From Bad to Worse, Yet Light

I heard shocking and urgent news recently, back to back. Five days later I am still trying to figure out how to respond to this unfolding story. Even though much of the news makes me feel as if I just got sucked into a dangerous abyss, there are still robust moves we can all make. All is not lost, if we work together to help one another.

The first news was the summary of a soon to be released 1,500 page report authored by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES). It’s official! We are now facing our planet’s sixth wave of extinction with over one million species of plants, animals and insects potentially on the block, and soon. Sounds like a holocaust to me.

The next news arrived in the May/June issue of the MIT Technology Review. The cover says “Welcome to Climate Change”. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this publication, MIT is one of the world’s premiere scientific think tanks. Whatever topic they discuss is validated by credible research and fact-based evidence so the publication is reliable and trustworthy. They discuss science and technology in the context of its sociological, cultural, economic and political context. Much of the discussion of climate change currently centers on how we can avoid it. We remain hopeful and comforted about technology’s romantic and futuristic ideas about how to avoid climate change but it’s no longer possible. We entertain ideas about mitigation measures such as engineering the atmosphere and carbon capture. But the magazine says it’s time to “get real” because the momentum of climate change is too swift, even if we were to slam the brakes on it now. Truth is, global temperatures and emissions are rising, not falling. A big chunk of the Arctic’s oldest and most stable sea ice recently broke off. We’ve made no dent in the use of fossil fuels. And on and on the list goes. So, time to shift the dialogue to understanding how this new, catastrophically altered world will look and how we will adapt.

Why do they suggest shifting the focus more towards adaptation? Because efforts to transform this situation will not likely be successful fast enough. The first world countries are too busy and distracted to notice or care and they hyper-consume. The populations in third world countries are exploding so that will be a huge drain on planetary resources. Repeated attempts have been made internationally to create a cohesive, long-term global vision and plan of action. Yet commitment among most countries is notably absent. I add to this, that many powerful multi-national corporations have deeply vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately, the tragedy is that by the time climate change is obvious to everyone, it will be far too late.

What to do, or not do, then? How do we still enjoy the life that is before us and keep our optimism alive? While the United Nation’s report was dreary and startling, they say “Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative societal goals – including those for food, water, energy.” Those of us who see what is coming can show up, stand up and hold together with heart, courage and commitment.  Those who are uncertain can gradually join in. Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is for certain: this situation will be far easier if we take a joint approach rather than a divisive one. This holds true whether we avert the crisis or adapt to it. Think of it this way: we have an opportunity to witness breathtaking transformation here, regardless of the outcome.

As I write this, I look out my window and see drooping tulips whose early spring time vigor has waned yet their beautiful deep red is still extraordinary. A blue jay rests on a nearby fence, iridescent in the evening light. These, along with the yellow pepper on my plate create a palate of primary color that is indescribable to behold. In this moment, embraced by the beauty of Mother Nature, I am nourished and at peace. No matter how ominous the long term picture may look, it’s always easy to find something to appreciate. We don’t need to sit in the bottom of an utterly dark abyss.  If we do that, we can’t see, appreciate or protect the cornucopia of gifts our beautiful planet constantly gives us. Why not visualize the sudden enlightenment of the world instead?

If you’d like to know how The Joy of Plenty can help you make a contribution to the creation of planetary health and relieve your anxiety about its current state, stay tuned for the next series of blog posts. Look below for a link to the summary of the United Nation’s IPBES report.

Portrait by the late Arne Westerman

Nirvana in the Real World

My next riding experience offered me the opportunity to witness chemical-intensive agriculture, or stated another way, to repeatedly see the huge amount of chemicals used to grow crops and raise animals.

After rehabilitating injured racehorses, I rode my paint quarter horse, Quincy, with my friend Lolita on her family’s 480-acre working farm. The land had been in her family since 1912 – that’s five generations. According to Lolita, the farm had a lot of stories to tell. At the time, they were leasing the land to a hazelnut orchardist, a grass seed farmer and a cattle rancher. It is oddly ironic that although the farm met the acreage definition of a small farm, large-scale industrial agriculture practices were used to cultivate the crops.

A perfectly manicured trail meandered throughout the farm. Spectacular vistas of Mt. Hood and its rolling foothills framed the farm’s bottomland pastures. A river ran through it. A lone white swan occupied a pond in the middle of a wood and would make a point of spooking our horses by swiftly flying straight up when we rode by. Having lived in England, I often had the feeling I was riding through a beautiful English country estate. Once in a while, Lolita and I would see a coyote and pretend it was a fox and chase it around, minus the hounds. No matter how fast we galloped, though, it would always elude us.

My experience was perpetually the same – on every ride, every cell of my body overflowed with wonderment and gratitude that I was able to ride there. I’d pinch myself and think, This is too good to be true. I learned that nirvana does exist: It’s right here, right now, not some other where on some other day.

While we rode, Lolita and I would discuss the world’s problems and try to figure out solutions. Chemical-intensive agriculture was a frequent topic because we were seeing it firsthand. The farmers used a constant procession of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and it seemed like every couple of weeks during the growing season something or other was being applied. Countless times, Lolita called me to cancel our ride because some big machine was out there spraying pesticides, and we didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire of pesticide drift. Lolita was constantly concerned that the chemicals were damaging the soil. The harshness of it all was difficult to ignore. Death, death, death. There must be a better way, I thought.

I learned the cattle that grazed on the lush grass of those pastures had time-released bovine growth hormones clipped to their ears. Yes, grass-fed cows can be pumped full of hormones. Buyer beware.

My horse went lame and Lolita was diagnosed with brain cancer all in the same year. The letter I wrote to her when she was on her deathbed remains to this day the best writing I have ever done. Someday I may publish it. When I return to the farm for a visit, I break down and cry. The emotions are a potent, soupy mix of sadness, joy, and gratitude, and they are slow to fade with time.

Deep love hides behind the curtain of grief.

Profound Transformation

The city of Wilsonville appointed me to the planning commission because they knew that I was a horsewoman and that people who are involved with horses tend to have a deep respect for the land. I’ve always loved the country and anything related to growing food: farms, ranches, orchards, vineyards, corn mazes, hay rides, harvest festivals, farmer’s markets, and so on. My earliest memories are of eating dirt in my family’s greenhouse and my father pushing me around the garden in a wheelbarrow overflowing with leaves. I feel a deep connection to Earth, and I am in tune with the seasons and the lunar rhythms.

I started riding when I was nine but when I was a young woman, I could not afford to keep a horse. However, I discovered I could get paid to exercise thoroughbred racehorses, so I did that throughout my 20s. After that, I rehabilitated horses that were injured on the racetracks and then found them homes.

My all-time favorite mount was Pete the Greek, a sleek black thoroughbred who raced at the Santa Anita track in Los Angeles. He was a celebrity there and drew a big crowd. Pete broke his leg and had surgery that at the time was state-of-the-art. Sadly, he was making too much money to take off enough time to fully heal, and the leg ended up breaking again in the same place. After another surgery, he mysteriously came to me (it was one of those hard-to-explain, love-at-first-sight things). He was permanently cranky, but it never bothered me because I knew he didn’t really mean to be that way.

I exercised him methodically and with great care, and he healed to the point at which he could take me for quite a gallop. Pete was a true professional, and he seemed to take pride in his ability to carry me with such precise balance, as if I were a fine china teacup perched up there on his back. His speed was both exhilarating and scary. Once in a while, he’d kick in his jet engines and I’d feel as if I were flying. I could feel his joy at being able to run so fast again. Sadly, the time came when I had to put him down. Sometimes I dream I am flying with Pegasus, and I wonder if that might be Pete coming for a visit.

Isabel Montclaire

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to figure out how to get good value for my money, to buy the best there is without paying a fortune for it. I bought Pete for one dollar, and it’s the best dollar I’ve ever spent. I learned how to do this with food, to get the highest-quality organic food possible for prices the average person can afford. That’s the essence of The Joy of Plenty, and I’m excited to begin sharing the particulars of this method with you.

*Portrait by the late Arne Westerman.


Introducing Isabel Montclaire

Hello, World

I would like to introduce myself and tell you about the journey that led me to develop “The Plenty Method”, a way to multiply your food dollars so you can afford the best food on the planet. Over time, I’d like to know more about you, too.

Isabel Montclaire

To start: How do you do? My name is Isabel Montclaire, and I envision a future where people, pollinators and our planet experience radiant health through affordable organic food. Yes! We can join together to make this future a reality. I say, “Why not?” It doesn’t cost you anything to dream – which, by the way, is the title of a song by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This journey began about ten years ago when I became a planning commissioner for the city of Wilsonville, Oregon, where I live. My job was to advise the mayor and city council on long-term trends and my keen interest in infrastructure, the financial markets and sociology came in very handy in this work.

Wilsonville is unique because it is a suburb that sits on the outermost edge of the Portland metropolitan area, bordered by some of the world’s best agricultural farmland. Plentiful water and a mild Mediterranean climate create ideal growing conditions for a cornucopia of crops: peaches, berries, leafy greens, beets, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkins, hops, plums, grapes, cauliflower, garlic, clover, and cilantro, to name just a few.

Farmland preservation was a hot topic for Wilsonville because development was creeping in from all sides. I decided to specialize in the areas of food and water because they are so fundamental to our quality of life. The city placed a high value on farmland and protected it on the policy level, so our views were in harmony – and I was eager to learn more.

During my tenure as a planning commissioner, the city generously educated me. I attended regional and national conferences and was exposed to bright minds and innovative ideas. I was like a sponge, taking it all in. Over time, I started to piece together what in urban planning speak is called a “food system” – the process of getting food on our tables.

It begins when a farmer plants a seed and ends when a shopper plucks an item off the grocery store shelf in anticipation of preparing a meal. Believe me, there is a lot in between: Academic research. Fertilizer and pesticides, farm labor and machinery, farming cooperatives. Processing plants and warehouses. Containers, ships, ports, railroads and trucking. Refrigeration, food safety, and grocery stores. Regulators and inspectors at almost every step. Add to that the policy-level issues, such as immigration, trade, and subsidies. Understanding the complex workings of this system is called “getting the big picture.” [Unfortunately, this big picture comes with a dark side: the “agribusiness operative” that puts corporate profits ahead of the public’s health. The more of us that become aware of the inner workings of this operative, the better, because its power comes from operating undetected. Together, we can shine the light on this entity to diminish its power. To learn more, please read my book “Supercide Me”, available as a free download on our website].

If you want to get beyond this big picture (minus the operative) to see the specifics, check out the 2015 Food Outlook, a biannual report on the global food markets produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations That a single organization could even compile a report like this made me just about fall off my chair.

Early on in my education on this topic, I came to realize that deep fissures were developing in some of these systems, most notably those involved with industrialized agricultural practices. I wondered where the breakdowns would occur and how they would affect us. Could we continue to eat well? As time went on, that wondering turned into concerns about the future of our food and became a gnawing worry that wouldn’t go away. These concerns were the seeds that eventually led to the creation of The Plenty Method, a way to increase your food dollars so you can include more organic food in your pantry. I like to think that when you do The Plenty Method, you will be on “the best food on the planet diet”. Yo!