Terry Backer, Soundkeeper A Remembrance by Andrew Willner, NY/NJ Baykeeper Emeritus

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Terry Backer Soundkeeper August 3, 1964-December 14, 2014

On behalf of Terry’s family, friends, colleagues, and to everyone he touched in his much too brief time on this earth, I want to say farewell. Terry loved life but understood that our time in this world is finite. In one of our several conversations over the last few months, Terry told me this, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” But leave it, and us, he has, and it has left a huge hole where his oversized presence once was.

I don’t how to begin to grieve. John Gunther, writing about the death of his son from a brain tumor in Death Be Not Proud, said:

My grief, I find, is not desolation or rebellion at universal law or deity. I find grief to be much simpler and sadder… All the things he loved tear at my heart because he is no longer here on earth to enjoy them. All the things he loved.

I read somewhere that “Every man dies – Not every man really lives.” Terry lived!  He lived, and he shared the stories of his life: about the Sound, about being a waterman lobstering with his dad, about being a woodsman in the Pacific northwest, about hitchhiking across the country, about his love for his family and its robust history, about his community, his constituents, his colleagues in the legislature, about being the Soundkeeper, about the founding of the Waterkeeper movement, about the people around the globe whose lives he touched.

Terry was a big man. When I first met him, and before I got to know him, my impression was only of physical strength. That impression served him well in negotiating on behalf of his beloved Sound. But Terry also had a big heart, and a bigger intellect. He was gentle and a gentleman. He was smart in so many ways.  He knew history, literature, art, and science; he was worldly and yet his focus was local; he was a politician in the true sense of the word, regarding citizens or matters of state. He wrote and helped to pass landmark legislation; he went to court on behalf of, and to give a voice to, those on the Sound; he reached out to Waterkeepers around the world, and to friends, not just in Connecticut, but throughout his beloved America, an America whose future, about which he was very worried, and did everything he could to make sure that we stay on the right path. Terry researched and was beginning to implement innovative post-carbon technologies.

Terry never gave up on America. His legacy—which it now falls to us to implement in his honor—is to forge communities, states, nations, and, indeed, a world where care of the earth, care of people, and a “fair share” is part of our hopeful future.

Backer LegislatorTerry once gave me a tour of the Connecticut state capitol. He knew the name of everyone we met. His colleagues and staff treated him with a combination of intimacy and deference. It was obvious that he was held in the highest regard by his peers. Governor Malloy said about Terry, after learning of his death, “Terry Backer will always be remembered at the state Capitol as a larger-than-life crusader who was passionate about Stratford, unwavering in his love of Long Island Sound, and deeply dedicated to his lifelong mission to preserve the waterways for future generations. The authenticity of his advocacy was only matched by his unforgettable approach—he truly embodied his cause in the halls of the Capitol. He had profound impact on the state’s environmental and energy policies.”

The Sound was at the center of his being. Those of us in the Waterkeeper movement understand this better than most. Rick Dove, a dear friend and an imposing warrior of a Waterkeeper, said, “Terry Backer, the one and only Long Island Soundkeeper, has passed. There are no words that can adequately describe the depth of this loss. Terry will always be remembered for his awesome contribution to Long Island Sound, but even more than that, for all that he did to help build the world’s greatest environmental water protection organization, the Waterkeeper Alliance. Rest in peace dear friend, inspired by your work, we will follow in your footsteps and remember you always as the greatest of Waterkeepers.”

Terry as usual had the last word. Just a little while ago, speaking about the Sound and Soundkeeper, he told an interviewer, “It’s been a labor of love. It was the catalyst for a global movement that affects millions of people. You know what?     I can now say if I end up at the golden gates, pearly gates—whatever they might be—if I was asked, ‘Did you have a useful life?’ I’d be able to say I did the best I can, and it was useful enough because it engaged all these people into helping the environment.”

Everyone has “a first time I met Terry story.” Here is mine: My friendship with Terry goes back to 1989, when I was an aspiring Baykeeper, longing to bring the model that John Cronin, Mike Herz, Cynthia Poten, and Terry had passionately crafted to my home waters, the bays and rivers of New York Harbor. Terry never answered my phone calls or letters, so one day I just went to see him. I knocked on the door of his office above the oyster house and said, “I want to be the Baykeeper.” He got up, flexed his shoulders and crossed his weight lifter’s arms, and in that gravelly voice of his said, “You showed up, that and persistence is 90 percent of this job. You passed the first test. Now let’s see what we can do to get you started.”

He was imposing. Before he got to know Terry and the rest of us “graybeards,” Bruce Resnick, another Waterkeeper friend and colleague, once called Terry, Joe Payne, and me the “Popeye Waterkeepers.” We took it as a compliment. Bruce and a lot of the second generation of Waterkeepers soon learned that an imposing appearance is incredibly useful for Waterkeeping.

Terry served as a Waterkeeper Alliance Board member from 1999 until his death.  From the originalsthat first board meeting around an outdoor table in eastern Long Island, John Cronin, Bobby Kennedy, and the rest of a small group of founders created a vision. Terry saw Waterkeeper grow from less than twenty to almost 280 independent Waterkeepers on six continents.

Terry was the primary ambassador and mentor to new programs. He traveled internationally, and gave his cell phone number to any Keeper who asked, told them to call any time–and he answered their calls. At our yearly gatherings, he was constantly speaking with any of the new—and some not so new—Waterkeepers who sought his advice. More than any of the rest of us, Terry embodied everything a Waterkeeper might aspire to.

Somehow I always wound up speaking right after Terry at Waterkeeper gatherings, and always had to start by saying, “What a hard act to follow.” Terry was an impossible act to follow. Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same. Terry will always be in my heart.

Terry and I had different spiritual belief systems, but I know that his conviction that God exists gave him comfort, and typical of Terry, not so much comfort for himself, but to assure his friends and family that he is part of a larger plan, that his spirit has gone home.

I hope that in his next life he is at peace, that there is no pain, that he is at the helm of a well found vessel, on a heading to a safe harbor, with clean water, oysters and lobsters, gardens, orchards, forests, and a place for rest.

Farewell Terry, goodbye my friend, I wish you fair tides and a wind at your back, God speed.  Thank you, Terry, for giving us so much. I love you and miss you, my brother.


Growing Power, CityFood, and Duke Farms Regional Training Center

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Growing Power, CityFood, and Duke Farms RTC Brochure 

pg2 RTC BrochureSlide1Growing power logoThree organizations have come together to bring Growing Power’s urban agriculture training to the NY/NJ metropolitan area.  A unique partnership between Growing Power , CityFood Resources , and Duke Farms has resulted in a new way for urban farmers to get the training they need in all aspects of urban farming.

Training will occur at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ that has access from New York City, Newark, and other urban centers by rail.  Scholarships are available and additional programs are in the works.  For more information contact Kevin Moore kevin@cityfoodresources.com.Duke Farms Logo



Making Pear Cider

In 2012 Wayne Weiseman, Dan Halsey, and I were commissioned to do a Permaculture final final-plan-300x198Master Plan for the Neu Farm in Franklin Township, Hunterdon County, NJ.  The farm is spectacular;  it is 110 acres about 40 acres in fields and the balance in forest.

There is a pre-revolutionary war stone farm house (that had one time been a tavern on the stage route to New Brunswick), a 19th century bank barn and several other beautiful
DSCF6664structures.  The farm is bordered by the Capoolong Creek and transected by the Sydney Brook, two tributaries of the Raritan River.   From top of the hill you can see the Delaware Water Gap.

Beginning with an interview with Wendy Neu the following key words were generated for The Permaculture Master Plan:Vitality, Activity, Robust, Replenish, Farming, Forestry, Healthy, Exhilarating, Peaceful, Sanctuary, and Safe Place.  Based on those key words the goal for agriculture (among several others) was developed.

  • CSA
  • Market Garden                            IMG_4180
  • Bee Hives
  • Placement: cropping areas
  • Orchard
  • Pasture
  • Green House(s)
  • Integrated Farming
  • Fruits
  • Herbs
  • Nuts
  • Kitchen Gardens

As we planned for the Neu Farm we took countless details into consideration. The farm is becoming a sanctuary and a small organic farming operation where people will also come to learn, where animals, plants and humans are in balance, and hands-on learning through direct experience will be implemented.Our plan was based in large part on the following:

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we cannot sidestep the fact that we are witnessing chaotic changes in weather patterns across the country (and the world). Regardless of whether we can pinpoint the cause and affect weather-related events that are arriving at an ever-increasing rate, we need to do the right thing.

Three additional projects were anticipated in the Permaculture Plan; a flood plain and shadowstream corridor restoration project, a carriage horse sanctuary, and an experiential education program called Wellbeing Farm. (a more comprehensive version of Wellbeing Farm is a post on this blog)..

One of the first projects undertaken was the rejuvenation of an existing orchard.  There were several older pear trees still bearing but in need of Peter in Orchardserious pruning and other care.  About a ½ acre was fenced for deer protection and heirloom apples, stone fruit, and perennials like blueberries, persimmons, black raspberries, and kiwis were planted.

This past Fall, based in significant part on the expertise of organic orchardist Peter Tischler, we had an abundance of pears.  Rather than letting them go to waste or pearsmaking a small amount of sauce or dried fruit as we did the year before, we decided to make pear hard cider also called Perry or Poire’.  All cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented crushed fruit, typically apples, primarily done  to preserve the harvest (and calories)

America’s love affair with hard cider stretches back to the first English settlers. Native trees were mostly crab apples so seeds and seedlings were imported from England. Grafting sweet apples to native trees started American cider production.With water quality
cider millquestionable, cider became the beverage of choice on the early American dinner table. Even children drank Ciderkin, a weaker alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace (the pulpy matter remaining after some other substance has been pressed or crushed) in water.By the hard ciderturn of the eighteenth Century, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year. As the settlers began moving west, they brought along their love for cider.

Many of us were taught about Johnny Appleseedwho turns out to be a real appleseed-first-depictionperson whose name was John Chapman and was a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church, who plantedand grafted small, fenced-in nurseries of cider apple trees throughout the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley.Some of those nineteenth centuryhomesteads still have a small cider orchard.

Cider started losing out to beer as the drink of choice during the early 1900’s. German and Eastern European immigrants brought preferred beer over cider, and the soil in the Midwest was more barley-friendly, so beer production was easier.However it was Prohibition and its restrictions on alcohol and the prohibitionVolstead Act limiting production of sweet cider to 200 gallons a year per orchard. Prohibitionists also burned countless fields of trees to the ground and surviving orchards began cultivating sweeter (non-cider) apples.

Today cider making is on the rise in the US. While cheap apples are available in grocery stores from half way around the world, American orchardists have turned to cider to keep their farms profitable. More and more cider makers are showing up every year.

With hard cider making a comeback across the country, apple growers are tapping a new revenue stream by establishing farmstead cideries and planting varieties too tart or tannic for eating but perfect for smashing and fermenting into alcoholic cider.

 “We’re planting a lot of new trees so we can meet the demand for cider,” said Dan Wilson, owner of Hicks Orchard and Slyboro Ciderhouse on the Vermont border in Granville. “This year we planted 2,000 cider varieties and next year we’ll plant 2,500 in high-density orchards.”

slyboroSlyboro is among 10 craft producers who banded together to form the Hudson Valley Cider Alliance to establish hard cider and apple spirits as signature products of the region.Doc’s Draft Hard Ciders, one of the few making a pear cider in Warwick, NY.

Peter is planting a cider orchard at New Ark Farms in north-west NJ.  New Jersey is also home to nearly 60 registered orchards and boasts one award winning apple wine producer and a new cider producer.  Twisted Limb is a cidery producing alcoholic cider near Newton NJ.  As of October 16, 2014 there was cidery and meadery licensing  bill before the NJ Legislature. That says in part:

 “In New Jersey, we’ve done a great deal of legislation to encourage our New Jersey-based wineries and craft breweries, which has created jobs and economic stimulus for our region,” said Lampitt. “This bill builds on that momentum by updating outdated laws. By providing support to cideries and meaderies in New Jersey, we are taking the next step in helping our homegrown industries thrive.” “As the Garden State, New Jersey should be leading the way when it comes to developing products from fruit and honey, not getting left Widg-cidersbehind by our draconian liquor laws,” said Senator Norcross. “We have proven time and again that craft products from this state are in high demand. Let’s capitalize on our rich agriculture industry and spur economic growth in the process.” Bill S2461/A3740 creates a cidery and meadery license which permits the holder to manufacture a maximum of 25,000 barrels of hard cider and 25,000 barrels of mead and to sell these products to wholesalers and retailers in New Jersey and other states.”

 New Jersey is also home to the Laird & Company that has been making Apple-Jack since 1780 in Colts Neck/Scobeyville, NJ.  Although I knew this distillery was somewhere in Monmouth County, it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered it by accident while getting lairdsest1780some apples from a u-pick orchard just across the road from the old homestead and distillery.  It occurred to me that some of the trees I was picking from might be descendants of the trees that the apples for the first batch of apple-jack were picked.   I stopped at a liquor store on the way home and bought a bottle.  That cool evening in front of the stove I enjoyed a sweet cider, “fire-cider,” (our bottle came down the Hudson on Ceres, the Vermont Sail Freight sailing barge)  and Laird’s Apple-Jack cocktail – refreshing and delicious.

 “For almost 300 years, the art of producing Apple-Jack has been passed down through generation of the Laird Family.  Laird was America’s first commercial distillery with License #1. “

That said we didn’t have apples but pears. So we decided to make Perry or Poire’.  Perry is similar to apple cider but is made from pear juice instead of apples.  It is usually smoother, slightly sweeter, less sharp in flavor than apple cider.  Like apple cider there are steps to production.

  • Harvest and store the pears until ripe
  • Pulping and pressing the pears
  • Fermenting the juice
  • And bottling the Perry.

Once the pears were ripe we needed a cider press.  I first looked for a used one but no luck, so I bought a new one from Pleasant Hill Grain .  In the meantime Peter had picked  30+ bushels of pears and was waiting for them to ripen enough to be able to crush the fruit.photo (10)

Once the fruit was ripe three of us, Peter, Dennis Fabis, and I manually crushed the pears IMG_1800 and then put them through the press.  There was a lot of juice (delicious right from the press), about gallon a bushel IMG_4555.  The juice was stored in clean pails.  At the end of the day there was a lot of pulp for feeding to local pigs, a lot of sticky equipment to clean, and a lot of cider alchemy going on to begin the fermentation process.  Hard work but the reward was a gallon of fresh juice for all of us to take home, and ultimately the equivalent of two hundred beer bottle sized portions of hard pear cider that we decided to call Johnny’s Hard Cider with a nod to John Neu.

Fermentation began after Peter added wine maker’s yeast and some brown sugar for an extra kick,  little bit of tannin for sharpness,  wine makers acid blend, and raisins for body.  The juice was left in open IMG_4559fermentation For the next week the cider was really active, you could see surface churning from all the CO2 being generated.   When the fermentation started to slow, the buckets were racked into 5  gallon glass carboys with a bubbler on top to let some gas escape and prevent the cider from turning into vinegar.  In early December the cider was racked to get the sediment out,  into clean carboys.  Peter also tested the bottled cideralcohol levels of the cider it was pretty good.  It also tasted great (it will eventually be 6-7% alcohol).  In early Spring the cider will be racked into bottles and kegs to increase the carbonation.  Peter’s advice to me was to “drink a lot of beer this winter and save the bottles.”

This experiment may lead to a full scale cidery at the Neu farm and perhaps a tasting room in the basement of the stone farm house that was once a tavern..DSCF6602


If Not Now, When? An Old Sailor Signs On

A version of this blog post was first published on the Vermont Sail Freight’s Captain’s (b)log 

In a January 2014 on my blog I talked about the choices this old “sailor” was considering as I looked at 70.  In that piece I wrote about my interest in the Vermont Sail Freight

Vermont Sail Freight ProjectProject,  “the Vermont Sail Freight Project is the furthest along of these ideas.  Founded and implemented by Erik Andrus a farmer in Ferrisburgh, VT.  VSFP is a slow tech approach to energy and a resilient food system.

Erik has said about the project, “The Vermont Sail Freight Project originated out of our farm’s commitment to resilient food systems.  Producing food sustainably is not enough.  The other half is sustainable transport of goods to market and equitable exchange.  A good portion of the damage conventional agriculture does to society and the environment is through our overblown, corporation-dominated distribution systems.  The idea of a small, producer-owned craft sailing goods to market, perhaps even a distant market, is an alternative to this system, and one which has served our region well in the past. “

I signed on in significant part because Ceres, Erik, and the crew confirm my belief in preserving the skills of the past to serve the future.  The Vermont Sail Freight Project appealed to my head and heart in significant part because I agreed with Erik when he said to a member of a television crew, “I offered my belief that contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we mayhorses working fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer.  I replied that I don’t think so.  It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us.   That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.”

The adventure started when I picked up Captain Steve Schwartz on my way to Vermont.  I met Steve briefly late last summer before Ceres’ first trip, and we exchanged emails when he learned that I was going to be a crew member.  We talked constantly all the way from IMG_4026the Hudson Valley to Erik’s farm.  It turns out we are close enough in age to share musical taste and Vietnam War draft board experiences.  (Maybe I will do another post about this to the tune of Alice’s Restaurant).

We also have Hudson and Harbor stories and friends in common from Steve’s long term commitment to Clearwater as Captain of the Sloop Woody Guthrie, to his friendship with and my appreciation of the work and life of Pete Seeger, from my days as mate on the Schooner Pioneer, and because of the people I met during my 20 years on the water in the Harbor and lower Hudson as the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The next few days were an amazing ballet (or rugby scrum depending on your point of IMG_3986view) of riggers adding a topsail and outer jib, food shopping for a crew of four, moving and loading the cargo totes, trading one ailing outboard for a used but working one, deciding on last minute changes to the schedule, loading on personal gear, and finally getting underway.

But more than that I learned firsthand why Erik is so passionate about this project.  One of the reasons he asked me to help out for a few critical weeks was because he was in the middle of planting rice in a “paddy” that he had constructed in a low lying part of his farm.  It was eye opening to see what goes into the preparation and planting of this specialty northern variety.IMG_3956

He was also up early baking bread, for sale at a nearby farmers market from local grains in the wood fired oven that he had built.  Erik’s quest for resilient food became more apparent as I saw the dedication to local production and distribution that the bakery epitomized and that the care that IMG_3962went into the preparation of the muddy field for the rice.

It was also apparent that he put the same kind of thoughtfulness and consideration (and appropriate business model) into buying the local shelf stable products outright from neighboring farmers.  The cargo of mostly Vermont maple syrup, honey, preserves, cider syrup, “fire” cider, herbal teas, grains, flour, and beans meant cash in the pocket at a time when many farmers are strapped.

I watched from land as Ceres left the town dock in Vergennes, turned down stream just IMG_4013under the falls and disappeared around the bend in Otter Creek on the way to the Lake. Ceres and her crew, Captain Steve, Meade Atkeson, and Matt Horgan spent the first night anchored in one of the most beautiful shorelines on Lake Champlain, Button Bay just off the State Park.  The next morning Erik rejoined the boat along with Edward and Gary from the French television program Thalassa   for the trip down the Lake. I was not on board (that’s a whole other story), but.  I was fortunate to stand on a bluff above the bay and able to watch the boat get underway, Vermont-Sail-Freight-Setting-Sailand raise all sail for what proved to be an amazing downwind “sleigh ride,” shaking out the new topsail that Steve described as a “turbocharger.”

I caught up with the boat at Whitehall, NY.  Whitehall is like a town encased in amber.  Its IMG_3786nineteenth century brick buildings face the canal, many empty and waiting for the resurgence of canal traffic to reanimate this once thriving town.  It was at Whitehall that we took the rig down (with the boat’s own gear) for the canal passage.  We spent the evening in a waterfront bar, as sailors should, and got underway through the first of ten locks the next morning.  This was my first trip through the canal, and the only other lock I had been through was the one connecting Lake Union to the Puget Sound in Seattle.  Steve was a veteran of last year’s trip and drilled the crew on handling the boat through the locks.

The Champlain Canal is a 60 miles long.  It connects the south end of Lake Champlain, to IMG_4042the Hudson River. It was built at the same time as the Erie Canal and was completed and opened in 1823 from Fort Edward to Lake Champlain.  The canal carried commercial traffic until the 1970’s.  Today, except for the tugs, crew boats, dredges, and barges connected to the General Electric PCB clean up, most of the traffic is recreational boats that can travel up Lake Champlain to the Chambly Canal that connects the Lake to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make

I have started a petition on Change.org to get support for the Climate Speech Presiident Obama must Make

OPED News has posted “The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make

The Yonkers Tribune published an oped on The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make 

14U News published a link to the Climate Speech President Obama Must Make

US Politics Today published The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make

Living Green Magazine posted The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make 

The Moral Dilemma of Continued Fossil Fuel Use in an Age of Climate Change

Over the past decade we have seen horrific drought in California and Texas, India and Africa; record floods on the Mississippi and Missouri, in Britain, and Pakistan; the worst wildfires in history in the American West, Australia and Russia. Everywhere around the globe, climate change is bringing an unprecedented escalation in human suffering and economic harm.

And yet, the global average temperature has risen by a mere degree. Scientists tell us that if we do nothing, we could easily see twice as much, or 4 to 5 times more warming, by century’s end, fueling disastrous weather never before seen by civilization. Rapidly melting ice caps; rising sea levels; intensifying heat waves, super storms and mega droughts; acidifying oceans and dying coral reefs, collapsing water supplies, declining crop harvests, teeming eco-climate desertificationrefugees and escalating global conflict are happening now, and going to get much worse, says the newest Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change report. The climate disasters endured so far, and dire events to come, threaten an unparalleled wave of human suffering — making climate change the dominant moral issue of the 21st century.

Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, endangers our children and their children — civilization itself. If President Obama is to respond to this crisis, he must do so now with the same moral courage and frankness with which Franklin Roosevelt faced the Great Depression and the fascists in World War II, and with which Lincoln dealt with the pro-slavery South.

President Obama’s legacy will clearly be judged on his ability to emancipate us from the economic and corporate tyranny of fossil fuels. This requires his directly challenging the lies of the climate deniers who have put us on the path to planetary ecocide — the “Oil Eight,” the Koch Brothers, and an uninformed or completely out of touch media, that is Koch-brothersruining our democracy with Citizen’s United and other political outrages, and wrecking our ecosystems and economy with fracking, the ta rsands Keystone XL pipeline, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and other offenses against humanity and nature.

As worldwide human suffering and the economic crisis brought by climate change deepens, the President must lead. He must decide whether our fossil fuel addiction is “right” or “wrong.” He must base the rightness and wrongness of this addiction not only on science or economics but on the principles of human justice. It is time for the President to direct moral outrage at the treacherous obfuscations of the fossil fuel industry and its calculated attack on our environment, our democracy, and on governments and habitat worldwide.

The President will not likely come to this decision or this declaration on his own. As with Roosevelt and Lincoln, Obama must be brought to the decision by the people. Activist Bill McKibben of 350.org argues convincingly that, “The fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry.” 350.orgHe declares that if these rogue corporations continue to have their way, “We stand to emit five times as much CO2 as even the most conservative government says is safe,” damning the civilized world. “The fuel will definitely be burned unless we change the story line.”

Only we, the American people, can change this story line. The new narrative we create must include the voices of farmers and farmworkers losing their crops and livelihoods to California’s drought; the ranchers who lost their herds to searing heat in Texas and Oklahoma; the Coloradans who lost their homes to record flood and fire; the citizens of Tuscaloosa and Joplin who lost their towns to tornadoes; the people of Far Rockaway, New York, and New Orleans who lost their communities to hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

This new narrative, directly connecting unprecedented human suffering to climate change, will not arise out of international conferences or on the floor of Congress. Instead it will the Liberatorpush up from the bottom. This new story line must come from the heart, be as unyielding in its principles, and as unflinching in its sense of moral indignation as was William Lloyd Garrison when he demanded slavery’s abolition in 1831. Garrison wrote in the Liberator:

“I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm: tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.”.

The future of our children is in the balance. Life on this earth is at risk. As our world teeters on the edge of catastrophic climate change, we must demand that President Obama lead. He must oppose the morally corrupt fossil fuel industry with the courage of one who carries forward the flag in a just cause, serving all humankind. The President must commit us to building America’s future and the world’s future on a new, sane, sustainable economic footing. This is what he should say:

Emancipation from Fossil Fuels: A New Birth of Freedom

Most of the links in blue indicate that the entire paragraph is a  quote from the President or other world leaders

obama speech

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens: Good evening, I come before the Congress and the People of the United States tonight because no country can hide from the horrific harm of carbon pollution, the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry, their paid denier minions, or the reality of the great danger we face as a nation.  Continue reading

A Sailor Looks at 70

willner2With Apologies to Jimmy Buffett (who is also looking at 70)

Mother, mother ocean, after all the years I’ve found My occupational hazard being my occupation’s just not around I feel like I’ve drowned, gonna head uptown 

I was sitting with a valued friend the other night beside the pot belly stove in his boat building shop with a cup of tea at hand.  We were talking, as usual, about life, choices made, roads not taken, and my reluctance to do what always makes me happiest – starting a new adventure.  Faced with this vexing problem I talked it through with my friend.  He is always honest, and gives his opinion with insight, compassion, and clarity.  This decision is a tough one.  I have lots of excuses not to embark on the next adventure, but the voyager in me is restless.

I don’t know what is preventing me from moving on – winter storm  commitments to my loving family (perceived and real), a  job where I still  feel useful, the gloomy winter weather, or the fact my mortality is creeping up on me, but I feel a bit like Ishmael in Moby Dick. 

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from Ishmaeldeliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

My friend and his wife had recently, after talking about it for years, made the choice to move to coastal Maine from central New Jersey.  When I asked why now? His answer was, “if not now, when?”

After more than 45 years at work as a planner, woodworker, homesteader, boat builder, sailing vessel captain, environmental advocate – all of it challenging, some of it difficult, and much of it out doors, my thoughts have turned to a more sedentary life with more time spent by the wood stove with a good book, or time in the wood shop, but despite the appeal of that choice, my mind churns out a hundred new ideas a day.  I write about them now, but it is not as satisfying as using my artist’s skills, picking  out one of many plans (damn the consequences), envisioning how it might look like when completed, figuring out what resources and people have to be in place to make it happen, and just doing it, in other words, if not now, when?

The following quote by Sterling Hayden has made me realize how complacent I have become. Although written about sailing I think it applies to any person’s life, no matter the path they choose:

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… cruising, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone. What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous hayden wanderergadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?” Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)
As quoted by Stuart Kiehl

I have been wondering what’s next because I would like to stretch myself and do something that calls for new perspectives. I have had varied careers, but I am thinking I should make one more significant change, to make a contribution that will take full engagement of heart and mind.  I want to go voyaging not cruising.

My friend asked me a few months ago why I am so interested in food.  I facetiously answered, “Because I like to eat.”  But the real reason is obviously much more intertwined with the work in which I am engaged on climate change, “Peak Everything,” Permaculture, Transition, and social resiliency.

Food is at the heart of how we change the disastrous status quo.  How and where food is grown and by whom, how it is distributed and transported, where the water and energy carrotscome from to grow it, and thousands of other components provide a focus for me.

I have been spending my “free time” working on three interconnected ideas, Wellbeing Farm, CityFood, and The Vermont Sail Freight Project.  Of these, Wellbeing Farm is the most comprehensive and encompasses several of the ideas that I have been thinking about for years..

The mission of Wellbeing Farm is to provide the means to survive the decades ahead as individuals, communities, and bioregions; to determine pragmatic implementable methods of transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels, and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible.  We will help to create ethical lifestyle changes, teach appropriate technologies that provide benefits rather than cause harm, foster self-reliance, and promote Slow technology through hands-on practice for students, professional practitioners  from rural, suburban, and urban areas.  We will do so by  taking lessons from nature, through care and love of the environment,  by developing the skills necessary in all areas of life, and by incorporating the values of care of the earth, care of people, ethical sharing of any surplus, and by teaching that actions have consequences, and that we have responsibilities for ourselves and others.

CityFood is a partnership in several senses.  It is the idea of three colleagues, and it is about to establish another collaboration with Will Allen’s Growing Power to build a “training Will-Allencenter” and urban farms in northern, NJ.

  • CityFood™ is a “triple bottom line” vertically integrated sustainable green business consulting firm and incubator focused on developing urban agricultural facilities, fostering farm and urban relationships, and infrastructure and logistics for local food.
  • CityFood™  identifies and rehabilitates industrial real estate, designs and develops aquaponics and hydroponics facilities that will  provides living wage jobs.
  • The organically grown vegetables and fish will be sold on site or through  farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture.
  • CityFood  will redevelop space for start-up and small local food processing, alternative energy demonstration projects for solar, wind and geothermal businesses while powering/heating/and lighting the facilities.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project (VSFP) is the furthest along of these ideas.  Founded and implemented by Erik Andrus a farmer in Ferrisburgh, VT.  VSFP is a slow tech approach to food, energy, and a resilient food system.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project originated out of our farm’s commitment to resilient food Vermont-Sail-Freight-Setting-Sailsystems.  Producing food sustainably is not enough.  The other half is sustainable transport of goods to market and equitable exchange.  A good portion of the damage conventional agriculture does to society and the environment is through our overblown, corporation-dominated distribution systems.  The idea of a small, producer-owned craft sailing goods to market, perhaps even a distant market, is an alternative to this system, and one which has served our region well in the past. 

The VSFP appeals to my head and heart.  I have thrown what little influence and connections I have behind Erik’s project after learning about it through Jan Lundberg’s Sail Tranport Network while I was working on my own idea for transporting farm goods by sail called HARVEST.

Two of these projects would be full time and may require a move.  All of them would necessitate a huge amount of time, a significant reduction in income, and disruption of my routine – sounds like I should be heeding Sterling’s advice “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse.”

My friend also pointed out that I am now officially an “elder.”  The term brings to mind a traditional society where age equals knowledge and respect, and where younger members of a community would seek out the elders for advice.  I began to wonder what being an elder means in our society where age is often equated with a burden on the state, ill health, poverty, and loss of respect.

Kent State DemonstrationOne elder skill I possess is that I actually remember the “60’s and 70’s” when  many of us were involved in anti-war conscientious objection, racial integration, back to the land, growing and preserving home grown fruit and vegetables, making clothing, brewing beer and wine, setting up housing communities and cooperatives. This all got derailed by the 1980’s oil glut and Reganomics , with its promised shiny future powered by endless resources. If there is one thing I could pass onto younger members of the community, it should be: “don’t ever let this happen again.”

So, I find myself wanting to teach, to start to pass on a lifetime of experiences, but not in a sterile classroom of some university, or seminars at conferences.  I want to engage young people (and those not so young) who are looking for something meaningful and unique – for those who really want to change our world by preserving the skills of the past to serve the future.

I could continue to write about my ideas or I can get out in the world, teach by example, Ship wakeand take one more crack at it. I will probably not live to see the final implementation of any of these projects, and I am OK with that. 


Wellbeing Farm, A Pragmatic Approach to Permaculture, Transition, and Reskilling

Preserving the Past to Serve the Future 

Fourth in a Series

Permaculture News has reposted Wellbeing Farm

 After leaving the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub Waterways Reskilling  gathering held on November 23, 2013 I realized that the practitioners who attended and spoke – the Transitioners and Permaculturists, the farmers, millwrights, boat builders, fishermen, eel weirengineers, woodworkers, and sail freighters require a community, a physical location, a place to have re-skilling workshops, to teach classes,to  hold gatherings, to take on apprentices, and to build real world solutions for the coming post carbon, Slow Tech era.

Slow Technology or “Slow Tech” has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book  Small is Beautiful,  first published in 1973.  Slow Tech should be thoughtful  about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion,  energy, and bioregional environment.

A Vision for Wellbeing Farm

This concept is called Wellbeing Farm because wellbeing is the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous. It will be a physical place where Permaculture, an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that reflect the natural world – and Transition where these principles are applied to the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil come together to address themes of energy production, health and wellness, education, economics, and food production and distribution at the community and local level. 

Wellbeing Farm will give a physical presence to moving beyond ‘environmental’, ’sustainable’, ‘eco’ this or that. The work is about transitioning to where we want to get to, Permaculture pondhow do we do it, what we would like it to be and look like when we arrive – while giving people the tools to create more sustainable ways of living in community.  It is also about how to design this transition in such a way that people will embrace it as a collective adventure, as a common journey, and as something positive – to design fossil fuel descent pathways which make people feel alive, positive and included in the process of societal transformation.

Wellbeing farm will be a center for Permaculture, the crafts of Transition, and for re-skilling for a post carbon world,  where demonstrations of the efficacy of producing local food and power can take place, and a place that can provide opportunities for practitioners to have the time and space to develop specific implementable ideas for a world in transition from  extraction and growth to a steady state economy.

 Four complementary directions for Wellbeing Farm

  1.  That it be replicable, scalable and accommodate different bioregions
  2. That it is a location for the Mid-Atlantic version of Maine’s Common Ground Country Fair
  3. That it  is  a “school” along the lines of, Ralph Borsodi’s School of Living, The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, The Pfeiffer Center, Snow Farm, The New England Craft Program, Whatcom Folk School, Peters Valley Craft Center,  North House Folk SchoolKinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture,  Adirondack Folk School, The WoodenBoat School, and the Penland School of Crafts. 
  4. That it will be a Transitional Community based on Permaculture principles
  5. And that it will be the location of a Bioregional Traditional Knowledge Database   – an opportunity to collect, in one place, electronic sites, books,  drawings, stories, and especially documented experiences with colleagues with traditional skills.  Perhaps this “library” can be the beginning of a that will gather and protect historical knowledge and promote innovative practices based on traditional skills.  

Wellbeing Farm Mission

The mission of Wellbeing Farm is to provide the means to survive the decades ahead as individuals, communities, and bioregions; to determine pragmatic implementable methods of transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels, and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible.  We will help to create ethical lifestyle changes, teach appropriate technologies that provide benefits rather than cause harm, foster self-reliance, and promote Slow technology through hands-on practice for students, professional practitioners  from rural, suburban, and urban areas.  We will do so by  taking lessons from nature, through care and love of the environment,  by developing the skills necessary in all areas of life, and by incorporating the values of care of the earth, care of people, ethical sharing of any surplus, and by teaching that actions have consequences, and that we have responsibilities for ourselves and others.

 The Power of Just Doing Stuff

Wellbeing farm will be a center for teaching the skills and re-skilling needed in a post carbon world.  Wellbeing Farm will house Permaculture demonstration projects; alternative energy and water conservation pilot projects; and educational facilities built to a
high energy efficiency standard while providing  beautiful, peaceful, productive spaces where students, scholars and practitioners can meet perhaps live, and study.

 Every community in the United States will have engaged its collective creativity to unleash an extraordinary and historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is more vibrant, abundant and resilient; one that is ultimately preferable to the present.

  •  Wellbeing Farm will be a physical place where demonstrations of the efficacy of producing local food and power can take place. 
  • Wellbeing Farm will be a place that can provide opportunities for practitioners to have the time and space to develop specific implementable ideas for a change from resource extraction and growth for growth’s sake to a steady state sustainable economy.
  • Wellbeing Farm will be a place with workshops for preserving the past to serve the
    blacksmithfuture with wood fired ceramics, practical and decorative iron forging and bronze casting; traditional rope making (from locally grown natural fibers); stone and thatch work; woodworking for building furniture, “passive” buildings, wind and water mills, and “short sea” hybrid sailing freight vessels; leather working for tack for working horses; beer, cider, and spirit distilling for food preservation and medicines; sustainable artisanal fishing; and an incubator for low carbon transportation, communications, and commerce.
  • Wellbeing Farm will provide educational opportunities and creative, implementable, real world solutions to the environmental, economic, and social crises we are likely to face in the near and mid-term future.
  • Wellbeing Farm will be one tool that will enable people to work locally to transition our communities and bioregions away from a fossil fuel-based economy to a “restorative economy,” an economy dedicated to core values of human and environmental health and safety, cultural and biological diversity, care for commonly held resources, and cooperative nonviolence.  A restorative economy is human-scaled. It embraces alternative locally based energy, is less extractive and less violent.
  • Wellbeing Farm is about how to compose this Transition in such a way that people will embrace it as a collective adventure, as a common journey, as something positive, and how communities can feel alive, positive and included in this process of societal transformation. Paraphrasing the title of Rob Hopkins’  new book, Wellbeing Farm will be the embodiment of the Power of Just Doing Stuff.

Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place permaculture-garden-design-3them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature.

The core tenets of Permaculture are:

Take Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.

Take Care of the People: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.

Share the Surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.

