Will Allen and Growing Power

Zak Suhar of Juicebox has an excellent bio on Will Allen. He’s an urban farmer in Milwaukee, who’s trying to bring local food and training to his community. Three cheers. Now, go read!

Will Allen grew up on a small vegetable farm with his family in Maryland, and had a promising basketball career due to his 6’ 7” body frame. Fifteen years ago he made a drastic career change however, and became a farmer in a low-income area of Milwaukee, creating a place called Growing Power. The farm is located in an area that has little access to high quality and varieties of food, because of the poverty and unstable neighborhoods. The mission of Growing Power is a national organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. The farm strives to build sustainable food systems that create a just world, one community at a time.

Newsline Winchester, VA: GE Factory shutting down

While I applaud the  movement away from incandescent bulbs for energy savings and everything else, I always feel sad when a factory shuts down as opposed to attempting to re-tool.

I know it’s hard. I know it’s expensive. But I also know that if you slapped a big-old “made in USA” on your CFL’s, you could still sell them – even if they do cost more. There are a lot of people in the states, in the DC area especially, who try to buy items that aren’t from China. Or simply are “locally made.”

Heck, think of it at the 100 miles consumption compact or something. (Hmm… wonder if we could swing that. The only thing I’m thinking could be an issue is cloth, but that might be doable as well. There are flax fields here.)

I’m not going to get ticked off at GE for closing down the plant. I’m just going to spend a little more money to give to the food bank and support the family shelters in the area. After all, a factory closing means jobs gone and right now, my business isn’t good enough to hire someone else.

Good luck guys and gals.

For more information: <a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/07/AR2010090706933.html”>Washington Post</a>

Book Review: Plenty

Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith & J. B. Mackinnon

Recommended for people who like The Omnivore’s Dilemma or those who enjoy personal stories

Plenty is the emotional side of The 100-Mile Diet. This is a human story of a couple who did something amazing and started a movement without ever planning it.

Told in monthly installments, and switching narrators from Alisa to JB and back again, Plenty is a mixture of Vancouver history, an ecological and political statement, a couple’s relationship, and food – glorious local food. It’s the story of how the 100-mile diet came to be. The authors don’t back down from the realities of the situation. They don’t shy away from talking about depression and couple-struggles and the doubts and fears that come from trying something so completely new and strange.

I liked both of the authors. I rooted for them. I want to smack their heads together a couple of times, but that’s because, as an outsider I could see what the problem was and wanted so badly to just *fix* it for them. That doesn’t work of course. But it was a one-day read for me and I didn’t want to put it down or for it to end at that point.

As I read it, I was reminded of what great luck I have to live in a relatively mild climate with a growing season that is incredible. I have farmer’s markets to pick from and actual farms that I can visit that are well within 100 miles. We have a pig farm, dairy farm, berry farm, orchard, and hundreds of other options within easy reach. We have vineyards. And we have a backyard garden that is slowly growing able to feed us at least half of our fresh veggies.

What I don’t have is the family buy in that would be necessary to actually eat on the 100-mile diet. Dad would have to start bringing home the fish he catches. I would have to spend more time on the garden. And sadly, unless this house gets miraculously paid off, that means another job on top of the full-time jobs we’re doing.

I’d love to at least implement part of it though. As I read, I was eating tomatoes from St. John’s Bay, SC, cauliflower from Virginia, and tomatoes from the back porch. We’re the sort of family that will do a u-turn to get back to a fresh corn stall. Guess that means we’re the kind of people who could enjoy this type of life.

Definitely recommended as a summer read.

Book Review: Shift Your Habit

Shift Your Habit by Elizabeth Rogers

Not recommended

Beware: Snark ahead:

Shift Your Habit claims to be able to help you save money and the planet at the same time.

If you’ve been living under a rock since the eighties… sure.
If you’ve never heard of “an inconvenient truth”… sure.
If you’ve not been to a home improvement store… sure.
Hell, if you haven’t been to Wal-Mart (even the *evil empire* is greening up)… sure.

If you have, in any way, shape, or form, been a part of the environmental movement or read the Penny-pinchers Gazette? No. You’re better served reading *any* of the hundreds of green or frugal housewife/mother/swinging single/fashionista blogs that populate the net.

Heck, why not head to the US Government: http://www.energy.gov.

This book is nothing but a series of re-hashed tips tied together by testimonials for “converts” who were too stupid to turn off their lights when they left the room. I found the entire exercise useless and extremely depressing.

Have we “treehuggers” really been screaming into an empty desert for 20 years now?

Book Review: Made from Scratch

Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich

Made by Hand is a charming memoir/ how-to book from Jenna Woginrich who is a city girl turned country girl. Woginrich has the decency to still have a nine to five job and to work with computers. It’s what she does when she gets home that makes all the difference.

She talks about her aha moments and her mistakes in equal measures. This is the story of how she started tending bees, growing her own veggies, keeping chickens and rabbits, and training her dogs. It’s also about discovering the pleasure of playing an instrument and the joys of being with friends. It’s about the complexities of the simple life that is not so simple. As she says: “How complex is the simple life? Complex enough to make a Buddist-vegan kill a rabbit.” You’ll have to read the story to understand. It’s powerful and worth the time.

Her descriptions are so true and honest that one can smell the bread baking in the oven and hear the dogs barking at the window. And that is also the problem. The memoir bits are so lovely and well-written even at their most difficult, that when she switches over to writing the how-to sections it’s a jolt. I wanted to know her so much more than I wanted a how-to on using a needle and thread. I wouldn’t have minded a few sources and what she thought of them, but I did not need twenty pages on training sled dogs. I already know how to bake and I know how to sew. I’ve been buying used for years. Don’t tell me that. Tell me how the wax felt the first time you melted it to dip the candles you talked about. Don’t tell me how to use the library.

Still, all and all, I found it an enjoyable, quick read. I think it’s worth it for anyone to read. If you pick it up at the library, you can skip the how-tos without guilt after all.

Fake Plastic Fish Challenge 1 Week’s worth of plastic

1 snack Cheetos bag (plastic and foil fusion)
1 snack Doritos bag (plastic and foil fusion)
1 soup container (which will become an African violet pot soon)
1 plastic spoon
1 plastic fork
1 polystyrene take-out container (not sure if this plastic. In fact I have no idea what polystyrene is made of beyond “chemicals”)
1 plastic bag (too dirty to recycle)
1 packet of soy sauce

1 styrofoam plate (Styrofoam is plastic… right? I think… It’s not natural…)
1 wax paper liner from the deli (not sure where this falls)

1 McD’s coffee cup top
1 Sweet and Sour dipping sauce container

bulk Q-tips box
1 McD’s lg. soda and cover
1 Sweet and Sour dipping sauce container
2 Cheetos snack pack bags

2 Cheetos snack pack bags
1 plastic Fresh City bag
1 plastic food container from Fresh City
1 plastic soup cover from Fresh City
1 plastic fork

1 deli bag from turkey breast slices
1 plastic water bottle I found in the trunk.
wrap from a sleeve of oreos
3 plastic tag hangers from clothes
1 plastic shopping bag from clothes
1 plastic water bottle

1 veg sticker on pepper
polystyrene tray for corn
shrink wrap on corn
plastic tape on box of canned green beans
shrink wrap on 6 pack of tuna
tomato box
shrink wrap on twin pack of eggs
potato bag and clip
bag of fish guts (blech)

1 Boston Market dish and cover
1 Soup container cover

Analysis Questions:

What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?
– take shopping bags with me for clothes shopping
– take cloth produce bags shopping
– do not buy bulk packs or pre-packed veggies
– do not buy bulk packs of tuna wrapped in plastic
– go inside at McD’s and use the cover of the chicken nuggets to hold the sauce
– use reusable forks and spoons at work
– keep a bottle of soy sauce at work
– take reusable containers for the deli

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
– Sweet and sour sauce
– Plastic water
– Chips

How many of these items are from “convenience” foods that could be made from scratch with less packaging but might take more time to prepare?
– Take out food.
– Oreos
– Mmm…. everything else is an ingredient

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
– bring my own lunch (*sobs*)
– no shopping at BJ’s

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
– water bottles (This is a cheat as I haven’t bought water in months and am just getting rid of bottles that are hiding in the house)
– produce bags – just have to get down to the sewing machine.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
– I need to get my parents (other shoppers) involved in this too.
– It’d be lovely if the fruit and veg didn’t have plastic stickers on them.

Boycotting Chevron

Chevron has a disgusting human rights record. For a comprehensive review see The Chevron Pit.

I believe that the best way to put pressure on any company in the United States, is a combination of boycott and letter writing. A boycott of one person is ineffective. I am sure that I’m not alone in this decision. I tend to shop for my gas at Shell and BJ’s.

Texaco has been pissing me off for several months with their “discount for cash” program that leads to an artificially low price advertised on their stations. Now, I learn that Chevron gobbled up Texaco who started the destruction and abuse in Ecuador.

If Chevron had acknowledged the issue and taken appropriate action, I wouldn’t be here asking for people to look at the information and decide whether or not they really want to give money to a company that bribes officials, brandishes other countries’ military as “security”, turns a blind eye to forced conscription (ie: slavery) for the building of its infrastructure, and otherwise destroys humans as well as the environment.

I won’t be shopping at Chevron. I will be talking to my friends and family about the situation. I encourage you to read and review the available information and make your decision.

I’ve made mine.

Oh, gee? Climate change regulation?

In Creeping Toward Productive Conversation, Grist tackles the current lead up to the debate on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Plan. Of course, the Senate hasn’t actually *debated* it yet. They’re still stalling for time.

This sort of falls between the “Wow a Senator from my state is actually doing something” and “Hello, vote already.”

After last night’s cloture vote, Senate Republicans asked for 30 hours before legislatively productive debate on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act could begin. That means they spent all of today kibitzing about climate legislation without any progress toward amending or voting.

Urban Homesteading

A family of four living off of $30K a year by growing and selling their own crops in the middle of LA. It sounds like a kooky reality show or the set up for a sitcom.

Thing is, it’s real. If you click the title, you’ll go right to their blog.

Their “fields” are a fifth of an acre. They even grow edible flowers. They use solar power, compost, shop at thrift shops and dumpster dive for furniture.

I’d love to join them, at least a little bit. I admit that I’m addicted to my electronics. I am planning to get solar panels and at least a tankless water-heater. I want to grow some of my own veggies.

The problem? My HOA. Yes, the evil HOA. They’ve even banned compost bins. Um? Huh? No solar panels. No compost bins. I understand the don’t change your oil in your driveway. But why the Hell can’t I have solar panels on my roof? I’ll even get the nifty solar tiles that look just like shingles! So, my first step is to bring up a homeowner proposal to change those rules. Time to start the big fight with the narrowminded prigs that run the board. (At least we have some race diversity on the board. They seem surprisingly and disturbingly anti-environment though.)

I can and do shop in thrift and consignment shops for clothes now. I still have trouble resisting a good bookstore. And like I said, I’m not giving up my computer, iPod, and other nifty electronic toys. But, if I can run them off of solar energy, I’m all for it.