Unwanted Visitors in the Garden

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Kyle Brookens

Patel, the farmer from India, showed me that someone had been cutting the cabbage with a knife (well, from what I could decipher). The language barrier between Patel and I is impossible to ignore, but I can usually get a good understanding of what he is trying to communicate to me; it just takes a lot of time. Yesterday, October 1, 2012, Patel interrupted me when I was clipping the tops of the Basil in the hoop-house. He relentlessly sought to take the scissors from my hands even though I just wanted to continue my work. He is a hard man to ignore, so I inevitably gave up my scissors. He opened and closed them a few times, inspected them, and turned to me with a disapproving look in his eyes. He said nothing that I could understand except for the word “scissors.” I could only nod, smile, and say “good.” Patel turned his back to me and motioned that I follow him, so I did. He took me to the front of the hoop house, pointed, and gestured at the table, repeating “no scissors.” He talked for a few minutes in the Hindi languages of either Indo-Aryan or the Dravidian, then motioned me to follow again, saying “come.” I could not resist, because I really wanted to understand what he wanted me to know, or what I did wrong.

He brought me to the cabbage patch, began to speak rapidly, and glared at me with another what-the-hell kind of look. He said another word that I could understand, and that word was “knife.” Judging by how he was speaking with his words and body, and by how the cabbage looked, I believe he thought that I or some other college student had been taking scissors and knives to the cabbage, and leaving about half of the bulb to set in the sun. The cabbage plants were actually half eaten by deer who could not surprisingly get though the most unpractical fence I have ever seen. The fence seems to exist just so people who walk or drive by don’t have to see the ‘dirty hippies’ working in the garden. The fascist structure of the institution gave us a great looking fence that had no practical use. They forgot to run the fence all the way to the building, and because of this, the deer can continue to come and go as they please.  If you ask me, the fence, as it is this very moment, is nothing more than a huge waste of $4,000 that originally came from the student body. Since students like myself find this appalling, we will finish the job,and literally bridge the gap. In doing so, Patel will be relieved, and the deer will be excluded from consuming our hard earned produce.

Aside from the deer in the Chipeta quad, I also had an encounter with aphids on the Thai Hot peppers and the spilanthes plant today on October 2, 2012. They must have hitched a ride with Mark Waltimire when he provided me with the starts in the middle of September. This was quite an irritating find, but it was good that I found them sooner rather than later. Fortunately, yet unfortunately, these same pests infested my pepper plants at home early September, so I had some experience getting rid of them. I began to kill each bug individually for about a week, but once I realized that the procedure was inefficient and ineffective, I blasted my plants with a jet of water. Aphids went flying everywhere as I happily grinned. I know ladybugs are a natural predator, but I preferred saving myself the cost. I waited another week and checked to see if any aphids had survived. Just as I expected, many aphids survived my blast of furry. My nest step was creating a homemade insecticide.

I harvested a handful of Thai Hot peppers and blended them with a cup of water to begin the process of creating a spicy insecticide. I used cheese cloth to strain all the large chunks of pepper, and used 4 tablespoons of the extracted pepper juice, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of vinegar and, 2 teaspoons of soap, in a 32 oz spray bottle. I filled the remaining space with water to dilute the high concentration of insecticide. I doused the pepper plants with the spray bottle, waited 2 days, and sprayed them again. I then waited a week. At this point, all the flowers on my peppers had died and fallen off, but so did the aphids. I considered this a success. Kyle 1, aphids 0. Based on my past experience with aphids, I instantly blasted the peppers and spilanthes plants with a jet of water, made another batch of my insecticide, and doused the plants. Although I had successfully removed the aphids from my peppers, I found a colony of aphids attacking my Basil plants just 2 days ago, and you guessed it, they received the same treatment. I also harvested the Basil and made some pesto to eliminate a large portion of their food source. This way, they had little to no places to hide.

All in all, the score is tied- deer, 1; aphids, 0; Kyle 1. If the aphids happen to prevail I will bring out the big guns (a.k.a. project carnivorous ladybug). As far as the deer go, we will finish building the fence, and hire Patel to ward them away with a knife and a pair of scissors in his hand.

