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Showing posts with label Sustainable Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sustainable Living. Show all posts

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Frugal Limits

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches























Every now and then I hear about a large family with the same food budget as our more avearage size family, or a family in size similar to ours, with a much more modest food budget and I question why I'm not able to be as frugal. I wonder where I am going wrong and I usually sit down committed to read their blog, or the article and learn something. The goal? To reduce our expenditures. I begin reading feeling like I'm doing something wrong, I finish, feeling like I'm doing something very right. You see, we all have to do what is right for our family and I believe, what is kinder and gentler for the earth and those who are more vulnerable. But reading the nitty gritty about what people are willing to compromise on, I actually leave feeling like it is a compomise too far. I'm personally not willing to:

- Shop once a month: access to fresh fruit and veg is too important
- Purchase ready meals or packaged foods with coupons
- Skimp on fruits and vegetables - one blog which which received much attention for being frugal and healthy posted a menu plan which included only 2 fruit and 1 veg a day (most studies recommend a minimum of 5-6 a day)
- Purchase factory produced animal products
- Build a diet around cheap fillers without much nutritional value. For example, a pasta dish served with bread was recommended as a cheap meal. Whereas e may have pasta, but it would be served with a fresh spinach salad and a veg.
- Shop at unethical major corporations

The more I think about it, the more I realize that while I certainly do budget and work hard to stick to it with food, I do see placing priority on green living, simple healthy meals and supporting others (for example by purchasing fairtrade items) as more imporant to me than slashing my budget another $50 or $100 a month. And for somewhere between $300 and $350 a month we purchase:

- Free range eggs from local farms
- All organic animal products
- Fairtrade: sugar, bananas, tea, coffee, mangos, flour and cocoa
- Green cleaning and laundry supplies
- Pet food & litter
- About 50% of our fruits and veg organic
- Enough fruits and veg for 3 fruits and 3 veg (plus a salad) a day
- A locally sourced produce box
- Seeds for our community garden plot

Yes, I could probably shave at least $50 a month off the budget if I changed to what some frugal bloggers recommend. And that $50 would come in handy. But more than that, I want my children, who have experienced malnourishment prior to joining our family through adoption, to continue to make educational and emotional gains that good food has allowed them. I want my hard earned money to tred softly on this earth and help people. I want to invest in our health now, to safeguard us for the future. And if that takes another $50 - $100 a month, I'm really OK with it.

What about you? What is your line when it comes to compromise? Is it only about money, or like me, something more?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How To Start Living Sustainably

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

Of late, I have been doing a lot of reflection about why I chose to live more sustainably way back in September 2006.  Not because I want to stop living this lifestyle, but because I have been writing a series of eBooks and needed to remember exactly how and why it started the way it did.

As my personal blog is now quite large, with over 1100 posts, new readers to the blog are finding it difficult to navigate particular subjects.  This is what gave me the idea for the subject of my very first eBook, titled "The Greening of Gavin - My First Year of Living Sustainably".

The research was easy enough.  I read through the first year of my blog, and then wrote the main guts of the book.  However, one thing eluded me, and that was the root cause and the real reason that my green epiphany had such a great impact.  It took me about three days of soul searching to figure out why, and another three days two write the chapter about it, which only ended up being a couple of pages long.  It was very hard work.  That said, I cracked it wide open.

I believe that the impact was so great because leading up to that day of awakening, I was a rampant consumer, stuck in the rat race, getting deeper and deeper into debt, with no end in sight.  I was damaging my self financially, my future, and the future of my planet.  I would buy the next latest and greatest electronic consumer item without real reasons or any thought of the consequences financially and environmentally.

I just had to have it, mainly because I had been programmed that way.  Years of living in the consumer culture had altered the way I behaved, acted, and consumed. Advertising was my master and I was its slave.  All that consumption was playing in the back of my mind, and I had this niggly little feed that something was wrong, but I didn't quite know what.  

I had also become lazy.  Whereby I used to make things like my own beer, a little of my own food, and took pride in construction projects around the home, I had slackened off and just paid for things to be done, because I was too lazy to do it myself.   Due to this consumerism, I knew it would be a very long time before my mortgage on my home would ever be paid off.  I felt very, very lost.

Then I had, what I call my green epiphany, which was a pivotal moment in my life.  I remember it as a true awakening, like I had been shaken from a dream state and slapped silly with a big wet fish.  However, it was only because I was in such an abnormal and sorry state before the documentary, that it was the reason that the experience did have such a transformational effect upon me.  Otherwise, I believe that I would have walked out of the cinema, thought a little, shook off the feeling that I should do something about this climate thingy, and promptly put it in the too hard basket.  Just like everyone else who saw it that day did!

Well, the rest is history.  I did choose to act, and act decisively, albeit not quite in the order that I would green my lifestyle if I had to do it over again.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but when I think about it, I probably wouldn't change a thing.  All of my actions have had a purpose, whether it was a large statement, or made our family feel good that we were actually doing something worthy of our time and effort.

So why the title of this post?  Well, I suppose that I am trying to say is that all it takes is one simple action.  Then another, and another.  It doesn't matter what triggers the initial action, all that does matter is that you start.

All of these actions are small, yet powerful steps towards a larger goal of voluntary simplicity.  You are the one that chooses to live simply, without it being forced upon you.  Kind of like beating the rush that many of us see on the horizon.   

So consuming less or consume ethically, and you find that you will live a more happier life a result. It is certainly the only way I know how to start living sustainably!

How did you start your journey towards voluntary simplicity?  What was your awakening moment?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Creating A Positive Vision Of The Future

By Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin


Writing most days about living a more sustainable lifestyle is so very rewarding, and I have come to treasure telling my family's story via this blog and my own.  I strive to keep my posts as positive as I can, given the ever approaching post-petroleum future and climate chaos that we now face. Most of the time I succeed.  I have come to learn that positive visions are increasingly important in engaging people which help them to avoid and overcome fear and inaction due to these issues being constantly bombarded at them.

