raise my Bacchic shout, and clothe all who respond/ In fawnskin habits, and put my thyrsus in their hands–/ The weapon wreathed with ivy-shoots.”

Let’s Democratize Permaculture

When I heard that Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) has the number one country album, I fell into a dark spiral of despair. Isn’t this a clear sign of the end of the American empire? But wait, won’t permaculture save us from this petrochemical fueled Miley Cyrus soundtracked nightmare?

Don’t hold your breath. It might be awhile before everyone’s front yard is full of perennial vegetables and Merle Haggard is back on FM radio. Over at Club Orlov some controversy over permaculture has broken out in the comments. One poster, Morgan Emrich says,

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, for at least hinting that there might be a problem with the permaculture Movement in the US. The ratio of permaculture teachers/instructors, (and courses, certification programs, feel-good junkets to third world countries) to actual apple trees being planted seems woefully skewed in the wrong direction.

It’s starting to feel like Amway. Everybody’s selling Basic H but is anybody actually using the stuff to wash their clothes?”

I understand the frustration. I’ve seen, first hand, backstabbing, cliquishness and proprietary craziness in what should be a movement about joining together to make the world a better place. I’ve also witnessed the same skewed proportion of apple trees to thoughts about apple trees. At the same time, not a day goes by when I don’t think about, learn from or apply some of the principles of permaculture as described by Mollison and Holmgren. In fact my biggest failures have come from not following permaculture’s language of common sense.

Maybe it’s time to put down the pen and graph paper and pick up a shovel. It’s definitely the point at which we need to democratize permaculture and bring it to the mainstream. Fifteen hundred dollar permaculuture certificate courses are out of the budget and time constraints of backyard gardeners and rooftop apartment growers. Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture is a step in the right direction. We need more voices like Hemenway, who can explain the design principles of permaculture to the masses.

And let’s take these principles and apply them not just to gardening, but to the ways we arrange our schools, offices, homes and public spaces. Maybe we’ll get in the groove once we get past the term “permaculuture” and when its principles get reincorporated into the fabric of our lives.

Time to bust out the shovels and banjos.