Nourishment is a path of service, to be followed readily and shared with others. —Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation
We have no Art, we try to do everything well. —Balinese saying, quoted in Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Manifest for Maintenance Art 1969!
My name is Chloé Rossetti, and I am an interdisciplinary artist, writer, performer, permaculturist, and healer. This is the spiel that I rattle off when prompted, although, after studying and practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and learning about e-prime via aspirational rewilder Peter Michael Bauer, the violence of a taxonomy that seeks to freeze things into a certain state has become evident to me. To name things in a fixed way renders them married, turning into property to be owned, wildness to be known. So I rework my biography, and most of this article and column to exclude all use of the infinitive, and things open up: They call me Chloé, my mother named me Chloé, she gave birth to me almost 28 years ago, I have many feelings all of the time, I study permaculture, sometimes stress fills me, sometimes happiness overtakes me, sometimes loneliness haunts me. I want to surround myself with people who often radiate beauty, I want to put my hands in the earth and pull up roses, I want to reconnect life to itself. I want to focus on helping people I call my friends, I want to write with my nondominant hand sometimes, I want to walk backward with those who have passed into another realm, whom have faded into beauty as the Sufis say, and sing to them. I want those who call themselves Other to find me, and meld with me sometimes…
Experiments in redesign, such as this one, have permeated every area of my life since beginning and completing Andrew Faust’s Permaculture Design Certificate in fall 2015. This 72-hour program gives students a crash course in permaculture, a varied field and a discipline that resists definition: I would perhaps define it as human-inclusive regenerative ecological design, but I could also define it as how to become one with all of creation, or how to revalue care labor as an ecological necessity, or Ecofeminism 101, or how to live regeneratively with all of nature on planet earth. No governing body regulates the course, and the content and quality varies somewhat drastically at the whim of different teachers and bioregions. Faust’s pedigree legitimizes him—Peter Bane taught him, and cofounder Bill Mollison taught Peter Bane—and he bursts at the seams with knowledge and experience.
I wanted to take the course with a female or gender-nonconforming teacher, preferably not Caucasian, because I sawand still do see—my relationship to ecology as moving away from, while still keenly aware of, patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist structures. For starters, permaculture, a field started by two straight white men, reframes a lot of knowledge from various bodies of indigenous knowledge, so to continue supporting that direction of knowledge and power seemed antithetical to my ethics. But as I dug into the field of permaculture I learned that it suffers from the same straight-while-male domination as most every field of inquiry at this moment in time, and Faust’s PDC was really the only one offered with any consistency in this region. So I took the course, and was amazed at how often, and with such fervor, Faust advocated for resensitization of our bodies, for the revaluing of care labor, for centering women and children in community design and financial management. He orates charismatically and effusively, brimming with an intense love and respect of life,, and speaks lovingly of his partner Adriana, who co-raises their six-year-old daughter on a permaculture homestead in Ellenville, NY, called the Center for Bioregional Living.
Faust went on to teach us all of the permaculture tips and tricks—how to spread water evenly over a landscape, how to graze livestock to regenerate a pasture—but before he taught us any of that, Faust made sure that we understood permaculture’s underlying ethics (1. Earth Care, 2. People Care, 3. Future Care), principles and strategies before design techniques ever make it to the table (i.e. integrate rather than segregate, use edges and value the marginal, use and value diversity).
He shared a design strategy with us called the Zones of Use, which, of all of the dramatically life-changing content in that course, probably changed my life the most. This involves splitting up one’s design into zones from 1-5, of most-trafficked to least-trafficked areas, or most to least used. On a property, for example, we could call Zone 1 a house and its immediate periphery; we could call Zone 2 the vegetable garden; we could call Zone 3 a field with grazing livestock in it; we could call Zone 4 the forest on the property, and we could call Zone 5 the wilderness adjacent to the property. We can modify Zone 1 the most, through to Zone 5 the least. This helps us to understand appropriate levels of intervention in each area of our property. Around that time I found myself altering my domestic surroundings to match my increasing sensitivity with increasing alacrity, and I started to conceive of my resensitization process as a sort of rezoning. I wondered, Could the Zones of Use apply to a single human life?
A healing modality took shape in my mind: I conceived of a client coming to me with a pervasive, irksome issue: “I don’t feel good.” Zoning in on physical and environmental factors only, I set about addressing that query, as I had done in my own life:
Zone 1: The Self—How do you relate to yourself? How do you breathe? Do you nourish your spirit? Do you have a creative outlet? Do you get enough exercise? Do you pleasure yourself?
Zone 1: Self, plus Inputs—What do you eat? What clothes cover your body? What body, face and hair products do you use? Where do they come from? Do you ferment foods? What products lurk in your kitchen? What aromas surround you?
Zone 2: Self, plus Inputs, in Home—How do you relate sensorially to your space? What do you sleep on? Do you have yoga or stretching equipment? Where did it come from? Where was it made? How does light function in your apartment? Does the air circulate well? What furniture lives in your space? How does it make your body feel?
Zone 3: Self, plus Inputs, in Home, with Nonhuman Others, a.k.a. Creatures You Could Kill Without Going to Jail”—How do you relate to plants, insects, pests, pets, farm animals, horses, birds on your property, in your worm bin, your ant farm, your apiary? What about deer, wolves, bears, spiders, aquatic life, amphibians, fungi, algae, mold? How do you relate to the concept of “Nonhuman Rights?” How do you decolonize your communication with nonhuman others? How do you tend your animate environment with love?
Zone 4: Self, Plus Inputs, in Home and Community, with Nonhuman and Human Others, a.k.a. Creatures You Could Not Kill Without Going to Jail—How do you adapt to (i.e. not modify) your spouse, partner, friends, colleagues, workmates, roommates, teammates, community, bosses, employees, servers, clients, healers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, bodyworkers and gardeners? How do you decolonize your communication with human others? How do you learn to live with them?
Zone 5: Self, Plus Inputs, In Home and Community, with Nonhuman and Human Others, Interlaced with Unknown Others—How do you interact and negotiate with strangers, and strange and wild lands? How do you relate to birth and death? Pain and bliss? Sea and space? Do you have a relationship to the etiquette of not-knowing? How do you not-know? How do you grieve? How do you fall in love? How do you forgive?
I expanded this concept, this tour of resensitization further, and imagined a site of people fully living that way, in New York City. A self-care ecosystem, where every surface, every texture, every cupboard sent a wave of energetic love and support back to the inhabitant or guest. I designed for a multi-story townhouse a block from my current home in East Harlem. I visited the townhouse—currently for sale—and took photographs, trying to refocus my eyes to see a supportive, ecologically conscious homestead over what I actually saw. The intersection of wealth, capitalism and patriarchy felt so… material.
The house had two people living in three stories, with a bathroom on each floor. The basement was packed with useful items, laying idle. The main living room was mostly occupied with furniture that looked at the least uncomfortable, and at the most unnatural for the human body. The backyard was paved over.
In my mind and on paper I redesigned the house so that the parlor room contained minimal, ergonomic furniture, with soft lighting and inviting textures throughout. I filled the kitchen with fermenting foods, and a crockpot filled with bone broth, and I set up a window box herb garden that flanked the kitchen window on both sides. I covered the balcony railing and outdoor bannister with grape vines, and the walls of the home with Virginia creeper, and I turned the backyard into a wheelchair-accessible permaculture paradise. I installed an aromatherapy garden in the front entrance between the road and the front room of the apartment, which I turned into a therapy room, and I kept bees on the roof. I filled the house with music, and softness, and touch.
