Saturday, August 1, 2015

Baby Sundries Saturday

I meant to cloth diaper from the start.  But at 7 months we're just now getting into it.  Saving my wallet and the earth one diaper change at a time!  So naturally I've been making cloth wipe spray and baby powder to go along with them.  I thought I'd share the recipes I'm working with today.  They're incredibly simple and quick.

Cloth Wipe Spray

1 1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup aloe Vera gel
1/4 liquid Bastille soap
A few drops of tea tree oil

Mix in a jar, shake, then decant into a spray bottle.

Baby Powder

1 1/2 cups arrowroot powder
6 Tbsp bentonite (or other cosmetic) clay
A few drops of lavender essential oil

Whisk together in a bowl and pour carefully into a jar with a shaker top.

Happy Saturday!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

When 1+1=3

It happens.  You get busy, time gets away from you.  And so it has.  I went right from settling into a new house, to this.
And then there was the mild hyperemesis gravardium to deal with (or live through) and once that had passed after about five months, there was the very complex matter of moving all the art, sewing, crocheting, and office supplies out of our only spare room and rearranging the rest of the entire house in order to fit them in new places.  So the little squish has his own room, all to himself now (yes, him) but we are a bit cluttered.  Or jumbled.  Bookcases are stuffed with fabric and jammed into a corner, or worse, where a clear path used to exist between one room and the next.  We honestly believed that after all these years, if a little one hadn't come yet, it was never going to happen.

In April we had a housewarming party of which, sadly, there are no pictures, but it was an amazing time and I indulged in a few too many drinks.  Three apparently was too many because I woke up sick as a dog and stayed sick for days.  Clue number 1.  The next thing I know I'm 9 months pregnant and nearly as big as my own house.

My water broke 3 weeks early and after a grueling 43 hours, our little one finally joined us, 3 minutes before midnight on the 12th of December.  The first thing I saw was the outline of his right foot on the sterile curtain above by face as they held him up after the c-section.  I openedmy eyes and saw his blue eyes, the rest of his face hidden by the curtain.  My husband was taking a picture, I was losing consciousness.  I was flooded with relief so intense, it felt like love.  Did I mention it was a difficult birth?  I was floating in a sort of far away, dreamy state of consciousness where I could hear everything but I couldn't speak or open my eyes.  I heard my baby making sounds...not quite cries.  I loved his voice immediately.  

We didn't know what his name was until three days later.  I wanted one name, Brendan wanted another.  Neither of us were willing to compromise so we left it up to the baby.  We called him by my preferred name but he just lay in my arms impassively.  We called him by Brendan's choice and he immediately opened his eyes and looked at us.  

So on Monday December 15th, we brought home Q Morello Doyle.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Endless Search For The Perfect Kitchen

Before my husband and I lost our financial footing years ago, we cooked as if it were a novelty.  We would find some imaginative recipe here or there for a chorizo black bean stew or a whole chipotle roasted chicken and we would go on a quest for ingredients.  My domestic skills were sparse and my interest in developing them, even sparser.  Grocery shopping was sporadic and most daily meals were of the white bread variety, boring American food, hastily thrown together out of necessity.  Cooking for us was not a daily art.  It was a 'sometimes, if the mood strikes us' art.

When our economic security began to spiral downward we had already been eating almost exclusively organic for quite some time.  It wasn't a pretention.  It wasn't part of the novelty, it was a mandate.  My mother had become incapacitatingly ill and shown drastic improvement after studying the effects of the toxins in conventional food and making a desperate move by switching to organic.  My mother,the typical Italian matriarch, insisted her children follow suit and safeguard their health with clean food.  It didn't matter that I was 27.  It was easier to acquiesce than resist her, which is usually your best bet.  My husband was happy to go along with what he saw as move towards a more professional way of cooking.  He'd always admired chefs and cooking gurus like Alton Brown and Rick Bayless who often promoted organic foods as being of a higher quality on their shows.  When the bottom dropped out of our bank account and the sources of income began to fall away we were already deeply rooted in our organic commitment.  I'd done a fair amount of research myself by that time and just the thought of sipping on the msg in a cup o'soup gave me a symptom headache.  We were in a position that almost demanded we return to the nauseating ways of rice a roni, boxes of mac and cheese, and cheap meat pumped full of chemical cocktails.  

