Fertile ground

January 21, 2010

I am fortunate to live in a very southern climate.  While it can dip below freezing in the winter, we also have many days that reach the mid-seventies.  Today was one of those days.  

Because of our mild climate, we are, in this area, able to garden year around.  In the past, there was always something growing in the little patch behind my house whether it be tomatoes in the summer or lettuces in the winter.   Unfortunately last year with my mother ill, my garden went dormant and remained so for a year, which also means it went to weed.  I considered yanking the whole thing and starting over in nice boxes that might save me some time weeding and hoeing and tilling up natures annoyances.  But I changed my mind and after today I am glad I did. 

Why?  Simply put, when I pulled back the pine straw that covered most of the garden I found a veritable metropolis of life.    Once upon a time I would have cringed to see the earth moving or have bugs crawl over my hand as I rested it on the ground.   But today I sat in the watery sunshine of a fine January day and rejoiced that the soil I have tended and nurtured over the last five years is still fertile.  Fertile enough to support an abundance of life.  Fertile enough to support the plants I wanted to sow. 

The thing about organic gardening is coming to terms with nature.   It is all the craze to build boxes and get your gardens up out of the dirt.  But I don’t like that and until today I couldn’t put my finger on why (well, other than the cost!)  It may save some time but it also creates a barrier between the earth and your food.  Weeding is never fun but you have to give credit to those little plants with deep roots that struggle just for survival only to be ruthlessly yanked from their homes and left to die. 

Today I planted about 100 white and red onions.  I am looking forward to pulling the young ones out of the ground for shallots in the spring and the big bulbs in the late summer and fall.  For some time I avoided the garden because of the work involved in reclaiming it but the fruits of my labor will certainly be worth it!

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Sustainability

December 29, 2009

“When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir

I recently had lunch with a colleague who has left telecommunications and entered the world of bio-fuels.  Producing leaner, cleaner fuels to run our cars, trucks, trains and ships.  It’s renewable rather than depleatable like fossil fuels.  It leaves us much less dependant upon OPEC and the Middle East.  

Sounds great right?  I thought so too until we started discussing how much acreage is needed to produce bio fuels.   Bio fuels produced from palm oils would require thousands upon thousands of acres of rain forest to be cleared and planted with palm trees.   Rain forests aren’t just some neat place to vacation every now and then, they are vital to the earth’s ecology by recycling carbon gases into oxygen, helping recycle water from the earth back into the atmosphere to have it fall back down again, which makes them critical for weather patterns.  

Then there are biofuels produced from algae.   But they require a shallow area in the sea so they can get sunlight – an area about the size of Rhode Island.  Imagine how giant floats of algae would alter the ocean ecology. How many species would die from oxygen deprivation due to clusters of algae like the infamous red tide? 

And then my favorite, someone has figured out how to separate the oxygen and hydrogen components of sea water and make it burn.  Imagine, they say…using sea water.  How great, it is not depleatable! ….Or is it?  If we pump billions of gallons of water out a day  or a week or a month, how would that again alter weather patterns?  Would we one day reach the bottom of the well?

The one thing that struck me and struck me hard during that lunch the current American lifestyle is simply not sustainable.  For the sheer fact that, as John Muir states above, when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to other things.

I am finishing up a great book on sustainable living written by Barbara Kingslover, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.    Not only is the book well written – Barbara Kingslover writes well renouned works such as The Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible, but it is also full of useful information, facts and even recipes.

The book explores the Kingslover family quest to spend one year consuming only what they could produce or was grown or produced locally.  Throughout the project, and the book, you and they learn the fine art of gardening, planning, preserving and canning and raising animals for meat. Frightening facts are sprinkled liberally throughout the book such as the water piped into to serve Arizona residents is considered toxic to aquarium fish but safe for humans or how humans are closer to starvation than we know because of our reliance on unicrop food production has dwendled the available food species to just a few, meaning just one blight could put the earth on a course for global famine.  She also pulls no punches on “big food” and their appalling practices such as raising over 1,000 turkeys into a room the size of my bathroom all in the name of mass producing cheap turkeys for the holidays while not criticizing farmers, including tobacco farmers, for making a living.

Even if you don’t plan on living off the land, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a good read and a good opportunity to think about how and where you get your own food and why paying more may be worth the price.

I didn’t put a source for this quote because I have seen several sources. It is mainly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi or Mohatma Gandhi but I have also seen other names attached.  Knowing how accurate the web is (sarcasm alert), I am not going to take the chance of attributing it but will just say…it is a great quote.

In this season of consuming, it is important to think about what we buy, where it comes from and how it is made.  The United States is among the worlds most prolific consumers, utilizing resources worldwide to keep our ever constant demand supplied.  But our demands negatively impact people’s lives in the third world by purchasing goods made from slave labor, sweatshops, and resource depletion all in the name of feeding the god…Consumerism.

Today, take a step back and rethink what you give for Christmas or Chanukah.  Think about giving of yourself, your time, or an experience over a material item.  Afterall, memories are the only thing we take with us, in the end.

The answer is most usually yes.  I know, the price of organic foods is high but you really can eat organic and healthy on a budget. 

Here is the secret.  Eat seasonally, buy locally and eat less.  It takes some adjustment and a bit of an adventurous streak but in the end, it is cheaper and healthier for you and the environment. 

Virtually every part of the country has access to either farmers markets or community sponsored agriculture.  The first is where local farmers bring their produce and other products usually one or two days a week.  I am lucky, I live in a city that has not 1, not 2 but 7 different farmers markets going on throughout the week.   The prices on these foods are generally slightly lower than you would find on the same organically grown produce in a grocery store because the farmers have taken out the middle man.  But, wait for it…you get a bonus.  You get the best tasting and the most nutritionally sound produce because it was picked either the day before or more often the morning it was brought to market.  

Produce in the grocery store, even organic produce is nutritionally inferior (organic does not boost nutrition, it simply limits how much poison you and the earth absorb growing that particular item).  It was picked before peak ripeness so it would come to you fresh and pretty and ripe on the grocery store shelves.  When it is picked prior to ripeness, not all of its nutrition has been fully set.  And then once separated from the plant, vegetables and fruits almost immediately begin to lose nutritional content, in other words, it begins to die.  So the week or two it spends between the grower and the grocer it is steadily declining in vitamins and minerals.   Not only that, but most often organic produce is grown in California or south of the border and shipped at great expense and great CO2 emissions to your waiting grocer’s shelves.   

By choosing a farmers market you are not only getting the best produce but you are buying local, supporting local small farms that have a tough time making a living against giant commercial agriculture, you are reducing your carbon footprint by reducing emissions that it took your food to come from where it was grown to your plate and you are getting the best bang for your nutritional buck.

Community sponsored agriculture (CSA) is another great option.  This is where you “buy into” a farm.  You buy shares and receive a box weekly of what that farm produces.  It is just as good as the farmer’ markets but perhaps a bit riskier. Farming itself is risky business and if a farm produces a bounty, all CSA members share in that bounty.  But if it has a hard year, you share in that too.  I would love to do this but you have to find a CSA selling new shares. Most of the farms in my area take advantage of the farmers  markets and the limited markets that buy local produce therefore there are fewer CSA opportunities.

I have the best option.  Living in a very green city, a local entrepreneur started a delivery grocery business.  When possible they buy from local farmers but they also have a nice selection of other grocery items you can buy. It is like shopping at Whole Foods over the internet and it comes directly to your door.  I will post more on that another time. 

For now, check out this website to find your local farmers market or CSA.

Local Harvest

If you live in Central Texas or San Antonio check out Greenling

Living to Work

May 14, 2009

This past weekend one of my husband’s co-workers passed away.  He was in his 50’s, in seemingly good health and fit.  It made me think of all the professionals I know that spend 10 or more hours a day, not including their commute, in the prime of their lives (their 30’s) and the youth of their children’s lives, at an office away from their families.  Many miss important milestones hoping that some day, all their hard work will pay off and some day they will have time to relax, travel and experience fun.  Some day typically means retirement.

I have to ask…… why?  At the end of the day, the golden years often aren’t very golden.   In fact, if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement, not having been stopped by the two biggest killers in the US  heart disease or cancer, we will likely not have the energy or the money to just do what we want.    Why wait until our kids have kids to enjoy spending time with a child? 

I say work less now, pare down expenses to live on less, take time out for our children now while they are young and developing, take time to travel now while you can enjoy the experience without fear of health issues and fixed incomes weighing on your minds. 

I hate to break the bad news but you can’t bank time and experiences to be saved up and used when you are ready for them.  You either live now….or you don’t.

Break the Christmas Craziness

December 12, 2008

I am not a religious person.  However, I watched this video and was moved by the message – spend less, give more of yourself, simplify Christmas, live simply so that others may simply live.

The Advent Conspiracy

According to this, it would cost $10 billion to provide safe drinking water to every person on the planet.  Yet Americans spent over $450 billion on Christmas last year and many people still lack safe drinking water and die from diseases caused by water contamination.

Something to think about.   Every pebble into the pond causes ripples all the way to the edge.  Every dollar we spend in the United States affects, advertently or inadvertently, someone living in dire poverty in the third world.