Permaculture at Wellbeing Farm entails much more than just food production. Energy-efficient buildings, waste water treatment, recycling, and land stewardship in general are other important components of Permaculture. At Wellbeing Farm Permaculture will include research into and realization of  economic and social structures that support the evolution and development of more permanent communities, such as co-housing projects and eco-villages

 We live at a fascinating point in history. The convergence of challenges, most particularly global warming and peak oil, have brought us to a point where we are profoundly challenged to act. We are surrounded by “experts” telling us that this means the end – that we have gone too far, that it is inevitable that life as we know it will collapse catastrophically and very soon. Yet, at the same time, something very powerful is stirring and is taking root the world over. People are choosing life and are manifesting that in their lives and their communities. People are starting to see “peak everything” f as the Great Opportunity, the chance to build the world they always dreamed of. 

The Transition Movement represents one of the most promising models available to us for engaging people and communities, to achieve the far-reaching actions required to mitigate the effects of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Furthermore, re-localization efforts are designed to result in a life that is more fulfilling, more socially connected and more equitable than the one we live today.

Underpinning the model is recognition of the following: peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis require urgent action; a world with less oil is inevitable so adaptation now is essential; it is better to plan and be prepared, than be taken by surprise; industrial society has lost the resilience to cope with shocks to its systems so we must act together now using all of our skill, ingenuity and intelligence, our home-grown creativity and cooperation, we can unleash the collective genius within our communities, leading directly to a more abundant, connected and healthier future for all.

In the United States, Transition US is a resource and catalyst for building resilient communities across the United States, and The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) envisions an environmentally sustainable, integrated and resilient Mid-Atlantic Region comprising seven states along the US Eastern seaboard, a corridor characterized by a chain of closely adjacent major metropolitan areas.  Its mission is to support, promote and foster the interconnectedness of emergent Transition initiatives in all stages of development in the Mid- Atlantic Region. Continue reading

Reinvigorating Mid-Atlantic Waterways – Traditional and Artisanal Fishing

long island sound oystering

Third in a Series: Preserving the Past to Serve the Future

Scooped by Global Aqua Link

For centuries before and after the European colonization of the Mid-Atlantic region of North America, fishing and shell fishing, using traditional methods fed the people of our Bio-region.  There are still remnants of that hook and line, passive fishing gear, clamming and oystering, pound nets, dory and net surf fishing, and small trawler fisheries throughout the region, however those fisheries have been diminished as a result of pollution and over fishing. 

As the regional waterways become cleaner, mainly as a result of the Federal and State laws and regulations like the Clean Water Act , the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, and “Super Fund” or CERCLA (enforced in part by Waterkeepers and other organizations cso'slike the Natural Resources Defense Council), sewage discharges, contaminated sediments, and “combined sewer overflows” are being addressed, starting to make our local waterways “fishable” again. It is imperative as we transition to a “post carbon” future that those discharges be reduced and eliminated, so that the fisheries will begin to recover and these traditional and artisanal fisheries will once again be a resource for feeding the Bioregion.

Factory Fishing

Unfortunately unsustainable “factory” fishing,” like factory farming is the norm rather than factory fishingthe exception.  The global fishing fleet is 2-3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. In other words, people are taking far more fish out of the ocean than can be replaced by those remaining. As a result:


  • 53% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion1
  • Most of the top ten marine fisheries, accounting for about 30% of all capture fisheries production, are fully exploited or overexploited1
  • Several important commercial fish populations have declined to the point where their survival is threatened
  • Unless the current situation improves, stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.

In the US, fishing is being consolidated under corporate control…..companies such as American SeafoodsTrident Seafoods, and True World Foods (owned by the Unification Church) have transformed fishing into a “global extraction industry.  They have made fishing “not about a way of life,” or about feeding people and providing economic sustenance for local coastal fishing communities, but rather about “making a good rate of return on their global investment capital.  However not all the news is bad.

 Tools for a Post Carbon Regional and Durable Fishery

Standing on the banks of the Passaic River with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a blustery fall day in the late 1990’s, we talked about how pollution has robbed families of a valuable right – to enjoy a day of fishing and eating their catch from the waterway nearest their home.  The same could be said about traditional commercial fishing on the Hudson and other water bodies in the Mid-Atlantic Bioregion where the present generation of fishing families cannot fish where – and – how the generations that preceded them could.  Retaining “know how” over the gap of time it will take for the water to be clean enough and the fish plentiful enough to revitalize this traditional knowledge base will be the work of Transition. 

”Today, traditional knowledge is in danger and its disappearance would not only cause the loss of people’s capability to keep and pass on the artistic and natural heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge and cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be derived today and in the future.”

Community Supported Fisheries, Helping Fishermen Fish Smarter, Not Harder:

There are places where traditional fishing is still practiced, and fishermen have the knowledge to pass on.  From Maine to the Carolinas, fishermen and the communities in which they live are starting to “take back” the management of their fisheries.  Commercial fishermen long thought of as “ocean rapers” and “bottom scrapers” are at the heart of a “community based fisheries management and science movement,  and community supported fisheries.

With the constant changes in the life of fishermen, one place where they can begin to takecommunity supported fisheries back some control is their relationship with those who eat their catch, the price they get paid for their day’s work and the food systems into which their catch enters.

It makes no sense any more to pay fishermen a price that doesn’t cover their real cost of operation while the consumers are paying much more than they should for packaged, frozen or days-old seafood trucked hundreds or thousands of miles when it was caught steps away from our homes.

In addition to getting fishermen a better price for their catch, Community Supported Fisheries allow fishermen to have a conversation with seafood consumers about the entire food-supply-chain process of what swims in the ocean to what lands on our plates.

“By creating transparency around our seafood production processes, CSFs help define the importance of local food sources by emphasizing sustainable fishery practices; encouraging environmental sensitivity among fishermen; ensuring higher quality processing standards; providing a direct-to-consumer, low-carbon foot-print; and ultimately, a competitively-priced, higher quality seafood experience for the consumer.”

 Community-Based Fisheries Management

 community based fisheries management

Who knows better how to manage the fisheries of the commons?  Should it be some agency from far away or the fishermen, their communities, and the scientists working with them to develop a sustainable fishery?

Mounting pressure on marine fisheries, in the Mid-Atlantic and worldwide, calls for concerted action by coastal communities and local fishermen that have for generations played a vital stewardship role. “The goal of community-based fisheries management, is to act on current market- and policy-driven opportunities to establish a community-based, self-supporting model for achieving healthy fisheries and fishing economies.”

Community and Regional Fishing Associations (CFAs and RFAs), as provided through the 2007 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, (MSA, section 303A) present opportunities for reasserting the role of fishing communities in the pursuit of economic, social and environmental success through the implementation of catch share programs that foster resource and community sustainability. CFAs/RFAs can effectively act as Trusts, holding limited access privileges (catch shares) to anchor access to fish in a community, and could lease catch quota or other access privileges to individual fishermen.

Participant Organizations in the Mid-Atlantic and New England include but are not limited to the following:

The Goals of each of these organizations is:

  1. To deliver programs and services that local fishermen need now to succeed and adapt to changing fisheries.
  2. To educate and support the next generation of fishermen, managers and scientists using new tools and approaches.
  3. To establish a pilot program fisheries are co-managed on an ecosystem    basis by a collaboration of federal and state government, scientists and local fishermen.
  4. To contribute to local, national and global learning for sustainable fisheries. Continue reading

Slow Tech Solutions Reinvigorate Water Highways

Second in a Series; Preserving the Past to Serve the Future 

Erie Canal Boat going into Lock, Rexford Flats, Schenectady, N.Y.

The idea of Slow Technology or “Slow Tech” has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book  Small is Beautiful,  first published in 1973.  Slow  Tech should be thoughtful  about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion,  energy, and bioregional environment.

 Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and asks us to relearn the proficiency needed to reanimate the skills need to build and navigate sailing vessels and canal boats while reinvigorating our bioregional  water highways for a post carbon future.

