Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to the Future

Last year, I took a deep breath and ripped up my grassy sidewalk strip. Cover crop and a toad over-wintered there. Squash, beans, peppers, squirrels, and sunflowers summered there. And connections with neighbors, passersby, friends of friends, blossomed there.

Then I ditched the grass on half of the remaining lawn - devoting the patch to a butterfly garden, with a few peas, tomatoes and cucumbers tucked in for good measure. I was rewarded with more varieties of butterflies than I'd ever seen, bees galore, and even some lustful ladybugs. I was also rewarded with some admiring looks from joggers, thankful finches de-seeding my cosmos, and two little boys who can identify every type of flower out there.

This fall, the rest of my front lawn will go. According to Diane MacEachern of The Big Green Purse, "[w]ith some forty million acres of America carpeted in grass, turf is our largest irrigated crop . . . A staggering 60 percent of water consumed on the West Coast and 30 percent on the East Coast goes to watering lawns." (248). That doesn't even take into account the impact from gas powered mowing and blowing machines or pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain lawns. I've forsworn those but still put a half hearted effort into semi-watering and maintaining the last strip of monoculture left in my front yard.

But no more. I'm going back to the future. Back to the Victory Garden.

And the future is more delicious and bountiful than we imagined.

In a time of dwindling oil supplies and changing climates, of disappearing biodiversity and vanishing bees, it stands out like a beacon of hope, the bailout to industrial agriculture's harrowing debt and the cure for this month's salmonella outbreak.

Here are photos of an edible garden I've been admiring.

No one said that a front yard veggie patch needs to look like a farm. It doesn't need to look like a typical suburban yard either. It can be different. It can be amazing. And it can speak louder to friends, neighbors and one's community than rallies, petitions or showings of The Inconvenient Truth. It can inspire and educate. It can connect and regenerate.
This month's APLS carnival topic is educating others. I can think of no better way to educate others than to do it in your front yard. Grab a shovel and start spreading the word.


Friday, September 26, 2008

In a Pickle

Weeks after I sacrificed three pounds of cucumbers to relish - the best relish I've ever relished, by the way - I found myself in a pickle. A delightful pickle that began with a visit to the farmers' market and my friend, Sapphira's stall. Working together she and I loaded my netted produce bag to hit precisely four pounds. The exact amount required called for by the Ball canning guide.
Hours later, I substituted dill seed for dill head, added a bit of sugar on a whim (last year's dills were VERY dill) and poured my favorite cleaning compound (vinegar) over nine jars of hopeful pickles. Boiling and bubbling and freeing air bubbles, I lined my garage shelves with future delights.

How will they taste? I'll let you know next spring. When local cucumbers are just a memory.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hope Is A Thing With Greens

Yesterday, I wrote about how our food system is broken. And it is! Food safety scares emerge every other month. High fructose corn syrup has slipped into our whole grain bread, our tomato soup. Animal cruelty brutal enough to make even the jaded cringe occurs every day within our polluting factory farms.

And, yet, today I write about hope. Yes. We are grown ups now. Yes. We must open our eyes, look at our problems as they are and make the decision to fix them. And, yet, strength and will alone are not enough. As David Wann noted in Simple Prosperity, "we are wasting our time if we expel hope from our everyday lives, because without it, we can’t win."

Emily Dickenson once wrote that "hope is a thing with feathers."

I disagree.

I think hope is a thing with greens, gently tucked into a CSA box or graciously displayed on a farmers' market table.

Hope is blackberry jam made and canned with friends, who have all since made their own jam in their own homes.

Hope is a pantry filled with jars of dried tomatoes and blueberries.

Hope is looking at the last piece of my front lawn and knowing that, next year, I will be watering tomatoes instead of grass.

Hope is the family of ladybugs that multiplied in last winter's cover crop and the black squirrels who scale the remaining sunflowers.

Hope is the cattle rancher on the slopes of Napa County who donated 600 acres to a land trust, who raises her cattle in the pasture with only native grasses as food, who welcomes snakes and owls as pest control.

Hope is reversing the trend toward destruction of biodiversity (90% in the last 50 years - 70% due to farming and ranching) by buying from farms that grow diverse crops, eschew chemicals, and adopt methods that embrace the ecosystem.

Hope is the massive surge in new farms near urban areas.

Hope is Proposition 2 on the California ballot this November. (Vote a resounding YES!).

Hope is knowing that we could sequester up to 40% of current carbon emissions just by converting the world to an organic instead of industrial agricultural system.

Hope is the fact that farmer's markets - where food is grown locally, often by small operations and often without pesticides or inhumane treatment - are the fastest growing segment of the food industry.

And hope is the fact that, even though our food system is broken, we are fixing it. Forkful by forkful, dollar by dollar, we are building a new food system. One that is fair and humane. One that relies on biodiversity, not chemicals. One that can lay the foundation for all of the other changes we must make, for all of the other systems we must repair, for the road we - as grown ups - have ahead of us.

Hope is a thing with greens. And of hope, I have plenty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hardest Decisions

This post is dedicated to my cat, Gryff. I lost him yesterday. On an orange towel. In a vet's office as tears streamed down my face and a tissue appeared in front of my eyes. (I still can't write this without crying.)

I adopted Gryff 15 years ago - a month before I started graduate school in Los Angeles. He has been my best friend, traveled with me from LA to a tiny, dark apartment in San Francisco, and then down the Peninsula. He put up with one husband, one very large dog (who has since gone) and two overly-loving and energetic boys.

A month ago, Gryff developed a severe upper respiratory infection and blood tests revealed more serious underlying health problems. Over the past month, he's had good days and bad days - increasingly more of the latter. Yesterday, I made the decision to let him go. To help end his pain, his suffering, to not prolong it with well-intended pokes and prods.

