Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Personal Thoughtpost

Not literally. But I'd like to sit down, light a funny cigarette, and tell you where I am now.

About two months ago, I was giving a talk somewhere, and my fellow speaker had "the answer" to farmer problems, compost woes. An organic answer, a natural one, etc. etc. And so these were microbes cultured in a controlled laboratory, guaranteed to give your soil a cocktail of vital nutrients. The technology originated in Japan, and used a type of mineral only found in several places in the Philippines. This entrepreneur had found a cheap source, refused to divulge where.

Beside me was a farmer who also spoke at the forum. He was an organic farmer who taught communities to cultivate their own indigenous microorganisms (in fact, his organization taught the farmer who taught me). We three got into a discussion about microorganisms.

The problem, entrepreneur said, with "capturing" microorganisms from the wild, is that you can never be sure of their composition, and you might end up "doing it wrong". The farmer replied that it seemed to work excellently for all the farmers they train. I attested to this observation.

And so the other dude left our circle in sort of a huff.

Microorganisms are alive. They are everywhere. I do not believe that any place lacks the ability to heal itself, create conditions for health and yield. If your land is lacking in microorganisms, take a walk or drive, and you can capture those from the healthy biodiverse areas around-- you do not need lab tests to tell they are healthy. You don't need to worry about bad bacteria, you can observe the color of the mold. There is "bad" bacteria everywhere. It is only bad if your immunity is weak. It will only take over if factors let it. We are not after eliminating bad bacteria, but creating cheap and sustainable ways that can limit them from dominating.

Take the microorganisms, take them from different places of your area. Look at the land, observe the species, observe how the soil retains water, how the plants interact with it. Enriching the land is only expensive if you do not cultivate the correct and self-supporting environment to support that health.

In the same manner, if we want health, and we look towards the lab, we may have revelations. But I believe that the value of examining persons who are not wealthy, but healthy-- and examining personal, environmental, cultural, and social conditions that make them so-- will outweigh the tests on those who are engineered by scientific doctrine, and products of expensive lifestyles.

This is because I do not believe that people lack the ability to heal themselves-- except perhaps the acutely ill, whose bodies have passed a line. Difficulty begins once they begin to consider themselves separate from the environment around them. Not in an abstract way, but once they lose the supporting flora around them (plants to eat, to heal, to give clean air), either their health suffers, or their wallets do. They begin to spend loads of money on supplements and herbal tea. This is preventative medicine that costs.

It is not enough to purchase everything organic. You need to build systems around you that make it easy to eat good, cheap, and healthy food and ecosystem services. If you want it cheap and easy enough, your push for this kind of system will extend to the social and structural systems around you.

Same goes for plants. Do you want good compost? Grow easy trees that give you biomass. It is only expensive to grow organic when you are not planning for biomass to support your efforts, hedge funds in the form of diversity, or little animal friends to do some work for you.

Commercial organic medicine, superfoods, fertilizer-- are only one notch better than chemical ones. Most especially if they are expensive and no cheap options exist.

The nineties trend (only now seeing cross-disciplinary migration) of systems thinking is the meat and bones of the once-abstract notions of interconnectedness. Systems thinking or design thinking leads to being creative in your own context. It is what makes places interesting, and diverse. Enough of brute force. Inside people, in the soil, there are things that don't even need to be summoned. We just have to understand them and design smartly, so they can make songs with the factors that want to, as well.

These thoughts will guide my work.


Diego said...

both the bigger-picture insights and your approach to writing are refreshing. thanks for this post!

maybe you could give me some advice on my garden project at some point. do you live in metro manila? (remove the obvious bit)

Diego said...

I came across this book in my inbox today. Don't know if it's good, but thought it might be of interest to you: