One of the blogs I really enjoy reading (and there are sooooo many of them… damn you, Bloglines!) is Sharon Astyk’s “Casaubon’s Book“. I’ve been following her blog for months now, and generally sit here reading it while nodding my head up and down as she nails point after point about the huge societal, environmental and economic changes that are coming down the pike. She writes about post-peak oil, when we no longer have access to cheap* gas and are no longer able to live the consumptive, reckless lifestyles most Westerners have become accustomed to. It’s very interesting stuff. I have been thinking this way for some time now, so it’s really nice to be validated by such an articulate person. It’s also great because she doesn’t just stand on her soapbox with a doomsday sign strapped to her chest. She gives very useful, do-able, plausible and helpful suggestions for things we can do, now, to prepare for the future- whatever it happens to look like.
*$4 or even $5 a gallon gas is cheap. We’ll probably never see it lower again, and it will most likely get even more expensive as demand surges, supplies dwindle, and the dollar weakens. Get ready!
Anyway, among her many insightful essays and practical advice is a post about “Independence Days“. This is a challenge to start preparing for an “uncertain future”, as she calls it, by learning and practicing skills that will be essential if and when we no longer have access to bountiful, cheap oil. Why wait for the inevitable moment to come – I’m talking about when there’s either no more oil, or it’s so expensive that you can’t get it- to start learning to do without it (or at least, with less of it)? That moment is already here for many people. I’ve heard stories about people caught in terrible catch-22s: they can’t afford gas to get to a job. Or, they have to choose between buying enough gas to get to work and buying groceries. As prices for fuel (and food, and everything else in our economy – which is based on cheap gas) go up, this will become reality for more and more of us.
The challenge Sharon has created helps you set yourself up for a low(er)-energy lifestyle by constantly pushing you to try new ways of eliminating or reducing your consumption of fossil fuels. It does not suggest that you need to move into a yurt today and forage for berries in the wilderness. It does suggest that you experiment with alternative ways of heating, cooking, maintaining your home, and obtaining your food while you still have the safety net of contemporary life. For example, you can try cooking dinner in a solar oven, but if you screw up completely, there’s still time to run to the store (or out to eat). You have time to learn from your mistakes, as well as stock up on supplies and materials, so that you can deal with the learning curve of a new lifestyle in relative safety. It’s much less stressful this way.
Thinking about all of this is what inspired me to put in such an ambitious garden this year. I’ve always enjoyed [trying] growing things, but what if we had no choice but to eat what we planted? What if we couldn’t get to the stores, or if food was so expensive there that we weren’t able to buy it? We are fortunate enough to have a little bit of land (3/4 acre), and I’ve got some time on my hands, so I’m giving it a go. And now that things are actually growing in the garden, I feel confident enough to ‘fess up to this little challenge and make myself virtually accountable to it.
Here’s the challenge: on a weekly basis, I’m going to try to do each of the following:
- Plant something
- Harvest something
- Preserve something
- Cook something [new or in a different way]
- Prep something
- Manage your supplies
- Work on local food systems
Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the point. A low-energy lifestyle requires a lot more forethought and planning. It’s not about deprivation, but with self-sufficiency comes responsibility. You no longer have the luxury of driving through a fast-food joint when you feel the slightest twitch of hunger. You no longer have the luxury of running to Wally World in the middle of the night because you ran out of TP. You’ve got to keep your life simple, anticipate your needs, prioritize them, and plan accordingly. Read Sharon’s essay on the Independence Days Challenge (link above) for a much more comprehensive explanation of what this all entails.
So I have been trying very hard to do this challenge. I want to write about it so you can all look at me like I’m completely wacked marvel at me in amazement keep up with my progress. Actually, it’s more for me than it is for you. I would be tickled fuschia if someone joined me, but basically, these posts are to keep me on track.
You’ve all seen [an obnoxious number of] pictures of the garden. We’re doing well so far, but even if we get to harvest every crop we planted it still won’t be enough to keep our family going over the winter. But, it’s a start. We have herbs up in the planter boxes on the deck, and some spinach, dwarf beans and lettuces. The girls have their own garden box with dwarf carrots and a bean plant. I have some mustard seed and cumin to plant this week yet, and a potted tomato that needs put into the main garden. The main garden has lots of tomatoes, all heirlooms (because I have this crazy notion that we’ll actually save some seeds and grow them again next year). There’s a few peppers, some more carrots, beans, leeks, onions, nasturtiums, corn, cucumber and pumpkin. I should have also planted garlic and peas. Actually, I did plant peas, but they never sprouted. I think the seeds were too old. I’m putting garlic on the list for next year.
Last night I snipped some radish sprouts to thin the row. I snipped a few baby lettuces, too, and some spinach. My spinach didn’t do very well, but, again, I think it was old seed. The greens made a nice little salad for me, but it wasn’t enough for a meal, and there wasn’t enough to share. However, I’m sure we’ll soon be swimming in lettuce, so I’m not complaining.
Nada. Nothing yet. But I did find my canning lid rack and put it with the canner for this fall.
I ordered a copy of The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book some months back, and finally got around to making a loaf of the beginner’s bread from it. I make bread often, but not whole wheat. My whole wheat bread is more like whole wheat brick. It’s horrible. Dense, hard, heavy, and not at all enjoyable. This particular effort was still not anywhere near the quality of our local bread chef’s whole wheat goodness, but it was edible. I think it’s the first loaf of whole wheat homemade bread that we actually finished. And I did it by hand, without the stand mixer or bread machine. Very low-energy. I’m excited to try again.
A couple of weeks ago, I went through our hallway linen/medicine closet and cleared out all the junk that’s no longer useful. I took time to examine the first-aid box, which is a plastic storage container filled with all the salves, creams, drops, swabs, gauzes, etc., we have on hand. I got rid of the stuff that’s too old or that was near-empty, and actually made a list of what we were lacking and replenished the supply on my next trip to the drugstore. I keep the first-aid items in a box because, if something happens somewhere else in the house or yard, I can grab the box and take EVERYTHING right to the disaster scene. It’s doubly useful because everything is kept neat and tidy in the closet, instead of spread out all over several shelves.
High-use items, like the thermometer, are kept in the front of the box for quick access.
Manage Your Supplies
We have a spare freezer running and use it to store our meats, bought from a nearby farm. This week, I went through the remaining beef stash and planned out a loose assortment of menus for the coming months to use up the rest of the beef by August. That’s when our favorite farm will be butchering another cow, and we are on the list for a quarter-order. I realize that frozen meat is not low-energy, but we are slowly moving towards food independence, and I feel that this is a step in that direction. Besides, it’s going to take a lot to transition my family away from our meat-intensive diet, so switching to local meat only is at least taking us out of the conventional industrial meat loop.
Work on Local Food Systems
Speaking of our favorite farm, I just sent out an email to friends and neighbors to organize a co-op purchase from there. The farm is about 45 minutes away, which means there’s a considerable fuel cost involved. During the school year, I meet Melissa at our local university, about 15 minutes away, to pick up our orders. In the summer, however, we have to go up to the farm. I’m pleasantly surprised at the response so far. Two friends and two neighbors have said they are interested in participating. My goal is to convert encourage as many people as possible to start buying locally, and this is a start. You’re probably asking yourself why I think a farm 45 minutes away is local, when I don’t live in a big city. Well, even though we have farms less than a few miles away in about every direction, most of them are conventional (using petroleum-based fertilizers & pesticides, and other fuel-intensive industrial methods for cultivating and harvesting). And very very few sell retail. But I’m noticing more and more organic and “natural”-method farms… well, sprouting up all over. It’s exciting. And I think that, if there’s enough demand for that kind of thing, we’ll see more farmers dump the industrial techniques and go back to lower-energy systems, raise food that’s wholesome and natural, and sell directly to neighbors instead of shipping their produce thousands of miles to some other industrial operation that processes every last bit of wholesomeness out of it and resells it to people as “food”.
Anyway, hope this wasn’t too heavy a topic for those of you looking for silly pictures of my kids or my cat. Those will be coming up, don’t worry. Till then, I’ll leave you with this neat picture of birds in a tree. And, no, these aren’t my neighbor-birds.