Friday, April 24, 2009

Local Food

The Local Food vs. Organic Food debate has been going on for years. Call me spoiled but I always wanted both. Our family visited a non-certified organic/ biodynamic farm this week with our homeschool group. Although I was very impressed with the knowledge and care of the farmer, some things he said just didn't sit well with me. One was the fact that he used conventionally grown cotton waste as compost. This is so wrong to me, "conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture. Each year cotton producers around the world use nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides -- more than 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 25% of the world's insecticides.

Cotton growers typically use many of the most hazardous pesticides on the market including aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan. Cotton pesticides are often broad spectrum organophosphates--pesticides originally developed as toxic nerve agents during World War II--and carbamate pesticides.

Pesticides used on cotton even when used according to instructions harm people, wildlife and the environment. These pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighboring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms." according to PANNA the
Pesticide Action Network of North America

And then this cotton waste is being put on "organic" produce. Where is the logic there?

I do feel for this farmer, he has not always been organic but felt that it was either make the switch to organic or lose the farm. And cotton waste is what he can afford. And he feels that local cotton waste is better than having to truck in organic fertilizer from California. Where do you draw the line? And he realizes that because of these cost saving measures he will never be certified. I hope that he finds more choices out there. I would like to visit him again and discuss more things. But I just can't see investing in his CSA knowing what I do about his practices. So for me I have never minded if someone wasn't "certified" but I want them to be honest with me and sometimes that takes walking out into their field and really discussing their growing practices.

But on the other hand sometimes when I am extremely low on funds or travelling, I do purchase conventional produce, (extremely rarely) or prepackaged food that is not organic. Who knows how far these ingredients had to travel to make it into that box. And what about restaurants. Besides the two local vegan hangouts here in our city I don't know of very many inexpensive places that try to use organic or local produce. This is one of the reasons if we go out to eat, which is rare, we go to either End of the Line or Sluggo's!
And at least this farmer is TRYING to make a living using organic and biodynamic principles.

We have heard of a local farmer who is certified organic and working biodynamically. I have tasted some of his produce at potlucks around. He has a "buying club" where you pay a small yearly fee and you can order produce each week and pick it up at his farm. I am very excited. I signed up tonight, paid my fee by paypal and I am hoping to get strawberries, kale and leeks tomorrow. Then I will head to the organic farmer's market to see what else they have. Now I know some people will think, Man, that is just three things but that is what it is to eat local. There isn't a lot of variety at one time. But the taste and quality will blow you away. And very soon the strawberries will be gone. So we will enjoy all we can now, freeze some and then we will be ready for blackberries, and then blueberries. While we may not be able to get bananas local (although I am looking into planting a tree here!!! wish me luck) and with thier extremely large carbon footprint we are trying hard not to purchase them even though they are mine and O's favorite easy quick snack. Here is some more info if you want to find out a bit more.

There are so many wonderful things to look forward to. And I think it will be worth the wait. So this week we will have strawberries fresh, in smoothies, in muffins and I will freeze some for my daughters birthday in a few weeks and so we can have strawberries for a while longer.
We will have kale mixed into miso soup, vegetable soup, a pot of curry, kale steamed with garlic and onion, steamed with vegan smoke flavor and tamari, and raw kale thinly sliced with ginger and vinegar, or raw with vegan mayonaisse, garlic and tamari, and just torn up and mixed in with some spring greens for a salad.
Leeks will make a wonderful casserole, soup, and
vegan omelettes.

I have something to tell you. I have children who eat. They really eat. Our 11 year old eats more than me most days, and I am nursing an 11 month old! Which doesn't mean that they aren't each picky in their own way. But we did not deaden their taste buds with cheesy crackers and boxed mac and cheese. Well, being vegan this would just be wrong but also I wanted them to love food as much as I do. It is so odd to me, children who have access to the most incredible tasting food, beg to eat cardboard. Well, if that is what you fed them from 6 months on you can't expect them to eat kale at 3 years old. We don't buy junk. Even our "junk food" has nutritional value. That isn't to say that we only eat straw and rocks all the time. To know me is to have tasted something incredible that I have cooked or baked. We don't eat gross food. As my brother used to say "don't tell me what's in it, just let me eat it" I don't hide unwanted foods in my kids meals. I am honest with them about what it is. I have a son who has never liked fruit in it's natural state except pears, watermelon, and sometimes bananas, apples, and pineapple. But I was determined to get fruit into him. So we experimented with different ways and now he will eat ANY fruit in a smoothie (fruit usually frozen, water, fresh juice or a nut milk, almond or hemp or rice milk) and he will eat some things frozen. We have also made frozen pops with blended up fruit and a little fresh juice or water. But everyday, in some form I make sure he eats fruit. Veggies are no problem, his favorites are asparagas and brussel sprouts (can you imagine?) But there was no one ever sitting there telling him that those things were "gross" and we don't read books that tell kids to hate their vegetables. (Why does anyone think that this is a smart thing to do to our kids?? There are soooo many books out there telling kids that if they were normal then they would hate broccoli. Ummmm okay. And we wonder why kids do hate it and refuse to eat anything green) There is one book by David Shannon, Bad Case of the Stripes, and it is all about staying true to what you are and what you like to eat!! Yeah David.

I don't feed our children baby food, I do not grind up our table food in the blender, I just give our babies breast milk and when they start reaching for our food I feed them little bits. If they are younger than 8 months I chew it up a little bit to start the digestion process and I make sure it is soft enough for them to gum. When they are first starting out I try to limit the number of ingredients to look for possible allergies and we try to stay away from high allergens until near their first birthday. We don't go heavy on any one thing. Start off small. Let them play with it a bit. Get used to the different textures and tastes of things. Funny story. L our almost 11 month old, loves pears and apples, will jump out of your arms for them. The core is his favorite but any one will do. And sweet potatoes, he starts drooling while they are still cooking. Well, a few weeks ago I got itchy to take a trip so I loaded up the 5 babes and set off as the sole adult to see my dad and other family and friends, we ended up eating out more than I would have liked and I ended up picking up a few jars of organic baby food because I didn't like how much convential food the baby kept being fed by well meaning relatives. But L wouldn't eat it. He spit it out, dumped it out, played with it but wouldn't eat it. I don't know whether it was the texture or the taste but he didn't like it. So we are back home and back to eating fresh organic, and local as much as we can.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I am starting this journey today. Documenting our life here in Florida and how we choose to live that life and how life has chosen for us to live.

Living Frugally: cheap if you want to say it, dirt cheap!
And...environmentally sound, energy saving, gas saving, recycling, reusing, eating local whenever possible, getting stuff for free, healthy living and vegan, always vegan but ( and here is the kicker ) we don't want to feel like we are deprived or like we are impoverished. So that is what this year is about, our second year in Florida, it is about expanding on our principals of living frugally while relishing in the lavish life we live.

We moved to Florida with the whole purpose to make our lives, richer, fuller, happier and truer to our life's purpose. And to live in harmony with our children, not just to let them be the by-product of their screwed up parents crazy life but to be fully engaged in their own lives. And for us to spend our days swimming in the ocean with our feet firmly planted in the sand. It was a very quick decision, made in March of 2008, me fully pregnant with our incredible unplanned 5th child. We felt extremely out of control of our life before this decision was made: finances, fertility, career, family, even the weather. A move felt right, a little wacky under the circumstances but right none the less. The kids were all for it. Our families thought we would be back in six months or less. We got on line, found lovely vegan friends, vegan restaurants and the price of living so much less than we had been used to, and the ocean....oh our dream for years, the beautiful magical ocean. So we drove down here 8.5 hours from "home" and found a house to rent before B had to be back at work. We came back home determined: within the month we had quit our job, packed our house, kissed our friends and set off.

Life started falling into place in that month. The fuzziness that usually surrounds me during winter's harsh months--October through May! let me be those last 30 days. I had a purpose and I am a lover of purpose.
I haven't really sat and thought of those days, it is a little amazing to think that I was able to do so much in so little time. I need to think back on those 30 days whenever I feel overwhelmed with what I am facing.

The next year has passed in a blur. The many jobs B found that we thought would be waiting for us turned out to be non-existent. So he started working day labor. Anything they needed-he was that man! While he was working hard we also played hard. Going to the beach every spare minute, enjoying wonderfully amazing vegan restaurants, making incredible friends: homeschool friends, vegetarian friends, friends with kids, friends with dogs, we started building this amazing community:family around us, without even realizing it. Looking back on the past year and all the friends we have made, I am amazed that we have only known these people a year or less. These are our soul-mates our community our family. We welcomed many friends into our home. Since we only had one vehicle the kids and I walked everywhere, the market, the bank, the bay, the park, friends houses. It was amazing for my pregnancy to walk that much. We had an amazing couple of months. Finding a free hands-on museum that encouraged the kids to play, an art museum with a free day once a week, blackberries quarts and quarts of them growing wild in a vacant lot, loquats on a tree outside the healthfood co-op, peppermint for tea in abundance, a vegetarian potluck twice a month (amazing food more amazing people), parks and parks and parks. We found beauty everywhere. Then May 21st came around. My mom had been sick, in and out of the hospital for several years. That was a day like many before it, when she was stable, doing better and scheduled to return home. But very early that Wednesday my brother mother had died. In an instant I went from an extremely loved only daughter to a motherless lost soul. After angrily telling my father only weeks before that no I could not return "home" to see my mom because I had to take care of myself the last weeks of my pregnancy,(yes I am in therapy) we gathered the family, said goodbye to the wonderfully understanding friends that were visiting, packed the car and set off to comfort my father, brothers, be comforted and to bury my mother. As fate would have it, I went into labor at the funeral. 3 days later our 5th child was born in the same state as his brothers and sisters. Since I broke my tailbone giving birth to him we waited 4 days to drive home. We would have liked to stay longer but B had no "vacation time", no "sick leave" or bereavement leave. Working day to day, going in to a day labour office at 4:45 am and hoping you leave at 7:30 with a ticket for a physically demanding job is a mentally challenging task. When you have a wife and 5 children at home to feed and clothe, it must be excruciating. But B did this day after day for months on end without a complaint, without whining, he is a truly amazing person. Dedicated to his position as father to homeschooled kids and husband to a wife who needs to be home to breastfeed and nurture these little creatures he worked tirelessly everyday at any job he could get for 10 months to give us the basics of life. Life could never have given me a better partner.

It has financially been a harrowing year, but also it has been an opening, and an awakening. B and I have always lived frugally. Either because we had to financially or because it was what felt right. Since we met and started living a life together 14 years ago we have tried to create as little damage as possible and we have tried, within our means, to live our version of frugality. Not just spending less, but not consuming as much, using up and wearing out. Consumption has become such a way of life in this country that it is hard sometimes to see the clear picture of living "lightly" on the earth. There are so many reasons to fight this consumption: saving money, saving energy, saving natural resources, saving landfill space, keeping our waterways clean, saving time, staying healthy.

I will probably be a little scattered as I start this. Bare with me. This is mostly just a blank slate for me to jot down my thoughts and what is working and what is not for our family and the families that come to me for help on their: budget, energy bills, green home inquiries, vegan living questions, etc.

Okay, Let's begin. Here are our categories: Food---Transportation---Home---REduce, REuse, REcycle---Bills---Vegan Living---Garden---Fair-Trade---Community---Local---Freelancing---NON-consuming and our favorite TMI (too much information- this will be your favorite!!) (these will probably adapt and change over time)

Today I had $10 in cash. Very little food in the fridge and 7 hungry people. So after visiting a local theatre adaptation of the P.D. Eastman book Go, Dog, Go with the local homeschool group ($18 for our family of 7 paid for a couple weeks ago) and kissing B goodbye on his way to work. The kids and I came home put on a pot of beans counted out our rice and after visiting the museum with friends headed to the local healthfood store for something for dinner. We had our basics: Organic brown long grain rice (just had to purchase a bit more to make a big pot) and organic red beans (quick soaked this morning and ready to cook). Our lovely friend gave us two blemished peaches she was going to donate and then We purchased everything organic: a huge bunch of local kale, a pound and a half of local yellow squash, 5 bananas (the Hummer's of the produce world but the 4 yr old was begging!! you understand don't you, thank you) which we ate as soon as they were weighed and paid for, 3 apples, a can of tomatoes, a bag of carrots on sale and a pound of organic brown rice. Total price $10.83 no tax since we have no food tax in this beautiful state, Yeah Us!!
So along with the rice and beans, I mixed half the canned tomatoes with some canned chilies (cheap woman's salsa), A who is 9 is amazing with the squash, she just cooked it lightly (still a little crunch) with some sunflower oil, salt, pepper and garlic, K who is 7 sliced and steamed the carrots, and all together it was an amazing meal. K likened it to something we had at a Mexican restaurant several years ago. And honest beans just taste so amazing when they are slow cooked in your own kitchen. The kids almost won't eat beans out of a can, even if they are organic. I usually have to blend them up into dip. And organic carrots man oh man are they sweet. A who doesn't normally eat cooked carrots will eat them if they are sweet and yummy. Organic is the only way. We ate 1 apple cut up while we were cooking so O didn't go wacky waiting for dinner.

Transportation/ Gas saving:
We have a dream right now to drive less and ride bikes more. B can't do this during the week because he works 45 minutes from home but the rest of us are going to do our best. A friend gave us a beautiful mess of bikes to work with and for $25 on craig'slist I found a tandem attachment like this for my bike (well, I don't have one yet, but I am building one out of the beautiful mess, thank you Rose!) So the three oldest have bikes and B(when he is home) and I have bikes, the 4 year old O, will be on the back of me on his tandem and so we just need something for the 11 month old. A friend has a side car trailer thing seen here:
but we don't have the desire to spend that much on that. So we are looking into options. Maybe we just need a baby bike seat, but they seem so top heavy and a bit unsafe to use WITH a tandem behind me...we will have to dwell on that. But within a month I want to be driving half as much as I am now and riding and walking the rest of the time. Thankfully we live close to downtown!!

So we are trying to figure out why our Natural Gas bill is so friggin' high!!! What is the deal. Okay, I am calming down. So we did a little experiment and we didn't turn the heat on at all from one billing cycle to the next. And our bill went down about a hundred dollars ( we simply put more covers on the bed at night and wore more clothes when it was chilly, it never got truly cold though, thankfully. ) But it was still $116!!!! That is just crazy. So since we don't have a gas stove it has to be the gas hot water heater. Since we are dirty people who rarely bathe and we do not use hot water to wash any clothes except sometimes diapers, the culprit has to be either a too big water heater or just bad schematics (too far away from where the H2O is going, set too high, not insulated, getting too much gas) I will not even pretend to know what all could be going wrong. But I know it is wrong to waste that much gas and to spend that kind of money on so little.
So this weekend we are going to see about these things, turning the H2O down even more than we have, getting a tamper to lessen the flow of gas, getting an insulated blanket to wrap around the heater, and I want to see about a timer that would only heat the water for a specific number of hours a day. Say 6 hours from 8 am to 2 pm. We could take showers and wash dishes during these hours and rely on cold water the rest of the day. Sounds good, lets see how it goes.
I want to go around the house and see if there are any lights that need compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), I don't think so but we will see. Also, I want to price getting some more insulation for the house and see what that might cost and a back sliding door. Our landlords want to replace the broken sliding door with french doors, we will look into that as well.
We hang out a lot of clothes but we could do more. I need to make or purchase a small rack to hang little things and maybe think about hanging some lines in the shop for when the weather is not compatible with drying outside.
Brian fixed the dish washer so we will start using that. I need to make or find a good biodegradable dish detergent. I make my own house cleaner out of white vinegar, water and essential oils and put it into an empty spray bottle. I wash my hair with biodegradable dish detergent (cleans really well and doesn't strip my hair since I only wash my hair 2-4 times a month) and I condition with organic coconut oil.

REduce, REuse, REcycle:
I was really wanting some outside seating/eating and last Sunday we came home to our neighbors having thrown out an outside glass-topped table, umbrella, stand, and 5 chairs. A little faded a little dirty. But perfect for us...we are so happy.
We buy most of our food in bulk, either from the health food store (they use 100% recycled biodegradable bags!) or from produce from farmers at the farmers market each week ( I bring my own bags to both places) I don't buy plastic sandwich bags I simply reuse Tupperware or reuse bulk food bags after we have used the contents. For peanut butter I take my own jar (they have a neat grinder there you can do yourself, I have the cashier weigh it before hand so they can count off the weight of the jar after I fill it).

So we still have a house in our old state that needs to be sold or rented. That is #1 on our priority list right now. We have not lived in it for 3 years and it needs some love. We moved out of it because it was very isolating for me with 4 little kids there who all wanted to see there friends several times a week and the roads were getting too dangerous to bike or walk on (speeding drivers), that added to the fact that it was very light deficient. We moved to the city and then two years later moved down here. So there it sits. Been on the market and off again. Been looked at by a hundred people or more. So we will get that right to the top. It needs to be first spot. So this weekend we will figure out the details and Monday I will call and get pricing for rental management companies and ads to advertise it ourselves. I have done this a while ago but we need new information.

Starting today we are tracking everything we spend on a budget sheet so we can see where we can cut some corners and I like the concreteness of seeing where our money goes and comes.

Wahoo...B just got home and got a $150 bonus this month. Yeah him.

