Roots to Renewal

Season Two, Episode One: Greg Watson on Systems Thinking and New Economics

August 09, 2022 Hawthorne Valley Season 2 Episode 1
Roots to Renewal
Season Two, Episode One: Greg Watson on Systems Thinking and New Economics
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm; Music by Aaron Dessner

With this episode, we're excited to officially launch season two of our Roots to Renewal podcast, and we are thrilled to have Greg Watson as our guest to kick things off. Greg is the director of policy and systems design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and a self-described lifelong student. He has spent nearly 50 years studying systems thinking as inspired by Buckminster Fuller and has worked to apply that understanding to achieve a more just and sustainable world. In this episode, you'll hear more about Greg's amazing biography and his involvement in many future bearing and life bearing initiatives as he and Hawthorne Valley's executive director and podcast host Martin Ping, take a deep dive on the topics of systems thinking and new economics, creating new forms of cooperation, the wisdom of nature, and so much more.

If you'd like to learn more about Greg's work and the Schumacher Center for a New Economics visit For more information on the World Game Workshop, visit

Donate to Hawthorne Valley here.

More about Greg Watson:
Greg is Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. His work currently focuses on community food systems and an initiative to improve global systems literacy informed by a reimagining of Bucky Fuller’s World Game Workshop. Greg has spent nearly 50 years studying systems thinking as inspired by Buckminster Fuller and has worked to apply that understanding to achieve a more just and sustainable world. He has served on the board of the Buckminster Fuller Institute and as a juror for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

In 1978 he organized a network of urban farmers’ markets in the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area. He served as Commissioner of Agriculture in Massachusetts from 1990 to 1993 and again from 2012 to 2014 when he launched a statewide urban agriculture grants program.

Greg gained hands-on experience in organic farming, aquaculture, wind-energy technology, and passive solar design at the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, first as Education Director and later as Executive Director. There he led the effort to create the Cape & Islands Self Reliance energy cooperative.  He served four years as Executive Director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a multicultural grassroots organizing and planning organization where he initiated one of the nation’s first urban agriculture projects (anchored by a 10,000 square foot commercial greenhouse).

Watson was the first Executive Director of the Massac

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Heather Gibbons (00:04):

Hi, welcome to Hawthorne Valley's podcast Roots to Renewal. I'm the producer and Hawthorne Valley's marketing director, Heather Gibbons. We started this podcast more than a year ago as a way to celebrate Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary and share our story by engaging in conversation with friends, both near and far, who dedicate their lives to meeting the ecological, social and spiritual needs of our time. With this episode, we're excited to officially launch season two of the podcast, and we are thrilled to have Greg Watson as our guest to kick things off. Greg is the director of policy and systems design at the Schumacher center for a new economics and a self-described lifelong student. He has spent nearly 50 years studying systems thinking as inspired by Buckminster Fuller and has worked to apply that understanding to achieve a more just and sustainable world. In this episode, you'll hear more about Greg's amazing biography and his involvement in many future bearing and life bearing initiatives as he and Hawthorne Valley's executive director and podcast host Martin Ping, take a deep dive on the topics of systems thinking and new economics, creating new forms of cooperation, the wisdom of nature, and so much more. We'd like to express our gratitude to Tierra Farm, a family owned manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts, that puts the people they serve and the planet we share before all else, for their continued generous support of this podcast. Learn With that let's dive in.

Martin Ping (01:38):

Good morning, Greg. It is such a great pleasure to be able to spend some time with you this morning. Your life is quite full. I know this because we're engaged in some other things together at the moment. And having you find any time to have a conversation is much appreciated, not lost on me, the, the kind of commitment that takes. So thank you currently, your director of policy and systems that Schumacher center for new economics, correct?

Greg Watson (02:05):

Correct systems design. Yes.

Martin Ping (02:07):

Systems design, the term new economics might mean different things to different people. What would you, how would you describe the key elements of a new economy?

Greg Watson (02:19):

I think the new economics as a response to sort of the conventional approach, that many feel that has sort of been necessary to bring prosperity to great masses of people. The interesting thing about new economics and the Schumacher Center is sort of the distinction between growth and development. We all know that growth cannot continue. The earth has been around for 4 billion years, it's developed, but it hasn't grown in size and it's been resilient and sustainable. So that's part of it. The other part of it is it's decentralized, which means that the decisions many of the most important decisions that affect people's lives can be made at the local level. They do not have to come from sort of up on high with government and that sort of large centralized or centralized approach, I think feeds into sort of the notion of bigger is better. You know, you think back to the days of, of Earl Butts, the secretary, I do at least secretary of agriculture and the, the Nixon administration who declared that you've gotta be big or get out - people up to that point, assumed that small family farms were uneconomical.

Greg Watson (03:22):

And and there was something inherently uneconomical about the small farms. It was a decision that was made by that administration, not that administration alone, but it was a decision that was made in part driven by policy that says, we want you to be big. If you're not big, you're gonna get out. And we will then design our programs and our subsidies to support that approach. So new economics says, whoa, how do we step back from that? How do we empower local communities to understand the, their ability to gain some measure of control in many cases, large measure of control over meeting their basic needs and beyond

Martin Ping (04:02):

So Schumacher Center. And maybe it's good to just give an odd to EF Schumacher whose seminal work came out I think it was published in 73, if I'm not mistaken, which is

Greg Watson (04:14):

Yes, because we're 50th anniversary is next. Yes.

Martin Ping (04:17):

Yeah. So we're which we're celebrating our 50th and, and I'm, I'm just so interested in that general time period. And, and I think a lot of our conversation will, will touch on that because a lot of the work that you've been involved in is also, you know, kind of coming out of a lot of it was born in that era coming out of that era. But I'm curious, when did you first encounter Schumacher's work

Greg Watson (04:38):

Right around that time actually I was a child of the sixties. I graduated from high school in 1967, grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and I tell people I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio grew up on the banks of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga river Lake Erie was putrified biologically dead. There was you couldn't fish. You couldn't eat fish from, from, from the lake, the Cuyahoga River, you know, if, you know, made infamous by Randy Newman and his song burn on big river <laugh>, but it was true. It was so polluted with flammable liquids that a cigarette, but, you know, tossed overboard could result in the surface of the, of the lake erupting, mostly in smoke, but also flames. So I was absolutely aware of the importance of the environment, even as an African American growing up in a city like Cleveland. So I embraced this whole idea and this was, you know, all around the time, right before it was actually right, pretty much right before the big Earth Day event.

Greg Watson (05:41):

But nonetheless, the environmental movement was, was in swing. I left Cleveland to attend Tufts University and I wore my environmental sort of badge on my sleeve, very visible and was surprised to be confronted by my colleagues at the Tufts, in the Tufts chapter of the Afro-American society who questioned my sort of commitment to the environment. And I was taken aback. I mean, I, you know, first time I've been away from home, I go to college and I thought this would be a place where I was gonna sort of be able to sort of nurture these, these ideas and concepts, but they challenged me on the, the notion that Greg listen, and, and this really hurt me. They said we would, we would be not so disturbed if the environmental movement was merely. And this was the term Charlie Jordan, president of the Afro-American society said to me, if it was merely irrelevant to our cause black Americans, but it's worse than that.

Greg Watson (06:38):

They felt that the environmental movement was a sinister movement. That it was it actually, it, it actually was counter to the goals, counter the goals of African Americans. I said, what do you mean? And he said, well, listen to the slogans, Greg, no growth, limited growth. We we're hearing that now, where do Black Americans, what are the options for us to achieve economic equality within that scenario? It seems like the status quo remains where they are and the haves will continue to have, and to have nots have no pathway to prosperity. And I had an intuitive sense that the twin goals of economic equality and environmental quality were compatible, but I didn't have an intellectual response. And so what happened was I went underground. I discovered the Whole Earth Catalog, and I started to dig and read and that sort, you know, that was in the early seventies. And then as a result, I first came across Buckminster Fuller. And then that led me to this incredible network of people, Wendell Berry, EF Schumacher Hazel Henderson. It was that dilemma, that intellectual sort of dilemma that I find myself in trying to reconcile those two goals that I felt were important, but at that stage of my life seemed to be incompatible.

Martin Ping (07:59):

Mm. And, and now more and more people are becoming aware of how integral they are. I would say would, would you think that's?

Greg Watson (08:04):

I think so as more and more people do gain that awareness, the powers that be become a bit more entrenched, a bit more threatened. So it is a little bit of a struggle, still a bit of organizing a lot of organizing that has to be done, but I think you're absolutely right, Martin, especially those who have understood how we needed to change our way of thinking and seeing the world and the whole idea of systems thinking, which again, emerge, I would say for the most part from the Whole Earth Catalog, right? I mean, Stuart Brand, it was, you know, it was systems thinking that was a driver and he actually credits Bucky among others as being among those who were responsible for the creation of this new way of thinking new way of operating. And that first catalog was sort of the compendium of on the ground work that was being done to achieve the goals of integrating those two important goals.

Martin Ping (09:02):

Well, I hope that it can continue to find more harmony. It's the change in thinking you you've nailed it by saying that, and, and much of the design work that's been done, that's created the systems we're in comes much more from a reductive and mechanistic view of the world. And I think that we're beginning to acknowledge nature in her 3.8 billion years of, of experience and wisdom has a, has a different course that we could look to follow.

Greg Watson (09:32):

Well, that's our model, right? I mean, the earth has, you know, as you say, for nearly 4 billion years, it has been resilient and it has developed right by rearranging the parts and adapting. In many cases, there are some tough lessons and there are some things that we have to realize. I mean, part of that is that in that course of the Earth's history species have come and gone, right? Niches. I mean, we've accelerated some of that, but niches are created by certain species and the species living in those, in those niches actually make it almost inhospitable for that species to continue. So the niche closes, but new species emerge and it sort of suggests one important concept critically important is the Gaia hypothesis. The goal of Gaia, the earth as a living organism, is to maintain the conditions necessary for life, with no particular species sort of being with one exception.

Greg Watson (10:25):

And this is gets, this is where you get into these really interesting discussions that is humans. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. I mean, if you, in humans, by of our minds and our ability to discern nature's strategy, I, I say strategy that may be a little too anthropomorphic, but how nature actually maintains those conditions necessary for life are discernible by us. One of the responsibilities that we have to assume is become copilots with Gaia in the process of planetary evolution. And that is unique. So our role is not to be passive and hands off in everything, but it's also not. And it's also not to dominate is to say, where is that in between - How do we become conscious participants in the planet's evolution?

Martin Ping (11:11):

I think it was Thomas Barry, maybe others, but I remember Thomas saying the human being is the universe become conscious of itself. Yes. And it's a beautiful image to work from, but also one that implies an immense amount of responsibility on us as a species to learn from the, the wisdom of the universe of which we are a part, the cues are all there in the systems thinking that you've pursued for and been studying for 50 years. It's the patterns, if you will, are

Greg Watson (11:39):

That's exactly right

Martin Ping (11:39):

Are implied. We could mimic to use another term, Janene Benyus and biomimicry. We can mimic those patterns, essentially. We are those patterns. So just <laugh> owning that truth and, and living into it very deeply would allow us to, I think, recognize the patterns and participate in them in a much healthier and more balanced way than we currently are.

Greg Watson (12:04):

And and you're absolutely right. And pattern recognition is a form of mathematics. It's a qualitative form. We've been transfixed with the type of mathematics that quantifies everything, right. And that became sort of the ruler and the master over validity. Right? Verify it with numbers and what you alluded to and what became sort of the session with Bucky was, you know, the importance of numbers is how they come together. It's the patterns they form and, or, and, you know, as, or Gregory Bateson, right. You know, the, the patterns which connect, they describe shape and systems and patterns that you can see repeated, and that are scalable. The spirals in a Nautilus shell, in a hurricane or in a galaxy, those patterns, persist, there's a reason why they are there. Can we actually apply those patterns to developing human support systems and increasing life support on the planet as opposed to technology to do just the opposite, right? They destroy, they undermine the planet's integrity and our ability to support life. Bucky Fuller often said that real wealth is increasing life support. That's what we're here to do is to expand on a limited planet on a finite planet, but you can increase life support through the kind of resilient technologies that so many of the folks that you and I have had the honor and pleasure to work with are practicing.

Martin Ping (13:31):

Did you work directly with Bucky in the early years?

Greg Watson (13:34):

Nope, never. I, the only time I actually, I met Bucky twice Bucky was for me osmosis and <laugh>, I will say it's it's and I, I don't know that many people, he changed my life. I mean, I, I was, I don't know if you know this, but I was peddling a comic strip in New York city in 1974. That's what I thought I was gonna do, because I'm thinking about the world differently. I must be wrong cuz the world can't be, it can't be that the world is wrong and I'm right. So I'm gonna like figure out what's the best way for me to communicate my ideas and concepts and thoughts. So I developed a comic strip that I was, I was influenced by Pogo. I dunno if you remember Pogo. Oh yeah. He had Wal Kelly and he was a Okey Fenokee Swamps. So I was peddling a comic strip in 1974. I had read Bucky and others before that and was kind of getting, you know, it was coming kind of forming, but in 1975 he published Synergetics Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking - his seminal work. And it was just, boom kind of blew me away. That was sort of putting it all together and it sort of reaffirmed for me, maybe not others, but okay, this is I'm now definitely gonna stay on this path because there's something that is truly revolutionary in this approach to thinking.

Martin Ping (14:53):

And did that then lead you to New Alchemy Institute or was, was where did, when did you, when did you,

Greg Watson (15:00):

It, it led me interesting enough first to community organizing because it was sort of, you know, the whole idea of synergy, the whole being, not being able to predict the whole, by looking at its parts in isolation, the whole, in many cases can be greater than the sum of its parts. If they're organized, right. And Bucky talked about this concept of, of synergy, which he felt and was convinced as pervasive in the universe. It's ubiquitous, but it's also somewhat invisible unless you're looking for it. Bucky was big on making the invisible, visible. And one of the concepts that he just used to explain synergy was that there's this gas that we all sort of assume, is there oxygen gas, hydrogen, a gas, nothing in the properties of hydrogen or oxygen alone gives you any indication that when combined in the right proportions, you get water. Water is unpredicted by looking at hydrogen and oxygen alone and then boom, you do get, so what he sort of said was if we continue to operate the way conventional education is guiding us, that is taking the world apart, analyzing, but never putting it back together again so that you can then sort of experience and understand synergy, which is just sort of again, ubiquitous.

Greg Watson (16:16):

And, and it's the way that nature does more with less. That whole concept of more with less was the way I began to crawl out of that conundrum between economic equality and environmental quality. Can we do more with less so that we can bring prosperity to more and more people, but using less and less resources to do it. So community organizing was I, I kind of fell into it, but the philosophy and the approach that, of this systems thinking where you start to sort of bring disparate people together to achieve a goal, people that you might not normally pull together, but you realize, Ooh, this could create the kind of synergy that could help us achieve the goals. And that first community organizing effort for me was the Boston Urban Gardens. This was in the city of Boston and we organized community gardens for people that didn't have access to a backyard or whatever, and realized how empowering it was, not just for gardens, but for the people that we're engaged in it. One of the most empowering feelings I think people can have is I am now able to meet some of my basic needs. I mean, what's more basic than food, right? Mm. And I'm in the city and I can grow it. And, but we need to do this together because we need resources. We need political clout, social. That was sort of my initial foray into sort of what I think I am more than anything else. And that is an organizer.

Martin Ping (17:41):

And that's beautiful because we are trying to organize ourselves around these certain principles that you've keyed into by, by paying attention and being open to studying them and, and then being able to bring them to apply them to human systems and social systems. You, you said something early that just made me think of like what you're doing is social alchemy when we talked about the New Alchemy Institute, but you're, you're involved in this social alchemy where you're just bringing the right people together and one plus one equals 10 and, you know,

Greg Watson (18:13):

See you're I knew you were brilliant. We, we, we actually coined a term, we call it civic alchemy, but it's the same thing. Social alchemy civic alchemy is sort of the, the, the, the sort of the program that I created at Schumacher to sort of as an umbrella for the <laugh> for the things that I want to, that I'm pursuing, that don't kind of fall neatly into sort of one, one category. But, but I don't wanna lose your point, Martin, you, cause I think you wanted, you're leading up to sort of my involvement with the New Alchemy Institute, which did come later, but not much later, it was almost by chance that I was visiting a friend, Susan Relick and department of agriculture. I was teaching high school at the time. Believe it or not yet teaching high school in Cambridge. I borrowed a film from her.

Greg Watson (18:56):

And as I was leaving her office, she gave me a job description. And this is, and it was for the New Alchemy Institute education director, new alchemy, what, what she says, you should look into this. And so I had to go to the library and I looked at these, you know, got the New Alchemy journals, brought 'em home, the wife, Debbie and others. And they looked at me and said, this looks like a commune. What is this? What I mean? It was like so far outside, anything that I had ever seen, but Susan who knew me, well sort of intuited, you should think about this. So she gave me the description. Next thing I know I'm going for the interview. It was like magical, right? I mean, get there on the 12 acres and what do I see - a geodesic dome? I said, okay, this is pretty neat.

Greg Watson (19:40):

But in talking to them and going through the interview, there was a sense that it was more than technology and it was more than organizing. It was, they were trying to approach people and organizations and society in a very different way. They, they, they explained to me as I sat there, I'm looking at John Todd PhD and Bill McLarney PhD and these folks wizards and all this stuff. And John was sort of, at that point was becoming world known, renowned, right. For, for his work. And then they looked at me and said, okay, if you decide to do this, you come on and you're paid the same salary as everybody else, same salary as John gets same. And they said, wait a minute, no, you actually make it a little more because you have two children under the age of, so they had this system where if you, if we hire you, you're part of the team and there is no hierarchy here.

Greg Watson (20:30):

Everybody plays an that's the way the systems work, right? We all contribute to the integrity of the system. And that's how we're going to go about things. That's how we're gonna approach the entire organization. So content sold me, but that also was just like a big plus in terms of people actually trying and experimenting with different ways of, of organizing themselves, right? It was created at a time where the earth days and others were pointing out the things that were wrong, the things that were a source of the problem, industrial agriculture, fossil fuel energy, they used, I think the phrase that was coined by Bucky and said dare to be naive. It's one thing to talk about the problems, but what are the solutions? How do we create environmentally sound approaches to meeting our food, energy and shelter needs? The naivety is we can do this or we should accept this, right.

Greg Watson (21:22):

We're gonna do what nobody else's sort of like doing well, how do we even begin? And for John and Bill and Nancy, there was no question. We're gonna look to nature. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, nature's the model. So we're gonna design systems based on nature's regenerative 3.8, 4 billion year old strategy that has worked <laugh> we have a model. And the question is, are her approaches and strategies scalable? Usually, you know, today when you talk to an entrepreneur, you say scalable, you're saying scaling up and we're like, nope, can we scale down? Can we get those, those big systems that are regenerative, but can we now fit them into a community

Martin Ping (21:58):

That phrase it, it could go on, on a door, you know, about being naive and entering in a way of not knowing. I think another word that would fit the bill for me and knowing John and Nancy is humility. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> as opposed to hubris because PhD super smart individual who had the humility to just enter in kind of observing and paying attention. And, and not assuming I know what I'm doing, and I'm going to imply my will on onto this situation. I'm going to listen and see what the situation is calling for and see if I can then be a participant. And I've seen the results of John's work in multiple countries around the world, including right here in Hudson Valley, in, in a couple of iterations. And he's maintained that humility all the way through to a point where probably some of our, you know, good capitalist friends would be critical of him for not cashing in more on his achievements.

Greg Watson (22:59):

Well, I think you're, you're absolutely right. No, you're absolutely right there. And they might also be critical. Could you, you also said something was very important here, listening, humility, but also just honesty. We don't have all the answers and we're we wanna listen and we wanna watch, we wanna observe and we need to be willing to I'll use the term fail. Maybe it's not going to work, but in, in the whole scheme of things in the systems sort of approach to thinking you, in many cases, you learn a lot more from failure and you do some of the successes, cause the successes basically reaffirm some of your assumptions and the failures make you reexamine and maybe improve your model, right. To say, okay, oh, here's a, there's a gap. <Laugh>. And rather than try to bluff my way through, let me accept the fact that maybe my thinking is not as sound. And so what do I need to do? What what's the missing piece? I think that iterative process and that humility and that listening is not just listening to other people, but I think John and Bill and Nancy, but also listening to the earth, right. Among other things and hearing what kind of feedback you're getting there as well, or from nature

Martin Ping (24:03):

We first met while you were at Dudley street initiative. Does that sound?

Greg Watson (24:08):

Yeah, I think you're yes.

Martin Ping (24:09):

Possible. We were, we were at a workshop together at Schumacher and actually you came here to Hawthorne Valley for a tour.

Greg Watson (24:16):

I for now that I actually had forgotten, no, you're right.

Martin Ping (24:19):

You left such an made such an impression on me that I, I won't forget it. And and it was a really positive and lasting impression. And I just remember also being so intrigued by a Dudley Street, everything about it, including it was one of the first, I believe one of the first urban gardens in, in the country where,

Greg Watson (24:41):

Well, I would say I, my nuance there, it was one of the first attempts at urban farming, sort of we're saying we're, you know, farming, the gardens were there, but this was an attempt to say, let's talk about urban agriculture and get it, you know, and, and the whole farming piece. And I was there for four years as, as director. And I didn't say it at the time, but cause I couldn't afford to, but I should have paid them for the four years. I mean, it, it was, it was like a postgraduate degree in communities and just life, to be honest with you, I mean, it was the most just enlightening experience that I've ever had to be able to work with this community, that defied conventional wisdom and how you go about developing and revitalizing a neighborhood and to the credit of many people, potentially funders and all that supported them and provided sort of the opportunity for this self-organizing neighborhood for them to pull themselves out of the literal ashes that were created when things got so bad and arson for profit, you know, when, when the community held up urban, the urban renewal projects that the city had on the books, they were ready to come in and rebuild.

Greg Watson (25:58):

They said, you know, the community is beyond repair so we've gotta come in with our plan and the neighborhood, particularly by one woman in the beginning, she imagine, but stood up to them when the city agreed that, okay, we need to rethink this and halt the slum Lords and the folks who were there, sitting on the property, waiting to reap the profits, right? When the city decided we're gonna build marinas and subdivisions, and then they said, we're gonna just sit on the land. And when the city's ready to go, we're gonna cash in. They panic. And in an attempt to minimize their losses, they torch the buildings to collect insurance. And literally the neighborhood was burned to the ground. I mean, you could stand in the middle, do a 360 and not see in much of anything standing. And the community convinced the powers that be, give us a chance to rebuild the approach to the Dudley Street Neighborhood initiative and planning was we don't need experts to help us dream.

Greg Watson (27:01):

We can dream and, and visualize how we want our community to develop, but we do need experts to help us realize the dream, right? So once we come up with a dream, we need help. We need lawyers, we need architects, we need these folks. And one of the lawyers said to them, you need the land go to the city of Boston and asked for the power of eminent domain over all abandoned, vacant land in your neighborhood, never been done by any grassroots community organization. As a matter of fact, many people in the neighborhood were nervous about accepting that kind of power. They said, well, this is, this is what the developers come in and, and run people out of a neighborhood with, with this power of eminent domain, what makes you think we can, we can do this wisely. And they set up a governance structure, elected board, 30 member.

Greg Watson (27:47):

I was there for four years. 30 member board of directors met the first Wednesday of every month. And in the four years that I was there, there was never a question of a quorum because when they got that power of eminent domain, but then decided let's turn this land into a community land trust, and they got control over a lot of land. It was an educational process. One of the most important lessons to say as a community, we're not out to maximize the profit or on resell of our homes. We, we, we liked, we want this cuz this is our source of wealth, but we wanna cap it in a way that allows people to remain here. So they collectively made what I think most people would consider a sacrifice, right? This was their wealth building opportunity, but they said we are going to use the community land trust to at least make sure that we give everybody an opportunity who wants to live here. That's been a part of this to stay here. And so that to me, we talk about a lesson and you talk about how they use systems thinking. And by the way, we went to Jay Forrester, who was the father of systems thinking at MIT. And he met with us with the, with our community group. We said, how do we do this? Can you help us figure out how do we avoid this conundrum or this, this dead end? So it was, it was, I say a life's lesson for me. Unbelievable.

Martin Ping (29:09):

<Laugh> well, it's a pattern that certainly needs to replicate now because the challenges of, of displacement and, and what's happening, you know, right around here in, in Columbia County, New York with real estate. And I know it's, it's, it's happening everywhere is, is one that needs to learn from, you know, new, new lessons and new patterns.

Greg Watson (29:30):

Yeah. Especially since speculators now are going out and buying up single family homes. Right. Yeah. And that's sort of the latest thing that's going on and then just either renting them. Right. Or, yeah, but it's yeah. It's, it's the, and that's what I kind of mean. I do say that as people change and come up with new solutions and really workable solutions, there's gonna be a reaction <laugh> right. How do we counter that from in, and I'm talking from the pure perspective of maximizing greed <laugh> or, or, or addressing greed, cuz that's the only way I, I can, can look at that. 

Martin Ping (30:08):

I, I agree. And, and you said, you know, this was their source of wealth and yet they chose to cap it and it was a sacrifice and one can definitely see that. And I wonder what people sacrificed when they are only definition of wealth is having more financial wealth and, and they lose out on all of the other forms of wealth that could nourish us as living human beings.

Greg Watson (30:31):

In the midst of all this, we were able to get a grant from the, the state. It was an environmental penalty grant, right? The oil companies for spilling oil had to pay a penalty that went into a pot. And then that was redistributed to community groups that were looking to do in most cases sort of a restoration of an, of a piece of land that was damaged by oil Dudley street on Brook avenue had an old commercial garage that had been closed down that had leaked a bunch of oil into the, into the ground. And when we got, I wonder it was about a million million and a half dollars to at least start the process of what we could do to redevelop that site. We realized it couldn't be agriculture land because of the oil, but we wound up building a 10,000 square foot greenhouse and it thrives now.

Greg Watson (31:23):

And it is it's just become sort of a, you know, a place that solidified the identity of Dudley Street. What their model was in redevelopment was we're creating an urban village, but that greenhouse now farmer's markets. And now they're about almost maybe I think an acre, an actual outdoor agriculture production and lots around the community. And I'm just sort of bringing it up to say that agriculture has become sort of an integral part of their development at both economic and beyond economic development piece. So they're, they're a model in many cases for a lot of things, including housing and land management self-governance and urban agriculture among others.

Martin Ping (32:11):

That's so, so heartening to, to hear and, and nice to catch up on because I remember being smitten by the whole story when I first met you. And of course other people were paying attention because you went on to become the secretary of agriculture or commission of agriculture for the state

Greg Watson (32:28):

I always get rib by that. When I other secretary, the secretaries of agriculture in Texas and, and California would look at me and say, we got elected, you got appointed <laugh> I okay. You're right.

Martin Ping (32:41):

Well, it's you were appointed by I believe three administrations, including two, two democratic and one Republican correct?

Greg Watson (32:50):

I was appointed by Mike Dukakis. Yeah. And just as he appointed me and I was finishing out the term of my dear friend, a parted friend, Gus Schumacher. I don't know if you ever got a chance to meet Gus, but anyway, Gus Schumacher had to leave and return to his job at the world bank. I said, oh, so I'm coming in. And so Mike Dukakis appointed me. And he said, I can't believe I'm appointing this black kid from Cleveland, Ohio. Who's working at the New Alchemy Institute to become commissioner of agriculture. And when he's he offered it, I said, well, I gotta make a few calls before I can even accept it. I wanted to call, I called Fred Winthrop as a former commissioner of agriculture that I worked with in organizing farmer's markets of a while back in and the few other people. But the last call I made was to the director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau.

Greg Watson (33:38):

And I said, I, I gotta do this because I think I just, I don't know that they're gonna, how they're gonna feel about this because you know, it's a tight, you know, agriculture, tight community and Gordon Price. I'll never forget got on the phone. We talked, we talked and he said you know what you've been at this place, new alchemy Institute, you did a lot of work with the cranberry growers on the integrated pest management. And he said, you know, that was important. He goes, we know we've gotta start reconciling our activities with the environmental community. And we don't know how to do that. And you've been involved with the farmer's markets and gardening, and now New Alchemy. So you understand agriculture, you understand the environment, so I'm gonna support you. You, you gotta help us. And so, I mean, to me, that was like, I, I was floored, right.

Greg Watson (34:25):

That they were realizing that they had to better understand. Then he, his final word to me was just explain one thing to me, Greg. He says sustainable, is that necessarily organic? And I said, Gordon, let me just say this. If, if we could, if, if we could work with the farmers and the universities and we could demonstrate in a controlled way so that you, that how much of those chemical pesticides that are okay, you know, you're admit harmful to the environment, but also costly. Start cutting back without threatening or compromising the yields of farmers. Would you be willing to? You said, yeah, we all, we're all for that. If we could cut our costs and also do that without jeopardizing our yields, that's how we, you gotta do it. We need to work with the universities who can demonstrate, right? How much do you kind of, can you wean yourself? You know? And then maybe you get to zero, but maybe you get somewhere in between, but let's use that as, as an overall approach. And he was on board.

Martin Ping (35:28):

Amazing. And, and then you stayed on when Bill Weld became governor?

Greg Watson (35:33):

Or I, I, I stayed on and it was because of the Massachusetts dairy farmers, Gordon Price, the director of the farm bureau said, I'm gonna put you on the circuit of every regional farm bureau meeting, being the key, not he said, just tell 'em what you would do. I will let you make your pitch to them for if you wanna stay on why you just stay on. So I did that. And then after that dairy farmers approached me and they asked if I, if I would meet with them, they explained to me their predicament with price, they were going outta business. It was impossible. They were sort of strapped to this federal milk marketing order where the feds determined how much milk price you can price your milk based on had nothing to do with the cost of, of production. In Massachusetts. I basically went out to meet with them, sat around the table.

Greg Watson (36:25):

The first question they asked me was that, so commissioner, what do you know about dairy? And I looked at all of them and in two seconds I said nothing. And they, then there was this silence. And then all of a sudden Gordy cook, smile, big grand. He goes great. Will you listen to us? We, we are in trouble. We have some, I, we actually have some ideas that we think could help, but we need the support of, of the commissioner. Would you listen? Listen, we kind of, you know, they actually had a very good idea. We tried to put it in place. It survived in Massachusetts. Believe it or not. It was challenged by the milk dealers. We all the way to the us Supreme court and we lost, they were disappointed, but they also realized, wait a minute, we organized, we, we, we had a voice that got us all the way to the Supreme court.

Greg Watson (37:10):

People listened to what we were doing. That was one of those important lessons about organizing, networking, coming, sort of this full circle dairy farmers are I consider among the hardest working people I've ever seen in my life. Right. You know, college gotta be milked and you can say whatever you want to about milk, whatever, but they gotta do this. And they're sort of isolated, right? I mean, they do. They work hard. And even John Gerber, University of Massachusetts said they don't usually come together and and organize, but they did. And I think that was a powerful one of the most powerful lessons, even though we sort of lost the war, I think there were the, the battle and the, and, and the accomplishment of, of, of that synergy of organizing really came through

Martin Ping (37:52):

You and I had, or I would say I had the good fortune of being on a learning journey with you to Cuba in 2014, to look at agro ecological systems in Cuba. And after that, you formed a Cuba, US agro ecology network. And how is what are the lessons you think we can learn from what we observed in Cuba,

Greg Watson (38:19):

The loss of a source of petroleum for all things right, that, that left this, this country sort of in a, in a predicament, but particularly their agriculture and that they were, you know, going through as you know, that stage where people, what, what losing 15, 20 pounds, right? Because they just weren't eating. And the charge was find a way for us to feed our people without chemicals, this initiative, not driven by ideology, not driven by protesting something, but out of necessity, life and death. So what are our options I observed, I think you observed the comprehensiveness of how they went about doing it. I mean, all the things that we were doing, sort of maybe this organization was doing permaculture, you're doing aquaculture. You're New Alchemy, did a bunch of it together, but not didn't put it all together. Right. And not just all together, but all together in a, in a life <laugh> and death situation.

Greg Watson (39:14):

And that was the result. It was agro ecology out of that necessity came sort of a advocacy. You know, there were, there were people who went back to chemicals, if they could, you know, they were, they were always the outliers, but for the most part, it was sort of the advocacy as a result of practice, they understood this works and it's healthy. And they became, as a matter of fact, it, one of the years now, I forget what org, I think it was a World Wildlife Fund declared that Cuba was probably one of the only sustainable economies you know, in the, in the world. And they weren't, you know, and that's not to say there was room for all sorts of improvements as you and I, you know, and people were concerned about the nature of the overall economy, but I also sensed, and this may just be me.

Greg Watson (40:09):

And so it was Travis as well. We talked about a lot, but there was sort of a sense of solidarity. I mean, you could kind of feel it, that was palpable, that, that we're in this. And we would love to be able to come out of this, but there was a sense of let's come out of this together. So there were just all those lessons for me that were incredible and to be able to experience that with my son you know, as the, you know, I mean, Travis on the trip, that was amazing

Martin Ping (40:37):

And it speaks to healthy systems and, and the fact that relationships and, and networks are so fundamental to healthy systems and, and you have been so influential and instrumental in so many future bearing and life nourishing initiatives. And I'm just curious you've given so much to that, and I think there has to be some reciprocity, hopefully. What, what, what has nourished you out of all or how have these relationships nourished you?

Greg Watson (41:11):

Yeah, it's a good question. I, I would say that it's it. They have made me realize that basically even more than an organizer what I am is a lifelong student and it, how little I really knew and understood about things. I mean, it's one thing to sort of read about and see a Dudley Street neighborhood initiative. They were here and then they were here. But most of my experiences I've sort of had to be in the, in between. And one of the things, for instance, at the Dudley Street neighborhood residents said to me, was at, at a, at the premiere of a film called Holding Ground that was, that was aired in their community, really wonderful documentary, but they came out, many of them were crying and they said, most people don't know how hard it was. It was really hard. And, and that was sort of one of the, that, and probably same thing with the dairy farmers is that, they really were struggling and the community was struggling, but they had a vision.

Greg Watson (42:15):

And I think that was a part that, that that's important. They were here, but they had a vision of how to bring themselves out of it. And they were willing to commit themselves working together to realize that. And I think that was whether it was a, the dairy farmers of Boston Urban Gardeners, Dudley Street. One of the keys that I learned about organizing was, is there a shared vision? And if not, how do you create a, how do you bring about that? What's the process. And we kind of liked one of the things we worked on a process that once again, we don't need the experts, but we're also, as you kind of mentioned before, we're also in disagreement amongst our, among ourselves. So is there a way for us to sort of, sort of sift through that and to have a shared vision emerge.

Greg Watson (43:04):

And that is sort of like what attracted me to the World Game Workshop. My colleague, Elizabeth Thompson and myself are sort of were given the opportunity to steward <laugh> I guess the word I have to use the, the workshop, which Bucky created as a response to war games, it was a direct response to war games, where he said, military strategists have a perspective of the entire world. They've got information, data, data on trends, data on technology, data on resources. And they use that comprehensive inventory of resources to figure out how to kill each other. And his idea was, wait, wait, what if, because it's important. He looked at the whole earth, there are a number of things that he observed the 92 regenerative elements that is nature's minimum inventory, maximum diversity, toolkit everything in the world, everything in the universe, right? That you can, that you can feel that you can smell, that you can touch, that you can see is made from some one or combination of those elements.

Greg Watson (44:14):

That's pretty amazing. The periodic table is it. That's what we have to work with. But then he said, but if you look at the earth, those elements of minerals are unevenly distributed around the world. And so, as we know, he says, and so when you think about wars, wars usually come about because diamonds, gold, silver oil, natural gas, this is where the resources that we all need to, to build our economies and to create prosperity. But you've got that and I don't have it, and I'm going to take it from you. Oh. Or, or what's what's happening now is you can see how that's progressed. And even now it's a, it's an issue with renewable energy, right? Because it's one thing to talk about having the wind and solar resources enough to power the entire world with renewables and clean energy. But the energy resources, only part of the story, because you've gotta convert the wind and solar into electricity.

Greg Watson (45:16):

And that takes wind turbines and solar panels. And that takes resources that takes right aluminum. It takes steel, it takes Cobalt, it takes lithium. And so we are still challenged with, can we actually do this and do it in a sustainable way? The World Game Workshop that Elizabeth and I are working on is introducing. Now some of the concepts we're talking about the need, sit down here, you are sitting down for a global grid, a globally interconnected electric grid, because that's the way that you can accommodate the intermittency of solar and wind, right? It's sunny here, but I've got the wind. And, you know, I did a lot of work with wind energy, the wind turbines, a lot of them, they mostly operate at night when the winds pick up the wind's strong, but there's no, there's no demand. And that, because it's it's night, right.

Greg Watson (46:12):

And everybody's sleep, but there's a demand over here in a different time zone. And the question is, do we now have the technical capability to transmit the electricity generated here to here without losing it? And is it economical? And we do, and this is what Bucky intuited a long time ago. It says, once we can transcend the bearing straight, we will literally be able to connect the entire world via Russia and the United States, ironically enough, right. By doing that. And, and so here is this idea that sounds like really wild, but it is one that I think is absolutely imperative. If we're going to actually create a renewable world. But what that also means borrowing from Schumacher and others is that concepts like a resource commons. The resources now can, shouldn't be owned by one. It's gotta be, this is a commons for the world.

Greg Watson (47:03):

We've gotta figure out new structures, new ways to approach this, how to generate what Bucky sort of said would be spontaneous cooperation towards a world grid is already underway. The concept is regional grid integration. So you're now finding neighboring countries to say, wait, you've got that. You've got, and they're on their own starting to build and integrate their grids. It, it is a form of spontaneous cooperation. I started exploring this and they're Europe parts of Africa, but all of central America, their grids are all interconnected with the, the only, the only country that's not part of that is Belize, but they are doing it because it makes sense. And as a result, it's also creating new forms of cooperation. Conflicts, wars are very noisy. They're very visible. People know when there's a war going on. At least most of it, right? Cooperation is quiet, it's silent.

Greg Watson (48:02):

And if you're not looking for it, you may not see it. And I think that's a missed opportunity. So one of the things that we're doing with the World Game Workshop is making the invisible cooperation visible and saying to folks we're already taking significant steps towards this creation self-organizing world grid that most people think, well, how you gonna do that? Are you starting from whole cloth? No, we are really along the way. And it's been sort of this silent revolution. So it does tie a bunch of things together. It's the, for me, it's a culmination of a lot of the work and it allows me to, to actually help perpetuate one of Bucky's I think, important legacies. And that is the World Game.

Martin Ping (48:46):

When a lot of people talk about, you know, going solar going renewable and they talk about going off grid. And I always, I, my response to that intuitively has always been, but the grid is actually such an opportunity for a, a social experiment amongst people and now amongst countries. And so I'm, I'm really happy to hear you

Greg Watson (49:06):

Well, and, and I will say this is interesting because no, and, and it's also a bit of a political geopolitical dilemma because the, the country that's taken us under their wing and really promoting the world grid is China, it's called the Global Energy Interconnection. They have they're researching it. They're looking at all the, the, the, the critical sort of technical and sort of regulatory issues that have to be addressed if you're going to, to do this in, in a big way, the last piece of this that's important is that the being off grid or microgrids, they are actually integrated into the world grid sort of structure. So you can actually, because it's sort of a modular sort of piece, your microgrid can be a part of the world grid and you can decide, well, not now, now I'd like to, and it's, it's, it's compatible with that.

Greg Watson (49:55):

And so to an extent, it is this thinking globally, acting locally, again, mm-hmm <affirmative> how do we, how do what's the integration of the global and the local and the way that is - I think the term that I, I read in New York times, globalism, as opposed to globalization, globalization is global competition. Globalism is global cooperation, and we're seeing that cooperation happening between nations and countries to achieve these goals like greenhouse gas, emissions goals that, that the Netherland says, boy, we can't do it alone. And if every country tries to go it alone, we're gonna dig up every ounce of lithium, cobalt. We're gonna dig up the world if every country tries to meet that, if we pull together and on a global scale, understand how to do more with less, we can achieve the goals, but otherwise we're gonna find ourselves fighting over, who controls the lithium, the cobalt, the aluminum, the steel, right? These things. These are hard things. I mean, there, I mean, I'm, I'm gonna say there's hardware that has to happen to make this all work.

Martin Ping (51:07):

Well, I am so grateful for the insight and the hope giving work that you're doing and the commitment towards realizing a, a truly just and sustainable world. And I'm just so glad I know you and I look forward to our paths crossing in person soon.

Greg Watson (51:33):

Hopefully we're gonna do that. We're gonna do that real soon. Yeah. And I agree. I, I don't believe in coincidences and I have to say, you know, Place Corps, all these things that you're involved with, that just, they're just all part of this, which what we've gotta do now is make these things seamless. Right? I mean, you, you see it. I mean, you know, John and Nancy and Bill and these folks, so I am optimistic and you know, I, I will say that op the, you know, I hate to keep going, but, but he, he influenced my life. But Bucky, he said, optimism is knowing that you have choices. We do have options. We can do this, but it means it will take courage, right. To stand up and say, here's what you're, because the first thing you're gonna hear, you're crazy. No way we're gonna build a world grid.

Greg Watson (52:21):

It's not gonna, what about security? They'll find every reason to say why it can't work and yep. Yep. You're right. And I'm, I'm loving that. Tell me all the reasons it can't work, because we need to hear that. <Laugh> because we need to make sure that those things are addressed. Right. So it's an exciting time. And I appreciate your commitment to this. My commitment still is driven primarily four grandkids. <Laugh> I mean, that is my, that's my mantra. You got two, yeah. Three, three. All right. See here. Okay. You got one more to catch up, but it's an important, and I think we're blessed to be able to do - well - We're blessed to be able to do it, but, but then again, we chose we've chosen to do it, right? So I think that's a big, that's a big deal.

Martin Ping (53:03):

Thank you for bringing courage into it. The heart mm-hmm <affirmative>, which, which your heart forces are, are really a gift to the world. Greg. Thank you so much.

Greg Watson (53:15):

Thank you. Looking forward to many, many more conversations.

Heather Gibbons (53:25):

If you'd like to learn more about Greg's work and the Schumacher Center for a New Economics visit center for new For more information on the World Game. Workshop, visit world game,

New Speaker (53:38):

Thanks for listening to Hawthorne. Valley's Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our Hawthorne valley is a registered 5 0 1 C3 nonprofit organization. And we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. If you'd like to help us in other ways, please help spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating and review special thanks to our sponsor, Tierra Farm who makes this podcast possible? Thank you to Grammy award-winning artist, Aaron Dessner for providing our soundtrack and Aaron Ping for his editing expertise.