News posts from makennagoodman's Archive


The Environment’s Last Hour? Not If We Do Something Now

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Climate change. Species extinction. Disappearing ecosystems. The global environmental crisis is closing in on humanity from all directions, yet the crisis barely registers on this culture’s list of problems–perhaps many of us are too busy watching reality shows about octuplets or bachelors or underfed models. As we stand around, humanity is doomed to a collapse that may leave only a few nomads, and a toxic, barely survivable Earth in its wake.

Time to wake up, it would seem. Time to un-glue ourselves from the TV and take a step towards change. Time to check out Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis by Keith Farnish–your guide to understanding (and implementing) a healthier future.

ANNOUNCING THE RELEASE OF…..

TIME’S UP! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis

THE BOOK THAT COULD MAKE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUMANITY SURVIVING, OR HUMANITY ENDING.

There is a crisis of our making unfolding as we watch, and it could spell the end of humanity as we know it. While we enjoy the material benefits of technological “progress” and economic growth, we have singularly failed to understand the terrible price of such a situation, and have become utterly incapable of doing anything about it. The small ripples that we see at the edge of the pond–slowly eating the bank away that we are standing upon–have a source, and that source is Industrial Civilization.

Here is book that will completely change how we look at ourselves and the damage we are causing; and offers a way of putting humanity back on a sustainable track–the one that we veered off not so long ago, and now feel we can never return to. Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis is no mainstream environmental book, it is no less than a survival guide for humanity.

The author, Keith Farnish, does not accept that there is only one way to live, nor does he accept that we are fated to destroy the life-support system that we depend upon for our survival. In Time’s Up! he takes the reader on a journey through a myriad of different scales, examining in detail the way our behaviour is causing our own demise; he examines the essence of what it means to be human, asking (and answering) the vital question: “What matters to us?”; he helps us to understand the importance of reconnecting with the real world, and then explains in terrible detail how and why industrial society has kept us in a lethal, disconnected state. Finally, he offers a set of radical, multi-level solutions to bringing us back on track, and following the path that humanity has to follow if we are to survive as a species.

Time’s Up! is not a comfortable read, but never before has a problem been in such need of uncomfortable truths.

For more information on Time’s Up!, click here.

Harmful to Your Body: Foods to Avoid

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

What’s in your food?  Hidden, secondary, and tertiary ingredients can be really dangerous to your health. GM soy for example, says Jeffrey M. Smith, author of The GMO Trilogy and Seeds of Deception. Haven’t heard of it? You might want to read this.

From Mercola.com:

Chickens refusing to eat the maize they had been fed has led to the discovery that their feed had been genetically modified to include a well-known weed and insect killer.
Strilli Oppenheimer’s indigenous African chickens were refusing to eat the mealies in the chicken feed bought from a large supplier. Concerned that the birds may be ingesting genetically modified maize, she had the maize tested.The results confirmed Oppenheimer’s initial suspicion — the maize had been genetically engineered to produce proteins that are toxic to certain insects and weeds. About her chickens’ refusal to eat their maize, Oppenheimer said: “They’re smart.”

When an animal refuses to eat its regular feed it is oftentimes a  that something is wrong with the food. Animals, as opposed to humans, tend to have a “sixth sense” about what’s safe to eat, and what’s not.

A 2003 report on the British Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) web site states that both experimental and anecdotal evidence shows animals seek to avoid GM food, and do not thrive if given no other choice.

In this case, the chicken feed turned out to contain BT1, an insecticide, plus built-in Roundup that makes it weed resistant.

If GM Crops Harm Animals, What are They Doing to You?

GM corn found itself in the hot seat late last year, after a highly reputable study commissioned by the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety discovered that mice fed GM corn had significantly smaller and fewer offspring compared to the control group.

The lead author of the study stated there was a direct link between the GM diet and reduced fertility.

Likewise, Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, has documented 65 serious health risks from GM products of all kinds. Among them:

  • Offspring of rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and the inability to reproduce
  • Male mice fed GM soy had damaged sperm
  • The embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice had altered DNA functioning
  • Several US farmers reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs and cows fed on GM corn varieties

So the question is, what do these foods do to your body?

Read the entire article here.

Best Books for Preserving Food (and Growing It All Year Long)

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

In the world of gardening and farming, there are three steps from the seed to the plate: Planting. Harvesting. And…Preserving. So if you’re interested in extending seasons, then preserving your natural bounty is in your best interest.  If you have a larder, pantry, root cellar or chest freezer–I’m talking to you. Think jam, jelly, pickles, poached pears, chutney, frozen peas, blueberries, and homemade cheese. Make your garden last through the coldest of winters. And for the hard core gardeners out there, you can build coldframes and hoophouses to grow-your-own, even during a snowstorm!

Here are some books you may want on your shelf come preservation time (in no particular order):

1. Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante 

Translated into English, and with a new foreword by Deborah Madison, this book deliberately ignores freezing and high-temperature canning in favor of methods that are superior because they are more nutritious and energy efficient. As Eliot Coleman says, “Food preservation techniques can be divided into two categories: the modern scientific methods that remove the life from food, and the natural ‘poetic’ methods that maintain or enhance the life in food. The poetic techniques produce . . . foods that have been celebrated for centuries and are considered gourmet delights today.”

2. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz

The book covers vegetable ferments such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles; bean ferments including miso, tempeh, dosas, and idli; dairy ferments including yogurt, kefir, and basic cheesemaking (as well as vegan alternatives); sourdough bread-making; other grain fermentations from Cherokee, African, Japanese, and Russian traditions; extremely simple wine- and beer-making (as well as cider-, mead-, and champagne-making) techniques; and vinegar-making. With nearly 100 recipes, this is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging fermentation cookbook ever published.

3. How to Store Your Garden Produce: The Key to Self-Sufficiency by Piers Warren

Why is storing your garden produce the key to self-sufficiency? Because with less than an acre of garden you can grow enough produce to feed a family of four for a year. But without proper storage, most of it will go to waste since much of the produce ripens simultaneously in the summer. Learn simple and enjoyable techniques for storing your produce and embrace the wonderful world of self-sufficiency. In the A-Z list of produce, each entry includes recommended varieties, suggested methods of storage, and a number of recipes. Everything from how to make your own cider and pickled gherkins to how to string onions and dry your own apple rings. You will know where your food has come from, you will save money, there will be no packaging, and you’ll be eating tasty local food while feeling very good about it!

4. The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman

Coleman offers clear, concise details on greenhouse construction and maintenance, planting schedules, crop management, harvesting practices, and even marketing methods in this complete, meticulous, and illustrated guide. Readers have access to all the techniques that have proven to produce higher-quality crops on Coleman’s own farm. His painstaking research and experimentation with more than 30 different crops will be valuable to small farmers, homesteaders, and experienced home gardeners who seek to expand their production seasons. A passionate advocate for the revival of small-scale sustainable farming, Coleman provides a practical model for supplying fresh, locally grown produce during the winter season, even in climates where conventional wisdom says it “just can’t be done.”

5. The Polytunnel Handbook by Andy McKee and Mark Gatter

The Polytunnel Handbook looks at all aspects of polytunnel use, from planning your purchase to harvesting the rewards, and includes a step-by-step guide detailing how polytunnels are put up and maintained. There are chapters on developing healthy soil and preventing pests, and a jargon-free guide to the range of often mystifying accessories that many tunnel retailers offer. In addition, the do-it-yourself enthusiast will find a full set of instructions for building a polytunnel from scratch, and the authors explain how to keep your polytunnel productive in every season.

6. From Asparagus to Zucchini, Third Edition: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce by Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture

Organized by vegetable—fifty-three in all—each section includes nutritional, historical, and storage information, as well as cooking tips. With more than 420 original recipes created, tested, and enjoyed by chefs, CSA members, and farmers, you’ll never be without a delicious recipe to make the most of the season’s bounty. The best part is that lesser-known vegetables like burdock and kohlrabi have more recipes, not fewer! Also included are essays that address the larger picture of sustainable agriculture, how our food choices fit into our economy, environment, and community, and more information on home food preservation and how to help kids appreciate—and even eat—their vegetables. With this book, prepare to awaken and reaffirm your dedication to enjoying the unique flavors of local foods while nourishing the life of sustainable family farms.

7.  And a sneak preview for organic farmers out there…To be released end of September…The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall
Watch the 4-minute version:

Watch the 30-minute version:

 

Stick ‘Em Up: Where Has All Your Money Gone?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

On the radio this weekend, a woman who lost her small business in the recent financial crisis unraveled her tales of woe.  The radio blared this somber tune as I drove through towns with “Closed” signs hung during the busiest hours of the day.  Yep, it’s a western movie out there in the world of capitalism–with tumbleweeds blowing across roads and cowboy guns cocked. Okay, maybe not cowboy guns. I don’t really know how best to describe what’s going on, to tell you the truth.

But that’s why Les Leopold exists. His recent book, The Looting of America, makes sense of all the mess.

From leftinalabama.com:

The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity, by Les Leopold, has the best explanations I have found yet of Collaterized Debt Obligations, Credit default Swaps, and the other financial weapons of mass destruction that have detonated on our economy the last few years.

But Mr. Leopold goes beyond clearly-written descriptions and tells us the story of how these bizarre derivatives originated, thrived, and ultimately dominated the world’s financial system.  He also, I think, makes a case for how income inequality, which we’ve been discussing recently, led to the financial meltdown.The book opens with a specific episode from the 2007-2008 financial fiasco to illustrate how otherwise responsible elected officials and public trustees could get sucked in over their heads – “The Hooking of Whitefish Bay”.  Reading, I kept think of Jefferson County’s woes, for the stories are similar – promised high returns through mysterious investments that were supposedly AAA-dead-safe, followed by fee after fee after fee to the banks and Wall street.

Like the best storytellers, he ties the particular local disaster for Whitefish Bay to the larger financial catastrophe playing out across the nation, but he doesn’t just leave it as some kind of perfect storm that no one could have foreseen.  Oh no, this was a self-inflicted wound, and Mr. Leopold steps the reader through the economic and political history leading up to this mess.

Given all the policy and tax changes that our elected leaders elected to make, as well as the changes in the world’s economy, this was going to happen.  As a co-worker said, “The amazing thing is not that we shoot ourselves in the foot every so often, it’s how quickly we reload!!”

Read the entire article here.

Acquiring Land for a CSA

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

In the 1960s, there was the Back to the Land movement. And in the 2010s, it’s happening again. Make no mistake about it–farming is a tough life (in the best way). But like the 60s, young people these days are seeking it out.

Community Supported Agriculture is one reason–besides the growing movement towards farming–the chasm between urban and rural life is beginning to a close. These programs propose brilliant partnerships between farmers and nearby consumer as a way to cut out the middle man, and get food right from the plant to the plate.

Are you thinking of starting your own CSA? Here’s your guide.

The following is an excerpt from Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture

Acquiring Land

People who are thinking about starting a CSA often ask how many shares will support a farm and how much land will that require? The second part of the question is easier to answer than the first: Many farms are able to supply at least twenty shares per acre. The problem of scale is more complex, and closely linked to intensity of production. A bio-intensive grower with enough labor available can make a living on two acres. A more mechanized style of farming requires fewer helpers but more land. For a single farmer to make enough money to live on, the minimum number of shares is around one hundred if the CSA is the only market. The Gregsons of Island Meadow Farm in Washington State support themselves on the production of two acres of vegetables. They sell around thirty rather gourmet and modestly sized shares and have other markets as well. In interviewing farms for the chapter on “CSAs That Quit” (chapter 23), I found that a major reason they gave for quitting was inadequate income. Many of those CSAs were using a lot of hand labor and had thirty shares or fewer. At the other end of the spectrum, several much more mechanized farms with four hundred shares and up seem to be making a decent living and have funds to continue to capitalize their farms. But no one in his or her right mind would start a CSA with four hundred shares! That is a scale one has to grow into. Anything over two acres requires the use of mechanical equipment; the choice of the appropriate level of technology is a critical factor in determining whether you work yourself to death for a pittance or run an efficient and at least modestly profitable farm enterprise.

New farmers or consumer groups who want to start a CSA face the challenge of finding a suitable piece of land. Fortunately, several good books tell how to find land in the country, with detailed advice on what questions to ask and how to get through the legalities of purchase with minimum legal costs. Finding and Buying Your Dream Home in the Country by Les Scher, despite its silly title, is a helpful book. Vern Grubinger’s book, Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start Up to Markets, highly recommended for all new produce farmers, contains an excellent summary on finding land specifically for vegetables.

As Grubinger stresses, the quality of the soil is more important than the state of the buildings. Soil quality is crucial for organic production. While most soils can be improved by building up organic matter with compost and cover crops, contamination with heavy metals and persistent chemicals such as dioxin and PCBs cannot be eliminated. You should learn as much as you can about the history of the use of a piece of land, since testing is expensive. What was grown there? How was it produced? Was an apple orchard treated with arsenicals, DDT, or mercury? Is there a good source of water? How pure is the water supply? Do the neighbors use chemicals, air blast sprayers, or aerial spraying? Knowing specifically what to test for reduces the cost. Talking to neighboring farmers and examining the soil maps at the county extension office or the Natural Resources Conservation Service office will provide much of the information you need about the property you are considering and adjacent properties.

Residues of some pesticides are distressingly persistent. On August 15, 1996, the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection tested produce grown at Holcomb Farm. The CSA managers were shocked when the results showed residues of chlordane and DDE, a breakdown product of DDT. The pesticides were used on the tobacco grown at Holcomb Farm back in the early 1970s, before they were banned. While the levels of the residues were low—at or below the Environmental Protection Agency “action level”— the Hartford Food System, which oversees the Holcomb Farm, enlisted the advice and help of a wide range of experts and agencies, sharing the information collected with the CSA members. Dr. Ted Simon, a toxicologist from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), volunteered to conduct a formal risk assessment. He came to the conclusion that “the lifetime risk of cancer from consuming about eight ounces per day of Holcomb Farm vegetables throughout the twenty-week growing season for thirty years would be about one in a million.” According to John Cuddy, a bioremediation specialist in Wisconsin, the organic practices used on the farm seem to be the most effective means for stimulating the microbial activity that reduces chemical residues to harmless compounds. Similar residues were found on another organic farm in Connecticut even after thirty years of organic management.

Some aspects of land acquisition are particular to CSA farms. The location of the land is important to consider. If your plan is to have pickup at the farm, you will need to be within a half hour’s drive of the population you hope to serve. CSAs that deliver to pickup sites in town can be farther away: the Decaters truck their produce three and one-half hours from Live Power Community Farm to San Francisco. Several farmers have reported CSA members are harder to recruit in rural areas, though rural Iowans, even farm families, are joining new CSAs in that state. Urban and suburban dwellers are often more likely candidates. Land purchase within half an hour of almost any city may be prohibitively expensive. Leasing is a possible alternative. If you find land you can lease, the owners need to understand that a CSA is not the typical farming arrangement. Agricultural lease agreements are usually made for conventional production systems, where the farmer plows the ground, plants it, puts down herbicides, and then comes back a few months later for harvest. CSA production involves daily attention and potentially large groups of people coming to and going from the farm. A landowner who approached me about land he wanted to rent suddenly switched his tone from friendly to icy when he learned I had two hundred helpers. Courtesy suggests that if the landowner lives near the CSA site, a day of rest from the traffic involved should probably be made part of the agreement.

Developing land for organic management is a long-term investment. The environmental stewardship this offers may appeal to some landowners. If they have any thoughts of selling the land within a few years, however, even the lowest rent would not make your investment in soil building worthwhile, unless you are willing to take a chance, as Bill Brammer did by farming land slated for development in San Diego. The best arrangement is a clearly written lease for a term of three to five years, giving the CSA the option of first refusal and applying the rent toward the eventual purchase of the land. The lease should also include consideration of any improvements the CSA makes on the property. The E. F. Schumacher Society has published a booklet titled A New Lease on Farmland, which suggests how such improvements can be valued so that both parties get a fair deal.

Where leasing is the best or only alternative, CSAs should consider asking for a long-term rolling lease to ensure that they have adequate notice before being forced to move. Jennifer and John Bokaer- Smith have a five-year rolling lease with the EcoVillage at Ithaca, Inc. The section of the lease describing its term reads:

  1. This Lease shall be a five-year rolling Lease.
  2. The Term shall commence on May 1, 1997, and shall continue in full force and effect until May 1, 2002.
  3. The Lease shall be automatically renewed for one additional year, to a maximum of five years, on May 1 of each year succeeding the commencement of this Lease.
  4. Termination of the Lease shall be effected only by written notice given at least six months prior to the rolling renewal date. Such termination shall have no force and effect until five years from the date of notice.

The USDA Farmers’ Bulletin #2163, “Your Farm Lease Checklist,” contains all the clauses you should think about including. The Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension’s bulletin, Guidelines for Renting Farm Real Estate in the Northeastern United States, has work sheets for calculating the rental fee. There are probably similar guides to agricultural rentals in other parts of the country.

While going into debt is not a good idea, borrowing money from a bank may be the only way for some farms to obtain funds to purchase farmland. Many rural communities have banks that specialize in agricultural lending. Local farmers or the cooperative extension should be able to tell you which banks to approach. A careful business plan is a basic requirement for any commercial loan. A list of CSA members who are committed to buying your farm products should be proof that you have a market.

Resources are available to help you develop a business plan. In some states, the Extension has economic specialists who will help you. The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a national network of volunteer business executives and professionals, offers technical and managerial counseling to small businesses, such as farms. (For information on your local chapter, contact the national SCORE office at (800) 634-0245.) The SARE manual, Building a Sustainable Farm Business is a thorough guide to writing a business plan. In Massachusetts the New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI) offers excellent courses such as “Exploring the Small Farm Dream.” An advanced course in Holistic Resource Management could help you create a plan that is both convincing to a lender and truly useful for your farm’s decision-making process.

The Federal Farm Service Agency (FSA) serves as the lender of last resort, should commercial banks turn you down. The FSA is supposed to reserve some of its funds for beginning farmer loans. (A beginning farmer is someone with less than ten years’ experience.) In addition, a few states, such as Iowa and Nebraska, have “aggie bond” programs to encourage loans to new farmers. Dan Looker’s Farmers for the Future documents creative ways in which the truly determined can get into farming. Holding Ground: A Guide to Northeast Farmland Tenure and Stewardship by Andrea Woloschuk, Annette Higby, and Kathy Ruhf provides a wealth of information on alternatives to conventional ownership, with many case studies, decision trees for farmers and landowners, and sample long-term leases. Their introduction emphasizes the urgent need to “rethink farmland tenure.”

We need a new ethic that fosters farmland access, security, affordability and investment. . . . New approaches and tools serve to save agriculture and foster farming in our region in three ways. First, alternatives to buying land offer economic security to new and developing farmers. Eliminating substantial down-payment requirements and enormous debt can make a developing farm operation more economically viable. Second, providing alternative ways for farmers to acquire land can help preserve the working landscape and associated amenities. Third, secure tenure agreements can foster long-term stewardship of the natural resources of the farmed property.

How-To Survive an Emergency: Your Ticket to Safety

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Our hearts go out to those in Los Angeles. And for those who are concerned with your safety, all you need is a emergency plan, in case this happens again. Which we hope desperately it does not. But still, for your information:

From the Huffington Post:

Guest Post by Matthew Stein, P.E., Author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency

In light of the recent fires raging in California, it’s become clear: We need to prepare for emergencies.

72 HOUR GRAB AND RUN SURVIVAL KIT

These short-term emergency kits should be readily accessible and cover the basic daily needs of your family for a period of at least 3 days. Please note that 3 days is a minimal time period and that you should have at least a 2-week supply of food stored in or around your home. You may purchase ready-made, 72-hour kits from various survival supply outlets, or you can put together your own. Large families should probably divide up the stores between several easily grabbed small backpacks or plastic containers. One advantage to building your own kits is that you get to choose foods that you like. Remember that all foods have some kind of shelf life. Rotate stores, and use them or lose them. Bug-infested, rancid, or rotten food doesn’t do anyone any good. Consider placing all of the following items in your 72-hour survival kit:
• Portable radio, preferably one that works with dead or no batteries, such as by a hand crank or combination powered with solar cells (available through survival and surplus outlets).

• First aid kit with first aid and survival handbooks (this book covers both).

• Water, water purification chemicals, and /or purifying filter. Enough to provide 1 gallon per person per day (see Chapter 5). Retort (foil) pouches can handle freezing in a car trunk, but most other water containers can’t handle freezing without the potential for bursting. Three gallons per person is heavy (24 lb), so I strongly suggest that you include a water filter and water treatment chemicals. I suggest pump-type backcountry filters, such as those made by Katadyn or MSR, that are rated to filter out all bacteria and have a carbon core to remove toxic chemicals. Also, supplement your filter(s) with purifying iodine crystals (or other chemicals), such as a “Polar Pure” water purification kit, to kill all viruses. Pump filters that are rated for virus removal have tiny pore sizes and tend to clog quickly (a clogged filter is worthless). Sports bottle-type purifying water filters are simple, reliable, compact, and inexpensive, but clog easier and won’t purify nearly as many gallons of water as the pump-type filters.

• Waterproof and windproof matches in a waterproof container, and a utility-type butane (large, with extended tip) lighter.

• Wool or pile blankets (avoid cotton) because they are warm when wet, or a sleeping bag. Also, a heat-reflective, waterproof “space blanket.” Fiber-pile, mountaineering-quality sleeping bags are great, if you have the space (avoid down sleeping bags, because they are worthless if wet).

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• Flashlight with spare batteries, or a solar recharge flashlight. I highly recommend that you purchase a headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry things, or work on things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock resistant, and last far longer than traditional light bulbs, so your batteries last many times longer.

• Candles (useful for lighting fires with damp wood) and light sticks (emergency light when nothing else works or explosive gases are present).

[...]

Read the entire article here.

Warning: These Substances Are Good for the Environment

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

While, yes, this is a photograph of a woman cleaning in curlers, thereby reifying all stereotypes–there’s something a little bit different. Just a little bit. One step closer to something great. What is it, you ask? Does she have free health care? Does she get paid vacations?

No. But she does use nontoxic cleaning supplies, to sweep up grime. And that really is a step towards something greater.

The following is an excerpt from Chelsea Green Guide to Nontoxic Housecleaning by Amy Kolb Noyes:

Why use nontoxic cleaners? To answer that question, let’s first look at why most of us don’t. Let me be perfectly clear: There is a reason why your local supermarket has an entire aisle dedicated to household cleaners. Most people, myself included, view housecleaning as a dreaded but necessary chore. This is why making cleaning your home as quick, easy, and painless as possible is big business. After all, who wants to spend all day scrubbing bathtub mildew or making the toaster shine? A cleaner that allows us to spray, wipe, and move on to other things is highly valued in our society.

But think of the price we, our children, our pets, and our planet are paying for that level of convenience. Toxic cleaners pollute our water table. They can kill wildlife when not disposed of properly. Some even pose health risks to people and pets living in your own home, especially those who do the most cleaning and breathe in the most fumes. That price is too high. Perhaps the question should be: Why not use nontoxic cleaners? Convenience is no longer a good enough answer.

Toxic is a relative term, and common sense should be applied to the use of all cleaning products described in this guide. If something is toxic, that means it is poisonous. With a few exceptions, such as some applications of washing soda, the ingredients recommended in this guide are safe to touch with your bare skin. Caution should also be exercised when using concentrated ingredients such as essential oils, some of which can be caustic if undiluted. Most ingredients used in the guide are, in fact, edible. That said, none of the recipes are intended for ingestion. The term nontoxic is used in this guide to indicate that these recipes will not emit poisonous fumes in your home, and they will break down into harmless, organic substances rather than something that will poison the natural world.

After reading this guide and trying some of its techniques and recipes I hope you’ll discover, as I have, that natural homemade cleaners are inexpensive, fun to make, and satisfying to use. Many of these cleaners can be made in a large batch (one spray bottle full) and kept under the sink for future use, just like their commercial counterparts.

There is sometimes a tradeoff for giving up the toxic chemicals that make up so many commercial cleaners. In some cases, but by no means every case, your homemade cleaner might require a little extra effort to do the job. That effort might come in the form of time, heat, or muscle power. For example, it may take an hour of soaking in vinegar to remove a hard-water ring from around your bathroom drain. It may take a 200°F (93°C) oven to help clean the baked-on drips from the oven floor. And it might take a little extra elbow grease to make your good silver shine using just toothpaste—but you’ll never have second thoughts about whether it’s safe to put that shiny fork in your mouth!

While some dismiss homemade cleaning products as time consuming, I think you’ll discover much of that extra time involves letting something soak a bit and coming back to it later. If you are a multitasker like me, that shouldn’t be a problem. Like many changes, once you get used to the new routine, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Other books on the topic of nontoxic and environmentally safe housekeeping spend many pages convincing the reader that toxic cleaners are bad for the home and the environment. They list harmful ingredients found in commercial products and all the reasons why they should not be used. While this is certainly enlightening, I did not feel it necessary to repeat that information here. (I have included some of the more informative books on this subject in the resources list at the back of the book.) I am working on the premise that anyone reading this guide has already chosen to clean green, and need not be convinced. Instead, I will focus on the recommended ingredients, and how and why they work.

One of the reasons I started experimenting with homemade cleaners was witnessing the dramatic effect some commercial cleaners had on my mother. She had a severe reaction to ammonia-based cleaners and had to be extremely careful about what products she used at home. Even shopping in a store that mopped the floor with ammonia would cause her to become dizzy and disoriented.

Once I started making and using natural cleaners, I immediately noticed the absence of my own reactions to commercial cleaning products: no more stinging eyes, itchy skin, or runny nose when cleaning. I also noticed the effect on my wallet. Natural cleaning ingredients, even when pricey essential oils are used, are far less expensive than commercial cleaners. And by reusing spray bottles and other containers, I could feel good about saving money and reducing waste.

Green Mountain Coffee: Selling Activism?

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Richard Seireeni, author of The Gort Cloud:The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands  has his finger on the pulse of the green business movement. You know the ones I’m talking about: those mega brands that you see everywhere that also happen to adhere to sustainable values, human and animal rights, and a larger social mission.  But in this world of profit/loss, waste, excess consumerism and greed…How do they do it?

From TriplePundit.com:

Finding a corporate voice in a social mission.

The company’s founder and chairman, Bob Stiller, discovered Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, then a Waterbury coffeehouse, on a trip to Vermont in 1980. Impressed by the coffee’s great taste, he purchased the establishment a year later and spent the next twenty-six years growing the coffeehouse into an international coffee supplier. In May 2007, he stepped out of his role as CEO, but unlike Ben Greenfield and Jerry Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, he did not sell to a conglomerate. Under present CEO Larry Blanford, the company continues to use social action as a platform from which to market its product.

GMCR donates 5 percent of pre-tax earnings toward its good works. “We are motivated to achieve success because the more profitable we are, the more good we can do in the world,” the company’s Web site states.

“The first part of our mission is to create an exceptional coffee experience from tree to cup, making sure that all of the stakeholders, from growers to consumers, benefit from that,” says Whalen. “The second part of the mission is about changing the way the world understands business. That’s something we take seriously. We’re trying to communicate to the consumer that these issues are part of who we are, and that as a consumer you have the power to do something about them.”

Coffee production presents unusually fertile ground in terms of opportunities to do good. First, coffee is the world’s second most heavily traded commodity, trailing only oil. As the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Web site states, “With 25 million coffee farmers in the world and an estimated 100 million people working in the coffee industry in total, we have a remarkable opportunity to positively touch the lives of so many people through our work.”

The site also talks about the “Coffee Crisis” of 2002, when a collapse in coffee prices “drew attention to the ongoing plight of coffee farmers.” According to the site, “The Coffee Crisis threatened entire cultures and communities as well as the stability of long-term supplies of high quality, specialty coffees.” Things have grown better since ‘02, but farming conditions remain poor and much technical assistance is still needed.

The Web site, which doesn’t spare any detail when it comes to reporting on the company’s socially responsible activities, goes on to say, “Millions of coffee-farming families continue to lack basic necessities such as healthcare, education, and food, forcing them to either reduce their investments in environmentally sound practices, abandon their land, gather more debt or switch to illegal agricultural crops.”

Green Mountain Coffee makes a case that the Coffee Crisis mirrors the global human rights and environmental crises and cites the following statistics pulled from a variety of sources: “Every 14 seconds, 5 children younger than 5 years of age die of hunger and other preventable causes . . . Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day . . . Nearly 852 million people worldwide are undernourished . . . About 1.2 billion people worldwide—400 million of them children—do not have access to clean water.”

Many of these points are touched on at the company’s visitor center, housed in Waterbury’s Amtrak train depot, just adjacent to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ headquarters. A multimedia presentation about the company’s connection with indigenous coffee producers around the world is projected on the ceiling as well as on seven screens placed around the room. It is a powerful piece that takes the viewer around the coffee-growing world to such places as the Huatusco Cooperative in Mexico, the Koakaka Cooperative in Africa, and the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association in Indonesia.

The company’s consumer education initiatives also involve a great deal of instruction on the nature of coffee production. Extensive Web site sections are devoted to the history of coffee as well as the company’s manufacturing processes. The unique nature of Green Mountain Coffee’s methods is emphasized, including a description of Appropriate Roast—the trademarked name of the company’s roasting technique.

[...]

Read the entire article here.

Hurray! Hurrah! A New Kind of Pickle!

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Your pregnant girlfriend loves them. Your mother loves them. Your friends and your house guests and your children love them. They store well, they last long, and they’re perfect in potato salad.  Pickles–the magical fermented sour (or sweet) treat.

But have you ever made a pickle a la Sandor Katz? Because, ehem, he’s sort of the fermentation master of the universe.  His book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, is defining the movement of “underground” foods, and has crocktastic recipes. And this is one of them:

Japanese Nuka Bran Pickles

Nuka pickles are a traditional Japanese ferment, where vegetables are packed in a crock filled with absorbent rice bran mixed with salt, water, seaweed, ginger, miso, and sometimes beer or wine. In this rich medium, whole vegetables can be pickled in just days, or continue to ferment for long periods. I usually pickle vegetables whole and then slice them up. Sharp sour flavors quickly permeate the vegetables. These pickles receive frequent compliments.

I’ve had an easier time finding wheat bran than rice bran. Bran is the fibrous outer layer of grains, what the white processed versions seek to eliminate. Fortunately, nuka pickling works great with wheat bran, too. The bran pickling medium takes a few days to get going. But once you start a nuka crock, you can keep adding and harvesting vegetables indefinitely.

TIMEFRAME: Days, then ongoing

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:
Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
1-gallon (4-liter) jug filled with water, or other
weight
Cloth cover

INGREDIENTS (for a 2-gallon/8-liter crock):
2 pounds/1 kilogram wheat or rice bran
3 4-inch/10-centimeter strips kelp or other seaweed
3⁄8 cup/90 milliliters sea salt
1⁄2 cup/125 milliliters miso
1 cup/250 milliliters beer or saké
1-inch/2.5-centimeter piece of gingerroot, cut into a few chunky pieces
2 to 3 turnips, carrots, radishes, peas or beans, cucumbers, or other seasonal vegetables

PROCESS:
1. Dry-roast the bran in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Use a low flame and stir frequently to avoid burning it. The
roasting brings out the flavor of the bran, but it is not essential to the process. Roast until the bran feels hot and you can smell a pleasant toasted aroma.

2. Pour 1 cup (250 milliliters) boiling water over the seaweed and allow it to hydrate for about 1/2 hour.

3. Mix brine: Dissolve salt in 5 cups (1.25 liters) water. Stir well to completely dissolve.

4. Place about 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the brine in a cup or bowl and mix it with the miso. Smooth any chunks of thick miso into a paste. Once well blended, add the miso paste to the larger quantity of brine and stir well. Add beer or saké to the brine.

5. Strain the seaweed-soaking water into the brine.

6. Place the toasted bran in the crock. Add the seaweed and the ginger. Add the brine and mix well, making sure the liquid
is evenly distributed, without pockets of dry bran.

7. Bury whole vegetables in the briny bran so they are not touching one another.

8. Cover and weight the bran. If, by the next day, the brine does not rise above the level of the cover over the bran, add a bit
more brine, with about 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of salt per cup (250 milliliters) of water. If the brine rises 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) or more above the cover, remove some liquid and discard, or use less weight so more liquid is held by the bran.

9. For the first few days, remove the vegetables each day and add fresh ones. The bran and brine medium is just developing, and fresh vegetables help it establish a Lactobacillus culture. Mix the bran well with each change of vegetables. The vegetables you remove at this early stage may taste good or not. Some recipes say to discard them, but I’ve enjoyed them. Taste them and see. Keep replacing the vegetables daily until they taste good and sour. Then you can start leaving them for longer periods. Takuwan pickles are daikon radishes fermented in nuka for as long as three years.
10. Remove vegetables by reaching into the crock with your hands. Use your fingers to brush as much bran as possible off
the vegetables back into the crock. Rinse the vegetables for a moment, or soak them if you find the pickles too salty. Then slice and serve. The vegetables will contain hints of all the flavors in the crock: seaweed, ginger, miso, and beer or saké, subtle enough that people will wonder about that Japanese flavor.

11. Your nuka bran fermenting medium can be used in perpetuity. If it gets too liquid as it absorbs water from fresh vegetables, press a cup or bowl into the bran to drain off some of the liquid. If the volume of bran seems to be reducing too far, add some more toasted bran. Salt migrates out with the vegetables, and needs to be replenished to maintain a pickle-friendly environment. Add more salt, just a little at a time, each time you add vegetables. Enjoy the ginger and seaweed as pickles. Add more ginger, seaweed, miso, beer, and saké, occasionally and in small amounts. If you go away, store the crock in a cool place, such as a cellar or a refrigerator.

Eliot Coleman on The Problem With Local Food

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

There’s a conference in Maine aimed at tackling the economics of local food. It’s more expensive than the cheap eats trucked in from Califronia, for one thing. But according to Mainer Eliot Coleman, farmer and author of The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook, local food is more expensive because it’s better. Which means spending more money on it now will save you money down the road.

From CommonDreams.org:

Only rich people can afford to eat locally grown, organic food. Have you heard that one before? I have, and it’s sure to come up during the “Can Maine Feed Itself?” keynote discussion taking place at next month’s Maine Fare festival in the midcoast.

The panel brings together a number of movers and shakers from Maine’s food scene for a conversation centered on how the state can become more self-reliant when stocking our grocery stores and filling our dinner plates.

According to well-known organic Maine farmer and author Eliot Coleman, who farms year-round in unheated greenhouses and will participate in the panel, the No. 1 barrier preventing more Mainers from eating food grown and raised locally is the competition from cheap eats trucked in from California.

A whole book could be written (and has been) about the reasons factory farms and agribusinesses can produce food that costs so little. However, the simple answer, as Coleman pointed out, includes physical scale, illegal immigrant laborers, polluting farm practices and government subsidies.

At the same time, the idea that only the well-off can eat fresh, locally grown eats ignores the obvious and inexpensive solution of growing your own garden. You can’t get any more local than food grown steps from your kitchen. And with seeds that sell for pennies apiece and with compost an essentially free fertilizer that anyone can make from table scraps and dried leaves, it becomes clear that price alone is not the true issue. [...]

Read the entire article here.


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