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Diary of a Worm’s Life in a Home “Growing Power” Box and Garden

PLEASE NOTE: The articles archived here were originally posted to the online community resource; many internal textual and hyper-textual references to that site remain as written.

GP Box 11/19/06

Garden 07/02/06


April 30, 2007 Double Delivery

Double Delivery

Today I was involved in two deliveries: Fish and GP vertical growing stands. The first one was driving Auntie Hawa, my friend from Sierra Leone, to the airport after work so she could pick up at the cargo place a delivery of 35 lbs of Barracuda fish from Sierra Leone. On the way there and especially after seeing the high cargo cost she paid for shipping just from Atlanta, I was questioning her about this delivery. She explained to me the significant role that traditional food, like this fish, plays in her culture. Not only is the cooking of the right food in the proper way important, but it is a source of community and sharing. In this culture persons spend a whole day preparing food, like this smoked Barracuda fish, and then spend time visiting each other and sharing food. My friend works hard, is poor, and does not spend much money on anything. But as she explains we only live once, and eating the proper, healthy and delicious food is significant. (You are what you eat.) She will share some of the fish with her daughter in Nebraska and with friends, and save some of it for her 60th birthday party in late August. Social events like birthdays, christenings, weddings, graduations and funerals are real important in this culture, and usually involve celebrations that begin about 10pm and last till early in the morning. I have been to a few and at each the food is central to the event. No fast food in this culture.

The other delivery happened at dinnertime tonight. My partner in our G.R.A.F. enterprise GRAF brought over the two vertical growers I purchased from him. In the days ahead you will find more on this product and others, and the beginning of a “how to” kit on home model Growing Power on this site. It is all very exciting.

Today at my local grocery store, a discount grocery chain, I found out that it was okay to go out back in the dumpster to retrieve thrown-away fruit and vegetables. My wife said tonight that she hoped I was not bringing too much garbage home when I went grocery shopping. I assured her that it would never come into the house, but be placed in the growing compost pile behind the garage. The pile is growing and tomorrow I will feature a picture of it.

There was rain on and off today, so I did not get a lot done in the backyard, but I did build another mound left unplanted. Tomorrow I need to pot some of the plants I seeded last week. With the weather they are not ready to go outside yet but do need a bigger growing area.

Today I entered the 43rd homicide victim on the Mothers Against Gun Violence? memorial web site, and heard on the news tonight about the 44th. I wrote to involved parties to find out about what happened to the Responsible Gun Bill, which was introduced into legislation and then withdrawn, but doubt if I will hear from anyone. I did hear from the local Call To Action group today and they asked to use my essay on “The Sweet Waters of Discrimination in Milwaukee?” at their conference on dismantling racism this Saturday. I said yes, glad to hear that someone was listening. Often I find myself the messenger or delivery person of messages no one wants to hear, so I was honored when they asked to include it in their hand-out and to send it out.

I am making some changes in the Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF home page so I can deliver on my promise to focus on delivering information on how to grow renewable affordable food in your home and garden. Check out the web site in a few days.

I was hoping to get our April Newsletter, Living Stones, out in April, but will need to settle for getting it out tomorrow. Sometimes late delivery is better than no delivery.

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April 29, 2007 Rain Tea

Ready Tea Maker Tonight

Today was another sunny day without rain. We did some soil-growing, and tending to present plants, which meant some watering with tea. I still have not attached my hose outside but there is plenty of water in the rain barrels. Two of the rain barrels have tea bags full of castings to make the natural rain water into natural fertilizer, tea. I have two more rain barrels to set up, so soon we will have four rain-tea makers. I have a possible irrigation system for a few of the rain barrels. That will make plenty of waste into fertilizer for the garden on those dry sunny days. If we have a serious dry spell, I will need to fill the barrels full of water from the hose and wait a day or two for the chemicals in the water to evaporate. But for now there is plenty of tea.

For those new to this site who may not know what I am talking about with use of words like castings or tea, I am starting to put on the Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF site some of my past postings that explained the process as I was learning it. Since we learn every day these past postings may need to be updated, but for now, until we can put the GP home model process in a booklet, this will work. The first one is three entries from Nov. 6–8 with the basic formula of the home model.

This morning I attended my cousin’s church, Summerfield United Methodist Church After the service I gave a little talk about mental illness called “From Stigma to Wholeness” and we talked about starting a Faith In Recovery Group at the church. It was a wholesome experience, which to me is a discerning sign that it was the right thing to do. Interestingly enough at the service Pastor Don made a number of statements about the Church’s struggle to be a “green” church. My own Church, Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, is going through this same struggle. The connections among Growing Renewable Affordable Food (G.R.A.F.), and being a church that cares for the environment, and Faith in Recovery, a holistic approach of mind-body-spirit to mental health, are becoming clearer and clearer everyday. It is nice when everyday life experiences come together. Peace is found in wholeness as healthful food is found in Growing Power food.

Waste becomes soil
Rain becomes tea
When all is right with the earth.

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April 28, 2007 Sunny Days are Here Again

Today Andor and I took our G.R.A.F. GRAF enterprise show on the road to Outpost organic food store. Outpost, Growing Power and we had a display focusing on worms and compost. There was a lot of interest, especially about applying the Growing Power method to home and garden. Many people use compost, some have worms, but few had put the whole package together. To go with our two units, the planter and vertical grower, I brought along four cans showing the various stages of making soil: can of waste, can of compost, can of worms and compost, can of coyer and castings mix. In an earlier posting I did a pictorial formula of the GP method. Tomorrow I should look it up and post in on the G.R.A.F. site.

GP mound

When I got home I had a chance to practice what I was preaching. I built a new mound. First I dug up the ground a little with a pitchfork, since there was some other stuff growing on the spot last year. Then my son placed a wheelbarrow of compost, which I had made over the winter months, on the spot. On top of the fresh compost we put a wheelbarrow of rich soil and worms from the worm depository. I placed a little bit of castings on that, and broadcast lettuce mix seeds on the mound. I then put some coyer and more casting mix on the seeds and watered the mound with some tea. In this one mound the whole Growing Power system is represented. Now all we need is some sun and more tea, and soon we will have some good lettuce greens for salads.

Speaking of salads, tonight we truly had a Growing Power salad at dinner. Last Tuesday when I was at his house, my friend Godsil gave me some spinach he had purchased at Growing Power. To the spinach I added freshly cut kale, parsley, onion greens and chives from my garden, inside and outside. Add some herbs from last year’s garden, a little olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, and lo and behold we have a good-looking and delicious salad. This salad is dedicated to all my “salad bowl friends”.

Tomorrow morning I am attending my cousin’s Methodist Church and will talk after the service with the congregation about mental illness. The name of my brief talk is from “Stigma to Wholeness.” Gardens, especially home model GP gardens, are good examples of moving from stigma to wholeness. You take the waste, the outcast, and through use one of the lowest creatures, a worm, transform it to wholesome food.

Yes the dark days have passed. We know they will come back again. But for now sunny days are here again.

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April 27, 2007 Thirst for Justice

Tomorrow the weatherman claims the sun and heat are returning. Thank God! This dreary rainy weather is starting to get me down. Also tomorrow Andor and I are having our first showing of the Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF enterprise from 12–2pm at the Outpost store on Capitol drive. I will bring the planter and Andor will bring the new vertical growing outdoor boxes. We are not ready for production yet, but will hand out some cards with our web site and take down some names of interested persons.

Today I stood with Marquette students outside of Gesu church on campus as part of our three day fast to close the School of Americas (SOA). I had suggested Gesu as part of the backdrop for our public display since I thought this Gothic Catholic church made a better background for the conflict of our values that SOA represents than the modern-looking unmarked blue Federal Building downtown. At a closing service tonight at Casa Maria, the local Catholic Worker House of Hospitality, a priest/teacher spoke of all the terrors and atrocities American-trained soldiers at SOA had committed in Latin America, and how great a victory it will be to close it down. All I could think of was all the killing American-trained soldiers were committing or receiving in Iraq today. Closing the School of Americas, which I believe will happen soon, will be a tremendously symbolic victory. However, in my mind, until we realize that the same Army values that contradict our values of human life are being taught in the USA at places like the Marquette ROTC program and need to be rooted out there also, the senseless unjustified killings will happen. I do not blame the brave American soldiers any more than I blame the soldiers of Latin American that are trained in SOA. I blame our public leaders for ordering this killing and all of us for allowing it to happen.

Tonight I saw part of a special TV presentation on public television by Bill Moyers about how the media put on blinders and perpetuated the lies that sent us into the war: that Iraq was connected to Al Quada and 9/11, and that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Even the CIA director at the time of the start of the war is coming out saying how we were rushed and pushed into this war. Iraqi people, American people, people all over the world want America to withdraw from Iraq and end this terrible nightmare of violence. Yet the war continues. Why? It is for the same reason that torture and training to disrespect civilian lives will continue long after the closing of the School of America — we are afraid to face the roots of the violence and to make the structural changes in our society, ourselves, and in our institutions like Marquette necessary to root out the causes of the evil of violence.

When I was reading the instructions on the packets of seeds that I was planting inside a few weeks ago, most of them said to pull back on the watering for a few days before the plants are transplanted outside. This is to force the roots to go deeper seeking water and thus be stronger. Maybe this brief fast made a few students dig deeper into themselves so when they grow into awareness they will be stronger. After the gathering at Casa Maria tonight, one of the students at Marquette thanked me for joining them. I asked him if he was a freshman as most of the students were. He said yes, and I said that I probably would see him again around campus, since my thirst for justice was deeply rooted in the spirit of this university and that I would remain a thorn in its side until the roots of violence and evil are finally dug out of the institution or I die.

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April 26, 2007 Worms Up, Rain Down

Today was one of those all day rainy, gloomy days. Since there was no sun, I did not need to cover the compost on the screen over the GP box. The worms are coming up through the screen to get at the fresh food. Tomorrow I will need to empty the screen into the worm condo and repeat the worm extraction process again.

The other good news on this rainy down day was that the plants in my inside starter pots are doing real well, especially the cucumbers. It is too early to plant them outside but they are ready. It is not too early for the salad greens I was hoping to plant outside in mounds this week, but it is too wet. Hopefully we will have a dry break or two in the next day or so. I can also be making some real good ‘tea’ with the rainwater in the rain barrels. I just need to get a couple tea bags of castings into the barrel in the backyard. Water is good for everything in the garden, especially when the water is enriched with living organisms from worm castings. However, I wish there was a way we could have some sun with the rain. Sun showers, anyone?

On dark dreary days like today I do not feel too motivated, but have learned how to just keep going and look back later on at how or what I did. As someone once told me, some days you just need to put one foot in front of the other foot and just keep on going. On these kinds of days there is no looking back or looking forward. You just hope you survive and all will be well.

Worms do not have big enough brains to worry about such things. They do not like the sun, but move well in the dark and dirt seeking food. Yet in a slow but sure way they produce riches of ‘black gold’ castings.

This is the second day of the three day juice fast to close down the School of Americas. The second day of a fast is always the toughest. You start to feel a little mean, especially when it is a dark rainy day and you know a little food would really make you feel better. It was especially hard today, since my wife, having her day off, make cabbage rolls — one of my many favorite foods. She said she would save some for me for after the fast. She did, but I cannot look forward to eating them since that makes me hungry.

Like worms, we humans seek food. However, unlike worms it is a conscious act for us and we have choice. We can eat healthily or not, fast or slow food, organic or processed, good or bad food for us. I am sure mindfulness and choice are very good things, but some days when the rain comes down it might be nice to be a worm going up.

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April 25, 2007 Fast Break

Today I started a three-day juice fast as part of a nationwide comprehensive effort to close the School of Americas, a US military training camp for Latin American soldiers that have been responsible for the torture and death of many innocent persons. ( Legislature is coming up again in Congress to close this school.

Also today I took a break from my daily routine and went up north to watch my grandchildren for about 6 hours. Doing this is always a great joy. The three of them bring so much enthusiasm and joy to life. It was a relaxing break except for the driving around that is required when you live in the country and need to get to baseball practice and a 4-H rocket session. This part was a little rushed, but I am happy to say that the meal my daughter in-law left for me to make for the grandchildren was not fast food. It was the ingredients for an Italian Pasta bake. I was glad since on the way up north I was listening to persons in the SLOW food club of Southeast Wisconsin talk about how important it is to prepare food and enjoy it together. When I was growing up, mealtime was an important family time. When we were raising our children we struggled to keep it that way, but obstacles — sports practice, lessons, work for the adults — seemed to get in the way. These days it is very hard, if not impossible, for families to share slow meals, maybe even once or so a week. Tonight, since I was fasting, I just tasted the food but it seemed to be good.

Growing Power is part of the slow food movement. There is nothing fast about growing the food, and when you prepare a meal of healthy, organic food, it far from fast food.

When I was up north my granddaughter and I put some more worms in their compost pile. Then we took a stroll around the diary farm across the street, checking out all the cows, talking to ‘Grandpa’. They have an old barn that last summer was tilted over in the wind. It still stands and is used to store stuff. As ‘Grandpa’ said, “as long as it is safe, just let it be.”

Rather than stay over and drive back early in the morning, I decided to drive back tonight and sleep in the morning. Up north it was cool and windy but there was no rain. Here it is cool and windy with rain. I am hoping there is no rain tomorrow so I can catch up on some work on the garden. After my Fast Break I am renewed and ready to go again.

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April 24, 2007 Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry fields forever

This morning I made a trip to the north side to the two potential model GP home gardens. At Dawn’s house I just brought some wood chips so that when foodstuff is added it could be covered with wood chips. At Marna’s house I brought worms, compost, castings and coyer to build a small mound for six Strawberry plants she had purchased. We planted them along the garage in a sunny spot.

For some reason I have never had any success with the strawberry plants that come up year after year in my backyard along my western fence. I do not know why they do not grow, the shaded area, the animals that eat potential strawberries or what. So today I built a mound, just like I did this morning, on the other side of the yard, along the garage. It might just have been that my soil was not rich enough for strawberries. This newly-created soil should certainly be rich enough.

Besides working outside in the garden some today, I topped off my GP day with a trip to Godsil’s for a GP barbecue. He had picked up a few things from Growing Power, especially some organic ground meat. Organic food certainly does taste good.

With all the life-growing experiences, I did have a taste of death again today. This morning I went to a prayer vigil, for the 42nd victim in Milwaukee this year. A young man was shot down in front of his sister’s home by the father of his sister’s children. The two young children have not only lost a father but a dear uncle. After the prayer service the sister and her two young children came out of the house. They were gong to her mother’s house, a ways away. I offered to drive her and the children. In a conversation on the way over I said something about how I prayed some good would come out of this senseless killing. The sister said that something already has. When the young man was in the hospital the family decided, with the victim’s blessing, to donate his organs. His heart, two kidneys and other organs were already alive in other persons. She said how in 18 months she could take her two children to visit with the persons whose lives were blessed after their uncle’s death. This event reminded me of the importance of community and how good the feeling of looking out for the good of others is.

A friend in Europe sent me an editorial from a London paper today saying how the “individualism” of America leads to a culture of gun violence. The sense of communitarianism, or concern for the common good, is not a strong value in the American culture. I really believe that this is at the root of a lot of violence. If we really believed we were all brothers and sisters and really needed each other, the violence would cease. Perhaps I will put that editorial online somewhere on one of my wiki web pages.

I do not remember the lyrics to the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields” but know it has a feel of peace and community to it. What the world needs is strawberry fields forever.

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April 23, 2007 Worms Rising

Waitng for the Worms to rise

Today I cleared out all remaining vegetation in the GP box, took off the top soil of castings, and placed on the box the large screen that I recently purchased for a $1 at the Habitat for Humanity Restore.

