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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invitation to a celebration of Chuck

An Invitation to:
Friends and Colleagues of Chuck Waibel

Carol Ford, Garden Goddess Enterprises

Warm greetings to all. Most of the people on this list are aware that Chuck Waibel passed away on August 16, just a month after discovering he had stage 4 colon cancer. Thank you for your support in so many ways during that very difficult time and the weeks that have followed.

You may also know that Chuck was awarded a Bush Leadership Fellowship for 2013-2014. He was very much looking forward to pursuing his plan to create a model for a resilient, sustainable, community-based food system. It was difficult to accept that he would not be able to see his project through to completion, but also quite remarkable to witness how many people stepped forward and said they wanted to help make sure his vision would be carried forward. In the end, he did realize that his torch was being passed on to capable hands. This meant a great deal to him and to me.

It’s been hard sometimes to stay in touch after Chuck’s death. Grieving, yes, that. But also, I did not have access to Chuck’s passwords for his computer files. With the patient help of our friend Ben Winchester, there’s now a consolidated folder of email addresses and working files, which we are using to share this information about Chuck’s upcoming memorial celebration and related events.

The memorial will be on Saturday, October 26, at noon, in the Milan, MN Community Center (formerly the elementary school). There will be a potluck following the memorial, along with an opportunity for those who wish to hear about Chuck’s vision related to the Bush Fellowship project’s reformation. We’d like to use this time when we gather together to connect, discuss, and make a few plans for the coming year. If you would like to help continue his vision, but are unable to attend, please fill out this form:

Visitors are also encouraged to spend some time checking out the highlights of our small but lively village including the Arv Hus Museum, Milan Village Art School, Billy Mapletree Giftshop and the Karen Jensen Art Gallery. You can also get a tour of the Garden Goddess passive solar winter greenhouse before digging in at the potluck.

Chuck actually took some time while in hospice at home to let me know what he wanted his memorial to include. I always had my notebook close by in those days and wrote down what he said. I thought you might like to know how much he respected and valued all of you and the influence you had in his life and the lives of others now and in the future.  Here’s what he said,

“I would like to see all the people I’ve worked with on local foods to come together to say good-bye to me but also hello to each other. I can imagine them meeting and greeting, finding common cause and pondering new collaborations. So invite them in and, you know, let them be sad for a while, but then bring them together to share food and conversation and just watch what happens! It’s always been about building community. All of it has. Putting all those dedicated minds together—it’s bound to make great things grow. Let them know this isn’t for my sake. It’s for theirs.”

Please join us on the 26th in sorrow and in celebration of this guy with a vision that was founded on the belief that together, we can built the tomorrow that will nurture us and the communities yet to come.

If you need directions or have questions, please feel free to contact me at or 320-734-4669.  I can also give you information on area B&Bs and hotels.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

These are the Voyages…

Happy belated Apollo Day! Yesterday was the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I’m one of many who believe that July 20th should be a national holiday. For us, the space program, civil rights struggle, and the anti-war and environmental movements were of a piece. Humanity appeared to be growing up. We were cleaning up our act, seeing others with more compassion, and were willing to sacrifice for the hard jobs. With our sights on Justice, and the glorious adventure that the Universe presented, there was nothing that we couldn’t do together. The Treyvon Martin debacle is just one example of what we’ve lost since those days.

This song still makes me cry-
I’ve had two personal voyages centering here as well. One began a year ago today. I’ve been saying for years that no matter how bad things get, there will be people alive in a century- after all, if that isn’t true, what’s the use of trying? BUT, those people will only have the tools and stories that we send down to them to work with. So, I went on a long drive through several states and provinces to see what some of us are preparing to pass down. I took hundreds of pictures, got hours of interviews, and saw sights both hopeful and depressing. I slept in cheap motels, in cabins in the woods, and on couches in both remote farmhouses and inner-city apartments. I compiled a pretty decent little memoir/travelogue, but it’s lacking the “zing” to make it really work. I’d been wrestling with it for months before it dawned on me to cast it as a letter to those future people. That’s the massive rewrite that I’m working on now.

It occurs to me that those descendants may have trouble believing many of the things I write: “Do you seriously mean that you took off on a journey of thousands of miles, counting on having food, fuel, and places to sleep? Do you mean that you weren’t afraid of being waylaid by bandits, or picked up by some sheriff who needed another body on his chain gang? You must be kidding!” All of those things have been rare in history, and they can be lost again. If you’d told me that in 1969 I’d have laughed in your face.

Then there’s my current personal journey. Yes, I have colon cancer. I feel that I’m standing in the lobby of a big building marked “CANCER.” Tomorrow I go in for surgery, which will mean getting on the elevator over which I have no control. I may get off again on Level One, which will mean that the whole deal is over and done with this week. It could be Two, Three or even Four, which would mean all-out medical war and saying my goodbyes.

In practical terms, I’m in the second day of a two-day prep regime. That means that I’ve had no solid food since Friday afternoon, and must drink several glasses of a salty laxative solution every two hours. It wouldn’t be too bad, except that my guts feel like a nest of snakes half of the time. The “cuttlefish” responds to this by sending out little icy spiky pain balls every few minutes. My chemistry is way off, leading to grotesque mood swings. Anything remotely sentimental gets me crying.

I’m not much afraid of dying. I’ve done that before. What I’m afraid of is not finishing my work.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It Just Got Personal- My life has become a metaphor

As some of you know, I’ve been having health issues- weeks of abdominal pain, failing energy, chills, and a raft of other draining not-quite-right things. After months of bugging my doctor to figure something out, he concluded that I had a bleeding peptic ulcer, based largely on my having become severely anemic. What followed was weeks of medication, including an iron supplement that caused severe and agonizing constipation. This was certainly going to cure me if I just toughed it out. My questions and complaints were put off as impatience.

I was eventually able to get in for a colonoscopy and gastroscopy on Monday. The verdict- he was dead wrong. Oh, I did have internal bleeding, but not from a peptic ulcer. My stomach is fine. I have a growth that looks like a mutant cuttlefish in my colon, bleeding merrily away. These things grow slowly, so it should have been plainly visible during the routine colonoscopy I had just three years ago. The chances are 50/50 that it’s malignant, which means that my prognosis as of June 16th lies somewhere between “painful interlude” and “So Long, it’s Been Good ta Know Ya.” I’m scheduled for surgery to remove the ugly beast next week, by which time we’ll know how bad it really is, how much of my intestines will have to go with it, and whether I’ll be going on Chemo. Oh, joy and rapture unforeseen.

Meanwhile, under orders from my surgeon, I spent most of today, Tuesday, getting a massive transfusion. This was the first thing that my former doctor should have ordered. To add insult to injury, when I got home there was a phone message from that doctor’s nurse, that I need to calm down and try a different formula of iron supplement. I guess that they didn’t get the memo.

A lot of people haven’t gotten the memo in recent decades. Our one and only Earth, like my one and only gut, has been showing symptoms of serious illness for a long time, close to half a century. Aside from a few well-paid loonies and shills, the science is settled- we are screwing up our planet’s climate. It’s our fault. It’s too late to stop it. The people running the planet don’t want to take any real steps, but are tweaking the “iron supplements” of policy in ways which just further centralize things and make them less adaptable. Maybe we’ll muddle through with a painful interlude of economic collapse, die-offs, and the totalitarian government which will inevitably follow. Maybe the consequences will be so severe that all that matters is how much style and grace we show as we bow out. No one can say for certain.

My greenhouse and local foods work over the past decade has never really been about greenhouses or food. It’s been about giving people tools, and experience in a way of thinking, a way that will help them to adapt and thrive in the messy world to come. As long as I have the strength and breath that’s what I’ll keep doing. As a local businessman told me, “Chuck, you may end up saving millions of lives.” That would be nice.

Then there’s that matter of style and grace. I may be about to be handed a rare and precious opportunity. A person’s true character shows best in adversity. I may be about to experience soul-searing adversity. It surely hurts a lot so far. Will I dry up into the whiney husk of a man, or be remembered as one of those noble souls whose fiery trial burned away all the illusions and ego, leaving an inspiration for others? Time will tell. I freely admit that it scares the shit out of me, but know that courage isn’t lack of fear, but being terrified and doing what you had to anyway. Maybe it will be a false alarm, but I refuse to engage in the Bargaining and Denial that climate change deniers do. I only pray that if I must I can be the kind of example that we’re all going to need in the days to come.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Heading into the Bush

I’m sorry that I’ve been away, but things are happening. It’s a new game now.

