Avant Gardening for Fun & Nutrition

"...Anyone who ever studied humankind by listening to them was self-deluded. The first thing they should have done was to answer the question, 'Can they report to you accurately on their behavior? ' and the answer is, 'No, they cannot.' "-Bill Mollison

The rant...

Modern chemical agriculture is one of the most polluting industries in the world. 2.5 billion pounds of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are used very year in America alone, in order to mass produce fast food for a consumer population that insists upon convenience at every corner. These chemicals are poisoning drinking water worldwide and killing off the microbial activity in the soil. These soil microorganisms, namely, bacteria and fungi, are essential to all life on Earth.

The American Lawn uses more resources than any other agricultural industry. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel and agricultural chemicals than all large scale farming in the United States, making it the largest single "agricultural" sector, yet only 10% of lawns are ever used for recreation. The American lawn could feed the world if people were willing to turn it over, in favor of fruit & nut trees, vegetables and herbs. A lawn of 1000 to 1500 square feet could be planted with 100-200 edible and beneficial plant species within six months, and become a lush perennial "food forest" within three years. Yet in every city, town and industrial park in the country, fertile soil suffocates under millions of acres of rolling lawn.

Modern society is a disposable one, where even "organic" tofu comes in a plastic package. Everyday in America, 6000 acres of arable land is paved over to make way for more roads, parking lots and shopping malls. Sixty-eight percent of the wheat, corn, & soy products on the market grow from genetically-engineered seed, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep them alive.

The extent to which the global situation is ecologically and economically insustainable is quite obvious and well documented, and I will resist the urge to carry on about our seeming descent into irrevocable ecological collapse. Suffice it to say that the last of the world's wild things are under imminent threat of extinction, in the name of global development and scientific progress, and there is a prevailing need for bioregional communities to regain a sense of local empowerment and self-reliance.

Humans seem to be the only species on Earth who characteristically refuse to take responsibility for our food supply. Why do we choose to eat chemically laden, insustainably produced "un-food", rather than grow our own? It is impossible to evolve (or re-volve, as it were) in a culture that is devoid of living food. We are all victims of the self-imposed physical and emotional malnutrition that results from a lifetime of gastronomic complacency. You are what you eat.

Even in activist communities, few people are actually implementing sustainable practices. Check: Definition: Sustainable: adj. Able to stand up without falling. (Webster's abridged).

We are perhaps in the dawn of a revolution... Yet how are we planning to survive in a world free from corporate control if we are unwilling and in fact unable to provide even our most basic needs?? Many voices are crying out, demanding changes in the mainstream culture that they themselves are afraid to make. It is our responsibility to care for the planet and plants which sustain us, and we must learn how to walk our talk.

If we are to achieve a goal of community autonomy from the corporate regime; if we are to bring down the machines of destruction, we must establish fully sustainable, ecologically sound food and education networks at home. Who controls our food, controls our bodies. Who controls our education, controls our minds.

Rebirthing Eden
Food Not Lawns

Food Not Lawns started in early 1999 in a 6000 sq. ft. city lot. A few gardener-activists were inspired to grow some food for Food Not Bombs. We'd cooked at our house every Sunday for years and wanted to "close the loop" by growing good organic food to cook & serve. Five people cleared out all the old trash and blackberry brambles, built some compost piles, and started what became the Food Not Lawns permaculture education garden. This garden is now home to more than 350 species of edible, rare and native plants, and is a successful demonstration of an organic, low-maintenance, food-producing perennial garden. From here we distribute seeds and plants throughout the bioregion. We also host regular classes and projects in the garden.

Food Not Lawns is currently establishing a non-profit, with the intention of setting up a low-cost, rural-urban permaculture exchange school that is a working example of sustainability and right livelihood.

Our mission

  • To increase regional and global biodiversity, and to preserve endangered, rare, native edible plant species.
  • To assist in creating ecologically sustainable community food cycles.
  • To increase access to organic food and permaculture education to low-income and rural communities.

We offer workshops, presentations, seeds, plants & information, as well as hands-on design and implementation of diverse, food-producing perennial gardens. We seek to cultivate and renew all forms of biodiversity, and offer these programs in hopes that those assisted will then turn their attention to the care and healing of the Earth.

Current activities:

A Permaculture design course for low-income neighbors. This is the first of its kind in the US., and we are implementing our design projects all over the neighborhood.

Weekly hands-on workshops on seed saving, biodynamics, kids gardening, community organizing, composting, guerrilla gardening, sustainable horticulture, water conservation, appropriate technology, etc..

(Hosting workshops is simple: get some books and supplies together and start building this stuff at your house; post some flyers around town announcing when and where you'll be working and people will come to help you. Some of them will know less than you do about whatever the topic is, and some people will inevitably show up who know more. In this way, we have a skills-intensive, result-producing activity that also expands the community.)

Three greenhouse locations, in which we propagate native and unusual edibles for distribution to the community. (Two of these have bamboo and duct tape frames- simple and cheap to make! )

Coordination of volunteer work parties at local organic farms.

Facilitation of a monthly Gardener's Market, to encourage networking between local growers, activists and other community members.

Permaculture consultation and garden labor.

Ongoing maintenance and improvement of the Food not Lawns educational garden.

Dirt Church Distribution:

We edit the Weed Lover, a sustainable horticulture reader. We also distribute how-to manuals & resource lists; send S.A.S.E. for the current listing...

The emphasis is, of course, on the plants themselves, propagating them and getting them into the ground wherever possible. They will outlive us, most of them, and we owe it to them to give them the chance to.

The results of this work are many-layered. Some of them are: bioregional beautification, increased biodiversity, increased sustainability, stronger community, more & better quality food and better quality lives and health, independence, autonomy and any hope in hell of survival...


In many cities there are now community gardens and food co-ops, as people realize the need to re-establish a connection to their food sources. Ideas about permaculture, deep ecology and biodiversity are finally beginning to take hold, and many education centers have been established. Unfortunately, many of these options are unrealistic and frequently impossible for the average working person today. Either one is too poor, too busy or both when it comes to learning about and living an ecologically sound life. In fact, organic food, heirloom seed and alternative education are simply too expensive for most families. As a result, exposure to ecologically sound alternatives is often limited to activists or students, and many mainstream, working-class families are never even aware that there are simple, affordable options available.

It is important to be accessible to low-income families. All Food Not Lawns activities are conducted on an equal-opportunity basis, with people of all race, class, age and ability encouraged to attend. No one is ever turned away for a lack of funds, and child-care or kid-classes are offered whenever possible.
Then there's the access to land issue. We were lucky to find the land available. Very lucky. We squatted it for a year before the city caught on, and by the time they wanted to scrutinize us, we were able to give them a tour; the plants spoke for themselves and the garden remains. In many cases, we would have been bulldozed, arrested or both. I do not know how to overcome the increasing industrial demand for land, only that I must continue to fight it.

We were also willing to garden in 75% shade; the garden is surrounded on all sides by fruit trees. It is extremely useful to know about food plants that are shade tolerant, drought tolerant and cold hardy. This brings me to the next point...

Dietary Diversity

The average American can identify 300 corporate logos but only about 17 plants. This is pathetic. There are 30,000 edible plant species known to humans; how many are in your diet?

There are thousands of low-maintenance, high-yield plants that will grow with little input and produce lots of food for the community. As activists, we cannot afford to spend all of our time cultivating our own food supply. We must be able to grow large amounts of highly nutritious food, sustainably, and then move on to the issues at hand.

Is it a greater service to society (and to the Earth) to set up a self-sufficient lifestyle model to work from, or to participate in a movement against the hand that feeds us? We must disengage from corporate control; we can voluntarily withdraw from the consumer society, and use the waste to recreate Paradise.