On top of the screen I put some compost that has been ‘cooking’ over the winter. I added a banana peel or two and some coffee grounds. In a few days the worms will craw up through the screen to get at the new food in the box. After they do, I will remove the screen with the worms and put the worms in the worm condo outside. I will repeat this process two or three times till almost all of the worms are out. Then I will have an 8’ X 2′ GP box of good soil, enriched compost, and castings that can be used in the garden. When the box is empty I think I will put a few pots in it to grow some hot-weather food like peppers or tomatoes this summer.

Next fall I will fill the box with compost, worms and castings (with some coyer) and start the winter planting season over again. I took the remaining kale plants in the box today, picked some leaves for a salad tonight, and transplanted the rest outside into the two mounds leading up to the flower circle in the middle. In the middle I put some wildflower seeds and started some snapdragons inside to go with the perennials in the circle.

Today Andor brought over four large boxes for the vertical planters he is building for outside. Tomorrow I will fill them full of compost, worms, coyer and castings, and start some salad greens in them outside. When the weather gets warmer and my tomato, cucumber and zucchini plants get larger I will transplant these plants into this multi-purpose vertical planter.

Today I listed the 42nd homicide on the Mothers Against Gun Violence site?, and heard on the news that nine American soldiers were killed in one bombing today in Iraq. At a final prep meeting tonight at Marquette University, (MU) for the FAST to close the School of America’s (SOA), American terrorist training camp for Latin American soldiers at Fort Benning, we were asked who we were and what was on our minds at the beginning of the meeting. Everyone was saying they were a freshman, sophomore or such at Marquette and most of their concerns were about the fast and their good feeling about making a ‘difference’ to close the SOA. When it came to me I said I was a “senior”, more literal than truthful, and that on my mind was death: the 42nd homicide vigil tomorrow morning; and life: the upcoming growing power garden.

Also at the meeting tonight I met a freshman, a young man, who was the son of a friend from the 60’s, just as I met Ruthie Cullen at a meeting last week. Here I was again at a meeting with students concerned with social justice at Marquette, the same place I was 40 years ago meeting with students, their parents’ generation. I told my friend’s son to tell his father that some people have not “sold out” yet. He probably did not get the humor in this comment but if he remembers to tell his father this statement his father will get it.

Here I am forty years later waiting for worms to rise out of the GP box, and fasting again for peace and justice. Maybe my dream of returning to the mindset of a three year is becoming true.

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April 22, 2007 Nature Is Not Fast

Time Machine

In seven minutes today at the West Allis Public Library, I, with the help of some worms, transformed a pot of waste into a pot of enriched soil with a large Kale plant. This was all part of the Earth Day celebration my wife, the children’s librarian, had planned. Although the presentation needs some work, the children seemed to be fascinated by my turning waste into earth, soil.

Now we all know that nature can create this magic but that nature is not so fast. So to make this transfer from stage one, pot of trash, to stage five, pot of soil with plant, I needed the help of Uncle Bob’s Growing Power City Garden Time Machine. I would just put the Time Machine Box over the pot and it would be transformed to the next stage. The big kids in the back caught on right away to my switching pots under the box, but the little kids did not seem to care. They were more interest in eating the bananas for peels, checking out the worms, and feeling the compost and soil. Perhaps for the grown plant I should have brought something else beside kale. I told the children it was a cross between lettuce and spinach and they tasted it but it was an unfamiliar taste.

My son and I got some work done on the garden today. He helped sift through some worm-enriched soil to make a couple buckets of “black gold” or castings, and I transplanted most of the kale plants from the Growing Power box to the garden outside. I am not sure if major kale plants transfer, but we will find out. After the GP box is plant-free, soon, I will start the process of drawing off the worms and putting them in the condo outside. The soil in the box, castings and enriched compost, is needed for the garden mounds that I am forming for growing. More to come on this process.

I think I will post the Uncle Bob’s GP magic show on the G.R.A.F. site someday. With a little work, it could be come an enjoyable lesson of how to turn waste into Growing Power, with a little help from our friends the worms.

Tonight I got an email from a friend who is getting really carried away with the idea of what he calls “urban farming” and I call GP gardening. He is moving fast on the idea and has all kinds of plans. I had to write him tonight that in real life there is no Time Machine to speed up the process and that nature is not fast. In fact nature is slow like the worms that crawl in the earth. You cannot speed up nature any more than you can race worms.

To live in communion with nature we need to slow down and dig deep into the now, as a worm slowly eats the waste. However, if we go slow and deep, like the worm, we will leave behind “black gold”. Nature is not fast. Growing Power food is not fast food. Growing Renewable Affordable Food (G.R.A.F) is slow.

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April 21, 2007 Before is After

Before Garden 4/21/07

Today we (my wife and I) had a chance to spend some real time in the garden. She filled some small planting beds for inside with a mix of castings and coyer (coconut shavings), and some big pots for outside in which I had placed some compost with worms. She also did some tea water from the rain barrels. I cleaned out the work area in the garage and moved some of the stuff from the basement to the outside. We are still doing preparation work, but the day is coming soon when the outside garden will start to look good again.

Tomorrow for Earth Day, I am doing a brief presentation “Uncle Bob’s Magic Growing Power with a Time Machine” at the West Allis Library where my wife is the children’s librarian. In about 7 minutes, I hope to take the children and their parents through the whole cycle from taking their banana peels and some newspaper to growing a major plant with the use of Growing Power. Of course since nature and worms are not as fast as I need to be I will need the use of the “time machine” that I built. By the use of five similar small white planters I can take the children through the whole magical sequence of events from waste to healthy organic food. If it all goes well I will post the outline of my magic show on this site.

Gardening is a universal connector of people. Today I met, when I went to get my Share food at the Church where I used to work, a friend that I used to work with there when I was the youth minister. He was working with the youth to make pizzas for the mission trip they take each summer to Appalachia. We got to talking and I found out he does gardening also, something I never knew. Growing and making food is a common denominator with many people. I purchased three of the freshly made pizzas the youth made and tonight for dinner we had two of them. We added some other ingredients to the pizza, one of which was some oregano we had grown last year. Actually there is fresh oregano in the planter stand in the sun-room, which we forgot about.

A lot of what we are using to build this new garden is the after-effects of the old inside and outside gardens. Today I removed the remains of the Arugula that was in the GP box in the sun-room and soon I will transplant the Arugula outside. After that the worms will be removed from the box using a screen with fresh compost on top. The worms will go into the worm condo outside to enjoy the compost in there, and the castings and compost from the box will be used in the outside garden and planters. So what is before becomes what is after and what is after becomes what is before.

Today I finally finished and put on the GrafKids? web site the interview that we did with my two-year granddaughter in February. The wisdom of small children is worthwhile. You can check it out at Interview with Carolee. The older I get the more I desire to be like a three year old (Carolee will be three soon). I usually tell three year olds that I am ‘free’ too, which they always to mistake to mean that I am saying that I “three”. If I were free there would not be much difference from being three. What you were before you become after and what you are after you were before.

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April 20, 2007 A Waste of a Day

Collecting Waste

Today I spent a few hours driving around picking up waste — vegetable waste, coffee grounds and wood chips — to grow soil. After throwong some wood chips on Dawn’s compost pile I went over to see Godsil working on a roof nearby. There he gave me a big bag of lettuce and celery waste. I asked him where he got this and other vegetable waste and he said from one of the Sendiks’ stores. Sendik’s is an upscale grocery store that sells more healthy and organic food than a regular grocery store, but is not as expensive as the organic food stores — sort of in the middle somewhere.

So in making my rounds to collect waste, I decided to stop at the Sendik’s store in my neighborhood. I asked the produce manager about doing something similar at this store. He clearly told me that the company policy at this store was not to allow anyone to take any waste. The owners of this Sendik’s store own three others in town, but obviously not the one Godsil visits. I asked him what they do with all the produce waste. He told me that they load into the compactor, which is attached to the store. There it is compacted and a company called Waste Management takes it away to the landfill. I went by several other major grocery store chairs and there behind each one was the same large compactor from Waste Management. Of course Waste Management is a profit-making company, so the stores pay to have this valuable waste taken away.

Just to be fair to Waste Management, I checked them out on the web and they said about themselves: “Waste Management, Inc. is the leading provider of comprehensive waste and environmental services in North America.” They go on to say they have 17 waste-to-energy plants and 283 landfills. So there is money in waste but there is also lots of energy and soil in waste that goes to waste. We GP home gardeners could save the grocery stores some money.

Godsil and I talked today about finding someone with a truck, or maybe a few persons, who would go around to coffee shops, certain grocery stores, the city dump, a local brewer, maybe a few restaurants, and pick up waste. Do you know of anyone? Godsil and I have a holy card bet on the first one to find someone. I mentioned yesterday how much time it takes to pick up waste to make soil. Someday maybe we can afford to hire persons to do this, like the young men I met yesterday at the dump who had a truck; but for now we just need a volunteers. We could pay the person with compost, castings, healthy food and most important, the ‘how to’ Grow Renewable Affordable Food.

The real solution would be someday to get enough digesters on line, like the one Growing Power is building, and enough GP home, urban gardeners so we can compete with the Waste Managements of the world for waste. Instead of fillng our landfills and producing some energy, we could produce lots of affordable energy and lots of good soil to grow healthy affordable food. Now there is a good anti-global-warming thought: turn waste into energy and soil and food.

Despite the waste collection I did spend some time today in my own garden. My son helped me sift out some castings to make a fine black soil, “black gold”. When I told him of the value of these castings and of the compost we were making he was impressed, although I am not making soil and castings to sell but grow and help other people grow. I might even get him out there tomorrow. The weather they say will be excellent and the work outside is always enjoyable. There is a gold mine in waste.

Also today I finished my essay on “The Sweet Waters of Discrimination in Milwaukee” which looks at the more structural form of discrimination today rather than the overt kind in the 60’s. So far only my wife and a friend in Florida have responded. As my friend in Florida mentioned to me this is one subject people do not want to discuss. I agree, but like the worms in my garden, I just had to do what I do, make waste. Whether it will be waste for the landfill of ignoring the subject or waste to grow out of structural discrimination remains to be seen. You can check it out for yourself at: The Sweet Waters of Discrimination In Milwaukee.

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April 19, 2007 Natural Time

GP home plant stand

Today after I went shopping and was working in my garden I realized that all the work on my Growing Power Home Model was costly and that I am a long way from making all this affordable. Our goal at the GRAF Growing Renewable Affordable Food project is to make growing healthy food something that all can do, especially people that are low income. There are a lot of reasons this type of growing is still expensive. One is that we in America still throw away much that we can use to make new soil for healthy affordable food. It is a real job just collecting waste for compost. Another reason is that seed is still expensive. Also the design and manufacture of items like our GP plant stand is still not easily available. The best way to make things affordable right now seems to be growing soil by use of waste, like we are doing at Dawn’s house and here, and investing in new ways to use Growing Power on a home garden scale.

Since there is no tour of Growing Power central scheduled this month, my friend Godsil asked me if I would host a tour of what I am trying to do. I said no because April is month of getting ready, planting inside and out, making soil, getting the worm condo ready, working on watering systems etc. If the weather cooperates and I spend some time each day like I did today I will be ready for a tour someday in the future. Also I waiting for my partner Andor to finish the vertical growing box, which is something that can be easily duplicated and has many uses, as casting maker, growing plants in a small space, and tea maker. He should be finished with the design and prototype any day now.

Today I received back from editing my essay on the “Sweet Waters of Structural Discrimination.” I will send it out to those receiving the Living Stones newsletter tomorrow, make it available on the Hope to Healing site and on one of the other pages in the Graf Family mini web sites. Although I think I did a good job on writing this essay it feels sad to print it. No one wants to hear about discrimination, especially structural or institutional types. However, like a worm, I must do what I am meant to do.

With the Growing Power Box now flourishing with Kale and Arugula, and the GP plant stand producing food — oregano, and parsley and soon to be lettuce mix and basil — I think the indoor stuff is finally going. Hopefully my second season of working outside on the GP home model will do as well.

Weather is getting warmer, so I need to increase my work outside so that when the time is right for a particular type of planting we are ready. There is a time for everything, saying what you need to say, planting what you need to plant. I was reminded today of what a wise woman, Julia Esquivel, said to us last April in Guatemala (see Buried in Guatemala?). She said that finding the right time to say or do something is very important. Like a poor joke teller, my timing has not always been very good. Maybe by working on the home GP garden, being more in tune with nature, my timing will improve. I hope to learn the natural time for dong something, be it convenient or not.

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April 18, 2007 Rain Go Away

Rain Barrel

Yes, we all need rain to grow our food. But today it rained all day, not just outside but in our nation and world. My ran barrels are full, and the media focused on the life and illness of the killer at Virginia Tech, giving him the notoriety that he so desperately sought. As one of the Columbine survivors said on TV, the media should not focus on this person, but on the victims of the killing and what can be done to stop more killings. By broadcasting his statements and message to the world the media are giving this very sick and dead individual the last word.

He invoked the killers at Columbine in his testimony and compared himself to them. By brother and his family live a few blocks from Columbine and were forced to say over and over again at that time that the actions of the two students there were not what the community of Littleton was all about. Now my brother’s oldest son, my nephew, is to be a freshmen at Columbine next fall. All the talk after Columbine about gun control and dealing with very sick persons was mostly all talk. The laws around the purchase of handguns are now more loose than they were at the time of Columbine, and getting help for the very sick with a mental illness is even more difficult. The laws have not changed. If you have a deadly physical disease you are not allowed to spread it to others, but if you have mental disease you can refuse treatment until you are violent.

Persons with mental health disease have a lower crime rate than the average American. They are usually victims of crime rather than perpetrators. However, when one sick person commits a terrible action like at Virginia Tech the stigmatization of all persons with a mental illness, one of four Americans, increases. When will we ever learn?

I heard on public radio that much of the rest of the world, after Virginia Tech killings, condemned the “culture of violence” that exists in America. Yet we exploit it.

The rain of violence fell today again in Baghdad with over 180 persons killed. The Iraqis, Shiite and Sunni, as well as the American people all want a timetable for American withdrawal out of Iraq. Yet our president, the great “decider”, refuses to talk with the congressional legislatures about an end to the war.

The rain from the sky is good for the crops. The rain of violence, like in Milwaukee, Virginia Tech and Baghdad, is not. Please go away.

This morning after a strategy meeting of Mothers Against Gun Violence and the Campaign Against Violence I took my friend, one of the mothers, out again to the Amarenth Café. Today she met all kinds of persons interested in the work of the Mothers Against Gun Violence — an artist, a worker at a youth center, persons involved with the Milwaukee Renaissance. What we all have in common besides the good bread and soup of the Café is a real passion to stop the senseless violence and to grow healthy food in our cities. It is fascinating how the efforts to grow good food and stop the violence go together. One is to stop the rain of violence and the other is to use the rain to grow.

There were other signs of hope today. Tonight I met with some students who will be fasting next week in a national effort to close the School of Americas, now going by another name. This is America’s foremost training camp for ‘terrorists’ in Latin America. One of the persons at this meeting, at Casa Maria, the Catholic Worker House of Hospitality, was the youngest child of the couple who started the house of hospitality in the 60’s and have been good friends of ours ever since. In these young persons tonight there is real hope.

The rain was a good excuse not to work outside today, but no excuse not to work inside on my Growing Power garden. At least all my livestock — worms — outside had a good day. I had just put some fresh food on the worm depository yesterday and the rain really helped to soak it in. But now the rain barrels are overflowing and we need for the rain to stop and go away.

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April 17, 2007 Garbage for Soup

Today my friend Godsil called me up to say he was delivering a big load of fruit, vegetables and brewer’s waste to the new compost bin at Dawn’s house. Images of all that raw garbage in her yard made me rush out to the nearest city dump and pick up a load of wood chips to add to the nitrogen waste.

When I got to Dawn’s yard there was a lot of good garbage but it was in boxes. I took about half of it and put it in Dawn’s compost bin that I had just made yesterday, and covered it with wood chips. I took the rest of the garbage home and stopped by the park on the way home to pick up some more wood chips for my own garden.

All Godsil asked in return for his special delivery of good garbage for the compost pile was soup. Yes he would like Dawn, Marna and me to sometime give him soup in exchange. Dawn said that with the compost he delivers we could grow some good healthy vegetables for soup.

The picking up and delivering of compost materials to grow soil is a major job and takes a lot of time. I am glad for Godsil’s help. At the dump I met three young men loading a pick-up truck of wood chips to take to a day care center for a playground. I told them what I was doing and they offered to deliver wood chips for me. I exchanged phone numbers but I am afraid their rates would be prohibitive in our attempt to grow food that is affordable.

When I got home I fed my worms some brewer’s waste and a little coffee grounds. I put the rest of the materials on the compost pile. Since the compost sinks as it decomposes it seems like the pile is not very high. For my garden and the two north side ones I will need a lot more materials for compost to grow some good soil. So thank God for friends like Godsil, and hopefully there will be a few more who will dump off garbage in exchange for soup or some good healthful food.

Prayer Vigil

This morning as I was driving to a prayer vigil for a young man who was senselessly shot last Saturday, the impact of the Virginia Tech killings hit me emotionally. I had to hold back my deep feelings since I knew that, although I cannot block out all feelings, if I felt this tragedy too much I would be overcome at the vigil for the 40th homicide victim in Milwaukee and for all those who suffer and die daily in Iraq and around the world. I need to be sensitive but not overwhelmed.

The young man’s family and friends came out in numbers to join the prayer vigil. I talked a little with the victim’s brothers afterwards, one of them being his twin brother. I could sense their deep sorrow. While the news is full of the killings in Virginia day and night, this man’s name was not even mentioned in the paper and his death was recorded briefly in an article on cruising. The family does not know what happened to this hard working young man, and many do not seem to care. They believe he was killed in a robbery attempt, but will probably really never know. I saw a young man from the Campaign Against Violence at the prayer vigil and I mentioned how this young man was just another anonymous homicide victim. His reply was that people in Milwaukee know what is happening but just choose to ignore it.

Homicides in Virginia are lot easier to deal with than the record number of homicides in our hometown.

Today I finished a long article I have been writing for the March (late) issue of my newsletter Living Stones. It is called “The Sweet Waters of Structural Discrimination in Milwaukee”, and deals with the some of the feelings I experienced at the vigil today. For those of you that receive the newsletter you will be getting it. For those of you that do not, you can read it when it is put on the web site, or request one from me. Right now it is out to my editor, Tegan. I hope I articulated what I have been feeling for a long time now.

How about we take the garbage of violence and let it go to waste to make it rise up as new food for a good soup. Garbage for Soup is a fair exchange.

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April 16, 2007 Found and Lost

Dawn’s new compost bin

In running errands this morning, I found myself: at a building supply place buying some chicken wire at a fantastic clear-out price, at Growing Power checking on sources of supplies, at Ella’s house taking a picture of her latest queen-size quilt for her web site, at the back of one Dawn’s houses setting up a compost bin with the chicken wire, and then on to Marna’s (of Mothers Against Gun Violence) house to deliver some homemade soil and plant some sage that she had gotten from her recently deceased father’s garden.

When I got home, after answering a pesky but last email from someone on a non-GP issue, I worked outside on my own garden. Adding a phone call from my friend about his home compost piles, I felt like I had really found my main vocation right now: growing renewable and affordable food. Now with the beginning of GP systems at Dawn’s and Marna’s houses, and with the one Godsil is doing in Bay View, we now have four gardens, growing soil, getting ready for worms and GP home model growing. As I told my good friend Godsil, I need an assistant just to keep up with the garden work. That and my work writing is more than enough to fulfill my daily need to do something meaningful.

Old Sage in new GP soil

However, there were many other things to do today. After making dinner for my son and myself I was rushing out to go to a wake for a friend from Church’s mother, and then onto a St. Vincent De Paul meeting. Suddenly I discovered my car keys were lost. Just the keys for my car and my wife’s car, since after locking my keys in the car I had separated the clicker and other keys from the two car keys. I looked high and low, since I knew that they had to be somewhere in the house, car or yard. But I could not find them. So I did some other catch-up busy-work. However for a brief moment I had the insight that losing my car keys was a way of stopping me and slowing me down. This is something — slowing down, taking more time to read, reflect and pray — that I talk about but always find something else to do. OK God, I got it. Slow down and live. Now let me find the keys.

I put a couple of bags of castings (at least near castings) in one of my rain barrels today. So besides the tea I am making in the GP box, and with the planter stand, I am now making it in one of the large rain barrels. In fact looking for pots, tubes etc. is why I stopped by Growing Power headquarters. Will Allen was not there but one of the workers told me where the wholesale place was where they purchase them, but he also told me that I had to have a retail license to purchase there — something I do not have. I know Will, who is also on the go a lot, will be around Tuesday, tomorrow, before going South on Wednesday. My spiritual director, a Jesuit at MU, sent me an email that Will is speaking at Marquette tomorrow at noon. I will try to reach him tomorrow.

This country is descending into senseless acts of violence, in Iraq where 40 Iraqis and 7 American were killed in the last day, to Milwaukee where we have a prayer vigil for our 40th homicide victim tomorrow, to the senseless shootings today at Virgina Tech. Maybe this time, with the horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech, we will stop and take a look at the cause of all this violence in American culture and go after the root causes. That is my hope and prayer, but then I know we can once again easily forget about it till the next time, and keep on doing the same things that cause the environment of violence. Our country is lost in violence; let us pray that this time we will find ourselves doing something more than talking about it.

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April 15, 2007 Blessed messy bread

Real Olive and Pita Bread

With food and worms in the car, my wife and I headed up to the North Country today for my oldest grandson’s first communion. We got to my son’s house just as everyone was heading over to the church. During the liturgy we got to sit in the front room, since that was the one assigned to my grandson and his family. The priest talked about making bread with his grandma when he was young, and what a special experience that was. In the ‘old days’ bread was held in great esteem. I can remember my grandfather, when I was young, demanding there be plenty of bread at every meal. After my grandfather died, when I was 10, my mother told me stories about how he would have a whole pita bread with just one olive. I do not know if that was true or not, but it made the same point as the priest’s grandmother made: bread is a holy staple substance.

Now the “bread from the table” that we Catholics use in our liturgies looks and feels nothing like real bread. It is more a small white wafer that is tasteless. When I was a youth minister I remember a number of youth asking me why, if the symbol of bread was so important, we did not use ‘real’ bread at Mass? That is a good question and I suppose the answer is that real bread would be too messy and there would be crumbs. For some believers that the bread is the ‘body of Christ’, wafers seem to answer the problem of avoiding any crumbs.

However, as a youth minister, I went on a search to find some real bread that we could use at youth liturgies. I did find a church in Milwaukee that makes its own Eucharistic bread that looks and taste like bread. Now there has never been a problem with the wine being wine in the Catholic Church, although many Catholics, like children and parents today at the first communion, do not participate in the drinking from the cup.

This all relates to Growing Power because in many ways we have done to the food for our dinner tables what Catholics have done to the bread at the Lord’s Table. It is processed, made convenient with no mess, tasteless and certainly often unlike the living healthy bread that the priest talked about helping his Grandma make. For the most part we do not grow or make our food but purchase “messless” food in stores. Also, quantity has replaced quality. No more doing what my grandfather, taking a whole pita bread for one good olive.

In fact, the olives that my grandchildren, cousins and friends were consuming in great quantity today were the tasteless, pit-less kind from the can. Real olives, that I had pitted by hand, were in the Greek Salad my wife and I made. The adults liked the salad but on the children’s table where I sat it went nearly untouched.

This striving to avoid a mess in food also applies to other areas for children and adults. I had brought some worms up for my grandchildren’s compost pile, which we had built last summer. My younger grandson and my daughter in-law have been good about adding material to it, and now it was time to add some worms. When I grabbed a pitchfork and invited the many kids that were playing outside and inside to join me, only the children six and under came along. As we went down to the compost pile we encountered some muddy ground. One of the little ones was afraid to go over one particularly muddy part. So I put down my buckets of worms and carried him over. On the way back he jumped over, getting his shoes muddy. I told him not to tell his mom that he had gone down to compost pile with me. The older kids stayed back to shoot baskets, play on the computer and so forth. They wanted no part of the mess of putting worms in the compost pile. I noticed this was true for urban kids as well as for the farm kids that live across the road on a dairy farm.

I think the world has forgotten about the lost beatitude of Jesus: “Blessed are the messy for they are clean in the eyes of God.” Give me the real bread, like they make at the Amaranth Bakery, any day.

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April 14, 2007 Work and Play Today and Pray Tomorrow

The renaissance of waste was evident today. This morning started with work at Dawn Powell’s vacant house, which is being renovated so that more poor persons with disabilities will have a clean and good place to live, with a loving and caring person, Dawn, to be with them. Dawn’s day is full working on the houses, preparing meals for residents of her houses, driving persons to doctors’ appointments or hospitals, and working a side job just to make ends meet.

Again this Saturday in the work crew was one of the youth that I had worked with at St. Margaret Mary parish when I was a youth minister. When he was in high school he was the D.J. for our middle-school dances. So it is only right that he is now finishing up school in audio engineering, and already has a job in this field. However, the big lesson he learned and practiced today from those days was service to those in need.

While I was working there, Godsil of Milwaukee Renaissance called me on my cell phone. He had some good waste, brewer’s waste and carrot trimmings, for me. He brought them over to Dawn’s house and we put them in my car. However, in the future he is just dropping them off at Dawn’s in one of her backyards where we are setting up a compost bin. Godsil and I had promised Dawn to start a small GP garden in one of her yards this spring. Also, Dawn lives near Marna of the Mothers Against Gun Violence, who is also interested in dong some GP gardening at her house. We now will have a GP home model compost pile growing soil-North, with mine being one West and Godsil’s being one South, in Bay View. I am sure there are many, many GP compost piles with worms on the Eastside, especially in Riverwest.

Today with my new found wealth of waste from Godsil and with a trip to the city dump for wood chips, the compost pile grew and inch or two.

While I was cutting vegetables for my grandson’s first communion party tomorrow, and cooking dinner, Andor called. He had a mock-up of his second design in the Growing Renewable Affordable Food (G.R.A.F.) enterprise. It does not have a name yet. It is Vertical Growing Power unit. It has two big tubs to grow plants, a climbing bar in between, and below the tubs a place to collect the tea (castings-enriched water). Also it serves as a castings maker, as the worms eating the compost in the box during the summer will leave it full of castings, black gold, by the end of the summer. There will much more on this at the GRAF page in the near future. For now here is a sneak preview.

Embedded Reporter

Now that was the work of the day. Tonight was a time for play. As you might know tonight was the first fund-raiser for Milwaukee Renaissance, which makes all these ‘wiki’ mini-websites, like this one, possible. The location has many memories for me. It was at The Coffee House on 19th and Wisconsin, which began 40 years ago in 1967 when I was a graduate student at Marquette University. In fact I remember the early days and helping the young associate pastor at the time get it going. It must be one of the oldest ongoing coffee houses in the USA.

The band that donated its effort tonight was “Embedded Reporter”. They are an excellent group of musical storytellers that are easy and enjoyable to listen to. There was a touch of Appalachian sound in their music, which must be why I felt like wearing my hat from Clintwood Lumber in Appalachia tonight. The three founders of the Milwaukee Renaissance Site were present, two of them I have known since the 60’s and one, Tegan Dowling, who is the wiki gnome who makes many of these mini-sites possible.

When I used to be a youth minister, I would advertise my retreats, weekend getaways, or mission trips as a time to work, play and pray. Today was a day for the work and play. Tomorrow will be a day for prayer and more play. My oldest grandson? is celebrating his first holy communion, receiving the body and blood of Christ for the first time, at a worship service. Family and friends, which includes lots of cousins on his mom’s side of the family, will have a good time with him.

My wife and I got him some traditional gifts, like a neat bible, but we are bringing along two special GP gifts. One is two pails of worms from our worm depository for their compost pile and the other is Grape Leaves, a Lebanese food dish my grandchildren love. The Grape Leaves come from our own backyard. In fact they are probably ones my grandson helped us pick.

Tonight Tegan talked at the concert about the Milwaukee Renaissance wiki web pages as being living organisms like a plant. There are persons, like me and many others, that provide the fertilizer (BS?) by which it grows; there are persons like her that are the farmers that trim, organize and work it over. We are all the worms that power it. Together we grow the Milwaukee Renaissance site. Together we are Growing Power in work, play and prayer.

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April 13, 2007 Grounds for the Worms

worm depository

Today after driving someone to a doctor’s visit, I stopped by a Starbucks and discovered a bonanza of coffee grounds. When I take the grounds, the employees usually make some comment about putting them in my garden, and I usually make some comment about feeding my livestock, worms. There were at least five large bags of grounds and with some other grounds from the other day, I fed the worms in the condo, the worms in the worm depository and had enough for a layer of nitrogen on the big soil-growing compost pile.

I checked the worms out in the depository and they were thick and active. The melted snow and now the warm sun drew them near the top and edges for heat and a drink. Sunday when I go to my son’s house and land up north for my grandson’s first communion, I will take a few buckets of worms. We built a large pile of cow manure, straw, cardboard and kitchen scraps last summer. The manure was too rich last summer for worms, but now that it’s broken down they will really enjoy it and my family will soon have their own livestock (worms) flourishing. Next month before planting their garden we will take the top of the pile off to start a new one, and with the bottom build some rows for growing castings and food.

Andor called tonight. He is running into a few questions designing the vertical growing box that will collect tea, but is slowly getting it together.

I worked outside a little today but tomorrow afternoon I need to get some seeds planted indoors. I have everything ready and just need to do it — that is plant the seeds. I think I am going to take the kale I planted in one of the four planters in the GP plant stand outside into the garden. Then I will plant basil seeds in that planter. The other planter on top has parsley and oregano doing well. Now that the sun has arrived, hopefully the salad greens in the bottom two trays will flourish, and with the basil the plant stand will be a good example of how to grow a healthy salad inside in a small area.

The GP box still flourishes with Arugula and Kale; the more you cut, the more it grows. Working on the GP garden inside and outside is the kind of work that never ends but always seems new and refreshing.

Maybe it’s all those coffee grounds in the soil that make it so invigorating. So next time when things seem slow and tired you can grab a cup of Guatemalan coffee Buried in Guatemala? or just go outside and dig around the worm depository.

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April 12, 2007 Here comes the Sun!

The weatherman says the sun is coming back. This is good news for my plants inside the sun-room, those growing, those starting and those to be planted. There goes the rest of the snow. My wife was right. There was no need to shovel the driveway, the snow just melted away. With the melting snow the rain barrels are full. It might be a good time to add a painter’s bag of castings to one of them to make some “tea”. This castings ‘tea’, as they say, is better than Miracle Gro.

When I saw my neighbor had purchased lots of bags of top soil the other day, I offered him some tea from the rain barrels for fertilizer. He nodded his head yes but I do not think he knew what I was talking about. However, I am grateful to him, he gives me his grass waste for compost in the summer and the grape leaves I had for dinner tonight came from vines that originate in his yard and grow over my fence. So with his grass and grape leaves he is feeding me. The least I can do is offer him some “tea.”

Worm Condo before the recent snow

Casting tea is made by putting bags (painter’s bags) of castings in the rain barrels. The castings themselves come from the Growing Power Box or the Worm Condo. I have some worms now in the Worm Condo eating away at the compost and making castings, but will really get the production in full swing when I take the worms out of the GP box in the sun-room this spring and put them in the Worm Condo. Castings are the black gold of soil.

I am slowly, oh so slowly, lining up my priorities with how I spend my time each day. It is not an easy process but what I must endure to get my actions in line with my priorities in life.

