The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Ashley Colby. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Ashley Colby, an instructor at Rizoma Field School in Colonia, Uruguay. She’s an environmental sociologist with a PhD from Washington State University. Previously, she was an itinerant overland international traveler, a Chicago Tribune travel writer, and a long haul 18-wheel trucker. I love those 1935 literary novelists kinds of bios. It makes me think about somebody who’s real. Reminds me of myself a little bit when I was young. Now, she’s focused on fomenting local and decentralized networks of people who can get us to the next iteration of society and do it fast. That’s all good stuff. Welcome.
Ashley: Thanks so much. Thank you for inviting me. I’m honored.
Jim: Yeah. I love to have people on the show that are thinking about these kinds of things. These are very much in the game B way of thinking about the world or at least what we call game B adjacent. So, many of us are generally headed in the same direction. We don’t use the same vocabulary necessarily or do the same work, but we’re all trying to figure out what comes next when the current social operating system unravels, which we’ll talk about like a lot of us believe that it will.
Jim: Today, we’re going to talk basically about two things. One, we’re going to start with Ashley’s book, Subsistence Agriculture in the US: Reconnecting to Work, Nature, and Community. Then we’re going to dig a little bit into the actual work and practice that she and her husband and family do at their Rizoma Field School in Uruguay and, of course, as anyone who listens to the shows know we might go off here or there, too. So, we’ll go where the conversation leads. So, let’s start. Let’s jump in. Let’s get started.
Jim: As I often do, I’ll talk about a little bit about the terminology, which will get used later. First, this is classic sociological jargon, which I remember hearing when I was 19, but couldn’t tell you which one was which. Two terms used a fair bit are Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, if I said those approximately correctly.
Ashley: So, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, they’re terms that are, they’re commonly tossed around in intro sociology classes, and people have a hard time keeping them straight. In fact, I should say on the record that much of what’s in my current book is jargon-heavy because the gatekeepers were my dissertation committee who want to see such academic rigor, but to me, terms and definitions are only useful when they’re useful and not when they’re not.
Ashley: Having said that, I do think that it’s important to think about the historical era that we’re in and these terms can help us to understand that. So, I have a chart in my book that basically describes the traditional, organic era, and then the rational inorganic era. I would say that the rational inorganic era is the era we’re in now, the industrial era, and that there’s qualitative differences between the two. Traditional organic has such characteristics like the organic limitations to production. People had businesses in their home. There’s land held in common.
Ashley: Oftentimes, nutrients would cycle back into the Earth through one means or another. People felt enchanted by nature and not feel fully scientific rational understanding of nature. This is where Gemeinschaft comes in. It’s this idea of subjective community ties, the connection to one another that this network that ties us all together and understanding that individuals are just part of a social fabric.
Ashley: Whereas the rational inorganic or industrial era would include such characteristics like increasingly growing production with agricultural chemistry in the ag sector, but also growing production in the industry sector. Business is separate from the home. We have private land enclosure, linear nutrient cycle, meaning things are pulled from the Earth resources and then discarded in some other place from where they were pulled, disenchantment, rationalization, and then that’s where Gesellschaft comes in, which is the rational ties with other people, an instrumental way of thinking of human relations in terms of rationality and what one can get from someone else.
Jim: Very good. Now, I remember actually a professor said, “Think of mine as in my and sell as some sleazy sales event,” right?
Ashley: That’s good. Yeah, good heuristic. Yeah.
Jim: Yeah, not too bad. We’ll maybe refer to those as we go. The other little bit of theory that you use a fair amount is dual process theory. I have to say that was a new one on me. Tell us about that.
Ashley: Yes. So, this is actually a theory by a man named Morris Berman, really interesting character if your readers want to look into him further, but I actually had to fight with my committee to get them to accept my use of his theory, but I thought it had an extremely good explanatory power for the period of time that we’re in. So, I decided to use it anyways and pick the fight with them.
Ashley: Dual process theory basically argues that anytime any society or civilization fails for any reason, some other society will arise out of the ashes. So, basically, he argues that our modern form of capitalism runs from 1500 to 2100. We’re in that last period where the system starts to fail in such a way that people necessarily have to seek out alternative because their needs are not being met by the system because of its failure. It is in those moments of seeking out alternatives that the next system blooms, but the idea being that these people are not explicitly saying, “Take down the system,” they’re responding to the system as it’s failing.
Ashley: In coming up with solutions, they are creating alternatives, but it is important to note that that process is not linear like one system fails and the next system necessarily is just rising cleanly into the future. It’s a period of time of what a lot of people on the internet like to call the liminal period of time, which I think we’re in, which is more or less this experimentation. Some things succeed, other things fail. Some things fail, and then succeed again on a different timeline. It’s just a period of time where things are in fits and starts and the next system, the seed of the next system is being planted.
Jim: Yeah. That very much sounds like, at least my take on where we’re at today, regular listeners know I’m from the game B community, one of the co-founders of it, but also associate with a large number of people, what we call the game B adjacent space in which there’s dozens, hundreds probably of independent people trying to find their way to the social operating system of the future. As you point out, not in a, “Hey, we’re Lenins sitting here in St. Petersburg in 1917 and we’re going to take the thing down,” but rather, we’re building little things here and there that may grow. You can start with a small seed. If you grow exponential for 50 years, you may take over the system just organically, and that’s what we call the long road to game B.
Jim: The other is that our current view of the status of the world in this coming transformation is it might be gradual and relatively peaceful or it might be caused by a crisis of some sort and be quite dramatic and chaotic. So, the game B and game B adjacents, we believe, are very useful to have there as prebuilt and pretested, give us a few more years, ways of doing human society that we can push forward somewhat prematurely at need should the current game A world actually break down in a major way.
Ashley: Absolutely. I would just add to that. I think it’s actually a distinction worth thinking about is the difference between or how social change happens in a lot of our minds is that a lot of people start thinking let’s change the system and then they maybe try to go after the centers of power in the system and this is a different kind of conception. Both of these ways of social change can happen. You can try to fight the system and bring it down, but what I’m describing is a bottom up movement that’s unself-conscious, that is itself not thinking, “Let’s take down the system,” but instead just arising naturally out of the system’s failure.
Ashley: So, that’s a key, I think, in understanding what I argue in the book because my sense is that a lot of people who are engaged in the game B or game B adjacent world don’t know they are, and I’m saying they are because I’m a sociologist, and I’m trying to assess what’s going on. If I went to them and ask them, “Are you growing food because you’re interested in making the next world order?” they would laugh at me. So, that’s, I think, an important distinction in trying to think about who gets included in a social movement and a co-creation of a future.
Jim: That’s interesting. It caused me to have the thought that there obviously is the third class, which those of us in the game B or in the 50 other game B adjacent movements who do know that we are building the operating system for the future. Yet, we’re doing it in a bottoms up, non-prescriptive empirical experiment and empiricism cycle with theory and reinforce each other. So, maybe there’s a third class.
Ashley: Yeah. I mean, I imagine that I would probably be a part of that third class because I’m very self-conscious about all the things that I’m seeing happen and how do I foment them. I’m a social scientists. How do I research them to make sure I’m helping the ones that are doing the best and that kind of thing? I would caution against too much engineering, top down engineering. We can get into that discussion, too, but when people are too self-conscious, there can be some expected homogeneity of thinking of ideology, “Oh, you have to agree X, Y, and Z if you’re going to be in our vision of the future,” kind of thing. Whereas if people are spontaneously coming up with solutions that make sense for them and spontaneously associating with other people who are engaging in similar solutions and have some way to help one another, I think it’s a lot healthier and more diverse bottom up way of doing things. So, I don’t know. We can get into that more if you want.
Jim: Yeah. We’ll talk about that later. I’m with you. Certainly, game B group is very much about pluralism, a big tent, non-ideological, and non-Utopian, by the way. We don’t believe there is some wonderful location that we’re all headed to. Rather, our thinking is that if we’re smart and work with the surmount and built some new institutional structures in place, which are needed, humanity can find its way to a good future. To exactly what that is, we don’t actually know, right? We don’t come in with a book that says, “Here’s Utopia and here’s the road to get there.” We’ve seen that book before. It has not ended well.
Ashley: I could not agree more.
Jim: So, Ashley, get me to the next and, hopefully, last preliminary, and we talked about this a little bit in the pre-show chat. The book definitely got a Marxist lens to it, at least I found in a doctrinaire way, at least superficially. As we talked about, that was writing for the audience you had to right for. What I noticed, and I have some really cool tools to let me do this, I found that you used the word paradox and paradoxical 28 times, and mostly, in fact, I think always, maybe one exception, in the used case of saying, “Well, here’s an example of the research of what I discovered during my field research, but it contradicts theory. It’s a paradox,” which led me to think, “Well, hmm, I think I would take the further inference that maybe these theories are full of shit.”
Ashley: So, okay. Yeah. This is really important to me because, basically, I wrote the book to get the PhD, but then left academia swiftly following earning the degree because of this adherence to not just ideology, but it’s a group think thing. You get in the club if you use the right terms and then you get allies, and we’re all on the Marx team or whatever, and then people … As a sociologist, you know that this kind of thing happens and it opens doors. So, for me, that caused me to reject it after writing the book.
Ashley: Yeah. I think mainly the paradox comment to me has to do with the fact that a lot of these theories, you’re right, want to explain the world in one way, and what I found actually talking to people is that it’s confusing, it’s messy. People start self-producing food, which is the topic of the book was talking to people who do enough food production that I call them subsistence food producers.
Ashley: In the process of doing it started with a neoliberal I’m going to take care of my own self and my own family type attitude, and then it transformed into a communal attitude when they started connecting with other practitioners. There was really no theory to explain that. In sociology, you either want to say, “This individualism is horrible, and it’s destroying our society,” or you want to say, “Everything these people doing solidarity economies, whatever, pick your term, are perfect and great, and everything’s going to be great if we just leave them in-charge.”
Ashley: To me, it’s really important to understand the messy nature of nature to get outside the linear regression models and understand that it can be both end. I think this is really a political point, too, because especially on leftist politics there’s this purity politics. The solution has to be perfectly pure to be used or to even be discussed as this potential solution. I make the opposite case that these solutions are necessarily messy. They have to be messy. When we’re figuring this stuff out, we’re experimenting and we cannot get to the point we want to get to without messy stumbling blocks.
Ashley: So, the paradox, using that terms is meant to illustrate or at least enter into the discussion that it’s okay if things are a little bit messy, if they’re imperfect, if they’re not pure and, in fact, they should be.
Ashley: Anyone who knows the scientific method knows that you must test ideas to find out whether or not they’re true. So, it’s funny that we’ve reached an ideological point of you can only enter into the debate once you’ve already figured out the perfect solution because that makes no sense, at least in terms of how science works and how human knowledge works.
Jim: Yes, and that’s, I think, part of our world of game B and sense-making, et cetera, is we reject this new bizarre form of leftism that isn’t actually progressive and is actually authoritarian and rigid and non-pluralistic. We think it’s a major error that is going to hold back what comes next from coming, if anybody pays attention to it. As you know, it basically dominates fields like sociology and the humanities and is growing an influence in some of the other academic disciplines. It’s getting growing acceptance in the media in some large corporations.
Jim: In terms of actual people, most people think it’s out of horseshit, right? So, it’s going to be a very interesting next few years to see what happens in this elite-driven doctrinaire purist, non-nonsensical, non-scientific thing as it confronts the real world. I have some fears that actually it’s going to cause a serious reactionary backlash. That’s why I warned my progressives. We have to stick with real progressivism, so that wokeism doesn’t take over progressivism because if it does, it’s going to be just like 1968, where when the new left took over the definition of progressivism, it ended up with 40 years of conservative politics.
Ashley: Right. Yeah. I would argue even from a strategic point of view. If you want to make a social movement, you have to find ways in which we have goals in common, right? The purity politics is never going to get us there, especially when the problem we face is so incredibly complex. There’s no way for any person to have completely figured out the solution independently of view. It’s the perfectly pure solution, and then we get together. It just makes no sense. That’s really the theory of change that underlies, I think, that movement is we need to make sure we pick the right system and it needs to be perfect before we make any mistakes. It’s pretty full-hearty, and it’s not going to be very powerful to connect with others in solidarity thinking that way.
Jim: Yeah. Let me throw an alternative lens. I love to get your reaction to it. When I think of Marxist style sociology, I think a very heavy lumping, race, class, gender, but in reality, if you back up and look at what is real, those things are sometimes useful statistical correlates, but not much more than that. If you want to get down to what’s really going on, the phrase I like to use is networked social capital. Each individual person has social capital or has access to social capital basically across those links in which they participate. Every single person has a different loading of networked social capital.
Jim: However, the lumpers and the splitters meet at the fact that in certain lumps you’ll find different network topographies being more common than others. Nonetheless, every single individual will be different with respect to their network social capital endowments. The way we can work rather than trying to think about these gigantic lumps is say, “How can we improve the networked social capital that’s available to people?” and it can start with one other person, right? Teach one other person how to grow turnips and you’ve just added to their networked social capital. Develop a system for people to spread the knowledge of how to grow turnips in a garden box and now you have a machine to replicate networked social capital, which can produce change.
