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.

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

Change, Change, Change

December 8, 2009

I have had a lot of changes in my life recently. Changes that forced me over a year ago to abandon this blog and focus inwardly on my life, and culminated in the loss of my mother to breast cancer.  No one ever wants to lose their parents, especially when their parents are still so young.  But with my mother’s death, I was given an amazing new insight and clarity about life that I didn’t have before. In other words,  with my mother gone I am officially a grown-up.

Yes, I realize that since I AM 38, I should have realized I was grown up a long time ago.  But you really never feel that way until you can no longer pick up the phone to call your mom.  Despite whether you had a good or bad relationship, rocky or smooth, your mother is the true umbilical cord to your childhood. 

And so with this growing up, I am making more changes. Positive changes.  First and foremost, I am changing the name of this blog to “Simply Green”.   The former name is long and unwieldly.  Simply Green, however, aptly conveys my quest to live simply, live green and to save money (green being a double entendre for both the green movement and money).

Not all changes have been as hard as caring for and then losing my mother.  I have made a great many positive changes in my life over the past year and I am excited to tell you about them and I will start tomorrow.

Take care and keep watching.  Simple living is back.

I have always believed you get more from an experience than you do from an object.  Turns out a study published in 2003 supports my theory.

Assistant professor of psychology Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded from a series of experiments and surveys over the course of several years that people receive more pleasure and satisfaction from an experience.  The researchers believe it is because people can internalize experience and their feelings during the experience.  For instance, my sister and I took our children camping.  Over the course of the trip and being novices, we didn’t sleep well due to the oppressive heat, had to swim across the lake to rescue our children and the canoe they were attempting to steer and had an encounter with a venomous snake and ax wielding neighbors determined to save the “little women next door.”  We ended up cutting the trip short and leaving after dinner on the second evening of our trip.   We all concluded, as we fell into our respective beds exhausted and disillusioned from the experience, that we were not cut out for camping.  However, we all look back on that trip now as a wonderful experience.  We overcame obstacles and realized we could do it all without the “men” and we have hilarious stories to tell especially the one of our kids sitting in the middle of the lake paddling in circles. 

The research suggests that perceptions of experiences change overtime making the memories more enjoyable.  According to Van Boven, the perceptions of an object never change, an object remains just an object. 

So when you write your wish list to Santa this year remember that you may get far enjoyment more from a pair tickets than a pair of shoes. 

Some experience ideas:

Arrange a family picnic

Attend a music concert

Take a trip you have been longing to take

Learn a musical instrument

Learn a foreign language

Visit a museum

Take a hike, literally, with your family through a nature preserve

Subscribe to an RSS feed of this blog.

This should be obvious but I am going to mention it anyway – it fits green living, minimalist lifestyles and frugality.

One way to reduce resource waste is to visit your public library rather than purchasing books or videos.  Since the library is free, it is also a big money saver.  Most public libraries now have Internet search and reservation options in which you can search for and reserve a title.  Once the title has been secured, you will be notified of its reservation and location, as well as how long they will hold it in your name.   The Internet search and reserve function saves a great deal of time and resources in fewer trips to the library.

If your library does not have a title you are interested in you can usually search and reserve through the inter-library loan program.  Most libraries participate in this option in which you can borrow titles literally from libraries all over the United States.  Odds are if your local library doesn’t have a specific title, a library somewhere else does.  

Libraries don’t just stock books.   They subscribe to newspapers from across the globe, monthly magazines, and resource materials.  If you wish to learn a foreign language they often have language tapes or cds.  For the sight or reading challenged, they often stock books on tape/cd as well as large print additions.  Videos and music cds, including classics, new releases and how-to videos, are another big commodity.  Finally, they often host community programs including story times, book clubs, author lectures, and writing workshops.  Thanks to governmental grants, all libraries have high-speed Internet stations available to the general public.

All of these resources are available to you free because of your already contributed tax dollars.