In order to achieve this goal, we must be willing to diversify our diets to include the plants which will thrive in a permaculture environment... (no such thing as a noxious weed!) Jerusalem artichoke, daylily, kudzu, akebia, black walnut, plum, filbert, kale, burdock, chickory, mustard, rhubarb, hops, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, horseradish, garlic, chard, leeks and nettles are just a few. These plants are easy to grow, easy to propagate, and highly nutritious. There are literally tens of thousands more waiting to be discovered by you.

What better way to topple the ivory towers than with a wild food invasion?

About now you're probably saying, "I don't wanna eat Jerusalem artichokes, aren't they invasive?" Well, I believe it's truly indicative of our sadly brainwashed selves that we fear diversity so much that we'll forsake the very survival of our species to avoid it. Our fore-mothers definitely ate the native sunchokes. Lots of them. They probably ate several other sunflower tubers as well. In fact, in the Helianthus genus there are at least 40 species of plants with edible buds, seeds and tubers. You could start with ten of these, planting them on street corners across the city...

Closing the Loop

Remember, it is essential to maintain the soil fertility; one calorie in = one calorie out. To help with this, we cruise the back doors of the stores and cafes in town and pick up their vegetable waste for compost piles and sheet mulching. We also use urine and lots of compost teas.

Every city is overflowing with waste materials than can become fertility and eventually food supply. It is important to salvage these materials, keeping them out of the land fill and in use. This type of activity also inadvertently educates the people who see you doing it!

We also scatter clover and vetch seed often and generously. These are nitrogen fixers, and you can harvest the seed yourself or order it in bulk for cheap.


The inherent problem with a "community "approach to sustainability is that it is rooted in anthropocentrism. Even if one is working toward the preservation of biodiversity, one is usually dealing mostly with people, most of the time. We humans need to begin to be honest with ourselves about whether we are trying to save the planet or merely our own species. "Social change" needs to be seen as a means to an end, not as the ultimate goal.

All life on earth, and especially human life, is dependent on plants. Plants make all of the oxygen we use to breathe. Plants provide food, fuel, fiber, medicine, shelter, etc. If one is to re-connect with nature, the fastest route is via the plants.

Point: Humans are not going to teach each other what we need to know about how to live sustainably on planet Earth. This information is free and available to any who seek it; it is in the soil and in the plants which spring from it.

We must place the plants before ourselves in order of importance, and proceed in this manner. The more plants we grow, the more we will learn from them. As we literally generate biodiversity in our own front yards, we will attract that same diversity to our communities.

In regards to community organizing, I guarantee that people who work hard at generating and sharing wholesome, holistic food and medicine will also grow good relationships with each other. Then and only then will they be able to effectively educate the surrounding community.

Anyone can grow plants, anywhere. There are plants that like shade, sun, hot, cold, dry, wet, loud and quiet places. Read books. Ask your neighbors. Read seed packs and the little tags in the pots at the nursery. Go to a botanical garden. Grow a botanical garden. Grow a kinship garden, in pots in the bathroom window. Start now; (you can read the rest of this later!) Pick a genus and start collecting every species in that genus. I like edible ones like Helianthus, Prunus, Allium, Rubus...

Eat what you grow and grow what you eat. Distribute the surplus. Build rocket stoves & hayboxes. Build rain catchment. Build ponds and swales everywhere. Recycle all water always. Compost your trash. Don't expect others to be responsible for your food and waste. It is very unanarchist to hand over control of ones very life force to the corporate regime. She who eats well, lives well.

Learn how to do more stuff and teach your neighbors. Host a study group. Grow seeds. The plants are evolving constantly, adapting to conditions and to their own metamorphoses. There is infinite wisdom in their teachings, but we must be willing to listen. The gardens can sustain us all. there are millions of seeds blowing in the wind wanting to grow...