So many activists and environmental messages are filled with doom and despair which attempt to engage via negative emotions in an attempt to urge people into action.  It is not working, because I believe that this is backfiring more and more.  It is simply alienating ordinary people further by disengagement.  People do not want to hear negative messages by choice.  I know I don't.

However, people are becoming increasingly aware that our current consumer culture is not exactly Earth friendly, or is conducive to a long and fruitful future for mankind.  Without a positive vision to be drawn to, or role models from which to learn good examples of simple, green and frugal solutions, they probably just switch off and continue on with business as usual or get stuck in denial of these events.

I have come to realise that there is no us and them, and that we are all in this together.  People want a better future for their descendants, and are willing to work hard at a better life, but will only strive in the right direction if given all the facts, and a positive vision of what they can achieve.  The future is not set in stone, and with each decision we make, they can have a remarkable effect upon it.

So I urge you all to paint that positive vision in everything you do, say or write.  As we begin to share our positive vision of the future, we will find that more and more people will become interested and engaged, and hopefully strive towards one that will have the best outcome for all life on Earth.

Chance favours the prepared mind.
-Louis Pasteur

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Treasure What You Have

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.
"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; 

but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for"
-Epicurus, Greek Philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC)
I found this quote when stumbling through the web the other day, and it got me thinking. I remembered reading about a psychological effect that describes this quote to a tee. It is called the ‘DIDEROT EFFECT'.

Let me explain.  Have you ever purchased something, something you really wanted, only to discover that it made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated?  Rather than accepting some variance in the style against your older possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? This is called the ‘Diderot Effect’, named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–84) who first described the effect in an essay titled "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown".  In this essay he describes how a gift of a brand new scarlet dressing gown leads to unexpected results, nearly making him bankrupt in the process.  

How do you become bankrupt just by receiving a gift of a new, sleek and beautiful scarlet dressing gown (aka smoking jacket).  Well the effect kind of tricks you like this.  Have you ever bought nice new shirt, and thought that your old pants now look shabby against it?  So you go and buy new pants to match, and shoes, and a handbag, and a belt, etc.  You get the picture.  The same can be said for putting a new piece of furniture into a room of existing pieces.  Soon you are shopping at the mall or high street to buy new furniture and fittings to make the original purchase look at home probably to the detriment of your bank account.

The same thing happened to Diderot or so he wrote.  He thought that his new robe looked so nice, that he thought that all the stuff in his apartment looked drab and ordinary against it.  So he bought lots and lots of new and expensive stuff to spruce up his abode, with a big hit on his financial accounts.  In the end he had this to say,
"I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.”
Between 2001 and 2006, I too was a victim to the Diderot Effect.  I would buy a new stereo system, only to think not long afterwards that I needed a new media player or DVD player to go with it.  The old one was in good working order so I was behaving irrationally.  When I bought a new computer, I would also upgrade the display, even though the one I had was perfectly okay.  Same goes with a lawn mower that I had, which just needed a little TLC, but I dumped it and bought a new one.  My old petrol (gas) can was old and rusty, but still functional, but I bought a new one, and threw the other away with the old mower.  Yes friends, I was wasteful as well.

These are just a few example of being sucked in by consumerism for consumerisms sake.  Today I would call it the 'steak knife effect' after all of those infomercials that start off flogging you one product, but then throw in a whole bunch of other stuff (that you never wanted anyway) just to justify the deal in your mind!

It has taken me a few years since my green epiphany, and a lot of thought after reading a book by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss titled "Affluenzza - When Too Much is Never Enough", but I am no longer influenced by this effect or most advertising for that matter.  I only replace what I need, when the old item is beyond repair, and only after I have gone without it for a few weeks to see if I can get by without it.  Case in point, my clothes dryer that broke a few months back.  You can read about how we adapted in the absence of this so called laundry necessisty on the post on my personal blog titled "Ditching the Clothes Dryer".  This is a classic example of rethinking and changing my behaviours for the better.

My warning to you all is beware the Diderot Effect and get off the consumerist treadmill which will help you stop the upward creep of material desire. Knowing how much is enough is a powerful skill to possess in this, the age of rampant consumerism.  Despite what advertisements tell us, stuff just doesn't satisfy our desire for meaning, and it is a very poor substitute for your sense of self worth within a manipulative and demeaning society.  I don't mean to sound preachy, but it feels to me that consumerism in western society is totally out of control for all the wrong reasons.

So to sum it all up, Treasure What You Have.  It will save your bank balance, and might just save a few resources in this ever declining, resource strapped, finite planet of ours.

Have you succumbed to this effect and regretted it later on?  How did it make you feel?

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Green Fashion Show

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A women's group I'm active in is putting on a Fashion Show as a fundraiser on Saturday. We do this every Spring - reserving the Governor's Mansion as our venue, gathering raffle and silent auction items, getting local celebrities and politicians, men and women, to volunteer as our models. In the past, we've partnered with various local chain department stores for our fashions, letting them showcase their latest Spring styles and trends. But this year, we've decided to go "green" (and not just because it's St. Patrick's Day).

even the Mayor, our MC, was wearing a thrifted tuxedo
All of our fashions this year are "experienced" - either vintage, refashioned, or clothing on-loan from local second-hand, thrift, and consignment shops. Members of the group, and some of our models, have been scouring local shops for the outfits - cleaning, mending, and altering them as needed. As with all our fashion shows, our models have the option to purchase their outfits afterwards. My task, during the show, is to serve as assistant to the first group of models - the owners and managers of those local shops. I'll then get to go sit out front to watch the second and third groups, our local movers and shakers, as they take their turns on the runway.

Our guests too, have been gently encouraged to wear vintage, recycled, refashioned, or thrift shop finds. They then are to tell others at their tables about what they're wearing, what kind of a deal they found, what they've done to customize or alter it. Special prizes for best outfit, or best deal (bring your receipt), will be awarded to one person at each table, as decided by the rest of the table.

