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Leveraging struggles & potential to grow higher capacity & greater health in myself, my community, and the world:

A case study planting rain and neighborhood native food forests to grow regenerative abundance

By Brad Lancaster (Author) and Karryn Olson (Editor) with The Regenerative Economy Collaborative

I get up predawn to pee, step outside, and am hit with the hum. Its omnipotent in the city, to the point of being unheard. But it stirs in me the concern for what cannot be heard.

The hum is of the non-living, the mechanical — air conditioners, freeway traffic, and a pump running 24/7 a block away to reduce the spread of a toxic PFA plume in our community’s groundwater.

Where is the singing of the living — the crickets, the owls, the fireflies, the toads, the coyote, and the wind through leaves that enable all to breathe?

What’s my role in this?

What could be my role?

What do I want my role to be?

In thirty minutes, before the sun rises, I will be breaking holes in the asphalt on the edge of one of my neighborhood’s sun-baked alleys to expose a few pockets of soil in the otherwise all-paved environment. Steel digging bar and a pointed shovel are all I need.

I’m going to transplant native food-bearing tree seedlings into these pot holes I’m making. I want them to be life holes that can contribute to life wholes.

Neither the holes nor the trees will block the alley for they are on the outer edge, along a property wall, a dead edge we’ll transform into a life hedge.

I’m strategic where I work. I select spots where life is most needed, and where it will most likely succeed. I strive to collaborate with the as of yet untapped potential already here.

Pipes drain stormwater from the parking lot on the other side of the wall to the alley — free irrigation. So, I plant beside every pipe outlet. I also recruit neighbors to help be the stewards of these plantings.

My dream is that this alley (all alleys, all streets, all walkways) become life corridors shaded by living canopies irrigated freely and solely with the stormwater running off the adjoining hardscapes/pavedscapes into the sponge-like lifescapes. Shaded corridors with the beauty and comfort of this life, to enjoy, to learn with, to participate with, to eat from, and to grow more of.

I’ve guerrilla planted over 100 such plantings this summer.

We’ve planted thousands more with permissions, permits, and the organized collaboration of other people over the years. All passively and freely watered by annually harvesting over a million gallons of stormwater, which used to wastefully drain out of the neighborhood. Destructive floods have been turned into productive harvests, all of which has inspired and informed the city to legalize, incentive, and mandate this practice.

Blocks that used to be bare are now lined with continuous canopies of living shade and understory life. From this shade, from these living air conditioners, life sings.

Arrows denote water flow before and after the planting of rain and native food forest.
Photos: Brad Lancaster. Reproduced with permission from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2, 2nd Edition

But is what I’m doing enough?

Is it effective enough?
Much of my neighborhood and the majority of my city is still severely deficient in this life.

I’m always restrained with such questions and doubt. If I’m not careful, they sap my will, and my actions dwindle or stop.

Not that the questions are bad.
The deeper issue is: What am I sourcing from when I ask them?

Am I coming from a place of fear (of failure, inadequacy, desperation) or burnout?

If so, the questions pull me down.

But if instead, I ask “What truly sources me? What juices and enlivens me? And what sources the myriad life of this unique place, which enables it and me to be?” then things flip and my will grows.

The questions change, as does my state of being.
I’m consciously asking, “What is, or could be, sourcing me?”, so that I can choose a higher level of sourcing, with a higher level of potential and will.

Here’s some examples of how they differ:

Fear and doubt sourcing me, brings about internal dialog such as:

“If I do this, there is a good chance someone is just going to herbicide or cut down the plantings. So, what’s the point?”
I focus on problems, real or imagined.

But if I instead focus on the potential, and in a way that can also address problems, and lift me and my communities’ capacity and capability, I ask such questions as,
“How can we plant in a way that plants don’t just survive, but thrive?”

“How could reforesting our desert neighborhood be done so everyone could see, and experience, it as an asset — something they too would want to succeed, and that they could even uniquely contribute to?”

“How could it be done, so more of the plantings would plant and grow themselves?”

Similarly, “How could stewards of the forest grow and evolve themselves in collaboration with the forest?”

My interest and will rises.

Ultimately what I’m striving to do is more consciously collaborate with the living systems that enable us, and all life, to be. And I start where I am, by looking more specifically at how life has uniquely adapted to, evolved with, and reciprocated to this place, the Sonoran Desert, and my town of Tucson, Arizona.

Living systems frameworks help me with this, as they help me see and articulate how things are connected, and could be more consciously integrated. They also help me see what I’ve overlooked or have not yet considered.

Here’s a framework developed by Regenesis Group for regenerative development, which I find inspirational. It strives to identify and hold the key sources we need to bring together to create greater value and the highest order of motivation and spirit that we want to tap into

To read the rest of this essay, go here to see it in its entirety on Medium

See the new, full-color, revised editions of Brad’s award-winning books
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Neighborhood Food ForestryPassive SystemsRainwater HarvestingStormwater & Street Runoff Harvesting