Interview with JC Jaress, BA in Liberal Studies Alum
JC Jaress is an Antioch alum and so much more. He has been traveling and giving workshops on his current passion, regenerative design, and is an advocate and speaker for Kiss the Ground, a regenerative soil advocacy group based in Venice, CA. Read on for his views on everything from socially responsible business models and white-male-privilege to ecology and the environment.
What is your educational and career background?
CSU Fullerton 1981-1985 Art Major
Fullerton College 1985-1998 studied Art, Writing, Architecture, and Design
Antioch LA 2004-06 Liberal Studies
My schooling is and has been, a great joy for me. I never had any purpose or reason attached to the pursuit of a degree. Discourse, community and the learned experience have been the meaningful rewards of my education. I have a BA in Liberal Studies – I have no idea where that piece of paper is.
I do not know if I have a career. I have a very distant relationship with the concept of “work”. Though I have worked in one capacity or another since I was 14, I try not to let it get in the way of my life.
I spent 10 years in the construction trades and another 8 years in the sales of services. I have been self-employed since 1999 and have made the bulk of my income as a print broker. I am a middleman; I secure commercial printing projects (mostly paper collateral – books, letterhead, business cards, marketing materials, posters, banners, etc.) and farm them out to appropriate print vendors who produce, package and ship the finished goods. I also do some email marketing for clients and some graphic design.
In 2017, I started Farm Fresh Home to help people grow nutrient-dense, better-than-organic food in their own homes. We design, install and maintain food gardens for our clients. It is similar to a lawn care service, but at the end of the week, instead of a bag of grass clippings, our clients have a basket of tomatoes and cucumbers and kale. It is very physically and emotionally rewarding. It is not, however, a financially viable business model as Americans do not properly value food and I subsidize this endeavor with other sources of income.
Additionally, I have been a working artist for over three decades – a painter and photographer. I also write and occasionally get paid for it. I have many loves which I pursue that simply do not have the monetary rewards necessary to sustain my life…and so, I “work” to pay my bills.
Tell me about the work you are doing around “building a regenerative-based business.”
Regenerative-based business is a new model in direct response to the social, economic and environmental degradation caused by the historically extractive practices of profit-based capitalism. Imagine a business that helps repair existing inequities. A business that creates the conditions for life to exist. And to flourish.
It sounds sort of idealistic and dreamy. But why shouldn’t we build something based on what wish to be? Why must we continue with models which have plainly failed us?
Just as one would assess a parcel of land or a specific environment with the aim to “regenerate” space, we could use the same principles in designing a business:
- What are the resources available?
- What can this space sustain?
- What is needed to make that happen?
The goals are holistic (which includes sound economics):
- Create the conditions for life (and business) to exist
- Be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable
- Increase biodiversity (more unique offerings)
- Conservation of energy (self-perpetuating, repeatable, patterning, etc.)
The value proposition defines the narrative of the venture and gives it meaning:
- Why this?
- Why now?
- Why you?
In the existing extractive model, profit is reason enough for a business to exist. In a regenerative model, businesses must improve the quality of life from end-to-end through transparent transactions. Business must have a reason to exist – we simply don’t need more-faster-better-cheaper – they must be fulfilling and meaningful and appropriate in time and space.
I understand you’ve been traveling and giving workshops around permaculture design?
I earned a Certificate in Permaculture Design in 2015 in Los Angeles; my instructor was Larry Santoya. I had spent a year traveling and working on organic farms across the USA in 2013 and had the opportunity to visit Permaculture training centers in Vermont, New York, Tennessee, and Illinois so it was a unique experience to train in an urban environment…
Larry is a great mentor and instructor and I feel really fortunate to have trained with him. He applies the principles of Permaculture to all segments of life – business, social, organizational, etc. I think Larry is really onto something with that approach – Permaculture is a lot more than design principles for growing plants and food. His approach is very much in line with Toby Hemenway’s work (author of Gaia’s Garden). In fact, Toby was a dear friend of Larry’s and he spoke to our class the year before died. We were very fortunate, Hemenway was a great asset and was very generous with us.
Earlier this year, I became an advocate and speaker for Kiss The Ground, a regenerative soil advocacy group based in Venice, CA. In August, I was one of 2,200 participants from over 40 countries invited to Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project training held in Los Angeles. And last week, I returned from La Junquera, near Murcia, Spain and the inaugural Re-Generation Festival where I workshopped ideas around regenerative business models. 300+ participants from as far as California, Gambia and Brazil attended the festival.
What is apparent, from all that I have seen, learned, researched and experienced, is that the USA is alone in its willful ignorance. The world is moving forward at breakneck speed to make changes. Millions of people are actively inventing new technologies, and embracing appropriate old ones, to mitigate, fight and offset climate change caused by the release of greenhouse gases (GHG).
