On this podcast I delve into the story of Joshua Hughes, co-founder of VerdEnergia. He has a compelling story that's not quite what you'd expect from the typical tree-hugging founder of an intentional community: he used to play semi-professional football, weighed over 300 pounds (mostly muscle), listened to Rush Limbaugh, and get this: he actually knows how cars work.
Josh uses his extensive sales and business experience to motivate people to do good, without pandering or seeming like one of those obnoxious sales guys that we all love to complain about. His passion for political activism is impressive (even endearing), but never self-aggrandizing.
This is a long podcast but there's a lot of wisdom in here for those of you who want to hear from someone who has run gauntlets in business, community organizing, and environmental activism. I hope you enjoy it.
This is the movie Josh referenced as a pre-Internet example of a "Kickstarter". It's an absolutely hilarious (and compelling) film, you can rent it for $2.99
Recorded at VerdEnergia on May 1st, 2016
Transcribed by Spenser Gabin on May 14th, 2016
Joshua Hughes of VerdEnergia
Spenser Gabin: Hey everybody, this is Notes from the Jungle with Spenser Gabin. I'm here today with Joshua Hughes who is quite a few things, but one of them is the founder of VerdEnergia, which is where I've spent the last several months. It's an intentional community in the jungle of Costa Rica. It is really about an hour drive from even a really small town, and several hours away from any kind of major city, so it's really as "off-the-grid" as you can get these days, or just about, unless you're living maybe in Eastern Siberia or something, but outside of that it's pretty far off-the-grid, and I wanted to take the time to do an interview, something a little bit longer and juicier than like a TV sound bite with Josh, because of what a remarkable person he is.
When I was first looking at these places, I came down to do a video for a permaculture course but I've decided to stay longer and I've gotten involved in some of his other projects largely because of how special a person he is. When I first was looking at these places, I had certain idea of who is involved in these kinds of things, they're hippies, they're New Age, they're woo-woo. They don't understand economics, they don't understand politics, they live with rainbows and sunshine in their head and they don't know a thing about the actual world: all of these stereotypes were dispelled by Josh and I got that when I looked at some of the media they had before I came, but also when I Skyped with him I was pleasantly surprised by how down-to-earth he was, how engaged with the world he was, as opposed to just sort, "Well, I don't want to be part of the man" and all of that.
We're going to kind of go through his history a little bit, because it's not what a lot of people would consider to be the stereotype for an expat hippie living in Costa Rica. Josh, just real quickly, has played semi-professional football, if I'm not mistaken, he used to weigh over 300 pounds and that was mostly muscle. As he put it, he "could get 3 yards." Josh grew up in junk yard with his parents, with his Dad, he [spent time] in Portland [he's from Medford, Oregon], he was into weight-lifting and had a little bit of a run-in with steroids if I'm not mistaken, these weren't things that I typically would have thought a kind of New Age woo-woo hippy would have been into. So, we're going to get into all of that, there's a lot there. This is a question that I hear on a lot of podcasts that I really like: What do you say Josh, when somebody asks what you do?
Joshua Hughes: Well I dedicated my life to changing the world about the time the Iraq War began. I didn't know it was going to be that big but--if I had to say what I do now I'd say I'm a living breathing manifestation of what I think the revolution should be. I'm here to make sure that people are thinking and observing and figuring out what's actually going on in the world, not just kind of what we want to see. My job, these days, as a community organizer, my job these days is [being] a father, someone who's responsible for the future of the planet because my child is growing up on the planet, so my daughter is born in 2003, that coincided with my awakening, coincided with the Iraq War beginning, it's the first time I really felt like I had to pay attention in my life.
So I took all the energies I had spent and all the years I had spent becoming educated in how to do sales or how to be in a business world, for a while, I threw all that away, I thought to just try and live a life of activism and change the world, but I've realized that my activism is going to come out best if I were to take all the tools that I've built up my whole life and use them better, use them all in a way that would be helping the planet instead of just taking for myself, [which is] how I was sort of taught in the business world.
So I would say I'm trying to just be a person that wants to have a legacy, a world worth passing on to my child. These days I find myself organizing my community around the changes that I see best and the leverage points that can change society. Right now, I see that leaning heavily toward food production and organizing capital and the way we save our income, and the way we save our youth, I see this all as very important, that we don't just waste what we've been doing because we don't understand the game. Economics is fun to me, and making it make sense to people on a day-to-day basis, rather than just an abstract thing that is capitalism or communism or whatever, I really am into localism, so I would say I'm a driver of everything local. At the same time, I've been trying to keep a global perspective, so I'm a community organizer that's trying to make sure that what we do adds up and duplicates into some big change. I think Obama was a community organizer right?
Spenser: Yeah, in Chicago. Calling yourself Obama?
Josh: No, I'm saying that it's funny, that I've had a lot of different projects in my life. But nowadays I'm doing so many different things that I would say the most important thing I can do right now is organize my community into action. I rarely have to reach out and even find and try and shift people that don't agree with me anymore, all we have to do is get on the field. I'm finding this a very a effective way to live a life that feels good, my community has fun when we get together and do something, we're going to dance through the revolution, we're not just here to slave away on soil. There's a lot of hidden benefits in coordinating people. Part of my job is going to festivals, that's not so bad. I don't even know how people have, "what they do" jobs anymore; there's so many things to do to have a rewarding life. When I was working a 7-5--
I didn't identify as my job either, I had a lot of things I did. Now I have a lot of things I do, I don't even have time for a job, I don't know how people do that, there's too much work to do.
Spenser: Right, let's go back a little bit then, let's start at the beginning. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What was it like? What was school like for you?
Josh: I was born in southern Oregon, in Medford, Oregon, a very "red" part of that state. You mentioned I was in Portland, but that was only my last several years in Oregon. So I grew up in a very small town, it was a logging and fishing town and my parents were involved with a family business that was a wrecking yard and auto shop, so we had my uncle's and grandparents and aunt's and everyone in the same spot working every day, which was not always fun--but I learned a lot, everyday. We grew up very poor. I mean, we had a house and making payments in what not, it was the 70's and the 80's, it wasn't quite as hard as it is now, but still we grew up as the lower-middle class working poor, didn't really have access to credit and stuff when I was a small child, so it was fun. I don't remember not enjoying it, I did a lot of camping, we were off-grid a lot in the woods, cause that's what you could do to travel when you don't have money.
Spenser: What did your mom do?
Josh: My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was about 10 or 11, and then she went to work at a call center--the biggest employer in southern, Oregon. She was working as a customer service person there.
Spenser: Brothers and sisters?
Josh: I have a younger brother, Matthew. He's an amazing musician and creative artist and all around mechanic and businessman. I love Matthew, but he's still in Medford right now, with my parents. Although they're disengaging from there now, they sold their home and they're ready to come be with me more here now. So my father's family was all in southern Oregon, my mother's was in Southern California, so I split my time a bit, spent my holidays and summers in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. so I got a different view, when I'd go spend time with my cousins down there, so I started to reject my small town culture by the time I was 10, 11, 12, and I much more latched onto the hip-hop culture. I was listening to "NWA" when I was like 10 and my mom didn't love that.
Spenser: You weren't much of a student, I understand?
Josh: No, they tried to motivate me a lot with things like sports, because I was becoming a big, strong person pretty young, and I could not sit still in class, it wasn't my thing, I enjoyed learning, but I was learning much more when I would go and build a tree house with my Dad, or go to his shop with him and help even clean an engine. I got more out of that. I could keep my attention on that, organizing big projects. I was actually very politically enagaged, socially engaged, when I was pretty young, 10, 11, 12. but it was weird, I was pulling into a young, right wing businessman, I was 12, trying to guide my parents.
So my parents were really kind of apolitical, my Dad watched a lot of his friends die or get screwed up at Vietnam, being told a lot that we'd be in Canada if there was ever a draft, so I had that in the back of my head, but it was so apolitical that I didn't really get much direction on what I should think politically. So when I was young, I latched onto the idea that we were poor and that was unacceptable, and I started being very business-minded young.
Spenser: How young are we talking?
Josh: Like 10, 11, 12, I was starting my own businesses already.
Spenser: Lemonade stands?
Josh: Yeah, from lawn mowing business to after-market car part sales. By the time I was 13 or 14, I was selling radiators and bumpers and stuff from my Dad's shop.
Spenser: You were an entrepreneur?
Josh: Yeah, I mean my Dad was, too, but he was very much doing it because he didn't have an opportunity to go to college, he didn't have those chances when he was younger. He lived and worked in mines, crushing rock in quarries when he was a kid, so my father had to just make himself, his whole family did. They were all entrepreneurs but it was without a lot of bigger money vision, it was just out of necessity. But again, back in the 70's, the 60's, your house payment was like $40 a month, so you could really be creative back then, not earn a lot of money and get by and be pretty happy. So I recognized that, things changed a lot, through the 80's and the 90's and the 2000's, where those stagnated-type income jobs, being a mechanic, being recycling, being wrecking-yard business, it never got any better. So my families kept going behind, further and further. I recognized that their entire industry was going to disappear soon, because really cheap money and brand new cars from Korea, this really did destroy that, that whole industry.
I see that kind of stuff resurging now, because the economy is changing, but my family was there at the end, the death of that kind of economy. So I watched my father do what he could to keep his family fed and together. My grandmother, he took care of her by staying there. It taught me a lot. It taught met a lot about getting greasy, I didn't want to do that anymore, I did not want to be cold in a wrecking yard anymore, pulling parts off a car when it's freezing cold, and then three months later it's 107 degrees, and inside the car is literally an oven, it's 150 degrees. I remember my last moments of pulling steering wheels off of a car where someone had just died in there a couple hours before, finding cheeseburger with teeth in it or something. These things bothered me, and I really started to kind of not like--I was being repulsed from cars, actually--I was starting to hate cars.
So that actually put me on a different trajectory--deep down, I didn't really understand what was going on, then. I couldn't keep struggling for no money. My dad would bring home a couple hundred dollars a week, when I was a teenager, it was tough. So I wanted to be the mechanism, I wanted to be the thing that could pull my family out of that. By the time I was 16, 17, 18, I'd have a full-time job at a restaurant, a Wendy's or something, and I'd be working 20-30 hours per week, so I didn't have much time for school.
Spenser: So 16, 17, 18, so we're talking 1997?
Josh: I graduated in 1995. '92, '93, '94.
Spenser: So you're just about to graduate high school, college is not on the horizon for you?
Josh: I was wrestling my senior year, and people were trying to motivate me to go to school.
Spenser: For wrestling, you were good enough?
Josh: I was good enough, but more it was the first time I had listened to a coach or a teacher and done something with school, so by being involved in wrestling they thought they could make me get better grades.
Spenser: Right, they said, "Bring it up to a ‘C’ so that we can get you into state school."
Josh: Yes, that kind of thing, or just, “Bring it up to a ‘C’ or you can't wrestle.” Immediately when I did try to participate in school, it was like a carrot and a stick they had, and I didn't like it, so I didn't even finish my senior year of sports, because I was failing classes. I failed economics my senior year, I failed personal finance, I was making $50,000 a year when I was 17, and I failed economics and personal finance.
Spenser: For people that don't know Josh, that's funny because Josh knows more about economics than any five people that I know, or at least the most of any five people that I know. So the fact that Josh was failing economics courses, it's sort of bewildering, but I think Josh is the textbook example of somebody with an intellect that just doesn't gel with the traditional classroom environment. So ok, it's 1994, 95, you're about to graduate, not going to go to college, so what are you thinking you're going to do?
Josh: I had already been working with my father, on and off over the years, in between other jobs, I could see where his shop could be a lot more than it was, so right as I was getting out of high school, I was doing a couple things, I was working in animation, my best friend in high school's dad made cartoons, high-end professional stuff: the "He-Man" and "The Simpsons" and stuff like that. I got to be involved in producing a video game for about a year, as I was transitioning out of that.
Spenser: What was your role in that?
Josh: I was scanning in, composing, painting, and then making sure all of the animation worked, and we didn't have the little color skips, we had to time it all, it was fun. We did an hour-long cartoon for a video game, I did that for about a year.
So I kind of saw myself getting away from any physical labor more and more, I was like, "Ok, I can do things that are a little more 'officey'." I did that for a year or so, and then a friend of our family's was in the oil industry, he was involved in turning oil into gasoline, he was in the refining business in Oklahoma. He had created a little piece that went in cars, in line in the fuel-line, that helped refine fuel a little more along the way, atomize it a little bit. So this product that came into my family's life at our shop that gave people 90% better emissions immediately, and gave people, if they didn't want to drive harder, it gave them more efficiency.
So for a couple years I took this as a mission, and it kind of got me excited about the environment and how business and the environment can work together, cause I'd been in this wrecking yard scene for a while, and while that was recycling things, it was really dirty, and I got sick of being dirty, I got sick of seeing the oil on the ground, and all these things around it, but I didn't really know that yet, I didn't know how deep down that was affecting me, but when we got involved in this for a couple of years out of high school, I was pushing this product through my family business, and to government agencies and to big companies, it really put me on the path of starting companies, getting going, doing roll-outs, I've been doing that a lot more. As I got older, I realized I was finding really niche markets and then pushing hard to get something done. So I did that for a few years until I moved to Portland, Oregon and changed my career path for a while.
Spenser: Portland is when you started the recycling business, when you began working with that?
Josh: Yeah, that was right after I got to Portland, that was in '99. But for those few years between when I graduated and when everybody else I knew was going to college, I was starting companies, working with my own businesses, like the emissions technology I did, with those parts. I also was doing audio installations in cars, I had competition car stereos. So for my last year or two of high school and following out of high school.
Spenser: Still in Medford?
Josh: Still in Medford, still doing those things, still trying to figure out how not just to be like everyone else in my little town, cause everybody else is hunting and driving big trucks. For a while, I didn't know what to do with my free time, I started going to the gym a lot, I took that seriously, cause I really liked athletics, I just didn't like the school, being involved in school, so I was always playing sports but never loving the angle from having my coach be my teacher thing, it didn't work. So I was more like outside of school sports, so when I got done with high school, I was lifting weights, I got up to 330 pounds plus.
Big, big strong, dude.
Spenser: 19, 20, you're 21, you're 330 pounds?
Josh: In 1996, '97, '98, right around then. I was just going to the gym, 3-4 hours a day, enjoying that culture, then doing business in the mornings, and then going and helping my Dad, I had 3 or 4 different projects going after high school that kept me very busy. I was driving all over the country, doing business, selling these auto parts, going to huge--
Spenser: Mostly doing sales?
Josh: Yeah, I was doing sales, and I was learning how to manage big deals once I got them, we were making things happen, from nothing there, and it felt good. I was always kind of starting with nothing and making something out of it--that worked for me.
As I built that up though, I realized the price of fuel was so low back then, $1.10, $1.05, people did not care about fuel-efficiency. To give someone 10% more meant nothing. Then I started working with government agencies and I found out when I could save them money, and I'd go through a year of testing with like a school district, to save their bosses a bunch of fuel, that they wouldn't do it, after it was done, because they didn't want their budget to go down--like being efficient was a bad idea for my local school district, and I did not like that at all--especially after I wasted years working with some of these agencies to make things happen, so I was really getting bitter about that--
Spenser: So just a little background--clearly people recognize that Josh is a politically-motivated person, but, Josh at the current time, is a proponent of Noam Chomsky, and you would say--I don't want to pin him as a leftist but is on that end of the spectrum, he helped promote John Kerry in '04, but my understanding is that things weren't always this way, I mean is this Rush Limbaugh [territory]?
Josh: Yeah, when I was a teenager, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh before I'd go to school--on my own. Like he had a morning show--
Spenser: Not cause your parents told you?
Josh: No, no, my parents and my grandmother on my mom's side, they told me he was a windbag fascist, and I just didn't get that, because what I heard was somebody who was telling me to run with my talents, like, "hey, this world is for you, you do it." And I didn't understand why that wasn't a good idea, I didn't understand the whole perspective of--I was in a small town, and I had traveled in my life, but it was very apolitical, we didn't talk about that stuff so much, so when I was seeing the problem in my family, how poor my family was (cash poor), I listened to people that reinforced that attitude and I was listening to right-wing talk show hosts and I was reading like the first books I ever read were not stuff they told me in school, it was rich dad poor dad, it was these things about economics and things about--
Spenser: Medford is a red area?
Josh: Very. And it was very much then, like if you had long hair in the 70's, you could get chased out of town.
One of my activist friends here Jim, he was literally chased out of a bar with a shotgun, for just having long hair in the 70's, in southern Oregon. So it wasn't really an enlightened place, politically. It was very racist, I heard racist jokes and banter all the time. I saw many race wars going on at my school, I would watch redneck cowboys just pick-on and beat up the Latinos around us, and we had a big migrant population, starting to show up in southern Oregon, because--well now I understand why, because of trade policy and a bunch of big problems. Back then, we didn't know why, we just saw jobs disappearing, those lawn-mowing jobs I had, I couldn't have anymore. So I was listening to the wrong people, telling me the causality of these problems.
Spenser: So you were doing sales in '95, '96, you were still in Medford, you're in Rush Limbaugh headspace?
Josh: Yeah, yeah, not in a social way, I had broken from that, I was not socially conservative, but I didn't understand why anything really mattered socially in the world, like on the big picture, I thought that would all work itself out, and I had a pretty good view on that stuff, probably pretty close to where I'm at now, I wouldn't judge people for being gay, I wasn't that kind of conservative.
Josh: Economics. I did not want to be paying taxes to corrupt morons that start wars like Vietnam, and I didn't understand at the time that it wasn't just the government, that it was a big, corporate problem, a huge, bigger problem than that, so I had too small a view of the problem, and I think a lot of those folks do. Their knee-jerk reaction is right--don't give money to a war mongering horse, 3,000 miles away, but, they're identifying the wrong person, I was identifying the wrong enemy. I thought my problem was anyone in government. I listened to that rhetoric, and it sinks in well, a 13, 14-year-old white male in southern Oregon, that's who Rush Limbaugh is talking to I think, because once you start to think, I don't know how you keep listening to that kind of stuff.
Spenser: Ok, so what's the kick in the ass to go to Portland?
Josh: I was too ambitious for southern Oregon.
Spenser: You kicked your own ass?
Josh: Yeah, yeah, I didn't fit in, and I was getting into trouble, I couldn't sit still, I ended up playing games that you shouldn't be playing, like going to foreign lands and coming home with pharmaceuticals and things maybe that you shouldn't do. But I was 18, 19.
Spenser: Portland and San Francisco are the two major cities kind of nearby, so why Portland?
Josh: I had never really spent any time in Portland, all of our time traveling had been going south from southern Oregon down to California where our family's were, so Portland was kind of foreign to me, and San Francisco was foreign to me, too. It was more like Sacramento, not nearly as fun, or Los Angeles, or Riverside, California, so my exposure to that fun part, the Portland scene that I'm imagining in my head right now, that was non-existent until I moved there, so I just picked up one day, the girlfriend that I had at the time, she was into it and we moved to Portland with no opportunities, no friends, moved into an apartment, we got a paper by accident the first day, and it had a "fax this" number, a resume, and it got me my job at the recycling place, so that was a total accident that I ended up being at that shredding company, recycling company, AM Document Destruction, a lucky error. I got a newspaper one day before the service canceled.
Spenser: So, you're looking through the paper and you see recycling--to me, a Rush Limbaugh follower is not going to be that jazzed about a recycling job ad, right?
Josh: No, well actually, I grew up in a place where people's garbage was not garbage. I grew up in a wrecking yard when someone would throw away a car cause it stopped running for one reason, they were frustrated with it, I recognized that 95% of that car was still valuable, and it was just going to rust away. I've always identified and been able to find value in what people don't find valuable, and recycling is just that to me, the garbage industry was ripe for renovation, it was ripe for change, and I was also very aware of the environmental problems in the world, I wasn't conservative in that way, either. So when I saw my forests get cut down around me, I was pissed. I didn't fit in in southern Oregon with that, I mean people around me had bumper stickers that said, "Save a job, eat an owl."
I did not agree with that stuff, so I was not in that end of things, when I heard those social conservative talk show hosts or those business people lecture me, I was shutting off like more than half of what they said, I had to really turn it off, like dissing on women for abortion, like I was totally not on board from any of that, so it was really just the business part that I listened to there, the "no tax me" stuff that was really kind of just the greedy, Republican in me--
Spenser: Are you hearing anything from the liberal side of things? We were talking earlier, there's not much of a progressive talk radio, certainly in 1996, there wasn't much of anything? NPR, maybe? I don't know, but you weren't listening to it.
Josh: No, but Bill Clinton was in power and there was such a media push against him, and you know, they pick on him for the wrong things, I think Bill Clinton is horrible, too, but not for the reasons they said in the '90's. I was hearing that, and that stuff works on you, whether or not you think it does. I was hating on the government for the wrong reasons, I never heard the left perspective. I lived near Ashland, Oregon, but where I grew up, 20 minutes form there, [it] just [made] fun of Ashland, for being this pinky, leftist, gay community, that's the nicest way I can say it.
Spenser: That's what it was, so that's what they called it?
Josh: It seemed that way, it had college in it, people were actually reading. Where I grew up, people didn't read anything but trade manuals and magazines.
Spenser: Right, so you weren't--of course you were literate--but you were not a person that read a lot of books at this point?
Josh: No, I hadn't read hardly anything--17, 18, 19, I would chip into these books that were very directly associated with the psychology of sales, that kind of stuff, but it was more like, using--it came from a greedy place, it didn't come from a need to want to learn new things.
Spenser: How to make the sale.
Josh: Yeah. But it didn't seem to me that way, directly, it was working that way. Psychology is much more important than the details of closing a deal, and that's what I realized in hindsight, what I was learning, was that. So I did learn a lot of good things by going to these stupid, hoorah business meetings sometimes. When I had a girlfriend, 16, 17, 18-years-old, her father was big in Amway, that was terrible, but I learned a lot, by going to these meetings, I got to see a lot about how people thought and I also got to kind of identify--I learned how to identify the bullshit of business, I heard a lot of bullshit, and I read a lot of bullshit, and I realized that maybe a lot of that stuff, a lot of the things they were teaching, it requires that, if you're involved in selling products and services that suck, that don't matter, that aren't real or necessary.
As I grew older, I learned that some of those tactics they used, some of the psychological tricks or tips, they were good if it mashes nicely into something if you really do care about it, if it's something that's good. So I've taken some of those tools, and I still use them now, but mostly at that age, I was tending to the greedy side of myself.
Spenser: Sure, the ad was for a job with recycling company but what would you be doing, sales?
Josh: Yeah, I went in and got involved in sales--it actually just said, "Sales Job", in the newspaper, it didn't say recycling, "Sales Job -- Fax this number", I did it, I went and met with them, I saw what they were doing, they were just getting involved in just shredding documents, because in 1999, we started having new laws that made companies protect information, because there was a lot of identity theft going on, so I got involved in the industry of recycling as it was spitting off a new industry of document and product destruction. So, it was a good time to get involved in that business, for someone like me who liked to start new things, I was fearless in going out and getting people to understand what it meant to use our service. We went from like a 10, 15 stops per day company, in about a year and a half, two years, we were up to 200 stops per day, picking up paper and plastics from offices all around Portland, Oregon, southern Washington. So I helped develop this small company into something more focused. Before I got there, my boss was very much just a “golf with friends that had other businesses, and keep these bigger accounts through relationships,” but they hadn't really done a push yet in sales. So, that was my first time in the big city, and it was their first time getting involved in sales. I think we talked about golf more in my first interview than anything else.
Spenser: So you weren't a sales peon, you're the sales manager?
Josh: I had to learn the ropes for a few months, and then there was a guy there who had been doing account management for a while, but not really sales, he was great at what he did, but he had a lot to do already. They brought someone on who could spend their time, spend a year investing and maybe getting no business but getting us out there. So I brought us to the public, we were kind of just a behind-the-scenes, commercial recycler at that point. Yeah, I would walk through the "no soliciting" sign door and knock on it, in a high-rise, until I made our name known.
Spenser: Right, and you're knocking off other shredding companies right?
Josh: Right, as it grew, it grew quickly. There were no shredding companies really then, it was just beginning, so I had a few competitors, but it was no competition, because everyone that was starting to sign up, then there's so much business that it didn't feel like competition at that point yet. By two years later, after 9/11, all of the sudden it was crazy, because security became word of the day.
Spenser: So, a couple years we're doing the shredding in Portland, two years or so, and you're starting to get more politically--
Josh: No, no, I actually started to kind of have my college years then, because I moved to a big city, didn't know anyone.
Spenser: So party [time]?
Josh: And I was making $70,000-$80,000 a year pretty fast.
Spenser: Back then, which was nice, nice money.
Josh: Yeah, I was living in a high-rise, sports car paid for by my company, I golfed three or four days a week, I had to have--I couldn't hear--I still couldn't hear the leftist talk and stuff, or it would've destroyed my job. I spent my time on a golf course, you can't talk about anti-war stuff. Well there was no war yet, we weren't at war.
Spenser: So post-9/11 we're talking?
Josh: Even then, it was like a year before we were engaged in a real way, so like at that moment it was confusing and scary, but I didn't know anymore than most people about why. I started to have friends in Portland, that, as 9/11 unfolded and that culture started to come on, a few a months later people started talking, people that knew there was something wrong and it was bigger than what George Bush was saying, so I started to hear people. 9/11 upset me so deeply, I sat in my high-rise tower watching those towers fall like 1,000 times and I almost joined the Marines.
Spenser: So you are in Portland, which you know, the last time I checked, is leftyville, I don't know if it was in 2001--
Josh: Totally was, but at the time that it had the most bike access of any major city, bicycle-friendly city, it had the most SUV's per capita, too. Portland is Oregon still.
Spenser: It's polarized?
Josh: Very, very much. Now inside the city limits, if you look at the presidential election or something, it may appear very left, but---
Spenser: Kerry won by 20 points?
Josh: More. He got like 75% of the vote or something, like for real. But you go two seconds out of Portland's city limits and you're in a place like Hillsboro, place like Wilsonville, these areas that are very, very Oregon, not Portland. and at least where I lived and what I heard is that they despised Portland and the culture--you can be there and not be exposed to that--I was going out and enjoying it, but at that time, there was really a boom. There was a "Dot com" boom, Hillsboro--
Spenser: Late '90's, early 2000's.
Josh: Yeah, we were in the "Silicon Forest" up there.
Spenser: That's what they called it?
Josh: Intel, and HP, and a lot of huge companies there, a ton of tech around them, support tech kind of people. There was so much money being thrown around at the young, just out of college, "drivers", people that would just do a job without asking why. I don't recall anyone in my circles caring about anything except making money and having a comfortable life. And the housing boom was really beginning then, too. People weren't in pain enough to talk about things yet, I didn't find it. I did have one person in my office, a man named Austin, and he was hearing me talk this stupid shit and he was hearing me say things that I would hear on talk radio or wherever, and he would tell me that I should read a book. And one day, he had enough and I remember him telling me a lot of new things, it was a conversation about climate change, where I'd just been parroting--
Josh: Limbaugh, a little bit, about climate change not even being real or man-made. I can't believe I say that about myself.
Spenser: So is Austin, is he a big lever?
Spenser: So no Austin, we might have a different Josh?