I really don't have the time nor inclination to shop for something "new" for myself. Since it will be St. Patrick's Day, I do want to wear something green, however. So I've been refashioning one of my husband's t-shirts he never wears. Free from a bar, it had a big ugly beer logo on the chest, but the shirt itself is a really pretty green tie-dye. I cut the bottom off below the logo, trimmed off the bottom hem, and stretched that loop to make the edges curl under - voilá: an infinity scarf. I've cut petal-shaped circles from the sleeves and upper back, and am in the process of folding and gluing them into three fabric flowers to fashion into a pin to fancy up the scarf.

 a thrifted "wedding party" - the bride's dress was $225; all 9 outfits, shoes included, totaled less than $500
I had to write this post now, before the event, because it's my turn today (which is Thursday where I live, in the U.S. Pacific timezone, but already my scheduled Friday on this Australia-based blog). So I haven't included any photos (yet). If you want to re-read this in a couple of days, I'll try to update this post with a few photos from the show, and my finished no-sew embellished scarf. And so, you'll see, I did.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Exiting The Rat Race



Back a few years ago, I remember thinking many times that something was missing in my life. I could never put my finger on what it was, and strived for answers. I would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, upgrade my computer yearly to a faster model, buy the latest PC games to spend endless hours of my free time on. I worked hard and long in my quest to earn more money so that I could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that I would find satisfaction and fulfilment. 

It didn't work, but like many other people stuck in the rat race, and due to my inaction and consumeristic habits, it was as good as it got. No-one wants to be unfulfilled in life, but sadly many of us are still looking for that "something" that is missing. Credit card balances were through the roof, and I was living a lifestyle way beyond my means.

I also found it hard to unwind each day, and realised that my head was swimming with so much stuff that my mind raced a fair bit of the time. I wasn't in touch with my surroundings, sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people I shared my life with, and I certainly was not in tune with the plight of the planet. I was blissfully unaware of my impact on it and to the ecosystems that exist upon it. I had drifted on the tide of a life half lived for far too long.

What a sorry state of affairs! I had an inkling of what might be wrong, so Kim and I started to attend meditation classes so that we could both learn to relax. I really enjoyed the experience, and things began to change. After a meditation session, I felt connected to my inner self in a way I hadn't experienced in my life.

Then came the day that I went to the cinema to watch a free movie provided by work, and it changed my life. It was as if I awoke from a horrible dream, and if you have read this my personal blog from the beginning, you will know the rest of the actions I have taken to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

All the actions aside, I think I have only once described the emotions and personal changed that have taken place with in me. Firstly, I have taken a step back, and had a really hard look at myself and the way I lived before my epiphany. I have managed to come to grips with who I am, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I found that by looking within, rather than searching for answers in the outside world, I found that I was already complete and that my life was complete. I found that a simple life had meaning, albeit occasionally hard work, and it was not about blatant consumerism that the TV blasts at us, day in, day out. In fact, I found myself watching less and less TV, and began the research and learning that ultimately helped my understanding the climate change problem, and the ways I could reduce my carbon footprint.

At first my family thought I had lost the plot, but found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things, and made them think about things that challenged their own understanding of how our civilisation works. I had another purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did I feel fully connected to my family, which brought me great joy, I began to feel connected to the Earth, through my gardening endeavours. I may have said this before, but growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done, and certainly one of the most fulfilling. All of the things that my family and I have done over the last two years have brought us closer together, and we spend more meaningful time together. I now stress less about work, and am more relaxed at home, but more active and took a pay cut so that I could work a 9 day fortnight. I have also lost 10 kg in the process and now know that by looking at my inner self, I changed who I was for the better.

Nowadays, we rarely go out anywhere by choice, but we have a fuller lifestyle. We have comfort in knowing that we produce our own solar electricity and solar hot water, drive less, and have reduced our consumption across the board. We make things together, we grow food together, we cook together, and most of all we have fun together, which is really the simple home truth that people caught in the rat race just don't realise. Living simply, and honesty, like our grandparents, is what a full life was, and still is, all about.

It makes me sad some days, when I realise that it took me about 42 years to get it, but my goodness, I am making up for it now. I still work to pay off the house, and actually enjoy work without the stress, and find it a great way to spread the word about my lifestyle. I stopped sweating the small stuff. We are paying off the house and our other debts very quickly, so we should be debt free in about five years time (maybe a little longer). We don't live in a McMansion (never did anyway), and now live within our means. Credit card debt has gone, with the nasty consumerism troll now living at the bottom of the compost heap like the rotting matter it is.

It feels great to be alive, and to have a goal as big as the planet for the rest of my time on it. I have found the "something" that I was missing. It was inside of me all along, and I just didn't know it at the time!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Changing spaces

by Rhonda at Down to Earth

When we first moved into our current home, we made quite a few changes. The house had been lived in by an older couple and some of the things that suited them didn't suit us. We pulled up the carpet and laid a wood floor, we changed the kitchen, added verandahs front and back and put in gardens and the chook house. We, although we didn't know it at the time, were getting ready to live more simply.

It's very easy to look at a new home and see spaces you don't really like, or know they won't work for your family and just ignore them. I want to encourage you to change what doesn't suit you. If you don't, you're changing yourself to suit the house.


We all have different circumstances and expectations but all of us can benefit from changing our living space to suit how we live. For instance, if you do a lot of sewing, you should have a space to store your equipment and fabrics; if you write or paint, you should have a quiet space to do it; if you bake a lot, have all your needs close to where you work. Outside, your mower and garden tools will serve you well if they're stored in a space out of the weather and close to a work bench were you can carry out your maintenance.



I guess the obvious and easy change is to create garden beds where there are none and to build a chook house or tractor. That change alone, while not costing the earth will equip you to provide a measure of fresh food right from your home. But there are other less obvious changes to be made, you just have to look at the space around you in a creative way with a focus on your sustainability.


Out in the back yard, along with the gardens and chickens, you could think about water tanks or barrels. If you don't have the finances for that now, it might we something worth saving for if your climate is fairly dry, if you get all your annual rain in a few months, or if you have a vegetable garden. And even if you don't have the money for big tanks right now, see if you can set up a system whereby you collect some water when it rains. We have a couple of 200 litre tubs here that, when full, can keep our garden going for a week. We just fill the watering cans or buckets from the tubs and transfer the water to the garden. It's more work than hosing, but we don't mind carting our harvested water the short distance. Make sure you set up your collector tanks close to where it will be used. Btw, mosquitoes take about 10 - 14 days, depending on the type, to go from egg to mosquito. Harvesting the water within a ten day period will kill the larvae before they fully develop. Or, you could just scoop the larvae out with a fine fish net.

Inside the home you might look for a cupboard to store your stockpile. I think one of the downsides of many modern homes is the lack of cupboard space. Think creatively about your cupboards, if you have a big cupboard near your kitchen, or in the laundry or garage, that may suit your stockpile better than what is currently in it.


Move pots and pans, baking supplies, tea and coffee making supplies close to where they're used. Organising your kitchen well will save you a lot of time and effort. It just takes an hour or so to think about how you work in your kitchen and then moving things closer to where they're needed.


Make a space to sit with your tea and coffee. This space might also serve well as the place you talk quietly with your partner, read to the children, write letters, knit or stitch. You need a space like this just as you need a place to store your linens or groceries. Make a space for yourself - make the house suit you, not the other way around.

I could go right through the house but I'm sure you get what I mean. Making small changes to your home will make your life easier. Modify the house to suit the type of family you are. Make the spaces work for you and if they don't, change them. Your home is one of the key tools you have in your life, making a few adjustments to make it work as it should and have it accommodate the activities of your family, will make living there easier. There will be some changes that cost money, just do them as the money becomes available, but many changes will cost only the effort you put in to make them happen.

I hope you identified some changes you want to make when we did our simple audit last week. So if you have some plans, I encourage you to dive right in and enjoy the process of change. You'll be making your home fit your family instead of living with the feeling that the house isn't quite right. This is another one of those things where we take the bull by the horns and give it a good shake, instead of sitting back wishing things were different.

Do it thoughtfully, take it slow and enjoy the change.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cooking in a Cob Oven

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

As I wrote at this post titled "Clay Oven Community", I have been making a clay cob oven in my back yard.   After five layers of cob, it is now finished except for a little render on the base, but other than that we have been cooking in the oven on weekends.  You can read about how I made the oven on my personal blog under the label "Cob Oven"

Before we used it for the first time I spent some time making a door for the cob oven, cut it to size and popped on some handles.  I used the two bits of ply that I cut for the door arch template, trimmed off about 1cm from the bottom, screwed them together and added some handles.  The handles are just some shelving brackets that I screwed into the front of the door.


We also added a coat of render and my lovely wife Kim decorated it with mosaic tiles.

Kim worked diligently on the oven to make it all beautiful.  All of the tiles were pushed into the render or stuck on and the grout has been applied.  The grout colour is terracotta.


I think that the finish is wonderful and it really is an outdoor feature, as well as a practical oven.


Here is the other side with the grout still wet.
 
So my first attempt of cooking in the oven was a bit of experimentation.  I lit the fire at about 5pm and kept it going until about 6.30pm.  There were lots of hot coals that I pushed to the sides of the oven, and then put the door on for about 10 minutes to let the heat build up.  It only got to about 180C (356.0F).  Kim was busy in the kitchen making the pizzas and brought the first one out, which was a garlic pizza.  Just a base drizzled with olive oil, crushed garlic, some Italian herbs and a little rock salt.  It took just over 10 minutes to cook.

A big smile for the first pizza!
It tasted delicious, (sorry for the dark picture).


This quick and easy pizza was brown on top and bottom, and was scoffed down in about 2 seconds flat.  Luckily it was time for the main meal, so in went all the other pizzas.


These took a little longer, about 20 minutes and the door was on during the cooking time.  They were still a bit soggy on the bottom because we used trays.  We also found that the temperature dropped considerably and had to throw a few more sticks on the coals to raise the heat to finish off the cooking.  In essence it cooled down way too quickly.

Since that first attempt, we have added a layer of render to the oven, and the mosaics as you have seen.  After all of that dried solid I tried to cook in it again.  I started the fire small, and built it up and kept the burn going for 3 hours which was twice as long as the first attempt.  I pushed the coals all over the floor and let it sit for 10 minutes to heat it up.  Then I moved the coals aside and mopped the oven floor with a wet rag on a stick to get rid of the ash.  I checked the temperature and it had reached 350C (662.0F)!  I was pleased with that so got ready to cook.  This time I made simple garlic and herbed bread in a thick pizza shape.  I floured the peel and placed each pizza in the oven directly on the floor.  This time the pizza cooked in 4 minutes flat, with the dough cooking all the way through.  I cooked 4 of these flat breads in a row in the space of 8 minutes which tasted fantastic!



Just after we finished the pizzas, I put the door in place and found that the temp went up to 400C (752.0) and the door began to blacken, so I removed it quickly.  Talk about being hot!  If I soak the door in water before I cook, it should stop this from happening.

This time we found that the oven kept its heat for more than 4 hours, with the temp dropping down to about 180C at about midnight.  If I had have planned ahead, I would have cooked a roast dinner next, then bread, and maybe even more bread or pastries or even jacket potatoes in foil on the coals. 


I have so much more to learn, and have even bought a cook book specifically for cob ovens which should help a lot.  I know that there will be many more wonderful meals to come out of this oven in the very near future.

Does anyone have any suggestions of dishes to cook, or had experience with cooking in a clay cob oven?  I would love feedback via comments.

Friday, November 4, 2011

keeping warmer


by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

chimney

One problem with living in an ancient stone house built directly above a chill, humid wine cellar is that, though it's wonderfully cool in summer, heating it in the cold season is hard.  To keep heating costs down (while not freezing to death), we've found some simple and efficient ways to stay warm - which I wrote about on FuoriBorgo last year (I've linked the relevant posts below).

hot water bottle

-    Hot water bottles - a time-tested and yet vastly underestimated method of keeping warmer.
-    Felted blanket curtain - we added a thick layer of insulation to our largest double-glazed window.
-    Warm slippers - yes, warm feet do make a huge difference!

How do you keep warm in your wintry house?

Friday, October 21, 2011

some thoughts on the value of food

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Thank you for your comments and thoughts the other week on the cost and wastage of food (here).  I was going to focus on ways to limit the waste of food in our households this time around, but I'd like to share a few thoughts that stem from your comments.

thoughts on food

We all seem to agree that when we pay and/or labor more for our food, we're far less likely to waste it.  I, for one, am guilty of occasionally wasting store-bought bread that's gone stale. It doesn't happen very often, as I normally bake our bread, and only rarely need to buy it.  And I don't actually throw it away, it goes to my neighbors' chickens.  But it does happen: we occasionally waste store-bought bread gone stale.

However, I would never, ever waste the bread I bake, which costs far more than the store-bought kind both in terms of money - as it's made with a variety of organic flours and seeds, and baking increases my electricity bill, and in terms of time - to mix, knead, wait for the dough to rise, and bake.  The money, effort and time I spend baking the bread my family eats is not something I'm willing to compromise on, as I believe they're all an investment in our health, and the health of our planet.  Plus, the result is fragrant and precious bread that is eaten to the very last crumb - fresh or stale (we'll talk about how to use stale bread in a different post).  But the stale store-bought bread?  That I toss.  I toss it because I didn't pay much for it, because it's not very healthy, and because it doesn't taste very good.  I toss it, in other words, because that cheap bread wrapped in plastic that I picked from the shelf in a consumeristic logic is not worth trying to save and make something out of.

I think this is the root of the problem: since when has food been (culturally) devalued so much as to become expendable?   What happened to the concept of food as something precious that nourishes our body and souls?  I say "souls" because food is not just about a bunch of nutrients that we gulp down, it is also a matter of taste, and consuming food is a daily ritual that connects us with the land and the people who produce our subsistance, and the loved ones with whom we share it around the table.  I suspect that the fact that food has become cheap stuff that we pick from the shelf, often unaware of where it comes from, has something to do with the fact that from precious, food has become expendable, and liable to be wasted in colossal amounts.  What do you think?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Slow Food: buy less, spend more, don't waste!

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo




My family and I recently went to an event organized by Slow Food, the Italian non-profit organization well-known internationally for its commitment to local food traditions and communities, and its mission to promote food that's good (fresh and seasonal), clean (safe for our health and the evironment), and fair (fairly priced for both the consumers and the small-scale producers).  (You can read more about Slow Food philosophy here.)  It was a Cheese festival, and I wrote about it on FuoriBorgo here and here.


Carlo Petrini, the charismatic founder of Slow Food, held a press conference, where he discussed many interesting issues about the economics and ethics of food, including:


-    22,000 tons of edible food are thrown away every day in American households, and 4,000 tons in Italy.

-    Consumers spend 20% less on groceries than they did 30 years ago.

-    By buying cheaper food, consumers give their money to industrial food concerns, rather than to small-scale, sustainable producers of quality food.

We live in a time of colossal over-production and waste.  In fact, according to a study prepared by the FAO in 2011 ("Global Food Losses and Waste"), roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.  According to Carlo Petrini, the results of this runaway waste coupled with the widespread industrialization of the food supply, are far-reaching and severe:  the soil is being impoverished and depleted, water is becoming scarce, bio-diversity is being lost, and small farmers are having a harder and harder time making a living.

Petrini calls for a new paradigm.  He says we need to stop wasting food, buy less food overall, and spend proportionately more on the food we do buy - on high-quality food that's safe, healthy and priced to give the farmer a fair income.

This press conference was a real eye-opener for me in many ways, and a call to action.  I found the level of food waste deeply disturbing.  Yet what Carlo Petrini said about spending more, made perfect sense.  We need better, fairer food in our homes, and less of it.  And we need to stop wasting food.  All these steps go together - I'll be writing more about this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

City Mouse, Country Mouse


by Linda@The Witches Kitchen

A post on Little Eco Footprints this week called Are we making a mistake living in the city? has been in the back of my mind at odd moments all week.  I live in a rural community.  I moved here as a young hippy mum nearly 30 years ago, living first in a caravan with no power, road access, or running water.  I have never regretted it and although it was diabolically hard in those early years, I do have the best of lives.

But sometimes, like the deserted beach or the fantastic suburban restaurant, things are only fantastic so long as no-one else knows they are.  Is living in the country like that?  Is it only possible to do it without destroying it because most people don't?

My "perfect world" fantasy has everyone living in permacultured villages with tiny ecological footprints, networked and linked with electric railways and internet (powered with geothermal or big desert solar installations), largely self sufficient in food, water, waste disposal, houshold and local energy, trading knowledge, culture, art, craft, manufactured goods and specialist crops.

The villages would be neither city nor country, but a bit of both.  They would have enough population density so that people could get around by foot and bicycle - kids could walk to school and to their friends places to play, neighbours would be close enough to rely on in emergencies or even just to borrow a cup of flour or a tool or visit for a chat.  But they would have a low enough density to allow most of the fresh food production to be local - kitchen gardens, fruit trees, chickens, geese, dairy cows.

That's not a very different level of population density to the older suburbs in Australia. As permaculture writer David Holmgren says, "It's technically possible that the traditional older suburbs could actually produce all of the food needed to sustain the people living there. The amount of open space - both public and private space in backyards - means that you've got a population density not that much greater than some of the densest traditional agricultural landscapes in the world."

FAO says that "It is realistic to suppose that the absolute minimum of arable land to support one person is a mere 0.07 of a hectare–and this assumes a largely vegetarian diet, no land degradation or water shortages, virtually no post-harvest waste, and farmers who know precisely when and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, etc."  John Jeavons claims that  0.2 hectare can support a family of four. So my fantasy isn't unreasonable.  There's a batch of other references here, if you're interested.

