Fourteen Months

I returned home from Morocco in March of 2012 full of fire and passion wanting to take advantage of all the opportunities I saw for myself-all of us- here in the States. I was also determined to preserve the separation of church and state as our constitution dictates, having felt the oppression that a state supported religion brings.

I joined a humanist club through Meet Up. Though I enjoyed the people, I found them not enthusiastic about speaking out about our shared concerns. Then I found and joined the Brights. They are a positive group that echo my concerns and values.

Leslie had sold my plush Honda Odyssey van for me while I was gone and I needed transportation. But my perspective had changed. If I can cycle all over Europe and North Africa, what do I need a car for? I made the electric Yuba Mundo. I devised a way of charging it using photovoltaics. That was my first solar powered ride. I will never go back to a stinking car.

Yuba Leslie and I

I noticed that Leslie, my 100lb five foot girl friend could not ride the Yuba, even when it was not carrying 6 bags of groceries and a watermelon. I thought it wierd that she could easily drive her 2000 lb automobile but could not manage the Yuba. I realized that using bikes for transportation and cargo would be more popular if everyone could do it easily, so I set out to build a user friendly electric cargo bike.

To build this bike I had to teach myself to weld and had to buy a drill press and a lathe. I thought that a three wheel design would be best because they couldn’t fall over when stopped or loaded. But three wheelers can tip over and they feel awkward because you can’t lean into corners. To overcome these handicaps I decided to build a three wheeled leaning/steering cargo trike that was to be electrically assisted.

I had also become part of the worldwide Transition Movement. This is a grassroots effort to create a civilized descent from peak oil. Transition proposes locally grown organic food, a more self sufficient local economy, renewable energy, and non-fossil fuel powered transportation.

I feel that having a locally grown food supply is the most essential part of maintaining civilization, because if you are eating and drinking you are OK. I set out transform my house and converted the front and back yards to vegetable gardens, and planted lots of fruit trees. There has been a lot of experimentation as to what grows well here in southern Florida. Basically, in the winter, we look to the northern hemisphere for the plants that do well in their summer climate. In our hot humid summers, we must look to the southern hemisphere and grow tropical plants.

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To create food abundance in a crisis we must do this as a community, so I set out to create a food park, where we could go to learn about, look at and eat from fruit trees that do well in our climate zone. I wanted to use public land because we have lots of park spaces here and wanted it not to be subject to the vagarities of private ownership. I also want to somehow create farms and farmers here in Venice as we have none.

Prentiss French Park Food Park

Ultimately I failed. After six months of meetings with city officials, drawing up plans, going before council meetings, Transition and I were turned down for need of more planning. I found myself not in a partnership relationship with the city, but being viewed as a private contractor who wanted to build on public land. Difficult, especially with our limited resources. But the good news was that the local Transition movement had coalesced and grown around the idea, and we were now a solid group, officially Transition Venice, mostly thanks to Diane’s tireless organization and Abby’s relentless promotion.

The local health food store had some extra land so Leslie called and the owners Karen and Bob said we could put a food park there. So, a week after the big city turn down, we planted trees at Choices. Now a garden group is starting a community garden there. As long as the landlord renews Choices’s lease, we have a food park.

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I also failed to build a leaning steering electric cargo trike. I worked on it through six failures of all types. On my seventh attempt I made a leaning steering trike that was rideable. But it had the worst qualities of a bike- and the worst qualities of a trike… It would not stand upright when stopped, and it leaned and steered in a manner that, ummm, took some getting used to. So here it sits, rusting in front of my house, awaiting new inspiration.

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In the meantime, Leslie had a friend move in with us for a few months. He occupied my guest room and office. When he moved out, I decided I didn’t need a guest room and office, and remodeled the two rooms into a kitchen and living room, and a bedroom, and rented them. It was a great return on my investment- the extra cash helps.

I already built a solar water heater on my house, and I decided the next step was to get off the grid and stop burning fossil fuels. I sold my gas mower and my gas weed eater and bought a push mower and an electric weed eater for my small remaining patches of lawn.

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Then I bought 3KW of solar panels, a charge controller, an inverter, rustled up some batteries and installed the system. My cost was just seven thousand, as I did all the work myself. I did not seek any rebates. My friend Mike helped me finish the technical end of the wiring.

It works perfectly. I have more power than I know what to do with in the day and find myself looking for things to turn on. At night I still conserve to preserve the batteries. I did have to make some lifestyle changes and orient my welding and other uses around the sun, but I am more than willing to do that for a clean conscience. I just installed a large 110 volt room air conditoner that I blast all day- for free, with no carbon footprint. I am chagrined that we Floridians aren’t embracing our sun potential.

I decided to forgo three wheel designs for a while and build a cargo bike that would be electrically powered for Florida weather. That meant a bimini to keep the sun off. The design works well and is called a GAK. There is nothing else similiar, and Leslie and I wanted a name that had no meaning associated with it. Everywhere we go we get stares and questions. I will sometimes come out of the hardware store and see a group of guys standing around it talking and pointing.

Gak Shawn and Cat

I usually get a few drop ins each week who see the gardens, the solar, the bikes and stop to chat. So far two neighbors have installed solar with my assistance, there are some more gardens, and two more food forests. I hope that I am helping to inspire change, but with my impatient nature it feels slow in coming. I am inspired to be working with such passionate powerful leaders as Mark, Rand, Diane, Abby and Ann.

So I am at a turning point. There is so much opportunity to make positive change that I need to rethink and to reprioritize. I’m going to push my reset button with a bicycle tour of the Canadian Maritime provinces. On June 4th, 2013, I’ll start cycling from Maine through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec. I’ll be joined in the beginning by Susan and later by Sage. Anyone wishing to join on this exploring, reflecting, writing, photography, camping, having fun and oh-yes cycling expedition is welcome.

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Diane, Shawn, Phil and Leslie are startled on a surreptitious midnight Ninja Gardening Adventure- to plant edibles in a state park!