Events @ Listening Tree, organic farm, transition

Composting with worms for soil healing

A new event @ Listening Tree, Saturday, March 3, 2018 at 11 AM – 1 PM

Bow shed in the snow One of our founding associate members, Ben Goldberg built a bow shed on site for a farm-scale vermiculture project. Our soil was laced with Round-Up for decades before we bought the property, and in places it was as dead as a rock, only hosting lichens and mosses and early successional plants. The soil needs the amazing microbiological boost only worm castings can bring. So with Conor Lally, Ben launched our first social enterprise beyond the farms. The bow shed is a passive solar, wind-compatible design with plenty of room for commercial-scale worm bins. Now’s your chance to learn from Ben about his squirmy permie wormies.

Composting with worms is practical, easy, educational, and fun. Red wiggler worms efficiently convert food scraps into a dynamic soil amendment, a nutrient- and organism-rich compost. On top of that, worm ecosystems provide a remarkable glimpse into the natural world.

This workshop will cover various worm bin designs, worm ecology, care and feeding, and separating the castings for use. This will be an interactive workshop, to be held on site at Listening Tree’s vermiculture operation.

inside vermiculture shed

The presenter:

Ben Goldberg has been keeping worms and making worm bins since 1995. He has presented workshops on worm bin ecology and composting for schools, agricultural conferences, and community groups. Ben holds degrees in both Environmental Education and Ecology from College of the Atlantic and The Audubon Expedition Institute.

Ben will teach us and entertain us all at the same time! You will certainly leave with hands-on knowledge of worm farming, as well as a new appreciation for the little things in life.

Donation: $10. Please RSVP to 401-710-9784.

 


Community life, deep ecology, transition

Glistening Trees

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The item on the top of the co-op’s winter to-do list was for the soil to sleep. Finally it can: 15 inches of snow Thursday (February 9) and another couple last night. I harvested a month’s worth of carrots just as the snow began, just in case, and because I could. We put up deer fence the day before because the ground was completely unfrozen, so we could.

I got a laugh out of a forester last week, when I said we wanted to tag some trees to cut before mud season. “It’s been mud season all winter!” he guffawed. True that. I meant March, but I’m still learning how to live according to nature-as-it-shows up vs. the Julian calendar. Add to that the vagaries of the Anthropocene and the shift is on.

With systems as unstable as these, it seems anything can happen.

-Karina

 

Community life, deep ecology, transition

Positive Thinking in a Dark Age

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Listening Tree Co-op cofounder Jim Tull has just published his book of essays, Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: Essays on the Global Transition.

Community life, transition

Our first composting toilet installed!

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Let me just say the yuck factor for me is the opposite of the cultural norm. To me, the most disgusting thing that can happen in an ordinary day is splash back of toilet water on my butt. Seriously, is there an amount of toilet paper you can put down first that ensures no splash back and doesn’t clog the toilet? I spent 57 years trying to find the right balance. But those days are officially over at Listening Tree Coop!

plunger saying goodbye
Plunger looking for a new home

I know, I also went to camp and got latrine duty more than once. So I get it why people think it’s a lifestyle change for the worse to recycle the nutrients in your pee and poop for the good of the soil, the water, and humanity.

However, a compost toilet is not, I repeat not, a smelly old outhouse. The Full Circle design Ben Goldberg and Conor Lally just put in at Listening Tree Coop is a gem of appropriate technology. Like most indoor composting toilets, it has a 4W fan that ensures a negative pressure in the toilet, and pulls the odors out through a special plumbing stack. The Full Circle also uses elegant engineering to make the most of the knowledge gained by decades of design and maintenance of various models since the first composting toilet came on the scene in 1973. It simplifies maintenance through modular and interchangeable collection and resting units.

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Ben Goldberg (center) explains the compost toilet installation to apprentice Conor Lally (left) and plumber Tony Hawkes (right).

And it’s a urine diverting system–which separates out the urine from the feces, etc.

But before I get too techie, which you can do at BuildingGreen, I want to outline why it’s so important to move away from flush toilets. They pollute water. No way out of that. It takes tons of energy, chemicals, and work to pump and purify water to be drinkable. Then to use most of our household clean water to flush our toilets is just ecologically insane. Sewage treatment plants spend tons more energy, chemicals, and work to clean water. As we slide down Hubbert’s curve off peak oil, we can’t afford to waste energy like that. And the effluent from sewage treatment is still not completely clean, so we rely on ecosystems to do the rest of the work, which they can’t always handle. Septic systems are worse: all leach and many fail, which pollutes ground water and water bodies.  With the global water crisis increasing, we can’t afford to defile any more water with insufficiently treated waste.

Which brings us to the most important piece. Flush toilets turn resources into waste. Poop and pee are actually resources, if handled the right way. We close the circle if we return them to soil as nutrients. Because urine is so high in nitrogen, peecyling avoids the need for natural gas-based fertilizers. To learn more about cutting edge research on peecycling for farming, check out the Rich Earth Institute. To see (and pee in) our compost toilet, come to our next potluck and/or farm workday, April 30. I promise, no splash backs.

Karina

you poop in it

cooperative ownership, transition

A Happily Solar Solstice!

IMG_0712Winter solstice might have seen the Listening Tree shop roof covered in snow, but instead solar installers were up there installing photovoltaic (PV) panels! To add to the excitement, the crew was a RI-based co-op startup, Sol Power. One of the cooperative movement principles is for co-ops to cooperate with other co-ops, so we’re happy to support each others’ success.

The system is grid interconnected, meaning when we produce more than we need, it will feed back into the electric grid and power our neighbors, and our meter will spin backwards. When we need electricity, instead of relying on batteries, we’ll use green power coming through the grid, through People’s Power & Light, the local nonprofit green power provider.

The PV system is rated at 12 kilowatts, meaning that at maximum capacity (sunny noon on the summer solstice) that is how much power it can produce. Sol Power expects the 42 panels to produce about as much electricity as we estimate Listening Tree residents and farmers will use, including irrigation, a well pump, a couple of electric cars and a heat pump water heater.

I would be loathe to waste good champagne on christening the array, but maybe we can raise a toast at our next potluck, Saturday, Jan. 2. at 4 pm.

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transition

Trees, trees, trees!

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Phil sheering Christmas tree

Listening Tree is located on a former Christmas tree farm, and there are plenty of trees remaining throughout the fields. We have sheered some for sale, and are hoping to sell them for Christmas, solstice, or just because you love having a tree in your house this time of year. We’ll be open Saturdays and Sundays through Christmas–come by then and pick or cut your own. We also have tree stands ($25 each, like the trees) and branches you can use to make wreaths. (In fact, any wreath makers out there might consider preparing some to sell here–call us to discuss.)

Please do not come outside Saturday or Sunday without an appointment (call the same number). Thank you!

 

Community life, transition

Block Power

block power

 

by Jim Tull
People know what they do.
And most know why they do what they do.
But what they don’t know is what what they do does.
– Michael Foucault
Nobody went to jail. No one burned down the State House or forcibly removed the President of the United States from office. What a few people on our city block on the south side of Providence decided to do instead was something more radical, if less dramatic. We tried to get our neighbors to turn to each other a little bit more for personal support. As radical – meaning ‘getting to the root’ – as this idea and subsequent project were, I later discovered that one ingredient was missing from our community-building endeavor that would make it and perhaps thousands of similar trials happening elsewhere more radical, and possibly radical enough to push the world past a tipping point on the way to just, sustainable living.

The project
Before purchasing a two-family house on Gallatin St., my family lived just two streets away in a three-family limited-equity cooperative, which we had converted from a private residence owned by an absentee landlord. Like most city folks, we knew our immediate neighbors enough to greet them by name. The other block residents were mostly nameless faces. But when we purchased our new home I resolved to greet each new neighbor I bumped into, learn names and addresses and introduce myself. I met a lot of people and recorded each name on a map I created of the 36- household block. But early on I discovered that my new neighbors seemed to know each other a fair bit more than neighbors did on my old block. I learned that eight years prior to our move a college student living on the block chose to organize a block party to fulfill a requirement for a class he was taking. The party became an annual event and naturally created a greater sense of community.

A few years after our move, as I was getting to know more neighbors, and coincidentally rethinking my assumptions about social change, I became convinced that building community – local, very small scale networks – was a more radical path to social transformation and ecological sustainability than what I was doing in my vocational life. For work, I was feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, witnessing in direct action for peace and justice and trying, through coalition work, to get the government (and other institutions) to meet human needs and respect human rights. All the while I was living simply and riding my bike everywhere. These activities I was so devoted to (and still am to a degree) were important and useful, but not radical, not directly to the point of solving social problems much less of saving humanity or creating a better way to live.

