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:

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
































Feeding Our Future


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:


Contributionism: Or, Simply Put, We Need Each Other

I’ve attended several meetings this week, all aiming to make our community a better place to love live. Before moving to this area, I’d raised a family and worked a full-time job, with little time or energy left for civic affairs. Perhaps every town and community is as focused as mine on making life better, but I can’t really say since this is the only place I’ve lived that I’ve liked enough to get involved. (Something within me though tells me that MY town is special in this regard.) Over the last couple of days I’ve witnessed over 150 different people come to these meetings straight from work, while on their lunch breaks or during their dinner hour to show their support for initiatives in this area that are important enough to them that they take the time to show up and contribute. Some of us have time, some have special talents, others have lots of energy, a few have money, but we all want to contribute in some way to make our community better. It’s not all altruistic of course, since we will benefit individually as well as collectively from our efforts.

The recently formed Rails to Trails Task Force has been charged with overseeing the conversion of an old railroad system into a 10+ mile long hiking and biking trail by Labor Day of next year. The ‘Tweetsie Trail’  will bring many new visitors and their dollars to our community, while giving those of us lucky enough to LIVE here a free fitness trail that just happens to offer us lots of natural beauty while we get fit and have fun. My city has committed $100,000 to jumpstart this project, that after investing $625,000 to purchase the land itself. The task force meets monthly and manages to get lots of homework done between meetings. All volunteers. All contributing whatever they can.

tweetsie trail

One Acre Cafe is a soon-to-be-opened restaurant that will be located between our downtown area and the college campus. It will use a nonprofit status and a  ‘Pay It Forward’ concept of making sure that everyone eats. If you can pay a bit more for your meal, any extra will go towards buying a meal for someone who can’t afford to pay. If you’re one of those,  you can work for an hour at the cafe to earn your meal, all while learning valuable kitchen skills that might eventually earn you a paid job in the food service industry along with that meal. This whole plan is run by volunteers and is operating entirely via donations. It’s been a tremendous undertaking but is becoming a reality due to many, many volunteers contributing. (there’s that word again)

Last but certainly not least, a joint meeting was held yesterday between the Washington County Economic Development Council and the Liveable Communities group to explore the possibility of combining our forces in hopes of being able to make a better contribution (ahem…) to making our region a nicer place to live. A city/county entity combining with a civic group- is that sweet or WHAT? It’s part of contributionism, that’s what.


When I first began thinking about the purpose of this blog, I wanted, most of all, to provide my readers with positive alternatives to the present reality of Peak Oil, Climate Change and an oil-based lifestyle and economy that is unsustainable. I am convinced that a new, clear, vision is what is needed 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.  If you too are interested in these things, simply pick a project that you care about and contribute your unique gifts to it. Our gifts of contributionism will manifest themselves into even more generosity from those affected and will help see us all through times of turmoil. In contrast to the age of oil and money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other. 


It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

mr rogers

I thought you might need some good news, something to brighten this dreary post-bombing day. Here’s what’s beautiful in my neighborhood this week:

* My daily walk took me on a different route, where I discovered a lively new beehive in one neighbor’s suburban driveway! I wrote a card and told ‘them’ I was very happy to see their bees and that I support their efforts, then delivered it in person to their door. If you see your neighbor planting a garden, tending their chickens, hanging their clothes out or some other such similar effort to live their urban life in a way that supports the things you care about, a supportive voice might be appreciated by them~and, you may make a new friend in the process!

* I’m making more of a point to engage the two young men that live next door to us. They have a new puppy, are grad students at the local university and seem truly nice. They’re slowly warming up by asking questions about us, our dog, our current backyard project of raised bed building, etc. It’s nice to know Ryan and what’s-his-name 😦  OK, so I forgot one name, but I’ll make it a point to ‘get it’ again soon-the pup’s name is Pippa)

* We’re taking part in our neighborhood’s annual cleanup tomorrow, as part of the Great American Cleanup. I plan to go over early to help the graffiti cleanup team, then Michael and I are giving a ‘State of the Community Garden’ address at the community center.

* Our ‘neighborhood association’, a fun, loose-knit group, is planning a walk-about porch party May 4th. Similar to the Christmas walk-about, neighbors walk to the designated hosts porches this time, where we’ll be served each family’s signature drink and a #!hor derve?&% snack. I love this idea and am already looking forward to my new hood’s annual July 4th party too! You can start a similar group for your hood by signing up at: https://westholston.nextdoor.com/refer/?is=nfhd (and if you let me REFER you before you launch your own website, we’ll BOTH win a $50 Starbucks gift card. It’s an easy, relaxed way to stay connected with your neighbors, I promise. And of course, if you ever ARE in a ‘lock in/cell-phones-down’ situation like those folks are in Boston today, you can still connect and communicate.

“From oil dependence to local resilience”. I feel strongly that building community with our neighbors is going to be KEY to our ability to respond to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity that we are facing.  Seeing the residents of cities and towns come together when they are under duress-from Newtown to Boston-proves that it’s our neighbors and friends that we’ll turn to when times are hard. Making those connections is so much easier, and definitely more fun, when you’re NOT in a stressful or tragic situation. It’s spring- get out and find out what’s beautiful in your neighborhood too!

Filling My Days with Frugality

We’ve been busy here these last couple of weeks on our little patch of urban. We planted 7 blueberry bushes that were dug up from a friend’s blueberry patch. They’re only ‘sticks’ now, but in two years we’ll be blueberry rich!  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve also built two more 4’x20′ raised beds for our community garden plot, planted peas, onions and potatoes and are nurturing our tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse, which has required twice-a-day watering and venting this week with the heat we’ve had. So, even though that’s a pain for sure, it’s only for a month or two, and raising our own seedlings allows me to choose my very favorite varieties and is much cheaper than buying transplants. Because I have more time than money, it makes sense to take the time to do this and I’ve learned what I call a ‘life skill’-how to reliably raise healthy plants from seeds. Now, about those raised beds…

I’m always searching for frugal and healthier ways of doing things and I’ve found a good alternative to using treated wood for my raised beds. This ‘recipe’ for treating your own wood is as close to organic as I’ve found, while being effective in it’s ability to protect wood from rot. And it’s a much healthier choice for my vegetables and for the environment than pressure treated woods. I got the idea from Organic Gardening magazine many years ago, and the beds we left behind when we moved last summer were still holding pretty firm 8-9 years after building them-from plain pine lumber. I put 5 coats of this on every surface of the wood, using an old cheap brush for the chore, letting it soak in and dry between coats. Years ago, I got lucky at a yard sale and bought 8 boxes of paraffin wax for $2. About the same time, I was given several gallons of boiled linseed oil, so I haven’t had to buy those things to make this preservative until now. When we made our beds those many years ago, paint thinner was about $6 a gallon; now it’s $10.95 and a box of paraffin wax is at least $6! (By the way, if you have a veteran’s ID card, show it upon checkout at Lowe’s or Home Depot for a 10% discount) Before I buy any more paraffin wax though, I’ll just save candle stubs and melt them to make it, unless someone gives me a good reason why that wouldn’t work. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

1.   Slowly melt 1 ounce of paraffin wax over low heat in a double boiler (do not heat over a direct flame).
2.   Outdoors, carefully pour just under a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine, at room temperature) into a bucket; then slowly pour in the melted paraffin, stirring vigorously.
3.   Add 3 cups of exterior varnish or 1½ cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended.
4.   When the mixture cools, either dip your lumber into it or brush it onto the wood, making sure that you thoroughly coat all surfaces, especially the cut ends.  Dipping the boards for 5 to 15 minutes allows the repellent to soak more deeply into the wood. 

When we constructed our first bed in our new garden space last fall, we drove our 26 year old ‘farm’ truck to a nearby horse barn and filled it with free manure and bedding, then mixed that with the garden soil and compost and let it rot all winter. But we want to plant these two new beds right away, so we’ll have to wait until this fall to add horse manure to them, or risk frying all our seedlings. Frugal note here: If you have an old truck that you only use for hauling stuff occasionally like we do, you can register it as a farm vehicle and your insurance is much, much cheaper that way. Ain’t she a beaut? You should see the other side 😀


All this is simply to say that frugality allows us to live well on less. Much less. I’ve found that by waiting for things to ‘come to me’, rather than buying them right away almost always pays off. Yesterday during my bimonthly thrift store trip, I finally found the right sized lamp shade I’d been searching for for 50 cents, the exact burgundy-colored set of placemats I’d been wanting for $1, and a cool set of professionally framed prints in the perfect color to match my bathroom  for $6. I’d been on the lookout for all these items for months, it’s just that the stars and moon must’ve lined up just right on this particular day. Planning ahead and being patient paid off. 


I’ve also found that growing your own food is like printing money. Just like the sharply higher prices I quoted for the paint thinner and wax, food prices have risen sharply too. Growing our own allows us to eat fresh, organic food for a fraction of what that same food would cost in the store or at the market. I harvested a large produce bag of kale and a head of cabbage this week from last fall’s garden and I still have lettuce and parsley going strong too.


Combined with a few basic staples from my pantry, that’s enough for a gourmet meal of Soba Noodles with Kale and Peanut Sauce with a side of stir-fried cabbage on Friday, a pot of Potato-Kale soup with a side of Fusion Slaw on Saturday, and finally, a fiery Chinese stir-fry on Sunday, using the last of the shredded cabbage and kale, along with home-grown sprouts, red and green peppers, carrots, snow peas and celery, all ‘put by’ last fall.

The purpose of this blog is to share ideas that might inspire you to begin  transitioning to a lower-energy, lower-consumption, lower-income lifestyle-if times get hard or even if they don’t. Even though I’ve been on a media fast for a few weeks, I’ve still managed to hear about many scary things going on in our government, in our country and in our world. I may not be able to control those things, but I can sure as hell control how I spend my money, who I vote for, how I spend my time and what I eat. And that’s saying a lot, don’t you agree?


Empower House
A home is considered a refuge not only from nature’s elements, but from societal pressures as well. It’s a basic need, right along with food and clothing. But I’ve got a question for you; Is your home living up to its’ potential?
Turning our homes into a place of production, rather than consumption, can help us produce the food, energy, water and products we rely upon and can even produce extra income in a pinch! To really become resilient, we need to make sure our homes are able to provide for at least some of our needs.

Here’s an example:  Let’s say you have a beehive and a little coop with a couple of laying hens in the backyard. And let’s also say you have a modest vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, a strawberry patch and some blueberry bushes planted out by the shed. The one thing all those things need for survival is water. Now, suppose your region suffers through a drought like the one that’s been going on in the midwestern states for several years now and water rationing becomes a reality in your town. Or suppose storm-produced flooding or power outages overwhelms and shuts down your city’s municipal water system. How would you take care of your water needs? Our great grandparents had wells, springs, cisterns and outhouses for dealing with their water needs but we modern urban dwellers are completely dependent on complex, energy- intensive water systems.Why not put in place your own water system? Here’s some ideas to help you do just that:

  • Landscape your yard with a rain garden to capture and divert excess rainwater into an area that your bees and fruit trees can easily access
  • Set up rain barrels, using your roof  as the channel device
  • Install an underground tank in the yard, a dirt-floored cellar or even under a deck to store even more rainwater. If underground storage isn’t feasible, above ground tanks are available, and now you can buy slimlined tanks that form a fence, serving dual purposes:


One option for an almost endless supply of drinking water is to purchase a gravity-feed counter top water filtration system that uses no electricity and very long-lasting carbon filters that can clean raw, contaminated water well enough to allow you to drink it. This is our home’s ‘drinking station’ and I’ve read where this particular type of filtration system is used by Vista and Peace Corps workers to enable them to have clean drinking water while working in third world countries.


At the very least, you can also store extra drinking water in jugs in the basement or even under the beds-anywhere it won’t freeze. Humans and pets can go for weeks without food but only a couple of days without water. When tornadoes or storms are bearing down on us is NOT the time to think about emergency water.  Plenty of clean water can be provided right from your own home with a little advance planning.

What are some other ways your home can become empowered to support YOU?

  • A small solar array can provide you with some hot water or generate a bit of electricity, and with prices at an all time low, coupled with tax incentives, solar has become more affordable
  • Using your backyard to grow a mini orchard, a  garden- and perhaps raise some meat rabbits in hutches- could go a long way towards feeding your family
  • Hanging your clothes to dry outside on a clothesline or inside on a rack
  • Growing fresh herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes
  • Brewing your own wines and beers in the basement can make hard times a little less so
  • Adding a small solar greenhouse over a south-facing window of your home can provide you with fresh food in winter AND be an extra source of heat
  • Building a wood fired brick oven on the back patio can provide you with a wonderful way to cook food and heat water if the power is out-or not
  • Or convert that patio into a full-blown screened in ‘summer kitchen’ with running water from, you guessed it, your stored rainwater
  • … the list of things your home can be empowered to do is almost endless.

Many people make money by using part of their home for a purpose other than simply shelter and refuge; from renting a spare bedroom to offering daycare, the possibilities are endless. One very popular family owned pizza shop in the heart of  our downtown has built a wood fired brick oven that’s used for baking their pies, and they live upstairs. Root cellars and basements can be mighty useful for food and pantry storage as well as work space. Garages can be converted to workshops, studios and more.

The systems you put into place in your home make you able to produce more, become less dependent, and live a better life.  Whether it’s a water, energy, or food system, the synergies between these systems compound this effect. Just like in the case of modern-day financial assets, savings or investment accounts get increasingly valuable due to compounding over the long term. Empower your home to take care of your needs!

Hodge Podge~ London vs Alabama

Some of you know that my hubby is from England, but some of you also know that I’m originally from Alabama, and where I’m from, ‘Hodge Podge’ never referred to food, but to a confused mixture of things. Seems his use of the word is perfect for leftovers though, right matey?

It’s the last day of January, and my last day of blogging about food~at least for now. I’m not feeling too well this evening, but luckily, I’d managed to put together Pad Thai for supper tonight before I started feeling icky, and coupled with a slice of homemade bread, it was wonderful. Putting a good meal on the table is really easy though when you have “Hodge Podge”, which is Michael’s word for ‘cleaning out the refrigerator and making a meal of it.’ For some reason, I think it sounds more appetizing to call it Hodge Podge, rather than ‘leftovers’~ I mean you KNOW what your leftovers were from supper last night, but Hodge Podge, well, you just never can tell! Whether it’s a few leftover potatoes or polenta, a bit of beans or greens, a cup of pasta topped with parmesan cream or pesto, a crust of bread, or half a jar of fruit, it doesn’t matter whether it ‘goes together’ or not, it’s always an eating adventure to have Hodge Podge and a good way to clean out the frig and resist the siren call to ‘eat out’.

But tonight, we’re going to talk about the southern version of this term too, because I have a little of this and a little of that I wanted to share with you, and since none of it is seemingly related, I’ll call it Hodge Podge too:

chicken scraps

1. My C.O.O.P. cofounder friend Emily and I will be offering a new ‘Backyard Henkeeping’ class this coming Saturday morning, Feb. 2nd, at Mize Farm and Garden supply in Johnson City. The class will be from 10 to noon and if you stay til the second hour, you’ll receive a $5 off voucher for anything in the store! Please call to preregister: 434-1800

2. Did you know that you can rehydrate and plump dried plums (aka prunes) by simmering them in a little pan of water for 5 or 10 minutes? They are sooo good that way!


3. Storing fresh cilantro or parsley in a jar of water in the frig keeps it fresh for about two weeks! Snip off the bottom of the stems, insert into half full  jar of water, then cover loosely with a plastic bag… PS Make sure the leaves are dry when you cover, so don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them.


4. I save the dessicant packs that come in new shoes, backpacks, and pill bottles. The little bags are used to absorb moisture and adding them to my jars of dried fruits, herbs and vegetables, keeps them from molding. Once the bags stop absorbing moisture, they can easily be rejuvenated by putting them in my dehydrator at 300 degrees for about 3 hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can recharge them by placing them on a cookie sheet in the oven but I’d sure try to find a way to do this when I had the oven on low for some other purpose; perhaps while baking some potatoes, or even a crock of baked beans. You can also buy silica gel at a craft store and make your own dessicant packs, but why not ask everyone you know to simply save theirs for you and you’ll have plenty of them in no time!


Well, I guess those four things ARE related, seeing as how they’re all about food, but regardless, I’m calling it a Hodge Podge of ideas, just because I think it’s a cool term. Let this be the year that we start to lay the groundwork for a way of life that’s many, many times more productive, meaningful, and bountiful than the one we have today. Peak Oil and Climate Change be damned, transitioning to a different way of living is a journey~ enjoy it!

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