Upcycling is the process of turning materials from the wastestream into new materials of higher environmental value.
Upcycle Yourself is a similar concept on a human scale, turning from agents of pollution into agents of environmental change.

Aug 30, 2010

Someone told me recently that he wants in life is to be free, and that he envisions freedom as going to an airport without a ticket, and choosing a place to go. I think this is a vision of freedom that has been sold to us by the oil companies, by the tourist industry, by Freedom 55. Unlimited choice brings us a sense of freedom, though the consequences of those choices are externalized on a global scale, through tar sands, conflicts for resources, and oil spills. One of the most difficult moves for North Americans is giving up their car. Feeling unable to unleash ourselves from unsustainable habits seems more like confinement than freedom.

I did my first solo bike trip in August, a genuine sense of liberation as I rolled alongside the St-Lawrence river at my own rhythm. I feel like a turtle, slowly moving forward without any particular need to hurry, carrying my home as I go. I added a little garden bling to the bicycle, a tuft of wheatgrass sprouting forth from the handlebars. The wild plants in August are abundant: red clover, apples, saskatoon berries, raspberries. I rode 500km round-trip to attend a permaculture course in Temiscouata, a sparsely populated region of forests and maple syrup farms.

handlebar grass

Permaculture is an approach to agriculture that is based on long-term sustainability, earthcare, human care, and the imitation of natural systems. If left on its own, the earth tends toward diversity, the soil is constantly covered by plants, and perennials become established, leading to a complex ecosystem. In most forms of modern agriculture, we do just the opposite: crops are grown in large monocultures or segregated into rows, the soil is frequently bare, and we tend to grow annual plants which demand added fertility. No wonder farming is hard work, when we are always in a struggle, always forcing the earth to be something that it isn't.

In nature, when the ground is disrupted and the soil is exposed, erosion and nutrient-loss are consequences. Hearty pioneer plants naturally establish themselves on the exposed soil, quickly solving the problem by forming a ground cover. In farming, the soil is often purposely exposed and turned with machinery, and young pioneer plants start growing to re-cover the soil. In farming, we call these pioneer plants “weeds”, bringing a negative connotation to these plants that play such a vital role in the health of our planet.

In permaculture, we work with nature rather than against it, imitating natural systems, and establishing gardens that will ideally double as ecosystems. Permaculture is a philosophy, a set of principles and ideas, rather than a specific technique. Though certain techniques, such as forest gardening and self-fertilizing gardens, are associated with permaculture because of their potential to be fully sustainable. My favourite book on permaculture is Permaculture, a Beginner's Guide by Graham Burnett, which covers the fundamental ideas and philosophy in quite a short read, bringing the ideas deeper through illuminating illustrations.

I am now at an organic farm in the Quebecois countryside that is run by vegan rawfoodists. There are vegetables abound. We've been living on “warrior juice”, passing all the vegetables through the juicer that would be less attractive to customers, as well as lactofermenting and dehydrating the less-attractive produce for the winter.

wheatgrass warriors

It's amazing to see the amount of food that could be wasted on a farm, not because the food is bad, but because consumers have been fed such a perfect vision of cosmetic produce by the mega grocery chains, so “second rate” vegetables just tend to rot unpurchased on the shelves. I love ugly tomatoes. A motto to embrace next time I'm in a grocery store :)

There are neighbors here with apple trees and plum trees, with more than they can possibly eat. We've been doing apple-runs, trading for tomatoes and cucumbers. We hooked up a gigantic trailer to my bike, eliminating the need to bring a car. The rawfoodist fellow who runs the farm has a dream of one day making farm machinery that runs on bicycle power. Looking forward to the future...