Jim: It may absolutely, as you pointed out repeatedly, across these traditional lumpy lines of gender, race, income level, geography, et cetera. That strikes me as a much better way to look at the world.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, of course, when I found that, I found that people in my study, I should say explicitly for the audience who haven’t read the book or might not have yet read the book is that people started working together in forming communities of practice in this community, and then I found this repeatedly in different communities since because, for example, somebody decided to get backyard chickens and now all of a sudden like, “Oh, no. I have pests. What do I do about it? I got to find somebody else who knows about this. I’ve got to connect with them.”
Ashley: When they connect with them, they don’t say, “Are you a chicken keeper because you believe in degrowth?” They don’t say that. What they do say is, “What do I do about these pests?” That’s very helpful because people can just start connecting right away over the practice, and it’s just talking shop, right? So, it’s not ideologically driven and there’s no ideological barriers.
Ashley: They also don’t say, “Are you my same race?” or “Do you agree about some race theory?” or gender theory or anything just to be able to have a conversation. That doesn’t make any sense, right? Why would they do that?
Ashley: So, I think it’s important to notice that because when I first found this, it was shocking to the sociological audience how could this be true? What did you find about gender? How did gender impact people’s ability to … I’m not saying that there aren’t context in which gender is so important in accessing resources. For example, there’s plenty of places around the world where women are the main group of people doing subsistence agriculture. It’s very unequal, blah, blah, blah.
Ashley: Okay. So, we know all of that is true. I’m not discounting the inequality. I’m just saying if we’re thinking about a theory of social change, that could be the most robust way to get people to work together. What I pause it based on this really interesting community that I studied of people who are self-producing food is that these lumps, dimensions of difference as we call them, race, class, gender, et cetera, what you really want to do is give people equality of opportunity as it so often repeated in the intellectual dark web circles, and the way you do that is by sharing resources and what’s actually really paradoxical in the current political climate is focusing on the lumps, as you put it using your jargon, has really made only significantly symbolic change like, “Let’s paint a mural on the street,” or something like that.
Ashley: What really needs to happen is people need to actually share resources with one another like they did in this community. I mean, they’re sharing information, giving people the ability to learn how to produce food for themselves without barrier, without pretense. To me, the power of that is unbelievable. The potential upside of getting people together across dimensions of difference on practical considerations, considerations of production, considerations of co-creation, and then what is the byproduct of that is meaning, connection, networks, community, all of these other things. So, I’m extremely hopeful after having interviewed communities like this. So, yeah.
Jim: Yeah. As one of my favorite authors would say about the sociologists and their idea that it’s all explained by the lumps, especially if you actually know people, a theory is so absurd that only a professor could believe it. I think about our county fairs here in rural Virginia, which we go to every year, and there’s everything from the big bellied right wing rancher showing off his fancy cattle to the poor kid who’s trying to earn some forage money by selling their goats to get some money at the charity auction that’s a big part of everyone, to the woman who’s so proud of her horse that she works with every single day of her life that enters into the horse show, and then to the woman who loves her flower arrangements, and the other one who’s so proud of her pickles.
Jim: You go, “Wait a minute. These people cross every line of lump,” and et cetera because they have interests in common, and they have network connectivity across their interests and only a professor could believe that that was not true.
Ashley: Yeah. In fact, I’m constantly bothering the sociological and especially environmental sociological community to get out into the world. Though sometimes the things that they say, I think, like, “Well, have you ever talked to somebody? Have you ever talked to a regular person?” It’s not their fault, though. They’re siloed. Their incentive structure is to get grants and to write a certain way, and that’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Jim: Take them to the county fair as a starting point and say, “Just talk to the people here in these sheds that are doing all these competitions, and see if your theories actually apply.”
Jim: Anyway, we’ve had lots of interesting preamble. Let’s now get into telling us about your research, where was it, what kind of people, and I particularly thought you did a very nice job of deciding contrary to the way the data is often presented to create urban, suburban, and rural as three distinct classes. I thought that was very nice. So, why don’t you just go into the essence of what the work was, and then we can get into some of the details.
Ashley: Sure. So, basically, I decided to do my dissertation research interviewing and doing ethnography, which is basically hanging around them. Ethnography, noticing what is happening around you of people who produce food for themselves. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would encounter people who produce a significant amount, but I was seeking out people who produced at least 50% and I was able to find that community. So, that’s who I ended up interviewing.
Ashley: When I was designing the study, at first, I tell this story a lot because it was really an origin story for my whole life trajectory of one of the other grad students who’s from a rural area asked me, “Who are you going to study?”
Ashley: I said, “Urban people, community gardens, that kind of thing.”
Ashley: Of course, I said that because I’m from Chicago and I think who else is on the cutting edge of things except for urban people, urban environmentalist type people.
Ashley: He said, “You’re talking to people who produce food for their own consumption? You’re not talking to rural people?”
Ashley: Of course, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Of course, he was completely right. So, I thought, “Of course. Let me include rural and suburban people because I imagine geography is going to have some impact on this,” access to land, space, et cetera.
Ashley: So, I went out seeking out people from these three different areas, interviewing them, asking them about their food production, why did they get into it, what was it about for them. I essentially found that there are two groups. There’s the old-timers, which tend to be the rural people, but there’s some old-timers from the city, too, people who have been fishing in the city lakes for generations, for example, but the old-timers tended to be more or less working class and then newcomers tended to be more city people and more or less upper class, upper middle class.
Ashley: The idea being that self-producing food is just a thing one does in certain communities. It’s just part of life. It’s built into the fabric of life. Whereas the newcomers, it’s this thing maybe a few generations ago the people of their family had gardens and chickens, but then they got away from that, and now they’re realizing the value of it, and they’re coming back to it.
Ashley: I more or less found that a bunch of people came to food production or continued to do food production for so many different reasons, whether it was the feeling of alienation, which they probably wouldn’t use that term but I did or distrust of the food quality, distrust of the government, distrust of corporations, distrust of global supply chains, a feeling of crisis and uncertainty.
Ashley: What was interesting to me is that despite this myriad different assessment of the problems of the world, they came to a similar conclusion as to what to do about it, “Let me just get my hands dirty. Let me just go ahead and try to get food for myself to become a producer, to become more self-reliant.” Then it spiraled for a lot of them into this network of community of practitioners who do whatever version of this that they do, hunting, fishing, keeping livestock, big gardens. As they connected with these other practitioners, they basically made these communities, and then out of those communities came a whole other set of social circumstances. Well, I guess we could get into the economic and political shadow structures as I call them.
Jim: That was my next topic, actually, shadow structures, but before that, you mentioned the word that you used 75 times, which was alienation. That does strike me as a useful lens for much of what was motivating people. Could you expand a little bit on what alienation means, where the idea comes from, and what you saw in your conversations that led you to believe that this concept of alienation was important to motivate people to participate in these subsistence agriculture communities?
Ashley: Yes. So, I am going to, even in this answer, explicitly try to use as little amount of jargon as possible because it’s my new philosophical stance that it needs to be accessible to people. You need to be able to explain concepts in a way that makes sense. So, alienation typically is a Marxist term, but the idea being that in the process of what one might call depeasantization or many people were small-scale farmers on the land, over 90 something percent in the US in the early days and now it’s less than 1%, less 2% I think, for sure.
Ashley: The idea being when people were connected to the land and that original description I gave at the beginning of the interview about this organic traditional era when people, their business is in their home, that means they’re with their children, they’re with their family. They hold this land in common. They have a network of people. They are enchanted with the world.
Ashley: When that era ends and people move into this rational or inorganic or industrial era, it causes a rift not just between the individual and nature, which it does because it separates them from the land and from the means of their own production of existence, but it also disconnects them from this community, this network of traditional ways of relating to one another.
Ashley: So, this is why I have the book titled Reconnecting to Work, Nature, and Community because, really, it’s this fundamental shift where people are alienated from work that’s meaningful to them, nature that provides the sustenance on which they need to live, and the community that they are dependent on and a part of.
Ashley: So, alienation is this catch all term to try to describe what it is that we’re all feeling in this techno industrial era that it’s really hard for us to put our finger on and I do think in that case the Marxist theory is helpful because it’s just like, “Okay. We’re in this era of time and it’s quite different from the rest of human history. What’s going on? Why do we feel this way?” Yeah. That’s why I used that term.
Jim: Yeah, and I agree. I think it’s actually a useful term, and it does explain a lot of phenomena that otherwise seem somewhat unrelated. So, you mentioned another term, which I thought was another nice one called shadow structures. So, let’s go there next.
Ashley: Sure. So, this was from Berman’s dual process theory, where he basically says, he draws on a couple other theorists saying this similar thing when a society fails or collapses or there’s multiple overlapping crisis, and out of that come these shadow social structures, these alternative networks that must exist to help people get by as the system is failing.
Ashley: Basically, what I found in my research is that as people connected over practice, over problems of practice and production, they started to develop into these informal economic and political relations, economic being pretty straightforward things such as … I’m still on this Listserv. It’s Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts email Listserv, and people are constantly trying to rehome chickens, other roosters, coops, “Oh, our flock grow out of our coop. Let’s …” It’s just the informal economies, “Oh, I’ll give this to you,” but the expectation is that somebody will give something to me at some point, but then there was more explicit economic arrangement such as every once in a while we have too much manure from our poultry production in the city to put back into our own land, so give that to a community garden, and in return we get some vegetables, this back and forth.
Ashley: So, these informal economic arrangements, I think, are just so incredibly widespread and so unmeasured, basically unmeasured. So, if I see this as one potential route for a solution to many of our social problems, I always am arguing with sociologists. There’s no model that includes this. So, we need to think about that at least when we’re trying to think about these solutions.
Ashley: Then the other shadow structure I talk about was a cute little story about this alderman in Chicago, which is a city council person, who introduced a measure to try to ban chicken keeping in the city. All the chicken keepers banded together, “How do we stop them from doing this? We really want to keep our chickens.” What they did was really interesting. As a political movement, instead of protesting outside the alderman’s office or anything like that, what they did is they started a Chicago chicken coop tour, and they opened up their backyards to anyone, for free, to come see their coops. It was like a backyard tour. I went on it for two years in a row, and what I observed was neighbors or people coming from around the city curious about chickens making conversation. It’s fun. The kids get into it. They asked questions, but the neighbors who are nearby, they find an excuse to talk to one another, “Oh, I didn’t know you had chickens. This is really interesting. Oh, what is this? How does that work?”
Ashley: Basically, what it does, the political movement or political choice, is that these people connect with their neighbors in a way they didn’t before. Now, they’ve got some social capital going on, where the neighbors are willing to go to bet for them on the chicken issue. Also, it just becomes this thing where the stigma goes away. You just put it out into the broad daylight, “Look, this is what chickens are actually like. It’s not anything that we need to be that worried about, that we would need to ban it. It’s really nice. We get fresh eggs. Even you should try it.”
Ashley: Several of my conversations I talked to people who kept chickens because they went on the coop tour and saw, “Oh, it’s not that hard. I could do this, too.” As a political strategy, it was extremely useful, and they overturned or they stopped the ban from happening, and then out of that network of chicken keepers, they crowdsourced a website with resources, what do other cities do, how can Chicago be rebranding chicken keeping as on the forefront of environmental movements and such.
Ashley: So, I argue that that’s the political shadow structure wherein these people weren’t explicitly going to the city and saying, “We want the right to keep chickens,” but instead it was like, “We’re already practitioners. We have this thing in mind we want to protect our ability to do and how do we bring in other people into this movement.” It was really through the experience of connecting with one another, talking to one another, showing the actual what having backyard chickens is like that they were successful.
Jim: Yeah. That’s been quite an amazing movement, the urban chicken movement. Chicago seems to have been interesting in that they didn’t have any rules against it. So, this was a defensive measure, and much of the countries the other way around, the rules forbid it, even in the small city of Stanton, Virginia, about an hour east of us, where we spend some of our time, a city of 25,000 had a rule against it. So, they are the people who want to do chickens. Many of them are doing it illegally, the more explicit lobbying of the council people, but it did include some of the things you said like, “Come on out and see what we’re doing,” right? “This is not like we have 20,000 chicken industrial brooder house or something.”
Jim: I love the description in the book of the woman who had the chicken coop built under her deck, right? So, it’s not intrusive, particularly. It’s not going to take up a lot of room. I’ve got seven chickens. I mean, come on. No big deal, right? That was really quite interesting.
Jim: Talking about shadow structures, this is a little bit outside the context of your book, actually, but we can just talk about it a little bit because I think it’s important. It’s when things start to come out of the shadows a little bit. I’m thinking specifically about farmer’s markets. These things started as informal people selling stuff on the tailgate of their truck and then okay, “Okay. Let’s all do it on Tuesdays at the bank parking lot,” right? Then the next thing, somebody goes to the bank and says, “Can we rent your parking or can you let us use your parking lot on Saturday when it’s a little more convenient?” and then people started bringing their popup tents, and then there’s a market master, and some fees associated with it, and certain amount of vetting and quality control. Any thoughts on how shadow structure can gradually turn into institutional structure?
Ashley: Yeah. I think this is something that is inevitable. It’s inevitably going to happen where enough people start to get organized. The powers that be will notice, will take notice and find ways to extract whatever while they can or whatever power or resources they can. I really don’t know enough to say exactly how that will play out over the course of time because who knows at what point we are in the dual process wherein the one system is crashing so quickly that it gets weakened to a point that it doesn’t have the resources to really push back too hard on too many of the alternatives. I don’t know where we’re at in that timeline, but I do think that if we are to make it out of this mess, just making as many potential shadow structures as possible and making them, I was writing about this recently, making them as eligible to power as possible is really key.
Ashley: Me having connections with my friends and dealing in manure and vegetables, ideally, regulators will want to regulate that. They’ll want to get in on controlling that, but as long as they don’t know, they can’t regulate it, and I don’t want to advocate for anything illegal, but just sharing things between neighbors isn’t and should not be illegal. So, really, it’s a matter of scaling horizontally, getting as many people as possible doing this very bare minimum amount of shadow structure development that’s not so visible that I think is the ideal way to proceed until you know whether or not the larger structures are powerful enough to crush you or not.
Jim: So, it is interesting that when you do get to this next level new things that emerge, once you get to a quasi professional farmer’s market, you typically now see enough energy that people can become full-time producers for those markets, which is unlikely to be the case when it’s informal exchange off the tailgate of your pickup truck.
Ashley: Yeah. That’s absolutely true.
Jim: Though, of course, I suppose there’s a risk that Walmart would try to suppress the farmer’s market, but in the place I’ve ever lived, the powers that be don’t seem to opposed to farmer’s markets.
Ashley: No, but I would argue that, for example, when it has become institutionalized, a lot of people have broken down the numbers in terms of now what fee do you have to pay to have a booth, and then the amount of time you spend sitting there, and that kind of thing. Then I don’t know the extent to which depending on which municipality or whatever. Just in order to sell, you need to prove that you’re regulated and you have been inspected, which a lot of times is like, “Pay $700,” and somebody comes to your place for five minutes.
Jim: Yeah. You’re down the rat hole of regulations. Here we go. Call me intellectual. You’re sounding libertarian here.
Ashley: I know. I know, and this is so funny because, really, my conclusions have drawn me … It would be ideal if the state didn’t do this stuff and instead was benevolent and helped everybody who wanted to make a livelihood like this, but they’re not doing that right now. So, we got to come up with something else, we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to be creative. Basically, that’s my whole life’s work is that is figuring out how do I get people’s beautiful, exciting, creative energy that they want to put toward having a meaningful livelihood and economy and life. How do I help accelerate that drive and desire that already exist in people?
Jim: Yeah. My friend Joel Salatin might be the world’s famous alternative farmer, live down the road from us a little bit, one of the books he wrote is called Everything I Want To Do is Illegal. He’s written 15 books. So, this is one of the most interesting because he talks about just that, how much effort he has to put to either avoid regulation or spend surprising amounts of time and energy to conform to it, and draws a picture that there’d be a hell of a lot more that’s going on. They would just step back for a while and let things happen.
Jim: It’s interesting that our society did allow that for a while with respect to the internet. It was in the wild hay day from 1992 to maybe 2007 or 2008. The powers at be, at least in the West, said, “Eh, let a million flowers bloom and let’s see what happens,” but now they seem to have the same desire to … I mean, Europe now, holy shit, the amount of regulatory BS of putting up a website has now become quite significant, and the US could be the next one on the road there, which would be very unfortunate. In fact, truthfully, a dirty little secret, an awful lot of really early stage startups in Europe these days are actually incorporating in the US and having US-based nexus for things like their online services despite having not a single employee or anybody associated with the company in the US because the regulatory BS in the EU has gotten so severe.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m actually hopeful about using the internet as a tool. I have an idea about using a website to connect people to one another to buy and sell because, and I hope that I can make it if or before the US turns into that because I really think it could be pretty powerful as a tool to connect to people with one another.
Jim: Cool. Let’s get back to your work. You go into some detail and enumerate the varying reasons why people choose to become subsistence agriculturalists. Could you want to cross some of those? Maybe you can give some examples if you remember any of them. I think these were fascinating because they were very varied, which was neat.
Ashley: Yeah. The first one that pops to mind was such a weird one. There was a car mechanic who started getting really deep into peak oil, and that was really funny because it was first of all, he’s a car mechanic, and second of all, he’s working class and you just don’t typically think of working class people as like peak oil people, but he got into it. Then he started going to these conferences, and this guy went off the deep end. I mean, I say the deep end, I mean that affectionately. I think it’s great what he is doing and started a center for sustainability for urban kids to come out to the rural area and learn about bio diesel and all this stuff and doing so much experimentation.
Ashley: Lots of people feel like, the newcomers especially got into it for social and environmental reasons, thinking about farm labor and all the environmental catastrophes arising from industrial agriculture thinking, “Let me just take out as much as I can from that system and not contribute to it by buying those kind of products, but instead producing them myself.”
Ashley: Other people don’t trust the quality of food, and there was a really funny part of one chapter from my dissertation that didn’t make it into the book where there’s this interesting class dynamic with certain types of food. For example, one reason that working class people partake in subsistence food production like hunting or fishing is because they couldn’t afford food at the grocery store. So, they would get into it because it’s like, “Oh, this is a bad year for dad at work, so we’re going hunting, and we’re going to eat venison.”
Ashley: Then what’s really funny is that, recently, it’s become the boutique type of food for wealthy people to thinking, “I’m eating stuff you can’t even access in the grocery store.” So, there was this weird back and forth between venison sausage with some cranberry sauce is this high-end food for some people, but for other people, it’s the food of poverty. So, depending on the cultural context. Again, another reason is people get into it because of poverty. They just need to access some food one way or another.
Ashley: Another woman was telling me about how she wants to teach her son civic duty through food production, meaning we’re responsible enough to take care of ourselves and share with others and take care of other creatures in the process. So, I found the diversity fascinating as well.
Jim: Yeah. That was very, very interesting. I remember one woman you talked about had a very specific health issue that she thought, frankly probably BS, but she thought that changing her diet to this kind of diet would be good for her medical condition. So, there’s a whole constellation of different motivations, which is neat is that even though they come to it for very many reasons, the shadow structures start to connect them to each other because as you described, a community of practitioners don’t really care how you got into it, but rather the fact that you are doing. Maybe you can talk a little bit about some examples of that.
Ashley: Yeah. So, it was quite interesting to me to find … Here’s an example. One of the example that I found was there’s this urban agriculture livestock expo that gets held every year in Chicago in a high school, actually, right near to where I grew up on the south side of the city. It’s actually an agricultural high school within the city limits. In this high school, they had this free expo every year in February for whatever reason, the middle of winter, and people came out with their livestock both from the city and from the surrounding suburban and rural areas.
Ashley: People who were interested in keeping livestock came to the expo. There were these really funny and interesting conversations. When you first walk in, there’s just goats in a pen to the side. There’s a guy with a beehive but without bees in it, but with a beehive to show how it works, and a guy with ducks, a guy with chickens, women, too. It was so funny the conversations, “Well, how do you keep ducks? Well, what do they need? How does that differ from chickens? Why would you do ducks instead of chickens? How do you get started with bees?”
Ashley: Then some other guy comes up and says, “Oh, well, I lost my hive last year.”
Ashley: “Oh, yeah. We did hear there were some mites going around, but then we did have those couple really cold days.”
Ashley: These kinds of conversations about how does one even get to wrap their head around keeping goats in the city of Chicago, which there were people keeping goats in Chicago. The way they do it is they talk to other people, and it’s like this, I don’t know, it’s not exactly keeping up with the Joneses, but, “Hey, how interesting that you’re doing this. Why can’t I do it?” It opens up the realm of possibility for people when they see other people doing something interesting.
Ashley: I would add that at the Chicago Chicken Coop Tour, I saw this process play out. For example, if somebody came to see the chicken coop, “Oh, what is a chicken coop? How does this work?” and then in the corner they see the beehive and they say, “Oh, you have bees. How does that work?” and then becomes this weird, “I’m not trying to sell you the idea of keeping chickens or bees. I’m just simply showing you that I have it and that it’s interesting and that it works and that it’s fun,” and it spread in this network just the experience of seeing it.
Jim: This is my theory of networked social capital. It’s a perfect example of networked social capital, where two people run in to each other, a classic weak link, and they exchange a new perspective, which is a person that didn’t know that it was feasible to have goats and bees in a South Chicago neighborhood, now realizes that it is and, by the way, they can use the weak link to gather more information, “I’ll send you an email. What do I need to do to get started here?” You gave a very interesting example where the key bit of information was that, “This feed store out here will help you pick what kind of little chicks you need.”
Ashley: Yeah. Exactly. You can imagine that in this world in which we live there’s so few people doing homesteading or small-scale food production that there’s only a few nodes of places where people have to pass through that node to get to the other side of where they want to go. So, they say, “You go to this farm and fleet or whatever it is, and then you just inevitably run into other people there.”
Ashley: Another node was that there was a farm right outside the city limits that held classes, beekeeping classes, chicken keeping classes, whatever it was, and that is where a ton of people met one another, “Oh, I’m interested in chicken keeping. I’m going to do this on the weekend. It will be something fun to do outside my regular job,” and I met these people in the chicken class, and now they’re this cohort of chicken keepers, and it just all goes on from there.
Jim: That’s great. That’s, as you say, organic, bottom up, social network connected. The next thing we’re going to talk about, which you discuss in the book is how participation in subsistence agriculture seems to have an influence on people’s relationship with the Earth. Let’s call it practical environmentalism. You gave some interesting stories about people who would not normally be considered environmentalists, including by themselves, who nonetheless showed some environmental sensitivities. Maybe tell us a little bit about what you learned in that dimension.
Ashley: Sure. So, I think there’s a kind of elitism in the environmentalist community, and this is born out by the statistics. People who typically identify, self-identify as environmentalists tend to be urban. They tend to be highly educated, B, A or higher. They tend to be left-leaning elite in some way or another.
Ashley: My understanding of environmentalism, I was never really so critical of the movement until I had these interviews because I realized that I said in the book I sit down with one of my participants, big overstuff chair, the guy is wearing Carhartt jacket and Carhartt pants, and I’m thinking, “All right. Here we go.” Then he starts talking about pollution in the ocean, and then he talks about overfishing, fish life cycles, how they’re not being allowed to get to maturity, how there’s huge barges in the ocean letting out so much pollution and cruise ships, and how there’s no regulation on this.
Ashley: Then he says, “There’s so many problems with fish populations, and it’s not climate change.”
Ashley: For him, climate change is associated with this elite movement of people who want to get him to believe something he doesn’t want to be forced to believe, yet his ethics are caring about fish population, caring about pollution, caring about pristine natural environments, and many of his practices in his garden and fishing practices reflected this.
Ashley: So, I went on a journey within myself like, “What is an environmentalist then? Are we gatekeeping people who would be natural and obvious allies from participating and connecting with one another or connecting with us in our movement because we have some very narrow conception of what allows one to participate?”
Ashley: Of course, that is what’s happening, and I try to fight against that as often as I can because I hear a lot of hysteria that’s rightful among environmentalists about the state of our environment, but not a lot of willingness or interest to think outside the box about, “What is our best chance for finding allies in this fight? What’s our best chance for solving these problems?”
Ashley: Oftentimes, the environmentalists, the first thing they think is, “Let’s make a top down policy for bike lanes or retrofitting buildings,” or something like that. I was just tweeting about this the other day. To me, thinking about somebody I call this guy Marty in my book, the one I’m talking about the Carhartts, finding ways to work together on something simple like working together on subsistence food production, but other things, too. I think we would find more common ground than you would think, and the way you get the common ground is through practice like we said before.
Ashley: So, figuring out what are these practices we both like that make people’s lives better that we can agree on, and then we don’t really have to do the gatekeeping of … It feels dogmatic. It feels almost religious, “Prove to me that you agree about climate change or you don’t get to be in the club,” as opposed to, “Well, if the solution to climate change or one of many diverse myriad solutions to climate change is to self-produce as much food as you possibly can because then it’s hyper local, people tend to use the gentlest pro-environmental methods in the food production because it’s in their backyard, because they’re the ones eating it, because it’s their own soil, I call this ecological embeddedness. If this set of practices gets us where we want to go and stepping in the right direction toward environmental solutions, what is the point of the gatekeeping?
Jim: I love that. I love the environmental embeddedness because it reminded me of something in my life. I’ve been a deer hunters, I just did the numbers, for 52 years. You could imagine the reaction that certain kinds of suburban environmentalists, the yuppie types have to that when they discover, “I’ll just bring it up at a dinner party. Oh, yeah, we killed 23 deer this year on the farm,” right? “What?” Yet, even though some of my hunting buddies you might say are extremely illiberal, not all of them, but some of them are. Nonetheless, they are truly embedded environmentally. I mean, they go out in every kind of weather. They enjoy the woods. They will fight for preserving habitat, increasing state forest lands, keeping loggers out of the state forests or the national forests.
Jim: Down the line, you go, “Wait a minute.” Some of them are also fishermen. They don’t want logging in the areas where the good trout streams are. Yet, the good coastal blues would think these people were Carhartt-wearing pickup tribe and retrobates, which they are in part.
Ashley: Well, you know what? This is so funny because just recently, I’ve been interacting with some people on Twitter who are really pushing my thinking on this topic, and I’ve self-declared and came up with the term called dumor optimist. I’m calling myself a dumor optimist, and the way I define that is there are certain social, as I said, the social system will fail, is failing, and one way or another, a crisis is arising, and that necessarily forces people to search for solutions.
Ashley: My dumor optimist take on this situation that you’re describing about the hunters and the coastal elite is I think if there is a point, even if it’s temporary, where there’s not enough food on the shelves, it would be very interesting to see what kind of alliances form and what kind of new experiences come where hunting and fishing don’t seem so abhorrent to the people who shop in supermarkets if they can’t get food and if they can’t access things.
Ashley: So, I’m interested to see how this plays out because out of every crisis, of course, comes this new opportunity, this new way of thinking, “Oh, I never really thought of this before. I just basically assumed there would always be food on the shelves and now all of a sudden I need to rethink what is local food.” What could my local ecology produce for me? What if a ship gets caught in the Suez Canal and I can’t get certain fresh vegetables from the other side of the world in the opposite season? Then what?”
Jim: Yeah. I’ll confess that when the COVID thing first started, we had no idea how bad it would be and many of us were doom or gloom or survivalist in our thinking and I was going, “Hmm, how many deer a year can I take off the farm?” According to the biologists, it’s about 30. I thought, “That’s a lot of deer. I can feed a lot of people with 30 deer.” So, the thought did go through my mind. Didn’t go there, fortunately. It turned out that COVID was a serious but not super serious crisis, but a damn wake up call, I hope, for the human race that it could have been a hell of a lot worse than the next one may well be. So, we better do a hell lot of thinking between now and then.
Jim: Well, I think that’s about as much as we want to talk about in your book unless there’s any final things you want to talk about, and then we’ll give us a few minutes to talk about your school.
Ashley: Nope. I think that’s good.
Jim: Yeah. I think we talked about a lot of good things there. So, the name of the book is Subsistence Agriculture in the US: Reconnecting to Work, Nature, and Community. Just ignore all the commie shit in there. There’s actually a lot of good stuff. See that and really believe it. She had to do it to get her dissertation passed by a bunch of commie professors, right?
Jim: Now, let’s a little bit about the Rizoma Field School in Colonia, Uruguay. First, the origin story. How did an academic from Chicago end up in Uruguay and starting an agricultural school?
Ashley: Yup. It’s basically all tied up, the research, the trajectory. It’s all tied up with each other understanding that we’re on a pivotal point in history knowing that I want to have some form of stability if I wanted to have kids, which I did have kids during grad school, so better figure out where I’m going to raise them so that they have a stable childhood.
Ashley: Then I had a moment in the midst of grad school before collecting research and then the research experience just cemented this feeling, but I took a class in grad school with very good professor, Scott Frickel, who’s now at Brown, and we read a paper about some scientists studying salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, and there was one group of scientists who did a computer model to guess how the construction of a dam would impact salmon populations, another group of scientists that counted the salmon before and after the construction, and the second group of scientists was insanely more accurate.
Ashley: Then we’re starting to think about the concept of how do we know things and what are the limits to our rational scientific way of understanding things and how much is taking things out of their context and nature in the world influence our ability to understand them. I had this light bulb moment of people need experiences to learn deeply, and I need to get out of this classroom, I need to get kids out of this classroom, I need people to see things in context, and that’s where my passion lies.
Ashley: Then, of course, when I went and interviewed people, seeing people in their own context, noticing all these little things that I wouldn’t get just from having them talk about it even, certainly not having read something about it, seeing all of the things in context and how they work together really made me think, “Okay. So, I’m going to finish grad school. We’re going to move to Uruguay,” because I thought it was a very stable place to move to. I was right. Thank God. You never know what these macro forces economic, social, political forces, but it’s been a very, very nice and stable place to be so far.
Ashley: When I came here, I thought, “There’s got to be some way for me to use my PhD, my expertise in environmental sociology to get some study abroad happening here, so I could get some students into this context and see what’s going on here in Uruguay and to learn on the ground from people doing the hard work of environmentalism in practice, which means here there’s a whole community of people doing agroecology, regenerative agriculture, experimenting with Earth building, so many cool things.
Ashley: Eventually, I started our first partnership in 2018 with the University of Idaho and it was just a short trip with students and the pedagogical method I worked out was basically, they came, they worked with the local people, which are basically our community and friends because that’s how things work in Latin America. There’s no real separation between professional life and private life, and people all know each other.
Ashley: We asked our friends, “Can you use volunteer work for a couple of days and can you explain to people what you’re doing, why are you farming agroecologically, what does that mean to you?”
Ashley: The students did it. They actually pulled weeds and planted trees and built things with mud and straw. Then in the evening we would sit together and talk about what is it they’re seeing. They asked questions, “Why do they do this this way and that?” I helped to contextualize it using words and phrases that they understand as undergraduates, and yeah. With that trip, the Rizoma Field School was born until it was put on hiatus for global pandemic.
Jim: Interesting. Uruguay is an interesting place, a place that most Americans don’t know much about. The only thing I remember about it is it used to be at least the most affluent, richest country in South America. I don’t know if that’s still true, and as you said, relatively stable compared to other countries in the region. What’s it like these days there?
Ashley: It’s really a nice country. If you know anything about Argentina, it’s very similar, culturally, historically, basically everything. There’s a big Gaucho culture, ranchers, people wear berets and drink Yerba mate, which a custom that I have taken up and I really love it. It’s a small enough country, however, differently than Argentina that it’s quite nimble in its policy responses to things.
Ashley: So, it’s not as beholden to the powers that be as a country like Argentina or Brazil, who have many much larger population, many more resources. It’s a mainly agricultural country, which is really nice because, basically, I know everyone around me. If supply chains completely broke down, we would eat. We would eat well probably. Everybody’s got cattle. Everybody’s got chickens. Everybody’s got a garden. That’s really interesting to me, too, because I wanted to come here to learn a little bit about what is the … It’s almost like what you would call an ecology of the poor, an environmentalism of the poor, but it’s low resource youth life. What is that like? Can we do it in a way that feels very comfortable by our US race standards?
Ashley: We’re learning a ton and doing a lot of simple things like we don’t have a dryer. We have a clothes line and that’s okay. It’s not the biggest, most expansive technology, the clothes line, but it works to save quite a lot of energy, and electricity is expensive here. Those different kind of things where when we said to people, “We moved here because we wanted to do homestead type of thing. We want to produce our food,” when we said that to people here, it was like, “Oh, yeah, obviously.” Whereas if we said that to somebody in the US, “What? Why would you do that? That’s so weird,” but here, it’s just par for the course, which is nice.
Jim: Hmm, very interesting. Of course, it’s no longer weird in many parts of the US, where the local agricultural movement is going strong, I would say, and the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia is one place. There’s a lot of people buying little 40-acre farmsteads and taking the same route and doing it in the US. Though, of course, you got to dodge the regulators as we talked about earlier and cost of land is high, cost of labor is high, et cetera. So, it may well make a lot of sense to prototype some of these ideas in a place where there’s less busy bodies telling you what you can and can’t do, and where casual labor is probably pretty much available whenever you need it, et cetera.
Ashley: Yeah, and not just that, an unbroken chain of people who have been doing it.
Jim: Ah, that’s true. Huge.
Ashley: So, that’s really key, and the whole network of people who know how to do these things. For example, we’ve got two cattle now. We’re trying to do something called rotational grazing or holistic management that, ideally, when done right can help sequester carbon and build soil.
Ashley: When those cows come to their moment to be slaughtered, we will have a neighbor come over and help us do it, and they know how to do that, and we could call on 30 people we know who know how to do that.
Ashley: So, that kind of lived knowledge kind of thing is it’s just so valuable, and really underappreciated especially by what I would say is the technocratic global environmentalist community, who don’t really see this group for the set of knowledge that they have that’s so essential and going to be essential in the future especially.
Jim: Ah, very interesting. Now, do you tend to stay there in Uruguay or at some point do you want to take your learnings and bring them back and perhaps be a seed to start something new and big in the US?
Ashley: My whole goal from the very beginning was I am going to be the conduit that explains these things back to the US. So, I started Twitter in earnest a few months ago, and have been sharing little bits of how life works here, and saying to people like, “This is not really rocket science stuff. This is how it works and this is not that hard to get started. Just try to learn from these models,” and I have all sorts of things up there that as they occur to me, I’ve been sharing them.
Ashley: Then I was also thinking it might be ideally on the horizon. How cool would it be to make Rizoma Field School node, which is people don’t have to fly all the way to South America to come see agroecology in action. There are a bunch of small scale farmers all over the world, where every university in the world that are not really being held up as beacons of environmental change. How cool would it be to make a Rizoma Field School node across the whole US and Europe and everywhere where they need the most help in learning these things, and then make a field experience semester required for every university student.
Ashley: Maybe it’s not just farmers, maybe it’s also skilled trades, which I think are really important. Somebody’s got to go out there and learn what it’s like in a skilled trade as one semester long project. It doesn’t need to be 40 hours a week. It could just be as much as a class takes, but having that real lived experience is totally different, I think, than theoretically learning about “environmental solutions”, but instead what do people actually have to figure out in the real world? What kind of structures are they bumping up against? If a whole generation of students were shown that there’s a path for experimenting and trying different livelihoods, I imagine that could be really powerful.
Jim: That’s a great vision. I love it. Are you familiar with something called WWOOFing?
Ashley: Yes, yes. I did WWOOFing in my international travels, and we’re also a WWOOF host.
Jim: Ah, okay. I know a number of people that are WWOOF hosts. I know a number of young folks who are active in our local agriculture scene, the new back to the land movement, but not incompetent dope smoking hippies. I think they still like a little weed now and then, but they pride theirself on their competence as small-scale agriculturalists. A lot of them got their start in WWOOFing, which is WWOOF, I think.
Ashley: Yes, WWOOF, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I’ve been doing it. I think it’s a great introduction, especially for people who want to get some experience on the land and can’t really even conceive of how to do that. It’s also really great for people, maybe people who have had a informal working homestead, who are looking for some labor and for some help and would like to basically have an apprentice in return where people can learn these skills. The idea is that you get accommodation and some food in return for four hours a day, five hours a day of work, five days a week, and then you learn on the job training type thing.
Jim: Yeah. Very cool. Very interesting. All righty. Well, anything else you want to talk about before we wrap up?
Ashley: Yeah. So, I have another really … The schooling vision is one prong of my attack on trying to expand shadow structures. The other prong that I wanted to talk about is I believe that we need some way because these people that I interviewed are a marginal group. They’re not widespread of people producing food for themselves in Chicago. It’s not even 10% of the people. It’s a small percentage. I’m thinking that there must be a way to relocalize production and consumption by making buying and selling very easy.
Ashley: So, I’m working on some model wherein I can get people connected through a website of actually buying and selling locally, which then in my vision, it’s not telling them what to do, it’s only giving them the tools to do whatever they’re interested in doing. In my vision, with that accessibility to sell easily locally, what I saw in my research, where people start connecting with one another and then innovation and creativity and social network expand exponentially from those initial connections in my vision the seed of just, “Oh, I’m just going to buy seeds,” or “I’m going to buy some eggs from somebody who is nearby.” Isn’t that cool? That would be fun. That would be a fun way to get to know one another because people are really just looking for excuses to connect, I think.
Ashley: That turns in to this exciting, “Well, maybe I could keep chickens,” or “Maybe I could start making furniture,” or “Maybe I could learn a skilled trade through these other people who are working in construction through this traditional methods and they have no labor. They have more demand than supply.” So, my vision is to create a market for people to self-express.
Ashley: Now, of course, I sound like a crazy market libertarian, but, really, my vision is there’s got to be some way to make it super easy for people to imagine a future livelihood that is meaningful, interesting, helps them to get to know their neighbors, builds resilient communities, and I feel an obligation from having learned what I learned in my research to try to apply it and to really try to accelerate that impulse that already exist in people.
Ashley: So, just be on the lookout for that because it’s in progress, the idea and I’m trying to work it out with a really cool team of people who think the same way and also trying to make sure to structure it in such a way, maybe a cooperative.
Ashley: Actually, Jason Weiner, who I heard on your podcast, his law firm would be an essential part of this idea because they’re really on the cutting edge thinking about, “How do you structure a business so that quality and sustainability are centered?” So, thinking about that, structuring that into it, and then all sorts of people who think about localism and Joe Norman, who you had on your podcast is involved. So, lots of cool people really trying to think, “How do you make change happen in way that is decentralized, self-determined?” and people are doing something they want to already be doing that solve some problem for them, and they choose it.
Jim: I love that. That’s what we call in the game B world lowering the activation energy for something to happen. You need to create something that makes it easy to get over the hump. It’s actually a term I adapted from chemistry, where you have to put a lot of energy in to make some reactions happen, but a catalyst lowers the activation energy and allows things to happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen. This will be a classic example of that. I wish you the best of luck. If I could help you in any way, connect you with folks, I know a lot of people in this space that are thinking about these kinds of things, and I look forward to seeing it when it comes out, have you back on the show, you could tell us about it.
Ashley: Okay. Sounds good. When I’m successful, I’ll be back.
Jim: All right. Sounds good. Anything else?
Ashley: Oh, you can follow me on Twitter, @RizomaSchool, R-I-Z-O-M-A, @RizomaSchool.
Jim: Very good, and as always, we’ll have pointers to that and everything else we talked about on the episode homepage at jimruttshow.com. Well, thank you Ashley for a very interesting episode.
Ashley: Thanks for having me.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.