Sunday, February 28, 2010

A good news story - Bob's Red Mill

I was just looking at the website for the Organic Consumers organization. There's an article about the Red Mill organic cereals business. Its owner, coming to retirement age, didn't want to sell the company and has turned it over to the employees. I think this is fun and right. And hurray for him.

Rob Johnston of the Johnny's Seed company also turned his business over to the employees. Although I think this was by an employee purchase plan. Still a good move for a great business.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, February 26, 2010

The gardens and house are ours!

For quite a few years now, my family has rented a house on large lot near a very major intersection. We've been here while the two houses across the street were knocked down to expand a parking area and the front of the house - and the gardens there - have been exposed to more wind and colder temperatures during the winter. We get smells from the McDonald's at the corner (grease gets changed around 2:00 a.m.). The area is getting more students. Despite all this, we've wanted the house.

Did I say the house is on a large lot? Did I say that we love the land the house is on? That it's been gardened organically since the house went in in about 1950. Did I say we were afraid we'd never be able to buy it and do what we want to with the place?

Well ... we've bought it. It's ours. Because I'm curious and obsessed, I looked up how to calculate acreage, figuring it would be really great if we had 1/10 acre. Well, it's 0.2435 acre. If I do a bit of terracing or grow beans up poles I can fudge it and say we have 1/4 acre! It's beyond belief. And I've been afraid of mentioning here that we were trying to buy the place, lest it not happen.

Well, we have the place. We have the place for sure: I paid the first City property tax today. That's really having the place!

We want to expand the area given over to vegetables from 900 square feet to ... who knows? We want to expand the herb gardens (medicinals, culinary, and the simply beautiful). We want terracing, and more heritage roses, and more perennial vegetables, and a greenhouse, and cold frames, and more berry bushes and more wild plants for the birds. And next fall I'm planting tall yellow tulips and at least three types of species tulips because they are beautiful. And because I can.

Thanks to all who know us. Your good wishes through the stress of buying the place have kept us going, if not always sane.

Love from Why's Woman.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trying to understand what words like Transition and Resilience have to do with washing dishes

I’ve been wanting to explain to myself and to others what the Transition* movement is all about. So, I’ve made a few notes, trying for simple language. Some ideas - quite intermingled below - are from a short article titled Resilience,** by the late Brian Goodwin; his article is worth reading to savor his own take on this.

The Transition movement is bubbling up from the heartfelt need of many, many people to be more connected with the people in their communities and with the decisions of their communities; we want to make healthier lives for ourselves within our communities - our homes. Many people have been realizing that the economic model we live in (the buy more and bigger) just isn’t good for us, on a physical, economic, emotional or spiritual level. We also realize that we will be living in a world that has far less fossil fuel available and that there will be changes in climate; these two things will affect just about every aspect of life.

We are also realizing that we don’t know how to do things for ourselves in the way our grandparents did.

This realization - which I see as of core and heartfelt importance - is just beginning to reach magazine and book format, and is beginning at the easy end of the skills continuum. Marjorie Harris has a great little book out titled: Thrifty: living the frugal life with style. Knitting has been gaining in popularity over the last few years (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Cookbooks are focusing on healthier foods. Books about reducing stress are even more prevalent than several years ago. Garden books are focusing on growing vegetables, and organics. Do-it-yourself books for home repairs sell well.

I’ve got a feeling that, as we come into the world of fewer fossil fuels and climate change, learning to do more for ourselves will extend beyond these relatively simple examples. And that for the things we don’t do for ourselves, we will have to become more thoughtful, as well as more knowledgeable, about how they are done. Certainly we will need to appreciate what others do for us.

Just as my own thought experiment here ... I’ll take ‘doing dishes’.

I don’t have a dishwasher, so I’ve never thought about the people and machines and fossil fuels that get ore out of the ground, the fossil fuels that go into smelting and manufacturing and shipping and retail outlets and more transportation to hook the machine into the city water system as it connects to my house. But my house does connect to the city of London water system ... people made the house pipes and the city pipes (all from mined and manipulated materials, everything transported by fossil fuels). The water that comes in has been cleaned by a complicated system of filters, containments, buildings, pipes, people all the way through who have skills I know nothing about ... other than if, while running tap water into the dishpan I can put a glass under the flow and drink that water safely. Incredible. And when I squirt in a bit of Ivory liquid, I have no idea what the chemistry of the soap is and certainly no idea of the chemistry of the plastic container or where it was made or where it was shipped from, or how much fossil fuel went into either the soap or the container. Who made my drainboard, where? How did the plastic coating get on the metal underneath it? What weird formula of plastic went over the wire as liquid then dried flexible? And what fossil fuels went into that?

Wow! Just on that one example!

So, keeping the clean water service, with thanks to all who brought it to me ... how would I do dishes if I didn’t have the Ivory liquid? The first thing that comes to mind is that perhaps I can make some sort of dish soap with a plant that grows like a weed around my place: soapwort*** (Saponaria officianalis). And the quickest search on the internet shows me that some parts of the plant are for gentle soap, some parts are medicinal used externally, and to be careful about ingesting too much of it. O.K. ... I see this will require a bit more research. How much would I need to harvest to carry over for the year’s dishes? How much processing? How well does the soap keep and under what conditions?

I’ve proven to myself that I don’t know much and need the help of others’ books and recipes. I need to find the community of people who understand plants and their uses. And I probably need the help of a small scale, local industry to make enough dish soap for me for the year. 10 - 12 litre containers? (since I use this for gentle cleaning of clothes as well as for dishes).

Goodwin says that ‘At the very core of the Transition message about cultivating new, sustainable lifestyles is the belief that human cultures must develop patterns of relationship in community that have the properties of natural ecosystems: they must become resilient, capable of responding adaptively and creatively to shocks and changes such that flexible responses lead to the emergence of new sustainable patterns of living’.

That fits with my need to get the dishes done!

Best regards to all. Why’s Woman

**Resilience, written by (the late) Brian Goodwin, published July/Aug 2009, issue 255 of Resurgence (online?) magazine - at the heart of earth, art, and spirit
***Soapwort Properties
Soapwort root, has been used as an alternative medicine since the time of Dioscorides. It is medicinal as an alterative, antiscrophulatic, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, expectorant, purgative and tonic. A decoction of the herb is applied externally to treat itchy skin. One of the saponins in this plant is proving of interest in the treatment of cancer. A soap can be obtained by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root) in water. It is a gentle effective cleaner, used on delicate fabrics that can be harmed by synthetic soaps. The best soap is obtained by infusing the plant in warm water. Soapwort is sometimes recommended as a hair shampoo, though it can cause eye irritations. Caution is advised, when taken in excess, this plant is POISONOUS, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ask me about gardens and growing

Over the last few days, there's been a lot of publicity about a man of significant military rank who has been accused of murdering two women (and other charges). At the store where I work at least half a dozen people have commented on the case. When I say I don't follow the case each person has spent time updating me and/or passing opinion and speculating.

It may seem odd that I don't care about the case, because customers at the bookstore where I work know that I'm a mystery fan. But I like mysteries because in a story the person who does evil is found out within a reasonable amount of time without years of media speculation.

Plus, I'd rather fill my mind with the ideas generated by the over 60 people who attended a meeting last evening to discuss the '100 mile diet'. This led to questions of why there is so little locally produced food on our store shelves, how we can connect with people who produce food locally, how to influence stores locally and nationally, international food production, and ... well, all sorts of topics.

It may be that several people got together after this meeting (or there will be another meeting) and they will do some purchasing together. There was certainly an exchange of information over in one corner about a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation. I met two women who are with the London Food Co-op (celebrating its 40th birthday this year!). A farmer was there from Norwich area, telling us that if we talk to real farmers we can find out what is available. There was talk about community gardens and how they are only going to increase, and talk about a food charter for our city.

I'm even going to a meeting this morning about that food charter. I know a bit about home gardening, and maybe I can make a contribution. The line up of people is a bit intimidating. But, I'm gathering a few notes I made and hope to be ready to speak up and ask some questions.

How can the people who are the most 'food insecure' (yes, that's the term that gets used instead of hungry or poor) participate in growing their own food and helping it get to others who need food?

And most important: how can I help?