Tennesseetransitions


What a Waste!

I’ve spent this summer reading “American Wasteland”, a tome by Jonathon Bloom about the reasons so many American children are going hungry. My mother’s admonishments about how I shouldn’t leave food on my plate because of the “starving ‘negra’ children” had an impact on me. I’ve always quietly prided myself for paying my daily dues so that I could be a member of the “clean plate club”. Fast forward 60 years and into our current-day ‘disposable’ society. On one hand our country is blessed to have so much, but the easy availability of everything from food to plastic water bottles has also devalued much of what we have. So much so that a tremendous amount is simply wasted. There’s an old saying, that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s what Mr. Bloom writes about so compellingly. I like my new saying much better: “There is no ‘away’, as in, ‘throw it away‘ “.

Turns out, there is tremendous food waste in this country especially, but also in developed countries all over the world: from farm to table to landfill, every step of the way there is unbelievable waste, with home plate waste being less problematic than my mom led me to believe. I’ve spent much of my adult life patting myself on the back for cleaning my plate, planning and preparing meals based on what I have on hand, then feeding chickens, dogs and soil with the rest. I tend to feel that I have the most control over things that can be handled at the personal level, and that it’s more difficult to control food waste at any other level, but it’s certainly not impossible.

This is where WE come in: I am certain that, just like with any other ‘movement’, this problem of so much food waste can be greatly reduced, as long as there are enough blogs, letters and emails written, enough news reports spread and petitions signed, enough Facebook pages created and enough folks like you and me to care enough to “Do Something!”  beyond cleaning our plates every night.

According to Mr. Bloom’s research, the number one source of food waste is right in the  fields and orchards, where growth begins and ends. Many issues come into play at that level, from crop price (sometimes it’s not even profitable for a farmer to pay a crew to harvest the crop so it is left to rot in the field), to consumer demand for perfect looking-stunningly perfect looking-fruits and vegetables. Anything less than perfect is discarded, or in a best case scenario is sent to a cannery. 30-50% of each and every crop goes unharvested for that reason alone. Then, when the produce department employee culls out the tomato that’s developed a tiny blemish ( and I do mean tiny) or the pepper that shows a slight wrinkle, it’s tossed. Food rescue groups have surged in larger metro areas, sometimes picking up 1000 lbs of edible, good food a day, from a single grocery chain. CASES of farm fresh vegetables, boxes of fruits, bags and bags of greens and salads, potatoes, carrots and onions are dumped each and every day. That’s just at the store level.

Restaurants and cafes-especially buffets- schools, work place cafeterias, dairies, canneries, convenience stores and bakeries all contribute to food waste because not only do we expect to see fully loaded bins or steam tables 5 minutes before a food retailer closes, the practice of ‘keeping it full’ forces them to throw away prepared foods due to the threat of it going bad faster…

Overconsumption…

While the over consumption of high calorie foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle are important contributors to many people’s struggle with weight, the UCLA researchers stress, “food consumption is only one of many environmental factors that affect obesity.”

BOGO offers that tempt us to buy more than we can use… 

and refrigerators that are too large…

all contribute to this problem. Easy ‘out of sight, out of mind’ disposal methods add to our tendency to waste food. In many parts of Europe, large disposal fees have been imposed, cutting down on waste and prompting the building and use of local digesters that use anaerobic decomposition to break down the waste in an environmentally friendly way, producing enough renewable energy to power small towns or villages.

  

Why bother with all of this? As part of our transition efforts to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, ‘thou shalt not waste anything’ should be our first commandment.

So what can we do at a level that would truly ‘make a difference’? Consider these actions:

* Buying and eating local and regional foods will ensure that they weren’t shipped from across the country or from the other side of the world. Shorter shipping distances means the food is much much fresher when you do buy it.

* Consider growing some of your own food. Trust me, if you’re growing it, you will not let a single thing go to waste! Not a single morsel.

* Start a local gleaning group in your community or join one that’s already established. The practice of gleaning a farmer’s fields was first mentioned in the Bible, making it an especially acceptable practice if you live in the Bible Belt like I do. It also happens that many crops are grown in this belt. Jesus would approve I’m sure.

* Encourage through your buying choices and via letters or personal requests that food manufacturers and retailers offer more items in resealable packaging and smaller quantities (half loafs of bread to better serve smaller households, for example).

* Push for local, or better yet, STATE,  landfill food-waste bans would  prompt innovation and help us develop environmentally friendly ways to process food waste. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’ve heard our city is poised to begin a commercial food-waste composting facility in the near future, and if landfill operations could no longer undercut them on price, it will help ensure their success.

*If total bans are not in the making, making waste disposal more expensive or charging by the ton would have a ripple effect through the food chain, likely causing a bubble up effect of food conservation from a more conscientious public

* Encourage farmers to donate excess food-form a database or a Craigslist for food in your community

* Use inmate labor to harness already-harvested crops from growers and packers. Thousands of pounds per day are tilled under or discarded because this produce doesn’t meet market specifications

* Bring urban food-bank clients  to excess farm food, encouraging self reliance and fostering food appreciation in the process. If transportation is a problem, pair clients with urban or community garden programs.

* Reconsider what foods the government funds-subsidizing commodity crops makes those crops artificially cheap, encouraging waste. Let your elected officials and the USDA know that you want the next Farm Aid bill to be for eaters, not just growers!

* Plan your meals and menus ahead, using what you have on hand before buying more. FIFO is an effective inventory system that retailers use: First In, First Out.

*Get more restaurants to offer smaller portions for smaller prices. A ‘smart sizing’ campaign could even reverse the negative effect of ‘super sizing’.

The future of food is important and implementing regional food systems, with the use of hoop houses to grow warm weather crops year round, along with a return to more seasonal eating would also lessen food waste. “Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall” the old song goes… don’t let that sage advice go to waste!



L.E.S.S.

Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation: using L.E.S.S. just might be a meaningful part of our response to the crises of our age. If you’re a new reader to this blog, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “what IS the crisis of our age?”. If so, check out my ‘about’ page for a bit more information. If you’ve “been there, done that”, then just pick one…crisis, that is. Adopting new measures of prosperity needn’t be considered a bitter pill to swallow, but instead a new and exciting taste of freedom and resilience!

A recent (and quite long!) article I read titled “The End of Capitalism has Begun” touched on how Greek citizens are creating a new economy via food cooperatives (as is Cuba!), alternative producers, local currencies and exchange systems. According to the article there are hundreds of smaller initiatives there too, ranging from land squats to carpools to free kindergartens. I recently wrote in this blog about what I called “An Informal Economy”, but I have since learned that the media has dubbed this meme as “the sharing economy”. I believe I like that better. Whatever it’s called, it’s going to be the new global system eventually because the capitalist system we have now is simply not sustainable. All together now, “perpetual growth is not sustainable”!

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Let’s start with energy: Even though my own energy use for transportation has been greatly reduced since moving from our old home that was located out in the country into the urban neighborhood that we live in now, I’m a long way from energy independence. Our newer location allows me to walk or ride my bike to many of the places that I need to go: from the dentist to the grocery store, I can get in my daily exercise while running those errands and keep the car parked at home most of the time. Many towns, including mine, are adding bike lanes and racks to make cycling safer and easier, but don’t forget carpooling and mass transit options to lower your own energy dependence. Car sharing has long gone on in families, and extending that to communities could be a logical next step, and has in fact begun in larger cities.

Home energy needs can be provided via a variety of ways, but lower prices on solar panels and wind turbines, along with tax incentives in many states, are making renewable energies a more affordable alternative. Biomass, waste recycling and community owned power stations are all viable ways of providing our energy needs on a local basis. Natural gas quality landfill gas that is produced from the methane that my town’s local landfill emits, is piped to the nearby VA Campus, a hospital and the university campus to provide their energy needs. How cool is that? Conversely, on a very low tech scale, I enjoy using my solar cooker whenever I can, and I’m exploring the possibility of building a large cob oven in a nearby local park where the community garden has its’ home. In this picture you’ll see a tiny one, next to a larger one, that was built last summer by kids at the site of our local “Tree Forest”, proving that this low tech combination of clay, straw and water is doable by any of us! And CLAY is an abundant natural resource right here in Tennessee…

cob oven

Cob ovens can be used to consecutively cook breads, pizzas, desserts and more with just one firing

I completely understand these alternative ideas may not easily integrate into your home, your lifestyle or your neighborhood but I believe the benefits can outweigh the hassles if appropriate technology and community assistance is applied. It really does “take a village” and that ‘sharing economy’ I mentioned earlier is the only way capitalism will ever be replaced with an economic model that works for all of us, not just the privileged few. I also encourage you to never underestimate the sheer effectiveness of cross breezes, cotton clothing, deciduous shade trees and awnings in the summer, and eliminating the extra heat that using dishwashers, clothes dryers and ovens can create. Washing  your dishes by hand, hanging your clothes outside to dry and preparing meals in a crock pot or on the  stove top will easily eliminate that unwanted heat completely. Reflective window coatings, insulation and weatherstripping, fans, kiddie pools and cool showers are excellent ways to cool down in summer heat without turning on the AC, while layered clothing, space heaters, and passive or active solar gains make good alternatives to turning up the thermostat in the colder months. If we all did nothing more than grow some of our own food, preheat our water with a simple batch solar collector and travel car free as often as possible we could decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our personal resilience factor tremendously!

But let’s talk about our ‘Stuff’ now. We have a problem with Stuff. We use too much, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well. But that’s not the way things have to be. Together, we can build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division. The way we make, use and throw away the stuff in our lives is senseless and shameful. I have never asked my readers to do this, but I’d like you to see this profound 52 second video that graphically shows just how far we’ve sunk within our capitalistic lifestyle of stuff. These 52 seconds really impacted me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMTu4ixp9kw  With renewable energy, sustainable use, reuse and “upcycling” of resources, and the smart design of everything from candy wrappers to cities, we can have both sustainability and abundance.

Before I end this already too-long post, let me say this about stimulation: from technological wonders and homework, to club meetings and soccer games, too many distractions and activities have robbed kids and families of the unstructured time we need to thrive and be creative and connected. Setting some new limits for ourselves and our kids might be all that’s needed to keeping those distractions in check. Those limits will necessarily have to be personal and adjustable for each of us, but we might begin by adhering to just one simple rule in our households: for example, no phones or Ipads at the dinner table. Families eating dinner together has been proven to be the best thing we can do in order to maintain open lines of communication, good grades, better health and a host of other positive outcomes within our lives and our families. 

We’re actually close to a tipping point to address these issues. This is the new world we have to learn to live in. Instead of debating outdated economics, let us come together to forge a new path—one that is practical and truly provides equal opportunity for all, even those desiring to live a simple life. Capitalism served us well, but it’s become evident that working together cooperatively rather than in competition is the foundation for a new economy and peaceful world.



Plant Seeds of Understanding

After a full day of hearing a sermon about social injustice, singing and hearing songs about it, and then watching a documentary about the problems immigrants to our country face, I felt compelled to ‘do something’, beyond writing my legislators- yet again. This post is the result of this emotional day.

It’s occurred to me that, like the Earth, the 2016 Presidential race is already heating up too. In anticipation of the differences of opinion I’m sure to encounter during the next 17 months, I have already set my intention to refrain from becoming crass or nasty with anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, during the upcoming election season. With the increased use of social media and internet availability, I suspect that my personal exposure to mud slinging could result in getting some mud in my own eyes. But ‘an eye for an eye’ won’t change anyone’s beliefs, so I’ve come up with a plan that I’d like to share with my readers. Feel free to use it in any way you like…

In order to stay true to my personal mission of spreading peace and (food) justice in the world by sharing gardening with anyone that wants to learn, (even Republicans haha!)  I’m making up some seed packets to share whenever tempers flare or voices rise. I’m calling them ‘Seeds of Understanding’ and I hope that the packets will serve to temper those differences with their gentle humor and a shared love of natural beauty. This isn’t an easy task for me because, as you probably already know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m opinionated at best, and  ‘right’ at my worst.

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The packets will be light enough to carry several in my purse or easily mailed for the price of a stamp. Heck, I’ll even give you one whether we disagree or not, as long as you’ll promise to plant your own ‘seeds of understanding’. May the best man, or woman, win.

“Every time I plant a seed, He say kill it before it grow, He say kill it before they grow”~ Bob Marley




May Day! May Day!

“May Day” has several meanings: it is used as an international distress call, as well as a reference to a traditional spring holiday or festival. And since 1886, it’s been used to refer to an international day of worker solidarity and protest, although here in the US it’s rarely recognized in the country in which it began; I’ve seen a lot of ‘May Day’ this week, and thought this first day in May was a good time to discuss some of those things.

First, this week’s distress calls- the election season has begun in earnest this week, the Everest-lowering earthquake split Nepal in two, Baltimore is burning, the dollar nosedived and stocks floundered as the first quarter GDP figures proved once again, that infinite growth is not possible. Good friends are out of work, a family member is suffering mental and financial setbacks while environmental and social injustice continues everywhere I look.

In sharp contrast to those distress signals were signals of hope and change- Monday night Michael and I were part of a large crowd gathered in a nearby park for a peaceful candlelight vigil held the night before the Supreme Court began their deliberations around marriage equality. Tuesday night we were invited to a dessert buffet and beautiful poetry readings- by the poet!- as a thank-you for our volunteer work at the local School of the Arts (it’s the sweetest gig ever to volunteer for this school!). On Wednesday we attended the monthly lunch meeting of our local Community Partnerships coalition, where we not only enjoyed a local food luncheon, we also learned about our city’s lower crime rates, RX drug take-back program, new housing starts for low income families and veterans, Food Co-op development plans and more.

As the week wore on, the spring celebration grew louder: on Thursday we played music for a bunch of doe-eyed preschoolers as they danced magically and wound their tie-dyed streamers around their school-yard May pole.

may pole

This celebratory week we also managed to eat something from our garden every day; from a bumper crop of sweet bunching onions…

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to bushels of dark green organic bok choy and collards, fall-stored butternut squash and beets, as well as jars of green beans and tomatoes, all seasoned with sweet smelling herbs, cilantro and garlic, with enough to share with friends and neighbors.

We marveled at the number of robins in our bird bath, as well as the kale, lettuce and peas that’ll soon be ready to eat…

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and cheered finally getting our little greenhouse ready to press into service…

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Tonight we’ll walk downtown to take part in the Corazon Latino Festival that celebrates the heart of Hispanic culture through storytelling, music, food and dance, then attend a live, outdoor concert in my city’s beautiful new park. Saturday morning we’ll take part in the first “Barefoot in the Park” series of free yoga and tai chi lessons, then drive over the beautiful green springtime mountains to Asheville, NC (only our third time to start the car this week) to attend the annual Herb Festival there. Sunday after church we’ll surely have fun playing for a fundraiser at the local Coffee House and then sharing an authentic Ethiopian dinner with good friends.

How does this post relate to transitioning? If you read the ‘about’ page of this blog, you’ll understand that it was begun as a way to inspire you to re-create a future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. These changes can be made as reactions to external forces beyond our control, with much kicking and screaming I might add, OR by collectively planning and acting early enough to create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. In other words, transitioning in a proactive way now to a leaner, simpler and slower life will be gentler and softer for us all in the future. Growing some food, forming bonds of community, or increasing your personal resilience in hundreds of different ways takes time, and doing those things now can be pleasant indeed. Volunteering, voting, rallying, sharing and donating can literally change the world, and is the only thing that will. Waiting until the well runs dry is NOT the time to send out a May Day call of distress, friends. Let’s participate in the possibilities of the ‘spring festival’ of life. Happy May Day friends!



Here’s Your Sign
April 28, 2015, 4:46 PM
Filed under: And Justice for All, Civil Rights | Tags: , , , ,

Occasionally (ok, fairly often) I see problems in our environment, society, political system-you name it- that have obvious origins or solutions. And in case it’s not clearly obvious to you too, I make it my job to point them out. Nice of me I know. It’s a crappy job but somebody’s got to do it.

But this week’s sign isn’t so clear to me. I feel it’s yet another ‘symptom’ of years of oppression suffered by minorities, whether they be African-American, Jewish, Native Americans, or Jesus, since  the same scenes are playing out all over the world and have for thousands of years, but for the sake of this post, I’ll stick with more recent riots…

Selma-April, 1965:

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Baltimore-April, 2015

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What could I possibly know about oppression? I’m a middle-class white woman, living in one of richest countries in the world! The answer? Nothing. I have seen discrimination up close and personal and it made me want to riot, loot and burn too. But see, I had a wee bit of education and privilege and could articulate my views and emotions. Some of us don’t even have that.

 I think MLK said it best:

riot

We should all listen



Carry On Warriors
March 17, 2015, 10:54 PM
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, And Justice for All | Tags: , , ,

Ordinarily I use this blog to offer ideas that my readers in Tennessee (and beyond!) might embrace to help them cultivate resilience at home and in their communities. I have tried to emphasize in my writing that a positive vision must be held alongside all of the abysmal events unfolding around us. Even as I have been insistent on staring down the end of the world as we’ve known it, I have embraced at the same time, what could be, and have held in my mind and heart the threads of the new paradigm that so many of us are working to create. 

On March 8th, my best friend and I drove down to my hometown of Selma, Alabama to take part in the 50th anniversary celebration of the ‘Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March’. The events of the weekend are still resounding deeply within me, and I find that whenever I try to talk with people about it, I get emotional and tear up. After a week of inner processing, I’ve come to the conclusion that what thousands of us glimpsed there was that new paradigm that I envision, and it has left me humbled and touched beyond mere words. This post isn’t about how to save money, or compost your waste or grow a cabbage or cut down on your energy needs. But it IS definitely  relevant within the realm of transitioning. I hope my readers will be able to “see through my eyes” the positive transitions that I saw so clearly in Selma.

The everyday world, that for many Americans, is filled with social injustice and inequality, racism, fear, oppression and poverty, became a better world for all of us that weekend. The reenactment that traced the steps of those 300 brave, brave souls that had crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge over the Alabama River back in 1965, held no sense of anger or despair, but was instead a celebration of peace and hope. Among the estimated 80,000 people that made the pilgrimage with us, we witnessed no drug use or drinking, heard no profanity nor saw any violence.  As two white women in a sea of black, we felt completely safe and encompassed by a love that continues to hold me high almost 2 weeks later. The speakers and sermons were filled with encouragement and lessons of love. The former white’s-only church I had attended as a girl, now proudly held blacks and whites side-by-side in her pews that Sunday morning. Gone were the ‘White Only’ signs on drinking fountains and bathrooms and cafe doors. President Obama’s 40 minute long, self-written speech, was positive and poignant, and left echoes of continued calls to action in our ears and on our hearts. President and Mrs. Bush, the governor of Alabama the mayor of Selma, congressmen and more were moved to tears by his words.

Martin Luther King had his dreams and I have mine. Even though the ‘Selma’ vision of equality and peace may differ slightly from the ‘Transition’ vision of localization, healthy and vibrant communities and alternative economies that I dream of, the possibilities are the same.  After witnessing the transformations in my little southern hometown, I see now, first hand, that anything is possible. Carry on warriors.

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Dear Santa:

Hi Santa, it’s me, Sam. You know, the one that asked for a pony for at least 10 years in a row when I was a kid. Since I never got that pony, I was hoping you’d be willing to make it up to me this year. I haven’t asked for anything from you for about 50 years now, so I figure I’m about due. No, I no longer want the pony, but I was wondering, if, in your travels next Wednesday night, you could bring peace to all of us. I mean, it’s the perfect opportunity since you’ll be flying around the world and all. It’s what we ALL want actually. If you bring world peace, you could probably retire after that. Just sayin’…

peaceAnother thing I’d like: a 2 month ‘license’ to study in Cuba. I heard on the radio today that President Obama  is going to lift the embargoes on Cuba, which means that I could then go there to see first-hand the unrivaled and sustainable food system that the citizens there created when those embargoes began (coincidentally about the same time I stopped asking for the pony). You could pick me up here on the roof in TN and just drop me off there if you like-it’s only 90 miles. I’ll figure out how to get home later. Then, I could return the favor by using the things I learn there to create a sustainable food system right here at home.

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Third Thing: Unconstrained laughter. It’s healthy, contagious, and can probably bring about world peace on its’ own (in the event you don’t have that peace in your bag this year). If you do manage to bring the peace in your bag though, the laughter will be provided by all the happy boys and girls, and  you could just skip this one.

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Fourth: Santa, I’m really on a roll now. Can you narrow the gap somehow between the rich and the poor? That gap is getting wider and wider and I’m afraid most of the folks I know are going to fall through the crack soon. Economic justice would go PERFECTLY with that world peace. Actually, I’m pretty sure you can’t have one without the other anyway. Think of the advantages Santa: If we had economic justice, I’m pretty confident that social and racial justice would be resolved on their own. All I can say to that is “Joy to the World!”

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Fifth: The reason I don’t want the pony any more is because now I’d really rather have a Prius. I feel certain that these low gas prices we’re seeing won’t last forever. I hear Toyota is making them float now, like the old VW Beetles used to. That will be real handy as the oceans rise due to climate change.

Sixth: Speaking of climate change Santa…Can you stop the XL pipeline? Driving my new Prius can help prevent adding more CO2 into the air but if that pipeline is built, my meager efforts to help mitigate the effects of climate change will be for naught. (remember Santa: ‘naught’ is the root of the word ‘naughty’ and I already KNOW how you feel about being naughty.) Stop that pipeline, ok?

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And finally: Can you bring me some solar panels for my house? I’ll install them myself, as soon as I get back from Cuba.

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See you next Wednesday night Santa. I’m so excited! I’ll bring cookies and milk for us to snack on.

santa cookies

Your friend,

Sam




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