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Call For Presenters: Communities Conference

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference is looking for presenters for this year’s gathering which will take place Sept 1 through 4th in Louisa Virginia.  If you are confident you should be presenting, here is the form to become a presenter.  [Deadline Aug 1, 2023]

If you are unsure, the following article introduces the culture of the event and background to help you decide. Please note this is the Call for Presenters of curated workshops on intentional communities. There are also Open Space workshops where anyone can present on any topic without asking in advance.

We are especially looking for workshops on the two current topic threads:

  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • How to found or find an intentional community

Should you offer a workshop at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference?

Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC) is looking for some compelling workshop presenters on the topic of intentional community.  Perhaps you are asking yourself “Am I a talented workshop presenter?”  Here are some ways you can tell:

“Are you on topic?”:  Let’s say you are an expert in sustainable building design, every community needs these types of structures, you have done dozens of workshops and seminars on how to design and build sustainable structures of many types.  Certainly, it would seem you are an appropriate presenter for this event, but not necessarily.

The focus of this event is Intentional Communities (self-selecting, place-based, residential communities who share material and cultural things).  The only way a workshop on sustainable design fits our program is if it demonstrates how this technology serves the needs of ICs specifically.  The intentional community focus needs to be baked into the content of the workshop, 

“The truth is in the room”: What we’re looking for are interactive workshops that draw from the participants and the collective truth from the room. If your plan is to give a lecture, this is the wrong event for you.  We’re hoping for workshops that introduce participants to ideas that they perhaps have never considered before or advance beliefs which are challenging or engage everyone in the space, including the presenter. We’ve found that open-ended questions and role plays are methods that work well with our participants.

The room has no walls, but the truth is still in there

Flexible:  We’re looking for workshop facilitators that can sense the energy level of the participants. Does it look like a playful group? Perhaps games and simulations will be helpful.  Is this a serious (perhaps intense) group or topic? A Q&A or a hotseat format could be more appropriate.. Conversely,  perhaps the opposite prescription will work – the serious and intense folks could lighten up with games. 

The point is that you as the workshop presenter want to build a good connection with your participants and tailor your presentation to the group you have before you. You could do a go round (if there are less than 20 people) and ask everyone for a single sentence about why they are in the workshop. Their answers will guide you to adjust your presentation for their level of expertise and their areas of excitement.

Flexible is key [Image by Bing/Dalle]

Reflect on Impact: Is it possible that you are going to share an exercise that will engage your participants beliefs or behavior? Is it likely they will be amused and entertained?  We’re looking for workshops that will lead participants towards a greater understanding of themselves and how they present in community.  How can we have more healthy and transparent relationships with fellow communitarians? How can libraries of shared material goods be created so we are living more sustainably and cooperatively? Can we be in romantic relationships with more than one person, in the same place? What are the details we can learn and share to live together more cooperatively?  

Not a fancy event:  The conference will provide chairs, rain protection, white boards, and, with advance notice, some sound system, but we’re in quite a rustic environment. Your powerpoint presentation, for example, might dictate which workshop space you need to be in.

It’s important to us to maintain the low cost and low overhead for this conference, so we cannot afford to pay you to present, although we can provide presenters with a free or reduced cost ticket.  We can also help coordinate transportation for presenters from many places.

If you are convinced, here is the Call for Presenter form to complete, and the deadline for submission is Aug 1st.  If you just want to buy a ticket and come to the event here is the link.  If you want to read about how to get the most out of this conference check out this article.  If you would like the irregular updates about this event you can either write to or RSVP on the event facebook page

The Communities Conference has two types of workshops, these IC specific curated workshops which are selected in advance and Open Space workshops on any topic.  The Open Space technique self selects for each workshop’s audience, so all are welcome to present on Sunday of the event.  So if you hate filling out forms, or don’t want to be constrained by having your workshop in part on intentional communities, the Open Space section of workshops is likely best for you.

We are very proud to have Avi Kruley and Sky Blue doing the keynote address: Doing the Impossible: Generating what we need to manifest the potential of Intentional Community

Avi & Sky

Bye Daniel

Daniel Ellsberg is dying. He helped me find my way, i wrote this to him today

Dearest Daniel Ellsberg:

I was broken hearted to hear you were diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I wanted to update you since our last conversation, which was almost 50 years ago.  It was in the city of San Francisco, in 1986.  The World Court had just ruled against the US for mining the harbor in Corinto, Nicaragua.  The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Missouri was visiting the San Francisco harbor for the first time, with hopes of moving its home port there.  You and i and about 30 other mostly local folks decided to risk arrest protesting this collection of events.

It was the first time i had ever been arrested and i was scared.  The county jail was crowded and did not want to release us “political prisoners” with the general population, having had regular problems with this strategy in the past.  So all the men in the Missouri Loves Company group were put in a single large cell, which is where we met.

We had not considered when we got arrested on a Saturday, that Monday was a holiday and we would have to wait until Tuesday together before we could see a judge and be released.  I am sure you have long forgotten our meeting. I will remember it til i die.  It changed my life.

One of the time-passing techniques the experienced law breakers used was everyone telling their life stories.  I remember listening to yours.  Listening to you talk about working in the Pentagon and looking out the window and seeing hundreds of thousands of protesters including all your kids.  You said you realized you were “on the wrong side”.

I also went to fancy schools, before we met.  I had also had a job as a defense contractor.  But unlike you, i was not at all sure where my life was going to take me.  There were lucrative opportunities for me in supporting the system, there were comfortable options available to me.

And in you i saw another path, it was clearly not an easy path, not a comfortable option.  But what was clear to me from listening to you and the other experienced activists over that long weekend was that a pleasant and secure future was not the path of choice for me.

After we were released my life started to change. Soon I would leave my software engineering job, join an activist affinity group, hitchhike across the Pacific on sailboats and settle briefly in Hawaii.  But when the Berlin wall came down, my dear friend called me up and said “We need to go to Eastern Europe, we need to talk with the revolutionaries, because soon they will write the history books, and when they do the truth will be lost forever.”  

I left for Europe, and spent 7 years teaching new non-profit groups how not to get beat up by the police at protests.  I raised money for non-violent political organizations protecting the environment.  But by the time i left Europe in 1997, i had been promoted to the lead anti-nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.  I had been arrested scores of times in 30 countries on 3 continents.  

I came back to the US and continued working opposing nuclear power plant construction and developing intentional communities.

It’s been a long, rich journey since we left the San Francisco county jail. I have no regrets for the path i took.  But i wanted you to know, you were a key sign post that helped me find the way away from defense contracting and software engineering and instead working to help people fight unjust governments and dangerous projects.  You are known mostly for your acts of defiance, you should know that just as important are the people who you inspired.

Thanks for the direction and i hope you enjoy your last days.

Paxus Calta in Prague

More Political Predictions

Political predictions are a tricky game.  Most crystal balls get poor reception for events which are more than a few weeks out.  One of the best forecasters, especially on the rise of authoritarianism in the US, is my old comrade Crystal.

Crystal predicting the insurrection in 2017

I was so excited on the day Trump was indicted, I called Crystal at what would be early evening in Santa Cruz, California where he lives.  Sadly, he woke up in Tarragona, where he is currently, happy to hear Trump was indicted, and even more happy to return to sleep.  Our conversation moved to email, and I made the following three forecasts:

1) The Manhattan indictment will become much less visible when Georgia indicts.

2) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA will not be able to rally an impressive protest at the arraignment on Tuesday (in part because the turf is so hostile and timing so short, but likely because the MAGA militia are cowards). 

3) These indictments will only rally Republican support in the short term and while Trump might win the nomination, he will lose the general and then claim again that it was stolen from him.

Here is Crystal’s edited reply:  

As an intellectual engage I feel it is my obligation to use my scholarship to try and actively understand the world to help change it. Part of this is making predictions. I’ve a mixed record. I did not think Trump could be elected. Just didn’t seem possible. On the other hand I predicted the US defeats in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and the Soviet’s getting their asses kicked in Afghanistan as well, on day one of the invasion, drunk on Las Ramblas in Barcelona at midnight! I did predict Biden winning from early in the primaries. Although that was scary close as well, by then I had a better understanding of Trump’s power, and his weaknesses. I’ve successfully predicted a fair number of other things, especially tech things, like how quickly the COVID-19 vaccine would be produced. It is all in my papers, my books, and various FB posts and Daily Kos columns online

I pretty much agree with your forecasts. If Trump wins the nomination (which is likely but not certain) he certainly won’t win the election. His support still declines, albeit slowly, even among hard core Republicans. Among independents it is pretty much gone.

And I don’t see tens of thousands showing up at his arrest or other ceremonial moments of his legal troubles. Thousands maybe. But controllable. His rallies have been shrinking (15,000 at Waco, many left after the first half hour).

How many at Waco Trump rally –  15K or 1,500?

The most militant and organized parts of his street power aren’t Trumpers first, but rather use him as a mobilizing symbol. These people aren’t blowhards–Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo. Actually, what they did on Jan. 6 is impressive, from the view of someone who has tried to take over buildings (and sometimes succeeded). But they paid a price. Much of their leadership and most militant members are now in the legal morass themselves. And they are well infiltrated by the Feds, and maybe local cops, I am sure.

It’s not easy for protesters to take over buildings, these did.

I’m also sure there are several thousand, or perhaps more, competent racist/semi-fascist militants still out there well organized, but they won’t go to the wall for Trump, who has half betrayed them anyway. They seem to be focusing on cultural war confrontations, as with trans people and drag queen story hours. A very conscious decision, and not stupid really. Lots of recruits in such campaigns and not tied to a weak leader, as Trump certainly is. 

What we should look for is who will replace Trump as the symbolic leader. In the long run they need one. Maybe a woman, as in France and Italy. MTG has shown more smarts than I thought she had, getting into the leadership of the GOP. She does good theater as well. We should see how she handles the Georgia indictments. That is her home turf. 

Trump 2.0?

We can expect violence. Lone wolves or even small cells (such as the Michigan nutjobs who tried to grab the governor) will certainly make moves. I’d be shocked if one of the prosecutors isn’t attacked, maybe even killed. It won’t help Trump. FBI might be inside many of the most dangerous cells but can’t be in all of them.

There could be fighting, even shooting at Pro-Trump vs. Anti-Trump demos. Maybe in Atlanta. DC and NY (the other indictment sites) seem bad terrain for Trumpies, as you note. Portland, Ore. or Sacramento are more likely, in satellite demos. Well armed militants on both sides clash in such places with great regularity. Wisconsin is another flash point. I’m sure there are others.

I really want the Georgia charges to drop. Those are the good ones!

Love and Rage


Unsurprising Community Anarchists

Often visiting students, media and family of members are surprised to find so many anarchist-identified people living in these communes. This is perhaps because of the common misperception that anarchists are all about chaos. Turns out this is fake news. Anarchists dislike government, especially non-representative governments. Which means they are especially fond of dual power.

Dual power is where you replace government functions by doing them yourself and then push the long arms of the state out of your life. Twin Oaks is pretty good at dual power; we build and repair our own buildings, educate our own kids, run our own sewage treatment plant, fix our own cars, bikes and tractors, grow much of our own food, cook our own meals, generate a (tiny fraction) of our own electrical power and run our own 7 businesses.

And anarchists have had a serious influence on the development of Twin Oaks’s own bureaucracies. This is especially true for the Twin Oaks Process Team. The Process Team has an important mission: to facilitate, mediate and negotiate communication between members of the community. If you have a problem with another member, it is the Process Team which you would go to first to seek mediators, advocates, and internal diplomats.

But the Oaker anarchists crippled the Process Team when it was being developed. To make sure this new group did not have too much power it was limited to intervening only when invited. This means if i am in an animated on-going argument with another communard, named Fulano, the Process Team can only mediate for us if we both agree to it. This means if i am being a total jerk and i don’t want to have to defend my terrible treatment of Fulano, i just decline the Process Teams request to mediate. It is worth pointing out, no other income sharing commune in the US permits disagreements to fester in this way.

In sharp contrast, when Twin Oaks created its Mental Health Team (MHT), we had just had a tragic suicide which many felt the community could have done much more to prevent. So instead of looking to limit this bureaucracy’s power, we wanted to make sure it could do whatever it needed to do its job and protect the community and its individual members. Thus, if you are having a manic episode, MHT can take you off the labor system until you’re better, and you have no labor obligation. MHT can give you money for travel and organize external care for you if needed. MHT (in conjunction with the planners) can force someone to leave the community if that is deemed necessary, to take care of someone they are in conflict with.

We don’t know all the answers to how to live together well. But when we observe that the events which sparked the creation of our bureaucracies we can see where we can create dual power successfully, and where we need to do more work.

March is Trump Indicted

If you have read this blog for a long time, you may have noticed i name my months.  This is inspired by the revelation that the Slavic languages do not name their months after Greek and Roman gods, but rather important things happening in the natural world around them.

And every so often when i am feeling reckless and clever i will name the month after a forecast of something which i think will happen.  In February of 2011, i predicted Egyptian dictator Mubarak would fall.  He did. In October of 2011, I predicted the closed reactor at North Anna, shuttered by an earthquake, would not restart and i got this one right as well.  In May of 2012, i correctly predicted Japan would close all its reactors.  In March 2011 and Sept 2011 i predicted Lybia’s Qaddafi falling and got it wrong, tho he did fall in Oct 2011, so i was pretty close.

In August of 2012, i predicted Syria’s dictator Assad would fall.  I was completely wrong, and he reigns comfortably today.

I’ve waited two years to make the leap, but i am calling this March “Trump Indicted”.  And i actually have placed a $100 bet on this with my old friend Amanda.  

Why do i think Trump will be indicted this month particularly?  Well, when i first made the guess it was based largely on the progress of the District Attorney Fanni Willis of Fulton County Georgia, who late in January said, “decisions are imminent ” in the Georgia election fraud case (where Trump said “find me 11,780 votes”).  She said this when asking a judge to wait on releasing the grand jury report, because it might adversely affect the criminal case against Trump and others.  

I was recently alerted to the effort by the Georgia legislature (which passed some of the most racist and restrictive voting laws in the nation after Jan 6th, with the intention of giving the legislature the power to throw out the popular vote in future election) to allow it to actively interfere in state criminal investigations like the Trump investigation in Fulton County. In the worst case, these criminal charges against Trump, recommended for indictment by two grand juries might get dropped if Georgia governor Brian Kemp signs this bill (approved by the lower houses) into law.

And since i have made this prediction, new developments in the Manhattan case against Trump’s crimes connected with the payoff of hush money to Stormy Daniels may have put reluctant DA Alvin Bragg at the front of the list of possible indicting state attorneys.  Specifically, Bragg has invited 

Trump in to answer grand jury questions in the hush money case.  This is not a subpoena, which is largely useless because of 5th amendment protections.  And it is unlikely Trump will choose to testify, but this step of inviting the likely target of an investigation to answer questions for the grand jury (before being charged), is an excellent indicator that this case is ready for trial, because the DA would not do this until all the other evidence is processed.  

The hush money case will focus on the testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen who has already done 3 years in prison for these crimes he admitted to.  Because Trump sloppily tried to take the repayment of Cohen as a business expense for legal services, this relatively minor business fraud charge might then also acquire an additional tax fraud component.  But this entire case is viewed as somewhat extraordinary, and might not go forward for political reasons. 

And given all the other tremendous illegal things Trump has done (conspiring to overthrow the government, endless emoluments violations, stashing secret documents, threatening elected leaders both domestic and international, and more) it feels like a cheap shot to go after such a relatively small charge given his large and impressive collection of crimes.

There are other criminal investigations of Trump.  Most importantly, perhaps, are the two being handled by Special Counsel Jack Smith.  The first is the basically open and shut case of Trump stealing classified documents and then refusing to give them back when caught.  The law is clear, his violations are clear, he was given lots of chances to cooperate, and he blew it off completely, making public statements admitting his guilt and basically demanding the stolen documents be returned.

The other case is the conclusion of the Jan 6 insurrection charges.  This is a very complex case, where literally hundreds of people have already been tried, and most of them convicted, of storming the Capitol following Trump’s request.  This case is complex, because it involves conspiracy charges, which require proving both intent and an organizing effort by multiple people.  Important convictions of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys are the building blocks for this case.  And what may well be happening is Special Counsel Smith is waiting until both cases are completed before indicting Trump on either.   This could easily put the Department of Justice indictments off until 2024.

It is worth pointing out that Trump has already gotten away with a tremendous number of crimes, which he is not being punished for.  The Muller Report famously provided a complete road map for indicting Trump on 10 counts, including multiple obstruction of justice charges.  Nothing seems to be being done with this collection of crimes.  Alvin Bragg stopped the process for indicting Trump and the Trump organization in the Manhattan district, which led to two of his top prosecutors resigning in protest.  

Trump has been exonerated for emoluments crimes because he was no longer in office, despite ample evidence he is guilty.  It is worth pointing out that Trump and his corrupt Justice Department did everything they could to slow these cases in the courts until after he was out of office and could dodge responsibility.  Trump’s unusual frequency of law breaking has been one of his shields.

And Trump is breaking new laws every day.  Recently, he said he would release everyone who had been arrested in relation to the Jan 6 insurrection.  This is material support of insurrectionists, which is itself a criminal offense.  And an offense which includes the option, if convicted, to bar Trump from seeking political office.  He also recently wrote that Biden is hiding part of his border wall which was “sitting there waiting to be installed,” and “put it in a hiding area.”  Which is not in itself illegal, just crazy.

 [All the images for this post were created using OpenArt.AI using the prompt “Trump in prison surreal”.  Interestingly, the new fancy DALLE 2 program rejected this prompt as too political.]

Arlo’s Insights

There is a tremendous amount of second rate analysis out there. If you listen to the coverage about East Palestine Ohio train disaster, you will hear all manner of madness on the right, but even the progressive and liberal media focuses on the civil war era breaks and some union suppression.

So where do you go if you are looking for deeper and more sophisticated analysis? Well, i go to Arlo. A Twin Oaks member who has lived at Twin Oaks most of their life. Now as full member, Arlo is a prolific political podcast listener, so i asked them to give me the two best podcasts of each week. One of them for the news which is not being well covered, and the other for general interesting insights.

They shared an excellent podcast on why the Ohio fire is so problematic. It explores the problem of the department of Transportation being a captured agency. [I’ve written about the Nuclear Regulator Commission as a captured agency.] This means the industry controls the policy and enforcement (or lack of enforcement). They share information about how chemical and railroad lobbyists clawed back the Obama era regulations on hazardous materials transport that paved the way for this accident. They explore why high profile politicians like Pete Buttigieg who could easily advance useful safety regulations will actually almost certainly do absolutely nothing.

Arlo and Mina – circa 2022

I am sure i will be sharing more of his work in the coming time.

NY Times article on Ira

Feb. 1, 2023

They Call Her the Godmother of Southern Seeds for a Reason

For a quarter of a century, Ira Wallace has nurtured seeds and gardeners: ‘When you say her name in our community, all this love comes up.’  Ira Wallace, 74, has played a key role at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for about 25 years, and is referred to by those she has mentored as a godmother.

Ira Wallace stands in a greenhouse filled with plants, holding a stem with several leaves on it. She has short, dark hair and is wearing a dark plaid shirt, dark khaki pants and black-rimmed glasses.

By Margaret Roach Feb. 1, 2023 6 MIN READ

It was the allure of peanut seed that drew a big-dreaming beginning gardener to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog decades ago. I was madly imagining a zone-defying adventure with the tropical legume in my decidedly Northern plot.

What I found at Southern Exposure amounted to a lot more than mere peanuts, and way beyond the packets of collard seed and okra that I added to my order from their list of Southern specialties.

I began an education there — and at Seed Savers Exchange, and a few other like-minded catalogs that are no longer around — centered on the lesson that seeds are no mere commercial product, but the embodiment of our living history.

In those catalogs, I received encouragement, and information, to learn to grow each crop organically and save its seed, rekindling a traditional skill that empowers us to feed ourselves season after season, while helping to keep seed strains going.

For some 40 years, Southern Exposure has stewarded an ever-evolving list of regionally and culturally important seeds, now numbering around 800 varieties. And for about a quarter of a century, Ira Wallace, 74, has played a key role at the company, which has been owned since 1999 by the place she has long called home.

A close-up of a dozen or so peanuts, in light-colored shells, with about an equal number of dark-colored nuts out of the shells to the right.

Peanut seed has been in the Southern Exposure catalog almost since the beginning, about 40 years ago. The Fastigiata Pin Striped variety has large, wavy pods, with nuts that have orange skins marked with purple when they’re dried.

The farm-based Acorn Community is a secular, egalitarian intentional community on 72 acres in Mineral, Va., that supports “radical sharing” and “encourages personal responsibility,” according to its website. Such ethics, and the energy forged by its communal spirit, have been assets in the face of the seed industry’s modern era of dramatic consolidation and its focus on the pursuit of patented varieties.

Four multinational giants that are also in the pesticide business now own much of the precious genetics of our agricultural crops; seed has become intellectual property.

But not here. Southern Exposure offers heirloom and open-pollinated seed, each variety with a story to tell — a link to those who grew it before, and the places it originated.

One that Ms. Wallace looks forward to each year is roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a big, beautiful plant that produces “the zing in Red Zinger tea,” she said. It used to be grown in Florida, where she was raised. It’s sometimes referred to as sorrel or Jamaica sorrel; in the 1890s, it was called Florida cranberry.

Ms. Wallace’s hands holding a small, square screen with small, brown seeds and lighter colored pieces on top of it.

Ms. Wallace screens seeds of her favorite Whippoorwill cowpea, an heirloom that traveled with enslaved Africans to the Americas and was eventually grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

‘Collaborators, Not Competitors’

Southern Exposure mails out about 80,000 catalogs each year. In 2022, it filled 52,000 orders, most to customers in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, with a segment of shoppers elsewhere wanting a taste of the region — as those long-ago peanuts promised me. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato, with giant fruits exceeding two pounds and sometimes reaching four, is one such headliner.

As if her role there and as the elder at Acorn were not enough, Ms. Wallace applies her seemingly inexhaustible energy to other forms of nurturing as well, and to teaching. Prepandemic, she was a Girl Scout leader and “the math lady” at the local library, using math games to engage children with numbers.

She has also mentored countless grown-ups who were curious about seed farming, helping to connect them with other growers who could share information and equipment, improving their chances of success.

She even mentors other seed companies.

A row of eight green-and-purple okra, in descending lengths from left to right.

Okra, a mallow family member, has been part of the Southern Exposure assortment from the start. The current catalog lists 20 varieties, including Puerto Rico Everblush — early yielding, bountiful and delicious.

Credit…Chris Smith/Utopian Seed Project

“I remember a really early conversation, where Ira told me small seed companies needed to be collaborators, not competitors,” said Chris Smith, the executive director of the Utopian Seed Project, a North Carolina-based crop-trialing nonprofit. He expressed gratitude for Ms. Wallace’s role in helping to jump-start the Heirloom Collards Project, which he is part of, and her early support of another small Southeastern specialist catalog, Sow True Seed, where he worked.

The role she has assumed has been described by many — including Ms. Wallace herself — as that of a godmother.

“When you say her name in our community, all this love comes up — a standing ovation every time, from all the young’uns and friends who sit at her feet, whom she has blessed,” said Bonnetta Adeeb, of Ujamaa Seeds. Ms. Wallace has advised Ujamaa, a collective of Black and Indigenous growers focusing on culturally relevant seed, which just introduced its second online catalog.

Witnessing this traction is joyful for Ms. Wallace, and even a little surprising, in the best way — particularly set against the backdrop of the last century’s sharp decline in Black-owned American farms, to fewer than 1 percent today.

“The seed world is a particularly white aspect of the sustainable agriculture movement,” she said. “Where Black people were coming in at all to farming was in CSAs and that aspect of the food system — not to grow seed.”

She is delighted to support Ujamaa’s young and emerging seed farmers, alongside retired educators and those in the BIPOC community who want to farm, she said: “This is definitely something I didn’t think I was going to see.”

A large whole tomato on the right, next to a  half tomato on the left, sliced face up, surrounded by green stems and leaves.

Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato, an heirloom with giant fruits that can sometimes reach four pounds, is a longtime headliner in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog.

Southern Peas, Greasy Beans and More

There are flowers and herbs in the Southern Exposure catalog, too, but it’s the traditional Southeastern vegetables whose stories pull me back every year.

This is where I met greasy beans and certain other pole beans, including Selma Zesta, whose pods remain tender even after the beans have swelled inside, providing green and protein in each mouthful.

Ms. Wallace has a special affection for the Whippoorwill pea, a Southern pea or cowpea — not the green shelling or English pea (Pisum sativum), but Vigna unguiculata, the same species as asparagus beans. Whippoorwill traveled with enslaved people from Africa to the Americas, where it was eventually grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

A close-up of a hand holding up a large, green collard leaf with purple veins.

Move over, kale: Collards are just as versatile. The Heirloom Collard Project, whose members include Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure, Ujamaa and the Utopian Seed Project, hopes to convince us all to grow some.

Credit..Chris Smith/Utopian Seed Project

Cowpeas, which grow on vines, can be shelled and eaten green or used as dry beans.

“I can’t do without them,” she said. “They remind me of my grandmother, who raised me, who always grew them, and they’re inexpensive protein. The vines build the soil, and you can feed them to your critters if you have animals on your farm. What’s not to like?”

A dozen collard varieties sport leaves ranging from green and blue-green to the yellow-green ones of Yellow Cabbage Collards, a North Carolina heirloom whose leaves form a loose head. Maybe the most striking is a variegated Florida heirloom; half of its leaves display white markings in winter.

And move over, kale: Collards are just as versatile, whether they are harvested young or fully grown, to steam or sauté; or serving as the wrapper for dolmas; or even dehydrated and crispy. The Heirloom Collard Project, whose members include Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure, Ujamaa and the Utopian Seed Project, hopes to convince us to make room for a row.

A basket full of glossy red sweet peppers with green stems.

The South’s population has evolved to include new immigrant communities, and the Southern Exposure list has changed accordingly. Alongside longtime regional family heirloom peppers is Pimiento Lago Agrio, an Ecuadorean sweet pepper with two-inch, pumpkin-shaped fruits.

Go Ahead, Try Some Okra

In the way that the South’s population has evolved, so has the Southern Exposure seed list. Alongside Doe Hill golden sweet bell pepper, a pre-1900 Virginia family heirloom, is Pimiento Lago Agrio, an Ecuadorean sweet pepper with two-inch, pumpkin-shaped fruits. An Acorn Community member whose mother is from Latin America volunteered with Ecuadorean seed-saver groups, forging the connection.

“We realized that, just like the European immigrants spread their versions of different vegetables around, that the current immigrants have communities and varieties,” Ms. Wallace said. “We’re trying to make that a part of the web of American heirlooms we offer.”

Many gardeners, particularly Northern ones, may not have grown a single okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), a mallow family member. It has been in Southern Exposure’s assortment from the start, as if preparing the ground for Mr. Smith, whose book, “The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration,” became a 2020 James Beard Foundation Award winner.

The current catalog lists 20 okras, including the winner of Mr. Smith’s 2018 trial of 76 varieties, Puerto Rico Everblush — early yielding, bountiful and delicious.

“A lot are family heirlooms, like the Shows okra, which we sold out of the first year of the pandemic and just got back in,” Ms. Wallace said.

But some are “just fun,” she added, like Okinawa Pink, from Japan: “It’s such a bright pink color that kids come to it like bees to honey.”


A red sack with a pile of yellow potato onions spilling out of it onto wood planking.

One of Ms. Wallace’s must-have crops is the yellow potato onion, a perennial onion that Southern Exposure reintroduced in 1982, from a strain dating to before 1790.

Peanuts in Colors, Onions in Aggregate

The peanuts that first pulled me in have been there alongside okra since the start, or thereabouts — and not just familiar-looking reddish-brown ones, but those with variegated, striped and black nuts.

Also marking decades on the list are yellow potato onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum), a favorite of Ms. Wallace’s that is also popular with customers, and is shipped out each fall as bulbs. Southern Exposure reintroduced that perennial onion in 1982, from a strain dating to before 1790. “That’s something that, every year, we never have enough of,” she said.

It’s one of her must-have crops — like a larger shallot, but with more true onion flavor. Adaptable to all of the United States, except for Florida and South Texas, its bulbs are exceptional keepers, lasting a year or longer under good storage conditions.

The last word of its Latin name, aggregatum, is a tipoff to the multiple onions that grow in aggregate — a group of individuals nested together. And one of its common names is mother onion.

Somehow it all seems to fit that this particular godmother to so many seeds, and seed people, would have a rapport with a mother plant that thrives, and produces, in community.

Margaret Roach is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name.

The Thursday Problem – why we can’t slow down

There has been a bunch of good news in the campaign to block unqualified candidates like Herschel Walker. Our effort has been acknowledged and appreciated as well, so here is the report.

Good News

As of Dec 1, these are the betting pools on the Georgia Senate Runoff election as forecasted by PredictIt with over 1 million bets placed for this race so far.  Warnock is leading (85%/15%)

Please note that before the midterm election, Walker’s chance of winning was 65%/35%, then it dramatically flipped after the election.  My read is there were several factors in this dramatic reversal

  • Walker numerically lost the midterm election to Warnock
  • Republican Governor Kemp was not on the ticket to bring out voters
  • Walker received 210,000 fewer votes than Kemp in the November election 
  • Since the senate is not in play, those who were voting for Walker for GOP control (but were not excited about the candidate) now had to say they wanted just him

This is good news, but it doesn’t mean we can assume the election is already won. We’ll keep flyering and canvassing and more, because none of us want to see 2016 happen again- win or lose, we’ll know we did everything we could to help re-elect Reverend Warnock. And just like this prediction poll was wrong about Walker winning the midterm, or that there was an 85% chance Hillary Clinton would win, it could be wrong. 15% chance is about the chance of a day being Thursday.  Thursdays happen all the time.

Black turnout outpacing Midterms

6 days into early voting, over 16% of the registered population has turned out to vote and 29% of the people who voted in the recent midterms, these numbers are encouragingly high.  But what is especially important when comparing the racial identification of the voters, Whites are way down and Blacks are up 10% in turnout so far in the runoff.  This alone (if the trend continues) would doom Walker.  Blacks voted 89% for Warnock in the recent midterms, Whites voted 67% for Walker.

There is a reason for some of this racial disparity.  The big primarily Democratic Atlanta metro counties (where half the state’s population resides) had early voting on Saturday. Many smaller, poorer, redder counties chose not to because of the expense (or because they assumed the Republicans would win the court case block voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving).  So Democrat heavy areas got a head start, but as the days of early voting have progressed, this 10% higher Black voter turnout than ???White??? during the midterms seems to persist.  

For those of us in the field this is quite inspiring information which is never available in most states because they dont track it and rarely available this quickly.  I wish there were more we could thank the Georgia Secretary of State for.

It also does not help that Walker is running a terrible campaign, independent of the many scandals and seriously foolish statements (“I have always lived in Georgia” and I want to be a werewolf”). Walker decided to take 5 days of the runoff period off, for Thanksgiving.  That is a big piece of a 27 day campaign. And let’s not forget that Walker “described himself as living in Texas during (a) 2022 campaign speech,” and in fact still registers his $3 million Texas home as his primary residence- for the tax break.  

The Warnock campaign alternatively is energized, outspending Walker in ads, working with churches, college  groups, unions, LatinX and other immigrant communities.  Obama comes today and speaks, Michelle has recorded some robo calls.

The Walker campaign has asked Trump not to come to Georgia. 

Nice Words

We have been working with all 4 of the free ride services for the campaign.  Each has it’s own advantages, territories and strengths.  Especially, those with limited “ground game” are excited about working with us to compliment their virtual promotion approach.  The largest free ride service in Georgia for the runoff is Plus1 Vote.  They described us nicely in their pitch deck

Page 19 of the Pitch Deck

And while this is uplifting good news, it is important for us to keep going full speed, to avoid the Thursday problem.  Walker is down but definitely not out and we can not risk a long shot win in 2022 which mimics Trump’s surprise win in 2016.  

So if things look good, why are we working so hard?

It is critically important to remember these election laws have been designed for Republicans to win, and that 2020’s runoffs were a statistical outlier- Republicans generally win runoffs in Georgia. 2020/21 was an exception because of the tremendous effort that went into that campaign.  The Georgia runoff system was created by (mainly) white politicians to dis-empower the “Negro bloc voting” (direct quote). How do we know this? Because Denmark Groover, who proposed the runoff system admitted decades later that “I was a segregationist. I was a county unit man. But if you want to establish if I was racially prejudiced, I was. If you want to establish that some of my political activity was racially motivated, it was.”  The runoff time has been cut in half.  

Greg Palast (perhaps the best reporter on election fraud in the US) also warns that the 2020 voter suppression law was designed to basically eliminate mail-in ballots which were 2:1 in Warnocks favor.  Those long lines and wait times you are reading about, that is significantly Warnock voters who are discouraged from voting.

If you can help our efforts please do support us in these last critical days.

Join the Air Team for Georgia

It is cliché to say “the internet has changed everything”, yet it is foolish to not examine how these changes should translate into changes in our behavior.  For the Georgia Senate Runoff campaign, thinking about how folks far from us might use the internet to help is a daily occurrence.  Here are our current ideas:

  1. Basic social media support.    The easiest and cheapest way you can support us is to post things on social media.  We would love for you to post our fundraiser but if you have any connection to Georgia at all, what would be really great would be for you to post the link to info about Free Rides to the Polls, printable flyers, resources for voters, and other voter support information.
  2. Help us find volunteers.  We are working with a growing group of in state volunteers to distribute information about free rides to the polls.  These volunteers fall generally into two groups. Partisans who want to be publicizing ways to get Warnock to win and non-partisans (often affiliated with churches) who want to just provide public information encouraging folks to get to the polls and how to get there for free. We provide both pro-Warnock and non-partisan resources when publicizing free rides
  3. Share our materials with people in Georgia. We can organize volunteers to put up flyers, hand out info for free rides, and remind people to vote- but you’re welcome to do so independently as well. We provide print-ready files for posters, flyers, and business cards on our website here. Currently those materials are available in English and Spanish, and we’ll be adding other languages as they become available. Speaking of translations…
The Flip Project developed, promoted and/or translated these posters
  1. Translations– In 2020 we translated runoff voting materials into more than a dozen languages. While we likely won’t surpass that number this year, we’d certainly like to try! And if you have good contacts with language groups in Georgia, we would love your help with distributing translations via social media. If you’re interested in translating then something either comment on this blog post or get in touch with me at
  2. Become a dispatcher.  Some of the rideshare groups we are working with don’t use Uber or Lyft, but instead dispatch volunteer drivers to get people to the polls.  This means calling and checking people are ready for their rides and making sure drivers can keep their connections or get usefully re-assigned.  
  3. Hustle money for us.  I know it is uber boring, but we still find that every dollar which comes in helps us do more things to get people the polls*.  And our team is still expanding (with Zi arriving yesterday).  Here is the GoFundMe link which you should send to that rich relative of yours who always talks about how people should do something to stop the Trump madness, well now would be a great time them to do something.  Please post GFM link on your own social media, you would might be surprised how generous and engaged your friends are.

* And for our donors who are reading this as part of an update, we are especially grateful for your support. We launch these efforts unsure we can pull the money together to cover all our costs and we have been very happy with the response. Thanks for taking a chance with us, it looks like it is going to pay off. Record early voting, record young people turn out, tremendous enthusiasm for the campaign.

The price of independence

Professional political campaigns at the US Senatorial level must protect themselves from the many “helpful” constituents who want to waste their precious time with their under formulated notions of how to win their race. For a quasi-independent political group like our Flip Project it is quite hard to convince the official campaign to give us any time. The lovely out-of-state volunteer campaign coordinator is happy to put all people on their door to door canvass. But if we want to do something other than that, their hands are tied. For us, the price of our independence is we need to out perform door to door canvasses.

This year, with a very short campaign duration (thank you Georgia’s new “election integrity”/ voter suppression laws), we have chosen to promote free rides to the polls as what we think our volunteers can deliver that will be the most effective way to get out votes. We are producing assets, like the Spanish language poster below, with a QR code that lands or our splash page, which gives out information on free rides (with ride services or friendly volunteers), polling locations and election protection practices.

We are scrambling to get these assets translated into almost every language, except Vietnamese which broke for Trump in the most recent presidential election. We support everyone’s right to vote, and especially we want to promote voting among non-English speaking citizens, and we promote the languages we are especially excited about. At this point, we only have enough enough money to do poster and other physical promotional materials in English and Spanish. The other languages likely to see translated assets for this election are Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Bangladeshi and possibly Pakistani, these will be promoted over social media by our air team. In the 2020 Georgia runoff, we did translations of election materials into 13 languages.

2020 Presidential results national results by ethnic group.

Turns out there are a bunch of studies showing the correlation between access to a car and voting. The above graph shows the somewhat shocking thing which happens in the US, and even though we might not like the behavior, we can not deny the behavior. People who don’t own cars are on the order of 30% less likely to vote than people who do have a car in their household. [What i found interesting in this, is that the absentee ballot use is basically unchanged, where i had thought people without access to cars would significantly increase their use of absentee ballots – but they don’t and instead they often simply do not vote.]

Our high tech partner in free ride share is and their findings shocked us a bit. They found that social media campaigns for their services were far less effective than their other techniques. One of their techniques is to use geographic and demographic data to locate prospective free ride candidates and then push the free ride directly into their Uber wallet. Then they don’t even have to mess with a promo code, they can simply push a button and they will get a free ride to the correct polling station for their pick up.

Looking for high Democrat voting with low auto ownership

We are also digging into the data to find the best places to promote free rides. There is very granular census data we have gotten for free, which combined with political data gives us the ability to look at locations in metro Atlanta which have high Democratic voter preferences and also low car ownership – the sweet spots for free ride to the polls services.

Flip Project Ground Team L to R – Paxus, Jacqueline, Vicky, Spiderman (aka Mark)

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner of the project staff in Georgia now (several more folks are coming up). In a beautiful coincidence, the Indian restaurant we went to dinner at overlooked the Hosia Williams Mural (seen in the background of the above picture). In 2020, we help revitalize this mural, we had a GOTV artwork competition near here and several of the current staff met for the first time in this location. For this all out-of-town group of activists, this spot feels like coming home.

There is still time to support this campaign and a significant need. I am also humbled and thankful for the many friends and family who have donated and insured that we can keep this project going. This is a very close race and perhaps our effort will be the piece that pushes us to a win, as we helped in 2020 Georgia senate runoff.