Slow and Small Solutions in a Fast Paced World

One Week in Chow’s Life

It’s Monday morning, and there are plenty of things to accomplish during the week at work. Mulch needs to be spread, lessons need to be prepared, materials arranged for the lessons, plants watered, meetings to attend, and everything else that pops up in life. It’s becomes easy to get stressed and overwhelmed just thinking of the daunting tasks in one single day.

On the other side of the coin, big dreams and ambitions are lofty and somehow seem more attainable than all the small things that occur in the daily and weekly commotion. Leaving a suburban area to live on a farm out in the middle of no where, building community living centers, creating large aquaponics systems, and growing a food forest overnight.

The problem for me arises when the big dream is automatically pursued without conscientiously thinking about the tasks and steps to reach it. It’s the drive for the instant gratification of reaching the goal and the ignorance that makes it attractive. In a short amount of time, all of the small tasks begin to accumulate and overwhelm me and burn out my passion, energy, and time.

The issue percolates to other realms in society and not just in my own life. The pattern is emergent within teaching, parenting, and in all people who desire to live a better life and in a better world. The truth then lies in the details that connect these disciplines together.

Non-Cognitive Skills
It was about a month ago that I heard the episode of This American Life on Back to School. The episode focused on the concepts and ideas that should be taught in school and at home to ensure future success. The show begins with an economist, James Heckman, who took the task of looking at GED and high school graduates. The initial drive was from the idea that people who obtained a GED saved enormous amounts of time, energy and money.

Heckman began to question though whether the GED graduates were as successful in life as the high school graduates. In a long term study across the board, high school graduates had better paying jobs, were married for longer periods of time, had less divorces, were better in the military, and the GEDs virtually dropped out of everything they started.

This raises the next question, what is it that divides GED students from high school graduates. The test the GED graduates take is supposed to challenge people on the same level as people in high school. The answer is a very elusive one, non-cognitive skills. Heckman defines it as character, social skills, conduct, and skills that are empiracly difficult to measure.

The study continues for another 10 years, and the economist begin to isolate the non-cognitive skills that are the most significant. One that was found to be highly significant is self-control. In the late 1960s, a group of scientist observed children resisting the urge to eat a sweet treat in the present moment, enter the marshmallow test. The child would be sitting down and offered a cookie if they ringed a small bell on a table; however, if they waited 10 minutes to ring the bell, they would receive two cookies. It was literal torture for these children to wait, to delay satisfaction. In the long term though, the scientists tracked these peoples’ lives and continued to study how they would respond to temptations and life, and discovered more than what they intended. The children who were able to resist eating the sweet treat for longer periods of time succeeded far beyond others in stressful situations, maintaining friendships, and simply paying attention.

As an adult now, the significance of learning this one tool is astronomical. As the years go on, the responsibility becomes larger. We are responsible for children learning self-control, are dealt a bigger role in society with access to tools, knowledge, and the future of this planet, and yet many of us have not mastered or even thought about the idea of mastering ourselves.

The trick is to make self-control a habit.

“Keep Your Goals to Yourself”
We’ll move away from self-control for a moment and move our attention to goals in general. Every new year, people create new years resolutions and strive to accomplish that task. The problem arises when people taut about their resolutions and share it with everyone that they talk to. In the end, they feel great from sharing and letting people know while getting positive feedback from their peers.

The issue arises in the mind. Derek Sivers delivers a great TED talk on the issue of keeping your goals to yourself. By saying and sharing, we trick the mind into thinking the task has been accomplished by substituting the real genuine gratification of doing with one that is replaced by talking. Sivers concludes that we should keep those goals to ourselves or if we are tempted to say it we beat ourselves up with the harsh reality of what it’s going to take to complete it so we get no satisfaction from it.

A Few Tools
Overall, there is a reoccurring pattern in the realm of success and conquering dreams, delaying immediate results through self-regulation and control.

Changing behaviors though can require extra work, energy, and time to create a dedicated effort in manifesting a healthy feedback loop of successful results. There is no one singular method in creating new habits. However, the ones that have stayed with me the longest are slowing down, observing, meditating, and writing.

Slowing down is essential to realize of how much time is available to create our dreams. Rushing to solutions or conclusions often results in more work later on. It’s best to give things some thought beforehand. This vital step is crucial for those that follow.

Observations clue us into whether we are headed in the correct direction on the right assumptions. In a fast paced world, this process is easily blurred from an incorrect realization. For example, those who switch from conventional farming to organic may see horrendous results in the first year and come to a conclusion that organic is worse than using chemical pesticides. Coupled with slowing down, the observation may be deduced to a depletion of soil fertility and erosion.

Meditation for me is a method to clear the mind of the ambient noise and clutter from the day. It’s a moment that allows the mind to guide your thoughts, actions, and words.

Finally, writing, drawing, or blogging catalogs your new habits and ideas into a new reality. It tracks the slow progress and shows the mountain that is about to be conquered with hard work and dedication. One my favorite sermons was at Creation Flame, the Church of Awesome which was based on the epic journey. It’s not meant to be easy. Every huge feat that was accomplished was done with strife, hardships, and in the end a sense of accomplishment.

In fewer words, without the journey the end is meaningless.
Live with passion.

Life Rubric: Determining Success from a Simple Feedback Loop

I used to often find myself believing that everything I do is for the greatest good. In high school, that train of thought was most likely exemplified to its maximum with the simple idea of, “I know Everything.” There were no feedback loops. It was the greatest point I could be at, no need for correction or reflection.

Unfortunately, a lot of that pompous ideology lingers in the mind and finds itself repeating itself. In gardening, this idea can percolate to the supreme of all garden methods, sustainability. Yet again, the self-affirmation of success persists  instead of a true confirmation from nature.

The question then expands to how do we confirm that the garden is successful in nature’s eyes?

At the Montessori Academy, we’ve been utilizing rubrics to determine and communicate success to our students. This way, the students are aware of what an A+ requires, witness a fair grading system, and is reciprocated for parents and teachers. It also creates a feedback loop where the student can continually monitor their own progress. An example would be a shift from a C to a B with a clear explanation to the delineation of grades.

For myself, a basic rubric can help to determine the success of a garden and in a broader scale my life. It creates a self-check to ensure that I’m accomplishing basic tasks to move onto more creative ones. To sum it up I’ve outlined a few categories that are relevant to a regenerative garden and life: the amount of labor over time, the type of labor, time spent working, time spent relaxing, the taste of the garden and life, and succession.

Chow’s Life Rubric
To create a clear picture of how the rubric works imagine the ideal circumstance for the topics listed. The less ideal can be created as well; I don’t find it necessary though when your aim is to accomplish your goals and desires.

The amount of labor in time should be decreasing. The types of labor should be (more) creative, fun, and less monotonous. The time spent working should be decreasing and time spent relaxing and observing should be increasing. The taste and yield of the garden should be getting better every single year. Finally, the succession of the garden should move to a greater steady state than what it was before, which will be explained in more detail below.

Using the Rubric
I’m sure more categories can be added or even some may be removed. In many ways, the rubric easily permeates to other fields and establishes a better word for the type of work I’m creating for myself. The feedback loop is not just a confirmation from nature with less work, good food, and fun. It’s a confirmation to myself that I’m creating a regenerative holistic lifestyle and not just a life of sustenance or maintenance.

The Reality
The Amount of Work Over Time
In gardening, the amount of labor is first dedicated to building the soil. Although it is a continuous task, once the soil is established the amount of labor for watering, weeding, and pest management is eliminated. Is that possible? No watering, weeding, or pest control in nature? Absolutely, the landscapes that were here before only required nature’s sprinkler system, the rain. At the moment, I only water twice a week or whenever I transplant something. I see it becoming zero irrigation soon.¬†

Creative and Fun Work
I find myself dedicating more time to propagation, expansion, and research on other topics. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Brassica trees, growing various types of chicken and rabbit fodder, reading about biodynamic farming, and creating videos for e-learning. Life is good.

Relaxing Time
In the downtime, I’ve taught myself to master new ukulele skills, juggle clubs, play with an isolation wand (flow wand) and take a programming course online. I get plenty of vacation time and could go wherever I want to when I want. I need to do travel more often.

The Taste
The tea gardens are producing nicely and expanding. I’m drinking mint-tea everyday, and it’s slowly expanding into lavender, rosemary, lemongrass, and lemonbalm, to name a few. My cooking skills require a bit of improvement. Regardless, everything tastes amazing; lots of watermelons, cantaloupes, and okra. The kale and collards are producing nicely, and everything else is coming soon.

I’ll soon have galanghal to make root beer; it’s in the ginger family.
I’m still foraging like a squirrel. Pecans are in season, and they’re delicious.

All in all, life is good and getting better everyday.
The last category is succession, giving away everything in a better steady state than what it was previously at. In fewer words, succession is the act of passing the baton. I added the other words to ensure that it would be in a better condition than what it was before. To paint a better picture, a steady state can be used to describe the various states of water; solid, liquid, and gas. With the addition or removal of energy, water can shift to a different steady state.

The affirmation of succession is when the current steady state of any substance is changed to another steady state. For example, we turn liquid water into ice and maintain its new steady state as ice. A failure for the same example would be turning water into ice and it reverts back to water.

The same principle can be applied to ecosystems, economics, and on a much broader scale, life. The succession of my life work (at this moment) and passion is to continually share and build it with others.

To reflect on succession, it’s been amazing how much has progressed in the past few years. Life has manifested my dreams into reality with many affirmations of succession, seen and unforeseen.

I can now happily say, “I know nothing.”

The Elusive Collard Tree

I’ve been reading a lot about collard trees and other brassicas for little over a year now, and have known about them for a couple of years now.

Collard Tree somewhere in San Jose

Everybody, keeps saying its a special variety of collard, kale, or cabbage. After a few years of looking for seeds, talking to people, and growing brassicas myself, I’m convinced they’re just regular brassicas that have been grown for years.

Wait. . Hold on. .

Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, swiss chard) can be grown for more than one year?

In one short sweet answer: yes.Brassicas are perennial; they can grow for many years.


It was last year, that I tried to communicate to my director that all of the kales, broccolis,brussels sprouts, swiss chard, cabbage, and collards could stay in. Unfortunately conventional knowledge is a contagious disease and they were dug up and removed.

Without her knowledge, I took the dug up plants I could find, and replanted some of them in a different place, and they survived. As soon as we began to get cool weather last week in September, we already had collard greens, kale, and broccoli leaves to harvest. A word of advice, the hot summer weather can cause most of these plants to go a little bitter. With the change of seasons and the cooler weather, they begin to get their normal taste character back.

Moving on, the amazing opportunity awaits in the exponential increase of brassicas by collecting seed, taking cuttings, and sharing the info with everyone. From here, the propagation and opportunity of these plants is infinite. The journey in propagating these puppies has just begun. For more information on perennial vegetables, I recommend reading Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier.