Archive for May, 2013


How to Survive the Apocalypse: Growing Food in a Changing Climate

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Growing food in the hottest, driest corners of America is no longer confined to small regions of North America. What to do?

More than half of all counties in the United States are now on the USDA’s list of natural disaster areas, according to one recent Grist article, and that list is expected to expand this year. “As global warming unfolds, knowledge of dryland agriculture will become increasingly valuable,” writes Brie Mazurek.

Drawing on the knowledge and expertise of traditional and visionary desert farmers is exactly what author and local food pioneer Gary Paul Nabhan has done in his latest book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land. Nabhan has compiled stories of resilience and adaptation that urge readers to plan for uncertainty, acquire knowledge, and take action.

As environmentalist Bill McKibben mentions in the book’s foreword, drought, paired with rising global temperatures, is having devastating effects on the wellbeing of crops and livestock.

“We’ve raised the planet’s temperature a degree so far, but that’s just the start,” writes McKibben. “Unless we get off coal and gas and oil…the temperature will rise…past the point where agronomists think we can support the kind of civilizations we now enjoy.”

Even if we can’t escape climate change, we can do our best to adapt to it, argues Nabhan. Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty includes tips on how to:

• Build greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
• Protect fields from damaging winds, drought, and floods;
• Reduce heat stress on crops and livestock;
• Harvest water from uplands to use in rain gardens and terraces filled with perennial crops;
• Select fruits, nuts, succulents, and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to warmer, drier climates; and,
• Keep pollinators in pace and in place with arid-adapted crop plants.

If there was ever a moment for this book, now is it,” McKibben writes. “We’ve thought ourselves wise for several generations now, but in fact that wisdom has been a simplifying kind. Now we’re going to need exactly the kind of complex, place-based wisdom that Nabhan outlines here. We’re going to have to wise up, in a hurry. And the biggest part of that wisdom will involve realizing that we depend on others.”

The rain may indeed be dying, as a Sonoran Desert farmer once told Nabhan, but there is hope. If a piece of desert land can be healed and restored to a food-producing oasis, perhaps hope for a food-secure future can be restored as well.

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land is available now and on sale for 35% off. Read the Introduction below.What are you doing to adapt to a changing climate? Share your stories with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Introduction

How to Cook the Perfect, Tender, Grass Fed Steak

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Today is Memorial Day, one of America’s first “BBQ Holidays” of the year. It’s finally warm enough to grill outside in most of the country, and almost everyone has the day off to bask in the glory of the coming summer.

Treat your tastebuds to an ethical feast: grill up some grass fed steak this year! You’ll probably pay a little more for your t-bones, but you’ll be supporting small-scale farmers and those who use the most planet-friendly methods of raising livestock possible. In fact, if you support truly well-managed grass fed beef farmers, you don’t need to feel guilty at all. After all, haven’t you heard that cows can save the planet? It’s true…

But in the meantime, you probably need some pointers on how to treat your premium, pasture-raised porterhouse cuts or filet mignons. Grass fed beef is a different animal than your bargain-priced grocery store steak.

Here to help you cook it to perfection is farmer and cookbook author Shannon Hayes. Check out her books Long Way on a Little, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook for more amazing recipes.

By Shannon Hayes

Last month brought two splendid, nearly 30-month old steers through the cutting room for the fall harvest. Our freezers were filled with glorious, full-flavored, prime beef. And I mean prime. Incredibly, there are still folks who assume beef cannot marble without the aid of grain fattening. Balderdash, I say! The steaks coming out of the cutting room throughout the late fall have been deeply marbled and rich in flavor. Typically, early December in the Northeast has many customers leaving the steaks off their shopping lists in favor of the stew meat and roasts. But those who pause over our beef display just long enough to notice the marbling seize upon the rib eyes and porterhouses…Beef that approaches 30 months in age results in grassfed steak that is truly magnificent. The trick is to know how to handle it properly, whether you are cooking it indoors, or outside.

