Monday, December 29, 2008

10# buckets of food....really?

This post is copied from an online forum where me and a few friends debate the nitty gritty of trying to start up a CSA and live in a peak oil world.
The thread began as an entreaty from one of our members for us all to go out and buy 10# buckets of storage food to prepare for the 2012 armeggedon that is currently being predicted.

It is interesting how many people are focused on 2012 as THE year for armegeddon prophesies.
The way I see it is more along the lines of give a man a fish/teach a man to fish. Yes, some food storage can see you through some of the ups and downs of the contraction that will occur. However, this contraction is going to take a LONG time. You can't possibly store enough food to keep yourself fed for the duration. A more balanced approach is to practice good storage practices and learn how to grow/raise more of your food.
Good storage practices basically boil down to -- store what you eat, eat what you store. It's all well and good to have 3 years of red wheat stored in your basement, but do you eat it? Do you know how to cook with it? Mill it and prepare it and bake it? Do you have favorite recipes with it? I try and find things that my house eats a lot of and find ways to store that item. For example, Dave and I have about 3 months worth of oatmeal and raisons in our cabinet on any given day. I use up the stored oatmeal as we eat our breakfasts and when the stores get too low, I go and buy another 3 months-ish worth. It's a food we like, we are familiar with and cook often. Plus it's like 8$ for 3 months worth and it's very healthy. The other item I store a lot of is dry beans. Every other week I make a dish out of dry beans. Chili or tacos or beans and rice, whatever. Again, it's something we like, we have favorite recipes and costs under 10$ to restock. PLUS, I know we have the spices in the cabinet to make it to our tastes.

Knowing what foods you go through quicker than others is important for storage. Sometimes the things can be correlated. For instance, since living off of stored beans and stored onions I've noticed that we [u]never[/u] fix beans without needing an onion. At a rate of about 1 onion per 2 cups dried beans. It would make life sucky if we ran out of onions before beans. But knowing it I can be aware of the onion stores and plan accordingly. These sorts of things can only be learned by actually living out of your storage. And it would suck to try and learn them after the SHTF and you're trying for the first time to live on what you've stored. I think you'll find yourself with spoiled food from things that you eat less than you thought, and gaps in essentials that you eat more than you thought. So yea, go ahead and order 10# buckets of whatever to store in your basement, just don't get to the point where you're trying to convince yourself to eat plain boiled peas on pasta for dinner because you've eaten all the pasta sauce and can't make any more with what you've stored.

Learning to grow your own stuff can help even out the yearly cycles of abundance/depletion. Again, it boils down to grow what you eat and eat what you grow. And all of the lessons that you'll only learn by trying it. This past year I grew onions, thinking I would have WAAY too many onions. And it turned out that I barely harvested enough for a half a year. I wouldn't have figured it out until we were actually trying to eat off what we grew.

These sorts of things are how I'm preparing for 2012. Do I think the world will end on 2012 in a riot of fireballs and teargas? No. But, it's a nice arbitrary goal for having a handle on my own food security needs. By starting now on the easy stuff, I can work out the kinks and identify problem areas before I have to really rely on storage skills for actual food security. I can't really do anything about the crumbling infostructure or the petroleum based food production methods that produce most of the grocery store fare. I CAN figure out how many onions I need to grow every summer so that I have enough onions to keep eating them until the next crop gets harvested. I can't really afford a 10# bucket of dry beans, but I CAN figure out how we like to eat certain beans, how they need to be prepared from dry state and how quickly we go through them. So that when I can afford to buy a bulk amount of beans I'll know how big a bucket is feasible for my family to eat through before it spoils. And I'll know how to fix them so I don't have to call my Mother-in-law and ask her what I'm doing wrong. :-P (and yes, Pat and I have had 30 minute phone conversations more than once about dried beans.)

Instead of focusing quite so much attention on stocking up for armegeddon day in Dec 2012, try and focus on the yearly cycles of abundance and depletion and learn from them so that in the aftermath of 2012 you know how to live off those 10# buckets.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why I do what I do

I'm not sure who reads this blog, most of you are probably friends or relatives. I'm sure at one time or another since I've become an adult you've wondered why I do the things I do.
Why do I bother growing food when I have a good job and can afford to buy whatever food I want? Why do I bother riding buses or bikes when I have a good car that can get me wherever I want? Why do I bother making my own diaper bag when I could go out and buy one cheaper? Why do I try to consume 90% less than the average American?

I do these things so that I hopefully leave the world a little better than I found it. It is an often repeated thought. "We do not own this earth, we borrow it from our grandchildren." Even boy scouts are taught, "leave the land better than you found it". But it seems like the message gets garbled once you leave the campfire. The TV commercials tell you the things will be better if you buy their product, "It's green!" Politicians tell you things will be better if you just drill deeper and invest more of your children's tax dollars into auto industry bail outs, "It's responsible!" One of my favorite bloggers put it best last week.

Madoff may be a criminal, but he’s a criminal in large part because he’s engaging in a particular form of ponzi scheme that we look down upon, one small
enough to be called illegal. In general, we’re pretty comfortable with ponzi models -we live, quite happily, in a ponzi economy, one in which the concept of perpetual economic growth is sold, divvied up again and resold.
We live in a Ponzi ecology where we borrow constantly against the future to pay
for our present affluence. ... ...

We’re going to try and rescue the economy with another Ponzi scheme - with borrowing against our children’s future wealth to protect financial institutions and invest in some good things and some bad ones. This, of course, is the oldest ponzi scheme of all, and you can make the argument that some human societies have been playing this game for a very long time. We’ve been doing it with natural resources and are continuing to do so, and we’re also expanding the share of our children’s wealth we’re willing to borrow against. After all, what have future generations ever done for us? They might as well serve some purpose - to pay off our debt.

And of course we’ve got the best possible reason for this - we’re in a crisis. There’s always a good reason for taking just a little more of what belongs to the future - to bring people out of poverty, to resolve this or that crisis. Of course, the crisis was caused by borrowing against our children’s inheritance of natural resources, but more of the same is now necessary. A good Ponzi scheme always needs new investors - and if none are going to volunteer, well, let’s volunteer them. We’ll use the to prop up the stock market and today’s version of the Roman chariot business.

Our ecology and our economy all fundamentally are built on a Ponzi scheme in which we can never make enough to keep up - we are always losing ground, always having to steal from further down the line of our posterity. At the same time, we justify their forcible participation in this speculation by saying that we are protecting them - we have to protect them from a Depression, so it is worth risking their future. But, of course, if you actually care about your children and grandchildren, you don’t ask them to make sacrifices you aren’t prepared to make. Fundamentally, we’re covering our own asses, and asking our kids to do it for us. .... ...

The question is whether we, and the baby boomers and older folk who had it right from the beginning, actually love our children and grandchildren enough to stop the buck here? I don’t minimize how difficult that is - and I don’t doubt that trying to live on a fair share, and get through the necessary economic crisis so we can start better next time will be difficult for children as well as adults. And yet, passing the buck again ensures them a darker, warmer, more bitter world with fewer natural resources, and a crushing economic debt. Sometimes when there are no easy answers, one has to move to “what is right.”

The burden of addressing our world-wide Ponzi scheme falls, I fear upon all of us who are adult enough to demand it stop, to refuse to participate to the extent we can, to work to end it, and most of all, to shield with our bodies the children and grandchildren we do love, and in whom we must reposit our hopes, our endurance and our courage.

Every time I make something myself or pay more to buy locally made/locally grown I'm trying to put myself between my child and the Ponzi scheme. Every time I ride the bus or carpool or bike, I'm preserving a little bit of oil for my grandchild to use to make something irreplaceable. (I guarantee you, our grandchildren will NOT be burning oil for transportation, think more along the lines of medicine and equipment for hospitals.)

I don't believe more shopping malls or highways are going to make my child's world better. I don't believe that bailouts for banks and car makers are going to make my child's world better. I don't believe that GMO's and monocropping are going to make my child's world better.

What would it mean to make a society that did in fact love all of its children?
This is, properly understood, a design problem that calibrates what we intend as
parents with how we earn our living, conduct our daily lives, build homes,
design communities, manage landscapes, and provision ourselves with food,
energy, and materials. I would go so far as to say that the well-being of
children in the fullest sense of the word, not gross national product, is the
best indicator of the health of our civilization. -David Orr

In a nutshell, that's why I do what I do.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Ok gang,
I had originally intended to blog today about my cloth diaper plans, but the past week I can't go anywhere in the cloth diaper arena without running into concerns over the CPSIA legislation. The legislation is due to go into effect on Feb. 10th.
This quote is from Fashion Incubator:

To recap, this law was passed (424 votes to 1) to protect children from unsafe
toys after last year’s widely publicized recalls ... What few consumers realize is this
legislation affects more than toys. What few clothing manufacturers realize is
this also affects them. Of the ones who do know, most of them think it only
applies to children’s clothes. Other than apparel the law includes diapers,
blankets (housewares), books, videos, computer and electronic products,
strollers, cribs, car seats, and anything humans come in contact with in their

More on the impact to small businesses can be read here, in a petition to congress. But, basically the legislation apparently makes it impossible for Work-at-home-moms who have small businesses sewing and selling children's diapers/bib's/wraps/bags/etc. The legislation makes no difference between toys coming from china with paint and metal in them, and cloth diapers made in the US. These small businesses will have to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to get their lead free cloth and thread tested and certified lead free. And they have to keep testing, with every new batch of cloth or thread.
The online diaper selling/swapping bulletin board at has many sellers of diapers who are reporting their plans to just close shop if the legislation goes into effect.
Now, maybe congress will release clarifications and diapers, wraps, bags and clothing will turn out to be not covered by this legislation... I don't know. It's worrisome though. I don't care if an organic cotton diaper made by a mother of 3 gets tested for lead. I DO care if the plastic toys from China get tested for lead. I hope there's some common sense differentiation that takes place.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seed Catalogs!

Yay they are here!! And since patience is still not one of my virtues, I of course got 3 catalogs. hee hee.. that's ok. I'll share them with friends. I did a lot of seed saving this past year and so my seed order won't be too huge. But it's still one of my favorite part of the gardening year. All the hopes and the planning and the dreaming, with no bugs, no dead plants and not a single failure in sight. :-) Plus, there's the added bonus that I know whatever I buy to plant will help feed my baby. And he doesn't know that veggies are icky yet. :-D Maybe he never will... :-P
I need to find seeds for a different carrot type, something that will store longer than what I grew last year. And I need to decide what type of potato I'm going to try and grow in my vertical potato experiment. Might try some new lettuces just to keep things fresh. And maybe a new squash, if I see something that might be better for baby food. Maybe a butternut or acorn. We'll see.

Speaking of baby, I've been sewing up a storm lately. Sheets and blankets are almost done, next on the list is bibs and diapers. I'll attempt to take a picture of the crib with it's festoon of blankets and post it here. Some things I save money on by sewing them myself. Sheets are probably not one of them.. but it makes me feel better than just buying them from China at Walmart. (course we won't mention the fact that a lot of the material I use is probably made in China... ) Diapers definitely do. More on this later as it deserves a post all it's own.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Still here

Yup, still here.
Things have slowed dramatically for winter. Winter will never be my favorite season, but I'm starting to appreciate the down time. :-)
My Winter 2008 cold frame experiment continues. Everything sprouted, and the cold frame does keep in heat. It's getting really cold at night though. So far everything is still in baby leaves. We shall see if I get anything to edible size before Jan. My hypothesis is that the frame will freeze solid in January. :-P
I'm impatient for my seed catalogs to start arriving. I know I've updated my mailing address with all of them at least twice, but part of me still wants to spam their websites with catalog requests until I get one in the mail. :-D
I've got the basic plan for the year already. My community garden plot is going to be 90% root crops. I didn't notice much vandalism this past year, but I did notice the 10 minute drive to get there is quite the hurdle some days. So, I figure if I put my root crops there, it won't matter so much if I only get there once a week. By my calculations I need to plant a LOT more onions, carrots and garlic, so having a space dedicated to only these crops will be for the best. I want to plant at least 100 onions. Dave and I go through 2-4 a week. I think 100 onions would get us by until green onions were harvestable in the next summer. The onion crop I pulled out this year, (42 onions) will run out towards the end of January. The garlic crop might last through Feb. I have plans to up the garlic planting to 50. (Hopefully all my seed bulbs are plantable.) 50 still won't be enough to see us through a year, but it's a small step in the right direction.
The rest of the garden will be mostly container gardening, which will take some planning, but not a lot. I'll probably just wing it.

Yule planning is taking up most of my thoughts lately. The bid for Austerity continues even through the holiday season. That means that I'm trying to make most of the presents, and being careful about how much gets spent. Did you know the average American comes out of the holidays with their credit cards 800$ heavier? My goal is to spend no more than 10$ per person. Maybe 20 on my darling. ;-) So far I have spices that I dried this summer, childrens books, extra veggie seeds and bundles of pictures from the handfasting. Mom and Dad still need to be found something. It always seems like they do so much for me, that nothing seems good enough to give back. It's not the case, and they don't feel that way at all, but it's my stumbling block every year.

In other news, baby is growing well. I've finally started to put pounds on the scale. I feel him kick and somersault every day. Sometimes I can poke him and he'll kick me. :-D Dave and I both talk to him and we can't wait until he joins us in person this spring.
The hunt for a midwife has been most unfruitful. The closest one I can find is an hour and a half away. All the others I've talked to told me they are full. I am really not excited to birth in a hospital. Call me crazy, but I'm healthy, baby is healthy, and I just don't feel either of us needs to be in a hospital for something as natural as birth. Sadly, it's looking like that's exactly where we will be. Dave and I have found a hospital that doesn't instantly raise our hackles, but I have lingering concerns. The biggest is being given no choice in labor positions. The other is being tied to monitors and schedules, with the ever present threat of C-section if me or baby lags behind said schedule. I know Dave will be there to help and that's probably the only thing that's going to get me into the hospital when it's time.
If you've never seen the documentary, "The Business of Being Born" I highly recommend it. It's nothing to do with labor, and everything to do with why American women labor in hospitals. Did you know America spends more on health care than any other nation, but our infant mortality rates are lower than any other industrial nation? And 1 in 3 babies are born by Cesarean in the US. I can't believe that all those C-sections are medically necissary.
Anyway, I'll get off my soap box for now. Watch the movie, Netflix has it, there are places online that carry it.

Stay warm. Stay frugal. :-) Try to enjoy the holidays.