I was wandering through a Goodwill one day with my mother helping her look for something when I spotted what turned out to be a handmade blue and plaid waist apron.  I'd never seen any women in my life actually wear one except maybe Donna Reed on Nick at Nite.  I wasn't actually aware that they served a functional purpose.  I thought they were merely a superficial accoutrement, something worn for a man to inspire a mix of wholesome and lusty feelings associated with the power of the masculine atomic age...a uniform to direct the woman to her place in the home.  I picked up the apron idly and when my mother laid eyes on it, they dilated with her trademark expression of  Lucille Ball-esq scheming.  She snatched the apron from me, started turning it over in her hands, examining parts of it as if she were looking for something and then finally declared, "I know how you can make some money.  I'm going to teach you how to make aprons out of men's shirts and you're going to sell them."

It's funny what happened after that.  All because of an apron.   I got a single sewing lesson from my mother before she moved away and I did what she predicted.  I started making and selling aprons.  I learned how to make cold process soap and learned the value of cast iron.  I guessed that I could make broth from a chicken frame and make my own crackers rather than buying them.  My domestic interests multiplied exponentially in the interest of survival.  I refused to go back to eating unhealthy food and I found ways around the higher price tag of organic food.  I realized that I could make my own kitchen cleaner spray for a fraction of the cost of a purchased cleaner and that opened a pandora's box of homemade endeavors for me.  All because of an apron.

The thing about this homemade, handmade lifestyle is that it holds its value even when economic equilibrium returns.  I don't make crackers anymore unless I have some spare time and I feel like it.  The time it takes to make crackers from scratch is worth spending the extra $3.29 for premade ones.  I think all of us new domestics have our signature styles.  Some women will make their own bread come hell or high water, others will never spend a cent on store-bought laundry detergent.  It all keeps more cash in our bank accounts and makes a house more of a home.  But if you haven't actually designed the architecture of your own home, it can come with its own set of problems.

I have run into a very specific problem with this new way of keeping house.  And I can't believe it's just me.  We have been searching for a home to purchase for three years now, first in the country and then in the city as my husband's commute began to take a toll on his mental health.  We toured farm houses and city houses alike but with most of them, even the old farm houses, I ran into a problem.  The same problem I have here in our rental house now.  Affordable, lower to middle class houses were not and are still not built to support the self-reliant, handmade lifestyle.  So many houses lack proper mudrooms.  We have backyard chickens where we live now and there is literally nowhere to keep the muddy boots, the feed sacks, the coats.  In a non-disposable world, a certain amount of things need to be kept for future repurposing but a lack of closet space makes this almost impossible.  If you have mountains of disposable income you can invest in expensive wardrobes or other furniture for storing things but if you had that, you might not be in one of these small, affordable houses to begin with.  There's also the issue of garages.  So many houses don't have garages!  I keep wondering, where do these people keep their lawnmower?  Their gardening tools?  Their trash cans?  My husband does all of his own vehicle work from regular maintenance to engine changes so he owns quite a bit of specialty tools and welders that he's collected over the years.  We do truly love to be self-reliant.  He would love to expand this self-reliance to the area of woodworking so we can create some storage furniture for ourselves that we otherwise couldn't afford and maybe upgrade the chicken coop.  This requires space which most small, affordable homes do not have.  A lot of the farmhouses we looked at did have outbuildings that would have served in this capacity but that would have extended his commute to work which increases fuel costs.  Most of the fireplaces have either been converted to gas (useless) or filled in with concrete (even more useless).  At least with the gas fireplaces, a woodstove can be installed or the former working fireplace restored.  Wood can be obtained for next to nothing or for free but this set-up forces reliance on fuel usage.

But of all the ways in which homes are not supportive of a self-reliant lifestyle, the kitchen is always found to be the most lacking.  For a home which provides a good deal of its own produce from the garden, it's always a good idea to have a cool, dry attic for storing squashes and a root cellar for the root crops.  A pantry is necessary for storing the preserved foods that will hopefully last through the winter and of course if you're going to preserving food at all, there's the equipment.  Large kettles and pressure canners.  Stores of mason jars.  Food dehydrators.  Onions need to be stored hanging and there also needs to be drying and curing spots for various crops and herbs.  Cast iron which is always large and heavy!  I like to have an arsenal of spices for my ever-expanding repertoire of recipes but that also requires creative shelving of some sort. Then there are food processors for making large amounts of pesto and salsa for preserving and if you make any of your own cheeses, soaps, or fermented vegetables, they all have their own collections of various equipment.  And here is the major thing I have found lacking in nearly all the homes I've visited on my search:  work space.  Every Friday my family rolls out pizza dough and every Friday, the rolling process is cramped and the rolling pin catches on the other things around the workspace.  When making soap, I run out of counter space.  The cabinets in my kitchen don't hold any of our food.  The food is stored in the basement and in a small cheap cabinet I bought secondhand.  We have a delightfully large porcelain farmhouse sink though!  The only vestige of usefulness in the kitchen!

Of course there are ways around all these inconveniences.  Storing food and equipment in the basement or attic.  Using the dining room table as a workspace.  Using mason jars as glasses to cut down on the number of things that need a place to be stored.  Dehydrating foods in the oven or outside on sheets.  There are pot racks for freeing up cabinet space and magnetic knife racks for freeing up counter space.  In just a few months I will be learning a great deal more about adapting to a kitchen that is not designed to support a self-reliant, handmade family.  Our search has come to an end and we are purchasing a tiny cottage (smaller than our current cape cod) with an even smaller kitchen and even less counterspace.  I cook three meals a day from scratch and our kitchen truly is the heart of our home.  It will just be a bit more compact.  It takes capital to completely reoutfit a kitchen with shelves and racks (our current kitchen furniture setup won't fit) so it will be a slow, gradual process that evolves as boxes get unpacked.  I am thoroughly intimidated and incredibly thrilled.  A part of me scorns the tiny house movement because I know from experience, cramming a self-reliant lifestyle into a small space is a recipe for chaos and clutter but there is absolutely no part of me that wants to inhabit a McMansion.  I'm hoping that our society's move towards more sustainable lifestyles and self-reliant, handmade activities will spur a renaissance in home design, gearing them more towards functionality with less wasted space.  Until then, I will be here, on my double lot by the Olentangy River, nesting.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cookieswaps With Moms

This past weekend I participated in my first ever cookie swap with my lovely girlfriends and their moms.  Of course it made me miss my mom like crazy so I had to call her and tell her I'm still mad at her for moving so far away.  (Glad Valley, South Dakota which has a population of and stepdad...and has the high distinction of being the town that is farthest from a McDonalds in the continental US.)  I know if mom were here, she would have loved to come.

Jesse invited us all to her warm and cozy apartment above the town square where we enjoyed a stimulating beverages, delicious soup with bread and pesto and of course, staggering amounts of cookies.  I spent much of the visit in a sugar high as the snow and sleet fell outside.  The hours flew by and soon there were Christmas concerts to attend and we all slowly meandered out, loaded up with every kind of cookie imaginable.  We all agreed to share recipes so here is my contribution, adapted from a recipe by Simply Organic:

Peppermint Patty Cookies

1 3/4 cup plus 2 level Tbsp of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
8 oz. organic dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup organic grapeseed or sunflower oil
3 Tbsp organic salted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Tbsp agave syrup
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp peppermint extract
1 cup powdered sugar


  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler while stirring. Set aside.
  3. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together 2½ cups of the sugar, oil, butter and agave syrup to blend evenly. Beat in the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla extract and peppermint extract. On low, gently beat in the melted chocolate. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat it on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheetpan with parchment or Silpat®.
  6. Take about a quarter of the dough out of the fridge at a time. With clean hands, roll the dough into 3-inch balls. Pour the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar into one bowl and the confectioners' sugar into another bowl. Roll each cookie dough ball lightly in granulated sugar first, then very heavily in confectioners' sugar. (The plain sugar keeps the confectioners' sugar from soaking into the batter).
  7. Arrange cookies 2 inches apart on the parchment or Silpat®. For crispier cookies, bake 12 to 14 minutes. For a chewier cookie, bake 10-12 minutes. Bake one sheet at a time. They should spread and and show their crinkles, but if they need encouragement, let stand 1 to 2 minutes then press them down flat with a spatula to be about ½-inch thick. Move to a cooling rack and do the next batch.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beef...It''s Hardly Ever For Dinner

I read the first sentence of Margaret Visser's introduction What Shall We Have For Dinner (from Much Depends On Dinner) several times.

"The extent to which we take everyday objects for granted is the precise extent to which they govern and inform out lives."

Not because I didn't understand it.  Because for someone who prides herself on being somewhat of a deep thinker, I usually don't give the everyday things a second thought.  Once I remember realizing that OCTober was the tenth month, not the eighth, then that November was the eleventh, not the ninth, etc.  I have other fleeting moments of curiosity about the often invisible minutia of our lives but I've never particularly thought of examining what we take for granted with our eating and cooking habits.  Visser suggests that "food shapes us and expresses us even more definitively than our furniture or houses or utensils do".  I wrote a big fat "REALLY????" in the margin and had to think on it.  I'm in the habit of thinking it's me who shapes the food, chooses the furniture and utensils.  But I will admit, my choices are constrained by my economic station.  If my food choices define me, then so must my financial means.

Although I'm not as limited by income as I once was, most of my food purchasing and preparation habits were born out of desperation.  After losing a job and collapsing to a one income family, I wasn't prepared to relinquish our organic diet.  I finagled a 25% discount at an organic grocery store in exchange for a few hours worth of work.  I opted into bulk buying, favoring dried beans over canned and used it as an excuse to store all the pretty rices, grains, and beans in large mason jars that feel more natural than plastic and cardboard packaging.  We went flexitarian so we could continue to purchase our meat from a local farm; we just ate less of it and made what we had last longer.  Every two weeks I'd buy a big roaster chicken, separate it into parts and have the leg joints and wings one night, the breast another, then brew a stock from the carcass, and chicken salad from whatever I could pick out after that.  (We only eat beef a few times a month.)  I saved bread heels in the freezer for homemade breadcrumbs, croutons, and bread  pudding and also tossed all the veggie trimmings in the freezer as well to augment the stock.  To fill in the gaps left by meat, I took an interest in dishes starring beans and lentils which invariably led me to Indian and other middle-eastern cuisine.  Lunch is always leftovers.  Always.  I was reminded that my habits are abnormal while reading Visser's section on North Americans classifying leftovers as garbage.  Even if I'm wealthy, I'll never succumb to that kind of economic wastefulness.  I'd rather spend my imaginary loads of money on shoes.  Or pretty house things.

Over time, some of the habits evolved but for the most part, my habits are the same.  The desperation I experienced after job loss transformed me from a reluctant and lazy cook to an extremely efficient, open-minded, and adventurous one.  Spending half of every single Wednesday volunteering at a grocery store grew tiresome so I've switched to every other week, which of course means I only do major grocery shopping every other week, since I only get the discount when I show up.  I sit down with my binder of magazine recipes and pinterest recipe boards and I plan out fourteen meals, making a grocery list as I go.  I pick up stray produce items at the local chain grocery store (Kroger) as needed throughout the week.  My garden, the farmers' market, and Kroger have a small selection of seasonal organic produce so I've learned to revolve most meals around the seasons.  Kroger will usually have cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers throughout the winter but I buy them sparingly and try not to make them the stars of any particular meal or side.  Food out of season is always exponentially expensive so I try to stay away from it unless it's a special occasion.  I try to preserve and can the extra garden stuff but I can never seem to get organized enough that nothing goes to waste.  I just threw out the last of my wilty basil that went brown before I had a chance to turn it into freezer pesto.  Breaks my heart every time.  It seems most of my preserves end up in Christmas stockings but some of it manages to make it to the winter table.  I managed a new recipe of tomato jam this year, tried a new salsa recipe, and canned some dilly beans.  I'm still hoping I'll get around to some applesauce.

One of my household's unfailing food traditions is Friday night pizza.    Triweekly, I make a big batch of no-knead dough using the lazy sourdough method and store it in the fridge.  The toppings are always different but cured olives and nitrate-free pepperoni are always a favorite.  The triple-garlic pizza we made once will always be legendary.  I'm a fan of the Canadian variety of pizza...ham and pineapple (although I prefer turkey ham) but my husband says pineapple on pizza is worse than blasphemous.  Of course he's the one that tolerates the insufferable Ohioan way of cutting pizza into SQUARES.  We don't usually order out for pizza, mostly because mine is better, but when we do I have to request that it be cut properly or the pie turns up cut into silly little non-pizza-like squares.

While reading Visser's words and processing her occasional assessments of the habits of Americans or North Americans, I've decided I don't belong.  I don't care if my food touches.  In fact I would prefer to cook it all in one pot; it's easier that way and there's less to clean up.  I eat my leftovers.  I fry my chicken for special occasions, rather than roast because roasting is less messy and frying covers the kitchen in oil.  I have always eaten my salad last rather than first and I don't really think corn is a suitable side dish (unless it's pudding).  I'm not very American about many other things either though.

If anything, this little introduction we read shook me up and got me thinking about all those little things I take for granted everyday.  The fork.  My iron skillet.  Sitting at a table to eat rather than on the floor.  She said "boredom arises from the loss of meaning, which in turn comes in part from a failure of ... connectedness with one another and with out past.  This book is a modest plea for the realization that absolutely nothing is intrinsically boring, least of all the everyday, ordinary things".  I aim not to be bored.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Power Struggle For Food

In a world of vastly different castes, lifestyles, and cultural traditions, there are needs and there are wants.  Whether you're in a first world or a third world country, nourishment falls into that very vital niche of necessity.  Eating is an inherent right, not a privilege.  And although we produce enough food to feed the world, millions go hungry.  It's an absurd statement that somehow, holds no shock value.  Not enough to erase the issue. Without the power to feed yourself...without the ability to meet even the most basic of can only be a series of survival struggles.  Meanwhile, the entities and individuals with the most money hold the most power not only over their own food availability and choices but everyone's.

For individuals with some measure of purchasing power, every dollar spent is a vote not only for that particular brand but that brand's ethics as proved through their business practices, hidden or otherwise.  Individuals and families that struggle to keep food on the table are often forced into buying the cheapest food available.  But those with enough income to allow for choice, are not forced and are voting with every purchase.  For example, buying cheap beef is a vote not just for poor quality meat "raised" in squalid conditions, but a vote to perpetuate the whole cycle of rotten animal husbandry that's driving the effectiveness of antibiotics into extinction.  A vote for unsanitary and dangerous slaughterhouses employing illegal aliens and paying them an unthinkable pittance.  And most of all, a vote to keep consumers in the dark about how their food is produced.  The beef, poultry, and pork industries spend fortunes on their public images, making sure to serve up cute little vignettes of small farms with happy cows on the labels or in commercials, or other equally false images.  Ag gag bills squash whistleblowing on animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions while the general public thinks nothing about the inanity of a judiciary system passing laws to protect lawbreakers.  Conversely, every dollar spent on meat raised in a healthy, natural way on a family owned farm is a vote for high-quality, fresh meat.  A vote for integrity in both business and treatment of animals and employees alike.  A vote for a wide-eyed conscious acceptance of your food's origin. A vote to cancel out denial.

