Monday, July 28, 2014

Naive optimism

There are only very few vegetables in the garden for now. Currently, what we have are very few eggplants, okra, peanut, chili, cayenne pepper, some passion fruit, and some leafy stuff. As I said before, we don’t expect so much now in this area except for composting and some vegetables that can, hopefully, survive on its own for quite some time such as eggplant and okra. It’s because up to this time we still don’t have volunteers that can give full commitment to the garden. It’s pity. Most of our friends don’t live nearby and they are busy with their everyday job and also during their day off, they also need to spend time with their family or whatever important personal matters they need to prioritize. 

So the situation is still the same; we have no significant progress regarding this project. It’s sad but that’s only another part of the picture. In general, we are still going and doing fine. We haven’t done so much at the garden this time but we are busy with many things connected to the project and our goals as an organization. 

Aside from our lack of permanent volunteers, there are also other reasons why it wasn’t that productive. But although things may look unsuccessful from this angle, it’s fair to say that the programs that go along with our community garden project were, so far, doing well. Personally, I felt sad about the outcome; unlike those early times of the project, we successfully shared produce to the neighbors. But I also understand that things aren’t that easy, maybe now is not the right time to be fully successful in this venture. Another thing is, because I underestimated my so called “role” in this project at the beginning, now I really have to minimize my effort because of the changes in my health. As of the moment I’m doing a self-therapy because my lungs are getting weak again and my body gets tired so easily so I’m not able to do heavy works as I often feel the pain in my body every time I make myself busy for a couple of hours, maybe It’s because I had a history of pneumonia just a decade or twelve years ago. 

These days, weeds are now becoming harder for me to manage since I can’t do the same amount of work as before. Good thing I can still ask the kids to help me with this task. Another positive thing is that our friend Clarke is now gardening again! For personal reason, he was away for three months but now he’s back and still kicking despite of the fact that he desperately needs a job to feed himself and to provide his future mother and child. His partner Diane is now pregnant so he said he will face the situation whatever it takes, but despite of this challenge he still wants to pursue being part of the collective. So right now we are discussing how to make him continue by acquiring an allowance for a community project. We really appreciate his presence as he helps us not only in the garden but also in other things important for our projects. His willingness and sincerity are one of the great things that remind us not to succumb to frustrations and discouragement in the midst of many obstacles and hardship. 

Well, to be honest, our plan for the coming months is to raise an amount big enough to buy a land, build an infrastructure, and try to run our projects on a permanent or at least on a long term basis. Then, we can start our intentional community. This is the direction! This is the only solution to help us start living on our own path, will, judgment, philosophy, reality and most especially, the design that we want in our small community. With that, things would be easier for us or at least more possible to achieve. It would also help us convince people to participate since the garden is sure enough to feed us if we really work hard to run it. 

If we can purchase a land big enough to have a community garden, we can really motivate people to follow their desire of helping others without worrying so much about the house rent and food. It’s not totally easy but what I mean is, if we have that opportunity, we can have a better facilities for workshops and education, we can choose a good environment, a good soil for a garden, perhaps space for music and artistic expressions, seminars and community gathering, and hopefully a healing space where we can rest, meditate, or just enjoy a quiet moment. Then we can continue our projects, provide more programs that improve quality of life, and then continue to live our dream of being creative and productive in a community that also value and foster these kinds of aspirations. 

More activities

Last April I did another project presentation again here in Bread Homes. This time it was about all the projects of ORGANIC MINDS and what we truly believe as an individual, as an organization, and as activists promoting the importance of building an intentional community. The event was the annual homeowners’ general assembly and it was attended by more than fifty people who are members of the association, mostly parents, and including some politicians, lawyers, and other so called professionals. But the thing is, some of these so called important people missed my presentation because they were awfully very late during the event. 

I was satisfied by the way it turned out but I also noticed that during my talk, there were people who “raised eyebrows” and thought what I’m talking about were very impossible ideas and very radical to swallow and digest. I understand their skepticism but I just think it’s not a positive one. Maybe if I can try to analyze their background, I can understand why it seems far away from the essence of what I’m talking and promoting. At the moment, the only person I know who are showing interest in collaborating with us is the president of the “senior citizens’ association” of this subdivision. Through phone, we talked about planning a program together for their organization. I’m still hoping we can find more interesting people here that might want to help or be part of the gardening project or whatever things they want to do with. 

During summer, we also had our children’s summer art class. This is one of our ways to connect to children and introduce them to things and ideas that might be helpful to their development as a person in the heart of this very complex society. With this program we also introduce them to many different topics regarding food and how it is being produced, what are the effects of junk food, what is fast food, what are toxic ingredients and artificial additives, etc. 

Through this program we can also practice our skills in teaching and explaining things and also some important factors in a family or in a community. With this we can also aid them in developing their skills in art and music as a way to express their thoughts and feelings for the sake of their health and happiness. Although we fail to maintain the consistency of this project due to other activities and yes, lack of volunteers at the moment, I can fairly say that the children not only learned (and will continue learn) from the project but also enjoyed the moment like how they enjoyed their freedom through playing with their friends. Some of the workshops we gave are: music, anti-MSG/Aspartame/GMO poster making, recycling, basic drawing and coloring, zine making, collage art, and basic painting. Speaking of this program, we would like to thank our friend Arvin from Manila and Gopesh from Oregon for helping us. And also to Arvin’s friend Mr. Cheng who donated worth 5,000 Php of chairs from his company Uratex. We really appreciate what they did as it helps us make this program effective and more possible. 

For now we are trying to have a community gathering every Sunday. We invite people to come and spend their time with us doing things what they feel comfortable doing: cooking, gardening, making art, playing music, teaching kids, fixing things, recycling, or just watching documentary films that are related to our projects and issues of concern. Through this we can have more opportunity to let them experience the projects and have their support more often. In this way we can also learn more things from them regarding their own ideas and perspectives especially in connection to our vision and goals. So far there are few people showing up almost every Sunday. 

Every Friday, we also go to the local organic fair at the city hall for our FOOD FREEDOM exhibit and information drive in supporting the local farmers and the organic movement. As what we basically do, we exhibit posters, talk to people, play music, and hand out flyers about GMO, MSG, Aspartame, Fluoride, and other issues related to health, community building, and food politics. Although we try our best to go there every Friday, sometimes we miss it because of our body’s limitation. 

In addition, we are also starting to introduce the Really Really Free Market (RRFM) now to the people there. The last time we did it, it was great! There were lots of curious people came by and asked questions, some of them are people who are working in the government. Hopefully they are familiar now to the beautiful concept of this action or event and give their part in the future. 

RRFM is one of the most simple but brilliant ideas on how to fight capitalism, labor exploitation, industrial pollution, and over-production in this world. It is also a very concrete example of how to create a community that truly cares for each other and value the spirit of “gift economy” – the sharing and giving of services, time, food, entertainment, etc. - instead of our current economic paradigm that encourages greed, selfishness, competition, and over-consumption. 

Mining and the new volunteer

Finally, the excavation for what they say “gold bars” in some parts of the area has been stopped. If the owners did not try to visit last month, they wouldn't find out that the man they trusted has been digging their lot for treasure hunting. I was planning to write about it but it took so long before I had the chance so now it was over. He was digging it for five months (with other people that he paid to help of course) pretending that the owners of the area is supporting what he was doing. And just because he was the former caretaker of that area, nobody can stop him except for the people who really know the owners or, the owners themselves. Sad to say, he destroyed a big part of the lot where it’s not suitable for planting anymore. I was surprised one morning when they were knocking at the door asking me to bring them to that man, the former caretaker. When we arrived at his house his wife and his son said he wasn't there so we waited a few minutes then he showed up very nervous and sensed that a bad thing is going to happen. Then there was the confrontation and he apologized, lied, and foolishly explained everything and even tried to bribe the owners by saying he can continue digging if they want and give them their part of the gold bars when he succeed. My question is, how do the owners took that idea? Or what do they think about the man? 

They really felt frustrated because before they asked that man to cut the trees he planted at the area for a worry of having to pay him when the time they want to use the lot back. The man did not ask their consent; instead he violated a lot of their agreements that’s why the owners do not trust him anymore. So because of that they filed a complaint and the former caretaker finally stopped. It was pity that we never really had enough time to talk about collaborating on the next level. We would be willing to listen to their suggestions if they have, and also would love to think about necessary things such as having a safe connection of water through their names, or ask them if they can afford to put a stable fence that would permanently keep away the animals and the vandals from having a chance. Or maybe safe enough for us to put the materials and leave it there so we won’t have to carry them most of the time. Or perhaps they would like to garden as well. I’ve heard that the woman is working in Dubai but I didn’t really have enough time to talk with her husband and to the other couple, the owner’s sister. She and her partner live just in Davao and work in one of the president’s local department. That’s all I remember. I contacted them twice and asked if they can spend time to talk about the project, until now I’m still waiting for their reply, hopefully one day they will be interested to help in improving the garden.

Every now and then we still go out to the fields for our composting activity. Although it is currently inconsistent because of so many factors such as my personal health, rain, and the destruction of the cow field for subdivision construction, it is still worthy to look back what happened from the past few months. As of now the grass are growing back again and I think people now leave their cows out there again for food, so hopefully they will not gonna raze it again that soon so that we can continue getting cow dung again. 

Another new volunteer friend we now have is Ampit. A guy from Mangagoy, Bislig, he was a fisherman in that area for a couple of years. This is the main livelihood that helps his family survived even up to these days. At first, it sounds so exciting to us, knowing that fishing is a very ancient human activity and it is one of the most important things to learn if you are a fish eater. In his case, most of the time he go out to catch fish for a month or more, together with people who also grew up in this kind of activity. But it challenged my perspective to hear him said that he is tired of doing this thing. For so long, being in the middle of the ocean, it dawned on him that it was not the right life for him. He told us about his story, that one day he almost died because of this job. One day he and other fishermen had a very bad accident in the middle of the ocean, because they still went out to catch fish even there was an approaching storm. So the boat they’re in was wrecked by the raging wind and waves, they got lost for two days floating in the ocean until they were rescued somewhere way very far from where they came from.

 During this experience he thought of many things, witnessed unusual human tendencies, traumatic moments, and extreme fatigue and hunger. He was really thankful that he is still alive, and now he has a daughter which he really love and is giving him more reasons to live a good life. For now he is part of the project but he is also working as a construction worker somewhere in the city. We were thinking if only we could afford to provide ourselves allowances for full time participation, perhaps it would be easier for us to progress and provide efficient programs. We really thank him for being so dedicated and helpful ever since he became part of the projects.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Leaving 2013 Behind: Gardening and Building Community For 2014 and Beyond

Recently, there has been a successful harvest from the last seeds we planted. For a few days we enjoyed the produce so much and again as what we desire, we were lucky to have some surplus for giving. And so we shared some of those vegetables to the neighbors, especially to those who volunteered, at the same time while successfully demonstrating the possibility and advantage of having a sharing garden and building a community. Though it’s too little to be proud of since we only planted few, it was enough to show that we can actualize our vision and that they can do it as well if only given a chance. It is also very motivating to reflect on those past few months because of the new experiences and the things that we’ve learned from gardening and inter-personal dynamics along with it. As a person assigned with this responsibility I realized that we really have to be firm and clear on our ideas and expectations so that miscommunications can be avoided in the end; and so that others will also be encouraged to work for this vision. But also to have a healthy dynamics and group relationship, sometimes you also need to be flexible and tolerant so that others can express their ideas and feelings for the sake of freedom. Though I am saying this, I also admit that I wasn’t able to demonstrate a good quality of a so called “leader”. To be honest, sometimes in this project, I admit to be inconsistent. But one thing I’m sure about is the fact that this project is still my most priority; that everything I do still concerns the future of this project. I want to emphasize this to the people, who are also very helpful in the process; the few who shared their time and energy and still want to help the projects.

Last time on our last post we told you about the challenges we are having especially the small conflict with the former “caretaker” of the area and possible threat of losing the garden. Well, we successfully managed some of those and still continue using the space. Because of this we also discovered that in every year there is something that will turn out that needs to be fixed. These are the issues that you need to sort out as you carry the seed of your vision of a community and plant them in the present. Instead of being down and hopeless about it, we somehow appreciate it because we know that trials like these usually make you stronger if you learn to handle and “dance” with it. So in the long run, this will help us face another test in the future that is waiting in the path taken by BHSG. Thanks that the former caretaker of the area did not do any attempt to push us away or anything that might bring us discontent or cause inequity. Although we can coexist with him and tolerate some of his weird views and behavior, seeing his heedless attitude towards the garden or the soil is very discouraging. As part of our vision we want to encourage and support the people who really care about gardening and community matters, but it is really very disappointing that after all those times I spent explainingto him everything about the project, and how non-organicways of gardening/farming harm our health and destroy the soil, he still doesn’t have even the slightest desire to stop using these chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It is sad that there is really something that prevents him from grasping the sounder picture of things. I appreciate his gardening passion and skills but I just couldn’t understand why he cannot see the serious threat of using these chemicals. 

