Please Read and Advise – Here’s a statement I wrote for my application to a Human Factors program.

When I heard the explosion, I dropped to the ground. Shrapnel, gravel, and dirt began to fall around me, so I crawled under the nearest vehicle. The shockwave was powerful. I assumed our perimeter had been breached. I loaded my weapon. I hoped that the soldiers with the gear to respond assertively had the right information and that they were already on their way with a plan. I was anxious. Years earlier, when conducting touch-and-go practice landings at remote military airfield, I felt the same anxiety, and it was a similar set of hopes that I could enumerate – that other planes operating in the area would know I was there, and stay on flight paths that didn’t intersect in time and space with mine. When I have had to make decisions about what to do with my own resources, and what sort of insurance to purchase, or whether to form a series LLC or a sole-proprietorship, I’ve had the same feelings. It’s a set of concerns that virtually all humans share, and the questions that arise are always basically the same: Do I know what I need to know? Am I mentally and physically prepared to handle this set of circumstances? How can technology help me avoid catastrophe, and achieve a favorable outcome? Humans depend on our ability to respond appropriately, and that ability is deeply enhanced by the study of the human factor in any given circumstances. Thus, the study of human factors lies near to my heart, as my understanding of the discipline has certainly contributed to my survival in the past, and I believe it plays an integral role in our destiny as a species in the future.

It is because of the role that psychology and human factors have played in my past that I wish to continue my studies formally. My study of aviation revealed that we can avert mishaps through the implementation of best practices gleaned from research. The intersection of advanced machinery and human performance has many secrets yet to be explored and I want to be a part of that. I am especially interested in the ways in which humans will interact with the emerging artificial intelligence beginning to leave the lab and populate our homes in the form of self-driving cars and Digital assistants in the future. The lessons I’ve learned through my experiences with unmanned aerial vehicles and the ways in which people interacted and perceived them can potentially extend to other walks of life, now that my time in the Air Force has concluded.

As I watch my two-year-old son grow, I cannot help but imagine the drastic changes that will undoubtedly occur during his lifetime. He may never have a chance to drive a car or fly on an airplane being directly controlled by a human being. He might encounter a computer that is, in all aspects, much smarter than he. He and his future may even be threatened by machines set upon destructive paths by their creators as an act of terrorism, or even war. This last possibility is of great concern to me, as a father and former intelligence officer. I am a firm believer that the best way to prepare for the future is to have a hand in creating it. I envision using my knowledge of psychology, human factors, geopolitics, and emerging technologies to work with teams of scientists, engineers, ethicists, civil servants, and inventors to ensure the future we are creating is a safe, just, and prosperous one. I imagine that after working in the private sector with established tech companies, I might one day help to write public policy, and eventually return to teach the next generation of designers.

Good design with respect to human factors can not only increase safety, but it is vital to the wellbeing of societies. Connecting people with technology, rather than isolating them, can help fill our basic need for belonging. Belonging and integrating are more important than ever, in an age of globalization and rapid movement of potentially disruptive ideas. Following some of the more radical ideas of futurist thinkers, perhaps good human factors design combined with some of the technologies that are just now emerging will be the key to helping humans stop worrying about our petty differences, and concentrate on fulfilling our other needs in magnanimous fashion. Indeed, if I knew that an artificial intelligence was keeping me safe on the road, I could spend much more time planning how to grow delicious heirloom tomatoes to share with my neighbors. But not yet.

The attack mentioned at the beginning of this statement could have been much worse. Analysis of the explosion revealed that an improvised explosive device had been attached to the exterior of a fuel truck, essentially creating a driving suicide bomb. The device, however, had been attached poorly, so when it detonated, it failed to cause a secondary explosion of the magnitude possible with that much combustible material. I read a report that stated, had the attack gone as planned, the blast wave would have caved in the structure where I worked at the time. I am grateful that, and here to write this because of a very human error in the construction of that bomb. It seems fitting that I pursue further education in human factors psychology to enhance the safety of others.

10 Minutes

I’ve only got 10 minutes.

So here it goes.

When you have 10 minutes, there’s no time for revision. There’s little time for prep. There’s just go.

