Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘sustainable lifestyles’ Category

black-walnut-shirt-and-homegrown-vest-blog

Homegrown cotton vest with black walnut-dyed shirt.

Fibershed is the name of a non-profit organization started by Rebecca Burgess in 2010 in California. Her goal was to “develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters.” Since then her work has expanded and other Fibershed groups around the world have signed on to explore textile production in their own regions. You will find their Facebook pages and activities on the Internet. It is a fitting name for a group looking close to home for their fiber sources. Just like watershed is concerned with where the water comes from for a region, and foodshed looks at our local food systems, I can see the word fibershed becoming a buzz word anywhere someone is talking about clothing themselves locally.

On the Fibershed website I found the term soil-to-skin. I have often used the term seed-to-garment, but I like soil-to-skin, since it takes the concerns further. I also found soil-to-soil used on the website. If your clothes will compost, just bury them at the end of their useful life and let them replenish the soil. Twenty years ago not so many people were as concerned about the source of their food as they are presently. Now, I hope they start talking more about where their fiber comes from—their fibershed. As with their food, it all starts with the soil to produce cotton, flax/linen, and wool. Synthetic fibers are not part of this conversation.

cotton-brown-openboll-copy

brown cotton boll

Many of the Fibershed groups deal heavily with wool. That could be because there are more farmers with small herds of fiber animals than there are farmers with small plots of cotton. I don’t say much about wool because I have my hands full with the cotton and flax/linen from my garden. So much of the cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified that you might think that non-GMO organic cotton is not available to the consumer. I sew my own clothes and set out to see what I could find. It would be wonderful to have sewn a whole wardrobe by now from my homegrown cotton and linen, but so far I have only a vest and a shirt. Spinning the fiber takes time, but it is mindful and enjoyable work. I have learned about the toxic effects of textile dyes and have been exploring those, also. There is a black walnut tree in my backyard and I eat lots of onions from my garden. Walnuts and onion skins are both terrific for dyeing.

onion-skin-shirt-blog

Shirt dyed with onion skins.

I like to use Kona cotton for shirts because it wears so well. When I did some checking I found that it met the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX certification for human-ecological requirements. That doesn’t mean it is organic, but they are moving in the right direction. You’ll find Kona cotton in fabric stores and quilt shops. I wanted to make a shirt to wear with my homegrown cotton vest, but couldn’t find a color in my fabric store that would do. However, this fall I had experimented with the black walnuts and realized that produced just the color I needed. Furthermore, I discovered that Dharma Trading Company sold Kona Cotton PFD (prepared for dyeing); meaning that it was not treated with optical whiteners. I bought enough for two shirts. You can see the black-walnut dyed shirt in the first photo at the top of this page and the shirt dyed with onion skins here. Obviously, this shirt took the color well from the onion skins. I’ve already rinsed out any extra color, but it may fade a bit over time. The buttons were in my stash from previous projects or cut from old clothes.

I needed a new turtleneck shirt to wear with my new homegrown cotton shirt. It is hard for me to find cotton turtlenecks in the weight of fabric I want (they all seem to be too thin) and ones that have cuffs and enough length in the body and in the sleeves. My search for organic cotton led me to Organic Cotton Plus, a company started in Texas by organic cotton farmers to sell directly to people like you and me. It has since entered the global marketplace. I found nice organic cotton interlock for my turtleneck shirts! You can order swatches (99 cents each) of the fabrics you are interested in if you want to see and feel it first, like me. I bought enough fabric for two shirts and made a pattern from an old turtleneck that fit me best, making adjustments as necessary. I love this new shirt. It is a recent project, so sorry, I have no photo to show you of the turtleneck I made, but you’ll see it eventually. I will make the second shirt when I decide what I want to dye it with. Organic Cotton Plus had this interlock in colors, but none that matched what I needed.

I initially took an interest in Organic Cotton Plus because I was looking for organic cotton grown in the U.S. I had already bought naturally brown denim for jeans from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. Although that’s how it started out, not all the cotton for fabrics sold through Organic Cotton Plus comes from this country. I see that the organic fabric for my turtlenecks came from India. Maybe I’m helping to support the Indian farmers that Vandana Shiva worked with to overcome their experience with Monsanto and GMOs. That would be a good thing.

3-pair-homedyed-socks-blog

I knitted three pairs of wool socks this past year from yarn I bought from Kathy Oliver of Sweet Tree Hill Farm. Kathy is a shepherd and we are both members of the same handspinning group. I bought the first two skeins at the Powhatan Fiber Festival in April and knitted the first pair in the natural color. I grew Japanese indigo last summer and used it for my first dyeing adventures, resulting in the blue socks. It was so much fun I bought a third skein when I saw her at the Fall Fiber Festival in October. I used that skein to play with indigo, onion skins, and black walnuts to make variegated yarn.

I applaud the groups that are working to develop textile systems that are environmentally safe and people friendly. It is when we take a closer look at our systems that we can detect ways we can change them—or, maybe do without. You probably know that I’ve worked with growing food and looking closely at what it would take to grow a complete diet. In my blog posts on Homegrown Fridays I share my experiences of limiting what I consumed on the Fridays in Lent to only what I grew myself. That was definitely an eye-opener, so I can see that if someone decided to limit their clothes to what could be produced naturally in their region, they have an adventure ahead of them. Rebecca and her group are working to change the system. I am on a personal journey to produce my own clothes as close to home as possible. If I have to buy fabric or yarn I want my purchases to do the most good they can. Meanwhile, I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will start a journey of their own. There is so much fun stuff to do in this world on our way to making it a better place!homeplace earth

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

home economics--BLOGAfter many years of rarely hearing the term, I have seen “home economics” pop up recently here and there. That might be due to the DIY movement going on. It catches my attention because that was my major at Ohio State University. In 1975 I received a degree in Home Economics Education. When I started on that path my intention was to be a cooperative extension agent and help people be more productive at home. However, by the time I graduated I had already married my college sweetheart and our first child was two. It had been an eventful six years since high school graduation.

My husband and I chose to start our family early and live on one income. When our first child was born I stayed home and put everything I learned in my college classes to good use. We had to watch our pennies carefully. Home economics education involved classes in clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, housing and home furnishings, family and child development, and education. At Ohio State I attended the School of Home Economics within the College of Agriculture. By the time I graduated classes in consumerism were being added. Now if I wanted to be an extension agent, rather than a Home Economics agent, I would be Family and Consumer Sciences agent and would attend the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State.

I did end up becoming active with extension as a volunteer. I was a 4-H leader with my children for many years and the county office gave my number out frequently when people called in with questions about organic gardening, school gardens, composting with worms, and hatching baby chicks. That helped prompt me to become a teacher at the local community college, since there was a need for adult education. Gardening was not part of my curriculum at Ohio State, but was a natural extension of providing my family with good nutrition. I had studied everything I could find about organic gardening and put it to use, just like my other education.

No matter what education we have, we can make the life we want. I learned to sew as a young 4-Her, so by the time I was in college I already had skills and even made my wedding dress. My arms and legs are longer than most. Learning to sew was a way for me to have clothes that fit—also, I don’t like to shop. I made our children’s clothes while they were growing up, saving the fabric scraps, which eventually led me to take up quilting. When we make the life we want, we have the opportunity to do things and to have things that we can’t get elsewhere. You could even make your own blue jeans, which is what I’ve been doing for well over thirty years now.

Cindy's jeans-front-BLOGWhen I first started to make my own jeans I altered a store-bought pants pattern to fit like my favorite pair of store-bought jeans. If you have a favorite garment, wear it out, then cut it apart and use it as a pattern, allowing for seam allowances, of course. From patching my own jeans and those of my children, I realized that if pants were looser, the knees wouldn’t wear out so quickly. Also, if the back pockets were larger, like the ones on bib overalls, in addition to fitting more things in them, they provided an extra layer on my behind and the seat of the pants wouldn’t wear as much. Cindy's jeans-back-BLOGI began changing my pattern, eventually adding pleats in the front so I would have more room in my front pockets. (I really like pockets.) The front pockets are lined with the same denim as the pants. Even if I put screws in them, the pockets don’t wear out. The only problem I have with making my own jeans is finding heavy 14 oz. denim (14 oz. per square yard). I generally make two pair every two years and have to search the Internet each time, usually finding denim at Syfabrics.com. Once you know how to do something, you can change it anyway you want, and that goes for much more than clothes.

Money can’t buy a pair of jeans like this that fit me. When we hear the word economics we usually think in terms of dollars; however, home economics involves so much more than $. Even if you don’t sew, there are so many other things to do yourself in a household and on your homestead that will bring you more pleasure than anything you could buy. Any skill you can add is a plus. Learn to cook and feed your family as close to farm-to-table as you can; growing your own makes it even better. Learn to troubleshoot problems that occur and fix them yourself. Acquire tools and learn to use them.

It helps if there is more than one adult in the household. I leave the electricity and plumbing work, plus the major building projects to my husband. Some people yearn for a home theater. Not us, we have a library and a workshop. A home library may start out as a bookshelf in the living room and find a room of its own after the kids are grown, such as in our case. You can start your library by making your own bookcase, sized to fit your space.

outside sewing kit (2)Speaking of making your own, if you are looking to make a simple homemade gift for someone, make them a sewing kit. It can be sewn entirely by hand and you could even use pieces from your old shirts to make it. In the first photo you can see one opened up. It has buttons and a safety pin for emergency repairs. The pins and needles attach to the outside of the fabric pockets. The thimble, scissors, and a card with thread wrapped around it are stored in the pockets. The whole thing folds in half. I show the outside opened up here. If you’ve always wanted to make a quilt, this could be your start. Make two small quilt squares together, fold fabric for the pockets on the other side and add binding on the edges. I gave one as a gift to someone going off to college. She told me later how handy it was when she needed to make a repair. The scissors you see in the top photo are inexpensive fold-up ones. You could jazz up yours with some fancy embroidery scissors. It is fun to make, fun to give, and fun to use.

Tools and books are usually on the wish lists we make up at this time of year. If you have someone on your gift list who is just beginning home projects, quality hand tools and a toolbox to put them in are good gifts. If they already have some, maybe they need an upgrade. As for power tools, a drill and a circular saw are good places to start. A sewing machine and sewing classes at a fabric store are my suggestions for someone learning to sew. For the kitchen, canning jars, a water bath canner, or a pressure canner might be appropriate. My books and DVDs are great suggestions for the gardeners on your gift list. Doing things for yourself is empowering. Things might not turn out as you expect the first few times you try something new, but that’s part of the journey.

The winter solstice is coming up. I always find wonder in the change from the shortest day to the slightest bit longer. My chickens even notice. In January I’ll write about garden reports. Until then, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a peace filled New Year.homeplace earth

 

Read Full Post »

clothesline with clothes-BLOGWe don’t have an electric clothes dryer at our house. We used to have one, but took it out because we never used it. In its place there is room for crocks and for shelves full of jars of dried food. We hang our laundry to dry outside on the clothesline, which is actually a solar clothes dryer. When we moved here in 1984 I stretched three rows of clothesline from the garage to the pumphouse by putting large screw eyes in the eaves of both buildings. In case you are thinking that it must never rain here—it does, regularly. The total rainfall for our area is about 44” annually, more or less spread evenly throughout the year. In June we had 8” of rain, which is a pretty wet month. Nevertheless, we were still able to dry the clothes on the line. I watch the weather and do laundry on the dry days. So far in July we have had 2.2” of rain.

shirts hanging on shower rod-BLOGWe put shirts on hangers and hang them on the shower rod in the bathroom. Give them a good shake before hanging and you get out many of the wrinkles. Another trick to having less wrinkles is to not let the clothes sit in the washer too long after the cycle is finished. Once the shirts are dry they are hung back in the closets.

It is surprising how many good drying days on the clothesline we have in the winter. Sometimes the clothes are freeze-dried, but that’s okay, they still dry. In the winter we make good use of the large wooden drying rack we have. That rack is one of the best investments we made back in the early 1980s. Our previous house was small, making it pretty crowded if I set up the drying rack during the day; so if I was going to use it inside, I would wash clothes in the evening and leave the drying rack up all night in front of a heating vent that was in the wall in the dining room. I could hang a whole load of cloth diapers or other laundry on that rack in the evening and everything would be dry in the morning. You can even put it in a room without direct heat from a vent and the clothes will still dry. If the air in your house is too dry, your wet laundry can be a natural humidifier. This rack folds to 6″ wide and slides into a space beside the refrigerator in the kitchen between uses.

drying rack with herbs and seeds-BLOGIn the photo you can see that a drying rack is good for drying more than laundry. Here it is in use to dry herbs, beans, and roselle. The beans were harvested as dried beans, but I felt they needed a bit more drying before I packed them away. I usually dry the Red Thai Roselle calyxes in my solar dryer outside, but they dried well on these racks inside. There was no fire in the woodstove that day. That is a handy spot to put the rack year round. In the winter the heat from the woodstove speeds the drying. The drying screens are from my solar dryer that was not being used that day. It is nice that the dowels on the rack align so that the screens fit across them like that.

Basements are a good place to put up clotheslines since you don’t have to worry about the weather. If you feel you don’t have time for all this, let me tell you about the year I went back to school to finish college. My husband and I lived in Columbus, Ohio with our firstborn when I was finishing the requirements for my degree in Home Economics Education from Ohio State University. During the quarter I was doing student teaching I didn’t get to bed until at least midnight. If not then, it was 2am—then up at 6am to do it all again. We used cloth diapers on our toddler. In the evening I would put laundry through the washer and we would hang it to dry, including the diapers, on lines in the basement. The laundry we hung the previous evening would be dry. I realize that was 40 years ago, but it would work the same today.

A couple years later we moved to Richmond, Virginia. There are not so many basements in the houses here. The frost line is not so deep, so the building foundations don’t have to be as deep. The house we bought was usual for the area—a small cape cod style house with no basement. In these houses, what would be the attic was usually finished into two bedrooms. We used one of the two upstairs rooms as a catchall room and put clotheslines there. You don’t need a woodstove to dry clothes inside.

My husband and I are pleased to not have to depend on electricity and fossil fuel to dry our laundry. If you are looking for a way to lessen your dependence on such things, seriously consider hanging your clothes to dry. If you look around your house and property you will certainly find a place suitable to dry your laundry. With just a little adjustment in your schedule, I’m sure you can also find a way to ditch your dryer.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

SeedLibraries~MENSeed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has arrived! Homeplace Earth is well stocked and ready to fill orders with signed copies. Writing this book has brought me in touch with wonderful people all over North America who are making a difference in their communities by setting up programs for saving and sharing seeds. You will meet them in the pages and learn what they did and how they did it, giving you ideas to follow their lead with your own program.

Don’t really understand what the big deal about seed is? Seed Libraries will take you through how our society went from one of independent seed savers to a society dependent on corporations for its seed needs and the danger that looms if we don’t take action to change now. The reasons you should save seeds are discussed, such as preserving genetic diversity, flavor and nutrition, unique varieties, and cultural heritage. Other reasons include growing to seed to attract beneficial insects, saving money growing your own seeds, and learning new skills. It is always good to learn something new and seed saving will make you a better gardener.

Seed libraries are often located in public libraries. You will learn just how much these institutions have to offer. Having a seed library located in a public library is good for community access and good for a public library that wants to expand its programs and stay relevant to the community it serves. Whether a seed library is located in a public library or elsewhere, often it is in partnership with other groups. You will find examples of some of these groups and their projects in this book.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

You need seeds to start a seed share program and you need to take care of them. Where to find seeds to start, how to take care of them, and how to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable is all covered. You also need people supporting your project. You will discover who would be beneficial to have on your committee and how to form a mission statement. A mission statement is one of the most important things you can have to define your project to others.

How to package the seeds, sign up seed-sharing members, and how to educate your members so they will bring back healthy seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other varieties is all in the book. The plight of seeds is so important that everyone should be aware of seeds, not only the seed savers. This book is loaded with ideas to celebrate seeds throughout the year, keeping the excitement and momentum going for all involved.

Not all seed share programs take the form of organized seed libraries. Sometimes it starts with friends saving and sharing seeds among themselves and grows to public seed swaps. In fact, seed swaps are good ways to become acquainted with sharing seeds and are a good prelude to a seed library. You can use the ideas in this book to organize your own seed swap.

If you are already involved in a seed library, the ideas in Seed Libraries will help to energize your project. There is so much to know and think about and this book puts it all together in one place, making it easier for you to have the information at hand, and easier to explain it to others that you want to involve in your project. Just give them a copy and you can discuss the issues together. Links to Internet resources are listed, giving you access to the helpful materials there and keeping you up-to-date on the changes that seed libraries are experiencing as these new seed sharing programs continue to evolve.

We are living in exciting times and I invite you to be part of the positive changes that are coming in our society. I hope you like the book!Homeplace Earth

 

UPDATE: In Seed Libraries I wrote about Sascha DuBrul being the one to come up with the idea for the first seed library. In his blog post http://www.mapstotheotherside.net/history-of-seed-libraries/ he tells the back story of that time. Keep reading to the end and he posts what I wrote about him in the book, which will help you to understand his story. You never know what will happen to your ideas when you follow your heart–and being a little crazy is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Read Full Post »

???????????????????????????????As you are wrapping up the gardening year, I hope you have recorded questions you might have had over the season. Maybe you have a crop that just never performs as well as you would like or maybe you would like to expand your activities to grow something different or grow your usual crops in different ways. Just maybe, you are looking forward to using a cold frame, building a low tunnel, or putting up trellises in 2015 but you don’t know much about those things. This winter would be a good time to set yourself on the path of self-directed education.

Having questions of your own is the best first step. Searching for the answers is the next. Observation in your own garden is a good place to start. I hope you have taken notes over the course of the gardening year about what puzzles you in the garden. Then, hit the books and see what others have to say. I know that people have become accustomed to searching the Internet and YouTube for information and I don’t mean to discount that. There is a lot of good information out there (including this blog) and there is a lot of not-so-good information. Pay attention to the source.

When I produced the cover crop and garden plan DVDs I had people like you in mind. The DVDs would be used in the classes I taught at the community college where they are still part of the curriculum, but are also available to anyone wanting to further their gardening education. Not everyone can fit a college class into their schedule, even if one was available to them. My DVDs can be used by individuals or with groups and can be watched over and over. They are a great way to bring everyone into the same understanding of the subject to start discussions.

My book Grow a Sustainable Diet takes the garden planning and cover cropping further by including planning to grow a substantial part of your food and the cover crops to feed back the soil, while keeping a small footprint on the earth. In the first photo you see me working on that book. During the writing of each chapter I would get out books for reference and they would pile up beside my desk. When I finished a chapter, I would put the reference books away and start a new pile with the references for the next chapter. (By the way, I bought that wonderful desk at a church yard sale.) Whether I am writing a book, working on my garden plan, or researching something new I want to do in my garden, the scene is the same. I check the resources I’ve developed from my garden myself, refer to books on my shelf, refer to books from the libraries (I frequent several) and check out what is on the Internet.

Sometimes when I am learning about a new crop, or fine-tuning what I know about something I’ve been growing awhile, I will write a paper about it to put in my garden notebook. It would answer all the questions I have about that crop and include some ideas for the future. In the paper I document where I found the information in case I need to reference it later. If you were taking a class somewhere you would have to write papers—maybe on things you have no interest in. You are the director of your own education here, so all the papers you write for yourself are relevant and timely.

???????????????????????????????I learned to garden before the Internet was a thing. With a limited budget I learned from the experienced folks who wrote the books that I found at the library, primarily the ones published by Rodale Press in the 1970s and 80s. Then Chelsea Green came on the scene with New Organic Grower. Since then there have been many more good gardening books published, including the ones by my publisher, New Society. All the while I was reading those books, I was trying out the authors’ ideas and coming up with my own. The learning is in the doing. Get out in your garden and just do things. Encourage your library to stock the books you want to learn from. If you are going to buy them, try to buy from the authors themselves. Some good books are out of print, but thanks to the Internet, you can find them through the used book websites. Used book stores are some of my favorite places to shop. When you find something particularly helpful, buy it for your personal library. Put the books you would like on a Christmas Wish List. If someone asks you for suggestions, you will be ready.

???????????????????????????????When the opportunity arises, go to programs and presentations that are offered in your community and regional conferences. Something might even pop up at your local library. This photo shows the publicity that the Washington County Seed Savers Library gave to their upcoming gardening programs in April 2014. There is a poster to show that I would be speaking there and a brochure that listed all the spring programs. These programs were free to the public!

There will be a cost involved for conferences, but you can recoup that in the knowledge gained from the experience—and from the connections you make through the people you meet. Sometimes the best thing to do, especially if you are new at this, is to spend your time listening to what everyone has to say. You can even learn a lot listening to the discussions going on over lunch. I just returned from the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas. I enjoyed meeting people following my work and those who just discovered it. I also enjoyed spending time with other authors, editors, and the Mother Earth News staff. Although we email throughout the year, it is good to meet-up in person.

My next adventure is to attend Seed School in Buhl, Idaho both as a student and as a presenter on seed libraries. That’s where I’ll be when you receive this post on November 4, 2014. I am looking forward to sharing what I know and to learning from everyone else who is there. Take control of your own gardening education and plan to spend this winter learning wherever you can. Fill your garden notebook with your customized garden plan and with information specific to you.Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

VA 100 mile map - BLOGWhen I taught the class Four Season Food Production at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the first project of the semester was a 100 Mile Food Plan. Working in groups, the students were to imagine their food supply was going to be disrupted and their only food, beginning January 1, was going to be from local sources. The project was due in mid-September, so they were to feel fortunate that they had this heads-up months in advance. In real life disruptions occur with increasing frequency with no advance warning. They would have to source their food within a 100 mile radius of where they lived.

The students would need to find sources for winter food and be able to store it or preserve it now. Or, they would need to know a farm where they could buy it as needed, since the grocery stores would be closed. They could grow it themselves, of course, but that would take awhile and winter was coming on. This was a year-long plan, so growing it themselves would be planned in. If the animal products in their plan depended on feed shipped in and not grown locally, that would be a consideration.

My intent in assigning this project was to acquaint them with the local food system. I wanted to get them out to the farmers markets to talk with the farmers and find out what was available. I also wanted them to think about exactly what it was they ate and how much they needed for a year. They received extra credit if they brought in a highway map of Virginia with their location pinpointed and circles at 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles away. It had to be a highway map so that it showed all the localities. When they first thought of this 100 mile limit, many students thought it would severely limit their choices until they actually put the circles on a map. Even if you are not familiar with Virginia, you can see from my map that there are mountains on the left and the ocean on the right—all within 100 miles from my house as the crow flies. The area goes north into Maryland and dips into North Carolina to the south. Make a map of your own and see what you would have to choose from.

This project sure was an ice-breaker. One thing that always happened in my classes was that people talked to each other. Each group had to assess the strengths of each of its members. Someone may have land available for future growing and others may have money, tools, skills, storage facilities, or muscle to contribute to each “community”. They would need to show on a chart what foods they found and where, how much they would need of each food for the year for their group, and how it would be stored or preserved. I also wanted their comments on what strengths and weaknesses they found in our present local food system. This generated plenty of discussion about what would happen if everyone had to suddenly depend on these local sources and what, if any, changes in their lifestyle and diet this project encouraged. I always enjoyed the interaction among everyone. I remember one group that had both a long-time vegan and a young woman whose family ate mostly meat.  When you are planning for a community, everyone must be considered.

Ashland Market SignWhen I first started teaching at the college in 1999, farmers markets were few and far between. It amazes me how many there are in 2013, with the number growing each year. I was one of the founding farmers of the Ashland Farmers Market. I stopped selling vegetables after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching in order to put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets. The produce, meat, eggs, and honey sold at the Ashland market must have been grown within a 30 mile radius of the town. If shown as a circle on my map, it would be just outside the inner circle. Most markets don’t have such a limit. Besides farmers markets, there are many other options for people to connect with local growers. You can find sources for food grown in your area by checking www.localharvest.org.

The two items my students had the hardest time finding were grains and cooking oil. There was much discussion about the possibility of making oil from the black walnuts that are prevalent in the area. That was before the Piteba, a home-scale oil press, was available. Even with that press, I’m sure the novelty of making oil from walnuts would wear off quickly. There was also much discussion about a source for salt. To really learn, you need to begin with questions and my students generated lots of questions while doing this project. You are probably familiar with Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a story of one family eating locally for a year. Once that book came out in 2007, many people began to think seriously about where their food comes from. About the same time, the book Plenty by Canadians Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon was published. This couple had fewer resources than Kingsolver’s family did. They ate a lot of potatoes and tried their hand at sauerkraut which smelled up their small apartment. I encourage you to read both books.

It can be quite a shock to your system to change your food supply suddenly. It is much better to ease into it and make changes gradually if you want them to last. The change needs to start in your mind, and that’s why I had my students do this project. I didn’t expect them to come up with all the answers to a plan that could be implemented right away. That would take much more planning. I did expect them to begin to question their diets and food sources. It certainly got them to focus the rest of the semester on actually growing their own food.

The next project was on cover crops and then there was one about designing a season extension structure to cover a 100 ft² bed. Although it was not required to build the structure they designed, many students did and managed to get it planted that fall. With the first project, all agreed that if we actually had to depend solely on local supplies, there would not be enough food for everyone. With that in mind, they went ahead and built their structure. For the last project, each student was assigned a vegetable and had to write a newsletter about it as if they were a farm and this was their featured product for sale. I left the college in 2010 to be able to address a larger community. The classes continue with my daughter Betsy Trice as the instructor. Betsy has put her own spin on the classes, but she still assigns the 100 Mile Food Plan. If all the grocery stores were to close on January 1, where would your food come from?Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: