Time-Based Currency pt 2. Let’s Not Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater or Towards A Case For Time Banks
“If the drinking is bitter, become the wine.” -Rilke
Awesome. I started contributing to this blog as a way of thinking out loud about ideas that fall under the big tent of Permaculture. As Permaculturalists we are a proud and passionate lot given to soap boxy moments around our favorite ideas. (There is a joke in here about permacults).
Hilariously, I can imagine what it would have been like to be in a permaculture design course around the Y2k thing. I can also recall my own fevered moments of self-righteousness. For instance, years ago on a particularly strange day inspired by the seduction of abundance through leisure articulated in the Bill Mollison aphorism “let the designer become the recliner” I found myself espousing forcefully the belief that we are approaching the end of work. A real techno-eco paradise.
The thought was not so much A Rifkinesque end of work analysis but a post-scarcity call to action to stop work altogether. An attempt to construct an early aught style drop-out culture where participation in the economy was considered collaborating with an abstract evil known as mainstream capitalist society.
The thought was not well-formed.
I beat that drum with the passion of a post-scarcity evangelist.
What an asshole I was. Fortunately, I left grad school and became a father.
That ended that experiment.
The cool thing about conceptualizing this blog as “thinking out loud” is that the writer gets feedback and a chance to revise and build on ideas. Aside from the excitement of knowing someone out there is reading, (I didn’t think there was), I heard from many people. Some of y’all hate my previous piece about time banks and saw it as an inappropriate take down of a treasured effort by communities to make the world better. Some of y'all asked me what a time bank was, some of y'all laughed and asked, "Why now? Time banks haven’t been relevant since 2008." Meanwhile, some of y’all love the piece, having experienced a similar worry with time banks in your own community. All fair points - and I love this diversity of opinion.
First, let me answer the question: What are time banks?
In 1980 Edgar Cahn started thinking about ways to link untapped social capacity to unmet social needs. One idea coming out of this effort was time banking. This is simply a mode of exchange that lets people swap time and skill instead of money. In a time bank economy, when a person spends one hour helping another person they receive credit. When that person needs help from someone else than they use their credits to get help. For example, If a car-less carpenter needs a ride, they can accumulate credit by working on someone’s deck and exchange the credit for rides from another member. Early on this idea represented a way to create a more equitable and inclusive future by valuing work and skills that the dollar doesn’t value.
Nationally, time banks continue to flourish in some small communities and struggle in others but, with few exceptions, they’ve operated at a tiny scale. In the last few years interest in them has waned. However, I anticipate relevancy of this idea being catapulted quickly into the national consciousness as a result of Andrew Yang who is running in the Democratic primaries for the 2020 presidential candidacy.
As I’m writing this the Freakonomics podcast is on NPR and Andrew Yang and his platform is the main focus of the episode.
Y’all should listen to it. Soon, time banks will no longer be a fringe effort at social equity executed on small scales in local economies by spirited and smart people, but an idea oozing into the consciousness of every American through a gigantic-scale platform like the U.S. election.
There’s that and then there is the economy.
A few years ago An SPI course toured an off-grid farm project in Virginia.
The year was 2016, oil was cheap, the recovery was bounding forward at full clip. The farmer was asked by a student in our group how he felt about the future. He commented that he was very scared for the future. What we need, he said, was another oil crisis to wake people up.
I'm not asking for a crisis of any kind. When shit goes south people get hurt real bad, Woke AF takes no prisoners.
Though the farmer did have a point. There is a correlation between novel ideas and fear. Arguably, we are in the middle of a time of general prosperity in this country. A decade ago, in permaculture courses, everyone seemed to be clad in thrift store attire duct taped at the splitting seams. Now, it’s that bastion of textile superhero do-goodness, Patagonia, that is the dominant brand, paired with a side of Smartwool socks. These are fat times indeed.
“Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.” Replied the great satirist Tom Lehrer when asked why he was so popular.
Here is my contribution to our collective pessimism.
There is some indication that we are on the doorstep of another crisis. If one is to listen to Yang’s analysis or read Jeremy Rifkin’s 1995 book - The End Of Work - we are in a time where millions of jobs will be lost to automation without much opportunity for retraining. Resources will remain locked up, while jobs, scarce. It is a time to re-imagine yield. Time banks might be an interesting way forward.
Now, I’ve gotten ahead of myself and I need to end this on a high note. With a scan of the timebanks.org website, one finds suggestions to have time bank meetings that are monthly potlucks and to create group time bank projects that are limited only by the imagination. Potlucks, seed swaps, community wellness days or volunteer work parties strike me as robust events that get a great deal of work done for non-profits and time bank members. More importantly, they serve as gathering spaces where core values can be exchanged and articulated and relationships built.
This is something time banks do well.
It keeps people in the game. Long after the exchange of currency dissolves, there is still a group of people and anytime there is a group of people coming together around shared values, there is a chance for intimacy.
I live in the same community I grew up in. Wes Jackson’s imperative to “find a place and become native!” is an afterthought for my family. I was born into a network of people, I grew up with them, and for the most part, things haven’t changed. For others who move to the valley or experience life on the margins in a new community, a connection can be tougher. Sometimes churches are the answer and other times it’s the school system or sports. Still, for many, especially those seeking alternative answers to struggles that the mainstream solutions seem to come up short on, time banks can be a great relief.
I wish I could keep going on about the feel-goods around the concept of time-based currency. But, for now, I’m out of time. In part 3, I’ll dive deeper into the analysis of what time banks do well and attempt to integrate this into what we teach at SPI: The 8 forms of capital.
This is the second installment of a four-part piece on time-based currency and permaculture economics. Stay-tuned y’all, it’s getting fun.
For more information on Cahn - a fascinating man. Check out this 2018 Forbes article.
And more info.
Permaculture Plants Part 2. A Mid-Atlantic Food Forest Cheat Sheet
Expanding Island Food Forest at VSDB Educational Farm in Staunton, Virginia. 'Liberty' Apple surrounded by Echinacea Purpurea, Sea Kale, Red-Veined Sorrel, Chamomile, Goumi, Mountain Mint, Egyptian Walking Onion, Horseradish and more. (Photo by Trevor Piersol)
Food Forests or Edible Forest Gardens are a VAST topic - and one of the things we strive to do in our teaching at SPI is to simplify Permaculture to make it as practical and applicable to our students as possible. In this vein, I've come up with a "Mid-Atlantic Food Forest Cheat Sheet" to help you get off on the right foot with your Food Forest design dreams.
Essentially this is a list of Food Forest plants that I have found are most suitable to our region and to the diversity of a Food Forest system - that is low-maintenance, multi-functional, and native when possible (shout out to Ryan's blog "Plantin' Ain't Easy!). Most importantly, the cultivars chosen are disease resistant to most of our local diseases (for example, I like to plant Apple cultivars that are resistant to the "Big 3" apple diseases - Fireblight, Apple Scap, and Cedar Apple Rust). I've also arranged the fruit trees by fruiting window to make efficient layout easier, ala Stefan Sobkowiak's "Grocery Aisle Concept" at Miracle Farms in Quebec. This cheat sheet is useful whether you are planting out a large-scale "linear guild" orchard or a small-scale "expanding island" orchard. Also, I've thrown in some planting and maintenance tips just for the heck of it - because why go through all of the work and money of getting your orchard started if you aren't able to take care of the plants!
One last note - for the sake of easy maintenance you'll notice I like to simplify my Food Forests to include only Tree, Shrub, and Herbaceous layers. The more adventurous orchardist might want to throw in vines, groundcovers, fungi, etc. - but I like to start with small and slow solutions. I also tend to exclude a whole host of perennial plants from my Food Forest which I find require specialized maintenance strategies - think raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, seabuckthorn, pawpaws, American persimmons, and figs, to name a few. I haven't forgotten those gems but in general I like to plant them together in blocks interspersed throughout the farm, not in my orchard rows. As always, this is an ever-evolving document, but hopefully, it will help you avoid some of the mistakes I've made over the years. Enjoy!
Linear Guild planted on contour with alley cropping of annuals. Species, Arkansas Black Apple, Aronia, Goumi, Rhubarb, Echinacea, Comfrey ,Bee Balm, Locust, Serviceberry, Sorrel. Fennel and Cilantro in the alleys. (Photo by Ryan Blosser)
Mid-Atlantic Food Forest Cheat Sheet
By Trevor Piersol
The Tree Layer (Species/Cultivar by Approximate Harvest Date)
Early September Harvest
Late September Harvest
Tree Rootstock Recommendations
In general, I recommend semi-dwarf or semi-standard rootstock. Dwarf rootstocks will bear fruit sooner but are more fragile and shorter-lived.
Asian and European Pear Rootstocks
Asian Persimmon Rootstocks
The Fruiting Shrub Layer
I like to plant 2-3 fruiting shrubs around or between each tree. The shrubs selected are all fairly easy to grow and will have a height and spread of about 4-7 feet.
Although I see it as optional, it is nice to plant at least one Nitrogen-Fixing shrub around or between each tree. All will grow to about 12’Hx12’W with the exception of the Goumi which is 6’Hx6’W. Here are a few that are well adapted to the Mid-Atlantic.
The Herbaceous Layer
Herbaceous plants are interspersed around the base of each tree or within the linear guild rows. Make sure to mix up species and also plant along edges and in sunny, open sections. Many double as beneficial insect attractants that also produce a nice yield of culinary and medicinal herbs/vegetables. Below are some of my favorites.
Planting and Maintenance
When you are ready to plant make sure you follow proper planting protocols: digging a large planting hole, pruning damaged roots and spreading them out evenly, and not planting too shallow or too deep. Bare-root planting in fall or spring is much more successful than summer planting. I like to dunk the plant roots in a mycorrhizal inoculant slurry before planting
https://bio-organics.com/product/mycorrhizal-root-dip-inoculant/. I also amend each tree planting hole with approximately 2 lbs. azomite (for micronutrients) and 2 lbs. rock phosphate, mixed evenly into the soil.
Once trees are planted they will need an average of 1” of rain per week to get established. They also need a weed-free zone maintained around the drip line at all times. Dwarf trees will need to be tied to a stake. The cheapest option I’ve found is a ¾-inch EMT electrical conduit. Sink the stake 2-inches from the trunk of the tree on the upwind side and then fasten the tree to the stake using a flexible tree lock.
A tree guard placed around the trunk of the tree at the base is essential for preventing rabbits and voles from girdling the tree (I like the see-through mesh variety), and branch tips must be protected from deer browse with some sort of fencing/exclusion barrier. Proper training from the outset is important to minimize corrective pruning later on. Seasonal pruning is recommended to encourage proper airflow and branch distribution and maximize fruiting.
Pest and Disease Management
There’s no doubt that growing fruit trees organically in the Mid-Atlantic is a challenge. We’ve already gotten part of the way there by choosing disease resistant cultivars and creating diversity in the Food Forest. From there you can choose to target problems with organic sprays or experiment with pro-biotic and holistic sprays like effective microbes and neem oil. To learn more about holistic sprays I recommend Michael Phillips’ book “The Holistic Orchard.”
Sources for Plant Material
Here are some online nurseries I recommend for bare-root trees and shrubs: Raintree Nursery, Cummins Nursery (especially for apples on Geneva rootstock), and Burnt Ridge Nursery. Stark Brothers is a great source for dwarf fruit trees although they do not specify rootstock. Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA is the go-to place for Asian Persimmons and Paw Paws. Nourse Farms is a great source for berries. For herbaceous perennials try sourcing from local nurseries or starting from seed. You can also order in plug trays of herbaceous plants online from Richter’s.
Permaculture Plants Pt. 1. Plantin' Ain't Easy (Re-enchant The Landscape!)
A friend of mine once said that “peoplin' ain't easy”. Having spent more than a decade in the mental health field-boy do I know this to be true. I used to say I left my "real" job as a community counselor in order to work with plants because plants are easier.
I was wrong.
My colleague likes to remind me of a quote from the writer and permaculturalist Starhawk, that “permaculture is the art of relationships”. The more time I spend working with plants the more this idea is brought into focus. As a planter and grower, I am guilty of a Pollanesque botany-of-desire species selection in my own projects. What is the plant's function? Do I like the plant? And then there is still that question.
What IS a permaculture plant?
And why are we slow to provide plant lists in our courses? I can imagine biting BuzzFeed's style and using this blog for listicles with titles like "10 of the best perennials every permaculture student needs to know about." That would up our readership. Here is another "The Six Most Appropriate Plants For Your Permaculture Design."
Not only would these lists be wrong, but they would be arrogant, and not only would they be arrogant but they would be vain. In all things, permaculture included - arrogance is helpful until it becomes vanity - tip of the cap to my man Merwin.
As an educator, It can be a delight to hover in that ambiguous space of pattern and concepts with the hopes that anyone reaching for a plant list does some of the preliminary research and work on their own to start building plant knowledge and competencies. I can remember the first several years I really dug into the material, falling asleep night after night with nursery and seed catalogs splayed out on my chest until I had memorized all of them.
Then what do we do?
I turned to the elders of our discipline.
For example, Mark Shepards STUN (Sheer Total Utter Neglect) method of species selection is fun to write about but expensive once you ground truth it. I've spent thousands of dollars on plants that have passed into their next life.
And then there is Dave Jacke-straight up genius-his two-volume encyclopedia on the subject is an invaluable addition to what we do. On the other hand, that shit is overwhelming. I can remember dreaming of field grafting Korean nut pine onto all of my white pines after reading and confronting the shocking amount of information in his tome. Read, but plant simply when starting out. In the end, it’s not about lists, though that is a place to start. It’s about experimenting with what works on your site based on your goals, and then diving deep into the relationship.
But What DO you do?
below is a list - it's not exhaustive, it's sparse. It's based on our experience in our specific region - Shenandoah Valley - where winter temps get down to zero. More importantly, these are plants we have developed relationships with. As you make your lists for your own projects, take the time to get to know your species. "Plantin' ain't easy," but it's fun.
What makes a plant a permaculture plant? Just three things:
Comfrey - At some point, this plant might begin to be played out, but it’s so damn helpful and easy. Not only is it great for the soil and acts as a wonderful barrier plant but when mashed up and boiled becomes an incredibly healing poultice. I’ve had gigantic swollen elbows rendered healed from long soaks. I dream of one day taking a bath in the stuff to relieve the stiffening that is happening to my aging body. Another great use is boiling down the plant material and letting it cool to be used as a rooting agent for propagation!
Tulsi - Another favorite-It gets hot in the field in July. And nothing cuts the heat like a cold glass of Tulsi or Holy Basil. One of my favorite aspects of the plant is that it self seeds. Once it throws seed you never have to plant again. Just walk the patch in the spring and smell the unmistakable perfume of Tulsi wafting up from the soil.
Yarrow - natures bandaid-It’s an incredible resource for those too often moments when a harvest knife nicks a finger. Of course, follow up with some electrical tape around the wound-one must remember to not bleed on the food.
Elderberry - I could write a book about elderberry I love the plant so much. My journey with plants began with a passionate interest in the mystery of healing plants. Before learning to grow, harvest and use Elderberry I was enamored with the folklore around the plant and immediately promised myself to incorporate the charisma of the plant into my own system. One of my favorite poets Peter Lamborn Wilson likes to exclaim: “We must re-enchant the landscape!” and Elderberry does this. If one is to fall asleep beneath elderberry then a person dreams of fairies. I can remember the joy of watching my young daughter dance around the elder bush with fairy wings on. She was just playing, little did she know her play had aligned quite neatly with traditional folklore. Perhaps, however, the most practical of the old stories recommend planting the Elderberry among the healing herbs. The Elder, it is said, is the keeper of medicine and teaches the medicinal plant how to be themselves. On a less abstract note, the use of Elderberry is a true blue winter health elixir. The antiviral properties of Elder make for an excellent daily syrup to keep the sniffles away. And it tastes great! In keeping with the re-enchant the landscape theme I recommend the Black Lace Elder but make sure you pair it with an Emerald Lace Elderberry in order to have proper pollination.
For Easy Fruit
Pawpaw - A great joy of the early fall is trekking through the forest in search of pawpaw patches. When planting on your homestead we recommend great varieties like Shenandoah. Michael Judd has a pawpaw book coming out and we can’t wait to get our hands on it!
Persimmon - Most people cringe when we mention Persimmon, but I”m telling you they are super easy to grow. And some of the hybrid’s and Asian cultivars are excellent tasting. Nikita’s Gift is highly recommended.
Arkansas Black Apple - Apples are tough in the Mid-Atlantic region especially here in the Shenandoah Valley. There are many disease-resistant varieties like Liberty, William’s Pride, and Enterprise. However, My favorite tasting and the one that seems to be the toughest and lowest maintenance is the Arkansas Black.
Patio Peach - Peaches are a roll of the dice in our bioregion. From insect pressure and disease to the dreaded late frosts here in the Valley, the fruit can be finicky. The Patio Peach is not going to bring money into the system, but as a homestead peach for out of hand eating in July, it can’t be beaten. This tree consistently is loaded with peaches and has needed zero maintenance in my system.
Asian Pear - For productive fruit production in your homestead this is the way to go. Very little disease pressure and consistent fruiting. Shinko seems to be the most prolific but on wet years the fruit will split. You can go from counting on having all of those canned pears at harvest to losing 60% of the harvest after a big rain. Korean Giant and Hosui have been our favorites at the homestead.
Gooseberry - I put the gooseberry on here because it’s my children’s favorite. It fruits early and young and provides hours of entertainment for the kids while they surgically pick the berries around the thorns. Be careful with white pines in the neighborhood, however. White Pine Blister rust can take them out with the quickness - and Ribes like Gooseberry are often the culprit.
I include the above trees together under the firewood category for one reason. They are excellent when used in a coppiced hedge system. I like to plant either tree on 8 inch or one-foot centers. After about 3 or 4 years, the tree can be cut down only to resprout from the trunk. By planting close together and strategically cutting every third tree every year, one can have a continual hedge and a supply of great wood small enough not to have to split for burning. In addition, locust is nitrogen fixing and produces sweet-smelling edible flowers. Black Cherry is an excellent wood to have in the homestead for furniture making as the homestead ages.
To be continued.