Aquilegia formosa

moving towards a goal I can never hope to reach… April 17, 2010

Filed under: Sustainable,TEOTWAWKI — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:14 pm
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Recently Kate from Living the Frugal Life wrote this post about self-sufficiency… or, as she wrote in the comments, “perhaps it would be more accurate to say a lesser degree of dependence.” She described her efforts towards self-sufficiency with the following: garlic, eggs, potatoes, bread, fruits and other vegetables, and heat/energy. She then posed this question, “so what about you?” in relation to the following areas:

How much does our own skill/labor “count” for in terms of self-sufficiency if we must purchase inputs?
How do you factor in dependence on a locally produced good versus dependence on something produced very far from where you live?  Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?
If you depend upon “infrastructure” (e.g. fruit trees, livestock, PV panels, etc.) that you own, but that will eventually die or wear out, how do you gauge your level of self-sufficiency?

I’ve been reading Kate’s blog for over a year, and I find her a consistent source of inspiration in my own journey towards less reliance on the industrial food system. I think her goal of self-sufficiency and her exercise in evaluating her progress is admirable, and also not easily quantifiable. If I were to attempt a similar assignation of percentages to my own efforts, I imagine I’d be hovering in the 10 to 20% range!

For starters, I don’t own property, and the property I rent is too small to enable me to legally keep animals such as chickens or rabbits. The goal is to buy a property larger than an acre within 3 years, using the proceeds from the sale of my mother’s condo as the down payment. Until that time, upgrading heating and energy efficiency isn’t even a part of the picture.

My concerns at this point are less about self-sufficiency and more about developing the skills to maintain a degree of independence and food security. In my community near Vancouver, BC, food security is considered important enough that the Health Authority provides partial funding for food security councils in several municipalities. Their activities have revolved around creating Harvest Box programs and Farmer’s Markets. The goal is more related to economic accessibility to healthy, local food.

I don’t feel I can respond to all of Kate’s questions, but I’d like to tackle this one:

Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?

Yes, I certainly do think we are more self-sufficient if we can source products from our local communities. I say this because self-sufficiency for me has nothing to do with being able to provide all my own food from my property alone. I think the goal is really self-sufficiency at a community level. I neither have the skill-set or the interest to provide for all of my needs. For example, I have no idea how to work on my car’s engine, but I would consider myself self-sufficient if I could barter with a local mechanic for such work. Further, in a low-energy future (if TSHTF, as Kate so eloquently put it), when I’m not driving my car, I still doubt I’ll have any new mechanical or engineering or construction or plumbing know-how, and I’m sure I’ll still be needing to trade for such services.

As for the skills I have that I could use to trade or barter for such services, I believe I’d be relying on my green thumb and on my inter-personal skills. I am a social work student, and I have spent much time honing my counselling and advocacy skills. As well, I am adept with understanding and negotiating policy. I can’t see these skills being unuseful in a low-energy future. Additionally, I have a lifetime’s background in vegetable gardening. My maternal grandmother was born on a farm, and while her career, coupled with social factors like the Depression and the War, had her leave the family farm, she always kept a kitchen garden, as did my mother, as do I. My father is also a gardener, and my maternal aunt and my two sisters and I have all worked in garden centers. I have an extensive knowledge base and history of practical gardening experience from which to draw. Recently I’ve been coveting a greenhouse and I’ve been working at developing practices to consistently extend my growing season. I can see many possibilities here for trading products or services.

I believe individual self-sufficiency, as in complete self-reliance for the stuff of life, is not possible for human beings, and I don’t think it ever has been in our history. We are communal, tribal beings. We are designed to depend on one another. However, I think self-sufficiency at the community level is an admirable goal. Our planet would be much better served by human beings who produced less fossil fuel exhaust.

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the real food challenge check in March 22, 2010

Filed under: Family,Food — aquilegiaformosa @ 8:18 pm
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My last post, over 3 weeks ago, was a declaration of my intention to participate in a challenge to eat “real food” for a month.
I am officially declaring that to have been a colossal failure.
A week into the challenge, my hubby and I made 2 loaves of bread, one of which was consumed that very evening.
Tonight hubby made cookies.
And that is all we’ve managed to accomplish!!
However, I am still noticing an ongoing transformation of my thinking about food. I am buying fewer and fewer packaged products, even if I am still using store-bought bread, tortillas, crackers, cereal and crumpets.
Today, while shopping with hubby, after watching him grab 3 cans of concentrated pink lemonade, I told him I’d rather choose some fresh juice, as it had likely come from closer to home. I bought some organic unfiltered apple juice from California. Not super-local… But the kids are much less likely to rebel if there’s something to supplement water.
Oh, and speaking of the kids, my boy is surprising ALL of us, and mostly himself, with the foods he’s tried. Hubby’s oatmeal raisin cookies form tonight… And oatmeal for breakfast! (Granted, it WAS instant, but I’m “using it up!” as my English grandfather says – he grew up during the war…)
So the challenge is not a huge failure, after all… it’s gotten me outside of my normal “box”/ frame of reference, and it’s getting me into my family’s world, getting them on board with eating nutritious and sustainable foods.
And that is a wonderful thing!

 

on not buying packaged foods February 22, 2010

I started writing this post Jan 22nd, a month ago today, when I saw this post by Chiot’s Run over at NDiN. I chose a title, pasted in the link, then wrote these two notes: “about not buying ‘manufactured foods'” and “no more cereal boxes and bags, etc.” Today I read the same post over at Simple Green Frugal Co-op. It sounded vaguely familiar to me, but cooking from scratch was a staple of my childhood, so I thought it could be that. Turns out I needed to be reminded about this topic.

Then, somehow, I was surfing around, and I landed here, at Bad Human! and started reading some of their ‘top posts’, especially the ones about The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I got to the one on ch7, with a picture of McDonald’s french fries, and I thought about my kids, and their love for McDonald’s. I thought about Kim, the Inadvertent Farmer, and her posts over at NDiN about her Real Food Challenge. I was especially inspired by this one, about her momentary hopeless response to watching Food Inc.

She wrote:

Why care? Why try?

I had to look not farther than the two small faces that sit across from me at the dinner table.  The food system that we are putting in place now will be the food system that my children and grandchildren will be nourished by for the foreseeable future…unless we do something about it now.

When I first read that post, I started another unpublished draft post, where I quoted the following from Kim’s same Food Inc. post:

Starting March 1st and for the whole month I am challenging myself to eat nothing commercially processed that I cannot make myself. No more canned beans, or spaghetti sauce, no more pre-made pasta or tortillas.  Gone will be the crackers, chips, and store-bought cereals.  No meat or dairy that is not local and organic for my husband or pre-made veggie burgers for me. Just real food made from ingredients in their simplest forms…no added corn syrup, fillers, or preservatives.

I cannot change the system by myself, but if enough like-minded people come together I must believe that we can and will make a difference.

I would love for you to join us!  Come back March 1st and see what we have in store…

Then I wrote, “Maybe I will, Inadvertent Farmer, maybe I will. :)” I was momentarily as gung-ho as the Inadvertent Farmer… but I didn’t publish that post. Why? Maybe I was afraid of making such a huge declaration. Not that I think anyone actually reads this blog, but, in some senses it’s a way to hold myself accountable to a personal commitment. I’m not always good at that, I love trying out new things, but get bored when the novelty wears thin. So I devise structures (like this blog) to keep myself interested and, hopefully, committed.

I doubt my ability to be successful at such a challenge. I think of all the foods we eat that fall into this category. I think of my kids, and their pickiness about vegetables and their love of processed crap. I think about my husband; he’s not much different. I think about the button on my sidebar, the one that claims “I’m a Food Renegade!” but am I?

I know I try. When I’m feeling ‘less poor than usual’ I will buy organic packaged foods: crackers, cookies for my kid’s lunches, jams and peanut butter, yogurt, maybe even sometimes cereal. Never milk, or butter, or eggs, or cream, or cheese, or bread or any of the staples of our diet.

I grow a lot of vegetables in my garden, but we’re just coming to the end of the winter, and I don’t have a greenhouse yet, so there’s not much going on out there right now. Although it’s been gorgeous and sunny for days and the plants have all been flushing with new growth for a couple of weeks, now, so things are starting up early this year. 🙂

But giving up processed foods?! What would my family eat? I’ve had great success with introducing new vegetables to my husband; sauteed winter greens with lemon and hot sauce are a new favorite, as are rutabaga’s in the stew. However, my kids won’t eat stew; they won’t eat most winter vegetables. They like chicken nuggets, cereal, peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I know there are things I could make from scratch that they would like, which would reduce our dependency on boughten stuff, like muffins, bread, pierogies, pizza, cookies, even crackers. I can follow a recipe. But I’m already over-scheduled, and I don’t want to make myself crazy.

I’m trying to follow my ‘baby-steps’ principle (can you see the Flylady in your mind’s eye?). I’m trying to make real, sustainable change for my family, which means I can’t do this on my own. I have to solicit their participation, their input. I have to educate my husband about being a “label Nazi”, he wants to buy all sorts of crap. My family is very different from the Inadvertent Farmer’s family. For one thing, she’s vegan. For another, she’s made all her own bread for a long time. She has taken on challenges, like granola instead of cereal, making her own nut milks instead of store bought rice milk, so it’s not like it’s going to be ‘easy’ for her, either. Still, I feel much less prepared to take on a challenge such as this.

So, then, what challenge do I feel comfortable taking on right now, considering midterms and research papers and developing trainings on intimacy and sexuality of long term care facility residents with dementia and developing a community even on anti-racism to mark the International Day  for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? I’ve been in the ‘consciousness raising’ stage too long, it’s time to impact more than just the coffee I buy or the way I grocery shop; it’s time to shift the way my kids and my husband eat, too. We all eat processed, packaged grain products. I’m going to start there. Bread. Tortillas. Pasta. Friday night Pizza Night. Cookies. Pierogies. The things I know they eat every day.

I’ll hold off on their cereal for now, but maybe try oatmeal and granola? They whine when they don’t get what they want. 🙂

 

time to try the home creamery? February 1, 2010

Filed under: Food,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 2:06 pm
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Those folks over at Not Dabbling in Normal posted this which discusses making butter and ghee at home. There are also links to the author’s blog, Chiot’s Run with step-by-step how-to guides. The ghee is meant to be a (partial) replacement for non-local olive oil, I believe, but I think it better replaces other vegetable oils like canola, etc, due to the higher smoke point. I wonder if it’s a good choice for deep frying?

The NDiN post also mentions using milk that had soured a bit to make a quick pressed cheese. I love this frugal tip! It makes me think of my grandfather (who grew up in England during the 30’s and 40’s) saying “use it up!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about dairy products lately, as well as the pros and cons of trying raw milk. Many of my favorite sustainable, frugal, local food blogs talk about buying local raw milk. However, these writers are American, and are thus choosing not to use a very different kind of milk than what is sold in Canada. For example, my cousin, who is very into the Slow Food movement, says Canadian milk does not contain antibiotics. I’ve only her word to go on at this point, as I haven’t researched either the Canadian or the American mainstream commercial product, but it’s certainly food for thought. This site from California has some raw milk facts.

The idea of healthy, raw, local milk is somewhat appealing, however, it is illegal(!) to sell it in British Columbia. Home on the Range has a creative solution; interested individuals can buy a “share” in the herd and hire an “agister” (“one who takes care of cattle for a fee”) and then pay a weekly “maintenance” fee. I love the political subversion of this, which is likely more common than just in BC, as the NDiN post mentions doing the same thing in Ohio, as does this Globe and Mail article about an Ontario farm.

One share is $17.50/week for a gallon of milk. That’s $910/year, plus the share price. If I want butter or cream, it’s an additional $8, for 8 or 16 oz., respectively. $8 for half a pound?! That’s at least $8/week, or $416/year, plus extra when I bake, so maybe another $100/year. Right now I pay about $4 to $4.50/lb for conventional butter and less than $3/litre of half and half (10% m.f.) cream. However, since this is about baby-steps, instead of freaking myself out looking at costs per year, I could always start low-key, with a quarter share, for $50 and $5/week for a quart of milk. That’s $260/year, or $22/month.

The jury’s still out on this one, but I think it’s time to give yogurt a try. Maybe also look into soft cheeses, and purchasing the necessary cultures.

 

what I’ve been up to January 23, 2010

…because I haven’t been blogging. 🙂

I’ve been working away diligently at being a mom and at being an awesome social worker.

I’ve been reading lots of blogs about yummy, frugal, local meals:

I’ve been thinking and researching local food (on the ‘net) and the academic literature around this whole food movement. I picked up a few books from my university’s library. They are:

  • The Slow Food Story by Geoff Andrews, 2008.
  • French Beans and Food Scares: Culture and Commerce in an Anxious Age by Susanne Freidberg, 2004.
  • Outgrowing the Earth: the Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures by Lester R. Brown, 2004.
  • Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us by Christopher D. Cook, 2004.

I didn’t have much time at the library, so I just grabbed according to publication date and then interest in the title or back jacket blurb. I don’t know that I’m going to read them all – I really don’t have a lot of time, I have papers to write on a few different subjects. Diet for a Dead Planet sounds a little grim for me , but the back jacket quotes Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet for a Small Planet, a cookbook I remember fondly from my childhood) about how the book can “motivate change before it’s too late… we don’t have to be victims.” So I read self-empowerment in that, a bottom-up, grassroots approach to changing food production. Outgrowing the Earth seems like it will be similar, but with a global warming, population surging, environmental science approach, rather than a political, economic, health care approach to the topic. I’m not too into grim, scary, however. I don’t need all the evidence recounted to me, I find it overwhelming and depressing. I’d rather skip right to the ‘what to do’ chapters.

The Slow Food Story seems interesting so far; I’ve read half of the chapter on the history of the movement, in Italy in the 70’s as an offshoot of leftist political action. I like that premise – that the pleasure taken in eating well can be a political action. That by making ethical food choices, I am making a political statement. That is empowering to me because I feel like I have no political clout in this country, even though I exercise my democratic right to vote. My vote counts for squat because of the party system. By participating in the politics of food production, I’m participating in direct democracy. This might be the book to focus on for this semester.

I also read a few great blog posts about packaged foods, quitting grocery shopping, and the ethics of raising chickens and buying seeds. These posts have got me thinking so much, I’m planning separate blog posts about each topic. I am fascinated by ethics. I’ve taken a couple of courses at my university on ethics, “morality and politics” and “ethics and public policy.” (The prof who taught those is currently teaching “environmental ethics” which I would have loved to take, if it hadn’t conflicted with a course required for my degree.) I think this journey I’ve begun is heavily related to doing what I think is right, moral, ethical. I think we have a responsibility, a duty of care, to one another and to this planet. If we are doing things that are killing plants, animals, ecosystems, entire human cultures, we are doing things that are wrong.

But are we doing harm intentionally? And do we see the harm we’re doing? Are we responsible for discovering and rectifying the damage? Can we compel others to do the same?

Thinking deep thoughts, that’s what I’ve been up to.

 

farmer’s market, fresh greens January 17, 2010

Filed under: Food,Garden,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:30 pm
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I’ve been doing a bit of research on the ol’ ‘net into possible sources of local food. Turns out, this isn’t the best time of year to be diving into this! Of course I already knew this, but I had a bit of hope for something out of season. I’ve discovered a few great links for the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley areas. Firstly, the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets has a page listing winter markets. According to this, I could hit up the Abbotsford market on Jan 30th and the Mission market on Feb 13th.  Abby’s also got a couple of March dates, and both have some April dates. My school is in Abby, not too far away from this market, but it operates on Sunday, so it may not be worth the trip on it’s own. My dad lives in Mission, so that market could be combined with a visit.

My local farmer’s market, in White Rock, has winter market days April 4th and May 2nd, and is open every week from Father’s Day to Thanksgiving. The 2009 vendor list included Maluma Bison, which is listed as selling sausages and smokies. I’m excited to see what’ll be there this year – maybe some good connections to locally raised meat?!

Other markets that are close to my neighbourhood and the places I often find myself driving are: the Langley market, starting July 8th, running Wednesdays from 3 to 7 pm; the Ladner Village market (with over 140 vendors over 3 city blocks, on June 13th & 27th, July 11th & 25th, Aug 8th & 22nd and Sept 8th, might be worth a visit or two just for the sheer density of vendors, and could be combined with a visit to West Coast Seeds), and the Surrey market in Whalley, running  from June to September on Wednesday afternoons starting at 1pm.

Still, not too much happening in January! However, I’ve still a bit of kale and Swiss chard growing in my back garden, and we had a nice helping of kale sauteed with carrots and yellow peppers with dinner on Thursday night. Also, I’ve started sprouting some seeds in my kitchen. I’ve got onion, alfalfa, sunflower and mung, all from Thompson & Morgan seed co., which I bought last spring from a local nursery. I’ve also got some wheat berries I purchased in the bulk section at Choices ( a local yuppie organic grocery chain), probably conventionally farmed and shipped from who knows how far away – I’m going to try sprouting those ones, too. Once I’ve used up that batch, I’ll see if I can find a more local, ethical, sustainable source for my sprouting seed.

And soon, if this post is any indication, I can begin starting spinach seed indoors to cut and to transplant into the garden under row covers at the beginning of March. I’m getting very excited for the growing season ahead!