But back to my fantasy.  Households and small businesses would have local grid connected solar power and rainwater tanks for water, with local water and power boards managing supply and floating pricing to force frugality in times of shortage. Along the same principles as the current push for carbon pricing - people figure out ways to use less of something when it's expensive.

Villages would have their own schools, hospitals, and local economies, based on trading everyday goods and services, but would be connected by high speed electric trains to allow some villages to produce specialist and higher education, specialist medical services, centres of excellence in research, arts and sport, and manufactured goods and specialist crops. Villages would also be connected via the internet, allowing work in any kind of knowledge industries to be globalised.

Giant solar installations in the desert would provide the power for the railways and energy intensive manufacturing.  There would be no private cars.  Petrol would be very expensive and reserved for engines and manufactured goods that couldn't do without it. Young adults would go backpacking round the world on trains, bikes and sailing boats.

Thump.  That was me falling back to earth.

In reality, both urban dwellers and country dwellers are a long way from my fantasy. With the prices people are willing to pay for quality food, and the cut that goes to packaging, transport, storage, wholesalers then supermarkets, it's no wonder that many farming practices are the equivalent of strip mining of farmland, as destructive to the environment as concrete suburbs. Much of our food is industrially produced, in CAFOs and ILOs that are just like rural factories. Both farmland and urbanisation are threats to biodiversity. Both lifestyles rely, in different ways, on huge energy subsidies.

I think most rural areas in Australia at least would benefit hugely from a big population influx of people intent on creating a simple green frugal lifestyle. It would move them towards, not away from my fantasy.  But in reality, the majority of the population lives in cities, and it is there that the real work of creating change needs to be done, and will have the biggest effects, for all of us.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Simple, Green and Frugal Parenting

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In one more sleep I become a mummy, it has been a long and hard journey and one I'm delighted is finally happening! I've been thinking a lot about how to encorporate a simple, green and frugal life into parenting and the truth is I know no one can accomplish it all, so I'll need to focus on the most important things. So far I've been focusing on a couple of key points/ideas so that I don't feel overwhelmed.

Simple
- Establishing a rhythmn that meets everyone's needs and is flexible, yet predictable
- Not over-committing and prioritizing time to adjust

Green
- No disposable products
- Get a community garden membership
- No plastic
- Shopping for locally sourced products and/or fairtrade

Frugal
- Focusing on what is really needed vs. what people tell you are needs (I'm shocked at what people believe you need in order to parent)
- Buying second hand where possible
- Establishing a "norm" which isn't about commercialism or materialism

But here is where I turn it over to you. I'd love to know how you encorporate a simple, green and frugal life into your parenting and family life? I feel like I have a lot to learn and am most probably only scratching the surface!

So dear co-op readers: what advice do you have for living purposefully while parenting? How do you explain raising your children so differently than most people they will come into contact with?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is change coming?

By Rhonda Jean @ Down to Earth

I think we're are gaining ground.  There has been a shift away from the purchased conveniences of modern living, women and men are beginning to see the light and more and more homemakers are returning to older and non-commercial ways of doing the house work and cooking.  It does my heart good to see how many younger women and men are expressing an interest in home cooking, knitting, mending, repairing and reusing, as well as making green cleaners and soaps. There is a move towards traditional home arts.  Here in Australia, fabric, yarn and craft stores are reporting record sales, and cooking has become popular again!


These traditional ways of housekeeping and home maintenance, passed down over the years by our grandparents, were replaced by convenience foods, cheap clothing and appliances, and when they started to disappear, most of us were too busy to notice.  The global economic crisis came along to show us that when we are given convenience on a plate it is at the expense of other significant things.  Many were surprised when they realised they could do a whole lot more in the home than they thought they could, for less money, while producing better quality, and they actually enjoyed doing it.


I believe it's a question of dependence versus independence.  Convenience encourages dependence.  If we buy food already cooked or half cooked, we forget our traditional foods and how to cook them.  If we always buy our clothes, we forget how to make them.  If we buy our knitwear, we never learn to knit.  There was a time when we never thought about having our nails "done", when we cut our own hair, fixed cars and lawn mowers, or we relied on friends and neighbours to help us do it, then we returned the favour by helping them do something we had the skill to do.  Now convenience and the cheapness of food, clothes and appliances makes us dependent on shops instead of each other.  We work to earn the money to pay for these things instead of learning how to do make them or repair them ourselves.


In my ideal world, mothers and fathers would teach their children how to live an authentic life in the modern world.  They'd make sure their children had the life skills they need to look after themselves, they would teach through example and they would be the people they want their children to become.  But we don't live in an ideal world, all we have is this one and while it is far from ideal, there are some thing we can all do to make our own family healthy, practical and competent.  From a young age, teach your children how to cook simple food, mend little things like toys, knit, recycle, plant seeds, harvest water, and how to care for what is theirs.  Giving them the responsibility of caring for a pet will teach them about nutrition, time management, gentleness and unconditional love.  Many parents think that teaching a child how to read before they go to school is a major achievement, but they need much more than that.  They need those practical life skills, those things they will enjoy learning while they're still young.  They will grow up confident and self reliant if you teach them these things; show them they are important part of the family and rely on them to help with the family work.  Giving too much to children only teaches them how to take.

I don't expect everyone to take up their knitting needles, start dressmaking or learn how to make a traditional meal from scratch, but I do see a move towards some of those things.  And the good thing is that many people realise that making and doing for oneself is a positive and life affirming thing; they enjoy it.  It has been a long time coming but the move is on and who know where it will lead us.  Now, more and more people are realising that we can change the way we live, and because of that almost anything is possible.  I think real change might be just around the corner. Do you?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shallots

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I just harvested my shallots, and now have them spread out on a screen in the shed to cure. Like my garlic, shallots are planted in the fall to overwinter, and grow through early spring into July. So expensive in the store, they're easy to grow and store, and make a great flavor addition to fall and winter dishes.

I started with a few supermarket shallots, purchased in late summer years ago. They're planted in the fall, one per square foot. By the following summer each shallot multiplies into a clump of 6-7 nice-sized bulbs. Each October, I re-plant around a dozen bulbs from this year's harvest, say two clumps worth, and then still have at least 60-70 to eat throughout the winter.

Curing and storing them is super-easy too. I'll leave this year's harvest out in the shed for a week or two - until the leaves and roots have dried, the necks have shrunken closed, and the brown skin toughened up. Rubbing away the dried dirt, leaves, and roots, I pile the shallots in a couple of net bags (actually, they're a couple of drawstring net stockings used to sell oranges at Christmas time - now reused for my shallot harvest year after year), and hang them from a hook in the ceiling of my kitchen pantry. They'll hold well until the following March or April before they start shriveling up a bit - still tasty though.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Braiding Garlic

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Living in a small house, with limited storage options, most of my decor serves the dual-purpose of beauty and storage. I like the look and usefulness of hanging my annual garlic harvest as a decorative braid inside my open pantry. Attention paid to careful harvest and ample curing time, combined with the cooler air of the open closet where my pantry shelves share space with the tank for our well, means I'm still eating from last year's braid (below) as I finish up this year's harvest.

I've never had much luck storing hardneck garlic much past the end of the year, so now grow only my own softneck garlic. After more than 20 years of planting the best ones each succeeding year, I have my own heirloom, perfectly adapted to my own climate. The process starts in late autumn before, when I dig in a layer of compost then plant the biggest, nicest fresh garlic cloves held apart from the harvest just a couple of months prior. Winter snows soon water them in, and by late February the young garlic shoots are up an inch. Then it's just a matter of making sure they get a weekly watering, either from Mother Nature or a few hours worth of soaker hose.

By July, each plant ideally has at least 10 leaves. When the oldest leaf or two is about half dry, as well as the top inch or so of the tips of the rest, I pull the soaker hose away, gently bend the tops down, and let the plants dry in the ground for a week. I then loosen the soil with a shovel and lift each bulb out of the ground, never just pulling by the tops. The neck of the bulb is quite fragile and I want the leaves there to shrink-wrap the bulb instead of breaking.

I lay the garlic on a screen in the deepest shade out in the yard, the leaves of one bunch covering the bulbs of the next. When the dirt has dried enough to rub most of it away, after a couple of days, I clean the bulbs and use scissors to clip the roots off short, rubbing any dirt or rocks out of the center. Each intact leaf forms a layer of protective wrapper around the bulb inside as the garlic cures. The more wrapper layers, the longer the garlic will keep. Since my garlic is decorative as well as useful, I'll sacrifice the top, driest layer to get to a prettier white layer underneath. But only one, maybe two at the most (if that layer has broken at the neck), and then gently scrape any remaining dirt off with a fingernail. The cleaned bulbs, with the outermost wrapping still intact up beyond the neck, are then left outside in the shade for a couple more days. I want the stems limp but not crackly-dry.

Big bulbs last longest. I use my garlic braid from the bottom up to keep it looking nice as it hangs in my pantry. So I start my braid with three of the smallest bulbs. Braiding with the bulbs on top, I just add in another bulb whenever there is room. The stem being added in is always added to the center of the braid, so that a section immediately crosses over it, locking it into place. When adding a bulb to either side, its stem is added to the top of the bunch that have just been crossed over to the middle.

Occasionally, as the bulbs get bigger, I might have to make a couple of filler passes of the braid alone so that each bulb will have enough room for good air circulation all the way around. As I braid, I'll run my hand up each section periodically to crunch the crispy dried leaf tips away. It keeps the braid from getting too crunchy to work with, and will mean less mess in my pantry later. When I'm finished, I have a long braid of bulbs, alternating center and sides, with a flat plait on the back that will hang against the shelf support post throughout the year.

I hold out a couple of the biggest bulbs, for planting come October, and finish by braiding to the ends. Bending that over to the back side, I use cotton string wrapped tight and knotted, then criss-crossed tightly up and down the top section to bind it, then knotted again, and finally the ends tied into a hanging loop. I'll leave this year's braid hanging in the open cutout between kitchen and living room, where there's warm and gentle air circulation, for another month. The wrapping layers dry, the necks shrink, and the braid stays strong enough to hold the weight. This year, from a patch 2.5 x 4 feet, I have a 2.5 foot braid, just short of 5 pounds, of 40 nice garlic bulbs. I'll use up the twelve left from last year first, cooking, canning and pickling, plus the few bulbs that were too small or with necks too weak to braid. For the two of us, a bulb a week throughout the year is just about right.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Making the Most of the Summer Heat


It's been hot hot hot a few days already here in NE Ohio so far this summer. A few days the temperature has risen into the 90's. I don't really mind the heat as long as I don't have to be out in the sun in mid-day. I do take advantage of these hot days by making the most of the high temps. I check the weather at the beginning of the week and try to plan to do a few chores on the really hot days, things like: making yogurt, making bread, laundry, and drying herbs.
Fresh Laundry
All my laundry is done on the hot days of the week, because everything dries super quickly. I also think the hot sun really helps freshen the rags and the kitchen towels. I also make the most of the heat by making yogurt on these hot days. It eliminates the need for either turning on the yogurt maker or putting it in a cooler. I simple put the jar up in the attic where it's nice & warm.
Harvesting Herbs
My attic is hot and dry, so herbs dry very quickly, no dehydrator needed. I have a window screen that we don't use that I have set between two boxes. In the morning, right after the dew evaporates I snip fresh herbs and spread them out on the screen to dry. It only takes a few hot days and the herbs are ready for the pantry.
Taking Advatage of the Heat
I love making the most of the weather because it saves me money on my electric bill by not having to use appliances to complete these tasks and it keeps my house cooler on those hot days!