Sit in front of the computer, or the problem, or the person you love, and use that whole 10 minutes. Think, just for a moment, because the rest of the time will be best used for creating. Creating connection, creating content. Albert Einstein once said that if he were given an hour to save the world, he would define the problem for 55 minutes and act for five. That’s a nice thought, and probably perpetrated by people who love to plan, but what if you get it remotely wrong? What if you start, and then realize you’re being ineffective? Where is the time for iteration?

So, I posit to you – don’t wait anymore. I’m going to live by this. Create. Touch your loved one and create connection. Type away! Type anything (that’s what I’m doing ). Getting started is the hardest part. Attack that problem! Watch it dissolve against your determination to begin, or resolve into something easier to tackle.  Observe and see what you learn. Keep an open mind. Be ready to switch gears, or tacts, or problems all together. But start. Just start. Go now. You’ve only got 10 minutes, and this took 5 to write.

Throwing Spears and Self Improvement

Last summer, a close friend of mine came to visit. We went in the yard, lit stuff on fire, drank some beer, and looked around. I’m not sure where we got the idea, but the fence posts I had left over from the chicken fencing project were a bit like spears, so we started throwing them. We were not very good at it. But we got better. He had to continue on his way, but several days later, a composite handled, steel tipped vicious looking spear arrived in the mail. This thing just screams “badass.” I saw it, and I wanted to stab any and everything with it. It’s thoughts like those that make me feel like a pretty terrible adult, because I should know better. But I don’t. I threw it, and was even worse at throwing it. So I practiced. And practiced. I mean, throwing a spear might be an important skill in some post-apocalyptic future, or even tomorrow. Who knows when you’ll need to throw a spear? Might as well get good. So I watched some videos, and continued to improve. I also taught my wife to throw it. I got a video of her successfully lodging it in the target.

Now, when I have people over, sometimes I get the feeling that they’d like to throw a spear, so I offer. Usually I’m right. These would be spear throwers are usually pretty terrble when they start. I don’t let them know how much I had to practice – I just the spear once to “show them” how it’s done, then hand it over and watch them struggle. Sometimes they give up. Sometimes, they continue to throw, tweaking their technique every so slightly, and begin to get better and better. I learn about people by the way they handle frustration. Watching this process gives me a very clear idea about how these folks will handle other forms of adversity in their lives. Do they throw up their hands and walk away? Do they coach themselves into doing better? Do they ask for advice? What kind of concentration are they willing to put into improvement? This exercise reminds me that what one person has learned, anyone can learn.

I have been coming across many unexpected situations lately, many of which have been incredibly frustrating and resource consuming. This is one reason I haven’t been writing more. Some of these situations include being threatened with a lawsuit (non-spear related), finding a load bearing wall in  my house had been almost completely eaten by termites, not being able to get power turned on to said house because of antiquated wiring, having plumbing leaks, my dog developing a skin condition, and navigating the Veteran’s Affairs health system. It’s easy to get stressed out when encountering unexpected problems. I haven’t been mentally prepared for almost any of these situations, and I found myself wanting to throw in the towel, and walk away. But I cannot. People are counting on me to do what I have said I would do. I love these people, and I cannot let them down. I will not let them down, if I can help it. And I can help it. If I can throw a spear, I can get smart on landlord-tenant law. I can invest in professional attorney help and become familiar with legal conflict resolution. I can improve my construction skills and repair a wall. I can research and run electrical wire. I can do some veterinary work. I make the VA work for me. As much as I feel resistant to fixing plumbing because it’s a messy business, I can do that too. I can get better, and get good enough to successfully take anything life throws at me.

And I can throw too, and hit the targets I’ve set for myself. I will.

Where is my mind?

Pixies reference in full effect. Here’s why I haven’t posted for a long time: building a new thing takes a lot of energy (psychological? psychic? mental? (wo)man power? who knows… but I’ve been tired)

BLUF (but not really) so rather: Bottom line after the preamble or BLAP (highly discouraged by most report formats, as are my use of vulgarity and colloquialism): My friends and I are starting a new community.

BLAM! That doesn’t actually stand for anything, as far as I know. It’s just supposed to be an exciting noise, that gets you attention. Although, if I didn’t have it already, what the hell are you doing reading this far?

Communities need people in them (duh?). We want the right people. As I tell my classes, though, sharing your “Why” is difficult. I truly believe that words don’t do service to a person’s why: you must witness, and feel it in person. Here’s my best “why” for this next project, and I will happily expand upon it as requested.

Gig opportunity for: individual, couple, or even a family, who wants to increase their self reliance by living with a foot off the grid, growing high-quality food, and cultivating relationships with their neighbors.
My name is Scott Church, and I’m a Permaculturist with a penchant for propagating community. I’m in Montgomery, Alabama, and I would like the help of like minded people who want access to some land, tools, and resources, but also want to live close to town. I’m currently residing in a 7×14 utility trailer that I’ve outfitted with solar panels, the capacity to collect and filter rain water, and a detachable greenhouse. I run a small business providing more traditional housing to folks who are visiting Montgomery, and I’m looking to share what I’ve built with somebody who can help me with the operation.
Pay: ~$500/month, some form of housing*, utilities paid, fast internet, land use, access to greenhouse, lots of free-range, pastured chicken eggs
Requirements: experience with Permaculture, DIY project knowledge (or willingness to learn/try), interpersonal and communication skills, can-do attitude.
Assisting in this operation means being available to meet incoming guests, accommodating needs such as performing or coordinating rapid house repairs, cleaning up after guests have left, and, of course, not just maintaining but improving the garden and food forrest on the 1.3 total acres.
*Currently, I am looking for what kind of housing you, my operations manager will have. I am putting this ad out before I decide on precisely what I will provide because I want input from those who might live there before I start to procure something. Current options on the table are RV, trailer, up-cycled shed, tent, or anything you might want my help to build on the property.
If this note has caught your attention and you think you (or you and yours) might be a good fit, send me an email or PM telling me a bit about your background and describing your vision or goals for the next year or so. I’ll follow up as soon as I can to establish an dialogue and answer any questions your might have.

Permaculture is Leadership

For students of Leadership, the study of Permaculture is an extremely complimentary pursuit.

Most recent and poignant leadership thought focuses on servant leadership – as Simon Sinek says, “Leaders who get the most from their people are leaders who care the most about their people.” Sinek’s (pronounced Sin-ek) approach to leadership is predicated on the idea that people need to feel inspired by a vision, or a nearly intangible “why” before they are ready to be moved to action. This means learning about your people, and what they need. This means people-care.

People care is a central tenet of Permaculture. People care, animal care, and earth care are what make many Permaculturists tick. We realize that without a healthy environment, which we can promote through responsible and holistic land-management practices, there can be no true people care. What good does it do to to provide for a human’s needs, and provide care, if you are participating in a system that is fundamentally destroying the environment for their children, or if the sustenance you are giving them comes at the cost of losing future fertility? So, real leadership is also helping people to realize how they fit into the web of life, and how they can help perpetuate abundance for themselves, as well as their descendants.

We protect our own, and in turn, others watch our back. That is the essence of what makes humans so successful. Alone, we can accomplish little. I tried to move sections of a downed tree into the back of my truck this past weekend. I got exactly two rounds of pine before I decided I’d rather have a healthy back than several more potential seats for my backyard gathering area. Had I a friend to help, however, I am certain we could have harvested much more. Had I a group, with the understanding that we’d all like places to sit in the future (and some fuel for a fire around which we might sit), we could have made use of the entire motherland. It is the power of teamwork that helps a group to survive against the odds, and to work with resources in a way that will benefit the entire group – and even allow us to thrive.

Realizing that, as the sum total of humanity, we are one giant tribe who all need the same basic things – clean water, nutrient-dense foods, safe shelter, community, and the ability to realize our own potential, we will also realize that we need work together to take care of each other, our planet, and interact with nature respectfully. That, friends, is Permaculture. Permaculture is leadership.

Space War!!! And, Writing Journals

Part of the leadership training I help provide to mid-grade Air Force and other budding leaders is a lesson on introspection. In the course of this class, we discuss the importance of knowing one’s self, and techniques that can be used to increase self-knowledge. Introspection isn’t easy, but it’s highly necessary, especially in any position where a leader might encounter uncomfortable and unpredictable situations. In such endeavors, the only thing a person might be able to control is their own person, and their reactions to what chaos is happening around them. While you may never know how you’ll feel when the shit hits the fan (a disconcerting notion), through self study you improve your ability to observe changes in yourself, and thus your ability to self-correct away from a dangerous or exacerbating decision.

Journaling, the recording of personal thoughts, is a time-tested tool in the pursuit of gaining insight. We don’t mandate prayer, meditation, living in a cabin in the woods for a year, or any of the other techniques that arise in the discussion, but we do ask for each student to write at least twice a week, and submit those journals. I make a covenant with my students: since I’ll be reading their inner-most thoughts, they get to read mine as well. I allow one free-write journal, but I use the other one as a tool to further learning, especially on topics about which we have to cut the discussion short (there are only so many useful hours in a classroom). This means, I write the same journals as my students, and I offer to let them read mine if they ask. Usually they don’t, but I’m always ready if they do.

This week, I asked my class to consider the implications of a war in space, through the lens of their own lives. “Imagining you are at your home station, what would you do if a war broke out in space tomorrow?” Many of their jobs require them to use space based assets on the regular, but I wanted them to imagine the personal impact of such an event. I usually ask my classes to imagine at least one post-apocalyptic scenario, whether it is their actions on a 3rd day without power, the detonation of an EMP device in the atmosphere over the USA, the zombie apocalypse, or the realization that the earth is actually flat – and I frequently get very imaginative answers. My answer to these questions doesn’t change much, despite the varied scenarios. Here it is.

I start with my family. I explain to them that things are never going to be the same, but that it’s going to be ok. We are going to have to be patient with each other, and ourselves, because the paradigm has fundamentally shifted. We are going to keep our heads, and make good choices. We are going to survive. This means not only sticking together ourselves, but banding together with other people – it’s what humans do.

Assuming the car won’t start, and we don’t have a pre-existing, self sustaining community nearby, we are going to have to start one ourselves. So, I go to the neighbors. I talk to all of them individually, and explain that I can help them through the times ahead, because I’ve been developing skills that may come in handy now. I can help them purify water. I can teach them how to plant food, help it grow, and preserve it. I can show them basic defense skills. I have experience with off-the-grid living arrangements. I can help people come together, and use teamwork to overcome difficult situations. I invite them to a meeting later on to talk with other neighbors about how we are going to handle this situation as a group.

We have our meeting mid day, or whenever the weather is best. I’ll have it at my place. During the gathering, we introduce members of the neighborhood to those they haven’t yet met. We discuss our various useful skills, and any relevant experience we have. We’ll need carpenters, gardeners, teachers, childcare providers, cooks, and lots of willing hands to get us going as a community. We take stock of what we already have, in the way of materials, tools that will work, weapons, and fixtures that may come in useful (greenhouses, pools, cellars, fields, etc). We leave with an understanding of our neighbors, and a plan to increase our survival ability.

Work begins the next day, as we fortify our community, liberating as much available labor as possible by leaving the cooking and  childcare in the hands of a capable few, and dispatching a small look-out party to patrol, and make contact with anyone we haven’t yet found who may need help.

We have lots to do – soil to prep, houses to retrofit, wood to gather, water purification systems to build, sanitation systems to modify, and esprit de corps to improve. If we stick together, we can do it, as people always have.

A Vision of a Few Years from Now

You are waking up with the sun, a bit earlier than usual. Your partner is sleeping nearby. It’s a Spring morning, and while you know the weather is still a bit brisk, you step out of bed onto a still-warm floor. Just outside your bedroom is the kitchen. You add a few sticks to the embers in the stove, which ensures the hydronic floor will be toasty when your partner gets up too. You pour some freshly filtered water into a kettle, and place it on the stove’s hotplate to prepare your morning beverage of choice.

While the water heats up, you have a few minutes to close your eyes again, and hear the sound of birdsong faintly through the thick walls of your abode. When you open them, you notice the sun is coming through your window at a less direct angle than last week. You use some of the chilled milk delivered last night for your beverage, and reflect: yes, Spring is coming. Soon, with the arrival of warmer weather, your home will no longer receive so many beams through the window, as your living roof absorbs the majority of the heat poured down from the skies. You’ll stay cool this summer, but for now, you need a coat to go outside, so you grab it and step out the door.

Right outside your front door is a glassed in room. A drop of condensation falls from the ceiling into the pond as you pass by, and fish scatter to the corners of their habitat. Soon, there will be enough sun to power on the pump, and the sounds of trickling water flowing through rocks and past roots will fill this atrium. Grabbing a bowl of sprouts from a tray, you put on your coat as you exit this space, into the morning chill.

Dew glistens on your herbs, and the smells of lemon balm, rosemary, sage, mint, and thyme waft up to you as you make your way through your front yard. A chicken clucks at your rustling, as you make your way toward the coop. The chickens are helping you get ready for Spring, too. You lift the roof on the nesting box and see three eggs, brown, turquoise, and pink. You put them in your pocket. The sprouts you brought from the greenhouse go into the coop, and a few hungry chickens descend on them, scratching through the earth with their claws as they hungrily peck at the activated seeds. Tomorrow, you’ll move the coop a bit further, and where the chickens have been, you’ll be able to introduce some lettuce, kale, and maybe even a few squash seeds. Your neighbors say it’s likely not to freeze again this year.

And there’s a neighbor now! Living this close to your friends certainly has its benefits, as he’s been up longer than you, and you are starting to smell something delicious for breakfast, coming from the direction of his house. He invites you to eat, and you discuss last night’s music over your meal. Laughter, and the realization you both probably want to take it easy tonight – maybe just fire up the hot tub. For now, the weather is nice, and getting better. He’ll help you open the gate to let the sheep into their next field, and make sure the new lamb stays with her mother.

Looks like it’s going to be a good day.

The Holidays are not Sustainable

Skip this post if you’ve sworn off negativity, like some pure Christmas Jedi, but if you’re like many people I know, you sometimes (frequently) struggle when this time of year rolls around. We want to get in the spirit, feel festive, reach out, be generous, stay positive – but things seem to get in the way, and make it even harder to do that in December than during other times of the year. Even though it’s supposed to be a season for giving, everybody seems to want something. Shopping malls want your business. The people around he malls want your parking spot.* Manufacturers want you to buy their products. Various religions want you to celebrate their version of the holidays, or remember their particular “reason of the season.” Certain souls have some unique message to share with you (perhaps I am one), or a particular group that needs you to think of or pray for them. Family wants you to travel to where they are. Some of your family just wants you to drink spiked eggnog with them. I like those family members best (but you’re still not getting anything for Christmas – more on that later). Your neighbors probably want you to take this damn fruitcake off their hands, and maybe that IS giving, but, just so you know, that confectionary burden is going straight to my chickens if you send it my way. On second thought, if you’re going to send me anything, definitely send a fruit cake. It’s easily dealt with.

During the past two days, I helped take two sacks of toys that my son doesn’t play with as much to two families who wanted to use them. That was better than throwing them out for sure, but I wondered at how much effort and energy went into the toy production in the first place, and then I decided not to think about it, and just try to get into the spirit of the season. So I opened up a new toy from a relative, and breathed a sigh of relief: no batteries. However, many of the toys we still have require (and came with) batteries, which need to be replaced frequently. With all the power that’s been spent on whirling my son’s toys around, playing digitized music, and flashing lights, I can’t help thinking I could have supplied flashlights to many victims of the Nepal earthquake earlier this year. I didn’t buy these toys, and I’m very happy for my son that so many love him so much, and have the ability to try to enhance his life by sending us things. However, I am resisting thinking about how many resources are being poured into somehow making these holidays happier. It brings joy to my heart to watch him delight in the activity of these devices, but the thought that torments me is, as we try to educate, entertain, and care for our children, how short sighted are we being? To address only the tip of the (probably melting) iceberg: buying and discarding all these batteries, which I’m pretty sure are made with potent chemicals that cannot be easily re-integrated to the earth, cannot be a good way to provide a better future for our kids. 

I just threw away a 40 gallon trash bag stuffed with glossy, shiny paper, metallic strings and bows, plastic packaging, and lots and lots of cardboard. I have no idea what will happen to it now, but I know my worms can’t eat it without being poisoned, I shouldn’t compost it, and if I burn it I’ll have to scrub my chimney out even more next year. This is frustrating. 

I fully recognize that I’m having First World Problems here, but maybe because so many of us have these problems, and concentrate our energy on dealing with them, we are making things worse for the rest of the world. I think the plastic from these toys will probably end up in the ocean somewhere. The acid from the batteries will get shipped to a different continent and put in a landfill there, poisoning the land for the people around it, who are quite possibly much more dependent on the fertility of their own land to feed themselves than we are in America. The smog from the manufacturing plants that made all these “goods” for us in the first place is so thick it’s getting packed into bricks and put on display. (

 I don’t want my holiday cheer with a side of misery, but I also don’t know how to opt out of the rampant buy stuff-package it-ship it-throw it away cycle without becoming self-righteous and bringing those around me down, with my thoughts of trading ecological well-being and social justice for a really sweet fake (or real) Christmas tree.

I don’t want to bring anybody down, but I don’t see how I can avoid participation in all this lunacy without directly affronting the beliefs and enjoyment of those around me. I’ll settle for writing this, for now.

*I’ve avoided malls since 2012 for reasons that are entirely selfish myself – they now make me physically and psychologically uncomfortable. 

What to do when you don’t hit your goals…

The short answer: re-observe them, re-orient towards them, re-decide to accomplish (or give up),  and then redouble your efforts to get them done – act. OODA loop, bam.

I started this website with an explicit set of goals. Here they are:

1-Capture and report quality insights from where leadership, permaculture, technology, and wellness intersect

2-Provide a unique perspective, examining concepts and ideas from my multiple viewpoints (leader, father, entrepreneur, intelligence analyst, military, suburbanite, occasional maniac)

3-Report lessons learned and real-time updates on what is working and what isn’t

4-Explain how to those wanting to do some of the things I do

5-Encourage others to act for the betterment of this world, and the world our children will inhabit

6-Connect with both like-minded and contrary individuals

7-Entertain, especially if you like slapstick and/or how chickens are really little dinosaurs

8-Post weekly

I don’t think I’m hitting them, especially the last (most measurable) one. I have definitely not posted weekly. I have all sorts of reasons/excuses for that, but the first thing I learned about excuses in the Air Force is that there are no. No excuse, blog. So, what do you do when you fail to reach your goals, besides not make excuses for yourself?

It’s time to adjust techniques to re-enable myself to reach these goals, because after reviewing them, I still think they’re SMART and useful.

1- I think this is going OK. I’m not going to drastically change anything here.

2- I’m going to include a paragraph about which role, or roles, I feel I’m filling as I write in each journal, unless it’s obvious.

3- Even if my notes are incomplete, I’m going to post them. You can make sense of them as you choose, but I’ll highlight more refined entries. 

4- Instructional posts require me to have a decent idea what I’m doing. I will do more to explain my thought processes here.

5- If you’re reading this, it’s working.

6- No idea how to measure this, or what it actually means. It could be time to write some invectives.

7- Chicken gifs coming soon. For now: DUCKS, YES, DUCKS! …. //<p><a href=””>via GIPHY</a></p>

8- This goes back to the need to open the floodgates to even my less polished thoughts. I’ll do it.

I’m looking at this from both an analyst and entrepreneurial standpoint. Failing fast, forward, and frequently is an approach that resonates with me, because I think I’ve learned much from my mistakes in the past. Testing assumptions is the only way to gather data, and put together new insights. Insights come from examining novel phenomenon, and connecting them. The map isn’t the territory, but I think of failure as getting out onto new parts of that map – even if I don’t examine it closely, I’ll have an idea if I want to come back for further investigation in the future. 

I’ll share my failures so you don’t have to follow in my footsteps down the wrong paths – you can find new ways to get it wrong (and eventually right!)

To re-engage on here, I’ll be posting every day this week as I readjust to living with my family again.

See you tomorrow, folks. I’ll find the chickens.

How to Start a Community Garden in 5 Steps that Sound More Complicated Than They Are

A few weekends ago, on the 17th of October, around 50 students from the course I teach descended on two community gardens that previous classes helped build and prepared them for winter. I’ll explain what that means in a bit. First, the Carver Culinary Arts Garden is the better part of an acre in size and is located just outside the recently renovated state-of-the-art industrial kitchen built onto Carver High School. The Smiley Court Garden is about a quarter acre located at the Smiley Court Housing Office, a central building which houses administrative functions for the surrounding Government Project Housing. These gardens are purpose built, which brings us to the first step in garden building

1- Identify the need for a garden. Being a bit of a plant nut, I frequently find myself believing that everywhere I look needs gardens (I think I can make a pretty good case for this) but, for now, let’s assume that we need to, for whatever reason, enumerate WHY we might want a garden. Needs and desires will drive creation of the vision. Here are a few of the reasons Carver Garden was conceived… 

Food. The culinary arts program lacked good access to very fresh produce, for various funding and logistical reasons, and an on-site garden could produce right at the doorstep. Smiley Court housing is located in a food desert, or a place where grocery store produce access is challenging, for a number of reasons (intermittent public transportation, lack of access to vehicles, grocery store beyond walking distance). Both gardens will provide those around them access to food – virtually for free! Also, the gardens will provide an opportunity for…

Education. A garden is a site for multi-disciplinary learning and teaching. Calculating the length of irrigation hose needed is a math problem, and calculating flow rate through the drip tubing is physics. Analyzing the soil is chemistry, and determining the types of soil life is biology. Not to mention, bringing students out of the classroom is a great way to get them engaged and jolted out of any schoolroom doldrums that a daily schedule grind creates.  At Smiley Court, Government provided landscaping does not provide for garden space – so how would the children of the neighborhood even learn what a garden looks like? This isn’t a subject taught these days in most public schools (although we are trying to change that with Carver). The only elementary schools I know of teaching gardening currently are Montessori schools, which are far out of the economic reach of Smiley Court families, by the very nature of the housing project. Parents with incomes large enough to send their kids to education programs like these, some of which are based right on farms, where children can see and play with the stimulating things to be found in gardens environments, do not qualify for Government subsidized housing. So how else can kids get the exposure, and inviting outdoor environment found only in gardens and on farms? Should kids be forced to play in concrete jungles? No, I say, all children deserve to experience an ourdoor sense of…

Beauty. I am not sure I can describe what food gardens bring in the way of beauty, especially in the South, unless you have seen an okra blossom for yourself. Until then, you’ll have to trust me. Or visit a permaculture, biodynamic, or integrated farm yourself. You should probably visit, if for no other reason than to experience the…

Community. Remember all those school subjects I mentioned a moment ago? Each has its own educational community, which do not often cross-pollinate in our modern educational system  which seeks to break systems down to their basic elements and achieve understanding through analysis of each individual segment. A garden provides a perfect place to reintegrate much of what has been segregated – this creates multiple invested parties, and where people settle their interests, community arises. Thus, the gardens are multi-functional, as are many plants in the garden. Not only do they provide their caretakers food, but they serve as a rallying point for well-intentioned people, and create an atmosphere of curiosity and enthusiasm for those who see them. Getting all these people together, and picking their brain is a great way to get started with the next step in the process, too.

2- Develop a gardening strategy. Yes, there is such a thing. You have many options when it comes to getting a garden going. Will you go all Permaculture? Till up your earth and fertilize it? Raised beds? No till? The options are nearly limitless. In my opinion, each has its benefits, and drawbacks. For this garden, we wanted to minimize maintenance, maximize fertility, and ensure there was no risk of contamination of edibles by pesticides, especially because of the garden’s close proximity to children. We chose to do a sheet mulch/raised beds technique, irrigated with (somewhat costly) drip tape and soaker hose, for ease of care. When you have your strategy defined, it’s time to…

3- Plan your work schedule. Who is doing what? When? How will that affect other efforts? For Carver and Smiley Gardens, we decided to bring all the compost we wanted to use as our primary effort, knowing we could pile it into berms if need be, then run irrigation, then plant seeds. Building raised beds was a secondary effort because we didn’t have enough construction materials (pallets in this case) to hold all the size of the entire garden we had envisioned. Our work flow ensured that if we had to stop for any reason, another team could come in and pick up where we had left off. 

4- Execute! Start to finish, turning just under an acre of desiccated field into a patch of fertility with a few raised beds and fruit trees to diversify our effort and make the site more oasis-like took less than 4 hours. We had about 35 people contribute their efforts and skills.

5-Maintain. This is what happened last weekend. The garden was originally installed in May 2015, and this fall we had to weed. We prepared the soil for the fall by mulching heavily with rescued pizza boxes and pine mulch. This will hold in moisture all winter and give the soil fertility web a leg-up come spring, when it is time to plant again. Hopefully, we’ll be putting in more perennials in both places, because they require even less work than annuals, and will result in larger harvests in the long run.

(Bonus Step 6- Iterate/Review. Run your ideas past a few people external to the garden, and make sure that it makes sense to them. I call this optional, because, let’s face it, you’re going to make this garden no matter what if you’ve already put in the work to plan it this far.)

There you have it. Now that it’s Fall, it’s a great time to get ahead of the curve and start making plans for Spring, especially if you want to involve more people. After all, many hands make the work light.

Original article covering the construction here: