Saturday, November 28, 2015

Work for one another

I'm a bit of a Murray Bookchin bunny, as may be divined by perusing the link at the bottom of this rant. Please bear with me.

In the 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a forestry services cooperative, The Hoedads, Inc., as recounted in my book, Iron Buddhas. While our initial contract bid bonding was put up by the founders by attaching liens on their real estate, we capitalized our bonds and other costs after the first year by docking ourselves fifteen percent on our individual earnings, meaning that those who earned more were subsidizing those who earned less; but we did not mind that as everyone's fifteen percent pooled together made bidding for work possible for all, including those who earned most.

At first much of the work was done by piece. Say replanting a clear cut grossed us ten thousand dollars and required fifty thousand trees. Each seedling was worth twenty cents, so a planter who put in one thousand trees made two hundred dollars that day, less fifteen percent, while a planter who put in two hundred grossed forty dollars. Fifteen percent out of that did not leave them much to live on, even in those days, especially for such bone-bruising work. Yet these were the very people who, for various reasons having to do with human nature, often found themselves planting in the most unplantable and dangerous ground.

Some of what we called the "low-rollers" accordingly gave up and went away; but many contracts stipulated a minimum crew size in an effort to guarantee that the clear cuts would be reforested in a timely manner (before the end of the rainy season). In an effort to retain them and not lose work due to an underpopulated roster, the crews (each of which was autonomous in its internal governance) entertained solutions.

It was to be expected that the low-rollers proposed switching to an hourly wage. That would certainly be to their advantage, though they could argue both their presence and their patience with unproductive ground (which could not be skipped over or the work would pay zero) as having value, as well as pointing out that they would now be paying a full share of the capitalization.

This, some other crew members (generally the high-rollers) saw as unacceptable. The one to two hundred dollars per day that they were bringing in to their families and farms (as migrant labor who had successfully cut out the "middleman") was vital them and the principal reason for their presence. Making, say, seventy dollars for a day's work in which they had planted a hundred and forty dollar's worth of the trees galled them.

The company operated on the basis of Robert's Rules of Order, and while majority vote had brought everyone a long way, there was the very real danger that in this matter of the distribution of earnings, a vote for either position could result in the disaffected parties departing, leading to a defaulted contract and considerable loss of earnings all round.

A compromise was proposed, in which the treasurer would calculate each crew member's earnings by tree total and again by the hour, then average the two methods to calculate the paycheck. This was called half by the share and half by the tree, or Half & Half. One crew even named itself for this innovation.

A low-roller might make sixty-six dollars in a day instead of fifty, and a high-roller might make eighty-one instead of a hundred, depending on individual totals, gross tree totals for the unit (clear cut or shelterwood), and unit price.

This practice, on my own crew, was voted on, with the amendment that the crew as constituted upon arrival at the landing could decide to amend the ratio after seeing the unit together -- say, 1/4 by the share, 3/4 by the tree. This was a lot of work for the treasurer but deemed an acceptable sacrifice.

The motion passed.

The crew, and several other crews, had survived a crisis by identifying a policy where two apparently irreconcilable parties could, while agreeing to disagree, attain part of what they wanted and move forward, rather than voting on their own initial positions and then imposing policy from the majority upon the minority and risking a permanent and disabling rift.

All this was an exercise in workplace democracy, and it was carried out by socialists and libertarians choosing to work together toward a common goal. The shared commitment that pulled everyone through was a strong distaste for, and distrust of, authority.

Oh, wait! Some readers might say; aren't socialists authoritarian? The low-rollers wanted to confiscate some of the earnings of the high-rollers and give it to themselves! Isn't that authoritarian?

Well, any action by a living being or group of beings must proceed from some autonomous entity, whether its locus is in the individual or in some or all; you cannot effectively get fifteen workers to lay out seedlings on a grid on a slick and uneven sixty-percent slope in a driving rain without communicating (and, with permission, imposing) a vision of how it is to be done.

The usual method in our industry was for a sole proprietor, partnership, or limited liability corporation to hire workers and tell them what to do, paying them to do it out of the gross the workers earned while retaining some portion for themselves. Direction and control thus comes from "above" and resides in property rights (this is my company); the hierarchy thus established reaps the earnings of all and for all, but (usually) disproportionally to itself (profit) despite who really knows how to do what, or does it, on the ground.

They had the consent of their workers, in exchange for relatively low but stable wages, for what they were doing, but there was generally an element of theft.

Nothing is the actual equivalent of something of a different kind. By this I mean that wheat is not corn, and leather is not steel. Interest accrual is not labor. Money is none of the above. All transactions have a component in which someone subsidizes someone. This is what is meant when some say there is socialism for the rich as well as socialism for the poor. Under authoritarian structures such as corporations or oligarchies, socialism for the rich is more common than socialism for the poor, as anyone might expect from a study of human nature. Yet the low-rollers do perform a service to the high-rollers in labor, as we have seen above; add capitalism and you will see that the low-rollers also subsidize the children and the grandchildren of long-dead high-rollers, as well as those of thieves and pirates who can afford good lawyers.

Returning some proportion of that subsidy to those who have helped generate it makes good business sense. They will now have something to spend, helping the economy, instead of going off to die under debt or a bridge somewhere, or adding to the burden of a strained and much maligned welfare system. Even then, as the poor become the homeless, investing in the well-being of all benefits all.

The rich sometimes become the homeless, though they seldom see it coming, just as the able become the disabled, and who are we to decide which among them is worthy to receive assistance in the hope that they may regain some measure of productivity? Meanwhile, they will spend that assistance.

There are always those who forget the ancient story of the goose and its magnificent eggs.

I mentioned capitalism, but I'm inclined to think it's only one way of fleecing the low-rollers, and I think a stable society with a high level of well-being (goose not killed) follows upon our maintaining vigilance against all fleecers.

The private-property libertarians in the Hoedads were faced with a different structure than the authoritarianism most often associated with capitalism. They had more power over themselves in context than they would have had working for a contractor, but so did everyone else. Managers (the "foreperson" as we called them) were elected on the spot for the day and earned a share only, more than the low-rollers and less than the high-rollers. The workers were otherwise equal in voice to them and to each other, regardless of productivity, religion, sex, race, sexual preference, or hygiene. Nothing was ever perfect, as there is no such place as Utopia; yet we all had self-respect and mutual respect and generally a very high level of morale. It was the best years of most of our lives.

This was social democracy in the raw, and I think quite applicable to the ills of modern society.

It can't, perhaps, achieve everything but it can do much.

All the time now, especially in the United States, there is increased polarization of right versus left on issue after issue that seemingly cannot be resolved, even by the vote, even by edict of the Supreme Court. Without an understanding of the ills brought about by authoritarianism (particularly externalization), to which both the right and the left have fallen prey, we will continue our slide toward the abyss.

By choosing workplace democracy -- quitting jobs in businesses or entities which refuse to adopt a democratic structure and banding together to create businesses or entities that embody a democratic structure -- we can take a step toward regeneration of ethical treatment of ourselves, those around us, everyone in the world (many of whom the USA is currently bombing for oil), and the biosphere itself (resulting in clean water, air, soil, oceans and food for all sentient beings).

Externalities are a major consequence of authoritarianism. Worn out bodies of contractor treeplanters tended to be made the responsibility of the workers and not their bosses. Externalities ultimately create extinction. Externalities are a byproduct of industrialism. Modern industrialism is authoritarian and represents socialism for the rich, both in capitalist and so-called socialist regimes. Government tends to enslave itself, via the taking of bribes, to this authoritarianism. Government thus winds up protecting the “right” of industrialism to externalize costs and subsidize itself at the expense of labor and everyone and everything else.

Regime change is called for -- one of the best, because most peaceable, ways to begin to achieve this, is by choosing to work for one another, both in trades and in nonprofits, cooperatively rather than for "The Man."

Lefties, clear your heads; the Right is aggravating and even dangerous yet is not your enemy but only your enemy's troll. If you are authoritarian the Right could say the same of you. Here is your homework (don't worry, it's short):

There is much to do, but it can be done incrementally and many of us live where we might not even be taken out and shot for it. Lucky us.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Planning? What planning?

When it's raining out or otherwise makes it difficult for us to appreciate the joys of getting out of our robes and into gum boots, there are other homestead-y things we can do, such as pottering about in the kitchen or sewing.

Planning? What's that?

Oh, actually we do have a plan. It has kind of settled in, though, and does not need much updating. Two posts ago, we talked about how the satellite view of the home place lent itself to zone analysis. That's a step in planning, for sure. We used to have a drawing of the place on a white board, and after satellite photos became available, we took to transferring the more accurate dimensions to the white board, by printing out a cropped printscreen on graph paper, numbering the squares, and drawing on the board in squares we'd lined off to scale.

Beneath the white board is another white board, and it's an inventory-at-a-glance of stored dry goods and stored seeds.

We have no garden journal, but these lists, combined with such memories as we have of last summer's garden and with the zoned map above them, seem to jog us enough to prepare more or less adequately for the coming year.

In October I pulled the seeds from the refrigerator, in their packets in the seed box or in their mason jars (saved beans and such), and listed them in alpha order. We saw right away that there were no lettuce, pumpkins, yellow zukes, snap peas, and some other things. So we placed an order with our most local seed supplier, Territorial (no, they are not owned by Monsanto). We like other reputable seed houses, such as Baker or Fedco, but aside from our economic localism, we like to support and use local landraces.

We also have on hand way more of some seeds, especially cucumber, than we need. It's like this: A hardware store or somebody donated a lot of year-old seed packets to a food bank, which could only use so many in their gardens, so they sent whole crates of the packets to their collection points, who handed them out until no one could be prevailed upon to take more. So my roshi, who was volunteering at the local collection point (a Grange hall), was prevailed upon to bring home the remainder in a grocery sack, and she dumped them out on the dining room table at a meeting of the sangha.

So this is how I came to have a lot of hybrid and probably Seminis-sourced seeds this year. Especially cucumbers.

I'm probably the end point for these seeds as seeds, as they were having trouble finding a home in the first place and I hate to waste anything, even hybrids. But we have relatively little room for them this year, as I'm not this year's farmer. Beloved, who has been away from it for the last half decade, is ready to get back into it.

What I may do, and I encourage others who find themselves in like case to do, is go ahead and sow them in flats, pot up what comes up, and give away plants to gardeners and would-be gardeners who have a little room.

No, I don't farm for money. I believe in, to the extent possible when living among others who have disparate goals, subsistence.

Every plant freely homed, if cared for and harvested from and then composted, helps in its tiny way to build community and unbuild the enclosure of the commons as represented by the supermarket system.

That might be a plan.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


We haven't talked much about zones at Stony Run Farm. Basically, the farther you have to go to get up from your rock in the cave or easy chair in your house and do something to water, feed, clothe, shelter, or remunerate yourself and yours, the higher the zone number. If you are well organized your lower-numbered zones are those closer to where you get up, and are those more frequently visited. If you are having to commute ten hours a week to work forty or more hours a week thirty miles away from your bed, you're, to that extent, not doing permaculture, because you're mostly in Zone 5, the least efficient and least ecological place to be spending the bulk of your time. Getting there and back literally costs the earth

So your livelihood is most permacultural when it is most on the premises, and within reach -- say you're a knifemaker and the knifemaking workshop is on your premises (or in your village), in or near Zone 0 or 1. Walking to work is both efficient (expends little energy or capitalization) and resilient (needs little energy expenditure or capitalization). 

We two worked for the last thirty years in libraries and now live on our pensions, so we are in our inner permaculture zones much more of the time than we used to be. This is privilege, and it's been expensive to the earth for us to do it this way -- most of those sixty combined years of commuting were via automobile -- but we're here now, and our apologies will not do much for either you or us. Given the way society's infrastructures and opportunities are laid out, it was kinda what we could do.


Zone 0 is usually the house, then Zone 1 is the kitchen garden, Zone 2 is the crop garden, Zone 3 is the orchard and henyard, Zone 4 is pasture,  and Zone 5, in an ideal world, is just the wilderness beyond your village, but in the world I live in, it's the city twelve miles away, with its libraries that needed managing.

Here's a satellite view of our acre. The house is in the middle and, clockwise from top, the driveway, orchard, garden, sheds, creek, pasture, and woodlot. Those white dots in the orchard/poultry moat at the far right are Ancona ducks and a goose.

Here's the same satellite view with zones imposed on it. Because I forgot about Zone 0, let's think of my easy chair, where I'm sitting with a Macbook, as Zone 0. The house with its nearest garden beds is Zone 1, the gardens and sheds are Zone 2, the orchard/henyard is Zone 3, the pasture and wood lot are Zone 4, and the wide world not included in the photo is Zone 5.

I think the arrangement came out much as a permaculture designer would have come up with for us, which is to say that more or less concentric zones based on number of steps facilitating frequency of visits is just common sense. Most of the farms around here are in fact zoned correctly already.

What's bad is that they all have that driveway with multiple fossil-fuel powered vehicles in it, just as ours does.

The real take home lesson from the zone exercise is that most people in most of the "developed" world spend most of their work life in Zone 5 somewhere, requiring some kind of commute and often extra travel as well, which is a lot of where the excess carbon that is now killing us is coming from.

Also, instead of making, borrowing, repurposing, etc., the things we use in zones 0-4, we buy them, which also requires a lot of zooming about in trains, planes, trucks, automobiles and ships.

As well, in Zones 0-4, we like to import energy in the form of electrons (Macbook here) from various sources, including coal in most places, or in the form of gasoline or diesel for our tractors and such -- replacement slaves.

When you're pouring gasoline into the fuel tank of a lawnmower, there are a lot of zoomings embodied in the creation and acquisition of that lawnmower and the liquid slaves acquired to spin its rotary blade.

So it's nice to draw up a Permaculture plan and put zones on it and go onto Facebook and show lovely photos of one's lovely garden, orchard/henyard, pasture and woodlot.

But for the sake of any possible future, please give some thought to how you will avoid doing as we at Stony Run have done -- trading excessively with Zone 5 to get currency and the liquid or electrical slaves it buys. The more you can spend time in Zones 0-4 doing by hand not just the "look I have a garden" trope, but your actual livelihood, the more like Permaculture what you're doing will actually be.

That's of course, a plea to energy descend toward subsistence, and I'm aware that a) it's hard and b) opposed -- sometimes violently -- by the Powers That Be, who want to keep you in Zone 5 for reasons, the main one being that somebody somewhere sometime declared themselves owners of the coal, oil, and gas in the ground and have organized a game where you must use it and must pay them for it.

This is an old strategy, and is related to the Enclosure of the Commons.

Fight back. Please:

You will notice the zone chart up at the top of this post regards Zone 0 as "house or settlement." This is key. Village life is the key to post-urban post-carbon intensive life, if there is to be one. Your livelihood may not be found in or near the house but if it is within walking or bicycling distance (and you actually walk or bike) it will certainly count for something.

For eight years (when we lived closer in) I biked to the library where I worked, and often stopped in an abandoned orchard on the way home to forage. I like to think those years redeemed me in some small way. Not sure what, but there it is.

Here are some of the things we tried to do over the years to walk our talk (when not commuting or working off-site).

They were small efforts compared to what doing without the cars, refrigerator, water heater, freezer and dryer would have been (as we did for part of the Seventies), but ... something.

For an exercise, if you like, look around your own site, with these zones and principles in mind, and see if you can a) do at least what we did with our site, b) improve on what we did, c) do without the immense carbon footprint embodied in how we did what we did, and d) find a way to make a livelihood within the inner zones, either on the premises or within something approximating a village (community).

This is what it will take, I think, to truly honor Earth Share, People Care, Fair Share

Sunday, November 08, 2015

One another

Here, November is doing what it does, dark and wet and broody, though a little warmer than we are used to -- still no frost, tomatoes trying to ripen under a leaden sky streaked with silver.

Bedraggled as the garden is, it is still supplying a lot of greens for the humans and the hens. Ducks have been let in early and are high-grading the chard, but also cleaning up wheat seeds in the straw that we have been slowing drawing over the beds, like a blanket for a winter night.

Much of my intent has moved indoors, where the wood stove finally has something to do and is slowly taking over the house. There's dishwater, tea water, and a loaf of Dutch oven spelt/cornbread happening.

I'm sitting by the west window more and in the living room less. I'm learning to sew a rakusu, which is a demanding task for these old eyes and fingers. I've found and dyed appropriate fabric and am practicing rows of stitches on a swatch, to get the hang of it before beginning on the real thing. Such daylight as we are getting is a help.

A friend came through who has been pedaling an electric-assist recumbent bike from Ramona, California toward the general direction of Seattle. I fed him rice and veg with a dessert of apple-pumpkin pudding, both of which went well for a change.

I'm still walking, though fewer miles perhaps.

Trail walking with a dog is excellent meditation practice and, it seems to me, deepens one's bond with all the good things. I think the dog thinks so to, in his way.

We sit by the river together and share a meal. It's best that he not drink the river, which still has rafts of suspect algae in it, so I shorten his leash and provide him with a steel cup (his own) of the water I brought.

He listens to the surrounding sounds and sifts them for possible dangers.

It's thus we are responsible to one another.