Starting where I lived, I decided to take an active role in our informal, unincorporated, unnamed block association and encourage my neighbors to step beyond the more usual block activity and try to create a ‘consultation exchange’ directory. This tool would obligate residents, upon request, to provide initial consultation to a neighbor about something they are skilled at or know about. We reasoned that neighbors would enjoy sharing what they know in this way, but not be so inclined to actually do the work itself (to care for an elderly parent or replace a roof). It’s a first step to get neighbors to do for each other what many of us do for our friends and family – offer advice before seeking professional service. Of course, the initial help is sometimes sufficient and we are spared the need to spend.

Of the 36 households on our block (demographically, about 80% African-American, 10% Latino and 10% white, including working class, middle class professionals and families surviving on public assistance), 33 participated in creating the directory. Carolyn, the mom of the former college student who organized the first block party, needed herself to complete a service project toward a college degree and conducted most of the interviews. She simply asked, ‘What do you know about? What do you know how to do that you might share in some way to help out a neighbor?’ Many residents were slow to identify a skill or something they know that could be of use to a neighbor. They could make a list of needs they have or problems in the neighborhood, but they needed some prodding to name something they know about worthy of sharing. We needed to convince some that their skill/knowledge might potentially come in handy. I went ahead and listed ‘philosophy’ as something I know about, anticipating that one of our neighbors might just return from her first semester in college and declare to her parents that she wanted to major in the subject. Then I get the call and the troubleshooting begins. Unlikely, but you never know.

Project significance
We compiled a list and directory, with names, addresses and phone numbers and what each know or could do. The range of ‘gifts’ hidden in our houses – ‘unwrapped’, as John McKnight would say – provided a fresh perspective on who we were and what we could do. The survey process itself tightened the block, building relationships, bringing the block into living rooms and then back out. In most every way, this city block is indistinguishable from the others. But the cumulative effect of the parties, exchange directory and other community-building activity we’ve engaged in makes me draw this distinction: at the very least, the neighbors on this block are disposed to come together and tackle big challenges as a group. In the 1930’s, when the economy crashed, all the economic parts were in place to meet people’s needs – the tractors, the factories, the trains, the workers. But the systems that connect all the parts and make it all deliver smoothly fell apart. If the systems fail again, and we’re all left hanging, I can imagine my old neighbors on the other block frantically using their private telephones to get relief from various downtown agencies. But on Gallatin St. block one, I imagine 120 people of all sizes standing together in the middle of the street, holding out their hands, vaguely in the direction of each other, and asking, ‘What do we do now?’ This is the kind of block environment I want my family to live in. A block of very different people, all gifted, who are disposed at the very least to come together, turn to one another, for help and support. It’s a safer and more secure living environment, and it’s a happier one.

Lessons
Radical isn’t always dramatic. And it’s not always a matter of getting to the root of a problem. Sometimes it’s about getting to the root of what we need to do to get what we most want out of life. Block parties and consultation exchange directories don’t do much, in the wider scheme of things. But efforts like these point in a direction of a life we might prefer to live over what we have now. They are baby steps in a direction. So, for example, on the Gallatin St. block of 36 households, there are four men who either live in one of the homes or regularly visit as a relative or friend whom I personally served meals and/or shelter to at the center I worked for when I moved onto the block. They made me wonder, what if our block community provided these four men the support they needed so as to dismiss their reliance on the nonprofit agencies? What if their gifts were deployed on the block and in exchange they received the support they needed? A burden shared widely enough ceases to be a burden. And what next, if we decided to roll up the paved street and created a garden, play space and block ‘living room’ in its place? And shared cars parked on the block’s edge? What if we tried to feed ourselves?

The community way is radical because it represents a categorically different way of meeting needs and enjoying life than the systems we mostly depend on now that are grounded in relatively impersonal and hierarchically structured institutions and driven by the production and consumption of products, including service products. Genuine communities place members in a circle of support rather than in a pyramid powered by interpersonal competition for external rewards. Because wealth is defined in terms of relationships as well as place in a natural world and local geography, and in terms of affirmation, belonging and celebration, community systems are not inherently expansive. They present an organizational context that is conducive to human contentment as well as ecological sustainability.

 

This article was first published on Dark Mountain Project blog, Sept. 12, 2014.

Jim Tull facilitates workshops on community building, cultural transformation and deep ecology. He teaches courses in Global Studies and Philosophy at Providence College, the Community College of Rhode Island and the state’s prison. He lives in Providence, RI, USA and can be reached at jtull@providence.edu

Block Power photo