Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

I live in a really awesome town.

Many of my readers are from Goshen, and know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’ve lived in several places in Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. Goshen is by far my favorite place to live.

Goshen is the right mix of hipsters and homebodies; progressives and conservatives; and ludites and techies. Goshen is home to Amish, Mennonite, Hispanic, and other communities.  Elkhart County is home to creative folks including artists and entrepreneurs. We have a vibrant artist community with guilds for pottery, jewelry, photography, painting, and woodworking. We have a rich culture.

While our economy was in the dumps during the recession, Goshen was growing it’s downtown with tons of new stores opening up on Main Street. How many communities can say that?

My husband likes to say this of Goshen, “We have one of everything you need for a good place to live: one great bookstore, one great bar, one great coffee shop.”

You get the picture.

I am not a rat.

Here’s what I really love about Goshen: We aren’t in a rat race around here.

People always wave you on at four way stops–sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. What’s so great about that?

It’s a symbol of being neighborly, friendly, and kind.

When you wave on another car, you aren’t judging their political position, their race, their religion, their gender, their job, their place in society. You’re just being friendly and putting someone else before yourself.

I like that people around here are okay with losing the five seconds that it takes to let someone else go first.

Bridge the gap.

So, my friend Claudia and I have been talking some about social capital. Claudia explained to me that social capital is the value or benefit that communities gain from cooperating and supporting one another. There are two types of social capital: bonding and bridging.

The way I understand it, is that bonding is within groups that already have something in common. Claudia and I became friends as we carpooled together, ate together, and shared recipes. We are friends and have the bonding type of capital.

The value here is that we know we can count on one another. I watched her dog one day while she was out of town. When she wanted to immediately make up for it, I said don’t sweat it, because friends give and take. Sure enough, we had dinner at their house a few weeks later–social capital.

The other type of capital is bridging capital. Bridging social capital is when groups of unlike people come together, give and take, and find common ground. Goshen has a variety of rich cultures represented, but we are often floating around in our own inner circles.

Bridging capital is waving on stranger and putting them first.

Since Claudia introduced me to the idea of bridging capital, I’ve been intrigued. I keep trying to think of more ways to bridge the communities within our community. Each community has a richness to it. Our community is already pretty great. Imagine what it would be like if our micro-communities started sharing our strengths with one another.

We’ve already proved that we are a resilient community as we continued to grow together through a recession. But there were still people hurting and isolated–and that hurts us all in the end.

What would this community look like if we start reaching outside of our comfort zones?

What if we invite an English as a second language speaking neighbor to dinner? What if we help a neighbor rake his yard even though there was an opposing political sign out front? What if we find questions to ask people when we first meet that don’t depend on their job or status and cut to who they are as a person? What if we take time to listen?

How can we be intentional of expanding our own social groups to include others that aren’t exactly like ourselves?

This way of looking at the world has been kind of fun. In the last few weeks since Claudia and I had our conversation about social capital, I’m finding myself slowing down and listening to others.

What do you think? How can we build social capital in our communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I haven’t yet taken any time to talk about some of my favorite blogs.  I mention them from time-to-time, but I’d like to do a formal introduction.  That way you don’t miss out on important, useful, or useless but funny information.  I follow several, but we’ll start with these…

Jennifer by a table that Steve made for her (photo from The Common Milkweed)

The Common Milkweed

This is a great site for gorgeous photos of nature and gardening, for getting ideas of how to repurpose your junk, and to watch the transformation of a little rundown country house into a dream homestead.  The posts are simple, full of great ideas for living simply and green, and for inspiration.  They’ve linked back to my site, and I get daily traffic from them.  If you enjoy my blog, then you definitely need to head over to check out theirs.

I met Jennifer and Steve exactly one time at a teeny craft sale where we were selling our wares.  We became facebook friends, checked out one another’s etsy sites, and started following one another’s blogs.  Even though we only know one another through the blogs, I’m pretty sure they’re part of my tribe.

Photo from Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty - Visit this site for a smile 🙂

Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty

This is a blog that features the artwork of children.  Their dad is an artist that encourages his kids to be creative, and creative they are.  I was introduced to this blog through the friendly rock street art his kids were doing.  It’s a joyful little blog that makes me happy.

My daughter also likes the shadow puppet theatre that his kids performed for the book, When the Mountain Meets the Moon.

The Marvelous In Nature

If you love nerdy nature notes, then this is the blog for you.  Seabrooke Leckie is an author and illustrator for Peterson Field Guides.  She just finished a new guide on moths. Her blog documents her daily walks.  Her curiosity leads the reader into new discoveries.  Recently, she has shortened her blog posts, but still worth reading if you are a nature nut like me.

Stay tuned for more blogs that I love!

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“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Pastured Pig © Jenny Frech 2010

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that sustainable agriculture is an important issue to me.  I worry about the state of our food systems, not just in the U.S., but all over the world.

Last December, Congress passed Bill S. 510 the Food Safety and Modernization Act, and President Obama signed it into law in January as Public Law 111–353.  As a supporter of local agriculture and food choices, I tracked it down online.

It doesn’t sound too bad.

Basically S. 510 gives the USDA the right to inspect, require additional paperwork for traceback purposes, and regulate all farms and hold them to a set of standards.

Luckily, The Tester Amendment passed along with it, which leaves some provisions for small farms that sell directly to the customer.  My biggest concern with this law is some wide open wording which could allow the USDA to regulate seed savers as well if they choose to do this.

It’s very confusing, and I read a lot about this stuff!

There are mixed reviews.  Some say that this regulation will hurt small farmers, some say it will help.  Some say that this regulation will keep people safer, others think we will lose some of our rights to food freedom.

Sure, I want my food that I have to buy at the grocery to be regulated and watched.

I’d love to be able to know if the food I’m going to eat is free from pathogens.  But food is biotic (meaning it comes from a living thing).  Living things have bacteria and pathogens.   Sometimes we forget that not all bacteria is bad.  I’m not sterile on the inside, I’d prefer my food to not be sterilized by bleach or other sterilization techniques.

We stand a better chance of pathogen free food if our food passes through fewer hands, travels a shorter distance, and goes through fewer processing steps.  I’d like to maintain the choice of buying as much of my food locally (from smaller producers) as possible.

This law doesn’t add to my confidence level about the future of our food.

I worry that:

1. big agribusiness will have the upper hand after this law is signed.

It’s easier for corporate farms to swallow the costs associated with the new regulations.

2.biodiversity of our food system is at stake.

Reading between the lines, some food biodiversity advocates are afraid that the USDA will be able to restrict seed savers. In Iraq and some places in Africa, it is illegal for farmers to save the seed they’ve grown for decades because it doesn’t meet the standards set by the government, which forces farmers to buy Big Ag seed.

3. our food choices will be reduced.

I’m not trying to say that everyone needs to run down to the farmer’s market every weekend, but I sure like having the right to do so.  Farmer’s markets are even starting to help lower income individuals eat healthier nutrient dense foods in the form of WIC vouchers, community based garden plots, urban farms, and donations from farmers.

4. the USDA is contradictory.

They give farm subsidies to grow corn for high fructose corn syrup, but yet, we have a generation of obese children.  I’m not sure that I completely trust them in the area of making sure that the food we eat is not detrimental to our health.

5. GMOs are polluting our ecosystems.

Once GMO DNA is out in the environment, there is no cleaning it up.  This has been devestating for Mexico that depends on the wild Maize to cross pollinate its crops.

6. I might lose the right to save seeds from my garden, and buy seeds from my favorite small seed catalogs or from other small growers.

I feel like we are moving to a synthetic food system, one that encourages us to eat tasteless, nutrient-deficient food.  In just a few generations, we have forgotten that chicken really does have it’s own flavor; egg yolks should be bright orange, not yellow; tomatoes come in all shapes and colors, and should not bounce; and baked goods made from wheat should be brownish with texture, not white and fluffy.

Like Thomas Jefferson, I don’t want some stuffed shirt to tell me what I can and can’t grow, buy, or eat.  

I want fresh, unadulterated food, Darn it.

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The Store

We have three tween girls in our family.  Two age 9 1/2, and one age 11.  Trying to find clothes for all of them could break the bank, but we came up with a solution.

All summer long, I shop at garage sales and second hand stores.  Hubby and I watch for half-off sales and 75% off tags at Good Will, collecting cute clothes for $.10 to $2.00.

I have learned to hit the jackpot by driving slowly past garage sales, looking for  a stylish teenager guarding the money box.  Often their clothes have been worn once or not at all, or they have too many, so they practically give their unwanted threads away.

Right before school starts, and in the spring, we pull out the clothes and set up a store.

The girls take turn trying on and choosing items they love.  Lucky for us, the three girls have very different taste, and slightly different body types, so there isn’t a lot of competition.

This is the oldest in her "not quite polished mis-matched, but look at me I'm cute" look

The oldest sports a polished look.  The middle is a traditional preppy girl, and the youngest digs more of a Punky Brewster style.

Any clothes that are still too big get boxed up for the next season.  Unchosen clothes will make their way back to one of the thrift stores.

As they get older, I’m scared that they won’t want to shop this way anymore and my money saving plot will be foiled.

But they are still excited to pick out outfits.

Each of them will get a little bit of spending money to buy the school clothes that they didn’t find on shopping day.  We’ll go to the box stores and to the second-hand stores.  They’ll decide how to budget their funds to fill in their missing wardrobe.

I spent about $80 on the clothes and shoes bought this way.  Each of the girls is getting $40 to spend at the regular stores.  Any leftover money will be set aside if they want to buy something later this fall.

The girls are learning how to budget their money.  They’re learning about the value of reusing and recycling.  And heck, clothing three girls in really cute, full wardrobes for less than $200 total, works for me.

The three girls, youngest to oldest in their favorite outfit of the day

A Note About “The Boy”

My step-son is going into high school.  He is substantially less picky about his clothes.  I find nice shirts for him along the way, and his dad will take him to buy blue jeans and socks.  So far, so good.

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My facebook friends are all probably sick of hearing me blabbering on and on about all of the cool birds in my backyard this year.

I just can’t help myself.

These birds are great.

Earlier in the summer, we had tree swallows and bluebirds duking it out for nesting boxes, so I added a couple of new ones.  Ultimately, Two families of tree swallows raised their babies.  Last week, both boxes fledged. A total of 8 of 12 babies lived to their fledge date.

Apparently, there is very little learning curve for flying if you are born a tree swallow. The babies, on their first day of freedom, swooped by my head so close, I thought for sure they were going to take it off.  One bird swooped me at least a half of a dozen times.  I jingled my keys at it, and ran back inside. I suppose that’s great fun if you are a teenager bird.

Last week, we had a baby robin on the front porch. It wasn’t quite ready to leave the nest. He squaked and squaked, but refused any worms that I tried to feed him.

I believe, although I never actually saw the nest, that we had a meadowlark nest and chicks. Meadowlarks nest on the ground. Every time I walked near one of the bluebird boxes, a large bird would fly out of the tall grass. At one point in the summer, there were a couple of newly fledged birds hanging out in the backyard. I never did get a good look at them, but it wasn’t for trying.

I don’t think our bluebird friends had a successful hatch. Maybe next year will be better.

A few weeks ago, while walking past a very small river birch, I noticed an empty nest; a little while later, a blue egg with brown speckles.  Until finally there were four eggs, and a very diligient father perched in a nearby tree to guard the nest.  Yesterday, the first of the eggs hatched.  This morning, the second.  I took a little video because the little guys are so ugly they’re cute, and it’s not every day that you get to peer into a nest like this.


