Saturday, October 27, 2012

Urban Agriculture, Photosynthesis & A Garden Where We Forget to Die

Green Roof plant photosynthesis has been a topic of conversation here on this blog many times.

Florida Permaculture Garden - Lots of Food in Small Spaces

Previous readers now know there are three types of  photosynthesis in plants.  What we may not know is the lesson in human longevity we can also take away from these three types of photosynthesis.

Remember,  photosynthesis is the plant process for converting sunshine, water, CO2 and nutrients into building blocks for growth.

Those of you following the blog will remember plants are classified as having either C3, C4 or CAM photosynthesis characteristics.

If this is new to you, no problem.  Just think of C3 plants as those plants who grow very fast and produce lots of flowers quickly because their photosynthesis occurs on the plant leaf surface, an area where sunshine, water and CO2 are  plentiful.  The downfall to C3 plants though is, because photosynthesis happens on the leaf surface they are prone to rapid desiccation if not continually provided with water and other necessities.

C3 plants grow quickly, make a huge impact yet may whither and die just as fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, CAM plants have embedded their photosynthesis processes deep in their leaf, protected by layers of guard cells.  Consequently, CAM plants experience slow to moderate interactions with water, sunlight, CO2 and more.

We all know CAM plants as succulents, such as the Christmas Cactus.  Aloe is another CAM plant.  Aloe is always there for us, if we water the plant or not.

CAM  plants are steady throughout the seasons.  Don't expect them to fill up your garden overnight but do expect them to be around after that extended vacation, when the other once beautiful, flowering garden plants are frazzled and dried up due to lack of watering.

C4 plants lie midway between the C3 and CAM plants on the drought tolerant and growth rate spectrum.  Many C4 plants have some measure of embedded photosynthesis systems,  Other C4 plants can switch back and forth between C3 and CAM functions.

C4 plants tend to be moderate growers and are usually fairly resistant to environmental changes.  C4 plants are slower growing than C3 plants but faster producing than CAM plants.

How does this relate to human longevity?

For decades I never saw the corollary.  Yet you probably already have.

Good permaculture principles have taught us to always plant perimeter wind break plants around our gardens.

We have always used tough and hardy CAM  plants as perimeter wind break plants on a Green Roof to protect the more sensitive yet fast growing C3 plants from desiccation.

CAM  plants not only can survive where other plants cannot, CAM plants also provide a 'safe harbor' for other plants to grow.

There have been times in my life where my behavior mimicked a C3 plant's behavior.  I'd jump up early before dawn, work my body and mind until I was exhausted, accomplish way more than many, then crash back into bed.

Little did I know about the damage occurring in my heart and aorta, fueled in part by genetic tendencies from Marfan Syndrome and compounded by the C3-like hustle and bustle of 'making it all happen'.

Whenever I'd reach the burnout phase, I'd briefly shift gears into the C4 mode.  High stress functioning and endless activity would be some moderated with a weekend of spring hopping, scuba diving or swamp exploration.

Yet memory of those many perceived accomplishments would quickly begin to diminish and I'd soon be ready for the C3 performance level again.

I found myself longing for the adrenaline rush of doing what others could not.

We built a two-story house on a small upland island in the middle of a mighty cypress swamp, dragging in huge poles and timbers with the power of our legs and backs, creating an amazing and beautiful herb and flower nursery, raising special children, going to law school and graduating near the top of my class, creating a successful environmental consulting firm, designing and constructing marvelous landscapes and living roofs, crafting an extensive urban farms comprised of geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, hens and food and medicinal plants, and so much more.

My Dad however would usually mention something along the lines of 'save some for tomorrow'.  But I did not listen.  My C3 accomplishment needs propelled me forward.  I was living the great dream of 'making it happen'.

Looking back now on life before the scene-changing aneurysm I can easily understand the C3-CAM metaphor.

Unfortunately, finishing all I wanted to do in life and making a big splash in a much shorter period of time than practical made me much more vulnerable to stress-related health issues.

Today, a multitude of artificial heart and aorta components requirements have forced me out of the C3 mode into CAM mode.

Life's activity is now measured, activities occur on a paced basis and there is little or no rush anymore to finish first.

Now Judy and I focus on growing much of our own food in her Florida Urban Permaculture Garden.

No, we don't live on a farm and in fact we have very limited space to grow plants on our tiny lot.  This summer though we've grown okra, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, lemongrass, basil, black eye peas, collards, kale, arugula, chives, sweet potatoes, sage, seminole pumpkin, blackberries, grapes, figs, grapefruit, oranges, bell peppers and a host of other herb, veggie and flower plants.

Our life's pace slowed considerably.  Our accomplishments were measured and we took time to  laugh or cry with the challenges and surprises confronting us.
Yet even with meds my systolic blood pressure would not drop below the mid 130's.

Then last week I decided to try eating primarily form the garden or food caught  from the ocean or foraged from the wild.  Knowing processed foods contained substantial amounts of salts, nitrites  and other chemicals and wondering if a simpler diet would have real benefits, I committed to staying away from foods-in-a-box for two weeks.

The results were immediate and surprising.

Importantly. I haven't really gone hungry.

Though only one week has passed since my diet changed, my body has begun removing all the salts and excess water previously stored around my waist.  Waist line measurements have decreased by an inch, overall weight has declined by almost five pounds and my systolic blood pressure has dropped by approximately 25 points from the mid 130's to around 105.

Foraging based and Urban Garden food preparation is certainly much more time consuming and a slower process than grabbing food from a package or box.

Hunger pains seemed to decrease in relationship to the amount of time required to prepare food or snacks.  Readily available food or snacks spiked with salt, fat or sugar were much more prone to be quickly consumed than the fresh produce waiting to be picked from the garden.  Spicy goldfish in a box were easier to count on for hunger relief than the flounder swimming in the surf.

The commitment of giving up the packaged and processed foods actually slowed and decreased my overall consumption of food 'stuffs'.

Taking the time to gather, pick and prepare food taught me an appreciation for the reduced quantity but increased quality  of edibles ending up on my plate.

A new light flickered on in my head, an appreciation for 'slow foods'.

Lower blood pressure could possibly add months, years or decades to my life.  Though the surgeons replaced a portion of my ascending aorta, the descending portion was still dissected all past my kidneys down into my feet, just waiting for the high stress event that could burst the remaining arterial lining.

Weight loss helped with my mobility, easing joint pain.

My eyes were opened to exciting new opportunities, including the adventure of creating a food forest on our diminutive urban lot where concreted lanai space rivaled open areas available for plantings.

Fishing now served to relieve daily stresses and provided an opportunity to gather healthy food.

And so I began to post updates of my progress on social media networks.

Creative garden-based (or as Judy says - 'yarden-based') recipes arrived via e-mail or messages, sent from friends and strangers alike.

And then a social media contact in San Francisco sent me this story last night.  A New York Times feature about an 'Island Where People Forget to Die'.  And it all began to finally make sense.

Slow is better than fast.  Ber rabbit does not win in the end.

CAM plants can teach us about longevity of life.

I am now forever committed to integrating my Urban Ag Diet into a daily routine.

No more 'grow, show and wilt' in a hurry.

Slow, measured eating practices and a yarden-forage diet may be a path for me to outlive my cardiologist.

Even in our limited urban spaces, Judy and I are creating our own 'Garden Where People Forget to Die'.

So can you.

Be sure to read the New York TImes article about longevity and life, in the Article entitled "An Island Where People Forget to Die.

Many thanks to Kerrick Lucker for the link.

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