In just under a month my tenure as a 2013 Bush Fellow begins. (see This will give me resources to learn what I need to be the leader who can pull off things like the Deep Winter Producers’ Association. I’ll be taking classes, travelling, studying, and discussing things with advisors and mentors.

Those advisors have warned me that in early July, about two weeks after the official Fellowship period begins, I will be inundated with requests from people who want me to work on projects with them. They will mean well, most of them, but they will drag me off in unfruitful directions. As one advisor said, “Don’t go off chasing rabbits. Remember your goals.”

I had a good example yesterday. A man that I met at a recent meeting called. He was gushingly enthusiastic about a project involving lots of farmers with big greenhouses and centralized storage facilities. I interrupted, and something like this ensued:

“I’m not interested in building a ‘shadow version’ of the Industrial Food System.”

“Why not? It’s going to be with us for a long time.”

“No, it’s going to collapse in fifteen to twenty years, maybe sooner. It’s based on too many contradictions and false assumptions.”

<Several seconds of silence>

“I hope that we’re not all stuck eating rice and beans.”

“We might be, but that would actually be a good-case scenario. My mission is to equip people for what’s coming.”

We concluded with the usual “good lucks” and “you’ll hear from mes.” I probably won’t hear from him.

I told Ken Meter ( ) about this. He liked my “disarming tactic.”

Not only do I not have time to chase rabbits, none of us do. We can’t afford to waste our time and resources on the interminable gabfests that mostly just fill up reams of newsprint with notes and drawings, or posters with little colored dots. All of us concerned with local foods have experienced these. It can feel a bit like this scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian-

Methods for building our resilience exist. I invented some of them, and want to learn about others. Many people have rolled up their sleeves to do good work. We have plenty of reason for Hope- not hope of preserving The System, but of building something new to succeed it. We can do this. BUT, it’s time for action, not discussions that should have been had fifteen years ago. Wish me well, and come along for the ride- we’re actually going someplace.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Better to Work than Whine- What We're Up To

Report from first DWPA Meeting- 020213

(Deep Winter Producers' Association)

Our first meeting was invigorating, except for the people who couldn't make it. It was informal, with just enough structure to be coherent. The dozen folks were excited to meet others who shared their new passion. It had that perfect feel, a neighborly gathering of people who share a wholesome, inviting idea with high potential for good.

We met at the new Elk's Bluff greenhouse, just outside of Montevideo. Tim Elkington had thought ahead to creating a producers network- he built a meeting room in his barn as part of the greenhouse's processing area. It was fine to be sitting around, talking and drawing ideas on a white board, while just through the windows was the greenhouse packed with fresh growing things, on a windy February day. Tim's wife, Shelly, made a tasty salad from Chinese cabbage that they'd raised, and Lorri Maus brought home-made scones.

Of the dozen people, six already have Garden Goddess-type greenhouses. One mother and grown son came for advice- they'd had to adapt the design in extreme ways, and wanted help with how to correct some problems. Two other groups wanted to talk about their greenhouses-in-planning. Everyone knew others that were thinking of building.

One idea with great potential came from a farmer from near Albany, Minnesota. He wants to build a large greenhouse on the south face of his barn, and turn the old silo pit into a fish tank! I was especially happy to hear about his ideas. Aquaponics, the joining of fish farming with greenhouse growing, can produce extremely high densities of good food. He is also an expert on heating and related ducting, with ideas for the rest of us to tighten up our systems.

Every greenhouse is a bit different. We shared design tricks, and ideas about what crops grow better under what conditions. With our diverse, grass roots attitude, everyone's approach brought something that the others hadn't thought of.

We talked about the concepts of the DWPA. Local chapters will concentrate on an area of roughly an hour's drive, with some overlap of territories, and much cooperation between chapters. From the emails and phone calls that I've received, there are already about ten chapters sketched out in Minnesota and the Dakotas. The focus will be on raising and selling food within the chapter's territory. There will of course be some “exports,” but the stress is on Local-ness.

A big discussion point was markets. Everyone who runs CSAs from these greenhouses, across the continent, has waiting lists far longer than they can possibly handle. All of us get requests from chefs and grocers for our product. We can name our prices. Back-of-the-envelope calculations tell us that we could have a dozen or more units like ours in our area and still not fill the demand.

We gathered contact information from everyone, and will be planning more meetings soon. Our focus for now will be:
  • Helping everyone to get the best production they can from their units
  • Helping others who want to build to get started
  • Setting up communication for sharing ideas and insights
  • Planting other active chapters in other areas.
If you're interested in being a part of this new movement, send me a message. I'm here to help.

Build a greenhouse! Start a Chapter! Change the world, at least a little!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What the Monster Actually Is

I heard my ancestors from the Trail of Tears at my elbow yesterday. I was sitting in a meeting of the Planning Commission in Ortonville, Minnesota. Briefly, the Township had repulsed the efforts of a company that wanted to do aggregate mining. They didn't want the environmentally damaging project next to a State Park and wildlife area. So, the City of Ortonville decided to annex the land and let the project go forward.

My ancestors reminded me that that's been the attitude of this society for centuries. “We don't like how you use your land, so we'll kick you off and give it to someone who can make money with it.”

There are many other instances of the same thing going on, from the spectacularly newsworthy XL pipeline to “local” issues like frac sand mining or nuclear waste disposal. That word, “local,” is the problem. Yes, each instance affects the environment and people in a particular place, but until we realize that they're all of a piece we won't be able to fight them effectively. Our aggregate fight is your pipeline fight is their plutonium fight- are the voter suppression and women's rights fights.

We need to remember that Capitalism isn't the normal economic state of humankind, but an experiment only a few centuries old. It involved, for the first time in history, creating economic organizations which are considered as legal persons. These life forms have only one ethical imperative- to grow and make profits. Such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Teddy Roosevelt warned us that they are monsters that need to be kept in cages.

For most of US history there were enough easy resources to be had that The Monster “just” displaced Native Americans. It “just” enslaved black people, then children. The fights that brought us the 40-hour week, safe working conditions, an end to child labor, even the Weekend, are barely a century old. We're in the process of losing them again.

By all means, we need to fight those local battles. We also need to be aware of how they all link together, and back each other up.

But what we most need to do is build an alternative System, as “off the grid” of corporate control as we can. Even growing our own food is becoming illegal in some places- imagine growing a garden as being the civil disobedience equivalent to Rosa Parks keeping her seat on the bus, or to a bunch of guys sitting at a segregated lunch counter. Pushing real Local Foods could get us into that kind of trouble.

Another bit of history. There is a saying from the Holocaust, attributed to Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
They're coming for Homosexuals.
They're coming for Liberals.
They're coming for Teachers.
They're coming for Organic Farmers.
When will they be coming for you?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

09/15/12- Elk's Bluff Open House

05:23:11 PM Finally, a break. I got here at about 12:30 to help with setup. I prepared with my computer, business cards, and books in the Processing Room, where I could explain the whys and hows of the greenhouse itself.
Coming up the Driveway

The overall setup is impressive. Coming down the long driveway a visitor sees a big white pavilion tent with tables and chairs. A low bandstand is ready along one wall with a white canvas backdrop. Around the garage are a couple of smaller tents, for serving food and taking entries for door prizes.

The center of it all is the barn-under-transformation. The construction is a bit behind schedule, as we've had several dry, dusty, windy days when little work could be done. They're still planning to be in operation by late October.

In the barn's entry and front room is the guest book, with a display of crafts and antiques for sale. Much of the barn has been converted to a funky antique and crafts shop.

Almost finished greenhouse
Toward the rear is the Processing Room. This fifteen by thirty space has two windows and a door that look out into the greenhouse. About one third will be where produce from the greenhouse is packed for delivery. The rest is set aside as a meeting area for organizing the greenhouse network that we envision, and for other community meetings such as Transition.

Just before 2:00, the scheduled start time, we wondered whether anyone would come. Ha! Right at 2:00 a line of five cars turned in- not related, just with the same idea. It hasn't let up since. Carol and I have traded off manning the room, explaining and elaborating. I've occasionally wandered about, taking pictures. I haven't looked at the guest book, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that over a hundred people have come through.

I've personally talked with people from several states- Iowa, Wisconsin, California, and Minnesota, and one from France. Many are thinking about building their own, but some have come representing groups such as food co-ops.

The festivities went on until about 8 pm. The band played, other musicians jammed, people kept coming through... (The short clip is of my wife, Carol Ford, and our friend Richard Handeen.)

This is the kind of community building that makes genuine Local Foods work.