Friday, November 30, 2007

Saving the Life that May Be Your Own

My readers are an activist bunch, and I'm sure many of you have stories about food pantries near you that are struggling to keep going. Or maybe you volunteer with fuel assistance programs, which are also in dire straits with the rising costs of oil and natural gas. But the news is very, very bad. There are an increasing number of people who need food and fuel assistance, and a decreasing supply of money and goods.

"The Vermont Food Bank said its supply of food was down 50 percent from last year. "It's a crisis mode," said Doug O'Brien, the bank's chief executive.

For two weeks this month, the New Hampshire Food Bank distributed supplies reserved for emergency relief. Demand for food here is up 40 percent over last year and supply is down 30 percent, which is striking in the state with the lowest reliance on food banks.

"It's the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures," said Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.

Ms. Gosselin said household budget squeezes had led to a drop in donations and greater demand. "This is not the old 'only the homeless are hungry,'" she said. "It's working people."

Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of Arizona, agreed, saying: "The overall picture is that household incomes are kind of stuck. There's very little way to increase income, and most people have a very heavy debt load. Any event that increases your costs is really, really troublesome, because you're already stretched thin."

All of this is particularly disturbing because right now, most food banks are in their biggest donation period of the year - now is when the food drives and holiday charity is going. If things are so bad now, how will they be in February?

For those of us who are long emergency aware, we know where the future is going - towards more hungry families and harder times. And so, I would ask all of us who have a little extra right now, who aren't feeling it yet, who still have our jobs and our houses and a good enough income to do so to pick up a little extra slack.

I hope all of us will bring a little of our stored food or our precious savings over to the food bank, or consider sponsoring a family for a tank of heating oil or some precious insulation this year.

Right now, 11% of the US population experiences food insecurity. Overwhelmingly the hungry are children, single women and the elderly. They are also the most likely to be cold - at Community Solutions I described an article I read recently in the Boston Globe, about pediatricians reporting more and more families caught in an endless bind - they cannot afford to heat their houses adequately, so their children are freezing. But the high cost of even minimal heating energy means they cannot feed their children adequately, so these kids lack even enough body fat to maintain their body temperatures, and suffer illness and hypothermia in their own homes.

This is most likely only going to get worse. But while we can we must mitigate the worst of this - we must tend our neighbors, check in on elderly family members, neighbors and friends and make sure they have heat and food, give our time, our garden surpluses, our spare money and food to the poverty support programs and people around us. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because one of these days, it may be us.

The food bank in Manchester delivers provisions to a housing project each week, and on a recent Monday, Matthew Whooley, 26, of Manchester, was waiting in line with his wife, Penny, and their four children.

"Every week there's less and less food," Mr. Whooley said. "It used to be potatoes, meat and bread, and last week we got Doritos and flour. The food is getting shorter, and the lines keep getting longer."

We're already at the "flour and doritos" stage, folks.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Friend Pat Can Feed the World

Ok, maybe not quite, but if you haven't followed the link over from my blog to her site, run into Pat on one of several lists she runs helps run, including "Healthy Cheap Cooking," the enormously popular "Edible Container Gardening" or the Riot For Austerity list, or bought seeds from her back when she ran a small seed company specializing in varieties for container gardening, you ought to meet Pat. Or maybe you have already - perhaps you've read what she wrote, or what I wrote about here now-famous "The Theory of Anyway." She's one wise woman.

Here's me riffing on what's so wonderful about it (Pat kindly allowed me to go on about her idea):

And here's Pat's own take:
(Again, you'll have to read the first article, since I can't link directly. But it is
Pat's list of reasons for buying local food so that's probably all to the good!)

Not only is Pat a friend of mine, but she's damned inspiring. We've never met in person, but we've been internet friends for years, and one of these days, I hope to meet her. She and her husband live in rural, appalachian PA, and they are both disabled, with a variety of serious medical conditions. They live on disability payments, on quite a low income. If anyone on earth has an excuse not to grow their own food or cook from scratch, it is Pat. Which is what makes her so remarkable. Besides mentoring container gardeners and cooks online, Pat grows an enormous amount of food in her gardens, almost all of it in containers, since she has trouble getting down to the ground.

Now it isn't quite true that the whole world can eat from Pat's garden, but I want you all to hear about what Pat did this year. She's kindly given me permission to include this
in my book, and I thought some of you might like a preview here (plus it allows me to make a blog post without actually writing anything, helpful during this end-of-book-push ;-)).

Pat's husband Brian made 22 Self-Watering Containers (hence referred to as SWCs). She did this after reading Edward Smith's book _Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers_. Her review of the book is here: (it is the second post down - for some reason blogger isn't allowing me to link directly into her post, but there's a great article on yogurt making at the top, so maybe that's no bad thing). Her review includes links to how to build your own SWCs cheaply. I have the book too, and it is indeed quite useful.

So this year, virtually all of Pat's garden was in 22 2' SWCs. That's 44 square feet of gardening space - not a lot. In the ground, that would be about the same size as a hammock would take up in your yard. As Pat points out, you probably couldn't quite get these yields in the ground, unless you were using superfertile, double dug soil - the container soil is much looser and the nutrients don't wash a way.

Here's what Pat reported this summer about what she grew in her SWCs:

In that 44 square feet, we have:
6 full-sized (indeterminate) tomatoes
2 early tomatoes (determinate - smaller plants)
16 Swiss chard plants6 peppers
4 eggplants
4 orach plants (an edible green, in the spinach/beet family)
3 (huge!) fluffy top Chinese cabbage plants
2 bush cucumbers
4 basil plants
1 tomatillo
18 bush bean plants
4 bush zucchini plants

Repeating for emphasis: all these plants are growing splendidly; some would probably win prizes for the 'largest whatever'. :) Some of thetomatoes are 8 feet tall now, by the way.

Think about this for a minute. That's *hundreds* of pounds of fresh produce. Pat doesn't keep records of her total yield, so we can only estimate, but she tells me yields were excellent, and as she said, a number of the plants could have won prizes. Pat and I both live in a part of the country where soil leaching is a problem - you put nutrients in, they wash away in the copious rain. Adding more organic matter helps a lot, but it is a process. SWCs keep the nutrients where the plants can get them.

Pat added to me in email that she wasn't really trying very hard to get the maximum yield out of her SWC's. She said,

And, you know, Sharon, I could have grown quite a bit more food than I didin the 22 SWCs. I didn't have an early spring garden (because the SWCshadn't been made yet), I didn't try to grow any salad greens because I joined a CSA last year and the CSA was keeping us supplied with all the salad greens we could possibly use. I didn't plant a fall/winter garden either.

Also I didn't interplant: I could have encircled a pepper plant withbeets, for instance. I didn't do any of that. I was really going for'easy' last year rather than 'high productivity' (because of the CSA).So all those things could have increased the amount of food I grew in the
22 SWCs.

Can you believe how lazy Pat is ;-)? I mean come on - she had 44 feet and all she produced was 2-300 (my own best guess of how much food you'd get from that many plants growing well) lbs of food. And she's pointing out that she could have increased that number substantially - my guess is that she might even have been able to double it.

The earthboxes will last a good long time, and could be made out of wood if you didn't want to use plastic bins - for people with more energy than Pat and her husband, making earthboxes out of renewables would probably be a good project. The soil does require a supply of micronutrients, fertilizers and composts - you might need 30 lbs
to do it for 5 years, plus compost. You could store that in one sealed 5 gallon bucket.

I do a fair bit of container gardening myself, depite having acres of land to play with, simply because of this - containers get warmer than my climate does. My summer nights are routinely in the 50s and often high 40s - we're at 1400 feet, not that high, but it makes a big difference. We do have hot periods, but they are the exception, not the rule. Last frost is in late May, and often things aren't really warm until mid-June. Also, heavy rains in the spring mean that soils aren't ready for planting early.

So containers allow me to get a head start, and also to produce heat-loving plants more easily than I can in the ground. My eggplants are routinely more productive in containers, as are peppers - the only way I can get really hot hot peppers or red ripe peppers reliably is in containers. I also have a sunporch, a glassed in area that grows wonderful cold climate vegetables all winter - all these are opportunities for me to use SWCs, and I plan to make some.
All of which is just a long way of saying that I think these containers have the potential to expand many of our gardens - they are wonderful for urban dwellers and the disabled who can't bend and stretch well, for the elderly and otherwise physically limited, but they also represent enormous possibilities for all of us. We can use them to grow crops we might not otherwise be able to grow because our home is too cool or too dry, they are moveable, so they can be brought undercover to extend our seasons, and they can help every one of us begin to think about feeding ourselves.

When we hear statistics like the one that Hong Kong provides half of its own produce and meats from within the city limits, it can seem impossible to imagine our own cities doing that - to imagine New York or Tucson, Paris or London doing the same. Here's the start of a vision.

If you want to learn more about edible container gardening, check out Pat's container gardening list - you can go to the list's homepage and subscribe here:

And if you want to learn how to cook all this bounty, check out Pat's cooking group. The homepage where you can join is here:

You can also find all of Pat's material here:


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Must Read This

This piece puts together the truly terrifying truth about drought - it may not be rising sea levels that should scare us most.

Personally, I would not choose to live in places whose long term projections involve very low rainfall. Others may have other opinions, but I think it safe to bet that sooner or later, people will start abandoning the dryest places - and it would be wise to leave while you can still sell your house.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Word You Want is "Depression"

Well, as the financial bad news comes in faster and thicker, the word "recession" is being bandied about, and a few brave souls dare even to call it by what it looks to be - a real Depression: deep, long, bad.

There are so many ugly pieces in this mix that it is hard to sort them all out. Shall we talk about the rising commodity prices - food and energy that are stripping people's personal economies? How about the problem of national debt, where each of us personally carry almost 200,000 of the nation's debt (let's not even mention the personal stuff). How about the credit crisis? Americans (and Brits, Canadians and Australians too, to a lesser extent) have funded their lifestyles with debt - if people stop handing out credit cards, mortgages and car loans (which is already happening), we're in trouble. There's the devaluation of the dollar - the rising prices for everything we get from China (that is, nearly everything). There's the danger of bank runs and the problem that the US dollar is the reserve currency for foreign nations. There are the tremors in the Chinese economy. I could give you twenty links, but the best source for all this information is Matt Savinar's site. Matt and I don't always see eye to eye on every issue, but he does a better job than anyone I know at Marshalling the economic data, so you might as well just go on over:

Actually, I will give you one specific link:
because I honestly think that the last few lines sum up what will be the defining issue - the mortgage crisis. The Business Week article above includes a quote that I think is particularly telling:

We all know that more hits from these subprime loans are coming, but are having a devil of a time figuring out how it will happen or how to stop it," said Lawler, who was once chief economist for Fannie Mae. "We've never been in this situation before."

Here's the thing - foreclosures are spiralling - some projections suggest as many as 2 million more next year than this. In fact, most of the loans that are having trouble may not be "subprime" anymore - the next tier up of mortgage loans are showing real signs of trouble, and even many good credit risks who bought in 2006 and 2007 are struggling to make payments. Some of those in danger will probably be bailed out by various state and national programs, but as the Boston Globe reported last week, such programs are so far, not doing much.

How this will play out in the long term is anyone's guess. My own take is that we will probably not develop a vastly expanded class of homeless people, simply because we've spent the last decade building insanely more housing than we could ever want or need - that is, in the end, the banks who get screwed will be grateful to get anyone into housing, at almost any price. What we'll see, IMHO of course, and this is a guess, is far more debt slavery than homelessness.

One other possible vision comes from James Fallow's summer of 2005 article "Countdownto a Meltdown." In it a fictional political consultant looks back from 2016 at the economic crisis that made America into a second world nation. I was struck, when I read it, by this particular passage because it sounds so very apt to me. Fallow writes,

When the market collapsed, Americans didn't behave the way economic theory said they should. They behaved the way their predecessors in the Depression had: they stayed in their houses, stopped paying their mortgages and waited for the banks to take the next step. Through much of the Midwest this was a manageable problem: the housing market had gone much less berserk to begin with, and, as in the Great Depression, there was a longer-term, more personal relationship between customers and financiers. But in the fastest-growing markets - Orlando, Las Vegas, the Carolina Research Triangle, northern Virginia - the banks simply could not wait. The deal brokered at the White House Security-in-Shelter Summit was ingenious: federal purchase of one million RVs and mobile homes, many of them built in idol auto or truck factories; subsidies for families who agreed to leave foreclosed upon homes without being evicted by marshals, such that they could buy RVs with no payments for five years; and the use of land at decomissioned military bases for new RV villages. But it did not erase the blogcam live broadcasts of families being evicted , or the jokes about the "Preachervilles" springing up at Camp Lejeune, the former Fort Ord and the Philadelphia naval shipyard."

I think here Fallow's predictions have nailed human behavior - we won't sell up or make rational choices. We'll default and wait for a bailout, and I suspect that some people, at least, will get one, because too much of the economy is tied up in the housing market not too. Perhaps it will be RVs, but more likely, I suspect, the government will bail out the collapsing building industry by setting them to retrofitting foreclosed upon housing that the government now owns because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought them up. Toll Brother's new projects will be make the new projects - coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

For the rest of us, the days of picking up and moving are probably quite near the end - at least if you envision it as trading one house for another. Moving in with your Mom, however, will become quite popular I suspect. I've been asking my readers for several years to make a plan to go on from where you are now - I think that may well be what many of us have to do. There are places where houses are still selling, and there are bargains to be had on the foreclosure mart, but generally speaking, I think if we depend on equity from our present houses to carry us into our dream future, we're dreaming.

Do I know all this to be true? Absolutely not - I've said it before, I'll say it again - I don't understand how the giant financial edifice has stayed together this long, so I don't want anyone to bet too much on my predictions. I'm in good company now too - most of the economists I know are mystified too. When you ask them why we're not already deep in recession, mostly they admit to confusion - my friend Steve, a Professor at a local University, observed that "we're outside the markers." But I've noticed that none of the economists I know seems to think that we'll stay outside the markers for long.

My own suggestion would be to ask yourself this. If you knew you would be undergoing catastrophic job loss, for a long period in 3-8 months, how would you change your life? Would you blow it all now, run up the credit cards on holiday shopping? Or would you retrench, get rid of the cable and the meals out, put more in savings, pay down your debt, plan a bigger garden, do some job training for careers that won't go under like auctioneer and nurse and put some more rice and beans in the pantry? I would recommend that all of us work under the assumption that our jobs are toast - that we can expect to lose them and have a tough time getting them back. Start thinking long term now - how will you feed yourself and your family, where will you live, what will you do, what do you need. How will you go into peak oil and climate change from where you are now, with what you have now. Are there things you need? Ways to make it easier?

Could you start moving now into the informal economy? As Teodor Shanin, the founder of Peasant Economics observed, the financial collapse in the former Soviet Union actually, in the long term, improved the economic stability of many lower class Russians, as markets suddenly opened up for new, local products. The informal sector of the economy - subsistence, cottage industries, barter, local currency, criminal activity (ok, I'm not suggesting this ;-)) - these things make it possible for you to reserve what little cash you've got for things like paying the mortgage and the taxes.

If it doesn't work out badly, so much the better. But all of us will manage better if we have a plan, and the tools to get by. If I can give out one piece of advice it is this - go into 2008 prepared for the worst, hoping and praying for the best.


52 Weeks Down - Week 28 - Get Some Sleep

Note: Short one today - I'm in the final push to get the book finished, and a bit under the gun. But, I think, an important one.

Americans carry enormous sleep debt - if you put the average American in an extended sleep study, exposed to natural light and allowed to sleep as much as their bodies demand, they will sleep 14 hours a day for the better part of a month, until they catch up and naturally begin to average out around 8 hours. We spend a lot of our lives ignoring our natural sleep patterns, and at some real cost to ourselves. 10,000 car accidents a year occur as a result of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is associated with depression, anxiety and the development of hypoglycemia and even diabetes. Because of sleep deprivation, we consume enormous quantities of caffeine, with negative effects on the gestation of our children, our blood pressure and our ability to sleep...which causes us to spend almost a billion dollars each year on medical sleep aids which in turn...

And the solution to most sleep related medical problems is simple. Turn off the artificial lights. Go to bed at the same time each night. Get as much rest as you really need. Now for some of us, this isn't realistic. There are people who have to work nights. New parents are probably never going to get as much sleep as they'd like. There are some people whose bodies really do seem to be implacably on a late night cycle. But most of us aren't - sleep studies show that even "night owls" when exposed to enough natural light and darkness tend to move their cycles back towards everyone else's.

Now if we were to obey that advice, what would the environmental consequences be? What would they be, for example, if pretty much everyone in the US turned off their lights at 10 pm and actually went to sleep for 8 or 9 hours? If they turned down their heat, flicked off the power strips and otherwise simply did what their bodies were telling them. What if we didn't stop at Starbucks every morning, and unplugged the coffee pot?

These are small things, of course, but they are significant. And think about what kind of *people* we'd be if we were getting enough rest. We'd be less grumpy with each other, maybe a little better at making community. We'd be better able to face the physical burdens of a human powered economy. We'd be less prone to illness, saving ourselves and our country a great deal of money. We'd be better able to face change - tired, grumpy, overwhelmed people never look on difference as a good idea. Would it change the world? Probably not. Would it save energy and improve our lives in a host of ways? Absolutely.

Naps are good too, but that's another post.



Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Pet Thing

The average American has paid little or no attention to the horrors in Zimbabwe under Mugabe, but now he knows just how awful it is. Because, after all, a recent news story designed to get our attention finally made the rounds of the mainstream media. Is it about the skyrocketing infant mortality rate? The appalling conditions for prisoners under the Mugabe regime? The fact that there's no food to be had and people are crossing the border in desperation?

Nope. This is something really, really terrible. People are (prepare to be shocked!) - eating their pets. The SPCA of Africa announces that it really can't do much about it and they can't humanely euthanize the animals instead of having them eaten by starving people. I'm not totally clear on why they'd want to euthanize them, instead of letting them be eaten by people who would otherwise starve. Death is death - I was taught that if you kill something, you'd damned well better eat it - that you honor an animal's life by not taking it lightly or wasting it.

Now don't get me wrong. I have 4 cats and 2 working farm dogs who I adore. They are all of them working animals, but that doesn't prevent me from loving them. Right now, Zucchini, our youngest cat, is napping on my lap, while Minnie, our senior cat enjoys the warmth of the monitor on this cold day. One of the great pleasures of living on a farm is having animals. They share my bed, they provide us with pleasure and comfort. And to absolutely blunt, if my kids were starving, we'd eat our pets.

I realize there is nothing on earth more likely to get me flamed from here to Sunday. Ok, I have four children, that's bad. Ok, I said we should fly less - that's really bad. But to pick on people's pets...that's beyond the pale. Because we have a very, very, very sensitive relationship to our animals. That's why the news story on Zimbabwe got far more attention than anything about starving people actually could.

The impact of industrial livestock production is tied up in our relationship with our animals. Most pet food manufacturers can and will take any source of protein they get a hand on. This includes diseased livestock that would otherwise be a complete economic loss for feedlot owners and cattle raisers, parts of animals Americans won't eat (this is not as many as you think - what do you believe is in those chicken nuggets or the canned beef stew?), roadkill, and the remains of euthanized pets from animal shelters. That is, most of us are feeding our own animals the products of industrial scale livestock production - including many of us who won't eat it ourselves. We're also saying we care enormously about animals, and then using the surplus population of pet animals to feed our own pet animals.

The odds are good you know the statistics already. Feedlot animal production produces more greenhouse gasses than planes, trains and automobiles. 70% of all US grain goes to animals, enough grain to feed every hungry person on earth. The animals in these feedlots are tortured, the human beings are doing one of the most dangerous, underpaid and horrifying jobs in the US and the rates of disease, antibiotic feeding (which has led directly to antibiotic resistant infections) and every imaginable other horror are appalling. And pet owners are supporting and subsidizing this. I've not been able to find fully reliable figures on what proportion CAFO livestock ends up in our pet bowls (in fact, I've not been able to find a single study on the environmental impact of pets, which tells you something as well).

What I have found is that one out of every 7 cattle doesn't grade high enough to get on your plate (and let's be clear, standards aren't that high). Most such animals are sent to rendering plants, along with whatever else is lying about, and much of the protein is added to things like your chicken's feed, and your dog's food. As the article above notes, no rendering plants that the author was able to locate segregate out things like euthanized livestock, and that means those antibiotics and narcotics used on feedlot cattle and to euthanize someone's pet cat is now in your animal's feed.

My guess, and I am still seeking out fully reliable numbers, is that in total weight, 1/5-1/8 of all CAFO livestock protein ends up as pet food. That means that our pets may be responsible as 2-4% of all greenhouse gasses, in total. I don't swear these figures are correct - the petfood industry is notoriously quiet about where it gets its protein from, and it may be that our kitties are eating far more other kitties than they are downer cows. I suppose, from a purely environmental standpoint, that might be better...but...

I love my pets, and I want to see them survive and flourish, but not at this environmental price. I like cows as well as kitties - I don't think it is worthwhile to torture cows so that my cats might eat. Similarly, I love my dogs, but I love wildlife as well, and the grain we use to feed feedlot cattle is grown on monocultured land that supports virtually no wild animals.

For those of us who love animals, we have to find a better way of feeding them, and producing their food locally and sustainably. That means that for cats, which are obligate carnivores, it is necessary for us to produce meat sustainably and humanely for them. For dogs, who are omnivorous, a smaller amount of animal protein, mixed with a largely local vegetarian diet is far more sustainable than the present options. That means we're all going to have to get intimately involved with our pet's diets, and if we're not prepared to do that, maybe we shouldn't have them. And if we don't have some kind of long term plan for how to care for those animals without doing other harm, perhaps we shouldn't have pets.

And we probably have to have fewer pets in total. That's sad - but the truth is that the animals have ecological footprints too, and we cannot, simply cannot, at this stage take food out of the mouths of people to feed our pets. Nor is it just to allow cats and dogs to overpopulate, so that we can kill them and use them to feed the pets we do take care of. Just add it to the list of things we're going to have to face up to.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Some Plants You Should Consider Growing

My seed catalogs are starting to come in - I'm always excited to see them, even though I have to put them aside for the winter lull right at the moment. "Next year's garden" is always perfect, a glorious riot of food and beauty that never has weeds or imperfections. I take a great deal of pleasure in my fantasy, just as I do in the real, imperfect garden.

There are a million gardening books out there to tell you how to grow perfect tomatoes and lettuces. And that's important - in my house, salsa is a food group. But the reality is that for those of us attempting to produce a large portion of our calories, tomatoes and lettuce are not sufficient - we need to get either the most calories or the best possible nutrition out of our kitchen gardens and landscaping. So I've compiled a list of plants that I think are an important addition to many home gardens - both annual and perennial.

1. Buckwheat. Buckwheat is the perfect multipurpose plant. Many of you have probably used it as a green manure, taking advantage of its remarkable capacity to shade out weeds and produce lots of green material. But it is also one of the easiest grains to grow in the garden - simply let it mature and harvest the seed, and it makes a delicious and highly nutritious salad and cooking green. Although it won't be quite as good at soil building if you do it this way, buckwheat can be used as a triple-purpose crop - plant a few beds with it, harvest the greens steadily (but lightly) for salad (it is particularly good during the heat of summer since it has a lightly nutty taste not too far off lettuce and will grow in hot weather), cook some of the mature greens, harvest seed, cut the plants back to about an inch leaving the plant material on the ground. The buckwheat will then grow back up again, and you can harvest young salad greens and cut it back again for green manure.

2. Sweet potatoes. Think this is a southern crop? Not for me. I grow "Porto Rico" sweet potatoes in upstate New York. Garden writer Laura Simon grows them on cool, windy Nantucket. I've met people who grow them in Ontario and North Dakota. Sweet potatoes have quite a range if started indoors, and more northerners should grow them. They are enormously nutritious, store extremely well (some of my sweets last more than a year), and unutterably delicious. They do need light, sandy soil and good drainage, so I grow them mostly in raised beds with heavily amended soil - my own heavy wet clay won't do.

3. Blueberries. If there was ever an ornamental edible, this is it. A prettier shrub than privet or most common privacy hedge plants, it produces berries and turns as flaming red as any burning bush in the autumn. I have no idea why more people don't landscape with blueberries. Add to that the fact that blueberries constitute a "super food." They have more antioxidants than any single food, and are nutritional powerhouses. They do need acidic soil, but there are blueberries for all climates. Definitely worth replacing your shrubs with.

4. Amaranth - I've grown amaranth before, but this year's experimentation with "Golden Giant" and "Orange" was fascinating. In two 5'x4' beds I harvested 11.2 and 13.9 lbs of amaranth seed respectively. The plants are stunningly beautiful - 9' tall, bright honey gold or deep orange, with green variegated leaves. The leaves are also a good vegetable cooked with garlic and sauteed, or cooked southern style. Amaranth is an easy grain crop to harvest and make use of, is delicious, can be popped like popcorn, and makes wonderful cereal. Despite its adaptation to the Southwest (where it routinely yields extremely well with minimal water), it tolerated my wet, humid climate just fine.

5. Chick peas. Unlike most beans, which must be planted after the last frost, chick peas are highly nutritious and extremely frost tolerant. Plant breeder Carol Deppe has had them overwinter in the pacific northwest, and they can be planted as early as April here, or as late as July and still mature a crop. Unlike peas and favas that don't like hot weather, and most dry beans that don't like cold, chick peas seem happy no matter what. If you've only ever eaten store chick peas, you'll be fascinated to experience home grown ones - it is, in many ways, as big a revelation as homegrown tomatoes.

6. Beets. I know, I know, there' s no vegetable anyone hates as much as the beet. Poor beets - they are so maligned. We should all be eating more beets - especially pregnant women, women in their childbearing years who may become pregnant, and those at risk of heart disease and stomach and colon cancer. Beets are rich in folate (which prevents birth defects) and in studies have shown enormous capacity to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and fight colon and stomach cancer. Beets store well, yield heavily, provide highly nutritious greens for salad and cooking and are the sweetest food in nature. If you hate beets, give them another try - consider roasting beets with salt and pepper, or steaming them and pureeing them with apples and ginger. Laurie Colwin used to swear that her recipe for beets with angel hair pasta could convert anyone into a beet lover. Really, try them again!

7. Flax. You can grow this one in your flower beds, mixed in with your marigolds. Flax is usually a glorious blue - the kind of blue all flower gardeners covet. But the real reason to grow it is the seeds. Flaxseed oils are almost half omega-three fatty acids. A recent article claimed that we have no choice but to turn to GMO crops to provide essential omega threes without stripping the ocean - ignoring the fact that we can and should be growing flax everywhere, and enjoying flaxseed in our baked goods and our meals. Flax has particular value in nothern intensive gardening, which tends to be low in fats. If you grow more than you need, flaxseed is an excellent chicken feed - my poultry adore it.

8. Popcorn. If I could grow only one kind of corn, it would be popcorn, and popcorn is particularly suited to home scale gardening. There are many dwarf varieties, and many that yield well. And popcorn can be ground for flour (it is a bit of work, though, since popcorn is very hard), or popped for food. My kids like popcorn as breakfast cereal, or, of course, as a snack. Popcorn yields quite well for me in raised beds, and is always a treat at my house. It has all the merits of a whole grain, but is "accessible" to people not accustomed to eating brown rice or whole wheat - a great way to transition to a whole foods diet.

9. Kidney beans. While kidneys have lower protein levels than soy beans, they are very close to soy in total protein, and have the advantage of yielding more per acre. There are a number of pole variety kidney beans that are suitable to "three sisters" polyculture as well, so you can grow the two together. If I could grow only one dry bean (I usually grow 10 or more) it would probably be a kidney variety.

10. Rhubarb. Why rhubarb? Because it will tolerate almost any growing conditions, including part shade (most vegetables won't), wet soil, and you jumping up and down on it and trying to get it out. Once it is established, rhubarb is tireless. It is also delicious - it does require a fair bit of sweetener (stevia, applejuice or pureed cooked beets will do if you are avoiding sugar). We like it cooked to tart-sweet for a few minutes with just a little almond extract. But its great value is that it provides fresh, nutritious, "fruity" tasting food as early as April here, and goes on as late as July, happily producing spear after spear of calcium rich, tasty food, right when you are desperate for something, anything but dandilions and lettuce. I'm in the process of converting the north side of my house to a vast rhubarb plantation (ok, not that vast), because we can never get enough of it here.

11. Turnips. Let's say you live in an apartment, and want greens all winter, but don't have even a south facing windowsill available. What can you do? Well, you can buy a bag of turnips from your farmer's market. Eat some of them raw, enjoying the delicious sweet crispness of them. Shredded, they are a wonderful salad vegetable. Cook some, and mash them or roast them crisp. And take a few of the smaller turnips, and put them in a pot with some dirt on it, and stick them in a corner - east or west facing is best, but even north will work. And miraculously, using only its stored energy, the pots will go on producing delicious, nutritious turnip greens even in insufficient light. It is magic. If you do have a south facing windowsill, save it for the herbs, and put your potted turnips in the others.

12. Maximillian sunflowers. These are the perennials. They are ornamental, tall and stunning in the back of a border. They will tolerate any soil you can offer them, as long as they get full sun. They also produce oil seeds and edible roots, prevent erosion and can tolerate steep slopes, minimal water and complete and utter neglect. Don't forget to eat them!

13. Hopi Orange Winter Squash. We all have our favorite winter squash, and perhaps you know one that I'll like even better. But this variety has the advantage of keeping up to 18 months without softening, delicious flavor that improves in storage, and high nutritional value.

14. Annual Alfalfa. Most alfalfa is grown for forage, and it has to be grown on comparatively good, limed soil. But alfalfa is good people food too, and even a garden bed's worth can be enormously valuable. First, of course, it is a nitrogen fixer. While you can grow perennial varieties, the annual fixes more available nitrogen, faster. It can be cut back several times as green manure during the course of a season, or you can harvest it for hay to feed your bunnies or chickens. Don't forget to dehydrate some for tea - alfalfa is a nutritional powerhouse. And if you permit it to go to seed, the seeds make delicious sprouts and have the virtue of lasting for years. I've found that the annual version will make seed at the end of the season for harvest.

15. Potatoes. A few years ago I did an experiment - I threw a bit of compost on top of a section of my gravel driveway (and by "a bit" I do mean a little bit - not a garden bed's worth but a light coating), added a sprinking of bone meal, dropped some pieces of potatoes on the ground, and covered them with mulch hay. Periodically I added a bit more and replaced the sign that said "please don't drive on my potatoes" and in September, I harvested a reasonably good yield, given the conditions (about 30lbs from a 4'x4' square). I did it just to confirm what people have always known - potatoes grow in places on rocky, poor soil (or no soil) that no other staple crop can handle. Don't get me wrong - potatoes will be happier in better conditions, but potatoes can tolerate all sorts of bad situations, and come back strong. And potatoes respond better to hand cultivation than any other grain - until the 1960s hand grown, manured potatoes routinely outyielded green revolution varlieties of grains grown with chemical fertilizers. If there's hope to feed the world, it probably lies in potatoes.

16. Sumac. No, not the poison stuff, but yes, I mean the weedy tree that grows along the roadsides here. That weedy tree, you may not realize, has many virtues. Besides its flaming fall color and value for wildlife habitat and food, sumac makes a lovely beverage. If you harvest the red fruits in July or August and soak them, you'll get a lemony tasting beverage, as high in vitamin C as lemonjuice. Since sumac grows essentially over the entire US area that won't support lemons, this is enormously valuable. You can can freeze or can sumac lemonade for seasoning and drinking all year round. Poison sumac has white or greenish white berries, so they are easy to tell apart. Sumac's other value is as a restorative to damaged soil - densely planted sumac returns bare sand to fertility fairly quickly, as a University of Tennesee study shows.

17. Parsnips. If you don't live in the northeast, or do biointensive gardening, you probably don't eat parsnips. Me, I'm a New Englander, and the sweet, fragrant flavor of parsnips is a childhood joy. But even I hadn't ever had a real parsnip - one left in the garden after the ground freezes for its starches to convert to sugars. Parsnips are one of the most delicious things in nature, nutritionally dense, and just about the only food you can harvest in upstate New York in February (you do have to mulch them deeply if you don't want them frozen in the ground.

18. Potato onions. Onion seed doesn't last very long - and that's a worrisome thing. The truth is that if we can't get seed easily, and we can't grow out plants for seed easily because of some personal or environmental crisis, we might find ourselves without onions, and what a tragedy that would be. Who can cook without onions? No, we need to have onions. Which is why the perennial potato onions, that simply stay in the ground and are pulled and replanted are so enormously valuable - good tasting, put them where you want them, pull up what you need and ignore the rest. They'll give you scallions before you could get them any other way, and will provide a decent supply of small, but storable and delicious onions.

Anyway, I hope this helps you as you sort through your seed catalogs! Happy dreaming!


Sunday, November 18, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 27 - Feast...Thoughtfully.

All around Almanzo were cakes and pies of every kind, and he was
so hungry he could have eaten them all. But he dared not touch even
a crumb.

At last he and father got places at the log table in the dining room.
Everyone was merry, talking and laughing, but Almanzo simply ate.
He ate ham and chicken and turkey and dressing and cranberry jelly;
he ate potatoes and gravy, succotash, baked beans and boiled beans
and onions, and white bread and rye'n'injun bread, and sweet pickles
and jam and preserves. Then he drew a long breath, and he ate pie.

When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate
a pieces of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a
piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish
it. He just couldn't do it. There were berry pies and cream pies and
vinegar pies and raisin pies, but he could not eat any more.
-_Farmer Boy_ by Laura Ingalls Wilder

If you've read what I had to say about pie last month, you'll not be surprised to know that this is one of my favorite passages in all of Wilder's wonderful books. The glorious descriptions of food and eating in "Farmer Boy" stand in stark contrast to Laura's own childhood, which included a winter of starvation and long periods of limited diet. It has been suggested that the reason the food sections of "Farmer Boy" are so glorious is because of this stark contrast, because of Laura's envy of her husband's wonderful dinners.

But even Almanzo's marvellous farm meals came in the context of a daily life that was spare by modern standards. The average family used only a few pounds of sugar a year - we now eat over a hundred pounds of sweetener per person. And Almanzo's luxury meals also were built around days spent doing heavy manual farm work. That is, part of what is so glo about the description above is that it is pleasure with no hint of shame - there is no reason to feel bad about pie in the context of a life of hard work and few sweets and fats.

I know that I cannot be the only environmentalist carrying a few extra pounds around, but it is one of those little things that we don't talk a whole lot about. That is, when we talk about equal food for everyone, we very rarely own up to our own deficiencies in the "eating only a fair share" department. I, unfortunately, cannot as easily approach feast days without a little guilt - and how often do we say these things to one another "Oh, I really shouldn' we take another bite."

Now Thanksgiving (for us Americans), and heading hard into the winter holidays is a terrible, terrible time to start a diet and since I pretty much make it a firm policy not to advise anyone to do anything I'm not prepared to do, I wish to be clear I don't want anyone to start one. I'm looking forwards to home grown turkey and pumpkin pie just like everyone else.

And that's appropriate - feasting is a good thing. It is important - there should be times in our lives when we live lushly, when we rejoice in full larders and the pleasures of excess. I may be into energy related austerity, but I'm all for sensual pleasures and the delights of communal festivity. There should be times when the food and the wine flow without restraint.

The problem is that we in the west live in a place that is always in feast mode, almost always without restraint. We can eat what was once a month's work of luxury foods in a single meal at a chain restaurant, we can have whatever we want, whenever we want. We live in a culture where it is hard to tell feast days apart from ordinary ones - except, perhaps that in many homes Thanksgiving is the one time in a year anyone eats a root vegetable that isn't a french fry and the one time a year anyone cooks from scratch.

So far be it from me to discourage any of us from feasting. But the thing that I am trying to bring home to myself is this - just as seasonal eating represents an increase in pure sensual delight, a new found pleasure in eating things when they are at their peak, and only then, so would greater restraint make my moments of feasting more pleasurable. That is, I would enjoy my feasts without the slightest hint of discomfort if I ate less the rest of the time, if my current meals were a bit more austere.

And doing so would be both just and fiscally sound - the reality is that many of us eat more than we need to and more of the rich, luxurious fats and sweets that are supposed to be an occasional treat. One of my own goals, as we come out of the feasting season, and into the quieter, leaner times of winter, is not so much to lose weight (although that would be good) or eat less, but to derive more pleasure from what I do eat, that is, to feast thoroughly and fully with great pleasure and no discomfort, and then, in the ordinary days in between, to eat less and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of my food, and the way that simpler meals with less fat and sweet and salt, more vegetables, greens, beans and grains, are both delightful in themselves, and a way of heightening the pleasure of our feasting days.



Friday, November 16, 2007

More Will Be Asked of Us: Revisiting 100 Million Farmers

A lot of people ask me why I don't can food and put it up for sale. I've had people say "Wow, I love your kitchen full of jars of home-canned food - where can I get food like that?" I had a woman ask me if I'd raise my chickens as complete vegetarians so that she could eat the eggs - I pointed out that chickens who have the opportunity spend a lot of their time eating bugs, but she said that she only wanted eggs from vegetarian chickens.

My friend, Beth Hook just emailed me about the same issues - one of her customers eats fish as a primary protein source, and wanted to know why Beth couldn't raise some tilapia in tanks for her in her copious spare time while she runs her CSA, and another customer wanted her to stop using flouridated town water to water her garden.

I think one of the biggest problems we have as a society is that for 50 years, we've been told that the most important role we can have in changing our options is to "create markets" - that is, to tell people "I want this" so that someone else will do it for us. And to an extent, that's true -I'm very grateful to people who buy local food and want to provision themselves locally. But I also believe that the notion tha our primary contribution to the world is to make markets has handicapped us.

The simple truth is that no matter how wonderful the local markets, your local farms probably won't support most of the populace. Thus far, local food is a luxury item, for those in the know, and those who have access to it. Because of the sheer number of interested consumers, markets are indeed expanding rapidly - and that's absolutely wonderful.

But the blunt truth is that if the time were to come fairly rapidly that we needed to *rely* on our extant food and agricultural systems, we'd be in deep trouble, very quickly. The current models are nowhere near large enough or resilient enough to meet present needs, much less enable surpluses to be produced in regions that can produce them to protect us from famine.

So how do we get more local agriculture on the ground? Part of that is the creation of new markets - which means the creation of new eating patterns. Farmers do not exist in a vacuum - they grow foods people want to eat and to buy. That means we need to eat locally, create markets for local foods, and start relying on local markets for staple foods as well. We need to start making and modelling local cusines and diets.

There are limits, however, to markets. For example, unless you are prepared to pay $20lb for potatoes, it will be difficult to make ends meet growing fields of potatoes in Westchester County for New York City - if there are any fields left. The cost of land and living are simply too high. It isn't that you can't grow staples in Westchester - but where real estate market meets farmer's market, real estate wins, at least in high value areas. So no matter how much desire you create for local staple crops in Manhattan, you are unlikely to create sufficient markets unless we do more - encourage agricultural land to be set aside from development, for example, encourage communities to manage their open land agriculturally, transform parts of public parks into farms.

And it means that those of us who want local food have to do more than simply create markets. In order to create a resilient food sovreignty, a local food system that can handle crop failures, floods, droughts and bad years, that can feed its population and in good years provide surpluses for food reserves and for other communities, we have to maximize the use of our land. And that means growing food ourselves whenever possible - getting out to that community garden, putting those containers on rooftops, turning your yard into a food producing area.

A year ago I called for 100 Million farmers, and I've had the pleasure of seeing that idea enter the mainstream. Richard Heinberg gave talks about 50 million farmers, in part based on my idea, and put it in his latest book. Pat Murphy at the Community Solution is calling for 25-50% of the populace to be involved in agriculture. But what does "involved" mean here? Does it mean that half of everyone in the workforce has to quit their jobs and get a farm with a capital F?

No, it doesn't. In fact, I suspect the vast majority of the people who will be growing food will not be doing so on a field scale - the way we've subdivided our agricultural land, turned it into suburbs and put houses on it means that almost half of our land, much of it extremely good farmland, is set in small lots of a quarter acre, half an acre, two acres with houses on it. We must farm that land - by 2050, we will only have 0.6 acres per person of arable land in the US. Our current diet requires 3xs that much land. If we ate vastly less meat and more beans and grains, we could reduce that to 1.2 acres per person. But 0.6 acres means that under the present system, people will starve - unless at least half of our 100 million farmers are people in existing housing, turning existing land into food producing spaces. We are going to depend on our home farmers absolutely - that means everyone who possibly can be must become one.

We need more professional farmers, and more and better markets for them that will enable them to achieve a fair wage. But we also do need people to farm their own bits of land - because the smaller your farm is, the more productive it generally is. All of us who garden know this - manage a pot and you can manage it by the centimeter, a garden bed can be managed by the inch. Small scale home agriculture on a half an acre or so can produce yields that will put professional farmers to shame. There are some crops that aren't especially efficient to grow on that scale, but hundreds more that are.

That means that the responsibility for eating a local diet has to lie with those of us who believe in doing it - so if you want your chickens to be vegetarians, that means maybe going to your zoning board and changing the policies about poultry, building a coop and a run, and raising your own chickens on grains and grass with all the bugs picked out. If you want your state or region to be able to feed itself, you need to be at the forefront of this, working to transform existing open land into gardens, and using the bit land you own, if you own any, optimally.

It means that if you want to eat local, seasonal food all year 'round, if you aren't so disabled you can't cook, you'll have to do your own food preservation. It is more work - but just in case I've given the false impression that I want everyone here to eat local so badly that I'll come to their house and put up their peppers for them, let me clarify - I don't want it that badly ;-). I do believe it is essential for our future and survival - but my goal is to persuade you to believe it and do your share of the work ;-) - most years, I can barely get my own food preservation done.

The tiny percentage of the American population who are professional farmers cannot do it alone - they can't because farming is a tough job, but they also can't because the places we most need to grow food are places with little or no farmland available. That is, we need grow the most food in densely populated areas - this is common sense. If peak oil means transportation problems (duh), we're most secure if we have a lot of food grown where we live.

This is perfectly possible - many cities, including densely populated Hong Kong, grow signficant portions of their produce and meat within the city limits. The average suburban lot could provide half the calories for a family of four plus surplus to sell for neighbors. But home prices are high in places near urban centers, and farmers can't afford to buy land - because it is much more valuable with houses on it than potatoes. So one of the essential factors - perhaps *THE SINGLE MOST ESSENTIAL FACTOR* in our food security will be small scale farmers (and I prefer to call small scale producers farmers - it is far too fine and significant a word to leave to the Con Ag folks) and gardeners who do the work *in addition* to the work they do for their economic support. Those are the only people who can afford to farm high value land near cities - the people who live there already. And that also means that we have to find ways to keep people in their houses as the economy tanks and the transition begins - because in areas where home food production is feasible, it must go forward, and food production requires a degree of stability - you cannot build soil, nurture fruit trees, design for permaculture without staying place. This may not be perfectly possible for everyone, but to the extent that it is possible, most of us need to find a place to stay, and to advocate to for ways to keep people in their houses.

And we must farm that land - as studies demonstrate, there will be less and less available arable land over the next few decades, and more and more people eating. The truth is that if we don't make the suburbs, cities and exurbs into food producing areas, we will most likely know real and serious hunger. We cannot afford to lose the best farmland we have, just because we put houses on it. And we cannot afford to lose our sense of perspective, and to trust that if we just make markets, other people, different people, will do the hard work of producing the food for us. More will be asked of us than that.

Green consumerism is a growing phenomenon - my current favorite ad shows a man standing in front of his McMansion, with arrows pointing to his "sustainably harvested wood trim" and garage made out of rare tropical wood harvested by hand by native tribesmen of Indonesia with stone axes (ok, I exaggerate a little), with a big smile and a comment underneath about how proud he is that he can have what he wants, and what is right.

And underneath the message of green consumerism is an enormous lie - that our major job in the world is to open our mouths like baby birds and wait for markets to feed us a big, juicy, environmentally-friendly worm. The simple truth is that none of us are served by being told that we don't have to do anything. In fact, I wonder sometimes if that isn't the reason that Americans suffer so much from depression, anxiety and other disorders - because we are told that we are powerless, and thus not obliged to contribute anything so very often. That is, I wonder if the absolute most destructive thing we can do for people is to lie to them and say "just buy better stuff" rather than "get to work." The message of "get to work" involves inconvenience, of course, but it also involves power, and autonomy, and making meaning - things that human beings value and indeed, revel in. We like to do a good job. We like to find meaning in what we do - in fact, that latter may be the most fundamental human project. And we are not so stupid that it has escaped the notice of at least our unconsciousness that there is no deeper meaning in opening one's mouth and waiting for a worm.

It will not, of course, be an easy transition. You cannot tell people for fifty years that they have nothing to contribute but their wanting without them having some difficulty with the message that now, we want more from them. But I also believe that those who say that sacrifice and commitment are not possible, that we're so spoiled and lost that we don't have the capacity for those things are completely, utterly wrong. In fact, I would argue that we long to make our work matter - in every study I've seen, most Americans express pride and a desire to do well when at work. We want to matter to - the overwhelming message after September 11 was "what can I do." And the answer, of course, was that we could go shopping. We did, but many, many people expressed their dissatisfaction in that answer - they wanted to do more, give more, find an outlet for their desire to help. Now some might argue that the momentum of September 11 is long gone - that's true. But I don't believe that September 11 made us different than we are, I believe it forced us to confront for a moment our deep desire to make meaning, to be part of something meaningful - and that if that lurks back in many of us, waiting for a crisis, it could be called forth, exposed to the light and made beautiful and transformative.

We need to buy local food and support local farmers, to create markets for local economies. That is good and important work. But MORE WILL BE ASKED OF ALL OF US THAN THAT. It is time to get comfortable with that reality. As my friend Beth said, "Gesh, Grow It Yourself!" It is time for all of us who can to move from simply buying local, to producing local.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Familiarity of an Idea

The first time I heard of cloth toilet paper, it was some years ago an internet homesteading group, and the person posting called it "unpapering." They asked if any other people didn't use disposable paper or plastic products at all, and while we were already doing cloth napkins and rags, my immediate reaction to the idea of cloth toilet paper, which I'd never encountered before was "ugh!"

At around the same time, I had four small kids in diapers, using partly cloth (two were going to school and had to use plastic there), including cloth wipes. That is, I was wiping the behinds of not one but four small children with what was effectively cloth toilet paper, and I still reacted to the idea of using it on me with an instinctive "I'll never do that." I had managed to comparmentalize, imagining, that somehow, my rear end was fundamentally different than the rear ends I was wiping.

I ran into the idea here and there in the oddest places over a while, until I got to the point that I would actually defend cloth toilet paper as "perfectly reasonable" - I just hadn't done it yet. But over time and with regular contact with the concept, it moved from "out there" to "ok in principle" quite quickly. I stopped compartmentalizing at some point - I made the connection between the fact that I wipe up bottoms *all the time* with cloth, and that it really wouldn't be that different.

Then came the radical transition point - someone mentioned something that had never occurred to me - that you could keep your paper tp for pooping, and use cloth for pee. Suddenly, the light went on, and I began looking speculatively at a pile of old t shirts. I suddenly realized that one of my most basic assumptions - that this was an all-or-nothing idea, was wrong. Pretty soon the scissors were out, and we were using cloth tp. It didn't take long until we preferred it - way more comfy.

Cloth toilet paper took me longer than most ecological changes to make, because it involved so many other cultural assumptions - first I had to get over the idea that one's out bodily output was too gross to have anything to do with. Parenthood and my first read of Jenkins's _Humanure Handbook_ took care of that. Then I had to run into the idea, get over my immediate aversion, see that it was an idea that others held and that it wasn't too "weird," and then find an accessible way to do it. And then I actually figure out what I could use for tp, try it and keep trying it.

The most fundamental issue here for me, was familiarity. There are some ideas you run into once and immediately say "Why didn't I think of that" and implement it in your own life, but there are many other things where the first time you confront an idea, you can't do much more than file it away as a weird factoid. Without context and familiarity, it is just too hard and too strange.

How do we differentiate between ideas that immediately get dismissed and those that percolate a while, perhaps leading to further change? How do we help people get familiar with any change that seems to go against cultural pressures, from putting a garden on their front lawn to composting their own wastes?

My own experience is that the following five things all help a lot. I think one of the most important things that bloggers and other environmental activists can do is to simply present new stuff in an accessible way, that helps get people past those first hurdles of resistance.

1. Expose people to the new idea, repeatedly if necessary. They say that to get a toddler to try a new food, you may have to offer it to her as many as 20 times. Grownups, I think, are often even more conservative than toddlers - the first time we confront an idea, we might not even notice it. The second time we might instinctively reject it. It might take three or four or twenty times for an idea even to translate all the way into awareness of it.

Think about peak oil - the idea that we'll eventually run out of fossil fuels itself is often hard for people to grasp, which is weird, because of course, we all should know that. In order to get to the idea that we're at or near an oil peak right now, we have to get people to grasp a whole host of subtler ideas, including the fact that oil is a finite resource for which there's no obvious replacement. Intellectually, most of us know that. In practice, millions of people, maybe billions, have never gotten their heads around that factoid enough to be able to translate information about peak oil into knowledge. The more times they hear this information, and the more sources they hear it from, the more that "click" moment is likely to happen, allowing them to take the next intellectual step. So it is important to reiterate information all the time - yes, it can be boring for those in the know, but it is absolutely essential.

2. Let people know that other people who they know, like and respect are doing this. Let's be honest, we're all vulnerable to peer pressure, at least a little. When I run into a new idea, I usually categorize it by the context I find it in - that is, if it comes along with a lot of other things I find crazy or wrong, I might not do the hard work of sorting out the one gem in there. And if I'm forced to think "Oh, well Annie does that, and she's not too weird..." I can associate it with "normal" people.

I'm not sure that this is one that I do especially well - I doubt many people think "Oh, Sharon's so normal..." ;-), but I do think that one of the most helpful things I can do is point out "I bake my own bread for a family of six. I am a normal slob of a person, not some superwoman, but I can do it." Other people may then begin to think "we normal slobs can begin to bake our own breads..."

2. Respond to the appeal to "irrelevant authorities" - that is, people like to think that new ideas come with authorization. If you can show someone an article in the paper, or print out a list from the internet that mentions your new idea, you've automatically transferred it from teh category of "weird thoughts in my head" to "thoughts worthy of being written down." Now we all know that just because things are written does not make them truth, but still, there's something to words on a page or a screen that makes the idea accessible.

I've come to realize one of my own primary roles in the world is to take the heat from other people's spouses off of them. That is, I can't count the times that someone has told me "I got my wife to do X, and said to blame it all on you because you said so." And I think that's great (I just wish it worked on my husband, who has a much more jaundiced view of "Sharon said" than many people's spouses apparently do ;-)). I'm fully prepared to blamed by people I've never met and often never will meet for driving them crazy. The simple fact is that my authority is totally irrelevant - but I won't tell if you don't.

3. Provide accessible way into the idea. Getting a garden on a front lawn might be scary - what if then neighbors object? What if the town gives us trouble? What if it gets messy, and I don't have time to maintain it and I ruin all the property values around me? What if the neighbor's kids ruin it? But half the time we don't even know why we find an idea scary or overwhelming - we can't articulate what it is that seems wrong to us, so we just say "no way." The more access we give people to new ideas, the more likely they are to adopt them - for example, offering ways to try it out without too much commitment, say, suggesting we replace foundation plantings with blueberries or that we start with one bed and interplant with flowers. The more of us who can tell our own personal stories about how we got here - or even how we're working on getting there the more times we may touch off one of those "Oh, I thought..." moments where we suddenly realize what the problem is.

4. Find the pleasure. This does not mean endless, mindless cheerleading about how everything will always be wonderful, but I do find, for example, that locating pleasures can help you jump over some of the necessary intellectual steps. I know lots of people who will not (yet) grow food to save themselves from the ravages of climate change - they simply aren't there yet, and they would have to take too many intellectual steps to get there. That may happen over time, but because I want them to grow food more than I want them to agree with me, I can circumvent the whole discussion by observing that I grow food because the food is better than any you can possibly buy, no matter how rich you are. Or that my food budget is manageable because I grow food.

It doesn't have to go systematically - you don't have to accept peak oil, for example, to see the value of local food and energy systems that provide better, healthier food. Think of it as an intellectual checkers game - figure out where you want to go, and see how many "steps" you can jump right over to get there.

5. Encourage people to try things. I'm a reader, one of those people who, confronting a new idea, gets as many books as possible together. And that's great, those books can save you a lot of time and energy. But they also can bog you down into not trying things. I know I'm perfectly capable of getting caught up in research and getting distracted from the larger question. Reminding ourselves that there's no substitute for direct experience is important - go on, try the cloth toilet paper, try making bread - the worst that happens is that you won't like it. Internet challenges and other "do it with me" projects here are enormously valuable - trying something new is intimidating, trying something new with other people to ask for advice, and other people brave enough to admit their errors is different.

Getting past our fear of failure is the other thing that we need to work on. Even when there are no stakes at all, people hate to make mistakes or be wrong. I think one of the most important things we can do is admit our mistakes, laugh at them, and encourage other people to try and fail sometimes. Because the reality is that the stakes are small in many cases - if you've never built anything before, and you get out there with a hammer and nails, the worst thing you'll do is get a sore finger and have your chicken tractor fall apart. Life goes on. There are some things you shouldn't try without knowing what you are doing - pressure canning, using a chainsaw, anything that can kill you. But for the most part, you have to make some mistakes to get good at something, you have to take some risks and try something before you can do it - and the more we can help people feel comfortable with making mistakes, the more competent people there will be out there.

Me, I'm past the cloth tp hurdle and moving on to the "make your own pet foods" challenge, an idea that has been percolating for a while. How about the rest of you?


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We Have to Stop Making Greenhouse Gasses

First the cheery news - if you are interested, I'm going to be on KBOO Portland 90.7 talking to Andrew today about the problems of biofuels at 9am PST. If you want to read some of my prior writing about the subject, you can find it here: The interview will eventually be online here:

Now to the bad news (and you knew there had to be some, of course), Carbon Equity's sequel to The Big Melt is out, and its assessment of what needs to be done is shocking - unless you've been reading this blog and following the news regularly. I can't link you directly to it, since PDF files do nasty things to my computer, but again, I'll send you over to Rob Hopkins' site to check it out:

Again, this is mostly a reiteration of what we knew already - that nothing in the present plans created by the IPCC or any national government is adequate to what we're facing - we're not only lost in the Arizona desert, but we're still looking that the town road map for Akron, Ohio - we're not even on the right page. Nor do we have a lot of time to get it right.

And we have to get it right - the stakes are simply too high - no matter what the personal price to us now, it is inevitably going to be less serious than the price we will pay if we don't stop climate change. In fact, one of the great absolute truths is that it is always easier, cheaper and better to prevent a mess than clean it up afterwards - that fact is not any less true in the face of the knowledge that fixing the problem will be extraordinarily difficult for us.

The next part of the report will include solutions, and I have no doubt that it will be as wise and useful as the rest of the report. My own take on this is that there simply is no other option than mostly, to stop buying stuff, stop using stuff, stop burning fuel and change our society, radically. And that means mostly changing our society by making do with what we've got - by taking all the things we've invested so much energy in over the last decades, and extracting what benefit we can from them, and then going forward from there. Perhaps we'll sequester some carbon, I'm sure we'll do some renewables - but mostly, we're going to be taking the bits and pieces and fragments of what we have and putting the puzzle pieces together again to make a different picture.

And I'll admit, a particular thought experiment has been troubling my mind lately. I wonder sometimes, what the results would be in this country if we pulled the bandaid off rather rapidly, and managed to cut fossil fuel inputs dramatically, and rapidly, rather like Cuba in the special period.

Now don't mistake me, I have absolutely no doubt that I would hate the results - that it would involve panic, riots, catastrophe, hunger, disaster. The average Cuban lost 20lbs during the special period - I could afford it, my husband barely, my kids absolutely not. And yet, I wonder if it might not be that someone with the courage to do this may be our only choice - because so far, what we are doing is not doing it. We're so afraid of the suffering we might experience even in an easy transition that I sometimes wonder whether if we could just be forced into letting go of our fear, to jump in and go forward, we might not, in the end succeed.

These are just musings, of course, and I'm also grateful for my options, for my comforts. I don't want the magic fairy dust of fossil fuels to go away - they are far too convenient. And if I have trouble disciplining myself, I'm sure it is no surprise that others do too.

Ah well, just thinking.


Monday, November 12, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 26 - More Butts in Your House

We're halfway there, folks! Is anyone out there actually doing these, week to week? I'd love to hear how it is going for you.

At Community Solutions, one wonderful presentation on transportation focused on the advantages of "getting more butts in the seats" - and I'll write more about this next week. But today, I want to talk about a corrollary practice - getting more butts in our houses.

Over the last 50 years, the average housing space per person has risen from 250 square feet to 850 square feet. We're living in absolute mansions, mini-Versailles, as Miranda at simple-reduce so wisely calls them. We have more space than anyone could possible need, and because of that, we consume more resources - more space means more stuff to fill it, more heat, more light... While many younger people have roommates and housemates, as you get older, it gets less and less common - even though having others around to help out, share the load, and work together can be equally valuable at different stages of life.

Now I live in a giant house - it is an ancient, rambling old farmhouse, and four years ago, we added an addition for Eric's grandparents. The total house size is about 3800 square feet - putting our per person usage at right around the insane national average. And while we've proved you don't have to use a lot of energy in a big space, we're also frustrated, because we have more space than we need. It is hard to keep clean, a lot of work to deal with, and expensive to pay the taxes on.

We built the addition with the assumption that Eric's grandmother, who was comparatively young and healthy, would live with us for 10 years or more. By that time, we thought, one of our own parents might need the space, or my oldest, autistic son might be close to living on his own. But Eric's grandmother sadly died only a few months after her husband, our parents are in their 50s and early 60s and don't need any help, and my son is 7 1/2 years old and not going to get his own place for a long, long time. Meanwhile, I live in a six bedroom house, and my four kids, as I've said, not only all sleep in the same room, but most nights they end up in the same bed ;-). So the house is a bit of overkill.

The land is overkill too - talking with other CSA farmers in Yellow Springs, we pretty much all agree that without draft animals or tractors or large pasture arrangements, 1-1.5 acres is pretty much the maximum a single human being can manage by hand. We have 27 acres, most of it woods and pasture, but still plenty of room for more gardens and more expansion, but no time, and not enough energy. I'm writing more and farming less, and I'd love to share the work with someone else who cares about a piece of land and wants to commit to it.

My husband would rather have his fingernails ripped off than contemplate moving, so that brings me to the next option - just as instead of buying a higher mileage car you can carpool and effectively double your per person mileage, getting more people in our existing houses would dramatically increase their sustainability and efficiency. It costs the same to warm the house to 60 whether six people live there or one. And for every person like me with a giant house and a bunch of land, there's another person who has been priced out of the real estate market, or is struggling to get by.

Roommates are one option, consolidating with family another (I still have to write a post about how to actually live with your relatives - coming soon to this blog near you!), adopting more kids might be one option (and it is something we are also considering). But finding some way to get more people in your house is an excellent strategy for saving money, energy and building community.

Which brings me to our house, and its severe shortage of butts. As I said, we need more butts in our house. At the moment our friends have jobs elsewhere and lives they are happy with, our family is doing ok on its own. So we've decided to use the internet to seek out other people who might be compatible with the same basic goals and interests, who would like to share our home.

Announcing this is extremely scary for me, because I'm not always the easiest person on the planet to live with, and I particularly worry about what might happen when someone who thinks highly of me because they read my blog comes into regular contact with the real me, but the truth is this - we have to take some risks. So I'm going to take this one, and hope that maybe out there in internet land is a perfect match. I know, that sounds like dating already - but it sort of is, only this time it is family dating ;-). But there won't be a first kiss ;-).

What we're looking for, in the long term, is people who are interested in serious community building - that is, people who want a long term, extended family/close friend intimacy. Everything else is negotiable - what we're looking for are housemates who we'll enjoy living with and be the richer for knowing. We are not just looking to be someone's landlord - so what I'm actually proposing is something kind of like dating - that we'd spend a long time getting to know one another, and then take a risk - if you are interested. I would ask that anyone who emails me about this not be offended if we don't pursue you, or if we decide for some reason not to do this altogether - these kind of arrangements are delicate and I don't think anyone would be happy with a bad match.

I think it goes without saying that you have to be interested in the kind of life we live. That is, You don't have to use cloth tp, but we're not interested in seeing our power usage triple, either. If you come here, you'll be living with me, the whack-job environmentalist who periodically tries to argue her husband into turning the main power off entirely - forever. So far, he's winning the fight, and obviously other people will get votes on that too, but I would assume that you wouldn't be insane enough to want to share my home unless you were also into cutting your emissions and fossil fuel usage, Peak aware, and didn't mind having a crazy lady wander over for tea and a rant about the latest emissions stats.

We have a 1000 square foot downstairs apartment, extremely well insulated, with a new Soapstone wood stove. It has a bedroom, galley kitchen and living room, as well as a freakishly large bathroom, and a sun porch. There are also, adjoining in the "main" part of the house two additional small bedrooms with intersecting bathroom that might be added to the deal. Or we could just have the whole house open to everyone and divvy up space in other ways, depending on inclination.

Our ideal candidates would probably be people in a similar stage of life as ours, with young kids of their own (mine are now 7 1/2, 6, not quite 4 and 2), because you'll be used to noise, mess and chaos. We're willing to consider other people, but if you haven't lived in a farm family with small kids and pets, you might be surprised how disruptive it is. We're happy to share land, house and resources, including animals, and would love to share farm work with you. The people we imagine would be extremely flexible, fun to be around, patient with me and the kids (my husband is easy), not too neat, or at least tolerant of us (we're slobs), handy (we're not especially), and interested in building a partly communal, partly separate arrangment, and willing to make delicate negotiations between privacy and sharing.

Money is up for discussion - this isn't primarily about money for us. So are long term possibilities for working out a legal stake for people we've proved we can live and work with in this land. Our goal is to make friends, share values with people, make change in our area, and pool our resources - we're open to some barter and possible ways of sharing expenses. We're trying very hard to bring our place up to speed for the coming crisis, and people who want to share in that project are essential. Living out in the country the way we do can be isolating, and we have more than we need right now - while some kind of economic arrangement will be necessary, we're flexible, and having friends and people to share the work with right here would be valuable to us. Trust me, you'll be expected to kick in, but we're not shooting to make a profit here.

I would encourage other people to take this risk as well - a lot of us had plenty of roommates back in the college and grad school days, and for me at least, those are mostly happy memories. In some ways it is harder now - not because I mind sharing more, but because we own the property and I don't much care to be someone's landlord. I'm hoping we can achieve something a little more equal in the long term. If other people want to consider homesharing (who aren't already) and post links in the comments sections, I invite you do so.

Please email me at if you are interested in pursuing this. Right now I'm under the gun finishing my book, so I can't promise I'll do anything more than write this post and read your response before the beginning of December - please don't take it personally. But I'd like to hear from you, and begin thinking about making some changes.

Seriously - you can cut your emissions two ways - use less, or spread your use around. Consider getting more butts in your house, if you've got the room.

Edited to add: After I posted this, I spotted Stuart Staniford's analysis on the subject of extended families living together, and I'd really like to direct everyone's attention to it here: I'm thrilled that Staniford, one of the best analysts out there, is turning his energies towards household change. The simple truth is, if anything I think Staniford radically underestimates how powerful this kind of social, domestic change could be. He rates this as slightly lower than raising fuel efficiency - but I think that's absolutely wrong - people living together could be vastly more important than fuel efficiency standards, and have a huge host of impacts all over our consumption. Please do check it out.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Welcome Home, Mr. Orwell

Well, in the top 10 most Orwellian pieces of news of the year comes this lovely quote from our Deputy Director of National Intelligence:

"Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, a deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information."

Yup, that's right, we've got the official statement here - we're a fascist state. Perhaps we should more accurately say "corporatist." We've hired a new director of fascism, and he's doing the kindness of giving it to us straight. Businesses and governments will now relieve us of the inconvenience of having to be private, if we will only trust them to wisely govern us in our own interests. Fascism, by definition, is the integration of corporate power with state power - and that's what is being described here, quite explicitly. If we ever pretended that we were doing anything else, we've ceased to do so.

Richard Heinberg recently described three choices available to our society as "An Ecological New Deal" in which we put all our energies and money towards vast public works projects to enable us to live in a low energy society, "Fascism" and "Bottoms Up" in which society more or less falls apart and operations must occur at lower levels - city, state or local. During his Community Solutions presentation, Heinberg argued that he thought Feudal Fascism was pretty much the direction the US was headed in, and I can't say I disagree - the above, of course, being just one more bit of evidence.

While an ecological New Deal would obviously be the ideal option here, I admit to bluntly believing it is not possible to achieve it. The economic bad news we're getting now, is as even the most deeply invested admit, only the tip of the iceberg. The New Deal depended on the US's ability to borrow vast sums of money from nations who had reason to believe we'd repay them - but our current economy has depended far too long on vast borrowed sums, borrowed from people with no reason whatsoever to believe we might repay them. They are done loaning us money, and the whole creaking edifice is collapsing. Heinberg himself points out that other nations are fairly well placed to implement ecologicaly keynesianism, but the US is not.

So what's left? Fascism, or "bottoms up" - and I know which one looks better to me. I can't imagine anyone who prefers to live in the state described above - one where the cynical redefinition of terms transforms our right to privacy into one more privelege for the repressive, all-overseeing state. Bottoms up may be disruptive, but yet again, I find myself in agreement with Thomas Homer-Dixon's argument that collapse may actually be better than the alternative.

If there's hope here, I find it in Thomas Princen's book, _The Logic of Sufficiency_, one of the most hopeful and remarkable books I've read, where he says,

I discovered in my earlier research on international conflict resolution that however intractable an intersocial conflict may be, there are always people working on the solution. Pick the direst time in the Middle East conflict, for example, and you can find someone hidden away in a basement drawing up maps for the water and sewer lines, lines that will connect the two societies and that must be built when peace is reached, as inconceivable as that is at the time. Someone else is sketching the constitution for a new country, the one that is also inconceivable at the time. And someone else is outlining the terms of trade for the as yet unproduced goods that will traverse the two societies' border. We do not hear about these people because it is the nature of their work, including the dangers of their activities, that make it so. Surrounded by intense conflict, hatred adn violence, these people appear the food, idealists who do not know or can not accept the reality of their societies' situation. If they really knew that situation, others would say, they would be 'realists'; they would concentrate their efforts on hard bargaining, economic incentives and military force. But in practice, when a threshold is passed, when leaders shake hands or a jailed dissident is freed or families from the two sides join together, everyone casts about for new ways to organize.

My prognosis, foolish and idealistic as it may seem to some, is that the threshold, that day of biophysical reckoning, is near. And with it, serious questions about humans' patterns of material provisioning, their production, their consumption, their work and their play. Then the premises of modern industrial societies - capitalist, socialist, communist - will crumble. Efficiency will provide little guidance...A feedlot is still a feedlot, a conveyor belt still a conveyor belt. When it becomes obvious that efficiency-driven societies can no longer continue their excesses, displace their cotss, postpone their investments in natural capital, when it is obvious that they can no longer grow their way out of climate change and species extinctions and aquifer depletions and the bioaccumulation of persistent toxic substances, people eerywhere will indeed be casting about...Notions of moderation and prudence and stewardship will stand up, as if they were just waiting to be noticed, waiting for their time, even though, in many realms, they were always there."

Now, then, is the time for us to make up some alternate maps, to create some alternate structure to the fascist ones being built around us. And maybe it is time to get over our fear of collapse - there are worse things, after all.


Friday, November 09, 2007

How To Eat Cheap

Well, we're effectively at 100 dollars a barrel (give or take) - I win my bet with my economist friend Steve with an easy 2 years, 1 month to spare (I was betting by 2010). This would be great news, except like everyone else I have to buy gas, so the $50 bet won't exactly offset a large investment.

And, like everyone else, I buy food too, something that is increasingly tough on the pocketbook. Food prices are up 30% overall, but some staples, like flour and milk have doubled or more in price. Now we store food in fairly large quantities, so we're still eating on older prices, but I'm in no way convinced that the crisis has occurred, so it isn't like we don't end up buying more.

Still, this does, at least to me, point out the importance of finding space for some food storage. I know those of you who live in apartments may not have a lot of additional room, I suspect the long term security and savings might be worth it - even if you have to take out your couch, put down 5 gallon buckets, cover them with couch pillows and a sheet, and make a food storage couch - I've sat on one, and it wasn't half bad. Because the truth is, there's only so much cutting back anyone can do on the budget - and emergencies happen to urban dwellers just like rural ones.

But the big issue is how do you cut back your food budget when things get tight? This may be obvious to a lot of people, but the truth is, there are millions of Americans who can't make the money meet the end of the month, and who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Of those millions, a majority are children and the elderly, two of the groups most vulnerable to even short periods of malnutrition. So making sure we can provide a healthy, balanced diet even when we're poor is an essential project. Not only that, but the diet need not be monotonous or flavorless, if you can afford even a few basic herbs and spices.

So what do you eat when you are poor? Well, your friends are going to be beans, lentils and grains. They are nutritious, tasty, simple, accessible and store well. If there's any way you can come up with the money, buy them in big bags in bulk - a minimum of 10lbs, 50 is better. Whole grains and dried beans store nearly forever (brown rice is an exception here - white stores better, but is less nutritious). You say you can't use 50lbs of beans? I bet you can - over 5 years. They will still be good, just need a bit longer to cook. You have to think ahead a bit here - remember, you'll need to soak the beans or throw them in the slow cooker or on the back of the stove the night before.

The obvious thing is beans and rice. Sweat an onion on the stove in a little oil, throw in a carrot if you've got one, some garlic. Add spices - cumin, coriander, bay and dried chilies are good, but is almost any combination. Add the beans and a little liquid - water, broth, flat beer if you've got it lying around. Cook any kind of beans for a short while, until you like the way they taste, add a little salt and eat them over rice.

But what about beans and pasta? Noodles are cheap, and while beans, red beans, kidney beans - all are terrific in vinagrette with noodles, and perhaps some vegetables or sprouts, garlic and thyme. Or what about a loaf of whole wheat bread with a bean salad - cabbage, various beans (multiple kinds are prettier), sprouts, sliced carrots in a dressing of oil and vinegar.

How about curried lentils? Cook the lentils till tender, and in another pan, sautee onions, ginger and garlic. Add curry powder and a splash of soy sauce. Serve with rice, or over chapatis, which are simple enough - mix 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup of yogurt (if you have it - if not, just omit), some water, salt and a tablespoon of yeast together until they form a slightly wet dough. Knead briefly, set aside for 45 minutes, and then break off pieces, flatten them between your hands and cook them in a lightly oiled skillet until brown on each side. Or you can add a tablespoon of sugar to these, and serve them with jam or dip them in maple syrup.

Your other friends in fresh food department are root vegetables and cabbage. If you are shopping at the grocery store, these will be among the cheapest items available. If you can get to a farmer's market or farmstand, they will be even cheaper. Again, bulk is better - my local farmstand is selling cabbage 10 heads for 10 dollars - and these are large, heavy heads that will keep you fed for a while. Even a single apartment dweller might eat cabbage twice a day, raw in a salad, then sauteed with garlic and pepper. 3 heads will last two weeks sitting on the counter in a place with reasonably low heat. If you can afford your fridge, two more heads can be crammed in. The other five can be turned into sauerkraut or kimchi and will last even longer. 10 heads of cabbage could easily provide a large portion of your vegetable needs for 8 weeks or more for one person.

Potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots are generally fairly cheap at this time of year. Roasted vegetables make a superb cheap staple meal. Throw a collection of whatever roots chopped into bite sized pieces in a large roasting pan, add a bit of oil, herbs, any seasonings you like, and roast until the vegetables are carmelized and sweet. They make a great main course, a terrific side dish, a good salad mixed with sprouts, a nice sandwich between slices of bread or wrapped in a tortilla with a slice of cheese melted on them.

Squash are also often available reasonably priced, and have the advantage of requiring minimal preparation. Most can be baked in the oven until soft, with oil or butter, a few spices, and then spread upon bread. Or puree them and turn them into soup. Sautee a little onion and garlic in a touch of oil, add some curry powder or lemon pepper, as you like, add water or broth, to your taste, and the insides of a baked squash you've mashed up with a fork. Whisk until smooth.

Bean soup may be the platonic food for poor people - delicious, rich, hearty. Chop up onions, potatoes, garlic, carrots and parsnips, and sautee until just tender. Add beans - lima, white, fava, black, adzuki - you name it, and liquid. Cook until the beans are tender and the starch in the potatoes has partly dissolved. Season with tons of herbs, a little wine, maybe soy sauce. If you'd like a one dish meal, throw in some pearl barley, or rice towards the end. Or bake bread, make chapatis, make cornbread or tortillas.

What about meat? Frankly, I don't recommend buying any kind of meat that is cheap - it is almost certainly industrial meat and not good for you or your body. But if you are accustomed to meat, one option is to learn to hunt. Venison, rabbit and wild turkey are great, healthy meats.

You might buy very small quantities of healthy meats and stretch them - for those whose growing season is still going, my favorite ground meat stretcher is grated zucchini - you can use it 50-50 with ground beef or turkey. Or simply use the meat as a flavoring, they many cultures do. A small bit of chicken in a stir-fry can transform it to a heartier seeming meal. A delicious chili can be made with a half pound of beef for a large pot, a wonderful sausage soup made with cabbage, carrots, onions and a half pound of intensely flavored sausage.

Or consider talking to your local pastured poultry producer about buying the parts they often can't sell. Chicken feet make terrific soup stock, and are a delicacy in some cultures. Livers are rich in vitamin C and Iron, and absolutely wonderful tasting. Bones are often discarded by butchers of livestock, and can make wonderful, meaty tasting broth. But remember, meat is not necessary to good health, and if you are poor, you probably won't be eating a lot of it. That's ok - it isn't necessary to make food taste good, either.

Vegans can do fine as long as they can afford supplemental multivitamins, but these are expensive. Small quantities of animal products - an occasional bit of cheese or meat broth - are probably cheaper in the end if you are in a truly dire situation.

Use up every scrap of your food. Leftover garlic bread? Tomorrow's salad croutons. Stale bread? Bread pudding - mix milk or soy milk with an egg and a tablespoon of soy flour (a cheap way to replace eggs) or two eggs, add honey, sugar or maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and pour it over stale bread, and bake. Or better yet, add some bananas gone black - either the ones you shoved in the freezer or some on the day-old table at the grocers for 10 cents lb.

Did you peel the broccoli stems and cook them? There's another meal there. Don't forget sprouts - sprouting seeds bought in bulk are cheap and can cover much of your nutritional needs. What about vitamin C? Rose hips bought in bulk are cheap, but your cabbage will take care of that too.

Eggshells can be baked in the oven, ground up and added to flour for additional calcium. Forage for greens from your lawn or the area around you. Eat them fresh, but hang some up to dry and then add them to your flour as well. Try using half as much tea and coffee as usual, if you are still drinking them. Cut back on sugar, salt and fat as well - after a short while, you'll get used to it.

What's for breakfast? Oatmeal. Or if you don't like oatmeal, apples are cheap now in many places, and you can make applesauce easily enough. Then warm it up on the stove, and mix in raw oats - add a little more cinnamon - yum! Or how about rice pudding, if you have milk or soy milk. Or what about cornmeal mush/polenta - add cornmeal gradually to a couple of cups of boiling water, until it makes a thick porridge, and eat it with sweetner.

Consider accepting dinner invitations or attending events with free food. You might dumpster dive (google "freegans") or consider just asking politely of your co-workers as they toss half their meal "can I have the other half of that sandwich?" It takes courage - our society looks down on the poor so much that advertising your need seems shameful, but it isn't - the truth is that much of the growing poverty has little to do with the choices of ordinary people.

If things get really desperate, there are further options. First of all, consider applying for any poverty support programs you are eligible for - I know a lot of people resist accepting charity, and that's wise - but don't be foolish, and risk your health or your kids. If you are eligible for food stamps, WIC or or some other program, apply. Or consider visiting your food pantry when you need to. Healthy adults may be able to go to bed hungry once in a while - children should not as long as there are better options. And there still are. Talk to people at your synagogue, mosque, church or temple, or at your community center if you are hungry - they may know about resources or be able to offer help. The simple truth is that the times we are coming into may bring many people to desperation through no fault of their own - don't let shame prevent you from eating.