In what ways do you make the most of the summer heat?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Happy Hangin' Out

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I have to admit it. I like doing laundry - especially now that the weather is getting nicer and I can hang my clothes out on the clothesline again. First of all, it's a sensory thing: the light breeze on my face, sun on my shoulders, listening to the murmur of the chickens below me, the birds chirping above, the smell of whatever happens to be in bloom in the yard.

Plus, I have a wonderful view over the top of my clothesline. In the morning, the air is usually crisp and crystal clear. Looking south, I love looking towards the snow-covered peaks on my horizon. Today, by mid-afternoon, the air's gotten a bit hazy - from both the humidity of the recent rain, and maybe a bit from fires burning in Arizona - but the mountains still shine in the sun.

I like the orderliness of it all, too (same reason I like hand-washing my dishes, too). The ground slopes down beneath the clothesline. The re-aligned garden now means a corner of the (now higher, too, since Bambi found out our place had good eats) fence is pretty close to the direction things usually flap. Extra long things, like pants or my husband's long-sleeved shirts, are best hung closest to the pole where the line is highest. Next usually come t-shirts. Dark ones inside out, to reduce fading, I've found they look best later if doubled over the line to the armpits and clipped out smooth and straight, each apart from the other. Then the flat things that can be clipped edge to edge, to save on clothespins, graduating down in size as they get closer to that fence corner. Small stuff, like socks and underwear, usually end up on a small folding rack set up on the patio next to the house. That area is pretty much out of the wind, so clothespins aren't even necessary there.

Lastly, and maybe best of all - I really enjoy my laundry accoutrements. My clothespin bag is a re-purposed bit of old cotton bed sheet. I didn't realize how rough and scratchy my old purchased generic one was, until I made this one. It's a pleasure reaching into it, the cotton soft and smooth against the inside of my wrist. Embroidered with a vintage "jumping clothes-peg" pattern from my mom, it still makes me smile each time I see it. My laundry basket is a wooden bushel basket, lined with a re-purposed piece of old vinyl tablecloth. With wire handles, it's sturdy, and just feels better to carry than a plastic one. The lining is getting pretty worn, though. I've patched a couple of tears with packing tape. One of these days, I'm going to make a new liner. I have a couple of old cotton pillowcases, worn thin in the middle but with lovely crocheted edging still in nice shape. I plan to make a cotton canvas liner for the basket, then use the pillowcase ends to make the decorative outside flap. Laundry day, even nicer!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts on a toothbrush

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

spazzolino intercambiabile 2

Can you buy this kind of toothbrush in your country? In Italy, it's hard to find.

spazzolino intercambiabile

It's a simple, manual toothbrush. BUT, it comes with interchangeable little heads with bristles, that can be bought separately. When it's time to change your toothbrush, you just remove the old head and clip on a new one. Which means you keep the handle - the bulk of the toothbrush - for as long as the plastic lasts, and just toss out the head.



Many dentists advise changing toothbrushes every three months. That means 4 toothbrushes a year, per person. Which, in turn, means many, many 24 billion of toothbrushes thrown away each year, which work their way into landfills, or get burned in incinerators (and we breathe them).



Problems which would be drastically reduced, of all of us used a disposable toothbrush like this. So why is it so hard to find?

Lessons from the bus stop

By Aurora @ IslandDreaming

One of the joys of public transport is that you regularly end up in conversation with interesting folk you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Waiting at the bus stop yesterday, an elderly lady struck up a conversation with me. I think that she had noticed the gardening magazine in my handbag and the conversation quickly progressed from small talk about the weather to the joys of gardening and growing food.

She and her husband had maintained an allotment at my own allotment site for most of their adult lives, only giving it up when they turned 80 and the journey to and fro was getting a bit much. She spoke enthusiastically about all the benefits she had got from maintaining it and how she had passed that on to her daughter and grandchildren. She still involved herself in the community, regularly attending the jumble sale near the allotments where everyone went to sell off their excess plants and have a chat over a cup of tea. She still maintained her home garden, took the dog for long walks every day and socialised regularly.

The lady had been visiting her husband at the hospital where I work. He is 86, deaf and almost blind. She sighed and confessed that she was annoyed that whilst he was elderly in years, he was also now turning into an ‘old man’ in front of her eyes – he was becoming obstinate and curmudgeonly – and he had absolutely no excuse for it in her eyes. I reflected that she was lucky to have made it through 64 years of marriage before this happened - I have a 29 year old curmudgeon at home after just 7 years together. It turned out the allotment had played an important part in keeping her marriage fresh – ‘you do need somewhere to go to escape from each other every so often’.

My own darling 29 year old curmudgeon was dragged in for humorous effect only I must stress. However, the contentment expressed by this lady during our conversation is something I have rarely come across in my own age group. Success has been judged in our culture by how much money you have, how many degrees you have, how big your home is and how many expensive shiny toys you own (and how often you replace them). In short, just how much of the planet's resources do you consume on your way through life? The end result of this thinking for many is worry, restlessness and ever increasing debts - and it is very hard in the midst of misery to change tack and find a happier direction. 

This lady was friendly, good humoured and active, still interested in the world around her and obviously had a family and community that she had built and involved herself in. No doubt she had made many wrong turns in life, but at some point in the preceding years it seemed she had struck upon the formula for a contented life and ran with it. For all I know she may have had a big house, degrees and lots of shiny toys, but they weren't important enough for her to mention them during our meandering chat. Based upon what she had told me, she had led a good life. 

One day I would like to look back on a long life and wax lyrical about the contentment I had experienced and the lessons I had learnt (and my gardening successes and failures).  I would like my success to one day be measured by the good feeling I had engendered, the wisdom I had accrued and the damage I had repaired, or at least the damage I hadn't caused. But what if I don’t make it to such a vintage? There is no guarantee that I have all the time in the world to build friendships, potter about the garden, look after my health and well being, smell the flowers and find meaningful work to do – and share the fruits of it.

How will you know if you have lived a good life? What changes are you going to make to get there? When are you going to start?