Thursday, April 30, 2009

Girl Gone Wild!

Yesterday evening was the first of six weekly sessions for a spring botany course on wild edibles that I've signed up for. It is taught by Martha Webber, a botanist and ecologist.

My fellow classmates and I arrived (an eclectic group) and gathered around a picnic table on which our teacher had set cups and two big jugs of maple sap and rhubarb juice for us to sample, as well as a basket of ostrich fern fiddleheads and ramps.

Then 'class' began. Our first lesson took place right outside Martha's front door where she had transplanted some ostrich ferns. She taught us how to recognize last year's flag.

Here are the fiddleheads popping up at the base of the old flag. Martha said that one could easily harvest two or three fiddleheads from a large fern without damaging the plant.

Here are a few that have passed their prime. Martha also noted that some ferns, such as bracken and the sensitive fern are known to be somewhat toxic and should therefore be avoided. The key identifying factor for edible ferns is the deep groove in the stem of ostrich ferns.

We then moved on to a big patch of waterleaf, which makes a nice salad green.

Next to the waterleaf were some ramps.

Beside the ramps was a patch of toxic bloodroot, which is not edible.

Here are some daylilies coming up. We harvested and ate the juicy, tender leaves at the base of the plant.

Garlic mustard was identified and collected for a salad.

When stinging nettles are young and tender, they can picked without gloves.

This kind of sedum is edible and went into our salad bowl as well.

Here is a beautiful patch of English primrose in flower. (We also identified evening primrose, but those pictures didn't turn out.)

Burdock has wonderful medicinal properties.

As does motherwort.

Here is our wise and wonderful teacher leading us through the woods on her property.

To further help us identify all kinds of plants and trees, Martha gave us a brief lesson on plant taxonomy. As the sun was setting she brought us back to the house, where we stopped off at her Jerusalem artichoke bed and dug up some tubers (I brought some home to plant in my garden!). We washed the chokes off and then washed our hands at the back of the house with soapwort.

Martha then welcomed us into her home for a delicious meal of baked lima beans with ramps and wild ginger, sweet molasses bread with dandelion jam, steamed nettles and fiddleheads, Jerusalem artichokes in a vinaigrette and a freshly picked salad of wild greens.

After our meal we sipped linden tea and Martha played us a tape of frog calls.

It was a wonderful and incredibly informative evening. I learned so much and I am thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the course.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Garden Challenge

Now that I have a garden plot, I am seriously thinking about signing up for Sharon's Independence Days challenge. I think it would help me to stay on track and record my progress in the garden as well as preserving food, and I like the idea of being part of a larger group of people who are sharing the same the goals.

Sharon's post on this topic really resonated with me. I was especially struck by these words:

"It is easy to forget how important this “little stuff” is - easy to think that your little garden doesn’t matter very much, or that your preparations won’t be enough. But we should also remember the exponential power of saying “no” and doing for ourselves. The corollary of the fact that every calorie of food takes 10 of fossil fuels is that every stir fry or salad you eat from your garden saves 10 times the oil as the calories contained within it. The fact that almost every packaged ingredient uses 7 times as much energy to create that packaging means that your choice to buy bulk oatmeal just saved 7 times as much energy as the package contains...

Every bite of food you grow, every bite you preserve, every bit of waste you reduce is a contribution to a larger project - keeping everyone fed. Every bit of compost you add to your soil, every bit of organic matter, every tree you plant is a contributor to a larger project - storing some of our emissions in soil, so we can have a future. Small things are the roots of vast and powerful ones."

Yep, I'm definitely signing up for this challenge. Anyone else?

Monday, April 27, 2009

She's Crafty!

Rhonda and volunteers from Down to Earth host craft swaps throughout the year, and I participated in my first one. I finished my project last night (a few days late!) and will send it to my swap buddy today.

This project was for potholders and tea towels. Here is a pic of the project mid-completion.

I didn't use any newly purchased materials for the project. For the potholders I re-purposed a napkin that I had picked up at a church bazaar late last year. I made the tea towels from a large dish towel that I bought at a secondhand store. To make both the pot holders and tea towels, I simply cut the napkin and towel in half, pinned and hand sewed the hems. I used some leftover cotton yarn for the detailing and crochet motifs.

This is how the finished project turned out.

I really enjoyed working on this project. I didn't have a plan or pattern to work from when I started. Instead, I let the process evolve as I went along.

First I gathered my materials. I knew my swap partner's kitchen colours are blue and white, so I dug out the napkin and the cotton yarn and worked from there. Then I found the towel and started the next step.

Ideas were contemplated and imagined. Some ideas were discarded. Some motifs were begun and abandoned. A few stitches were pulled and started over. A friend taught me the stitch for the edging eventually used. Nothing completely irreversible was attempted until I was sure that was what I wanted, so I didn't create any unnecessary waste.

At one point in the creative process I got stuck and didn't know what to do next. Frustrated and uninspired with the project, I set it aside for many days. With the deadline looming I finally picked it up and worked through the 'stuckness'. I finished off some simple, mindless work that didn't require any creativity, just to get warmed up so to speak. Then, still not sure of what to do next, I started crocheting various motifs and tried them out. I made about a dozen of them before I finally found something that I thought looked right. As I made the last stitch and cut the thread with my scissors, I felt satisfied with my work.

I like crafting this way, even when it gets frustrating at times. It forces me to be creative and inventive. I also find that it's much more conducive to my values of thrift and conservation. I would rather see what is possible making do with the materials that I have on hand (or second hand), than go to a craft store, buy a new pattern and then buy all the new materials required of the pattern. It's expensive, creates more waste, and for me personally, limits creativity. (And, I'm also lazy about following directions and not that great at reading patterns!)

For me, making things by hand is more than just a hobby or craft, it is about learning and practicing valuable skills that I find very empowering and makes me less dependent on mass produced goods. I'm glad I had this opportunity to practice my skills. Especially my hand sewing. I learned how to hand sew as a girl but it's something I rarely do as an adult. It was good to reconnect with this ability and to know that I can still make neat, precise and nearly invisible stitches.

I hope my swap buddy enjoys her new potholders and tea towels. (Or, if it's the wrong colour of blue or not her style, that she re-gifts them or donates them to charity.) I look forward to receiving my set soon and will post pics when they arrive.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Body's Own Work

Last week I posted about a minor health crisis that resulted in an all night trip to the emergency room and a course of antibiotic treatment. A week later I'm caught up on sleep. I feel I've returned to my usual state of good health and I'm making sure I get lots of probiotics back into my body.

The acute symptoms and pain cleared up within a day, but the experience as a whole left me feeling vulnerable and dependent on an unsustainable health care system that is completely reliant on cheap fossil fuels in order to function as we know it.

This brought up a lot of fear and anxiety for me as I wondered what health care might look like in a resource and energy constrained future. I imagined suffering all alone, from a festering wound, feverish and delusional, just like Caroline Ingalls did in this episode of Little House on the Prairie, and I guess I kind of freaked myself out!

Thankfully, quite a few readers weighed in with their thoughts on the matter, and I have to say, many of them buoyed me up and helped me to see the issues from a different perspective. This made me feel better and more hopeful about what might be possible and how we can work towards preventing and dealing with illness. (Thank you!)

Then this evening I came across this article on "Immune Health and a Low Energy Lifestyle" over at the Hen and Harvest.

From the article:
"The point of an herbal remedy, or of any medical intervention, is to help a body that is not able to do the job of overcoming illness well enough on its own. Massachusetts herbalist Margi Flint says in her book, The Practicing Herbalist, we should first of all “realize that [our] best pharmacy is within [our] own body.” Our bodies do the work of keeping us healthy. Sometimes we get out of balance because of poor diet, stress, you name it. The goal then is to get back to healthy balance, and there are two main things we can do to help achieve and maintain that so our bodies can function as they’re supposed to.

One, we can prevent disease by taking good care of ourselves. This comes through all the usual boring stuff of eating well, exercising, managing stress, etc. Two, we can use herbs and other healing modalities to aid our body‘s own work."

These are comforting and assuring words that I would do well to remember. Just as -when I worry about my success or failure as a gardener- it is the nature of seeds and plants to grow, it is also in the nature of our bodies to heal and restore itself to balance. I need to trust in this process, worry less and do what I can to aid my body's own work. I don't need to rely on cheap fossil fuels to do this. In fact, my body and my health is better off without them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Health of the Nation

I had a minor medical emergency on Tuesday night. It was nowhere near life threatening, however I was in a great deal of pain and it was serious enough that it needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Unfortunately all the walk-in clinics were closed, so the only option left was a trip to emergency. Fun times!

I was there all night long, got the necessary treatment and prescription for antibiotics and fell exhausted into bed at 5:30 in the morning, grateful for modern medical science and wondering how in the world I would manage to get through a workday on two hours of sleep.

As I sat in the emergency waiting room and looked around me, I wondered about all the resources that are required to keep a hospital functioning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How much electricity? How much coal? How much oil? How much gas? Water? Food?

When I was called to a bed and waited for the doctor to come in see me I looked at all the medical implements around me. Everything was an individually packaged, single use item, mostly made of and wrapped in plastic. How much waste does a hospital generate?

I saw biohazard boxes, dispensers of antibacterial cleansers, bottles of disinfectants, industrial strength cleaners. How many chemicals get disposed of, flushed down toilets and rinsed down drains?

I wondered what a hospital's ecological footprint would be. I suspect it's pretty darn big. I also imagine that a lot of it is really necessary. For example, it is not appropriate to reuse most medical implements. But I also think there is probably room for improvement. How do hospitals source and prepare their food? How much do they waste? How do they dispose of it?

I then wondered what the future of health care might look like in an era of energy scarcity.

Every single aspect of my trip to emergency was reliant on cheap fossil fuels, from the cab ride there and back home (with a trip to the nearest 24hr pharmacy in between) and including my antibiotics. (Here is an interesting article on "Medicine After Oil", about health care in the US, that gives a really good overview of how much oil goes into our medicine.)

In the future, will I be able to rely on a fossil fuel dependent system if I am faced with another health crisis? What alternatives will be available? Is anybody even thinking about large scale alternatives?

On a personal level, I am learning about alternatives I can use to administer to my own health and I've written before about how my kitchen is my medicine cabinet, but not everything can be cured with herbs and spices. What will I do for more serious and complicated health issues that will most certainly arise as I get older? What about unexpected accidents? Broken bones? How will we be able to help the very medically fragile? What about all the baby boomers who will most assuredly have complex needs?

I have a feeling that many people don't think about this aspect of an energy crisis. Quite a few people think that peak oil means that we will simply drive and fly less, gas will be more expensive and we will get all our energy from nuclear power.

I think that we are much more reliant on oil than most of us who are so used to taking it for granted realise and that health care as we know it is just one of the many aspects of our taken for granted reality that is going to fundamentally change in the future.

My minor medical crisis on Tuesday cost me no more than cab fare, the price of my prescription and a nights sleep. In the future, could it cost me my life?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Biking, gardening, harvesting, eating!

I am now the proud owner of a new-to-me 6 speed ladies cruiser bicycle.

Yesterday I rode it to my allotment garden plot.

There's lots of work to be done, including cleaning up some stuff that the previous gardeners had left behind.

Here are some of our garden beds that we want to double dig.

When we get tired from all that digging we can take breaks under our (what I think is a) cherry tree

I've already picked my first harvest!

These mustard greens and dandelion leaves were growing in the the plot, and were a perfect additon to a shredded carrot salad.

The salad added a lovely bit of colour to the sweet and sour cabbage and tempeh and the Jerusalem artichokes I made with this recipe.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Free 'n Clear!

This is my bathroom mirror. What's so special about it? Well today, for once, it's clean! No spots, no streaks, no fuss, no muss, because I cleaned it with an amazing cleaner!

I'm so excited about this cleaning product. It's 100% chemical free, not like nasty, conventional cleaners. It's better than this. There is absolutely no packaging or waste whatsoever because I didn't even make my own. I didn't use paper towels or newspaper. And the best part about this incredible product is that it's free!

That's right folks, absolutely free! It's Free 'n Clear! And if you act now, you too can take advantage of this for the rest of your lifetime offer. But you have to act fast, because there's no time like the present to start going chemical free, reduce waste and save, save, save money!

What is this miracle cleaner, you ask? Well, our dedicated researcher in our state of the art Unstuffed lab recently discovered a highly effective, yet simple, 3 step process to a Free 'n Clear clean! (Patent pending)

Step 1: Take a navy shower and steam up your bathroom mirror.

Step 2: Take a clean, cotton rag that you've recycled from an old t-shirt or something.

Step 3: With the rag, vigorously wipe your steamed up mirror using these mechanical marvels.

That's it folks. Three easy steps to a Free 'n Clear Clean! All for the low, low price of absolutely nothing. So what are you waiting for? Head to your bathroom today for your very own Free 'n Clear clean. Our operators are standing by for assistance.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Morning

This is my favourite fair trade coffee, not just because it tastes great, but because it is locally roasted and the bag is compostable!
I like to sweeten my coffee with local honey.

Fenugreek seeds. They smell amazing!

Even when the weather is variable, I can still dry my clothes on a rack indoors.

I'm excited to get these wonderful heritage seeds in the ground.

I'm repurposing a dish towel and napkin into pot holders and tea towels for a craft swap I'm participating in.

If you're not already familiar with Wendell Berry, run don't walk to your nearest library and get one of his books. I highly recommend this one.

"We are going to have to rebuild the substance and integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighbourhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wendell Berry, "A Native Hill"

"We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us... And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity- our own capacity for life- that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contraty assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it."

Pge. 20 The Art of the Commonplace

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More from Wendell Berry's "The Whole Horse"

"What, then, is the countervailing idea by which we might correct the industrial idea? We will not have to look hard to find it, for there is only one, and that is agrarianism...

The fundamental difference between industrialism and agrarianism is this: whereas industrialism is a way of thought based on monetary capital and technology, agrarianism is a way of thought based on the land.

Agrarianism, furthermore, is a culture at the same time that it is an economy. Industrialism is an economy before it is a culture. Industrial culture is an accidental by-product of the ubiquitous effort to sell unnecessary products for more than they are worth.

An agrarian economy rises up from the field, woods and streams- from the complex soils, slopes, weathers, connections, influences, and exchanges that we mean when we speak, for example, of the local community or the local watershed. The agrarian mind is therefore not regional or national, let alone global, but local. It must know on intimate terms the local plants and animals and local soils; it must know local possibilities and impossibilities, opportunities and hazards. It depends and insists on knowing very particular local histories and biographies.

Because a mind so place meets again and again the necessity for work to be good, the agrarian mind is less interested in abstract quantities than in particular qualities. It feels threatened and sickened when it hears people and creatures and places spoken of as labour, management, capital, and raw material. It is not at all impressed by the industrial legendry of gross natural products, or of the numbers sold and dollars earned by gigantic corporations."

Allot of Garden and Wendell Berry by the Riverside

The ADGMD and I are now the proud renters of our very own garden plot in an Allotment garden! Let the garden planning begin.

On our way back from the Community Centre were we rented the plot, I stopped off at the library and picked up the copy I had placed on hold, of Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.

Having a little bit of time before I needed to go to work, the ADGMD and I walked down to the river and sat on a bench in the sun. I opened the book to Berry's essay, The Whole Horse, and read:

"One of the primary results- and one of the primary needs- of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories. To the extent that we participate in the industrial economy, we do not know the histories of our families or of our habitats or of our meals. This is an economy, and in fact a culture, of the one-night stand....

In this condition, we have many commodities, but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything. The scarcity of satisfaction makes of our many commodities, in fact, and infinite series of commodities, the new commodities invariably promising greater satisfaction than the older ones. And so we can say that the industrial economy's most-marketed commodity is satisfaction, and this commodity, which is repeatedly promised, bought and paid for is never delivered. On the other hand, people who have much satisfaction do not need many commodities.

The persistent want of satisfaction is directly and complexly related to the dissociation of ourselves and all our goods from our and their histories. If things do not last, are not made to last, they can have no histories, and we who use these things can have no memories. We buy new stuff on the promise of satisfaction because we have forgot the promised satisfaction for which we bought our old stuff...

The problem of our dissatisfaction with all the things that we use is not correctable within the terms of the economy that produces those things. At present, it is virtually impossible for us to know the economic history or the ecological cost of the products we buy; the origins of the products are typically too distant and too scattered and the processes of trade, manufacture, transportation, and marketing too complicated. There are, moreover, too many good reasons for the industrial suppliers of these products not to want their histories to be known...

If the industrial economy is not correctable within its own terms, then obviously what is required for correction is a countervailing economic idea..." you think anyone at the G-20 is thinking along these lines?