Tennesseetransitions


Lessons on Less

I write here fairly often about ‘sustainability‘, which dictionary.com defines as: “pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse”. It’s a word that has been bandied about rather loosely over the last decade but it’s the single best word I’ve found to describe the lifestyle that I aspire to, and that I wish for the planet. It’s that “Continual Reuse” that I find difficult to maintain. Actually, I’ve only managed sustainability in just a few areas of my life, and even then only for short periods of time: using clothelines, maintaining compost piles, heating my home for 10 years using only coppiced and downed wood (and then adding the ashes to the garden), harvesting rainwater and refusing bottled water, and creating zero waste. It’s very hard to even grow food sustainably, for I’d have to save all my own seeds to be completely sustainable in the garden.

I’ve come to the conclusion-finally-that I cannot lead a sustainable life. From cradle to cremation, our lives are simply not sustainable in the modern world. I’ve realized that even the Native Americans weren’t living sustainably as they cut down trees for their every use, planted their crops until the soils were so depleted they had to ‘move on’ and made face paints from mineral pigments that they dug from the earth. Believe me when I say that admitting that makes me sad. 

However, here’s the good news: we CAN easily practice and produce things in our households that will help us  be skilled and resilient in the face of the continuing threats of worsening climate changes, economic instability and inequity and the depleting of the earth’s natural resources. ‘Curtailing’ is a newer buzzword when used in conversations about sustainability.  That means buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less. Curtail means to “cut back” or possibly to “downsize.” It is more reflective of the seriousness of our current situation than the probably more politically acceptable word “conserve.” Conservation often implies a relatively small reduction in consumption, possibly recycling or buying compact fluorescents or maybe buying a hybrid car. If conserve is to be used as a synonym for curtail, it would be appropriate to preface it with some modifier such as “radical” conservation or “extreme” conservation or “rapid” conservation.

Buying Less: I am really trying to ‘curtail’ my driving these days, even though I’ll admit that  I don’t do it so much as a frugality measure, but as a health measure. I enjoy getting my daily exercise walking or biking to the places I need to go and have found when I carefully ‘bundle’ my errands, I don’t spend any more time walking them than I did driving them. Without the stress of road rage, I find the time spent is actually conducive to my well-being, beyond the cardio benefits. While running errands recently I’ve noticed birds’ nests, hidden rabbit litters, blooming flowers and the neighbors’ gardens. I’ve witnessed homeless people, panhandlers and drunks too. Being in a car isolates and insulates me from those realities of life, but I’d rather live life with eyes wide open. I’ve saved many dollars on fuel, prevented the release of countless CO2 molecules, and preserved the miles on my car’s engine and tires, all while running errands. Hooray for ‘curtailing’!

Consume Less

Using Less:  I’m also conserving more energy these days; both mine and the electric company’s! With the arrival now of truly hot weather, I rise earlier so that I can run my errands and work in the garden before the heat of the day settles in. That gives me the rest of the day to guiltlessly enjoy reading, cooking, napping, playing music or writing, all the while sipping ice tea under the fan. Not a bad trade-off, this ‘conserving’ 😉

Wanting Less: Seems like recently I’ve forgotten my own advice about buying more ‘stuff’ and I found my closets and corners filling up once again. Getting into the habit of buying somehow magically leads to buying even more. A new dress can lead to a new pair of shoes to match it, which leads to a new car to drive around town looking good in while you’re wearing the new dress and shoes. Ask any star. But it’s just a habit. Of course knowing something and doing something about it are two completely different things. I smoked for many years even after I realized how bad it was for me and the planet. Smoking was a habit, and so is excessive shopping. But-more good news!- the habit can be broken and with the release of its’ grip, you automatically begin to want less. I’m no minimalist, but to know with certainty that point of having ‘enough’ is priceless to me. And wanting less is the key to that knowing. 

Wasting Less: My friend Sandy tells me: “A low consumption lifestyle is the ultimate waste reduction strategy.”  I enjoy the challenge of not being wasteful. I’m not talking about just drinking the last sip of milk, I’m talking about buying the milk in a returnable glass jug! I’m not talking about eating the apples before they go bad, I’m talking about composting the cores and feeding the seeds to the chickens! I’m not talking about recycling your #2 plastic bottles, I’m talking about drinking out of a glass for goodness’ sakes! I really can say with confidence that I don’t ‘waste’ anything. Like developing the habit of ‘wanting less’, it’s become such an ingrained habit in me that the concept of wasting anything is strange. Yet I see (on those daily walks in my urban area) senseless waste each and every day. From an uncancelled postage stamp to an unwanted article of clothing, you’ll find very little waste in my life. I’m proud of that. But you know what? It doesn’t matter that I’m not able to live 100% sustainably; what matters is the trying.

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Downtown Farming

Most of my readers know that I live downtown and am excited to be a part of the urban revitalization that is taking place in my community. For two years, the very premise of this blog has  been about finding ways and means that will enable us to transition, gracefully if you will, to a lifestyle that is more sustainable, resilient and fulfilling than the one that we find ourselves in today. It’s about re-creating 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. For me, the good life involved moving from our acreage in the country to an urban area with high walkability, a nearby community garden, and where I can work alongside my neighbors to help ‘be the change I want to see’. What I discovered this afternoon is all that.

Housed in an old brick bakery just behind the Farmer’s Market, on the corner of Buffalo and Cherry St is ‘DOWNTOWN FARMING’, a great new store for organic and hydroponic gardeners. I know this isn’t a great picture, but wait ’til you step inside! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was raining like crazy outside but the worn wooden floors and brick walls were as warm and welcoming as Kyle’s smile was. The store been closed for 2 hours when we arrived, but the shopkeeper, Kyle, opened the door and invited us in like we were old friends when he saw us peeking in the windows. He told us about all the products that were for sale; many familiar, some new and strange, but he also shared with us the owners’ mission: to be an integral part of this urban community while advocating the growing of sustainable, local, organic food. There were bags of organic worm castings, soil mixes, and fertilizers, along with the fans, lights and other components to put together your own hydroponics system. In fact, we took pictures to show you what they had growing there, at the tail end of the most vicious winter we’ve seen in recent history:

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A 5 foot tall blooming sunflower, along with fully grown peppers, lettuces and tomatoes were all growing there in the confines of those brick walls!

We bought a package of sage seeds from Seeds of Change but they also had a full rack of heirloom seeds from Sow True Seed Company, from nearby Asheville, NC. I could see this store becoming  a wonderful replacement for the recently-moved Mize Farm and Garden store, minus the poisons. They had growing pots and trays for sale, but could use some tools and a few more familiar gardening needs to fill that niche easily. I hope you’ll pay them a visit, support their early efforts and let them know what you’d like to see them stock. I think they’re ‘all ears’ and might be willing to fill the empty spot in our hearts and gardens that Mize once occupied. ‘Downtown Farming’ indeed! Those two little words embody the very essence of this blog.

                           Store hours: Monday-Friday 10 AM to 6 PM

                           Saturday 8 AM to 2 PM

                          Closed Sunday and Monday

                          downtownfarming.net

                          downtownfarming@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Unfinished Business

My home is starting to resemble a plant nursery and I’m missing the sweet little greenhouse we had at our old place. It required a pretty large investment of time and money to put that kit together, but it was done with patience and care, and still stands, over 10 years later, on top of a windy hill, seemingly no worse for the wear…

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The cheap-ass greenhouse that was erected on the nearby grounds of a local city park just two or three winters ago is falling apart, with the doors ripped off of their cheap plastic hinges, one ventilated window gone and a whole side panel broken in two. But the basics are there, along with water and electricity to it. I’ve tried to steer clear of it, because I foresaw it as the ‘problem child’ that it’s actually become. It sits completely empty, while the trays and little pots of herbs and vegetables I’m trying to start here at home struggle to find enough sunlight to thrive. It would take time, energy and a real commitment to get that greenhouse back into usable condition, and to work out a system for making it productive and useful.

I took part in December in the inaugural planting of our city’s first ‘Food Forest’, on the grounds of a nearby church that offered the flat, sunny lot next to it as a place to plant native species of fruit and nut trees that will someday offer fresh food to passersby.

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Summer plans are to add berries, build an outdoor cob oven, set up rain barrels and plant sunflower hedges there, all while using permaculture and sustainable growing principles. This project will require sustainable human-powered energy and a long term commitment to be successful.

My friend Sarah, a full time student and mother of two with a hard working hubby that struggles to keep his company afloat, writes that she would like to transition to a gluten-free diet, but a perfunctory check revealed that one pound of almond meal cost $12.99! This very issue has been simmering on my brain’s back burner ever since watching a ‘Transition Towns’ documentary about how a once-struggling food co-op in a small Oregon town turned the tide when they added a worker-owned bakery to their little natural foods store. Then, serendipity showed her head and this month’s issue of the long-running magazine Mother Earth News arrived in my mailbox the other day, with a feature article about the money saving and community-making opportunities that are open to members of buying clubs and food co-ops; yet another worthwhile project requiring a long term commitment, but since we all have to eat, doesn’t this one make long term  sense? Here’s a picture of the market I belonged to many years ago…

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What do all these things have in common? They’re all unfinished business-projects or ideas that need a  bit of attention, dedication, money, or energy to make them useful and workable, as well as helpful and sustainable for our entire community! I’ve only named a few projects that could quickly improve our resilience and self sufficiency if we’d just get behind them and see them to completion. From this blog’s outset, I’ve written that “If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating 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.” We don’t necessarily need to start from scratch to make this a reality. Let’s help complete what’s already been started and grow from there. If you’re reading this as a local reader, please join the bimonthly ‘Livable Communities’ group when we meet at 5 PM today at my house to find ways to do just that. There will be cookies.

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Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



Adapting to Change

This is a long, picture-less post but I’ve got a lot on my mind…

I had a bad day. Hell, I had a bad week! Michael had to have a second unexpected surgery on Tuesday (that went very well) , the weather’s been gray and cold, I’m not ‘ready’ for Christmas, nor do I have any spirit for it, and I’m simply tired of cancer and all it entails. Even as I write this, I realize I’m whining and that people don’t read this blog because they want to hear about my problems.  I hope you’re reading it because you are, like me, looking for inspiration and optimism in finding ways to deal with the challenges of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse that we’re facing in our lives and our world. You can delete this post now if you can’t handle some negativity because that’s how I’m feeling today, with a sense of urgency about the transitions that need to take place in our lives, in our households and in our communities. Surely I’m not alone?

Over the last five years I’ve studied countless books, blogs and articles to try to understand the issues that I then try to relay to you in this blog, without any hysteria or hype, just the facts ma’am. However, I’m noticing a change of tone in the things I’m reading these days. Rather than authors writing about mitigation techniques, which the dictionary defines as lessening the force or intensity of something unpleasant, they’re now discussing adaptation, which is defined as altered behaviors. In other words, it’s the next step after mitigation. The latest things I’m reading are now focusing on how we’ll have to adapt to all kinds of differences in our daily lives, as the energy supplies, infrastructure, resources, money and water dry up. We’re wayyy past changing lightbulbs and clipping coupons folks!

Locally, I’ve heard stories from people I know and trust about how they’re trapping and killing backyard squirrels to supplement the beans on their dinner tables. I’ve listened to a well-educated and intelligent family member cry over her inability to find a decent paying job, even though she’s living in a major metropolis area and has put out many applications. I’ve seen firsthand the uptick in folks coming to the churches, food pantries and soup kitchens for food,  some WHILE ON THEIR LUNCH BREAK from school or work. I’ve heard from car dealers about the shortage of affordable and reliable used cars for sale across the country and from renters about the shortage of affordable, decent places to live. I’ve witnessed the progression of gold and silver buyers, the ‘cash for your title’ outfits, and the “Payday Loan” sharks that are renting cheap buildings and catering to the poorest among us. I can’t help but notice the number of one hundred year storms that have occurred in the last couple of years alone, while more and more cities and states are leaving the storm damages and destroyed infrastructures to be dealt with by the survivors. I’ve also learned that some countries are already putting into place strategies and transition plans to enable their populations to weather what’s coming.  In other words, we’re no longer doing much mitigating, we’re adapting already!

I know part of the reason that I feel as though Pollyanna has left the building is that we’ve almost reached the winter solstice and the coldest, darkest days of the year are upon us, and that Michael’s health care is wearing us both down. But we are adapting to our new circumstances, and finding ways to not just survive this, but to improve our lives and thrive. Even on the bad days like today. And this I know too: Liveable communities that have learned to produce food, energy, water, products, and incomes locally will not only survive but thrive too. These re-localized economies will interconnect with others globally.  They will prosper together. A decentralized network like this will grow very quickly as word of their success grows. Soon, these communities will not only replace the things that were lost with the demise of the global economy, they will find ways to improve upon them.  To do better than what’s possible in our current global systems and lives. That all makes a bad day seem better 😀



Feeding Our Future

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For those of you new to this blog, I moved to my 113 year old urban house in the summer of 2012 with a deliberate mission to grow a garden and cultivate a sense of community in my new neighborhood. Today my next door neighbor brought over two slices of still-warm lemon pound cake. I suspect she’d spotted my husband Michael a half hour before, trying to increase his stamina with the daily 2 minute walks he takes (still in his sleep pants!) from our back door to the alley and back, and thought to herself: “That poor old man! I should take him some cake!”. Whatever her reasons, we were both happy with her decision to share. Michael’s happiness was with the delicious cake. Mine was in the fact that I’ve FINALLY been able to ‘connect’ with her. (OK, I loved the cake too) All summer I’d left little bags or recycled butter bowls filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more at her back door, picked fresh from our garden. We’d speak in the back yard, just polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ but her kind gesture encourages me now to continue to get to know her, and her pound cake recipe! I’ve spoken lots more with her son and his pup than with her, finding out that they’ve lived there for over 6 years, he’s a grad student, and the dog’s name is Pippa. The point is, sometimes it can be difficult to ‘reach out and touch someone’ but almost everyone will eventually respond to small gestures of food and friendship.

Why do I care so much about getting to know the neighbors? Before moving to our urban home, we’d lived quite remotely in the country and I’d missed having neighbors during that 10 years, but it’s become more than that. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am concerned that our country is facing an economic collapse-in our lifetime-right along with depleted energy and water sources and ever-increasing global temperatures that are already affecting everything in our lives from food supplies to wildlife. To that end, I’ve learned how to grow food for my family, can and preserve it, and cook our meals from scratch. That alone has given me much peace of mind, and empowered me to discover other resiliency strategies. I’ve learned to live by the adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. Our home is stocked with several months worth of food, fuel and water, we stay out of debt and try to  live simply but still yet, I realize there is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. What good will it do for me to have food and water supplies when my neighbors are hungry and thirsty? How long could WE eat on what I have stored? What if there were bank failures in this country, like the ones in Cyprus this past spring? How would we access cash once the ATM’s were empty? What if there was a massive power failure for an extended period of time? There would be looting and  rioting if folks in the South couldn’t buy their Mountain Dew and Moonpies, I tell ya! How would we pump gas into our cars, light our homes, cook or stay warm? How would we flush the toilets and clean our clothes? Do you ever think about these what if’s? I do, and the only way I can rest easy is by being prepared for those scenarios. That includes making sure that my neighbors are too. Then, if those things never happen, we’ve simply got a well stocked pantry and a productive garden, right along with extra toothpaste and a support system too.

I write often about how these changing times demand that we grow a strong local economy. Michael and I have been attending bimonthly meetings for the local ‘Liveable Communities’ group and are greatly encouraged by the sharing and feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we get from the group, but liveable communities really start right. next. door. This holiday season, why not use the natural conviviality of the season to get to know your neighbors better- perhaps take them a card and some cookies, signed with your name and address so they can remember you later too? (I intend to put the internet address of this blog on the cards I hand out too, hoping they’ll read it and get interested in ‘feeding our future’ as well.)  I left a card for a neighbor congratulating her on the new beehives I’d spotted in the driveway, and later, when we made a face to face connection, she told me she’d wept when she read the card because she had been so worried about having the bees and how the neighborhood might react to them. She and I are friends now, and she tells me she’ll let me work with her in her hives next spring! I’ve begun talking to another neighbor about his struggling bread baking business, brainstorming with him on the feasibility of building a COMMUNAL outdoor wood-fired oven at the Community Garden next spring. (would the city EVER allow that? We intend to find out!) Not only are we working on ways to build a local foods network, at the same time we’re having fun building friendships and feeding the future. This poster hangs in my kitchen. May it offer you some hope and inspiration too:

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Loco for Local
October 31, 2013, 4:52 PM
Filed under: Climate Change, Growing Food, Local Food, mulch, Resilience, Seed Saving, Sustainability | Tags: ,

I attended a lecture last night at Emory and Henry College given by Gary Nahban, a renowned scientist and local foods pioneer. He explained that with the challenges that climate change presents for gardeners, farmers and ranchers, there are ‘best practices’ that are being developed and already being used (in the Southwest) to address those challenges. Practices like building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soil, (by adding compost and organic matter) protecting our gardens and fields from damaging winds, drought and floods by planting trees, harvesting rainwater, and creating swales and raingardens, reducing heat stress on crops and livestock and, selecting fruits, nuts, succulents and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to a warmer, drier climate can all be used to coax production and increase sustainability. One other thing that he is a big proponent of is seed saving. Seeds saved from plants that have been isolated from other varieties like it and that produced healthy offspring without being coddled during their production periods are going to be the best candidates. Seed saving is a radical resilience idea by the way, something I’ve written about ad nauseum in this blog.

I’ve been thinking about handing out little packets of Hopi Orange Lima Bean seeds tonight, right along with the little candy bars, to my Trick or Treaters. The seeds are not only beautiful, they just happen to be Halloween colors! So, what do you think? Have I gone completely ‘loco for local’ with this idea?

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I’ve long been fascinated with these beans, because I happen to believe the Native Americans knew what the hell they were doing and all we need to do is relearn what they figured out long ago to continue to thrive on this warming planet, while using fewer resources to do it. The plants are extremely drought and heat resistant and when dried, can be ground for flour too. The flour can then be used to dredge tasty little goblins in before adding to the kettle:

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Happy Halloween Ya’ll! Stay safe tonight!




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