Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Humans have been practicing agriculture for at least 10,000 years, but it is only in the last 60 or so years that heavy industrialization has occurred. So much so, that farmers are extremely dependent on synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil-fuel powered machinery. As a result yields have greatly increased during this period of time, along with an increasing population of mouths to feed. Yet, the overall efficiency of production has sharply decreased when considering the amount of energy used in the industrial system. Scientists estimate that the industrial food producing system uses from 3 to 10 times as much energy as it produces. This means for every kilocalorie of food energy produced 3 to 10 kilocalories of energy were necessary to produce it and get it to the stores, where we drive to purchase it. (The ratio is much worse 35:1 for beef produced in feedlots compared with grains) How long can we keep this up?
What does this have to do with the price of pork chops in Payless? In order to keep the price of those pork chops low, in spite of the very unsustainable use of energy and non-renewable resources, our government pays out big bucks to keep this industrial system propped up and functioning. Who pays for it? You do. I do. We all do. And our children will pay dearly if we don't get it turned around soon. Although the pork chops at Payless were going for 97 cents a pound...you don't see the hidden costs behind those pork chops on the sticker price. If you account for all of the hidden costs they should cost us at least $6-8 a pound.
We very much need a level playing field when it comes to food production politics. If we had such an environment, I bet we would see a rapid move to sustainable food production. A system where we retain freedom of choice and quantity of foods we eat, but we pay the appropriate price for the food with the heretofore hidden costs included in the sticker price. My guess is that we would likely eat fewer pork chops and meat overall, but that when we do purchase foods they would be coming from local growers using sustainable practices. This would have the desired effect of creating more niches for local jobs, our dollars spent would circulate within the local economy strengthening our communities, providing healthier food and healthier people.
Somehow we the people must get our elected officials to support real change in food production policies. But, in the meantime, we can choose whenever possible to eat food produced locally...even though it means we pay out of pocket twice....once for the food and once for commodity subsidies of the food we are not eating. There should be no "cheap food policy" because there really is no free lunch.
Oh, "our" pork chops are pretty darn tasty! But I'm hoping to find a way to feed a pig or two more sustainably in the future such that the ratio of energy in to energy produced is even more favorable.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
We have really enjoyed simply walking up to the garden and gathering what is there. I thank the soil, the rain, the sun that energizes it all. We put a fairly hasty (due to my looming surgery), but somewhat planned effort, into two small gardens this spring. One at the Purdue Village Gardens and the other at our home of one small raised bed, a small patch of experimental sweet corn, several tator tires and hills, and two summer squash plants.
The sweet corn was a trial and error plot at our home site. The plot only receives about 6 or so hours of sunlight a day. Not really enough to have healthy corn production. But, we did get a number of decent and delectable ears. Our garden at Purdue also grew sweet corn, slightly better than at our forest garden, but not much better. Corn needs a lot of nutrients to produce well. But the buttery, sugary taste of sweet corn is worth the wait and the effort. Fresh picked is the best there is!
And what to do with the squash after too many stir fry dishes and zucchini bread? Make squash brownies and cookies. Ok, they do taste like a "healthy" cookie. But, they were fun to try out. Actually, most all the cookies were consumed by our kids and me.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Our trip to French Lick wherein a bird flew in the room of our B&B
Installing a new Queen Bee in our hive
Getting two little pigs
Attending Brent's permaculture course at Purdue
Looking for dandelions to make wine but finding only a few...
But June 1st we were pummeled with hail like I have never seen before. It lasted at least 10 minutes, maybe 15. When it was over this was what the steps to our house looked like:
The upshot of it all is that our camper is totaled, our car was close to being totaled (and thank goodness we had full coverage on both!), and our roof is shot. We're in the process of negotiating with two different insurance companies for the home & the vehicles and it is taking all of our time. Maybe in the end we'll have a new roof but it hasn't been a lot of fun.
AND the carpet we chose to have installed before Brent's surgery is back ordered and they want to subsitute with something we haven't even seen yet. I guess anything would be better than "Essence of Dog Barf" that we have now...trust me, you don't WANT a picture of that.
So hopefully we'll pop back in after Brent's surgery when we have lots of time to tell you about our adventures.
Monday, May 11, 2009
A Village Garden
Based on previous years' experience, we just don't seem to get enough direct sunlight into our small quarter acre clearing in the creek valley below our home. Since we tend to travel through Pudue University area to and from work, we decided to rent a garden space at the Purdue Village. This is an incredibly awesome place, with probably 100 families from all over the world planting many varieties of plants using diverse techniques. We rented a 12 x 25 plot and went to work. We use a lot of peppers in our cooking, and knew we wanted to grow a lot of these for freezing for year round use. Peppers in the store are usually pricey. We also like fresh salsa and the grocery store price is usually salty. So, our village garden is being nicknamed, Salsa Garden, and we added plenty of tomato plants, onions, and even a small patch of sweet corn. We planted climbing beans to utilize the fence and vertical space. It was fun to plant, and we are excited about its potential.
Zero $ Raised Bed
Just because we are very stubborn people (at least I am when it comes to growing plants that want sunshine in an area with a dearth of sunlight), I wanted to try out several new ideas this year. I wanted to build a raised bed with very fertile ingredients on the most southern exposed spot to see what will happen. I started by removing topsoil from an 3 x 12 area where I had established native prairie perennials the previous 4 years. I then used a pitch fork to gently open up and aerate the subsoil. I then placed partially rotted sticks, then a layer of partially composted chicken manure from our hens, then a layer of partially composted wood chips from the electric company had dumped the year before, then a layer of nicely composted dead wood that had turned to soil from a large pile of dead branches and wood I piled next to the forest four years ago. I did another layer of each of these items, then Beth and I used some old shelving boards and some redwood 2x4 from a dismantled deck that were here when we moved in for the sides of the bed. We shoveled on the topsoil, an wow....our first ever raised bed. Now we need to plant it with a variety of garden veges and see what happens!
Container Gardens (almost zero $)
Something I had come across in a fun book titled the Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen is a functional porch garden idea known as a self-watering container. The concept is based on the commercially sold Earthbox...commonly sold for $40 or more each. It basically is made of an 18 gallon rubbermaid storage container (that we had on hand and were not using) and a few short sections of pvc pipe. The concept tries to mimic the topsoil, subsoil, and water table found in a natural garden, but contructed into a minaturized version for shallow rooted plants. The advantage over basic containers is that the water is wicked up by the plant roots whenever they need the water....and watering is done only infrequently, because the bottom reservoir is like 6-8 gallons of water. We decided to plant herbs in ours.
We came across something called TatorTires, where by cutting away the side walls of discarded tires you use them for containing potato plants...as potato plants grow upward, you need to pile on more soil, straw, etc. The tires are nice because you can utilize vertical space, contain the potato plants, and add old tires to the stack as they grow. The black rubber heats up and creates a warm zone for the plants to get a good start. At harvest time you simply start removing the tires one layer at a time to gather up the spuds! This idea could be used for a number of food plants.
Friday, May 1, 2009
While I have been drawn to books on saving money, cutting costs, and living simply, I often find that there's just not so much I can learn. I can't cut out my Starbucks habit because I don't drink coffee. But I have been drawn to those kinds of books & websites because I have been in search of some magical way to attain nirvana - The Land. Mortgage-free lifestyle. Time.... the list goes on.
Just like everyone else we are starting to feel the pinch of this economy. Friends are losing jobs and we may not be far behind. As the reality of the situation that we are all in starts to be felt closer to home, I'm really glad that we have been working on ways of saving money every month. If our income remains the same, it will allow us to put a little money in the bank; if it goes down, well then maybe it will help us get by while keeping our house or at helping us avoid digging ourselves a very deep hole.
Over the last few months we have drastically changed our food buying habits. I thought we were frugal before; and sometimes we were. We ate good food, often seasonal food, and often from scratch. Except when we didn't. Like when we got home late and found it all too easy to call Papa John's. Or when it was easier to stop for Chinese carryout on the way home. Or when we looked in the cabinet and saw lots of good food but were too tired and hungry to figure out what to do with it.
In the course of my usual quest for money-saving, simple living resources I rediscovered the website whose name scares my children, the Hillbilly Housewife. I promise there's nothing shocking there even if the name is a little scary. The site has two meal plans for either a low cost week of meals or an extremely low cost week of meals. Being brave but only a little bit, we decided to try the $70 meal plan and see if we could learn anything about living a little lower on the hog.
I started by rediscovering Aldi, the no frills, bag your own groceries store that has the bad rap as being just for poor people. In spite of the fact that a lot more of us might BE poor people soon, I found that for basic ingredients, Aldi was full of many money saving items.