Seedballs iz fun.
Seed Balls

Our work has been profoundly influenced by the work and writings of a Japanese Farmer by the name of Masanobu Fukuoka. He has defied the laws of agriculture and embraced the laws of nature. He makes "seed balls," and uses them for bioremediation and no-till agriculture. Here's a recipe:

  • 1 part dry seed mix...100 different kinds of seeds... choose carefully if you are sowing them anywhere even slightly wild; you don't want to introduce anything that will upset the natural ecosystem. However; I say, if you're in a big city... anything goes! Mix up all of the most tenacious edibles you can find and pray for cracks in the concrete as the burdock comes busting through!!
  • 3 parts dry, living compost. Use biodynamic compost if possible. NOT store bought or anything that has been sterilized. The soil fauna must be present.
  • Mix together the seeds and the compost until its all blended up, then add...
  • 5 parts powdered RED clay... this can be dug when the streams are low, or bought from a local potter.. it must be red clay, which is rich in all the essential nutrients. The more local the source, the better. Mix everything together with your hands until its all a fine powder... the smell will intoxicate you with visions of abundance...
  • Add 2 parts water, a little at a time until the whole mixture is the consistency of cookie dough... mix it with your fingers and knead it until its all together.. now you're ready to start rolling the balls...1/2 inch in diameter is the recommended size; each ball will contain 10-50 seeds. Toss them on a tarp and let dry at least 24 hours before sowing at a density of at least one seed ball per square foot of land.

I highly recommend reading Fukuoka and seeing the videos available through the website mentioned above. There is a little more to his seed ball stuff than I can go into here, and there is a certain point of view that should be understood before attempting to farm in this manner.. a childlike mind, shall we say?

"If someone were to ask me what nature is, I think, quite honestly, that I would be unable to give a satisfactory answer. And yet, everyone makes free use of this word nature without giving much thought to it. I too talk of the form and spirit of nature as if I knew it all, but deep down I feel that the mere mention of such a notion and the very attempt to express and describe nature are the root of error.....There is no way of expressing that mountain which goes beyond a mountain. Nature can only be understood with a nondiscriminating heart. To see a mountain one must go beyond the mountain; to see the sky one must go beyond the sky....the sky above the sky cannot, after all, be transcended. We constantly turn back to the conscious world, from which we cannot pass to the unconscious world. That is why ours is an empty world in which we know nothing." - Masanobu Fukuoka, "The Road Back to Nature" pp.225 & 228.


How to get free plants:

Propagation from seeds, cuttings, root division. Seeds can be collected in parks, gardens, alleys, and neighbors yards. Also, seed companies will usually donate "outdated" seed, which is perfectly fine to grow. Cuttings can be taken from anywhere, some plants can be grown from just a single leaf cutting. Root division is a great way to propagate, ask your neighbors what they've got too much of.

Plants are easy to propagate and it is essential that anyone making the commitment to regaining control over your food supply learn how to do it. This does not need to take up very much space and often fulfills the urge to procreate! It reminds me of the old adage, "You can give someone a fish and feed her for a day, or teach her to fish and feed her for a lifetime." Same concept here.

Many local nurseries throw "distressed' plants in the dumpster... you can get them there or ask the store to save them for you.

Books & Periodicals:

The Findhorn Garden by the Findhorn community
Culture & Horticulture by W. Storl
Designing & Maintaining your Edible Landscape by R. Kourik
Permaculture Design Manual by B. Mollison (esp. the village design section at the back)
One Straw Revolution and The Road Back to Nature by M. Fukuoka.
The Secret Life of Plants by Thompson & Bird.
Plants for The Future by K. Fern
Cornucopia II by S. Facciola
The Unsettling of America by W. Berry
Weed Lover by Lucy Humus
Permaculture Activist Magazine







Abundant Life Seed Foundation: abundant@olypen.com
Food Not Lawns Eugene:

Also try a search under any of the following: natural farming, compost tea, organic seed, sustainable agriculture, permaculture, etc.

Some useful addresses:

Peace Seeds 2385 SE Thompson St. Corvallis, OR 97333; send $20 for the latest research journal.

Deep Diversity, a planetary gene-pool service; Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87506-5700

Farmers Co-op Germplasm Project; 30848 Maple Drive, Junction City, OR 97448

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