A Recipe for Diversity--or, A Bunch of Diverse Things and a Recipe!

So it’s been a rather intense little period of time, this last month and a half.  I’m going to post some pictures and hit some of the highlights…

–We held our 31st anniversary Spiral Dance ritual for Samhain/Halloween.  It was a powerful and beautiful night, with an amazing spiral and a strong cone of power.  One of the highlights for me was our group of teen earth magic-makers, who danced the activist Goddess.  Even in rehearsal, when they all marched in with signs and puppets, it brought tears to my eyes.

Invoking the Activist Goddess

Invoking the Activist Goddess

Tristan Anderson came to the dance.  Tristan is an old and dear friend who has been part of building the north altar for many years.  In April of 2009 he was shot in the head with a tear-gas canister by an Israeli soldier as he participated in a peaceful demonstration in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.  Last year we dedicated healing energy to him—this year, he is finally home, still gravely injured but fighting as hard for his own recovery as he’s fought for justice for so many years.  The young folks were dancing with shining faces, so filled with energy and fervor, just beginning their own activist journeys.  I’m proud of them.  I’m glad to know there’s a new generation willing to take up the causes I’ve worked for and fought for—and enraged that they should have to fight battles all over again we though were won, that all our struffles and sacrifices haven’t freed them to simply live and enjoy a free, secure, thriving world.  I’m afraid of the price some of them may be called to pay.   But I know that they are strong and loving and creative and vibrant, and will always have the support of a proud and loving community behind them.

It Gets Better--Altar for the gay teen suicides

It Gets Better–Altar for the gay teen suicides

So, from the Spiral Dance we jumped into the launch of our new documentary, Permaculture: The Growing Edge, made by me and my dear friend Donna Read who also directed Goddess Remembered, Burning Times and Full Circle. You can see the trailer on our website, www.belili.org.  (And order the film, or course—also our earlier documentary on archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, Signs Out of Time.) The launch meant a wild flurry of writing things like press releases and event announcements and website copy and I went through one of those periods where you’re constantly sending things out and then realizing you got some important detail wrong.  Nonetheless, we had a lovely event and showed the film to great enthusiasm and outright cheers for the chard and collard greens!

And along with those two big events, I started teaching our long-term training program in Bayview Hunters Point, teaching permaculture design and environmental leadership to both garden coordinators and young adults who live in public housing in San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood.  That’s my long term project for this year, and it’s exciting and enormously challenging.  Exciting because if permaculture and its approach to ecological design are going to really transform the world, we need to bring them into the communities that have the greatest needs and fewest resources.  Bayview Hunters Point is a little corner of San Francisco that is amazingly isolated and insular.  It’s predominantly African-American, and originally many people moved up from the south to work in the naval shipyard.  When that closed down in the early ‘eighties, crack, drugs and gangs moved in.  The navy left a toxic residue—the shipyard is a superfund site and the neighborhood has an infant mortality rate on a par with Bulgaria.  Like many inner city areas, it has lots of liquor stores and few if any places to buy fresh food, fruits or vegetables.

Digging a swale in the garden.

Digging a swale in the garden.

So if we can bring a permaculture vision to the Bayview, we will be reaching far beyond the usual suspects—and to do that, we’ll learn a lot about how to address the real and pressing needs of the inner city.  We have a great advantage in working with our partner organization, Hunters Point Family, which is deeply rooted in the community.  Hunters Point Family runs youth development programs, including violence prevention and job training, and our relationship has built slowly over time.  Lena Miller, who directs the organization, is a true visionary who wants to make the Bayview “the green jewel in the crown of the Emerald City.”

Ben Fahrer teaches us how to make potting soil and plant seeds.

Ben Fahrer teaches us how to make potting soil and plant seeds.

It might be worth a paragraph or two of reflection on how Earth Activist Training gained the trust that allows us to work in this community.  I’ve seen political and social movements struggle for decades with the challenges of working across barriers of race and class—and had my own fair share of personal struggles.  But really, it’s pretty simple.  Or maybe it just seems that way to me now.  Permaculture is all about principles—you learn what they are and then apply them.  Here’s some of my personal principles of diversity work:

1.  Be comfortable with who you are.  Okay, I know this alone can take some of us a lifetime, but as a start, learn your history, take pride in it, don’t try to be some other color or culture or class.  Let go of the white guilt or the male guilt or the class guilt.  You didn’t create those systems of oppression, and while they might offer you certain benefits they also cost you.  So just take responsibility for changing them.  You, as who you are, have something unique to offer.

Mixing the potting soil...

Mixing the potting soil…

2.  Be of service.  Watch, look and listen—find out what the community’s aims and challenges and struggles are, and look for ways you can be of service.  If you have something to offer—make it known, but wait to be invited in.  If you’re not invited, you can’t just barge in and start doing stuff, however beneficial it might seem to you.  Earth Activist Training can only do the work we’re doing in the Bayview because we were invited and have a partner in the community.  If you are invited, show up and keep showing up.  Share skills, resources, information and opportunities.

3.  Realize that trust must be earned, and that may take time.  Sure, it’s painful if people don’t instantly like and trust you because you are so nice and sweet and good, but when people have had a history of being exploited and ripped off by other people who look like you, they may not take to you instantly.  Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you.  Be comfortable with who you are, be of service and over time you will win that trust.  And it will mean a lot more when you do.

Planting the seeds is a delicate process...

Planting the seeds is a delicate process…

4.  When you’re in a different culture, norms and values may be different.  You might not even realize what your own assumptions are until someone steps all over them.  I remember feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable visiting a Sami friend in the north of Norway.  I kept trying to make dinner conversation and everything I said dropped into a void of silence.  I had just about decided they all hated me, when it occurred to me to ask my friend, “Ellen-Marit, is it like a Sami thing that you don’t talk during meals?”   “Why would we talk?” she asked.  “We’re eating!”  Watch, look and listen.  Expect to learn a lot!

5.  Commit to the children.  Years ago when I was perplexed about issues of cultural appropriation, I went and meditated and asked for guidance from the ancestors.  The ancestors said, “We don’t really give a damn who your ancestors were.  We care about what you’re doing for the children.”  I would define cultural appropriation as “Taking the gifts of the ancestors without a commitment to their descendents.”  So—be comfortable with who you are, don’t lay claim to knowledge or spiritual teachings or entitlements you haven’t earned, and then relax, enjoy, and get on with the work that will benefit the generations to come.

Anyway, those are some of my guidelines.  And this post is getting long—so I’m going to stop here and just put up some pictures of our projects.  We’ve dug swales, planted cover crops, onions, garlic and spring bulbs, made a soil mix for seedlings and started seeds, put up a rain catchment system, made compost and sheet mulched.  Coming up—forest gardens, windbreaks, taking cuttings and design work.

Putting up a rain catchment system.

Putting up a rain catchment system.

And we’re still trying to fund the program!  EAT has been offered a $5000 matching grant—so far we’ve raised less than half of what we need.  If you want to be part of this vital work, everything you give right now will be doubled by our funders.

See our video about the project at:


And now, as a thank you for all the generous support we have received, and because so many people on Facebook requested it, I’m going to post here my Thanksgiving Sour Cream Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe:

(I got this recipe from a book called The Political Palate put out by a women’s collective in Bridgeport, Connecticut who ran a restaurant called Bloodroot back in the ‘eighties.  I don’t know if it’s still there.  This recipe is from their 1980 edition, when the political part of the palate was all about how fat is a feminist issue and cream is really good for you!  Later they became vegans but their pie recipe lives on in my adaptation and blood cholesterol (okay, it’s high—but I had my arteries scanned and they are as clear and unclogged as any arteries of a gal my age can be!  So there!)  Here’s how I do it:

1 large organic sugar pie pumpkin.

(Or one sixteen oz. can of organic pumpkin).

1 cup sour cream.

Three eggs.

½ cup sugar (I use the groovy, organic, unprocessed kind like demerara sugar or rapidura.  But if you can’t get it, bless yourself and say three times, “It’s the holidays!”)  Plus 1/4 cup extra for egg whites.

1 t. cinnamon (good for your blood pressure and cholesterol, helps counteract the cream.)

½ t. ginger.  (Good for stomach ailments and nausea.)

¼ t. nutmeg.  (Do not, under any circumstances, succumb to the temptation to eat half a cup of it and see if you can get high.  You can, but it’s no fun, and you won’t be able to think straight for days, and you will flunk your final exams and it will be years before you can eat a pumpkin pie again.  Don’t ask how I know this.)

1/8 t. salt.

1 cup sour cream.  (Don’t get the low fat stuff—yecch!  Why adulterate perfectly good cream by trying to take the fat out of it—the flavor’s in the fat.  Read Nourishing Traditions and you will find out that butter and cream are indeed actually good for you.  Only if you’re a devout vegan you can substitute some veganish form of this.)

For topping:  1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream, plus 1 1/2T sugar and 1/2 t. vanilla.

Cut up the pumpkin, scrape out the seeds and steam it until soft. (How long would that be?  What, am I Julia Child?  However long it takes, something between half an hour and an hour and a half.  If that’s too time-consuming, use the canned stuff.)  Puree it in a food processor until it’s soft and smooth.  If necessary, add just a touch of water.  Measure out a cup and half of pumpkin puree.

Separate the eggs.  Set the whites aside, and add the yolks, lightly beaten, to the pumpkin.

Add the spices, salt and sour cream and beat together until thoroughly mixed.

Put the mixture in a saucepan and cook gently on the stove until it thickens.

Beat the egg whites into peaks that are stiff but not dry, adding ¼ cup of sugar.  Egg whites beat up best when they are at room temperature.

Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour it into an unbaked, 9 inch pie shell.  (I ladle it in with a soup ladle.)

Back at 375 degrees, 40-45 minutes until firm and brown.  Test with a toothpick or knife—push it in and it should come out clear.

Whip 1 ½ cups of cream until stiff and firm, adding 1 ½ T of sugar and ½ t. vanilla.  Top the pie with the cream and serve.   Mmmmm!  Since you’re going to all this trouble, I’d double the recipe and make two pies.  Freeze one and you’ll have it ready to bring to the next potluck!


Thank you  Betsy Beaven, Noel Gordano, Selma Miriam and Pat Shea for the original recipe and many years of pie!

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