r h i z o m i c o n has been working in the area of sustainability for over a decade, merging the perspectives of marketing, consumer behavior, and economic sociology. There are two streams of work in sustainability:

  1. Design & Architecture
  2. Research on Sustainable Agriculture

We are currently working in a new area of sustainable design by providing strategic and technical support for smaller scale sustainable design projects. Our invaluable relationship with landscape designer and contractor Fred Strauss of Terrapin Garden gives us access to his network and expertise in the area of sustainable design and use of native plant species. Our current work focuses on funding, designing, and building sustainable projects, based on the following principles:

  1. Resource efficiency & effectiveness-site, water, & materials
  2.  Energy conservation & efficiency
  3. Indoor environmental & air quality


Shipping Container Architecture We have a particular interest in upcycling using cargo containers, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Here’s an example of the type of usage of cargo containers we are in favor of, posted by Kirsten Dirksen of *fair companies. Architect Karl Wanaselja and his business partner and wife Cate Leger created this office installation in Berkeley, California. The use of a used refrigerated container made of food grade stainless steel at a cost of $1,800 is compelling to say the least.

Tiny Gardens

Another interest we have is in the development of “tiny gardens” (small gardens on balconies or problem areas), using xeriscaping techniques and native and succulent plants. We are developing a book and microblog on our concept of tiny gardens and our aesthetic principles that incorporate:

  • Spatial configuration
  • Shade
  • Climate & microclimates
  • Design
  • Color

Projects Fred Strauss (Terrapin Garden) has worked on:

  1. Composting gabion fence, Orinda, California, in Lamorinda Weekly.
  2. Wilson/Leff House, Austin, Texas, in Wildflower Magazine.
  3. Texas Teahouse, Austin, Texas, in Custom Home Magazine.

Images above: Shipping container offices, London UK, Hometownzero on flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2005. Wilson/Leff house in Austin, Wildflower Magazine © 2008

Video:  “Shipping container as architects’ backyard office”, Kirsten Dirksen of *fair companies.

Research on Sustainable Agriculture

Our research work traces back to the California Direct Marketing Survey (2002 version), a USDA-funded project written by Crispin L. Shelley and Kenneth M. Kambara (USDA-AMS Agreement 12-25-A-3949). Shelley and Kambara teamed up to grantwrite for a 2003 project on community supported agriculture (CSAs) in the Far West of the US (USDA-AMS Agreement 12-25-A-4122). These descriptive studies are foundational, offering insights into the specifics of farm viability using alternative, local channels of distribution. The current interest in the localvore or local foods movement  is readily informed by this work. In 2003, Kenneth Kambara and David Lighthall wrote a white paper on sustainable food systems, emphasizing a syncretic view of agriculture.

Over the past few years, r h i z o m i c o n’s work shifted towards examining local and sustainable agriculture within the context of social networks and relations. In other words, the study of the interactions between farmers, consumers, retailers, and other institutions. One paper rebooted prior work on immigrant entrepreneurship in microagriculture strawberry cultivation by Laotian farmers, offering insights into alternative configurations of production that can leverage scarce resources. This was presented at the 2005 American Sociology Association Annual Meetings in Philadelphia, PA.

In 2008, Dr. Kambara worked on a UC Hansen Trust grant on the future of agriculture in Ventura County [pdf]. His sections focused on the possibilities of local and sustainable production, as well as microagriculture opportunities afforded by high-margin crops that had production windows with less competition. These sections are particularly germane in the wake of the Big Recession that saw land values plummet, reducing exurban/suburban pressures on land use in the area.

In 2010 and 2011,  r h i z o m i c o n has been developing research proposals to address viability issues with respect to sustainable and local agriculture through a combination of primary and secondary (e.g., the 2007 Census of Agriculture) data collection and analysis. Specifically, we are interested in examining:

  1. Data analysis of archival datasets, including the 2007 Census of Agriculture, examining the agricultural economics and farm demographics.
  2. Developing case studies of best practices that are tied to marketing opportunities and constraints, with respect to both agricultural viability and sustainability.
  3. Identifying key stakeholders and collecting data from them on issues of agricultural viability and sustainability.
  4. Conduct an assessment of marketing and logistics for agriculture in Ventura County with a focus on small and mid-sized operations and sustainable food systems.
  5. Develop costing and feasibility scenarios for the use of social media and smartphone technologies in given contexts of production, marketing, logistics (cooperation, coordination, and collaboration [*]) and branding.
  6. Develop a practical web-based contextualized knowledgebase (online repository for materials) on the use of social media and smartphone technologies in agriculture and including a technological needs assessment for growers. These materials can be used with social media to disseminate and share information in an interactive manner, be used in educational programs, and provide a means for interactive problem solving, assist in policy decision making, and serve as the basis for future implementations.

Currently, we are offering consulting services for smaller operations and collaboratives seeking to increase efficiencies and enhance viability through marketing, logistics, and social media and mobile/smartphone technologies. We have a certified logistics expert through our alliance with Serpentine Logistics.

[*] These represent a continuum, where cooperation is less formal and collaboration is more formal. Cooperation should not be confused with a cooperative, an organizational form.

Image above, Lilies, CUESA Central Coast Farm Tour, CC BY-NC 2.0.