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.

The End of California Citrus?

As small as an ant, the Asian citrus psylid is big trouble!

When I spotted state agriculture agents on our street I knew something was wrong. It turns out that a specimen of the dreaded Asian citrus psylid showed up in our neighborhood. The Asian citrus psylid is not a problem in itself, but carries an incurable bacterial disease called huanglongbing (HLB). HLB, first reported in Asia in 1919, renders citrus fruit inedible and eventually kills the tree. Parts of Africa, Asia and South America are infected with HLB and in some regions of Brazil the disease is so bad that they’ve given up growing citrus altogether. HLB is in Florida and is adding to a nightmarish collection of other diseases afflicting citrus in the Sunshine State. Now California growers are panicking with the appearance of the psylid.

So far the psylids found in California do not carry HLB. However, according to an article in the Journal of Plant Pathology (pdf), HLB inevitably follows the citrus psylid within a few years. In several ways HLB resembles Pierce’s disease which has killed most of my grape vines and basically made growing table or wine grapes in Southern California impossible without copious pesticide application. Both diseases are bacterial and both are spread by phloem sucking insects. The pesticides used to control the Asian Citrus Psyllid and the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter (the insect that spreads Pierce’s disease) are also the same, and include a ground application of imidacloprid, marketed under the brand name Merit and manufactured by Bayer Environmental Science. State agricultural officials that I spoke with at an informational meeting on Wednesday in Echo Park hope that applications of imidacloprid and pyrethroids will slow the progress of the psylid and, “buy some time”, as they put it, to come up with a strategy to deal with the possible appearance of HLB. California agriculture officials hope that their proactive approach combined with lessons learned from missteps in psylid control in Florida and the rest of the world will slow the progress of the insect and minimize the damage of an emergence of HLB in California.

Compliance with the residential pesticide application program is voluntary. State agriculture officials will knock on the doors of residents in three areas in Los Angeles where the psylid has appeared to ask for permission for a foliar application of pyrethroid and a ground application of imidacloprid to any citrus trees a homeowner might own.

While I understand the gravity of the situation–we really are looking at the possible end of citrus in California if HLB gets a foothold–the use of imidacloprid gives me cause for concern. Imidaclopred is highly toxic to honey bees and has been banned in several European countries for its likely connection to colony collapse disorder. When I told an employee of the Department of Pesticide Regulation at the meeting on Wednesday that people in my neighborhood keep bees he paused and said, “you’ve got a problem.” Another official said to me that our bees (and presumably other pollinators in the neighborhood) will be sacrificed for the greater good of preserving the state’s citrus industry.

As with Pierce’s disease the best long term solution to this problem will be to breed trees resistant to HLB. This is easier said than done as, unlike Pierce’s disease and grapes, no HLB resistant citrus cultivars have been found. It may be that the only way to breed for resistance soon enough to head off the HLB will be through the development of transgenes with antimicrobial properties. This approach is already being funded by the USDA and the citrus industry.

As a backyard gardener and rabble rousing blogger, I could lose a lot of sleep pondering all the thorny questions this crisis brings up. Are there situations where genetic modification is warranted, or do antimicrobial transgenes pose unintended consequences? Will localized applications of imidacloprid kill our pollinators in significant numbers or will strategic applications head off more widespread use later on if nothing is done? What are my responsibilities as a backyard gardener to large scale growers? Do the benefits of international trade outweigh the inevitable appearance of invasive species? Should we close the downtown flower markets and produce distribution warehouses where state entomologists suspect the psylids might have come from?

Rather than try to answer the unanswerable, I’m going back to two of my favorite books books that don’t have anything to do with plants. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, a meditation on the logical fallacies of economists and Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic have all the strategic wisdom a gardener needs. Seneca would say, do what is in your power to do and don’t worry about what you can’t fix. Taleb would advice always maximizing upside potential while minimizing exposure to the downside. My unsentimental conclusion: don’t try to grow citrus. If I had a mature tree I’d leave it in place and rip it out at the first sign of HLB. Despite the state’s offer to replace any HLB infected tree with a free citrus tree I wouldn’t take them up on the offer. In our case we have three small, immature citrus trees that are already chewed up by citrus leafminers. I’m pondering pulling them up and replacing them with fruit trees unrelated to citrus. This follows our stoic, get tough policy in the garden. Planting a tree entails a considerable investment in time. It can take years to get fruit. Why not plant pomegranate instead and let other people worry about citrus diseases? If a pomegranate disease shows up, rip it up and plant something else. Following this approach will eliminate habitat for the psylid and negate the need for pesticides.

Orange v. Tuna ¿Quien es Más Macho?

The first consideration with any domestic plant or animal should be choosing species with robust immune systems and then following that up with an objective selection process. This is an approach that mimics one of the fundamental laws of evolution: survival of the fittest. True, there is often a trade off between the flavor and yield of a fruit and strength of its natural defenses. Oranges are juicier and easier to peal than the spiny and seed filled fruit of the prickly pear cactus. But the long term odds of having a reliable supply of prickly pear fruit are a lot higher than a steady flow of orange juice. I may get a few spines in my fingers, but it will be the citrus farmers who will be losing sleep. As Seneca says, “If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.”

View a video on how to recognize Asian citrus psylids here.

Prickly Pear Fruit Chips

Prickly pear fruit chip–some specimens are purple, our produces orange fruit

It’s prickly pear fruit season. I know this both by the view out our front window and from the comments trickling in on an old post on how to make prickly pear fruit jelly. Thanks to a tip from Oliva Chumacero at the Farmlab, I now have another way of dealing with an over-abundance of this spiny fruit: slice it and dry it to make prickly pear fruit chips.

  1. First remove the nasty spines (technically glochids, which are barbed and much more painful than the spines on the pads). I disarm the glochids by burning them off over a burner on the stove.
  2. Cut the fruit into thin slices and hack off the skins.
  3. Place in a dehydrator. We have a solar dehydrator, but a commercial one will also work, of course. If you live in a dry desert climate you can dry fruit in the sun under screens, but here in Los Angeles the air has too much moisture in it. Fruit would mold before it would be dry enough to store. I’m not a fan of oven drying either since there’s not enough air flow and you run the risk of cooking rather than dehydrating. A dehydrator, either electric or solar, is a great investment if you’ve got food to put up.
  4. When the prickly pear fruit has a leather-like consistency, enjoy. You swallow the hard seeds, making prickly pear fruit somewhat an acquired taste for some.
  5. Chumacero also mentioned that the young pads, “nopalitos” in Spanish, can also be dried for later use.

A note to the permaculturalists out there. It’s worth emphasizing that the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, in my personal experience, is the single most productive plant in our small lot. It’s also the easiest to propagate, and thrives on neglect. It provides a tremendous amount of food for no work and no supplemental irrigation. We’d all do well with more of it around. In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying a winter of Opuntia chips.

KRAUT FEST!!!!

Limited edition Kraut Fest poster–click to enlargulate

There’s been way too many Los Angeles based event announcements this week and not enough blogging! So sorry–one last announcement and we’ll be back to our regular programming:

Kraut Fest 2009! September 6, 2009
11am – 3pm

Taught by Mark Frauenfelder, Erik Knutzen, Kelly Coyne, Jean-Paul Monsche, and the winner of Critter’s 2009 Kimchi Competition, Oghee “Granny” Choe (www.GrannyChoe.com)

Come learn how to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, and choucroute garni, the signature dish of Alsace (described to us as a ridiculous meat fiesta).

11am – Making Sauerkraut – click HERE for a list of ingredients to bring!

12pm – Making Kimchi – click HERE for a list of ingredients to bring!

1pm – Choucroute Garni presentation & sampling

Participants will need to bring their own ingredients (shopping lists are linked above).

You can register to make either kimchi or sauerkraut for $10, or both for $15. Registration gets you a “kraut kit” consisting of a bucket (for sauerkraut class) or a jar (for kimchi class), and a limited edition, hand-silkscreened poster (see here). You can also buy the poster separately through our online store, here. Funded in part by a grant from Slow Food LA. Thank you Slow Food LA!

Sauerkraut Workshop registration $10

Register at Machine Project

30 Years of Farmer’s Markets in Los Angeles


Join Homegrown Evolution and an amazing group of LA food pioneers as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of farmers’ markets in Los Angeles. We’ll be in Good Magazine’s booth at noon this Thursday September 3rd doing a free self irrigating pot (SIP) demo. Learn how to use a SIP to grow your own food even if you have no land to call your own. Best of all there will be a whole lot more to enjoy–see the amazing lineup here. The event will take place downtown at the Arts District/Little Tokyo Market at City Hall–1st and Spring Street. Chef demonstrations, a salsa contest and speeches kick off at 10:30 a.m. If you like food and live in Los Angeles don’t be anywhere else on Thursday!

Sourdough, Preserves, Barbeque Sauce and Chutney!

We’re teaming up with our friend and neighbor Jennie Cook, executive chef of Jennie Cooks A Catering Company to offer a special cooking class on Sunday September 13th at 2 p.m in Los Angeles. We’ll demonstrate how to make sourdough bread and Jennie will cook up a batch of her mouthwatering chutney, barbecue sauce and more. Here’s the 411:

“Hang out and cook with the Urban Pioneers who created an oasis in So Cal where they grow their own food, bake their own bread and brew their own Hooch. We’ll put up preserves, barbecue sauce and chutney of summer’s final fruits. We’ll dry some tomatoes and let the season add to our other endeavours. Erik will talk us through the how-to’s of Sourdough bread and even provide starter for you to keep on your own kitchen counter. Please allow three hours for class.

Class is limited to 10 students. Each student will receive a copy of the book, autographed of course, preserves etc. and sourdough starter. The suggested price for class is $95$69. per person

RSVP:
Jennie Cook
Owner Executive Chef
Jennie Cooks A Catering Company
3048 Fletcher Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90065
323.982.0052
[email protected]
www.jenniecooks.com
www.partytips.wordpress.com for Menus and Upcoming Events”

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.”

Urban Farm Magazine

We have a article on urban farmers across America in the premiere issue of a magazine bound to appeal to readers of this blog, Urban Farm. Our article, Where Urban Meets Farm, profiles the efforts of our friends the Green Roof Growers of Chicago, Em Jacoby of Detroit and Kelly Yrarrazaval of Orange County. All of these fine folks have repurposed urban and suburban spaces to grow impressive amounts of food, a common sense trend popular enough to have spawned this new magazine.

Editor Karen Keb Acevedo says, “Urban Farm is here to shed a little light on the things we can all do to change our lifestyles, in ways we think are monumental as a whole, yet at the same time, barely noticeable on their own.” The first issue has practical articles on goats, bees and chickens as well as how to get rid of your lawn. There’s also a nice article by John Jeavons, who developed the Grow Biointensive method, and wrote the seminal book How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits.

Check your local newsstand for Urban Farm or pick up a copy of the premiere issue here.

SIPS and Kraut at Project Butterfly

We’ve got an event tomorrow–that’s Tuesday August 25th at 7:30 p.m. in downtown Los Angeles at Project Butterfly. There will be a lecture followed by two demos: how to make a self irrigating pot and how to make sauerkraut. Cost is $20. RSVP to [email protected]. Here’s the 411:

Step into the 21st century by making your house, apartment and kitchen a center of production. This lecture/workshop by the authors of The Urban Homestead, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen will introduce you to how to grow your own food, make pickles, ferment beer, keep chickens, bake bread and turn your waste products into valuable resources. By stepping into the DIY movement, we’ll create a paradigm shift that will improve our lives, our community and our planet.

Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, authors of The Urban Homestead, have become increasingly interested in the concept of urban sustainability since moving to Los Angeles in 1998. In that time, they’ve slowly converted their 1920 hilltop bungalow into a mini-farm, and along the way have explored the traditional home arts of baking, pickling, bicycling and brewing, chronicling all their activities on their blog Homegrown Evolution [ www.homegrownevolution.com ]

In this workshop, we will be learning two projects ::

Project #1: Making a self-irrigating planter
Project #2: How to make sauerkraut!

Contribution:: $20 [ includes a delicious light vegetarian meal and drinks ]

Location:
Project Butterfly Loft
821 Traction Ave #108
Los Angeles CA 90013

Blurbs:
“The Urban Homestead…touches on vegetable gardening, poultry, DIY cleaning products and beer making — all outlined with a sense of play and fun.
—Whole Life Times

“…a delightfully readable and very useful guide to front- and back-yard vegetable gardening, food foraging, food preserving, chicken keeping, and other useful skills for anyone interested in taking a more active role in growing and preparing the food they eat.”
-Boingboing.net

Urban Chicken Enthusiasts Unite!

Creating community is a vital part of the urban homesteading movement. For why should one make jam or grow zucchini without people to share it with? In a big, crazy city like L.A. there are lots of interesting people doing inspiring things, you just have to find them. I’m always excited to meet new people who are interested in all the things we write about here at Homegrown Evolution. I was lucky to move a block away from Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown and find instant community. Now the neighbors and I have been thinking that we would like to meet more local urban chicken folks. As our flocks age a lot of questions come up and we’d like to learn from more experienced chicken keepers. And we often meet people who would like to know more about urban poultry. So I’ve decided to create a group of L.A. urban chicken enthusiasts. I used meetup.com to create the L.A. Urban Chicken Enthusiasts group.

I like Meetup because the point is to organize face to face meetings. Our group will get together every month or so, eat eggs dishes and talk about raising chickens, local food and sustainability. The L.A. Urban Chicken Enthusiasts meetup group is just for people in the Los Angeles area. Not to worry if you aren’t in L.A., I noticed a lot of other urban chicken groups on Meetup and if there isn’t one in your city you can easily start your own. So if you are local and into chickens, join our group. If you aren’t in L.A. or not a poultry person, just go forth and create a group for whatever you are into, network, make friends and build some community.