Raíces EcoCulture Awarded 2017 Park Partners Grant

by Nicole Wines

On Sunday, February 12, Raíces Cultural Center participated in the 4th annual Park Partners Grant Competition. The Raíces EcoCulture program had submitted a proposal in the environmental category to launch a Sustainable Living Workshop Series, a series of eight workshops focused on sustainability and ecology, in collaboration with Sustainable Highland Park and members of the Highland Park High School Environmental Club. Over 300 community members came out that day to vote for their winning choice in each of the 5 categories in the competition. It was truly amazing to see so many residents engaged and active in the grant making process.

On Tuesday, February 14, we received the news that we had won the grant competition in the environmental category. Thanks to the support of our neighbors and community members and those who shared our vision for environmental education programs, Raíces EcoCulture will be able to make this proposed project a reality!

Yesterday, the Borough made its official announcement of all the Park Partners grants awarded for 2017 which you can view here:

Raíces Cultural Center and the Raíces EcoCulture program want to thank the Borough of Highland Park for providing this opportunity to us and all of the community groups who participated. We also wish to thank the residents who came out to vote in support of this and other wonderful community projects. Extra special thank yous go out to the committee members of Sustainable Highland Park, the three co-presidents of the Highland Park High School Environmental Club and all of the Raíces Cultural Center supporters and crew members who helped share and spread the word about the grant competition and voting details. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide this educational program to our community, and look forward to seeing you all at the workshops. Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream a reality!

Program dates will be announced by the last week of March. Please subscribe to the Raíces email list in the sidebar to have the information delivered directly to your inbox or continue to check back on our Raíces Program Calendar for details. We are looking forward to strengthening our relationship with the Highland Park community and the Borough of Highland Park to create and provide additional programs, projects and services in sustainability and green living.


Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp Ceremony

Ramapough Tribal Drummers

by Francisco G. Gómez

Last Sunday, January 22nd we attended a wonderful ceremony at the Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp in Mahwah, N.J.. It turned out to be a real treat because of the unexpected presence of Sophia Wilansky, the young woman who was severely injured after she was shot with a concussion grenade at a protest gathering in Standing Rock, N.D.,  in the early part of November, 2016. The grenade practically took her arm off from the impact. Here is the initial statement that was given by her father of the account:

Tribal Council Member Debbie Defreese, Sophia Wilansky and Chief Dwaine Perry

“At around 4:30 a.m. after the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets and pepper spray, they lobbed a number of concussion grenades which are not supposed to be thrown at people directly, or protectors, as they want to be called. A grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm, taking most of the under surface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away. The police did not do this by accident—it was an intentional act of throwing it directly at her. Additionally police were shooting people in face and groin intending to do the most possible damage. Sophia will have surgery again tomorrow as bit by bit they try to rebuild a somewhat functioning arm and hand. The first surgery took a vein from her leg, which they have implanted in her arm to take the place of the missing arteries. She will need multiple surgeries to try to gain some functional use of the arm and hand. She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand. There are no words to describe the pain of watching my daughter cry and say she was sorry for the pain she caused me and my wife. I died a thousand deaths today and will continue to do so for quite some time. I am left without the right words to describe the anguish of watching her look at her now alien arm and hand.”

Inside of the enormous ceremonial teepee, elders honored Sophia by praying for her, bestowing gifts and religious talismans, singing, playing indigenous hand drums, and simply wishing her well for her courage and physical sacrifice that tragic day at Standing Rock.

As a Huichol Elder began to tell stories about his life, he threw cedar pellets into the ring of fire in the center of the teepee. He then directed streams of smoke towards Sophia, using a ritual feather fan that was later given to her as a gift. According to indigenous beliefs, smoke is used to elevate prayers to the ancestors in the afterlife. As he presented the gift, he told her not to worry; he said she would receive many blessings during the course of her life in exchange for her courage and determination to help others in need.

Christina Dioguardi Scott

Many tribal songs followed and many stories continued to be told.  There was a woman I noticed immediately, as she walked in and across the teepee. She took a seat next to one of the Ramapough elders. After a few more remembrances, Chief Dwaine Perry turned to her and introduced her. He said that Christina Dioguardi Scott had a very interesting and fascinating story to tell.

Christina had been involved in a serious car accident a few years back and suffered brain trauma that left her with a number of sensory deficiencies that affected her body in a variety of ways. The truth is that she almost died, but in her struggle to survive she was presented with a revelation that would change her life forever. She said something unexplainable drew her to Nature, and it told her that she would find her healing and recovery there. She explained how she happened upon the Split Rock Prayer Camp and how wonderfully she was accepted by the Ramapough Tribe.

It turns out that Christina is a photographer, and she found her health anew. Through the lens of a camera she captured Nature’s wonders at the camp site. She was granted permission to continue her healing and work there. In a moment of extreme emotion she explained how the forest spoke to her and said she would find her way back to physical and mental clarity. All around the teepee hung the most beautiful photographs of the river, rocks, foliage and the larger landscape. Having come upon the camp and it’s people saved her life, she said.

It was truly a very enlightening day, and we were sorry to have to leave earlier than we wanted, but we had a rehearsal to attend. We said our good byes, and on our way home, we spoke about all the marvelous things we had experienced throughout the day.

If you are interested in joining the movement at Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp, then please see the links below. Check out their calendar and see when the next ceremonial gathering will take place. Come out and share with some of the most wonderful and friendly people you will ever meet!

Additional Resources to Kill the “Black Snake”

Local Spotlight: Split Rock Prayer Camp

by Nicole Wines

Standing Rock and the NoDapl protests have called attention worldwide to both the issues of native rights and sovereignty and the destruction and injustices caused by the fossil fuel industry. It has spurred a series of actions around the country and inspired the creation of a number of prayer camps and pipeline protests, including in our own home state of New Jersey.

In the past two months, Raíces EcoCulture has had the opportunity to visit the Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp in Mahwah, NJ several times, bringing supplies, attending a tobacco ceremony and meeting with the sacred fire keepers and members of the Ramapough Lunaape Tribe, including Chief Dwaine Perry. The Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp was started “In Solidarity with Standing Rock & all who resist the black snake worldwide” (Split Rock FB Page), and has also taken up the issues of the Pilgrim & AIM/Spectra Pipelines. We will be posting a series of upcoming articles here on the Raíces Cultural Center blog and also on our new eco resource site GetEcocentric about this topic, but here are some basic details, resources and calls to action.

The keepers of the camp ask that all who are concerned about the environment and ecological issues, and specifically about fossil fuel divestment, show their support and solidarity by reaching out, showing up and getting involved.

Who to Follow

Follow these Facebook and Twitter Accounts for more information directly from the Ramapough Lunaapes and the Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp fire keepers.

Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/splitrockprayercamp/

Ramapough Lunaape
Website: http://www.ramapoughlenapenation.org/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RamapoughLunaapeNation/?fref=ts
Twitter: @RamapoughNation

Supplies, Donations & Support

For those who want to support, here is a list of supplies being requested and more information on how to help below. This list has been expanded as fire keepers are preparing additional sustainability projects to begin in the spring:

  • Woodchips
  • Pine stick fire starters
  • Juices and fruits high in Vitamin C
  • Ginger & garlic
  • Heavy wool blankets
  • Zero degree sleeping bags
  • Light-weight 20 degree thermals (Men’s medium to large, tops and bottoms)
  • Wool hats/scarves/ponchos
  • Wool socks & slippers
  • Bundles of dry hardwood firewood
  • Bustelo coffee
  • Lamp oil
  • AA batteries
  • Portable phone chargers
  • Heavy duty winter work gloves
  • Razors
  • Essential oils (patchouli, lavender, musk)
  • Large propane tank filled
  • Propane bottles and refills (a Box 12 – palates)
  • Plastic storage containers
  • 1-5 gallon jugs of drinking water
  • Power Strip
  • Long heavy duty extension cord
  • Rain barrels (2 50 or 55 gallon tanks or barrel with spigot)
  • Hoses
  • Solar panels and batteries
  • Wind turbine
  • Gift cards
  • Warm hugs

If you live in Central NJ and have supplies to donate, but cannot make the trip to Mahwah, you can drop them off with Raíces EcoCulture and we will deliver them on one of our trips.  Email raices [at] raicesculturalcenter [dot] org to arrange drop offs.

More on how to help (funds are requested specifically for purchasing a skin for a 22 ft fire retardant teepee):

Recent Media Information

Here is a short media clip that highlights the recent issues being faced at the Split Rock Sweet Water Prayer Camp and a list of links to newspaper articles.

Hidden Figures

by Francisco G. Gómez

As a non believer in any heritage month celebration,  it is imperative that I share this with our readers. It’s only during these periods that the achievements and accomplishments of outstanding and extraordinary visionaries emerge on the cultural landscape. This reality has always been rather disturbing to me as the director of a cultural center.

Why is it that we need heritage months to acknowledge extraordinary people and their cultures for only one month out of the entire year? Probably for the same reason that it took over forty years to make a motion picture about these incredible women, and give them their rightful place on the mantel of honor that they so rightly deserve. You can be the judge of that if you decide to screen this wonderful film.

Set in the 1960’s,  one of the most disgraceful periods of race relations in American history; where the color of one’s skin and gender would make you more or less than worthy. Here is the story of Dorthy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, three woman well ahead of their time, that were relegated to the shadows of NASA’s race to space.

And yes, it is African Heritage Month, I know that! But, today is Dr. Martin Luther King day too, and this is a nice way of honoring another great human being, by recognizing less known pioneers who walked in triumph on the road of genius like he did. Enjoy the flick!

Note: You can see the film here, Hidden Figures You may have to click the start button a few times because it is a commercial site and there are popups. After 2 or 3 clicks you’ll be able to connect.

Photo Gallery: Eco-Art Exhibit featuring Artist Lisa Bagwell

by Nicole Wines

img_4416On October 15, 2016, Raíces Cultural Center’s EcoCulture program presented a solo art exhibit and artist talk featuring the Eco-Art of Lisa Bagwell. The opening exhibit was a huge success, with over one hundred attendees visiting throughout the event, including one U.S. Congressman, and over thirty community members participating in the artist talk. All of the art on display was created out of 100% post-consumer recycled materials collected by the artist.

img_4407During the artist talk, Lisa spoke about the process of creating her artwork and her views on ecology, sustainability and the over-consumption prevalent in our society. After her talk, she spent about a half an hour answering questions from participants.

Raíces would like to thank the artist, all of the arts supporters and community members who attended, Ruthie’s Bagel Dish for opening their space to the arts, and MCCHC along with private donors for their financial support of this program.

This program is made possible in part by funds from the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Office of Culture and Heritage through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Note: If you didn’t make it to the opening you can still see the exhibit through mid-November, on display at Ruthie’s Bagel Dish, 68-70 Raritan Ave/Rt 27N, Highland Park, NJ, or check out the photo gallery from the exhibit and opening event below.


Finca Mi Casa – Don Luis Soto of Camuy, Puerto Rico

by Francisco G. Gómezdon-luis-soto

At first glance, you may think that Don Luis Soto is just an ordinary man; you may even look at him and not believe he’s a farmer. In fact, he’s a retired agronomist who’s always been a farmer as well. The first time I saw a short made by him on Youtube, I thought the same thing. It was actually that vid that was the catalyst that led me to this extraordinary man and his farm (finca), Mi Casa. Only after meeting Don Luis did I understand that the simplicity of the man is what makes him extraordinary. He looks at life through the lens of the natural world. His unassuming demeanor and sensitivity for all living things creates balance that’s truly organic in every sense of the word. He has a wisdom taught to him by years in contact with the earth; this wisdom must be preserved and passed on.

soto-homeDon Luis lives with his wife Doña Carmen in the coastal area of Camuy, Puerto Rico, just 10 minutes away from the ocean. His modest home sits on four and a half acres of organic flat farm land, of which only two acres are dedicated to the most diverse array of trees, vegetables, fruits, nuts, flowers and herbs. The other two and a half acres are left to pasture; his rare breed of bulls take care of mowing the lawn and hay. There’ll be more on the bulls in a while.

We arrived promptly at 9 am, and Don Luis was already outside waiting for us. We began the tour of his farm, and I immediately felt the incredible sense of reverence this soft spoken man has for the earth and all it contains.

ls-tumeric2Before arriving at the Turmeric patch he had planted, he had already begun to tell us the scientific name for turmeric (curcuma zedoaria). He explained how the herb had arrived on the island by way of seafarers long ago and that it is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial belonging to the ginger family. He spoke of its uses as a dye, as a culinary seasoning and as medicine to treat such ailments like indigestion, skin lesions, liver disease and a host of other maladies. He also mentioned its spiritual and religious uses in South Asia; his face lit up as he referred to turmeric as a spiritual plant, something I had not heard spoken that way about before, but simply read. It seemed to me that he was alluding to the need for humans to pray over the plant in order to achieve its full benefits, but that is only speculation on my part! Don Luis seems to me as being a spiritual man, but not a holy man, and yet, it also seems that agriculture is his religion.

ls-compostAs he spoke about other plants and flowers, we arrived at his compost heap. I love the transformation of compost, so this is of particular interest to me. First off, the heap didn’t have any scent whatsoever. This was very strange because the temperature was well over 85 degrees that day and the sun was brutally oppressive. I believe that’s cause enough to make anything that’s decomposing stink to high heaven. Perhaps you can see the water spigot coming out from the center of the heap in the pic. Don Luis said he waters his compost a few times a week in order to keep the living matter in the heap doing its job of decomposing everything he throws in there. This process, according to him, eliminates the undesirable odors. But then again, there was only leaf and plant matter in his compost heap; we didn’t see any house food or animal manure at all. I believe there’s more to his compost than meets the eye. In any case, I intend to learn more about how he composts in future dialog with him. We’ll keep you posted!

sugarcane3A few more plant and tree explanations and we were at his sugar cane micro plantation, situated next to his huge green house. Don Luis gave us a brief history class on the unjust sugar industry in Puerto Rico, founded on the subjugation of human beings as beasts of burden. He then explained why he chose this particular type of sugar cane to plant. It turns out that the cane you see in the picture is of a lower sugar content than the traditional sugar cane planted on the island in the 19th and 20th centuries. The original cane ls-sugarcaneunderwent a series of evolutionary processes in order to achieve a suitable sugar level and quality.

Don Luis cut some of his cane stock for us to sample and understand, first hand, what he had just explained. I must say that what I tasted was far less sweet than any sugar cane I have ever sampled. He explained that this type of sugar sugarcane4cane, and the modest amount that he was
growing, surrounded by the diversity of other flora
planted in its vicinity, made the cane very strong and taste the way it does. He informed us that mono culture growing would never produce such tasty cane and that this was no secret at all; it’s simply a balance in just one of the many aspects of Nature, as he put it!

greenhouseNext, we entered his enormous green house where he had planted hot weather tolerant tomatoes and lettuce. There were also a variety of herbs, eucalyptus, lavenders, lemon grasses, thymes, parsleys, as well as, other herbs too numerous to include here. As we headed out of the green house, immediately to the right, we noticed the biggest eggplant bushes we had ever seen. They were taller than Nicky! Don Luis told us that the bushes were of a type that fare very well in the tropics; by their size this could not be denied.

passionfruitMoving along past the eggplants we came upon two beautiful types of Passion Fruit (parcha – passiflora edulis). The first was both yellow on the outside and inside; Don Luis split it open and let us sample it. It was deliciously bitter and filled with many seeds. The second was yellow on the outside and red on the inside; it also had many seeds on the inside; however, it was bitter sweet; I really enjoyed this variety the most. Doña Carmen approached us at this point and Don Luis handed her a bunch of the fruit, and shorty thereafter she disappeared to make us fresh juice that we would savor at lunchtime.

Coming to the end of our tour, I noticed a horse in the distance and asked Don Luis why he was on the plant side of the farm and not in the pasture, separated from the bulls. He explained that Cariño (Love) was getting used to the terrain where he was grazing because he needed exercise and would be used to plow the remainder of land that was to be utilized for planting. He saw the look of concern on my face and quickly assured me that Cariño would not be overburdened in this work. I also asked him why he had named the horse Cariño and he told me I would soon find out.

carinoWell, Mr. Ed had nothing on Cariño. He was the friendliest horse I have had the chance to meet. He immediately came towards me and nibbled my arm and then continued to push me with his long snout as we all conversed about the bulls eating hay on the other side of the fence.

It turns out that these rare bulls (bueyes criollos) are of a breed that slowly disappeared in the middle part of the 20th century as Puerto Rico moved from an agrarian into an industrial society. Don Luis said he had the opportunity to secure some of these bulls and he decided to increase their numbers again. He explained how these
animals were the backbone of agriculture on the island starting back in the 1930s. I asked him why and he said they are very strong animals with very short hair and extremely tolerant of the brutal heat of Puerto Rico. I noticed that his bulls were not castrated and asked him why. He said that it was cruel to castrate another living creature; that it took away part of the essence of what makes that creature what it is. I then asked him how he dealt with these bulls when they became ornery; he said they would figure that out themselves. I believe this is a very humane way of dealing with this situation and just another example of Don Luis’ respect for all living things.

ls-lunchAs our tour of the farm came to an end, we headed back to Don Luis’ house for a wonderful lunch of homemade bread, cheese and, of course, the delicious Parcha juice that Doña Carmen had so graciously put together for us. It was the perfect finish to such an amazing morning. It was also the way that hospitality is shared on the island; great organic food, zeitgeist at the table and beautiful people that are now our friends and teachers.

After we finished our delightful lunch, Don Luis showed us his wonderful collection of seeds. He is truly a master agronomist, farmer and keeper of the seed, as well as, a man closely connected to Mother Earth and Source! My last reflections of all that I saw and experienced that day was the fact that these old timers, who know and truly understand the agricultural past, are quickly disappearing; many times without their precious knowledge and wisdom being documented and lost forever when they pass on.sotoseed2

For those of us who do the work of sustainability in addressing the plight of the land and the oceans, it is imperative that we seek out and preserve the repositories of invaluable data that these stewards of the commons possess. Moreover, it is of the utmost importance that we develop a sensitivity, ergo a spirituality, that compliments the application of this age old information. Our very existence depends on it!


Note: If you’re ever in Puerto Rico and you would like to visit Don Luis and see his organic farm Mi Casa, USDA certified by the way, give him a call at 1.787.306.3672. He speaks English for those of you who don’t speak Spanish.

Eco-Art Exhibit Opening October 15


Join Raíces Cultural Center on October 15th for the opening of a solo exhibit by NJ artist Lisa Bagwell. The Eco-Art Exhibit will feature sculptures made entirely of post-consumer recycled materials. Selected artwork will remain on display through November. Hope to see you there!

What: Eco-Art Exhibit Opening Reception and Artist Talk

When: October 15, 2016
*Artist Talk with Q & A session will begin at 6pm.

Where: Ruthie’s Bagel Dish, 68-70 Raritan Ave. (Rt 27), Highland Park, NJ

Why: This exhibit uses the field of visual arts to address the growing problem of waste and over-consumption within our world and asks the audience to reflect on their role in it. We seek to inspire attendees to reflect on the way our cultures have evolved into “throw away societies”, as well as, explore their roles in helping to create a more sustainable culture for the future. Through this exhibit, Raíces Cultural Center’s EcoCulture program hopes to create more cross-cultural understanding and dialogue within the community, as a common ground of sustainability and preservation for all cultures.

More info: The exhibit is accessible, free and open to all members of the community. Light refreshments will be served. Tea, coffee and juices will be available for purchase from Ruthie’s. An online exhibit of this art show will be available on the Raíces Digital Archive starting in November 2016.

This program is made possible in part by funds from the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Office of Culture and Heritage through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Seed Gallery: Raíces EcoCulture Seed Library Gardens

by Nicole Wines

In the modern era of patents, ownership, seed contracts and control, seed saving is essential to cultural preservation as well as the preservation of our future foods, fruits, herbs and flowers.  By saving seed, whether it is one variety or one hundred varieties, members of our seed library are helping to build a culture of seed freedom and seed sovereignty.  They are working in community with one another instead of relying on major biotech corporations to provide us with our seed or fighting over ownership of something mother nature provides so freely.  Saving seed is about taking an active part in our food legacy and our freedom to feed ourselves, preserving cultures and our own health along the way.

The Raíces EcoCulture Seed Library is currently in its 5th season as a seed saving project.  This season we built up a core group of new members from around NJ and throughout the region and started the season off with over 175 varieties of seed.  We have been enjoying keeping in touch with the seed library members to find out how their plants are growing and how their seed saving is going.  The best part is seeing the photos from our seed savers’ gardens and knowing that the seed we lent to members is flourishing, feeding families and providing us with next season’s seed stock.  We wanted to feature and share some photos from a few of our members’ gardens to highlight the work that they are doing helping us to build a local and regional library of open pollinated, no-spray, non-GMO seed stock.  Check it out, share, and if you are interested in seed saving with us next season, sign up here!

Submitted by Raíces Seed Library Member Andreea Fegan from Fair Haven, NJ (Little Bites of Joy)

Submitted by Raíces Seed Library Member Cindy Kondrutauk from East Brunswick, NJ

From the Raíces EcoCulture MicroFarm Homestead Gardens in New Brunswick and Piscataway, NJ

Food, Music and Culture = EcoCulture

by Francisco G. Gómez

Property of Raíces Cultural Center

Property of Raíces Cultural Center

Recently I was asked why Raíces’ mission had strayed so far away from the Arts. As all things evolve through the processes of experience, connections and new understanding, I pondered the question for a moment before answering. For the last five years the Center has come to understand the close relationship between Ecology, Culture, Food and the Performing Arts. And, while it is true that we have been dedicating lots of time to sustainable agriculture practices and the environment, we haven’t forgotten our Roots; after all, Raíces is the name of our organization.

After the hundreds and hundreds of programs, events and performances we have sponsored or done ourselves throughout the years, there has always been two things that were present in all of these activities, food and/or music. In the Caribbean it is usually both and those cultural traditions have followed us very closely throughout the diaspora.

Whether you’ve sat at the Shabbat table to tell or listen to stories while you slurped down some matzah soup or you held hands while you sang a song of thanks before breaking bread, these practices are not new to any of us who have cultural values that were probably instilled at a very young age. Even Amadeus earned his few florins for bread, wine and the good time composing while he partied. Here are two great articles on the subject of food and music:



Some of my fondest memories are of my Abuelita (Grandmother) who would always have the radio tuned to the Spanish station WADO while she cooked Moros y Cristianos (black beans and white rice) or some other incredibly delicious dish. She would sing along to some Bolero (slow song) or Són (Cuban rhythm) to make the culinary task more pleasurable and tasty. It was the best time of youth; Abuela’s table was the place where we learned about God, Orichas, Ancestors and life the way it was before the Cuban Revolution of 1959. It’s where I first heard about the vicissitudes that poor people in Cuba endured in a time when words like sustainability and ecology weren’t of much concern to most people. But, without even knowing or understanding, Abuela was explaining things that many people on this planet are concerned and talking about today! Culture Food

In the present epoch, where the fast food hamburger, hotdog, burrito and all the other junk food out there reigns supreme, we must question what food and music was and is now. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I remember the waitress bringing the tray over to our car while she was on roller skates and Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Good was blasting through the loud speakers. Yes, that was culture too – American culture that is! Those were cool times also, even though it was the genesis of the crappy food system that we have today.

So in response to the question I was asked, I explained to the young lady that Raíces was now practicing Eco-Culture, learning about wholesome organic food and growing an abundance of the same. That we are attempting to cultivate sustainable living habits and yes, lots and lots of music to augment what we all ready knew and what we’ve recently learned!

Landscape Impatience

By Francisco G. Gómez

impatienceDo you ever walk out of your house and take a good look at your front yard; then stare deeply and attempt to visualize what you would like to see? It’s at this very instance that your impatience begins. You ask yourself, “ Do I have what it takes to transform what I’m looking at into what I see in my head?” Of course the answer is yes because what you wish to see as your front yard landscape is very doable for two reasons. One, because you can do it yourself if you’re creative and handy, or two, because you can simply have it done by a landscaper.

Ok, so you decide to do it yourself and the impatience begins to intensify. You read a bunch of landscaping books, watch youtube vids, go to Home Depot, Lowes or the garden center to get ideas and you take the plunge. The outcome is that you’re pleased with what you’ve done and what you now see. Or, you take another hard look and admit to yourself that you shouldn’t quit your daytime job and take up landscaping because what you’ve done looks like crap! No problem, admitting your limitations can do wonders for your ego. Don’t worry too much, you’ll get over it soon enough!

Ok, so you decide to go with a landscaper; you get on the phone and call Everything is Soooooo Beautiful Landscaping Co.. They come over and hook your scape up really fast with contaminated black mulch and lots of Better Homes & Gardens plants they bought at one of the many big mega gardening chains that exist everywhere close by and it costs you a mint. At the end of the job you take another look at your front yard and also up and down your neighborhood block; you say to yourself, “ Looks great, but no different from everyone else’s front yard.” Your impatience has reached the breaking point and you now find yourself in a conundrum. Oh my, what to do? Take a chill pill and relax; this too shall pass!

If you had just taken a step back and thought about how Nature provides all the landscape necessities you could ever want or need, you would be amazed. The garden store industry has made it so easy for you to buy commercially grown plants, trees, herbs and other shrubbery that you overlook the resources at hand. —It’s really easy to take down a tree with your Ridget, Bosch, Dewalt, Makita, John Deere or any of the many saws out there. You get the idea from these few examples, I hope?

So what I’m driving at here is that we in an suburban environment have deconstructed with gross negligence what is still quite abundant. It just takes a bit more effort and patience to relearn what was once the norm on the landscape. Why the impatience? I’ll list a few things we have forgotten that have made us impatient:

  • Before there was hot and cold running water flowing through your pipes, people collected rain water. Most home owners don’t do this anymore!
  • Trees close to houses weren’t any problem because people had enough land to have a garden where the sun completely covered it. Now we cut down trees next to our homes to let the sun in because we live in overcrowded neighborhoods filled with mini mansions or small homes right next to each other with little land.
  • There are many municipalities that no longer permit front yard gardens, hence sterile looking landscape with just grass and some store bought plants and trees around the perimeter of the house.
  • People prior to World War 2 didn’t use pesticides or herbicides in their gardens or on the flowers and shrubs around their homes. Now you have a gazillion of these chemicals at your local garden store or mega garden center.
  • People kept bees, hence beautiful vegetation and flowers. However, after the advent of chemicals,  and not just for plants, the bee population is now in peril. If you don’t know about Colony Collapse Disorder, make sure you learn about it. You’ll understand why I include bees in this list.
  • People practiced composting to grow wholesome organic food for the family table before Pathmark, Shoprite, Wegman’s, Acme or any of those other commercial mega frankenfood distributors came along.

This list could go on and on and on about the things we have forgotten about Nature and how all of this has adversely impacted our health and patience. It’s all tied in together, folks, and it’s making us sicker and more psychotic as we continue this out of control pace of impatience we now live!

Just recently Raices stopped landscaping a site that we had been preparing by building soil naturally and by the introduction of recycled plants and herbs shared by other friends. We had been at this site for several years using the philosophy that Nature has so patiently taught us. It turns out that the homeowners we had been working for decided to undo all the hard work we had done by covering the turf and local plants we had installed with black garden store mulch and rocks which they had recycled from their front yard. The homeowners had also been given some recycled pavers which they laid around the perimeter of their home and the hugelkultur flower and herb patch that we had constructed. I do give them kudos for using the recycled materials; however, these were not properly installed because the ground wasn’t leveled correctly and the pavers were placed next to each other incorrectly.

I believe the homeowners’ impatience began when their neighbor had a small fence installed adjacent to their leaf and branch pile to hide it from sight. It also turns out that the neighbor had hired a carpenter to do some work and asked him if he would do some planting as well. This is rather funny because he was asking us for info on what should be planted. It didn’t matter because, as you might imagine, black mulch and garden center flowers appeared opposite the homeowners’ property prior to the decision to take matters into their own hands. Looks nice, but detrimental to the landscape during the course of time, not to mention sterile looking! But to each her/his own…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you can’t always say that about what’s put into the earth!

On the other hand, we began an eco-scaping job over three years ago in Highland Park for a friend and fellow eco-nut. Without having to explain much, you can see what some patience can produce; and while the scaping is all natural and required lots of turf building and the installation of lots of shared plants, the outcome has been phenomenal. I’ve included some pics here:susie q

susie q 3After all is said and done, landscape impatience is very much associated with the way we live our everyday lives; everything must always be quick and easy…oh and don’t forget, sterile! And if you believe the pictures of our friend’s eco-scape looks just like any other neighborhood’s front/side yard, think again. It is all natural and comprised of flowers, plants, trees and herbs shared by other eco-conscience individuals. Even more so by the faith and patience our eco-nut friend has in Mother Nature.

If patience is in deed a virtue, then it is something we must attempt to practice if we are to cultivate balance with nature by understanding the complexities of plant and animal life. It takes time; it doesn’t happen over night. More so, it isn’t simply a visual aesthetic. It entails a oneness with the earth and all that it contains. It can be mysterious and wondrous, but again, it will take time and lots of patience to understand!