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We've been going about this all wrong. Nature is the key.


The existential dread we feel is largely fueled by unfair societal and cultural norms. This much is true. If we were liberated from those constraints and free to live with purpose and passion, we may not wonder if anything we do really matters because our worth and value would not be limited to currency or transactions. The truth is, we're not merely living to die working our fingers to the bone, we're living to find meaning in life. Figuring out how to not just exist but thrive within the constructs that confine us is our one true limitation. Because of that, I'm beginning to realize that happiness and fulfillment are a meticulously choreographed tango between our potential and the expectations or obligations that we tend to. Notice I didn't say burdened by. If we want to feel like we aren't just here to run a rat race, we have to transform how we think and harness what power we do have to challenge ourselves to live with purpose and intentionality. That is, taking control. We severely undervalue our importance and impact on one another, but especially to ourselves and in doing so, we miss the point entirely. The much needed increase of attention on mental health and self-care are part of this broader conversation. Dealing with our emotions and our experiences as part of our human experience ans condition is the validation we need to recognize and normalize healing. I point out in other posts and through Outside In's mission the healing power of nature but it is worth reiterating. I believe there are lessons we are doomed to repeat until we can understand and adopt a new way to live and co exist. In many ways this new way is rebllious and disruptive. In that discomfort is our growth. In the end, both in the literal and non literal sense, it is absolutely necessary to create radical change. We can learn so much about resiliency through nature as it has its own sordid history and relationships to us. One could even say our relationship to nature over time and how it has changed to be primarily transactional is directly related to our human conditioning and the social norms we are working so hard to combat.



WEED THEORY


We've all seen and heard about the push to save the bees. Science once again prevails as we finally realize their importance and have found a sense of urgency to save ourselves in saving them. What seems as simple as letting food sources for the bees flourish so that they in turn will continue to exist and pollinate our food sources is actually anything but. One of those sources that is becoming scarce are those troublesome yellow lawn invaders, dandelions. Have you ever had the "weed" (not cannabis) conversation with a neighbor or HOA? It can get ugly rather quickly. I'm likely preaching to the choir but this is beyond the weed war, so hear me out. What I am really getting at is the demonization and thus the killing of valid living things. Somewhere in our timeline it was deemed by the wealthy that grass was the gold standard for lawns and a symbol status (quo). Meaning, some rando decided that certain species of flower or other naturally occurring plants in our landscape were to be deemed as invasive, creeping, or weeds if not worthy of prize or possession. That included many medicinal herbs and flowers that our ancestors used for survival. It is with that same disregard and contempt that colonialism created a hierarchy amongst people deemed as savages. Thus starting a vicious cycle of what it means to be successful, how status and success are measured, and what sacrifices we must make to acquire said success. Maddening, I know. What if I told you we could learn from nature how to combat those ideals? What if we could become the so-called weeds to disrupt and become more resilient ourselves?


War, what is it good for?!


If you've ever found yourself trying to eliminate a wayward garden dweller, whether animal or plant, then you know it is basically like declaring war. Likely you or someone you've found through a how to search has resorted to some rather drastic means. While no one is ever happy with things munching on the fruits of their labor or taking over a manicured garden bed, does anyone ever stop to question why? If the above is true for you than you already know that nature can be pretty clever! We are often out matched and out whitted given Mother nature's bevy of skills. Afterall, nature has learned to co exist with us for centuries. It is typically only through man-made tactics that we are even remotely able to control them. Concrete, fences, natural barriers, and yes, even chemicals never end with total success. Goodbye money! Their resiliency is an act of defiance. They will always prevail because their purpose is to live and thrive regardless of what we deem as their appropriate existence in relation to us. They understand their purpose and our titles and constraints have no bearing on their need and will to exist. However, we've managed to become the number one predator because of our greed. As outlined in my last blog, that only changes if systemic racism is dismantled at its core, but I digress.


Power to the People


Whether it's food related disruption like food sovereignty, community gardens, Co-ops, and CSA's or its disruption through challenging our ideals on purpose and community, we have much to learn and also much to gain. The ecosystem we are part of acts as it's own community. Plants have important relationships to one another that are a delicate balance of life and even death. The harmony that nature survives within is fascinating. Though we live within structures that have created barriers, or would have us feel as though our only purpose is to suffer in service and solitude, our true calling is in our relationship to each other. The lesson taught by colonialism and emperialism is that only predators and the strong survive, but even nature knows that's a bunch of bull. The example of bees, for instance, and their reliance on dandelions as a first food source or even further, our perceived dominance and conversely the harsh reality that we rely heavily on a nature who we've largely declared subservient to us. We are so hell bent as a species to prove our worth in all the ways that mean nothing so much so that we may very well cause our own demise. The only conceivable answer to our problems is, surprisingly enough, ourselves. We (you) get to rewrite the narrative in your existence. Our purpose is just that. How we view what power we hold, how we question and challenge the status quo, and how we see ourselves as part of a community or an ecosystem, if you will, is how we begin to take back our lives.





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It’s no secret that we are in a crisis. Our planet is in desperate need of our help to reverse the damage we have caused. Though our love affair with overconsumption and excess waste is much to blame it isn’t the only contributing factor to climate change and a dying ecosystem. This is when I’d usually point out pollution, toxic waste and yadda, yadda. Absolutely those too are important and while I believe many people are aware of why we’re here, we don’t do a very good job of framing the how. The conversation and hyper emphasis usually goes something like- people are the worst, we really messed up, use this metal straw and canvas bag and it’ll mostly be alright. However, it isn’t that simple. Not that you actually believe that rubbish but that is how it’s sold. Keyword being sold.


The Heart of the issue


I am old enough, or young enough to remember spending Saturday mornings watching Captain Planet and trying to relay the messages of conservation to my parents. As I think back, there were a lot of tv shows and campaigns around environmentalism. We even had that catchy jingle and commercial about recycling, reducing and reusing. I guess they thought we’d be the one’s to fix it or at least care, and we do. Even now being green has become more mainstream (ahem, hence this site). This messaging is becoming sexy. It seems like everywhere you go there is an underscoring of urgency to reduce waste. That’s all well and good but none of those new products or fads address structural racism or poverty. What does being eco friendly have to do with poverty and race, you ask? Well, for one thing it’s a hell of a lot easier to live green when you can eat green. Convenience foods which are often most affordable and accessible are packaged in plastics, foils and tins. Of course that is true of healthy food brands too but their consumers are often white, affluent and therefore can afford to avoid less harmful packaging as well as eat healthier. Those same consumers also drive newer more efficient vehicles because of the vast amount of opportunities and privilege. They are more likely to live in neighborhoods and housing that allow for recycling receptacles, whereas folks with lower income are often renting in subsidized housing or rent in apartments or townhouses that typically have a large shared trash bin where waste is not sorted until after it is in a landfill. In addition, white consumers have access to health food markets and stands that are more conscious than the average box store and closer in proximity to where they live and work. Those neighborhoods that are pricier are likely developments that host green spaces, parks and recreational facilities. Your see where I'm going, yes? Just as our land is in need of healing, so too, are we. I find the parallels of the deep racial injustice and the neglect of this integral part of the environmental discussion troubling. I view them as synonymous. Black and Brown folks have decried issues of clean water, lack of affordable housing, maltreatment in health and other "social determinants" that have until recently gained attention for decades. Racial justice is yet again at the heart of the issue in question.



Historical and multigenerational acts of violence are at fault. For instance, gentrification has directly impacted and purposely has kept people from the resources above. Intentionally leaving large groups out of geographical areas where the opportunity to live better is out of literal reach. The Food Access Research Atlas (Food Access Research Atlas) is an interactive map created from census track data that allows you to see where food deserts exist. Food deserts are usually home to very few and sometimes no choices for consumers to buy groceries. There are also less culturally appropriate foods in those areas.

Larger name brand food products sold at Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart and the like are for one, not the healthiest, but also far less concerned about their impact whether environmental or health related. The more affordable and most available foods and grocery entities profit off of low income individuals and thus those heavy waste products are more apt to make it to food pantries or purchased by customers with a limited income.


"My vision for Outside In includes those small but impactful steps and the knowledge we can acquire together to make better choices."


I bring this up because in my research, poverty and structural racism are not mentioned nearly enough when we speak about environmentalism. Almost certainly this means the root cause will continue to go unaddressed as systemic racism is categorically epidemic. With this platform I feel as though I have a social responsibility to name the structural barriers. I seek to educate/advocate for change, rather than to act as though people suck and should try harder. It isn’t helpful. That way of thinking in and of itself is part of the problem. It’s a sad lie we tell ourselves and have been falsely led to believe. We forget to hold those with the most power accountable but are quick to cast judgements and responsibility solely at the feet of others or ourselves. Though we each hold a stake, our codependency is no accident. Industrialization is both a blessing and a curse and capitalism has created a vacuum of wealth. As we think about how to save and heal our land, let’s remember to focus our discontent and frustration on the policies and systems that led us here. This side of the coin requires your time and energy just as much, if not more.


In the meantime, what I share here, I share with respect to the human condition. My vision for Outside In includes those small but impactful steps and the knowledge we can acquire together to make better choices. In fact, through this journey our family is doing just that. We are certainly not the picture of perfection when it comes to recycling but not for lack of trying. Recycling and reducing waste isn’t always fun, convenient or pretty. I know, scoff, I said recycling isn’t convenient or fun but that is where I've made it a point to challenge myself. Building on our consciousness and honestly having the capacity to reduce and reuse has helped us as a family make a concerted effort to do our small part. Not to mention in certain aspects it saves us money. Who couldn't use savings!? The fact is, there are some really amazing and creative ways to be more green. If you’re interested in learning about reducing your ecological footprint, I’ll be sharing some of those ways here. Bonus! They are actually fun. It doesn’t have to be a slog and you might just be surprised at what you can create. I am not here to toot my own horn. Instead, my goal is to be insightful, encouraging and truthful as it pertains. I myself am becoming more and more enlightened about how I can be part of the solution. I’m happier in this evolution and iteration of me because I have knowledge and with that, I have power. My wish is the same for you and yours.


Rooting for you!

-Charisse


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The deeper I dig into this journey, the more I feel connected to my roots. As an African American, I am often reminded of the omission of our history and the denial of our rich cultural inheritance. Though I know our lineage and decent, there is a void. I don't know who I am made of, however I do know what I am made of. My vested interests in permaculture and food sovereignty are an act of rebellion. It is a form of resistance, reclamation and protest centered in Black and Brown resiliency.



As I work in the soil and water, and the life that lay in waiting, I am reminded of the history of my people. On our continent, we understood and embraced nature. We were acutely aware of the delicate balance and our existence within it. Our history as Americans is similar except the balance we maintain is not ours to control. I am reminded of the back breaking labor, blood, sweat and tears of BIPOC people as we built and entire nation. A nation that barely honors our contributions and stripped us of possibility and opportunity. I am reminded of the land we tilled and harvested, and what little of that was or is ours today. We were slaves to people that we fed and clothed in the very communities we weren't allowed to be part of.



That is not to say we haven't come a long way. There is no doubt about it, but we are still left in the dust. In the area of agriculture, Black farmers make up less than 1 percent of an already small industry. While white farming families have passed down their family farms , BIPOC farmers, as well as our general population, struggle to secure generational wealth of any kind. Systemic racism is of course at fault as well as The Homestead act of 1862 that gave white land owners the edge. Our future in the area of agriculture is uncertain with the withering of our elders, the literal death of a wealth of knowledge, as well as the continued lack of legislation to bolster the decline. A quick search will show you that homesteading, permaculture and agriculture are still heavily dominated and influenced by white people. This shouldn't come as much of a shock as clubs like FFA are not typically offered in predominately Black schools. It is also not often considered a pathway in Black culture. As we fled and were pushed into urban epicenters the land was not farm but concrete. Even in rural America, the scarcity of resources and racism have kept us from further growth in the field.





Those that should be allies, such as the USDA, have come under fire for perpetuating the issue. For instance, the USDA's loan programs that supposedly exist to broaden and diversify farming do anything but. Stipulations such as requiring several years of experience, an FFA prerequisite, finding and paying a farming mentor or scout, owning land, etc., are extreme barriers. For folks like me who are rural, brown, & entrepreneurs, we have even less access to qualifying business loans that are otherwise available for urban community members. We are an invisible but steadily increasing demographic.


We are in a battle to dismantle the ideals that have kept us from our full potential, while continuing to forge ahead to success. I have come across many stories of tenacity and courage in growing while Black. I was taught that anything worth having is worth fighting for. For me, our successes have little if anything to do with "pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps." Especially in a system that has all but addressed structural racism. It shouldn't be about survival of the fittest. If I've learned anything from plant life it is that our symbiotic relationship to one another should always be the focus. Greed and a hunger to dominate is responsible for our current standing. Despite the glaring disparities, I remain hopeful and encouraged. We still have a shared responsibility to nurture and care for each other. Healers, protectors of earth, children of The Universe.. we are the future.


We are exactly who our ancestors envisioned. We are joyful. We are proud. We are growing in the non physical sense and in our connection to one another. We are once again feeding and fostering strong, healthy communities.



Black plant joy and permaculture gives me life. Why? Because it is in direct defiance of cultural norms. While we are not always plastered on magazine covers or featurettes, we are here and deserve to be acknowledged. Not for notoriety but for our people. Our existence in this space and the knowledge we are passing down is invaluable, both to our survival and our progress.


I am so ecstatic for my children to see what we we are doing and what can be. We are attempting to build a culture of opportunity and prosperity. To live green and be well isn't just for the crunchy granolas out there. It's for everyone. It is especially for our people in the most honest sense because we have been outpriced and gentrified into poor health and poverty. We are still fighting for clean water and accessibility to food. I hope as I awaken that my story encourages you take on this challenge and be changed by it as well. One day, our collective talent will become our Renaissance.



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