As an interesting side-note, Spilanthes plant leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and tinctures are consumed for the following reasons:

  • saliva inducer
  • coffee replacement (because it is a stimulant)
  • toothache reliever
  • gum builder
  • anti-bacterial
  • anti-viral
  • anti-fungal
  • immune stimulant
  • improve blood circulation

The Greenhouse Contradiction Trumped by the Climate Battery

September 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Kyle Brookens

Living in Gunnison, Colorado while at the same time attempting to live sustainable lives presents an immediate contradiction due to the way the infrastructure of our society functions. Buildings must be heated with fossil fuels, the growing season is short, properties in town have no acreage, the climate is essentially a desert, and nearly everything the town needs to survive on derives from the interstate, highway, and aircraft systems. Masanobu Fukuoka plainly and realistically states that a “community that cannot manage to produce its own food will not last long” (116). As of right now, Gunnison is far from producing the amount of food and resources it consumes. In order for this community to last a long time and become sustainable, sacrifices must be made. Most of us come to this valley to enjoy the largely unpolluted rivers, lakes, mountains, and fields that surround Gunnison. I am lead to believe that we must sacrifice some of our wants and desires in order to have the privilege of enjoying our local surroundings to the fullest. “Pure natural farming . . . is the no-stroke school. It goes nowhere and seeks no victory. Putting “doing nothing” into practice is the one thing the farmer should strive to accomplish” (119). The latter of Fukuoka’s argument makes it clear that many of our desires and wants to be happy people in Gunnison requires that sacrifice is inherent: “When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized” (119). While we are in the moment of our sources of enjoyment and happiness, I feel it is important to revisit these words from Fukuoka. If our bodies are not nourished locally, it will be impossible to possess joy or happiness. If we want to live sustainable, happy lives in Gunnison, our priorities must revolve around localizing our sustenance.

The Western State Colorado University Pinnacles Greenhouse exists as a wonderful pilot program, and will help show how the Gunnison valley may begin to completely localize its food production without sacrificing too much. The greenhouse has the potential to run year round, and if the Renewable Energy Fund localizes the University’s renewable energy production in the next few years, the greenhouse could become carbon neutral. The climate battery that Ian, Joey, Kerriann and I installed in the greenhouse is a simple, yet effective way to make the structure more efficient. A climate battery is composed of 2 6” PVC stacks that have a 45 degree elbow at the top end with a fan attached. The stacks are placed near the north wall of the greenhouse and they nearly reach the ceiling. When the thermostat reads that the greenhouse is too hot, the fans kick on and suck the hot air down the PVC stack into a network of 4” corrugated pipe with sediment sock which is buried at least 20” deep. Approximately 90 feet of the 4” pipe rests 20” below the floor of the greenhouse. There are 4 vents that force out cool air when the fans are on. The hot air gets stored in the thermal mass of the ground while the cool air gets forced out of the vents to help lower the temperature of the greenhouse and circulate the air that tends to get stagnant. At night and especially during the winter, the heat stored in the ground from the climate battery will help keep the greenhouse warm, and help conserve the natural gas the heater will burn. Below is a rough sketch of the Western State Colorado University Pinnacles Greenhouse climate battery lay-out:

Running the greenhouse year round in Gunnison, Colorado is no doubt an energy intensive process, but the climate battery helps lower the demand of fossil fuels and the cost to operate it. Not only will current students benefit from learning how to construct a climate battery, but students and all interested folks that have yet to visit the Western State Colorado University campus will benefit from seeing the greenhouse in full operation. The small greenhouse provides a sanctuary for students like myself to learn and grow along side the plants. As Fukuoka said in “The One-Straw Revolution,” “Ultimately, it is not the growing technique which is the most important factor, but rather the state of mind of the farmer” (46). The greenhouse has allowed me to connect to this place, open my mind to myriad possibilities, and connect to a massive variety of different social groups that I would have not been exposed to otherwise. The relationship that the greenhouse has with Sodexo is one major connection that has cracked open a steel door that was bolted and locked shut from top to bottom just one year ago. Anyone working closely with the greenhouse has already began to learn how much food Sodexo really needs to supply the student population. We are talking about many, many acres of land to completely supply that population, but supplying all the herbs is a SMART goal that will continue to open that door a little more. This new opportunity is just one of many examples of how the Pinnacles greenhouse has become a profound source of an educational and social networking hub on Western’s campus. The most important aspect of the Pinnacles greenhouse “is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”(Fukuoka 119). The hope is that the Gunnison and Crested Butte communities will find inspiration in what the students at WSCU have accomplished, and therefore, help increase the size and the momentum of the local food snowball.

The Farmers Burden

September 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the past several weeks, I have been reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution. I haven’t finished yet, but I have already derived much inspiration from the book. While I have gained worthy agro-ecological insight from this read, it is the economic and infrastructural propositions that have given me the most food for thought.
I have a belief that if you are not very involved or interested in the quality or sustainability of the food you consume, then your food tends to financially inexpensive in the current market. If you are more concerned with your food’s quality and sustainability, then it will cost more money. But if your food’s quality and sustainability is one of your greatest concerns, then it will be next to free. By gardening and food preservation techniques, one can feed themselves without having to source food. For me it is a goal of mine to be able to do this, even in the Gunnison valley, but I understand that this isn’t viable for people without garden space or resident of dense urban centers. This allows the monocrop farmer system to seem appropriate in terms of meeting the needs of the people en masse. As we all know, large scale monocrop agricultural practice is simply unsustainable. Unfortunately small scale organic biodiverse farmers have to face massive subsidies in the name of monocrops and chemical companies, which have provided a daunting façade of sustainability in the name of the ecological farce that is large scale agriculture. How then do we compete with the false prices at the supermarket, when small families have to pay thousands annually merely to hold an organic label?
Fukuoka contends that organic food should be the most inexpensive at the grocery store, because the least amount of time and inputs are required. He explains how conventional farmers must spend money on pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, waxing, and separating for looks, and how they barely make enough to do it again the following year. He explains that commercial agriculture will fail because of this. I believe this is true, as many conventional farmers today would lose money annually if not for massive government subsidies associated with commercial agriculture. I believe that this could mean the starvation of millions in the United States, if there is not a national shift in awareness and activism related to our food needs. It is quite possible that there could be agricultural collapse as the expenses of conventional farmers are not met by the government. The question now becomes, how do communities make local small scale agriculture even more affordable than that of conventional agriculture?
A possibility would be that as many people that possessed land in a community would grow a little food for themselves, and a little food for some sort of coalition that could sell the food inexpensively at grocery stores. All profits of the coalition would simply go back to the garden owners to improve the quality of their gardens, and to create more permaculture systems that require less and less inputs. People who did not own land could be parts of these coalitions, perhaps sharing in ownership on a piece of land like a community garden or co-op. It is especially key that in urban centers, more members of suburbia grow food and that more land be directed toward co-ops for urban dwellers. This way food could actually become cheaper than conventional, especially if co-op grocers were formed and crafted to ensure that they had the trust of their consumers. Fukuoka certainly operated in a political climate, but his statement that organic food should be inexpensive still stands, because it is simple. On the scale of the biome it is easier for each individual to get their hands a little dirty from time to time, the perpetuate an ecologically dangerous machine that is headed for collapse. I believe that what Masonubu said about the environmental issues of the inland sea is true for most every environmental issues. He said, “it must be the farmer who shoulders the red tide.” I believe we all are farmers and therefore, we are responsible for all issues associated with farming.

Snipping basil …

September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Snipping basil heads can be surprisingly meditative. As I prolonged the life of the hoop house’s herbs, I pondered the potential of our campus; imagining every inch of Kentucky Blue being replaced with food or housing for useful animal herds. What would it be like if every meal from Sodexo was provided from the campus grounds, or every event featured food items within reach? It seems possible…and practical.
So this requires the exploration of the Campus Agricultural Master Plan, examining its benefits and its faults, and then deciding if it can be expanded upon.

Edible Forest Gardens

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Ecological communities are not as tightly linked as organisms, but neither are they simply collections of individuals. Rather, the community is a unique form of biological system in which the individuality of the parts (i.e., species and individuals) acts paradoxically to bind the system together.” David Perry, Forest Ecosystems

A lot can be said about individuality. Many would agree that it is our own individuality, the things that define us, that make us able to perform better actions for the whole. Even among the four interns, I have noticed it. We each bring different strengths, ideas, and structures. Sometimes it creates minor inconveniences, but with time and effort (particularly in patience), the results are better. But when individuality becomes a competition or a quest for solitude, it then becomes a problem. Because individuality is not about taking from others, but rather emphasizing what you have. It is not about separating or specializing. It is about using your own passion to ignite and inspire others passions. It is easy to run from the problems of the world, crying out “I hate people and just want to worry about me!” But the fact of the matter is this; other people aren’t going anywhere, and whether you like it or not, they affect your everyday life. So wouldn’t it be ideal to build a stronger foundation, a better foundation, with them?

Speaking of better foundations, consider the foundation we are living on now. Where did it come from? What ideas and beliefs was it built on? Clearly, the future was not deeply taken into account when its construction first began. Luckily, however, damages can be reversed. But what direction will we take? And will we now account for the future in a way that no one thought to before? I’ve learned, through constructing these campus gardens, that this is the most important thing to keep in mind. The future. For what are we doing it for if not for that?

In the text, Edible Forest Gardens, by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, the two write of their vision for the future. Where suburbs become forest gardens, and humans have slowly begun the process of removing pesticides and other forms of pollution from their homes. In all honesty, the 600 words of flowery language and far fetched hopes brought me to tears. It’s a beautiful thought. But we’ll never get there if we keep our minds on what we want today. I plan to keep this in mind while I prepare for the rest of this internship, and the rest of my time here at WSCU. I want to be here to see our campus become and edible forest garden, but one that can sustain a college community, without taking anything but carbon dioxide.


Sowing Conciousness

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It is a sad state of affairs when pressing topics such as the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) hardly enter the periphery of national interest. Intense lobbying and political campaign funding executed by agri-giants like Monsanto and Con Agra has created a climate where gross food control and genetic enslavement proliferates without interference. I believe that systemic change and regulation would be effective in myriad environmental and social issues, including the re-localization of food sovereignty. However, I think that the eco-minded restructuring of national government will be hard pressed to gain momentum through the direction of this nation’s leaders. I sought salvation through the idea that national politicians were genuinely concerned about the health of our bodies, rather than twisted personal agendas. National democracy in the name of the health of the people, was simply swept aside when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a former lawyer for Monsanto, cast one of the deciding votes in favor of the declaration of patenting genetics as a constitutional practice. This flagrant negligence of personal responsibility displays the increasing assimilation of the corporate and political world. As individuals and members of a local community, the burden of producing whole foods and sustainable food system now rests upon our shoulders. This has been a key motivating force for me as a campus ag intern at Western. Could four interns be integral in reigniting food sovereignty in the GunnisonValley? I think so; I think that four people in their youth can help to shape a food producing ecosystem, and display just how easy taking nourishment into your own hands really can be.

I think that the most radical form of creating longevity and sustainability in a contemporary community based food system is saving seed. This can create a strong sense of community, while reintroducing a historically rich bioregional cuisine. Furthermore, saving seed will allow a community to preserve indigenous seed from the inexorable spread of genetically modified seeds. This is the issue most important to me in regard to the local food movement. That is why I was delighted to learn some about saving seeds in Lance’s garden paradise in Hotchkiss Colorado.

I spent the first hour drooling over his garden filled with hearty vegetables and succulent berries and fruit. After I accepted that I was indeed still in reality, Lance and I harvested spelt grain together with traditional sickles. We wrapped the long stalks in burlap blankets and brought them to his straw bale seed shed. It took only two hours to harvest enough grain to feed a man for many months. The simplicity and ease of saving seed really amazed me. As I have learned through experience and edification gardening overall is fairly simple. It seems as though the notion of growing your own food is tied many complex processes, but in reality if you care for the land many human applications are detrimental to letting nature take its course. When you begin to follow the rhythm of natural life cycles that comes with organic and ecological gardens, as you can escape all the fetters and failings of human society. The more you synchronize yourself with a simple yet stimulating practice, one can live in the moment. For me, it is only for a short moment at a time, but I believe as we become swept in the verdant ebb and flow of natural food practice these moments will be extended. I experienced this as Lance and I threshed pea seed from their shells by stomping on the dried plants wrapped in burlap. Threshing was a practice of simplicity suffused with necessity. The methodic pounding of our feet soon become a melodic drumming echoing in the depths of the human experience. Is I entered this meditative state, was as though I felt nostalgia for experiences I had never obtained. Perhaps I had tapped into some ancestral memory bank, or maybe I just felt the happiness of sharing a sacred tradition with an elder. Regardless, I know that there is nourishment in saving seed beyond storing seeds as caloric investment. It is a practice that I must be studious within, so that I may impart it upon future generations.

Tim D

In a world that…

August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment


In a world that lives so separate from its food, it is easy to feel discouraged by progressive actions in the gardening movement. It is hard to invest everything in a belief that many people not only do not agree with, but in many cases, do not even want to hear about. However, I, like many others, believe it is necessary anyway. We are lucky to live in the place we do, as we are told so often, because we experience its majesty first hand, everyday.


The views seen driving on Ohio Creek Road alone can make a person feel something far beyond themselves; the bigger picture. Because really, that’s what all of this is about. Seeing outside of ourselves. Caring outside of ourselves. It sounds idealistic, and probably pretty corny, but realizing it, and then practicing it, is the only way we can achieve our ultimate goal. It is the only way we can protect what we are losing rapidly. It is the only way we will ever get people to hear us.