Saturday, February 23, 2008

Low Carbon Diet: Dumping on Garbage

This week our local Simplicity circle met to begin our discussion of the Low Carbon Diet. While I've already implemented most of the ideas and more in the book, what I'm finding incredibly useful and wonderful is the networking and idea sharing of the group. We've been bouncing ideas off each other, sharing tips and tidbits of knowledge, sharing resources and connections, and that's been sooo amazing.

The book itself is very geared towards reduction, giving "pounds" for each reduction made. The weird part is trying to figure out lost pounds if I've already done those things—in other words, I don't really get the pounds lost because my starting point was lower in the first place. So, I need to decide if I'm going to count the reduction as if I'd made it now with the group, though that seems a bit disingenuous to me, and I was really hoping to cut deeper into our current reductions.

I think what I'll do here is talk a bit about each chapter we've covered, share some of the tips we've come up with and hope that folks here will share some of their tips in the comments section, which I'll then be able to bring back to the discussion circle. So, please take the time to share what you've learned for the different categories, offer resources, and make suggestions.

Dumping on Garbage: Reducing Solid Waste

Remembering the 3 R's "reduce, reuse, recycle" and tackling them in order is the best way to eliminate garbage and waste. The book measures garbage as gallon containers, but I find that less useful than measuring the actual weight of the garbage produced. As an exercise, try weighing the amount of trash your family accumulates each week. Take each kitchen garbage bag produced and weigh it to get a sense of how much solid waste your family sends to the landfill each week.

The average American generates about 4.4 lbs of garbage per day! For a household of 5, that adds up to 154 lbs of garbage per week! My family of 5, by contrast, produces just 3-4 lbs of garbage per week through reducing, reusing, and recycling. See how low you can go!
  • Reduce or better yet eliminate all food waste from the garbage by eating more left overs and composting raw vegetable scraps. 43,000 tons of food is thrown away each day in the U.S., but you can be a part of the solution. Consider setting up a vermiposting system that can handle both raw and cooked food scraps, which can be done even in urban apartment settings. Consider getting a backyard flock of chickens who will gladly take your kitchen scraps and provide delicious eggs in return. Scraping food into the garbage adds a tremendous amount of weight, not to mention odor; waste pounds can be dropped quickly by this one simple change.
  • Reduce junk mail by going to and; contact other companies directly to request mailing list removal. Recycle the rest in mixed paper bins or by sorting into office paper, newspaper, and glossy magazines if your recycling center requires it.
  • Reduce packaging by buying in bulk when possible: many of us still purchase individually packaged items like cereals and snacks where the best solution is to eliminate as many of these items as possible or to buy the largest size possible. Use your purchasing power to buy recycled products or packaging that uses at least some recycled ingredients. Leave the styrofoam egg cartons in the store, folks, and go for the recycled pulp cartons instead. Better yet, buy local or grow your own!
  • Reduce plastic bags by using cloth bags when shopping anywhere, not just for grocery stores. A great source is Wash plastic zipper bags for reuse: I handwash mine and hang them over the kitchen faucet to dry. Reuse those plastic food containers instead of zipper bags and eliminate them altogether, or store items in glass refrigerator jars instead, and eliminate the plastics from your food chain. Canning jars are great for this.
  • Reduce holiday waste. Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of waste during the holidays, much of which is wrapping paper and shopping bags, and of course parents these days know how crazy toy packaging has become! Eliminate wrapping paper altogether in favor of reusable cloth gift bags, or make your own for a personalized touch. Buy based on minimal packaging when possible; better yet, give handmade items, gifts of service, or charitable donations.
  • Reduce trash by donating gently used items to thrift stores and by joining your local freecycle list. Freecycle can be a great way to get rid of all kinds of things from old appliances to leftover building materials to toys to scrap metal.
  • Reduce waste by switching to cloth and other options for napkins, paper towels, diapers, and feminine products. Americans throw away 570 diapers per second, or 49 million diapers a day! There are many sources online for patterns to make your own diapers and pads, and products like the diva cup, keeper or moon cup can eliminate waste even further, which not only saves garbage but on the production end of such disposables as well. Switch to reusable coffee filters or loose tea. Compost unbleached paper towels and napkins like those from 7th Generation.
  • Reuse before recycling or trashing. Many areas, for instance, don't recycle plastics other than #1 and #2. While working to change that in our community, we can reuse as many of these plastics as possible. Some ideas include: seedling containers; feed scoops; craft projects; food storage; other kinds of storage for craft or sewing items, small kids' toys, workbench organization, etc. Reuse those shopping bags. When I forget my cloth bags, I ask for paper and use those to hold mixed paper recyclables so I can toss the whole bag in the county recycling bin when full. Toilet paper rolls can be great fire starters: some folks stuff them with dryer lint, but better to turn off the dryer altogether and forgo the lint. Glass bottles and jars can be reused multiple times for storing leftovers, among many other uses.
  • Reuse office paper by printing on both sides or by giving it to kids for art paper.
  • Repurpose old and worn items by creating something new, limited only by your own imagination and innovation. I like to reuse broken pots and similar items as garden art, making cool and attractive homes for toads and other beneficial critters.
  • Reuse those corrugated cardboard boxes to create a garden. They're great for killing turf, weed suppression, and for creating "lasagna" gardens. They can also be composted in a large active pile or by shredding. Small boxes, cardboard or paperboard, make great storage containers for the home as well. Kids can come up with hundreds of ways to reuse boxes, from forts to doll houses to treasure containers. Kids can be your best reusers, so don't overlook them!
  • Recycle: set up household recycling center. Find out what your county/ province recycles and designate different areas or collection bins for each. Ikea is a great source for reasonably priced bins, though most of them aren't for outside use. I splurged for mine from Plow & Hearth, and they've held up beautifully. Newspapers can be bundled, and office paper contained neatly in bags or bins, but no one had a great system for the larger boxes, which just seem to spill everywhere. Though one person pointed out the usefulness of this in terms of reminding them to go to the recycling center!
  • Recycle or dispose of those hazardous household waste products properly: computers, cell phones, batteries, oil, paints, etc. E-waste disposal: what to do with those computers and cell phones. Compact Fluorescents: what to do when those cfl's go out; those who live near Ikea can drop them off there and get some recycling bins all at the same time—kudos to Ikea for their environmental efforts. Eliminate as many of these household hazards as possible if you haven't already: check out this source for non-hazardous alternatives to many household products.
What are your trash-busting techniques? Let us know. The more ideas we all have, the better!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dreaming of Warmer Days

We've been cold and gloomy with ice and snow and slush everywhere. My mood has matched the weather. I've been itching to get outside, to feel useful and productive. Part of it is a control thing—feeling out of control of the weather and the future, wanting to use my own energy to plant and push the world towards spring and growth and renewal. Antsyness and angst for the changing season, for hope and change in the wider world have been hanging over my head these days. Too much time to think isn't good for me: living inside my head breeds moodiness and obsessiveness.

Gardening gives me hope. The afternoon of 9/11, before I knew if my husband was safe as Bolling Airforce Base and the Naval Research Labs locked down due to the Pentagon disaster just miles away, before I knew if my then brother-in-law made it out of the Towers, having last called while in the stairwell, as I felt paralyzed to help those I loved, to make any difference at all, I found solace in my gardens. My gardens with their earthiness and strength, the reality of dirt in my hands and the connection to life and the things that really matter. This is what people mean when they talk about being "grounded" and "rooted," this feeling of deep connection with the earth, the solidity and stability it lends as chaos rains down.

Today, the weather broke. The sun was glorious and warm, and the last of the ice melted. I hung my laundry outside this morning—three loads. I watered in the hoop house where the baby lettuces were longing for a drink, yet I didn't dare wet them with the recent low nighttime temps. I planted in the low tunnel today: radishes, endive, tatsoi, chard, and kale. I cleaned up the yard, gathered kindling to help us eek out fires in the wood stove for as long as possible, tossed dog-poo popscicles into the hedgerow before they thawed, and spent the end of the afternoon enjoying a beer on our west-facing front porch in resplendent sunshine, all the while planning and envisioning my new medicinal garden in place of the existing turf.

So far outside, I've direct sowed three plantings of radishes, two plantings of tatsoi, and one of beets, hakurei turnips, endive, kale, and chard. The first radishes have already popped, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next. Not too shabby for mid-February.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Cow We're Not Going to Get

This is Cabaret, a Dexter heifer that I went to look at on Saturday. She's a good looking heifer, but she won't be coming home with us after all. While I was very impressed with the herd, I don't feel that we'd get the milk I'm looking for in a homestead milking cow.

I've decided at this point to let the rare breeds go and to try to find myself a Jersey cow already in milk. If that fails, I'll go with a heifer.

My decision is based primarily on our needs here at the farm and what will best meet those needs. I'd like to have plenty of milk for drinking, butter, cheese, ice cream, etc. as well as to use as supplemental feed for our chickens and pigs. With the rising cost of feed—and organic feed prices are going through the roof!—I'd also like to be able to offset our off-the-farm feed with milk and whey.

We'd be able to run the cow and her calf on our pasture together with our sheep and goats, which would also have several benefits for the farm. They graze differently and at different heights, making for better pasture management, and they don't share parasites, so they'd help control internal parasites for each other.

Yes, we'll need to feed the cow, but round bales cost considerably less than organic pellet feed, so I'm hopeful that our overall feed costs will go down. Besides, I like the idea of producing more of our feed on farm. Although Jim remains unconvinced, I think that when everything falls out we'll come out ahead. Besides, having our own milk's gotta be healthier than big dairy—even local big dairy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Weeks 15 & 16

Week 15: Jim was in Japan, and I was sick with a terrible cold. About the only things I made were homemade turkey soup from the previous week's turkey dinner, and thyme tea with local honey. It was not a big cooking week.

Week 16: During this week, I made homemade angel hair spaghetti, homemade sauce from frozen tomato paste I made this summer, meatballs from local grass-fed beef, and our favorite ciabatta bread.

Unfortunately, Jim caught our cold, so we haven't been cooking much again this week. I did, however, cook up our first goose egg this week. Deliciously rich. They're supposed to be very good for baking, which I'll have to get to this week.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Nutrient Management Planning

Ed Palmer plans on applying 175 lbs of ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) per acre for spring application (March) on his orchardgrass pasture. Application is done with a spin-type spreader. Given the following information, use the weight area method to determine if the spreader is properly calibrated. Application width = 20 ft. Length of calibration area = 100 ft. The amount of fertilizer in the collection container after Ed has driven over the calibration area at his typical gate setting and driving speed is 8 lbs. 4 oz. How many lbs. per acre is Ed actually spreading?

I swear to goodness, I did not make that up. For the past two weeks, I've been dealing with mono-cropping word problems from hell in a nutrient management planning class that I've been taking. Maryland law dictates that anyone with over 8 animal units (1,000 lbs of animal) or $2,500 gross income from the farm must submit a nutrient management plan. In large part, I think this is a good thing, as it helps protect the Chesapeake Bay from over-application of fertilizers at the agricultural level. Of course it does nothing to address all those homeowners who are over-applying fertilizer and herbicides to have their pretty green lawns.

I fell into the NMP category because I gross—certainly not net—more than $2,500 with CSA sales. So, there I was, sitting in this class to become certified to write my own plan, which will help maintain a certain level of independence by doing it myself. The interesting and not surprising part of it all is that no one quite knew what to do with me. These kinds of things simply aren't written for such a small farm. Over and over again, I'd bump up against issues of scale. The form wanted to know how much poultry I had in units of 1,000 birds; I had .09. It wanted plans for each separate garden/ pasture plot along with acreage. My kitchen garden is 1/16th of an acre; my market garden is a 1/4 acre. It wanted to know how many tons of manure I spread on my gardens; I spread compost by the wheelbarrow full. It had space for just three kinds of animals; I have 7.

Luckily, there were several nice extension agents there who held my hand and shook their heads right along with me as we tried to translate what I do into terms that their software and forms could understand. I will need to start keeping track of my yields per row, using whatever units make sense—probably bushel baskets. Their smallest unit of measurement is 1,000 square feet: about half my kitchen garden, which has a couple dozen crops in it, certainly not a 1,000 sf of any single crop! I was surprised to learn how much poo each animal produces in a year, based on their averages. It's quite a bit, actually, but since most of the year I have the animals spreading it themselves, I'm not collecting, storing, and spreading it, nor am I burning the fossil fuels needed to do so. Of course, I'm not feeding my animals like the large confinement operations either, so there's a good chance that those numbers don't accurately reflect our reality.

But, I've passed my exam and written my plan and can now say that despite the difficulties of scale, I am now in full-compliance with the law.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Archive Meme, or That Damned Kevin

Kevin tagged me several posts ago, and I've been procrastinating as I'm wont to do with such tasks. This is an archive meme, which offers both me and my readers the opportunity to revisit favorite old posts—kind of like when your favorite tv show can't think of anything new so it does one of those flashback episodes that we all hate. At any rate, I suppose I can be thankful that Jim hasn't actually made me go through his blog and do the archive meme Jenny tagged him for, as he jokingly threatened to do.

Just to keep the joy alive, I tag El, Miranda, and Melinda because I've just started reading their blogs and would love to see some of their favorite old posts. And I tag Christy and Wendy because I like their thoughtful, reflective selves. *See below for meme directions.

I don't wax poetic about family here (well, there was that one mushy post about Jim, thanking him for his love and all his work), but my family and the love we have for each other is the backdrop of every single moment on the farm. The two are intertwined and inseparable because the farm and the food we produce here are all about the time we share, the love we have for each other, and the amazing memories we build every day. Because of that, I've chosen my very first post, Farm Sweet Farm, to represent family. It's simple, elegant, and it encapsulates how love and a vision make the whole world possible.

Well, apparently I have no friends on this blog—they all reside at Organic Learning along with my family. But I do have evidence of friends! Unschooling farming friends no less! And I am so grateful for Nicolas and Madeline in Georgia, who welcomed us into their home and lives and shared their food and farm. And I'm grateful for my farming friend Jenny in New Mexico, with whom I share so many similarities, not the least being too much good red wine. And I'm grateful for my dear friends Christina and Tom in upstate New York, who neither unschool nor farm, but who provide endless support and stimulating conversation, not to mention beautiful art. Here's to wishing you all lived right down the road!

About Me

Really, need I say more?

Well, okay, if you want just a little more insight into what makes me tick, you could also check out this post.

Something I Love
Not long after we moved into our new home, we began wishing for a barn cat. Not long after that the universe saw fit to deliver not one, but five barn cats for us to raise and care for. I love those damned babies more than I ever could have imagined. I love them so much it makes my heart ache. Every time I see them, they bring a smile to my face. Since they're the first animals I feed when I go out to the barn, they're one of the first things I see, too—all lined up on my potting bench waiting for me—so I'll be smiling the whole way through my chores with the sheer joy of having them in my life.

With all the posts to choose from, the wildcard screamed out for the CSA because it took up so much of my time and vital energy last year. I threw myself into it head first, and although we had some touch-and-go moments with the drought, in the end I was pretty proud of how it turned out. We offered some damned good food to people, all grown completely without synthetic chemicals, and it's amazing what good, fresh, whole food offers people. Time after time, members and customers told me they made the best meal with our food, and there's nothing quite like being able to share that with another person.

*Archive Meme Instructions: Go back through your archives and post the links to your five favorite blog posts that you've written. ... but there is a catch: Link 1 must be about family. Link 2 must be about friends. Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are... what you're all about. Link 4 must be about something you love. Link 5 can be anything you choose. I think this is a great way to circulate some of the great older posts everyone had written, return to a few great places in our memories and also learn a little something about ourselves and each other that we may not know. Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least TWO of the people you tag must be *newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better....and don't forget to read the archive posts and leave comments!