Cleaning Up My Act

If you live in the country, and you don’t bicycle into town or own an electric car that you charge with renewable sources, or if you haven’t learned to be entirely self-sufficient right where you are, you probably have a sizeable carbon footprint.  That includes me.

I can feel self-righteous because I use no poisons in my garden.  My chicken pens and runs are treated with DE, diatomaceous earth.  I rotate in the garden, leave wild patches to invite in insect variety, and plant extra.  Electronic gadgets discourage rodents, and horse apples (Osage orange, the fruit of the bois d’arc) deter insects.  I compost and recycle.

I plant crops for bees and butterflies.  I buy local. I eat grass-fed beef and eat yogurt from grass-fed cows.

And I drive hundreds of miles a month.  Even the recycling center is fifty miles away.

I’m part of the problem. I may have traded in my lovely gas-guzzling truck for a Subaru, but it isn’t enough.

How does one live “far from the madding crowd,” and still be part of civilization?  I started a poetry reading a few miles from my farm, but the poets often drive in from afar, at least as far as I have to drive to attend their readings.

It doesn’t help that my small town doesn’t have rural mail delivery.  Or a library.  Oh, I can get mail delivered, including boxes of books, if I’m willing to make a post office even farther from the farm my home PO.

I raise chickens, but I don’t raise their feed.  I buy from two milling companies within a 50-mile radius of the farm.  Neither supply organic feed, at least feed I can afford.  I pick up organic millet from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative when it’s available, but I have to drive 45 miles for the pickup.

Maybe I can decide to pick up mail and other items I need from town no more than once or twice a week.

Perhaps I can fence in enough land to let the chickens graze and grow supplemental crops.  I need millet and turnip greens and a good hay pasture.  And a good tractor.  Wait!

What is a worried person with a big footprint to do?  I need answers.

 

 

Twenty-First-Century Skills

Evidently it has become a problem that so few people like to cook, about 10% of us according to one survey.  Wait!  What about all those cooking shows on television?  Is that just wishful thinking, like someone saying, “Someday I’d like to write a book.”?

I prepare food every single day.  I have my fast-food options: scrambled eggs, salad, tuna or sardines, apples and peanut butter.  I don’t bother with too many fancy recipes.  A lot of meals are simply a steamer filled with what’s available at the time, including potatoes, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, whatever is in season.  Put it on the table with butter, seasonings, and cheese or beans and you have a meal.

We aren’t vegetarians.  I make a pot of beef soup some weeks.  Other weeks I make a beef and pork meatloaf.  A whole chicken lasts a week—fried leg quarters and wings one evening, chicken breasts and vegetables another.  I boil the carcass, removing any meat left on the bones, and make soup. The dog gets gristle, fat, and anything that’s left except the bones.

In my freezer are locally sourced chickens, whole-hog sausage, ground beef from grass-fed cows, and ground lamb.  I raise chickens for meat and eggs, and what I don’t grow in my garden I pick up at the farmers’ market, from gardening friends, and from Oklahoma Food Coop. That includes my Oklahoma peanut butter, Oklahoma lard, and yogurt from grass-fed cows.

What do I buy at the grocery store?  Sardines and tuna, frozen salmon, almonds, avocados, and coffee.  Oranges in their season.  Jar rims and lids.  Apple cider vinegar, although I have made my own.  Chocolate.  And some cheese, although much of that also comes from Oklahoma producers.

When foods are available, I can, freeze, and dehydrate.  In August, my pantry is filling, but I need a lot more green beans, more jars of tomatoes and tomato sauce, and apples.  If they’re available along the roadside when Dale returns from his art shows in Colorado, I’d like another bushel of peaches.

What I thought of, when I heard the piece on NPR bemoaning the loss of cooking skills, was this: what’s missing are time and education.  If you work all day away from home, how do you make time to preserve food?  Without training, how sure can you be that your home-canned foods are safe?  We need to address these issues.  People need to know how to grow and preserve.  As climate change progresses, this education may be what saves us.

Yes, I’m often worn to a nubbin, as my mother would say, during canning season.  But in the winter, when I serve a meal from my freezer or my pantry, I’m grateful that I know how to feed my family.  And I’m proud that I’m passing this education on. The ability to grow and preserve may be more in need in the coming century than even tech skills.  The only thing more important, if things continue to go downhill, may be the ability to find water and dig a well.