Orange County’s Low Hanging Fruit

13 thoughts on “Orange County’s Low Hanging Fruit”

  1. Johnny, thank you for continuing to publish these stories. It’s heartening to know that despite the massive problems our country has, there really are other people out there trying to make things better, incrementally and locally. I’m trying the same here in New England (small urban lot in a walkable town, insulation, semi-permaculture garden, plans for awnings and ultimately a light-colored metal roof, building local relationships, etc.) but sometimes the scale of the problems seem so overwhelming, and the pace of building resilience so slow, that it can feel hopeless. Seeing the efforts of others really helps.

    On a separate note, I’d love to hear who or what organizations you follow other than Strong Towns. I think you mentioned John Michael Greer; I read him, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, and occasionally Dmitri Orlov, but am always on the lookout for other sources of contrarian wisdom.

    1. David Holmgren – Check out his case studies from Retrosuburbia

      Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates –

      Nicole Foss,

      Kirsten Dirksen – she’s all over the map.

      Dr. Joseph Tainter

      Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen from Root Simple – I did a video about them with my friend Kirsten

      Linda’s Pantry on YouTube for home pressure canning etc.

      Pippa Malmgren on economics

      1. Thank you! I especially appreciate your listing some women – the permaculture / doomer / primitivist / etc. worlds seem to be pretty male-dominated, at least online. I’ve been to Jonathan and Eric’s Paradise Lot, and it’s impressive.

        1. I’m not a doomer. I’m a pragmatist. I look around and it appears things are getting wobbly. Taking simple, cost effect, incremental steps to buffer myself from some of the potential difficulties just seems prudent. My primary method of prepping is constantly reaching out to good people all around me and cultivating connections for mutual support. I’m not a “cabin in the woods” kinda guy.

          1. Oh, I didn’t mean to say you were a doomer (or a primitivist, or anything) – just that those (fuzzily defined) groups blend together at the edges, and online all of them tend to be male-dominated. I like that you’re not an acolyte of any particular dogma.

            I think you’re wise to focus on building community. We’re trying to do the same here (monthly neighborhood pizza parties, serving on the board of a co-op, etc.) while also trying to re-skill, get by with less, and come up with backup strategies.

  2. First off Johnny I enjoy the hell out of your blog. I live in Baltimore. In order to cut down on cutting grass (and the energy and pollution and grass watering involved) I dug up the small rowhouse backyard in back and did a gravel and stone bed with a small garden down the side that I use to plant tomatoes, herbs and even a grapevine. On the front of the rowhouse I planted a garden with a tree and flowers and a median strip garden with a fruit tree (plums), rose bushes and herbs such as sage (which is really a nice accent plant). All the gardens use mulch and I plant varieties that do well in the East (cool, chilly wet fall and winters and hot, humid summers) such as Purple coneflowers, daisies and day lilies and Black-eyed Susans. to top it off I have a light colored roof and solar panels, which reduce my energy bills tremendously. I am really trying to practice conservation and low energy use and I’m thrilled to read your blog on what folks are doing on the Other Coast. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. My understanding of the situation is that we aren’t going to solve big societal problems caused by too much complexity by adopting big top down “solutions” that involve even more complexity. The only way to fix anything is from the bottom up in really simple ways that don’t cost much and are actually productive. Sounds like you’re doing the right thing at your place.

  3. I live west of Seattle, and green lawns are rare out here. Most folks have some kind of gravel with a few trees or bushes. It took me a year or two to figure out why. If you don’t want to mow or spend all your time weeding, you have to minimize the planted areas or you will have a field of blackberry bramble in a year or two. That stuff just takes over, and it is hard to clear out.

    P.S. Our backyard is overrun with deer. It isn’t legal to hunt within the town limits, but we’ve been tempted to quietly get some backyard venison.

    1. Fast growing invasive blackberry brambles? Sounds like you need goats. Time share a roving herd with the neighbors? The rail authorities here in the Bay Area have a shepherd to keep the side of the tracks clear.

  4. I live in the burbs just south of San Francisco. Here’s a few things I did and observations.

    – Zero-water landscape in the front yard. It took a few tries before I got something that didn’t look like a rat’s nest. The aesthetics were important to me. Also, compliments from neighbors are good to have in the burbs and could affect whether they call the code police on you for those backyard chickens.
    – Veggie garden + fruit trees in the back. Again, it took years to cultivate a green-ish thumb. It’s nice to have but it could never supply but a tiny fraction of my family’s caloric needs (e.g. rice). In hindsight, probably better to support local CSAs and farmer’s markets.
    – Small cars, never financed. I take the train to work but for everything else cars are necessary. But there’s no law that says, “upon procreation one must lease a Chevy Suburban.” Because.. kids are small! They fit into small cars. My wife hauls them around in a 5 year old Mini Cooper.
    – Bikes. Between the dangerous roads and steep terrain, I determined bikes could never be more than supplemental transport and/or recreation. It’s actually more pleasant to walk if you’re not in a hurry.
    – Public transit. Fine for commuting downtown. Shite for everything else.
    – Water. I tried the rainwater thing but yeah asphalt shingles. Conservation, graywater, rainwater… all great but realistically the California Aqueduct needs to be maintained for this many people to live here at even 1/2 or 1/4 of our current water usage a state.

    1. 80% of the human diet (calories) is grain one way or another – unless you hunt your own venison. No one is going to grow wheat, rice, and corn in the back yard. Pick your battles. Grain is cheap. I buy in bulk for a volume discount. Fresh produce is expensive and can be grown around the house.

    2. I have a friend who had a Mini when her son was in car seats. She would just load him into the car seat through the rear hatch. People would look at her strangely when she did this.

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