The festival in Spain has already produced an active West Coast council of activists and advocates to bring the next Ecosystem Restoration Camp to California. All of these organizations I am associated with – and 1,000s more – are working to bring solutions to our nation of doubters and deniers. We must continue to practice and promote solutions-based messaging. There simply is no other way, and no one else to do the work – each of us must take positive actions now.
This is our fight. We must take it on. There is simply not enough time to shrink beneath the weight of doom-and-gloom messaging. We cannot say “It’s too big.” or “They’ll take care of it.” or “I don’t understand it.” Fires, Floods. Drought. Famine. Rising seas. Hurricanes. Tropical storms. We cannot act like these conditions will change of their own accord.
I was talking with my mother about these issues. She is 75, and though she was never really a hippie, she and my father are responsible for my capacity to envision and create a better world. She laughed when I said, “Fuck it, is not a strategy.” She thought that would make a good campaign.
What inspired you to your current path and the work you are doing now?
By whatever chance or cause, my consciousness is tuned to this channel.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint the moment when I knew that there was a better way, a safer way, a more holistic, healthy and sustainable way to live. I feel like this belief has always been with me, but
I distinctly remember several events that had an impact on me:
First, when I was seven years old, there was a campaign to ban DDT (a chemical poison used in agriculture that killed most all living things). DDT was shown to be responsible for the thinning of the shells of brown pelican eggs to the point that, after 40 million years on the planet, the birds were nearly extinct. I remember the pelicans and the broken eggs and wondering why would people do something like that?
The anti-DDT campaign coincided with an “Ecology” movement in America which had a pretty cool logo; a green American flag with a holistic “e” in the star field. The Ecology movement was kind of a post-hippie, back-to-nature, environmental umbrella campaign that launched a 1,000 Green ships.
Also, at that same time, were a series of PSAs that plainly asked people to stop throwing trash on the ground. I was just a kid but I knew you couldn’t throw trash on the ground or out the car window. Where did people think the trash would go?
The most impactful of these PSAs was part of the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, it included imagery of pollution and trash and a single indigenous American (portrayed by Iron Eyes Cody) standing in this degraded environment while the camera zoomed in on a single tear as it rolled down his cheek. I still cry today remembering this imagery.
I may be romantic imagining a sacred, holistic and sustainable pre-Columbian world, but I have felt this way as long as I can remember. And everything I’ve learned by being on this planet for 55 years has reinforced this belief: We are part of a system which is called Earth. We are no better than any other part. Our self-granted license for “dominion” has caused much harm.
My consciousness came to be at that very moment when the USA really had a chance to make a difference. Beginning in the late ‘60s through the Carter administration, we were on track to take the necessary steps for the health of our environment and our people. The EPA, Department of Energy, solar power rebates, vehicle mileage, and emissions standards…one could see a clean energy future on the horizon.
The symbolic moment of the undoing of all common-sense, science-based, technological and hard-earned environmental advances was when newly-enthroned Ronald Reagan ordered the removal of all 32 solar panels from the White House in 1981. Just, why?
I suppose I have been in a philosophical fight with my government, and the corporations she bows to, since that day. And now, I have two children under the age of four and I don’t have the choice to keep this battle philosophical anymore. Game on.
How did your time at Antioch serve your current work?
Antioch was a game-changer for me. Middle-aged, white, male, hetero, married, homeowner, business owner, raised in the OC – I think they let me in so I could be their sacrificial poster boy for White Privilege Day.
Seriously, I had no clue what I had gotten into.
I started off discussions something like this: “But, I don’t even see race.” and “I’ve worked my whole life to get where I am. You can do it, too.” and “OK, let’s say that it does exist…but I don’t take advantage of my privilege.” It took me until my third quarter to be taken seriously in any discourse about race or gender or social constructionism. I really thank my instructors and advisors – they saw something in me that I had not yet developed a way to let out. And my fellow students, too…what patience they exhibited! Even while being shut down and shut-upped and eye-rolled, they all kept trying to get me to understand, as best I could, the social dynamics which, to this day still, favor my existence over so many others.
So, I learned to make space for others to speak and lead. That may not sound like much but changed my world. And I’m still learning every day with my wife and children and working groups and with the public.
Today, my vision and work and beliefs are really getting in sync. Our current struggle is without parallel – the environmental, economic and social changes brought on by the release of GHG into the Earth’s atmosphere and its absorption by the oceans is already affecting every single person on the planet. The scope of which is beyond comprehension. The urgency greater than immediate.
A United Nation’s report released this week (October 2018) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that we must cut our global GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 or risk reaching a tipping point from which we, humans, will lose the ability to impact the results of our (in)actions. Gasoline. Diesel. Coal. Natural Gas. Methane. Cut in half in 12 years.
Certainly, Antioch and everything else I have ever learned and loved and lost have prepared me for this. I hope you will join me…because, truly, fuck it, it is not a strategy.