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

Sunday, 8 July 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?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

What They Live

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

My Children

:: Couldn't tell you the last time they watched tv, but can tell you what they planted in our community garden

:: Have no clue what the latest gadgets or toys are, but can list books and board games we love to read and play

:: Don't know what a play station, gameboy, or Wii is, but can tell you tale after tale about dolphins

:: Won't sit for hours in front of a screen, but spend hours putting together puzzles

:: Aren't sure of the real names of all the shops we visit, but can tell you the names of all the shop owners and what fairtrade items they sell

:: Haven't yet figured out the politics behind big corporations, but can articulate why we boycott certain shops in very simple terms - "they aren't kind to their workers" is usually suffice.

:: Politely listen to hurried tales of weekend busyness from peers, teachers and friends, but quietly whisper in my ear "Mama lets just be at home and sit under a tree"

:: May not yet be fluent readers, but love that their Mummy is in a bookclub

:: Graciously receive gifts, but find real joy in the making of the thank you card the second the gift is opened.

:: Know we have to watch pennies, but remind me each week to make sure our home has flowers.

:: Don't live in the country, but as of yesterday learned how to gently hold chickens

:: Don't eat meat, but love hanging out with pigs at the city farm!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Garage Sale

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

We've been de-cluttering and sorting through our home in recent weeks in preparation for a garage sale. With the attitude that if we don't use it or need it there is a pile of unwanted goods in one corner of our living room growing bigger in size as the weeks go by. Any items we don't want to try and recoup some money from we have donated to local opportunity stores. It's a messy time for us, but very cleansing too!

I posted a link to a website I discovered last week on my Facebook business page for the National Garage Sale Trail. (You can click on the image to be taken to the website) I was impressed by this concept in that it involves the entire nation, promotes selling of goods instead of throwing things into landfill and I thought it would be a good incentive to set a date for ours and become involved. Our local shire is participating and they are providing a list of sales registered with the event in our local area.

One lovely reader of my Facebook page interestingly commented that she believed that the 'Garage sale' was 'dying' and that online selling was replacing them. I was surprised by this as the garage sale is alive and well in our local area with some 10 to 20 listings each week in the classifieds of our local paper. Whilst I agree that online selling is popular and Garage sale numbers may lessen over the years I just couldn't imagine them being a thing of the past. Then I started to wonder is it a reflection of the areas we live in or am I personally worried as I love the community feel of a garage sale and don't want to see their numbers diminishing? Are garage sales less common in more suburban areas? Are they more popular in 'country' areas? Are younger generations more keen to sell online than host a sale? Am I alone in that I love a garage sale...having a good rummage...learning about the history of an item from the original owner...and would prefer to view items before purchase and not have to 'bid' for them? Do local councils make it too difficult to hold sales?

I would really love to hear from readers here from all over the world. In relation to your community do you feel that garage sale/yard sale numbers are diminishing and do you imagine that they will lessen as the years go by to be replaced by online selling?

Amanda x

Sunday, 27 November 2011

We're Different And That's OK

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday, my email provider had a front page article about the biggest mistakes people make when giving Christmas gifts; totally out of my character, I clicked on the article and began to read it. Lo and behold, one of the biggest mistakes, according to the author, anyone can make is to give homemade gifts, particularly knitted items. Apparently such things are ghastly and embarrassing for the giver and receiver. Who knew?!

When I got over my initial one second check in (I had just, the hour before, finished putting together a few little handmade gifts) I enjoyed a little laughter at the hilarity of it all. Not only did the article suggest homemade things are totally inappropriate, but so is anything useful, including some items of clothing, giftcards etc. And I began to think of the hilarity of it all, one person, who came across as incredibly spoiled and pampered, a person who is probably quite young and used to having money spent on them, is dictating what is acceptable/normal/OK. Well, here's the truth, his/her norm is certainly not my norm.

And there in that little article was the theme of my life over the last few months. As I navigate motherhood and find what other parents view as normal is vastly different to our life and the norm I want for my children. As I chat with colleagues and hear their views on necessities (a family can not live in less than 2500 square feet, apparently, nor can they function without TVs in their van), I've come to really think about being different and being OK with being different.

We are all on a journey. In my teenage years I desperately wanted to fit in and truth be told, for most of those years didn't. Sometimes, when I compare "notes" with the lives others have, I fleetingly think how nice it would be to have what they have, because in the throws of it, we are all human beings with needs and emotions. But the truth is, I'd rather be different. I'd rather put thought into what comes into our home, than accept the toys a manufacturer tells me my children need. I'd rather give money to help causes, then fret over which new car/van/TV/laptop to buy. I'd rather spend a couple of hours making a dishcloth, then pick up 10 for $2 and I'd certainly rather have to shop at 4 or 5 local shops/farmers stalls, than go to one big conglomerate and feel proud of how much more I could get for the same money.

Sometimes being different is challenging. Sometimes I can feel too different. Sometimes it would be easier not to think critically about each choice, not to have to wonder where something came from, or how its production impacted others. Sometimes it would be lovely to simply roll up at a particular fast food joint and be done with dinner in 2 minutes flat. But the truth is, 99.9999% of the time, I am totally head over heals in love with this different life, bad gift giving (knitted items!) and all. My greatest hope, is that 20 years from now, my children are OK with being different too.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Promoting Locally

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Having established a business from home several months ago I have become more aware of what services and support our local shire offers local businesses. As I am a big advocate of supporting local business I was quite 'chuffed' and proud, when I recently discovered just what support our shire does offer.

Although I am told these promotional tools are currently being upgraded I wanted to show you what is on offer. It is my hope that readers may like to share what their local shires are offering or share what support you show your local community.

We have a brochure that lists businesses that sell locally produced products and the outlets that support these locally produced products.

There are swing tags for producers to use on their products proudly displaying that their item is made/designed in the local area.

Local stores have stickers/posters to promote the support of local outlets and I have been given a logo to display on my website.

I believe it is important to support local communities by shopping locally. Not to mention that it is kinder on your hip pocket and cuts back on the miles that we spend collecting a product from afar. Local businesses cannot survive without the support of their community and shopping locally promotes community and creates jobs.

Have you thought about how your supporting your local community may be better for the environment too? By shopping in town we are encouraging spaces that are commuter friendly. People are more inclined to walk thus creating less there is a lot to it when you think about it!

There is something else to think about too. When you shop at a large department store there are so many many shops selling similar products that almost all look the same. When you have communities of small businesses generally they sell products that they are passionate about. Products they source for quality and uniqueness. If I am going to part with my money I would much prefer quality over mass produced, same-as-everyone-else type products!

I want my local community to thrive so that my children can enjoy the same culture we experience today. I am proud to live in the Baw Baw Shire and I hope you are proud to live where you are too.


Friday, 26 August 2011

Lime wash

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

This past week, we've been busy doing some necessary maintenance around our ancient house, which includes giving a fresh coat of paint to the walls and ceilings (here). Some of our walls are colored, and for those I buy eco-friendly paints, which are pricey but something we don't skimp on, for our family and the environment alike. For our ceilings and white walls, instead, we use lime, which is natural and solvent-free, and inexpensive. Also, lime is particularly suited to the thick, centuries-old stone walls of our farmhouse (but it also works on timber and brick). The walls are built of stone, sand, clay and water, and soak up lots of humidity in the cold season; thanks to its porousness and anti-bacterial properties, lime tends to prevent the formation of mold. All this almost for free.


For the ceilings, we use lime putty, which is the easiest lime preparation to handle for painting: I dilute it with water and then apply with a brush. For walls, instead, we make our own inexpensive lime wash: I get a couple of kilos of slaked lime at the building supply store (which the shop clerks usually scoop out of 25 kilo bags and just give me for free), slowly mix it with water, let it sit overnight, and apply the next day. Over a day or two, the lime wash cures to a hard, opaque white layer with a rough texture that I personally really like.

So this is how we use lime and make lime wash. However, I did a little research on lime washing, and found differing opinions on the subject, especially as to whether additives (salt and glue) should be added to the mixture to make it more durable, and whether it's suitable for interiors. Should you want to give lime wash a try, you might read up on it first. Here are some starting points:

All you need to know about lime wash - points out to the importance of using good-quality lime wash and a suitable substrate.
Fias Co Farm white wash recipe - has some safety warnings about handling lime, and is of the opinion that lime wash should not be used for interiors (which is contrary to our experience - see above for information about properly preparing and applying lime wash)

Have you ever used lime on your interior walls?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Creative Ways To Save Money On Food

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

We've all heard some of the best ways to save money on food include: shopping with a list, planning your meals, taking a lunch to work, bringing cash to the supermarket and rarely eating out. All of those have lowered my own grocery budget significantly. But recently I wanted to cut my grocery budget by another 35% in order to live on an "Extreme Frugality" budget in this season of my life. I wasn't sure how I would do it, but I've found a few creative ways which have made a huge difference & are saving me time and money.

1. I remembered how important it is to shop at home first. I have a small kitchen and for a few weeks I skipped this step and it showed in my grocery spending. Shopping at home first works because I don't purchase items I already have, I'm more aware of what I'm low on {and therefore able to look for good deals to stock up}, I'm able to cut down on food waste & I can visibly see how much I already have to use up and plan my meals around!

2. I've completely cleaned out my fridge, organizing it so that everything is clearly visible and organized. No more thinking I don't have enough to stretch, because I can actually see that I have a lot I can use up. I've found this also helps me see what I can substitute. I may not have leeks for a soup, but I have celery. A clean fridge really has helped much more than I thought it would.

3. I've learned that I need to focus on what is right in this season of my life. I blogged recently that I felt this overwhelming guilt {for about 10 minutes} that I don't make my own ketchup. But in my household, ketchup is probably used less than 5x a year, so it makes no sense to make it. Remembering to think about the time/money balance has really helped me focus on what I can do which will have the biggest impact on my food budget.

4. I've enjoy slow cooker Wednesdays & soup night! Generally these are both very frugal veggie recipes making use of lentils, chickpeas & veg that needs using up. What's more they pretty much provide my lunches for the week and add to my freezer stock pile!

5. I've joined a lunch co-op group in my building at work. We basically all bring a salad ingredient and make a massive healthy salad one day per week. Generally I contribute about $1 worth of food {radishes, cucumbers, onions etc} and have a really lovely salad to enjoy & good company to boot! If your work/building doesn't have a lunch club, think about starting one.

6. When friends suggest eating out, I suggest a pot luck. It's a great way to socialize & spend time with friends, without having to come up with the money to eat out.

7. I'm in the process of joining a food co-op, I donate 2 hours of labor a month and I get a significant reduction on locally sourced foods.

8. Where possible I try to buy eggs from people who have chickens. Where I currently live this is nigh on impossible as people aren't allowed to raise chickens, but where I used to live I was able to source local eggs and support local hobby farms while saving money. It was a win-win-win situation.

What creative ways do you use to save money? Do you have any tips to share?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Farm eggs

by Francesca

farm eggs 2

We buy our eggs from our farmer neighbors, who keep laying hens in a large chicken coop by the side of our house. These eggs are so fresh that they're often still warm when we get them. Each egg is different in color, texture and size, depending on the age of the hens, their diet, and the time of year. Young hens lay smaller eggs. Sometimes our neighbor warns us to handle them with extra care because the shell is thin and frail, and he'll need to add some calcium to the chicken's forage.

farm eggs 3

These eggs are never clean, but our neighbors have taught us not to wash them before storing them. In fact, eggshells (when they're intact, and come from healthy animals living in sanitary conditions) are coated on the outside with a cuticle, a protein-like covering, which helps protect the contents of the shell from dehydration, and from bacterial infection through the shell's pores. Washing eggs removes this cuticle, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg.


Eggs must be refrigerated. In wintertime, we store our eggs in a basket hanging in an unheated part of the house (centuries-old stone houses are refrigerator-cold in the winter!), but in the summer we keep them in the fridge, stored in a sealed container to avoid possible contamination.

farm eggs 3

Just before we use our eggs, we wash them carefully. Health experts advise to use eggs within two weeks of the time they were laid, and to cook them thoroughly (and not to eat them raw).

Further reading on egg facts and safety here, here and here.

Please don't forget to add the name of your favorite seed company in your country to the list of international seed catalogs here!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Preparing For The New Year - A Simple, Green & Frugal 2011

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Slowly but surely I find my confidence growing. I've blogged before about a little internal battle I faced, feeling like I wasn't ever going to succeed at the green or frugal life because I couldn't knit or sew and didn't have a homestead for my own chickens, bees and garden. In 2010 I finally understood the truth, there isn't one prescription for a simple, green and frugal life, in fact I imagine if there were it wouldn't be so simple!

Looking back 2010 was the year I accomplish many changes in my life that were simple, green & frugal. 2010 was the year I semi learned to knit, I canned fresh produce (under expert instruction), I volunteered overseas, I learned how to make my own shampoo & conditioner and I began using re-useable toilet paper. It is only through recognition of the little changes I made in 2010 that I'm able to think about realistic yet optimistic goals for 2011.

One of my main goals for 2011 is to drastically change how I eat. The plan is to have a whole foods year, nothing pre-packaged, everything ethically sourced and made from scratch. I hope 2011 is my vegan year, or at the very least 95% vegan with a bit of ethically sourced feta cheese from a local farmer. Yes, my name is Frugal Trenches and I have a slight addiction to feta cheese! ;-)

My simple, green and frugal goals for 2011 are:
1. Begin using a worm composter
2. Volunteer to clean up a community garden or park
3. Make my own soap
4. Follow a 100 mile diet
5. Veganism {or as near as possible!}
6. Foster dogs or cats for the local animal shelter
7. Take sewing classes
8. Give up caffeine

All are realistic and represent changes I feel I'm now ready for and looking forward to!

Some may think it is a bit early to discuss goals and plans for the new year, but one thing I've learned on this journey is that I need a "settling in period", a time to adjust to change and get my head to follow my heart. So for the month of December I'm eating vegan 5-6 days a week and reducing my caffeine. On top of that I just found a sewing class which starts in January and while I'm not taking the path of insisting from January 1 I've made all these changes in full, I'm slowly getting there one simple, green and frugal step at a time.

What are your plans for 2011? Do you set yourself & your family goals for the New Year that will help you in your simple, green and frugal journey?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Simple, Green & Frugal in the BIG SMOKE!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I first began writing for the co-op, I was in a small city surrounded by countryside and I was waiting for the day when homesteading was in my future. While I've not let go of that dream and do expect one day to be surrounded by fields of donkeys, pigs, hens and rabbits (oh my!) right now I'm embarking on a new adventure, big city living. For a variety of reasons this is the right option for now and truth be told, the longer I'm on this journey & the older I get, the more I realize it doesn't have to be all or nothing when it comes to the simple, green and frugal life!

Since I knew I'd be moving I've been reflecting, researching and deciding what simple, green and frugal choices I can make during this new adventure in big city living; the more I think about it and begin to put new rhythms into practice, the more I've realized I'll be living quite a green existence. Some of the ideas I'm incorporating into my daily and weekly rhythm, which allow me to live to the values I hold, even in a city are:

1. I'm going car-less - one of the readers from the co-op challenged me to this and at the time I thought it would be impossible. Well, I made a decision to accept a position which I didn't "need" a car for. Yes a car would be easier, but it isn't "needed" so alas, I'm going without!

2. I'm creating a home filled with mostly second hand items! In fact I'm now the proud owner of some pretty funky retro furnishings!

3. I will be shopping at a market sourced by local farmers! This also means I'll be able to source large amounts of seasonal fruit and veg for canning!

4. My apartment is within walking distance to work! My two feet are pretty much the greenest form of transport available to me! [For the curious, I cast my apartment net within a 1 hour walk to work, although settled on something a little closer!]

5. I plan to grow salad herbs inside my apartment and enjoy fresh cut local & seasonal flowers when possible!

6. I will be volunteering in the outdoors: city farms, fruit picking clubs and local park clean up projects will help fill my time!

7. I've found knitting and crafting clubs to join!

8. I'll be making my own shampoo and soap.

9. I will be using re-usable toilet paper! [Yes, really!]

10. I'm budgeting for 10 subway tokens a month in order to make the wider communities (aka communities with parks, ravines and nature areas) accessible!

11. I'll continue being paper-less and chemical free! No paper towels or chemical based cleaners - I'll be using re-usable cloth, vinegar and baking soda!

12. I'll actually be able to go home for lunch probably three days a week! This will drastically make meals easier, more frugal and simpler!

13. A lot of people want to spend time in the city I'm in, but hotels are very expensive! I'm hoping I'll be able to do a house swap for holidays and enjoy a few days a couple of times a year on a farm, small-holding or home in the country for minimal cost!

Finally, I'm considering a worm farm compost, I just need to check the landlords opinion! :)

Do you have any suggestions for me about ways in which one can lead a simple, green and frugal life in the city? Like me are you surprised at how green city living can be?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Embracing your bioregion

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There are so many buzz words out there today in the simple green movement, some are fitting, and some are well, just buzz words. Sustainable, local, locavore, green, and the list goes on. But many times the words are just words or marketing tools. In our all out quest to save the world from everything we are losing sight of what really matters. Do my neighbor's hot house tomatoes in May qualify for local? Well yes they are local, they don't travel great distances to get here, but the huge energy costs to get tomatoes ripe here in the cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest make them not such a good choice if the buyer wants to lessen their energy impact. Another neighbor keeps a heated greenhouse also, where she grows citrus fruits. She fusses, and worries and gets her fresh citrus a few here and few there, but mostly she complains about heating the greenhouse and the keeping the plants happy, then she sends her hubby to the store for lemons so she can make marmalade. Her citrus is local, and zero-mile but the energy expenditure is huge, and she is frustrated most of the time because of her personal energy is drained also. My personal path down this road was raising chickens for sale à la Polyface , every bit of grain we fed with the exception of oats was shipped in from long distances. Not exactly an environmentally sound enterprise for our farm. Not to say we couldn't have sold scads of poultry and eggs raised this way - just that we didn't really feel comfortable after awhile having our so many of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. It wouldn't have taken much of a hiccup in the transportation system to cause us a lot of problems and heartache.

We have been told for so long as consumers that the world is our oyster, and we can have anything we want food-wise any time of the year. We all want to be so distinctive but really we are all so alike. These days you could take any grocery store produce department and plunk it down anywhere and it would look the same as one in a totally different region. With a modern transportation system at our beck and call, we have out-of-season fruits and vegetables year round in every town. And I won't even touch the processed food debate in this post with a ten foot pole. It's no wonder people don't know where their food comes from. Because it comes from the store! And they're all the same for the most part in every part of the country.

There is no celebration of heritage foods, or bioregional foods. And now it trickles down to farming and gardening. I love sweet potatoes but growing them is a crap shoot at best in my location. They belong in the South, same with peanuts or a myriad of other local, regional food stuffs. Farmers and gardeners love a challenge, the self-reliant gene that makes us want to try to grow everything, and the confidence that we can, makes it a little hard to swallow when we fail. When everyone celebrates with someone else's heritage and local food, it is no longer local, and then becomes scarce. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its salmon runs, which are scant at best now. When you have doctors telling you to eat salmon for it's health benefits and everyone jumps on the fishing boat the salmon in is big trouble. Of course, we always think we can outsmart and do an end run around these types of problems. No salmon, well, we will farm them. No chicken feed grown locally, well, we'll plow up the back 40 and plant some. No limes for the margarita, we'll just get us a citrus tree and an atrium and sit back and sip away. I am not trying to point fingers really, since this type of thinking is hard to get away from. If I run into a road block on some type of idea or project, I always try to think of ways to duplicate at home what I have purchased somewhere else. It's a hard mindset to quell - I got a start the other day when I saw a recipe requests for homemade gummy worms, and chocolate syrup, and this was on a healthy food/farming forum that I read.

I have been trying to embrace our local foodshed more, but I have quite a ways to go on this one. First I have stopped trying to grow many vegetables that are really just marginal in my climate. Ok, sure I will grow peppers and tomatoes in a hoophouse, but I will not heat the hoophouse. And I am justifying that hoophouse in my mind by using it as a season extender... Baby steps. A biggie is maple syrup, I like just a dab on my breakfast sausage, you know, the salt/sweet thing, but really just a hint of homegrown, homemade applesauce has been just as enjoyable with my breakfast and satisfies my sweet tooth. Maple syrup will have to be a treat from now on. It doesn't seem like much, these changes I have made, but I hope they will add up over time.

Have you found yourself rediscovering your heritage foodshed as well?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

What the World Needs Now

by Gavin, The Greening of Gavin

As Burt Bacharach wrote “What the world needs now, is love sweet love”! Not in the physical sense, but in the community sense. Things like pride of place, which is a sense of community love or to put it in a better way, pride of where you and others around you live.

I have described previously I believe that to live fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle, you need other like minded people to share the journey with you. It is a lonely place to be in if you attempt to down-shift in isolation or take steps to build a sustainable community without others to help and to share the passion and to bounce ideas off of.

I have found that people who attempt to live this kind of lifestyle, usually are involved in at least one community group, sometimes two or three depending on their interests. This is a great way to meet like minded people, learn new skills and to build long lasting friendships. However, with these connections there comes a greater responsibility to other than self.

You have the needs, desires and well-being of others to contend with. I liken it to an extended family, who care about each other, which I believe leads to a deep sense of belonging. Humans want to belong, other wise we would not have congregated into hamlets, village, towns, cities or megalopolises over the last 10,000 years.

With these communal structures in place other needs begin to become fulfilled, like security of food, water, shelter and the like. Even in bad times, a tight knit community looks out for one another.

Now, having a strong and dare I say, loving community structure is a great goal to achieve and it reminds me of the country town I grew up in. I must admit that I had forgotten about the one resource that is sustainable, renewable, abundant and is not peaking - love and compassion:

Personally, I for one will not stop caring for my community, the environment and planet Earth. I believe we can create a sustainable and peaceful future together because I truly believe in human nature.

I know we can show this planet we love it!!!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Loving the Seasonal Life

by Chiot's Run

As I strive to eat more seasonally I find myself enjoying each item more than I ever have. I've always loved strawberries, and usually we consumed them mostly during their season, but I'd occasionally buy them at the grocery. They were never as good though, a shell of what a sun ripened strawberry picked in the back yard or at a local farm is. No doubt because they were grown thousands of miles away, trucked to a supermarket near me then purchased by me a week or so after they were picked green.

Now that I'm focusing on eating seasonally I know that the fresh strawberries I'm eating now are the only ones I'll get until next June, save for a few I freeze. That makes me enjoy them all the more. My favorite way to eat strawberries: on shortcake. And not those spongy too sweet round cake discs, I make a lightly sweetened biscuit flecked with crystallized ginger. We crumble the biscuit in a bowl, top with freshly sliced strawberries and pour some fresh raw milk on top. You just can't beat that as a deliciously fresh seasonal summer meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What's your favorite "in season" food at the moment?

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

Thursday, 22 April 2010

An Internal Celebration of Earth Day

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

April 22 marks the 40th year Earth Day has been celebrated around the world. Over the last several years, I have watched it become increasingly a holiday about green products. And that is not to say that green products are bad - I'm ecstatic that there are so many wonderful alternatives to the things I need on a daily basis. I remember when I first became an environmentalist in college in the 90s. It was a tough world to be in - many people thought we were nuts. There were few alternatives to eating sustainably - farm raised anything couldn't be found, organic was not a word I ever remember using, and very very few clothes or other daily items were sustainably made. So there are good things about a push toward green products and green consumerism, for sure.

But this year I'm searching for a more internal, reflective celebration of Earth Day.

Last night I saw Bill McKibben speak. His book Deep Economy was one of those books that really came at the right time for me. Just before I read the book I was just coming to the conclusion that living sustainably was more than living self-sufficiently, was more than eating locally and going back to the basics. I was just coming to the conclusion that living sustainably had a lot to do with living, growing, and nurturing a community around you, and helping those around you to live sustainably too.

So Bill McKibben has a place in my heart as being there at the right time, and writing the right things that really helped gel a lot of ideas beginning to form in my mind. It was really lovely to see him speak last night.

He was hopeful. Not hopeful that we would stop global warming - it has already started - but hopeful that we can collectively stand up and act, and make change happen together. We can work together to make it a priority worldwide to focus on other people besides our selves, other consequences outside of ourselves. On the 10th of October of this year (10-10-10), he and those at are encouraging an international Get to Work day, where all of us spend the day working in our communities, working to create change, working to start the ball rolling and things moving in the right direction.

When I see photographs of polar bears stranded on islands of ice, children in India suffering from flooding, and our own forests in the northwestern US becoming barren lands, I feel a bit of myself being wounded. But when I see that all of you care, that people from every country on the planet care … it lifts me up and makes me feel hopeful.

Today I'm going to spend the day working harder and working deliberately. I am a part of the Earth, and the Earth is a part of me. Where there are some people and some companies that are negative forces pushing us toward further devastation in the coming years, I am the other side: I am the balance. You and I together can balance the negative forces on this planet with positive good that we bring.

When someone cuts down a tree, we plant one. When a company puts carbon in the air, we plant another garden plot to absorb and counteract it. While people stand in line at MacDonald's, we stand in line at farmer's markets. As banks fail nationally and globally, we lift up local businesses sprouting in their place. As someone discards a near-new object, we pick it up in a thrift store and wear it out. We are the balance. We are the hope.

Today I'm going to work harder and more deliberately to be the balance I can be, to be the change internally, to see the change locally, and to catalyze the change globally.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day This Year?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Maple Sugaring at Chiot's Run

by Chiots Run

Last year we sugared our maple trees for the first time. I would have done it earlier, but I always thought you needed sugar maples to make syrup - not so. We have a back yard full of red maples. They have less sugar in the sap so it takes a little more sap, and the final product can be cloudy, but it still tastes as delicious as syrup from sugar maples. We also started late in the season, so we only got a few days of sugaring in before the trees budded out. We ended the season with a two pints of syrup and a passion for sugaring!

This year we started the season early by ordering more spiles and brushing up on our skills by reading a few books before the season started. If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend reading: Backyard Sugarin': A Complete How-To Guide or Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup or this article from the Ohio State University Extension. These are all geared towards small scale home sugaring operations, explaining how to do it without spending much money.

We tapped our trees on February 21 this year. It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures climbed slightly above freezing. Not quite prime sugaring season yet, but we wanted to get some of our trees tapped since tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be close to 40. We were just going to put one tap in the tree we can see from the kitchen window, so we could watch it. When it started flowing we would install the rest of the taps. As soon as we tapped the tree a little drop of sap appeared on the end of the spile. It was warm enough yesterday to start the sap flowing.

Since the sap was flowing we put in all 12 taps that we had on hand, then a few days later we added 10 more taps. The first day, the taps produced about a gallon of sap by dusk. We stored the sap outside in a few huge canning kettles to keep it cold so it wouldn't spoil. The weather was not great for a few days, but then at the beginning of March it started warming up during the day producing good sap flow. It was sunny and warm during the day (well 40 degrees which is warm this time of year).

The mornings were frosty, with temps down in the teens. All the sap that was flowing the day before stopped and was frozen in the spiles. It didn’t take long for them to thaw out with the sun and warmth and start flowing again. These are prime sugaring temps; you want it to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.

With the sap flowing nicely, we started boiling constantly to keep up. We averaged 7 gallons of sap per day from our 20 taps. Mr Chiots collected the sap several times a day. Since we're using mason jars they're not that big and need emptied several times a day. We use them since that's what we have on hand and I'm not a big fan of my food touching any plastic.

After collecting the sap, it's brought inside to warm up a bit. I strain it through a coffee filter into a big stock pot on the stove, this strains out any wood chips, sticks and any other dirt. We warm the sap in this stock pot and when it’s boiling we transfer it to big kettle that’s boiling outside (or another kettle on the stove). We do this to keep the big pot at a rolling boil, if you keep pouring cold sap into the boiling sap it will take longer to reduce into syrup.

After boiling it down and finishing it off, we strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth and we have delicious homemade maple syrup. (read through one of the books listed above for info on finishing syrup, need to be at a certain temp).

Our sugaring season is over for 2010, it was a short one. We ended up with over a gallon of syrup. Sugaring is a fun relaxing hobby. We've really enjoyed the process and will continue doing it for years to come. There's something so satisfying about making your own maple syrup!

You can see the two different colors of syrup we got from our two batches. It’s so delicious, hard to believe we made it at home. One thing is for certain, not a drop of this will go to waste! When you take such a hands on approach to making your own food you really appreciate it because you know the effort that goes into it.

Anyone of you sugaring your maples, birch, or shagbark hickory trees?

for more photos & explanation of our sugaring process check out my posts on my blog:

Tap, Tap, Tap, Maple Sap

Prime Sugaring Weather

Finishing Off our Maple Syrup

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Of What Do You Dream?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Lately I've been privy to many conversations about what people want from life. As a pretty young downshifter, it is something that interests me greatly, especially as I've always believed one's ideal/dream life is a window into their soul. It seem like most people want enough to not have to worry about money, due to my curious nature I've asked people to further clarify what they mean by enough. Not surprisingly most people don't really mean "enough", answers given were enough to take 3 or 4 "good" vacations a year - a week or two in the Bahamas, or winters in Florida. Enough to eat out several times a week without having to worry, to meet up with friends to golf or horseback ride a few times a week, enough to have no mortgage, maybe a holiday home or a few weeks timeshare, a couple of rental properties for extra income, a bit of help around the house and enough left over to see a good six figures in the bank account and a good monthly pension. Everyone shared that they wanted to be able to go to the mall or shops and buy furniture, clothing and kitchenware as they wanted, without ever having to worry about their bank balance or a budget. The reality is, most people's "enough" isn't what one would call enough, instead it's a time of more luxury living. A friend of mine shared that seeing her parents retire and lead such an easy life financially, really skewed her understanding and desires for her own life, instead of working towards retiring with no mortgage, a decent pension and being able to afford a week in Europe each year, she's desiring more and feeling like she's failing in comparison.

Our conversation made me really think about what my dream is, what type of life I want to lead, making it as realistic as possible and a true representation of who I am now. Of course financial security, especially in retirement is important and yes having enough in the bank to cope with unexpected housing or medical expenses is something we should all aim for, but I think life is about so much more than being able to buy what you want, when you want, or vacation for 12 weeks a year.

So what is my dream? It's a mix of being self-sufficient and truly living as part of a community. I dream of a small plot of land where I can live off the earth, being able to foster a donkey or two and give a home to animals which are hard to place, the ability to work part time, have a full emergency fund, several children (I am hoping to adopt). Days spent volunteering, writing letters, knitting, sewing and baking. Time to care for others, provide meals for those in need, hold hands with people who are dying, care for family members or friends who need help dressing or preparing meals. I'd like to make my own jams, sauces, preserves, pasta, breads and cakes. I would like to be able to give each month to the charities I feel passionate about and volunteer abroad, both in disaster relief and in preventative education programs. I would like to journal, write, sing and pray. In the evenings, I hope to curl up by the log fire and read until my eyes are weary, and retire to bed with a back sore from gardening and chasing donkeys, sheep and goats around the land. At least once a week, I'd like to walk by the sea taking photographs and giving thanks, for a life with purpose - the ability to serve, the ability to work and the ability to see the beauty all around me.

What is your dream life? Does it represent the changes in you and your desire to live a simple life?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Eating Locally

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

One of my five goals for 2010 is a 100 mile diet, or a 160 km diet as I am calling it.  Our family has only been on it for 4 days, and we are finding it quite a challenge.  It was created by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon who were the first to take this type of diet up in Vancouver, Canada.  To learn more about the 100 mile diet visit

It has only been a few days and only a few meals have been fully local, with the main reason being that I have quite a stockpile of food in case of emergency that we regularly rotate to keep it fresh.  About 3 months worth in fact.  One of my conditions of the local diet was that during the year, we would still use food that we already had stored in the house and supplement it with local fare as we went along.  I certainly didn't want all that stored food to go to waste.

The challenge has encouraged my wife and I to examine where our food really comes from and I don't mean the supermarket either.  Some of the weird examples in our stockpile so far are; a can of corned beef from Brazil, canned tomatoes from Italy, canned whole potatoes from Belgium! Cheap food is not always local.  I have no idea why we import all of this food, when most countries could probably feed themselves if they wanted to.

So, to prove a point, I am going to give it my best shot to eat as local as we can for an entire year.  We may have some tough times, but I believe that with determination and a lot of research, we can manage to achieve this goal.

To that end, I am growing more food than I ever have, and instead of giving away surplus to friends and neighbours, we are delving into the garden every day to harvest produce to cook that night.  I feel like we can really make a difference to our health, and help promote local food production in our area by letting people know why we attempting to be locavores for a year.

If you would like to find out what sort of 100 mile radius you have a look at this map.  Just type in your address and the red circle will show you what sort of challenge you might have in trying the 100 mile diet.

Farmers markets are abound in my area, so there will be no problem picking up local fare.  I have 8 chickens who keep me well stocked in eggs and both my wife and I are good cooks, so we shouldn't have a problem whipping up a meal from all of this fresh produce. 

So far we have managed quite well, and last night I cooked up some leek, potato and ham soup all from local sources, and my wife Kim made a Peach crumble for desert from peaches grown in our little orchard.  Not only do we believe that we will save a bit of money over the year because we won't be buying expensive processed foods, we will also probably loose weight as well.  This is because the processes foods have ingredients that make it near on impossible to trace the origins of the food, are usually high in fat, and low in nutrients, so we are going to steer clear unless we can guarantee they are all from local sources.

I know it is a big challenge, but it is probably one of the most exciting ones I have taken up on my journey towards a sustainable lifestyle.  It is nearly like being self sufficient, but with help from others, if that makes sense.  It will lower our environmental footprint dramatically, and raise community awareness that it is possible to live locally without importing food.  I am also hoping that it will raise the profile of our local food producers and I will certainly let them know why I am seeking them out and will offer to promote them on my blog for free.

So, every Sunday I will be writing a post on my personal blog about how easy or hard it was to eat locally for that week, lessons learnt, and the percentage of food that we managed to source from our area for each meal.  Is this a face that looks worried (as he trims a tiny leek)?

I was wondering if any of you had taken up this challenge, and if so could you please share any tips via a comment.  If you have please let me know of any downfalls or easy wins, because any encouragement at this early stage would be most welcome to me and my family. 

It is going to be a great year!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Keeping Keen and Green

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Someone asked me the other day how I keep motivated about being green, or in other words, how and why do I keep striving towards a sustainable lifestyle.  I couldn't really answer them without going into why I started living like this in the first place and what the benefits of the lifestyle was.  I sounded like a walking advertisement for Mother Earth or Grass Roots magazines.  I don't think they were bored, just surprised that it took so long for me to finish the answer.  It is hard to list the reasons why I keep keen about sustainable living into a short conversation!

This got me thinking long and hard about how to describe it better to a wider audience.  Long time readers of this blog would know about my green epiphany and how that one day back in October 2006 changed my life forever.  When I think about it, I could have walked out of the cinema and not given the message in the movie a second thought, but I didn't.  But why?  Anyone who has been to a motivational speech would know that listening and being pumped up at the end of the talk is one thing, and taking the first step towards action is another entirely.  As soon as you walk through the auditorium door, you usually fail to act because reality is waiting for you on the other side of it, and most of the time you are rarely given the next piece of the puzzle. That missing piece of the puzzle is what usually stops people dead in their tracks because of the fear of change, or not knowing where to begin.

So, how did I take that next step?  Well, the very same day as my epiphany, I began to seek knowledge.  It was like a thirst that I could not quench.  That is, I felt compelled to find out what simple steps I could take to lower my carbon emissions and in turn, and without realising it, lowering my consumption of resources which I now know is what sustainable living is all about.  So I went headlong into a journey that will probably never end, with a burning fire in my belly, determined to change my behaviours and, again without realising it, influencing those around me by my green actions.  It could have been the guilt for sins past that I felt, but I think it was more.  It was the feeling of wanting to make a difference, no matter what the cost that drove me.

I found that it took continuous baby steps, or mini projects if you like, to stay focused on lowering my carbon/environmental footprint, and it is a method I still use to this day.  Once a project is complete, (I only do one at a time which must be a man thing) and I have learnt the basic skill, I maintain that now embedded behaviour and start looking for the next challenge or project.

All of the above doesn't mean that I am a perfectionist or have found the holy grail of "greenness".  Far from it.  After three and a bit years, I still have an office job, I still commute each day, and I know that I will not be about to grow enough food, generate enough electricity or harvest enough rainwater to be self sufficient.  Self sufficiency is difficult to do alone.  Just look back a few hundred years to see that even a small village had people with many skills living in it, who all helped each other out to survive.  Self sufficiency is more for your Survivalist types (there is nothing wrong with being a Survivalist).  I am convinced that a strong, well skilled and resilient local community is the key to surviving future events, like climate change and peak oil.  A community who can and do grow some or all of their own food will be able to trade amongst each other for a fair price or exchange of labour, and able to survive better than being in isolated out in the sticks.  They will also be able to trade surplus to other towns and communities and suburbs.  Look I know it sounds a bit medieval, but I am afraid that the reality is, that without cheap sources of energy, it will be difficult to maintain the suburban lifestyle that many of us lead, without major changes.  However, I digress and sorry for the rant.

Other things that keep me focused are events like this unwarranted personal attack, whereby people challenge my beliefs in a very nasty and anonymous way.  Narrow and shallow minded people, hell bent on growth at all costs, and not being able to see the bigger picture like you enlightened readers.  This makes me even more determined to prove that it is easy to lead a sustainable lifestyle and in the process, increasing my overall happiness, which is exactly what I have found to happen.

However, the ultimate motivator is the thought that the steps I take will hopefully ensure that we have a habitable planet for my four children, the oldest being 22 and the youngest being 10, and for unborn generations to follow.  As global emissions targets are debated at Copenhagen, it recently struck me that the two important years that keep getting discussed are 2020 and 2050.  In 2020 I will be 55, and in 2050, 85 years old (if I make it to that ripe old age).  If we don't act now to combat the impending climate chaos, I will most probably live to see the tipping points.  I know that my children will definitely see either further deterioration of climate stability, or with my motivation, help and guidance, be integral in being part of the solution for change and its ultimate success.  This is what motivates me on a daily basis.

So, with all of those ways to keep green, keen, and focused on the road ahead, I don't think that my journey will ever end any-time soon.  It's not like I am going to get bored or anything like that!  One thing I have learnt so far on my green travels is that you must take time to saviour the little things along the way.  What I mean by this is simple pleasures like eating your first home-grown tomato that actually taste like the tomatoes you remember when you where a child and to watch your own children enjoy them as you do.  The very first omelette made with eggs from your well cared for chickens.  The joy of a full rainwater tank after a long dry spell, and actually looking forward to energy and water bills because you know that they will be as low as the belly of a tiger snake!

I find that keeping my lifestyle green and keen is easy if you take time to plan every now and then, and by visualising your personal goals foremost in you mind.  Enjoy the journey, as you travel towards your destination, because it is all about the journey, and when you don't think you are doing enough, just pause and reflect upon the path travelled so far.  You will probably find that you have come a very, very long way in a relatively short period of time.  Give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate the journey once in a while.

Go ahead.  You deserve it!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Used or New?

written by: Chiot's Run

I've been trying to simplify my life in order to save money and to use fewer resources. This year I've really been focusing on buying used items. When you buy a used item you're keeping it out of a landfill and extending it's useful life. You're also cutting the amount of manufacturing and limiting the pollution that stems from making a new item. Most used items also come without packaging so you limit waste that would end up in the landfill or use resources to be recycled.

Canning Jars at Auction

Buying used however is not for the faint of heart. You really have to learn patience and the art of waiting. You learn to enjoy the search for that perfect item as much as having the item when you finally get it. It takes a little more time, particularly if you're trying to find these items locally.

Household Goods

So how do I go about finding used items? We look through our local paper for auctions and go to secondhand shops in the area. We have found however that our local Goodwill is not a great place to buy used items, they're overpriced (they sell single canning jars for several dollars each). After a few trips you'll discover which second-hand stores in your area are worth your time. Garage sales can also be a great resource, although I don't frequent them, I find auctions to be a better use of my time. Craig's list and Freecycle are both local sources and E-bay is an easy resource since it's searchable, although the item most likely won't be local and will require shipping. It is the perfect place to search if you need something specific or you need it right away. Salvage stores like ReStore, by Habitat for Humanity and other local places are great for finding used building supplies and furniture.

Saved Nails

There are some things that I buy new, however, like shoes, undergarments, socks and most of my clothes. I could buy used clothes, but I find the time needed to seek them out is often not worth my time. In these areas I focus on buying a few well-made pieces that will last for years. We also often buy new when it comes to small power tools and items that diminish in quality as they're used.

Do you buy used or new? What's your best resource for used items?

Monday, 19 October 2009

From our woods

by Francesca

picking chestnuts

Our little northern Italian village is set in the midst of dense forests, and we’ve always tried to teach our young family to be aware and mindful when they walk through the woods. Not only to appreciate how rich and complex an environment it is, and how important it is to respect it, but also how, if they’re patient and keep their eyes open, they can find any number of natural healthy and free treats.

This summer, in fact, we made a conscious effort to learn together the basics of foraging, trying to pick and gather everything from the woods that we knew was edible (and good!). Among other things, we harvested wild cherries and strawberries (here), elderberries for jam and other Mediterranean berries to eat fresh, including the unusual strawberry-tree berry - which, confusingly, isn’t at all the same thing as a strawberry (here). We’ve also picked and salted capers (here), and have harvested borage (here). And we’re constantly bringing home herbs to use in cooking, like rosemary, sage, oregano, calamint, and laurel (here and here).

chestnuts 2

These days, as the carpet of brown fall leaves grows thicker and thicker on the forest floor, we’ve started gathering another of nature’s gifts. In the silence of the woods, we can hear them fall from the trees and hit the ground with a thump. They’re chestnuts, dropping from the chestnut trees that grow here and there in the woodlands, a sound that means autumn (fall!) in our woods.

chestnut hut

Until about forty years ago, this sound was eagerly awaited hereabouts. Back then, when foods in this remote part of the world were all locally-grown and the farmland on the terraced hillsides was too poor to grow grains, chestnuts were one of the main source of carbohydrates. They were also an economic mainstay, and saved many rural communities from poverty. Our elderly neighbors still remember carefully combing through the autumn woods to gather the chestnuts, then bringing them to one of the stone drying huts that still dot hillsides. After drying the chestnuts over a wood fire, they’d grind some into flour to make pasta, lasagna, polenta, breads; others they'd just cook in milk, creating a simple meal. Chestnuts fed local families for months at a time.


Chestnuts are still a central part of the cuisine in many parts of northern Italy. They’ve also been rediscovered recently by nutritionists for their impressive dietary qualities: they’re primarily made up of complex carbohydrates, they’re gluten-free and high in fiber, and unlike all other nuts, they’re very low in fats (the most comprehensive table I found on chestnut nutrition is in Italian, here).


Nowadays, the most common use of chestnut flour in Italian cuisine is castagnaccio, a very simple sweet flat bread that is fragrant with Mediterranean flavours.


500 grams chestnut flour
pine nuts, a handful
raisins, a handful
olive oil

Mix the chestnut flour and a pinch of salt with enough water to create a liquid batter. Pour it into a pizza pan greased with olive oil. Sprinkle pine nuts, raisins, and a little rosemary over the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes in a hot oven until it forms a crust. (There are many regional variations on the castagnaccio recipe.)


Fresh chestnuts can also be roasted in a special skillet with holes in the bottom (see photo), over a high gas flame. Just make sure to make a cut across the shells before you roast your chestnuts, so the steam can escape, and to peel them while they're still hot, or the shells will stick to the nuts. When we come back from our walks in the chilly autumn woods, roasted chestnuts that we've just gathered make the perfect warming and healthy snack.

Do you find chestnuts in your part of the world? What else do you gather in your local forests and fields?

If you'd like to try chestnuts or chestnut flour, but live in an area where they are not available, here is a US producer (their website has also many, many recipes).