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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Food in Costa Rica: Healthy, Cheap, & Naturally Growing!

Food Forests!
Imagine harvesting bounties of super foods from your garden everyday. You step into a forest of fruit trees, wild spinach, medicinal herbs, and more! Everything is well established and grows naturally, because you cultivated a food forest.

Permaculture farming works within the local ecosystem to promote natural growth. Food is cultivated based on what naturally occurs. It’s as simple as looking to nature for inspiration. What are the plants that naturally grow in the area? What are their uses for food, medicine, and more? Learn about these plants and promote their long term establishment in your garden.
The Fruition Center food forest is a six-year project in the process. Co-founder Jason Bliss says there are easily 100 different plants that are grown and cultivated. Here are some of our favorites: Moringa, Cranberry Hibiscus, Cucaracha, Rubarb Spinch, and Achote (crush seeds for a natural dye and paint). Pictures are below:

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We have also learned:
Ginger is a “carrier” herb, which stimulates the absorption and circulation of other herbs it accompanies.
Tea made from cornsilk will treat urinary problems including kidney stones. This is great for anyone who suffers from kidney stones. Just dry a bunch of organic corn silk and drink this tea on a daily basis.
Aloe Vera will treat many skin problems such as sunburns, acne, insect bites, fungal infections, and more. Replace harmful store bought products with an aloe plant to make your skin glow!

Cacao is delicious and nutritious! It is the base of chocolate. Roast seeds to eliminate trace amounts of neurotoxins. Grind it up and add it to teas, smoothies, and desserts. It’s the flavor of chocolate without the refined sugar!
Hibiscus flowers have a velvety texture. They don’t have much flavor, but will add beautiful color to salads.

Ongoing Recipes

Salsa Con Lettuce Leaves
Here is our first raw dinner for about $6. Mix avocado, sliced pepper, tomato, garlic, cilantro, coconut, mango, and banana. Use lettuce leaves as wraps.

Bean Dip with Cucumber Slices
Mix black beans with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and lemon. Use cucumbers slices like chips.

Breakfast Granola Mix
This is a  quick and healthy one to start the day with energy. Mix granola with mashed ripe bananas, then sprinkly crushed cacao over top. It all blends together great!

Other meals:
Forest forged salads, comidas tipicas, homemade tortillas, vegan ice creams (banana, mango, coconut), ceviche, avocado mash...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Food is medicine, cobing and living with nature.

A month of Costa Rica farming and travel is change though experiential learning.

Physically - 
Our lifestyles have changed. We've become vegetarians 99% of the time. My pants and shorts fall off my body. So do Rohan's. We wake up at 5:30 in the morning and feel great. We sleep when the sun sets. We subscribe to the cycles of the Earth in our eating and living.

Learning -
Traveling on a budget while living an abundant life is possible! Most nights are spent in our tent under the stars lending to a surprisingly restful sleep. Each farm charged $8 a day for a place to camp and to eat a bounty of collected food from our surroundings. Food is medicine and medicine is food. We can identify and consume many plant species of Costa Rica. Plants feed us and keep us healthy. Rohan's blog talks about this concept in specific detail.

We work hard everyday. We have learned the art of cobing floors and walls. We volunteered our hands for cobing projects at both farms. We have learned some structures and mindsets of intentional farming communities that work and that could be improved upon.

Farm Stay #1 - Finca Fruition
Finca Fruition is high in the mountains of Costa Rica. It gets cold at night and light blankets are necessary. The temperature of the day is a wonderful warm. Below is a photo of the view from the mountains.


The FOOD at Finca Fruition is the best/healthiest we have ever consumed! My body responded. I could feel the chemical flow of my cellular functions improving. Finding the micronutrients and amino acids of billion year co-evolution in the seeds and plants is priceless.

We made raw cacao tea. Coconut milk purple kale smoothies. Food forest salads with grated beats. Kombucha vinegar dressing. Pineapples and papaya. Rice and beans and ginger and lemon. Spinach. Wild Costa Rican mint. Rose hibiscus. Banana ice cream. Banana bread. Corn flour tortillas. Avocado pepper salsa spread. Raw pumpkin pie. Veggie burgers. Carrot cake.

We celebrated a birthday for a community member, who turned two. She was most captivated by the professional balloon artist who is also one of the founding members of the farm. We listened to drums around a fire for the Winter Solstice. We cut goat food and cared for goats. Raw goat milk tastes like goat cheese!

At Finca Fruition we cobed an exterior wall that needed maintenance. Building with cob is particularly easy to learn, requires no heavy equipment, uses local materials and can be done in small batches as time allows. This makes it extremely accessible to all people. Hands and feet form various mixes of earth, sand, and coconut husks (or straw), an atheistic and sensory experience similar to sculpting with clay. There are no forms or rectangle bricks to follow thus, cob creations are circular walls, arches and niches that organically develop. Cob homes are warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Cobing can be used to build all kinds of structures. Dog houses, ovens (kivas), walls of your house or any other thing you can imagine. It hardens to a cement-like consistency and will last many years. Rohan and I spent four days learning and applying knowledge of cob on one exterior wall. Cob is a mixture of three materials

1. Clay
2. Sand
3. Straw (we used coconut husks)

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You must learn to identify the right soil as clay and sand. We sifted our river sand to get the rocks out. Then make test batches to see the strength of the mixture. Test batches can be added to walls for sculpting tests or made into bricks for strength tests. Simply make small batches of cob with different ratios of sand and clay. Clearly mark ratios in the cob and allow drying in the sun. On walls, check for cracks. For bricks, drop them from their corner a meter above a flat concrete surface. If it crumbles, you have a weak mix. If it holds up, your mix is strong.

We made a ½ clay to ½ sand batch which, although good for sculpting art, cracked a lot. We decided to cover this outer wall with a 6 parts sand to 1 part clay mix, which is a smooth finish. Here are before and after photos of the wall. 

Farm Stay #2 - Finca Morpho

We will write more about this experience in the days coming.
Sending love and peace to the world,

Cheers to writing something.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

CABS Presentation

Erica and I were invited to present our project to over 40 undergraduate students and academics at the Center for Applied Behavior Systems (CABS). This was an opportunity to share our past involvement as student leaders and to rally support for building eco communities.

The Center for Applied Behavior Systems helps undergraduate and graduate students learn how to conduct research that combines the technology of applied behavior analysis with theories from experimental, social, and applied psychology. Their research not only provides opportunities for real-world, hands-on experience for students, but it also works towards improving quality of life in the community.

Erica and I started by sharing our past involvement as student leaders, and we listened to students share their own involvements. Rohan focused on how Actively Caring For People transformed his morals and everyday actions, while I talked about leading the Environmental Coalition. We then talked about the radically sustainable design of Earthships and the Uruguay school build, sharing the photos below.

Students had questions about the feasibility of Earthships. How do they collect water in a drought? How much do they cost to build? We explained how Earthships are well suited for desert environments, and their cost is similar to any conventional home, but made with recycled materials. We have a general idea of design and affordability, however, there is much more we can learn and customize for our own purposes of building eco communities.

We ended the presentation with the "World Changing Wall" activity, an original activity created by Erica, which is super cool for everyone to use!

How to play the World Changing Wall:
1. Give everyone two note cards.
2. Say, "Everyone in the world is listening to what you are about to write on your cards. Write one thing on both cards that if everyone would do, then it would make the world a better place."
3. Everyone writes their response.
4. Place one note card on the board.
5. Have participants keep the other note card handy.
6. Share the following quote:

"When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country, but it too seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me.

But alas, they would have none of it.

And now I realise as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first, then by example I might have changed my family.

From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country.

And who knows, I might have even changed the world."

~Quote found on a tomb of a Bishop in Westminster Abbey 

7. Debrief participants by paraphrasing the following, "If we want to change the world, it starts with ourselves. Keep your note card in a place where you can see it everyday, as a reminder for what you must do yourself first before you can change the world."

Responses from CABS students

It was a privilege to share our journey with the members of CABS. Rohan is inspired to include the principles of Actively Caring For People in a model for how people would interact in a sustainable, compassionate community.

Affordability of Earthships

Mike Reynolds, founder of the Earthship Academy, says the cost of an Earthship house is comparable to any regular house. Also, the cheapest Earthship design we've seen is a small bunker design for about $15,000. Depending on your location and access to labor/materials, there is a lot of variation on price.

For our purposes we need to consider a few things:

Location, LOCATION, LOCATION!!!!!! Where are we going to build this first eco community? What are the land use policies? What are the potentials and obstacles of each location? There will be a large investment of money and a lot of research of location before we lay the first tire.

Resources. Can we get free or cheap access to tires and other materials? Can we get volunteers to help us build? Can we raise money through social entrepreneurial means or get funding from established systems? All costs must be considered and made affordable without cutting corners.

Ongoing use. Will people buy homes in the community? Will they rent properties? Will there be opportunities for jobs within the community? Whatever we decide, it will be dependent on location, and it must be profitable to sustain and grow.

An AC4P Eco Community

Actively Caring For People (AC4P) comes from the field of Humanistic Behaviorism, combining the good nature of people with their every day behaviors. The idea of AC4P is simple: we must go above and beyond to act with kindness everyday.

It's simple to act with compassion, right? It's actually not.

People are faced with a variety of mental and social obstacles when making a decision to act with kindness or not. There is general unawareness of problems; and if a problem is realized, people don't know what to do. There is social stigmatization for those who break norms. If someone goes out of their way to help another, the kindness might be received as awkward or ill-intended.

So, what can we do?

Well, it takes practice. You have to intentionally make extra effort for the people around you. Smile at strangers. Wave to cars that stop for you. Do your roommates dishes. Call an old friend and ask how they are doing.... BUT, whatever you decide to do, you have to do it for the act of it. You are not doing it to receive anything back or to please anyone else. You are doing it because it is kind and you are a kind person.

It takes competence. You have to know how to help someone to be effective. It might take a few trials and errors, however, you just need a growth mindset. View mistakes as learning opportunities. It's like riding a bike. It takes getting used to at first, but you will never forget how to do it and what it feels like.

It takes courage. I'll be the first to admit that IT IS UNCOMFORTABLE to go out of your comfort zone. But I will say you are a courageous person every time you do it... When you feel uncomfortable, that is a signal for something else. That is a signal for courage! Don't get bogged down in details like why this, what that, who said what, and what is "normal." Stand up for what you believe in! It might feel weird at first, but moving through that develops confidence.

How do include AC4P in eco communities?

AC4P can be the foundation of every culture and community, however, an eco community is a unique opportunity to develop specific principles. I will be conducting further research. My initial thoughts are below.

Sharing of resources
Community participation
Social affirmation
Encourage self discovery
Encourage intrapersonal growth

If the values and practices of an eco community are established with the principles of AC4P, the community will have a better chance of sustaining and growing.

More to come.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The West Philadelphia Earthship Build

The first-ever urban Earthship being built in Philadelphia?!? Rohan and I had to stop by. 

On Sunday, we took Route 611 into the City of Brotherly Love. Rohan has never been to Philadelphia, so we took the necessary tourist stop by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

We followed smartphone GPS directions to 675 N 41st St. We passed many row houses and pulled up next to… what to any rational person would think is a big pile of tires and garbage. Clearly, there is still much work to be done. 

We met Oliver, a middle aged man who lives a few blocks from the build site. Oliver told us how he feels about the work being done.

“Let’s be honest,” Oliver said, “This is just a big pile of trash!” He explained the site has been in this state of disarray for over six months.“Would you want this to come to your neighborhood?”

He supports community development, but disagrees this Earthship build will achieve it. “In a community like this, you need to teach people. You need to put tools in their hands.”

What is the purpose of this earthship project?

This article explains, "We want to bring holistic health information and activities to the community through workshops, holding free events on the land, and having workshops for people to learn how to build an Earthship themselves,” Ali-Campbell said, “So that other people who have the desire to build can grab up some of these 40,000 vacant lots and turn them into something beautiful and sustainable.”

According to this blog, “The greatest obstacles have been financial. Love Loving Love received the property on 41st and Warren as a donation, only to learn later that there was a $21,000 lien on the property, the result of unpaid taxes and demolition costs from the warehouse that once occupied the space. L&I engineers need to ensure that the land, some of it filled with rubble from the demolished warehouse, is stable enough to build on. The tests will cost more than $4,000.”

Their indegogo campaign raised $2,626 by January 2015. The earthship build was scheduled to take place in February but without the funding, it has not yet manifested. 

Here are the barriers that we could easily understand upon our visit:

  • Community perception
Does the slow in build progress influence neighbors and residents attitudes? How could this project change their material collection, tire storage, and building tactics to adapt to problems of funding? We wonder why so many tires are being stored onsite. How could the neighbors better understand and accept the vision?

  • City planning and building

Props to the city of Philadelphia for encouraging more programs to foster social justice and access holistic community education. 

According to Earthship Biotecture website, Ali-Campbell and the group building the Earthship in West Philadelphia spent five years educating the city council, the mayor, the governor and many organizations on the design principles and the way the house operates. City officials thought the structure looked like a Flintstones house and wanted it modified to look more like a city dwelling. The Earthship was modified so the walls will have corners instead of rounded walls, which city officials have been more responsive to.
  • Constructing the Earthship

The last barrier is the actual construction of the Earthship. Why has construction taken so long? We assume this is lack of financing. Is there too a lack of man power to get construction finished? And, finally, how much experience do the leaders of this project have in constructing Earthships?

We sent a message but were unable to discuss our questions with Ali-Cambell or LoveLovingLove, Inc

We love the concept of Earthships and this turned out to be, the moment we visited, not an ideal Earthship build site. Nonetheless, there are many good lessons for community development and environmental planning we can learn from our visit.