Wacky, Wild Weather

I am sitting here, typing this, while the boys are napping. My computer is telling me it’s 81 degrees outside.

Weather Report
My two apps/widgets that tally my weather report 80 or 81 on this balmy day.

On the other side of this large continent, Hurricane Irene hovers over North Carolina. A rare hurricane that is slated to travel the entire eastern seaboard.

Irene's WunderMap
A map of Irene's progress courtesy of weatherunderground.

Washington D.C. and Colorado both had 5.x earthquakes on the same day, a few weeks ago. Texas is suffering from the hottest summer in 90 years. On the West Coast, we have a funny, unpredictable summer, although balmy compared to these other places. But in this “balmy” place, we had a cool, wet July. This means there were many crop failures. We are still an agrarian society that depends on a level of predictability with weather. For our food club, farmers had failed cherries failed. Our tomatoes are late. Our farmer’s peaches, apricots, and nectarines are late.

It makes sense to me that this is in part do to what we’ve done to affect climate. That is: climate change. Global warming. We are causing our earth to get warmer, so animals move to higher elevations faster than previous patterns, and we can’t predict crops. As an agrarian society, we rely on a certain level of predictability so we can plan for our future. When weather is unstable, our lives can be unstable and erratic.

By ignoring global warming and its predicted affects, we fail to plan for our children’s future. I hope these wild earthquakes and hurricanes will continue to wake people up. I hope this will encourage people that local is better for security and our environment. Simply, I hope.

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I am an Urban Homesteader

Heated & whisked
Making HOMEmade chocolate syrup in my (urban) home(stead). Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I know what to do.

I know where the resources are.

I’ve written, somewhat extensively on the subject.

Today: I am an Urban Homesteader.

In 2008, I self-published my first of two books with Dr. Deborah Tolman. With her knowledge and know-how, my writing, editing, graphic design, and web skills – and with support from several other friends and colleagues, we self-published the Tolman Guide to Going Green. We published one for Portland, Oregon, where we both lived in 2008 and one for Asheville, North Carolina, where Deb has sustainable connections.

We took a systems approach to sustainability. How do you encompass natural processes at home? How do you make going green accessible in a way that the apartment dweller with the smallest income can still be green?

Also, in 2008, it was discussed by Kelly & Eric at Root Simple.

Shannon Hayes takes a feminist approach in Radical Homemaking.

It’s cliched and made fun of in Portlandia.

Cities, towns, neighborhoods all over the world are participating in Urban Homesteading.

What does this cheesy cliche even mean?

It means, take your home and make it green by thinking in full cycles, like homesteaders used to do.

Would you throw away that tin can if it would make a great Christmas Tree Ornament? No? Well, you just saved something from the landfill. Go green! You are an urban homesteader!

Would you mow over that grass or would you bag it and take it to the curb? What, your time is limited, and you don’t want to spend the extra money for the bag attachment (or you don’t have a bag attachment because you’re using a Reel Mower)? Well – congratulations! You have just participated in grass-cycling! You are an urban homesteader!

You (attempt) to grow your own greens all around your small urban plot or your apartment? You are really keeping it local! Go green! Congratulations you are an urban homesteader!

What, you make your own laundry soap because it costs less than a penny per load and your family must be frugal with those limited dollars coming in? Congratulations! You are an urban homesteader!

I suppose our cultural ideas of Intellectual Property say it’s okay to trademark words. But, I think it’s a terrible idea. Trademarking ideas in this day and age of collective consciousness is simply another way to make a game out of doing good. Sure, a part of me agrees that rules can force us into creativity and better answers to our world’s problems, but sometimes it’s just gone too far. Trying to trademark a name for something that was already published as a book? Can this even be done? Wouldn’t the copyright law on the book trump the trademarking of the concept? And, how close are we to Big Brother when we try to enforce this collective consciousness? Seriously? In this economy? Don’t we have better things to do?

So, today, sponsored by Take Back Urban Homesteading and Crunchy Chicken, is a day of Action. It’s a day to Take Back Urban Homesteading. Write about what makes you an Urban Homesteader in the hopes we’ll jam the blogosphere with our collective consciousness.

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A Food Revolution

Food - 1
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

The Organic Elite Surrenders To Monsanto: What Now? Now what indeed.

I have so many thoughts on this subject, it’s difficult to put into words. This is why I write (blog). To make sense of the senseless.

Bottled milk
Noris whole, organic milk, used in my hot cocoa made from my organic Dutch Process cocoa from Hummingbird Wholesale. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I co-coordinate a food buying club. (I do not run it on my own, that’d be VERY hard and time consuming. We do this TOGETHER because together, it works a lot better.) In my food buying club, I am in frequent contact with people who have similar food desires that I do. We want our food to come from someone we have met, or can meet. We want to know what goes into our food, so for us it means knowing what fertilizers are out there in the animal feed or plant feed or whatever. We want to know are farmers are more than getting by, and we want to know they are paying their employees surviving wages. We want to know how things are picked and who’s doing the picking. We want to know what temperature our milk is pasteurized.

Chicken Leftovers
Taylor-Made Farms chicken. These leftovers yielded more than 7 cups of shredded chicken! I know my farmer. Do you? Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

We want to know all about our food. Why? Because we want to know what’s going in our bodies. We are horrified when we learn about all the chemicals in breast milk. We are horrified about all the environmental cancers. We are horrified that people cannot get access to fresh water because it is being bottled in their backyards and sold back to them. We are horrified at this pathetic mess of industrialization that coops itself as food. It is not food. It is poison. And we want no part of it.

So, how do we get out of it?

Go local. Ask yourself now if Organic is more important than Local. The hierarchy should be, yes should be, LOCAL first. Why? Because you create food security and community. Food security lends itself to the local economy, while community overall helps us be less lonely and more connected to the things that matter.

Food nourishes. Food should nourish. Food is the center of our communities. Food holds us together. We can choose to live on pills, vitamins, protein bars, shakes (Thank you Aldous, our Brave New World is here), or we can enjoy ourselves. We can eat slowly, savor moments, tastes, and experiences. And, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

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Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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Franken Food

Back in November of 2008,  I was getting ready for the Keep Portland Weird festival at Multnomah County Library. I was watching the news.  KATU was describing new FDA regulations for radiating food to kill dangerous bacteria.  Radiation or irritating lettuce and spinach kills dangerous bacteria and extends the shelf life of these vegetables.  The interviewed biologist found no ill effects of irradiated vegetables.  Sure, it sounds scary, but it’s been proven safe.  Still, the question should remain: is it the wisest course of action?

We know when it comes to car maintenance and our health that preventive treatment is the best medicine.  In other words, it is better to make sure your car is tuned up and the oil changed regularly.  Likewise, it is best to visit the doctor regularly, have your vitals checked, and watch for known diseases like different cancers.  And, to go further, we are encouraged to eat healthy and exercise regularly to prevent heart related diseases and diabetes.  The prevention is the key to good health and good automotive health.

So, why wouldn’t the same be true of the food we eat?  If we eat good food to keep us healthy, why shouldn’t the food we eat be healthy from the start?  Why would we consume food that has been potentially contaminated with E. coli?

I would rather not. The priorities should be eat local first (ensure a secure food economy) and then organic (strict organic, not necessarily USDA organic that lets a % of bad stuff in). I’ve been studying food in many wasy for the better part of a decade now. I’m familiar with CAFOs, cutting chicken beaks and their fattened breasts, spinach fertilized with the manure of infected steers causing E. coli in a vegetable that wouldn’t otherwise have it. With our family money, I try to choose better. I try to choose more local, more whole ingredients so that I can control what goes in our food: not some big factory. I don’t make my noodles from scratch, but I know how. I do make bread, but I don’t mill my flour: but I buy it from a local, reputable source.

We still eat the occassional box of mac ‘n cheese (need easy, super easy, for the times when I can’t whip something up). When we have those foods, it’s always hard. When I am at the grocery store (it feels very rare now-a-days) considering a quick chicken meal for my family, it always gives me pause. I know how these things are created, and it’s not good. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about irradiated vegetables or beakless chicks with overgrown breasts: our options are primarily franken food.

Margaret Atwood described a whole new level of Frank Food in her book Oryx & Crake. I quivered at the thought of her chicken fingers born in a lab. But, how different are our choices today? Genetically modified this, genetically modified that. My high school chemistry teacher claimed that if you make an orange on the level similar to nano-technology, ensuring all the molecules are there that it’d be the same thing as an orange grown in sunny Florida or California. I disagree. It’s not the same. The former orange is some idea of an orange. Some manufactured construction of what we think an orange should be. Not the orange from our earth with thousands of years of practice before it.

Frank food is not natural. And I wonder what happens to our bodies when we regularly put unnatural foods in it.

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Mulch Mulch Mulch

Apparently people like mulch!  This blog has seen a steady increase in hits since I posted the ‘free mulch’ tidbits several weeks ago.  So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to preach to the choir about some mulch benefits:

  • Mulch keeps the soil warmer
  • Mulch retains more water
  • Enough mulch naturally squelches weeds
  • Mulch adds more nutrients to soil, especially compacted soil
  • By adding more nutrients, mulch helps attract beneficial creepy crawlies – like worms & bugs
  • Worms & bugs help aerate the soil, making it less compacted
  • Less compacted soil is better for growing things
  • When we have things growing in our yards, we attract beneficial insects
  • Bees are beneficial insects/pollinators
  • We would do well to attract bees
  • So mulch, mulch, mulch!

That’s all for now folks!