Recommended Reading

Gardening and Culture: Are Food Gardens Just for the Poor?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening and different cultures in America.  As you know, I’ve been reading City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson.  In chapter two of the book, Johnson talks a lot about gardens at the White House.  Not only the one planted by Michelle Obama in 2009 in response to the Eat the View petition, but the also the many various gardens planted there throughout the history of the White House, both for the pleasure of the first family and for patriotism.  Despite many people’s view that the Obama’s garden is just another exercise in “green-washing” (especially since the President seems to be alright with living in Monsanto’s back pocket), the first lady’s organic garden does seem to be having a positive effect.  People are asking how they can do it too.  It gives a little ammunition against HOA’s that prevent vegetable gardens, and inspires many people for whom garden would not otherwise be on their radar.

But why would home owners associations ban vegetable gardens to begin with?  I wonder that a lot.  A few years back as we were digging into our own earth, setting up our first compost bins, and telling people we had chickens in our back yard, we got a lot of funny looks.  Urban homesteading was still a relatively unknown concept around these parts (to my mind anyway), and although a lot of people thought what we were doing was cool, most people felt they couldn’t do it themselves.  One friend exclaimed “You can have a garden in the city?!”  It was our turn to be shocked.  Granted, this friend lived in a suburb with strict HOA regulations, and they might not have been allowed to do the same, but our response was, “Sure, you can grow food wherever there is dirt.” So with some people, particularly in our generation, possibly there is just a level of ignorance that is dissipating over time with this issue.

But another friend’s response made me wonder if there is more at work, keeping some people from getting that compost under their fingernails.  In the midst of all our learning a few years back I had a friend that would constantly tell me to my face how great she thought everything we were doing was, and even ask me for advice about things.  She even got to the point where she bought a huge, expensive composter and a couple cherry tomato plants for her back yard.  But I found out that all the while, she assumed that we did the things we did because we were “poor.”

This friend lived in a big, expensive house in a new sub-division on the outskirts of metro-civilazation.  She had a Starbucks allowance, a shiny new SUV, a son in Montessori school and her hair and nails were always done.  Erica at NWEdible would call her a YuppieHippie.  That’s just not the way I roll.  I get my hair done when I can no longer stand it anymore (maybe every 6 months?), our SUV is going on 12 years old, is used to haul compost and roadkill and just rolled 140k on the odometer.  And the house is small.  These are all the same for me now as they were when Rick and I had two incomes.  And we were gardening then too.  So I was shocked to say the least about her assumption.  Also, gardening and chicken coop building is not always cheap.  Our CSA share and buying whole, locally raised, organic hogs and beef certainly weren’t either.

I generally think of gardening and self-sustainability as something that informed and educated people do.  I think about cities in the Northwest with bike lanes and wind power and wish our state would catch up.  I think about solar panels and how much they cost and what they’d save.  I guess I viewed urban homesteading as something that you don’t do because you’re poor and have no other choice, but as something you do because you want to make a better choice.

Not that we were rolling in the dough.  Far from it.  There have been some pretty lean months in the last five years for us.  But… hadn’t my friend just bought that $400 compost bin?  Certainly she had to know this is not just for the poor, right?  This made me think.  Why would she assume we were poor (well besides the roadkill ;) )?

Johnson addresses this in her book as well.  As many families immigrated to the U.S., they brought seeds and gardening knowledge with them.  They planted their gardens where they lived and kept up with the old ways, unaffected by social status and motivated to provide good, fresh food for their family.  But their children, who were likely looked at as poor, being recent immigrants, were quick to dump the old ways and buy their food from the supermarkets.  In many minds, growing your own food was a sign or symbol of not having the means to buy the same things.

I generally picture people immigrating in centuries past.  In Colorado, while we have plenty of immigrants from Mexico and other places, I tend to think about immigration in terms of Ellis Island and my husband’s great-grandparents from Slovakia.  His great-grandfather coming to America ten years before this great-grandmother, saving his hard-earned money to get her and their children here.  It would never occur to me to think of modern-day immigrants in this way.  But in some places, California for example, there are many hispanic families that have lived in the U.S. for generations as well as many recently immigrated Mexican families.  And their culture is extremely different.  My mom’s husband, though born in San Diego, is often mistaken for a Mexican, to the point where he carries his passport and all his i.d. when visiting his family in California, so he’s not taken for an immigrant or an illegal.

As I sat and thought about my friend’s view of our choices, I realized that she is from a state that is still flush with recent immigrants.  And it’s likely that she was brought up seeing the immigrant families planting gardens, while her family never did.  And the truth of the matter is that many immigrant families are poor when they get here.  Perhaps many of the HOAs in those new, expensive sub-divisions are set up just to keep the images of the poor, front yard veggie gardens separated from the green, water guzzling postage-stamp lawns that symbolize American success.

Have you experienced this?  Do you or did you view gardening and self-sustainability as a sign of status or culture?  Has anyone made assumptions about your choices based on their views?  Is gardening cultural?  Does your perception of the culture or status of gardening affect your own efforts towards sustainability?  What about HOAs – do you live where one restricts your ability to garden?  Should they have the right to do this?

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Categories: Community, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

On the Bookshelf

If you didn’t know it, love to read.  I’m always reading something.  Lately I was able to score a couple of good finds at the library, which is somewhat unusual, since our branch is pretty small.  But yesterday I checked out City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson and Better Off by Eric Brende.

I’m really excited about both of these books.  I borrowed Better Off so I could read along with Crunchy Chicken‘s upcoming book club.  Before I could even start it, Rick had snatched it up and read half of it last night.  I grumbled about waiting my turn as I cracked open City Farmer.

What a surprise – I was laughing during the first paragraph and the first two chapters were just as entertaining.  The book looks like it’s going to be a great read.  I’ll keep you updated on both books as I finish them.

In the meantime, here are a few other good reads when it comes to food, sustainability and the future.

  

What are you reading?  What are your favorite books on gardening, urban homesteading and the like?

Categories: Recommended Reading | 4 Comments

Saying No to GMO

So we finally got our seeds ordered this week for the garden.  I’m excited, since it means spring is around the corner.  And, because it’s the first time we’ve ordered seeds.  We usually go to the local garden center, but their selection of organic, non-GMO seeds has been pretty limited in the last few years.  And beyond organic, non-GMO is very important to us.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about GMOs.  President Obama approved Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, Round Up Ready sugar beets and a new biotech corn for ethanol production.  This is sad and scary news for all of us. Many of my readers know about GMOs and why they would want to avoid them, but I know there are quite a few people who don’t know anything about this issue.  So I thought I’d shed some light and share my knowledge of the subject, which contributes to the reasons for many of our own food choices.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and companies like Monsanto have produced and patented these organisms, mainly seeds.  The seeds have been genetically modified to be able to withstand harsh herbicides like Round Up, so that fields can be sprayed with the chemicals which will then kill the weeds but not the crop.  Sounds like a plan, right.  Except they are seeds.

Let’s set aside the health effects of eating foods and food products made with these GMOs for just a minute and look at the idea of patented seeds.   Currently there are patents on certain GMO grain crops like corn, canola, and soy.  Think for a minute what that means – when these crops grow up, mother nature does to these seeds what she does to all seeds – throws them to the wind, feeds them to the birds, and mice, and squirrels.  She doesn’t know these seeds are patented.

So Farmer A is growing patented GMO corn.  And when his corn is ripe, a few birds come and pick at his corn, eating some.  And they fly a few miles away, and poop out the seeds.  Seeds that have been genetically modified, and those modification carry through the generation of seeds.  But they poop on Farmer B’s land, he doesn’t know, and he hasn’t paid for GMO seeds.

The next spring, Farmer B tills his land and plants his non-GMO crop of corn from seeds he saved for generations.  But those seeds the birds pooped out spring up too.  The company that Farmer A uses to get his corn from, knows Farmer B is down the road.  So they send out someone to take a sample of  Farmer B’s crop (without his permission) and sure enough, his crop turns up as GM positive – their genetically modified corn is growing right there, in his field.  He didn’t buy it from them – he must have stolen it.  And then they sue the pants off Farmer B and win because they own the rights to that seed – to that genetic strain- and he literally loses the farm.  Farmer A is not allowed to save seed, and Farmer B can’t steal it.  The company owns all rights to that seed and it’s future generations.

This is not far-fetched.  It’s happening today, in America.  The problem with patented seeds is that we humans can’t control everything.  Wind and birds and all of nature happens.  For more info on this check out fooddemocracynow.org or watch the documentary, The Future of Food.

So back to health, and how this affects you, the consumer, the eater.  Well, you can just read labels, right?  No.  Sorry.  The USDA and FDA doesn’t require that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such.  You’ve probably been eating GMOs for a long time now.  But it’s not like you sit around munching nothing but corn all day, right?  Well maybe, or maybe not.  In this case, you can check the label – corn and soy are in everything these days.  Really.

According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.*

GMOs are used to feed cattle, to make soda, in your cereal, your bread… you name it.  If it has high fructose corn syrup (and many other ingredients I can’t type or pronounce) it’s made from corn.  So a fast food meal – the burger, the coke, the fries cooked in canola oil, all corn and probably all GMO at that.

With Obama’s recent approval of alfalfa and sugar beets, two crops along with corn, that feed the majority of America’s commercially produced meat animals, we are in for more trouble.  And try keeping alfalfa seeds contained in a Kansas windstorm.  Yikes!

Ok, ok, they are hard to avoid, right.  But are GMOs safe?  Well the Non-GMO Project web site states:

In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale.

A few independent studies have been done on the subject.  Generally independent studies have been blocked by Monsanto and other producers of GMOs, but what has been found leads to questions over GMO safety.  Here’s a link studying  The Effects of Diets containing GM potatoes on Rats done in 1999, as well as an article siting many more recent studies that have been done.

It is possible to avoid GMOs, but it takes some research and planning and sometimes giving up a favorite snack.  Especially helpful is the True Food Shoppers Guide (a download-able iPhone app or printable guide).

Here is an article that I found very helpful as well, concerning ways to avoid GMO foods.  “Making My Family GO GMO Free”.  One of the simplest steps is to buy organic, or direct from a local farmer, whom you can ask what he’s growing.  You can also look for labels certifying that products are GMO free.

A while back I was told that the PLU codes on produce were used to indicate organic, conventional and GMO foods, however this is not exactly true, since using the five digit codes are optional.  (see PLU Codes Don’t Indicate GMO Produce and The Myth of PLU Codes and GMO Foods).

If you grow your own garden, like us, please be aware that Monsanto recently purchased a number of seed companies, so you’ll want to know what to look for when buying the seeds you’ll use this spring.  I found this resource most helpful: http://inspirationgreen.com/

I know this post is a bit preachy for me – but it’s a subject that I’ve been very concerned about for a while, and I couldn’t think how to share this info another way.  I hope you look further into this subject and take action (write a letter or sign a petition to help ban GMOs in America).

For more ways to take action go to:

http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/  and
http://www.nongmoproject.org/
Also check out http://truefoodnow.org/

*from http://www.nongmoproject.org/
Categories: Community, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Fruit

This weekend was the weekend of fruit.  On Saturday morning we went to Palisade for the second time this summer, and we came home with 319 pounds of peaches.  150 pounds were for friends, and we kept the other half for ourselves.  Then, Sunday morning, before we had even gotten a peach into the freezer, my brother-in-law came by with over 1500 Italian plums.  Thankfully the plums are a bit green, as we didn’t really have much time to mess with the fruit on Sunday.

Monday, we ate some of the plums in a plum coffee cake, and then we went to our friend’s home outside of Allenspark.  Mike grilled and we gathered around the fire pit, and had a nice evening with friends (and peach cobbler), watching the smoke from the fire in Boulder county blow over the horizon.

On the way home we stopped outside of Longmont where we could see the fire above Boulder.  My pictures here don’t do it justice, but it was incredible.

Tuesday is farm day for me, when I go and work at the CSA.  I brought home our share, and had barely pulled into the drive when our friend, Rich drove up with twenty plus pounds of concord grapes!  These grapes are our favorite and they were very generous!

So we have a fruit filled week ahead of us.  I had actually planned to pick strawberries and raspberries this week too, but I am putting that off until next week in hopes that I can get somewhat caught up around here before adding more to it!

Here’s the update:

Plant something – nothing.

Harvest something – eggs, tomatoes, zucchini, peaches

Preserve something – three batches of peach preserves, two and a half boxes (approx. 30 lbs) of peaches sliced and frozen, 3½ pounds green beans frozen, 1 gallon bag of tomatoes frozen, 2 batches of carrot soup in the freezer.

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.  Lots and lots went to the goodwill over the last couple of weeks.

Want Not – nothing that I can think of right now.

Build Community Food Systems – all the fruit trading!  Yum!

Eat the Food – as mentioned, plum cake and peach cobbler.  Also eating all the yummy farm veggies.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  ;)

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Food, Garden, Independence Days, Recommended Reading | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A little book love –

 

Just thought I’d share!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Categories: Recommended Reading | Leave a comment

Frugal Friday: Used Books

Oops – didn’t get his posted intime for Thrifty Thursday, so Frugal Friday it is! 

One big time hobby of mine is reading.  I love to read, and of course the cheapest way to do that is with the library.  But I also love to give, loan, pass-on and collect books.  So for me the best think is buying used books. 

There are a lot of ways to get used books.  Englewood has a few used book stores, and there is also always the web.  Amazon.com has almost any imaginable book, and often times it can be found in “like new” condition for a fraction of the cover price.  BarnesandNoble.com has this feature too. 

I usually try to catch the library’s used book sale as well, but my favorite place to get used books is Goodwill (and ARC, DAV, etc.).  Though you may have to do some searching, at Goodwill, the paperbacks are always $.99 and hardcovers are $1.99, unless you go on a day where their colored tag is 50% off. 

Off the top of my head, I can think of more than twenty books that I’ve paid less than $2.00 for.  Some have been quick paperback reads that I have passed on to others, some have been parenting books, hiking guides, or books I’ve needed to complete my childbirth education certification.  I’ve gotten a few novels for Rick and even books as a gift. 

I belong to a book exchange club where every month you pass on a book you’ve enjoyed to another club member.  It great because I get to read a new book each month that I know a friend has enjoyed.  And because I have a great stash of books, I don’t mind the minor investment of passing on a book I bought at the Goodwill (plus I get to keep in touch with friends -some in other states even- in a different and creative way). 

Used books are such a great way to save money and build your reading library.  Books have so much life in them!

Categories: Recommended Reading, Thrift | 4 Comments

Joe Perry Rocks

joe2Yet another reason to love Aerosmith… Joe Perry, Aerosmith’s lead guitarist gave an interview (and photo shoot) with Outdoor Life Magazine.  It’s a short interview, but PETA was quick to reveal their stupidity with comments on the article.  Sadly, PETA couldn’t even get the name of the magazine right. 

Joe talks about conservation, being in touch with nature, and taking opportunities to be outdoors, whether with his wife or shooting with Steven Tyler.  He mentions some interesting sounding (and some very cool) guns he’s been able to collect as well.  But my favorite quote of Joe’s: 

“But it (deer hunting) really gives you a great opportunity to  keep in touch with reality. Meat just doesn’t show up at the supermarket in Saran Wrap.”

**Swoon!**  Check out the whole interview (along with PETA’s hilarious and ridiculous statements) as well as the cool photo gallery (including the one I’ve posted here) by Gerry Bethge in:  Joey’s Got A Gun

This brings me to something else that I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks.   You know that 101 in 1001 list over there on the right side of my page?  Well one of the items is successfully hunting an elk. 

I didn’t apply for a license this spring or anything, but I’ve been weighing some options… I think if I can borrow a gun, I’m going to get my hunter’s safety and an over the counter license for an elk for second season rifle in October. 

I won’t be able to actively go out on the mountain (I’ll have both the boys), but I thought that if the opportunity arrises, I’d be able to at least take a shot.  For example last year, I dropped Rick and his uncle and brother off at the top of the mountain, drove to the bottom of the mountain and waited for them to hike out.  While I was waiting, I saw three big cows (cow elk, not heifers) run out of the trees.  The guys had pushed them out, and no one was there to get one but me… with no license and no gun.  So, you know, if an opportunity like that winks me in the face a gain, I don’t want to miss it.  :) 

I’ll keep you updated on that front.

Categories: Hunting, Recommended Reading | 2 Comments

So You Want to be a Farmer

hoeing the fields closeupOf course it’s no secret that I want to be a farmer.  Rick and I joke about it almost daily, and, very un-jokingly, we work hard putting up produce from the CSA, growing our own in the garden, raising the chickens and generally learning all we can about living on the land.

Getting chickens was a baby step.  We started with four and moved up to seven.  They eat a lot.  And they poop a lot.  And for the first year, we didn’t get a lot of eggs, but spent a lot of money on building them a coop.  Now we know more, and we’re getting lots of eggs, and though they’re messy and dig holes, we are glad to have them, and thinking of better ways to do things with them.

Part of the reason why we decided to be working members on Monroe’s farm, was so that I could get a taste of what went into this pipe dream.  Every week last year, Rick sent me off to Kersey with the admonition to pay close attention to what Jerry said, and to ask him about ______.  He wanted me to pick Jerry’s brain weekly.  Did he grow Brussels sprouts?  When did he plant potatoes?  How do you know corn is ready to harvest?

A week or so ago, a working member friend, Tracy, posted an article about taking A Farm Vacation on her Facebook page.  At the moment I first saw it, I was tired from processing food and working, and thought, “Vacation!  What?  Farming’s hard work!”  And it is.  But after the trip to Palisade last weekend, I’ve changed my mind.  I want to take this vacation myself.

Palisade was so beautiful.  The Western slope of Colorado is sunny and warm and the towns charming.  Rick and I saw an orchard for sale and picked up a flyer.  Ah – we could live here, and we could grow this.  If only we had more [money, and] time to sit here and pick Buck’s (the owner of the orchard where we harvested peaches) brain on how to do it all.  If only we could stay here and give it a try for a while before investing in property.

Monroe piggies by Rachel Carlson PhotographyI really love having H (and now E too) out there on the CSA farm every week.  While his biggest thrill is playing with the other kids, catching toads and feeding the pigs, I have the opportunity to remind him that those pigs will become pork chops, and those toads eat the bugs that destroy crops.  He gets excited when we move from the barn to the fields, and he plays behind us in the rows, eating melons, catching “buggies” and pulling weeds.  He is gaining an understanding of where food comes from.  And this means so much to me.

A few months ago, I read a blog post called This Place We Know by Sharon Astyk.  Sharon is a beautiful writer, and the post is quite long, but it really captures something. I want my children to understand where their food comes from and what happens on a farm.  That a farm is more then a cutesy place where cows say moo and pigs say oink.

And I know, now days, I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Here are a couple of articles that have appeared recently on people dreaming of the simple life: one from Utne Reader: The Organic Farm Fantasy Meets Reality and on Mother Earth News: Skills for Farming.

I envision my boys growing up in an agrarian life style.  Being connected to the earth and to our food connects us with God.  The Maker made this and made us.  The grocery store has broken the connection for most of us.

Seeing my boy pick a peach or nectarine and delighting in that sweet first bite before he’s even taken a step away from the tree is amazing.  There’s no lesson about fruit coming from tree needed when he picks it himself.

In our home, we don’t have many conversations about limiting candy.  You’re more likely to hear, “No, you’ve had enough carrots,” or “Ok, but this is the last tomato before dinner.”  And these statements don’t make me sad.  Last night as Rick prepped green beans for going into the freezer, we worried about Henry eating so many beans that he’d spoil his dinner cooking in the oven.  And he did!  This is a good problem to have, we’ve decided. For Henry, going to the garden to pick (and graze) tomatoes brings joy.  The fruit of  spring’s labor is wonderful.

Henry in the orchard 2When he sees us tilling the garden, he knows it’s to get it ready for the plants.  When he plants a seed, and then gets to see it grow into a plant and then the plant grows a flower, and the flower grows a zucchini, he gets it.  There’s not a lot of explaining to do.  And compost is an opportunity to show him how we give back to the ground to keep the circle going.  The eggs are a reason to be kind to the chickens.  Sharing scraps with pigs makes the pigs happy and helps them get ready to be a delicious meal in the fall.  Happy animals make better food.  Happy chickens lay tastier eggs.

It’s funny to think that just a few years ago, I had never gardened before.  Rick was the one who wanted a place for a garden when we bought our home.  He had grown up with it.  I think he may have thought twice about that first garden if he had know what it would spiral into.  :)

I’ve always wanted to be in the country, to be on land.  I grew up doing 4-H, wishing I had a horse.  I even made Rick promise that I could have a horse after we got married.  But I had never thought about farming or growing things until that first garden.  Now I’ve gotten carried away.  I want my own beehive, my own milking cow.  Steers for beef, chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, a turkey to raise for Thanksgiving.  And fields full of veggies and fruit, melons and squash.  Fruit trees.  Grain. I want it all!

I don’t think Rick was prepared for the fallout of that first little veggie patch.  Certainly not for the chickens.  Sharon Astyk wrote another post to this effect.  Rick and I could relate to her guide, “So You (Don’t Particularly) Want to be a Farmer” on more than one account.  It’s a guide for the spouse/partner/family member of a person who has been bit (hard) by the farming bug.  The post had us both laughing out loud, for it was so very true.  Despite planting the seed with that first little garden patch, Rick got dragged into this wanna-be farming thing against his better judgement.

For example, the chicken thing was all my idea.  I used phrases like “think of all the money we’ll save on eggs!” to convince him.  Our very first egg from our very first chicken had to be (ever so gently) pried from the vent of that hen… she was egg bound.  And who did it?  Not me… HIM!  I was afraid of hurting her.  He saved the day.  And I’m sure he resentfully thought me a madwoman!

But most especially one line at the end of Sharon’s post hit home for Rick and I and this crazy pipe-dream of owning a farm together:

Sweet FruitSometimes there’s nothing more to dream of than being yoked together in the same harness, on the same land and doing the same good work for all the days of your life.”

Rick and I continue to be members of the CSA because we are still learning things, and because we have become addicted to the beautiful food that comes from Jerry’s land.  We still ask questions, pick brains, read book after book.

We’ve so much to learn, although I feel we’ve also learned so much.  Winter squash is harvested after the vines fall,  melons are sweeter if you limit their water.  This is how you store potatoes and canning isn’t quite as hard if you’re doing it with a friend.

But the best thing we’ve learned from growing things together: Seeds sown in love produce sweeter fruit.

 

Excerpts cross posted at BlogHer.com and monroefarms.blogspot.com

Categories: Chickens, CSA, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | 6 Comments

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