Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Year End Evaluation

2010 was a year of disasters - the Deepwater Horizon, Haiti, Pakistan, Russia, and some unpronounceable volcano in Iceland. Something new and incredibly depressing came along about once a month to top off the old and incredibly depressing - peak oil, climate change, economic inequity and financial instability. Despite that, we keep chugging along with our family and community preparations; trying to build fun and joy into our lives along with sustainability and resiliency.

We spent a fair amount of time trying to finish the house, preparing backup plans to heat and cook with an unreliable electric grid, and learning to cook with more local food. It seems like we will never be "prepared" enough, and sometimes I awaken with crushing anxiety that I've missed some critical piece of the puzzle, or that I'm spending my time in all the wrong ways. Still, I accomplished many of my 2010 objectives, though not all.

At least with family preparation I can cross goals off my list as I finish them. With community work, it's often the case that I don't quite know what I've accomplished. Was someone inspired enough to store some food, prepare for an oil shock, start biking to work? Without a good feedback loop, it's hard to evaluate. But I've been inspired enough by the efforts of other people - some of whom will never realize how they've changed my life - that I can have faith enough to keep trying.

What did we accomplish?


- Used a permablitz to upgrade the weedy spot in between driveways to a mini food forest with three fruit trees, herbs, and edible flowers. Watermelons and black futsu squash planted in "crop circles" out-produced my ability to use them, resulting in lavish giveaways.

- Preserved melons, 164 pounds of peaches, pesto, and okra via jamming, drying, and freezing.

- The tomatoes in the lasagna garden were a massive disappointment; possibly because of the shade in the fall, they did not recover from the usual mid-summer downturn. No tomato preservation this year.

Local food

- Purchased a freezer to enable us to buy a side of grass-fed, pastured beef from a local rancher. The freezer is so efficient we have not noticed an increase in our electric bill.

- Learned how to cook meat once per week. I was a vegetarian (pescatarian, really) for nine years and I have never really cooked beef.

- Purchased a super-insulated grill to cook steaks and allow us to cook during summer blackouts. Stocked an extra 50-lb bag of charcoal, but the grill will also work with wood fuel.

- Enrolled in an Egg CSA.

Home improvements

- Installed a Lopi wood-burning fireplace insert with a small cooktop (will hold a 6-inch pot/pan and a small kettle). Put in a stock of two ricks of wood. We have had an ice storm and a blizzard in the past four years and it makes sense to have a backup source of heating, including fuel.

- Installed bamboo floors, replacing worn out carpet.

- Replaced roof and gutters destroyed by a hail storm with a hail-resistant, lifetime warranty roof. In Oklahoma, that means maybe fifteen years.

- Still have paint samples on the walls from 16 months ago in my living room and kitchen. Still need to install a new mantle, since our old one had to be removed to satisfy code requirements related to the Lopi fireplace insert.


- Met our family's financial goals.

- Transferred savings account from large institution to local credit union.


- Began facilitating the Going Locavore local food strategy group.

- Became the newsletter writer/editor of our neighborhood association.

- Held an educational Permablitz and a fall gardening workshop.

- Started getting together a small group of friends to help each other become more sustainable and resilient.

- Continued co-chairing Transition OKC - maintaining & upgrading the website, writing Facebook posts, revamping our bookmark, upgrading our OKC resources page, hosting a Discover Transition event, helping put on a Transition Training, participating in Sustainability Demonstration Center meetings, giving a few presentations, attending lots of meetings, helping promote events via Constant Contact e-newsletters, etc.

Enjoy myself

- Attended more delicious potlucks last year than in my first 30 years combined.

- Read an embarrassing number of pulp fiction novels.

- Wrote several satirical blog posts, which are fun to write, and hopefully make other people laugh.

- Went hiking.

How about you - how was your 2010?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wheat Berry Buckets: The gift that keeps on giving

Need a last-minute Christmas gift? Do you happen to have perhaps one too many 25-pound buckets of wheat berries laying around? Why then, you're all set! I admit that wheat berry buckets might not be the first thing that jumps to mind when you think "special holiday present," but here's my list of why WBBs are the perfect gift:

5. You can breathe a little easier knowing your friend / family member now has a start on food storage. Wheat berries can store for 20 - 30 years if kept properly protected; and 25 pounds of wheat berries ground into whole wheat flour can make about 75 loaves of bread. Not only can you grind the berries into flour, you can cook them like rice and even sprout them for extra nutritional value.

4. Although a WBB won't fit in a stocking, it is about the same price as a stocking stuffer.

3. You can't wait to see the priceless look on your brother's face when he realizes what his very large present actually is.

2. The buckets are reuseable: use them to carry compost, as an emergency sanitation station, to mix grout, or to catch shower water for your garden!

And the number one reason is...

1. They definitely DON'T already have one.

All joking aside, I brought a WBB to a Dirty Santa party and it was THE most stolen gift. Nine times, by four different people, by my count. The party was a Transition OKC party, with people who actually know what wheat berries are, but still - that's pretty popular! So, if you do have a family member who keeps meaning to start storing food, but just never gets around to it... or an adventurous friend with a yearning to find ways to cook more whole grains... well, you know what to do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bee havens

Grist has a fairly damning article of the EPA's role in the epic honeybee decline over the last decade - the rise of colony collapse disorder and the decline of free pollination of thousands of crops, one of the many services that Nature provides. Apparently, the EPA granted Bayer "conditional registration" to sell the profitable pesticide clothianidin, despite warnings from the EPA's own scientists that the pesticide was "persistent" and "toxic to honeybees."

Scientists have not fingered clothianidin as the smoking gun of colony collapse disorder. No doubt loss of habitat, mono-cropping, other pesticides, and a host of other factors play a role. But does it make sense for the EPA to allow a pesticide that is extremely toxic to honeybees to be sold on the open market, even when the pesticide residues are expressed in the pollen and nectar of the flowering crops? Only in a world where we don't want to eat oranges, apples, pears, peaches, and plums, to name just a tiny percentage of the fruits we eat that are freely pollinated by bees.

So, as with most environmental issues, saving the bees is a matter of saving human food (although hand-pollination is an option, and even practiced in parts of China where the bees have vanished, it is hard to imagine.)

How do we "save the bees?" It seems like giving the EPA a swift kick in the behind might be a good start, but for all you non-political types (like myself), you can also do something at home. Here are three steps you can take to support bees - at least on your own property.

1. Create a bee-friendly environment by offering them plants that flower throughout spring, summer, and fall:

- Plant an insectary with flowering plants that bees love: lemon balm, borage, tansy, goldenrod, echium, mint, heather, salvias, lavender, coriander, thyme, elderberry, heirloom rugosa roses, and willow. Many of these are also medicinal or herbal plants.

- Plant a clover lawn, which has the added benefit of needing less fertilizers, pesticides, and mowing.
- Perhaps you could even let your dandelions flower - they are an important source of nectar and pollen early in the season, as well as being an edible medicinal "weed."

2. Stop using pesticides that harm bees (and encourage your neighbors to avoid them), and

3. Become a beekeeper. Bees don't need a lot of room, since they roam freely; and you have the added benefit of excellent pollination of your own crops and a steady, renewable, organic source of sweetness.

At my home, we have only taken the first two steps. We have a clover/dandelion backyard filled with flowering medicinals and herbals, and a front yard that has peach trees, catmints, salvias, and thyme. We don't use any bee-toxic pesticides on our property. At this point, I can only aspire to become a beekeeper. But who knows what 2011 might hold? Honey would certainly be a space-efficient, highly tradeable, multi-purpose, and valuable food to be able to produce.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An easy first step: community newsletters

Are you planning to "build community" next year to help your community face the problems of economic downturn and energy decline? Here's a simple, time-efficient, way to start: take advantage of your existing neighborhood newsletter to promote your ideas. The newsletter published by my neighborhood association is distributed to over 600 households - people who are living near me, people I definitely want to be prepared and "skilled-up" for the future.

Contributing to an existing neighborhood newsletter is fairly simple to do, if you can get permission to write the articles. In my case, I happened to know the person responsible for the newsletter, who was really not interested in the job and had accepted it only under duress. He was happy to let me write the newsletter, and your local newsletter editor might very likely feel the same way. I now have the opportunity to share valuable knowledge and resources four to six times per year with all the people living around me.

Here are some ideas for useful, non-controversial topics:

  • Emergency preparedness,

  • Tornado / ice storm / hurricane safety,
  • Traffic / driving safety reminders,
  • Useful phone numbers,
  • Crime reports and statistics,

  • Saving money through energy conservation,

  • Community spirit / cooperation,

  • Gardening,

  • Free local resources (compost, mulch, trees, etc.)

  • Planting trees,

  • Neighborhood security / patrol,

  • Car-pooling,

  • Upcoming events, block parties, speakers, workshops, etc.

  • Offers for free homeowner assistance from government / non-profit agencies,

  • Supporting local food/economy.
So if you've got something to say, contact whomever is responsible and offer to write a quick few articles for your paper. I try to keep my contributions short, non-partisan, useful, and away from any controversy (peak oil, cough, climate change, cough). Here is a sample of three articles I wrote for our recent newsletter:

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

The economic downturn has affected many of our neighborhood residents, but economics are not the only reason to help a neighbor. Getting to know your neighbors, and helping them when possible, creates a much friendlier and safer neighborhood atmosphere. You will benefit as well!

What are some ways to help our neighbors? Here are a few ideas to start:

- Loan your neighbor a tool (table-saw, tile-cutter, etc.).

- Let them know they can borrow a cup of sugar or some milk rather than running to the store.

- Share extra produce, fruits or herbs from your garden.

- Carpool with them or offer to share rides.

- Are you handy? You could help insulate or weatherize their home to cut down on heating bills and uncomfortable drafts.

- Offer to shovel the snow from a neighbor's walk, or help them plant a garden.

- Keep an eye out for suspicious activity around your block.

Have you been helped by a neighbor? Share your story at X@gmail.com!

Are you prepared for the next ice storm?

The Ice Storm of '07 knocked out power for several days and caused property damage all over the city, and the Christmas Eve Blizzard of '09 snarled traffic for day. Are you ready for the next big one?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has these suggestions to prepare for a storm:

- Winterize your home: Insulate, caulk, and weatherstrip to protect for the cold.

- Winterize your car: Keep your car properly tuned and keep all fluids filled up; consider carrying sand for traction on ice as well as emergency items such as cold weather clothing and some food and water.

- Stock up: Make sure you have at least two weeks of food and water on hand, adequate fuel (i.e. wood or propane) for cooking and heating without power, plenty of warm clothes and blankets, and batteries for lights and radio.

FEMA has these suggestions to weather a winter storm:

- Listen to weather reports about severe storm activity.

- Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow; and be careful when walking on winter ice. Overexertion can lead to heart attacks (a leading cause of winter storm-related deaths), and falling on ice can break bones and cause concussions.

- Use extreme caution and maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters.

- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Don't be caught unprepared! For more information and tips on emergency preparedness, visit http://www.fema.gov/.

Local Food Year-Round

Summer season for local produce is over - but don't worry, you can still get food fresh from your local growers! There are several options for finding local food in the fall and winter:

1. The OSU-OKC Farmer's Market is open year-round on Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm at 400 N. Portland Ave.

2. Oklahoma Food Co-op members can order from the Co-op online at oklahomafood.coop every month.

3. The Local Food @ Market C offers a selection of locally raised meat, eggs, freshly picked produce, and baked goods at 401 NW 23rd every Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm.

Resilient Gardener Winner

And the winner chosen by the Random Number Generator is...

Number seven, esp! Please comment in with your name, address, and email address (which will not be published), and I will mail you a copy of Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener. If you do not comment in by end of day Thursday I will feel free to do another drawing.

You may be interested to know that Amazon named The Resilient Gardener one of the Top 10 Home and Gardening books of 2010! If you would like your own copy, or a gift copy, you can order the book for yourself from your local bookseller, from Amazon.com, or directly from Chelsea Green, which is holding a 35% off sale with free shipping on orders over $100. FYI.

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Resilient Gardener Book Giveaway

Finally, a gardening book written for gardeners dealing with the realities of peak oil and unpredictable weather! Carol Deppe's book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times describes how to grow, store and cook "the five crops you need to survive and thrive - potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs." Ms. Deppe covers these topics in a way that details, as she puts it, how to garden to "the appropriate level of sloppiness," using just enough time and effort to get the desired results, instead of how to garden to a fossil-fueled vision of perfection.

Carol Deppe, a Harvard-educated biologist with over thirty years of plant-breeding and gardening experience, has distilled an incredible store of knowledge into this book, which tops the scales at over three hundred pages long. In the book, she discusses:

- Growing food in an era of unpredictable weather

- Gardening with little to no irrigation or store-bought inputs

- Keeping a flock of ducks/chickens and growing most of their food

- Saving seeds and breeding plants

- Storing crops

Ms. Deppe's unique perspective, which sometimes goes against conventional wisdom, kept the book both amusing and interesting. How often do you find gardening books with sections entitled "Why I Hate Drip Irrigation," "Why I Don't Compost Anymore," and "The Power of Pee?" She is also not afraid to take a stand on nutritional topics, and although I found the chapter on celiac disease a little distracting, I can see that the information might benefit many people.

Her discussion of diet and nutrition related to the five main crops, and especially her discourse on the specifics of storing foods and saving seeds, seems particularly versatile. As Ms. Deppe said in an interview with Makenna Goodman on Alternet, The Resilient Gardener is as much about storing and using food as it is about growing it, which makes the book as helpful for people learning to cook and use local food as it is for gardeners. While the sheer volume of information related to some of the topics was overwhelming at times, I think these sections may be worth their weight in gold when they are needed.

As usual, I found myself wishing that a gardening book had been written by someone who lived in Oklahoma. But can I really fault the author for living in Oregon, which has a very different climate than we have?

To sum it up: The Resilient Gardener covers a wide range of subjects, in great detail, that will interest people who plan to garden in a post-peak, unpredictable weather kind of planet. Carol Deppe is not afraid to defy conventional wisdom, and is brave enough to discuss some taboo topics. The Resilient Gardener also garnered rave reviews from Toby Hemenway (author of the permaculture classic Gaia's Garden - one of my favorite books) and Gene Logsdon (author of Small-Scale Grain Raising and Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind).

So if you find yourself intrigued by this review, sign up to win a copy of The Resilient Gardener by leaving your name in the comments (no anonymous or non-U.S. lower 48 registrations, please). I will announce the winner on Wednesday morning. And if you don't happen to win... this book might make a great (i.e. useful) gift for the gardener in your life.

Final note: Because of the series of posts I wrote on resilient gardening, Chelsea Green mailed me a free review copy of The Resilient Gardener, however, I am keeping that copy for myself and sponsoring this holiday giveaway on my own dime.