Monday, April 12, 2010

The Sen/Sem State of the Union Report

Haven't posted too much around here lately, been very busy. . .but thought I'd offer up a few thoughts as our project comes along.

Topic 1:

I'm a big believer in the inevitability of stuff happening if it's going to happen, and understand pointlessness of hoping for events that aren't. I think really, all in all in human existence there are damned few things we really have very much control, and our ability to alter our personal trajectories through life is largely illusory. That's good and bad, good because we shouldn't feel so bad about the stuff we screw up, bad, kinda, because there's very few things we should feel entitled to take credit for. Not that it stops anyone, LOL, but there you go. Still, there are times and moments in which small nudges can have large effects and it's good to have a nose for those-- and having what we term success(or failure) in life is largely about saying either "yes" or "no" in those critical moments.

We all sense that, I'm sure. We as a group on the forum here have largely made a commitment of "yes" to personally making an attempt to moving towards a sustainable future. This is why we are here. This is why we're trying to work together. Recently, I've been hearing a bit of stink floating about about how perhaps, well, things might not be working out as expected. That well, things aren't going this way, or that way-- or that so and so is a jerk, or that some people are fake, or what have you. No doubt. We have all of that, I'm sure. I've been also hearing from the "get go" a year ago from people who would love to form community but feel jaded or cautious, feeling that they are cautious about taking the risk of "community" because they fear it won't be reciprocated. No doubt it won't.

Look, perhaps it's time to figure out that "community spirit" mostly is about giving to people who are jerks, or more typically merely useless, and getting nothing in return. That's the core of it. Being a good member of a community mostly is being the kind of person who has the sufficient richness of spirit that you're capable of doing that, repeatedly, and mostly cheerfully. A "Sustainable Community" as far as I can see it is a group of people who understand this, possess this non-trivial level of both competence and generosity, and have found each other. This is no small thing. Actually, it's a huge thing, and a heroic thing. Expect it will be mostly hard work in the short term, with little to no reward.

Got that? New paradigm, people.

Actually, not really all that new. While people are selfish by nature, of course, there are indeed matters of degree. Today, well, the selfishness is so entrenched it must be historically exceptional. By and large, we're just a bunch of spoiled, overfed brats, who have very little to offer, and demand an awful lot in return for what we don't give. This wasn't always the case-- when I think of my grandparents generation there still seemed to me to be a lot of giving simply for the joy of giving. But I must tell you, it's been probably 20 years since I've seen anyone bake the kinds of pies that I used to see as a kid--you know the kind, with the perfect crust, perfect filling, intricate lattice, all that stuff--photogenic. If you've ever tried yourself, you know why; because it takes about 4 hours to put a pie like that together and it's gone in 2 minutes. It's a weak effort/return on investment project. But I do remember the look on the faces of my Grandmother and other matrons I knew as a kid of the joy they felt watching their work evaporate. They were simply satisfied by making others happy, and that was good enough.

So again, got that? Expect to give, and not get shit in return. Expect that. It's the only way we're going to pull for a better future. At least in the short term.


No, I mean it.

Topic 2:

In one of my books somewhere I wrote that "there will come a day in which that we call a "fisherman" will not catch fish but rather will build fish habitat." We're getting close. I think we can expand that observation to the term "businessman" as well. There will come a time, damn soon, where to be a successful businessman won't be a matter of indulging in the mere exploitation of an economy, but rather a businessman will be one vigorously involved in the creation of one. We are going to need to get started on building our "sustainable economy" and pronto, as there's a possibility there will not be much else left here too soon for comfort. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there really isn't going to be much sensible debate about what that economy is going to be based on. Tourism? What, to come see slums, rain, marginal beaches--coupled with expensive hotels and costly airfare? Forget that! What, development? So we can have more empty house that no one can afford to buy because there are no jobs, who get purchased by aging boomers, mostly of a lower economic bracket, who end up on public assistance further crushing the local economy? Jeez, it would be easier to come up with a viable plan selling rock, if it wasn't taboo. I'm not really joking. There is indeed a rock and gravel shortage all up and down the west coast.

