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Showing posts from October, 2015

Physical Reality

STEM seems to be the focus of many parents' desire for their children's educations due, in part, to the sponsorship of Bill Gates of educational programs including common core standards.  Whatever it takes for the kids to be admitted to college is what most parents are willing to aim for, and with the new standards, it takes a lot more technical ability than before.  What parents need to realize is that a college education is going to become ever more unattainable as the economy devolves into a less energetic state.  People power is what is going to be more valued in the near future as the consequences of peak oil play out.

For that reason, we shouldn't fret over the dismally low scores of many minority groups in Maryland showing that 95% of them aren't ready for college when they should be.  On the one hand, it does not serve the fight against discrimination for their cohorts to be left behind those of whites and Asians.  On the other hand, many whites and Asians wil…

Future Reedy

Calvert County's school district, like over 2,000 districts across the country, took a pledge recently to support the Future Ready initiative that attempts to level the digital playing field for students while enhancing the payoff of technology-based learning.  Half of Maryland's school districts have taken the same pledge and almost all are sure to follow suit, since parents and corporations are quite concerned about youths' ability to deal with the work challenges of the future.

In Calvert County this year, there was a lot of anguish over the 2016 budget squeeze which resulted in possible cuts to many extracurricular programs.  Nevertheless, the march of technology is going to require more funds, some of which will have to be paid by the school district.  It will probably mean that students will have fewer opportunities or incentives to become athletic and will be more encouraged to become geeks.  This is an unrealistic plan since the energy-deficient future these kids …

Getting Smart

Higher education holds out some promise for getting us away from the canyon our economy is stumbling toward.  Canyon is an apt metaphor since the easiest way to stay or get out is orthogonal to the slope that you might tumble down.  When the direction that worked for awhile leads to danger, maybe there will be enough smart people around to understand that we need to change course.

Such critical thinking is rare and difficult to engender with many of the higher education programs currently available.  Non-traditional education and online groups may be better.

Here in Southern Maryland, they are pressing on with business-as-usual in the groundbreaking for a new community college campus in Hughesville, central to our tri-county area.  With the higher education industry in crisis partly due to overleveraging their student portfolios with debt slaves, many colleges will be unable to continue as before.  Community colleges will suffer less than many of the 4-year schools, but even they are …

Cultivating the EcoMind

STEM extracurricular programs seem to be all the rage these days, but the environment gets a modicum of educational attention on our continent by way of an annual Envirothon.  Engineering (the 'E' in STEM) includes consideration of the context directly affecting the artificial system of interest.  One aspect of these contextual influences is that associated with the natural environment.  Some understanding of the environment is essential, therefore, to design of engineering systems, but the engineering perspective typically assumes that we can surmount or circumvent environmental forces by adjustments in the system's design. However, an environmental perspective of our human systems' contexts would lead to designs more harmonious with nature.  (Have you ever noticed that Environmental Engineering is usually all about how to clean up the messes we make on our planet?)
I am, therefore, pleased to note that the environmental literacy standards that Maryland instituted for…

Fall Undertakings

Though wood chips are available here year-round, a more compostable product of nature is offered only once a year.  When the leaves fall in the Fall (get it?), we have some choices to make.  Are we going to blow or rake them off to the side? bag them? shred them first? and then what?
Any of those three options are fine, it's the "then what?" that makes the difference.  If you leave them on the ground off your lawn, they will eventually decompose and nourish the soil there.  If you bag them, then add a little rich soil or compost, slash the bags in several places, and plan on turning them every month for a year, you will then have leaf mold that can be used as a mulch or compost input. If you shred them, then use the shreds as mulch or as a compost input.
Speeding up life and death's natural rhythm always takes exertion, as I demonstrated yesterday at Double Oak Farm when I made 25 gallons of biochar during the Calvert County Farm Festival.  In our area, the most pr…

Mycoforestry

Today I found what appears to be a bunch of clustered wood lovers fruiting on dead roots near my "farm."  I'm assiduously verifying the identity because this little brown mushroom has some deadly near-look-a-likes.  If they are hypholoma capnoides (aka clustered wood lovers), I might try to cultivate some - on wood chips.
Mr. Hanners, our local mushroom mogul, gets his thousands of logs delivered by tree service companies for a fee.  One thing the innumerable tree service companies are happy to drop off at no charge are fresh wood chips.  We had a pile conveniently dumped in our driveway early this year and now I have decided that several more are needed.
A byproduct of portable, powered equipment, and thus destined for near-term decline, wood chips are usually made from ramial wood, i.e. less than 4" diameter branches, in order to save on hauling or to avoid creating brush piles.
I have a solution to both of these problems.  Not only is hauling of bulky branches …

