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Feb. 26, 2023

by Dr. David Fialk, Editor / Publisher

Ben Patashnik has made his Shangri La. Ten minutes off the Road to Dr. Mora, Ben and his partner, Victoria Collier, have brought to life 7.5 acres on a barren hillside. With hundreds of shade trees, gardens, an orchard, fishponds and more, their non-profit center, Tikkun, is an oasis, in stark contrast with the surrounding countryside, which remains the semi-desert landscape common all around San Miguel.

Tikkun's transformative magic is permaculture, whose principal strategy is water catchment, retaining the water that falls so abundantly during our rainy season, instead of letting it flow away downhill. Most simply this is done by digging a contour ditch canal, and piling the excavated soil into a crescent-shaped berm on the downside of the ditch, so as to increase the capacity of that miniature reservoir.

It was unsurprising to me, during my visit to Tikkun, that this captured water sustains trees and crops planted immediately adjacent to it. I already understood that the vital liquid can be conducted to irrigate other plants farther afield. What I discovered, what was a revelation, was the permaculture magic that happens underground, out of sight.

I had imagined that subterranean water would gradually seep deeper down into the earth and out of useful reach. Or that it would just continue its downhill journey, flowing away as does water on the surface. But I was wrong.

The water you catch on your few acres, as it percolates down into the soil, lingers, colloidally bound, molecularly attracted to the soil. So year after year, despite the overall depletion of the deeper aquifer, your few acres become richer in water. The water table can be affected on a hyper-local level, and voila, Ben's oasis.

My insight into subterranean hydro-dynamics came to me on the 90-minute tour Ben gave me when I arrived at Tikkun. Strolling, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, Ben affectionately catalogued the fruit and nut trees in his orchard: how many walnut trees, how many peach...; pointed out the varieties of his hundreds of shade trees, including Michoacán Pine and Maple; beamed over his efficient, extensive drip irrigation system; hovered fatherly over his worm compost pit; admired the productive vegetable garden; and took pleasure in indicating the swales and berms that, channeling the runoff of our summer monsoons into a series of ponds, make all Tikkun's luxuriance possible.

But I forget to mention the swimming pool, hottub and the eco-construction techniques used in the construction of Tikkun's pair of wonderful homes and the "mother-in-law" apartments. Remarkably spry for what I calculate must be seventy-something years, Ben has found a certain fountain of youth. Passion counts for a lot.

Returning his dogs to their proper enclosure, we took refuge from the sun in a twelve-sided, astronomically-aligned structure that doubles as home (bedrooms attached) and classroom. Evangelist that he is, in this space Ben hosts university agronomy students and others, explaining to them the saving, sustainable gospel of permaculture.

There, over a glass of water, in the indoor coolness, Ben (Victoria was away when i visited) introduced me to another passion of theirs, political activism. He spoke about being forced to leave New York City for his activism in the early Seventies: "The judge gave me a choice: two years in Rikers or getting out of town in 24 hours." Vermont became his new home. There he was elected state senator, implemented various reforms and served as head of the Organic Farmers Association. Continuing this activism throughout the decades, he told me of his most recent success, a multi-state, multi-million-dollar effort towards voting reform in the US. Focusing on particularly vulnerable states, one of his foundations has ensured the accuracy of vote counts by getting voting machines off-line, where they cannot be hacked, and providing paper ballot backups for recounts.

There at the kitchen table, a big slab of polished mezquite, Ben illustrated his political career with content from his various websites, including showing me short videos of Hollywood celebrities endorsing his voting reform campaign. He told me that one of the donors to that campaign was Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist. Ben mentioned, most approvingly, that since selling Craigslist, Craig is giving away the bulk of his fortune to projects that will benefit the world.

As in detailing the wonders of Ben's permaculture accomplishments, I am skipping over a lot of Ben's people-oriented political reforms, but you just can't itemize or encapsulate such a big, community-minded soul on the page, or anywhere else.

As fascinating as it all was, having rehydrated myself, it was now time for me to visit the bathroom. Ascertained where that was, and before setting off, I asked Ben if he had read the mission statement of my Lokkal project, which I had sent him some few days before. His having overlooked that (the guy is really busy), I pulled up the statement on his computer, told him that it was brief enough for him to finish before I returned, and went off to do my business.

Correct in my time estimate, returning two minutes later, I launched into my song and dance. Adapting my Lokkal pitch to the present circumstances, my main metaphor, in a thoroughly natural segue, made use of permaculture imagery. Lokkal, I suggested, is economic permaculture. Its principal strategy is like water catchment, but for currency, wealth. Right now, the vast majority of money flows through, over and past the community. Lokkal catches that wealth, allowing it to permeate and percolate down, building up the community's economic water table.

Right now, we, as users, build up Facebook, uploading content, making that platform an attractive, entertaining space. Facebook sells ads on their attractive, entertaining site, and all the profits accrue to Mark Zuckerberg and his investors. Right now, Google provides results to users, searching the web for information on San Miguel de Allende, and sells ads alongside those search results, with the ad revenues going to Google.

There, on the other side of the table, I was on my feet, whipping up the crowd, just Ben at the time. Pacing back and forth, gesturing with my arms, I testified that, run like a public utility, Lokkal is SMA's own social network and search engine. We upload our own attractive, entertaining content. We provide our own local search results. We collect the profits. Thank you, Google technicians, but we don't need your pinche algorithm. We can present our own city to the planet. We make a digital town square, our own internet platform, and, like permaculture catches the water, we catch the advertising revenues, keeping the wealth circulating in our community.

It's income redistribution. It's the Buy Local movement online. It's technology working for the little guy. It's the dream of the internet, a uniting, egalitarian space, fulfilled. It's practical, effective social activism: You want to make the world a better place? Organize your neighborhood. It's an economic dynamo, investing all profits in the community.

And it's not just advertising revenues. We can make our own, non-extractive, local versions of Uber, Amazon, etc.: You want to buy those shoes online, I know. But I bet you'd be willing to pay a little bit more to buy them locally and online. Like an increased water table allows for gardens, orchards and fish ponds, preventing wealth extraction increases the community's economic table, allowing for local businesses to flourish.

Like Public Television gave us a healthier, more uplifting television experience, Lokkal provides an edifying, non-commercial, non-toxic, non-addictive experience online. A huge percentage of the population, especially the young, spend a huge percentage of their day scrolling down the newsfeeds and walls of social media. Most don't really care what they do online. They just want to be online. Lokkal gives them healthy, community-based content to scroll through.

In a lot of ways Lokkal is like permaculture. It is the solution to many pressing social problems on a local, grassroots level. It is not the government coming in to "make things better". It is "el pueblo unido", the people or town (it translates both ways) united.

In a lot of ways Lokkal is like Craigslist. Craigslist is the archetype of local internet. Lokkal is local internet for the new millennia. I bet Craig would understand right away. But the only way I get to present the idea to Craig is to explain it first to Ben. I'll let you know how that goes.

During Covid Ben shared his garden, helping to maintain 60 families in the nearby community. He is also spear-heading a community permaculture project, renovating that village's long silted up reservoir. Ben's efforts have benefited those who come in contact with him. My goal is to amplify Ben's efforts, to put more people in contact with him.

Ben is already reaching more people. His Village Water Harvesting and Reforestation project will affect 20 more villages in our region, restoring other silted-in reservoirs, planting 50,000 donated trees, composting and mulching them with 10,000 meters of hyacinths currently choking the Presa Allende.

He needs money to do all that. Lokkal's goal is to provide a powerful stream of funding for Ben's projects and other community-building efforts locally, and, as Lokkal replicates, in other localities here in Mexico and around the world.

The thing is, that with his hands in the soil, like many our age, Ben is, more or less, technologically illiterate. Often, I wish I were, too. I've learned a lot more about the digital world than I ever wanted to know. But people, today, are online. And if you want to get their attention, that's where you need to be.

My challenge is to explain Lokkal's revolutionary, world-saving technology. How am I doing so far?


Dr. David presents Lokkal, the social network, the prettiest, most-efficient way to see San Miguel online. Our Wall shows it all. Join and add your point of view.


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