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Guest Post By: Paul Steury, Environmental Educator

I felt like Frodo, from the JRR Tolkien’s fantasy The Lord of the Rings, standing just outside of Mordor, the Black Land that housed evil.

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I recently visited “the most destructive project on earth,” a human made phenomenon called the Tar Sand.  It is where Suncorp is mining out oil from the land in northern Alberta – the place that makes Canada the country from which we get the majority of our oil.

“Tar sands (also referred to as oil sands) are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. The bitumen in tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state; instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques, or the oil is extracted by underground heating with additional upgrading.”

I went to Canada to study the socio-ecological affects of humans’ impact on this earth.

I wanted to see first hand what I’ve been reading about in regards to environmental issues. To become a better educator it is good to see things first hand; I can then use the experience as a motivator and as an instrument to discuss stewardship, creation care and environmental ethics.

During the visit I did a flyover of a couple of the larger open pit mines where they scoop out the bitumen, load it in these massive trucks to move it closer to the refinery where they remove the toxins , “clean” the oil, and liquefy it by heating the soil concoction up because the bitumen is so thick it needs to be thinned.

Then Syncrude, Suncorp and other mining companies can send hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil daily to an American refinery in Whiting, Indiana.

That is one reason why Goshen citizens should be concerned about the Tar Sands.

One of many.

Once the hot water/steam has been used to remove the bitumen from the soil they store their waste in something called tailing ponds which currently is 140 square kilometers/54 square miles of a toxic soup where they need to have loud alarms on the top of the pond to keep birds from landing in the water or they would never leave the pond since it is full of mercury, thallium, arsenic and oil residue.

The oil industry is just doing it’s job.

Dr. John O’Connor, who is a family physician for Fort Chipewyan & Fort McKay First Nations people, told me that the industry is doing their job. Their job is to make money for their shareholders.  It doesn’t matter how it does it since corporations do not have ethics.

Dr. O’Connor lays the blame for the amount of cancer that is affecting the Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay people on the Canadian government. He states that water quality is the main transmitter of carcinogens to the people living in northern Alberta. He also asserts that Environment Canada is not monitoring the water of the Athabasca River because they want to keep the findings secret since it would slow down production which would then slow down the economy.

With concerns over tar sands development and environmental and health problems in the area, the Government of Alberta is under an international spotlight to address the problems. Violations of Constitutionally-protected Treaty rights pose a serious concern that can result in litigation, intervention from the Federal government, and investor insecurity.” David Schindler of the University of Alberta found that levels of the pollutants cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver and zinc exceeded federal and provincial guidelines for the protection of aquatic life in melted snow or water collected near or downstream from oil sands mining.

Socio-ecology also studies the way place influences human interaction.

My host in Fort McMurray had a tiny house and wanted to see if a fellow member at her church would let me stay overnight.  When Marg told the member that I was an environmental education professor she reprimanded her, “How dare you even think an environmentalist could stay at my house?” Her husband had worked for Suncorp for 40 years.

That interaction tells me there is a war going on in Fort McMurray – between industry and those who believe in the power of economics and technology – versus those who are concerned about the molestation of the land, the toxicity of the air and water, and the elevated cases of cancer especially in a First Nation community downstream.

What about the triple bottom line?  Why can’t the two sides be combined?

I asked the economic director of the Fort McKay First Nation peoples how the mines affect the social equity and environmental quality? (Triple bottom line philosophy includes economic, societal, and environmental costs.) And all he could reply was that the First Nations people had great entrepreneurial opportunities with restoring and reclaiming the spoils of overburden (the soil that had the oil removed) like replanting trees and caring for the 20 buffalo Suncorp brought in to show that the reclamation areas are “safe”. He was not able to address the cancers that affecting the people he works for. We didn’t even approach the topic of respect and sacred places.

Even the First Nation people are caught in a bipolar dilemma.

Winfred GrandJambe, an elder from the Fort McKay community, told me about his new truck and house and the positives of having the Tar Sands in his northern Alberta community since it offers salaries in the hundreds of thousands for driving truck or bulldozers. But he also said “there are no more animals nearby and we have to go quite a ways for healing herbs.” This 71 year old had just hunted a bear the week before and a moose the week before that but he had to fly to another part of Alberta to reach hunting areas.

Winfred’s community, which is surrounded by eight pit mines devoid of vegetation, has changed his environment – his home completely – forever.

So, what can I do?

I do drive a car and am in need of gasoline, which comes from petroleum.

A lot of my wants are made of plastic: my computer, my sandals, my electric fan. What I must do is ride my bike more often. Walk downtown. I must think about the non-essential drives.

I must talk to my mayor, council members, senators, congress people about alternatives. I must talk about increasing public transportation.

I must consume less.

If I want to be that global citizen that works for justice for all people and all things I must concentrate on being more local, reducing my oil intake here to lessen the amount needed from the Tar Sands.

To see excellent photos of the Fort McMurray/Fort McKay area please check out National Geographic’s essay called the Canadian Oil Boom.

Paul Steury is an environmental educator, from Goshen, Indiana.

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My favorite hen, Goldie, is a Buff Orpington. The white hen is mentioned below. This is a view from inside our chicken ark. We move it daily so the chickens always have fresh grass. © Jenny Frech 2011

My friend, Kathy, gave us the three silky hens because she was downsizing her flock.  The hens were getting a bit long in the tooth, if chickens did indeed have teeth.

When we picked up the chickens, we put them in a crate in the back of the van.  On the trip home, the kids listened to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”, while the hens clucked away.  They only clucked during this particular song.  I’m not sure if they were trying to sing along, or if they were screaming from fright.

Because of their musical tendencies, we named the hens: Flutter, Poochie, and The GoGo.  Flutter and Poochie were two small black silkies.  The GoGo is gray.  Silkies are funny looking  because they only have downy feathers, hence the name silky.  They also have puffs on the top of their heads, that make them look like they are wearing royal wedding hats.

Poochie didn’t make it to her first winter with us, and Flutter too looks like she’s on her last chickeny legs.  The GoGo is still going strong.  She is quite the character.

Since we got her, she has tried to peck our arms off nearly every day while we gather eggs.  We tried keeping her back with long sticks, by wearing padded sweatshirts, and by trying to grab the eggs really fast.  She was a broody hen and golly dern it, she was not going to move.

We don’t have a rooster, so her attempts to incubate the eggs were futile.

Finally, I landed fertilized eggs for her to sit on.

I bought a dozen and put all but three on the nest.  Within the hour, one of the hens had cracked them all open.  The GoGo had to be moved into isolation if she was going to bring a baby to term.

We put her in a big plastic tub with food, water, straw, and the remaining three eggs.  The GoGo sat, barely moving for food or water for three weeks.  She looked thinner, but happy.  She still tried to take our arms off, but there was something a bit more tender in the way she tore at our flesh.

Three weeks later, one of the eggs hatched.  The other two sloshed around when shaken.  Gross.

The chick is a Rhode Island Red which will eventually be about three times her size.  The kids named the chick, Peachy.  The GoGo stayed in isolation with Peachy for another week.

Last weekend, The GoGo and her chick went into our movable chicken ark with the other hens.  The white Aracauna hen tried to grab her (definitely not in a motherly way), but The GoGo chased her away.  Peachy follows her around all day, ducking underneath her mama when trouble approaches.

It’s bizarre to look outside and see The GoGo out on the green grass.  We are so used to seeing her inside the dark shed huddled in the nesting corner.

She’s a lot happier now, and one heck of a mama.

Way to Go, GoGo!

The GoGo and her chick, Peachy: after all that talk about being proud of The GoGo being outside in the green grass, even strawberries wouldn't coax her out to get herself photographed. © Jenny Frech 2011

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