Terra Bite 4: Possible vs Probable:

Understanding the Differences and the Opportunities for Control



We understand the probabilities; but are we prepared for the possibilities? Can we guide the poorest of the poor overcome their ‘lack of water’, their biggest barrier to adoption of home gardens? This Terra Bite will explore how all people can learn to prepare for the climate in such a way as to no longer worry about the weather; and from that foundation, create resilient families and landscapes.


What is the probability of getting in a car accident in your home town? Quite low, correct? You know your way around; you know the problem areas in the roads. But what is the possibility? It is 100%. That is why we always wear our seat belts; we prepare for the probability, no matter how small, because we know that the possibility is extremely high. We prepare our fragile bodies for the possibility of a severe accident even if the probability of that accident is low. We are being smart.


We mitigate the risk of injury by adapting our behavior. We reduce the risk factors: seat belts, looking everywhere as we drive, maintain a proper speed in a well-maintained vehicle. Despite these efforts however, still does not eliminate the risk of an accident. In fact, the possibility remains 100%. A donkey on the side of the road, a sudden gust of wind, or a small child chasing a ball, causes us to swerve unexpectedly and we hit an oncoming vehicle or a very stationary tree. But, if we have prepared for this 100% possibility, we lower our risk of serious injury. This is smart driving. We prepare for the possibility even though the probability is minimal. We as change agents must guide people to do the same when it comes to their homes, gardens, farms, forests and fisheries.


If we apply this thinking to our weather and the climate it comes from, what is the probability that it will rain tonight, in arid Ethiopia, in the middle of the dry season? Based on our experience, it is quite low. But again, what is the possibility that it will rain? Especially in this time of recognized and proven climate change, caused by global warming, the possibility of rain is 100%. Are we ready for it? Are we ready to maximize the minimum shower while also minimizing the explosive maximums that may arrive? Are we ready to avoid the child chasing her ball across the road?


But what do we DO about this? How do we actually mitigate the severity? How do we go beyond philosophy and provide a rapid doable response? How do we guide each other to minimize the risk factors and adjust our behaviors? It’s remarkably simply and cost-free. Just as we became “street smart”, we must become “climate smart”. We learn about our changing climate and we put on our seat belts. We Adapt. We Mitigate. We Intensify. IN THAT ORDER. Notice the word we. It is our actions to which I refer. We are not waiting for ‘others’ to provide us with the answers: the drought-tolerant seeds, the irrigation systems, or the tree planting schemes. These actions are fine on a global scale, but at home we create soil that is resilient to drought; so why would we need drought-tolerant seeds?


Just like in the car accident analogy, we prepare by putting on our garden ‘seatbelts’: we make sure that our water management systems are in place. This means our berms, swales, saturation holes, paths, beds and runoff channels are cleaned and ready to receive the rain, whenever it should arrive, and in whatever volume. We let that runoff slowly sink and spread into and through the subsoil. We dig a hole and watch it fill with rain, the guide that water to wherever we want it to go. Because if we don’t; if we ignore climate change, and act surprised by dry season rain, rain season ‘drought’, then we are not being ‘climate change aware’. We are not being ‘climate-smart’. We are in fact, being climate ignorant. Dare I say, with apologies to all, we are being climate-dumb.


But, if we prepare for the (changed) climate, we can stop worrying (as much) about the weather. And what does that actually mean in terms of small, doable actions? Where do we attach the seatbelt? As interculturally-aware, Agroecological Food Security and Resilience Change Agents, we have a beautiful opportunity here to guide mothers, fathers, farmers and students how to minimize the maximums and maximize the minimums. How to take advantage of the deluge in the dry season as well as the rain; to use the drought in the rain season as well as the dry, to enrich the environment and our families at the same time. In a matter of hours, we can guide a victimized family gardener or farmer or student to move from victim to victor; and it won’t cost any money. We teach “climate intelligent resilience” using Terra Firma and the Rule of CLOSE.


The Terra Firma Method, where “The Process IS the Product”, guides agroecological decision-making that can happen again and again. As a result, the farmer and home gardener will be able to respond and grow at her own pace, making small adjustments along the way, whenever she may be forced to move. With this process well understood, she is prepared to be resilient for the rest of her life. She and her children will be prepared for the 100% possibility of rain tonight.


We ASSESS the climate and the weather; we look for examples of runoff lost; we see the value within the organic ‘waste’ which can be used in soil to absorb the harshness of both rain, wind and sun. We see the small ‘wasted’ spaces around the home that could be renovated with a Terra Firma Keyhole which turns one square meter into four CUBIC METERS of production and ecosystem health and strength.


We CAPTURE those neglected organic resources by gathering the rough carbons and making compost with the soft ones. We pile the char, ash, food scraps and livestock manure. And we draw a plan for how to do Water Management ‘Six S’: Stop, Slow, Sink, Spread, Save, Shade.


We PROTECT our garden/farm plots with a design of berms, swales and holes; then execute that plan once decided upon. We use those captured organic fencing materials to create a fence and then plant a living fence within it (Sesbania, Moringa, Aloe, Lemongrass, Vetiver).


We PRODUCE abundantly by creating deep, well-nourished soil in our garden beds and berms. Then we use bio-intensive techniques to plant the berms with useful local perennials and fill the gaps with edible annuals like tomatoes, beans, carrots, beets and swiss chard.


We MANAGE our garden beds by further practicing bio-Intensive spacing, intercropping and crop rotation, focusing on nutrient-dense, complementary vegetables, grains and legumes. Planting in this way creates a healthy microclimate below the closed canopy of leaves. This is the 4th Dimension of the Terra Firma Permagarden: a 4-fold yield/m2 increase while eliminating weeds and reducing hand watering need to just one quarter the amount needed with conventional shallow till, row gardens.


This is Terra Firma: Solid Earth! We REASSESS, RECAPTURE, REPROTECT, REPRODUCE. REMANAGE… the cycle continues season to season; year to year. The Permagarden is like a well-built house: Once built, we don’t need to build it again but we do need to clean, paint and repair. Once we build the Permagarden, our job is to maintain it so that it will continue to thrive; no matter the weather; no matter the possibilities or the probabilities...we are ready for whatever comes or whatever does not come.


We teach this to farmers, by starting in their home gardens, following the guidance of the Rule of CLOSE where there is little risk as all actions are close, local, organic, small and easy. They can then choose to implement the same on their larger farm plots. We never push; but we do agree to be pushed or pulled into the farm fields by eager agroecological farmers interested in further guidance.


And as we do this, we will be joining them in understanding the point where we SEE the value of depth over width and the value of preparing for the 100% possibility of rain that day. We will all take great pride in calling ourselves ‘Terra Firma Climate Smart’ … all the way to the kitchen.


Peter Jensen Agroecology And Permagarden Training Specialist

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