Josh: Yep, because he was such a well read, intelligent person about this, he wasn't just screaming, "What about the children?", which is what I was hearing from all leftists--what the media lets you see.
Spenser: Of course.
Josh: You don't see Chomsky on the nightly news.
Spenser: Nope, he isn't on there, I checked.
Josh: Even though he's probably the most quoted intellectual in history, he's not on television.
Spenser: America hates intellectuals, we hate them.
Josh: At least the television does.
Josh: I was exposed to some books and stuff then, all of the sudden. Austin was trying to make me read, and then I met my ex-wife Emily, her family was a really strong, liberal, leftist union family, and her uncle was a very strong activist from Vietnam on, and he wouldn't back off on me. The second we met, he realized that I either had to change or get the hell out of their family, so to hangout with Emily--
Spenser: So you have Austin, then you have social pressure from your girlfriend. So this is the vortex kind of drawing you...got it.
Josh: And 9/11 was so painful to me, cause I'm a person that defends people. My dad taught me to be an anti-bully, so I spent the last part of my high school years beating up bullies and twisting on people that hurt little kids.
Spenser: I bet all the nerds loved you. That's a good person to have on your side.
Josh: Yeah, I had a younger brother and he had a mouth, a fast-tongue, so I had to keep him--I felt like I had to keep protecting my brother and his friends, who were a lot of my closest friends, cause I was such a kind of a dorky business dude myself, that I didn't hang out with my social--I didn't hang out with people in my class normally.
Spenser: You could've been a jock with all the women though.
Josh: I hated that though.
Spenser: You hated that?
Josh: I hated that. I couldn't see how someone could stand there and let somebody scream in their face, like a coach or something. I could go out on any Saturday or Sunday and play football, pickup games, or basketball with anyone at our school and crush them, but I could not be yelled at, and my friend through high school, my best friend Kai, he was such a strong and physical guy, like he was so good at sports, but he couldn't [deal with that] either. So he brought me into wrestling, which was like a more personalized sport.
Spenser: When was the semi-professional football?
Josh: After high school, when I was really big and working out, everybody around me just said, "You have to do this."
Spenser: In Medford?
Josh: Yeah, and my friend Chad was on a team, and he was playing tight-end or something, he started bringing me to his practices and he made me get involved with his team. So I ended up playing with them, and it wasn't that long, it was just half a season of fun. But I couldn't take that either, I didn't want to travel around and be an athlete that was not my thing.
Spenser: I mean, are we talking, there are guys on this team that have a shot at the pros?
Josh: Eventually, if you wanted to, from those leagues you could go do the Combines or something, and I thought I could, and as I got to Portland I was even getting bigger and strong and I started hanging out with more people that were involved in football, more like ex-college, high-end college athletes. They were trying to pull me into playing again, cause I was only 23, 24, and I was...I was coming into my strength, even still, cause I was working out so hard, just because I was bored.
Spenser: You were the goal-line fullback?
Josh: Yeah. More than games, it was like, I really enjoyed playing and practicing and being fit. I loved playing football, I did not like the idea of being a football player. I love playing basketball, I played basketball four or five nights a week, that was probably my favorite game, but I couldn't imagine being on a team, and going out and being an athlete, that's not me. I never got hurt, that was good. I really did focus more on wrestling, and later on mixed-martial arts, because again, you didn't have to have some coach yelling at you, you could have a support staff. I gravitated more towards that.
Spenser: And what about the social aspect? I played on a high school hockey team, and I didn't fit in perfectly there. I don't know how...generally speaking, I find that those circles aren't that interested in having complex discussions about meaningful stuff, it's mostly babes and booze.
Josh: Yeah, I didn't get along with that at all, and in high school I had one girlfriend for three years, and I proposed to her at prom even.
Spenser: You proposed to your girlfriend at high school prom?
Spenser: What did she say?
Josh: She said yes, and then luckily, we said no about a year later.
She wanted to join the military. Again, I may look back at myself and talk about myself as kind of right-wingy person, there was no way I was going to go fight in a war for them, or any of that, so I wouldn't follow orders. I was never good at following orders.
Spenser: Got it.
Josh: So yeah, sports were out for me young, it was much more just an individual thing, I had the type of body that could be strong and I was a big guy, so I don't know, I was motivated to go to the gym, and I also--I liked to do whatever I wanted. So if I want to be able to eat cheesecake three times a day, when I was 19, I'd better go to the gym, for three hours of this, so I was--go as far as you want in anything you want to do, that's where I was. I felt like no limits when I was a young white man in southern Oregon and moving to Portland. That's kind of true, actually, if you choose not to care about anything.
Spenser: So going back to Portland, 2003, we're going into Afghanistan, you have a serious girlfriend.
Josh: In 2002 I met Emily, Yemaya, I'll refer to her as Yemaya.
Spenser: She's pulling you into the lefty closet.
Josh: She almost through me out of the car, she pulled over on the freeway to throw me out of the car when I said George Bush wasn't so bad. We had been in love for a few months and not talked about that stuff, and she could see the American flags on my wall and shit, and it was bothering her I'm sure, but we were in love, so it wasn't a big part of the conversation yet. One day, going to visit her family for the first time, George Bush's voice comes on the radio, and she's like reacting as I think most people should, like screaming at the radio, wanting to arrest the man, and I just said something like, "he's not so bad." Her pulling over, her reaction, so visceral, like from love to like hating me in a moment, I could tell.
Spenser: Knowing Josh now, I think you might be the most politically motivated person I've ever met, and the fact that you had a love affair that went a few months without politics coming up--man we're talking about a different person.
Josh: Yeah, I really did think that just the way you lived and what you did with your money could make you a good person, and you could affect the world, and I'm actually back to that a lot, I went through a moment of really macro thinking on this, and I'm coming back to a lot of that.
But with actually understanding and being there is different than not understanding. I didn't understand, and nobody around me talked about it. The only stuff I heard was during the Clinton years was this hardcore pull to the right, I was hanging around militia people. My girlfriend in high school, the one I proposed to, her father was in Amway and he was like a militia guy--well armed, and “Waco”. They talked about Waco all the time. So I thought I was hearing contrary stuff, I thought I was, but I wasn't, I was hearing a story that helped build the culture I don't like now, but I grew up in the right-wing anti-America, so I thought I kind of was dialed. I thought I a had a good enough understanding, and when I turned on Yahoo each day to check my mail, I didn't know, I didn't know that the media was what it was, I didn't know about media being owned by the same people that build bombs, and I didn't understand that stuff, I thought, if it was going wrong that bad, if there was a ton of real corruption, it would on Yahoo front page, it would be on NBC, why would they miss it, so I really just kind of trusted--I had a trust in that--and because they kind of do this anti-government tone, especially during the '90's, it was all about Clinton's blowjobs and "da da da". It sounds like the media is critical, so I thought they doing their job.
Josh: Yeah, it's faux-critical. So I thought I knew stuff, so when she through me out of the car, it was like, "Wait a minute, I'll do something, let me see why you know so much, why you know different things than me."
Spenser: So she's really the strongest lever that's pulling you this way. Then we have the 2004 Presidential Election.
Josh: Yeah, well it didn't just pull me, I realized how ignorant I was, and I hated that, it didn't take someone like telling me a piece of information that made me care, it took someone saying, just showing me that they knew a whole bunch of stuff that I didn't, and I was frustrated about that, cause I figured--people who are already that way, my family, Yemaya's family, they were angry about the system but they were still working and they were still pushing through life 40 years later after Vietnam, they were still pissed off about it. So when I learned it, I felt so ripped off that I'd been lied to so much, about history, about America's place in history, like a pendulum, I started swinging hard the other way, and I couldn't take a passive resistance, I immediately got hyper-active, I immediately started demanding my friends and family not be ignorant.
Spenser: It's 2003?
Josh: 2002. And as the Iraq War began, well, that's when--well Yemaya was pregnant right then, and my daughter Kaileah was about to be born in June, and the Iraq War started in March of '03? So like right then, it became real that our world is engaging in--now, it's not just politics or debating or arguing, there are people dying, there are massive bombs falling, and my daughter is about to be born into this. At that time, I still could've been convinced that a bus would blow up in Portland at any moment cause some terrorist--I needed to get a grip on what to really react to, what to be afraid of, and what not to be afraid of. I didn't want to bring my kid up in irrational fear, in a world full of irrational fear. It all came at once, it was like a fast head that it came to, and I couldn't imagine telling my daughter, "I saw this stuff happening and I didn't know what to do, so I just did nothing. I had to do something, and my personality--it's my same personality, applied to this.
Spenser: And you're still doing sales at the recycling thing?
Josh: Yeah, and at that point, I mean "recycling" is what's kind of happening in the background, what I was doing then was kind of wildly different from what I'd started when I was just selling service door-to-door to get us some business. I started building a collective around the whole U.S., of small shredding, recycling companies, to compete now against these big behemoths that had come along, big companies that spun-off, to try and do what we were doing. So my job was changing, it was still fun. I was, at that point, able to use my idealism of small business being a part of society, instead of just big companies. So it wasn't going against my grain to do my daily work. I was showing up, helping companies shred information that would be stolen from the garbage can if they didn't do that.
I realized more later, a little bit later, I had another realization with that and I'll get to that in a minute--but I was still doing my thing to help the little guy, in my mind. I was helping a small company, it was fun, fighting big companies and winning. So, we started a collective around the whole U.S. and I got to spend a couple years building that and taking back some of the biggest, funnest businesses in the U.S. from nationwide competitors. So I was still engaged their and having fun, but I was spending a lot of my days researching things now, waiting for phone calls in the sales office, allowed me time. So I was reading a Noam Chomsky book at work, and the more I got into that, the more I started to realize I couldn't do the work I was doing anymore. I was living in the district where all the gay clubs were and it was really progressive.
Spenser: It was really in your face then?
Josh: Really in my face, and I loved it, and my friends at the time, I was making friends with people who were strippers and people who were bartenders, like a scene I'd never seen before, so it instantly started challenging me on that level, and not because I had a problem with any of that, again, I wasn't socially conservative, but I had never really been exposed to it, I had never had a transgender person in my living room before I lived in Portland, I had a lot to learn there, and it wasn't that I was judging, it's that it was so new to me. Portland humanized a lot of things for me. All of the sudden, I spent time with people that were black, people that were gay, people that were liberal, people that had mohawks, and I started to see people instead of characters.
Spenser: The prospect of a second Bush term, is that the fire under your ass to get into politics? It's all these things, but was that a major thing?
Josh: Oregon Country Fair, 2002. I went with Yemaya, we had been talking a lot and it was right before that that I had met her uncle and I'd been reading, but still, I had to kind of be in denial because I was making $100,000 a year at that time, I didn't want to not make money.
A lot of what Chomsky was saying, I had to kind of let it sink in slow, about injustice and stuff. My own facility, I had people that were illegally paper worked, working for nothing. They get injured, they get sent back to El Salvador, instead of fixed. So I was seeing it in front me, but still it was like it was in denial. I went to Oregon Country Fair in 2002, and I think that might have been the first time I experienced psychedelics, in earnest, and I did psychedelics, and I did mushrooms and I played all night with a family from Afghanistan on our belly dancing stage there.
All of the sudden, I had a human, Afghani family in my face, I don't know, that stuff was piling on quick. That switch at Oregon Country Fair, I saw that there was a really active, passionate counter-culture, not just a, "we don't know what to do, floundering, we're angry that children are being hurt." There were people doing things, and I hadn't seen that before. So I didn't expect that, as I got involved in any anti-war actions--like in 2002, after that, I came home and went to a protest in Portland, and I watched a group of grandmothers and high school students get beaten with batons and chemicals and stuff, for nothing, for walking on the street at a farmer's market with a peace sign, and cops deciding that's over. But my perspective before it had been that protesters must be violent and they're causing this stuff, and I had never seen protests other than the television version of a protest. So when I went to that first protest and I saw bullies beating up little kids and old women--that's the first like big switch in me, where I realized that the system is crushing these people for standing here on the street with a sign.
This is about as opposite as it should be. These cops should be protecting these people, not hurting them. My eyes were opening quickly to that corruption, and I'd already seen a little bit of police corruption in my last years of southern Oregon, but I didn't understand the scope of it, I didn't understand what was going on, until I'd gone to a few protests, and this was in Portland that I thought it was a liberal place, the cops lived two minutes outside of Portland and were happy to come in and crush people there. So that was a real switch, when it got physically real for me, when I got pepper sprayed the first time, when I was in a crowd--
Spenser: That was in Portland?
Josh: Yeah, when I got rubber bullets shot at me the first time, for nothing, not for starting a riot, for nothing.
Spenser: Yeah, just being there.
Josh: Nothing, I couldn't believe it, and the "Battle for Seattle" had just happened with the World Trade Organization's protests in '99 I think, right before that, and I had been anti-protesters. I remember even seeing out of my high-rise building and being blocked up for a few minutes by like critical mass bike rides, to bring awareness to that, like naked bike riding people, and I would be all upset about that, so I had a quick shift when I went out and hit the street one time and saw how different it was from what I'd been told. Every time I got more involved in politics what I realized was what I'm being told and what's actually happening are so different, that I had to get grip on it. I can't be ignorant to things that are that important.
Spenser: But you're still doing sales, document shredding, so what finally gets you to say, "This is my last day, I'm going to do x, y, and z."
Josh: Hurricane Katrina.
Spenser: So we're talking after Kerry?
Josh: I was out of it then. Not out of it, I was losing it when John Kerry rolled over and gave that election to George Bush or whatever we want to call this--it wasn't really an election--I started to recognize that there was no hope in top-down approaches, so I really started getting much more involved in the local politics, like harder-core, getting judges installed--
Spenser: City council.
Josh: City council, I was going to every meeting that there were politicians at.