Mushrooms Mushrooming

The message from Paul Stamets' book, Mycelium Running, is that mushrooms can help save the world.  They do this, in part, by helping to recycle organic material, often in the form of wood.  That would make the gentleman we met today at the farmers market a real hero.  As the main local supplier of gourmet mushrooms, Mr. Hanners vouches to maintain 10,000 mushroom logs on his farm in central Calvert County.  He has been raising mushrooms for 40 years and seems to have an untiring passion for all things mushroom.  In contrast, I have managed to inoculate 25 or so logs in this, my first year of growing mushrooms.

Chespeake's Bounty is also planning to begin mushrooming on a commercial scale.  At the Mother Earth News Fair last month, the number of people taking an interest in the mushroom growing vendors and lectures was surprisingly large.  Mr. Hanners also told us about the excellent potential of finding morel mushrooms in our area - a quest that I had abandoned.

In addition …

My Secret Garden

After attempting to grow vegetables in my backyard, which receives less than 4 hours of sun per day, I shifted those efforts to the front, where the sun shines up to 8 hours per day.  I can grow things there, but not as well as those that come from my plot in our community's garden area.  Now, I am going back the other direction.  Rather than concede my remaining undeveloped 0.6 acres to the forest, I'm beginning to turn it into a forest garden.  Ironically, this entails removing a good number of trees for reasons just mentioned.
The thing is, a forest garden is not the type of forest that we find most places.  It is a place where selected plants are allowed to successively develop together, as in a new forest, but does not result in an overstory that shuts out the shrubbery from the sun.  My first tree removal authorization comes with the stipulation that I plant a new tree for every 5 that I cut down.  In my area, that is probably a good ratio to build a forest garden by.  …

Local Radicals

The transformation that forest gardening will make to our lives, if the Forested vision comes true, is radical.  Radical means "related to, or proceeding from, a root."  In that sense, any change that stems from a "grassroots movement" is, by definition, radical.  There are a number of these upstarts in my local area which I will be posting about in the future.  The most relevant to the matter at hand is one I will be assisting this coming weekend - Chesapeake's Bounty.

I had long taken this farmstand to be not much more than a mini-farm with a good location.  Later I learned that they bring in wholesome food from all over the local area.  They also give classes on topics that match my interests, e.g. mushroom cultivation, and other permaculture subjects.  More recently, I discovered that they are planning on planting food forests across much of their 40 acres.

This is just the beginning, but it is mind-boggling to imagine being able to wander through acre af…

A Vision for the Eastern U.S.

At the Mother Earth News Fair we recently attended in Seven Springs, PA, we were privileged to listen to Lincoln Smith of Forested, LLC give some practical advice about food forest gardening. Forested runs a training center in Bowie, MD where they seek to enact their vision, which reads,

Our 50 year vision is for forest garden ecosystems to sustainably supply
a large portion of all the things people use in the eastern United States.

Considering that the portion of forest garden products in what most people here currently use is approximately 0, Forested's ambition is on a scale as that of Amazon.com.  Smith speaks with certainty about the need for forest gardening to replace the mono-culturated crops that presently supply most of our food, fiber, and a little fuel.  Edible Forest Gardens - Volume One: Vision & Theory by Dave Jacke elaborates greatly on Forested's vision, and may, indeed, be the source of it.

Let me quote excerpts of the scenario that Jacke lays out to give y…

A Vision for Calvert County, MD

The grass can often seem greener in other pastures, but I found a kindred spirit in the American Chestnut Land Trust (ACLT) here in my county, so I may need not search far to find my chosen community. Below is an excerpt from their strategic plan.  How would you like to have this be your county?
Our goal is for Calvert County to be a national model for environmental stewardship balanced with a healthy economy. We hope that in 2018 our landscape will be characterized by forests, fields and farms and well-planned and diverse communities, surrounded by a healthy river and bay. Additionally, we envision a future where citizens are educated and active stewards of the land and their daily living is enhanced by the abundance of natural areas. The ACLT is a grassroots organization started back in the last century with pushback against developers potentially destroying the natural beauty of this part of the western shore of the Chesapeake.  It now manages over 4,000 acres of semi-wilderness in…