Archive for November, 2010

I’m not against technology.


Robodog, Jenny Frech 2010


I like having a car to drive to work.  My family has two mac laptops and a bunch of old computers hanging out in the basement.  I carry a cell phone, my hubby has a smart phone, and we still have a land line.  Right now our dishwasher isn’t working, and I’m sad about that.  If I had to give up my digital camera, I’d have to find a different creative outlet.

But, technology doesn’t make life better.  Most of the time, it doesn’t make us more productive, better parents and spouses, or faster at our jobs.

Before incorporating a new technology into our lives, we should ask ourselves, “will this technology improve the quality of our lives and truly make it better?  or are we going to take on this new technology just because we can?”

Americans in the last 100 years or so, have been eager for new technology.   We mindlessly take on whatever the latest and greatest techno gadget is.

Eric Brende, author of “Better Off”, speaks of overusing technology and letting it take over your life.

We have compartmentalized our lives and are out of rhythm with how our lives are meant to be.

We get up early to drop our kids off at daycare, and then commute to our jobs, alone in our cars.  Drive some more to the grocery store.  Then, drive again to the gym to work out.  After all of that, we come home to throw our clothes in the laundry, microwave a pizza, and get online to play games with strangers.  All of those things are important: childcare, work, food, cleanliness, and time with family and friends.

The problem is that we let technology come in and disrupt the natural way of being.  In the past, we would have worked from our homes, grown our own food, done chores with extended family while the kids learned as part of the everyday routine.  There was a natural rhythm to our lives.  Brende describes our past way of life as musical-like an orchestral piece.  Now, each part is played individually.

We need to be careful about letting technology slip into our lives without careful consideration of the cost.  That is the way of the Amish, and it sure makes a lot of sense.  Before using any type of technology in their communities, there is much discussion about how the technology will be used.  If the technology will disrupt the family or community, it is not accepted.

On the other hand, we accept new technology without thinking about the consequences.

We say, “Why not?”  The Amish say, “Why should we?”

While researching the Amish way of deciding what technologies they should use, I stumbled across this great article (using internet technology of course).

Howard Rheingold, in the January, 1999 issue of Wired Magazine, investigated the Amish’s use of technology.  The Amish do use technology, but they “have an elaborate system by which they evaluate the tools they use… What if modern Americans could possibly agree upon criteria for acceptance, as the Amish have? Might we find better ways to wield technological power, other than simply unleashing it and seeing what happens? What can we learn from a culture that habitually negotiates the rules for new tools”

“Far from knee-jerk technophobes, these are very adaptive techno-selectives who devise remarkable technologies that fit within their self-imposed limits.” The Amish use a lot of technology, especially in their work.  However, much of it is powered by generators, batteries, and natural gas.

An Amish man that Rheingold interviewed stated, “Connecting to the electric lines would make too many things too easy. Pretty soon, people would start plugging in radios and televisions, and that’s like a hot line to the modern world. We use batteries and generators because you can use the batteries for only a short time and because you have to fuel and maintain the generator yourself. It’s a way of controlling our use of electricity.”

The main question that Amish bishops try to answer when evaluating a new technology is, “Does it bring us together, or draw us apart?”

Like the Amish, we should be focusing on what will bring our families and communities together.  Rheingold asks the question, “If we decided that community came first, how would we use our tools differently?”

I like that.

I want to be mindful and deliberate about what I bring into my life, and the life of my family.

We have three televisions in our house.  Only one is plugged in and none of them have the digital converter hooked up.

This is coming from a woman that up until two years ago, lived in a house where the television was on from the moment we walked in the door until the second we went to bed.  But, I finally realized that my life was not better by watching the lives of other people every night.  I’d rather live my own life.

Computer time is an area in which I struggle.  My hubby is a computer programmer and I spend time working on my photographs.  Before I know it, I can fritter away an entire evening online.  That doesn’t make my life better.

Our dishwasher hasn’t been working, and my husband loves it.  He enjoys taking breaks from his work to go wash dishes and be in the moment.  He also uses this time to conscript the kids to help.  They are working and sharing the moment together. Washing the dishes by hand is making his life better.

Cosby show videos and the Wii are technologies that we love at our house, because those two things mean family time.  Call waiting and online video games are out because they are time suckers, interrupters, and isolators.

We’ve had much heated lunchroom discussion about implementing more technology at school.  Like I said I’m not a Luddite.  I have a smart board, stream video clips, and use the computer lab in my classes.  I’d love to be able to skype experts from all over the world, but I haven’t been able to do that yet.

There is talk of taking technology even further.  If our governor had his way, there would be even more online learning.  Is that what’s best for every student?

Let’s ask the question, “Does it bring us together, or draw us apart?” or “Why should we?” rather than, “Why not?”.

What technologies are bringing your family and community together?  Which ones are tearing your communities apart?

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Yesterday on my way home from work, I noticed the fluffy milkweed seeds ready to take flight from their dried pods, and I knew I had to photograph them.  You can see more from yesterday’s adventure on my flickr account.  Copies of this photo can be purchased through this website, or my etsy account. Enjoy!

Milkweed at sunset ©Jenny Frech 2010

Milkweed in Black and White ©Jenny Frech 2010

Two fuzzy seeds ©Jenny Frech 2010

Thistles in Blue ©Jenny Frech 2010

Paint Stallion and a Naked Tree ©Jenny Frech 2010

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Peaches, the free range hen ©Jenny Frech 2008

Trying to match up our eating with our values can be difficult because the labeling is inadequate, confusing, misleading, and sometimes too spare.  That’s one of the reasons I love Goodguide.com.

But, there are some items that don’t show up there either.  So we are left to trusting the labels.

Labels can be wrought with greenwashing.  Companies attempt to make their products seem more environmentally friendly than they really are.  They do this in several ways.  Sometimes it’s with pictures on the label of quaint family farms, when the product was factory farmed.  Sometimes it’s greenwashed with terms like green, natural, eco-friendly, sugar-free etc.  And other times, while the product may have a feature like using recycled packaging, it can be trumped up, so you have to look carefully.

I really dislike going to the grocery, reading labels, and trying determine the best value vs. the best for the environment and best socially.  It’s easy to fall back on what’s cheapest, or what’s been our favorite.  I’ll try to help clear up some of the fuzziness of labeling, and maybe it will help you save a few minutes at the grocery too.

I am not a vegetarian.  When I was in college studying animal science we heard about vegetarians that gave up eating meat for ethical reasons.  I often thought that if I were to try out any type of vegetarianism, the first thing I would give up would be chicken.  I still eat chicken and eggs, but I’ve found ways to eat chicken and eggs that are in line with my core values.

Chicken and eggs have some of the most confusing labeling.  Let me explain the labeling, and then you can decide for yourself what fits your set of values as far as health, ethics, environment, and financially.  It is up to you to decide.  I’ve tried to find as many photos as possible to show you.  I’m intentionally trying to find average farm photos. It is not my intent to shock as some sites do.  There are many good farmers out there that do take good care of their animals, in what ever style they are raised.


Almost all chickens will be fed GMO corn and soy products until you get to the organic or Label Rouge level.

Traditional Battery Cages

The 79 cent large eggs you buy at the grocery, are usually from chickens raised in battery cages.  Each cage has several birds in it.  The buildings are entirely enclosed most often without natural light.  The birds usually don’t have room to turn around.

Cage Free Eggs USDA photo

Cage Free

Cage free layers and broilers (meat chickens) are raised in barns that are also enclosed.  They can walk, perch, interact more naturally with other chickens.

Vegetarian or Grainfed

Chickens are omnivores, not herbivores.  It’s sort of like saying that a fox was grainfed.  They eat grains, bugs, plants, and even mice when given the chance.  They are healthiest when they are eating what comes naturally.

Pastured chicken in a moveable pen. They are a label rouge type breed. ©Jenny Frech 2007

Pastured/Grass fed

Generally refers to broilers, but can also relate to egg layers.  Often these birds are in cages that have open bottoms.  The cages protect the birds from predators, but give the animals access to fresh grass, insects, sunshine, and fresh air.  Know that chickens eat about 20% or so of their diet in grass, the rest is grains and insects.  The eggs and meat of these birds tend to be higher in Omega-3.

Free Range

This one can be really confusing if you don’t know the farmer.  Technically, free range can mean that they have access to the outdoors.  This might just be a crowded outdoor pen.  It could also mean that they have full unconfined access to the outdoors and can perch in trees, and scratch up Mrs. McDonald’s flowerbeds.

Free range chickens perched in a tree. ©Jenny Frech 2007

Organic Eggs and Meat

The birds must be fed organic (non-GMO feed), have access to the outdoors (albeit, may be limited), and cannot be given antibiotics unless sick.


Just means that the birds weren’t injected with flavorings.  Pretty much meaningless.

Label Rouge chicken

Label Rouge

Label Rouge is a method of growing out broilers in France.  This is a unique system because it uses slow growing breeds that have fewer health problems.  It is similar to some of the pasture raised/free range systems.  It does have large range requirements for its birds.

A note about broilers.

The typical breed used for broiler chickens is the Cornish Cross.  It is a fast growing bird that can finish out in 4-7 weeks.  The biggest issue with these birds (and the reason you will see a lot of animal activist sites of dead birds) is that they grow so fast that their legs cannot support their weight, which cripples them.  Even many of the farmers that raise grass-fed birds use this variety.  If you want to find chicken that is of a different breed, expect to pay a lot more because it takes 10-12 weeks or more to grow them out.  You’ll also have to do some serious research to find farmers that use a slower growing breed.

So there you have chicken in an eggshell.  I hope this helps you make informed decisions about where your meat for your table comes from and make thoughtful decisions based on YOUR value system, and not just out of habit.

If you want to get connected with local farmers, the best place to start is LocalHarvest.org.

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After reading Katy’s response to my blog post, I feel really bad.  I in no way intended to insult her.  I completely related to her story, and wanted to offer her support when I saw that people were slamming her.  I read and reread my post until I was sure that I was offering support in the form of my story, but I guess I wasn’t making myself very clear.

I was trying to relate my reality and journey from blind consumerism, and I didn’t do this very well.  My stance is that we should understand what our own values are so we can use those values to make informed and conscious decisions about our purchases.

I have struggled a lot the last few years with my values of frugality and doing what is best for the environment and socially.  I am about as cheap as they come and I can pinch pennies until they bleed. The intent of my post was to offer support as we learn how to best do this.

I’m not going to pretend that I am perfect.  No Way!  I still lust over Diet Coke, have too much junk on my counter, and buy veggies from the farmer’s market that don’t always get eaten.  I drink coffee every morning, and my hubby and I are chocovores.

Here are the points that I was trying to make, in a nutshell.  I’m going to break these down with facts, figures, research, and real experts over the next week or so.  If you’re interested, stay tuned…

1. We are all in this together, and should offer one another support and encouragement.

2. There are many food injustices. There is not a shortage of food on the planet, but a problem with the distribution of the food in the form of availability and access by price.  This includes people here in the United States, not just in developing nations.

3. Even choices that seem reasonable, may be greenwashed. Just because a label says cage free eggs, or a natural product doesn’t mean that it is what we assume it is.  And veggies that look good in the store may have traveled from Chile or some other far off place, all the while losing nutrients.

4. GMOs are in almost everything we eat that has Corn, Soy, or Canola in it. The only way to avoid it is to buy organic.  GMO’s have the DNA of other organisms in it which have a built in pesticide or resistance to a pesticide.  We eat this stuff.

5. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) raise animals in a non-sustainable way. Animals like cows and sheep are fed grain to fatten them up.  They were not designed to eat like this, and it can cause health problems, in addition to the environmental problems CAFOs can create.

6. High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from GMO corn.

7. I don’t shop at designer food stores either, but there are other ways to get our hands on foods that are raised sustainably and ethically.

8.  This is the most important one.

Our food is too cheap.

It is subsidized so that we are not paying the actual cost of production.  The actual cost of production is more in line with the organic foods at the grocery.  We may save money by buying chicken raised in cramped barns, bread made from over-processed GMO grains, and veggies that were shipped in from somewhere else (losing most of the nutrients along the way).

But we ultimately pay for it with our tax dollars, livelihoods, health and biodiversity.

I wish I didn’t know all of the stuff that I know about agriculture and the injustice and greed of big agribusinesses.  It would make going to the grocery a lot easier.  These agribusinesses are trading our health and health of our planet for their financial gain.

Tonight I went to hear Wes Jackson of the Land Institute talk about the future of sustainable agriculture.  His plan focuses on perennial grains.  Grains make up 75% of U.S crops.  I will be discussing what I learned over the course of the next week also.

Again, I want Katy to know that I was in no way trying to make her feel bad.  I think she’s doing a lot of great things.  She’s also right, I’ve only been reading her blog for about 6 weeks now, and I do highly recommend it, she has lots of great things to say.

Below are a couple of my posts that may relate what I was trying to say about values, and my concern over food choices, better than how I said it yesterday.


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This post is in response to Katy Wolk-Stanley’s blog post on The NonConsumer Advocate, “Why I Love New Seasons, but Why I’ll Keep Shopping at Safeway.”  Please stop reading my blog for a second and go read this post so the rest of this makes sense!

I love her blog, and read all of her posts.  Today, there was one post that really struck a chord with me.  It did so, because this post was totally me after my daughter was first born.  It makes me see how all of the teeny tiny changes along the way, have completely transformed the way I eat.  There was no way I would have believed that I could afford the good food that I have on my table now.


Wow, it seems like this has sparked a lot of debate and strong feelings!  I am totally with you on wanting to save money, and I was right there with you using coupons and buying food from Save-a-lot and other groceries using my double coupons.

Ten years ago, my family was eating cheap food, and not necessarily what was healthiest for us.  I remember watching a Dr. Phil where he blasted a family for not buying fruits and veggies, that they were cheap.  He was wrong.  Veggies and fruit can be expensive, and not everyone has access to healthy foods.  There is a lot of inequality in our food system.

Here is what has changed for me over the last few years, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a food snob.

I started by raising my own chickens.  Most eggs from the grocery are from chickens that live in dark, smelly barns, in cramped cages.  Even most of the cage free chickens rarely if ever see the light of day.  When I sold my first flock of chickens, I bought my eggs from local farmers.  They were more expensive, but I ate less because I just couldn’t justify eating eggs from factory farms anymore.

I stopped using coupons to save money.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but I took the advice that a lot of weight loss experts give, just shop the outer perimeter of the store.  We buy cereal and the occassional frozen pizza.  Other than that, everything comes from the produce and dairy section.  In fact, I only do heavy duty grocery shopping about every six weeks.  Buy not using coupons, I wasn’t tempted to buy food I didn’t need, especially the prepackaged stuff that’s full of high fructose corn syrup, all kinds of preservatives, and GMOs.

I stopped buying meat at the grocery.  We buy lamb from a farmer, have it butchered and frozen.  For about $400 we have about 6-8 months of burger, roasts, and chops.

We raise a lot of our own food in raised beds out back.  I blanch the veggies and throw them in the freezer as they ripen.  We made a ton of salsa this summer that we canned.

Before we had raised beds, we bought just what we needed for the week from the farmer’s market.  By buying in season, we got organic produce at a reasonable price.  I buy seasoning, spices, flour, baking soda, etc. in bulk.  It costs WAY less this way.  I never buy those little taco and chili seasoning packets.  There is a lot of MSG, and other nasties in there.  Plus, by mixing my own as I go, it costs about 15 cents per meal vs. 75 cents to a dollar.  I have found a couple of family owned stores that sell in bulk.  I can even get organic whole wheat flour, and organic spelt flour for a very reasonable price, and avoid GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) junk-most of the corn and soy we eat is GMO unless it is organically grown.

My family of six averages about $350 for our food purchases for the month, including the meat. That is about what I spent when I had a family of three and was a coupon shopper.

I want to give you encouragement because I know how hard it is to balance finding good prices, feeding your family healthy foods, and doing what is ethical and a part of your value system.

For myself, I can no longer buy meat from CAFO’s.  I can’t buy eggs anymore that aren’t from chickens that don’t eat bugs and see the sun.  I avoid products made with GMO corn, canola, and soy.  I don’t buy products with High Fructose Corn Syrup if I remember to check the label.  All of the things that I avoid are for reasons relating to my value system as much as they are related to my family’s health.

The reason these stores are populated with “yoga moms” and “beautiful people” is two-fold.  One, they are educated consumers.  They understand parts of our food system that make them want to buy within their set of values.  These stores are usually more expensive though.  Here is the secret, those of us with average income and average to below average looks, find other sources for healthy foods like co-ops, dented can and overrun stores, farmer’s markets, CSA’s, home gardens, buying clubs, bartering, and buying direct from the farmer.

One last note.  Food in the United States is cheap for a reason.  But we all pay sooner or later.  The farmer pays by only getting pennies on our food dollar, the tax payers pay to subsidize corn, we pay with our health when we buy products that cause cancer and lead to obesity.  My journey started out with saving money, but it has become a journey of finding value and values in my food.

Somedays, I wish I was still in the dark about the realities of our food system.  But I’m not so this is how I’m living.  Katy (and the rest of y’all), please be encouraged, and if you need some advice on where to start, let me know.

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I’m too tired to write, and this weekend I’m focusing on photography and catching up with friends.  Here are a few photos from the last couple of weeks.

Enjoy!  I’ll be posting these to etsy this weekend, and I can do custom sizes too.


Hermione the cat. She's enjoying her view from the chicken coop. Jenny Frech 2010

I love this red barn. And with those fall leaves, so pretty! Jenny Frech 2010


A rooster from my friend, Julie D.'s farm. And those used to be my runner ducks in the background. They are really funny to watch. Jenny Frech 2010

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On Sunday, I went to see the author of one of my favorite books of all time called, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.

I was really geeked out to see Eric Brende speak in person.  For me it was the equivelant of meeting Yoda or Mr. Miyagi – someone that can set you on a new way of looking at the world.  This is the guy that got me on the path of thinking more closely about the value of community, working together, and working with our hands in real work.

My pen couldn’t write fast enough as I tried to jot down all of his bits of wisdom.  It was fantastic, and I left charged up and ready to face the world.

Then the week happened.

Our house has been hectic and school has been tiring.  On Monday I sent two students to the office for throwing around  the F-word.  I sent another to the office for constant disruptions (I counted 7 disruptions in about four minutes).  Last night, we needed an impromptu family meeting.  I am just plum wore out by the end of the day.

It’s no wonder that the life that Eric Brende speaks about is so appealing.  Brende, an average Joe, went to live with an Anabaptist community (even stricter than the Amish we have around here), for 18 months. He liked what the community had to offer, so he and his young bride stayed for three more years.  He currently lives simply in St. Louis.  He makes a living selling soap and running a rickshaw service.

My friend Julie D. and her daughter at a historical reenactment event

The two messages that I took away from the book were that community is essential for us to function as functional human beings, and that work without shortcuts can bring joy and harmony to our lives.

I read his book back in 2006, shortly after it came out and have consciously and subconsciously taken many of the truths to heart.

I’ll break what I learned from his lecture, and how it is meaningful, into a couple of posts, as I’m still digesting it.

There are a couple of communities in which I am a part of.  One of my favorites is the spinning community.  When I first moved into the country, anyone that found out where I lived and that I wanted to raise sheep kept asking, “Have you met Julie D.?”  My answer was always no, but it was really weird how many people asked me this.

Finally about nine months into my country living journey I met this mysterious woman.  Julie is a treasured  friend.

Julie raises Angora goats, a few sheep, bunches of cats, chickens and ducks.  She lives in a gigantic pole barn that was retrofitted to serve as a house, with a massive great room, and a loft that goes around the edges of the upstairs.  Julie introduced me to spinning (wool, not the bicycling exercise), like a pusher offering drugs.

When she sat down to teach me to spin, I offered to pay for the roving I was using, “Oh, no,” she said, “I’ve got plenty.”  I was hooked.  At the time I wasn’t teaching, so my evenings were pretty stress-free.  I bought my own wheel, and spent my evenings spinning lumpy yarns.  Which also meant, that I needed to learn to crochet.

One of the best parts about meeting Julie is her ability to make friends and invite them into her home.  Several times a year, she invites her friends and friends-of-friends, to bring their spinning wheels, crochet hooks, and knitting needles to spend the day at her house working on projects.  Everyone is working, talking, making new friends, and of course eating yummy potluck food.  The day flies by, and new friends are always made.

This past Saturday was the latest spin-in as they are called.  My daughter has learned to love these days, as the kids gather to go hike trails, hold kittens, or sled down a fabulous hill only to warm up by the wood stove with hot cocoa.

Julie's daughter (in green) is the pied piper of the younger children. They flock to her.

It’s a community.

On Saturday, I saw women that I hadn’t seen since I sold my old home.  I enjoyed the company of others.  I wish that there were more times for me to connect with others.  It would have been fantastic to have a friend or two to can with this summer.  To get into the rhythm of cutting, stirring, cooking, and boiling for a whole day, with the melody of friends’ stories and laughter.

Just a few of the women from the spin in last weekend

If only there were time to slow down and do real work, instead of playing wack-a-mole all day long.

Brende talked about the natural rhythm of our lives, and how we are playing each part of the orchestra separately these days.  In days past, we would have exercised, cooked, eaten, socialized, and learned as part of our daily routines.  Today, we have compartmentalized everything.  We can’t enjoy life because we can’t hear how it plays together.

Finding a community that complements our tune is a good place to start on our journey of putting our selves back together.

When do you feel in rhythm with your life and the life of others?

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