Another thing that makes me sad isthe fact that he doesn’t care about the vision of BHSG and even sometimes hostile to it, thoughwithout showing it or making it obvious.I am not 100% sure of this but what bothersme is how unsupportive he was towards everything we care about.And sometimes in a subtle manner, he expresses words that suggest something against the project. To give you some historical background, he gardened on those area years before for personaland profit goal but later on, he abandoned it since it was open and different animals can easily enter and eat everything. So it was overgrown with grasses and was abandoned for almost 10 years and nearby residents from the subdivision didn’t know what to do with it; some even throw their garbagewastes on that area and nobody cares or pays attention about it. Until we found the area and determined to spend some amount to build fences and use it for a garden project, people saw that it was possible to make use of that lot.So later he decided to usurp some part of the area again and do his way without minding the impact of it. We totally don’t want to kick him out of that area, in fact before, we would love to have him as an ally of the project but it seems very difficult to do it because of some unknown factors that block him from the “connection”. 


More to the challenge we are currently facing is the developing patterns visible which is similar to this kind of attitude and behavior we are noticing in one of our new volunteers. I mean we don’t want to look at him as an outsider, and we don’t see it as a totally negative issue but instead as a test on our strength and stability. What we noticed is that somehow he cannot really appreciate the value of sharing in a community or in a garden. He cannot see that there is still a choice; that through gardening and re-building a community, we still can start living the sustainable way.And with this, surviving without making much money is not only possible but also necessary. It has already been lived by countless people in the intentional communities all over the globe, transforming the unsustainable industrial paradigm into an ecological paradise of compassion and mutual support in the social, emotional,and psychological aspect.We have a respect for his enthusiasm and skills and we consider him as a very important ally but it didn’t dawn on us that he doesn’t want to support the vision. Until he personally said this, we thought that he volunteered to join the project because he understands and want to support this vision but unfortunately he is being consumed by pessimism and unconsciously trapped in his judgmental attitude that is sometimes driven by his lack of information, christian prejudice, and religious dogma. In addition, it was also disheartening to know that he sold some of the harvest to the neighbors without informing the group. Though we are not totally against selling the produce,especially if it is really necessary to keep things running or to sustain the project, but selling them for personal reason is I think not a healthy sign. It contradicts the vision and principle of SG because for us,this kind of “mindset” is one of the reasons that contribute to the current social and ecological crises we are facing today. But despite of this we still don’t want to exclude him on the project as long as he will support the vision.In fact, we appreciate that he put so much time on the garden and was very helpful to the physical effort. I clearly explained this to him emphasizing that he is still welcome to join the planning and other meetings if he is willing to work with us again. 

While we are dealing with thesekinds of challenges, I believe westill need to constantly show to the people that what we are doing will really help them. Wemust show them that they are stillwelcome to join the process because we value them as a person who also needs safe food, healthy community, and empowerment to take in charge of his life and his future. It is tough, playing these roles without much knowledge, skills, and actual support from any “experienced” community organizers. Thinking about possible negative outcomes that might cause big obstacles is overwhelming, especially when you feel small in numbers. But knowing that you stand in the right way, doing the things that help others and offer sustainable alternatives, you’ll feel vindicated by the concrete reasons and visions you have for the future of your community.I think the advantage of this is that we willhave an opportunity to grow and learn by dealing with minor conflicts and clashes.I think it is normal that sometimes you’ll find people who want to join but doesn’t care much about important issues related to your project; let alone community, food, health, and ecological matters.We now realized that it is normal that some people cannot easily see the connection of this project to the global social and ecological situation especially in the aspect of food, environment, and well-being of the people. But I think by constantly working on these factors and sincerely showing them the bridge that connects these issues,you can prove to them that what you stand for is not only doable but also very easy if you work together in a community.

As for now we still want to continue gardening the area as long as it is still possible. Currently, we already have some plans and in fact, started to clear some parts of the area for the next planting. In addition, my friends already planted the next seeds. Though the soil is still poor, somehow it was now clear that we still can get something from it as long as we constantly fertilize and water them. And concerning this as well, we still have some compost and some more cow dungs to use. By January, we planned to fix the fence, cultivate more beds, and start planting more. By this time also we will start doing the related programs. Again we will organize discussions, film viewings, exhibits, and workshops related to gardening, social sustainability, and community building all throughout the year. We are very glad that there were people who donated money to keep us going even though it is clear that we are just taking a small step. In response to this kindness, we will do our best to help others by constantly showing them these alternatives and choices through this venture. I believe that by doing these things, we can have more opportunity to advance the vision of a sustainable, healthy, and compassionate community.