Spenser: Ok, but I thought you were doing door-to-door for Kerry?
Josh: I did that, for like six months, I did that everyday. Everyday for several hours, I pretty much stopped working my normal job and would go do that. It was really an anything but Bush movement on my part, I didn't love John Kerry.
Spenser: Of course, of course.
Josh: But I was going to make sure Bush didn't win and I was getting people registered to vote and I was going to high schools and talking to students about getting out there and getting people registered. I'd talked to dozens and dozens of high school history and political courses, because a bunch of the liberal teachers were allowed to invite me in since the school's inviting military recruiters and inviting Bush supporters in, so I became like the go-to person for the more radical democrats in southern Washington. Vancouver, Washington, Seattle, Olympia, Portland, I was going to anywhere I could to rally the troops, and spending time calling Ohio for a month everyday.
Spenser: Bush winning didn't take the wind out of the sails in terms of your spirit, just; you're not going to do national politics again?
Josh: No, it was a hurricane in my sails, because I saw that these people weren't going to count votes if they didn't want to. Like if it didn't work out the way they wanted to, no Native Americans votes would be counted in Arizona that year. Places in Ohio where we had record, amazing, double, triple numbers for registration and they put one voting machine so black people in inner-city Cleveland couldn't vote--[they'd] wait for 10 hours in the snow. When I saw that happen, I was so disillusioned by top-down approaches that I got fired up about practical, local solutions. So, that election was probably the best thing ever for me, if Kerry would've just been let in, and the same thing unfolded for four more years, as Bush, it probably would've happened. I would've maybe had a weird hope in that. It really crushed that out of me right then, and I realized it was time to do my revolution from the street up, instead of waiting. So, I got involved in biodiesel collective then, I got involved in more direct-action businesses.
Spenser: '05 is Katrina?
Josh: Yep, when Katrina happened I was already transitioning, I was ready to quit my job, I was setting up, I was going to sell the house we had bought a few years before.
Spenser: So you were still doing document shredding when Katrina happened?
Josh: Yeah but I was--and you could ask any of my co-workers or my boss at the time--I was spending 7 hours and 59 minutes a day not working, I was doing activism. I would take my nice sales car instead and go park and get flyers and go door-to-door and talk about anything I could. I would use any organization that would give me lists of peoples names and I would be like, "Yep, I’ll sign up with you because I get to go see people and talk to them.” I did politics face-to-face from that point forward, instead of trying to elect somebody. So that was big for me, and when I came home from weekend retreat at a hot springs, I was recharging my batteries, getting ready to take another step, I come home and people are all drowning in their attics in New Orleans. That's my next step--realizing that we'll sacrifice cities if we want to. That was no accident, that was no just "big storm", it was just utter incompetence mixed with uber corruption, putting people who buy and sell racehorses in control of FEMA--criminal shit. These guys should be imprisoned for that. Hurricane Katrina pushed me over the edge, I started to feel like I was losing my grip on my sanity. That people would let this happen, that my brothers and sisters would let old black women drown in their attic. I don't know how people drown in their attics, it was fucking with my head. And then my friends were coming back from Iraq, and my friends were coming back from New Orleans, having to be there at National Guard cleanup things...my rage became permanent.
And I didn't know what to do, so I started taking a lot more real, direct action, like starting and running protest actions, and living at capital buildings and locking myself to gas stations.
Spenser: Which capital buildings?
Josh: Olympia, or Salem.
Spenser: Not D.C.?
Josh: No, I never cared to go try and confront the president again, I see that as such a--
Spenser: You did that?
Josh: D.C.? No, I never went to D.C., about the time that I would've started that path, I lost complete faith in national politics, I think it all comes down to how you act locally, and that turns into something national. So for a minute, the Kerry moment, I would've kind of kept on that path, when I was working for Kerry, if that would've worked out. But I turned into state houses, and I turned into every--I don't know what you call them anymore, but when a Congressman comes and talks--town hall. I was in every town hall form Canada to Medford, Oregon, and every fair, every place where people would go, I would go and hand things out, hand out buttons. My uncle was making propaganda constantly, so he had this button thing he was into, so I was handing buttons out to everyone all the time, just trying to bring awareness. When I would go through the airport, I would have 15 buttons on just saying, "George Bush is a terrorist", "Dick Cheney did 9/11", I just had whatever I could to annoy people. So I would make everything beep, all the metal things. So I was trying like hell to get people to pay attention. At the same time, I was spending my mornings doing businesses that I thought would change things, so I started a biodiesel collective with my friends, and I disengaged from the shredding company.
Spenser: And this is when the price of oil is starting to climb a little bit.
Josh: Starting, a little bit.
Spenser: Would you say that the biodiesel business worked out? Of course it evolves, but now we're at the point where you've figured out soap is the better way to go.
Josh: I had to figure out how to--at the time, I was really doing anything I could to--I'm a fighter. I like boxing. I like wrestling. And when you see an opening, you punch, and I saw ways to take from the big system and energy is directly causing a lot of these wars, so I saw energy--learning energy, my responsibility of learning how to use properly, how to be efficient, how to find local sources of energy--that came not a survivalist mentality, but like a whole community surviving mentality. How do we actually have something that works? How do I power my car down the road, if I'm going to have a car, without needing war?
So biodiesel came out of a desire for something environmental, it was environmentally dialed. It matched with my skills, I'd come from a mechanic background, so I could actually get people to understand these things. It let me do community-organizing events--I got 15 of my friends together and built a collective with them. I had no naive view that we were going to topple the government with this or we're going to topple Exxon, but I did know that I could feel less like a hypocrite each day, if my little vehicle was driving on French fry oil.
Spenser: Ok, so vegetable oil.
Josh: Yeah, so I was collecting vegetable oil from restaurants, and we had a friend who pretty much started recycling in Portland, in the '70's, he let us use his trash company and recycling company's shop to try and give a shot at making all the fuel for his trucks. So we had a very specific goal--it was to get this company, who's already going to restaurants, and he was already picking up compost, which is unique for a city in those days. He had a compost business, so he was going to all the restaurants, so it worked out great to design another truck, it's the fun stuff that I liked about business, designing and kicking something off. So we got to build systems that collected all this waste oil that was up until that point going in the garbage.
Spenser: And you actually knew mechanics--I think generally with--at least in my mind, the stereotype is the hippie who thinks they can run their car on vegetable oil, they get on the highway where they can only go 35 MPH, the car breaks down--
Josh: It's half full of water.
Spenser: It's full of water. But you know auto mechanics.
Josh: Yeah, and I went to a clinic, and I saw a guy converting cars to vegetable oil, and I read the history of it, and I was like, "Ok, yes, this is how these motors were built actually. Diesel motors are built to run on vegetable oil, not petroleum." So this wasn't a new idea, this was a re-emergence of an old idea, and the reason we use diesel and petroleum in diesel cars--well, the name Diesel--Diesel is the inventor of that motor, it's not the fuel, they named the fuel after the motor. The reason petroleum became the fuel of choice was because it was very inexpensive for a while, and because a few monopolistic companies ran the world and still do. The local answers for fuel was actually why a lot of these motors and how they were built--Henry Ford wanted farmers to make their own fuel, with the alcohol byproduct from their own farms. So, cars were initially invented to run of local fuels, petroleum wasn't even that popular then, it hadn't been discovered all over the world, yet.
Spenser: In the early 20th century?
Josh: Yeah, right when internal combustion was first happening. I like that I was getting in line with an older, local tech, and when I first went to a clinic and converted car, it made complete sense to me, and then I immediately saw where people were screwing up, the hippies, where they wanted it so bad, they're right, they're ahead of the curve, hippies are always ahead of the curve on these things cause they care first, but they don't exactly know the technical solutions, so I was finding people not getting the water out of their system like they should. Vegetable oil is great, but not if it's dirty from a restaurant. So I got with my friends and we created a system that made that an accountable, working system. I didn't want people to put vegetable oil in their car because they heard about it on PBS, and then burn their car up and then it be a very bad thing for the community. So we created a system where we were processing tens of thousands of gallons a month and cleaning it, dewatering it, getting the acidity down, and we designed it in a way that made it make sense to the masses, but we ran into quick problems with feedstock--there's not nearly enough. Our addiction to energy in the U.S. is going to outpace almost any natural or green solution, until it's a comprehensive, community-wide, government plan. So I was trying to take just what's in the garbage and make cars run, which would work for a while, but it wouldn't make a real big impact, so we had to get into farming and creating feed stocks, so that's what lead me into where I'm at now.
Spenser: The biodiesel?
Josh: The biodiesel funneled me into paying attention to the feed stocking, whether it would be energy or fuel.
Spenser: So does that set you on Costa Rica, do you see the jatropha? Or how does that connection get made?
Josh: We were going to do a farm in Oregon, I started meeting with great farmers--
Josh: 2005, 2006, yep, from Katrina on I was disengaging on.
Spenser: So we're looking at biodiesel farms in Oregon?
Josh: Yep, and they were starting to laws to mandate--the state put a certain percentage of biofuel in each gallon, for the environment. So we were at the right place, it's a good chance to do that. What I learned over time was that the mandates and stuff were just--they make it easy for the biggest companies, not so easy for the small ones, so we were running into problems where it was costing us more to produce than we could sell it for, which is fine for Exxon, because they're getting such subsidy that nothing matters. But for me, it wouldn't work cause it was a small business, and I didn't want it to be some kind of donation-based activism.
Spenser: You wanted it to be a business.
Spenser: A profitable business.
Josh: And it worked from used oil, sort of, the numbers worked, but it wouldn't work buying it from new oil, when that new oil had a market already, so I realized I couldn't be using the grape seed oils, cause that could be inedible, and by doing biofuels, I might end up being counter to my own movement, like raising the price of food somewhere in the third world, because cars need to burn that in the U.S. now, so I didn't want externalities to be bad, I didn't want to find out I was doing bad, so we decided to look outside the country and see what we could experiment with and figure out, and I was so fed up anyway that I had to create some space, I did not need-- I couldn't be close to politicians anymore--
in the U.S., so I was happy to pioneer that and come to Costa Rica and start a farm and start experimenting, and we picked jatropha first, because we knew that would work in this climate. All my friends were recognizing that I wasn't doing well anymore up there. I was getting very angry, so I really needed to find a way to do the next stage of our process or activism, at a distance from the U.S. government. I was so upset about George Bush. I haven't been back to the U.S. since George Bush was president, I've been gone for 10 years now, so. 2006. I couldn't handle that stuff for a long time.
So my friends accepted that and I was moving away and they kept on going with a lot of that and developing the technology there, so that kept going for a couple years, especially as the price of oil went through the roof, it was becoming more interesting.
But we couldn't do what we wanted to do up there. We started to look at farms--there were a lot of restrictions about what you're allowed to do. And I didn't just want to go have a farm, I wanted to try this experiment of...
Josh: Of community, too, because I couldn't answer all of the questions just with "energy's cheaper", or "local", I was also realizing we couldn't have five refrigerators in every person's house, with three SUV's in every driveway. So I was trying to figure out a solution that answered that, so creating intentional communities--not exactly communes, I wasn't thinking that way, still I'm not--but well thought-through community where you were very efficient, sharing things a bit, sharing the big things at least. I couldn't do that though--I tried in Oregon. I couldn't get the permits to put in multi-family housing units with compost toilets.
Spenser: A fortune?
Josh: Couldn't even do it. You need a political movement already in place, just to even start those things a lot. It really did push me into leaving my home--the area that I called home. I probably could've gone to Missouri and done it, but there's a reason a lot of the intentional communities are in Tennessee and Kentucky and Missouri and stuff, their local zoning laws will let you experiment. Costa Rica is very similar, as long as you're not doing harm.
And Costa Rica doesn't have a military; I choose this part of the world for a couple reasons. I wanted to be in the heart of--I believe a lot of the future change and revolution's going to come from the Latin American countries, at least in the U.S., we're going to feel that push soon.
Josh: Cause they've been like the slave culture for our food, and energy needs for a long time, and I really connected deeply with the Latin culture through my education and politics, like learning what we've done to Latin America over the years. Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador--
Spenser: Yeah, you read Chomsky on Nicaragua?
Josh: Yeah, and I started spending time with a lot of activists that were really engaged, and a lot of people that worked for me over the years, I became good friends with, and when I changed, they were ready to talk to me. They'd been ready to talk to me the whole time, but I wasn't ready to hear it. So when I opened up and wanted to learn, it was very quickly apparent that I related with the Latino culture a lot, and half my family is actually from Tijuana. My cousins are half-Mexican, half-American.
Spenser: Dad's side?
Josh: My mom's sister married a Mexican-indigenous man, and he was my favorite uncle.
Spenser: And you and Yemaya are both looking at this or is this more of a Josh idea?
Josh: She's been engaged mentally her whole life in wanting to disconnect from that all, and she's been going to the Oregon Country Fair's and the Burning Man's for her whole life and she was ready to live it, she thought. Her family was always pushing to be off-grid, go learn something new, go build the world you want. She was into it, but she was also happy to be near our family and raise our child near our grandparents and stuff. There were some challenges there in breaking away from the U.S., but I'm the only person in our whole crew that just doesn't go back. Everybody else tends to flow back and forth, so it hasn't been as drastic for everybody, but we did move here for the first five years together, the family, without really going back much at all. And Yemaya was into that, she wanted to experiment and see what we could pull off, too, and a lot of her friends were where this came from in my life.
Spenser: Had you figured out a plot in land or just an area in mind when you were looking at Costa Rica? Where were you at when you first flew to Costa Rica, do you already think, “It's going to be near Puriscal, it's going to be in Lanas, it's going to be on the coast, it's going to be this,” or are you just kind of shooting from the hip?