 The Hudson River and the New York Harbor once formed a bustling highway linking evenNewYorkHarbor1879CliffordBrowder8 the smallest communities to a web of regularly scheduled commercial routes. Schooners, sloops, barges, and steamboats provided a unique way of life for early river town inhabitants. Farmers, merchants, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet of vessels to bring in supplies and deliver their goods to market. The sea was an integral part of the lives of those who worked the oyster buy boatinland waters of New York City Bioregion.

With one of the world’s greatest ice-free harbors on earth, New York City was built on a shipping industry that has over time become a dangerously tenuous lifeline to the outside world for the bioregion. Today the far-flung international trade network that once pumped vibrant economic life into the region threatens to collapse as imported natural resources and the fossil fuels needed to transport them become increasingly scarce and expensive. Higher petroleum costs, and higher wages in countries in which much of our imported goods are made could snap that lifeline. 

The solution may be a return to the “Slow Technology” of our recent past — sail powered Pretty Kwai smallerfreight ships or invoke the future of solar powered ferries and barges.  According to Low Tech Magazine, wind powered freighters may be just as fast as the largest most “modern” container ships, and recently a vessel powered entirely by the sun circumnavigated the globe.  “Tomorrow,” New York City will likely to continue to be a commercial hub due  to its strategic location, but it’s harbor will likely resemble its 18th and 19th century self rather than the port we know today. 

What existing and potential waterways could be reinvigorated to move cargo and people between ports on the Hudson River, the Long Island Sound, and New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut’s coastal waters using the Slow/Appropriate Technology of sailing or hybrid freight vessels?  

The Web of Navigable Rivers, Bays, and Sounds of our Bioregion:


When viewed as a geographic entity, the Mid-Atlantic Bioregion is an intricate web of Rivers, Bays, Sounds, and canals.  Up until the mid- 20th Century, these waterways worked seamlessly as water highways connecting hubs of commerce and farming with small ports and large cities.  In a post carbon future Slow Tech vessels, built by re-skilled artisans, and crewed by re-skilled seafarers will repair that link.

The Hudson is the largest river in the region but other rivers, bays and sounds are navigable and appropriate for sailing and hybrid Slow Tech vessels.  These include Barnegat Bay, Raritan and Newark Bays in NJ. The Upper and Lower New York Bays are connected to Newark and Raritan Bays by The Arthur Kill and The Kill Van Kull tidal straits.

lake tear of the clouds The Hudson River rises in the mountains at Lake Tear of the Clouds in Essex County, NY and empties into Upper New York Bay.  The Hudson is a drowned river as its bottom is below sea level almost all the way to Albany.  The Hudson is also considered a fjord one of very few in North America.  The River was a commerce highway for as long as USEastHudson (1)humans have inhabited the North American continent.  Henry Hudson and other early European explorers were convinced that the River was part of the Northwest Passage.

The Raritan River in New Jersey is navigable to New Brunswick where the entrance to the Delaware and Raritan Canal begins.  The Passaic River is navigable from Newark Bay to two and a half miles downstream of the Dundee Dam at the Eighth Street/Locust Ave Bridge in Wallington, NJ.  The Hackensack River is navigable to the City of Hackensack.  Newark Bay is the location of the large container ports and has historically been a center of maritime commerce. 

 The East and Harlem Rivers are straits that connect the Harbor to Long Island Sound. The Connecticut River is also navigable as are other tributaries to the Sound.  Long Island Sound is a large estuary separating Long Island from Connecticut.  There are small ports on each of these navigable waters that are of an appropriate scale for the type of vessels required for post carbon “short sea” transportation.

 Canals past present and future:

There are also “manmade” waterways still in use such as the Eire and Champlain Canals, as well as historical but now abandoned canals like the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the Morris Canal both in New Jersey that could be converted back to use, connecting The canal boatsHudson and Raritan Rivers to interior New Jersey and to Philadelphia by way of the Delaware River

During the early nineteenth century, when the United States was becoming and industrial power, canals were built as transportation routes to link resources, manufacturing centers and markets.There were roads but hauling freight by horse or oxen and wagon was expensive and slow. Continued growth demanded a more viable means of transporting goods. Canals seemed to be the answer. Two mules could pull a canal boat with a twenty-five ton cargo.

Erie Canal mapThe Eire Canal begins on the west side of the Hudson River at Albany.  It runs just east of the Niagara River, where it reaches its Western Terminus. With the recent re-watering of  the Commercial Slip, a water route from the eastern terminus at Albany to the western terminus at Buffalo is once again open and being used by commercial and recreational vessels.

The canal system gave New York State a competitive advantage, helped New York City Erie canal bargedevelop as an international trade center, and allowed Buffalo to grow from just 200 settlers in 1820 to more than 18,000 people by 1840. The port of New York became essentially the Atlantic homeport for all of the Midwest.

The Champlain Canal one of America’s first canals, opened up vital shipping routes along the Hudson River in upstate New York.  The Champlain Canal’s impact was substantial, opening up shipping lanes from New York north to Lake Champlain and on to the St. Lawrence Seaway, spanning from Waterford to Whitehall.

The Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal connects Bordentown on the Delaware DandR_canal_1976River to New Brunswick on the Raritan River in central New Jersey. The canal was built in the 1830’s and connected the Delaware River to the Raritan River. It was intended as an alternate means of transportation of freight between Philadelphia, PA and New York City, especially coal from the anthracite coal fields in eastern Pennsylvania. Before the railroads, the canal allowed shippers to cut miles off the route from the Pennsylvania coalfields, down the Delaware, around Cape May, and up along the Atlantic Ocean coast to New York City.

The Morris Canal left the Delaware River at Phillipsburg and across the mountains of morris canal map  high resolutionnorthern New Jersey. Locks were used to overcome small changes in elevations. Inclined planes overcame changes in elevation greater than twenty feet. The canal went across lakes and rivers, until it reached the Lake Hopatcong area, its summit level. From there it climbed down to the tide level at Newark.

Today, these water highways still exist and need to be reinvigorated.  Maintaining maritime trade routes is more than just a celebration of tradition. In a carbon constrained future sustainable water transport will be necessary and in the event of a regional disaster water-based community links can serve Morris canal basin 2as vital infrastructure. 






Waterways Information List


Transition, Permaculture, and Slow Technology

Slow Tech referenced Preserving the Past to Serve the Future

A version of this article first appeared on the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US, blog

Transition US has published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.transitionus.org/stories/preserving-past-serve-future-using-pre-fossil-fuel-technology-regional-waterways

OpEd News has published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.opednews.com/articles/Preserving-the-Past-to-Ser-by-Andrew-Willner-130731-538.html

Keene Transitions has re-published Preserving the Past to Serve the Future, http://keenetransition.wordpress.com/events-calendar/re-skilling-workshops/

The Permaculture Research Center has posted Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://permaculturenews.org/2013/08/23/preserving-the-past-to-serve-the-future/

Resilience re-posted Preserving the Past to Serve the Future http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-08-27/preserving-the-past-to-serve-the-future-using-pre-fossil-fuel-technology-on-regional-waterways

oyster sloop2

 “Today, traditional knowledge is in danger and its disappearance would not only cause the loss of people’s capability to keep and pass on the artistic and natural heritage, but also of an extraordinary source of knowledge and cultural diversity from which the appropriate innovation solutions can be derived today and in the future.”

 Slow Money is a movement to organize investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. The Slow Foodslow food movement aims to preserve cultural cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic animals and farming within an eco-region. It is also a social and political movement that resists the dehumanizing  effects  of fast food and corporate farming.  Slow Tech is about the re-invigoration of heirloom technologies and traditional skills needed to thrive in a carbon-constrained future.

