Urban Permaculture

I am a “foody”. I grew up in a family where the epicenter of every joyful encounter was good food. I never ate microwave dinners and we rarely opted for any type of fast food. I recognized early on that I was rare amongst my peers for always having home prepared hot meals. I would regularly visit my friends houses that had lavish kitchens that were completely underutilized. My imagination would wander with what delights my mother could bake or what my father could grill in such beautiful surroundings considering our kitchen was quite modest in comparison. 

  The 80’s diet craze convinced my mother that low fat/low calorie was the way to keep our family healthy. Bran muffins with margarine and grapefruit sprinkled with Sweet & Low (what an appropriate name!) became my breakfast routine, all of which had me racing to the closest vending machine once I was at school. On the weekends we would eat bacon & eggs with grits, a southern specialty, and smiles would abound. But weekday breakfasts always were low fat, tasteless and colorless. Our food mirrored the drudgery of the work week.

I became aware of the natural food cycle when we started a tomato ring around our compost heap. We would add yard clippings and any raw food stuffs from the kitchen to a miniature fenced in area. Living in South Florida afforded us great sunny weather and unfortunately, sand for soil. Our two German shepherds supplied us with our phosphates while our compost gave minerals that were otherwise unavailable in our sandy soil. Our yard had a variety of citrus trees - Navel oranges, Lime and Grapefruit. We also had an Avocado tree and several Tomato, Aloe and Pepper plants. If I had to guess, we probably only received about five percent of our calories from our yard. Time and inexperience were our main limiters, plus my Dad’s propensity for having the best looking yard, eliminated a lot of square footage necessary for home agriculture.

  My parents divorce had some silver linings, one of which was my father’s new partner, who within days of coming to our house, planted Papaya and Scotch Bonnet peppers in our front yard. His need to make their relationship work curtailed his obsessive ornamental landscaping. In short order I was having green papaya salad, sourced from our yard, with dried beef and sticky rice for breakfast. Yeah!!!!  All sorts of weird tropical fruits and spices were now on the menu as our yard was being put to good use. I often site this shift back to substantive food as being the main contributing factor to my ascension in athletics. Eating wonderful, fresh, tasty and nutritious food all the time just as puberty was kicking in gave me a real jolt of power that culminated in a athletic scholarship to Michigan State University. I consistently was receiving the nutrients my body needed to excel at a very high level.

   Once in college my budget caught up to me in the diet department. The summer before my senior year I lived on $1 cheese burgers at a local fast food joint and probably drank only one glass of water during that entire time. Hindsight being 20-20, I can see how my poor diet inhibited my on field performance and greatly shortened my career. The ’Ice in my veins,’ was gone by age 20. The ability to focus in high pressure situations vanished. After university my quest became to fix my broken body. Finding Yoga and meditation, plus the addition of veggies and fruits again, kickstarted my return to health. The more I researched the more I wanted to live in an environment that exemplified a natural, healthy lifestyle.

I ended up moving to Costa Rica and became involved in a large community of people who were into sustainable, regenerative agriculture. Moonlighting as an amateur Permaculturist around such knowledgeable folk invigorated my passion for organic farming. The relationship between a healthy plant-based diet and high energy levels along with a feeling of well-being became apparent as my diet once again became, fresh, local and organic. I was drinking clean, spring water, eating organic fruits and vegetables and humanely slaughtered animal products instead of chemically infused food from the outside world.

My transition to complete hippiedom was almost complete, while living on an organic farm, until the dreaded compost flipping became a weekly task. I hated it when I was a child and I hated it as an adult. Can you imagine how uncomfortable the sweltering tropical humidity is when contending with these enormous mounds of biomass? If the flipping was done correctly you end up losing 60-90% of your biomass volume. That’s a ton of hard work with a negative yield. I was still a suburban Florida boy at heart who wanted less effort for good food. I needed a solution for compost HELL.

All my friends in Costa shared their tidbits of the food growing puzzle which contributed to my ‘lazy man’ protocol for fertile soil that is the cornerstone for what is termed "Urban Permaculture".’ I want delicious, healthy food that is easy to grow. The key to this is having wonderful soil. Unfortunately, the hardscape of southwestern Costa Rica is mostly bauxite clay. In the tropics it’s natural for the rainforest to receive it’s nutrients through water vapor leaving the essentials to agriculture up in the trees.

 Native Brazilians, indigenous to the Amazon rainforest, figured out a process of converting Bio-Mass, living things, into useable carbon for intensive agriculture eons ago before disease ravaged their population. Spanish conquistadors claimed the scale of their intensive farming was unparalleled. Modern archeologists have unearthed the Amazonian secret to soil fertility in what they call ‘Terra Preta,’ black earth. It’s the modern day equivalent to Bio-Char. Bio-Char is what happens when you heat biomass to high temperatures in vessels which limit oxygen for combustion. Flammable gasses are expelled leaving carbon which is highly diamagnetic, meaning it attracts all sorts of living things. Apparently, the Amazonians didn’t like flipping compost either. Wherever they baked their bio-mass they would leave it and plant directly into it. Voila, good black soil in the tropics.

I have a miniature pyrolytic retort to make my bio-char. I retrofitted a rocket stove to stack the functions of cooking while making my bio mass black. Combining bio-char with rock powder from a local river quarry and worm castings is the basis for my soil. I use my own cocktail of effective micro organisms, aka EM, to give my soil the necessary bacteria profile. These ferments accelerate the population of pro-biota limiting pests and unwanted fungi. Just like the probiotics in our own gut these little guys synthesize macro nutrients into micro nutrients that fit the profile of what it’s host needs. Because of this there is no need to obsess over finding every nutrient needed to make the plant optimal. Let the help do it.

  Clean, revitalized water is the final essential ingredient needed for my garden. My exposure to biodynamic principles and tons of experimentation has made me a water snob. Municipal, chlorine rich water isn’t suitable for organic gardens. Vortexing the water, after letting the chlorine evaporate, has definitely made a difference in my plants. Spinning water is nature’s way of increasing proton density. This denser water has been shown to be more crystalline in the sense that many of the molecules are arranged symmetrically, giving it attributes of super conductivity. Hurricanes, tornadoes and water spouts are now known to be electrical events, similar to Sunspots, where extra atmospheric electricity is redistributed. On our micro home gardening scale, vitalized water is adding extra electrical potential and increasing cell wall permeability in the plants. Extra electricity also promotes intracellular ejection of waste leaving a healthy clean organism.

  This year, I was the proud papa of a tropical fruit tree garden that started to bear fruit much earlier than expected. My Mangosteen trees are five years old and are pumping. Normally it takes them nine years to start to produce. All my citrus trees have survived blight and my coffee plants have no ‘rust.’ I am able to harvest my papaya without using any pesticides, which is very rare. To my surprise, I was gifted with cacao from my merely 3 year old tree. Tropical hibiscus, Aloe, Pigeon pea, Curcuma, Ginger, and Malanga are all cranking. Many tropical edible greens, most of which I can’t pronounce, are growing like mad all as a result of these gardening practices. My outside garden I neglect for about half the year by the way. These trees and plants are so healthy I just prune when needed and harvest when I can. My under-roof garden is for lettuces, kale, tomatoes, herbs, and cucumber. If I can get to the produce before the leaf cutter ants, life is good.

   Having an efficient, efficacious way to produce healthy soil by utilizing what my yard gives me has lightened my load considerably. My stepmother would be so proud. Being empowered through producing and eating these wonderful organic plants has shifted my perspective to a very a rosy one. Without a doubt, micro gardening (urban permaculture) has incredible potential if widely implemented to feed ‘millions’ with quality, low cost food. Rooftop and patio gardens give ample space for a widespread ‘Garden to Table’ movement bringing food sovereignty back to those who want it.