Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stock Day, Revisited

About six weeks ago, I wrote a post on taking stock, and making it in the context of my own little war on waste. It's stock making day again, and I'm contemplating what's changed.

It feels like I've wasted less this month. October: Unprocessed has definitely played a role in that, as most of what I'm eating has come straight out of the CSA box, my garden, or bulk items from the co-op. With the exception of the CSA box, little of that can go bad. (And if I'm very clever indeed, none of it must.) Given that, I also had far less to make stock with, but that's okay -- I'm still working through the stock I made in September.

I did throw out about a half-week's worth of leftovers and a half-loaf of quick bread due to poor planning on my part around my trip. That could have been avoided with better planning.

I also notice a few items which have outlasted the October: Unprocessed challenge -- mostly frozen vegetarian "burgers" and "meats". I'm not anxious to go back to my previous reliance on those, but at the same time I do plan to use them. There's no reason to waste them outright, and -- given that they are frozen foods -- I can't easily give them to the food bank as I did some of my condiments.

I'm also pleased that I've done a much better job of getting value from things I too rarely use: those candles, bath salts, teas and whatnot I've made so much of this weekend.

Not least, I managed to take a much-needed weekend trip without totally busting the budget. That counts for quite a bit!

I'm not at the point where I feel like I'm winning the war on waste, but at the same time I no longer feel like I'm waging war in a fallow field. I haven't necessarily increased my resources, but I've increased my resourcefulness. Of the two, that's probably more important.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Making Do (Pt. Deux)

Frugality is not deprivation. If it feels that way, perhaps there is a way to change it so it does not.

Today, I've challenged myself to a buy nothing / go nowhere day. So far, I've had great tea, eaten a homemade Japanese breakfast, taken a hot epsom salt bath, lit lots of candles which I too seldom use, lollygagged reading, taken an actual nap, and am now cooking up a green bean casserole with corn bread topping* -- with the added bonus that the oven is heating up my chilled house a bit.

Mostly, I've been extracting actual value from those things I tend to horde and not use: pleasant incenses & candles, shitake mushrooms, instant espresso, epsom salts and the like.

I have had to be a bit creative. The breakfast called for dashi -- a condiment made with kobmu seaweed, which I don't have on hand. But a bit of the liquid from soaking the shitake mushrooms suited just fine -- and more of the same made a great addition to the liquids for my casserole. No milk on hand, either, but the dried milk in the cupboards not only made a great substitute but really needed to be used anyway. Running out of honey for the cornbread, I turned to a bit of the barley malt I bought when starting October: Unprocessed. Easy, easy, easy: and in each case returning value to something that might otherwise be wasted.

When I am at my most frugal, I don't tend to feed deprived. Instead, I feel as if I am encouraging myself to get the most out of what I already have. There's a strong comfort in making do, a realization that I have more wealth and more resourcefulness than I often realize. At the same time, I realize that the money I don't spend now on things I really don't need is money I have in the future to build the life I want. There's no downside, really.

*From the  The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook: With More Than 1,000 Recipes for Choosing, Cooking, & Preserving Natural Ingredients -- a cookbook that is again becoming very near and dear to me!

How have you used frugality to indulge yourself? 

Challenges, and Eating Outside the Box

This weekend, I have given myself a personal challenge: to hunker down, make do with just what I have on hand, and avoid spending money or gas until my one appointment outside the house tomorrow.

As the old saying goes: "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."

As part of the challenge, I'm working my way through the CSA box and trying to be rather creative with it. Hence I'm soaking some shitake mushrooms (which I too rarely use) in preparation to make Japanese scrambled eggs with shitakes and bok choy for brunch. Yum!

Naturally, I ran out of coffee right after formulating my challenge, but even that's been okay. As it turns out, I have instant espresso powder which I bought long ago for a trip and really need to use up. It's not nearly as good as the Americanos I was drinking in North Beach, but it's not bad either.

Best of all? If I get through the things I need to do today, I've promised myself a nice rummage through all my bath and body treats for an afternoon spa day, which I might not otherwise have considered. As always, the best part of a challenge.

Friday, October 29, 2010

October (Mostly) Unprocessed

I am entering the last weekend of October: Unprocessed, and I remain profoundly grateful for its gifts.

Tonight, I am eating a local meal that is 80% from my CSA box: a Southwestern stew with local green onions, zucchini, corn, and bell peppers with some red beans, cumin and chile powder. Simple and perfect for tonight. Lately, these are the meals I want.

I can't say I was 100% faithful, but I'm actually surprised and pleased at how much the 'kitchen rule' held. I gave myself a bit of a free pass for my recent weekend trip, but didn't use that as an excuse to binge. I did eat a bit of white-flour pasta and a fair amount of good (but white) bread in North Beach (because, really: it was North Beach) and ate a few lovely desserts for which I didn't question the white vs. raw sugar. And of course there was dim sum, at which I really didn't bother to question anything. Because: dim sum. At the same time, I ate fewer chocolates than one might, and tended to opt for meals (like a lovely peasant butter-bean meal at a Greek restaurant) that I might otherwise have missed.

My biggest binge, if you will, was actually today at a company event. There was queso (a Texas concoction mostly made of Velveeta) and Halloween chocolate, and I had a bit of both. So, not 100% faithful.

That said, I think the month's changes have impacted me in ways that I couldn't expected.

To wit: I gave myself a great deal of license in San Francisco, which I really didn't take. At the amazing Swiss chocolatier I was very satisfied to have a small nibble of my darling companion's chocolate with marzipan; I didn't need entire chocolates, and didn't eat them. Mostly, I chose unprocessed meals: the amazing Greek butter beans; a fantastic breakfast polenta with gorgonzola, honey and natural bacon; pasta with seafood. Oh yeah, and that dim sum. I have no idea what was really in that . . . !

Also: I found that I have eaten more meat this month than I probably have in over fifteen years. I'm not sure what that was about, but I followed it where it lead -- eating meals of liver and mushrooms in mustard sauce, that lovely bacon in North Beach, and two different meals of cassoulet. At first, I resisted it. (I was vegetarian for 14 or so years, and still keep to mostly veggie meals.) Midway through the month, I resigned; my body was clearly trying to tell me something, not that I'm sure what it was.

I did end up losing a wee bit of weight. I'm not sure that was my intention, but it's true. More importantly, I had a really good excuse to look at some of my patterns and seek to change them, and picked up some new skills that I will carry forward. Who knew I could bake bread, or make cookies, for example?

Speaking of which . . . perhaps I should make some cookies . . . !

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gardening in Small Spaces

I am back from a quick weekend jaunt to the San Francisco area, and settled back into my warmer, muggier clime. As per usual, my attention was drawn to the different flora in the Bay Area. Or, as one friend put it as we walked along the beach: "You're looking the wrong way!"

I'll cop to that. But the Pacifica hills were filled with their own quiet majesty and really held their own against the beach. I loved noticing the differences in the growing patterns of the lantanas, chard and nasturtiums I also grow at home, and was even more excited to see plants like sea kale I'd only read about before.

The other thing that struck me is how truly blessed I am to have an entire suburban lot to cultivate. In the city, I watched as people gardened in whatever small spaces were available: small city parks, extremely steep backyard hills behind Victorian townhouses, planters and window boxes. I was delighted to look up in Chinatown and see a potted satsuma and other plants up on one building's fire escape. I was assured that there is nearly no space which cannot be gardened on some scale, at least in theory. (What the city will allow is often another matter.)

Next trip: more community gardens. I'm looking forward to it!

How do you garden in small spaces?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Growing Your Own

Originally posted at Eating Rules.

I can't help but approach October: Unprocessed through my passion for organic gardens, edible landscapes and permaculture. For those unfamiliar with the latter term, permaculture is the application of simple design principles which allow us to more easily care for people, care for the earth, and share the surplus.

I believe the simplest way to eat more natural, unprocessed foods is to have them around -- and the easiest way to have them around is to grow them ourselves, as close to the kitchen door as possible.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for bringing your own organic produce to the table well beyond October.

Redefine convenience and comfort foods. As a kid, I spent a summer with my sister in Iowa. Surrounded by cornfields, I ate corn raw off the cob. So simple, so good! In my grandfather's garden, eating carrots fresh from the ground was a treat. Kids who hate vegetables have often never been in a garden; vegetables are yet another packaged thing they "should" eat -- and don't. But let them pick their own fruits, visit farm stands, or tend a garden and something magical happens -- they build a lifetime relationship with real food, eating it with pride and pleasure.

These childhood memories anchor me when I'm tired, hungry, and too busy to put much thought into dinner. A thriving garden becomes the ultimate in comfort food. I can end stressful days with a stroll through my backyard, picking vegetables for a garden-fresh salad or stir-fry. Along with a bit of cheese or steamed whole grains, I can put a quick, satisfying meal on the table with minimal effort.

Start small. An intensively-planted four-foot square plot is more than enough to supplement the food needs of a small family, or feed a single adult. It's also small enough to manage for most families.  Mel Bartholomew's approach of Square Foot Gardening provides a simple, easy to follow set of guidelines for gardening in four-foot square beds. Once you've got the hang of the technique, it's easy to expand your garden one small bed at a time.

Plant what you love to eat. This point seems obvious, but home gardeners sometimes plant what they think they "should" eat instead of what they like to eat. A small garden, intensively planted with vegetables and herbs you already enjoy, ensures that your efforts are rewarded.

This is particularly true if you prefer heirloom or gourmet vegetables. Vegetables like asparagus and artichokes can be costly at the grocery store, but these perennial plants are easy to grow as part of an edible landscape, and will continue to produce for decades with minimal care.

Keep the garden in plain view. Permaculture's integrated design principles suggest a series of zones for planting: herbs and frequently-harvested veggies planted closest to the kitchen door, production gardens and compost heaps slightly further out, and so on. If you can quickly dash out to snip a few fresh herbs or salad greens, you're more likely to have them on your plate. If your garden is on the far side of your property, you probably won't bother.

Obtain a yield, early and often. Harvesting frequently is best for taste and nutrition, and generally best for your plants as well. Leafy greens such as chard, kale, collards or leaf lettuces will reward you with new, tender greens throughout the growing season if cut back frequently. The same goes fruiting plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, and beans as well as herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano. And we all know to harvest zucchini well before you can use it as a baseball bat! (Better yet, harvest the squash blossoms for a frittata, and laugh at the grocery store prices.)

This is another great reason to start with a small, intensively planted garden. When all those plants start producing, long rows may yield more than you can use. Planting a variety of vegetables in a small bed results in a useable yield.

Avoid waste. If you have more than you need right away, employ easy strategies to avoid waste. Tomato glut? No need to can. Just freeze the extras in a freezer bag, and pop a defrosted tomato or two into stews, soups and sauces all winter long. Too much basil? A batch of homemade pesto frozen in an ice cube tray will yield summery tastes year-round. And don't forget: vegetable trimmings make a great foundation for unprocessed soup stock.

Add edible landscaping. Feeling more ambitious? Add edible landscaping. Cordoned apple trees can help shade a sunny southern wall, while yielding a perfect fall lunchbox snack. Training grape vines or hardy kiwis up a pergola can create a shady spot to sit on summer evenings, not to mention a snack at your fingertips. These plants take a few years to bear fruit, but your future unprocessed-eating self will thank you!

Share the surplus. The best part of tending a garden? Having extra fruit, vegetables, seeds and plants to share with friends and neighbors. So set the table, invite your friends, and share the pleasure of home-grown, unprocessed meals year-round. Bon app├ętit! 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tea Season

The weather is cooling. For weeks, I've opened my windows to let in the cool evening air. In the morning, I wake to the scent of damp earth and make my morning commute through dense fog.

This means, of course, that we are also entering tea season.

I love tea of all descriptions: oolong and green, black and proper brewed chai with milk. Those, I buy boxed to make throughout the year. Oddly, I love herb tea but rather hate the stuff that comes in boxes.

Thankfully, this the season of homemade herb tea.

Apple mint alongside the grape arbor.

This time of year, the herbs -- like the gardener -- recover from a summer slump. There is an abundance of mint: apple mint, orange mint, chocolate peppermint, yerba buena, and various others that I've probably forgotten. There is bee balm, bergamot, lemon verbena, lemon balm. There are sprigs of rosemary and fennel to add to tea or cool drinks. On days when throats are sore and gardeners are brave, there is an abundance of horehound, slowly reproducing itself along the fence line.

Fennel, horehound, cactus and native wildflowers in the fey garden.

Yes, I love tea in all seasons. But there is something very special about this time of year, when I can put on the kettle and wander out into the garden in the evenings pinching a bit of this and that for a custom cup. This damp earth, these fragrant mints, are the scent of my Texas autumn.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sharing the Surplus (Revisited)

As gardeners in other regions are putting up their tools for the season, I'm finally kicking into gear after a long, hot summer. On Friday evening, I bought a small dill, a basil and a society garlic. A friend who ran into me at the store asked, "But don't you have a garden?!" True, but dill and basil get very fussy in the heat and don't over-summer well. Because of that, I bought these replacements for the strawberry pot outside my front door.

On Saturday morning, I updated the strawberry pot with dill and basil tucked throughout and the society garlic making a big spray on top, and turned my attention to the bed under the kitchen windows. It's now been planted out with some beets, mesclun mix and arugula which should keep me in salad all winter.

Later in the afternoon, a friend came by to get some subdivided plants. We managed to hack our way through the 'bad' side of the backyard I'd allowed to go fallow. It was pretty amazing overgrowth -- not just the weeds, but the ways in which the blackberries were growing in from the periphery as the grapes clambered out over the fig and mountain laurel trees to meet the berries.

Underneath this new canopy of vines, I again found that plants which usually struggle to survive the summer here -- such as strawberries and cardoons -- had made it through just fine. Tomatoes left to their own devices will trellis themselves rather well. And peppers, given a bit of sun, will go from nothing to full production in two weeks.

I also learned concretely what I'd suspected -- that the 'bad' side of the yard, which was not sheet mulched before my break, was a complete pain to restore compared to the good side. Two hours and a weedwacker later it was nearly there, but it wasn't fun. Next year, it will be far more worth it to invest two or more hours in the spring to properly sheet mulch those paths with thick layers of cardboard and decomposed granite for the paths, as I'd done on the other side. Lesson painfully learned.

Speaking of painful, my friend managed to take four "unauthorized" blackberry plants home, which he'd harvested with his bare hands. I'm profoundly grateful, not just for the help in hacking back through the food forest, but also because his visit made me get around to some things I'd been putting off during my busy spell. Sharing the surplus helps everyone, all around.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October Unprocessed: The Midway Point

We're a bit over halfway through the month and I've been both pleased at how well it's going and surprised at the things I am learning about myself in the . . . pardon the pun . . . process.

In the first week, I reacquainted myself with the pleasures of baking, and learned how important it is to have a few easy foods around like whole-grain tortillas and yogurt.

Last week I learned: why yes, you can overindulge even though it's unprocessed. Just because homemade cookies and red wine are legit doesn't mean you should go overboard. I also learned a lot about how easy and hard it is to get real, unprocessed foods from restaurants and takeout -- especially when someone else is choosing the menu. Most local restaurants are fine, but a certain local chain and I have radically different opinions on what a cheese sandwich on whole wheat really means. Ugh.

I also learned more about listening to my cravings. I started craving liver about a week into the challenge, which was very odd. I was vegetarian for 14 years, and still eat very little meat. Every time I went into the store, I looked at buying liver and didn't -- until two nights ago. Two nights of liver sauteed with shallots and mushrooms in a mustard cream sauce later, my mineral levels feel much more balanced. My body was telling me something very clearly, and was happy that I listened. Well, then.

This weekend, I've been taking my own advice and revitalizing my own home herb and salad gardens just outside my front door. Also, at this very moment, Bob's Red Mill Dark Rye Muffins are cooling on the kitchen counter.

I've been mindblowingly busy, but I am managing to eat 95% or more unprocessed this month. That's not a bad thing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Water is a precious resource, but particularly in the Westernized world we treat it as an unlimited commodity. Having grown up in the desert Southwest, and having lived for a short time in the Middle East, I am extremely sensitive to water waste and spend quite a bit of time blogging about it. Over time, I've been writing a long series of posts on water conservation and plan to continue as I notice more and better ways to reduce my water needs.

Today, I'm out in the garden working to improve my soil's tilth and water retention. Rather than spending a lot of time today writing about water, I'm taking some action.

Want to take some actions of your own? I invite you to read the best of Gardenatrix' posts on water conservation, including ways that you can save water at any scale by making small, incremental changes.

Tending the Hearth

I talk a bit about permaculture zones: beginning with Zone 0 (the home) and extending further afield to Zone 5 (the wild spaces at the periphery of a permaculture space). Many permaculturists also speak in terms of Zone 00: the person at the heart of the work, the designer his-or-herself who acts upon and is acted upon by the space.

When writing here, I tend to concentrate on the Zones outside the door and on my work in the world. In my personal life, I'm a bit of a contemplative and a mystic. While those facets of my life may be implicit here, I don't often speak about them explicitly. Most times, it's just not relevant; permaculture is not an ideology, and can be practiced by folks of all stripes.

That said, I find myself wanting a space to write about other aspects of my life, most often how my contemplative practice and my homesteading intersect. I want to write more about mindfulness not only as a means to the outer work, but as an end.

If you are interested in such topics, I invite you to subscribe or follow over at

While this message will not self-destruct in five seconds, I'll probably keep a much lower profile there and will not be crossposting to the various social media. I do have options for those who want to subscribe by various means, and invite you to use them if things like tea ceremonies are your cup of tea!

Ask the Gardenatrix: Varmints!

Reader Tiffany (of The Gracious Pantry) asks:

Do you ever find yourself waving your fists at little furry garden thieves who won't leave your veggies alone? We have a pesky squirrel and who knows what other kinds of night time critters that have completely eaten up our newly-planted garden. How do you protect your plants? I swear, I'm ready to sit up all night with the garden hose just to scare these little varmints away!

Whoa, there, Tiffany! While that's certainly less scary than a shotgun, those garden hoses get cold at night. Suddenly there you are like Hunter S. Thompson going off about the bats -- not a good scene! Let's see if we can find another way.

I'm lucky to not have squirrel issues -- but I can't say for certain if that's because I'm doing something right or there are no squirrels in my part of town. I do have tons of bird issues; the darned things go nesting in my fig tree and grape vines and race me to eat the produce. (I also swear that they go after the over-ripe fruit to get drunk, after which they hang out by the windows and taunt my cats, but that's another story!)

I find the best approach is to deal with the critters on multiple fronts.

Row covers or netting can help to protect fruits and veggies from being plucked off by thieving animals, and can also protect baby plants getting established from becoming a critter's salad bar. You can use hooped row covers or the very lightweight floating row covers so long as the squirrels can't get under them easily. The trouble with row covers is that you also keep out needed pollinating insects -- so if you do this, you'll want to lift up or remove the row covers while you're out there. Chicken wire barriers accomplish much of the same thing as row covers, but require a bit more work to set up, and will probably be at least a partial barrier to you, as well!

Plastic snakes, mirrors, scarecrows and owls help scare off some varmints. I place them throughout my garden.

J. Howard Garrett's Organic Manual suggests sprinkling cayenne pepper around your plants as a repellent. If you make the veggies too spicy, goes the logic, the squirrels will learn their lesson and stop eating it!

Fox urine will also go a long way to make your garden less desirable. The smell of fox makes squirrels and other rodents very nervous indeed! You should be able to buy it in liquid or pellet form at your local natural gardening store.

Better yet, skip the fox urine and attract actual predators. I find that planting a section of catmint and catnip in my garden does wonders for critter control. The neighborhood cats come to my backyard to chill out, don't do much damage (except for laying in the catmint), and provide a strong deterrent to other critters.

Dear readers, do you have other ideas? Please suggest them in the comments below. Tiffany, and her garden hose, will thank you!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is (Literally)

I mentioned a few weeks back that a new co-op is forming on Austin's east side, the quirkily named Happy Hobo.

They're desperately needed. They are building a natural foods co-op in the middle of a food desert. The area is mostly filled with convenience stores, and the larger grocery stores are literally filled with junk. (For 'educational' purposes I recently tried to buy three items at my southeast Austin local chain grocery store last weekend, and ended up walking out in frustration and disgust at my inability to find non-processed or even less-processed foods. Note that the same chain carries and distributes a range of better food options in other parts of the city.)

And personally, I'm delighted. I live on the edge of far southeast Austin, miles from the nearest (frustrating) grocery store and a 20-minute or longer drive to the nearest natural foods store. Happy Hobo is only about 10 minutes from me -- still an intentional trip, but far less of an issue. This also puts them very close to my beloved Boggy Creek Farm, which I love to visit even when I don't need veggies. It's a win/win.

The only remaining question, then, is when do I start really building the world I want to see?

Foolish and impulsive as this probably is, I think the only real answer can be: now. So, I've made a pledge to myself. First, I'm going to join this weekend, with a bit of adjusting to the month's budget. Secondly, and perhaps more foolishly -- I will meet all of my grocery and sundry needs entirely from Happy Hobo for the first year they are in business.

Now, to help them get that storefront open. If you'll excuse me, I have a membership to go buy . . .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sharing the Surplus

Not too much time to blog this morning, but I've still got permaculture principles on the brain.

This week, I started gathering up a huge stack of Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home, Natural Home and similar magazines to read through one last time. (Heck, I probably have enough to make a home out of them all if I followed the advice of one article and started building from papercrete!) Some of them I bought cheap at the local used bookstore; others were gifts from friends who recently moved. All of them are going to go to a new home soon. (I have my eye on a certain poultry mama as my first candidate!) As with so many things, magazines and the information in them are a resource that I tend to hoard up -- but when I release them, I can restore them to usefulness. They can plant their little memes again and again. So, one last farewell as I read them again and then -- off they go!

This coming weekend, I hope to have a friend over for gardening. I'm only about halfway through the yard restoration process, which is pretty sad considering I've been at it -- extremely haphazardly -- for three weeks. It's not that it's taking a great deal of time; it's that I'm not giving it the small amount of time it really needs. My hope is that by having my friend over for a gardening date, I'll be forced to get back to it. I used to do this quite a bit: have friends over to bring me their surplus newspapers and cardboard for mulching, and gift them with subdivided plants and harvested herbs for their trouble. It's a good habit to be in, and one I need to get back to.

Blackberries, sorrel and comfrey that would love me to hack my way back to them! 

I realize this, looking over the last couple of months: when I get too busy, I retreat into my silo. It's not good. At the time I most need to reach out and have the strength of community, I burrow down and try to soldier through. It's not good for me, not least because I draw so much strength and sense of purpose from my connection with and service to others. I'm hoping these baby steps are a move back in the right direction of remembering to share the surplus on a smaller basis, and more often.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Intro to Small-Scale Permaculture: Guiding Principles

Permaculture can be a huge topic to delve into. I'm prone to say that permaculture is to organic gardening as urban planning is to architecture. The Permaculture Research Institute, grappling with similar issues of definition, suggests that integrated design may be the better term.

I'm equally quick to suggest that permaculture is a way of thinking in the very long term, so that ultimately we can put our lazy selves -- those parts that want less work, more gain, and more leisure over time -- in service of our best selves.

What is the work of those 'best' selves? Permaculture puts it very simply in three priciples: care for people, care for the earth, and sharing the surplus. Those guiding principles provide a vision through which we can evaluate the value of nearly any design element. That said, they are not in themselves tools to accomplish our goals.

It occurs to me that I talk a lot about tactics here, but very little about guiding principles except in passing. That's interesting, because I think about permaculture design principles quite a bit, and have used them as a guiding force in many of my own classes and talks. So - in the next few weeks, expect to hear more about not only what small-scale permaculture looks like, but why.

What does care for the earth look like, for you? What about care for people? How about sharing the surplus?

Guest Post at Eating Rules

Howdy, y'all!

I'm thrilled and honored to have a guest post over at Eating Rules this morning about how to integrate small-scale organic gardening into an unprocessed eating plan. I hope you'll pop over to the site and check it out, along with all the other amazing contributions for October: Unprocessed and beyond.

If you're visiting from Eating Rules, welcome! My writing here focuses on simple living, permaculture, suburban homesteading, and -- of course -- gardening. Have a cup of tea and feel free to wander around the site a spell. Glad to have you here!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Permie Heroes of the Week: Design~Build~Live

Here in Austin, we're blessed to have a number of resources for green living, organic gardening, and permaculture. Design~Build~Live: a sustainable living center manages to combined the best resources for teaching sustainable design, green building, organics and permaculture under one roof. They provide a consistently excellent set of local resources and learning for folks in Central Texas and beyond.

If you're in the Austin area, check out their upcoming free talk on Growing Food in your Backyard or Small Farm, on Wednesday, Oct. 20 and learn to become more self-reliant for your own food needs. The class requires no reservation, and is completely open to the public.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Artisanal Bread Site (Swoon!)

As I mentioned last week, I'm just taking baby steps into the world of baking. What a perfect time to run across this website -- The Perfect Loaf: News & Information for Amateur Bakers & Artisanal Bread Enthusiasts. This could easily supplant my planned afternoon reading.

A zillion thanks to Yellow Door Barn for the tip!

Quiet Sunday

Saturday was quite ambitious, as I applied the last of my frenetic workweek energy to editing and shaping an article for deadline while making a Southern Lebanese eggplant & chickpea casserole. I promised myself wine and cookies if I met my deadlines, which may have been ill-advised. The fact remains that unprocessed does not necessarily equal good for me. Whole grains and less-processed sugars or no, eating several buttery oatmeal-lace cookies is still . . . well, eating several buttery cookies. It felt good in the rush of that moment, but it's not really taking care of myself.

Today dawned quietly. The backyard was swarming with birds as I came to my desk, and I opened the curtains wide for both cats to have their morning entertainment. The side of the yard under my window remains a bit wild, and birds swarmed in and out of its foliage to check out insects and unharvested fruits. I still need to tend to that side of the yard, but perhaps not today. Today, there shall be a trip to the store for a few essentials, and then perhaps I'll make a Sunday stew and lollygag on the couch reading. We need days to tend our gardens, and our work -- but we need days to care for ourselves, too. 

How will you take care of yourself today?

Friday, October 8, 2010

October Unprocessed: Redefining Comfort Food

It was one of those days yesterday. It's actually been one of those months. I've been blessed with a huge amount of work on all fronts -- which is a great problem to have. But the more time I spend writing and working, the less time I have at the moment for everything else. And so nearly every night I got home late, barely able to think about dinner.

Bad time to be eating unprocessed foods for a month for October: Unprocessed? Not necessarily. But it is a great time to redefine comfort food for myself.

Typically, nights like yesterday lead me to dinners of veggie burgers, a box of organic mac n' cheese, flour tortilla quesadillas or some other vegetarian facsimiles of the comfort foods of my childhood. They're nominally easy, but still involve a lot of processing from farm to table. And for this month, they are literally off the table.

I spent a few minutes considering: what does comfort mean to me, right now? Why these foods? Convenience was way up on the list. Not needing to wait even twenty minutes for dinner when I was already quite hungry. The weird, rebellious sense that I'm a big girl now and can eat a box of mac 'n cheese whenever I want.

Once I understood what I wanted, the choices came together pretty quickly. Convenience? How about some veggies in the fridge, right now. Not needing to wait? Okay -- something quick. I can eat whatever I want? Watch this! I ended up steaming an ear of corn and some zucchini in the microwave, and eating them along with a bit of Parmesan, a probiotic whole-grain tortilla, and a dollop of the hummus I made the other night. Oh, and a home-canned pickle. Because I'm a big girl and I can eat what I want, dammit! And sitting there, eating both the corn and the zucchini with my fingers, I remembered the feeling of being a kid, visiting my sister in the farmland and adoring corn so much I'd eat it raw.

Did those foods "go together"? Not particularly. Are they likely to win me any big gourmet kudos? Definitely not. Do I want to eat that way every night? Nope.

But did I get the comfort food I was looking for, while honoring my commitments and with no regrets? Oh, yes.

Perhaps that's the true definition of comfort.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guerrilla Gardening for the James Bond Set

When I think of guerrilla gardening, I think covert but not typically covert agent.

Designer Vanessa Harden sees it differently. "The world needs originality. The people that take it upon themselves to beautify the city . . . are actually being stopped by the authorities for it." Guerrilla gardening in the shadow of MI5, she's taken to creating some witty, repurposed items to get the job done, and -- perhaps more importantly -- participated in a short, funny little video that quickly, effectively and charmingly gets the guerrilla gardening message out.

Now, to get one of those repurposed briefcases with the auger in it . . . !

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CSAs: A Haiku

Came home hankerin'
For something sweet to find these
Doorstep persimmons

October Unprocessed: The Backlash Begins?

Yesterday was the 5th day of October: Unprocessed and -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- the first rumblings of backlash were heard around the old interweb. A food blogger at the SF Weekly, I think missing the point a bit, called the challenge "another way to make you feel bad about your diet", and started the tweet heard round the net. On Cooking Junkies, one poster implied that those taking the challenge are zealots.

This touched a nerve for me, and I should probably say before jumping into my rant that I am writing only for myself. Neither Andrew Wilder, who instigated the challenge, nor any of the other participants have any idea I woke up on the grumpy side of the bed this morning.

I would like to say I'm surprised by the backlash. Most of the time, when folks do things I'm not into and blog about it -- like hula hooping, or bungee jumping, or going to ComicCon, for example -- I don't read their odd quirks as an indictment on what I'm doing. I tend to raise an eyebrow, think, "Wow, some folks are into things that I'm not into," and move on. And so it's tempting to say that we can treat food challenges like the local foods movement or October: Unprocessed the same way. You don't have to like it, but there's no reason to be offended by others taking the challenge and writing about it. Right?

Of course, it's not that simple.

I think the two challenges I linked to above are interrelated, but separate.

In the first, we've clearly touched a nerve. Does the October: Unprocessed challenge, as Jonathan Kauffman of the SF Weekly suggests, make people "feel bad" about their food? Will it "make cooking unprocessed foods appear even more elitist and out of range of most people"?

I could answer to those points directly, but first I need to point out a few things. Processed food in America is a huge, multi-billion dollar business. It has very deep pockets. And while I'm not suggesting that Kauffman has any direct benefit from that, Big Food has managed to completely shape the landscape of food both directly and indirectly by shaping the discourse. By suggesting that another way is possible, October: Unprocessed flies directly in the face of common sense, as it's been defined in American culture. And, it flies in the face of a huge industry that pays big money to get its message out. (For more on this, I suggest reading Marion Nestle's Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health.)

A snarky caption on Kauffman's post reads, "I bet Mother Theresa ate unprocessed foods." To get closer to the point, let's try Mahatma Ghandi: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." That's been the path of every major food change in this country, from organics to the local food movement and potentially now this.

So, let's take Kauffman's two challenges one at a time.

First, does my eating unprocessed foods for a month make other feel bad about their food choices? That feels like an awful lot of responsibility! Thankfully, from all evidence, that hasn't been the case -- my friends have generally been inspired and hopeful as they think about their own food and diet struggles, and I suggest this great online resource and community to draw on for the month. Struggles and all, I've seen nothing but enthusiasm, hope, and great food ideas come out of the challenge -- and we're only in the first week. I'm personally thankful for this movement, and am delighted that Andrew Wilder started it.

Second, will the challenge make eating unprocessed foods look "even more elitist and out of range of most people", as he claims the local foods and locavore movement has done?

Let's start here. I live on Austin's east side. I know from food elitism.

Food elitism is allowing entire square miles of my city to become food deserts with only convenience stores to provide what food there is, leaving broad sections of the population food poor. Food elitism is the strategic marketing plans of the local grocery chains, which relegate better food options to richer neighborhoods. Food elitism is the belief that the east side only needs fast food, while the west side and central Austin have better options. Food elitism is the belief -- put forward on a massive level by corporate interests -- that whole segments of the population don't deserve better than this. And if I sound angry about that, I am. I'm furious about it -- not least because I actually do work to counter it.

I don't know what it's like in San Francisco, but here in Austin, the folks working against that type of very real elitism are -- you guessed it -- the local foods movement. Those are the farmers growing organic, natural foods in the alluvial soil of Austin's east side. Those are the folks working to set up farm stands and food coops. Those are the organizers who have ensured that WIC and other food benefits can be used to buy fresh, local food throughout the city. Those are the folks working, against all demographic logic, to set up a food cooperative on Austin's east side. There are permaculturists and "citizen gardeners" creating edible landscapes throughout the city, with a concentration in our poorest neighborhoods.

I'm not sure what definition of elitism Kauffman is using, but it sure looks as if he's focused on the meme and not the reality on the ground. Suggesting that local foods can be available to everyone, and then making it happen, is the opposite of elitism. Suggesting that one can eat local, unprocessed foods while saving money, and going through the work to demonstrate it, is the opposite of elitism.

So, is a challenge like this too hard, too difficult with kids, too time consuming, or only for zealots?

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but my most basic reaction is a bit of sympathy. I get it. I used to feel the same way about the raw food movement. And then I realized: it doesn't have to be that hard. One doesn't need to go through a great deal of effort to recreate food that looks and feels like cooked but is made out of raw food. Neither does one have to go through gyrations to make a fuss out of processed foods. It's honestly not that hard to introduce more unprocessed veggies to the table -- and all the better if you grow a few yourself, for both convenience and getting kids engaged. (More on that in my guest post next week.) It's not that hard to make more salads, to switch from processed cereals to whole grain oatmeal, to move a bit down the food chain. My dinner last night was tasty, fun, and took me fewer than five minutes to make. It doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to be for zealots. Another way is not only possible, but potentially easy -- as many of this week's Eating Rules guest bloggers are already demonstrating.

Beyond that, if you want to call me a zealot, I suppose I am. I do believe another world is possible. I have spent a long time thinking about and agitating for better food choices for all. I believe that we can provide people with options, and information, to make choices that are better for their own lives. If that means having the information, and choosing to eat processed foods -- so be it! This isn't about making people 'feel bad'. It's about making people informed about all their choices.

And as Christopher Marlowe might have put it: if that's elitist, such logic makes black white and dark night day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Got Coffee?

Interested in roasting your own coffee? You might be interested in checking out Joe Johnston, who is building his own roaster as an act of 'industrial art' and talking a lot about the art and science of home coffee roasting, good coffee, and coffee culture while he's at it.

Joe truly knows his stuff when it comes to coffee; as a co-founder of The Coffee Plantation a little over twenty years ago, he dual-handedly created coffee culture in the Phoenix area. He's passionate about quality, and taught a generation of baristas -- evangelical qualities he brings just as often lately in bringing urban agriculture to Gilbert, Arizona. His musings are definitely worth checking out over a good cup of joe.

h/t to RP for the link!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Permie Heroes of the Week: Phoenix Permaculture Guild

It's been a long time since I lived in Phoenix, but I recently joined the Phoenix Permaculture Guild from afar. I love who they are, and what they're doing.

When I lived in Phoenix metro, I called it the "necropolis". Even a decade ago, Phoenix was facing some urban planning nightmares: severe urban sprawl, almost no multi-use buildings in its downtown, terrible urban transit, and a continued love affair with green lawns, golf courses and swimming pools in the face of devastating water shortages. If you'd told me back then that one day soon Phoenix would host a permaculture guild of over 4,200 members, I'd have laughed in your face.

Some of these problems are beginning to be addressed; there is a decent train-line now, and increasing options for downtown living and multi-use spaces. Other problems are ongoing; a plane ride into or out of Sky Harbor Airport still reveals far too many green lawns and golf courses for the water available.

One thing that's a definite improvement? This dedicated and well-organized group of permaculturists. I've long said that one benefit of Phoenix is the way it galvanizes counter-cultures, who need to be strong and organized in a way that such groups in progressive cities like Austin or Portland can take for granted. Don't get me wrong -- there are a lot of great permies in Austin, many of whom you'll here about in this column in weeks to come. But here we can almost take for granted that we'll continue to run into each other in overlapping social networks, parties, email lists and events. We haven't had a strong need for infrastructure, and so we haven't really built one. By contrast, the Phoenix Permaculture Guild has an extremely organized and robust site coordinating classes, information and events for a network of hundreds -- who in turn are using the site to share their own questions, ideas, pictures, videos and blog posts. (I've recently started sharing some of the 'Best of Gardenatrix' there myself.)

It's truly inspiring stuff. If this group were only impacting Phoenix, that would say a lot. The fact that they've created an online presence that can get out the word worldwide is truly noteworthy. Particularly if you're in a desert climate, I invite you to check them out!

October Unprocessed: 1st Sunday

Morning, y'all. I'm doing something I do far too infrequently, and eating a touch of breakfast: 1/4 of uncooked old-fashioned oats with a 1/2 cup of organic yogurt and a drizzle of honey. Easy and quick, and easier to convince myself to do than actually cooking oatmeal.

Yesterday was Jack Bishop's recipe for an extremely simple but tasty butternut squash soup, from his A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. This cookbook meets the splatter test; in my kitchen, if the pages have a few stains that's a good sign. Beware the pristine cookbook!

Four soup ingredients: butternut squash, chipotles, garlic, and a touch of olive oil. A couple more if you count the brewer's yeast I added at the end to give it an extra b-vitamin and micronutrient boost and a bit of sea salt. Add some homemade croutons made with my homemade Grant Loaf bread (seasoned with a touch of sea salt, a pinch of raw sugar and paprika) and life was very good indeed.

It feels like I'm losing a lot of water weight, which I didn't expect. My body shouldn't require a huge adjustment given that I already ate a mostly organic vegetarian diet, but I'm increasing my water intake from my already high levels to flush the last of those unpronounceable additives which are so ubiquitous in the American diet. (Reading Marion Nestle last night, her comparison of organic and regular breakfast cereals was truly enlightening. Net/net: the organics are better for the earth, but not particularly better for the eater. Duly noted!)

A few little cravings, but nothing terrible. So far, so good!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Got Swales?

Excellent intro to designing for water collection from Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Dense introduction to the key ideas behind building swales, in only four minutes. Definitely worth a watch!

100 Ways to Conserve Water #19-23: Tea Time Mindfulness

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to take a weekend Buddhist retreat. I was struck by how everything was permeated with mindfulness, from the way we walked as slowly as possible back and forth to the cabins to taking time to chew every bite at dinner. Taking tea, in particular, was a ritual: pouring the water, steeping the tea, savoring the aroma, heat and flavor of each slow sip.

Home is more of a bustle, but there are even more ways to be mindful about that cup. I drink a lot of tea and also make my coffee by the hand-drip method, so my tea kettle sees a lot of use. Unfortunately, water tends to taste flat if it's been boiled, cooled, and reboiled. Without a bit of planning, you're stuck drinking flat tea or wasting water.

With mindfulness, however, we can turn that around.

  • #19: Boil just enough water for your cup or pot of tea, and just enough for the pot to ensure you don't boil the kettle dry.
  • #20: Boiling hot water easily removes stuck-on spills from stoves and countertops. Just pour a small amount onto stains and spills as you're waiting for your tea to brew, being careful not to pour so much that it runs every which way or burns you. Wait a moment for the water to cool, and wipe away with a kitchen towel or sponge. No more spill, and no need for expensive cleaning products.
  • #21: Put your sponges in a small bowl, and pour the boiling hot water over them to cleanse and disinfect them and extend their life. Leave them to soak for at least 15 minutes, then drain.
  • #22: Does it take a while for hot water to run to your sink? Why not kickstart the process by pouring the remainder of your kettle into the sink while running the wash water?
  • #23: Did you know that boiling water also works as an eco-friendly herbicide for those stubborn weeds that grow in the cracks between sidewalk portions or paving stones? It's true! Take the remainder of your hot kettle, and pour it over the stubborn weed. Repeat daily for a few days, until the poor dear gives up. Done, and no herbicide needed.

Can you come up with other ways to get the most out of your leftover teakettle water? Share them here!

October Unprocessed: 1st Saturday

Years ago, I bought a bread machine at a thrift store for six dollars -- figuring it was a steal even if I rarely used it. As it turns out, I made bread nearly every weekend. I made a loaf nearly every Saturday afternoon to snack on while watching Saturday Night Live in the late evenings.

Then one day, I lost the bread paddle. I still don't know where it is, and I keep the bread machine around hopefully as if the prodigal paddle might come back some day. I wrote it off as a loss, deciding it wasn't worth the hassle to track down one part for a machine I got for pennies on the dollar. I haven't really made bread since.

With October: Unprocessed upon me, I made a trip up to our local Wheatsville Co-op for a few staples.

I tend to think I eat pretty healthily -- I was vegetarian for years, I eat mostly organic and local, you know the type -- but October: Unprocessed has made me confront the spots in my diet that contribute lots of calories but no nutrition: the white rice and pasta, the white flour tortillas, the occasional cheesy-poofs, not to mention my deep abiding love affair with mayonnaise. When I first encountered the October: Unprocessed challenge, I crossed my fingers behind my back and flippantly declared that white rice wasn't processed "in my world". Yesterday, I decided to take that back.

So there I was in Wheatsville, wandering through the bulk aisles. It didn't feel as normal and familiar as it should, and I realize that I still give myself credit for things I did ten or fifteen years ago. It doesn't work that way, as my extra twenty pounds easily show. I didn't have to buy much -- I have tons of legumes at home filling gorgeous jars and making it into not enough pots. But I did buy a bit of fresh, raw tahini and a few bags of gorgeous grains: thick rolled oats, proper brown rice, some gorgeous blue cornmeal. In the cold case, I was thrilled to discover my regular organic low-fat yogurt (Wallaby) has nothing in it but milk, and that our local El Lago Tortillas offer a probiotic whole-grain version. I live on tortillas for snacking, so this was a huge win. I also eyed the wide array of local beers, wines and cheeses, but opted out of buying any for this trip.

And then . . . I got stuck in the flour aisle. As in, walking in and out of it several times. As in, standing there stymied long enough that one of the workers came up to ask if he could help. As if the molasses and barley malt had spilled on the floor and gummed up my shoes. Simply stuck. Between the number of options and my sense of being inept at baking from scratch, I kept going back and forth over what to buy. Finally, I ended up with some barley malt to add to the host of raw sugar, honey and molasses I always have at home, and several kinds of Bob's Red Mill organic flours: big bags of whole wheat bread and whole wheat pastry, and smaller bags of rye and 10-grain. I figured between those types and the yeast I have at home and never use, I could come up with something.

Coming home, I had a bowl of my very tasty Hoppin' John variation. It turns out I used barley instead of brown rice along with the fresh black-eyed peas, but the soup was no worse for it. It was also the first time I'd actually used some of my frozen tomatoes, and I'm sold. The texture was like canned, but the taste was bright and clean in a way that even home-canned tomatoes aren't.

And then I hit the books. Before long, I uncovered a recipe for what's called Grant Loaf. Apparently, Mrs. Doris Grant of England made a mistake one day when making bread, and accidentally created a recipe that she loved. It's completely whole grain (originally whole wheat, which is how I made it, but my book also suggested spelt) and requires no kneading and only one rising, right in the pan. It sounded almost as easy as bread machine bread, and honestly it was. You can find an online recipe courtesy of The Zest, which essentially matches the version I used. Another blogger posted a spelt version.

From start to finish, the recipe took less than three hours. The result? One very tasty, extremely dense whole wheat loaf. In contrast to those white bread-machine experiments of yesteryear, I only wanted two pieces -- not because it wasn't tasty, but because it was very dense and satisfying. I'm planning to eat the rest over the next few days as toast.

So there we are. I entered this month thinking "Oh, I already do that, it'll be a piece of unprocessed, organic cake!" and already by Day 2 it has me confronting myself and my patterns on a pretty profound level. When I say it's all about mindfulness, these are the encounters I'm talking about. Oh, and I ate fresh bread while writing, doing a bit of blog publicity, and listening to great music. Never a bad night, that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Unprocessed: First weekend

As I mentioned before, I'm taking the Eating Rules! October: Unprocessed challenge. It's not a huge stretch for the way I live, usually. Yes, I eat some processed foods -- I'm a sucker for organic boxed mac 'n cheese and cheese puffs, for starters. But I also tend to have a lot of the healthy stuff around.

The challenging part for Day 1 was really my schedule. I've been under heavy deadlines lately, and that means long hours. Long hours are not conducive to eating well, unless you plan ahead as Tiffany McCauley so sensibly suggests. I . . . didn't.

Thankfully, I live in Austin -- a boon for eating well on the quick when you need to. On my way home, I stopped by Central Market (a local grocery chain similar to Whole Foods) and had a mediterranean salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and feta with a bit of marinated eggplant and some dolmas. The dolmas were possibly made with white rice, but otherwise I was off to a good start. Along with a locally-produced glass of white wine, the salad was a perfect curative for a long, muggy day.

Today, I had a very simple breakfast of organic cheese and eggs. I don't normally eat breakfast, but I'm trying to get in the habit. I think I'll aim to have more whole grain breakfasts for the month; we'll see. I'm pretty good about eating raw oatmeal in yogurt when I have those, so I may aim for that.

Now, it's time to think about the rest of the week. For today, I have a crockpot bubbling with freshly harvested black-eyed peas, two frozen tomatoes (they're amazing - stick 'em in the freezer when you have too many, and thaw to use here and there through the cold months as an alternative to canning), and some homemade veggie stock. I'll add some brown rice later for a vegetarian hoppin' john.

And then . . . we'll see. I think I may do something special with my growing stockpile of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I'll let you all know what I come up with!

Homesteading: Evoking History & Building the Future

Homesteading. Even for me, the word evokes images of another time.

The two-room cabin where my grandfather grew up in southern Idaho is still in my father's family. My grandfather lived there, as did his nine (yes, nine) brothers and sisters, his father, and his father's wives. The inside of the house was smaller than the footprint of my two-story house, but even in the early 80s the land outside stretched out in all directions. I delighted in walking the two miles to the one-room schoolhouse, trying to imagine my grandfather taking the same walk as a young boy.

When I was a child, my grandfather still held to some of the things I now realize he'd learned as a boy. He grew rows of vegetables in the backyard. He picked fruit in season to make jams and jellies. When I was a teenager, he taught me how to make my first pickles. I loved to play in his massive garage and shop, marveling at the antiques. A few years ago, when I was on a kick of writing lots of micro-fiction and depressed about the state of the country, I wrote a small piece called "Butter":
When I was young, Grandfather's lessons seemed anachronistic. Planting chard, saving scraps for quilting, making jams, churning butter. As a child, I loved playing in the garage with its wood-burning stoves and manual eggbeaters. I never thought those would be useful again, but somehow I couldn't get rid of them after he died. 
My house is popular now. Many people didn't know how to survive, after the War. Thanks to Grandfather, I do. Neighbors trade wood and goat's milk for asparagus with real butter. 
We drink herb tea, but I miss coffee. I ration that for Samhain, to thank Grandfather.
These memories are palpable. Go back a few generations and most of us have stories of a simpler time, agrarian or not. But what does all this have to do with my small, suburban house with its standard corner lot? What does homesteading mean here on the outskirts of the city, where so many of us are starting to call ourselves homesteaders again?

Backyard garden, filled with mints, fruit trees, herbs, and onions. 

For starters, I think it means a completely different approach to thinking about our homes. For too many people, a home is now a closet in which people are parked for the night -- a place to bide time not spent at the office by watching TV or other diversions and eat food grown elsewhere, when we eat there at all.

For the homesteader, the home is a resource, providing soil to grow edible plants, workspaces for repairs and worthwhile hobbies, perhaps a space to raise poultry or small livestock. The home is not only a space to sleep in but a resource with which we interact, providing its own resources in the form of home-grown herbs and vegetables, fruit, biomass and compost, flowers for the table, teaching spaces, enjoyable gardens, fresh eggs, and the like.

Beyond this, it's about mindfulness. To use a business metaphor, the homestead requires heads of planning, finance, and operations, a cook, a tailor, an accountant, a landscaper, a baker, and so on (most often in the form of one person, who may if lucky have a small junior staff of children to help out!). Homesteading is about getting beyond living paycheck to paycheck, and shifting to long term goals. What do I need to plant this spring, to can and pickle in the summer so that I have home-grown produce in the winter? What do I need to save to become more financially independent? What should I stockpile in the event of an emergency, and what should I eat fresh from the garden? How can I create greater abundance on a larger scale by sharing lawnmowers or compost worms with my friends and neighbors? How do I use less water by being more mindful about how I use it? And so on.

Yes, those images of my grandfather's garden help. Knowing how little he and his brothers and sisters lived on growing up makes me even more grateful for the abundance of my life, and knowing the specifics of how he grew gardens and put away the produce gives me a greater sense of meaning and joy when I do the same.

History helps. But past is not prologue. Most of us will never have that endless land all around us. And, we don't need to. Homesteading is not necessarily about getting back to the land "out there". It's about getting back to the land right here, right under our feet: mindfully, joyously, simply. It's about remembering that everything our ancestors could do can still be done, even now. And that perhaps those things remain worth doing.

As a quick post-script, I want to suggest that homesteading is a radical retort to some very strong cultural and financial interests working hard to persuade us that the endless treadmill of work-and-consume is the easiest, if not only, way. There's a great article making the rounds from Orion Magazine on the very deliberate reasons that big business engineered this treadmill by manufacturing desire and building in planned obsolescence. As hard as it is to do sometimes, it is possible to get off that treadmill, once you see it for what it is. A self-reliant, community-reliant, interdependent way of life is possible, and the homesteading mindset provides one approach to getting there.