Transition is the movement by which people are re-skilled in heirloom technologies.  Permaculture gave birth to the Transition movement and offers guidance on how to use those skills to design resilient lives.  Transition HandbookThe ethics; earth carepeople care, and fair share  form the foundation for Permaculture and are also found in most traditional societies.  Permaculture incorporates knowledge from cultures that have existed in  balance with their environment for much longer than our consumer centered fossil fueled society. We should not  ignore the positive accomplishments of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts different from what has become the social norm.

Slow Technology:

C. Milton Dixon, interviewed in The (Chicago) Examiner, May 2011, said:

 “(high tech is) industrial technology and refers to things that are out of your control, as opposed to low technology, which is simple things done in a smart way. Low technology is using the intelligence of nature to accomplish tasks. High technology is buying an apple from the store; low technology is getting an apple from a tree you planted yourself. One of the big differences is in high technology you are disconnected from cause and effect relationships. So if you pollute through high technology, you may not feel the direct result. Low technology is connection because you are involved in the process and you are directly affected by the consequences.”

The idea of Slow Technology has its roots in the ideological movement called “appropriate technology,” a term coined by E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is Beautiful,” first published in 1973.  Slow or appropriate technology centers on ideas of proper scale: technology should be “people-centered.”  “Slow technology as an ideology that extends smallisbeautifulandbordthoughtfulness about how devices shape our relationships to time, emotion and energy. Slow Technology is articulated in an article by two Swedish designers, Lars Hallnas and Johan Redstrom, who in 2001 described Slow Technology as “a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.”

….. the central condition of empowering people to develop to the best of their abilities and to have freedom to succeed or fail based on their own efforts is critical.  The appropriate technology movement has at its philosophical heart the desire to capacitate people of all walks of life to create (1) Meaningful Employment, (2) Comprehension of Technology, (3) Self-Reliance, and (4) Reduced Environmental Impacts. 

Transition fosters and supports the revitalization of Slow Tech skills and Permaculture asks us to consider relearning the proficiency needed to reanimate wind mills, watermills, and sailing vessel while putting hand tools, levers, and blocks and tackle back into service.

Technology can be Slow in various ways: 

  • It takes time to learn how it works,
  • It takes time to understand why it works the way it works,
  • It takes time to apply it
  • It takes time to see what it is
  • and it takes time to find out the consequences of using it

woodworking toolsNo woodworker’s first project is a chair, a house, a mill, or a boat.  My first woodworking lesson was to take a rough piece of lumber, and using hand tools that (I sharpened) to shape it into a three dimensional absolutely square finished piece of wood.  It took me a full day and I used every tool on my bench.

Once my practice was established I developed a method that worked for me.  First I sat with a piece of tracing paper and did a rough sketch of the final product.  Then I drew it full scale in three views.  From that drawing I could determine what amount of wood was needed, where each joint would go, and how the pieces would transition from one toandy chair and table another to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.  Then the sawing, planing, joinery, shaping, and finishing would take place.  Each of those steps were learned by doing, learning from others, by using traditional references, and knowing that the dimensions and materials were appropriate for the final use.

I was lucky both to have mentors, and to have the time to hone my skills first as a student, then an apprentice, and then as a resident woodworker at Peters Valley Craft Center in New Jersey.  Peters Valley gave me the opportunity, and the time, to learn the business, practice my craft, and teach.  It also was a community of like-minded professional potters, weavers, metal workers, and woodworkers that supported one potter at peters valleyanother.  If we are to learn the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a post carbon world, more places like Peters Valley will be necessary, more experienced craft workers will have to open their shops to apprentices, and more people are going to have to be willing to take the time, resources, and effort to learn.

I left a “Deep Transition” course at Genesis Farm in New Jersey where we decided that one of the “take aways” was to look for streams in our home watersheds called “Mill Creek,” and streets in our towns called, “Mill Road.” In doing so we might find a mill converted to another use. I easily found at several Mill Creeks and one Saw Mill Creek in my watershed.

red mill clintonNear a farm where I work part of the week In Clinton, NJ one mill is an art center and the other is operating as an exhibit. In Thompson PA the old grain mill is operational but abandoned. Many mills are currently used as educational tools by historical societies or operated as restaurants and shops rather than for the purposes for which they were built.

Water mills are being built and rebuilt for grinding grain, pressing cider, as well as producing electricity for individually owned operations and nearby communities. Building, restoring, preserving, and actively using these technologies is key to preserving the past to serve the future. In order to support these efforts, Transition advocates must make alliances with historical societies who use these mills as educational tools but are not operating them for the purposes for which they were built; with restaurant owners and antique stores that are using the mills for a completely unrelated purposes; and to identify locations where mills can be built or rebuilt in order to re-skill the woodworkers, millwrights, and inform farmers about the advantages of water power for the future.

Commerce and water transport of farm and manufactured goods flourished for millennia before cheap fossil fuels became readily available.  Short Sea Shipping:  i.e. carrying freight that does not cross oceans,  is having a resurgence particularly in Europe as more people build and rebuild  ships for the transport of goods along coastal waters.  The inland waters of the mid-Atlantic is a region where sailing cargo vessels may well be competitive right now for certain cargoes.

Erik Andrus’ Vermont Sail Freight Project is the most viable such project in The Mid-Atlantic region. Thevermont sail freight vessel Ceres, built on a farm near Lake Champlain will carry Vermont farm goods to New York City and ports in between, and return to Burlington with fair trade goods, like cocoa beans that have been delivered by sailing vessel to Brooklyn from the Caribbean.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project is worthy of our support, but Transition advocates must encourage the owners of small sail freighters like the South Street Seaport’s Pioneer to put her back into that service for the part of the year she is not carrying passengers, and for other vessels like Clearwater to become pilots for the Slow Tech freight carriers of the future.

The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US will support these efforts in the fall of 2013 by bringing together builders, millwrights, boat builders, woodworkers, crafts persons, and historical societies to participate in a Powered Down Waterways Reskilling Festival. Jim Kricker, preeminent restorer of traditional waterwheels, windmills and sailing vessels, rondout woodworking 2will anchor a two-day Reskilling Festival featuring demonstrations, talks, and hands-on instruction. Jim’s website, Rondout Woodworking  is a valuable resource for locating working and restored mills.

The International Traditional Knowledge Institute gathers and protects historical knowledge, promotes and certifies innovative practices. Using traditional knowledge does not mean direct reapplication of techniques from the past, but rather seeks to understand the logic of past models of knowledge. It is a dynamic system able to incorporate innovation subjected to the test of the long term and thus achieves local and environmental sustainability.

Lewis Mumford wrote in 1970:

The great feat of medieval technics was that it was able to promote and absorb many important changes without losing the immense carryover of inventions and skill from earlier cultures. In this lies one of it vital point of superiority over the modern mode of monotechnics, which boast of effacing, as fast and as far as possible, the technical achievements of earlier periods.

There are schools and apprentice shops for learning large-scale woodworking skills that are and will be needed for Slow Tech water-driven mills, and wind-driven vessels that will be part of the continuum that supersedes the “blip” of petroleum powered short term thinking and consumption.

The following are some links to the resources, skills, and techniques that are needed to Transition our Bioregion to one that is carbon constrained yet resilient, abundant, and equitable. Let the following list be a starting point – an opportunity to contribute your water wheelown favorite sites, books, , drawings, and especially experiences with humans with these skills.  Perhaps this list can be the beginning of a Bioregional Traditional Knowledge Database  that will gather and protect historical knowledge and promote innovative practices based on traditional skills.