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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Work the boundaries and gray areas


Habits of urban, suburban, and, in my area, even rural people are: drive to work (or the unemployment office), gas up the car, get groceries, maybe eat out, come home, watch television, meanwhile going farther and farther into debt. But suppose you lived close enough to your work to commute via feet, bicycle or bus (or train), grew (much of) your groceries and foraged as well, and allowed these activities to take up 'TV time'? Maybe a little less debt?

If the neighbors will permit it (perhaps by letting them in on it), what about grapes and kiwis on the back-lot fence? If the city or borough or county or parish doesn't mind, what about gardening the front yard, the right-of-way strip, the odd triangular bit on the corner that's not part of anyone's city lot? I volunteer at a small state park that is severely underutilized, and the rangers have tacitly offered me all the filbert poles, filberts, apples, black walnuts, wild mustard, and the like I can gather when my gorse pulling is done.

When I walk the dog, I wear a cloth bag over each shoulder and explore the pasture fence lines of the neighborhood. Apples, crabapples, rose hips, Oregon grape, and acorns are the current crop. Earlier there were plums.

When I lived alone in the city awhile back, I lived mainly on rice from a steamer, but added diced apple, quince and Asian pear slices, dandelions and lamb's quarters, with traces of lavender, mint and rosemary, all garnered from abandoned strips in the alleyways. There was even kale. My entire budget that year was four hundred fifty dollars a month. Most of my earnings were sent to the home place to help retire the mortgage.

Here at home one fence line is turning into a hedgerow, and affords blackberries, Oregon grapes, grapes, crabapples, wild cherries, beanpoles, and composting materials. The seasonal creek's banks provide all that plus firewood and stones. I take my filbert (ok, hazel), willow, ash, maple and even Japanese knotweed poles to the compost heap and strip the leaves into the heap before moving on to the trellising.

From the garden we get all the usual things but also dandelions and other delicious weeds, popular with the chickens, as well as plantains, red clover, and other medicinals. Any part of the 'yard's' margins not doing anything else is put to work raising comfrey for the poultry and the compost heap.

Watch the seasons in these places. For Buddhist purposes, this post is under 'right seeing' and 'right awareness'.

In some parts of the world, as well as among some marginalized populations in this country, all this is routine. Learn from those whose native language is not your own, learn from the parks, stream banks, abandoned lots, fence lines, property boundaries, edge plant communities and feral animals. What works for them? Maybe it will work for you.


Principle 11: Use edges & value the marginal. “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path.” The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. 

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