Monday, 8 February 2010

Plastic in my food :(

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

We all love our modern conveniences, and plastic is one of them. But our world is also getting more toxic for us, because of our modern way of life. Most of us have been affected by cancer, if not personally, probably a loved one, or dear friend has battled the disease. My brother died of cancer 20 years ago, this past December. His long illness, made me rethink my life.

At that time, I was trying to make a decision whether or not to expand my ornamental nursery work on our farm. I was having second thoughts because of the chemicals required - my brother's illness, and ensuing death put the nail in the coffin of my nursery business, literally.

I was free of uncertainty, and vowed to come clean in areas that I had a choice in. Food was a big one. I ramped up my garden production and preservation. What I didn't can, I froze in plastic freezer bags and containers. I had no idea that plastic wasn't ideal for food storage. It is handy, convenient and fairly inexpensive, if you don't count the replacement cost and throw away aspect of it.

Several years ago, I had another wake-up call. A uterine fibroid run amok. I lost a lot of blood, had to be hospitalized for a blood transfusion and day surgery to remove the fibroid. I was lucky, I still have all my plumbing. My doctor quizzed me about my diet and how much plastic I used, and how I cooked. I scored points for no microwave, but failed miserably on food in stored in plastic. She went on to explain she understood the convenience of plastic, but that xenoestrogens (chemicals that act as estrogen mimickers) are thought to be the main culprit in the formation of fibroids and other types of reproductive organ maladies in both sexes. Xenoestrogens are a by-product of the chemical industry. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, plastic, and common household products are all contributors. We are bombarded daily. Even canning lids have BPA in them to protect the metal from leaching.

I understand the convenience of seal-a-meals and freezer bags and containers. But I also think this is place where I can personally make some changes for my health, and my daughters reproductive health. The answer was right under my nose really, in my old canning books, and on every box of canning jars. FOR CANNING AND FREEZING. I just needed to look. I already froze my butter in pint jars. Plastics are a huge marketing coup for the oil industry. And I was raised in the 60's when convenience for the homemaker was the ultimate. I have to admit, plastic is very useful. Change is hard. But, with so many factors in our lives out of control these days, this is one thing I can control.

As with any changeover, it takes time. Foods with fat cause the most leaching because of the interaction of fatty foods with the plastic, so that would be a good place to start. The rest will fall into place.

All but four of the jars in the photo above came from the freezer, it is still a work in progress.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Survival Seeds

survival seeds
A couple of weeks ago, Hometown Seeds offered to send me a "Survival Seeds" kit, which contains 16 varieties of open-pollinated vegetables. My initial reaction to this was - "Do I really need more seeds this year?" But as I read and thought more about it, I began to realize that unlike the other seeds I've purchased and intend to grow this year, this kit serves a different purpose.

I am a 32 year old husband and father - old enough to remember the Cold War tensions between Russia and the United States prior to 1990, and young enough (or should I say jaded enough) to be ultra-cynical about what happens on Capital Hill today. I wouldn't consider myself to be a food activist (well, maybe a passive one), but I will admit that all of the headlines of this past decade surrounding terminator genes, genetic engineering, decreasing bio-diversity and patenting life have made me a bit nervous about the security of our world's food supply. It seems that whenever human beings choose to limit the bio-diversity of our crops and animals, the more we put ourselves and our food at risk. It happened to the Irish and their potatoes; will it also happen to Monsanto's Round Up Ready soy beans?

When my survival kit arrived, the first thing I noticed was how tightly sealed and heavy it was- like my own personal ark of veggies. It's somewhat comforting to know that these seeds will last for up to 10 years if kept frozen. Now all that's left to do is to make sure that I preserve enough of this year's harvest to stock our large pantry in case of a real emergency and learn the art of seed saving.

So what do you think? Are we really at risk for a sudden and widespread food catastrophe? Or is all of this talk about "Franken-foods" blown way out of proportion? I can't help but to think about all of those people who built nuclear bomb shelters underneath their homes during the Cold War. Were these people crazy, or just plain realistic?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Growing Community

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Alternatives to a globalised food system include diverse methods of growing food suitable for those without a garden at home, or in addition to the home garden. Three which stand out as successful models in producing and distributing food are school gardens, community gardens and community-supported agriculture.

School gardens are increasing in popularity. The growing and preparation of food is easily integrated into the curriculum. Learning covered by the process of developing and maintaining a garden can include mathematics, biology, chemistry, nutrition, environmental studies, literacy, art and social sciences. But more importantly, a connection with food, nature and authentic learning offers a dimension to school education that can really make a difference to many children and their futures. Being in the garden is for all students.

There are a great number of resources for anyone wishing to start a school garden in their area including websites, books, funding, sponsorship and lots of how-to information. School gardens are a great opportunity to collaborate with other parents and members of the community, local groups and businesses.

As a home educating family, our gardens have been an important learning opportunity for much of our children’s education. I write this column because I value gardening so much, and believe passionately that all children should be involved in the process of producing some of their own food.

Community gardens are a great way to grow safe, affordable food whilst also promoting vibrant, healthy and active communities. A community garden can be somewhere to learn about gardening and share local and traditional knowledge. It can be a green oasis of sustainability in the city – a place where art, music, local events, education and celebration occur naturally.

Community gardens are recognised as increasing the physical fitness and health (mental and physical) of participants. They are most often open to local residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. A local shared garden is an ideal place for the whole family to spend some time at on a regular basis – an alternative to the malls, the littered playground, fast food restaurants and the busy streets. Going to the garden is a family outing that saves money!

To become involved in a local community garden, search for one of the many support associations on the internet, or contact your local council authority or community centre. To be in touch with the earth and others interested in food security, green alternatives and good fresh food will feed your mind, body and spirit.

Community-supported agriculture or community-shared agriculture (CSA) differs from the first two methods outlined because the consumer does not participate actively in the production of food. This relatively new method of re-connecting society with food is increasing in popularity as people become aware of the economic and environmental downfalls of mass-farmed food being transported long distances to be sold in large supermarkets. With a CSA the produce is local, in-season, and usually collected by the participants. It is often paid for in advance, so that the consumer in effect has directly financed the food they’re eating. The most common model is a box scheme, where one subscribes for a certain number of months, and what is available each week arrives to a central pick-up point for collection by members. The box might include fruit, vegetables, herbs, flowers, nuts, meat, milk, eggs and more. Prices can vary, depending on the contents and amount, if it’s certified organic, and whether there are added costs such as refrigeration involved.

CSAs promote small farming enterprises, less waste and fewer overheads whilst providing higher quality, better tasting produce. With such a win-win model, it is no wonder that CSAs are gaining popularity. Many schemes have a lengthy waiting list, but new ones are emerging frequently.

Any of these methods for accessing fresh local food can be utilised in addition to a small home garden, and are ideal if your home is not suitable for gardening. Growing, buying and eating locally is a huge step toward more sustainable living. We can easily reconnect ourselves and our families with the food we eat through school and community gardens or CSAs, as well as initiatives such as co-ops, herd-share and farmer’s markets. I know how I prefer to spend my weekly shopping time and food budget, and I hope I don’t need to go back to the large chain supermarkets again.

School Garden Wizard
Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids by Stephanie Alexander (2006)
Outdoor Classrooms: A Handbook for School Gardens by Carolyn Nuttall and Janet Millington (2008)
Seed to Seed - Food Gardens in Schools by Jude Fanton and Jo Immig (2007)
Community Garden (wiki)
Community Gardens by Penny Woodward and Pam Vardy
Community Supported Agriculture (wiki)
Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Henderson with Van En

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Making A 5 Year Plan

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I began making 5 year plans in my late teen years and have continued ever since. I've learned, through trial and error, not to make my plans and goals too specific and to focus on being on a journey. Five year plans work well for me because they fight my tendency to want everything here and now! They also allow me to work backwards with my planning, which helps keep me focused on baby steps and allows me to see how each year I'm working towards my long-term goals and dreams. One example is my desire for livestock within the next 5 years, so my currently yearly plan includes the goals of learning about raising goats and sheep and volunteering on a farm. These steps are easy for me to accomplish in this season of life and are great training for what may be to come.

My current five year plan includes the following topics:

Family Plans
House Plans
Emergency Preparedness
Animal/Pet/Livestock Plans
Green Plans
In The Garden
Other New Skills
Volunteering and Giving Back
In The Kitchen

Under each heading I have steps for Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5. I monitor and change these steps as needed and as my goals change. My 5 year plan is fluid and reflects the changes in myself, my family and society. I keep my plans in a scrapbook, where I can add recipes, articles on keeping livestock, decorating ideas and financial tips. I also print of articles and jot down ideas, notes and thoughts.
Having a 5 year plan has had made me see firsthand that my dreams are not unrealistic, that I have passions, convictions and values which I will be able to live up to, with a bit of time and baby steps which move me in the right direction. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even own my own cow ;)

Do you have a 5 year plan or something similar? Has it helped you achieve your dreams and desires?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Nine Meals From Anarchy?

zombie-gallery_28_blog by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Back in the year 2000, a fuel protest bought London, the capital of the United Kingdom, to within three days of running out of food.  The then Blair government commissioned Lord Cameron of the Countryside Agency to investigate, who came back with a chilling report: "The nation is just nine meals from anarchy."

Lets just think about that for a few minutes.  Only 9 meals between order and chaos.  What did Lord Cameron mean by this?  Will there be zombies knocking on our doors? 

I am only exaggerating to make a point, but a pertinent one at that.   Once again friends, it is all about the supply and demand of crude oil and that simple fact that 'Oil = Food'.   Let me explain.  The majority of our food distribution is what is known as "just in time" distribution.  Your local supermarket only has small stock out the back, and most of the stock on the shelves.  It is transported from large distribution centres by trucks to each supermarket, each day.  These transportation systems use oil which is a finite resource.
So when the transportation flow stops, or in other words, the oil supply gets disrupted, so does our food security.  A recent example were last years floods in Far North Queensland.  Within a few days all of the supermarket shelves were bare, partly because of stockpiling by townsfolk, but mainly because there were no food deliveries via rail or truck for over a week.. Other natural disasters have posed a similar threat.  What if there were no food deliveries for two, three or even four weeks in your area? 

Sounds a bit apocalyptic doesn't it?  I am not trying to scare people, just attempting to make people think about where their next meal or few will come from.  

So what can we do about this?  Well, of course the scouts motto comes to mind, "Be prepared".  Here are a few tips that have kept us going in troubled times.  They are just suggestions and may not suit everyone but they are possible on a small suburban block;
Grow your own fruit & vegetables.  By growing your own, you poses the skills to be able to overcome food shortages.  If you can convince your neighbours to grow their own food, then you can swap excess produce.

Get a few chickens.  Chickens are easy to keep, with most councils allowing you to keep a few birds in your back yard.  If you have a large enough backyard, you will also be able to grow feed crops for the hens.  Not only are the eggs a great source of protein, but the manure is just gold for your fruit and vegetables.

Stockpile essentials.  We stockpile essentials, mainly because Kim and I dislike frequent shopping, and feel more secure having a cupboard full of food and personal needs.  Don't forget to practice good stock management, older stuff to the front and newer stuff to the back.  We have had to draw upon the stockpile once so far, when I was laid up for a month in August last year.  We still count our blessings to this day that we thought ahead.  The other good thing about stockpiling is that it gives you room to prepare a backup plan in the event of a prolonged food shortage.  We have about three months of supplies on hand, which would give us ample time to increase our vegetable production.  Don't forget about water either.  Water butts are a handy item to have, and rainwater harvesting will get you out of a pickle if the mains fail.

Preserve excess produce.  If you have more than you need and loath feeding it to the worm farm, learn how to preserve your own food.  I love eating plums in the winter that I have preserved in February.  You can even buy bulk fruit or vegetables from farmers markets and preserve those if you can't grow it yourself.

Menu plan your meals.  During a crisis you are going to have to plan your meals, because the last thing you need is wasted food.  This way you can feel secure in the knowledge that you have the ingredients that you require for the next few weeks.  

Share your skills with others.  As I mentioned above, share your food growing skills with others around you now!  Not only do you help your fellow man (or woman), make good friends, but you build resilience into the community around you.  What is the point of securing your own food supply, when the zombies are knocking at your door trying to get the neighbourhoods only food source?  Share your knowledge in the good times, and you will reap the rewards in the difficult times.  No zombies will visit your neighbourhood because everyone knows how to grow their own!

Read a few good books about all these subjects.  Who knows if the Internet will be available during the crisis you may face, or electricity for that matter.  A good book always beats any other source of information (besides experience) hands down when it comes to crunch time.  Learn now, but keep the information so that you can share with others if the need arises.
As I have said above, this post is not meant to shock you into a stupor of inaction, but just give you food for thought (pardon the pun), and give you some ideas how you can provide your own food security.  I hope I never have to use these skills that I have learned over the last few years, but it is best to be prepared.

To finish off the post, I give you two gems of wisdom:

"By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail."
-- Benjamin Franklin

"People only see what they are prepared to see."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson