The Intellectual Drop Outs

IMG_1416The idea of going to university was never really my idea, it was to an extent. I knew that eventually I would like to go to school so that I could develop my knowledge base on a subject that (hopefully) I found interesting and willing to spend my life and career exploring. But I was never big on the idea of going to University at such a young age. However the all encompassing parental overlords said what they needed to say and off I went away to University at the age of 19. I would grumble to all my friends that spend their late teens and early twenties exploring the globe or developing new attributes, about how unfair my education was treating me. How I should be jetting off to Malaysia or Chile instead of dragging myself out of bed every morning to 830 labs and lectures I didn’t really want to be a part of. I’d constantly threaten and dream up scenarios in my head of walking out mid-class, throwing my notebooks in the recycling bin ( (; ), and leaving, never to return to the academic lifestyle I seemed to loath so much.

Our Cortes retreat exposed us to so many different, cool people explaining their lives, as well as their life choices and I was smug (maybe even giddy) to find out, most of these interesting, imaginative and intelligent individuals had done exactly what I wanted to do! They dropped out! They up and left the academic system and from the sounds of it, they haven’t seem to have looked back once! I couldn’t wait to tell my parents I was right all along. I didn’t have to go to university to be smart or capable; I just needed…

Oh wait. I still needed something I didn’t have. And that was direction. It occurred to me then that I hadn’t a single clue what I’d do if I dropped out of school. Well I did, but nothing that I could consider a ‘life goal’. These interesting characters we had the opportunity of meeting all seemed to have a direction, to know what they were doing, and do it with passion and commitment. I was envious of that. Where do I find this mythical direction, passion, life calling. It occurred to me that I wanted to be like these people, to be like these various drop outs, not because they were drop outs but because they followed their passions. And then I made an even bigger realization. I hadn’t found a passionate cause yet. How could I possibly drop out of school to follow my dreams if I didn’t have any dreams to follow!

It’s easy to complain about the education system. There’s A LOT to complain about, ask any student you come across. But it’s also easy to think about all that an education can provide. If it wasn’t for university I wouldn’t even know who these intellectual drop outs were, never mind permaculture, ecology, geomorphology or entomology. School provides you with knowledge but more importantly (in my opinion) in can open provide you with direction, opportunity, relationships and passion. The intellectual drop outs left the education system because they felt blocked from pursing the goals and passions that they were drawn to. But as much as I hate to admit, for me, school has opened more opportunities than it’s blocked, and I think that’s good enough reason to ride it out and see what else it can open for me. Besides, if I feel like I’ve exhausted all the resources the education system can provide me, I can always drop out.

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Biodynamics aka Witchcraft

biodynamicprep It was the third time the phrase ‘biodynamics’ was brought up that day, when someone finally asked Tamara to explain what exactly biodynamics were. And I’ll never forget how she explained it; first she paused, in a way that I comprehended to mean, she didn’t know where to begin. She then said…”Oh man, biodynamics is like burying a sheep’s horn, bathed in some elixir, by the light of the full moon.” (Or something like that…). And immediately I thought, so it’s like witchcraft. And I was hooked. I made a note in my notebook to research all things and everything about biodynamics so I too could be a garden witch.

A week later I can safely say my research did not disappoint, and although it isn’t necessarily the witchcraft I once thought it was, it’s still a fascinating, holistic and spiritual approach to farming and agriculture, and probably the closest any modern farming system could get to witchcraft. Biodynamic farming encompasses multi-function and interrelated farm systems as well as astrological plantings and herbal or mineral additives (What Is Biodynamics?, 2016). So it appears that permaculture and biodynamics go hand-in-hand, both incorporate aspects of multi function systems as well as an essence of sustainability and community. What I found most compelling about biodynamic farming was the spiritual component. I found the emphasis on harmony not only between systems but between humans and their respective landscapes truly fascinating and inspiring. In my research I couldn’t help but uncover the more than various accounts of skepticism surrounding this agricultural technique, and the majority of them surrounded the idea that it had no scientific reasoning behind the methods, and often times the yield on biodynamic farms were the same, if not in some cases, less than regular organic farm practices. However, I still think that biodynamic farming is worthy of appreciation because it provides farmers with something more than just an increased yield or income. It includes a greater force, an aspect of magic and powerful, mindful, inputs and incantations. I think this has more power that the skeptics seem to think. By increasing a connection between people and the environment, this means that not only the farmscape will be treasured and appreciated but the entire earth. I can’t think of any reason why increasing an appreciation and sense of magic in nature could do any harm for humanity or the environment. Incorporating biodynamic approaches into permaculture design would only increase the respect, care and love put into the use and maintenance for the system. Which in my opinion, would only create healthier, happier and possibly more productive systems.

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The ideologies behind biodynamics seem to go against most mainstream environmental associations we have been familiarized to. Capitalism has taught us to commodify nature, and treat it as a resource for us to take from mindlessly, neglecting any kinship we feel, in favour of increased production and consumption. It is incredibly refreshing to see power being given back to the Earth. Increased yields or not, the increased mindfulness and association to natural systems make biodynamic agriculture truly magical.

Resource

What Is Biodynamics? (2016). Biodynamics Association. Retrieved from: https://www.biodynamics.com/what-is-biodynamics

 

The Conscious Carnivore

IMG_1172During our first full day on the Linnea farmstead, we were given a tour by the always exhilarating Tamara. The entire tour had me captivated; it was fascinating to see how all the different functions and families on the farm worked together and separately, seamlessly. During a small side conversation with Tamara, she began discussing her dietary choices and labelled herself as a conscious carnivore. This caught my attention. She explained that this meant she ate meat but was conscious as to how the meat was raised, killed and processed. Tamara went on to say that she wouldn’t want to eat any meat that wasn’t brought up and processed by her own farm, her neighbours or friends. This was because it wasn’t bad or wrong to eat meat, what was wrong, was the normalized way that meat is raised and processed in North America among other places.

This was very powerful for me. I have been an active vegetarian for the past 12 years and I had never really considered ending my vegetarianism in favor of eating meat again. I can still remember when I made the choice to stop eating meat, I was very young and not really aware of my choice beyond the fact that I deeply cared for animals and had a particular affiliation for cows. As I grew up, the choice I had made was solidified by learning more about the meat industry, particularly after seeing documentaries such as Earthlings (2005) and Food Inc. (2008). I knew that meat tasted good and at times it was hard pass up pepperoni pizza or going to ‘wing’ nights and ordering a salad, but I also knew the sick feeling I got after viewing these films, PETA commercials or other shock-u-mentary style propaganda. It made me feel terrible, and it made me resent the idea of eating any meat ever. I hated the idea that I would be contributing to such an unethical and cruel industry in order to satisfy my taste buds.

Today, I feel differently, if not a little cheated. What these powerful films and ads neglected to inform me of was ethical, safe and guilty free ways of eating meat. Eating meat was demonized to me because all I could see were these horrible images of industrial sized farming operations and mass produced chickens, crippled and unable to walk due to the industrial desire of rapid weight gain. I’ve heard all the arguments from the stereotypical meat eaters trying to convince vegetarians or vegans to cut it out an eat meat. “Humans have been eating meat since the dawn of time, its natural..etc. etc.” I knew this, but I couldn’t seem to give into it because humans have not been producing meat this way since the dawn of time. I realized that I didn’t have an issue with eating meat; especially in healthy moderate amounts, what I had a problem with, was the current normalized attitude and ethics of mass produced meat. It went against everything I stood for, it was gluttonous (the industrial nation eats more than 80kg of meat per person in a year (Meat Production Continues to Rise, 2013)), unsustainable, unhealthy (there are countless hormones and other additives like “fillers” put into meat to lower costs etc.) and unethical for both the people and animals involved (slaughter house workers have some of the lowest labor rights in American and beyond (Slaughterhouse Workers, 2010)). slaughterhouse_workers_small2-300x219This being said, the meat industry appears to violate all three of the permaculture ethics; caring for the earth, caring for people and sharing the surplus (developing nations produce at least 60% of the meat industrial nations consume (Meat Production Continues to Rise, 2013)). I could go on and on about the negative impacts I’ve grown to hear and feel about the North American meat industry, however, I’m also aware that this isn’t always the case. Meat can also be raised, killed and eaten in ethical and environmentally conscious ways, and there’s nothing deep, dark, or disturbing about it. In fact it can be quite beautiful. I was touched when Tamara mentioned that she still cries and morns the loss of every animal they kill. That relationship is what is missing from the industrialized meat nation and the reason I decided to stop eating meat in the first place! It gave me hope, and for the first time in 12 years I considered eating meat again. Ethically, locally raised meat, which a farmer has cared for, loved, and felt empathy towards.

Although, I still haven’t eaten meat, and I probably won’t any time soon due to a student budget and resources, I do believe that I will one day, and for the first time I’m content with that.

Resources

Meat Production Continues to Rise (2013). Worldwatch Institute: Vision for a Sustainable World. Product Number: VST116. Washington DC. Retrieved from: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5443

Slaughterhouse Workers (2010). Food Empowerment Project. Food Is Power. Retrieved from: http://www.foodispower.org/slaughterhouse-workers/

The Biodiversity of Rebellion

Our stay at the Linnaea farmstead exposed us to a wide diversity of people; from farmers, to activists, to builders, to ‘meat punks’, we met a spectrum of individuals I couldn’t imagine getting the opportunity to meet outside of this field school. Every lecture we experienced felt unique and each one more mind blowing than the next. However, I couldn’t help but feel; despite their varying pasts and current lifestyles, as though there was some thread of similarity throughout our speakers. A familiarity that I couldn’t seem to put my finger on… Then it occurred to me that our speakers all shared a commonality. Each speaker enacted a form of rebellion pushing them forward into a new era. Whether that is rebellion against the food industry, the government, their parents or even themselves, each lecturer expressed a common undertone of rebellion against the threat of an opposing, domineering force. What I found most interesting, were the completely individualistic means of rebellion for each person we met. Oliver Kellhammer expressed his rebellion against the mainstream acceptance of barren cityscapes, industrial contamination, climate change, invasive species management, and in general a dissatisfying life, by use of art, music and education. However, the coolest part was that Oliver was not only rebelling against the mainstream associations with climate change but also against the environmental Band-Aid solutions (ie. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat…redundant). This meant an entirely new attitude and approach to environmental issues. Not only was Oliver rebelling against the norm but he was also rebelling against the then counterculture. What I found compelling was his choice to address the masses; Oliver was clear in his desire to add newcomers to his ecological rebellion by educating the public of his own perspectives and ideologies.

In contrast to Oliver there was Meat Punk Max. Both shared a common goal or desire to protect and respect the environment, but they differed in their means of execution. Max, in my opinion didn’t seem to give a shit what other people were doing, mainstream or not. He focused entirely on what he could do. This seemed to me like a form of self rebellion. He left his home, lifestyle and comforts behind in order to develop a new way of living that entailed a virtually zero footprint on the earth. What I found most interesting was his lack of concern if not distaste in developing a following. There was no desire to preach his opinions or educate the masses on a new, alternate, environmentally conscious way of living; there was just Max, living how he felt he should in order to avoid contributing to the destruction of the planet.

So then I thought, where does this leave me? After being exposed to so many wildly different and radical lifestyles I didn’t know what direction to take and truth be told, I still don’t. But it comforted me to know that there wasn’t any one way to stick it to the Man. I don’t have to be a punk rocker, eat road kill or cultivate kefir to achieve radical results; I just need passion, a cause and a really good hat. (;

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