It is often said that the purpose of music is to drive social dialogue. Musicians then, must endeavor to put themselves at the forefront of what is commonly accepted and what isn’t, to find the inspiration and courage to try to open our minds to new ways of thinking. In true Humboldt fashion, there is a local reggae band trying to do just that. His name is Travis Barter and he is the lead singer of Woven Roots. And with songs like “Chicken Coop” and “Edible Forest Garden” it should be of little surprise they are on a ranch in Willow Creek saving us from ourselves. “Living eco-gangster” is what they define as their struggle against the detrimentally conformative system we currently have for what we eat and how we produce it.
What is vermiculture?
Travis: “We have all different kinds of facets. We have the chicken coop. We’ve got vermicomposting bins with red worms. We’ve got the edible forest garden. It is a forest of perennials. We’ve got an annual garden with a perennial border. We’ve got our bees. So we have all these different facets and we integrate them so they support all the other facets.”
Travis: “The extra fruit from the fruit trees and the extra veggies from the garden feed the chickens. Then the chickens fertilize the fruit trees and the garden. The red worms compost the chicken manure, but I also feed the red worms to the chickens.”
What is the purpose of the red worms?
Travis: “The red worms make a super nutrient rich compost that’s like six times more nutrient rich than regular compost.”
You mentioned bees earlier. How do they come into play?
Travis: “The bees pollinate all of our fruits and vegetables so we can have bigger harvests, but we also get honey from the bees.”
So it’s a win win.
Travis: “So that’s what it is. You have all these facets and you integrate the facets so they support the other facets and you in the process.”
Are there any facets you would like to have that you don’t currently?
Travis: “I really want to get into poly-culture and do a little bit of fish farming. That would be really cool. You can grow your own algae with manure and feed the fish your own algae. Then you can use the fish waste to feed the garden.”
So you have a ways to go?
Travis: “It is definitely a work in progress. Someday I will have all the different facets.”
What exactly is an edible forest garden?
Travis: “That is a forest of perennial edible fruit. We are trying to mimic the forest eco-system. If you look at the forest it is always thriving and going gangbusters, but you are not doing anything to it. With a garden you are bringing in all this stuff all the time and working on it, but your garden never seems to kick down as hard as the forest. So the forest eco-system is set up with a canopy layer, a bush layer and a ground cover. Once it is established, it takes years to actually grown in, but once it’s established it kinda takes care of itself.”
What kinds of plants do you have in your edible forest garden?
Travis: “We have fruit trees, blueberries, hops, but it is not filled in yet. I just grow annuals right now in between the fruit trees. Once the soil gets nice enough I am going transition into planting perennials, bushes and then ground cover.”
I notice you have your corn planted in blocks. Is there a reason for that?
Travis: “Corn likes to get planted in blocks. You want a lot of pollen in the air to land on the cobs. This allows you to get whole cobs, otherwise you are missing kernels. It is also nice to stagger the corn planting a couple weeks apart so every two or three weeks you have another big chunk of corn.”
Travis: “All the doors open outwards so large predators can’t bust the doors in like bears or mountain lions. If you notice I got really gnarly welded wire around the chicken coop. That is for the bears. The chicken wire is for all the small ones like foxes, skunks, bobcats. There’s all kinds of things that want to eat the chickens. It is buried a foot and half deep all the way around. We haven’t lost a single chicken or duck since I built this pen. We let them out in the morning for free ranging. The free ranging cuts down on a lot of cost for food and it’s also healthier for the chickens. They eat all kinds of pests around the ranch.”
You seem to have quite an assortment of fruit trees.
Travis: “I tried to get two of each fruit tree. If you have two of them you have much larger fruiting than if you just had one. So, we have two cherries, three pears, two Asian pears, a European prune, three peaches, two nectarines, two apricots, a pluot (cross between a plum and an apricot), a coople plums, and a couple apples.”
How big a role do the bees play in the pollination?
Travis: “Without the bees they wouldn’t pollinate. There are parts of China that don’t even have bees anymore because of pesticide. They are collecting pollen and using little feather brushes to dip into the pollen and touch each blossom. A person can do maybe thirty trees in a day, but bees can do ten thousand trees for free.”
What are some of the major concepts in organic farming?
Travis: “Cover cropping and crop rotation. We do crop rotation to not deplete the soil too much. We split it into thirds. One year I will grow heavy feeders in a third of the garden. Then light feeders in another third of the garden. In the winter I will cover crop. Cover cropping is planting things just to add nutrients to the soil and the roots break up the soil. It keeps the soil structure light and fluffy. With large industrialized agriculture they want to wipe the soil clean of pests. They use synthetic fertilizers and if they have more pests they just spray pesticides on it to wipe out the pests attacking what they have. With organic agriculture you want natural predators to kill your pest like frogs, lady bugs, and praying mantises.”
You received some flack for your video for “Chicken Coop.”
Travis: “We offended a couple people. I wasn’t really trying to do that. By having me and my lady in the chicken coop with a gold pitchfork, some people were like ‘Oh what?’. We just wanted to add some humor and some sexiness to sustainable living. Not make it so boring or complainey. Like hey, this is an option. Instead of breaking it down like- industrialized chicken farming, they have genetically modified chickens in huge tunnel houses that are blacked out and they never see the light of day. They are packed tens of thousands of chickens, being fed genetically modified, synthetically fertilized, pesticide sprayed food that comes from either mid-west or South America. Then the chickens are shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. Every step of that system is destructive.
When anyone with a little bit of land could be doing what you are doing.
Travis: “Right. No matter how much land you have. Vermiculture is about using what you have to feed yourself, even in cities, rooftop gardens. I wrote a song about it. It is more than just food too. Food energy and shelter is what we need to survive. The more sustainable we can do each one of those three the better. The way that we are creating our energy and building our homes is pretty destructive.”
What do you do for power?
Travis: “We have solar panels and a small Honda generator which we run at night. We could definitely do some wind or micro hydro-electric. We have a spring. The cool thing about micro hydro is that it flows all the time, whether it is sunny or warm.”
If everyone did just a little bit of what you are doing it would make a huge difference.
Travis: “I don’t know why they don’t teach it in school. I think that ecology and vermiculture should be mandatory. If it could become trendy to be sustainable that would be great. Have gangsters rolling down the street with twenty inch rims going ‘Ah yeah I am sustainable. I’ma go get uh organic sandwich and go till in my cover crop. I’m an eco-gangster bro what’s up?!’”
Woven Roots has just released their third album “Respect All Things”. Ever busy, they are in the studio working on a fourth album “Reap What You Sow”. They will be playing Reggae On The River this summer. Woven Roots’ front man Travis once ran away from home at the age of fifteen and hid in the bottom of a truck full of garbage to get into Reggae. This year they will be playing on the same stage he looked up to all those years ago.
Sustainable living doesn’t have to be a downer or boring. Whether you live on a rooftop or in the deepest wilderness an organic garden is not only possible, but a healthier, happier, more cost-effective means of getting the food you need to live. Woven Roots is proving this to us one album, one chicken coop, and one edible forest garden at a time.