Vegan Living: After years of B and the kids being the kind of vegans who eat a bit of honey now and then, B and the 2 oldest have rethunk the ethics of it, so I need to start sprouting grains and making all our bread because that is the last place in our house you would find honey, in the sprouted bread B takes to work everyday. He likes him some pb&j!! Which gets me into sprouting and making things at home. I have done it a lot but it is a thing where I have to get into a habit of doing it. So starting April 26th, Sunday I want to start sprouting and try my hand at some coconut yogurt making.....oooh we will see how that goes. At least I want to make some soy yogurt, let's see will I have to make my own soymilk to keep away from all the fillers they use in store bought soymilk. Oh how I miss the Farm, they had soy milk and ice bean and tofu.....okay, I am done. Can you make almond milk yogurt??? I will research and get back to you.

Okay, we need to start a garden. Enough said. We have been procrastinating. Well my wonderful friend J gave us some plants tomato & cukes and my wonderful other friend J gave us some lemon balm, and a nice farmer gave us some plants tomatoes & peppers & watermelon...I just need to get them in the ground. So I need to get some mushroom compost this weekend and Sunday we need to bathe ourselves in the righteousness of the soil. And get those puppies in the ground. What have I been waiting for?? Well, really I have been waiting for my husband to do it but that is like waiting on the lottery to pay your electric bill....not such a good idea.

I do not like things that are made in China and other worker oppressed countries. After hearing a terrible story (which is probably not true, I should head right now to instead of spreading gossip) about Chinese companies mixing metals to skimp on quality and creating radioactive products. Scary stuff. I do not want these things in my home and around my children. Case in point we went to the Earth Day festival and there was a vendor there, hawking his services and wares and he gave my kids a calculator with his information on it. It was a cheap, made in China piece of trash!! AND it wasn't even solar powered. My kids loved it---essentially a free video game. (sorry my kids don't get out much!!) And at the time I just didn't say no, but now as I see them handing it to the baby to make him happy (he loves anything that is not a baby toy, plastic, paper, electronics---we have to keep a close eye on him!!) it is driving me crazy. What do I do with it?? Let them keep it till it dies? Give it to the local thrift store so some other unsuspecting person can have a radioactive calculator? Throw it away so all the probable contaminates it contains can leach into our waterways? What I need to do is take the guy's name and number from the calculator, call him and let him know that I do not appreciate him buying this junk and passing it on to us and he would have my business more if I knew he was committed to sustainability instead of cheap crap for advertising. Everybody watch out I am stepping off my soapbox!!

A is studying ballet and we are looking into a financial and a merit based scholarship for next "year" for her.
I am looking to barter a yoga class or two. And we are looking into activities and classes for the kids for summer. We will have some family and some friends down for birthday celebrations. And we will probably head up for a road trip to see family and friends. But we also need some learnin'. We will have a meeting with the kiddos and come up with some good ideas. I will get back to you!!

Most thrift stores (be sure to ask) get items from local donations and sell them at their stores in the same city. Isn't that amazing??? So you can go and purchase a bag, a shirt, a necklace, a phone, etc and it will essentially be "local" okay, not technically but unless you grow the cotton, pick the cotton, weave the cotton sew the fabric, that is the best you are gonna get!!

Okay, I know after paying rent things are going to be stretched pretty thin around here. So...I am going to go through our stash of stuff to sell and see what I can get on this weekend. After making $131 on selling cloth diapers we are no longer using (mostly newborn sizes L has outgrown) I am moving on to some shoes we bought and haven't worn and we will see what else.

So how do we stop this influx of crappily made products? Well, I think the first things is to stop buying it. Visualize. You are at the store. WHY??? Do you really need more stuff?
Okay, fine--You feel you "need" something.
You don't find it at your local thrift store, so Look at it.
#1 Do you need it?? Do you have something similar at home? Could you make do without it?
#2 If you have determined you DO need it. Look where it came from? Do you know if they have fair labor practices in that country?
#3 Choose a different option. Do your research on line or at the library. Search out companies that are making products that align with your principles. Do you buy fair trade coffee but still purchase slave trade sugar? What about chocolate?

TMI (too much information):
Okay, you probably already have some ideas about me but I feel the need to tell you this....we rarely use toilet paper. Yeah, think what you will but we prefer to use old baby blankets (the soft flannel ones or old t-shirts) cut up and serged or not and kept clean in a cute basket on the back of the toilet and dirty in a bucket under the sink to be washed every three days with the dirty diapers. You will get so much cleaner and save so many trees. What are you waiting for?? Get out your pinking shears right now!!
Good night!!