No, of course, the only viable game in town is agriculture. If there is going to be either tourism, or development, is will be accessory to the success of agriculture--meaning people will come to see the farms or build houses because they are successful farmers. This is where we need to go, and we need to get ripping.

The issue, of course, as a business model is that the tropics in general and Hawaii in particular offers unique obstacles to agriculture, and especially sustainable agriculture. These issues aren't insurmountable, but at this point require some tenacity and creativity to overcome. Mostly the issue comes down to the fact that to grow here, one is forced to purchase very marginal agricultural land at rates that assume residential construction, and to take on a project that requires a lot of latitude in application in a business environment that is increasingly litigious, complicated and restrictive for anything other than building--and when you realize that agriculture is a high risk, low return business at its core, well, one can see why no one is doing it, except for a few of us crazy folks. That doesn't mean it isn't viable. It is. But at this point the viability will only be visible to a very small number of visionary folks with unusual skill sets.

So, what can WE do.

Well, the first thing we should do is put together one of the first things suggested here-- the MOBILE farmers market. The "Produce Truck." Not only is it vastly more efficient to roll one machine to 1000 people than have 1000 people drive to one place--it is by nature forced and uniquely able to become a cooperative project. Since (as above) small farms are key to our future and (as above) giving and getting nothing in return is key to our future if we can come up with a cooperative plan to ease both "transitional" strategies that's all good. Perhaps a great place to give a "nudge" toward a better future. Why so effective? Primarily because the truck can do both pickup and delivery, and in that case operate vastly more efficient. Secondly, because of its efficiency, it allows for small producers a viable market immediately. What I mean is this--suppose you've got 4 extra eggs? Well, put them on the truck. To offer aid to transition, we must ease the effort and add encouragement--and hopefully some income-- to those who will for the first year or so measure returns in pounds not tons. Even if it is small potatoes for small potatoes that's no doubt helpful. We can work out the details, but I promise you all if you can find a market for micro-amounts of produce you will all grow more. Right?

We can work out the details. Surely you all can see the promise. Let's set a goal of getting the truck running by November 1.

My pledge: I have a nice 1 ton GMC truck coming my way, with a fresh engine and drivetrain. Under 30000 miles. This can be the powerplant, and it would be hard to beat for cost or reliability. This boat has as cherry 350 and even with the low axle ratio will get 10 mpg, burning 8 gallons a day on a circuit from Volcano to Hilo with a Honda EU 2000 in the bed running a refrigerator. I expect what we really need is a trailer, but trailers are relatively cheap. If we were very very intelligent people, we'd put a commercial kitchen in the trailer. Taco truck style. This way you can not only sell produce, but you can sell concept--there are a lot of viable foodstuffs we have here that people don't eat because they don't know what they taste like. If you can purchase/sell/distribute a whole communities output with one source, provide employment to a couple of drivers, a couple of cooks-- work for a better future, create viability for a local economy in one shot, well, we'd be stupid not to take a stab at it. Give and expect nothing in return.

Actually this is better than that. This will pay. It will pay at 10 dollars a gallon for fuel. It will pay carrying a driver at a living wage, a cook, and someone to work a counter. Who is in?

Yes, this will be a completely legal, everything above board, certified project. No prob. It will still work.

I'm giving use of the truck. Surely we can equally contribute to the trailer, both time and capital. I also pledge to the cost of the trailer, let's get a notion as to what it would cost. I expect 12k or so.

Look, at the end of the day whether it's biochar, or engineless sailing, or growing taro, or being a decent human being, just do the damn thing-- and help other people do the same, OK? Surely we're capable of doing something without whoring it out. Christ, really, surely we can figure this out.


David said...

That's a great description of sustainability, Helping others!

Emma said...

like the icecream man except with healthy produce. instead of the horrible icecream truck song it should play grateful dead that way it gets all the hippies out of the woodwork.jk
i have a friend who lived in a isolated village in a valley in mexico. they had a similar set up but it was burro powered and mainly for distributing potable water. it had an interesting emergent property, it became the news distribution for the entire village (via conversation) and its outskirts as well as courier of messages.