When I tried the $70 menu I also rediscovered another concept that I had gotten away from--sticking to the list! It was really hard that first time to walk by the chips, snacks, and packaged things like granola bars. My mind said, "But they're so inexpensive, I could just get a few anway." But I stuck to my guns & stuck to the list. My total was more like $80-something with the increased prices over the last year but all in all I thought it was pretty good. Our family had been spending close to $200/week on groceries and that's not even counting eating out. But could we really stick to it and do it?
What I discovered was that there is a LOT more food in that menu than we usually use. Since most of us are gone during the day I rarely cooked the lunches. Brent and I took leftovers to work with us and we ate well and heartily. I even discovered that the salmon patties were pretty tasty. For someone who doesn't like fish this was a revelation. About a week into this experiment my son said, "We've been eating some REALLY good food lately!" Yes, he really said that!
Since that first week on the $70 menu I have continued to make the Perfect Iced Tea every few days. I rarely bought soda before but I just don't buy it at all now. I didn't know I liked iced tea until I tried this. And I have made her Biscuits with amazing succes more than once! I have never ever been satisfied with any home made biscuits of my creation before; but these seem to work every time.
What I learned that week was that I already knew how to be a wise cook; but I had forgotten the art of menu planning and sticking to the list. Next time I'll share more about our specific "system" and how it's going for us. Also news about another money saving food find and how we are fitting it into the "system" and eating well while saving money!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
First I knit Brent a sweater that was TOO SMALL. (It's on the wall at River Knits - it's is lovely in every way with the perfect color of colonial blue and oatmeal with detailed stranded colorwork - except that it doesn't fit my husband.)
Then I knit Brent a sweater that was TOO BIG. It has cables that cross and meander all over the seed stitch textured background. It took at least 3 years of my life. I am not sure what happened. The gauge was ok, but when I blocked the pieces and put it all together, you could've put two Brent's in that sweater. All I could do was fall to the floor and try to stop laughing.
Last year I combined forces with another knitter to make a sweater for charity. It turned out nicely and Brent said, "Could I have one like that?" He must be the eternal optimist. Or maybe he just picked the perfect sweater.
Finally, I have knit Brent a sweater that is JUST RIGHT.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
We each toasted, kissed, and drank a glass full of champagne while dancing in the New Year in our living room with an internet feed of Times Square...then Beth had an idea. She had always wanted to make vinegars for use on salads. Why not take the remaining champagne, add in frozen raspberries from this last summer's harvest basket that the Cooley Family Farm grew for us, plus herbs.
Beth decanting her Raspberry-Thyme Vinegar. recipe
It is good on salads, with a slightly sweet, mild taste. Add walnuts to the salad for a treat.
For more than a year now, we've co-owned two dairy cows at a local German Baptist farm. In return for paying for the upkeep and maintenance of the cows, we receive two gallons of organic raw milk each week. The cows have been giving approximately 4% butterfat...so there seems to be plenty of cream. Brent tried several, several times at making butter from this cream.
However, Brent redeemed himself by making an entire gallon of yogurt from the raw milk. It was really pretty easy. After bringing the milk to 190 F, allowing it to drop to 110 F. Then stirring in one cup of plain yogurt. Empty the yogurt spiked milk into clean jars and incubate around 90-100 F overnight (about 6-8 hours). The yogurt came out very well. I've been eating it with fruits and nuts for breakfast.
Our daughter, Colleen, decided on a unique science project for school. Having tasted chocolate cake made with beets (and liking it), she wondered how people would respond to an offer to taste beet chocolate cake A) if they didn't know it was made with beets, B) if they did know it was made with beets, and C) how many liked it after tasting it from each group. Her results show that fewer people wanted to taste it if they knew it was made from beets, however nearly 100% of taste testers said they liked it. What a culinary rebel she is!
We even decided to try our hand at making natural cosmetics and bath salts. We made astringents, creams, moisturizers, and aftershave. I don't think we've come close to a marketable product, but it was fun trying out our ideas. Here is a photo of us with our youngest daughter, who helped out in the production of the cosmetics.
So, we've set the stage for the New Year - rejoice and follow our inclinations to experience, try things out, pursue the things we cherish and love to do, and follow our hearts supporting each other along the journey.