Josh: I wanted to find the best climate for what we were going to do, so I knew it was going to be in Costa Rica, Costa Rica doesn't have a military, doesn't fund foreign military ventures, so this was the top country on my list. I was thinking about New Zealand at first, but that would've pulled me really far from the U.S. sphere of influence, so Costa Rica was really head and shoulders above everywhere else, because of that. They have a tight social network here, people get health care, people get education, so I started recognizing that my first trip here, that this was different. And I had never met a Costa Rican in Oregon. I had only met the poor Latino classes that had to go north to work for Americans, but that wasn't the case for most Costa Ricans--this is a country where locals--other country's [people] come to work [here].
So it was a great exposure for me to feel the culture here, I love Costa Ricans. And my first experiences were on the east coast, that was too touristy for me--
Spenser: The Carribean?
Josh: Yeah, the Caribbean. Then I came over and spent some time on the west coast, and I didn't want to be near tourism, so I knew I needed to be in a place that needed help. Puriscal identified itself as one of the areas that needed the most help. The land here wasn't speculatively valued, because nobody really moves here for having their beach resort, this is an inland, mountain, off-the-bus, cement--
Spenser: What are we, 70 miles from the beach?
Josh: As the crow flies, no, it's actually way closer than you think. But it's a couple hours of driving and busing to get there. So there's not like that quick tourist flow up here, so we came to a community that was sort of cutoff and it was really for me, personally--I really needed to go somewhere that needed a lot of physical work done, that needed someone to put their nose down and just do it, because I was so macro, so big with my politics at the time, that I was not going to get anywhere, unless I ran for president or something, nothing I was doing would matter. People around me were tired of hearing it without solutions, so I had to come up with at least a couple solid answers. So I came here, got off-grid enough that I could scream at the jungle and not offend everyone in the world.
Really, get it out for a minute, go use my energy to go chop grass, plant trees, I started seeing what happens when you just do stuff, so this place in the beginning was politics manifested for me, the chance to do that, and the chance not to just get arrested every weekend for the rest of my life. I would've ended up with a mile-long arrest record for activism. Instead of just stopping Weyerhaeuser from cutting trees I decided to start planting them. This allowed that, and getting away from people that even spoke English was good for me, cause I had to start knuckling down and start communicating the most basic things again.
Spenser: So how did you, just on a logistical level, you said that Puriscal was one of the areas that needed help, but how do you know something like that?
Josh: Well I had looked in about a dozen different spots, and I had been talking to local brokers, I tried to find people that lived there and get advice from them, and our neighbor Dominique was the guy I first met out here, I found this area on Craigslist and so when we came out here in a car, I met this neighbor Dominique and he is a warrior for the environment, he's been out here for 15, 17 years, alone in the jungle. And he's very passionate about protecting the forests, and he immediately explained to me what was going on around here, and I could tell when I came, the forests were missing. You see it as you drive in, you probably can see it right now if you go to our website, the pictures, the destruction of the mountains here from deforestation, so Dominique was like the guard at the end of this road, and he was helping locals sell their farms to environmentally-dialed people. He wouldn't let this area go to palm and to monoculture anything. So when I came here and met Dominique, it became obvious that I was in a place that needed more support, and there was a couple of warriors like him out here, doing the frontline activism, and kind of going a bit--having a lot of challenges. It's really challenging when you're maybe the only one who cares that there's poison in the water, and when your poor neighbors who need a job will poison themselves for--
Spenser: It's what they need to do.
Josh: Two dollars a day. And Dominique tried really hard for years, but he has a personality that's really strong, and he alienated himself from the neighbors. So I had to kind of help people understand his message, even though he was giving it in a way that wasn't coming across so great. But I had a really good education with him in my first year here, about this area, and its needs, and about what trees mean. I was already on that path, I knew I was going to do reforestation and it was part of my life, bringing forests back, being an environmentalist. It's a big issue, but I didn't really know, I didn't have it in my veins yet, I didn't know everything. He was a big part of me understanding this area, and then I saw Rancho Mastatal was here, and with them close, and with what they were doing, I was excited to sister up with them. They were under way for years and they were worth listening to, I knew it, and Dominique--between the extreme of Dominique fighting, literally, the loggers and the hunters, and then this other school right up the way, doing the future, creating the solutions, I saw nice way to learn all of this. And when I came to this farm and met Carlos the first day, and his wife Lady, my instinct was to go with it, immediately. Within a few seconds of being on this land, I made an offer.
Spenser: You made an offer?
Josh: To buy the land from--
Josh: From, well the guy that owned it. I thought Carlos owned it.
Josh: Actually had a long talk with Carlos, translated through Dominique, it was actually pretty funny because I was like crying and stuff and saying, "thank you, I'm going to honor your area, I'm not going to hurt your land,” and after I go through all of this--and if you meet Carlos you'll understand, he's like a stoic, serious man, I love him but--all of the sudden I'm this huge gringo crying to him, I was like 300 pounds at the time.
Josh: And then Dominique looks at me after I say it all and he says, "That's not the owner, dude."
Josh: It's like, "Ok, thanks." And we met the owner on the way out, up the street, he was happy to be coming here that day, and he was building this first space [that we're sitting in].
Spenser: And he had a price or you had an offer?
Josh: I made an offer, he didn't have a price, he wasn't really selling, we made an offer that was in line with local prices, a little more, it's ok, it had power and water already which is a huge thing, and it had road access, sort of.
But the guy may have been building this to sell it one day but he wasn't, I found a farm just down the road on Craigslist with Dominique, but as we drive by this place, it just felt right, my friend Chris told me to stop and he's like, "This is a place we should look at." Spending a day with Carlos, I felt his genuine campesino feel that I was really looking for. By the end of that day, we were at a lawyer making sure everything was good, and then it was just a few days of discussion and we decided this was our place. I brought nine guys down with me that trip, to find the land. We had already decided it was in this area.
Spenser: From Portland?
Josh: Portland, Oregon, Texas, Utah, California. We all met down here.
Spenser: You had a fleet.
Josh: And we'd already targeted this area, that's why I found this area. I had been talking to Dominique on the phone, so I knew it was going to be Puriscal. Plus Puriscal had no big businesses in it, it was like a dream of a farm-town hub.
Spenser: Chris and Dominique, were they just as on board with the whole thing as you or were they like, "Wait a second Josh..." Cause at that point, it was heavily degraded cattle ranch land that looked pretty much like hell.
Spenser: So were they a little skeptical, giving a little pushback on this or were they like "bombs away, let's do it."?
Josh: A lot of my closest friends in that circle, they had a lot of faith in me, I was doing well in life and I knew how to make things happen, so they knew they weren't going to move here and live here day one. So a lot of them trusted in that. Dominique wanted us here because he knows that more than some rich group of gringos buying some forest that's already there and just calling it "conserved" is not the only answer. You have to regenerate. And so he was very excited to get me out here because he knows that we need this area and these injections of capital, needs energy put into it. Dominique was, although he's always been guarding of this area, so while he would want to help me, at the same time, he would always check me and try and make that I wasn't running away with my--that my "gringo business mind" wasn't just doing all of this, that it was coming from the heart. Most of my friends did not have a problem with it, except maybe it was a little too far off the grid. Some of my buddies really thought that it was too hard to drive here. But they knew that they'd be in place--a lot of my initial investors and friends and this, they were doing this as they had seven and eight year-olds that they knew they needed to stay in Portland or in Utah until they were in college or something, so a lot of those friends are just now getting into position to move here, and now the place is developed comfortably and it's ready for them.
Spenser: There are pictures, but a lot of people don't know, they don't see, but what was here on this land in 2006?
Josh: 2006. This house [that we're in] had a bottom frame, the cement frame was done, and the sticks were up for the room.
Spenser: Just sticks?
Josh: Yeah the sticks were up and the roof was on, but there were no walls up here.
Spenser: And nothing else, this was the only building?
Josh: Well there was a barn where the dorm is, that was a pig barn, it had 40-something pigs in it when I moved here.
Spenser: What did you do with the pigs?
Josh: Well we kept care of them for a few weeks but the ex-owner thought he'd kind of slap me around a little bit by not moving his pigs immediately, like we had agreed to. So one day, me neighbor Dominique came over and decided that this guy was treating me like a foreigner and trying to be a little shady, so we shot two of the pigs and fed them to the neighborhood in a big fiesta.
And when the guy showed up to take his pigs, I was like, "It's taxes man, you made me take care of them for a month." He laughed it off, and we've been friends ever since. But we got rid of the pigs, cleaned that area, started building the dorms, once the dorms were done, took this middle building where the studio is now, took that building down, permitted the studio, built that over a year or two, so by 2008 we had these three buildings and it was enough space for our friends and owners to come be here as we developed the back village area.
Spenser: So you already had somewhat, in your mind, a viable business model in mind from day one when you first bought it? It wasn't like, "Hey, what do we do with this?" You already kind of had it in your head?
Josh: Yes and no. I knew we needed a place. I said to myself, I didn't care about being a profitable business. like I knew we'd be investing for up to 10 years--
Spenser: Before we see a dollar.
Josh: Growing trees, yeah. Growing trees mean you're going to watch trees grow for a living, for a while.
Spenser: Well, what are we talking about in terms of trees in 2006?
Josh: It was empty, there were some big trees in these quebradas and these creeks but mostly it was cattle fields, where we're sitting now, you can see cattle fields rolling all the way to the back.
Spenser: Just so people know, I'll link out to these photos in the show notes, but I don't think they're quite from 2006.
Josh: My mom has them.
Spenser: Ok, well we'll see if we can pull those up for you guys, but anyway, keep going. Right now, I've taken some aerial photos and the place looks gorgeous, I mean, it looks like it couldn't be healthier, to the untrained eye, but 2006, it's looking like--
Josh: It was degraded really bad. The business end of it, I came at it with, "We want to grow trees for these experimental crops, we want to see what's possible with energy, that's why our name is VerdEnergia Pacifica. We're trying to figure out energy, we're not just making green energy, we're observing it and learning it,” so I knew we were going to have some kind of oil production off of this farm, one day. I did not know we were going to evolve into a place that took in volunteers and interns and taught people this stuff. I did not know we'd be a school. I didn't have that many yes's for people at that point, to think I deserved to teach anyone anything. So I was in the school of hard knocks of regeneration for myself, so every bag of poo I carried up a hill here in the beginning was like, I felt like I was getting lighter on the karmic level.
Spenser: So you're thinking jatropha is maybe going to make a business?
Josh: I knew that would, I knew that would happen, and I knew this country would have opportunity for things in that realm. Because price of fuel here is twice as much as the states on any day.
Spenser: Right, but you ended up figuring out soap was a better--
Josh: Years later.
Spenser: So you were thinking biodiesel at the beginning?
Josh: Really, I was more thinking, "Build a place." It was a bunch of levels, it depends on who you ask. There are 20 people that started this together, I was primary investor, and I was here full-time, so my vision--
Spenser: You were the only person who was here full-time? Everybody else had kids and stuff, everybody else had to fly back for stuff?
Josh: My ex-wife and my daughter were here full-time for 5-6 years in the beginning, and my parents would come down for 3-6 months to help build the initial stuff, so really what we thought in the beginning was, we need a place where we can feed ourselves, we can have nice shelter. All the people in my tribe were very, very aware that the current system is a house of cards, and that Wall Street and bailouts and big banks, it's all bullshit. A lot of our friends, without trying to sound like survivalists, we were trying to figure out how we're trying to have our survival ship ready. So building this, and the words I use, "food forest" and stuff, I know those words then, but my friends that were involved in organic farming and CSA's were very confident if we just started, and just got the trees in the ground, that eventually this would happen. So I had listened to people who knew what they were doing, and I decided that I could be the one that could commit a couple years to it without turning back.
So I was ok to be the ambassador of my more dialed and intelligent friends when it came to these things. And when I got here I started leaning hard on what Carlos' knowledge was, and trying to learn that, and Dominique, and foresters and government officials. Since day one, I've been inviting governments here to help us learn, so we've had the ministry of agriculture and the co-op and everyone has been giving us grants, giving us plants, giving us knowledge, and I've just been ready to accept and learn it. It wasn't until about year five that I got in the flow of how we were a business, we were a place that people wanted to come to, to spend three months and learn. We were a place that some people wanted to come to and just read for three months and by the time they leave they're ready to go be a political activist in their town, we were like a retreat. We've been a belly dance retreat, we've been a yoga retreat for our friends, we're kind of just like a canvas for all of our friends to do whatever kind of business thing that could work here, and in line with our kind of "don't do any harm ideals." Those ideals got more and more away from don't do harm into yes's, as I learned permaculture, because I started to see that there were uniform answers, and that people had been working on it for years, I wasn't reinventing this. So I started to be able to say yes to things at about year four or five.
Spenser: So Verde has evolved into quite a few things, so now you have these other businesses where you're looking to expand outside of just this little corner of Costa Rica, so what do you have going on?
Josh: Well, a lot of what we're doing here, if I took in people as investors or partners, I was taking them in as roommates. We were in this social experiment that we're doing to experiment, the social system we'd been building. So, I had to be a little selective over the years, I learned that I couldn't just say, "hey yes and join us" to everyone, cause we'd fill up our little place. I don't want everyone to move to Costa Rica, I don't everyone to be the same, I'm not looking for uniformity, I'm looking for unity. That's a big difference and a lot of communities like this are like little religious, uniform centers. Everybody wears the same shoes and all believes the same religion, and I hate that stuff. That may be a strong word, I really hate that stuff.
In the last few years, I've been figuring out how to make this more accessible to others, so the things that we've experimented with here, I could call Verde more of a laboratory for a lot of the ideas, and now I see the stuff that works here and how it can easily be duplicated and spun off and done in other places. So we've started a regenerative, resource management system with our neighbors that want to do it, where we're using the easiest, totally chemical-free pioneer species, the crops that just grow here like weeds, and those are very valuable here and elsewhere in the world, as medicines or building materials, while holding the torch and passing it forward, of Verde's ideals and permaculture's ideals. So we've learned how to take the best of these tools and then apply them to all sorts of different businesses. It might work great because what we've learned from forestry duplicates to the farm above us, to be a great forest program and that has byproducts from lumber to governments all over the world, just pay us to plant trees.
Where in the States, we're starting companies because there are needs in the festival scene, and what we've learned here about organizing and what we've learned here about permaculture methods for water conservation, or for applying in these other, totally different businesses, that have nothing to do with forestry. We're also starting soap companies and spinning off that with wasted avocados, in southern California, or how we're creating new backing for local capital through forestry management, or through medicinal crops, like creating credit unions with our neighbors in a sense, like new trade networks. All this stuff is spinning out of what we learned at Verde, into a ton of different dynamic businesses, because we've done the important part first, which is organizing people. So we've done the part: we've organized groups of dedicated people that want to change the world, and we've figured out how, and mixed in all of this at Verde, there are both cash crops and cash ideas and people--human capital that can be put to work when it's organized.
Spenser: I think a lot of people don't understand that when they have their wealth stored in a bank account, they kind of think it's sitting in this bronze vault and it just kind of sits there and they can walk to the bank and the money gets taken out and then they can spend their money how they want, but when you actually look at where the money is being loaned out to or [what] you're investing in--we were talking earlier about your Merrill Lynch investment portfolio, you've got your nice big bull on there, it seems really legit, but people don't really kind of dig into what's really in that portfolio. Just talk a little bit about--we don't need to get into the details of each and every business venture here--but the idea of storing wealth in things that people actually believe in, in things that align with their values, and also with real physical things that they can see and exist, it's not a speculation-based model where we're kind of just hoping, crossing our fingers, gambling. With everything that happened with the crisis in '08 and '09...
Josh: Everything's financialized now, instead of backed--
Spenser: Back to wealth really being tied to value, not tied to bullshit.
Josh: Yeah, not fiat. Yeah, well, there's hardly any cash anymore, almost everything's just a digital representation. So there is no vault, anymore, hardly. In fact, if you go try and take out $20,000 from your own bank account, you probably need a few days with your credit union to even find the money.
Spenser: People think that there's this bank with a gigantic room of money, a swimming pool.
Josh: Somewhere, but not your bank.
Spenser: Not your local bank.
Josh: No, that's done, now what there is, the entire world is like one, big, interconnected battery of the wealth moving around immediately. Way faster than immediately, we're talking nanoseconds, is where they trade now. So when you have a bank account and it's make you "x" percent per year, where does that money come from? Maybe on a local level, it does come somewhat from a house being loaned on, and you making a little bit of that percentage in difference, that may be the more pure idea of this, but what's happened now is, your wealth is immediately thrown into some project somewhere, and I would bet, if you looked into your Janus Fund or your Merrill Lynch fund, you'd find that you probably are doing things to make the percentage you request of them, you're probably doing things that wouldn't be in line with you if you had to do them yourself. Every friend that I've ever looked into their retirement accounts with, or any of it, they find it's in deforesting some spot in Africa, or mining or something, because that's where a lot of the real money is, big money.
Spenser: And oil, of course.
Josh: And oil, and stuff like that. Or weapons manufacturing, which is a big part of our economy in the U.S. I think maybe half of our economy is built around that, so most people that I know and love, are passively investing in things that they detest, all the time. And we talk about where we spend our money, and that's a good start. Like a lot of people boycott successfully. Things like a lot of my friends and family don't shop at Walmart because they don't want to support it, but then their savings account where their not shopping at Walmart, is investing in Walmart.
Spenser: Whether they know it or not.
Josh: Whether they know it or not, they literally are investing in one of the companies that's feeding Walmart, or the mines or whatever. I don't know why we wouldn't want to know where our money is sitting, especially since money to me really does represent this moment of yesterday, or my youth, that I spent time trading for it. I spent real time earning that money and now it is going to sit somewhere and do something and hopefully go up in value so I didn't throw away my time.
So I decided years ago, and I've always been a self-employed person, tools are where money is for me. Most of my life, my dad didn't have a lot of cash but he had the proper tool to do the job, to bring in cash. So, I'm much more into managing my big chunk of stored energy and wealth, in things that are very useful, that can create more wealth, and a certain amount of it, liquid and useful in a bank that I can buy and sell what I need to today, that's fine. I'm not opposed to money, I don't hate money, the second we dissolve the current system, we're going to have to build a much smarter money system, so I want to be a part of that, I want to be a part of creating the new, resource-backed economy. Right now, it's all financialized and even some of the biggest producers of real resources, like Saudi Arabia, are changing to financialize everything they do, because they can see the light at the end of this tunnel, or the darkness at the end of this tunnel.
Spenser: Something at the end of the tunnel.
Josh: They know there's an end to that tunnel.
So we don't have to think about it as an end to resources, it's just that resource is being exhausted in its way, like oil is. But with forestry, there's an opportunity to have a bunch more, we can grow that, you can't make more oil really, and a lot of the ways that we think we can are hyper-inefficient. So, we're going to have to replace, eventually, this debt burdened fiat system. We're going to have to start writing off these obnoxious debts that can't ever be repaid. It's going to happen soon enough, which means all of the things attached to that dollar, everything you saved, is going to susceptible to the ups and downs, inflation/deflation.
While I would have some cash, some U.S. dollars and some Euros, and keep them as useful to me, I also have other tools in my box, and some of those are trees, and some of those are water, and some of those are soon enough--air. People are paying for that now. What we're talking about isn't radical even, it's just diversified. The wealthiest people in the world, like the Koch brothers, they own Georgia Pacific. They are in the forest game. We're not really doing something radical, we're just bringing those ideas back to the common person, and by investing in the groups the way we do it, we're investing as small groups of middle class and lower class people that invest their time, their knowledge, or their small amounts of cash. We're able to pull off owning part of the resource commons, this way. If not, we'd have to have a functioning government to do this, and we're not really functioning as governments anymore. We have corporations making decisions and billionaires doing whatever they want, playing with our societies and jerking prices around where they feel necessary. All these things are so based on faith. I want to have part of my life and my kid’s future to be based on something more solid, scientific. So I'm really into a scientific approach to capital and to wealth, instead of a religious approach. A faith-based approach to capital? That's not how I approach anything in life, why would I let money be my church? If I want to be faith-based I'll go join some fun hippy church, not the dollar church.
Really. My Dad's churches were fun as kid. I don't like it, but I'm not going to live in superstition.
Spenser: What's something you would tell your 20-year-old self and your 30-year-old self?
Josh: I was already pretty focused when I was 20. I was probably too focused, already. I would definitely tell myself to start storing away more of what I was earning in those days, in the tools that I would need long-term, cause I know I wasted thousands of hours in my youth, earning money and really blowing it. In hindsight, I would've been more active into the tools I would need in the future, I would've given myself permission to follow my heart more there.
Spenser: What did you spend it on?
Josh: Nice apartments and cars and things that seemed kind of like assets in that old world but were actually just provisional, almost burdens.
Spenser: But you said you liquidated all that stuff in 2005, 2006, right before the crash right?
Josh: Yeah, I was about 25, 26 then. But when I was 20 I was really out of touch.
Spenser: You ended up selling all that stuff, right, or no?
Josh: Yeah, but I only accumulated a lot of the assets that I had in the last three or four years, from like 22 to 26, 27, because all the things I'd been doing, kind of came to a head there, and our business took off. So in my mid-20's is when I built up a lot of the wealth that I carried forward into this. Bought the houses and bought the cars but cars weren't a store of wealth, those end up losing me money every time.
So if I could backup to when I was 30, I would've told myself maybe to think a little more long-term. By the time I was 23 or 24, I was thinking long-term.
If I had to talk to myself at 30, I was already here, a couple of years, I was here a year already, I would've given myself permission to calm down a little bit, and just have faith in what's happening, when you plant trees and when you coordinate people. I would've just told myself to get more and more happy about our solutions, cause for a while, at that age, I was probably just more about the no's.
Spenser: What were you worried about? What was your greatest fear when you started VerdEnergia, in 2006-2007, what woke you up at night, thinking this thing is going to crash, or it's not going to go anywhere? What was your fear?
Josh: Not changing, and letting the world economy crush my family and friends cause I didn't change fast enough, not having an option. I was very urgent to have what we have now, like a fruiting place. I knew that it was going to take time. I would tell myself again, dig your well before you need it. Once you're thirsty, it's hard to dig. And I'm still kind of there, in that same attitude, how stock markets stay operating with all of the criminality and all this crazy shit, I don't know how we allow this. But back then I was really urgent about that, I thought that any moment I would be really needed by my tribe, or that this idea would be very much needed and hopefully in a position to help. So, I was hyper motivated to get that done, and I would tell myself to be more urgent, but maybe have more patience at the same time, internally. Urgently do the work, with an internal patience, because it's going to work, and I didn't know that it would work.
Spenser: I guess maybe you didn't have so much of a specific fear. Was there part of you that thought, at the beginning, like, "oh man, what if I go there and no one wants to cooperate with me, my friends all abandoned me, my neighbor lets their cows run all over my..." You know what I mean? Like specific things about VerdEnergia that you had fears about, that clearly ended up being mostly unfounded. Or maybe you didn't have anything like that.
Josh: No, I sort of burnt the ships when I got here, [of] my own self. I had a lot of those fears in the year leading up to leaving, as I was actually transitioning and selling my old life away and trading it away like it was real at that point. The luxury I was accustomed to, eating what I want when I wanted, restaurant life, having a job like that, that was dissolved a year or two before I came. So, I was already digesting a lot of that, and learning to accept that and actually flow in that.
That was maybe the hardest part in the beginning, knowing that I was going to be knuckling down and not participating for a while in what our culture has kind of provided for us. But I didn't really care because I'm committed to the change, and I really can't handle the way it's going, I have a real difficult, moral challenge with the way the U.S. functions and stuff, so I burnt the ships when I got here, there was no turning back.
Right before I came, a couple months before I came, I was at Burning Man, another turning point in my life was when I did a bunch of LSD at Burning Man, sort of by accident. Fear peeled off when I was there, I just had this moment of seeing how people do cooperate and make crazy things happen. And I'd been in the festival scene for a while and I wasn't in naïveté about it, [as if] it was going to save the world. But I did start to understand that people can get together and do stuff, and economically make it work, and my fear peeled away then, I believed I had a big enough tribe of risk-takers to do it with me.
Spenser: Would you say that's your greatest talent, is just organizing people? You've had success in sales, you've run businesses, but that's the core of what you do is to motivate and persuade people, and organize people?
Josh: I think that's a by-product of me caring about stuff. I tend to care about stuff a lot, when I care about it. And when I care about something a lot, and I recognize its need to grow or expand, I don't understand why others wouldn't. I guess that comes, and I also like to innovate. My dad taught me to be innovative, my dad's an innovator: a poor, mining mechanic who can pretty much build whatever he needs because he has a need and he wants to make it happen. So, I had needs, I had things I always wanted to do in life, whether it was when I was younger and it was just financial, or as I got older, centered around my child or my child's future. I don't know when I had Kaileah, when she same into my life, my daughter, my needs became immediately intertwined with the whole future of this planet, cause she lives on beyond me, so that moment, that moment is my political awakening when there was a child coming into my life that made me live beyond. My genetic code demands me [to] push. I don't know, it's weird. I've always, whenever I've been passionate about something, my friends and family do it with me and it works, or it doesn't, but I try a lot. I like to try.
Spenser: Well, do you think that having spent so many years in activism and trying to do these projects, I find that people, including myself, and I think it's something with youth, is we have way too much short-term thinking and expectations of things happening, way too fast. If something doesn't work after a week, you might as well throw it away.
Josh: Be cynical about it.
Spenser: Be cynical about it. I've gotten a lot more calm having read history and realized that women were trying to get the right to vote way before 1920. It didn't get anywhere--
Josh: It did slowly.
Spenser: It did slowly, it did slowly. The arc of change is slow, and does that give you strength at this point that, VerdEnergia wasn't built overnight and just because not everyone in Lanas is running through the streets screaming "permaculture", you still get up the next morning and keep at it. Because you don't think on--your business plans, they talk about things happening in 15-20 years, short-term stuff, too, but does that give you a little bit more peace than--you were in the business community, they just care about the next three months--that's long-term!
Josh: Yeah, some people.
Spenser: Next week is as far as a lot of people go.
Josh: Every business and every government and every community, I think everybody has different jobs. My job, I tend to want to create the future, instead of just organize the now, so I can see that stuff done a lot in my mind. So permaculture to me is a 50-year process, a 6,000-year process when you talk about forestry. But it's a two-year process when you talk about medicine like turmeric right? Or it's a three second process if you're just talking about feeding your neighbor now, cause you have surplus.
My perspective is all over the place, and I see the short-term important parts--they don't have to run around screaming "permaculture" in Lanas. What they have are consistent jobs now planting trees, instead of cutting them. So whether or not their consciousness is totally coming in line with this one way that I think, the word permaculture sums up a lot of things, but I get a little big about even that. I think we're more evolved than--we're almost trying to rebuild a totally toast system, I feel like we're moving to Mars again, just coming back out here into the campo, permaculture is just one way of explaining it.
So my vision is long-term, that can be hard for some people to understand, but we do it all the time. We save in 401k's in the U.S. when we're 20. We choose to take 10% of our income and shuffle it off to something that we're not going to see until we're 72. We're thinking 52 years ahead sometimes, when we start a job. But it's so natural now, because the way we talk about it, that we just do that, and then we kind of think and talk about it, like we don't think long-term, but we are, with 10% of our time already, and our company matches some, and we do it for tax reasons and it's kind of maybe even greedy in the short-term, could be. But I don't think I'm really all that out of line with it, I'm just talking about something that seems unfamiliar again, I'm talking about investing in nature, or directly into resources--like that just sounds more intense now but 115 years ago, every farmer had his trees that were planted for his son and his grandson and his daughter, so these things are long-term when I see them in nature.
And in politics, I read Eugene Debs, I read things from 100 years ago and these people, I'm standing on their shoulders, I'm standing on the shoulders of the people who stood on the shoulders of the people who stood on the shoulders of these great people, 150 years ago. I got longer-term with this when I got history in perspective, like you said. I think it's really important, history, and they make it boring in school, to discourage this, to discourage us understanding that struggles are different than we think. Yeah, I think way too many of us think we're going to have a revolution tomorrow. Everybody's waiting for some kind of disaster to start.
Spenser: "The Day After Tomorrow"
Josh: That's how we want it. That's how we're conditioning it. Trees grow slow, man.
Spenser: Right, and I think that a lot of people have that idea about their career or their life in general. They get out of college, or maybe even before college. Now the expectation is that you go to college so maybe like 22-year-olds, they kind of think of it as like, "My success is determined in the next...very short-term." They don't think of--how is what I'm doing now going to get me to something in 20 years, that I want to be a part of? I guess in a certain way, we have that luxury, I've had that luxury because I've been really fortunate, but I think even people that have the means to not have to think in terms of tomorrow, they can think longer-term, still find themselves--I mean our culture, it's a consumerist culture is about, "Can you afford the next vacation? The next car? The next whatever." It's not long-term goals, that's not the plane that people operate on.
Josh: Or it's just kind of happening sub-consciously because people are taking care of that. You pay into FICA every week. It's just taken care of. We've had a lot of these talks already as a society, so we thought it was all good, so we've relaxed about it. But when you realize that they've invested it into nothingness and half your money for social security is already gone to some war somewhere that you don't understand. Like, we've just given up the power on this, it's not that we don't participate. You participate with between 7% and 40, 50% of your income, participates in the long-term, you just don't participate in politics, normally. The average American isn't working on it, it's just happening. And literally, you spend, let's say I was, in the States, my last years making good money, six months of every year I was sending money off to somebody else's vision of how to organize the future and pay for the past.
Interest payments for World War I or whatever the hell they're still paying for. I think we are spending our time doing it, we're just not conscious of it anymore. So I'm just asking people to be conscious with some of it, and we may think of somebody from the 1810's as ignorant compared to us now, cause we're all so educated and we've read so much, but they had several generations covered, just in the natural--I think of today and tomorrow, and next month and...we have like an "or" type vocabulary in the U.S. now. I'm an accountant or a mechanic or a doctor. In 1812 you were a mechanic and a doctor and an economist, or you were dead. Your farm was done. Farmers were like innovative, cool, creative humans, for a long time. And we've just recently became so specialized that, I don't know, I don't think we do "and" anymore, we do "or", and I don't like that.
Spenser: It seems like these intentional communities, permaculture-based communities are picking up some steam, what's the most common pitfall in your mind, for somebody that's just starting one out, cause not all of them work, a lot of them collapse right? And we all want to think that they all blossom and everybody grows rich and the local community does great, but that's not what happens for some of them, some of them fall through. So what, in your mind, are some of the greatest pitfalls that you would, maybe you haven't avoided entirely, but the place is still here, it's doing well, for the most part you've managed to make it work--what would you tell somebody?
Josh: For one, you have to not go into debt. You can't be paying interest payments to somebody for property.
Spenser: Or you're done?
Josh: You're done eventually, cause you're going to have to start chasing cash and then stress comes in and then you compromise immediately and then the ideals aren't met that you started with, people quit anyway.
Spenser: So you need capital up front.
Josh: Capital, I mean there's lots of ways to think of capital, we'll talk about that a lot, right. From that old neighbor that wants his land redone to you having cash to buy something, it should be done in a way that doesn't leverage your future in interest-bearing payments. That's number one I think, but quickly another number one which is bigger than that, is not everybody has shared vision. A lot of the time you see couples split up because it's the man or the woman that wanted it, not both, that seems to be a big pitfall.
Spenser: So make sure that if you're with somebody, that you really see the same thing here.
Josh: Or that you maybe diverge and don't add the stress of it, someone who doesn't want what you do want. I mean people should follow their hearts, or you're not going to be happy anywhere. I've heard way too many people think they have to have a perfect plan first. And that probably kills more projects than anything, cause then they never even start. I'd rather have a project start and lose 1 out of 5 members than not start at all.
Spenser: Paralysis by analysis.
Josh: People think this has to be done. Oh, we're going to organize, we're building our constitution, and for 10 years I've had friends still tell me, as my avocado trees now produce, we're eating avocados today from our farm, that are here, not because I knew what I was doing 10 years ago, but because I planted trees.
So there's an amount that has to go into the boldness of stepping forward. There's a genius in boldness. At some point in these things, you have to just push, and do it. Because really, literally, trees and watersheds cannot wait for politics. Politics can help mold and shape things as they grow, but there are real things that have to happen, and expenses are not going down. Each year, inflation affects us. If I waited one year to build that studio to the next, it could've cost between 7% and 14% more in Costa Rica, for cement and nails. So I say, get your action on the ground now.
And another thing is people put way too much stress on the land they want, rather than the practice they need. So I see it as vital, that rather than just getting into debt, or going and living on a bare piece of land that you know nothing about, you don't know how to approach it, you're better off taking the money you were going to spend on that and getting good at something. You should be at a permaculture class or you should be at a carpentry class or you should be at a biofuel seminar so that you're vital to any project anywhere in the world. I think that's more important.
Spenser: Well, I think there's sort of an idea that everybody at these intentional communities or permaculture communities is out in a field with a rake, or they're picking avocados, right? That's what everybody's doing.
Josh: It's nice at times, a "permablitz", you go out and do that, but not all the time.
Spenser: Right, so you're saying that investing in your own--getting good at one domain--
Josh: Or whatever it is you need to be good at for a project. What are your hobbies? Be good at what you do. We say, “Don't just be a specialist”, but in the next breathe I say, "don't go against your nature." If you're good at talking with people, permaculture needs a lot more talking with people right now than it needs green thumbs. Most everybody I've met in permaculture is a green thumb. They want to be in the fields. This whole other level needs to be people that organize economies and treaties with neighbors and marketing the product you grow in your region that nobody else can grow anywhere else, and it's a cancer cure, like those things, if they can't get your product that you planted to some customer or--
Josh: Or patient or whatever it is you're doing, something amazing, whatever, you're not going to work. So we don't all need to be the same again, it's about doing something in unity, I think a lot of people have missed that, they've missed that these movements require a whole governing body of humans making a lot of different things happen. Somebody is good at doing plumbing or no one drinks water. Somebody enjoys working with compost, probably, hopefully. I have people who show up in my life that really love nothing more, and a lot of people, it surprised me, than touching and making human poop into manure for trees. There are people that are obsessed with things that you might never want to do. I have the tolerance to sit down and spend 26 hours on a phone call with someone to get them to understand something.
Spenser: Some people would blow their brains out.
Josh: Or never be able to do it. So they'd never raise money for a project or something, so I'm really learning that way too many people in the beginning think that they need to be a jack of all trades, and what you need is to look at the project and observe what it needs and then make all your shared talents and human capital apply well to bringing that to fruition. That would be something that maybe too many people are like, "Oh, I have to be a gardener? I can't do permaculture." "Whoa, the wrong person has talked to you about this, cause you think you have to be a gardener to be in permaculture?" I need kindergarten teachers to have permaculture ideals somewhere in their heart where they have good care for the land, right livelihood, where their priorities are in line, the constitution that we all live by, not how each of us works, that's going to change. I want librarians and I want Navy SEAL's, we need Navy SEAL's in permaculture. It's not the way that most people talk about this.
Spenser: Just as definitely overanalyzing things and never wanting to take a risk is certainly a problem, I think maybe this culture evolved maybe a little after you left the U.S., now everybody's got a Kickstarter for the idea they thought of last night over a couple beers, right? So what's the other side of that where people don't think things through at all?
Josh: Science, observation, these are the words I would use. Drinking a beer and having an idea is the first part of a scientific equation, not the whole thing. So like, yeah I had a beer or a bong rip at a festival 15 years ago and said, "We're going to have a place someday where we get to eat and walk around in our sarongs all day and da da da..." But then it was $2 million later, research & development, engineers and a ton of work. People all over the world, and some people love to do accounting and some people who love to do law. All sorts of things, that's the beginning and I think people in our culture now are way too immediately gratified all the time, you have a cute idea and there's enough money in our communities that you kind of like tip-out to each other and just keep doing these Kickstarters and funding things and it's fun--it's community-organizing.
And we did it before when we made movies with our community, we watched ["American Movie"] last night, people had been doing that since before the Internet, just kick starting things. It's kind of how capitalism started, you sold shares of your business, that was a Kickstarter. Wall Street is a kick starting organization, so people don't have to go into debt to start businesses, they have owners. So this isn't super new, but I know what you're saying, it's too impulsive now, anybody can play. So I would like people to get on board with the long-term, it's hugely lacking, and that may be the only thing that lacks, the boldness of the youth, is the long-term. That's where permaculture came into my life, at the time when I was settling down and learning that if I can observe, adapt, test, observe, adapt, test, my idea gets forged, over time. Taking an idea from the first day, it's not forged yet, it's not ready. So I think people should get on board with that.
Spenser: There's a lot of apathy in the U.S. regarding politics, on a lot of things. And very few people have your energy for it, or have the belief that they can change things. Is it mostly that their standards for what counts as change are too high? Of course there's some basis for the apathy in that, we have mostly bought elections, we thought Obama was going to be--at least I did, I was 18 when Obama was elected--we all thought he was our savior. Not much really changed.
Josh: Best marketing campaign.
Spenser: Right, he's a great politician. What would you tell someone to give them some energy to feel like there's some hope for things?
Josh: Well first, you do change the world, everyday. Americans have a huge footprint, everyday you wake up, you eat your fucking Wheaties, you get in your car, you just changed the world. Was it good or bad? You can analyze that everyday and get that refined to where...
Spenser: People are thinking too big?
Josh: Too big. Think big, think my foot just landed on an Indian kid’s face.
Spenser: Their expectations for the results are too big.
Josh: At first, you go internal and you start to realize, "Are you even doing the activism? Or is it just a flyer and signature occasionally on MoveOn.org or something?" And that's good, that works, too, it's "and", not "or". But I don't think it's too big, I think it's just--we're making a big impact everyday.
One of the biggest impacts we can do at first is realizing our own pressure, and releasing our own pressure off the third-world, through what we demand, has real ripples through economies and through people's lives. The minute you order a product, something is happening somewhere, for real. Do you matter alone in that? No, but that's a start. Then it goes from there. How's your local water? Is that poisoning you? You should do something about that. In Flint, Michigan, they need people to believe that they can win right now, and fight, and change it, so they don't get poisoned by lead right? So there are global fights and local fights and it's "and, and, and".
Spenser: Think global, act local?
Josh: And act global, and act universal.
Spenser: Right, but don't have the--I just think there's a bit of a--I'm speaking even for myself, I think I had an issue where, "Oh, well the Paris Conference was bullshit, so might as well pack it in and kind of watch Netflix and drink and forget about things." You know what I mean? Cause the expectation is, "Oh, well if we don't reach an agreement that's going to completely overhaul global emissions, then it's a loss and we should kind of fold up the tent and move on to something else."
Josh: No, it definitely feels that way, I go through that myself, all the time. I know that my area right here, has creeks flowing that it didn't before because I planted trees, that instantly makes me go, wait a minute, ok, so I'm an idiot sort of.
I grew up in a wrecking yard, I have some friends, we smoke pot and talk about things at festivals and then we try and do them. But it works. And then all of the sudden I see how that little thing working actually makes sense as a way to support an economy, so like, I can see it being, a not being naive thing, I just think we don't understand history enough and how much we fit into it and we're but drops in an ocean of drops, and I don't do superstition at all, and I don't know that what I do is going to matter all that much in my life except that I know it did matter to the frog right here below us, and the creek we can here running, that is real because some people chose to change ten years ago, so there's only whales right now at all because 75 years ago some people like us chose to take action. There's only not acid rain falling all over LA and in San Francisco and Oregon because somebody did something.
So we are winning, if you're a woman or a black person, it's way better than it was 100 years ago, so I don't discount that, I think it's my weird, white man ego that can let me think, "Nothing ever changes." It changes, everyday, literally, on a global scale. It's going so fast, too, population growth...Capitalism itself, I've heard recently called, "Capitalism is it's own revolution." It wasn't a natural presence in the universe, it's something some people made up and keep making up and setting precedent and moving forward, it keeps working and not working, and they adjust or they don't, and that's a revolution. Our revolution is no different, it's just how we choose to wake up, spend our energy, maybe be naive sometimes, I'm super---Hedges talks about this--
Spenser: Chris Hedges, we're talking about, I'll put a link to some of his books in the show notes. I read a few of them while I've been at Verde and don't agree on everything of course, but he definitely has force and courage and he's an intellect on lots of things, especially history and I've learned a lot from reading his books.
Josh: He says that us that do these things and trying to build this utopian idea of the world, however he says it, we're almost faith-based people. We have to believe this stuff even though it doesn't feel real and in front of us now. And I want my grandchild to literally have a biodiverse set of species on this planet and that's not going to be real if we don't change a lot, and it's probably not going to change, so it's a weird thing for me and my family to resist right now, or to try and push it the other way, cause it can seem futile, but I can't look at my grandchild and say I did not try, and I don't know how anybody who becomes less--when you become awakened to what's going on, I don't know how you can think that through and not say, "I tried," or "I thought I tried, even if I couldn’t win."
We look at all the characters in movies, in history, the underdogs that try and lose: that's what we want to be, that's what we love, that's who we make heroes. So why don't we act like it? All of our Jesus, all of our Buddha, all of our people, that we act like we love, we don't do anything like they do, we don't put ourselves on the line. So I just beg people to actually do what they probably think they should do anyway.
Spenser: One thing that I've found, and I think you think this, too, living that life is more interesting. It's more fun. I think there's a bit of an idea that if you become politically involved or an activist or you take on a different lifestyle, that you're just going to be miserable, because you're going to miss your TV dinner, you're going to miss Netflix, you know what I mean? There's a sense that that's going to be such a sacrifice whereas, just personally, for me, I was living a very comfortable lifestyle in Santa Barbara, I'm not saying I was totally buying into the man or whatever, it takes something to step away from that and things have been more interesting, it's more fun.
Josh: It's more interesting, and I get yesterday's computer out of the garbage for free and then download the movie for free, so I don't have to not have what you have.
Josh: So it's funny, when I step back, I found--
Spenser: You found a way to adapt.
Josh: I found food in the garbage, there's smoked salmon in the package that I couldn't afford yesterday, that I can take now, out of the garbage, so it was really an awakening, more than just a decision to live with less.
My mom told me once years ago, "You can't be poor enough to help the poor." And that sunk in, like ok, that's true, you can't be poor enough to help the poor. But you maybe shouldn't kick people and keep them down to keep yourself fed. But when I jumped out of that stream, the amount of stuff that's in the garbage, and the waste stream of this world allows for a whole new system to be built, parallel to the current system, to then overwhelm it, on its waste, it's like an amazing thing. We have the resources we need without drilling a mine, we're just going to repurpose all the shit the empire poops out, and it's perfectly good. So I'm finding, yes, I did have those moments, but it's way more interesting, because I get to be innovative again. Right now, especially with how it seems insurmountable in ways, it's like running a fun rebel force. We're like a hippie rebel force. We get to come up with better ways to relate to each other, we share a refrigerator, teaches us about ourselves, we get to talk about the way we effect the world, we get to plant trees, we get to learn that those things are actually profitable. All this stuff adds up into fucking interesting, for sure. Way better than my little ticky-tacky box where I was paying my own loan, and everybody else was, and when I even spend a minute watching movies that show me a glimpse of like normal America life, how boring it makes me feel inside. I dread just seeing a normal car pull in the driveway, I'm like, "Ugh, it all feels so unnatural to me now."
Spenser: Yeah, it's grotesquely boring.
Josh: It is.
Spenser: It really is.
Josh: We think that's the way things are, but that's the way somebody thought it through, and that somebody was like literally, Goodyear, and GM, and weird people and ideas that I don't like, so we can rethink that. And when I walk to me neighbors house, here we get to go through a little creek and I might get bit by a snake or something, but I had to pay attention, and along the way, I get to see a bird that I get to see on Discovery Channel, that's valuable. And instead, someone has Netflix to get a disc that has a bird that they'll never see.
So I don't know, I think the sacrifices as being outweighed, the pros and cons, I was getting a short picture, I had a smaller perception before, of the pros and cons, now I'm seeing it bigger. And some of the cons are very hardcore, very hardcore. Lost a young woman, 13-year-old girl died, nearly in my arms, a few years ago, because we're not in a space where it's completely sanitized. But then in the north, she may have been hit by a car. You don't have a rescue crew here, maybe you don't have a cop when you need him, but then maybe you don't have a cop when you don't need him. You know what I'm saying.
Spenser: There's trade-offs. There's trade-offs.
Josh: I don't want a cop to bug me when I cross the street, but I do want a cop here when there's a robber, so the trade-offs are now--I am taking more responsibility for everything, not just the fun parts. That's interesting, that's been a pro and con thing I had to learn, but it's more rewarding, honestly, and it's more interesting, I demand people be more responsible for themselves and that's a big learning curve for people in the beginning.
Spenser: For somebody that hasn't read, "Capital in the 21st Century", by Thomas Piketty, which I did a little review of, hasn't read a lot of Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, what's a way in that you would recommend that you see work for people because, it's a lot to swallow, right away, for people that are just looking to kind of [get involved]?
Josh: I'd join a CSA, join a community supported agriculture project. You don't need to know everything right now, there's plenty of places doing it, that are growing food locally and collectively sharing it and making sure there's no waste. You don't have to reinvent that wheel.
Spenser: I guess I mean, like a media outlet, if people want to get...
Josh: Man people really don't like to read anymore, so a lot of things I recommend come later.
Spenser: But you listen to "Democracy Now!"...
Josh: Yeah, shows like "Democracy Now!"...there are really brilliant people in the world, and they're showing up in a few spots. There's some great journalism that's showing up in a few spots, there's "Democracy Now!", there's people like Glenn Greenwald, very specific people I love. John Perkins changed my life, he wrote a book called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman", and his solutions that he's done, reaching back out to the third world. There's a lot to learn. I suggest everybody go somewhere poor.
Josh: I think travel is probably the best answer for Americans that have a little bit of resource. Go to like Nicaragua.
Spenser: You realize how much wealth that you have. I think that's one thing that's lost on people, if you are middle-income in the U.S., you have a shit-ton of money.
Josh: Whether you know it or not, your little lifestyle changes can make a big difference somewhere else, once people come and see what we're doing here and then go and see what's happening 10 minutes away with a Nicaraguan working for a dollar a day, feeling that for real, then when I go and want to give $1,000 in a year to a project to help, I actually know that it's quantifiably helping people for real. Maybe in the States you go, "Oh what, if I gave $5, $10, or $100/month, like would it buy a couple Starbucks?” Yeah, for you, but somebody who needs a mosquito net--
Spenser: It's serious money. $2.50 for a mosquito net that could save somebody's life, or not even just their life. I'm going to use this to plug the Against Malaria Foundation. I mean, living with Malaria, the economic problems alone, you can't work, you can't do anything, you can't do shit.
Josh: So these solutions are very real when you hit a, I don't want to say "Third World country", the other side of the coin, when you see what's happening there, it can really pull your heart into the game. Once an American's heart is in the game, there's no stopping us. We have confidence, we know we can get things done, that's one of the few things we kind of get in education, I think we're the most confident people when we come out of high school.
So let's use that, when I learned to care. I mean I kind of came from redneck America where there was a little bit of money, it came from a time before credit was, so I had a little different appreciation for that, but I see it really matter to people when they spend even a month or two with a family like Carlos', what it means to live simply, how it doesn't mean you have to be unhappy.
Spenser: It's not asceticism. I think that's confused, that simplicity means that you don't have fun toys, like I have a drone now, that is super fun to play with, but I haven't bought clothing in six months and I haven't gone to a super nice restaurant, and it's been totally fine.
Josh: And you invested in a tool, not just a toy.
Spenser: Right, right, it's not a toy. I'm just saying there's a little bit of a sense, "Well, to be a good permaculture person means I never buy anything again, from anyone."
Josh: No. I talked about this with a friend on the permaculture podcast recently, [there’s] a moment when we're first coming into awareness on this, that we're going to maybe be super angry about the way this computer is made or something. But we're going to have to use that tool in this world to change things, so we have to have a transitional ethic.
Spenser: The tools are already here.
Josh: I like that idea, because it means I'm not beholden to it in my future world, I'm going to use an X-wing with a laser canon to shoot a Death Star. Ok but we don't have but then we don't have X-wing factories maybe in the future, so we have to measure our things and use the best levers and there's these pressure points and things that matter right now.
And you think you can go around and you're going to go to the third-world and you're going to feel super connected to it and going and living there and being poor with them, might not help one person, but if you go home and change the way your university invests money, if you go back and change the way your alumni supports your university, where they put their money: these things are big. We have trillions in trusts and investments done through our work, through our universities, through our states, through our credit unions, that stuff's activism is pretty easy, it's not too big either. If you want to go be a part of your credit union and where they invest their money, you can be. If you're part of a bank, you should go have a credit union, too, right now. And then be a part of it, and it's fun. I learned so much going to my credit union board meetings and stuff, that was one of the places my activism, [where the] rubber met the road. Then I helped control [it], we gave loans more to local housing--
Spenser: Then you can actually see it.
Spenser: I think that's a problem that a lot of people have with investing, is that it's such an abstraction the way that we do it. I'm investing in this portfolio. What's a portfolio? Well it's stocks and bonds and what are those? Well those are little pieces of a company that does these things that aren't really specific and where's the money really going? At the end of the day, it's just, "Well, if I got my 7-10% return: life's good. Kinda who cares." But a credit union acts locally, so you get to see, "Oh, well Bob's Pizza shop, organic pizza that supports local farmers, that's going to be built now, because--"
Josh: Money will start circling in your economy.
Spenser: Right. I didn't even know until two years ago that doing banking locally is a real difference.
Josh: It's a real difference.
Spenser: People need credit.
Josh: Yeah, local businesses want to expand and that big bank doesn't care, and won't give them the loan.
Spenser: Won't give them the loan, they're too small.
Josh: And the big bank only wants to give loans they can package off and sell, so some second mortgage on your loan with your credit union doesn't do them any good. A local credit union is investing in you, and we talked a lot recently about interest rates and stuff, and could you do a world without interest? Well credit unions are building that. They are using interest rates as a mechanism, but they're investing in their society, they are. Their money is not just racing off to a hedge fund.
So that really does matter, and the credit union movement has been growing, the amount of money is transferring every month, every day, to credit unions is phenomenal. The next step with that, what I would be doing up there, I would be engaging those credit unions and that capital model with the farming. Let's reintegrate that stuff, that's where I see my next big goal is integrating long term capital with really smart local business, and credit unions are that mechanism and CSA's, that's how I would say, I felt good every day that I participated in that, even though I was within this big system and by getting crushed by George Bush's police and pepper sprayed in the afternoon. In the morning, I was a part of this gathering together farm and I was very, very happy I got to touch or be a part of that process. Going to the farmer's market even, I had 30 minutes of conversations with neighbors, instead of going through the self-checkout isle at Kroger's.
Spenser: Well, it's a really alienating process. I think that from people that have never gone to a farmer's market, actually looking the person in the eye that produced your food is a so much more rich experience than--you know, buying pre-packaged stuff that's been shipped halfway around the world and gone through 20 different companies that are all owned by the same mega-company...
Josh: In my CSA, I didn't only see it in their eyes, I signed a contract with them in April and they knew I was coming every week so they counted on me, and they could go get the short-term help they needed to buy the tractor cause they had me as a contract, so my demand, my future demand, was a way for them to stay out of an interest-bearing loan, so I was most directly--my promise. It's like a fiat-human capital currency thing.
We can play that game, too. We don't just have to let it be through centralized banks, so I see that as my next step in all of this, my energy a lot lately has gone into helping people not just see why it's a good idea to use one refrigerator for a few homes, or one pickup truck for a neighborhood, why that neighborhood should also be investing in itself, in a lot of ways. So the money we save on those extra goodies can actually go into long-term tools and localized--we can take risk together, so we can actually do things that maybe you couldn't do as a person. You can go and do that solar array that you couldn't risk as one house, or you can go do the micro-hydro electrics, that you couldn't do, so you can start living--actually start governing your own communities, and governance is more important to me than politics. Arguing politics is one thing, governing a community is fun.
Spenser: Yeah, yeah. Well there's clearly a lot to talk about here, I'll be talking more with Josh about other things, but I think it's a pretty good place to kind of wrap things up. It's raining pretty hard, we're starting the rainy season here. VerdEnergia.org is a place where you can read more about Verde, weareblacksheep.org is the new resource management venture that I'm a shareholder of and Josh is of course a part of--that website is in development but by the time your listening to this, hopefully it's in a place that--we have drone footage of places with my new Inspire One.
Josh: That's fun, that's fun stuff. We've been getting the perspective from the air that is hard to grasp from down below. When you're in a forest sometimes, you can't really get the perspective so--seeing our place in the development here, what happens, it's been really fun. And even me, I've had my nose to the grindstone too long. Backing up, flying up 1000 feet in the air and seeing what a forest can look like--almost like an oasis in the middle of this other opportunity around it, to do it. It's really great.
I'm looking forward to following up on a lot of these things. Joshua@weareblacksheep.org is where I'm available a lot these days, and VerdEnergia.org, we do a pretty long-running blog there over the years, everything from our favorite local answers to global activism and calls to action, so a lot of good media to share on their, too. Enjoy VerdEnergia.org.
Spenser: I'll be at Verde for at least the next two and a half months or so, so if people have questions, comments, stuff for Josh or for me, we want your feedback, we want your interaction, so don't hesitate to contact Josh or I. Is that all we got Josh?
Josh: Yeah, I think so, this is fun. I've been very motivated myself by these kinds of programs, so I like that we can sit down and hammer through some of the stuff that I've found useful to lots of people over the years, I've had about 5,000 people pass through the farm, and a lot of what we talked about today is what I go through pretty much with every person as they come here and have these kinds of questions.
Spenser: And now you don't have to come all the way to the jungle of Costa Rica to meet Josh a little bit.
Josh: Yeah, so I thank Spenser for that, I think this medium is fun and I love podcasts myself and I'm going to be on a few more programs soon, talking more about regenerative economics.
Spenser: Which programs?
Josh: The Permaculture Podcast and the Scott Horton Radio show, scotthorton.org, soon, and a few other places, probably KBOO in Portland, we're going to be doing a few permaculture courses this next year and we're doing some raffles and some things to help out our favorite programs out there. You'll here a lot more very specific stuff over the next few months on different podcasts and here, too.
Spenser: Alright guys, that's it for this Notes from the Jungle, hope to hear from you soon, thanks.