The simplest, most commonly heard distinction made between grassfed and factory-farmed meat is that grassfed is leaner. As we’ve just seen, that is not always the case. The real difference lies in the fact that, by virtue of a beef animal’s active and healthy life, there is true muscle integrity in the meat. This is wildly different from the feedlot animals, which get little or no exercise, resulting in more flaccid (and, hence less flavorful) cuts. This does not mean that grassfed steaks are less tender - on the contrary. Cooked more gently, grassfed meat is wonderfully tender. The healthy muscle texture does, however, mean that grassfed steaks will be more variable than grainfed meats. Taste and texture of steaks will vary based on breed, farming practices, pastures, and individual animal characteristics. Thus, the trick to cooking a delicious steak is to work with the variability and take advantage of that beautiful muscle quality.

We should be treating this meat as “tenderly” in the kitchen or on the grill as the farmers treated the animals in the fields. When cooking a grassfed steak, we want to achieve a delicious sear that creates a pleasant light crust on the exterior of the meat, then allow it to finish cooking at a much lower temperature; this allows the naturally-occurring sugars to caramelize on the surface, while protecting those muscle fibers from contracting too quickly. Tough grassfed steaks result from over-exposure to high heat, which causes the muscle fibers to contract tightly and become chewy and overly dry.

Keeping these principles in mind, below are two techniques for cooking a fantastic steak, using the same seasonings. The first technique, taken from The Farmer and the Grill, is for working outdoors with open flames, my preferred method, YEAR ROUND. If you plan on winter grilling, be sure to check out the list of tips for safe winter grilling that appear at the end of this article. (And now for a shameless plug: The Farmer and the Grill thoroughly covers how to cook all the different cuts of grassfed and pastured meats out on the grill; plus it thoroughly explores ecologically responsible grilling practices…which actually result in better tasting and healthier meats. And hey! It’s even printed on recycled paper…Anyone in need of an ecologically-sound, socially responsible and inexpensive holiday gift???)

The second technique is taken from my newest cookbook, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously. Much to my surprise, not every family on the North American continent has access to an outdoor grill – hard to believe! Thus, in an effort to include you in the thrill that comes from eating the best-tasting steak available, I’ve included an indoor steak recipe that guarantees your grassfed meat will remain tender and juicy. Enjoy!

THE BEST STEAK – OUTDOORS

Recipe adapted from Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…and for saving the planet, one bite at a time, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak, then allow the meat to come to room temperature while you prepare the grill.

Start the grill and warm it until it is hot. If you are using a gas grill, turn off all but one of the burners once it has come up to temperature. If you are using charcoal, be sure all the coals have been raked to one side. Use the hand test: the grate will be hot enough when you can hold your palm 3-4 inches above the metal for no more than three seconds.

Sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side directly over the flame, with the lid down. Then, move the steaks to the part of grill that is not lit. Set the lid in place and allow the steaks to cook, without flipping them, until they reach 120-135 degrees**, about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the steak. Remove the steaks to a platter and allow them to rest a few minutes before serving.

THE BEST STEAK – INDOORS

Recipe taken from Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter, tallow or rendered lamb fat
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak then allow the meat to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then heat a large cast iron skillet or other oven-proof skillet over a high flame. Once the skillet is so hot that you can see a little smoke rising off of it, add the butter or fat. Sear the steak for two minutes on each side. Turn off the flame, and insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the boneless edge of the steak – do not insert it into the top, as there is not enough thickness for the thermometer to take an accurate reading. Leaving the steak in the skillet, place it in the oven and allow it to finish cooking, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the cut, until the internal temperature reads 120-135 degrees.** Allow the meat to rest five minutes before carving and serving.

**Weren’t aware that grassfed meats have different internal doneness temps than grainfed? Get a handy magnetic grassfed temperature guide, the Don’t Overdo It Magnet, from grassfedcooking.com. They’re inexpensive, and you can feel good about them, because they are made by a small, locally owned factory in my community.

WINTER GRILLING TIPS

Yes, the indoor method described above is terrific. The meat is super-tender and juicy. But I prefer to season with a little smoke and flame. Thus, I’ve become one of those hard-core advocates of year-round grilling. If you are new to the idea, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Choose a safe place for grilling outdoors. The garage may not be your best bet, since it probably contains a few explosives, such as cans of gas, or lawn mowers, chainsaws or other vehicles that contain gasoline. I actually have a screened-in porch with a brick floor that shelters me for winter grilling. That’s a little more deluxe than most folks have – just try to choose a sheltered spot that isn’t too close to your house.
  2. Keep the path to your grill site, and the area around it, free of snow and ice. It would be deeply annoying to ruin a perfectly good dinner because of a last-minute trip to the emergency room.
  3. Dress wisely. I find that my charcoal throws up a lot more sparks in the winter…or perhaps I’ve just noticed them more, because I’ve made the stupid mistake on occasion of wearing drapey and flammable garments, such as winter scarves, out to the coals. Learn from my experience, and don’t make the same stupid mistake.
  4. Limit your grilling repertoire. It’s cold out. Barbecuing is a culinary tradition from the warm south. Unless you have some pretty sophisticated equipment, and are some kind of BBQ Macho-Man (you know who you are), smoking and barbecuing are best relegated to summertime pleasures. Stick to the steaks, burgers and chops. They minimize the trips out to the grill, keeping the cold out of your house and out of your bones.
  5. Allow extra heat-up and cook times. Extreme outdoor temperatures will affect the warm-up and cooking time of your grill. To accommodate for this, always grill with the lid down, and monitor the internal temperature of your meat with an instant-read meat thermometer. If you are considering buying a gas grill and you plan to use it through the winter, buy the highest BTU rating you can afford. The cold truly slows the heat-up process. Also, high BTUs often accompany higher quality grills, which will do a better job holding in the heat during the winter months. If you are on a budget (like me) or just prefer the flavor (like me), a simple little Weber charcoal kettle will work beautifully for outdoor winter grilling (no, I do not work for them).
    Winter grilling is much easier if you are working with the ecologically responsible charwood (available in many hardware or natural food stores) because it is much easier to light, and it quickly gets a lot hotter than composite briquettes. I find that, with the exception of the most extreme weather conditions, I can keep to my normal cook times by simply using a few more coals in the fire. The bonus is that charwood is better for the planet.

    For more tips on ecologically responsible grilling, check out my book,
    The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…And for saving the planet, one bite at a time. 

** Weren’t aware that grassfed meats have different internal doneness temps than grainfed? Get a handy magnetic grassfed temperature guide, the Don’t Overdo It Magnet, from grassfedcooking.com. They’re inexpensive, and you can feel good about them, because they are made by a small, locally owned factory in my community.

Shannon Hayes is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. She is the author of Radical Homemakers, Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet. Hayes works with her family producing grassfed and pastured meats on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

Seeds, Cheese, Slow Money, and More! Join us at the Mother Earth News Fair.

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

The Internet is great. We can share tips and tricks, and trade secrets without even leaving our homes. But there’s no replacement for good, old-fashioned camaraderie, and nobody knows that better than Mother Earth News.

If you’re a homesteader, small-farmer, or gardener, you need to check out the Mother Earth News Fair near you. From speakers and workshops to vendors and livestock breeders, the Mother Earth News Fairs draw thousands of sustainability-minded, curious, self-reliant folks.

And of course, a full slate of Chelsea Green authors will be among their ranks!

Join us at the first Mother Earth News Fair of the season in Puyallup, WA on June 1 & 2. Communications Director Shay Totten will be there to answer questions, and the following authors will be leading workshops and giving keynote speeches:

  • Gary Paul Nabhan: Keynote – Adapting Food Production to Climate Change
  • Woody Tasch: Keynote – Slow Money: Investing as if food, farms and fertility matter
  • Gianaclis Caldwell: Workshops – Living the Dream: Building a small cheese dairy; Quick and Simple Cheeses; Yogurt: Marvels and making
  • John Navazio
  • Joel Salatin: Keynote – Don’t be Scared, Be Strange; plus a Live Poultry Processing Demo

See you at the Fair!

Fabulous Ferments 35% Off

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

It’s time to join the growing movement and become a conscientious objector—if not outright draft resister—in the war on bacteria.

How? Simple. Ferment your own food.

As award-winning author Michael Pollan notes in his latest book Cooked—which includes a lengthy section on fermentation that prominently features Chelsea Green author Sandor Ellix Katz—fermented foods replenish the necessary bacteria our gut needs to keep us healthy; bacteria we’ve decimated with our modern cultural obsession with “cleanliness.” Along with eliminating this bacteria we need to survive and thrive, we’ve become disconnected with how to make our own, healthy, raw and cultured foods like bread, cheese, yogurt, or sauerkraut.

Eco-Food Sale: 35% off until June 5th

As judges from the James Beard Foundation Book Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals demonstrated this year—where Chelsea Green books on fermentation were honored—fermented foods, and how to make them, should be celebrated, not feared.

Whether your favorite ferment is sauerkraut, or cheese, or bread—we have a book that will help you deepen your understanding of the process, make the most of your garden harvest, and replenish the helpful bacteria in your body.

Happy fermenting from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing!

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

Art of Fermentation Cover
Retail: $39.95
Discount: $25.97

James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner

The International Association of Culinary Professionals Finalist

“For the first time in human history, it has become important to consciously replenish our microflora.” That’s Sandor Katz, who’s book The Art of Fermentation recently won a James Beard Foundation Book Award, being quoted in Michael Pollan’s latest book Cooked. Pollan touts Katz as the “Johnny Appleseed of Fermentation.”


Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its place in Western Civilization

Cheese and Culture Cover
Retail: $17.95
Discount: $11.67

The International Association of Culinary Professionals Finalist


Cheese and Culture is the book both cheese professionals and cheese geeks have been waiting for. [This book] is the most comprehensive cheese book ever written.”—Gordon Edgar, cheese buyer, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, San Francisco, and author of Cheesemonger
 

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers

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Retail: $40.00
Discount: $26.00

The International Association of Culinary Professionals Finalist

Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by acclaimed cheesemaker Gianaclis Caldwell is the book every cheesemaker will want as their bible to take them from their first, simple cheeses to ultimately creating their own, unique masterpieces.

Everyday Ferments

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The Sandor Katz Fermentation Set Cover

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The Preserving the Harvest Set Cover

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Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait: Four Simple Steps to Making the Best Sauerkraut on Earth

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Making your own delicious, healthy, probiotic sauerkraut or kimchi is easy!

Four easy steps are all you need to turn fresh garden veggies into a long-lasting, tangy, pungent condiment perfect to serve alongside sausage or eggs.

Sandor Ellix Katz is the gregarious, mutton-chopped master of all things fermented, and his easygoing attitude will inspire you to experiment in your own kitchen. So go ahead, make friends with the microbes in your life.

All it takes is Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait!

The following excerpt is from The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz. It has been adapted for the web.

The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.

Pickles are anything preserved by acidity. Most contemporary pickles are not fermented at all; instead they rely upon highly acidic vinegar (a product of fermentation), usually heated in order to sterilize vegetables, preserving them by destroying rather than cultivating microorganisms. “For pickles, fermentation was the primary means of preservation until the 1940s, when direct acidification and pasteurization of cucumber pickles was introduced,” writes Fred Breidt of the USDA.

My vegetable ferments are usually concoctions that do not fit any homogeneous traditional ideal of either German sauerkraut or Korean kimchi. But of course, everything I’ve learned about sauerkraut and kimchi reveal that neither of them constitutes a homogeneous tradition. They are highly varied, from regional specialties to family secrets. Nonetheless, certain techniques underlie both (and many other related) traditions, and my practice is a rather free-form application of these basic techniques rather than an attempt to reproduce any particular notion of authenticity.

In a nutshell, the steps I typically follow when I ferment vegetables are:

  1. Chop or grate vegetables.
  2. Lightly salt the chopped veggies (add more as necessary to taste), and pound or squeeze until moist; alternatively, soak the veggies in a brine solution for a few hours.
  3. Pack the vegetables into a jar or other vessel, tightly, so that they are forced below the liquid. Add water, if necessary.
  4. Wait, taste frequently, and enjoy!

Of course there is more information and nuance, but really, “Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait” is what most of it amounts to.

Image Credit: The Kitchn

The New Horse-Powered Farm Featured in The New York Times

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Across the nation, farmers are returning to an age-old technology that’s at the cutting edge of sustainable agriculture: horse-power.

Why? Simple. It’s better for the land, and better for the soul.

Author of The New Horse-Powered Farm Stephen Leslie, says it best in his The New York Times profile: “From an ecological standpoint, it’s just so clean, versus burning fossil fuel, and the compaction you get with a tractor,” he said. “But on that other level, there is just this unending learning curve that keeps you engaged. It’s a window into an instinctual world that is also entirely present. When I’m with the horses they are entirely present to me and to the task at hand. ‘Here we are, this is it, this is what we’re doing.’ And if I’m not grounded, things go off in the wrong direction.”

Last month, while Leslie was just getting started with spring chores, Anne Raver of The New York Times paid him a visit. Make sure to see Leslie and his Fjord’s in action in the NYT’s slideshow.

~~~~~~~~

Farm Equipment That Runs on Oats

By ANNE RAVER
Photo Credit: Stacey Cramp for The New York Times

HARTLAND, Vt. — It was a perfect day for plowing, a little overcast with a cool breeze. You could hear the sound of the birds, the chink-chink-chink of the harness.

Stephen Leslie, an artist and former Benedictine monk, guided two Norwegian Fjords down the field. The walking moldboard plow, a 300-pound curving steel blade, cut through the soil and sent it curling over itself in dark, crumbly waves. He stepped quickly, leaning back into the lines he kept looped around his shoulders so his hands were free to guide the plow.

“Stay haw, stay haw,” Mr. Leslie said in a low, calm voice, reminding the dun-colored horses to bear right as they neared the end of the field. Full grown at 14 hands high and 950 pounds, these powerful animals can be dangerous if they are startled. But compared with Clydesdales or Percherons, which are twice as big and can weigh as much as 2,500 pounds, they look like big, muscular ponies.

“Gee now, gee,” he said, urging them left as they stepped onto the unplowed grass at the edge of the field. “Easy now, easy.”

Farming with horses is a complicated dance in which timing is all. But Cassima, 19, and Tristan, 14, have been with Mr. Leslie for most of their lives (Fjords can live as long as three decades), so years of trust bind them. And theirs is a breed that wants to work.

“These guys are really easygoing compared to a thoroughbred, or even a Morgan horse,” he said. “But they’re lively, and they can be willful.”

Mr. Leslie, 52, and his wife, Kerry Gawalt, 38, use a tractor to haul manure and do other heavy jobs here on Cedar Mountain Farm. But when it comes to working the land, they use four Norwegian Fjords. Their farm is one of some 400,000 operations in North American that use draft horses in some capacity, estimates Lynn Miller, the editor of the Small Farmer’s Journal, in Sisters, Ore., who has farmed with horses for more than 40 years.

After World War II, when farmers traded in tens of millions of horses for tractors — “There was no place for the horses except the glue factory,” Mr. Miller said — the use of draft horses plummeted. By the 1970s, some of the breeds that had been the most popular were down to the thousands.

But “since then, the number of work horses and draft mules has steadily climbed,” said Mr. Miller, who has written more than a dozen books on the subject. “People are attracted to the way of working with animals, of being back in touch with nature, of regaining a kind of rhythmic elegance to our lives.”

Keep reading…

How to Turn Your Town into a Community: Join the Transition Challenge

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

During the month of May, join thousands of people across the country taking action to rise to the challenge of food, water, and energy independence through the Transition Challenge.

Organized by our friends at Transition US, the Transition Challenge is an opportunity to get your hands dirty, create something beautiful, and be counted as part of a bigger movement toward community resilience in the face of climate change and peak oil.

Last year Transition US registered over 4,000 actions in communities across the country, and halfway through May there are already 3,000 actions registered. Folks picked up their shovels and tools, helped construct rainwater harvesting systems, and installed solar panels. Abandoned lots were converted into green oases and school children pulled weeds and planted tomato starts. When these individual actions occur on a large scale, we energize and engage our communities and show the world what is possible.

Here are some of this year’s exciting actions:

  • A new home owner in High Point N. Caroline signed up 10 actions to do at their new home, with lots of fun ideas including converting lawn to grow food, setting up composting system and rainwater harvesting system, hanging a clothes line, mailing vegetable seeds to his/her 7 nieces and nephews, stopping using electricity for 24 hours once a month on a full moon night, etc.
  • Transition Town Charlotte in Vermont: last year they planted a potato garden on the Library lawn, had a public harvest, followed by a “Spud Fest”. The excess potatoes were given to the local food shelf. This year they are expanding the project to include pole beans and tomatoes as well as potatoes. They will again have a Spud Fest again, inviting all townspeople to share favorite recipes, and celebrating the harvest. Also they are removing some invasive ornamentals and replacing them with blueberries, other to-be-decided edibles, and some plants that attract wildlife.
  • Bellingham, WA: is accepting proposals for 3 grants up to $350 to support neighborhood Transition projects. Previous projects they’ve supported include: a community orchard on Lummi Island; a neighborhood garden and orchard specifically to support people in a supported living situation; food bank gardens. They have a work day in May to gather together to implement the projects selected.

To participate in this year’s challenge, you can create your own project or volunteer on a community project in one of four areas: food, water, energy, and community. Transition US has plenty of ideas and how-to guides listed on their website, but the sky is the limit. Whether your “something beautiful” takes the form of a community garden, a compost pile, or even a graywater system, it brings us one step closer to the world we want to live in.

Make sure to register your project to be counted, and feel free to send updates and photos to the TUS team to share and inspire others with your ideas!

Want to learn more about the global Transition Towns movement? Check out the founder’s books:

The Transition Handbook: We live in an oil-dependent world, arriving at this level of dependency in a very short space of time by treating petroleum as if it were in infinite supply. Most of us avoid thinking about what happens when oil runs out (or becomes prohibitively expensive), but The Transition Handbook shows how the inevitable and profound changes ahead can have a positive outcome. These changes can lead to the rebirth of local communities that will grow more of their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials. They can also encourage the development of local currencies to keep money in the local area.

The Transition Timeline: The Transition Timeline lightens the fear of our uncertain future, providing a map of what we are facing and the different pathways available to us. It describes four possible scenarios for the UK and world over the next twenty years, ranging from Denial, in which we reap the consequences of failing to acknowledge and respond to our environmental challenges, to the Transition Vision, in which we shift our cultural assumptions to fit our circumstances and move into a more fulfilling, lower energy world.

The Transition Companion: The global Transition Towns movement has come a long way since its unleashing in 2008. The Transition Companion picks up the story today, drawing on the experience of one of the most fascinating experiments under way in the world. It tells inspiring tales of communities working for a future where local economies are valued and nurtured; where lower energy use is seen as a benefit; and where enterprise, creativity, and the building of resilience have become cornerstones of a new economy.

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Weekend Project: How to Build Your Own Cheap, Simple Solar Oven

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Want to cook your food for free? By building a simple and affordable solar oven, you can use the power of the sun to slow-cook beans and stews and more.

Spring is the perfect time to build your oven, which will work best during the long days and intense sun of the summer. By my calendar we’re just a month and a week away from the solstice so you better get to work! This step-by-step guide will show you how to build the oven plus some tips on how to use it.

Happy solar cooking!

The following is an excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. It has been adapted for the Web. (All drawings are by Rebekah Hren, adapted with permission from Solar Cookers International.)

Simple Box Cooker

Renter friendly.

Project Time: Afternoon.

Cost: Inexpensive ($5–20).

Energy Saved: Low. Cooking’s relatively low energy requirements (4 percent of average energy budget) and solar cooking’s intermittent availability make dependence on at least one other cooking system all but certain.

Ease of Use: Moderate. Cooking can be done only on relatively sunny days and works better in summer than in winter.

Maintenance Level: Medium. How long this solar oven lasts depends on how well you take care of it. If it gets wet repeatedly, it will eventually turn to mush, so bring it inside when it’s not in use.

Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic.

Materials: Two large, shallow cardboard boxes—the inner box should be at least 18 x 22 inches, preferably just a little bit taller than your pots; the outer box should be a little larger in all dimensions so there is at least 1–2 inches of space between the two boxes when they are nested. You’ll also need corrugated cardboard at least 6 inches longer and wider than the outer box to make the lid; window glass (or Plexiglas) at least 20 x 24 inches and longer and wider than the inner box by 2 to 3 inches; a thin, black metal sheet, sized equal to or slightly smaller than the inner box; 50 feet of aluminum foil; dry plant fibers such as leaves or straw or at least 50 sheets of newspaper, quartered and crumbled; glue silicone caulk; and rigid wire (hanger wire, for instance).

Tools: Paintbrush, utility or other knife, pencil, straightedge.

Caution: Solar cookers, especially parabolic varieties like the CooKit (described next), have the potential to cause retinal damage from the concentrated solar rays. Be careful to avoid looking at the bright reflections from any of these solar cookers.

Construction Steps

Cut the window opening in the outer box. See figure 4.3. Turn the outer box upside down. On its bottom, center the inner box and draw a line around it. Cut out this piece to make a window opening the same size as the inner box. There should be a small rim on all four sides, 2–3 inches wide. On the lid piece— the extra piece of cardboard—center the outer box and trace around it (these are the fold lines). Extend these lines out to the edges of the lid piece. Center the inner box between the fold lines on the lid (that you just drew) and trace around this box as well. Cut only three sides of the inner line, two short sides and one long one. Fold up the resulting flap for the reflector, creating a window frame opening the same size as the inner box.

Adjust the height of boxes, if needed. See figure 4.4 Set a cooking pot next to both boxes. The inner box needs to be just a little taller than your pot. The outer box needs to be just a little taller than the inner box. If the boxes are too tall:

On the inner box make a mark about 1 inch above the top of the pot and draw a fold line at this height straight around the four box walls. Score the fold lines with a blunt edge such as a spoon handle.

On the outer box make a mark about 2 inches above the top of the pot and draw a fold line at this height straight around the four box walls. Score the fold lines with a blunt edge such as a spoon handle.

Cut the corners of both boxes down to the fold lines. Fold the sides outward along the creases.

Trim the inner box flaps. When the walls of the inner box are folded down to the right height (or if you didn’t need any adjustments), trim the flaps to make them as narrow as the small rim around the window opening on the outer box (refer to the first step if necessary).

Join the boxes. See figure 4.5. Turn the outer box right side up, so the window opening and rim are down. Spread glue on the inside of the rim. Turn the inner box upside down and lower it into the outer box, onto the glue. Press the small flaps against the inside of the rim around the window opening to join the two boxes into one double-walled box, now open at the bottom (which should be facing up at this point).

Insulate and seal. Without disturbing the drying glue, carefully spot-glue aluminum foil on all four walls and the underside of the inner box, covering all surfaces between the two boxes. This layer of foil helps insulate the cooker. Lightly fill the gaps between the two boxes with crumpled newspaper, plant fiber, or other insulation. Add a few strips of cardboard and more crumpled newspaper or other insulation on the underside of the inner box (which should be facing up at this point). Close and glue the flaps of the outer box to seal the bottom of the cooker.

Glue foil inside the box and lid. Turn the box right side up. Dilute glue 1:1 with water and, using a paintbrush, spread it thinly on the dull side of sheets of aluminum foil. Press the glued sheets of aluminum foil tightly and smoothly like wallpaper to the inside and rim of the box. A few wrinkles won’t hurt. Set the box aside to dry. Repeating the procedure, glue foil to the underside of the lid flap (the folded-up center part only).

Cut, fold, and glue the corners of the new lid. See figure 4.6. With the lid upside down (foil facing up), make one cut at each of the four lid corners, just to the first fold lines. (The cuts should be parallel to the long side of the lid.) Score all fold lines with a blunt edge and fold along the creases with a straightedge such as a board. Overlap and glue the corners, and secure them with clothespins or clamps until the glue is dry. To make quick clamps, cut cardboard-width slits in a small stack of cardboard pieces.

Insert the window. Spread silicone caulk along the underside edge of the window opening rim (outside the cut edge of the foiled reflector piece), then press the glass in firmly but carefully to make a good seal with the caulk. Let the box and lid dry overnight.

Make an adjustable prop. See figure 4.7. Make small holes in a corner of the lid reflector and the side of lid. Loop string through the holes. Make several notches in a stick and tie the stick at both ends to hold up the reflector and allow angle adjustments.

OR

Bend a sturdy wire at both ends and glue corrugated cardboard strips to the lid and reflector as shown. The wire can be inserted into any of the corrugations for angle adjustment.

Add the black tray and “cook” the cooker. Put the black metal sheet inside the box. (The pots will sit on this light-absorbing sheet.) Put on the lid, with the lid reflector propped open, and aim the cooker toward the sun for several hours to drive out the last bit of moisture and any paint or glue fumes.

Cooking Directions

Put food in dark pots. Use with dark, tight-fitting lids.

Choose a cooking location. Set the cooker on a dry, level surface in direct sunshine away from potential shadows. For best results, solar cooking requires continuous, direct sunshine throughout the cooking period.

Put the pots in the cooker and replace the lid. Put the pots in cooker. If you’re cooking multiple dishes, quicker-cooking items should be placed toward the front of the cooker (opposite the reflector) and slower-cooking items toward the back, where access to sunlight is best. Place the lid on cooker.

Orient the cooker. Orient the cooker according to the details below. Once oriented, the cooker doesn’t need to be moved again during three to four hours of cooking. For longer cooking, or for large quantities of food, reorienting the cooker every couple of hours speeds cooking a little. Food cooks fastest when the shadow created by the cooker is directly behind it.

To cook a noontime meal orient the cooker so that the front side (opposite the reflector) faces easterly, or approximately where the sun will be midmorning. In general, it is good to get the food in early and not worry about it until mealtime. For most dishes you should start cooking by 9 or 10 am.

To cook an evening meal orient the cooker so that the front side faces westerly, or approximately where the sun will be midafternoon. For most dishes, it’s best to start cooking by 1 or 2 pm.

For all-day cooking orient the cooker toward where sun will be at noon or early afternoon. The food will be ready and waiting for the evening meal.

Adjust the reflector. With the adjustable prop, angle the reflector so that maximum sunlight shines on the pots.

Leave the food to cook for several hours or until done. There is no need to stir the food while it is cooking.

Remove the pots. Using pot holders, remove the pots from the cooker. (CAUTION: Pots get very hot.) If you won’t be eating for a couple of hours, you may want to leave the pots in the cooker and close the lid. The insulative properties of the cooker will keep the food warm for a

while.

Enjoy!

Care and Storage

Store your cooker away from rain and animals, preferably indoors. Keep the glass clean.

Interview with a Food Systems Revolutionary: Tanya Fields

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

In New York City, one and a half million people (out of 9 million) are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to healthy, good quality affordable food.

While many of the city’s residents can afford to dine out in expensive restaurants or shop at upscale markets, there are neighbors, many of them children, who go to sleep hungry. Organizations have stepped up to deal with this crisis in food insecurity. One of those is BLK ProjeK in the South Bronx, headed by Tanya Fields.

Tanya is Executive Director of The BLK ProjeK. Inspired by her experiences as a single working mother in a marginalized community Executive Director Tanya Fields created and founded the BLK ProjeK in 2009. Tanya will be both an instructor and speaker at the University of Vermont Food Systems Summit in Burlington, Vermont, in June. UVM interviewed her about the successes and challenges of building a sustainable food system in the biggest city in the US.

Chelsea Green is a sponsor of the UVM Food Systems Summit, a month-long meeting of minds where you can take course, attend lectures, weigh in on roundtable discussions and participate in the Necessary (r)Evolution conference. Find out more about the summit here.

University of Vermont: How did you get involved in BLK ProjeK?

Tanya Fields: I was born and raised in Harlem, a community that I love, but that I could no longer live in due to gentrification. I moved to the South Bronx several years ago. It was an eye opener. I became much more aware of food insecurity, particularly among children. When my own child became ill, I realized that the quality, quantity and affordability of healthy food was a key determinant of health.

I also realized that social activism had a major role to play in the solution. We can complain about a perceived problem, but unless we do something, take action, the problem will persist. BLK ProjeK has two intertwined missions: to make healthy food accessible, and to develop leadership skills in local youth, particularly females.

UVM: In a city as big as New York is that an insurmountable task?

TF: No. If I thought that way, I would not be able to do my work. We are very small as an organization and it is difficult to get the funding that we need to sustain our work, but we are making changes everyday. Next month, we launch our Mobile Market, which will bring the needed healthy food to the people who need it most in this community.

UVM: There are several organizations, some big and some small, that do work similar to yours. How do you differ?

TF: Sadly, the organizations that have been around for many years and some newly formed organizations, have more than a million people to serve. That’s important work for all of us. We spend all of our money on food and delivery to the most in need. We don’t spend money on brochures and t-shirts because we just don’t have it to waste. We invest our money in solutions that increase access and create opportunities for people to feed themselves and their families.

UVM: What do you see as most important agenda in fixing the broken food system?

TF: Leadership. Particularly among the people who know these underserved communities first hand. I grew up seeing the dynamics in my neighborhood, in the schools, in social networks. I understand the issues because I lived them. But that is not enough. We need to develop leadership so that change is achieved though policy, though concrete solutions. A delivery of food to someone hungry is vital. Even more important is being an instrument of change, so that the system of food insecurity does not perpetuate itself.

The Most Revolutionary Agricultural System You’ve Never Heard Of: Permaculture Titles 35% Off

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