Most importantly, however, I imagined how I would reimburse these house inhabitants for all of the care that they had put into their home. I imagined that they had more income than outgoing expenses for their rezoning self-care company, and that there was a surplus in the bank. I then imagined that everyone in the house were able to earn labor credits for any care they took of themselves or another person, and then that those labor credits could be exchanged for US dollars out of the company’s bank account. I consider this my imperfect and contradictory love letter in response to Silvia Federici’s “Wages Against Housework,” because I fear capitulation to a broken monetary system, and I also think that capitalism cannot center care labor and exist at the same time. So by capitulating in this way, perhaps we also sneak our labored love, our ordinary and miraculous maintenance, into this system and break it. In this financial structure, the house ecology and economy would recognize all acts of care, which could then, like any other job, be refused, and also counted, and also appreciated. This labor would be considered valuable not only intrinsically, but also for increasing the value of the company through relevant research.
The more we learn about how to care for ourselves and our immediate community, the better we can show up for clients, strangers, and the world at large. Every act of self-care, of self-love, then, is of course political, for it contains within it the research on how to greater love the world. Baths as research! Massage as research! Naps as research!
One day, I arrived at work and noticed that a coworker had pulled a book from the free new releases pile and put it on my desk: Grand Domestic Revolution Handbook, a millenial take on a 1960s home economics design manual, and a gorgeous compendium of living research developed by artists concerned with an expanded vision of the “home.” Mierle Laderman-Ukeles’s Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! was in there, and I reread it. The ode to Personal, General, and Earth Maintenance as a series of interlocking art projects galvanized me to write my own manifesto, my love letter to Ukeles, to imagine what something like my project might look like on the scale of a collective or community. I share it here:
Radical Nourishment Manifesto
We are a collective of symbiotic, ecosomatic organisms, 10% human, 70% water, mostly host to a slew of onboard microbes, coexisting in an interconnected biosphere that gives us life.
We are also a collective of human beings, partnered with nonhuman allies, who seek to integrate our increasing respect for life with our every thought, word, and deed, while in form on planet earth.
We embody respect for life through radical care and maintenance of all animate and inanimate beings residing in this biosphere, through healthcare, childcare, bodywork, sex work, art, writing, performance, ecological restoration, food justice, ecological justice, social justice, music-making, moving meditation and many other means.
While embodying and enacting our increasing respect for life, we make room for that respect by dismantling old structures founded on disrespect for life, through its domination and control, redistributing resources to the needful in its wake.
We seek to locate this increasing respect for life on our own bodies, where we enact radical self-love, self-care, and self-respect, gradually shedding the consumption of industrialized products as our resources will allow, and increasing consumption and production of regionally self-reliant, organic products and projects.
We expand our self-love outward to our communities, and outward further still to stewardship of the land and all of its inhabitants, as we understand the land and its ecology to be our community, our relatives.
This ever-evolving lifeway underscores an ongoing project called Radical Nourishment, which seeks to redefine care labor as the cornerstone, or center, of an ecofeminist, earth-centric lifeway.
Put simply, at the tail end of this project, I believe that any form of nourishment that is valued as central to any ecology—as that ecology’s proverbial bottom-line—becomes politicized, and therefore radical, as it undoes the system of capitalism that seeks to erase it. This is not the “Love Yourself!” mantra of New Age bunkers dotting our coasts, for their bottom line, much like the Medical Industrial Complex’s bottom line, is often profit, and their participants and beneficiaries so often “abundant” (read: affluent) and white. In my view, something can only call itself “nourishing” if it benefits the entire ecosystem, and not just a privileged few.
To understand how to circulate these resources in a way that effectively instigates change in our collapsing, domination-obsessed system, we can and ought to look to nature, and mimic her methods in our own lives. To quote Bill Mollison: “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” May we plant the seeds of new systems in the husk of the old, in communion with one another.
Chloé Rossetti is an artist, writer, performer, energy healer, and permaculturist based in New York City. Her work, most recently under the header of Radical Nourishment, and prior to that as the Center for Difficult Womyn, focuses on the intersection of ecology, collectivism, agency, feminism, and love. She implores anyone looking for companionship as they rewild their lifeway in the urban environment to get in touch with her via her website.