I worked on my article for the newsletter, Living Stones, on Structural Racism. Hopefully I can finish it tomorrow. Like cleaning my office, once in a while exposing discrimination is not an easy job but one that must be done. Spring-cleaning and spring planting is a good time to do it. When it is done I will put a link to this page since the examples might be from Milwaukee but the issues are everywhere. Structural Racism is like living in a weed-filled garden. The weeds are everywhere, and when you are in it, it is hard to see the flowers through the weeds. I am not talking about the overt discrimination, such as the major radio shock-talk host is accused of, but of a much more subtle and hidden discrimination that is more pervasive and significant. If we do not point it out it will ruin our garden of life.

Watch out, discrimination and other dark matter, here comes the sun.

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April 11, 2007 Give me a break or a seed or a worm!

GP Box 4/10/07

Luckily I took some “before” pictures of the outside garden yesterday, since today the garden, the worm depository, the worm condo are full of snow. Hopefully this wet but plentiful snow will melt fast and we can get back to work outside.

Today would have been a good day to get some serious inside seed planting done but I did not. An unexpected meeting about the Mothers Against Gun Violence effort to pass responsible gun legislation sidetracked me. Normally a long meeting like this one was would really turn me off. But this one, thanks to the leadership of Senator Boggs and one of the organizers, actually got something done. I felt afterwards that we were ready to move on in the effort to stop this senseless violence in Milwaukee. Mothers Against Gun Violence.Home Page?.

I did eat some of the garden tonight besides the herbs that pervade our meals or the greens for our salads. I used lots of Kale from the Growing Power Box for the sesame chicken and noodles stir fry I made for dinner. Lots of Kale cooks down to a little, but it sure tastes good. Luckily I took this picture of the GP box in the sun-room yesterday.

The snow did not give me a break to work outside, the meeting did not give me a break to work on planting the seeds inside, but the worm-enriched soil did give me a wonderful and delicious vegetable, Kale, for food.

So when the snow of life unexpectedly takes you out of action, when talking takes so much time, be it effective or not, remember there is always healthy, affordable food made with ‘worm power’ to delight your palate and feed you.

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April 10, 2007 Leftovers

When making soil I referred to the material as ‘waste.’ A better word might be ‘leftovers.’ ‘Leftovers’ has more of a feel of food to it and less a connotation of garbage. Today I ran an errand for my friend Ella, the patch quilt maker. Someone in the suburbs had heard about her work and had some donated patches to give her. They were leftover from the days she used to make quilts. On the way to and back from picking up the patches, I managed to stop by four coffee shops to pick up the leftover coffee grounds for the compost pile. Three produced, but the fourth — the largest one — said once more that they would start today to collect the coffee grinds. I reminded the person that this was what they had said the last three weeks.

Coming home, I expanded my soil-building compost pile behind the garage. It is now about 12 feet long and four feet high as can be seen in the picture. However, now I need enough material to build the pile about five feet high. This is going to take a lot of leftovers. Carbon — like wood chips or leaves — is no problem, but nitrogen — like coffee grounds, brewers’ waste, etc — is. I need to find a nearby grocery store or restaurant that will just save me leftovers and rotten food. The more leftovers, the more soil I can build.

Someone ask me today if the type of material, leaves or wood-chips, coffee grounds or vegetable scraps made a difference. I tend to think not much of a difference but will need to find out. Do you know?

I am still catching up from being gone for a few days. But I did manage to get some time in working outside. Tonight they say a snowstorm is coming, so I will need to focus inside. I got my seeds yesterday so can start to grow them indoors, so when the weather finally warms up I will be ready.

This morning I went to the funeral of the father of an African American friend. It was a more culturally diverse event than I have experienced. There was a lot of laughter, some frank talking and the usual sadness and tears. Her father had many children by different women and thus the family was large with many branches. Although there were comments about his mean streak he was deeply loved by all. Afterwards I felt I knew this man, although I had never met him. In fact I do know a lot about him, where he is from, where he worked, his hobbles like fishing, his type of personality.

This morning at the prayer vigils I mentioned to some of the experienced persons how impressed I was at the attention and concern homicides are given in Boston, compared to Milwaukee, and how many fewer they have than we do. Someone pointed out to me that when Boston had made a concerted effort to lower the homicide rate some years ago they had done so dramatically. Then I understand they slacked off on the effort and the homicide rate went up? Now they are back working on it. When will we in Milwaukee stop talking about the rate and start working on it? Part of what I noticed in Boston is how the newspaper treated homicide victims as human beings. I think I might write another letter tomorrow to the local newspaper about their horrifying coverage of homicides. They might ignore it like the rest of my letters on the subject but eventually they might change.

One thing that there are never any ‘leftovers’ from is human life. Human life is never leftover. Each being is worth the same, no matter what they do or say. In one of the songs today at the funeral heaven was described as a place where you ‘do nothing.’ Now that is my kind of place. One can be happy being and not doing.

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April 9, 2007 Easter Joy

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J

When I left on Thursday, the salad green seeds were buried in the ground. Like the people “Buried in Guatemala?”, there was hope of a resurrection but for Good Friday the hope rested in the soil, which was created from waste and had been enriched by worms.

Tonight, when I returned, the salad greens had risen above the soil and, as their roots grow deeper, they are reaching for the sun. There is some small joy in the GRAF growing power planter that with care will grow into salad greens for the family table.

On the way home today I heard more good news of joy, Dawn had finally been contacted by the Mayor’s office about the promised rehab grant for the vacant house she is trying to fix up for the poor and ill. Also on the way home today we stopped at the Wisconsin Historical Society to view a patch quilt of Ella’s that proudly hangs on the second floor of a building they are renovating. Ellas Patch Quilts?.

Death still thrives in Milwaukee; there are three vigils for homicide victims tomorrow Mothers Against Gun Violence?, but hope and joy still reign. Over Easter in Boston, a much larger city with many fewer homicide victims, I noticed there was more action to stop the violence of our cities. Police were going door to door with ministers in crime-prone areas, police were conducting gun sweeps in areas, there was a major rally for young persons in these areas and a funeral of a young African American was covered as a news items worthy of p. 3 and a picture, with no recriminations about the youth’s behavior. Yes there is hope.

Now, with Easter, comes a full, all-out effort to grow soil, plant seeds and growing renewable affordable food. Our spirits have been revived, Hope has risen and is on the loose and will rise.

I had the privilege of spending a lot of time over Easter with my two-year-old granddaughter. When someone sent us an email with an interactive Easter card, my granddaughter was delighted by its simplicity. She said repeatedly “play it again” and we did. Each time she would laugh and be excited at the actions of the Easter bunny looking for the egg, although they were so predictable. Repetition did not get in the way of her joy. Each repeat was just as joyous to her as the first one. Her joy knew no end, except when adults got tired of playing it repeatedly for her. Her joy, like the GP garden, was renewable over and over again. It was the “same old, same old” as Will Allen says, but it was an easy laugh of joy from her each time.

In the lesson of a young child, in the worm-enriched soil, we will find joy over and over again.

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April 4, 2007 Holy Ground

Holy Ground

I am reminded today of the song called “Holy Ground”. “You are standing on Holy Ground” so the song goes. Perhaps it is because this is Holy Week, with Holy Thursday tomorrow, Good Friday, and Easter on Sunday. Perhaps it is because of the “holy ground” prayer vigils to remember and honor the 34 homicide victims this year in Milwaukee.

But most likely it is because I have been growing ground the last week or so. Growing ground, as I have explained in other postings, is a ritual activity for a Growing Power garden. The ground is made from waste, leaves, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, wood chips and such. Today I finally got enough coffee grounds, visiting three coffee shops, to put down a layer of nitrogen (coffee grounds) so I can put on the pile a layer of leaves and wood chips (carbon).

It was real cold and nasty out today. In fact so much so that I had to bring back the little hot water heater I use in the unheated sun-room in the winter.

I am going to take the next four days, Holy Thursday through Easter, away from this posting. It is a ‘holy time’ for followers of the Way of Jesus, a time to reflect, pray, wait, be silent and celebrate new life that rises from dying, just like the seeds I planted in the sun-room now seem dead but by Monday, when I resume this diary, will rise out of the ground.

Holy Ground is made from waste, death and suffering, but with seeds of faith life grows.

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April 3, 2007 Recycle and Break the Vicious Cycle

Recyled buys

Last night on the phone Andor told me about some kind of metal roofing we might be able to use to make a tray for the strip of land between the fence and driveway. The idea was to have water flowing from a rain barrel at the rear of the garage beneath planters on the strip, sort of like they do at Growing Power. Today, on the way home from Madison, I stopped at the Habitat for Humanity Restore nearby. The store is like a home improvement resale shop. The first thing I found was the screen in the picture that is the perfect size to place over my GP box in the sun-room when I am taking the worms out in a month or so. Fresh compost is placed on top of the screen, and worms come through the screen to eat and then are removed. The screen was only a $1. After I found it, I saw what I thought was the type of mental strip Andor was talking about. So I purchased it for $2. This store is full of all kinds of recycled building material. If you are in the Milwaukee area the store is on Hawley road south of 94 where the old Sam’s Club used to be. There was lots of scrap wood there but not knowing what I was looking for I will let Andor check that out.

I got to my tax accountant’s office early this morning in Sun Prairie so I stopped at a nearby Jung seed store. Jung seeds are world famous but I just purchased some zucchini, flowers and cayenne pepper seeds. The Zucchini seeds I will use for the new outside vertical growing structure that Andor is building. The cayenne peppers will probably go in some of the planter boxes that I was talking about above. So while the new soil is growing in the compost pile I, like a Boy Scout, plan to “Be Prepared.”

I did some other odd jobs in the garden today like finally plant the new rose bush that I purchased inexpensively at a discount grocery store. This is the rose bush that I mentioned last night that the planting of might be more significant for me to do than voting. No comment on the voting today.

carbon is ready

One thing I did not do today is get some nitrogen. Tomorrow I will have to make the rounds of a coffee shops looking for coffee grounds. Maybe I can figure out some grocery store that will give me old and rotten vegetable and fruits. The pile of carbon, wood chips and leaves are ready.

On my road trip today to and from Madison, I listened over and over again to Harvey Taylor’s CD “Points of View.” For me Harvey’s 25-word poems hit home. He touches, in a simple down to earth observation style, on some of the deepest thoughts and feelings we have. You can hear parts of this CD on Harvey’s web site at This is easy listening deep stuff. Harvey is also a fellow Growing Power gardener. On his site you can hear his Growing Power song. I understand a video of this song is soon coming to YouTube. Already on YouTube is one of Harvey’s classics: Break the Vicious Cycle”

So you got the Restore selling recycled building material and the “vicious cycle” we need to stop. Getting down with the soil may a good way to break the “vicious cycle.”

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April 2, 2007 Darn Taxes!

Yes sir, I will pay my taxes

In the old days when I was a businessperson in Madison making some good money, I had an accountant for my taxes and a financial adviser for my retirement funds. Now that I am retired and not making a lot of money, in fact none, I still go to Madison each year to see my tax accountant and visit my financial adviser. It costs more than doing it myself but it is easier. This year I put off my annual trip till tomorrow. So today was the day I needed to prepare my tax materials for tomorrow. After I got back from a prayer vigil for the 34th homicide victim in Milwaukee this year, I was busy getting everything ready for my annual financial trip. In the afternoon I had to do our weekly shopping and pick up some waste for composting so it was not until about four that I could get out and work in the garden on this sunny day. Taxes and shopping, what a waste! At least I was able to pick up a little waste on the way to grow some more soil.

Today in the newspaper, on page 3, I read about a scientific study that shows how the rich are getting richer in the USA and the poor are getting poorer. Not that I needed a study to tell me what I see and hear in the world around me each day. However, it made me more upset about paying my taxes. I want to pay my fair share for the ‘common good’ but feel I am paying for the war profiteers and others to get richer at the expense of the poor.

Tomorrow is an election date. I am not too worried about voting when I get back from Madison, but I am worried about working in the garden. Somehow I feel that getting my hands dirty in the soil is contributing more to the ‘common good’ than voting for a supreme court judge in the most expensive court race in Wisconsin history. I am looking out from my office through the glass doors to my rose bush sitting on the floor of the sun-room. Planting that in the soil may enrich the world more than my vote.

If I sound like an anarchist, I am not. But like one of my heroes, Dorothy Day, who never voted, I feel there is so much to do that is more significant than to vote. If I just alienated “liberals” and “conservatives” reading this posting I am glad. My voting with my working the soil must mean I am neither a “liberal’ or a “conservative’, just where I want to be.

But I will pay my taxes to the rich since I am too afraid of losing what I got and going to jail. Okay, I am a worm of a man when it comes to paying my taxes. But like a worm I do not want to be cut up in pieces, put on a hook and used for a catch to feed the rich.

While on the subject, I also do not like the saying that it is better to “teach a person how to fish than to give the person a fish.” I never thought it was an “either/or” situation but would much rather go fishing with the person, learn from each other, and share a good meal. Now if we are fishing for Tilapia, which grows in Africa, the Holy Land of the Middle East, and South America, that is even better.

So darn those taxes and worms of persons like me that pay them. Double darn when paying taxes interferes with working on the garden.

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April 1, 2007 Renewable Palms

Today was Palm Sunday in our Church. It is the day when we parade around the church waving palm branches, celebrating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem a few days before he was rejected by almost all, including his own disciples, and put to death for political crimes by the local authorities. (The crime he was falsely accused of was written above the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews” — a political no-no in the Roman occupied territory of Palestine.) We got new blessed palms to take home and with that comes the big question of how to dispose of the old blessed palms from last year.

My wife came up with a good solution when she asked me if we could compost the palms. I said yes and we placed them inside the waste collector in the kitchen with the coffee grounds, vegetable scraps and banana peels. So when I add this to the new and growing compost pile out back it will truly be some holy ground that we are making.

It rained lightly but constantly all day so I did not get much of a chance to work outside. However, my design partner Andor came over today to bring some wood shavings and a design for a new product for our enterprise. This is a a vertical growing structure that will not only serve as a great way to grow plants like cucumbers, zucchini and other growing vine plants that take up so much space, but also will serve as a “worm condo” to make castings, and as a tea collector. It should be inexpensive and easy to build. Stay tuned to the GRAF page for pictures and descriptions when the first two are built.

I also have an idea how to grow intensely in planters, similar to the method used in Growing Power, along the narrow strip of land along the driveway. There are also a few thoughts on how to plant more hanging plants in the sun-room and along the fence. Once you start thinking about effective use of small space to grow renewable affordable food effectively at home there are just so many ideas. My focus this summer is to maximize the space I have to grow healthy organic food and to continue writing and applying this way of growing for use in any home or apartment.

My wife, and my adult son who lives here, said they would help a little during the week with the garden. But with all the ideas floating around between Andor and me about how to take Will Allen’s and Growing Power methods of growing and apply them to a home model garden, we will need more help to make this model garden work. As we work things out in this model garden Tegan will help to communicate these methods and Godsil to peddle our enterprise, both salad bowl friends of Milwaukee Renaissance. But first the work making dirt and growing.

Hopefully after Easter I can take more time each day, with the weather cooperating, to work on the garden outside.

Meanwhile, I now have all four planters on the GP planter stand in use. The two top ones are growing Kale, Parsley and Oregano and the two bottom planters were just seeded with a lettuce mixture. In the picture above maybe you can notice the top two planters are tilted to right, so that overflow of tea runs through tubes to the bottom two planters. The bottom two are tilted to the left so that the excess tea will run off to the plastic container on the floor on the left.

With all the rain we had recently the three operating rain barrels are full of rainwater being collected. Now I will need to get some “tea bags” (painters’ flow-through nets) full of worm castings/”black gold”, to place in the barrels to make the tea.

The holy palms from last year will need to die, be composted into soil so that new life will rise from them again.

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PR MINISTRY 414 379 4162, Publisher of Living Stones email newsletter and facilitator for Retreat in Daily Life.



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