Our chickens and that time they nearly died in a fire

One of our pullets in the spring 2012

It’s been nearly a year since I shared that we’d finally gotten our backyard chickens. When I last wrote, they were itty bitty chicks living in a cardboard box in our basement while they grew bigger and my husband Jody built their permanent home. Now they are a year old, doing well and living in their palatial coop, built by Jody and painted by yours truly, but their life wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns (or mountain scenes and prayer flags as the case may be).

The coop One of the girls with my mountain mural

Nest boxes with sunflower

One day last March — only weeks after getting our chicks —  I arrived home to find the smoke alarms going off and the house filled with smoke! HOLY CRAP! I think I was in shock as I quickly unlocked the front door, let our confused dog Piper out of her kennel and looked around trying to figure out the source of the smoke. I only had my son with me at the time and I instructed him to take the dog outside. Unable to figure out where the smoke was coming from, I joined Julian outside and called 911. While I was talking to the dispatcher it dawned on me — maybe it was the brooder heat lamp and the cardboard box that the chickens were living in in the basement! OH NO!! NOT MY CHICKS!!!

Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, I took a deep breath, ran downstairs, grabbed the frantic chicks and shoved them into the ferret carrier, unplugged the heat lamp that started the fire and ran up and out of the house. The box had indeed caught on fire and appeared to be smoldering. If there had been flames, I’m sure I would’ve turned around and ran back upstairs, but it didn’t look too menacing, just smokey. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I coughed for a while lived and my chicks were safe and sound with me, Julian and Piper in the front yard as we waited for the fire department to arrive.

It turns out I had neglected to turn around the protective cover on the heat lamp so it keeps it AWAY from things and prevents fires. A helpful firefighter showed me how to do it. I thanked him, all the while thinking I may die of embarrassment. There I was, one of the people who spoke out in favor of backyard chickens to our city council, saying they wouldn’t cause any trouble or use any additional city resources and I was the one who called 911 after having a fire in my basement because of my ineptitude! Oy. Of course I didn’t tell the firefighters that. I just smiled and nodded and apologized profusely. (Thank you for your quick response and help, fire department! 🙂

Thankfully there was no damage to our house, just some water to clean up and soot on the wall and carpeting. The chicks’ cardboard box, on the other hand, had seen better days and I had to find them new living quarters. The girls desecrated lived in our bathtub for several days until we borrowed a friend’s dog kennel to house them in while work on the backyard coop was started in a hurry completed.

Lucky for us, the smoke and fire scare didn’t seem to cause permanent trauma (three cheers for resilient chickens!) and the girls started laying eggs in the summer just like happy little hens should. For a while we got the occasional double yolker (two yolks in one egg) as the girls sorted out the whole laying business, but these days they tend to be single yolks. Generally we have plenty of eggs — even enough to give some to my parents — but the girls have slowed down their laying over the winter as hens tend to do and we’ve had to supplement our supply at Vitamin Cottage.

Fresh eggs

Now spring is just around the corner and we’re hoping to add a few more chicks to the mix. Ava may be taking some to the county fair this summer as part of 4H, where she’ll have the option of selling them when it ends so our flock won’t get too big. This time around, however, I will be putting the protective cover ON the heat lamp (or maybe even buying an EcoGlow Brooder — how cool is that?) and using a large plastic bin for a brooder.

The next time I attempt to smoke a chicken, it will be in a smoker, not in my house. 🙂

Our Ancona this winter 2013

Here’s your Public Service Announcement for the day:
Brooder lamps get very, VERY hot and can cause fires even when properly installed. Please be careful if you use one in your house or chicken coop or perhaps check out this alternative instead — the EcoGlow Brooder.

Learn more about raising backyard hens:

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Chicago schools’ garden produce forbidden in the lunchroom

A school garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom. Children can learn a variety of subjects while working with others to grow their own food. But in some school districts the children have the gardens to grow the food, but are forbidden from eating it in their lunchrooms.

When I first read that the Chicago Public Schools are not able to use the produce grown in their more than 40 school gardens in the lunchroom, I was shocked. Why grow it if you can’t consume it? The truth is that due to rules set by the district and its meal provider the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.

“In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson.

Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

But produce grown by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on its 25-acre farm wouldn’t make the grade because, for example, it treats its corn with a single pesticide.

The school district touts using some local produce in its lunch program, but the produce that is most local of all — grown right outside their doors — is off limits. Children are being denied the most local and fresh produce of all. How does that make any sense?

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. For Chicago children ages 6-11, the obesity rate is 28%. So in an area where more and more children are overweight or obese and, as evidenced in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some American first graders can’t identify vegetables, the system is denying them healthy, local food.

Unfortunately, this is happening other school districts as well. Sybil who blogs at Musings of a Milk Maker told me on Facebook that this is also the case at the public school she is trying to get her daughter into.

Andrea Ward isn’t surprised by any of this. She had this to say on Facebook, “Lunch food is a big time business with big time rules and greed. Education is never about the kids (unless you are the one in the trenches–then that’s all you care about). Otherwise, it’s about politics. And politics is about money.”

However, other school districts across the country, such as Auburn School District in Washington state, have been able to adopt a garden to cafeteria plan. The school district’s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces “fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in 10 elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all 22 schools.” This single garden produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons.

Joanne White who blogs at Media Mum told me about her son’s elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District, Colo., where the school garden provides produce for its own salad bar. Joanne said, “The kids are fully involved from garden to table. No way Jamie Oliver would find any of them not knowing what a tomato is!”

In other school districts, the students eat what they grow, but not necessarily in the lunchroom, however not for the same reasons that the Chicago Public School District gave.

Karen from Eternal Maternal said her son participated in a school garden program at his elementary school located in Vancouver School District in Washington State. The children ate what they grew, but due to a variety of reasons including not enough of any one ingredient, lack of preparation time, etc., the produce was not used in the school cafeteria. Karen said, “I think it’s very important that kids learn where their food comes from and what it takes to get it to the point that it can be eaten. Providing food for oneself is a basic need. Typically, we don’t have to do it for ourselves until we’re in college and what do we do then? Go to the grocery store and buy a case of Ramen. When children learn to grow food that can sustain themselves, even if only partially, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, raises their awareness of the environment and, whether they realize it or not, raises their level of security because it’s a way they know of to care for themselves.”

At Stylin Momma Katy’s daughter’s charter elementary school in Maryland, all of the children participate in the school garden in one way or another. Her daughter is in kindergarten where they are in charge of pollination. The garden food is not used in the school cafeteria food (which is brought in) and most students bring lunches from home. However, Katy said, “they will sometimes have a sampling station in the lunchroom where the kids can try the foods picked from the garden, or they will use it in cooking class. They also have a school produce stand as a fundraiser.”

After hearing about the practices of different school districts, I have to say I find the reasoning behind Chicago Public School District’s ban on garden food in the lunchroom appalling. I have to agree with Andrea above who said, “it’s about politics. And politics is about money.” If the district had these kids’ best interests at heart, they would find a way to allow the locally grown garden food into the cafeterias.

Despite all of this, I am pleased to hear that many districts — especially inner-city districts like Chicago — have implemented school gardens. Perhaps even if the children are not allowed to eat the food in the lunchroom, they still are learning the valuable life lesson of how to grow it and perhaps are able to take some of it home to their families to enjoy.

Do your children have a school garden? Does the school use the produce in their lunchroom? How do you feel about Chicago’s policy?

Related articles:

Photo credits: Flickr StevenDePolo and Sarz.K

Cross-posted on BlogHer

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Make Your Own Dirt From Scratch: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from Julie who blogs at Terminal Verbosity.

Make Your Own Dirt From Scratch

I was hoping to start my own carnival of sorts with “Make Your Own Monday,” but it looks like the folks over at Stop the Ride have beaten me to it with their Make it from Scratch Carnival. So OK, I’ll play and cross-post at BlogHer

I’m starting with something that I’ve been doing for some time, which I know, strictly speaking, is not playing by the MIFS rules (sorry). But I’ve had a lot of questions recently about compost, about how to fertilize without chemicals, and I’ve seen a lot of comments posted on green blogs that indicate that people are confused and bewildered by trying to compost. So my first installment in the Make it from Scratch carnival is making your own dirt, i.e. composting!

What is compost?

Compost is, literally, fertile dirt. That is to say, not the barren gray top soil you’ll find on a building site or in a conventional farmer’s field. This is the good black stuff that smells sweet and makes nice little crumbly clumps. It contains the perfect balance of nutrients that your plants need to be healthy and that the microorganisms and beneficial insects like earth worms–key components of healthy soil–need to thrive.

You can make it yourself using common kitchen and yard wastes that would otherwise go in the landfill using a process Mother Nature has used to recycle things in the natural world since time began. Want a list of things you can put in the compost bin? Plantea lists 163 of them! Then you can use it in place of expensive mulches and chemical fertilizers. As a mulch, compost helps retain moisture and shade a plant’s roots. As a soil amendment, compost breaks up heavy clay soils, allowing more water and air to penetrate to the root zone of garden plants and, if added in high enough quantities over time to keep the organic matter of the garden soil at 4-5%, can provide sufficient nutrients for even nitrogen-hungry vegetable growth.

I love Journey To Forever’s thoughts on Nature’s conspiracy to make more soil:

If you watch carefully to see what nature does as she goes about her daily round of chores, it’s quite easy to start believing that the whole thing is a complicated, secretive conspiracy by soil micro-organisms to beget more soil micro-organisms. Nature’s first concern is always to build more topsoil, and to protect it. It’s easy to see why: no topsoil, not much nature either. The Earth’s green carpet of living things is really just the Soil Creature’s skin.

OK, how do I start?

Now is a great time to start because it’s the beginning of the season and building a pile now will keep the growing season’s clippings and cuttings out of the trash. If you are cramped for space, live in an apartment, or are particularly interested in vermiculture, worm composting might be for you. I’ve never tried this before myself, but it can be effective if you have a smaller quantity of waste (like only kitchen scraps because you live in an apartment) because there is a limit to how much the worms can eat. Check out the great resources at WormCompostingTips:

Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) is the art of using worms to help you break down the organic waste you produce at home to create fertilizer for your garden. The worms will produce both a liquid fertilizer, and worm castings. Worm castings are a solid, odor free byproduct of worm digestion. You can collect your worm castings periodically and use them as a soil addition, soil conditioner, or even light mulch.

If you have more space, even a patio space for a small compost tumbler, this method will allow you to process a lot more waste. I’m really a fan of worm composting, but our family of four needs between 3-4 5 cubic foot compost bins to make sure we always have space for both food scraps and yard waste, so that quantity would not be feasible for worms.

To make a successful compost pile you need a balance of green materials like grass clippings and food scraps or brown materials like shredded paper, dried leaves, or sawdust. You simply make a bin, either in one of the many commercially available compost bins, in a wooden or chicken wire box somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-6? wide and no more than 3 feet high, or in a pit dug into the ground. If you need more space, build two bins, don’t make one big one or it will be harder to manage and ultimately take too long to break down. We’ve used a combination of these different pile-types all with fairly good success. The most important thing is keeping your bin close enough to the kitchen & yard that are producing the inputs that you’ll actually use the bin as much as possible.

Adding material to your new bin

Here’s where the science behind composting can turn people off. Some books and articles provide diagrams with detailed information on how thick each layer of green and brown material should be, suggest alternating the layers with dirt to speed the process along, and recommend near-daily turning. This can be labor-intensive and frustrating, especially to the beginner. And it’s just not necessary. That’s not to say that those who follow the labor-intensive processes don’t get good compost–they do, and they probably get it quicker than I do, but I spend much less time on my piles and always have plenty of compost for my garden each spring despite my lazy and unscientific methods. ;)

Now, you’re supposed to add two parts green material to one part brown material. However, the fact of the matter is if you are trying to compost all of your yard and kitchen scraps, you will almost always have more nitrogen (green materials) and not enough carbon (brown materials). Then, if you get really excited about the prospects of reducing waste, you’ll start composting things like office paper (shredded works best), junk mail (no glossy colored paper, please, it can contain heavy metal inks), tissues, cotton balls, paper towels, and just about anything else you can get your hands on (paper plates after a picnic, egg cartons, drier lint). In fact, you can compost just about anything with the exception of what VegWeb lists here. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

A site in part shade conserves moisture while lending a bit of the sun’s warmth in cooler weather, which helps the pile continue to cook down. This is necessary here in Colorado, but if you’re in a really wet, warm climate, you may actually want a lid to keep water out.

Water, heat, and oxygen are the other essentials for composting. Compost should maintain the dampness of a wrung-out sponge, which in dry areas means supplemental water at least during the hot summer months. Consider running a drip irrigation line straight into the bin, but don’t forget to move it aside before stirring or emptying the bin!

Speaking of stirring, while occasional stirring allows the compost to break down faster by allowing good oxygen penetration and the mixing of the carbon and nitrogen plant materials, daily or even weekly stirring is not a requirement to produce compost. A frequently-stirred pile may break down in 4-6 weeks, while an unstirred pile may have to wait until the following spring to be used. I use the no- or low-stir method and the end product is the same, it just takes longer to get there, which is fine by me. Also beware of over-stirring: in the winter months stirring compost allows heat to escape the pile and may stop the break-down if the center of the pile falls below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you need a few more scientific tips on composting, the folks at CSU’s Cooperative Extension offer this great fact sheet: Composting Your Yard Waste.

I hope I’ve demystified compost a bit for you and shown you how easy it can be! We literally spend the minute it takes us to walk out our sliding glass door and deposit the day’s food scraps into the bin and spin the tumblers (we purchased tumblers for the winter because food scraps are almost all nitrogen and can get stinky without some turning & additions of copious amounts of shredded junk mail) and each spring we’re rewarded with the best fertilizer nature can provide–no petrochemicals (yes, the stuff you buy at Home Depot, unless it says otherwise, comes from petroleum), no waste in the landfill, very little effort. So go make it from scratch!

Photo credit: Flickr suavehouse113 and normanack

Julie Artz lives in Helsinki, Finland, with her husband, two children, and geriatric cat. She endures the cold by dreaming about her garden in Lyons, Colorado, and writing about life in Finland and anything else that comes to mind on her blog Terminal Verbosity.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Garden Goodness – Wordless Wednesday

This is the first year I’ve attempted to grow watermelon (which the kids LOVE) and am so pleased to see a few of them looking edible. 🙂 Its been so fun to see the melons growing a bit more each day.
I’m hoping this little baby will be ready to eat soon, but I have no idea when to pick it. Any suggestions? I think I need to track down my Botanical Interests seed packet to read more about it. 🙂

How’s your garden doing this year?

See more Wordless Wednesday posts at the original WW home and at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).


Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

Don’t miss a single Crunchy Domestic Goddess post, subscribe to my blog.

Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

It’s no secret that I hate to see things go to waste. I have been known to dig recyclable items out of the trash and attempt to Freecycle or otherwise give away some of the craziest stuff before I will consider tossing it in the trash. It makes me anxious when my 3-year-old leaves the water running or stands with the refrigerator door open too long. And I really have a hard time throwing away table scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, especially considering my children eat fruit like there’s no tomorrow. All of that fruit adds up to a whole lot of orange peels, apple cores and watermelon rinds. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason I started composting. I hated seeing how much food waste was going into the garbage and knowing it only ended up in the landfill. Sure, the end result of making your own fertile soil which is great for gardening is an added bonus, but mostly I compost to reduce my family’s garbage output.

I didn’t start out trying to do vermicomposting or composting with worms. We got a composting bin, set it up in a relatively sunny spot in our mostly shady backyard, and got to work. Along the way, I threw in several shovels-full of dirt, hoping it would speed up the composting process. Apparently I threw in some worms too, which reproduced like rabbits. It didn’t take long for my regular compost bin to become a worm composting bin. I think it’s a little freaky, but my kids get a big kick out of all of the worms in there and have been known to fish some out just for fun. 😛

However due to the cold in Colorado this winter, my compost bin hasn’t been working very well. In fact when I dig into the pile I find lots of frozen (dead?!) worms. I’m sorry wormies. And my food waste is not being broken down like it is in the summer. As a result, some of our food waste has gone down the garbage disposal (which isn’t a good option because it uses a lot of water and energy to process at the water treatment plants) and I’ve also thrown some into the *gasp* garbage. It breaks my little green heart.

My friend Julie who also lives in Colorado has run into the same frozen composting dilemma this winter and decided to start worm composting in her basement. The idea of having a bin full of worms in your house might skeeve some people out, but the worms are contained and it’s a very practical way to keep your food waste out of the landfills. While I haven’t set up my own system yet, I have started learning more about it. Not only is it a great option for people who live in colder climates, but it’s great for apartment-dwellers or others who don’t have a yard to put a traditional compost bin.


Photo credit: Bramble Hill

Why compost?
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

What is vermicomposting?
In the simplest terms, “vermicomposting is a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

What do I need to get started?
According to Worm Woman, you will need:

  • An aerated container
  • Bedding such as shredded newspaper
  • Moisture and proper temperature
  • Small amount of soil
  • Redworms (Eisenia fetida)

Learn more about vermicomposting:

If not for the fact that we are trying to get our house ready to go on the market and I need another project like I need a hole in my head, I would totally set up a worm composting bin in my house right now. But the worm bin project (along with the getting chickens project and what else is there?) will have to wait until we have sold our house and have moved into our new abode.

Cross-posed on BlogHer

Don’t miss a single Crunchy Domestic Goddess post, subscribe to my blog. Also, if you have 2 seconds and haven’t yet voted for my blog for Favorite Parenting Blog, please click over to About.com and then click on Crunchy Domestic Goddess. That’s all you need to do (oh, and spread the word too if you like). Thank you! 🙂

Save the leaves! (for your compost bin, of course)

At my house there is never a shortage of green material (also known as wet or nitrogen-rich matter) – orange peels, corn husks, dinner food scraps, yard waste, etc. – for my compost bin, but when it comes to finding brown (also known as dry or carbon-rich) material, in the past I’ve often ended up coming up short. The trick, of course, to getting compost to work and breakdown into that coveted nutrient-rich soil is to have the right combination of both green and brown matter.

Two years ago, however, I posted my first Green Tip of the Week suggesting that my readers keep a bag or two (or three) of their dry fall leaves to use throughout the coming year as brown material to add to their compost pile or bin.

If you don’t have a lot of leaves in your yard, chances are you can find a neighbor who’d be more than willing to part with a couple bags of their leaves, especially if you agree to rake and bag them!

Luckily (I guess) for us, we have a tree-filled back yard and never have a problem accumulating several bags of leaves to hold onto, which is exactly what I did last fall and was so happy to have the dry material whenever I needed it. The only problem is that I sometimes still forget to add it (oops!) and then end up with a huge fruit fly problem at the end of the summer (which I thankfully found a remedy for).

After letting the kids spend a good deal of time burying themselves and sliding into the leaf piles, Jody and I got them all raked and bagged. Right now I have about 12 bags of leaves out on the curb for the city to pick up (and mulch), but I’ve also saved three bags in my back yard to add to my compost bin as needed. 🙂 Over at Terminal Verbosity, you can learn more about how to compost.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Blog Action Day: Climate Change – Why bother? Here’s why.

Today, Oct. 15, 2009, is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Climate Change. I’d like to say I have this highly interesting and educational NEW post put together all about climate change, but the truth is I don’t. Instead I am going to recycle (recycling is good, right?) an oldie, but a goody post of mine from Aug. 28, 2008, that addresses climate change called “Why Bother?

Why Bother?

April 28, 2008

This evening as Jody and Ava were out running an errand for me, I attempted to cook dinner while balancing a miserable Julian (due to his four canine teeth coming in at the same time) on my hip. After much fussing (on Julian’s part, not mine), I took a break from cooking, sat down on the couch, flipped on the TV and, hoping to make the poor boy feel a bit better, nursed him.

In skipping through the channels it became clear to me why I rarely watch TV (with the exception of The Office, LOST and occasionally Oprah). There was nothing on. I stopped on the local public access channel long enough to hear someone talking about global warming. My interest was piqued so I lingered.

veg-garden.jpgIt turns out it was a woman reading Michael Pollan’s recent New York Times article “Why Bother?” For those of you unfamiliar with Pollan, he is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – neither of which I have read yet, but I’ve heard great things about both.

“Why Bother?” is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m nowhere near the point of throwing in the towel with regard to the things I do to help the environment, but after reading an article like Enjoy life while you can’ – Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam and watching a YouTube video (which has since been taken down) about Monsanto, you might start to get a little jaded and wonder if all of your efforts are in vain. At least that’s where I’ve been at.

Pollan’s article “Why Bother?” was exactly what I needed to hear (and then read in full on the web since I missed the first half of it on TV) to help lift me out of my funk and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s just a bit of it.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

Pollan goes on to suggest “find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or … for one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.”

He also discusses how doing something as basic as planting a garden to grow even a little of your own food could make a big difference. This is another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As the price of food goes higher and higher and we worry more and more about where our food comes from, organic vs. conventional (pesticide-laden), genetically-modified organisms, carbon emissions and climate change, it makes sense to me to try to grow some of our own food.

Pollan says, “It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.” Yikes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in gardening, but I did help my mom in our family garden as a child and, three years ago, some friends and I had our own plot in a community garden. As I embark on growing my own garden for the first time this year, I’m thankful for my friends like Julie of Terminal Verbosity, Melissa at Nature Deva, Heather at A Mama’s Blog, and Woman With A Hatchet, who all have more gardening experience than me (and will hopefully help me out if I need it – hint, hint). I’m planting a small garden not only for the food it will provide to me and my family and to reduce our carbon footprint, but for the experience it will provide us all. Someday in the hopefully not too distant future (like next few years) once we move into a different house with a larger (and sunnier) yard, I’d love to have a much bigger garden. I’d like to know that if push came to shove and we needed to grow some of our own food, that I could do it. I am concerned that that day might not be too far off and Pollan agrees. “If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these (growing our own food) are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need.”

But Pollan doesn’t end his article on a downer. Rather he is hopeful and his message is uplifting.

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

So, why bother? Because the future of humankind depends on it. Even if by some stroke of luck climate change doesn’t affect us during our lifetime (wishful thinking), I would hate to leave this huge burden and mess for our children to clean up. After all, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I think Pollan answers the question of “why bother?” best when he says,

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

Here, here. That is why I will keep on bothering. And I hope you will too.

=============================================

Since writing this post, for the past two summers I have grown some of my own food – adding to the number of things I grow from year to year. I’ve also become more mindful about buying food locally. And I got to see Michael Pollan speak in Boulder in May of this year. 🙂 I continue to try to inspire others to live more deliberately through my Green Challenges.

If you wrote about Blog Action Day, I’d love it if you’d leave your link below so I and others can read it. Thanks!

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

My one and only – Wordless Wednesday

Not so Wordless Wednesday:

This is the one and only eggplant I got from my garden this year – a rosa bianca. I was pondering what to do with it (seriously, it’s so small it fits in the palm of my hand) and a couple friends suggested this tasty and super easy crock pot ratatouille recipe. I need to get a few more ingredients (and probably another eggplant), but that is the plan for Wednesday’s dinner. 🙂

Also, I apologize for not blogging lately or doing a Ditch the Disposables Challenge check-in yet. There’s a lot I’ve been dealing with lately, including a broken car window (someone broke it out and stole my sister’s purse). Blah.

See more Wordless Wednesday posts at the original WW home and at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Urban fruit gleaning – harvesting homegrown produce for free

I’ve always been a fan of free stuff, especially when that “stuff” equals healthy food for my family. Although we aren’t struggling to put food on the table, I can still appreciate using food that would otherwise go to waste. It wasn’t until recently that I learned there is a phrase for collecting and using other people’s fruits and vegetables – it’s called urban fruit (or vegetable) gleaning.

So far this year I’ve gleaned 17 lbs. of zucchini and yellow squash, a large bowl of strawberries, a couple pounds of plums and several pounds of apples. Last year I gleaned a couple bowls of raspberries, cucumbers and enough concord grapes to make 20 jars of jelly.

Fruit and vegetable gleaning is a practice that has been going on for ages (traditionally, it is “the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest”), but it’s slowly moving into the spotlight recently as websites devoted to finding locations for giving or harvesting produce pop up across the Internet. Neighborhood Fruit, Veggie Trader and Fallen Fruit are three such sites.

  • Neighborhood Fruit allows users to both share and find fruit, vegetables and herbs, including the ability to register fruit trees on public ground or on your own property
  • Veggie Trader is “Your place to trade, buy or sell local homegrown produce”
  • Fallen Fruit – “‘Public Fruit’ is the concept behind Fallen Fruit, an activist art project which started as a mapping of all the public fruit in our neighborhood.”

You can also list your excess produce on sites like Freecycle (where I scored 17 lbs. of squash this year) or Craigslist.

Why glean fruit?
Tressa Eaton from Serious Eats says, “Urban fruit-harvesting engages a community, makes community members aware of their own local (and often organic) food resources, provides an opportunity for neighbors to meet over the boughs of fruit trees, and brings up important questions about public space. And in this economy the price is right.”

There are some “rules” or rather proper etiquette involved in urban fruit gleaning.

  • Ask for permission first – While technically any fruit that is hanging over or fallen onto public property is legal to take (according to a report done on KCRW’s Good Food), it is best to ask the owner first. Last year my brother-in-law (with eight kids to feed) had no qualms about knocking on people’s doors asking them if they were going to use all of their apples, pears, or whatever and if not, did they mind if he picked some. Most people are happy to see the fruit go to good use. Or as Granola Mama says, “If you are like me and have a fruit tree in your backyard, reaping the harvest can be both exciting, and well… a major pain in the ass.” After trying to harvest as many of her plums as she could, she called the “gleaners” to pick the rest and take to a food bank, which I will talk about more below.
  • Don’t take more than you can use
  • Be friendly and appreciative
  • Optional: take some of whatever of your finished product is (jar of jam, apple sauce, muffins, etc.) back to the person who gave you their produce. It’s a nice way to say thank you.
  • It’s also suggested that you arrive on foot, bring a friend, share your food, and say hi to strangers

Other ways to give or receive produce:
Using sites like Neighborhood Fruit or Freecycle aren’t the only way to find homegrown produce in your area. At the office where my husband works, someone recently brought in some of their excess zucchini and sent out an office-wide email to let people know where it was in case they wanted it. Others thought it was a great idea and now people are regularly bringing in their extra fruits or vegetables. Just this past weekend we stopped by the office and found several pounds of apples and plums there for the taking.

Ask friends or relatives if they have any produce to share and vice versa, let them know if you have any.

I also recommend walking or riding your bike around your neighborhood and paying attention to the trees in the yards. On a bike ride yesterday I discovered 10 apple trees (several of them just loaded with fruit) within a few blocks of my house, and a couple pear trees in my nearby park. I’d been down these streets many times before, but without really looking for the trees, I never noticed them. I hope to stop by one or two of the houses to ask about gleaning some of their fruit. I’d love to pick some for my family and then donate a few bags to the food bank which brings me to my next point.

Donating to local food banks:
Another excellent option for getting rid of your unwanted produce is to take it to your local food bank. The Society of St. Andrew “is a grassroots hunger relief ministry that relies on volunteers to glean nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after harvest and deliver it to people in need across the United States.”

A post and video on Cooking Up A Story tells of an organization that harvests produce to help out the local community.

Portland Fruit Tree Project provides a valuable service that helps communities benefit directly from local resources. Fresh fruit that grows on neighborhood trees is collected by volunteers, and dropped off at local Food Banks for distribution to those in need. The great thing about this program is that in large part, the fruit would not be harvested or eaten by anyone—if not for fruit gleaning.

Whether you glean for yourself and your family or to give to others, remember the etiquette above, feel good about all of the food you are keeping from rotting on the ground, and have fun!

Related posts:
From Sarah Gilbert at Wallet Pop: Picking the parking strips: the gleaning fruit movement
From Kim Severson at NY Times: Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?
From Kyeann Sayer at TreeHugger: Fallen Fruit: Free Produce on Los Angeles Streets
From Katy at Good is in the Air: Three Ways You Can Donate Food by Gleaning
From Julia at Homesteading – Mindful Living in Minnesota: Apple Picking!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog. And don’t forget to join the Ditch The Disposables Challenge if you haven’t yet. I will be giving away some things to help you with the challenge starting next week!