The hungry mouths worldwide along with a global population explosion have created the issue: How To Feed The World.  Many have weighed in on the topic but the most controversial of proffered solutions comes from the biotech industry.  Megalithic powers with money to burn and the power to match, have lofty (or perverse) aims to own the world's food supply.  In landmark rulings, Monsanto pressure resulted in the unthinkable: the legal right to patent living organisms.    What was once a renewable resource of the public domain has now come under corporatized industrial rule.  Proprietary seeds now account for 82% of the world's seed market.  Biotech giants are well-known for the grudge-match lawsuits they wield to ruin the small farmer who resists switching to proprietary seed.  While genetically engineered crops are created in sterile labs, the actual growing process must by necessity take place out in the unruly fields of nature where weeds creep, wind blows, and bees pollinate.  Now we all understand the role of the bee and the way of the weather but somehow, biotech companies use natural, accidental cross-pollination between a field planted in GE crops and a field of conventional or organic, non-proprietary crops as grounds for draconian lawsuits that bankrupt the farmers.  Monsanto has made a habit of invoking controversy with their irresponsible open-field experiments that result in genetic pollution when strains that have not yet been approved, contaminate neighboring fields and then proliferate.  They employ teams of what can only be referred to as goons who travel the country, trespassing, bullying, and testing the crops on conventional farms to check for cross-pollination which legally is grounds for a patent infringement lawsuit.  Some say Monsanto is proof that corporations have officially grown more powerful than government.

The trail of corruption can easily be spied creeping across the media outlets as magazines that once published articles on permaculture and agroecology are suddenly changing their tune to anti-labeling and anti-organic sentiments.  Scientific American brazenly hinted that humans have been tinkering with plant genes since the dawn of agriculture and that genetic engineering is basically the same thing.  For a publication whose name includes the word "scientific", you would expect a bit more science.  After all, the average educated individual recognizes that pumping the genes of a winter flounder into a tomato is nothing like the selective breeding and backyard hybridizing that gardeners and farmers have been doing since "the dawn of agriculture".  The mention in other articles and blogs on their website that we've been consuming them for up to 20 years with  no problems is yet another sadly unscientific, unproven statement.  As we've read and discussed in other areas of this class, lifestyle and food-related diseases are on the rise along with cancers, both of which are beginning to appear at younger ages than previously noted.  I'm not suggesting that GMOs are causing cancers and diseases, I'm simply suggesting that it hasn't been ruled out.  Something a responsible scientific publication should acknowledge. Unfortunately, there are few independent safety studies on GMOs, long-term or otherwise.  The industry resists outsider studies with proprietary red tape and many of the studies available have been done overseas.  One famous study implicating GMO corn with mammary tumors has been awash in controversy since it was published.  (Other studies that show some of the health dangers associated with GMOs can be viewed here, here, here, and here.  Some enlightening articles specifically on the topic of how GMOs affect reproduction can also be read here and here.)  

GMO advocates like to throw around a lot of rhetoric about how their technology increases yields, requires fewer pesticides and herbicides, and is THE answer to the question of How To Feed The World.  This quick video by Anna Lappe and the Food Mythbusters from not only illustrates the alternative choices we have available for feeding the world but also exposes the biotech industry's claims as at least partially false.  In 2008, a biotech industry lobbying group, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), claimed that in 2007, use of GMO crops resulted in an 18% drop in the application of pesticides in agricultural fields.  Yet a 2009 survey of USDA data found that GMO crops have increased pesticide use by 318 million pounds in the first 13 years of their use.  These claims are obviously at odds with each other and require us to go a bit deeper.  When surveys and studies like these mention "pesticides", they are not just referring to chemicals that kill insects but also herbicides which eliminate weeds.  They are both in a class commonly referred to as "pesticides."  And while actual pesticide use (intended to kill insects) has been quite successful with GMO crops, herbicide use has skyrocketed because of that gloriously intelligent thing known as nature.  Weeds evolve a resistance to herbicides over time leaving GMO farmers with serious weed problems.  Monoculture farms destroy soil fertility and demand ever-increasing levels of synthetic fertilizer every year.  The run-off of these fertilizers is responsible for water table contamination around the world and also vast marine dead-zones such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental scientists at McGill University address the subject of GMO vs organic yields in an exhaustive analysis of 66 different studies and conclude

"Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot. To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems."
Even Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer and philosopher, and author of The One-Straw Revolution, spent most of his life proving over and over in his own fields that although additives such as fertilizer, pesticides, and even compost will increase a marginally higher yield, the value of the yield does not exceed the cost of achieving it.  The McGill analysis implies that for organic (or at least non GMO) agriculture to keep up with GMO yields, the factors limiting the yields need to be more fully understood.  Agroecology fits the bill.

Agroecology is a powerfully holistic approach to agriculture that uses science and local knowledge to develop affordable, practical and ecologically sound farming methods.  A variety being used in India is increasing yields by thirty to forty percent.  A report from Agro-Ecology and The Right To Food advises that organic and sustainable small-scale farming could realistically double food production in areas where hunger is a vital issue.  To lend more credence to this idea of sustainable methods replacing biotech, a UN Conference For Trade and Development report aptly titled, Wake Up Before It's Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now For Food Security In A Changing Climate, makes a lengthy, articulated case for organic, small-farming as a logical, effective way to not only feed the world but proactively handle the effects of climate change such as drought, flooding, and temperature variations that affect growing periods.  This type of agriculture is already meeting the needs of people in Russia where in 1999, 35 million families on 20 million acres, managed to grow 92% of the entire country's potatoes, 77% of its vegetables, 87% of its fruit, and feed 71% of the entire population from small-scale, household farms and dachas (smallhold weekend or summer gardens).  (I would like to add a reference here but all I'm able to find is that it comes from the Private Household Farming In Russia Gosmkostat from 1999.  I don't speak Russian and haven't had any luck actually finding a translated version.)

We don't have to let industry decide who eats and who doesn't.  We don't have to let them decide what we eat.  Biotech scare tactics fill the media with fear porn which leads to mass tacit acceptance of undesirable solutions.  Our culture does that well.  We have mastered the art of the defeated shrug while ruefully sighing.  There's just so much that is wrong and so little we can do.  This is not one of those times.  We can do a lot.  The gaunt city of Detroit is reinventing itself as an urban farming center.  Residents are feeding themselves and their neighbors.  This kind of grassroots movement is possible anywhere!  Simply starting a community conversation about local foodways is a simple, basic step that can open up endless opportunities.  (Julie's groupthink is a fantastic example of this.)  Websites like LocalHarvest make it easier than ever to connect with local food and sites like Meetup offer an easy platform for gaining community support.  Apps like fooducate can help us make smarter buying/voting decisions.  We can all reclaim the power to manage our own food sources by personally opting out of the processed big-box mania and supporting local growers and sellers, choosing healthfully grown and raised food, and growing your own if you're able or interested.

There are common sense solutions to feeding the hungry in poor nations that don't involve the destabilizing influence of Big Ag.  Heifer International which provides bred heifers, seedlings, seeds, bee hives, and other livestock to struggling families is a force to be reckoned with.  While on a relief mission in the late 1930's, Indiana farmer and Heifer International founder Dan West was ladling out milk rations when the thought stuck him, "These children don't need a cup, they need a cow."  So he started a group that donated and shipped bred heifers to oppressed families.  After delivering, the cow provided milk and could be bred again.  If the calf was a heifer, it was to be given to another family in need.  A self-perpetuating, self-sustaining system.  Today, HI partners with people who are familiar with the local region and culture who teach the families how to care for their animals, build shelters for them, and how to plant feed crops.  The guidance continues as long as necessary.

Would you rather be fed in handouts or have the autonomous power to feed yourself?  One is a bandaid masking the wound.  The other a true remedy.  I don't decry providing aid to those in need, ever.  But I would like for every human being to have the chance to know the sublimity of self-sufficiency.  Let aid be a stepping stone in that direction.  Golden Rice, a GE crop aimed at alleviating nutrient deficiencies in developing countries is engineered to contain extra nutrients, specifically beta carotene.  (Golden Rice has not yet passed the testing phase and is the source of some major controversy.) These nutrient deficient families could do well with some sweet potato root stock or other vegetable varieties specifically adapted to their regions.  Agroecology training paired with nutritional education and a supply of root and seed stock can go a long way.  I realize this isn't THE answer.  As Mark Bittman said, not all poor people feed themselves well and sometimes that's a result of war, displacement, drought, and other calamities.  There are social and political issues at the the heart of these things and unfortunately, not everyone has a patch of earth in which to grow and raise food.  Maybe that's what we need to change.  Other avenues must be explored. I sincerely hope that people smarter and better suited to such thinking will come up with some viable alternatives to genetic engineering.

(If you're still on the fence about GMOs, I highly suggest Barbara Kingsolver's essay A Fist In The Eye Of God.  It was my introduction to GMOs and it was after reading this beautiful prose that I began to really understand what's at stake.)

I've been working on this paper in sickness and in health, through emotional meltdowns and what feels like a season change, on and off for several weeks and to be quite honest I am DONE!  Thankfully I'm not handing this in for a grade so I'm just going to leave you right here with a relevant quote and a photo of me, my girls, and my weedy garden.

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create."  - William Blake

Monday, October 7, 2013

Birthday Month

It's true.  I'm turning 34 this week.  At times I'm tempted to indulge in melancholy musings about how I was supposed to have had children, published 4 books, and moved out of Ohio by this time in my life but it's far better to think about my good fortune and the accomplishments I've managed, even if they aren't ones I'd necessarily planned.  I've always made it a tradition to celebrate all month long so I have a very very busy month ahead!

I've already begun with some new boots, which I regrettably can't photograph and share because they've stowed away in my husband's car and are 50 miles away right now.  The husband tried to convince me to choose the flowered doc martens over the brown boots of a lesser pedigree but I had to explain that even if I chose the docs, I'd still need brown boots.  He marveled at how our brains make choices differently.  I choose based on how a shoe matches the rest of my wardrobe.  He chooses on the basis of quality and longevity alone.

In between the ongoing struggle with my brother to get his proverbial crap in a pile and the daily grind, I've already whipped up something sweet filled with pumpkin, slept in until 10, and enjoyed a full day of house-hunting (no results though).

Other plans to celebrate

 - Attend a family-style outdoor dinner at our local Fox Hollow Farm.  Arrive at 4pm, pick apples, use the cider press and enjoy fresh libations, then dine with candlelight as the sun goes down.  I'm confused by the email which says "Fancy dress is encouraged, sturdy shoes are required."  This may go hand in hand with men's attire but I don't have many fancy outfits that can be worn with hiking boots or wellies.  ???  Maybe I'm just not using my imagination.

 - Go horseback riding through the woods with friends and family at what will hopefully be peak leaf time.  The stables we use are known for their "running rides".  On my last birthday, I crossed off "gallop through field on horseback" from my bucket list. Every time the horse starts to run I get so happy I laugh until I nearly cry.  I am like a little girl with a pony.

 - Visit the Universal Life Expo and get a photo of my aura.  Also buy some new gemstones.  Think what you will.  It's fun.

 - Attend a joint birthday party/chili cook-off.

 - Attend a costume party.  I have no costume ideas.  My imagination is sleeping.  Any thrifty ideas?

- Hopefully eat at Skillet in the German Village.

 - In between?  Sleep.  Rest.  Cook.  Crochet.  And ugh...think about Christmas presents.  Already.  If I don't start making them now, I'll be behind.

Here's a fun fact for those with early October birthdays.  You were probably a New Year's Eve conception.  That's nice to think about.

Coming soon... my post on Session 4 Food and Power (from the Food and Culture Class...Blog Camp Goes To MIT).

The last of my garden's tomatoes.  Went into a spicy tomato curry.
Is your garden still producing anything?  Do you have a fall garden or a cold frame?