My mother told me that she wished she could come with me. My father asked if anyone could accompany me. My sister offered me a telephonic hug and wished she was there. My husband said that he wished he could have gone with me.

But this was something I needed to do alone. This was the hardest decision and it was mine.

I remember reading that "Jack", the bulldog in the Little House stories, had a much longer life in the books than in real life. Laura Ingalls Wilder chose the timing of his death in her stories because it signalled an end to her childhood and the beginning of adulthood.

That is how I feel about Gryff passing. Leaving Gryff was, in effect, leaving behind my young adult years. The freedom. The ability to put off truly hard decisions. To not look truth too closely in the face.

And so this post is about Gryff. And how I will miss him. How my backyard already seems empty and lifeless despite fluttering butterflies and chirping birds. How I won't find him lounging in the shade under the tomato plants. How I won't have a furry little body at my feet as I type.

This post, though, is also about me. And about you. About how we are grown ups now. About how our country and our planet are sick. How the hardest decisions are ahead. There will be tears, financial struggles, illness, and all the things that a changing climate, a loss of biodiversity and a dwindling energy supply will bring. We have the strength inside of us, though, and the will to make those decisions. We need not put off the inevitable any longer. Need not dodge it for a few more years or pass it down to the next generation.

We have the strength, the fortitude to examine issues and see the truth - not what we want to see or what the media wants us to see or what a political party wants us to see.

To look at our food system and see not just cheap, plentiful food but pigs that are raped and beaten, downed cows that are kicked in the face, or a dead zone that spreads from our country like a cancer.

To look at our educational system and see teachers who are underpaid, children without physical education or recess, schools that are crumbling.

To look at our energy usage and see that mountaintop removal is ugly and deadly and wrong. That drilling for more oil to temporarily alleviate (10 years from now) the price of gas is prolonging the inevitable.

To look at our planet and realize that we have reached the tipping point. That the Arctic ice will not come back. That the polar bears - whom Sarah Palin does not considered "threatened" - are so hungry they have taken to eating each other. That we cannot bury out heads in the quickly melting ice any longer.

To look at our homes and know that we have too much, that we are lucky, that we do not need that gadget, this year's shoes or that toy for our child. To know when enough is enough.

So, I will take a moment of silence for my dear departed friend. And in that moment, I will also thank him - not just for being a friend, for being with me through anything and everything, but for signaling my adulthood.

I am now all grown up and must make the hardest decisions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

V Is for Victory . . . and Veggies Scraps

My watch read 6:52. Eight more minutes and no sight of my friends yet. I waited outside the front doors. Inside, men in suits and ties swarmed, shuffling paper and toting reusable water bottles.

"You made it!" Another green task force member stopped to thank me for coming. She introduced me to her husband and then they filed inside.


Finally, I caught sight of two green book club members walking from the parking lot. One smiled and waved. The butterflies in my stomach stilled. I raised my hand in return.

We shuffled through the doors together. "Are you speaking?" I asked my friend. She glanced around the room and then up a the city emblem on the wall. "Yes," she responded, straightening her shoulders. "I will." We both filled our names and agenda items on a slip of paper and approached the platform. The clerk took our slips and thanked us.

As we turned back to find a seat, I scanned the room. Not recognizing anyone new, we slipped in behind the task force member and her husband.


"It is 7 p.m. and the meeting will begin," the clerk announced. "Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance." I stood hesitantly, feeling like a grade schooler as I laid my right hand over a quickly beating heart.

The door opened and a friend tiptoed in - too late to sign up to speak. She didn't see us and took the first available seat.

The meeting began. Minutes were read. The fire chief stood to speak. "Next agenda item". The police chief approached the podium. Out of the corner of my eye, another friend entered - this time from the left. She grabbed the seat closest to the door. Swiveling, she peered back into the audience until our eyes met. She smiled and waved.

"Agenda item number 7," the mayor announced. A city official launched into an explanation about greenhouse gases and our city's share. Leaning forward, I watched his charts and graphs sift through the projector. We could cut there but perhaps that or that area was beyond the city's control and so it went. Finally, the mayor thanked him for his time and his report. Council members peppered the official with questions and then suddenly it was our turn.

Agenda item number 8. Pick up of residential food scraps for composting. My friend and I shifted in our seats. In front of me, my fellow task force member gathered her stack of petitions. To my left, another friend lifted her chin.

We were ready.

The city manager explained the proposal - weekly pick up of "organics" (food scraps, pizza boxes, soiled food containers, paper towels) for $2 a month. The paper slip I'd handed to the city clerk an hour early appeared in the mayor's hand and he was calling my name and the name of a friend and of the task force member. We rose and lined up behind each other.

I was first to the podium, heart pounding, pushing a smile out as I greeted the council members. This proposal will divert a great amount of waste from the landfill. I told them what they already knew. It is very popular with city residents, I promised. It turns waste into a resource - compost. It helps us live a greener life. It sets our city up as a green leader, I coaxed.

And then I was done.

Returning to my seat, I watched proudly as my cohorts took their turn before the council. Spoke their piece.

The council members buzzed back and forth amongst themselves. One strongly supported the measure. Another thought it was unnecessary. A third was on the fence, he stated, staring out into the audience. He studied the faces of those of us who had stood before him minutes earlier. Finally, the mayor spoke. He believed the city needed to approve the proposal. It is the right time. We must do this to make our city more sustainable.

Then the vote came down. Two in favor. One opposed. The remaining council member - he who had straddled that "fence" - scanned the audience one last time. I felt his eyes on my face. I saw him look to my friend next to me, to friends dotted throughout the room, all nodding their heads vigorously. "Yes."

Yes! It was through. Passed. Approved.

Applause is not permitted at city council meetings but I will admit that a few of us - as our eyes met across the room - put our hands together. More so, we silently pumped fists. Grinned. And flashed V for victory . . . and for veggie scraps.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time for Tithing

Last spring, a couple of newspapers coined the acronym YAWNs - young and wealthy but normal - to describe people who live below their means, who consider their environmental impact in lifestyle decisions, who care about their neighbors, who donate to charity and who embrace experiences over things. Objecting to the boring nickname, Arduous created contest and asked people to weigh in with alternative acronyms.

My husband came up with APLS - Affluent Persons Living Sustainably - and won the prize ($50 donated to a charity of his choice) when most of the commenters voted for his entry. Within hours of announcing the acronym and unveiling the Green Apple design, I found myself having to defend A for Affluent.

In all honesty, I had never thought about affluence. The benefits and privileges I had enjoyed never crossed my mind and played no role in my "greener" lifestyle. What happened beyond our country's borders? Or my place in the world? I didn't think about it much.

Suddenly, in standing behind APLS, I found myself thinking about affluence alot. About the fact that I am globally and decidedly rich. The fact that that wealth - consisting, in part, of the schools I've attended, the library I frequent, the paved roads I drive, the roof over my head, the Internet connection I use - confers a responsibility to use affluence for good.

After all that thinking, I re-adopted an old habit - one that had I followed as a college student when my income consisted of loans and humanities coffee bar tips. I started tithing again.

Tithing is a practice of donating a portion of your income weekly or monthly. It is often encountered in the form of donations to a Christian church though I have always done it in a secular setting. I first encountered the idea years ago in a book about creating positive energy in one's life. The book argued that we should not hold on too tightly to money, things or time and that, instead, we should share our abundance. Great things happen when we let go, when we give of ourselves or our paychecks.

And so, I committed in college to donate a percentage of my income. I believe it was only one percent but that one percent made a difference. Back then, I donated mostly to environmental organizations. This summer, I've re-embraced the commitment, this time, to donate regularly to organizations that are somehow greater than myself, such as Goods 4 Girls and Central Asia Institute, to my child's school, to political campaigns and to others who seem to need the money more than I. It doesn't matter, really, where the money goes so long as it is to a place that I believe in.

It is not much money. But it will do much good. Whatever side we come out on in the APLS Affluence debate, I think we can all spare a small percentage of our income, a couple dollars a month or, if not money, a few hours of our time. It is time to embrace our abundance by letting it go. It is time for tithing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Forgotten Forest

It's name is Lost Mountain. It sits in the middle of the rainforest of North America - home to the most diverse ecosystem on the continent. Eighty different species of trees loom among its slopes and streams. Endangered squirrels fly among those branches and threatened songbirds flit between the leaves.

But that is the past.

Lost Mountain has been lost.

Or more aptly "removed". Explosives blew off the summit. Bulldozers scraped away the bush and hardwood, pushing them into a burning pyre rather than taking the time to timber them. Fertile topsoil was scraped away. Lost Creek, which once meandered through the forest at an idler's pace, is covered under sixty feet of rock and dirt. All life is extinguished.

And then, the coal is removed and transformed into electricity. For us. For our laptops and lightbulbs. To power our refrigerators and television sets. Mountaintop coal at least partly powers every home and business in America (unless the inhabitant specifically pays for renewable energy).

In Lost Mountain, Erik Reece documents the devastation of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet for something that we all use - electricity. The journey is a haunting one, beautifully written, heartbreakingly told. Of all the books I've read in the past year, this one was the easiest and the most difficult. It was easy in that I could not put it down. It was difficult in that there is a part of me who really doesn't want to know. Who doesn't want to think about my impact - even now. But the walls must come down. We must see and know what happens as a result of the power we use, the food we eat. Without awareness, there can be no change.

Lost Mountain shreds those walls, yanks us through the death and pollution with a gentle but firm hand, and shakes us as certainly as cracked foundations of the homes and buildings abutting the mining sites. It has been the subject of multiple reviews at The Blogging Bookworm. Every one of them rated it 5 out of 5 stars. I give it the same rating and recommend it for the same crowd that Katrina did: "for everyone who has ever turned on a light."

While you are waiting for your copy of Lost Mountain to arrive from the library - because this really really really is a must read - watch this video:

Come back next week for more on mountaintop removal, what you can do about it and how you can turn a mountain of electricity use into a molehill.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The APLS Blog Carnival - Affluence

Welcome to the second edition of the APLS monthly carnival. APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Simply and the topic for this month was the ever-controversial A for Affluent. What did every one think? Is it a controversial term? One people feel uncomfortable with? One people view locally or globally? One they embrace for the power it brings? I noticed these and several other recurring themes in the thoughtful posts that flooded the APLS gmail account this month.

Read on and see what fellow APLS think of affluence:

In her typically eloquent fashion, Abbie, The Farmer's Daughter, comes to terms with her affluence. She looks at wealth globally, rather than locally. But she also looks at the real wealth in her life - the stuff "that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents."

Over at Chocolate Crayons & More, Donna admits that she still doesn't like the word "affluence" but acknowledges that, globally, it fits our country. She urges us to think of the big impact a relatively small amount can have outside our borders and quotes the apostle Paul who believed there should equality in wealth.

At Green Arizona, Alana views affluence globally and her possessions in terms of needs versus wants. When we break it down that way, she notes, we can see where our priorities truly are and then maybe we can make decisions differently.

Melissa, a Golden State APLS blogging at Better Living, thoughtfully argues that we need to view affluence globally to "heal the problems faced by our world today." She examines the definition of affluence argues that our reluctance to own up to our own affluence, in a manner, diminishes the hard truth of poverty.

At Simple.Green.Organic.Happy, Robin is concerned that the term might make others thing you have to be wealthy to be green and then beautifully details all the richness in her life despite a shrinking paycheck.

Bobbi, also a Lower Midwest APLS, at The Greene Onion also delves into the multiple meanings of "affluent." She realizes that, while affluent typically connotes material wealth, the term relates another kind of wealth - one far more meaningful. And Bobbi sees that alternate wealth spreading across this country.

Over at The Good Life, Mel, another Great Lakes APLS, enumerates all the ways in which she is affluent - in terms of material wealth and "real" wealth (health, happiness). There's a reason her blog is called The Good Life. Mel makes us all thankful for all that we have.

All this Affluence is the topic over at BobbleHead Owl Suburban Homestead where Mist muses on her own affluence - despite the fact that many of the frugal acts she makes are a necessity. Still, she argues, she has the choice of staying home with her children or going to work and that is as affluent as it comes.

At Car(bon)free in California, Charles views affluence using powerful metaphors of cars and televisions - material objects so prevalent in our society that they are "practically a birthright." Through the "eyes" of televisions and cars, we realize how relative wealth is.

As proof that there can be some agreement in this deeply divided nation, The Moral Collapse of America documents 15 Things That Are Wrong with America. Number 10 hits on America's global greed and Number 14 considers America's destruction of the environment.

In Affluence vs. Effluence, Will from The Green Couple, admits that he dislikes the term affluence. Really, Will? ;-) He correctly points out that living sustainably has nothing to do with material wealth.

Lori, our Lower Midwest APLS regional coordinator, from Life in Webster Groves becomes more comfortable with the term at hand by defining affluence. In examining the different meanings of "affluent", she finds one that fits. One that acknowledges that "we’re flowing toward a common goal."

Sunflowerchilde, a Golden State APLS blogging at The Natural Life, examines the difference between needs and wants and eloquently argues for a new definition of wealth or affluence - one based not on things but on qualities.
Non-blogging APLS Blog reader, Tom Gilfoye submits these insightful thoughts on affluence: "I see affluence as the balance between what you have and what you want. There are two ways to become affluent: making more than you spend, or spending less than you make. These are very different ways of living. The first has a goal of consumption; the second has a goal of frugality."
Beth, a Golden State APLS at Fake Plastic Fish, also investigates the etymology of the word and discovers that, in Latin, "affluent" means "to flow toward." She beautifully argues that we need to sustain the flow in terms of material affluence, time affluence and "simply being".

Our Great Lakes APLS coordinator leaps aboard her eco-flying saucer over at Eco Burban. She acknowledges that it is truly alien to consider oneself affluent in our culture - especially when one chooses to live beneath their means.
photo: ****b/c**** on Flickr

Affluence allows us to make choices, argues Julie Artz, one of the two Colorado APLS organizers. Her post at Chez Artz highlights the difference between those of us with choices and those without persuasively brings home just what an impact such choices could make.
Mama sees things a bit differently at Mama Goes Green. With our affluence comes a duty to make choices that have a positive impact on the world around us, think about our impact on others before taking action and to speak out for those with less power than we.

New to the carnival this month, The Wounded Chef wonders about affluence. She realizes that affluence means living within one's means. It also means that when one is ultimately able, one uses that money in environmentally and socially responsible ways.

Going Green Mama, a Great Lakes APLS, gets the carnival going by asking How Are You Paving Our Path? Are you being proactive? Taking responsibility for your actions and working for a better future? Her thoughtful queries brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

A is for Affluence over at crstn85 and that signifies that we are privileged and able to make wise choices. Those choices can include not spending money at all which, Tina notes, is the true dichotomy that is living sustainably in an affluent society.

At Surely You Nest, MamaBird acknowledges her affluence . . . and is thankful for it. She notes that it is this wealth that allows her to make choices in line with her beliefs.

Another Great Lakes APLS, Greeen Sheeep wonders why our society is so "sheepish" about wealth - and owning up to the word "affluent" - when we spend our collective time and effort trying to amass possessions to show off that wealth. She offers her cure for that sheepishness and it is a generous one.

From a window above the train tracks in India, Arduous ponders affluence in global terms. Having been raised in an affluent society, she has been privy to countless opportunities and been given the ability to dream. It is time we extend the same beyond our borders, to the children of the world.

Bobbi, the Golden State APLS organizer, has an affluent epiphany at To Live Local. She is truly grateful for what she has and what she can do with it. Bobbi ends this post with a zinger.

At Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings, Jenn, a Lower Midwest APLS, concludes that her affluence, as an American, has come at a cost to the rest of the planet. Because of the sacrifices made by others, she feels particularly responsible for using that affluence in a mindful manner.

Over at VWXYNot?, Cath readily acknowledges our affluence and argues that it is a tool for change. She argues that we must use the gift of wealth to make smarter choices and to raise our voices to ask for more such choices.

We all are affluent, "dude", protests Burbanmom, at Going Green. Instead of wasting that affluence on stuff we don't need, we should use it instead to influence environmental change - through smarter purchasing decisions, activism and charity.

Here at Green Bean Dreams, I argue that we must accept our affluence - and the responsibilities that come with it. We, as the rich of the Earth, have the moral duty to bring awareness, fight injustice, make environmentally aware purchases and shift the paradigm of this planet. And that duty begins by acceptance.

Finally, a blogger whom I respect tremendously, Melinda at One Green Generation (formerly Elements in Time), discusses her issues with affluence. She believes that, as a society we have been defining ourselves in terms of wealth for far too long and that use of the term "affluent" is divisive and exclusive. Melinda "wishes with all her heart" that the group would change its acronym from Affluent Persons Living Sustainably to All People Living Sustainably and has kindly created two gorgeous new logos for the group - one for each acronym. Please check out this post and the exchange of ideas in the comments as well as the comments to this post.

What do you think? After a month of dwelling on "affluence", is it a term that you think the group should keep? Does it define us as a society? Do we need to accept how much we truly have before we can make real change in this world? Or does it alienate others and prevent the group from growing?

Hungry for more APLS? We've added some new regional groups this past month and now have APLS connecting in the Great Lakes, the Lower Midwest, Golden State (California) and Colorado. If you would like to organize a APLS group in your region, shoot us an email at aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com. There are also Facebook groups - where the discussion continues - for the APLS group overall and the Colordado APLS.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crying Wolf

I write plenty about politics on this blog. I have urged you to speak out on the planned evisceration of the Endangered Species Act by President Bush. I've posted on a number of political environmental and foreign policy issues. For months, I've worn my allegiance on my sidebar. But I've never written about a particular candidate.

In part, that is because, I've learned a lot for people with different view points when it comes to tackling environmental issues. I've made blogger friends with people with very diverse backgrounds and, as a result, I believe that I've become more open, more informed and hopefully more understanding.

I've never written about a particular candidate for fear of alienating those from whom I could learn, with whom I could forge relationships and work toward a common goal. I've read time and time again how the left (that would be me) doesn't understand the red states. Those of us on the left don't get the culture, the values or the morality. And so I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand. I know that most of us ultimately care about the same things.

Yesterday, I read that many women support Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin because she "shares their values." On the same day, I saw this disturbing new video regarding Sarah Palin's values. I must warn you that it is tough to watch but I think it must be seen.

Yes, it is a government sanctioned hunt. One she sanctioned and broadened with unprecedented speed and violence. One in which private citizens may participate for a price. One that systematically eliminates the alpha males leaving the younger males, who are the ones that enter neighborhoods. One that removes the predators from the top of the ecosystem - something which scientists agree over and over again destroys ecosystems. One that even targets newborn wolf pups.

Under Ms. Palin's watch and with her permission, this year "the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game will exterminate 1,400 bears out of a population of 2,000 in an area west of Anchorage. The Alaskan Board of Game even approved the hunting of black bear mothers and cubs with the goal of killing 60 percent of the black bear population." Ms. Palin was also behind the lawsuit to block listing the polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

I know people hunt. When hunting is done for food, in a more humane and fair manner, such as on the ground, and in numbers that ecosystems can sustain, I can accept it. The aerial hunting of wolves and bears, chasing them to the point of exhaustion by airplanes over the snow, where there is nowhere to hide, the slaughter of wolf pups and black bear cubs . . .

This I cannot accept.

I likewise cannot accept that these are the values that the majority of American women embrace. That those who inhabit the "red states" approve of such brutality or consider this to be fair, much less morally correct. My time blogging has taught me that people all over this country care about the environment- regardless of location, skin color, income level, religion. I cannot accept that we will all look the other way on this one. That Ms. Palin's gender or views of other issues can some how negate this.

We must cry wolf.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Beginning of the End

September marches in. With it the Pacific morning fogs. Dew bussed squash. Sun parts the gray curtains by noon, diligently warming tomatoes and ripening peppers.

In our front, with winter in mind, a black squirrel clambers up my second tallest sunflower and it crashes to the ground. Tiiimmmbbeeerrr!!

The Cosmos that colored our front yard go to seed in a host of yellow finches. Orange butterflies swarm the ranging passionflower vine, scoping out the best place to lay eggs. Our lemon cucumber plants struggle to spit out a couple handful of golf ball sized veggies and the raccoons make off with the long awaited San Marzanos.

It is the beginning of the end. Of my summer garden. My sunflowers did better than I had hoped for - even when deer nibbled them down to the dirt last spring. The pumpkins never came but banana squash overtook the sidewalk strip, birthing thirty pound toddlers that lay in the weeds like sleeping children. The Hungarian pepper plant yielded far more than I had hoped for - causing several hours spent in front of the computer and then the stove.

The strawberries plod along, offering a handful of scarlet berries week in and out. Purple Peruvians and La Ratte fingerlings slowly tilt, hiding their treasure under mounds of compost. Ground cherries are a distant, and disappointing, memory.

Ruthlessly, I yank out the last of dilapidated and fruitless tomato plants, shell the dried Calypso beans and the bolted lettuce. I'm clearing space.

It feels like yesterday that I typed out my dreams for a summer garden. For bountiful tomatoes, burgeoning pumpkins, sprinting pole beans. Some of those dreams came to pass. Others? That is why they are called dreams.

But it is the promise, the hope, the excited uncertainty that has me poking pea seeds into the ground this September. Scattering carrot, radish and beet seeds in a thick blanket throughout the raised beds. Removing tired wildflowers from the butterfly garden to make way for cover crop - fava beans, vetch, bell beans and snap peas.

It is that promise that keeps me coming back, year after year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Building Community 101

Over a year ago, I decided that my lifestyle was not in harmony with my beliefs. I was dreaming of a smaller planet but living for a bigger one. I shopped recreationally. Fed my family frozen dinners wrapped in plastic. Used my dryer. Those things changed and my footprint slimmed down considerably over the last 18 months. My impact is now roughly 30% of the average American. Could I cut back more? Sure. It would be difficult at this point but I could do it. My family living at 10% of the average American's impact, though, would not solve our collective environmental woes. Climate change would still churn forward. Over 60 percent of Americans would still believe that drilling for oil will lower gas prices. WalMart would still sell cheap underwear imported from China.

And so my blog has gradually changed focus. I write less and less about personal changes. Do I still believe we should hang our laundry out to dry? Bike to work? Shop at the farmers' market? Absolutely! I write about those things from time to time. But I am increasingly focused on something else.

Reducing my impact is only half the solution. The other half lies in gathering numbers, gaining momentum, building community.

There are a million ways to do it. Sign up with a local green group. Join a church or, if you already belong, attend an event or volunteer to be on a committee. Put together an email list for the neighborhood. Plant a garden in your front yard. Set up a cocktail table in a cul de sac. Ask other parents at your child's school about carpooling. Ask a neighbor to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. The ways to build community are as simple and as limitless as can be.

But here's the catch.

Building community is hard. It will tug you out of your comfort zone. It will force you to interact with others - particularly, others whom you do not know well or at all. That is, after all, the point.

In many ways, it is easier to make your own yogurt, plant an edible garden, make jam in a silent kitchen. That is more comfortable for most of us and certainly for myself. I don't have to talk to anyone when I harvest lettuce or stir in the yogurt culture. I can sit in the quiet cocoon of my own home and reach out only through wires and cables. I don't have to look at anyone's face. Or struggle for something to say. Or wonder afterwards if what I said sounded stupid. If I talked too much or too little.

Building community is hard.

And we are out of practice. Over the last few decades, we've moved away from block parties, bunco games and bowling leagues to nursing homes, TiVo and closed shutters. But being out of practice doesn't mean out of possibility.

All it takes is one brave soul to attend a meeting for Habitat for Humanity, send out an email on a school or mothers' club listserv, offer to set up a CSA, or sit on his or her front porch and make conversation with neighbors and passersby.

That first step is the hardest. But here's the truth. The second and third step are hard too. Building community takes time and it can be draining. It also can be exhilarating. Meaningful. Satisfying. Warming. Rewarding. And so many other wonderful, magnificent things.

Connections do not need to center on the environment. In fact, you'll probably get a lot further if your intention is just to connect and not to convert. Bringing environmental enlightenment can come later and can come naturally. New found friends will eventually notice how you live, what you care about, what you work toward. Just by connecting with others locally, though, you'll lessen your and their impact on the environment. You may share a meal, lend a tool, carpool, pass down clothes and toys.

Are you that one brave soul? Can you take that first small step? Put an idea out there? I won't lie. It is hard. Initially, it will be scary. And uncomfortable. And sometimes disheartening. But the payoff is huge. The payoff is a community you can rely on, a cooler planet, a safer home, a more effective government. The other half of the solution. The payoff will allow us to adapt to our changing climate.

* Photo courtesy of http://www.iofoto.com/

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kindly Hand Me My Cape . . . I Mean My Plate

Saving the world is supposed to be difficult. Lessening our impact on the planet, painful. A bike ride up a hill towing two boys and a week's worth of groceries. Turning compost with a too small shovel as soldier flies swarm your face. Emptying a lukewarm bath, bucket by sloshing bucket, onto a dead front lawn.

Fighting global warming is not supposed to be pleasurable. It is not supposed to feel like the sun on your cheeks as you wander through the brimming stalls of a farmers' market. It shouldn't taste like a just picked cherry tomatoe or offer the peace of homemade soup bubbling on the stove as autumn's chill creeps in.

Eating locally was one of the first steps I took toward lighter living. It was the easiest. I first "went green" in California's spring time. It was the most enjoyable. It took me a full year to liken hanging laundry to meditation but only one visit to the farmers' market to revel in the bounty, the flavor, the connection. Because voting with my fork has always been so wonderful, it never really felt like an environmental act. It never seemed like it could make a true difference. But after two sessions at Slow Food Nation, my green superhero costume is changing. I'm ready to toss the cape for the plate.

I attended two Food For Thought Sessions. The first, Building a New Food System: Policy and Planning, featured Andrew Kimbrell (an amazing speaker, founder of the Center for Food Safety and editor of Fatal Harvest), Marion Nestle (NYU Professor on Nutrition, Food Safety and Public Health and author of What to Eat), Paula Jones (Director of San Francisco Food Systems) and A.G. Kawamura (of aerial pesticide spraying fame and the Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture). The second session, Re-Localizing Food, featured Michael Pollan (like he needs an introduction!), Dan Barber (Director of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture), Winona La Duke (Native American activist, Vice Presidential candidate under Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000), and Gary Nabhan (founder of Renewing America's Food Traditions and author of Coming Home to Eat).

Here are some of the things I learned:

30% of global warming is attributable to industrial agriculture. (Kimbrell)

Only 5% of health care dollars in this country are allocated to preventative measures. (Kawamura)

National security advisors have long urged that we decentralize the food supply which is exquisitely vulnerable to terrorists. Local food systems are the answer. (Pollan)

An official in the United States Department of Agriculture opined that we should grow no food in the United States. Our land, this person thought, should only be used for homes and recreation and our food should be grown in third world countries because it is more economical. (Nestle)

Although 90% of people want labels for genetically modified foods, it is simply out of the realm of possibility due to corporate influence. Without labeling, for GMO, organic, humane, fair trade, though we cannot know what we are buying and therefore cannot vote with our forks. (Kimbrell)

Andrew Kimbrell challenged us to become "paradigm warriors". He relayed a story told by a Native American chief. Native American women were sitting by the river working when a baby floated down. They rushed in and rescued it. Shortly thereafter, the river brought two more babies by and they, too, were promptly rescued. This continued with ever increasing numbers of infants bobbing down the river. Instead of simply pulling babies out of the river, though, the women needed to find out who was throwing them in. The story reflects our current ecological predicament. We need to stop the bleeding but also get to the root of the problem. Kimbrell presented a choice - between the industrial paradigm or an ecological one. One that asks the question: what is the true carrying capacity of the Earth? what is the real environmental bottom line?

The panelists were as concerned with losing farm land as with losing the knowledge base behind farming - which can disappear in a single generation. We need to get youth enthused about farming if we are going to have a long term impact.

To adapt to climate change, we must preserve diversity, which is where old heirloom varieties come in. Dan Barber told of being sent corn seeds from a variety once grown by Native Americans many many years ago. It is a strain no longer grown on the continent. Dan reluctantly planted the corn seeds - in a traditional Native American three sisters garden. 100% of the seeds germinated. The crop resisted disease, rot and pests and produced the most delicious corn he had ever eaten. Heirloom varieties evolved over time to adapt to a particular place, to withstand local pests and disease. When we plant in our own gardens, we should reach for the oldest variety possible.

Three hours of sitting in a too hot, too crowded theater taught me a few more things. I haven't read enough books on the food system by a long shot (and I've read alot). The fork is a mighty powerful utensil. And a superhero's job is never done. I've got a locally baked baguette smeared with farmers' market cheese and homemade strawberry hot pepper jam to devour right now. I'm just doing my environmental duty.

Kindly hand me my plate . . .

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Built for the Road Ahead

It started with someone saying "What about a biking group?" at a green task force meeting.

Then, in our newsletter, we asked if anyone was interested.

Some people were interested. They offered to lead a group. Developed a mission statement. Came up with a name. And picked a date for a kick off ride through our little city.

Last Saturday night, in front of the local library, thirty-two people gathered on their commuter bikes, their cruisers, their teenage son's rusted ten speed. Older kids had their own bikes. Little ones were tucked into trailers or atop of connector bikes. We spent the next 45 minutes and 4.3 miles cruising around the flat streets of town. People gawked on their front lawns as our bike parade went past. Car drivers smiled and waved us through the intersection. The group undulated back and forth. Introductions made while pedaling. Ideas tossed around. Someone said they were setting up a website for the biking group. Others exchanged edible gardening ideas. "Wouldn't it be fun to do a bicycle tour of local edible gardens?" Still others suggested that we ask the locally owned market to stock grass fed beef.

Who knows where this group will go. What streets we'll meander down. Whether members will one day ask City Hall for better bike lanes and bike parking downtown. Whether those people standing on their front lawns will join us next week or next month. What friendships will be formed, recipes or equipment exchanged, commuter routes set up.

That night was simply a first step. We knew one thing, though. As we parted exhilarated, our cheeks pinkened, our thighs burning and our hearts pumping, we realized what had happened that night. We had formed a community - one built for the road ahead.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Art of Self Preservation

When I went on my blogcation a few weeks back, Burbs told me to can, can, can. I smiled at her response but didn't take it to heart. You see, the timing wasn't exactly right. Burbs' season is a month or so ahead of mine.

But I've taken that advice to heart this week. Three days ago, I got the call. Or the email to be precise. "The apples are ready to be picked." Another mom - someone who answered my wanted "fruit from your fruit tree" post on the local mothers' club board last year - remembered me. She asked me to "pick the tree clean." I did my best and carted four bulging bags home.

At Wednesday's farmers' market, I debated passing up the blueberries. "Last week," the farmer grins. Suddenly, tomatoes - which lingered green on the vine all summer - were hit by a major heat wave and are beautifully, blindingly red . . . and ready. It is now or never.

In the last week, I've had my dehydrator going 24-7, drying berries, apples and tomatoes. The canner happily bubbles on the range, sealing jars of hot pepper jam from front yard peppers, all day apple butter (a great recipe made in the slow cooker), and apple tomato chutney. Overly ripe berries mixed with maple syrup simmer on the stove - our pancake toppings this winter. Sapphira, my farmers' market friend, saved me a box of San Marzano tomatoes and I chopped them up with some of her onions and carrots for pasta sauce that likely won't last us through the winter. The freezer in the garage hums to life - stocked with frozen blueberries, chopped peppers and blanched corn.

As I type this, the saucepan calls out for more chutney, the dehydrator sits silent for the first time in a week. I've been emerged in the fine art of self preservation this week and need to go back. How about you?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Education is Eco-Logical

Last year's lunch box? Check.

Reusable water bottle in lieu of juice box? Check.

Backpack made from recycled drink containers? Check.

Carpool or bike route? Check.

Going back to school green-style is so eco-easy these days that it may be time to raise the bar. As I prepare to send my oldest off to kindergarten, I'm wondering how I can have a bigger impact. How I can move beyond recycled paper and eco friendly pencils to programs that include entire classrooms or schools, projects that inspire students and ripple out into the community.

Here are a few ways you and I can eco-ize education:

Stop Your Engines: You'll see it at every school, on every day, sometimes in the morning, always in the afternoon. Cars lined up, engines idling, as the inhabitant waits for his or her child to emerge. But idling engines create unnecessary carbon emissions, waste gas and money, and, perhaps most importantly for parents, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Follow Organic Picks comprehensive post to convince your school to adopt a no-idling zone.

Cleaner Commutes: Last year, a group of concerned local parents went to City Hall to ask for help in promoting exercise, combating childhood obesity and reducing pollution. They had joined the Safe Routes to School Program. Soon, the first Wednesday of every month was dubbed a Car-less day and students were encouraged to walk, bike or at least carpool to school. Here is a step-by-step program for getting Safe Routes to School in your district. Cleaner commutes can happen more often than one Wednesday a month, though. A parent at my son's school offered to coordinate carpools for the entire school. Parents email her their schedules and locations and she plays matchmaker. The same thing could be done for walking school buses.

Slow Food for Slow Schools: This year, I'm channeling my inner Alice Waters and have joined my son's school garden team. What that will entail, I have no idea. But we need to reconnect our children with their food sources and we need to get them back outside. The Edible Schoolyard is chock full of resources for starting and maintaining edible gardens at schools, for incorporating gardens into classroom lessons and for cooking up beautiful harvests to inspire students. This teacher's account of working along side the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley will bring tears to your eyes and a determination to get our kids growing. Sustainable Schoolyards offers plans and presentations for outdoor learning. Ideas for re-vamping hot lunch programs can be found at Two Angry Moms. And you can learn how to get farm fresh, locally grown food on to our children's plates at Farm to School. So go ahead. Let them eat kale!

Recycling and Composting: Last year, a local mom offered to spearhead a recycling and composting program. Her children's K-8 school shares a campus with a preschool and a middle school. Fourth graders took responsibility for educating the rest of the campus on the importance of composting through posters, skits, loud speaker announcements and re-directing traffic away from garbage cans. Three months and many strategically placed recycling and compost bins later, the campus has dramatically reduced the waste it sends to landfill and the students feel great for doing the green thing.

Fundraisers: Unfortunately, all schools are strapped for cash these days. That doesn't mean that our kids have to hawk the ubiquitous virgin wrapping paper or non-fair trade chocolate though. Green fundraising has come a long way. A friend recently launched a Chico reusable bag fundraiser for the local 4H group. Not only do 4H-ers now sell reusable bags that (a) folks need and (b) help folks kick the plastic bag habit, they can also educate others about the downsides of single use bags. Loads of other green fundraising ideas can be found at Surely You Nest.

Green Clean: What's in your closet? Your school's janitorial closet, that is? Most likely it's filled with giant jugs of aqua colored stuff that makes you wince when you smell it. Our kids spend a lot of time in their classrooms and the EPA has concluded that "indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels." Visit Green Clean Schools for a step-by-step guide to greener, cleaner and healthier schools.

As September swings in and my son steps out the door for his carpool, I realize that my impact can be enormous. That I can make a change at a school and in a community just by speaking up, taking the lead, following through on any of the programs listed above. I can give my kids - and your kids - a better lunch, a safer school, a healthier planet.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Affluents Anonymous

Coming to Terms with One's Responsibilities as an Affluent

They say that denial is the first sign. They are right.
The immediate reaction of nearly every person who encounters the APLS acronym is denial. I am not affluent. The word affluent is elitist. It is exclusive. It does not apply to the poor farmer in India who cannot afford to lose a few grains of rice. They are right.
The term "affluent" is all of those things. It is also us. And we must accept that term, embrace it and the responsibility that comes with it.
We sit before a computer now. Likely one that we own. It is connected to an electrical outlet and to the wealth of the Internet. We are likely sitting in a home, an apartment, an office or a public place, such as a library. We are safe here. Protected from the elements, from guns and stray bullets, from fires that might rage out of control. Outside, our streets are paved. Our vehicles locked and parked neatly on the side of the road. Police and firefighters patrol the streets, rendering them safe. We know how to read, to write. We attended a safe, clean school where we received a useful, meaningful education. But none of these things are free. There is a price. One that we cannot, must not, shirk with denial.
We must come to terms with our affluence. Even if it is not personal affluence. Even if we are not affluent compared to our neighbors or the family down the street or the celebrity on the cover of People magazine. Even if we cannot afford to go on vacation this year. If we have to drive less because gas is now too expensive. If our cell phone is three years old and previously operated as our toddler's favorite toy. If we cannot buy our children new clothes for the coming school year.

We must recognize that, technically and globally, we are the rich. And not just rich. But the richest of the rich. We are members of the first "mass affluence class" in history. Our place in a wealthy Western society has conferred many benefits.

But with those benefits come responsibilities. With our education comes duty. With freedom comes the demand for action.

We are, all of us, in a unique situation globally. As the affluent of the Earth, we can wield enormous power. As the educated, we can bring awareness. As the free and protected, we can bring peace, justice and the ability to adapt to climate change. We have all of those things in our power for one reason and one reason only: because we are affluent.

Unlike the mother in Sudan who cannot afford to feed her children and so she sends the older ones away to beg for food, we can afford, not only to feed ourselves and our families, but to demand better. We can choose. We can tell our supermarkets that we want more choice, more local, more affordable organic, more sustainable. We can opt for produce over processed. We can put seeds in the ground, in pots on windowsills, in a community garden, at a relative's house or in our child's school garden. We can go to the farmers' market, sign up for a CSA, barter with the neighbor on the corner with the overloaded fruit trees.
Unlike the batey (sugar worker) in the Dominican Republic, who can barely walk but still must cut sugar cane, we can vote with our dollars. We can choose to buy only fair trade, only organic, only local. We can tell our supermarkets that we will not buy what they sell. We will not eat their GMO-laden cereals. We can use our wallets to create an alternative food economy that is just and sustainable.

Unlike the father in Pakistan, who does not know how to read, we can read. We even have time to read up on recent laws and policies. We have the ability to write letters. To spread the word when injustice looms. To fight with our pens and keyboards.

Unlike the teen in Rio de Janeiro, afraid to leave her home for fear of being gunned down, we can turn off our televisions and go outside. We can go to City Hall and speak. We can attend a rally and demand something better. We can march on our State Capitols and wave signs calling for no more coal, for no more mountain removal, for preservation of the Endangered Species Act.

Unlike the subsistence farmer in China, who sees injustice but cannot afford to speak up, we can take action. And we can see further. Through our media outlets, we can see poverty, struggles, unfairness around the globe. We can demand better foreign aid from our governments. We can take a dollar or ten a month and donate it to Goods 4 Girls, the Central Asia Institute, or other organizations, that can and will make a difference. We can look to the leaders of those organizations and recognize greatness in them - and in ourselves - and we can step up to create, manage or organize similar organizations when appropriate ones do not exist.

We have the power to do all of those things and more. To make this planet one we are proud to pass on to our children. To preserve wild places and farm land. To save the bees and maybe even the polar bears. To educate youth on the importance of farming, the value of a lighter lifestyle, the necessity of viewing the world as a whole. To shift our paradigm and with it, the paradigm of the world, away from one of market limits to one that acknowledges environmental limits, owns up to the true carrying capacity of this planet, and recognizes that we are entitled to our fair share and our fair share alone.

We have the power to do all of these things . . .

But first, we must accept who we are. We must accept our place in the world. Acknowledge the benefits we have received and bow our heads to accept the yoke of responsibility that comes with those benefits.

We can do it.

We are the affluent and we are anonymous no more.

This post will be my submission to the APLS Carnival. The topic this month is Affluence and what it means to us. Please send your submissions to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by September 10th for the September 15th carnival, here, at Green Bean Dreams.


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